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 36

Pakt Mit Dem Teufel

 

Eren woke to the sound of creaking and opened his eyes. It was early morning still, but he saw Levi slowly opening the attic door. He smiled at getting to see him first thing in the morning. It was always a good way to start the day.

Guten Morgen,” he whispered.

Bonjour,” Levi whispered, slipping the rope ladder down so he could climb out. “I tried to scratch on the door, but you didn’t answer. I wasn’t sure if you were asleep or already gone.”

Eren yawned and rubbed his eyes. “Sorry. I must have been deeply in sleep. Is everything okay?”

“I just really need to take a piss. You still haven’t gotten me a bucket.”

“Sorry,” whispered Eren. He stretched out his limbs, but a sharp suck of air hissed between his teeth as he moved his left leg.

Levi walked over to the bed first and put a hand over the blankets covering Eren’s thighs. “Is it still bad?”

“I’m off for a week,” he mumbled, and flashed Levi a sleepy smile. “I can spend more time with you.”

Levi grunted, but Eren saw a shadow of a smile on his face. Then he turned into the bathroom.

Eren finished stretching out the stiffness of sleep, and he felt the leg. The heat of an infection was at least gone. With any luck, the medications would help the gash to heal quickly. He dropped his long johns and looked at the bandage. No blood soaking through; that was an improvement. He also had to admire Louise’s work. While she was a little rough—she was used to dealing with animals, not people—the bandage was not sloppily wrapped around like Eren normally did it. The precision of the layers was almost artistic. It felt like a shame to unravel it.

He heard the toilet flush, hands being washed, and Levi stepped out. The Jew jolted at first, seeing Eren with the pale long johns down around his ankles and the loose sleeping shirt only partially covering his genitals. He gulped hard, shoved down some naughtier thoughts, and came forward.

“It looks better.”

Ja, still hurts.” Eren suddenly realized his exposed state and gasped. “Oh! I’m sorry.” He yanked the long johns back up, and Levi politely glanced aside as he fixed himself.

“Did you happen to squirrel away some food last night?”

“Squirrel?” Eren asked in confusion.

“Hiding food? You know, so I can eat.”

Eren gasped as he realized, he had forgotten. “I’m so sorry! You didn’t get any dinner.”

Levi shrugged and sat on the bed next to Eren. “It’s fine. I’ve been rationing out what food you gave me before. I had enough, but it would be nice to have some breakfast.”

“I’ll call it in. The hotel can deliver food right to our rooms.”

Eren went over to the telephone, called up the operator, and put in an order for room service. While he spoke in German, Levi glanced around. He caught sight of a piece of paper on the nightstand and picked it up. As soon as he read the name, address, and a sentence in French, his face turned into a fierce scowl.

Eren hung up, and immediately Levi jabbed the paper into his face.

“What the fuck is this?”

It took Eren a moment to recall the note. “Oh, right! The lady last night, um … Bordellwirtin. You called it something.”

“Brothel madame.”

“Yes! I told you, she wants me to help Louise to escape.”

“Louise is the whore you took last night, yes?”

Eren glared. “Don’t call her that. She was kidnapped and forced into that bordell.”

Levi frowned at the paper. “I do sympathize, but … you know this is probably a trap.”

“It might not be. She sounded sincere.”

“Of course she would!”

“The girl was terrified.”

“I don’t doubt she is,” Levi said, “but she could be a pawn.”

“Pawn?” Eren asked, confused by the word.

Just then, the phone rang. Levi jumped up with his hand reaching to the knife strapped on his belt, only to realize what it was and sigh out the adrenaline rush.

Eren held a finger up to show him to keep quiet, and he answered the call. While he was busy talking to what sounded like Jean, Levi glared at the paper. He had half a mind to shred the scrap right there, except … what if it wasn’t a trap? What if this was his way out?

Getting help from the French Resistance … again! They failed the last few times. Could he trust him now?

Did he have much other choice?

While Eren continued to talk on the phone, Levi stared hard at the paper and especially the phrase at the end. Une bouteille de bourgogne se marie le mieux avec une tempête. A bottle of burgundy pairs best with a storm. Was the French Resistance planning a storm, or did they mean the situation in Metz was already a storm ready to burst?

Finally, Eren hung up, and as soon as the receiver was down, Levi tore the paper up.

“Wait!” Eren cried out in horror.

He made a rush toward Levi, who easily leaped away, tearing the paper more and more, into tiny pieces.

“Levi!” Eren cried out. Now how was he supposed to help Louise?

“Do you have that address memorized?” Levi asked coldly.

Eren was shocked that he would do such a thing, damning a girl to sexual slavery. Sadly, he shook his head.

“Good. I do.” He pointed a finger into Eren’s chest. “You will not go to that address. I will.”

Eren’s mouth dropped. “But she gave it to me. They might be expecting me. And what if it’s a trap?”

“Oh, now you think it might be a trap?” shouted Levi.

“I thought right away that it could be. So don’t go!”

Levi punched Eren’s leg, not hard, but enough to get him to yell “Au, das tut weh!” and remember just how much pain he was in. Levi glared at Eren as he said, “How are you going to stop me? Besides, if it’s not a trap, then maybe I can get the hell out of here.”

Eren scowled as he rubbed where Levi bopped him. “But … but still … I want to help her.”

“Goddammit! You’re too kind for your own fucking good!”

Just then, there was a knock. “Hallo, es ist Zimmerservice.” Hello, it’s room service.

Levi panicked, especially since he had just yelled in English. He dove under the bed right away. Eren hobbled over to the attic and threw the ladder back up. He could not reach the opened hatch, so he hoped the room service would not see it from the doorway. Then he wrapped a robe around him, cracked the door open, and saw a bellhop in a red and black uniform with a wheeled tray of food.

Guten Morgen, Herr Oberleutnant.

Guten Morgen, danke. Ich übernehme ab hier.” Good morning, thanks. I’ll take it from here.

He rolled the tray in and shut the door before the bellhop could see anything inside. The food admittedly smelled amazing.

“Lock the door, idiot,” came a whisper from down low.

Eren turned back and made sure the door was locked. Then he rolled the breakfast cart into the room.

“Come on out and eat.”

Levi crawled out, but he looked disgusted. “Do you have any idea how much dust is under that bed? There’s no way they cleaned this place before you arrived. I wonder if they even changed the sheets!”

“Those at least were fresh,” Eren assured. “Eat.”

“No. I’m covered in dust, and I itch with dust.” Already he was rubbing his arm.

“Oh,” Eren whispered. Now Levi’s cleanliness made sense, if he was allergic to dust. “Well, I have a bathtub. Wash up before you eat.”

Levi glared at him distrustfully.

“I won’t go in there,” Eren promised. “Just let me pee first.”

He relieved nature, washed his face, combed out his hair, and changed his bandage. Then Eren came out, seeing Levi munching on a sausage but looking miserable as he itched his arm.

“Sorry it took a while,” Eren whispered.

“Did you brush your teeth?”

The question stunned Eren, a very fatherly thing to ask. “I will after I eat.”

Levi grunted, only mildly satisfied by the answer. “If you open the door, I’ll slit your throat.”

Eren had to laugh at how casual and nonthreatening the fatalist warning sounded, just something Levi said all the time.

Levi walked to the bathroom, still scratching his rash-covered arm. “And don’t eat all of the food.”

“I can order more.”

“That’d be suspicious.” With that, he closed the bathroom door.

Eren heard the bathtub running. So would anyone else, he guessed. The pipes were loud enough that even someone in the hallway would hear that tub running. As he waited, he went ahead and changed into his clothes. He pulled on the uniform trousers and a green-gray undershirt, and he was about to put on the tunic out of habit. He paused to look at the uniform on its hanger, medals he was proud of, a rank he had worked hard to obtain.

All for an army that would kill him and the man he loved.

He decided, since he was staying in his room, he would leave off the tunic. The breakfast cart had tea, and he poured himself a cup. There were also two waffles. He set one aside for Levi, and covered his own with butter and syrup. The breakfast came with a newspaper, and he flipped it open to read the latest information on the war.

As he waited, his mind drifted away from articles about battles, his eyes focused on the bathroom door, and curiosity got the better of him. He set the paper aside, stood, walked slowly, and stopped in front of the door. The running pipes stopped, and now he heard dripping mixed with the sloshing sound of water lapping against flesh. He heard a soft groan as Levi’s muscles relaxed in the hot water.

Eren closed his eyes, remembering the sight of Levi’s body from his trips to the river, watching him clean off, that scarred back, lean muscles, and tiny pale ass. There were other, darker times when he had seen Levi nude, but he liked the memories by the river, after the others left, when it was just him and Levi, a bright memory mixed with the sound of the rushing water and birdsong.

Through many of those weekly trips over those five months, he and Levi said nothing. It was just a duty a trusted few members of his platoon did every Saturday. A few trips, though, had been more personal, or even if they said nothing to one another, just watching Levi bathe made Eren’s throat tense up and his imagination run wild.

He glanced at the door. There was a fairly large space in the bottom, he could probably sneak a peek down there. As highly tempting as that was, Levi obviously did not feel comfortable with that. Eren had to respect that. He left before the temptation grew unhealthy, and he sat at the table to eat.

Minutes passed before Levi came back out, his black hair damp, clothes clinging to his skin, but looking happier just to be clean.

“It’s a nice tub,” he noted. “Bigger than the one I used to have.” He sat at the tiny table and saw the waffle left on a plate. “Merci,” he muttered before digging in, eating with a starved appetite.

“I’ll see about ordering food for you more often. I can always order a big breakfast, give it to you, and go out to eat something in town.” He looked down at his leg. “Well, once I can walk without limping. I almost didn’t make it up the stairs last night. Do you want some tea?”

Levi paused, looking stunned and, if Eren had to guess, delighted. He recalled, Levi wanted to open a tea shop one day, so he must really like tea. Instantly, Levi’s face went back to a scowl, and he grumbled, “I bet it’s shit.”

“Considering I brewed it, probably.” Still, he poured some out for Levi. “Tomorrow, I’ll let you brew the tea. Perhaps you can tell me why Thomas won’t let me brew the platoon’s drinks.”

Levi took a sip and spit the tea right back out. “Putain! Do you honestly think that’s what tea tastes like?”

Eren shrugged feebly. “Yes? My father drank tea a lot, but I honestly cannot recall what it tasted like.”

He let out a sound of disgust and forced himself to drink it, flinching at the taste. “Tomorrow, ask for tea leaves, hot water, and if you can, sugar and milk.”

“Milk? In tea?”

“Well, I would bet whatever tea leaves the German army has are shit, so you need to smooth out the taste.”

“Remind me before bed.”

Levi paused with the teacup not quite at his lips. Remind him before bed? That was such a domestic thing to say, and he did not want to admit that it warmed his chest. He looked up from the waffles to watch Eren sitting across from him, smoking a cigarette as he read the newspaper.

Could life be this peaceful for men like them?

Eren grunted in dismay at something he was reading.

“What is it?” Levi asked as he risked another sip of tea and flinched at the bitterness.

“Allies overran Bastogne, Arlon, and Luxembourg City two days ago. We really did barely make it out of there in time. I still wonder, who blocked our communication like that. If it was the Allies, why didn’t they attack us? What was it all about—”

There was a knock on the door, and Levi nearly choked on the bite of waffle in his mouth. Their eyes met, huge and terrified.

“Up!” hissed Eren.

They scrambled from the table to the still-open attic door, but Eren had thrown the ladder up earlier. He folded his hands to be a foot hold, Levi swiftly put one foot on the linked fingers, and Eren heaved him up with a burst of adrenaline-fueled power, practically flinging him into the air. Levi carefully shut the attic hatch, and Eren went to the front door. His heart was racing as he opened it, but a smile burst onto his face, relieved to see Jean and Armin.

“That was slow,” Jean complained.

“Sorry. I’m still struggling to walk.”

Armin came right in. “Is your leg really bad?”

“No, just those stairs are a challenge. The doctor took me off duty for a week. Jean, thank you for taking over the platoon duties this morning.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he grumbled, also walking into the hotel room. “Holger told me over breakfast that you were still struggling to get up those stairs when the rest of them arrived at the hotel, so I figured it’d take you until noon to make it back down them again.” He glanced at the table with food. “Considering how late you’re eating, I’m probably right.”

“Slept in, that’s all.”

“Yeah, I called you after breakfast, and it sounded like you were just waking up.”

Eren laughed and sat at the table, stretching his sore leg out. “Guilty as charged. So, did everything go okay with the platoon?”

“Other than Connie showed up to roll-call with a black eye.”

Eren shook his head. After that huge party yesterday, it was no surprise that at least one fight would break out.

“I won’t be able to do morning roll calls this whole week,” Jean warned. “I got word early this morning—way too early,” he grumbled, “that I’m being assigned to my own platoon.”

Eren grinned in excitement. “That’s wonderful! I didn’t think they would assign you to lead a platoon so quickly, but I guess there are lots of new soldiers coming in.”

“Exactly. So I was talking with Armin after roll call. I felt, with me no longer there as your platoon sergeant, he was the best choice.”

“And I told him,” Armin said, sitting where Levi had been, “that I just got promoted. I can’t get yet another promotion so soon and take on responsibilities like that. I don’t have enough experience.”

“Your brain has more experience than any of those men. Half of them don’t know how to think.”

“Your recommendation?” Eren asked Armin, looking serious, a soldier once more.

“Moblit Berner. He’s a Stabsgefreiter as well, but he has been in the military for six years, longer than Jean.”

Eren looked over to Jean. “Why has he not been promoted?”

Jean gave a wide shrug, his eyes on the food. “He’s a good man, intelligent, responsible, but he lacks drive, ferocity, or creativity. It’s his lack of initiative that led to him getting overlooked.”

“Would he make a good platoon sergeant?” asked Eren.

Jean weighed the question. “I mean, he would, so long as you’re there to bark at him and give him orders. He follows well, but he doesn’t really lead. Still, he does have the most military experience than anyone else in the platoon.”

“At this point, going into battle with some soldiers who’ve never been shot at, a steady hand and clear head may be more important than a fierce heart. Anyone else to consider?”

“Not really,” Jean grumbled. “Most of our good soldiers died in Anzio. We’re left with Thomas, who’s more happy cooking than shooting, and Connie, who panics under fire.”

“Then send Moblit to me later today. I’ll speak with him, see if he wants the position, and if so, we’ll give him a one-week trial, see if he can lead the platoon while I’m on rest. Armin, I want you to evaluate him and give me daily reports. Weaknesses, strengths, leadership style: I want to know details.”

“Yes, sir!” Armin said firmly.

“If he passes the test, I’ll put in for an immediate promotion to Unteroffizier.” He chuckled at Jean. “Perhaps he’ll be less cantankerous than you.”

Armin giggled softly, but Jean’s eyes were still focused on the food. Whereas Eren’s tea cup was right next to him, the plate with a partially eaten waffle was in front of Armin’s chair along with a second cup of tea. Jean’s eyes flicked up to Eren.

“You didn’t shoot that Jew, did you?”

Eren’s tea caught in his throat. Armin’s eyes widened. He already knew, but he had kept quiet.

Jean collapsed onto the bed and pressed his hand to his brow with a deep growl. “Eren, you stupid, wooden headed, monkey assed, suicidal idiot!” He shot him a scathing glare. “Where do you hide him? Under the bed? Up in the attic? I thought I heard a rat up there last night scurrying around. I bet it was him.”

Eren held Jean’s gaze solidly. “You promised to help me get him out.”

“That was before I was made an officer.”

“Jean,” Armin said in disappointment.

However, Eren still looked cold and deathly serious. “Are you going to report me?”

Jean held his gaze. The battle raging in his mind was obvious but the way his lips twisted, his head shook, and finally he shouted, “Shit!” He stood up and stomped over to the window, clasping his hands behind his back as he glared out at the clear blue skies. After a moment, he muttered, “I will make sure you don’t die in the process. Germany still needs good officers…” He spun back around. “…because obviously we don’t have the best.”

“Jean!” Armin cried out.

“It’s okay,” Eren said, holding back any clash between the two. “I’m not the most obedient officer, or the most experienced, or maybe even not the most loyal, but at least I’m one of the more moral ones.”

“A conscience? A weakness,” he scoffed.

“Does the Bible not say, love thine enemy?”

“Are you going to say you love the British now?”

“No…”

“Don’t tell me you love that Jew.”

Eren felt his throat clench, but he held back any facial expressions. However, his hesitation was enough to make Jean’s mocking expression turn dark.

“Oh hell, no.” He shook his head, looking scared now. “No, no, no!”

Armin whispered quietly, “Eren?” Something suddenly made sense. “You’ve been taking risks for months now, and you’ve kept him alive and hidden all this time. You’d risk everything for this man.” He looked straight into Eren’s eyes and asked, “Why?”

Eren had known Armin for months. He was brilliant, always thinking three steps ahead; he should have been a tactician sitting in a command center around a large table of a map or Europe, moving pieces around like a chess game, not a grunt digging trenches and trying to avoid gunfire. Eren knew, with his quick mind and attention to detail, Armin had probably figured this out long ago. He just needed confirmation.

“I think you know why,” he said softly.

Armin dropped his head, and Eren watched him, wondering what might happen next. Armin had his chess face, as the platoon called it. He was thinking through multiple scenarios and figuring out if a risk was worth it.

Meanwhile, Jean cried out, “Dear God, please don’t tell me you’re—”

“Jean!” Armin cut in sharply.

He sneered and lowered his voice to a scathing whisper. “You … you’re homosexual?”

Eren glanced over at him, his brow drooped in a silent, regretful apology. He felt guilty that he had never been fully honest with these two. After all they went through in this war, still he hid this one thing about himself. Even now he feared admitting it, but he could not force himself to deny it, like he always had before, with blithe laughs and dismissive jokes. That would be denying his love for Levi, and after last night, he just could not bring himself to say the words.

Not to them. Not to his friends.

“What about the prostitute last night?” Jean suddenly shouted. “What about that little blond village girl?”

“I know…” Words caught in his throat. Eren was painfully aware that this was a confession to his friends, and an apology. “I know how to pretend. Krista: we were never a couple. And Louise: we simply talked last night.”

“And saying you took prostitutes in Paris? Was that also a lie?”

Eren scowled, realizing he really had lied to Jean that time. Other moments, he just let people believe whatever they wanted, but that time, since he was around the other officers, he had felt the need to protect himself with lies.

“To stay alive in this world, I learned how to act like something I’m not.”

“Then just stop being a homosexual—”

“Do you think it’s that easy?” Eren shouted. “You might as well tell me to stop having white skin, or change the color of my eyes.”

Jean shouted back, “Maybe if you slept with girls more, you wouldn’t have become this way.”

Eren punched the table, spilling over the teacup. “Dammit, I’ve always been this way!”

Suddenly, the attic door flung open. There was a blur of blue as Levi bolted out of hiding and instantly was up at Jean with a knife pressed to his throat.

“Back off, you motherfucking Kraut,” he sneered.

“Levi, don’t,” Eren ordered.

Jean pulled back from the sting of the blade. “Scheiße, Sie haben ihn wirklich auf dem Dachboden versteckt.” Shit, you really did hide him in the attic.

“Is he a threat?” Levi hissed to Eren, pushing the blade a little closer.

“No, now stop it!”

Levi’s and Jean’s eyes locked on one another, one startled, the other scathing. Levi had been listening in on the conversation, and although it was all in German, he caught one word: homosexual. He realized, Eren must have been discovered, and although he was not sure how his secret came out, Levi knew he would risk it all to protect him.

“Levi!” Eren said sharper. “That’s enough.”

The blade slowly backed away, but Levi’s glare only hardened. Eren sighed as the confrontation ended and Levi retreated back toward him, standing right next to Eren’s chair like a bodyguard ready to slaughter anyone who came too close.

Eren continued to explain it in German to Jean and Armin. “Me being this way, it’s never been a choice. Do you think I would choose to live like this? To always be scared of someone finding out, to hide that part of me, even from my friends, to live every day of my life in terror of looking at someone the wrong way and rousing suspicions, to never know love? Who would choose that?”

Jean’s eyes were still narrow, half on Eren, half warily watching Levi, who still had his knife in his tight grip.

Meanwhile, Armin’s eyes were lowered in thoughtfulness, absorbing this new information. He softly asked, “Does Levi love you back?”

The question jolted Eren. He looked sharply over to Levi, standing right there. Did Levi love him? They had never said I love you to one another, and Levi admitted that he was still trying to sort this out. Sensing the stare, Levi stopped glaring at Jean and glanced down at Eren. Memories of last night, of passionate kisses and Levi’s body moving sensually on him, made Eren hesitantly smile.

“He … cares about me, in his own way.” Eren broke off the gaze and looked down at the table, with the food set out, getting cold. “He’s had a rough life. I sympathize with that. My mother was killed right in front of me, just like his wife was murdered in front of him.”

“Wait, he was married? To a woman?” Jean asked, reevaluating something he had just been thinking.

“Yes. She wasn’t a Jew. Still, German soldiers killed her, cut open her pregnant belly, and butchered the baby within her. Levi was forced to watch it all.”

Armin immediately looked near tears, shaking his head, not wanting to believe Germans would do that. He looked at Levi, and suddenly the constantly scowling face made sense. Of course he would despise Germans after going through something so horrific.

“What you two saw that day out in the field, with Captain Woermann forcing that Jew to rape Levi at gun point, was not the first time he was humiliated in that sort of way, and it wasn’t the last time a man raped him.”

Jean muttered solemnly, “Sie haben uns von Grützmacher erzählt.” You told us about Grützmacher.

Catching the name of his rapist, Levi bristled. “What the fuck are you guys talking about?”

“I’ll explain later,” Eren said, patting his arm to keep him calm. “Nach all dem bin ich überrascht, dass er mir vertraut.” After all that, I’m surprised he trusts me. Eren continued in German, “After Grützmacher, after seeing him being forced like that, seeing him shattered by the total depravity … I knew I had to get Levi out. After suffering that much, he deserves freedom. He can’t even procreate anymore—we Germans took that away from him—so what does it matter if he flees to another country?”

Jean still shook his head, but his eyes were calmly calculating now. “You say you love him, but you want him to be gone.”

“I want him to be safe. Plus, once he’s not around, it lessens the chance of me being discovered.” He glared at Jean. “Are you going to report me to the Gestapo?”

“Is he going to slit my throat if I say yes?”

“Probably,” Eren answered with cold honesty.

Jean looked at Levi, tiny but vicious, and that speed earlier showed that this man was an expert at close combat fighting. Jean cursed and shook his head.

“You say, you can’t help but be this way,” he said, quietly trying to sort this out. “Then it’s like a hereditary issue.”

“I don’t know if it’s hereditary,” Eren muttered.

“But it’s something you can’t not be. You said it’s like eye color or skin color. You can’t change that … like you can’t change being Romani or a Jew.”

By the deep pinch in Jean’s brow, Eren realized he was thinking about his childhood friend Marco, slaughtered with his caravan for no other reason other than they were Romani.

“Our scientists say that homosexuals make weak fighters, but I’ve seen you in battle. You’re stronger than some of these men who hit up the brothels every week.” Jean paused, and asked with awkward curiosity, “Have you ever had sex with a man?”

Eren was shocked by the blunt question and laughed that, once again, Jean had no filter on his mouth. “No,” he answered honestly. “Nor with a woman.”

He nodded, then shrugged and decided to go ahead and ask, “Have you ever kissed him?”

Eren ducked his head down and felt his cheeks warm up. “Yes.”

Jean saw the love-struck blush, and he cursed again, confused why seeing Eren obviously in love made him feel warm inside, not disgusted. “Fine,” he decided. “Whatever sort of people you love, you’re still the sort of soldier Germany needs. That’s all that matters in war.”

Armin perked up. “Then you’ll help us?”

Eren looked over in surprise. “You’re not against this?”

Armin shrugged with an amiable smile. “It was a high probability, although I admit you were good at concealing it.”

Eren laughed, realizing he should have known. If even Levi figured out long ago that Eren had feelings for him, Armin definitely would have caught on right away.

Jean sat on the bed, determined to listen now. “So what’s the plan?”

“We need maps, locations of the enemy, any information we can get, not just of Metz itself, but once he’s outside of it. I have a possible lead, but I need to make sure it’s safe.”

“What sort of lead?” asked Jean.

Eren paused before muttering, “You probably don’t want to know.”

Jean shook his head. “I’m not getting involved with the French Resistance.”

“You don’t need to. I want him out of this city soon, but I don’t want to rush this and make a fatal mistake, for him or for us.”

“How long do you think you can keep him in the attic?”

Eren shrugged. “Days? Weeks? I don’t know.”

Armin said, “Try to make it within the next two weeks. The Americans are stopped, a petrol shortage, they won’t be here yet, but we don’t have much time. If their general is smart, he’ll aim for a pincer maneuver. We need to make sure we keep our eyes on the eastern roads out of the city.”

“Eastern? Not north or west?”

“The American army is in those directions. They’re setting up bridgeheads all along the Moselle. I know he was aiming for Belgium originally, but with the way the war is going, his best bet for survival is to head away from the war, then swing around where the Allies have already conquered. We’ll try to get him out within the next two weeks.”

Jean grumbled, “If he’s going to be staying in the attic, tell him to not bump around up there. It was loud last night. I thought a rat knocked over something.”

“That might have been me. I went up to check on him.” Then Eren teased, “I could totally hear you grunting like a pig.”

“I bet you grunt worse.”

They laughed, and Eren realized Levi was still standing next to him.

“Oh, Armin, Levi was eating breakfast. Can he sit there?”

Armin quickly stood up and motioned to the chair. “Bitte nimm Platz.

Eren looked up to Levi. “He says ‘please take a seat.’”

Levi glared around at the three Germans. “Tell me what’s going on.”

“They’re both going to help.”

“They know about you, about … liking men?” He did not want to say the word homosexual since the Germans would know that word as well.

“Yes.”

“And they’re okay with that?”

Eren glanced at Jean. “They’ll let it slide.”

Levi shook his head. “It’s dangerous. I could kill them for you.”

“Levi, no!”

“You wouldn’t have to be around. I don’t normally use poisons, but—”

“Levi!” Eren snapped.

Armin looked concerned. “Ist er wütend auf uns?” Is he angry at us?

Eren sighed, shaking his head in disappointment, although he knew Levi was just being protective. “Er macht sich nur Sorgen um mich.” He’s just worried about me.

Armin smiled to Levi. “Wir werden es niemandem sagen, versprochen.” We won’t tell anyone, I promise. Then he looked over to Jean. “Oder, Jean?” Will we, Jean?

Jean rolled his eyes. “Ich habe schon gesagt, ich werde helfen.” I’ve already said I’ll help.

Schwöre ihm, du wirst es nicht verpetzen.” Swear to him, you won’t tattle.

Jean turned to Levi, still angry that the small man had come so close to killing him, but he supposed, when Eren had been threatened by one of their own soldiers in Anzio, he had killed the soldier without hesitation. Maybe they were not all too different. Both he and Levi were protective over Eren, because they both realized what a good man he was.

Ich verspreche, ihn nicht zu melden. Wir sind Freunde, und Freunde verraten sich nicht.

Eren smiled in thanks to Jean and translated to Levi, “He says, ‘I promise not to report him. We are friends, and friends don’t betray each other.’”

Levi gave Jean a nod in silent truce. He moved away from Eren and walked around the table to where he had been sitting. “Tell him, sorry about his throat. Did I cut him?”

Eren asked Jean and reported back to Levi. “He says no, you didn’t draw blood, but he’s impressed by your speed.”

“I’m surprised by his control. A stupid man would’ve tried to fight me.” Then Levi shoveled some cold waffles into his mouth.

The Germans talked and laughed for about an hour, with Eren relaying some of the comments to Levi in English. In this way, for the first time, the four of them were able to have a rather civil conversation.

“So when did…” Armin awkwardly waved between the two of them. “…this happen?”

Eren glanced at Levi, who was done with the food and had picked up his teacup, only to find it empty. “About a week ago. After what happened in that field and with Grützmacher, I kept checking on him, making sure he was fed and rubbing on medication to his wounds. He figured it out, that it was more than just being nice. So I admitted it and … and I kissed him.”

Jean asked, “And he returned your feelings?”

Eren chuckled and shook his head. “He told me it was stupid and dangerous, I could be killed—”

“He’s right,” Jean cut in.

“He also told me he was not homosexual—I already knew about his late wife—and he wasn’t sure if he could feel the same.”

Armin looked concerned. “Then is it all one-sided?”

Eren’s laugh was slightly nervous. “I told him I didn’t want to force him into anything, but … but he said if it was me, and if it was just kisses, then he doesn’t mind … and…”

He broke off as memories of last night came to his mind, Levi above him, his body thrusting against him, their cocks rubbing one another through clothing, building up heat and euphoric pressure. He felt blood rushing to his cheeks from just the memory.

Would Levi have done all that if he felt nothing at all?

Across the way, Levi’s eyes narrowed at the bashful faces Eren was making. “What sort of perverted things are you telling these two now?”

Eren jolted out of memories and teased Levi, “They were asking how you fell madly, deeply in love with me.”

“Who the fuck said that?” he grumbled. He picked up his teacup again, realized it was still empty, and frowned as he set it back down.

“Are you thirsty?” Eren checked his watch. “It’s almost noon. We could order lunch.”

“I just need a drink,” Levi muttered.

Eren asked Armin and Jean, “Seid ihr beschäftigt? Ich kann Mittagessen bestellen.” Are you busy? I can order lunch.

Jean checked his watch. “Himmel, ist es schon so spät?” Christ, is it that late? “I need to head out. I’m supposed to meet my new platoon at noon.” He stood and pulled his new officer cap on.

“Wait one moment. I’ll call Floch to drive you, but first let me order lunch.”

“I told you, I don’t have time.”

“Not for you.” He nodded over to Levi. “So he can eat and it’s not suspicious.”

Jean glanced down at Levi, so small and skinny, like one missed meal might turn him to dust, and he sat back down. “Fine, but if food is coming, he should hide.”

Eren turned to Levi and explained the plan to get him lunch. He nodded, and since he had not lowered the rope ladder, he pulled his chair up to the attic hatch. Eren walked over to give him a boost up with his linked hands providing a stepping boost. The hatch closed with a slight squeak while Eren hobbled to the telephone.

Jean looked thoughtfully up at the ceiling. “We can oil that hatch so it doesn’t creak like that. It’ll minimize your chance of being caught.”

“Good idea,” said Eren. He picked up the receiver. “Operator, put me through to the hotel concierge. Yes, I’m in the middle of discussions with some of my platoon, and we need four sandwiches and two bottles of wine brought up to Room 404. Thank you.” He hung up and dialed again. “Operator, put me through to Nordpol Barracks. Hello? This is Oberleutnant Eren Jäger. Is Gefreiter Floch Forster there? Yes, I’ll hold.” He reclined on the bed. “It beats trying to hunt him down.”

“I could call a taxi faster,” Jean grumbled.

Eren sat up. “Forster, good! Glad you’re still around. I … no, I don’t need a ride myself,” he said with a chuckle. “A meeting went a little long, Kirschtein needs to get to his new platoon right away, and since it’s my fault he’s running later, I offered him a ride. He’ll meet you in the lobby. Yes, try to hurry. No, you don’t need to get me anything. Just hurry. Thank you.” He hung up and shook his head. “I swear, he’s too eager to help.”

“Maybe he can help with Levi,” Armin suggested.

“Best not,” Jean grumbled. “The fewer people who know, the better.”

“I considered it, but I’m on the fence about Floch,” Eren admitted. “He saw the attic hatch left open my first day here, after I had checked to see if it would even work. He thought keeping Levi up there was a good idea, but he seemed to think I would use him as a slave. When I asked a few questions about his feelings toward Jews, Floch was pretty firm that he hates them. I think, in his mind, they’re useful tools, but not people to be pitied or helped. Right now, he thinks I shot Levi. Let’s leave it at that.”

“I wish I still thought that you killed him,” Jean admitted. “Not that I don’t sympathize, but it would be easier if I thought he was dead. Then I don’t feel obligated to save your ass.” He sighed and walked over to the window to gaze out. “I don’t even like that I’m here, right on the front lines again, let alone volunteering to risk my ass for some French Jew. I joined the military thinking it was a duty to my country, a quick war, I could retire with a nice pension, maybe some medals, return to my hometown a hero, impress the ladies, settle down with a good woman, and be able to boast to my children and grandchildren that I served Hitler and the Nazi Party with pride, I was one of the heroes of my generation, just like my great-grandfather who fought in the Franco-Prussian War.” He watched a military truck rumble by. “It would have been a nice way to spend my last years.”

Eren shrugged lightheartedly. “It could still happen.”

Armin laughed, “We’ll be like those old men sitting in the beer halls, telling anyone who will listen stories of the war.”

Jean’s gloominess faded away. “And maybe they’ll buy us rounds if we keep telling outrageous tales of the glory we brought to the Third Reich.”

Eren teased, “You’re already good at telling outrageous tales to any drunk woman who will listen!”

They laughed, when there was a knock at the door.

Eren hobbled over and saw the same bellhop. “Ah, good. Take the previous tray out. I’ll leave this one in the hallway when we’re done.”

“Very good, sir!” the young teen said, pushing the new cart in, gathering the dishes on the table, and taking the old cart out.

“Oh, hey, can I get a bucket, something I can keep around, you know, in case the medication I’m on makes me sick?”

“Right away, sir. Do you need me to contact a doctor for you?”

“I already saw one, thank you.”

He left with a tip of the hat and shut the door.

Jean looked at the thick sandwiches. “Man, now I wish I had time to sit and eat. I’m going to get spoiled, being able to order food to my room whenever I want it. Of course, then I don’t get to meet all the cute local girls,” he said with a laugh. “I’ll check on you tomorrow, make sure your leg hasn’t fallen off.”

“Good luck with the new platoon. Whip them into shape, and listen to your platoon sergeant. Some of them are actually kinda smart.”

Kinda?” he bellowed, but Eren and Armin burst into peals of laughter. “To hell with you.”

Armin stood up. “I’m leaving too. Levi can have my sandwich, maybe save it for later. I’m not really that hungry yet.” He pulled on his cap, but he paused. “Eren … don’t get caught,” he whispered. “With any of it.”

Eren stood, took up his cane to limp over to him, and put a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry.” Then he laughed with a carefree smile. “It’s not like they’re going to shoot me.”

Armin’s face showed that this was not something to joke about. “You could be killed, seriously.”

Eren gave up trying to keep things light. “I know. I understand the risks. I’ve lived with them my whole life.” He paused as he thought back to his childhood friends whom he had beaten up just to make the adults think he was not also homosexual. “Still … I must try.”

Armin knew there was no stopping his lieutenant once he took on a mission. At that moment, he saw that Eren was determined to see this mission through to the end, and he had the strongest reason of all to fight. Love!

He stepped back, and as Jean opened the door, Armin said, “Enjoy your day, sir.”

“Thanks,” Eren said, and he saw them out, watching the two head for the stairs. He was about to shut his door when he saw Surma step out of his room across the way.

“Ah, Jäger. Got a day off?”

He waved down to his leg and the cane. “A whole week. I was just having a discussion with my men. With Jean promoted, he was recommending some qualified men to replace him as a platoon sergeant.”

“Tough job. Good luck with that. I’ll be running my men through drills today.”

“You sure do make them work.”

“We must, for victory!”

Sieg heil!” Eren replied enthusiastically. Then he shut the door and made sure to lock it. He let out a soft exhale. He had just taken a step when there was a knock on the door. He jolted and spun around so fast, his bad leg nearly collapsed. Eren gripped the cane tighter to stay upright and opened the door to see Surma again.

“Hey, can I get you anything when I come back? Some books to read while you are on rest? I know a place that has excellent wine.”

“That’s very generous of you. I wouldn’t mind some books and wine. Oh! Can you see if there is a French book? My captain asked me to learn the language, and I’d like to practice it more. It’ll give me something to do.”

“Excellent idea! I learned a little bit of Russian when I was first deployed to the Eastern Front.”

“Oh! I didn’t know that. You must have some great stories.”

“Horrible ones,” he grumbled.

“Same here with Italy. It was hell.”

“Metz is nice.”

“So far. Italy was nice at first too.”

Surma hummed and nodded. “Well, I’ll bring you a few books and wine later tonight.”

“Around what time?” asked Eren. “I’m on some medication for the pain that makes me sleepy. I want to be sure I’m awake when you come.”

“Not too late. I can drop by before dinner.”

“Perfect,” Eren said, making a note to be sure Levi was not in his room at that time.

Then Surma left, and Eren saw the bellhop hurrying forward with a bucket. Eren thanked him, took the bucket, and once again shut the door. He locked it and slumped out of tension. Then he hobbled to the attic hatch and thumped it softly with the tip of the cane.

“It’s safe.”

Levi opened it and looked around. “Who were you talking to?”

“The lieutenant across the hall. He offered to bring me something to read. Hungry?”

Levi slipped out the ladder and climbed down. “You really are risking things, having me down here with you.”

“I’d be bored without you around.” He limped back to the table and took a seat. “I could use some wine, and it’s better with company.”

A smile almost reached Levi’s lips as he sat across from him. Eren opened the wine, took two of the glasses on the trolley, and poured out for them both. Levi lifted the wine, gave it a swirl, and sniffed. He made a face but took a sip anyway.

“Shit wine, just like the shit tea. They bought the cheap stuff.” He took another sip. “At least in France, even the shitty wine is better than whatever Germans make.”

“That’s mean,” Eren said with a laugh.

Levi looked at the cart. “You got my bucket, I see. And more wine for later?”

Eren picked up the wine bottle and set it on the table in front of Levi. “More wine for you. If you’re thirsty but can’t come down here, at least you have something to drink.”

“Shitty wine is better than dehydration, I guess.” He held his glass up. “À la vôtre!

Prost!” Eren said, and they clinked glasses.

* * *

Meanwhile, as they sat together in the hotel lobby waiting for Floch, Jean read a newspaper while Armin stared off in dark worries.

Armin whispered, “Do you think he’ll be okay?”

Jean focused on the newspaper, keeping it raised high to hide his mouth. “He’s gotten us through tough times. He’s a strong fighter.”

“I mean, everything else. Him, what he is.”

Jean softly hushed him before Armin began to panic. “I hate to say it, but a man like that won’t ever find a safe harbor, not in this world.”

Armin was a little more optimistic. “There might be a place far away from here. Besides, if there are two people who can survive anything, it’s those two. Eren probably should have died a dozen times over when we were in Italy. We even joked, with his luck, he must have made a deal with the devil. And Levi, he’s the last survivor from that group we found back then, and here he is, living in Metz amidst four garrisons of German troops. Maybe he’s the same.”

Jean nodded dourly. “Pakt mit dem Teufel.” Pact with the Devil. Just then, a car pulled up, and Jean set the newspaper aside. “Let’s go.”

# # #

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#

Thank you, screwthisimeating, for letting me know that, while my translation was fine for modern German, during this period of time, Germans would not have used an anglicism like the original title of this chapter “Deal Mit Dem Teufel,” and instead would have used the word “Pakt.” That’s the sort of time-period-specific details that I absolutely love!

Levi’s Dust Allergy – I’m badly allergic to dust. You would think I’d be a neat-freak like Levi, but rather the opposite. My childhood chore was dusting, so as a kid, I ended up with rashes and lung infections all the time until a doctor told my mother, STOP having me dust! I’m now scared to dust. I generally try to avoid creating a space that leads to dust (like non-covered shelves) and I keep spaces I frequently touch clean, but stuff like the back of the TV or top of my bookshelf? Nope! If I have to get into a dirty area, I ask my husband to wipe away the dust first, or I pull on gloves, long sleeves, and a mask so the dust does not touch my skin or get into my lungs. However, I can see how the same allergy could lead someone into OCD-levels of cleanliness.

Gay Gene? – There was talk years ago about the discovery of a “gay gene,” and while that’s a drastic oversimplification of a highly complex field of biology, there is a link between homosexuality and genetics. Rather than a single gene and lets a parent-to-be know if their baby is going to be a lesbian, it’s a combination of genes as well as environmental factors that make a person more likely (though not positively) to be non-heterosexual.

Nordpol Barracks — I have no clue how Germans label their barracks, but some military groups use the phonetic alphabet, known in German as Funkalphabet. This is a way to spell things out without misunderstanding. Anyone with a name that contains letters that sound alike knows the trouble. Take my name: Rhov. If I'm spelling it over the phone, "Vee" sounds like "Bee" or even "Dee." Thus, the phonetic alphabet comes in handy. Different countries use different words that are easily recognizable to the speakers of that language, usually names or objects. So in American Phonetic Language, my name is spelled "Romeo-Hotel-Oscar-Victor," and in the German Funkalphabet it is "Richard-Heinrich-Otto-Viktor." The Nazis changed some of the letters in the old phonetic alphabet to remove any names that they associated with Jews. For the letters D, J, N, S, and Z, "David" became Dora, "Jacob" became Julius, "Nathan" became Nordpol (to Nazis, the North Pole stood for the Aryan master race), "Samuel" became Siegfried, and "Zacharias" became Zeppelin. Also, Y was "Ypres," a Belgian city notorious for being the first place Germans used poison gas in WWI. Nazis changed that letter to "Ypsilon." While researching a book, author Michael Blume came across the anti-semitic origins of the modern-day German phonetic alphabet and alerted the anti-Semitism commissioner, who contacted the German Institute for Standardization and suggested a return to the old phonetic alphabet. This is being worked on at the time of publishing this, and is expected to take effect in late 2022.


Franco-Prussian War

Also called La guerre de 1870 (War of 1870) and Deutsch-Französischer Krieg (German-French War), this 6-month war was fought between July 1870 and January 1871. While it was short, the consequences to Europe and the rest of the world were monumental.

After Prussia defeated Austria in 1866, French Emperor Napoleon III (nephew of the famously short Napoleon) felt the Prussians were getting a bit too uppity, and he wanted to prove his Second French Empire was the dominant power in Europe. He attacked Prussia. Chancellor Otto von Bismarck saw this as an opportunity to unite the German States. Prussia, Saxony, Baden, Bavaria, Württemberg, and Hesse united to form the German Empire, also called the Imperial State of Germany, Kaiserreich, or Second Reich.

Everyone in Europe thought France would easily defeat Prussia, outnumbering them 3-to-2, so the rapid and crushing victory of Germany stunned the world over.

In just a month, the united Germans not only defended against the French forces, they forced them into a retreat. 150,000 Germans laid siege to Metz. Napoleon III himself rode up from Sedan with an army to break the siege, but the Germans repelled them and forced the French to retreat back to Sedan. Then the Germans attacked there, and in just one day they defeated the French army, killed the general of the French cavalry, and captured Napoleon III. He surrendered but refused to sign a peace treaty, saying that was now up to the Regent, his wife. When she heard he had surrendered in Sedan, the Empress shouted, "Why didn't he kill himself! Doesn't he know he has dishonored himself?" (What a wife!)

With Napoleon III captured, the citizens of Paris did what they do best: revolt against the government! The Empress fled to England, the people declared the return of the Republic, and thus the French Empire was overthrown.

As the Germans laid siege to Paris, the new Republic government called for citizens to rise up, create a guerrilla force, and attack the Germans around Paris. Although the Germans could have easily decimated the city, the commander refused to bombard Paris on moral grounds.

Meanwhile, Napoleon III kept meeting with Otto von Bismarck, promising to sign a peace treaty if Bismarck let him use the loyal soldiers still holed up in Metz to crush the new Republic in Paris and reinstate himself as Emperor. Bismarck rather liked Napoleon, but he knew that if he helped to reinstate him, the Emperor would look like a puppet of the enemy of France, and the people would just rise up against him. Germany needed the new Republic itself to surrender, which it finally did in January after the siege of Paris brought the city past the brink of starvation and hungry citizens rioted.

France suffered one million military casualties, compared to 100,000 casualties for the Germans. In their peace treaty, France gave up control of the provinces Alsace and Lorraine, which included Metz. (This is why Jean considers Metz to be a German city.) Napoleon III was released, but now despised by his countrymen who blamed him for their humiliating defeat, the former emperor left France to join his wife in England, where he spent the days designing an energy efficient stove. (Because why not!) When he died, the disgrace of his surrender at the Battle of Sedan was still heavy on his mind, as his last words were, "Isn't it true that we weren't cowards at Sedan?"

The Franco-Prussian War resulted in the fall of the French Empire and the many nation-states of central Europe uniting into the German Empire. The amazing efficiency of the German Army was studied by commanders around the world, and countries began to adopt German innovations like mobilization and the General Staff. France's humiliation, wanting to get back their lost land, British worries about the balance of power in Europe, and everyone now fearing and/or admiring Germany's military strength, created generations of animosity and distrust between France and Germany, and many nations seeking Germany as an ally.

So while the Franco-Prussian War was only six months long, the ripples spread far past Europe and directly led to two World Wars.



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