Title: What Must Be
Summary: At the end of it all, Guts is 'killed' by Femto, but unexpectedly awakens among his companions from the Band of the Hawk. He wishes that his memories of the Godhand were merely a dream, but the Brand of Sacrifice remains.
Rating: PG-13 or T (It may move up to M in the future; it is Berserk, after all.)
Warnings: Minor violence, gore and language. Little or no suggestive or sexual content.
Author Notes: Another plot bunny that was gnawing on my brain. I was getting frustrated from the lack of lengthy, worthy Berserk fanfiction to be found (There is some, don't get me wrong, but it's hard to get to. Try the profile of Hott on ff . net if you're interested.) I was also thoroughly depressed by the dark turns taken by the manga (this is mostly manga-verse, FYI). Face facts, I like Guts and Griffith and the rest of the Hawks, and I wondered how things might have turned out differently. Here's my take.
Don't worry, this won't be a play-by-play of the original storyline. This will take its own twists and turns, so if you enjoyed the Golden Years of the Band of the Hawk, you'll love this.
When You Must Die
He had thought that dying would hurt more. Living had certainly hurt like a bitch, so wouldn't dying be even worse?
Ironically enough, all that he felt was cold. Cold, and an odd sort of pressure below his sternum where the clawed hand of Femto-once-Griffith had taken a leisurely sort of residence. The multitudes of cuts and bruises that he was certain covered the majority of his skin had fallen into a kind of stunned silence, and numbness was quickly shuffling them to one side, giving itself more room to lounge around within his body and watch the remainder of his life play out as it would. Even the searing agony of the Brand of Sacrifice was muted, though the blood still flowed from it in a steady, unending stream.
His forehead was resting against the demon's icy armor. Was it even armor anymore? What he had spent the longest time thinking of as a 'creepy, demony cloak' was actually closer in comparison to 'creepy, demony wings'… bone and muscle and flesh, after all. Who was he to say?
He found enough energy to smirk, though without being able to see from his right eye, he was left at a loss as to whether the demon was actually looking his way. "You aimed… a li-little too low…"
Won't die unless y' pierce my heart or cut off my head, Femto. Same 's you. Din'tcha know that?
And what was left but to die?
His sword, which he had begun to think truly 'unbreakable', was shattered rather spectacularly over the multiple twisted staircases of the strange, alternate dimension that hosted the Godhand.
His arm, the metal arm that had seen him through so many battles, lay crumpled and useless behind him somewhere.
His daggers were spent, his arrows broken, his blood painted along the stones in alarmingly expansive patterns.
And Puck… was…
Stupid elf… Stupid little bug. How many times had Guts told him to keep away? Ordered, threatened, suggested… Stupid, stupid little elf…
Abruptly, the fingers housed so snugly within his gut twisted, and Guts discovered that numbness was slacking off on the job quite a bit more than he would have liked. His breathing hitched… Femto-once-Griffith was exploring Guts' guts. His dark sense of humor, as starved and atrophied as it was, found the dark irony appealing.
"A-anythin'… int-interestin' in… in there?"
"You should have died." The voice, Griffith's voice but more guttural and sibilant, rumbled past his ear, vibrating through his skull from his contact with the demon's shoulder. He realized that he was only upright due to the demon's rocklike solidity against him.
Guts sneered, the expression showing as little more than a twitch, but he was still blind to the expression of the demon whose face was mere inches away. "Y-you'll hafta'… sp-specify…"
Died? When? At birth, during training with Gambino, alone in the wars of men… on Griffith's sword, Caska's perhaps… from the Battle of a Hundred Men? From being hounded across the earth by all of demonkind? There're so many to choose from…
"You were supposed to die. The eclipse was supposed to end it all."
…but it was only the beginning, wasn't it?
"Sh-shoulda' t-told me… at the… at the start…" His mouth was coated in blood, and it was getting harder to breathe. "Saved… some trouble…"
Moist warmth brushed his neck, and an arm that seemed more made of metal than muscle coiled around his shoulders, pressing him against the demon. The warmth came again, and he wondered how he must look with a member of the Godhand literally breathing down his neck.
"I was supposed to choose where you would die. You were supposed to die!"
The last word was nearly a snarl, and the fingers twisted again in ill-contained rage. Guts actually found himself wishing that the demon would get on with the killing part instead of exploring his intestines tactilely.
And then the voice changed… not so guttural, not so sibilant, and there was a hint of cultured overtones that Guts had not heard in years…
"…none of this was supposed to happen…"
The man known now as the Black Swordsman jerked violently within the cage of the demon's arms, trying to turn his head, trying to see, but the shoulder before him still bore that odd, fleshy armor, and that hand was still in his stomach, and he could not move…!
"I will still choose where you die…"
And then the mark upon his neck was burning, searing, charring his flesh and taking away thought even as those fingers jerked violently upward, into his ribcage, past his lungs, and his heart…
…leaving Guts to fall deeper into a sea of fire that burned black with shadows.
"…and you will not die here…"
"…won't let you! Stubborn bastard, breathe, damn you!"
Cold and pain… His faithful companions had found him again. Icy chills ran their fingers over his face and down his neck, over his chest and stomach except for one area which was warm if not hot at the center of his chest, and that was where pain had settled itself comfortably, jabbing him with sadistic glee and annoying regularity.
"Don't you dare do this, don't you dare! You have any idea what the others will do to me if you die?"
Something covered his mouth, warm and wet, and air forced its way down his throat, and the pain eased for a short moment.
Funny that he could hear nothing beyond that one voice…
And then there was something pounding on his chest, and the pain began again, and the voice grew louder even as something in his chest hitched…
Sound came slamming back. Horses whinnying and hooves stomping hard ground, the metallic jingles of horse tack and armor and weapons, and men were shouting all around, wind rushing, and his own breath gurgled in the back of his throat while his heart surged into a loud, belligerent pounding in his ears.
A cry of relief, and someone was turning him over, allowing him to cough up the metallic blood that threatened to choke him, and he dragged burning draughts of icy air into his lungs before coughing it out again a mere moment later, realizing all at once that his neck still burned with a fading pain, but his stomach merely ached, and where was Femto…?
His hand curled, clenching around a fistful of dry grass and cold soil, and he squinted open his eye, but there were only blurs and movement, and he was lying on his left side with his eye nearly pressed against the ground anyway so what was the use? Something firm and warm was on his shoulder, holding him on his side as he gagged up more of his own blood.
"Cri-i-ipes!" Something shifted in front of him, the vague outline of a human being, and light glinted off silver armor and yellow hair, and… didn't he know that voice? "Don't do stuff like that. I nearly had heart failure!"
More voices, crowded close around him, each one crying a different thing, but the word captain stood out above all, and the pit of his stomach twisted as his thoughts lurched, and as he twisted his head —much to the displeasure of his skull and the majority of his body— his eye blinked and focused uncertainly upon a tanned face, a lopsided, worried smile, and a freckle-dotted nose that he knew only too well.
He spat out more blood, his throat burning, as he forced a pained "… what…?" out of his uncooperative vocal cords.
You're dead. How can I see you if you're dead?
But if Judeau was dead, that meant he was a spirit. A spirit had no body, so why could Guts feel the young man's hand resting so solidly against his shoulder?
… Am I dead, too?
His right hand uncurled from around its fistful of dirt and dead leaves and moved to press against his stomach. Aches and pains followed the movement, as well as the discovery of several notable cuts and scrapes that he had not noticed, but there was no sign that…
…that he had been so horribly wounded.
Death isn't supposed to still hurt like this.
"Captain?" Another ghost from his past leaned forward, on one knee behind Judeau and seeming so much larger when beside the slender scout, and Guts wondered if he was going mad.
Gaston… And behind the second-in-command of the Hawks' Raiders were more: Tils and Beddyr and Morrigan and Leil and so many others that had faded in his mind but never truly disappeared. All were watching him with varying degrees of anxiety blended with relief.
Then his eye focused closer, upon the hand that was resting palm-up on the ground in front of his face. Surely he was not lying on top of a corpse… it had happened before, certainly, but he could feel nothing beneath him to suggest a body, and the hand twitched with life, it's fingers half-curling.
And Guts could feel it happen.
How many years had it been since he had felt anything but phantom pains from where his left arm should be?
The Eclipse… and the sacrifice…
He was looking at his hand out of two eyes.
It didn't happen? Griffith…he hasn't…
The hand upon his shoulder shook him slightly. "Guts?" Concern had reinserted itself in Judeau's voice, his query echoed by a worried 'Captain Guts, sir?' from Gaston. "Guts, are you okay?"
It wasn't real.
He pressed his hand against the chilled earth and rolled himself slightly to get both of his arms beneath himself. The hand on his shoulder vanished. His skin was streaked with blood and dirt, small cuts decorating his arms, but that was something he was accustomed to seeing, especially when surrounded by mounted, armored men on what he greatly suspected was a battlefield.
His brains moaned unhappily at him for the movement, as did most of his body, especially his stomach, but he squinted… Been through worse in training practice… and forced his muscles to obey until he was kneeling, braced with one hand, and could see his breastplate and sword and cloak lying to one side. A chestnut horse that he remembered as his own, larger than many around it and without a rider, stood nearby, its reins held securely by one of the mounted men. They all now seemed alien and unfamiliar after…
…after so many years…
…after the nightmare, hallucination, or what-have-you.
He started to shake his head to clear his muddled mind but gave up after an aborted twitch resulted in the ground beneath him tilting alarmingly. Something trickled over his lip and down his chin, and he raised his free hand to wipe away what he knew was even more blood.
He raised his eyes to meet those of Judeau and Gaston, then to scan the horsemen ringing them who were dividing their attention between keeping guard –My Raiders—and watching the tableau unfolding between the three men on the ground.
"What happened?" His voice was still scratchy and guttural, and damned if he knew why.
"I don't know, sir." Gaston still looked as though he expected his commander to fall flat on his face once more… and Guts was unhappy, to say the least, when he admitted to himself that that might not be very far from the truth. He felt as though his blood was on fire. "You were leading the Raiders in the charge alongside Captain Judeau's Scouts, and you were fightin' same as always, but then you… I don't know, sir, you just fell."
Guts blinked. "I fell."
Judeau was scanning Guts from head to toe. "It was close. Your men did fantastically, holding off the other army until the enemy was driven away. Are you injured?" He smiled abruptly. "More so than the usual, I mean."
Guts felt some of his old humor creep back warily, like a cat entering a kennel of hounds. "The 'usual' would mean at least one near-fatal wound, Judeau, if not two or three."
Judeau's smile widened, but then his eyes focused on something to one side of Guts' face, and his mouth scrunched in a frown. "Something nicked you pretty badly. You're bleeding everywhere. Sure it didn't hit something you need?"
Guts was so accustomed to his clothes being wet with blood that he had not noticed that nearly the entire right side of his tunic was stained black-red with the liquid. He used his right hand to trail the wetness past his collarbone and up the side of his neck.
Blood drained from his face with dizzying swiftness, and it felt as though his stomach had vanished, leaving a void beneath his ribs. The world tilted again, and the fingers of his left hand dug furrows into the earth as he struggled to not be thrown off.
Beneath the calloused pads of his fingers, seared into the flesh of his neck was the hated character of the Brand of Sacrifice, a nightmare in and of itself that was only too real.
The burning ache of the brand ignited beneath his touch, and the fire in his blood grew to an inferno that blotted out all else. He felt his throat burn as bile rose, and he hunched over as he retched until he thought that he would turn inside out. He barely heard the alarmed cries of the men around him, barely felt that hand touch his shoulder once more as one word echoed again and again through his mind.
To Be Continued…
A/N: If you didn't know, Puck is a small faerie (called an 'elf' in the manga) that joins up with Guts during the swordsman's journeysand battlesagainst the Godhand. Puck is one of my most favorites characters, so look him up. You won't be disappointed!
This would be a Time? What Time? story (or maybe Universe? What Universe?). I don't know how either the anime or manga ends, so the thing about Guts' (and Puck's) death is purely my psychotic mind at work.
Hope you enjoyed!