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the vile swell between skin and bone

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His hands are steady, fingers spread wide and dirty as Eren looks down at them, splayed in his lap. He breathes slowly in, exhales even slower and lets them curl over the damp, red fabric.

It stains his hands crimson, makes his throat close and blood run hot.

Eren wants to tear down the Walls, slice through bones and sinew, paint the remains of the world bloody red and scream.

The bark is rough against his back, the air a milky fog against his lips as he breathes out, feels it slip through his clenched teeth. There’s a strain in his arms as Eren forces himself to sit still and not rip apart the bloodied muffler in his hands.

They threw it aside, like it was nothing, like it meant nothing, just a ratty cloth in the way of their fingers as they struggled to find Mikasa’s faltering pulse.  They pushed him away, suddenly numb and unable to find the balance he relied on so often. Her hair was ruined, in blood-heavy clumps, body twisted at an odd angle.  

They hadn’t let him see her since yesterday, since they brought her back and called in a doctor.

Eren yelled and demanded and put his fists to the wall, throat raw and knuckles torn,  butthey didn’t let him see her.

Mikasa has been broken, literally broken, because of him and so what if Eren ripped that Titan apart before it managed to touch her again.

It didn’t erase what it has done.

It didn’t erase that one moment ,that splinter of a second where she looked from its disastrous face to Eren’s, to see if he’s alright. It took only a long, breathtakingly slow wave of a deformed arm, the hand curved and large as it slammed in Mikasa’s body.

In the silence of the woods, a day later, Eren can still hear the ugly crack of bones - it echoes in his mind, over and over, never ending, never fading - and the voiceless scream of pain.  He can hear the blood rush in his head and see the red fog that came over his sight.

He buries his face in the muffler, breathes in the scent of dust and Mikasa’s blood and chokes on it all.

It smells too much like failure.


 

They shaved half of his sister’s hair.

They shaved off Mikasa’s hair.

There’s a number of stitches on the right side of her head, the skin ugly red and swollen around the uneven lines. Eren’s sure it would feel hot under his fingertips if he dared to touch it.

He wants to, so bad it makes something cold and heavy coil in the pit of his stomach, but Mikasa’s been in enough pain for now, and Eren would rather cut his fingers of (like she did, not that long ago, fast and agile and precise and gloriously deadly) than cause her any more.

The miserable rest of it has been washed, but it’s dull and messy, falling onto her face and doing  absolutely nothing to hide the purple and yellow bruising. One eye is swollen shut, lips puffy with cuts and swelled with blood, and in the flickering light of the single candle Mikasa looks frighteningly small.

The bandages wrapped around her chest make his own constrict.

The shadows over her face are long and heavy, deepening the scratches and bruises and angry mark. The doctor worked on her for over 20 hours and still the best he could give Eren was “that the night was crucial.”

Eren wanted to break his nose.

“I told you not to save me,” Eren says, his voice all kinds of wrecked and words burning through his throat. “Over and over, I-I told you…”, he chokes and falls silent.

Mikasa doesn’t answer, of course she doesn’t. She’s out cold, with a barely there rise and fall of her chest and her hands laying limp at her sides.

She looks everything she isn’t.

And Eren needs, has to touch, to anchor himself somehow amidst this haze of ache and the stench of antiseptic.

He grabs her hand, like so many times he’s done already, feels the structure and weight.

It’s limp in his, clammy and nothing like he’s used to feel. Her fingers don’t curl, don’t twine with his like they always do, like they’re supposed to.

The knuckles are skinned, scratchy when Eren presses his lips to them. He can taste the faint tang on whatever ointment was used on Mikasa’s wounds, the stink of medicine hitting his nose from up this close.

He breathes it all in, dried blood and aching skin, and the words tumble out, ripped out straight into curve of her hand.

"You have to fight, remember?" His voice is barely a whisper, because anything louder and he will crack, collapse under the weight of red wool in his hand. "You have to come back, ok? I can’t …. you just have to get better. You’re…" Eren chokes, the sob lodged in the depth of his throat, his fingers tightening on the muffler. His breath is damp and hot against the sickly cool of Mikasa’s hand, lips dragging and catching on flakes of flayed skin. “You just have to.”

She has to, she has to, because she’s so, so smart, she’s his annoyingly protective sister, she’s Mikasa Ackerman. She’s one of the bravest, strongest people Eren knows and she… and she….

Tears burn their way down his cheeks as Eren folds in on himself and shakes. He cries into her hand, aches for her pain and for her to return to him, her hand tightly pressed to his lips as he sobs.

“You’re mine, you’re mine,” Eren repeats, will keep repeating until his throat goes hoarse and voice fades. “Come back to me.”

And if Eren tells himself, that he sees a glimmer underneath the lashes of her healthy eye, if he thinks that her mouth seems more lax than just seconds before… it’s only his to keep.

Eren falls asleep late into the night, when the candle burns out and he’s tucked into the side of Mikasa’s bed. His cheek is pressed to her hand, not once letting go.

Her pinkie brushes his nose at the crack of dawn.