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Not Above Love

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Jean doesn’t make a lot of bad decisions.

When things fly his way and try to knock him down, he ruminates. He dwells, momentarily, on everything that could go wrong. Soon enough, however, he uses his common-sense to figure what will work best for him and chooses the option with the best outcome.

People could call Jean brash, rude, or even temperamental, occasionally, but dumb was not something he ever considered himself to be. He could be emotional, but he rarely let that get in the way of what he should do or what he felt was right to do. If he got physical with anyone, he damn well believed in whatever he was defending. He never wasted his breath over things that were petty outside of teasing with his mates.

Surely, Jean was a rational guy. For the most part, anyway. Few things got under his skin in the way that one Eren Jaeger did. Eren, shorter, and over-all inferior to Jean, was his bastard of a roommate. To Jean, at first, he was the most irritating green-eyed little twerp that had ever festered on the planet. Jean didn’t know what he’d done in his past life to deserve the torment that was being assigned a roommate like him.

He was loud, rough and abrasive to Jean’s laid-back, contemplative and mostly contained persona. Eren was moody and obnoxious. He didn’t think before he spoke. Jean liked to think they were nothing alike.

Somewhere along the line, they grew to tolerate each other. Their attempts at requesting a switch of rooms had gone unanswered for the most part and after a semester or so, they made do. Besides the occasional jibe and taunt, they moved about without getting in each other’s way. They could live together. Respect each other, even.
This didn’t mean Jean couldn’t still appreciate an empty dorm room whenever he had the chance. They weren’t constantly at each other’s throats anymore but Jean loved having Eren out of the room when he could for peace of mind. Sometimes he invited over Marco and they played video games or talked shit. Other times, like today, Jean liked to bask in his solitude. He turned up his music and broke out his sketch pad.

His classes were over for the day whereas Eren’s had just begun.

It was a normal Friday for the most part. Eren had left about an hour ago, grumpier than usual. They weren’t best buds but they usually exchanged some shoddy form of pleasantries. He had, however, stomped out the dorm earlier without a word, and Jean hadn’t paid it much mind. Eren could be bipolar, in Jean’s opinion. It wasn’t too out of the ordinary.
That is, until, a knock came to the door.

He lifted the towel he kept beside his piece to wipe the charcoal from his hands as he eyed his current work. It wasn’t anything just yet. A figure of sorts, mapped out with circles and bench marks, lightly for now. He had no set plans currently. It would evolve naturally and wherever the music took him.
Before rolling off his bed, Jean took the time to check his phone for any missed messages. He figured maybe Marco or Connie might’ve alerted him that they’d be swinging by. While he did have a missed message, Sasha inviting him to her upcoming birthday celebration, it had nothing to do with whoever had just knocked on his door.

Groaning and not bothering to cut the music down, Jean stood on his feet. Making sure to close is sketchbook for privacy, He briefly wondered if he should be worried about how presentable he probably wasn’t. He shook his hair momentarily, hoping it at least wasn’t flat on one side of his head before going to answer the door.
When he opened it, he was surprised to find Armin Arlert.

“Hey.” Armin smiled. It was a pathetic attempt if Jean ever saw one. He’d shrugged one shoulder and one corner of his mouth quirked a tic. And Jean had to pause because,
ho-shit, did his lip just wobble?

Those big, blue eyes flickered to Jean’s shortly before finding the floor not nearly a second later.

Jean, unused to the oddly unsettling vibe Armin was sending, scratched his cheek awkwardly. It wasn’t like Armin never stopped by their dorm. He was always following behind Eren anyway, of course they’d hung out here on multiple occasions. They’d never really said it out loud, but Jean was almost one hundred percent sure that Eren and Armin were together. Together, together. And hey, Jean didn’t judge, it wasn’t his problem. But he couldn’t say he wasn’t happy that he’d never walked in on anything he’d need bleach for afterwards. What was strange was that Armin was here when Eren wasn’t. This was new.

“Hey?”

“I, uh, could I come in? I just need to grab some things.”

“D’um, yeah, yeah.” Jean stepped back stupidly, stumbling to allow Armin through. There was a sinking feeling in his gut as he thought of Eren’s previous attitude. He tugged the waist of his joggers higher up his hips, hoping his draws weren’t peeking through.

“Sorry for bothering you,” Armin muttered.

His voice was quieter than usual and Armin wasn’t a loud guy to begin with. Jean was starting to feel antsy. He suddenly felt like he’d stepped into some shit he really ought to dig himself out of and proceed to meticulously rinse his feet of afterwards.

He watched as Armin wandered to Eren’s side of the room and gathered what Jean hoped were his own belongings and not Eren’s. For a small irrational moment, he feared he’d willingly allowed his roommate to be robbed and then bit back a laugh at the thought of Armin Arlert stealing from anyone, ever.

His chortles soon felt inappropriate as he watched Armin attempt to gather a bunch of things he’d scavenged in his arms. Random objects, from what Jean saw. A few articles of clothes, a few books, even a chord hung from beneath the junk he was grasping, seconds away from dropping it all. He looked absolutely miserable and Jean was someone who minded his business when things didn’t involve him. It was safer that way. But this was sad. And hard to look at.

His fingers twitched once or twice at his sides before he found himself digging through his closet to find something to do about this situation that had fallen in his lap. This situation that Jean, begrudgingly, could admit he might be slowly understanding. If he was right, he’d better start getting prepared to avoid land mines quick because this shit was not something he knew how to deal with. He was grateful for the music he’d left on, helping to fill the loud gap of silence.

Armin was making his way to the door just as Jean found what he was searching for. It’d have to do.

“Armin, wait,”

He made his way across the room and met Armin at the door. His arms held out what Jean considered to be forgotten garbage he’d never got around to throwing out, unable to find anything else, but feeling as though it would fit this new purpose quite well.

“Oh!” Armin’s eyes widened as he looked up to meet Jean’s wary ones. And, okay, Jean had to look away because there was a lot of unabashed emotion being directed solely at him and, seriously, it wasn’t that big of a deal. It was just a shoe box.

When Armin didn’t move, Jean raised an eye brow and placed the box on a near counter. He took Armin’s belongings from his hands and went about placing them in the box for him. Assuming everything was sentimental, he did it as carefully as possible, making sure nothing was crushed or crumpled or tangled.

“You didn’t have to do that, Jean.”

Jean rolled his eyes, glad his back was turned to the shorter male. Once finished, he picked the box up again and turned towards where Armin stood in wait, almost dropping it and all of his hard work at what he saw.

“Ah, shit.”

Armin sniffed, voice unmistakably watery. He was looking at Jean from beneath long, golden lashes. His nose was red and his eyes were wet with unshed tears. This was not safe ground. Not at all. He could not do this.

A part of him, maybe it was cruel, wanted to shove Armin out the door swiftly and silently, washing his hands of the matter. Another part, a larger part, much to Jean’s chagrin, was making him think thoughts that he did not want to think. Because those eyes made Jean’s heart slam against his chest uncomfortably and suddenly Jean was leading Armin to sit in one of the plastic Walmart chairs he and Eren had shoved up against the wall by their TV, his body moving on its own.

“Armin,” Jean sighed, not knowing where to begin, “Are you…” his voice trailed pathetically.

Of course Armin wasn’t okay. It was a stupid question. He was holding back waterfalls and Jean was sure he would soon drown unless he figured how to paddle through this quickly. Jean ran a hand through his messy hair uselessly.

“Sorry to bother you, I know I’m being a pain.”

Armin spoke up after the short moment of silence he used to gather himself. His voice was stronger, surer and when he met Jean’s gaze once more, his eyes were pointedly dry.

“You aren’t a pain," Jean breathed in wonder at the other’s swift recovery. A lie, partly, but this didn’t seem like the right time to tell the truth.

He glanced at Armin’s sat figure next to him. He had a blue sweater on and loosely fitted jeans that were cuffed at his ankles above small combat boots. His hair was half up and half down, bangs a bit disheveled and a thick pair of glasses sat on the bridge of his nose. He was a wreck, Jean mused, never having had seen the blonde with the frames before. He hadn't known he needed them. But he didn’t look bad, either. The thought made Jean shift in his seat. He didn’t know what came over him then, but he leaned forward, brows furrowing at his own words,

“Do you want to talk about it?”
Honestly, he couldn’t understand it himself. How unlike him.

Armin blinked, another small smile, though less discouraging, flashed across his face.

“You seriously don’t have to pretend to care, it’s fine. I appreciate it, Jean.”

Jean felt a rush of indignant annoyance at the dismissal. He should have shrugged. This was his escape, Armin had tossed it out to him and he should have latched on to it for dear life and yet he’d felt almost offended at the mere suggestion, at the thought of what he normally considered safe ground.

“I’m not pretending.” Jean stated firmly, fists clenched at his sides, “you’re obviously not OK, if you don’t want to talk about it that’s fine.”
God, what was wrong with him?

He was pushing this and he had no obligation to. He was curious, it most definitely involved Eren.
For the hundredth time another part of himself reminded him that it wasn’t his business.

“I don’t.” Armin admitted, pursing his lips thoughtfully. A dimple appeared briefly, shallowly, before disappearing from his right cheek. Jean hadn’t noticed he’d had them before. He had never paid him much attention, really.

“I’m sure you can guess, anyway.” Amin sighed.

Jean grinned sheepishly, averting his eyes for a moment before shrugging.

“Yeah, it’s not that hard to figure out.” He relented. A pause. Then, “Coffee?”

And what the hell, Jean doesn't even really like coffee, but that's what people in these situations do, right? Luckily, Armin seems to think so.

Nodding quickly, relief flooding those baby blues and causing Jean’s ribs to tighten hotly in response, Armin stood with Jean. No one had the right to have such eyes.

“Please.” Armin nodded earnestly, thankfully.

He’d once thought randomly, months ago, as he watched Eren walk Armin out one night, that Armin was eye-catching. Not in a gross way, or anything. He was bright, open. His hair bounced with his step, his eyes were big and expressive. For a week, he’d been a bit of a muse for Jean who’d scribbled gestural drawings of him all over one expanse of scrap paper, mainly his eyes but also his lithe form. Walking, Standing, sitting. He’d thrown it out shortly after, not wanting anyone to come to the wrong conclusions. It was just art, and Jean had an eye for beautiful things.

Jean’s had many a muse over the years, though none really stretched passed a day or two. Even still, he hadn’t thought much of it. Armin was like an extension of Eren, he was just kind of there, it made sense that someone like Armin would catch his eye for a bit. He hadn’t thought much of it then. Maybe he should have, though. Because the cues, fidgets and quirks that had caught Jean’s attention before were what drew him to where he was going now.

When he’d woken up today, he never thought this was who he’d end up with. In fact, Armin would have been last on his list.

Jean usually considered himself a smart guy. He always thought things through. And yet, here he was, holed up by the fire place at the corner of the shop with his roommates troubled boyfriend. If they were even that. From the looks of it they were either done or just about. He could say confidently that he hadn’t thought any of this through at all.

What that meant? Jean had no idea.

----

‘I’m a mess,’ Armin Arlert bemoaned as he gazed into his cappuccino solemnly.

How pathetic of him to have involved Eren’s roommate in their, this. How weak.

From his perch, Armin snuck a glance at the tall brunette who stood at the counter waiting on his own order.
The gloom that clung around his being was suffocating. He shouldn’t have left his room at all, really. Earlier He reasoned that he should get this part over with so he’d never have to go back there. He’d hoped to gather his belongings quickly while Eren was in class so that he could mope the rest of the day in his own dorm and avoid dwelling about it needing to be done.

He wanted to say he was better than this. For a while he had always known that their relationship wasn’t going anywhere no matter how much his heart insisted otherwise. He knew that logically; his brain was where he should have placed his trust.

And what right had he to mope? He’d been the one who had done this to them. He had no right to mourn the end of their relationship. He didn’t deserve pity. And yet, here he was, being treated to coffee by Jean Kirstein. An acquaintance at best, who’d felt bad when Armin had been too weak to do one simple task.
How typical.
He’d never live this down.

"How can you drink hot drinks indoors?” Jean grumbled, interrupting his moping. He took a stool across from Armin, shaking the ice in whatever sugary concoction he’d ordered. “It burns me up, I’m sweating just looking at you.”

Armin laughed weakly, blowing into his mug before taking a peak at Jean through his bangs.

“I’m cold-hearted,” Armin joked, shrugging his shoulders. “Doesn’t hurt me one bit.”

Jean’s eyebrow ticked up, settling Armin with an amused look.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah.” Armin sighed dramatically, sipping at the foamy drink and letting the heat caress his insides, warming him like a hug and relaxing his muscles. His teary demeanor had all but vanished momentarily.

It was funny how the tears randomly snuck up on him off and on these past 24 hours. His body was already getting tired of the constant back and forth of feeling okay in one moment and awful in the next. He’d felt he made the right decision, but god did it still hurt.
Jean hummed, snatching Armin’s attention away from his brooding once more. Armin flushed in embarrassment at his behavior.

“You look pretty warm to me,” Jean grinned at the red that filled Armin’s cheeks.

Armin looked away quickly and wondered if he ought to drown himself in the milky espresso. Taking another sip, he concluded it wouldn’t be a bad way to go. It tasted heavenly.

He glanced around the tiny shop. Surprisingly, the school hadn’t just stuck a Starbucks in the study hall like most other universities had these days. Sina University’s Café was homely and sweet. The music that played wasn’t loud, more like background aesthetic. He recognized a few of the songs that had played so far, though they were piano covers. The floors were wooden, and sleek. The counters shone brilliantly and the smell of fresh coffee wafted through the air beneath the sound of pots brewing. The red-headed woman who served them called herself Petra and she was snickering quietly at something from behind the espresso machine.

It was a really well put together place for a campus shop, Armin thought quietly as he took it all in and tried to settle his nerves. He was sure it was all thanks to the dark-haired, little man who mopped vigorously around the sugar counter.

“Thanks again, Jean,” Armin tried again earnestly, tearing his eyes away from the determined fellow, hoping Jean understood just how grateful he was for whatever this was. “I mean it.”

“Stop thanking me.” Jean bit back. Armin sat back at that, surprised at the directness of it.

“Sorry.”

“And stop apologizing,” Jean frowned, eyes piercing into Armin’s, backing him into a corner he hadn’t been prepared to be put in. “If I didn’t want to I wouldn’t have done it, trust me.” Jean grumbled, looking away.

Armin paused, unsure how to broach the subject. He’d almost apologized once more but bit his tongue hastily. That wasn’t all that gave him pause, however. Jean was looking bashful himself, as if he didn’t want to admit what he was saying. It was all suddenly endearing rather than intimidating.

“And I know you don’t want to talk about it,”

Armin tensed at the sudden change of subject.

“--And ya don’t have to,” Jean added quickly, shaking his head. “I understand that, but just, it’s Eren, right? You guys aren’t doing good, huh?”

Jean’s eyes were smothering and curious as he leveled Armin with them, holding him still to his seat.

"We’re done.” Armin stated bluntly, surprising himself at how monotone he sounded, how crisp and clear those words were as they cut out from behind his lips.

Jean must’ve felt the same because he pursed his own lips and scratched his cheek, mumbling randomly under his breath about needing to shave.

“OK.” He said simply, nodding understandably.

Armin felt an urge to open up then and it surprised himself. He stopped himself shortly. How much of an idiot could he be to let Eren’s roommate in on something as personal as his feeling towards Eren? How, when Mikasa had begged, in a very Mikasa sort of way, for him to open up just like this yesterday, could he feel able to do it now? From a simple, ‘OK’?

Armin shook his head and ground the heels of his hands into his eyes.

“Hey, quit it.” Jean grunted, locking both of Armin’s small wrists in one of his large hands before pushing them down to the table.

“Why are you here with me, Jean?”

“Jeesh,” he sat back, eye balling Armin exasperatedly.

A bubble of laughter almost burst form Armin’s lips but he choked it back out of surprise.

“I know,” Armin wailed, fighting a grin and bringing his arms back to himself, “I can’t help how I am.”

“You just need to enjoy yourself, you need a distraction.” Jean paused, taking a sip so large nearly half his drink disappeared. “You know, get your mind off things. And stop drinking depressing drinks.”

“Cappuccinos are all things good in this world.”

“I seriously doubt that.”

Armin pointedly took a sip from his mug, eyes locking Jean’s playfully.

“Gross.”

“At least it’s not diabetes in a cup,” Armin started, about to launch into detailed breakdown of Jean’s own drink, prepared to dismantle the cuteness it appeared to be and show it for the evil, processed, cavity creating monstrosity it was before Jean interrupted him with a laugh.

“You’ve got-“ He lifted a finger to his own face and gestured beneath his nose and above his lip.

“Oop.” Armin crossed his eyes in exertion as he tried see for himself before wiping the foamy mess from his lip with the tip of his tongue.

Jean coughed and then stood abruptly, startling Armin from his savoring.

“Well, come on, then.” He huffed, tossing his cup in the trash can behind them.

“Where are we going?” Armin’s brows furrowed, not making a move to stand.

“Distraction.” Jean reminded him with a dramatic gesture of hands as though he were a magician before making a beeline for the door.

Armin stumbled to his feet, glancing at his mess before stuffing his hand in his pocket for change for tip to set by his dirty mug and rushed after the taller man.

“Have a nice day!” Petra chirped.

Armin hadn’t noticed the curly haired man who’d collected the tip so fast that he hadn’t even been out the door yet.

“Get your grubby hands off my tip, Oluo!”

For a moment, and maybe even for the rest of that day, he’d swear he hadn’t thought once more of Eren again.

X