"...What exactly had been going through the Lord Tybur's mind when he shared the secrets of Pure Titans to Marley, and shortly thereafter helped the fledgling superpower in titanizing Eldian prisoners and dissidents, is to this day a mystery. Setting aside the fact that, by unleashing Pure Titan after Pure Titan on the shores of Paradis, Marley was technically engaging in warfare and breaking the Coward King's Peace- the dumping of Pure Titans onto Paradis in the last eighty years would, in the end, work against Marley, as the newly-crowned Historia III Reiss was quick to de-titanize every Pure Titan on Paradis, granting Neo Eldia a much needed population increase, as well as several-hundred battle-tested soldiers.
Soldiers which, upon recovering from years of torture, were very eager to aid their Paradisian brothers and sisters in the liberation of the mainland they once called home…"
- The Tried, The True: Old Eldians in the Second-Half Century (c.900), by Gregorio Phocus
Sixth Day of the Sixth Month, Jahr Unseres Gründers c.854
Lepzen, Fitche Territory, Continental Marley
Her eyes snapped open at exactly 0600 in the morning, and Historia fought the urge to scream.
As much as a part of her vehemently wished it, the girl had never been able to shake the habits basic training had branded on her, even though she wasn't bound to follow the orders of anyone anymore, let alone the instincts Shadis had whipped into all the 104th. Yet, every morning at the crack of dawn, Historia's body woke itself up, just as it had for the past few years, and it aggreived her.
She supposed it was a useful instinct to have, no matter how much she loathed it. The luxury of sleeping in was one of the many she'd discarded when she had seized the throne from Frieda, what with her having to preside over an entire kingdom, and Historia had never been a morning person to begin with.
(Christa had been, though.)
(But she wasn't Christa anymore.)
Even Christa would find this exhausting, Historia mused glumly. Every little girl dreamt of being a princess at least once, but she suspected that none would ever want the responsibilities that entailed. For her, who was not the princess, but the Queen? Any responsibilities that might've been given to a princess were given to her twenty-fold, and Ymir, how they weighed heavily.
Historia had only been fifteen when she'd been crowned. A necessity for many, many reasons, she knew, but that did little to change the fact that four years of learning to rule justly without relying too much on the Coordinate to bend people to her will (and even now it made her grimace to think of) had left its toll on her.
Fuck. She'd barely gotten out of bed and she already had a headache. And I still have a meeting with the brass in an hour, the queen's mind decided to remind her, and this time Historia did not resist the exhausted groan her throat cast out. "It's the sixth, then? Already? I could have sworn-"
She stopped, the last dregs of sleep swept away by her waking mind.
The fifth was yesterday.
If the rescue had gone off without a hitch, Eren should be in Liberio by now.
Historia took a breath, threw off her covers, and rolled out of bed.
By the time Historia strode through the doors to the meeting room, golden hair billowing behind her (she'd neglected to do it up in its usual bun in her haste), the officers of her Armed Forces were already there and waiting, and whatever conversations had been occurring in the room came to a halt as she entered. In unison, her countrymen stood at attention and saluted.
"Our hearts and souls to the cause!" two-dozen voices roared, tall and proud, fists clenched above their hearts, and Historia had to force herself not to falter at their unwavering loyalty. Even after all this time, it still felt… so, so odd to have it directed at her. Half the men and women in the room had been her superiors- distant or otherwise- not even half a decade ago. And now I am the highest authority in the land. The unrivalled, the divine.
And all I had to do to get here was kill my sister and her family.
Discarding the errant thought, the Queen-Founder returned the salute of her countrymen with a mounting eagerness. "Zum Sieg, everyone. I take it you have good news, given how excited you all look?" she asked, waving them at ease as she made for the seat at the head of the table. Chucking and a smatter of amused hums met her in reply.
"Good news on all fronts, Your Majesty," her Generalfeldmarschall replied. Erwin was seated to her right, it seemed, and passed Historia a dossier when she took her seat. "Großadmiral Iglehaut reports success in staving off the Marleyan fleet from sweeping upwards, and our occupations of the Operation Rückeroberung cities have seen little resistance from the Marleyan populace… though, I suppose that's not what you want to hear first." Erwin gave his Queen-Founder a knowing look- bordering on an amused smile- before turning away and nodding to another man. "Generaloberst Besarius, if you would?"
Standing from his seat at the call, Besarius nodded to Erwin, then to Historia dipping his head. "If it pleases Your Highness."
Historia raised a hand and bade the Old Eldian continue, not trusting herself to speak, to ask, and cause the world to strike her hope down.
"The King-Consort's retrieval mission was successful in every regard," her subordinate announced, and the round of cheering and applause hid the sigh of relief that left Historia lips. Thank Gott. "All conducted weapons tests were successful, and commissioned Marleyan officers were targeted with impunity- to great effect, we've been told. Goddess willing, it'll take a toll on our enemies." Shifting through the papers he held before him, Besarius held out three towards the Queen-Founder, who took them graciously. "Telegrams straight from Liberio, Your Majesty, from Jean Kristein."
Taking in her friend's words quickly, Historia couldn't but grin. "No casualties? I'll have to congratulate him and Armin both. Your aide did good for himself, Generalfeldmarschall Erwin."
"I'd expect nothing less. Kommandant Shadis trained the 104th well." That Erwin would not have picked out Armin to be his aide-de-camp were he not up to the generalfeldmarschall's standards went unsaid.
Nodding in agreement, the Queen-Founder set the telegrams aside. "Anything else of note?"
"A message from Hange Zoe, Your Highness" another generaloberst replied- Mareike Wrehst, if Historia recalled. She was one of Basil's chief subordinates. "She's headed back to the Home Island to personally oversee the completion of Project Gehende Rüstung."
There was a general murmur as the council contemplated on the news, only to silence when Historia nodded again. "That makes sense, I suppose," she hummed. "The King most likely gave her a copy of his report to work with. If the Section Kommandant believes that information will benefit the final phases of Gehende with her personal oversight, then I trust her in this." A report which Historia would be hearing in a few days, give or take. A report nearly three years in the making.
That had been half the reason Eren had been sent to infiltrate the Marleyan army, and Historia really, really hoped that the last few years spent alone had been worth it.
Dismissing her thoughts of loneliness (only a few more days. I've waited three years, I can wait a week.) Historia set the issue aside and reach for a paper in the dossier. "And speaking of Gehende… What of the Royal Armory?"
"Still being prepped for the crossing, Your Majesty," someone else spoke. "The Vizeadmiral sends his apologies as well for being unable to make it a priority."
"Commend him for it," Historia replied instead. "The Armory can wait. Keeping our people supplied and fed takes precedence, and until we can start using the farmland gained in our occupation, we'll need our homegrown food desperately." She could make do without any amor or weapons for her Titan, though they would be sorely missed when the time came to combat the other Holders. "...And our people in Hizuru?"
"Thriving, Your Majesty," Erwin replied. "Our Hizurese allies landed with about the same success we did, and are moving to press the advantage. Any losses taken were insignificant, and none of our people bore the brunt. The Shogun sends his thanks for the ultrahard-steel. It proved more than adequate in aiding their advances."
"Section-Kommandant Hange will be pleased that her hypothesis proved correct," Whrest murmured, and Historia snorted in agreement. To think of the things she could've been doing without the old government's budget cuts…
The next two hours followed the same course as the prior one, with the words blurring in her mind even as she spoke them. There were conquered towns and cities to manage, Marleyan citizens to corral or expels from said cities. Eldians in poverty to uplift, militias to form, volunteer brigades to enlist and merge into the ranks, supply lines to create and defend, and all manner of things being shipped or set to be shipped from the Home Island. Territory to consolidate, eventual counter-offensives to repel, enemy garrisons to defeat and disperse.
Headache after headache after headache.
There's still so much ahead of us to do, came the wearied thought, and we're only just beginning. Goddess give me strength.
It was daunting. No amount of rushed training in royal etiquette could have prepared her for this.
Underneath the table, out of sight, Historia's fists clenched.
This was the path she had chosen, when Historia had discard the facade that had been Christa, when she had embraced herself for what she was. This was the path the had sworn to walk down, side by side with Eren, all those years ago, and she would see it through till the end. This was the promise she had sworn- to build a better world for the children who'd come afterwards, for the future of her nation and her people.
There was only one way forward for Eldia.
"Zum Sieg," she whispered. To Victory.
I'll make everything worth it in the end, Frieda. I promise.
So, taking advantage of the lull, Historia once again rose from her seat to address her cabinet. "Then, with this," the Queen announced, "I do believe Operation Rückeroberung is complete, and we can begin to move forward with our long-term war plans. Well done, everyone."
Her declaration was met with a war-whoop from one of her younger generals, before the assembled officers began pounding the table in uniformed unison, a Thud. Thud. Thud. that increased in crescendo and speed. She did not stop it. She basked in it, letting hear heart beat in unison with the will of her people.
(For the Founder was not only a symbol of the people, but a vessel of their will. And the will of her people filled the vessel with cries of liberation.)
"From here," the Queen continued, "there can be only option for us. One road, one path, one way to salvation. We will stop for nothing, and no one. All our enemies will be swept away, this I vow!" I promise.
The words came to her unexpectedly, yet naturally. She was tired, yet, though Historia wished for nothing more than to return to bed, she could see her words invigorating the room with a restlessness, with an urge to go out and act. So, Historia let the words overtake her, and carried on.
"From our anguish and disgrace, our people will rise again! The Nine-Pointed Star will shine in the sky once more, forever more!" I promise!
"The sacrifices of our brothers and sisters, from Udynel to Basil's War, and long after, won't be in vain! Their dreams live on through us, and it is those dreams we will make reality!" I PROMISE!
The thudding grew louder. Vaguely, Historia noticed that the door had been opened, and that the meeting had attracted a crowd, following her every word.
She let them. Her words were for them as well.
And… they're for you as well, all of you, who watch us from the next life. Can you see us? Are you proud of us?
And then, on the final THUD, Historia's raised a single finger in the air, a war-cry of her own.
"ONE WAY FORWARD!" the Queen-Founder roared. "ZUM SEIG!"
It was as much of a promise to her people as it was a threat to her enemies.
(And she had every intention of fulfilling both.)
First it was the room. Then it was the floor. Then, at last, all the building took up the cry of freedom.
Just a few more days.
I'll see you soon, Eren.
Liberio, Amsel Territory, Continental Marley
There was an irony to be found here, that after everything he'd been through, it was a door that rendered him unable to move forward.
A fucking door.
It wouldn't even be that hard to break through it, Titan or otherwise- it was wood, plain and simple, barely varnished and paint chipped, a standard for houses in the former Internment Zone.
Just knock, he scolded himself. One step forward, knuckles-to-wood thrice, two steps back. Simple.
Eren's legs did not seem to think so.
It was almost laughable, if it wasn't so sad. He had been fighting wars since the moment his dad had told him the truth of the world, the moment he had joined the Vermessungkorps when he had reached the age of enlistment. Eren had braved a civil war, the storming of the Reiss Chapel, the intrigues of a court riddled with post-conflict loyalties and allegiances, then an espionage mission so undercover that he hadn't seen his family or friends for over two years until just recently. He'd seen hell in the trenches, had stormed Slava alongside his mainlander brothers and sisters, had seen men and women he'd come to care for die under a hail of bullets, had heard the death-whistles of artillery raining death around him robbing those around him of their futures and livelihoods and-
Eren brought that train of thought to a forceful halt.
Maybe that was why he was so nervous, he mused with a grimace. The first time I'm going to really see any of my family since this all started, and it's the grandparents who I've never met.
It had been five months into his mission when Eren had discovered that his dad's parents were still alive, gleaned off a few words he'd overheard his brother say in the early days of the campaigns against the Mid-East. To say it had surprised him was far from an understatement.
Grandparents… were not people he had experience dealing with. His mom's parents had died some time before he'd been born, in no small part thanks to the Regression's refusal to advance medical practices 'till his dad arrived. And even dad's journals, when they talked about his own parents, wrote them in past-tense. With what he'd seen in the Internment Zones, and how long Eren had guessed life-expectancies were within them, he had naturally come to the conclusion that they were gone.
But they weren't.
They were here, alive, and waiting. The letter Historia had written for him, the one he kept in his pocket above his heart, had said as much. "They want to meet you," she had written in that cute, half-legible scrawl of hers, the one she reserved for just the two of them. "They were so happy to hear of you, they could scarcely believe it! I think it'll be good for you."
(god, he hoped it was.)
They were waiting, and he was here. So, why was he so nervous?
Armin's voice, as abrupt as it was cutting through the silence from behind, had been half-expected. He always had an knack for noticing something wrong, the King thought wryly. "I'm fine," Eren lied, before grimacing and rescinding the statement. "Actually, no. I'm nervous, Armin."
Walking up to his right side, his childhood friend hummed in acknowledgement. Armin had been the only one Eren had asked to accompany him for this. The others were close friends of his, yes, but of all his friends, only Armin and Mikasa had ever truly known his father before the Attack Titan had been passed down. "That bad, huh?"
"You could say that," Eren groaned, running a hand through his hair. "I- I don't know them, Armin. They're my grandparents and I don't know them, I've never met them, dad rarely talked about them and the journals don't go nearly enough into detail and-"
He stopped, took a breath, then exhaled. "...and I don't think I've been this anxious about something since my wedding."
The admittance brought out a bark of surprised laughter from his friend, and the stiff feeling in his gut lessoned just a bit. It was a welcome feeling, after two years of keeping it hidden.
"I mean, if it makes you feel any better," the aide shrugged, "you at least look presentable, even if you don't feel it."
"I suppose so," Eren admitted, taking a moment to study himself. The hated beige-white of the Marleyan uniform and the fucking armband he'd worn for two years were gone at last, thrown into a fire during the post-mission celebration the night they'd arrived in Liberio, replaced by the familiar olive-green of a Vermessungkorps military uniform. He had forgone the additional apparel that were more "of his station" as King-Consort, having only the black-and-gold Nine-Pointed Star broach that signified his affiliation to the Royal Bloodline pinned to right breast pocket.
And, the most noticeably of all, he'd been told, Eren had cut his hair.
He had let it grow long during his time in Marley, to both serve as a barrier between any facial similarities between him and Zeke (assuming anyone bothered to look close enough to find out), and because he hadn't… really cared enough to go to such lengths for his looks.
(Eren had cared for little, during his mission. He'd been too tired to. All he had wanted to do was memorise the information he had been sent to obtain, identify the enemy Shifters and the locations of their families, and make it back to friendly territory safely. That was all he had cared about… at first.
Then his squadmates had gotten him to open up, and it had all been a downward spiral from there. He had, against his better judgement, allowed himself to get close to them, to eat with them and laugh with them and drink with them. It was in those days that he had truly seen for himself what his dad had told him.
Inside the Walls, or across the sea, everyone was the same.
Keeping them alive through the war had been one of the hardest things he'd have to do, without overtly using his Titan Power. But, he'd managed it. They'd all made it out of Slava alive.
And then, he had left them behind.
Philip, Tiel, Jolina, Heidi, Swen… Eren had seen their faces, in that train car, when he had cast away the putrid mask he'd worn for two years.
If the fear and anger in their eyes had not clued him into their feelings, then the abject look of betrayal on their faces certainly did.)
Eren had simply considered tying his hair back into a bun, and had tried it once to see how it looked.
He had looked at the mirror once, grimaced, before grabbing the bundle of hair and cutting it.
The hairbun wouldn't do.
It… reminded him of memories that did not exist.
And leaving his hair free, and long…
(He had looked in the mirror, and Frieda Reiss had stared back.)
So, he had simply reverted back to the hair-length he'd had in the days leading up to the start of his mission. A style that was more of him and less of him.
(He would never come to pass. Eren wouldn't let it. He had promised, after all.)
What if it wasn't enough? What if he wasn't enough? Maybe his grandparents would reject him. It would hurt, that sting, but it was nothing he could not survive.
"...Maybe I should come back when the war's over," Eren muttered. At least by then, the fighting would be over and things would be more peaceful. Yes, that was excuse enough.
Armin looked at him, raised an eyebrow in exasperation, before taking a step forward and knocking on the door, his knuckles rapping against the wood thrice.
"There you go," Armin said cheerfully, his smile unrepentant in the slightest before turning on his heel and walking away. "Have fun! Be good! Make a good first impression!"
The King-Consort had all of three seconds to process what had been done before the door opened.
There was a woman, standing in the doorway.
She looked a lot like his dad.
Silence permeated the air, neither moving, neither speaking, both seemingly enraptured by the sight of the other. Then, after what seemed like an eternity, the woman spoke softly, unbelieving.
The smile that crept across his lips was hesitant. Nervous. Anxious. Eager.
But, it was sincere.
The last time Elma Jaeger had seen her eldest child's visage had been on a newspaper, three weeks after everything had gone wrong.
Grisha had rarely kept contact after he'd moved out, something both she and Kristoff had dispaired over, but… how could they blame him? After what had been done his sister, their little Faye, and both their inability and refusal to do anything about it… how could Grisha not have despised them? That they had even been allowed into their first grandson's life had been a wonderful surprise neither of them had expected, and one that they'd cherished with all they had. And, for a time, things seemed to get better, slightly.
Then the Eldian Restoratinosts were outed by their grandson, and back into the downward spiral the remnants of their family fell. Suddenly they were bereft a son and a daughter in law, and their grandson left parentless. Suddenly, they were the kin of seditious terrorists and traitors to Marley. The low profile they had tried to cultivate over the years after Faye's murder had been torn asunder and cast aside, and for a good few years, the Jaegers had been outcasts within the Internment Zone. The only relief there was to their predicament was that they had been spared the fate of the Restorationists thanks to their grandson, and that they had not been the only family to take the fall in isolation.
But, they had preserved, just as they had always done. Zeke gained the Beast Titan, and their standing improved. Elma and Kristoff went about their lives as loyal, good Eldians, and crawled their way back into Marley's good graces. The status quo they'd once enjoyed, minus their son and daughter-in-law, returned to them.
It had been a bitter victory, but one Elma had been reluctantly acceptive of. What were they to do, even if they despised it? Revolt? Scandalous thought asides, neither Jaeger had it in them to fight. Few Eldians did. All those who did have that spirit had flocked to Basil when the war in the Morean had begun, when she'd been very young, and all in Marley knew that the Morean's cause had died in flames.
So, they had settled into their lives once again, and waited for their finals days.
And then the Devils of Paradise attacked, and the status quo perished beneath the footfalls of Titans- and with those footfalls came word that she had a second grandson, and a letter from her own son, now dead, but…
He forgave us.
It had been the balm to her soul Elma had never realized she'd needed. She'd wept for hours, that night, and Kristoff had wept with her- for their children, for their grandchildren, for the family that could have been but never came to be.
Even after so many years, the pain still stabbed at her. But…
I… I think I am ready, now, to move past it.
Elma's children were gone from this world, but she still had two grandsons left to her.
And she'd be damned if she let them go off and kill each other.
Opening the door wider, Elma stepped aside, a watery smile of her own gracing her lips.
Her second grandson took so much after his father.
"I'm so happy to meet you, enkel."
From the street corner, Armin watched his friend disappear into his grandmother's home, and smiled wistfully. I'm glad that he's finally able to do this.
Grandparents, from Armin's experience, were a blessing to be cherished with all of one's heart. It was a lesson he had tried to take to heart every time the Shiganshina Trio (as they'd been affectionately nicknamed by the rest of the 104th) went back home to visit their parents, whenever time could be made. A lesson he had been glad to heed, when his grandfather's time in the world had come to an end.
To this day, he wasn't sure if that had made the funeral harder to deal with, or lessened the pain. But, he took solace in the fact that the old man had lived a long, fulfilling life. The Regression had been kinder to him than it had to others, something his parents had noted in the eulogy speeches.
Arming missed his grandfather, but his passing had only made him cherish the memories they'd made even more.
He was happy that Eren would finally have the chance to make some of his own. After everything that he had been through, and with a world of possibilities looming before them all…
If anyone deserves a moment of peace and quiet, Eren does.
And maybe, when he was done, the two could finally catch up with one another. It had been two years, after all, and Armin had missed his oldest friend dearly.
Armin watched the house for a few more moments before turning away, making for the automobile he had parked nearby. The Generalfeldmaschall had left a veritable half-mountain of paperwork for him to complete, and the aide had every intention of completing it all before the 104th left Liberio to join the Queen at the front.
The war they were waging would shake the world, and Armin wouldn't miss it for anything.
The home of his grandparents was… well-lived.
Eren knew what the look of an empty household looked like- the Royal Palace quarters in Mithras had ingrained the feeling in him, the one full of hollowness and ice. But this place, the place his brother and father and aunt had grown up in, felt warm.
It reminded him of home. Shiganshina. God, it had far too long since he'd gone home. He missed his wife. Their shared bed. The nostalgic taste of his mother's cooking, the background murmur of her words with Aunt Dina. The conversation and banter shared with Armin and Mikasa. He missed it all, but Eren had made his peace with that a long time ago. He'd not have that until, at the earliest, the war came to an end.
It was daunting, the idea that it would be yet more years still before he could truly go home.
Taking in the sight of the house's living room, Eren breathed in, the exhaled, anxious. I think this place might be a close second.
"Do you take tea, enkel?"
His grandmother's words broke him from his reverie, and Eren blinked the errant thoughts away. "Oma, I couldn't- rationing's bound to go in effect at some point or another, and I don't wish to deprive you of something you'll-!"
"Nonsense," the elder woman waved aside. "We've been saving ours for a special occasion, and isn't this one?" She turned to him, smiling so warmly that Eren almost wanted to turn away. "Our grandson has come home."
Eren opened his mouth to try and save her the trouble, only for her to set down a tea-tray already pre-set with cups. "How do you take your tea, dear?"
"...Whatever way you make them, I think. I don't really drink that often," murmured, resigned. So this was the power of a grandmother? The ability to never take no for an answer, huh? Or maybe it was just something about being a Jaeger. His father had to have gotten his stubbornness from somewhere, after all.
"Two sugars, then? Milk?"
Eren shrugged. Was that usually how tea was made on the mainland? He had seen the Kapitän make his own brew plenty of times back home, but the King-Consort had never seen the Ackerman use milk or sugar before. Would it taste good?
Not that Eren knew if regular tea tasted good, regardless. The only thing he tended to drink these days were water, coffee, and alcohol. Damned Shifter immunity to drunkenness.
Humming, her grandmother disappeared into what Eren assumed was the kitchen before emerging a few moments later with a carton of milk and kettle, seemingly already filled with hot tea. He guessed that she must have had it running before Armin had knocked.
Setting the kettle down on the tray, Eren's grandmother smiled in apology. "I'm sorry for your grandfather's absence, enkel- he's asleep, upstairs. Kristoff isn't as young as he used to be, and the past few weeks have been… tiring, in more ways then one."
At that, Eren winced internally. He was more than aware of how much the war they'd begun had changed things, had uprooted what little peace had been left to Paradis' mainlander brothers and sisters. Both he and Historia had been under no illusions as to how much the war would hurt those they were trying to liberate, but it did not lessen the guilt.
"I'm sorry for that," Eren murmured, words genuine. "God willing, this war will be over sooner than later, and everything can…" Can what? Go back to 'normal?' Inwardly, the consort scoffed at himself. As far as he was concerned, 'normal' had died with his father.
In front of him, his grandmother sighed, taking a sip of tea before speaking again. "...I am under no illusions, child. If the war ends before Yueltide, I'll be surprised. Yet… I cannot help but hope for it."
Eren suddenly found her gaze burning, and could not help but look away. "...Please don't ask that of me, Oma."
"They say you are the King of the Island Devils. Surely, you have the power to stop this?"
Beneath the table, a fist clenched. "I…" he breathed, "I do. But I won't. Too much is at stake, here. This war isn't just about the island, it never has. To turn away now, without trying with all our might…"
How could he go home, like that? How could he fail his father like that? His mother? His aunts, both the one alive and the one long dead? His wife? His friends? His comrades, his nation, his people?
It was simple, see.
Not until every last drop of blood is repaid. Not until every Eldian knew the light of liberation.
Not until we reach the Long-Awaited Dream.
Eren shook his head. "You can't convince me to turn us back, Oma. Please, don't ask that of me."
There was silence, for a moment, as the two stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity before a small, sad smile appeared on the elder's face.
"Ah," she whispered, "you even have his spirit. So fiery, so headstrong." A shaky laugh escaped her, self-decrepitating in a way oh-so familiar to Eren. "I couldn't stop him, back then. What right do I have to stop his child? I've not been a good enough parent to justify it, let alone to the grandchild I'd never known existed had until mere weeks ago."
(And oh, how that had hurt more than he'd thought it would.)
The silence between them now was wrought with unsaid emotion, built over nearly thirty years even with his absence and non-presence in his grandparents eyes. He was the embodiment of it all, Eren realized, the living ghost of his father returned. The consort turned his gaze downwards, to the cup of tea he held, and partook of it in the hopes that it would give him the answers he sought.
Can you see me, father? All the way back then?
Gaze jerking upwards, Eren met his grandmother's eyes again to find them pleading.
"I know," she whispered, "that I've no right to ask you this. He means little to you, no doubt. Perhaps you don't even know he exists, but… your older brother, Zeke…"
His brother's name had not been one he had been expecting to hear today, Eren realized as he flinched. Stupid, foolish idiot. Of course he would have kept contact with Oma and Opa, even if he has a house of his own. "...I know of him," he replied, wary. "What of him?"
Eren blinked. "I… what?"
"Spare him, please," the woman repeatedly, more earnestly, more desperately. "I know- I know he sentenced your father to paradise, and I know he serves those you oppose, but- he doesn't know any other life! We did our best, when we picked up the peaces, but he was doomed for service the moment Grisha and his cohorts were outed. He had no choice! And even then, he had no choice but to turn Grisha and Dina in- the authorities were so close to finding them, and if he had done nothing-!"
He had no choice.
The news sends him reeling.
That had not been in the journals. His dad had always blamed himself for pushing his firstborn away, into the arms of the enemy. Grisha had never thought to suspect anything else other than his perceived failures as a father. And Gott, Auntie Dina…
She had blamed herself just as much as his father had.
You couldn't have known. He had no choice.
Save one half of his family by condemning the other, or do nothing and doom them all.
God, he'd only been a child. No child should have been forced to make a decision like that.
The bitter irony of the thought is not lost on him.
(For a moment, the tang of metal coats his tongue.)
"I'll bring him back."
His grandmother stops, and stared- and this time, Eren does not feel the need to look away.
"I'll bring him back," he promised, emerald eyes burning. Determination coursed through his being, charging every word he spoke. "We came here to save every Eldian we could. Even the other Holders. Even my brother. I owe it to my father, as the bearer of his legacy. I owe it to my aunt, so she can have that second chance she deserves. I owe it to him, so he can start to let the past go, and leave it behind."
I owe it to myself.
Eren let out a quiet breath. "On Paradis," he spoke, "the family is one of our most precious facets of life. Families raise the next generation, and build the world they'll live in. I… I've lost enough family, as it is. If I can bring one home… if there's even a possibility than I can sway Zeke to our cause… I'll take it. I promise."
Maybe, in another life, Eren would have regretted such a declaration. Maybe, in another life, such a declaration would have been little more than a soothing lie.
But, watching the relief flood his grandmother's face, Eren considered his words well worth their weight in gold.
Then a thought came to him, of the opportunity before him, and he once again hesitated. He mused on it for a moment, summoned forth his courage, and opened his mouth
"I… have a request to ask of you in return, actually," he started, sheepishly, but his grandmother only smiled. Knowingly, almost, as if she already knew what he meant to ask. Perhaps this was one of the grandparently powers Armin had spoken of.
"Of course, enkel," she replied. "So long as I can."
Eren took a breath.
"...Could you tell me about my brother? And my father? And… auntie Faye?"
And here, Elma Jaeger laughed, looking almost overjoyed. "Oh, grandson," she replied, "I've so much to tell."
The rest of the evening was spent talking of days long past.
A/N: Just over 6k words. My personal best! I'm actually really proud of that.
Again, my aplogies for the wait between updates. Uni is... a thing, that I have to do, and my muse refuses to come back for long periods of time. But I'll make due.
Next chapter, we fly back overseas to Dina and Carla's efforts on the global stage and Willy's opposition, before going back to to the Marleyans and reuniting the Warriors.
Until next time, everyone. Zum Sieg.