An Auspicious Star

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chapter one

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we three meet (again) in thunder, lightning, or rain

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The sensation of unfamiliar magic skittered across Levi’s skin, dragged invisible nails along his nerves until he wanted to lash out, to smash his fists against the people walking around him in a frustrated attempt to strike against an unknown enemy. *Somewhere* there were mages and worse, not too far away at that, and if there was one thing he’d learned over the years was that it never was a good thing, when other magic users were about – especially in this quantity. How had they tracked him down? He’d been so good since stopping by Karanese to visit Petra and had kept his talent in check the entire time since he only planned to be here a few days and then slip away. What had given him away?

For once thankful for his lack of stature, he did his best to blend into the crowd, his black overcoat hugged tight to his body as he headed to where he’d stashed his bike. The sense of magic continued to grow stronger, which caused him to grind his teeth together and hasten his pace. It made the roiling fire inside his bones burn ever hotter with the urge to call upon it, to twist the sparks all around him until they flowed into him, to summon the faint glows that hovered around the crowds, attached to certain people and buildings, to unearth long buried-

“Fuck!” So wrapped up in his own talent, he didn’t notice that someone had been fast approaching until the person smashed into him and knocked them both into the ground in a tangle of limbs. His first impression was someone taller, was wide, panicked blue eyes and golden skin, a mop of dark hair and an odd mish-mash of clothes. Levi prepared for an attack, for magic to wrap around him in order to subdue, for hands and feet to strike at sensitive areas to incapacitate and so readied for his own offense… and then found himself frozen.

Yes, there was magic here, something so… so *foreign*, so wild and unlike anything he’d ever felt before. Something so unlike what he’d just been running from moments before. As he stared in shock, the kid muttered beneath his breath and pushed back the unruly bangs that fell onto his face, into eyes that weren’t just blue but some unholy medley of blue-green and almost crystal-like in their clarity. Also, Levi could have sworn that the kid had been taller seconds before, but now he seemed shorter, smaller, the green jacket and tattered t-shirt beneath it hanging on his lean frame and denim shorts now reaching well past his knees.

For some reason the kid’s hands flew to his face as if to feel for damage and he frowned as he stared back at Levi. “What-what are you?”

That was what Levi wanted to know – his body tingled everywhere it came in contact with the brat, but that sense of ‘other’ magic was back and something told him that this kid might have something to do with it. “Later, now get your ass in gear,” he ordered as he snatched at a bony wrist and hauled up this latest mystery.

“Wait! What are- where are we going?” The kid attempted to resist for a moment, until Levi jerked him forward and nearly made him fall on his face. “Who are you?”

“Not those assholes back there. You wanna stick around for them to catch up?” Levi glanced over his shoulder and saw the angry expression on the brat’s face morph into one that was more panicked than pissed. “Yeah, thought so.”

“But I don’t know who you are!”

“Not them.” Really, how difficult of a concept was it?

“But… argh!” Finally the kid stopped trying to tug his arm free and gave in, now running alongside of Levi. “If this is a trick, I’m going to eat your liver!”

Huh, was the kid a were? He didn’t ‘feel’ like one. “Yeah, I’d like to see you try.” Levi gave him an appraising look, which for some reason made the brat grin, and were his teeth all of a sudden sharp? Was that a gleam of gold in his eyes?  The strange magic still flowed up Levi’s left arm from where his hand was latched onto the kid’s wrist and kept him from letting go; this was a mystery he needed to solve despite the obvious risk. “Now behave before I have you shitting out those teeth of yours.”

The warning earned him a snarl and a furious look, but the brat shut up after that and concentrated on running. Oh yes, Levi wanted to know what he’d stumbled upon even if it had ruined his visit with Petra.

*******

Wary of the whole situation, Eren eyed the small cottage they’d spent the last few hours riding to at a breakneck speed, hours that had been uncomfortable as hell with the way they’d taken just about every back road imaginable with all the bumps and dirt and ruts that went along with the lack of decent paving. One thing he had to say about his mysterious ‘savior’, the guy was serious about losing those assholes who’d been after Eren, now to see if Eren had just gotten himself into an even bigger mess by going along with the uncommunicative grouch. He fought the urge to touch his face and reassure himself that he hadn’t changed, that nothing was altered other than his height; it was rare that his talent kicked in and so little was different, that-

“Oi, get away from the door,” the stranger ordered as he shrugged out of his dust-covered coat while kicking off his boots, his black hair plastered to his forehead from the sweat of the long ride.

Annoyed a little at being bossed around like that and by someone he didn’t even know, Eren none-the-less obeyed even as he questioned the command. “Why? And what is this place? Why are we staying by a cemetery?” At least they were on the outskirts of the woods, where he could feel life *thrumming* if he extended his senses.

Some of the residual pissiness on the man’s face faded into what appeared to be amusement as he jerked a hand through his bangs at Eren’s question. “Because it’s the best place for us in case I didn’t lose those bastards who were following you.”

“What makes you think they were following *me*?” Eren crossed his arms over his chest as he stared… up at the man, not used to the change in height just yet; why had his talent kicked in like this? Figured that the asshole wanted someone shorter than him….

There was an annoyed clicking sound as the man rubbed at the shaved part of his undercut and then grimaced as he looked at his palm when he pulled his hand away. “Funny, because I know I didn’t use my talent at all back there, and they didn’t come for me when I was at my friend’s house. It’s only when I was near you that trouble started, brat. You going to tell me what you are, yet?” When all Eren did was stand there and try to figure out if the man really didn’t know what he was, the stranger made a scoffing sound and set his folded coat over the back of a chair. “Fine then, I’ll show you mine so you’ll show me yours.”

“Wait, what?” Eren clutched at his now too-large jacket as he stared in confusion at the asshole, mind in turmoil at what he’d just heard. “What do you-“ Then he felt a flare of that unfamiliar magic, a burn of frisson along his skin and *inside* of him that made him shiver and moan. It felt… it felt familiar and yet not, made him feel so funny even as his own magic reacted to it.

He sensed something happening, could feel as… it wasn’t quite like something ‘coming alive’, more like something wakening up, was as if the earth – no, something in the earth. Something in the *cemetery*. “Fuck, you’re a necromancer!”

The stranger continued to concentrate for a few more seconds even as a slight, pleased smile formed on his thin lips. When he was done, he folded his arms over his chest and nodded once at Eren. “Yep. Name’s Levi. Now, what about you?”

Eren wondered if he had hit his head or something when he took that tumble earlier; he had heard of Levi, just muttered rumors and hastily told stories about an infamous necromancer who was supposed to be amongst the most powerful magic casters out there, and one of the few remaining necromancers alive. He supposed he had imagined some skeleton-like, imperious figure, someone… okay, so Levi had that ‘imperiousness’ going for him, and the pale skin. Ditto the black hair, though it was cut rather short, not in some long, gothic style. Nothing skeleton-like or gaunt with that body, though, as Eren well knew after being slammed into the ground by it; the asshole had to be pure muscle. But at least Eren could understand now why Levi had been running since necromancy was almost as rare a talent as, well, his own.

“I’m waiting,” Levi snapped, his fine brows drawn into a sharp ‘v’ as he began to glare, a decided chill to his grey eyes. “You think I take in risks like you every day?”

“I think you bury risks like me on a routine basis,” Eren muttered as he jerked a hand through his hair and tried to decide what to do. Yeah, Levi had helped him back there and put up wards that should keep him safe. But he wasn’t used to revealing himself like this, not when he knew how rare he was, not when he was here alone with such a powerful magic user. Maybe if Mikasa or Armin- Hearing Levi make that damn clicking sound again wrung a snarl out of him, and he noticed that the man gave him a pointed look as if to say ‘I’m running out of patience’.  Eren tugged on his hair in an attempt to clear his muddled thoughts, and it was the realization that he was, more or less, in his original form that convinced him to tell the truth.

“I’m a shifter, all right?”

At first Levi didn’t react, and then he sighed in obvious weariness. “They wouldn’t put that much effort into chasing after a were, even if you’re something rare like a snow leopard or a dragon. Plus, you don’t ‘feel’ like a were so stop lying and tell me what you really are, brat.”

Eren had the urge to punch something, preferably the moron standing in front of him, before he caught the warning gleam in those grey eyes. “I’m not a were! Shifter. *Shift~er* Gah! Why do I even bother!” He threw his hands up in the air as he began to stomp around. What was it about this asshole that had some part of Eren trusting him?

Levi remained still for a moment before he shook his head and stalked after Eren. “That can’t be true, there hasn’t been a true shifter in centuries.”

“Right, I’m just a figment of your imagination. Never mind me.” Eren focused as he whirled around, mindful of the small space of the cabin as he shifted into his default attack form; his magic churned inside of him and made his body feel as if composed of molten metal as it twisted about and grew, as his limbs lengthen and jaw protruded, as the fangs descended and claws sprouted. It was almost funny to see Levi’s eyes go wide and how he leapt back in a graceful motion, and then there was that sense of almost familiar magic wrapping around Eren, of gossamer ‘something’ enfolding around him to hold him back even as he stood still.

“The *fuck*!” The curse came out barely more than a whisper as Levi gaped at him, eyes glowing a pure silver and those gossamer clouds whirling around him. “No wonder those shitstains wanted you so bad.”

Eren held the shape for a few more seconds before he let it go, and grumbled when he realized that he was still short even after turning more or less normal; it wasn’t unusual for someone else to influence how he looked, but when it happened it was normal for it to be on a much bigger scale, for his appearance to reflect their inner desires. This was a first where someone only wanted him to be himself, only a little shorter.

“Yeah, well, I was helping someone out and forgot to be more careful about who was around at the time.” Mikasa was going to *kill* him when she caught up, he knew it. “Oh, I’m Eren,” he remembered as he held out his hand.

Levi reached for his hand and then stopped just short, his brows furrowing as he stared at it. “Hell no,” he drawled in disgust as he snatched at Eren’s jacket. “When’s the last time you showered?”

“Huh?” Eren glanced at his hand and noticed the grime around his fingernails. “Wait, what? I’ve been running for two days straight, what’s with you?”

“In other words, you’re *filthy*. I can’t believe I even let you on my bike.” Levi didn’t stop shoving at Eren until he ended up almost face-first on the floor of what appeared to be an immaculate bathroom, the white tiles sparkling in the light of the halogen bulbs. “Give me those clothes so I can burn them-“

“Hey!”

“-and scrub *everything*! I’ll lend you something to wear.” When Eren sat up to glare at the asshole for his presumptuousness, those gossamer ‘clouds’ gathered around Levi again. “No scrubbing, no food,” he insisted.

Considering how Eren’s stomach took to rumbling at the mention of food, that was playing dirty, no pun intended. “You’re an asshole,” he felt the need to point out as he shrugged off his jacket.

“An asshole who saved your ass, so shut up and take a bath. And if I see so much as a speck of dirt, I’m hosing you down myself.” Levi loomed above him with his hands held out for Eren’s dirty clothes while the spirits of the dead whirled around him.

Maybe it hadn’t been such a good idea to come along with this guy, Eren thought to himself as he handed over the jacket. Levi refused to budge until the ratty t-shirt, socks and even the shorts followed as well, then Eren huddled on the floor with his arms wrapped around his knees. “No! Nothing else until you get out of here!” Seriously? The asshole expected him to strip off his boxers, too?

“Scrub *everything*,” Levi repeated as he held onto the dirty clothes with the tips of his left forefinger and thumb as if scared they would contaminate him somehow. “And it’s not as if you have something I haven’t seen before,” he muttered as he turned to leave the bathroom.

“Out!” Eren shouted as he lunged forward to slam the door shut. Once he was alone in the room, he made sure the door was locked and took several deep breaths. Okay, so maybe there was something to Levi’s magic, something that made his own react to it and want to trust the man. The *asshole*. And if he’d been caught by those bastards back in the city, he doubted that all they’d be doing was yelling at him to take a shower and offering him clean clothes and some food. That the only way they would want him to change was to be a short shit, too. Speaking of that….

Getting up off the floor, he checked out the tub, which was also sparkling clean, and started the water running before he went over to the large mirror above the equally clean sink. Staring back at him was the visage that greeted him most of the time, unless he shifted to confuse people or to take on another form for some reason. Unless he allowed his talent to react to someone else’s desires. His hand reached out and almost touched the glass before he spun around, stripped off his boxers and climbed into the shower.

The hot water felt so good on his skin, and he had to admit that even he was disgusted to see the soap scum gather near the drain when he finally took to lathering up and scrubbing at his skin. There had been too much running the last two days, too much hiding; had his talent reacted to Levi because it somehow sensed another rare being and guessed that he’d be safe with him? What was Levi that he could look at Eren and want him to change so little?

Eren was in the middle of rinsing his hair clean when the sound of the door opening sent him in a near panic. Beginning to shift his form, all that happened was the sound of something soft hitting the floor and a rush of cold air. “Food will be ready in a few minutes,” Levi said, and then the door closed – without Levi stepping into the room. Eren wiped the water from his face to ensure that he was still alone and peaked past the shower curtain to see that there was a pile of clothes, a small bag and what appeared to be a soft, fluffy towel on the floor near the curtain, that the door was unlocked but shut once more – and his old boxers were gone.

He hurried to finish his shower and, feeling guilty over how clean the place had been, made sure to rinse down the tub when he was done. The towel was indeed nice and soft, and he spent longer than he should drying off so he could enjoy the feel of it against his skin. Once all dry, he checked out the clothes and found a pair of white cotton boxers with the tags still on them. They were a little too big, along with the worn pair of jeans, but they were clean and felt good after wearing the same clothes for too long. A soft, dark grey sweater completed the outfit, and there was some chagrin on his part over how these clothes would have been too small on him just a few hours ago. Yet his body seemed to refuse to shift back to those additional inches as long as he was with Levi.

“You trying to tell me something?” he asked his reflection as he stared at it for a few seconds before brushing his teeth with the new brush and paste that had been in the bag with some other toiletries that had been left with the clothes. Feeling fully clean for the first time since… well, since he’d made the mistake of helping out that kid about to become lunch for what he’d thought had been a simple pack of were, Eren made sure to rinse out the sink and then hang up his wet towel before he left the bathroom.

*******

Judging that the soup was hot enough, Levi turned off the heat and went to check the bread he had ‘baking’ in the toaster oven; it wasn’t anything gourmet, just what he could pull from his pantry since he’d been away for a few days and hadn’t been expecting any company, but it would do. It would have to do, since he had a feeling it wouldn’t be the best of ideas to go out shopping any time soon, but if there was one thing he believed in other than cleanliness and life being a total raging bitch, it was being prepared. The nice thing about soups and stews was that they had a great shelf life, along with anything that could be frozen and then defrosted, like the garlic bread.

A faint tingle of magic made him turn around to find Eren hovering in the doorway to the kitchen, those fascinating eyes of his wide and almost glassy as he stared at the pot on the stove. His chin-length hair was still damp and as tousled as if he just got out of bed, and it was a first for Levi to see anyone wear his clothes and have to roll up the sleeves and hems. For some reason it looked-

“Ah, dinner?”

Distracted from his thoughts by the question, Levi shook his head and motioned at the table. “Yeah, unless you’re going to stand there all night with that growling stomach of yours.” He watched as Eren scurried to sit down at one of the places set for them to eat. “Didn’t leave a mess behind, did you?”

“No!” Eren scowled at the empty bowl in front of him for a moment before he took a deep breath. “No, I didn’t. Thank you very much for the clothes and, uhm, everything.” He seemed to notice that Levi had changed from the dusty clothes early, those eyes trailing up and down before he looked away with a slight flush.

“Place might not look like much, but there’s two bedrooms and two bathrooms,” Levi explained as he set a thick pad on the table to protect it from the heat of the pot. “I washed off while you enjoyed your shower.”

“Do you often have guests?” Eren’s attention focused on the pot of soup, yet he waited for Levi to fetch the garlic bread and to sit down at the table as well; someone had taught the brat some manners.

“A friend visits now and then, which is why I have some spare stuff if you need any shit.” Hange was always forgetting something, and like hell would he let her use any of his. “Go on, dive in before you drool on my table and I have to disinfect it.”

That earned him another of the brat’s glares, but not for long since Eren was obviously too hungry to resist the temptation of food; his hands were shaking as he ladled some of the fish chowder into his bowl but he managed to avoid spilling any, and took several slices of the bread. Levi watched him nearly inhale half a bowl within seconds and clicked his tongue while he served himself. “So, people want you because you’re a shifter.”

The question slowed down Eren’s destruction of the food. “Yeah.” He wiped at his mouth and then stirred his spoon in the soup in front of him, dark brown strands falling onto his face. “Ever since….” He shrugged and let the spoon fall onto the rim of the bowl. “I’m not sure which side it’s from, my mom died when I was little and my dad… well, he disappeared. It’s been just me, my adopted sister and a good friend since then, and when I came into my magic….” He shrugged again when he looked up at Levi, those gem-like eyes shining with too many emotions and the flush back to his cheeks. “They did their best to look after me, but it’s not fair, all three of us running because of me. A couple of years ago I slipped away by myself and I’ve mostly been doing all right.”

Yeah, mostly – which is how Levi ended up with a shifter brat in his house and the most addictive magic possible crawling beneath his skin. “How old are you?” Eren appeared to be in his late teens, so he couldn’t be that old – but then again, he was a shifter, so he could appear however he wanted.

Eren’s brows drew together as he picked up the glass of water Levi had set out for their meal. “I’m twenty-nine! How old are you?”

“A hundred and forty-eight,” Levi said with some pride as he leaned back in his chair. “You’re still a baby.”

“’mm not a baby,” Eren mumbled around the rim of his glass. “I’m an adult, and I thought you were supposed to be older. ‘The great Levi, he’ll rip out your lungs and make sponges out of them’. ‘Don’t piss off the great Levi, he’ll use your bones for a broom and a dustpan’.” Something made him pause as he looked around the kitchen for a moment. “Huh, you are a bit of a clean freak, aren’t you? The whole ‘dustpan and broom’ thing makes sense now.”

Those fucking rumors – Levi was willing to bet his prized Miele vacuum cleaner that Hange was behind half of them. “No I’m not, not that there’s anything wrong with wanting things to be clean,” he insisted as he grabbed some more soup. “And the ‘great Levi’ just saved your ass and is giving you a place to stay, so show some respect.”

That earned him another glare for a few seconds before Eren sighed into his bowl of soup. “You don’t have to, you know. I really should get going. Just let me finish this and- ow!” The glare returned as Eren rubbed the spot on his arm where Levi had just jabbed him with a spoon.

Getting up to fetch a clean spoon, Levi pointed the dirty spoon in the brat’s direction before he tossed it in the sink. “And go where? How far do you think you’ll get before they find you again?”

“So what am I supposed to do?” Eren demanded as he shoved his chair away from the table. “You gonna let me stay here until they decide they don’t want a shifter to… to… they don’t want me anymore?”

Levi could well imagine why they wanted Eren, he’d heard enough stories in his youth about what shifters could do and why they were valuable. If he had any sense he should be turning Eren in for what was certain to be one hell of a reward, never mind the fact that there was also a reward out for him since necromancers were quite ‘popular’ as well. If he was smart, he could probably trade Eren in for a few decades of peace… but who needed peace, right? Being kept on his toes was good for him, and he wanted to find out why the brat’s magic affected him so much. “Why not? Got the spare bedroom and you don’t seem halfway near as crazy as Hange,” he said as he returned to the table with a clean spoon. “Now shut the fuck up and eat. The soup is getting cold.”

Eren stared at him in evident shock for several seconds, before scooting the chair back to the table and doing as he’d been told. The entire time during the rest of the now quiet meal, he kept sneaking glances at Levi between mouthfuls of soup and bread with a puzzled look on his face. Levi returned them with a bland expression, amused despite himself and intrigued at how Eren’s magic seemed to ‘settle’ against his own. Was it because as a shifter, Eren was tied more to the life cycle of things than him, a necromancer? Shouldn’t that repel him more than attract? Eren didn’t show any problems with his magic, even when he’d set the wards and called upon the ghosts. There was something going on here, and Levi wanted to figure it out. Worse come to worst, he’d ask for Hange’s help.

As soon as the meal was finished, Eren stood up to help him clear the table. “I’ll stay a few days,” he insisted as he carried the empty bowls to the sink. “After that… well, I really should move on, then.”

Levi didn’t say anything, he just clicked his tongue as he filled the sink with hot water to wash the dirty dishes. Something had brought him and Eren together – they’d have to wait and see if it would allow them to diverge paths just as easily as they’d merged.

*******

Eren checked the venison and mushroom stew before he decided it needed a little longer and went to bake some garlic bread. “Hey, do you have any wine?” He had to call out again since Levi was busy doing unmentionable things with the vacuum cleaner he adored way too much.

“What? Uh, yeah, should still have a few bottles left. Red, right?”

“I’m not picky.” It had been a while since Eren had enjoyed anything to drink, considering that he barely stayed in place anywhere safe enough to imbibe; it wasn’t a problem to buy any since all he had to do was shift a few additional years onto his appearance.

He added a few more seasonings to the frozen bread before he put it in the toaster oven and then went to set the table. Levi had a well-stocked larder considering that he was at least an hour from the nearest town, and Eren hadn’t minded taking over the cooking duties as a way of thanks for staying at the small cottage. He also hadn’t minded taking advantage of the woods out back and his shifting ability to do some hunting to enjoy some fresh meat instead of canned and frozen goods, while Levi seemed to relish the simple yet hearty meals that Eren had learned to make over the years for first his family and friends. Eren had wondered why the necromancer didn’t bother with hunting himself… until he’d seen the fastidious man grimace in disgust over the mess made when gutting and trimming up the animal.

The low hum of the vacuum cleaner turned off, which Eren took to mean that Levi was done with his impressive cleaning regime for the day and was now washing off before dinner. He finished setting the table and searched through the one cabinet for a pair of wine glasses, which he wiped clean before placing out, and gave the stew a final check. It was odd, how easily he’d settled into a routine here, how the tension of constantly being on the run had just… melted away, but he felt safe behind Levi’s wards. He felt ‘safe’ with Levi. There was no attempt to force him to change other than that initial shift which had robbed him of a few inches, there was no attempt to bind him with geas that would leave him obedient and lacking his own will, no attacks of any kind. Well, maybe not quite ‘no attacks’, as his poor head had taken a few smacks until he learned the proper way that Levi insisted on the place being dusted and to always remove his sneakers when he entered the cottage….

“Is it ready?” Levi entered the kitchen with two bottles of wine in his hands, and smelling of fresh water and the cedar soap he used. For some reason it made Eren want to go over to the man and take a deep breath, to see how Levi’s hair would feel while damp and slightly rumpled from having been rubbed with a towel. He had to duck his head as he headed to the stove to check on the stew, confused about where these feelings came from – was it because he was spending so much time alone with one person? He’d never felt this way with Armin or Mikasa when it was just the three of them. Was it Levi’s magic? Anymore it didn’t feel right unless that odd yet pleasing sense of ‘other’ was brushing against his own talent, to the point that he couldn’t go too far out in the woods before returning to the cottage.

“Ah, it looks about done. Why don’t you pour the wine?”

Levi grunted in agreement and went to fetch a corkscrew from one of the drawers. “This stuff should be fine, Hange brought it with her during one of her visits after drinking the place damn near dry the time before.”

This wasn’t the first time that Levi had mentioned ‘Hange’ to Eren before, and Eren had yet to figure out if his new friend liked the woman or not. She certainly sounded ‘interesting’. “As long as it’s more than a buck or two a bottle, it should be fine.” He moved the pot to the pad set out on the table even as he shook his head; Levi might have a vacuum cleaner that cost a fortune and a vast array of cleaning products, but almost no serving dishes, go figure.

“Who knows with that lunatic? Could be something she found being sold on the side of the road or raided from some millionaire’s wine cellar.” Levi clicked his tongue as he poured it into their glasses and waited for Eren to finish grabbing the rest of the meal before he sat down. Once the bread and a salad of foraged greens were set out, he nodded in what appeared to be approval. “You poison me, and I’ll make your bones into a chair.”

Eren rolled his eyes at the now familiar threat. “Yeah, yeah, as if I can find anything potent enough for a sour old man like you.”

“I’m not old, I’m in the prime of my life.” Levi gestured with his clean spoon in Eren’s direction. “You’re the baby here.”

It was such a pain dealing with the extended lifespans that came with wielding magic, and the egos that went along with them. “Please, as if anyone past their third century would give you the time of day,” Eren pointed out as he helped himself to some salad. “I think you’re trying to compensate for something – for a few things, actually.”

“Like you have any ground to stand on, *shorty*.”

Eren nearly choked on the wine he’d just tried upon hearing the insult, and opened his mouth to say… what? That he wasn’t normally this short? That he only was because of Levi? That his talent refused to let him regain his former height for some unknown reason? “Yeah, well, at least I can grow taller any time I want,” he mumbled before he shoved in a mouthful of stew.

“Yet you’re shuffling around here, dragging the hems of my pants along the floor,” Levi complained. “Going to ruin the damn things.”

“Just consider it a little extra dusting and you’ll be fine.” Eren rolled his eyes as he drank more wine. “How did you get through the day without having someone to bitch to without me being here? You unearth some poor dead soul just to have a victim or what?”

Levi sneered as he helped himself to some more stew. “At least a revenant wouldn’t have such a hard time remembering to take off their shoes, unlike a brain-dead little shit I could name.”

More wine, dealing with this asshole definitely called for more wine. “Look, I’m about to shift a pair of hooves or something and just forget about the damn sneakers so you shut up about them! I wipe my feet before coming in the house!”

“You can still track dirt and shit in, which is why you remove the fucking shoes!” Levi slapped his left hand down onto the table before grabbing the butter knife. “And if I see your filthy hooves on my clean floor, I’ll chop them off, just watch me!”

“You and what-“ Eren paused to think about the cemetery outside and left that threat unfinished. “Clean freak.”

“Idiot brat,” Levi shot back as he let go of the butter knife and picked up his wine glass instead.

“Zombie fetish freakazoid.”

Levi stared at him for a couple of seconds before gulping down the remainder of his wine before filling it up almost to the rim again. “Okay, you don’t really grasp how this is played, do you? It’s not just random words strung together.”

Eren reached for the wine bottle, his dinner forgotten. “Oh screw you, that made sense to me.”

“And that’s our problem right there, *your sense*.” A slight smirk hovered on Levi’s lips before it was hid by the rim of the wine glass.

Eren flipped him the finger before he enjoyed his own wine. “Why do I put up with you again?”

“I believe we were just talking about your fucked up sense.” Levi propped his right elbow up on the table and gazed at Eren through heavy eyelids.

“And I don’t think there’s enough wine for this.” Eren sighed as he held his glass clutched to his chest. “Tell me again why I’m not letting a bunch of pricks cut me apart inbetween whoring me out to the highest bidder?”

“Hmm, because that’s not half as fun as making me breakfast.” Levi set his wine aside so he could stir at his stew. “You’re not a half-bad cook even if you’ve shit for brains.”

Seriously, not enough wine, Eren repeated to himself as he finished off the bottle. “Yep, so much better than vivisection.” He had just set the bottle down when a crust of bread smacked into his forehead. “Wha?”

“If you’re that abused and feel like you’re missing out, I can break out the butcher knives and carve out your spleen,” Levi offered.

Eren held the piece of bread in his hand for a moment as he realized that Levi, clean freak extraordinaire had just thrown *food* at him. “You’re nuts.”

“Hardly,” Levi scoffed. “Just being a good host. You’re the one whining abou-“ His grey eyes went wide when the bread sailed back across the table to hit him in the chest.

Eren figured that he had about three seconds to make his getaway, which actually turned into about two, which was long enough for him to get out of the chair before there was the sound of Levi’s scraping across the hard wood floor as the necromancer leapt after him. About to shift into a faster form, Eren felt a stronger than normal tingle of that ‘other’ magic and cursed as something cold and mostly insubstantial wrapped around his legs moments before something much more substantial slammed into him.

“You shitty little brat,” Levi growled out as he dug his knee into Eren’s back for a second before it shifted away. “Maybe I should pry into your head to see what happened to your brains.”

Laughing too much to breathe properly, Eren rolled onto his side as he attempted to shake his head. Tears filled his eyes as he pushed at Levi, but the man was too heavy to budge. “Yu-yur… face….”

“Very funny.” Levi spread his hand over Eren’s face as if to shove him down to the floor, except for some reason his fingers slid across Eren’s flushed skin and into his hair, pushed the strands aside as he leaned in closer. Eren once more had problems breathing, except now there was a tightness in his chest as some weird emotion seized his lungs and made his heart race, made him freeze and unable to look away from Levi. They grew closer and closer together, the sense of Levi’s magic weighing heavy upon him, and just when it seemed that their lips would brush together, Levi jerked away as if scalded.

“Dishes. We need to do the dishes.” The words sounded rushed as he all but jumped to his feet and raced back to the kitchen, while Eren remained on the floor for about another minute. His hands trembled when he used them to push up as the realization sunk in that the overwhelming emotion filling him just then was a bone-aching want, and that it was for *Levi* of all people.

*Levi*.

“Oi! Get your ass in here and help with these dishes!”

Eren scrubbed at his face with the heel of his left hand and wondered what he’d gotten himself into when he’d allowed himself to be rescued by the grumpy, neat-freak necromancer.

*******

Pretending to read a book while he sipped at his cup of just brewed Darjeeling tea, Levi first noticed how Eren was finally doing a decent job of dusting and then how he would pause every minute or so and glance at the front door. It wasn’t so much a nervous look as it was one full of contemplation, as if the brat was trying to work up the nerve to walk out of it and never come back. Levi had noticed such glances growing in frequency since last night and set down his cup of tea a with a bit more force than proper, which caused the hot beverage to swish inside the porcelain bowl and brush against his fingertips.

Wincing inwardly both from the heat and the memory of how he’d almost lost control last night, he figured that he wasn’t going to get much further through his book when his mind was such a mess – and all thanks to a certain shifter. Dammit, why did it matter to him if Eren went running out the door like he obviously itched to do at the first opportune moment? Why did the sight of that one laughing face, with those gorgeous eyes and sun-kissed skin, turn him on so much when he didn’t even know if it was Eren’s real face? Why did Eren’s magic feel so good? And why the hell was Levi in such a bad mood right now? Something was bothering him, was like an itch he couldn’t scratch.

“Uhm, is there anything in particular you want for lunch?”

He blinked twice and realized that Eren had asked him a question. “Anything you want to make,” he told the brat once the words sunk in. After living by himself for so long, it was a treat to have someone else – someone who wasn’t insane – make the food, and Levi had a pretty big tolerance to most everything.

“Okay. Maybe I’ll make some sandwiches.” Eren gathered up the dusting supplies and left Levi alone in the small ‘living room’, so Levi decided to give reading another attempt since it now seemed unlikely that Eren was going to try to leave any time soon. He had just picked up his cup of tea when he felt a spike of… of something ‘off’. Of something that once more made him annoyed.

Setting the tea aside, he got up from his chair and stood in the middle of the small room with his eyes closed so he could concentrate on his talent. Not too far away was Eren, his talent burning bright and strong to Levi’s magical senses, and all around were the dead, were the buried and the souls who refused to rest; all it would take was a simple command on his part and they would come to him, the immaterial and the revenants, the earth and the ether giving up those in their care to serve as his weapons.

There was the house, which was warded, and there was the cemetery which was marked as well. And it was in the cemetery that he found… fuck, it was cloaked, and a damn clever cloak at that, but he’d been here for years, for decades, had laid his wards down time after time, had gotten to know the dead buried into the ground even if he didn’t always disturb their rest. Those fuckers thought they could sneak up on him? On the ‘great’ Levi, as Eren called him?

“Brat? We got company!” he shouted even as he opened his eyes and let his power flow outward.

At first there was nothing, and then Eren burst into the room, his eyes golden and the white and red apron he wore over the borrowed jeans and pale green sweater fluttering from his haste. “Really? They found us?” Even as he spoke he was beginning to change, his fingers elongating as they formed into wicked looking claws and his jaw jutting outward.

“Yeah, a bunch of mages at the least from what I can tell, probably hiding some others.”

Eren came to a stop in front of Levi and bowed his head, his shaggy hair falling onto his face. “I’m sorry.”

Levi scoffed as he shoved Eren toward the door. “Fuck that shit – they’ve been after me longer than you’ve been spunk in your dad’s balls so don’t even go there. Now get ready to kick some ass. You let them win and I’ll make you regret that you were ever born.”

He caught a flash of what looked to be way too many teeth – Eren’s face had shifted from ‘fuck yeah I’m so damn cute’ to ‘fuck yeah I can tear out your throat’ that appeared to be all sharp angles and half fang-filled mouth. Creepy. As. Fuck. Levi refused to be distracted by it, along with the fact that even while looking like some muscle-bound eating machine at the moment, Eren was still wearing the damn apron as he damn near tore the front door off its hinges while he went out it.

Time to focus, Ackerman, and do what Ackermans do so well. Huffing a little at the thought, Levi sent out a command as he followed his hot-headed roommate through the door, a command that caused the cemetery to erupt into chaos. Really, what had those dumb fucks thought, to take on a necromancer in his own home on a fucking *cemetery*.

Oh, they had tried to ward him out since he felt some resistance, but again, he was *Levi* *Ackerman*. The spells shattered beneath his own magic, and it didn’t help that Eren, now at least three feet taller than he’d been back in cottage and not wearing much more than the apron, had ripped apart what appeared to be the vanguard of the mages that were sent to collect him. It looked as if a few of them had been trying to set up some sort of circle so they could work a stronger casting, probably to take down the house wards and entrap both Levi and Eren, but it had been disrupted before being completed. Now they had an enraged shifter, one surrounded by plenty of life-force, and a necromancer with more than enough revenants and souls at his beck and call, to deal with before they could regroup and cast any major magic.

Levi thought he recognized one or two of the mages before the revenants tore them apart, and the were had the markings of the Trost pack on their left hind legs; whoever was after Eren wasn’t just some common magic users but able to hire some of the strongest packs and most expensive casters out there. Such a shame all that money was doing was adding more bodies to an already full cemetery.

He used his talent to disrupt the life-force of a shitty mage who thought to be clever by trying some sort of spell against him that made his insides feel like shattered glass, then had a revenant remove the asshole’s spine while a spirit distracted her by wrapping around her face; the burst of energy from the mage’s life being cut short provided enough to heal any damage from the aborted spell. Wrapping his magic closer around him to protect against future damage like that, Levi surveyed the ‘battlefield’ to find that most of the attackers were now dead, and that Eren was taking out the last of the were. The shifter seemed almost mindless in his ferocity, in his determination to destroy the enemy.

Chasing down the remaining were, Eren roared in what sounded to be anger and satisfaction as his claws dug into the wolf/human hybrid and dragged the were toward him so he could tear it apart. Levi grimaced as he felt the were die, one last sense of foreign magic fading away until all that was left was him and Eren.

“You’re a fucking mess,” he called out as he approached, only to go still when Eren spun around to face him, still a hulking… well, still in that hulking form with glowing golden eyes and a faceful of fangs. Eren let out a warning growl and just as Levi prepared to have some spirits surround him, Eren took a halting step toward him as his body flowed and shifted into his ‘proper’ form.

“Levi?” Eren appeared dazed, covered in blood, gore and a tattered apron.

“Yeah.” Ignoring the mess, Levi reached out to tuck back the matted bangs that clung to Eren’s forehead. “You’re such a fucking mess,” he repeated then clicked his tongue.

Eren tilted his face into the caress. “Ev-everything all right?”

No, they had a bunch of dead bodies and no clue how long until more asshole mages would arrive, and Levi had just lost his home of the last seven decades. “We won, so it could be a lot worse,” was what he said instead as he allowed his forehead to rest against Eren’s. For some reason the brat felt almost feverish – was it a result of his shifting? The fighting? “That and your ass is hanging out,” he added as he smiled. “So yeah, it’s all good.”

Eren was still for a few seconds, and when he did pull away, the look he gave Levi was incredulous at first. Then he glanced down and seemed to realize that the clothes he’d been wearing must have torn when he’d shifted into a much larger form. “Fuck….”

“Not now, we have to get our asses in gear and leave.” Levi reached around to smack Eren on a rather nice ass. “Five minutes to wash off and then we’re gone,” he shouted over Eren’s yelp. He only gave the brat that long because blood and guts were a bitch to wash off.

“Dammit!” Eren glared as his hands flew to cover his ass. “You- that’s… gah!” He went to stomp toward the cottage, and then seemed to realize that put him in front of a leering Levi so he then slowed down to walk beside him. “Such an asshole.”

“So you’ve said.” As they walked, Levi used his talent to have the earth bury all of the dead except for a few choice bits; after he washed off and grabbed everything ‘essential’, he would have to force a few spirits onward rather than risk their enemies having a necromancer of their own and being able to question the recent dead. Fuck, but he was going to be tired later… he could rest once they got to Hange’s.

Busy planning what needed to be done to get away safely, he was surprised when Eren touched his left arm once they reached the cottage. “Look… thanks,” the brat said with a blush to his cheeks and his eyes downcast. “I’m… it was really nice here.”

Levi gave him another swat on the ass. “Five minutes,” he repeated. When it looked as if Eren was going to complain, he clicked his tongue. “It’s just a building,” he insisted. “Live long enough and you’ll realize that.”

Eren appeared willing to argue, but after a moment’s pause he nodded and headed toward the spare bathroom, this time forgetting to cover his ass. Somehow, the view damn near made up for the fact that Levi was losing his home and having to crash at Hange’s for the foreseeable future.

*******

Busy working on a problematic spell that refused to work the way she knew it could, Hange stared in confusion when she heard a heavy knock upon her front door. When the noise repeated itself, this time louder and more impatient than before, she hastened from her desk and nearly tripped over her feet; the wards hadn’t given her any warning, so whoever was trying to batter through her door was either a friend or damn powerful. That meant an unplanned visit or a chance to try out the new spell where she’d combined ebola with the black plague, so fun all around. Well, except for having to clean up the carpet….

Throwing open the door, she beamed with excitement to find Levi glowering on the other side. “Levi! I thought you weren’t going to visit for at least another month!” She blinked in surprise to find someone else huddled beside him, someone whom hadn’t set off her wards, either. That meant Levi must have some rather strong protective magic wrapped around the young man.

“Yeah, well, even though I need more time to recover from the last visit here, it’s a bit of an emergency.” Despite the scowl on his face, she picked up a hint of apology in his deep voice as he rushed inside. “There was a touch of trouble at my house.” He was dressed for the long ride from his house in the autumn weather, and had what looked to be a full travel bag slung over his shoulder. Following at his heels was the youngster, who appeared in his late teens and about an inch shorter than Levi, in what had to be hand-me-downs; Hange recognized the leather jacket that was a bit too big and the scuffed boots that the poor kid was wearing, and noted that he had a backpack as well.

Motioning for them to set down the bags and give her their jackets, she smiled as they were handed over. “You know you’re welcome here all the time. I’m Hange, by the by,” she told the kid as he glanced around the cluttered living room with the prettiest eyes she’d ever seen; oh, she had to check out his genetic make-up to find out what bloodline produced such a unique blend of blue-green eyes offset with golden skin and dark brown hair. There had to be at least one or two recessive traits there and-

“Uhm, I’m Eren.” He ducked his head and shuffled a little closer to Levi once shed of the outwear, and yep, definitely wearing Levi’s clothes. Oooh, there was a story here, yes there was. It was difficult to sense the kid’s magic with Levi’s covering him so much, but the fact that he didn’t share his full name clued Hange in that he wasn’t a ‘normal’.

“Nice to meet you. Can I get you guys something? I’ll put on the water for Levi but maybe Eren would like some coffee? Or would soda be better? And don’t mind the mess, obviously I wasn’t expecting anyone but the spare bedroom is fine.” She waved her left hand about and was about to head to the kitchen when Levi clicked his tongue as he reached out to catch hold of her arm.

Oh yes, someone absolutely looked a bit guilty. “Put the tea on, but I’ve something to tell you.” He jerked his right hand through his bangs as they followed her into the kitchen, which she realized was just as much of a mess as the other room; Levi’s left eye twitched at the sight yet he didn’t comment on it, which let her know that things were really, *really* bad. “You might not want us to stay long.”

“What? Of course you can stay here, you’re my buddy! We always have such – well, I always have such fun during your visits!” Plus there was no way he was leaving until she found out why he was here with a cute kid who was wearing his clothes and bearing his magic in such a way that all but screamed ‘mine!’. *Levi*. A guy who the majority of the betting pool between their friends had down as ‘asexual’ for the past nine decades. Hange smelled a nice big fat pot coming her way, yes she did.

An adorable flush spread over Eren’s face as he shuffled over to the sink, and she watched in amazement as he hunched over the stack of dirty dishes and began to wash them. When she glanced back at Levi, he shook his head and motioned for her to leave the kid be and to sit down. “A few days ago I was in Karanese to visit Petra, which is where I met Eren – he was running from some mages so I helped him out and took him home.” When Hange squeaked at the thought of *Levi* helping out some random stranger, he glared at her in an obvious command to keep quiet. “I laid some misdirection spells but apparently, not enough because they showed up today to get their hands on the brat.” His expression turned grim as he reached into the right back pocket of his jeans for a sealed baggie. “Needless to say, those particular people won’t be bothering us again, and I spent damn near the entire ride here casting spells to cover our tracks. If you give us the night to catch some rest and figure out where to go next, I’d appreciate it.”

She scoffed as she accepted the baggie, which was filled with some choice tiny squishy bits of anatomy. “Please, if you tell me you covered your tracks then I trust you and you can stay here for however long it takes.” Levi looked ready to collapse on his feet, with the dark circles beneath his eyes even more pronounced than normal. “What... anything left at your house they can use to zero in on you or me? Just asking in case I need to adjust the wards.”

Eren spoke up from the sink. “He burned it down before we left.” The poor kid sounded miserable, probably blaming himself for Levi losing his home. While it was true that Levi would have been safer without taking in someone also on the run, Hange knew that her friend wouldn’t hold the kid responsible for the loss – no, he’d take it out on the bastards hunting them down.

Still. “I’m so sorry,” she told her friend, since she knew how much he’d loved his place of solitude, how special it was to have land that had soaked up your magic for so long.

He shrugged off the condolence, much as she’d expected. “It was just a place. Main thing was to keep those assholes from latching onto anything they could use to find or use against us, which is what we did.” He seemed to be saying that more for Eren’s sake than hers. “If we’re good, then I’m going to crash. Put your freaky magic to use to figure out who’s after us, keep your hands off of Eren, and we’ll talk more in the morning.” He went over to the sink to give Eren a slight tap to the back of the head. “Don’t stay up all night cleaning this pigsty, you’ll never get it all done.”

Eren paused in the washing to glare up at Levi before rolling his eyes. “Go sleep before you fall down. I’m not dragging your heavy ass to bed, then, old man.”

“Least my ass is covered,” Levi taunted for some reason, which caused Eren to blush. Hange was fascinated by the interaction; it was clear that Levi wasn’t watching over Eren on pure sufferance alone. Also, Eren was one of the few people who seemed to get Levi’s ‘abrasive’ personality, and didn’t appear put off by the fact that he was a necromancer. Interesting.

She waved to Levi as he almost stumbled out of the kitchen, definitely running on the last dregs of his energy, and got up from the kitchen table. “You don’t have to wash all of the dishes, you know,” she told Eren.

“It’s okay, it gives me something to do.” His smile just then was a shy, uncertain thing. “And I know how much the mess upsets Levi.” He paused to stare into the sink for a moment. “Besides, they’re almost done.”

“Well, thank you. Do you want some tea? How about something to eat?” When he nodded, she took that as an answer to both questions and went over to rummage through the fridge. “Uhm… yeah, maybe it’s time to throw out this takeaway,” she decided after she took a good whiff of it and her eyes began to water. That didn’t leave too much more in there, other than a few jars of condiments, a loaf of bread, some tortillas and some expired milk. Oh, and cheese. There was always some cheese, and it was only a little moldy. Giving up on the fridge, she opened the cabinets and… didn’t find too much more. “Guess I should go shopping?”

Drying his hands on some paper towels since the dish towel was a little… okay, add laundry to the ‘to do list’, Eren came over beside her and stood on his toes to look at the shelves. “Is that canned chicken any good?”

“Let’s see.” Hange laughed as she checked the dates. “Yes! I saw some tortillas and cheese in the fridge, too.”

Eren went over to pull them out, along with the jar of chilies and butter. “I can make some quesadillas for us if you don’t mind.”

“What, you cook and clean? No wonder Levi brought you along!” Hange grinned as she searched for a large enough pan so Eren could put to use his skills. At least it was mostly clean….

It was so adorable, the way that golden skin would show off a hint of pink and Eren would duck his head. “Ah, thanks, I think.” He heated up the stove while Hange filled up the tea kettle. “He… Levi… said a couple of things about you, but he never mentioned what you do.” Eren shot a quick look over at the bag of bloody bits of flesh on the table.

Hange hummed a little as she helped Eren by opening the cans of chicken. “Me? Well, not many people can do what I do, which Levi would say is a good thing. I’m what’s called a blood witch.” When Eren stared at her in confusion, she laughed. “Along with casting spells, I can read a person’s blood down to a cellular level, know their genetic background, their ancestors, their bloodline and talent if they have any, the diseases in their genes and turn it against them or even inflict new ones on them.” Her smile took on a sharp edge. “All I need is a bit of blood and I can fuck you up, big time. Or come across a disease and use it as a weapon.”

Eren stared at her for a few seconds, the cheese he’d been chopping up forgotten, and shuddered. “That’s… really impressive.”

She laughed again as she set an opened can aside and leaned over to ruffle his hair. “You only have to worry if you hurt any of my friends! So we’re good, right!” She waited for him to nod before continuing. “So what about you, hmm? I can’t tell since Levi has you so wrapped up in protective spells.”

He appeared surprised to hear about that, his left hand lifting to press against his chest for a moment as if to ‘feel’ for the magic, and then he stared down at the cheese he was slicing. “Well… I’m a shifter.” He spoke quietly, as if uncertain he should say anything.

Hange had wondered if Eren was another necromancer like Levi, if her friend had found an apprentice, and so thought that perhaps she had misheard Eren at first. When he continued to avoid her eyes, she realized that what she’d heard had been correct. “A shifter? Really?” She lunged forward to wrap her arms around him. “You’re a shifter! Amazing, I never thought I’d meet one! You have to let me check your blood, I bet I could find such incredible things in your genes!”

There was an aborted motion with the knife as he jerked about at being grabbed and he was stiff in her embrace at first, then he relaxed as if he realized that she wasn’t hurting him. “Uhm, okay, I think.” He patted her arms as if to have her let go. “If Levi says it’s all right.”

“Oh, it’ll be fine.” Hange would guilt-trip the grump into going along with it if she had to, this was too rare of a find! It also made sense as to why someone would risk fighting Levi on his own ground.

So, cute, cooked, cleaned and was a shifter. Only Levi would end up stumbling across someone like Eren, she thought to herself as she let go and resumed opening cans. The anti-social grump better realize what Fate had dumped into his lap or else she was going to risk a heart to heart chat with her friend, despite the pain for all involved.

*******

Warm. Levi was warm, and there was something tickling his chin. He was warm, being tickled, and there was something heavy on top of him. Warm, being tickled, covered in something heavy, and fuck, did he have a bad case of morning wood. Still feeling a bit tired, he went to rub at his eyes and….

Someone was lying on him.

Summoning his magic to him, it took a moment for his muddled brain to realize that wrapped ‘around’ him was the familiar sense of both his own magic and Eren’s, that it was damn near soaked into him by the close contact. Biting back on a groan, he opened his eyes and gazed downward to find a certain shifter sprawled out on half on his chest, head tucked beneath his chin and arm thrown out to touch the other side of the bed.

Eren was a cuddler.

Fuck. Hange had probably told the brat to share the bedroom since there was only one spare and the bed a queen, and Levi had been too tired to notice when Eren had climbed in. That and the brat was wrapped up in all those protective spells, just in case those assholes had some way to track him. It still didn’t excuse why Levi had allowed *this* to happen, or why his body seemed to think even more contact would be great. Flashes of Eren’s pert ass flashed through Levi’s mind as he managed to bend his left arm enough to brush his halfway numb fingers through the soft, mussed brown locks which brushed against his chin.

No, not going there. Not thinking about rolling Eren onto his back and- *no*. Not even if part of the reason those assholes were after Eren was that shifters were supposed to be incredible – Levi smacked his right hand into his forehead as a distraction.

He needed to get out of here before his hormones and his fucked up mind made him do something he regretted. So what if Eren was attractive as all hell? Damn brat had probably shifted into whatever Levi liked best as a defense mechanism, and in reality was built like some club bouncer and twice as ugly. No, the only thing he could trust was that the brat needed help and was desperate. Figure out a way to get him somewhere else and….

Levi let out a slow breath and began to ease out beneath Eren, who mumbled a little at the disturbance yet remained asleep. Once Levi was free, Eren clutched at the pillow as if it was to take Levi’s place, which allowed him to burrow through his bag to find a clean pair of loose jeans and a pullover to wear while he went out to see if Hange was still awake; a glance at the clock told him it was three a.m., so it wasn’t unheard of for his friend to be up working on some project.

He scratched at the stubble along his jaw as he left the room, and found the lights still on in the living room but no sign of any insane researcher. That left the kitchen, where Hange was bent over her laptop while a pot of coffee brewed. “You going to sleep at all?”

“Sleep is for the weak, those of us strong of mind have this wonderful thing called ‘caffeine’.” She looked up and blinked at him, her eyes a bit red and squinty behind the lenses of her glasses. “You look a bit better now, only a touch dead instead of halfway.”

“Thanks.” He went to refill the teakettle with fresh water and checked the fridge, which he was surprised to find was filled with what looked to be new stuff. “You went shopping?”

“Yes.” Hange clicked the keys a few times and then pushed away from the table. “There’s some leftover quesadillas which Eren made for you.” She reached for a can of energy drink that was on the table. “I ran out for enough food to last us for a few days and I picked up what should be a couple of sweatshirts and a pair of sweatpants that might fit him.” She gestured to a bag from the local superstore which rested in one of the spare chairs. “Didn’t want to look too suspicious so they’re stuff I’d buy for myself, but… yeah, hopefully he won’t mind. I can order stuff online in a day or two.”

“Considering he showed up with only the filthy shit on his back, it’s fine.” Levi found the leftovers and put them in the toaster oven before he went to check out the new clothes; Hange strongly believed in what could be called a ‘unisex’ style so the sweatshirts were plain and in neutral colors, if a bit big for Eren, while the pants were black and a size ‘small’. “What about my present?”

Done with her drink, Hange got up to pour herself a huge mug of coffee; Levi noticed that her brown hair had been pulled back into a messy bun and she must have changed out of the wrinkled clothes she’d been wearing earlier to run the errand. “You always bring me the good stuff, I have to say that.” Full mug in hand, she leaned back against the counter, long legs crossed in front of her and a serious look on her face. “Every one of the bodies was recognized as a member of the Reiss organization or the Trost pack, you do know that, right?” She gave him a loaded look while she tapped a finger against the mug.

“Dammit, I knew I recognized a few of those bastards.” He rubbed his left hand along the undercut part of his hair and sighed. “Eren tell you what he is?”

“Yep, after I explained what I can do.” She paused to take a sip of coffee. “I asked for some blood, but he said only if you agreed.” Her brown eyes lit up with something akin to humor at that. “He trusts you, he does.”

“I fucking saved his ass, he better trust me,” Levi spat out as he checked his late night snack.

“Hmm, to the point of sacrificing your home.” When Levi gave her a nasty glare at that, Hange smiled over the rim of her mug. “Oh ho, he worried about cleaning up the place so you wouldn’t be freaked about the mess, and that there was enough food so you’d have something to eat when you woke up. I even had to practically shove him into the bed when he was falling asleep standing up because he didn’t want to ‘bother’ you.”

Somehow he knew he had Hange to thank for that situation. “I know what it’s like to be hunted down. And I know what they’ll do to him if they find him.” Hmm, the food smelled good. Giving it a moment to cool off, he fixed a teapot that had been set out on the counter and filled it with the now boiling water. “Tell me you’d wish it on someone like Eren.”

The smile melted off of Hange’s face and her expression became contemplative. “Yeah, you’ve a point there. Given a shifter’s enhanced healing ability, it would be a living hell, being chopped up for various spells a being so closely tied to the earth’s ‘life force’ would boost. Not to mention once you could get some geas to sink in, you would have the perfect slave, the ultimate assassin and whore because of their emphatic and shifting talents.”

He didn’t need a reminder about that ‘ultimate whore’ fact right now. “You think that’s why Reiss is throwing the big guns after him?”

She shrugged as she stared into her mug. “Maybe. The fact that Eren’s the first shifter I’ve heard about in my lifetime means he’s rare as hell, which might make that organization determined to be the one to ‘own’ him. Perhaps it was too much for them to resist, a shifter and an Ackerman in the same spot together.”

Levi grimaced at that reminder, which Hange caught. “Sucks to be from such an infamous bloodline, doesn’t it?” She laughed when he gave her the finger before biting into his food, which tasted pretty good for something that came out of Hange’s kitchen. “But seriously, I do wonder what *his* bloodline is like.”

Taking the time to swallow, Levi shrugged and set aside his meal long enough to pour some tea. “If you promise not to mess with anything, check it out in the morning. I know the brat was curious himself as to where his talent came from, his mother’s bloodline or his father’s.” He had just set the pot down when long, wiry arms wrapped around him. “Dammit!”

“Thank you! Mwah!” Hange gave him a wet kiss on the left side of his face before she leapt back out of reach. “You’re the best!”

“Dammit! It’s a good thing I didn’t shower yet because now I have to scrub off your gross germs!” If Levi didn’t need to eat something after all of the magic he’d cast earlier, he’d jump in the shower now. Instead, he wiped at the side of his face several times with his sleeve until the burn of all that friction removed the disgusting feel of Hange’s lips on his skin.

Hange waved aside the complaint as she resumed her seat at the table. “Aw, you know you love me. When do you think our sleeping beauty will wake up?”

He considered the question as he finished one of the quesadillas. “Probably a few more hours, since he did a lot of fighting and took on most of the were. His talent… is pretty impressive.”

“Says the guy who raises the dead and controls ghosts.”

Levi shrugged again and went about fixing his tea. “And the person who fucks up people by messing with their blood. Still, his magic….” He paused with the door to the fridge open and the bottle of milk in his hand. “It feels powerful and wild, like nothing I’ve ever felt before. It feels….” He shook his head when he realized that he almost admitted to Hange that it felt ‘good’.

“Now that’s interesting.” Hange’s fingers hovered over the laptop’s keyboard while she frowned at him. “Your magic is so wrapped up around him I can barely sense his own, which is something else that’s pretty rare. You two have to be extremely compatible for his magic to accept your own like that and not fight it off.” She raised her eyebrows as if expecting some sort of answer.

All he did was give her a one-shoulder shrug and go about fixing his tea. He could feel the weight of her gaze on his back, but he refused to answer, to talk about Eren and his magic – about *their* magic. It was just too personal, that and Hange could be too much of a meddling pain in the ass at the best of times. If she found out that Levi was attracted to the brat? She’d be insufferable.

*******

“Eren! Leave the dishes for later, I want to do this *now*!”

“But there’s not that many, it’ll only take a minute to- ah!” Eren was dragged away from the breakfast dishes soaking in the sink by an insistent Hange and looked for help at Levi, who was seated at the table with a pot of tea.

The necromancer shrugged while holding onto the mug with his fingertips, a weary look on his face even though he had seemed fine just a short time ago. “Just give in, she’ll keep harping on you about it until you do.”

Hange stuck out her tongue at Levi even as she shoved Eren into one of the empty chairs at the now clean table. “Ha ha, you make me sound like some demented harpy.” When Levi gave her a bland look back, she flipped him the finger before focusing her attention back on Eren. “I want to check your blood now – Levi said it’s all right.” When Eren glanced at the other man to confirm this and received a curt nod, the witch let out an excited laugh and ran out of the room.

“Look, I know she’s crazy and it’s pretty freaky, that shit she does, but she won’t use it against you,” Levi assured him. “It’ll get you some answers, too.”

“I guess.” Eren rubbed his hands against his legs as he fought his sudden nerves, the fabric of the borrowed jeans soft against his skin. “It’s just odd to imagine she’ll discover anything that way.”

Hange raced back into the room with a small leather bag in her hands, the light reflecting off of her glasses. “Because I’m the best at what I do! And, well, one of the few who do what I do.” She set the bag on the table and went to fetch a paper towel, which she set down near the bag. Upon opening the bag, she pulled out rubber gloves, some packets of alcohol wipes, a small box containing cotton balls, and a small plastic container which turned out to hold small metal lancets and thin plastic tubes.

“Let me see your hand, either one,” she told Eren as she pulled on the gloves, so he held out his right hand. After ripping open an alcohol wipe, she swapped his right middle finger and waited a few seconds before holding up the lancet. “This will sting for a second.”

“It’s okay, just know I heal pretty quick,” he warned.

“Well, in that case….” Hange drove the lancet rather deep into his finger, causing him to bite back on the yelp of pain, especially when she squeezed hard to make the wound bleed. Even as the blood welled up, there was a faint bit of steam as the wound healed almost within an instant.

“Fascinating,” Hange murmured as she dropped the lancet on the paper towel and swiped up the tube so it could suck up the blood. She let go of Eren’s hand and raised the tube to her mouth, where she then proceeded to suck it dry.

In the process of grabbing a cotton ball so he could wipe away the traces of blood that remained on his finger, Eren stared in shock as he watched her drink his blood. “Ah, is this-“

“It’s disgusting, but it’s what she does,” Levi said as he sipped his tea.

Meanwhile, Hange sat with her eyes closed for several seconds, before she tossed the empty tube aside and gasped. When she opened her eyes, they were glowing a brilliant red behind the glass lenses. “Oh. *Oh*. This is amazing! I’ve never seen stuff like this! So many unknown genes! So many incredible sequences!” Her hands rose into the air in front of her and twisted about as if grabbing at things only she could see. “You take after your mother, don’t you? Oh yes, that skin and hair, it’s definitely from her, but….” She frowned at Eren. “Huh, made a *little* change, didn’t you?” She glanced at Levi before shaking her head. “The eyes, that’s from your father’s side, though… as is your talent.”

“My father?” Eren felt stunned by the words, as he’d suspected that his talent had come from his mother. “Really?”

“Yes, it’s all here in the blood,” Hange assured him. “Definitely from your father, and quite a talent it is.” Her eyes narrowed as she reached for something. “I’ve honestly never seen anything like this, not even when looking through Levi’s blood. There’s something, it’s- aow!” She shook her hands as if they’d been burned. “Dammit, that’s nasty!” She blinked her eyes a few times and they returned to normal. “You’ve got something in you, something powerful that doesn’t like to be messed with by outside forces.”

Once again Eren was confused and surprised by what Hange had found. “What do you mean? There’s nothing powerful about me.” He looked at his hands and allowed them to shift into claws for a moment before returning to ‘normal’.

Hange began to clean up the medical supplies and then went to throw them away; Eren was relieved to see that she disposed of them in the fireplace in the living room. When she came back, she had a bottle of whisky in her hand and went to fetch three clean glasses. “Look, I know what I ‘saw’ when I tested your blood, and while I don’t understand it completely, you have something inside of you with, as Levi would say, a shit-ton of potential.” She set the glasses on the table and poured them all about two shots of the strong liquor. “What do you know about being a shifter?”

He picked up one of the glasses and held it between his hands. “Honestly? Not much that I didn’t figure out between trial and error, in finding out the hard way. One of my friends, Armin, is really smart and did a bit of research, but there’s not much out there other than, well, you know.” He hated the way his cheeks grew heated, especially because Levi was sitting just a few feet away. “I tend to react to people’s desires under certain stimuli and can shift to their preferred form. I’m not as much constrained to restrictions when shifting like were are, and there’s the healing. Unlike them, I can manage spells, though I’ve only learned some basic ones.” If he’d stayed with Armin and Mikasa longer, he’d know more but it hadn’t been worth the danger to them.

Hange tossed back the alcohol as if she did it on a regular basis and frowned. “Your parents, no, your father, didn’t tell you anything?”

A sudden wash of bitterness filled Eren’s mouth, prompting him to sip the whisky. Gah, it was as strong as it smelled. “No, he stuttered out. “He didn’t tell me a damn thing about how to be a shifter.”

Levi held onto the glass in that weird way of his but didn’t drink any. “You said something about your mom dying and your dad disappearing. Did it have anything to do with what you are?” There was a gentleness to the question which let Eren know that Levi hadn’t asked it lightly.

Running his left hand through his hair and tugging on the strands as a mild distraction from the pain the memories of his mother always brought up, Eren laughed a couple of seconds at the question. “In hindsight? Hell yes.” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I was only eight when my mom died – it wasn’t long after we took in Mikasa, my adopted sister. A good friend of the family stopped by to visit and we were out in the back as he was teaching us checkers. My mom left to go answer the door and….” He paused to drink more whisky. “She came back out and something was wrong. I remember that her smile was off and she wouldn’t come out into the yard, she just stood in the doorway as she told Hannes that she had company and that he should bring us back for a visit another day, that she was always happy to see all of us and thanked him for bringing us by. Before I could ask what was going on, Hannes told her we’d be back in a few days and grabbed me and Mikasa. As soon as we were out in the street, he picked us up and ran.” Eren still remembered screaming for his mother, confused and afraid about what was happening, about why Hannes was taking him away all of a sudden. “I don’t know how he managed to carry us so far away, but as soon as he couldn’t go any farther, he stopped and called the police. It was too late, though.” He fought back the urge to cry and finished off the whisky.

Hange refilled up his glass without being asked. “She was a very brave woman.”

“She should have asked for help, not for him to take us away.” That was what bothered him to this day.

“Which is why she was so brave,” Hange insisted. “She was your mother, she wanted you to be safe.”

Eren rubbed at his eyes with the back of his right hand. “Yeah, well, after that my dad moved us away, and we met Armin and his grandfather, which was a good thing since Dad wasn’t around too much. He said it was for work, but….” Eren shook his head. “It got worse after my talent came out, it was as if Dad was scared of me.”

Levi looked up from his glass to stare at Eren. “He never said *anything*?”

Eren shook his head and then paused. “One time… he said something about me being a ‘key’.” He scratched at the back of his head. “The key? That and I had to be careful, but I mean, I was a shifter? I knew I had to be careful. He told Mikasa to watch out for me but she was doing that already and it only made her even worse.” He grimaced as he thought of how overprotective she’d become. “It wasn’t long after that he never came back home. We searched the office and found a bunch of money and some fake IDs for all of us. A week later some mages attacked, and after we dealt with them we decided that we should disappear, too.” They’d been on the run ever since.

“Key?” Levi finished off his drink in one smooth toss before looking at Hange. “That make any sense to you?”

She frowned as she fussed with her glasses. “Keys have a lot of symbolism behind them, but I don’t think I’ve heard anything in relations to shifters. Let me look into it – it’ll take some time without tripping any alarms, though.”

There was a rude sound from Levi as he reached over to snatch at Eren’s half-finished whisky. “As long as the wards and protection spells hold to hide us, we’re not going anywhere despite your nasty ass.”

Hange laughed as she lifted her glass as if in a toast. “Considering I used your little goody bag to whip up some extra special wards, you two should have officially gone off ‘the radar’. I get to bask in the gloriousness that is your radiant personality for days to come, Grumpy.”

Levi made a rude gesture at her and snatched up the whisky bottle. “Eat shit and die.”

“Ah, there it is.” Hange hummed a happy tune as she turned toward Eren. “We’re going to have a *wonderful* time. Has anyone taught you how to cast a basic plague spell yet?”

Eren blinked a couple of times before admitting no, no one had. Levi moaned and complained about how Hange was a menace to humanity while Hange crowed in delight and pulled Eren from the table while babbling about the principles of cursing people with fatal diseases.

*******

 

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