Eren's first words had been Titan! and Exterminate!, but the only person in the family who was even the least bit concerned was his mother.
His childhood memories were murky at best and he certainly wouldn't remember something from the time when he probably just spouted words without really knowing what they meant, but everyone else did. His dad apparently had beamed, proud that his son was able to talk even though his choice of words was questionable. Mikasa let a rare smile show on her face, while Levi fondly ruffled his hair.
It was a cute moment. And even though everyone was sure that they'd never used those kinds of words in front of him ever—let alone often enough for him to build up a habit of repeating them—they never really questioned how those got into his head.
They simply dismissed it as one of his odd quirks, and boy, Eren sure had a lot of those.
He eventually learned other words like 'Mom', 'Dad' and 'Mikasa', but he rarely ever called out to Levi by name. Instead, he referred to him as 'Corpal', and after several months of training Eren to pronounce his words properly they finally figured out that he meant to say 'Corporal'.
"Weird," Mikasa commented offhandedly as Levi lifted the laughing Eren from the floor, and in response the kid started crying out his brother's nickname excitedly.
"Not bad," said Levi.
Eren's laughter sounded brighter, as if he understood what was being said.
Levi and Mikasa liked to take him out for long walks. Occasionally the two would go together, but most of the time, thanks to their conflicting schedules, they took turns.
Mikasa pampered him to no end, taking roads that he was familiar with and buying him treats every now and then. Once Eren was old enough to walk without being carried, Mikasa let him lead the way. They stayed outside until Eren was content, and by the time they got back home Eren would usually be asleep in Mikasa's arms.
Levi was less indulging. He walked along unfamiliar paths, sometimes scary ones, and made sure Eren memorized way home. Levi bought him treats too, but unlike Mikasa he didn't buy him extras, nor would he buy Eren a new one if he accidentally spilled his food (though he did occasionally give Eren a lift on his shoulders when Eren was too upset, as if to make it up to him). He also brought him back home before dark, in spite of Eren's crying or his bouts of anger, and Eren would spend the rest of the day bawling in his mom's lap.
Despite his tears, though, Eren still seemed to be very much attached to Levi. He trailed Levi to the front door every day before the older boy left for school, and his mom had to keep watch every single day to make sure that he didn't suddenly decide to walk all the way to school.
Grisha was surprised he didn't grow up spoiled.
"It's only to be expected, with the way you guys are fawning over him…"
"I don't spoil him," Levi said firmly, "I make him cry all the time."
Mikasa gave him a look.
"You do too."
Because it wasn't like they didn't notice how Eren always ended up in Levi's room in the mornings.
When Eren was eight, he had recurring nightmares of deaths and man-eating giants, and he really didn't understand what was going on but there was a lot of blood and people gliding through the air in high speed and there was his brother and his sister and whole lot of other people but mostly there was just pain pain pain—
Eren looked up to see Levi peering over him. He found himself in Levi's room without even remembering how he managed to get himself there, and his cheeks were drenched from tears.
"Nightmares again? Shouldn't you be growing out of it by now, brat?"
But Levi slowly moved aside to make some space in his bed as Eren sniffed and gratefully climbed his way into it. He tugged on Levi's t-shirt and buried his face behind it, and though Levi clicked his tongue and sounded really displeased, he didn't move.
"What did we decide about dreams?" Levi asked through Eren's muffled sobs.
"They aren't real," answered Eren, shakily.
"But it felt real. Like it really happened," Eren said hesitantly, scared that his brother might tell him off, "Is that stupid?"
"Extremely. But I'd expect no less from you."
Like many other nights before, Eren ended up sleeping beside Levi. But unlike all the other times, his dreams persisted, clearer and more vivid than ever before, and it almost felt like he was living another life.
That night, for the first time ever, his siblings died in his dreams, and he was wrecked with guilt and anguish because they were protecting him and if only I were stronger, then I could've and then I'm sorry I'm so so sorry—
He woke up screaming.
Being woken up by Eren's screams was almost becoming routine.
Back when it first happened, Levi had panicked, tried to slap Eren awake to no avail and consequently decided to wake Mikasa up—which wasn't a really good idea because Mikasa was as clueless as he was and Levi didn't know why he expected any better when they were twins anyway.
The noise eventually attracted their parents, and after noticing that Eren had managed to develop a high fever overnight and giving proper treatment, both Levi and Mikasa received a good scolding from Carla.
"Parents should be your first point of reference!" she literally shouted in their ears, "Don't just decide to do things on your own!"
Eren was delirious for days, and during the occasional moments when he was half-awake he'd call for Mikasa or squeeze Levi's hand tight, muttering constant apologies under his breath.
Eren didn't say anything about it after he recovered, but he also grew to be a bit more subdued. He looked out of it, at times, staring off into nothing and seeming to be overwhelmed by his own thoughts.
Sometimes, Eren gave Levi a look that he couldn't quite decipher.
"What?" he questioned, and it was the first and only time he did.
Eren froze for a second, probably shocked at being caught off guard, but he quickly shook his head and turned away.
Levi never pressed him for an explanation. He had a feeling Eren wouldn't give him any even if he did.
Nowadays, whenever Eren started screaming in his sleep, Levi would pull him close and whisper assurances in his ears.
"I'm here," he'd say, "I'm alive, I'm fine. Wake up."
And Eren heeded his words, waking up with a start, eyes wide, and he would stare at Levi with the same look Levi had gotten used to ignoring.
"Corporal…" Eren whispered.
Levi frowned. Eren reverted to his old nickname every single time and he didn't understand why.
By the time Eren turned thirteen, he'd lost his sense of self.
Sometimes he was Eren Yeager; the youngest child from a family of five, son of Carla and Grisha, baby brother of twins Mikasa and Levi, carefree and free-spirited, though with a bit of a wild temper. But he was also Eren Yeager; the young soldier, Humanity's Last Hope, the guy who's rushing to his death, Mikasa's adopted brother…
Well, at least the part about his temper remained more or less the same.
He didn't believe it before. Thought the whole thing was just a product of his overactive imagination. He even considered growing up to be an author, because whatever his story actually was, no one else could have possibly thought of it.
But then he met Armin.
Or perhaps to be more accurate, he found Armin.
It was the first day of junior high, and Eren was everything a first year was: excited, nervous as fuck yes, but eager all the same. Other than the normal first 'did I just make a fool of myself' conversations, everything was going well, and during break Eren decided to venture around his new school and made his way to the cafeteria.
Then he saw the familiar shade of blonde, and he acted almost on reflex.
"Armin!" he exclaimed, reaching out to grab the blonde's arm.
'Armin' turned around, brows furrowed, confusion evident in his face. Eren inwardly cursed himself; there was no better way to ruin a first impression than to call out to a person with a made-up name from a dream simply because they looked more or less the same.
Oh boy, Eren was going to give himself hell by trying to explain.
"Sorry," he quickly muttered, red-faced, "I didn't mean to do that."
The blonde was still staring at him with the same confused expression. Eren didn't blame him.
"I'll just... go now..."
Eren stopped in his tracks.
"I'm the one who's supposed to be sorry! Have we met before? I mean, obviously we have, since you know my name!" The blonde corrected quickly, flustered and uncomfortable, "But... um... I'm sorry! I can't seem to recall ever seeing you before!"
And Eren just gaped at him in disbelief.
Was having dreams about people he'd never even met before considered normal?
Eren has his own bedroom, but personally Levi felt like it was more 'Eren's storage' than 'Eren's bedroom' because the brat barely slept in it anymore.
And whereas Eren had certainly put up an act of at least trying to sleep in his own room prior to moving over to Levi's before, lately he didn't even bother. He just dragged some pillows and a blanket over to Levi's room, spread it on the floor and made it his own space.
"Nice to see you're making yourself at home."
"You don't mind."
"Really?" Levi raised an eyebrow, "And where'd you get that from?"
"You were a lot nicer to me when I was younger."
"You were a lot cuter back then too."
Bringing the blanket was another act Levi felt was useless, and he didn't understand why Eren bothered with it at all. They both knew he was going to end up on his bed anyways.
"Do I make you uncomfortable?" Eren asked one day. "By being here?"
"… you're certainly too old for nightmares."
"Have I ever chased you out, you shitty brat?"
"Good. Now try to find out what's implied from there. Do you seriously need me to spell out every goddamned thing?"
Eren Yeager was in love with Levi.
He couldn't even pinpoint which Eren, because their memories were so meshed together that he could no longer tell which events had actually happened and which events came from a dream.
(But it wasn't really a dream now, was it?)
And it was the same with a whole lot of other things. Sometimes he felt this sudden urge of resentment towards Grisha. Other times he just wanted to wrap his arms around Carla and cry. Occasionally, he shouted at Mikasa, telling her that her fussing over him was suffocating even when he knew he felt no such thing before.
Mikasa had looked at him worriedly, a light frown on her face.
"Eren. Are you alright?"
And he told her he was fine, because how would he even begin to explain that these weird flashbacks were beginning to take over his life?
But Levi glared at him as he went to bed that day, and Eren was torn because a part of him wanted so desperately to explain… to ask if Levi had any freaking idea on what was happening to him because Eren sure as hell didn't.
(And another part wanted to cry out just as loud because, well…
I didn't think I'd see you again.
Are you happy?
This isn't really what I wanted.
Won't you please remember me?)
"You're hiding something."
It wasn't a question.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'm sorry."
He didn't even know what the apology was for.
Eren was so fucking messed up he didn't even know who he was anymore.
"Do you sometimes... remember things?"
Levi gave Eren a leveled gaze at the question.
"I may be eight years older than you are, brat, but that doesn't make me a senior citizen."
"I don't mean it that way!" Eren muttered, annoyed, "Just... memories? And it doesn't have to be things that happened when we were kids. It's like... you just feel like it's happened to you before."
"No," Eren said, and he sounded tired, "Memories."
"I don't know what shit you're talking about."
Eren kept silent, and the conversation came to an end.
But Levi remembered a lot of things. Definitely not in the way Eren described, because what he recalled had definitely happened at one point or another, but he remembered a bit too much, and it unnerved him.
He remembered carrying Eren around town, remembered how his brother used to cling to his feet everyday before he went to school, the affectionate gaze Eren gave him whenever he allowed the kid to get in his bed, the soft, muffled sobs that escaped him at night whenever he thought Levi couldn't hear.
But he also remembered the way Eren clung to him at night during one of his nightmares, the feel of Eren's slender body under his arms as he held him to calm him down, the scent that lingered on his pillow after Eren was up and gone, and he remembered watching Eren sleep and looking at his soft lips and thinking how much he wanted—
Levi looked away, disgusted with himself.
Sometimes Eren looked at Levi and felt nothing but pain because Levi hadn't changed much at all.
There was that hint of affection behind his rough words, that freakish obsession with all matters of cleanliness. He still kept the habit of keeping most of his emotions hidden behind a stoic façade, still called Eren names and wouldn't hesitate to hit him if he did something wrong.
But he also still stood up for him in a pinch, still encouraged Eren to make his own decisions despite his young age, still trusted anything Eren said purely on instinct, no matter how unlikely it was.
(Surely that meant Levi was still in love with him?)
Levi might not have changed, but everything else did.
The world wasn't overridden by titans, for one. And while people might be afraid of being killed by titans before, now they were just scared of each other. Eren could reach the sea easily if he wanted to—all he needed was a bit of money and perhaps a day off from school.
There were no longer walls confining their movements, but for some odd reason most people chose to be bound by the four walls of their own homes anyway, their eyes wide and fearful. People also made a bigger deal of gender roles nowadays, insisting that men were the stronger sex when most of the best soldiers Eren had ever known back then were women.
Eren changed, too, and it was all dreadfully ironic because as the person who was blessed with the bad luck of retaining his past memories, wasn't he also supposed to be stuck with the job of being left behind?
But it was hard to stay as the same person when so many things that played a big part in defining who he was before were, well… different.
There weren't any titans around, humanity wasn't in danger, Eren wasn't a soldier…
His family was still intact.
Once, Eren's relationship with Levi had been a form of escapism, a temporary release from the duty that bound both of them to something that was really nothing more than a glorified suicide. There was so little that Eren had left, after all, after so many years of waging war against the Titans.
Corporal Levi was his anchor, one of the very few things that kept him sane.
But the current Eren had everything to lose. He loved Levi to bits, loved him more than anyone else can ever imagine, but that intensity was also a poison and Eren was just so, so scared.
God must be cruel, because the relationship that had saved him so many times before was turning into the very same thing that could destroy him.
Even so, Eren wouldn't stop.
Levi had no idea how—it was either a twin thing or just Mikasa's 'Eren radar' going off—but she did.
They never really talked about it. Mikasa settled for giving him warning glances every once in a while when his eyes trailed after Eren or when his gaze lingered a bit too long, but other than that the topic was left untouched.
Levi and Mikasa disagreed over a lot of things, but they both prioritized Eren's best interests above their own. Mikasa probably trusted him enough to know that he wouldn't risk doing anything stupid, even if his feelings did go far beyond being just brotherly.
A week before Eren's sixteenth birthday, he found out that no one would be around to celebrate.
No one except Levi, as luck would have it.
Levi knew Eren wasn't upset; he seemed more mortified than excited over birthday celebrations ever since he entered junior high. But Mikasa seemed oddly concerned. She probably would have cancelled whatever plans she had if she could, but her job wasn't so accommodating.
"I'll be fine!" Eren insisted, "What are you so worried about?"
Mikasa blinked, like she didn't know why Eren even bothered asking.
Eren scowled and walked off with a temper, muttering curses under his breath. Mikasa turned to face Levi.
"And you," she added, once Eren was out of sight.
Levi's face was blank.
"You know what I'm talking about," Mikasa continued, knowing Levi was still listening, "It's not worth it."
"I haven't done anything."
"You haven't," she agreed, before turning her head to point towards Eren's room, "But he will."
"Like hell he will."
Because if he didn't deny and throw the thought out of his mind, he wasn't quite sure how he was going to handle it.
It was so fucking wrong on so many levels, but deep inside, Levi started hoping.
Levi bought him a cake complete with lighted candles with the sole purpose of pissing him off, and Eren put up a fuss for nearly twenty minutes before judging that no one would probably think any less of him if he helped himself to a slice.
No one benefitted on wasted food anyways.
After they were done eating (Eren pointedly ignored the fact that he had finished most of the cake), Levi told him off for making a mess, which resulted in them both spending the rest of the evening cleaning.
He left his blanket in his room that night.
"Good night," Eren whispered softly as Levi turned off the lights.
Eren couldn't sleep. He kept his eyes closed and tried counting sheep, but it never worked before and it didn't seem like it was going to start now. He gave up after a while, opened his eyes and watched as Levi's shoulders rose and fell with every breath he took in.
Levi was facing away from him. Eren wondered if he'd wake up if Eren moved closer, if he brought his hand over to caress his hair, if he traced the outline of Levi's face. Eren wondered if he'd mind.
He was doing it before he could tell himself not to, his fingers touching Levi's skin gently, carefully. Eren stroked his thumb over Levi's lips. It was softer than he'd imagined.
When Levi flinched, Eren's body completely froze up.
Was he ever asleep at all?
Levi's eyes found his, and Eren couldn't move.
The silence seemed to last forever.
"I…" Eren tried.
Levi moved out of bed before he could. His face betrayed nothing, but his movements were rushed, almost clumsy, and it was completely unlike the Levi he knew.
Levi was moving away from him, and Eren knew everything would end if he just let him go. There was no way they'd ever talk about this again—it'd be like it never even happened.
Perhaps it was better that way.
Eren's hand clenched around the back of his shirt before he could move further, eyes lowered. Levi halted his steps and sighed.
Eren was trembling.
"You have no idea what you're getting yourself into," Levi told him, trying to unclench Eren's hold on the fabric. Eren didn't relent.
"I do," Eren murmured, and then he let out a laugh. It was horrifyingly bitter. "God, you have no idea how much I do."
Levi didn't dare move. He was scared of what he might do if he did.
"Don't give me that look, you shitty brat. You're so—"
It was like someone flipped a switch.
Levi all but crashed into Eren, the latter's lips against his own, devouring… desperate. Eren responded in kind, like he'd been waiting for just as long as Levi and that was just fucking ridiculous.
Mikasa was wrong.
It was worth it.
It wasn't as bad as he thought it would be.
Levi treated him no differently than usual, after all, and it wasn't like it was so unusual for Eren to spend his nights in Levi's room. His parents would probably be more surprised if he didn't.
He could live like this. He could do it.
It wasn't so hard. They were all already living together anyway. It made no difference. All he needed to do was to keep the thing between him and Levi a secret.
Everything was going to be okay.
Eren was forcing it.
Levi knew as much. The person himself didn't seem to notice though.
Instead of blowing a fuse whenever Carla started to tease him about his attachment to Levi—a normal occurrence, happened all the time—Eren gave an awkward smile. Their parents said nothing. Levi heard them making comments on how their youngest baby was all grown up.
Eren had grown up, alright. And Levi played a hand in it.
It was funny, in a way, but Levi couldn't even begin to laugh.
Mikasa's glares were accusatory.
What did you do?
What did he do?
Brought Eren to hell and back, probably.
This was a mistake.
("But it's not," Eren told him, "It wasn't before, it isn't now. It never will be. Trust me."
And Levi hung by his words like an idiot, age be damned.)
It never occurred to him that this wasn't worth it, because it was. He knew that better than anything else in the world.
That didn't mean it was easy. It was hard to pretend like nothing was happening every single day, harder still to face them brightly every morning while spouting lies right in front of their faces.
But lying was a better option than the alternative, because Eren couldn't risk losing his family. Not in this life, where Carla was alive and Grisha was around and Mikasa had never lost anyone. Not when Levi was a part of it.
He wouldn't let his family fall apart because of him.
If he ever gave up, it wasn't because their relationship wasn't worth it. It was because Eren wasn't strong enough.
Sometimes, he wished he didn't remember.
He would have been braver.
They should have locked the fucking door.
They should have, but they didn't, and now Mikasa was staring at them wide-eyed, disbelief written all over her face, before she promptly turned around and slammed the door behind her.
Eren was paler than death. His grip on Levi's wrist was strong enough to leave bruises, but he didn't even notice.
"What should we—" Eren managed before stopping halfway, face dark.
He wished the brat would stop looking at him like he had all the answers. Levi didn't have any. Everything he did ever since Eren happened was done purely on blind instinct.
There was his rational side, of course. The one he depended on to make sound decisions. It was the same side of him that kept screaming warnings in his head, kept telling him to stop.
He pretended not to hear.
"Are you okay?" he asked instead.
It was a stupid question. Eren's face told him all he needed to know.
But Eren said yes anyway. Told Levi he was fine. Gave him a forced smile. Levi hated it.
"You don't need to lie to me, you shitty brat."
Eren's eyes widened in shock. He let out a shaky breath.
"If it's too hard—"
"Stop that," Eren stammered, "Just stop."
Eren pulled him in for a kiss. Levi brought his lips to Eren's forehead instead.
Eren's laugh sounded like a sob.
"It's alright, Eren," assured Mikasa, her fingers gently playing with the strands of his hair, "It's alright. I won't tell."
"I'm happy if you're happy," she said, voice firm.
She meant it, Eren knew. Because she was the same Mikasa that would go against humanity if it meant being by his side.
"Why are you always so…"
Mikasa didn't change much either, did she?
Eren was a ticking time bomb.
Levi saw it every time Eren looked at Mikasa, wrecked with guilt, and he understood. It was different when it was just them—they willingly jumped into this, knowing what it entailed.
But dragging Mikasa down with them felt wrong. Forcing Mikasa to lie for them wasn't fair to her.
He had to do something.
Levi was the oldest among his siblings, after all.
Levi wouldn't touch him anymore.
When they slept, Levi made it a point to sleep on the opposite side of the bed. Eren didn't think much of it at first; he thought they still needed time to cope with things after the whole deal with Mikasa.
But then it continued on for a week, and Eren began to wonder.
"Did I do something wrong?" he asked worriedly, reaching out to hold Levi's lower arm.
Levi shrugged him off.
He had seen Levi acting distant before, but he was never on the receiving end of it. His fear was rising by the second.
"I don't get it," he let out, exasperated, "What are you doing?"
"Nothing. I'm not doing anything," Levi replied, cold, "Just like how I'm supposed to."
Eren paused for a long moment. When he spoke again, his tone was icy.
"Don't just run away, you fucking coward," he seethed, "Don't think you can just take everything back after all we've gone through…"
Levi's response was instantaneous. He turned to face Eren, clenched his fingers around the latter's shoulders in a deathly grip and pinned him against the bed, looking absolutely furious.
"Okay then, you little piece of shit," Levi hissed in his ear, "Why don't you choose what to do? We can continue pretending and wait until the moment God decides to screw us all over, or we can stop whatever it is we're doing before it's too fucking late."
Eren made a small sound from the back of his throat, wincing in pain. He heard a sigh, then felt Levi loosening his grip.
But Eren wasn't angry.
"If Mom and Dad knew," Eren began, "What do you think will happen?"
"If they accept it, nothing. If they don't, we'll probably get thrown out of the house," Levi was as calm as ever, "Either way, I don't think I'd be comfortable lingering around once they find out."
"… What then?"
"We'll move out, you idiot," Levi explained, ruffling his hair fondly probably as an apology, "I have money saved up. We'll find a place."
"I don't care, brat. You decide."
Eren smiled, took Levi's hand in his and brought Levi's wrist to his lips.
"The sea's nice. Let's live near the sea."
"It's as messy as hell."
"Live with it."
It was a nice thought, living somewhere with just the two of them. It was something Eren had desperately wanted before too, but it never did come true.
Looks like it wouldn't this time either.
"We'll take her along if she wants to."
"Mom and Dad?"
"I don't know, Eren."
I don't know if they'll still have us.
Eren knew what Levi wanted. Levi wouldn't have let all the words come out from his mouth if he didn't actually plan it all through.
But there he was, leaving the final call to Eren. He could have just insisted that Eren go with him, could have taken the decision out of his hands because it wasn't like Eren had a better plan… but he didn't.
Do what you'll regret the least.
Levi didn't do it because he fucking loved Eren, goddamnit.
"I can't do it."
And Eren hated himself; hated that he couldn't reach the same decision as Levi, hated that he couldn't be strong enough.
Choosing Levi came with the risk of losing his family, and he couldn't deal with that. Couldn't go through that again one more time in this lifetime.
But Levi… Levi was family, wasn't he? He wouldn't lose him. No matter which path he chose, it was a choice that didn't exclude the other man from his life.
Levi was his brother.
There were tears streaming down his cheeks, but they weren't there because he was sad. More than that, they were tears of anger, of frustration.
Levi swiped his thumb across his cheek, wiping the tears away.
"I can't do it," Eren repeated.
"That's fine," Levi told him, "I already know."
And he did, didn't he? It was why Levi never asked.
When he received the call about a transfer, he knew what to do.
Grisha was proud as always, happy at the promising prospects of career advancement that came from accepting the offer. Carla was upset that he had to move out.
"But I guess I can't keep you all here forever."
Mikasa looked like she was expecting it to happen, but surprisingly enough she still seemed somewhat downcast. He guessed they were twins after all, even though they were at odds more often than not.
Levi couldn't quite read the expression on Eren's face.
He wondered how Eren felt, though, when he knocked on Levi's door instead of charging in and lay on the blanket he brought with him instead of climbing into bed with Levi.
"You'll come back, right?"
"Yeah. It's not permanent."
Not that he knew how long he would be away, either.
"Maybe I'll come visit," Eren said, then added a moment later, "With Mikasa."
They said nothing more.
He thought he heard Eren cry. He didn't check.
Carla was crying like she was sending Levi off to war.
"Mom!" Eren grumbled, because even though she wasn't loud, everyone was still staring anyway.
She gave Levi a huge hug that the latter seemed tempted to avoid. He didn't, though.
"Make sure you mingle around, get to know your neighbors and make friends, okay?"
Levi sent a glare his way.
He shut up.
Grisha patted Levi's shoulder several times.
Mikasa mimicked the gesture.
"Are you even a woman?"
"Shut up. I'll visit soon."
Hang in there.
When Levi turned around to head for the gate, Eren smiled.
"I love you," he said, loud and clear, and Levi tensed up for a moment before relaxing.
They were family, after all.
Eren isn't exactly sure why he's so determined to approach the surly-looking man behind one of the career booths, but he doesn't think it's a good idea to second guess himself after he's already walked up to him.
"Excuse me," he starts, "I'm—"
"Late," the man cut him off, annoyed. "You're fucking late."
He's pretty sure the man thinks he's someone else, but that's okay.
This time, he'll do it right.