Erwin never expected his life would turn out like this.
Dreamed it, maybe. But there were also times when he forgot to dream.
It was only six months after the titans were ended, and peace was declared between the Eldians and Mareyans. A tentative peace, as it still is. Hundreds of years of genocide on both sides can't be washed away by a few signatures, no matter how flourished they might be. Erwin was focused solely on trying to create a world without walls, even though so many people refused to leave them. Fear, maybe, fear of the unknown. They didn't believe the titans were eradicated, didn't believe in the brainwashing, chose to cling to the life they'd known, though Erwin couldn't relate.
When he chose to leave, settle a small town near the ocean the 104th division couldn't stop yapping about, Levi and Hange, Mike and Nanaba—most of the Survey Corps—said they'd stay, too.
"You can't," he tried to protest. "Peace will never come if we keep ourselves from mingling with the other Eldians, and the Mareyans too."
"I'm staying here," Levi told him with a scowl. "For now."
And secretly, Erwin was almost relieved. It's been seven years and he still wakes up each morning, leaves his tiny house and hears the sound of crashing waves, breathes the salted air, sees blimps flying overhead, and reminds himself that he's free.
You were right, Dad.
Before the peace, Hange figured out a scientific way to save the titan shifters from dying after thirteen years, although she couldn't eradicate their ability to shift. As a result, Eren, Annie, Bertolt, Reiner, and Ymir needed to lie low, and chose this small place, with its evergreen forests and its blue ocean view. It's a good place to live, Erwin decided.
But it was that same night when he announced he planned to stay that Mike and Nanaba told him. "We've been looking for a place to settle down. Though it does feel strange," Mike said, sniffing. "Not to fight."
Peace. They'd all spent so much time longing for it, and when it came—no one knew what to do.
"Our child won't know fighting," Nanaba promised, one hand taking Mike's and the other over her stomach, and Erwin's jaw dropped.
"Oh. Yeah," Mike said, avoiding his gaze. "We kind of—we're—celebrations got the best of us."
Nanaba's jaw dropped. "Mike!"
"You may have been humanity's second strongest soldier," Levi comments. "But you're about to get your ass whipped."
"Kidding, kidding!" Mike raises his free hand. "We're—we've been a thing. For awhile now."
Erwin pinched the bridge of his nose. "How did I not know?"
"Because believe it or not, you don't have to know everything," cracked Hange.
Erwin thought of Nile and Marie, and their three kids. You'll never have to fight, either. "Congratulations," he told Mike and Nanaba, both of whom blushed.
When Nanaba went into labor, Hange was the one who delivered the child while Levi and Erwin paced outside, listening to the woman scream like she was being devoured by titans.
But this was life coming, not death, Erwin reminded himself.
When Mike called them in, Erwin didn't know what to do. The baby was so small—he fit almost entirely on one of Mike's huge hands. Hange assured them the baby was actually quite large, but Erwin couldn't see it. A tiny baby, crying, born in a world of peace.
"Did you tell him?" Nanaba asked hoarsely.
"What? Oh." Mike reddened, straightening. "We've decided to name our son Erwin. After you. If you don't mind."
"Hmph." Levi snorts.
"No," Erwin answered as Mike handed him the child—his namesake. "No, I don't mind."
Why would you want to name a child after me, though? After all the lives I've sacrificed?
The baby burst into tears, and Erwin's heart leapt to his throat. He had no idea how to calm him, and he was so small, so fragile—Erwin quickly handed him back to Nanaba.
But it didn't stop with Mike or Nanaba. First, Historia and Ymir adopted a Mareyan orphan whose mother died at birth and named her Frieda. Then that other baby at the orphanage who cried for days calmed down only when Marco held him, so Jean and Marco took him in. By the time Erwin heard Eren and Mikasa's news, his head was spinning.
"But you're kids," he protested.
"We're young," Eren counters. "We're not children."
No, Erwin had to agree. You never were.
Maxim and Carla, the twins, were eleven months old when Erwin visited them after a long trip across Paradi. By that time Annie and Armin were dealing with a fussy newborn Mira and Reiner and Bertolt had adopted Emma, and Hange looked as if she could go into labor at any moment. Levi paced back and forth in Eren and Mikasa's house, muttering.
"Well, at least the world's getting more Ackermans," Erwin tried to joke.
"Never joke about my kid like that!" Levi ranted while Mikasa glared. Eren, bags drooping under his eyes, struggling to entertain Carla, who looked like a mini-Eren.
"Say 'titan,'" Annie encouraged Carla, crouching in front of the small child.
"Annie, what are you doing?" demanded Mikasa.
"I will drive your husband insane if it is the last thing I do," Annie responded with a yawn. Despite having come from this land out here, she didn't seem any more used to peace. And Reiner and Bertolt even turned down returning to their hometowns to remain with them, for reasons Erwin still could not understand.
If the people in the wall lived in hell… so did they, Erwin knew. They were raised in the flames, and none of them will ever fully heal.
"Annie, what the hell?" shrieked Armin, cradling Mira against his chest.
"Don't swear in front of the kids!" Erwin said automatically.
"Annie, you—" Mikasa started.
"Ti-tan," Carla eked out.
"Yeah!" Annie grinned. Armin groaned.
Eren raced over. "She's talking!"
"It doesn't even bother you that she said titan?" Erwin asked.
"Say, 'Daddy,'" Eren urged. Carla leaned her head back.
"Levi, my water broke," Hange interrupted them all.
Isabel was born seven hours later.
And after that it's all a blur. Petra and Oruo had Lily a year later, three days before Sasha and Connie had Gabriel. Three months after that, Erwin Jr. got a little brother in the form of Erik, and a year later, Isabel became a big sister to Kuno, and Historia and Ymir adopted Tanya and Reiner and Bertolt, Johann. Sasha gave birth to Nora the next year, and Historia and Ymir added a third child, Astrid, a year after that, because their hands weren't already full enough. Only Hitch and Marlowe remained childfree.
But the night everything changed for Erwin took place when it was when Erwin Jr. was three and Isabel was one. Nanaba invited them over for dinner. She mad a salad with fresh greens and strawberries, and meat, and Erwin still had to remind himself that yes, they were free, the titans were gone, people were restored and peace was accomplished, if only for now.
"You aren't naïve enough to think mankind won't launch itself into another war, are you?" Nile asked him when he visited the past month.
"No," Erwin admitted.
Erwin Jr., that night, decided to bring the battle to his house, commencing at bedtime. He threw his milk onto the floor and screamed. "I don't wanna!"
"Erwin," Nanaba said firmly. "Come with me right now."
"No!" the child wailed, face red and tears streaming.
"You're tired," Nanaba attempted to reason. Her stomach protruded, six months along with Erik. "You played so many games with Reiner earlier."
Erwin smirks, as he remembers Erwin Jr. referring to Reiner as his adventure friend. Although Levi still grouses that he doesn't want his daughter hanging around the armored titan.
Having peace is strange.
"Erwin," Mike snapped, rising and striding over to his son. It's strange to hear his name said in that tone from Mike. "Don't disobey your mother."
Isabel burst into tears.
"Aw, shit," complained Levi.
"Shh," Hange whispered, grabbing her daughter and a set of plastic keys Erwin bought for her in the Mareyan city. "See, Izzy?"
Isabel just screamed harder.
"Food?" Levi offered, digging through their ever-present bag and pulling out a bottle. Hange snatched it and offered it to the baby. Isabel sobbed and pushed it away.
"She's been cranky all day," Hange muttered.
"Does she have a fever?" Levi demanded.
"I think I would know, Levi. No. She's just getting another tooth." Hange smoothed Isabel's dark hair, rocking her back and forth.
"Do we have any numbing medication?" Levi continues ransacking the bag.
"No!" howled Erwin Jr. as Mike hauled him up.
The noise scratched at Erwin's brain. He pushed his chair back and got to his feet. "Thank you for dinner, Nanaba. It was wonderful."
"Time for bed," Mike insisted.
"You're welcome," Nanaba said wearily, wiping a strand of hair from her eyes.
"I found it!" Levi exulted, pulling out a small brown bottle. "Open your mouth, Izzy, I'll—"
"She hates the taste, Levi," Hange warned.
This is chaos, Erwin decided. "I'll see you tomorrow, I'm sure."
"I did make dessert," Nanaba said, shoulder slumping.
"Oh—well—" Erwin stammered. His namesake still screams. Levi pleads with his daughter to open her mouth. Erwin inches towards the door. "I think I should just—"
"Get back here, eyebrows!" Levi shouted as he finally manages to dab the brush on Isabel's gums.
"Uncle privileges?" Erwin suggested.
"Not a chance." Levi glared.
"Catch!" Mike hollered, tossing his son through the air.
"Mike!" Erwin shouted, but he jumped forward and caught the kid against his chest. Heart pounding, Erwin glared at Mike. "What were you thinking?"
"It's not far, Erwin," Mike pointed out.
"But I only have one arm—"
A giggle split the air.
Huh? Erwin glanced down to see the little boy laughing, a grin across his face. He throws his arms around Erwin's neck. Shock coursed through Erwin.
He wrapped his arm tighter around the boy, who pressed his face into Erwin's neck. "You're strong," Erwin Jr. told him.
"You will be too," Erwin promised. "With your parents, you'll definitely be strong."
Isabel quieted down, Levi bouncing her up and down. He smirked at Erwin.
"Dessert?" suggested Nanaba. "I made pumpkin bread. Annie's recommendation."
"Okay," Erwin agreed, as the toddler grows heavier against his arm. He eased himself back into one of those simple chairs, waiting for Erwin Jr. to fall asleep, realizing that the child trusted him so much, trusted in his goodness, trusted that he would catch him.
I'm not really that good, Erwin thinks as he remembers all of the soldiers he led into hell.
But Mike and Nanaba still named him for me. The kid nestles deeper into his arm, and a lump grows in Erwin's throat. He has Nanaba's cheeks and eyes, and Mike's nose.
I want you to enjoy peace, Erwin thought. And for the first time, he realized he almost has a slight glimpse of what Mike, Nanaba, Levi, Hange, and all the rest of the soldiers are doing. Children are terrifying and obnoxious and precious and hope.
That was four years ago. Today, Erwin pulls on gloves—the lingering winter cold seeps into his bones, makes him almost forget he doesn't have two arms. Snow covers the ground, fresh and thick. He grins.
Ever since that night, Erwin's been determined to be the greatest uncle he can be. Which is probably why Historia's called on him to help today…