Categories > Anime/Manga > Attack on Titan

Let it Burn

by _Sorkari_ 0 reviews

Eren learned three very important lessons in his life; ignoring the issue always made it vanish, smiling always kept people from prying, and letting it all burn and float away like ashes was always...

Category: Attack on Titan - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Angst,Drama,Romance - Warnings: [V] [?] - Published: 2018-07-06 - 4061 words

0Unrated
There was something about fire that always enraptured Eren, though he couldn't fathom exactly what. It was an interesting thing, really. Many people found it terrible - calamitous, usually - but in the end, all it did was try to survive. It eats its surroundings for fuel and breathes in oxygen for life. If that was considered destructive, then humans were horrible things.

All he could hear now was the delicate crackling of the fire. All he could focus on were its red and orange tongues flicking out to lick and taste the papers. His show was very short, considering the miniscule pile of letters that he was given, but it was better than nothing. As the paper curled and frayed, turning as black as the night around him and crumbling into ashes, he started to tune into the world.

Finally, he could hear the voices. They were yelling, screaming, but muffled and incoherent to his ears. Then, a door slammed, and the distant sound of breaking glass came along with it. It wasn't so bad, he reasoned, as the smoldering ashes glowed red and yellow, as gentle as the dying sunlight. It flickered, gasping for air, consuming what it could to somehow save its life, until the faint glow dimmed and black overcame the delicacy of what used to be a strong, crackling flame. Darkness crept in, slow and steady, looming dangerously over his shoulder.

He licked his chapped lips; that was too fast. Too soon. It wasn't enough.

Behind him, the screen door to their backyard screeched open, accompanied by a soft voice; "Eren? What're you doing out here?"

He almost didn't want to turn around, but he did. Equally teal-green eyes met his, heavy with enervation, glossy with tears, but he didn't dare comment on it. Despite the heavy bags under her eyes, the pale skin, and the angry red mark on her cheek that he knew would eventually become a bruise, Carla still smiled brightly - brighter than any fire he could ever imagine.

He glanced back at the pile of ashes before him. A frigid breeze ran its fingers along his nape, tugged ever so lightly at his clothes before they whisked away a few bits of ashes. They scattered over the cement and tainted it with stains of black and gray. "Dad told me to burn his letters for him," Eren offered, his voice a mere whisper in the shadow of an enrapturing aesthetic.

His mother grumbled under her breath, "That man's always hiding things. . . ."

Eren, as always, let the words float away like ashes. It wouldn't be the first time. There were always letters coming in for Grisha Jaeger, but they always lacked a return address. Whatever it was kept him busy in the basement, working on whatever the hell was more important than his own family. But he wouldn't dare question any of it, not as long as he got to burn the envelopes and the letters that held absolutely no useful information.

"Why aren't you wearing a jacket?" She gave him a quick once over. "You don't even have socks on, Eren, what are you thinking?! Get back inside before you get hypothermia!"

Eren automatically whined, "It's not even that cold!"

Carla shot him a stern look, a confident ferocity evident in the oceans of her eyes, which effectively silenced any other complaints. Where she had acquired such strength, he did not know, but he was in no position to retaliate. Honestly, he couldn't feel how frigid the weather was; he was barely aware of the numbness that had rendered his fingers and toes uncomfortably useless. A disappointed sigh left his lips in a wisp of white smoke that danced and curled in the breeze for a second or so before it faded away.

Maybe he just imagined the supposed warmth around him. Maybe he was just enjoying the cold weather that they were rarely blessed with.

Inside was just a tad bit warmer than it was outside. The white tile of the kitchen was merciless against the soles of his feet. He immediately noticed the heap of glass, dirt, and rose petals near the front door and the lack of an article of clothing on the coat hanger. So that explained the noises he heard earlier - and the silence that loomed over the household.

At the sight of Carla wielding a dustpan and brush, he stated, "I'll clean it for you."

"It's fine -"

"Really, Mom. Let me do it." Eren insisted.

She relinquished to his persistence with a weary smile. Helping around the house was the least he could do for his mother. She was already tired enough as it is, mentally and physically. The last thing she needed were more chores to add to her plate.

At some point, he accidentally nicked his thumb on a rather large piece of glass. The wound instantly bled, trailing a thick, red finger down his thumb towards his palm. His first thought was to call out to his mother, but he stopped; no, he didn't need to burden her with things like this. He wasn't that useless.

The phone in his back pocket abruptly called for attention. The sharp, abnormally loud ring of the text notification cut through the silence like a blade through a wrist. He flinched, causing a majority of the glass he had gathered in the dustpan to fall back to the ground with a loud clatter. With a small curse, he sucked on the wound on his thumb and retrieved his phone with his free hand to see who messaged him.

It was a text from Armin; 'Can you come over for movie night? We can work on our art project after. I know you need the help.'

Art. The word elicited a giddy, almost impulsive sort of excitement that brewed in the pit of his stomach and threatened to overwhelm him. He craved the feeling of granite on his palms, the sticky oils of pastel colors on his fingertips, and the pride he would feel at pouring his soul onto the paper to create a beautiful picture. It was safe at Armin's house, he would occasionally remind himself. He hastened off to the restroom for a band-aid. He knew that he'd have to properly clean the wound, but he really didn't care enough to even attempt it at the moment. Another scar wouldn't kill him.

Eren crept down the hallway and up to the white, chipped door of his parents' room. He hesitated as he knocked on the door – small, quiet raps that posed no harm whatsoever – and after a few seconds, he opened the door. There, his mother sat up comfortably against a few pillows, with a book in her hands and a blanket wrapped securely around her.

His voice was almost as gentle as his mother; "Is it all right if I go over to Armin's for a movie or two?"

Usually, Carla wouldn't object to him going out and actually socializing for once, but even if she did reject the idea, he wouldn't dare complain. His eyes lingered upon the shaky, pale hand that moved up and barely concealed the angry, swollen skin of her cheek. Not after an argument like that.

"Don't come home too late," she finally answered.

With a bright smile, Eren shut the door and bounded off towards his room for his shoes, his backpack, and a coat. It was until then that he realized just how cold he was (his feet, anyways) and decided to bring a jacket. It was a rather thin jacket, but a jacket nonetheless. He wouldn't need a thicker one, considering that Armin's heater made the house a damned inferno.

The sky was almost as cold and gray as the sidewalk beneath him. He ventured off towards the familiar path to Armin's house – they only lived about a block away from each other – that was bereft of society and tranquil besides the faint swaying of the winds brushing the leaves. The short-cut that they formed a few years ago when they were in elementary school was just as efficient as it was back then; there was no traffic to dodge in the alleyways, no animals to distract him, and no one to confront him.

Or at least he thought there wasn't anyone there.

The few alleyways he went through led to another neighborhood, where the houses were empty and broken and the wildlife was minimal. There was, however, an empty lot near the mouth of the alleyway that he exited through. It used to be someone's backyard, but that house was abandoned, and the fencing rotted away long ago. An oak tree still stood tall, with all its magnificence of orange and yellow for the season, and under it sat a raven-haired teenager.

The ravenet lay back against the foot of the oak tree, perched comfortably between two large roots that jutted up from the earth. Eren's curiosity got the better of him, and he tried to sneak up to this guy, to somehow find out what the hell he was doing there, but a pile of dead leaves crunched noisily from beneath him.

It was then, when the ravenet glanced up at him with a hard glare, did he realize that he was holding a leather-bound notebook in his hand. They weren't too far away from each other. He could introduce himself. He could say 'hello.' He found himself licking his chapped lips and mentally groping for an answer. Christ, why was it so difficult to talk to him?

Those narrow, scrutinizing eyes never left his, their gaze inscrutable to what he was thinking. Captivating stones of molten silver stunned him, even sunk its long, intricate claws through his very being in the form of infatuation. As he took another step forward, the ravenet made a move to get up, but Eren quickly gasped, "Wait!"

That unimpressed look never left the ravenet's face. It was partially hidden by the collar of the thick jacket he wore and the layers of clothing beneath it, but he could still clearly see those brilliant eyes.

He tried to somehow redeem himself by stuttering, "I, uh – I'm sorry, I just – I saw you and you were just, y'know – just -" He gave up with a frustrated sigh. It took him a moment to recollect himself. He then said calmly, "I'm Eren. I was just wondering what you're doing out here."

It still looked as if the ravenet planned on running, with one hand poised on the root and another tightly grasping his notebook, but he gradually sunk back down on his spot when Eren neared him. The brunet's brow furrowed with the vexation of being ignored.

He tried again, "What're you doing out here?" That was ignored, as well. "Uh, hell-o?" The raven merely rolled his eyes and turned his attention back down to the booklet in his lap. Eren frowned. "Are you ignoring me on purpose?!"

Eren stood just a foot away from the ravenet, silently fuming in his spot, until he realized that the other teen was writing something. The pencil in his pallid hand moved gently along the paper. Then he understood. "Oh . . . crap, are you. . . . Can't you talk?"

Those silver eyes glanced back up at him. There was something in them this time. Eren blushed and scratched the nape of his neck. "Wow, I'm sorry, I - I didn't know you were mute. I should have known with your notebook and all -"

"Are you fucking stupid?"

Eren was taken aback by the ravenet's harsh tone. It was deeper than he thought it would be, and definitely as icy as the wind that seeped right through the thin material of his jacket.

He held up the booklet for Eren to see and spat, "Does it look like a notebook to you?" He set it back down on his lap. "What I'm doing is none of your business. Fuck off."

"Oh," Those large, green eyes stared at the ravenet's frigid expression with a distasteful furrow in his brow. "You didn't have to be such an ass about it." That furrow disappeared completely when his gaze switched down to the booklet. It was impeccably bound in black leather and lined with silver embroidery. "Why do you have a notebook with you, then?"

The ravenet didn't seem to hear Eren. He merely continued working on the paper. Eren heard a small murmur, some incoherent speech, though he wasn't quite sure if that was the teenager below him or the merciless breeze. Annoyance pushed him to step up onto the thick root of the tree, crouch down, and reach out to get the attention he wanted.

His hand abruptly stopped midway when he saw the drawing. The notebook – no, sketchbook – was just as impeccable on the inside as it was on the outside, with papers as white as the skin of the teenager's hand and as flat as a tranquil river. The edge of the pencil was shaved down with the constant usage, and at the very tip of it was a chrysanthemum, beaming with the magnificence of remarkably realistic petals born from diminutive, almost tentative pencil strokes.

Eren couldn't stop himself from blurting out, "Did you draw that by memory?"

The ravenet took his hand away from the sketchbook and shone the dim light upon the chrysanthemum. It was beautifully shaded, starting dark in the middle and branching out it light, gentle strokes to the very tips of the petals. It looked as if it were laying on a surface, with the petals at the bottom crushed and scattered about.

He pointed off somewhere ahead of him with his pencil. Eren followed and saw that there was indeed a chrysanthemum lying on the ground near a pile of dead leaves, bushes, and twigs. Other chrysanthemums lay withered and crushed within the dead flora. "I thought it looked really nice compared to everything else in this shithole."

"Who taught you how to draw like that?!" Eren gasped in awe. His hand subconsciously brushed along the strap of his backpack, remembering that he brought his own tattered sketchbook with him. "I can only draw stick figures, but that doesn't require as much skill as a flower!"

"You'll never be able to draw as good as me if you only ever attempt stick figures, you know."

"Yeah, I know, but that takes too long!" Eren stood back up on the root. "Hey, can you draw me?"

"If I liked you well enough," Eren beamed, right up until the ravenet added, "And I don't."

He pouted at the teen's indifference. "What?! All I've been was nice to you so far!"

"No, all you've been was an annoying little shit that asks too many questions."

"You're so -"

"Go away. Your voice is annoying."

The bluntness of that pissed him off. He jumped off the root and onto the dead earth. The loud crunch of the leaves made the ravenet flinch, but thankfully, Eren didn't notice. He folded his arms over his chest and stated, "Fine! I'll get you to like me, then."

He pinched the bridge of his nose. "How can you be this annoying for shitty art?"

"Shitty art?" He looked as if he heard the most ludicrous thing in the world. "How could you call your art 'shitty'? You can make history with your skills!"

The ravenet seemed genuinely surprised. For a moment, they held eye contact, a sheer look of perplexity on the paler teen's face. That look instantly faded into the cold mask he first regarded Eren with as he looked away. He murmured quietly, "Fuck off."

Eren was just about ready to retort at the rude command, but his phone rang with a notification, though this time muffled by the wind and the rustling of leaves. Then he remembered what he set out to do to begin with. The ravenet merely continued to pour life onto the page, fingers gripping tightly onto the wood, hand flicking in quick, coordinated movements, insouciant as if the encounter never happened.

Before Eren left, he asked, "What's your name, anyways?"

He didn't receive an answer.

XXXXXXXX

"You're doing it wrong."

He changed his grip on the pencil.

"You're still doing it wrong."

Eren threw his hands up in the air in relinquishment. "I can't do this! I can't!"

"This is your grade, Eren. At least try to do better."

"I'm never going to get better."

"You'll never get better if you never try."

The nebulous haze of frustration that Eren was thrown head-first into thinned at the comment. He glanced over to Armin, who was sat on the other side of the bed with an old sketchbook sitting upon his crossed legs. The blond's eyes never left the page, never daring to let his hand wander without his supervision. The gentle pencil strokes of the woman's hair came out amazingly, highlights and all, whereas Eren's looked as if he blindfolded himself and scribbled on a template with a crayon.

Their assignment was to work on shading hair and fur. Their second year of art was – in the simplest way to put it – complete and utter hell. Well, it was complete and utter hell when you weren't motivated – and when you were too impatient to put energy and effort into something that required so much of your inspiration. Hair in general was hard enough to get down correctly, but fur was impossible with Eren, who lacked the patience for it.

With school right around the corner, it was either he got the assignment or he didn't. There was no room for errors. It wasn't that he minded it; no, he loved art, loved the way projects turned out and loved the way he could lose himself in it, but he didn't love the process. Not one bit.

"You know . . ." Eren laid back against the pillows on his best friend's bed with a exasperated sigh, "you sound a lot this guy I ran in to earlier."

Armin finally looked up. "Oh? Who?"

He merely shrugged. "I don't know. He didn't give me a name."

They sat there in a rather awkward silence for a few moments. Eventually, Armin asked, "Do you like him or something?"

A flustered blush forced its way onto Eren's cheeks. "Why the hell are you asking me that?!"

"Not like that, stupid. You never listen to anyone unless you like them to some extent. The only people you ever really listen to is me or Mikasa," the blond pointed out. He reached over to Eren's sketchbook and held it up to see. On the page was a jumbled mess of graphite and eraser shavings. His lips pursed. "You're not even trying."

"It's not that I don't wanna try, I just . . ." He struggled for words for a second, trying to somehow get them out of his mouth in a coherent sentence, but he gave up with a shake of the head. "Never mind. I'm just a little distracted, okay?"

"By?"

That guy I ran into and his dumb old flower, he would've answered, but he didn't have the energy to explain. Didn't have the energy to even think about anything other than art. The beauty of art and its impeccability would get him away from the world. Yet there was only one thing he had the energy to draw at the moment, just one thing that he didn't have an explanation for. Inspiration never needed validation.

He sat up correctly and snatched his sketchbook out of Armin's grasp. "I'm just trying to figure out how to finish this damn assignment!"

Somehow, a pale ravenet ended up on his paper.

XXXXXXXX

By the time he left Armin's house, the sun was already setting.

It dipped over the bumpy horizon, spewing its rays of pale yellow and orange out onto the cloudy sky. As he turned into the ghost-town of a neighborhood, his eyes hopefully darted toward the empty lot. He neared it, gazing at the roots, but the pale teenager wasn't there anymore. The spot between the roots of the trees was completely empty, but the leaves were crushed and scattered, which was the only indication that he was ever there.

The last rays of dying sunlight reached out desperately to the clouds. He glanced back down at the sketchbook held tightly in his hands. On the page it was opened to was the pale ravenet he met earlier that day; it was quite messy and unorganized, he had to admit, but it turned out better than his previous attempts. He was quite proud of it, actually, and it was the pride he felt that encouraged him to show his mother. She was always supportive of his artistic abilities.

At the sight of the compact car in the driveway, a shiver ran down his spine; his father was home. The front door was unlocked when he got there, and even with the thick wood between him and his parents, he could still hear the voices.

Those voices only got louder as he walked in. They were yelling at each other, arguing, screaming, though their words were a jumbled mess to his ears. He merely watched the familiar scene play out for what felt like the hundredth time that month. His father pacing left and right. His mother trying to clean and reorganize various things to calm herself down. Their sour expressions. Their irritated remarks. It was all the same.

The only thing he could hear was his heartbeat. He tried to close the entrance as quietly as possible, but then it let out that dreadful squeak for the world to hear. He flinched at the noise. The voices stopped. He looked up, and two pairs of eyes met his, one a watery green and the other a dark brown.

His father started, "And that boy -"

"That boy is your son!" his mother retorted.

"I will not call that thing my son!" Gesturing to the booklet in Eren's hands, Grisha snarled, "Instead of making himself useful, he runs out there on the streets like a dog with his fucking crayons and coloring books -"

"And when will you be useful for once? Instead of raising your son, you're out there sucking the life out of your patients for their money and wasting it all on alcohol!"

Eren had his back turned, running down the hallway as he heard that loud, meaty smack, but he could picture it perfectly in his mind. He's seen it enough times before, to the point where it was engraved into his memory no matter what he did. He remembered the first time they found him painting on the walls and floor with pastels; Carla was amazed by the glorious mixture of colors and shades, whereas Grisha admonished him.

It's not because of me, is it? He slammed the door shut as if to whisk that thought out of his mind. Am I really the reason why they never get along? He asked himself that at least a thousand times, he knew, but really, what was it that caused their frequent contretemps?

Despite burying his head into the pillows, he could still hear those voices, could still hear them arguing, one getting weaker and the other only getting fiercer, until there were more thuds and smacks rather than angry retorts and insults.

The dull itch in his entire body only got worse. With each and every hit, there was another encouraging thought to seek out that dire release. He needed the safety, the reassurance, the comfort. A harsh slap cut off his mother's scream of a demand for a divorce, and immediately, his fingers latched upon his upper arm, where the burn marks lay healing. Your fault, a low, jeering voice would point out as he darted over to his desk. He rummaged through for papers, gathering every paper he could find that wasn't remotely useful, virulent hisses of your fault, your fault, your fault digging deeper and deeper into his chest until he cried out in frustration.

Throwing those crumpled papers to the side, he tore his backpack open and reached in for his sketchbook instead.

By the time his father left that night, there was a pile of ashes in the bathtub and a puddle of blood on the kitchen floor.
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