chapter seven

*******

words are easy, like the wind; faithful friends are hard to find

*******

Levi put yet another damn bag into the ostentatious Land Rover Erwin had dug up from somewhere and slammed the door shut. “Tell me there’s nothing left in the house at this point – I refuse to take the shitty kitchen sink.”

Erwin rubbed at his impressive thick brows and shook his head. “If there is, I say we just leave it – Hange has to learn to let go for once.” Then he seemed to think of what he had just said and blanched. “Well, of physical items, I mean.”

Yeah, they’d be dancing around Moblit’s death for days to come, Levi was willing to bet. “Too many fucking books – hasn’t she heard of digital?”

The weak joke seemed to restore Erwin’s confidence. “I asked her that once, and got an hour-long rant about how some things just had to be traditional and it just wasn’t proper spell casting if you were pulling it up from a kindle of all things and not hide-bound paper. I was too terrified to ask her what type of ‘hide’ she was talking about...”

“Speaking of the lunatic.” Levi frowned and folded his arms over his chest as he noticed Hange heading toward them from the house with something in her hands – fortunately it looked small and not another box or bag of heavy books. “What the fuck is it now? We barely have room enough in the car for Erwin.”

She looked up from whatever it was wrapped in what appeared to be a black scarf to frown at Levi in return. “I was just double-checking that I hadn’t forgot anything and came across this – you can use this, right? It’s something of Moblit’s.” She held out her hands to him to reveal a shaving razor.

Levi froze as he studied the common item; Moblit must have used it the last time he’d been here, about a week ago, because Levi could pick up a faint sense of the man’s death emanating from it. There had to be traces of Moblit’s stubble and skin in the blades, and maybe even a little blood. “Fuck yeah, I can use it,” he told her as he reached for it, careful to wrap the scarf around it to ensure that those faint traces of ‘Moblit’ weren’t lost.

Erwin’s thick brows drew together while he figured out what Hange had brought to Levi. “Wait – you can contact Moblit’s soul?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I can do it – that other necromancer used part of it in their spell, but it takes a lot of effort to obliterate one and they didn’t manage to do it before. I should be able to reach out to what’s left of him and get some answers we need.” Levi went back to the SUV so he could place the razor in the glove compartment where it would be safe until they got to the cabin.

Hange was right on his heels, an intent expression on her face. “Reach out to him and find out who the fuck did it – I want to know and I want to return the favor of scrapping them into parts to cram into a fucking bag.”

And someone had just gone way past bugfuck crazy, but Levi would be out for blood if someone had done this to Isabel or Farlan, and he wasn’t about to let this half-assed necromancer get their hands on Eren. “Dial it back a notch or two for now, okay? We have to get somewhere safe first and then I’ll do the ‘I talk to dead people’ shit and get some answers.”

“You better.” Hange’s eyes flashed red for a couple of heartbeats before she turned toward the house. “Come on, let’s go get the kiddies and then burn this place to the ground.” She didn’t sound all that upset about the prospect of torching her own home – but then again, she’d just lost a long-time friend, a house didn’t rate all that high compared to Moblit’s death.

Erwin reached out to clutch at Hange’s right shoulder, and she allowed the gesture for a couple of seconds before holding her head high as she continued onward to the house. Levi followed, intent on grabbing his lover and then getting the hell out of here before any more trouble found them for the time being – all he could sense of his lover’s magic was a low ebb, so he assumed that Eren was behaving. Upon entering the house, he went to the kitchen where he found Eren packing a cooler of food while Hange headed back to the bedroom as if to fetch something.

“Oi, you ready to go yet?”

“Yep, just finished brewing a pot of coffee.” Eren held up two thermoses in his hands. “One for coffee, one for tea. There’s enough food for the drive to, well, wherever. Wasn’t sure if the place would be stocked or not so thought it might be nice to not arrive with an empty stomach.” He appeared better than he’d been when Levi had sent him inside, flushed and woozy on his feet – his eyes were bright and there was color back in his cheeks.

“Whatever, just put the shit in the cars so we can leave before those assholes show up again.” Over by the fridge, Mikasa glared at Levi as if he was being an asshole, but Eren just rolled his eyes as he tossed one of the thermoses at Levi.

“I should make you drink coffee but then I’d have to put up with your bitching.”

Levi caught the metal container with ease and reached out with his free hand to pull Eren over to him. “Maybe you haven’t lost all of your brains just yet.”

“Hmm, maybe.” Eren pressed against his left side, a warm, soothing presence of wild magic, soft hair and even softer sweater, and Levi allowed himself to enjoy the moment after the stress of the fight and the rush of packing. Then he gave Eren’s delectable ass a pat.

“Get moving before Erwin burns this place down around you.”

“Fine, fine.” Eren appeared to be sulking as he pulled away, but his magic was still calm as he gathered up one of the coolers of food. “Who’s riding with who?”

“You’re with me, while Mikasa and Armin are with Hange.” When Mikasa appeared ready to argue, Levi shook his head. “Keep an eye on her, okay? I’d ride with her but I think it’ll help, having someone other than me and Erwin around. She might vent better if she thinks we’re not babysitting her.”

Mikasa’s stern expression lasted for a few more seconds before it wavered. “We’ll be following each other, right? You won’t be far away.” She glanced back and forth between Levi and Eren as she spoke.

He rolled his eyes as he shook the thermos. “I’m not going to run off with your precious brother.”

“I don’t know, might be nice to head off somewhere, maybe the mountains or the beach,” Eren called out from the doorway leading to the living room. “Go ahead, run off with me.”

It was Mikasa’s turn to roll her eyes as she buried her chin into the ever-present red scarf. “Have fun being stuck in the same car as him for a couple of hours,” she said as she picked up the other cooler.

“Brat… might be a good time for you to play with those tentacle plants again and then pass out,” Levi griped as he followed Mikasa out of the kitchen, Eren falling in step beside him once they caught up to each other in the living room.

“See if I bother to heal you a second time.”

“Wow, are they at it again?” Armin came out of Hange’s bedroom with a couple of bags slung over his shoulders. Since Levi didn’t see his friend, he assumed that she’d grabbed what she’d come in for and had already left.

“Yes, apparently we get a reprieve from it since we’ll be riding with Hange.”

“Oh, thank god.” Armin smiled at Mikasa and motioned for her to proceed him out the door.

Meanwhile, Eren took to sulking once more as he paused to pull on his – well, Levi’s spare – leather jacket. “You guys suck.”

Levi had to agree with his lover on that, yet all he did was give the two tagalongs a cool look which made Armin become flustered and nearly drop one of the bags. When Eren headed toward the Land Rover, Levi snagged hold of his arm and nodded toward the motorcycle parked near the SUV.

“So, we get to go charging across the countryside on a bike, how fun.” Eren carried the cooler over to SUV where Erwin was waiting.

“You were the one bitching about being bored and wanting to go somewhere, so don’t give me any shit about how you’re getting there.” Levi nodded to Erwin to let him know the house was empty, then went over to Hange. “You ready?”

“Yeah.” Her jaw jutted out as if her teeth were clenched, and then she shuddered. “I was thinking of getting something a bit more modern anyway, maybe with some more room. Place was a bitch to cool off in the summer, anyway, and the wiring sucked.” She turned toward Erwin and nodded; the mage paused only for a moment or two before his eyes flared azure and then the same color sparked inside the house, glowing through the windows before it quickly consumed the structure. Now there wouldn’t be any of their personal items left behind for the enemy to use to track them down.

“All right, let’s get our asses on the road. Sooner we get to where we’re going, sooner I get some blood.”

Count on Hange to remember that; Levi clicked his tongue as he pushed Eren toward his bike. “You’re a shitty vampire, you are.”

“Eh, wouldn’t that be fun?” Hange clacked her teeth together as she slung a bag into her beat-up hatchback before climbing inside. “Race you to the cabin!”

Erwin groaned as he pinched the bridge of his nose. “Don’t draw attention to yourselves! Oh why do I even bother?”

“Because you drive like an old lady,” Levi reminded his friend while he handed over a helmet to Eren, then stashed the thermos in the right side bag. “Least now you’re driving a soccer mom car.” He grinned when Erwin gave him the finger before climbing inside the huge SUV. “Well, get your ass in gear, brat.” For some reason, Eren was just standing beside the bike.

“One sec.” Eren closed his eyes and there was a flare of magic for several seconds before he slipped the helmet on over his head, and then he climbed on the back of the bike. Levi scrutinized his lover for couple of seconds before he did the same, and once he was settled on the bike, a warmer than usual Eren pressed against his back – he could feel the heat radiating through the heavy leather jackets they both wore, along with that addicting sense of magic. Instead of starting up his bike, he flipped up the visor of his helmet. “Eh? What the fuck did you do now?”

Eren flipped his visor as well. “It’s something I learned over the years, syphoning energy from the earth for heat. Figured it could help keep us warm for the ride.”

Levi recalled Armin saying something about Eren tapping into the earth or environment for energy, so all he did was grunt and close his visor before he started the bike; it would help make the ride more bearable. “Not bad.” Either somehow Eren had heard him or picked up his approval through his emotions, since his boyfriend’s arms gave him a squeeze right before Levi gunned the bike into motion.

So they might be on the run and Hange was out of a house and a dearly beloved friend, but Levi had magic all around him, an open road before him and Eren at his back, body following his every move with an evident trust. Somehow… somehow things didn’t seem so bad.

So yeah, he knew things were going to get fucked up at some point.

*******

Exhausted from both the drive and from casting spells the entire way, Petra killed the engine of her car and took a moment to rest her head against the steering wheel. She probably should have stopped at the last rest station… but yeah, stopping would have meant that someone might have seen her, so best to just carry on. Besides, she was here now, and it looked as if she was the second one here, unless Erd had hitched a ride with Gunther since she recognized the truck parked next to the ‘cabin’.

She got out the car and was reaching back in for the large duffel bag when the door to the cabin opened up and two tall figures strolled out, along with the feel of their familiar magic. Leaving the bag be for now, she smiled and laughed when Gunther rushed forward to give her a hug. “How did I know that the two of you would beat me here?”

Gunther swept her off her feet for the hug and nearly made her ribs crack with the force of it. “Maybe because we were closer? You look good.”

As soon as she was set down, Erd hugged her as well, though he bent down to enfold her in his arms. “He picked me up at the train station, we figured it would be better if I drove and he cast the spells.”

“Yeah, I’m wiped out from doing both.” Petra’s smile slipped a little as she thought about how usually Olou drove while she did the casting, and she caught the sympathetic looks her friends gave her as they must be thinking the same. “I picked up on Gunther’s wards, just something basic?”

He nodded while Erd reached into the car to grab some of the bags for her; both of them looked good as well, looked barely changed from when she’d last seen them, which had been a couple of months ago at Olou’s wake. They were dressed for the cold, and Erd’s blond hair was a little longer while Gunther had shaved off the beginning of the goatee that he’d been attempting to grow out. “Yeah, I wanted some sort of ward up just in case, but I’m sure Levi, Hange and Erwin are going to ward the place to the high heavens once they arrive.”

“Which should be in a couple of hours, from the last message we received,” Erd motioned for Petra to enter inside before him.

The ‘cabin’, more like a mountain lodge, was warm and spacious, an open floor plan with lots of wood beams and overlarge furniture. It was clear that in the little time that Erd and Gunther had been there, that they had been busy prepping the fire places and airing it out, as well as starting to clean the place in anticipation of Levi’s arrival. Petra smiled as she began to unbutton her heavy coat. “Well, assign me a room to throw my stuff in and I’ll help you get the place ready. There’s how many of us? Levi, Erwin, Hange and the person we’re protecting?” There hadn’t been much in the message that had been passed on to them, just that Levi needed them, Moblit was dead and Hange had been compromised, and it was all because Levi had taken in someone who was being targeted; all they needed to know was Levi wanted their help.

“Well, there’s six rooms here so there shouldn’t be too much of an issue about space, but Gunther and I are sharing. Not sure how long Erwin’s staying or if Mike and Nanaba are showing up at some point, so you might have to share with Hange.” Erd gave her an apologetic look.

Petra shrugged to show she wasn’t bothered by that. “I’ve survived worse.” Besides, she might be able to help Hange at the moment; the blood witch’s relationship with Moblit wasn’t quite the same as hers with Olou’s, though Moblit had clearly worshiped the ground Hange walked upon, but Hange had still cared deeply for Moblit.

At least all the rooms had queen-sized beds in them, if not king-sized, so sharing wouldn’t be a problem. Petra picked one of the bedrooms by the top of the stairs and once again wondered how Erwin managed to find these places – just how powerful was his ability to glamour and compel? He never appeared to use it on any of them or else Levi wouldn’t follow him, but he did come across the oddest things….

Once that was settled and all of the supplies were brought in, she pitched in on the cleaning, since they knew Levi wouldn’t be able to rest until the place was decent and warded. While their own magic was adequate to protect the cabin – between them they had three of the four elements covered and were quite powerful – Gunther was right in that the main warding would fall onto the ‘heavy hitters’ of their small group so they could at least help out with the cleaning for now.

“So what do you think made Levi pick up a stray?” Gunther asked as he wiped up the floor. “Another necromancer?”

“Maybe. Perhaps the kid has some Ackerman blood in ‘em.” Erd paused in his dusting to consider the matter. “That or maybe they’re one of the rare two active bloodlines, like Isabel.”

“Well, we’ll find out soon enough.” Petra used her talent to help clean the large chandeliers which lit up the lower level. “Has to be something impressive for Levi to take the poor kid in.” Though if they resembled Isabel, whom she’d heard about, it would explain a lot; the little she’d been told about Levi’s adopted sister, she knew he adored the younger woman and her husband, Farlan. The few times that Erwin managed to bring back any letters from them were the happiest she’d seen the necromancer.

“True.” Erd paused in the cleaning to check something on his phone, which caused his face to flush as he texted back. “Just about an hour now.”

“Shit.” Gunther redoubled his efforts to clean the floor, while Petra whipped up a breeze to knock the dust free and then directed the particles outside. They hurried about as fast as they dared while mindful of what was happening outside, pausing at every brush of life force against their walls of earth, air and water around the cabin.

They had just finished cleaning the kitchen when Gunther straightened up from organizing the pantry. “There’s three vehicles approaching, a bike and two cars. They’re about a mile away.” A moment later, Erd’s phone began to buzz.

He wiped his hands dry before he picked it up and checked the message. “Yeah, that should be them.” Everyone hurried to put the cleaning products aside as they ran toward the front door, spells ready ‘just in case’; Petra felt a budding excitement at seeing Levi again along with some fear in case it wasn’t him.

She recognized the sound of the motorcycle that pulled up to the cabin, followed by a hatchback that had seen better days. Last was an unfamiliar SUV that looked out of place with the other two vehicles, though she could recognize Erwin behind the wheel before her attention returned to the bike with its two riders. As soon as the kickstand was in place, the driver reached up to take off his helmet and revealed a weary looking Levi, the dark circles beneath his grey eyes pronounced and a guarded expression on his face.

Behind him was a slightly smaller figure who made to take off their helmet as well, at least until Levi grabbed at their hand. “Wait a minute, brat.” The figure stiffened, and after a couple of seconds slumped against Levi’s back.

Confused as to what was going on, Petra shared a look with Erd, who shrugged before he ran a hand over his hair, some of the blond strands escaped from the low ponytail he’d pulled it back into and frizzed out around his face. “Ah, hello?” he called out to Levi.

“Yeah.” Levi leaned on the handlebars of his bike while Erwin, Hange and two strangers got out of the vehicles – they looked to be in their late teens or very early twenties, which didn’t mean much if they were magic users. One was a blond guy of middling height who clutched at the leather bag in his hands and the other a pretty girl about the same height who appeared Asian, with pale skin, dark hair and almost black eyes. Petra had never seen them before, but she didn’t know everyone who reported to Erwin so it didn’t bother her too much. What did bother her was the way that the two stared at her with open hostility and suspicion. “Look, this is going to sound odd, but use your magic.”

“Huh?” Beside her, Gunther folded his arms across his chest and frowned. “What’s going on here? Who are those two?”

“Just do it,” Erwin ordered, his expression unusually grave and a brilliant spark in his blue eyes. “We need to make sure of your identities.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense! You told us to come here,” Petra called out.

Hange gave them a terrifying grin as she adjusted her glasses, her eyes fiery behind the lenses. “It’s simple, prove to us who you are or….”

“Oh for fuck’s safe,” Gunther snapped as he made a gesture with his right hand and caused the ground to rumble for a couple of seconds, but not where Levi and the others were standing. As soon as the familiar feel of his magic ceased, Petra sighed and caused a gust of wind to whirl about, leaves dancing all around the front of the porch, and Erd joined in to make fog coalesce in front of them as soon as the leaves fell to the ground. “Happy now?”

Hange paused to look at Levi, who nodded after a couple of seconds. “Mostly, now for a question – how did you bet on the big pot for Levi?” Her grin wasn’t as disturbing just then, was more wicked than anything.

“You shitty glasses, I should-“

“Ah, let them answer, Levi,” Erwin cut off Levi’s tirade while Petra felt her face heat up over the fact that they had to answer such a question in front of the object of the bet.

“Uhm, well, I put in two hundred that he’d find a nice wu-woman one day,” she stuttered out while she refused to look at Levi, her hands twisting in the hem of her beige sweater.

Gunther made a choking sound as he rubbed at his face, seemed about to object and then glanced at a still on-edge Hange. “Oh god… three hundred and fifty that he’d never find anyone to put up with him. I’m so sorry, sir.” The look on Levi’s face just then did *not* bode well for the earth mage.

Erd found a sudden interest in studying the bit of stonework beneath his feet. “Uhm, yeah, three hundred on that he’d scare away whoever it was he’d ask out.” He glanced up to catch Levi’s expression and the blood drained from his face. “Why are we doing this?”

“Because we’re fighting people who can assume anyone’s shape – that’s how they got to us at Hange’s house, they pretended to be Moblit. As embarrassing yet enlightening this has just been,” Erwin’s lips twitched for a moment, “I believe you’ve just proven yourself.”

“Proven you’re a bunch of bastards,” Levi muttered while for some reason, the young blond guy was stifling a laugh and the girl was burying her face in the red scarf wrapped around her neck. As for Hange, she was grinning in a very pleased manner while stalking toward them with her right hand held out.

“You’re also a bunch of losers – now pay up!”

“Huh?” Petra blinked in surprise while Hange cackled at them. “I don’t understand, and what do you mean, someone took on Moblit’s shape? How is that possible? That would mean they’re shifters, and there’s only one shifter around now.”

“Yeah, some Aaron kid or something like that, Reiss and every other organization is after his ass,” Erd pointed out while Hange appeared to lose some of her good mood.

“You’re partially right,” Levi snapped as he got off of the bike and yanked the helmet off of his companion. “Meet Eren, the shifter everyone’s after. Eren, meet the dumb fucks of my team – Petra, Erd and Gunther.”

Petra once more stared on in amazement at the kid Levi revealed to them – he was about the same age as the other two, with chin-length dark brown hair, golden skin and lovely green eyes. He glared at Levi as he ran his hands through his disheveled hair and climbed off of the bike as well, and Petra was astonished to see that he stood about an inch short of Levi’s height. “Why does everyone except Hange bet against you?”

“Because they’re a bunch of dumb fucks.” Levi reached out to tuck a strand of hair behind Eren’s ear. “Now get your ass inside so we can work on the wards.”

“Wait, that kid is a shifter?” Gunther sounded incredulous just then, which Petra could understand since she had never expected to see one in her life. “And you’re implying that there’s other shifters out there?”

“Yeah, and we can talk about this inside, where it’s warm.” Levi pushed Eren in front of him, and the dark-haired girl hurried to catch up to them on the porch.

“The situation is a little complicated,” Erwin admitted. “Also, we have Mikasa and Armin joining us. Mikasa is Eren’s sister and Armin is his friend.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” Petra greeted them as they entered the house together. The young man, Armin, returned her smile and nodded.

“Thank you for helping us.”

“Skip the damn pleasantries for now, we’ve got a ton of shit to do.” Levi came to a halt inside the large foyer and grunted. “It’ll do, Smith.”

“I’m so pleased that it meets with your approval,” Erwin drawled as he dropped the bags which he’d brought in with him on the floor. “At the least, there should be a few more bedrooms here than at Hange’s place.”

“Like I give a fuck about that right now, let’s ward the place.” Even so, Levi dew a fingertip along the surface of the bannister as he bitched, so Petra believed him to be pleased when he pulled it away dust-free.

There was a knowing smile on Armin’s face when he turned to Petra. “Erwin said you’d be bringing some supplies with you? I need a few things if I’m to help out.”

Before she could answer, Gunther stepped forward as he motioned to Armin. “You can follow me, I was in charge of that.” Her friend still seemed a bit stunned and confused, but was on a bit more even ground helping out.

“Great! I hope you have some mandrake root, ground tourmaline and jasper, along with….” Armin’s voice faded out as they disappeared in the direction of the kitchen.

“Armin can help us after he restocks, along with Gunther. Levi and Mikasa, I take it you noticed all of the undead, right?” Erwin looked at the two of them, which surprised Petra as she hadn’t guessed that the young woman was also a necromancer; this whole evening was one new revelation after another, enough to make her head ache. She shared a look with Erd and judging from the wry grin he gave her, he felt the same. “I chose this location on purpose since it’s an old battleground.”

“Yeah, can’t help but notice all of the spirits buzzing around.” Levi waved his right hand about in the air as he glanced at Mikasa. “You did pick up on that, right?”

“Yes, I’m noticing them more and more now.” She stared at Eren for several seconds, who was standing right beside Levi. “I’ll have a few watch over Eren while we’re outside.”

“Gah, it’s creepy when you guys do that, it’s like all these cold spots around me.” The cute shifter shuddered and pressed against Levi, which for some reason he allowed. “What am I going to do while you’re out there?”

“Make sure our bedroom is clean,” Levi ordered as he gave the kid a swat on the ass; Petra stared on in bewilderment, uncertain that she’d just seen what had happened. When she looked over at Erd, she saw him gaping at the two as well.

“I believe Armin is still hoping to try to figure out how to prevent the other shifters from breeching our wards with their special armor, so be prepared to shift for him at any moment,” Erwin added as he headed for the front door. “I’ll sleep better at night knowing that problem has been solved.”

“And you still owe me some blood! The both of you do!” Hange waved at them as she followed Erwin outside.

Levi’s expression was a bit bitter at the moment, as if reminded of something he found unpleasant. “Fuck, at this point we’re never going to bed. You better put on some coffee and make some tea, as well as something warm for us to eat.” Moving as if it was entirely natural, he slid his hands into Eren’s tousled hair and tilted the shifter’s face upward for a brief kiss. “Now stay the fuck out of trouble, and if I see you step a toe outside before the wards are finished, I will kick your ass.”

Eren wrinkled his nose as he pushed Levi away. “So mean, I should make something you don’t like just for that.”

“Good luck, brat, I’m not picky.” Levi gave a flick to Eren’s forehead before he turned around. “It’s why I’m stuck with you.”

“You… oh!” Eren’s eyes flashed with anger, and now that they were inside, Petra noticed that they weren’t just green, but a blue-ish green color. “Go freeze your ass off!” He continued to glare until his sister gave him a quick hug.

Still confused with everything but now a bit amused as well, Petra grabbed her coat from where it was hanging on the bannister and fell in step beside Levi. “So, uhm, no nice woman?” she dared to ask.

The look she received just then would scare many a person, yet she also noticed the way that Levi’s lips twitched the slightest bit upward. “Fuck you for taking part in that shitty bet, and yes, no nice woman.”

“Well, at least he seems like a nice man.” All Petra had ever wanted was for Levi to find someone and be happy, to not be so alone. Yes, he had an abrasive personality and walls so thick that she had despaired of him ever meeting someone who would be able to break through them, but Eren didn’t seem to care about the roughness and somehow had gotten through the defenses.

Levi scoffed at that as they stepped off of the large covered porch. “He’s a damn brat, but he’s all right.” His expression softened a little as he tugged on his thick leather gloves. “Guess he grows on you.”

“If he’s that bad, just say the word and we’ll be on our way.”

Petra turned to find Mikasa standing behind them, an inscrutable expression on her face that somehow reminded her of Levi.

Levi clicked his tongue as he rolled his eyes. “Bet that would make you so happy. Little shit would be caught within two days if it weren’t for me watching over his ass.”

“Hmm, is that what you call it?” Mikasa gave Levi a rather smug look for some reason before she brushed past, and Petra found herself wanting to giggle, especially when Levi turned to glare at her.

“So, she’s his sister?”

“Adopted sister.” Levi rubbed at the back of his neck as he scowled at Mikasa’s departing form. “And a cousin of mine, according to Hange.”

“Wow, okay. A lot really has been going on, hasn’t it?” Petra’s head truly did ache from all of the revelations in the past fifteen minutes or so.

“You don’t know the half of it.” Exhaustion seemed to wear down on Levi for a few seconds, and then he shook his head. “Things are about to get fucked up, but I’m glad you and the others are here.”

Despite the cold and all of the surprises, Petra smiled up at her friend and team leader. “We’re happy to be here, sir. Just let us know what you need.”

He nodded once as he looked aside, as always not one for many words, especially at a time like this. Still, she knew he was grateful for them to be there, and she was so happy that he’d picked them for something so important. Together they joined Hange, Erwin and Mikasa and began to plan how to set up the wards.

*******

“Fuck but I’m tired.” Levi scrubbed at his face as if it would help him to stay awake, more than ready to crawl into bed and sleep for the next six hours or so, maybe even eight at this point; the fight earlier in the day along with all the wards cast, manipulating the dead and driving for hours while casting more magic had worn him out, even with the added boost of magic from Eren.

“Oh no, no sleepy time or even naughty time with your snuggle-bunny until you do some magic for me,” Hange chided as she followed him into the cabin. “And give me some blood!”

“Snuggle-bun- what the *fuck* is wrong with your brain? Seriously?” Levi stared at her in what felt to be horror while behind her, Erd appeared torn between being aghast and amused, before settling on aghast. “Did you take too many blows from that big ass shifter or what?”

“Hmm, nope, not quite, I think he was trying to snap my neck.” Hange’s grin just then was even more disturbing than usual. “Now come on, magic, magic,” she half-sang while clapping her hands; the noise attracted the others, who had entered before them and were in the process of shedding their shoes and coats.

Armin groaned as he leaned against the wood paneling, half-stumbling in the attempt to remove his boots. “Ugh, please, no more magic until I eat.” Mikasa helped to steady him and nodded as if she agreed.

Meanwhile, Eren, dressed in one of Levi’s black sweaters and holding a steaming mug in each hand, sidled forward as if he was waiting to be snapped at, too. “Uhm, some tea?”

“Give me that.” Levi snatched at the mug and nearly sighed as he felt Eren’s magic wash over him, as welcome as the warmth of the cabin and the hot beverage. “What have you been doing all night?”

“Taking a nap.” When Levi opened his eyes, which he’d closed to savor the tea, to glare at his lover, Eren gave him a cocky grin and handed the other mug to his sister. “There’s food in the kitchen for everyone – I settled on meatloaf, if that’s okay.”

“As long as it’s hot, I’m happy,” Gunther grunted as he hung up his coat.

“Oh, it’s been a while since we had your meatloaf.” No longer appearing so miserable and tired, Armin latched onto Mikasa’s arm and seemed ready to drag her into the kitchen. “And mashed potatoes?”

Eren smiled at his friend even as he leaned against Levi. “Yep, even some apple crisp since it didn’t take me too long to clean up the bedroom to a certain clean-freak’s standard.”

While Armin cheered and even Mikasa smiled, Levi gave his lover a flick to the ear. “I find any dirt, you’re sleeping on the floor.” He ignored Petra and Erd’s incredulous stares as Eren yelped, then turned to Erwin, who was busy tapping on his phone; how the bastard got a signal all the way up here was a mystery, but leave it to the man. “Oi, you spending the night?”

“Yes, might as well since it’s so late and Mike doesn’t have much for me right now.” Erwin smiled as he stuck the phone in the front pocket of his blue button-down shirt. “Besides, dinner sounds delicious.”

“Now we know why you had us pick up all the fresh food instead of just canned and frozen,” Petra commented as she followed everyone to the kitchen. “Erd was terrified that we were taking part in one of Hange’s experiments!”

“No I- well, there’s no telling what she might get into,” the water mage admitted with a sheepish grin. “I still remember what she did with pork that one time.”

As Gunther made a gagging sound, Levi glanced around for Hange but didn’t see his friend anywhere. “Uhm, do I want to know about the pork thing?” Eren asked as he took a step toward the kitchen.

Levi shook his head and sipped his tea. “Nah, just know that none of us will be eating it any time soon.”

“Okay.” Eren fussed with the clip that held his long bangs held back from his face and sighed. “You’re not going to let me go out and hunt something fresh, are you?”

That question earned the brat a flicking motion to his head. “Not unless the deer come past the wards,” Levi all but growled. “Be happy if I let you out on the porch.” They’d all combined their magic to make the wards as potent as possible, and Levi’d summoned the dead for a mile around – and whatever weapons that had been buried with them – while Armin would probably be up half the night working on that special potion of his until he figured out how to crack the shifters’ crystal wards. Even then, Levi wasn’t comfortable with the thought of Eren being out of his sight, not with enemies who could be *anyone*.

Eren paused and made that choking, frustrated sound of his as he grabbed onto Levi’s arm. “I’m not… gah! I’m not going to let just anyone take me out. I’ll have those damn plants swallow up all the magic even if it means I’m sick for a whole week and Armin’s swooning with joy from dosing me.”

“Huh, not a bad plan,” Levi admitted as he smirked at Eren’s defiance and anger, at the flare of magic burning into him. “Maybe there’s hope for a brain cell or two in there.” He tapped his fingers against his boyfriend’s left temple.

“Should have eaten your liver when I had the chance,” Eren gritted out, yet his arms slipped around Levi’s waist.

“Funny,” Levi drawled, mindful of the mug of tea as he draped his arms over Eren’s shoulders, “you go a bit lower than that when we’re-“

“See! He’s so your snuggle-bunny. Or maybe you’re his snuggle-bunny,” Hange proclaimed as she burst through the front door. “I have to think about these nicknames some more. Levi as snuggle-bunny and maybe Eren as-“

“Call me that again and I really will yank what passes as your soul from your body and shred it to atoms,” Levi snarled as he jerked away from Eren, hot tea splashing against his fingers. However, the pain only lasted for a moment as he switched the mug to his other hand and slashed his wet hand through the air. “What the fuck are you doing?”

Hange held up something in her right hand as if it was a prized trophy, and it took Levi a moment to recognize it as the wrapped razor from earlier. “You said you’d do your thing with this when we got here, so… do your thing.” She held it out to him, an expectant expression on her face.

Shit. Levi sighed as he ran his left hand through his hair, wanting nothing more than to tell her to fuck off for an hour or so, or even until tomorrow morning when he was rested. However, Moblit had been a friend, and Hange… yeah. As tired and hungry as he was at the moment, he knew how much she was hurting over Moblit’s death.

“Eren? Are you coming to eat?”

Beside him, Eren turned toward the kitchen and shook his head. “Not right – well, one sec.” He turned toward Levi and took the half-empty mug out of Levi’s hand. “I’ll be back, okay?” Before Levi could say anything, Eren went running off to the kitchen and his sister.

Great, so he was left to do this alone. Levi grimaced at the fact that he’d just got tea in his hair, even though his hand had been mostly dry, and sighed again. “Give me a minute or two to clear my head, all right?”

“Okay.” Hange handed him the bundle with a grateful smile. “I appreciate this, I really do.”

“I know.” It was part of the reason why he was doing this when what he really wanted was to sit his ass down and eat, but he also knew that if the situation was reversed, she’d be casting magic for him.

Steeling himself for the fact that he would be seeing the last few minutes of a friend’s life, Levi had begun to unwrap the scarf tied around the razor when he heard the sound of running feet and felt Eren’s magic approach. “Here! You can use this, right?” Eren, his brow furrowed as if concerned, held out an oversized mug and something wrapped in a napkin.

Levi stared at his lover for a couple of seconds before he set aside the razor on the long wooden table that ran along the wall of the foyer. “All right.” The mug held some more tea, which he set aside for the moment, while the napkin was unwrapped to reveal a soft bun filled with a slice of meatloaf. “You brought me food?”

“Yeah, you’re hungry, aren’t you?” Eren’s frown deepened as he looked first at the sandwich and then at Levi. “Don’t you like meatloaf? I know it’s not much, but it’ll help, right?”

“Aw, he’s just the cutest thing,” Hange cooed as she reached over to hug Eren. “I want him, he’s too precious for a grump like you.”

Levi crumpled up and threw the napkin at the crazy witch. “Fuck you, and hell no, get your hands off of him.” He scowled at her while he took a bite of the sandwich – shit did it taste good on an empty stomach – and reached out with his free hand to grab at Eren’s arm. “Leggo.”

Hange made a sniffling sound as she released Levi’s boyfriend. “So unfair that you found him first, but that’s life. Hey! You guys better save some food for us or I’ll unleash a nasty batch of hantavirus!” she shouted toward the kitchen while Eren shuffled closer to Levi.

“You’ll be pleased to know that Mikasa has already threatened to tie up and suspend from the ceiling anyone who doesn’t leave enough food for her brother, and Armin reminded her to include the two of you as well,” Erwin shouted back.

“Oh, well, okay.” The corners of Hange’s mouth tugged downward upon hearing that as if her fun had been spoiled.

“Uhm, I’m sure you’ll have a chance to infect everyone later,” Eren offered as he stood on his tiptoes to look over Levi’s shoulder at the razor.

“Aw, you really are utterly precious.” Hange’s good mood seemed restored upon being reassured, and she gave Levi a pointed look as he drank the last of the tea to wash down the sandwich; he’d forgotten that Eren could sense his emotions, and must have picked up on how tired and hungry he was feeling. “I’ll settle for a certain few people in particular.”

“You always did play well with others.” Levi brushed off his hands before he reached for the razor. “This might feel a little weird,” he warned Eren before he called up his magic.

As if unfazed by the warning, Eren pressed even closer. “But I like how your magic feels,” he murmured as his chin rested on Levi’s shoulder.

Yeah, like he’d ever heard that in his life before stumbling across a bewitching, addictive shifter brat; it should be distracting, having Eren pressed against his back like that, but the feel of his lover’s magic wrapped around him was actually soothing. It had been one hell of a day, and Levi found a bit of strength, of center, in Eren’s warmth and magic.

He luxuriated in the feel of it for a few seconds before he cleared his mind of everything but the sense of magic, his and Eren’s, the razor in his hand and Moblit. At first there wasn’t much, was a sense… was a sense of ‘static’. Levi had to push aside the annoyance he felt and hone his magic ‘sharper’ when it became clear that some semi-clever fuck had tried to disperse whatever was left of Moblit’s soul other than the bits that had gone into the glamour charm, but semi-clever didn’t mean jack shit in the end. He sent a narrow thread of power toward the razor, toward the remnants of the dead that were clinging to it and the ‘static’ burst apart right before images began to form in his mind.

Pain, there was pain, which he’d been expecting, guilt and fear and anger. Levi hissed and did his best to sift through the memories, to skim along them to find out what was important.

/No, no, hold on, think of something, think of… just count. Just keep counting and it has to end./ Pain had accompanied that memory, along with images of a tall, broad-shouldered guy with close-cropped blond hair and a scowling visage. Behind him an even taller, skinnier guy, face covered with freckles and looking ready to throw up at any moment, looming about as if to… to play Good Torturer to Bad Torturer? Was this the Skinless shifter who couldn’t fight worth shit?

Move a little further along, even if meant more agony.

/Fuck, *fuck*, the geas, what about the geas? Don’t talk, don’t say any- Hange, don’t tell them about Hange!/ Moblit’s despair flooded Levi, along with rage and agony, and this time there was a tiny blonde girl beside Bad Torturer, and off to the side…. Ah, yeah, Levi felt a wash of magic that helped to push aside the punishing emotions from Moblit’s memories and so could better concentrate on the images from his dead friend, could latch on to the glimpse of the pouting ‘teenager’. Just to be certain, he dived in once more.

/So-sorry… Hange…./ Yeah, that was enough, he could tell from the pain and remorse that the memory was among Moblit’s last moments, and the girl with the wavy hair had stood right in front of him as if preparing for his final breath. Shuddering from the effect of the magic, Levi opened his eyes even as Eren’s magic pulsed around him, so wild and potent and cleansing, his boyfriend’s arms wrapped tight around his chest and face buried against his neck.

He nodded to Hange as he handed over the razor before he patted the side of Eren’s head. “Choppy?”

“Like the damn sea,” Eren murmured, not even bothering to lift his head; Levi shivered at the feel of warm breath against his skin. “Magic felt good, but you gave me a headache.”

“Great, I’m sure Armin will have a potion for it.” He felt his lips twitch when Eren looked up enough to scowl at him and tousled the brat’s hair. “I know, I’m a mean old bastard.”

“You said it,” Eren muttered before he rested his chin back on Levi’s shoulder, his attention seemingly focused on Hange who was gazing expectantly at Levi; for once she was possessing a bit of patience so he decided to cut to the chase.

“From what I can tell, they caught up to him when he stopped for supplies.” At the flash of guilt on her face, he held up his hand. “You heard Erwin, rumor is those assholes have been tracking down our known associates, so don’t go kicking yourself over the fact that he was running an errand for you. Anyone tied to us has a target on them, so chances are they’d have gotten him one way or another since he was so close to you.”

“Yeah, but it made him easier to target.” Hange looked down at the razor then shook her head as she wrapped it and set it aside. “Doesn’t do any of us a lick of good to try to change the past or argue about ‘maybe’s. Go on.”

He slid his right hand along Eren’s arm just to enjoy the feel of their magic blending together. “I got a look at what the three of them may be like when they’re not all armored up, if they’re anything like Eren and don’t bother with the whole shifting thing all the time. It took a hell of a lot of pain, spells and potions to break Moblit, he didn’t just give you up when they asked.” Not that he thought that Hange believed Moblit would break easy, but it was worth giving the poor guy credit.

Hange’s mouth twisted upon hearing that, and her eyes flashed red behind her glasses. “I know, he was loyal to the fault. What about the fucker who created the charm to let them get through the ward?”

Levi’s lips pulled back into a rare grin at the question. “Well, I think it’s time to eat dinner.” When Hange’s eyes flashed again, he held up his hand. “We need Erwin for this – I got a good look at the bitch, but I don’t know who she is. That’s where Erwin comes in, social butterfly that he is.”

The hope was plain to see in Hange’s face, in her sharp smile. “He can track her down?”

“Once he puts a name to her, sure he can sic Mike on her trail for us.”

Hange pumped her left fist in the air while she cradled the razor to her chest. “Yes!”

Meanwhile, Eren stirred against Levi’s back. “Hmm, now you’re all jagged.” He poked Levi in the right side. “I hate Armin’s potions, you know.”

“Your life, so hard,” Levi teased as he pulled his lover forward for a quick kiss. “Come on, let’s go eat. The food should help with the taste of that potion.” He grinned some more at Eren’s whine.

“Well, it’s not quite feasting on the blood and bones of our enemies, but meatloaf will do for now,” Hange remarked as they headed for the kitchen.

*******

Mikasa sipped her coffee while she watched her brother and her cousin finish their dinner. “But you don’t even like sweet stuff!” Eren complained as Levi swiped another spoonful of his dessert.

“Yeah, but this stuff isn’t that sweet.” Levi rolled his eyes as he took a bite of the purloined apple crisp. “Besides, casting magic makes me hungry.”

“That would explain why you weigh a ton.” Eren made to shove at Levi and barely budged him in his chair.

“Please, I’ve nothing on the behemoth over there,” Levi waved his now clean spoon in the direction of Erwin, who sat at the end of the table and appeared rather bemused over the couple’s antics. “It’s just that I’ve actual muscle mass on me, unlike a certain someone who gets his ass kicked on a regular basis.” He made to poke Eren with his spoon before he went in for more dessert.

Eren attempted to bat at the spoon before he pulled the bowl toward his chest in a defensive manner. “You kick my ass because you cheat – it’s fighting like, ten to one.”

“You’re still losing, that’s what matters in the end.” Levi made a show of licking his spoon clean, which only made Eren even more irate.

Sitting beside Mikasa, Petra giggled into her right hand. “I never thought I’d see this – he really enjoys teasing your brother, doesn’t he?”

“Eren does make an easy target,” Mikasa admitted as she watched how Eren’s face became flushed with emotion; he always did express how he felt with so little reservation, it was one of her favorite things about him.

“Still, I’ve known Levi for… oh, for a few decades now, and I’ve never seen him so… so open with someone like this.” Mikasa glanced over to see Petra appear a bit wistful, with strands of auburn hair falling onto her pretty face. “He’s always been a little guarded even with us, yet he allows Eren close, even physically.” She looked at Mikasa and shrugged. “It’s difficult to explain, especially if you haven’t known him very long.”

Mikasa glanced at her mug and frowned as she thought about it. “No, I think I understand. Eren’s not as closed off, but still, he… it’s not easy, being a shifter. Too many people want to use that part of him.” She looked across at the table at how even though his brow was furrowed and he was complaining once again about something Levi had done, he was leaning against the man. “He’s never been like that with anyone but me and Armin, and before that with his mother. He doesn’t just go up to anyone and….” She motioned to the couple. “Says it’s something about Levi’s magic.” She kept the comment about sex to herself.

Petra regarded them for a few seconds and smiled. “Ah. Well, they seem happy together, which is what matters.” Then she laughed when Eren took to whining as Levi flicked him in the ear. “Maybe I spoke too soon.” She gave Mikasa a sympathetic look when Mikasa sighed and shook her head.

Meanwhile, Hange laughed, probably over whatever it was that had caused Levi to flick Eren, and got up to fetch the pot of coffee. “So, I see you got a new text, anything good?” she asked Erwin as she returned to the table.

Erwin held up his phone in his right hand while Hange refilled his mug first. “I sent the information that Levi provided to a few contacts, and one of them thinks they’ve narrowed down the necromancer.”

All around the table, people jostled awake from the near-dozing states they’d been in after finishing dinner; Armin blinked and lifted his head from the notepad he’d more or less been jotting notes in for the past ten minutes, Gunther jolted in his chair as if he had been drifting asleep while Erd held out his mug for a refill, his eyes a bit bleary, and Eren settled next to Levi while the necromancer leaned forward, his expression blank but eyes intent on Erwin. As for Hange, she filled several mugs then sat back down at the table, a feral grin on her lips. “Well, don’t hold us in suspense.”

Erwin smiled in a depreciating manner as he swiped along the front of his phone. “I’m having Mike do some follow-up, but I’m reasonably certain that, based on the description, the young woman is from the Dreyse line and goes by the name ‘Hitch’.”

None of that sounded familiar to Mikasa, but judging from the way that Levi’s face hardened, it did to him. “No wonder she’s such an arrogant shit, though she must be from some auxiliary branch because I thought Kenny took out the main family when they started going around talking about how they were as powerful as the Ackerman line.”

“Yes, well, my source indicates she’s from an indiscretion between the former Dreyse head and a Reiss captain, which explains how her mother escaped your uncle’s… purge.” Erwin’s mouth flattened for a moment as he set his phone aside. “Apparently, the Dreyse bloodline flared up in Hitch, which proved a bit of an embarrassment, and she’s been a handful ever since.”

If Erwin had appeared disapproving before, Levi was pure disgust. “Right, poor pampered princess, she got the short end of the genetic stick and had no choice but to rebel.” He made a rude gesture with his left hand while his eyes flared silver and various mini-tempests spun about the kitchen; beside him, Eren’s face clouded with worry and he huddled against Levi until the necromancer clicked his tongue and the poltergeists calmed down. “So what, she wasn’t a fancy mage and decided to act up, to show how big and bad she truly was as a *necromancer*?” He clicked his tongue again as he tangled his fingers in Eren’s hair, which made Eren close his eyes and rest his head on Levi’s shoulder.

Hange appeared equally disgusted as her friend. “Yeah, and fell in with our buddies out there, only too eager to put those ‘nasty’ talents of hers to use.”

“Talents my ass. She can barely do more than a half-trained idiot – Mikasa can wipe the floor with her already.” Levi lifted his mug and sniffed at it.

Mikasa blinked at the unexpected praise, while Eren and Armin both grinned at her. “Thanks, I think.”

This time, the smile on Erwin’s face was genuine as he reached over to grab Levi’s mug and rose from the table. “Still, having a name is important – our ‘buddies’, as Hange calls them, have proven to be frustratingly elusive. This ‘Hitch’ can’t change her appearance so she should be easier to track down, not to mention she hasn’t appeared out of nowhere.”

Hange laughed as she reached around a sleepy Eren to pat Levi on top of the head, which ended when her chair skittered away from the table. “In other words, you did good, Grumpy!”

“Go fuck yourself,” Levi grumbled as rubbed his hand over his hair.

“Hmm, sorry, didn’t have the time to pack those toys, but *you* can always take Eren and-“ This time it wasn’t just Levi’s spirits that cause her chair to jump. “Ooh, ah, that’s fun!” She laughed as the chair bucked back and forth.

“We’ll know when one of those bastards get you and come in your place – they’ll be acting too fucking sane to pull you off.” Levi glared at her until Erwin returned to the table with a fresh mug of tea.

Hange grinned in the face of the insult, her chin propped up on her left hand. “Oh, I do so hope they take a stab at me, I’ve a biblical horde of plagues ready to be unleased on those bastards.”

“Hange, I will be very, *very* disappointed if you infect anyone who isn’t the enemy, do we have an understanding?” Erwin’s eyes flashed an incandescent blue as he gave the blood witch a stern look. “*No* accidents.”

Hange met his gaze for a few seconds and then took to pouting. “Fine, no ‘accidents’. You’re no fun, you know that?”

“I save my ‘fun’ times for when I’m not babysitting you and Levi.” Erwin smiled, just a little, before he sipped his coffee, and seemed immune to the nasty looks he received from his friends.

While Petra giggled and even Erd and Gunther appeared amused – Mikasa had to admit it was entertaining to see Levi be put in his place like that – Hange appeared to rally her good mood. “Oh, that’s right! The two lovebirds still owe me some blood. Gimme!” She made grabbing hands at Eren and Levi, only for her chair to bounce once more.

“Again, go fuck yourself.” Levi sighed as he set aside the now empty mug. “I’ve done enough for you tonight, harp on us in the morning.”

“Feeling too much sleepiness,” Eren murmured as he rubbed at his eyes.

Still on edge despite all the wards, Mikasa nearly cast out several threads when Erd pushed away from the table in a sudden rush, his chair scraping against the floor. “I’ll take first watch, sir. You should go get some rest.”

Gunther was quick to follow. “I’ll take second, and Petra the last watch.” The air mage nodded as she rose as well.

“Yes, so might as well get some sleep now.” She smiled at Mikasa before glancing around the table. “Good night everyone. Eren, thank you for the wonderful dinner.”

“Yes, it was really good. How about you and me wash up,” Armin told Mikasa as he closed his notebook and began gathering plates. “Then I can have some more coffee before working on that potion a little longer.”

“Sure.” She touched Armin on the shoulder to indicate she’d help him in a moment and then went over to her brother, who had just stood up. “You okay?” He did appear tired all of a sudden, his eyes sleepy and face a little flushed.

Eren smiled at her and stood up on his toes to give her a kiss goodnight. “Yeah, just… think it’s too much emotion.” He glanced aside at Levi, who was talking to Erwin and Erd. “Sometimes when I get tired, it’s not as easy to filter it out. It’s been a long day for the both of us.” For a moment she caught a glimpse of the worry that he must have done his best to hide for most of the day, the guilt that once again people had been driven from their homes because of him and then there was another sleepy smile. “You going to bed soon?”

“I’ll help Armin clean up and see that he’s set with what he needs, and if they want any help with the wards.” If she got some sleep now, she could join Petra with the last watch.

She could tell that Eren was about to volunteer and gave him a shove toward Levi. “Go on, you need some rest – I’m sure Levi and Armin will be after you tomorrow to try and figure out something about those new tricks you did today. Get some rest while you can.” She was with Levi in that she preferred Eren to be safe inside as much as possible; now that the shifters had seen her brother, she didn’t know what they needed to track him down since they were the same kind. All she had to do was close her eyes to remember the smile on ‘Moblit’s’ face when he had looked across Hange’s yard and spied Eren, how possessive and pleased it had been….

“Go on, take that boyfriend of yours and go to bed,” she urged her brother. “Make him get some rest and maybe he won’t be so grouchy for once.”

For a moment there was a churlish expression on Eren’s face, and then he relaxed and shook his head. “No promises.” He smiled as he went over to Levi, and Mikasa didn’t feel quite so jealous anymore at the way Levi pulled Eren close as if he belonged there.

“Come on, time to see if you did a half-ass job up th-“ Levi’s eyes flared silver as he stopped mid-sentence and Mikasa thought she felt something odd, something like a tingle of cold magic. While she attempted to figure it out, Levi dashed out of the kitchen with Eren on his heels, and she gave it no thought before she followed them, along with Hange, Erwin and Petra.

“Sir?”

“Levi!”

“Someone’s trying to track us down,” Levi shouted as he headed to the foyer and snatched at a small black bundle on the long, thin table out there. “Fuck, they must have snatched something from you, Hange, during the fight.”

Hange gasped as she all but skidded to a halt in front of him. “But what? Even if they got a hair or some skin, we’re warded like fuck-all!”

“Not if they can build on your link with Moblit!” Levi gritted his teeth as he clutched at the bundle, while Mikasa sucked in a breath at the thought of someone using the dead like that and Hange let out a blistering string of curses, her eyes a flaming red as if she was desperate to find someone to bespell. Erwin loomed beside her, his eyes glowing as well, as if to either protect Hange or the rest of them.

“Levi….”

“I’m trying, you bastard,” Levi snapped at the mage, his attention seemingly focused on the bundle while his magic flared; Eren was right beside him, his eyes glowing as well as he wrapped his arms around Levi’s shoulders. “Too much fucking magic today – the bitch is probably using a fresh death to help fuel this spell.”

“She can’t find us!” Mikasa’s hands itched, the threads threatening to spill out, to wrap around Eren so she could pull him toward her, to take him away somewhere safe; Armin had come out as well and stood beside her, another loved one to snatch up and take away.

“I *know* that! I-“ There was a pulse of wild magic, Eren’s magic, except now there was that tingle of cold to it that had never been there before, and Levi sighed as his own magic burned even colder. “Yeah, okay, got you now, you pissant little show-off.” Levi bared his teeth as he held his right hand above the bundle, and there was… was *something*, was a glimmer of white and what looked to be a swirl of wind for a moment before the overwhelming sense of magic died down. “There.” Levi sounded satisfied just then, right before he dropped the bundle and wrapped his arms around Eren. “Oi, just how much energy did you send me this time?”

“Ooohh… too much.” Eren’s voice was slurred as he slumped against Levi. “Gotta… gotta figure that out.”

“Eren!” Mikasa surged forward to help support her brother, who appeared ready to fall to the floor if it wasn’t for Levi’s hold. “Are you okay?”

He opened his eyes to blink at her and then closed them and groaned. “No poshions.”

Armin, who had come over as well, laughed and shook his head. “No more tonight, but tomorrow is another thing entirely.” He watched as Mikasa helped Levi hitch Eren up a bit more and then bent down to look at the bundle. “So you broke the link?” Hange came over to join them, a curious expression on her face.

“Yeah, you said something about ‘got you now’.” She held out her hand over the black wrapped object, as if worried about touching it.

Mikasa stroked her hand over Eren’s hair but left him to Levi, who didn’t appear so tired anymore; Levi nodded and studied the bundle for a couple of seconds before looking at Erwin. “At worst, they might have gotten a general idea of our location, but that’s it. The link wasn’t long or strong enough for the bitch to pinpoint us.”

Erwin nodded. “Troublesome, but it could be much worse. Thank you.” His eyes once more lit up with an incandescent blue before Levi cried out his name. “Yes? Wouldn’t it be better for me to burn it and prevent them from trying again?”

Levi shook his head, which prompted a low murmur of complaint from Eren over being jostled. “Normally, yeah, but the brat pumped enough juice into me that I was able to do more than just block the tracking attempt.” Levi hitched a barely conscious Eren up a little higher. “I was able to reverse the tracking spell, more or less.”

Everyone was quiet for a couple of seconds, and then Hange lunged forward so she could hug both Levi and Eren. “Oh you are just perfect, *perfect*, you grumpy bastard!”

“Erwin, get her off of me before I maim her,” Levi spluttered while Eren called out for Mikasa. Before the mage could do anything, Mikasa used her threads to restrain the blood witch. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” Mikasa reeled her in until she was a few feet away and then let the strands disappear. “Don’t torment Eren,” she chided the woman, and ignored the dirty look she got from Levi.

Meanwhile, Erwin was back to examining the bundle, along with Armin, Petra, Gunther and Erd. “So we can use this to track down Hitch and the shifters?” Erwin’s right hand hovered over the item and a rare excitement lit up his handsome face.

Done glaring at both Mikasa and Hange for the moment, Levi glanced at the group and shook his head. “It’s more of a dormant tracker – you need to get close to her for it to work. Any other way would let her know that she was tagged and… well, the easiest thing for the shifters to do would be to either kill her or dump her ass anywhere if they realize she’s become a liability.”

“Understood.” Erwin picked up the item and set it on the table. “I’ll get a couple of hours sleep and then take this to Mike and Nanaba to help them with the tracking.”

“It really is a clever bit of spellwork, Grumpy.” Hange beamed at Levi as she fiddled with her glasses.

“Yeah, well, I doubt anyone other than an Ackerman could pull it off.” For once, Levi didn’t sound so bitter when he mentioned his family name, Mikasa noticed. “And having my own personal magic battery helped, too.” He hugged the arm around Eren’s waist a little tighter, which provoked a sleepy murmur from Mikasa’s brother.

Armin frowned at the two of them while he brushed his hand along the flap of his bag. “Another example of Eren being a key, it seems.”

“A very tired key.” Mikasa gave Levi a disapproving scowl and motioned to the second level. “We’ll take care of things down here, go put him to bed.”

“What are you, his mother?” Despite the caustic remark, Levi began to herd Eren toward the steps. “Come on, a new bed for you to hog. Step up. *Up* Oh for fuck’s sake.” Eren let out a squawk as he was lifted, almost half falling over Levi’s right shoulder, and carried up the stairs.

Erd cleared his throat as he headed back to the kitchen. “I don’t know, maybe I shouldn’t pay the bet just yet – there’s still a chance he might scare Eren away.”

Hange let out a loud bark of laughter. “You wish – it’s been over a week already and they show no sign of letting up. Hand over the money, you sore loser.”

Mikasa watched as Levi and Eren vanished up the stairs before she followed everyone back into the kitchen.

*******

Eren jerked awake when he felt the bed roll beneath him, and blinked several times before he could focus enough to notice that Levi was up and pulling on a pair of jeans. “Hunzh?”

“Good morning to you, too.” Levi zipped the jeans closed then leaned over the bed to more or less kiss Eren’s forehead. “Go back to sleep.”

“Nah.” Eren rubbed at his face as he attempted to kick his bran into some semblance of working order. “No. What time is it?” It looked like daylight outside.

“About seven or so. We both crashed pretty hard.” Levi sounded a bit chagrined about that, and Eren knew that his lover usually didn’t sleep so much – Levi was always up a couple of hours earlier than him. “Get some more sleep, you look like shit.”

“No.” Eren fought with the blankets that were tangled around him and shook his head. “I’m good.”

“You’re a pain in the ass, you are.” Levi clicked his tongue as he sat on the edge of the bed and pushed Eren back down. “You were out of it before we even got to the room last night, so get some fucking sleep, all right?”

“No!” Eren caught at Levi’s hands and shifted his own into a pair of claws; he didn’t sink the long nails into his lover’s skin, but he did apply some pressure until Levi stopped trying to make him lie down and seemed willing to listen. “I’m not- I want to get up, okay?” It was difficult to think, to talk when he was still tired from sending too much magic to Levi, when he could feel Levi’s magic soak into him and Levi’s skin was so warm against his own… when Levi’s emotions were a mix of concern and growing annoyance. No, focus, he told himself as he took a deep breath, even as he curled up against his lover. “I just, let me get up.”

Levi sighed as he slowly pulled his right hand free and wrapped his arm around Eren’s shoulders. “And do what? Why do you need to get up?” The faint stubble on his chin brushed against Eren’s forehead as he spoke, and his hand rubbed small circles on Eren’s back.

“I’ll make breakfast,” Eren offered even as he closed his eyes. “I’ll… I just want to do something. Everyone else here is doing something and it’s because of me.” He felt a strong wave of guilt just then, enough to bring a prick of tears to his eyes which made him shake his head. “You had to burn another hou- aow!” He glared up at Levi over the painful tug to his hair.

Levi met his glare with a disapproving frown. “Told you not to talk about that again.”

“But-“

“*No*.” Levi tugged on his hair again. “Hange knew the risk, and she still let us stay there. She let *me* stay there however many fucking times, and the risks were the same. Ditto for Petra.”

“What about Moblit?” Eren went to pull free from Levi’s arm and remembered about his claws just in time. “Tell me the risks were the same for him.” A fresh wave of guilt washed through Eren as he remembered about the anxious but kind were.

This time Levi sighed as he shifted about to settle in a more comfortable position on the bed. “All of us are putting our lives on the line as long as we’re signed up with Erwin, Moblit included. He might not have known what you were, but he didn’t go running around for Hange thinking he was just picking up old books and funny herbs. He’s – he *was* fighting for something important, just like the rest of us, and the only thing that broke his heart at the end was that he was forced to give up info on Hange. Trust me, I *know*.” Levi glanced aside for a moment, his emotions shaded with grief, before he looked back at Eren with annoyance and affection. “So just stop with the guilt, okay? And thinking you have to push yourself for some stupid ass reason. No one’s blaming you for anything that happened, not when it’s those bastards’ fault.”

Eren wanted to believe him, he truly did, but he didn’t see how any of this would have happened if it wasn’t for him in the first place. “But-“

“*No*.” Levi gave him a rough shake, his annoyance flaring. “You want to be a big help? Listen to what I fucking say, all right? Obey my orders.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m doing my best to keep you from being taken!” Levi followed the loud declaration with another rough shake.

Eren opened his mouth to argue, to say something smart, but only could slump against his boyfriend as he pressed his hands against Levi’s bare chest. “Why?” he repeated again as he savored the feel of Levi’s skin, his emotions and magic.

Levi sighed as he let go of Eren’s shoulders and slung his arms around him instead. “Damned if I know, other than you’re worse than those plagues of Hange’s. Can’t get rid of you even if I tried.”

Eren settled against Levi and once more closed his eyes. “I don’t want anyone else to die because of me,” he admitted in a quiet voice. He didn’t want *Levi* to die because of him.

“Yeah, well, life isn’t always obliging like that, but we’ll do what we can.” Levi’s calloused fingers massaged the back of Eren’s neck as he spoke. “Those are tough people down there, they’ll give those bastards one hell of a fight.”

“I’d rather be the one fighting.” Hmm, that felt good.

“The problem with that is you have a huge-ass target painted on you. What type of shit strategy is it to give those guys the one thing they want?”

Eren grumbled as he nuzzled Levi’s neck. “Not so ‘shit’ if I’m ten feet tall and armored up, is it? Or maybe something else. Did a chimera once for Armin.”

“Brat….” The world spun around Eren as he ended up on his back upon the soft bed; he opened his eyes to find Levi looming over him, grey eyes darkened with desire and emotions a turbulent mix which shocked him awake. “The whole damn point here is to track those bastards down, kill ‘em before they have a clue what shit hit ‘em and never let ‘em catch sight of you again. Get it?” Stunned both by the anger and the lust he felt just then, Eren didn’t even blink when he got flicked between the eyes. “Nowhere in that plan is you getting within half a mile of them.”

Despite the desire building inside of him, Eren pushed at Levi’s upper chest – not that it did him any good, the bastard being made out of solid muscle. “But I can fight!”

“Fine, great, you can take on all those Reiss assholes once we’re done with those four bastards out there.” Levi smirked when Eren smacked his shoulder in frustration. “It’s not just me, wanna bet your sister tells you the same thing?”

“You’re both being overprotective, overpow- umph!” Eren’s rant ended as Levi swooped in for a kiss, his anger overwhelmed by lust and an annoying sense of amusement. His temper rallying for a brief rebellion to yank on Levi’s hair, he closed his eyes as he wrapped his arms around the bastard’s broad shoulders. “Hate you,” he murmured when Levi pulled apart enough to yank away the blankets bunched between them.

“Yeah, I can tell.” The blankets out of the way, Levi ran his hands along Eren’s bare chest; in their wake, Eren shivered at the feel of his lover’s magic snaking its way beneath his skin like some type of insidious infection. “It’s still pretty weak, but what there is to your magic right now is flaring up like a grease fire.”

That… what did that mean? “Huh?” Eren stared in confusion while Levi smirked some more and his hand slid lower.

“Yeah, figures you have no clue.” Smug amusement and satisfaction washed into Eren as that hand slid beneath his boxers, and all of a sudden it didn’t matter what the hell Levi was babbling about. “A little eager, are we?”

He rocked his hips upward, his cock nudging into the long, calloused fingers splayed above it. “Can *feel* you,” he reminded the bastard, well aware that he wasn’t the only one who wanted this, that behind that smug expression Levi was barely holding back; Eren didn’t know *why* Levi wanted him, but he’d take it, would take all of it while it was offered.

There was an odd quirk to Levi’s lips as he leaned over to grab something from the far nightstand, which turned out to be a bottle of lube. “Yeah, keep forgetting that.” Setting the bottle on the bed, Levi then yanked down Eren’s boxers with enough force to slide him down the bed several inches. “Well, no sense in wasting time, I’ve shit to do today.”

“Hey! You just can’t ‘do’ me, I’m no-ahh….” Eren tossed his head back when Levi’s hand once more wrapped around his cock. “Bah-stard.”

“Yeah, yeah. Need a better repertoire there, brat.” Levi leaned in for a minute so his mouth could nibble along Eren’s arched neck while his hand continued to stroke and twist along Eren’s cock. At a particularly sharp bite, Eren heard the lid to the bottle snap open and moaned, his thighs spreading open in anticipation of what would happen next.

There was a low chuckle near his left ear before Levi pulled away. “Maybe this is better than you sleeping.”

“Always so mean,” Eren complained even as he trailed his now normal fingers along the back of Levi’s neck and then down his chest, delighting in the shiver it provoked from his lover at both the caress and the feel of magic; he’d learned that Levi enjoyed the gentle touches like this as well as the bite of not-too sharp nails.

Levi returned the caress to the inside of Eren’s right thigh before his slick fingers slid down lower, circling slowly and then pressed one inside. “You want me to be nice?”

Eren moaned as he closed his eyes, unable to answer for several short breaths as that finger worked its way inside of him. “Ah… I… just want you,” he admitted when he caught his breath. “However.” He could feel Levi’s emotions and magic, both entwined so deeply with his own and knew nothing bad would happen from giving himself over like this; with how fucked up things had become, it was one of the few things, the *only* things he could trust. *Levi* was one of the only things he could trust.

Things were quiet, were still for a moment, and then Levi grunted as another finger pushed inside. “Remember that,” he huffed, and Eren was soon writhing on the bed as those fingers twisted about inside of him, stretching and *just* brushing against that spot which sent ecstatic jolts through him. Levi gave a few more lazy pumps to his cock and then held on to his right hip to keep him from moving too much, prey to those wicked fingers, and damn if the bastard didn’t know just *when* to hold him still and slide them out. “Not yet,” Levi ordered when Eren felt as if his entire body was one raw nerve and a simple touch away from imploding.

“Nuh-no!”

“Yes.” So smug that it made Eren’s head ache, Levi wiped his hand on something then loosened and pushed his jeans as well as boxers down past his hips. “You’re not the only one who’s going to have some fun.”

“Then hurry up.” Eren reached out with both arms and legs to drag his bastard lover in close, hands entangled in Levi’s thick, straight hair and legs wrapped around lean hips. This close to each other, the sense of Levi’s magic was intoxicating, to the point where he wondered how he had lived without it before. “Hmm, it’s like a rush, your magic and emotions.”

“Just tell me how big my damn dick is, okay?” Yet Levi smiled as he pressed between Eren’s thighs, and the flash of anticipation was the only warning Eren had before his lover began to slowly thrust inside of him. Chapped lips brushed against his forehead as Levi pushed inside with a wonderful slow burn that made Eren whine impatiently as his nails dug into Levi’s shoulders.

“Just... come on,” he urged as his heels dug into the back of Levi’s denim-clad thighs.

The hair was brushed from his forehead, followed by the prickle of stubble and a proper kiss before Levi pulled back. “If you say so.” There was a flash of something in his emotions just then, something Eren couldn’t catch before strong hands clasped his hips and pulled them onto Levi’s thighs as he sat back on his heels, and then it was all he could do to brace himself against the headboard as pleasure and Levi pounded into him.

“Fu-fuck!” His back arched off of the bed as Levi’s thrusts sped up, caught up in the intense emotions pouring off of his lover and the spikes of bliss each time Levi hit that spot inside of him, from matching strokes along his own cock and – his body reacted to Levi, his talent reacting in minute ways that only increased Levi’s own pleasure, which reflected in his own, causing the emotions to spiral higher and higher, the magic to entwine tighter and tighter around them until it felt as if Eren couldn’t breathe, couldn’t suffer feeling anything else because his poor body and mind was already so overloaded with too much as it was-

And then Levi leaned forward, the motion jerking Eren’s hips a little higher as Levi’s cock sunk in a little deeper, as Levi’s mouth skimmed along Eren’s left cheek and-

“Levi!” Eren tossed back his head as he came, magic flaring and nerves burning from the ecstasy, fingers clenching against tense muscles; it felt as if something was draining from him again, yet it also felt *so damn good* that he didn’t care, his mind fuzzed and body tingling in the wake of his orgasm. As if from a distance, he felt Levi move inside him and against him, heard a muffled groan and barely worked up the energy to hug his lover close as Levi shuddered and more pleasure burst inside his head.

They both lay on the bed for about a minute, quiet except for their ragged breathing. Levi was the first to move, and Eren moaned because he had just been about to fall asleep and was upset at being disturbed. “You gonna start bitching now?” Levi asked as he once more sat back on his heels, a grimace on his face as he looked down around his crotch.

“Huznhmph.” Eren tried to work up the energy to roll over to a non-damp side of the bed and decided that maybe it wasn’t that important.

“Yeah, eloquent as fuck, same as usual.” Levi clicked his tongue as he climbed off of the bed; Eren heard the rustling of material and then running water, but was too tired to open his eyes to investigate. Just as he was about to fall asleep again, he hissed as something cool was wiped over his stomach.

“Wha?” He opened his eyes to glare at Levi, who was looming over him with a wash cloth in hand. Oh, and naked. Eren didn’t really care about that right now. Oh, and smug. Why was his lover so smug? That was more worrying… for later. “Go ‘way.”

“You’ll thank me for this when you wake up.” Levi wiped him off and then shoved him over to the other side of the bed; Eren resented being treated like a child until the blankets were pulled back up and tucked around him. “Strip the bed then.”

“Mmm, alright.” Finally, he could get some sleep. Eren snuggled deeper into the pillow, which smelled like Levi – who was still a smug bastard and grabbing clothes, from the sound of it.

“Rather sleepy for someone so insistent on getting up, aren’t you?”

What the – Eren managed to force his eyes open in an attempt to glare at the smirking bastard, but it was a losing battle since he’d been half-asleep before the snide comment. Later, he promised himself as the exhaustion pulled him back under. Get back at the sneaky bastard later….

*******

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