Dangerous Territory

BY : Rhov
Category: +. to F > Attack on Titan /Shingeki No Kyojin
Dragon prints: 2780
Disclaimer: I do not own “Shingeki no Kyojin” and do not make money from this fanfic.

Chapter 6

Weak and Filthy

 

Shortly after the incident in the restrooms, Levi got sick despite the doctor's help. Still, Kitz demanded that he come to the cellars where they were interrogating Annie Leonhart.

Levi was obviously feverish, his cheeks flushed, sweat beading on his forehead in spite of the chill of the cellar. Annie saw his condition as he tried to translate what Eren what saying. He often had to stop, wipe his brow, and ask Eren to repeat himself.

"Jew," Annie said, looking right at him. "You look awful. What did they do to you?"

"You should worry about yourself. Now, answer the question."

"I know you are working for them just to survive," she said with empathy in her large, blue eyes. "I don't blame you for any of this. I want you to know that. The French Resistance…"

Every German in the room leaned in as she said those words.

Kitz barked, "Jäger, was sagt sie?" Jäger, what is she saying?

"Ich weiß es nicht, Herr Hauptmann. Ich muss warten." I don't know, Captain. I have to wait.

Annie continued, looking at Levi. "We wanted to help your people. We want to free France so all people can live together in peace, like we used to."

"We never lived in peace, girl," Levi said coldly. "Jews have never been treated well. Ever. For us, the fight against hatred was an everyday battle, no matter what language the Gentiles spoke."

"Then that should change. I was a child when Germany invaded. I want to live in a free France once again. You deserve that too. More than I do, you deserve what they stripped from you: freedom, humanity, dignity."

Levi flinched as she said that, and the burn in his ass reminded him of the indignity he had suffered.

"Tell them this: That letter is probably pointless by now. I was not the only courier. Because one may get caught, they sent three. I merely was the fastest, but I made it at the worst time. The other two were slow enough to avoid being caught in the crossfire. They would have taken the letters to the fled members of the Resistance. They are long gone, and that message has likely reached its target. Even if you break me, it is already too late."

"They will beat you if I tell them that," Levi warned.

"They beat me every night anyway. What's the difference? This way, at least I get the pleasure of telling them…" She looked straight over to Kitz and said one of the few German phrases she knew. "Fick deine Mutter in den Arsch, Hurensohn." Fuck your mother in the ass, son of a bitch.

Levi swiftly stepped back as the captain stomped over and punched her in the face. As Kitz hit Annie over and over again, Levi told Eren precisely what she said. Looking furious at the stubbornness of this girl, Eren informed the captain. He paused, his fists clenched and red with Annie's blood, while the girl sat there, her nose bleeding but her eyes smoldering in smug defiance.

"Leutnant Jäger, Sie beide können wegtreten." Lieutenant Jäger, you are both dismissed.

Eren gave a soft sigh, glad to leave the cold room, and Levi placidly followed. They were not even fully in the kitchen above the cellar when they heard Annie shrieking. Eren cringed in loathing, but he hurried off to escape the guilt. Then he heard something crash behind him. Eren twirled around and saw that Levi had stumbled into a rack of pots. He grabbed hold of the rack shelves, but he wavered on his feet.

"Levi!" he shouted, rushing back to him.

Three seconds later, Kitz stomped up from the cellar. "What the hell was that noise?" he bellowed. His sunken eyes looked more wild than ever.

Eren tried to get Levi up onto his shoulder. "He's been sick."

"If he's sick, we should shoot him now." He began to reach for his gun.

"The doctor saw him. He's not contagious. It's a blood infection."

He sneered. "Blood? See, Jews are filthy. Their blood is a disease that has spread all over Europe. We should shoot them all. Damn Allies blowing up the rail lines! Berlin was supposed to send a real translator, but there have been strikes all across France's rails. Berlin is desperate to figure out what this girl knows, but they don't send me a proper translator, or a Gestapo inspector, nothing! I can't wait for the day we don't need these creatures in our camp. You must be far more annoyed, having to speak English so much. When we finally get a proper translator, I'll let you exterminate that thing personally."

"Wh-What?" Eren cried out.

Kitz's sunken eyes narrowed. "Is there a problem, lieutenant?"

He shut his mouth and gagged back his protests. "I'm a fighter, not an executioner."

"Executions are for humans. Think of it as like shooting a wounded dog. You're putting it out of its misery. No, dogs are at least loyal. Jews are less than even insects." He glared hard. "You don't have a problem with this, do you?"

Eren stood straighter. "It will be my first Jewish kill, Herr Hauptmann. Thank you for the honor."

Kitz gave an approving smile. "Good. Listen up, Jäger. Don't ever assume Jews are human. That girl down there, she's human. She does not beg or break. You can tell by the blueness of her eyes and shape of her nose, she's Aryan. It's a shame she sided with the French; she would have made an ideal German wife, if she had been born only a few hundred kilometers east. I can't show her pity, though. Nor should we show pity to subhumans: Jews, Serbs, Russians, Blacks, Mulattos, Arabs. None of them are fully human. They just walk upright and have the ability of speech. Their brains are different from ours; skull size proves that. It's science! So never show pity to Jews, because they don't have the brain power to differentiate pity from weakness."

"Is there ever an appropriate time to show pity, Herr Hauptmann?" the young man asked, hoping to buy Levi a little more time to rest by keeping the captain talking.

"Of course, Jäger. Show pity to elderly Aryans whose children ran away to marry a Jew, leaving their parents to grow old alone. Show pity to children who do not understand this war and why we must fight for the preservation of humankind. Sympathize for your fellow soldiers wounded fighting Russians, Americans, and British."

Eren's eyes narrowed at that.

"Oh, that's right! You despise the British. Why, Jäger? I was always curious."

"I have my reasons," he said, bristling with hate.

"Have you ever killed a British soldier?"

"Many in Anzio, sir."

"Then savor your first Jewish kill with the same anticipation that you had on your first British kill. Not yet, though. Keep that thing alive a little longer until we don't need it anymore. Even if you give it medicine and let it sleep like a sick dog, that's fine. We need its mouth, not so much that tiny, weak body. That is your duty, Jäger. Until a replacement translator arrives, keep the Jew alive, and once he's not needed, savor your first Jewish kill."

"Jawohl!" He stood at attention until Kitz left back down the cellar. Once he was out of sight, Eren sank with a scowl.

"Bastard," Levi said in a low, gravelly voice. "It sounds like he wants to shoot me."

Eren looked over. He decided not to tell Levi that the captain expected Eren to be the one to pull the trigger one day. "He said you get to stay in bed. You don't have to clean or do any work until you are better. He has given me authority to do whatever it takes to keep you alive."

"Only so I can question that girl," he stated.

Eren knew that was the sole reason. As the silence hung between them, they heard Annie cry out in pain.

"Then I hope she doesn't break," Levi said coldly. "As long as she holds out, I stay alive." He straightened up and walked out of the kitchen, sickened by the screams of torture.

Eren escorted the Jew back to the dungeon. With his face flushed, Levi looked young. Only those narrow eyes showed much more experience and misery than Eren had known in under two decades. He walked with stern pride, but as soon as he was in his cell, Levi collapsed and curled his legs up. Eren saw a shiver rack through his body, and he put a hand onto Levi's head.

"You're burning up. I can get you medicine."

"No," Levi said in a hoarse protest. "The more trouble I am to everyone else, the more likely I'll be killed rather than waste supplies. I'm grateful that I can rest, but … no drugs."

"Then … kalte Wadenwickel … cold … wrap … I can't think of the word. Oh! I can wash you."

Levi cracked his eyelids open and glared at him.

"It's how my mother always took down my temperature. Wadenwickel und Schafgarbe. Um … Schafgarbe, that's a herb. I saw some growing around here. I could make you a tea."

Levi's eyes closed again. "It may be the fever making me crazy, but that actually sounds good."

Eren perked up. "I'll be back." He leaped to his feet and ran up the stairs.

Levi scoffed at his enthusiasm. "Idiot forgot to lock the door."

His feverish eyes looked at the open cell door. Eren planned to pick herbs, and he would need to get water for tea. That would take a few minutes.

He could run.

He sat up, but his head swam. He held onto the prison bars to pull himself up. The fever made his legs weak. Still … he could escape!

Part of him realized, if he left now, the other Jews may be shot, yet part of him figured that at this point it was every man for himself. Any of the others would take the chance to flee. Most of them had no survival skills and would probably die in a week, wandering lost in the forest. Levi at least knew how to survive, even in the wild.

He went slowly, dampening the sound of his shoes. He climbed up the stairs and glanced around. He walked casually yet quickly through the castle and outdoors. The guards had seen him enter and exit so many times, no one thought much of it, and no one realized his escort was not there with him.

He saw Eren outside, bent over some flowers, humming a German tune as he cut the yarrow with his utility knife. That idiot! He had looked so happy to help too. What sort of boy was he?

Levi pressed the nagging curiosity out of his mind as he walked away until he could no longer hear Eren's humming.

He was honestly surprised at how easy it was to walk through the town. A few of the village's residents had begun to return now, so there were soldiers as well as civilians. He blended in as just one of the townsfolk. He kept walking north, where the forest pressed up near the town. He knew the most dangerous part of this would be the stretch of road between the last town building and that forest. Anyone would see him. There was rarely traffic into the woods even when the town was bustling.

No, that way was too risky!

He aimed east instead. He could go to the river. He grabbed a stray water bucket as he walked. If anyone asked, he could say he was getting water for cleaning. The river snaked through the woods. He could head north there. It was a longer walk, but it was safer. Plus once he ran, staying near the river was wiser. If he remembered correctly, this river continued north toward Belgium. Two days walking? Maybe more, since he would have to travel cautiously.

A shame about the soldier boy. For letting a prisoner escape, Eren would get punished, maybe demoted, possibly worse. Levi's heart ached as he thought about how Eren would suffer, after he had been so kind. Still, he had his priorities: survival! Despite the fever making him dizzy, he continued on.

He saw the river. It ran through the village, but no one collected water downstream, even before this war polluted all the rivers. So turning north to head upstream was perfectly normal. As a group of soldiers passed him on the road, he kept his eyes down, tightened the hold on his bucket, but they hardly even looked at him.

So easy!

"C'est une mauvaise idée. Ne faites pas ça." It's a bad idea. Don't do it.

Levi froze at the French words spoken in a sweet voice. He looked to the left and saw a woman standing in the shadows of an alley. She was tall, her brown hair pulled back, munching on a bread roll as she watched him from the darkness.

She eyed him up and down. "Vous êtes l'un des Juifs, non?" You are one of the Jews, no?

His eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Oui," he answered warily.

"One of your companions escaped just an hour ago with our help. There is a search party in the forest. If you head there, they will shoot you on sight."

"Escaped … with your help?" he asked softly.

The woman merely bit into her bread roll with an enigmatic smile, and Levi understood instantly. The French Resistance!

"We are aiming to get a girl named Annie."

"Annie Leonhart?" he asked sharply.

The young woman lowered her bread. "You know her?"

"They are interrogating her."

She sneered and turned her face away. "Merde! Do you know where?"

Levi described the place, what street it was on, the kitchen, and the cellar where the interrogations were always done. He explained that the room was likely not where they kept her the rest of the time. That meant the Germans were moving her between locations.

"This is wonderful news," she whispered with a smile. "We want to get Annie out of there, if at all possible. You seem to know a lot about this."

"They're using me as a translator."

"Then you can't run away. I won't let you! You must give Annie a message."

"If I go back there, I lose my chance at escaping. I could be killed."

"You look near death already," she muttered. The woman reached into a purse, pulled out a bottle, and shook out some pills. "Here. For that fever that has your cheeks as red as apples."

Levi took the pills and swallowed them dry. "You have my gratitude."

"What's your name?"

"Levi Ackerman."

Her eyes widened. "Capitaine Ackerman?"

He hissed in a harsh whisper, "Don't call me that!"

She broke her roll in half and handed part of it to him. "We are also aiming for your release, mon capitaine. France is in need of your expertise."

Levi gratefully ate the bread, but he shook his head. "No, I'm escaping this country. I'm not fighting again."

"You can argue that with the higher-ups. However, if the Germans are forcing you to be a translator, you pose a risk to us."

"I know when to lie." He looked down at the soft bread roll. "Which one of us made it?" he asked as he took another bite.

"Her name is Isabel."

He gulped a mouthful of bread and cried out, "Isabel! I'm glad. She's so young."

"Young, yes, but married. Her husband is Captain Farlan Church of the Royal Air Force, and he's been helping the Forces françaises libres."

The Free France Forces! Levi had heard many stories about them. The French soldiers who managed to escape when the Nazis invaded coalesced in England and still fought for the Allies. General Charles de Gaulle was still in command over there, and they worked with the French Resistance in hopes of freeing all of their beloved homeland from the German oppressors.

"Can you return without trouble?" asked the unknown woman.

"Possibly. If the brat has not raised an alarm, it should be fine. Knowing him, he's an idiot thinking I left to take a shit."

She giggled at his foul language and surly attitude. "Do you know Chanson d'automne?"

"The poem? Of course."

She whispered the beginning of the famous poem. "Les sanglots longs des violons de l'automne. If you at all can, listen to the BBC. When you hear those three lines, it means the Allies plan to attack within two weeks. When you hear the next three lines—Blessent mon cœur d'une langueur monotone—it means the Allies plan to land on French shores within forty-eight hours. I can't give you details beyond that. If we cannot get you out of here earlier, take heart knowing the freedom of all of France is at hand."

Levi kept silent, knowing that even if he asked questions, this Resistance fighter would not answer, not even to a fellow Frenchman.

She looked down the river's cobbled path, seeing something that made her sit up. "I must go to make sure Isabel is safe. Please, do not tell the others she was freed by us. Say she merely ran away."

"I understand," he said with a nod.

"Remember to tell Annie that we will be coming for her soon, and tell her to listen for Chanson d'automne on the BBC if she can. She will know what I mean."

"And if she asks for a name?"

"Sasha," the brunette said with a genial smile. "She knows me well. We were friends before the war started. Be safe, Capitaine Ackerman. I hope to see you again soon."

She gave him a parting kiss on the cheek, and Levi watched as Sasha slipped into the shadows of the alley. He felt proud to see his chers compatriotes risking their lives to help those being threatened by the Nazis. He finished off the bread she gave him, dropped the empty water bucket, and turned back around.

Levi had been slow and cautious coming to the river. Now, he rushed to get back. If one Jew had escaped, all of them would be under tighter scrutiny.

A part of him realized they might all be punished as well. The Resistance should have aimed to get out all of them, not just one at a time. Still, he was glad young Isabel had escaped what was almost certain death.

It was only a matter of time before these Nazis got tired of them.

He got back to the castle and returned to the dungeon. Eren was sitting on a stool with the bucket of water and two towels, waiting for the patient he had intended to care for.

"Did you enjoy your walk?" he asked with a sardonic smile. Levi said nothing. "The tea is probably cold now."

Those teal eyes were sharply on him, and Levi held his gaze. He could tell in those pale, German eyes, Eren knew this had been more than a small venture beyond his cage. Still, he said nothing, and he looked only mildly annoyed.

Eren picked up a soaked towel resting inside the bucket of water. "Remove your trousers and wrap this around your lower legs, then wrap the dry towel around that."

Levi grimaced. "My legs?"

"Yes, below the knee. I'll still wash the rest of you, but it's rather chilly, and I don't want you to get worse. Stay here until I return." Then Eren left the dungeon, leaving the cell door wide open again. On purpose, this time.

Levi knew he could not attempt another escape. Probably, Eren warned the guards upstairs to shoot Levi if he tried to leave. Besides, the safest way was to go into the forest, but if troops were combing the woods for Isabel, he could not go there. Damn unlucky timing!

"Yiddisher mazel," he grumbled. Yiddish luck. Jews always had bad luck. He yanked off his shoes and began to loosen his trousers

* * *

When Eren returned, he saw Levi in bed with the blankets pulled up. They stared at one another unflinchingly as Eren approached.

When he had first returned to see the door was open and Levi was gone, Eren realized in belated horror that he had forgotten to lock it. It was such a stupid mistake, and it showed how at ease he had become, not really thinking of Levi as a prisoner.

Of course Levi would use such an opportunity to escape, but he was a pragmatic man. If his attempt was certain to fail, he would simply return and wait for another chance. He was not just out to escape, but to survive. So although it was a gamble, Eren did not raise an alarm, which would lead to him getting into trouble, but instead he decided to wait. If Levi returned, they could pretend this never happened. If Levi was caught first, then he would get into trouble. If Levi really did escape, maybe Eren could convince the captain that Levi picked the lock and shift the blame to the guards outside. After all, they obviously let the Jew walk out without stopping him. In the end, the best solution was to wait and hope Levi came back to him.

So when the Jew walked down those stairs, Eren's first reaction was intense relief. His second reaction was silent anger.

Levi knew Eren would get punished if he left. He knew, and yet still…

Eren could not blame him for seeking freedom. Still, it … hurt … knowing Levi choose to escape over Eren's well-being. He knew that was silly and selfish. Of course, Levi's life was more important than his military career…

Eren stopped his thinking right there.

This was treasonous. Levi was a Jew, the greatest enemy to Germany. He needed to stop thinking like this.

He pulled a stool closer to Levi's bed and set down a tiny, metal, Esbit cooking stove and a box of fuel tablets. This was all from his own supplies. The stove and fuel had been sitting in his pack since they arrived in this village, since now he had a real kitchen and Thomas cooked their meals.

He opened up the tiny stove and set it up in the center of the cell. He pulled out pale bricks of oily fuel. They stank, but they worked. In this sort of place, they would at least warm up the cell and provide some comfort to the feverishly sick man. He pulled out a box of matches and lit a fuel brick. That would give him fifteen minutes of heat, enough to take the edge off of the chilly dungeon.

The white brick lit quickly, and in under a minute it was blazing within the metal tin. Eren felt the waves of heat. More than once, he and his men had used the Esbit stoves purely to warm themselves. The fuel tablets were easy to come by, and often all they needed was fifteen minutes to heat up water for tea and a bit of soup.

He placed a steel mug above the stove, some pale color liquid with a floral smell. He let it heat up the tea he had brewed, and once that was steaming, he handed it to Levi.

The Jew sat up, inhaled the yarrow tea, and took a sip. Eren had even added in mint and sweetened it with honey. That was a shocking act of kindness, and Levi felt slightly ashamed that he had used Eren's generosity against him in escaping. Still, a prisoner's primary objective was to escape, no matter how kind their jailer was.

Meanwhile, Eren put the bucket of water near the tiny stove. It had been hot when he first brought it down, but it had cooled to a tepid temperature as he waited for Levi to return.

"Is the towel around your legs?" asked Eren, and Levi nodded. "Good. Pull off the blankets and remove the rest of your clothing."

Completely silent, Levi unbuttoned his shirt, pulled it off his shoulders, and folded it neatly before setting it aside, leaving only his underwear.

"Can I keep these on, or do you wish to rob me of all dignity?" he asked wryly.

Eren dipped a small towel into the bucket of warm water. "It's not like I want to look at it."

Levi lay back down, staring up at the ceiling. Spiderwebs had collected up there, but it was too high for him to reach when cleaning. He briefly wondered if he could ask Eren to stretch up there and dust away the cobwebs, but he quickly decided against it.

The towel started at his feet, and Levi jolted upon feeling it. It was warm and comforting, but having someone touch him—having a man touch him, and a German enemy at that—was a disturbing sensation.

"Relax. It's just water."

Levi kept staring straight ahead at the ceiling as he felt the cloth along his ankles and working upward toward where the cold towel was wrapped around his legs, sucking the fever out of his body.

When was the last time someone touched him in these places? When was the last time anyone had given him a sponge bath? His wife never had to since he had not gotten sick during their time being married. His childhood was uneventful, perhaps a cold or cough, but he could not remember having high fevers. Maybe early childhood, but he had only a few vague impressions of that time.

He grimaced as the cloth skipped over the wrapped calves and went up his thighs. Then as he felt water trickling between his legs, Levi flinched with a grunt of disgust.

"Ah … sorry." Eren pulled the towel back and dunked it again into the warm water. "I … I can do your chest instead, if that's better."

"Shut up," Levi grumbled. He knew why Eren sounded flustered. His body had reacted in a humiliating but natural way. He saw Eren's eyes drift down to his underwear more than once. "I thought you said you didn't want to look at it."

His cheeks flamed red. "I don't! I just … it's … Jews get that way too, I guess."

Levi barked out a laugh. "Idiot. We're normal people. We react the same way anyone else would."

"I … I guess that's true."

Levi felt the heat of the cloth on his chest and relaxed, feeling the tension down below loosen and fade as well. "Nazis believe Jews aren't even human."

Kitz Woermann had just lectured him on that. "Well, Untermenschen. Subhuman. So it's like you are a slightly less evolved form of man. Like how a dachshund and a rottweiler are both dogs, just different types of dogs. Aryans and Jews are still human, just not the same kind of human."

"I've heard of that theory," he muttered.

"No, no! It's scientifically proven. Scientists did many tests—"

"German scientists, paid by the Nazi Party, who wanted certain results. British and Americans have done the same tests and found nothing. If anything, they prove more and more that the color of skin or shape of one's nose does not change the fact that we are all homo sapiens. Aryan, African, Asian, Arab, Jew: none of it changes who we are on the inside." He glanced over to the pale boy. "It's just skin and hair color."

"No, scientists have proven—"

"They lied. Or do I need to get fully naked to show you that I am absolutely no different from you?"

Eren choked up and flushed again. "N-No! That's not … I … I still believe what I was taught. I've seen no evidence to the contrary."

"You've been too busy killing to do scientific research of your own. When this is over, I know a brilliant scientist named Hange who would love to show you all sorts of human experimentations. Watch out though, or that mad quack will make you the next test subject."

"Where is this Hange?"

"Fled with many others when the Germans arrived. Devil knows where any of them went. Many escaped to England, Algeria, Norway, America, Canada. Lucky bastards."

Eren hummed and looked aside. "Many German scientists and doctors ran away too. Cowards, all of them."

Levi heard something dark in that statement, and Eren's eyes showed that this was personal. "They likely did not agree with Nazi propaganda, this idea of racial superiority, the craving to conquer and purge Europe in some vain dream of creating Paradise, the idolatry toward Adolf Hitler, and the lengths he will go to in his quest to rule the world. If you don't agree, why should you help? Doctors and scientists forced to do unmentionable experiments for the sake of the Nazi Party … they are not cowards for running away, but heroes for not bending their knee and staying silent out of fear or apathy."

"They are traitors!" Eren snapped furiously.

Levi looked straight at him. "You know one," he realized. "Was it someone close to you? A friend? No, you're too young. A relative?"

Eren suddenly screamed, "Halt deine verdammte Fresse!" Shut the fuck up!

Levi looked straight into those enraged eyes. Instead of pushing the matter, he gave a weary sigh, knowing he was edging Eren to a dangerous breaking point. Normally, he would be interested to see how far he could manipulate a German's emotions, but not today, not when it felt like his forehead was on fire. He rolled around and buried his face into his pillow.

"My back could probably use some cooling off. Just don't stab me. I'm too exhausted to die."

Eren pulled back and dunked the towel into the water again. In the light and heat of the tiny Esbit stove, he rubbed Levi's neck and slowly worked over the muscular shoulders and back.

"Sorry," Eren whispered. "Yes, it was someone close. He ran away ten years ago, just after Hitler became Führer."

"You must have been just a child."

"I was old enough to know what he did, old enough to know he betrayed Germany."

"No, you were young enough to have been told that by someone else, and naïve enough to believe it. There's a big difference."

Eren glared down at the prone back. "I don't want to speak about this."

"Fine." Levi kept quiet. The warm wet cloth felt nice, and the idea of getting cleaned made him sigh.

"Is that good?" Eren asked, smiling warmly to see Levi's face almost—almost—looking happy.

"I probably stink."

"Not as badly as Connie and Jean," Eren said with a chuckle. His finger touched Levi's back, right over a torn pocked pinkness of a scar. "Were you shot?"

"Yes. The bastard got one shot in before I slit his throat."

"Did it hurt?"

Levi rolled his head over to look at him. "Have you never been shot?"

"Shrapnel, but never a bullet. Was this in French Cameroon?"

"No, Poland."

"What were you doing in Poland?"

He paused for a moment before muttering, "Work."

"And you got shot? What sort of work leads you to slitting a man's throat?" Eren paused. "Or do I not want to know?"

Levi kept quiet, and Eren accepted that he would not say.

"So, you've been to Africa, England, and Poland. You've traveled a lot."

Levi gave a wry laugh. "I've been to more countries than just that."

"Have you ever been to Germany?"

"A few times."

"Russia?"

"Briefly."

"America?"

"No, but my cousin lives there. You sure are curious today."

"I want to travel," Eren sighed. "I've gotten to see Italy and France, but it's not the same when you go there to kill people."

Levi stared ahead with cold eyes. "You're right, it's not the same."

"I want to see America. I once saw a Charlie Chaplin film based in Alaska. The mountains were pretty, and it looked so wild. Untouched. I remember there was a bear!"

"It was probably all filmed in California."

"How about you? You want to leave France, right?"

"I don't really want to. I have to."

"If you could pick anywhere in the world, where would you want to live?"

"Wherever I can live in peace and not have a brat pester me with questions."

Eren bit his lip. "Sorry," he mumbled.

Soon, Levi's arms and back had a thin layer of water that worked well to cool him down, and the small stove was just enough warmth to keep him from shivering. Then he felt the cloth on his legs again, running down just below his worn-out underwear and toward the knees. Levi made a noise of disgust.

"Are your legs sensitive?"

"Shut up," he snapped.

The towel pulled back. "That's good enough. You may roll over."

"In a minute," Levi grumbled.

Eren looked over in confusion. Then he saw Levi slowly unclench the bed sheet, and he tried to slow his breathing. Dangerously curious, Eren ran his bare hand up Levi's thigh, whispering playfully, "Sensitive?"

Levi let out a high squawk and spun around, knocking off the towels wrapped around his calves. His eyes were massive and alarmed by the touch, whereas Eren's face held the mischievous grin of a naughty child. Then Eren's eyes dropped, and sure enough, touching there had made Levi react. In belated embarrassment, Levi grabbed his blanket and yanked it over him, at least enough to hide his torso.

"Tu … t'es … sale petit garnement."

"What does that mean?"

He struggled to think in English again. "Dirty little troublemaker. You did that just to humiliate me."

"I did it to see if you would react."

"Of course I would!" His face turned away with blotchy skin. "Were the men who thrust a mop up my arse not enough? Do you plan on raping me yourself?"

"Wha- … No!" Eren shouted in horror. "No, that's not it at all."

"Then why would you want this sort of reaction out of me?"

Eren's mouth dropped, he tried to speak, but nothing came out. He lowered his head and turned away. "I was hoping to tease you a little, cheer you up."

"You have a sick sense of what it means to tease another man."

Eren flinched and looked hurt. "It was just a joke. I didn't want it to be … sick. I would never do anything you thought was disgusting." He lowered his head, feeling miserable now. "I'm sorry."

Levi let out a sigh and relaxed out of his defensive rigidity. How could he be enraged when Eren looked like a puppy being scolded? "At any other time, I may have been merely annoyed, but … what those men did to me … your joke was in bad taste."

Those teal eyes gazed back, filled with remorse. "I didn't think…" His shoulders slumped in regret. "You're right. They did something horrible. Of course you wouldn't want to be touched by another man after that. I'm sorry. This was all a bad idea."

"No, the rest was fine. It feels good to be clean, and I feel the fever lowering. Just … my legs … they have always been sensitive. Even as a child, I could not wear caleçon long … that is … um … I do not remember the English word." He pointed to his undershorts. "Like these, but long."

"Ah, lange Unterhose?"

"That's German, you idiot. But yes, I could not wear them. Anything tight on my legs, or rubbing against them too much, I hated it." He pulled into himself closer. "So please, do not touch my legs again."

"I'll remember." Eren stood, grabbed the bucket of water with the towel floating inside, gathered up the used towels that had been wrapped around Levi's calves, and dropped the box of fuel bars off by Levi's bed along with a packet of matches. "Keep the flame going for a while, but blow it out immediately if anyone comes down here. I'll need to retrieve the Esbit eventually, but you can keep yourself warm while you're sick." Then he walked out of the cell, and this time he made sure to lock it. "Rest. I'll see you tomorrow." He walked away, giving Levi privacy to dress.

Levi watched him go, and he stayed still until the sound of footsteps faded away. Then he sighed and relaxed. He pulled back the blanket and glanced down to the tented cotton undershorts.

"Putain Popaul. C'est pas le moment d'avoir la gaule." Fucking dick. This is not the time to have an erection.

He slammed the blankets back down. It would go away, it always did, it was just humiliating to have a reaction like that in front of Eren, of all people.

# # #

# #

#

"… there have been strikes all across France's rails." These coordinated attacks on the French railway system were a strategic precursor to D-Day.

"kalte Wadenwickelund Schafgarbe" – my German translator told me that a common way to lower fevers in Germany is a Wadenwickel, wrapping a cold towel around the calves with another towel around it, and I added my mother's herbal cure for fevers, yarrow with added mint and honey to sweeten it. (Yarrow is very bitter.)

Again we hear the lines to the poem "Chanson d'automne," and Sasha explains part of the code. The first three lines meant the Allies would land within the next two weeks, and the next three lines meant 48 hours to D-Day.

Esbit stoves are really awesome, especially when camping. They were designed for German soldiers in WWII, but they are still made today. You can buy them on Amazon for $10. They fold up tiny to fit in your pack, they're made of aluminum so they are lightweight, and the hexamine fuel tablets last long enough to heat up water for coffee, soup, or to warm up your emergency rations.

Levi and Eren again mention the Nazi concept of Untermenschen, Subhumans. Eren's insistence that it was "scientifically proven" is literally how biology was taught in Hitler Youth. The Nazi Party taught children that Jews, Roma, Arabs, Blacks, and "Orientals" were Subhuman, with ample amounts of faked "racial science" to support this xenophobic claim.

Eren talks about a Charlie Chaplin film set in Alaska. This was "Gold Rush," a 1928 silent film. Levi's quip that "it was probably all filmed in California" was true. Most of it was filmed on a Hollywood studio lot with elaborate sets to make it look like they were in the mountains, with a few location shots in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of northern California.

Levi mentions caleçon long, or long johns in English. The idea to mention those came from me researching whether or not Levi would be wearing underwear in this scene, and what types existed during the war.I already had in mind that his legs would be super sensitive. Turns out, briefs were not popular until after World War II, but boxers were invented in the 1920s. Rather than elastic, they tied on the sides. Before then, people wore long, close-fitted pants: either two-piece long johns or one-piece union suits. This was part of the standard uniform for French soldiers during the time Levi served, so it's safe to assume that Levi went "commando" (no underwear) while he was a soldier.

My French translator Doublepasse had fun trying to find a way to express in French my intended meaning in that last paragraph. She discovered that French men tend to call their dicks "Popaul," which is like "little Paul," sort of like how English say "dick" which is the nickname of Richard, or someone named Michael might call his own penis "Little Mikey." Slang is weird like that.



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