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[personal profile] quietlyendless
Series: they were unfortunate lovers
Part: 01, 02
Chapter: 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06

------

Jean stops breathing.

His whole body goes cold, his lungs frozen, his mind a mesh of static. There's a name dancing on the tip of his tongue, a hundred emotions swirling in his chest, and he wants, he wants, he wants--

"Marco?" someone whispers, disbelieving.

His heart thuds loudly in his chest. A hand grips his arm, bruising tight; when he turns, Armin is looking up at him, blue eyes wide and terrified.

Jean wrenches his arm free, scrambles for his blades. He shoots a hook into the next tree, and is already bouncing off the balls of his feet, soaring in the air when someone slams into him. The two of them crash into a branch, Reiner's knee digging into his stomach painfully.

He pushes at the blonde. "Get off me!"

"Jean, calm down!"

"Fuck you, Reiner! Get off!"

"Jean." Armin's voice is calm, cuts through the white haze in Jean's mind. "You need to calm down."

"No!" Jean gasps, nails digging into bark. "I need--he's--I have to--"

Apologise? A little late for that, Kirschstein.

"Just. Stay put for a minute, okay? We need to figure this out."

When Jean sits up, the three of them are staring at him.

"What's going on?" she says. "Is he one of ours?"

He's mine, comes the thought, vicious. Unbidden.

The giant creature hasn't moved since it first crawled out of the ground, but Marco's looking straight at them. Jean can see his smile, the curl of his lips, his one visible eye yellow-bright. His lips move, and even from this far away, Jean hears,

"Come here."

Jean shivers, tightens his grip on his blades.

"Armin, that can't be Marco."

"It's him," Jean whispers.

Armin glances at him. "Maybe we should try talking with him."

"What if it's working for the--the monsters? What if he's responsible for all these attacks?"

Jean rounds on him, feeling the blood rushing through his veins. "What did you say?"

There's enough heat in his words to make Reiner take a few steps back, his hands coming up in front of him. "Jean, I'm just--"

"How could you say that? It? He's Marco."

"We don't know that, Jean," Armin says quietly. When Jean turns to him, Armin meets his gaze calmly, unflinching. "Do we?"

"What do you mean you don't know? He's standing right there," he snaps, throwing an arm out with that last word. (He doesn't dare turn though, doesn't dare look. Not yet)

"Why is he with that shadow titan?" Armin asks, keeping his chin tilted down. "And those creatures? If he's not on their side, why aren't they attacking him?"

"I don't," he starts, shaking his head. "I don't know."

Oh, you know, Kirschstein. You know.

"Well, let's ask him then."

Jean turns to her. "What?"

"Like you said, he's standing right there. Hasn't even tried to attack us yet." She shrugs. "Might as well ask him, if you're not sure."

"Of course, I'm sure--"

"I think Sheila's right," Armin interjects smoothly. "There's no harm in asking."

Jean watches as Armin moves past them, blades drawn at his side, but lowered, every step he takes as sure as Jean's own heart is thundering in his chest. Armin pauses at the edge of the branch they're standing on, raises his head in challenge.

From his perch on the titan's shoulder, Marco smiles, sweet as ever.

Armin clears his throat, yells, "Are you really Marco?"

"I think so," he answers pleasantly. "Probably."

His shoulders go rigid. "You 'think?' You don't know?"

"Well, I'm pretty sure I'm Marco, but I'm not. Or rather, it doesn't seem right to call myself Marco." His expression scrunches up in thought, his shoulders rolling in a shrug. "Maybe it's a side effect of dying."

The words hit Jean like a punch in the gut, has him staggering where he stands. He puts an arm out, against a tree trunk, and sags against it. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Armin looking back to him, sees movement where Reiner takes a half-step towards him, but all he can hear is the stranger's voice, the clatter of die rolling on a wooden table, Marco's light tone, belying the weight of his words; dying dying dying

"No," he whispers, so quietly he can barely hear himself.

Well, what did you expect?

"--ever find my body?" Marco is asking.

"Well, no," Armin hesitates.

"But if you were alive this entire time, why didn't you come back?" Reiner demands. "What happened? Why are you with--what are those...things?"

"I didn't come back because I couldn't," Marco replies, folding his hands behind his back, his expression serene. "Because Jean made sure I couldn't."

Silence, long and tense.

"What in the world is going on?" Sheila asks.

"Jean," Reiner starts, "what the hell is he talking about?"

He meets each of their gazes in turn, their varying expressions of confusion, shock, horror. Finally, with the weight of a thousand failures in his lungs, he looks up, to where Marco is waiting, his one yellow eye fixed on him, burning him to the core.

"Tell them Jean," comes Marco's request, cutting through the quiet. "Tell them about how you sold my heart."

Jean's mouth goes dry. When he swallows, he tastes bile.

Tell them.

"I tried to save you," he whispers. "but it always ended the same way, and I just." Suddenly it's too much. The weight in his chest, born from the guilt of a thousand failures and the pain of love lost over and over--all of it comes pouring out, coating his words desperate. "Marco, I couldn't save you. I tried so hard but nothing I did ever made a difference. And when that guy said there was another option--he said you wouldn't come back the same, but some part of you would live on. That was better than letting you die. I couldn't do it, Marco. I couldn't watch you die again."

"I was still alive," Marco murmurs. "I was still breathing."

"I had no other choice. I tried so hard to save you, Marco, but it always ended the same way and I just. I couldn't do it anymore. Please," he pleads.

"You abandoned me," he hisses.

As if given a silent cue, the giant monster rears back, massive hands coming up to claw at the air. The world shakes around them, bone-rattling vibrations that hurt his teeth, and the atmosphere is suddenly oppresssing, suffocating. Jean stumbles, falls to his knees. When he looks up, the monster charges.

"Get out of the way!" Reiner yells.

The sound of coils snapping, metal digging into wood, and Jean is sailing in an arc through the air, as the monster surges underneath him. He lands on the next branch, staggers, his mind buzzing with noise. When he turns back to face the titan, he's just in time to see it swipe a tree in half, sending the massive tree crashing into the ground. Armin tumbles into the air, flees with a hair's breadth from the monster's claw.

"Fall back!" Armin yells. "We need distance! Now!"

Jean hesitates, casts a sweeping look over the area.

Marco is gone.

Always one step behind, Kirschstein. Always one step too late.

"There's no time," Reiner yells.

"We can't fight that thing!"

"We can't run either," the girl says. "It'll just come after us!"

It's time, Kirschstein.

His legs are too heavy, his fingers have gone numb, and he can barely feel the handles of his blades. The skin of his chest feels too tight, strained over his ribs until every breath is harder than the last, until it's too much.

"Jean!" Armin yells, a faint, distant sound.

A weight slams into him, and just like that, the world is thrown into motion once more, a blur of green and brown and black. The air is so cold, so very cold.

"Come on, snap out of it!"

Jean cranes his neck, catches the puff of blonde, the curve of an arm wrapped around his abdomen.

Time to pay time to pay

He closes his eyes, grits his teeth. "Put me down."

"In a minute, Jean," Reiner snaps back, not slowing for even a second.

Something screams, a soundless screech tearing through his skin, digging into his bones. The air is cold cold cold, and this must be what death feels like, this must be the agony Marco had gone through, when Jean fed him to the demons.

More yelling, and the sound of bark ripping apart. Reiner swears as they jolt to a stop mid-air, the straps cutting into Jean's skin. When he opens his eyes, there is a giant, pulsing mass of darkness in front of him; when he looks up, twin yellow orbs stare back. Movement in the corner of his eyes,

And then the world goes dark.

--------

Bonus: an addition from a friend, who occasionally read over my shoulder (sort of) as I wrote this:-

Goodbye world.

They got up and got hot chocolate. Orange flavoured. So yum.
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