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Searching For Superman

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Some people like to know what others think of them. It’s a rather selfish desire, really; they need to make sure they have made such a mark on the world that lots of people can surround it and point rudely, claiming it as theirs and theirs alone. They need to know what they would be remembered for, whether they would be a blip on the horizon or standing squarely in the foreground of someone’s mind. For a while, Marco Bodt didn’t know what he would be remembered for- he was pretty unremarkable, all things considered. He wasn’t a genius, or talented or special. But then something happened. And, well…

The people of Trost started to know him.

He wasn’t born on another planet, he wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider and he wasn’t involved in a strange scientific accident. He didn’t have any particularly incredible powers- none he was aware of, at least- and he didn’t have a specially designed vehicle to drive around in.

But the point still stands that whenever anyone who knew Marco Bodt was asked what they thought of him, what they knew about him, they would all have the same answer.

“He helps people.”

Those three little insignificant words defined him. They made him whole, and filled in the corners of his otherwise normal existence. He knew his legacy, however small. So why was Marco, ‘he helps people’ Bodt being slammed against the wall of a tired looking office block in the streets of downtown Trost?

His guess was as good as anyone’s.

But he had a pretty good idea that it was because of the vibrantly red handbag swinging from his clenched fist.

He gave a gentle grunt of pain at the treatment, and blinked furiously as the figures of two out of breath and very angry police officers swam in front of his eyes. He tried to move away but found that it was more difficult than he expected. The wind had been well and truly knocked out of him, and trying to squint at the officers through a vague mesh of dark hair was just as hard as breathing. God, he needed to get it cut.

“Stay where you are,” one growled.

Marco blinked blearily at him, trying to stop the colour from shifting like oil on water. He didn’t manage it. “Couldn’t move if I tried, officer,” he replied honestly.

“Shut the fuck up!”

He got a shove for his trouble, and the world reeled. It was nice to know that politeness was appreciated by Trost’s thin blue line, he thought with a pained smile.

“Don’t you fucking sneer at me, you bastard,” the other snarled. Marco wanted to roll his eyes, but resisted. That probably would have got him a ride in their car at least. He realised that he was being pinned in place by a meaty paw of a hand, and the way it was shoved rudely against his chest made it feel as though its owner wanted to sink it in further, to clutch at Marco’s rapidly beating heart and give it a squeeze. His head was still throbbing angrily, and his eyes shut at the pain. Ouch.

“S-stop! Officers!”

Marco opened an eye to see a ruffled woman rushing towards them, owl- eyed and mouth open like the Edvard Munchpainting. He blinked hard as she reached them, panting and clutching her chest.  

“Keep out of this, lady. None of your business,” the officer not pinning Marco to the wall sneered.

“Of course it’s my business! That’s my bag!” she said. That got their attention. The pressure on Marco’s chest lessened a fraction as both officers turned to the hapless woman. “Someone took it,” she explained wretchedly, “and this man chased them down for me.”

The pressure on his chest vanished completely. He hadn’t even realised he’d been hoisted a few inches higher than his usual height until his feet jarred uncomfortably on the pavement. He winced.

“This true?” an officer demanded. Marco wasn’t sure which one; the hair in his eyes weren’t helping, and he was also making an effort to avoid prolonged eye contact with them both.

He instead focused on the woman in front of them, and gave a cordial, if not weak, smile and held out the large red handbag. His hand was still shaking with excess adrenaline; it was fizzing through him like lemonade, dulling the pain and sharpening it all at once. “The guy took off, but… here you go. He didn’t take anything,” he said softly. The woman stepped forward, lower lip threatening to tremble, and Marco kept his smile polite. She looked like an office worker- most Trost goers were- but her ruined hair and emotional face broke the façade. Seeing someone so professional lose themselves was a strange sort of relief to Marco- it meant they were human, behind it all. She seemed hesitant, so Marco reached the bag out a little farther, his smile only growing. “Take it,” he prompted soothingly. “It’s okay.”

She took it. She cradled it to her chest like a child, and Marco could tell she was trying to keep the rest of her emotions in check. “Bless you,” she said. “Bless you, boy.”

Marco smiled. The way she said those words made his chest infinitely lighter. “It was no trouble.”

Then he got a gruff complaint and a rough shove back onto the main walkway. “Keep walking, hero,” one officer snapped. Marco stumbled to catch his balance, but recovered quick enough to miss falling completely and smacking his face on the concrete. He was used to it. He made a point of not looking back. With a small sigh, he righted the fall of his jacket and continued on into the eyeless mass of Trost.

Marco Bodt: he helps people.

Except the police, who in Marco’s opinion were about as useless as they came. They were far too busy- though what they were busy doing he wasn’t sure.

Still, he thought to himself as he manoeuvred around the streets with a suspected concussion, someone had to do their job for them.

He nudged his way through the milling traffic of bodies, smiling whenever he caught someone’s eye. Not many smiled back. He didn’t blame them. He probably looked the criminal type at times, especially today with his messy black hair, battered leather jacket that was so old it was hanging off of him like a great brown carcass, and the scar on his brow in plain sight. Ah, the scar. Now that was a talking point at parties. It was only white flesh now, no blood or gore to speak of, but it was still there, stark against his skin like a calling card. Marco often referred to it as the Marmite Scar: people either loved it or hated it. He was indifferent, very much like his taste in Marmite. It was a good thing the freckles cancelled out the scar most of the time.

He shook his hair out of his face, again cursing the fact that he had been both too lazy and too poor to get it cut the week before, and crossed the road with the human traffic. His roommate had suggested he tie it up in a little ponytail on the top of his head. He never took advice from his roommate. Before he had gotten himself caught up in another ‘good deed’ mission, he had been going to meet her: she had a hospital appointment planned, and he was going for emotional support. He was pretty sure that his break wasn’t going to last much longer, but that was the perk of half-owning a shop: you could take as long a break as you liked. And Sasha didn’t work that far away, anyway.

He checked his phone as he walked, and saw that she had texted him an hour ago demanding, ‘FAIR TRADE TOMATO JUICE NOW IT HAS BEEN COMMANDED OF ME’, so with a chuckle he ducked into the first place he thought likely to stock it and came out moments later partly successful. It was organic. That was close enough.

His head was still spinning a little from the way the police had rattled him about, and Marco let out a sigh as he waited for the lights to change. One day, the police would get so annoyed at him doing their jobs for them they would lock him up. Throw away the key, perhaps. They might even see his attempts to help people as some kind of protest. Marco wasn’t sure, but he knew he would have to be careful- helping people could lead to trouble, especially in Trost. Knife and gun crime was on the rise day by day, and Marco never wanted to have either pointed at him any time soon. Maybe it was a problem he had, he thought as he shifted from foot to foot impatiently, this helping people. Was it a problem to constantly get involved in people’s times of need? It was like an instinct to him; if someone was in trouble, he would go to help. It was as simple as that. Marco was often called a good person by his friends, but Marco himself wasn’t so sure. He definitely didn’t like the way ‘hero’ was spat at him like a bad word.

He was still in thought when the lights changed, so much so that he almost missed the opportunity to cross. The disgruntled people behind him jarred him out of his thoughts. “Sorry!” he said cheerfully to them, but he might as well have sworn at them by the looks on their faces. He shrugged to himself and picked up the pace. Sasha would be waiting for him if he wasn’t careful.

The last road he had to cross was usually busy. A lot of people would ignore the traffic signals and just run for it, like wildebeest across a river, and there was safety in numbers; cars would slow down even if the light was green if there was a bunch of people trotting across the road. Today there weren’t many people waiting, and Marco didn’t feel up for playing chicken with an urban Land Rover. He waited, and huffed when he saw a large red bus coming into view- there was no way he was going to risk messing with that either- and that was when it happened.

The guy came out of nowhere. That’s what they always said on eyewitness accounts, Marco knew, but it was true. He genuinely did. It was as though he’d suddenly materialised on the pavement right next to Marco, Trost’s very own wizard, and then he was just striding out into the road.

Into the path of the oncoming bus.

Marco’s instinct kicked in.

He could have just hooked the guy’s collar with a finger and gently tugged him backwards and out of danger. He could have been coy about it, and just called out a warning, even. But no. The bag of tomato juice hit the pavement with a heavy sounding thunk as he grabbed the two narrow shoulders and yanked. For a second, only a second, the body resisted him, until the guy’s own instinct seemed to synchronise with Marco’s. The bus bellowed a warning, the horn blowing a hole in whatever part of Marco’s brain was left after being almost shaken out by the police, but he was clear. They both were.

Marco felt all his breath returning to his lungs as the red monster passed, hissing in distress, and only then realised that he still had the guy in a vice-like grip. He could feel the resistance again, and released him in an instant, smiling at the ground. “Sorry, but that bus wasn’t going to stop. That was a close call, you should be more careful.”

He expected a thank you, or maybe just a grunt of recognition, at least. What he didn’t expect was what he actually got.

“What the fuck was that?”

Marco froze. The smile fell off his face and shattered when he looked up- and saw a pair of furious tawny eyes staring back at him. Somewhere deep in the recesses of his chest, his heart clenched. He hadn’t felt something like that in a long while. For a moment- just a moment- he let himself stop and look. “Thomas?” he found himself asking. The word was bitter on his tongue and before he could stop it, it came tumbling out. It ached to hear it on his voice. It hurt.

“What?” the guy hissed. It was venomous. “Who the fuck’s Thomas?”

Marco saw his mistake. It would always be a mistake, he knew that, it was impossible, but… still. This man was shorter, thinner, angular. Every shape he cut was full of edges, like his body would cut anyone who tried to be near him. Even the hoodie he was wearing didn’t help hide the fact that he was painfully skinny; the hood was drawn up to shield his hair from view, though the parts that were peeking out at Marco were pale, ashy blonde that were almost grey. The snarl on his lips was that of a cornered animal, an animal that didn’t want to be messed with, but the eyes… those eyes…

Marco realised he’d stared for too long. He lowered his hands down, eyes darting around to find where his bag had got to. Sasha really would kill him if he arrived empty-handed. “I’m sorry,” he began, still looking around the gathered feet, “I thought you were-”

“Yeah, clearly.” There was a snort that sent Marco’s gaze flying up to meet the tawny ones again. They still looked furious. “Look, I don’t know who the hell you think you are, but just… leave me the fuck alone. Mind your own fucking business, alright?”

Marco wanted to retort that if he’d done that, the guy wouldn’t be alive to shout at him, but he guessed that it probably wasn’t the best idea. He was a little taken aback by just how angry this guy was; it was as though he would rather have been hit by the bus than to descend to the level of accepting help from a stranger. He opened his mouth to say something- he hoped something would come out on the way, as at that moment he had nothing- but the guy didn’t give him the chance. The light changed and he was away, hands thrust in his battered jeans pockets and gaze firmly fixed on the ground. Marco stared after him until the bony frame was lost in the milling crowd, swallowed like driftwood in a harsh sea. That had been a reaction he wasn’t used to. He’d had wordless thanks, unsmiling nods as people rushed to work, but never a full on ‘get the hell away from me’ comment. He shrugged, and tried not to let it get to him. He almost didn’t notice the bag nudged gently into his side by an old woman. He smiled, thanked her and continued on his way.

All thoughts of the rude stranger vanished, albeit temporarily, when Marco turned the corner and found what- and who- he was looking for. A cheery looking little yellow shop assaulted his sight as he stepped a little closer, a buzzing bee on the door proclaiming that they were ‘open come rain or shine!’ and the outdoor displays were full of the most gorgeous flower arrangements Marco had ever seen. ‘Bean Florists’ was the cute name for the cute shop, and the more Marco squinted, the more colour he saw. He quickly spotted the ‘who’ he’d been looking for, and sped up, a smile springing onto his face.

Sasha Braus was stood watering a selection of carnations, wearing the dungarees she’d strutted out of their modest apartment in that morning. The little bee on her chest was the job’s addition. She caught sight of him the moment she turned to set the watering can down, and the wave she gave him was so energetic it nearly knocked the hat off of a woman exiting the shop with a bouquet of lilies. Sasha ignored the stinking look she was given.

“Marco!” she cried, practically bouncing on her feet as he neared her, and flung her arms around him. Marco let out a small choking noise at the contact, and felt the taut skin of her belly against his own.

“It’s almost as though I was gone all day,” he teased, pulling away to flash a beaming smile.

“You’re a cute one, Marco Bodt,” Sasha laughed, tapping him on the nose with a playful finger. “Do you have the provisions?”

He shook the bag. Sasha cheered.

“We’ll have to get a taxi,” Marco said as they set off, Sasha bidding farewell to her manager without a second’s glance, “because Bertha didn’t want to start this morning.”

“Aw no, not Bertha!” Sasha looked genuinely stricken at the news, and Marco shrugged.

“Eh, she’s done it before. It’s the change in season, it gets to her sometimes. Besides,” he raised a brow at her, “I don’t think you should be riding her in your condition.”

“What condition?” Sasha shot back, curling her tongue against her teeth. “Come on Marco, when did you start becoming my mother?”

“Since I started worrying about you. Which has been forever. So maybe I’ve been your mother for that long too.” Marco made a face. “Ugh, now there’s a thought.”

“Hey!” Sasha bumped him with her hip as she signalled for a taxi. “How’s your day been anywho? Sold anything interesting? Got anything interesting? Fixed some stuff?”

Marco rolled his eyes. “It was normal. But I, uh, got a little…”

He didn’t have to say it. Sasha knew. She let out a good-natured little huff and folded her arms, waiting for her hailed taxi to meander its way through the traffic to where they stood on the pavement. “You’re too nice for your own good, you know,” she said. “Any normal person would just let it go. Let it pass. You don’t have to be nice to everyone- just to those you think are important.”

Marco shrugged. “I think everyone’s important.”

“That’s not what I meant, and you know it.” 

She ushered Marco into the backseat before hopping less elegantly in after him. “Trost Central,” she called out to their driver, and they were off. Marco tried not to show the way his heart jolted at the name.

He swallowed dryly and instead took to looking out the window at the blurs of people and places that passed by. Sasha tried to take a swig of the tomato juice without getting spotted. She sulked when their driver narrowed his eyes in the front mirror. She then went on to chatter about a customer who had ordered a massive bouquet of violets when they weren’t in season and what a hassle it was going to be to get them, but Marco hardly heard her. He didn’t mean to ignore her, not really, but his nerves seemed to be working against him. He nodded in all the right places, making noises of sympathy whenever she gestured wildly and finished a sentence with an incensed, “y’know?!” as if it was the most outrageous thing in the world. He soon realised he was looking for tawny eyes in the faces passing by to take his mind off of his churning stomach. So much for not letting it get to you, he thought to himself snidely.

He mentally slapped himself. It didn’t matter, he tried to tell himself. Didn’t matter, didn’t matter, didn’t matter. But wasn’t convincing enough. He wanted to confront the guy, he realised: he wanted to ask him what he had against people that saved him from buses. What was the guy’s problem? Marco realised that he was angry, yes, but angry with confusion- because this annoyed stranger with tawny eyes didn’t make sense to him. He didn’t understand, and it was maddening. He bit the inside of his cheek to stifle the frustrated noise he made in the back of his throat.

Sasha noticed. “You okay?”

He blinked. “Uh?”

“Earth to Marco?” she tittered. “You were miles away. What’s up?”

Marco debated on telling her. He really did. But something reminded him that she probably wouldn’t sympathise, and another something added that she would probably think him a bit of a sad case. So he smiled absently and gave her a little shrug. “Nothing,” he mumbled. “It’s nothing.”

Trost Central hospital wasn’t far from the city’s heart, so the taxi fare wasn’t too steep- something Marco was immensely grateful for. He also knew the exact way the driver was taking them was the long way around; he could have gotten there in half the time. He knew the way. His leg didn’t stop jiggling as they took the final turn, his heart jolting yet again as he tried to keep as normal as he could. It was strange to think of what constituted normal until you had to pretend you were, Marco thought to himself. He felt Sasha’s hand encase his before he could twitch it away. “I know,” she said softly, “I don’t like hospitals either.”

Marco slid his eyes shut and rested his forehead against the window, the cool glass a relief. Sasha didn’t know, he reminded himself, and didn’t need to. She didn’t know that Marco knew the hospital backwards, its innermost workings etched into his mind from the endless visits, but it didn’t matter. This was about her, not him, and he could do it. He could. He could do it without remembering a thing. He pressed his head closer. Sasha’s hand didn’t leave his, not even when it became clammy and shaking. He could feel a headache coming on.

Going up the stairs and turning left was a new experience for him- for starters, it didn’t send his pulse thudding against his chest. It also meant he wouldn’t bump into anyone who would look on him in sympathy; it had been years now, but people knew. Sometimes he thought it was obvious, like he walked around with it sat on his shoulders. Grief had a funny way of doing that. The families they passed were happy, hopeful, glowing. Those were the smiles that got returned. Sasha’s grip, however, only grew tighter. Marco leant in close. “It’s going to be fine,” he whispered, sharing a smile with a man they passed by.

“That’s easy for you to say,” Sasha said. “You’re a bystander. You get the easy bit.”

They dropped into the nearest available chairs in the waiting room, their hands still joined together. Marco fished around one-handed for a magazine he hadn’t already read from cover to cover on the table in front of them, but finding nothing slumped back in his seat. Sasha had begun to look a little pale with nerves.

“Bearing the brunt of your mood swings counts as easy?” He chuckled at the indignant look Sasha sent him, and shrugged easily. “You’ve had this done before, and you said it was no big deal. You don’t have to be nervous.”

“But that was a few weeks ago! What if something’s changed?” She looked down at her barely concealed carton of juice and frowned. “I want juice.”

“I don’t think they’ll let you.”

“Marco Bodt, I want my tomato juice and I am drinking my tomato juice right this second.”

“Alright, alright, sorry I said anything. Don’t blame me if the hospital police come after you.”

Sasha took a swig. A nurse gave her a filthy look. She drank more.

It was true that Marco hated hospitals, but when a merrily rotund nurse popped her head around her door and called out Sasha’s name he couldn’t help but smile with her. Everyone was happy. Everyone was okay. Nobody was going to die on this ward. Sasha jumped up out of her seat like it was toasted with hot coals, and pulled Marco in her wake. “Is it okay if he comes in too?” she asked in earnest. The little nurse chuckled and said that it was absolutely fine with her.

“Are you Miss Braus’s partner?” she asked when they walked into the small, brightly- lit room. “You make a very lovely couple.”

“Oh, er, no, I’m not,” Marco said, feeling the heat creep up to his cheeks. “I’m just her roommate.” Who was currently getting his hand crushed in gratitude. That sort of roommate.

“He’s not just anything,” Sasha said as she got comfortable on the examination table. “He’s my rock. I don’t know what I’d do without him.”

“Well, that’s very sweet,” the nurse said, casting Marco a kind smile. “There’s not a long of young men who would do that, I’ll tell you now.”

Marco heard Sasha mutter a short, “tell me something I don’t know,” and was forced to cover up his sniggers when the nurse asked her to remove her top. It hardly bothered him; living together meant that they had seen each other naked too many times for it to be a thing of embarrassment or awkwardness. Sasha had to fiddle around with the dungaree clasps (remaining adamant that no, Marco would not help her) until her top was pushed up and the jelly was being applied. Sasha giggled at how cold it was.

It was Marco’s turn to squeeze her hand when the nurse put the tiny little instrument on her slicked stomach, rolling it around for a moment to get the right picture on the small screen in front of her. Then, with a small ‘aha!’ and a beaming smile, she turned it to face them. And there, doing an excellent impression of a large jellybean, was a shape that made Sasha’s breath rush out all at once and Marco’s catch in his throat. “Here’s your baby, Miss Braus,” the nurse said.

Sasha bit her lip as she stared at the screen. “H-has… has it still got all the right number of arms and legs?” she asked.

The nurse laughed. “Yes, it’s perfectly healthy, just the right size for 18 weeks. You’ve made quite the little home there for it- it’s growing really well.”

“A-are you sure?” Sasha asked weakly.

“You don’t have to worry about a thing, sweetie. You have a very healthy child.”

Sasha’s lip flushed red at the strength of her bite. Marco stroked the back of her hand with a thumb, smiling ever so slightly. The monitor had it there, in black and white, and he couldn’t quite believe it. He was sure that Sasha couldn’t believe it either, from the way she was staring. Her eyes were wider than he’d ever seen them, and he could see them welling with tears as she furiously dabbed at them with her free hand. He hushed her softly, leaning over to plant a kiss on her forehead. “You okay?” he whispered.

She nodded. “Y-yeah. Yeah, I’m… I’m fine. It’s just…” she let out a little hiccoughing sob, “it’s so tiny.”

“I know.”

“I never thought it would be that tiny.”

“Me neither.”

Sasha turned her head towards Marco, her eyes full of worry. “Marco, I don’t know if I can do this.”

Marco frowned. He had heard this before. Sasha had her bad days, and ever since that fateful day with Marco sat with his back to the bathroom door and Sasha sobbing at the test in her hand, the insecurities were numerous. He scooted closer. “Of course you can,” he murmured, kissing her forehead again. “You’ll be fine. I know you will. And you have so many people around you.”

Sasha hiccoughed again and turned her attention back to the screen. “I wonder if it’s a boy or a girl,” she mumbled.

“Do you have any names?” the nurse asked. She’d re-entered the room with the prints of the scan, and handed them to Marco with a smile.

Sasha looked back at the monitor, watching the tiny little heartbeat inside her, and for a moment Marco thought she was so genuinely overcome with emotion that she couldn’t respond. Then she smiled, a fleeting and beautiful smile that settled Marco’s stomach. “I think Destroyer has a nice ring to it,” she said, completely straight faced.

Marco nodded. “Oh yes, definitely. May I suggest the title Lieutenant?”

“An excellent suggestion.”

They were still giggling to themselves when the nurse scuttled away, confused at the pair of young people calling out new and bizarre names at each other and snorting at the answers. They stumbled out of the hospital a while later, clutching hold of the fuzzy photographs like their lives depended on it. And, for the longest time, the grumpy stranger ran from view and back into the crowd in Marco’s mind.


 

Half a shift later, after closing shop, Marco was remarkably early for another meeting. Sasha had ben texting him throughout the day with potential names for her unborn child, and the last one, ‘Terraburpanator’, actually made him laugh as he locked up. He made the short walk to the where his motorbike was leaning against the wall of the shop, throwing his keys up in the air and catching them deftly whilst whistling a tune he wasn’t sure he remembered. His motorbike was a battered old red, and christened ‘Bertha’ by Sasha. It had only given him the ten minutes’ drive to work before it spluttered to a halt, but Marco believed in her.

“C’mon baby, work,” he hissed, giving the ignition an experimental twist. The old machine coughed feebly, but there was nothing to suggest she was coming to life. “Ugh, for the love of-” Marco couldn’t afford to get her fixed- he hoped it was just something he could fix himself. “Well, looks like I’ll have to leave you here for the night,” he muttered, brows drawing together as he frowned down at the bike. He didn’t like it, but he guessed he had no choice. He was still fiddling with the locks when he heard footsteps. He glanced up out of habit- and promptly snapped up straight.

It was the grumpy stranger. He had two friends flanking him this time, but it was him. Marco couldn’t help but gawp at him as the annoyance came back to the surface. His hoodie was non-existent now; he was instead wearing a button up shirt, plaid and rolled up to the elbow, and hands still shoved in his pockets. Now Marco could see the ash blonde hair tapered down into a far darker undercut, and the thicker sections fell a little wildly around his face. He looked tired, Marco noted as he watched him ignore the conversation his friends were having either side of him. Very tired. His eyes were cast on the floor, shoulders bunched up like he was trying to become as small as possible, and it suddenly occurred to Marco how very vulnerable he looked. Maybe that was why he hadn’t wanted to be helped; he was used to people assuming that he needed looking out for.

Marco debated on going over for a split second to confront him, the jolt of familiarity blinding him to common sense, but then he turned and finished locking up Bertha. Don’t get involved in other people’s business, he thought with a sigh. He’s not jumping in front of a bus now. He doesn’t need help. Leave him be, like the others.

For once, he listened to his own advice.

He stepped away from his bike, praying it would be okay for the night, and drew his jacket tighter about him with the sudden chill that swept through the streets. He began to walk out onto the main road, and then realised something. Undercut was walking in the same direction as he was. Marco hated fate sometimes; it had to be involved in the way that the one person who confused him beyond belief was the one that didn’t seem to want to vanish, literally and figuratively. He wondered if it would go a step further and make it so that the guy lived next door to him, or took the same route to work. He kicked a bottle top with enough force to send it skidding away. Yeah, fate could be a bitch.

Thankfully, Undercut didn’t look up once- not even when one of his friends gave him a playful shove. He didn’t shove them back, didn’t step aside, didn’t even bark out a curse. He didn’t even smile…

No. Marco wrenched his gaze away. I am not going to go there. I am not creeping on the bastard. No way. He would not care. He couldn’t care. Undercut stranger could go through the rest of his life being grouchy and proud and a stranger, and Marco would be fine with that. Because I don’t care.

Fortunately, Undercut took a left with his cronies whilst Marco carried on along the street, and he felt himself relax a fraction. At least he could stop fighting with his own twisted sense of judgement. “And good riddance,” he muttered, and cringed at how pathetic he sounded. Priorities, Marco, priorities. Especially as he was now not as early as he thought he would be. He sped up, his distraction gone. He didn’t want to keep her waiting.


 

They had their usual reservation.

The Maria Restaurant pretty much kept it wide open for them every week, just in case they decided to show up- and they always did. The Maria was the restaurant they had gone to on their first date, and it was sort of an unspoken tradition between them nowadays. The outdoors was lit up like a beacon, with diners under small red canopies looking out at the less than beautiful street they were faced with, and muttering that it was only ‘because of the food’ they remained loyal to the place. The Maria was full of regulars, and that was something Marco was grateful for.

Marco’s pace picked up as he crossed the road. He had ended up running late. That wasn’t a good start. He was always the early one- she would know something was wrong. He checked his phone, and sure enough…

Three missed calls: Mikasassa.

Shit.

His gaze flicked up in time to see her in their seat, the one by the window so they could people- watch as subtly as possible, and she looked like she was in the middle of composing a very long text. The customary red scarf was wrapped haphazardly around her throat, the only flash of colour on her except her violently scarlet lips. New lipstick. He was pretty sure he’d gotten her that. The rest of her was cloaked in black, from her elegantly simple long-sleeve top to her figure-hugging jeans and boots. All black. All sombre. Some people never changed; they were stuck in constant winter. Mikasa was a winter girl. He shoved his hands in his pockets sheepishly and wandered through the door that was as red as the awnings that hung over the outdoor customers.

He got a number of friendly smiles from waiters as he practically power-walked down the lines of tables to the one he was looking for, nearly up-ending a bowl of soup on some poor old dear’s head. “S-sorry!” he cried out of habit, and slapped a hand to his mouth. Oh no. She’d hear that.

And sure enough, Mikasa’s body straightened up. She turned her head. Her eyes flashed.

Marco inwardly bid farewell to any hope of ever having children.

He gave a weak grin to the spluttering pensioner and made a beeline for Mikasa, hands still firmly shoved in his pockets. “Eh heh heh, so I got a little held up,” he said in greeting as she rose from her seat.

She arched a thinly pencilled brow at him. But then, she smiled thinly. “You took your time. I ordered for you, I assume you wanted the same as always?”

Marco nodded. “Chicken Saltimbocca?” When Mikasa’s smile grew into a more genuine one, he let out a sigh of relief. “You know me so well.”

“If I didn’t it’d be a crime.” Mikasa took a step forward and hugged him briefly, to the muffled ‘aw’s from the surrounding staff. The Maria didn’t have a short staff turnaround, and most of them knew Marco and Mikasa personally. They thought they were an adorable couple. “How you been?” she asked into Marco’s collar. “You still more into guys?”

Marco rolled his eyes to the ceiling. “Yep. What about you, still shamelessly lusting after no one in particular?”

“Better believe it.” They pulled away with identical grins. Marco’s heart still skipped to see her grin like that. Seeing it had been such a delayed thing, after all. “You better have a good excuse for almost standing me up, Bodt,” Mikasa said, returning to their table, “and if you almost got arrested again, don’t tell me. I’ll owe Annie money I can’t afford to give, and ignorance is bliss sometimes.”

Marco chuckled, taking his own seat. “Oh, you have no idea.” The table was decked out as it usually was, with a red tablecloth and a large vase with a selection of cheerful yellow flowers, and Mikasa had already taken one flower out and begun playing with its petals. He glanced at the pink bottle on their table and quirked a brow. “Wine? Did someone die?”

“Marco!” She looked scandalised at the comment, and Marco felt consciousness steal over him. It seemed as though he couldn’t make jokes like that without people expecting him to keel over.

“Mikasa,” he said steadily. “We’ve come here every week for two years, and you’ve only bought a bottle of wine once.” He didn’t like to think about when that was.

“You were late,” Mikasa explained, “I had to entertain myself somehow.” She ducked at the crouton Marco flicked in her direction and let out a breathy cackle. “So come on,” she said, leaning onto the table and giving Marco the most serious expression she could muster despite the fact he was still trying to land a crouton down her top. “Tell me everything, dear.

Marco held his fire and blinked owlishly up at her. Mikasa was different to the others; not only were they close, they were closer than most of his friends had ever been, and that intimacy between them wasn’t forgotten by either of them. Even now, years later, there was still a crackling promise of tension that hovered relentlessly whenever they met, but Marco always shrugged it off as being nothing more than an aftershock of an earthquake. That aftershock, far from making things awkward and complicated between them, smoothed things out and made them more comfortable than it had ever been when they were actually dating. The fear of rejection and the unknown was gone now, buried under the table they sat at, and it made talking so much easier. Marco could tell Mikasa anything without any fear of being judged, and far more than he could tell most other people. Some of the things he told Mikasa, he thought, would shock even Sasha into silence. So, instead of holding back like he’d done with Sasha, he just let it blurt out.

“I met an asshole today.”

Mikasa blinked back at him. “Well, I didn’t expect to hear that.”

Marco huffed. “Well, I didn’t expect to experience it, but here I am.”

“What sort of asshole we talking?” Mikasa propped her head up with a hand calmly. “A pure, undiluted, bona fide asshole? Or a miniscule, microscopic one that managed to get under your skin?”

“Er…” Marco frowned. “I’m not sure, actually.”

“Okay, so tell me. What was it about him that was so asshole-y?”

So Marco told her. He told her everything, how he had just recovered from being almost arrested for the thirteenth time that month (“I fucking knew it”, she’d groaned), how he had stopped him from being run over and the mouthful he had got in return. “It’s not like I expected a pat on the back or even a thank you,” Marco finished, “but I didn’t really think anyone would be angry about me helping them.” He took a sip of the wine Mikasa had poured out for him, and recognised the taste of strawberry.

Mikasa didn’t answer for a few minutes. It took just enough time for their food to arrive and for Marco to start toying with the cutlery, wondering if it would be rude to start without her, before she spoke. “Marco, remember we talked about this?” she said in a lower tone of voice.

He paused, fork hovering in mid-air. “Talked about what?”

“The saving people thing.” Mikasa twirled her wine glass between her fingers, the rosy glow of the drink contrasting vividly with the paleness of her skin. “I know you think it does some good, but honestly sometimes it does more harm than anything else.”

“Are you saying that I should have let that woman get her bag stolen?” Marco frowned.

A pained expression crossed Mikasa’s face. “Not exactly. Just…” She sighed. “Marco, when we first met you hadn’t been in Trost long. You’re not a local. You don’t know the way this city ticks. I do, and I know that this place is dark and full of bad, evil people. And when a place has so much bad in it, it even starts to treat the good as something to be cautious of.” She took a quick gulp of her wine. “You’re a good guy, Marco, a really good guy, but you’re stuck in a bad city. If you’re not careful, you could get…”

“I know I could get arrested,” Marco sighed, slumping back in his chair. “I know the police hate me, I know I have a record and I know that they keep an eye on me. But, if someone needs help, I can’t help it. The police aren’t ever there, Mikasa, haven’t you ever noticed that?”

She didn’t respond, merely twirled her glass again. She glanced down at Marco’s plate, and then back at him. Marco didn’t ignore the fact that her gaze hovered on his scar for a touch too long. “You should eat. I bet you didn’t have lunch today.”

Marco tried to stare her down and failed. Mikasa’s eyes soon turned stony until he began to eat, and then they softened again, back to their raincloud normality. He thought that that was the end of the conversation, until Mikasa spoke up again. This time it was small, sad even. “That’s the other thing, Marco. This guy might have gotten so angry because he didn’t want to be saved. Some people don’t, and I know that’s hard to grasp but… if they’re in that sort of mind-set, it’s difficult to get them out of it.”

Marco swallowed his mouthful. He hadn’t thought about it like that; he hoped that wasn’t the case, because with the amount of anger Undercut had been radiating, it didn’t seem like the rant of a hopeless man. A hopeless man wouldn’t have fought anything; not the death by bus or the help from a stranger. Undercut was fighting, so that had to mean something… didn’t it? He felt a weight descend on his shoulders as he looked at Mikasa, so strong and yet so frail at the same time. She didn’t get this way around just anyone. He let out a soft sigh through his nose. “You managed it,” he murmured.

Her eyes flickered with a ghost Marco couldn’t pinpoint, and then they were back. “Yes, well, that took me a long time and a lot of therapy, if you remember,” she said, finally spearing her pasta with a fork. Her free hand was picking at the sleeve of her jumper.

Marco nodded. “I know.”

“Besides, maybe this is a good thing. He’s clearly knocked some sort of thought into you. I’m not telling you to stop helping people, your good Samaritan impression is really coming up trumps with the population, but just… be aware of it, yeah?”

“Mm.”

Mikasa gave him enough time to bring three more mouthfuls of food to his mouth before she said, “He wasn’t what made you late though, was he? You said that was this morning.”

“Well, yeah, but he was… sort of… walking the same way as I was this evening…”

Mikasa pursed her lips. “If you were stalking your walking life crisis I am going to be disappointed in you.”

“I wasn’t stalking him!” Marco replied hotly.

“You better not. Seriously, I know you- don’t be dumb enough to just walk right up and ask what his problem is, that’ll get you a kick in the nuts in this city. You should know that by now.” She brandished a breadstick at him in a threatening gesture. “What was the first thing I told you about this city?”

Marco grinned. “That you were the best fuck this side of the river?”

That brought some colour into her cheeks. “I was drunk when I told you that and that was not the answer I was looking for.”

“Aw, but you know it’s true.”

“Shut up and answer the question.”  

Marco rolled his eyes. “You told me that you can’t trust a single person in this city.”

“Correct!” She poked him in the chest with the breadstick to reiterate the point, before biting the end off of it. “Ca’ tru’ a single pers’n,” she replied with her mouth full.

Marco’s nose wrinkled. “What happened to being ladylike?”

“Psh, you’re more of a lady than I am.”

“Eh, probably right.” Marco couldn’t help but grin at her. She had told him once that she hadn’t been born in Trost; she had moved too young to remember where it was she did come from exactly. The endless moving around would do that to a child- it was enough to make anyone dizzy. But nevertheless, Trost was where she’d found herself and so Trost adopted her into its folds without asking first. Here she was, a hardened Trost-goer, trying to educate the innocent non-local who had only moved there for university and somehow managed to get stuck there. She still acted as though it was his first week in the city, even though he had been a citizen six years that September. Wow, he thought to himself, six years sure went by fast.

He was brought out of his thoughts by Mikasa clearing her throat. “So, assholes aside, how’s Sasha? Did her scan go okay today?”

“Oh!” Yes, Sasha, the person with a life inside her belly who your life revolves around lately. “Yeah, it went okay. It just feels so real when you see it there in black and white on a screen.”

Mikasa frowned. “No sign of the father?”

Marco’s smile fell. “N-no. She hasn’t heard a thing from him.”

“Bastard,” Mikasa snorted, crunching her salad a little more ferociously between her teeth. “What sort of guy gets his girlfriend pregnant then disappears like the scarlet pimpernel?”

“A bastard?” Marco guessed.

“Fair point.”

“Speaking of bastards,” Marco said, “how’s our favourite little bastard these days?”

Mikasa’s gaze lost some of its edge. “Eren? He’s- great. He’s doing really great.” She smiled. “He’s been clean for a month and a half now. And he has a job, only a little one in a bar, but the owner owed me and anything’s better than standing on street corners, right?”

Marco beamed. The look of pride on Mikasa’s face when she talked about Eren was definitely warranted; Mikasa and Eren had met in a halfway house when they were teenagers, and had stuck together ever since. Having no parents between them, they adopted each other as siblings of their own accord. Everyone avoided Eren, Mikasa told Marco, because of his oddly-coloured eyes. Eren had one eye teal, and the other a bizarre molten gold that seemed to either repel or attract the people surrounding him. Despite that, Mikasa said that it was Eren’s fiery nature, not his heterochromia, that had drawn her to him. Marco had known him almost as long as he’d known Mikasa, and it was both of those things about him that had convinced the doe-eyed eighteen year old Marco that he was not as straight as he thought he was- as in, he was barely straight. “That’s such good news, Mikasa. Really. I’m proud of him.”

He spotted the way she flushed with pleasure, the way a mother would when hearing praise about her son. It was sweet. Mikasa cared a lot more than she liked to let on. “Does he have a phone yet? I’d love to see him. For a catch-up,” he added when she shot him a questioning look. His attraction to Eren was barely a secret, after all- especially not to Mikasa. Not that it would lead to anything- Marco wouldn’t let it. He couldn’t.

“He does have one. I’ll make sure he knows,” Mikasa said.

“Good. Because I want to congratulate him in person, and I haven’t seen him in wee-”

Beep. Beep. Beeeeep.

The noise, however small, severed his train of thought. “O-oh shoot,” Marco mumbled, plucking the alarm from his pocket and setting it down as he frantically searched the rest of his pockets. He’d forgotten about it; he’d hoped that he would be able to get home before it went off. But, unfortunately, no such luck. Panic began to set in when he couldn’t find what he was looking for right away, and his steady hands soon became shaky and slippery with the oncome of sweat. Had he left them at work? No, no, he couldn’t have, he was so careful…

“Marco?”

“I’m fine!” he replied breezily, still patting himself down as he spoke. It was a good thing he could pretend the way he did, because he couldn’t even imagine what the feeling of ice running through his vein as his entire body went into panic mode would look like on the surface. “Just… need to f-find…”

I need them I need them I need them oh no where are they oh God please if you exist tell me I have them…

“Breast pocket,” Mikasa instructed, reaching across the table in a heartbeat and grabbing a small cylinder from his leather jacket.

Marco relaxed. “Thanks. I always worry about losing the-”

“There’s more in here.” She was peering into the little bottle intently, brow furrowing as she counted the rainbow of pills that rattled about their prison.

Marco swallowed painfully. He snatched the bottle from her grasp, a move he wouldn’t usually have dared to pull, and unscrewed the cap. “C-could you ask for some water? I need to take them now.”

Mikasa was still frowning. “Marco, you have a cocktail there. Don’t you see that?”

“I get migraines. Please ask for some water, I can’t dry swallow so many.”

“Has your dose been upped?”

Marco’s eyes flashed a warning. “Mikasa!”

“Tell me!” she demanded. “I won’t get you water until you do!”

Okay, that’s it. Marco needed to take the pills, and he needed to take them right that minute. Mikasa didn’t want to get him some water? He’d improvise. He grabbed the vase, yanked the sunny yellow flowers from their sanctuary, tipped the entire contents of the bottle into his mouth and took a long, disgusting swig of water, all in a matter of seconds- and seconds he sorely wished he hadn’t taken. The water tasted faintly of plants and soil, but it did the job, and as he set the vase back down with a dignified clunk, he realised the entire restaurant was staring at him. He smacked his lips at the strange aftertaste- it could have been the pills or the trace of plant matter, he couldn’t be sure- and gave a polite smile to his audience. “I’m sorry. Please, carry on.”

The restaurant, reluctantly, went back to life. Plates clacked, chatter resumed and gazes diverted from him- all except Mikasa. She was still staring at him like he’d grown a second head. Marco, out of some ridiculous urge, wiped his mouth with his napkin as delicately as he could. He’d noticed too late that the majority of the water was seeping into his shirt with little chance of help. He just made the most of a bad situation- and smiled smugly at Mikasa. “Ner ner.”

She blinked. “Did you just-?”

“Yes, Mikasa. I drank plant water.”

“Just to avoid a question?”

“Yes.”

“Damn, you’re committed.”

“Mmhmm.”

“And insane.”

“Maybe.”

“Wasn’t it gross?”

“Yes, it was disgusting.”

Mikasa snorted. And then she threw her head back and howled with laughter. Marco sniggered along with her, paying much more attention to her breathless, helpless laughter than his own; she didn’t laugh like that very often, and every occasion was one to be treasured. When she finally recovered, her jaw snapped robotically shut. “Why are you taking more pills?”

Marco barely restrained a huff. Barely. He was glad he did. “Mikasa, it’s fine. If it was anything to worry about-”

“-You’d tell me?”

“I’d tell you,” he agreed.

“Good. Well, now that’s settled, you big freak, I have to tell you about this thing that happened at work-”

And then the conversation moved on. Marco was grateful for it; even though he could feel the pills churning around in his stomach, he much preferred not talking about them, and he had a feeling Mikasa knew it. There were never any awkward silences between the two of them; having been inside a person tended to break the bonds of privacy, it was true, but he and Mikasa transcended all boundaries. Soon they were talking about the newest guy at her job, the one who wouldn’t leave her alone even though she’d turned him down repeatedly, and how Mikasa was pretty sure she could hold a better conversation with her vibrator. Marco finished his meal laughing, and trying not to snort wine out of his nose after another dry comment of Mikasa’s.  

They stayed a while longer, chatting idly about this, that and the other, and whilst Marco became clued in with what was going on in Mikasa’s life, she made no effort to twist the conversation back onto him. He was thankful. He didn’t want to ramble on about his less than interesting life. When he did mention a girl he walked home one night because the streets were dark and she’d got lost, Mikasa gave him a teasing smile. “You’re such a gentleman,” she said. “Next thing you know you’ll be getting cats out of trees and chasing runaway prams down the road.”

“Oh, shut up,” Marco laughed as they squared the bill. “I like helping people. We’re not gonna talk about this again, are we?”

“No,” Mikasa agreed, “though I am seriously considering getting you a journal or something that you can jot all these interesting exploits down. You could even rant about elusive Angry Mister Undercut that you seem to be obsessing over.”

“I’m not obsessing over him,” Marco retorted, “I’m just… is it bad that I’m intrigued?”

“Probably, because he sounds like a dick.”

“Yeah,” Marco sighed as they stood up, “you’re probably right.” He tipped the servers a little extra for the incident with the water jug and offered Mikasa his arm. “My lady,” he grinned.

Mikasa took his arm and arched a brow. “You know, anyone else and it would sound creepy coming from them, but you… you just own it.”

Marco laughed. “Why thank you, I do try… my lady.

“Don’t push it.”

The staff called out farewells as they left, and Marco had to admit that it was a little startling that they were so eagerly awaited every time they went there. The cold air was a fresh relief as they stepped outside, and he noticed Mikasa draw in on herself in an attempt to keep warm. He was halfway out of his free sleeve when she muttered, “Marco Adam Bodt, don’t you dare give me your jacket or I’ll have to expect a proposal right here, right now.”

“But you’re cold.” Marco snorted, but his arm retreated back into its sleeve. “Do you want me to get down on one knee, or?”

“Probably. That’s what everyone has to do, ri- Marco, what are you doing?” There was an edge to her voice when Marco, sniggering to himself, pulled free of her grip and began to sink downwards. Her eyes narrowed. “Don’t you dare,” she said, her voice high and strained.

“You asked. I deliver.” Marco grinned up at her, still sniggering as he went onto one knee. “How about it, ‘Kasa?”

“If you have to fake-propose, at least make it in a less conspicuous place,” Mikasa hissed, staring around at the people milling through the street. Many had stopped to look.

Marco raised his brows. “You’re cold. Let me give you my jacket.”

“Uh, no.”

“Oh, Mikasa of the Ackermans, you are the first and only woman I ever made love to and I want it to remain that way…”

“Marco, stop it right now or I swear to fuck I’ll knock you out.”

“And the way you loved me, why, it made me feel like a man…”

“Marco, I’m warning you.”

“And I want to be that man for the rest of my life…”

“Okay I will put your fucking jacket on, just get up off the floor and stop pretending to propose.”

Marco was smug when he got back to his full height, shedding his coat and offering it to Mikasa. “I pray that you take this jacket as a token of my love,” he cooed.

She snatched it off him and gave him a sharp elbow in the ribs. “You’re a dick,” she hissed.

Marco grinned. “I learnt from the best.”

“Oh, you can shut right up mister.”

Marco was too busy being punched to notice the clumsily clapping of shoes on cobbles, but when he looked up his eyes narrowed. It looked like one of the guys from before, one of Undercut’s friends. He hadn’t paid much attention to them, it was true, but for some reason the guy’s dishevelled appearance jogged his memory and got something akin to suspicion squirming in his stomach. He looked a little wild-eyed and panicked as he ran, and that wasn’t a good look to have. “D-does anyone have a phone I could borrow?” he called out. Marco’s chest tightened.

Mikasa glanced at him. “Marco, don’t.”

He wanted to listen to her. He wanted to shrug it off and go home to his roommate and his bed and his cat, and have a good night’s sleep. But he knew he wouldn’t be able to resist that innate urge he got with every panicked voice; it was like someone had hooked him at his navel and yanked him towards their problem without even realising. He took a breath. He gave Mikasa an apologetic look. Then, he called out. “I’ve got one.”

Undercut’s friend stopped dead, eyes bulging. He seemed confused that anyone actually wanted to help, and only when Marco took a step forward did he stumble over to him, shoulders still heaving as though he’d been running. “P-please…can you call the police, I don’t know how long Sam’s gonna be able to hold him off.”

Marco frowned. “What? The police? Why, what’s going on?”

The other man ran a hand through his mop of pale hair, gasping for breath. “My friend… he drank too much, and he’s being an idiot… but… I think he might…might do something stupid…”

Marco straightened up. “Where is he?”

“On the old bridge by the river.”

Marco ignored Mikasa’s shouts that he needed to leave it alone. He took off running, with the other man beside him, the chill of brimming autumn air sliding easily through the thin fabric of his shirt. He didn’t know who it was. He didn’t know if it was Undercut. It could have been the other friend they were with, after all. But no- something was telling him that it was that stranger who had grabbed his attention so wholeheartedly that was stood on a bridge on the brink of falling in… or was it jumping?

Suddenly, the coldness he felt was nothing to do with the chilly night.

His heart was roaring, his muscles straining, but he still had enough breath to ask, “What’s your name?” as they ran.

“Mylius,” his companion panted, “A-are you the police?”

Marco debated on lying. He really did. Police got a degree of respect even if they were all useless, but he knew he would regret it later. “Not exactly,” he replied, keeping pace with Mylius as best he could. “Do you think he’ll jump?” he asked a breath later.

Mylius went pale at the thought. “I d-don’t know, I didn’t mean for him to go crazy, we only asked him to come out because he hasn’t left his flat in weeks… we thought it’d be good for him...” His voice trailed off. Clearly, he realised how wrong he was.

They ran through the small street of restaurants and bars, trying to dodge the groups of people that stood as obstacles in their way, and Marco felt his breath come a little harder in his chest. They said to take it easy, his mind reminded him. Said you had to take it one baby step at a time. Sprinting through a packed Trost street probably wasn’t what they would have advised, but Marco didn’t care. Someone was in trouble.

He had to help.

Had to save.

Had to.

Thankfully, he stopped just before his lungs gave out. Mylius skidded to a halt and thrust a hand out, pointing to the small bridge. “T-there,” he gasped out.

Marco often walked down this part of the city. Not only did he always meet Mikasa at The Maria, but he also frequented a few of the bars. The little iron bridge connected two of the smaller areas of Trost together, its river winding thick and fat like a snake between them. It rose in a lazy arc above them, high enough for a canal boat to pass under, but little else. It was beautiful, in the right sort of tired light. He might have been a pathetic romantic, but there were many times Marco had rushed to the small iron bridge in a drunken daze and thrown his head up to the sky, staring at the way the stars seemed to pulse and rush all around him and make him dizzy.

He couldn’t remember ever having stood on the top rung of the bridge and mutely declared that he was going to jump, though.

Of course, it was Undercut doing the declaring.

Marco gulped.

He was swaying, and badly too- Marco guessed he must have sunk quite a few pints to be wobbling the way he was- but his legs were still pressing into the last few precious inches of the bridge. His other friend was trying desperately to stop him from climbing up further, but Undercut was either trying to kick him away or merely swayed out of reach. His friend was pleading, begging, cursing him, but nothing was going in. Undercut might as well have been deaf, for all the good it did. He leaned over the side of the bridge then, the gathered crowd letting out a single cry of alarm, and stared into its depths with those piercing eyes of his. He looked like a child watching the ripples, a child so totally engrossed that they didn’t know how close they were getting. But then things changed.

Undercut heaved out a sigh, a heavy one, and got the tired look back. His jaw clenched, and started to tremble like he was trying to bite back a comment. Marco knew what pain looked like when he saw it. He took a step forward, Mylius warning him to be careful. He bit his lip as he stepped a little closer. He knew.

The stranger’s plaid shirt was gaping open now, exposing a thin sliver of stomach to the elements. It was pimpling with the cold, but he didn’t seem to care; he was too focused on the water, mumbling wordlessly to it. Marco wasn’t sure whether or not any sound was actually coming from his fumbling lips, but it felt like he was infringing on a private moment, private and sacred, and for a moment he wanted to walk away. But then the stubborn nudging returned, and he cleared his throat as quietly as he could. Undercut didn’t even twitch. Marco took a step closer. Undercut leaned a little more. He stopped.

“C’mon man, this isn’t funny anymore!” the other friend- Sam- said, reaching out to tug at the hem of Undercut’s shirt.

Undercut whipped around and hissed in a low, quaking voice, “What you gon’ do? I fucked up, Sammy. Fucked up.”

The drink had loosened his syllables, made them blend into one singular slur, but Marco got the jist of it. He inched closer, keeping his eyes on the guy the whole time and never once looking down at the water. It wasn’t much of a drop, he reasoned; it was the depth of water he was worried about. Just as he thought it, Undercut swung a leg over the side and straddled the thin divide between the bridge and the river. Marco cursed under his breath. Shit. He had to get closer. He took two strides forward, and that was when the eyes flashed up to greet him.

Marco wasn’t too proud to admit that he was bowled over by the sheer ferocity of the gaze he got from the stranger. His eyes were burning- that was the only reasonable word to describe them- and for a remarkably drunk man, they seemed remarkably sharp. Marco found himself rooted to the spot. He couldn’t even try to wheedle out a ‘hello’; every single word he possessed was suddenly under lock and key, and all he could do was stare, wide- eyed and pleading. The fierce eyes narrowed. “Would ya look who ‘tis,” he slurred, “it’s fuckin’ Superman.”

Marco blinked. Superman. That was a new one. He cleared his throat, and hoped the right words would spill out. “Hey,” was all he managed to get out. Why was this so difficult?

Undercut scoffed- or at least, it sounded like it was meant to be a scoff. “Fuckin’ Superman here to save the day,” he mumbled.

Marco bit his lip. He sidled closer. “H-hey, come on. Aren’t you hungry? I always get hungry after I’ve been drinking. I want to eat everything in sight. Why don’t you come down and we go get you some food, hm? I know a great trashy fast food place just around the corner.” He tried a smile.

Undercut’s expression narrowed again. “M’not hungry,” he muttered, casting his eyes back on the water. “’M sad.”

“A-and why are you sad?” Marco asked.

Undercut sighed. “Fu-tch,” was the only word he uttered. Marco was pretty sure that wasn’t what he’d been trying to say.

Marco was now close enough to reach him. “F-Futch?” he asked. “What is that, exactly?” Silence. “Well, whatever it is, it can’t be important enough to make you jump into the river, can it? It’s freezing this time of year. You don’t want to get a cold, not in this weather- you’d never shake it.”

Undercut’s eyebrow quirked. “Wanna fuckin’ bet?”

“Not really, no. Not if it involves you jumping into that river.” Marco shoved his hands in his pockets and brought his shoulders up in a bid to ward off the cold. He suddenly regretted giving Mikasa his jacket. He wasn’t sure where she was now; she’d be around the area somewhere, she wouldn’t leave him on his own. “Come on. Come down. Talk about it with your friends. Go home. Sleep. Anything.”

Undercut considered this for a moment. Then: “Why don’ you mind yer own fuckin’ business?”

Marco tried not to show the way his innards grew smaller by the stranger’s words. He swallowed painfully. “Because I’m making this my business,” he said evenly.

Undercut squinted. “You’re a persevering li’l shit aren’ you?”

Marco smiled. “I try to be. You can even punch me if you like. But you’ll have to come down if you want to.”

Undercut paused. Then, he rolled his eyes like he was being asked to tidy his room by a nagging parent. “Fine, fine, if you want me to, I’ll come punch you, you li’l-”

His words vanished as he lost his balance. There was a collective cry as Undercut overbalanced trying to swing back over onto the right side, and vanished from sight. There was a splash moments later. Someone in the crowd screamed as Marco leapt pointlessly forward and hung off the edge, staring down at the disturbed water rippling with foam.

He always thought it was strange when people said their blood could run cold. He hadn’t ever felt that sensation, of his own life-force freezing in his veins and making it impossible to think straight. But at that moment, as he peered into the water, he felt a glimpse of what it was like.

“Marco!”  

He turned his head to see Mikasa running towards him, his jacket flying out behind her like a beaten up shadow. She stopped short and looked wide-eyed at him. “Don’t.”

Marco opened his mouth. He shut it. He looked back at the water.

“Don’t,” she said again, softer.

He glanced back at her. He emptied his pockets of his phone and whatever else, dropping them into her waiting hands. She was still shaking her head, her eyes were still beginning to narrow into dangerous territory, but Marco didn’t care.

Before anyone could stop him, he had climbed the top rung and taken a deep breath.

The stranger had fallen off the bridge.

Marco jumped.