He isn't sure what the last thing he remembers is.
The world has grown eerily quiet, but not as dark as he would have expected. Isn't death supposed to be nothing but void? He still has a body, even if he can't quite feel the ground under him. The pain has vanished. He casts a glance at his leg, broken and bloodied, completely unusable. Right next to him rests his mangled hand. He isn't sure what exactly happened, but he knows he has failed.
Levi is aware of their presence a split second before they speak:
The nickname rolls off his tongue, out of habit, before he has the time to put two and two together. He looks up and sure, Hange is there, with their messy hair, their thin-framed glasses, their lips curled into a tiny smile. They look unscathed, except for the eyepatch, but it has been a part of their face for so long now that Levi completely overlooks it – especially since the last time he saw them, it has been so much worse. They were falling from the sky, engulfed in flames and smoke, like some kind of twisted fallen angel. Dying, or maybe dead already. He cannot shake the image out of his mind.
He puts his palm flat on the ground, tries to push himself up. Somehow, his wounded leg supports his weight now. He takes the offered hand, and Hange helps him up, their second hand coming to rest on his arm to stabilize him.
"I wasn't expecting you so early."
He doesn't know what to say to that, because saying he didn't either sounds like a lie, and now Hange is even closer and words are not something he can think about anymore. His gaze follows their hand as they gently touch the side of his face, their thumb inching towards the cut splitting up his lip. He doesn't speak as they slowly unravel the bandages they had themselves put on, what felt like an eternity ago. When they talk, only then does he finally looks at them:
"It had not even the time to scar…"
Levi makes some sort of non-committal sound. It hasn't, indeed. How could it, since it has only been days since he got so badly injured? Maybe it would have been better if he didn't survive that blast. It's not like he has achieved much either way. Some part of him is really bothered that even now that the bandages are off, he can't see anything out of his right eye. That shouldn't come out as a surprise, but apparently, he was still stupid enough to hope. Not that it matters now, though.
His remaining eye aligns with Hange's.
He doesn't know exactly when he has moved, but his damaged hand comes to grip feebly Hange's wrist and they stop moving, looking at him curiously. Levi realizes he has no idea what he wanted to say and, after a few awkward seconds, he finally lets their wrist go. He swallows thickly, still looking down.
Then comes the dreaded question:
"And, so… Tell me, how is it down here?"
Images and sounds flood his mind – memories that seem to come straight from his worst nightmares. Except this time, it's not his own fear that paints the horrible images against his closed eyelids, in the darkness of his room inside the Walls – no, this time they are outside, in this land that they dreamt about, but the titans followed, and the terror, and the despair. It's real, no matter how much it should not be, because how could they let it all go so fucking wrong? But it did, somehow. And he has never felt so helpless.
He sees, clear as day – dark as these worst nights, the countless Colossals that already took Hange's life, and so many more, and the thing that was once Eren, towering over them. He swears he could hear the human screams above the thunderous rumbling. He has a flash of his hand covered in his own blood, of enormous teeth that he spotted way too late, that his broken body couldn't get away from fast enough. He can still feel the gear around his leg snapping, a mere second before his bone.
Their voice bleeds through the darkness. It's loud, it's clear, it rises a bit on the last syllable of his name. He looks up, hesitantly meets their eye. There, there is that spark that always shines, it got dulled during those last nightmarish months but never disappeared completely, and now it's back, in that place of all places. Their gaze is unfaltering and he suddenly has the urge to reach to them, to touch them. He doesn't move.
The memories are still coming, images forming in his mind, but the steam is thinning, it's more precise and factful – but he can breathe again.
"The founder, Ymir..."
Levi pauses, tries to find the words. He doesn't want to lie to them, they don't deserve a lie, but he can't bring himself to tell them how desperate their situation really is – was, when he was still with them. He wants to believe, deep down, that there is still hope, that their ridiculously small "alliance" can do something, somehow. That Hange didn't die for nothing. But no matter which way he's looking at it, there is not cutting it – no light at the end of the tunnel, no silver lining. Even if by some sort of miracle, they managed to stop Eren, then it's their own home and perhaps even their whole kind that's going to be annihilated.
Stopping Eren… The image of the young man doesn't fit right with that bony abomination, ruling over the death in march. Hundred and hundreds of those "gods of destruction", flattening the world under their feet. But they are mindless, and one swipe at the neck would be enough to cut off the leader's head. However then, they ran into all those monster that manifest themselves right off the bones, and-
A stray thought crosses his mind; Hange would have loved to see that. Levi grits his teeth. And finally, he says:
"She revived the past Titans shifters. That… that was a festival of ugly fuckers."
Of course, the four-eyes is interested, he can see it clearly as they slightly lean towards him, their remaining eye widening behind their glasses. That's when he knows he said the right thing. So, he forces himself to continue:
"And there was even one that flew, Falco's-"
This time Levi doesn't even have the time to finish his sentence before they positively shriek:
He rolls his eyes. Bits the inside of his cheek to stop a slight smile from slipping out. Not like Hange is paying attention anyway, not after what he just told them. He doesn't mind in the slightest.
"I'd have lov-"
He steels himself for one of their over-enthusiastic rambles that are so hard to follow because their mind seems to jump from topic to topic randomly, but he likes listening to them anyway, to get a glimpse of what is running through that genius brain, and to see their whole face lit up too – not that he would ever admit it. But this time, there is none of that loud enthusiasm, and their voice falters, their features slowly fall too.
"Shitty Glasses?" They are the one averting his gaze now. "Are you… crying?"
Their cape conceals a bit the tremor of their shoulders, but even their glasses can't hide their shining eye – and it's none of that lively spark that was here just moments before. Their pathetic attempt to deny it won't change that. They quickly wipe away a stray tear with the back of their hand. He wants to comfort them, so of course, what comes out of his mouth sounds vaguely insulting:
"Tch, don't go wailing about your damn Titans…"
Levi can't help but raise a brow at that. They sound serious, though.
He was going to add something, anything – yes, anything so that no more tear spills out because he has no fucking idea how to respond to that – but suddenly their foot is in between his, and their knees bumped together awkwardly-
"Hang- What ar-"
-and Hange's arms are around his neck, bringing him closer when his body instinctively wants to pull away. It took a full five seconds for his brain to register that they are hugging him.
It's not the first time, but that doesn't mean Levi knows how to react, what to say, he never has, so he just awkwardly brings his hands up and pats their back. They don't seem to mind, though, and their embrace just tightens around him. This way, he can almost imagine they are warm.
He feels them perk up, shifting slightly against his body to get a better look at his face. He is stubbornly looking at the deep green of their cape. He has missed that color, amidst all the red. And more importantly, he knows that if he looks up, the words would never come out – not the ones he intended, at least.
"Maybe you were right after all."
For once, he wants to add. He curses himself.
"About what?" they ask – and he can sense the disbelief from their tone alone.
For a split second, Levi wants to tell them that they were right about a lot of things, or that at least they did what they believed in. In the same second, he realizes that they all did, that Eren and the Yeagerist probably did too, and that good intentions don't cut it. And above all, it's not a conversation he wants to have right now. They aren't a part of this world anymore, and frankly, he can't really bring himself to care.
"I know we couldn't," he says, "but…"
He inhales shakily. It's hard not to fall back into his old habit of uttering the first thing that comes through his head, no matter how bad it sounds or what he truly wants to say. Especially with Hange. Teasing them has become so natural, partly because he knows they can read in between the foul words and the sarcasm, and they retaliate. He knows they are part of the very few who don't mind and who, above all, understand. That doesn't mean he doesn't think they deserve to hear the truth unfiltered every once in a while, when they manage to breach down his barriers.
His next words come in the same breath:
"I would not have minded staying in that forest."
He feels their grip tightening.
"… Me neither."
His hands are now resting on Hange's hips, his forehead against their shoulder. He doesn't feel them breathing, of course. They are dead after all, both of them. He doesn't even know if this is real, in its own weird way, or if he's just hallucinating this. Maybe it's the last burst of energy through his body and brain, a bit like those chickens that still run around even if their head is missing.
Even though, Hange's arms crossed over his lower back, and their voice when they have answered, that feels real. That's all that matters. Not that it's the end, not that they don't have a future, that the world down there will continue to spin and the miserable humans on his surface to tear each other down. He wonders if the rest of the alliance has managed to stop this madness, this unending cycle of hatred, or at least the rumbling. He doesn't know which one is more impossible.
"But dreams aren't for people like us, hum?"
Their voice is like an echo to his thoughts, and Levi lets out a joyless laugh.
He isn't even sure of what his dream would be. Killing Zeke was more of a goal, a way to keep his promise to Erwin. He remembers one night, when with the other soldiers they had gotten drunk enough to wonder about a future free from the titans and talk about what they would do, then. When they looked at him expectantly, he had just said the first thing he thought of; that he would like to open a tea shop. It had made the others giggle. In the end, he thinks his only dream would have been to live a peaceful, normal life, no matter how pitiful of a dream that is. But even that, they had to give it up.
"Isn't that what you said to Erwin?"
The question takes him completely by surprise. He pulls away, looks at them incredulously. They weren't there when he said that, back in Shiganshina, right? It was just Erwin and him, and Hange was on the other side of the wall, fighting the Armored and the Colossal… They were probably unconscious at that time too, knocked down by Bertholdt's transformation.
"Wh- How d-"
"He told me."
Hange smiles slightly, and the only thing he can muster is a feeble "Ah…". It takes him an embarrassing amount of time to piece out that it means that they aren't-
His train of thought is interrupted by a hand that creeps up his arm, and Hange's hair brushes against his shoulder.
"I'm glad I got nicer parting words, eh?"
His first instinctive response is "way too close!", a shiver runs down his spine. He can feel their breath against his skin, doesn't dare to turn his head in the slightest so he doesn't fall into the familiar warm brown of their eye.
"You made me laugh."
Their tone softens with these words, and they step back just a bit. They are still in his personal space, of course – when aren't they? – but this time it feels gentler, like he knows somehow it's not to annoy him. He raises his hand even if he has not the slightest idea of what he wants to do, and the motion reminisces him of that last time he saw them alive – of the words he has heard so many times, that he never spoke until that moment, just for them, because what choice were they left with? He isn't sure of how to deal with that memory, so instead, he lets his fingers uncurl in what is farthest from a fist as possible and lightly pushes Hange away.
"Get back, idiot."
They let out a chuckle and grab his wrist in the same motion. Levi doesn't even think about pulling away.
"And so, Erwin…"
Their minds have apparently wandered to the same place because almost at the same time he blurts out:
"Yeah, I hope I'm not stuck with only you, four-eyes?"
Shit, he thinks. They have let go of his arm, and he just brings it closer to his chest, wanting but not daring to reach for them again. His fingers twitch at the thought.
"Levi…" It feels weird for them to speak his name when he thought it would never hear it again. "I know."
Of course, they do. That's why the two of them got along so well in the same place, despite how unlikely their friendship – relationship? – was.
"They are here too. Go see them."
Their gaze shifts to some point on their left and his follows. Instinctively, his feet face this way too, as the faces of his friend flash in his mind. The other vets, his squad, Erwin… Isabel and Farlan… His mother too. He has lost too many people. At least they aren't the ones that had to be left behind, because that's what hurt the most. He doesn't know what he will say to them when – if? – they come face to face again. Maybe there are some he would like to say sorry to. He doesn't regret his mistakes, at least he tries not to, but that doesn't mean he doesn't believe that some of them wouldn't be dead if only he has made the right choice.
It only takes him two steps forward to realize Hange isn't following. He pauses, praying to every god or deity he doesn't believe in that they haven't somehow vanished. When he turns around, he is relieved to see the oh-so-familiar face – their glasses, their messy strands of hair, their hooked nose, their lips that curl so easily into a smile, joyful or not. The question hangs in the air between them, unspoken. They stay quite a time like that, staring at each other. Levi realizes he is trying to fix their features in his memory.
After what felt like a very short eternity, or maybe a very long second, they gently push him forward, with their hand and that smile that has definitely turned into a sad little one.
"Go," they said. "I'm not leaving."
He simply nods. He hopes it's the truth – that this isn't a second good bye, that if he looks back, he would still see them standing there, in that weirdly evanescent setting. Maybe they will be with Moblit and the rest of their own squad, or their family that he so rarely heard about, and he would love to see that, because Hange is not that kind of person who strives alone. He wants to see them happy, like before all went to shit – like it wasn't already in the first place.
Levi takes a deep breath. And walks away.
See you later, Hange, he thinks.
It already worked one time, hasn't it?
Hope you like it!
I actually drew this as a short three-page comic first, then I was curious and wanted to "compare" the two modes of storytelling! (And if you want to check the comic too, it's on my instagram feed: . /?hl=en (posted in four parts during the course of December 2020) :D )