Deadman's Float

Chapter 9

This is your chance. Now or never.

“Hey Mikasa, there’s like, a dance for the seventh graders at my school. And um, I was wondering if you’d w-want to go with me?” Jean ran a hand through his hair, fingers brushing the stiff layer of gel that slicked it back. He tried to smile like he’d practiced in the mirror; a casual side-grin like Harrison Ford’s. It wasn’t quite the same with a mouthful of braces.

“I don’t like to dance,” she replied flatly, scuffing the toe of her sneaker in the dirt as she pushed back on her swing. The sun was just beginning to set on the playground of their old elementary school, the peach-colored light softening the severity of her expression. Or so he imagined.

“Thank you for the offer,” Mikasa added with an almost robotic politeness. She hopped off the swing in one fluid motion, her hair spilling out behind her like ink.

“SHUT DOWWWNNN!” Eren crowed from on top of the monkey bars. He bent over in a crouch and leapt off, landing with not nearly as much grace as his foster sister.

Jean sighed, tearing his eyes away from the back of Mikasa’s head. Even Eren’s asshole commentary couldn’t manage to irritate him. He just felt wrung out and empty, like a deflated balloon.

“Seriously, why do you keep chasing after her? It’s obvious she doesn’t like you back.”

Jean opened his mouth to respond with a stinging rant about how Eren CLEARLY didn’t understand how true love worked, but he plowed ahead as usual, oblivious.

“Wouldn’t you be happier with someone who actually paid attention to you? Spending all your energy mooning after Mikasa’s just stupid. Do you even know her that well?”

“Of course I do!” He snapped indignantly. Who was Eren to tell him that he was wasting his time? Eren probably still thought girls had cooties.

The smaller boy shrugged his shoulders.

“Just sayin’. I don’t think she really cares if boys like her or not.”

Maybe I can be the exception, Jean thought to himself, hope fluttering in his chest like a candle in a storm.

His romantic musings were interrupted when Eren punched him in the gut and challenged him to a footrace, taking off at top speed without even waiting for an answer.


Jean stared at Eren’s retreating back like he’d done so many times before; on the playground, at swim meets.

Only this time it felt different, somehow. The competitive spark was gone from the other boy’s eyes, replaced by a glimpse of stark fear. Rather than issue a challenge, it felt as if Eren had backed away from one.

What the fuck did I just witness?

Eren’s shaking hands, the doubt in his voice- it had seemed so uncharacteristic that Jean wanted to write it off as some sort of bizarre lucid dream. That he’d wake up on the couch with a crick in his neck and the TV emitting a soft, muted glow.

I was just teasing him like always, he thought with a flash of annoyance. As if he was somehow responsible for whatever weird problems Jaeger was having at the moment.

But something rankled at the back of his mind, an itch he just couldn’t quite reach. Their previous fights had always had an air of brutality to them, particularly when they got physical. It was like he and Eren were potassium and water; doomed to explode when mixed together.

This time, however, there had been a certain tenderness; folded in so seamlessly that it could be mistaken for rage. The press of Eren’s knuckles against his collarbone as he gripped his shirt, an unmistakable electricity in the air like a hot summer night before a storm…

Perhaps it had been that the wiry, barely-contained energy that Eren always seemed to emit was focused solely on him for once, rather than directed outward at a mysterious universal force that only Jaeger seemed to perceive. That energy was, Jean supposed, what drew others toward him despite his somewhat caustic personality and nigh-pathological determination. He presence sparked others, drove them to achieve better whether they recognized it consciously or not.

Jean was loath to admit it, but he was not above the influence himself. With a shake of his head, he turned back towards the Aquatic Center.

No way am I gonna be late because of him. He can risk Levi’s wrath all he wants, but I’ve got a scholarship to win.

Coach Levi was, in fact, still pissed about their actions during the meet. Jean could feel his ears burning as he shuffled away under the shadow of a disdainful glare.

I guess it could have been worse. He could’ve kicked me off the team for real, right? Instead I’ll just have to swim laps until I die.

He privately hoped that Eren’s absence would reflect favorably on him, though he didn’t go so far as to believe that he wouldn’t ever return. The kid was about as stubborn as he was impulsive after all.

He spied Mikasa out of the corner of his eye. She was making a beeline for him, her feet slapping authoritatively on the deck. Jean quickened his pace, but she managed to corner him outside the family locker room.

“Where’s Eren?” She demanded. “He was right behind us but Armin said he hasn’t seen him since we got out of the car.”

Jean cleared his throat nervously and gave a helpless shrug. While close contact with Mikasa was generally a plus, he didn’t think she’d take the news of their fight well.

“I dunno, he ran off somewhere,” he mumbled, trying to push past her to get to his lane.

She blocked his path, eyes narrowing.

“What did you say to him?”

“I didn’t say anything!” Jean snapped, though he knew that wasn’t entirely true. The frustration that had been stewing inside him all day was finally frothing over.

It’s like I’ve managed to fail to live up to everyone’s expectations, only no one told me what they were in the first place! First Levi, then, Eren, now this.

“Look, I don’t know what his problem is, okay? Maybe you should ask HIM. We were just teasin’ each other like always and then he got all weird and ran off.” So it’s out of my hands now.

If Mikasa was startled by the sudden outburst, she didn’t show it. She merely blew out a long breath and pursed her lips.

“Alright. Thank you.”

“Um, I’m sure he’s fine though,” Jean added reflexively, hoping it might change the flat, steely look on her face. A smile? Relief? “Like, he probably just needs to cool off, ya know?”

Shut up, you’re babbling. Also, since when do you “know” anything about Eren Jaeger, other than he’s a loudmouth asshole? You basically just told her you didn’t give a shit, for crying out loud! Don’t you dare let her make you feel guilty about this.

“Yeah,” Mikasa replied in the same unaffected monotone. “I guess I worry too much,” she muttered half to herself, as she turned away. Jean’s gut twisted despite his previous resolve, but he ignored it and chose to throw himself into the workout instead.

He was so focused that barely noticed when Mikasa was called out of practice twenty minutes later. The incident had faded so far from his mind that it wasn’t until he was halfway home that he realized that she hadn’t returned.

Jean shivered as the chilly fall wind pierced his hoodie. He cursed himself for not bringing a warmer coat for the walk, settling instead for turning up the volume on his headphones as if the music could keep him warm.

Something caught on the toe of his sneaker and he tripped. Looking down he saw shattered glass, and small, miscellaneous bits of metal. There was even a dark patch on the road- blood? The whole scene had an eerie feeling of desolation; the ghost of an accident lingering after the initial crash. It sent another shiver down Jean’s spine, though this time it had nothing to do with the temperature.

Mikasa sat under the harsh fluorescent lights, her head throbbing.

Again. Again. Again.

The white linoleum tiles, done up to look like marble, combined with baby blue walls, and the susurrating footsteps of nurses rushing to and fro in their scrubs leant to the impression that she was in a of twisted, fever-dream version of heaven.

No matter what I am not letting go I will drag him back down to Earth by his ankles I swear

Every time a monitor beeped she wanted to fly down the hallway like an avenging angel, find the nearest doctor, wrap her fingers around his throat and squeeze until she got some information out of him.

Maybe then they’d understand how it feels. The waiting.

Mikasa’s fingers brushed against her neck self-consciously, where her scarf usually sat.

Maybe Grisha will be back soon?

Her foster father had rushed off what seemed like hours ago in the hopes that he could use his standing at the hospital to pull a few strings, figure out where Eren had ended up in the maze of the Emergency Department.

On the phone they said he was still in surgery…

Mikasa gently pushed that thought away from her like it was a balloon filled with acid. Instead she focused on the hard, plastic ridges of the chair against the back of her legs, the slow numbness settling into her rear from sitting so long.

How could this happen?

One moment she was at practice, the next she was clutching the phone in Levi’s office as the world crashed down around her. Grisha’s voice snaking through the line, telling her that there’d been an accident…

Everything will be fine, she told herself.

A gun glinting cold in the moonlight, her mother’s arms outstretched towards her hiding place.

Karla’s voice, ragged as old parchment.

“Watch out for Eren for me.”

I can’t do this again.

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