Deadman's Float

Epilogue

The air was warm and breezy by the time all the paperwork had officially gone through and the Jaeger household was prepared to legally welcome its newest member. Winter had finally given way to spring, and daffodil buds were beginning to poke their yellow heads out of the soil in yards all around the neighborhood.

Nationals had come and gone, with both Annie and Mikasa narrowly missing out on the finals. To Eren, the season was full of promise; he was on schedule to pass all his classes thanks to Armin’s patient tutelage, and the beginning of his life with a permanent prosthetic leg, several months earlier than anticipated.

Standing in his boxers, he carefully adjusted the straps around his stump and gave himself a once-over in the mirror. It was a fairly realistic prosthesis, though the hard, shiny surface wouldn’t be mistaken for skin by anyone with decent eyesight. Eren took a deep breath and pulled on a pair of shorts. They were long, but not long enough to cover the hinge that now functioned as a knee joint.

Not bad.

He grinned at his reflection and raked a hand through his hair to muss it up. The guests would be arriving soon.

As if on cue, the doorbell rang. Eren hurried to answer it, relishing the silence as he moved about without the cumbersome thumping of crutches. His gait was far from balanced though, with an uneven, swaying quality reminiscent of a sailor returning to land after a long voyage. Pixis had to keep reminding him that was normal for someone with an above-the-knee amputation.

As soon as he opened the door, Sasha and Connie tumbled in, arms full of grocery bags, followed by Jean, and Annie in her customary slouch with her hands in her pockets.

“Armin show up yet?” She grunted.

“Yeah, but he’s stationed halfway up the block to make sure Mikasa doesn’t come home too early. We gotta get these decorations up before everyone else gets here.”

Eren gestured at the living room table, which was covered in streamers. On the floor beside it lay a hand-painted sign that read “Welcome to the Family Mikasa!” He knew Mikasa would probably prefer a small gathering of close friends, but he was so excited he couldn’t help but invite the entire team to the celebration.

Jean pressed a small kiss to the back of his neck, and started sifting through the mountain of craft supplies while Sasha and Connie took it upon themselves to arrange a magnificent spread of snacks.


Half an hour later, the porch was crowded with people who spilled over into the front yard and living room, clutching glasses of lemonade and plates of cake. Eren was still adjusting to the prosthesis, so he tried to keep his weight shifted on his good leg.

Any minute now, Armin would give the signal and the party would duck under tables and behind bushes to prepare for the surprise. Or rather, whatever surprise they could squeeze out after Grisha’s final reveal and the colorless court ceremony the following week.

A high-pitched finger whistle. That was it! Eren crept around the side of the house and pressed himself flat along the brick. Sasha and Connie joined him, tickling and making faces to try and make the other person laugh. From his position, Eren couldn’t see a thing, so he strained his ears to listen to what was going on.

“Hey,” Annie said casually, her calm, flat voice betraying nothing. “Armin and I were wondering when you’d get back.” It sounded like Armin was leading her up the porch

Mikasa was still suspicious. “You never come over unannounced.”

“We just thought we’d study together for a little while until you got back,” Armin offered a shade too quickly.

“Where’s Eren?”

“He’s getting ready,” Annie murmured vaguely, though Eren could hear a smile creeping into her voice.

“Ready for what?” Mikasa snapped. “He doesn’t have physical therapy today, Lord knows he barely prepares for tests-”

“For THIS!” Armin exclaimed and the whole from of the house erupted in hoots and cheers.

“Merry Christmas!” Connie bellowed, galloping into the house.

“Happy Halloween!” Sasha crowed as she tossed a handful of confetti she’d gotten from who-knows-where.

Eren charged after them to find Mikasa standing stock-still, absolutely flabbergasted, at the threshold. The rest of the team had sprung from their hiding places with noisemakers and party hats. Grisha presided over it all with a satisfied smirk on his face. For one horrible minute Eren thought she’d turn around and walk straight back the way she came.

“You did all of this…” Mikasa’s lower lip was trembling dangerously. She buried her flushed face in her hands. “I’m so embarrassed,” she hissed at Eren as he sidled up next to her.

“Yeah, well I had to do something obnoxious to cement my position as your brother, right?” The air whooshed out of him as she nailed him in the side with her fist.

“Now we’re even.”

Eren noticed Jean staring blankly off into the distance, and took him aside.

“Are you okay?”

Jean wrinkled his nose. “Yeah, ‘m fine. It’s just… Dad called again last night and I still don’t know what to say to him. Or if I even want to pick up the phone.”

Eren winced in sympathy. The past few months since Jean’s impromptu “coming out” to his father hadn’t been easy. Mr. Kirchstein seemed to oscillate between giving his son the cold shoulder and desperately trying to re-integrate himself into his life, as if to provide an example of a good, Catholic man (as long as he ignored the divorce).

“What does your mom think?”

“She wants us to get along, promote that Health Family image, but I think she’d secretly be happy if I told her I wasn’t gonna see him again. And she stopped forcing me to go to youth group, so that’s progress,” Jean chuckled, but it sounded hollow. “What about your dad? D’you think he’d…”

Eren glanced at Grisha, who was serving up ice-cream. It was a surreal image; his father poised, scoop in hand, the picture of domesticity.

“I think he’d be okay with it, honestly,” If he hasn’t figured out we’re a couple yet. Both he and Mikasa had been getting raised eyebrows and suspicious frowns at the number of sleepovers they’d been having with their respective “friends”.

“He’s been trying real hard to do more family stuff with us, and I don’t think he’d want to mess that up. But I won’t tell him anything unless you want me to!” Eren added hurriedly. “I’m fine with the way things are.”

“Don’t get sappy on me, nerd. I already thought Mikasa was gonna cry today.”

“Shut up!”

“Damn, it’s been a tough year though, huh?” Jean whistled through his teeth. Eren nodded in solemn agreement.

They stood and watched the festivities from afar; Connie rallying the troops to play “Pin the Tail on Sasha,” who was squawking in protest, Armin and Bertholt engaging in a quiet but heated debate, and Annie stealthily entwining her fingers with Mikasa’s.

The porch still sagged, but it wasn’t empty anymore. The house echoed with chatter and laughter. Eren still felt a sting of loss, but he imagined he always would; much the same way he could feel the ghost of his toes wiggling every now and then.

Sure, this year was hard but at least it didn’t cost me an arm AND a leg…

It wasn’t until Jean’s jaw dropped open that Eren realized he’d spoken aloud. The room was suddenly very quiet.

“Y-you did not just-” Jean spluttered, his eyes bugging like a fish out of water.

A high, clear laugh sounded from a lonely corner. Annie was bent double, one hand clutching her stomach.

“Are you fucking kidding me, you BASTARD-,” she dissolved into breathless gales merriment.

Eren fought to keep a straight face (and his dignity) but Connie had started to snicker, and Armin’s mouth was contorting into fantastic shapes as he tried to hold it in.

We made it. We’ve still got a long way to go, but we’re alive. And sometimes that’s enough, he thought as even Mikasa’s stoic shoulders started to shake. Soon the whole room had collapsed into giggles, much to Grisha’s puzzlement. Half the party didn’t even know exactly why they were laughing but the joyful release was contagious.

Eren finally caught his breath and wiped his eyes, but he made the mistake of looking at Jean and they both fell back again.

Mom would’ve loved this.


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