Eren stared at the three steps leading up to his porch. They were simple steps made from wood in the halcyon days before his mother got sick. When she still had the energy to enjoy doing her own home improvement projects. He’d raced up and down them more times than he could count- late for school, late for practice, home after a long trip. They sagged in the middle now, a result of bearing so many feet over the years, but those innocuous little stairs were now Eren’s worst enemy. And they showed no sign of backing down.
He gritted his teeth and readjusted the crutched under his armpits, trying to remember Pixis’ tips for what he called “vertical navigation”.
“Do you need any help?” Mikasa hovered at his side, as if she feared he would fall at any minute.
“I can do it myself!” Eren snapped. He refused to look back at his father, who was undoubtedly looking on with pity from the front seat of the car.
Their eyes were hot on the back of his neck as he planted one crutch firmly on either side of the first step. He hopped up with barely a wobble.
So far, so good.
It seemed like an eternity before he reached the front door, but Eren was finally inside, breathing air that smelled like home, rather than sanitizer and chemicals. The curtains were drawn to let in the maximum amount of sunlight, and a small vase of flowers had been placed on the living room coffee table. He felt his stomach sour.
We used to do that for Mom whenever she came home.
“What do you want for dinner tonight?” Mikasa clambered in after him. For a split second, jealousy washed over him as he watched her kick off her shoes with two casual movements. He hobbled over to the couch so he could sit and untie his laces.
“I don’t care. S’long as it’s not hospital food. Is Dad sticking around?”
“Of course! It’s your first night back. We all want to celebrate.”
Eren snorted. “So what, it takes one of his kids getting crippled for him to stick around?”
“That’s not funny.” She sat down next to him with a thump.
Well it’s true…
“What’s going on with you? I thought you’d be happy now that you’re finally out of the hospital,” Her head tilted as she scrutinized him.
I was supposed to be. But now I’ve gotta sleep in a room full of swimming trophies, and take showers sitting down, and listed to you bustle around in the morning before you leave for practice.
“Nothing,” He grunted. “Did you think my issues with Dad would just magically disappear through the power of Family Bonding Bullshit?”
The nurse shifting her weight from side to side, asking if I had questions about “sexual activity”, telling me I can have a perfectly normal sex life, that I might have to be a bit more creative about positions, but she’s staring at her clipboard, making sure she’s checked all the boxes for discharge.
“Eren, the doctors said this is a very difficult transition. Anger is a common manifesta-”
“Yeah because they CLEARLY know what it’s like to have extra pairs of shoes lying around at the bottom of their closets. You’re talking like I’m some kinda textbook case, that you’ve got me all figured out but how about you stop hovering all the goddamn time and leave me alone?!”
Mikasa’s mouth snapped shut. She rose stiffly from her seat, without moving her torso, and stalked out on heavy feet. A minute later, her door slammed and he could hear her muffled voice.
Probably talking to her GIRLFRIEND.
Sure enough, Annie showed up on their doorstep within the hour. Eren considered moving from the living room couch to the safety of his bed, but decided he wasn’t ready to face the towels that were surely still strewn about the floor.
“Mikasa’s down the hall,” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder in what he hoped was a nonchalant gesture, while shifting a pillow over his stump.
“Actually, I wanted to talk to you.”
“I’m fine, seriously. I’ll probably show up to practice in a few days to say ‘hi’ to everyone.” The lie tasted rancid on his tongue.
Annie’s face darkened faster than the sky before a tornado. “Cut the crap, Eren. Maybe Mikasa’s willing to put up with your bullshit, but I’m not. First of all, how dare you speak to her like that- do you know how many nights she’s stayed awake worrying about you? How much she’s personally sacrificed? She even gave up her spot on the ‘A’ relay so she could spend more time at the hospital after school.”
“Mikasa never told me that!” Eren yelped, his face growing warm. “I didn’t ask her to sacrifice anything. I’m not some burden she has to bear, okay? I’m sick of everyone treating me like I’m helpless. They can take their pity and shove it up their-”
“Yeah, I know your life is shit right now, and you have a right to be pissed about it,” Annie cut in. She leveled him with the blunt stare that was rumored to make even her most iron-willed opponents start shaking on the blocks.
“But that’s not the point. Mikasa’s so…” She shrugged, raising her hand in a fruitless gesture, “Closed- off? She’s the type who’ll let themselves drown before they ask for a life raft. I was so mad at first, because I thought she was ignoring me, but I guess I didn’t realize how bad things had gotten for her.”
She had to sit and watch me night after night, probably thinking about how we did the same exact thing with mom, and despite all the care we took she still died anyway. What if I hadn’t made it? Eren found his throat was uncomfortably dry.
“God, I’m such an asshole.”
Annie smirked. “Apology accepted. But if you ever pull something like that again, I’ll kick your ass- one leg or no,” She menaced him with her fist.
The burst of laughter that sprang out of him surprised them both, but it was the first time in over a month he felt normal again.
“I bet I could take you right now,” he wheezed, smacking her shin with his crutches. “Let’s go, I’m serious!”
Anne responded with a playful punch to the gut, and when Mikasa arrived a few minutes later to see what all the commotion was about, she discovered the two of them sprawled on the floor and in tears of merriment. She shook her head and went back to her room, a small smile playing on her lips.
Dinner was a surprisingly pleasant affair with his father actually plugged into the conversation instead of staring straight ahead, his mind still at the hospital. Annie decided to stay over, and watching the subtle way she’d look at Mikasa when she thought no one else was paying attention, or how Mikasa casually brushed her knee against hers and held it there reminded Eren that he still had one massive hurdle left to jump before he could spend his time home at peace.
What am I gonna do about Jean?
Once word about his injury had officially gotten out, he’d received an influx of flowers and get-well cards; mostly from the team, but even a few from kids he’d spoken two once or twice in class. Connie had even showed up at the hospital, dressed inexplicably in a Santa hat, bearing “gifts of good fortune,” which apparently consisted of two volumes of Aquaman comics, some chewing gum, and a potato with a smiley face drawn on it from Sasha.
Jean, of course, had been conspicuously absent in all the hullaballoo- not even a peep from Connie about how the season was going. Eren suspected he was avoiding the topic to spare his feelings, but it only left him feeling more disconnected from the community that he missed so badly.
Did he get put back in the relay? Who took my place? Has Levi warmed up at all or does he still glare at everyone like we’ve just kicked his puppy?
Does Jean still care?
The thoughts ran round and round in his head like little mice; so loud that Mikasa had to kick him in the shins before he realized his father had asked him to pass the green beans three times already.
After the last plate had been cleared away and Annie and Mikasa had vanished off down the block, undoubtedly searching for a deserted park bench where they could hold hands and stare into each other’s eyes, or whatever girls did on dates, Eren finally ventured into his room. To his surprise, someone (likely Mikasa) had been in to tidy up. The floor was relatively free of trash, and his dirty laundry had been folded and put away, though his desk full of scattered papers had been left untouched. He gingerly set his crutches against the wall and hobbled over to his bed, his sheets mercifully free of hospital starch.
A silver medal from last year’s conference meet dangled from his bedpost. Eren closed his eyes and willed away the want in his chest that throbbed more fiercely than his stump did most days.
One hurdle at a time, just like Pixus said. But where do I even start? There’s a lot of shit in my life that needs to be put back together.
His good leg dangled down over the side, his foot brushing something hard that had slipped underneath the dust cover. A pair of goggles. The ones he’d torn angrily from his head after the disqualification and thrown down on the floor in disgust.
I suppose that’s a good a place to start as any. Hell, I almost DIED- what more to a have to be afraid of?
A manic grin crept over Eren’s features as he pulled out his phone to text Armin. What he needed most right now was a plan.