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My Beating Heart

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When you fall like a statue
I'm gon' be there to catch you
Put you on your feet, you on your feet
And if your well is empty
Not a thing will prevent me
Tell me what you need, what do you need

I surrender honestly
You've always done the same for me

So I would do it for you

-Phillip Phillips, (Gone, Gone, Gone)


 

There aren’t really any good opening statements for this story.
No riveting first words, no “attention-grabbers”…
But it’s still an important story to me. It’s essential to every piece of me that I am today. This is the story of how my life quickly became so helplessly entwined with the life of the closest friend I‘ve ever had.
And this may sound ridiculous…
But this is the story of how I offered up my beating heart to Jean Kirschtein.




                I can’t say the beginning was really that spectacular, either. I was just a freshman in college at Trost University, barely able to find my way from class to class. I didn’t know anyone. That’s right- I knew absolutely no one. I didn’t even have a roommate- the one I’d been assigned had transferred to a different dorm on move-in day.

So there I was, dawdling along with a campus map in one hand, my class schedule in the other, and my eyes were trained on the map when something hard slammed into my shoulder, spinning me around.
“Shit!” he hissed, and I found myself staring at a thin, tan-haired young man, a venomous scowl sliding acidly across his features as he stared back at me. “Watch it!” he grumbled, rubbing his shoulder with his free hand; the other held a steaming Starbucks cup. The guy looked as though he wasn’t someone you wanted to mess with prior to him getting his caffeine (this later proved true), and I’m not the kind of person to instigate a fight, so I backed away and squeaked out an apology. I may have been a few inches taller than him, but I was pretty sure he could take me on regardless.

He mumbled a “whatever” and went on his way, and that was that. I made sure to be more careful and pay attention to where I was going from then on.

                The rest of that week went on without a hitch. And by “without a hitch”, I mean aside from the usual college freshman problems. I struggled to find my way to my classes, and even showed up late to some. I still hadn’t been assigned a roommate, and to be honest, unless someone who had been assigned a different building decided to transfer to Sina, I wouldn’t get one. Most other people would kill to have their own room to themselves and no roommate to share it with, but for me, it was pretty lonely. It meant that I had the whole flat screen TV that my parents had bought and mounted on my wall to myself. Which wasn’t so bad I guess… but still lonely. And whenever I went out to eat, it was on my own. I felt incredibly homesick around mealtimes. But other than that, things went along smoothly. 

It wasn’t until the next Monday, exactly one week from the coffee guy incident, that I noticed…
The thin, tan-haired young man with the coffee? He was in my astronomy class.

During a brief pause in the lecture, I had taken the opportunity to look up from my notes and glance around the lecture hall… and there he was. One row in front of me, two seats to the left. I found myself transfixed by him, my wandering eyes settling comfortably on the form of his bony shoulders, a thin gray jacket hanging off of them. My gaze slid over the side of his face that was visible from that particular angle, and I found myself admiring his jagged features. He had a strong, sharp jaw, and his nose was prominent, pointed… I couldn’t see his eyes very well, but his thin eyebrows were furrowed as he glowered down at the notes he was writing, long and lithe fingers gripping his pen hard as he scribbled haphazardly across the paper.
I couldn’t help but smile softly at his harsh scowl… maybe he just naturally wore a foul expression all the time. That assumption made me feel a heck-of-a-lot better about bumping into him the week before. He probably hadn’t been as pissed off as he had seemed… right?
Unwilling to consider the more negative possibilities of last week’s screw up, I quickly returned my attention to my notes. However, the sight of the thin and tan-haired guy became a frequent distraction throughout the rest of that lecture.
And the lecture after that.
And the lecture after that.
And the lecture after that.
For the next few weeks, actually.

It wasn’t that I had a thing for this random guy that I’d managed to piss off on the first day of school… it was something else. I hardly ever even spared a thought for the guy outside of class, if I’m being honest. My fascination with him remained confined to that room. But I was never certain what pulled me to him in the first place, what it was about him that fascinated me so much, only that it was something inexplicable… unexplainable. Stealing small glances at him over the course of the following weeks, I began to learn more about him: small details, pointless tidbits, strange quirks of his… and with each new discovery, I’d find myself more interested than before, falling deeper and deeper into my own curiosity.

                For example, every now and then, when he used a pencil instead of his usual pen, he’d subconsciously chew the eraser off. On these rare occasions, I could barely contain my laughter when his teeth would collide with the metal of the pencil and his face would contort into something that could only ever be described as ‘sour disgust’.

I also found out that he didn’t always scowl. Mostly when he was concentrating. Rather, whenever he looked up from his notes to stare up at the professor, his expression turned soft, wide-eyed and earnest… his jaw would relax and his brows would unfurrow, and seeing him like that made me think that hey, maybe he wasn’t a completely scary person.
Not that I was scared of him.
More like… “apprehensive”. With a dash of “intimidated”.
Which is actually pretty ridiculous, considering I’d seen him balancing his writing utensils on his upper lip and glaring down at his notes with the most serious expression on multiple occasions. I often wonder how I could ever take such a dork so seriously.

But from what I could tell, with how studiously he took notes, and from that first awful encounter on the first day, he seemed to be a pretty serious person. So maybe he was a complete dork on accident. Even better.

Everything from him scratching at his scalp with his pen to stretching and arching his back in his seat to hunching over with his chin resting in his palm was an absolute treat to me. He eventually became one of the more interesting aspects of astronomy for me, and I didn’t even know his name.

But one day, in the first week of October, the nameless man didn’t show up to class. It struck me as a bit odd (I mentioned he was studious), and I was somewhat disappointed that my distraction wasn’t there that day, but other than that, he didn’t cross my mind too much. It was a Monday after all, and we had astronomy every weekday except Fridays, so I fully expected to see him the next day, same as usual. He’d probably just slept in on accident.
Except he was absent the next day as well.
Puzzled and a bit concerned, I glanced around the lecture hall, and strangely enough, found it to be rather vacant.

“Psst… hey!”
I turned to my right to see a short bald guy waving at me a few seats down, trying to catch my attention.
“Looks like we’re among the survivors of the zombie apocalypse, huh?” he laughed.
“A-apocalypse!?” What was he talking about?
“Calm down, man, it’s a joke. I’m pretty sure everyone’s just got the flu. It always goes around this time of year, y’know?”
“Oh…” I relaxed a bit, my eyes wandering back to the empty seat where he usually sat. So that was it: the flu.
Grinning, I turned back to the short guy and said, “We’re probably next then.”
He grimaced, shaking his head. “Dear god, I hope not. I dunno ‘bout you, but I sure as hell don’t plan on getting sick.”

The professor began his lecture right then, ancient voice wavering feebly and ricocheting off the walls of the half-empty room, so we both turned our attention to the front and didn’t talk after that. But I found myself hoping throughout that lecture that my distraction would get better and be back soon.

Sure enough, the next day, there he was.
Although not in the best condition, I might add. From where I sat, I could clearly see that his skin looked sallow, dark circles under his eyes making him look as though he’d stared into the face of death itself. His pointy nose was bright red as well, and I felt so bad for him… he looked miserable. He could barely even take notes, his eyes watered up so much, and judging from his sniffles, he had a runny nose. His coughs sounded awful as well. By the end of that day’s lecture, I wanted to roll him up in a blanket, shove some Nyquil down his pathetic throat, and not let him return to classes until he was better. Of course, I refrained.

Rather, something else happened.
As in, yes, something actually happened after that lecture.
This isn’t a story all about me stalking a stranger I don’t even know, after all.

I was slipping my notebook and pen into my backpack as most of the other students made their way around me, mulling over my options for lunch, when I felt a pair of eyes on me. When I looked up, two of the brightest amber eyes I’d ever seen were staring back. I froze.
It was almost as though I thought that if I didn’t move, he wouldn’t see me.
He did, in case you were wondering.

“Do I know you from somewhere?”
Shhhhhhhit.
I could feel my heart slam up into my throat. Had he realized I’d been watching him that day!? I’m not a creeper, I swear! I thought. Trying to blow it off, I sat up and smiled innocently at him, though I wasn’t quite able to meet his eyes.
“Eh, yeah, sort of… I bumped into you on the first day of classes,” I told him sheepishly. I didn’t want to remind him of that, but it was much better than saying something like, “Oh, so you noticed I’ve been watching you? Yeah, you don’t know me from anywhere else, I’m just obsessed with staring at you is all, no big deal.”

“No, I mean before that,” he said, clearing his throat and sniffling.
That caught me off-guard. I didn’t think so…? I mean, it’d be great if he had, that might actually explain my uncanny fascination with the guy, but…
“I’m afraid not…”
His expression hardened again as his eyes narrowed a bit, and I found myself holding my breath until I realized that he’d just been focusing on me and probably trying to determine if he’s seen me before.

“Sorry then,” he apologized, “You just seem really familiar.”
“Oh, no problem! That kind of thing happens to me all the time,” I lied.
He let out a sneeze and rubbed his nose, then said, “I was kinda hopin’ we’d already met… that way it wouldn’t be so weird of me to ask if I can maybe see your notes from the past two days.”

It took me a second to realize what he was saying, but when I did, I chuckled quietly.
“If that’s all, then sure, you can borrow them.”
The guy blinked. “Really? You don’t even know me…”
But it was too late, I was already pulling my little black notebook back out of my bag, thinking, I have been watching you like a weirdo for the past month and a half, so it’s the least I can do. But I didn’t say that. Instead, what came out was, “Do I have to?”
“…Are you just that nice of a person?”
“I try to be.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You seem like a huge push-over,” he quipped.
“Gee, thanks,” I said sarcastically, “That really makes me want to let you see my notes.”
“Ah! Hey now, I’m just calling it like I see it.”
“Uh-huh,” I muttered, flipping open to Monday’s notes. And I was about to hand them to him, except…

Looking over my notes right then… well…

“What is it?” he asked.
"It’s just… eurgh. There’s a bunch in here that needs a lot of explaining…” I looked up at him. “When do you have class next?”
“I don’t have another class until 2:30,” he said.
I frowned down at my notes again before saying, “Got any plans for lunch?”
There was a pause, and he didn’t say anything, so I hurriedly stammered, “I-it’s just so I can explain what you don’t understand, th-that’s all…”
He smiled wryly then. “You really like to go all out, yeah?”
“You want me to show you my notes, or not?” I huffed, his cocky grin somehow managing to pull a tiny smile out of me.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said, making his way out from the cramped auditorium chairs, and I picked up my bag and followed him, watching the way his lanky legs moved. Skinny jeans suit him well, I thought. Once outside the empty lecture hall, he stopped, and I hurriedly returned my gaze to his face.

“What’s your name, by the way?” he asked, turning.
“Oh, yeah… I’m Marco,” I told him. “What about you?”
“My name’s Jean.”
Jean…. So that was the name of the guy I’d shamelessly spied on from behind for a month and a half. Good to know.
“Jsh-ahn,” I repeated, marveling that a name with such soft consonances and vowels belonged to someone with a personality so brash. “French?”

He stared at me for a long moment, and I thought I’d maybe said something wrong, but then he said, “Yeah… A-anyway, where do you wanna eat? I usually just go to one of the dining halls for lunch.”
“Me too,” I murmured. “Guess it’s decided, huh?” I tossed him my notebook then and walked ahead of him, exiting the building into the almost-noonday sun with Jean on my heels. We headed off in the general direction of the nearest dining hall, weaving through crowds of college students.

There were a few times where I was sure I’d lost him, but a cough or a sneeze always alerted me of his whereabouts. When we were in the clear, further away from the busier part of campus, Jean slowed down considerably.
Peeking over my shoulder, I saw that he’d opened up my notebook, flipped to Monday’s notes and was staring down intently at them, all while walking.

“The fuck is with the greek letters?” he said.
“There’s a key and some formulas in the top right corner,” I told him, resisting the urge to laugh as his thin legs stumbled into each other a bit. After a minute or two of more walking, I chanced a second glance back and found him squinting even harder at the notebook.

“You weren’t fucking kidding… I still don’t understand,” he mumbled.
“Told you.” I took a sharp left, and when Jean continued going straight with his eyes glued to my notes, I’d had to catch his attention with a, “Hey! Jean, this way!”
He scowled harder after that, cheeks slightly pink beneath its sickly-pale complexion, but he tucked my notebook under his arm and made sure to pay better attention.




“…and remember, you need to find the change in the wavelength first.”
“And that’s delta lambda?”
“Yep!”
I sipped my pepsi as I watched Jean work out a practice problem, my plate having been long-since cleared.
“Oh, wait… once you find the radial velocity, you divide it by the speed of light, remember?” I leaned across the table between us to point at my notes.
“That’s the c in the formula…”
“Yeah! Aaaannd… you’re done!” I smiled over at him encouragingly.
Jean sat back, rubbing at his temple. “Radial velocity is shit,” he grumbled, and I laughed.
“You’re telling me,” I agreed.

“Hey Marco.”
“Hmm?”
“Thanks… I’d be completely screwed without your help.”
“No problem,” I said, watching as he pulled his phone out to snap a few pictures of my notes. “It’s just that…”
“What?” he stuffed his phone back into his pocket and frowned up at me.
“You could have stood to miss another day of class. You’re sick as a dog.”
As if to prove my point, he erupted into a coughing fit.

He coughed for two straight minutes until I ran off to get him another glass of water, which he gratefully sucked down.
“Uh-uh”, he finally managed. “I can’t miss any more classes. I've had plenty of recovery time. I’m lost enough after just two days!”
I cocked my head at him questioningly.
Was lost enough after just two days,” he corrected, and I grinned appreciatively.
“Okay, true, but you’re just helping to spread the flu by walking around like this.”
“I don’t get close enough to people on a daily basis to spread it,” was his excuse.
I raised my eyebrows pointedly, and he spluttered, “I-shit. If you get sick because of me, I’ll make it up to you, I swear!”
I laughed. “Don’t worry,” I told him. “I have a really strong immune system, so I doubt I’ll get sick.”
Jean just stared at me skeptically over his cup as he downed the rest of his drink.
               
                An uproar of laughter erupted at a table behind me, making me jump a bit in surprise. “They’re showing ‘The Conjuring’ tonight at the student theater, man, you gotta go!” someone at the table shouted.
Across from me, Jean leaned to the left to peek around me at the loud table, then slunk back in his chair and rested his chin in his palm, elbow placed on the table.

“It is Halloween season, isn’t it,” I wondered out loud, then said to Jean, “You plan on going to see any of the scary movies this month?”
He shook his head vehemently. “Oh hell no.”
“Not a fan of scary movies?” I grinned.

“Don’t you know? Jean hates scary movies! He pisses himself and screams like a little girl.” I turned to the where the voice was coming from, and it was the short mixed kid from astronomy at the table behind me.

“CONNIE!” Jean shouted, and the entire table broke out into laughter once again.
The bald guy- whose name was Connie- got up and walked over to our table, smiling cheekily.
“Ah, hey!” he said to me, “So you’ve met Jean.”
Jean glared between Connie and me. “You two know each other?”
“No,” Connie said. “Well, sort of. We were just talking yesterday about how we’d survived the flu epidemic so far. Not all of us can count ourselves as lucky, huh?”
“Shut up,” Jean sighed, sniffling as if on cue.
Connie turned to me. “I don’t even know your name, man.”
“I’m Marco.”
“Alright, Marco, I’m Connie. You’re welcome to join us for ‘The Conjuring’ tonight, since Jean sure as hell won’t,” he offered.
I laughed. “Thanks, but I’m good. I’ve got a lot of homework to do,” I lied. To be entirely honest, leaving my room for a night would be a welcome change of pace… sitting in my room has been awfully lonely. But I didn’t really know Connie and his friends that well, and I would feel uncomfortable if I went with a group of strangers who were all already friends.

“Alright. Well, if you change your mind, we’ll all be in the student theater tonight! See you guys later.” I waved to him as he went back to his table. Jean snorted derisively.

“Friend of yours?” I wondered.
“Sort of… he’s one of my roommates.”
I frowned. “Do you not like him?”
“Huh?” he said, nasally. “No, he’s fine. I mean, he has his annoying moments, yeah, and he’s tough to take seriously at times, but we get along ok… which is more than I can say for most. Why?”
“Um, nothing.” I pulled out my phone to check the time. “Oh!” It was 12:45.
“What is it?”
“I’ve got class in 15 minutes, I’ve gotta take off.”
Jean slid my notebook across the table to me, and I placed it back in my bag before slinging it over my shoulder. I hesitated to get up, though.
Jean frowned quizzically at me. And I was nervous about asking this, but… now was my chance.

“Hey, Jean?”
“Yeah?”
“You wouldn’t mind if I asked you for your number, would you?”
I expected him to ask why, and I had no answer for that question, but-
“Sure.”
“R-really?”
“Yeah, why not?”

I could only shrug, and we quickly exchanged numbers before I had to run to my next class. I wasn’t sure why, but having successfully gotten Jean’s number filled me with a strange sense of accomplishment. I walked to class with a new spring in my step.



That evening, as I slumped at my desk and attempted to finish my homework by lamplight, my mind kept replaying that day’s events, particularly lunch with Jean, and every time it did, a silly grin appeared mysteriously on my face. Had it really been that long since I’d successfully socialized with someone? I mean, I had plenty of friends back home who missed me, and phone calls from my family came at least twice a week…
But I was still so lonely. Incredibly lonely.
I was even all alone in my room.

I guess that’s just what happens when one doesn’t get involved with campus life.
No clubs interested me, I didn’t particularly like the idea of joining a fraternity, and I wasn’t very religious, so I ruled out campus ministries.
Oh well. I’d just shrugged my shoulders and thought I’d make friends some other way. I’d been wrong, apparently.

So, the prospect of calling Jean my ‘new friend’ filled my stomach with butterflies. Who’d have thought that I’d be able to get along so incredibly well with the guy I’d happened to stare at for the past several weeks?

I really enjoyed Jean. He was smart, and snarky, and even though he probably didn’t know it, a huge dork. Even though he might seem mean or rude at first, he was actually pretty nice. He just… I don’t know. Wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. And I really liked that about him.

Sighing and grinning stupidly, I pulled out my phone and scrolled through my contacts until I saw his name. ‘Jean. I had to resist the urge to send him a text right then.
I hoped I’d get another chance to talk to him soon.




Lo and behold, the chance presented itself the following morning.
The second I swung out of bed (narrowly avoiding slamming my head against the vacant top bunk above me like always), my skull throbbed painfully with each rush of my pulse, and I dove for the trash can. It was filled with regurgitated stomach fluids and liquefied food in seconds.

In case you were wondering, I decided to not go to class that day. Hacking up phlegm and shaking uncontrollably, I rolled back up in my blankets and went to bed. Except I couldn’t quite get back to sleep, so I just sort of laid there and coughed into my pillow for the next hour or so. Jean, you son of a bitch, I thought, glaring at my phone from across the room; it was sitting on my desk, charging. I was much too sick and lazy to hobble across the cold floor to where it sat, even though I desperately wanted to tell Jean off for getting me so horribly sick. He'd probably guess what'd happened once he got to class and saw that I wasn't there, anyway.
Bzzt. Bzzt.
Two vibrations. A text.
Instead of actually getting up out of bed, I just sort of… rolled onto the floor, still in my blanket, and inch-wormed my way to my desk. Once there, my hand shot up and I groped along the desk’s surface until I located my phone.

(1) New Message.

Guess who?

From: Jean
tell me ur not

I smiled-sneezed-and smiled again. Laying there on the cold wooden floor, I snuggled deeper into my blanket and typed a reply.

To: Jean
How are you going to make this up to me, Jean?

His response came not even 20 seconds later.

From: Jean
“rly strong immune system” my ass

I laughed at that, but laughing only hurt my head and made me cough more.

To: Jean
Yeah… this is awful. :(

From: Jean
aw man, i am so so fucking srry. what can i do to make it up to u?

I grinned mischievously. Hmmm, so now I had Jean in my debt, did I? Perfect.

To: Jean
Soup and a movie.

From: Jean
soup AND a movie?

To: Jean
I’ve already got the movie right here, you just have to watch it with me. But I could really use some soup… I don’t quite feel like going out and getting it myself. :(

From: Jean
i see. ur even treating me to a movie? i shuld start owing u things more often. Ill bring u ur soup later tonite then. hows 7:30 sound?

To: Jean
That sounds great!
Oh… and Jean?

From: Jean
Yeah?

To: Jean
It’s a scary movie. :)

Holding in my giggles as I pressed ‘send’ was hard enough, so when his response came, I burst out laughing.

From: Jean
ARE YOU SERIOUS

To: Jean
Hehe.

From: Jean
dont u “hehe” me, u little shit! im not agreeing to tht, fuck tht noise

I sighed.

To: Jean
But Jean! You owe me! I feel terrible and I could really use the company… :( Please?

From: Jean
just the soup isnt enough?

To: Jean
No. :(
:(
:(
:(

I had to lay the frownies on extra thick. His reply this time took five whole minutes.

From: Jean
FINE

I squirmed happily in my blanket-burrito on the floor.

To: Jean
Yaaaaay. See you at 7:30! I live in Sina 323. :)

From: Jean
FUCK

Chapter Text

All the small things
True care truth brings
I'll take one lift
Your ride best trip
Always I know
You'll be at my show
Watching, waiting, commiserating

.....

Keep your head still, I'll be your thrill
The night will go on, my little windmill
-Blink 182 (All the Small Things)


 

I couldn’t get any sleep after making movie plans with Jean… my mind was much too preoccupied, excitement coursing through my veins. So I did what any sick college student in their right mind would do: built a blanket fort. Admittedly, it was a pretty poor excuse for a blanket fort; it was comprised mostly of blankets hanging from the top bunk and curtaining over the bottom. But hey- in my defense, I was deathly ill.
Once I had completed my pitiful fort, I decided a warm shower would do me good, but as soon as I had returned from the bathroom (community bathrooms in dorms were actually very nice: I didn’t have to clean it and I didn’t have to buy my own toilet paper), I again found myself at a loss for how to pass the time next. I flipped through the channels on my TV, but nothing interesting was on. Being sick was hella boring.
In the end, my weakened body passed out in the fort around noon. And I didn’t wake up until-

“Knock Knock!”

My eyes felt as though they were glued shut, and with a tremendous effort, I cracked one open. I could see nothing but darkness and blankets, and for several seconds I was confused and disoriented. I had no idea what was going on. But then I remembered…
Jean…?

“Did you die already?” he yelled from the other side of the door, and I slowly slipped out of bed. I hissed in displeasure when my bare feet hit the cold floor, but was pleased to note that my headache had subsided considerably. I made my way to the door, not even caring that I was in only my boxers and a t-shirt. We were both guys and I doubted it would make Jean uncomfortable.
As it turns out, I was right; when I wrenched the door open and blinked rapidly at the sudden influx of light in the hallway, reaching up to rub the grit out of my eyes, the first thing out of his mouth was “Nice bed head.”

It took me a lot of blinking and staring and trying to focus before I finally was able to take in the sight before me: Jean in his skinny jeans and a loose, long-sleeved green shirt, with a smirk on his face and two paper bags from Panera, one in each hand.

“I… uh. That looks like more than just soup,” I said, my eyes on the food.
“Well, yeah. Because you haven’t eaten a thing today, have you?”
I didn’t have to answer, because my stomach did it for me: with a long, deep, and loud monotonous growl.
Jean gave it a wary glance. “Sounds like it’s pissed off,” he observed.
I just clutched at my stomach and nodded slowly, still not completely awake as I stepped aside and let him into the room. With a swipe of my hand, I flipped the lights on while he set the food on the empty desk by the window. 

“…You have your own room?” he said incredulously.
“Yeah…” I sighed. “The roommate I’d been assigned transferred out on the first day, so now I’ve got this room to myself.”
Lucky.”
“What? It’s not all that great to be honest… I kind of wish I had someone to share it with.”
Jean held up his hand. “No, stop, you don’t know what you’re saying. Be careful what you wish for, because you could end up with a crazy roommate.”
I squinted inquisitively at him. “Did you end up with crazy roommates?”

He opened his mouth quickly before shutting it again with a snap, hesitating, appearing as though he was torn between answering and just keeping quiet about it.
I raised an eyebrow, grinning until he finally breathed out a short puff of air through his nostrils indignantly. I was briefly reminded of a horse…
“Okay, fine, you really wanna know? I live in Maria, so we have suite housing, and the four of us share a bathroom. Do you know how much that sucks?”

“Well that doesn’t sound so-“

“And me and Connie have to listen to our two other roommates bang in their room every night.”

My face suddenly felt very hot. “O-oh…”
“Yeah,” Jean said, rubbing at the back of his neck. I could almost taste the awkward in the air. “A-anyway,” he mumbled, attempting to change the subject, “Come eat your food already. I got you cheddar and broccoli soup, so I hope that’s ok. I also brought some other random food they had in case that’s not enough…”
“No, that’s perfect! Thank you so much, Jean!”

I dragged a blanket off my bed from behind the makeshift curtains and draped it over my shoulders, padding over to where my food was sitting.
“Oh, and if your roommates get to be too much of a problem, you’re always welcome to stay the night here, you know.” I quickly sat down and began destroying the food Jean had placed in front of me.
There was a brief second of silence before he finally said, “I’ll have to take you up on your offer, sometime.”
As I set about graciously devouring the soup that Jean had so kindly blessed me with, he wandered over to where tonight’s movie rested on my cluttered desk across the room, still in its DVD case.

“I’m gonna fucking cry,” he whined.
Quickly swallowing, I said, “I hope you like ghosts and things like that, because I think that’s what it’s about…”
I turned my head just in time to see him visibly shudder. I rolled my eyes and returned to my meal; from what I’d heard, ‘Insidious’ hadn’t even been that scary. For the next few minutes while I finished eating, I listened to Jean sigh and grumble while he read the movie’s synopsis and examined the cover.
“Hey,” I spoke up, swallowing down the last of the soup and setting the disposable bowl aside. “Have you heard about the recent study? On complaining?”
Jean looked up from the movie box and scowled at me. “No….?”

“Research actually suggests that complaining does absolutely nothing to help a situation!” I said, feigning surprise.

The DVD case flew across the room and slammed into the back of my head and proceeded to clatter to the floor.
Laughing and coughing at the same time, I scooped up the movie, drew my blanket around me like a cape, and shuffled over to the DVD player.
“Could you turn the lights off, please?” I requested pleasantly, placing the disc in the tray and grabbing the remote.
“What!? We’re…. we’re gonna watch it in the dark!?”
“Of course…. It’s a scary movie, after all.”

Sneering as he went, he quickly snapped the lights off, and I climbed into my blanket fort, pinning the overhanging sheets to the side and beckoning for Jean to join me on the bed.
I hoped he wouldn’t think me weird for inviting him to sit on my bed with me… we were watching the movie as friends, so there was nothing weird about it, right?
Luckily, he seemed completely okay and comfortable with it as he kicked off his shoes and was about to hop right in- but I held up a hand to stop him.
“Now Jean, before I let you onto my bed, you have to promise me that you won’t piss yourself during the movie.”
His reaction was immediate. “GOD fucking DAMN IT, Marco, do you want me to watch this thing with you or not!?”
I quickly scooted back, propped myself up against the wall and patted the spot beside me. “Yes please,” I smiled innocently.
He let out a tremendous sigh and crawled in next to me.


The previews began, and as I clicked the ‘skip’ button on the remote, I smiled over at Jean. “But really, if you need to take a potty break, don’t be afraid to let me know, ok?”
That earned me an elbow in the ribs, and I complained about how bony he was.
I glanced at him to find that he was snatching up one of my pillows and clutching it to his chest.
“Uh… what?” I questioned.
I’m preparing myself,” he explained.
Deciding to not ask for any more clarification, I opted to instead press ‘play’ and start the movie.



Now, I’m a bit ashamed to admit this, but I was the first to jump.
The title came on screen and a chorus of badly-tuned string instruments nearly blew my eardrums out- and the volume wasn’t even up that high!
“The fucking music is annoying and really unnecessary,” Jean sighed.
Sinking deeper into my blanket with him making comments on the movie next to me, I knew I was in for a fun time.
And man was I right.
For the first bit of the movie, nothing terribly exciting happened. The family was moving into a new house, there were a bunch of noisy kids… it lulled us into a false sense of security.  Jean’s grip on my pillow relaxed considerably as we sat in silence, and when the mom began to sing a calming song while playing the piano, he even went as far as to say, “This isn’t so bad…”
I nodded my head in agreement for his sake.
Not even five minutes after Jean had passed judgment on the scariness of the movie, he practically jumped right out of his skin when the furnace in the attic randomly started itself.
“FUCK,” he shouted, clutching the pillow tightly against his chest.
“You spoke too soon,” I said, trying to stifle my giggles. “That wasn’t even scary!”
“Yeah, ok, but I’m not the one who had a heart attack at the title.”
I pouted at that. “It was the music,” I mumbled to myself.
We continued to watch in silence, Jean noticeably tenser than before.

When the attic door opened by itself, he let out a high-pitched whine that only increased in volume as one of the children saw and went up the attic stairs.
“Kid’s got balls, I’ll give him that,” he murmured, and he pulled his lanky legs up so that he could rest his chin on his knees.
“More like ‘no common sense’,” I added, and he hummed in agreement.

Now keep in mind that at that point in time and throughout the beginning of the movie, there had been at least six solid inches of space between us on the bed. But when the scene with the baby monitor came up, that quickly changed.
“What the FUCK!” Jean nearly slammed his head against the top bunk as he jumped and scrambled over to me, grabbing my arm.
“JEAN, calm down!”
His slim fingers were digging painfully into my skin, and I attempted to pry him off of me, but it was of no use.

As the movie continued and no more jump scenes came on, Jean relaxed and slowly released his hold on me.
But then some random guy appeared in the baby’s bedroom, and he let out a shriek of “AH, MARCO!” and pressed his forehead into my shoulder, bringing the pillow up to block the TV from his line of sight.
I laughed, realizing that using the pillow as an eye-shield had been his intent all along.
“Don’t laugh at me,” he growled, and that only made me laugh harder.
               
                That’s pretty much how we spent the time; jumping and clinging to each other (though mostly it was Jean clinging to me) and making fun of each other when one of us exhibited a hilariously pathetic reaction. Again, it was mostly Jean with the pathetic reactions.

One of the most memorable moments from that movie was when the red-faced demon-thing was peeking around the dad’s head, and Jean screamed out a garbled string of curses as he grabbed my hand and pulled it to his chest, nearly crushing it in his grip.
Instead of commenting on the pain, I’d said, “Wow, not even a ‘no homo’? Rude,” to which he’d replied, “Fuck you and your ‘no homo’, if something gay happens here tonight it will be completely your fault!!!!”

I laughed so much during that movie, I was surprised that I hadn’t vomited my soup back up due to my aching stomach muscles. I coughed and sneezed a lot, though, and when we’d been particularly tangled up during a rather frightening scene, I’d actually sneezed into Jean’s shoulder.
“Did you just do what I think you just did?”
“Nope.”
“Well ok then.”

At the end of the movie, when the title accompanied by the loud and annoying music flashed across the screen, we were curled into each other and grasping at one another’s shoulders, frozen in place.
“Did… did he just?” Jean whispered.
“Yeah,” I whispered back.
We sat there like that for a moment, unwilling to move. “See?” I whispered, still not wanting to speak too loudly. “That wasn’t so bad…”
“Tch.”
After almost thirty seconds of staring at the credits, I finally stretched my arm out to pick up the remote and pressed the ‘power’ button. We were encased in darkness instantly.
Jean’s voice was warm against my ear- I hadn’t realized how close he was. “Why the hell would you do that!?” he accused, voice cracking. “Let me turn the light on first!”
“Yeesh,” I said, turning the TV back on to where the credits were still showing. “Sorry.”
As soon as the TV’s faint glow returned, he quickly disentangled himself from me and shot off the bed, hurriedly flicking the light switch on.
Then I turned off the TV.
But Jean was still standing next to the light switch by the door, and he wasn’t budging.

“Hey Marco.”
“………….What?”
He made sure to scowl directly at me, face disturbingly serious. “I have to piss.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah!”
“Then go already! The bathroom is just down the hall!” I laughed.
Jean’s scowl deepened then, his eyes overcast in the shadow of his brow. “You’ve got to be out of your fucking mind if you think I’m going to walk to that bathroom alone. Sina is old and run-down and creepy as hell.”
“….Are you really serious?”
Yes, dude, come on!” His knees bounced a bit.
I sighed heavily. “Fine, let’s go.”
As I slipped off the bed, I had to hold back a giggle while I watched as Jean warily opened the door a crack and peeked down the hall.
“God, hurry up,” I rushed, opening the door all the way and pushing him out into the open.

He cursed a bit under his breath and started down the hall, me trailing right behind him. And I’d like to say that I hadn’t been as on-edge as Jean was, except I was. It was hard to not be paranoid that some demon was going to suddenly appear and crawl along the wall towards us.
So that was our mindset when I stepped on a creaky floorboard.

As you might be able to guess, our little trip to the bathroom quickly turned into an unintentional race, Jean cussing up a storm the whole way.
When we burst through the door, we stopped, panting, and turned to look at one another. And this time, it was him that burst into peals of laughter.

“Man, you were scared shitless!”
Me!? He, of all people, is laughing at me for being scared? He started to laugh even harder for some reason. “S-so!? You were too!” That did nothing to staunch his amusement, and I finally resorted to smacking him lightly on the shoulder. “Go pee already!”



It was 11 PM when he finally headed back to his dorm. We spent the time after the movie sitting on my bed, snacking on the extra food Jean had brought from Panera and lightly making fun of each other. Our jokes eventually escalated to the point that we almost resorted to wrestling, but he backed off when I accused him of taking advantage of my weakened state.
When we saw how late it was getting, Jean groaned loudly. “Hmmm, I wonder what my roommates are doing right now,” he wondered sarcastically.
“My offer still stands,” I reminded him, but he shook his head.
“I’ve got class in the morning…”
I hummed thoughtfully. “Yeah, so do I.”
Jean shot me a glare. “You’re staying in bed tomorrow, though, don’t you fucking dare go to class.”
“Boring,” I huffed indignantly, leaning back against the wall. “But yeah, I know.”
Jean scooted off the bed and began shoving his feet back into his shoes. “What if I said I’d come and see you tomorrow?”
“What if you said you’d come and see me tomorrow?”
“As in, what would you say, genius?”
I smiled. “I’d say that would probably make my day.”
“Cool,” he said, standing. “Do you like Call of Duty?”
Do I like Call of Duty, he asks…
“If you bring Call of Duty tomorrow, I’ll love you forever,” I said.
He cracked a grin. “Careful, I just might hold you to that.” I watched as he went over to the window.

“It’s dark as hell out there,” he complained, to which I told him he better run fast.
He thanked me for my astounding advice and went on his way, wishing me a good night and telling me to “hurry up and get better”. When the door clicked shut behind him, I was left with a hollow bittersweet feeling.

Bitter because I kind of didn’t want him to leave, and I felt even more lonely than before he’d come over.
But sweet because I’d had an unbelievable amount of fun with him, and because I was now looking forward to him visiting again tomorrow. He had even made me forget how sick I was; the moment he left, I noticed a crippling pain pulsing throughout my skull.

I locked my door, closed the curtains and turned off the light, crawling into bed and letting the blankets of my “fort” flap closed behind me. Cuddling back up into my blankets, my head hit the pillow hard as I squeezed my eyes shut and attempted to sink into sleep.
Except….
What’s that smell…?
Inhaling deeply, I identified the aroma as faint traces of sweat and cheap soap, and… was that chocolate Axe? I rubbed my face happily into the pillow. I don’t care what the commercials say, I thought, Girls aren’t the only ones who love the smell of Axe, I can attest to that.
It was then that I realized that the pillow I was shamelessly shoving my nose against was the very same pillow Jean had squeezed throughout the entirety of the movie.
                Cracking my eyes back open and glaring into the darkness, I briefly wondered if I should be worried that I found his aroma to be so comforting, and that I was essentially trying to inhale the entire pillow through my nostrils, but in the end, I was too tired to care.

That night, I drifted off to sleep while breathing in Jean’s scent.



The next day, I was surprised to find that I’d slept in until 2 PM and awoke to the ping of a text message.

(3) New Messages

From: Jean
hey, is tonite a good nite for me to stay the nite?

From: Jean
…ur not still sleeping, r u?

From: Jean
wake the fuck up already, sleeping beauty

I rolled my eyes and tapped out a reply.

To: Jean
Aw, do you really think I’m beautiful? You’re so sweet.

From: Jean
will u just answer the damn question

To: Jean
I told you twice already that you’re free to stay whenever. Of course you can stay the night. :)

From: Jean
awesome


My stomach flipped as I registered the idea that Jean wouldn’t have to leave tonight, and with a sudden burst of energy that was uncharacteristic of a person as congested as I was, I hopped out of bed and headed to the showers.




Jean showed up that evening with his bag and rolled up bedding, Xbox 360 in tow. We quickly set about hooking it up to the TV, except Jean did most of the work while I sifted through his games and gaped at the ones I wanted to play.
“Connie’s gonna be pissed that I took the Xbox, but that’s what he gets for making our room reek of weed. It’s my Xbox anyway,” he mused.
Before he’d even let me play, he insisted he debunk the beds, and I quietly agreed, telling him of the many times I’d slammed my head against the top bunk. He in turn marveled at my laziness for not having done it sooner.

That night, we set up his bed over by the window, next to the empty desk, and ordered three large chicken-and-steak pizzas. They were devoured barely ten minutes after their arrival.
Call of Duty took up most of the night, and we played until midnight when we finally broke into a wrestling match after our taunts and teasing had gone too far. There was no clear winner, but I reasoned that if I had been of full health, I’d have beat him fair and square.
We passed out soon after.

The morning arrived quickly, and I found out that Jean was an early-riser... He launched a pillow at my head by eight o’ clock and complained loudly about how he was going to die of starvation and it would be my fault. I wormed my way further into my blankets and told him that he didn’t need me to feed him, but that only resulted in him yanking up the covers and dragging me out by my feet.
“You know what I’m like before I’ve had my coffee, Marco,” he reminded me, his tone low and intimidating.
Most interesting wake-up call I’d had in a while.


That Saturday was chilly and gray, complete with icy drizzle that soaked our hair and tiny clouds of steam that blew out from behind our frozen lips with each breath we exhaled.
We grabbed breakfast, Jean guzzling down his coffee with reckless abandon and yelping when it burned him. We spent a good portion of that day simply talking about school and family; Jean came from a rich family but had no siblings, and apparently he wasn’t very close with his parents at all.
“They try to control my life too much, and it’s not theirs’ to control, y’know?” he’d said, going on to tell me how he frequently got into fights with his father while at times, his mother ignored him completely. “I’m convinced they’re more concerned with their reputation than my actual well-being.” He assured me he was completely at peace with his familial troubles, though, and that they were nothing to worry about.
So I told him about my family- I had a cute little sister who was about 6 years old named Marie, and that my parents were recently divorced. My dad and I would get into arguments every now and then, but nothing over the top, while my mom was very sweet- I often complained that she babied me too much.
“You’re a momma’s boy.”
“Am not!”
“Are too.”
“Arrgh!”
“Hahaha!”

In the afternoon, we returned to my dorm and played more games, until Jean announced that he was staying the night again and had brought enough clothes for another night. “You planned to stay the entire weekend from the start, didn’t you?” I stated, and he didn’t even deny it.
I let him borrow my soap and shampoo for a shower (“Why do you have girly shampoo?” “My mom bought it!” “Momma’s boy.”) and after we’d both cleaned up, we spent the rest of the night talking and ordering more pizza.
Of course, when you spend an entire weekend with someone, and it gets to be sort of late at night, you start talking about pretty personal things….
We had been laying on my bed and staring up at the ceiling, our knees hanging over the side and feet dangling over the floor as we talked.

“Hey… Marco?” Jean said quietly after several minutes of silence.
“Hm?” I said, just as quietly.
“I was wondering… who all else do you hang out with? Besides me?”
I felt my brows furrow as I focused on a small chip in the paint on the ceiling. “Huh… why do you want to know?”
I felt him shrug next to me. “I was just wondering is all…”
I blew out a puff of air in a small sigh. “Mmmm, if you really want to know…. Here at Trost Uni? No one.”
I swallowed and prepared myself for Jean to tease me and call me a friendless loser… but he didn’t.
“Oh,” he almost whispered. “How come?”
I frowned, thinking. “Well… don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I went through my entire life without making friends. I have plenty of friends back at home. But we all know how long high school friendships last…”
I turned my head to the side to see Jean, still staring up at the ceiling, his sandy hair pressed against my sheets, and he was wearing that same old scowl again. He nodded, still not looking at me, so I looked back up.
“I just… I’m not really involved in anything. I don’t go to club activities or frat parties or church… and I don’t know if you noticed, but I don’t really like going outside of my comfort zone. I don’t mind talking to people, but since I’ve been here, I just… don’t.”
Jean hummed, thinking. “But we’ve been here for over a month and a half…. Don’t you get lonely?”
I shrugged. “I’m ok with not being terribly social, but…. Yeah. I do,” I sighed, feeling my chest constrict. “That’s why I wish I had a roommate, y’know? I’m kind of jealous of you… I’d like three roommates.”
Jean turned and grinned at me. “Preferably ones who don’t make a ton of ruckus in the night, yeah?”
“Yeah,” I said, choking out a mirthless laugh.
“Well,” Jean said, “It’s fine if you don’t hang out with a lot of people. I’m the only friend you need, yeah?”
“Because who needs a friend who’s not Jean Kirschtein?” I droned, sarcastic.
“Exactly.”

We fell into silence again, and this time, I was the one to break it.
“So, Jean?”
“Yeah?”
“Who all do you hang out with? You know…. Besides me,” I mirrored his own question back at him.
“Hmmmm… who indeed,” he thought out loud. “No one.”
I turned to look at him. “Not even your roommates?”
“Not really…”
“But you live with them!”
“Just because you live with someone doesn’t mean you’re automatically best friends, though. I mean, they’re cool and all, but….”
“But… what?”
Jean only shook his head, frowning more. “It’s…. nothing.”
He didn’t seem willing to share, so I didn’t press him for any more information. “Do you get lonely too, then?”
“Well, everyone gets lonely, it’s just natural, yeah? But… seeing as how I’m living with three other guys, a lot of the time I’m just trying to get some alone time. I doubt I get as lonely as you…”
“But you still get lonely?” I pushed, and I watched him nod, his eyes still trained on the ceiling.
“A lot.”
My chest felt uncomfortably tight when he said that, almost painful, so I tore my eyes away from him and looked up instead. I pressed my elbow into his arm playfully, ignoring the feeling. “Well, that’s okay, because you’ve got me now, right? You can just hang out with me when you get lonely.”
“True,” he said, and a tiny glance to the side told me that he was actually smiling now. “I actually don’t feel lonely when I’m with you.”
I squinted at the chipped paint, confused. “Well, of course not! We’re friends, of course you wouldn’t feel lonely with friends….”
Jean didn’t say anything, and that scared me a little.
“Uh… Jean? W-we are friends, right?”
“What? Oh, well yeah, of course! You don’t even have to ask… I don’t spend my entire weekends with just anyone, you know.”
Something warm spread throughout my chest when he said that…. it felt nice. His words made me feel special.
He then said, “We’re two lonely losers, so we’ve got to stick together, yeah?”
At that moment, I silently pleaded with whatever entity there was that controlled fate and the universe that me and Jean wouldn’t be separated… that our friendship wouldn’t drift apart.

We fell asleep just like that; on my bed, side by side. 

 

Chapter Text

So brutal when the words are on
The tip of your tongue,
So strange when your tired eyes won't
Shut your brain down.

Hold back the melancholy,
Hold back the fear, darling,
It's a crime. (Quiet the mind)
-IAMX (Quiet the mind)





From: Jean
dude where the fuck r u?

To: Jean
Will you just chill out, I’m almost there, my last class was all the way on the other side of campus!


Even though it may appear as though we were irritated with each other, judging from our messages, we really weren’t—just the opposite, actually. It was our way of saying that we were excited to see one another. In fact, I was wearing a grin that could have split my face in half as I sent that last text.
The weather that day fit the mood as well— bright and sunny, not a cloud in the sky. The walkways were littered with the first fallen leaves of fall, and they crunched under my shoes as I hurried along.

                In case you couldn’t guess, I was on my way to meet up with Jean at that moment. He was waiting for me by the fountain on the south side of campus so that we could go to lunch, and I was running a little late…
This was only ever an issue on Fridays. For the previous two weeks, Monday through Thursday, we would head off to eat lunch together immediately after astronomy, so no waiting was ever involved. Fridays were obviously a different matter.
But yeah, after our first “sleepover weekend”, every weekend became “sleepover weekend”. We ate our lunches and dinners together, and evenings tended to be spent in the dorms, either his room or mine; a lot of the time Jean’s, since that’s where the video games were, but he sometimes wanted to get away from his roommates for a little while, so we’d go to my room instead and watch a movie or browse the internet and talk. The evenings spent at my dorm were always relaxing, and I loved how close to Jean they made me feel.
But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy going to Jean’s—quite the contrary, it was always a blast at his place!

Reiner and Bertholdt, two of his roommates, were really nice and a comfort to be around, even if I felt a little awkward, what with knowing too much about their nighttime activities and all. I also recognized Bertholdt as the guy that had moved out of my room, and although I had resented being alone in my room at first, I silently thanked him in my mind. After all, if he hadn’t moved out, I probably wouldn’t be able to have sleepover weekends with Jean (I also appreciated that Bertholdt moved in with Reiner, simply because it prevented their sexual activities from migrating over to my place if he had chosen to stay in Sina).

Reiner and Bertholdt sometimes had a friend over, a short blond girl with blue eyes and a hooked nose. She tended to wear a grey hoodie and a generally bored-yet-intimidating expression. I usually found her lounging in the sitting area with them, her eyes glued to her phone.
Connie on the other hand—well, he was Connie.

Jean, Connie and I would always play video games together, and it usually ended with a fight between the other two. Except for the days when Sasha was over, however: an energetic, food-loving, red-headed sophomore who was as quirky as she was hungry. The evenings when Sasha was present, the fight would be between her and Connie, with Jean and I tossing bets on who would throw the first punch; it was almost always Sasha. We didn’t blame her, considering that whenever we would bust out Connie’s N64, he would purposely select Rainbow Road on Mario Kart to piss us all off… we all hated that track. Whenever that happened, Connie was guaranteed three smacks in quick succession, one from each of us.
The nights spent in Maria with them were always noisy and eventful.

Clearly, Jean and I had become inseparable, and though neither of us had said it, we were both quite positive that we were each others’ best friend.  There was no one in the world I felt more comfortable with.
                So it was with immense excitement that I made my way to the fountain, not expecting anything out-of-the-ordinary to occur at all. Not that an “ordinary” had been established for me at that point, but still.

The fountain was only several yards away when I heard the drawling and sluggish voices.
“Heeey, cutie, where you headin’ off to?”
“You wanna join us for lunch?”
I turned to see a group of five or so guys of varying height and build at the edge of the walkway, standing in a loose circle. Curious, I slowed down, shuffling along until I could see that in the center, a tiny blond girl stood, clutching her bag to her chest as she stared up at the men warily.

“What’s the matter? Why so quiet?” one man asked.
I stopped, contemplating if I should intervene or not… I still wasn’t too sure what was going on there…
“N-no,” the girl said softly, looking down at her feet. “I just… have somewhere I need to be, so if you’ll excuse me-“ she bravely tried to nudge her way past them, but the men moved to block her path.
“Whatever it is, I’m sure it can wait, right?” one suggested, the rest throwing in a chorus of “yeah”s and “come hang with us”s.

I watched as the small blond’s shoulders began to tremor a bit, throwing her gaze around the circle as she desperately searched for a means of escape… but she was surrounded on all sides by a bunch of pushy guys.

Her line of sight fell on me, then, and I stiffened.
Wide blue eyes, a pleading frown… Yeah, yeah, I know. I gave her an almost imperceptible nod before taking a step toward the obnoxious group, and her expression melted from one of fear to one of hope. It was heartwarming.

“Hey, you guys,” I spoke up, “she just said she has somewhere she needs to be—could you just back off and leave her alone?” Five irritated sneers turned to me then, and I shouldered my way into their midst. “Surrounding a girl like this and trying to herd her away is really creepy, anyway,” I said, placing my arm around her shoulders in an attempt to discreetly lead her out of the circle.
“You know this girl?” one of the taller men snarled at me. My heart rate started to pick up at this point as I realized where this was going.
“Well, no, but—“
“Then just mind your own fucking business!”

There was a loud smacking sound and a squeak from the girl beside me as I felt the man’s fist collide with the center of my face, knuckles hitting the bridge of my nose and between my eyes. I reeled back, color exploding across my vision as I felt the numbing pain of his blow.

Ow, I thought, leaning forward and bringing a hand to my face, only to pull it away when something warm dribbled onto it. I looked down to find splotches of crimson blood on my palm.
The shady men were then closing in around us, jeering and laughing.
“Shit happens when you try to play the hero, huh?” said one, pushing me roughly from behind. The girl then decided to cling to the sleeve of my jacket as the guys got closer.
“Should’ve known you’d just get your ass kicked, man,” said another to the right, and he took a swing at me, but I blocked it with my only free arm, the other still in the tiny girl’s clutches, and one of the men took the opportunity to make a grab at her.
“H-hey!” I yelled, pulling her closer as another guy shoved at me, hot blood pouring profusely from my nose. I was in some really deep shit…

AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!"
All of us froze. Collectively, we turned towards the fountain, in the direction of the feral scream, and-
“Jean!” I gasped, blood dribbling over my lips and flecking off them as I said his name.

Jean was actually sprinting towards us at full speed, announcing his arrival loudly with a battle cry that could only fit a personality as fiery as his.
Here we go, I thought, scooping the tiny blond up—she didn’t protest, as she was probably far too entranced with the mysterious lanky figure that was speeding in our direction and would arrive within the next 2.65 seconds. I had to act fast or she’d get caught in the middl-
“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” One guy stepped in front of me.
“Incoming,” I answered.

Jean burst into the circle with all the agility and force of a frenzied gruella fighter, dropkicking the tallest man in the chest and sending him toppling to the ground. The other four converged on him (he was standing on the guy he’d just dropkicked, I might add) and I quickly stepped away from the action, carrying the small girl to the nearest bench so that I could set her down and help Jean out.
“Who the hell are you!?”
A tall young woman with pulled-back brown hair and freckles stopped me, appearing in front of me all of the sudden and shoving a pointed finger into my sternum accusingly.
“I-I’m Marco, but-“
Marco, just where do you think you’re going with my girlfriend?”

I stiffened, eyes flitting from the woman in front of me to the blond in my arms and back up again. The shouts behind me were getting louder, and I wanted so very much to just turn around and see what was going on. I hoped Jean wasn’t getting his ass kicked, and the thought occurred to me that Oh god, he’s outnumbered he probably is!

“Ymir!” the little blond said delightfully, squirming in my hold. “He helped me! I was surrounded, and these guys wouldn’t leave me alone, but he-!”
A shout that was unmistakably Jean’s almost made me drop the chick.
The woman called Ymir peered around us at the brawl that was most definitely happening. “Those the guys?” she asked, and we both nodded in unison.

“I’ll be back,” she said, stepping forward. She stopped next to me though, and grabbed my shoulder roughly. “Don’t go anywhere, Marco, I’m not done with you yet.”
I spun around to watch Ymir leap into battle, where two guys were holding Jean while the rest beat on him relentlessly. Her long legs swung up to kick one guy upside the head.
“Your girlfriend is kind of a badass,” I said.

The little blond blushed cutely, and I set her down on the nearest bench. And I was about to turn and join the fight as well, but she grabbed my arm again.
“Wait! You’re bleeding!” she said, tugging at my sleeve and motioning for me to sit next to her.
“Oh, but my friend-“

“Marco!?”
It was Connie this time, stopping in his tracks at the sight of the blood dripping off my chin, and I was quietly contemplating the number of uncanny coincidences occurring that day when he said, “What the hell is going on!?”

I didn’t have to say anything; the sounds of Jean and Ymir and the five men behind us caught his attention immediately, and as I turned to look, I found that they’d already attracted a sizable crowd of spectators.

“Jean’s gotten into another fight, eh?” Connie said, snapping a picture of the scene with his phone.
“Hey! What are you doing!?” I asked, bewildered.

“Requesting backup,” he almost sighed, exasperation crawling into his voice while his thumbs franticly tapped at the touch screen of his cellular device. He locked his phone then and handed it to me.
“Watch that for me, will ya?” he said, proceeding to then run headlong into what was now a flurry of struggling limbs, punching and kicking and shoving what they could. It looked as though two of the guys were beating the crap out of each other, not realizing that they were on the same side…
Connie got smacked upside the head the second he got close. It figured.
Where the hell is public safety when you need it!? I thought.

“Come here,” said the tiny blond, her voice soft and soothing. She pulled me down onto the bench next to her, and I reluctantly obeyed.
“Thank you so much for helping me,” she said, digging through her bag. “You’re really kind.”
“O-oh, no problem,” I said. Actually, big problem, I thought, listening as Jean shouted something foul at Connie.
The girl then pulled out an unopened pack of Kleenex, ripping them open and extracting one. She used it to wipe at the blood on my face, kneeling on the bench and leaning her face in close to mine.
“What’s your name?” I asked, transfixed by her eyes—they were so bright, and so blue. She really was adorable, almost angelic. It didn’t excuse five guys trying to round her up, but still.
“Christa,” she said, and the name suited her well.
She brought out a second Kleenex. “Okay, now please hold your nose with this, but don’t lean back, alright?”
I accepted the tissue from her and obediently held it over my nose, pinching it shut as I did so.
Christa decided just then to prod at the bridge of my nose, and I flinched. “Ah! Sorry, did that hurt?” she asked, and I nodded.
“I’m afraid we’ll see some swelling and bruising soon… sorry, you got punched because of me.”
“No brah-blem,” I said again. I pulled the tissue away from my nose to see how much blood it had collected, but Christa then smacked my shoulder, scolding me and instructing me to put it back, and I did.

“STAY OUT OF THIS, JEAGER,” Jean yelled, and Christa and I watched from our seats as an Asian girl in a red scarf dragged an excited-looking brunette boy away from the fight. Among the quickly-thickening crowd, I spotted Sasha, howling and cheering for Jean and Connie. She was also shoving chips down her gullet like she was at some sort of boxing tournament. Close enough, right?
I then noticed three familiar faces heading over, confused as they surveyed the scene. I waved them over, and they began to wade through the masses of over-eager violence enthusiasts.
“Marco!” Reiner boomed, Bertholdt and Annie trailing behind. “What happened? We got Connie's text.... You out of the ring already?”
That sort of bruised my ego, but thankfully, Christa saved my street cred for me: “He rescued me from a group of creeps!” she piped. “Ymir wants him to stay here so she can talk to him after she’s finished.”
Reiner’s attention turned to her. “Christa!” he said. “I almost didn’t see you!”
“Wow, Marco, you rescued her from a group of guys? That’s… pretty impressive,” Bertholdt said, wringing his hands nervously and glancing at the fight. I was about to mention how I would have been screwed if Jean hadn’t busted in like a maniac, but then Reiner said to Christa, “Where’s Ymir, then?”
A distinctly-feminine voice rang out over the sounds of the cheering crowd then, screeching, “GET HIM, BALDY!”
Ymir had one man in a chokehold, Connie running up and shouting, “DON’T CALL ME THAT!” One blow to the guy’s temple and he was out like a light.
I watched with pride as Jean, battered and bruised and bleeding, slung one of the guys around and into the tallest one, who had recovered from the dropkick sometime earlier.

“Hey, Annie,” Reiner said, voice low as he cracked his knuckles, “Aren’t these the same sons of bitches that tried to fuck with you last week?”
She sighed, her bored expression unfaltering. “They just don’t learn, I suppose.”
The two then proceeded to step forward and kick ass, Bertholdt standing idly by Christa and I, and I made a mental note to tick off Annie only if I was feeling particularly suicidal.

The fight continued for the next several minutes, until there was a cry of, “PUBLIC SAFETY! HURRY, SCRAMBLE!”

The crowd somehow managed to disperse in under five seconds, and we all did the same… the men I’d “rescued” Christa from picked up their fallen friend and raced away, while I scooped Christa back up and rushed after the others, who’d all shot in the direction of the dining hall.



“We kicked some serious ass, my man!” Connie grinned, leaning across the table next to me to pound fists with Jean, who laughed in response.
Our entire table was loud and obnoxious, the adrenaline from the fight still coursing through all of our veins. Most of us were sporting injuries of varying fatalities- split lips, blackened eyes, bloodied noses and swollen cheeks- Connie was “five hundred and ninety three percent positive” that he’d broken one of his fingers. Annie was the only one who’d emerged from the battle unscathed, save for having her hair taken down so that it swung over half her face.

Connie sat to my left, Christa to my right, and Jean across from me, with Reiner next to him, followed by Bertholdt. Ymir and Annie sat on the other side of Christa.
We’d all pushed several tables together so that we could eat together and celebrate our “victory”, so we were all seated along one long table. Sasha eventually joined us, sitting across from Connie and entertaining everyone with a play-by-play of the brawl, and sometime during her over-dramatic reenactment, the Asian girl and her angry-looking friend joined us, pulling up chairs near Bertholdt and Annie. They’d brought with them a guy with a boy-ish face and blond chin-length hair, bangs hanging over his thick eyebrows, and I instantly recognized him as one of my classmates in my History class.

“Mikasa, Eren, and Armin,” Jean had explained, pointing each of them out in turn. I learned that the three of them were rarely ever seen apart from one another, that Mikasa was “kickass”, that Jean did not get along with Eren all that much, and that Armin was “a pretty cool dude”. I also learned that Jean had attended the same high school as them.

“Alright, guys, let’s all give it up for Marco, the guy who valiantly rescued and protected our dear, sweet Christa,” Reiner boomed, getting to his feet and raising his cup of Sierra Mist.
There were several woops and shouts of praise as everyone at the table around me stood up, raising their drinks as well. I was absolutely flustered, glancing at Jean for help, but all he did was shrug, which was really no help at all. Even Annie was participating, though still without a smile or any trace of enjoyment.
“To Marco,” Connie announced gleefully. “Who cares if he pretty much got his face rearranged!?”
I winced at that, but I supposed it was pretty fitting, considering the now-purpled-and-swollen bridge of my nose. Christa then leaned over and planted a small kiss on my cheek, and everyone laughed as I flushed a bright red—my face was so hot that I was surprised it didn’t burst into flames right then.

“Come on, Marco, get in on this!” Sasha encouraged, one hand holding her cup high over her head while the other stuffed her cheeks with French fries. Reluctantly, I got to my feet as well, and we all clinked our cheap, plastic, dining hall cups of soda together in some trashy imitation of a formal toast.
When we sat back down, Jean said, “What the hell? Your ass would be wrecked if I hadn’t shown up, and you’re reaping all the benefits!?”
I chuckled lightly, then reached over and grabbed his hand in mine.
“Oh, Jean,” I sighed dreamily, noting with intense satisfaction the way his face went pink at that, “It’s ok—you’re my hero.” I fluttered my eyelashes girlishly at him, and he spluttered and pulled away, everyone else cracking up at our exchange.
Ymir leaned over Christa then, her arm around her tiny shoulders, and said, “Oi, Marco, remember how I said I wasn’t done with you?”
I stiffened.
“Hey, relax, will ya? I just wanted to invite you to my party next week! Thursday night on Halloween, you’re free to bring any friends you like.”
“Oh!” I said, surprised. “Well, I, uh…”
The entire table exploded into complaints and shouts of encouragement.
Connie said, “Hey, Marco, go so that you can bring me!”
“Me too!” Sasha yelled.
“You guys can already come,” Reiner rumbled, then gestured to Bertholdt and Annie. “We’re going too.”
“How is it that you were already invited?” Jean inquired, and Bertholdt nervously replied, “W-well, we were already friends with Ymir, so-“
“I’ve known her since even I was a freshman,” Reiner agreed.

It’s such a small world, I thought to myself, looking around at them all.

In the end, it turned out that pretty much everyone at the table was confirmed to attend, and although I didn’t really see myself as the party type, I agreed to go, and everyone cheered. I made sure that Jean knew that if I had to go, then so did he, and he grimaced in resignation.

The rest of the meal was spent in idle chatter, all of us joking around and discussing the fight from earlier. For once, I felt rather pleased and at peace in a large group of people, and I had a great time—I really hoped that all of us would get to become great friends. It was strange and almost inspiring how an all-out brawl that should have gotten all of us in deep trouble had ended up bringing us together.

Looking across from me, I found that Jean didn’t appear to be sharing the same sentiment. He looked almost… sick, busted lip and swollen cheek aside.
“Jean…?” I said quietly, everyone else engaged in their own conversations around us. “You alright? You don’t look too good…”

His eyes met mine and he nodded, but he still looked awful, face pale and eyes glazed over. Pushing away from the table, he hastily excused himself, saying he needed to use the restroom. When he returned, he looked much better, his color having returned and a wry grin replacing the hollow frown he’d worn before. So I let it slip from my mind and joined in on the lighthearted conversation with everyone else, and he did too.



The week before the party went by just as quickly as the previous weeks had—time flies when you’re having fun with Jean. We’d even skipped a class or two to spend time together, which kinda went to show that we were only studious as long as we were friendless. Oh well.

“Ymir throws the best parties,” Reiner had assured us, when Jean and I had expressed wariness about going the night before. “They’re actually pretty rare, but worth it. The only reason she’s even throwing a Halloween party this year is to celebrate her newly established relationship with Christa. She’s taken a liking to her like no other.”
No one would let us back out of the party, anyway, and I would feel terribly guilty about it if I had… Ymir’s invite had been her way of showing appreciation to me for keeping Christa out of harm’s way, and I respected that.
“It’s not like there’ll be a ton of people there, though,” Bertholdt had said. “Ymir is pretty choose-y about who she lets wreck her house. And also, w-well, you didn’t hear this from me,” he lowered his voice, “But she’s not the most socially-adept girl in the world. She actually kinda ends up pushing a lot of people away with her insensitivity, and she even scares some. D-don’t get me wrong, though, Ymir’s pretty cool.”
I nodded, and I felt a bit better knowing that the party wouldn’t be open to everyone and their grandma; the idea of being shoved into a house filled with drunk, sweaty strangers hadn’t been all that appealing to me.



The evening of the party arrived, and although I had initially volunteered to drive Jean and myself (as well as a few others) over to Ymir’s, Armin quickly dismissed the idea.
“I’ve already decided to be a designated driver, so I’ll just pick you up when I come for the second round of people,” he said. I was going to protest and say that I wasn’t planning on drinking, but in truth, I wasn’t sure if I would or not… I hadn’t drunk before. Better safe than sorry, right?
So in the end, Armin was essentially our bus driver, going between Ymir’s house and the campus two or three times. I thanked him profusely when Jean and I hopped into his SUV, apologizing for the hassle, but he assured us that he didn’t really mind.

We were Armin’s last batch of passengers, so when we got to Ymir’s house, we were pretty much the last to arrive. When we walked in, the music was blaring, and although there weren’t a ton of people, there was still quite a lot- around 50 or so, all crammed in. It was a two story house, though, with plenty of wide spaces, so it wasn’t actually a tight fit. Most of the people were dancing, and a good portion of them were all sitting around in the living room, drinking and laughing boisterously. One of the first things I noticed, however, were the two extremely frilly Lolita-esque maid style dresses hanging on the wall opposite the front door… which was extremely odd to see in a house that supposedly belonged to Ymir.

Annie, Bertholdt and Reiner were among those lounging about, and Bertholdt got up immediately to come talk to us.

“I, uh, figured I should give you guys fair warning, Jean in particular,” he said, glancing franticly between us and the maids dresses on the wall, “Don’t get into a fight with anyone. There’s a rule at Ymir’s parties that those who start fights have to wear the dresses, then fight in them.”
Jean and I exchanged questioning frowns, and Bertholdt said, “It’s just to discourage wrecking her house too much. B-but, there were two guys who started fighting at one of her parties last year, and… well, it was definitely the highlight of the night.”

We nodded understandingly, and he went back to sit next to Reiner on the couch. “I really hope someone gets into a fight, then,” Jean grinned, and I laughed, nodding.
“HEY, GET BACK IN THE BASEMENT, WEEDIE, YOU CAN’T BE UP HERE SMELLING LIKE THAT!” someone screamed, and Jean and I watched as Connie suddenly ran through the crowd and down the hallway, Ymir hot on his heels. She stopped when she saw us in the living room. “Heeeey, so it’s the guest of honor!” she said, then she scowled. “Your bald friend is breaking the rules about marijuana staying in the basement.” She then took off, darting through the throngs of dancers that clogged the hallway, and we shrugged and followed her. We were lead straight into the kitchen—the room where the music was the least deafening--where we found Connie trying to sneak away with an entire box of pizza. “Heeeeey,” Ymir scolded, “You can’t take the whole box, I don’t care how starving you are. Put it back.”
“But it’s for Sasha,” he complained. “Do you even know what she’s like when she’s hungry?”
Dying whale noises could suddenly be heard from below our feet, somehow overpowering the sounds of the blaring music and loud drunks.
“Dear lord, take it. Take it and go back to the basement, you hear?” Ymir said, and Connie grinned appreciatively, folding up the box and heading out from the kitchen. “Ooooh, heeeeeey Jean, Marco,” he said, nodding to each of us in turn, his bloodshot eyes barely even focusing on us as he passed by.

We stared after him for a moment before Jean finally said, “Yeeeaaaaah, we’re not joining Connie and Sasha with the stoners.”
“Didn’t plan on it,” I said. And so we decided to have a seat at the kitchen table together, Jean pulling out several cans of beer from a nearby cooler. “You know how to hold your booze down?” he asked casually, cracking a can open.

I stared blankly at him.
He stared back.
“Y… you’ve never drank before!?” he looked absolutely shocked.
“Nope.”
He scowled, skeptical. “You mean to tell me, that in all your eighteen years of life, you’ve never once consumed alcohol?”
Nineteen years,” I corrected him, “And yes that’s exactly what I’m saying.”
He paused then. “Nineteen? Wait, when’s your birthday!?”
“Sixteenth of June.”
“You’re a whole year older than me, but you’re still a freshman?”
I looked down at the rough wood of the tabletop. “Ah, well, after high school, I spent a year working two jobs to help pay for college, so… yeah.”
“Huh,” was all he said. “You never told me that.”
I shrugged. “You never asked.”

“Fair enough,” he sighed. “That just means I’m gonna have to keep a close eye on you. But there’s no way in hell that I’m about to miss out on watching Marco Bodt get wasted for the first time.”
I squinted at him. “What makes you think I’m gonna get wasted!?”
Jean said nothing—simply rested his head in his hand, elbow propping him up on the table, and he took a sip of his booze, staring at me with a smug expression. Then he nodded towards one of the cans on the table, and back at me.

I rolled my eyes and reached for a can, popping it open with ease. Looking down at the liquid inside, I took a second to mentally prepare myself and took a small sip.

It. Was. Disgusting. I grimaced at the awful taste that was assaulting my taste buds. “Not gonna lie, this stuff tastes vile,” I told him. And yet, he still didn’t say anything. Took another drink… He was still wearing that smug, self-righteous expression, and it was sort of starting to irritate me.
Cautiously, I took a second gulp, letting more of the vomit-inducing beverage roll down my throat. I smirked at him then. “You expect me to get drunk on something I can barely even drink?”
“Tell me what your high school was like, Marco.”
“Wh-what?”
“Tell me what your high school was like.”

Okay, that was pretty random. I didn’t know where he was going with this, but I humored him anyway. I started telling him about my high school, the friends I’d had there, the girlfriend I’d had sophomore year, the teacher that hated my guts, the music club I’d been involved in, things like that. He in turn kept the conversation going; how far did I get with my girlfriend? Was she hot? Did I get my teacher fired? Ooh, I was in music club, what did I play? Would I play a song on piano for him sometime?

And as the conversation droned on, I hadn’t paid much attention to the can I was holding, but somehow, it had become empty. I supposed that I’d subconsciously taken sips from it as I’d talked and listened, but to drink the whole can and barely realize it? I could feel a dull buzz in the back of my skull, and before I knew it, there was a second can in my hand… Jean had taken the empty one away and replaced it with a new one, opening it for me and placing it in my grip.

 I stared at him blankly.
“Well?” he said, bringing his lips to his drink. “Go on.”
“Uh… where, was I again?” I asked.
“You were telling me about your traumatic childhood events involving Furbies.”
“Oh… right.”

I don’t know how long we sat there talking for. It was probably hours… everything was fast and slow, all at the same time. It went by in a blur, yet it felt as though time had slowed down. After a while, even the music had gone down in volume, and Jean and I were talking to one another in low murmurs. How much had Jean drunk? I had absolutely no clue- I was struggling to keep tabs on my own beer count. I felt a bit woozy, and as I spoke to Jean, my mouth made strange slurring motions so that the words wouldn’t come out right. It was a peculiar sensation, but I didn’t mind it… I actually liked it.

Something I distinctly remember from that party was the low rumble of Jean’s voice, how warm it felt as his words weaved around me, pulling me into their low tones and soothing, smoky sounds.

“Careful Marco, Jean tends to kiss a lot when he’s drunk.”
I jumped at the sudden intrusion on our conversation, pulling back from Jean’s face- I hadn’t noticed how close we’d been.
“Jaeger, shut the fuck up!” Jean yelled, and I turned to find Eren standing behind me, effectively knocking three empty cans off the table as I did so.
“I just thought I’d give him fair warning!” Eren shouted back, exasperated. “You do kiss when you’re drunk, you know you do. More importantly, Mikasa knows you do!”
“I said to shut the fuck up!” Jean leapt from his chair, knocking it to the side with a loud ‘clatter’ of wood on linoleum. I flinched at the sound. Was Jean always this easily pissed off when he was drinking....?
“We were fifteen, for fuck’s sake! If I recall correctly, that was around the same time you were tied to the flagpole and got your ass kicked-“

“That has nothing to do with this!” Eren barked, his hands balling into fists at his sides. “While we’re on the subject of dumb shit we did in high school, who was the one who ran up to Mikasa on the first day of school like a complete dumbass and said ‘I’ve had dreams about you, let’s get married and have a dozen children’!?”
“I NEVER SAID THAT!”
“You might as well have! You always went on and on about your fucking stupid-ass dreams, like any of us even gave a shit! Who would even believe such bullshit in the first place!?”
Jean’s eyes widened, and I could already tell that something inside him was starting to unravel… he was edging closer and closer to his breaking point.
“They weren’t bullshit, Jaeger, shut your fucking mouth! Just shut up and stop talking!”
A muscle beneath one of Eren’s eyes twitched. “Or what? You’ll have another nightmare about me and come running and crying like that one time!?”

Jean snapped.

“WE THOUGHT YOU HAD DIED, YOU ASSHOLE!” He lunged at him, and Eren backed reflexively into the wall. Jean grabbed him by the shirt and hoisted him up to his eye level, slamming him back into the wall again and I dropped the drink I was holding, scrambling out of my chair after Jean.
“WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS SO DAMN RECKLESS!?” he shouted into his face, and a look of furious confusion crossed Eren’s features. “WHAT ARE YOU EVEN TALKING ABOUT!?” he yelled back.

Armin ran into the room right then, eyes wide as he took in the sight of Jean pressing Eren into the wall, the two screaming at each other with all the breath in their lungs. “Eren!?” he said. “Jean, what are you doing!?”

“JEAN!” I cried out, but he wasn’t listening. I began pulling at him, trying to pry him off of Eren. Armin did all he could to help, but he wasn’t all that helpful, to be honest.
“JEAN, LOOK AT ME!” I yelled into his ear, and he paused.

“Is someone fighting!?” we heard someone yell excitedly from the hallway, and Jean finally let him go, dropping him to the floor with a dull ‘thud’.
“Take care of Eren, I’m…. taking Jean outside…. Ok?” I said, struggling to translate thought to speech.

Armin nodded, his hand on Eren’s shoulder, while I grabbed Jean by the arm and began tugging him through the hallway, towards the front door.
“I don’t want to go outside!” he protested, to which I answered, “It’s outside or the dress.” That was when probably half of the entire household flooded into the narrow passageway, in the direction of the kitchen. “I heard them over here!” we heard one person say. “I wonder who was fighting,” said another.
The witch hunt for the fighters was on.
Jean obediently followed me.
And although I struggled to walk in a straight line, repeatedly bumping into walls and people, we successfully escaped the confines of Ymir’s house.



Cool nighttime air filled our lungs as we sat there, shoulder to shoulder, on the steps of Ymir’s front porch.

Jean was leaning forward, eyes shut tight with his head in his hands, and I silently watched over him as his breathing slowed. I wasn’t sure how many minutes ticked by in silence, I was far too intoxicated to make an approximate estimation, but it was probably a lot. When he finally opened his eyes, breathing normally once again, I ventured to ask, “Are you ok?”

He didn’t even look at me. He just sucked in a massive amount of air and slowly, ever so slowly, so slowly that I thought he would deflate like a balloon and shrivel up beside me, he let it out.

“I’m fine.” His voice was hoarse, and he did not look fine.

“….Do you want to talk about it?” I tried. He shrugged.

I was at a loss for words. I had never seen Jean so enraged, so off the deep end and out of control. I wasn’t even sure what had triggered it…
“Jean? What was Eren talking about? What nightmares?”
He shook his head, staring down at the steps beneath his feet.
So he didn’t want to talk about it. He didn’t want to talk about anything, and that scared me. In that moment, whatever closeness I felt I had shared with Jean was gone.

“Come back, Jean,” I said quietly, my voice cracking. He looked at me then, eyes wide.
“I’m…. right here, man. I’m right here.” He threw me a look of confusion, which then twisted into one of concern, and I sighed.
“You really don’t want to talk about it?” I said.
He frowned, scowling again, and turned his gaze to look over the front lawn. “Did you know that I’ve never had that many friends?” he mumbled.
I stared at him. “O-oh…?”
He chewed at his bottom lip. “Yeah. And… not that many people have been very close to me.”
I didn’t say anything. I wanted him to keep going. I liked where this was going.
“I feel like… you’re the closest to me that anyone’s ever gotten.”
He snapped his mouth shut then, and I waited patiently for him to continue, but he didn’t.
“S-say something,” Jean said, and I raised my eyebrows at him. “Like what?” I wondered.
“Like, how stupid what I’m saying is!”
“But I don’t think it’s stupid at all.”
“….Really?”
“Really,” I confirmed.

We sat there quietly for a brief moment, thinking.
“So… am I your best friend?” I prodded, and in the darkness, I could’ve sworn Jean was blushing.
“W-well… yeah, of course! That’s a dumb ass question, of course you are.” I smiled wanly as I watched him swallow, his fingers fidgeting and pulling at the sleeves of his hoodie. “Am… I your best friend?”
I nudged him lightly with my shoulder. “Yeah, you are.”
The tiny smile that crept onto his lips filled my heart with a strange, bubbly happiness that bordered on giddy, and I pressed my lips together, attempting to suppress a smile of my own. Me and Jean were best friends. Hopefully forever, I thought.
“I feel lonely whenever I’m with anybody else,” he blurted, and I was suddenly all ears. But he’d stiffened up, eyes wide, and I could tell he’d said something deeply personal… now he was too afraid to continue what he was saying.
“Keep going,” I encouraged. “What do you mean?”
He glanced at me, his amber eyes filled with such uncertainty and fear that it almost hurt, and I gave him a reassuring smile. “I’m listening,” I told him.

He took another massive breath before looking back down. “I feel lonely whenever I’m with anybody else,” he repeated, “But… not when I’m with you.”

I kept quiet, giving him time to collect his thoughts as he continued. “I don’t get along with people, Marco, I…. not a lot of people understand me. And it’s my fault for being so hard to understand, but still…” He clutched his arms to his stomach, then, hunching forward. “I’ve felt like, for a long time, I don’t exist on the same plane as everybody else… at least, emotionally. I don’t click with anybody, and nobody connects with me on an emotional level, and I… I’m really lonely.” His voice as he said that last sentence came out as low whine, so filled with pain that it sounded like a desperate plea for help. What Jean was saying was incredibly complicated, and definitely a bit difficult to understand, but I was doing my best to see where he was coming from.
“Everyone else seems to have people they instantly connect with, people who understand every aspect of them, and I didn’t think I would ever find someone who could be there for me like that….”
My mind clung to his every word. Didn’t? I thought. As in, past tense? He thinks he’s found someone like that now?
I cleared my throat nervously. “Do, uh… do you think I could? Y’know… be that kind of person? For you?”
He wouldn’t look at me. “Maybe.”
I looked down at my hands, feeling my stomach churn uncomfortably. “Jean?”
“Yeah?”
I looked back up and placed my hand on his shoulder. “I’ll find you. Whatever plane of existence you’re walking around on right now, I’ll go looking for you, and I’ll find you.”
“…..Thanks, Marco,” he whispered.

We sat there like that for a few brief moments, reveling in each other’s presence as we huddled in our jackets, the cold air seeming to press in around us.
Sitting there, so close to Jean, both physically and emotionally, I felt like…. I felt like I wanted to-

I pulled my hand away and leaned over the side of the cement porch steps.
“Marco!?”
He was answered with the sound of vomit splattering to the earth, and he patted my back soothingly. “Way to ruin the mood, buddy,” he said. I couldn’t even throw him a witty retort; I just continued to vomit and dry heave. He rubbed my back, saying, “Deep breaths… take slow, deep breaths.”

He was right. The puke had ruined the mood, but probably not in the way he’d thought.
Because I had felt like I wanted to hold his hand. 

Chapter Text

Last night I think I drank too much
Call it a temporary crutch
With broken words I tried to say
Honey don't you be afraid
If we got nothing we got us (Yeah)

And if you only die once I wanna die with
You got something I need
In this world full of people there's one killing me
And if we only die once I wanna die with you
-OneRepublic (Something I Need)



My name is Marco Bodt, and I have a problem.

I was sitting on the floor of my room, the orange light of early morning spilling in from the window. In my lap was a loose grey button-down shirt, the familiar scent of cheap soap and chocolate Axe clinging to the fabric. I knew, because I’d made sure to smell it.
On the floor next to me, to my right, was a pair of black jeans, and in front of me, in the corner next to Jean’s spare bed… was a pair of blue plaid boxers.

Taking a deep breath to calm my nerves, I reached one shaking hand forward, face hot and heart hammering. My fingertips were mere centimeters away when I jerked my hand back, the realization hitting me with all the force of a speeding eighteen-wheeler.

I’m excited by the thought of touching my best friend’s underwear.

“I am so fucked."



I’m pretty sure everyone who went to Ymir’s party didn’t go to class the following Friday. I experienced my first ever hangover, and a bunch of people didn’t even leave; they just crashed at Ymir’s place. Little did they know, they had fallen into her trap, and were immediately drafted into ‘Ymir’s Cleanup Crew’ the next day. Sasha and Connie were among them.
After that, however, things proceeded as usual: with another sleepover weekend. This weekend, however, wasn’t exactly… ‘usual’.

                It started out just the same as always; Jean came over to my dorm and had brought some of his own movies to choose from, and we were just going to spend the entire night watching movies together. I’d supplied the “refreshments”, which was just microwavable popcorn and miscellaneous candies. We’d climbed up on my bed together, lights out, and we were propped against the wall, side by side with a bowl of popcorn on Jean’s lap. Nothing out of the ordinary.
But fifteen minutes into the movie, something strange happened. I started to become… I suppose the only term I can think of is ‘hyperaware’.
 
Sitting on my bed in the dark next to Jean, I was suddenly almost painfully aware of his presence beside me, to the point that I was starting to tune out the movie and focus entirely on him. The steady rise-and-fall of his chest as he inhaled and exhaled was, for some reason, incredibly distracting. I found myself sneaking tiny glances at him, the contours and sharp angles of his face made apparent by the faint glow of the TV.

What are you doing, Marco? I thought, chiding myself. Watch the movie, it’s only Jean. And so, tearing my eyes away from Jean’s face, I attempted to keep my attention trained on the movie.

It didn’t last long, however. When I finally decided to grab myself a bit of popcorn, my hand sliding discreetly towards the bowl, my fingers collided with Jean’s—the unexpected sensation of his warm skin against my fingertips shocked me, and I almost ripped my hand away.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, moving his hand out of the way. “I’ve been hogging the popcorn, haven’t I?”
“N-no problem,” I stuttered, hurriedly grabbing a fistful of buttery popcorn and pulling away.

“Aww, man, what the fuck?” I heard him whine, and I turned to see him pouting. Actually pouting, brows knitted together and bottom lip sticking out. It was actually… Oh god, I am not thinking of my best friend as cute, I swear.
“What?” I said.
“You took one of the pieces I was gonna eat…”
I stared at him, incredulous, wondering how he could be acting so hilariously childish, before grinning widely and shoving the entire handful of popcorn into my mouth.
His jaw dropped in disbelief as he watched, but he quickly snapped it shut and glared at me instead. I noticed how his narrows gaze flitted between my eyes and my still-chewing mouth. It halted on my mouth.
“Don’t fucking tempt me,” he growled menacingly.
And all of the sudden my mind was assaulted with the image of his lips on mine, tongue delving into my mouth-

I choked mid-swallow and doubled over, coughing uncontrollably.
“Oh my GOD,” he said, clutching at his stomach as he laughed so hard, he practically cried. My coughs continued, and he patted my back in a feeble attempt at help, although his laughs were impeding his own oxygen intake. “I was joking!” he gasped, chuckles wracking his thin form while he tried to compose himself. After several deep breaths and me finally managing to swallow my food, he said, “I had no idea that would happen, your reactions are the best, holy shit.” He wiped away one laughter-induced tear.
“I’m gonna have to mess with you like that more often,” he sighed.
My face was hot and I felt insanely stupid. “Please don’t,” I croaked.
“Don’t worry, I will.”

I tried to spend the rest of the movie in peace, but the damage was already done; the image in my mind wouldn’t go away, and I felt immense embarrassment and shame because of it. It bothered me—the fact that an image of Jean, my best friend, kissing me was stuck in my head angered and confused me. I initially threw the blame for my less-than-appropriate thoughts at Jean for teasing me, but I couldn’t fault him for that—it was just how Jean was. Not to mention that we’d teased each other just like that plenty of times before. But neither of us had ever reacted strangely or with discomfort, as far as I knew. So… what’s different now?
In the end, I chalked it up to hormones, and made plans to get myself off as soon as I could (which, considering that it was a “sleepover weekend", wouldn’t be for a good while).

We were barely into the second movie of our Movie Marathon when Jean finally set the emptied third bowl of popcorn to the side and crawled across me to get to the Snickers bar on my left.

I stopped breathing, and time seemed to slow down as I watched him lick his lips, eyes trained on his target candy. The motion was so miniscule, I wouldn’t have been able to see it if I had been any further away; the tiniest flick of his tongue, the tip pushing past his pressed lips ever so slightly. Suffice to say, I was feeling curiously flustered by the time he was seated again.

He couldn’t just ask me to pass him the stupid Snickers bar!? I thought, more frustrated with myself than I was with him.

At that point, I was a much better judge of my reactions, so I made the intelligent decision to keep my eyes fixated on the TV while Jean ate his chocolate bar; I was more than certain that I wouldn’t like my bodily response to watching him lick at the residual chocolate and caramel sticking to his lips.

I was eventually able to relax and enjoy myself at last, but the entire rest of that movie night, the urge to slide my hand a few inches to the right and place it over Jean’s remained at the back of my mind.

I went to sleep that night puzzled at myself and my bizarre behavior. Shrugging, I curled into my blankets. Sanity would return with sleep, I reasoned.


 

             The following morning, I believed my problems from the previous night were solved and that I could step forward with life, leaving Friday night’s urges behind me as nothing more than exhaustion and an overabundance of testosterone. Jean ripped me out of bed, same as usual, and we went to get breakfast together.

He scalded his mouth with coffee again, and I scolded him for doing so again—things were back to normal, and the pressing weight of worry over last night’s events left me as the day went on, leaving me light hearted and relaxed. We ended up spending most of that Saturday with Sasha and Connie, mostly wandering around a nearby mall and goofing off. Sasha bought around three entire meals for herself in the few hours we spent there, and I was left wondering how her family could have afforded to feed her all her life. Connie stopped at an electronics store to buy an extremely expensive pair of headphones, expressing a deep interest in acquiring the loudest and most quality pair imaginable. I could pretty much guess what sounds he was planning to drown out with those.

Jean and I returned to my room that evening worn out, more than a little tired after trying to keep up with Connie’s and Sasha’s shenanigans all day. “I call shower first,” I said, diving for my bag of shampoo and body wash.
“Damn,” he muttered. “I need to start remembering to bring my own shower stuff, huh?”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Although, I was actually under the impression that you kept forgetting on purpose, so that you could use my ‘flowery’ shampoo.”
“Like hell I was!” he shouted as I took off down the hall, clean clothes in hand.

My shower was quick, but if I’d known what I’d run into when I got back to my room, I’d probably have taken longer to prepare myself.

When I opened my door, bag of shower supplies in one hand, hair dripping onto my clean t-shirt, I found Jean, clad only in a loose towel around his waist.
“Oh!” I gasped, nearly dropping the bag in surprise, but he hardly seemed to register my shock; he plucked the shower bag from my grasp with ease and swung around me, making for the showers a few doors down.

                I blinked rapidly, trying to get the memory of his bare torso and taut stomach muscles out from the forefront of my mind. Jean had taken showers in Sina plenty of times before, but he usually changed in the bathrooms instead of traipsing around in a towel. I mean, it was an incredibly common thing to do—the guys on my floor did it all the time. It just… for him to do it caught me completely by surprise.

I tentatively sat on my bed then, throwing my dirty clothes to the side and placing my head in my hands as I tried to calm my erratic heart.

You really should have jerked it in the shower, Marco, then you wouldn’t be in this mess, I told myself.

I, of course, was already aware that I could find a man attractive. In fact, I’d ogled plenty of men several years prior to that point (the only girlfriend I’d ever had was weirded out by that, actually, since she’d come from a hardcore Christian family that expressed extreme disgust towards anyone of the queer persuasion. Yeah, that ended that). So I wasn’t going through some “gay scare”; I’d been there and done that already. The real issue here was that eyeing my best friend’s abs like that was not going to do, not at all. I had to get my shit together.

Except lo and behold, the second Jean returned, I did just that: eyed my best friend’s abs. It was so much worse the second time.

His hair, still wet from the shower, sprinkled his shoulders with water that dripped over his bare chest, the tiny droplets eventually rolling down over his stomach. His towel was loose around his waist, just below his hips, and when he walked past me to his spare bed, I got the most wonderful view of his narrow back and how the towel hugged his ass-
MARCO, what did we just decide!? Stop this.

Obeying my conscience, I tore my eyes away abruptly, face flaring up as I swallowed back the drool that had accumulated in my mouth. And my head may have been turned away, but when I heard the towel hit the floor, my eyes went wide instantly. Why me, I thought miserably.

I was so immersed in my thoughts of shame and self-berating that I didn’t notice how quickly Jean had gotten dressed, or that he was trying to sneakily grab something off his bed.
The pillow hit my head so hard, I was nearly knocked to the side.
“Jean!”
“Headshot!” he cried triumphantly.

See? It’s just stupid Jean doing stupid stuff like he always stupid does. Stop getting so worked up over him.

With a huff of irritation, I launched his pillow back at him, but he dodged it and I quickly equipped my own pillow.
“You really wanna do this?” I warned, grinning crookedly at him while I brandished my weapon threateningly.
“Hell yeah I wanna do this!” he shouted, running at me with his pillow in hand.

And so we battled, one on one, pillow to pillow, like a couple of preteen girls at their first sleepover. Jean made sure to aim for my head plenty of times, and I always made sure to smack his ass with my pillow in retaliation.
“You got some sort of fascination with my ass?” he questioned after a fifth pillow-to-the-ass. My stomach did a backflip.
“N-no! I just-!”
Seeing an opening, Jean took advantage of my distraction and jumped from my bed, lunging at me and tackling me to the ground. He wrestled the pillow from my grip.
“I win,” he sneered, flinging my pillow across the room and well out-of-reach. I scowled up at him.
“Come on, man, don’t be a sore loser,” he smiled, still on top of me and holding tightly onto his own pillow. “It was just a ga- woah, Marco!? Sto-!!”
I wrapped my arms around him, locking him in my grasp as I flipped us over and pinned him to the floor under me. Straddling him as he squirmed, searching franticly for a means of escape, I pulled his wrists together and placed them above his head, gripping them in one hand while I ripped his pillow from his desperate fingers with my other. I wapped him in the face with it.

“Who’s the winner now?” I grinned down at him. His usual glower was back in place.
“Still me,” he said indignantly. “I took your pillow first, so I’m still the winner!”
I smirked, noticing how vulnerable he was beneath me, underarms exposed. It reminded me of all the times I’d played with Marie…

“Are you ticklish, Jean?” I crooned, and he stiffened.
“N-no way,” he stuttered, eyes widening in fear. “I’m a grown man… I’m not tickl-MARCO, STO-“
But it was too late. I’d thrown his pillow to the side and was digging my fingers into one of his armpits, and he spasmed beneath me. I watched with satisfaction as he exploded into uncontrollable laughter, face reddening from lack of oxygen. His legs kicked out wildly, and with me straddling his hips, he’d started kneeing me in the back.

“Ouch, you dick!” I laughed, releasing his wrists so that both my hands could attack his sides.
“NN-MARC-AHAHAHAA! S-Sto…Marco-Ahahaha! I can’t breathe-AHA!”
His back arched up as he tried to get away from my offending hands, and finally, in a violent flop of desperation, I was thrown off him and he rolled away to safety.

I rolled after him, but he pushed me back. “Do that again,” he panted, “and I’ll beat your ass!” He was smiling through the threat, though, so I knew he wasn’t actually upset with me.

We laid there on the floor like that, me listening to his rapid panting as he tried to catch his breath. When he’d finally calmed down, I turned on my side to look over at him.
“Still think you won?” I challenged.
He growled, “Yes.” Then he turned on his side in my direction, looking me directly in the eyes. I swallowed.
“W-what?”
He didn’t say anything at first, staring blankly at me as though deep in thought.
“I didn’t just throw my pillow at you for no reason,” he finally said. I raised my eyebrows questioningly, and he propped himself up on one elbow. “You looked like you were thinkin’ about something serious,” he continued. “And you looked a little upset, so I wanted to cheer you up.”
I felt my chest constrict a little as I realized what he was referring to. I knew what was coming next.
“What were you thinking about?” he asked.

A swarm of butterflies invaded my stomach then, my face growing hot. What was I supposed to tell him? “I’m embarrassed and confused and scared because you’ve been turning me on this weekend,”!? That would not go over well. Maybe I could get away with a small lie?

“I… uh, was just thinking about… a test I have next week. I’m pretty stressed out about it, so… yeah.”
Wow, nice lie, Marco. Real convincing.

Jean’s expression hardened, his eyes darkening, and I knew he wasn’t fooled.
“Don’t fucking lie to me like that. If you don’t want to talk about it, just say so, ok?”

“Ok! Fine, yeah, I don’t wanna talk about it.” I let out a sigh and rolled over on my back. Jean was already starting to notice my strange behavior. If I didn’t get my act together and my hormones in proper order soon, the gig would be up in no time.

We spent that night talking and laughing and joking around, discussing various plans for next week and messing around on the internet. I didn’t experience anymore hormone attacks that night, but I did fall asleep to the thought of Jean arching his back beneath me while I straddled him.


Sunday brought little mercy.
It was a bit after noon, probably 1:00 PM, and we’d grabbed sandwiches from a nearby Subway to eat in my room. I was on my bed, laptop open to Facebook while I scrolled through my newsfeed and munched on my food. My best friend sat next to me, eating as well, so it was a bit unexpected when I refreshed the page and Jean’s face was staring back at me.

I glanced over at him, watching him stuff his sandwich down his throat.
“Did… did you just post a selfie? I asked.
“Yah,” he said around a mouthful of food.
“Uh, why?”
He swallowed. “Because Jaeger’s online,” was his answer.
“…. I don’t understand.”
“Just watch.”

The words had barely left his mouth when the ‘New Story’ button appeared at the top of the page, and I clicked it. Eren had uploaded a selfie of him scowling, Mikasa reading a book in the background. The caption above it read, “Back for more, Kirschtein?”

I raised an eyebrow at Jean. “You get into selfie wars with Eren?”
“You bet I do.”
“And how often do you win?”

He didn’t answer; he was too preoccupied with snapping a picture of himself flipping his phone off. I watched as he typed the words, “Bring it, Jaeger” into the description and uploaded it.
There was a comment from Connie.



I sighed, finishing up my lunch as I watched the events unfold via Facebook. Eren responded to Jean’s selfie with him sticking two middle fingers at the camera, his expression smug.

“Does that even count as a selfie? Someone’s taking the picture for him,” I mentioned. “I mean, unless he’s got telekinesis…”
“Excellent observation,” Jean said, typing my findings into the comments section of Eren’s selfie. He responded with another selfie.

What’s wrong, Jean? You don’t have any friends to help you out?” The picture was of Eren and Armin both flipping off the camera, Armin looking more than a little uncomfortable.

Jean turned to me.  “Got any sunglasses?” he asked. I squinted at him curiously, then nodded to my desk, and he scrambled over to grab my only two pairs. “Put ‘em on,” he instructed me, tossing me a pair.
“You’re seriously dragging me into this?” I asked.
“Yes. Now put them on.”
I sighed in resignation as I slid them onto my face; Jean had already claimed my Aviators as he climbed back onto the bed next to me.
“Now throw up some gang signs,” he said. I complied, but when I kept smiling as he prepared to take the picture, he smacked me upside the head. “Don’t smile, this isn’t the time to be cute. Frown like you’re a hardass.”
An awful grimace was the best he could get out of me, and he finally accepted it and posted the picture. As we awaited Eren’s response, I grinned at Jean, my shades still on. He slipped his off.
“What?” he asked.
“You said my smiles were cute.”
He spluttered. “Wha-!? No! No I didn’t!” His blush was too funny and adorable, so I let him off easy.
“Ok, sure.”

He opened his mouth like he was about to say something, but then Eren posted his selfie. It was of him and Armin at a downward angle, the two of them making duck faces up at the camera. Jean stared thoughtfully at the photo. “What’ll our next move be, Marco?” he wondered.
I shrugged. “Take it in a direction you don’t think they’ll want to go in. If you can take it further than them, you win, right?”
We stared at each other for a long moment, and then a wide smile spread across his face. “You’re a genius,” he said.
“Well… I know I am. But why this tim- Uhhh, what do you think you’re doing?”

The next thing I knew, Jean had replaced the computer that had been in my lap a few moments before.
“Jean!?”
He was situating himself on my lap, his ass on my thighs while his legs were swung to the side. I could feel my entire body tensing up as he placed one hand on my chest, his other hand holding his phone in proper selfie position while he nuzzled his forehead against the side of my neck.

“Jean,” I whispered, afraid to speak any louder. “What are you doing?”
“Man, relax,” he said. “I’m taking this in a direction that Eren won’t dare go in, just like you said.”
I swallowed, cursing myself for giving him such an awful idea.
“Christ, Marco, your heart is beating really fucking fast, chill out. Will it make you feel better if I say ‘no homo’?”
“No.”
“Then you’re shit outta luck.” He shifted on my lap, drawing a sharp intake of breath from me before saying, “Wow, this would be an awkward time for you to randomly pop a boner, yeah?”
“Take the damn picture, Jean!” I nearly shouted at him. Before my dick decides to say hello.
“ALRIGHT, alright, sheesh!”

The second the picture was taken, I shoved him off of me. It was uploaded several seconds later. “Me n the bae ;)” he’d titled it. It depicted a smug looking Jean curled into my chest, my face bright red.



I sighed before typing out my own comment.



Eren’s retaliation came quicker than we’d expected, and shocked us both. He had his lips pressed to a distraught-looking Armin’s cheek, Mikasa watching in the background. “My bae is prettier than yours ;P” it read.



Jean swung around to gaze pointedly at me. I leaned away from him.
“Jeeeaaan… what are you thinking?”
“We have to one-up them, Marco. We have to.”
“Just… what do you plan on doing… JEAN!” He lunged towards me, his arm winding around my shoulders and pulling me closer to him.
“Say ‘cheese’,” he growled in my ear, his fingers coming up to twist into my hair while he trailed a warm tongue up my cheek. I whimpered.
Oh god. Hello, erection.

Jean uploaded the photo with a bright red cheek from where I’d slapped him, and I scrubbed feverishly at my cheek with my sleeve while I pulled my knees up to my chest to hide my arousal. Damn him.



We waited eagerly for Eren’s response, eyes wide and nerves on edge. For several minutes, I sat there with my fingers crossed, and I’d almost sighed in relief at the thought that he’d finally given up. But he hadn’t. Eren Jaeger was a stubborn guy.
               
                The picture he posted was of him straddling a furiously blushing Armin, pinning his arms to the floor and Mikasa gone from the background. I guessed that she was the one taking the picture.

We stared at the photo for a good minute. Unfortunately for me, Jean was a stubborn guy as well.
“Fuck,” I heard him whisper. “How the hell are we supposed to top this one!?”
“Uhhh, no! Game over!” I said. “I’m not going through with this. We lose the selfie war.”
“But Marco-!”
“Don’t you ‘but Marco’ me!”
 
A sudden influx of comments on Eren’s “selfie” caught our attention.



I growled as I reached for my computer from around my legs and typed a response.



The replies were instantaneous.



My heart skipped a beat at that, the pillow fight from last night coming to mind. “Jean!” I shouted, pushing him roughly as he curled in on himself, laughing and clutching his stomach.



I blinked at Christa’s comment, completely blown away. Was this sarcastic response really from the same innocent girl I’d saved a week ago!? It sure didn’t seem like it…



Jean chuckled at Armin’s comment. “I will admit, I feel a bit sorry for the little guy,” he said.
I rolled my eyes at him and said, “Selfie war is over.” He begrudgingly complied with my wishes.

The rest of that Sunday was pretty uneventful. I managed to calm my body down somehow, and Jean dozed off next to me while he’d been screwing around on Facebook. His head was propped against my shoulder, jaw slack as he salivated onto my shirt. I didn’t mind, though—it was preferable to him being a huge tease and making me pop a stiffy every hour of the day.
 
But although he wasn’t the most sexually appealing at that point, I was still experiencing strange fluttering sensations in my stomach and a curious warmth in my chest as he slept on me, his sandy blond hair tickling my cheek. I grimaced as he let out a loud snore, and after a moment’s hesitation, snatched his phone out of his lap.
It only took me a few seconds to unlock his phone, and pretty soon, Jean Kirschtein had posted a selfie on his wall of him drooling on his best friend’s shoulder. It was captioned, “Hehe ;)”.

He left later that evening, and that night, I fell asleep while scrolling through the selfies of us taken that day.


It was Monday morning. With the start of a new week came the harsh realization of my attraction to Jean. His boxers were on the floor in front of me and my heart was beating franticly in my chest, a feeling of panic and dread clawed at my stomach.

This cannot be happening to me. Just pick the damn things up already, it’s only underwear. Inhaling deeply and closing my eyes, I tentatively pressed my fingers into the fabric, relaxing at the contact and curling my fingers into a fist.
See? I thought, bringing the boxers up so that I was holding it in both hands, pinching it by the waistband and raising it up to get a better look. That wasn’t so bad. Boxers are boxers, Jean’s or not. And since they’re Jean’s, I wonder how many times he’s gotten erections wearing these-
“Oh god!” I dropped them and scooted away as fast as I could, breathing rapidly while I tried to clear my thoughts. Stop thinking about him like that, he’s your best friend! This is wrong, just stop. I threw my head into my hands, staring at the floor and trying as hard as I could to not ponder the fact that those very boxers had been worn and rubbed against Jean’s more sensitive areas, but of course I only started thinking about it more and before I knew it, I had a bit of a problem between my legs to take care of.

But I had to go. Astronomy would begin in less than ten minutes, and I had to book it.



Jean had always been a distraction to me in astronomy, even before we’d been friends, but that day, it was so much worse. Every time I looked over at the back of his head, at the side of his face as he concentrated on taking his notes, I burned with shame. If he knew what I’d been thinking of him earlier that morning, dear god, our friendship would end. And I didn’t want that.
His friendship was one of the things I valued most in this world, and I wasn’t about to let my hormones and sexual frustrations get in the way of that. It was stupid, and it had gone on long enough. As soon as I got back to my room, I would grab his clothes and give them right back to him. No more fantasizing about what his underwear had touched. Things that I wanted to touch-
MARCO BODT, what in the actual fuck!? I facepalmed loudly, and several of my classmates turned to look at me. Jean included. I smiled nonchalantly at him, waving, and he raised an eyebrow at me. I shrugged, and when he finally turned back around, I let out a massive breath that I had absolutely no clue I had been holding.
That particular lecture seemed to go on for eternity, allowing me to wallow in self-loathing for much longer than was necessary. And when we finally got out, the walk with Jean to the dining hall was relatively normal. He and I discussed times when we should get together and study for the upcoming astronomy test, and what we hoped the dining hall was serving that day.

Shit didn’t hit the fan until we were sitting down and eating together. I was absently picking at my food, not feeling terribly hungry.
“Hey… are you ok?” I heard Jean say. I jumped, his voice startling me out of my thoughts, and I turned to look at him.
“Yeah,” I said, forcing a smile. “I’m doing great! How are you?”

He stared at me then, scowling at me with an almost bored expression. “Really, Marco? You know I can see through that bullshit, right?”
I cringed, sinking back into my seat. “I really am fine, though,” I tried again. “Why would you think otherwise?”
He crossed his arms then, ignoring the plate in front of him. I felt like his eyes were boring into my skull, so I focused on his nose so that I wouldn’t have to make eye contact with him. “It’s kind of painfully obvious that something is up with you. You were zoning out on Saturday, and then again just now. Not to mention that little spectacle in astronomy today. Seriously, man, what’s going on with you? What’s on your mind?”

I frowned down at my hands, which were resting on my lap, palms facing up. “I just really don’t want to talk about it, Jean. I’m fine. I can deal with it. Can we talk about something else, please?”

“You can deal with it!? Marco, you don’t have to deal with it! That’s what I’m here for, and whatever you need to talk about, I’ll listen!”
I looked up at him, exasperated. “But I don’t want to talk about it! Just drop it, ok!?”

Jean looked absolutely livid. “Then what the hell am I here for!? I’m your best friend, and you won’t even tell me what’s up with you!?”
My hands curled into fists, and I squared my shoulders. “Don’t be such a hypocrite, Jean.”
What!?”
“I said, don’t be such a hypocrite! You won’t tell me what’s up with you, either, so we’re even!”
“What the hell are you talking about!? There’s nothing up with me, I’m perfectly fine!”
“Oh, yeah!? And I suppose you just get into fistfights with Eren over nightmares all the fucking time, right!?”

Jean leapt from his chair at that, hands slamming down on the table between us. A fork went flying, and the entire dining hall went quiet.
“Marco, shut up, you don’t know what you’re talking about!”

I stood up as well, my chair screeching along the floor as it was shoved back. “Well maybe I would if you would just tell me about it!”

“This isn’t about me, we were talking about you, remember!?”
“No, you were talking about me! I’m the one who doesn’t want to talk about it at all!”
“Come on, man, I’m here for you! Just let me help! I’m worried!!!”
“JEAN, JUST LEAVE ME ALONE! Stop worrying about me! I don’t need your help, I don’t need you at all!”
My heart stopped as I realized what I’d just said. “N-no… wait, that’s not what I-“

Jean knocked his chair on its side in a fit of anger. “I DON’T NEED YOU EITHER, THEN! FUCK OFF AND DON’T COME CRAWLING BACK TO ME WHEN YOU’RE CRYING ALONE IN YOUR ROOM AND FRIENDLESS!”

He stormed out of the hall then, leaving the chair on the floor and his food on the table.
“Fine…” I sighed, watching his retreating figure morosely. Once he was out of sight, I looked around and found countless eyes on me. The other patrons, seeing that the show was over, quickly turned away and returned their attention to their food.

I sat back down in my chair, my heart heavy in my chest. That could have gone better, I thought, covering my face with my hands. I couldn’t believe I’d said that to Jean. I did need Jean. I needed him more than anything. In the end, I’d not only thought inappropriately of him, I’d worried him and pissed him off and hurt him.
You’re an awful person, Marco.
One in the afternoon rolled by, and I still didn’t leave my chair. I couldn’t really care about class at that point. I felt one hundred percent, through and through, to the very core, from head to toe and inside out, like the worst person on earth. When I thought of Jean’s angry and hurt expression, my heart twisted painfully in my chest, a truly deep and somehow physical pain.

“I DON’T NEED YOU EITHER, THEN!”
A hollow ache resonated from within my stomach.
“DON’T COME CRAWLING BACK TO ME WHEN YOU’RE CRYING ALONE IN YOUR ROOM AND FRIENDLESS!”
The ache throbbed.

I don’t know how many hours I sat there with my head in my hands, feeling sorry for myself and throwing a disgusting little pity party. I didn’t know how in the hell I was going to fix this. I had screwed up big time. And I was so very afraid that Jean wouldn’t forgive me.

“Well, well, well, if it isn’t our lovely knight in shining armor!”
I looked up to find Ymir, grinning down at me lazily with her arm around Christa.
“Oh,” I croaked. The windows revealed the sky to be orange, with a haze of purple clouds, and I realized I’d been there for quite a while. It was probably around dinner time already. “Hey Ymir.”
She frowned at my table, cocking an eyebrow at the chair that was still lying on its side and the plates that were still covered in cold, uneaten food. “What happened here?”

I sighed, leaning back in my chair. “I, uh… got into a fight with Jean.”

“I see. Tough luck, kid.” She turned away and was about to walk across the dining hall to a different set of tables, but Christa stopped her, tugging at her arm and frowning up at her.
“Ymir…” she whined.
“He doesn’t look like he wants to be bothered, and I don’t feel like getting involved in his manpain. It’s his problem.”
Christa pulled away from her girlfriend and came to stand by me, smiling sweetly at me. She placed a careful hand on my shoulder, and that somehow got a tiny smile out of me. “Are you ok, Marco?” she said quietly.
I couldn’t even nod. I just shrugged, looking down at the table instead of meeting her eyes.
“You guys will work it out, I’m sure,” she said. “Is there anything we can do to help?”
I shook my head. “I appreciate your kindness, Christa, but I don’t think there’s anything you can do… thanks, though.”

“Au contraire!” Ymir said, stepping forward. “I’ve got an idea! Say, Marco, would you like some booze?”

As it turned out, Ymir had been looking around for someone to dump all the leftover alcohol from the party on. She figured I’d be a perfect candidate, since I’d not only rescued her “beloved girlfriend from man scum”, but was feeling down in the dumps and could really use it. Christa argued that drowning my sorrows in booze wouldn’t solve anything, but Ymir waved her concerns aside and insisted I take the cheap beer off her hands. In the end, I was a bit too emotionally exhausted to put up much resistance, and so later that evening, by seven o’ clock, I had a mini fridge full of beer and then some.
I was fully aware that if I got caught with any of it in my dorm, I’d be in deep shit- this was a dry campus, not to mention the fact that I wasn’t 21 yet. But I didn’t really care. No one would find out as long as it was all hidden properly during room checks.
“Enjoy! And make up with Jean soon, you two post some of the best selfies!” had been Ymir’s parting words.



Of course, being depressed and left alone in one’s room with several packs of beer almost always leads to inevitable memory loss. A statement that is proven true by my next actions.
To hell with it, I thought, cracking open a can and pouring the disgusting solution into my mouth. I grimaced at the awful sensation that my taste buds were left with. “What the hell am I even doing?” I said out loud, frowning at the drink in my hand.
I don’t even like beer, and Jean’s not here to coerce me into a drunken state, so there’s not really a point to this…
Jean…
Today’s argument swam through my mind again. How angry Jean had been. How he’d slammed his hands on the table, really yelled at me.
I don’t need your help, I don’t need you at all!”
I hastily chugged my beer at that memory. I’m so sorry, Jean, I thought.

In the end, my own guilt was enough to get me thoroughly wasted. Every time I needed some encouragement to down another can, I turned my thoughts to that day’s events. I just wanted to forget what had happened that day, and forget about my sexual thoughts from that weekend. I didn’t want to think about anything. I didn’t want to deal with my problems, I just wanted to forget about them. Pretend they didn’t exist. Pretend I wasn’t holding Jean’s shirt to my face and breathing deeply in between sips of my drink. Pretend I wasn’t trying to imagine what Jean was doing at that exact moment in time while I killed off a good portion of my brain cells and filled my bloodstream with alcohol.
Pretend that I didn’t find Jean attractive in the slightest.
This is what I get for befriending hot people.
Pretend that I hadn’t said awful things to my best friend.
I am so, so, so sorry…



My head throbbed in waves, and I could feel my blood pounding in my skull. Last week’s hangover was nothing compared to this. I’m a dumbass, I thought, keeping my eyes squeezed tight and swallowing in an attempt to soothe my dry throat.
I refused to open my eyes. I knew it would hurt too much, so I just laid there, on my bed, head pressed into my pillow. I had no idea what time it was, but it didn’t matter, because I had no intention of going to class that day. My grades were really going to fall behind at that point, but I sort of didn’t care. I wouldn’t learn anything with a hangover anyway—there would only be needless suffering.
I yawned and buried my nose back into the head of hair in front of me.

I froze.

I slowly became aware of the placement of my limbs. Tensing the muscles of one arm, and then the other, I found that they were wrapped around the form of a thin man, his breathing slow and steady. I was laying on my side, and by flexing the toes of one of my feet, I found that I had my leg draped over a narrow waist.
But most notable of all was the distinct musk of faint sweat, cheap soap, and chocolate Axe.
Dear lord.

I forced my eyes open, squinting at the faint light that was shining through the curtains of my window. Sure enough, circled about in my arms with his face pressed into my chest, was Jean, one of his arms thrown over my side.
OH MY GOD.

My heart was slamming against my chest so hard, I thought it was trying to break out of my rib cage. Don’t panic, I told myself, leaning away from Jean’s sleeping form ever so slightly and lifting my head to stare down at him. Just breathe. Jean was still fast asleep, and I found myself admiring the features of his sleeping face as I calmed myself. With his eyes closed, mouth set in a neutral position and no sign of his usual scowl to be seen, he seemed so childishly innocent. He was so cute… I wanted to kiss him.

NO, I mentally screamed at myself, pulling away from him. He stirred in his sleep, one of his hands gripping my shirt tightly, and I felt my stomach twist itself into a knot. This was not helping my predicament one bit. Not to mention that I had no idea how in the hell Jean had ended up in my bed. I had little to no recollection of the previous night, and a quick glance around my room informed me that I had, indeed, gotten shitfaced. My entire floor was littered with countless empty beer cans.

Plopping my aching head back onto my pillow and squeezing my eyes shut, I let out a low groan. “What happened,” I whimpered.

“You got drunk, dumbass.”

My eyelids flew open and I looked over to find that Jean had awoken, withdrawing his arm from around me to rub at the grit in his eyes. “You’re awake,” I gasped.
“You don’t say.” His voice was husky with sleep.
It took me a second to realize I was still wrapped around him, and I quickly untangled my limbs from around his body. “Sorry,” I mumbled, scooting away from him a bit. “I don’t really remember what exactly… happened.”
He didn’t say anything, he just yawned.
“Are you still mad at me?” I said quietly.

“What? Oh…. No, I’m not.” He looked at me through heavily lidded eyes. “Come here.”
I stiffened as he wrapped his arms around me. And then he growled, “You ever get fucking wasted like that again, you better make sure I’m there with you, ‘cause that could have gotten dangerous really fast.”
“….I didn’t know I’d get that drunk,” I said.
“No one ever does. Just don’t be fucking stupid and drink alone like that. You weren’t drinking because of our fight yesterday, were you?”
I didn’t answer him.
“Jean, what happened last night? How did you get here?”

He pulled away from me and yawned again, snuggling under my blankets some more. “Uh… check your phone. Specifically your text messages and call history.”
I sat up, wincing at the fresh wave of pain that beat against my skull as I did so. Squinting around, I dug through the pockets of the jeans I was still wearing and located my phone. The light from the screen needled my eyes painfully, and there were no new messages, but digging through my inbox, I found several that I had no memory of.

From: Jean
hey. r u awake?

That one was from a little after midnight.

From: Jean
look. ur probably sleeping or something, or just dont want to talk to me, but i just want to apologize. i shouldnt have been prying into ur personal business. can we still be friends? i rly want to come over rite now, if u dont mind. plz.

From Jean:
i would actually really like it if u were awake right now. ur not just ignoring my texts because ur mad at me, rite?

To: Jean
jea nn y wouldi bemaaad were bffffffffffffffss rmember???????/ :):)))):) slly jen !!!!

From: Jean
what the fuck

The messages ended there, but my call history showed that Jean had called at one in the morning, and that I had picked up.
“Do I even want to know what I said when you called?”
“Probably not,” Jean said.
“……were you ok? Why did you want to come over so badly?” That particular message was worrying me more than anything.
He sighed, but he didn’t answer. “Can I say that I don’t want to talk about it right now, or will we get into a fight again?”
“You don’t have to tell me right now….. oh god, Jean, I… the things I said. I didn’t mean it, you know that right? I just-“
“Shut up,” he sighed. “You apologized plenty last night. Don’t worry about it, ok? I said awful things, too. And I’m sorry about that.”
I frowned sadly at him.
“Don’t look at me like that,” he grumbled.
“Ok… but Jean?” I laid back down next to him.
“Yeah?”
“How did we end up sleeping in my bed together?”
“This was not my intention,” he said. “You grabbed me and pulled me into bed and wouldn’t let go.”
I groaned loudly, covering my face with a hand. “I’m sorry.” And then I turned to stare at him, wide-eyed. “I didn’t do anything really weird, did I!? If I did, it didn’t mean anything, ok!?”
Jean grinned at me. “Nope. Nothing weird at all. What are you so afraid of, Marco? What do you think you might have done?” His tone was much too sarcastic and teasing for my liking. I nearly pushed him out of my bed.
“Just tell me if I did anything strange, Jean! I’m serious!”
He laughed. “Ok, fine, you didn’t.” I glared at him. “Seriously!” he said. “You did nothing out of the ordinary except drag me into bed with you! To be honest, I think you just get a little clingy when you’re drunk…”
“A little?”
“Yeah.”

We laid in bed like that for several silent minutes. It was warm, our body heat mingling beneath the covers, Jean’s gentle breathing calming my nerves.
“What time is it?” he said softly, breaking the silence.
I glanced at my phone, wincing at the bright light emitted by the small screen. “Astronomy is in a half hour.”
“Oh…. You going to class today?”
I shook my head.

“I understand,” he said, mussing my hair playfully before slipping out of bed. As he stood and stretched, I tried to look away, but I was completely mesmerized with the way his back arched and muscles tightened, a low groan rumbling from his throat accompanied by the pops and cracks of stiff bones.
He quickly slipped his shoes on and grabbed his backpack that was sitting in the corner near the door.
“You want me to pick you up anything to eat?” he asked. The thought of food brought a wave of nausea, and I let out a muffled, “God, no.”
A low chuckle. And then, “I might see you later, ok? Get some sleep, Marco.”

He shut the door behind him. “Bye Jean,” I whispered.
Although the sheets were still warm with his body heat, the bed felt incredibly empty and barren without him. It felt lonely.



I slept most of that day, drifting in and out of sleep as the pain in my skull slowly receded. I had dreams of Jean, sleeping next to me and around me. I can’t remember if my dreams took a sexual turn or not. Probably.
Around four in the afternoon, I shot Jean a text.

To: Jean
I’m feeling a little hungry, now….

From: Jean
i figured. alrite, hang tight and ill pick u up sumthing. think u can chill for an hour?

I smiled at his quick reply.

To: Jean
Yeah. :) Thanks.

From: Jean
np. also… this is gonna sound a lil weird. but do u think i could maybe stay the nite with u again? i promise to sleep in my own bed this time

From: Jean
unless u would prefer me in ur bed again ;)

I stared at his winky face, unsure of how I should respond. I was loathe to admit that yes, I would prefer him in my bed again, but he didn’t need to know that.

To: Jean
Of course you can! You can sleep in your own bed, though, you’re a big kid now! I believe in you. :)

From: Jean
gee thx. c u soon.

To: Jean
But… will you ever tell me what’s going on with you? Like why you want to stay the night with me so much?

From: Jean
well. yeah. ill have to tell u eventually, rite? as long as u tell me whats been up with YOU

To: Jean
Deal.


That evening, Jean brought over two large boxes of our favorite pizza, and we ate together silently. He’d brought over his book bag again and was working on his calculus homework. I liked watching him work; it was calming, his brows knit together in concentration as he frowned down at his book.
“You’ll have to help me catch up with astronomy,” I told him, and he smiled softly up at me.
“You wouldn’t need my help so much if you weren’t such an alcoholic.”
I scoffed at him. “I am not an alcoholic! Will you help me or not?”
“Yeah, yeah,” he laughed. “Just let me finish this up, ok? Gimme fifteen minutes.”
“Ok,” I said, reaching for my fifth slice of pizza.

We spent most of the night going over Jean’s notes, and I was a bit slow to catch up, but that was ok; he got frustrated with me a lot, since he did tend to have a bit of a short temper, but he was understanding and honest, even painfully so.
Our jokes and teasing were uncharacteristically light that night, not to mention rare. We were being extremely gentle with each other after our quarrel the previous day, as though to let one another know that we truly valued the other’s presence. There was no mention of either of our personal problems—only schoolwork and plans for future weekends. We went to bed early that night in preparation for class the following day.



I didn’t think I’d be awoken at three in the morning.

It was the sound of violent rustling and creaking mattress springs that pulled me out of my dreams. Squinting in the dark, I slowly sat up, my blanket draped over half my head still. The rustling and creaking continued, and the more I listened, the more I was able to detect the sounds of harsh breathing.
“Jean…?” I croaked. The loud ‘thud’ of something hitting the floor made me jump in surprise, and a few seconds later, I heard footsteps on floorboards.
“Hey, is something wrong-ah!” There was a click, and the lamp on my desk flooded the room with dim light. I squinted to find Jean standing there, his hair more disheveled than usual and his t shirt drenched in sweat. He was breathing heavily, standing by his desk as he looked in my direction, eyes wide with… Oh my god, he looks terrified.
“Jean?” I tried again, this time quieter. He stumbled towards my bed, and placing one knee on the edge, leaned towards me. I leaned back.
“Marco,” he whispered. “Don’t move.”
I stiffened, feeling every muscle in my body tighten. Then, with agonizing slowness and a violently shaking hand, he reached up and carefully pulled the blanket off my head, revealing the other half of my face.

He stared, eyes piercing mine in the dim light. And then, his shoulders relaxing and jaw going slack, I watched in silent horror as his eyes filled with tears, overflowing and spilling down his cheeks. “Marco,” he sighed, shoulders shaking, lifting a hand to my face. “You’re alive.” His fingers slid softly down the right side of my face, his touch feather light as he began to sob. “You’re alive,” he repeated. “Oh god, you’re alive.”

I pulled him onto my bed, my arms snaking around his shoulders and pressing him tight against me. “Jean, calm down, please don’t cry…. Jean..”
Jean dug his face into my shoulder, his hands clinging to my shirt as his thin form was wracked with sobs, awful cries ripping through his throat. “Marco!” he cried.
“Jean… oh Jean… I’m here.”

Jean. Of all people, Jean! Crying. It felt like my heart had been ripped out and stomped on, and I had to resist the urge to cry as well. Jean, who was so fiery and headstrong and stubborn and honest and my favorite person in the world, was an absolutely tear-soaked mess, quivering and sobbing and shaking pathetically in my arms.

I wanted so very much to be able to press light kisses to his forehead and wipe his tears away with my lips, and I knew for certain that was something that I should not do, so I did the next best thing; I lifted a hand up to stroke his hair, my fingers combing through the light brown strands and down over the shorter and darker hairs. He seemed to melt against me when I did that, soft sighs and quiet hiccups floating past his lips. I nuzzled the top of his head with my cheek.
“Stay in my bed tonight?” I whispered. He nodded against me.

I wanted so desperately to know what his nightmares were about, to know what he sees in his dreams that reduces him to tears, but that was not the time to bring it up. It was the time to help him forget. We left the lamp on, and I pulled him down with me, draping the blankets over both of us as he clung to me, tears still falling from his eyes and clinging to his lashes. I held him close that night, wishing I could magically make his nightmares go away, maybe even pull him into the safety of my dreams instead. I continued stroking his hair as he curled into me, his head resting on my chest.

And I knew that my attraction to him could not be blamed on hormones; it could not be the fault of my sexual frustrations alone. Because what I was feeling for him went past the heat of bodily attraction, and was deeper than what flesh and carnal desires could satisfy. I wanted to kiss and coddle him. I wanted to hold him close and stare into his eyes forever. I wanted to make him the happiest of men, and I wanted to spend an eternity with him, and only him.
I cared for my best friend in a way that was more than just platonic and friendly.
I was falling for Jean Kirschtein, and there was nothing I could do about it.

I thanked whatever God there was for blessing me with someone as amazing as Jean. But at the same time, I cursed them for letting me yearn for someone I would probably never have. Fate was cruel, in that the mercy of having Jean so close hurt so much.
 And that was the reality of life’s cruel mercy.

Chapter Text

Day by day
We have lost our edge
Don't you know?
Forgotten is the life we led

--MPI (The Reluctant Heroes)



‘TWERRRNNGG’

The mish-mash of random notes rang out loudly, several passersby turning their heads in my direction. It was a bright and sunny Friday afternoon, streams of sunlight drifting into the student union building through the nearby windows. I was seated in front of the piano provided there, my forehead mashed down against the keys in frustration.

The disturbing, cacophonous twang of off-key chords reverberated along the halls, silencing the hushed conversations around me. No matter how hard I tried to focus on the song I’d been composing, my thoughts seemed to circle endlessly around one person…
Jean.
A heavy sigh blew past my lips as I tentatively lifted my face from the instrument, sitting up properly. That past week had proven to be quite a struggle, all things considered. Classes were fine, no drama had been stirred up, but Jean… Jean really knew how to stress the hell out of me. There was no way he’d been doing it on purpose, he had no idea, but still…

                The morning after his nightmare, Jean had refused to talk about it. He’d managed to get no sleep whatsoever after that, and by the time morning arrived, he looked as though he’d been to hell and back; his eyes were red-rimmed with dark circles beneath them, standing out against his paper-white complexion. I’d encouraged him to stay in my room and get some sleep, but of course he decided to be stubborn about it.
“I’ve never let some stupid dream get in my way before, and I sure as hell won’t start now,” is what he’d said.

I smirked down at the piano keys, bringing one hand up to play a small chord. Are his nightmares always that bad? I thought, absentmindedly worrying at my lower lip with my teeth at the memory of Jean sobbing, too tired and upset and in utter shock to do much else than hold onto me. My fingers flitted over another string of keys, the tone turning melancholic.

That Wednesday, he’d chugged down an unhealthy amount of coffee, even buying an energy drink or two from a nearby convenience store. And in astronomy, he would constantly yank his head around to stare back at me, uncertainty etched into his frown and upturned eyebrows. I’d give him a reassuring smile in return and he’d turn back to the lecture, but a few minutes later, it would just happen again. Like he was afraid something would happen to me if he looked away for too long.
Lunch rolled around eventually, but I still couldn’t get anything out of him.

“I’ll tell you about it eventually,” he’d said.
I sighed. Yeah. Eventually.
That meal was spent mostly in silence, both of us immersed in our own thoughts. Jean was incredibly jittery the entire time, a sure sign of his caffeine overdose, and the way it widened his bloodshot eyes gave him a crazed appearance. Unsurprisingly, by dinnertime, he’d come off his energy high and crashed, leaving him dead on his feet. I’d had to grab him by the wrist and lead him along in order to keep him from wandering off or getting left behind, and he’d trip over his own clunky feet every so often. I could recall looking back to find his eyelids drooping, and a surge of pity overwhelmed me at the sight. I wanted to hold him, and pull him into bed… kiss him and watch him fall asleep. I wanted to take care of him.
Remembering that, I felt my face flare up in heat, and my fingers twitched against the piano keys. I’d gotten what I’d craved later that night.

After grabbing another set of Jean’s clothes from his room in Maria, we stumbled back to my room where he collapsed face first onto my bed, shoes and all.
“You’re really going to sleep like that?”
“Mm-hmm,” he’d hummed. I had simply rolled my eyes and knelt by the bedside, carefully untying his shoelaces for him.
“I assume this means we’ll be sharing a bed again tonight?” I’d asked, pulling off one of his shoes and setting to work on the other. He then turned his head to look down at me.
“Please.”
His voice cracked when he said that, and I swallowed; he sounded so vulnerable. I could only smile at him as I pulled his shoe off, giving him a slight nod. I couldn’t have said no to him even if I had wanted to—which I hadn’t, by the way. Very much the opposite.

I removed my own shoes and stood up, pulling my socks and jeans off before turning out the lights and clambering into bed next to my friend, forcibly scooting him over to make room and pulling the blankets over us. It was only 7 PM, but I didn’t care; Jean was exhausted, and honestly, I was craving physical contact with him much more than I was willing to admit.
Lying next to him, staring up at the ceiling, I felt my heart rate pick up, and I was made painfully aware of my newfound feelings for my best friend. In fact, I even froze up, because there I was, sharing a bed with my best friend who I had feelings for. There were a thousand and one ways I could screw this up, and around half of them included my dick. Sleep would prove to be an impossibility for me that night, surely.

“…..Marco?”
I turned my head. Jean was laying on his side, facing me.
“…..Yes?”
He paused, then scooted over to me a bit. “You don’t mind if I get a bit closer, do you?” he’d whispered.
I felt my mouth go dry, wondering if I’d be able to handle him being any closer.
“I-I mean… nevermind, it’s stupid, I’m just gonna go to sl-“
“S-shut up, Jean. It’s fine,” I told him. I hoped he wouldn’t notice the waver in my voice. If he did, he showed no sign of it, and after taking a deep breath, he wriggled closer to me until his face was pressed against my side.
“This ok?” he’d wondered, and from the way his speech was slurred and muffled, I could tell he was mere seconds away from sleep.
I sighed. “No.”
His head jerked up, and I could feel him stiffen beside me. “W..what?”

He’s too cute when he’s confused, I remember thinking, turning over to face him and pulling him against my chest. “There,” I had said, keeping my arms around him. “That’s better, huh?”
He hesitated, but only slightly before relaxing and winding his own arms around my waist. He nodded against me. “Thanks, Marco,” he’d mumbled, eyes fluttering closed.
I hummed in response. “Goodnight, Jean.”
He had already fallen asleep.

I smiled to myself and released an airy sigh, twinkling chords and harmonies floating effortlessly from my fingers as I recalled the feeling of holding Jean as he slept. Because at that moment, the moment when I’d rolled over and held him close, I had realized something….
I had realized I was being selfish. I had been about to spend that whole night worrying about all the best ways to keep my crush a secret, thoughts of my feelings and how to silence them twirling endlessly through my mind; I’d almost forgotten why I had been sharing a bed with Jean in the first place.
I realized that his happiness and comfort was my number one priority. If I had to hush my thoughts and worries for Jean’s sake, then so be it. He was the most important person to me, after all. So I held him, despite my fear.
Wednesday night, Jean had no nightmares.

Notes were then resonating through the halls of the building, a faint smile plastered over my lips as the memory swam through my thoughts. I clung to that memory, distinctly remembering his scent as I had drifted off to sleep, my heart only managing to calm itself after several long hours of lying there with him in my arms.
You’re hopeless, Marco, I thought dryly, feeling my heart ‘thump-thump’ against my chest rapidly. The speed at which it was racing was starting to upset my rhythm; the song was actually supposed to be quite slow, but my lovesick giddiness was throwing the whole thing off. I continued to think of Jean as I attempted to play…

The day before, Thursday, we’d gone about our usual business, and Jean seemed happier, calmer… a lot healthier, really. He still refused to explain the nightmares to me, however. And that night, to my dismay, he had slept in his own bed across the room from me. I remember feeling unusually chilly beneath my covers.

Pausing to write down the notes I’d been playing, I grimaced. Even while writing music, I couldn’t escape him.  Thoughts of Jean were practically never-ending; his harsh scowls, his sarcastic sense of humor, his blunt honesty, and most importantly, the cute and tiny smiles he’d give me from time to time, and his low chuckles that were as much a turn on as they were endearing.
Damn him, I frowned, frustrated. But then I shook my head. After all, he couldn’t really help the fact that he was devastatingly attractive, and irresistibly adorable, and unbearably addictive

My face grew hot at the thoughts, but I was far past the point of trying to silence them. With my fingers twisting and flitting over the keys, my smile only widened.

You see, that’s the thing about crushes: if you’re anything like me, you’ll have a period of denial. Oh no, you’ll think, I can’t possibly like this person, that’s ridiculous. But what starts out as disbelief soon shifts into fear and uncertainty. What if you do like this person? What will you do with all these feelings? How would this person react if they knew?

The good news was, I had surpassed that stage, but only because I’d been backed into a corner and was forced to face my feelings honestly…. which is how most things, work, I think. You can only run from your problems for so long, pretending they don’t exist and blaming forces that are completely beyond your control, until you’re tired of running, too exhausted and sick of your own stupidity to continue lying to yourself, and so you just get it over with. That had been my general attitude towards homework for most of my life. But it had also proven to be a universal constant the night of Jean’s nightmare, when my affection for him was made so glaringly apparent that I would have had to have been a complete idiot  to not realize.
I’d had to accept the fact that I’d fallen for Jean.

Never before had the cliché words, “The truth will set you free,” been as relevant to my life as it was right then. By accepting the undeniable truth that I was bound to Jean on an emotional level, I was—in a sense—set free.
I was free to long and yearn for his affection.
I was free to feel the pain of unrequited feelings.
I was free to imagine what things would be like if Jean returned those feelings. What kind of boyfriend would he be? What would it be like to walk out of astronomy holding his hand? Or cuddling in my bed every night? What would it be like to kiss-

The music came to an abrupt halt as I clapped my hands over my heated face, the grin I was wearing stretching wide enough that it threatened to split my face in two.

Amazing, I thought. I can go from fantasizing about straddling Jean one week, to blushing like a virgin schoolgirl at the thought of a kiss the next. Truly amazing.
I bit my lip as I tried to imagine what Jean’s mouth would feel like against my own, what kind of taste he’d leave on my lips, but then I remembered that I was a grown man sitting alone in a heavily populated public place while blushing into my hands, so I quickly sat up and returned to my music.
I didn’t stop thinking about kissing Jean, though.

I continued to play my music, humming along happily to the tune I was creating, and my thoughts never strayed from the subject of Jean; of his long fingers and slender limbs. Of the narrow pinch between his eyebrows when he scowled. Of how silky his hair was, no matter how messy it looked, and the way he smelled. Of the enigmatically soft smile he was giving me as he stood to the left of the piano, arms crossed over his chest and-
“JESUS CHRIST, JEAN!”

The notes tumbled into disarray, my heart practically stopping, and I brought both hands up to clutch at my chest. The sudden absence of music would have made the building seem eerily quiet if it weren’t for the amused cackling.

“You should have seen your face!” he laughed, doubling over. I glowered at him.
Sobering up and switching his smile out for a smirk, he said, “Don’t give me that look.”
“How long have you been there?” I grumbled.
“Not really all that long,” he said. “You had your face covered for a while there, I dunno what the hell was up with that.”
“That long!?” I almost shouted, mortified.
“Relax,” he said, coming over to sit beside me on the rickety old piano bench; it creaked a bit under the added weight. “You get embarrassed too easily. You should see how red you are right now……” I almost pushed him off the piano bench. But then he said, “You’re really good at playing piano, though… wow.”

I looked away from him, hyperaware of how his shoulder was pressed against mine.
“Th-thanks…”
He hunched forward a bit, lifting one of his fingers and bringing it down on a random key. In a softer voice, he said, “What’s that song called? I really liked it.”
I straightened up at that, my heart rate picking up the pace. “Y-you did?” I asked, glancing at him sideways, and I saw him give a curt nod.
“I, uh… didn’t give it a name. Not yet, anyway.”
Jean sucked in a sharp breath. “What!? You mean, you wrote that!?” His incredulous expression gave me quite the boost in self-esteem. I smiled, nodding my head.
And then his tone turned demanding. “Play it for me!”
“W-what? Jean, no, it’s not even finished-“
“Like I give a fuck.”
I frowned sheepishly at him. “I… I don’t know.”
“But you were just playing it, not even a few minutes ago-“
“I know, but-“
“What’s so different now?

I stared at him long and hard until finally, his eyebrows raised in understanding.
“What the fuck. Why can’t I watch!?”
“I just--! I’ll get nervous and screw up, ok?”

That’s what I told him, but the truth was that I was fully aware that I had ended up writing a song on piano about Jean. And him hearing it would make me feel uncomfortable, almost like my feelings would be out in the open and exposed.

“So what? I don’t care, Marco. What, do you think I’m gonna laugh if you fuck it up?”
“I wouldn’t put it past you,” I mumbled under my breath.
“What was that?” he growled.
“Nothing.”

“Please, Marco? I really like watching you play. You said you’d play for me, remember? At the Halloween party. You promised.”
“I promised you nothing,” I deadpanned, and he scowled at me. I couldn’t help it; under his sharp gaze, staring into his amber eyes, I cracked. I just couldn’t keep staring at him like that, my heart would go haywire…. more than it already was, I mean.
“F-fine,” I stammered, quickly turning away from him and placing my hands on the piano. “But… don’t laugh.”
“I already said I wouldn’t.”

Yeah, yeah, I thought, placing my fingers in the proper position. I scooted over a bit to give myself more room, but more importantly, to remove the distracting presence of Jean’s arm against my own. And then, taking a deep breath, I played the first few notes.
They were quiet, somber. And then my finger slipped.
I froze, the awful clang of the off-key note clashing with the others. Jean nudged me. “Keep going,” he urged.
I took another deep breath…. And tried again.

I found that even though Jean was right there beside me, I was actually able to focus on the music. I was immersed in the high tones and low chords that erupted with each press of a finger, my foot working the pedals to warp and echo and muffle the harmonies. As I played, I realized the song was… a sort of morose lullaby. It almost seemed to perfectly convey the painful longing I felt for someone I believed I would never have. The fear and worry I experienced as I had tried to comfort Jean after his nightmare was weaved perfectly into the harmony. But at the same time, there was a silver lining to the song….
I couldn’t quite place it, though.

A little after the deeper notes joined in with the rest, I stopped. Jean and I said nothing for a brief moment, reveling in the still silence that the music had left behind. Then, “Why’d you stop?”
I turned to him. “That’s all I’ve got for right now. I only just started working on it, after all.”
He blinked a few times, then turned his eyes to the piano. “It sounds a little sad…”
“Just a little,” I smiled.
“I really like it.”
“Yeah…… I really like it too.”



“Everyone, get in the fucking van, I don’t have all night!”

It was Saturday evening, the sun setting low behind the skeletal trees that had long since been stripped of their leaves, the sky turning a gruesome and bloody red. It had been particularly windy that day, Jean and I bundled up tightly in our jackets, and all of us were huddled together against the chill. Eren and Jean had been passive-aggressively fighting for the warmest spot at the center of our little gang, their nudges quickly turning to shoves. Mikasa broke them up before it could go too much further, however, and Jean was banished to the outer regions of the group.

Bertholdt, Reiner, Annie, Mikasa, Eren, Armin, Sasha, Connie, Jean and I had all been waiting for Ymir to show up in her rusty old van, praying that it would have heat, but from the looks of it, her ride could have been classified as a fossil. Christa waved at us from the passenger seat.

“Well that looks pretty damn ancient,” Jean grumbled under his breath, and I chuckled in response. As Bertholdt, Reiner and Annie piled in, Armin came up behind them. “Will…. this fit all of us?” he wondered, eyeing the rotting interior of the vehicle with ill-hidden discomfort. Ymir shoved him from behind, sending him flying into the backseat behind Bertholdt.
“Nah,” Ymir said, “You guys will just have to make yourselves fit.”
Mikasa and Eren joined Armin in the back, Sasha squeezing in beside Annie with Connie in the seat behind her, shoulder to shoulder with Eren.
“What about us!?” Jean sneered, to which everyone pointed towards the trunk.

I’ll be honest here—I’d have been completely ok with sharing the wide open trunk-space with Jean if it hadn’t been for the rampant beer. Loose cans were scattered all along the van’s gritty floor, along with one large cooler. “You two keep an eye on that and make sure it stays closed, ya hear?” Ymir said, clambering in behind the massive steering wheel and slamming her door. I was surprised the old thing didn’t just break off, from all the rust flakes that fell off on impact.
“You brought more of your shitty-ass beer?” Jean complained, glaring through the gap between Armin and Mikasa’s heads at Ymir. She smirked back at him through the rearview mirror.
“Tch,” she said, starting up her car and revving the engine. “Marco brought more of his shitty-ass boyfriend?”
A strange splutter of indignant noises spewed from my mouth, as I was apparently much too flustered to even form a coherent word, and if I had been paying better attention, I might have noticed Reiner giving me a strange look.
“I’M NOT HIS BOYFRIEND!” Jean yelled, right by Armin’s ear.
Eren turned around to grin back at Jean. “Yeah,” he said, “Marco’s too good for you, anyway!”
Jean scowled, flicking Eren on the back of his head when he turned back around to the front, and Ymir pulled away from the curb and sped off down the street.

We were off to yet another party. When I came to college, I’d heard plenty of how people often forgot their studies and focused more on crazy parties where the booze flowed free and no one remembered the sex. I just never would have thought I’d be one of those people who went to all the parties. My friends were to blame. I had a feeling that I had somehow made it in with the “bad crowd” that my mother warned me about all through my middle school years.
This party wasn’t just a typical house party though;apparently, it was traditional for Trost University, meaning that there would probably be hundreds of people there—much different from Ymir’s party.
According to Armin, as Jean had said, it was being thrown at some old barn out in the middle of the woods, complete with a hayride and bonfire and drinks all around. Sitting in the back of Ymir’s van, cold cans of beer slamming into my legs as the vehicle lurched and swayed, I found that I was looking forward to the bonfire most of all. It promised warmth.


The ride there proved to be more dangerous than originally anticipated, however. As you may be well aware, country roads don’t have streetlights. And the barn was somewhere deep in the woods.
“Watch her get us lost out in the middle of nowhere,” Reiner joked, nudging his boyfriend playfully, but Bertholdt looked truly terrified, as well as uncomfortable; he’d had to hunch over the entire ride, too tall to sit up straight in the cramped space.
“Have no fear,” Ymir threw us all a wicked grin, “I know a shortcut!”

Jean was suddenly thrown against me as the van made a sharp left, veering off through the woods. It was a slope. A rocky slope. A rocky slope with no trail or road to be seen.
Everyone in the car, save the crazed driver, screamed at the top of their lungs as we all tumbled downhill, Ymir cackling as we went.
“YOU CRAZY BITCH!” Connie yelled, grabbing Sasha from behind to keep her from slamming into the back of Christa’s seat.
Jean and I clung to each other, screaming as the booze rose from the floor and slammed against us.
“THE COOLER!” I shouted, watching as the lid opened and several cans flew out, chunks of ice floating in their midst. I remember it almost as if it were in slow motion, the sounds of snapping branches and rock-scraping-against-metal and screaming friends loud in my ears. Jean managed to leap forward and hold the lid closed, swearing as a can came down on his head, but a sudden jolt threw him off, and soon we were covered in ice and cans.
And just as quickly as it had started, it stopped, the van coming to a screeching halt.
Jean and I collapsed onto the floor. There were several dents in the roof over Bertholdt’s head. Mikasa still had her arms thrown over Armin and Eren on either side of her, holding them back, and Christa was clutching desperately at her seatbelt. Reiner was still holding on to tiny Annie while Sasha and Connie were clinging to one another for dear life.
“We’re here,” Ymir announced. “Get out of my car.”

We evacuated that death trap in three seconds flat.
Ymir and Jean almost ended up in a fistfight when she noticed the fate of the cooler, Jean accusing her of being “a reckless, crazy, senile old bitch” for “almost getting us all killed.” Thankfully, Reiner got between them and broke them up, instructing Jean and I to go warm up by the bonfire.

I turned away from the smoking van to find that we were in a wide open clearing, a massive bonfire in the center. The flames cast everything around it in a flickering orange glow, college students milling about with drinks in hand, a few of them huddled by the flames. I could make out bits and chunks of broken down furniture at its center, fueling the fire. To the edge of the clearing was an old barn. It looked ready to fall to pieces at any moment, the structure old and worn down, and nobody in their right mind would set foot into the rotting structure. It seemed, however, that these people were willing to party at all costs, and were not actually in their right minds; multicolored strobe lights spilled from the barn’s double doors and loft window, pulsing to the beat of the obnoxiously loud music. Crowds of people spilled out from the doors, the ancient building unable to hold everyone under its shaking roof all at once.
A few tables were lined up several yards from the bonfire, drinks and food covering it, and Sasha had already grabbed a plate and filled it with several slices of pizza and a mountain of chips. I grabbed Jean by the sleeve of his hoodie and tugged him in the direction of the bonfire. “Come on,” I sighed, shivering in my jacket as we approached the fire, bumping up against several partygoers. “You always end up making some sort of scene.”

Jean pulled his arm out of my grip. “Ymir just barreled through the woods in her shitty car and could have killed us all, and I’m the one making a scene!?”
I laughed, shaking my head, flecks of water and half-melted ice falling from my hair. “Come here,” I said, stepping towards him. “You’ve got some ice in your hair too…”
He held still for me as I wiped at his now-damp hair, his face still set in a dissatisfied scowl. “I wouldn’t fucking have ice in my hair if Ymir-“
I swatted the top of his head. “Shush. Forget about it. We’re at a party now.”
“Yeah, but she’s our ride back.”
I felt my stomach drop. “Oh yeah.”
He snorted. “Why do we even come to these things…”
You’re the one who told Armin we’d come,” I reminded him, still running my fingers through his hair to make sure he was ice-free. But the truth was, I already knew there wasn’t any more ice in his hair.
That was when I noticed Annie, Reiner and Bertholdt, standing around the nearby fold-up table. It was kind of spooky, really, they were just… staring at us. I snapped my hand back to my side, away from Jean’s hair.
Jean followed my line of sight, but by the time he turned around, the three of them had looked away from us and seemed to be immersed in light conversation, Reiner’s laugh loud and boisterous.
Jean cocked his eyebrow at me. “What are you blushing about?”
“W-what?” I brought a hand up to my face, feeling incredibly self-conscious. “I don’t know…”
He gave me strange look, but didn’t press the matter any further. It was true, though; I really didn’t know what had me so embarrassed.

“Hey, uh, I’m just gonna go and get a drink,” I told him, stepping away. “I’ll be right back.”
“Haven’t you drunk enough this week!?” Jean called playfully after me, but I ignored him. I just wanted to see if I could sneak a little closer to where Reiner and Annie and Bertholdt stood, talking animatedly to one another.
They went silent the second I came within three yards.

“Shh, here he comes,” I heard a hushed whisper.  That stopped me in my tracks, and I glared suspiciously at them as I edged closer to the table. I tried to look natural, leaning over and opening one cooler, acting as though I was in the mood for crappy beer, but the three of them didn’t appear to be fooled and their eyes never left me.

“Beep-beep-beep.”

I went still, frowning in confusion at the source of the noise; it was Annie.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “But, uh, what?
The short blond shrugged, her hands tucked into the front pocket of her grey hoodie. “Reiner’s gaydar,” she said.
“Annie!” Bertholdt chastised, sweating nervously. Reiner laughed, though, and I was having trouble determining whether Annie was being serious or not; she was wearing the same neutral expression as always.
I straightened up. “…Come again?”

Reiner stepped forward then, placing his large, brawny hand on my shoulder. “We can be honest with one another, can’t we Marco?” he smiled, and I suddenly didn’t like where this was going.

“Um. I mean, sure, Reiner. But… what are we being honest about here?” I asked nervously, my shoulders tensing up under his hand. He gave me a light squeeze.
“Relax,” he said, “Annie and Bertholdt and I just want to know something.”

I bit my lip, my gaze flitting to each of their faces. Bertholdt wouldn’t meet my eyes, however.
“What is it?” I asked.
Reiner’s grin turned reassuring, but what came out of his mouth was not reassuring at all. “I get the feeling that you like Jean as more than a friend, no?”
My heart stuttered in my chest and I took a step back, stumbling a bit, my cheeks feeling unusually warm in the chilly night air.
 “Why would you say that!?”
 I mentally cursed myself as I heard my voice crack.

“It’s just a yes or no question,” Annie said.
I subconsciously peeked out of the corner of my eye in the direction of the bonfire, trying to make out which of the shadowy figures around it was Jean.

“I think you do,” Reiner beamed.

“W-what!? I dunno! No. Maybe? Why do you want to know!?” I clapped my hands to my face, peeking at him through my fingers.
“I think you’re freaking him out,” Bertholdt said quietly, but Reiner just waved his observation away and shook his head. “There’s no need to be so embarrassed about it. Besides, it’d be awful if you didn’t, because that’d mean we enlisted Connie’s help for nothing.”
I blinked at him, his words crawling sluggishly through my ears as I struggled to comprehend what he just said. Am I hearing this right?
“Reiner,” I scowled, pulling my hands away from my face, “What did you do-”

“THE HAYRIDE’S BACK!”
I flipped around to see a mob of people hopping off of a rickety long cart along the edge of the clearing. It was hooked up to a pickup truck, and several drunks were stumbling away from it, having clearly been drinking the whole ride long.
“Come on, Jean, you don’t wanna miss the hayride, do you!?” Sasha zoomed past, her ponytail whipping about in the wind behind her, pulling Jean along by the arm.

“I don’t fucking care about the hayride!” he yelled, trying to free himself from her grasp and failing miserably, her grip never loosening. Staring after them, I briefly wondered, just how strong was Sasha really, when Reiner started shoving me forward from behind. “You’re gonna go ride the hayride too!” he said.
In the end, I really didn’t have much of a choice; I got swept up in a stream of passersby, all headed for the hayride. “I’m serious, Reiner, what did you do!?” I called back, the flow of the mob carrying me further and further away from him.

“Have fun, Marco!” Reiner waved.

It was obvious from the start that Connie had not been the only one who Reiner had “enlisted”; that, or Connie had recruited everyone on his own. Unsurprisingly, I ended up taking a seat next to Jean, coarse and itchy hay bales serving as chairs.
“Hey, Jean,” I sighed, preparing myself for the worst.
“Hey. I thought you were getting a drink?”
“I guess I changed my mind,” I growled. Jean was suddenly knocked against me, Sasha plopping herself next to Jean and shoving him over.
“Sorry!” she beamed, looking not very sorry at all.

“Sasha, scoot the fuck over, you’re squishing us.” That was when Connie landed right beside me, pressing me even closer against Jean. I glared at him, and he winked at me.
“No way, we have to fit as many people on here as possible,” was Sasha’s excuse.
Bullshit, was what I had thought, but it ended up being completely true—dozens and dozens of people piled onto the ride, some even sitting down on the hay-strewn floor of the cart. Several people ended up sitting on each other’s laps and along the edge, their legs dangling off the side.

As the pickup truck pulled off, the cart lurching, Jean folded his arms over his chest. “This is fucking ridiculous, I didn’t even want to ride this stupid thing,” he grumbled.
“Me neither,” I sighed, elbowing Connie in the ribs.
“Ouch, man!” he yelped, twisting away at the jab I’d dealt him. And in a lower voice, I heard him mutter, “This is the thanks I get for trying to help a friend out, huh?”
“I don’t want your help!” I hissed.

“What are you guys talking about?” Jean asked.
I jumped, startled, and Connie did the same.
“Nothing!” we said in unison.

Most of the ride was spent in uncomfortable silence, Jean and I with our sides pressed up against one another; he had to wind his arm behind my shoulders and rest it along the cart’s edge just to get somewhat comfortable. Connie waggled his eyebrows suggestively at me when he noticed, and I glared back.
“Do you think I’m too nice to punch you right now, Connie?” I threatened.
“Yes.”
He was right.

After several long minutes of rocking and creaking along through the woods, the hayride passed by a lake, its waters shimmering black and silver in the moonlight. “Wow,” I gasped, mesmerized by the view.
It was quite pretty, a tiny bridge arching over the narrow stream that emptied into it. Frogs croaked loudly along the water’s edge, chirping crickets going silent as we passed.  
‘PLOP’.

Everyone’s attention was then drawn to the lake, the loud splash peaking our interest. “What the hell was that…?” Jean wondered aloud. “Did someone throw some kind of rock into the lake?”

In hindsight, I really should have seen it coming. I felt something tug at Jean’s arm from behind, pulling it away from my shoulders, and he leapt out of his seat. “What the FUCK was that!?” he yelled, almost scrambling into my lap, grabbing at my arm with both of his hands.
The passengers around us laughed quietly to themselves at his dramatic reaction.
“Are you even serious?” I said, grimacing at Connie. He shrugged, wearing his usual lazy grin. Jean jumped again, slamming violently against me.
“Jean, ouch!” I said.
“Something just touched me, something out there just touched me, I swear to god!”

Eren’s giggles gave him away as he took off through the trees and underbrush, running back in the direction of the bonfire. Jean saw his retreating figure, and he went asbolutely livid, face flushed with anger and eyes darkening. “I’M NOT FUCKING AROUND WITH YOU, JAEGER, I’LL COME OVER THERE AND BEAT YOUR ASS!” He stood up, trying to clamber out over the hay bales, but I yanked him back down by the arm.
“Stop being stupid, Jean, the cart is still moving.”
“Yeah, at an astounding two miles an hour! Let me go so I can-“
“No. Sit.”
“He just fucking-
“You can beat him up when we get back,” I sighed. I had hoped Jean would relax for the rest of the time we had to spend cramped up and pressed against one another, but he was a bit too on edge after that, and I was positive that I’d have bruises the next morning from where his fingers dug into my shoulder.

After Eren’s little trick, I mistakenly believed that Connie and the rest were done with their ridiculous gimmicks, and I let my guard down, actually letting myself enjoy being as close to Jean as I was. If I had remained unaware of the purpose behind everyone’s antics, I probably would have been a lot less irritated and a lot more pleased with the results. So far, everything they’d done had resulted in what I would normally call “favorable outcomes”; we were close, Jean had had his arm around my shoulders, he was clinging to me in fear…
I don’t think that last one was as favorable to Jean as it was to me.

If only their next endeavor had ended as successfully as the others.
It was quick, too fast for me to have realized what was happening before it was too late. One second, I was absentmindedly watching as trees rolled past, occasionally looking up and admiring the moon. The next, Connie’s finger shot across my vision, pointing. “Look at that!” he exclaimed, and I vaguely remember Sasha’s voice on the other side of Jean, saying the exact same thing. I turned to find myself nose-to-nose with Jean, his face too close, but before I could jump back, a hand on the back of my head shoved me forward, fingers twisting into and yanking my hair painfully.
My forehead slammed into Jean’s with a loud ‘smack’.
“FUCKING-“
Colors swam before my vision, Jean swearing like a sailor beside me as he curled forward, hands on his head. My eyes stung and watered up, the entire cart laughing at our misfortune.
“Sasha, what the hell!?” Jean yelled, rubbing at his forehead. She and Connie leaned forward, staring wide-eyed at each other from around Jean and I. Sasha shrugged, not sure what to say. Connie mouthed silently something along the lines of, "They were supposed to kiss."
I brought my hand up and smacked Connie across his bald head, my other hand pressed to my skull. “Ouch, man, I tried!” he whispered.
“Yeah, and you practically gave us concussions in the process! Just stop already! Cut it out!”

“Alright, alright,” Connie sighed in resignation, grimacing as Jean berated Sasha loudly. “We’ll tell Eren to stand down.”
“What!? What was Eren going to do?”
“Challenge Jean to a drinking contest.”
It took me several long moments to register just what that entailed.

“Careful Marco, Jean tends to kiss a lot when he’s drunk.”

The hayride came to a creaking halt, everyone scrambling out of the cart and heading back to the bonfire or barn. Jean practically kicked Sasha out of it, still grumbling and cussing under his breath.
Jean. Kiss a lot. Drunk.
“We can still go through with it, if you like?” Connie offered, raising a sharp eyebrow and pulling me out of my reverie.
“What!? No! No, that’s fine, don’t do it…”
Connie’s smile didn’t falter.
“I’m serious. Don’t do it,” I repeated, standing up and following everyone else off the ride.  Connie trailed along beside me. “Are you sure? You looked pretty happy about the idea a second ago.”
“Yes, I am sure. And tell Reiner to keep out of other people’s business, please…”

“Fine. But how do you plan to tell Jean?”
I rolled my eyes. “Not by taking advantage of him when he’s drunk. And not through your awful attempts at getting us together, all you managed to do was annoy the hell out of both of us” I muttered. Then sighed, “Not ever, really.”
“Never?”
“Never,” I confirmed. My chest ached even as I said that, knowing full well that I was sentencing myself to a pathetic life of pining and unrequited love.

“Well that’s really lame,” he said, but he let the subject drop there. We followed Sasha and Jean in silence, the two of them still bickering and shouting, until Connie ran up and joined them, leaving me behind and giving Sasha’s ponytail a playful tug. I was content to simply hang behind the three of them and remain in my own thoughts, but then Jean turned around and gestured for me to hurry up, waving his hand.
It’s kind of embarrassing, but my stomach felt as though it were filled with butterflies when he did that, and I smiled. He was thinking of me, and wanted me to walk beside him. For some reason, that filled me with a strange high, giddiness replacing my former irritation and annoyance.
Of course he wants to walk by you, he’s your best friend, dumbass, my conscience oh-so-kindly reminded me.
My smile faltered. Oh yeah…
I raced forward to join the others.



After the hayride, we’d joined back up with the others, Sasha running back to the table of food. Ymir and Christa had disappeared into the barn for a little while, dancing to their heart’s content while Reiner, Bertholdt and Annie stood around, drinking and talking and laughing the night away. At one point, Armin had emerged out of the woods, twigs and leaves adorning his hair as he grumbled about how Eren had taken off without him, and he’d ended up getting lost. Mikasa was the one to go back and find him.
And speaking of Eren, the second Jean laid eyes on him, he ran forward to fight him. I’d had to grab him from behind and pull him away, telling him to calm down and that it was over. He cooled down eventually, but he was still pretty pissed off.
“What’s up with everyone today?” he said, sipping his drink. We were standing next to each other, several feet away from the bonfire and watching it devour whatever anyone threw into it. “Is it national Piss Jean Off day or something? Did I just not get the memo?”
I kept quiet, letting him vent freely.
“I mean, we get thrown into the back of Ymir’s shitty van with all the drinks and end up covered in ice. And then I get pulled onto some lame ass hayride that I didn’t want to ride in the first place! And Eren fucking Jaeger comes out of nowhere and scares the shit out of me. Seriously, who does that!? And what the hell is with Sasha and Connie smashing our heads together like that, huh!? Did we piss them off or something?” He took another swig of his can, looking at me expectantly.
“What?” I said.
“I dunno, aren’t you going to say something? Aren’t you upset about all this too?”
I shrugged, staring back at the flames, their heat causing my eyes to water up. “Yeah, I guess so. Not quite as upset about it as you are. Just a little annoyed, I guess.”
“Huh. And why’s that?”
I tilted my head to the side, shoving my hands deep into my jacket pockets. How much could I tell Jean without making him too curious?
“I guess you could say… some of our friends really like to meddle in other people’s affairs.”
“Is that what you and Connie were arguing about during the hayride?”
I nodded, bracing myself; I was sure Jean would press the subject further and ask more questions. But to my surprise, he didn’t. Instead, he just looked down at his can, swirling it thoughtfully and listening to the sound of liquid sloshing against aluminum.

I stared at him as he did so, noting the way his brows were pinched together, a soft frown weighing down the corners of his lips. The fire illuminated his sharp features, his eyes glinting and shimmering in the darkness.
I realized he was tearing up, his nose flushing red.
“Jean?” I murmured, taking a step towards him. He held up a hand to stop me, squeezing his eyes shut and taking a deep breath.

“Don’t,” he said. For someone on the brink of tears, his voice was strangely unwavering. He pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, sucking in a massive breath of air, his shoulders and chest rising to accommodate his expanding lungs. Once he’d let it all out, exhaling long and slow, he said, “It’s just been a long week.”
I didn’t know what to say—a cold wind passed by, ruffling his hair, and the pops of the fire seemed almost deafening in the uncertain silence. Then I remembered: deep breaths, long exhales. I’d only really seen Jean do that once before.

“You did say you’d tell me eventually, you know,” I tried, hoping I wouldn’t upset him by bringing it up.
He kept his eyes shut tight for one long moment before opening them again. He wouldn’t look at me, however.
“Marco,” he croaked, craning his head back to watch the smoke curl up into the black sky.
“Hmm?”
“If you could choose how you died… how would you go out?”
A heavy weight seemed to settle on my chest just then, making it difficult to breathe.
“Hey,” I said quietly, “Why would you ask something like that…?”
He showed no sign of having even heard me, eyes glazed over, the drink in his hand seemingly forgotten. I sighed heavily, shaking my head.
“I really don’t know, Jean… I’ve never thought about it before. I don’t know what’s the quickest, or the least painful way to die…” I licked my dry and chapped lips, biting at them thoughtfully. “But if I had to choose, I’d say, ‘not alone’.”

Jean brought his hand up to his face, cupping around his mouth as he closed his eyes again.
“Did I say something wrong?” I asked, alarmed; I couldn’t tell if he was going to break down and cry, or lurch forward and vomit. I wasn’t sure which was worse, either.
“No,” he said, voice hoarse. “Just. Tell me what you would want done with your body. After you died.”
What the hell is he talking about?
I grabbed Jean by the shoulder and spun him around to face me, and his hand dropped away from his mouth. “Jean, look at me. What is this all about?”
“Just answer the question,” he said, clutching his drink tightly in his hand and bending the can.
“Listen, you’re kind of scaring me. Why are we talking about dying, anyway? Are you feeling alright?”
He swallowed loudly, his narrow eyes avoiding mine as his adam’s apple bobbed slightly.
“Fuckin’ dandy, Marco, now just answer the question.”
Breathing heavily through my nose, I let go of his shoulder, thinking. How would I want my body to be disposed of? Most people got a burial, didn’t they? A lifeless body, trapped within the cramped confines of a coffin, preserved and embalmed to resist decay and rot, and buried beneath the earth. The crackle of the fire caught my attention.
“I’d like to be cremated,” I almost whispered, not taking my eyes off the flames.
When I turned back and saw the look on Jean’s face, I could’ve sworn I could hear my heart crack in two inside my chest. His eyes were wide and watering, his narrow brows turned up and his lips parted slightly in a loose frown. He looked deathly pale, too, eyes rimming red.
I swallowed past the lump forming in my throat, my heart thudding painfully against my ribcage. “Hey… you ok?” I whispered.

He shook his head, pressing his lips into a thin line before saying, “You died, Marco.”
I scowled, confused. “What are you even talking about? I’m right here… I’m alive.”
“No, no you don’t get it!” Jean said, suddenly angry, and he threw his can to the ground.  His sudden fury startled me, catching me by surprise.
“….Yeah, I don’t. Jean, calm down, tell me what’s going on-“
“My dreams, Marco, I’m talking about the fucking nightmares!”
My stomach churned uncomfortably at that, my heart still hammering, and I placed my hands on Jean’s shoulders.
“I’m here.” I said the words calmly, and carefully, but my shaky voice gave away just how un-calm I really was. “I’m here, and I’m alive.”
“But the nightma-“
“Was just a nightmare,” I told him. “And nightmares aren’t real….” I reached down and grabbed his limp hand, placing it palm-to-palm against my own. His hand was smaller than mine, I noticed, but only a little bit. “I’m not going anywhere,” I told him. “I’m not dying anytime soon.”
 
We stood there together for a good long while, eventually turning to stare back at the flames. Our hands, however, remained intertwined, Jean unwilling to let go. I gave him a reassuring squeeze every now and then, the cold wind biting at the tips of our ears and noses as the night went on. I noticed our friends watching us every now and then, Connie raising his eyebrows at our hand-holding, reminding me of the ongoing dilemma regarding my feelings toward Jean. I ignored him, still annoyed that everyone had somehow figured out that I was crushing on him. I shook the irritated thoughts away, focusing again on Jean.

So Jean had dreamt of my death.
I couldn’t imagine… I couldn’t begin to imagine whatever it was that he had seen. It had shaken him up to the point of tears. My heart physically ached, knowing that he had suffered because of a dream of me.
I knew that Jean had so much more to tell me, but I also knew that he wasn’t quite ready. He would tell me in time about the night terrors that plagued him, but for now, I was content to just enjoy his presence.
So we stood there, side by side, his hand cold in mine as we watched the smoke billow upward, ash floating through the air and the flames dancing in the breeze. I stroked my thumb along his, humming the song I’d written for him in an attempt to comfort him. But looking at him, I couldn’t help but notice the hollow frown he wore, his eyes glazed over and distant. And I wondered if Jean and I were looking at the same fire. 

 

Chapter Text

Baby, when I'm yellin' at you,
It's not your fault,
It's not your fault, yeah and
Baby cause I'm crazy for you,
It's not your fault
--Awolnation (Not Your Fault)



It was a movie night, as far as I could tell. Jean and I were curled up on my bed, one thick blanket encasing us, practically cocooning us together. My room was dark, barely-illuminated by the soft glow of the TV as we watched god-knows-what. For all I knew, we could have been watching static, because the only thing I can remember is that Jean’s hand was on my thigh under the blanket…. And he gave the lightest of squeezes, the movement almost imperceptible. But my hand flew up to his all the same, covering it, and he squeezed again. 

I like where this is going.

I turned away from the TV to meet his eyes, my hand still on his, and the devilish grin he gave in return caused my heart to stutter. And the next thing I knew, he was leaning in, eyes slipping closed, mouth parting slightly, and I met him halfway with eager anticipation.

Oh yes… yes, yes, hell yes, keep going.

Jean’s lips pressed into mine, my own eyes shut tight as I enjoyed the feeling of his warm mouth melding against mine, and he tilted his head for a better angle, mouth moving in small circular motions. Our lips started to dance, the pace quickening, until his tongue joined the mix, darting out to flick against my bottom lip and pulling tiny noises out of me, my breath quickening.

Please don’t stop. Don’t wake up. Stay asleep. Just a little longer…

My mouth opened, eagerly welcoming his writhing tongue and greeting it with my own, the wet muscles slipping and sliding against each other as we panted into one another’s mouths, and I was drowning in the taste of Jean.

Don’t wake up.

Strings of saliva kept us tied together, a few weak strands breaking and snapping against our already wet lips, the delicious ‘smack’ of my mouth breaking away from his repeatedly echoing about the small room. We would part lips to catch our breaths, but only for a quick second before delving our tongues back into one another’s mouths, soft grunts and swallowed sighs and muffled moans traveling back and forth between us, from one throat to the other, my hands finding their way to Jean’s hair while his hand slid up my thigh….

Stay asleep…

Another squeeze, this one firmer and dangerously close to my groin, and I squeaked, Jean drinking the sound from my mouth while stifling his own chuckles against my lips. He lightly pushed me over, guiding me down until I was lying on the bed beneath him, his hand still on my thigh and our mouths still pressed together, his other hand holding him up, just to the side of my head. Jean swiped his tongue back throughout my mouth, stroking along the roof and my tongue, and he pulled away, saliva still bridging the gap between our lips.
“Hey,” he panted, “Marco?”
His thumb rubbed small circles along the inside of my thigh.
“Y-yeah?” I gasped, breath shaky.
“Nng…”
I stared up at him, confused. The sound hadn’t come from his mouth, but somewhere off in the distance.
“Jean…?”
A strange rustling sound could be heard, somewhere close by, but… I couldn’t see where.

“Hah…!”
My eyes snapped open to a pant and a yelp. Glaring around at my surroundings, I found that I was still in my room, the TV off and the only source of light being the crack under the door to the hallway. It was dark, I was alone in my bed, and Jean was nowhere to be seen.
The odd rustling sound returned, and I found that Jean was indeed in viewing range—he was thrashing about on his spare bed, the covers tangled around his quivering form, strangled yelps and whines bubbling out from his throat.
I experienced a quick flash of differing emotions in the few seconds it took me to comprehend what I was looking at; fear and disappointment being prevalent among them, but also the conflict between choosing to run to Jean’s side or to stay put and wait for my arousal to subside.

I decided on the former, stumbling across the room, half-asleep, to Jean’s bed. It took quite a bit of shaking and calling his name to wake him, and he was twisting around so violently I was scared he was going to hurt himself. When I was finally able to pull him away from his nightmare, he shot straight up, Reiner’s name dying on his lips, a mix between a whisper and a choked sob. After several long moments, Jean trying to regain awareness of his surroundings, he pulled me into bed with him and tucked his head into my shoulder.
We didn’t have to talk about it.
It was routine.

At that point, I didn’t know why we even tried to sleep in separate beds; it was much easier to just forego the extra bed and sleep with each other regardless of the nightmares.

Following the barn party of the previous month, Jean had had to return to his room in Maria for a few days; he’d long surpassed the number of consecutive nights he could spend in another dorm, and he slept in Maria begrudgingly. The entirety of November continued like that—Jean struggling to stay in his own room during the weekdays, and sometimes even cracking under the anxiety in the middle of the week and sneaking into my bed. I would have been ecstatic about that predicament, were it not for the circumstances. Even over Thanksgiving break, when I’d had to leave town and spend the holiday with my family, he’d called me several times in the dead of night.
There were a few rare nights where Jean managed to stay in his own bed over the weekends, but they were rare. The good news was: his nightmares weren’t increasing in frequency. But they certainly weren’t decreasing, either

I knew very little of their contents. He’d started telling me about his dreams, little by little, but it was slow going. I knew he’d dreamt of me dying. I knew Eren and Armin and Mikasa were in his dreams as well. There was something about super tall walls, and… man-eating giants? I dunno. It all sounded pretty trippy to me, but it was enough to get Jean as upset as he was, and that was kind of terrifying in and of itself.

On this particular night, I had expected for him to maybe sleep soundly, and free of night terrors, considering what a crazy day it’d been; Jean had burst into my room bright and early the morning of the first Friday of December, just to drag me into a massive snowball war (he insisted it was a war, and not a fight, being his usual melodramatic self) with all of our other friends, who were also awake at such an ungodly hour for some miraculous reason.

Actually, the entire day, from dawn until dusk, was spent with all of us out in the snow; armies of snowmen littered the entire campus by the time we were done, barricades and snow angels placed sporadically throughout. It was ridiculous, but we had little else to do with our time, considering classes were canceled and driving through the 4-5 feet of snow was just a pain. If memory serves correctly, the best part of the snowball war had been the violent one-on-one between Eren and Annie.

And even with how tired we’d been when we fell into our respective beds, Jean and I still somehow ended up huddling under the covers together, limbs tangled and intertwined. His exhaustion hadn’t been enough to keep the dreams at bay.

Laying there, we were silent for several long minutes, my arms wrapped protectively around him, and I listened as his harsh breathing gradually slowed. As much as I enjoyed the excuse to be so close to Jean, (in a bed nonetheless), each night I spent with him was an exercise of self-control; the more we shared a bed, the more comfortable with it I became. And the more comfortable with it I became, the more likely I was to let my guard down and forego restraint. And the more I let my guard down, the higher the chances became of me accidentally ducking in for a kiss, or accidentally running my hands over his body, or accidentally grabbing his ass, or accidentally sucking his dick-
Nope. No, too far, Marco, stop thinking about that. There is no possible way for you to accidentally suck Jean’s dick, as unfortunate as that may be.


I quickly willed my thoughts into cleaner territory, which was difficult, considering the kind of dream I’d just awoken from. Instead, I focused on Jean’s breathing again, the gentle rise and fall of his chest against me, and I laid there, waiting for us to descend back into the depths of sleep.
Except… we didn’t.

“I can’t sleep,” Jean finally said, shifting beside me. I pulled my arms back from around him and propped myself up on one elbow, looking down at him, lying on my side.
“Sorry,” I whispered, biting my lip pensively. I wasn’t exactly sure what to say. “Do… you wanna talk about it?”
He groaned at that, rolling onto his back and flopping a forearm over his eyes. “Do I have to?” he sighed.
“No.”
He peeked up at me inquisitively from under his arm.
“I asked if you wanted to talk about it,” I said, chuckling a bit at his reaction. “I didn’t say you had to.”

Jean remained silent for a few seconds, seemingly deep in thought. And then, “Do you wanna listen to me talk about it?”
I scowled at him. “Are you serious right now, Jean? I’m dying to hear more, I really am, but you never want to explain.”
“Okay, okay, yeah I know, I just… don’t know where to begin.”
“Hmm, well, what about what happened in your dream just now?”
“…..”
I poked him in the stomach, and he jumped, as ticklish as ever.
“Stop that,” he croaked, but I could see him smiling in the dark. “It’s just a little complicated.”
“Weeeelllll, what about Reiner?”
He flinched. “W-what about Reiner?”
“Jean, you said his name when I woke you up, remember?”
He hummed in response. “Did I…?” he mumbled, “I don’t remember, actually…”
“Sooo,” I continued, trying to lead him in the right direction, “Reiner is in your dreams too?”
He nodded, his hair rustling against the pillow. “Yeah.”

I was trying not to be impatient, I really was, but his short, stilted answers were starting to get annoying, and I hated being the only one who was trying to move the conversation forward. But my burning curiosity kept me going.

“Reiner, Armin, Mikasa, Eren and me… are those all the people you remember in your dreams?”
“No. Marco, it’s a lot more. Connie and Sasha are there too. And Ymir. And Christa. And Bertholdt and Annie and—“ He cut himself off, voice cracking.
“Shh.” I placed a hand on his shoulder, hushing him. “Okay, so pretty much all of us… and who else?”
“…..”
“Jean?”
“No one.” I didn’t believe him.
“Fine, okay. So you have nightmares about your friends….? I feel like there’s some kind of psychological significance to this, but-“
“No!”

I jumped a bit at his sudden outburst, startled, and he abruptly sat up.
“No, you don’t understand!”
Yeah, that sounds about right. I never understand. Because you won’t freaking explain anything.
“What, Jean? Just tell me what I don’t understand.” I was trying to keep calm, keep my voice as unfaltering as I could manage, but he was sort of starting to freak me out. I sat up with him, and I could see his arms shaking ever so slightly.
“I had dreams about you all before we’d even met, and if there’s some kind of ‘psychological significance’ to that”- he actually inserted air quotes around ‘psychological significance’- “then please, go on!”

Wait…. What?
“Y-you… dreamt about us before we met?” I repeated, dumbstruck. He gave a jerky nod, and suddenly my heart felt extremely heavy. There was something dancing along the edges of my memory just out of reach, but I couldn’t… quite…

I was slipping my notebook and pen into my backpack as most of the other students made their way around me, mulling over my options for lunch, when I felt a pair of eyes on me. When I looked up, two of the brightest amber eyes I’d ever seen were staring back. I froze.
“Do I know you from somewhere?”

 “Oh my god.”
“Hm?”
“The... the day that I let you see my notes. You said… I looked familiar. Is that because…?”
He nodded again, and my stomach did a backflip.
“This is really weird,” was all I could say.
Jean gave a sharp laugh, dry and callous and void of any mirth. “You don’t fuckin’ say.”
“What do they mean, though?”
“Hell if I fucking know,” he snapped. “You think I haven’t thought about it before? Armin doesn’t know either…”
A dark, possessive feeling overcame me then, and I furrowed my brow. “You tell Armin about the dreams?” He nodded, and I realized the dark feeling was what people called ‘jealousy’; I was supposedly Jean’s best friend, and yet Armin knew more about his nightmares than I did. 
I didn’t like that feeling, it made me angry, so I ignored it.

“But how long have you been having these dreams?”
He shrugged, bony shoulders rising just a fraction of an inch, more of a jerk than a shrug, really. “As long as I can remember. Since I was little. I stopped telling my parents about them after third grade.”
“How come?”
“They said they’d start sending me to therapy if I didn’t get it together. Told me to grow up and get used to them. Stop confusing dreams and reality, because I wasn’t five years old anymore.”

His tone was no longer harsh; his anger had subsided. He now sounded somber, resigned, and he’d hung his head. You’d think that with all the time I spent with the guy, I’d be used to his mood swings, but I was far from it.

I shifted around until I was sitting next to him, our backs to the wall, my shoulder pressed against his.
“That sounds a little… harsh.”
He shrugged again. “Was it really?” His voice sounded hollow, no emotion whatsoever.
“Yeah. It sounds like they treated you like… a problem. Like you’re messed up or something.”
A sigh. “But I am a problem. I am messed u-“
“No, you’re not!”
“Really, Marco? You’re gonna try and tell me I’m not messed up when I can’t even sleep without crawling into bed with you every night? This is shit that three year olds do, and I’m eighteen!”
“Yeah, well your nightmares don’t sound like normal ‘ol nightmares, either…”
“Like I said: I’m a problem.”
“Stop that!” I was almost shouting, frustrated and… I actually felt hurt. Whenever he referred to himself as a problem, it hurt, a strange and painful twist in my gut. “You’re not a problem, you have a problem, and there’s a big difference between the two. So stop saying awful things about yourself.”

We sat there in silence, until Jean finally spoke up. “Thanks, Marco.”
“No problem.” I allowed myself a tiny smile, my affection for him shining through.
“I think you like me more than I like me.”
My smile fell. “How much do you like yourself?”
“Not very much, I guess…”
I chewed my lip as I thought about that.

“Well, that’s ok, then. That just means I’ll have to love you enough for the both of us.” My heart nearly stopped when I realized I’d let the big ‘L’ word slip through, but Jean seemed to think nothing of it. Rather, he smiled, and actually laughed a bit. “I love you too, man.”
I had to keep myself from grimacing in response, his words a cruel tease, unbeknownst to him.
Not the same way I love you, I thought bitterly.


It was several long moments before either of us spoke again, both of us immersed in our own thoughts, and I was planning on just dropping the subject; our conversation had gotten deep enough already, and Jean probably wouldn’t be able to handle much more. But once again, my curiosity got the better of me.
“What happens in the dreams, Jean?”

He sighed heavily, low and long and loud, and he tipped his head back until it hit the wall with a dull ‘thump’. “You really wanna know?”
“Of course.” I looked over at him to find that he was nibbling on his upper lip, and I took a moment to admire the sight of Jean in profile, his facial features all sharp edges and jagged points. I wanted to kiss him.

“I already told you about the… giants, yeah?”
I nodded in affirmation, shooing the thoughts away.
“I mean, they’re not called giants, not in the dreams, at least. They’re called Titans. And everyone, every single person that’s still alive, lives inside the walls. The walls keep them out.”
“Because they eat people.”
“Yeah.” He almost seemed to choke on the word. “And there are some of us.. I-I mean, them, that go out and fight the Titans. Kill them. But more of us die than they do. So many die, Marco…”
I stayed silent, just letting him talk, giving him a chance to get as much off his chest as he needed.

“They got in. There was a massive Titan, higher than the outermost wall, and it… it broke the gate. It let them all in. They got in, and so many were eaten.” Jean took a deep, steadying breath, before continuing. “And, uh… we enlisted into the military. We were just a bunch of kids.”

Jean covered his face with his hands, before dragging his fingers downward, unveiling his eyes but still covering his mouth and nose. I noticed that his tenses were slipping, and he was speaking as though it was a not-so-distant memory.
 
“We were all there. A bunch of trainees. I don’t remember how many years we all trained together… was it two? No, longer… maybe three. We were going to join the Military Police, you and me.”

Military Police?

“We would be safe, behind the tallest wall, we’d be serving the King. And I remember Eren, too. We fought just as much as we do now, probably more. He was a suicidal bastard, vowing to kill all the Titans, the bloodthirsty fuck. He wanted to leave the walls, and Armin and Mikasa followed him wherever he went.”

Doesn’t sound too different from how things are out here in the real world.

“And we were about to graduate. We’d made it into the top ten, Marco, we were going to be safe in the Military Police together.” He took another deep, shuddering breath, and it sounded as though he was on the verge of tears.

I reached my hand forward, but he swatted it away.
“I’m fine,” he croaked. “That was when you died. You were sixteen years old.”

I sat very still, muscles tense, waiting for him to go on. But he didn’t. He just stopped, leaving it there.
“But… how?”

He let out a deep breath, one that I hadn’t been aware he was holding, and swallowed loudly.
“….Titans got in. They sent the trainees to go fight them off. It wasn’t enough, and a lot of us died. But I didn’t even see you die, I just-“
A choked sob escaped him, and my heart thumped painfully at the sound. This time when I reached my hand over, he didn’t fight it; he grabbed my hand too, gave it a small squeeze, and  I wanted to pull him into my lap and press kisses to his face and let him know that he was alright. But I didn’t.

“I found your body. Identified it. Pieces were missing. Half your face and upper body. Watched you burn-“
He stopped again, biting into the knuckle of his other hand, fighting back tears. I rubbed my thumb along his, adjusting our hands so that my fingers threaded between his.
“Shh… you don’t have to say anymore, Jean. I’ve heard enough.”
Another shuddering sob ripped through him before he swallowed it down, doing his deep-breathing thing that he used to calm down. He was gripping my hand a little too hard, his blunt nails managing to bite into the skin on the back of my hand, but I didn’t mind. I just sat with him until he managed to relax, his grip gradually loosening.
Looking back, time was pretty much a blur, and I can’t really recall how long we sat there, but after some time, Jean had rested his head on my shoulder, hand still resting in mine. I hummed the tune to his song, still thinking about everything he’d told me.

His dreams were really strange. And really scary. The fact that he’d dreamt of most of us before we’d even met was actually insanely creepy, but more than any of that, a feeling of helplessness overcame me; I’d hoped that by learning what his nightmares were about, I’d somehow be able to help Jean a lot more. But here I was back at square one, not a clue as to what I should do. Sharing a bed with him was the most I could do, it seemed.

“Hey, Marco.”
I flinched; I’d thought Jean had fallen asleep on me, he was so quiet.
“Y-yeah?”
He was silent for a beat. Then, “Didn’t we make a deal?”
A deal….?

“Ah. Well. Um… I don’t remember? Did we make a deal?” I asked.
“Come on, Marco,” he grumbled next to my ear, “don’t make me dig through all our text messages just to refresh your memory. If I told you about my nightmares, you were supposed to tell me what was up with you. Remember now?”

I could practically feel the blood draining from my face. Oh yes. I remembered. I didn’t want to remember, but I certainly did.

“…Can I just, y’know, feign ignorance for now?” I pleaded.
With him leaning on my shoulder, I couldn’t really turn to look at him, but I didn’t need to; I could almost taste his anger, crackling in the air and in the way his breath stilled.

I groaned loudly, pulling away from him and releasing his hand. Scooting a little further from him, I swallowed, nervous. I could already feel the anxiety coursing through my veins, making my hands shake and fingers twitch. I really didn’t want to tell him, but he would see through every single lie I could throw at him.

“Is it really such a big deal that you can’t tell me?” Jean muttered sourly. His ego was bruised, that much I could tell.
I sighed, hanging my head. “No…”
He perked up at that, grinning wickedly in the dark. “So you’ll tell me!?” His excitement made my stomach churn, and I felt like I was going to vomit.

“I guess…”

He scooted closer to me, folding his legs like he was getting ready for story time. His adorable eagerness was doing nothing to quell my nerves. I could actually hear my own pulse in my ears, and I ran my shaking fingers through my hair.

“Okay… so. I actually… I’ve been fighting with myself.. urg, okay, l-let me start over. Ugh..” I stuttered, tripping over my own words, but Jean didn’t seem to mind; the childlike wonder in his eyes only seemed to be intensifying, and it made my stomach somersault uncomfortably.
“I…like someone…”
Jean cut me off. “What. Who!?” He leaned so close, we were practically nose-to-nose. “Why didn’t you tell me!? It’s nothing to hide, dude, we’re not in the fucking fourth grade!” He was scowling, but he was far from angry, that much was obvious. “So, who is it!? Is she hot? It’s not Mikasa, is it?”
“N-no, Jean, calm down, I-“
“Do I know her, then?”
Jean, seriously… augh. Just, listen to me, alright?”
He shut his mouth with an audible ‘snap’ then, teeth clicking together, but his intense stare remained unfaltering. I took a deep breath, gathering my thoughts as my heart hammered loudly in my chest, and I wondered if Jean could hear my thundering pulse as well. I was so afraid of how he might react to what I was about to say, I could have passed out right there.
“What would you say,” I began, speaking slowly, “If I told you… that the person I like is..i-is a guy?”
He didn’t move. It felt like an eternity, we just kept staring at each other, but in reality, it was probably only a few seconds. I could practically see the gears in his head whirring furiously, trying to make sense of what I’d just told him.
“….You didn’t tell me you’re into guys.” His voice was quiet now, almost reverent.
“W-well, I, uh, I mean…. I’m into girls too, I-I guess… I’m fine with either?” I hated how my voice ascended several octaves at the end of that sentence, and I mentally kicked myself for sounding like such a pansy. I shouldn’t be so scared. It was only Jean.
Jean, my best friend. My best friend who I liked a lot. My best friend who I liked a lot and wanted to bang-
OKAY, stop now, this isn’t the time.

Jean sat up a bit, pulling his face away, wearing a calculating scowl. “Hey,” he said. “Is that why you didn’t tell me about this before? Because you like a guy?”
I avoided his gaze as I nodded, instead looking down at my legs as I felt my face heat up. Jean may be able to tell when I lied, but he couldn’t catch a half-truth. I was safe for the moment.
Peeking up at him, I saw his expression darken, as much as I could tell in the murky lighting from under the door, and I grimaced.

“So, you didn’t trust me?”
Oh shit.
“N-no! That’s not-“
“Did you think I’d stop being your friend if I found out?”
He was hurt, I could already tell; His hands had curled into fists on his lap and his eyes were tight, eyebrows pinched together.

I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t say I wasn’t afraid to tell him, because that was a lie, but I also couldn’t clarify that the main reason I hadn’t told him was because he was the person I liked. I let out a huff of resignation, looking back down at the bed.
“I’m sorry…” I swallowed past the lump in my throat, overwhelmed by all the stress and fear and shame I’d experienced in the past few minutes. Stress because I hadn’t wanted to tell him. Fear of how he’d react. And shame that I hadn’t trusted him with a huge piece of who I am. “I’m really sorry, Jean.” I’d had to choke his name out, and then before I knew it, his arms were around me, pulling me into him.

“Heeeey,” he breathed, mouth beside my ear, “Relax, it’s okay… Well, actually, no it’s not, it still kinda hurts that you were afraid to tell me, but I get it, yeah? But I ain’t gonna leave you just because of something that ridiculous. Dude, I live with Bertholdt and Reiner, so I really don’t know where you got the idea that I’d stop being your friend over something so stupid.”
I took the chance to inhale his scent, as deeply as I could, but he probably took it as some sort of depressed sigh, because he continued trying to comfort me. “And you know what? I’ll always be your friend, whether you’re hunting for dick or pussy or both.”

I grimaced into his shoulder at that, trying not to cringe at his words. Jean wasn’t all that spectacular when it came to making people feel better, but this was a valiant effort on his part, and it was the thought that counted.

I reached up and patted his back awkwardly. “As eloquent as ever, Jean.”
“Damn straight.”
He let go of me then, scooting back. “I mean… Damn not straight.” He cocked his head to the side a bit, and then, “Damn… gay?”

I tried to keep a serious face, but Jean’s ridiculous words were just too much—I was so relieved and so happy and so at peace that I couldn’t help it, I started laughing. Small chuckles and giggles at first, but they grew louder until I could only flop back on the bed, laughing so hard my stomach began to hurt, Jean watching me with curiosity.
“It wasn’t that funny,” he pointed out, smiling brightly. Ah, I loved it when he actually smiled.
“I know,” I managed, gasping for breath. “I’m just so happy.”
And he seemed happy too; he chuckled a bit, reaching forward to muss my hair playfully, giving me a chance to catch my breath. And then he was leaning over me, and my brain skipped ahead several steps, imagining his lips on mine, how warm it would be, how great he would taste, the noises he’d make-
“So, who is it?”
I froze, my imagination hitting pause. Jean was still leaning over me.
“What?”
“You know,” he said, “The guy you like. Who is it?”
My relief was shattered, and panic mode was back on in full force. I swallowed again, choking on the lump in my throat.
“I can’t tell you.”
“What!?”
I quickly sat up, my heart trying to break its way out of my ribcage and onto the bed. “Because! I… just can’t!”
“Seriously!?” he whined, exasperated. “You can’t tell me, of all people!?”
Yes. You especially.
“Look, it’s nothing personal, alright? I just don’t feel ready to tell you…”
He sighed in defeat, throwing his hands up. “Fine. I’m not going to make you talk about it If you don’t want to. Not like I could make you, after all.”

I bit my lip at that, knowing that wasn’t necessarily true. I could actually think of several ways he could get me to tell him. Ways he could get me to tell him anything he wanted….
Marco Bodt, this is the last straw. Cut that out.
I was really bad at keeping my mind out of the gutter, in case you couldn’t tell.

“It’s not Jaeger, is it?”
“Huh?”
“Come on, Marco, stay with me. The guy you like. It’s not Jaeger, right?”
I leaned forward, grinning mischievously. “And what if it is him, huh? Would you stop being my friend?”
“Yes.”
The grin fell from my face like a dead fly, and I actually couldn’t tell if Jean was kidding or not. He wasn’t smiling, he looked… serious.
And then he cracked a smile and burst out laughing, and I smacked him.
“Jean! Don’t play like that, you scared me!”
“I’m sorry, man,” he managed between his chuckles, “but your face!”
I growled, scowling at him.
He gave a small cough, catching his breath. “But seriously, you should know better than to believe something like that.”
I frowned at him. Two could play at this game, juvenile though it was. “Well, good. Because I do like Eren. Thanks for your support.”
Jean tensed up, no longer smiling, his eyes wide with shock. “A-are you serious?”
Still keeping up the ruse, I nodded, biting my lip to keep from smiling.
“What the fuck!?” He actually seemed… pissed. “You cannot be serious. What do you even see in that guy!? He’s a jackass!”
I was able to keep my face straight, but laughter was already bubbling up in my throat, shaking my shoulders, and strange snorts and snickers were escaping from behind my clamped lips.
Jean scowled and shoved me over, where I collapsed into a quivering heap, and I was wracked with peals of laughter. “You totally believed me!” I chuckled, pointing a finger at him, and he bitterly swatted it away.

We fell asleep soon after, worn out from our long, heavy conversation and slap-happy from sleep deprivation. Jean wasn’t so quick to drop the subject, begging me for clues as to who my crush was, but I wasn’t about to give it away. The last thing I remember before dropping off into the depths of unconsciousness was dawn’s first light peeking through the window and Jean mumbling in his sleep about how he was going to kick Jaeger’s ass.



We spent a lot of that weekend out in the snow. More snowball fights ensued, and I felt more closely connected to Jean than ever. We never left each other’s side, not even once, for those next few days. But I also noticed how suspicious he looked, glaring around at everyone we hung out with. I thought it was strange at first, but by the time Sunday rolled around, I realized what he was doing—he was trying to determine who the guy I liked was.
My stomach dropped when the realization hit me, and I became more paranoid than ever. If Jean was becoming more aware, I’d have to try harder to conceal the fact that he was the one I liked. I guessed I was doing a pretty good job about hiding it, because come Monday afternoon after my last class, I got a text.

From: Connie
call me when u get a chance

It was a little ominous, but I shrugged my worries away; it was only Connie, after all. As soon as I got back to my room, I dug through my contacts and tapped on his name. An image of him flipping the camera off filled my screen, a selfie he’d taken when he’d stolen my phone one time, and I lifted the phone to my ear.
He picked up on the second ring.

“Hey,” he said, “Where are you?”
I glared inquisitively around my room. “I’m in my room…?”
“Cool. Jean’s not with you, right?”
“No? He’s still got class right now.”
“Good.” There was a rustle of static-y sound on the other end as Connie took a deep breath and blew into the receiver. “Okay, listen,” he said, “I’m just going to get right to the point, yeah? You understand?”
“Uh, okay.” This was a little a strange. “Go on.”
“Right. You need to tell Jean. As in, soon.”

Aaahhhhhhhg, not this again.
“What!? Why!?”
“Because! Look, I don’t know how you managed to tell him you like a guy and yet, he still doesn’t realize it’s him, the guy is dense as fuck, a true modern miracle. Kudos to you. But he’s been bothering me about it nonstop. Every chance he gets, all he talks about is you and the guy you like and how he’s trying to find out who it is and it is driving me up a motherfucking wall.
“What!? Are you serious!? Why does he care so much!?”

His voice was momentarily muffled as he pulled the receiver away from his mouth, but I did manage to make out, “Jesus Christ, they’re both denser than a box of rocks, god help them.”
“Marco,” he said, phone back to his ear, “Just trust me, alright? Will you please tell him?”
“Connie, no… I can’t! I’m not ready, it will only freak him out!”
“He’s already freaking out! Seriously, someone else is going to end up telling him on accident if you don’t, and that’ll just be a massive fucking mess. At least think about it, okay?”
“Y-yeah… okay, I’ll think about it.”
“Good.”
“And... thanks, Connie.”
“Eh? Even after bashing your guys’ heads together last month?”
“Don’t remind me. See you around.”
“Yep. You’re still joining us at Ymir’s Thursday night, right?”
“Yeah. Couldn’t get out of that even if I wanted to.”
“True that. Bye, Marco.”
“Bye.”

The second I hung up, I threw my phone on my desk and rolled into bed, groaning into my pillow in frustration.



Now, I’m sure you’re thinking something along the lines of, “Jesus, you sure do go to a lot of parties, Marco”, but in my defense, this wasn’t a party; it was a “get together”. Imagine me using air quotes as I say “get together”. Now you should have an accurate depiction of how I feel about this “get together”.

In all honesty, it was just a super exclusive party for Ymir’s close friends, complete with her shitty booze that all of her parties were trademarked with. It wouldn’t be a Ymir Party without it. The only ones “invited” were Jean and I, Connie, Sasha, Reiner, Annie, Bertholdt, Mikasa, Eren, Armin, and of course the ever-adorable Christa. It was really just an excuse for all of us to hang out one last time together before Winter Break, since we wouldn’t get to see each other for the next month.

I was dreading it; on one hand, I would get to bum around at home and not worry about homework and see my parents and little sister, and that was great and all, but I just didn’t want to leave Jean. He’d have to fare an entire month with no one to climb into bed with, and although he assured me he’d be completely fine (“I’ve gone how many years dealing with the nightmares alone? A damn fucking lot, Marco, I’ll be fine.”), I didn’t buy a word of it. He was loathe to leave my side for the entire week, and had stayed in my room for the previous few nights.
As a result, he still hadn’t packed….

“What the fuck is that?”
We were standing in my dorm, getting ready to hitch a ride with Armin over to Ymir’s. Jean was sneering distastefully at my sweater.
“What? Come on, Jean, it’s a Christmas sweater! We’re going to a Christmas party, after all!”
“Christmas or not, that sweater is tacky as hell.” Jean wasn’t typically a stickler for fashion, but I supposed that my particular sweater would stop even the most fashion-blind, gritty-hobo in their tracks. It was dark blue, depicting a little gingerbread house and a snow-covered front lawn decorated with candy canes, and a little gingerbread couple holding hands in front of the door. Over my chest, just over the roof, Santa and his reindeer were shown flying by. I shrugged.
“That’s the point! Ugly sweaters are a part of Christmas.”
“At least you know it’s ugly…”
I rolled my eyes at him. “You really need to get in the holiday mood.”
He snorted derisively. “I never liked Christmas.” He might as well have tacked a little ‘ba-humbug’ on the end of that sentence.
“Alright, Grinch. Way to be a party pooper. I do find it a little strange, though, I’d have thought you’d be into the whole ‘free stuff on Christmas’ thing.”
Jean smirked. “I could always get free shit whenever the fuck I wanted, Christmas was no special occasion. My family never even decorated.”
I frowned at that. He really didn’t like Christmas. I briefly wondered about his past holiday experiences before vowing to make sure that he enjoyed this Christmas.

“Hm. Well, your views on Christmas regardless, I’m not going to be the only one wearing an ugly sweater.” I quickly turned to my wardrobe and opened it up, pawing through the hangers and jackets.
“Oh god no,” I heard Jean say behind me. “Please tell me you don’t have another holiday monstrosity in there.”
“Ah-ha!” Finally locating it at the very edge of my wardrobe, I whipped it out and swiped my hand over it, advertising Jean’s near-future apparel. He let out a horrified shriek.
Now, this was a very special sweater. It was a deep and hideous green, the front covered with the image of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It was a cartoonish caricature, from the shoulders up, his front hooves resting on the bottom of the sweater, and—get this—the nose actually lit up.

“Marco, I’m not wearing that.”
“Yes you are!” I chimed in a sing-song voice, stepping slowly towards him.
He took a step back.
I lunged and tackled him to the floor.

I was eventually able to forcibly shove Jean into the offensive clothing, somehow managing to hide my erection as I held him down and stripped him of his shirt. But let me tell you—it was the stuff of dreams. I wanted to run my hands over his biceps, down his chest, along his stomach, into his pants-
But I was focused on the mission. And the mission was to make Jean wear the ugly-ass sweater.
Mission accomplished.

When the two of us boarded Armin’s SUV, Eren was the first to start teasing Jean about his sweater, and nearly received a black eye because of it. He did give me a high five when he heard that I was the one who made him wear it, and Jean glowered at the exchange.

Upon entering Ymir’s house, the hostess herself was the next to mention it.
“Woah, looks like the red light district’s open.”
Everyone except Jean laughed. I had to nudge him and remind him to lighten up. It was completely worth the smack to my shoulder.

The “get together” was extremely tame, in comparison to the other parties; a large and extravagantly-decorated Christmas tree sat in one corner of the front room, boughs of holly and, on one or two occasions, mistletoe hung around the house. Bertholdt and Reiner were seen taking advantage of the latter in the hallway numerous times. Red solo cups were also placed sporadically throughout the house, filled with booze or half empty or crushed and lying on the floor. A hot chocolate maker was running in the kitchen, and wreathes and ribbons were literally everywhere. “I never decorate,” Ymir told us, “But Christa loves Christmas, so we decorated it together.”
The two spent a lot of the time cuddled up on the couch nearest the Christmas tree, Christa with a mug of hot chocolate in her little hands, Ymir running her fingers through her blonde hair.

Jean and I walked over to sit on the couch, and were quickly dubbed by Connie as “The Shitty Sweater Duo”. He and Sasha were sitting on the floor, constructing a gingerbread house on a flat pan covered in aluminum foil, but the two of them couldn’t stop eating the building materials long enough to actually make anything. It was actually… kind of cute. At one point, the two of them could be seen feeding each other candy-covered gingerbread, and icing off the tips of their fingers.
“So, are you two like, a thing?” Jean had asked.
Connie insisted they weren’t, Sasha flushing a bit and focusing on eating the remnants of the gingerbread house kit.

The “get together” was actually quite fun, with all of us simply lounging about and chatting. Armin somehow managed to engage Annie in a lengthy conversation, Eren and Mikasa wandering into the kitchen for some hot chocolate.  And things were sliding along with no problems whatsoever…. Until I too left Jean’s side to fetch some hot chocolate. I offered to bring him a mug as well, but he declined.

When I returned, Reiner and Bertholdt had joined us in the front room, crammed onto the other end of the couch Ymir and Christa were lounging on. The second I seated myself beside Jean, warm mug in hand, an eerie chorus of “Oooooooooh,” rang throughout the room, Connie waggling his eyebrows suggestively.

“What!?” Jean snapped, glowering around at everyone.
I blinked, long and slow, grimacing in distaste. “Jean,” I said, in a low voice, “Could you look up and make sure there isn’t any mistletoe over us?”
“What? There wasn’t any up there when we walked in, so why would- oh my god.”
I looked over to see him with his neck craned back, staring up at the ceiling with an expression of pure horror. Snickers and chuckles and woops of laughter could be heard throughout the room, Sasha clapping her hands and chanting, “Kiss! Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!”
Everyone else joined her, the word “Kiss!” pounding into my eardrums and causing my pulse to pick up. I wasn’t sure how that mistletoe got up there, but judging from the plethora of evidence placed before me, it wasn’t that hard to figure out.

a) The mistletoe in the hallway was gone.
b) Reiner and Bertholdt, the ones who had been hanging around under that mistletoe, were now in the sitting room.
c) The only one tall enough to tape the mistletoe to the ceiling was Bertholdt.

I glared at him from across the room, and upon catching my eye, he began to sweat profusely and avoid eye contact. But I didn’t miss that slight smile he was wearing, either.

I carefully placed my hot chocolate on the coffee table in front of me, then scooted closer to Jean, the chants demanding lip action still ringing out loud and clear.
“H-hey, what are you doing?” Jean asked, eyes wide and face scarlet. He’d somehow managed to press himself into the armrest, as far away from me as he could get while still on the couch.
I sighed, ignoring the heat rushing to my face. “J-just, come here, Jean.”
He let out a hilariously girlish squeak as I slid my hand around to grab one side of his face, holding him in place.

I leaned in…
The chants grew louder.
“M-Marco!?”
…and I planted a kiss….
“YEAH!”
….on his cheek.
“Oh, what the fuck!” yelled a dejected Ymir.

I pulled away then, hiding my face behind my hands, a series of complaints springing forth out of the mouths of our friends. I briefly remember the sound of an iPhone camera snapping, but that was the last thing on my mind. The first was Jean. I hadn’t kissed him on the mouth, but it was probably as close as I was ever going to get. My heart was thudding painfully in my chest, and I peeked through my fingers over at him.

He too had his face covered with his hands. And it was probably the cutest thing I’d ever seen.
He peeked over at me too.
When our eyes met, he pressed his face harder into his hands, hiding from me. “S-sorry, Jean. They wanted a kiss, so…”

“We wanted a real kiss!” Reiner boomed, startling us both.

“It’s fine,” Jean said, but he wouldn’t meet my eyes.

“Hey now,” Ymir spoke up, laying her cheek on her girlfriend’s head and throwing us a lazy grin, “If the two of you stay under that mistletoe for too long, you’re gonna have to make out.”
That spurred us into action.
Well, it spurred Jean to action; I was frozen in shock, my fantasies of making out with Jean replaying in my head.

Jean pulled his legs up onto the couch and began digging his feet under my ass, prying me off the couch. I was flung to my feet, and Jean gave my ass an extra kick for good measure.
“Owww, Jean!” I laughed, rubbing at the spot he’d kicked me in.
He was smiling a bit now, although still rather flushed. “Oh, shut up,” he joked, “It didn’t hurt that much, your ass is fine.”

I paused at that, turning to face him full on. A cheeky grin slid over my lips as inspiration struck. “Do you really think so?”
Jean’s tiny smile crumbled away, his face turning such a deep shade of red, I thought he was going to pop. “I-I-I-I-I… that’s not what I… I-“
A hush swept through the entire room, our friends watching the exchange with bated breath, and I was suddenly extremely self-conscious. I tugged my sweater down so that it covered my ass.

“Heeeeey, don’t cover the goods!” Ymir shouted.
“Yeah!” Sasha chimed in. “You’ve gotta flaunt what you got!”
I turned to glare at them, blood rushing to my head and pounding through my skull, when Connie said, “Geez, Jean, just admit Marco’s got a nice ass! It’s not that hard. What about you, Armin? Want a piece of Marco’s ass?” He turned to where Armin and Annie were still sitting, Mikasa and Eren on the floor at their feet.
“O-oh, yeah,” he stammered, “Most definitely. As many pieces as I can get.”
Connie shot Armin a glare, then mouthed something like, “You suck at this.”
Armin merely shrugged, blushing a bit.

Others started shouting out compliments about my ass, and I really just wanted to melt into the floor right there, never to be seen again. All the seats in the room were taken, save for the one next to Jean under the mistletoe, and I had half a mind to just sidle into the kitchen alone and not talk to anybody for the rest of the evening.
But that was when Jean, red-faced and fists clenched, abruptly stood up from the couch and strode out of the room, and we all jumped as the front door slammed shut behind him.

“Damn it,” Sasha huffed in the residual silence, scooping icing onto a chunk of gingerbread before stuffing her face with it. “He left.”

I stared after him, mouth agape, thoroughly confused as to what had just happened. With everyone jeering at us and setting up ploys to get us together, everything had been a confusing blur, one embarrassing moment to the next. And then Jean just… got up and left? He looked pissed, but what on earth about?

I followed him.

Jean was standing on the cold front porch, no coat to keep him warm, the porch light reflecting off the white snow. He was shivering a bit, hands stuffed into his pants pockets, and I could see his breath in the chilly air, steaming puffs that curled upwards into the night. Closing the door gently behind me, I joined him and stood at his side. He didn’t even turn to look at me, he just kept staring off into the distance, his sharp eyebrows pulled low over his eyes in a murderous scowl, and his blush was fading.

I knew better than to start talking right away; I gave him time to get used to my presence, let him cool down a bit before I bombarded him with questions. I had no idea what had pissed him off so much, and it worried me. What had I missed in the past few minutes? Did someone do or say something that I didn’t catch?

I stood with him for a good five minutes, the cold seeping into my sweater and sticking to my skin, raising miniscule bumps along my flesh.
“…You ok?” I said quietly.
He shrugged, swallowed, then nodded, frowning down at his shoes.
Of course, he was never easy to get answers out of when he was like this; it was like pulling teeth.

“I know you’re pissed off about something, but I can’t tell what,” I said, opting to just be straightforward about it.
He glanced sideways at me, but only for a brief moment before looking back down towards his feet. “I’m not pissed,” he grumbled. “I don’t care. It doesn’t even bother me, because I don’t care.”

“Jean,” I sighed, “Could you maybe try and be a little less cryptic? I don’t understand…”

“Yeah, I know,” he said. “No one does, really, you’re no different. But I told you all that, remember?”
I had to step back and think that one through for a minute, uncertain as to what he was referring to, but as soon as I understood, I gasped. That was really a low blow. That really hurt.

Jean!” I grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around to face me. “I said I would find you, and I’m trying, I’m trying my dammedest to understand you, but you’re driving me crazy!”
He avoided looking at me, pointing his eyes at the ground again.
“Look at me!” I shouted, and his eyes flew up to meet mine. “You say you want to be understood, but I don’t think you do! This is a two-way thing, Jean, you’ve got to meet me halfway, or I’ll never find you… so please, try to meet me halfway?” I left it as a sort of question, begging and pleading with him. But he seemed at a loss for words, his mouth opening and shutting, jaw working, as though he was fighting with himself for the correct words to say.

“Marco,” he said hoarsely, “I don’t… I don’t know what to say. I don’t even understand myself right now, I just…”

“What don’t you understand?” I said softly, frowning sadly at him.

He crossed his arms over his chest then, shivering more violently with each passing minute. He looked away from me, avoiding my eyes, scowling darkly towards the front door. “I’m angry. I’m so pissed off, but I don’t know why I’m so pissed, and it’s making me more pissed that I can’t figure it out, and I’m trying to understand, but-“
He stopped abruptly, midsentence.

I sighed, a puff of steam blowing past my lips. “Okay. Fair enough. So you haven’t got the slightest clue as to what’s making you mad? What even set you off, back there? If it was the mistletoe incident, then I’m sor-“
“It wasn’t the mistletoe,” he deadpanned, cutting me off. “Could you just tell me one thing, though?”
“Huh? Yeah, of course, what is it?”
“Who’s the guy you like?”

I stiffened, muscles tensing as I stared at him with wide eyes. “What….? What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Please just tell me.”

Shaking my head violently, I took a step back, swallowing as I felt my blood rush through my veins, heart rate increasing. “N-no. No, I won’t! Jean, I told you, I’m not ready to talk about it!”

He scowled at me, his amber eyes bright and piercing, and although I wanted to shrink under his intimidating gaze, I stood my ground. Jean was the first to look away.
“Will you please just respect my decisions, Jean? I’ll tell you eventually, okay? But for now, stop worrying about it. And I still don’t understand what that has to do with why you’re so ticked off. If anything, I’m just more confused.”

“Tch.”

Is he even serious right now!? He was acting like such a spoiled brat, just because I wouldn’t tell him who I liked. That was the last thing I wanted to worry about right then.

“Hey,” I said, “Look. We leave tomorrow. We’re not going to see each other for a month. You’ve got to head back to Maria after this to pack, and then we say goodbye tomorrow, and I won’t see you until next semester. So, can we please just go back inside and enjoy the time we’ve got left?”
He didn’t say anything.
“Y’know… I’m really gonna miss you. Please? Just come back inside?”

Jean turned back around to face away from the front door, and he didn’t even look at me as he said, “Why don’t you just go inside yourself.”

It probably would have been less painful if he’d pulled out a knife and stabbed me repeatedly in the stomach thirty seven times. And by “probably”, I mean most definitely. I didn’t even dignify his words with a response; I just turned on my heel and headed back inside on my own, leaving my best friend and unrequited love shivering on Ymir’s front porch.

“He hates me.”
I flopped down on the abandoned couch where Jean had been sitting, the mistletoe having fallen from the ceiling and was sitting on the cushions. I swatted it away, curling up on the sofa, morose and dejected. I felt everyone’s eyes rest on me.
“What? No he doesn’t!” Reiner said, frowning. “What makes you say that!?”
“I dunno,” I mumbled sadly. “He’s been acting a little funny ever since I told him that I like a guy…”
“What!?” Eren sat up straight. “You mean you told him!?”
“Relax, dude. Jean still doesn’t know it’s him, somehow,” Connie explained.
“That’s really shocking,” Annie said quietly. “I’m pretty sure a blind man could see that you’re head over heels for him…”
I stared at her with eyes so wide, it was a shock that they didn’t just roll out of my head. “I-it’s not really that obvious, is it?” I spluttered, choking on my words.
Everyone exchanged glances with one another before a murmur of “Yeah”s and “Totally”s went around the room. I hid my face behind my hands, once again wishing with all my might that I could melt away into nothingness.
“Then maybe that’s why he hates me,” I muttered. “He knows.”
“Uh, trust me, no he does not,” Connie said.
I groaned loudly. “I just don’t understand him right now, he’s being too confusing….”

“Okay, that’s it,” Ymir shouted. “This is putting a damper on everything! Someone go talk some sense into that jackass and bring him back in here.”
There was a murmur of assent before Armin stood up. “He doesn’t hate you Marco, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I know what’s going on… just give me a minute.” And then he left to join Jean on the front porch while I continued to mope on the couch, listening to everyone else return to their casual conversations.
I hated how everyone was only interested in the situation when it benefited them. When it entertained them. That was the whole reason they’d all got involved in this “Get Marco and Jean Together” game, wasn’t it? Because it’d be fun?
It was just screwing everything up….
I sat up and picked up my now-cool hot chocolate from the coffee table, frowning at the chilly contents. I sipped it all the same. I couldn’t care less at that point.

Around fifteen minutes later, Jean returned, Armin trailing behind. Something dark and angry swirled in my stomach, and I found that I was glaring just a tiny bit in Armin’s direction.
Jealousy is ugly, Marco. Stop it.
It still hurt that Armin was able to get Jean to come inside and I couldn’t.

Jean plopped himself down beside me, our arms pressed against each other, and I could feel the cold from his sweater seeping into my own. I shivered involuntarily.
Slumping beside me, arms crossed over his chest and legs splayed wide, Jean scowled, staring at nothing in particular. And then he glanced at me, a strange and shaky smile on his lips that looked horribly out of place.
I sighed and rolled my eyes. “Don’t force yourself to smile, it looks awful.”
A genuine smile graced his lips then, a small and somber one filled with sincerity, and I smiled back.
 
I didn’t know what had made him so angry, and I was dying to know, but at that moment, just enjoying my time with Jean was more important. We managed to have fun the rest of the night, or in Jean and I’s case, just bask in each other’s presence, since we didn’t talk or move much for the remainder of the “get together”. Everyone else remained as vibrant and energetic as ever, eager to go home for winter break.



That night, with my bags packed and spare bed void of Jean’s presence, I received a text message.

From: Ymir
You two would make cute Christmas cards together.

Attached to the message was a picture of Jean and I sitting at separate ends of Ymir’s beige couch, both of us in our ugly Christmas sweaters, covering our red faces with our hands.

I saved it to my phone.

Chapter Text

Maybe I need some rehab
Or maybe just need some sleep
I got a sick obsession
I'm seeing it in my dreams
I'm looking down every alley
I'm making those desperate calls
I'm staying up all night hoping hitting my head against the wall

What you got, boy, is hard to find
I think about it all the time
I'm all strung out, my heart is fried
I just can't get you off my mind
--Ke$ha (Your Love is my Drug)



I can’t say that winter break went exactly as expected. Because it didn’t. Truth be told, a lot of unexpected events occurred over break. But it was predictable.
It was predictable in that I was a whiny, lonely, clingy, lovesick loser the entire time. It was around one hundred times worse than Thanksgiving break, and four times longer.

It was early on a Monday morning, the first of the break. I’d woken up in my own bed, in my own room, in my own house. The warm aroma of scrambled eggs and bacon wafted up from downstairs and through the crack in my door, and I snuggled deeper into the warm refuge of my blankets.

You can tell right off the bat that this was a little strange, because

a) it was early,
b) on a Monday,
c) and I was awake.

Actually, I’d had a lot of trouble sleeping the entire night as well. It was kinda funny; the days when Jean and I had shared a bed, I could sleep for days with him taking up over two thirds of the space, but give me a bed to myself and I couldn’t sleep at all. I just couldn’t get used to the feeling of cold, empty sheets and no Jean.

Sighing and rubbing the grit out of my bleary eyes, I blindly grabbed for my cell phone on the bedside table and pulled it under the covers with me, squinting against the bright light of the screen as I unlocked it. 9:00 A.M. and….

(0) New Messages

I could feel my heart sinking into my stomach, disappointment and dread weighing my limbs down as I dropped the phone onto the bed next to me. Something was wrong. I had done something wrong, hadn’t I? Whatever I did, he still hadn’t forgiven me after the “get together”, right? Groaning, I dragged a hand down my face, squeezing my eyes shut. Whatever I’d done, I still had no clue what it was, and it was driving me insane.

Curling up on my side beneath my covers and pulling them up to my nose, I squinted at the early-morning light filtering into the window from behind my closed curtains, and I recalled the last time I’d seen him.
Friday the 13th. What a lucky day.
I’d loaded up everything I’d need for a month into my car, sending my mom a text to let her know I’d be hitting the road soon, and I’d been about to send the same to Jean, but when I turned around he was already there. Just kind of…. standing there, several feet away, like he was afraid to get too close. A warm, black coat was wrapped tightly around him, the bottoms of his jeans soaked from the snow, and his hands were shoved deep into the pockets of his coat.

“H-hey,” I’d said.
“Hey,” he’d repeated, kicking idly at the snow.

His short, stilted answer was a little strange; it was too soft, and too quiet. So I shuffled a little closer, concerned, to find that heavy, dark circles hung beneath Jean’s bloodshot eyes, mouth pressed into a thin line just under his cherry-red nose. “Jean…?”

I must have wandered a step too close, because once I came within four feet of him, he took a step back, and my heart twisted painfully in my chest. He wouldn’t meet my eyes, only looking down at the ground or across the vast parking lot.

“Another nightmare?” I ventured, and for a long second, he didn’t respond. But then he shrugged and gave a curt nod, still not looking me in the eye. He swallowed loud enough for me to hear, and I had a feeling that he wasn’t exactly telling the truth. But he didn’t really look like he was in the mood to talk about feelings right then, and I had to leave soon.

“You alright?”

Again, another curt nod, and he still wasn’t looking directly at me. But then he was clearing his throat, rubbing nervously at the back of his neck, and saying, “I just… wanted to say goodbye. Before, you know… before you leave.”

I smiled warmly at him, even though I knew that he wasn’t looking at me. “Yeah. A whole month, huh? Excited?”
“Not at all,” he replied, voice still small and quiet.
“Yeah… I’ll miss ya, Jean.”
He actually looked up at me this time, narrow eyes meeting mine, and his face flushed a deep crimson for some reason. He was acting a little strange. “I’ll miss you too, Marco.”

We stood there awkwardly for a few moments, and I had to fight against the urge to run forward and sweep him into a hug, to squeeze him so tight he wouldn’t be able to breathe, and maybe plant a small kiss on his lips as well. And nose. And forehead. And cheeks. And everywhere.
I grimaced slightly, mentally kicking myself for letting my thoughts run on in such a direction again. But hey, it was much better than imagining sucking his di-
No. Stop it. How many times, Marco, how many times are we going to do this? A few times we’ve been around that track, so it’s not just gonna happen like that.

Regardless, he didn’t seem to be in the mood for a hug right then, let alone a kiss. He looked like he didn’t want to be anywhere near me, actually. So I refrained and took a step back. “Well,” I said, pointing to my car over my shoulder with my thumb, “I’ve gotta get going… it’s a few hours’ drive to Jinae, and my mom’s kinda waiting.” And I turned around to walk towards my car, when-

“Marco, wait!”
Whipping my head around in surprise, I found that Jean had taken two steps closer to me, his hand outstretched, but he froze there, eyes wide.
“Uh… yes? What is it?”
But then he pulled his hand back, standing straight up, and he cleared his throat. “I just… I dunno. Be safe, alright man?” He looked back down at the ground then, crossing his arms over his chest, and I nodded.

“Yeah, I’ll be careful. I’ll text you when I’m safely home. Bye, Jean.”

“…Bye.”

That was the last I’d seen or heard of him. I could remember driving away, and peeking up at my rearview mirror to see him standing there in the distance, just watching. I took a deep breath before tearing my eyes away, facing forward, gripping the steering wheel tight. One month. Just one month. You won’t have any time to miss him, Marco, it’ll go by in a flash.

I was only three days into winter break, and it was not going by in a flash. I’d texted Jean once I’d gotten home. I texted him again the next day, wondering what he was up to, and how he was doing. And laying there in my bed on that bright Monday morning, he still hadn’t replied. So I let out a long, loud, displeased groan and flipped over onto my stomach, listening to the slow, heavy beat of my heart through the mattress springs. I missed Jean.

The pitter-patter of tiny feet on cold floorboards pulled me out of my dismal thoughts.
Oh no. I quickly burrowed deeper under the covers, flipping around beneath them to face the door.

“Marco?”
It was the tiniest whisper, and the door creaked slightly as small hands pushed it open ever so slightly. “Marco, are you awake?”

I stayed still, lying in wait, grinning from ear to ear as I heard the hinges squeak, the door opening further. And then the floorboards beside my bed creaked, and I knew she was close.

“Marco,” she whispered again. “Wake up.” It was then that I felt a tentative poke from a tiny finger through the blanket, but still, I refused to move. She prodded me harder. “You gotta wake up, mom s-AH!”

My hands shot out from under the blanket, and she let out a shriek of fear as I yanked her up into my bed, hugging her close.
“Marie!” I crooned gleefully, pressing a kiss to her forehead, dark bangs getting in the way and sticking to my lips.
“Marco!” she yelped back, and I rolled us over so that she was pinned to the mattress, long dark hair splaying out beneath her, before digging my fingers into her underarms. Marie squirmed and squealed, her little legs kicking out as laughs and giggles wracked her small form, freckled cheeks burning bright red as she struggled to breathe. “M-MARCO, HAHA, ST-TOP, HAHA-
“You gotta say pleeaassee,” I told her, tickling along her sides, until she finally spluttered out a weak “Please!” between peals of laughter. I then leaned down to leave a kiss on her nose, and she wrapped her arms around my neck, hugging me tight.

“Mmm, did you sleep good?” I yawned, sitting up and pulling her into my lap. She was wearing a cute, pink nightgown, with lace and ribbons on it, and her hair was messy from all the tickling. But she was smiling brightly, brown eyes wide, and I noticed a small gap in the top row of her front teeth.

“You finally lost a tooth?” I commented, and she nodded vigorously, smile widening. “That’s funny; my first lost tooth was the same as yours… how much did you get from the tooth fairy?”

Her entire face lit up, eyebrows shooting upwards beneath her bangs. “I got a whole dollar and twenty five cents!” she shouted gleefully, and I furrowed my brow as I recalled the lone quarter the tooth fairy had left me when I lost my first tooth. The tooth fairy clearly had her favorites…

“You were at Dad’s house, weren’t you?” I deadpanned, and she nodded again.

A loud, shrill voice from downstairs made the two of us jump. “Marco! Marie! Breakfast is ready, so get your butts down here!”

“Coming, Mom!” we shouted, and we quickly leapt off my bed, scurrying down the stairs as I playfully raced Marie to the kitchen. We arrived to find the table covered in plates of food; steaming eggs, greasy bacon, a pitcher of orange juice and a bowl of hash browns. My stomach emitted an angry growl, gurgling hungrily, and I sat down at the table and grabbed a plate, hastily piling it up with as much food as it could hold.
“Now now now, hold on a second, put that plate down,” my mom said, and I looked up to see her placing a cup of chocolate milk next to Marie’s plate. My mom was pretty short, and her wavy hair was sort of graying near the roots, but for a mom, she was still a pretty woman. I would always pout a lot when I was younger because I was upset that I’d ended up with my dad’s brown eyes, instead of her gray ones. I thought hers were cooler. “Listen up, because I’m running late for work. Marie missed her bus, so I’m trusting you to watch her today, alright, hun?”

“Oh… is Dad too busy to pick her up and take her? Do you need me to give her a ride or something?” I was still holding my half-filled plate in mid-air, my eyes on my mother.

“No, because this is the perfect chance for you to take her to the mall. She needs to pick up a small gift for her Secret Santa gift exchange at school before Friday, so I figure spending one day with her brother won’t hurt, right?”

She smiled wanly over at Marie, who was positively beaming at the prospect of not having to go to school.

“Aw, come on, mom; when I was her age, you always made me go to school, no matter what…”
“Hush, Marco,” she said, walking around the table to kiss the top of my head. “Things are different now, you know.” She said this quietly, only to me, just out of earshot of Marie, and I nodded. “And besides,” she said, louder, “She just got home from her dad’s over the weekend, and I’m sure she’s missed you a lot.”

She then grabbed her purse off the counter and headed for the front door.

“Have fun at work, mom!” I called out, filling my glass up with orange juice.
“Ha! Yeah, right,” she barked. “Bye Marie, bye Marco! Love you both!”

Marie and I shouted out “Love you”s and “I love you too”s before the front door slammed shut, a cold gust of winter air blowing into the house, and we began digging into our food. At one point during that morning’s breakfast, my hand flew to my thigh out of instinct, searching for my phone in the pocket of a pair of pants that I wasn’t wearing. But then I remembered it was lying on my bed upstairs, most likely with zero new messages; I sourly stabbed at an egg with my fork, pouting ever so slightly.



Frankly, I was pretty excited to spend the day out with my little sister. I had learned that I had to enjoy the time I spent with her before she started to get annoying, as all younger siblings do eventually. Plus, I kind of didn’t want to spend the day sulking around the house and thinking about Jean; just the thought of his name made my chest ache uncomfortably, so I quickly turned my attention to my surroundings.

I was currently at the mall nearest my neighborhood, and as befitting of a mall around the holidays, it was absolutely packed. At this particular time, it was a little in the afternoon, and I was trying to lead Marie in the direction of the food court, but that endeavor was being made difficult by the fact that she was still an easily distracted, excitable seven-year-old girl; and even then, only just barely seven years old.

“Marie, slow down! Get back here!” I called after her, keeping my wide eyes on her swaying, dark hair as she weaved through the people in front of me, nearly losing her among the holiday masses. Keeping track of a little girl in a mall in December was much more difficult than initially anticipated, and I had a feeling my mom knew exactly just that when she assigned me this treacherous task. I loved the woman, but she could be kinda ruthless.

Marie!” I yelped, a taller man almost tripping over my little sister. I scrambled forward and reached out, snatching her back next to me. “Stay by my side!” I scowled down at her, gripping her small wrist tightly. “I want you to hold my hand at all times, got it?”

At that, she puffed out her freckled cheeks in some sort of pout and stomped her foot, her nose turning red like it always did when she was being indignant. “Marco! That’s not fair!”

I rolled my eyes at her, then pulled her over next to a nearby shop window and knelt by her side. What on earth was she talking about? “What’s not fair?”

“If I hold your hand, I won’t be able to find a boyfriend! Because they’re all gonna think you’re my boyfriend, but really you’re just my big stinky brother!”

I squinted at her, slowly comprehending. “Boyfriend? What do you need a boyfriend for, you’re seve-“ I blinked, then scowled at her, feeling a little offended. “Hey! I don’t stink….”

She nodded vigorously, her bangs bouncing against her forehead. “Yuh-huh! All boys stink.”

I recalled the scent of chocolate axe and cheap soap, and suddenly my chest felt extremely hollow. “That’s not true,” I told her, “Some boys smell really nice.”

Marie perked up at that, giving me a grin that showed off her newly-lost tooth. “Good! I’m gonna marry a good-smelling boy!”

“Is that so?”
“Yep!”
“And what’s he gonna smell like?”
She placed a tiny finger on her chin as her eyes glazed over, clearly pensive over the smell of her future husband, a fatally important trait to look for in future partners. But then she was smiling again, brown eyes bright as she squeaked out, “Chocolate!”

Eeeuuuuuurrrgghhh. There’s no escaping it.

“Alright, that’s enough. Are you hungry?”
“Starving!” she shouted.
“Good. So am I.” And then I swept her up over my shoulder, and she gave a playful shriek, her little legs kicking wildly as I carried her to the food court.

“And Marie?”
“Yeaaahhh?”
“I really hope people don’t think I’m your boyfriend. If they do, I think we have more important things to worry about than just boyfriends.
She stopped kicking, hanging limply over my shoulder. “Like what?”
“Like the law.”
“I don’t get it.”
I sighed. “Nevermind.”

We ended up getting some pizza, even if I was craving the Chinese food they had, but the line for that was super long and Marie was a picky eater. I found myself disappointed that this particular pizza place didn’t sell chicken-and-steak pizza, memories of pigging out with Jean in my room resurfacing painfully to the forefront of my memory. I ended up just picking distastefully at my food as my guts wrenched uncomfortably inside me, twisting and knotting themselves, and I was strangely hyper-aware of the phone in my pocket, heavy against my thigh.

“Aren’t you hungry?” Marie piped up, looking up at me from across the table, pizza grease glistening around her mouth. I shrugged, picking up a napkin and leaning forward to wipe at her face.
“Marco’s suddenly not feeling very good,” I muttered.
“Oh no! Are you sick?” she frowned. “If you are, you should get me sick too so that I don’t have to go to school tomorrow.”
I grimaced at her, shaking my head. “I’m not sick, silly.”
“Then whatsamatter?”

I shrugged again, contemplating what all I should tell her. I felt like… like I needed to talk. I felt like there was just a confusing swirl of emotions in me at that moment; some of it weighing my lungs down, some of it eating at my stomach. But for the last two and a half months, every time I’d needed to talk to someone, I talked to Jean, and that just wasn’t an option right then.

“So….,” I began, running my hands along my thighs nervously, looking down. “I made some friends while I was at college, right?”
“Are they cool?”
My eyes snapped up to meet hers. “What?”
“Are they cool?” she repeated.
“I mean….” I thought about it. I guessed they were pretty cool…? “Yeah? Why?”
“Oh. Well, you’re kind of a nerd, so I was just wondering if you made some friends who were cooler than you…”

“Hey! I’m cool!” I glared. “If you’re just going to call me a nerd, then I’m not going to tell you what’s wrong.”

“Awww, I’m sorry, I wanna know!” she whined. She probably didn’t know that I’d heard her mumble under her breath, “But you are a nerd,”, andI just elected to ignore it.

“Anyway, one of those friends is my best friend.”
“What’s his name?”
“Jean,” I told her, my throat constricting around the name.
“Is he cute?”
I almost choked on my saliva. “Wh-What!?”
“Is he cute!” she said again.
“Why are you asking!?”
“’Cause! He might wanna be my boyfriend!”

She was smiling innocently up at me, and I started to have second thoughts about telling her my problems.

“You’re too young for boys. And him. He’s eighteen years old.”
“So?”
“It’s illegal.”
Marie cocked her head to the side inquisitively.
“N-nevermind…”
“You still didn’t answer the question!”
“What question?”
“Is he cute!” she huffed, exasperated.
I let out a long, low groan of resignation, feeling my face heat up. I looked away, across the food court at some random mother and her two obnoxious boys. “Y-yeah,” I squeaked. “He’s cute.” I sat up straight, then, realizing I’d sunk into my seat in mortification. “B-but that’s not the point!”

“What were we talking about again?” she asked, munching on her pizza still.
I sighed. “Why I’m upset.”
“Oh! Yeah!”
“A-anyway… he’s my best friend. And I think he hates me.”
“Because you stink?”
“Marie! I don’t stink!”
She sighed, placing her cheek in her hand and propping her head up with her elbow on the table. “Then why would he hate you?”
I shrugged again. I didn’t want to tell her that I liked him. As a little girl who had the tendency to annoy her older brother for fun, she probably wouldn’t shut up about it if she knew. And plus. Y’know. The fact that I liked a guy. And that I’d have to be the one to explain to her that some people just liked the same gender. I wondered how my parents would feel if I taught her that….. Mom was just fine with my sexuality. Dad didn’t know.

“He hasn’t talked to me since Friday,” I groaned.
“That’s not even that long ago,” she pointed out.
“It is for me!” I said. “We always talk to each other, every single day!”
Marie threw her hands up, clearly fed up with my crap; she was great at impersonating Mom. “I don’t know! Did you call him?” she huffed.
I frowned, then looked down at my huge, uneaten slices of pepperoni pizza. “N-no… I’ve only texted him.”
“Then call him!” she squealed, clearly proud of herself for coming up with such a simple solution. But I shook my head dismally at her, biting my lip.
“I-I don’t want to… he probably thinks I’m being clingy or something.”
Marie rolled her eyes dramatically at me, then slid out of her chair to stand by my side. “Do it! Right now! Call him! I’ll hold your hand, so you won’t be scared!”

She then reached out and grabbed my hand, hers miniscule against my own, and I managed a small smile. “Y-you’re right,” I said, voice wavering nervously as I reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone. “Just one try can’t hurt, right?”

Steeling my nerves and taking a deep breath, I unlocked my phone and scrolled through my contacts with a shaky thumb, spotting Jean’s name almost immediately and pausing, my finger poised to press ‘call’. But something about just seeing his name, waiting to be clicked, made me freeze up. Which is when Marie pressed her small finger to the touchscreen herself.

“Marie!” I yelped.
“You were going too slow!”

I hastily lifted the phone to my ear, swallowing loudly as I listened to it ring. One ring. Two rings. Three rings. Ten rings and an eternity later, we ended up at voicemail.

Hey, this is Jean.” I frowned, my brow knitting together; he’d changed his voicemail recently. “I’m really busy right now-” I recalled him telling me that he had absolutely nothing to do over break –“but if you leave your name and number and tell me why you’re calling, I might get back to you. If this is Connie, and you’re not about to tell me what I want to know, then don’t even bother. If this is Reiner, Annie or Ymir, stop leaving beeps in my voicemail. I don’t even know what the fuck you’re referencing, but it’s annoying. And if this is Bertholdt, stop leaving apologies, it’s not your fault you’ve got weird as fuck friends. If they wanna apologize themselves for beeping the fuck outta my phone, that’s their call. Chill out, man.”

The message ended there, and I jumped at the tone, almost pressing ‘end call’, but Marie stopped me. “Leave a message!” she hissed, frowning angrily, and I complied, but only because I’d hesitated too long to hang up.

“Ah- uh, h-hi, Jean! This, uhm…. This is Marco, and… I was just wondering how you were doing. Since. You know. You aren’t answering any of my text messages. And I’m kinda worried. And..” I swallowed, frowning to myself. Pulling the receiver away from my mouth, I whispered to Marie, “I sound like an idiot!”
“Keep going!” she instructed.

I sat there for several long moments, mulling over what I should say, filling up the voicemail with silence.

“Y-you should call me back,” I said into the phone, shrugging at my little sister. “Just hoping your nightmares aren’t giving you too much trouble… and, well, uh-“
Marie leaned forward and loudly exclaimed, “Marco misses you!”
Marie!”

The voicemail beeped, and I clapped a hand to my face, groaning as I hung up. “I’m stupid,” I grumbled.

“Nuh-uh!” she said, squeezing my hand. “I think you’re smart!”

I ended up eating around half of one slice of pizza before we threw our trash away, and this time, Marie agreed to hold my hand as we toured around the stores. She was quiet and pensive as we walked, and didn’t speak up again until we’d carefully stepped onto an escalator, heading to the second floor.

“Can I talk to Jean next time?”
I glanced warily down at her. “Whyyyyy?” I asked, cautious.
Her grin only grew wider. “’Cause! He’s your best friend. And also, because you said he’s cute!”
Of course.
“He’s still too old for you,” I reminded her. “But hey, guess what?”
“What?”
“If he starts talking to me again, we’ll Skype him together, how about that?”
She bounced on her toes a little, squeaking out a “Yay!” as we stepped off the escalator, and she took a moment to glance around before tugging me in the direction of Claire’s. I grimaced, not really wanting to go to such a pink store, but I supposed I didn’t mind either way. That was when I caught sight of the storefront window at the shop beside the girly outlet… and I could not resist.

“Wait, Marie! Hold on, we’ll get your friend’s gift in a second!”

I quickly dragged her towards the store, shoving my way through the crowd of shoppers around us, and she stumbled after me, confused. “Why?” she wondered.

“I just found the perfect Christmas gift for Jean.”



I woke up the next day just as bright and early as the day before; I was facing my bedside table when I awoke, and was greeted by the sight of my phone. I glared at it for a second, contemplating whether I should check to see if I had any new messages or missed calls from Jean, but…

Instead, I turned over to face my window, feeling my heart stutter a bit. If I didn’t check my phone, I could act like Jean sent me a message in the night, and that I just hadn’t read it yet; I could pretend that he actually took the time to answer me, to text me back. But if I did check my phone, I risked feeling my heart crack in two upon seeing a big fat zero in front of the words ‘new messages’. I was just postponing the pain like the pathetic loser I was; I was drowning in my own unrequited feelings, and half of me was refusing to acknowledge just how unrequited they were. He probably didn’t even like me anymore, to be honest.

But what if there’s a message?
It won’t be from Jean, probably..
But what if it
is?
It won’t be.
….


I wonder what time it is.

My resolve crumbling to ruins, I flipped over and snatched my phone off the bedside table, quickly unlocking it.

(3) New Messages

I sat there and stared at my phone, not even bothering to check the time; I was too busy suppressing the urge to squeal like a little girl. They were from Jean. At three in the morning.

From: Jean
hey. i realize i probly seem like kind of a jackass since i havent talked to u in a while. so its sort of a dick move for me to just text you like this just because of another nightmare. but i could rly use your company rn.

From: Jean
im not going to call you tho. bc im sure youre sick of being woken up by me all the time at this point. honestly, just texting you is already making me feel better. you always make me feel better after the nightmares without even trying to.

From: Jean
…..that might sound a lil bad. im not your friend just because you make me feel better after nightmares, youre just an awesome person all around, but i miss having you around after bad dreams rn. ive missed you before now too, but i didnt text you bc. of reasons i guess….. i sound hella dumb, so im just going to stop, these messages are probably annoying you.

I stared at my phone, long and hard, rereading the messages over and over and over again. I wasn’t as ecstatic as I’d been a minute or two before; I actually felt irritated and a little hurt. Scowling, I glared up at the clock at the top of the screen, and found that it was 10:45 am. I sat up, stretched, and then I started a new message.

To: Jean
You and me are going to Skype today. We need to talk.

And fifteen minutes later, my phone buzzed.

From: Jean
ok



I’d been pretty calm and collected when I sent that message; behind the safety of a cellphone screen and carefully-chosen words that I could backspace and delete if I so chose, texting was easy. Talking to him when I could see his face, and hear his voice, and be unable to take my words back? That was different, especially when I was sure that he’d been pissed off at me as of late.

I spent several hours after that to eat, and shower, and complete the list of chores that my mom had assigned me, telling Jean I had to get them out of the way first, when in reality I was just stalling in an attempt to gain more time and organize my thoughts. With Marie at school and my mom at work, the house was desolate and empty, but I hardly noticed; my mind was elsewhere. On Jean. On his gaunt features from Friday. On his text messages from last night. I was eager to talk to him again, but at the same time, I was anxious; why hadn’t he replied to my messages over the previous few days?

Soon enough, three o’ clock rolled around, and I couldn’t stall any longer; the house was too clean, and it was too late in the day. I had to talk to him, or else I’d probably snap from the overwhelming anxiety.

To: Jean
I’m ready. You?

From: Jean
yeah.

His instantaneous response startled me, and I suddenly felt a little bad; he’d probably been waiting around all day for us to talk, and I’d just been mucking around. But then again, he had avoided talking to me for well over four days.

He can stand to suffer for just a few moments longer, I thought spitefully, making my way up our old house’s creaky staircase and into my room. I took my time, slowly opening my laptop and logging on to Skype.

Once I was online, I briefly wondered if he would be the one to call first. I waited one minute, staring at his Skype name. I waited two minutes, my cursor hovering over the ‘call’ button. I waited three minutes, my finger poised to click-

Jean Valjean: ?

I jumped at the loud Skype notification, my finger slamming down on the track pad, and my fate was sealed. I was calling.
He took a while to accept…. which was a little strange, since he seemed so eager a few moments before, but soon enough the call connected, and the video feed came through.

My eyes quickly zeroed in on the young man slumped in front of his webcam. He looked… disheveled. I mean, worse than he did the last time I’d seen him; his complexion was sickly pale, dark circles under his red-rimmed eyes, and his mouth was pressed into a thin line while he fidgeted with his fingers in front of him, picking at his nails, occasionally lifting a hand to run it through his already-messy hair.

I swallowed thickly and leaned forward, my tongue heavy in my mouth as I tried to recall all the things I’d wanted to say, all the thoughts I’d spent the day organizing. But they just wouldn’t come…

“Jean-“
“Marco-“

We both snapped our mouths shut, waiting for the other to say something, but all that ensued was silence. There was a thick and uncomfortable level of awkwardness in the air, a feeling that somehow managed to be conveyed through webcam and mic. I didn’t want to break the silence, and I shifted in my chair out of discomfort, until Jean let out an airy huff and sat back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest. “You wanted to talk?”

I glanced down at the floorboards beneath my bare feet, nibbling on my lower lip and nodding. You could always trust Jean to jump right at the heart of things and not beat around the bush, and I was forever grateful for that; that awkward, deafening silence was going to be the death of me.

I glanced back up at the screen of my laptop, squaring my shoulders as I prepared myself. “Yeah.”

A deep breath from Jean, and then, “What about?”

Time to get to the bottom of things, I thought. I sat up straighter in my chair, taking in his unhealthy appearance again. “I think you know what I want to talk about, Jean.”

Jean stared at me for a long second before his gaze shifted downwards, his line of sight falling on his lap, and he sighed. “Yeah… about that…. Marco, I need to apologize.”
I waited patiently as I watched him lick his lips, and he took another raggedy breath before continuing. “For not talking to you until now, and not replying to your texts. I’m an asshole.”

I sighed loudly, leaning back in my chair and casting my eyes towards the ceiling. “I don’t mind, Jean.” I am such a liar. “I’m actually more interested in why you haven’t been talking to me. Did I do something wrong? Are you pissed off at me?”

“What!?” I heard him say. “No, of course not! Dude, you haven’t done anything wrong.”

Still staring at the ceiling, I groaned and pinched the bridge of my nose. “Then why have you been ignoring me?”

….Silence. I waited patiently for him to respond, but all that came through my speakers was the creak of his chair as he shifted his weight in it. So I sat back up and squinted at my monitor to see Jean, his mouth gaping like a fish’s, face bright red. When he saw that I was looking at him again, he snapped his mouth shut so quickly I could hear his teeth click together, and his gaze fell to the floor.

“Jean?”

He brought a hand up to rub awkwardly at the back of his neck as he gave a tiny shrug, mouth still glued shut. What did that even mean?

“Jean, don’t even act like you don’t know the reason-“
“No, I do!” he said, sitting up straight and looking back at his computer screen. “I do know the reason. It’s just….”
“It’s just?” I prompted.
“It’s just…” He looked down again, face reddening to an alarming degree. “I really can’t… tell you.”

I scowled. “Can’t, or won’t?
“….Won’t.”
When he peeked back up in my general direction, he winced at my dark expression. Glancing around his room shiftily, I watched him pull his legs up into the chair with him, wrapping his arms around his knees. “Yet,” he added.

“Yet?”

Jean nodded, then with one elbow resting on his knee, he lifted his arm so that he could fiddle with the hair that fell over his forehead with his pointer and thumb finger, rolling it between the two digits with nervous energy. “I’ll tell you eventually,” he said, peeking around his arm at me shyly, “but I just… need some time. To process. Things.”
I stared at him for a long moment, trying to understand what he was saying, instead of how gosh-darned cute he was being, but oh my god was he cute. He was all shy and blushing, and curled up in his chair, and playing with his hair… Stop being so cute, Jean. I’m trying to be upset with you.

I quickly returned my attention to the matter at hand, mentally taking note that I needed to try and practice controlling my thoughts more. It was starting to become a problem…

“Fine,” I huffed. “There’s no rush. Just tell me when you’re ready, okay?”

He nodded, still twirling his hair around, before clearing his throat and saying, “I’ve missed you, man.”

Then why the hell wouldn’t you talk to me!? I thought, and the frustration caused the muscle beneath my left eye to twitch involuntarily. “I’ve missed you too.”

“D-do… do you forgive me?” he said, voice barely audible.
I swallowed, the words thick in my throat. “…I dunno.” I was hurt. He’d completely ignored me for three days and worried me sick. I thought he had hated me. I was still really confused and anxious, and I hadn’t gotten much of an explanation for his behavior at all. It all felt just incredibly unfair.

Jean’s eyes, glistening with tentative hope a moment before, fell to the floor, a trembling frown on his lips, and my heart nearly stopped in my chest at his crestfallen expression. “Oh,” he murmured, voice cracking. “I… I get it. It’s fine. I, uh….” He brought a shaky hand up to muss his own hair and took a deep, shuddering breath. “We don’t have to talk for a while. If you don’t wa-“

No!” I practically jumped out of my chair.

Jean looked back up, cocking his head to the side a bit. “What?”

“N-no, I just. Can we please just go back to talking normally?” I pleaded. That was all I wanted, really. I’d become exceptionally lonely without him, and it’d only been a few days. I was pathetic.

“Yeah,” he said, sitting up in his chair. And then he let out a breathless chuckle that was devoid of mirth yet filled with relief, uncurling himself and letting his feet rest on the floor again. “Yes, that’d be awesome!” And then he paused, pressing his mouth into that thin line again. “But… you’re still mad at me.”

It was a statement, not a question.

“I’m not mad at you at all. I’m just… still really hurt.”

His expression fell at that, mouth gaping open as he tried to think of what to say. “I-I… Marco, I promise you, I’ll tell you eventually, I’ll tell you exactly why I was too afraid to talk to you, but I can’t do that right now. And when I tell you, you’ll understand, I swear-“

“Afraid”? I cut in. “Why would you be afraid to talk to me!?”

Whereas Jean’s face had been flushed only moments before, color was quickly draining from it, leaving him ghostly pale in its wake. And I could almost feel my heart stopping along with his. He clenched his jaw, amber eyes wide and glassy, and I could have sworn that the little hamster in his head had collapsed mid-run on its squeaky exercise wheel, all thought coming to an abrupt halt. He looked truly terrified.

“Jean…?” I murmured softly, shifting slowly in my seat; I was worried that if I made any sudden movements, he’d freak out, like a tiny animal in the face of a predator. “Jean, you know you don’t have to be afraid to talk to me, right?”

He didn’t respond; instead, he swallowed loudly, and I could follow the motion from the shifting of his jaw to the bob of his adam’s apple. I had half a mind to ask him if he was even breathing.

“You can tell me absolutely anything, without being afraid. I’m not going to… I’m not going to judge you, you know that.”

I was trying to reassure and comfort him, but his deepening frown signified otherwise results. Jean leaned forward, placing his sharp elbows on his desk and pinching the bridge of his nose with one hand, eyes clenched shut and brows knitted darkly above them. “Please let me figure this all out on my own, Marco,” he begged. His voice was barely above a whisper.

If I was right there with him, within arm’s reach, I would have ran my fingers through his disheveled hair. I would have wrapped my arms around him and held him to me until all his doubt and fears were washed away. And I would have held his face in both my hands and pressed my forehead to his, until the two of us stopped thinking completely and all we could hear was the sound of us breathing. I would hold his hands until they stopped shaking, and I would pull him into the bed behind him and hum his song into his hair until he finally fell asleep and slept all his uncertainty away.
At least, that’s what I told myself I’d be doing.
The heavy, cold hand of reality was quick to brush those lightweight fantasies away as I stared at Jean from several hundred miles away.

“Okay.”
Okay.
That was all I said. Okay. Okay!? It wasn’t okay, he wasn’t okay, and not telling me what was wrong was not okay.

“O-okay?” He put his hand down, looking back at me, eyes tired and irritated and watery but somehow, filled with relief.

I nodded. “Okay.”

Jean released a heavy sigh, sitting back in his chair as the air practically whooshed out of him. “I’m sorry, I’ll-“ he started to croak, but I cut him off with a shake of my head.

“Don’t apologize,” I told him. “Just tell me when you’re ready.”

He gave a curt nod, eyes glazing over as he sunk back into his thoughts, and I took advantage of his silence to just stare. To look at him.
He looked sick, and so tired. And I refused to believe that there wasn’t a way I could help.

“But Jean.”

He blinked out of his reverie. “Hmm?” he mumbled, sitting up.

“Don’t hesitate to call me when you get your nightmares from now on, okay?”

Our conversation, although a little awkward and strained, took a turn for the normal after that; he protested a bit, saying how he’d prefer I actually get a full night’s rest for once, but in the end he agreed. I cared more about his personal wellbeing than a few missing hours of sleep, in all honesty, and he couldn’t argue with that. And also the fact that he looked a little too worn out to argue with me.

As we continued to talk, telling one another about what we’d been up to for the past couple of days and making a few jokes here and there, he gradually relaxed, the sharp edge of his shoulders lowering and wan grins replacing quivering frowns. He was almost his old carefree self again, and the lonely ache in my chest from the previous few days became practically nonexistent. Jean’s presence never failed to comfort me, even when he was so far away.
Just talking to him was a huge relief. All of my pent-up stress and worry and fear just melted right out of me during that Skype call, and if I’d had my way, the two of us would have stayed in that call for the entirety of our winter break. Just the two of us. Because he was okay and he didn’t hate me, thank god.

It was right when I had managed to draw a long laugh out of him (I was proud to admit), that I heard the front door swing open and the shrill, squeaky voice of a seven-year-old-girl announcing her arrival interrupted us.

Jean squinted at me through the monitor of his computer. “What was that?”

I could hear her calling my name, and I knew. I knew she was coming.
“…So, Jean,” I began, rubbing nervously at the back of my neck, “What exactly is your opinion on small children?
I could hear her stomping up the stairs, small feet thunderously signaling her rapid approach. God save us all.

“Oh, god,” Jean groaned, “I hate kids. Why?”

“Weeellllll-“

Marie burst into my room at that exact moment, thrusting herself into my arms with a shout of my name. “I missed you!” she beamed, and I gave her a small squeeze before returning my attention to Jean.

“Jean, this is my little sister, Marie.”

She turned around in my arms towards my computer and let out a gasp, while I tried to silently mouth to Jean over the top of her head, “Be nice, please.” His eyebrows shot up in surprise at the sudden appearance of the little girl, and for several long moments, I feared he’d say something too brash or too arrogant and accidentally hurt her feelings. Or say, what if he really came to dislike Marie? I drew my arms protectively around her and pressed my stomach to her back, worrying at my lip with my teeth.

“Oh!” Jean sat up straight, clearly still reeling in shock at the sudden addition to our conversation. “She… she looks like a mini-you, dude. But like, a girl.

“But Jean,” I said, “Am I a pretty girl?” I fluttered my eyelashes at him and squeezed Marie tighter, and Jean grimaced disgustedly at my ill-suppressed Spongebob reference.

I let out a small chuckle at that. “Come on, Marie,” I murmured into her hair, “Say hi.”

Marie flushed a light pink all the way to her ears, mumbling a shy, “Hello.”

The two of them seemed to be at a complete loss for words, Jean awkwardly running his fingers through his hair while Marie swayed from side to side against me, until I cleared my throat and broke the silence.
“That’s the friend I told you about, Marie. At the mall. Remember?”

She nodded her head quickly before leaning in close and whispering into my ear, “I know. You were right.”

“… About what?”

And in a voice that was unfortunately loud enough to be picked up by my laptop’s cruddy built-in mic, she said, “He is cute.”

Marie!” I yelped, my mouth gaping, at a loss for words. Leave it to Marie to open her big mouth! I silently prayed to whatever deity that was listening at the moment that Jean hadn’t heard the first little bit about me being right; I didn’t need Jean knowing that I thought he was cute.

Jean flashed a cocky grin then. “You’re pretty cute yourself, Princess,” he said to her. I exhaled a quick puff of air through my nostrils in relief; it seemed like I was in the clear for now. Marie, on the other hand, squeaked a bit, turning to press her face into my shoulder.

“She’s… not usually this shy,” I told him, and he shrugged.
“It’s fine. I’m, uh… not really used to talking to kids anyway.”

Marie turned around and glared at Jean, puffing out her cheeks a bit as she pouted. “I’m not a kid!” she protested.

“I-uh… you’re not!?” Jean blinked, stunned.
“No!” She turned to face him full-on. “I’m a woman!”

Oh god.

I wasn’t sure how I should try and communicate to Jean that he should try and play along without Marie hearing, but apparently that wasn’t necessary.

“Oh! Of course!” he said, feigning surprise. “I’m so sorry, Princess. Yes, you’re a woman.”
She scowled a bit at him, brown eyes calculating, and Jean seemed to be practically sweating under her harsh gaze. It took a lot of self-control on my part to hold back my giggles at his discomfort; Marie was hardly intimidating, and yet here Jean was, intimidated by a seven-year-old girl.
“You’re a very beautiful woman,” he tried again, and Marie’s hardened expression melted into sheer excitement and wonder.
She stepped closer to the laptop. “I’m beautiful?”
Jean nearly sighed in relief, and he leaned forward in his chair and smiled at her again. “Probably the most beautiful I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.”
Someone’s laying it on a little thick, I mused.

Marie, on the other hand, was eating that crap up. She slapped her hands over her face, hiding behind her fingers and bashfully peeking at him between them, and Jean’s grin widened in triumph.
“Aw, come on, don’t hide your pretty face.” He was clearly gaining confidence.

She blushed harder then, lowering her hands slightly. “B-but, my face… isn’t actually pretty,” she said sheepishly. “There’s freckles all over it..”

Jean’s smile faltered, eyebrows turning up in confusion. “What’s wrong with freckles? I think they’re very pretty.”
“You do?”
“Yeah. Actually” he glanced momentarily at me, but only for a fraction of a second, “… freckles are my type.”

I squinted dubiously at him, resisting the urge to bring a hand up to my own face and trace the freckles there. Was he just saying that for Marie’s sake? Why did he look at me, then? Maybe it was because he didn’t want me to get the wrong idea. Not like I would, anyway; I was aware how completely straight he was. Painfully aware.

Marie gasped and dropped her hands completely, gripping the hem of her purple sweater and twisting it nervously. “So am I…. your type?”

Jean was actually blushing then, as he chuckled and said, “Yeah, I guess you are.”

It was then that my mother called up the stairs, knocking her fist on the wall, “Marco, Marie, get down here, we’re going out to eat!”

I jumped a bit, startled, but Marie didn’t even budge; she stood almost completely still, eyes glued to my laptop.

“Alright,” I said, “Jean, we have to go eat. Should we do this again sometime…?”
Jean’s grin dropped right off his face, his frown slight and somber, and he nodded. “Yeah, of course.”
“Marie, say bye to Jean,” I told her, and she waved her small fingers at him slowly.
“Bye, Jean,” she mumbled.
“See ya, Princess.”

I leaned forward to end the call, but before I did, I said, “And Jean?”
“Yeah?”
“If I text you, would you text back?”
He scowled at me. “I already said I would.”
“Okay. Thank you,” I smiled. “Bye, Jean.”
“Bye… Marco.”

I quickly ended the call and shut my laptop, ushering Marie out of my room and down the stairs so that we could get ready to go. But even though my body was scrambling around downstairs, searching for my shoes, my head was still upstairs in my room, listening to the broken and almost-sad voice of Jean wishing me goodbye. And I couldn’t fight the small hopeful thought that maybe he missed me already.

To: Jean
I take it that 7 yr olds are your type too, huh?

From: Jean
Oh shut the fuck up i was being nice

 


 

Morning came quickly. Time flies when you’re texting Jean, and the previous evening flew by in a flash. Before I knew it, the morning sunlight was streaming through my window again, and the same (0) New Messages status above my phone’s inbox was there; the last message I’d received was a “Goodnight” from Jean. It was almost 8 am.

I rolled over beneath my covers, yawning and slowly letting my eyes droop closed again; it was much too early to wake up yet. I was intent on salvaging a few more hours’ worth of sleep. Except… something was a little strange. I squinted blearily at the scene in front of me: the white wall of my room, the doorway leading out to the hall, my empty desk where my laptop was missing, a stray shoe near the side of the bed…

I yawned again and snuggled back under my warm blankets.
Mmpf…. ‘s prolly nuthin.
I laid there for a good thirteen seconds before it finally registered.
My laptop!
My eyes snapped open, I threw my covers up, jumped out of bed, lost my balance and crashed to the floor, only to use the bare, empty surface of my desk as leverage as I struggled to my feet. The charger was still there, but the laptop itself? Gone! Poof! Nowhere!

Had my mom taken it? I mean, she had her own computer, but it was still a possibility, right? My hands flew to my head in exasperation, wide eyes giving my room one last frantic sweep before I turned and raced out into the hallway, not even bothering to throw on a shirt, and slammed my shoulder into the doorframe while stubbing my toe in the process. Biting down on my lip and holding back a string of curses, I hurried –stumbling the whole way- towards my mom’s room.

Oh god oh god, please please please please tell me I closed out my browser last night, please please please!

Bare feet thudded against creaky floorboards as I darted to my mother’s room, running past Marie’s in the process, and I spared her empty bed a passing glance before facing forward again. And what I found in front of me was my mother. She was still sound asleep in her bed, dark hair a stark contrast against her snow-white sheets, dim early-morning light creeping through the window above her headboard. No laptop in sight.

Blinking slowly, I scuffled backwards and turned my head towards Marie’s room again. And squinted at her empty bed.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

I found her at the kitchen table with my laptop. And when I noticed that it wasn’t open to any sites inappropriate for an elementary school kid, I sighed in relief.
I guess I remembered to close it out, then.
But the relief was short-lived. Because that’s when I realized that Skype was open.

And Jean was on the screen.

“Marie!” I shouted.

She whipped around, raven hair flying, and I heard Jean call out, “Heeey, is that Marco?”

“Marie! What-!?” You-!? What are you doing with my computer!?

“Talking to Jean!” she snapped, placing her hands on her hips. “Duh!”

The kitchen was filled with a warm, hazy glow from the sunrise that crept through the thin, kitchen-window curtains. Marie was still in her nightgown, her favorite purple one with ribbons, but her hair was curiously un-messy, no signs of bedhead whatsoever. In fact, it looked thoroughly brushed through, and a thin headband with a red bow adorned the crown of her head. I squinted suspiciously between my sister and the laptop screen, where Jean sat, cluelessly glancing around and waiting for me to enter my webcam’s line of sight.

Marie paused, her hands still on her hips as she looked me up and down, a slight sneer on her lips making her look entirely too grown for her age. “And you need to put some clothes on,” she said.

I was suddenly acutely aware of my nakedness, standing there in nothing but my boxers. With Jean on Skype. Oh my god.
He can’t see me like this…! I froze, feeling my face grow warm while I contemplated running up to my room to put a shirt or something on, when I smacked my palm to the side of my head. Marco, get ahold of yourself, this is dumb! It’s not like he hasn’t seen this much of you before, I thought, willing my heart to slow down. I had to constantly remind myself that he wasn’t attracted to me like I was him, so seeing me half nude wouldn’t bother him in the slightest. I was honestly getting worked up over nothing. He didn’t care either way.

Keeping all that in mind, I calmly approached the computer and lifted Marie out of her chair, setting her down on the floor. “Go get changed,” I told her. “Your bus will be here in like, thirty minutes.”

Throwing me a sour pout, she then turned on her heel and stomped her way back up the stairs, and once she was out of sight, I slowly settled into the abandoned chair in front of my laptop.

Jean seemed to be staring at something on his floor very pointedly, face flushed and eyes wide. I cleared my throat to get his attention, but instead of turning to me, his eyes seemed to flit almost at lightning speed between me and whatever was on his floor.

“Uh, Jean? You okay?” I asked, and then his eyes stayed on me, glued there.

“Y-yeah!” he said, almost breathlessly. “Yeah, I’m great, just. Um. Yeah I’m good.”

“O-okay, then,” I frowned. “Sorry about my sister. Did, uh. Did she call you, or-“

“Yeah,” he said, cracking a grin, and his face began fading back to a normal, less-red complexion. “I thought you were calling me! But, ah, I should have realized that there was no way in hell you’d be awake before eight.”

I smiled at that, letting out a small snort of laughter. “How long were you two even talking?”

He shrugged, looking down at the corner of his screen, presumably to check the time. “Ah, I dunno,” he said, shrugging, “It couldn’t have been more than fifteen minutes.”

I squinted at him. “And you were awake?”

Jean nodded, his grin slowly sliding off his lips, looking away for a moment before saying, “Just a dream.”

“Y-you mean nightmare?” I scowled. “Jean, I told you that you can call-“

“No, no, it wasn’t… a nightmare,” he corrected, his eyes glued to the floor again. “It was different…”

“Hmmm. Okay. What was it about?”

Jean seemed to freeze up right before my eyes, still refusing to look at me, and just his luck, Marie ran down the stairs right then. The strangeness of his reaction piqued my curiosity, but I mentally shrugged to myself, figuring that he’d tell me if he wanted to.

I got up, quickly pulling out a bowl and filling it up with Lucky Charms, Marie’s favorite cereal. Wearing jeans and a cute pink shirt with a snowman on the front, she slip-slid her way across the slick kitchen linoleum in her socks and tried to reclaim her seat in front of the laptop.
“Ah- I don’t think so!” I told her, setting her bowl down across the table. “You’re sitting over here.”

Marie peeked around the computer and stuck her tongue out at me.

“Do you want your cereal or not!?”

“Not that one!” she whined. “You put milk in it!”

I let out a long groan; how could I have forgotten. I quickly set about making her a new bowl of Lucky Charms, completely milk-free and 100% dry and nasty, and set it in place of the ruined one.

“You don’t get to steal my laptop and then just keep talking to my best friend on it while you eat,” I told her, grabbing the chair she was sitting in and dragging it around the table. “So you’re gonna sit- hey!”

She jumped up out of the chair and stood in front of the computer again. “Hi, Jean!”

Marie!”

We spent the next few minutes racing around the kitchen, and it was only when I told her she wouldn’t be able to eat breakfast before the bus got here if she didn’t eat quick that she settled down, munching on her milk-less cereal. Unfortunately, the ruckus was enough to wake my sleeping mother.

“Marie!? Marco!?” she came racing down the stairs, a pink robe clutched around her and slippers flying off her feet. “Where’s Marie!?” she asked me, her hair strewn every which way. “I slept in, she’s going to miss her-“

“Right here!” Marie peeked out from behind the laptop, the monitor having hidden her face as she sat across from me.

“It’s okay, Mom, she’s not going to miss her bus. She’s almost done eating,” I reassured her.

My mom raised an eyebrow in my direction, looking me up and down. “And you need to put some clothes on.”

I grimaced at that, sitting back down in front of the laptop, and she hurried back up the stairs. Probably back to sleep.

“Was that your mom?” Jean asked, grinning wide.

“Yeah… she works late a lot, so sometimes she sleeps in I guess. Anyway, what were you and Marie talking about, before I so rudely interrupted?”

Marie stuffed her mouth with a handful of Lucky Charms before racing around the table and snatching up a sheet of construction paper from the tabletop. “Look! I drew me and Jean!” she said. “I was showing him this before you came down! He said he likes it.”

She handed it to me, and I took one glance at it before rolling my eyes. The construction paper was pink, and the drawing consisted of various shades of crayons that morphed to create two amoeba-like figures, both with a shining, yellow, jagged hat floating over what I guessed was their heads. The legs were spindly, and frankly, the anatomy was frightening, what with the arms sprouting out of their necks and the hundreds of hair-like fingers protruding from their bulbous hands, but the depiction was clear:

A tall man with two-toned hair and pointed nose, labeled ‘JOHN’ in blocky, tilted letters, was standing by a much shorter figure in a wide, sweeping dress, freckles on her cheeks with ‘MARIE’ written above her head. Both wore crowns, and the John was holding a massive flower in his thousand-fingered hand. The picture included other strange details, such as a green castle in the background and a blue sun in the sky, but that was the gist of it.

Jean,” I said, “You didn’t tell me you were a prince.

“Oh, shut the fuck up!” he said, burying his face in his hands.

Marie gasped, her hand covering her mouth in shock. “Jean! What did I tell you about your language!?”

He ducked his head then, covering his own mouth as well. “Shit, I’m sor-Shit. God, I’m so fucking sorry-Shit—“

“Jean, stop talking.” I turned to my sister. “Has he been saying bad words, Marie?”

She nodded her head vigorously, holding up her hand and wiggling her fingers. “Five times! Well, I lost count just now…” She glared down at her hands, slowly raising each one as she recalled every cuss word that had just left Jean’s mouth.

“It’s nine now,” I murmured, placing my hand on her back and guiding her away. “Go finish the rest of your cereal before the bus gets he-“ I froze mid-sentence, staring at the clock. “Shit!”

Jean glared at us. “What is it-“

“Marie, go get your shoes on! Quick!” I dove out of my chair, snatching a small plastic baggie out of the cabinet.

“But you said a bad word-!”

Marie, your bus will be here any second!” I quickly emptied the rest of her cereal into the Ziploc baggie, ignoring Jean’s shout of, “Ha! You’re no better than me, Marco!”, and grabbed her tiny Tinkerbelle backpack from off the staircase. She scrambled over to the front door, shoving her Velcro tennis shoes onto her feet, when the roaring, rickety engine of the school bus alerted us of its arrival. Marie shot out the door, and I had to run after her to give her the cereal and her backpack. In the snow. In nothing but my underwear.

A few kids on the bus screamed. The bus driver honked his horn and informed me that I needed to put some clothes on. I retreated back into my house in shame.

“Did she make the bus?” Jean asked when I sat back down. I was still shivering from the cold that clung to my bare skin.

“Yeah,” I said. “Just barely.” I then picked her drawing back up, studying it carefully. “This is what you get for calling her ‘princess’, you know.”

“Ahhg, come on, I’m just being nice!”

I glanced up at him from over the paper. “You know what, Jean? I don’t think you really know what the difference is between flirting and just being nice.”

His mouth flew open wide, opening and closing several times as he was just too scandalized for words. “That’s not true!” he scoffed. “I know what the difference is! And I am not flirting with your little sister.”

“Yeah,” I rolled my eyes. “And that’s why she’s got a massive crush on you, right?”

He groaned loudly then, slumping back in his chair and running his hands down his face. “What am I gonna do, man? I can’t reject a five-year-old!”

“She’s seven,” I corrected, “And sure you can; didn’t you just tell me yesterday that you hated little kids?”

“Yeah, weeellll,” he began cracking his knuckles as he fidgeted in his seat, “I usually do! But, uh, Marie is the exception. I like her.”

“You must like her, to be flirting with her so much.”

Marco!” he shouted, and I erupted into peals of laughter at his expense. He just scowled until I’d calmed down.

“Okay, man, but seriously,” I said, “Just don’t worry about it. It’ll blow over, there’s no need to formally reject a little kid and make them cry. She’ll stop crushing on you soon enough. I think she’s just been a little boy-crazy lately.”

“Already? Isn’t she a little young?”

“Definitely too young for you! We actually went to the mall the other day, because she had to get a present for one of her classmates, since they’re doing a secret santa gift exchange at her school, so my mom had me take her to the mall. Oh, by the way, did you know how crowded the malls are around this time of year? It's crazy; I actually almost lost Marie once or twice and just ended up carrying her over my shoulder. Anyway, she started going on about how if she was seen holding my hand—you know, so I don’t lose track of her in a busy mall—that people would think I was her boyfriend. Which, is ridiculous, but then she starts saying how if they think I’m her boyfriend, then other boys won’t come up to her and be her boyfriend, so she was looking around at a mall for people to date? She’s only seven, but maybe all little girls go through this at this age, I don’t know, I’m not a girl. We were also at the mall when we called you. Did you ever listen to that voicemail?”

“…….”

“Hello? Anybody home?”

Jean wasn’t responding… But he was still sitting on screen, his chin resting in his hand and his eyes half-lidded. Maybe Skype was lagging? I leaned forward, squinting, but just then, he blinked slowly; So no, the connection seemed fine. His eyes were hazy, a light flush creeping across his nose and cheeks, and ever so slowly, he lazily dragged his tongue along his bottom lip.

I sat up straight, my heart slamming inside my chest and sending a sudden surge of blood down south. Oh my god.

“Uh, Jean?” I wanted to punch myself in the face for how high pitched that came out. I cleared my throat. “Jean, are you, uh, o-okay?”

His eyes went wide as he came back to reality, and he sat up straight as well, face growing redder by the second. “Sorry! Sorry, I, uh, I zoned out,” he said, scratching at the back of his neck, and stretching, arching his back in the process, “I got distracted, I guess…”

“I-it’s okay,” I said, my voice squeakier than I’d care to admit, and I was forever grateful that Jean couldn’t see me past mid-torso. “Just, uh… wh-what were you thinking about?”

“Y-Uh…I-I-I-I, uh, j-just…” his eyes began to flit franticly about his room, unsure of what to say, “J-just my dream.”

“… The one you won’t tell me about,” I said slowly. His eyes, still restless in his skull as they raced around the room, slowed to a halt on his computer screen, and he smiled in a way that looked more like an awkward wince.

“Y-yeah. Actually, I, uh, I’m feeling pretty tired. I didn’t get much sleep last night. So that’s why I’m not exactly acting like myself right now…”

I nodded. So he knows he’s acting weird right now…

“Okay. Uh, so why don’t you get off and go get some sleep?” I suggested.

His eyes widened to the point that I was afraid they were going to pop right out of their sockets. “W-what did you just say?”

“You know,” I said, “get off your computer and get some sleep. Since you’re so tired…?” I started to wonder what he’d thought I said.

“Oh! Right, yeah. That’s a great idea. I’m gonna go do that, actually…” He was already reaching for his mouse to end the call. “Bye, Marco.”

“Uh, bye Jean. Call m-“

The call ended.

“….Call me later.”

The words sounded hollow and broken as they echoed around the empty kitchen, knowing that Jean hadn’t heard them. I pressed the heel of my hand against a dull ache that resonated from deep in my chest and took a deep breath, letting the pain ebb away with a heavy sigh. And then I got a Skype notification.
Actually, several. In quick succession.

Jean Valjean: shit! Sorry, I cut u off
yeah ill call u
later tho
sorry for leaving so soon


I smiled to myself, reading over his messages. The ache in my chest was gone.

Marco Yolo: You don’t have to apologize
It’s not like I’m your boyfriend, haha
Get some sleep, Jean


I deliberated a moment before deciding on sending him one last thing…

Marco Yolo: <3

I closed my laptop then, taking a moment to rest my forehead on its cool surface and close my eyes. I was still completely in the dark about what had just happened. Why had Jean left so abruptly? Was he really in that much need of sleep?

Hmm… what the heck did he dream about?

I recalled how he’d totally checked out of the conversation while I’d blathered on and on, probably boring him to death. And how his bright, amber eyes had glazed over, long lashes hanging over them. There was the lightest flush of pink on each of his cheeks and across the sharp ridge of his nose. And his tongue… had pushed through the seam of his lips to lick along the lower one…

It never took long for me to start fantasizing about kissing Jean. Truth be told, I was perpetually in a state of thinking about kissing Jean and not thinking about kissing Jean, and the latter was forced and took place only about a fourth of the time. So I kind of liked to think about kissing Jean all the time. And after that Skype call, the second mode of thought process was an impossibility, no way around it. I was thinking about kissing Jean. A lot.

I was thinking of pressing my mouth against his, right as he’d poked his tongue out. I was thinking about gently cradling his jaw with both hands while I tilted my head and let my tongue meet his. What kinds of noises would Jean make while kissing? What would he taste like? What would it be like to nibble a little on his lip and suck on it lightly? What would it be like for him to shove his tongue deep into my mouth? I wanted to know what it’d be like to feel him breathe heavily against my lips. I wanted to know how he’d react to me mouthing along his jaw and laying kisses across his throat. What sounds would he make if I started biting and sucking on his neck until I left red marks? What would it be like to move further down-

My eyes snapped open and I sat up, surveying my surroundings carefully; still in the kitchen, still in my underwear, and still alone. I was hard though, that was a new one.

I decided to take my rampant sexual thoughts with me to my room, plucking my laptop up from the table and heading up the stairs. After all, Jean wouldn’t be awake anytime soon, and I had time to kill.



The following week went by fast and slow at the same time. On one hand, everything I did, I did while talking to Jean. And that made everything pass by in a blur. We Skyped every chance we had, we talked on the phone when we couldn’t Skype, and even during meals I was texting him under the table. I had a feeling that my mom was fully aware of that last one, but for some reason, she allowed it, as opposed to her usual ‘no phones at the table’ rule.
So in a sense, I was spending nearly every waking moment with Jean. And that made time speed up.

But then there were those in-between times, when I remembered just how far away he was and how much longer I had to wait until winter break was over. And there were those nights where I’d just lay in bed, long after Jean and I had sent our ‘goodnight’ texts, my bed feeling uncomfortably empty and cold. The dark was suffocating, my chest constricting around my lungs as I listened to the sound of nobody breathing beside me.
On those nights, I’d usually cave in and send Jean a text. ‘Are you awake?’
We’d end up talking into our phones well past 2 am, with me whispering and speaking low so as not to wake my sister and mom, until one of us fell asleep with our phone at our ear.
And I’d be able to breathe again.

I learned quite a bit about Jean over the week, too. At one point, during a Skype call, I pointed out the knitted red hat he was wearing, still damp and frosted with the snow he’d been out in a few minutes before.
“Did someone make that for you?” I wondered aloud, looking down to doodle absentmindedly on some printer paper that was laying around. I’d never seen him wear it before, and it looked handmade, so it was just a passing thought, but…
“Oh,” Jean said, “You, uh, you like it?” He slipped it off his head to hold it in both hands, examining it thoroughly, and I nodded, because sure, why not.

“Well. I actually made it…”

Now that threw me off-guard. I glanced back up at him and raised my eyebrows, setting my pencil down. “What…? Jean Kirschtein knits?”

“Hey! I do not knit!” he said, scowling and flushing the same shade of crimson as his hat. “Knitting is for old people. I’m not old.”

I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, okay, then what do you call it?”

“It’s called crocheting. I crochet. So. Yeah. There’s a difference…”

He looked down at his hat as he said that, picking at the interwoven yarn with shaking fingers, his shoulders raised, and it dawned on me that maybe he was more insecure about this whole knitting thing than I’d first thought. It was cute.

“Well then,” I spoke up, “What I want to know is, how come you haven’t made me anything yet.”

Jean jerked his head back up to look at me, mouth parted in surprise. He seemed to be at a loss for words for a moment, until he finally said, “You… actually want me to make you something?”

“Uh, yes! Of course I do,” I laughed.

“Oh! Well, uh,” he looked back down at the hat in his hands, “I actually didn’t bring any of my crochet shit over to University… because I didn’t want my roommates to think I was weird or girly or something, so I just. Left it, I guess.” His voice cracked just a tiny bit near the end of that. “So, I’m actually pretty rusty! Whatever I make you might not be that good…”

“I’m sure whatever you make me will be awesome and I’ll wear it every chance I get,” I told him, and his entire expression lit up; his shoulders fell into a more relaxed slope, his scowl was gone, and he was smiling softly.

“Okay,” he said, “I guess I’ll make something for you, then…”

“Also, Jean, you can just bring your crochet stuff and keep it in my room at Uni, if you like.”

That day, he showed me over webcam how he crocheted, holding up his yarn-strung fingers and strange crochet needles for me to see while his brow furrowed in concentration, breathing out swears and complaints when he screwed up, and I could have watched him do that all day. When we had to end the call, it was with a promise that he’d teach me after winter break.

I also learned that he had a knack for cooking, and that when he was younger, he’d spend a lot of his time helping their lone housekeeper make meals. His housekeeper, Anita, was pretty much the only one I ever saw in those Skype conversations; not once did I see his parents. Jean insisted that Anita was more like family than a household employee, and when he’d said that, the graying woman herself came in and planted a kiss on his forehead, causing him to blush and me to laugh and tease him.

Jean actually didn’t like talking about his parents very much. I never pressed the matter.



A day before Christmas, a package came in the mail. On the side of the box, in terribly messy and too-familiar scrawl, were the words ‘Don’t fucking open this until Christmas’. I called Jean immediately.

“Yeah, what’s up?” he answered on the second ring.

“So,” I said, “what happens if I do open it until Christmas?”

“Don’t! You’re not allowed to! We’re gonna open our presents tomorrow at the same time, got it!?”



And we did. I had my computer set up in the living room so we could Skype while we opened presents, Marie diving into her pile of gifts behind me. My mom was there, the flash on her phone making me see stars as she took picture after picture after picture of Marie and I. My dad came over, and Marie slung herself around one of his legs when he walked through the door. The radio was turned on to the Christmas station at full blast, and Jean and I opened each of our presents together. The house on his end, though, was deathly quiet in comparison to our own, and didn’t even have a tree up, but he didn’t seem to mind. I didn’t see his parents around either, just him and Anita.

Jean seemed fairly unimpressed with his cache, mainly because he got everything he asked for, and as such, everything was expected; it was mostly just games for his Xbox 360, and I told him he better let me play Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag when we got back to school. He also got a handmade sweater from Anita, which he put on right away for her, although a little begrudgingly. He was pretty gruff about it, saying that he didn’t need to put it on right then so why should he, but in the end, he seemed extremely pleased and happy to be wearing the little sweater; I guessed he had a soft spot for his housekeeper that he was too prideful to admit.

When he opened his last gift, right before mine, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting. The box was relatively small, so I thought it might be a wrist-watch or something, I didn’t know. What I wasn’t expecting was a 3DS.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” I whined as he held it up for me to see.

“Aw, jealous, Bodt?” he grinned.

I chewed my lip and looked down, definitely feeling a little jealous… I’d only been pining for a 3DS since October, when Pokémon X and Y came out.

Jean then held up a small stack of box cases for 3DS games, among them being Animal Crossing: New Leaf and… Pokémon Y.

“Oh, if only there was someone I could trade Pokémon with,” he mused, shooting me another one of his cocky, lopsided grins. I pouted at him, a little bit sad, but not because of jealousy; he knew I’d wanted a 3DS so I could play that game for a while now, and he also knew that my mom and I didn’t have the extra money to buy one, so I didn’t really understand why he was rubbing it in my face so much.

I had mostly just received clothes and a few games for Jean’s Xbox 360, and that was it, so I was actually starting to feel a little self-conscious…

“Okay, shut up, just open up the present I got you,” I told him, and he moved off screen to go get it. When he returned, he was already halfway through opening it, ripping at the tape while he walked.

I bit my knuckle to keep myself from laughing as he pulled the black hoodie out, unfolding it and twisting it around.

“Oh, come on, are you serious!?”

I erupted into a giggling fit then, watching Jean as he admired the massive, blocky ‘NO HOMO’ that was splayed across the back.

“This is incredibly ironic,” I heard him mutter to himself, and he quickly wormed himself into it.

“Sorry if it’s a little big,” I said, “I didn’t want to get it too small, and I didn’t know your size, so I just bought my size.”

It actually was a little big on him; he could hide his hands in the sleeves if he wanted to, and he looked so small in it. He was too cute, scowling at me in his oversized hoodie. “Thanks, Marco,” he mumbled, smiling a tiny bit.

“Y-you’re welcome,” I said, trying to ignore how my stomach flip-flopped at that.

“Now open up the present I got you!” he urged, leaning forward and placing his head in his hands, resting his elbows on his knees.

I turned to the last box left, Jean’s handwriting along the side, and picked it up. I’d wondered what it was nonstop for the previous twenty four hours, trying to guess what it could be; I’d even shaken it around a bit, and found that there were smaller items inside, one of which was brick-like. But that was all I could tell.

Jean’s eyes were bright and wide as he watched me, his mouth stretched into a grin, and I wondered if I should be scared or excited. When I pried open the tape and cardboard, I found that I was the latter.

“No way…” I breathed.
Nestled inside the box, along with safety air-pockets to keep the items safe, were several 3DS games and a 3DS box itself.

He actually got me… a 3DS?

“You ready to be a Pokémon master, or what?”

I swore I could feel my heart melt right then. He actually got me something like a 3DS, along with Pokémon X, for Christmas. And not only that, but he’d gotten his own so we’d be able to play together. My stomach was somersaulting up into my chest and back, and I had no words. I could only just stare between the box in my hands and Jean.

“Hey… uh, you okay?” he said. “You did want that, right? I just thought… you know, we could play together, and-“

“I could kiss you right now,” I said breathlessly. I’d said the words before I could catch them in my mouth and swallow them back down, and Jean’s jaw dropped at that. “I-I mean, you know, i-it’s just a saying, for when a person’s really happy, a-and grateful…” I backpedaled, trying to fix my mistake, my heart thudding loudly in my ears. “N-not like I’d actually kiss you, w-we’re just friends, s-so..”

Jean snapped his mouth shut and gave a small nod, and for a split second I thought I saw his lips twitch down into a frown. But then he was smiling like before, albeit it looked a little strained.

“I know what you mean, relax,” he said. “It’s not like I’d let you kiss me anyway.”

Ouch. I suddenly felt incredibly bitter, a twinge of pain blooming behind my ribcage, and the words came tumbling out of my mouth before I even realized what I was saying. “Well I wouldn’t want to kiss you in the first place, so…”

I clapped a hand over my mouth.
Shit. Did that sound mean? I honestly didn’t know where that was coming from. So I laughed it off, like a joke.
“A-anyway,” I continued, dropping my hand, “Thank you so much, Jean. This is amazing, and I don’t think I can thank you enough.”
“It’s nothing,” he said, blushing and burrowing himself deeper into his new hoodie.
“Your present is so much better than the one I got you, though,” I whined.
“Hey!” he scowled. “Don’t start that. You know it’s easier for me to get things like that than you.” His expression softened, then, and he said, “Besides…. I uh, I really like this hoodie you got me.”

The two of us talked on Skype that morning for a good few hours, my mom coming up behind me to wish Jean a Merry Christmas, and Marie showcased all her new dresses and toys for Jean to see.

The funny thing was that even though Jean had professed to hate Christmas before, he seemed strangely happy and at ease in that Skype call, and he actually smiled more often than he scowled. I was somewhat thankful for the distance between us, however, because I knew that if I’d been right there next to him, I might not have been able to keep myself from kissing him all over. I’d never seen him so cute and happy, and for a while, I felt like I was floating on air.

We soon had to hang up, though, as my family was setting the table and my dad’s girlfriend and her son had just arrived. So I wished Jean a Merry Christmas and promised to call him later, telling him that I had to go eat.
“Alright,” he said. “Merry Christmas, Marco.”
And I ended the call.

Even as I sat down at the table with my parents and sister, those words replayed themselves in my head, over and over and over again. He’d said it in the softest voice, with a sincere smile that was void of any of the sarcasm or cynicism he usually expressed. I suddenly felt incredibly lonely, surrounded by my own family.
Because Jean wasn’t there.

To: Jean
We should spend Christmas together one day

From: Jean
yeah. hows next year sound?

To: Jean
Perfect! :D



“You should really just leave them alone, though…”
“No! Come on, Marco, you’re supposed to take my side, Connie bugs me about my love life all the time, it’s only fair!”

I shook my head, switched the phone to my other ear and rolling my shoulder. We’d been on the phone for probably around two hours, which for us, was a relatively short time, and I was laid out on my bed while I scrolled through my newsfeed on my computer.
“Yeah, but Sasha doesn’t deserve it, does she? Besides, they’ll figure things out on their own. Give them some space.”

Jean sighed heavily into the receiver. “Whatever…. They can be stupid about their own relationship if they want. Me, though? I’d be smart about it. Not hella dense, like they are right now.”

“Actually… Jean, for some reason, those words don’t sound right when they’re coming out of your mouth.”

“What are you trying to say!?” he flared up. “I’m not dense! I’m actually incredibly perceptive when it comes to people.”

I rolled my eyes, my fingers halting over the keyboard mid-type while writing a comment on one of Eren’s selfies.
“I’m sure you are,” I said, humoring him. “Anyway, what’re you doing for New Year’s Eve?”

Jean paused on the other end, groaning just a tiny bit. “Uh, my parents always throw a party over here at the house. For business purposes, I guess. They’re always lame as fuck, though, I hate ‘em. My parents always try to set me up with the daughters of their various business partners, it’s awful.”

“Ah, so you’re not looking forward to meeting any hot chicks at your parents’ New Year’s party?”

“Fuck no,” he mumbled. “I just want these fourteen days to be gone already…”

I pulled the phone away from my ear and squinted at it, calculating. Fourteen days….? I clicked open the little calendar on the bottom right of my computer screen, my mouse hovering over the little ‘28’ and moving down to ‘January 11th’.

Putting the phone back between my ear and shoulder, I asked, “Are you… counting down the days until we get back?”

There was a slight choked sound from the other end as Jean tried to splutter out an answer. “What!? No! Yes… n-not really! Just a little bit? B-because I am not counting down the days until I see you, that’d be g-gay, which I am not, I j-just… ah fuck me, it’s only becau-“

“Jean!” I interrupted him, biting my lower lip to fight back a giddy smile. “Jean, relax. It’s okay to admit that you miss me, you know.” I was half joking, half serious, not really wanting to get my hopes up. But I knew Jean well enough at this point to know when he was too afraid to admit something on his own.

He was quiet for a moment. “Y-yeah…?”

“Mmhmm,” I hummed. “I miss you too.” Forget butterflies in my stomach, there were butterflies in my lungs when I said that, fluttering excitement spreading throughout my chest. It was so silly, just a simple exchange of barely-sweet words, and yet here I was, practically swooning.
You’re ridiculous,
I told myself.
I don’t care, I said back

“B-but, no homo though…” he said, voice raspy.

And there it was. Jean always knew how to ruin a perfectly good moment.

“Aw, not even a little homo?” I teased. I expected him to say, “No, not even a little,” and then we’d laugh while my heart bled into my stomach and I’d curl up later, love-sick and nauseated. What I wasn’t expecting, was, “M… maybe a little.”

My eyes shot wide, and time seemed to stop for a moment while I processed this new information. Maybe a little..? Does he mean… it’s probably just a joke, right? My heart thrashed wildly in my chest, thrumming angrily until I could feel it pulse in my throat and stomach.
“W-what was that?” I asked, and my voice raised in pitch near the end of that sentence.

“N-n-nothing, I-I said nothing,” he stuttered. “H-have you caught any shinys yet?”

“Oh!” I reached for my 3DS, opening it and turning it on. “Actually, I haven’t really…”

We talked about Pokémon for probably for the next hour and a half, and I wouldn’t realize until later the little subject-changing stunt he’d just pulled, but I was too busy telling him about my team. He then challenged me to a battle once we got back from break.

“Mm, that reminds me,” I said. “So, I’ve been thinking…”

“Yeah?” he said absentmindedly, Pokémon Wild Battle theme music playing in the background, “What’chu been thinkin’ about?”

“The new semester is starting and all that, right?”
“Yeah? Shit, motherfucker got paralyzed…”
“Jean, are you even listening?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m listening!” he said. “What’s up?”
“Anyway, I was saying, you know that you could switch dorms at the start of this semester, right?”
“……..”
“So… wouldn’t it be easier for both of us if you moved into my room? You’re kind of my roommate already, in a way…”

Jean didn’t answer, and for a second, I didn’t think he’d heard me at all. “You weren’t listening, were you?” I sighed.

“N-no, I heard you,” he said.
“You did? So what do you think?”
“I-I think… m-maybe I shouldn’t.”

I swallowed thickly, sitting up straight and moving the phone from one ear to the other. “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” he said slowly, and he paused to take a long, deep breath, “I don’t think… that you’d want me to move into your room with you..”

“Jean, that’s stupid, of course I want you to move in with me! Why wouldn’t I?” This was really weird. I’d thought he would just agree because it seemed like common sense, what with the nightmares and all.

“Marco, look, I have my reasons, okay?”

I squinted at that. “You have your reasons. Does this have anything to do with… the thing you won’t tell me about?” I lowered my voice at that last part, despite the fact that no one else was in the house—my mom was working, Marie was at Dad’s.

“No!” Jean said. “Well, actually… I mean, yeah, it does.”

“I thought…. You said I didn’t do anything wrong.” My voice wasn’t accusatory—just quiet, a little broken and sad.

“Marco! No, that’s not it! How many times do I have to tell you it’s not your fault, dude? You’ve done absolutely nothing wrong, so relax.”

“Then why-“

“Do I really have to break out the cliché, ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ bullshit? This is a personal problem, Marco, and I’ll tell you eventually, but for now you just have to let me deal with it on my own, alright?”

I lifted my hand to my face, rubbing frustratedly at my eye with my knuckle. “I just… I don’t understand. How does your personal problem keep you from moving in with me?” I’ll admit, as his friend, I was feeling a bit more hurt over this than I should have been. But as his friend that was in love with him, it was completely understandable.

“It just does,” he said. “And when I tell you, you’ll thank me, yeah?”
“No, not yeah, because I don’t believe I will. But I’ll take your word for it. For now…”
“Thanks, Marco.”
“Just think about it, alright?” I said. “You’ve got two weeks to think it over.”
“Y-yeah, alright, I’ll think about it.”

I arched my back then, stretching out my arms and throwing my head back, and I let out a light moan of relief. Sighing through my nose, I stretched my legs out, toes spreading.

“W-what was that!?”

I sighed again. “Mpf…I’m jus’ stretching,” I mumbled through another moan, feeling something in my lower back pop. I laid down on the bed again. “Why?”

Ah… oh, fuck.”

“Uh… what’s wrong? Is everything alright?”

“No, I-I, I gotta go, I’ll talk to you later,” he said. “Bye Marco.”

“What!? Well, alright. Bye Jean.”

He hung up, then, and I was left to contemplate his strange behavior. He’d left so abruptly, I was still reeling in confusion. Maybe he had to go to the bathroom…?



New Year’s Eve swung around a few days later, and we spent the holiday at my dad’s. It was mostly just a tiny party, where my parents, Marie, my dad’s new girlfriend and her son, my grandparents and myself came over and ate food until midnight, all of us packed into the tiny living room and kitchen of his apartment. Around 9 o’ clock, my dad brought out the karaoke machine, and our sweet, melodic voices were enough to earn several screams of “Shut the fuck up” and “You sound like a vomiting whale” from across the apartment complex. One of the next door neighbors even beat their fists against the wall in an attempt to get us to quiet down. If only we could have heard them over our beautiful voices. That was our excuse, at least.

Around 11:30, I pulled out my phone to see if Jean had texted me in the time I’d been hanging out with my family, and was surprised to find a (3) Missed Calls notification on-screen. I stood up from the couch and pulled on my jacket.

“Where are you going?” my mom asked, looking up from where she was digging through the karaoke CDs.

“I’m, uh, I’ve gotta make a phone call,” I said.

“Alright, be back soon, it’s almost midnight,” she said, turning away, and Marie came bounding over next to me.

“Is it Jean? Are you gonna call Jean?” she asked, looking up at me with big, hopeful eyes.

“Y-yes,” I said, and she immediately erupted into a chorus of, “I wanna talk to him! Can I? Can I? Can I?”
I halted her bouncing with a hand on her head.

“No, Marie, not right now, okay? Go play with Tyson, he hasn’t got anyone else to play with.”

She pouted at me before turning away and stomping towards the little boy, his new action figures still clenched in his small hands. I then turned and made my escape, stopping to close the door carefully behind me as I stood out in the cold.

I was on the front porch balcony of the apartment complex, three floors up, but the only view it provided was of a filled-up parking lot. I could hear the deep bass of blasting music from various directions, my family not being the only one that was throwing a party there that night.

Exhaling a puff of foggy breath, I pressed my finger to the touch screen of my phone and called Jean back, lifting it to my ear as it started to ring.
He didn’t pick up until the fifth ring.

“Hey.”

“Hey, Jean? What’s up?”

“Nothing really,” he said. “I… I guess I was just bored and wanted to talk to you for a bit. Sorry… were you busy? You can go back to whatever you were doing…”

“Oh, no, it’s fine,” I said. “I needed to take a break anyway.”

“A break from what? What’re you doing for New Year’s?”

I explained to him where I was, and that my family and I had been placing bets on who could sing the worst and the loudest. Our success was measured by how many complaints were shouted at us and how loudly the neighbor would bang on the wall.

Jean laughed at that. “Aw, man, I actually wish I could be there right now!”

“Yeah, you’d probably win.”

“What!? I will have you know that I’ve got an excellent singing voice.”

“Do you really?” I wondered. “For some reason, I don’t think I believe you.”

“I’ll prove it to you! Watch, when we get back to school, I’ll sing for you and you can tell me how awesome I am at it.”

I hummed thoughtfully, feeling a blush warm my cheeks. “I think I’d like that… I’m holding you to that, by the way, so don’t forget.”

“I won’t forget.” And then, in a smaller voice, he added, “You’ll be eating your words, Bodt. I’ve been told my singing voice can make anyone fall in love with me.”

Too late, I thought, sighing.

“So what are you doing for New Year’s?” I said, changing the subject. “Aren’t you at your parent’s business house party thing?”

“Yeah, and it sucks just as much as every other party they’ve thrown here. All the chicks down there are tipsy on champagne, and all anyone wants to ask me about down there is my future.”

“Why do you act like tipsy girls are a bad thing?” I laughed, leaning against the porch railing.

“Because! I grew up with these girls, Marco! I’m not interested in any of them…”

“I see… so what, you’re just avoiding the party?”

“Yeah. I’m actually staking out in one of the off-limits rooms. The study, actually. It’ll have a nice view of the fireworks, soon. And this way, my parents won’t nag me to put on that fucking suit jacket.”

“A suit?” I said. I blinked several times, feeling my stomach somersault at the image my mind was coming up with. “Wow. What I wouldn’t give to see you in a suit, I can hardly believe it…”

“Well if you want to see it so bad, then I’ll put one on sometime, just for you.”

“Aw, just for me?” I teased. I was absolutely not thinking of yanking his tie and pulling him into a kiss, and I was most definitely not thinking of straddling his waist and slowly unbuttoning his shirt while I trailed kisses down his throat, rocking my hips gently. Nope. Not at all. “You know I love a man in a suit.”

He laughed, and we fell into silence then, leaving me to admire the wide expanse of night sky above. Only a few bright stars managed to be seen through the light pollution.

“It’s almost midnight,” he mumbled, and I hummed in response. It was almost 2014. Another year was coming to a close.

“You kissing anyone when the clock strikes midnight?” he asked, and I laughed.
“You already know I’m not…”
Jean paused. “Do you… do you wish you could kiss that guy you like? Tonight?”

I sighed through my nose, watching the puff of fog leave my nostrils and curl upwards. I briefly entertained the thought of what it would be like. What it would be like to kiss Jean into the new year.

“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, I really do.”

Jean didn’t say anything. He was quiet on the other end for well over a minute, and gave no indication of speaking up. So I did.

“What about you?” I asked.
“Huh?”
“Gonna kiss someone?”
“Ah. Nope. ‘Fraid not.”
“Really? You’re telling me that you’ve got champagne and fireworks and tipsy girls over there, and no one to kiss?”
He laughed. “No! I told you, I’m not interested in any of these girls…”

“Okay, okay, I get it.” I switched the phone to the other ear, shoving my free hand into my jacket pocket to warm up. “Is there someone out there you’d like to kiss, then?”

“………..Yeah.”

Wait what.

“Uh…. You…. There is?”

“Mmmhmmm.”

My chest suddenly felt incredibly tight, and for a second, I struggled to breathe. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that words don’t hurt. Words can knock the wind right out of you.

“Who?” I asked breathlessly.

“Really?” he deadpanned. His tone was so serious all of the sudden, and I knew he wasn’t joking. “You expect me to answer that when you won’t tell me who you like?”

“F-fair enough.”

The world felt heavier than it did when I’d first walked outside, and I was starting to feel nauseated. All of my fantasies and pathetic daydreams from moments before began to rot in my own head. Instead of Jean singing to me, he was singing to Mikasa. Instead of me making out with him and peeling his suit off layer by layer, it was Sasha. And instead of me kissing Jean at midnight, it was someone else. Someone who wasn’t me.
And I’d been sick and selfish the whole time to just blindly assume that he didn’t like anyone the way I liked him.
I had clearly overestimated myself by thinking that I could remain his best friend, his best friend who had feelings for him, and just be happy the whole time by not saying anything.
I should have realized the second I fell for him that I’d have to watch him fall for someone else entirely while hiding behind a fake smile and an ‘I love you, but only platonically’ ruse.
I should have known what I was getting into. But instead I was selfish and stupid and blind.
Behind me, my family began to count down from 10.

“Hey, Marco?” Jean pulled me out of my thoughts.

“Yeah?”

“Do you get the feeling that 2014 is gonna suck ass?”

I nodded before realizing he couldn’t see me. “Yeah. I do.”

The entire apartment complex rang out with shouts of ‘Happy New Year’ just as my family reached ‘one’. Off in the distance, fireworks zipped up and splashed across the black sky with stars of blue and pink and green and purple and red, and I could hear explosions and pops over on Jean’s end.

“Happy New Year, Marco.”

“….Happy New Year, Jean.”



“…..Hey, Connie?”
“Dude, why the fuck are you calling me at seven in the morning on a Sunday?”
“……You’re Jean’s roommate, right?”
“You called me to rehash previously established facts?”
“Do you know who Jean likes?”
“Oh my dear fucking lord, I am not playing that game anymore.”

He hung up, and I sadly set my phone down on my desk.



Jean and I continued to text and call each other every day after that, and I did my best to plow through my depressive mood and act normal for him. It didn’t fool him, though, and he would frequently ask me what was wrong and if I was okay. The Sunday after New Year’s, was joking around and asked me if I just missed him that much. When I said, “Maybe a little,” we started saying ‘I miss you’ and ‘I miss you too’s after our goodnight texts.
Best friends frequently told one another that they missed each other, right?

On Monday, January 6th, I sent Jean a cryptic text message.

To: Jean
5

From: Jean
?

To: Jean
:)

From: Jean
ur not even going to try and explain?

To: Jean
Nope!

Smiling to myself, I continued to send him messages like that every day throughout the week. By Thursday, he finally caught on.

To: Jean
2

From: Jean
youre counting down the days, aren’t you!!!!

To: Jean
Maybe! ;D

When I finally sent him the number one, I laid awake all night, twisting and turning every which way to get comfortable. I knew I’d only be comfortable once I was sharing a bed with Jean.

Satruday morning, January 11th, my car was already packed up and ready to go. I plucked Marie up from off the ground and gave her a massive hug before I had to leave again.
“Here!” she said, handing me a folded up piece of construction paper.
“Oh, what is it?”
“It’s for my boyfriend.”
I squinted at her. “You’re talking about Jean, aren’t you…”
She nodded and placed a kiss on my cheek. “We were meant to be, Marco.”

I set her back down, rolling my eyes as I slipped the paper into my pocket. “I’ll be sure to give it to him,” I said, then turned to give my mom a hug.
“Be safe, okay?”
“I will…”
“Send me a text message when you get there, alright?”
“Alright…”

After several ‘I love you’s and ‘I’ll miss you’s, I hopped into my car and drove off, waving out my window at Marie as she shouted at me to tell Jean that she loved him. And for the first little bit of the drive, I listened to my mom’s instructions of ‘be safe’. But once I hit the high way, it was full speed ahead. I was going to see Jean.
I was going to see Jean.

From: Jean
you here yet

From: Jean
you here yet

From: Jean
you here yet

From: Jean
you here yet

From: Jean
you here yet

From: Jean
you here yet

To: Jean
NO!!!!

From: Jean
stop texting and driving, that’s dangerous

At long last, three and a half hours of driving later, I pulled into Sina’s parking lot, lucky to be early enough to snag a spot close to the building. And standing outside in the snow, along with Reiner, Annie, Bertholdt, Sasha, Connie and the entire rest of our crew, was Jean.

He was smiling brightly and standing tall, a huge improvement from when I’d last seen him standing there. And as I got out of my car, everyone began shouting their greetings.
“There he is!” Reiner shouted.
“It’s about time,” said Ymir.
“Marco, we’ve missed you!” Sasha chimed in. “We all got here hours ago!”

And I loved them all, I really did, and I appreciated their enthusiasm for my return, but right at that moment, I only had eyes for one person.

I charged at Jean, shouting out “Zero!” as I flung my arms around him and pulled him into a massive bear hug, holding him tight against me. I twirled him around, him laughing and holding onto me for dear life, until I lost my balance and we fell into a nearby mound of plowed snow, and he landed on top of me.

I looked up at him, breathing heavily from the exertion of swinging him around, and admired his bright amber eyes in person, and his smile, and his red nose, and the sound of his laugh, and his hair that spilled out from under his hat. He was right there, in my arms, and I pulled him against me again.
“I missed you so much,” I said, ignoring our friends’ catcalls and requests to “get a room”.
“I missed you too,” he croaked.

I took the opportunity to bury my nose against the crook of his neck, inhaled his scent, and for the next few minutes I refused to let him go.