Title: Turning Point
Author: Juxian Tang
Summary: A short AU branching from canon. Guts was the first one who found Griffith in the lake, the others fell behind. Oh, and the Behelit wasn't there.
Found him. Under the crimson sky bleeding into the mirror of the shallow lake, a thin ruined figure, so little reminding a living human, so much like a skeleton, or a shattered tree, a tangle of broken branches. A wreck and yet, yet… it's him, him, Griffith. His friend, his former commander. An integral part of his heart that will never die out, that will never stop hurting.
Relief floods over Guts, he drops the reins, jumps down, running, running, water splashing from under his boots. He runs like mad and yet it seems to him he's not moving at all. Or the time has stopped, dwindling, pinpointing to the small blue circles of Griffith's irises, his eyes opened widely in the slits of the helmet. His eyes are the only things Guts sees, or wants to see, because he doesn't, he won't see the lips moving in silence, all too clear articulation of them.
He won't. He flops on his knees, reaching, grabbing Griffith, even without concern that he can hurt him. Pulling him closer, to his chest. Guts' breath comes in gasps, mixed with meaningless, silly words.
"Here… here you are! What do you think you're doing? Got us all worried!"
Look at you, you're bleeding. Hurt yourself again. Guts stops before saying it. As much as he wants to deny it, he knows. Griffith didn't "hurt himself". He tried to kill himself. Guts doesn't know how he can be so sure, he'd never been one terribly perceptive, but as the tips of his fingers get wet and red in blood, he knows it without a mistake. Griffith has come here to die.
But he isn't dead, he isn't, he's still alive, so Guts is in time.
"Now, now." His arms wrap tighter around Griffith's body, all thin bones and rough bandages soaking with water. "You'll be all right, you'll be good. Caska and others will be here in no time at all, let's go back to them…"
He feels Griffith struggle. It's no more than a twitching, even a child would have had more strength, and Guts thinks he can just ignore it. But he can't. He can't turn away from the impossibly widened eyes that look scarlet reflecting the bloody sky. He can't pretend he doesn't notice a shaking hand reaching for his dagger.
"What? What are you doing? You don't need it, we're not in danger. You're safe, we'll take care of you." His own voice sounds pathetic to his ears, a voice of a liar. Guts knows what Griffith wants.
Broken fingers try to clutch on the dagger's hilt and fail. Guts looks down at the trembling body, his eyes locked on Griffith's lips that are moving soundlessly, and Guts wishes he didn't understand, couldn't read them.
It pierces him like a spear of fire, pinning him to the ground. He almost lets Griffith slip out of his arms.
He knew it. He knew it. A part of him expected this request. He just didn't want to think about it.
But, but - and it's the worst thing – he knows that he can do it. It's probably what he should do. Free Caska. Free himself. Let the rest of the Band of the Hawk forget the image of their commander broken and powerless, leave them just with the memories of him as a hero and a victor. Free Griffith.
Is that what a true friend would do? Griffith stares at him, his eyes half-insane and oozing despair. His hand wanders feebly as if not knowing what to do, then settles quietly on Guts' wrist. As if in resignation. As if trusting Guts to do the right thing.
Kill him. Kill him, put him out of his misery, let him go, let the hawk fly again. Now, quickly, while Caska and others are still not there. Even if they hate you for it. Even if deep in their hearts they approve…
The silence rings in Guts' ears, Griffith's breath the only small sound he hears. He can stop this breath, can stop the faint beating of the heart under his palm. So easily. So quickly. Mercifully.
No, his brain explodes, in pain so hot and sharp that he convulses. His arms tighten, nearly to the point of crushing the emaciated body. No. No. Griffith, it's still him, even if he is turned into a wreck of broken bones. Even if his mind is so washed by agony that there is almost nothing left but gloom.
It's still Griffith. Griffith, the brightest light that shone in Guts' life. How will Guts be able to live with this light gone? After putting out this light with his own hands?
Then, a year ago, when Guts left, he thought it was the right thing to do, it was for the best. For everyone. For Griffith, too, Griffith would understand it with time.
Look where it brought them.
Guts won't make the same mistake again.
He won't do what seems the right thing.
He won't abandon Griffith again. Even to death. Even if it's what Griffith wants.
His mind set, something must have changed in his body language, and Guts knows Griffith feels it. Slowly, Guts looks at him and says:
Griffith cries. His eyes are dry but he starts shaking, so hard Guts almost has trouble to hold him. His breath is broken, rattling in his chest, helplessly, despondently.
Hate me if you want. Hate me for walking out on you or for coming back. I'm not going to kill you.
"Don't ask me that. Ask me anything else. But not that."
Guts says it without thinking, as if something pushes him from inside – but he knows he says the truth. Even if Griffith tells him to slit his own throat, he'll do it.
Because it will hurt him less.
"I'll do anything," he repeats.
It feels like he's selling his soul to the Devil but he doesn't care.
He meets Griffith's eyes, so intent they seem to drill through Guts, right to his core, to his innermost thoughts. Griffith's lips are parted but no word is formed by them. He devours Guts' face, examines it, as if trying to read it, and even though it's just his gaze, suddenly Guts remembers Griffith's hands cupping his cheeks, on the day he joined the Band of the Hawk.
And somehow… somehow Guts knows the answer. Even before Griffith says anything. Even before the weak hand closes on the fabric of his shirt.
He knows. Anything. Could he expect that the 'anything' Griffith asks for would be less than all of him?
But Griffith keeps looking at him. Not taking, not claiming – still questioning. And even his hand that clutches on Guts' shirt – it doesn't have the strength to hold him in place. If Guts chooses so, he can push it off without any effort at all.
And that is why Guts won't do it.
He raises his hand and covers Griffith's fingers with his palm, then asks, even though knowing the possible reply:
"Shall we wait for others?"
A shake of the helmeted head. The widened eyes are still anxious, still doubting. Guts feels Griffith's hand tremble under his palm, like a bird in a cage. He presses his palm a little firmer, trying to warm this bird, to calm it down.
But Guts himself doesn't feel calm at all. Rather, there is terrible numbness spreading though him. Not pain – it's too huge to be pain. It's like his body and his mind spare him from feeling anything because if he does, it might kill him.
Caska. Caska. Her darling face, her fiery eyes, her warm closeness. They have just found each other... Caska.
How hurt she will be… he doesn't need to imagine. Hurt and betrayed. And hating him.
Will she find strength to keep living? To keep leading the Band of the Hawk.
She is strong. Guts knows it.
She will survive even if two of them disappear from her life forever.
He'll never see her.
I'm sorry. I'm sorry.
But I won't walk past him again.
Guts looks down at Griffith, trying to appear relaxed, assured. It'll take all his strength, all his confidence to drive the despair away from these frantic, distrustful eyes. But Guts will find this strength. He has to.
"Fine," he says. "It's all settled then."
It seems his hands have the life of their own, moving deftly, tearing off a strap of fabric from his shirt to cover the wound on Griffith's neck. So close, Guts can feel small, hitching breathes caught in Griffith's throat. As if his chest is still constricted with fear, as if he still doesn't trust Guts fully. Expects him to lie? To wrap his wounds and take him back to the Hawks, drop him to the hands of Judeau and others who are willing to accept the burden of taking care of a cripple? He wouldn't even be able to do anything if Guts decided to betray him.
A part of Guts' mind finds dark joy in this thought. Let him be scared for a little while longer. A small revenge for making Guts lose Caska, lose the future he could have had. But at the same time, the same thought tells him with the greatest clarity that his choice is made and it is final.
He rises on his feet feeling the distant rumble of the ground under the hundreds of horse hooves. They are coming. They will be here soon, Caska and others. Too late.
He pulls Griffith onto his feet. His weight is no more than a child's, leaning against Guts' arm. He must be in pain, panting from the effort to stand, even with a support. But his eyes never leave Guts' face, holding, clinging to it. Still checking. Still struggling to trust.
Does it answer his question, what he sees in Guts' eyes? That resentment, that anger, that loss. That sacrifice Guts has made – for his sake.
Guts tightens his arm around him, shaking Griffith, not letting him slip on the ground.
"I dislike this mask of yours," he says. "You're not wearing it anymore."
He snaps the lock open, tearing the helmet off, tossing it to the water. He feels Griffith shudder hugely against his arm. The last rays of the crescent sun fall on his mutilated face, emphasizing every horrible mark on it.
Yes. It is Griffith. His Griffith. From now on.
"Let's go," Guts says. Well, 'go' is not something Griffith can do, so Guts picks him up and carries to the cart.
The insistent motion of the bony hand makes him stop. He looks at Griffith's scarred lips moving, enunciating soundlessly.
You are mine.
The irony of it doesn't escape him. Guts chuckles and tenses his grip on Griffith's body.
"Yes. And you're mine."
The Band of the Hawk must be very close, he hears the trample of the approaching horses. But the sun is almost black, and Guts cracks the whip, sending the cart away from them, into the darkness.