Without announcement, he tapped the wooden frame with a tip of his boot and you opened the door to find him standing there with his usual sullen expression and a dark green cape wrapped tightly around his shoulders. He smelled like horses, sweat, gunpowder and things too sinister to name.
If he had come to you directly after mission before cleaning himself up, it must have been really bad.
„Levi.“ you said, letting him in and bolting the door, providing a safe heaven. He strode in without a greeting and stopped in the middle of the room, pieces of caked mud marking his every step across the floor. Illuminated by a hearth on the far wall, his features were collected and expressionless, marked by his cold, attentive eyes. The eyes that made you uneasy inside, even after all this time.
With a sweep of one arm he flicked the cape over his shoulder, freeing his hands. Like he just saw them for the first time, he brought them closer to his face and carefully inspected tiny cuts, blisters and grime that covered them.
„Fucking monsters.“ he spat out in a low, accusatory tone, his dismal gaze darting to fleetingly meet yours for the first time with a look of thinly masked helplessness. The cracks in his front were starting to show so you wordlessly helped him remove the cape and his sweat soaked jacked. He didn't protest, talk or step back, he didn't look at you. His limbs willingly cooperated, going through the motions as you unclasped the maneuver gear belts, unbuttoned his shirt and peeled it off his back, speckled with yellow patches of sweat and dirt. He helped you take off his dusty boots, the whiteness of the uniform underneath them in stark contrast with the rest of the formerly white cloth. He must have been too tired to even stand but his body refused to show any fatigue, patiently waiting for your hands to finish their job.
You undid his pants and slid them down his thighs, then undressed him completely until he was standing, stark naked, before you. There were no sexual allusions between you, at this point he was merely tolerating your assistance. Or so he would have you believe. His chin was somewhat lowered and tilted to side, the slick, dark hair conveniently covering his eyes and you were once again astounded by his exposed, delicate neck and seemingly frail built. This was a body built for speed and nimbleness - with wiry, slim limbs, layers of taut muscles on a small frame - and you have witnessed, first hand, what it could do in action. But, seeing it motionless, bare and vulnerable, covered in dirt and bruises, fighting with the last pieces of strength it could muster just to stand upright before you, it took all you got not to protectively embrace him.
But reaching out now would be a mistake.
Instead, you took a sponge from a washing basing on the table, squeezed excess water out of it and slowly took it to his flat chest. The water was pleasantly lukewarm and the sponge soft, but touching the tired, tortured flesh must have hurt. If it brought him pain or relief, he didn’t let it show, stoically bearing your effort to erase telltale memories etched onto him.
After you finished with removing the layer of sweat and blood mixed with dirt, you heard him say in a flat voice.
“It is not done yet. Rub harder.”
You opened your mouth to say something, then closed it and just nodded. You soaked the sponge in water again, squeezed and rubbed it against the skin between his shoulder blades so hard it left red traces behind, matching the bright marks of maneuver gear belts that snaked across his body. You carried on, pressing your mouth into a tight, bloodless line, hurting his pale skin with every thorough sweep. Your hand revisited his skinny hips and long limbs, flat stomach and sharply outlined collarbones, taking great care not to leave a patch of skin uncovered.
You were kneeling and finishing washing his legs when you heard a raw voice above you. “Please, do it one mo…”
“Levi,” you whispered hesitantly, putting the sponge down, “you are clean.” You looked up to meet his gaze half-hidden behind black bangs. His eyes were as dark and broody as always, but they lacked the coldness they displayed outside this room. He looked at you with a silent plead too embarrassing to utter aloud.
“You are clean.” you repeated more firmly, looking him in the eye, getting up and lightly touching his naked elbow with your fingers. “Come.” you said softly, pulling him towards the bed. By the way he trembled under your fingertips, you knew the cracks were widening, splitting open into a chasm. “Come on.”
His body complied as if moving through water, shuffling in small, uncertain steps across the floor. He sat down heavily on the bedding, his shoulders sunken and back crooked. Your light touch urged him to lie down on his back and you stretched on your side beside him, your hand caressing his chest. Patiently. You remained still for an indefinite period of time, measuring it only by his slow and even heartbeats.
„Tell me.“ you eventually said, studying his profile.
Levi’s eyes were fixed on the ceiling and nothing indicated he had heard you. After several long moments, he started talking in an emotionless voice.
“Seventeen died, fifteen were wounded. Six of them will never fight again.” words rolled off his tongue matter-of-factly, detached, like he was giving a report. You listened without a comment, your fingers comfortingly sliding up and down his skin. His heartbeat was becoming irregular.
“I saved three. One of them… I wish I had not.” there was a glint in his eye as he continued in a flat voice, his orbs unmoving. “I broke the formation and entered the fray from the eastern side to avoid having the Sun in my eyes. I took down two fifteen-meter ones and went after an abnormal I spotted.” Without a warning, a single tear slid down from the corner of his eye.
“It was a crawler.” he accounted dryly. “I made him a priority and chased him down, disregarding easier targets. It was after a refugee caravan and I knew I had to catch up with it before it reached civilians. I cut him down and returned to be told that three of my squad members have been dismembered in the meantime. We couldn’t retrieve all their body parts.”
The pillow beneath his head was now wet with tears but he didn’t seem to notice. “The second batch attacked then, outnumbering us three to one. By the time we turned defense to offense, the caravan had been wiped out.” His voice trembled, then gave out. He swallowed dryly and continued in a strained tone.
“I went into a berserk mode, hacking and slicing at the monsters, shredding them to pieces. Destroying them wasn’t enough, I wanted to hurt, punish.... I don’t remember much… Everyone gave me a wide berth, fled away… Their faces, like they saw a…” he paused and collected himself. “By the evening we annihilated every found threat and collected the… the bodies. Seventeen died, fifteen were…” he trailed off, his face contorting with pain he could no longer contain. Silent tears turned into loud wails of grief and rage.
“I can’t show them this!” He angrily wiped the tears from his eyes, but they kept overflowing. Corporal Levi, the humanity’s strongest, naked and drained, started weeping openly and inconsolably like an abandoned child. You held your hand firmly pressed against his chest, over his heart, biting back your own tears. He needed to feel you there, to have an anchor in this storm of madness. The burden of hope and expectations he bore was threatening to pull him beneath the waves.
His pale and haunted face turned to you with a tortured glare, “Do you think I am becoming a monster?”
You shook your head sadly, “Monsters aren’t mortified by fear when they fight or drowned in grief and guilt when they don’t.”
“People, friends… die before my eyes, every time. I can never be fast enough or ferocious enough.” he lamented in a broken voice, “I can never be enough!”
“No, you cannot.” you said gravely, “Because regardless of how good you are, you are but a mere man.”
He looked at his hands, the fingers half bent like claws, and balled them into fists. “You don’t understand.” he said dejectedly, “You are not there.”
“You are right, I don’t understand. Nobody can understand. On the battlefield, you are always alone.” your fingers cupped one of his fists, one of his perfectly honed weapons, and brought it to your chest, “I can only love you.”
Just like that, in a blink on an eye, the last of his front peeled away, all traces of cynicism and hardness from his eyes gone. What was left was worse - pain, loss and raw desperation. Levi’s usually smooth, expressionless face twisted in a mask of grief, the walls of aloofness crumbling down around him. His body turned to yours and he pressed his forehead against your bosom, shaking with bitter sobs. All you could do is embrace his trembling shoulders and wait for the pent up avalanche to pass.
He took a long time to calm down and then he remained lying in a fetal position, his head cradled in the warm nook your body provided between your breasts and your belly. The cracks were patched. For now.
“If you love me, you will only get hurt.” he said in a tired, drained voice. You smiled wryly, sliding your fingers through his silky tresses.
“Only monsters don’t get hurt.” you said under breath, placing a tender kiss on his forehead. Levi tilted his chin to meet your gaze with eyes that shone out uncharacteristic softness and stroked your cheek with the back of his calloused fingers, careful not to hurt you with their roughness.
“Tell me…” his lips whispered in a tender, hesitant voice that none of his comrades would have recognized as corporal Levi’s. “Can a mere man love you more than he can hurt you?”
“He already is.” you mouthed quietly, pressing his fingers firmly to your cheek. “He already is.”