Jean saw pieces of Marco everywhere. He saw his eyes in the golden brown sunlight of a summer afternoon. He counted freckles in the splotched marks of his white-washed ceiling at night, when the nightmares jolted him from sleep. He heard his carefree laughter drifting towards him on breezy days, but it was always too faint to hear properly. Ten years later and he still saw Marco everywhere he looked.
But it was always worse when new recruits came. They came with their youth and hope and their ideals of a better world. They came bearing golden eyes and freckles and laughter. They came to him for training, without knowing a goddamn thing about war or fear or death. They came to him, thinking that he could be their leader. Just as Marco had once thought.
"Are you alright?" Armin asked quietly, shattering his thoughts. Jean looked up at his fellow instructor in surprise. He hadn't noticed him coming up from behind him.
Jean sighed a little. Was it really that obvious? "I didn't sleep well," he answered shortly, and Armin gave him a sad, knowing smile. He had probably guessed what had been eating away at Jean's sanity for the past decade, but he was polite enough to never mention it. Jean was grateful for that.
"New recruits today, huh?" he said softly, almost as an afterthought. Jean sighed again. It was going to be a long day.
He yelled at all of the recruits in turn, personally acquainting himself with every one of them as he welcomed them with the training squad rite of passage.
"Where in the hell do you come from?" His face was inches away from the terrified girl's. She stammered a reply, a town near the outer edge of Wall Rose.
She had hair as black as his had been.
"The fuck is that supposed to be?" he roared. "You're offering your heart up to humanity, idiot. Look like you mean it!" The recruit nodded stiffly, and straightened up as he repeated his salute.
He had as many freckles as he had had, once.
"Why the fuck are you even here, you little shit?" The girl sucked in a deep breath before saluting and yelling, "I'm here to join the Military Police and serve the King!" At once the crowd of terrified teenagers began to snort and snicker amongst themselves. "Yeah, right, you mean you just want to get as far away from Them as possible," the boy next to her muttered under his breath. The girl looked indignant. "I mean it! I want to join the Military Police so that I can serve the King! That's the only reason, I swear it on my heart!" The snickering died down. Jean nodded at her absently, before moving on.
She has the same dream as he did.
"What's your name, brat?" he spat at the red-headed boy behind her. He looked shaken, but determined not to fail.
"Marco, sir! Marco Adler!" he shouted, standing tall.
That was just about all that Jean could take. He visibly blanched and clenched his shaking fingers together, his eyes wild and unseeing. The recruit gulped at him, wondering briefly why he had the terrible luck to be given the insane instructor.
"Marco, huh?" Jean breathed, not entirely sure who he was talking to, before managing to shake himself out of his shock and clearing his throat. Dammit, this was no time to lose control. He was stronger than this. He had to be stronger than this. He had to prepare these children for battle. He had to prepare these children to continue a century-long struggle. He had to prepare these children for heart-shattering loss.
A few shallow breaths later, and Jean continued to make a round amongst the remaining recruits. The world had left his Marco behind, and Jean had no choice but to move along with it.
Marco Adler turned towards his friend Lena as they dragged their feet towards the dining hall. They trailed behind the rest of the new trainees, but Marco couldn't muster up the energy to care that the food would probably run out before they even opened the door.
"Why'd we get the weirdo instructor?" he grumbled to his friend. She sighed and rolled her eyes, used to Marco's rambling complaints by now. "I mean," he continued, "Did you see the way he was looking at me? Like I was a ghost or something. And he was fucking terrifying when he was yelling at us like that! Man, that guy has issues."
"He lost someone very important to him a long time ago," said a quiet voice behind them. They both turned and yelped, before forming a hasty salute and squeaking, "Instructor Arlert!" at the same time.
Marco gulped. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to talk like that about an Instructor!" He knew that he would be in trouble now.
But instead of scolding him, the golden-haired Instructor merely smiled sadly. "Please don't blame him for yelling at you," he asked softly. "Ten years ago, the person he loved more than anyone else in the world was eaten by one of Them. He's hard on you because he wants you to be strong enough to never suffer the way that he has. He doesn't want anyone else he cares about to be killed ever again."
It was quiet in the evenings. Jean liked it like that, when he was accompanied only by the deafening silence of his own thoughts. He leaned against one of the ancient trees by the edge of the compound and collapsed onto the ground besides it.
Marco had always loved this particular tree. Jean had never been sure why, though. It stood a little apart from the rest of the forest, its branches sagged under the weight of its pitiful collection of leaves, and it was short and stunted compared to the rest of its brethren. But it was Marco's favourite tree, and therefore it was Jean's favourite as well.
At its roots Jean had planted a shallow grave to house a fragment of bone he had claimed on the awful night that they had burnt the bodies lost in the fight for Trost. He had never found out if it even belonged to Marco, but he liked to think that it did.
On top of the shallow mound lay a small bouquet of daisies. Jean had changed them that morning, but their petals were already beginning to brown. He laughed a little as he ran his fingers through his hair, although he really wasn't sure why.
"I never told you I loved you, did I?" he asked. His dead comrade offered no reply, but Jean could almost see his face in the shape of a stray cloud above him. He could almost smell him on the bark of the tree. He could almost feel his hand in his own, their lips and noses touching. He could almost count his freckles in the spattering of faint stars embossed in the indigo above.
Yes, Jean saw pieces of Marco everywhere. But he would never see him as a whole ever again.
A/N: Thank you for reading my first ever JeanMarco fic =). Please note that whilst I am up to date with the anime, I have only just started reading the manga, so there may be some continuity errors because of this. If you couldn't tell, then this fic is set in an AU where everything is the same except there are no major plot twists or developments after the battle of Trost, and Jean (and Armin) somehow become Instructors in the Training Corps. Please review, and constructive criticism is always welcome =)