Zackley surveyed the table solemnly. "So, the survey ships confirmed it?"
Erwin nodded grimly. "Yes. It appears that everything outside of the island has been destroyed. And given the swiftness with which the destruction occurred, it's extremely unlikely that it was just the spare Wall Titans that we had that were responsible. Most likely, every Eldian outside of the island was turned into a Colossal sized Titan in order to facilitate the eradication of all other humans in the world."
Pixis folded his arms. "Well...I suppose that greatly simplifies any and all future conflicts."
"Yes." Erwin agreed. "With no outsiders to invade again, we just have to worry about internal strife, something that will be much easier to manage."
Niles looked uneasy. "Still...it's chilling to know that the Founder had that kind of power."
"True." Erwin admitted.
"And it seems that the Titans and Titan powers have vanished for good." Pixis added. "None of our shifters can heal or transform, and I had some of my people examine the insides of the walls stretched all across the island. While the walls themselves are intact, the Titans within them are gone."
Niles coughed. "What will we do with the volunteers?"
Zackley stroked his beard thoughtfully. "We'll tell them the same thing we'll tell the general public, namely that we don't have any idea why, but for whatever reason the founder Ymir decided to act on our behalf and eliminate everyone outside of this island, taking their hatred and prejudices with them. We'll then offer them apologies and whatever compensation we can, since their knowledge about the outside world will still be useful."
Niles frowned. "So we're keeping Eren's involvement a secret?"
"Yes." Zackley said curtly. "It's not like our version of events is all that different from the truth."
"How is Eren doing?" Pixis asked.
Erwin winced. "He...well, we haven't told him everything yet, but I think he's already figured out what Ymir did. He's...he's not taking it well, since he's the one who basically gave her the green light to do it."
Pixis nodded sagely. "Perfectly understandable."
Zackley sighed. "Keep an eye on him. Though since the Titan powers have vanished, he won't need to be as closely scrutinized or monitored anymore."
Eren, Mikasa, and Armin sat silently in an unused conference room.
Eren's face was lined with pain and grief. They'd won. Their future was guaranteed.
Mikasa gently held his hand. "Eren, this is not your fault. You couldn't have known."
Eren said nothing.
Armin agonized over what he should say. He tried to think of something, anything, that would ease the guilt Eren was feeling, but nothing came to mind.
After a few moments of silence, Eren spoke.
"I...I told you...some of what happened with Ymir...but...I...I didn't tell you...everything."
Armin frowned. "Really?"
Mikasa squeezed his hand. "You don't have to tell us if you don't want to."
Eren swallowed nervously. "It...it involves coming clean about something I've been hiding from you for years. But...I think both of you deserve to know the truth."
And so Armin and Mikasa remained quiet as Eren told them everything.
He told him about the first timeline. He told them about their original cadet training, the battle at Trost, the disastrous 57th expedition, and finally capturing Annie after so much hardship and sacrifice.
He told them about the Beast Titan's incursion at Ragako, about Reiner and Bertolt revealing their true colors, their failed attempt to kidnap him, and the first time he used the Founding Titan's power.
He told them about the Scouts' conflict with the government, what happened in the crystal cave between himself and Historia, how they took down Rod Reiss's Titan and secured the new regime's control over the walls.
He told them how they prepared to take back Wall Maria, how the battle of Shiganshina unfolded and ended with a pyrrhic victory for the Scouts, how Erwin died and Armin gained the Colossal Titan, how they reached the basement, and learned the truth about the outside world.
And he told them what happened at the ceremony after the battle, how he kissed Historia's hand, ended up in the paths, and was given the chance to go back in time and do everything all over again.
When he finally finished his voice was slightly hoarse from all the talking he'd done, and Armin and Mikasa were stunned by what he had revealed.
Eren watched them nervously. "I...I know it sounds a little crazy...but…"
"I believe you, Eren." Armin said firmly. "It does explain a lot. And...to be honest...we've been suspecting that something like this might have been the truth for quite some time now."
"Really?" Eren exclaimed in surprise. "But...you never said anything."
Armin shrugged halfheartedly. "I wasn't sure, and while I had some misgivings, overall I felt that I could trust you, and that when you were ready you'd tell us the truth."
"Heh." Eren chuckled weakly. "You really are the smart one, aren't you?"
Mikasa squeezed his hand again. "Eren...I'm so sorry you had to go through all that. But...overall, things are better for our people...for us...then they were in the original timeline, right?"
Eren nodded dismally. "Yes. But the cost...I'm incredibly grateful to Ymir for giving me this opportunity. But...I never...I never wanted her to do that on my behalf. Knowing how many people must have died to secure our freedom...even if it means we'll never be attacked again…"
Armin smiled bitterly. "Well, she's a goddess, right? The struggles of us mortals must not be as pressing for her anymore, so she probably didn't think much of wiping the slate clean for the benefit of the people she'd taken an interest in. Especially since it sounds like she's been hopping from one timeline to the next, seeing how things will play out each time for her own amusement. And if she can just undo the results of the rumbling when she starts the next timeline, she probably isn't concerned about the long term consequences it will have."
Eren frowned. "Of course, we have to live with those consequences."
Mikasa pulled Armin and Eren into a group hug, the two of them doing their best to give Eren what comfort they could.
Several days later, Levi and Dina were walking toward the main military prison of Mitras.
Levi glanced at Dina. "Are you sure you're ready for this?"
Dina's hands were trembling, but her voice was steady.
"Yes. I...I need to speak to him. I have to know why."
Levi frowned. "Eren already told us what Zeke's true goal was. He was planning to-"
"I know. But I want to hear it from him. I want...I want to understand."
Levi awkwardly placed a hand on her shoulder. "None of what happened was your fault."
Dina shook her head. "I know. But he's still my son."
Levi removed the hand. "Okay."
They then entered the building and made their way to the front desk.
One of the MPs stationed there that day looked up. "Captain Levi! Lady Dina! How can I help you?"
"We're here to see Zeke." Levi said shortly.
The MP's face fell. "Ah. Um, well, I'm afraid visiting him isn't going to be possible."
Dina gasped. "What?"
Levi's eyes narrowed. "Why not?"
Dina stumbled backwards, and Levi gently caught her before she could fall.
He looked sharply at the MP. "What happened?"
"We're not entirely sure yet, but he was in the same cell as Yelena. It looks like they both killed themselves last night, though we will be doing a full inquiry."
Their reason for coming now gone, Levi and Dina slowly exited the building.
"Zeke…" Dina whispered.
Without warning she began to sob against Levi, who did what he could to comfort her.
He scowled. Damn it. There was a whole lot I wanted to say to that idiot, but...
Annie walked out of the courthouse with Armin by her side, still slightly stunned by the results of her hearing.
While her past crimes against Paradis were by no means forgotten, the circumstances around her actions as a child soldier had been taken into account, as was the help she had given to them when she betrayed Zeke. With these things in mind, and also factoring in the disappearance of the outside world and the end of the Titan powers, Annie was pardoned and given her freedom.
Armin smiled at her. "I told you they would be lenient."
"I'm honestly surprised it went as well as it did." She glanced at him. "Though I'm guessing you may have pulled a few strings to get them to go easy on me."
Armin grinned sheepishly. "Well, maybe. Still, I told you I'd do what I could to protect you."
Annie shook her head. "I thought it was all over. With my time running out with the curse, I figured saving you would be the last major thing I got to do in my life. Instead…"
"You have your whole life ahead of you." Armin murmured. "You don't have to worry about the past catching up to you anymore."
Annie came to a halt. "Well, I don't think that's quite true."
Armin looked up, and saw Jean, Marco, and Marlowe standing nearby, their expressions serious.
Marlowe stepped forward. "We didn't get a chance to really talk before, but...you killed Hitch."
Annie winced. "Yes."
Without warning Marlowe punched her in the face, causing her to stumble back with a bloody nose.
Armin caught her, while Jean and Marco ran up next to Marlowe just in case they needed to restrain him.
Marlowe made no further attempts to attack Annie, however, and the two of them just stared at each other silently.
"I'm grateful to you for saving us." Marlowe said quietly. "Given what Zeke was trying to do we owe you quite a debt for ruining his plans. But don't think we'll ever forget the blood you have on your hands."
Marlowe walked away, with Jean and Marco following him after throwing Annie apologetic looks.
Armin handed Annie a handkerchief. "You okay?"
"Yeah, I'll be fine." She said thickly as she held the cloth to her nose.
They resumed their walk, this time an uneasy silence settling down between them.
Annie couldn't blame Marlowe for being angry at her. He had a right to be. And while she didn't exactly regret her actions, she wasn't quite so sure that she had done the right thing anymore.
After all, by betraying Zeke, she had indirectly led to the outside world being destroyed, something that she knew would haunt her for the rest of her days.
But in the end, all she could do was move on and do her best to live with the choices she had made.
She silently took Armin's hand, and their fingers interlaced.
As the years passed, things settled down on Paradis island into a relative peace.
With some help from the volunteer soldiers who had come from the world outside of the island, the government of Paradis slowly but surely began to incorporate elements of a republic, based on a democratic system that ancient Marley had had during its golden age before Eldia conquered it at the dawn of the Titan era.
With her role as queen reduced almost entirely to a figurehead, Historia and Ymir were free to live their lives as they wanted, and were very happy together.
Mikasa did everything she could to comfort and support Eren, and in time he was able to move on, though he could never truly forgive himself for the role he had played in the end of the world. They had two children that they named Faye and Hannes, and spent the rest of their lives together.
After courting for a few years Annie and Armin ended up getting married, and together they had one blond haired boy that they named Bertolt.
After several years Levi and Dina also ended up getting married, and they had one daughter together that they named Isabel. After they got married Levi retired from the military and opened up his own tea shop, though he would check in on the wellbeing of his former comrades from time to time.
Connie and Sasha remained in the Scouts and eventually got married as well. They were among the first Scouts who would go on expeditions many years later to explore the outside world to see what had become of it.
These expeditions were fairly rare, though, as the island had all of the resources they needed, and everywhere they went outside the island they found countless morbid reminders of the global genocide that had wiped out every other human civilization on the planet.
Hange in particular found these expeditions to be equal parts fascinating and disquieting. It was always exciting to explore new lands and find new things, but knowing the dark truth of what had happened was extremely unsettling. It was easy to forget if one lived out one's life solely on the island, but for those who ventured beyond it was unavoidable.
She knew that with time the wounds of the past would heal, but they would never go away completely. They had won their happy ending, but the price others had paid had been far too steep.
She could only hope that somewhere out there, in another time, in another world, they had been able to come to a resolution without such a high toll.
Author's Note: Oh god, finishing this chapter felt like pulling teeth, but at last it's done. I know it's a bit on the short side, and it's not quite as polished as I'd like it to be, but honestly I don't want to keep you guys in suspense any longer, and I just want to be done with this story, and I don't think staring at my screen for another two months will make it any better. I hope the ending was at least tolerable.
If you enjoyed the story, I'm glad I was able to have a positive effect on your life, even if the story was a bit of a mess. If you enjoy my writing, I would highly recommend you go check out my story What If, as I think it's quite good, and I have a somewhat important announcement at the end of chapter 16.
If you want another time travel AOT story to read, I would highly recommend Not This Time by Rowboat Girlyman, as it's really fantastic. It'll be up to you to decide whether it's better than A Second Chance or not, but personally I enjoy NTT way more, since I can read it without being overcome by self loathing and existential dread about my life and writing.
And now for a little bonus, a short joke chapter where I deliberately try to make the ending to A Second Chance as mind breakingly terrible as the canon ending. A small part of me was tempted to upload this and pretend it's the real ending for a few days before uploading the real ending, but I decided that would be too cruel. Plus it's way too late for an April Fool's chapter.
Eren couldn't help but cry when he saw his daughter for the first time.
The labor had been hard on Mikasa, but it was worth it to see Faye looking back up at them.
Mikasa gently cradled Faye in her arms. "She's beautiful."
Eren kissed Mikasa's forehead without taking his eyes off of Faye. "You did so good."
Suddenly, Eren felt lightheaded, and he stumbled away from Mikasa and Faye.
"Eren?" Mikasa looked at him in alarm. "Eren, what's wrong?"
Eren tried to speak, but before he could say a word he collapsed, his head hitting the floor hard.
Darkness pulled him under.
Eren felt his consciousness slowly returning to him. He groaned, his head still feeling sore.
"He's awake." Armin's voice spoke somewhere above him.
Eren opened his eyes, and found himself looking into Mikasa's face.
Her eyes brightened. "Oh thank goodness."
Eren smiled weakly. "Sorry for worrying you, I…"
Eren froze, because he realized something was wrong.
Mikasa was looking distinctly younger than she had when she'd given birth a few hour ago, and her hair was much shorter.
What the hell?
"Mikasa?" Eren asked cautiously. "Why are you…"
"Why am I what?" Mikasa asked with a frown.
Eren looked frantically around the room. "Wh-where am I? What's going on?"
"You fainted in the middle of the ceremony." Armin explained.
"Ceremony?" Eren repeated in confusion. "What ceremony?"
Armin frowned. "You know, the ceremony for the survivors of the battle of Shiganshina."
Eren sat back down, his mind spinning.
If what Armin said was true, then that meant his jump back in time, and everything that had happened afterwards, all of it had just been a long and elaborate dream.
None of it had been real. He was back in the original, and only, timeline.
Eren frowned. Well that was weird. Oh well, I guess I'll just forget all about it.
Mikasa tilted her head. "Something wrong?"
Eren sat up, a confident smile lighting up his face. "It's nothing. Hey Mikasa, want to have a threesome with Historia?"
Armin sputtered in bewilderment.
"Sure." Mikasa replied cheerfully. "Want to do it right now?"
"Yep." Eren said.
Eren and Mikasa got up and walked out of the room.
Armin followed after them, completely in shock. "Wait, what?! Where...the fuck...that came out of…"
Before long they ran into Historia.
The young queen nodded politely. "Oh hey Eren."
"Hello Historia." Eren placed his hand on her shoulder. "Mikasa and I were going to have sex. Would you like to join us?"
"Sure, sounds like fun." Historia said with a wide smile. "I hope your cock can handle both of us."
Eren laughed good naturedly. "I'm a shifter, of course it can. I'll fuck you both so good you won't be able to think about anything else except me being inside of you."
The three of them walked off, with Eren holding Mikasa and Historia by the shoulder, the two young women looking at him lustfully.
Armin shook his head. "What is going on?"
Erwin's ghost leaned down next to him. "You think that's bizarre, you should have seen the canon ending."
At the sight of a ghost, Armin panicked, tripped down the stairs, broke his neck and died.
Erwin's ghost stared down at Armin's body with a slightly puzzled look on his face. "Was it something I said? Oh well, I think I'll go haunt Levi for a while. Maybe I can convince him to worship my new lord and destroyer Gabithulu."