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His Beating Heart

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When life leaves you high and dry
I'll be at your door tonight
If you need help, if you need help.
I'll shut down the city lights,
I'll lie, cheat, I'll beg and bribe
To make you well, to make you well.

When enemies are at your door
I'll carry you away from war
If you need help, if you need help.
Your hope dangling by a string
I'll share in your suffering
To make you well, to make you well.

Give me reasons to believe
That you would do the same for me.

-Phillip Phillips (Gone, Gone, Gone)

I don’t even know how to begin this.
There’s no proper way to start.
But for us, this is the most important story. These are the best pieces of our lives, right here, in this story. It’s the story of how I became so pathetically wrapped up in the greatest person I’ll ever meet, someone so precious to me, it hurts.
And this will sound ridiculous- make fun of me for it, I dare you- but…
This? This is the story of how Marco Bodt offered up his beating heart… to me.

                I suppose that that the best way to start this- the only way to start this- is at the beginning. The beginning is pretty laughable, if you ask me. I don’t even consider it to be the beginning, but he does, and that’s all that matters.
I was a newbie at Trost University, a freshman. It was bright and early on Monday morning, the August mugginess just barely starting to set in, but despite the humidity, I still had a burning hot cup of coffee in one hand. Because really, you don’t want to run into me before I’ve had my coffee. And unfortunately for someone, they did just that. Ran right fucking into me before I had my coffee.
This guy was just shuffling along, pieces of paper in both his hands, not even looking where he was going, when he slammed headlong into me- right into the shoulder that was connected to the arm that was connected to the hand that held my coffee. Of vital importance, you see.
“Shit!” I hissed. I glowered up at him, taking in his appearance: tall, but not that much taller than me. Broad-shouldered, freckles, square jaw, and dark short hair that was parted at the center. His eyes were dark too, but at the moment, they were wide with anxiety. “Watch it!” I grumbled, rubbing at my shoulder with my free hand. He let out a small and squeaky apology, which was kinda funny coming from someone as tall and intimidating as him, but I was too irritable to laugh.
I’d growled a low, “whatever” and continued on my way, and that…. was that. Not a real beginning, you see. I didn’t even spare the guy a second thought.

The rest of my week was crazy. I was living in Maria, one of the more expensive set of dorms, and as a consequence, lived in a suite with three others. It was originally two others: a short, almost-bald guy named Connie, and a large, muscled blond guy named Reiner.

Since there were only three of us, one of us was going to get our own room to ourselves (suites were comprised of two separate rooms combined with a kitchen area and sitting area). I’d intended for that person to be me. But, as it turns out, Reiner had a boyfriend, a tall, lanky, nervous-looking guy with shaggy brown hair. Bertholdt was his name. Bertholdt wasn’t even supposed to be there, but it seems he transferred out from some other dorm. So of course, Reiner and Bertholdt got their room together and Connie got lumped with me.

As far as roommates go, Connie was alright, and he could be pretty funny if you gave him a chance, but he also had a tendency to be a bit annoying at times. Not to mention that he never cleaned up after himself. But that wasn’t the horrible part.
This was:
The walls between our room and Reiner’s room were extremely thin.

Unfortunately for Connie and I, the two of them were loud, and when I say “loud”, I mean LOUD. I had my ipod’s volume up as loud as it could go with my earphones in and I could still hear them. And the way it sounded, you’d think they wouldn’t have a single piece of furniture left in one piece, yet each and every morning there everything was: complete and whole.
Needless to say, the two’s overly-active sex life spelled doom for me and Connie’s sleep schedules.
As another complication, since the four of us were in the same suite, we shared a bathroom together, and you’d think that with all of us being guys, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Well, as it were, mornings were hell. Connie took fucking hours to shower, and Reiner had some sort of weird deal with his bowel movements and took a long time on the toilet- I didn’t wanna know, I didn’t wanna ask.

And that’s how the next several weeks went on. Struggling to sleep and shower and use the bathroom with my three roommates, and looking back, it wasn’t all bad… but in comparison to who I’d meet in the near future, they didn’t even compare.

As the month went on, I became incredibly bored and fell into routine. I didn’t go out much, I didn’t join any clubs, I didn’t join a fraternity and I sure as hell didn’t become involved with any campus ministries. I had trouble getting along with others anyway, so I was perfectly fine being left to my own devices. I mostly spent my time studying and sleeping, and the rest was spent eating, in class or working around my roommates.

I think one of the worst things in the world was that I felt so lonely, and yet I lived with three other guys. But I just didn’t feel like I could talk to them much. I felt that I couldn’t connect much with anyone…
In truth, I’d floated through most of my life, feeling as though I was walking around on a different plane from everyone else… that everyone was on FM while I was on AM. And who the hell can “connect” with a guy who lives on a completely different medium from everyone else?
I chose to drown out that feeling with sleep and school. It wasn’t all that effective, but I didn’t know what else to do.
But sleep only brought more problems…. Problems I wasn’t willing to share with others.
Once I’d grown past the age of 9, I stopped telling my parents about the nightmares, but that didn’t mean I stopped having them. Awful nightmares… they too left me with strange feelings. Feelings of emptiness, despair, and above all else, an intense feeling of loss. But what I had lost, I had no clue.

And speaking of strange feelings, let me tell you about astronomy.
I had this class four days a week, Monday through Thursday, and creepily enough, each time I had that damn class, I got this weird chill…
It was strange, but, I felt like someone was watching me.
I peeked around behind me several times, but every time, I couldn’t detect anything out of the ordinary; just a bunch of college students taking notes or sleeping or on their phones or playing around on their laptops.
I wouldn’t figure out where that feeling came from, or why I got it, for some time after that.

Anyway, let’s move on. I’ve dragged on about my life pre-Marco for some time now.
I think it’s time we get to what I like to call, “The Real Beginning.”

As any college student could tell you, the flu spreads fast at university. Almost no one is left unscathed in its wake. So of course, it figures that in the first week of October, the awful illness rendered my body useless for the better part of a weekend and two days of classes. I spent those days rolled up in my blankets, shaking uncontrollably, and during that time, I was extremely thankful for Reiner; he made me plenty of soup and made sure I took my medicine. He was a better mom than my own mom was.

However, after having missed class on both Monday and Tuesday, I decided that enough was enough, and braved the cruel world outside while still in a debilitated state.
Let me just say: Astronomy was awful. I was confused as fuck, my eyes kept watering up, my sneezes and coughs were disgusting as shit, and I was still getting that really creepy feeling that someone was watching me.
Mid-lecture, I decided to forget about taking notes for now and borrow someone’s notes from the last few days later. I knew that Connie was in the room somewhere, but I also knew very well that he didn’t take notes. And when he did, they were shitty as hell. Connie would be no help.
As the lecture neared its end, I craned my neck around to look behind me searching desperately for anyone I knew that might be able to help, and…. Well. I couldn’t explain it.
When my eyes fell on the guy in the row behind me, two seats to the right, I felt an overwhelming sense of familiarity coming off him. A warm feeling spread throughout my chest, and I knew, I knew that I had met this guy before.
I also realized that this was the same guy who’d bumped into me on the first day of class, but that didn’t matter, because I knew him from somewhere else.

But who the fuck was he? I couldn’t even remember his name. Did I know his name? How did I even know him in the first place?
This guy was driving me absolutely crazy.
But hey- if you know who this dude is, you can at least see his notes, right?
That was the more pressing issue at hand, so I focused on that instead.

As soon as the lecture ended, I shoved my things into my bag, slid my arms through the straps and stood up, facing the row behind me. I let the other students pass me by as I watched the freckled guy stick his notebook and pen into his bag.  And then he looked up. And froze.
We stared at each other for a couple of moments, and the longer I stared at him, the stronger the sense of familiarity became, and I couldn’t help it, I just had to ask.
“Do I know you from somewhere?”

He visibly tensed up- his shoulders tightened, eyes went wide… I don’t even think he was breathing. But then he sat up, smiling innocently at me as though nothing was wrong, and said, “Eh, yeah, sort of… I bumped into you on the first day of classes.” He was also avoiding eye contact with me, I might add.

“No, I mean before that,” I said, clearing my throat and sniffling a bit.
He hesitated again, this time a look of confusion and concern- god, this guy was an open book- and said, “I’m afraid not…”

I squinted at him again, still trying to figure out how I knew this guy (and I knew I knew this guy), but in the end, I just gave up on it. My memory was fucked.
“Sorry, then,” I apologized. “You just seem really familiar.”
“Oh, no problem! That kind of thing happens to me all the time,” he said, and it made me feel a bit better.
I sneezed right then, and feeling more than a little self-conscious, rubbed at my nose, looking down. “I was kinda hopin’ we’d already met… that way it wouldn’t be so weird of me to ask if I can maybe see your notes from the past two days.”

When I looked over at him, he blinked owlishly at me, and I felt sort of stupid, but then he chuckled and murmured, “If that’s all, then sure, you can borrow them.”
I blinked right back at him. “Really? You don’t even know me…” If I were him, I wouldn’t just hand off my notes to any ol’ weirdo who claimed he knew me from somewhere and wanted to see them. I’d be a hell of a lot more skeptical than this guy and he’d already pulled his notebook back out of his bag, holy shit who does this?
“Do I have to?” he asked.
Who the hell is that nice? I thought.
“…Are you just that nice of a person?” I said back.
“I try to be.”
I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at him. “You seem like a push-over.”
“Gee, thanks,” he said, voice coated thick with sarcasm. “That really makes me want to let you see my notes.”
“Ah! Hey now,” I told him, “I’m just calling it like I see it.”
“Uh-huh”, he muttered, flipping through his notebook. And then he paused.

Aw shit, he’s having second thoughts, I thought, a feeling of dread washing through me. So maybe he had common sense after all. Good for him, bad for me.

“What is it?” I asked.
“It’s just… eurgh. There’s a bunch in here that needs a lot of explaining…” he looked up at me, and asked, “When do you have class next?”
“I don’t have another class until 2:30.”
He frowned back down at his notebook, large brown eyes tightening a bit, before saying, “Got any plans for lunch?”

Wow, never mind, he’s not just nice, he’s super nice. This is the kind of overcomplicated selfless accommodation that I could never bring myself to understand, let alone feel nice enough to emulate it.
Instead of saying all that, I just grinned and stuck with, “You really like to go all out, yeah?”

“You want me to show you my notes, or not?” he huffed, almost as though he was trying to seem annoyed, but his tiny smile gave him away.
“Yeah, yeah,” I said, and started making my way through the chairs, leaving the now-completely-empty lecture hall.
The freckled guy picked up his bag and followed me out, and as we walked along, I realized that I still didn’t know the kid’s fucking name.
Once outside the room, I turned to ask him. “What’s your name, by the way?”
“Oh, yeah… I’m Marco. What about you?”
Marco. Another warm feeling spread through my chest.
“My name’s Jean,” I answered.
“Jsh-ahn,” he repeated, and something about the way he said my name made something in my chest ache. And I got the feeling that wherever I knew this guy from, something bad was connotated with it. “French?” he asked.
….at the same time, I really liked it when he said my name. Some people pronounced my name as “John,” the ‘j’ far too harsh, and some, particularly teachers attempting to read roll call, called me “Jeen”, and that was annoying as fuck, but when Marco said it… it was nice.
I wanted him to say it again, as weird as that sounds.
It brought an inexplicable feeling of comfort with it.

“Yeah…” I said, finally answering. “A-anyway, where do you wanna eat? I usually just go to one of the dining halls for lunch.”
“Me too,” he said softly. “Guess it’s decided, huh?” He tossed me his black notebook and walked on ahead, and I followed him out of the building into the blinding sunlight.
There was a fuck ton of people out there, and I was incredibly grateful that Marco was so tall and broad, or else I’d have gotten lost completely. When we had finally reached a less busy part of the campus, I took the opportunity to paw through Marco’s notebook and quickly located Monday’s notes.
And let me tell you: I felt like I was trying to read Latin.
Except not Latin, but Greek. Literally.
“The fuck is with the Greek letters?” I wondered aloud.
“There’s a key and some formulas in the top right corner,” he told me, but I didn’t look up at him. I just kept staring at his notes.

The key sort of helped… but it also didn’t. I was lost, man.
“You weren’t fucking kidding… I still don’t understand,” I said more to myself than to Marco.
He replied with, “Told you.”

I was still immersed in Greek alphabet and numbers and Marco’s handwriting when I heard, “Hey! Jean, this way!”
I looked up to see Marco further behind me, and that he’d taken a left without me noticing. I shouldn’t have been as embarrassed as I was, but still…
I awkwardly slipped the notebook under my arm and followed Marco more closely.

“…and remember, you need to find the change in wavelength first.”
“And that’s delta lambda?”
I scowled down at my paper as I quickly jotted down the equation, tapping away at my calculator as I attempted to decipher the strange symbols and formulas.
“Oh, wait,” Marco piped up, correcting me, “once you find the radial velocity, you divide it by the speed of light, remember?” He leaned across the table between us to jab his finger at his notes, and I concentrated on where he was pointing.
“That’s the c in the formula…” I observed.
“Yeah! Aaaannd… you’re done!” He smiled over at me encouragingly, and the warm feeling seemed to only grow warmer. I hoped I’d get to see him smile like that more.
Looking away, I sat back and rubbed at my temple. “Radial velocity is shit,” I grumbled, and he laughed- it was a warm laugh that came up from deep within his chest, and it actually made me smile and feel proud of myself.
“You’re telling me,” he agreed.

I had really doubted Marco’s sincerity and intelligence before, and I was starting to feel pretty bad about that…. I really liked Marco, strange senses of warmth and familiarity aside. We got along. We got along really well, so much better than I got along with most.

I sighed, and decided that he at least deserved to know how much his help was appreciated.

“Hey Marco.”
“Thanks… I’d be completely screwed without your help.”
“No problem,” he said, and I absentmindedly brought out my phone to take a few photos of his notes for later.
“It’s just that…” he began, but then his voice trailed off, so I encouraged him to continue.
“What?” I shoved my phone back into my pocket.
“You could have stood to miss another day of class. You’re sick as a dog,” he said.
And with perfect timing, the flu decided that it would be just the right time to try and kill me… with coughs.

I coughed for two straight minutes until Marco finally ran off and got me another glass of water, bless him, and at that point in my coughing fit, I was only seconds away from death, and he was Jesus to me…. Freckled Jesus. I sucked that shit down like my life depended on it-which, at that moment, it felt like it did.
“Uh-uh,” I finally managed. “I can’t miss any more classes. I’ve had plenty of recovery time. I’m lost enough after just two days!”
He cocked his head at me inquisitively, and realizing what he was getting at, I quickly corrected myself.
Was lost after just two days.”
“Okay, true,” he said, “but you’re just helping to spread the flu by walking around like this.”
I shook my head. “I don’t get close enough to people on a daily basis to spread it,” I told him.
He then raised his eyebrows, and I realized right then that Marco was now at risk of getting this wretched flu as well.
“I-shit. If you get sick because of me, I’ll make it up to you, I swear!”
He only laughed- such a nice, comforting laugh- and said, “Don’t worry. I have a really strong immune system, so I doubt I’ll get sick.”
I wasn’t so sure about that, so I just sort of stared at him as I guzzled the rest of my water.

An uproar of laughter from behind Marco made him jump, and that was kind of cute, but then I recognized the voices at that table…
“They’re showing ‘The Conjuring’ tonight at the student theater, man, you gotta go!” someone at the table shouted. It sounded suspiciously like Connie, and Reiner was in the mix too….
I leaned over to peek around Marco at the table, and Eren was with them as well.
I slunk back into my chair and rested my chin in my palm, elbow on the table and attempting to hide my distaste for Jaeger.

“It is Halloween season, isn’t it,” Marco spoke up. “You plan on going to see any of the scary movies this month?”
I shook my head vehemently. “Oh hell no.”
“Not a fan of scary movies?” he grinned, and if I didn’t know any better, I’d have thought that he was being cheeky. But Marco was too good-natured for that, surely.

“Don’t you know?” Connie spoke up from the other table. “Jean hates scary movies! He pisses himself and screams like a little girl.”

“CONNIE!” I shouted, actually starting to get pissed off; I didn’t want Marco to know that! I don’t actually piss myself, and I scream like a grown man, thank you very much.
Connie actually left his table to come and visit ours, for better or for worse, who knows.
He suddenly seemed quite interested in Marco, so maybe for worse.
“Ah, hey!” he said to him. “So you’ve met Jean.”
I glared between the two of them, wondering what kind of conspiracy was occurring. “You two know each other?”
“No,” Connie said. “Well, sort of. We were just talking yesterday about how we’d survived the flu epidemic so far. Not all of us can count ourselves as lucky, huh?”
“Shut up,” I sighed, suppressing a sneeze and sniffling instead.
Connie turned back to Marco and said, “I don’t even know your name, man.”
“I’m Marco.”
“Alright, Marco, I’m Connie. You’re welcome to join us for ‘The Conjuring’ tonight, since Jean sure as hell won’t,” he offered.
Marco laughed, and right then, when it was Connie he was laughing for instead of me, it didn’t feel quite as warm as it had previously. It kind of pissed me off, and I just wanted Connie to leave already.
“Thanks, but I’m good. I’ve got a lot of homework to do,” he said, and I felt a bit better knowing that he’d rather do homework than go hang out with Connie and Jaeger or whoever else.

“Alright,” Connie said. “Well, if you change your mind, we’ll all be in the student theater tonight! See you guys later.” And he finally left. Marco waved, and I may have let out a tiny snort of displeasure… the memory is a bit hazy.

“Friend of yours?” he wondered.
“Sort of… he’s one of my roommates.”
He frowned. “Do you not like him?”
“Huh?” That’s a strange question… why would he think that?
“No, he’s fine,” I continued. “I mean, he has his annoying moments, yeah, and he’s tough to take seriously at times, but we get along ok… which is more than I can say for most. Why?”
“Um, nothing.” He then pulled out his phone and gasped an airy, “Oh!”
“What is it?” I asked.
“I’ve got class in 15 minutes, I’ve gotta take off.”

There was a slight sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, but I ignored the strange feeling and slid his notebook back towards him. Into his bag it went, and he slung it over his shoulder and… didn’t get up.
I frowned at him, wondering what he was thinking of now, but not actually asking him what was up this time.
He didn’t need me to ask, it seemed.

“Hey Jean?”
I perked up at the sound of my name in his mouth. “Yeah?”
“You wouldn’t mind if I asked you for your number, would you?”
Yes, of course, please take my number. “Sure.”
Yes really- be my friend please. “Yeah, why not?”
He shrugged, and then we exchanged numbers as I tried not to look too excited- I wasn’t excited to get this guy’s number, that would be weird and gay, both of which I was neither. I respected him and wanted his friendship, that was all.
When he left me alone at the table, though, I left soon after… Connie’s table was much more annoying without Marco in between.

Later that night, after having successfully caught up with my classes, I laid back on my bed, going over the events of the day.
Lunch with Marco was definitely the highlight.
Usually people didn’t interest me like Marco did. Marco was intelligent, and nice, and selfless, and his personality seemed completely opposite from mine, and yet… we got along great. Forget about the weird warm feelings and the creepy familiarity, those things aside, I really liked Marco. And…
I was probably jumping the gun here….
But I felt like I could really connect with him somehow.
We hadn’t really “connected” yet.
But I knew we could.
I felt like if anyone could somehow reach into my own plane of existence and find me, Marco could.
So there was no way in hell I was going to let such a potentially great friend go to waste.

Staring at my phone, I sighed. I had to resist the urge to send him a text right then.
I hoped I’d get another chance to talk to him soon.

The chance actually presented itself the following morning. Who’d have thought.
I’d walked into class, fifteen minutes early like usual and actually feeling pretty much recovered and full of energy, ready to take on the day for once. As soon as class started though, I swung around to look back at Marco-
But he wasn’t there.
I scanned around the room, searching desperately, wondering what in the world could have happened to him, even though I knew that if he sat anywhere other than his usual seat, he wouldn’t be counted for attendance anyway. But he just was not there.
And then it hit me.
Are you fucking kidding me…
Ignoring today’s lecture, I pulled out my phone and shot him a text.

To: Marco
tell me ur not

His reply came two minutes later exactly.

From: Marco
How are you going to make this up to me, Jean?

Of course he had perfect capitalization and grammar- it suited him so well. But more importantly…

To: Marco
“rly strong immune system” my ass

From: Marco
Yeah… this is awful. :(

I let out a deep and heavy sigh, staring guiltily at that frowny face. I knew how he felt… that flu was a bitch.

To: Marco
aw man, i am so so fucking srry. what can i do to make it up to u?

From: Marco:
Soup and a movie.

I scowled skeptically at his text. That was oddly specific…

To: Marco
soup AND a movie?

From: Marco
I’ve already got the movie right here, you just have to watch it with me. But I could really use some soup… I don’t quite feel like going out and getting it myself. :(

Ah. That made sense. And watching a movie with Marco sounded like a fucking terrific idea, I couldn’t agree to it faster.

To: Marco
i see. ur even treating me to a movie? i shuld start owing u things more often. ill bring u ur soup later tonite then. hows 7:30 sound?

From: Marco
That sounds great!
Oh… and Jean?

I tried hard to not imagine him saying my name. I tried hard and failed.

To: Marco

From: Marco
It’s a scary movie. :)

I stared at his text message for ten whole seconds, absolutely bewildered. So he was perfectly capable of being cheeky!
 Freckled Jesus!? I call bullshit!

To: Marco

From: Marco

I practically growled at the screen of my phone. But then I had to remind myself… it was inanimate.

To: Marco
dont u “hehe” me, u little shit! i aint agreeing to tht, fuck tht noise

I would love to chill with Marco and watch a movie, I really would, but I just didn’t want him to see what I was like during a scary movie and think I’m a pussy. Real simple.

From: Marco
But Jean! You owe me! I feel terrible and I could really use the company… :( Please?

To: Marco
just the soup isnt enough?

From: Marco
No. :(

Goddamnit, those frowny faces were going to be the death of me. Well… I was the one who got him sick in the first place. And I did owe him. And he was miserable…
I sighed.

To: Marco

From: Marco
Yaaaaay. See you at 7:30! I live in Sina 323. :)

What had I gotten myself into!?

To: Marco