He sees it before he even reaches the door, the envelope stuck to the dorm room door. Jean knows it’s for him, feels glad that he’s alone. It looks out of place, a rectangle of black against the wood grain of the door. This isn’t a place for black and he sucks in a sharp breath.
His fingers are shaking when he reaches for it, checking the hallway to make sure he’s alone. It feels heavier than it probably is in his hands, the black standing stark against the paleness of his hands, even more so when he clenches his fingers around it. He nearly drops his keys twice before he manages to slide the correct one into the lock.
The air is punching in and out of his lungs, painful and a reminder. He’s alive, he’s okay.
It doesn’t help.
Jean’s knees are shaking, threatening to buckle when he sinks down onto the couch. His name is in perfect script on the envelope in silver ink, so he guesses they couldn’t find red ink that would show up.
He should just tear it up, throw it away and pretend like he never saw it. That would be better, but he’s never really known what was better for himself. He forces his fingers to uncurl from the envelope and finds himself being surprisingly gentle when he opens the flap.
It’s not a shock when he sees the card inside is blood red. It feels thick between his fingers when he slides it out and he sucks in another harsh breath through his teeth. ‘Happy Birthday’ is written in the same script as his name on the envelope, but in black ink.
“I didn’t know it was your birthday.”
Jean jerks so hard he’s surprised he doesn’t give himself whiplash. Jeremy is staring at him with wide eyes, chewing on the side of his thumb. The end of his thumb is the only part of his hand visible from underneath the sweater sleeve.
When he looks back at the envelope, he realizes that when he jerked, he managed to slice his finger and stares down as blood wells up along the cut. Behind him, Jeremy makes a weird sound and then he’s banging around in the kitchenette.
Jeremy comes back with a few things in his hands, sleeves of the sweater pushed up to his elbows, and his tongue caught between his teeth. Jean turns his stare from his finger to Jeremy and doesn’t know how to drag it away. There’s a determined sort of look on Jeremy’s face that he’s only seen on an exy court and he feels even more off kilter than he did to start with.
He doesn’t notice that Jeremy is cleaning the cut on his finger, it’s a small hurt, insignificant in the grand scheme of hurts he’s felt over the years. He’s still focused on the look in Jeremy’s eyes, steely determination, “I haven’t celebrated my birthday since I was a kid,” he blurts.
Jeremy blinks then and hunches his shoulders in on himself, dropping the band aid he had just pulled out. “I don’t know why I’m surprised,” he says slowly, picking the bandaid up carefully, like it’s a bomb ready to off in his face. Jean’s the bomb though, not the bandaid, but he doesn’t say that. “I shouldn’t be surprised,” Jeremy adds.
Jean feels like he should say something, but nothing comes up. The bandaid has Spider-man print on it and a laugh bubbles up in his throat, comes out as more of a strangled cough.
Jeremy’s fingers wrap around his wrist loosely, tapping out a slow beat through the fabric of the sweater and Jean focuses on it, matches his breathing with it. “Would you get mad if I wanted to do something for your birthday?” He asks softly, once Jean’s breathing is even.
Eyebrows furrowed, Jean stares at Jeremy’s hand around his wrist, realizes that the reason Jeremy’s hands are disappearing into the sweater sleeves is because it’s one that was actually bought for Jean. “I don’t...” But he doesn’t know what he wants to say, pauses and licks his lips.
“It can just be you and me,” Jeremy tells him softly, eyes wide again, so blue and earnest it sort of hurts to look at him. “I want,” he pauses, like he’s not sure if he wants to continue, like maybe he’s not allowed, “I want you to start having positive memories, positive associations.”
Jean darts forward, kisses him. Or, well, he tries to, but he misses, catches the corner of Jeremy’s mouth before he shuffles back to sit, “D’accord.”
Jeremy’s eyes are so bright and Jean can’t imagine a scenario where he wouldn’t do whatever Jeremy asked him, “Vraiment . Really.”
It’s a few moments, Jeremy just smiling at him, before he nods, “Okay, okay,” he stands up, already striding towards the door, “I’m getting you a cupcake and a present!” He declares, before he seems to realize something and backtracks.
Jean can only watch in silence as Jeremy scoops up the card and envelope, has to twist in his seat to watch Jeremy tear into small pieces over the trash can.
Something settles in his chest, heavy and pleasant.
Jean is working on an essay when Jeremy comes back to the dorm. He’s got his arms full of bags and offers Jean a sunny grin when he notices he’s being watched, “Carry on whatever you’re doing,” he says, dumping the bags on the counter, “Stay over there though,” he adds.
It’s hard to focus when all he can hear is Jeremy banging around though and it only gets harder when Jeremy turns on music and starts singing along with it.
The urge to look is almost impossible to ignore, so Jean twists just enough to see Jeremy over his shoulder. Jeremy doesn’t notice, working on whatever it is he’s deemed worthy for Jean’s birthday celebration, singing and swaying with the song coming from the dock speakers.
“Do you like chocolate?” Jeremy suddenly asks, in the middle of a song, his entire body halting like it hadn’t occurred to him until just that moment that Jean might not like chocolate. It probably hadn’t, not with the way Jeremy goes through chocolate.
Jean hums, “Oui,” he responds softly, turning his gaze back to his half finished essay. There’s no way it’s going to get finished, not until Jeremy’s satisfied.
He closes his books as Jeremy starts singing again, but stays in the chair like he was told. He tries to remember the last time he celebrated his birthday. The thoughts, memories, make his eyes burn so he pushes them away, instead watches Jeremy.
Jeremy who is smiling and singing, putting together some sort of birthday celebration for Jean. Jeremy who put a Spider-man bandaid on a paper cut, Jeremy who is wearing a sweater that is two sizes too big, Jeremy who knew all the words to every song that came on and sang along with them shamelessly.
His brain catches on the fact that Jeremy is trying to give him an actual birthday. He wants to ask why, but he doesn’t want to ruin anything, doesn’t want to see the look that Jeremy gets. It’s not pity, but it’s sad and out of place on Jeremy’s face.
“Okay!” Jeremy claps his hands together suddenly, turning his pleased smile towards Jean.
Jean stands, chewing on his lower lip, wondering if it’s too late to back out of this, but Jeremy looks far too pleased with himself and Jean finds himself once again unable to deny Jeremy. He starts for the kitchen and stumbles to a stop when Jeremy starts waving his hands, “Wait! I’m coming to you!”
Jeremy comes to him slowly, practically bouncing in his excitement, “Is it okay if I cover your eyes?” He asks, stopping not even a foot away, “Just with my hands until we get to the kitchen,” he adds, wiggling his fingers in some sort of jazz hands in front of his body.
There’s something to be said about his trust in Jeremy that he doesn’t even hesitate to nod his head. He tries not to think too hard about, and it’s easy when Jeremy’s wide hands cover his eyes.
“Alright, around the couch,” Jeremy’s voice is soothing and he tries not to shudder when Jeremy’s breath ghosts over his ear. “And then to the kitchen,” and Jean actually appreciates the play by play and misses Jeremy’s hands as soon as they disappear.
There’s a cupcake, decorated in Trojan colors and a candle, a card with his name on it in Jeremy’s neat handwriting, birthday confetti all over the counter. A gift bag is also sitting there with multiple colored tissue paper sticking up out of it.
It’s a lot, by Jean’s standards anyways, and his blood is pounding in his ears.
His vision is going black around the edges and it sounds like he’s underwater and he doesn’t want it to happen. He doesn’t want Jeremy to think he doesn’t like it, doesn’t want Jeremy to get that sad look on his face, doesn’t want to be sucked into the black again, doesn’t want to feel like he’ll never be able to get enough air again.
Warm fingers curl around his, tighter than Jeremy has ever dared, but it’s grounding and slowly his vision clears up.
He licks his lips, opens his mouth only to shut it again. He isn’t sure what to say, no one has ever done something like this for him before and thank you doesn’t feel like enough. It doesn’t feel like anything is ever enough for all that Jeremy does for him.
“Happy birthday,” Jeremy sing songs from behind him, soft, like he was trying not to startle Jean out of whatever thoughts he was caught up in.
He’s trying to remember home, not the endless sea of black, but before that. Marseilles. Water, sun, warmth. It’s obscure memories that he isn’t sure are actually his.
Something occurs to him then, that this is what he considers home. This tiny dorm with Jeremy.
Jeremy and his stupidly blue eyes. Jeremy and his bright smiles. Jeremy and his wide calloused hands.
His chest hurts.
He blinks before clearing his throat, “It’s great, Jeremy,” he says softly, staring at the Trojan cupcake and hoping that his voice doesn’t sounds as thick with emotion as he thinks it is.
Jeremy makes a weird sound behind him, “It was a stupid idea,” he blurts, trying to steer Jean away from the counter and Jean blinks at him before gently curling his fingers around Jeremy’s wrists, stopping his movements.
“It’s not stupid,” he speaks slowly, trying to put together what it is he wants to say, “No one has ever done something like this for me,” he adds, eyebrows drawing together. He isn’t sure how to convey what he wants to Jeremy, can’t find the words to string together.
His expression is still a little skeptical but Jeremy nods nonetheless and lets Jean turn back to the counter. He picks up the cupcake first, at the swirl of red and gold icing before he carefully peels the paper off. It looks good, but it doesn’t stop him from pressing it to the end of Jeremy’s nose to get the look off of his face.
The surprised look on Jeremy’s face is totally worth losing his favorite part of the cupcake and he smirks to himself as he takes a bite. Jeremy is still just staring at him, completely baffled, by the time he swallows his bite that he tilts his head and says, “You’ve got a little something on your nose.”
Jeremy laughs then, loud and bright, and Jean hides his smile by finishing the cupcake.