Bzzzzz. Bzzzzz. Bzzzzz.
I reached over to the night stand and grabbed my phone to stop the racket. The bright light of the screen burned my eyes as I shut off the alarm. 7 am, Monday, August 5th. I kicked off the blankets and regretted it immediately as I felt the icy sting of the morning air. Why is it always so cold in our room? Maria was one of the oldest dorms on campus, so the isolation probably wasn’t the best, but the weather seemed particularly harsh for early August. I reached for the over-sized forest green sweater I had borrowed from Jean the week before and pulled it on in a vain attempt to warm myself up before heading to the showers.
“Eren, wake up.” I sighed as I tried to shake my friend out of his slumber. I don’t know what he would do if I wasn’t here to drag him out of bed. Although, it was kind of my fault for making him take European history with me so early in the morning.
“Hnngh,” he let out a grunt as he turned away from me.
“Eren come on, if you want to shower before class you have to get up. And trust me, you need to shower.”
“Tell me again why I let you talk me into this Armin?” was his sleepy reply. I smiled, both relieved that he was finally awake and because I could never get over how adorable he was when he was sleepy like this. Ugh, no. I shouldn’t be thinking about that. Even if my best friend was adorable, he was still my best friend. And besides, I was spoken for.
Eventually we both made it out of our room and into the showers. Walking through the cold halls of Maria made me wish that we could have afforded a dorm in Sina. The dorms there were the best on campus and more like apartments than dorms really; they each had two large bedrooms with a shared bathroom, kitchen, and living area. We could have shared one with Jean and Connie, which I would have loved, but Eren could barely afford his tuition as it was and I was only here on a scholarship. But I guess it’s not so bad in Maria, the old brick walls were thick so I wasn’t disturbed by any of our neighbors when I was studying and in the end I got to room with my best friend. For which I was eternally grateful, I have no idea what I would have done if I had been forced to live with a stranger. The thought alone gave me chills.
After we were ready we headed for the coffee shop nearest our dorm, which was quite a ways away from the main campus, but still within walking distance. Eren wasn’t really a coffee person, which always baffled me because he was so moody in the morning. He definitely could have used the caffeine and I practically lived off the stuff. The cozy building was already filled with students and other patrons; I paused to appreciate the wonderful smell of roasted coffee beans and fresh pastries. Eren grabbed a seat at an empty table near one of the large front windows and I went to order.
“Good morning Annie,” I said and she gave me the slightest smile. Annie was always a bit cold, even to our friends, and she always wore a particularly deadly expression when she was working. But for some reason, she always made me feel welcome.
“Hey Armin, what can I get you?” was all she offered but there was a warmth in her voice that everyone knew was only reserved for me. I wasn’t sure exactly why Annie was always especially nice to me but I appreciated her kindness. We were never close growing up, but we seemed to have an unspoken bond. It probably had something to do with the way she found me crying in the girls’ bathroom the first time we met, but I didn’t want to think about that right now. I asked her for the usual, a small Macchiato with an extra shot of espresso. Even though I practically lived off coffee, I never could get used to the bitter taste alone, so I always opted for the sweeter drinks.
“Sure thing,” she said as I paid. I turned to head for the table Eren snagged for us while I waited for my drink and saw that Jean was already there. Oh, great. Even though Jean and I had been together for almost 3 years now, he and Eren never quite learned how to get along. Jean had a special talent for pissing off my best friend, but I was grateful that Eren always tolerated him, as best he could at least, for me.
“Horse-face I swear to God, it is too early for me to put up with your shit. Just sit down and shut the fuck up.”
“H-hey come on, are you guys fighting already?” I gave Eren a weary smile as Jean pulled me in for a hug. He tenderly kissed my forehead and gave me an apologetic smile. Jean knew I hated their fighting but I had come to accept it as just part of their friendship; if you could even call it a friendship.
“Hey, sleepyhead, ready for your first day of classes?” Jean said with a smile. He was a year older than us and this was his second year at Trost. It had put a strain on our relationship last year; I was always worried he’d find someone better than me but as far as I knew he never strayed. Luckily, Trost was only an hour and a half away from our hometown so we saw each other over the weekends and breaks. Now that we went to school together, and he had helped me so much with the application process and selecting my classes for the first semester, I felt guilty for having ever doubted him.
“A little nervous but that’s normal I suppose. I just hope my professors are nice.” I replied and I was nervous. In high school they always told us to try to get close to our professors; that if they knew our names and faces they were more likely to feel sympathy for us, or at least pay attention to our grades when the time came. But I was never very good at striking up conversations with people I had never met before, and it wouldn’t be any easier to engage someone so much older and smarter than me. I figured I would just study as hard as I could and try to be as active in class discussions as I could manage. However, Jean had assured me that none of that mattered; that the professors didn’t give a damn who you were as long as you filled in the right bubble on the tests. In a way, I hoped he was right, but at the same time it wouldn’t hurt to at least try to impress them.
Not long after that, we walked together toward the campus. On move-in weekend, Jean had given me a map of campus and put little X’s where all my classes were so I wouldn’t get lost when he wasn’t around. It was through little gestures like that that Jean showed his affection. He wasn’t the gushy, lovey-dovey, feely type but he did care about me.
“I gotta go meet up with Connie before our Chemistry class, so I’ll see you for lunch later?” Jean said pulling me in for a quick kiss. I saw Eren roll his eyes out of the corner of my vision before he turned to walk ahead of us.
“Of course, text me later?” I said as I begrudgingly pulled away from him. Things had been so hectic lately, between moving my entire life into a tiny dorm room and trying to make sure I had everything I would need for class that I had barely got to spend any time with him. And every time we had been together, we hadn’t been alone. So I was really craving his affection. He pinched the fabric of my sweater, well his sweater actually, between his fingers and smiled at me.
“Are you ever going to give me my clothes back, or should I just go buy new ones?” he said with a chuckle.
“The only way you’re getting this sweater back is if you rip it off me right now,” I said with a challenging look. That would be enough to distract him until I saw him again around lunch time. The lustful spark I saw in his eyes was almost enough to make me skip class altogether, but of course I couldn’t, at least not on the first day.
“Keep this up and you’re going to be late Armin,” the way my name rolled off his tongue made me want to melt into the floor. How dare he be so attractive so early in the morning, but he was right; I would be late, and we both had places to be. I gave him a peck on the cheek before running off to catch up with Eren, who had covered quite a bit a ground for having no idea where he was going.
“Do you guys always have to make a spectacle of yourselves or do you just want to make me lose my breakfast?” Eren muttered when I caught up to him.
“Eren Jaeger, if I didn’t know any better I’d think you were jealous.” I teased. Of course, I knew better. I’ve always had a special place in his heart, but it was purely plutonic. Even after he came out junior year I knew I didn’t have a chance. I don’t exactly know when I had developed a crush on my best friend but I was more than willing to put all those feelings aside, as long as he was in my life.
“He’s just not good enough for you. The only thing Jean would ever be good for is a dumpster.”
“Eren, Jean has never been anything but good to me. I know you two don’t get along but I think you would have let it go by now. I’ve already got Mikasa treating me like her kid; I don’t need you to start too.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m just in a shit mood I guess, c’mon we’re gonna be late. Where the fuck are we going anyways? This campus is huge.” I smiled at his feeble attempt to change the subject. Eventually we came upon the large stone building that was home to the majority of the history classes. It was fitting that they would be held here, in such an old impressive building. It was the first structure they built at Trost, aside from the massive library that resided across the large lawn where many students would lounge about when it started to warm up. The two buildings were two-stories high and made out of large grey stones that had been cut into mostly square shapes. The window trims were painted a stark white which I’m sure once matched the large roman-esque columns that supported the roof over the building’s entrance. It was truly a sight to behold and it made me feel even smaller than usual.
Our class was on the second floor, European History from 4000-1600 AD, Professor Erwin Smith, the name plate on the door confirmed. Somehow we managed to get there 10 minutes early, but by the looks of things, most of the students had gotten there early. It was an auditorium style classroom with raised seating and almost every seat from the second row back was filed. I heard Eren groan and I knew what he was thinking. Neither of us wanted to get trapped in the front row for the semester, but for very different reasons. I knew Eren was already planning to spend the majority of this class sleeping and copying my notes later, whereas I was just never comfortable in the front of the class. Even though I wanted to get to know my professors, the idea of having a front row seat and being scrutinized everyday made me a little more than uncomfortable.
While we were still searching for a place to sit, our professor walked in from the back room, which was probably his office. He was a tall, well-built man, with a full head of blonde hair, thick eyebrows and the most gorgeous blue eyes I have ever seen. He didn’t look a day over thirty and, my god, he was handsome. I could already feel my cheeks begin to color when he started to speak.
“Welcome to Medieval European History, but don’t get comfortable just yet. Unlike many of your other professors here, my class will adhere to a seating chart. So everybody grab your things and sit where you are instructed, this is how I will be taking roll for the rest of the semester.” He said with a deep, authoritative voice and there was an audible groan from a majority of the class.
He strolled over to the first seat on the left side of the front row, near the window, with a list in hand. I knew it was coming before he even said the words; of course it would be me. I don’t even know why I held out some vain hope that somebody would have a last name that came before mine alphabetically. If only Mikasa were here. Although that would probably mean we would both be stuck up in the front together.
“First we have, Armin Arlert.” and I immediately froze in place. The way he said my name, with authority and kindness, the way his silky voice just slightly rolled the R’s in my name, it was almost… sexy. If I wasn’t blushing before I definitely was now. A small squeak escaped me as Eren nudged me, giving me a side-long questioning look.
“Uh t-that’s me…” I said in the smallest voice as I cursed myself. Why was I already so flustered over this? Even if he was attractive, and my god was he attractive, he was still just my professor. I wrote the feeling off as my ridiculous fear of ever sitting up front in class and took my seat. At least it was near the large window that over looked the expansive lawn.
“Arlert, is that German? Originated perhaps, around the 6th century?” He asked me as a sly smile spread across his lips. I had barely gotten to my seat and he was already testing me. Luckily I knew the history of my name, my grandfather was very proud of our heritage.
“Uh, y-yes! It’s Romanized German, it became popular around the dark ages. I think it means—“
“Derived from Arminius which means whole or universal, yes, I’m familiar with it.” He cut me off. I struggled to close my mouth and keep all the blood from rushing to my cheeks which, I’m sure, was a worthless attempt. As a history professor at a prestigious university I expected him to be knowledgeable but this, this guy really knew his stuff. “Welcome,” He said with a smile and returned to his list, proceeding to call of the rest of the names.
I managed to get through the rest of the class with minimal distractions and blushes. Since it was only the first day and there wasn’t much to go over we were let out early. I told Eren I was going to meet Jean for lunch and that he was welcome to come, but of course he declined. We said a quick goodbye and I headed toward Sina to meet Jean at his dorm. The rest of the day went smoothly, he took me to a little bistro not far from campus and we had sandwiches. It was relaxing and I appreciated the time in his presence, even though I still longed for more intimate time together, I’m sure we’ll figure something out.
I had two more classes after lunch: Art history with Mikasa, she was an amazing artist, and then English 101 in the evening with Eren, Sasha, and Connie. All in all, I was happy with my first day of college. It wasn’t too hard to find my way around thanks to Jean’s map and all my professors seemed either generally nice or just generally disinterested. After our evening class, Sasha and Connie invited Eren and I to some karaoke/open-mic-night at one of the local coffee shops. Eren wasn’t too keen on singing in a room full of people when he wasn’t drunk and I was a little bit warn out from the stress of my first day. We declined, not without defeated grumbles from the pair, and headed back to our room.
Eren and I picked up some Chinese take-out on our way back to our dorm and sang “Don’t drop that durka-durk!” As loud as we could until we actually made it inside our room. He turned some comedy on Netflix that neither of used really paid attention to as we pigged out on orange chicken and chow mein. It may have been our first real night in college together, but we had been having sleep overs practically every week for years. We were right at home as long as we were together. We wound up playing Halo on the Xbox until about midnight. I had actually planned on going to bed early but Eren kept insisting on rematches every time I handed his ass to him. It’s not that Eren was bad at video games, he’s actually pretty good; it just so happened that I was the King.
That night the clouds that had been looming over the horizon rolled in and let out a massive downpour. Back at home I would have been able to sleep through it with my box fan blaring, and honestly I liked the rain, it was the thunder that bothered me. I was shocked awake by a particularly loud boom and sat straight up in bed. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust and I looked around the still unfamiliar room waiting for my heart beat to slow to a somewhat normal pace. There was a flash of lightening and long dark shadows were cast over the walls. It made me a bit nervous. Rationally, I knew there was nothing there. I was just in bed, Eren was across the room, and it was just rain. I thought that any other kid on campus was probably fast asleep or completely at ease with the weather. It had been years since thunderstorms hadn’t bothered me. I knew it wasn’t rational, to associate such a horrible thing with just some clouds, but I couldn’t help it.
My mind dragged me back to the memories of when I was six. It had been raining all weekend and I was sitting in front of the fire place at my grandfather’s house, waiting for my parents to come pick me up from my visit. They never came. He had tried calling them several times to no answer and simply assured me that the traffic must have been bad. They were just late, that’s all. I had slept at my grandfather’s again that night. I had lied awake wondering where my parents were, shaking in my little four-poster bed every time the thunder quaked through the house.
There was a loud boom and I shot up again. I was pathetic. I was supposed to be grown up and starting my life as a college student but here I was tearing up over a little thunder and eleven year old memories. I squeezed my eyes shut and gripped my sheets, trying to focus on my breathing. In, out. In, out. Everything is fine. In, out. In, BOOM. Suddenly, I threw off the sheets and was running to the other side of the room, tears streaming down my face. It hadn’t been this bad in such a long time, I could usually just quietly sob to myself and go back to sleep. Maybe it was the unfamiliar room, maybe it was because there was no other sound besides that awful thunder and the sound of my own erratic heartbeat, or maybe it was because there was someone else to go to; whatever it was, it had me climbing into Eren’s bed before I could gain control of my own limbs again.
“Armin, what the—what are you doing?” Eren said through sleepy sighs as I jostled him awake. Then his eyes snapped open with realization as lightening illuminated the room, exposing my tear streaked face and panicked expression. He just stared at me for a few seconds, waiting, and then the thunder came, the only confirmation he needed. He didn’t say anything as just scooted back against the wall, making room for me to crawl in, he didn’t have to. He knew how thunderstorms still affected me. He gently wrapped the blanket around us. I knew I shouldn’t have been there; I should have been able to handle myself by now, to sleep in my own bed. As the guilt of being such an inconvenience to him paired itself with the growing dread and fear that had taken root in my stomach, I couldn’t stifle the small sobs that shook out of me.
“It’s okay Armin, everything is gonna be okay.” He said as he pulled me into his strong arms, softly rubbing my back in an attempt to calm me. I buried my face in Eren’s chest and just sobbed, giving in to all of the built up dread and panic inside me. I was never more grateful to have him as a friend as I was now. Eren wouldn’t make fun of me, he wouldn’t judge me, and he wouldn’t turn me away. No matter what and right now, that was all the reassurance I needed. After a while I finally fell asleep, in my best friends arms, the only safe place I had ever known since that night eleven years ago.
I woke up early the next morning before sun rise, my alarm wouldn’t go off for another two hours or so and I relaxed into the soft mattress. We hadn’t moved much at all that night, which was saying something since Eren was usually such a violent sleeper. He still held me in his arms, a little more loosely now that he had relaxed in his sleep, and I was tucked under his chin with my head in his chest. He was snoring softly and I let myself get lost in the sound of his breathes. I leaned my forehead against his chest and smiled to myself. All the crushing waves of anxiety, guilt, and fear had passed now and I was content to just stay in his arms like that; whether it be for the next five minutes, or the next two hours, or the rest of the day, or for the rest of my life.
All too soon reality set back in and grief tugged at the edges of my mind. He didn’t feel the same way, he never had, he never would. He had only done this because I freaked out last night, because I had been doing this since we were kids. It was just normal for him, to have to comfort me, to have to take care of me. It wasn’t right for me to take so much enjoyment out of his kindness, out of all the grief I had probably caused him. And even more than that, it was wrong for me to enjoy this, the feel of his arms wrapped around me, the scent of his skin and the sound of his heart drumming in my ears. Jean would have gone blind with fury if he saw this now, if he knew that this had happened before.
Eren would never tell him of course, he had never once brought it up not even to Mikasa. But I knew, and that probably felt worse than anything. I knew that Eren would do this for me, no matter the trouble it caused him, and I would keep coming back. I knew the pain it would cause Jean, how betrayed he would feel, even if nothing really happened, and yet I kept coming back. How selfish could one person be? It wasn’t enough that I had the best friend I could ever ask for, or that I had a wonderful boyfriend who spoiled me like the princess he thought I was. It wasn’t enough. It had never been enough for me and I was selfish and wrong.
I must have started to shake, I could already feel the hint of tears clouding the edges of my vision and I set my jaw to keep them at bay. I would not cry over my own self-hatred especially not in front of him, not now. I swallowed around the lump in my throat and took a deep breath, which hitched in my throat as I felt Eren’s arms tighten around me pulling me closer to him. He let out a low “hmm” and I twisted around so I could better angle my head up in order to sneak a peek at him. Had he woken up already or was he just dreaming? His arms synched around my waist at the sudden movement and he scowled a bit, eyes still closed.
“Hnn, babe… stop.” He said with a breathy grunt as he rested his chin on my head once again.
What the hell? What had he just said? There was no way I had heard him right, in all of the years I had been pathetically crawling into Eren’s bed he had never once called me Babe. I was frozen in place as my cheeks started to turn a rosy pink. I didn’t know what to do or if I even should do anything. He had either said it on an accident, in his sleep, or on purpose, very much awake. I wasn’t sure which was worse.
“Eren…?” I said quietly, testing. If he was awake, he made no move to indicate it. I relaxed a bit, right; of course it was an accident. He was probably just dreaming, about what though? I tried not to think about it. Having suffered through enough of my own self-loathing for one morning, I entangled myself from his arms and stepped onto the cold, hard wood floor of our dorm.
“Armin?” Eren started sleepily, “Where are you going?” He wrapped the thick blanket back around himself.
“I uh, I just have to go to the bathroom. It’s still early, go back to sleep.” I said softly smiling at him.
“Are you okay?” He was a bit more alert now, memories of the night before most likely surfacing back to his conscious mind. I cringed internally at the thought, I was a mess.
“Everything is fine Eren, just go back to sleep.” I whispered as I silently slipped out the door. He did.