He hadn't known her full name. When had Erwin talked about her, he had always referred to her as mother. She was a teacher, like Erwin's father had been. Her son never visited for fear of bringing his enemies home. She liked honey in her tea. She used to sing to Erwin when he was ill.
This was all he knew of Evelyn Smith. That, and she was soon to be a grandmother.
"I'm not well, slide it under the door." He said flatly, with no room for argument. An envelope glided across the floor and he could hear hurried footsteps fading down the hall. Served them right for waking him. Swallowing the bile that crept up his throat, he bent over to pick it up and saw stars. He hadn't lied to the recruit, he wasn't feeling well at all, whether it was his nerves or his continued morning sickness or a combination of both. With trembling hands he opened the envelope, removing the folded letter from within. Her hand was remarkably neat, and it made him feel a bit ashamed of his own penmanship.
In light of Humanity's victory and our great loss, I believe it to be the right time for us to meet. We have much to discuss. I don't mean to cause you any distress, I'm sure you must be very busy, so I will keep this brief.
My son spoke very highly of you and it would mean very much to me to be able to speak to you in person, to hear the memories his trusted friend must hold.
Sincerely, E. Smith
17, Fletcher's Path, Karanes District.
The signature reminded him far too much of Erwin's own. He closed his eyes for a moment, hoping to quell his dizziness. Our great loss. His trusted friend. In Erwin's letters to his mother, he had told her that he'd fallen in love. Either she wasn't too receptive to the idea or she had worried that someone other than Levi would read her message. Either way, it shouldn't have worried him so much.
His first instinct was to avoid this meeting at all costs, but this was Erwin's family, his child's family, and if things had gone differently, she would've been his family as well. Whether she was going to berate him, blame him for Erwin's death, demand Erwin's belongings, curse the fates for dictating that her only grandchild would grow in the belly of a thug, or-
He sighed. This was a problem he had. He always wondered what someone wanted from him, believed that they couldn't possibly want to spend time with him in earnest, that he was still trash.
Erwin had helped him, convinced him that he was worth spending time with. He'd believed for the first time since Isabel and Farlan had died, that he had friends.
Now, it seemed that those who spent time with him only did so out of guilt or worse, pity. He knew that he should give Hange more credit than that, that she wasn't so dishonest, but it was difficult.
Levi had to go to Karanes District, if for no other reason than the loneliness that was eating at him. He would probably be a mess by the end of it, but Erwin had spoken of her so fondly and his judgement of character was usually sound.
Besides, the baby would eventually want to know what had happened to their father, what he was like when he was young. It wouldn't be fair to them to keep them away from their grandmother purely because he was nervous. Even if she did turn him away, it wouldn't be the worst thing to happen to him.
"You look a little less sick today, Levi," Hange greeted him, still groggy from the twenty minutes or so that she'd slept, "You won't believe what some of these nobles think lives beyond the walls-," she began, a little frantic. She'd been meeting with them to procure funding for settlement, and they had been largely receptive, but also very imaginative. In the ancient books that had been recovered, there were illustrations of large winged snakes and many-headed dogs, but there were also later volumes disproving their existence. This didn't stop people from running wild with the idea of magical beasts having lived alongside the titans, or still lurking outside. Thus, an influential few had declared settlement to be too dangerous at this time, though it was more likely that they feared the collapse of the monopoly that they controlled within the walls.
At the distressed look in Levi's eyes, Hange halted her rant.
"Hey are you alright? Does anything hurt?" She asked, jittery.
"I got a letter," Levi said plainly from where he sat on the couch in Hange's office.
"From who?" Hange asked, concerned. Levi rubbed at the back of his neck, feeling how long his hair had gotten. Erwin usually cut it for him. He didn't trust anyone else to do it.
"Mrs. Smith," He sighed, putting his feet up and folding his hands over the slight curve of his stomach, leaning his head back on the arm of the couch, "We have some things to talk about."
"I'd say so," Hange smiled softly, "Want me and Moblit to come into town with you so that you're not alone in case you get sick, or if it doesn't go well? He doesn't have to know about-"
"Don't go out of your way, I'll be fine." He closed his eyes and settled further into the couch.
Levi hummed in response stretching his legs and turning halfway onto his side so that he could rest his head comfortably. He sniffed, grateful that the couch was passably clean.
"You gonna tell her you're having his baby?"
"I owe it to Erwin and the kid." Levi drummed his fingers absentmindedly on his belly, nerves beginning to get the better of him all over again.
"You're gonna get some new clothes while you're there, right? I mean, if you want to keep hiding it-"
"Yeah, I'll pick some out, probably get a head start on some stuff the baby will need. Have to figure out where I'm gonna live though and-" He swallowed thickly, breath quickening.
"You can stay at headquarters as long as you need, lots of people are already leaving. It won't be so stressful for you then. It's safe here, and there's enough space for a little nursery in the officer's quarters. Plus, I'd be right here if-" Hange stopped herself, " For your check-ups."
Levi gave her a sideways glance, eyes slightly wide. There was something they hadn't spoken about, something that could happen no matter how well he took care of himself and the child. Something that, if it came to pass, would leave him in pieces.
"Come to think of it, don't you need some supplies, Hange?"
"No, I can't really think of any-" She looked up from her journal, and upon seeing Levi's expression, let a soft "Oh," pass her lips, "Of course. You wouldn't mind if I tagged along, would you?"
"Not really," He said flatly, gaze soft and grateful.
Levi walked slowly down the side-street, his usual long stride replaced with an uneasy shuffle. He was quite obviously nervous, shoulders slumped and hands tucked up into the overlong sleeves of the jacket he wore.
Hange was waiting in a tavern on the corner, chatting with an eager young woman that towered over her, with close-cropped hair, he guessed that she was military. Garrison, maybe, as she didn't look the least bit familiar. That didn't seem to bother Hange in the slightest, but Levi was never one to play nice with strangers. Besides, he didn't want to be away from home for any longer than he had to.
He took a deep breath and pressed on. Inner Karanes district was not nearly so cramped as the other cities he'd been in, and for that he was relieved, but as he arrived at the front of the little house where Erwin had spent his childhood, any easiness he felt dissolved.
There was a little garden in front, one that had withered a bit in the early autumn. He clenched his fists, squeezing the fabric of his inner sleeve.
"We'll be okay." He felt silly for saying it aloud, but maybe if he said so, he would actually believe it. With a final attempt to convince himself that this was the right course of action, he walked the little dirt path to the front door and knocked softly.
He closed his eyes, lids feeling heavy, and began to relax, softening his posture and letting his mind wander. He was definitely going to take a nap when he got back to headquarters, maybe a warm bath, a cup of ginger tea..
At the click of the door being opened he jumped, eyes going wide. Levi tilted his head back to look up.
The face he saw was a stern one, strong, but with crinkles at the edges of the eyes. They were blue, framed by blonde hair that was touched with silver. He imagined that Erwin might look a bit like this one day, if he had survived. With an ache in his chest, he opened his mouth to speak.
"Mrs. Smith, I'm-"
"I know who you are," she said, standing at least four inches taller than him, and the rigid set of her jaw softened, "Please, come in, Levi."
She stood to the side and allowed him to pass through. He stood aimlessly in the entryway to the kitchen, staring at the cozy looking living room. If he tried, he could imagine Erwin sitting on the floor, that book of fables in his hands, eyes bright and a wide smile on his face. He could also see himself, sitting next to Erwin on that couch years later, their own children excitedly acting out the stories themselves.
He swallowed, snapping his attention back to the present, to reality. It was no use to think of what he couldn't have. Evelyn strode into the kitchen ahead of him, opening a cabinet and looking back at him expectantly. It took Levi a few seconds to realize that she had said something to him.
"Black tea. That's what you enjoy most, right? I'll make us both a cup," She smoothed her shirt and reached for another cup. Levi panicked.
"No thank you, I'm- well, I'm trying to cut back."
"Oh, alright," she nodded, her voice shaking as she spoke, "Please, make yourself comfortable," she said, gesturing to the table and its two chairs. Levi awkwardly made his way over, pulling the chair out a little too far and sitting down. Evelyn closed the cabinet and sat down, taking a deep breath. There was silence for a minute or two as she looked at Levi, and then she smiled, soft and sad.
"I've only ever seen you at a distance, but you look a bit different to me, somehow," she furrowed her brow, lips turning down at the corners, " I don't mean this in a negative way, of course. You look a little less hollow, now. I suppose all the soldiers do."
Levi blinked at her, digging his nails into the table a bit, entire body tensed.
"Ah, but now I'm stalling," she sighed, any trace of playfulness gone, "I just- I would like to know that he had some measure of happiness in his life before the end."
"He knew that he was helping humanity to break free," Levi recited it as though it were a rehearsed line, which in some ways, he supposed it was, "He was happy to do so."
"Levi, you don't have to speak that way with me, I know," she nodded solemnly, "I know that he loved you very much." Levi's breath caught in his throat, and he felt his heart begin to pound. He could feel the tears pricking at his eyes and resolved to keep himself together. If not for his own sake, then for Evelyn's.
"I love him," he said, as flatly as he could manage, "We couldn't really let ourselves feel much, but he was loved to the end, and he knew. He had to know."
He expected to be more emotional, anyone would be having suffered the loss that he had, and with his pregnancy on top of it, he feared he may not be able to mask the fact that he was in ruins.
" Thank you, I'm glad," Evelyn blinked her tears away, "He wrote about you all the time in his letters, and when he said that he'd fallen in love, I knew it had to be you. He wanted to give you the world, or at the very least, a home."
Levi sniffed, folding his hands tightly and willing himself not to let the tears fall. They could've had that together. Erwin didn't need to die for that to happen. But, Levi had not been the only one that he'd left behind.
"I have some of his uniform left, if you would like to keep it," he offered, though the thought of sleeping in that bed without Erwin's cloak around him was abhorrent.
"Oh, no I can't take that from you, dear. You should hold on to every piece of him that you have left," She looked to the sketch of a rabbit that was framed and hanging on the wall, "I couldn't imagine parting with anything of my husband's," Evelyn smiled fondly, "I have some things of Erwin's too, to keep me company."
That was when Levi realized that this woman had no one left. Her family was gone, one killed by humanity, and one killed while trying to protect it.
But, there was someone else, someone she hadn't met yet. Levi straightened his shoulders leaning back against the chair, eyes downcast.
"There's something else he left with me."
"Oh?" Evelyn tilted her head, looking a bit concerned. Levi smiled, a rare sight, and it caused his tears to roll down his cheeks.
"He didn't know- I should've told him, I-" Levi held back a sob and squeezed his eyes shut. He exhaled, body relaxing. It was alright, it was safe to tell her now.
"Are you alright?"
"I'm pregnant." he forced out, and whether from relief or sadness or a combination of both, he broke down and wept.
Evelyn was silent, and his first instinct was to get as far away as possible. He stood up too quickly and instantly felt lightheaded. He pitched forward, but was caught in a gentle embrace. He hid his face in Evelyn's shoulder and cried, her hands warm and encouraging on his back.
They stood like that for a long while, both of them weeping, for their joy, for their grief, for the man they had lost. When they parted, they both took a moment to compose themselves. Evelyn lifted her hands to hover over Levi's abdomen, looking to him for permission, as Erwin did before touching him.
"Yeah," Levi answered somewhat proudly, and Evelyn gently laid her hands on either side of his belly. It felt nice to have someone to share this with, to share the memory of Erwin with as well.
"Goodness! I can already feel where you're growing, how far along are you?"
"About nine weeks, they'll be born at the start of spring."
" He'd be so happy, Levi. Congratulations, dear," she leaned down a bit to kiss his forehead, as she had done with her own son when he was young, "If you need anything, anything at all, don't hesitate to come by," she hugged him again, sudden, but gentle.
"Thank you," Levi whispered, "Thank you."
By the time he and Hange arrived back at headquarters, Levi was absolutely exhausted and decided to go straight to bed, rather than risk falling asleep in the bath. He bid Hange goodnight and returned to his quarters, changing into loose, comfortable clothes and snuggling down into bed. He rested both hands on the little swell of his belly, his way of saying goodnight to the little one, and fell asleep swiftly. He did not dream.