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The warm, salty breeze ruffled Annie’s hair. She sunk her toes into the wet sand; let the little waves wash over them. It was nine years since she last saw the ocean, but it felt like 109. The ocean was much more beautiful today than before. It had much more meaning now.

Annie inhaled slowly. The smell was still disgusting, but she didn’t care. She allowed herself to relax. Just a bit. At the end of the week, the airship was set to head on its trip back to Marley. Paradis and Marley were at peace and made great strides to work together to bring peace to the other nations.

She’d get to see her father again after so long. From there she’d figure things out, but she wasn’t doing it alone. Mikasa was with her every step of the way since the war ended.

Her hand brushed against Annie’s and she laced their fingers together. Annie didn’t hear her approach.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Annie replied and blew a strand of hair away from her mouth.

“Do you still want to come with me to Hizuru after?” Mikasa asked. “You can bring your father with, of course. I’m sure he’d love the trip.”

Annie nodded and squeezed Mikasa’s hand. “Not a chance that I’d miss accompanying you.”

Her eyes flicked to Mikasa’s right wrist. It was covered by a shirt sleeve, but Mikasa told Annie of the tattoo that her mother gave her when she was little. A cultural symbol of her mother’s side of the family.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Annie said. She held her hand a bit tighter and looked away in embarrassment. Her cheeks warmed. She still wasn’t good at romance or the feelings that came along with it. It was all so new to her. Mikasa was patient, though. Very understanding. They both went through a lot.

“There isn’t another place I’d rather be.”

Annie swallowed and looked toward the sea. “Let’s go in.” She pointed. “Don’t fuss about our pants. It’s hot out and they’ll dry fast. C’mon.” She tugged Mikasa like a child would their parents. Mikasa let out an amused huff.

They didn’t go in too far and Annie’s feet somehow miraculously still touched the sandy bottom.

Annie carefully stepped around to face Mikasa. She took her other hand. Mikasa’s eyes bore into hers. Annie stood on her toes and kissed her. A sort, gentle one first. “Lean down. Damn, you’re a tree.”

Mikasa laughed. How Annie loved that sound. Mikasa did as she was told. “Is this good?” She raised a brow.

Annie nodded. She let go of Mikasa’s hands and wrapped her arms around her shoulders and pulled her into her. She pressed their lips together once more. Mikasa looked at her, though Annie had her eyes shut. Mikasa took in her features. How she still looked the same—the crystal somehow halted her aging, how her hair blew gently in the breeze since she no longer wore it in her signature style when they were Cadets, how her skin was so radiant, lips so soft.

And Annie, she couldn’t get enough of the feeling of Mikasa’s lips on hers. Couldn’t get enough of the presence of her body against hers. Couldn’t get enough of the light flowery scent that she smelled of.

Annie never expected happiness or forgiveness for what she did when she was a soldier for the other side—a child to a teen soldier for her homeland. War changed people, though. They both saw the ugliness war had to offer. They’d continue to heal. Together.

When the kiss broke, Annie looked up at Mikasa. “I’m glad you’re here,” she said again. “I’m glad that we have this chance. This opportunity. That we can finally rest.”

Mikasa nodded and tucked a strand of Annie’s blond hair behind her ears. “It took a long way to get to this point. Those that came before us dreamed of peace.”

“Would you have ever thought it would be you and I together?” Annie asked.

“I didn’t.” It was true. “But I’m glad we are and I don’t want to think of the what-ifs.”

Annie nodded in agreement and took her hands again. She never wanted to think of the what-ifs. She never wanted to stop being thankful for Mikasa and how things led to them being in love.

Tomorrow they’d set out to Marley. Then, once they were ready again, to Hizuru. Then, wherever the wind took them. They had enough time.

Mikasa smiled and the two kissed one more time. The future was theirs.