Blood bubbles from the apostle’s slit throat as it throws Guts across the ruined brick house in its one final act of offence. The Dragonslayer juts out from the gleaming scaly jugular at an impossible angle, caked with thick black slicked-down bile that oozes forth as the apostle coughs soupy red and white, collapsing to the ground with a groan. Guts crashes through the flimsy kitchen wall. His head cracks against an outcrop of stone as he falls, caving in against his temple. A white hot flash of pain slingshots off the inside of his skull, and the whole world tilts sideways in a blur.
The taste of blood fills his mouth and swipes over his molars as blackness overtakes him. Before he fades, he thinks he hears a voice calling his name.
Guts awakes warm and safe, cocooned away in a mass of blankets and pillows tucked closely around him. Soft humming fills the air, and although it’s dark, he can make out the shadow of a figure sitting beside where he lies in the bed, back turned to him.
He can feel his heartbeat throb at the back of his head. Pain, once dulled by the easeful numbness of sleep, begins to bleed back into his body and he seethes as he’s forced to clench his eyes shut against the onslaught of tremors that shake him.
The quiet humming stops.
Guts’ breath catches as the shadowy figure shifts to face him, a pale face peering back at him over the faint outline of a shoulder. White tendrils of hair drag over the figure’s back, covering its rounded cheek, slipping down over its neck. Two bright blue eyes bore into him, and his stomach rolls over as he’s pinned by the force of that gaze.
“You're awake,” the man observes, and something about that voice is so achingly familiar, yet Guts cannot for the life of him remember why.
Voice still husky from sleep and strained by the thorny pricks of pain creeping up his throat, Guts rasps out, “Who are you?”
The man’s eyebrows knit together, eyes searching his and Guts feels like he’s being stared into down to his very soul, those two spots of blue in the darkness reaching deep and scraping him out clean. “You don’t remember me?”
“I…” Guts starts, and that same sick feeling in his belly wells up again, “Maybe. Should I?”
“You did hit your head. Perhaps some things were lost in there,” the man reaches out to cup the side of Guts’ face, and his heart pounds sickly fast. When he blinks, he sees behind his eyelids a scene mirroring this, where he’s looked up into these same eyes and felt the same palms holding his cheeks. He tries to summon up something, anything beyond that, but his mind falters and pauses, drawing a blank. The man smiles, gently rubbing his thumb over the hollow of Guts’ cheekbone, “I’m Griffith. We’ve known each other for a long time.”
Griffith. Guts doesn’t know why, but his chest aches at the name.
He lifts up a hand to clutch at the burning spot at the back of his head, only to discover he can’t. When he looks down, he sees the stump of his arm covered in clean white bandages, tapered off just before the elbow. His eye widens and he heaves in short breaths to try and stop the panic blinding him, his teeth clamping down over his tongue and drawing blood.
“What happened to me?!” he hisses. “What the hell happened to me?!”
Griffith glances down at his arm, shock absent from his face. He appears as though Guts’ missing arm is a mere fact of life, a fact he’d grown accustomed to. His response is slow and deliberate, “You were attacked. I don’t know who by. When I found you, you were passed out, like this,” he gestures to the bandages covering Guts’ head and missing arm, the sunken-in slope of his eye. “I brought you back here and patched you up. You’ve been asleep for nearly a week.”
Guts doesn’t know what else to say. His one good arm comes up to twist his fingers into his hair, shuddering all over.
“It’ll be okay,” Griffith soothes, shifting to lay beside Guts, “I’ll take care of you.”
Griffith smoothes his fingers over Guts’ where they tense in his hair, pushing Guts’ face into his chest. Whether its the pain or the even rhythm of Griffith’s breathing ushering him to sleep, Guts’ eyes drift shut.
Time doesn’t seem to pass normally here. Every time Guts awakens, the room is dark and quiet, stars spotting the sky outside the window, and every time, Griffith seems to sense the moment Guts stirs, because even when he’s not in the room watching over Guts (and Guts has opened his eye many times to see Griffith staring back at him) he inevitably appears within minutes to check on Guts.
“How do you feel?” Griffith asks as he changes the bandages over Guts’ forehead. He’s sitting behind him with Guts in between his legs, Guts’ back flush to Griffith’s stomach.
“I’m okay. I’m just… I dunno. Just feel like something’s not right.”
Griffith’s fiddling with the strips of bandages halts, “Like what?”
Guts shrugs, “Can’t say. I thought my memories might start coming back, if only a little, but there’s nothing.”
“Maybe that’s for the best.”
“Huh? What’s that supposed to mean?” Guts twists to look at him, but Griffith’s face is calm and impassive.
“There are things that have happened in the past that might be best left forgotten,” is Griffith’s cryptic reply. He smiles. “You’re a clean slate now. You don’t have to worry about things you can’t remember.”
Guts knows Griffith means to reassure him, but all he feels is uneasy. He can’t remember anything more than scant bits and pieces of his life before he was confined to this bed, and it scares him. Why would someone attack him? Did he do something wrong? Was there someone out there with a personal vendetta against him? And why did Griffith refuse to explain?
Seeming to sense his anxiety, Griffith slinks his arms around Guts’ waist and pulls him close, his face nestling into the crook of Guts’ neck. He should trust Griffith. Nobody else is helping him or seems to care about him like Griffith. Griffith is all he has.
“Where do you go while I’m sleeping?” Guts asks, settling back into Griffith’s chest.
“I work, mostly. Meetings, things like that. Nothing you’d be interested in,” the last part is added in a rush as if to deter further questions.
“Can I come with you?”
Griffith sighs, “I don’t think it’s a good idea. It’s best if you stay in here until you’ve recovered.”
Part of Guts wants to push, to keep pressing until Griffith gives in. He’s growing bored of this routine, these brief visits with Griffith bracketed by the endless void of sleep. But, then, maybe Griffith knows what’s best for him. Maybe it is better if he continues to rest. Griffith knows Guts better than Guts knows himself, his memory fuzzy and failing.
Guts can trust Griffith. So then why does he still feel that same sick twisting at his insides whenever Griffith gets close?
The rip of tendons and ligatures as the teeth sink deep into the juncture of his elbow tears from him a scream, five sets of eyes pointed down on him, watching silently. Like the belly of hell, the air around him is thick and hot, settled low against the ground as steam rises from the swollen pools of blood. There are no voices but his own in this dead place, screaming and screaming pointlessly as they take his arm, his eye. He can’t think beyond betrayal and blood, the life leaking out of him with every shallow thud of his pulse.
He wakes with a start. As always, the room is dark and silent. Griffith has Guts cradled against his chest, his lips ghosting over Guts’ forehead as he strokes Guts’ injured arm from the collarbone to the jagged place where it’s been torn off.
“Bad dream?” Griffith whispers. He must have been watching Guts as he slept.
“Yeah,” Guts croaks out, breaking out of Griffith’s hold to sit up. Griffith follows, not letting Guts’ eyes leave his for a second. “Something was… biting my arm off. And there were people looking at me, on top of a hand. Like my arm went in the thing's mouth and came back up out of the ground, and they were standing on it, taking it from me.”
Griffith’s eyes are wide, scouring Guts’ face as though looking for a confirmation of something. Suspicious. Scared, too, maybe.
“That probably sounds stupid,” Guts laughs, uncomfortable, “Just a dream, right?”
Griffith relaxes, but he doesn’t relieve his touch on Guts’ arm. “Yes. Just a dream. Nothing more than that. The mind can conjure strange things.”
Silence falls over the room. Griffith leans his face into Guts’ back, hiding in the folds of his clothes. When his white hair tumbles over Guts’ skin and shifts with the rise and fall of his chest, Guts shivers.
“Isn’t it boring for you? Looking after me while I’m all cooped up inside like this?”
Griffith shakes his head, and Guts can feel Griffith smiling into his shoulder blades. “No, I don’t mind. I like knowing you’re here waiting for me.”
“You abandoned me, once,” Griffith murmurs. Guts can’t see his face, and Griffith’s voice doesn’t give anything away.
“What? Why did I do that?” He can’t imagine why he’d want to run away. Griffith takes care of him, changes his bandages and brings him food and watches over him while he’s unconscious. He’s been nothing but kind to Guts. If anything, a little controlling, but Guts is sure it’s only because he’s worried. He would be worried too, if his friend was hurt this badly, to the point of not even remembering their own life.
“I… I don’t know. You just left me, without saying why,” there’s an underlying tremor in Griffith’s tone, and his grip on Guts’ arm tightens to the point of being painful. Guts can see the skin around where Griffith’s fingers dig into him turning white.
“I’m sorry,” he says, moving his hand over Griffith’s. Although he doesn’t remember any of it, he feels guilty for what Griffith says he’s done. “I won’t leave you again.”
Griffith stills, then lets go of Guts’ arm. He brings his face up next to Guts and smiles sedately, the dull gleam of something dark and heavy in his eyes that Guts can’t begin to parse but feels an almost instinctual fear for all the same. There’s a memory there, in that expression - Guts sees visions of those same eyes looking out at him from beneath the shadow of a helmet under a blackened sun, feels snow at his fingertips and hears the sound of a sword being cleaved in two by his own, tastes his own blood in his mouth and feels the distant boom of words yelled at him over the din of a crumbling building, warning him of death, a death he can’t escape. He doesn’t know what any of it means.
“Go back to sleep,” Griffith says, his fingers rubbing Guts’ cheek. “I’ll be here with you. Always.”
Lips press against Guts’ forehead as he closes his eyes once more.