It’s been a long time.
How have you been? Nevermind, I know you can’t answer that. Besides, what kind of conversation starter is that? Maybe one day I’ll be able to go back, and find a you who I can have at least one more conversation with. But I can answer my own question for now, or at least try to.
Put simply, I’m tired. I was so busy, for such a long time. I didn’t think I’d ever get home. I’ve seen so many places and met so many people that it’s hard to believe I didn’t exist to them in the original version of reality. Eren, it’s amazing. This world is so much more than what we know, and I want to see it, I would’ve loved to see all of it with you.
And of course, we would’ve had to bring Mikasa along. Otherwise you would’ve managed to get us in some pretty hellish situations, don’t you think? But she and I weren’t on the best terms when I left. And I can’t say that you and I parted on the best note either.
God Eren, the things I would do to fix it, all of it, if only I could put these stupid chunks of metal that were only good for one more trip back together. Off by three years. I missed seeing you again by one, stupid digit.
I was considering starting this paragraph off with, ‘In a more positive light,’ or something like that, but it doesn’t seem to fit now, there isn’t really much of a positive direction this letter could go in. If I’m being completely honest, I guess I deserve not being able to think of that many happy things, especially when it comes to you, Eren.
But I think about them anyways, all the time, all these memories that I’m just clinging to and feeling so stupid because of it. You wouldn’t want me to do that, would you? You’d tell me to do new things, to spend time with Christa even if I feel like I’m invading her life? Even if I don’t think I deserve taking time from someone as kind as her? There’s not much point asking any questions, since you can’t answer.
You can’t answer anyone’s questions, not even mine, no matter how much I wish I could get answers to them. It doesn’t hurt to ask, right?
Did your favorite color ever change? Do you still refuse to eat key lime pie, just because your mom once teased that it was actually made of raw limes? You still did when we were sixteen, I remember that. How long did the little plastic container of butterscotch candies sit on your dresser, the one that I put there, before you decided to throw it away? Did you and Mikasa spend a lot of time at the beachside cottage, like we promised all of us would do together? Had Jean ever admitted that he’d never actually had a crush on Mikasa before you died? I’m sure he might’ve. You two loved each other, didn’t you?
Did you resent me for leaving? Or did you assume that I tried to come back, as hard as I could, so I could be with you? Did Mikasa put together a search party, ever, or did you tell her where I’d gone, so she’d know that looking was pointless? What did your parents say? I heard that my grandfather ignored you, and secluded himself, was that true? Did Bertholt move across state like his parents wanted, and run the bakery his family loved so much? Did Reiner go with him? Did Annie? They were always close. Did they love each other?
Did you love me?
That’s not fair of me to ask, I know, you did. But not like I wanted you to, not like I did.
If I told you that if you had, I wouldn’t have left, would you believe me? I wouldn’t either. I’m not that kind of a person and you know it, and that’s why I loved you.
If you had loved me, if I had given you the chance, I would’ve taken you with me right then and there, we would’ve gone so many places together Eren. After that first trip, the accidental one I took, I knew the ins and outs of the machine pretty well. I told you about it, and you believed me without question, and I told you then, for the first time, that I loved you. It’s not like I can really blame you for being confused, I sprung it on you out of nowhere.
But it made me so scared Eren, thinking that you might hate me because of that, thinking that you might stay away from me after that. And so I left, and it was so, so, stupid of me to do that. I thought about coming back right then, after the first trip back, to a place filled with metal and machines and no one who could really think for themselves. But instead I stayed.
It was so easy to rationalize it. One more trip, I told myself, and it doesn’t matter when I go back, because I can choose when I want to be! I had all the power I ever wanted, and everything to do with it. And knowing the year you were in, remembering two thousand fourteen and repeating it in my mind, was like some form of insurance. As long as I knew that, I could get back to you, choose to put an end my cop-out once and for all. It was one number, one hugely weighted number. How hard could it be to remember four digits?
I never even wrote it down.
I lived through lifetimes Eren, I saw entire worlds pass by with how many places I visited, how many years I dropped into for days, or weeks, sometimes even months. And with all that, with all those places and people I met and things I was able to learn, I managed to forget where you were. I didn’t forget you, no. I would see things and think of how much you would’ve loved to be there, and then remember how scared I was to face you again. And so I think that’s how, almost as a defense, I forgot exactly what year I’d left in the first place.
It was in the two thousands. And I had been a teenager. That was really all I remembered.
God Eren, I’m so sorry.
I was stupid and afraid, and I regret it so much, I’m not sure I could ever make you understand. I don’t know if even I understand why I ran away for so long. I wasn’t ready to face the fact that I’d messed up so severely, I guess. And now I never can, given that my sorry excuse for a time machine is just a collection of rusted metal now.
Writing letters to the dead is a bit of a morbid practice, in my opinion, but I understand why people say that it makes them feel better. I think that even though I feel more guilty now than ever, I’m still better off than keeping all this from anyone. But really, Eren, without a way to contact Mikasa, and you like this, who could I tell?
I’ve troubled Ymir and Christa too much already, even though Christa insists over and over that they’re more than happy to let me stay with them, I can’t shake the awful feeling of intruding. I managed not to mind it when jumping from timeline to timeline, year to year, never thought about how I was pushing into people’s lives where I didn’t belong. Only now am I considering how much I’m screwing with things, how useless I am to the two of them, who are being nothing but nice to me.
Christa is kind, almost all the time, but I’ve overheard she and Ymir’s hushed conversations. Ymir wants to adopt a baby. The two of them want a family. And I’m there, in the middle, staying in their house and listening to Christa assure her wife that soon, maybe another month or two and I’ll move on, I’ll get a place of my own, and that they can do it then. She promises.
You see? I think anyone would hate being in this position. I think I’ll leave them soon. They feed me, and let me stay there, and have for the past three months. They’ve taken care of me until I got myself together. And by that, I mean collected myself from the mess I was when I found out you were gone. I finally got the nerve to come here today, and sit by you, and write all these things down.
I’m better for it, I hope. Being with you, here, even though I know you’re not really here, still gives me this rush of courage, like I really can do whatever it is that you think me capable of. I can move out on my own. I can live again, for myself. I can stand up.
I’m going to stand up.
I’m not going to forget this, but I definitely won’t let myself slip again.
I love you Eren.
Armin folded up the paper, neatly into thirds as if it was going to be placed inside an envelope. He figured it was better not to sign it. It would probably end up blowing away anyways. Winters here were cold, and even now, it was snowing, lightly.
He stood up, bending at the waist to place the letter in front of the slab of stone bearing Eren’s name and then moved a few steps back, getting a good look at it as he brushed powder from his pants, which were already a bit damp from sitting down for so long.
Eren Jaeger, it read, born March 30th, 1997. Lived through February 10th, 2023.
Shifting his weight onto one leg, his gaze went to the grave beside Eren’s, where Jean lay, buried beside him on the same day. It had been a car crash, Christa had informed him, totaled due to a semi swerving across into their lane. The situation was remarkably similar to the accident which had taken his own parents, the thought making Armin’s stomach twist. They’d been on their way to the ballroom, downtown, for Mikasa’s birthday.
She’d left town the next day, taking nothing with her and claiming that she really needed a change of scenery. Everyone had known that it was because of the accident, but no one tried to stop her. “It had been best, with the state she’d gotten herself into,” Christa had told him, voice hushed, over coffee on the night he’d learned everything. Eren and his husband had both been killed in the crash.
Armin wished he could see her again, he really did. But she’d left no forwarding address (and probably had no idea where she was headed when she departed anyways). Attempts to contact her by phone were futile and met with the message that the line had been disconnected. Thoughts of Mikasa made him feel a rush of remorse. She must’ve hated him, Armin thought, given that she probably knew about the time machine, knew that he’d used it once, because Eren would’ve told her in order to reassure her.
Muttering a small curse, quiet and unheard by anyone other than the snow, he swung his foot forward, jarring the small pile of metal plates he’d brought with him. The sheets shone bright even as they were buried under a layer of snow, frosting over in the cold. They sat on the ground, just to the side of Eren's, between his and Jean's.
When it had crumbled in his hands, he still hadn’t known how it worked.
Armin sighed, breath visible in the middle of the park that doubled as a graveyard. He turned on his heel to face away from Eren’s grave, ducking his head and curling his cold hands into fists as he walked away.