Guts didn’t dream often. In order to dream, you need to sleep, an activity that cowered from him and only approached to bite when his vulnerable flesh couldn’t bear the weight of consciousness any longer. Even then, his sleep was dead, his soul too buried in a deep, mawing void to transmit a dream’s inspiration to his mind. When he closed his eyes, it was usually a simulation of nonexistence rather than an altered one, rather than one that played around with truth and reality so freely to pose something that has passed or was new. This fact would’ve been met with apathy, probably not even noticed, had it not been for the way he dreamed after the Eclipse.
The beginning was not extraordinary or unexpected: the raw aftermath of Griffith’s betrayal and the Band of the Hawk’s ritualistic slaughter made Guts’ dream theater a broken record of that fateful hellscape, making him relive it again and again and again. It gave him an opportunity to notice more subtle details of the carnage, the way body parts floated like driftwood in the red sea, the anatomy of a mouth overabundant with razor-sharp teeth, the exact shade of Griffith’s lips, reminiscent of rotten plums. He would wake up sweating and full of hate, and as he gradually got used to it, his heart would not pound but it would boil even hotter.
He couldn’t pinpoint why or when this changed, but more and more he had been cursed with scenes from before. Not memories, but new scenes that fit so well into the established narrative Guts may as well have mistaken them as such. A balance of domesticity and war, of stories told around the fire and mercenary underdogs forcing their way to victory, of Casca, so devoted and strong. And inevitably, tortuously, of Griffith, who would shine with so much otherworldly brightness that sometimes Guts could see him more vividly than ever before and sometimes he was blinded. Griffith would gravitate towards him - whose pull it was he wasn’t sure - becoming the dominating subject, sitting closer and touching more freely than Guts remembered the real him did. He didn’t know if that was because of his own wishes or his subconscious remembering something he didn’t and he really didn’t want to know. He also didn’t want to know what dream-Griffith would tell him, could only watch the soundless dancing of his mouth like he did when Griffith’s tongue was cut off. When he woke up from these dreams, he tried to forget them enough to stop the wetness in his eyes from building but not enough that he would forget why he was so angry in the first place.
He tried not to think about his dreams often. It was pointless after all: he already knew all that he had lost, he didn’t need to be reminded of it when he was bound by biological necessity. All he could do was keep going forward, keep killing apostoles. After he defeated a particularly gruesome one whose blood burned a crater into the earth from where he had beheaded it, he collapsed against a tree to finally sleep.
He recognized immediately that he was dreaming, finding that he possessed a lucidity he normally doesn’t. He was in a magnificent garden, so lush and vibrant and alive that it seemed impossible, especially given the sights his eyes were usually assaulted with. The combined scents of all the flowers - snapdragons, hydrangeas, bleeding hearts - created something strong yet indistinct. The sky above was black and starless, the garden illuminated by glowing orbs that hummed softly, lining a cobblestone path going some place deep that Guts couldn’t see. The idea of going down it both drawed and repelled him, but standing in place made him restless, the beauty unnerving him for reasons he couldn’t explain, so he started walking. He then realized he didn’t even have his sword, so he clenched his fists and squared his shoulders, eyes scanning the garden for signs of danger. The path had revealed itself to be a spiral going towards some destination in the middle, anticipation and dread building the closer he got. Guts didn’t understand this place; it was a contradictory mixture of hyperrealistic and phantasmagoric, comforting and disquieting, moving him in a way that confused him. It was just a dream, but it affected him like it was real.
When he had reached the center, he was greeted with a stone fountain and the sound of running water. Sitting on the edge was Griffith, looking down at his foot absentmindedly scraping against the stone, white-blonde curls obscuring his face and eyes. He looked up quickly the moment Guts entered the courtyard, smiling in the ambiguous way he often did when he wasn’t being transparent but not making an overt effort to conceal that fact. He wanted to want to attack him, but exercising his rage and vengeance was difficult when Griffith was sitting there so casually, looking exactly as he was before. They stared at each other for a while, neither moving closer.
“You don’t seem surprised to see me,” Griffith finally said.
The only thing Guts was surprised about was that he could hear what Griffith was saying rather than it being silent like it was in his other dreams, something he wasn’t pleased with. Griffith, again, sounded exactly like he was before, and Guts thought there was something fundamentally twisted about that.
He entertained not answering, but scoffed and said, “Why would I be surprised?”
Griffith shrugged his shoulders lightly. “Have you ever dreamed of me before?”
Guts’ instinct was to lie, to not want to give him even a hint of vulnerability, but then he remembered this wasn’t even real. Still, he wasn’t inclined to have pleasant conversation with even a fake version of the man that ruined everything he had gifted.
“Does it matter?”
Griffith considered this for a moment. “I suppose not.”
He got up, going towards the plants and placing one of his fingers in one that had leaves that looked like an open mouth. Guts watched as the leaves seemed to respond to the contact, closing around the finger with a gentle snap. He freed his finger easily, waited for it to open up, and then did it again.
“What do you think of this garden?” he asked, not looking up from the plant.
“It’s fucking creepy, I hate it.”
Griffith laughed lightly, looking up at him. “I’ve always been fascinated by the way your reactions to things are so diametrically opposed to the average man’s. Most would find a place such as this wondrous.”
“Yeah, well, there’s definitely something wrong with it, especially considering you’re here,” Guts responded.
Griffith stopped smiling at that, his lips forming the faintest of frowns. Guts clenched his fists and unclenched them to expend some of his nervous energy. The longer he stood here the worse he felt, a sense of claustrophobia setting in. His eyes shifted towards the exit only to realize it had disappeared and been replaced with more plants, trapping him. He shifted his eyes back to Griffith, who now looked mocking.
"Thinking of leaving so soon?” he asked, tone devoid of emotion. He took a small step forward and Guts took a large step back.
“Obviously!” Guts said, his frustration coloring his tone. “You’re not real and yet you’re still managing to piss me off.”
“I am real.”
The way he said that - so matter-a-fact and authoritative, like he would in the past when talking about accomplishing his dream - made Guts’ adrenaline start pumping. Suddenly the exit disappearing and his arriving without his sword seemed not like some instance of the unpredictable nature of the dreamscape, but purposeful. His eyes narrowed in suspicion at Griffith, who now seemed less like an illusion and more like a target. Still, Guts knew this was just a dream, that this Griffith could say whatever he wanted without making it true. That didn’t help him relax.
Griffith must’ve noticed his change in body language, as he held up his hands. “I’m not here to fight. Surely I wouldn’t go about it this way if I wanted you harmed or dead?”
“You can’t do shit anyway because this is a dream,” Guts said, and yet his eyes unwittingly scanned his surroundings for something to use as a weapon. He found nothing.
“I know you’re perceptive enough to recognize this is unlike any dream you’ve had before. How do you know what principles govern it?”
This comment unnerved Guts further. It was one thing for him to know this was a dream, another for someone in it to not only also know that but show insight into his own experience of it. He knew Griffith was a god now - or something close to it - but the idea that this was actually the real being standing in front of him and he can now invade people’s sleep and was deciding to invade Guts’ sleep in particular was not one he wanted to consider. He almost wanted to laugh at himself for thinking that; when had life ever cared about what he wanted?
“That’s a pretty threatening thing to say for someone that is apparently not trying to be threatening,” Guts pointed out, partially trying to buy himself some time to wrap his head around the situation, partially because, if this was really Griffith, he needed to figure out why he was here.
“It’s not a threat, I’m merely pushing you towards the conclusion you must come to,” Griffith said.
Guts gritted his teeth, threshold for the situation being rapidly approached. Talking and spending time with the old Griffith in his dreams was one thing, but doing the same with a Griffith who claimed to be the new one - and, admittedly, had a twisted combination of characteristics that felt familiar and foreign, proof of mutilation - made him want to scream. He wanted to start clawing his way through the plant wall behind him, or maybe test the old wives tale he heard that if you die in a dream you wake up by repeatedly smashing his head against the ground, but he had this inexplicable sense that neither would work here, that he had to deal with this, that this was all up to Griffith.
It was that thought that pushed him over the black rock shelf into the raging sea below: Griffith, again, armored with inaccessible power and fate, while it did everything it could to put Guts at its mercy.
He barrelled forward, vaguely registering the folly of a fist-fight against a supposed god in a dream, but feeling like he had to do something, anything. Griffith reached towards his side, unsheathing his sword. Before Guts could even swing his fists, he felt it plunge through his torso and out his back at an inhuman speed, the force of it making him stumble backwards. Griffith held it there for a moment, staring up at Guts with an intent questioning he wasn’t sure what to make of, before pulling the sword out cleanly. Blood oozed out of it immediately, much more blood than it would’ve if this were the waking reality. There was so much blood it was starting to stain the cobblestone beneath him red. Guts started to feel faint. He held onto the plant wall for support, refusing to fall but not being able to do much else.
“Not here to fight, huh?” he sneered, slurred.
Griffith sighed at him like you would a petulant, unreasonable child. “You pushed me to do that. You only relent when it’s not possible for you to be relentless anymore.”
He went back to where he was before to rip the plant at one of the stems and came back to where Guts stood. His face was neutral, but by the way his eyes darted down to Guts’ hand, then back up to his face, then to his torso, at the blood, standing and examining, there seemed to be some deliberation. Finally, he held it out for Guts to take, holding it at the edge of his fingertips.
Guts looked at it like it would eat him and then lick his bones, causing Griffith’s lips to quirk slightly. He moved it a little closer, more insistent.
“It’s just a plant.”
“There’s no way it’s just a plant.”
“It’s only something for you to take from this world to the next.”
Guts frowned. “Meaning I’ll wake up with it?”
Griffith nodded. Guts could feel himself fading further, now coughing up blood. He realized what Griffith was offering - evidence, proof - and he knew he needed that. He needed to know if sleep was now less safe, Griffith now more inexplicable, the entire life circumstance he had been forced into something more mentally and emotionally exhausting than it was before. Still, he didn’t want to take anything from him, real or fake. Guts didn’t move.
Griffith sighed again. “Please think about this logically. If it’s just a normal dream, taking it is inconsequential. If it’s not and I’m real, then you’re going to want to know for yourself anyway. I promise you, it’ll bring you no harm.”
While the mistrust was profound, there was a small part of himself that was instinctually persuaded by Griffith’s promise. He also did have a point, as much as Guts hated to admit it. Even if taking it did harm him, if there was a chance it would give him an answer he could hold on to, he needed to.
Guts reached out, snatching the plant out of Griffith’s hand. He almost expected it to root into his skin like a parasite, but it did nothing. He still eyed it suspiciously.
Griffith opened his mouth to speak, but Guts jerked his other hand up to stop him. “Shut up. If I’m stuck here until I wake up at least let me not have to listen to you.”
“I’m going to come back so you'll have to listen to me regardless.”
“...Alright, but I have no reason to listen to you if you’re not actually real, now do I?”
Griffith nodded thoughtfully. “Fair. We’re done for today, then.”
Guts paused. “What do you -”
He opened his eyes to a vividly red sunset. There was so little transition between his dream and reality that it felt one of the same, images separated only by a blink, compounding and continuing the surreal sensation that permeated the dream. He felt it in his hand before he saw it, and taking a deep breath, lifted it up to eye level. The plant Griffith had given him was right there, looking and feeling exactly the same. All of the implications of that hit him like methodical strikes of a sword during a duel: Griffith could enter dreams. Griffith decided to enter his dreams. Griffith planned to do it again.
Griffith wanted something from him.
He didn’t even think Griffith could want anything from him again. Maybe it didn’t mean what he thought it might; he couldn’t assume it meant what he thought it might. And even if it did, how was he supposed to respond to that? Disgust? Rage? Hope? He couldn’t help but think of them from before, smiling at each other before battle, spending time together after, getting closer and closer to Griffith’s dream. Leaving had been a mistake saturated with tragic irony and he couldn’t help wanting to go back there.
He wanted to go right back to sleep to confront Griffith, to see what he wanted, but he was far too restless to even think about staying still now. He noticed that he felt more well-rested than usual, his body less sore, and he didn’t know what to make of that. He closed his fist to crush the plant but stopped at the last moment. Sighing, he tucked it away, getting up slowly.
If he could do nothing else, he could fight. He needed to.