Shit. Shit, shit, shit, there was no getting out of this.
Jean laid flat on his back, where he’d landed after a malfunction with his maneuver gear. He supposed he was lucky. All he had were some bruises, maybe a dislocated shoulder. Up ahead, he could hear screaming - his squad wasn’t doing much better than he was.
Of course, ‘lucky’ was a relative term. Perhaps he wasn’t dead yet, but considering that he’d just dropped twenty feet through the branches of a Titan-infested forest, he was going to be soon. He was in no shape to even attempt making an escape, and his gear…well, all that remained of it were the harnesses around his legs and waist, the hilt of one blade pressed into the palm of his good hand. He’d dropped the other one when a branch knocked his shoulder out of its socket.
For something between an eternity and a few seconds, he laid on the forest floor, pain throbbing through him. He was dead. The others were already gone, he had no way of escape, he was dead. The rest of his life would be spent waiting, waiting until a Titan finally meandered over, drawn by the sound of his crashing fall, or perhaps his scent. He kept still, kept quiet, though it seemed to him that his heartbeat was loud enough to alert an entire army of his presence.
Finally, it happened. He thought he’d been laying there for hours, or perhaps a few minutes, but at last, he heard it. The gentle sound of grass being crushed, of earth being pressed solid by a foot bigger than his entire body. As bile rose in his throat, Jean slowly turned to look at his demise. His heart pounded violently in his chest, a cold feeling spreading through his limbs. He wasn't sure if he could or couldn't move, at this point, but he didn't. All he managed to do was stare, register the sensation of blood drying on his scalp, tighten his hand around the hilt of his blade.
It was enormous. Sixteen…no, a seventeen-meter class, at least. Taller than Eren’s titan form, certainly. It was oddly well-proportioned for a titan - there was no noodle-neck supporting an over-sized head, or a distended belly like a toddler’s, balanced on thin legs and large feet. No, this titan was built evenly, almost muscular. It almost reminded him of Eren, were it not for the spots here and there, on its shoulders, legs, where its skin was missing, tendon and muscle showing instead.
It knelt, one massive knee pressing into the ground not a full two meters away from Jean. A hand touched the earth above his head. Another pressed below his feet, and the Titan bent down. Jean was still frozen, tears burning behind his eyes. He didn’t want to die. He had so much left to do, to be, and he didn’t want to die, not like this, not in a way that was so painful and pointless, as a meal for a creature that didn’t even need to eat. He didn’t want to die, crushed between teeth that were too large to cut cleanly, after living a life that was so much fear and hate. He didn't want to die - not that the Titan crouched over him cared about that.
Hot breath grazed over him, moving his hair back. As he saw that massive, shadowed face grow closer, Jean closed his eyes, a choked whimper the only noise he made.
Marco wasn’t sure how long he’d been here. He’d tried to count the sunsets, at first, but he lost track at seventy-three. He knew two things, acutely; the first was that he was a titan. That had taken some getting used to, as well as a few incidents that saw him running from other titans before he realized that they were no longer a danger to him. In fact, he stood at least head taller than any titan he’d met in this forest, which was as bizarre as it was frightening.
The second thing was that, somehow, he’d wound up in the forest, despite his last memories being of cobbled streets and shingled rooftops. He’d once traveled, over the course of a day, close enough to see the walls. However, the sickening knowledge that his friends and fellow soldiers would see him as a monster had kept him from coming any closer than that.
Not that this resignation kept him from feeling horribly, painfully lonely. Titans weren’t dangerous to him, but they didn’t socialize, even if they wandered in their little groups. So, no longer needing to eat, drink, or sleep, Marco wandered as well, trying to enjoy his freedom – as much as it had cost him.
And then, as he spent yet another day sitting by a slow-moving river, he heard it. Hoof-beats, from hooves that belonged to no deer or boar. These were horses, and – he listened closer – human voices. Eyes widening, he practically leapt to his feet, used to the way the ground trembled beneath his weight.
However, he was too late. In the time it took him to reach the humans, they were all dead. He recognized none of them, but he still felt wracked by grief as he saw the monsters he’d lived with tearing their bodies apart, fighting over the pieces. His one chance at meeting someone, talking to someone, and it was gone, as were the lives of yet more people. He almost fell to his knees…when a scent caught him, carried on the breeze from less than a quarter-mile away. He raised his head, hope, reluctant and small, rising in his chest. Could it be…could someone still be alive?
He headed towards the scent, some small part of him realizing that this was why the Titans could find hidden humans so easily – he could have followed this smell, almost floral, from miles away. Finally, he saw it; a small figure, laying on the ground, holding one of the rectangular blades he’d once fought with. He slowly approached, more conscious now than ever of his size. He’d thought watching deer go by was a humbling experience – here was a human that might have stood at his height, once, and Marco could barely even make out his face.
Slowly, he knelt down, trying to get a better look at the human. His chest was rising and falling, faster than was normal, and Marco realized with a start that his eyes were open, fixed on Marco’s face. He was too thrilled that this human was alive to realize what was probably going through the poor thing’s mind, placing his hands on the ground to lean down and get a better look. The boy closed his eyes as Marco leaned closer, turned his head away…
And Marco froze.
Jean’s name attempted to make it past his lips, but a different noise came out instead, something closer to a dog’s growl – amplified by a thousand – than any type of human speech. Jean, blood tracked down his face, flinched, letting out a shuddering breath. He kept his eyes tightly closed, brow furrowed in that way it did when he was scared and didn’t want to admit it. Marco had seen that look plenty of times, before and during missions…he never thought he’d be the cause for it.
Marco swallowed. What…what could he do about this? He couldn’t speak, couldn’t touch Jean for fear of hurting him, couldn’t do anything but sit here and loom like a monster. Slowly, he straightened back up, trying to work something out.
However, before he’d had more than a few moments, he heard something other than Jean’s panicky breathing; footsteps. Many footsteps, loud, making the earth below them quake. The Titans had finished devouring the rest of Jean’s squad, and they were on their way.
The sound of the oncoming Titans finally spurred Marco into action – he had no choice, he reminded himself, no choice, even if this was going to be…ugly.
He reached forward, hands trembling ever so slightly as they neared Jean’s body. One of his fingers grazed Jean’s side, and Jean let out the slightest sound, a choked sort of whine. Marco was fairly sure he wasn’t hurt, but it was still alarming. He was terrified that a careless movement on his part could hurt his friend, could ruin the second chance he'd been given. As the footsteps became louder, he forced himself to hurry up, sliding his fingers ever so gently underneath Jean’s body. Quickly, he got to his feet, cupping his hands around Jean as he ran – to where, he wasn’t sure.
For a moment, Jean had thought the beast had killed him so quickly he didn’t realize he was dead. That was the best explanation for why he'd gone so long without being grabbed up in a fist. But that couldn’t be – surely his shoulder wouldn’t hurt if he was dead. No, it was just waiting, crouched and silent. If he listened carefully, Jean could hear the movement of air as the Titan breathed. He couldn’t bring himself to open his eyes, for fear that he’d start screaming – no, he’d just keep his eyes closed, and he wouldn’t know what was happening. There would be no last glimpse of the world, no image of a gaping maw to remind him of the coming agony. He faintly registered vibrations beneath him, as more Titans hurried his way. Not that it mattered. One had already found him, and that was enough; it would no doubt kill him shortly. He'd known this would happen, someday.
Still, when he felt something touch his side, he couldn’t keep from tensing, a terror-stricken noise escaping him without his permission. Pathetic. He was completely, utterly pathetic, crying like a child because his dangerous choice of careers had finally caught up with him. He steeled himself, brows furrowed and trembling lips pressed tightly together, so as to keep the aching lump in his throat from turning into a sob. However, he still couldn’t open his eyes, even as the Titan gathered him into a hand. It was oddly delicate, but his dislocated shoulder still screamed in protest at being moved.
He was lifted from the ground, and for a moment thought he’d been placed in the Titan’s mouth - there was no light, and he couldn’t feel any movement of the air, even as he continued to be moved. Finally, he opened his eyes, unable to handle not knowing. The Titan's other hand had raised to cover him, holding him like he would have held an insect or lizard as a child. “What the-“
His startled exclamation cut off as he suddenly rose up and down in a very short span of time, the rapid change in elevation making his stomach feel like it had been left behind ten feet above him. At the same time, he felt the Titan’s foot make slamming contact with the ground, the impact hitting him like a wall. And then it happened again. And again. The Titan was running, keeping him cupped in its hands like a damned firefly. The others had probably disturbed its meal, so it was taking him somewhere private. Of fucking course he’d been captured by an Abnormal, of all things, one of the few Titans that wouldn’t grant him a quick death.
Suddenly, Jean realized something. He was still holding one of his blades, the hilt and his palm covered in sweat from the tight grip he'd kept on it. A grim smile crossed his face; while he couldn’t kill the Titan, he could at least pay it back in advance. Aiming upward, towards the heel of the monster’s hand, he thrust as hard as he could with his good arm. A horrible, shrieking noise set his ears ringing, and he was lowered through the air so quickly he would have thought the creature had dropped him, were it not for the continued darkness of the Titan’s cupped hands. Fear still lurched in his chest, but it was met with satisfaction. At least his to-be murderer wouldn't get away entirely unscathed.
Well, of all the human functions that Marco had lost, the ability to feel pain wasn’t one. What would have been a shocked shout came out more like a screaming roar, pain searing through his left hand. Marco stumbled forward, half-crouching as he tried to cope with the sudden pain. Looking down, he saw the very end of Jean’s blade sticking out from his hand, just above his wrist.
Despite himself, Marco found a slight smile on his face. Slowly, he straightened up and continued to run, though his wrist and arm still throbbed. Good. Jean might be hurt, and afraid, but he wasn’t broken. Marco would heal, and he’d find a way to explain who he was. He’d be able to be with his best friend again, to be with a person again. Even if he couldn’t talk, he could hear the voice of a living person, instead of the growls of a mindless Titan.
It took some time, but he finally got some distance from the pursuing Titans, finding himself back at the river. There was a small outcropping of rocks at the edge, raised in a sort of wall - enough to shield a single human. Swallowing, he crouched on the balls of his feet and opened his hands, wincing as the movement shifted the blade still embedded in his palm. Ever so gently, he placed Jean down by the river, noting Jean’s wince as Marco’s retreating finger brushed his left shoulder. As he withdrew his hands, he pulled the blade out of his hand, reaching over to slowly place it beside Jean. Steam hissed up from his wound as it began to close.
“Stay.” He tried to say, but the word again came out as a senseless growl. To give his command meaning, he raised a hand, pointing firmly at the ground. Jean’s eyes widened, looking up with a squint at Marco’s face. Marco hoped that meant he would stay put, even if it was only because he was too weak to move. Marco rose from his crouch, turning to face the Titans that were still in pursuit. He hadn’t actually killed any Titans, living here, but he remembered their weakness, and it couldn’t be that hard in this form. He just hoped the noise wouldn’t attract too many more. Well, on the bright side, he never needed to sleep – he wouldn’t have to worry about them sneaking up on him.
Jean didn’t know what the hell was going on. First the thing was going to eat him, then it was taking him somewhere else, then he thought it would crush him after he stabbed it, and now it had not only given him his weapon back, but then made a hand motion that clearly meant he was supposed to stay where he’d been set. He looked up, squinting as the light blinded him, leaving the Titan’s face in shadow. Could this be a shifter? Certainly not – even a shifter would have killed him, after that stunt with his sword.
Befuddled, Jean watched the Titan walk away, unsure of what exactly to do about this situation. He’d gained freedom…in a sense. He wasn’t sure how far his legs could carry him, in this condition – let alone if he’d manage to get anywhere as he was. Even if walking was achievable, a Titan was liable to snatch him up as soon as he started. He clutched his blade closer to himself, feeling more exposed than he had laying on the forest floor. He wasn’t dead, as he had expected to be, and he wasn’t sure what to think about that. It could be that the Titan was just a truly abnormal Abnormal, and it intended to eat him anyway. It could be a Shifter, which still meant he was likely to be murdered. Or it could be that he had hit his head while falling, and he was imagining all of this in the space between making it into a Titan’s hand, and landing between its teeth.
It wasn’t more than twenty minutes before he saw a figure approaching – the same Titan, now with a few steaming chunks missing from its arms and torso. It looked deceptively normal from a distance, but Jean felt the earth tremble as it grew nearer, had to crane his neck more and more. Finally, it reached him, its lips spreading in a frightening smile as it realized that he was still here. He could just catch the glint of teeth as he looked up, though what sun made it through the treetops still made it too damn bright to make out anything else. “You look creepy as hell!” Jean yelled, voice hoarse. “And if you try to grab me again, I’ll stab you.” He held his blade up with a trembling arm, trying to feel less helpless about this situation.
To his shock, the creature’s smile widened, and it…nodded. The motion was hard to discern, from ankle level, but he was certain that it nodded. It proceeded to get down on one knee, then the other, resting back on its haunches and placing its hands on its thighs. Jean stared at it, trying to figure out what the hell was happening. The Titan reached out, and he flinched, holding up his sword higher as though it could possibly protect him. To his horror, it slipped out of his weakened grasp, landing with a clatter on the stone. He snatched it back up, his shoulder giving a renewed throb at the quick motion.
However, the Titan wasn’t reaching for him. It stuck its hand in the bank of the river, fingers dripping with mud as it raised them again. The hand moved forward again, but still didn’t touch Jean, even if it got uncomfortably close. And then the Titan smeared mud on the rock in front of him, leaving markings that-
Jean felt his mouth go dry. Swallowing hard, he looked at the organized letters before him, then looked up, eyes wide. The Titan leaned a little closer, and its face finally came into focus – gentle, brown eyes in a round face, olive skin scattered with freckles, dark, soft hair that Jean could still remember running his fingers through.
Jean couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, couldn’t even feel the pain in his shoulder. He looked at the Titan, then back at the markings it had made from the mud.
And the realization strikes, if I'm posting it in chapters, then this - by virtue of short stories being one chapter - is NOT a short story.
Jean’s scream caught in his throat, his good arm pushing frantically against Marco’s hand. “No, no, stop!” He yelled, hand scrabbling against the massive fingers that gripped his other arm. Marco’s face blocked out the fading sunlight, close enough that Jean could have counted the freckles on his nose.
Marco quickly withdrew his hand, brows furrowed and a low rumble in his chest. Jean panted, gingerly sitting up. “I-I just…I need a second. Shit.” He’d expected that it would hurt, to pop his shoulder back into its socket, but just how much it would hurt was something else entirely. His teachers had taught him how to do it in training, though they hadn’t planned on having a titan being the one to help out.
Jean steeled himself, taking a deep, slow breath. He carefully laid back down, flat against the stone, in the way he was supposed to for this little procedure. Holding his arm at a ninety-degree angle, he said in a voice that only shook a little, “Alright, try it again.”
He couldn’t help but tense up as Marco reached for him, a lump in his throat as his instincts urged him to get up and run. He’d had too many years’ worth of nightmares to adjust that quickly to a Titan’s presence, Marco or not. Still, he couldn’t do this on his own, and if he didn’t fix this shoulder soon, it would never function properly again.
Marco, a look of utmost concentration in his eyes, gripped Jean’s arm at the elbow. Even that small movement was like sticking a spear through his arm, and Jean stuck his sleeve-covered wrist into his mouth to muffle any screams of pain. Marco’s other hand moved to press against the stone a few feet away from Jean’s side, balancing his massive weight so that he didn’t put too much pressure on Jean’s arm. It was absolutely terrifying, sitting here with a Titan crouched over him like a kid over a beetle, but he tried to remind himself that this was Marco, just Marco, his best friend, no matter how utterly monstrous he appeared.
Marco started pushing again, and Jean couldn’t help the arch of his back, the scream of agony – and then, with a slick popping noise, it was done. Marco very gently laid Jean’s arm back down, and Jean propped himself up on his good arm. Jean then turned to the side and heaved, frothy bile and what remained of his light breakfast splattering as they hit the ground.
Marco made another noise. Wiping the snot, tears, and puke off of his face with a sleeve, Jean looked up, watching him. Marco’s mouth opened, the muscles in his throat flexing. Past the automatic prickle of fear down his back, the sight brought Jean to a realization – Marco was trying to talk. It was clear from the frustrated light in his eyes, the wrinkles of his furrowed brows, that he was having a hard time of it. Marco didn’t get irritated often, but right now he was...irritated, and worried.
Somehow, noticing this was…comforting. Recognizing something in his old friend reassured Jean that it really was Marco, even if this entire experience felt like a vivid hallucination. When Marco finally stopped his growling attempts at speech, appearing resigned, Jean wobbled to his feet. “I’m fine.” He croaked, trying to get to the river. His mouth tasted like bile and blood – had he bitten his lip while his shoulder was being fixed? "Just want to get this shit off my face."
He stumbled down off of the rocks, the grass a little harder to keep his footing on, but not impossible. Until, as he was descending towards the bank, his foot slipped in a deceptively slick spot of mud. However, before his head could thump against the stones behind him, Marco’s hand shot out faster than Jean could have possibly anticipated.
Jean yelped a high-pitched curse, his voice cracking, and brought his uninjured arm over his head. After a beat, Marco realized that his alarm wasn’t from the fall, but from the sight of a Titan’s hand reaching for him – until this moment, Marco hadn’t made any quick movements. In all honesty, he'd been treating Jean like he would have a small animal of some kind. He was just as skittish, if not more so.
Still…that small movement, even as quickly as Jean put his arm down and tried to look as though it hadn’t happened, filled Marco with a shocking bitterness. Of course. He’d known this would happen, hadn’t he? It was why he hadn’t gone to the walls. He’d known that he would never be trusted by his friends again, that humans would only ever see him as a monster. He’d been one of them, would have died for them – he did die for them. And now it was as though that had never happened. Jean, his best friend, the person he had missed as much as his own mother, was afraid of him, and that was wrong in too many ways for Marco to count.
“Marco?” Jean’s voice, rough with every tear he’d shed in the past hours, distracted Marco from his thoughts. He realized that he’d been staring at Jean for far too long, fingers half-curled around him where he sat in Marco’s palm. For another few seconds, Marco just took him in, took the opportunity to see his best friend for the first time in an eternity. Blood had dried on his forehead and matted in his hair. It seemed a wound on his head was responsible, one of many other cuts and bruises from his fall. A particularly deep bruise was coloring in along his lower jaw, though nothing seemed fractured. His hair was a mess, and his skin looked unusually pale, which wasn’t surprising, given the several heart attacks’ worth of fright he’d just endured.
Marco wanted to hug him. He wanted to put his arms around Jean’s shoulders, press a hand to the back of his head, clutch him as close as he possibly could to ensure that they’d never lose each other again. He couldn’t. In fact, he was fairly sure that any attempt at affection right now would result in a scream and Jean aggravating his injury, even kinds that he was capable of.
“Marco. Are you okay?” Jean spoke again, looking more insistent. He was concerned – for Marco, or for his own wellbeing, should Marco suddenly turn into a mindless man-eater? Marco decided the answer was both. Slowly, he shifted back onto his knees, trying to keep his hand steady. Jean’s breath caught as he was lifted into the air, drawing his legs back as far as he could onto Marco's palm – as he was, they were dangling in empty air, which Marco imagined wasn’t a wonderful feeling.
Marco lowered his hand again, this time directly beside the river. He'd been crouching on the other side of it, but he moved a few meters back, not wanting to crowd Jean. With a quiet murmur of thanks, Jean lowered his feet to the mud, a violent tremor running through legs which were surely as bruised as the rest of him. One hand he kept braced on Marco’s pinky - to make sure he didn’t suffer another slip as he lowered himself to the water, Marco realized. Jean was leaning on him. Marco’s eyes widened, just a fraction, and he felt some of his anger dissipate.
Perhaps…this wasn’t entirely hopeless.
Jean crouched by the water, rinsing his mouth until he’d gotten out as much of the residual vomit taste as possible. He decided to use this opportunity to fix some other issues – for instance, the blood that was now caked on his face, and the fact that his arm was still too stiff and sore to use properly. He gingerly slid his jacket off, mumbling curses every time a movement sent pain twinging through his shoulder.
Within twenty minutes, he was relatively clean, and he’d fashioned his jacket into something of a sling, so that he wouldn’t have to worry about his arm flopping around whenever he moved. The entire time, Marco remained still, his hand resting on the ground by Jean on the off chance he fell again. If it weren’t for the slow movement of his chest as he breathed, Jean might have thought he’d fallen asleep.
Looking up at Marco’s face, he decided that wasn’t far off. Marco’s last movement had been to lay his hand on the ground, once Jean had stopped leaning on it, and now his eyes were half-lidded, his shoulders slumped forward. Jean had seen this happen to Eren, before – when the sun went down, Titans became sluggish and inactive. “Marco.” He said, and Marco’s eyes opened slightly. They were hazy for a moment, until focusing on Jean - he tried to play off the shudder that went through him. “You should lay down.” Jean finally said, though he perhaps wasn’t as confident as he would have been if it wasn’t a Titan he was speaking to. “I don’t want you landing on me if you fall over.”
Marco looked at him for a long moment, and Jean wondered if he should repeat himself. He was having a hard time seeing any comprehension in that massive face. Then Marco straightened his back, his hand lifting from the ground. Jean tried to ignore the jolt of panic he felt as that hand came toward him, but didn’t protest as it slid behind him and lifted him up. Using his other hand, Marco shifted forward, over the river, and laid on his side, his head resting on one arm. The hand holding Jean came to rest on the ground in front of Marco’s chest, massive fingers half-curled around Jean. He made no motions to put Jean down.
Jean swallowed, shifting uneasily. Obviously, he would rather sleep on the ground than in a Titan’s hand, but there was a chill setting in, and Marco was warm. Besides…it would be safer, on the off chance there were any Titans who were unaffected by the lack of sunlight. It was unlikely, but so were a lot of things that Jean had seen happen first-hand. For instance, Marco being a goddamned Titan.
He looked up and saw that Marco’s eyes were still open…barely. It was hard to see them, since most of what he saw from this vantage point was the underside of Marco’s chin, but they looked low-lidded and glazed over. Leaning back against the heel of Marco’s palm – the one he’d stabbed earlier, Jean realized with some guilt – he said, “We need to find a way to communicate. I don’t know shit about what’s going on, and you must know something.” Marco rumbled in response, and Jean narrowed his eyes. “Exactly. I don’t know what the hell growling means.”
Marco shifted his head down, fixing Jean with a reproachful stare. Jean raised his good hand, palm up, in a one-sided shrug. “Well? I don’t!” He lowered his arm, pausing. “Alright, how about this. I’ll ask a question, and you tap your finger once for yes, twice for no.” Marco trying to nod or shake his head would just be...disorienting, too large a scale of movement. Besides, Jean had seen similar methods used in situations where soldiers, either injured or traumatized, couldn’t speak or react properly to questioning. Surely it would work here. Marco could clearly understand him, after all; it was Jean understanding Marco that posed a problem.
Marco rumbled again, which Jean took as assent. He flinched when he heard something moving, until he realized that Marco was shifting his other arm, bringing it forward until his hand was within eyesight. Oh. He was getting ready for the interrogation. Jean tried to think of a proper question, which was difficult, since he still felt as though he was in a dream. “Are you falling asleep?” He finally asked, though it seemed like an obvious answer.
Two slow taps of one massive finger, as though Marco couldn’t bear to move any faster. Jean made an incredulous noise. “No?” One tap. “You’re barely moving.” One tap again. Well, it seemed that mockery wasn’t limited to speech. Jean sighed. “Alright, then, are you going to move before dawn?” There was a hesitation, and Marco tapped his finger three times. “What the hell does that mean?” Jean demanded. Marco’s response wasn’t a tap, but another rumble, vibrating unsettlingly through Jean. “This won’t work if you don’t cooperate, you asshole.” He muttered.
Fine, he’d move on. Jean’s next question was…more pressing, and his somber tone reflected it as he spoke. “Do you remember…everything? Home, training, the battle at Trost?” Marco stiffened – he could feel it, feel the hand beneath him flexing as though Marco wanted to make a fist. Finally, he tapped his finger once against the ground.
Jean honestly wasn’t sure if that was good or not. True, he might be stewing in Marco’s stomach right now if it wasn’t for Marco’s memories, but…he could still see Marco’s mutilated body in his mind’s eye, knew how painfully he’d died. For Marco to remember that was…he asked another question. Well, more than one. “Do you know how this happened? Why you’re here?” Marco tapped his finger twice. “Are you a shifter?” He decided to ask, hope threatening at the back of his mind - the chance to hold Marco again, to hear his voice, was almost painfully close. Marco hesitated…and tapped his finger twice again.
“Fucking wonderful.” Jean muttered. Always, without fail, there was a question that couldn’t be answered, something vital that they didn’t know. And always, that ignorance would end up getting more people killed. Marco’s hand shifted again, fingers curling until one brushed against Jean’s leg. His brows were furrowed, that concerned look on his tired face feeling like a knife in Jean’s chest. The finger moved again, brushing Jean’s side. Chills ran up his spine at the contact, but for the hundredth time in the past hour, Jean forced himself to ignore instinct. “I’m okay.” He assured, though the bitterness in his voice contradicted him. “So…you’ll be awake all night, then?”
Marco responded with a yes, and Jean sighed. He didn’t want to sleep here – the mere idea of being unconscious in a monster-ridden forest, in a Titan’s hand, made his skin crawl. But this was Marco, and Jean was so exhausted from pain and terror that he thought he might puke again if he didn’t rest. “I’m going to sleep, then. Wake me up if something tries to eat me.” Marco tapped his finger once, an oddly gentle rumble accompanying the movement.
Marco had liked this method of communication at first, but now it was getting just as frustrating as his inability to speak. For instance, how was he supposed to communicate to Jean that he was just resting – that he could get up, if the situation called for it. He didn’t sleep, anymore, just went into some odd kind of fugue state at night. So did all the other Titans in the forest, as far as he knew.
As for his memories…Marco remembered. He knew just who was responsible for his death, and he remembered vividly the sensations as those hands gripped him, as teeth crushed through his skull. After that…he’d felt nothing, and then he’d woken in the forest. Head still tilted down, he regarded Jean quietly, watching him.
He looked a little better than he had earlier, having cleaned up and regained some color, but he still seemed impossibly delicate. Marco supposed that was an after-effect of becoming a Titan – Jean had always been lean, but now he seemed frighteningly small, too easy to damage. Not seeming to realize that Marco’s gaze was still directed at him, Jean leaned back further, scooting down so that he was reclined in Marco’s palm. His head tilted back, resting against the swell of muscle at the base of Marco’s thumb, and he closed his eyes. For all his fear, he was adapting quickly to Marco’s new appearance.
Well, if he couldn’t adapt, he would be dead by now, as harsh as that was. Marco watched as Jean’s breathing began to slow, feeling almost envious. He missed sleeping – missed dreaming, being able to leave the real world for a few precious hours. He got close to it, during the nights, but it wasn’t really sleep, just physical lethargy.
The hours passed faster than they did most nights, and Marco spent them looking at Jean, mapping out the face he’d missed for so long. Jean had gained a few new scars, which was to be expected, and Marco thought he might have gained some muscle, but his perspective was too skewed to really be able to tell. Jean still looked small.
He let Jean sleep well past dawn, remaining still even when his own energy returned. It was only when he heard the shifting of nearby Titans, drawn to Jean’s scent, that he finally got up. Even then, he kept his movements slow, in an attempt to let Jean rest a little more. He carefully got to his feet…only to hear a sharp gasp.
Jean, his back pressed to Marco’s curled fingers, looked at him with a kind of blurred terror, his breathing quick and shallow. Despite the urge to try and comfort him, Marco waited, ignoring the twinge of guilt he felt at inspiring such a reaction. Jean was just waking up; he’d remember what had happened in a few seconds. At the moment, he’d just regained consciousness to find himself in a Titan’s grip, and Marco couldn’t blame him for being alarmed at that. Besides…nothing Marco could do would make Jean feel less frightened.
Sure enough, Jean dropped his gaze a moment later, raising a hand to clutch at the shirt over his chest. “Right. Forgot.” He said, voice a little slurred, and more than a little crackly. He gasped again when Marco started walking, and Marco felt small fingers claw at his skin, trying to find a handhold. He gently pressed his thumb to Jean’s midsection, hoping it would make him feel more secure.
Jean’s breath hitched, but past that, he didn’t protest. Well, at least Marco had found something he could do. Clearly still trying to get his bearings, Jean asked, “Where…where are you going?”
Marco had to resist the urge to roll his eyes. Hadn’t they gone over this? He had no way to answer that! Sighing, he raised his free hand and pointed forward. Jean wouldn’t know it, since they were still too far back to see, but they were headed to the edge of the forest.
Toward the walls.