Chapter 2: The Promise
On most days, Gabi jumped at the opportunity to spend time with her cousin Reiner, who was really more like an older brother to her. This was not one of those days.
"Ugh, making your adorable cousin, who's nine years younger, carry your drunk self home at night? How irresponsible of you," chuckled Gabi as she steadied Reiner. The elder Braun had attended a reunion for the 104th Cadet Corps, and had helped himself to a little excess hard punch. Given that the rest of the attendees were similarly intoxicated or had gone home earlier, this left Gabi and Falco to walk Reiner to the apartment he was using.
"Don't be so hard on him," chided Falco, "It's his last week on Paradis before he goes on that peacekeeping mission. It makes sense that he'd want time to cut loose."
The younger Braun laughed. "I think Reiner just wanted time to talk to the queen. Did you see how he didn't talk to anyone else nearly as much?"
"Was it that obv. . . you noticed?" asked Reiner, who was struggling to stay focused.
"It was kinda embarrassing," admitted Falco, "Honestly I don't know why you don't just tell Queen Historia how you feel. It worked great for me."
"Falco!" Gabi exclaimed, still bashful whenever her new relationship was brought up.
"Gabi. . . not so loud," moaned Reiner as his apartment came into view. The drunk warrior pushed himself off his escorts. "I think I can make it." Reiner tried to stumble his way home, only to veer off into the right and hit a tree. It was all Gabi could do to suppress her laughter, while Falco just shook his head.
After tucking Reiner in, Falco went to bed. Gabi, however, didn't feel comfortable leaving an intoxicated man unattended, so she stayed in Reiner's room to make sure her cousin didn't choke on his own vomit. Despite her best efforts, Gabi could only stave off her exhaustion for an hour.
The next morning, Gabi awoke first, and decided to make breakfast. After throwing together a plate of rolls, potatoes, and cheese, Gabi noticed that her cousin was still asleep past nine. As she stared down at Reiner's sleeping form, Gabi debated whether to rouse him. After a minute, Reiner began stirring. The drowsy man looked up and saw a brown-haired girl holding a potato through his blurred vision.
Gabi's face turned red upon hearing that name. Killing Sasha was Gabi's greatest regret in life, and just being reminded of her filled the young girl with shame and self-loathing.
"It's me, Reiner. It's time for you to get up."
Sitting up on his bed, Reiner rubbed the last bit of sleep from his eyes.
"Sorry, Gabi," he yawned, "When you have your hair tied like that, you kind of look like. . . anyways thanks for waking me."
As the cousins ate, Reiner asked Gabi questions about the parts of the reunion he had missed due to his drunkenness, as well as the walk home. Gabi did her best to fill in the blanks, as well as explain to Reiner how many of his friends had left early to prepare for the upcoming boat ride to Marley.
"Everyone's leaving, aren't they?" asked Reiner as he looked out the window. "I hope they had a good time."
"I'm sure they did," said Gabi, although she couldn't shake the feeling that Reiner was referring to more than just the party.
After showering, Reiner left to take care of "personal business." This left Gabi to decide what to do with her day. Falco would be volunteering at the Blouse farm, so Gabi figured she'd help out. It was the least she could do. As she went out the door, Gabi found herself instinctively taking a detour. Reiner's words had dragged up old feelings, and Gabi knew she wouldn't make it through the day without making a stop. Taking the road she had traveled many times before, Gabi found herself at Paradis's military cemetery. At an all too familiar grave, Gabi saw a kneeling figure. While her visits to Sasha's resting place occasionally coincided with Niccolo or Kaya's, the girl was surprised to see Reiner paying his respects. Gabi was frozen with indecision. Should she quietly leave and not interrupt, or should she sit next to her cousin? The choice was soon made for her, as Reiner turned and noticed Gabi in the distance. He did not speak, but his eyebrow raised. Gabi slowly approached Reiner, and knelt by his side.
After a moment of silence, Reiner spoke first. "I didn't expect to see you here. I guess we had the same idea. Did you know Sasha Blouse?"
Gabi was quiet for a moment, before responding. "I'm friends with her sister. I wish I had known her better."
Reiner nodded. "I think you would have liked her. Everybody in the 104th did. Do you remember that story I told you and mom, the one about the potato thief? I made it sound worse than it was for mom's sake, but that was about Sasha. I don't think she ever understood why eating that potato when she did was a big deal, but everyone called her 'Potato Girl' from then on." Reiner smiled sadly at the fond memory.
"Did you hear how she died?" asked Gabi.
"I asked Connie. He said a Marlyan soldier got her during the attack on Liberio."
This gave Gabi pause. Connie and the others hadn't told Reiner about her greatest shame, but why? Were they protecting Reiner's feelings? Were they covering for her? A part of Gabi felt relief. Her cousin's view of her mattered more than anything, and it would kill her if Reiner began to hate her over Sasha. But Connie had given her a break, so she wouldn't have to worry about alienating any more loved ones. Really, it was for the best. It could only hurt Reiner to tell him the truth, and the last thing she wanted was to hurt him. Why put Reiner through any more? Hasn't he suffered enough? Reiner stood up and began to turn. This was it, all she had to do was let him walk, and all of this could be put behind her.
Reiner paused at his cousin's outburst. He looked confused, but was listening.
"I. . . it's my fault Sasha died."
When Reiner didn't say anything, Gabi continued.
"Back when Eren attacked Liberio, I saw Sasha. She shot two of the gate guards I was friends with. I know she noticed me, but she didn't shoot. I didn't understand it at the time, but I think Sasha made a choice not to drag children into the battle. I watched her fly away onto that big airship. That's when I grabbed a rifle, and killed one of the soldiers grappling to the blimp. Falco and I boarded the ship, and I. . . I was just so angry. I wanted to lash out at the people who destroyed my home, who killed my friends. I immediately recognized the girl from before, and shot at her first. Falco tackled me before I could hurt anyone else, but I had already hit Sasha by the time they got the gun away from me. Sasha spared my life, and I killed her. Sasha was killed for being the only person in that war who did the right thing."
After finishing her story, Gabi scanned Reiner's face for a reaction. In his eyes, she saw grief, disappointment, shock, and horror.
"I know I should have told you sooner. I'm sorry." Gabi reached for Reiner's hand, but he pulled away from her. Wordlessly, the former warrior turned and walked home. Alone in that quiet cemetery, Gabi began to weep.
Gabi didn't keep track of how much time she spent at that grave. She only knew that she had been crying and apologizing to Sasha. After a while, when her sobs had turned into hiccups, Gabi found herself sleepwalking down the road, not sure where her feet were carrying her. Gabi looked up to see some stables, and realized she had come to the Blouse's ranch after all. Feeding the horses was Falco, who was quick to notice her.
Running up to Gabi, Falco greeted her. "Hi Gabi, where have you been? Wait, what's wrong?"
Without answering, Gabi threw her arms around him and cried. "Why do I keep hurting the people I love?"
"What?" asked Falco.
"Today I saw Reiner at Sasha's grave, and I told him what I did. I knew I couldn't lie to him, but his face. . . I've never seen him look so pained before!"
Falco rubbed circles on Gabi's back. "Listen, I'm sure Reiner's just processing this. He won't hate you."
"He should hate me! All I've ever done is ruin people's lives! I murdered the woman who spared me, insulted the family that took us in, and added one more tragedy to Reiner's life. Can you name one person who has gotten close to me that I haven't hurt yet?"
"Me," said Falco.
Gabi shook her head. "How many times did you almost get killed because of all the stupid things I did when we came to this island? I've only ever given you trouble! Why do you stay with me?"
Falco knew it was useless to argue with Gabi in this state, so he silently listened to her as she blubbered on about all the problems she had caused others, and how sorry she was for all the times she brought him pain. Not once during Gabi's disorganized rambling did Falco release her from his embrace. Eventually, Gabi tired her voice out, and went quiet,
"Are you finished?" asked Falco. When Gabi didn't make a sound, Falco spoke. "You're right, you have hurt a lot of people. And to be honest, that hurt isn't going away anytime soon. But now that there's peace, life is long. We're only twelve. You'll have lots of time to put more happiness into people's lives than you did grief. I know that Reiner would never see you as a source of sadness, because he loves you more than anyone else in the world."
"Even more than Historia?" Gabi half joked and half sobbed.
"Yep. He asked me to inherit the Armored Titan so you could live a happy life, so he wouldn't want you to torment yourself now. And so what if I did get hurt protecting you? Soldiers get hurt protecting the ones they love! I'd go through it all again for you!"
Gabi blushed as her boyfriend finished his speech. Despite how terrible she felt, she knew he was right. Wallowing in self-pity wouldn't help anyone. Gabi wasn't sure if she could ever do enough to balance out all the pain she caused, or if doing good even worked that way. But, she became determined to live her life that way, even if it took forever.
"Falco, you always know what to say. I love you, so much."
It was Falco's turn to blush. Seeing Gabi so distraught triggered something protective inside of him. He felt as though there was no one else in the world but the two of them. Feeling the moment was right, Falco leaned in. Gabi, seeing what was happening, gave in to the part of her that wanted to be comforted, and met Falco for a kiss. For a moment, the couple imagined that this moment could last forever. . . right until the sound of a dropped bucket pulled them from their passions. Gabi and Falco turned and saw a surprised looking Kaya, whose eyes were like saucers.
"You're brother and sister! Siblings can't do things like that! Kissing is for someone you want to marry!"
Gabi and Falco sported confused expressions, until they remembered that they had never actually explained to their friend that they weren't actually related. The pair burst into laughter, which only seemed to aggravate Kaya more.
"Why are you laughing at me? This isn't funny! You are doing something really gross!"
This only made them laugh harder. Falco was doubling over while Gabi laughed so hard she cried.
"Kaya, remember how I said our real names weren't Mia and Ben? Well, we aren't siblings either," Gabi explained.
Kaya's face turned crimson as she covered her eyes with her palms. "Oh, I'm so sorry! I ruined your moment didn't I?"
"It's fine. We should have told you sooner."
Kaya smiled at Gabi. "I'm glad you could make it. C'mon, there's still hay to gather."
Gabi felt warmth that someone with every right to hate her had not only forgiven, but expressed happiness at her presence. Gabi mentally promised to repay everyone she had wronged, starting with Reiner the next time they met.
Reiner was in a daze as he walked toward his apartment. How had he not seen it sooner? He knew that Gabi followed the scouts to Paradis and had hurt people escaping from prison, but he never thought that Sasha was one of them. The thought that his dear cousin had killed a good friend—it made his stomach churn. When Connie had told Reiner about Sasha's death, he was very uncomfortable sharing the details. At the time, Reiner assumed it was because Connie was still grieving over someone who was like a sister to him. Now he saw that Connie didn't want to be the one to tell Reiner what his cousin had done. A vortex of emotions was spirling inside Reiner. As he rolled this revelation over in his mind, Reiner's thoughts took him towards other memories involving his cousin.
Reiner saw his twelve-year-old self walking down the streets of Liberio. The road was quiet, but the presence of confetti hinted that a parade had finished recently. The younger Reiner's expression greatly resembled the current Reiner: dazed and hurting. His father's words echoed in the boy's head. I'm running the hell away, away from you and your damn Eldian mother. Everything his mother said had been a lie. The loving father, the chance of being accepted by Marley, none of it was real. Reiner had given his life away to the warrior unit in exchange for something that never existed. For a moment, the boy contemplated throwing himself into the sea.
The boy turned and saw a man and a woman, with the latter holding a child no older than three.
"Yes Reiner," said his uncle. "We're so sorry we missed your big day, but your cousin Gabi was getting fussy and needed a nap."
"It's fine, you really didn't miss much. Just a bunch of waving and riding around town," said Reiner, attempting to sound nonchalant.
"Why don't you have dinner with us? Let us make it up to you?"
The last thing Reiner wanted was to see the mother who had lied to him about his dad, so the boy agreed. As the elder Brauns cooked, Reiner entertained his toddler cousin. Gabi proved to be quite the chatterbox after she had rested, talking Reiner's ear off over her daily routine, her new friends (Falco Grice seemed to be her favorite playmate), and school. That last topic brought down Reiner's mood. It worried him to hear that Gabi was being forced to learn about the sins of their ancestors at age three. As he tuned out Gabi's conversation, Reiner looked over to see his aunt and uncle preparing food. He noticed how much the couple loved each other, and he knew they loved Gabi even more. The girl had no idea how lucky she was, having both a mother and father that loved her unconditionally. Reiner felt himself become jealous of the three-year-old. If only he had been born on this side of the family instead, his life wouldn't be so miserable. He could practically see what Gabi would be doing while he was on Paradis. The brat would probably live a peaceful life, being doted on by her perfect family and friends. Gabi would have everything Reiner wanted out of life, while he was doomed to waste his life on an island full of devils.
"Lianah, why are you crying?"
Gabi's question broke Reiner's daydream. As he focused on his surroundings, he noticed that his face had become wet. Gabi walked over to her cousin, and clumsily tried to wipe away his tears. Hugging Reiner, Gabi whispered, "Don't be sad. I'm here and I love you." Gabi began humming a tune she had probably heard her mother use to calm her down when she was a baby. As Reiner held his little cousin, he was overwhelmed with shame at his earlier resentment. Gabi had barely interacted with Reiner before, yet she tried to comfort him instinctively. Such was the compassion and love of a child. As Gabi finished her song, Reiner steeled himself and looked into her eyes.
"Gabi, someday soon, your big cousin is going to go away for a while. But don't worry, I'm going to make the world a better place so you can be happy."
"But when you are here, I'm already happy," Gabi replied.
Reiner pulled Gabi tighter and silently promised himself to live for her sake.
The memory dissipated, and Reiner thought about how much that promise meant to him on Paradis. Whenever he was tempted to give up on the mission, or whenever he felt lonely, Reiner had used that memory of Gabi to keep moving forward. No matter how hard things had gotten, Reiner's love for his cousin remained an anchor in his life. Then he remembered how he left her at the cemetery and felt sick. Gabi was clearly guilt-stricken, and he abandoned her to angst by himself. After mentally going over all the places Gabi frequented, Reiner rushed towards the Blouse home. After a few minutes, Reiner came across Gabi and Falco tending to some horses with a blond girl he didn't recognize. When Gabi saw him, she said something to the other two children before running towards him.
"Reiner, about this morning. . ."
Reiner shook his head. "You don't have to say anything. I'm not upset with you, hell, I'm the last person who should hold the past against anyone. It was very brave of you to tell me the truth, and I'm proud of you. No matter what you've done or will do, you'll always be my baby cousin, and I love you."
At this, Gabi practically threw herself into Reiner's arms.
One Week Later
As the ship docked at Liberio's rebuilt harbor, several passengers prepared to disembark—except for one who was lagging behind. Gabi knew that she couldn't follow Reiner on his peacekeeping mission, but that understanding did not make separating from him any easier. In a moment, she and Falco would return to their parents in Liberio, and Gabi probably wouldn't see her cousin again for at least three years. The thought of being away from Reiner despite barely seeing him after the warrior's long mission to Paradis made Gabi's heart sink. Since the end of the Mid-East War, the reunion of the cousins had been painfully brief, and now they had to separate again.
Seeing Gabi's forlorn expression, Reiner gave her one last hug. "Gabi, your big cousin is going to go away for a while. But don't worry, I'm going to make the world a better place so you can be happy."
"But when you are here, I'm already happy," Gabi replied, just as she did so long ago.
"Hey Brat, let's get a move on. You promised to show me all the sights," called Levi.
Reiner shot a glare at the wheelchair-bound man who was rushing their goodbye, but Gabi just laughed it off.
After wheeling Levi down the ship's ramp onto dry land, Gabi walked further into the city as Reiner sailed back out to sea. Although they were now traveling in different directions, they headed down the same path: the pursuit of peace and happiness for everyone who had touched their lives.
AN: This chapter, especially Reiner's flashback with toddler Gabi, was inspired by this heartwarming piece of fanart: r/GabiCult/comments/m1qx2l/gabi_and_reiner/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web2x&context=3