Deadman's Float

Chapter 14

By the end of his first week in the hospital, Eren was ready to scream. He figured the nurses were too, judging by their increasingly frustrated reminders not to get out of bed by himself. Apparently the cocktail of potent painkillers he was on, plus the fact he was short a leg, meant that he was a “high falls risk.”

“Remember your call bell is RIGHT HERE,” Sandra huffed pointedly, wagging it under Eren’s nose after the third time she’d caught him pacing his room. If the ungainly lunging across the small space could qualify as “pacing.”

“Mhmm.”

“Make sure you use it next time?”

“Yeah.”

Eren slowly counted down from one hundred after she left the room. He cocked his head towards the door, listening for the squeak of white sneakers, but all was quiet.

My meds won’t be due for another hour…

Soundlessly, he stretched his good leg out until it touched the floor. Still no noise from the nurses’ station. Using the bed frame for support, Eren hopped down to the end, where he could reach out one hand and lean against the wall.

With a fortifying breath, he shuffled himself forward, right arm flailing to keep balance. He pressed his shoulder harder against the wall to steady himself, then repeated the whole process until he reached the bathroom.

As long as Dad doesn’t randomly decide to check in on me, I should be fine. Who knew there’d be benefits to him being such a fucking workaholic?

Eren started the hot water running in the sink as he rummaged around the bathroom for a washcloth and soap. He paused one last time, just to make sure no one was coming, before shoving his head under the faucet. Eren scrubbed his face and hair as quickly as he could with only one hand, trying his best not to let the water run down his neck and soak the gown or his cast.

Guess that’ll have to do.

He gave himself a brief once-over in the small, oval mirror above the sink.

Still pale as fuck. Though I hope that yellow tint is from the weird lighting in here cuz there’s no way I’m getting stuck in here even longer with jaundice or some shit. My eyes look like they’re all bruised underneath. Awesome.

He didn’t really want to get started on the state of his hair, which had a stringy, greased look to it despite the recent wash.

I guess it’d look better if I took an actual shower, but there’s no way I’m having a nurse come in here to help with that. Plus, I dunno, it’d be weird to see it all exposed for so long.

He bumped his stump against his leg absentmindedly and shuddered. The rough sensation of gauze brushing his thigh always creeped him out; a reminder of the newly-minted dead space between his knee and the floor.

“Eren, what in the hell are you doing?”

He spun around with a curse, almost knocking himself off-balance.

Who is it this time?

Sheepishly, he emerged from the bathroom, hair still dripping. The whiteboard above his bed informed him in thick, black marker that his nurse for the day was in fact Sandra, and that he had physical therapy at two. There was a little smiley face next to that announcement. Eren shot the board a murderous glare before pivoting to face his therapist.

To his surprise, the man was looking up at him from a wheelchair, eyes glittering with something like amusement.

“You can call me Pixis.” He extended a hand for Eren to shake. “I see you’ve taken it upon yourself to start your recovery on your own. Normally I’d appreciate such initiative, but I’m afraid the doctors have informed me that your left arm is held together with pins and plaster. Since it would be rather messy if you fell on it, I’m going to ask you to save your exertions for when you’re with me. Can you do that?”

“Umm-” The morphine really wasn’t helping his processing speed.

The man was bald as a cue ball, but his face broke into a mass of wrinkles when he grinned.

“Transport’s on their way with a chair for you. Usually they’ll just bring you down to my office, but I like to come meet my patients on their own turf the first time.”

“When can I start walking by myself?” Eren tried not to sound too distressed, so as not to offend him, but he hated the idea of having to sit uselessly while someone else pushed him around.

He must’ve done a poor job of hiding it, because Pixis tipped his head back and laughed.

“Don’t worry kid, I’ll have you up and running soon enough. I wanna wait on that arm though, make sure it’s stable enough to handle the stress before we hook you up with some crutches.”

“Oh. What about, y’know, a fake leg?”

“We’ll talk prosthetics in time. Today we’re gonna start the process- teaching you how to wrap up that stump of yours so we can get it down to the proper size and shape for fitting. You play sports?”

With a pang, Eren thought about the way the water slid over his body as he dove in, almost like it was opening just for him.

“I did.”

“Well this is a marathon, not a sprint.”

And I never swam distance. Go figure.


A whistle blast cut through the sound of splashing limbs just as Jean reached out to grasp the gutter.

“Again,” Levi intoned, his eyes flickering briefly down to his wristwatch.

“But Coach, you said this was the last-” Connie protested between gasps for air.

“I said, AGAIN. You look more like turds floating in a bathtub than elite swimmers. Keep it up and you won’t leave this pool until conferences.”

A collective groan arose from the team, but they began the set once more, fearing Levi’s retribution far more than the aching joints they were sure to face in the morning.

I don’t think I’ve seen morale this low since… Well, since Eren’s mom died.

He prodded Connie with his foot.

“What’re you waiting for, Levi to come over here and give us a personal invitation?”

“Why don’t you go first?” The other boy griped, draping himself dramatically over a lane line. “I thought you’d be all hot ‘n ready to take Eren’s place.”

“Fuck you,” Jean hissed. Rather than wait for a response, he pushed off the wall, kicking as hard as he could in the hopes he might at least splash Connie in the face. Try as he might, he couldn’t quite outswim the guilt that pulled heavy at his stomach, tying him down like an anchor.

The whole team’s been off since Eren got injured. Levi’s even crankier, Annie’s been looking flat-out murderous, and even Sasha’s been acting a little wilted. I figure everyone has to know by now, even if Mikasa wanted to keep it quiet for a while. He’s kinda hard to miss…

He thought back to the night in the hospital; how useless and inadequate he’d been in the face of Eren’s pain. How the hairs on the back of his arms had stood up at the mere sight of him lying defeated in bed. It wasn’t natural. Eren Jaeger was a creature of perpetual motion and raw nerves, not a sallow-eyed body wrapped in white sheets.

Annnnd once again I wussed out. Stood out on the sidewalk filled with cigarette butts and old gum for half an hour, trying not to cry like a big fucking baby. I should have said something else, or stood up to his dad, or…

Jean was still berating himself as he dragged his ass to the locker room, hoping Armin would be gone by the time he got there so he could avoid the limpid blue pity-stare.

“What’s this, Kirstein?”

Jean was so preoccupied that he’d almost walked straight past Levi, who was standing outside his office, an envelope in his outstretched hand.

“Oh, that’s um a scholarship application?” He’d forgotten that he’d slipped the paperwork for Trost University under Levi’s door a few days earlier, in one of his more optimistic moments.

“I’ll think about it.”

Wait, you’re not going to laugh in my face or tear the envelope into tiny pieces?

“You’ll make a half-decent swimmer if you manage to pull your head out of your ass. Keep working.” With that, Levi crossed his arms, a clear sign of dismissal.

If he’d said that a month, or even a week ago, Jean probably would’ve raced back to the locker room to gloat. Instead, he felt hollow; as if to celebrate his own accomplishments now would be spitting in Eren’s face after what he’d been through.


He decided to forgo changing in favor of a towel wrapped around his waist and a hoodie thrown over his bare chest. Fortunately Armin was nowhere in sight, and with a small sigh of relief he stepped out into the parking lot.

“Fuck!”

Jean nearly jumped out of his skin. A loud band, and a few more muffled curses later and he finally spotted Mikasa slamming her fist onto the hood of her car a few parking spaces away from his.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard her swear before.

He dawdled on the curb, weighing the chances of her thanking him for his help against her biting his head off. After the Night of the Hospital Disaster, the odds were decidedly in favor of the latter.

“Just go, you stupid piece of-” The sentence ended in a garbled exhalation that sounded very much like a sob.

Oh my God is she about to cry?

Forgetting all sense of self-preservation, Jean darted over. On closer inspection, the area under Mikasa’s eyes was puffy and purpling from lack of sleep, and her cheeks were a blotchy pink. She took no notice of him as he approached; merely continued to beat at the battered van, punctuating each smack with a grunt of frustration.

“Car trouble?” He tried to keep his tone light, but there was a hint of a squeak in it.

Mikasa whirled around, the defeat in her face replaced instantly by anger as her nostrils flared. Tension radiated from her body like a coiled spring.

“What do you want?” She snapped.

Stay calm, don’t lose your head…

“This isn’t about… what happened last week, okay?” He held up his hands as if to show he was unarmed. “It’s family business, and I’m not welcome. Believe me, I get it.” Jean couldn’t quite suppress the bitterness in his voice, but Mikasa didn’t bat an eyelash. “I just umm, well you’re kinda stuck here. Can I help?”

Her shoulders slumped back down as she seemed to collapse in on herself, like a marionette whose strings had just been cut.

“I don’t think so.”

“I could at least give you a ride! My car’s over there,” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder.

Mikasa chewed her bottom lip, clearly fighting some sort of internal battle before she finally gave a quick, decisive nod.

“The hospital. I promised Eren I’d visit after physical therapy today.”

Oh.

“They’re going to show us how to properly wrap his stump, so it can be molded into the right shape for a prosthetic.”

Jean had one eye on the rearview mirror as he backed out, but he still noticed Mikasa clench her hands around her knees. He cleared his throat.

“So uhh, how’s he doing? It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it though!” He added hastily.

Nice going. You literally just said you weren’t going to pry into her business anymore.

To his surprise, Mikasa swiveled around in her seat to face him.

“How do you think he’s doing?” She asked quietly. “All he talks about is swimming; asking me what sets we did at practice, who Levi’s eyeing for what events…”

Jean flinched. “Sorry.” His tongue had turned to lead. He blinked furiously to clear his vision, thankful that driving gave him the excuse not to look anywhere but the road.

“I don’t know why I’m telling you all this,” Mikasa continued, drawing a shaky break. She was facing the window again, dragging her fingers in aimless circles on the glass. “I shouldn’t be complaining. Eren’s the one who got hurt, not me. I should’ve been there to protect him,” she muttered under her breath.

“That’s bullshi-”

“No, it’s not,” Mikasa said firmly. “He was there for me when no one else was, and I’ll always owe him for that.”

Jean opened his mouth to ask what exactly that meant, until he recalled the first few months after Mikasa’s arrival at the household- when she was nothing more than a silent shadow at Eren’s shoulder; a dark-haired ghost with cracked lips and bruises on her wrist- and decided the topic was definitely off-limits.

“Doesn’t mean you’re some kinda machine,” He grunted instead. “What happened to Eren… It’s affecting all of us. Have you seen the team recently? Maybe not everyone knows what’s going on exactly, but they can sense he’s missing.”

“Really?” Her voice was clotted with tears. “I guess it’s just hard watching everyone go about their business like nothing’s wrong. Meanwhile I’m-” Mikasa gestured up towards her face, as if to say a giant fucking mess.

Believe me, I know what that’s like.

They drove in silence for a while. Jean had to resist the urge to pinch himself. Mikasa sitting next to him, revealing the emotion behind her stoicism was certainly surreal. In fact, he was pretty sure he had dreamt this moment before, only he hadn’t felt so sick and knotted up inside, and the lighting was much more romantic. He thought maybe he should say something to her, or reach over and pat her shoulder, conveying his sympathies in a single touch. But she was perched so tensely on the edge of her seat, eyebrows furrowed, as if she might fly away at any moment.

“Annie says that I’m insensitive,” she interjected suddenly. “Do you think that’s true?” Mikasa was staring down at her nails, picking at miniscule flecks of dirt underneath them.

“Why’re you asking me?”

“You’re honest.”

Jean scratched the back of his neck, pondering what sort of crime he’d committed in a past life to deserve this punishment.

“I think you and Eren are more alike than most people realize,” he said finally. “You both have crazy laser-focus that blocks out everything else, even if there are other important things that need your attention. So, yeah you are kinda insensitive, but that’s because Eren’s accident is all you can think about right now. Can’t really blame you for that.” It’d be pretty damn hypocritical if I did.

Mikasa nodded, apparently satisfied. At least her eyes didn’t look as red anymore. With a sinking heart, Jean realized they were approaching the hospital. The helplessness itched at him like the red sweater his grandmother had given him for Christmas when he was seven.

“Look, I know you’re not the touchy-feely type, and to be honest I’m not either, but if you ever need to talk…”

“Thank you, I appreciate it.” Her reply was abrupt enough that Jean doubted she would even consider his offer. Mikasa paused, her hand clasped firmly around the door handle. She gave it a squeeze hard enough to turn her knuckles white.

“I really am sorry about the other night when you showed up with Armin. I didn’t believe you were… sincere after all the fights you and Eren have had over the years. I’m glad I was wrong.” And with a soft rustle of fabric, she was gone, leaving behind a faint scent of chlorine and a black frustration welling in Jean’s gut.

Of course! Jean wanted to scream. He means more to me than anyone will ever know. Especially now that I’ve dicked everything up.

He thought he might after Mikasa, grab her elbow, spill confessions from his lips. But outside the bubble of his car, she may as well have been on the moon. He settled for punching the steering wheel instead.


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