Deadman's Float

Chapter 13

Darkness had fallen by the time the boys were headed to the Jaeger household, so the streets were mostly deserted. Armin drummed his fingers against the window until Jean cut him a sharp glance.

“Sorry,” he said with an anemic smile. “I really shouldn’t be so jittery. I’m probably just overreacting.”

That did not reassure Jean in the slightest.

His fears were realized as he turned into the driveway and spied Mikasa on the porch with her arms curled around her knees. With her face washed white in the fierce glow of the headlights, it was all too easy to see the blotchy redness circling her eyes and streaked down her cheeks.

She startled, a flash of pure vulnerability before she got to her feet, fists clenched. Armin was already fussing with the seatbelt, stumbling out of the car before it had come to a full stop.

It looks like she hasn’t slept all weekend.

Jean hung back, suddenly unsure. He stood awkwardly where concrete met grass and fiddled with his keys. They were murmuring in low, urgent tones and he was dying to know what was being said, but he felt like if he got any closer, he’d be treading on private, sacred, ground.

I’m not part of their “family”. Hell, I’ve barely spoken to any of them since middle school. Maybe I don’t deserve to know.

The thought made him sick and uncomfortable. His palms were beginning to sweat.

Something happened to Eren, I can tell just looking at Mikasa’s face. She’d never cry like that for anyone else.

Armin drew a hand up over his mouth, eyes expanding to two huge marbles. He half-turned towards Jean, motioning him over. Mikasa was staring at him, but she gave no sign of recognition.

“Eren’s in the hospital,” the blond whispered breathlessly. “He’s going to be alright but…” He chewed his lip before making some sort of mental agreement with himself to continue, “H-he lost his leg.”

The world spun dizzily on its axis, giving Jean the faint sensation that he was going to be seasick.

Eren was made up of cocky grins, and raw, sinuous energy. He shone like a comet, hurtling towards Earth at a million miles per hour, shrouded from mortality by sheer confidence. Jean couldn’t reconcile that with an image of him lying helpless in a hospital bed.

“When-” he choked out, but he already knew the answer.

“Sunday afternoon,” Mikasa answered robotically, as if that had been a long time ago and not just the day before.

It’s my fault it’s all my fucking fault. I drove him away. I pushed too hard with my giant asshole mouth I wasn’t thinking, didn’t even cross my mind what might have actually been going on inside his head. What he was REALLY struggling with. I could have helped him we could be happy right now oh god.

They’re never gonna forgive me.

“You were the last person to see him before the accident.” Mikasa’s face was a stone mask, free of any emotion or accusation.

She’s probably deciding if she wants to cut my throat now or wait until we’re alone.

Armin cocked his head expectantly. Jean became aware that he was breathing heavily, panting almost. Odd, he still felt like he couldn’t get enough air.

I have to get out of here.

“I-I’m sorry. I should probably-” Jean jerked backwards, his knees suddenly working again. He lunged towards the front seat, but a hand grabbed his shoulder and spun him around.

“You came to my house.” It was a statement, not a question, though there was a note of curiosity in her voice.

And clearly that was a mistake.

“I was worried,” he growled.

“About Eren?”

“And you! I talked to Armin,” he shot a nervous glance at the blond boy, “and uh, we both thought we should…”

“Maybe you thought wrong,” Mikasa answered coolly. Armin looked at her in surprise. “This isn’t your business alright? It’s a private, family matter. We’ll deal with it on our own.” Her mouth was set in a thin, straight line. “Don’t go spreading rumors around the team either. It’ll be the last thing you’ll ever do.” She started stalking back towards the house; her eyes still locked somewhere far away.

“Wait, Mikasa!” Armin protested. He shrugged helplessly at Jean. “I don’t think she’s meant that, um, clearly she’s under a lot of stress…” He was already following her, his body twisted sideways so he could face Jean. “But I should probably talk to her…alone?” Armin pressed the tips of his fingers together, begging for understanding.

Jean waved him away, watched as the two figures disappeared into the darkened house, then gave his tire a resounding kick.

And that’s what I get for my concern. A fuck-you-very-much and a door in my face, reminding me I don’t belong.

He drove aimlessly for about half an hour, until the hot anger faded into something more bitter and sad.

She’s right. Here I was thinking that Eren might have been missing practice because he was moping over me. How selfish can you get?

After all, Eren and Mikasa have been basically inseparable since she came to live here, and that was when we were what, eight? And she never said what happened to her birth parents, so it musta been pretty fucked up. I can’t imagine what she’s going through right now.

Or Eren, for that matter.

He squinted down at his foot on the gas pedal, trying to mentally erase the sensation of his muscles contracting as he pressed down, or even the subtle pressure of his toes touching one another inside his shoe.

What if I could’ve done something to stop him? Or at least tried to chase him down. Then I could at least defend myself.

Another slick wave of guilt washed over him. Compounded with the dregs of adrenaline that had fueled him earlier, he suddenly felt jittery, nauseous, and tired all at once.

None of this seems real. It’s like the whole world’s shifted into a bizarre parallel universe, but I got left behind.

Jean pinched himself hard in the side. A childish move, but the sharp sting grounded him, and brought an airy clarity.

What if Eren’s alone right now? Sitting in a strange bed, confused and hurting? My face might be the last one he wants to see right now, but maybe this is the only way I can make up for what I did.

Curses streamed from Jean’s lipsas he hurtled towards the hospital.

A hefty dose of morphine left Eren too groggy to focus on anything in particular, but not quite tired enough to fall asleep. He listened idly to the beeping of various monitors and the quiet shuffling of the night nurses up and down the halls. Grisha was snoring softly in the chair next to him.

With a clumsy hand, he swiped at the stack of papers the doctor had left on the bedside table earlier; brochures of smiling people strolling across ungodly greens lawns, or playing basketball with their prosthetic limbs. There were no pools in evidence.

She said I can even get my stitches removed in about a month, and after that another month before I get fitted for a peg leg, and up to TWO months after that before I can even start walking without crutches. And even after all that, she said that the stump usually shrinks and shit during that time, so most people don’t get a permanent prosthesis until almost a year later.

A hot lump welled in his throat.

The end-of-season party is in June…

Grisha stirred with a groan and a loud crack of his neck. Eren quickly shoved the papers back on the table and folded his arms across his chest, tilting his chin back in what he hoped was a nonchalant pose.

Just gotta stay focused, get through all this physical therapy crap and move on with my life. Can’t let an injury mess with my headgame. I don’t need people hovering around me all the time, making sure I’m “dealing," but Dad n Mikasa don’t seem like they’re gonna stop anytime soon. So I gotta prove myself. I’m strong enough to handle this.

His father let out a jaw-splitting yawn, followed by a sheepish smile. “I think it’s time I get a cup of coffee…” He hesitated, as if exiting the room without Eren’s permission would constitute a betrayal of some sort.

“And?” You never had a problem leaving me alone before.

A brief flash of irritation crossed Grisha’s face but he stifled it in an instant, reverting back to a neural expression. He turned to go, then paused with a frown.

Eren was about to snap at him to go get his damned beverage already, until he too noticed the sound of running footsteps growing louder.

What the-

A disheveled head poked around the door.

Jean was fidgeting with his hands, casting nervous glances over his shoulder as if he’d dodged a few security guards on the way. When he caught sight of Eren lying in the bed, he startled like someone had just slapped him awake.

“Err, hey.” Jean coughed weakly, still standing with one foot in the hallway. His skin was gradually losing color and he swayed slightly, his hand latched around the doorframe for support.

Eren felt his newfound confidence slowly leaking away, replaced by a caustic mix of shame and anger.

He got so pale, God I must really look like shit. Is that all he sees now? A fucking cripple in a hospital bed- someone to be pitied?

“Why the fuck are you here?” He blurted out.

Grisha raised an eyebrow in surprise, but said nothing. He merely took a few steps forward, like a gangly, bespectacled bouncer.

Jean opened and closed his mouth, fish-like in confusion. “I ummm wanted t-to apologize? And maybe talk about…” His eyes slid to Eren’s father, “what happened the other day?”

Eren balled the sheet in his fists. He knew that he should be glad Jean went to all that effort to come see him (Lord knows how he even found out in the first place), but a dark, irrational part of him whispered that were it not for the confrontation in the parking lot, neither of them would have to be here.

“Oh so you’re sorry NOW,” he spat. “It’s a little late, don’t you think?”

Jean’s whole body recoiled, like a cat who’d been thrown feet-first into a bathtub. “I-I didn’t want-”

“Perhaps you should leave,” Grisha intoned. He reached a hand out to shut the door.

“I didn’t want you to be alone!” Jean spun on his heel, face reddening. Something wet glistened on his cheek, and then he was gone.

Eren slumped back down in bed with a sigh. His stump was beginning to throb steadily again. Grisha left muttering something about talking to the nursing staff about checking visitor badges, but not before giving him a quizzical look that meant he’d have some explaining to do later.

I guess I’ve managed to fuck things up even more. Is there an award for burning your whole life down in less than three days?

The emptiness of the room grew until it threatened to swallow him.

If only I’d been paying more attention to the crosswalk.

If only I hadn’t started that argument in the first place.

If only the hand-off had gone smoothly.

If only Jean’s face didn’t make my stomach tighten and heart beat faster; even now, after all this shit.

If only…

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