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Three pads of 18"x24" sketch paper flapped in the wind. Eren tried to burrow down further into his sweatshirt to block out the cold -- a futile attempt, really. Reaching the intersection by his dorm, he tried to shift the armfuls of drawing materials around (no such luck) and then aimed a kick at the "press to walk" button.

And he'd just have to do this in reverse the next day on his way to class. Fun.

The campus was beautiful, but it was January and it was Massachusetts and it was cold and Eren was too stubborn to admit that his beloved oversized Wall College sweatshirts were not warm enough outerwear for sub-zero temperatures. Snow coats were for snow, he argued, and if there were no fluffy white flakes dropping from the sky, he wasn't bundling up.

A gust of wind caught the pads of paper face-on and pushed him sideways, and the bitter cold was like a slap in the face.

Maybe a warm jacket was in order.

He'd also forgotten his gloves, and the cold made his hands prickle and turn red while he bounced slightly, waiting for the light to change. The Blue Fine Arts Centre was only a block and a half away from Shiga and Shina Houses, but the walk signal at the intersection was always slow to respond.

Eren's hands were almost numb by the time he got into Shiga. He repeated his kicking on the automatic door button in front of his dorm, and on the door to his room. "Armin! Open up, I don't have any free hands!"

His roommate opened the door, looking irritated. "I'm trying to study."

"It's the second day of classes!" Eren squeezed through the door, pushing past Armin, and nearly got one of his bags caught on the doorknob.

"Yeah, and I have readings for every class."

"That's what happens when you take three history classes."

"It's my major! You're taking four art classes." Armin dropped back into his desk chair and stuck in his earbuds, ending the conversation. Eren could hear the indie hip-hop from his bed across the room. Their shared bedroom smelled like new textbooks, and by the hundreds of pink sticky notes poking out from the pages of each of the three brand-new hardcover tomes on Armin’s bed, Eren deduced his best friend had already marked every reading for the entire semester.

Eren, being a very devoted art major, did not have a semester’s worth of assignments handed to him in a list on the first day of class. What he did have was a few short syllabi, a page detailing his first assignment for each class, and lists requiring that he buy nearly two hundred dollars worth of art supplies and three digital painting programs.

At least, Eren thought, most second-semester art classes didn't expect him to do bullshit "let's see how you draw before we begin!" assignments -- they went right into the learning process. He looked over the syllabi he'd been handed over the last few days. Drawing II, Illustration I, Anatomy for the Artist, and Intro to Digital Art; not an unusual load for an art major focussing on illustration. He chuckled a little at the reminder that Anatomy for the Artist had a figure drawing studio session that met once a week -- as if he wouldn't have loads of other time spent drawing naked people.

His only homework due the next day was a written page detailing his expectations of Anatomy, which he typed up in less than an hour, before tackling the Illustration assignment due Monday.

Illustrate a scene from your favourite book. Easy enough.

First, do four prep sketches in charcoal. You may use different scenes for the sketches, but at least two of them must be of the scene you use in your final piece. Nothing out of the ordinary.

The final illustration should be done in full colour. “Motherfucker. It’s the first assignment!”

---

Eren's first thought upon entering his Anatomy for the Artist lecture had been, "that is one ugly-ass professor." Keith Shadis's sunken eyes and pathetic, lopsided goatee made him look rather like he hadn't slept in years and didn't own a mirror. His too-shiny bald head reflected the overhead lights and sometimes made him look like a lightbulb with legs. Eren was pretty sure he polished his bare scalp. He was loud, and obnoxious, and nearly head-butted two students in that first hour alone.

He was a completely different person in the studio. While he was still rather condescending, and his head was still blindingly shiny, he gave good advice and didn't yell nearly as much. Eren might have respected him under different circumstances.

As it was, Shadis's insistence on pointing out every missed detail in Eren's work was infuriating. He kept at it for the first two hours, until Eren’s short temper got the best of him.

"What the hell is that? Are you trying to draw upside-down?"

Eren sighed. "No, sir." He kept his head down, focussing on his drawing, and the professor moved on.

On his next circuit around the room, though, Shadis had much more insight to offer regarding Eren’s admittedly sparse drawing. "All you’ve drawn is the head."

"I'm not done yet."

"The eyes are uneven."

"I'm not done yet."

"You need to add the--"

"I'm not done yet!"

He didn't realise he'd yelled until after every pencil in the room stopped scratching. Mikasa grabbed her kneaded eraser and started pulling at it, a dark look forming in her eyes. Armin -- who was taking the class as part of his liberal arts requirements, despite his self-proclaimed inability to draw anything more complicated than stick figures -- looked like he feared for Eren's life.

"Hmph. Continue." Shadis moved on to Eren’s left. "What are all these smudges-- are you eating in my class?"

The class proceeded, and the professor’s voice carried across the room as he commented on each student’s work. His comments, along with the scratching of pencils and squeaking of rickety drawing horses under the pressure of frequent erasing, were about the only noises in the room -- save for Sasha, whose gallon-sized snack bag full of hash browns had been temporarily confiscated. She sniffled every few minutes, apparently holding back tears, mourning the loss of her breakfast. Eren felt a little bad for her, and kept looking to his left to make sure she hadn’t completely broken down yet; he only knew her vaguely from a class they’d shared the previous semester, and from that he knew exactly how seriously she took her food.

"I told you earlier in the semester that we have visiting artists come and teach at Wall," Professor Shadis shouted over the sound of students packing up before the period was quite done. "For the next few semesters, the internationally-renowned Levi will be teaching two higher-level courses. He's also agreed to visit some of our studio sessions. Don't be late to studio next week; he'll be there, and he doesn't tolerate tardiness." He punctuated that with a glare at Eren, who rolled his eyes.

"I don't know what he's talking about. I'm always on time." Eren led his friends out the door.

Mikasa pulled at his ear. "Don’t lie, I’ve seen your habits before and they haven’t improved. You skid through the door at the last possible second and usually knock something over while you're unpacking. I don't think that counts."

"Well maybe if my roommate didn't insist on getting to class half an hour early, I would actually have someone to remind me to leave at the right time."

Armin shoved him. "Hey, don't blame me. I leave that early to get breakfast."

“Breakfast is for the weak.” Eren tried not to laugh as Sasha shot him a horrified look around mouthfuls of potato. “Besides, I have better things to do. Like sleep, for one.”

They exited the building, and Sasha and Connie broke off from the group to head to their next class. They promised to bring some of the leftovers from Pie Making (the official title of which was History of Culinary Traditions: Pies for Every Meal and Occasion) to dinner. Jean ran off ahead to the dorm, shouting something about a lunch date.

Reiner, who was in the same Anatomy lecture but a different studio period, caught up with the remainder of Eren’s group. “How was it? Shadis still busting your balls?” Reiner had taken a class with him previously; Shadis had a reputation for being, to put it lightly, rather harsh with his students. His methods were effective, though, so they couldn’t exactly say he was a bad teacher.

Eren groaned. “He’s horrible. Do you think enough people would join a spitballing contest? One point if you hit him, ten points if you hit him on the head, a hundred if you do it while he’s facing you.”

“I’m pretty sure harassing a professor can get you expelled,” Armin said.

“Come on, Armin, live a little.”

“Yeah,” Reiner agreed. “Hey, Armin, you want me to hold your bag? It looks heavy.”

“Um. No thanks, I can handle it.” Looking distinctly uncomfortable, Armin walked faster. He reached the crosswalk first, taking half a glance at the flashing red hand on the walk signal, and dashed across the street before the stoplight turned green.

Eren didn’t catch up with Armin until he got back to their room. His friend was unpacking his backpack, and he turned to the door when Eren walked in. The textbook in his hand slipped from his fingers and landed corner-down on his toes.

“Motherfucker!” Armin swore, picking up his bare foot to inspect the damage. He sat down on his bed, moving his second and third toes around. “I don’t think they’re broken…”

“You okay?” Eren asked.

“Yeah,” Armin said, curling his toes. They were starting to swell. “You surprised me.”

“I wasn’t that far behind you. Anyway, what was that all about? You ran off.”

“I did.” Armin picked up the fallen textbook and placed it gently on his bed.

“Why? I don’t know if you noticed, but Reiner was--”

“I noticed. I’m not gay, Eren.”

Eren was silent for half a minute, trying to choose his words wisely. “There’s no reason to be ashamed of it. I know our high school kind of sucked, but they were assholes and they were wrong.”

“They were wrong. I’m not gay.”

“You stare at guys all the time, Armin.”

“I’m not!”

“Fine!” Eren threw his hands up. “Fine. You’re not gay.” He ran a hand through his hair, breathing out slowly to tone down his sudden flare of anger. “I just want you to be honest with me.”

“I know,” Armin said, in a small voice. He stared down at his hands. “I’m trying to be. Just…”

“I get it. I’ll drop it. Just don’t forget I’m always here for you, okay?”

“I won’t forget.”

Eren nodded. He moved farther into the room and tossed his bag onto his bed, the top bunk, and took a seat at his desk to work on his next assignment.

“Hey Eren?”

“Hm?”

“Do you think I should cut my hair?”

The question surprised him, but Eren tried not to show it. “I don’t know. I’m kind of used to you looking like this, so I can’t really say. Might make you look older. That could be a good thing.”

“I don’t mean, like, short. I meant… maybe bringing the fringe back?”

Eren turned to look at his friend. When they were kids, Armin had a fringe that ended at his eyebrows, and his parents would trim it for him every few weeks to keep his sight clear. After they died, he’d grown out the fringe, not letting his grandfather anywhere near his hair. Now it was cleanly parted in the middle, and still chin-length as it had always been. He’d been mistaken for a girl more than once. Eren tried to imagine him with the old haircut. “Forget what I said about you looking older.”

“I think it might be a nice change.”

“Well, if you want to do it, I can’t exactly stop you.”

Armin rolled his eyes. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.” He looked at himself in the mirror, fiddling with his hair. Soon, he thought.