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ichor in his veins, ashes in his wake

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Armin knows the exact moment when her blade strikes. The colossal falls, and he can feel the strength seeping out of his veins—the blood of the titans evaporating into steam and being blown off into the sky by dry winds. 

Mikasa’s choice. The power of the titans would vanish from the face of this world forever

He sees her figure walking through the heated fog around them. Cradled in her arms was Eren’s head. Eyes closed, asleep forever.

“Armin,” she says in a quiet voice. “You remember now.”

“I cannot forgive him,” Armin whispers, tears in his eyes as he strokes the cheek of the severed head that still bore the titan markings. “Not for this.”

Mikasa’s eyes are filled with unshed tears.

“Neither can I.”

“I know he suffered too. Did this to make us heroes, but—I can’t—the Eren we grew up with is long gone. ”

Mikasa tips her head down. “He still wanted to destroy the world. We’ve only denied it to ourselves for so long.“

“The Founder Ymir had her mind ensnared and poisoned by King Fritz,” Armin says, trying to make sense of what Eren had shown him. “He didn’t know how or why, but Ymir told him that you were the saviour she’d been waiting for for two thousand years. The one to break the curse and set us all free.”

“So this was his plan for freedom.” Mikasa tightens her grasp on the head. “But was this truly the only way?”

“Mr. Zeke planned on rendering all Eldians infertile. It would have been depressing, but,” Armin shakes his head, “bloodless.”

“Hange too,” Mikasa says. “They had plans to be diplomatic about this, about opening Paradis to the world and making friends and allies, but Eren and his army—”

“The blood he shed for freedom left us with a world to rebuild,” Armin says. “The fight is up to us now. For Hange, for our comrades, and for innocents we never knew but paid the price.”

Mikasa nods.

“I want to bury him,” she whispers. “Under the tree where he liked to nap.”

Armin embraces his oldest friend. Mikasa loved Eren. Loves him still. And she dealt the killing blow. She deserved to mourn and grieve the loss of who Eren was. 

What Eren became, however, was indefensible and monstrous. It was an unspoken truth that had been established days ago. 

Mikasa unbuckles her gear, letting it fall to the ground. 

“Will you be back?” 

She turns to him, a serene smile on her face. And Armin knows she’ll be alright.

Jean finds himself half on top of Reiner. They both stare at each other, too stunned at the turn of events and the revelations. 

“There’s no way that could have been—the only way,” Jean whispers, clutching his head in his hands. “Commander Hange had to die for—for this stupid little shit’s idea of freedom.”

“He’s been lost far longer than we know,” Reiner says, the horror of Eren’s plan not fully sinking in yet. “Eren...what have you done—”

Annie struggles to stand. “Dumb and emotionally stunted piece of shit,” she mutters as she checks on Pieck. “Now here we are once again…”

Pieck sighs, still lying flat on her back. “Zeke’s plan was a thousand times more sensible and preferable, even with it still as morbid and as terrible...”

“My mother gets to live, but,” Connie mutters, beside himself in grief, “this should never have been the price...Commander Hange’s sacrifice was…”

“That blockhead had only the giant centipede for a brain,” Jean hissed, trying to ebb the flow of tears. 

“And now we pick up the pieces,” Pieck says, sitting up. “As has always been our burden.”

A young boy’s cry is heard in the air, and the Warriors manage little smiles when they see Falco tackle Gabi into a hug. 

“Annie.”

Annie turns to find her father. Human once again. She remembers her promise.

“I came home,” Annie says, not closing the gap. Memories of a childhood, unhappy and dreadful come rushing back. This man may have raised her and taught her how to fight, but that was it. 

“You did,” he says, cautiously smiling at her. “You promised, and you did.”

“And that’s the end of things,” Annie says with firm resolve. Mr. Leonhart’s smile falters. 

“I have my own life to live now,” she says simply before turning her back. He had never been the father she deserved. 

Karina walks up to Reiner and throws her arms around his waist. Reiner can feel her tears wetting his shirt. He stills, watching Annie cut ties with the man who was always a pathetic excuse for a father. His mother is crying, saying they’re finally free and that there is no titan or war to shorten his life now. 

Reiner is letting the realizations flood his mind, having seen Annie's defiance. It was always Annie who knew how to put herself first. He thinks—he thinks it’s time for him to do the same.

The fog shifts when the Paths open for the last time.

Jean and Connie stare in awe as Sasha and Marco appear before them, wide grins on their faces, fists proudly on their chests.

Bertholdt, Marcel, and Ymir stand before Annie and Reiner, the tall lanky man with a gentle smile while Ymir raises her brow. 

Pieck’s heart swells at the sight of Porco and Zeke. Zeke. She wanted to talk to him, wanted a long conversation to clear things out. The scruffy blonde smiles fondly at her and raises a hand in farewell. 

Levi looks up to see the entire Survey Corps surrounding him. Dead comrades with pride etched onto their faces—Furlan and Isabel standing among them, wide grins stretching the muscles of their cheeks. They’ve always been watching. He glances at Hange’s sad smile and feels a dam break inside him. They all clutch their fists over their hearts. One last salute for their mission, one they all devoted their hearts to, finally fulfilled. This was his peace.

The winds blow once more, and the fog clears, revealing a battleground with scattered soldiers and weaponry all around.

A dispute is beginning to arise. The surviving generals are now questioning what remains of the alliance and the Eldians about their titan powers. How could they trust them, even if they did just save the world?

The newly-appointed 15th Commander of the Survey Corps marches forward, dropping his gear in confident strides. 

“My name is Armin Artlet, an Eldian of Paradis. I am the man who killed the Attack Titan, Eren Yeager.” 

 

 

 

Miraculously, a few sectors of the Intermittent Zone and Liberio had been spared. The immediate aftermath of the Rumbling had them all completely lost and frazzled. Marleyan leaders who survived snapped out of it first and began to organize the people and start cleaning up. The road ahead was filled with much work and healing. 

Mikasa was nowhere to be found, but her friends had all assumed that she had gone back to Paradis to lay Eren to rest. Jean worried at first when they all realized that the Ackerman power most likely vanished along with the titans. Armin and Reiner were more confident. 

“She’s stronger than all of us. We’ll see her again.”

Armin had been appointed the representative for those from Paradis, and by extension, the remaining Eldians. He and Jean worked with the leaders closely, scavenging food rations, scouting land that would easily be cleared up, and helping people into temporary shelters. In return, the alliance was given a small place to themselves. There was no more separation of the Eldians. No more designated zone for them. The community of survivors had only each other to rely on.

But the work to be done was looming and endless. 

The last of the Survey Corps alongside a few friends hold a vigil for their former commander a few days after the Rumbling. Dusk had settled, bathing the sea and the sky in a warm gradient of burnt oranges and vibrant yellows. The horizon seemed to grow brighter each minute as the sun creeped down and disappeared beneath the sea. There was a small clearing at the beach that remained untrampled. A stone cave on the cliff jutting out was only half-destroyed. The place was safe enough and would have to do for now.

They put together a small pile of rocks, and Armin places his green medal atop of it. Most of the Warriors stand a little further from the makeshift grave, giving their comrades a wide berth to breathe.

There was no body to bury. Only memories resurfacing, fresh and raw, a crushing sadness that demanded to be felt all over again.

“They should have made it,” Onyankopon mutters, dabbing at his tears. “It was their plan, and they gave their heart to stop the Rumbling.”

“Their heart has been the guiding force for the Corps these past few years.” Jean looks at his feet, lips trembling. 

Connie raises his shirt to wipe his damp cheeks. “And they were the smartest too. We wouldn’t have a chance to stop the war without the weapons they invented. Even before they became commander.”

“They tried to save me from being turned,” Falco whispers, “when the wine accidentally got into my mouth. They didn’t even know me back then.”

“It should have been me,” Armin whispers, a bubble of laughter breaking through his sobbing. “Erwin and now Hange—Hange most of all deserved to see the world outside—to explore—to discover and see past—”

“Yet, they chose you.”

All eyes turn to the man currently seated on a boulder. Their captain, his knee still mending and half of his face still swathed in bandages, speaks quietly.

“I should have stopped them, I had the power of the colo—”

“They chose you as I did all those years ago,” Levi says, not giving his former subordinate the chance to wallow. Frankly, he was tired of it. “Four-Eyes isn’t one who makes these decisions lightly.”

“He’s right, you know,” Onyankopon says. “Hange may have seemed a little eccentric to most, but to those who knew them well—they were a force who stood by their principles.”

“They saw the same thing I did,” Levi says, “wonder and peace and the yearning for a life most never even dreamed of—you had that more than any of us.”

Armin’s tears stream down his cheeks, sobs racking his frame again as he tries to gain some composure back. Connie rubs his back. 

“They knew what the future needed—no one rigid and stuck in ideals of the past where a world without titans would have been enough.” Levi sighs, rubbing his knee. Pains were shooting up again. 

“I’ll carry on their research and make sure we get records of it down here in Marley,” Onyankopon says, his voice much lighter. “I learned a lot from them; we spent those years in Paradis on so many experiments and inventions. Their legacy will be in history books.”

“If only—,” Jean sighs. It was always too late. “They should be here,” he whispers.

Levi wishes for nothing more. He looks to the sky, through the wisps of clouds and tendrils of smoke, looking for any sign. They should be standing with them now, alive and well with the whole world at their fingertips and a new life to live.

“So we honor their memory,” Armin says, sniffling and wiping tears and snot away. “Along with the whole Corps. And live and build something that they would be proud to have been a part of.”

Levi’s thoughts are on Hange and the past four years at this moment. Looking at the kids they practically raised, his mouth turns up beneath his bandages.

These choices—these choices, they would not regret.

 

 

No one except for Reiner knew exactly why the warrior children began staying with the captain. Their families were out there, and they still visited them from time to time, but Falco and Gabi practically lived with the rest of the alliance at this point. They were slowly adjusting, getting their bearings back after the events of the Rumbling. 

“Captain Levi.”

Levi looks up from the book on his lap, turning to the voice as he remains in his seat by the window. Reiner stood by the door, shifting nervously.

“What?”

“I know I have no right to do this, but I have a favor to ask.”

Levi raises a brow. The silence between them stretches for what feels like hours before he finally prompts the taller blonde.

“Spit it out, Braun.”

Reiner takes a deep breath. “Will you be guardian to Gabi? And Falco?”

None of them would admit it, but having the children there to look after was a relief and a distraction. It was something that gave them a sense of normalcy after a hard day’s work negotiating or clearing up rubble or talking about rebuilding. They lifted the somber mood that threatened to settle permanently and snatch the broken souls into darkness, as children are wont to do. 

Levi was still surly and aloof, but he began teaching Gabi how to brew tea properly, claiming Connie, Jean, and Armin to be lost causes on that front. Falco would silently help him dress his wounds and change his bandages. Both kids would talk his ear off on afternoons where they were left with him while the alliance met with Marleyan leaders or went to help with rebuilding or distribution of provisions. 

He would call them brats and order them to clean around their quarters, complaining about the mess left behind by filthy cadets. They would remind him that the 104th were grown, and some had even taken leadership positions. He would ignore them and grumble while making tea and preparing snacks. The two would always be beaming while they ate and chattered away. The noise was an almost pleasant accompaniment while Levi worked and helped Onyankopon write down what the other man had subconsciously filed away about Hange’s work.

A lick of flame had begun to flicker alive once more. Gabi was louder and bolder, restless and more curious than ever. Falco was beginning to realize that Levi was just a grumpy war veteran, and he began to loosen up and come out of his shell. Their eyes were no longer dull with the constant thoughts of the war. The weight on the captain’s chest lightens a little. 

It was Jean who noticed that Levi was healing at a more human pace. He could use a cane to walk around now, but tiredness settles in more quickly these days. Must be a toll from all those years in battle. Connie once asked him what it felt like now that he was on equal footing with them. The captain’s withering glare from his one good eye sent Springer into a flurry of apologies and got him dish duty for the night.

Some things stayed the same. The familiarity was a comfort. 

Jean had become Armin’s right hand. Where Armin lacked quick thinking and field strategies, Jean filled in the blanks and mishaps. They complemented each other. He balanced out the softness and wavering resolve that lingered in the blue-eyed boy while his own quick tempers and rashness were toned down by the pacifist’s increasingly deft hand at diplomacy. Connie would play middleman when things got too heated. 

Once Hange’s research had successfully been compiled, Onyankopon brought them to the head of the technological institutions that were still being rebuilt. The proposals and notes were printed and filed away in their records, maybe even for use and further expansion when time allowed it.

With the end of the war, the walls between the members of the alliance were slowly chipped away.

On her days off, Pieck found out that she actually liked sitting with Levi and watching the kids while the rest went about their newfound roles. Levi had few words, but he was always a good listener. 

It felt strange at first, talking to him about Zeke while knowing the past between them. He didn’t seem to mind. She found it easy to let out her frustrations on how much the older Yeager brother hid from them even when they fought alongside each other for years. Though he was a large part of what helped save humanity, she desperately wishes that she could have at least talked to him. She misses him too.

Levi rolls his eyes, but he understands. Pieck just wanted closure. He also admits that the hairball and Hange would have gotten along under different circumstances. They had brains that worked on a different level of intellect. 

“Both fucking weirdos.”

The captain was blunt to the point of being crass, but hearing him call her old War Chief ‘hairball’ has her chuckling. She mourned him as much as she loathed his initial betrayal. He did turn to their side in the end, and his sacrifice was what helped them stop the Rumbling.

Annie was still reserved. It would take a while before she would be fully comfortable around them, and everyone seemed to understand this. She quietly worked in rebuilding alongside old enemies and unreluctant allies turned into newfound friends—if she could call them that. It is what they felt like to her, anyway. 

Reiner was more stable. He had taken to seeing an old doctor for treatment and wound up working alongside them in the makeshift hospital that had been set up to aid the injured. He would take Gabi and Falco to visit their families once or twice a week, but most of his time early on was spent stitching wounds and setting bones, finding names for corpses and counting the dead.

It was slow, but the survivors were picking themselves up.

The first news from Paradis filters in six months after the war ended. A letter from the queen arrived in the middle of the day. The meeting with the leading council erupted in a chaos that had Armin yelling to call for order.

Historia knew of Eren’s true motives. Whether she was threatened into silence or had her memories altered like the rest of them, she did not say. Her daughter was well, as were the remaining family members of the alliance—the alliance who now are being labeled as betrayers of Eldians. They killed their leader and hope, Eren Yeager. 

Hiziru has found refuge in Paradis as well. The rest of the news only brought more things to worry about.

The Yeagerists have taken control of the military, and a new army has risen and is growing fast. Historia writes that Eren might have been right, as he chose to leave them in a world without titans. She claims that the people are fearful of humanity outside their crumbled walls. That the people chant for a fight—one that cannot and will not end until either side has been reduced to nothing.

“If we win, we live. If we lose, we die. If you don’t fight, we can’t win. Fight. Fight.”

“So we’re traitors to Eldia, huh?” Annie asks, managing to sound like her usual apathetic self. She didn’t know what to feel anymore. It seemed like war was following their paths no matter how much they tried to evade it. 

“Humanity that was almost wiped out by that little shithead,” Jean says, seething. 

“I can’t believe she would keep this to herself,” Connie mumbles, “I mean I’m grateful my mom is safe, but—”

“Is she working with the Yeagerists then?” Reiner asks, scanning the contents of the letter once more. 

“She might be, for the sake of her family’s life and her own,” Pieck muses, unsurprised by the turn of events. “It’s not like she has an army fully under her command back there.”

“—maybe you had a point when you almost choked her to death, Captain,” Connie finishes. 

Levi’s jaw ticks. 

“Any news about Mikasa?” Jean asks.

“No,” Armin sighs, “I’m afraid not.”

“No news is good news,” Levi says before taking a sip of his tea. “That means they probably don't even know she’s there. Keep it that way.”

“Do you think the Azumabito also pledged to the Yeagerists?” Onyankopon looked doubtful. 

“Lady Kiyomi’s probably doing this to survive,” Armin says, shaking his head. “She’s always put Hiziru first. I think she’s laying low until her own country can begin rebuilding.”

“What now?” Annie says in a bored tone, looking to Armin.

“We broker for peace,” he replies with resolve.

“Are they not tired of all the fighting?” Pieck asks, stretching and yawning. Reiner looks exhausted and beaten down. 

“We’ve brought this up with the Marleyan council in today’s session,” Jean says as he rubs his face. “Peace negotiations will begin, and we’re already drafting a response.”

“We’ll be clear that we want no bloodshed, nor do we have any plans of attacking and inciting another war,” Armin says. “I just hope Historia isn’t too far gone. I can’t exactly get a feel of her true allegiance and principles in her letter.”

“It would help if they saw us working together,” Connie says, “enemies once never hesitating to kill, but now look at us.”

“You’d be naive to think people like these would see it that way,” Levi replies without missing a beat.

“Historia might be able to offer protection,” Connie says, “if we choose to meet—”

“We can’t meet this early, you idiot,” Jean says, slumping down on the table. He pours himself some tea. “We’ve just been branded traitors, it’ll take months, maybe years of convincing them that we have no plans to fight back.” 

“Captain,” Armin begins softly, “are you—”

“No.”

The room goes quiet.

“My role in the war is over,” he says in a quiet voice, “and I’ve got no plans to jump back into whatever this is going to be.”

Jean looks like he wants to beg, but Pieck puts a hand on his shoulder and squeezes. 

“We’ve still got to find worthy students to work on Hange’s research,” Onyankopon says, breaking the terse air. “A few of my old colleagues have already shown interest.”

“And look after Gabi and Falco,” Reiner mutters so softly that only Levi catches it. 

“Besides, I'll be more of a burden to you now,” Levi says in his monotone voice as he gestures to the wheelchair that he has taken to using while he regains his strength. He knows he might never recover fully, but he has been walking longer routes by the day. The wheelchair helped even out his physical exertion. 

“Well, Commander?” Connie asks.

Armin takes a deep breath. 

“Is anyone not willing to be part of this—this new council that will probably be ambassadors for peace between what’s left of the world?”

No one objects. Tired as they all were, they felt a pull towards this role whether for peace or a semblance of purpose. 

“Get a good night’s rest,” Jean says, “all of you. We’ve got work to do.”

Their first response to Paradis was one with the details of Eren’s crimes while also containing their campaign for peace. Assuring the new empire that none of the remaining humans have plans to retaliate. It was the first stone thrown across the sea, and it would be a while before they gained some trust in each other.

The true plans remained between the members of the alliance. Jean wanted to squash the Yeagerists and rip them out one by one. On paper, they may have the majority support, but the only news they were getting from Paradis were from Historia and the Yeagerists. It didn’t exactly reflect the situation and stance of the common folk.

“What this new empire needs to accept,” Armin says, “is that Eren’s genocide was wrong and unforgivable on all accounts.”

They needed to show these people that fighting does not mean restarting the cycle of hatred all over again. A fortified army was certainly not the answer or solution to anything after the Rumbling. All it was was a means to a series of violent ends.

As expected, things were extremely tense at first. The alliance had taken to working closely with Marley’s new heads of state in the diplomatic and peace negotiations. The work was an invisible bar of steel on all their shoulders. It all felt unfair, being left with the burden to deal with the aftermath of Eren’s actions—Eren who wiped out 80% of the world’s population for what was supposed to be the freedom of Eldians. But instead, it turned Eldia into this new warmongering empire. 

It had been a unanimous agreement amongst the alliance that if there was anything that needed to happen, it was to burn down the roots of his supporters and destroy the Yeagerists. Shatter whatever goodness there was in the legacy Eren left the Eldians. Salt the earth of the horrors of memories, so nothing might ever grow on it again.

The letters were slow. They exchanged two every month. Sometimes only one, if the oceans churned and waves were too high for ships to travel safely. 

Almost one year after the war, something, rather someone, came along with the latest letter from Paradis. 

Annie’s cool facade breaks for one moment when she opens the door to see a raven-haired girl standing there. Red scarf. Letter in hand. She was cradling her left arm. Her mouth was a thin line grimacing in pain.

“Mi-Mikasa,” she whispers in disbelief. 

Reunions were cut short but filled with sweet relief. The rest of the alliance still had work for the day, and conversation would have to wait until the evening. 

Falco prepares one of the unused rooms and runs a bath while Gabi rushes to make some tea and a quick meal. Levi sets Mikasa’s shoulder, swiftly popping the joint back in place without a single warning. She cries out, much to her dismay, but the pain has dulled instantly. She glares at her old captain. 

“Countdowns would just make you anticipate it, you know that,” Levi says while he splints her forearm. 

“A little warning would have been nice,” she retorts. 

Truth be told, she felt a lot safer now that she was back in the company of friends. And she was glad for Levi’s tact. He still treats her the same way—not like someone made of glass, fragile and about to shatter at any moment. He has not pushed her to talk about what she’s been up to since the war ended. She would tell them all later after she’s had a chance to rest. She was exhausted from the journey.

“Well, we’re regular humans now, so that fracture’s gonna take six weeks to heal at least,” he says.

Gabi comes in with breakfast for Mikasa.

“It’s just some porridge and tea,” the young girl says, setting down the food. “You look hungry.”

While Mikasa eats, Gabi and Falco fill the silence with stories about their time and work in Marley after the war. 

“And you and Falco have been stuck with this gremlin?” she asks, making sure he hears her.

“Captain’s not so bad!” Falco says brightly as he clears her dishes.

“He makes us clean way too much,” Gabi complains in a small dramatic wail.

“But he tells nice stories!” 

Mikasa manages a smile. The old captain hasn’t changed. 

“Oi, go take a bath,” Levi calls from the kitchen. “I can smell you from here.”

Gabi helps her wash up, mindful of her injured arm. Levi sets it in a sling once she’s dressed for bed. Mikasa wonders why on earth these kids have been left with Levi when they had families of their own here in Marley. She falls asleep before she makes a mental note to ask Armin about it.

She wakes up late in the afternoon. Most of her old comrades have already returned from work.

Armin gathers her in the tightest hug he can muster while avoiding her injury. Jean and Connie join in, and she is suddenly enveloped in a different sort of warmth that only friends could provide. Annie and Reiner are civil but still a little cold and wary. The war never really did give them time to reconcile, and she left right after. Pieck and Onyankopon are friendly and welcoming though, and it makes her stomach clench. 

“Where have you been all these months?”

“What have you been doing? How did you get back?”

“What happened to your arm?”

The barrage of questions was expected. Only Armin knew where she went, but even he did not know what came after that.

“Home,” Mikasa says, her voice cutting through the small clamor. “I sailed back home, once Eren was—was defeated.”

They all quiet down at least. Levi’s glare probably helped.

“I buried him under the old tree near our old house,” she says, glancing at Armin. “I’ve been staying in Shiganshina since then—well, until last week.”

“How—how is Paradis?” Jean asks. “And the people?”

Mikasa nibbles on her lower lip, wondering how best to go about her story. 

“Start from the beginning,” Pieck says, smiling gently. “After you buried Eren.”

“The walls have all been broken down, but some of the towns were spared. I blended in for months while I lived in our old village.”

She spares a glance at the two children who were listening to her with rapt attention.

“It only took days after the Rumbling before the Yeagerists took over the government.”

Mikasa details what she’s seen and overheard from the outskirts of Paradis. Many of Eren’s supporters who still firmly believed in his plan were part of the new military, and they were enraged at the news of his death at the hands of the Survey Corps. Most of what was left of the old Corps had been slaughtered or turned into Titans during the war. Anyone left joined the Yeagerists for fear of being killed. The biggest shock to her was Historia’s apparent support for Eren’s plans to destroy the enemy. Never did she imagine that she would see the queen work with the Yeagerists and build a new army.

Militant rule became law. Historia was still queen and ruler. Whether she was a mere puppet or truly on their side, no one knew. 

“She may have protected your families,” Mikasa says, “but I don’t know her true intentions. She knew about Eren’s plan and was selfish enough to let it happen. Maybe for herself and her daughter, but—”

Jean pinches the bridge of his nose. Connie sighs as he pours himself more whiskey.

Many of the citizens of Paradis have been displaced from their homes because of the damage caused by starting the Rumbling. Last Mikasa has heard, they were still in refugee camps.

“How’d you get out?” Annie asks. 

“Lady Kiyomi,” Mikasa says, rubbing her shoulder. “Some of the Yeagerists were on some kind of scouting mission, and they recognized me. I fought them off, but their weapons—they had been working hard on creating much improved ones.”

Levi flinches at that while the rest of the alliance looks lost and enraged all over again. Hange’s work had been used, and they would have hated every single thing about it. The Yeagerists stole the work of their old commander to develop new weapons for their army. And the worst part was the fact that the alliance was currently in no shape to stop them from doing so.

“The Azumabitos smuggled me onto the ship,” she says, concluding her story. “The carrier of the letter was actually one of their loyal men, and he brought me here this morning.”

“Commander Hange’s research,” Connie murmurs, “no—n-not for this…”

“They would be yelling right now,” Jean says. 

Armin looks ashamed. But what could they do from across the sea when stepping back into Paradis alone was a guaranteed death sentence?

“Even without the Ackerman power, you still escaped,” Annie says, very impressed despite not showing it.

“And with only a broken arm,” Reiner adds.

“You’ll be well in no time,” Onyankopon says, patting her hand. “But for now, I believe the information Mikasa has passed to us would have to be brought to the council, yes?”

“More meetings,” Jean groans. “This is never going to end!”

“The weapons, Historia’s work, the new army—the growing new army,” Armin says, lost in his thoughts as he processes the new information. 

“The weapons aren’t the most pressing concern,” Levi says. His cadets’ gazes snap to him. 

Pieck voices her agreement. “It’s still the Yeagerists. Their leaders and supporters are the ones fueling the fire.”

“You said Kiyomi smuggled you here,” Levi says to Mikasa. She nods. 

Jean catches on. “Maybe—maybe we could send people of our own.”

“Pose as farmers or builders or even recruits,” Armin adds, “and if Lady Kiyomi is truly working for herself, she would help us with the smuggling information as well.”

“Why would she do that?” Connie asks. “That could put her life on the line.”

“Hizuru was destroyed in the Rumbling,” Annie says. “I’m pretty sure Kiyomi wants nothing more than to go back home and rebuild. Having this new empire grow and prosper will only hinder her own plans.”

“She would never be loyal to the Yeagerists,” Reiner says.

Levi hides his smirk behind a sip of tea. All they needed was a little push. He catches Falco glancing at him, but the boy’s gaze shifts away a split-second after they meet his. Smart kid. Gabi was still attentively listening to the plans being sprouted. He wonders if the children should be here, hearing all this. But they both fought alongside each other once. They deserved to know what was going on. He would intervene if they started showing interest in working with the state leaders.

“I’m sure the council would agree to this,” Pieck says, brushing off biscuit crumbs from her skirt. “Information is crucial and could give us the upper hand.”

“And they could pass on army secrets as well,” Onyankopon says. “Maybe even retrieve Commander Hange’s research.”

“You all work for the council?” Mikasa asks, fiddling with her scarf. 

Armin nods.

“Figured that if the world saw enemies come together, it would be easier to establish peace.”

“Do you want a spot?” Jean asks.

She hesitates. Her comrades had been doing all they could with so little power for months. She was across the sea, living in grief, a shell of her old self. By pure luck, she also happened to become the first spy for the alliance. 

“Let her sleep on it,” Levi answers for her. 

Mikasa feels a rush of gratitude. Maybe the night would be kind and would let her think of how best to turn down the role. She had been deemed the most wanted traitor for killing the leader of the Yeagerists. She had no desire to negotiate with their sort.

Armin was staring at her, his eyes filled with no anger or pleading. Only understanding. He already knows.

“The Yeagerists,” Mikasa says, finding her voice once more. “They have to be taken out or—or Paradis will be led by the most atrocious military in the world.”

“It might be too late for that,” Pieck says sadly. 

“The damage to Marley was devastating,” Jean explains, “and we took months before we were able to begin the rebuilding projects. Paradis had all the advantage of being safe from the army of Colossal titans that Eren unleashed onto the world.”

“The letters with Historia aren’t exactly friendly as well,” Armin says. “Her army leaders want to meet, but Captain Levi warned me not to when he read over our correspondence for the past few months.”

“They’re afraid,” Levi says. “To them, you’re traitors, but to what’s left of the world, you’re heroes who stopped the Rumbling.”

“We’d probably be killed as soon as we set foot on the docks,” Annie says, gesturing to Mikasa’s injuries. “And this time, we don’t exactly have any godly powers we can tap into. No blood of the titans. Just human now.”

There was still no solution. No answer to their problems that were multiplying exponentially. It felt hopeless. 

“I’m turning in,” Armin says, folding the letters and notes back into the envelope. “With Mikasa’s intel, we have a long day ahead of us tomorrow.”

Sleep comes easily for Mikasa that night. The exhaustion from her fight and the journey across the sea spent in a cramped and dark room below deck was enough to drag her back into a dreamless slumber. She still wakes at sunrise—a habit at this point. It seems like Armin has already informed everyone that she wanted no part in playing peacekeeper. Or dealing with any Yeagerist ever again.

No one gave her any looks of judgment. But she hated the looks of pity she was getting all around.

She asks Levi to take her to the memorial for her old commander when she finds out from Connie that they had built one by the beach. There was a small gravestone now in which the medal was embedded. It had lost some of its sheen, but the green stone still caught the sunlight and twinkled. Carved below the inscription were the wings of freedom.

Hange Zoë

14th Commander of the Survey Corps 

Soared to the skies 

Living forever amongst the stars

Mikasa kneels and pays her respects. It had been far too long, but still not too late. Another death anniversary looms at the back of her mind. She had been avoiding those thoughts. Trying to lock up the wave of melancholy that threatened to overwhelm her again.

She walks back to the rocky ledge where Levi had perched himself on. His wheelchair was parked closer to the walkway. 

“I miss Hange-san,” Mikasa says, dropping into a seat beside him.

“Hmm.”

He did too. More than he could ever put into words.

“They always knew what to say,” she whispers, “and how to deal with—with—”

Tears were welling up, and she was doing her best to hold them at bay.

“You’ve held your own remarkably well since that day.”

She spent most of the year as a husk of her former self. Her days blended together, and her memories blurred.

“He—it isn’t—two days,” she says, trying to find words, “in two days, it will be a year since he died. Since Hange-san died because of him.”

The sand rustles below. Some hatchlings were digging their way out of a nest. 

“Since I killed him,” she mutters blankly. 

“Do you regret it?” Levi asks.

“No.”

Her response was instant.

“But I—I miss him. The Eren I grew up with,” she admits, tears streaming down her face. “Not what he became.”

“You’re allowed to grieve,” Levi says, his gaze focused on the horizon.

Mikasa shudders. It has been almost a year of mourning and losing herself in menial work to temper the grief. She used to spend hours, sometimes half a day, beside the gravestone under the tree, talking to Eren to stave off the sadness. She has shed a river of tears and has cried herself hoarse into the night, but nothing seemed to help.

“But you’re also allowed to find happiness.”

Her breath hitches. Her cheeks feel wet.

“I—I don’t—it’s been—”

“Mikasa.”

Levi finally faces her, offering a kerchief. 

“To save the world, you had to kill the man you grew up with, loved even, and protected for over half your life. No one would fault you for mourning what you’ve lost.”

She wipes her tears away, but more keeps flowing. Her shoulder twitches in pain as she feels sobs escape and jar her torso.

“But think of yourself, for once,” Levi says, knowing that she was still listening to his every word. “You, most of all, deserve peace and happiness beyond Eren.”

She’s cried so many times during her months in Paradis, but those only ever felt like a temporary distraction. It was different now. The anguish and heartache that had clung to her so stubbornly now ran down her cheeks and into the faded blue cloth. She wipes snot from her nose as she takes deep hungry breaths, trying to center herself again.

Some baby turtles were now racing towards the surf to be swept into the depths of endless blue where a new world awaited.

Levi sits in silence beside her, his hand gently rubbing her back. When she quiets down, they stay a while, watching the sun’s slow descent past, sinking into the shimmering waters. A calmness blankets her heart as she slowly unwinds the threadbare scarf and folds it onto her lap. She feels something akin to peace—but not exactly that just yet. She knew there would always be a twinge when she thought of Eren.

But it was time to live for herself. 

She just never expected that it would be Levi who would help her spur herself into her own catharsis. Her thoughts drift to the bittersweet reunions last night.

Jean and Connie were still there, constant and reliable. As were Reiner and Annie and Pieck, all of whom she barely knew but still wanted to keep close. Onyankopon was always a kind and engaging presence. Gabi and Falco could lighten the mood with a minute of chatter. And Armin. Armin, who had his life given back to him. No longer hostage to thirteen years. 

“So are we cousins?” Mikasa asks suddenly. “Or do I call you uncle now?”

Levi throws her a glare that makes her smile. 

“You can cook dinner tonight and then clean the kitchen, brat.”

She laughs for the first time in over a year. Friends—family. Yes, she still had family. 

The negotiations with the new Eldian Empire stretched out for two more years before a meeting was set. Marley had offered the first olive branch by sending produce, preserves, and poultry. A sign of goodwill and an extension of friendship and alliance so they may find common ground. But what the Yeagerists did not know was that spies came with these shipments. 

The world needed to know more about the state of Paradis—more than whatever the military had been giving them.

Jean and Annie were the ones who trained those who applied for the job. They also mapped out the information correspondence. Reiner and Connie would regularly set out for the checkpoints to gather what new intel had been sent. Pieck worked with planning their next moves based on the information they gathered. Onyankopon would occasionally drop by, but even he was busy with the new projects that Hange’s research had sprouted.

Levi, to everyone’s confusion, opened a tea shop. Of course, it was a striking success. Connie sometimes wondered if the captain was terrible at anything. When he tried the castella that Levi baked, he ended up finishing three plates. At that point, he decided to stop questioning things and just let them be as they were.

Gabi and Falco went back to school once Marley got them up and running, but they both helped out at the tea shop during weekends. Making the best tea became a competition of sorts for them. Levi was still the same gruff captain, but there was an undeniable fondness in his tone that was heard only with the kids. The two would sometimes drag him out to the markets near the beach, especially when they wanted some ice cream.

It was Mikasa who became Levi’s main business partner. She had a knack for the management work and the baking. An unexpected venture, but oddly fitting for the last of the Ackermans. And she was glad to have been able to grow closer to the last family member she had. 

The alliance came to visit when they could. Onyankopon would come for tea and leave with a box of pastries for his colleagues. Pieck would still sit down with Levi on quiet evenings while listening to Gabi and Falco argue about schoolwork. He was one of the few who never really made her feel guilty about missing Zeke. With him, she talked freely. Reiner visits the children as well, slowly becoming more comfortable around the intimidating captain. Mikasa would play card games with Jean and Connie, and they would end up causing a ruckus at times. Annie regularly drops by for white tea with a side of mochi and a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie. Levi and Mikasa always seemed to know when she would come, and her tray would already be set out when she got there. No fuss, no awkward small talk. She appreciated it.

Armin visits the least, not because he doesn’t want to, but because his work holds him back. His visits last the longest. He catches up with Mikasa and the rest, informing them of whatever new plans the state leaders have. He also never fails to ask his old captain for advice. Even if Levi had said he wanted nothing to do with the work, his input had always been invaluable to his cadet, now a commander. 

In those two years, what was left of the world has found footing once again. But much of it still remained places of destruction, miles of land filled with decaying bones and dilapidated cities, burnt forests and flattened mountains, ashes still floating through the air—the aftermath from being razed by monsters.

Marley’s espionage operations were deemed successful in their endeavor. Through them, they realized that the new Eldian Empire had prospered but also fallen in the same breath. The military has risen in ranks and doubled in size, with weapons upgraded, reinforced, and mass-produced. But the citizens of Paradis were living in hardship and poverty in their own country. Because of the activation of the Rumbling, much of the lands were destroyed as well. Many were displaced into camps where they now lived and toiled to meet the needs of the new nation’s army. People were angry and disillusioned. 

To rub salt into the wound, the queen had announced in her latest letter that her daughter just had her third birthday. The party was wonderful, and they all enjoyed a delicious feast with a special cake for the little one. 

Discontent was simmering beneath the people’s skins. Food rations were prioritized for the army, but the people plowed and planted and saw the crops to harvest in the farmlands. Steel and wood were in constant demand, but it was the people who mined and logged and manned the factories. This was not the life that they had wanted.

“We can use this,” Pieck says. “They built a new nation with a rotten core.”

“It’s a shaky foundation.” Armin was going over the new plans. “They never had a leg to stand on since the beginning.”

The empire put on an intimidating face, but they would crumble from the inside.

 

 

“Please be careful,” Mikasa murmurs as she hugs Armin tightly. 

She and Levi along with Onyankopon and the children were at the docks. A few of the Marleyan state leaders were also present to see the ambassadors off to Paradis.

“Of course,” Armin says, squeezing his friend. “I think I can at least trust Historia’s promise that we won’t be harmed. She’s kept Jean and Connie’s families safe thus far.”

“Still, keep your guard up,” Levi says. “It’s not the queen who holds all the cards.”

Jean places a hand on the captain’s shoulder. “We’ll be fine, Captain, we’ve survived the worst.”

“We’re not helpless kids anymore!” Connie says, throwing his arm around Onyankopon.

“Hmm.”

Onyankopon laughs. “Just don’t do anything impulsive.”

“At least I know Annie can cover for you guys if you do get into a fight,” Mikasa muses, accepting Pieck’s one-sided hug. 

“That and Reiner too,” Pieck supplies. The man in question was currently crouched down and enveloped in a group hug with Gabi and Falco. 

“I can’t save all your asses at once,” Annie deadpans, but her eyes were glinting with mirth at Mikasa’s little jab. 

“Oi, we can fight too, you know!” Jean argues.

“Yes, yes, that’s been established,” Onyankopon says, humoring the boy. 

“The ship is ready to depart!” one of the state leaders announces. 

“Be careful!” Gabi’s voice yells over the blasting horn as she, Falco, and Reiner approach. “If you aren’t back in two months like you said, I’m coming to get you all myself!”

“Gabi, please,” Falco sighs. 

Reiner pats their heads. He catches Levi’s eye and gives a small nod. The older man returns it, and Reiner knows that the children will be safe and in good hands. 

Levi stiffens slightly when Pieck bends down and throws her arms around his shoulders. 

“I’ll miss the tea time and castella,” she says brightly. He grunts and pats her forearm. 

“We’ll write when we can, but I’m sure it’ll be monitored, so keep the letters casual,” Armin says, waving goodbye and joining the others who are already boarding. 

“Take care,” Mikasa calls, waving back. The little pit of dread still settles in her stomach. For however long this will last, she will never stop worrying.

“They’ll be alright,” Levi says. 

“And they’ve been planning speeches, proposals, and contingencies for months,” Onyankopon says. 

An engine’s roar is heard overhead. The first plane Marley had built after the Rumbling cuts through the air as it flies towards the mountains, bringing supplies for the reforestation work going on there. 

Each member of the alliance looks up and follows its path until it disappears, hidden by clouds. 

“We’ll see them again soon enough,” Falco says with a small smile on his face as he takes the handles of Levi's wheelchair. They head back home.

The ship raises its anchors, and the ambassadors are off to the place some of them once called home.

 

 

“Do you think this will work?” Annie asks no one in particular while she stares out the window. She thinks she can make out land in the distance.

“It has to,” Connie says. “I don’t think Historia’s too far gone yet. My mom and Jean’s family are alive and safe.”

“It also won’t be just us,” Reiner reminds her.

“The people who have suffered since the Rumbling,” Armin says as he stirs milk into his tea. “It will be the people who we have to reach. This is their fight as much as it is ours.” 

“We offer help and plant the seeds,” Pieck says. “They’re united in their misery and suffering, and they’ve been bearing the brunt of the labor and hardship while the military reaps all the benefits.”

“And once they realize that it’s them who truly holds the power,” Jean says, voice filled with hope, “well, that damned empire will have a revolt on top of their heads.”

“And we’ll be there to support them.”

“We’d best hope Historia keeps her promise and we stay unharmed,” Annie says, “because Paradis is in sight.”

They could all feel their heartbeats pounding, hot stabs of anxiety making their blood sing. Nerves around the room were firing rapidly. They all make their way up to the open deck.

Gusts of sea breeze greeted them. The smell of salt lingered in the air.

On the pier, Historia stood with the generals of the Yeagerists, observing the small speck of a ship that grew with every passing moment. Lady Kiyomi, who has provided much support for the navy, also stood with them. 

Armin watches a flock of birds fly towards the island. He catches a stray feather that floats down towards him.

He wonders if they can accomplish what they have planned. Marley had a small military. Most of their work for the past three years had been focused on reconciling the people, Eldians and Marleyans alike, rebuilding the industrial sector of the country, and restoring the lives the survivors once had. Their armies had been the least of their concerns. 

He knows that Marley is in no state to fight. Neither are the people of Paradis—the people who have been laboring, merely trying to survive. But he knows that there is a fire burning inside them—bitter flames that have been fanned by years of living in fear and broken promises. 

It all begins with a spark.