angry erwin !! canonverse. comfort? (surprise me). maybe during that post acwnr period when they're starting to learn each other and Levi is coming around. thank
i’m a sucker for madwin/guiltwin. sorry this took like 10 years. hope this is what you wanted, you monster. also thank you @danchou-chan for reading this first and telling me it was acceptable to put on the internet. read on ao3 if you want.
Erwin doesn’t sleep the night after his first expedition as commander, but pours over condolence letters in his office until the wicks burn out of every candle and his eyes ache from straining to see in the dark. He hardly notices when sunlight begins to trickle in through the cracks in the pulled blinds behind him. The world is a blur, and all that is left is the weight of fallen soldiers resting heavy on his shoulders. They were all his soldiers, dead on his orders. They are all his deaths, his burden to bear. By midday he has hidden himself behind the mask of a man made of stone, but the sounds of grown men screaming as flesh and limb is torn apart by giant hands and giant teeth echos through his skull. It was never meant to be easy, and he’d have been a fool to ever expect it to be.
Somehow, despite the chaos, the faces that flitted in and out of existence, the strangers who would replace them, his life in the Survey Corps was one of constants: the constant threat of death beyond the walls, the pile of bodies– cut drastically by his battle formation but still looming and present and dead– carted home to burn on a pyre while their comrades, their friends, stood blank-faced and watched in resounding silence. The ridicule they face upon return, the bitter glares of broken families and those who never believed in them, the ridicule Erwin himself faces, the need to defend the Corps, to defend himself, to defend the idea, the hope of freedom. It sounds almost pathetic now, while he sits hunched over at his desk, hands rubbing over his tired eyes. Budget reports, expedition reports, strategies and battle plans, the summons to the capital that comes every time where wealthy, powerful men who will never know the horrors that Erwin knows will determine whether or not to cut the already meager funding. Shadis had snapped. Erwin can’t help but wonder if someday he will too.
“You really let this place fall to shit when you’re alone.” Somehow life goes on, cruel and unfair as ever. Somehow, it’s been three days and the door to his office is left wide open though Erwin knows he had locked it. Shutting out the world is one thing, something he learned and honed long before accepting the title of Commander. Shutting out Levi is another thing entirely, almost impossible and decidedly not worth the astounding amount of effort it would take to try. Instead, he runs a hand over his face, eyes closed as he lets out a long breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.
“Shut the door behind you.” His voice sounds strange in his ears, hoarse and tired. It’s almost fitting. He feels just as strange, as if someone else has come to occupy his body with him. Erwin opens his eyes when he hears the soft click of the door closing, lifts his head when he hears footsteps coming towards him. It isn’t until a tray of food is being slid onto his desk that he realizes Levi hadn’t come empty handed. “What’s this?”
“Lunch. Eat it. You look like a prisoner.” Becoming Commander has changed nothing between them. There are no whole or even half-hearted salutes coming from Levi, no formalities, and it certainly hasn’t stopped him from breaking into Erwin’s office when the door’s locked. Erwin himself is unable to place exactly when this strange attachment began to form, Levi at his heels like a shadow, but he can’t say he minds it. Most days it’s the only sort of comfort he allows himself, and it’s still far more than he deserves. But today it grates on him in a way he doesn’t fully understand, leaves him anxious and irritated, though Levi hasn’t done or said anything out of the ordinary. He forces himself to pick at the food, eyes focusing on anything but the man who settles into the chair beside the desk, the chair Levi put there himself nearly two years ago. Erwin never has bothered to move it, finding overall that he likes it there a lot better than its former place on the other side of the room, in a corner now home to a small, currently dust-covered wooden stand and a plant that’s seen better days. He’s able to concede that Levi is certainly right about one thing: he has let the room fall to shit.
“I don’t have much of an appetite right now,” Erwin says at last, pushing the tray away. Every bite tastes bitter, withered and rotting, and he can’t tell if it’s the food or if it’s him. A disapproving hum responds, a tongue clicking, but Levi doesn’t budge from his seat, arms folded and legs crossed. Even without looking back at him, Erwin can feel Levi’s gaze piercing into the back of his skull, and he can’t help but wonder what the man hopes to find. “But while you’re here, you might as well finish your report.”
The silence that nestles between them is brief and uncomfortable, and for a moment Erwin has to think back on what he’d just said to cause the sudden and unexpected tension. The half-eaten meal is already forgotten, the abandoned tray preparing to become one with the rest of the clutter on the desk.
“What report.” Erwin raises a brow, finally glancing back at the captain, who, to anyone else might sound bored, perhaps a bit irritated himself. But there’s a tightness in his voice, the hint of something brewing. It’s rare that Levi still tries to fight him. Time has been good to him, good to them, and much of the feral tendencies that allowed him to survive in the Underground have cooled– but Levi is still Levi, who is nothing if not stubborn. It’s not anything Erwin has the energy to deal with now, and he gives out another breath.
“An expedition report. I’m sure I’ve told you,” He had, after all, given Levi clear and detailed written instructions about his duties as Captain, the paperwork he’d be obligated to fill out and the reports he’d need to write. The folder had been sitting on the desk in Levi’s own largely unused office for weeks. “Just write briefly about what you saw, your kill count, if you remember, casualties…that you remember.” Something in his gut twists and he swallows hard. “Whatever you can.”
“A waste of fucking time. You know what I saw.”
“They don’t in the Capital. I need reports from all squad leaders to compil–”
“I’m not a squad leader.”
“You’re my captain.” Erwin’s jaw sets, the words growled from between teeth nearly clenched, eyes hard and cold as if he’s preparing for battle, preparing to command. It’s enough, Levi’s legs uncrossing, crossing again, his arms unfolding as he reaches out dully, accepting the quill that’s pressed into his hand. His hold is awkward, fingers curling strangely around it as if he’s unsure what to do with it. But he bends over the blank parchment that’s put in front of him, and it’s all that really matters.
The sound of pen scratching against paper is all that fills the air around them for some time, Erwin absorbed in his work yet again. It keeps his mind from wandering, keeps his own guilt at bay. It gives him a goal, reminds him why the weight he must carry is worth it. Beside him, Levi grunts and sighs. Out of the corner of his eye Erwin can see him glancing around the room, like a desperate animal in a cage looking for an escape. It all seems incredibly dramatic, and he ignores it until he’s not allowed to.
“Erwin, this is stupid.”
“Are you finished?” Erwin doesn’t look up from his own stack of papers, a daunting mess of work that will never truly end. For every pile completed, a new one appears on his desk, it seems the moment he looks away. His back aches, his head throbs. Levi grunts again, and Erwin takes it as a resounding ‘no’. “You have your own office to work in now. Perhaps you’ll find it easier in your own space.”
“Wasting my time in my own space is still wasting my time.”
“Levi.” It’s a warning, a low rumble that only earns him a scoff and a glare, and Erwin can feel himself cracking, raw anger he didn’t know he was still able to feel leaking like water from a broken valve.
“What is my report going to show anyone? It’s bullshit busywork for these slimy Capital fucks wh–”
“What would be a better use of your time, Levi? Scrubbing a spotless floorboard? Go ahead and do it.” His voice doesn’t boom the way it does beyond the walls. It doesn’t bounce off the wall in a deafening echo, but bites, quiet and cold. “If you’re unable to do your job, Captain, then leave so I can do mine.” A hardened gaze finds Levi frozen in his seat, hand clenched around his quill tight enough to snap it, expression unreadable.
Erwin looks away and finds himself alone again, light footsteps padding out and the door closing so softly that, with an irritated sigh, he glances up from his work expecting to find it left open. The rest of the afternoon is his to work in silence, one that trails well into the evening, into the night where, once again, candles burn into weeping puddles and his eyes water and itch. Standing, stretching, he groans at the satisfying crack of tired bones and he thinks, at last, he’ll sleep in a bed instead of a chair.
Paper and quill catch his eye as he rounds the desk, the unfinished report Levi left behind. His anger has long since dissipated, nearly forgotten about entirely, but something else stirs in him as he lingers over the nearly blank page, gingerly holding it closer to the dulling flame of the last candle. A different kind of guilt, a nauseating punch in the gut. Small, shaky letters grace the top, barely legible. L-E-V– inkblot. A line running through it, wobbly and uncertain. Something scribbled and blacked out– white space. Erwin swallows, curses under his breath as he sets the parchment down again.
In the dark at his desk he sits awake, exhausted but no longer tired, promising himself he’ll replace the candles in a moment. In a moment. Hand holding up his aching head, he wonders how he could miss it. How it wasn’t obvious, or why he would ever assume otherwise.
There’s tea waiting for him when he opens his eyes, unable to remember drifting off but knowing from the stiffness in his neck that he had. A blanket falls from around his shoulders, the one, he realizes, that typically rests folded against the arm of the sofa. The paper is gone.
He finds it balled up in the trash. When Levi appears later with lunch, they don’t speak of it. Erwin tries not to notice Levi’s hands, battered red, cracked skin. The floorboards, again.