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 38

Bath Salts and Liquid Shampoo

 

The next morning, Eren peeked his head up through the attic door and saw Levi with the book, reading by the pale light slanting in through the tiny window. A storm had moved in, clouds bubbled over Metz, and rain streaked the windows, thundering in heavy pattering on the roof.

"Good morning."

Levi's gaze remained on the book. "You didn't knock," he whispered.

"Sorry." Eren had an eager face. "It's raining hard today. The light is no good. How about you bring the book down?"

"It's not safe for me to keep coming down there."

"It is today. I knocked around on all the doors in the whole floor. Everyone is out." Eren grinned with a mischievous glint in his eyes. "We're all alone."

Levi closed the book and looked over. All alone! Just him and Eren and a hotel to themselves. The mere idea made his heart speed up.

"What's your plan?" he asked, curious about this German's scheme.

"First, breakfast. Then, you can get a real bath."

"I bathed yesterday."

"You were just washing off dust. I mean soaking, wash your hair, maybe a little bit of wine. I got another bottle."

"I don't drink in the bathtub," Levi said coldly, but he paused. "Although, it does sound nice."

"Ja, right? I got some Epsom salt, that's always really nice for baths. I found out this hotel can give us good shampoo, instead of a bar of soap. It smells really nice." Eren felt himself shivering inside, just thinking about the intense joy it would give him to thoroughly spoil Levi. "I just … I really want to spoil you a little, while I still can. You have to stay in this attic, when I wish you could stay—"

With me, he thought, but he dared not say the words.

Levi understood, though. "Knowing you, you'd probably pull me down and force me into that bathtub."

"How mean! You know I never do anything you don't want."

Yes, he knew. From kissing to mere hugging, Eren always asked if it was okay. It was an endearing bit of concern: thoughtful, chivalrous, loving…

Loving…

Levi set the book aside and turned toward the attic hatch.

"Oh! Bring the book, so you can read down here after the bath."

Eren's sunny smile warmed him up, and Levi gave in to his whims. He picked the book back up and carried it with him. Eren moved aside so Levi could slip the ladder out and climb down. He landed in the bright room, so much warmer than the attic and quieter with only the tapping of rain on the glass window. To be safe, Eren tossed the ladder back up, stood on a chair, and pulled the attic hatch down. Just in case anyone knocked, at least they would not see evidence.

Levi glanced Eren over. "You're in uniform today."

"Huh? Oh," he said, glancing down at the feldgrau uniform. "When I checked on the other officers, I wanted to wear the uniform, just in case. It would look really bad to be roaming around the hotel in my undershirt. Plus it's warmer."

Levi shrugged it off. He did not particularly like to see Eren in uniform, but as a former soldier, he knew that it was just clothes one had to wear.

Eren eagerly waved to a breakfast cart with silver trays of food. "I got you Eier und Pfannkuchen."

"The hell is that?"

Eren looked at the plates. "I … I'm not good at English food words. I always forget."

"You forget food? How the hell is your English this good, but you don't know the names of food?" Levi asked in surprise. "Well, that just looks like eggs and pancakes."

"Eggs! Yes, I remember that word now. And I guess kuchen is cake."

"Seriously, how are you bad at food words? That's usually one of the first things you learn."

"Well, I learned English from my father. He was a doctor, so I know all about infectious diseases and medical tools. I guess he didn't talk about food, and after he left, I never needed to speak English until I met you."

"Yeah, your English back then was decent, but with your accent it was nearly impossible to understand. You could use a proper language lesson, especially work on that thick accent of yours."

"Maybe you could teach me."

"I wouldn't even know how. I just memorized words and learned the grammar and pronunciation as I went." Levi settled at the small table and saw a kettle sitting on the tray. "Did you get tea?"

Eren's mouth dropped. "Verdammt, I forgot!"

Levi sighed in disappointment, but then again, he could not be picky when Eren was getting him a free hot meal.

"I ordered muckefuck."

"The fake coffee shit?"

"I thought it would be nice." Eren sat at the table and poured hot water from the kettle into two mugs. He sprinkled in some powder and gave it a stir. "Do you remember when I first served you this?"

"Of course. On Shauvot." That was very early on, just two weeks after the German army arrived. After allowing the Jews to celebrate, Eren took Levi aside to the kitchen, where they sat down together over a cup of muckefuck and talked like friends for the first time.

There was a flush on Eren's face as he confessed, "That was the day I fell in love with you."

Levi's eyes grew huge, and he cried out, "Wait, are you serious?"

Eren kept stirring the spoon into the cup, but now more like an excuse to keep his eyes down. "No, I guess that's not true."

Levi let out a sigh of relief.

"Earlier than that. That was just the day it dawned on me."

"Earlier?"

"That day you were attacked in the lavatory with the mop—"

"I really don't want to remember that day."

"I said something to you. I didn't realize that I even said it until later, and then I dismissed it as the adrenaline making me crazy. You might have passed out before you even got to hear it." He handed the cup of dark liquid to Levi. "I called you mein Lieber."

Levi thought the words over. "My love?"

"Not necessarily love. Like my parents used to call me mein lieber Junge."

"So more like my dear?"

"I guess. I said it, but I brushed it off. There was no way I could have feelings for someone I barely knew. Yet I had to help with the surgery to heal you, and my heart ached the whole time. Then the next time I took your group to bathe, I could barely take my eyes off you. I was so confused. As I watched you celebrating with the other Jews, I realized there really was something different about you. Everything I was taught, Übermensch und Untermensch, was drifting away. Getting to share food with you really made me happy…" He laughed awkwardly. "…even if you hated it."

"That's still not love. That's infatuation."

Eren frowned, not knowing that word. "What's the difference?"

"One is profound, the other is foolish. One hits you in the chest like a cannon, the other tickles your dick."

Eren had to laugh at Levi's crude description. "Well, whatever it is, that was when it dawned on me. Maybe at first it was, as you put it, a tickle in my dick, but it grew over the months." He reached over and rested his hand on Levi's wrist. "It grew to whatever I feel now."

Levi felt his throat getting tighter, and he whispered, "How do you feel?"

Those huge, teal eyes were fiercely on him as Eren declared, "I would die to protect you."

Levi immediately snapped, "Don't talk about dying. It'll bring misfortune."

"Fine. Then I would do anything to protect you, without hesitation, no matter what it means for me."

"No." Levi shook his head. "Don't say that. Don't ever say that. You don't know what it means."

"You think I don't?" he challenged. "I risked getting shot by my captain just to vouch for you, I killed a man to protect you, so don't tell me I don't know what it means to want to protect someone so desperately, you would sacrifice yourself for them—"

"Don't!" Levi hit the table in rage, but there was a redness in his eyes as his lips quivered. "Don't say it. Please."

Eren backed down. He had just wanted to get his feelings across. "I'm sorry."

"No, you don't have to be sorry. Just, don't … don't tell me."

He looked down at the drink. A little had sloshed out when he hit the table. He picked up the cup and gave a sip. It was not quite as bad as he remembered, rather sweet actually, just not the same as real coffee. The flavor of muckefuck was now forever tied to that day having soup with Eren.

"It's bad enough, knowing you've risked so much to save me," Levi whispered, "knowing you've crushed your heart and buried your morals; every moment I'm here is a risk to your life. So you don't have to tell me. Every action, even this," he said, lifting the cup a little, "proves you would die for me. It's bad enough knowing that. I don't need to hear you say it."

"But I want you to know, it really is love. It's not … what did you call it?"

"Infatuation. I meant early on. There's no way you could have fallen in love with me in two weeks."

"Why not? We have a saying: Liebe auf den ersten Blick. Love on the first view."

"Love at first sight," Levi grumbled. "That shit is fake. It's definitely infatuation. Not discounting your feelings or anything, but true love takes time."

"I have had four months. I have debated this with myself every single day. I did not want to fall in love with you."

Levi had been taking a sip, but he looked up in surprise. Eren had not wanted to fall in love?

"I knew how dangerous it would be, not just for me, but for you. I did not want that for you. I wanted to get you out of that village before I really fell in love. Then one day, I realized … it was too late." Eren dropped his head as he smiled sadly. "I tried to avoid you. I was scared. I feared, if I just looked at you, somehow someone was going to figure it out. I thought, if I at least did not tell you, then it would be okay. I ruined that as well."

"I don't mind that you told me, and I don't mind that we're together now."

Eren gasped softly and looked up with glittering eyes. "You think we're together?"

"Aren't we?" he asked with a casual shrug.

Joy burst out into an excited grin. "Yes!" Eren grabbed Levi's hand and squeezed it. "Yes, we are. We're together."

Levi scoffed and looked away from that overwhelming happiness. "You're way too happy," he grumbled.

"I wanted us to be together, but I wasn't sure how to ask you."

"I thought we already talked about this."

"But we didn't make it clear. Are we—what's the English word—courting?"

Levi felt his face burning up, and he could not look Eren in the eyes. "We're together. Leave it as that."

Eren held Levi's hand and traced over his knuckles with his thumb. "Together then."

Levi sighed, not really sure what more he could say to Eren. Love was a weird concept to him, and courting was even weirder. The only person he had ever truly courted was Petra, and their courtship lasted only a few months. If he had to be honest, he married her when he was still merely infatuated. He fell in love slowly through their first year of marriage.

Now here was Eren. They could not go out to restaurants together, they could not take long walks or share drinks or see a film at the cinema, none of the normal courtship routines, yet they could sit here, having breakfast together, talking more intimately than he ever had before. Even with Petra, Levi held back details of the war in Africa and his jobs as an assassin. She did not like to hear about that stuff, although she was supportive when he needed it. With Eren, Levi felt like he could talk about any detail at all. Nothing needed to be held back.

It was not traditional, but it was emotional.

They let the moment simmer as they returned to eating the food. Eren heartily dug into his pancakes, while Levi gingerly tested the eggs. They occasionally glanced up at one another, but their faces went hot whenever they did.

Under the table, Levi felt Eren's foot rub up against him, playing with his toes. That clandestine touch made his heart speed up. He was so like a child, and yet … Levi liked that about Eren. He was so pure and adorable. Levi wished he could protect that youthful innocence.

Levi took another sip of the muckefuck. "One day, I will have you try a true espresso, French style."

Eren smirked. "Oh? You'll take me out to a café? Sounds romantic."

Levi glared back at him. "I will make you coffee myself. Real coffee! Not this liquid pig shit." Despite saying that, Levi continued to drink. "And tea," he mumbled. "You deserve to know what tea tastes like."

"I've had tea."

"You've had piss water diluted with dead leaves. That's not tea."

"I've told you before, my father would drink tea every morning. I can still remember the smell, him pouring in Milch und Zucker, reading a newspaper, and sipping tea in the morning. He taught my mother how to make … what were they called … scones. He brought me some from London once, although they were stale by the time he got back home. I guess I liked them, and my father really enjoyed them, so Mutter learned a recipe."

Levi raised an eyebrow. "Tea and scones? That's a peculiarly British way to have breakfast."

"Well, he did lecture in England and Scotland. Maybe it's something he picked up there, like you did." With excitement, Eren cried out, "Tell me how you got into drinking tea."

Levi told him the story as they ate. He could still remember it clearly, his first day after arriving in London, nineteen, fresh off the war in Africa, his English barely passable, his knowledge of British customs nonexistent, but he was eager to get away from Paris. London turned out to be more grimy and more crowded, with miserable rain all the time, and rather than cheering up the gloom with wine, everyone drank tea.

On that first day with the SIS, he was shown to the office of one of the directors and immediately offered tea. He accepted some and just about spit it out. He thought it was disgusting. Luckily, the director apologized and had some wine brought in instead.

A few days later, that same director invited Levi to a nice restaurant for High Tea. There, in some posh dining hall that looked like it was taken right out of a castle, Levi discovered the complexity of the drink. Like a wine, there were different types of tea. After sipping a few and trying different combinations of cream and sugar, he found one he utterly enjoyed.

The teabags at his work were simply cheap and inferior. The director told him, loose leaf tea was the best way to go, and praised Levi that perhaps his French tongue, accustomed to the complexities of wine, was designed to drink only the finest tea.

Levi went out and bought high quality tea leaves, a kettle, a teapot, china cups, and everything he needed to make his own tea. He enjoyed the idea of teatime, a little treat and boost of caffeine to get you through to a late dinner.

After he left the Deuxième Bureau, Levi continued to buy black tea, his one splurge. He made tea in the morning and for teatime. Petra had hated it and preferred coffee, so they would make both, a single hot kettle of water, with coffee for her and tea for him.

Eren listened to Levi talking. For a man who spoke so little and normally just insulted people, when it came to tea, Levi's face lit up. Eren thought to himself, he seriously wished that one day Levi could open his dream tea shop.

After the meal, Levi reclined on the bed to read his book while Eren went into the bathroom. He had everything prepared: bath salts, a lovely fragrant soap, liquid shampoo, and a soft washcloth. He had asked the hotel for their very best, even if he had to pay out of pocket. He wanted to truly spoil Levi, at least once.

He got the water started up, nice and hot. He poured the salts into the water and swirled it around to mix in. Satisfied, he came out and saw Levi reclined on the bed, reading, looking so relaxed. It was almost a shame to pull him away from his rest.

"The bath is ready."

Levi sighed, just getting to a good part of the story. He set the book aside, got up, and walked into the bathroom. Eren waved eagerly for him to get into the tub. Levi glanced sideways and realized Eren was not leaving.

"Are you going to leave, or are you going to stay and watch like a pervert?"

His cheeks went red as he mumbled, "I … I wanted … to wash your back."

"I'm not some child who needs his mother to bathe him."

"Of course you're not, but I still want to."

Levi rolled his eyes. "Do whatever you want."

Levi unbuttoned his shirt, and Eren rushed forward to help him slip it off. His hands slid down Levi's arms, slowly pulling the shirt off. Levi felt a slight lump in his throat at the gentle touch. Eren placed the shirt to the side and immediately went back to Levi's arms, rubbing up the biceps and rounding over his shoulders. His fingers slid up Levi's throat, getting a soft gasp out of him, and down his chest, clutching slightly in possessiveness. He heard Eren gulp, his breathing getting hard, and then suddenly he stepped back again, retreating like he worried if he had stepped over his border too aggressively.

It took Levi a moment to calm himself back down after those intimate touches. He undid his belt and pulled the trousers off, feeling that gaze like a heat on his back. He removed his socks, and then slowly, self-conscious now, he pulled his underwear down. Eren stayed where he was, only watching like he had all summer, gazing on as Levi bathed in the river.

Levi stepped over the high rim of the tub and sank into the hot water. It stung and soothed his skin.

"Is it too hot?" Eren asked with a tinge of worry.

"No, perfect," Levi said, closing his eyes and really relaxing. "It smells nice."

"It's the salt. It's mixed with—what's the word—um, Kräuterölen."

"Smells like peppermint and eucalyptus."

"Yes! That word is similar in German, Eukalyptus. And peppermint sounds a lot like Pfefferminze."

Levi shook his head. There was no way a soldier, not even an officer, got supplies like this standard. How much had it cost? The least he could do was honor what Eren prepared. He had to admit, the Epsom salts in the hot water felt amazing. Levi hummed, feeling his muscles melt in the heat. Eren rushed out of the room and returned with the wine and a glass. He looked flushed and happy to pour Levi a cup.

"Here you are again, being too nice to me."

"Nonsense!" Eren said with a soft glow in his eyes.

Levi took a sip of wine. He almost wanted to laugh. When was the last time he felt like this? Had he ever allowed himself to feel this level of decadence?

Eren stood to the side and watched as Levi soaked and sipped wine. Sure, his eyes drifted down more than once, but more important than that area was Levi's face, especially the smoothness in the brow normally pinched, the eyes closed in relaxation, and the tiny smile whenever Levi took another sip of wine. then even that smile drifted away with the heat. How his shoulders slumped, how his chest moved slowly with tranquil breaths, how his lower lip hung slightly open in peaceful repose: all of that was more important than what was under the water.

Levi finished his wine and dipped his head down under the water. Once his black hair was drenched, he poured some of the liquid shampoo into his hand. He sniffed it and wrinkled his nose.

"Is it bad?" asked Eren.

"No. Smells like a woman would use it though. What does all this German writing say on the bottle?"

"Schwarzkopf Onalkali? That's the company that made it and what it's called. I don't really know, to be honest. I've never used liquid shampoo. We only had bar soap or Pulvershampoo. Um, powder shampoo."

"So you've never used this stuff? How do I know that my hair won't fall out?"

Eren laughed. "Schwarzkopf is a really famous company from Berlin. If they caused baldness, they'd lose customers."

Levi still frowned, but he decided to rub the liquid into his hair. Instantly, it foamed up. He scratched out his scalp, ignoring the joyful smiles from Eren.

"You should try it too," Levi said, massaging his nails through his hair. "I'd feel bad if you didn't get a chance to try this too."

"I will later," Eren said, more happy to watch Levi. "I'll get a bath after you."

Levi nodded in satisfaction. Then he dipped his head down again, washing the suds out. He saw a fresh bar of soap by the tub and grabbed it to wash his limbs.

"Let me!" Eren said eagerly.

Levi hesitated, but he handed over the soap. "If you insist."

Levi curled his legs up and hunched over, a stubborn gesture that also exposed his bony back. Eren took the soft washcloth and soaped it up. Then he began to clean, rubbing the cloth around in circles over Levi's skin.

"I've had dreams of doing this," he whispered airily.

"Your dreams are too innocent."

Eren chuckled slyly. "Oh trust me, they're not!" He paused and choked as he realized what he just said. "Oh! I don't mean—"

"It's fine," Levi grumbled. "I already know you're a naughty boy with perverted dreams."

"I can't help what I dream about. But this much…" Eren's fingers caressed down the side of Levi's neck, sending a gasp and a shiver down his arms. "This, I dream about a lot. My very first dream about you was watching you bathe in the river, only we were alone. I walked into the river, fully clothed, and washed your back. The river somehow swept my uniform away. I was too scared to leave the river and be seen naked, so I hid behind you and … well … it went naughty from there."

Levi rolled his eyes, although he was slightly curious. Exactly what happened after his clothes were washed away?

Eren stroked a finger down the side of Levi's neck and began to lean in, wanting to kiss him right where his hair met his nape. He stopped as his finger touched a raised, rough area of skin. He pulled back, startled by one of the whip scars. He truly looked at Levi's back, marred and criss-crossed with scars.

Although he had seen his bare body many times, it had usually been from a distance, like watching him from the riverbank, or in bad lighting in the dungeon. Now he saw Levi's back up close, with the discolored whip scars puckered up on his flesh. He began to reach his hand forward, wanting to touch one, but he cringed as he pulled back, horrified by the raw truth.

Flashes blinded his eyes. Levi's back dripping red, the creak of leather in his hand, sadistic cheers all around him, the metallic smell of blood, his voice growing hoarse from screaming, the swing of his arm and crack of the whip.

Levi heard a soft grunt behind him and assumed Eren was getting aroused again with some perverted thoughts. "Why are you grunting like a pig in heat?" he grumbled. "You've seen me naked before."

"It's not that."

The shiver of grief in Eren's voice made Levi spin around in the water. He saw Eren with tears streaming down and his lips pressed together hard, desperately trying to hold back sobs.

"What's wrong?" he asked, instantly worried.

Another grunt, but this time Levi saw that it was Eren trying to hold back the shaking in his chest. Eren's hand reached out again and cautiously touched one of the stripes on Levi's back. With his voice barely a breath, he asked, "Do they hurt?"

Levi pulled Eren's hand away and brought the shaking fingers to his lips, giving them a kiss. "Don't worry about it."

"They do, don't they?"

"I have plenty of places on my body that hurt worse than a few old scars." He saw his answer did not help Eren at all. He decided to be fully honest. "I'll admit, they hurt for over a month. Even into July, if I moved wrong, they'd hurt. They don't anymore, unless someone hits me in the back."

Eren whispered in misery, "Like when I kicked you, after … Moses…"

Levi held Eren's hand to keep him in the moment and not slip into that dark past again. "Your kick was fine, because it was low. It was that other bastard who stomped on my back. That bloody hurt!"

Although Levi was trying to be glib about it, he saw that Eren was slowly losing the fight against the sobs. His chest silently shook; he grabbed his mouth with one hand and hugged himself with the other to hold the sobs in.

"Eren," Levi sighed, pulling him into a hug.

"I'm so sorry!" he screamed, and the sobs finally won over. A moist, loud wail burst out as he collapsed into Levi's wet arms. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

Levi hushed him, both hoping to soothe his guilt and also seriously worried that someone might hear him. Eren had claimed that no one was left on their floor, but for how long? What about hotel staff? He grabbed Eren and pulled his head down into his bare shoulder, trying to smother the sobs.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

"It's okay," he whispered, stroking through his hair. "It wasn't your fault. You had no choice."

That whipping had happened early on, just three days after drinking muckefuck. That moment of bonding was what made Eren try to save Levi, yet in the end, Eren was forced to hurt him. Now, knowing that Eren had been starting to fall for him around the time, Levi realized just how hard it must have been to hurt not merely some Jewish slave he barely knew, but a man he was growing infatuated with.

The weight of that whip was still something Eren could feel in his hands.

Eren softly confessed, "I still have nightmares of it, of hurting you, seeing you bleeding, and what I said to you."

"Chut, chut!" Levi whispered, like calming a child. "If it's of any relief, you were speaking in German, so I have no clue what you were saying." That was not completely true. Levi knew enough insults for Jews to make out some of the things that had been said to him, but he also knew Eren had to say those words. He had to act the part of a Nazi officer.

"I called you a—"

"I don't want to know!" Levi snapped, and he yanked Eren's face up to look at him. "I don't want you to repeat them, because those weren't your words. They were words the Nazis forced into your mouth."

"But I'm the one who said them. I said them then, and I've said them before." His face shattered in revulsion. "I used to believe them."

"Did you really?" he challenged. "Did you ever really used to believe any of that?"

Eren snuffled as the things he said that day repeated in his ears, as they had through so many nightmares, screaming at Levi, whipping him over and over, watching the blood pour down his back, so caught up in the moment that he fully lost himself for a few seconds.

You are merely a Jewish sow. You are not even human. You are a subhuman. Jews are loathsome. You are filthy. Disgusting. Repulsive. All Jews must die!

"I believed some of it," he whispered in confession. "I believed Jews were subhuman. I believed Jews were less evolved: stupider, greedier, weaker, more violent."

"Do you believe any of that now?"

He sniffled back the snotty tears and shook his head with a quiet, "No."

"Look me in the eyes."

Wracked with guilt, Eren struggled to meet his gaze.

"Do you believe that I am subhuman and less evolved than you?"

He shook his head and began to drop his chin.

"Look at me!" he snapped, and Eren's eyes turned up sharply in command. "Do you believe I'm stupider than you?"

"Not at all!" he assured desperately.

"Greedier?"

"You were always giving away your food. Of course you're not greedy."

"Weaker?"

Eren had to chuckle at that and shook his head. "I've seen how strong you are."

"More violent?" Levi paused while Eren looked worried about being honest. "Okay, don't answer that one."

Eren burst into a laugh, and Levi smiled at seeing him pull out of his grief.

"You believed those things because you were taught that way. If I grew up my whole life living underground and I was taught that the sky was green, I'd have no way of knowing the truth, so of course I'd believe what others tell me. But if I venture up to the surface and see for myself, the sky is blue, I will never go back to believing it is green. So I want you to understand something, never forget it, and never go back to your old way of thinking."

Eren looked up, curious and a little worried by the serious tone in Levi's voice.

"We're the same," he insisted. "Jew, Aryan: we're all the same. No Übermensch or Untermensch. We're all humans, all equal. You and I, we're equal!"

"I know," Eren whispered. "You're the one who taught me that."

Levi shrugged it off. "I might have lectured you once or twice."

"As a child, I wanted to believe my race alone made me special. I was Aryan, I was superior! Especially growing up in a world that said men like me were disgusting, I wanted to believe I was still better than other people." He looked straight into Levi's eyes. "I needed to believe in something, because the whole world thought I was sinful and filthy. So I clung to the idea that at least—at the very least—I was Aryan, and so I wasn't as disgusting as they all thought."

Levi reached up and caressed his cheek. "You're not disgusting. You're a brat, you're naïve, you're intolerable at times…"

Eren laughed at the playful insults.

"And … you're the kindest man I have ever known in my entire life. You're loyal to friends. You're noble, even letting me kick you in the head. You're caring," he whispered. "A little too much at times, but … that's what I like about you."

Eren's mouth dropped at that little confession, and he felt his cheeks blaze hot.

Left scoffed and spun away. "Seriously, your face is too honest." He felt embarrassed at having said even that much, but he felt Eren needed to hear it.

Eren let his hand drift closer to Levi's back again, cringed away at the scars, but he reached up to Levi's neck, smooth, pale, and so sensitive that a soft touch made the man shiver. Eren knew he would forever regret having scarred Levi's back, but at least he could find solace in making the rest of his body feel good.

"May I kiss you?"

Levi slowly turned around. Eren always did this: ask, wait, and only kissed if Levi allowed it. However, this time, Levi saw that Eren needed to be forgiven, and allowing him a kiss showed that Levi was not angry at him. He pitied the young man forced to do hideous things, all so he could survive. Levi seriously, deeply pitied him and wished he could have saved Eren from all of that darkness, rather than be the reason he had nightmares. He reached forward, took Eren's cheek, and tugged him closer.

"Of course you may," he whispered.

Eren closed his eyes as he leaned over the bathtub and gave a soft, lingering kiss. Levi's eyes closed. Every time they kissed, he felt a dichotomous sensation of both flying on freedom's wings, and falling into an abyss of the unknown. He was plummeting, a freefall, losing his grip on some sharp precipice, called down by a siren.

And that same siren held onto him tightly as he soared to a warm, comforting place.

Falling, flying. Wariness, warmth. Fear, fascination.

It was overwhelming!

Levi reached forward to stroke along Eren's arm, but he felt the rough fabric of the Heer uniform.

That damn uniform!

When Eren pulled back, he saw the confusion and hesitancy in Levi's face, the confidence he had come to admire wavering now in the face of a new challenge.

"I mean it," Eren urged. "You can tell me no. At any time, for any reason, you can tell me you don't want to."

"If I hated it, I wouldn't let you do it. It's still … confusing. Part of me is flattered and appreciates the idea that someone cares for me."

"It's that I'm a man, right?" he guessed, figuring that was the biggest hurdle.

"A German." He tapped the Iron Cross on Eren's uniform. "A Nazi. An enemy. Those issues weigh more than your gender at the moment."

"If I was French, what then?"

"Then?" Levi's brow furrowed as he thought about it. "Maybe I could focus more on the fact that you're male, and I could figure out what I think about it. For now, your uniform troubles me more than your dick."

Eren raised to his feet, and Levi wondered if his words had offended him. He stood in front of the bathtub and looked down at the dark-haired man. Silently, he began to unbutton his tunic. He had done this before, removing the bagatelle of battle to give only himself. However, he kept going, yanking the gray undershirt over his head and exposing his tone chest.

Levi's eyes narrowed. "What the hell are you doing?"

Eren kept going. Off went his boots and socks, his belt clanked as it came apart, and his trousers went off next. Without breaking eye contact, he stripped down to nothing and stood before Levi fully nude. His eyes reflected the seriousness of his feelings.

"Can you focus on me now, and not the uniform?"

Levi almost wanted to look away out of a sense of decency, yet he forced himself to keep looking. Eren's body was pale from wearing the uniform all the time, scarred in places from battles, lean from eating rations, yet there was strength to his limbs. As his name suggested, Eren Jäger was a hunter, a warrior, a soldier of the highest caliber.

Eren stepped closer, staring down hard. "Que pensez-vous de moi?" What do you think of me?

Levi jolted at hearing him speak French so casually. Although he had been trying to teach Eren the language, the young man had shown little progress.

"Pouvez-vous aimer un homme?" Can you love a man?

Levi thought about it. Love! He had fallen in love once, and it ended in blood. Petra's final moments flashed through his mind.

Could he fall in love again? Could he risk it? Especially something this huge, not just some village girl, but a man. A German!

No, nationality and gender were secondary to the first issue.

Could he open his heart once again?

"J'ai peur d'aimer."

"Peur … I don't know that word," said Eren.

Levi dropped his gaze. "J'ai peur … I'm afraid … to love. To lose someone I care for. I feel like I can't allow anyone to get that close to me. Anyone! I'm like a walking landmine; those who get too close die. It would be safer for you to stay far away and forget me."

Eren leaned over and grabbed Levi's chin, forcing it up. "That won't happen."

He suddenly stepped over the rim of the tub and sank into the water until it threatened to slosh out. Levi panicked and tried to scurry away. Eren grabbed him, flipped around, and slammed Levi down onto his lap. Despite the squirming protests, Eren hugged Levi close against him. Maybe he was being forceful now, but he had to get through to him somehow.

"I'm not staying away, and I will never forget you."

Levi struggled to break free. "Takhshet! If someone walks in—"

"I am not staying away," he shouted, grabbing Levi closer. "And I will never … ever … forget you."

Levi's eyes burned. He stopped struggling and sank against Eren's chest. Those words rang through his ears and soothed his shattered soul.

"Putain!" As emotions pummeled him to the point of torture, he whispered, "Why are you like this?"

Eren smiled as he stroked through Levi's wet, stringy hair while nuzzling against him. "Because I love you."

A single sob burst out before Levi could cover his mouth and shove down the rest. Years of being hated, fleeing, pushing others away, knowing any of them could be killed, seeing so many get shot, or worse

What right did he have to survive when so many had died? What right did he have to find happiness after so much grief? What right did he have to meet someone who loved him despite his religion, nationality, and even his gender?

Levi had never been a truly strict Jew, and he had never prayed from the day his mother died until Petra urged him to rediscover his roots. When God actually answered his prayers, saved his life, and brought him to a man who gave him happiness, it was terrifying to feel so blessed. Why him, when he had only rediscovered his heritage once being a Jew threatened his life?

He lay there, in the water, on top of Eren's chest, staring at the ceiling, as he muttered, "I can give it a try."

Eren froze his petting and looked down in confusion.

"Je peux essayer d'aimer un homme."

"Um … what? I understood most of the words."

"I can try to love a man. Although, I don't know how, and … sex—"

"It's not for sex," he assured, tipping Levi's face up and staring seriously. "Don't think that at all."

"It's hard not to when we're naked in a bathtub and I can feel your dick on my arse."

Eren chuckled and squeezed him even tighter. "I love you, so I want to spoil you and make you smile. I like touching you," he confessed with bright cheeks as his hands roamed over Levi's chest, "and I like your kisses. I like what we have right now. As for sex … I'm an officer of the Wehrmacht, I'm practical, I know we'll be separated soon, we won't have time to build up to something like that. Still, I like to think we'll make it back together once the war is over. I want to meet you in New York one day."

Levi muttered, "I'd like that."

Eren squeezed him closer and nuzzled into his hair. "I will! And we can figure things out then. Or not, perhaps. For now, I want to be able to show you my feelings without fearing that you will think I'm disgusting. I've lived my whole life hiding that part of myself. My whole life! For just a few days, I want to be what I am in front of at least one person without the threat of execution hanging over me."

Levi thought about that. He had lived these past four years threatened due to his religion, yet Eren had been living every day of his life endangered, all these years forced to obey society and hide his real thoughts, his honest feelings, his true self.

What Levi had suffered in four year, Eren had lived with his whole life. He had seen childhood friends tortured for being what he also was.

Homosexual or Jewish: under the shadow of the swastika, they were not that different, except for one thing. Once the war was over and the Allies won, Levi would be free to step into a synagogue and worship his God; however, Eren would still not have the freedom to love.

Levi slowly rolled around in the water until they were chest-to-chest. Their faces were so close, their lips craving, their chests matching the pace of breaths as they felt each other's bodies so intimately.

"We're so alike," whispered Levi as he caressed Eren's cheek, "and yet, in some ways, you're so much stronger than me. No wonder you've managed to hunt down and capture my heart."

Eren's face lit up with those words. "Do you mean it?"

Levi scowled as his face burned. "Shut up."

"I captured your heart?"

"I said shut up!"

Eren's whole soul lit up at that reluctant confession. "Levi, may I kiss you?"

Asking that again? "Why do you want to?"

"Why? Because I'm happy!"

The answer was too carefree and innocent, it almost made Levi smile. "Fine, you may."

As Eren's lips met his, Levi closed his eyes, mouth relaxed, not just agreeing to Eren's kisses, but coming to love them. He may act cantankerous, but as Eren pulled back and saw the way Levi's mouth tried to follow down after him for more, he saw a brief honesty in his face. No matter how stubborn he acted, Levi really loved these kisses.

Eren leaned up to give him another kiss, and another. With his lips fluttering on Levi's mouth, he whispered, "I will fight to protect you … mein Lieber."

Levi opened his eyes and saw the fidelity in Eren's expression. Had anyone ever looked at him as intensely as this? Certainly no man ever had. Suddenly, acutely aware of their closeness, Levi turned aside in embarrassment.

"Don't call me such stupid things, takhshet."

"You're blushing," Eren pointed out in amusement.

"Tais-toi!" Shut up!

Eren tugged his face back over, and his teal eyes shimmered. "One of these days, I'll get you to smile more often than you scowl."

"Not likely," he grumbled.

"Then it'll be my challenge." He leaned in close again, kissed Levi's brow, then his nose, then hovered by his mouth. "How do I get my love to smile?"

Levi began to melt at the tenderness. Their kisses were slow and gentle, as languid as the sloshing water. Eren's arms tightened around him, ready to shield or support. Then Levi felt wet fingers in his hair as Eren petted over his head. Levi pulled back, their eyes met, lids lowered, desire burning in their gaze.

Levi drank in the sight of Eren's face flushed red, his eyes large and full of anticipation, and his naked body wavering in the soapy tub water. Levi leaned down closer again, and Eren's mouth eagerly opened for him.

Their tongues touched, both wanting to dominate the kiss, but Eren backed off, allowing Levi to slip past his lips. Their tongues danced together. A soft grunt came from Levi, and Eren tightened his arms around him. Eren smiled that it was like he could guess what Levi wanted in his kisses now. He was learning the unspoken hints of his body.

He felt Levi's hand sliding down his chest, slowly, again so hesitant yet determined. Eren held still, wanting to know what Levi desired now. Playfully, barely sticking up from the water, Levi pinched Eren's nipple.

He surged up so sharply, water sloshed out. The erotic cry echoed through the small bathroom, and it made Levi smirk. Down below, he felt something changing.

"Are you already getting hard?" he teased, rubbing Eren's nipple some more. "I've barely touched you."

Eren whimpered with pleasure. "I can't help it. Das fühlt sich so gut an." That feels so good.

"Shit," he sneered, shocked by how powerfully that wanton moan affected him.

Like a tidal wave, Levi surged over him, aggressively attacking his lips. Eren sank deeper into the water, drowning in those kisses as they grew more dominant. The water splashed a little, and Levi pulled back, making sure Eren was still okay and not about to drown. A brief glance was all he spared before diving back down, hungrier now.

"Eren," he whispered in half a snarl.

A soft moan breathed out as a shiver sparkled down Eren's spine. He found himself sinking under Levi's weight, not even caring as the water covered over his ears, deafening him to the sound of the rain outside, yet the noises of their kisses echoed louder under the water. Their bodies slid together, and Eren could feel the soft lump of Levi's cock down under the water.

His hands slipped down Levi's back, lower, lower, and felt the curved rise that would lead to his plump butt cheeks. He wanted to touch there, to feel that softness, grab it, adore it, ravage it, worship it … and he feared that such a hallowed zone was still off-limits. He did not want to go too far and offend Levi, but damn did he want so much more!

"May I touch here?" he asked in a heated whisper.

Levi felt the fingers waiting right on an invisible border, and he knew precisely where they planned to strike. Did he want it?

"Yes!"

Eren slid his hands down, a bold but apprehensive invasion into new territory. He groaned as he felt the soft yet firm roundness. So muscular, even here! His hands explored all around, under the gentle curve of Levi's ass, and gave a cautious grope. Levi let out an airy grunt, but that was all. No signs of fear or revulsion.

He wanted it!

Eren grabbed Levi's ass firmer and pulled him in with a sense of dire urgency. His cock throbbed as it rammed against Levi's stomach.

Levi felt the full erection sliding right between their bodies, rubbing up against his own cock, and he hissed, "Fuck, Eren!"

They both knew this was probably too far, too much, too fast, but part of Levi wanted to burn all those taboos and fully give in to Eren. He made a surge over Eren's body, purposely giving both of their cocks a full stroke with his torso. His mouth dropped at how good that felt, and Eren's fingers dug into his ass as a tremble wracked his whole body.

More! He wanted to see more!

Levi did not even know how much he wanted or where his limits were anymore. He had said he did not want sex, but fuck this felt good!

Just holding one another in the bathtub wasn't sex, but what if they got one another off?

Eren felt Levi's cock rub right against him, again and again, growing persistent. Levi's breathing was getting heavier. His hips made needy thrusts. So aggressive! Yet Eren let Levi do anything he wanted. Anything at all! It could never be too much for him. He felt their bodies moving on instinct, both of them craving more, their need growing, hands groping.

More.

"Levi…"

More!

A thudding fist pounded on the hotel room door. Levi bolted out of the tub, pushing himself off so hard that he accidentally plunged Eren under the water. He stood on the rug, dripping water everywhere, body tense in a panic. Eren sat up, wiping water from his eyes, and their gazes met in horror.

"Oh shit," Levi hissed.

"Hide," Eren whispered.

"My clothes…"

"Just hide." Eren scrambled out of the tub, grabbed Levi's arm, and yanked him into the bedroom.

"Not under the bed!" Levi hissed softly, dreading the idea of being in all that dust, and now wet, making his allergy intensely worse.

The door pounded again. In a panic, Eren threw Levi into the wardrobe and slammed it shut on him.

"Wait here."

With his heart pounding in terror, fearing the absolutely worst, he grabbed a bathrobe and wrapped it around his body. Then, in a moment of real dread, he reached for his gun. At the very worst, if they were caught by the Gestapo, he would fight his way out. Anything to protect Levi.

With the gun hidden behind his back, he went to the door and opened it. In the doorway, about to knock again, was a huge, broad blond man in an SS uniform.

"What the…? Reiner Braun!" Eren cried out in astonishment.

Reiner took a step back at seeing Eren dripping wet and in a robe. "Oh, sorry. Did I catch you in the bath?"

"I was just getting out. I can't believe you're here!" He glanced over the uniform, seeing that he was okay. "I was wondering if you would be sent to Metz."

"My company just got here yesterday. Barely made it past the Americans. I heard your name mentioned in the beer hall, something about you getting a promotion, so I asked around to find where you were staying."

"Are you staying in the same hotel?"

"No, the SS get their own, separate from the Heer."

"I see," he muttered, realizing how much more elite the SS were to infantry soldiers like him.

"May I come in, or are you busy?"

He thought about telling him to come back, but he did not want anything to seem suspicious. "Of course, come in." He realized the gun was still in his hand. "Ah, sorry. You can never be too safe."

"Understandable. There could be spies and partisans anywhere." Reiner stepped in and saw the water puddle in the bathroom. "Sorry if I interrupted you, but isn't it strange, bathing in the middle of the day?"

Eren smirked slyly. "Not when I'm sneaking a girl in."

The Untersturmführer chuckled. "Oh? Little Jäger finally hunted himself a lady! About time. I was almost beginning to fear you were homosexual."

"Oh please," he said lightly. "I'll leave that sort of debauchery to the French."

"So where is she? Does she have a sister or a friend? I could use some fun."

"She left just before you arrived, and you can go find your own woman. I was just washing off."

"That juicy of a lady, huh? You're still flushed," Reiner pointed out. "She must be good."

Eren smiled privately to himself. "Gotta admit, those kisses are heavenly."

"I hope you're getting more than just kisses."

Eren wanted to avoid that sort of talk. "So, how have you been?"

"Ugh!" Reiner rolled his eyes and sank onto Eren's bed, creaking the mattress down. "To hell and back."

"War has its ups and downs. Is Bertholdt still around?"

Reiner shook his head. "He was killed in Normandy."

Eren felt this heart sink. "Oh. I'm sorry. I know you two were close friends."

"He died with honor. All of them did. Get dressed. You and I need to drink."

Eren walked back to the bathroom, and Reiner caught sight of the limp right away. Eren grabbed his clothes from the bathroom floor, pulled on the underwear and undershirt, and quickly hid Levi's clothes under his wet robe. He realized his uniform tunic was rumpled and wet, and if they were going out, he would need a proper uniform…

…that was in the closet.

Shit.

He went into the main room with his bandages and medicine and sat on the desk chair.

"You can go on ahead if you want. I still need to keep a bandage on this."

"I'll wait," Reiner said, relaxing comfortably.

Eren cursed in his mind. He had hoped Reiner would leave, at least long enough to get Levi back up to the attic.

Reiner glanced around. "Oh, cigarettes! Mind if I smoke?"

"You're the one who got me into that bad habit."

Reiner laughed as he tapped out a cigarette and lit up. "That feels like ages ago, yet it was only, what, five years?"

"We were fourteen," Eren recalled.

"Children need to rebel somehow," he said, letting out a puff of smoke. "So, were you shot?" he asked as he saw the scabbed wound on Eren's thigh.

"Yeah. Americans have bad aim."

"Tell me the whole story over beer. After the battles we've been through, I need to get drunk for a solid week." Reiner walked to the window to give Eren some privacy while he tended to his wound and got dressed. "Nice view," he said casually as he smoked his cigarette. He glanced around and saw the book Levi had left behind. "The Count of Monte Cristo. In the original French, no less. Are you reading that?"

"Trying to, anyway," he lied.

"I remember, that bug-eyed captain wanted you to learn the language so we wouldn't have to use a Jewish translator."

"Yeah, I still struggle. I thought reading would help."

"So, whatever happened to Hauptmann Woermann?"

"He's still around," Eren told him, wrapping the bandage around his thigh. "I last saw him at the promotion ceremony."

"You really did get promoted then, huh?"

"Me and a few of my men. General der Panzertruppe Knobelsdorff himself was there. I also got the silver Wound Badge and another Iron Cross."

"It must have been quite an adventure."

Eren finished with the bandage and pulled on his uniform trousers. However, he needed his full uniform. He walked slowly up to the wardrobe, hoping Levi would hear him approach and somehow hide. Although where, he had no idea. Luckily, Reiner was still facing the window. Eren carefully opened the wardrobe door. He saw Levi crouched low in the corner, trying to hide behind a thick winter coat. Their eyes met and Eren looked apologetic. There was nothing he could do but keep Levi hidden.

He pulled the tunic off a hanger, grabbed his peaked cap, and shut the wardrobe tightly. He let out a sigh, seriously amazed by how close he and Levi came to getting caught.

"You know," Reiner said, jolting Eren out of his moment of panic, "when I was sent to that village, part of my orders were specifically to keep an eye on him."

"Who, Woermann?"

"Yeah. I guess he killed an officer at his last post, and High Command didn't trust him."

"To be honest," Eren muttered as he pulled on the tunic, "shortly after you left, he shot Obergefreiter Marlo Freudenberg."

"Shit! Yeah, he was crazy, but he's the sort of crazy Germany needs. Keeping those Jews around, though? That was crazy and stupid. I can't believe you supported that."

Eren paused while pulling on his boots, but did not let anything show on his face. "It was necessary at the time. It isn't anymore." He grabbed the straps inside the boot and yanked his foot in.

"Oh? I hope they were all shipped off."

Eren stomped his foot down to make sure it was in tightly. "Woermann and I shot them before we left the village. Shipping them off would have been a waste of fuel. Bullets are cheaper."

"I guess so. I hope you didn't cry like you did with that Resistance girl."

"She was different."

"True. She simply chose the wrong side of politics. Jews are born genetically inferior. You can't fix how you're born."

"In a sense, they have no choice," Eren pointed out idly as he tugged on his cap and straightened the medals on his tunic.

"No, but nor does a cockroach have a choice in being an insect. If I see one, I'll still stomp on it."

"If you plan to stomp on some Jews, you'll need better boots than what the army gives us. Come on! I know a place that serves good beer." Eren grabbed his cane and yanked on Reiner's shoulder, eager to get him out of the bedroom and as far away from Levi as possible.

# # #

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Now THAT was a close call.

Schwarzkopf Onalkali – Hans Schwarzkopf was a German chemist and pharmacist. In 1903, he invented the first powder shampoo, which quickly became more popular than traditional bar soaps for hair care. Two decades later, Schwarzkopf introduced the first liquid hair shampoo on the European market, and in 1933 produced the world's first soap-free/alkali-free shampoo, Onalkali, considered "the mother of all modern shampoos." Schwarzkopf is also credited with multiple advances in hair dye and the first cold perm, which brought wavy hair into a mid-century global fashion rage. In 1955, the Schwarzkopf company created a "liquid hairnet" we know as hairspray, and their product Taft led to a new verb in German, taften, meaning "to spray hair with hairspray." The chlorofluorocarbon gases (CFC) in hairspray ended up being an environmental nightmare, destroying the ozone layer, so in 1987 Schwarzkopf was the first international cosmetics manufacturer to become completely CFC-free.

Recently as of me writing this, Schwarzkopf's Göt2b brand was in the news when a lady ran out of Göt2b Glue and used Gorilla Glue on her hair, leading to painful disaster. Yeah… THAT Gorilla Glue Girl! It's all jokes and memes until you realize it took a surgeon four hours to give the lady some relief. (As someone with super long hair who has done some dumb-ass things that ruined years of hair growth, I 100% feel her pain.) Also, since the surgeon did the procedure for free, she donated $20,000 of the GoFundMe money she raised to his charity to help "pay it forward," and her medical visit led to the doctor finding lumps in her breasts, which just may have saved her life. Sometimes, we do stupid shit for a reason.



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