It's a perfect day, the kind that you had dreamt about when Armin first told you about the sea. The sun is wrapped around your skin, and the waves are whispering a lullaby against the beach and around your ankles. Your toes sink into the sand, kicking clouds in the water. It's a perfect day, but you hardly notice any of it.
"I'm sorry," he tells you, fingers curling around yours.
You don't want to hear this. Oh God, you don't want to hear this just yet. You don't want to hear about the Titans, about Ymir, about the eight years he has left.
The two of you share a long silence, broken only by the sighing shore.
"Your eyes," you say suddenly. "They're the same colour. I never would have known if you hadn't brought us here."
You nod to the water.
"I would want two kids," you tell him one night.
There's a pause, but he recovers. "Two is good," he agrees. "Like me and Mikasa. Couldn't stand her mothering—"
"Still can't," you point out, and he rolls his eyes.
"—but I never got lonely," Eren continues. "And they can protect each other."
You smile, lips pressing into the crook of his neck.
"I'd protect them too."
"I know. I know you'd be a good mother."
"And you'd be a good father."
"...God, I hope so. Better at least, than my own dad—"
"Oh, Eren. Don't say that. It would be different for them than it was for us. Life, I mean."
"Yeah. They'd know freedom."
"Because of you."
He sits up to lean over you, touching your face and brushing your hair back, lowering his lips to meet yours. He kisses you lazily, deep and long and slow, as though the two of you have all the time in the world.
It's nice to pretend.
His legs are laced with strings of flesh, and he is still half in his titan's neck. Blood is smeared across your cheeks and your broken blades, burning hotly and steaming off your skin.
Your weapons clatter to the ground. You grab his face, pulling him into a kiss through all the steam and blood.
"I'm pissed at you," he growls, but you can tell that the words hold no true animosity. "I plan on spending the rest of my fucking life with you, and I can't do that if you get so reckless!"
Something stings in your chest, and your fingers tug at his hair, punishing and desperate. "You're such a fucking hypocrite," you whisper.
The two of you kiss like it will be your last time, all teeth and tongue and swollen lips. Eren has always handled his feelings for you crudely, loving you with the sort of shameless intensity he applies to everything else in life. Kissing without inhibition, fucking without inhibition, desiring without inhibition. But something has become different lately, and you had never thought that the touch of his lips could get any more urgent than usual, but it has.
"I know," he says between kisses. "I know. I'm sorry."
It is getting harder to pretend.
"G-god, please—" Your breath hitches, words lost as he sinks into you, in and out and in and out. Your nails dig into his skin, leaving marks on his back the way that he is leaving marks deep inside you, leftovers from the way that he always takes you apart and pieces you back together. A part of you is comforted, knowing that even if you someday forget his face, his voice, his scent, your body will never forget his touch.
"You're mine," he pants into your ear.
"Always," you moan, arching into him. "God, always—"
You fall apart around him, and it doesn't take him long after that. He comes inside you, the both of you forgetting yourselves in your desperation, your neediness.
For a moment, he simply rests inside you, his arms pressing your body tightly against his. He is holding you as though you will slip through his fingers, as though you are the one who will disappear.
The sea closes up in his eyes and the waves touch your neck.
You thread your fingers through his hair, the way you always do when he cries.
"It's stupid, isn't it? I know it doesn't make sense, I know he'll be gone, and I know I'd have a hard time taking care of it alone. I know the world is a dangerous place, but God, I want to keep it so much."
One of Mikasa's hands wipes at your wet cheeks, and she rests the other on your stomach, over yours.
"It's not stupid. And you wouldn't be alone. The two of you would have me. I'd protect the two of you, same as how I've always protected him."
You rest your face into her shoulder.
"Talk to him," she says, and you nod against Eren's scarf.
Eren cradles Carla to his chest, a rare tenderness in his eyes. You do not remember the last time you have seen his expression so calm, so unguarded. You wrap your arms around him, pressing your front into his back, kissing the remaining tension out of his body.
"I never really understood what my mom said to Shadis, you know," he says, and you feel the vibrations of his chest through your whole body. "Calling me special just for being born into this world... I knew she really believed it, but I didn't get where she was coming from. But now, I think I know."
You smile into his neck.
"I told you that you'd be a great dad."
"Not as great as I want to be." You know that he's biting his lip, probably drawing blood: a bad habit he's developed over the years, like his teeth can't remember that he is not in battle.
"Don't say that."
"But it's true. I won't be there for her. I won't be there to watch her grow up. But God, I will do everything I can for her. For the both of you. I know that I got this power only through coincidence, and lately, I've started to hate it... but I'll use it to make the world less frightening, less cruel. I'll use it to protect the two of you. To free the two of you. It'll be the last thing I do."
"I know you're only a year old," he says to Carla, bouncing her in his arms, "but I hope you somehow remember this. That your first time at the sea was with your old man."
You laugh. "You're hardly old!"
His mouth slants unhappily. "Let me dream!" he whines.
Still giggling, you rest your head on his shoulder.
"Well... fine. I can't fault you. I guess I have that dream too."
Closing your eyes, you imagine a future for yourself. Your daughter is fully grown and lovely, beaming at her middle-aged parents celebrating their thirtieth anniversary. Eren has creases and lines in his face, and your hair is becoming peppered with grey, but the two of you find each other beautiful still. You are now old together in a lovely home by the sea, where your child has grown up playing freely by the waters, her life small and calm and beautiful.
It's nice to pretend.
"Always," you whisper, and you pull his cloak over the casket. The emblazoned fabric spreads out beautifully: the last flight of his wings of freedom.
"Hey, mom... when was my first time here?"
Carla asks the question without warning. It startles you, and your heart aches as your feet sink into the sand, your footprints from years and years ago long buried.
You are caught off-guard, but you don't need to think. "You had just turned one," you say immediately, remembering it as though it was yesterday. "You cried the whole way here—drove the horses nuts, actually. But as soon as you saw the shore, you quieted down. Too amazed to cry, I think." You smile. "Why do you ask?"
Her eyes narrow. She looks down at her hands, as though searching for an answer. "I have this dream sometimes," she starts, slow and unsure, "that someone's holding me in his arms, and we're by the sea. I know it's just a dream, but it's so vivid. So I can't help but wonder..."
Your breath catches.
Oh, Eren. If only you could see her now.
"If it was your father?" You close your eyes as you begin to walk, smiling as your ankles meet the water. "It was his idea to take you to the sea. The two of us stood right here, and he held you the whole time. Honestly, I wanted to take a turn with you, but he was horribly stubborn about not letting you go. Well, actually, your father was horribly stubborn about everything, but he was especially so about you."
Old habits die hard. Behind closed lids, you try to imagine a happier past. These days, you have trouble remembering his face, his voice, his scent. Still, you try your best to picture his ghost beside you, still holding your one year old daughter. You tell him, your daughter will remember you, Eren, she will never forget the way you held her. The sun covers you both, and you are warm in his arms.
You imagine that you will somehow, someday, meet again, and that you will be able to tell him this in person.
There is a boy with eyes that are the colour of the sea and skin that has been painted by the sun, and you cannot help but immediately follow him. Your first glimpse of him rends your heart, fills it with something nostalgic and bittersweet. He is neither particularly beautiful nor ugly, so you cannot explain why he looks so haunting, like something out of a dream you can't quite recall.
He's clearly in a hurry, but you grab his shoulder anyway. He's scowling as he turns back to look at you, but when your eyes meet, the tension drains from his features. He seems unable to speak.
The both of you pause, and in that moment, you realise something absurd. You don't know why, and you can't explain it, but you are certain that he is meant to be someone important to you. You know that it makes no sense, that moments like these are the stuff of children's daydreams, but you can't bring yourself to care. You know that you must stay close to him, and that you will most likely fall in love with him. Most likely, you will never stop loving him.
"...oh, I'm so sorry. I mistook you for someone else, I think."
"That's okay." He clears his throat. "Actually... are you sure we haven't met? You look kind of familiar to me."
"Oh, maybe! It would explain things."
"Right? I'm sure I've seen you somewhere. Maybe we went to the same school?"
"Could be. Well, what's your name?"