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.

DISCLAIMER – Levi does not celebrate holidays in a traditional way, because he didn't grow up with those traditions. He learned by watching others celebrate: a ritual, a prayer, an act he half-remembers seeing others doing. He has never set foot inside a Jewish synagogue. So especially with all the details that go into High Holy Days, he either can't do it (he has no shofar) or he does not recall that part. He is grasping at a religion he was not raised in, and which was dangerous to celebrate at this time.


Chapter 45

Cast All Sins into the Depths

 

Eren walked a few blocks west to the Esplanade. The long gardens, only slightly touched by war with a few broken statues, stretched toward the water, with barracks, an arsenal, and a fort to the south; shops, a school, and the city courthouse to the north; a rare green corridor in a city designed to hold out against invading armies. There were still people milling about the flowering gardens even this late at night, soldiers enjoying a few moments of peace while they still could.

Eren walked over to one of the gardens, leaned over, and picked up two smooth stones. He shoved them deep into his pocket and continued on his way, with his heels clipping along the red brick path.

At the far end of the Esplanade, mirrored sets of stairs led down to a plaza where three fountains sprayed in a small pond, and the rim of the gardens made a quaint little bridge overarching it. Standing by the fountains, immovable in the drizzling rain, he saw a small figure in a black trench coat and wool flat cap. Eren casually walked up to Levi and moved the umbrella to cover him.

"Took you long enough," grumbled Levi.

"I was taking my time. I thought it would be a challenge for you to get out of there."

He scoffed. "Oh, je t'en prie! Who do you think you're talking to?"

Eren chuckled, proud to know just how capable Levi was.

They turned and walked across the street, past another garden, and to the canal. Here, the Moselle was diverted to run through the city. Across the way was an island, Île du Saulcy, and on the western bank was the Old Powder Works.

Levi strode briskly to the edge of the water, but a hand suddenly grabbed his. He looked up, and Eren had a hopeful smile.

"Let's walk a little. I know a good spot. It isn't far."

The heat of Eren's hand soothed his worries. As they walked, Eren did not let go. In the darkness of the rainy night, with nobody around by the waterfront trail, he and Levi walked hand-in-hand. It made Levi's heart pound, both with fear and with something warm that spread through his nerves.

They came to a bridge, and beyond it, sitting on the point of an island, was Evangelische Stadtkirche Metz. The church rose into the dark, rainy night, lit from a late Sunday service. Eren came to a stop in the middle of the bridge and turned to look out across the water at the spires of the church.

"Is that where you got married?" Levi asked quietly.

"No. I just thought it would be nice to look at it. Plus, on the bridge, no one can hear us talk, and we can see if anyone is coming up near us."

Eren hunched on the stone bridge railing, and with that he was able to pull the umbrella a little lower, hiding his face and better shielding Levi from the rain. It was just the two of them standing on the bridge. For a moment, it felt like they were separated from the rest of the world, like this umbrella was a bomb shelter protecting them from all harm. Eren reached into his pocket and pulled out the two stones. Levi took one of them and ran his thumb over it.

"This year has been hell," Levi muttered, "but I guess it had its good moments."

He glanced over, and Eren was stunned to see a tiny smile on his face. It warmed his heart to think that at least Levi had a few good memories for this year, even if there was so much pain, death, and humiliation.

"What do you say on this day? You know, like Glückliches neues Jahr. Happy New Year."

"In Yiddish, we would say A gut gebentsht yohr. It means…" He paused to translate it in his head. "…a good and blessed year."

"That sounds similar to German."

"Because Yiddish is based on an old form of German blended with Hebrew."

"I thought Yiddish and Hebrew were the same thing."

"No. At least here in Europe, we don't speak Hebrew in our everyday lives. It's more like a…" He tried to figure out how to explain it in a way that Eren would understand with his limited knowledge of English. "…like a holy tongue rather than a mother tongue. Does that make sense?"

"Like Catholics speaking in Latin?"

"Precisely. For prayers, reading the Torah, and phrases for holidays, we tend to use Hebrew more."

"So, how do you say it in Hebrew?"

"Formally, we say 'L'shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatem.'"

Eren's eyebrows shot up in surprise at the phrase.

"It means 'May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.' That's because this is the time of year that God writes your name in the Sefer HaChaim. That is, the Book of Life. If your name is in the Book of Life, you live for the next year. If not, you die in the coming year. So from Rosh Hashanah and for the next ten days, we repent from our sins so that God looks down on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and decides, 'Yeah, let's keep him around for another year.' Mostly we just say Shana Tova. It means Good Year, much shorter and easier to say." Levi paused in his explanation and looked out over the dark river. "I had to explain all this to Petra too. Damn."

Eren pouted at the sadness in his face, and he reached over to put his fingers over Levi's.

"Do you know what's pathetic?" whispered Levi. "I grew up barely even knowing Yiddish. My mother spoke it, but she also spoke Alsatian—it's a form of French. Although we spoke Yiddish at home, she told me never to speak it in public. She was scared of people finding out that I'm Jewish. Not like I could really hide it with a name like Levi," he said with a scoffing laugh. "So I didn't really learn the language well. She died when I was so young, I didn't learn Hebrew at all. I knew the letters, but only barely. I didn't bother to learn either language until I was older … until I was married," he admitted with a fading whisper. "Petra wanted to celebrate every holiday. Christian, Jewish: she didn't care. It was an excuse to make more food and invite people over." His eyes tightened in self-loathing. "I never should have told her anything."

"She was happy though, right?" Eren pointed out. "She got to share that part of your culture."

"It's barely even my culture," he snapped. "I didn't grow up speaking Yiddish or reading the Torah. I didn't care about religion. Not until it was a reason for people to want to kill me." His head sank. "Not until it was the reason Petra's parents said they wanted to curse her with barrenness."

"What?" Eren asked, not understanding that last word.

"It's what makes this holiday shitty. Petra was so damn happy to celebrate it, but two days later, she … she lost the baby."

"Baby? Eine fehlgeburt," Eren whispered to himself. A miscarriage. How devastating!

"Her parents blamed me and said God should curse her to never have a half-Jewish child." His eyes darkened in weary grief as he muttered, "I guess their curse came true."

Eren completely forgot they were in public. He grabbed Levi into his arms, holding him as his own heart burned just imagining how much that must have crushed Levi. To think, he had suffered so much grief even before the war began!

"It's not your fault."

"I know. I can tell myself that, I can even accept it, but it still hurts. She was so happy to share holidays, to blend them, like one belonged with the other." He let his head collapse against Eren's chest. "That's why celebrating it hurts."

"Should we go back?"

"We're already here." He looked around at the arms enfolding him in a close embrace. "You shouldn't do this."

"No one is around."

Levi gave in. He felt like he had no more will to fight. He wanted to rely on Eren, just for a few minutes, while the grief of that devastating year replayed in his head like a skipping record.

Eren held around Levi's chest. He felt the tension in his shoulder, tiny jolts as Levi strained against sobbing, and gnashing of his teeth as the memories overtook him. Eren stayed there, not saying anything, just being a sturdy support to lean on. After a minute, he felt the rigid shoulders sink and the smallest sniffle, what could have been nothing more than a sharp inhale on a cold and rainy night. That was all Levi needed to clear away those painful memories.

Eren rested his head on top of the smaller man and whispered, "Say the Hebrew words again."

Levi swallowed down his grief. "Shana Tova."

Eren tried out the phrase, with the accents on the last syllables. "Shana Tova."

A pained smile slipped out. "Very good."

"It sounds pretty. I never would have thought Hebrew was a pretty language."

"Your name is based on Hebrew."

Eren paused and thought about it. "I guess you're right."

Just then, someone came onto the bridge, and the two fell silent. Levi pulled away from Eren's hug, and they went back to standing side by side. As nice as it was, they had to remain vigilant. If they were going to do this, they should get it over with. Talking could be done later.

Levi glanced around, making sure the pedestrian had passed by. Soon, they were alone once again. Not wanting to waste more time, Levi tossed the rock, and it plopped into the river.

"V'tashlikh bim'tzulot yam kol-hatotam," he whispered solemnly.

"Is that a prayer?"

"Scripture. It means, 'You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.' We throw the rock into the water to symbolize all of our sins from the past year being cast away by God and our soul is washed clean. We start the new year free from those sins." He shook his head in wry amusement. "The Lord has got his work cut out for him this year."

"But he'll forgive you, right?"

"Of course he will. He's God!"

Eren looked down at the smooth stone in his hand. "I have so many sins, I feel like I need a boulder to toss in."

Levi knew how he felt. "A rabbi once told me, God forgives the worst with even the smallest sign of remorse. I know that you, of all people, are sincerely remorseful. Think of everything over this past year, push it into that rock, and cast it all away. God will forgive you."

Eren closed his eyes. Where was he one year ago today? Still in academy? It was hard to think back to anything before the Battle of Anzio. How many people had he killed over the past year? How many orders had he given that led to deaths?

Of course, that was just war. His true sin was what he did to Levi. He thought back to the day he cruelly whipped him. That was still a heavy burden on his soul. Could God truly forgive that? He also thought about standing there and watching Levi being forced to have sex with Moses. He could justify that if he had spoken up against it, they both would have been killed, but Eren felt that remaining silent was just as sinful as ordering the act itself.

Then there was Abel. The ghostly kick of the gun jolted his hand, making him clench the rock.

"I can't believe God would ever forgive me," he whispered.

"If God can forgive a bastard like me and all the things I've done in my life, he can surely forgive you. Or do you think you're better than me, and your pathetic sins are worse than mine?"

The teasing did not work to lighten his mood this time. "What if I can't forgive myself?"

Levi looked out over the water pocked with raindrops. "That one is hard. I don't have a good answer. I just know, during Rosh Hashanah, we ask God for forgiveness, and we ask those we've wronged if they will forgive us. As for forgiving ourselves, the Torah says, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

Eren recited the verse in German: "Du sollst deinen Nächsten lieben wie dich selbst."

"That implies that we must love ourselves first, right? We must love ourselves the most if we are to love others. If you love someone, you accept them for how they are: all their slips, all their shortcomings, all their imperfections. But how can you love, forgive, and accept anyone if you can't do that much for yourself? So on Rosh Hashanah, I think of people who have loved me throughout my life. When I was younger, there weren't many I could list. Even now, there's my mother, perhaps a few old friends, my wife … you," he said, glancing over at Eren with a tiny smile. "I think of the worst sin they committed, and I ask myself, can I forgive them? If I can, then I have to forgive myself, because the love must be in balance: love for them, and love for myself."

"Do you forgive me?" asked Eren. After all, most of the worst sins he could think of over the past year, he had done to Levi. The people he killed in battle was just warfare, but every pain he caused or allowed to happen to Levi, that was what weighed on his heart.

Being secretive, Levi slipped his hand over and squeezed Eren's fingers. When Eren looked down, the tiny Jew's face was full of confidence.

"I forgive you."

"But everything I've done—"

"Eren!" His grip tightened as he emphasized, "I forgive you."

Eren looked down at the rock, then over to Levi's fingers resting over his hand, and finally up into those narrow, gray-blue eyes. If Levi could forgive him after all that, and if that was his measurement for self-love and being able to forgive himself, then Eren knew he should respect and accept his forgiveness. Anything less would be a dishonor to Levi's own self-love. Plus, somehow, knowing Levi forgave him reassured Eren that God could forgive him as well.

"Cast all sins into the depths," he muttered.

Eren threw the stone far into the distance toward the elegantly towering church, imagining that he was throwing that heavy burden toward God. Take it! Wash THAT clean, if you can! He heard the rock plop into the water. Carried over the rainy wind, he heard the church choir singing a Sunday hymn. A chill ran up his arms, his bitter face softened, and Eren found himself quietly laughing.

"That … felt really good."

Levi was glad to see the smile on his face. "They say, any year that is poor at the beginning will be rich at the end. This year is starting off about as shitty as it can get. Maybe that means good things to come."

Eren glanced down at Levi. "I think this year is starting off a lot better than it could have. After all, you're here with me."

"That's not a good thing. A good start to the year would have been me tossing that rock into the Atlantic Ocean over the side of a ship heading to America." With the umbrella hiding them, he leaned his head onto Eren's shoulder. "I guess the second best thing is tossing the rock next to you."

They stood side by side on the bridge, listening to the rain on the umbrella, a soft hiss to mute their words, a rainstorm to give them a little privacy. Levi squeezed Eren's hand again, and he felt the rough thumb rub over his skin. In another world or another time, perhaps they could stand on this bridge openly, but for now just this much was extremely risky. Levi knew the danger, and although he wanted to spend the whole night by Eren's side, he knew there was a safer place for them to reunite.

"Let's head back."

"Walk with me, just through the Esplanade."

"That's a horrible idea. There are a lot of people there. I'm planning to go around it."

"Then I'll go with you—"

"Eren," he cut in, and Levi shook his head. "I'll see you back in the room."

Eren pouted. He could not push Levi's limits, lest he run away again. Instead he said, "Shana Tova."

Levi was touched by the acceptance of his culture. He gave Eren's hand a tight squeeze. "Shalom."

They walked over the bridge together, but Eren headed south toward the fountains and the stairs leading up to the Esplanade, while Levi headed north. As Eren walked through the park, he glanced around at the lovers strolling through the peaceful pathways. How envious he was that these people were allowed to be with the one they loved and no one cared, yet simply walking side-by-side with the man he loved would get him arrested, if not killed.

He reached the hotel, shook off the wet umbrella, and bought a bottle of wine from the concierge before heading up to his room. He took the stairs slowly, not feeling quite as much pain as he used to have, but his leg still ached before he reached the second landing. By the fourth floor, he was going one step at a time, favoring his right leg.

"Was für eine Nervensäge!" What a pain in the ass!

Struggling at the end, he finally reached the top floor, where he saw Jean, Gunther, and Ian Dietrich standing around in the hallway.

"Hey, it's the groom!" Gunther shouted, hailing him. "That was a nice wedding."

"Rather rushed," Jean grumbled.

Eren shrugged lightly. "Why wait?"

Ian nodded seriously. "Germany needs a new generation. Having a wife who will give you many babies is important. A strong but kind man like you will make a good father."

Eren was surprised but awkward about that compliment. "Thank you," he muttered.

Ian held up a finger. "I got you something. One moment." He marched to his room on the far end of the hotel hallway.

Jean's eyes were still narrow. "We could all hear you two last night."

Eren laughed stiffly. "Sorry about that."

Gunther patted his back. "Hey, it's your wedding night. You'll probably be loud all week. All the better, to get her pregnant right away." He laughed lightly, not noticing Eren cringing. "Since Ian is getting something, I have a little gift I could give. It isn't much, but I don't want to be the one fool who doesn't give the happy couple a present." He rushed off to his room.

As soon as they were both gone, Jean stepped up right into Eren's face. "Okay, bastard, I want the truth," he whispered with a scathing glare.

"This is not a good time."

"Do you love her?"

Eren held his narrow gaze and whispered, "I wanted to protect her."

"By marrying her?" he hissed. "That's a shitty, shitty thing to do to a woman."

"She knew what she was getting into."

"Then does she know about…" Jean stopped and glanced around, but they were the only two in the hallway. "…about that other person?"

Eren stiffened. "She knows I have someone whom I love."

"What if she falls in love with you? Staying in the room together, eating together, sleeping together … what happens if she falls for you? Are you going to break her heart?"

"That won't be a problem. Floch and I drove her back to her family's farm this morning."

"You married her and ditched her?"

"I married her purely to get her out of that brothel and protect her. She knew that! It was our agreement."

"You are the worst son of a—"

Just then, Gunther's door opened, and down the hall Ian began to return. Jean bit back his words and tried to calm his face, but his eyes still glared. Gunther handed his gift over first. It was a small jar of Nivea Creme.

"It's not much," he said, pouting as he regretted giving something so basic. "Still, ladies like this sort of thing. You can use it too, keep your hands soft for when you touch her. Ladies deserve at least one gentle hand."

Eren took the small jar. "Thanks. She'll love it."

Then Ian handed out his gift, hastily wrapped in newspaper. "Open it in your room."

"Don't tell me it's something kinky."

The officers laughed, and Ian stiffened.

"It's something to eat. I just don't want these two," thumbing to Gunther and Jean, "to get any ideas about breaking into your room and stealing it."

"If anyone breaks into my room, I'll shoot first." Eren took the wrapped gift. "Thank you. I'll let Louise know these are from you."

Gunther glanced over to Jean. "What about you, Kirschtein? You should give the happy couple a gift."

Jean shrugged, reached into his back pocket, pulled out a small package and handed it over. Eren took it with a lip curled in disgust.

"A condom. How thoughtful."

Gunther punched Jean in the arm, but the tall soldier shot back, "He knows I mean well."

Eren joshed, "I know you're an asshole."

"Is your bashful bride here?" Gunther asked, glancing at Eren's hotel room door.

"Hey, no peeking. I never know what she has in store for me," Eren said with a sly wink. Then he turned, unlocked his door, and went inside, waving goodnight to the lieutenants. He closed the door and securely locked it. He looked at the condom and threw it into the bathroom with disgust. He brought the other items over to the table. He shrugged off his wet coat, draping it over a chair, but kept an eye on the jar of cream.

"A gentle hand," he muttered.

He opened the jar and sniffed it. It smelled lovely, so he scooped a bit of the white cream out and rubbed it onto his hands. The rough, dry knuckles smoothed away. Eren smelled his hands, really impressed by the scent. He wondered if Levi would like to be touched by a soft hand.

He removed his uniform tunic, hung it up in the closet, and went to the bathroom. He removed his trousers and checked on his leg. It did not feel like nine days since he had been shot, although a few of those days were a drugged haze, where an hour could have passed or a decade. The wound was still discolored with new skin growth, but the bruising had mostly gone away. Eren rubbed some arnica cream on it to help with inflammation, then pulled his trousers back up.

He went to his desk, opened the bottle of wine, poured himself a drink, and flipped open the newspaper, wondering how long it would take Levi to make it back. He had beaten Eren to the fountain, after all, but perhaps getting back up was harder than getting down. Plus he was going to take a detour around the busy Esplanade.

Asking him to come to the river really was a big request. After all, it wasn't like Levi could simply walk out the door with him. How nice that would be! Eren supposed that climbing up into a hotel full of German soldiers was a challenge. It was thoughtless of him to pressure Levi into taking that huge of a risk.

He waited, but the minutes ticked by. As half an hour passed, Eren began to grow worried. What if Levi was caught? What if he slipped while on the roof? What if another man mugged him? He glanced out the window, trying to see along the rainy street, worried if maybe someone caught sight of a shadow skulking about on the roof.

He tapped his hand on the table, growing more worried as minutes turned into an hour. Out in the hall, he heard officers coming back for the night, a couple of them with ladies in tow, but still no sign of Levi.

"Scheiße," Eren whispered, thinking through all the possible problems that could have faced him.

He never should have separated from Levi. He debated going back outside, retracing his steps, but he had no idea which route Levi took. He went north, that was all he knew. He could be anywhere.

He went to the window again, searching around desperately. All he saw was a man directly below, standing in the rain in a military coat and cap, smoking a cigarette. Eren glanced at his watch, saw the time, and punched his table.

Where the hell was he?

Eren stormed over to his wardrobe, yanked his tunic back on, and pulled on his cap, determined to look for Levi. Just as he pulled his coat on, there was a soft scratch on the attic hatch.

Eren rushed over and called up, "It's safe."

Levi opened the hatch, and water dripped from his whole body. "You don't happen to have a change of clothes, do you? I'm soaked to the bone."

"Where the hell were you? I was about to head out and search for you."

"Something's going on out there," Levi whispered as he slid the rope ladder down.

"Are you okay? Were you spotted?"

He moved slowly as he climbed down, stiff and wincing in pain. "I'm fine, but I had to take multiple detours to avoid all the police. I saw a few Gestapo as well. Something is going on, something big." Levi threw the rope ladder back up. "Close that hatch. Are you certain no one will come into this room?"

"It's locked."

Levi glanced around the room. "Get a bottle. Put it in the wardrobe."

"Why?"

"In case I have to be locked in there again. I'd rather have something to piss in."

"Levi, seriously, are you safe?" Eren asked, deeply concerned by the dire tone of his voice.

Levi let out a scoff. "I'm never safe." He looked down and saw that his soaked clothes had dripped all over the floor. "We need to wipe this water up. If they come in here—"

"Who?"

"Who do you think?" he snapped in a whisper. "The Gestapo. Something is going on out there. It can't be a coincidence that on Rosh Hashanah of all days, there are police all over the city."

"Do you really think they're after Jews, here, in Metz?"

He removed his wool cap and set it on the table with a moist plop. "I don't know. It always feels like they're after me, and they're right on my heels," he whispered, gnashing his teeth in anguish. "I almost headed back to headquarters, but I honestly don't know if that's why there are so many police around. Maybe Yelena got ratted out. I came here, but … dammit!" he hissed. "This was a mistake."

"No!" Eren put his hand on Levi's shoulder. "You're safe now."

"We don't know that!" he almost shouted, but he cut off as a pain struck.

Eren pouted as he saw Levi flinch with agony and reach around to hold his back. "Are you okay?"

"My back," he rasped. "Being stuck on the roof didn't help."

"Stuck?"

"I couldn't climb through the window until I was certain there were no police around. I saw a man down below, I couldn't be certain of the uniform, so I had to lie flat in the pouring rain while he stood there smoking a cigarette, ce salaud."

"Well, you're safe here. I'll protect you," he said with boyish happiness.

Levi felt the struggle between panic and wanting to simply relax. As much as he wanted Eren to be more serious about this, he also liked seeing that carefree side. It helped him to set aside his paranoia. He was safe here, mostly because it was the last place the Gestapo would go to look for Jews. His shoulders sank as he allowed himself to calm down.

"Let's warm you up," Eren offered with a gentle, calming smile. "How about a hot bath?"

"Tempting, but we know what happened last time I bathed here. Just a towel and something I can wear for the night while my clothes dry."

"Do you want some food?"

"If you can get it at this hour."

Levi struggled to get his drenched coat off, but he let out a cry of pain. Eren rushed behind him and helped him out of the trench coat. He hung it up over the bathtub to drip dry. Then he got a towel and went to his wardrobe to pull out fresh long johns, an undershirt, and socks. He handed all of it to Levi, who walked into the bathroom to undress and dry off. Eren turned the radiator up to warm the room so Levi would not catch a cold and called on the phone for some room service.

A few minutes later, Levi stepped out wearing Eren's oversize clothes. "It'll do." He took his shoes over to the radiator to dry.

"I got some—how do you say—Suppe und Brot," Eren told him.

"Soup and bread. That's perfect."

"Also there's this." He went to the presents and unwrapped Ian's box. "I'm not sure what it is," he muttered, but once the newspaper was off, he saw a box of chocolates. "Oh! That's nice."

"Where did you get that?"

"It's a gift from Oberleutnant Ian Dietrich."

"Dietrich? The tall, blond officer with sharp cheekbones?"

"That's him, yes."

"Then I don't want it."

"Why not?"

Levi's eyes narrowed in rage. "He killed seven of my companions, including Rashad, who was just a boy. Then he shot Sasha, twice in the back, and when that didn't kill her, he put a bullet in her head. He murdered them, one after the other, not even taking glee in it like your bastard captain, but more like it was an annoying chore, sweeping away some dirt. I bet you forgot all about that," he snapped in bitter accusation.

Eren lowered his head. "I knew he was down there that day with the captain, but … I didn't see it like you. I … I didn't know…" Of course, he should have guessed that Ian helped in the massacre. Eren had never bothered to ask just how much blood was on the man's hands. Maybe a part of him wished he could blame the whole thing on Kitz Woermann.

"He can burn for eternity, for all I care."

Just then, there was a knock on the door. It made Levi jolt, but Eren quickly held his hand up. It was merely room service. Levi moved over to the wardrobe, hiding inside. In the darkness, he slumped down, closing his eyes as the memory of the massacre replayed in his mind. Whereas Kitz Woermann had grinned as he shot Jews one after another, Ian Dietrich had never let a single emotion slip, besides annoyance when Rashad grabbed his legs, causing him to miss fatally shooting Ymir. If anything, that placid face as he took eight lives made the tall blond even scarier than the sadistic captain.

"Yimakh shemom," he whispered, cursing both of them with the strongest of all Hebrew curses: may their names be erased.

The door squeaked open. He listened as Eren spoke to the bellhop and got a trolley of food. Levi took a deep breath to calm down his chaotic mind and push those memories back into the past. The whole wardrobe smelled like Eren. Not all the good smells; the bad too. The dirty shoes and sweaty uniform tunic. Sour and musky, it all still helped to soothe his heart.

The wardrobe door opened. Levi looked up, and Eren was gazing down at him, a little surprised that Levi was sitting at the floorboard. Looking cautious and sympathetic, Eren held his hand out, offering to help him up. Levi realized, he had snapped at Eren when he did not deserve it. He had not talked about the massacre, and Eren came into the dungeon at the very end. He had not seen the way those two men executed helpless Jews without any pity.

Levi took Eren's hand, yet as he began to pull himself up, something burned sharply through his back. He let go of the hand and collapsed, which only hurt worse, leaving Levi gritting his teeth, struggling not to scream lest anyone find out he was there.

Eren dropped instantly to his knees, grabbing Levi in fear. He saw a tear slip out, showing just how much agony Levi must be in. For a few seconds, he struggled to think about how he could help, but then Eren rushed to the bathroom. Along with his bandages for his leg, he had a bottle of pills. He shook one out, filled a cup with water, and brought them back to Levi, kneeling by the wardrobe as he offered them.

"What is it?" hissed Levi.

"It's for the pain."

Levi grabbed the pill, popped it into his mouth, and swallowed it with the cup of water. Eren gently eased him out of the wardrobe and held onto him firmly as they both rose to their feet. Levi hobbled over to the table, collapsed onto a chair, and wiped his brow. Just that much had him sweating with pain.

"I'll put arnica on later. Eat first. You need food with that pill."

While Levi ate the soup and bread, Eren went to the bathroom to change out of his uniform and into night clothes. He looked into the mirror, his mind a whirl.

Levi was going to stay the night!

Just thinking about it made his heart race, but he knew he needed to calm down. Levi was injured; he needed to care for him first. Besides, he did not want to scare Levi away again. Nodding to himself, he came out of the bathroom and sat opposite of Levi at the table.

"Is it the pills, or is it hot in here?" Levi grumbled as he ate the soup.

"I turned the heat up for you."

"You don't need to do that. I've been living in an underground cave for days. It gets near freezing at night. It's a bit too warm now."

Eren turned the radiator down. "What do you mean by cave? I don't know that word."

"A big-ass hole in the ground," he muttered.

"Ah, Höhle."

"I guess it was an escape tunnel for the rich, maybe an unfinished sewer, who knows. I probably shouldn't describe it to you."

Eren pouted at not being trusted. "I wouldn't tell anyone."

"Not while I'm there, no, but once I'm gone?" Levi sipped some more soup. "You have no reason to help the Resistance, and every reason to slaughter them all."

"You're right, especially since Yelena threatened me."

Levi dropped his spoon with instant outrage in his face. "She did what?" he snarled, barely keeping his voice down.

"She said the only reason I'm alive is I have your protection, and once you leave Metz, if she thinks I'm a threat to her organization, she will kill me." He opened the box of chocolates and popped one into his mouth. "I don't plan to wait until she makes the first move."

"Merde," Levi growled. "I would have preferred if she stayed alive."

"Don't tell me you like that tall woman."

"No, but Yelena was childhood friends with Hange, someone I knew back in Paris, one of the few people I trusted." Levi dipped some of his bread into the soup and ate it. "I never told you about Hange, did I?"

The rest of the meal was spent with Eren listening to Levi talk about his time in Paris, living with his uncle, mostly running a gang of street thugs and occasionally doing jobs for a rogue scientist named Hange, who sounded like quite the character. They drank wine, and Eren nibbled on the chocolates.

"Really, you should try one."

"No thank you. Besides, that's a wedding gift. It's for you and your bride." A small sneer slipped out.

"Well, she's not here, and I'll never see her again. I can't eat all of this on my own, and it would be a shame to waste it." He reached over and rubbed Levi's hand. "Besides, if I am to spend my … my … Flitterwochen … with someone, I would rather it be you."

Levi softly asked, "What's a Flitterwochen?"

Eren blushed bright red. "It's the time after you … you, um … get married."

Levi thought the nervous words over. "You're talking about a honeymoon."

Eren's curiosity was piqued. "Honey! That's the same word as before: apples and honey."

"Honeymoon is the English word for it, the sweet month after you get married."

"Sweet month; honey moon. I get it!"

That innocent face weakened him. "Fine! I'll try one."

He picked up a chocolate, looked it over suspiciously, but it was just some food. Yes, it came from a man who murdered his friends, but food was food. He took a small bite, breaking the chocolate off in his mouth. Levi froze, stunned, and his eyes closed in euphoria.

"Mmm!" Levi let the chocolate slowly melt on his tongue. "Now that is French chocolate. None of that German shit."

"Hey, Scho-Ka-Kola is good," Eren protested, licking the melted chocolate off his fingers. "Although, not as sweet as this. It really is good."

Levi finished his piece, all defenses crumbling as the sweetness spread over his mouth. He began to reach for another piece but he suddenly froze and hissed, barely biting back a cry of pain. He slowly twisted his back around.

"Oh, right! Your back." Eren rushed to the bathroom where he left the jar of arnica cream and hurried back into the main room. "Take off your shirt. I'll rub some of this on."

Levi was going to refuse—he was already feeling dizzy and figured he just needed to sleep it off—but he also privately liked the idea of Eren's hands on him. He went over to the bed and pulled off the oversize cotton undershirt. Eren happily sat on the mattress behind him. He laughed softly as he opened the jar.

"This is familiar."

Levi mumbled, "It's a memory I don't exactly like."

Eren's smile sank as he realized those moments that had been so sweet to him were the aftermath of horror to Levi. His giddiness waned, and he focused solemnly on the back. Once he saw it, he cringed. Levi's back had a reddish purple line right across the mid-back, with swollen inflammation radiating out. That was in addition to smaller bruises on his shoulders and a huge lump of bloody purple on his lower back sinking below the belt line.

"Scheiße! Just how hard did he throw you?"

"It's not how hard; it's how I landed." Levi heard a sniffle, turned around, and saw Eren nearly in tears. "Oy!" He gently turned up Eren's chin and saw the way his lips were quivering in sadness. "What's wrong?"

"I'm sorry I chased you away," he whispered, his voice cracking with tears he fought to hold back.

"You didn't," Levi said, pained to see Eren filled with guilt. "I'm sorry I left without telling you. I thought it would be easier." He leaned forward and rested his forehead against Eren's. "It wasn't. I felt guilty and miserable. I almost didn't want to come back here. I thought you would be furious at me."

"No! I thought you were angry at me."

"Never." Their noses rubbed together. He saw Eren's mouth loosen, and Levi let a tiny smile sneak out. "May I kiss you?"

Eren jolted at the question he always asked, now thrown back at him. He laughed, sniffled up his sadness, and blushed as he whispered, "You may."

Levi leaned forward, and Eren sat there, enjoying the kiss Levi gave to him. Rather than a kiss he requested, this was a kiss Levi wanted, purely his own choice. When they pulled back, their foreheads still rested together. Levi picked up Eren's left hand to kiss the knuckles, but a faint floral scent drifted up. He paused and sniffed the skin.

"Did you put lotion on?" he asked in surprise.

"Haut creme. Um, skin cream." He shrugged awkwardly. "It was another gift."

Levi sniffed his hand again. "I like it." His lips continued down to give Eren's hand a kiss. "Now, how about that back rub?"

"Ja. Let me start up here."

Levi turned back around and stared out toward the window. Eren bit his lip in sympathy as he rubbed cream on the bruises that marred Levi's scarred shoulders, and then applied a gentle touch to the fierce bruise across his back. Levi hissed softly but held still as Eren rubbed the cream in until it vanished.

"Did you hit a bar?"

"I hit a bridge. I didn't want to flip over the railing, so I purposely slid down. It made the bruise worse, and I hit my ass really hard."

Eren glanced down to the hem of the long johns and a massive bruise on Levi's hip that vanished below. "I see that. I can get that area too, if you want."

Levi glanced back, about to tease Eren about just wanting to touch his ass, but he decided that, with Eren looking so sad, he really did mean to help. "Will you behave yourself?"

"Of course!"

Levi gulped hard and felt like his ears were pounding to the rapid drumming of his heart. He stood and slowly shifted the long johns down, just enough to expose the bruise on his hip and buttocks.

Eren knew he could not touch in an inappropriate manner, but he had to admit, his eyes drifted to the crack of Levi's ass. He pushed aside any naughty thoughts and focused instead on the bruise. Levi needed to be healed, and Eren wanted to help.

Eren dipped his fingers into the cream and touched the swollen bruise. Levi made a pained gasp, but he bit back any loud noises.

"Levi, please stay here until you heal from this."

"That's the plan," whispered Levi. "Your bed is softer than their cot, and a warm room will be better than an ice cold cave."

Eren's fingers glided around the bruise on Levi's buttocks, feeling the plump softness. "How many days?"

"Who knows?" he grumbled. "If Yelena gets her shit together, I could leave in a week."

"And if not?" muttered Eren. "A battle is coming. I don't want you here for that."

"Trust me, I don't want to be here. Yelena said, if she can't get me out, then when the fighting starts, I can stay in the underground bunker. It should be safe from bombs and artillery."

Eren's fingers slowed. His other hand went up to touch around Levi's shoulders where there were no bruises and he could touch freely to give him comfort. "I wish you could stay here the whole time."

The gentle touch made Levi's throat hitch for a moment before he could swallow it down. "This hotel is full of officers, so it will likely be a target. Like hell am I staying here once the fighting starts."

"But until then?" Eren gave up pretending to apply cream and wrapped around Levi's back, resting his chin on the bony collar. "Stay here. Please."

Levi reached up and stroked along the arms that embraced him. "I'll stay as long as I safely can."

Eren sank in relief.

"Don't look so happy."

"You can't see my face."

"I know you. I can tell when you have that childish smile."

He placed a kiss on Levi's shoulder. "I missed you."

Levi allowed himself a moment of happiness, all those days of cold loneliness melting away. He missed Eren more than he could admit. The arms embracing him felt so warm and comforting. He glanced back, but he could not turn completely around without his back hurting.

"I missed you too."

Eren released him, tugged Levi around, and caressed his cheek. He studied Levi's face, never wanting to forget a single detail. "This feels like a dream."

Levi smirked. "Allegedly, your dreams are much more active."

Eren laughed awkwardly. "They can be." He bit his lip and focused on the color of Levi's eyes, how they blended from blue to deep gray. "Do you have dreams like that?"

Those soft, scented fingers were driving Levi crazy with temptation. "Maybe a few."

Eren's fingers slid slowly up around Levi's ear. "What do you do in those dreams?"

"What do you think?"

"With me?"

"Let's not talk about this."

Eren flinched his fingers back. "Sorry."

Levi sighed, not wanting to end the night badly. "Look, I don't want to talk about it because I don't trust myself. If we start talking about dreams, we'll want to make them a reality."

"Would you?" Eren blurted out, and the look he gave to Levi silently told him: just say the word.

A lump squeezed Levi's throat. After a moment, he took Eren's hand and brought those lightly scented fingers up to his lips to give them a genteel kiss. "I fear I would, and I know we shouldn't." He grabbed the undershirt and yanked it back on. "Let's get some sleep."

Eren pulled back, accepting the limit Levi set up. They both brushed their teeth, put away the chocolates, Eren pushed the cart out into the hallway, turned off the lights, and they crawled into bed. Levi was on his side, facing the window, so Eren faced the wardrobe, just like how he had slept with Louise. He had hoped to sleep closer with Levi, snuggling all night long, but if Levi wanted a small distance, Eren would respect that.

Levi stared ahead, trying to calm his mind. The sorts of dreams he had about Eren were dangerous, yet just thinking about them stirred his imagination. He could feel the heat of Eren's back, how it spread all throughout the bed sheets, warming him up.

Lying on his side hurt the bruise on his hip, so he rolled onto his back, but that hurt the bruises there. He rolled again, and that put him facing Eren's back. He hesitated, then scooted a little closer, spooning into Eren.

"Is this okay?"

Eren smiled to himself. "Anything you want." A moment later, he felt Levi's arm slowly wrap around him as well. Eren let his eyes drift down. All those nights uncomfortably sleeping with Louise were banished by the warmth beside him. He reached over, held Levi's hand, and pulled it to be a little tighter around him. "This is nice."

Levi's words were a tickling breath on the back of his neck. "Faites de beaux rêves, mon petit ami."

"What does that mean?"

Levi kissed just behind Eren's ear and snuggled into him. "Sweet dream, my boyfriend."

Eren chuckled with warm happiness. "Träum schön, mein Lieber."

They said nothing more, although it took them both a long time to fall asleep, not wanting to miss a single second of this ephemeral moment, finally being together again.

# # #

# #

#

Fontaine de l'Esplanade – The Esplanade has many gardens, fountains, and statues. At the far end is a bridge, and below are three fountains. The design of the fountains has changed over the past century.

Just a reminder for people who actually know Metz, Evangelische Stadtkirche Metz was the German name for the church now called Temple Neuf. It sits on the edge of Île du Petit-Saulcy, one of the islands within the canal that diverts the Moselle River through Metz.

Shana Tova (Good Year) – a greeting on Rosh Hashanah, taken from the more formal blessing L'shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatem (לשנה טובה תכתב ותחתם) or "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year." It refers to the idea that, during the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, called the Days of Awe, God judges all living creatures, decides whether they will live or die in the coming year, and writes their names in the Book of Life. This book (and thus one's fate) is sealed on Yom Kippur. So you wish that others may be written with a full year of life.

Tashlikh – meaning "to cast away," a symbolic ritual of throwing something into water to represent casting away your sins. Depending on the area, this can be throwing stale bread, a rock, a basket, emptying out your pockets, or even plunging yourself into the water. Although rabbis prefer running water that has fish in it, it is purely symbolic, so people have used buckets of water, a kitchen faucet, a garden hose, or even a dried up well if there is nothing suitable around.

  • https://jewfaq.org/holiday2.htm
  • https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/564247/jewish/What-is-Tashlich.htm

"Your name is based on Hebrew" – I found out Eren with an "E" is not the same as Aaron with a "A." One is Turkish meaning saint, the other is Hebrew meaning exalted (although I question if the Turkish etymology is based off the Hebrew, given the similar implications). I still like that line, and if/when I turn this story into a published novel, I would want that line to remain … but change Eren's name to something not related to the manga, of course. (Maybe Johann, Jakob, David, or Hans.)

"Germany needs a new generation" – This was the driving force for many actions taken by the Third Reich. World War I had wiped out much of an entire generation, and Nazis felt Aryans were being replaced by "subhumans." To counter that, Hitler began social programs to promote a baby boom. These included paying couples for each child they had, various perks if a woman had so many babies (including Hitler himself becoming the godfather), loan forgiveness for large families, as well as less positive programs, like banning abortions, forbidding Aryans from marrying non-Aryans, and pressuring gay men into taking a wife. The Nazis also took Aryan-appearing children from other countries like Russia and sent them to Germany to be adopted by couples who could not conceive. This was seen as a necessity to boost the Aryan race … because apparently they weren't "superhuman" enough to take over the world with low population numbers.

Nivea – a German personal care brand. The name is Latin for 'snow-white.' In 1911, they developed the first water-in-oil emulsifier (i.e. cold cream) which became very popular for sports and women's beauty care.

Yimakh shemo – a very strong Hebrew curse. Especially given that this is Rosh Hashanah, when your name is written in the Book of Life, yimakh shemo means "May his name be erased." (Levi uses the plural Yimakh shemom because he is saying that about both Kitz and Ian.) In Latin alphabet languages, it is often written with the shorthand Y.S., and is used after the names of people who are deemed enemies of the Jewish People: Hitler, Eichmann, Stalin, although it can be used against any person who grieved you in an unforgivable way.


 

ISRAEL AND PALESTINE

Some readers have reached out to me, upset at the news of what is happening between Israelis and Palestinians. The past week has been horrifying. So many have lost their lives. It is not my place to say one side is right and one side is wrong. All I can really do is watch in grief and hope things deescalate quickly.

As Trevor Noah of The Daily Show said about the Israel-Palestine Conflict, "what makes it even harder is the fact that who's right and who's wrong always seems to change depending on when you start measuring time."

Do you start with Israel firing missiles into Gaza, targeting civilian residences and killing 197 people, including over 30 children; or start with Hamas firing 3,000 missiles at Israel? (Both actions are war crimes.) Do you start with Israeli police attacking hundreds of people at a mosque during Ramadan, or blame the Kristallnacht-style destruction of Jewish businesses by Palestinian rioters who had retreated to the mosque? Do you go back one more day to when Israeli courts voted to evict Palestinian refugees from a neighborhood in East Jerusalem, an action the United Nations warned was against international law, especially when these so-called evictions allegedly involved throwing children out of windows, troops storming homes with gun, and lobbing grenades at those who refused to leave? Do you start measuring time when Israeli troops shot a teenager for throwing molotov cocktails at them, or go back before May and blame the TikTok challenge calling for Palestinian kids to slap Orthodox Jews during Ramadan, or start years earlier with Palestinian TV using kid's shows to militarize children and instructing them to kill Jews?

Do you blame Iran for arming Hamas, or the United States for arming Israel? Do you go back to 1967 and blame Israel for expanding their territory in the Six-Day War, or blame Egypt for blockading Israeli shipping and threatening to invade? Do you go back to the founding of the State of Israel in 1949 and blame the United Nations for expelling 700,000 Palestinian Arabs from their homes, or do you blame Palestinians for agreeing to a Jewish genocide pact with Hitler? Do you go back to the British allowing Jewish refugees to surge into the area after World War I, or back to the Ottoman Empire and their 500-year colonization of the area, or the early Caliphate, or the Crusades, or maybe go back to the Romans sacking Jerusalem and starting the Diaspora? Do you go all the way back to Abraham sending away Ishmael because Sarah didn't want Isaac to get picked on by his older half-brother? (FYI: Israelites came from Isaac, Arabians came from Ishmael, the two sons of Abraham; some believe the schism in their family started the conflict between the two national groups.)

As Trevor Noah quipped, "the first cavemen who hit each other with clubs were probably Israeli and Palestinian."

In the end, it is foolish to try to lay all blame on either side, because it all depends on when you stop peeling back layers. “Solving” the issue (if that’s even possible) involves addressing every single layer, and both sides have committed atrocities. Perhaps the best we can hope for is to prevent genocide on either side, and hold those committing war crimes accountable to the full extent of international law.

So while I'm glad that my readers are sensitive to these world issues, I don't have an answer, nor do I want to sway anyone in one direction or another. I'm married to a Jew, I know people who survived the Holocaust, and (quite frankly) since I'm American I grew up hearing that Israel were our allies and Hamas are terrorists, so I'm aware that I have biases toward Israel, yet my mother's family is Cherokee, so I sympathize with people who are forced off their land because a bunch of Europeans said "It's our land now and we say so," leading me to sympathize with Palestinians. Yet the forced off their land issue happened first to the Jews, so it would be a bit like the United Nations deciding to give the Cherokee back their ancestral lands, but they do that by forcing 700,000 Black Americans out of their homes at gunpoint and telling them, "It's not your original homeland, go back to Africa." That's not a good idea either!

So, you see where I'm personally conflicted by the whole thing. I truly have no solution; I don't even know where we could start! I can only hope for calmer minds to prevail and peace one day achieved.

I just really, truly feel sorry for the innocent children on both sides who don't understand, are suffering in terror as missiles rain down, and are being brainwashed by adults who want to spread the hate to a new generation.

References:

  • The Daily Show: https://youtu.be/NeZ4yXyzUG0
  • https://www.camera.org/article/the-facts-about-hamas
  • https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/16/world/middleeast/israel-gaza-hamas-civilian-casualties.html
  • https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/05/1091492
  • https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/world/why-now-how-viral-tiktoks-eight-palestinian-families-and-one-of-islams-holiest-sites-brought-israel-to-the-brink-of-war/ar-BB1gLh4r
  • Palestinian Children's TV Report - https://youtu.be/KXcQ892cKso
  • https://www.history.com/topics/middle-east/six-day-war
  • https://www.algemeiner.com/2017/05/14/the-palestinian-connection-to-the-nazis
  • https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/timeline-of-british-rule-in-palestine-1918-1947
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ottoman_Empire
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caliphate
  • https://www.history.com/topics/middle-ages/crusades
  • https://www.historynet.com/first-jewish-roman-war-siege-of-jerusalem.htm


You need to be logged in to leave a review for this story.
Report Story