Dangerous Territory

BY : Rhov
Category: +. to F > Attack on Titan /Shingeki No Kyojin
Dragon prints: 2485
Disclaimer: I do not own “Shingeki no Kyojin” and do not make money from this fanfic.

Chapter 4

Bathing by the River

 

Levi jolted out of nightmares at the sound of clomping shoes. Out of habit, he ducked down and reached for the knife that was no longer by his side. Nazis were coming! However, he slowly realized that although this was true, the Nazi who was coming now was most likely the only one who would not kill him.

Still, he waited on edge. Other soldiers besides Eren Jäger had come down to this dungeon. One of his fellow Jews, Moses Braun, had for some reason gained the sadistic interest of a soldier named Darius Baer-Walbrunn, a giant man with deep-set, harsh eyes, who came down just to torment the emotionally-fraught man and threaten him at gunpoint. The captain himself had been down there just to torment them, choosing one victim to beat up for all the others to see, speaking German words they did not know. Levi knew he was being treated slightly better than the others, but only slightly. They needed him alive. The others were forced into hard labor, doing cleaning work around the town so the soldiers could relax.

Still, all the imprisoned Jews were now awake, even those who had been working late into the night. Wide eyes watched and waited with fear. Only Levi’s eyes were narrow and scathing. He really wished he had his knife.

When he saw Eren, he relaxed a little, and he realized the others did as well. They all knew him as the man who saved them from being slaughtered right there in that tiny room where they had huddled and waited out the bombardment.

A moment later, they saw other soldiers with the young lieutenant, and anxiety increased again. Only Levi remained relaxed. He saw the look on Eren’s face, and he knew that whatever this was, it was not going to be bad.

“It is your seventh day, ja?” Eren said with a lightness in his voice.

“To be honest, I’ve lost track of days,” Levi said, still cautious but curious.

“I can’t get you out of work, but I can get you a small reprieve from labor.” His voice lowered, although he was speaking English and the others with him likely could not understand. “I can also briefly return a certain thing that is precious to you.”

Levi’s eyes widened at that. His Tanakh!

Baden!” Eren cried out happily. “Bathing. You will wash in the river. Under guard, of course,” he added, waving back to the soldiers. “These are trusted men of my platoon. They will not shoot if I order them not to, but,” he added, and his voice turned threatening, “I did a lot to get you even this much. If you attempt to escape, we are under orders to shoot you. I can control my men, but only if you obey our rules. Now, translate that to your group. They look terrified.”

Levi explained to the others that they were being allowed to wash in the river.

“Make sure you explain that they will be shot for any attempts at escape. Connie is a Scharfschütze. He will not miss.”

“What is … Scharfschütze?” Levi asked in confusion.

“Sharpshooter, I think is the English word. He always hits his target, no matter how far away it is.”

Tireur d’élite,” Levi translated. He looked at the soldier, slim-built with a shaved scalp that made his head look too big for his body, and saw that his gray-green eyes were keen.

Eren waved over to the rest of the prison cells. “Translate it.”

Levi nodded and repeated the words into French.

Jean groaned in annoyance. “Ich wünschte, einer von uns könnte Französich. Sprichst du’s, Armin?” I wish one of us spoke French. Do you, Armin?

The small, studious soldier shook his head. “Ich verstehe nur hier und da ein Wort. Ich habe Italienisch gelernt.” I only understand a word here and there. I studied Italian.

Ruhe!” ordered Eren. Quiet! “Öffnet die Zellentüren. Führt sie nach draußen. Schießt nur, wenn sie versuchen zu fliehen.” Open the prison doors. Lead them outside. Shoot only if they try to flee.

Wir sollten einfach—” We should just—

Mach schnell!” barked Eren. Make it quick!

Levi watched as the tall one with a long face reluctantly pulled out keys to open the prison doors.

“Is there a problem?” Levi asked, hesitating to step out.

Eren chuckled. “Jean has always been a problem.”

Jean yelled at Eren, “Was sagst du über mich? Bin ich ein Problem?” What are you saying about me? Am I a problem?

Eren grinned back to him. “Du bist immer ein Problem.” You are always a problem.

The other soldiers chuckled softly.

Levi stepped out and saw how this group interacted. “They listen to you. They respect you.”

“They should! I am their commanding officer. We have been through a few battles together.”

“A little brat like you survived? Impressive, takhshet.”

Eren laughed, and Levi found himself amused at the youthful smile. He felt safe so long as he was with this young man.

They were brought out and marched in single file through the village. Other soldiers jeered, but none did anything with the lieutenant shooting harsh glares around. Only once, a rock flew out of nowhere and hit Levi on the face, cutting his cheek.

Wer hat das geworfen?” bellowed Eren. Who threw that? “If that had hit me, you would be shot on the spot. Go back to your duties. They’re just Jews. Are they really that interesting to you?” He continued onward, but he glanced back briefly. “Are you okay?”

“I’m not going to die from a pebble, takhshet,” he said, wiping the blood aside.

Finally, they were at the river. Eren gave orders for them to bathe, Levi translated, but the women in the group hesitated.

Verdammt,” Eren cursed, removing his cap and scratching his head, unsure how to deal with this. “Are they just being modest? I know it’s mostly men here, but they really should bathe as well.”

“They’re afraid of being raped,” Levi told him bluntly.

“Never!” he shouted.

Levi stared coldly. “Most of these women have already been raped by German soldiers. They have every reason to be fearful.”

Hearing that stabbed at Eren’s sense of honor. How could any soldier do something so barbaric? “I would personally shoot any soldier under my command who did something like that,” he growled. He looked at the terrified women and felt a swell of pity for them. “How can I convince them it’s safe?”

“They trust me, and I trust you. Have your men watch the males here. Take the women a few paces upstream. You alone. Have your sharpshooter stay here but watch in case something happens. I will guard the women, you will guard me, he will be ready in case anyone is truly stupid. I know these women; most can’t swim. If they attempted to flee, the river is fast and they will drift downstream toward the men.”

Eren was honestly impressed, even taking the river’s current into consideration. “You said you were in the military. I can see how you would have made a fine tactician. Very well.” He explained to his small platoon what he was doing. Then he and Levi urged the women to travel farther upstream. Once away, the women began to undress, but still covered themselves modestly.

Levi told them in a calming tone, “Tout ira bien. Je vous protègerai.” It’s safe. I will protect you.

Eren watched without interest as the women went into the water with a few rags and shared a bar of soap, scrubbing each other’s backs. He watched Levi more.

“You should wash as well,” he stated.

Still, Levi remained on the shore fully dressed. “It’s improper for a man to bathe with women. If it’s not a problem, I’ll wait.”

“It will be. I’ll have to send the rest back and stay around just for you.”

“Then I will skip bathing this week.”

Eren leaned back against a tree. “You’re picky about the cleanliness of your prison cell, but not for yourself?”

“Of course I am, but these women come first.”

Eren chuckled. “Spoken like a true gentleman.”

Levi glanced around to Eren with a look of surprise. “Spoken like a true Englishman,” he said in amazement. “You even said that with a hint of a posh accent. Tell me, how is it that a young German like you speaks English so well? You’re as good at it as I am, and I lived in London for a few years.”

He gave a casual shrug. “I was taught at a young age.”

“Your mother?”

Eren stared out at the river, and his face darkened.

“Your father?” Levi guessed quietly.

Those teal-blue eyes shot over to him in silent fury.

Levi realized, in this situation, with these people under his protection, he could not afford to get Eren upset. The young man was visually on edge, prodding for more information was dangerous, so he turned away to continue watching over the bathers and muttered, “He taught you well.”

Eren sneered. “Of course he did, that bastard. I was forced to learn English.”

Levi’s curiosity tingled with many questions, but he said nothing.

It did not take long for the women to finish, and they hurriedly pulled their clothes back on. A few curtsied to Eren, saying what he guessed were words of thanks.

“They say they are glad you did not … what is the word … whistling and saying rude things.”

“Cat-calling, in English,” Eren told Levi. “I don’t do that sort of thing. It’s disrespectful.”

Levi again thought this German was rare and interesting, but he did not pry. He began to strip off his clothes.

Eren now jolted. “H-Hey!”

Levi glanced over his shoulder. “May I bathe as well, or must we go?”

Eren gulped and looked downstream to see his team was waiting. “Ich bleibe hier bis er fertig ist. Begleitet sie zurück ins Dorf.” I’ll stay here until he’s finished. Escort them back to the village.

The group nodded and continued on, leaving Eren and Levi alone. Levi continued to pull off his belt and undo his trousers.

“They really trust you,” he pointed out again.

“I am a lieutenant. They know someone like you cannot overpower me.”

Levi glanced back around again, this time with a wry gleam in his eyes. “Oh? Do you really believe that?”

Eren glared and rested his hand on his gun.

Levi merely shrugged and tugged off his underwear until he was fully nude. “I probably could beat you in a fight if you were unarmed, but what then? If I run, they’re all shot, and their blood is on my hands.”

He heard a noise and looked back around to see Eren with his head turned and a blush to his face.

“You had no problem with a group of naked women, but you’re bashful around a man like me? Really, takhshet, if you act like this, people may think you’re into men.”

“It’s not like that,” he shouted, but his voice hitched. “That was a group. There were naked men as well down the way, but it was all a group. This … it’s just you so … ugh! Egal, vergiss es. Never mind!” He scowled at himself and folded his arms with a churlish pout.

Levi paused in cautious curiosity, but he dismissed it for now. This man was a Nazi, after all. He knew what they did to homosexuals and any form of sexual deviants. Maybe it was as Eren said: a group was one thing, but this was just the two of them. He was overly modest for a soldier.

Levi waded out into the river with a bar of soap and a cloth, and he began to wash himself. Eren watched from the shore, but instead of anticipating an escape attempt, his eyes lingered over Levi’s torso, down to where the water hid him. His skin was pale, his chest nearly hairless, yet there were scars on him, some of them recent. Some were definitely from the lashes of a whip. Most were knife wounds. One scar looked like a bullet wound.

Eren wondered how he got them. Was he whipped for being a Jew? Had he been in knife fights as a youth? Was he shot during his time in the military? How did he get all of those scars?

He did not dare ask, though. Instead, he watched and silently admired the muscular back.

“Thank you.”

Eren jolted, and he realized his eyes had been drifting downward.

Levi continued, “You must have gone through some trouble to get baths for us. I know all of us are thankful, even if it’s the sabbath. Cleanliness is important to Jews.”

Eren laughed softly. “And here I was always taught that Jews are dirty.”

Levi glanced around his shoulder. “Funny. We’re taught the same thing about Gentiles.”

Eren supposed every group said foul things about one another. It was childish, in his mind. Name-calling, that was all. “You should hurry. Jean will definitely come back and act like an idiot if you take too long.”

“I just need to scrub off the filth. It’s been a while since I last had a proper bath. Not that a bar of soap and a river are what I would consider proper under normal circumstances. Still, it’s better than my own spit. I miss soaking in a hot bathtub.”

Eren had to bark a laugh. “Most of the time, we’re lucky to get a bag of water and a sliver of soap. I remember going over three months without a shower or bath, working and sleeping in the same clothes day after day. They had to cut the socks off my skin and burn the boots by the time I was called off the front lines.”

Levi turned around and eyed the young man. “You fought on the front?”

“Anzio,” he replied, and his eyes darkened a little. “I rather liked Italy, but that … that was hell. I lost a lot of good men. We were out there from January until late April. Generalfeldmarschall Kesselring called all available units to Anzio to stop the Americans and British. The shells were firing night and day, no stop. I still have ringing in my ears. We were pulled back three weeks ago and sent to Paris for a reprieve, but in the middle of what was supposed to be resting, we were ordered to attack this village. My platoon is still a bit shell shocked, and we’re supposed to be getting new recruits to fill what we lost in Anzio. Last I heard, they’re still fighting on the beachhead there.”

Levi watched him with interest, especially since he did not hear much news about the fighting. The French Resistance in this village had told him some, but not much about Italy.

So, the Allies were aiming to retake Italy, probably free Rome. Pushing toward Germany from the south was idiotic, with the Alps in the way and Switzerland shooting down anyone who entered their territory, Allies or Axis alike. Maybe they planned to push toward France from the east. Maybe it was all a distraction, keep Hitler’s eyes on Italy and the Allies could aim for western France.

There were whispers amidst the Resistance, something big planned, and many said France would certainly be liberated before summer was over. He could only guess at what these generals were plotting in their massive war game.

Eren realized Levi was not moving, just staring at him. “Are you done?”

He looked down at his soap and cloth. “Almost. Pardon me.” He turned his back to Eren and reached down to clean a more private area.

Eren looked away. Part of him knew that was dangerous, Levi could do anything while he was not looking, yet he reasoned that the man was naked in a river. He doubted he could pull a gun out of his ass.

“Hurry!” Eren snapped peevishly.

Levi let the flowing water rinse him. He climbed out of the river and returned to his clothes.

“It would be nice to do laundry. I feel like I’m putting on filth.”

“Maybe next week,” Eren said, hardly realizing he was offering far more than what many soldiers got during battle.

Levi pulled on the worn trousers and threadbare shirt right over his wet skin. As he tried to smooth out his black hair with his fingers, Eren pulled a comb from his back pocket and offered it over. Levi looked down at the comb in surprise.

“You would let a Jew use your own comb? I could have lice, for all you know.”

“I’ve seen plenty of Germans with lice. You look cleaner than them.”

Levi hesitated before accepting it. He ran the comb through his hair, but only enough to get the tangles out. Then he handed it back, as if this tiny exchange was a major threat to them both.

“Thank you again,” he muttered with a petulant scowl.

Eren turned back toward the village. “When we’re back, I can give you your book. I can stay down there maybe half an hour without trouble. If you wish to read it, read quickly.”

All of these small services were surprising to the Jew who had known so much harshness in his life. “You are a strange man, Jäger.”

They continued to the village and straight to the castle dungeon. Underground, there was nobody. The other Jews were working, cleaning dishes, doing laundry, or scrubbing latrines.

“I should join the others in cleaning,” Levi stated.

“It can wait half an hour,” Eren said with a friendly smile. He reached around to his pack and pulled out a thick, old book. “Your Torah.”

“It’s the Tanakh, you idiot. The English call it The Old Testament.” Levi accepted it, taking the book cautiously. He turned it around, inspecting the edges, and then thumbed through it, glancing at the pages. “You kept it safe,” he whispered in awe.

“I promised I would.”

Levi practically collapsed onto his little cot, staring at the book like it was a precious treasure. He opened it and knew precisely where to go.

Eren looked down at the pages written in Hebrew. “Can you read some of it into English?”

“That may be hard,” Levi admitted. “I’m not fluent in Hebrew, I have to think it in French, and then I would have to put that into English. I know one quote, though. It’s from the Talmud, not the Tanakh, but I learned it from a rabbi in London.”

“You mentioned you lived in London. How long?”

“Eight years, off and on, late 20s and early 30s. I went there for … work.” He left that ambiguous, but Eren saw a slight darkness in his eyes. “I wasn’t really interested in Judaism before, but I met a rabbi there, and he told me this in English: ‘Whoever destroys a single life is as guilty as though he had destroyed the entire world, and whoever rescues a single life earns as much merit as though he had rescued the entire world.’”

Eren’s brow tensed at the verse.

“I’ve killed many people,” whispered Levi. “When I was a soldier, that was my duty, and I told myself I had to kill because they were direct orders. One rabbi told me it was okay, because I was killing Gentiles, and the Talmud says, ‘When a Jew murders a Gentile, there will be no death penalty.’ Still, slit enough throats and you realize there is no difference between Jew and Gentile. We all bleed, we all die, and we’re all filled with regrets right at that moment of death. Even someone with a heart of stone will eventually feel remorse.”

“I understand that much,” Eren whispered. “I don’t know how many people I’ve killed in this war. You start off telling yourself it’s okay, it’s war, it’s your duty. You grow numb. They’re just a uniform to shoot, not a person but a thing. It’s easy to forget, that’s a person in that uniform.” His eyes traveled over Levi. “They’re just another person, trying their best to keep living and breathing in this brutal, mad world.”

“Exactly. Now, I try to save lives. I try! It’s like the world is refusing me that little bit of merit. For four years, I have fought and struggled and tried to help others. They were all caught in the end. Some were murdered right in front of me,” he muttered, looking deeply pained. “Some were shipped off. I know there are camps for Jews. We hear rumors of them, of what happens in them. You die in those places! Some say it’s better to be shot in the head than to be sent to a concentration camp.”

He hugged the book to his chest and looked up at Eren.

“You take too many risks. If you aren’t careful, it will be you who I’ll have to rescue, and I’m not sure if heaven would bless me or curse me for saving the life of a damn Nazi swine.”

Eren chuckled softly. “How about simply the life of another human?”

“I thought Nazis don’t consider Jews to be human.”

Eren’s laugh dampened. That was true, but he hated to think it applied to this man in front of him. “As you said, we all bleed,” he muttered. “We’re all humans. Aryans are merely a superior form of humans.”

Levi’s grayish eyes narrowed in disbelief.

“Don’t look at me like that. It’s a proven fact, doctors have confirmed it. Still, we’re of the same species, we’re human, we’re—”

Levi let out a disdainful scoff and said only a single German word. “Untermensch.”

Eren stiffened up. Of course he knew that word. Under-man! It was used to describe a subhuman. He had been taught this in school, learning all about the differences between the race of Nordic German Übermenschen and Jewish and Slavic Untermenschen. He had read a pamphlet about it not long ago.

* * *

Just as the night rises against the day, the light and dark are in eternal conflict. So too, is the subhuman the greatest enemy of the dominant species on earth, mankind. The subhuman is a biological creature, crafted by nature, which has hands, legs, eyes and mouth, even the semblance of a brain. Nevertheless, this terrible creature is only a partial human being.

Although it has features similar to a human, the subhuman is lower on the spiritual and psychological scale than any animal. Inside of this creature lies wild and unrestrained passions: an incessant need to destroy, filled with the most primitive desires, chaos and cold-hearted villainy.

A subhuman and nothing more!

Not all of those who appear human are in fact so. Woe to him who forgets it!

Mulattoes and Finn-Asian barbarians, Gypsies and black skin savages all make up this modern underworld of subhumans that is always headed by the appearance of the eternal Jew.

* * *

“How quickly you forget your schooling, takhshet,” Levi mocked wryly. “Don’t let your captain hear you utter those words about equality, or I really will be forced to do something stupid to save your life.” He looked down at the Tanakh. “I owe you at least that much for keeping this safe.”

“It was nothing.”

“Yes, it was, and if you don’t see that, you truly are a fool. A German soldier in possession of a Jewish holy book? An officer chatting idly with a Jew, with what you deem to be an Untermensch?” He shook his head. “You’re risking a lot. I don’t like it.”

“Why do you care?” Eren asked haughtily.

Levi snapped at him, “Because I do not want to be the cause of anymore deaths!” He slammed the Tanakh shut and thrust it back to Eren. “Prends-le, ce putain de livre.

“What?”

“I said take it! Take the damn book away from here.”

“I said you could read it for half an hour.”

“And that is a foolish decision by some damn German brat who somehow became an officer in the Wehrmacht. I know you’re not that stupid or you’d be dead by now, so something is twisting your judgment.”

Eren gulped and blushed slightly.

“Whatever your reasons may be, ouvre les yeux! I will not be held responsible for yet another innocent life being snuffed out by this putain de guerre! I mean war. This damn, fucking, pointless war!” He thrust the book toward him again. “Take it. Burn it. Make sure no one sees you with it.”

“Burn it?” Eren exclaimed, taking hold of the Tanakh. “I thought this was precious to you, more precious than your own life.”

Merde. Tu n’écoutes jamais.” Shit. You never listen.

Levi looked aside, and it seemed like he would not say more. Still, Eren did not leave, holding the book and looking at the worn cover with Hebrew writing. After what felt like an eternity between them, Levi spoke softly.

“Life is more precious than a book.”

Reluctantly, Eren tucked it back away into his pack. “This belonged to your mother. I can’t destroy something like that.”

“Burn it!” he bellowed. “Don’t get killed on my account. I would burn it, but if I do it down here, someone will smell the smoke, and if I do it in the open, someone will think it’s a signal to La Résistance. Do us both a favor and burn the damn book.”

Eren’s brow tensed, but he said nothing.

Levi shouldered his way past the young officer. “I should join the others in cleaning.” He stormed out without looking back.

Eren removed his uniform cap and scratched out his hair. “Ein komplizierter Mann, so viel ist sicher.” A complicated man, that’s for sure.

# # #

# #

#

Untermensch (Under-man or Subhuman) was first used as a racist term in America by members of the KKK, and later used by the Nazi Party to mean any non-Aryan. The quote in this chapter is from the 1942 brochure “Der Untermensch” edited by Heinrich Himmler, Reich Leader of the SS and so-called “Architect of the Holocaust.”

The Tanakh – the Hebrew Bible. Christians call it “The Old Testament.” It consists of three parts: the Torah (or Chumash when printed as a book instead of a scroll) means “Teaching,” the Nevi’im or “Prophets,” and the Ketuvim or “Writings.” The Hebrew Bible is separated into 24 books, and those sometimes have different names than the Christian Bible. For instance, Genesis is called Bereshit which means “In the beginning,” and Psalms is called Tehillim, which means “Praises.” There is also the Talmud, a massive collection of books covering every aspect of Jewish law; in standard print it is 6,200 pages.

Eren says he fought in Italy. The Battle of Anzio, starting in January 1944, was a notable conflict in the Allies’ struggle to get a foothold in continental Europe.

Music Nerd Time!!! – One of the casualties of the Battle of Anzio was Lieutenant Eric Fletcher Waters, father of Pink Floyd singer Roger Waters. Roger was deeply affected by the loss, reflected in many of his songs, including “When the Tigers Broke Free,” “The Fletcher Memorial Home,” and his father’s death was the cornerstone to Pink Floyd’s album The Wall. “All in all, you’re just another brick in the wall.”

“When the Tigers Broke Free” brings tears to many people, especially those who have lost someone to war. - https://youtu.be/E_5DRKZI1Ow



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