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Where Poppies Grow

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Mikasa wishes dying is quieter.

The last battle brings with it a riptide of emotions among its survivors. On one hand, the battle is won, the titans are gone, and the walls are no longer needed. On the other hand, the casualties are expected to be astonishing as they begin the cleanup of the ruined city, digging through rubble for still-breathing bodies, only to pull out dismembered arms and legs; Sasha pulls out a head from underneath a collapsed home and promptly vomits what little she has in her stomach.

Military personnel who are able start looking for survivors do so immediately: Mikasa’s still high on adrenaline, thinks her ribs are bruised (not broken) and decides to be as useful as she can before the pain becomes too much of a hassle for her to lift and move aside rubble. Connie finds her minutes into the search and helps her direct terror-stricken citizens to medics in stations around the city, as well as the not so fun task of bringing designated proxy coroners to the corpses they find occasionally littering sidewalks and crushed underneath buildings.

A lot of houses are damaged, but the numbers of them that are completely obliterated are few, so Mikasa fishes through those first. The first three houses are empty, and guilt twists an uncomfortable knot in her stomach. Empty is her favorite—no corpses, no survivors—because it is quiet and death’s dying moans can’t be heard. But that just means others have to deal with that kind of blood on their hands, and it makes her feel guilty.

The worst of the damage comes in the form of a small corner, where a cluster of cottages have fallen victim to not just a titan’s foot, but an entire body—the area still smokes with the decomposition. The homes collapsed into each other, creating a catacomb with enough air pockets to keep someone alive.

“Looks unstable,” Connie grunts beside her as he taps his foot to one of the piece of lumber; it shakes. “We need more people to pick it apart.”

That’s when she hears it.

“Did you hear that?” Mikasa asks sharply, not bothering for an answer as she starts to carefully trek through the wreckage, looking for a safe entry point. Connie turns his head the other way, his hearing blown in the other ear from the battle, and waits—he doesn’t hear whatever she heard.

“Mikasa, wait—“

She hears it again, this time, more clearly; the whiny cry of an infant.

“There’s a baby,” Mikasa breathes out, scared or relieved, she isn’t too sure yet. “There’s a baby in here, I can hear it.”

There isn’t a space big enough for her to crawl through, so she has to make one. Grabbing a piece of fallen roof she heaves it easily, and she’s brought back six or so years ago when the titans first attacked and she and Eren weren’t strong enough to free Carla. Military training, among other things, has made her stronger, and she ignores the pain in her ribs and the wood splinters that dig into the pads of her fingertips as she lifts it up, propping it aside to reveal one of the rooms of the cottages.

The baby cries again.

She wiggles around protruding beams and splintered walls and manages to crawl down to the bottom where she spots a small crib, miraculously untouched.  The baby’s cries are clear as day, muffled by a dirtied white blanket. Mikasa tentatively peels the blanket back, almost afraid at what might be beneath it, but breathes a sigh of relief to see the baby looking well enough and wiggling around.

“Hey there,” Mikasa whispers, surprised at the softness of her voice—later, she’ll attribute it to sheer exhaustion. The baby grabs on to one of Mikasa’s dangling fingers, bruised from the fight, and tugs. A smile she can’t fight blooms on her cheeks, and the baby giggles.

It’s the prettiest sound she’s ever heard, and she finds herself wishing she could do anything to hear it again.

Mikasa turns her head and looks around—there’s no sign of the child’s mother.

Using the blanket, she ties a makeshift sling big enough to hold the baby against her chest. Wandering back up the rubble, she calls out Connie’s name, hoping not to disturb the child who seems rather content with Mikasa for whatever reason.

He pokes his head through the makeshift opening she’s created.  He uses his good hand with all five fingers to anchor his weight before he offers his other arm, hand slightly mangled from the day’s battle, to help her out. Careful to grab his forearm, Connie helps in heaving her out of the rubble.

“So there was a baby,” he mumbles, but he sounds anything but happy, and Mikasa completely sympathizes with that. Coddled to her chest, the baby starts to mew and paw at her breasts, obviously wanting something that Mikasa can’t provide.

Her heart clenches.

“Did you…?” Connie tapers off, already captivated with the infant and begins to make silly faces in order to prevent an oncoming fuss.

“I didn’t see anyone else.” Mikasa admits with emphasis on the “see”; the baby’s mother and the rest of her family are probably crushed beneath the rubble in crevices the cleanup crew won’t be able to reach until tomorrow.

“Hmm,” Connie grumbles, because at this point, words are superfluous—Mikasa wishes they weren’t. “Head over to one of the medic stations, explain that the baby needs a new mother.”

Obviously, the baby needs a new mother, along with the inevibility of several other orphaned children this battle has created. Mikasa stares at the baby with pretty green eyes that remind her of Eren and a tuff of ruddy hair that looks kissed by a sunset. “I could be her mother,” she finds herself saying. Her cheeks suddenly go red to match the baby’s hair, but she doesn’t take the statement back.

Connie laughs, but it isn’t harsh or teasing, and Mikasa is thankful for that. “I don’t doubt that, but that’s not what I meant. Find a woman who has recently just had a child. She might have some milk to spare.”

By some miracle, Mikasa manages to find a woman with a baby of her own; mother and son are alike, dark skinned with black hair much like Mikasa’s. Linda, the woman calls herself, is kind and calm, despite the chaos that goes around them.

“I’m just happy that my family is alive,” she admits as she finishes nursing her son; she hands him to her husband, and starts to nurse the baby girl Mikasa found.  “It’ll be hard for a while, but because of you, there are no more titans. Thank you.”

A medic passes in front of the crates they sit on, helping an old woman with a serious head injury find a seat. Mikasa gets up immediately and tugs the Garrison soldier by the bottom of her cropped jacket; she whirls around and throws Mikasa a thankful smile before the two of them help the old woman settle on the crate.

“How old are you?” Linda asks as Mikasa sits on the ground beside her.

“Fifteen,” Mikasa answers out of habit, but she knows it’s more likely sixteen, maybe even seventeen by now. Time has escaped her. “Linda?”

“Yes?”

“Can you take care of her?”

The older woman smiles sadly, and Mikasa even swears there’s a tear swelling in the corner of one of her brown eyes. “Nursing her for a bit, yes, but as for raising her?” Linda shakes her head.  “I can’t. I’m sorry.”

Mikasa isn’t one to pout, so she has to fight the urge. “Are you sure?” she presses. Linda is kind, and she thinks she could pull of raising two babies at once. But the look she shoots Mikasa tells her it’s simply not in the cards, and Mikasa decides to respectfully drop it; it’s a big request, after all. One she’s still surprised the Jaeger’s agreed to those years ago.

“I’m so sorry, dear.” The baby finishes eating and Linda pulls her shirt back up, handing the baby back to Mikasa as she ties the sash beneath her bust. Immediately, Mikasa holds the baby upright, her head pressed gently into the crook of her neck, and pat her back gently. “You don’t look like you’d do that bad a job,” Linda tells Mikasa. “A brave, successful soldier like you shouldn’t have too many problems finding resources to raise her.” She reaches over and gently pats the girl’s red hair. “You know, milk from cows and goats works for a decent substitute.”

She thinks back to what she admitted to Connie back when she pulled the baby out of her ruined home. The thought hasn’t left her since, but she’s still hesitant. “I don’t know…” she sighs with a heave of her shoulders.

“Mikasa!”

The sweet sound of his voice is music to her ears as Mikasa scrambles to get up, her ribs finally screaming at her in pain as she hands the baby back to Linda. She whips her head back and forth in both directions before she finally sees his golden halo hair, seconds before he practically runs into her, hugging her fiercely.

She hasn’t hugged Armin since she was a child and she instantly regrets it when she melts into his touch—he is alive and warm. When they pull away, she notices an ugly splint on his nose, the break having bruised his eyes with two blooming shiners. But his smile is glittering and bright, and that is enough. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”

“Where’s Eren?” she asks. She knows he’s alive, but the extent of his injuries was unknown to her—she pushed herself to survivor retrieval duty while the medics carried him off for treatment.

Armin scrunches his nose, instantly regretting it, his face a telling tale of pain. “He looked absolutely horrific when they brought him in, but he’s doing just fine.”

Relief washes over her and she finds herself leaning down to knock her forehead gently against his. “Thank goodness…” Beside them, the baby starts to cry.

“Someone wants your attention,” Linda sings, and Mikasa walks over to pick the baby back up. Armin marvels as she gets the child to calm instantly.

“Aww, a baby!” he squeals and starts to make faces, much like Connie did earlier. His slender fingers are gentle as they dance in front of those green eyes, making her bubble with laughter. Mikasa takes time to be thankful that the war hasn’t left them completely calloused.

Linda’s husband returns with their son and the family gets up, giving a small wave of goodbye, telling them she’ll be happy to feed the little girl again once more tonight if needed.

“What’s her name?” Armin asks as he makes grabby gestures for a turn to hold her. Mikasa’s face becomes blank as she gets lost in thought, allowing him to take the baby from her; he bounces it ever so slightly in his arms.

Around them, soldiers and doctors start telling each other to wrap it up for the day as the sun starts to bleed into the horizon, the bellies of clouds red and orange. The blood staining cobblestoned streets starts to look black as the light of day starts to fade, but a group of flowers that remain unharmed by the edge of medical tents look particularly bright. Mikasa is suddenly taken back many years, to the times where she lived in the mountains with her parents and they picked flowers that grew beside the rocky cliffs. She remembers the brightest ones, red like the scarf Eren wrapped around her, red like the little girl’s hair.

“…Poppy,” Mikasa eventually says.  “She’s my daughter.”

-/-

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-/-

Her claim stirs up some obvious concern, particularly with Eren.

“You can’t adopt her.” Eren tries to tell her sternly, but his face betrays his tone—even ill-tempered Eren Jaeger is completely captivated with the little red-headed baby as he holds her in his arms.  

Mikasa wanders to the corner of his infirmary room and fetches him a glass of water. “Why not? You adopted me, remember?” He trades the baby for the water before he insists the two of them start a slow trek down the hall for something to eat with the others.

“Not the same. Her parents might still be out there.” There’s a warning in the reminder, a warning not to get too attached, but she fears she’s already there.

“It’s been four days.” Mikasa explains when they reach the kitchen; Sasha’s already there multi-tasking between preparing dinner and fixing the baby’s bottle (milk from a cow they had managed to find) and Jean’s going through some letters at the table. “They already excavated the rubble—they found corpses.” She feels sick.

Eren sighs and seats himself beside Jean; his leg knocks against Jean’s crutches that had been resting against the wall, and topple to the ground. Jean sighs and leans down to pick it up, but Eren mumbles out some rushed apologies and sets them back up before even going as far as to prop Jean’s broken leg up and make him more comfortable. Mikasa and Sasha share looks—they can get use to the calm the end of titans apparently brings.

Jean lights up when he sees the baby in Mikasa’s arms. “How’s little Poppy this evening, hmm?” and Mikasa walks over to hand him the baby. Poppy doesn’t take much of an initial liking to Jean; when he first picked her up, she screeched so loud Connie expressed concern with losing hearing in his other ear. Now, she isn't exactly smiling, but she isn't crying either, so Jean considers it well-deserved progress. He is determined to get the baby to like him, if only to keep Eren from laughing.

“Ready for her bottle!” Sasha answers, handing it over to Mikasa. “Here ya go.”

From his chair, Eren wiggles and motions for the bottle. “I’ll feed her.”

Mikasa arches her brow in surprise, to which Eren rolls his eyes. “I can do it, Mika. Give me Poppy and the damn bottle.”

The nickname’s a new trend, one he’s been using with more and more frequency, and she finds she doesn’t mind it.  Jean gives Eren Poppy while Mikasa give Eren instructions on how to feed her, him grumbling the entire time about how he knows what he’s doing, dammit. “By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask. Why ‘Poppy’?” he mentions, once the baby gets settled in his arms.

Sasha and Jean look at Mikasa, curious as well. She instinctually stiffens at their scrutiny. “Her hair, it’s very red. Like poppies.”

Sasha lights up at the mentions of the flowers. “Ooh, those grow up near mountains! I think I saw some of those. They’re very bright, no matter the color.”

Jean, however, doesn’t look very satisfied with the answer. “I dunno. Armin told me Poppy sounds like something he’d call his grandfather—hey!” he yelps when Sasha throws a well-aimed carrot stick at his leg. “Jeez, it’s already broken,” he grumbles, but promptly shuts up when he sees Mikasa’s face. Criticism from Jean is something Mikasa can deal with and promptly ignore, but she’s always cared about Armin’s opinions and held them in high regard. She feels bad because she likes the name Poppy, a lot actually, but now she has second thoughts.

“Well, I think it’s cute,” Eren pipes up from his chair as he continues to feed her the rest of the bottle. “It suits her well, Mikasa.”

While Armin’s opinions certainly matter, Mikasa can admit to herself that Eren’s matter most of all, and her doubt leaves just as quickly as it came. “You mean that?”

Eren grins. “Of course! In fact, now that I think about it, I wouldn’t have any other name for my daughter.”

Mikasa’s heart hammers in her chest, heat flushing every speck of her skin pink. Her knees feel wobbly and she can sense Jean and Sasha’s stares as she keeps her own eyes on Eren. “Your daughter?” she manages to squeak out, not proud of her pitch.

“Someone’s got to be her daddy.”

With a snort, Jean reaches over and flicks Eren on the forehead before he looks down fondly at the little girl. “What makes you think you’re gonna be her dad?”

Eren scoffs and throws Jean a skeptical look, like the answer is the most obvious thing in the world. “’Cause,” he mumbles, eyes flickering to Mikasa’s. “She’s got my green eyes.”

The baby giggles and Mikasa smiles.

-/-

.

-/-

Even Captain Levi takes a liking to Poppy.

“She’s real pretty, for an itty bitty brat,” he admits gruffly. “Probably because she looks nothing like the lot of you I called my squad.” Mikasa watches him stare at the bright tuffs of her hair and wonders if it reminds him of the honeyed tint that Petra’s had.

She fluffs up the Captain’s pillows so he can sit up tall and straight . “Sasha’s going to bring your meal in soon.”

Levi rolls his eyes. “She’ll eat half the damn thing before I can even get a taste. I’ll eat with the rest of you.” He glances at the wheelchair beside his bed and starts to worm his way onto it, ignoring Mikasa’s protests that he needs to rest. “Don’t be like that. I lost my legs, which means I got to learn to use the thing sooner or later.”

She thinks about how Eren feels responsible for what happened to Levi, even though he clearly isn’t. She wasn't there when it happened, but Eren tells her it was awful watching that titan bite both his legs off—clean breaks, right at the knee—before he went berzerk and saved him. It makes him hard to be around him these days.

With a sigh, she relents, and he hands her the baby before getting on the chair. “I can wheel myself, it’s fine,” Levi huffs out before Mikasa can even offer, but his face grows a bit red in shame when he wheels straight into the doorway on accident.

“I know you can,” Mikasa tells him, but she still places her daughter back in his lap and takes control of his chair, wheeling him down to the kitchen where they plan on meeting Sasha, Jean, Eren, Connie, Armin and Erwin for dinner.

Levi eats with one hand, the other one cradling a sleeping Poppy in his lap. Erwin and Sasha stifle giggles at the near sight of it all. “How are things with Historia?” Levi asks briskly when he thinks Erwin’s getting a little too cheeky.

“Fine,” he says, eying the baby—she’s fast asleep. “Setting her up as Queen wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. The people are receiving her very well.”

“It’s cause she looks like a goddess,” Jean says, shoveling a mouthful of food with his fork.

“What about Hanji?” Connie asks, slapping Sasha’s hand away when she goes in for his slice of bread. She whimpers a bit and he gives, letting her have at it.

“Still sifting through what we’ve recovered from Eren’s basement.” Erwin sighs, tired. “A whole lot of inventions down there, she’s intent on playing with them all before she goes about implementing them in society.”

Quiet settles around the table, and Mikasa remembers a time when the silence was cold and fearful, but this time it is only peaceful. She finishes eating first and greedily collects Poppy in her arms, leaving the dishes to someone else.  Armin takes both his and hers before he says, “Hey, Mikasa, have you gotten around to actually adopting her?”

The new state of the government is fragile, and she wonders if they dealt with such official paperwork before—she doesn’t exactly know what “official” means. “I hadn’t thought it necessary.” She explains slowly, looking at others for support; they all shrug in response, clearly not picking up on whatever point Armin’s trying to make. “What does that exactly entail?”

“Not much,” Levi says. “Just a piece of paper that you get to keep that claims her under your care. You give her our family name and all that. Historia stamps it with ink or lipstick or whatever she decides to use.”

The choice for him to say “our” has Mikasa bristling—revealing his last name to her wasn’t something she ever got used to, especially when it came with the revelation that he was family.

“It also gives you a choice to finalize her name.” Levi adds, taking a sip of his tea. “You do realize “Poppy” looks like “Poopy”, right?”

Jean uses his cane to keep Mikasa from pushing Levi out of his wheelchair while Sasha and Connie laugh at what is another horrific toilet joke.

Two weeks later, her birth certificate is signed “Poppy Ackerman.” Under “Mother”, Mikasa easily writes her name, but she stares for minutes at the blank space underneath “Father”, contemplating what Eren had said in front of all of them those few days back.

Ever since he saved her life and sloppily tucked her in his red scarf, Mikasa imagined the rest of her life with Eren. As a little girl, she thought maybe one day they could be like his parents, like her parents, and have a family of their own. It was a childish fantasy that was put on the backburner when reality hit in the form of titans and breached walls. Then, her only goal was to keep him alive, and they could figure the rest out later.

Later is creeping up on her.

She doesn’t know how long she has gotten lost in her thoughts and hesitations when Eren walks in, bleary-eyed and yawning, Poppy cradled to his chest. “I think she’s hungry,” he explains, voice heavy with sleep. He treads past where Mikasa sits at the table and tries to warm up a bottle the way Connie taught him, but it proves to be too difficult with only one hand. “Mikasa, can you…?”

Wordlessly, she leaves her mess at the table and joins him at his side, carefully plucking the whiny baby from his arms. She starts to shush her gently, and Poppy calms almost instantly.

“You’re really good at that,” Eren muses, and there’s this fond look in his eye that makes her blush to the tips of her ears. She chooses to say nothing in return.

When the bottle is ready he takes the baby back. “I’ll feed her. You should go to sleep.” His eyes flick to the table. “What were you doing up so late anyway?”

“Paperwork,” she answers, but he doesn’t look satisfied. “And a busy mind, I guess.”

He leans into her, humming, and she feels it vibrating from his throat when he presses a slow kiss to the side of her head. “Get some rest,” he says quietly, almost distantly, and she does as he requests.

In the morning, Poppy’s birth certificate is on her bedside table, just as she left it, with only one new addition. Under “Father”, the space is no longer blank, but filled with a familiar scrawl; she traces his name in ink with her fingers half a dozen times, thankful no one was in her room to see her smiling like an idiot.

Father: Eren Jaeger

-/-

.

-/-

It’s not all fun and giggles.

Poppy falls ill to whatever’s floating around town: a horrible rash that dots her skin and makes her cry in pain. Eren says his dad used to treat people for this sort of thing all the time, that everyone gets it eventually, but Poppy is a tiny, frail baby, and it hits her hard. Her fever is alarming and Mikasa paces herself into the ground for days trying anything in her power to make the poor girl better.

It’s mid-afternoon when Sasha comes back to the small home the bunch of them are sharing until they figure out their next move. “Hey, I went out and made you something,” and she hands Mikasa a little bottle of cream-looking stuff. “An old remedy my dad used whenever I accidentally rolled in poisonous plants out in the woods.”

Accidentally, Mikasa thinks, amused.

Mikasa remembers gardening in the mountains and her father pulling weeds and his skin growing bumpy and red from irritation. “Just put this on all those angry little bumps and they’ll sting and itch a lot less. Might get her some sleep, too.”

She feels Sasha’s eyes on her as she juggles the small glass bottle in her fingers, uncapping it and coating her thumb and index finger in the substance, trying it out. “Come on,” Sasha reaches out and grabs Mikasa’s wrist gently and leads her to her room where she knows Poppy is sleeping. “Let’s lather the babe up!”

Poppy is restless, her face red from crying and the bumps that dot her skin. Mikasa feels Sasha’s eyes again as she tries to find the best way to pick up her daughter without hurting her. A whine escapes the baby’s tiny lips and Mikasa feels her heart sink. She dips her fingers in the bottle and takes the white medicine and starts dotting it precisely over each bump. The process however, is apparently inefficient and Sasha reaches down and grabs the baby’s pudgy leg, making her cry. Mikasa almost snarls but Sasha’s quick to explain. “It’s not going to work unless you get a lot on. You want to cover the bumps. Here, like this.”

Mikasa watches as Sasha takes a much more generous amount of the medicine and lathers Poppy’s left leg, coating it entirely in white goo. The baby already seemed a little less fussy, the medicine most likely cool to her hot skin. “And,” Sasha sticks her fingers in her mouth and licks the residue off. “If she puts any of it in her mouth, it’s all natural, so she won’t get sick.”

The two of them finish putting the lotion on Poppy before she steers Mikasa out the room, insistent that she let the baby try to fall back asleep. “Thanks,” She nods gratefully Sasha’s way, and she grins in return.

“No problem! Chicken Pox are a nasty thing.”

Mikasa feels confused. Poppy hasn’t eaten chicken, nor as she ever been around chickens before. “Chicken Pox?”

“Well, yeah.” Sasha stares at Mikasa for a beat. “Mikasa...have you ever had Chicken Pox?”

“No?”

Two days later, Eren is stifling a laugh as he sits behind her in her bed, listening to her grumble as she peels her shirt and bra off. Her arms come up to cover her breasts and Eren dips his finger into more of Sasha’s home anti-itching remedy and starts covering the bumps on her back.

“I can’t believe you’ve gone this far without Chicken Pox.”

Mikasa lived alone in the mountains with her parents, and when she moved to the city with Eren, she didn’t meet anyone else who had it, so she doesn’t really see why it is all that surprising. “When did you get Chicken Pox?”

“Uhh when I was five? Six?” Mikasa shivers, but breathes a sigh of relief as Eren covers some particularly itchy bumps at the nape of her neck. “Armin gave them to me, so if you were worried, just know he won’t get sick either.”

She grunts before closing her eyes, reveling in the cool sensation the cream brings. Only do her eyes snap open when she feels not Eren’s fingers, but his lips, press a kiss to a smooth part of her shoulder.

“I sure do hope my girls get better soon.”

She likes the sound of that.

-/-

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-/-

Months later she is sitting on the porch on an autumn day when Poppy says her first word.

“Mama!”

Mikasa’s eyes go wide and she whips her head up to look at Jean sitting in the rocking chair opposite her, a sketchbook in his hand.  He smiles crookedly, concentrating on whatever he’s drawing, and she takes that as confirmation of what she just heard.

Poppy squeals from Mikasa’s lap. Her chubby hands reach up to paw at Mikasa’s cheeks; she wraps her knobby and calloused fingers around the much smaller girl’s and smiles. “Mama!” she repeats, bouncing up and down.

“Yes, that’s right,” Mikasa whispers, and leans down to press a kiss to the crown of her head. “Mama.”

Jean chuckles from his chair and grabs another pencil. “Eren’s going to be pissed,” he says smugly. His eyes flick up to look at Poppy briefly, and it’s then Mikasa realizes he’s probably been sketching the two of them for the past hour. “He’s been trying to get her to say “Dada” for the last week.”

Mikasa shares in Jean’s mischievous grin—she’s glad she won on this matter.  His chuckle turns into a gut bursting laugh when Mikasa lifts up Poppy’s yellow sundress and blows raspberry kisses on her stomach.

She sees how Jean is looking at her as she plays with her daughter; it’s a fondness that’s come far from his stuttering blush and shallow crush of their academy days. Her impromptu adoption and his long lasting leg injury leaves them with a lot of time with each other while their other friends have more mobile jobs, and they have grown very close as a result. They have each seen softer sides of each other, and she thinks they’ve smiled at each more in the past two months than they did in the last five years combined.

“What?” Mikasa finally asks when his goofy stare becomes a little too much.

“You’re just so happy,” he grins. “It’s nice.”

She silently agrees.

Over Poppy’s giggles, Mikasa asks, “Can I see what you’re drawing?”

Jean clicks his tongue. “I don’t know…It’s not done yet.”

Mikasa straightens the little girl’s sundress and fixes the bright green bow tied in her fire red hair. She props her up on her knee and uses her to bribe Jean as she bellows out a “Please?”

He caves instantly; five years ago, it would have been because she was Mikasa, but today it’s because of Poppy—the baby holds the softest place in his heart, and he claims to one day be her favorite Uncle. “Don’t laugh,” he warns, and turns the sketchpad around.

His talent is obvious right off the bat—the background is willowy with faint lines and shadowing, but she and Poppy are perfect. Everything from the curves of their spines to the knobs of their knuckles is lifelike and true, like looking in a mirror. It takes her by surprise at first because she’s never seen herself so happy—the reflection in the mirrors and water she caught from time to time were reserved and stoic. Jean had drawn her with a smile she didn’t know she could make, with Poppy giggling in her arms.

She doesn’t realize she is crying until Jean is kneeling beside her, brushing away a tear with his thumb.

“Hey,” he whispers. “What’s wrong? My drawing can’t be that bad…”

“No, no,” Mikasa pushes him just out of her face, playful, and he settles beside her. “It’s beautiful.”

He looks like he accepts that answer. “It’s my first family portrait. “ He pauses, looking at it again. “I guess I could add Jaeger into it, too.”

Mikasa’s head falls to knock against his shoulder, and she sighs contently. “You’d have to draw all of us, really. Yourself, too.”

He smiles the biggest smile she’s seen on him yet.

“Mama!” Poppy gurgles again and Jean ruffles her hair, ruining her bow in the process, which earns him a pinch to his thigh from Mikasa.

Armin, Eren and Sasha return just as the afternoon sun starts to bruise the horizon lavender. They’ve returned with one more horse and cart than they left with three weeks ago, both carts stacked high with an assortment of items neither Mikasa and Jean have ever seen.

“We’re baaaaaack!” Eren screams and he bounds ahead, leaving Armin and Sasha to tie the horses up, but they don’t seem to mind much. Jean manages to get out of the way before he’s run over by a swooping Eren. He pecks Mikasa on the forehead before he picks up Poppy and tosses her in the air, catching her efficiently. At first she was a little uneasy with the game, but at the end of the day, Mikasa trusts Eren, so she lets him get away with it.

“How we doin’ today, chickadee?” Eren coos, and Poppy just giggles in responses. “That good, huh!” and he presses a wet kiss to the girl’s mouth, making her squirm with delight. Connie hears the commotion from inside and runs out to greet everyone else, pecking Sasha lightly on the cheek.

“She said her first word today,” Mikasa says smugly as he props Poppy on his hip, narrowing his eyes Mikasa’s way.

“What was it?” he asks choppily.

Jean can’t resist the reveal. He points to Mikasa and says, “Hey darling, who’s this?”

“Mama!”

Eren throws back his head and wails, while Jean cackles villainously. Armin and Sasha hear the tail end of their outburst and both offer a “You owe us twenty bucks, Jaeger!” as they walk up the hill and join the others on the porch. Mikasa doesn’t normally laugh at Eren’s expense, but she simply can’t help it—it’s too great a victory.

But true to Eren’s personality, he doesn’t let it get him down for long. He settles down on the floor and stares intensely into the girl’s eye, a green much like his own. “What’s my name?”

She laughs and her hand goes up to poke his nose. “Pop pop!”

He frowns, even though Mikasa finds it kind of cute. “No,” he says slowly. Clasping her hand in his, he lays their intertwined fingers over his chest. “Dada. I’m Dada. Da-da.”

“Pop pop!”

Eren sighs, and Mikasa stifles a giggle; he throws her a look. “You won’t be laughing when she has an identity crisis later on.” He turns his attention back to Poppy. “No, honey. I’m Daddy. You’re Pop Pop.”

“Pop pop!”

“…We’ll work on it.”

Her repressed laughter slips from her lips, but she tries to steer the conversation to something else before Eren gets too pouty. “How was the inner-city?”

“Great!” Armin answers. “Hanji gave us lots of stuff to keep in our homes—better china, some tea…she even gave me this really cool thing she calls a ukulele!”

Jean scrunches his nose, and Mikasa sympathizes in that gesture. “A uka what now?”

“It’s an instrument, for music!”

“I also weaseled out a harmonica from Erwin.” Sasha explains, and while Mikasa and Jean also don’t have a clue as to what that is, Connie appears elated. “We’re going to have some pretty awesome parties now.”

“But that’s not all,” Eren sings, his grin so wide Mikasa isn’t sure what to think of it.

“They want to relocate us…” Armin is beaming, “Once things are a little more stable, and Poppy’s a little older, of course, but, they want us to go beyond the walls. To the ocean, to be precise.”

Mikasa knows this is a dream Armin has had for years and the happiness that's radiating off him is almost tangible, something she can grab at. But the fact is, to her, it was a fantasy for so long, swallowing it as her new reality doesn’t come immediately. She sits there, blank-faced, until Eren runs his hand over her eyes.

“You okay in there?” he asks, concerned. “What is it? Do you not want to go?”

She shakes her head furiously, even though she honestly doesn’t know the answer. “No, it’s not that. Just a surprise, is all.”

Armin picks up on her apprehension. “It won’t be for another couple of years before any of us will actually move, but I might be going on a few expeditions.” Armin nods Jean’s way. “Erwin and Historia don’t care who go, but they specifically requested I ask you to go along.”

Jean frowns and he starts subconsciously rubbing at his bad leg. “My leg isn’t what it used to be, Armin. I don’t know if I can do all that travel.”

“Well, you have some time,” he acquiesces softly. The statement resonates with Mikasa and she reaches over and squeezes Jean’s shoulder gently.

“We finally have time,” she reminds him, because the war is over, the titans are gone, and they no longer have to live in fear.

Poppy laughs and looks up at Jean, wanting to be held. “Yeah,” he whispers, picking up the baby and kissing her cheek. “I guess we do, huh?”

They all fall asleep that night to the sounds of Armin strumming away on his ukulele.

-/-

.

-/-

Poppy’s running circles around them in no time.

Mikasa learns that this is toughest not on her or Eren, but Jean—the girl likes to weave through everyone’s legs, and Jean tries not to step on her, often resulting in him stumbling or her knocking his cane clean out of his hands. Levi has problems too (mainly trying not to wheel over her little toes—it happens once and Eren gives him an earful) and usually tries to placate her by letting her sit in his lap while he wheels around, given that she stays still (she never does).

She also learns Armin is best at giving her wild legs stuff to do: he lets her carry a paper to his office to make her feel important, or a paintbrush when they’re rummaging for Jean’s paint supplies. He becomes more excited as she grows, and when more and more months past and she’s talking in longer sentences, he starts collecting books to help her read for when the time comes.

It’s Mikasa’s turn to cook dinner when Poppy runs straight into a table leg and collapses onto the hardwood with a soft thud. She’s wailing in seconds but before Mikasa can even put the knife down, Eren is already lifting her back up and setting her upright again.

“Careful, Poppy.” As soon as she’s back on her feet, the crying stops, and she’s back to running around, avoiding Eren’s playful chase. Long are the days where she constantly wants to be coddled, replaced with the workout of chasing her and making sure she doesn’t get into anything she shouldn’t be getting into.

But eventually, Eren gets tired—he’s nineteen, he thinks he should have the energy to keep up with a toddler, but he doesn’t—and he stops his chase to let her go and bug someone else. He wanders over to the kitchen counter where Mikasa is cutting up vegetables. She doesn’t look up but hears him slapping his palms on the surface and whistling out some uneven tune. “So….” He breathes out heavily. “Got a question for you.”

Still not looking up she hums for him to continue. “We’re going to be moving out to the coast in like, two years, right?” he asks.

“Mmhm.”

“…You’re good with that, yeah?”

She stops cutting the carrots for a moment, letting a smile bloom on her face—she still keeps her head down though, letting her hair curtain her face. “Yes.” And it’s not a lie. She’s excited even, but for some reason she’s not ready to admit that out loud. She figures a part of her is simply already homesick, but she thinks that’s okay. It’s not going to stop her.

“Good, good.” He drums on the counter again, but something tells her that isn't the question he had in mind.

“Did you have another question?”

“Uhh,” his voice pitches an octave higher, and that is enough to make her stop chopping.  “Yeah, yeah I do. I was thinking that before we leave…we could, uh…”

“Well, spit it out.”

“Wanna get married?”

It’s not her proudest moment, but in her defense, it probably isn’t his (especially with that kind of proposal) A biting pain throbs in her finger when she notices she’s dropped the knife and cut her finger rather well. She’s in such a daze she doesn’t really hear Eren’s stream of curses (if she did, she’d yell at him for cursing in front of Poppy at such an impressionable age) or his half-assed attempts to try and stop the bleeding. Only when she feels him sucking on her injured finger does she snap out of it.

“What are you doing?” she asks dumbfounded.

“…Stopping the bleeding?” He offers pathetically, voice muffled with her finger in his mouth.

She blinks once, twice, before she pulls her finger out of his mouth; the cut wasn’t that bad, nothing wearing a bandage for a few days won't fix and she’s kind of glad she got cut because now she can focus on her finger and not the question Eren just asked that has her heart feeling like it’s going to leap out of her ribcage.

“It’s fine,” she mumbles, suddenly embarrassed and blushing as she starts rummaging through one of their drawers for a bandage.

With a sigh, Eren tugs the bandage out of her hand. “Let me,” and she watches as he rips a long strip from the roll with his teeth and begins the gentle task of wrapping her bleeding finger.

Mikasa watches him intently, an easy task since he seems too embarrassed to meet her eyes. “…Do you really want to get married?” He’s never, not once, mentioned it; she thought she was the only one who fantasied about it, just like when she was a little girl.

He doesn’t give her an answer until he finishes wrapping her finger, sealing it with a kiss. “Of course I do.”

Taking a step forward, she’s flushed against him, quick in wrapping him her arms around his neck. “Yeah.” She whispers in the crook of his neck. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

They marry two weeks later.

-/-

.

-/-

She has been hers for four years before Mikasa knows it.

Poppy’s birthday is unknown, so they give the date she was found, the day humanity is saved—they all find it very fitting.  Mikasa and Eren decide to make a big spectacle of her birthday for Poppy and all their friends, since it also coincides with their last day in the walls before they’re set to travel the 400 km beyond Wall Maria to the coastline. When Eren asks why Armin hasn’t gone out to see the ocean before, he smiles at them and said:

“I wanted to see it first with you guys.”

Mikasa makes Poppy a pale blue dress for her to wear and Eren makes her a flower crown. Jean buys Poppy her own paint set for her to try out (her blue dress becomes red, yellow and white, but Jean thinks it looks better this way. An insult to her sewing skills, she doesn’t know), Armin gives her a fairytale, and Connie helps Sasha make the biggest chocolate cake they can manage. Even Levi gives the girl a gift (“Here, Turd.” A nickname Mikasa is not fond of) which turns out to be a rather nice pendant that she can wear when she’s a little older.

Eren’s wiping the chocolate cake off the corner of Poppy’s mouth while Mikasa sits behind, braiding her red hair with even more flowers. “Thank you, Mama.” She says when it’s all braided and there’s a daisy tucked behind her ear. Eren plays with a pile of broken petals. Seconds later he starts to shower them in Mikasa’s hair, stick them playfully in her ears and shove them up her nostrils. He laughs when she sneezes, and Poppy laughs when Mikasa shoves him down to his back.

“Hey, Poppy, I got one more surprise for you,” Eren tells her, and he runs into their cottage only to return with another present. Poppy opens it greedily, and is elated to find a big sun hat.

“Thanks Daddy!” she cheers and puts it on her head, ruining the braid Mikasa had just done; she’s only a little irritated.

“It’s to keep the sun out of your eyes,” Eren explains. “Which will come in handy when we move to the big, sunny beach!”

The squeal she lets out is almost deafening, but amusing all the same. Mikasa knows Poppy has heard them discuss the coast for some time, but just like her mother, she’s sure she doesn’t really know what to expect there. Thinking back to the days when she was a little girl herself, Mikasa wonders if the idea of moving to the sea would make her just as excited, simply elated with the prospect of something soon.

“We’re leaving in a couple of days, right after we finish up some business in the inner-wall.” The inner-wall doesn’t interest Poppy, it’s more something Eren tells Mikasa. They have to gather a few last minute supplies and say goodbye to Historia before they head out on their way.

“What’s the beach like?” Poppy asks dreamily, and Eren goes into a long rant about white sand and water with salt (something he needs to see with his own eyes) that they can wade in for miles.

-/-

.

-/-

Disaster strikes and their plans are put on hold.

They are in town and in uniform performing duties when the Earth starts to rumble and shake so violently, Mikasa wonders if it’s going to snap right open. Many go into a panic, equating the shaking with the rumbling of approaching titans, but Mikasa knows titans when she hears them, and this isn’t it. The tall buildings of the capital shake, crumble, and fall, creating a mess that puts her back a couple years when it was just Mikasa and Connie climbing through rubble and looking for survivors.

This is an earthquake.

The damage is so bad Historia herself dusts off her old uniform and 3DMG to join in the relief efforts of moving people to sparser cities and trying to find those trapped beneath their homes. Jean’s leg, (much better than months ago), allows him to abandon his cane for a bit and help search for survivors; she pretends not to see his grimace every time he tries to lift something that’s too heavy. Connie, Armin, Sasha, Eren and Poppy are elsewhere in the city. As to where? Mikasa couldn’t say. A part of her easily wants to abandon in search for her daughter, but she knows that any of her friends would put Poppy first, and resigns to staying to her assigned area. She settles with sticking relatively close to Jean and spends the afternoon wrapping bloodied heads and reuniting wounded parents with scared children.

Mikasa is wandering down the streets, eyes keen for anything out of the ordinary, when she is flagged down by a familiar face coated in dirt and tears. “Linda?” Mikasa breathes, not loud enough for anyone to hear before the woman embraces her, sobbing.

“It’s you! I can’t believe you’re here!” she cries. She looks up at her with tear-stricken eyes and says, “You have to help, my son is trapped, my husband is gone, I can’t get him out! Please!”

Her eyes flicker to Linda’s arm, broken so badly the bones in her wrist are shattered and sticking out of her skin, white nubs in a sea of red blood. “You need to find a doctor,” but Linda is hyperventilating from the shock of her injuries and the distress of her son. She holds Linda’s face in the palms of her hands and tries to steady her wild eyes. “Listen to me, I want you to follow Jean.” She looks up and motions for him to come by. “He’s going to take you to a doctor.”

“But my son!”

“I’m going to go get your son and return him to you.” Mikasa nods. “I promise.”

After quick instructions of where to find her house, Jean helps the plump woman out of the heart of the earthquake, shouting a warning of caution Mikasa’s way as she uses her 3DMG to fly down the street in search for Linda’s son.

The house is only four blocks down, a cluster of cottages much similar to the one she saved Poppy from years back. However, Linda’s son is in full view, crying and wailing, the weight of his house crushing him from the waist down—it’s a replica of Carla’s downfall, and the memory is almost too painful that she wants to run down the street and never look back.

Instead, she instantly replaces the image of Carla with the image of Poppy, and it makes the knot in her stomach tighten more. A life without Poppy is unimaginable. She wouldn’t know what to do without her, without Eren, without Armin, Jean, Sasha and Connie. This boy is Linda’s Poppy, her child, and Mikasa will be damned if she lets this little boy die.

She leans down and tries to get the boy to stop screaming, if just for a second. “What’s your name?” she asks, already looking for a good grip on the piece of lumber crushing him.

“L-Lucas,” he whines before he starts crying again. Mikasa’s heart breaks.

“Lucas, I’m going to try and get you out, okay?”

Lucas nods pathetically and coughs—blood splatters up into her shirt and Mikasa fears his injuries are worse than she thought.

The first time Mikasa tries to grab the beam and lift it, she upsets another piece of debris—a large stone—and it falls and hits her hand. She screams because a few of her fingers break, but she manages to put what little of the beam she has lifted back down slowly, so as to not hurt Lucas any more than he already is.

Her hand is broken but she doesn’t stop trying to lift the beams. Mikasa kicks around and even climbs the mess to try and take some of the lighter pieces of debris off, but it isn’t working. “Come on,” she grunts after another unsuccessful lift. She glances at Lucas and notices his skin is growing pale, his eyes are dropping, and his white shirt is stained darker with blood. If she doesn’t get him out soon, he’s in trouble.

“It hurts,” he whines, his voice brimming on unconsciousness.

“I know, I know,” Mikasa whispers, and she heaves again, a loud curse slipping out in the process. “Come on!” she yells loud enough so she doesn’t have to listen to her fingers cracking. “I won’t let you die. I’m going to get you out of here. I won’t leave you alone again.”

He’s young and weak but even he catches the word. “…Again?”

She thinks of Carla and doesn’t bother to correct herself.

Again and Again, over and over, Mikasa tries to lift that beam, but the horrifying truth is she isn’t strong enough. She is nine years old again, too weak to save anyone. Her eyes slide shut in pain as she yells and pulls again, only to snap right back open when she finds that it finally starts moving.

Eren is beside her like he had been there the entire time; he’s bleeding down half his face, but otherwise seems fine as he hooks his hands underneath the beam, right beside Mikasa. “Alright, heave with all you got, Mikasa!” he tells her and between the two of them the beam budges, slow and steady. Her hands are bloodied, knuckles scraped raw and splinters deep to the bone but she listens to Eren’s encouraging words.

She and Eren are not nine and weak, they are twenty and strong, and the beam lifts.

Once it is high enough Eren gets up and uses his back to support it. “Grab him, grab him!” he screams, gritting his teeth as he tries to keep the already slipping beam from falling. Mikasa crawls under the small space and scoops the boy up—he loses a shoe, but that’s unimportant—cradling him to her chest as Eren drops the beam, narrowly missing his foot.

They are both panting as another soldier comes to help them off the rubble. Mikasa distantly hears a few cheers and wonders just how many people saw what she and Eren did. Jean has returned and  comes to take Lucas away to the same medic station as Linda.

(Mikasa visits her later and sees that mother and son will be okay. Linda is grinning wildly despite her injuries and says, “You’re a mother, aren’t you?” and Mikasa nods, proud.)

There aren’t many people in the area as she scans the plaza, looking for a girl with bright red hair; she doesn’t see anyone to fit the bill. “Eren, where’s Poppy?” and she can’t help the panic that rises in her throat.

He’s still catching his breath and instead points distantly down the road where she finally sees Armin coming their way, toting a shaking, but completely unharmed, Poppy in his arms.

"Mama!"

“Shaken up, but she’s just fine,” Armin goes to hand her off to Mikasa, but stops when he sees her hands. “Go get your hands wrapped,” he simply tells her. Jostling Poppy, he nods his head over to the East. “When you’re done getting your hands fixed, come by the big tent in the center—you’re off clean-up crew.”

Mikasa manages to snag a quick kiss to Poppy’s head before he totes her away. “Be good for Armin, I’ll be around soon,” she calls after them as Eren snakes an arm around her shoulders and plants his own kiss to Mikasa’s temple.

“You okay?” his request is muffled in her hair.

Nodding, she leans into his touch. “Yeah, I think so.” She doesn’t have to look to know his blood is soaking into the sleeve of her jacket. When she turns her head she realizes his uniform jacket is gone, his shirt in blood and tatters. “Are you okay?”

He shrugs and looks off to the distance, and for the first time in a long time she can’t really tell what he’s thinking, only because he finally has the decency not to shout it to the heavens for once. “I’ll heal.” He kisses her again. “We all will.”

The pain in her hands lessens considerably.  She thinks it’s because they are finally stronger, together.

-/-

.

-/-

Mikasa giggles when Eren’s breath tickles the skin right above her navel and she feels the ghost of a grin when his lips but brush against her. “Do you ever stop giggling,” Eren chides her, but when his eyes flick up to meet hers, she sees mirth twinkling like stars in the greens of his irises.

“Maybe if you’d stop tickling me,” she teases back, only to let out a quiet gasp when he moves to nip at the underneath side of her breasts. 

He hums her unrealistic suggestion off. “Not a chance,” he murmurs before his fingers rake down along her side, erecting goose bumps along her pale skin. “I like your laugh.” Mikasa pants out a moan and arches her back after Eren leaves a lazy kiss on the inside of her thigh.

She tangles one hand in his hair and lets the other one dance along the bumps of his spine before she pulls him up and flush against her while he leaves another warm, breathy laugh against her breasts. He kisses her mouth gently. “You know,” Eren starts, titling his head to nip at her ear just how she likes. She smells the ocean salt on him, a scent she hopes never washes off. “I was thinking Poppy could use a few siblings.”

“Well,” the word draws out like a breath as she snakes her hand teasingly down his stomach, elated with the groan that rumbles in Eren’s chest. “Let’s just start with one.”

Eren’s heart skips a few beats and he grinds against her in his excitement. Mikasa arches again, her moan laced with more giddy giggles as she parts her legs for him. He’s gentle, always gentle, when it comes to her these days; he treats her like a canvas. Precise and gentle with his strokes, his lips paint her skin like fine horse hairs of a brush. “You’ll see to my way, eventually,” he whispers and Mikasa tries her best to make it bruise when she digs her heels into the cheeks of his ass as they move together; she knows he’s right.

She gets lost with him, in the touch of his lips, the scent of his breath, and the grip of his fingertips, and she wonders what beautiful shapes the curves of their spines make when they love each other like this.

-/-

.

-/-

The ocean is salty, just as Armin promised.

The earthquake set them back awhile, but like Eren said, they heal, and they make it to the coast all the same. Armin rips off his shirt in such excitement Mikasa’s never seen before and dives head first into the ocean, Sasha and Connie hot on his tail. Jean’s rather excited at the prospect at swimming—his leg won’t hurt—and joins them with rough splashes that are almost loud enough to cover their laughs.

Eren lingers at where the sea licks the sand and holds Poppy’s hand tightly. She’s giddy as her red hair freed under her hat gets whipped around in the ocean breeze. Mikasa watches from behind as he swings her up and down, letting her toes touch the water teasingly before he collects her in his arms and runs straight in, both screaming and yelling as they get soaked in their clothes.

“Mommy! Come play with us!” Poppy sputters when Eren splashes her with a little water. Her face twists in an amusing shape when she finds she’s not fond of the taste of sea salt, and Mikasa can’t help but laugh.

“Yeah, come on, Mikasa!” Eren adds. “The water’s nice and cool!”

With a shake of her head she kicks off her shoes and walks slowly to the water’s edge. She loves the feeling of sand squishing in her toes, so she takes her time, stopping to draw a few patterns with her big toe. Armin is cheering her on, as well as the others, but Mikasa is determined to get there at her own speed.

The first thing she notices when the water licks at her ankles is that is stings, salt agitating a small cut on her heel. It’s a good sting though, and fades quickly enough. With some embarrassment she realizes she’s stared at her feet the entire time and when she looks up, she sees everyone’s eyes on her, bright and shining and reflecting the hot summer sun.

Eren’s grin, however, is most blinding of all.

Suddenly she runs in to join them, shrieking at the feeling of her dress growing heavy and sticking to her skin. Eren tosses Poppy in the water and Mikasa catches her easily, not letting her head dip under the waves for even a second. She’s smiling and laughing and so happy; Mikasa’s never been so thankful for her than in that moment.

Eren wades over and slaps a soaked sunhat to Poppy ‘s head which irritates her, but not enough to wash away any of their good moods. She gains her giggle back when Mikasa peels the hat back and throws it straight in Eren’s face—he stumbles and Armin takes the opportunity to tackle him under the waves.

Her daughter looks up at her with sun-burned cheeks dotted in a few freckles. Her eyes sparkle, a color like Eren’s, a color of the ocean. There’s salt caught in her lashes and Mikasa leans down and kisses her forehead while the waves lap and splash around them.

“I love you.”

“I love you too, Mommy.”

They are home.

-/-