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Staring at the Sun

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Jean was alone. Hours ago he had been dropped off at the airport by Fox’s nurse and boarded the plane to LA to join his new team, his new owners, the USC Trojans. He did not bother hoping they would be kind or a major improvement over the Ravens, he knew how this worked. Despite the assurances of Renee, Kevin and Abby he knew that a broken thing like him would have no place among the Trojans. He resigned himself to the fact that his treatment the Trojans would only be marginally better than the Ravens. After all, a team could not function and succeed without the harsh discipline of the Master and Riko, the Foxes’ win had to be a miracle and a fluke. He was certain that the Foxes were an exception to the rules, exy teams had to function like the Ravens they just had to. It went double for a team as good as the Trojans.

The Trojans were good almost as good as the Ravens, could even be better if it wasn’t for their baffling style of playing that stuck to the rules to the letter and never earned a red card. He had played against them before, he remembered their players, their statistics, strengths, and weaknesses. The team’s captain Jeremy Knox, had managed to slip past him in the last championship game they played. Granted at the time he had a sprained ankle, a broken finger or two, alongside the numerous healing cuts and slices covering his body, which slowed him down. 

He remembered Riko and the Master’s rage at the goal he had let slip by, the beatings that followed. His own pleas and begging Riko to stop, please stop , while he loomed above him laughing knife in hand. He felt his breathing start to come in faster as he recalled Riko’s words,

“You deserve this. This is your fault if you didn’t let them score I wouldn’t have to punish you. This the way it works number three, you're lucky we don’t make it worse, other teams would punish you more. Aren’t you grateful three? grateful that we are so kind to you? Most people would put down an animal that can’t do what it meant to. Say thank you” Riko crooned while digging the blade a little deeper into his arm. 

“Thank you” he rasped

“Thank you what? hmmm?” Riko slid his knife across Jean’s making patterns and shapes appear in the blood.

“King, thank you, king,” Jean repeated hurriedly the faster he gave in and gave Riko what he wanted the faster Riko would stop.

“Tell me why this is happening” The knife danced across his ribs a sharp hot sting alongside the ache that permeated through the rest of his body courtesy of the Master’s cane

“It's my fault. I am not good enough. I let him get past me. I deserve to be punished. I have to be punished to improve.” He chanted repeating the words careful not to slip up making sure Riko understood that Jean knew, he knew his place and knew how the world worked.

“There, that wasn’t so hard, was it.” Riko put the knife away and stroked his hair in a twisted facsimile of affection . “ I am going to go now you are going to stay here and help reward some of our graduating friends, now have fun,” Riko told him as he left the room leaving the door open.


“Hey man, you good?” A touch on his arm startled Jean back to the present and he turned to look at the passenger seated next to him.

“Yes, fine.” He replied curtly, pulling up the hood on his sweatshirt and glancing around. The plane had landed and was pulling up to the gate. 

Disembarking the plane alone and making his way through the airport to baggage claim, where he was told to wait for is new captain, was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences that he could remember. It was like being sent to America from France after being sold all over again, he was alone and entering the unknown. He took a long look outside the window and looked at the sun, he hoped he would be allowed that at least. Be allowed to see the sun each day rather than being trapped underground for weeks, months, even years without ever seeing it. He took one more look at the sun and felt the warmth on his face before continuing on.

___________

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Two

Jeremy

Jeremy was always running late, which is why when tasked with picking up his new teammate from the airport he left over an hour early. Despite leaving early he arrived in baggage claim with only a few minutes to spare out of breath. He checked the arrivals board and saw that Jean’s plane had just landed.

“Perfect” he sighed. He knew very little about Jean aside from playing against him a few times and the little Kevin had told him he was a stranger. He knew that was the best backliner in the NCAA and was marked for the perfect court with a number 3 on his face, that he was French along with being, tall dark and handsome. And according to Kevin couldn’t play for the Raven’s anymore due to a falling out with Riko that resulted in Jean being injured. He knew it was likely more complicated than that, and the injury would prevent Jean from playing at full capacity for a while. Given the media storm surrounding Riko’s suicide, apparent hazing and brutal training practices at Edgar Allen, Kevin implying that Riko had been the one to break his hand, and Kevin’s odd comment that Jean may find it hard to be alone, he figured that it would be best to slowly ease Jean into Trojan life. 

He scanned the crowd for Jean and finally saw a tall figure dressed in black jeans and hoodie carrying a duffel bag. 

“Hey, Jean!” He called waving him over. As the other man approached Jeremy did his best not to stare. Jean was wearing a hoodie that left his face shadowed but what he saw already exceeded Jeremy’s expectations for an “injury.” His pale, gaunt face and neck were covered in healing, yellowed bruises and there were semi-healed cuts all over and his nose had clearly been broken. The stark black number three looked like someone had circled the digit with a knife carving into his skin

His left eyebrow was bisected by a freshly healed scar, there was another vertical scar running over his lips on the left side about three inches long. His hair was patchy like parts of it had been ripped out and he could see healing scabs underneath the black regrowing fuzz shadowed by his hood. The most shocking wound was still held together by stitches and started at the right corner of his mouth running up his cheek to between his ear and eye. It looked like someone had cut through his face in an attempt to detach his jaw. He could not imagine what his injuries must have looked like fresh. How terrible they must have been if this is what they looked like now, with almost two months of healing. Had Riko done this to Jean? He instantly felt out of his depth and realized he had been staring at Jean for a good thirty seconds without saying anything. Fuck. 

“Hi, I’m Jeremy Knox your new captain and roommate” He quickly said extending his hand to Jean.

“Jean Moreau,” Jean replied without meeting his eyes and briefly shaking his hand before retreating. He kept his hands mostly covered by his long sleeves and wiped his hand on his pants after shaking Jeremy’s hands.

“I am glad you joined our team, we are going to be unstoppable this year with you playing for us. What color are your bags and which baggage claim?” He asked gesturing towards the baggage carousels. 

“This is all I have.”  Jean lifted his duffel slightly.

Jeremy blinked for a moment then recovered "No worries, Coach gave me the p-card to pick up anything you might need. Let's head out." Jean nodded and followed out to his car. Despite Jeremy's efforts at conversation, Jean stayed silent unless asked a direct question and kept just out of arm's reach behind him.

"Are you hungry?" Jeremy asked, "I know a really a couple of good places on the way to campus."

"Whatever you like," Jean replied still keeping his head down.

"Alright… What kind of food do you like? Pizza, Chinese, Mexican, fast food, breakfast food?"

"You can pick whatever you prefer" His voice was stiff and he looked tense and uncomfortable. 

Jeremy frowned, "You sure?" He asked as they approached his car. Jean gave a small jerk of his head without lifting his gaze from the ground. 

Maybe he was doing something wrong and not making Jean feel welcome. He had already stared rudely at his scars and probably offended him by assuming he had more luggage too, not everyone could afford as much as Jeremy. Jean probably had to leave most of his stuff behind in the Nest. He looked badly injured, so it was probably a traumatic experience for him and, Jeremy was an idiot for reminding him of that. He was probably tired too, and just to polite to tell Jeremy he wanted to go straight back. Or maybe he was just hungry. Jeremy always got moody and tired when he was hungry. 

Calm down. Breathe. He told himself. It's fine you're making to big of a deal of things again. Get ahold of yourself. He unlocked his car door and hoped Jean hadn't noticed his mini-freak out. You can do this. You have to. You promised Kevin and coach you would take care of him and help him adjust. You came back to campus early to do this there is plenty of time. He took a deep breath like his therapist had taught him and unlocked the car.

"I know how my car looks, but I promise it runs and is perfectly safe." He said as they got inside Jean still looked fearful like he was headed to his doom. Which granted was a valid concern because his car was only considered a car by the very loosest of definitions at this point as Laila and Alvarez were so fond of reminding him. "I bought it myself when I was sixteen but I have had it worked on since and it's is perfectly fine safe according to my mechanic. Don't listen to anything Laila or Alvarez say about her. She's my baby and is running fine" He added as he pulled out of the parking space.

LA traffic was a nightmare. He glanced over at Jean after a few minutes of silence to find him looking at Jeremy with an uncertain expression. Jeremy also, coincidentally, almost crashed into the car in front of him before slamming on the breaks, because he was very gay and Jean's eyes were very pretty. A stormy grey shot with silver. But they were weary and looked so much older than he knew Jean to be.

"Athena had grey eyes" he blurted out. Oh shit, oh fuck why would he say that.

"What?" Jean asked confused.

"You know the Greek goddess of wisdom and military strategy. She was super cool had owls and stuff and helped found the city of Athens…" he trailed off feeling his face burn "She was also called the grey-eyed goddess" Why was he still talking? Stop talking.

"Okay?" Jean sounded perplexed and probably thought Jeremy was insane by now.

"You have grey eyes." Words were coming out of his mouth without his permission.

"I know." He sounded slightly amused now in addition to confused. Which was better than the stiff and cautious way he was before. Maybe he was doing better now connecting to Jean. His eyes had a little more light in them now. And honestly, that wasn't fair. The accent and the looks? Unfair. 

Car horns behind him started blaring jolting Jeremy once again to reality. "Fuck!" He shouted looking up and seeing traffic had started moving again.  He slammed on the gas and making the car lurch forward with a jerk. He hadn't even noticed, what if he had been driving and something else happened instead they both could have been killed.

"I promise. I am a good driver." He tried to reassure Jean. As he caught back up to traffic ignoring the cars passing him and flipping him off. "I mean not the best. But... okay, like I have only been pulled over a couple of times. And it's never been for speeding or anything just a tail light was out, or my plate expired, or something like that. And I haven't been in many accidents either. Like I have been in a couple, but they were really early on, and I'm just bad at parking, it wasn't on the road or anything." He rushed out before realizing he was rambling again. "What were we talking about?" He laughed hoping his skin was dark enough to hide his blush.

"You were talking about my eyes" Jean sounded bewildered.

"Oh yeah haha yeah, uh… it's just, not a lot of people have grey eyes ya know?" Jeremy mumbled. 

Jean didn't say anything. His neck felt hot and there was no dignified way to come back from staring about at a guy you just met, almost getting in an accident twice, giving him a history of his bad driving while trying to defend his driving skills and comparing his eyes to a goddess' out loud all in the span of about two minutes. Plus the guy was about to become his roommate fuck. And Laila Alvarez and the rest of the team wouldn't be back for about a month fuck. It was fine, he was fine.

He pulled off the highway and started heading towards a restaurant not far from campus.

"Food yeah?" He asked hoping Jean wasn't about to point out what a fucking creepy weirdo he was. Jean gave a brief nod his face closing off again. 

They pulled into the diner and Jeremy shut off the car. They served all-day breakfast and had a fairly decent range of items on the menu. Mostly the typical all American style food, greasy but delicious. He figured that Jean probably didn't have anything to eat on the plane and would at least have a variety of options here. Plus it was quick and Jean was probably tired and jetlagged.

"So how was your flight?" He asked as they sat down on a booth near the window. Jean was staring out the window at the palm trees and pigeons pecking at crumbs in the parking lot with a look of wonder. His face closed off again and became blank when he turned back to Jeremy. 

"It was fine" his voice was back to the cautious and fearful tone of when Jeremy had first picked him up from the airport.

"Were you able to get any sleep? You must be tired. I can never sleep on planes and if I do it's never well."

"Ravens run 16 hour days I do not require much sleep." Came Jean's clipped response.

He stared at Jean shocked. When Jean didn't elaborate he asked, "What do you mean 16 hour days?"

"Training and practice for eight hours a day and then eight hours of sleep then repeat. It maximizes efficiency. Classes were designed to not interfere with the Master's schedule. I was part of the perfect court and had…" Jean paused and something like terror flashed through his eyes before continuing "additional obligations to Riko and the Master cutting into the rest period. I got two or three hours of rest a cycle or did without. I am used to going without sleep."

What the fuck? Those were the most words he had heard Jean say in a row and he had said it so matter-of-factly. He felt like he needed more time to wrap his head around what Jean said. To unpack it all, Master , what was that about? But Jean was already shutting down and he decided it would be better to wait until Jean told him things on his own rather than ask.   

He had tried to not pay attention to the rumors and controversy surrounding the Edgar Allen team, but what he did hear combined with what Jean had said made it sound more like a cult than an exy team. Exy was fun and important, yeah but so were other things like grades, sleep, physical and mental health. He was starting to realize that maybe those things didn’t matter for the Ravens. He replayed what Jean said in his head, two or three hours of sleep? That was inhumane bordering on torture how was that legal? How was that even possible that Jean played exy or functioned at the level he had?

 “Wow, uh, well honestly that’s pretty fucked up.” He said after an uncomfortable silence where Jean was hunched over curled into himself and staring at the table. Jean flinched away from him a bit and Jeremy felt his stomach drop. Jean couldn’t be afraid of him, could he?

“I should not have said that,” Jean whispered his accent stronger than ever. His eyes were flat and dull.

“Hey, it’s okay… You know you can talk about it right? With me or anything else, no one will judge you or repeat what you said. If you ever want to talk about, anything, anything at all, I’ll listen and help as best I can.” Jeremy offered.

It didn’t seem to help any if anything Jean looked like he was trying to make himself smaller. His hands were shaking,

 “I can’t” he whispered. “Pas permi,” he muttered softly to himself as he hid his hands under the table and stared at the roles of silverware. 

Jeremy felt a rare bout of rage at whoever had made Jean feel this way. Who made talking about what happened 'not allowed,' as his years of taking and speaking French translated Jean's words automatically.

“Jean…” Jeremy sighed and decided to let the topic drop when he saw Jean visibly suppress another flinch. He would tell him he spoke French and offer to speak it with him later.

An overly bubbly server came up to the table “Alright have we decided what we are having today?” she asked.

“Um, can we have a few more minutes?” Jeremy replied he hadn’t even looked at the menu yet and he knew Jean hadn’t.

“Sure thing hun, can I put in some drinks for y’all?” 

Jeremy did a quick debate over soda or juice in his head before deciding “I’ll have orange juice please”

“Alrighty and for you dear?” she asked Jean.

“Water” He replied sounding uncertain and as he glanced at Jeremy.

“Sounds good I’ll be back in just a few with those drinks,” the woman said before heading back to the kitchen.

Jeremy looked over the menu glancing every so often at Jean trying not to be too obvious about it.  Jean wasn't looking at the menu so Jeremy asked: “What are you thinking of getting?”

Jean looked at him warily, “I am allowed to get something?”

Jeremy blinked, “Yeah of course?”

“What am I allowed to have?” 

“Uh whatever you want, don’t worry about the cost it’s all on Coach’s dime anyway he told me to put all the expenses on the p-card for the next few weeks while you got settled” 

Jean looked suspicious “Is this a test?” he demanded.

“Wait, what no? What do you mean?” How could ordering food at the diner be a test? Why would Jean think he was testing him anyway? He thought feeling more confused.

“Just tell me what I am allowed to eat.”

“Jean…” he said with a sinking feeling in his stomach, “You can order whatever you like. Just order whatever you think tastes good. It’s your choice.”

Jean looked at him like he had just announced the world was flat. “I…” Jean began then stopped. 

“Do you like pancakes?” Jeremy asked trying to encourage him. 

“I do not know.” He confessed. “I don’t think I have ever had them. I am not sure what a lot of things on the menu are, I do not know half of these words.” He gestured to the menu to indicate what he was talking about. “Riko decided if, when and what I ate.”

Fuck. He had never been a fan of Riko’s, he always came across as a bit of an egotistical dick on the few occasions he had interacted with him. But the more he learned about him the more he seemed like a controlling psychopath. Was that why Jean looked so skinny? What kind of monster had Jean survived?

“Pancakes are sweet, they are a bit like crepes but they are thicker.” He offered trying to keep his face neutral and his voice positive. It wouldn’t do Jean any good to feel pitied, as Jeremy knew well.

“Oh,” Jean said and went back to staring at the menu. 

After a few minutes of tense silence, the server came back with their drinks. And took there order oblivious to the tension at the table. Jean ordered one plain poached egg and whole-wheat toast and Jeremy got sugary pancakes. They spent the rest of the time in relative silence until their food arrived. Jean ate slowly but still like he was afraid someone would take his food away, arm protecting his plate. 

Jeremy made a couple more attempts at conversation but they fell flat the most he got out of Jean was tense clipped one-word answers. He paid the bill and they got back into his car to head to campus. 

________

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

Jean

Jean watched Jeremy carefully as they pulled up to a nondescript tan stone building on USC campus. "We're here," he proclaimed, jumping out of the car and snagging Jean's bag from the back seat. 

Jean froze, he knew he didn't have anything to bad in the bag but he didn't know the rules here yet, Jeremy had been incredibly confusing on that front. He had seen the brief look on his face when confronted with Jean's scars. He had seen that look twice more at the restaurant when Jean mentioned his schedule with the Ravens was and again when he explained that Riko controlled if Jean deserved to eat or not and what he ate. That was just the way things were. Jean was property, his life and body were not his own, he did not get to make decisions. Everything was decided by his masters, as he had learned very quickly after entering the Nest.

Upon entering the dorm Jeremy didn't go through his bag or throw it away he just set it on the bed on the undecorated side of the room and turned to Jean. 

"I hope you don't mind, I already choose a side of the room," Jeremy said gesturing to the chaotic mess behind him. "If you prefer not to be right by the window, we can switch or we can move your bed or something" Jeremy quickly offered sounding sincere.

"This will be fine." Jean said quickly not wanting Jeremy to realize how much having his bed next to a window would mean for Jean and take it away. He didn't trust Jeremy's kindness and sunshine act. Riko had acted nice sometimes too, especially in the beginning; he had found it funny to try to trick Jean before revealing more and increasingly creative methods of torture. It all had to be an act, just because he couldn't see through it yet. Just because Renee, Kevin, and Abby thought things would be better here didn't mean it wasn't true. He had been taught over and over again that good things and kindness were not things that would ever happen to Jean Moreau.

"Alright then," Jeremy said smiling at him. "Well I'm guessing you don't have pillows and blankets in that bag so let's hit up the store. Do you have any preference for where?"

Jean shook his head not knowing what was the correct response. He didn't know any stores anyway, he had never been allowed to leave the Nest for anything but games since coming to America. The sole exception was picking up Neil and dropping him back off that awful winter break last year. 

"Okay Targets always a safe bet, and a bit nicer than Wal-Mart, that good with you? We can go now or we can stay so you can rest a bit first? I have spare sheets and stuff if you wanted to take a nap?" Jeremy offered.

Jean was feeling exhausted and ready to drop but he didn't trust Jeremy's offer and even if it was genuine he wouldn't be able to sleep long without a nightmare. "Target is fine." He said the words felt strange in his mouth he knew it was a store Abby had mentioned it once, but in reality, his only experience with the word target was when Riko used him for exy target practice. He would have to hold still on the court without armor on while Riko sent balls flying into various parts of his body.

"Great. I need to grab some stuff too mainly mac and cheese. I could fucking live off the stuff. Especially the shaped kind, it always tastes better in fun shapes" Jeremy grinned and let out a laugh. 

He had done that a lot smiling at him, he wasn't sure what to make of it. It wasn't like Riko's smile, cold and cruel, at all, it was warm, kind and welcoming. It was like he was in on whatever the joke rather than the butt of it. He couldn't decide what to make of it, maybe it would take time for Jeremy to show his true colors. 

It had not taken Riko long, he had been sadistic from the start but during those early days he had pretended to be otherwise sometimes going as far to apologize to Jean and convince him he had changed, he knew his behavior had been wrong, in front of Kevin mainly. It was never more than a few raven days or hours before he was lashing out again reminding him that he was nothing, barely human in his eyes, gloating over have having tricked him, how stupid he had been. 

He wondered when his new captain would let up the ruse, he almost wanted to stop playing it safe to get it over with but he was afraid. Afraid of the pain starting again, of the punishments for his disrespect. He didn't know if he could survive going through it all again, he only survived the Nest because Renee dragged him out. He remembered that night in bits and pieces. The sickening snap of his fingers and ribs breaking. The blood bubbling out of his mouth, Riko's rage. Struggling as he was held down and tied. So certain he was going to die, that he had died and Renee was some sort of angel ready to guide him to whatever comes next. Being so fucking grateful that it was finally over. That he was finally dead. The horror of realizing he was still alive.

"Jean, Jean are you okay? Hey, take a deep breath." Jeremy sounded concerned. He forcibly wrenched himself back to the present and recoiled when he saw Jeremy's hand starting to reach towards him, bumping into the desk behind him. 

"Shit, Jean I'm sorry, I won't touch you, I swear. I… fuck I'm sorry are you okay?" Jeremy said quickly stepping back giving Jean space. 

Jean swallowed heavily "It's fine, I'm sorry" He bowed his head careful not to look Jeremy in the eye for more than a split second. Eye contact always made Riko angry, you dare look me in the eye dog, stupid bitch you should bow to your betters on your knees now!!  He took a shuddering breath forcing the memories back down. Do not think about it, do not think about him. He is dead. He is gone. 

"Jean, you have nothing to be sorry about." Jean jerked his head slightly. He had so much to be sorry for, Jeremy had no idea. He was breaking the rules left and right. He had never been able to completely get rid of the instinctive reactions of flinching away and trying to avoid pain, no matter how many times they tried to beat it out him. 

"Target?" He failed to sound as brusque as we wanted, coming out somewhere between soft and jarring in his attempt to distract Jeremy and get the concerned look off his face. He couldn't afford to let his guard down in front of Jeremy.

"Right… yeah, sure thing." Jeremy grabbed up his keys moving slower and telegraphing his movements more deliberately than he had all day. "Do you want to make a list of anything first?"

"Non, I do not need much and I know what I have."

"Okay" Jeremy shot his lone duffel a slightly dubious look.


They went to the store and Jean tried (and failed) not to jump or balk at every noise and movement in the busy store. Apparently, Saturday afternoons was a popular time to go shopping. He was unaccustomed to being around so many strangers, especially without a partner by his side, so he stuck close to Jeremy and tried to respond to his inquiries adequately. Mostly letting Jeremy make all the decisions shopping wise. His only input was on the color of his sheets "Just not black" he requested.

"Of course" Jeremy grabbed two sets of sheets, one yellow, the other light blue in a soft t-shirt like material, and tossed them into the cart. They did a couple more laps around the store grabbing things Jeremy deemed "essential" for Jean.

 He felt progressively more frayed and wound tight as time went on. Every sudden movement, shrieking child or crash of falling merchandise or carts grated on him like sandpaper. He was barely able to respond to Jeremy anymore just mindlessly following him and trying and failing not to start and jolt and every unexpected and foreign stimulus. He felt overwhelmed, there was too much going on. He was too weak. He couldn’t handle it. He kept one hand clenched onto the side of the cart afraid that he would get lost in the store, or in his own mind if he let go. 

They grabbed their final items Minions and Spongebob Kraft Mac and Cheese. Jeremy asked which of the odd yellow cartoon characters and their apparent subsequent cartoon franchises he preferred and looked like someone had kicked his puppy when Jean said he hadn't heard of either of them. After reassuring Jean that they would watch them together soon, they finally headed to the checkout.

Jean had avoided stares and questions both about his scars and those to do with the number unwillingly inked onto his face by keeping his hood up and head down during the entire shopping experience.  Unfortunately, it appeared the middle-aged cashier was a Ravens fan.

"Oh my god, your number three!" She proclaimed loudly drawing a few gazes from the public. 

He felt the panic and memories well up in him at that hated name. Number three, number three . Not now, this couldn't happen now. 

"You must be so sad about Riko," she said, reaching out and touching his arm. It took every bit of willpower to not break down and he didn't manage to fully contain his flinch. She didn't notice however and continued. "I've always been such a fan, it's so tragic what happened. It's all that Minyard and Josten's fault the both of them they should be locked up the monsters." The only monster was Riko Jean thought as she continued to scan items. Jeremy was trying to say something in the background but he couldn't hear him over the cashier and the blood rushing into his ears. 

"The Ravens were absolutely robbed. And these new rumors? People just resent success. Why the hell did you switch teams? Are you trying to copy Day and lead a new team to victory. A bit of a cheat move picking the second-ranked team if so, or can you not cut it as a Raven anymore?" She gestured to his face getting increasingly venomous and aggressive.

 "Car accident or something? Either way, it doesn't excuse your treatment of Riko. Your betrayal probably helped push him to the edge" her grip on his arm had gone from unwanted comfort to digging in trapping him, he couldn't getaway. "You belong in the Nest number three with the Ravens. Do you have anything to say for yourself?" she demanded yanking his arm slightly.

Jean barely got out a choking sound frozen trying to fight back memories and panic. 

"That's enough!" Jeremy cut in angrily shouting now "Get your hand off my teammate before I get your manager and security involved. I have tried to be polite but your behavior is uncalled for and unprofessional" The woman let go of Jean's arm abruptly and turned to Jeremy in shock.

"Well, I just--"

"No!" He cut her off, "There is no excuse. What the fuck is wrong with you? No, actually I don't give a shit, cash us out and we are leaving." 

The woman looked affronted and began to finish up the transaction "Well I never." She started looking back at Jean.

"Don't say another goddamn thing to him!" Jeremy snarled at her. He thrust the card into the chip reader and signed. "Goodbye," he snapped tossing down the stylus and grabbing the cart heading towards the exit. He held his middle finger up behind him at the cashier as he exited the store. Jean following closely.

He was hyperventilating by the time they got to the car. It was his fault. He caused a scene. His captain was angry. He would surely punish him now. He had been on the edge of a panic attack the entire time in the store, the entire day actually if he was being honest. He couldn't breathe, every short breath brought no relief to his lungs and soon he was gasping.

"Jean, Jean" he heard Jeremy faintly but it was like he was underwater. Disconnected from reality. He felt like he was drowning. He had drowned before, or near enough. Riko had gone through a rather long waterboarding phase that he never really grew out of. He remembered drowning over and over again. Being held down with a wet cloth pressed against his face having no choice but to breath it in. He was being flung down concrete stairs into darkness. He remembered being handcuffed to a bed begging Riko not to do this, not again, pleading to Kevin to stop them. “No, please no!”

"Jean ecoute á moi" Jean listen to me, Jeremy said in questionable French. He latched onto his mother tongue like a life raft.

Jeremy continued in French "Jean you are having a panic attack, you are in LA. You are safe. You are with me Jeremy.. You are safe. Riko is dead. You are a Trojan. You are outside the sun is shining. Can you feel the sun Jean?" He was shaking trying to listen to Jeremy but it didn't seem real. 

"Can I touch you Jean?" Jeremy asked hands held up and in Jeans line of sight. He balked away sure he would be hit until he could snap out of whatever state he was in. 

"I won't if you don't want me to. You can touch me too if you like." He couldn't remember the last time someone had asked before touching him. He wasn't sure if contact would help or make it worse but, he reached out flailing grabbed Jeremy's hand desperately. Jeremy guided his head between his knees and kept talking to him in French soothingly. He didn't touch him anywhere but his hand where he was rubbing soft circles with his thumb.

"Take a deep breath Jean hold it for four seconds. One, two, three, four. Now let it out for five seconds. One, two, three, four, five. That's it now in for six." He kept helping Jean breathe counting each breath making them slower each time until the reached ten. Then he went back down and back up again over and over until Jean's breathing had regulated and his panic dispersed.

"I'm sorry" He rasped out as soon as he was able. 

"It's no problem and you have nothing to be sorry for Jean, it happens and she was way out of line." 

He realised he was clutching Jeremy's hand and sitting on the ground of the parking lot leaned up against the tires of Jeremy's astonishingly shitty car. He felt like laughing or crying he wasn't sure which, how had this happened. Why wasn't he being punished for showing weakness? Even the nicest of Ravens might have ripped him to shreds over this or at best turned a blind eye like Kevin and Thea. They wouldn't have held his hand and helped him calm down when he was falling apart as Jeremy had. 

"How?" He asked switching back to English his voice felt horse.

"I have panic attacks too. I have anxiety, depression and ADHD my therapist taught me some techniques. I am glad they helped you the same things don't work for everybody." Jean was astonished by Jeremy's openness. A Raven would never have revealed weakness like that. He let go of Jeremy's hand.

"And the French?"

"I started taking it right away in middle school and have kept up with it. I'm pretty much fluent by now but my grammar can still leave something to be desired. I even did a study abroad program over summer in high school. If you would prefer we can speak in French."

Jean was stunned he had only ever been able to speak French with Kevin and Neil however briefly. Riko hadn't understood it and would punish him viciously if he ever caught him speaking it. He had hated his accent to and tried to force it out of Jean through violence but he stubbornly held on to his language and accent even after all these years. He made it a safe place and a source of solace.

"I…" he stopped before completing his sentence. This all could be fake anyway, even if Jeremy was sincere, his coach and the rest of his teammates couldn't be like that. Goodness and kindness couldn't exist like Jeremy on the slim chance, he was real he had to be singular. He couldn't let himself trust Jeremy but he felt his resolve weaken slightly. At the very least he probably wasn't as bad as Riko.

You fool a voice in his head said when he turns out like all the rest of this goddamn world it will just hurt you more. You cannot trust him. 

"Let's get you back home, you could use some rest, even if you don't think you need it. We can worry about coach, court and all that shit tomorrow" Jeremy got up offering Jean his hand to help him to his feet despite the over half a foot Jean had on Jeremy he still helped to pull him up.

Jean hated himself for wanting Jeremy to be real, for hoping. It doesn't change anything he told himself harshly. He must have only helped because panic attacks would make him a liability, and ineffective on the court. He was surprised that Jeremy was insisting on waiting to visit court, however. 

He got into the car and proceeded to spend the entire trip back gazing out the window in silence. Jeremy didn't ask why he had a panic attack, or push him to talk about it. He just put on some music and glanced at him occasionally out of the corner of his eye.


He felt exhausted and wrung out but silently helped Jeremy unload the car and carry everything back. Jean declined Jeremy’s offer to help set up his bed and the rest of his things. It would be the first time he had gotten to choose how his own space looked, at the Nest everything had to be uniform. Here he didn’t have to adhere to those rules, not yet at least. He put the soft yellow sheets on his bed and reached for the pillows to put on next. He stared at the large assortment of pillows Jeremy had brought back to the dorm

Why are there so many pillows? He wondered It was practically a mountain, he thought there might be at least a dozen pillows.

As if he had been reading Jean's thoughts, he heard Jeremy call out brightly from the kitchen "I didn’t know your pillow preference so I just grabbed a lot and we can always build a fort later. There is no such thing as too many pillows. Also is mac and cheese good for you for tonight?”

Jean felt even more confused by this response, why the hell would they build a fort? What did he mean by pillow preference, pillows were pillows. “I haven’t had mac and cheese before, but that sounds fine,” he responded to the only part of Jeremy’s answer that made any sense. 

“Sounds good” Jeremy hummed back, “I should warn you, I am not a great cook, so I totally won’t be offended if whatever ends up being the result is completely inedible”

Jean nodded his head and went to the living room unsure of what to do, he couldn’t figure out what was expected of him and Jeremy had been frustratingly baffling all day. Hopefully tomorrow he would figure out what his role was to be.

In the end, Jeremy’s Mac and Cheese was, Jean supposed technically edible. He couldn’t understand the appeal of something so artificial and processed, that wouldn’t be balanced nutrition and calorie-wise. 

“What is your favorite food anyway?”

Jean just shrugged, he did not have the luxury of preferences in the Nest and did not expect that he would have one here.

“What about favorite ice cream or candy?” Jeremy persisted.

He looked at Jeremy blankly when the eager expression didn’t leave his face he responded. “I have not had any ice cream or sweets since I came to America, I do not know.”

“Nothing at all?” 

“Ravens stick to diet plans.” It was the truth every meal was chosen for its nutritional and caloric content necessary to succeed at Exy. Food, when he got it, in the Nest was bland and plain, eating was something done because it was necessary fuel to survive, and play. It was not meant to be enjoyed.

“Well you are a Trojan now and we are athletes it’s not like we have to be too worried about calories, or anything we can just burn it off at the gym or practice. You can eat whatever you want pretty much.” 

Jean wondered if Jeremy was telling the truth. The idea of being able to have preferences and make choices was equally thrilling and terrifying. It hadn’t been an option at all his entire life. He looked back down at his plate and finished almost everything on his plate without really tasting it, unsure if he would be able to eat again soon. Or if the entire day had been a fluke or some kind of messed up dream. 

His eyes felt heavy and he was exhausted, he wanted to sleep but it was barely 8:00. His mind and body were still on Raven time and he felt himself struggle to stay alert.

“You can go to sleep if you want.” Jeremy offered looking at him intently, no doubt seeing the weakness in his face. “You’ve had a long day I would have dropped hours ago” he added.

Jean felt his gut clench in apprehension and fear, he knew he had no choice, he had to sleep eventually. But the idea of falling asleep in the same room as another man terrified him. He hated the idea of being vulnerable. Jeremy could do anything to him while he slept. He was reasonably sure the exhaustion he was feeling was natural, not the result of Jeremy slipping drugs into his food, as Riko or another Raven might have so they could do what they wanted to his body without a fight. His eyes darted around suddenly feeling trapped. 

“...Or you could do something else. I’m probably going to start heading to bed though” Jeremy had that concerned look on his face again as he took away the dishes and started washing them. Jean nodded and got to his feet and headed for the bathroom to shower and change immeasurably grateful that there was a strong lock on the bathroom door. 

By the time he got out Jeremy had finished the dishes and was in worn-looking pajamas sitting on his bed looking at his phone. He flashed a quick smile at him before heading to the bathroom himself.

Jean attempted to get settled in his own bed. The sheets and pillows were softer than he was used to and were incredibly comfortable. Jeremy came back in and threw himself on his own bed which was covered in pillows and had quite a few stuffed animals. 

“Night” he muttered before burying himself under a mountain of pillows and blankets, tucking one of the stuffed animals under his arm and closing his eyes. He stared again shocked. Jeremy Knox captain of the USC Trojans, four-time Spirit Award winner, subject of Kevin’s long term fanboying and Jean’s new keeper slept with a stuffed animal. More than one in fact Jean realized as he looked back again at Jeremy’s relaxed face. At least one of the pillows seemed to be both toy and pillow with a lions face attached to one end, a tail at the other and some kind of fabric strip attached to one side. 

He felt at least marginally less threatened by Jeremy when he could see him sleeping, drooling slightly while clutching a stuffed animal and wrapped in brightly colored blankets. He tried to get comfortable once again keeping his back against the wall. He wondered what would happen tomorrow, before falling into an uneasy sleep.

 

________

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

Jeremy

Jeremy woke up to pee sometime in the middle of the night. Half awake and stumbling back into bed from the bathroom, he glanced over at Jeans bed. He thought he had managed not to wake him up. Jean remained absolutely still and Jeremy let out a sigh of relief before checking his phone. It was just after 10:00. He sighed and tried to fall back asleep but his mind kept returning to Jean.

Jean had had the same look in his eye as a frightened and cornered animal all day. He was reminded of going to the animal shelter as a teenager to pick out a dog. The shelter staff had to corner the dog in the kennel to get a leash on it before bringing it outside to the dog runs. The dog spent the entire time in the corner with its tail between its legs whimpering. It pinned its ears back and bared its teeth at anyone who approached it. But it was the look of absolute fear in the dog's eyes when it was trapped with people and the flat blankness when it was alone in the kennel that Jeremy remembered. His parents thought that it was too risky bringing home a dog that might lash out at his younger siblings, and may never be friendly or affectionate towards humans. His siblings had wanted to get one of the cute puppies that were also at the shelter but he begged and pleaded with his parents until they agreed that they could get both dogs. But, he would be solely responsible for the older dog, and it would stay outside in the barn until it was comfortable around humans. They also warned him if it ever bit anyone it would go back to the shelter. It took him a long time but eventually, Sandor was even more of a sweetheart than her adopted brother, his sibling's puppy, Clegane.

He fucking missed his dogs. They were awesome.

 He hoped Jean would be able to undergo a similar transformation if he was given space, love and kindness. He doubted Jean would appreciate the comparison to his dog no matter how beloved she was and was silently grateful he hadn't had those rambling thoughts in the daytime when he probably would have blurted something out to Jean offending him terribly. 

He was concerned though, about Jean. He was clearly struggling and distrustful of everyone around him. Jeremy couldn’t blame Jean for being so terrified, the Nest seemed like it had been some sort of a terrible nightmare. Jean probably had some kind of PTSD and tons of unresolved and untreated trauma from his time there. It was a miracle that Jean had survived it at all. 

He had never liked Riko to begin with but it was becoming clear now that he had been a terrible person. Jeremy felt slightly guilty about not feeling bad that he was dead, but that wasn’t his or Jean’s fault and the world was probably a better place without him. 

He thought about Jean’s panic attack in the parking lot and what caused it. He felt rage start to bubble up at the memory of the rude cashier. How stupid could people be? Every word she said had seemed to cut into Jean like it was a knife, and eventually, he had just snapped. How dare she have touched him and said those things. He knew there was a good chance that someone had recorded his whole outburst and posted it on youtube. But he was more than prepared for a dressing down from coach, he would take any bad publicity that came from his actions without hesitation. It would be worth it. If anything, he wished he had been harsher and louder sooner, as his first attempts at intervention went ignored. The look on Jean’s face and the way he had flinched when she called him number three was etched in his mind. It was clear that every word had been like a blow to Jean. He resolved to make a point of always calling Jean by his name, and never to call him by his last name or a jersey number. 

He wondered what it would take to get Jean to agree to go see a therapist. He knew therapy, as helpful as it was for him, wasn’t for everybody. All the same, Jean could certainly use the help as evidenced by his jumpiness and panic attacks. He had seemed on the verge of a breakdown all day. 

He checked his phone again, he had a ton of unread messages from Laila and Alvarez asking about Jean. He plugged his phone back in and resolved to respond in the morning. He grabbed his stuffed lion Cuddles and made himself fall back asleep.


By the time Jeremy awoke for the second time Jean was already out of bed. He checked the time again it was before 6:00, it was too goddamned early to think let alone be awake. He blurly stumbled into the living room to find Jean doing pushups in front of the couch in sweatpants and a tight long-sleeved t-shirt.

Oh, shit, oh fuck, oh no, he’s hot, he thought as his brain stopped and his jaw dropped.  He was doing one-handed push-ups at an alarming speed making the muscles in his arms and back jump and shift under the thin shirt. Pull yourself together Jere he thought and forced himself to look away. 

“Isn’t it early for exercise?” he asked internally wincing when his voice came out squeaky and rough. 

Jean was on his feet put the coffee table between them so fast Jeremy almost got whiplash just from watching. “Sorry” Jean muttered looking at the ground.

He took a step back to give him space as Jean watched warily. “How long have you been up anyway”

“Couple of hours” Jean replied.

“Shit really? I’d ask if you slept okay but I guess not. Can I do anything to help?

“I’ll get used to it” Jean replied tight-lipped, “I apologize if I disturbed you.”

“Nah, you’re good,” Jeremy yawned, “Got to get used to getting up early for practice anyway. Honestly, though I can sleep through pretty much anything, and I tend to sleep in late if given the choice. You’re definitely gonna have to throw a pillow at my head or something one of these days to get me up, otherwise, I will sleep literally all day and miss practice. Last year my old roommate poured a bucket of water over my head once.”

Jean had paled considerably and looked down "What happened to him?" 

"Brian? He got signed to the St. Louis Cardinals as an offensive dealer sub" 

"But how was he punished?" Jean whispered looking ill. 

Jeremy responded without thinking about the implications of Jean's words. "He wasn't, it was just a joke. Alvarez filmed it. It's basically five minutes of me soaked and sputtering while half the team chases me with water guns and Brian eventually laughed so hard he fell over and spilled water on himself. Alvarez will show you if you want it's one of her favorite videos."

Jean just looked more horrified, "They hurt you ?"

"Wait, Jean no, no, no one is being hurt. It was just a prank. Just a bit of fun. I'm fine it was just a bit of water."

Jean looked panicked "I…" he cut himself off fidgeting with the hem of his t-shirt.

"What is it? It's okay."

"Riko waterboarded me." Jean blurted out. "Sometimes he started when I was asleep. I can't…" Jean cut himself off abruptly and looked back down at the ground.

Jeremy felt like he'd been slapped, he felt all the blood drain out of his face. That was torture, like actual legit torture, and he was pretty sure it was considered a war crime. At first, he couldn't see the connection between what he said to Jean's confession they were so vastly different things. Oh fuck, he thought when he realized.

"Jean," his voice broke a little, "those aren't the same things at all. I promise no one will even splash you with water here I won't let them. I, fuck Jean, I'm so sorry. You didn't deserve that. Why would he even do that to you?"

"The first time he saw it on the news and wanted to see if it was really as bad as they made it seem. All the times after that was because it was. It was fun for him" Jean's eyes were flat and dull. Jeremy couldn't even begin to imagine going through that, and whatever else Riko had subjected him too. Having to live with that kind of monster. 

He ached to hold Jean and give him some sort of comfort but he doubted it would be welcome. Jean looked uncomfortable enough with his confession like he was on the verge of fleeing. He guessed that Jean was waiting for him to turn into a monster like Riko and hurt him. He swore to himself to never give Jean any reason to suspect they were alike to never raise his voice at Jean if he could help it. 

"I'll make us breakfast," he offered softly slipping back on his familiar smiling mask, "I'll try to make crepes but they will probably turn out more like pancakes, so I apologize in advance"

He turned into the kitchen and started pulling out ingredients and looked up a recipe on his phone. He felt Jean's gaze on him from across the room. 

"Oh," he suddenly remembered, "Cartoons, wait right there." He rushed around the room searching for the remote before finding it wedged into the couch cushions and he turned on the TV. Flipping to Nickelodeon he found an episode of Spongebob. 

"This is Spongebob" he informed Jean proudly, "we ate him in the mac 'n' cheese last night. Sit, watch it if you want it's funny. I'll make breakfast."

He rushed back into the kitchen to finish cooking.


After breakfast, Jean insisted they go to the court. Well insisted was maybe too strong of a word more like responded only with "court" when asked what they should do today. Jeremy agreed it would be a good thing for Jean to get a tour of the stadium even if there wouldn't be anyone there. 

He popped into the bathroom for a quick shower and checked his phone. There was a slew of unread messages from Laila and Alvarez.

Alvarez: Cap

  yo cap.

Laila: Jere. 

Alvarez: how did it go with Frenchie?

Why aren't you answering

J

E

R

E

M

Y

Laila: please message Sarah back they're going to be sad

Do you hate us now :'(

Alvarez: Respond Birch

Hoe

Bitch how

*now

I will post one of the literally dozens of videos I have of you being an absolute fool on YouTube

I have blackmail for years

I am a powerful all knowing Lesbian and you will obey me

Jeremy: Jesus okay I was fucking busy half of those were in the middle of the

night

Alvarez: my powers are infinite and godlike

Jeremy: yes we know you are the queen of all gays

Alvarez: damn fucking right

So???

How did it go????

With frenchie

Jeremy bit his lip before deciding how to respond. He went with honesty without giving away any of Jean's confidences or revealing his suspicions about his trauma.

Jeremy: I'm pretty sure he thinks I'm insane

Laila: Well you kinda are, and he was bound to find out eventually

Jeremy: *gasp* such betrayal from my very own vice captain.

Alvarez: why dear jerbear does he know you are insane

Jeremy: well I uh

I kinda may have kinda you know accidentally

Alvarez: just spill

Jeremy: I compared his eyes to a goddess's and almost got us into an accident

twice because I was staring at him and tried to convince him I was a

good driver by listing all the cases were I was a bad driver .

This was all within probably 10 minutes of meeting him. 

It was def some of the first things I said

Laila: oh honey

Jeremy: he's a celebrity in my defense

I have word vomit syndrome. You know this

 Also I'm surprised Sarah isn't absolutely destroying me right now

Laila: oh no they will 

as soon as they can stop laughing so hard

I think you broke them they're on the floor

So… he's hot then?

Jeremy: yeah he's hot. 

He was doing push-ups this morning when I woke up and I almost fell over

Alvarez: you absolute fucking disaster bi. I cannot fucking believe you im dying

Why did we ever think you were distinguished

Jeremy: shut up

I gtg he wants to go to the court and stuff

Alvarez: go get him loverboy 

Jeremy: it's not like that i’m his captain and his roommate 

Laila: omg and they were roommates 😲

Jeremy: traitor

He exited the bathroom putting his phone back onto silent. 

"Ready?" He asked Jean

Jean got up and started to follow him out the door. It was a bit of a drive to court but it was pretty quick because all the other students were off-campus for the summer break.

They pulled up to the large red and gold stadium. "Alright, here we are. We'll be spending a lot of time here as soon as practice starts back up."

Jean nodded and followed him in, and he started to give him the tour explaining door codes and schedules. Jean seemed even on edge than usual and didn't respond beyond nods and affirmative grunts. Jeremy tried to refrain from any sudden movements as they seemed to consistently result in Jean cringing away from him. He also learned quickly to let the doors shut slowly not to just let it drop. The first door into the stadium he’d just let bang closed, resulting in Jean recoiling away from the noise to press against the wall where he squeezed his eyes shut breathing heavy before he managed to get his breath under control.

"So the locker room is in here, we haven't assigned you a number yet, I thought you might want to pick that yourself, we don't have three available right now obviously that's Alvarez and she won't trade you it's her lucky number. Don't ask her about why though, unless you want a very graphic and X rated story that will prevent you from looking at all those involved in the eye for at least a week." 

"She's welcome to it, I never wanted it," Jean said absentmindedly touching the stark black ink tattooed on his face.

He wondered if Jean had even had a choice in getting that tattoo and realized with a sickening feeling in his stomach that he probably didn't. 

"Well you get to choose whatever number you want now," He forced optimism and cheer into his voice struggling to keep his smile from slipping. Jean jumped at every shadow and flinched every time Jeremy spoke or moved. "If it's already taken you might be able to get someone to trade with you. Not everyone is as attached as Sarah is to --"

"29" Jean interjected quickly, then his face paled, eyes wide and fearful, undoubtedly expectant of some sort of violent reprisal for his interruption. He wondered why 29? If it was random or had meaning to him. 

He plastered on an encouraging grin "Sounds great" Shooting of a text to coach to let him know so he could order jerseys. 

He was trying so hard to keep smiling and positive but it was becoming increasingly difficult. Everything he did or said seemed to make it worse. Every movement or word brought fear and tense anticipation to Jean's face. He wondered if he was even the right person to help Jean at all. He needed and deserved someone better than Jeremy. He couldn't even manage his own problems half the time. He would completely fallen apart several times over if it were not for his friends. He knew objectively that he was a good person, that everyone struggled, and he could help Jean. His own struggles and management strategies might even help him, help him. He knew it and wanted help Jean so badly, and wanted to be someone he could trust and lean on. But he couldn't silence that little voice in his head telling him that he wasn't good enough, wasn't worthy of Jean's trust, wasn't good enough to be captain, that he didn't deserve the respect he was given by the world and other players including his own team. Stop it he told himself firmly you are, you are good enough for all of that. That's anxiety and depression talking. 

He suddenly remembered he had forgotten to get a refill of his medication due to all the stress of finals and had run out at the beginning of the week. At least he had made it through finals though. He'd call Walgreens latter and order a refill and could pick up a script if he needed on Monday. He quickly punched in an alarm to go off later to remind him.

"So any questions?" He asked pasting a bright 'Welcome to the Trojans' smile on his face that he gave to new freshmen.

"Where is the equipment to use today?" Jean asked as he looked around the empty locker room

"Oh no, we can't practice today. I mean it's Saturday first off. It's also summer break and Coach is on vacation for the next week. Plus you need to get cleared by him and more importantly Nurse Jared before you can even pick up a racket, let alone set foot on the court. He is also off technically, but will probably be willing to do your physical this week before Coach is back or after you meet with him next week. Whatever you prefer, can't actually play until you've done both, they made me promise."

A brief look of relief passed over his face to his surprise. It was soon replaced by one of confusion. "Then why -- what am I supposed to do?" Jean looked lost and uncertain.

"Whatever you want? It's your time." 

Fear flickered across Jeans features before his face went eerily blank. "I only want to prove my worth on the court, and be a valuable asset for the Trojans." He said without any emotion or inflection.

"Um okay? I mean we all already know you're great Jean. Your one of, if not the best backliner in the world, let alone in the NCAA, you have nothing to worry about."

Jean nodded stiffly,  keeping his eyes down. "I will do everything in my power to honor the Trojans and prove worthy of your faith."

It was bizarre really his entire body language and tone felt more appropriate for a knight playing service to a fearsome lord or king rather than talking about exy.

"Uh alright, thanks? I guess… I mean it's just a game anyway don't let it stress you out." 

He caught a brief glimpse at Jean's face scrunched incredulously at the words "it's just a game" before he bowed his head again.

Jean stayed silent for the rest of the tour and Jeremy drove them back to the dorm. He fixed up a lunch for them and they ate it in silence eventually turning the TV on in the background.

After lunch, he ordered refills for his prescriptions and got ready to pick it up. He invited Jean along expecting him to say no, especially after yesterday's shopping debacle and stay in the rooms. He was surprised when he quickly got up and decided to come with. It was clear the entire time that they were out Jean remained nervous and on edge. He only responded to direct questions and even then kept his answers to one or two words and remained deferential. He wondered why Jean had decided to come at all when he remembered Kevin's sole advice. In the nest we always had partners, we were always paired up we never were alone. He won't be able to be by himself. After I first got out I couldn't go anywhere by myself or be left alone for without having a panic attack. It will be worse for Jean. Stay with him when you can and… and try to help him. He's gone through…  to much shit.

He felt a lump in his throat, he hated the idea that Jean was only near him because the alternative was worse. Especially given the obvious distress Jean felt around him, how bad must being alone be for him then? 


The next few days passed in the same manner. Jean was a constant looming shadow hovering around Jeremy. They kept mostly to the dorm only going out to work out at the gym, something Jean insisted on. He remained mostly quiet and subdued. He never voiced his own opinion or asked for anything, letting Jeremy make all the choices and decisions no matter how hard he tried to let Jean choose. Any emotion he saw from Jean was fear, though he occasionally let slip moments of frustration or anger, before quickly reneging on them and returning to deferential. 

Despite Jean's haggard appearance and the dark circles under his eyes, he was always awake before Jeremy and never asleep before him. He couldn't help but wonder if Jean was sleeping at all. He only saw him asleep the few times he woke up in the middle of the night, during which Jean would be tossing and turning or whimpering in his sleep. He doubted that his nightmares were allowed him from getting any real rest, but he didn't know how to help him. Worse yet was the way he struggled to repress tensing and jumping at unexpected noises and movement. He was startled to realize he wanted to kill Riko all over again every time that Jean cringed away from him. 

He recognized the signs of abuse in Jean's behavior. It was the same as the ones he had seen in himself and others only magnified. He guessed that Jean probably had PTSD from everything he had gone through.

Deep down Jeremy knew he only knew the very top of the iceberg of all the trauma that Riko and other Ravens had put him through. Even that was too much, he had been starved, deprived of sleep, waterboarded and whatever torture he that had left him bruised and scarred still with stitches in over a month after leaving the Nest for good. Any and all respect he may have had for Riko, Tetsuji and am the Ravens who must have just stood by and let Jean be destroyed had vanished. All that was left was the unfamiliar burning desire to punch those still living in the face and spit on Riko's grave.

After locking himself in the bathroom to give himself a minute he looked in the bathroom mirror and saw his own slightly weary reflection. Jean needed someone better than him, more qualified. It wasn't that he didn’t want to, he did want to, badly. It was just, he was screwing it up he had to be. Jean seemed worse if anything, he knew he had been having more panic attacks and episodes that he was hiding. The dull lifeless or red-rimmed eyes after leaving the bathroom for an extended amount of time pointed to that. He didn’t know what to do. 

Why wasn’t he good enough for this? Why couldn’t he handle it? Why did he think he would be good enough. Why would Jean even want to be around someone like him? He was pretty sure Jean must hate him. Jean was tall, handsome and amazing in addition to being a fantastic player, of course, he didn't want to be around Jeremy. Who would? Of course, he didn't like him, he was too chatty said things without thinking and was too weird and needy.

His chest felt tight like he was being squeezed and he panted for breath in the bathroom leaning against the sink and looking at himself in the mirror. Not enough, never enough. Who would want you? Jessica didn't, Rick didn't. Not good enough for anybody. So stupid. 

He quickly spiraled downwards quickly, his mind chanting things like stupid, not good enough, idiot. Useless, pathetic, weak. He grabbed a fistful of his hair and tried to regulate his breathing the way his therapist had taught him. In and out. In and out. 

Gradually he began to get himself back under control. He could do this. He could help, he knew he could. He was determined and wouldn’t back down now.

 


On Wednesday night, six days after he had picked Jean up from the airport he was on the phone with Alvarez catching up and making plans for Laila and her to come back to LA a week or two before practice started up again to go to Pride together.

"Sooo… where's Frenchie?" She asked.

"He's in the bathroom, taking a shower now."

"Is he like super fucked up and stuff?" 

"What do you mean by that?" Jeremy asked his voice gone cold.

"Like there were all these rumors you know?" Alvarez continued not picking up on the icy tone of his voice. "All the hazing and shit that apparently went down in the nest? And his supposed injury? Some people are saying he switched teams because the Ravens messed with him and it fucked his head and he couldn't handle the pressure and cracked. Coach and you have been super secretive about the whole thing. Can he even still play? Is he like all there? Come on spill, you got to know something now it's been almost a week."

Jeremy felt anger well up, hot and deep. "How dare you? What the fuck is wrong with you?" He struggled to bring his voice down from yelling to a furious hiss not wanting Jean to overhear. "Speculating about your teammate like that. Listening to rumors and talking about people behind their backs without even meeting them. I didn't know you could be such a callous bitch Sarah, I expected better from you."

There was silence from the other end of the line for a minute and Jeremy tried to catch his breath "Oh shit, that bad huh?" Alvarez said softly, the amused and gossipy tone gone from her voice, replaced with something quiet and somber.

"Yeah," Jeremy sighed the fight draining from him and he was just left feeling tired.

"Fuck, I'm sorry Jer. I didn't mean it like that. I thought it was all bullshit you know? Like when the press was convinced we were having a torrid love affair."

"I'm sorry for calling you a bitch." He muttered back.

She laughed "Good you should be. I've never heard you say that seriously before. And I know how you get when you're protective. Besides I'm not offended. So it's not going great then? Rumors kind of true."

"I won't betray his trust by saying anything, " He told her firmly.

"I know you won't, but is there anything we should do or be aware of when we come down? And how are you doing with all of this, you can't burn yourself out and sacrifice your own mental health."

Jeremy let his shoulders sag and dropping to the couch. He paused for a second checking to see if he could still hear the shower running. "It's bad Sarah. And I barely know any of it and what I do know… Those rumors? They don't even come close."

He put his head in his hands and took a deep breath his throat feeling tight. "He's afraid of me Sarah. And I… I don't know what to do. I don't know how to help him. Jean probably hates me too. I'm just making everything worse." 

Sarah remained silent on the other end of the line. He sniffed and rubbed at his eyes aggressively. "What do I do?" He choked out.

"Oh, Jere… you aren't making things worse. And I doubt he hates you. I know you, Jeremy, you are exceedingly difficult to hate." 

"Thanks," he told her still sniffling.

"Just do what you do best Jeremy, show him kindness and patience. Give him space if he needs it I guess. I don't know what to tell you, you've always been better with people than me. I'm used to you giving me the advice. I'm sure he'll come around, no one can resist that patented Jeremy Knox cheer for too long." She reassured him.

"Yeah, thanks." He said absentmindedly. "Hey I gotta go I'll see you in a few weeks for pride yeah?" He said ending the call after he realized the shower had turned off. Wiping at his nose and eyes frantically

A few minutes later Jean came out of the shower and Jeremy did his best to offer him a bright smile. He didn't think he quite pulled it off because Jean gave him an odd look, before turning to go into the bedroom. Jeremy let the smile slip from his face and he stared at the slightly stained carpet.

"Are you alright?" Jean asked having stopped before going into the bedroom after all. "You're sad, what's wrong?"

Jeremy's head snapped back towards Jean, it was the first time he had said something to him unprompted. He felt his smile become a bit more genuine at Jean initiating conversation and saying the most he had said since Saturday when they visited the stadium.

"It'll be alright." He said, and he thought maybe it would be.

______

Chapter Text

 

His own reflection looked haggard, haunted, hollow. Was he even a person anymore or just the hollow shell of one? Jean didn’t know. Everything was so different here, he thought stepping into the shower. 

Jeremy Knox was confusing. It had been six days and he had yet to raise a hand, or even his voice to Jean. Not even once. In his entire life, even before the Nest, he couldn't remember ever going that long without being hit and/or screamed at. He had assumed, had known, that his brief stay at the Nurse's house was as much of a respite that he would ever get. 

He could not understand the events of the past week. He hadn't even been playing Exy. He had been expecting to get shoved on the court to prove himself the second he had landed. His captain had not been on the court either during that time. He had thought the past week had been a test, and he had done everything he knew to be well behaved, so the Trojans would keep him. He refrained from violently lashing out when he felt the need to protect himself, but Jeremy still didn't make sense. Maybe they were waiting for the Coach to arrive, maybe Jeremy wasn't going to be the one testing and punishing him. It would probably be the Coach then, he reasoned, and the rest of the Trojans team. It was a bit like that with the Ravens, before Riko had been old enough to officially take on his role as captain. They had been a bloodthirsty bunch, ripping apart any fresh meat and breaking them in; molding them to be Ravens, them, Tetsuji's cane and Riko's whims.

Still he could not wrap his head around Jeremy, it was infuriating. He had been nothing but kind smiles and gentle words. He always offered Jean a choice, he knew it couldn't be a real choice, but still, he couldn't help but appreciate it. People had rarely bothered with that in the Nest, offering him the courtesy of pretending he had any free will of his own. 

He'd also been fed, Jeremy had never kept food from him or taken it away. Telling him he was too fat, that he didn't deserve it, that he hadn't earned it. He even offered to supply snacks and extra things in the dorm for him. While Jean was careful to leave all the choices up to Jeremy, and not indicate a preference, he had noticed that things he preferred where being cooked or ordered again; or Jeremy suggested and got things with similar flavors. It had been like Jeremy had been paying attention.

He'd been allowed to sleep undisturbed. That first night when Jeremy had gotten out of bed, he had been so sure that Jeremy was going to climb into his bed and hurt him. That he would take what had been taken from Jean too many times before. But he hadn't even touched him. He hadn't forced him down to his knees or on to his stomach and…

 He harshly cut off his train of thought and scrubbed his skin harder to get rid of the phantom hands burning into his skin. He closed his eyes tried to slow his breathing the way Jeremy had showed him in the Target parking lot. He squeezed more of the pleasant smelling soap on the loofa Jeremy had gotten for him and shoved the memories back down where they belonged. 

He could hear Jeremy talking animatedly on the phone to his friend, something about a parade, and went back to his compilation of reasons why Jeremy Knox made no sense that had been running through his head almost on a loop. 

He didn't touch him, not at all. The only times they had had any physical contact had been the handshake at the airport and when Jean had held his hand when he had had a panic attack in the parking lot. It was the only one that he had in front of Jeremy so far. The others, panic attacks and flashbacks, he was able to hide, mostly. He'd kept his promise from that first day. He gave Jean plenty of physical space. Always telegraphing his movements carefully instead of jumping about, like he had that first day.

Jeremy didn't get mad or punish him for his unresponsiveness, he either filled the silence with his own chatter, music or the television or just let them sit in slightly awkward silence. He didn't push him to talk. He had seemed horrified by the few details, Jean had let slip about his past and life at the Nest. He had looked like he was going to cry after Jean had mentioned the waterboarding. He hadn't pushed him to talk like nurse Abby, and some of the foxes would have but he had found himself telling him anyway.

The conversation before his revelation had been odd too, he apparently hadn't punished his former roommate for pouring water on him. He had laughed it off like it was a joke, and didn't seem bothered at all by the lack of respect his teammates had shown him, if anything he had enjoyed it, said it was fun. Jean remembered that horrifying second where he had thought that the Trojans had been hurting Jeremy, like Riko had hurt him. That Jeremy was the sole spot of light in a team just like the Ravens, and those team members were trying to extinguish it. That sudden bone-deep need to protect Jeremy, to protect something so kind and good, had shaken him to his core. He knew better than that, he couldn’t look out for anyone but himself, it was the only way to survive. But Jeremy seemed to be his partner here, so maybe it made sense. It hadn’t felt the same though.

Jeremy let him listen to music and watch television, things other than Exy. It was something that had never been allowed before, and Jean couldn't help but be fascinated by it. He'd even tried to encourage Jean to pick things, and when Jean wouldn't had put on movies and things Jean had never seen but Jeremy assured him were classic must sees, that were light hearted and funny.

Jeremy had taken to making Jean tea every night and coffee in the morning. He had been suspicious at first thinking it might be drugged but it hadn't been. The tea was warm, slightly sweet but not overly so and relaxing with honey and milk. It was called chamomile tea and, Jeremy had said he drink it most nights to help him sleep. The coffee was good too, and helped him to wake up after a sleepless night.

He always called him by his name Jean. He pronounced right too, for an American, not like John or Gene. He never called him number three or by his new number 29 or even by his position and rank on his team. Hadn’t even just shouted his last name at him. He didn't call him cruel names like Riko had.

Jeremy's side of the room was cluttered and filled with posters pillows and stuffed animals, but he was careful not to leave a mess on Jean's side, or take part of it over, because "that's your space, Jean." He slept with stuffed animals for crying out loud, which as much as it boggled Jean's mind at first after a week of doing nothing but observe Jeremy, it made perfect sense.

Everything about him was the polar opposite of what Riko had been. His eyes were brown but kind, warm like chocolate, honey and chestnuts, whereas Rikos had been dark almost black, cold and cruel. He smiled all the time, but he had different kinds of smiles. The real ones that made his eyes shine and caused creases at the corners of his eyes and dimples to appear. He had softer sadder smiles, and smiles that seemed forced or fake that couldn't quite reach his eyes. It was like a mask sometimes, like he was just pretending to be happy, with a smile on his face and sad eyes. It made Jean's gut clench for some reason, he preferred the real smiles on Jeremy's face. Jeremy had been so open too, telling Jean about his depression and anxiety and how he saw a therapist. It made Jean wonder more about the fake and sad smiles, but wouldn't dare ask. 

Jeremy seemed to good to be true, how could something so soft and bright exist without being crushed. He was like the sun, Jean thought. He couldn't be real, everything Jean's life had ever taught him told him that things like Jeremy Knox were impossible. Every last thing about him was contrary to everything that had ever come before him. 

"Nothing gold can stay" he had read once in one of Kevin's books. Gold was a particularly apt description of Jeremy Knox. It couldn't last, Jeremy had to change, to turn, after meeting with coach or his teammates he would realise the truth, that Jean Moreau was nothing but property, a dog to be kicked. It might finally kill Jean, but it would happen, it had to. If it didn't and Jeremy was real it would be almost worse, how would he ever be able to reconcile a world where things like Jeremy Knox could exist, with the one he had barely survived. 

He reached to shut the water off when he heard Jeremy yelling in the other room and his blood turned to ice. It was happening, this was the moment he had been dreading, the one he had been so stupid to think, to hope he might be spared. He squeezed his eyes shut and pressed himself into the corner slipping slightly on the still running water, he was too vulnerable, he didn't even any clothes on. 

"What the fuck is wrong with you?" Jean flinched curling into himself on the floor of the shower, he would come in, any second now and hurt him, it was all his fault. He hadn’t deserved Jeremy’s kindness.

 "Speculating about your teammate like that.” Jeremy’s voice had lowered to a furious hiss. He had wondered about his teammate and specific ones, but he hadn’t said anything how had he known?

“Listening to rumors and talking about people behind their backs without even meeting them.” Wait he hadn’t done that, at least not the talking behind people’s backs part. 

“I didn't know you could be such a callous bitch Sarah, I expected better from you.” His eyes widened, Jeremy wasn’t talking to him at all, he was still on the phone with his friend Alvarez.

He strained his ears to hear more. Stepping out of the shower spray so he could hear better. He knew he shouldn’t listen in but he was curious, Sarah Alvarez, from all of Jeremy’s chatter, was his best friend, what could have made him so furious with her? Enough to make him yell, the only other time he had heard Jeremy raise his voice was at the cashier at Target. 

There was a short pause, presumably where Alvarez responded but he couldn’t hear. “Yeah," Jeremy sounded utterly defeated and exhausted.

There was a longer pause and then "I'm sorry for calling you a bitch." Jeremy didn’t quite sound genuinely remorseful, but it was close.

There was another long pause then “I won't betray his trust by saying anything,” Jeremy sounded firm and resolute and Jean expected him to start shouting again. Who’s trust wouldn’t he betray?

The next pause was even longer and when Jeremy finally spoke again he sounded utterly devastated. "It's bad Sarah.” he could barely hear Jeremy over the roar of the water. “And I barely know any of it and what I do know… Those rumours? They don't even come close." Jeremy sounded close to tears. Jean had a sinking suspicion he knew who Jeremy was talking about. 

There was another brief pause and when he spoke again his voice was shaky, he was fairly certain Jeremy was crying. "He's afraid of me Sarah." And I…” Jeremy’s voice broke and there was the familiar sound of sniffling and choked back sobs. He was talking about him. “I don't know what to do. I don't know how to help him. Jean probably hates me too. I'm just making everything worse." 

Jeremy was crying, he was crying over him. He thought Jean hated him which couldn’t be further from the truth. He felt terrible for making Jeremy feel this way, and worse for listening but he couldn’t stop "What do I do?" Jeremy choked out.

He could only hear Jeremy’s quiet sniffling, presumably Alvarez was comforting him, he hoped she was. "Thanks" Jeremy told her confirming his assumptions.

There was another long gap of silence. He reached back into the shower to turn it off, he had listened in long enough. His head was spinning with everything he had heard. He started toweling off and changing into fresh clothes.

"Yeah thanks." He heard Jeremy say louder now without the shower in the background, he sounded distracted. "Hey I gotta go I'll see you in a few weeks for pride yeah?" 

Jean waited a few more minutes to give Jeremy time to compose himself before stepping out of the bathroom. After stepping into the living room Jeremy greeted him with a watery smile that didn’t meet his eyes at all. He turned to go into the bedroom and turned back to look at Jeremy again as he reached for the door. The smile had faded from his face and he was staring at the floor looking absolutely miserable. Jean’s heart clenched, Jeremy should never look sad, especially not because of him. 

“Are you alright?” He asked softly before he could stop himself. Jeremy’s head snapped up to look at him his red rimmed eyes round and huge with surprise. “You’re sad, what’s wrong?” he asked again.

A slow smile spread across Jeremy’s face, it was real this time and softer than any he had ever seen directed towards him. He could feel his blood pounding in his ears. “It'll be alright.” he said as he looked at Jean with something like wonder, like he was blown away that Jean would even care. 

He nodded once and turned towards the bedroom again, reaching for the door. Then he thought of Jeremy’s words on the phone to his friend. The absolute devastation and heartbreak in his voice when he said Jean hated him and he was making everything worse. He hesitated drawing up on all the scraps of his tattered courage he had left. 

He doubted after hearing Jeremy speak to his friend the way he had that he would hurt him, he was starting to realize that Jeremy wanted to help. All his observations that week, and what he had just overheard pointing towards one conclusion. He took a deep breath and decided to make a leap.

“I don’t hate you,” he whispered softly still looking at the door. He heard Jeremy gasp softly in surprise and he turned back to face him. “You aren’t making things worse.”

“Oh,” Jeremy said his breath catching, staring at Jean with wide deerlike eyes “You heard all that.”

“I’m sorry I shouldn’t have listened in.” If it had been Riko or Tetsuji he would already be being beaten. He looked at the floor quickly, Jeremy’s not like that, he reminded himself.

“That’s okay, I don’t mind.” Jeremy was looking at him with big round puppy eyes. 

He still felt the need to explain himself, “I… I heard you yelling at her. I thought you were talking to me at first. I panicked then, I realized you were talking to her and I just kept listening. I know better, I’m sorry.”

“You don’t need to apologize” Jeremy said, “If anything I should apologize to you. She said... something she shouldn’t have, and I got… uh defensive.”

He shook his head Jeremy was one of the few people in his life that had ever apologized to him. “Something about me I imagine?”

The tips of Jeremy’s ears went slightly red. “Yeah it was… rude?”

Jean couldn’t help but scoff slightly, “A disparaging remark about my mental state or my ability to play perhaps?”

Jeremy’s face went red and he gasped “Do you have super hearing?”

“No,” he said with a slight twitch of his lips. “I’ve seen the articles, the rumors and speculation. They’re right.” He opened the door and tossed clothes into the hamper and walked back into the living room to sit on the chair adjacent to the couch Jeremy was on.

“No they aren’t” Jeremy said with conviction. 

“No they are not. You are right. I am far worse than that.”

“That’s not true. You have every right to need time and space to recover, after everything. They’re vultures the lot of them, they just want to have a story, damn the reality and consequences of their words.” There was a note of protective fierosity in his voice.

Jean hummed in response, “Vultures, ravens they are all carrion birds in the end no? They feed on death, pain and misery. When they run out of corpses they must create more, least they starve and are fed on themselves”

Jeremy gaped at him before snorting “Didn’t know you were a such a poet Jean. Dark as fuck for sure but poetic.”

Jean waved his hand lazily in the air “Yes, well, we all had to learn to compose sonnets at Edgar Allen to better honor King Riko’s splendor.”

“Really?” gasped Jeremy looking repulsed but intrigued. Jean shook his head chuckling softly.

“Non, but if it had occurred to him I’m sure we would have had too.”

“Oh my god.” Jeremy said a huge grin taking over his face. “You made a joke, and laughed holy shit.”

Jeremy seemed disproportionately elated and in awe over a simple joke but then again Jean could not even remember the last time he had made a joke, laughed or even smiled really. 

“I’m not complaining or anything, far from it,” Jeremy began hesitantly “but this is the most you have said to me, like ever, what changed? Was it me screaming at my best friend and the sobbing? Cause I could have done that a lot sooner if I had known.” 

Jean paused trying to figure out how much he wanted to say. “I decided it doesn’t matter. I have not known much kindness in my life. While there is a part of me that believes, knows even, that you will likely eventually realise how worthless I am, and hurt me, to punish me for it like all the rest. That all of this has been an illusion, or test that will come crashing down on me at any moment. That if not you, your coach or team. That you, Jeremy Knox, and your kindness cannot possibly be real, everything I have ever known would say that you are an impossibility. And yet, I want it to be real. It is a foolish thing to want and to hope, especially for people like me it only ends in more pain. I have decided it doesn’t matter, real or not. For now I will choose to believe it. To try at the very least, to trust you are better than Riko, as foolish and difficult as that maybe.”

Jeremy was staring at him like he had never seen anything like him before. His eyes brimmed with tears again to Jean’s alarm. “Thank you,” he said, his voice soft and reverent. “ I will do everything I can to be worthy of your trust Jean. I promise, I swear to you I will not let you down. It’s all real Jean. I know you can’t believe me right now and that’s okay hopefully one day you will. You deserve so much goodness and happiness in your life. You are not worthless, you… you are worth everything Jean.” His voice was thick with emotion and full of conviction, and for a second Jean believe could him.

 


After the emotionally draining events of the night before Jean had fallen asleep fairly quickly. He had only been woken once during the night due to nightmare of knives, hands and pain. He had been able to fall asleep again afterwards by looking over at Jeremy’s bed and seeing him sprawled out over his mountain of pillows and stuffed animals and snoring slightly with his mouth open. He was able to remind himself that he was in LA, he was safe, he could look out the window near his bed and see the moon. He still suffered through troubled dreams afterwards but they weren’t as terrible and drenched in memories as the one that woke him and he was soon able to bury them back down. 

He awoke early feeling slightly more rested than usual and went into the living room to start doing exercises, he may not be able to play until he had met with both the Trojan’s nurse and coach but he could not afford to fall behind in fitness. He ignored the occasional sharp twinges and protests of his body and set about doing pushups, squats, sit ups, and burpees until Jeremy finally woke up. They were meeting with the Nurse later today and Jean could not afford to give him any reason not to clear him. The thought of Ichirou or any of the Moriyama henchmen coming to remind him of his debt, getting anywhere near Jeremy made his blood run cold. 

Jeremy finally plodded into the living room rubbing his eyes and yawning. He had learned Jeremy had very little to say before he had had coffee, tea, or, on one horrifying occasion, chugged a can of one of those sugary energy drinks. He was fairly certain the drink had been radioactive or poisonous. Why on Earth would someone put liquid from a black can with neon green claw marks into their body?

Apparently Jeremy “required caffeine to feel human in the mornings.” His curly dark brown hair was highlighted with honey strands and was flattened against his head on one side and unruly and fluffy on the other. He made himself a cup of coffee adding generous amounts of cream and sugar and made a second one black for Jean.

After Jeremy had drunk half of his coffee he set it down and turned towards Jean. “Good morning” he said with a smile.

"Good morning" he offered back taking his first sip of coffee, he wondered how Jeremy had avoided burning his tongue off with how fast he had drunk his. All the cream and sugar probably cools it down, he thought. There had to be a reason why he drank so much when he doubted he could taste it with how fast he drank it.

Jeremy grinned at him "So how goes it?" 

"Alright"

"Anything you want to do today besides check in with Nurse Jared?"

"Well I would say Exy, but I must wait for permission from your coach too, no?"

"Yep. And he's your coach too now" Jeremy confirmed brightly before grabbing boxes of cereal from on top of the fridge and pouring them two bowls.

"I do not see why, I never saw a nurse or doctor while on the Ravens. And I never was allowed to miss games, or practices due to injury. I've been injured just as bad or worse before." He said it casually without thinking.

Jeremy paled, "Never?" He asked incredulously, "who signed off on your yearly physicals then? Or patched you up when you were injured or sick?"

"The Master signed off on things so I wouldn't have to or may have just had things forged." He shrugged, reaching for an apple. "Kevin would help stitch me up with a sewing needle and dental floss before he left the Nest. Even managed to get ibuprofen and alcohol a few times, when it was really bad. I did it myself after he left. The master would allow me to have antibiotics sometimes, if things got infected and I had a high enough fever."

Jeremy looked like he was about to be sick. "How could… Jean you know that's insanely fucked right? And Jesus, you'd still have to play?"

"Yes, not playing was never an option if I lagged behind or failed on the court, it would always be worse afterwards."

"I hope hell exists." Jeremy muttered under his breath.

"Oh it does, I was there."

Jeremy looked even more horrified. "... Anyway that's not going to be how things work here. Regular doctor visits, injuries treated by a qualified medical professional. Mandatory rest for any injury until you get cleared by a medical professional. Same goes for getting sick. Oh, and we have mandatory quarterly therapy sessions."

It was Jeans turn to be horrified. "Therapy?" 

"Yep, you're gonna love it," he said with a sharp grin. "Lot of opportunities to work on issues and unpack trauma."

"What trauma? I have no idea what you could possibly be referring to. My life has been blissfully free of any upsetting events. I am a paragon of absolutely perfect mental health." He sniffed.

Jeremy gaped at him again be threw his head back and laughed. It was a startling joyous sound and he couldn't help but stare. "See that was a good joke. Still dark but funny. In all seriousness the therapy is great and it's all free through the university. I go every week or every other week year round. I know its not for everyone, but it helps me a lot. And even if you don't click with any of the therapists right away, they can always refer you to someone else."

"I will think about it." He said stiffly. There were to many things he couldn't say to a therapist that had to remain a secret. Although Jeremy's openness about his own experience with them made it slightly more appealing.

They spent the rest of the morning in comfortable silence and then Jeremy drove to the court where the Nurse had an office for ease of access to players. He had felt himself get more tense leading up to the appointment, jumping and cringing away to his frustration. He saw the sadness in Jeremy's when he did so, even if he had mentally decided to trust him, his body had not quite gotten the memo and still saw him as a threat.  

By the time the slim man who looked to be in his mid thirties but already with slightly salt and pepper hair invited him into his office he was a tightly wound ball of nerves. 

Jeremy gave him an encouraging smile and he followed Jared into his office.

"Alright, Gene is that how you say it? Welcome to Southern California we are glad to have you here."

Jean didn't bother correcting him on the pronunciation of his name and just nodded stiffly. 

"Okay so let's get started if you will take a seat on that table for me." The man looked over a clipboard with a bunch of papers on it. He blanched slightly at whatever he saw before putting on what he assumed was supposed to be a comforting look but just made him look constipated. "Before we start, I want you to know that everything you say in this room will remain confidential between the two of us. So I would appreciate your complete honesty and whatever you say will be protected under doctor patient confidentiality, unless I believe you are a threat to yourself or others. Can you tell me a bit about your medical history, I have a file here for you from a Nurse Abby in Palmetto but nothing else. Aside from your treatment with her when was the last time you had been to a doctor or nurse?"

"When I was 10 just before I left France." Tetsuji had wanted to make sure his purchase was in good health before finalizing the arrangement.

The man blinked but carried on in a professional manner. "Okay and were there any health concerns at that time or since then."

"None at the time no."

"And since then? Any injuries?" The nurse prompted.

Jean stared at the man he was sure the Trojans had not hired an incompetent idiot to be their nurse but he couldn't help but wonder. "Yes." He told him without offering any further information.

"Would you mind describing them for me?" 

"Yes." Jean, feeling more tense and on edge.

"Yes you would mind? Or yes you will describe them?" He said starting to sound exasperated.

"Yes, I would mind." He snapped back shortly and instantly regretted it. Flinching back expecting a slap for his rudeness at the very least, he squeezed his eyes shut.

None came and the nurse just sighed. "Am I to presume then that other then the notes Nurse Winfield made in your file, on the injuries she treated when you were in her care and about what she was able to infer about any past injuries, that you will not provide any details other than answering yes or no questions?"

"Yes." He said staring at the clock behind him on the wall.

Jared pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers and sighed. "Alright then. We will need to get your vitals, height weight and a complete blood work up, and probably run a few physical tests and all that jazz."

He proceeded to take Jeans temperature, pulse, inspect his eyes, nose, ears and throat, after getting his height and weight. Jean stayed quiet and offered minimal cooperation through the entire ordeal. He flinched slightly when the man listened to his lungs and brushed against some of the lacerations and bruises still covering his body. The nurse frowned and wrote somethings down, and looked back through his notes.

He looked up and studied Jean's face for a minute before turning back to the notes with a hmmmm. "What has your diet and sleep schedule been like?"

Jean told him in as few words as possible when a clipped fine didn't cut it. Jared hummed again and marked something down on the clipboard. "Would you take your shirt off for me please?" He asked

Jean froze and didn't respond. The nurse noticed his discomfort and said "I need to check for track marks, see how your injuries have healed up and check on a few things and get some blood work."

When Jean still refused to respond he gently continued. "If you would be more comfortable with a female nurse I can contact a colleague and you can finish your examination another day. Or if you would prefer to have Jeremy in the room I can go get him." 

A female nurse probably would not ease his discomfort and he didn't want Jeremy to see how broken he was and see the revulsion in his eyes until absolutely necessary. "No," he told him and tugged off his shirt ignoring the sharp familiar pull at his injuries and refusing to meet the nurse’s eyes. He heard him inhale sharply.

Jean was covered in hundreds of scars courtesy of Riko. They varied from neat and orderly barely visible intending to cause pain rather than lasting damage, to jagged harsh raised marks from when Riko lost his temper and had no other outlet for his rage. Whip marks on the back of his legs, which were thankfully still covered. Some scars were in patterns, shapes, spirals, rows, even crudely carved and deliberate words. Jean tried his hardest not to think about or see the words, the labels. It wasn't too hard most of the words were on his back and Jean could avoid them. Raven's Whore, Bitch, Dog, Three, Faggot, Worthless, Property of Riko, Stupid, Filth, Slut, Whore, Wrong, Dirty, Useless, Bad, Disgusting. The words that Riko had slashed and chiseled into his skin running through his head prevented him from noticing the nurses approach until he felt a small touch on his arm and he lept away falling to the ground and scrambling knocking over a stool and flinched again when it clattered to the ground.

The nurse threw his hands in the air, "It's okay, Gene you're alright." Jean scrambled back to his feet refusing to let the fear and panic overtake him. His vision blurred slightly, but he forced it back down, clenching his fists digging the blunt nails into his skin to force him to stay present.

"You good?" The nurse asked looking alarmed. Where the foxes' Nurse Abby had been used to jumpy traumatised and injured people on her team, it was clear that Jared was less familiar.

"I'm fine, just startled me." He lied.

Jared gave him a dubious look, "Right…" he said moving on.

He continued to poke and prod at him inspecting some of the wounds across his ribs, face pale as he shook his head slightly. He had Jean go through a few motions and stretches. Jean gritted his teeth and lied everytime he was asked if something hurt or was tender. He doubted Jared believed him though, every start, jump, and flinch Jean failed to suppress likely giving him away. 

“We can remove some of the stitches in your face today but I am going to leave the ones on your torso and wait for them to dissolve or be absorbed.”

He allowed him to clip the stitches and pull them out. The man sighed and flipped through his clipboard adding more notes. 

“I am going to be frank with you, your injuries are healing at a much slower rate than they should be. Part of this is because of the delay in receiving medical care, and the severity of injuries. A larger part is you have been sleep deprived, under a huge amount of stress, and most worryingly severely malnourished. You are 6’4 and don't even weigh 130 pounds.”

“I am an athlete.” Jean said defensively. 

“That is precisely the point, you have almost no body fat and what muscles you have are severely underdeveloped. If it weren’t for the repeated evidence of torture covering your body, I would suspect an eating disorder. Given what you told me about your diet at Evermore it is clear you were starved. What have you been eating since you came to LA and while you were in Palmetto?”

Jean was shocked he remembered constantly being hungry in the early years at his time at the Nest but he had gotten used to it. He had to earn food with his performance on the court and when he did he was always given a smaller portion than Riko, Kevin and the rest of the Ravens. He hadn’t earned anything more. After Kevin had left it had gotten worse, Riko cut his food regularly or refused to give him any, if he was in one of his moods. He'd known he had lost weight but had no idea how much.

At Abby’s house he had eaten little, not feeling hungry and just accepted what she offered him and tried to eat less than half the portions. He had tried to exercise to when she wasn't paying attention, but he had still lost some muscle during his stay. In LA he usually had a smaller, what he had thought was healthier version of whatever Jeremy was eating. Even when they were eating the same thing he had instinctively made sure he was eating the smaller portion. He tried to explain this to Jared.

“Jeremy is over half a foot smaller than you, he does not need as much food to function during the off season. Your body is trying to heal itself, that requires energy, calories sustenance, and it's not getting enough of that right now.”

When Jean didn’t respond the nurse continued. “Let’s shoot for you gaining at least 40 pounds back, high protein and even good fatty foods will help you have energy, repair damaged tissue and rebuild your muscle growth. I am going to draw blood for nutritional tests in addition to the usual, so we can see what nutrients in particular you are missing and you will need to come in for a follow up to that and all your other tests. 

I also want you to schedule an appointment for X-rays your ribs are still concerning and I believe some of your bones may have been bruised as well. Hopefully there are no more fractures. The breaks in your fingers were never set properly, and I would imagine you have ligament and tendon damage somewhere. It is imperative that you come to me or see another medical professional if you feel even the slightest bit of pain. Not doing so and not allowing your body to heal will result in worse or permanent damage that could keep you out of Exy indefinetly.”

Jean heard ringing in his ears, not being able to pay Exy and pay his dues to the Moriyams would result in his immediate execution. He could not allow that.

"Time for some blood work then, you can put your shirt back on if you like." He grabbed a series of vials and needle. He hastily put his shirt back on. Jean was barely holding it together, he ached to dart out the office, to find somewhere safe and hide. He clenched his fists, knuckles white against the exam table edge. 

~~~~

"Are you sexually active? Or have you ever been, including vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse?" Jared asked without looking up from the labels he was sticking on the vials.

All the air left Jeans lungs in a rush and he failed miserably to suppress the full body flinch. His body was shaking slightly. "Yes." He managed to whisper.

Jared looked up at Jean confused and his face went grim when he took in his shaking. "Have you ever had an STD or STI test taken before?" He asked gently.

"No." And Jean refused to meet his eyes. He didn't think Riko had let anyone with diseases fuck him but he couldn't be sure. His throat felt tight, he didn't think, Riko had had anything either. But he had tried hard to never think about any of that and the truth was he just didn't know. Hissed words of dirty, filthy, disgusting, soiled flashed through his mind. He struggled to keep himself in the present. His nails bit painfully into his palms and he clung to the sharp pain to stay rooted in the moment.

"Do you know the STI status of any past partners?" 

"No." He barely managed to get out struggling against the waves of panic, that threatened to drag him under into the past.

"I'm sorry, I just have to ask a few more questions. How many-- "

"I… I don't know" He choked out before he could finish his question wrapping his arms around himself. "I don't know how many there were."  10? 20? More? Less? Riko had sent or allowed multiple people into his room too many times and he had often been prevented from seeing, blindfolded, or had his face shoved into the mattress or ground while Riko made people take turns. There had to have been at least --  Stop thinking about it he told himself don't think about it. Go away. He could feel his breathing become rapid and frantic. He had bitten through his lip at some point the familiar taste of blood bringing more memories rushing to the surface. He hadn't even felt the pain.

"Were protection or condoms ever used regularly?"

"I don't know, sometimes I think, not always." He felt apart from his body, and unattached. He had forced himself into a similar state before but it had always been when things were happening. When it was his only way of escape. It was better to be apart from his body at those times.

Jared lips were in a hard thin line, he looked angry. Jean couldn't summon the energy to even try to get away. "When was the last time any contact occurred?" 

"March, same time as the rest" he heard himself respond and felt himself gesture to his face but couldn't recall opening his mouth to speak or trying to lift his arms. Riko had been so angry that night. It was the only time Riko had done it himself. He hadn't wanted to lower himself to do anything he thought was too gay; not wanting to sully himself with Jeans' tainted disgusting body. Before then Riko had limited himself to use of his mouth when he felt it like it.

"Is there any lingering pain or damage, have you gotten any treatment? I can help if you need it." 

"No, I'm fine." He kept his words and tone clipped. It was only partially true, but any other answer might have resulted in an examination and he was already to raw, hollowed out and exposed, anything else might cause him to shatter completely.

"There are resources you know. There are some on campus. You could get help. Groups, therapy, people you can talk to about pursuing legal action if you wanted." The nurse offered.

"Stop." Jean cut him off abruptly. Of course he knew now. Had realised, he wondered how long it would take for him to tell everyone. He didn't want to see the disgust on Jeremy's face if he found out. He would be kicked off the team, Riko had made that clear, no one could want something as broken, perverse and disgusting as him on their team. "Don't. No more. I won't talk about it. Are we done here?"

~~~~

Jared sighed "I'm afraid not quite. I still need to get your blood for the tests." 

He extended his arm wordlessly to the nurse. He grasped it tying a tight elastic above his elbow and swabbed his arm.

"Slight pinch" he murmured as he slid the needle in. Any pain didn't even register Jean felt numb.

He filled up a large assortment of vials and then arranged them on a tray.

"Can I go now?”

Jared sighed, “That’s all for today then Gene. Think about what I said about getting help or talking to someone, anyone and take these.” He cringed away before realizing the nurse was handing him a business card with his name and number on it as well as pamphlets for sexual assault survivors, domestic violence and abuse victims that presumably, had all the aforementioned resources. “Call me anytime if you need anything.”

Jean shoved the pamphlets into his pockets and hurried out of the office. All the feelings he had forced down were bubbling back up and he felt like he was going to be sick. He rushed past the lounge were Jeremy was waiting and into the bathroom. He heard Jeremy call his name faintly in confusion, but he could barely hear it over the hissing and furious voices in his head. 

He pushed into the nearest stall and heaved up the small amount of cereal he had managed to eat for breakfast. He continued to dry heave over the toilet feeling shaky when he heard Jeremy come into the bathroom.

“Jean, oh my god, are you okay? I’ll go get Jared.” Jeremy sounded frantic.

“No, don’t please.” He wasn’t sure who he was talking to Jeremy or the ghost of Riko screaming at him in his mind.

“Okay, alright. I won’t. What do you need? What can I do?” 

Jean couldn’t help it he started laughing hysterically, very few people had asked him that in his life, and that it was coming from his new captain, who was supposed to hurt him, struck him as terribly funny. Nothing was wrong, he was the safest he had been in his entire life and his mind was choosing now to lose its grip on reality. He had been fighting off panic and flashbacks all week but now he just felt startlingly empty. Unmoored, drifting. Like a marionette with its strings cut, lifeless. “I am going insane,” he told Jeremy as the laughter faded from his voice, and numbness took hold.

 

_____

Chapter Text

Jeremy

Jeremy was worried about Jean. He had opened up to him so much more on Wednesday and everything had seemed as close to fine as Jean could be right now the next morning. After Jean's physical however something had changed. 

He had found Jean bent over the toilet trying to hurl his internal organs out. Jean had then proceeded to laugh hysterically. Whisper that he was going insane then slipped into absolute silence. He hadn't said a word sense, had not responded at all for the rest of that day or the next, or at all today. 

He wasn't catatonic, he was still aware of his surroundings, insofar that he shied away from anyone approaching him. But his eyes were dead and dull. They just seemed flat, the only emotions that flickered through them were fear and panic, otherwise, they remained blank. He was still eating a little, and drinking enough and had followed Jeremy to the car into the dorm and otherwise seemed fine if it wasn't for his lack of speech and dull, often unseeing eyes. The only communication he had gotten was through body language. Jean had shaken his head sharply when Jeremy tried to call someone and gone as far taken the phone out of his hands. He had shrugged slightly when asked if just didn’t want to talk for a while. 

After that Jeremy had said okay and gave Jean space without pressuring him to speak. He still talked, it would be difficult for Jeremy to stop his chatter, but he didn’t expect a response from Jean. Jean seemed to be listening to him though.

Jeremy hoped that another night’s sleep tonight would help, he doubted Jean had slept at all last night. He had still been sitting on the couch watching an exy match when Jeremy finally went to bed and had been in the exact same position in the morning when Jeremy woke up. At the moment, Jean was sitting on the couch `looking at his small flip phone and ignoring everything else. 

Jeremy sighed, “I’m going to bed then Jean, try to get some sleep at some point.”

Jean didn’t respond, but Jeremy hadn’t expected him too. He did, however, follow him into the room and get settled in his own space. 

"Night" he called out to Jean before flicking off the lights and falling into his own bed for sleep.


Jean was awake before he was, as per usual, unusually however he was still sitting up in bed, rather than working out in the living room. Jeremy stretched his sleep heavy limbs and popped his knuckles turning to Jean to greet him. 

"Good morning," he gave him a quick smile.

"Good morning, Jeremy," Jean said softly. Jeremy couldn't hold back the grin that split open his face.

"Hey," he beamed at Jean, "Are you feeling better?"

"A bit, I am sorry." 

"You don't have to be sorry. You never have to talk or do anything you don't want to. I understand that things can be overwhelming sometimes. Is there anything I could do to help? Or if something happened that triggered you I can prevent it from happening again?" He didn't want to push Jean for information or make him uncomfortable and cause him to go silent again. But he also wanted to make it clear that he wanted to support Jean in whatever way he could. 

"I… you did help. You kept talking and being kind and didn't punish me for silence. You stayed in the room and talked it helped to keep me more in the present and not get pulled down by flashbacks and panic attacks as often. It would have been worse if you hadn't been there."

"Okay," Jeremy said but his heart clenched and his stomach felt heavy. "Did you at least get some sleep last night?"

"No," he whispered back.

"Jean…" He looked exhausted, the bruise-like shadows under his eyes looked worse. His eyes were red and bloodshot. His skin was wan and pale. His cheeks were gaunt and his clothes hung loosely off of his body. He always wore dark colors, mainly black and long sleeves, which just made him look sicker, washed out and waxy. He looked unsteady, wobbly,  jerking every few moments involuntarily. "When was the last time you slept?"

"I got an hour or two Wednesday night after we talked."

"Jean…" he couldn't quite keep the pain from his voice. That was three days ago. He wondered if Jean had even slept a full night since he arrived in LA.

"I can't." Jean's voice broke a little. "In the day, when I stay awake, I can control it more. I can force the memories down, not let myself think about them, focus on something else, on you. At night they come back, always. I can't keep myself from remembering. It's like that in the day sometimes too, but I… at night I have to relive it. Again and again. And I know what is coming for me the second I close my eyes. And I just can't… I don't want to remember, I can't go through it again even in my head. I can't. I can't.”

He looked terrified. His words were starting to come more quickly and his breath was hitching and speeding up. "It's okay. It's okay, you are here in LA and no one will ever hurt you again." He moved closer to Jean kneeling at the edge of his bed but not touching him. "Hey, can you look at me. Just breathe."

Jean looked him in his eyes and he looked exhausted, worn down and beaten. "I'm so tired," He whispered.

"I know, you need to sleep." 

Jean shook his head in response. “Can’t” his voice cracked.

"I know," Jeremy repeated. " but you are going to just collapse into unconsciousness if you don't get some sleep."

Jeremy thought about what he could do to help. He couldn't prevent nightmares from happening. He could stay next to Jean watch over him and wake him if he seemed to be having a nightmare though. He knew he slept better with someone else in bed with him. But he did not know if that would be the case for Jean, from the way he flinched away from everyone attempting physical contact.  

"I can stay awake, and if I see you start to have a nightmare I can wake you." He offered.

Jean looked hesitant, Jeremy didn't know if that was because he did not trust him or if it was a reluctance to sleep at all. 

Jean nodded slowly. "Okay, " he murmured, dropping his head. 

Jeremy flashed Jean a grateful smile and got up off the ground. "I'll go make you some tea."

After Jean had drunk his tea Jeremy got settled on the floor next to Jean's bed with a book and some pillows. "I can read to you if you like." 

Jean shook his head. "Not now," he said with tired eyes, "maybe later" he added.

"Okay, do you want me to turn off the lights, I have blackout curtains too, or you want it to be darker."

"Non, the dark is too much like the Nest. Everything was black and the only light was from red blackout bulbs. I wasn't allowed outside." His words were slurring together slightly from the exhaustion.

Jeremy felt a familiar stab of fury and shock. He could not imagine being trapped in the dark like that. It must have been suffocating.

"Lights on then."

Jean nodded and pressed his back against the wall. His eyes drooping but still focused on Jeremy.

"I'll be right here. I'll wake you if you need me to. Sleep well.”

Jean nodded and kept his eyes Jeremy for another minute or two before they slipped shut and his body relaxed releasing all the tension that he hadn't even noticed until it was gone.

Jeremy read his book while keeping an eye on Jean, looking up at him every few minutes. He looked peaceful for the first time since Jeremy had known him. The fear on his face and furrow between his brows was gone, his mouth was soft and relaxed instead of hard and tense. His face was smooth and free from worry. It made him look younger, like the 21-year-old he was. He turned back to his book and continued reading.

Jean had only been sleeping for about an hour when he started to stir, twisting around on the bed. Jeremy got up and called his name softly. "Jean" 

There was no response and Jean kept thrashing on the bed hands balled up into fists his brow furrowed and tense. 

"No," he muttered

"Jean" Jeremy called a bit louder.

"No, stop." Jean's voice was louder now more clear.

"Jean wake up" he called out.

"Stop, please, no."

He called for him to wake up louder this time.

"Kevin, please make them stop." Jean was shouting now begging.

"No. No. I don't like it. I don't want to. Please." Jean was screaming tears were running down his face.

"Wake up, Jean it isn't real, it's a dream wake up." He yelled out.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Please, no more." 

He wasn't waking up and it was getting worse. "Jean, wake up!" It wasn't working he had to wake him he didn't want Jean suffering through it anymore. He frantically reached out to Jean’s back against his better judgment, shaking his shoulder. He had to wake up.

A fist flew out and hit him in the side of the face, the blow knocking him back onto the ground. The world was bright for half a second. "Jean. It's me, it's Jeremy you're okay." He shouted reaching up to prod at his cheek and jaw with a wince.

"Jeremy?" Jean asked confused sounding shocked, frightened eyes looking down at Jeremy holding the side of his face.

"Yes it's okay you're alright you're in LA." He said trying to soothe him, letting go of his face.

"I hurt you." He sounded horrified reaching out towards him then retracting his hand quickly like he had been burnt. 

"It's okay I'm okay." He quickly tried to reassure him. "I'm sorry I shouldn't have touched you but you weren't waking up and it sounded bad."

"I hurt you. I shouldn't have, I am so sorry." Jean's voice sounded broken and lost.

"Hey, I'm alright. It's not your fault. You didn't know it was me." He got up slowly and made his way back over to Jean.

"I…" he sounded on the verge of tears. 

"Hey, it's alright. I'm okay, you're okay." 

"I.. Can I see?" Jean gestured to his face.

"Yeah," he said, standing in front of Jean and turning his head slightly so he could see his cheek.

Jean took his chin lightly in his hands and softly brushed his fingers over his bruised cheek. Jean inspected his face gently turning his face lightly and just barely caressing his cheek with the tips of his other hand's fingers. Jeremy shivered slightly at the feather-light touch. 

"I…, Jeremy I'm so sorry." He looked directly into Jeremy's eyes with his anguished ones, hand still cupping his face. Jeremy suddenly felt warm all over and was very conscious of their closeness and Jean hand on his face. 

"I know, Jean." He said squeezing his wrist slightly. 

Jean got up and gently pushed Jeremy to sit down on his bed. "Stay here I will get you some ice."

Jeremy stayed in place while Jean left the room, returning with an ice pack wrapped in a dishtowel. He gently brought it up to Jeremy's face, brushing the hair out of his eyes unconsciously as he did so. 

He took it gently from his hands and Jean retreated his eyes filled with guilt.

"Hey, are you alright?" Jeremy asked after a few minutes of holding the ice to his face sitting next to Jean on the bed. Jean sat back on the bed curled up in a corner. Hands shaking slightly his eyes glazed over, he knew that Jean's mind was wherever it had been in that nightmare.

"How can you ask me that, after I hurt you? It doesn’t matter why I still..." 

"I’m alright. I knew that it would probably happen when I grabbed you, I just couldn’t think of any other way to wake you up. And it sounded bad.”

Jean nodded stiffly not meeting his eyes. “I just want to know if you are alright.”

“I…” Jean began before cutting himself off still trembling.

“It's okay you don't have to pretend to be okay when you aren't," Jeremy told him cautiously. Pretending never helped anything. It couldn’t make the pain go away, it only made it worse. 

Jean let out a half-choked sob and putting his face in his hands. His shoulders shook. "No, I'm not. I'm not alright. I'm not okay. I'm not, I don't think I have been in a very long time." 

Jeremy ached to put an arm around him to comfort him somehow, and help him pick up the broken pieces so he could put himself back together.

"Jean, can I hug you? Or put my arm around you?"

Jean looked at him carefully eyes red and wet. His nose was starting to get runny.

"Yes. Just don't touch my hair. I can't…" He let out another sob and Jeremy moved closer wrapping his arm around Jean's shoulders careful not to touch his hair at all.

 Jean buried his face into his shoulder, leaning his body against Jeremy's and wrapping his arms around his body as he sobbed in Jeremy's arms.

He held Jean close and murmured soothing things to him rubbing his back gently, to give him what little comfort that he could. The two of them stayed like that wrapped around each other until Jean's breathing started to even out and he stopped crying. His grip on Jeremy relaxed slightly and his body became heavy against him. He realized he had fallen asleep tucked against his shoulder, still in Jeremy's arms. 

He scooted back a little on the bed so he could get comfortable against the pillows and continued to hold Jean. He didn't care if Jean woke up violently again and threw him out of bed. He felt honored that Jean had seemed to trust him enough to allow physical contact and comfort at all, let alone fall asleep in his arms. Although, that might have more to do with Jean's extreme sleep deprivation and exhaustion.

He felt smaller than he should be, he could feel his ribs and spine through his shirt. He doubted Jean was eating enough, especially given the way he always only took a small portion and picked at his food. He wondered what Jean's favorite food was, he had not been forthcoming with answers on that front. Maybe something from his childhood in France, he resolved to lookup more recipes and restaurants later, although Jean would probably have to supervise his cooking in order to prevent a fire or some kind of disaster. He should get some kind of nightlight too, or at least leave the lamp on at night in the future. Jeremy could usually fall asleep anywhere and he had a sleeping mask somewhere if he really needed it. 

It had been longer than Jean had slept the first time around and his face was still smooth and peaceful. He was starting to struggle to stay awake himself. His book and phone had been left on the floor. He didn't want to move to get them and risk disturbing Jean so he just let his eyes close, he would wake quickly if Jean started to stir with him so close. 

______

Chapter Text

Jean's limbs felt heavy and warm when he woke up. His eyes felt like lead weights and so he opted not to open them. He had slept without a nightmare for the first time he could remember without having been injured to the point of unconsciousness first. He shifted to bury his face deeper into his pillow when the pillow didn't give the way he had expected it to. And something tickled his nose, hair, he realized with a jolt. His own was still too short and patchy after having most of it pulled out by Riko. 

His eyes snapped open. To see Jeremy's soft bronze curls and sleeping face right next to his own. The pillow he had been trying to bury his face had been Jeremy. He sat up abruptly in shock, causing Jeremy to stir slightly and start to wake up. 

He blinked sleepily at Jean, warm brown eyes still slightly glazed. 

"Oh," he said sitting up and rubbing at his eyes. "You're awake, what time is it?" 

Jean just stared at him, "Um…"

He made a face "I have to pee anyway, be right back."  Jeremy left the room leaving Jean staring after him bewildered.

By the time Jeremy had come back, announcing it was after 5:00 they had slept for over 10 hours, he remembered what had happened.

 He remembered watching Jeremy wake up early and feeling so exhausted from going days without sleep. He remembered Jeremy's calm acceptance of his days without speaking a single word. His offer to watch over him while he slept, and wake him from any nightmares. A venture that had ended in barely an hour of sleep and him lashing out and punching Jeremy's face when he had to touch him to pull him out of a nightmare. 

The terrible clawing guilt at having hurt Jeremy one of the few people who had ever shown him kindness came rushing back. Why? Why didn't Jeremy leave then or hit him back? He had apologized to him instead, for touching him at all. He'd leaned his face into his hand and looked at him with so much trust when he had pressed ice to his cheek. He couldn't understand it. 

When he had been falling apart, ripped to shreds after the memories of being violated, Jeremy had asked to hold him. He had held him in his arms and let him cry into his shoulder, without asking for an explanation. He had let Jean cling to him like a child, soothing him and rubbing his back, so gentle and careful not to touch his hair. He had been so careful with him, so gentle and tender.

Jean had fallen asleep in his arms. And Jeremy had stayed, he had held Jean and let himself be held in turn, while Jean had slept. He had slept so well. He had slept better and longer than he had ever had since entering the Nest, without nightmares for the first time he could remember. The rest felt unfamiliar, almost dizzying, the sweet lethargy that had filled him had been washed away and he felt refreshed. It was almost intoxicating. 

"Thank you," he told him softly, "I… haven't slept that well ever. Not that long and never without nightmares."

Jeremy smiled at him as bright as the sun. "Anytime, sometimes having someone there helps. I know I sleep better next to someone, I haven't slept that well either since..." Jeremy's smile fell slightly before putting one back on that didn't quite reach his eyes. "Well in a while."

Jean wondered what it was that had made Jeremy's smile slip, what had made him sad. He immediately loathed whatever was the cause. He also wondered if what Jeremy had said was true, he doubted another's presence in his bed would bring him any peace given his history, given what his nightmare of memories had been about. But it wasn’t like anyone had stayed after, he was always left alone and cold. He wondered if it had been a one-off, because he had been so exhausted or if it was something to do with Jeremy himself. Everything about Jeremy was tender and soft dapples of sunlight. He yearned for his presence and for more than he could possibly have.

He felt himself craving the contact again. It had been nice, gentle, he had had so few kind touches in his life. He quickly reminded himself that Jeremy would be repulsed if he knew. If he knew the disgusting things that Jean had done and had done to him. He would regret holding him, touching him at all. Jeremy was like sunlight, Jean was worse than nothing, he glanced at the slight bruise forming on Jeremy's face and felt sick. He could only destroy and taint Jeremy's light.

"Hey, you good?" Jeremy asked concerned, of course, he was concerned. He would be, Jeremy was the strangest person he had ever met. His experience with people outside the Nest had been limited to the foxes, so it wasn't in comparison to a lot of people. But Jeremy was like an odd combination of Renee, and the loud one, Nicky. He had all the compassion and kindness of Renee but with less darkness and danger about him. He had all the joy and exuberance of Nicky, but was softer somehow, more respectful of boundaries like Renee again. He was something else, a Trojan, not a Fox, and certainly not a Raven. He had sadness in him, Jean could see that, but it wasn't quite like foxes, and he wasn't angry, violently vengeful like the Ravens.

"I am better thanks to you." 

"You must be hungry, we missed breakfast and lunch. So we are having a big dinner, I'll make something quick and then I'll order take out." He said and Jean followed him to the kitchen to help, not wanting to risk Jeremy making anything other than cereal without someone there to intervene if things went awry. 

It was, to Jean's relief, cereal and Jeremy called up for pizza delivery while the two settled down to eat on the couch while watching a film with the yellow banana-like creatures with the overalls and glasses. 

"Are they part banana these minions?" he asked, "it is one of the few comprehensible words they say."

Jeremy burst out laughing turning to Jean with a grin. "I'm not sure, but I love the idea that they are highly evolved or mutated bananas" 

"Perhaps it was a radioactive incident. The long nose man seems like he might be careless with radioactive materials and fruit."

Jeremy laughed harder, clutching his stomach his eyes bright and shining. He looked at him like he was worth the world, and Jean felt an unfamiliar tugging sensation in his gut, which he ignored.

"I need to hear all of your thoughts and theories on everything. They are amazing and definitely correct" He got out through his laughter. He got up to get the door and retrieve the pizza. Which he plopped on the table before flopping down on the couch closer than before.

"So this pizza is just for you, and this one we can share, and this one's mine but you can have some if you want. But it’s got pineapple on it though, so you may hate it."

“Why would you put fruit on pizza?”

“It’s good,” Jeremy mumbled through a mouth full of food. “Isn’t putting honey on pizza something people do in France? It’s kinda the same thing.”

“It is not. I will take your word for it on the pineapple.”

Jean took a piece of his own and started eating it remembering Jareds words about eating more. It was delicious. He gave Jeremy a thumbs up of approval. And Jeremy resumed the movie.

Jean ate some more pizza, finishing a whole box to his surprise as they watched the cartoon. He felt a moment of envy for the three little girls who found a home, a family and someone who loved and cared for them. He ignored it, he had long since given up on having those things for himself.

Then Jeremy smiled at him again and he was the sun, and Jean could not help but be pulled into his orbit.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

Jeremy

The shadows under Jean’s eyes were back. Jeremy wasn’t sure if they had even really gone away. In the four days since they had slept next to each other, Jean had declined his offers to stay next to him or watchover him while he slept. He always looked at his cheek when he declined, where the bruise Jean had accidentally given him was already fading. He knew Jean was sleeping at least, but the increasing tension in his eyes and mouth and the dark baggy circles under his eyes told him he wasn’t sleeping well and was probably having nightmares. 

Jean had been a bit more open though, slightly less skittish and more willing to have a conversation. He had been eating more too, but Jeremy suspected that the disastrous appointment with Jared had contributed to that slightly. Which was all good. He grabbed his bagels from the toaster and put more in for Jean.

“Are you still good with meeting Coach this morning?” 

“Yes,” he replied but he sounded stiff and nervous.

“Are you sure? You can always wait until later, you don’t even need to meet him until the rest of the team start arriving.”

“I need to see him in order to be back on the court yes? And he is already expecting us.” 

“Well yeah, but we can always cancel, and you really don’t have to be practicing yet if you do not want to.”

Jean looked at the floor “I need to be on the court and improving as soon as possible, I have already been off for too long.”

“Okay, it is up to you”

Jean gave him an odd look and muttered something he couldn’t quite catch under his breath. They finished up their breakfast of eggs and bagels, Jeremy had also scorched some bacon for Jean, but he was a lifelong vegetarian and couldn't be completely blamed for not knowing how meat worked. Jean had eaten it anyway.

They headed to the court in Jeremy’s car. Jeremy saw Coach’s old pickup in the parking lot and hopped out with Jean to head inside. Jean was stiff and nervous but looked determined so Jeremy decided against offering to leave again.  The tension in Jeans frame just increased and Jeremy caught his hands shaking out of the corner of his eye before Jean shoved them in the front pocket of his hoodie. 

He still dressed in long sleeves, often hoodies and long pants every day despite the heat. Jeremy would have offered to lend him something but all his clothes would be comically small on Jean and he had gotten rid of or destroyed everything that had belonged to his ex-boyfriend. Even if he hadn’t they probably wouldn’t have fit him, Jean was much taller and broader, even being as underfed as he was. The one time he had offered to get him cooler clothes Jean had shut down, so he decided it was best to leave it be.

"Coach should be in his office, yo coach you here?" Jeremy called out banging on the door. 

Coach Rhemann opened the door with a bang causing Jean to leap back. "Knox, what the hell are you doing awake before 10:00 am, I wasn't expecting you here until this afternoon. Come on in then"

"Jean's a positive influence what can I say," he said grinning, as they stepped into the cluttered office, Coach was a grouchy bastard but was like a father or cool uncle to all his players.

Coach looked over at Jean who was standing behind Jeremy and studying the floor with his hands behind his back.

"Moreau, isn't it?" Coach barked gruffly jerking his hand out towards Jean.

Jean recoiled back abruptly at coach's words and movement stumbling over a stack of papers scattering them. Jean froze then tensing and dropped to his knees and his head. "Yes, sir" he whimpered. 

Jeremy looked at Jean in shock, at first thinking he had gone to his knees to pick up the disrupted papers, a theory which was dispelled when Jean remained rigid head bowed. 

Coach looked over at Jeremy in alarm raising his eyebrows. "Knox, here treating you alright?" He asked more cautiously as he took a step back.

"Yes, master," said Jean stiffly as if out of habit to Jeremy's mounting horror.

"What the hell?" Coach shouted causing Jean to flinch again as if he expected a blow. His breath was coming in ragged gasps.

"Jean," Jeremy crouched down on the ground in front of him. "Hey, it's okay,"

"Kid… " Coach began before shaking his head. "Jesus, look, son, I'm not going to hurt you. Come on get up" 

Jean shook his head resolutely without looking up. Coach, for all his great qualities and kindness, clearly was out of his depth and had severely limited experience in dealing with people with trauma. He took a step toward Jean that only resulted in him curling in on himself further and moving to shield his face with his arms.

"Fuck, I'll go and call Jared," he said recognizing the fact that he was causing Jean's distress. He exited the room keeping himself as far Jean as possible.

Jean darted backward pressing himself into the corner of the office. He's breathing was ragged. He slowly lifted his head from his hands and scanned the room. Jeremy wasn't sure if Jean knew were he was anymore or would see him as a threat so he stayed put and began to softly speak.

"Are you alright?" Jean didn't respond or react and he couldn't blame him. He was clearly far from alright. Jeremy remembered how French had helped him weeks ago.

"Jean what can I do to help?" He asked in French this time. Jean managed to look up at Jeremy his eyes full of fear and dread.

"He is going to kill me." 

"What coach? Coach won't hurt you at all, he can be a bit loud and insensitive at times but he's really a big teddy bear honest."

Jean shook his head "Not him,"

"Riko's dead he can't touch you anymore"

He shook his head again wordlessly.

"Tetsuji?" Jeremy asked softly remembering how he had referred to the man as the master and how he had called Coach that too a few minutes ago.

"He wouldn't have been so kind. I was too expensive for them to kill. If I had shown him the kind of disrespect I showed your coach I would have been beaten within an inch of my life, but I would have survived." He spat out the vitriol filled words.

"Who then?" Jeremy asked pushing aside the urge to go find Tetsuji and kill him for ever hurting Jean.

Jean let out a humorless laugh "What did Kevin tell you about me? And the Moriyamas?"

"He said you had had a rough time and needed to find a new team. That Riko had hurt you, he didn't say how badly or how. He mentioned you would have a hard time being alone, something about a partner system."

"And the Moriyamas?" Jean said, letting his head fall back against the wall.

"Tetsuji and Riko?" Jeremy asked confused, "Oh wait didn't wasn't Riko's dad a businessman or something? He died this spring, right? They were estranged or something?" 

Jean snorted softly "Figures he'd subject all of you to me without warning you or saying anything when his entire team knows everything and more."

"Knows what?"

Jean gave him a long and calculating look.

"What I am about to tell you, you cannot repeat. I will understand if you want me off of your team afterward. You shouldn't have agreed to take me on without knowing the truth."

Well, that sounded ominous Jeremy thought. "I won't tell anyone."

Jean hesitated once more "You can't unknow it, once I tell you. It could put you in danger knowing."

"I want to know" Jeremy was too invested. "If you won't tell me, I'll probably end up trying to figure out on my own or I will get one of the foxes to explain."

"Fine, don't ask any questions until I am done." Jean sounded defeated, and Jeremy almost took it back. He didn’t want to put any more stress on Jean, but on the other hand, it would be hard to keep helping him without knowing more of the facts

Jeremy nodded and mimed zipping his lips and throwing away the key. 

Jean shook his head at him and switched back to English to began in monotone. “The Moriyama's are the yakuza crime family. Their empire and allied territories cover most of the world. They have complete control all of Japan and the US they also control other large pockets of Europe, Asia and Australia. They have allies in Africa and South America. There is nowhere you can go to escape them."

Jeremy was stunned that was not what he had been expecting at all. The yakuza ?

Jean continued on, "The family is split into two branches. The main branch is the one with the most power and consists only of firstborn sons. The old lord was Kengo, Riko's father, and the new lord is Ichirou his older brother. The secondary branch is just that, secondary, it consists of second sons. The spare heirs,  they aren't typically needed these days, and are cast out, or and left mainly to their own. Riko and the Master are second sons. After Riko's birth, he was given to his uncle to raise, he never met his father or brother. He was nothing to them, second sons are meaningless and unimportant to the main branch." 

Jean paused a beat and looked back at Jeremy checking if he was following along. That could explain why Riko was such an egotistical asshole. He couldn't even begin to feel bad for him though, nothing could excuse how he had treated Jean.

Jeremy nodded back, prompting Jean to continue, "It gets a bit more complicated after that. The Master created Exy along with Kevin's mom, it has made him rich, and exy made him and Riko more powerful than the secondary branch traditionally would be. Castle Evermore and the Ravens are essentially a massive front for the main branch to funnel money and goods an excuse for a meeting place and such. It is also a source of revenue for the Moriyama family. One could even make the argument that all of Exy is a front or source of revenue for the yakuza."

Fuck Jeremy thought reevaluating his love for the sport. 

"The Moreaus, my family, are a crime family in France, they have belonged to the Moriyama's for generations. Theirs is one of the many syndicates actually owned by the Yakuza. They fell into debt. My father owed the main Moriyama branch money, the Master found out and got involved. So, my father sold me to the Master when I was ten. In exchange, the Master paid off my family's debt. He and Riko owned me which meant I became property to the second branch."

Jeremy couldn't help the small wounded noise he made after finding out Jean's family had literally sold him to the monsters that hurt him. When he was just a child. God. 

Jean throw him an unreadable look then resumed voice flat. "The master put Riko in charge of disciplining me, and pretty much gave him free rein to do anything short of killing me." A terrible dark shadow passed over Jean's face and Jeremy didn't want to imagine the horrors behind it. 

Jean was speaking faster now in a rush to get it all out, "I was trained for Exy with the goal of generating future revenue for the Moriyamas. An investment of sorts. That's all that matters success on the court. This year, Kengo, the old lord, died and his son Ichirou took over. Riko wasn't even invited to the funeral, he was furious and… " Jean gestured to his face vaguely. 

"Renee Walker broke me out. Neil, you heard all that stuff on the news yeah? He was supposed to be like me, but his mother ran away with him first. His father was the Butcher, Kengo's right-hand man, and executioner. After spring break Ichirou showed up at Palmetto and Neil, I swear to god I don't know how he managed it, Neil made a deal with him. Ichirou took over ownership of us, we became the property of the main branch. Neil and I that is, it's a bit different for Kevin because he is an investment, not property, but he still has to pay his dues. He made it so I could belong to the Trojans instead of the Ravens. We are allowed to live if we play exy, get signed to professional teams and give the Moriyama's 80% of all our earnings, salaries, sponsorship deals or anything else they require of us. We have to be as profitable as possible or we will be killed, for not being worth the effort. Neil made Ichirou see that Riko was unstable, and a threat to his investments so to speak. After the championship match, Ichirou killed him himself and set it up to look like a suicide. If I cannot succeed here, and that seems doubtful, as I fell apart within a minute of meeting your coach, not to even mention actually setting foot on the court, or am not worth the trouble the Lord will have me killed as well." 

Jean stopped and went back to his seemingly dissociated state. Fuck, holy shitting fuck, why did it have to be the Yakuza. Calm down he told himself you'll figure it out . He couldn't panic now, he made the bold and brilliant decision to worry about all that later. Right now he had to focus on Jean who had hadn't quite managed to get all that out without breaking down. Jean who had clearly been through hell and back twice over. He knew he only had the basic barebones version of the story and even that was more horrific than he had imagined from what little information Jean had given him these past weeks.

His throat felt tight and his eyes were starting to sting. He pushed those feelings aside. "What can I do to help?"

Jean looked at him like he had sprouted horns "Did you not understand? You and your coach own me now, you and Ichirou."

It was Jeremy's turn to recoil. "No, we don't"

"Yes, you do. Did you not listen? That is the way this works. I am property, you can do whatever you want to me."

"No! Jean, people can't own other people!"

"It's okay really.” Jean attempted to convince him. “I prefer you to Riko, by so much. You let me eat, and see the sun. You haven't used knives or made me break my fingers, or anything else. You haven't even hit me yet. I doubt you would even punish me, unless you needed to and I deserved it. I'm okay with you owning me."

"The fuck I do! I do not own you and I never will. You are free, you belong to nobody but yourself. And I will never, ever hit you or hurt you. I promise. No one is allowed to harm you. Nobody can harm you without consequences, not Coach, not a teammate, not a professor, not someone in your classes, not me. If they do you have every right to protect yourself and cut them out of your life. Nothing you could ever do would make you deserve it." Jeremy's voice was starting to break. 

He had no idea the bar had been so low. That Jean expected that sort of treatment, accepted it, thought he deserved it. There were no words. He listed seeing the sun and being allowed to eat as reasons why he wouldn't mind being owned by Jeremy. It was gut-wrenching. It explained so much, Jean's reluctance and fear associated with eating, the way he looked at the sky in wonder. Knives? He had been made to break his own fingers? God. 

Jean just looked down at the ground "I don't understand. That is not how it has ever worked. I -- your coach will explain it to you better. It has to be that way. It just has to. I am nothing else."

"Jean, you are so amazing that’s not --" Jeremy was cut off by a pounding on the door. 

"Okay, I’m coming back in boys. Jared’s with me.” Coach Rheman bellowed from outside the door.

Jean gave him a look of pure terror “No,” he whispered.

“Coach wait don’t--” Jeremy tried to stop them from coming in, but they were already pushing through the door. 

Jean who had relaxed minutely during their conversation scrambled back into the corner and started hyperventilating. He folded into himself making him seem smaller than he actually was.

Coach stumbled into the room with Jared close behind him and took in the sight of Jean shaking in the corner. “The hell did Tetsuji and the Ravens do to him?” 

Jean flinched at that. Jeremy slid over putting himself between Jean and two men blocking their line of sight. 

“Gene, how are you doing?” Jared asked.

Jean didn’t respond or correct him on the pronunciation of his name, so Jeremy did. “His name is Jean, not Gene.” 

“Oh. My apologies, John”

“Jean” he corrected him again. There was also the added benefit of pulling the room’s attention away from Jean and on to himself. 

“Jean, I’m sorry.”

Jean watched the exchange from the corner warily. “So coach how was your vacation? You went to Hawaii right?.” Jeremy continued infusing his voice with as much cheer as possible.

“Uh… it was alright.”

“I’m sure it was lovely, see anything particularly exciting?”

“I went on a hike up one of those inactive volcanoes.”

“Wonderful!” He had succeeded in pulling in the attention of the room but now he had no idea what to do with it.

"Hey, you know what's weird?"

"What Knox?" Coach sounded exasperated.

"All of our first names start with J. Jeremy, Jean, Jared, and James. Isn't that funny?"

"I suppose so."

"It's weird not a lot of J names."

"There are plenty."

“I think it’s pretty neat."

There was a moment's pause in which coach looked ready to open his mouth and start talking again so Jeremy continued.

"Jared I forgot to ask you, how has your break been done anything interesting? How's the wife?"

"Jeremy I'm gay, and not married. You know that."

"Right, right of course. How's your mom then?"

"You've never met her or asked about her before. She's fine I suppose. So Jean --"

Jeremy quickly cut him off again "but your break you haven't told us what you did."

"It was fine."

"Watch any new TV shows. I've been binging Merlin on Netflix it's quite good."

"I'm sure." He said flatly.

"Yeah it's about, well Merlin, you know King Arthur right. Well he's not an old man and Arthur is the same age and" he continued to describe the show, its plot, details and his thoughts and opinions on it for at least 15 minutes unprompted. He talked over any attempts to end the discussion and made sure all the attention was on him. He was explaining how it was really a romance between Arthur and Merlin and also what side ships he enjoyed until he got abruptly cut off by a hand reaching out from behind him and covering his mouth.

He turned around in surprise. "You can stop talking now," Jean told him in French. 

He couldn't help but grin, although it was slightly stifled by Jean's hand over his mouth.

Jean removed his hand sliding it to his shoulder. "Thank you" he murmured. Jeremy just stared back his lips felt tingly where Jean’s hand had been.

"Finely," Coach muttered under his breath.

So, Jean," he started up again. Jean stiffened behind his back but didn't appear to be having a panic attack although his hand gripped his shoulder tighter. "Are you alright,"

“I am fine." Jean’s words were stiff and clipped.

"You sure son?  That didn't look fine earlier." 

"I will refrain from displaying such weakness again. It will not interfere with my ability to succeed on your court."

Coach sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "That's not what I meant"

Jean remains silent until Jared speaks "Jean have you thought about what I told you, reached out to anyone, talked to anyone about--"

"Stop."

"I think it would--"

"No, you said everything I said would be confidential. Were you lying?"

"No, Jean I just think you need to talk about--"

"Then stop talking about it!"

Jeremy had never heard Jean yell before and turned to look at his face. His eyes were filled with fear and defiance, yes, but also and an underlying layer of that same blankness from the week before.

"Do you want me to make them leave" he silently mouthed at Jean.

Jean hesitated for a moment then shook his head. Before standing up. "Is there anything else you need from me, sir? I would like to be able to start practice."

Coach gave Jean a long look, raised his eyebrows at Jeremy as if to say is this guy serious.

"Your gear will be ready for you tomorrow and we can make sure everything fits and works for you then. You won't be cleared to play for a while yet, Jared tells me he still wants to get some x-rays. I would also prefer you to schedule a visit with one of the campus' therapists right away rather than wait until the semester starts up."

"I don't need therapy"

"Really? Is that so?" Coach said his thorough disbelief in that statement evident in his voice.

"It is unnecessary."

One of the veins in Coach's forehead twitched a little. "Unnecessary or not, it is required."

Jean stared at him for a moment before looking back down at the ground. "You do not have to worry about me. I know how to keep my mouth shut."

"...Well, that sentence was terrifying." Jared helpfully interjected. 

"The therapy sessions are confidential, and are required to look after the mental health of students who are put under additional stress from sports and coursework."

"I would prefer to wait. Provided I can still resume practicing."

"The rest of the team isn't even here yet what will you do?"

"I can run drills and improve my strength and stamina."

"Fine." Coach finally agreed seeing there was no convincing Jean to wait. "As long as the x-rays are alright on Friday and Jared agrees, and all your equipment works out tomorrow, you can start light practices on Monday."

"Thank you, sir. You will not regret allowing my presence here. I will prove myself a valuable asset to your team." Jean bowed again to Coach, who looked confused by the entire exchange.

"Jean if I could have a quick word with you before you leave," Jared interjected. A wave of fear passed over his face but he nodded stiffly and went to leave the room.

 When Jeremy made to exit he was stopped by Coach. "Jeremy a word."

He nodded and watched the door shut behind Jean and Jared.

"Now tell me the truth. How is he and what is going on with him? What was that all about?"

Jeremy hesitated, he wasn't going to up and tell Coach everything that Jean had just told him about the yakuza, nor did he want to betray his confidence, but this was Coach and he needed some kind of information especially after all of that.

"Is he hurting you?” Coach interjected before he could respond “I don't care what kind of shit happened with the Ravens, if he hurt you he's gone."

"What no? He's not hurting me at all why would you think that?" 

Coach pointed to the fading bruise on his face. "I won't see you go through the same shit that you went through last year. You coming to practice bruised, saying it was an accident."

Jeremy's heart lurched. He had mostly successfully avoided thinking about his asshole of an ex-boyfriend, Rick since Jean had arrived. If it hadn't been for the support of his team, especially Alvarez and Laila, he didn't know what would have happened. He had only managed to hit him a couple of times before they intervened, he had been jealous, possessive and controlling even before that. But it wasn't like that at all with Jean, everything about Jean was opposite of what Rick had been like. Jean would never willingly hurt him. 

"It's not anything like that." 

Coach gave him a look with raised eyebrows "Then tell me what it is like."

"He wasn't sleeping, he hadn't slept for days but I convinced him to sleep for a bit. That I would wake him if he was having a nightmare. But he started having one. He was screaming and I couldn't wake him up. So I tried shaking him. I shouldn’t have. He got me in the face when he was trying to get away from me, before he even woke up. He genuinely didn't mean to, he didn't even know it was me. He felt horrible when he realized what had happened."

"Nightmares huh? I imagine about whatever happened to make him look like he went through a shredder?" Coach said with a sigh.

"I'm not sure if it was that. From what I know it was consistently terrible there. He was there for years, years since he was a kid -- Riko was the one who did that to him."

"I don't want to speak ill of the dead, but that kid was a serious piece of work. Never saw someone who took so much pleasure at knocking others down. Never played fair."

Jeremy clenched his fists as and felt rage well up in him on Jean's behalf. "He was a monster. He tortured him. For fun. Actual fucking torture, repeatedly. I don't know even half of it, but what I know is so tremendously fucked up."

Coach looked shocked. "What do you mean?" 

"I don't know a lot about it, he hasn't said a lot. I can't imagine he would want me to talk about it. It is not my story to tell. I know he was," Jeremy paused not wanting to say anything that Jean wouldn't want him to. "Hurt and tortured repeatedly and badly. The scars you can see, it definitely was not the first time he was hurt like that. Probably manipulated and psychologically abused for years too."

"Jesus," Coach hissed out shaking his head. No wonder he is so skittish. I don't know how David does it, takes in all these hurt and broken kids year after year. Would break my heart every time. You feel safe with him though? We can move him to a different room."

"No" he said quickly then clarified. "I am safe around him. I don't want to switch rooms or make him switch. I want to stay with him. He is a good roommate." Jean hadn't been away from his side at all in the entire time he had been there for long, only occasionally not being in the same room in the confines of their apartment, he doubted isolation would be good for him. Even if that wasn't the case he wouldn't want to switch, he felt insanely protective over Jean now more than ever, maybe it was because of his own history with abuse and how support from friends and teammates had gotten him through it, but he couldn't stand the idea of Jean going through it alone. He would leave only at Jean's request.

"Alright, if you say so."

Jeremy nodded again and headed for the door, "I guess we will be seeing you tomorrow."

He waited a few more minutes for Jean in the lounge before he emerged from Jared's office. 

"Hey, ready to go?"

Jean nodded but didn't speak. His eyes had that blank and dead look in them again that Jeremy hated.

They headed out to the car and Jean leaned up against the window. "Do you need to do anything? Or we could stop and grab food before we go back?"

"I… I need to go to the pharmacy. Walgreens Jared said." Jean refused to meet his eyes as he spoke shoving a piece of paper into his pocket.

"Yeah, okay, that's no problem. I need to pick up some things too." He looked Jean over, he hoped he wasn't sick. But he knew it was none of his business and left it alone. 

The rest of the drive was silent. Jean followed him into the store and went to the pharmacy counter passing over a script. Jeremy quickly started looking over things on his phone to give Jean some privacy. 

After Jean stepped back he asked for his own meds and was given a 20-minute wait for them to be filled.

"I need to get some other things," Jean told him.

"Sure, what are we looking for?"

"Vitamins and supplements. I," Jean paused tense, "Jared says because Riko starved me so often and controlled what I ate, I have nutritional deficiencies. And because of the malnutrition, I have not healed fast enough, apparently." 

Jeremy forced himself to take a breath and fervently hoped Riko was burning in hell where he belonged. He had guessed as much from the way Jean acted around food. How they had expected Jean to play Exy without rest, starving and frequently injured was incomprehensible.

"Jean about what you were talking about earlier…"

"Yes," Jean seemed to be reading all the ingredients on the back of a jar of multivitamins.

Jeremy glanced around and switched to French for privacy, "Have you considered going to the police?"

Jean's head snapped up "No! No, Jeremy, you have to promise me you will not say anything to anyone, especially not police or law enforcement. They have people in the police. You, me and everybody you care about, have even spoken to will be killed! You need to understand that, you will die! You can not say anything to anyone!" 

"Okay, okay, no police got it."

"I've seen them execute traitors before, it's a terrible way to go, they will make you watch your family and friends die first." Jean gripped his arm, his words were filled with fear. Jeremy felt sick.

"I won't say anything."

Jean stared at him for a moment looking conflicted. "I should not have told you, I have only put you in danger."

"You said Kevin's whole team knows right? It will be fine."

"Yes, well the foxes are all insane so…"

"Yeah, a bit, aren't they?"

Jeremy wasn't worried, well he was of course, but he was glad he knew. It made everything about Jean clearer. It helped him see past all the fear and acting, see who Jean really was underneath all that.

"So why did you choose to come to the "Trojans instead of staying with the foxes or some other team? Is it because you love us?" Jeremy gave him a teasing grin.

"I did not choose, Kevin did." When Jeremy looked at him in confusion he clarified "Kevin is second, I am third by default alone, he is higher ranked. He told me I was coming here and here I am. That is the way it works. It is probably better this way, there is too much history between Kevin and I, neither of us would be able to heal on the same team. It doesn't matter anyways, I am dead if I don't play."

“History?” Jeremy asked hollowly knowing he probably wouldn’t like the answer. Nobody talked to him about his transfer to the Trojan’s team. Had he even been asked or given a real choice? He felt like he had been slapped. If nobody had bothered to explain anything to Jean no wonder he had been so terrified, uncertain of how he would be treated. He had been sent here against his will once again, he didn't want to be here.

"He was my friend, my brother. He stood by and watched me be tortured again and again. He would help patch me up but then, he left. I know he had to, I helped him get away. But Riko hurt me every goddamn day, Kevin was afraid of him, but he wasn’t property like I was, Riko hit him occasionally but it wasn’t like what he did to me. It was the first time that Riko had hurt him that badly and he left. He got to leave. But he didn't even look back or try to contact me at all. He knew what Riko was, what he would do to me and he still left me. I barely survived." The pain of the betrayal was evident in his voice, his voice cracking a little at the words ‘he still left me.’

It's not Kevin's fault, Jeremy knows this, tries to remind himself. He knows he was a victim of abuse too, knows how trapping and terrifying that cycle can be from his own experience. But he can't get Jean's screams out of his head, him begging Kevin to help him while in the throws of a nightmare. He understands why the relationship would be a complex one. He was not in either of their positions and could not judge. He would like to think that if he had, he would have stayed, would have protected Jean more, but he cannot know that for sure. But he hadn’t even been able to protect himself from Rick, who could know how he would have reacted to a cruel wannabe mobster backed by the yakuza.  All he can do is try is damndest to make sure Jean will be able to heal here, protect him now, help him, because now he can.

"Do you even like Exy?" Jeremy blurted out.

"I think I might have once. But it has been only about survival for longer than I can remember."

It breaks Jeremy’s heart a little. He loves exy, has loved it since he was a kid, can’t imagine not loving it. He hates that enjoyment was taken from Jean. Exy, sports, are meant to be fun, enjoyed. 

They pick up their prescriptions, Jean hiding his in his front pocket the second it is handed to him, and headed back to the dorm, picking up sandwiches for dinner on the way. Jean stayed blank-faced and quiet until they were back at the dorm.

 

_____

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

Jean

 

 

“Hey, how are you feeling?”

Jean hesitated for a moment feeling unable to make words but, feeling as though Jeremy deserved them “It has been a long day.” He managed to get out the words felt awkward and wrong coming out. 

“Yeah, it has, want to talk about it or just want to be quiet for a bit? I could put on a movie?"

Jean was floored, he didn't know why it was something so simple. Jeremy offering to talk about what was bothering him but equally as willing to let it go, to just let it be, to distract him if he could. He wasn't expecting anything from Jean, not even words, explanations, justifications and certainly not anything even remotely physical. He nodded slowly feeling overwhelmed and unable to put things into words.

Jeremy offered him a quick smile "I'll start making dinner." 

When Jean raised his eyebrows in response he laughed "Don't worry, it's just sandwiches, I can't burn anything."

Jeremy came into the living room and flipped the TV on "Is the second Despicable Me movie alright? You can just nod yes or shake your head no."

Jean nodded slowly and Jeremy put it in before going back into the kitchen humming a little as he made them sandwiches.

He was so good, and he had had no idea. He hadn't believed Renee when she had told him, he felt slightly bad about it now. Despite her texting him and trying to check in with him every day, he hadn't responded beyond saying he had landed and was fine. He had been convinced she had been lying to him about Jeremy and the Trojans. Every day when he was staying with the fox's nurse she had come to see him, had sat with him let him, cry scream or just be silent. He had no idea what to do with the fact that her friendship had been genuine and it was possible to continue it. He had assumed his phone would be taken from him the second he touched down. She had been right about Jeremy at least, it was yet to be seen about the Trojans. At the very least he wouldn't be their property and Jeremy wouldn't be offering him up to them as a reward for good behavior. He shuddered trying to make himself not think about it. Not think about what Jared had said, about the antibiotics in his front pocket.

Syphilis. He'd been given Syphilis, either by Riko in March or one of the Ravens back in December. It was still in the first stage according to Jared and "easily treatable." It would go away, he would be fine. He was okay, he was okay he was okay. He tried to tell himself as his breathing started to come in quicker.

"Jean?" Jeremy asked standing nearby with a plate and sandwich. He couldn't know. Jeremy could never know. How disgusting, diseased, wrong he was. 

"Here's your food." He said handing him his plate. 

Jean forced himself to take a deep breath. To calm down. To not let the panic be visible.  

It had to have been Riko or one of the Ravens. It would make sense if it was Riko. He knew from a few of Kevin's long drunken history rants that untreated late-stage syphilis could lead to insanity. And Riko had certainly been losing his mind that last year, especially that night. But he had never seen Riko take any medicine, and he had full access to medicine, medical treatment, and tests. He also wasn't sure who he would have gotten it from.

 It could just have easily been one of the Ravens at Christmas break. Oh god, Neil. Jean felt sick. They had raped him too. More often, because when the times Riko said Neil had to choose who it would happen too he'd chosen himself and Jean had just let him. 

He got up abruptly and ran to the bathroom to puke his guts out. Forehead leaning against the cold porcelain bowl he heard Jeremy call from the other room. 

"Jean" he knocked on the door. When he got no response he heard him sigh, "I'll go make you some tea." 

By the time he had managed to pick himself up off the floor, rinse his mouth and leave the bathroom Jeremy was waiting outside with a cup of tea.

"It's mint," he said softly looking at him with concern. "There is ginger too if you prefer it can help with nausea."

Jean shook his head taking the tea from Jeremy and taking a sip. His stomach still rolled uncomfortably. He had to call Neil. He wasn't sure if he even remembered it. He hadn't seemed to, Jean had tried to apologize after spring break, and Neil had waved him off. Saying he couldn't remember most of what happened but he knew Jean had done what he could. It hadn't been enough though. He wondered if Minyard would come to California and kill him. 

Jean sat on the couch and brought his knees up to his chest trying to keep his thoughts from spinning out of control. Jeremy went into the bedroom and came out handing Jean a neon green blanket. Jean stared at him for a moment as Jeremy turned up the volume of the TV and settled on the far end of the couch. He eventually wrapped it around himself and tried to make himself focus on the screen. His mind kept replaying scenes over and over in his head.

~~~

Neil glared at Riko defiantly, he was barely able to stand and was tilting sideways. Jean had to hold him up. He was bruised and bleeding from his nose and a split lip. "Never" he spat at Riko. A group of fifth years loomed threateningly in the corner staring at them with hungry eyes.

"Choose, or it will be both of you again." Riko taunted. "

"Don't, I'll do it." He tried to tell them.

Neil wouldn't listen. "Me then," he told them.

"No! Riko please don't" Jean shouted and tried to pull him away. Tried to get in front of him. 

Riko slapped him across the face. "You know better than to talk back dog. Hold him" he ordered two of the seniors. 

Jean's arms were wrenched back and he was forced to the ground.

"Make him watch. And do what you want to her." Riko commanded them as the others grabbed Neil.

He tried to look away and close his eyes as they tore into him and Neil started screaming.

~~~

"Jean!" Jeremy called for him with outstretched arms. He flinched out of instinct. His face was wet and he was shaking huddled into a corner on the couch. Jeremy quickly drew back. 

"Sorry, sorry, you just went somewhere else for a minute."

  Jean nodded unable to past the lump in his throat or the echoes of anguished screams in his head. He wrapped the blanket tighter around himself. He pulled his phone out of his pocket. It was after 8:00 pm, making it after 11:00 on the East Coast. It was too late to call now. He didn't think he would be able to get the words out anyway. He texted Renee asking for Neils number and powered his phone off. He glanced at the television and the movie seemed to be over. He didn't think he had even really seen any of it, he certainly wouldn't be able to say what it had been about.

He forced himself to finish the sandwich even though it tasted like chalk in his mouth. He managed to get the pill bottle open and force one down with a gulp of tea while keeping the label hidden in his hand. He looked at Jeremy who was watching him with compassionate eyes. He quickly looked away. He picked up his plate and washed it in the sink on autopilot, waving Jeremy off when he offered to do the dishes instead. 

Crawling into his bed he stared up at the ceiling. He was so tired, but he wondered if it was even worth it to sleep. When Jeremy entered the room he hesitated, "Lights on?" He asked.

Jean nodded and Jeremy left them on. "I could stay awake for a bit, wake you if I need to? Or stay with you? Whatever you need."

He shook his head. It was bad enough he had done it once, and look at what happened. The bruise on Jeremy's face was fading quickly but it was still a stark reminder. He had hurt him. He was a monster. He wouldn't risk it again, no matter how comforting and safe Jeremy's presence made him feel. No matter how much he longed for it.

His very presence put Jeremy in enough danger. The selfish part of him was glad he had told Jeremy the barebones version of the truth. He had never told anyone before, they usually either already knew or could never know. Perhaps it was a good thing, yes it would put him in slightly more danger but the truth could protect him too. He would be on guard, not to say things he would know the risks. He would know what had happened when Jean inevitably disappeared. He would know it was because he had been killed. He would know not to go looking for him.

  Jeremy fell asleep before him as usual. Mouth slack and sprawled over his bed with various stuffed animals, pillows and blankets. He snored slightly, but not overly loud. Jean turned towards him keeping his back to the wall and watched him until his eyes felt heavy and he went to sleep.

~~~

Jean tried to tuck his body in and protect his head as he was thrown down the stairs back into the darkness. He lifted his head up fuzzily to see a boot coming towards him, he was too late to dodge the blow and it connected to his face with a sickening crunch. He tried to stay limp, to not try to get away or fight. He would get bored eventually if he didn’t react, didn’t protect himself, or struggle. 

The boot connected with his side again and again. He was wheezing and couldn't help but to curl into a ball as Riko kept kicking him and screaming, spittle flying out of his mouth. 

He yanked on his hair and started to drag him up. "Move! Now!"

He tried to get up and move but Riko was faster and dragged him to his rooms by his hair. Tearing chunks of it out. 

Riko kept screaming about showing them. Making his brother see. While he beat Jean over and over and over with an exy racket. He couldn't hold back the pained gasps and cries with each blow.

I'm going to die tonight Jean thought. This is it, he will finally kill me. It was almost a relief.

Then he stopped and put the exy racket aside. Dragging him up to his face but kicking his legs out from under him. 

He threw him back onto the ground and cuffed his hands behind his back. He sat on his legs pinning him down brandishing a knife.

He started slashing and stabbing him, it was disorderly and imprecise unlike his usual slow deliberate cuts meant for pain but not damage.

One went particularly deep. He started to struggle to try to getaway. "You'll kill me please." he tried begging knowing it wouldn't work. He wasn't sure why wouldn't it better if it was just over? The pain would end then?

Riko wrenched his head up again pressing the knife to his throat.

"Why shouldn't I? You are nothing. You're worthless. I am your king I can do whatever I want to you and no one can stop me."

He pressed the knife into his face and dragged it in a circle around his tattoo. Continuing to rave about how he was number one Jean didn't even deserve a three. The tears streaming down his face made the wound sting even more and he couldn't stop himself from struggling.

Riko laughed and slashed at his face some more.

"You're so pretty when you bleed three. When you cry, I can see why the others like you so much." Despite the lacerations and the hot blood dripping from his wounds and covering his body, Jean felt cold.

He placed the knife in the corner of his mouth and dragged it upward across his cheek. The blade stung, and sharp. Jean thought he might even slice through his cheek. His mouth was filled with the vile taste of blood and bile and he tried to cough it out. A few ribs were definitely broken. 

"You should have more words three, something to remind everyone who you belong too."

Jean tried not to scream while Riko carved the words into his chest. "Property of Riko." 

Riko leaned back to admire his work and tutted. "No, no no, this simply will not do people should know what you are how much your worth."

Jean scrambled trying to getaway. Riko backhanded him across the face disturbing the new injuries. "Hold still and shut up." Riko hissed at him and started carving a W into his hip. He screamed in pain, he couldn't help it and Riko stabbed him in the side in retaliation.  

He bit his lip trying to avoid crying out as Riko finished gouging the word Whore across his hip. 

He grasped his arm. "Here this one I'll do where you can see it." Jean struggled feebly trying to get his arm out of Riko's hold, but weak from pain and bloodloss.

"Worthless" Riko told him carving the word into his inner forearm. 

He hoped Riko was done. That he was satisfied. He wasn't.

"Turn over." He said wiping his blade on Jean's pants

"No, please no."

Riko screamed "You'll do what I tell you to bitch!"  and tore Jean's remaining clothes off. He tried to get away but he was so weak and kept slipping in the mess of his own blood on the floor.

Another chunk of hair got ripped out when Riko grabbed him to slam in face-first into the ground. He struggled to get up to getaway. He gurgled and sputtered in his own blood welling up in his mouth and dripping down his face. He had to getaway. But Riko kicked him in the back, knocking the wind out of him and leaving him gasping on the floor. Riko stomped on his fingers making him cry out again.

"Why are you struggling? I know you like it." Riko undid his belt and grabbed Jean by the hips.

"I don't, I don't please don't!"

Blinding pain shot through his body as Riko continued anyway.

He couldn't hold back his screams. "Stop, stop, no more, please."

"Jean!" That wasn't Riko's voice, he never called him that. 

~~~

"Jean wake up!"

"Please wake up!"

"It's just a dream wake up."

"JEAN!"

He jerked back awake lashing out with fists and scrambling to getaway. He became aware of his surroundings slowly still shaking and filled with the phantom pain.

"J-Jeremy?" He asked the figure standing near the foot of his bed.

"Yeah, it's me," He whispered coming closer. He had turned the light back on at some point. He was grateful for the light, it reminded him where he was.

  He gulped in air between sobs and shudders still wracking his body. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." 

He could still feel the sting of knives piercing his skin, fists in his hair pulling him every which way and the deep ache in his lower body from being ripped apart.

"It's okay, you're going okay. You have nothing to be sorry for." he murmured to him in French reaching a hand out but just placing it on the bed within reach. After a few minutes were reality started to seep into Jean's mind and he thought he could stand being touched again, he grasped it like a lifeline. He was probably squeezing it too tight but it helped anchor his mind and body in the present. Kept him from falling back into the nightmare of his past.

Jeremy rubbed the back of his hand with his thumb soothingly despite his death-grip. Jean squeezed his eyes shut and tried to fight back the memories.

"What do you need? What can I do?" 

His voice was ragged and hoarse,  his throat sore from screaming. He ached, he just wanted comfort, just for a minute, he wouldn't ask for it again. "Can you just hold me?" He felt ashamed for even asking, he didn't deserve it, he knew he didn't.

"Of course," Jeremy gave him a small smile and climbed up onto the bed with him.

Jeremy wrapped his arms around his shoulders and pulled him into his chest. Jean buried his face in his between his neck and shoulder and heavied out full-body sobs. Jeremy held him tenderly like he was something to be cherished.

Jeremy rubbed his back murmuring to him softly and terribly accented French that didn't always make sense. He appreciated the effort though. 

"Try to match your breathing to mine in and out, that's it." Jeremy encouraged him

Jean slowly started to relax into his hold after several long minutes, wrapping his arms around Jeremy's waist as well. 

He breathed in deep, inhaling the scent of Jeremy's odd cupcake scented body wash and shampoo. It was sweet. There was never anything sweet in the Nest. It was another way to ground himself to reality.

Jeremy's arms around him were strong, but gentle and soft, he would have no problem getting away if he wanted to. He didn't want to. He felt safe. Cared for even. 

He wanted to savor this moment, this touch, this comfort. The panic had quickly abated with Jeremy holding him and it wouldn't be long before he realized and left.

"Thank you," he croaked out. "I'm sorry for waking you."

"Don't be. I'm glad, I woke up and was able to wake you. If nightmares are keeping you up or waking you, wake me up. I know I can't just make it go away, or take away the memories that caused them. But I want to help, however, I can. Whatever you need."

"I don't understand how you can be so good. I don't deserve it."

"You do, you deserve better. The world has been too cruel to you Jean Moreau, but it doesn't have to be. I won't let it." Jeremy cradled his cheek lightly in his hands and looked him in the eyes when he said it. He felt the words deep at his core. 

"You are going to fight the yakuza and the entire world now, are you?" He's the sun, Jean thought. He shines brighter and warmer than the sun. The most trodden on weed can not help but turn to the sun. And so did Jean.

"I may be small but I am scrappy."

He snorted into Jeremy's neck. "Oui, d'accord." 

Jeremy hummed a little leaning his head slightly against Jeans. "So tell me honestly, how bad is my French?"

"It is passable for an American." Jeremy's hair was tickling his nose.

"Oof, is that your polite way of telling me its awful."

"Non, it is very good actually. Your accent and grammar are a bit off but I understand you just fine." He paused for a moment and continued, "I am actually not sure if my French is any good anymore. I haven't spoken to another native speaker since I was 10. I taught Kevin myself in the Nest, but" he shrugged slightly, "I was not allowed to speak it. Riko hated it because he couldn't understand it. He would punish me if he ever caught me speaking it. He hated the accent too but, I have made myself keep it out of spite. They eventually stopped beating me for it. Needless to say, I had to learn English and Japanese very quickly."

Jeremy's hand stilled slightly on his back and Jean felt him inhale sharply. "You speak Japanese too?" He asked, his voice sounded strained.

"Yes, for the most part. Although it wasn't like they had many conversations with me. They just got… mad when I made mistakes so I learned not to." 

Jeremy tightened his arms around him slightly, like he could protect him in the present from the horrors of the past. It was easier somehow talking about the Nest when he was in Jeremy's arms and holding him in turn. He wasn't sure if it was because he couldn't see his face or because of the comfort the embrace brought him.

"You didn't speak any English before you came?" 

"I was told some of the words for Exy things by a kind flight attendant on the way over."

He felt Jeremy's breathing stop again for a moment. "That must have been very difficult."

"It was," he confirmed, "Kevin would help me sometimes when he could get away from Riko, point at things or demonstrate and say the English word. I still have some gaps."

"If you ever need help let me know. You can also help me with my 'passable' French."

Jean hummed in confirmation into his neck feeling drowsy now that he finally felt safe.

"If we fall asleep like this, we will be sore tomorrow" Jeremy murmured without letting go.

"Sorry," Jean said retreating, it was time to let go. The contact had been nice while it lasted.

Jeremy blinked at him with soft tired eyes. Then laid down on the edge of the bed and looked at him expectantly. Jean just blinked at him in confusion.

Jeremy blushed, then sat back up. "Sorry, I just thought-- I'll just go then." His face was bright red. 

Had Jeremy been willing to stay? "No wait," he said touching Jeremy's arm. "You can stay."

"It's okay, I shouldn't have assumed. I'll go if you want."

Jean hesitated he wanted Jeremy to stay so badly, but he didn't want to risk hurting him or even pushing him out of bed in his sleep. "I want you to stay," he admitted softly, "but I don't want to hurt you if I have another nightmare."

Jeremy's eyes softened, "It will be fine. I'll wake up and wake you if you have another one. But only if you want me to stay, I can leave if you would prefer."

He knew he shouldn't but he was weak. "Stay." He whispered softly.

Jeremy smiled at him and got settled back down patting the spot near the wall, next to him. "Unless you prefer a different side?"

"Wall is better," Jean confirmed and he crawled into space next to Jeremy to lay down. 

He didn't know what he was supposed to do, this was an entirely new experience for him. He turned to Jeremy who wriggled closer to him.

"Is this okay?" He asked as he leaned against him putting his head on his chest and throwing an arm around him. "We can spoon or something if you'd rather?" 

Jean wasn't sure what cutlery had to do with the situation they were in. "This is good." 

He hesitantly brought his arms up around Jeremy who just snuggled in closer. "Mmm night, Jean." He said as he closed his eyes "Feel free to shove me off if your arm falls asleep or you don't want me here or something."

He couldn't imagine not wanting Jeremy there.  His head was a comfortable weight on his chest and he felt safe. Like Jeremy would protect him or wake him if anyone tried coming in the door.

He let his eyelids fall shut and tugged up the sheet to cover them.

"Goodnight Jeremy," he murmured.


He woke up feeling warm, rested and heavy. The heaviness was explained when he cracked his eyes open to see Jeremy sprawled on top his body like a starfish. 

He brushed some of the warm brown curls out of his face to see his mouth slack on his chest drooling slightly on to his shirt. 

He snorted, he was surprised he hadn't woken up.

He was, however, ready to wake up now. "Jeremy," he called softly.

He cracked a blurry eye open at him. Made a "mmrmph" noise and closed his eyes again.

"Jeremy," 

"Ughhh. You're warm and comfortable."

"Ah then, by all means, continue to drool on me."

Jeremy sat bolt right up. "Shit sorry, I did drool on you a bit didn't I?"

"It is fine," Jean said sitting up and cracking his neck. 

He reached over and checked his phone. Renee had sent him Neil's number and Andrew's because apparently Neil did not answer his phone. She wished him well.

He felt the familiar discomfort roiling in his gut. 

Jeremy slid out of bed and muttered something about taking a shower and breakfast. He knew he had to call now before he either lost his courage or Jeremy came back.

He took a deep breath and dialed Neil's number. It went immediately to voicemail, so he called Minyard's. 

He answered after four rings.

"Who the fuck is this?" Yes, he remembered him being rather rude.

"It's Jean Moreau, I need to talk to Neil."

"What do you want with him?" He responded sounding on guard.

"P- it's important," he said remembering just in time that the man had understandable aversions to the word, please.

"Andrew?" He heard Neil's muffled voice in the background. "Who's that?"

"Moreau, he wants to talk to you."

"Okay," he heard then a pause before Neil answered. "Hello, Jean?"

"Yeah," he said, he hadn't thought of how he would tell him. How would he even start?

"What is it?"

Jean swallowed a lump in his throat. "Neil… I'm, I am so sorry."

"What for? I barely remember the Nest, and anyway it's in the past Jean."

Jean rested his head against the wall and closed his eyes. "Fuck. You need to get tested."

"What do you mean?" He sounded confused. Fuck he didn't remember, he knew he hadn't.

"For STDs. You should get tested for STDs. Syphilis specifically" he choked out.

"Why? Why would I have to do that?" Neil's voice sounded small and frightened.

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I tried to stop them."

"Stop what." He could hear Neil's voice crack a bit.

"He let the Ravens-- Over break Riko had them -- Fuck. And now I have syphilis. It might not have been from then. But there were so many, and it happened more than once. He didn't do it to you himself I don't think. I convinced him it would count as gay. But he had others do it and, to me too. And now I have it, and I'm so sorry, Neil. It might have been him, who gave it to me later, but I don't know, I don't know." His throat was starting to close and hurt.

He heard a pained gasp from the other end of the line and heard the phone drop. "Neil, Neil?! Breathe junkie." He heard Minyard trying to comfort his lover on the other end of the line. Concern and worry in the voice of one who was perceived to be emotionless.

"The FUCK you say to him!" Minyard roared at him through the phone. Jean flinched, there was a reason Kevin sought him out for protection, believed he could hold back even Riko.

 "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."

He heard Neil speak to Minyard it shaky and gasping German. After which there was a moment of silence.

"Names." Minyard commanded.

"What?"

"Names, tell me the names of the Ravens who did this." 

"I--" Jean didn't want to call attention to any of it. Didn't want to bring on the wrath of the Master or the main branch. "Why?"

"So I don't kill the wrong people."

When Jean didn't respond right away. Minyard demanded again, "Tell me the names now!"

"Engle, Johnson, Reacher, Williams, Petrov, Fitz, Fields, Miller and Tryniski."

He was used to following commands. Andrew made an affirmative noise indicating he had heard "It may take some time." 

"Williams and Johnson were the worst." The fifth-year seniors had always been brutal and were among the ones who had raped him the first time when they were Freshmen and he was sixteen. 

Andrew made a noise indicating he had heard and hung up the phone.

Jean slumped back against the wall. Trying to dry his eyes and recompose himself. He was hit with a startling bolt of fury. He was mad so fucking mad he felt rage bubble up suddenly and fiercely.

It wasn't fair. Riko was dead, and still, he managed to cause people so much fucking pain from beyond the grave. It wasn't fair not any of it. 

He heard Jeremy shuffling around in the kitchen. There was a suspicious "Ouch fuck." He'd probably stubbed his toe or burnt himself making coffee. 

Jeremy came in holding two mugs and handing one to Jean. "Careful it's hot."

 A sight crease appeared between his eyebrows when he took in Jean leaned against the wall.

"Are you okay? What's wrong?"

He wondered what would happen if he told him, how he would even explain it. Something along the lines of you know Neil Josten? Well I just had to tell him that we were both repeatedly gang-raped by Ravens over winter break, which he repressed so didn't remember and now I have an STD so he should probably get tested, and his boyfriend too.

He didn't say that though he didn't want to see or hear the disgust Jeremy would undoubtedly have. Especially after having stayed with him and held him all night after his nightmare. 

“I'm angry," Jean eventually settled on, it was nothing if not the truth. He let the rage well up and he just let it out. "I'm so fucking angry all the god damn time. The fury might be what kills me, in the end, boiling over and consuming me. At my family for selling me into slavery, at Riko, the master, the Moriyamas. At the Ravens for standing by and letting things happen or even joining in. At Kevin, for abandoning me, at Renee, for not just letting me die, at Neil for being a condemning me to life playing exy, at the universe for every goddamn thing that has happened. At myself. for letting happen, for being weak, for not offing myself to spare me all the fucking pain. For being so stupid and not knowing what is normal, having no idea how anything is supposed to work. 

I'm mad at you sometimes too. Because how dare you, how dare you be so good and bright and kind when the world has only ever been cold and cruel. How dare you show me what it could have been like had my life been different. How dare you show me kindness I can not possibly deserve? Walk through all the walls I have put up to protect myself? Like they weren't even there. How dare you give me the space to heal? To fix myself, to help me pick up the broken pieces on my own without trying to force them together yourself? How dare you forgive me when you do not even know everything I have done. You would hate me if you knew. How dare you outshine the fucking sun." 

Jeremy looked shocked and stared at him. Jean felt his energy leave him abruptly. He stopped shouting feeling defeated and like he might start fucking crying again which he stubbornly refused to do. "But I can't, I can't even properly stay mad at you when you are the reason I have hope, Jeremy. You make me feel safe. I don't remember ever having felt that way before" he didn't mean for his words to be so raw, vulnerable and true at the end. 

"You have every right to be angry, Jean. I would be, I am too. I'm so mad about everything that ever happened to you, you have no idea. You're so strong and good and it isn't fair. It isn't fair that people who should have protected you were monsters."

 He sat next to Jean leaning against the wall shoulders close enough to brush but waiting for Jean to initiate contact, and press there shoulders together. "We can go desecrate his grave if it makes you feel better? I am being completely serious I kind of want to."

Jean entertained the idea for a moment. Spitting on Riko's grave did seem like a brilliant idea. "He is not even worth the trip. He's a corpse and I'm alive. He couldn't kill me, god knows he tried."

When Renee had found him after his frantic text he had been on the floor, unconscious, naked, bruised and bleeding. He had been so sure that he was going to die that night, he would have if not for her.

"Can I?" Jeremy gestured to his hand. He nodded, and Jeremy brushed their hands together rubbing small circles on the back of his hand with his thumb. 

"This alright?"

"Yeah," Jean replied. It felt nice. Contact with him didn't make his skin crawl in discomfort, he enjoyed the touch, didn't want it to end rather than dreading it and wanting it to end as soon as possible. He had noticed Jeremy always said something or made his intent clear before touching Jean, he always asked.

"After you finish your coffee, we can go get breakfast. I found a place I think you'll like. Then we can head over to the court and check out the gear."

"Sounds good," Jean told him finishing his coffee quickly. Jeremy left the room briefly so he could get dressed which he appreciated. He knew he would see the scars eventually, they would be sharing a locker room, but he wanted to postpone that as long as possible.


After a quick drive from the dorms, they arrived at a bakery. A French bakery. Jean felt his throat tighten.

"I know it probably won't be as good as back in France, but I thought it might be nice. You'll have to tell me if it is any good."

Jean swallowed the lump in his throat. "Thank you, I haven't -- not since coming to America." His voice was unreasonably raw for such a small gesture.

Jeremy beamed at him and lead them inside. His nose was filled with the scent of freshly baked bread and pastries. His mouth watered. 

"We should get a bunch of stuff to take home with us too." Jeremy declared as he eyed the baked goods with awe. Jean nodded his agreement.

An older woman behind the counter spoke with a slight French accent. Jeremy bounded over to her full of energy and enthusiasm. "Hi, I'm Jeremy, this is Jean he's French!" He gestured wildly in Jean's direction as he made his way over to them.

The woman smiled softly at Jeremy the same way one would smile at an overly enthusiastic puppy or exuberant child. "Good to meet you both I'm Pauline, what will you be having today?"

"Oh, I don't know yet, sorry." Jeremy darted away leaving Jean with the women.

Jean couldn't help the small quirk of his lips at Jeremy's antics. "Desolé," he apologized to the women. 

She smiled kindly at him and continued on in French. "It is not a problem. He seems sweet. He doesn't happen to play that sport with the sticks, does he? Lacrosse maybe? I think my son has a poster of him."

Jean cracked another smile, sport with the sticks indeed. "It's exy actually, yeah he is the captain of the USC Trojans."

"Ah, okay, I can't say I really follow it. You are from Marseilles?"

"Yes, and you?"

"A small town in the Occitane, between Toulouse and Montpellier. But I have been living in California for many years, my husband is American."

"Ah, chocolatines then, not pain au chocolat, I may have to leave."

She laughed, eyes crinkling. "The Americans call them chocolate croissants anyways." 

"Yes, well at least we can agree they are wrong." 

She laughed again "He's watching you," he said with a nod in Jeremy's direction who suddenly was closely inspecting a row of eclairs. 

"Last night, I mentioned it had been over 10 years since I had spoken, to another native French speaker. I imagine he immediately looked this place up." He couldn't keep the affection from his voice and his chest warmed with the thought.

"Not your family?"

The warmth quickly dissipated to be replaced by cold. Something must have shown on his face because she immediately looked sympathetic. "No, they have not been a part of my life for a long time."

"I'm sorry. Well, you are welcome to come in for a chat at any time, your man too. Does he speak French?"

"Yes, fairly well actually." He wasn't sure what she meant by your man, Jeremy wasn't his, and never would be. He was his captain and for Jeremy that meant taking care of him, responsibility and compassion. Maybe, perhaps, possibly, someday he might even consider Jean a friend.

"Did he learn it for you?" 

"No, but he has been speaking it with me quite a lot." 

"How sweet, my husband studied it in college, that's how we met, he was doing a study abroad at the University of Bordeaux where I was studying. We've been together ever since." Her eyes lit up and softened when she spoke about her husband. Jean felt a sharp pain deep in his chest but he didn't know why.

He glanced over at Jeremy and the pang increased. "I should probably get him before he smudges the glass case too much. I am sure he has made a decision by now."

"All right, I'll check you boys out whenever you are ready."

He wandered over to Jeremy who was eyeing some mille feuilles with obvious desire. 

"Have you decided what you want?" He asked.

"Yes, it is everything." He replied matter of factly.

He felt the corner of his mouth lift of its own volition. "That may be difficult."

"Well, I definitely what some of those." He said pointing to the mille-feuille, "and the mini raspberry pies and an eclair, and croissants and bread. Oh and those chocolate bread things."

Jean raised his eyebrows taking in Jeremy's lanky frame. "You will get sick if you eat all of that." He had a feeling Jeremy would absolutely try, it seemed very in character, regardless of the fact that the sweets might be half his body weight.

"We can save some for later, desert tonight, breakfast tomorrow, snack. We don't have to eat it all at once. Plus we will share. Pleeease Jean."

"Why is it my decision? You're an adult, you can make your own decisions." Jean asked bewildered.

"Oh, no. Don't say that. You're already 70% of my impulse control. You will end up being at least 90% by the end of the summer. If left on my own I will absolutely get all of these and eat them in one sitting until I throw up. Sorry." 

Jean stared at him for a moment then sighed. When had that happened? "Fine, but only 1 or 2 of each thing we can always come back another day. Its always better to eat the day you buy it, when it's fresh. So only what we will eat today or in the morning."

Jeremy grinned and then started pointing to things for Pauline to put in a box. She slipped in two extra pain au chocolats and handed it to Jean. "It's all on the house today, come back soon."

"Thank you," Jean told her and began to lead Jeremy away who was still thanking her profusely. He heard her laugh as they shut the door.

He handed Jeremy a pain au chocolate and took one for himself. Munching on it while they walked to the car.

 

______

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 10.

Jeremy

 

Jeremy watched as Jean's relaxed, and even happy stance, tensed up again the longer they were at the court. It wouldn't take very long he was just checking his racquet, making sure it was the correct size and weight for him. He also tried on the exy pads and armor while Jeremy stayed in the lounge chatting with coach about the plans for the season. 

After Jean came back out of the locker room he asked why there were three sets of pads and armour. 

Jeremy explained that two were mainly just for practice 

Jean just looked at him in confusion. "I get to wear pads and armor for practice?" He had asked. 

Coach had just looked at Jeremy in horrified confusion before saying. "Of course," he said slowly. He was much more cautious around Jean after yesterday.

Jean chewed on his lip and looked at the ground nervously. "What do I have to do to earn it?"

Jeremy's stomach dropped, fuck. Coach looked even more confused, "What do you mean son? No one even steps on the court without wearing pads and armor, not even just for drills."

"Oh," Jeremy hated how small Jean's voice sounded.

"Well then you boys are good to go, I'll be in the office on Monday if you end up stopping by, if the x-rays check out ."

Jean nodded and looked at the floor. Jeremy wasn't sure if the tension in Jean was spurred by the court itself or coach. Either way, it was time for them to leave. 

"Ready?" He asked

Jean nodded and followed Jeremy back out to the car, grabbing their bag of baked goods on the way. 

He kept trying to sneak glances at Jean out of the corner of his eye. He still seemed uneasy, Jeremy wanted to take his hand but he wasn't sure that Jean would want him too. He didn't want to be too pushy.  He knew he was a very physically affectionate person. But Jean wasn't, not exactly. He was pretty sure Jean had been touched starved most of his life. The way he leaned into Jeremy's arms or against him. The way he became tensed a bit at the beginning then melted into it all of a sudden. He doubted there had been any physical affection for Jean in the Nest. Or positive touches of any kind really. He also suspected parents willing to sell their child would not have been very physically affectionate. It was probably a miracle that Jean could stand physical contact at all. And he did seem touch-adverse, even repulsed when it came to contact without warning or from other people. 


After returning home Jean stayed mostly silent. If Jeremy did not know better he would think he was avoiding him or angry at him. He spent the rest of the day avoiding Jeremy's eyes, tracking his movements carefully and only responding in grunts or short, clipped answers. 

He woke up in the middle of the night to Jean screaming. And thrashing on the bed. "Stop! No! Don't! No! Leave him alone! Don't stop it!" He struggled to wake him up.

When he finally did Jean flinched away and huddled in the corner refusing, any comfort Jeremy could have offered. He didn't push it, he wouldn't, but it made Jeremy ache to see him in such pain. He thought he would do anything to remove the haunted look from Jean's eyes.

He sat on the floor at the end of the bed with his hand on the bed for Jean to grab if he desired, until he fell back asleep himself. He awoke to Jean touching his shoulder lightly and then lifting him onto the bed.

"You'll be sore if you sleep like that for the rest of the night." He told him as Jean got settled behind him.

He didn't mention that he could go just as easily, to his own bed. He slurred out "mmmkay" before falling back asleep with Jean beside him.


He felt Jean get up in the morning but soon fell back asleep. When he finally awoke, he found Jean on the couch on his. Still quiet and watching Jeremy cautiously.

"Renee,"  he gestured lifting his phone up before going back to it.

They spent the rest of the morning in relative silence. The hollow haunted look coming and going on Jean's face. Jeremy wondered if Jean was just particularly good at masking his emotions when it was not present.

Eventually, they headed to the doctors' office for Jean to get his x-rays. He remained silent for the entire trip and by the time he returned to Jeremy's side in the waiting room, his hands were shaking and he looked exhausted. His eyes darted around nervously and he jumped at any sudden movements or loud noises.

"I should not be here," he said under his breath.

"Don't worry we are leaving now, we can get a call tonight with results."

"Non, not the hospital, outside, I belong in the Nest. I can't -- " Jean shuddered. "I should go back. It will be better if I go back now. They might forgive me and the Master might punish me less, if I go back willingly right now."

"Hey, hey, hey. You aren't going back there. They will never touch you again. I will drag you back myself if they try to take you."

"I belong there. I --." Jean cut himself off frantically grappling with everything they conditioned him to believe.

"No, you don't. Jean, you are free you never have to go back there. You deserve to be safe and free."

Jean's lips pressed into a thin line and he gave a quick jerk of his head, sticking close to Jeremy's side shoulders almost brushing as they left the hospital.

"Want to stop and pick up some frozen pizzas before we head back"

 Jean nodded vaguely and they went to pick them up. 


His gaze remained distant until they were back at the dorms. Jeremy popped a pizza in the oven for lunch before putting the rest away and joining Jean on the couch. Jean shifted slightly closer to him so that their thighs were brushing. He had unwound a hair, after a few hours of Jeremy's constant presence chatter, eventually joining in slightly and asking a few questions.

"I am not sure the consumption of this much pizza, in addition to all the baked goods are healthy.” 

Jeremy waved his hand dismissively “Pssh we’re in college, it’s part of the experience. Also, I am a growing boy so… food”

“Growing hmm? Yes, it looks like you need it.”

Jeremy barked out a laugh, “A short joke really? That's a pretty low blow, I am devastated.”

“Well, it must be a low blow to get you. Because you are so short,” he added unnecessarily.

Jeremy laughed again, “We cannot all be freakishly tall like you.”

“I am a perfectly acceptable height.” Jean sniffed in mock offense.

“You are 6’4.”

“Yes,”

“Jean that's very tall”

“From your perspective, I imagine it is.”

“At least I am not as short as some people, the Minyard twins and Josten are tiny. How do they even function in the adult world???” It was honestly incredible that they were all such good players, it had been particularly comical to see 6’4 Matt Boyd playing next to 5’0 Aaron Minyard as backliners. It looked like a child playing next to an adult in comparison.

“They are fueled by rage and spite,” Jean told 

“Yeah, that checks out.” It was the only explanation that made sense.

A shadow passed over Jeans face the momentary levity was gone.

"What is it?" He asked gently.

"What?" Jean responded as he drew himself out of his thoughts.

"You looked sad all of a sudden, what's wrong?"

Jean looked surprised as if he hadn't expected Jeremy to notice, let alone ask. "Neil," he said softly, "he spent winterbreak last year at Evermore. Riko wanted to break him. I…" 

"It's okay, Jean."

Jean shook his head looking anguished. "It's not. It's not okay at all. I didn't stop it, Neil wouldn't listen to me. It's my fault. I tried to warn him not to resist, to just give him what he wanted.  Because it could always get worse. Tried to patch him up when I could. But, he was so defiant and mouthy, he actually spit in Riko's face." Jean made a choking sound. "I held him down while Riko cut into him. I'm just as bad as he was. I misgendered him and deadnamed him while he was there and didn't try to stop others from doing it either. I just let everything happen. I didn't do anything. I did whatever Riko told me to. In the Nest when one partner does something they both get punished. You fail, succeed and are punished together. Neil was supposed to be my partner, was for that break and.”

Tears were streaming down Jean's face as the words kept tumbling out. “I was glad, glad that Riko had someone else to hurt for once. I was so mad at Kevin for always standing by and watching, helping even, because he had to, then I did the same thing. He wouldn't bend. He wouldn't break, I don't know why. He defended me you know, Riko would give him a choice sometimes who would get the punishment and the other one would hold whoever was being punished down. He always chose to take the punishment himself. Idiot child. Goddamn fucking martyr.

 It was a lie anyway, Riko lied to him to make him come. I knew he was lying, and I didn't say anything. I knew he would have that man hurt Andrew anyway, had had him already start. But Neil came like the ignorant child he is and, Riko, he made him watch videos, he had the man film it. I don't think Neil remembers it he was always so hurt, I think he blocked most of it out. He can't remember it, god I hope he doesn't. But he knows now because I had to tell him. " Jean was sobbing, and shaking now getting more and more incomprehensible and incoherent. 

"Jean,"  he started trying to reach out and comfort him, "Can I hold you?" 

He nodded his head and choked out a yes. Jeremy moved closer and let Jean collapse into his waiting arms. It should have been awkward, because of the size difference between them but it wasn't.

"It's okay, it's not your fault. None of it was your fault Jean,"

"It is, it's my fault you don't understand. You don't know what I've done." 

"Jean look at me," he waited until Jean's stormy eyes met his own. "It is not your fault. None of it. It wasn't your fault. You were being abused too. It is not your fault. You were never to blame for his actions."

"You don't know. You don't know. You can't know. I..." Jean shook in his arms letting out gut-wrenching sobs. Jeremy didn't know what Jean was talking about it was true, but it didn't matter.

"There is nothing you could have possibly done that I would blame you for. Nothing. Nothing that could have done to make any of it your fault. He tortured you, and forced you to, it doesn't matter what he made you do, it still isn't your fault. And there is nothing that can justify what he did to you." He wrapped his arms tighter around him like he could hold him together through force of will. As if he could will him to believe his words, anything to let Jean forgive himself. 

Jean somehow pressed closer to him trembling and said with sharp and raw vulnerability, "I shouldn't be so weak. I don't deserve this. I shouldn't need it. Shouldn't want it." 

"You are not." Jeremy touched Jean's face lightly. "You are the strongest person I have ever met. You deserve it, you deserve comfort and affection when you want it. It's normal to want it, to need it. It's human, Jean, we are social animals, contact is important. And I am always here for you when you need a hug or anything. There is nothing weak about needing someone."

 Jean let out another sob and melted further into his arms. "You don't understand, I am terrible, Jeremy. I'm disgusting, filthy and wrong. You don't know. I'm not worth it. You shouldn't have to. I'm broken."

"You're not Jean. You are amazing, you are so strong and brave and brilliant. And I want to, I like holding you and physical contact. I cuddle with my friends all the time." It was true, he curled up and snuggled with Laila and Alvarez consistently especially when he was feeling down. "I will never touch you without your permission, but I am always up for it if you are." 

Jean clutched his shirt tighter and let out a shaky breath into his chest. "And you are not broken, not forever. You will heal. You can heal now, and I am going to be right by your side during and after, if you want me to be, for as long as you want me to be."

"I'm not even being hurt anymore, I don't know why I am still so messed up." Jean sounded exhausted, the words were shaky and wet with tears.

"It takes time, you have been through so much. Give yourself time, don't push it, let your mind heal."

"What if I can't? What if I will be like this forever?"

"Then that's okay too. Everyone deals with things differently, there is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with you." Jean looked up at him with bloodshot steel eyes.

"Sometimes I am not sure you are real," 

"I am, and I am here." Jean nodded again and leaned back against Jeremy. 

They stayed like that curled up together until the oven timer went off. Jeremy ran and got the pizza and cut it up bringing it back to Jean along with plates. He sat back down leaning against Jean slightly 

"Is this alright?" He asked. 

Jean nodded looking at him with softened silver eyes. They were like moonlight.

"Okay," he said as he leaned into him. Jeremy had to stop himself from calling Jean sweetheart. He wasn't Jeremy's sweetheart. He knew that. It just felt so intimate and domestic. Besides, Jean was straight, most likely, and while he didn't think he would be super homophobic he might feel uncomfortable sharing his room with a bi man. Let alone all the physical contact and comfort. And occasionally sleeping in Jean's bed. He didn't want to make him uncomfortable with it. Not yet. He wouldn't hide his sexuality from Jean, but he could wait until it came up organically. It wasn't like he would be dating anytime soon, not after what happened with Rick, and Jessica before him. 

Both of them had had a problem with him being bi, thought it would make him more likely to cheat. Thought he was weird because of it, or lying about being bi. Jessica had ended up cheating on him, repeatedly it turned out. He felt slightly sick at the memory. And Rick had been an absolute asshole, it hadn't lasted long but he had been jealous and possessive the entire time. Not listening to him, being too rough, needing to know where he was at all times and who he was with. He hit him. Once teammates saw the bruises and put things together they immediately got him out of the situation. He was lucky, his self-esteem had been so low at the time he probably would have stayed with him if people hadn't noticed. He had had enough of heartbreak, this next year he would focus on Exy, school, his friends, and Jean's recovery. That would be plenty of things to keep him occupied.

"It's not always," Jean started sounding uncertain. "Okay, I mean."

Jeremy turned towards him and started to pull away. "It's good now, I like it now, but sometimes I can't stand being touched at all," Jean assured as he followed Jeremy's movement pressing their shoulders back together. 

"Is there anything, in particular, you need me to avoid or do?" He asked relaxing back against him.

"You ask, I like that you ask, you make sure. No one has ever asked before. Except for Renee and but she's not human. And Neil once or twice, but that's because of his whole thing with Andrew I think?"

"Renee does give off very otherworldly vibes." He hummed in agreement. "I can do that. Wait? What was that about Neil and Andrew?"

"Honestly I'm not really sure and it isn't my place to say. But there is something between them. But they also say it's nothing. I don't know."

"Huh," that was interesting, he wasn't going to dwell on it though. Other people's relationships and sexualities were their own business. "Is there anything else? You can make rules or lines and I will try my hardest not to cross any boundaries them.”

He hesitated a beat then hurriedly said "Don't touch my hair, if you can help it or my hips or lower back. Some other spots are bad too, but are okay sometimes? My wrists, legs, and neck. Don't touch me when I can't see you or from behind. Don't pull me around or push me. Moving closer is okay, and a little readjusting but don't make me do anything. I don't like feeling trapped or pinned down. Don't touch me when I'm having a nightmare or panic attack or grab me to get my attention. You haven't done any of those things yet and if there is anything else I will let you know."

Jean chewed on his lip nervously, like he was afraid Jeremy was going to say that wasn't okay. "Alright let me know if I ever do anything that makes you uncomfortable."

Jean let out a sigh of relief. "And you?" He asked.

"You can pretty much do whatever you want with me." Jeremy blushed and sputtered when he realized how that could have come across. "I mean, I don't like, playful punches or hitting or anything like that. Pulling me closer or pushing me away is fine but don't like, yank on my arms or anything. Or yank on my ears. Don't flick me in the head." Rick had done all those things, and they had gotten more aggressive as time went on. "I like getting my hair played with though so you can if you want." 

"You have very nice hair," Jean said as he brushed a few curls out of his face. Jeremy felt his ears heat up. Rick had hated his hair and wanted him to cut it. Even Jessica had thought it looked dated and girly, at a bit longer than chin length. He was glad he hadn't cut it though, not just because Jean liked it, but because he liked it. And it was his hair so it only mattered if he liked it. Jean liking it made him feel very warm inside though.

He leaned against Jean sighing happily "Alright," he verified.

"Yeah," Jean confirmed petting his hair a bit more. 


 

_____

Chapter Text

Jean

Jean had woken Jeremy up screaming every night that weekend. It ended the same way each time, Jeremy turning on the lights, crouching at the end of Jean's bed and waiting until Jean gave him permission to come closer. He comforted him with softly murmured words and gentle touches when he permitted it; so very careful not to cross any of the lines Jean had set out. They fell back asleep in the same cramped twin bed and Jean was able to sleep through most of the rest of the night with his arms around Jeremy.

Tonight's nightmare had been different. It wasn't of Riko's knives, hands, fists or other cruel methods of torture. It wasn’t of the cruel hands of others. It was of being alone. Shortly after he had arrived in the nest Riko had shoved him into a dark empty closet and locked the door. He guessed that Riko had been jealous of the attention Kevin had started giving him and wanted to get rid of him. He had left him there, alone, trapped unable to see hear or even touch anything for at least two real days. There had been no food, water, or anywhere to use the bathroom. It had felt like longer, it had been impossible to tell time, even in the Nest there was some sort of schedule that made up the 16 hour days. The darkness and solitude were crushing. It was like being dead. No one answered his cries for help, whether they hadn't heard him or just ignored it he didn't know. He screamed himself hoarse at the door but nobody came. His pleas echoed in the tiny room and he soon gave up, too weak to not. 

Eventually, the Master had found him and beaten him for hiding. He had almost been grateful for the contact, to see and feel anything at all. 

He shook silently before getting up and pacing the room. He felt hollow and empty, terrified of being alone. It was like a weight on his chest. He looked out at the window, but he couldn't see the moon tonight, just city lights. He glanced over at Jeremy, he had said to wake him if he ever had a nightmare. That he didn't mind sharing a bed with Jean, preferred it even to sleeping alone.

He still hesitated before giving in and approaching Jeremy's bed. "Jeremy," he whispered softly, then repeated it louder.

His eyes blinked open and he sat up rubbing his eyes, "Jean, what's wrong? Are you okay?"

"Nightmare," he said shakily.

"Come on up then," Jeremy said patting the bed beside him.

Jean climbed up grateful for the permission, and leaned against Jeremy."It was different this time," he said and explained what it had been about. He just told him, and Jeremy listened. "It shouldn't affect me this much it wasn't even that bad. And he didn't do it again. It wasn't fun for him if he didn't see me upset."

"It's still terrible Jean. How old were you?" He said slowly putting an arm around him once Jean nodded his consent.

Jean leaned into the touch pressing his face against his shoulder. "Eleven maybe? I couldn't stand the darkness. Not just then, but the entire time in the Nest. I didn't see the sun for almost eight years. I wasn't allowed outside like Kevin and Riko. I only started being able to leave for away games once I started as a Raven officially and what courses couldn't be done online. Everything is black in the nest, the walls, tiles, furniture it is all black. The lights are red, blackout bulbs. It was like it was always night.  It was suffocating. I still can't figure time out always." 

"That was so cruel of them, Jean." He felt Jeremy's breath stop in anger, and he tightened his hold slightly. 

Jeremy flipped on the light that was his bedside desk and laid down. He had started leaving at least one lamp on at night, noticing how Jean felt about the dark, but more light helped.

Jean gently tugged Jeremy on to his chest and felt himself relax with his gentle but heavy weight over his heart. This weight was different grounding, real, instead of a phantom that felt never-ending and consuming.

"We should push the beds together tomorrow," Jeremy muttered sleepily. 

"Hmmm?" 

"We could have more space, I kinda sleep like an octopus if you haven't noticed. Plus we could just start out in the same bed. Might help you sleep better."

Jean hesitated, he wasn't sure how he felt about that, to fall asleep next to Jeremy at the start of the night. What if he still had a nightmare, lashed out and hurt him? It was true he didn't have them when he slept next to Jeremy for the second part of the night, but that had only been after he had already had one. Although before he would wake up from numerous nightmares each night, or be trapped in them continuously. But he liked the idea, something about having a large shared bed with Jeremy, about it being intentional instead of an accidental necessity made Jean feel warm inside.

Jeremy picked up on his hesitation and said hurriedly, "We totally don't have to it was just a suggestion. It was actually a dumb idea I'm sorry."

"No, we can. I want to. It's just--" Jean stopped him from babbling, trying to figure out how to explain it. "I don't want to hurt you if I still have nightmares. I know I tend to thrash a bit and I don't want to hit you or harm you on accident." 

"I'm not worried when you have a nightmare, I'll get up like I do now and wake you from the floor. If ever you need space or don't want to we can separate the beds or I can sleep on the couch. Or if it doesn't work or anything, no hard feelings."

"Okay, I like that idea." It was a strange thing to be able to ask for something to be allowed to like something and not have it taken or used against him. Just the act of saying he liked something, of voicing a preference or opinion was utterly foreign. Even in France he hadn't been allowed to ask for things, he would be ungrateful and a burden if he did. Only his sisters had cared, maybe, who was to say now. So he let himself be selfish and silenced the guilty voice that told him he didn't deserve it. He wanted it and he trusted Jeremy enough to believe him when he said he wanted to share a bed too. And that was all it was, sharing a bed, they were doing that already most nights. And the idea flooded him with warmth and a lightness he couldn't name.

Jeremy smiled at him softly. The crinkles at the corners of his eyes and the warmth in them were sharper, bolder somehow in the lamplight. "Tomorrow then," he said. "If any of the stuffed animals or pillows are in your way you can knock them down. Or shove them to the foot of the bed." 

Jeremy leaned back onto his chest, hand unknowingly resting over the R where Riko had carved Property of Riko into his chest. He swallowed a lump in his throat. That wasn't true anymore. Riko was dead. Jean was willingly sleeping in a bed with his new captain. A man who was the antithesis of Riko in every conceivable way.

"Why do you have so many stuffed animals?" He wondered if it got hot.

"Some I've had since I was a little kid. Some have been recent gifts from friends and teammates. A lot of them are from my siblings, mostly from Ellie, the youngest she's only four. She says they are to protect me and keep me from being lonely."

Jean felt a wave of sadness go through him. He hadn't seen his little sister since he left Marseille. Or heard anything about her he didn't know if she was even still alive. She would be a teenager now. 

Jeremy noticed and gave him a look, he wasn't ready to talk about Claire. "How many siblings do you have?"

"There's five of us including me. My older sister Iva is 28, she's having a baby soon. Then there's me. Then there's my younger brothers Mickey, and José. Mickey is 17, José is 13. Then there's Ellie, I'm pretty sure she was an accident, my mom got pregnant again after I moved out for college. I still see her a lot, summers and breaks usually, and I go home some weekends, they don't live too far. I'm her favorite. But, she won't be the only baby for long though with my nephew being born soon."

Jean felt a pang of guilt at being the reason Jeremy wasn't spending time with his family at the moment. Jeremy let out a big yawn and shifted his head to a dip in Jean's shoulder.

"Goodnight Jean," he said as his eyes slid shut. Jean would ask him more about his family in the morning and tell him he could leave him to go visit. He didn't know how he would survive alone, without someone with him. Being alone in the hospital on Friday had been utterly terrifying and left him shaking with anxiety he hadn't even been there long.

The safety and peace that flooded his system was a rush. The comforting weight of Jeremy on his chest, allowed him to fall asleep with ease. 


Jean looked at the doors to the inner Trojan court. He could do this, there wasn't even anyone else here but Jeremy. It would just be for a few drills.

"We don't have to Jean," Jeremy told him.

Jeremy hadn't changed out yet, he'd been talking to coach while Jean had changed. Delaying him seeing his scars for another day. 

"I have to eventually." He pushed the door open. 

Jeremy gave him a soft smile and passed him the cones. "I'll just go change out and come join you in a bit." 

He jerked his head went in. He flinched terribly at the sound of the court door falling shut. He took a shaky breath and went to set up the cones trying to keep his hands from shaking. He was fine. He had to be fine. He grabbed the bucket to start shooting. He was suddenly aware of how alone he was. And trapped, he was suffocating.

He counted the cones and went to shoot. It pulled at his scars and caused twinges in his muscles. He missed slightly out of practice. He flinched violently. But the hit didn't come.

I'm at USC. I'm at USC. He repeated to himself and he lined up another shot making it this time. It was muscle memory. Aim shoot repeat. Don't mess up. Can't mess up. You know what will happen if you slip.

The walls of the court seemed to change to black with red bleeding in at the edges of his vision. He sped up, faster, faster, he had to be faster, better.

He heard Riko's jeers in his ear. He isn't here he told himself. It isn't real. "Gotta be better than that three. Hold still I'll show you."  

He kept swinging his racket trying to make all the shots to make the memories of Riko calling out body parts and sending exy balls hurtling towards his unprotected body disappear.

 Of being slammed into walls brutally checked again and again. Of being forced to clean up his own blood off the court after everyone had left.

Had to be better, had to be better. He remembered fumbling a pass to concussed to focus and Riko calling the practice to a halt. 

"If your hands are so clumsy maybe you should fix them. Break your right ring finger."

"Riko, please."

"Now three" Riko commanded swinging his racket into his legs knocking him down.

Riko kicked him in the side for good measure knocking the wind out of him. He pressed the end of his exy racket against his throat applying pressure. 

"Now, or I swear you will regret it."

He had to fight every instinct of self-preservation in his body to grab his finger with the other hand and start to twist. He whimpered in pain. He didn't think he was able to do it. His body wouldn't let him. Riko kicked him hard in the groin and pain shot through him he howled out.

"I'm trying, I'm trying" he pleaded.

Riko pulled his leg back to kick him again and Jean aggressively wrenched his finger letting out a bloodcurdling scream as the bone snapped like a twig. 

Riko just stood there laughing at him. "You're so fucking stupid three." And went back to kicking him hard in the groin until the noise of practice continuing around them was drowned out by Jean's screams.

"I could make you do anything, make you crawl around and beg. Fucking, dog" Riko was positively gleeful high on his power.

Kevin stood in the background horrified. "Keep playing, Kevin!" Riko snapped swinging at him before Kevin jumped out of the way and turned away from Jean.

He heard a loud noise from somewhere near him and slammed to the ground apologizing profusely in Japanese.

He curled up into a ball as best he could on the court floor. The hair prickling the back of his neck under the helmet set his nerves on edge and he could feel himself still being dragged across the court by it.

Riko was standing over him surrounded by ravens leering at him. He could only hear the blood rushing and roaring in his ears as he scrambled backward.

"JEAN, you are at USC. You are safe. Riko is dead. It isn't real. I am not going to hurt you. You are safe. It's me, Jeremy. Come back to me, Jean "

The image of Riko faded and was replaced by Jeremy crouched down on the floor next to him. He tried to fight back the edges of panic, and focus on Jeremy's face. 

"There you are. Breath Jean." Jeremy placed one hand between them inviting Jean to take it. He reached out to hold Jeremy's hand still gasping for breath and fighting to stay in reality. The touch was something he could feel. Something good and in the present that worked as an anchor for him to focus on.

"Can I put my arms around you?" Jeremy asked giving his hand a light squeeze.

Jean nodded and let out a noise that was supposed to be a yes.

Jeremy carefully and gently put his arms around Jeans shuddering shoulders. He felt like he was still suffocating, being choked by the neck guard. He started to claw at it in a desperate attempt to get it off. 

"Shhshhh it's alright. Can I help you with that?" He nodded jerkily and Jeremy unfastened it behind his head. Pulling off Jean's helmet as well as his own. 

He buried a hand in Jeremy's hair and tried to focus on the soft strands between his shaking fingers. The silky feeling of his hair and the gentle hand rubbing his back and soothing words Jeremy whispered to him were a direct contrast to the memories of the court at Evermore. 

He had just been going through a drill, nothing else. He had failed to even to do that on an empty court. 

"Do you want to leave?" 

"I should have been able to. I don't know why."

"It was your first time even stepping on a court since everything. It's okay to give yourself time. And you did amazing."

No one had ever said he did amazing before. He certainly didn't feel as though he had. He was a broken mess on the floor, Jeremy was barely able to hold him together.

"I'm a mess. I could not get through one drill without falling apart."

"But you still tried. And you can try again later. I am so proud of you Jean. You have come so far already even if it doesn't feel like it. And I saw you when you were shooting down the cones. I've never seen anything like that."

"It shouldn't be so hard."

"Recovery is one of the hardest things in the world, Jean. You are doing great. Be kind to yourself." Exhausted, Jean leaned his head against Jeremy. 

"Let's go."

Jeremy nodded and disentangled them helping Jean to his feet. He felt unsteady. He grabbed hold of Jeremy sleeve and let him lead him out of the court. Trying to focus on him rather than the walls that felt like they were going to close around him.

Jeremy led them back into the locker room and quickly changed back into his street clothes, while Jean sat numbly on the bench. Jean averted his eyes from the endless smooth golden-brown skin that Jermey unselfconsciously displayed. It was wrong to want to look.

"I'll wait for you in the lounge?" He asked.

Jean nodded and waited to start changing until he had left. He couldn't handle Jeremy seeing his scars today on top of everything else.

He debated taking a shower but decided against it. Water pounding over his head would just send him back to being drowned repeatedly and all the other terrible things that happened in Raven locker rooms and showers. It had been easier to wash away blood there.

He changed out avoiding his marred reflection in any of the locker room mirrors and met Jeremy in the lounge.

"Home or somewhere else? We could just drive for a bit or go somewhere to be outside."

The offer was tempting but Jean felt ready to drop. An unreasonable amount of lethargy soaked his body.  "I'm tired."

"Okay," Jeremy started to lead him out of the building. He waved off the Trojan's coach when he started to approach and drove Jean back to the dorms.

"Do you want to sleep?"

Jean bobbed his head in affirmative.

 "Should I push the beds together or not now? I can stay with you."

Jean hesitated then nodded again and went to help him rearrange the furniture so the beds were together. 

"We can get a mattress pad to make it more secure later," Jeremy told him as he finished pushing the beds together in a corner.  

Jean tugged off his shoes and socks and collapsed onto the bed. Jeremy grabbed his phone and crawled up to join him.

"Where do you want me?"

"Here" he gestured and Jeremy turned on to his side and Jean wrapped his arms around his waist with his chest pressed against Jeremy's back. He tucked his head over Jeremy's shoulder. And closed his eyes, smelling the sweet scent of Jeremy's hair. 

It was probably weird that he liked the way Jeremy smelled but he was too tired to worry about it at the moment. He understood a bit better Jeremy clutching stuffed animals when he slept, he held Jeremy the same way now, and it calmed him. Made him feel more centered, secure. He let his eyes slip shut and molded his body to Jeremy's.


He woke up once unsettled from a dream he couldn't remember and was able to settle back down when he looked at Jeremy peacefully napping beside him. His long dark lashes brushed his cheek.

He knew this wouldn't last Jeremy's willingness to sleep next to him. He was undoubtedly attractive and would probably start dating someone if he wasn't already. He doubted even someone as amazing as they would have to be worthy of Jeremy, would be alright with him sleeping in his bed. They would probably be the one sleeping with Jeremy, although less innocently than he slept with Jean. 

He would leave him, and not have time for him anymore. It hurt, it would hurt, but it would be alright. Jeremy had to much love in him not to share it with someone. As long as whoever it was made him happy. 

He could ignore the ache that permeated his chest when he reminded himself that Jeremy was just doing this until he got better. He was his captain and perhaps a friend. At least to Jean, he was a friend. He was the type of person to devote his time and energy into helping and supporting anyone in need. Jeremy had said himself, he cuddled with all of his friends. This didn't make Jean special. He was just the only one around Jeremy at the moment. He would have to share him soon. But that day wasn't today. 

He tugged Jeremy slightly closer and to go back to sleep. He had decided to be selfish, to let good things happen and hold onto them while he could. He wanted this and would keep it for as long as possible. There was no sense in pulling away and breaking his own heart before it was necessary. As long as Jeremy let him, he would have this.


When he woke up again he felt remarkably well-rested and refreshed. Jeremy was already awake beside him messaging someone on his phone. He turned over to look at Jean with a brilliant smile on his face. "Hey," 

"Hello," 

"Did you sleep alright?"

"Yeah, did you?"

"Hell yeah, I love naps."

Jean chuckled softly at him. Before stretching and popping his limbs. "Pushing the beds together was a good idea."

"I know right? Now there is all this room for activities." Jeremy chirped excitedly.

He couldn't help but laugh at that. "Want something to eat?"

"Yeah, sure, I can make us something."

"No, I got it." He said a little too quickly. Jeremy's cooking was usually fine really. But he also had been the only one cooking. Jean doubted he could do any better, he hadn't ever really cooked before. But he could probably handle sandwiches.

He went into the kitchen. Freezing when he caught sight of his reflection in the mirror as he did so. He usually avoided it, for good reason. 

He had scars on his face, of course, more visible and permanent than the ones he had before.

His hair was patchy and uneven, it had started to grow back where Riko had yanked it out but other bits were long. It looked ridiculous. His hair had always been decided for him by Riko and the master. He had to match and conform with the other Ravens. That wasn't the case here. He could do what he wanted with it. Although at the moment all that could be done was making it short as possible and even. But he knew he wouldn't be able to handle having some stranger cutting his hair. Touching it and staring at all of his scars. He could barely touch his own hair or scalp without making his skin crawl. Without feeling and remembering it being pulled and yanked when Riko forced his head to move or hold still at his pleasure.

It needed to be done though. He looked ridiculous. And it was obvious that half his hair had been ripped out. He tentatively touched his own hair and retracted his hand quickly when the action made him feel queasy.

He continued on his quest to make sandwiches and settled on ones with mayo, cheese, cucumbers, something called tofurky, tomatoes and lettuce. By the time he was done Jeremy was stumbling out of the bathroom with his hair wet from a shower.

"We should have more vegetables," he said handing Jeremy his. 

"Mmmmm these are good" Jeremy moaned as he stuffed one into his mouth. "You're good at cooking."

"It isn't cooking if nothing is cooked it is putting several cold ingredients together."

"Semantics," The teasing grin on Jeremy’s face made his heart pound.


Jean glanced at his phone and noted the several missed calls from foxes. He wasn't ready, not to talk to Neil or Kevin. Not to hear threats and justified loathing from Neil and even Andrew's mouth. Or apologies and excuses from Kevin. Renee would contact him if there was something he needed to know.

He looked at his ragged reflection in the mirror and opened the medicine cabinet pulling out clippers and a pair of scissors. He thought of the boy in the other room with a smile as bright as the sun. He would never hurt him. He had proved that time and time again that he would do whatever Jean needed to heal.

He grabbed the needed supplies and found Jeremy in the living room. He wanted it gone before he met Jeremy's best friends and his future teammates next week. It would give it time to grow out a little too before he met the rest of the Trojans.

"Jeremy," he started.

"Yeah?"

"Can you cut my hair?" He held out the clippers to him. He had managed to keep his hands from shaking. Good. Small victories, were important according to his limited research into coping techniques and strategies. 

"Are you sure? We can go to a salon, they might do a better job. I haven't cut that many peoples hair. Alvarez shaves the side of her head and I do that, that’s what the clippers are for, but that’s it.”

"I can't trust anyone else to. You will stop if I need you too. You won't hurt me."

An unknown emotion was brimming in Jeremy's eyes as he stared at Jean. He could also tell Jeremy was struggling not to question him and his decision. Not touching his hair was the first and biggest clear limit Jean had set out. Jeremy would not break it without explicit permission and reasons. 

"I know my limits, Jeremy. I need it gone and even. Just shave it all off on the shortest possible setting. It shouldn't be that hard."

"Okay,"

"Now?" He wanted to do it now before he lost his nerve. There was nothing else planned for today, so if it did send him to a bad place he would have time to recover. Jeremy would be able to help him calm down if it sent him into a panic attack.

Jean nodded and Jeremy took the clippers from him. "If that is what you want. Where do you want to? I can put a garbage bag on the floor and we can do it here in front of the window. The lighting will be better."

He doubted that lighting was the reason Jeremy suggested doing it in front of the window. He appreciated the unsaid gesture, making it so Jean didn't have to ask. Seeing the sky and the sun would make it easier for him.

"Sounds good." Jeremy nodded in response and went and got a desk chair and garbage bag to put on the floor to catch the fallen hair. Jean got settled in the chair feeling shaky and nervous. He could do this. He trusted Jeremy.

"What do you want me to do? Where can I touch you and what should I avoid." Jeremy wasn’t touching him at all yet, he kept his hands and body within Jean’s line of sight.

"Don't pull or tug. Or move my head. Just tell me to move and I will. And keep talking while you are doing it so I know it is you. All even, shortest setting, quick if possible." 

"Okay, tell me to stop and I will."

"You can start, tell me more about your family."

"Can I touch other parts of your head or hair while I am doing this?" Jeremy asked and turned the clippers on there was a faint buzzing sound. Jean took a deep breath in and out to calm himself.

"Yeah," he said clenching his knees to prepare himself.

"Okay, I'm going to start with the left side of your head at the front, and move back and to the right." 

Jeremy stepped behind him and waited until Jean gave his quick consent before lightly touched the clippers to the front of his hair. He couldn't help the way he tensed up and wanted to flinch away but Jeremy was gentle. His fingers were light and barely there in his hair. He kept any and all touches professional and to the point. He warned Jean before he was about to move anywhere. The razor buzzed close to his scalp and pulled slightly but it didn't cut him. 

He kept talking as Jean had requested telling him about his family's two dogs. 

"They are really sweet we have had them for a few years. We have some cats too, three of them. But they are cats and only seek out our company when they feel like it. I'm more of a dog person, to be honest. But I love cats too."

Jean murmured words when necessary to keep Jeremy talking and focused on his voice to keep him rooted in the moment. He explained that their names came from the shelter who had named a whole group of dogs after Game of Thrones characters, it was a funny coincidence that both there dogs were named after the same character. His brother was a fan of the show and he and his parents watched occasionally, so they had kept the names. 

The clippers buzzed over a patch that Riko had yanked out and his scalp prickled in unease. It tugged slightly, the shaving, not much but it did. He felt like he was going to be sick

"Stop,"

Jeremy immediately froze took his hands off Jean and backed away. And shuffled around the chair so he was in Jean's line of sight.

"I'm sorry,"

"It's not your fault. It's just where he--" Jean cut himself off and heard his throat click as he swallowed. He took a moment to remind himself that the raw, bruised feeling in his throat wasn’t real, only a memory. "I'm sorry"

"Don't worry about it. We can stop." 

He shot Jeremy a look, "I will not be seen with my hair ragged, long, and patchy on one side and half-shaved on the other like a fucking lunatic." Jean shook his head under no circumstances would he allow himself to be seen in public with his hair as it was now. "I want to get it done and over with. I just need a minute."

Jeremy nodded and waited patiently while Jean took a few deep breaths to collect himself. He was surprised to find that it worked, the articles and advice he had been reading helped. He mentally thanked Renee, for sending him some. Maybe therapy wouldn’t be so bad. Someday, not anytime soon, but maybe someday.

"Okay, I'm good. Can you continue, but stand in front of me where I can see you?"

"Of course," Jeremy said and stepped in front of Jean. Jean placed a hand on Jeremy's arm and focused on the slight pulse he could feel thrumming under his fingertips.

"Start now. Tell me more about your pets" Jeremy carefully restarted without dislodging the grip Jeremy had on his arm. Jean focused on breathing, on Jeremy's story. His touch remained gentle. It still pulled slightly and was rough against his scalp which caused him to tighten his grip on Jeremy's arm. 

"I can do this bit one-handed since it's all the same," Jeremy said softly as he paused and offered his hand for Jean to grip.

He held it tightly and Jeremy continued to slowly and gently shave his head.

"Clegane once found a porcupine and tried to make friends with it. Or eat it we aren't really sure. He got a bunch of quills in his nose poor baby. There have also been run-ins with skunks too. I think that was completely intentional because it has happened three times. Sandor is a lot shyer but will still get into trouble sometimes. And done. I'm just going to run my hands over your head to make sure it's even if that's alright with you."

Jean relinquished Jeremy's hand for a moment and let out a strained "Fine." Jeremy softly ran his hands once over his scalp. It was almost heartbreaking the gentleness and care in which Jeremy touched him even in the most basic of actions. He removed his hands from Jean's head. "All good. It looks nice. Makes your cheekbones all poppy and stuff." His ears were slightly red.

"Okay, I just need a minute."

It felt cooler having all of his hair shorn, lighter.  He wrapped his arms around his waist and leaned his head against Jeremy's stomach and just breathed. Jeremy left his hands on his shoulders lightly. The contact helped to soothe his still frayed nerves. He was going to be alright. It was going to be alright.

 

_______

Chapter Text

Chapter 12

Jeremy gave Jean space after cutting his hair. The tension and distant look in his eyes didn't entirely fade as the evening progressed. But he was doing better. Jeremy could see how far Jean had come in barely a month that he had been in California. He couldn't help but be proud of him and impressed. Jean had overcome things Jeremy couldn't even imagine. And was actively working to improve his mental health. He voiced desires and concerns to Jeremy now, confided in him. He even teased him a little and would joke around.

On the rare occasion that Jean genuinely laughed, truly and sincerely, not the bitter self-deprecating one, Jeremy had never seen anything more beautiful.

His bruises had faded too, and he had lost much of the hollow gauntness in his face. The new shaved hair made Jean's cheekbones stand out sharply, he looked like a model. It also made the black inked 3 on his face a stark contrast to the rest of Jean's pale skin. He projected an aura of dangerous strength. His towering height, glares, blank face, black clothes that covered his body, and thick French accent coupled with disdainful or sarcastic words all screamed fuck you. Although he seldom turned his glares and anger at Jeremy anymore. Jean figured he would probably be an asshole to the rest of his teammates though. A part of him couldn't wait to see Jean interact with the rest of the team. He would probably find them ridiculous. 

Jeremy paused in the kitchen where he was making breakfast for the two of them. Jean had proclaimed that they were going back to court today. Or at least he was. Jeremy could do whatever the fuck he wanted. He knew Jean was too stubborn to change his mind and agreed to go with him. It might go better today.

His phone went off, with a call from an unknown number in North Carolina. He picked up the phone wondering if it was of the foxes. They were a fun team, Jeremy hoped they could work together more in the future, he thought their teams had a lot they could learn from one another.

"Hello?"

"Is this Jeremy Knox?"

"Yeah it is, who is this?" He vaguely recognized the voice but couldn't quite place it.

"It's Neil, from the Foxes, Kevin gave me your number." Neil, Jean had talked about him. He knew he had come from a similar world of crime as Jean and had a violent past. He also suffered at the hands of Riko, something Jean witnessed and still blamed himself for.

"Oh hey man, what's up?" He tried to disguise the caution and apprehension in his voice. This was a man who had made a deal with the leader of the Yakuza and spent half his life on the run doing god knows what.

"Is Jean with you?" 

"He's in the bedroom I can go get him." 

"No that's okay. He hasn't been answering my calls. I don't think he wants to hear from me." There was a pause for a beat.

"Just tell him…" he could hear the pain raw vulnerability in Neil's voice. "Tell him I said it wasn't his fault. I remember now and it wasn't his fault. None of it. He did what he could and for that I'm grateful. I forgive him. And I'm so, so, sorry.” The heaviness to his words implied something worse than Jeremy already knew. He couldn't help the sinking feeling in his gut. Something terrible had happened, Jeremy wasn't sure he wanted to know.

"Is there anything else?" He could hear Neil swallow on the other end of the line.

“That's the important bit. It wasn't his fault and I forgive him anyway. Also, Kevin says hi to both of you. Probably. He's sulking with his dad because he misses Thea, and no one will play exy with him." 

"Thea?"

"Muldani, they're together or something." Damn good for Kevin. She was stunning and one of the most badass and hardcore exy players out there.

"Wow, good for him."

"I guess." Neil sounded confused.

"You sure you don't want to just talk to Jean yourself?"

"No, it's better this way. And… lookout for him. Be there for him if he lets you be. He's gone through… a lot. And don't do anything without his permission." There was a steely edge to Neil's voice at the end.

"I wouldn't. And I will if he needs it." 

"Oh, and one last thing." Neil's voice was as cold as ice.

"I still have connections. I am the son of the Butcher, and I was raised on blood and pain. I had a blade in my hand before I could walk or talk. I owe Jean. If you hurt him or fuck with him in anyway… I promise you won't live long enough to regret it." If death had a voice it was that one. Jeremy felt abruptly cold and afraid.

"I would never hurt him. I swear, he doesn't deserve that, he didn't deserve anything that happened to him. If it were up to me, nobody would ever cause him pain again." On one hand, he was glad that Jean had people looking out for him and ready to protect him. But on the other, Jesus Christ, for someone so small and initially adorable Josten was terrifying.

"Glad, we are on the same page then." His voice had gone back to normal, thank God.

"Yep, sure thing."

"Just tell, Jean what I said, and let him know not to be afraid to reach out."

"Okay --" before he could finish responding the line went dead leaving Jeremy staring at the phone in confusion.

Jean chose that moment to make an appearance. Raising his eyebrows at Jeremy's befuddled expression. "You alright? You look like you've seen a ghost."

"Yeah, uh, I'm fine. That was Josten."

"Oh?" Jean's face closed off and he looked tense.

"Yeah, he said, well he had a message for you, he said you weren't answering him."

"Well?" Jean said still guarded.

Jeremy sighed, "He said to say it wasn't your fault. That he remembers now and it wasn't your fault. None of it. That he was sorry. And he forgives you."

Jean swallowed and looked away, his eyes glistening slightly. "Did he say anything else?" He asked thickly.

"He said you can reach out if you want to. Oh and Kevin says hi. Apparently he's sulking at his dad's because no one is playing exy with him and he misses his girlfriend. Which by the way, Thea Muldani, holy shit?!"

"Yes, they got together in the Nest. She's a semi-decent person, there weren't many in the Nest. It was her exy abilities that originally caught his eyes. That and her thighs, which could and I quote, 'crush his head like an egg.' "  He rolled his eyes and gave a slight scoff. 

"I mean valid." 

"I suppose." Jean looked slightly disgruntled and wrinkling his nose like he had smelled something funny. It was unbearably cute.

"Uh there was also…" Jean's face smoothed out into a blank mask as he gestured for Jeremy to continue. 

"He kinda threatened to kill me? Something about being the son of the butcher, mafia connections and owing you a favor. Apparently, if I fuck up or hurt you, I won't live to regret it. He was joking right?" He let out a high pitched and nervous laugh.

"Idiot child." Jean muttered in French almost fondly. "No, he could absolutely kill you or have you killed. I won't let him though. I have seen his father take someone apart. I know why Neil was never scared of Riko, no matter what he did to us, after growing up with that."

"Great, super." He squeeked.

"He won't. Honestly of all the foxes Renee is the one you should be most worried about. Andrew will only get mad if you hurt Neil, Kevin or his family. Neil, if you hurt Andrew or most of the foxes, it's debatable. But Renee's probably the most dangerous, she’s all righteous and stuff."

"But she's like an angel?"

"Yeah now, but she also single handedly broke me out of the Nest and was the one to teach Andrew how to fight with knives. And that's just what I know since she has adopted her whole saintly persona. Before she was a fox…" 

"Wow, so don't ever fuck with the foxes. You will lose. Noted. They are all so fucking scary."

"Yeah."

"So…"

"Court?" 

"If you're sure."

"I need to get used to it. Preferably before your teammates come."

"They're your teammates too."

Jean rolled his eyes. "We shall see."

"We should also go outside. To the beach or something. You've been here a month and I haven't taken you to the beach or to see any of the sights. We haven't even seen a movie. I feel like a bad Californian."

"You can go wherever you want. You don't have to take me with you. I don't want to drag you down, or keep you from doing what you enjoy. And you miss your family, you should visit them. I'll be fine here."

"Yeah but I want you to come. It won't be as fun without you. I like spending time with you. If I didn't, I wouldn't. If I go see my family you could come with. They would love you." He wasn't sure if Jean would like them, they could be loud and over-exuberant at times, but they would love Jean. He couldn't see how anybody wouldn't.

Jean looked surprised. As if he hadn't realized that Jeremy was spending all this time with him because he genuinely liked him. If he hadn't he wouldn't he had roommates and teammates that he had barely interacted with. 

But Jean was different. Being around Jean made him feel warm and fuzzy inside. He wonderful had a dry sense of humor that was starting to come out. He was brave, kind and gentle. And he was letting Jeremy in. Bit by bit. He was trusting him confiding in him. He listened when Jeremy talked. He never talked over him or hushed him. He genuinely listened to Jeremy prattle on about whatever, he seemed happy to. He hasn't mentioned a lot of his personal baggage to Jean. It had not come up, and he didn't want to make Jean less likely to lean on him by telling him. But he felt like he could; Jean would understand.

He was also incredibly easy on the eyes, with his raven hair and glinting steel eyes, prominent cheekbones. Jean was made up of harsh and aggressive lines that gave him a sharp, fierce austere beauty. And his eyes were something else. No matter how blank of a mask Jean had on he could usually read his actual emotions through his eyes. Which made the times they were flat and dull even more gut wrenching. 

He wondered if Jean had ever dated anyone. If he was with someone now. Probably Renee. Or they would end up together soon. They seemed very close, he texted her frequently even calling her sometimes. She was the only person he talked to regularly. Plus she was the one who got him out of the Nest. And he seemed to know a lot about her past and held so much respect for her. And Renee was by all accounts lovely. He should be happy for Jean if it was true. Happy for her to because Jean was amazing and whoever he chooses to be with would be the luckiest person in the world. He felt guilty for sour taste the thought of her dating Jean left in his mouth. 

Sleeping in the same bed with him was a bit of a double edged sword. On one hand, it was so nice. They both slept better and he loved being able to help. Feeling wanted, needed. He loved being able to curl up next to him. It felt intimate, it was completely platonic, of course, but it was still special.  On the other hand, Jeremy liked it perhaps a bit too much. He couldn't let himself develop feelings for Jean. But it was starting to become harder the more he got to know him. Jean would never want or be able to reciprocate his feelings. It wouldn't be fair to Jean. Jeremy was in a place of power over him as captain. He hated the idea that Jean might feel some sort of obligation towards him because of that or because of how he was helping him overcome his own trauma. Not to mention Jean had to be straight. There had been no indication that he wasn’t. And even if he wasn't he doubted he would be interested. He could obviously do better. 

Jean nudged him slightly with his elbow making Jeremy flush and hope to god it wasn't obvious what he had been thinking about. They cleaned up the dishes and went to the court. 


Jean greeted the court with a grimace and shouldered his way in, determination in every line of his body.

They went to the locker room to change out. He wondered if Jean had been to the beach before. He knew Marseilles was on the Mediterranean, Jean must have at least seen the ocean once. He imagined the beaches there were very different from the ones in California. He wondered if he had swam in it as a child. Maybe they could do a beach weekend, with Laila and Alvarez too. 

He turned to ask. "Hey Jean,--" he let out a terrible choking sound. His words were forgotten as all the breath left Jeremy in a rush.

He had known. Known Riko was terrible, had no doubt done terrible things to Jean. Had suspected there were more scars underneath Jean's clothes. Seeing the way they marred his skin was different.

The already tense muscles in Jean’s shoulder froze and he shrunk in on himself slightly. Jeremy’s throat was swollen and his eyes started to sting. He was covered in scars. Some random but most obviously and cruelly deliberate. Systematic. He didn’t want to stare, didn’t want to violate Jean’s privacy that way but he couldn’t look away. He was frozen. 

 Most were faint silvery, catching in the light. Difficult to see against Jean's ghostly skin. Some were darker or some raised standing out. There were hundreds of varied scars he wondered how many had required stitches. A lot of them looked recent couldn’t be more than a year old, but some of them looked like they had been there for years. How old Jean had been for each one? Lines rows, stars, even a goddamn smiley face lacerated into his skin. A long line ran from the base of his spine to the edge of his neck, alternating between zig-zagging and serpentines like a snake. A crescent that looked like a bite mark on the top of his shoulder. Diagonal lines and cross-hatching interrupted and intersected with larger more wild slashes and short stabs. Most of the wounds were sickeningly systematic like they were meant to cause pain rather than damage. All could be hidden under long sleeves or an exy uniform if one wore an undershirt.

The worst, by far, were the words. Cruelly deliberate in thick, dark, ropey scars and all capital letters. Faggot had been brutally carved across Jean’s shoulders in massive letters. The scar tissue was old but still thick and red against his ghost-white skin. A massive number three was chiseled into his ribs. Below faggot, bitch was sliced across his spine intersecting with the large line. Bad was etched into the back of his right arm, Wrong opposite it on the left. Filth had been gouged into his back at the bottom of his ribs. Stupid engraved above it on the opposite side of his spine. Slut had been chiseled into his lower back. Below it, at the edge of his low waistband, still partially obscured, were the words Raven’s Whore stretching across the top of his ass. 

He let out an involuntary strangled sound like he was the one that had been stabbed. He thought he might throw up. Jean turned around slowly. Something wet splashed Jeremy’s nose. Tears probably. The scars continued on his front. “Property of Riko” had been crudely gashed across his chest in massive letters from one end to another. The flesh was only recently healed still scabbed over in places, and bright red scar tissue. There were deep slashes and patterns across his ribs and sides too, like his back. Some still held together with stitches. One, in particular, that looked like a stab wound. It was a miracle it hadn’t hit any major organs and killed him. Dirty was cut neatly into his collarbone. Dog was inscribed on his left bicep, silvery, only standing out because of the tension in Jean’s frame. Useless, was cut into his ribs. Disgusting scarred over his abdomen. Peeking above his waistband was another recently carved word,  he could only make out a W and H before the rest of the wound dipped into his boxers and disappeared. His right inner forearm had Worthless carved in. Still clearly healing, the edges angry and inflamed.

He couldn’t tear his eyes away. Couldn’t make his mouth work to let out words. What would he even say? What could he even say? It couldn’t have been more than a few minutes at most and they still stood in tense silence. Oh god, how had Jean even survived. Jeremy forced his eyes back up to Jean’s face. He hunched his shoulders over and looked at the ground without meeting his eyes. 

“Jean…” His voice sounded pathetically broken even to his own ears. Jean flinched. He tugged on his shorts and pads quickly and avoided Jeremy’s gaze as he finished changing out. Jeremy just sat back on the bench, only half dressed feeling frozen, shocked. His mind refused to process it, refused to think about the implications of what he had just seen. What those scars meant, what happened to cause them. What other horrors they might indicate.

“He wanted them to be reminders of what I am." Jean stated flatly, still staring into his locker. "So everyone would know. He’d go back over them if they ever started to fade. He would have had them tattooed if he didn't enjoy making me bleed with his knives so much.” His voice was as brittle as glass but with a spine of iron underneath.

He was only twenty-one, and so many of the scars already looked years old. Riko had left Jean permanently disfigured. It wasn’t fair. There was nothing Jeremy could say or do to make any of it okay. It wasn’t okay, it would never be okay. How had he managed to go through all the pain and brutality that was evident in plenty on his body and still survived? How could someone survive that and still be standing? The physical toll alone without even considering the massive mental and emotional toll?

Jean turned to look at him. Jeremy tried to quickly scrub the tears from his face. A wrinkle appeared between his eyebrows. “You’re crying. Why are you crying?” Confusion and uncertainty bled into his voice. 

“It isn’t fair.” It was an absurdly childish thing to say. “It isn’t fair that you had to go through that. It isn’t fair that any of that happened to you.”

“Life isn’t fair. It simply is. You can only survive it, until one day you don’t.” he spat harshly. There was a darkness in Jean’s eyes that Jeremy could barely begin to understand.

"I'm glad you were able to survive it then." His words were watery but sincere. He was so goddamn thankful to whatever powers that be made it possible for Jean to have survived. He didn't know how he had. 

Jean brushed the tears off of his face his brows still furrowed in confusion. He shouldn't be the one comforting him. He should be the one being comforted.

"Sorry, sorry. I shouldn't be--" he sniffled and managed to stop his embarrassing tears. He couldn't help it. He knew he would end up lying awake tonight wondering. Imagining the horrors behind those scars. Comparing his own life. The times he has had similar things shouted at him by homophobes. Cruel words from bullies, rivals or ex-partners at the end of a breakup. Or as was the case in his most recent failure, during the relationship. And what had happened to Jean was clearly so much worse. Jean was forced to wear those words on his skin. They weren't even in the same ballpark. Couldn't be compared on the same scale. 

"You're alright. I just-- I just don't understand."

"I care about you. A lot. And you were hurt." The words caught in Jeremy's throat, hurt was clearly a gross understatement. "And I hate that. It hurts to know someone I care so much about went through so much pain. And that there is nothing I can do to take that pain or those memories away."

Jean's eyes widened in shock. "You care about me?" He sounded so openly vulnerable, it sent a dart of pain and sorrow straight through Jeremy's heart. It took all of his will power not to breakdown sobbing because Jean hadn't even thought Jeremy cared about him. How long had he gone without someone telling him he mattered and that they cared about him? 

"Yes, yes of course. So, so much." More than I should he thought. "You're my friend. Probably my best friend. I care about you so much." Friend seemed to small of a word for the place that Jean took up in Jeremy's heart. Not even best friend was quite right. It was different from the way he felt about Alvarez, Laila and all of his other friends. It was different than he had felt for anyone before. Special.  

"Oh,"  he was still tense. Like he was waiting for Jeremy to take it back or to turn on him with violence at a moments notice. He looked away and stared at the ground while Jeremy finished changing out and let Jean lead him back onto the court. 

Before he could remind Jean that he didn't have to run drills he spoke voice cold and calculating. "Just a few drills. I need to. Just stay where I can see you. Keep up if you can." He nodded in agreement and followed Jean into the inner court. 

He was once again blown away by the way Jean played, even for simple drills. He was violently contained strength. Brutal accuracy and precision. Wrath and aggression personified and fueled into exy.

Jeremy could not keep up. He was no match for him, even with Jean’s injuries and his mandated break from exy.The sound of exy balls bouncing off-court walls and knocking down cones filled the air. There was no casual chatter or banter that usually fueled a Trojan practice.

Jean's eyes were steel. Any anger or frustration seemed to be funneled into his performance in court, as he lashed out with brutal efficiency. He thought he would have kept playing until he collapsed from exhaustion, if it weren't obvious how much Jeremy was lagging behind.

They changed out and showered in complete silence, offering Jeremy another brief glimpse at the scars. He tried not to look. He only noticed more. And different details. Marks on the back of his legs that looked like the ones you see in movies or horrid historical photos from being whipped. He forced down his rage. He tried not to invade Jean's privacy by looking. By wondering and speculating.

"Do you know if it hurt? When his brother killed him?" He asked. He couldn't help it. He wanted to know that Riko had suffered, he didnt care what kind of person that made him.

"I don't know." Jean's voice and eyes were hard. "It was just a gunshot to the head. Neil was there. And he has been shot before. You could ask him."

He might. He might ask Neil. "I hope it hurt." 

"Me too." He agreed darkly.

They exited the court the somber, and tense atmosphere persisting. Jeremy didn't like it. The awkward silence. Silences with Jean were frequent but rarely awkward. This one left things unsaid. Questions unanswered. He didn't want to say the wrong thing.

"I won't ask. I won't make you say anything you don't want to. But I'm here. Whenever you are ready. If you ever want to tell someone. I will always be here. No matter what." Jeremy vowed to Jean.

The tension in his bulky shoulders lessened slightly, and he nodded. 


They stopped at the French bakery before heading back to the dorm and grabbed bread for the day and baked goods for the morning. Jeremy watched from a distance as Jean exchanged a few words with the Pauline in French. At one point she reached out and patted Jean's arm, with soft eyes. Jean stiffened slightly but didnt pullback or flinch so he imagined the gesture was welcome. She grabbed a pen and a scrap piece of paper and scribbled something on it before handing it to him. Jean tucked it away and they made their selections and left with a wave.


Jeremy decided to take a nap after lunch feeling exhausted after trying to keep up with Jean on the court and later on at the gym which Jean insisted on going to as well. He fell asleep quickly while Jean texted in the living room. 

As soon as he fell asleep he found himself trapped in a nightmare.

The first was a reoccuring one, finding out Jessica had been cheating on him by walking in on her sleeping with someone else. Except this time instead of a random dudebro that lived in her dorm it was his other ex, Rick. Which was hella unrealistic because Rick was gay and had scorned and belittled Jeremy repeatedly for his bisexuality and any attraction to or past experiences with women. He had that in common with Jessica but in reverse in her case. Once they noticed him she shrieked and started slinging familiar slurs at him and Rick got up like he was going to hit him.

The dream changed Rick was still there and he punched him in the face repeatedly. The dream shifted again and this time he was watching himself get hit from the sidelines, only the figure being beaten began to change and turned into Jean. He tried to stop it and scream but by the time he got close enough the dream shifted again. 

 Now they were in a wide-open field but clouds of darkness kept coming closer. He was running out of breath trying to make it to Jean. But he couldn't reach him, he kept being dragged farther into the darkness by monstrous creatures with black feathers, hooked claws and sharp beaks, while Jeremy ran helplessly after him.  By the time he reached him, he lay bleeding and dying in a cold black room.

"You said you'd help me. Why didn't you help me. Why didn't you save me?" Dream Jean accused before crumbling to ash in Jeremy's arms.

He woke up gasping and searching for Jean. It was just a dream. It was just a dream. It hadn't felt like one. It had felt so real.

"Jean!" He called out leaping out of bed. What if something had happened. What if the yakuza had come and taken him away while Jeremy just fucking slept? What if Jean had left him?

He smacked right into Jean's chest as he threw open the bedroom door to bolt out. 

"Oh thank god."  He mumbled into Jean's hoodie heart still racing. He clenched the loose fabric in his fists afraid if he let go Jean would once again crumble before his eyes.

Jean brought his arms up around him instinctively startled. "Jeremy?" 

"You're okay, you're okay." He reassured himself of Jean's safety while inspecting his face for any fresh injuries.

"Are you though?" 

"I am fine. Sorry. Bad dreams." He panted.

Jean raised a skeptical eyebrow at him.

"Do you, eh, want to talk about it?"

"Can I just sit with you for a bit?" He let Jean guide him to the couch. Jean arranged them so he was leaning against the arm of the couch with his legs extended and Jeremy was leaning against his chest between Jean's legs.

Jean reached out to stroke his hair hesitantly, becoming more confident when Jeremy sighed relaxing into the touch.

How Jean had such kindness and compassion after being shown so little in his life bewildered him. His mind forcefully brought up the image of Jean's scarred skin. Of all the hateful, and untrue words strewn across it. He wondered if Jean knew. If he knew just how false those words were was. He remembered the heartbreaking moment when Jean told coach he knew his place. How he thought that Jeremy and coach owned him and had the right to hurt and punish him. Now that he had seen, at least in part, what that punishment looked like he was even more horrified. It was different seeing it. It had not fully connected before. It was always more abstract, but Jean's body was undeniable evidence of his past. 

"You know it's not true right? What he wrote on you?"

Jean stiffened behind him. "But it is. Or was. I don't know anymore. I might have been. Riko fixed it." His voice was carefully controlled and blank.

Riko fixed it. Those words rang in Jeremy's ears. Had Riko forced Jean through some even more twisted version of conversion therapy? Some kind of bone deep psychological harm that rewrote who Jean was and how he perceives himself.

"You don't need to be fixed. You never did. What he did to you was wrong. You didn't deserve it. None of it, ever."

"How would you know? And which bit." He spat bitterly.

He turned to face Jean and saw the raw agony in his eyes. He had believed it then. His own breath hitched and his throat felt tight. He had believed he had deserved it and that what they said was true. "All of it Jean. None of it was true. None of what they did was right. You are perfect, as you are. You are so important and special and wonderful. I am so grateful that you are here. That I have a chance to know you."

He could see the conflict in Jean. Hope and fear warring with each other in the storm clouds of his eyes.

"I'm not. He had to. He had to fix me. I'm wrong I am. I know it. I don't deserve kindness. I know… I know they weren't perfect. That some of what they did was too extreme, but there was still reason for it. It's the way the world works. You, LA, are an exception. I was bad to begin with, he just twisted me into something broken and afraid. I deserved it, deep down I always knew that. They just made me realize the truth."

He didnt want to imagine the conditioning and psychological torture that made Jean believe that about himself. He did not know what he could say to make Jean believe otherwise.

"No. That’s not true. No one should have to go through what you went through. Nobody ever for any reason. You were just a kid. You did nothing wrong. There is nothing you could possibly do that could make you deserve any of that. Nothing can justify what he did to you."

Jean squeezed his eyes shut and he could see his throat bob as he swallowed. His voice came out broken and shaky. "I want to believe you, I do. I just…" Jean swallowed again "I can't. He… the things he did. The things he made me do."  

Jeremy turned so the rest of his body was facing him. He felt helpless, unable to stop Jean's distress. He offered his hand. He gripped it squeezing it a hair too tight. "He'd make me thank him. After. During" he inhaled sharply. "Make me say I deserved it. Apologize. I had to learn to be better. But I didn't want it. None of it I promise I didn't want it." He let out a wet gasping sound and hung his head. 

"He made you internalize a lot of his lies." That was what his therapist had told him in the wake of everything that happened with Rick, it held even more true for Jean here.

"I didn't believe it at first. Didn't mean the things he made me say. But eventually I did. Eventually I had to. It was just instinct. An automatic conditioned response."

Jeremy squeezed his hand trying to mentally send all the compassion and support into Jean.

"He learned about Pavlov's dog and conditioning. I don't know how he did. But he would run his own little experiments with punishment. To make me do things and react. I was just a thing for him to amuse himself with. A toy to break. And he did. He broke me. Again and again." His voice cracked and he shuddered leaning closer almost subconsciously into Jeremy's side.

Jeremy slowly and cautiously brought up his other arm to wrap around Jean's shoulders. "Can I?" He asked.

Jean nodded. With his permission he placed his arms around him. Jean leaned into the contact dropping his head onto his shoulder and some of his tightly coiled tension bled away.

Jeremy wanted to burn the world and everyone how had ever dared to harm Jean. He thought again about those words, he knew what they implied, he wasn't oblivious. What the scars read, and the placement of them implied was horrific. The unlikely best-case scenario he could think of was that it just things Riko made up, with no basis in reality, just to be cruel. Or that Jean had had a pleasant, consensual relationship with another male Raven in Nest, Riko had found out and tortured him for it. That, that had been the extent of it, Riko being a homophobic asshole and not wanting Jean to have a relationship. He doubted either was true or that it was simple though. He wanted it to be that, but deep down he knew neither of them was. He knew what had probably happened. He hoped to god his suspicions were wrong, that Jean had been spared that at least. Please let me be wrong he thought. God let me be wrong .

He tightened his grip on Jeans shoulders slightly. He could not control whatever had happened to him in the past, but he damned well could make sure nothing bad happened to him ever again.

"You were right." Jean breathed against his neck.

"What?" His stomach dropped. For a terrible second he thought he had either said his thoughts out loud or Jean had guessed and was confirming it. 

"What you said yesterday, about me healing. I'm getting better. Some things are easier."

The intense wave of relief Jeremy felt almost made him not process Jean's words. Then the sudden lightness at Jean confirming his healing almost gave him whiplash from the roller coaster of emotions. "Yeah?"

"I would not have been able to do this before." Jean gestured at there closeness and curled closer to him. "The closeness, any type of physical contact."

Jeremy sighed happily when Jean brushed a gentle reverent hand through his curls and gravitated closer.

"I'm not used to it not hurting. I don't remember being touched and it not hurting before coming here. Even to help after… it already hurt so much. Everything always hurt." His voice broke and his hand shook slightly in his hair.

Jeremy swallowed the thick lump in his throat and let Jean keep talking. "And Jared says I'm not even physically at 100% yet and won't be for a while but I have never gone this long without being injured. Never had time to actually heal. So I feel okay, better. But, now all the memories all the fear is rushing up. Before I never had time to process any of it I was just doing everything I could to survive, and I barely was. And I'm afraid of everything. But even that is getting better, sometimes, not always, sometimes it's worse, so much worse. But I wouldn’t have been able to trust you before. Or let you cut my hair."

"I'm glad. That it's getting better I mean." he choked out blinking back tears. It meant so much to hear. That Jean trusted him in particular. To hear that things were better for Jean here. That he wasn't useless and just making things worse. He never knew if he was saying the right thing and he was constantly sure he was screwing up and making it worse. 

He remembered his dream where he couldn't reach Jean where he saw his own abuser hurting him. What help could he offer when he barely had a handle on his own issues? He hadn't dwelled on them as much during his time with Jean choosing to focus on him instead. His trauma was so much more obvious and, Jeremy felt, worse. His own was minor and unimportant in comparison. A small voice whispered in his ear that if Jean knew how ill-equipped to handle his own demons Jeremy was, he wouldn't trust him anymore.

"Your dream? What happened?" Jean interjected making Jeremy push his own insecurities back.

"I had these nightmares."

"What about? He hesitated. "You don't have to tell me. It's just, you help me so much. I want to help you if I can." Jean said quickly picking up on his hesitation.

"No, it's alright. It was about my um, well, exes at first. Which really sucked. Then the dream changed, there were these bird monsters. And they were taking you. I couldn't get to you in time." He remembered the terrible moment of Jean disintegrating into ash in his hands. The absolute horror and panic he had felt. Knowing that it was because he wasn't good enough, had not been fast enough.  

"I'm so sorry." He decided not to mention the vision of his own abuser hurting Jean. He knew it had to do with seeing the scars.

"I'm right here. I'm alright" Jean petted his hair gently. 

"I know, I know you are I just woke up and I couldn't find you, and I panicked."

"Your exes?"He asked softly and cautious like he wasn't sure he was allowed to ask.

"Yeah, I dated this girl for a long time, Jessica. But she was never really nice to me I guess? She was super jealous all the time and kind of controlling. But I cared about her you know?" He felt his throat tighten a bit more. He had been so stupid. He let it spill out telling Jean anyway, it felt natural. "I went over to her place one day, I'd left something there and she knew I was coming over and had told me to go right in when I got there. So I went in right? But I must have been earlier than she thought I was going to be, or maybe she just didn't care, or wanted me to see but." It shouldn't hurt to talk about it had been just over a year already. "She was with someone else. They were having sex. And turns out she had been cheating on me pretty much the entire time we were together. Which really fucking sucked because --" he cut himself off to take a deep breath hating the way his voice sounded pathetically small and vulnerable. She wasn't even the only one who had cheated on him. Others had before and he was pretty sure Rick had at least a couple of times. "I thought we were in love." 

He blinked back the wetness in his eyes and kept talking seemingly unable to stop now that he had started. "And she was always so paranoid and jealous about me. Needing to know where I was at all times, checking my phone, accusing me of stuff I never did. Hated me hanging out with other people, like Laila and Alvarez or anyone really because she thought I would cheat on her. She was so controlling all the time. And that never crossed my mind. I never would have done that. Like who the fuck does that. She didn't even apologize, she just said --" he stopped again not willing or ready to repeat the belittling things she had actually said about him in general and about his sexuality, and sexual abilities/preferences, "some really hurtful shit. And laughed at me, before dumping me. She dumped me. Not the other way around, she was bored with me I guess. I was a bit upset about the whole thing." He looked up from his rant to look at Jean who was looking at him with wide and startled eyes. 

"It was like a year ago though so it's fine. I'm over it." He was not in fact over it. "Or I'm trying at least. It's stupid I know. I just have dreams about walking in on it sometimes. It's really dumb, sorry for going on about it." He looked down at his shirt picking at the hem. Stupid.

"It's not." He looked up to into at Jean his eyebrows were furrowed slightly and his eyes wide and open, but serious. "It isn't stupid. She shouldn't have done that and treated you like that. I'm sorry. That was a terrible thing she did."

"Yeah," Jeremy felt like he might start crying. Or have a panic attack. Jean had been through so much, and clearly much worse, yet he was the one comforting Jeremy over something so stupid and inconsequential. He was so stupid. Stupid, stupid. Rick had been right. So had Jessica. He just made everything about himself and his problems. Idiot. He heard his breathing start to come in quick pants. 

He had only had one, okay maybe two or something panic attacks since Jean had arrived. And he had managed to avoid having one in front of him.

It wasn't like anything major had even triggered it, yes, talking about his ex and being cheated on sucked but he had done that before. It was like all the stress from the past month was crashing down on him. He'd been pushing his own needs aside because it felt selfish and idiotic when Jean clearly had things so much worse. Who was he to complain and worry about his issues. So he shoved it down. And now it was all coming back to the surface. And sometimes panic attacks just happened out of nowhere. 

He was vaguely aware that he had started hyperventilating.

"Jeremy?" Jean sounded afraid.

"Sorry, fuck, I'm sorry. Sorry." He struggled to get the words out to apologize, gasping the entire way. "It’s nothing,"

"I need you to listen to me and breathe" Jean spoke in a calm firm no-nonsense voice that Jeremy found himself listening to. "I'm going to hold you, is that alright." 

Jeremy nodded vigorously and Jean put a hand on the back of his neck and tugged him to his chest. "Now breath with me."

After a few minutes he managed to get his breathing under control and began to calm down.

"Sorry" he hiccupped, scrubbing his face with his hands. 

"Don't be. The amount of times you have done this for me, and will no doubt continue to do so in the future -- It's your turn."

He sniffed and Jean reached over to grab a box of tissues handing it to him. 

He blew his nose loudly. "You at least have a reason though. I'm just..."

"You have reason too, and even if you didn't it would be okay. From my limited understanding of mental health, things aren't always logical there's no fixed rules. There's no need to compare tragic backstories. You feel and react how you will, its not controllable or less valid because you weren't enslaved and tortured for half of your life. Which you have alluded to being a rather extreme and uncommon case. And if it makes a difference, you are doing much better than I am. And I wouldn't even be doing as well as I am if it weren't for you."

"Yeah, okay." He knew that. He did, but it was still a relief to know that Jean didn't think he was weak because of their different circumstances and coping. "I guess we should come up with a schedule or take turns so we aren't both falling apart at the same time."

Jean quirked a smile at him "True, only one of us should be a disaster at once. I want Mondays, Thursdays and  Fridays, you can have weekends, and Tuesday. We will flip a coin to see who gets to be a wreck on Wednesday."

"Or we could you know, be okay on Wednesdays." Humor was an excellent coping mechanism.

"Unlikely,"

He gave him a smile and leaned back into his own spot "Dinner?"

"I'll cook."

"You can cook? More than just sandwiches and protein shakes?"

"I am French, that should give me some innate talent that is better than you." He gave him a crooked grin and Jeremy's heart skipped a beat. He hoped this wouldn't end up being a problem. 

"Hey, I am excellent at ordering take out."

Jean scoffed at him and went to make dinner. 

 

________

Chapter Text

He didn't know how Riko had found out. They'd been so careful. It wasn't serious, it wasn't even anything really. A handful of experimental kisses as comfort, and some mild heavy petting occasionally. Kevin was the only one who was kind to him and knew what his situation in the Nest was. Jean had never looked at the rare female raven the way Kevin did, not really looking at anyone truly, just Kevin and other fit male Ravens occasionally. It was common in the Nest, all the Ravens were fucking each other, mostly regardless of gender, it was stress relief. It was common, normal, expected. So they had been curious and exchanged the occasional stolen kiss in the dead of night between French whispers of comfort. He wasn't even sure if he had actually liked and felt that way about Kevin or if it had just been a result of familiarity and proximity. It had only been a week or so of it.

And then Riko found out. None of it had been worth the cost.

He made Jean remove his clothes and handcuffed him to the bed. This was familiar. Riko liked knives, liked torture. But Jean could survive it. If he was obedient and accepted it without fighting he could survive. Barely sometimes, but he could. 

That fact didn't stop him from screaming and struggling, tearing at the flesh of his wrists on the handcuffs while Kevin held his legs down and Riko started carving into his back. 

"This is what you are three. Filthy faggot." he hissed into his ear as he dug his knife into his back to form the word. "Never forget it. Sick, twisted and wrong. That's what you are."

He took his time, cutting the letters into him. The knife was dull and burned and dragged as it cut through his flesh.

After Riko climbed off to admire his handiwork. Still hissing obscenities and slurs at him in English and Japanese. Making sure Jean knew exactly what he was. He would never make that mistake again.

But it wasn't over. Riko turned to Kevin who was pale and shaking in the corner. Eyes wide with horror. Kevin wouldn't make the mistake again either. 

"Fuck him" Riko ordered Kevin.

"What?! No?!"

Riko smacked him across the face hard. Riko had never hit Kevin before. He threatened to, even swung at him but usually only used Jean to take out his frustrations. Kevin’s beatings were left to the Master, who dealt them out to everyone. And Kevin had always been too scared to defy Riko. He hit him again in the stomach and Kevin stumbled back dazed in shock.

"Do it! Now or I will make you regret it." Riko commanded brandishing his knife still covered in Jean's blood.

Kevin flinched away and approached where Jean was handcuffed to his bed. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," he sobbed as he climbed over him. 

Jean flinched and braced himself for the pain. Feeling hands on his bare hips and tears hitting his back. He struggled away, "Please."

He heard Kevin let out a gut-wrenching sob and felt more movement behind him. He couldn't move, couldn't kick out with Kevin's weight on his legs. He continued to struggle feebly anyway. The scabs on his wrists from repeated use of handcuffs had reopened and blood was dripping down his arms. Blood from where faggot had been gouged into his shoulders was dripping slickly down his back and sides.

He heard more crying and movement and Riko's maniacal laughter. "Now, Kevin!" 

"I can't. I'm sorry I can't. It won't work. I can't." Kevin cried and climbed off of Jean.

Riko slapped him across the face hard, kicking him and screaming, then abruptly changed his tune. "Its okay Kevin," Riko said soothingly, petting his face "I know you aren't a faggot like he is, you don't have to. You can't play exy and be gay. It's disgusting."

"No, I'm not," Kevin nodded vigorously, still recovering from the whiplash of Riko’s rage and violence at his disobedience and his sudden acquiescence, stepping away from him quickly. Jean let himself relax for a second, thinking it might be over. It wasn't.

Riko whistled and the door opened. In stepped six older Ravens. Jean’s blood went cold. 

"Riko, no, you can't." Kevin pleaded.

"Shut the fuck up." Riko said punching him in the face, Kevin's head snapped back nose bleeding. "You had your chance, you made your choice, now watch."

Riko turned to the other Ravens, "Do it. Fuck him. Take your time and make it hurt. Other than that, you can do what you want."

"No. Nononono. Please, Riko I'm sorry. I won't do it again I swear. I learned my lesson, I promise." He tried to get away as the other men advanced towards him. 

"Please King. Please don't do this to me." He screamed trying to kick at them and struggle. Get the hands groping and grabbing at him off.

Riko just laughed. 

"Kevin help me please." He begged and pleaded. 

He met his gaze, tears were streaming down his face and he mouthed the words "I'm sorry" while Riko held Kevin's face and hair forcing him to look.

 "Watch," Riko hissed, "this is what happens to fags like him."

He made him watch the entire time. While Jean screamed and begged and struggled to no avail. 

~~~

Jean woke up gasping like he had been drowning scrambling off the bed and retreating to the corner of the room wedging himself in there to protect his back.

"Jean?" He vaguely registered someone's presence across the room near the door. The figure took a step forward, and Jean recoiled banging his head against the wall.

"Stay back!" He tried to make himself as small as possible. He couldn't stand the idea of being touched or even having anyone in close proximity. 

"Don't touch me!" He was ready to lash out at anything and everything that approached him. He was still shaking from the memory. And all the memories that had come with it. 

"Is there anything I can do?" The voice offered, arms held up and kept away from him near the door. Jeremy, it was Jeremy. He flipped the main light on. Jean flinched and cowered at the sudden brightness. 

"Fuck. Should I turn it back off?" His hand hovered over the light switch. 

"No!" Jean shouted frantically not wanting to be plunged back into darkness. "On, keep it on."

He huddled in the fetal position, back to the wall, rocking back and forth slightly in a desperate attempt to comfort himself. 

He could still feel the blood, dripping down his wrists, back, and thighs.

He held up a shaking hand to confirm he wasn't actually bleeding. Before quickly wrapping his arms back around his legs.

"Jean?"

"No. Stay away." 

"Okay, alright, got it, can I get you anything?"

His stomach flipped rioting inside him. "Gonna be sick" he moaned.

"Yeah, okay" Jeremy rushed away and returned with a bucket skidding over to him across the floor without coming any closer than the door.

His stomach cramped and he retched dry, hunched over the bucket shaking and shivering in a cold sweat until he rid his stomach of its contents and was just heaving up bile and emptiness. 

He rested his head against the wall panting heavily. He was too hot and too cold at the same time. Jeremy rolled a sealed water bottle to him from the door. He took a sip. Swirling the liquid in his mouth and spitting into the bowl to rid himself of the taste of sick.

His entire body was shaking, and crawling with the sensation of unwanted hands on him. 

Five times. Riko had ordered Ravens to gangrape him five times. By the fifth time he hadn't protested, he just let it happen because he knew it was inevitable. Riko didn't watch or make Kevin watch after that, did not specifically arrange it as a punishment after that. 

That didn't mean it hadn't happened after that. Riko would sometimes give Ravens permission to do what they wanted to him as a reward, and did not do anything about it when others went after him. He could talk his way out of it sometimes when they hadn't had permission, or avoid them. Claim Riko or the Master would be mad if he was unable to perform in a game. Everyone was afraid of them and he technically had a higher ranking, so it had worked, occasionally, if they were newer and did not fully comprehend Jean's position as less than human. He stopped fighting though. Fighting would always make it worse and he didn't want it to get back to Riko. He would have started it up again as a punishment which would have been worse. So he let them do what they wanted with minimal struggle.

There had also been after Kevin left Christmas break, which had been to punish Kevin and Neil respectively more than him. And after Kengo's death. And times Riko had forced him to service him orally. He wasn't sure if it counted, Jared said it did, so did the internet. But he had been told it didn't in the Nest. It had been more about domination and power to Riko than anything. He could usually find a fanatic female Raven or zealous fan otherwise.

He saw movement out of the corner of his eye. He snapped his head up to search for the threat.

Jeremy held his hands up placatingly "I'm just going to go make you some tea. I won't come any closer."

Jean watched the door warily after Jeremy disappeared. He returned shortly with a closed travel mug. "I'm just going to slide it over to you okay?" He said crouching down in the doorway. 

He jerked his head in silent confirmation and Jeremy slid the mug over to him.

He opened the lid and looked into the mug, inspecting it for any residue or odor that could indicate it being spiked.

"It's hot, careful. Jasmine Chamomile, no sugar or honey." He trusted Jeremy now, he did. He wanted to. He just couldn't help but feel on edge and paranoid.

He took a cautious sip, ready to spit it out if there was anything wrong with it. There wasn't and he swallowed. 

The warmth soothed his throat which felt raw from screaming and worse. He wasn't sure if that pain was real or in his head.

He remained huddled in the corner silent for what must have been hours. Jeremy let him be. He made no attempt to force him to talk or enter the room.

At some point, he went into the living room to grab a pillow and a blanket, before resettling on the floor outside the door. Eventually falling asleep there. A silent guard preventing anything else from entering the room.

He looked out the window, the moon was visible, but he couldn't see stars with the bright city lights of LA. He felt the urge to feel the night air on his face. To be outside, to breathe he abruptly felt trapped and suffocated in the small space.

Leaving had never been an option in the Nest. Never. But it was here. He was free here. He stood up abruptly, swaying slightly as the blood rushed to his head and he felt dizzy. He clapped a hand on the wall to support himself. 

Jeremy scrambled to his feet at the noise. "You alright?"

"Outside." he rasped, "need to go outside."

"Yeah, sure, okay," Jeremy said darting into the living room and snagging his keys shoving his feet into flip flops. 

Jean followed slowly sliding into his own shoes. Keeping plenty of space between them. "Do you want me to come with you or would you prefer to be alone? You can take my car if you need to drive or go somewhere."

He blinked at what Jeremy had offered without a second thought. A vehicle full of gas, with which he could escape with ease. Not to mention it belonged to Jeremy and he was willing to trust him with it. 

"Come with." He decided, he didn't think he could handle being alone. Not now of all times.

They trudged downstairs to the parking lot. Jeremy following behind him making sure to give him a wide breadth.

Once outside he collapsed to the curb and took in long gulps of cool night air. Elbows on knees with his face in his hands. After a few minutes of silence only interrupted by the faint thrum of city traffic in the night, Jeremy spoke up.

"We could go for a drive? I know a place less than two hours from here where you can see the stars." 

He could not recall the last time he had seen them, really seen them. He hadn't dared leave Abby's house and had only seen glimpses out the window when he stayed there. He mostly had kept the curtains shut not wanting to get used to something he could not have. But he could have it. It still felt like a miracle or a dream. Not that he had many dreams as pleasant as this one.

He nodded at Jeremy. "Stars, yes."

"Okay," They made their way to his car. "Do you want to be in the backseat with more space?" He offered.

He shook his head clambering into the passenger seat, leaning against the slightly open window.

He looked out the window and watched the city pass by and fade into highway and countryside as Jeremy drove. Low music played on the radio, something Jean could not identify.

They spent drive in silence until Jean felt unwound enough an hour and a half in to speak.

"How do you know of where we are going?" He asked. Jeremy's strained smile flashed white briefly in the moonlight.

"Freshman year, I missed seeing the stars so I looked it up. I've gone a lot since then, there and to a few other places, Laila and Alvarez have come a few times. A midnight drive can be nice."

Jeremy continued to tell him about life growing up on a farm and how adjusting to LA had been difficult as well as other anecdotes from his youth as they continued on. Jean was content to listen and let Jeremy's stories pull him into a softer, happier reality. 

Upon reaching their destination they pulled to the side of the road in the middle of nowhere and climbed out of the car.

He breathed in deep letting his lungs fill with the crisp summer night air and tilted his head up to look at the sky.

There were stars. Brilliant pinpricks of light in the blackness. The longer he looked the brighter they seemed, the less dark the night. It wasn't flat, it swirled with shades of blue mixed into the inky sky.

"There are blankets and stuff in the back, you could rest on the ground or on the roof of the car." Jeremy offered softly.

He nodded letting Jeremy get out the blankets and spread them out on the ground. He also pulled out a couple of pillows from somewhere, because of course, Jeremy had pillows

He sat down on the blankets and looked at Jeremy who was hovering at the edge wringing his hands. He was so careful not to cross any of Jean's lines to give him space, assuming that his stay away was in effect until he said otherwise.

"You can come sit." Jean murmured and Jeremy carefully joined him on the blanket still giving him plenty of space.

He moved a bit closer to Jeremy unconsciously pulled in by his gravity. They laid back and looked up at the stars, close but not close enough to touch accidentally.

The air smelled fresh and crisp. The dew was already settling in on the grass and there was a slight breeze. The stars shone as brilliant diamonds of light in the darkness.

"Do you know any constellations?" Jeremy asked.

He shook his head. Jeremy pointed out a few that he knew and made some others up encouraging Jean to do the same.

"That one is an exy racket," Jeremy told him pointing at a random assortment of stars, if Jean tilted his head he could kinda see it if he also used some imagination.

"That's the ball, and the goal is over there," he told him playing along with his game. Jeremy turned to look at him rather than the stars and gave him a smile so soft and tender that Jean felt some of the ice melt and give way in his chest.

They continued to point out and create constellations in the sky getting more and more ridiculous as time went on. Jeremy even made myths or stories for some, as well as relayed distorted versions of the myths for the real constellations making up farfetched details when he couldn't remember.

At some point, Jean stopped looking at the sky and started looking at Jeremy. He seemed brighter somehow in the light of the moon. The conversation eventually petered off but they stayed outside looking at the stars, eventually covering themselves with an extra blanket. They maintained a comfortable silence not quite asleep, but almost, interrupted only by the occasional suggestions of additional constellations until the sun rose.


After staying up the night before they spent most of the day sleeping and being overall unproductive and lazy. Jeremy whined and said he'd revolt and lay on the exy court or floor of the gym if they went so Jean let it slide. It had not taken much convincing, he hadn't wanted to go anyway. It was odd that Jeremy acted like it was Jean who was in charge of decisions like that, for both of them. He was coming to grips with the fact that he was supposed to have autonomy here, but being Jeremy's "motivation," "boss" and "reason for any productivity" during summer break was something as unfamiliar to Jean as laziness but he thought he might actually like it. 

Jeremy flopped down beside him on the couch huffing trying to blow his hair out of his face without putting down the bagels he was holding.

Jean grabbed a bagel from his hands and pushed the unruly hair out of his face. His cheeks darkened slightly in response. 

"Thanks!" He said before shoving one of the bagels into his face. "Um, that's for you," he gestured to the bagel Jean was still holding after he had finished chewing. 

They finished eating and Jeremy curled up next to Jean's side after getting permission. He wrapped his arm around his soldiers and leaned his chin on the top of Jeremy's head, inhaling deeply through his nose. He swallowed a lump in his throat. He wanted this to be real, to mean something more than he knew it meant. To have this familiarity be something permanent. 

But it wasn't it couldn't be. Jeremy's other friends would be here soon. And even if it was true, and he did believe it was, or at least wanted to, that they were friends, that Jean mattered to Jeremy, friends was all they were. And it would change. It would change when the others arrived, first two of Jeremy's closest friends then the rest of his team.

And they were teammates, friends and roommates, nothing more. And when Jeremy had others he wouldn't need Jean anymore. He wouldn't have as much time for him. Sure he would try but it wouldn't be the same. It felt selfish to want it to be special between them. Jeremy had so much love and warmth in his heart. Plenty to share it with everyone. So why did he feel like a spoiled child who didn't want to share, at the thought of Jeremy cuddling up to others and having moments like this with the rest of his friends?

It didn't feel unbalanced between them. Yes, Jeremy was his captain, but it didn't feel like he had power over Jean. Not really, not now. It felt as if they were equals. Jeremy had been vulnerable with him too. 

Jean had comforted him during a panic attack. And that made something warm bloom in his chest. That he had been able to help him. He felt needed, that he mattered. That he could do something, that Jeremy relied on him too, at least a little. Even though their roles were usually reversed he could help. Had helped when Jeremy needed it. In an odd way, it had shown him that he wasn't as broken as he had thought. Not when Jeremy would go through something similar. Because Jeremy was so strong. Jean looked at him and saw nothing but strength and sunlight. 

And that girl, the one who had betrayed Jeremy, Jean hated her without even meeting her. 

How could she have even looked at anyone else when she had the sun? He couldn't imagine someone wanting anything else if Jeremy was an option. He could only imagine that she had been an extremely stupid and terrible person. To have squandered that chance, to not have cherished him with every fiber of her being.

He had to pause to remind himself that they were friends and nothing more. 

Did he want more? The thought shocked him. He hadn't realized he was even capable of wanting more. And he didn't, not necessarily, he knew he wasn't anywhere close to ready for anything more physically. He just, he just wanted what he and Jeremy had shared to mean something more. Because it meant so much to Jean, far more than what he imagined friendship to be. His need to be beside Jeremy at all times was beyond the terror and unfamiliarity of being left alone. He liked being around Jeremy he felt softer, lighter, less broken, more whole and human around him.

And he didn't know why, he didn't know how and he didn't know what, but he wanted. He hadn't let himself want anything besides an end to the pain in so long. This desire wasn't like the one for just survival but he had no name for it yet, and contemplating it lead only to confusion.

But he wondered if he would even have what he had now if Jeremy knew everything.

He remembered reaching for Kevin, after. And how Kevin pushed him away, refusing to touch him. The way he had told him no, that it was wrong. He was wrong. But Jean had only wanted help holding himself together when he was falling apart. How his already broken heart shattered completely at losing the one friend he had. Kevin couldn't or maybe just wouldn't even look him in the eye for days, weeks, after that. Wouldn’t even speak to him, no one did aside from orders. It cemented the fact that Riko had been right into his brain. He was a perverse abomination. To have previously thought that any of that could have been enjoyable. It made sense, Kevin avoiding him, he couldn't risk infecting himself after already coming so close.  

He almost came to look forward to the torture because at least then he could feel something even if it was pain. And Kevin would sometimes have to touch him after, for stitches.

Kevin would still help to patch him up when things had gotten particularly bad. Sew together his broken body, until he was barely put together, just tatters held together by dental floss and thread around a hollow and empty shell. But he didn't hold him anymore. Wouldn't touch him at all beyond what was a medical necessity. Didn't tell him everything would be okay and other lies in French that they could pretend to believe, even if just for a moment. It was always, don't make him mad. Just keep your head down, do what he says. It left him empty and so, so alone.

After Kevin found him bleeding out after cutting open his own wrists, he begged him to stay alive. Please don't leave me , he had said, as if he had any right to ask. Jean couldn't remember much of the incident but he knew Riko and the master had found out because he was punished, severely, and never left alone again. His own life wasn't his to take. There was always someone in the room watching him so he wasn't even able to try again. Kevin apologized, after, and tried to tell him he wasn't wrong or broken. Jean didn't believe him. It was too late for that. 

But they became close again, brothers, in a way they never were with Riko, who viewed Jean as chattel and Kevin as only slightly better than a pampered pet. He still would not touch him beyond holding pressure on a bleeding wound or checking him during practice. Jean would cover for Kevin while he was off sneaking around with Thea. They were partners and allies. He still reminded him of rules, warned him against doing anything that would make him angry. If he could just not make him angry, it would be okay.

 But Riko was increasingly violent and unpredictable as he was denied audiences with the main branch. Riko became more jealous and paranoid about Kevin. Then Riko had broken Kevin's hand and then it was Jean's turn to patch him up. 

Then he had felt the sting of betrayal again when Kevin left him to rot in the Nest without so much as a backward glance or parting word.

He realized he was trembling slightly with wet eyes when Jeremy backed out of his arms and turned to look at him. 

"Hey, what's going on up there?" He asked tapping his temple.

And Jean cried. He collapsed into Jeremy's arms and cried for all that he had lost. Everything he had taken from him. Stolen, and ripped away his entire life. The life that had been sold as a child. The voice that was bottled up and then smashed onto the ground.

And Jeremy held him. He didn't know why he probably had a vague idea but he didn't ask. He didn't make Jean explain or justify it. He just held him. And comforted him, and accepted him as he was.

Jeremy's hands on him were always accompanied by a wave of sheer relief. Like all the tension, wretched anger and loneliness were washed away with his touch. He could relax under the feeling of safety and utter peace that he seemed to transfer from Jeremy's own skin to Jean's with the contact. It was such a small thing but the contentment it gave him could be overwhelming.

The scars had not turned him away. He had expected him to turn away in disgust, or at the very least treat him differently, with pity and slight revulsion after. Jeremy was smart, he could probably draw his own conclusions from what he had seen, what he had read. But Jeremy had not left him yet. He had cried even, for him. Over what he had suffered, he did not know what to make of that reaction. They had not seemed to be tears of pity either, not exactly. More ones of empathy.

Maybe this one will stay, maybe this one won't leave you. A tiny hopeful voice whispered in his head. Jean hoped to a God he no longer believed in that the voice was right.

 

______

Chapter Text

Jeremy

"Goooood morning!" He said brightly the second Jean's silver eyes cracked open to glare at him.

"You are a fucking golden retriever."

"Awww thanks. You can be grumpy cat."

"The what?" Jean really was like a cat with his sullen disposition mixed with episodes of affection and pure spite. The disgruntled expression on his face made the suggestion even funnier.

"Do you not know the meme???" He lunged over the bed hanging off the side to get his laptop, only prevented from toppling to the ground on his face by Jean grabbing him by the ankles. Once he had it Jean hauled him back up onto the bed and gave him an exasperated look.

"You could have injured yourself."

"But I didn't, you saved me." He chirped brightly.

Jean muttered something rude under his breath in French. 

He pulled up some grumpy cat memes on his laptop and handed it to Jean encouraging him to find more memes and interesting things.

"These are ridiculous. Half of them don't make any kind of sense."

"You don't have to look at them if you don't like them."

"No, I will."  

He snorted and flopped back down resting his head in Jean's lap. He browsed social media on his phone while Jean educated himself on internet culture and played with his hair absentmindedly.

It was nice. 

Jean let out occasional hums of amusement and scoffs at whatever it was he was reading. He grinned up at him cheekily and Jean just rolled his eyes and tapped his nose lightly. "Hush."

"I didn't say anything."

"I can hear you thinking."

"Mind-reading cool. What am number am I thinking of?"

Jean shook his head at him softly. The corners of his eyes crinkling at the edges slightly in amusement. He looked happy, genuinely happy. His eyes were bright and alert, the corners of his mouth lifted slightly in a crooked grin that did things to Jeremy.  It softened his harsh features and turned him into something indescribable. He was so fucking beautiful. He thought he might do anything to keep that look on Jean's face. 

"Some of it is actually funny. Although some of it is confusing and I feel as if I am missing somethings."

"Oh yeah." He said feeling rather dazed.

Jean hummed again and went back to his browsing. His brows furrowing occasionally in confusion. Every so often his lips would quirk up slightly. Jeremy forced himself to look away. 

"What ze fuck is a fursona?"

Jeremy fucking choked and sat bolt upright. "What?" He coughed out sputtering.

"And furries what the hell?"

Jeremy was to busy choking on his own tongue and holding back hysterical laughter to answer. Jean gave him an odd look.

"Nevermind, I'll just look it up."

"No don't!" Jeremy interjected alarmed. And a minute too slow.

Jean yelped and shoved the computer away from him. "What the fuck!"

Jeremy lost it laughing hysterically falling back on the bed looking at Jean's shocked disgruntled expression. 

"Why does the cat have boobs? And so many?" He looked personally affronted by the fact. His accent was particularly strong and Jeremy was dying.

"Man, I'm so sorry." Jeremy let out gasping. "The internet gets weird and gross." 

He raised an imperious eyebrow at him as if to say "Well?"

"Some people like to dress up as animals for sex or draw humanish animal things. I don't think it's necessarily sexual all the time. But a lot of times it is? I honestly don't know. But it's this whole big thing. There are conventions and costumes and shit? It's not my thing, I prefer partners to be you know human, and not barking. I mean like if vampires were real sure, and like human-looking aliens maybe. Possibly werewolves?"

Jean blinked at him. Like something so undignified was beyond him. "Lovely, well at least you have standards."

"Look you didn't watch Trueblood and Vampire Diaries and go through all the Twilight shit as a young teenager. Don't judge me." He defended himself. Jean actually looked like he'd be perfect to play the role of a tall, dark, and handsome brooding vampire or something with his pale-skin black hair and eyes like moonlight but that was beside the point. "But like the furry thing it's also a joking thing sometimes and there's lots of stuff that's like satire of it?" 

"Uh, huh"

"One time I saw a GIF of a velociraptor sucking a dick. On Tumblr. It was animated obviously but it was hella realistic and that's the kinda thing that's just like whelp I can't unsee this. To be fair, I clicked on the link and knew exactly what it was gonna be before I did, so that's on me."

Jean looked at him like he belonged in a mental institution. Him and the rest of the internet probably. "I don't think that's the kind of thing you should tell people."

Jeremy clutched his stomach to avoid losing it laughing again. There were fucking tears in his eyes. Jean was completely deadpan and serious.

"No, ya you are right. In my defense, I didn't like seek that out. It just showed up when I was looking at other stuff. I think Alvarez might have reblogged it?"

"What the fuck where you looking at that just showed up???"

"I mean to be fair you weren't looking for a cat wearing a too-small bikini covering all eight tits seducing a very well endowed wolf in a thong, were you? And you found it." He said taking a look at what Jean had found. Ah lovely, his FBI agent monitoring his computer would be thrilled.

"Point taken." Jean sniffed.

"I mean unless you were, I'm not kink-shaming anyone."

"I most certainly was not." He snapped tartly. 

They just looked at each other for a minute. How did one come back from this conversation? "I could try to find the velociraptor thing if you want?" That was absolutely the incorrect way to come back from that conversation.

Jean looked at him incredulously "I'm gonna have to pass on that, thanks." 

"Fair."

"So um,"

"Your friends will be here tomorrow?" Jean offered him a semi dignified change of subject.

"Oh yeah. Yeah, I think you'll get along with Laila really well. Also, me and Alvarez are probably gonna get real weird especially if alcohol is involved."

"Good to know. So like furries and cock sucking dinosaurs or…?" His eyes glinted with amusement. Jean was making fun of him. It shouldn't make him feel as warm inside as it did. 

"Hey, rude." He said pretending to pout a little. Jean chuckled softly. "Anyway, they are going to love you."

Jean's eyes dimmed a little and he looked away. 

"They will. And if you need space or time away they'll leave and they aren't staying in the dorms quite yet. They will move in when everyone else does."

"Yeah, right," Jean said with eyes downcast.

He hoped his friends arriving and the rest of the team wouldn't set Jean back too much. Hopefully, with Laila and Alvarez arriving first it would be a more gradual transition.

Jean had already come so far. To be sitting, touching and be joking around? He wouldn't have thought it was possible when Jean first arrived. Jean had spent almost a week not speaking to him at all just hovering in the background like a ghost flinching and curling in on himself at the slightest sound and movement.

But there were still bad days. And there probably always would be, hopefully, as time went on there would be more good than bad. Or at least good moments sprinkled throughout like there was now. 


They went to the gym and ran tense drills at the court before Jeremy called it. Jean seemed to be getting through time in the stadium and on the court without any flashbacks, but Jeremy thought he would collapse if they spent another minute there. He was exhausted. On the bright side, he was already ahead of the rest of the team with conditioning. Even if his arms and legs felt like aching lead weights, and he couldn't quite do the Raven drill yet. He could tell Jean was getting frustrated with him but was holding back criticism. Well, as much as Jean could. The rest of his team was in for a real treat. He thought sarcastically.

When they got back Jeremy dramatically sprawled out on the living room floor and applied heating packs to his sore body.

"Are you going to just lay there?" Jean inquired looming over him with protein shakes in each hand.

"Yep." He confirmed. Jean prodded him lightly in the side with his toe.

"Will you live?"

"Nope, I'm dying."

Jean just scoffed and set a shake next to him on the floor. He rolled his eyes when he still refused to move before heading to the bedroom.

He wouldn't ask Jean what his nightmare or more likely memory had been about a couple of days ago. Jean had started telling him somethings but was still withholding others. He wouldn't ask, wouldn't press the issue. But that didn't mean he didn't wonder. 

There wasn't a scale on which he could compare panic attacks and incidents for himself let alone for Jean. There was not a clean concise order of what ones were better or worse. 

Still, that had been bad. He had gotten used to being able to comfort Jean in some way or do something. But that night he had felt so useless. Jean hadn't even let him come near him. Let alone touch him. He'd let Jean make all the choices and set his own boundaries, only grabbing things when needed and staying outside the room. 

But it had been hours until Jean had responded at all, let him anywhere close. It had taken driving for more hours outside and seeing stars for him to be back to any semblance of okay. 

He hadn't even been in the room when it happened, he'd been unable to fall asleep with all the thoughts running through his head and left the room to see if tidying the kitchen would help. He'd rushed back to the room when he heard Jean start screaming. He wondered how long the nightmare had gone on before he heard and woke him. The agonized sounds Jean had made haunted him, ringing in his ears. Wordless screams of pure pain and when there were words it was almost worse. Please don't do this to me Jean had begged. He hated that he hadn't stopped it sooner.

 He wondered if he had made it worse. Crossed some kind of line, when he had had his own panic attack. Or maybe talking about the scars. Maybe he had said or done something that had triggered it. However unconsciously. 

He would just have to trust Jean to tell him or make any boundaries known if he needed too. It wasn't like he could read Jean's mind. Besides, he didn't need Jeremy's hovering and mother henning.  

Also he was pretty sure he might have feelings for Jean. Who was he kidding, he definitely did, and they were only getting stronger. Hopefully, they'd fade a bit when it wasn't just the two of them constantly. Or at least not get any stronger. It was just a crush he told himself again and again. Just an unreciprocated crush. It wasn't a big deal. Jeremy had never been very good at lying to anyone, let alone himself. At least he was telling the truth about it being unreciprocated.

He finished off the gross protein shake. They needed to start adding something to it other than protein powder and water. Blagh.

He went to rinse his glass in the sink wondering what Jean was up to and whether or not he should bother him. They'd pretty much been joined at the hip, so Jean could probably use a break. 

He was probably talking to Renee, who was probably his girlfriend, he reminded himself sourly. He felt terrible at feeling any sort of negative emotion towards her. He should be beyond grateful to her, and he was, she had gotten Jean out of that terrible place. It was because of her that Jean was here at all, alive and safe in California. He needed to learn to swallow his bitterness at the thought of them together. But he couldn't help it, he wouldn't do or say anything, if Jean ever spoke his feelings for her or talked about their relationship he would be nothing but supportive. But still, he was jealous.

Just as he was debating whether or not to interrupt Jean and ask if he wanted to see a movie there was a loud pounding on the door.

He wondered if Laila and Alvarez had gotten in early and went to go answer it. They had not ordered anything unless Jean had. But the pounding was too loud and obnoxious to be a delivery person so probably Alvarez. 

"Alright, alright, I'm coming, give me a fucking minute will you."

He opened the door grinning expecting his best friend only to come face to face with his ex. He froze. He hadn't even processed the fact that Rick was here before he was shoving his way into the apartment, preventing him from slamming the door in his face. 

"Why the fuck haven't you been answering my texts huh?" Rick barked closing in on him 

He was frozen, unable to move, unable to say anything. This couldn't be happening. He couldn't be here. He thought it was over when they'd broken up. He'd blocked his number never wanting to hear from him or face him again. He hadn't thought he'd actually retaliate after the breakup. It had been months. 

"Answer me!" He demanded grabbing his arm and shaking him. 

"Let go!" He tried to be forceful but it came up shaky. "We broke up. You can't be here. Get out!" 

“I’ll call the police get out.” he tried to get his phone with his free hand, but Rick slapped it out of his hand letting it clatter to the floor. He wrenched Jeremy's arm back. He couldn't breathe. This couldn’t be happening. Not again. It was over, it was supposed to be over. 

"No! You don't get to decide that we're done! I decide if we're done!" He smelled like alcohol. And was gripping him tighter and tighter. He was going to bruise.

He was beginning to panic, trying to get away. "Stop it, you're hurting me!" He flinched as one of Rick's hands went back, and connected with his face sharply. His head snapped sharply to the side from the slap and his eyes began to sting. 

_____

 

Chapter Text

Jean

Jean was changing into a short-sleeved shirt, Jeremy had already seen his scars and it was hot outside. He could do this. He heard pounding on the door, and Jeremy go to answer it. He wondered if his guests had come early. He debated changing again for half a second, but decided against it, they would likely see the scars eventually and he didn't care too much. He wasn't self-conscious about them, or his body. He’d had that beaten out of him and there had been no privacy at the nest. Jeremy had seen them already, so it wasn't as big of a deal if the others did. He heard unexpected shouting coming from the living room, which stopped his train of thought abruptly.

"Why the fuck haven't you been answering my texts huh?" Came a loud unknown voice male voice. Jean momentarily froze, not sure if he should get involved. He immediately loathed the instinctive cowardice to just let things happen. The voice came again and Jean slipped his phone into his pocket. "Answer me!" 

"Let go!" Jeremy's voice was high and distressed "We broke up. You can't be here. Get out!" 

“I’ll call the police get out.”

Jean rushed out of the bedroom. Whoever the fuck that was making Jeremy sound afraid was going to have to leave.

"No! You don't get to decide that we're done! I decide if we're done!" A man had an iron grip Jeremy's arm tight enough to bruise and was looming over him shouting. Waving his other hand threateningly.

"Stop it, you're hurting me!" Jeremy yelped struggling and flinching away from him in a way that was startlingly familiar. The look of someone expecting to be hurt. The man’s hand connected with Jeremy's cheek with an echoing smack and Jean saw red.

"Get your fucking hands off him" he snarled.

The man didn't which was his first mistake. "Who the fuck are you? This is between me and him stay out of it. " 

 Jean responded by sucker-punching him in the face throwing him off of Jeremy. Jean was a raven, while he was never able to defend himself against Riko, he sure as hell knew how to fight. 

"What the hell? You get a new boyfriend already? Need someone to fight your battles for you? You're such a fucking slut Jer. " Jeremy flinched at that. The man continued wiping his nose that had a trickle of blood coming out of it from the punch but not shutting up because apparently he was an idiot.  "can't go too long without a nice dick up your--" 

"Fuck you, you have a small dick" Jeremy retorted furious, cutting him off.

“Why’d you beg for it then?” he taunted. 

Jeremy started hurling obscenities in Spanish at the asshole in spite of him trying to lunge at him to hit him. 

Jean lashed out in a split second jabbing him in his throat with his fist before any blow could land on Jeremy. He doubled over making a guttural wheezing sound. Before he could straighten up and become a threat again Jean grabbed him by the neck and lifted him up slamming him against the wall pinned. 

He let out a gasping noise and grabbed at his arms and kicked his legs. Jean thought about how easy it would be to kill him. Snap his neck like it was nothing, he could. A part of him wanted to.

“What do you want me to do with him?” He asked Jeremy calmly not without lifting his glare from the man’s face. He reluctantly adjusted his grip on his neck slightly so he wasn’t actively suffocating the man. As much as he wanted to kill him at the moment it was probably a bad idea. He still held him up against the wall like a ragdoll, preventing his feet from touching the ground. He kicked out still struggling feebly.

“Dude put me the fuck down, what the fuck man. He’s my boyfriend.” His breath smelt rancid, and like cheap alcohol. 

“Shut up, no he isn’t.” He had distinctly heard Jeremy say they had broken up. He had no idea what was going on, but it didn’t matter. He hurt Jeremy and had scared him, it was taking a great deal of self-control not to crush his fragile windpipe. 

“Jeremy,” he turned to look at him lowering his voice to speak to him softly. He looked stricken. “I can throw him out, or keep him like this for law enforcement. He seems like he sucks. I can totally get rid of him for you. Or just break his arm or something. Whatever you want.” He wouldn’t take any pleasure in hurting someone, but he had hurt Jeremy so all he had to do was say the word, and Jean would. Jean was raised to be a weapon.

The man opened his mouth to offer his unwanted opinion. “If you say one more thing, I swear to god, I will knock you out.” Jean threatened harshly.

He shut his mouth wisely. He felt his throat bob as he swallowed nervously under his hand.

He turned back to Jeremy making a conscious effort to gentle his features and voice. “It’s up to you.” He offered

“Just kick him out. And lock the door.” Jeremy’s voice shook but was firm. He didn’t take his eyes off of them.

All the extra food intake and workouts at the gym had done wonders for Jean’s strength. And the adrenaline helped. He let him clatter to the ground abruptly before grabbing the back of the man’s shirt and bodily removing him from the room and heaving him out the door. He didn't even give him a chance to get his feet back under him and heard a crash as he slammed the door behind him and double-locked it. He ignored his indigent protests and profanity.

He cautiously made his way back over to Jeremy who had crumpled to the floor and was making hiccuping and gasping sounds. The entire confrontation had only lasted minutes but sent Jean’s mind spinning and seemed to have gutted Jeremy.

“ ‘Remy? Hey, hey. It's okay he’s gone." He knelt down next to him.

"He broke my phone," he said flatly. "I… fuck," he scrubbed at his eyes. "I need to call Coach. And Alvarez. Shit." 

Jeremy fumbled with his phone, the screen had shattered and there were shards sticking out. Jeremy might slice open his fingers messing with it.

"I'll call them. It's okay."

"He's still out there fuck." He gasped holding onto his arms trying to force his phone to work desperately.

Jean gently took the phone out of his slack grip. And set it aside. He framed Jeremy's face with both of his hands and looked him in the eye to get him to focus. "He can't get in. I'll call whoever you need me to. It's going to be alright." He pulled Jeremy into his arms and held him close.

He would kill that man before he ever let him touch Jeremy again he thought as Jeremy clutched him and let out heaving sobs.

"I need you to call coach. He'll contact security and get building codes switched" He hiccuped between gasps for air. Jean recognized a panic attack starting when he saw one.

Jean nodded and loosened one of his arms from around Jeremy to dial the number.

"Hello, who's this?" Came a short gruff voice from the other end of the line. Jean forced himself not to balk. He could do this for Jeremy.

"It's Moreau sir, someone got into the apartment --"

"Rick, tell him it was Rick my ex." Jeremy stammered into his shoulder.

"Jeremy's ex, Rick was here. He told me to call. I think he's still outside, in the building."

He heard Rheman let out a string of expletives on the other end of the line.

"Shit, is Knox alright? He didn't get to him did he?"

"I'm with him. I threw the bastard out as soon as I could but --"

"Fuck, does he need to go to a hospital?"

"No --"

"Stay with him and stay put. Don't open the door. I'll have the police remove Rick from the building, and contact security." 

"I will."

"You did good Moreau. Call me if you boys need anything." 

The line went dead. And Jean turned his attention back to Jeremy. Rhemans praise felt hollow when Jeremy was panicking in his arms. 

He ran his fingers through his curls softly and spoke softly in an attempt to comfort him.

"So that was my ex-boyfriend Rick." He choked out somewhere a bit hysterical, between tears and laughter.

"Seems like a fucking asshole." He murmured.

"Yeah, a bit." He was still fighting back tears.

"Do you want to talk about it? Or still, need me to call Alvarez?" He offered.

"Yeah in a minute. Can you just hold me for now? I'll call her later after I've calmed down some." He sounded desperate. And who was Jean to deny him that? He thought he might do anything in that moment to stop his tears. And holding him? He longed to do that anyway, regardless, if it soothed Jeremy that was a bonus.

"Of course," Always he wanted to say, even though it wasn't couldn't be true. He couldn't always, and Jeremy respected that, knew that, and somehow that made him want to say it and mean it all the more.

He held a shaking Jeremy tight against his chest and carefully brushed his fingers through his springy curls while he dampened his shoulder and collar of his tee-shirt with his tears and short hitched gasps.

He had wondered before about Jeremy's comfort and how Jeremy saw Jean. If he saw him as something fragile, broken and made of glass or something that had to be coddled and protected. He knew Jeremy wasn't being condescending or patronizing toward him, he wasn't like that, he doubted he could be even if he tried. But he hadn't thought Jeremy had understood. not really. And he still didn't, not completely and couldn't ever. 

No one, not even Kevin, Neil or Thea could understand completely, it was impossible. No two situations are the same, no two instances of abuse, people's reactions to it, and how the experience shaped them were alike. No two fractures were alike. Every break healed a bit different. Some people snapped, some shattered, some became sharpened shards, some harder and less penetrable for it, others wilted and crumpled to dust after the slightest pressure. A million differ responses and reactions for a million different cases of pain and abuse. And an infinite combination thereof. But there was still understanding. 

Jean had been hurt and understood what Jeremy must be going through. And Jeremy could understand him on some level, it meant he didn't see Jean as a fragile thing that must only be protected. It meant it was genuine, all the moments he had had with him seemed more real.

He began to murmur to Jeremy softly eventually slipping into old French poems and songs, things his older sister had sung or recited to him to comfort him. Things he had, in turn, whispered to his younger sister to shush her to prevent his parents from getting angry. Things he had repeated to himself in the darkness of the Nest to try and comfort himself, to hold himself together and remember who he was. To remember before.

Eventually, Jeremy started to come back to himself sniffing and looking up at Jean with red-rimmed eyes. He had migrated into his lap somehow and Jean loosened his hold around his waist but didn't let him go completely.

"Sorry, I --" he scrubbed his eyes with the back of his hand. "Fuck."

"It's okay. You have nothing to apologize for." He brought a hand up to the back of Jeremy's neck and gently rubbed the tender skin there.

"Yeah." He let out slumping is shoulders and letting his head fall back to the crook of Jean's neck. It startled him slightly the feeling of Jeremy's skin touching his own. The dampness of the tears drying on his cheeks touching the sensitive skin of his neck. "It wasn't always like that. He wasn't like that at first. He... seemed nice, and he was hot and we started dating. He wanted to exclusive right away. Like barely one date in. And I was happy about that. Especially after everything with Jessica. I thought it was nice, and that it meant he actually liked me for me and wanted me. And I like monogamy and everything and wanted a relationship. So I went with it. I was so tired of meaningless hookups with people that didn't really care about me. And it was okay, good even for a little bit. But soon he got possessive and controlling. It had just increased so gradually over time, that I didn't notice at first, thinking it was just the cute honeymoon stage stuff. He needed to know where I was at all times and who was with. And he'd get mad if I didn't respond right away or was hanging out with people for too long and he wasn't there. He thought I would get with people if I was alone with them. Jessica had been the same way so I didn't think much of it. It was worse when I told him I'm bi." 

"Oh, I'm bi by the way. I like men, women, and other genders.  I'm sorry I didn't tell you I didn't want--" he interrupted his speech to try to explain, he looked tense and afraid, like he thought Jean might react poorly. He was surprised, he hadn't expected that. He was also surprised by how little he cared, by how little it mattered. He would probably dwell on it more later, but it didn't matter right now. Jeremy was what mattered, he was upset and Jean had the power to do something about it.

He rubbed his back soothingly. "It's okay, Remy. It doesn't matter to me." It did matter a little, but Jean wasn't going to think about that right now. "Thank you for telling me. It doesn't change anything." He thought that was the right response, Renee had said it was when he hadn't known how to react to her being a lesbian.

And it didn't change anything. It couldn't, the only foreseeable difference is that Jeremy likely wouldn't have a problem with Jean not being straight himself. If he ever found out, he wouldn't be kicked out because of it.

"Okay, good." Jeremy sniffed "Anyways, he wouldn't even trust me to be alone with the girls anymore. He just started breaking stuff and yelling when he first found out. It got really isolating and I stopped spending as much time with friends. Luckily my teammates noticed and kept me from isolating myself completely.”

Jean gave Jeremy a nod to keep going and he continued, “The first time he hit me was after I had been hanging out with Laila and Alvarez, I stayed in their room for the night and my phone had died so I didn't message him. He said some really shitty stuff too. But he apologized after and was super sweet and caring like he had never been except for, in the beginning, he promised he wouldn't do it again. I just made him crazy because he loved me so much. And that was the first time he told me he loved me so I stayed with him. Like an idiot, cause I believed him." Jeremy let out a choked sob. And Jean pulled him closer.

"You aren't an idiot. It's not your fault."

Jeremy nodded and continued shakily, "But he did do it again. He always apologized after and made me feel bad like it was my fault. Or he would get drunk and aggressive for no reason, just yanking my arms and stuff. Pretty soon the team and coach noticed bruises, more than could be explained by exy and helped me end it with him. I was lucky to have them. I got out. I hadn't seen him in a couple of months so I just froze when he showed up."

"I understand, it's okay. If Riko or Tetsuji showed up now, I…"  he trailed off leaving it unsaid. He would fold instantly, they just had to snap their fingers and he'd go back to the nest like the dog trained to heel that he was. He pushed the intrusive thoughts aside. He was safe. He never had to go back. 

  He felt a little overwhelmed that Jeremy had told him all of this, had trusted him enough to tell him. He wasn't used to that, being spoken to like an equal, a confidant. 

"Thank you, for telling me." He murmured. "For trusting me."

Jeremy nodded and curled up more against his chest. Jean leaned back against the wall content to just hold Jeremy until it was time to move.

After a few minutes of processing everything, a question burned in Jean's mind. He hesitated, not sure if asking would just make things worse. "Can I ask you something?"

"Yeah."

Jean swallowed heavily, "What he said, about you. Did he ever --" he squeezed his eyes shut and forced himself to finish the question. "did he ever hurt you, like that?" His heart was thumping loudly in his chest. Not him, please not him, God don't let him have suffered like I did, he thought . He was terrified of the answer and already planning how to solicit a favor from Neil and his remaining family's mob connections to murder Rick. 

Jeremy looked up at him eyes widening slightly. "Oh," he said softly, "no. Not like that, never. I mean the sex wasn't great, and he could be kinda pushy but it was consensual."

Jean nodded feeling a wave of relief wash over him as he exhaled shakily. Thank god. 

"It kinda sucks though having him say shit like that publically. It's humiliating." Jean nodded, still numb with relief.

"I can still kill him or have him killed if you like." He offered. 

Jeremy blinked a little. "Um no, thanks for offering though. I appreciate it. I'm just going to get a restraining order and hopefully never have to see him again."

"Okay." He decided to let the matter rest.


Jean eventually made them food and they spent the rest of the day at each other's side, watching what Jean thought of as mindless television. 

Jeremy had talked to his friends softly on the phone at some point and confirmed they would get in tomorrow afternoon.

They were curled up together on the couch under blankets with Jeremy pressed against his side. He felt a strong urge to wrap his arm around Jeremy's shoulders. So he did. Because it was okay to be selfish sometimes, it was okay to want human contact and it made both of them happy. So there was no harm in it. And he wanted Jeremy to feel the same relief and lightness Jean felt when he held him. 

Immediately after giving in to the impulse he felt an even stronger desire to press his lips to Jeremy's forehead. 

He froze. Jeremy looked up at him as he went stiff. "Alright?"

He nodded and tried to make himself relax again. That wasn't allowed. That wasn't how things worked. He forced himself to remember that that wasn't what this was. He didn't get to kiss Jeremy. He got to hold him, as a friend, when one of them needed comfort. That was enough. It had to be enough. He shouldn't be so selfish as to want more. There was a limit to what he could allow himself. 

He shouldn't have wanted to do that. It shouldn't have crossed his mind. Why? Why did he want to? He had been sure that part of him had burned away and destroyed in the Nest. The part of him that could want that. 

It wouldn't even be like this come tomorrow. Jeremy would have other people. And he should have other people, he deserved that. He deserved friendship and happiness. He would not hold Jeremy back from that. It was bad enough that Jeremy was missing out on seeing the family that he loved, to be with Jean. He would rather die than block him from others and those that made him happy. They were a part of him, he loved them, he could see it plain as day in the way that Jeremy spoke about them. 

He hoped they would like him, or at least tolerate his presence. Jeremy had assured him they would but he wasn't too sure. He didn't have anything to offer socially, so why would they? 

It would be fine though, he would take whatever scraps of affection and time Jeremy had leftover for him and be grateful for it. He had been starved for sunlight so long that just a few moments in the light would be enough to sustain him. 

"Jean?" Jeremy piped up softly.

He focused his attention back on him, pushing his anxieties about his teammates aside. "Yeah?"

"Thank you. For today I mean. I don't know what I would have done if you weren't here. And for listening after and holding me. And honestly everything." He looked up at him with his big brown eyes. He had never known that brown could be so warm. They were so honest and full of trust. Something about the way Jeremy looked at him in that moment made his heart clench.

"Of course."

"I mean it. Thank you. You make me feel safe. And I'm glad it was you who was here with me after. I don't know what I would do without you. I'm glad you're here Jean. Not just today, but always, I'm so glad you're here." He was so earnest and sincere Jean didn't know what to do with it. His eyes stung and his throat prickled slightly. He didn't have much experience in life with being thanked. He doubted he was supposed to feel this emotional over it though.

"I'm glad I'm here too." He offered voice scratchy. "With you. I'm glad I'm here with you." He said it like a benediction a moment of pure honest truth. A few months ago he hadn't wanted to live, planned on killing himself on graduation night if he even made it that far. But he didn't anymore. He was grateful and happy to be here with Jeremy. To be in California where he was free to go outside, to not be hurt, to eat whatever he wanted, to speak his own language, to go down to the bakery near campus, to see stars at night and feel the sun on his face. He wanted to live. 

Jeremy's eyes lit up and the corners around them crinkled into a beautiful smile. Directed at him, the smile was for him, and it made his heart pound and blood rush to his ears. What was he supposed to do with something as beautiful as Jeremy's smile directed at him? He felt lightheaded.

"Good. I'm glad." Jeremy flashed him his white teeth and dimples and stretched out his legs briefly adjusting himself and the blankets so he was curled up at his side with his head in Jean's lap, before looking back at the television.

Jean swallowed heavily, he could feel his heart thumping loudly in his throat. Not out of panic or terrible memories but something else that he didn't want to identify. He somehow managed to keep his hands from shaking and started combing his fingers through Jeremy's hair.

He let out a contented hum of pleasure at that and melted further into him. Jean could not help but marvel that something as soft and tender as this moment could exist. For him of all people.

He tried to focus on the television but couldn't draw his attention away from Jeremy for more than a few minutes. He knew he was fucked. This had the potential to become something he wouldn't be able to control. 

He was utterly perplexed in the face of the emotions running through him. He didn't know what they were or what he was supposed to do with them. 

He looked down and watched Jeremy's thick dark eyelashes brush the curve of his cheek. There was a slight scattering of freckles dusting his cheeks and nose like sprinkles of cinnamon in a tone or two darker than his skin. He hadn't noticed them at first. He thought he could stare at Jeremy forever, and he could, so long as Jeremy didn't look up and catch him at it. His lips were plump and full and looked so soft. He wanted to touch them. He felt a fresh wave of confusion at the away looking at Jeremy made him feel. It went beyond simple attraction. He had known when he first saw Jeremy that he was beautiful and that on a few levels he was attracted to him. But he hadn't thought anything else of it, because that wasn't allowed. It was wrong, and he could be punished for it. And the thought of acting on anything was still so wrapped up in terror and the fear of pain and the terrible memories.

Still, he couldn't bring himself to move away from Jeremy, to stop stroking his hair, to push their beds apart and sleep away from his arms. If this was all he could have he would take it greedily and hoard the memories of it forever.

Chapter Text

Jeremy

Jeremy wound his arms around Jean's neck laughing. Jean smiled down at him and tugged him closer reaching around him to hold on to his hips. 

"Hey," he murmured softly lips only millimeters away from Jean’s. Their noses bumped together slightly and his breath hitched.

"Oh? Is that what you want?" Jean asked teasingly. He knew the answer already.

"Yeah. Always" He breathed back, lips brushing slightly.

Jean pressed his lips to softly at first then he pressed closer, firmer. He slipped his tongue past Jeremy's lips nipping lightly at his bottom lip. He couldn't hold back the small groan it prompted. He clutched at Jean's shoulders and let their tongues slide past each other in his mouth.

Jean's hands roamed lower, cupping his ass and squeezing slightly. He let out a gasp, turning his head slightly so Jean could press open-mouthed kisses against his neck.

"Fuck babe." He groaned as he was lifted up and wound his legs around Jean's waist. He rolled his hips trying to grind down on him. 

Jean was so unbelievably strong. And hot. And strong. And hot. He lowered one of his hands to his bicep to squeeze the unyielding muscle underneath. Jean adjusted them slightly, so he was holding him with just the one arm using the other to tug gently at his hair and bring their mouths back together. He walked them back into the kitchen so Jeremy was up on the counter.

He let out a strangled groan muffled into Jean's mouth as the kiss grew more heated. Jean tugged at his lip with his teeth, before releasing it gasping, eyes dark. 

Jeremy started to suck kisses along Jean's throat and was rewarded with a deep groan.

"Remy." He murmured softly.

"Jean." 

"Jeremy?"

He groaned in response and focused on tracing the shell of Jean's ear with his tongue.

 

"Um, Jeremy?" His eyes snapped open. Oh shit. Fuck. This was bad. This was bad. Jean was sitting up in bed peering down at him looking concerned. 

"Hey. Jean. Wow. Hey. Uh, what's up?" He squeaked out nervously, voice cracking from sleep and embarrassment. He felt his face heating up and he prayed to God that Jean didn't notice. Or knew what he was dreaming about. 

Oh god. Oh god. What if he said something in his sleep. Shit shit shit. Luckily the sheer embarrassment was making his erection go away rapidly. Oh, fuck what if Jean had seen? What if Jeremy had done something like grind on him in his sleep? He didn't want to make Jean uncomfortable. If only a black hole would spontaneously materialize in the room to swallow him up. 

"Are you alright?" Jean looked at him with an unreadable expression.

"Yep. Yeah. Sure am. I'm super. How are you? Its a bit hot in here. I'm going to -- we should turn up the AC."

"Um okay." Jean scratched the back of his head looking still concerned. "I uh, you were making noise, like you were in pain. I just, if you want to talk about it. After everything yesterday. It's just you are always there when I have a nightmare and --. Sorry, it's none of my business. But I'm here."

Oh. Oh, that wasn't what he had expected. That was so sweet and he felt touched and a bit emotional. The whiplash of relief combined with the fact that his blood hadn't quite made its way back up to his brain yet was why he eloquently responded with "It's okay it wasn't a nightmare. I dreamed I got my dick stuck in a toaster."

No, no, no no, he couldn't believe he said that out loud. What the fuck. It wasn't even true but now he just had to roll with it. Dick stuck in a toaster. Had he meant to say hand?

Jean blinked rapidly in shock and took a step back. "Um okay. That sounds painful." He gave him a look that was becoming increasingly familiar, it was Jean's what the fuck look.

"Haha yeah. Um, I got to go." He made his escape to the bathroom as quick as possible leaving Jean bewildered behind him.

This is not good. He thought as he hid in the bathroom. He wondered if it was possible for him to just hide until the others arrived. Jean would probably notice and get concerned though. And try to talk to him. Encouraging Jean to talk about his feelings and what was wrong may have backfired slightly. He eventually decided to bite the bullet and face him, he wasn’t sure Jean had even noticed anything weird other than the fact that he said he dreamed about getting his dick stuck in a toaster. Which was definitely very weird. 

He found Jean cooking them breakfast in the kitchen

"There are ice packs in the freezer if you need them." He called out over his shoulder while he was scrambling them eggs.

"Why would I need ice?"

"For your dick," He told him with a straight face.

Jeremy's face heated up instantly. So this wasn't something they were all going to forget about. "It was just a dream."

Jean looked him in the eye with a completely serious expression on his face, but the brightness of his eyes gave away the humor. "I'm just a little concerned, you know it's not supposed to go there right? In fact, it's not recommended that you put any body parts in a toaster. Or in a velociraptor's mouth, maybe you've been consuming content that leads you to believe these things are a good idea but..." 

"Wow, you know you're an asshole right?" He laughed.

"Yep," Jean popped the p at the end of the word and gave him a crooked smirk that sent butterflies in his stomach.

"Will you ever forget about that, or this?"

"Nope." 

"Fair enough, I guess." He said giving him a grin and giving in to the laughter that bubbled up inside him. A part of him wanted to celebrate Jean's banter and smile but mentioning it would probably make everything awkward so he just settled for beaming at him and trying to help with the cooking.

Jean only let him get plates and they ate scrambled eggs and toast at the counter.

He checked his phone. "Alvarez says they will be here in a couple of hours, want to do anything?"

"Will I be able to persuade you to go to the gym or court?" 

"I mean probably. I can't guarantee I won’t complain about it though," Jean could probably convince him to do anything.

They went to the court and ran drills. He only complained minimally.


"Should I leave?" Jean interrupted the silence they had settled into. They were lounging on the couch messing around on their respective phones. Jean sat on one end while he lay across the couch with his feet in Jean's lap. It was nice, comfortable, he wasn't sure why Jean thought he should leave.

"Why?" He asked.

"I…I don't want to intrude. You haven't seen your friends in a while, they are here to see you. I can go to the gym or court or something for a while." Jean hadn't left his side for a month, and had never really gone anywhere on his own yet. Only for medical appointments, and those had left him dead-eyed and shaking each time. He wasn't sure if that was strictly because he was alone, but he didn't want Jean pushing himself before he was ready for his sake. 

On the other hand, maybe he didn't want to be around him and his friends for a bit and didn't want to seem rude. He didn't want to force socialization on Jean either before he was ready.

"You wouldn't be intruding," he started slowly, "they want to meet and get to know you, and I like having you here, and would like it if you were here. But you don't have to stay if you don't want to, or if you are uncomfortable. You don't have to interact with them if you don't want to. It's completely up to you. If you don't want to see them we can go elsewhere, but if you don't mind them being here or feel like staying that's great too. It's your choice."

Jean gave him a long searching look. "Okay," he finally settled on. "I'll stay. I would prefer that."

He grinned up at him and stretched his legs out briefly before redepositing them in Jean's lap. "Good, my feet might get cold otherwise."

Jean let out an amused huff "You could always put on socks or stop blasting the air conditioning. "

"Yeah, but this is better." He wriggled his feet a little more and Jean grabbed his ankles to hold his feet still.

He yelped slightly at the cold. "Fuck why, are your hands so cold?"

Jean shrugged, "Your feet sucked the warmth from my body, I'm taking it back."

Jeremy grumbled and stuck his tongue out at Jean resulting in another amused huff of laughter, but he quickly took his hands off his legs.

"No, now you need to put them back it's too cold without them." He missed the contact. It was stupid but he wanted Jean to be touching him again.

Jean rolled his eyes at him before replacing his hands, massaging his ankles lightly. It felt nice. "It is at least 90 degrees outside." Jean admonished but kept his hands where they were. 

He wondered if it would be weird if he asked Jean for a foot massage. Yeah, it would be. "It's colder in here."

"You could change that. There's a little magic box over there that can adjust the temperature of the room." He argued nodding his head towards the thermostat.

"Yeah, but I like blankets and stuff. And to be able to cuddle without being hot. So this is a good temp."

"It's like 69 degrees."

"Haha, nice." He giggled.

Jean gave him a long-suffering look and rolled his eyes. "Real mature. What are you twelve?"

"Excuse me, I'm twelve and a half how about you?"

Jean gave him a look that was probably supposed to be stern and unamused but his lips kept twitching slightly and his eyes were bright giving him away.

Whatever Jean was about to say was interrupted by a knocking at the door. Jeremy started to get up to let them in but Jean held up his hand. "Wait, I'll get it. I just want to check it’s them." 

Jean's protectiveness touched him. He would rather get the door himself and potentially be overwhelmed or caught off guard than risk Jeremy having another run-in with his abusive ex.

Jean went to the door and cracked slightly looking out. He must have been satisfied that they were not a threat because he nodded to Jeremy and soon stepped back to let them in. 

He had warned Alvarez and Laila to not overwhelm Jean by being too loud or grabby but he wasn't sure how they would all get on in reality. He hoped they all got along.

He felt a smile erupt on his face as he saw his friends, he had missed them. "Hey!" 

Alvarez with their thick black hair shaved on one side, wearing jeans and flannel over a t-shirt, and Laila wearing a pink sweatshirt he knew actually belonged to Alvarez and a patterned grey hijab. 

Alvarez bounded over and enveloped him in a crushing hug, followed closely by Laila who joined in. 

"We missed you," they told him. 

"I missed you guys too." They pulled apart and Jeremy turned to introduce them to Jean who stood a ways away and was watching them warily.

"This is Jean," he said, offering him a smile. "Jean this is Laila and Alvarez."

"I'm Sarah Alvarez, most people just call me Alvarez unless they've seen me naked." Jeremy rolled his eyes, they had both been around the age of four and playing in a kiddy pool. "she/her or they/them pronouns" Alvarez stuck their hand out to shake Jean's.

Jean balked and then eyed it for a moment like he thought the hand might bite him. After a tense second of stony staring, he took her hand lightly and shook it before quickly retreating. 

"Jean Moreau, he/him pronouns," he stated with a quick questioning glance towards him, he nodded in response. 

"I'm Laila, she/her pronouns please," Laila said with a small wave at Jean. Laila was a bit better at picking up on people's signals and emotions and opted not to try to shake his hand or touch him.

"Pleased to meet you," Jean said still a bit stiffly. He sounded formal like he was rehearsing lines he had memorized rather than actually speaking.

The four of them just looked at each other for a second, in the way that people meeting for the first time often do before Alvarez interjected again.

"So I heard you punched Rick the Dick. Must've been nice."

"He punched him twice, once in the neck, then he picked him up by the throat and threw him out," Jeremy added. It had been a terrible moment for Jeremy, but he had still been incredibly impressed, maybe even slightly turned on, by the effortless way he took Rick down and lifted him up before removing him from the dorm.

"Awesome, respect man." Alvarez offered, holding out their hand to fist bump him.

Jean nodded slowly still eyeing them suspiciously. "He deserved it." He muttered darkly, but made no other comment, he did not return the fist bump and eventually Alvarez put her hand down slowly.

"Anyways, I have brought gifts." She proclaimed brandishing a large bag aggressively, Jean flinched jumping back. Jeremy had gotten so used to moving slower around Jean and making his movements clearly deliberate and predictable, that seeing him recoil at any sudden movement his friends made was jarring. 

"It's mostly alcohol," Alvarez continued, procuring a bottle of vodka, a bottle of rum, a bottle of tequila, and a bottle of cheap rosé from inside the bag. 

"Impressive." He told her.

They gathered up the booze and deposited it into the kitchen. Alvarez telling him about the cocktails they would make later. 

"So, what do you like to drink, Jean?" They asked.

"I don't know." He told her stiffly still keeping out of range from her and Laila.

"Have you had a drink before? You're 21 right? Like no one will make you drink if you don't want to or will pressure you or anything totally your choice. But you can totally have whatever if you want?”

"I've only had it a couple of times, a shot or two, vodka usually, to numb things a bit when Kevin was stitching me up. Kevin would drink more, to forget I think." Jean had mentioned this before and in comparison to the other things he had told him it was relatively minor. It still sucked. 

Something must have shown on his face because Jean touched his hand lightly skimming the thumb across his knuckles. "I'm okay," he murmured to him in French, stone mask slipping for a moment.

Alvarez and Laila looked stricken, however, their olive faces pale. 

Laila recovered first, "I think it's different when it's for fun, and with friends. I don’t drink myself but I can make you something if you want, or we can watch these two make a fool of themselves. Jeremy sings. So does Alvarez once he gets them going."

Jean's blank mask cracked enough for him to look intrigued, giving him a quick glance. "Really, what does he sing?"

Laila grinned, "A lot. Dances too."

A ghost of a smile appeared in Jean's eyes if not on the rest of his face and Jeremy couldn't look away, "Perhaps, I will then. But it is only 3:00 now, later."

Alvarez brightened up a bit, moving past her shock. "Also," they said reaching into her bag, "Early birthday presents for you, Jeremy. I would have gotten you something too Jean, but I don't know what you're into and we aren't at the level of friends yet where I feel like I can make a guess." She chucked a box at them which Jean snapped from the air before he could on instinct. 

"Um," Jean stuttered frozen wide-eyed looking at what he had caught but not handing him the box. 

"It's from my Tía's shop she's having a big sale and rarely makes me pay for stuff so there's some more."

Oh no. Alvarez had several aunts, and friends of her family that she called Tías but the one she was closest to, and the one who owned a shop was Tía Dolores. She had been super supportive of Alvarez when they came out. Tía Dolores was inspiring, having started a small business in her 20s and turned it into a thriving business with an online marketplace and its own line of goods by the time she was 33. However, the very successful business she owned was a sex shop.

"Uh." Jean stammered again blinking his eyebrows still alarmingly raised. Jeremy glanced over and immediately snatched the box containing a very realistic, quite large, rainbow dildo displayed proudly within it, along with images on the packaging that portrayed men with suggestions and instructions for its use.

"Thanks, I really like it and appreciate it." he squeaked out shoving it behind his back, he still had good manners after all.  When Alvarez reached inside the bag again he quickly jumped in, "Uh, why don't you just put the rest in my room under my desk." He said hurriedly handing her back the dildo. 

"Ookay." They said in a singsong voice with a wicked grin. That bitch. They knew exactly what they were doing. 

"You enable them." He hissed waving his finger at Laila who had her hand over her mouth stifling giggles as Alvarez walked away.

"Hey, I made her keep it in the box. The original plan was to whip a loose dildo at you the second we walked in. And then continue to pelt you with sex toys. So, this is an improvement."

Jean stood next to him blinking rapidly shaking his head in bewilderment. "You're all insane." He muttered under his breath.

"Yeah" he confirmed

"I am sorry Jean, I realize now that maybe wasn't the best first impression." 

"Hey, Jeremy?" Can you come here for a sec hon?" Alvarez called from the bedroom. 

He left Jean with Laila who had started to politely ask him about what he had been doing since arriving in California and what he had enjoyed.

Alvarez was staring at the makeshift king size bed they had made using a mattress joiner, mattress pad, and king size bedding.

"Dude, what the fuck is this?"

"A bed," he said playing dumb.

"I know that asshole, what is it doing here? I distinctly dorm rooms coming with extra long twins." She switched to Spanish in case the others overheard.

"We made it by pushing them together. There are actually a ton of tutorials online and it’s super easy --"

"Yeah, no. That's not the point. Why didn't you tell me you guys got together or are fucking or whatever. I wouldn't have spent a bunch of money on dildos and shit for you if I knew you were getting dick."

"You didn't dish out a bunch of money for those and you know it. And we aren't together. And I'm not sleeping with him." He hissed

Alvarez gestured aggressively towards the bed.

"Okay, technically I am sleeping with him but we aren't having sex."

She gave him a disbelieving look. 

"He's straight."

She jabbed her hand in the direction of the bed again. "This looks super fucking gay to me Jer. And I'm a bit of an expert"

"He sleeps better this way, and so do I. We were ending up in the same bed anyway most nights and this way it's more comfortable and more space. It's platonic. I swear."

"Are you guys platonically jerking off together too? Or is that just special occasions?" They made a crude gesture to further illustrate their point.

Jeremy felt his face heat as he remembered this morning's dream and waking up hard. "He was having nightmares and --" he stammered out trying to defend himself. They could tell. Alvarez knew him.

"No, Jeremy come on --"

"It's nice. I like to cuddle at night."

"Dude."

He gave up. "This morning I had a sex dream about him while in bed with him. Well, not a full-on sex dream but we were making out and stuff and kinda rubbing together? Just a bit." She held up a hand to indicate she got the picture. "Anyways he then woke me up because he thought I was having a nightmare and I told him I dreamt I got my dick stuck in a toaster."

"What the fuck Jer,"

"I know. Okay? So maybe I have a thing for him. But please don't bring the bed up in front of him, I don't want him to feel self-conscious or weird about it."

"It is weird. And you're gonna end up getting hurt."

"It's fine. I'm fine" he was sounding less fine as the conversation went on.

"Jeremy, I love you but I cannot believe you have done this. Actually, nevermind it’s super on brand, but seriously?"

"He's straight," He whispered.

"Oh, honey." She murmured sympathetically.

He rubbed at his eyes. Alvarez could see right through him. "I'm maybe having a little bit of gay panic." He slumped down into his desk chair.

"Do you know for certain? That he's straight?"

"No, but pretty sure. I only told him I was bi yesterday, had to with the whole Rick thing, it was a bit messy and I was panicked, but I told him. He said it didn’t matter to him, He thanked me for telling him and said it didn’t change anything. If he wasn’t straight he probably would have said something." He sniffed. 

"Maybe he's not" She looked a bit doubtful though. 

"I really doubt it." He let out a sigh. Even if somehow Jean wasn’t straight he certainly was not out or may have not even figured it out. Jeremy mentally flinched when he remembered Jean’s scars and the gigantic slur written out over his shoulders. The nest could not have been a very accepting place or an environment to explore one’s sexuality. At least not safely. 

And Jean had a girlfriend, Renee. 

His shoulders slumped. Alvarez gave him a short hug. "That bad huh?"

"Yeah."

She perched on the desk and looped an arm around his shoulders.

"It's just...the way I feel about him it's so strong and different. I haven't felt this way about anyone ever before. Not anyone I've ever dated. I'm sure I will get over it though. I have to."

She nodded at him slowly some kind of understanding in her eyes. "To be fair, a lot of the people you dated were kinda shit."

"Chad was alright. So was Ash."

"Ash asked if he could have some of your teeth and Chad played Lacrosse. Plus he said bro every other sentence without exception."

"Yeah, that wasn't great. But other than that they were really nice people. Exceptionally weird but decent dudes." He cringed at the memory. The teeth thing had been odd. And the bro thing combined with the lack of brain cells had been a major turn off, but that was just a hookup. "God, I've made some A-plus life choices.

"We should probably go back to them," Alvarez said nodding towards the living room.

"Shit, yeah" he was worried that Jean wasn't getting on with Laila or might have gotten triggered by something. He wiped his eyes off and they went to join them in the other room.

He shouldn't have been worried because Jean was sitting on the couch talking softly to Laila who was sitting on the adjacent armchair. They paused their conversation when Alvarez draped herself across the armchair and on top of their girlfriend kissing the underside of her jaw. He felt a small pang of envy. He wanted that.

"Hey" he offered Jean a smile.

Jean's forehead furrowed in concern. He gave Alvarez a dirty look and turned back towards him. "What's wrong?"

He was slightly surprised that Jean had noticed. He was pretty good at smiling through everything and most people assumed that he was always genuinely stoked and happy.

"What nothing?" He said quickly grinning bigger.

Jean’s face scrunched up in displeasure. "That is not your real smile."

Jeremy blinked in confusion joining him on the couch. "What do you mean?"

"The real ones are different. There are more creases here," he informed him brushing the corner of his eye going towards his temple with his thumb. Jeremy stilled under his touch. "And dimples here," he informed him with another gentle caress of his face. He wondered if Jean could feel the heat of his face with his hands. "The corner of your mouth is different here." He ran his thumb over the very edge of his mouth and Jeremy's breath hitched involuntarily. 

They made intense eye contact for another moment with Jean's hand on his face before he removed it. "So, what's wrong Remy?" He asked. There was that nickname again, no one had called him that before, he loved it. It was sweet, caring and gentle. Something special between just the two of them. It made him feel things . And the way Jean said it. The way he said anything really with his accent curling around the words just so. But especially the way he said his name.

Jeremy glanced away ears and neck burning to see Alvarez and Laila watching them and exchange a loaded glance with one another. His face burned hotter and he could barely remember what he and Alvarez had talked about. Oh right. The bed, Jean and exes.

"It's not a big deal, she was just making sure I was alright and we talked about some stuff about my exes." Technically everything Jeremy had said was true so it didn't count as lying.

Jean made a considering noise in the back of his throat. 

"Does Chad or Ash really count as exes though?" Alvarez asked sweetly. Jeremy was going to murder them.

"Who?" Jean asked confused.

"Oh you should tell the story, Jeremy, it's my favorite," Laila said excitedly. Wow, he was going to kill two people. Fun.

They were admittedly funny stories and they might make Jean laugh. That would be worth it. "Okay, fine but I need a drink first." He got up in a put upon huff and went to the kitchen to make himself a drink. 

"Anyone else want anything?" He called out as he fixed himself a rum and coke, heavy on the rum. He brought out wine for Alvarez and fizzy water for Jean and Laila before he flopped back down next to Jean on the couch.

"Okay?" He asked soft enough so only Jean could hear. Jean responded with a nod and he leant up against him with a sigh.

"Storytime." Proclaimed Laila taking a sip of her drink. 

He held up a hand and took a few deep gulps of his drink emptying half the glass before he started.

"Alright fine." He put his glass down and snuggled back up to Jean. "Which should I start with?"

"Yay!" Alvarez clapped her hands gleefully. "Let Jean pick he hasn't heard them before."

"Ash? I guess does it matter?" He seemed confused.

"Before I start I should warn you, they are of a sexual nature." He looked Jean in the eye to make sure he was comfortable with that. Hesitation and something dark briefly flickered over Jean's face that filled Jeremy with a cold dread and made him feel sick to his stomach but the look vanished as soon as it appeared. Ultimately Jean's curiosity won and the tension dissipated.

"That's fine." Jean nodded.

"Okay. So like I don't really do a to hookups or one-offs anymore usually, partly because of this, but mainly because I prefer things to mean more. And it's better when you care about the other person and they care about you and stuff. Like the occasional booty call or one-night stand maybe, but it's not really my kind of thing now. And I catch feelings pretty fast and wanna be exclusive and those things don't really work with that." He rambled starting to feel a bit of a buzz from the alcohol. 

"Anyways, summer between freshman and sophomore year, that was not my policy and I had Grindr and there are some weird people on there. One guy wanted to pee on me. And while I like being dominated, that's not my thing. Not to kinkshame anyone or anything. I’ll try most things at least once, but it's a nope for me on any kind of peeing or shiting or any of that. Hard no."

He lolled his head back to look at Jean. He was so pretty. He loved looking at Jean. His eyes were wide and he looked a bit horrified now though. Or shocked maybe. He had probably made the drink too strong. 

"I keep getting sidetracked. Anyways. Grindr. So I met Ash on Grindr and he seemed not serial killery so we met up and went on a date. And it went well so we went on a few more. And I was really good about not sleeping with him right away. We were actually on our third date when things got weird turns out he had a teeth kink or something. He kept like, complimenting my teeth. I mean I had braces as a kid and brush my teeth and keep up with dental hygiene and everything, so somehow it didn't throw up any red flags? But, fast forward to later in the evening and I'm giving him a blow job --"

Jean started choking and sputtering on his water. Jeremy quickly looked up concerned. 

"Hey, are you alright?" He lightly touched Jean's arm.

"I'm fine. What were you saying?" Jean's pale face took on a rosy color. It was distracting. 

"Oh, right. So I'm down there, focusing on that and having a good time when he says and I quote 'oh yeah sink your teeth into me baby, chomp down hard I wanna feel your teeth in me.' While I'm in the middle of sucking him off. So rude. So I stop because no, I am not about to just bite his fucking dick off. And I ask him about it and it turns out he did want me to just bite down on him, and again quoting 'don't like, bite it off but hard enough to bleed a little would be good.’ And there was no way I was going to do that so I asked him to leave. On his way out he asked if he could have some of my teeth. Like to keep."

"What the fuck?" Jean gaped at him. Laila and Alvarez were cackling in the background.

"Yeah. It was weird. And that was the last time I saw him."

"Are you alright?" Jean looked concerned almost fearful. 

"Yeah, he actually was pretty respectful about the whole thing and has left me alone since. Just had some weird kinks."

"The Chad story's worse," Alvarez commented as she brushed away some of the hair that had slipped out of Laila’s scarf. They were obnoxiously coupley, screw them and their happiness. Not really, he was happy for them, but ugh. 

"No, it isn't"

"Yeah, a bit."

"It's weird, but not weirder the teeth is definitely weirder." He argued.

"It's more cringe-worthy though." She retorted. Laila hummed softly in agreement.

"Maybe I'll give you that."

"What happened?" Jean asked apprehensively.

"So Chad was another guy I met on Grindr that same summer, and we didn't date or anything it was, a uh. A one-time thing. Anyways he played Lacrosse."

Jean made a disgusted face. "Ah say no more. Lacrosse is worse." 

Jeremy giggled, “It, unfortunately, gets worse,”

“Why would you, with someone who plays Lacrosse?” He made a scoffing noise. “A toaster is better.”

“I know right?” Alvarez agreed with him.

“Toaster?” Inquired Laila.

“Don’t worry about it, I’ll tell you later babe,” Alvarez reassured her. 

Jeremy shot them a glare. “He was hot and yeah that's about it. He was taller than me too.”

Alvarez helpfully pointed out in Spanish that everyone else in the room was taller than him, eyeing Jean in particular. He flipped her off in response.

“Anyways, fast-forward to later and we are having sex, and he calls me bro during. And I’m like haha mmmkay, little weird, but I let it slide because he is doing a good job. Then, while he is literally inside me, he leans down and whispers in my ear ‘oh god yeah, you’re my brother.’”

Jean spits out his drink coughing abruptly. “What!?”

“He not only called me bro, but he straight up called me his brother, while his dick was up my ass.” he shrieked still affronted, because who the fuck does that. 

Alvarez and Laila, despite being familiar with the story were howling with laughter in the background. 

Jean looked incredulous and appalled, “What the fuck?!”

 “I know!”

“What did you do?”

“Yeah, Jeremy, what did you do?” Alvarez laughed clutching her stomach.

 He scowled at her then sighed. “We, uh, both finished up. Then I left and blocked him on everything.”

Jean just gaped at him.

“Yeah…” He trailed off awkwardly.

“Is that better or worse than daddy kink people?" Alvarez interjected while Jean still stared at him in shock. At Jeremy's expression, she clarified, "genuinely curious, as a lesbian I have not been in that situation."

“I’ll call you daddy if you want babe.” Laila joked.

“Ew.” Jeremy wrinkled his nose not wanting that image in his head.

Alvarez tilted her head considering before scrunching up their nose laughing, “Think I’ll pass thanks, love you though. So Jeremy verdict?”

"It's different. Bro is less common and more unexpected for sure. Like the few times, men or women have called me daddy or guys wanted me to call them daddy. It's just kinda meh. Someone tried to call me their son once in a sexual way which was super weird. Like it's not my thing at all, I am pretty sure it’s because I have a good relationship with my father. But if the person I'm with is super into it, and it’s a one-off or I am really into the person, it's not always an instant dealbreaker. There are other factors ya know?" He shrugged.

Alvarez nodded sagely accepting his answer. 

"So French fry," she turned to Jean who immediately looked rightfully uneasy. "What's your deal? You into anyone? Or seeing someone?" They were fishing. Probably because of their earlier conversation.

Jean stiffened and schooled his expression.

Jeremy quickly interjected to save him from answering. "He has a girlfriend. Don't interrogate him." It was something he reminded himself of regularly.

"What?" Jean looked at him in genuine confusion with his eyebrows furrowed. "No, I don't. Who?"

Jeremy blinked he had been so sure. Maybe they were not official yet? "Renee Walker?" 

Jean shook his head and snorted incredulously. "Jeremy, Renee is a lesbian." He told him slowly.

"What?" He asked confused.

"Knew it" cheered Alvarez fist-bumping Laila.

Jean looked at them like they were all idiots. "She literally has rainbow hair," he said like he was explaining something to a small child.

"Okay, fair. But that doesn't necessarily mean she’s gay," Although it was a bit of an indicator.

"She's dating Allison Reynolds." 

"Holy shit. No way." "Wow good for her." Alvarez and Laila shrieked at the same time.

"Oh, awesome," he replied a bit stunned. He had been so certain. Not that Jean and Renee not being together changed anything. He felt bad for feeling anything negative towards her now. Not that it had been voluntary.

"You thought we were dating?"

"Yeah, you text her all the time, I don't know." Now that he really thought about it Jean had not technically indicated that they were anything more than close friends. Oh fuck. Jean was single.

"We are friends. You text your friends. They are a lesbian too." He gestured towards Alvarez. Huh, he had a point and was a bit embarrassed about it now.

"Oh, sorry." He felt awkward. He turned to Alvarez she owed him for eliciting the embarrassing stories. And Jean still looked a bit tense and uncomfortable from Alvarez asking him if he was seeing someone, so drawing the subject away from him would be best. "Your turn to tell the class something weird."

"My high school homecoming date lit my hair on fire. And that's why I am a lesbian." Alvarez offered.

"What?!" Jean gasped successfully distracted from Jeremy assuming he was dating Renee.

"It was actually an accident and he was smoking and I’d just used a bunch of hair spray. And it didn't burn a ton, we put it out."

"And that turned you into a lesbian?"

"Nah I'm mostly joking I was already hella gay and the guy and I were going just as friends. He did try to pull some nice guys finish last, slash friendzone bullshit with me later on though and I shut that shit down hard. Straight men are the worst"

"Oh, okay." Jean seemed a bit confused but didn't ask anything else.

The continued to chat, Laila and Alvarez sharing stories with Jean and jokes, filling him on about some of their other teammates.

Eventually, they left once it started getting late and Jeremy dropped a few hints, taking note of how worn down and tense Jean seemed. 

As the night had worn on Jean had become more subdued and flinched at even the slightest movement and once they left he relaxed slightly but not fully.

"You alright?" He asked.

Jean nodded stiffly and headed into the bedroom. Jeremy cleaned up and followed him cautiously unsure if an additional human presence would be welcome.

It had gone well he thought, not without its bumps and hiccups but overall it had gone well. He hoped Jean hadn't hated them or thought differently of him because of the stories. He felt a familiar swirl of anxiety in his gut at having said so much. Why did he overshare? Why couldn't he just keep his mouth shut what was wrong with him? Jean probably thought he was a perverted freak now.

Jeremy tried to force the regret down and pasted a smile on his face. Jean narrowed his eyes, frowning at him with concern but didn't say anything. He just sat on the edge of the bed fidgeting with the edge of the t-shirt he had changed into. He scooched over to let him up but Jeremy still hesitated. Maybe it was weird like Alvarez said and Jean might not want him in his space tonight. Plus Jean knew Jeremy was bi now and had more context for what that meant. He might not feel comfortable in the same bed anymore, last night could have been just because Jean felt bad for him.

"Do you still want me here or should I sleep somewhere else?" 

Jean's face went startlingly blank in an instant. He clenched his fists at the edge of the bed. "You can sleep where you want. If you don't want this arrangement anymore it’s fine. I'll be alright." His jaw clenched and he looked away from Jeremy as he swallowed.

Oh. Jeremy hadn't meant it like that. It was probably a bad idea to change things all at once, stability was good. Jean probably needed the stability. He knew Jean well enough by now to recognize the signs of him shutting down, " I don't want to stop it or change it. It's just, you know if you don't want me here you can say something right?" 

Jean stared at him blankly for a moment assessing before his features softened. "Come on then," he said patting the bed. 

Jeremy climbed up and curled up on his side waiting for Jean to join him under the covers. He still had a strained contemplative look on his face but after a moment he wrapped himself in blankets and shifted so he lay next to him pressing his leg against him in a way that was soft and reassuring.

"Thanks,"

The corner of Jean's mouth quirked up slightly in a soft smile. "Go to sleep, Remy"

He gave him a sleepy smile in return before closing his eyes, thankful that they could still have this. He wanted whatever this was to last. 

Chapter Text

Jean

Jeremy seemed to fall asleep quickly but Jean went to bed with his head still spinning. It didn't make sense the stories Jeremy had carelessly shared. Yes, they were bad, humorous examples of awkward encounters but, that was thing kind of thing Jeremy sought out? Did willfully? Allowed himself to be fucked and put his mouth on men that way. Those were things he enjoyed? 

Why? Jean couldn't understand it. Those things hurt. And were terrible and humiliating at best. He knew it. There weren't exceptions.

The specific things he had said made Jean feel strange, overheated, somewhere between uncomfortable and incredibly curious with a strange flash of immediate dislike for the men Jeremy had been with. Was it because he didn't like the idea of someone hurting him that way?

But the way Jeremy had mentioned them, it sounded like provided his partner didn't say anything incestuous or ask for body parts or anything too crazy and outside of his limits, that Jeremy enjoyed doing those things. How? He wondered blindly.

He could ask, Jeremy would tell him he was sure but then Jeremy would know. If he didn't already. He probably did know, or would have at least guessed based on the scars and everything about the wreck of a human Jean was.

But he didn't seem to care. And Jean was starting to hope that Jeremy wouldn't, he wouldn't judge him or hate him for the things he had done and had done to him. Everything Jeremy had done so far lead him to believe that he would still accept him.  He had said so. And Jean believed him or at least wanted to. He wanted to believe him so desperately it hurt.

He swallowed the lump in his throat and rubbed his chest to try to get rid of the phantom ache he felt whenever he remembered Jeremy's words. "It's not your fault."

He wasn't sure if he could tell him though, he thought it was something that would die and be buried with him but people knew. He didn't want them to but they did. He hadn't had to tell anyone, they knew, had seen or could read between the lines and know.

There was Neil, and likely Andrew, who he had been forced to tell. But it hadn't been the same not really, he had had to tell him. And he hadn't had to say it flat out, it had been implied enough to make Neil remember himself.

Kevin only knew about the times he had been made to watch. Jean had made sure of that. Anything else he might have noticed Jean had tried to wave off or shut down the conversation. Kevin knew better than to ask questions he wouldn't like the answer to.

Jared read between the lines and knew. And he had helped, or at least tried, and seemed to know better than to push now. He'd started leaving out books and pamphlets, self-help things, in places he knew Jean would find but wouldn't be obvious to someone else. A few were even in French. He must have had to order them specially. He knew better than to push talking or therapy.

Renee who had found him, the nurse must have noticed as well.

And then there was Riko and all the people who had hurt him. Riko was dead now but the others weren't, they knew. The ones that weren't professional exy players now, were still in the Nest but would they become professionals too in all likelihood. He would have to see them all again eventually. Interact with them, talk to them, play against them or with them. He might have to be on the same team with them again, share a locker room. He would have to pretend that nothing had happened and hope they chose to maintain that illusion as well rather than rub his face in it. Or do it again, he prayed to god it wouldn't happen again. He dreaded it with every fiber of his being. Just thinking about having to see one of them again, to confront them sent tremors through his body. He didn't know how he would get through it.

He didn't want to acknowledge what had happened to him. Or talk about it. It would make it more real somehow. There would be no more denying it to himself.

Renee still sent him self-help things and instead of ignoring them he had started to read them and seek out more for himself. He had looked up some of the things on Jared's pamphlets, read them. He hadn't spoken to anyone about it though. He didn't know if he could trust a stranger, a therapist, with what his past contained and his continued involvement with a criminal empire. But maybe someday, and he had people he could trust, that he could talk to in Renee and Jeremy. Perhaps in others too. And he wanted to get better.

Knowing he should trust Jeremy didn't erase the fear of seeing revulsion on his face if he found out. He had had it constantly reinforced in that, that's all anyone would think. Even the trust took a constant conscious exhausting amount of effort. He had to strain and struggle not to jump away or recoil from him at first. But it was getting easier, he found himself letting his guard drop around him. But the talking was still hard, believing him, believing in him. Even Kevin had left him eventually.

He forced himself to practice a breathing technique and shift his focus. He could manage one day with Jeremy's friends without falling apart. It was important that he was able to show Jeremy he could handle it. He could handle interacting with other people. Otherwise, Jeremy would leave him behind for them. Or worse make himself miserable by forcing himself to stay and babysit him instead of actually enjoying himself. He had to be worth staying for.

He wouldn't allow himself to become a source of unhappiness or difficulty for Jeremy. He didn't deserve that.

Jeremy shifted towards him in his sleep making a small noise. It was distractingly adorable. He absentmindedly ran his fingers through his springy curls. Jean tried to stop the swell of awe and wonder that welled up in him at the thought that he was allowed this. That Jeremy trusted him enough for this, even with his own past. 

Also watching Jeremy sleep was quickly becoming an addiction he couldn't shake. Jeremy was something bright and shiny, and impossible. He could stare more when he slept. Marvel at the lines of his face the curve of his lips and nose. The way Jeremy would gradually shift closer to him and was apt to grasp hold of one of Jean's limbs or torso and cling to it with all four limbs like a limpet. 

Once his mind was at peace enough he settled down to try to get some sleep. He couldn't draw his eyes away from Jeremy's slack face on the pillow adjacent to him. His last thought before he slipped under was one of contentment and gratitude that their unorthodox sleeping arrangement would continue for now, at the very least.


Jean woke up slowly, still desperately trying to cling on to his dreams and stay in that world to no avail. He kept his eyes shut as he gained consciousness and regrettably let them open only when he was sure there was no returning to his dreams. They slipped away like water and sand in a sieve. It was rare to prefer the sleeping world to his awake one, especially now that he had things so good.

Dreams like that were almost crueler than the nightmares, the memories. Dreams of having something soft, beautiful, something wonderful and impossible. Then waking up and having it snatched away. Disappearing like mist. It was impossible, Jeremy would never, could never, feel that way about him. 

Knowing that did not exorcise the ghost of Jeremy’s lips against his skin in the dream that still haunted him. It didn’t stop the ache in his chest at waking up next to Jeremy, touching him even, and knowing he would never feel the same way. Of having him so close but so far out of reach.

And he couldn't allow this, it would only end with him having a broken heart at best, at worst he would have a broken heart and have his… inclinations… exposed to the public, and his career could be destroyed. Can't play exy if you're gay. He had had that truth hammered into him cruelly. He wasn't sure how Jeremy was able to get around it with his bisexuality but he couldn't risk it. He would not be killed over nothing, because there was no possibility that Jeremy would want him back. He would be rejected in a heartbeat, he couldn't even bring himself to feel bad, because he couldn't expect anything other than rejection. Jeremy wouldn't intentionally out him of course, but someone might see the way Jean felt or Jeremy might confide in Alvarez and she might let it slip. She had been incredibly cavalier about sharing personal information.

The best possible scenario was rejection and loss of what he shared with Jeremy now. He wouldn't allow that. He needed this. It was essential as air and water. He wanted it like a blind man wants the sun. It would be better for everyone if Jean stamped out the emotions himself now and buried them down where no one would find them.

Besides he didn't think the tatters left of his heart could handle the rejection. The soft pity in Jeremy's kind eyes as he told him he just didn't feel the same way and never could while trying to list other pointless attributes Jean had. Apologies for leading him on, assurances that he would find someone someday. Jeremy would be kind because that is what Jeremy was, kind, but kind things were foreign to Jean and he did not think he could survive that particular brand of kindness, were it to occur.

Anger, pain, and disgust he knew, trusted, but kindness? Understanding? It had a way of striping down his layers leaving him raw and entirely vulnerable in a way for which he had no defense.

Jean wasn't like Kevin, he had not been addicted before, never found relief at the bottom of a glass but, Jeremy's kindness and touch was a drug and like any drug, if you try to take more than you should it could kill you. Soft kisses and heartfelt declarations exceeded what he had been prescribed, trying to increase the dosage would reveal him an addict and his supply would be cut off. He feared the withdrawal would kill him.

He needed Jeremy, he needed what they had to last as long as possible. He craved every morsel of affection, every tender touch, glance, and word. It left an ache in his chest that was completely unfamiliar but so good. He couldn't afford to jeopardize it. He had something he had never had before, warmth, safety, and light. He couldn't fuck it up.

He repeated the mantra in his head as he disentangled himself from the sheets and Jeremy's limbs. Don't fuck it up

Jeremy probably wouldn't wake up for at least an hour or two. It was too early, but Jean didn't want to go back to sleep. He didn’t need anymore visions on a future that wouldn’t belong to him. 

He fell into his old routine of doing floor exercises while he waited figuring he would let Jeremy get away with not going to court today or at the very least spending less time there and at the gym. Jeremy actually had a decent set of weights that he had discovered under his bed when they pushed their two together. 

He worked out for an hour and showered and Jeremy still hadn't woken up so he started about making breakfast double-checking a recipe on his phone.

He was almost able to workout and be in the kitchen alone. He still felt the need to peek in the bedroom and make sure Jeremy was still there every five minutes, but he was able to make it up to ten or fifteen a few times. And he wasn’t on the verge of a panic attack when he couldn’t see anyone else, as long as he was in the safety of the apartment.

Eventually, Jeremy woke up and stumbled into the kitchen. He rubbed his eyes and blinked owlishly up at Jean. Everything about him looked so soft, in his over large sweatpants and a t-shirt both of which could not possibly be meant for someone that was only 5’6”. His hair was in disarray, and Jean fought the urge to reach out and adjust his corkscrew curls half of which were a bit flat. There was also a bit of drool. Jean resolutely ignored the tightness in his chest at Jeremy’s appearance. Jeremy showing up disheveled from bed to eat breakfast that Jean had cooked meant nothing. They were roommates. He stamped out the little voice that reminded Jean that Jeremy had slept in the same bed as him.  It didn’t matter, and it wasn’t like that, he hadn’t had any role to play in Jeremy’s dishevelment. 

"What are you making?" He asked peering into the pan. 

"It's pain perdu, the bread got stale." He grunted voice a bit horse. 

"French toast?" Jeremy tried to snag a finished piece from the plate on the counter. 

Jean shooed his hands away directing him instead towards the fridge and cupboard. 

"No touching. You can get plates and toppings."

"I'm gonna cover mine in sugar and syrup."

He let out a long-suffering sigh, "I know," 

At least Jeremy’s body hadn’t seemed to suffer any ill-effects from his constant sugar and carbohydrate intake. He remained toned and lean, wiry muscles well defined under his brown skin. It was something Jean struggled to not notice, he had to stop noticing and stop looking at Jeremy like that. 

Jeremy did cover his with an obscene amount of sugary goo while Jean contented himself with topping his with fruit and preserves. He did allow Jeremy to cajole him into sampling a few bites of the sugary mess from his plate.

The act of Jeremy feeding him bites from his own fork made his gut clench.

After doing the dishes Jeremy approached Jean, fidgeting with his t-shirt and chewing on his lip nervously.

“What is it?”

Jeremy hesitated a moment before continuing, “You know how Laila and Alvarez came early for pride yeah?”

Jeremy had mentioned something to that effect but Jean wasn’t really sure what that meant or what the significance was. Or even what context of pride was in this instance. Still, he responded with a slow "Yeah…"

Jeremy continued, "So there's events and stuff going on all throughout June for pride month, especially this week, and there is a huge Parade on Saturday. And I was hoping, maybe, that we could go to some stuff and the Parade. I really like it and I know it might not be your kind of thing, the bars, and clubs and crowds and parties and parades." Jeremy was starting to list more things in a hurried way that Jean was starting to be able to recognize as him getting anxious. 

Jean wasn’t really sure what Pride was or how events and parades tied into it. For the most part, if he did not know by the age of ten when he entered the Nest he was never taught if it was unessential or not relevant to his performance as an Exy player. He was unsure of the significance of pride in conjunction with parades and events. “So what is Pride exactly?”

“Oh. It’s gay pride, queer pride. For everyone who’s LGBTQ+. Like I am bisexual, Laila is pansexual and trans, and Alvarez is a genderqueer lesbian.

“Why? Why be proud of it?” he looked away unable to meet Jeremy's eyes to see disappointment. The idea of participating in that made him anxious he could still hear the jeers and taunts. The thought of being open about that sort of thing made his skin crawl. 

“Because we and people have been oppressed, cast out, and punished for who we are and who we love. But we are not going away. We are here, queer, and unashamed. We are proud of who we are and who we love, we don't have to hide, or be ashamed of it. We can be happy, we can be proud, and we should be seen. Pride is a celebration of our community. All of us. Trans, gay, bi, pan, lesbian ace, aro, non-binary, and any combination thereof or one of the numerous other identities. There are so many but we all are a community and we are proud of ourselves and each other.”

Jean had limited exposure to things like this during his life. In a positive manner, it was mainly Renee and the occasional fox. But Jeremy was beautiful. Jeremy was good. And Jeremy was golden. So how could it be wrong? The shadows of the nest were eclipsed by the sheer light Jeremy generated with his entire being. Banishing away the black tendrils of the poisonous ideas of the nest. It was like there were two realms. The one of before, the dark and suffocating terrible nest, that was the wrong one, the bad and evil one, and then there was California, the good one, bright and joyous, filled with freedom and space.

He still couldn't completely understand what pride was and was anxious about going but he wanted to try for Jeremy. If anyone saw and it got back to the main branch he could plead ignorance or say he was just there to support his new teammate. He couldn't imagine being that proud and self-accepting, but he'd like to. So maybe it was worth a shot.

"You don't have to go. We can stay here. It isn’t a big deal, I just thought I would offer." Jeremy reassured him after he had hesitated for too long.

"I'll go. I want to it sounds nice. Good. I just don't want to have to make you leave in the middle if I freak out and can’t handle it. I don't want you to have to take care of me the whole time." He wasn't sure if he could handle being left in the apartment alone either, but he wasn't about to make Jeremy miss out on something he had was so excited for and had been planning for.

"I wouldn't mind. We can leave whenever you want if it got to be too much." Jeremy was quick to reassure him

"Okay, let's go then. It sounds fun." He gave him a soft smile.

Jeremy beamed at him, reassuring him that he didn't need to come and they would leave the second Jean didn't feel like being there anymore and went to go change. Jeremy went over the schedule which he appreciated, it helped to have routine, to know what to expect for the day. They were planning on staying in for the day because it was only Monday but Laila and Alvarez were coming over and there was going to be a mini party. Then he left to change from his pajamas.

When Jeremy came back out of the bedroom Jean's breath caught in his throat and he swore his heart skipped a beat. Jeremy was wearing extremely short athletic shorts that hugged his body in a way that seemed surreal and a looser tank top that displayed his toned arms and shoulders, allowing a peek at the smooth brown skin of his sides. Fuck. He forcibly tore his eyes away to look at the floor before Jeremy could notice his staring.

"Do you think that would be good?" Jeremy asked. 

Merde, Jeremy had been talking but he completely missed it he realized with a pang of guilt. He abhorred the idea of becoming one of the people that ignored Jeremy when he was talking, something Jeremy had confessed during one of his more vulnerable moments. He loved listening to Jeremy's voice, it was beautiful. And after years of being spoken to like he was an animal or inanimate object, rarely getting talked to outside of orders or the context of exy, he cherished everything that Jeremy said to him. How could he have missed him talking?

"Sorry, I completely missed what you were saying can you repeat that? Sorry." He berated himself for not paying attention.

"That's okay," Jeremy laughed. "I was just asking if you thought it was alright if we went to the bakery and got a load of stuff for tonight and breakfast tomorrow?"

"Yeah, that sounds good." Pauline had given him her number saying he was free to call her or chat with him if he ever wanted to have a conversation in his native tongue. He hadn't taken her up on it yet.


The smell of freshly baked bread and pastries greeted them as they entered the bakery. Pauline was at the counter and recognized them as they came in beaming at Jean. 

"Oh good, you boys are back. I have some new things you must try." She greeted them stepping around the counter and instructing another man working to take over.

"Hey! How's it going?" Jeremy beamed at her.

"Very well thank you, what are you two up too?"

Jeremy explained their sweets mission and she told them what was new and what had just been baked.

Then Pauline's eyes latched onto Jeremy for a second. "Wait, I almost forgot, you play that game my son likes. Phillipe come out here!" She called into the kitchen. 

"Maman, I'm working," Came an annoyed voice in French from the back.

"Viens ici," she demanded and out came a disgruntled spotty faced teenager.

"C'est quoi?" What is it, he demanded as he dusted his hands off on his apron before looking up and locking eyes on Jeremy.

"Oh shit." He stopped wide-eyed. 

"Look, honey," Pauline gestured to Jeremy, "it is the guy from your posters."

The boy looked like he had been caught in the headlights.

"He has a ton of posters and pictures of you all over his bedroom, Jeremy, I have been trying to get him to clean it up," Pauline explained to Jeremy. Jean found he enjoyed this type of recognition immensely, Jeremy was the focus rather than him. 

"Mom," the boy, Phillipe, hissed flushing. "What the fuck? How do you know Jeremy fucking Knox?" 

"Language," Pauline interjected to scold him. "They have come in before. They are very nice boys and speak better French than you."

"I'm a Trojans fan, and I play exy in school.  And the posters are nothing weird I swear," he assured Jeremy, who looked like he was holding back a grin. "A lot of them were gifts."

"Cool. What position do you play and what school?" Jeremy asked kindly.

"Um Lancaster and I play mainly offensive dealer but I sub as a striker too sometimes." 

Phillipe turned and took a look at Jean for the first time then his eyes widened. "Holy shit! You're Jean Moreau! Wow." 

Jean winced, "Yes," he confirmed. It wasn't worth denying it he had a number three tattooed on his face made anonymity not really an option.

"Shit man, what happened to your face?!"

Jean didn’t quite manage to suppress his flinch.

Pauline gently cuffed him on the side of the head, “Rude! What’s the matter with you? I know raised you better than that. I am so sorry Jean.”

“Sorry, that was a terrible thing to ask, please pretend I didn’t say anything.”

“One could say it was a skiing accident,” Jean said abruptly without thinking. Jeremy made a choking noise in the background. Phillipe’s eyes widened and he jerked his head back blinking. Jean wasn’t sure where the courage or stupidity to make him say that to a stranger, let alone an exy fan who could spread it, came from. He ideally wondered if he had somehow contracted some of Neil’s stupidity but it had been too long since he was exposed for that to make sense.

Everyone was still for a moment. “We should also pretend I didn’t just say that,” Jean said quickly. Merde. Merde. Merde. Putain de merde. Maybe it was Jeremy’s impulsiveness. 

“Yeah, no problem. I won’t say anything.” Phillipe agreed quickly. “I’m more of a Trojans fan anyway. Never really followed the Ravens and kinda hate them. No offense.”

“None taken. I’m more of a Trojan fan too.”

“I'm super psyched that you are joining the Trojan’s though.”

Jean gave the boy a weak smile still internally panicking. Jeremy picked up on his mood, lightly touching his arm and took over the conversation steering it away from Jean. He asked Phillipe enthusiastically about the baking and seemed to genuinely be excited about meeting someone who could apparently create miracles in the kitchen, making himself seem like the excited fan instead of Phillipe.

Jeremy had a way of reading people's emotions and making everyone comfortable and strove to make everyone happy even if it was at the expense of himself.

When they finally left the bakery with more food than they needed and some that had just been handed to them as gifts, Jeremy had taken several selfies with Phillipe, one of which Jeremy posted on his own social media as a fan of Phillipe's baking skills and another for their mutual appreciation of exy. 

Jean hadn't had to take any. He hadn't been thrust into the uncomfortable and critical spotlight. Forced to make nice and smile for the cameras and press. He was able to stay peaceful in the quiet background. The only contributions he made to the conversation had been about cooking, not exy. Jean also couldn't remember the last time he had had a conversation with strangers about something other than exy like he did with Pauline and her son. Though perhaps they were not strangers anymore.

Chapter Text

Jean 

Jeremy and Alvarez had been drinking liberally and started to engage in the promised singing and dancing, he hadn’t had anything to drink himself, just water, but Laila and his lack of drinking did nothing to curb their enthusiasm. It was rather incredible. Jean was transfixed by every sinuous roll of Jeremy’s hips and the way his clothes clung to him. He was jumping up and down and singing something about being an LA devotee. He was starting to think he might be one too.

Jean's blood turned to honey. Everything felt syrupy slow and sweet. He relished in the languid movements and reactions. In the calm peace permeating through him. In the intoxicating heady way Jeremy's dark hooded eyes stared at him and he looked back. The way he was free to stare at him unabashed when his back was turned and meet his eyes again when he spun to face him. It left him drunker than any wine could have. Unafraid and utterly without pain, as if he had been given a powerful sedative. Even shock at the feeling could not permeate and take him away from that moment. 

A new song came on Love Today according to Alvarez’s exuberant clapping, and Jeremy approached him carefully draping himself over Jean after he gave him a confused nod of permission. He was still mouthing the words to the song as he crawled into his lap. Jean's heart pounded in his throat as Jeremy leaned in, hair brushed Jean's face and arms draped loosely over his shoulders. He was practically in Jean's lap, almost straddling him, his hands found Jeremy's hips somehow without Jean's conscious thought or permission. Jeremy continued to sway slightly, lips curling around the lyrics of the song. 

“Love me,” was one of the lyrics, Jean’s immediate thought was absolutely. 

He tried to make himself focus on Jeremy's face on his singing. Not on the way his body was moving against his own. And especially not on the way his own body was reacting to Jeremy's against him. It was a strange feeling, one part of him wanting whatever was happening to never stop, for it to keep going, for more for the accidental touching to become something else. The other part of him wanted to desperately stifle his reactions to keep Jeremy from noticing. Oh god, what if he noticed? 

The stupidest, loudest part of his brain begged him to grab Jeremy harder by the hips and pull him down against him. To touch him and lick the beads of sweat off of his neck and face. To give in to the molten feeling of arousal starting to bubble up under his skin.

The song changed and Jean only noticed because Jeremy abruptly spun out of his lap. His breath left him in a rush and his blood pounded like he had just played a full game. He was equal parts relieved and frustrated that Jeremy was no longer there. He continued to watch him dance. Jeremy bobbed his head and spastically kicking out his limbs to the beat. Jean was transfixed as Jeremy’s movements got more uncoordinated and confusing as he continued to drink and dance. He was exhilarating in his freedom. Jeremy licked beads of wine from his lips and Jean felt the urge to do that for him.

He kept locking his eyes with Jeremy's as he spun around seeming to sing directly to him and dance for him. Jean had never seen such a pure and lovely expression of unadulterated freedom and clear hedonistic joy and youth as Jeremy singing and dancing drunkenly in their dorm room with his friends. 

Laila sat by his side watching her girlfriend with eyes brimming with love and devotion. “You good?” He thought she asked when she glanced his direction. 

He wasn’t sure if she had just spoke of had been talking to him for a while. Either way Jean was unable to stop the words from tumbling out of his mouth in his mesmerized haze. “He’s beautiful,” so beautiful nothing had ever felt truer than that fact in this moment. 

“Yeah I know what you mean,” Laila said unguardedly turning her soft gaze back to Alvarez. The pair were singing a sultry song in Spanish holding their respective beer and wine glasses up like microphones. 

Jean panicked suddenly at having let it slip, and he abruptly turned to Laila in horror. She caught his eye briefly and then let her gaze slide back to Alvarez. "Don't worry I won't tell him. Or anyone else. Not even Alvarez. You seem like you might got some shit, to work out in the whole queer department. Let me know if you wanna talk. I'm heavily qualified being neither cis or straight. And I can keep a secret. Also, they are both probably too drunk to remember or notice you staring at his ass all night so you may as well continue at this point. "

Jean nodded numbly, without saying anything and continued to watch Jeremy dance. He tried to stare at that particular part of Jeremy less but didn’t manage it. Those shorts were ridiculously short. And tight. He wondered how or if Jeremy had managed to put underwear on underneath them. He forced himself abruptly to stop that train of thought and felt his face and other parts of his body flame. He hadn’t even had any alcohol so he couldn't blame it on that if someone noticed. 

Alvarez stumbled over to their girlfriend laughing pulling her up to dance. Jeremy looked bereft suddenly without his dancing partner and looked around the room before settling his eyes on Jean and looking at him like an excited and hopeful puppy.

“Jean, dance with me!” he begged giving him pouting puppy eyes until Jean relented and got to his feet. 

Jeremy loudly exclaimed  “Yay,” and half stumbled and half ran to him and took his hands in his own.

Jean tried to calm the thumping in his chest by reminding himself that this was only because Alvarez and Laila were dancing together now, leaving Jean as the only person left in the room to dance with. He was the only option.

Jeremy wobbled slightly using his hands to balance and laughed. He proceeded to bounce around him and swinging one of his arms randomly while simultaneously shaking his hips. Occasionally miscalculating distance and stumbling into Jean’s chest with a slight oomph. He started up again once Jean grabbed him by the shoulders and stabilized Jeremy to his feet. 

“You’re a good dancer.” He slurred against his chest, having tripped over his feet again as Jean paused to keep him upright. 

“You’re drunk Remy, I’m not doing anything.”

Jeremy beamed up at him. “You are. You’re amazing. Everything about you.” Jeremy reached up and slowly touched his face he skimmed his thumb across the scar that came to the corner of his mouth and then settled it at the corner of his lips rubbing the edge of them ever so slightly. Jean’s breath hitched.

“You are good.” Remy’s other hand came up and cupped the other side of his face. “You are so good, Jean.” Jean didn’t think he was talking about dancing anymore. His face and lips were so close to his own he could not stop the sharp inhale that escaped his lips or calm the rapid pounding of his heart. He thought he might pass out.

Jean leaned into Jeremy’s touch as a rose does to sunlight. His eyes were bright and warm and he never new warmth like Jeremy’s russet brown eyes. He could not for the life of him think of a color that was warmer and offered as pervading a sense of safety. He brought a hand up to the back of Jeremy’s neck and played with the fine strands of hair there. 

Jeremy’s right thumb came up and covered his tattoo and he smiled at him again. “You’re good Jean. So good” he murmured repeating himself. “Perfect, so perfect and beautiful. God, you’re so beautiful, you know that right Jean?”

He felt abruptly overwhelmed by the honesty in Jeremy’s voice. He struggled to keep tears from welling up in his eyes. Jean’s tattoo was covered and Jeremy seemed to look past that, right into his very soul and still deem him good and perfect. Jean had never been a perfect anything except for the perfect court and the damned label on his face assigned him there through no act of his own, aside from being sold and then beaten if he did not live up to it. 

“I…” Jean’s voice cracked.

“You are,” Jeremy told him confidently, presenting it as indisputable fact. And Jean believed him in that moment. He had to be didn't he? To be worthy of having Jeremy in his arms like this? To have this happening to him for Jeremy to let this happen with him, something about Jean must be good.

 His eyes dropped to Jeremy’s lips for a second and he saw Jeremy’s flick down to his. Jean’s mouth felt dry and tongue thick. His heart threatened to beat out of his chest and he felt dizzy and lightheaded. The blood all rushed to his face and Jean burned. 

Words stuck themselves in his throat. “You’re drunk Remy.” he murmured again unable to come up with something new to say. 

“Jeremy! Sing more MIKA!” Alvarez shouted suddenly and something ethereal seemed to slip away in that moment and the ephemeral charged feeling was shattered like glass and vanished into thin air. He wouldn't have kissed him or anything else. Couldn't, not while Jeremy was drunk, not when he might regret it or not want him and be unable to stop him. But it was something, a not quite, an almost. Something charged and hot, a magnetism that was still good even when you didn't quite give in to it.

Jeremy twisted out of his arms and began singing along to the song Alvarez started playing. 

"Do I attract you?

Do I repulse you with my queasy smile?

Am I too dirty?

Am I too flirty?

Do I like what you like?"

Jean's face felt hot. Jeremy continued singing listing all the things he could be for someone which was ridiculous because he was perfect the way he was and shouldn't have to change to please or suit anyone. It's just a song he tried to remind himself. And he's not singing it for me, he thought bitterly. Jeremy was real and he was all the more beautiful for it.

When Jeremy finished he tottered back over to him leaning on him heavily. "Hey, did you like it?" He said nuzzling into his chest.

"You're a very good singer, it's a nice song" he complimented him.

Jeremy beamed up at him, then his eyes lit up suddenly and he gasped. "He sings the song in French too!!! There's a French version. Imma sing you the French version. You'll like it" 

He pulled away like he had been yanked back by wire and started fumbling with Alvarez's phone to pull the song up again. But in French this time, it wasn't an exact translation of the first but it was beautiful. It was Jeremy and he was singing it for him. Warmth like no other blossomed in his chest and he laughed aloud with joy as Jeremy danced around him singing loudly taking his hands and spinning them in circles. 

Oh, he thought. This is it. This is joy. This is happiness. It bubbled up in him like a rush. It was laughter and smiling so hard his face hurt and spinning Jeremy around the room while he sang to him in French. Jean had never felt young before. Good god, how was this even real? Had he actually died? Maybe this was heaven. He couldn't bring himself to give a damn. 

Jeremy speaking to him in French was one thing, him singing was another. Both did things to him, but him singing in French? For him? Because of him? He couldn't describe how that made him feel.

“Why don’t you love me?” Jeremy sang out in the second round of the song this time in French. Oh, but I do Jean thought. God help me but I do.  

It was a horrifying thought and realization, jolting him out of the moment somewhat and Jean wasn’t even sure he knew what love was. Not when it felt like this. Not when it filled his chest and left him feeling lightheaded and breathless. Not when it was walking on air and laughing until his sides hurt. Trusting someone to never harm him, trusting them with the past and present. He resolved to ask Renee about it later, she talked about love often.

After Jeremy finished he tumbled back into his arms grinning up at him. "Did you like it?" 

"I loved it." He choked out. I love you . He thought about saying. 

It was enough for Jeremy however and he went to get another drink, getting a glass of water too this time. Probably a good idea.

He went to sit back on the couch and Jeremy followed stretching his legs out and putting his head promptly in Jean's lap the second he was settled.

"Are you done dancing?" He asked, petting Jeremy's curls. He couldn't help it.

"Mmmm yeah." He slurred. " 'M tired and getting dizzy. Everythin's spinning" he waved a hand floppily in the air to demonstrate and Jean caught it setting it back down to keep Jeremy from smacking his own face.

"Are you going to be sick?" He'd rather not have Jeremy throw up on him or the couch if he could avoid it.

"No, I don't think so." He said closing his eyes. He grabbed Jean's hand back and returned it to his own hair letting out a satisfied hum when he obliged and started combing through it with his fingers and scratching his scalp gently. He was like a cat.

"He's usually pretty good about knowing his limits. He hasn't drunk in a while though so it's probably hitting him pretty hard. And he's a lightweight." Laila said, Alvarez and her both had migrated onto the other chairs and were curled up together.

Jeremy let out another hum of confirmation, content to lie there in Jean's lap with his eyes closed for the time being.

Laila started to ask him about what he'd seen so far in California and what they should make plans to do, while Alvarez and Jeremy slowly sipped some water and rested for a few minutes.

"We could do a beach day, I'm honestly surprised Jeremy hasn't dragged you there. He loves the beach."

"Oh, that's probably because I mentioned all the times I've been waterboarded." It would definitely make going to the beach a challenge. He could barely tolerate showering, he only managed by spending minimal time under the spray with his head actually being touched by water and because he had had any resistance to showering beaten and carved out of him. He wasn't able to stand looking away from the spray or closing his eyes under it, he spent as little time as possible with his head or face in the water. Not showering hadn't been an option, but it had still taken cajoling and begging from Kevin as well as tremendous pain from both Riko and the Master to get him to even wash himself. 

Jeremy might be shirtless though. That might make it worth it. Or at least worth considering. Jeremy shirtless in the sun, golden-brown skin drenched in sunlight and slick with shimmering water from the ocean. Sun streaming through his curls lighting them up like some kind of halo around behind him. He could picture it easily. It helped that he had thought about Jeremy shirtless a lot, and images of him toweling off his acorn-brown skin after showers were burned into his mind despite not even allowing half second glances. All it took was a millisecond out of the corner of his eyes and it was seared into his retinas forever.

Laila hadn't said anything staring at him in shock with a hand hovering over her mouth. He hadn't even noticed her reaction, hadn't been looking for it.

Alvarez sat straight up, "Dude, what the fuck!" 

"I'm willing to try it. I don't have a swimsuit though." He tried to quickly reassure them. He could always build a sand castle or some shit and watch Jeremy. That was something people still did at beaches right? He was sure he'd seen people doing that when he lived in Marseille, he'd been busy playing in the water then. Plus wearing sunglasses might make his staring at Jeremy less obvious, which was another bonus. Sunlight and a happy shirtless Jeremy, and being able to stare without people noticing. He'd have to figure out a way to keep a shirt on himself, his scars would probably traumatize any small children, as well as teach them inappropriate words. 

"Yeah no, I'm still a little caught up on what you just said. Did you just say you were waterboarded?" Alvarez looked outraged. Laila tugged at her arm to try to get her to calm down.

Jeremy sat up out of his lap still swaying and focused his blurry eyes on Alvarez. "Shhh. Don't be rude." He pointed a finger at her but the sternness in his voice was undermined by slurring his words and his wobbly arm. "That’s rude. I'll fight you."

Jean let out an involuntary scoff. He was ridiculous. He was pretty sure a strong gust of wind would knock Jeremy over right now, but he still was sincere and hell bent on shielding Jean.

"Calm down." He said pulling Jeremy's arm back down. He immediately curled back up against his chest. 

He turned to Alvarez, "I did say that yes, I'd rather not talk about being tortured right now if you don't mind. Beach might be fun though, I'm willing to try it."

"Okay?" Alvarez said backing off easily. He was pretty sure it helped that she was drunk and easily distracted. Laila still looked horrified but kept her mouth shut in a tense line.

Jeremy took the moment to drunkenly pull their attention back onto himself. Telling more stories of times he had fucked up and reminiscing on earlier college years and going to high school with Alvarez. Swaying forward dangerously and more out of his lap as he became more animated.

They ended up listing more and more things, eventually delving into past relationships again. Jeremy laughed a little less with each one of his exes mentioned, and became more withdrawn. First college boyfriend hadn't seen the relationship seriously and hooked up with other people. A girl who had only been into him because he was on the exy team. Someone who just cheated off of him for schoolwork. They were talking about his first person he kissed in highschool, who ended up dating Jeremy's best friend at the time, (not Alvarez) and left him alone at a high school dance when he started quietly sniffling.

His eyes were watery and glassed over and he looked utterly miserable and defeated. "Why didn't they love me? Why wasn't I good enough. I tried but it wasn't enough, I'm never enough." Jeremy almost weeping now, but so soft Jean was the only one who heard. "Why don't they ever love me back. I just want someone that loves me too."

Tears were streaming down his face and a part of Jean wanted to scream, I do, I would do anything for you to let me . But the smart part of him knew he wasn't what Jeremy wanted and he didn't even know for sure it was what he felt or what that even meant. Another part of him, a bigger part, a more certain part, wanted to find everyone that Jeremy had ever dated, and everyone who had ever hurt him and scream at them or worse. And demand to know why? How they could have been so stupid? Make them see that Jeremy was the greatest thing that could ever happen to a person and apologize for ever hurting him. Slamming them repeatedly against the exy court plexiglass without pads might do the trick.

So he settled on yelling at the others in the room who were hurting him now. "That's enough!" He snapped. Interrupting the story making them look over at Jeremy who was hunched over at Jean's side with his arms wrapped around his knees looking small. "What the fuck is wrong with you?"

"Shit. Jer. I'm sorry I'm super drunk and being insensitive. It isn't funny." Alvarez looked genuinely remorseful.

"It's okay. I'm just really drunk and tired." 

"I love you so much. You know that right? I didn't mean to make you sad. We should go burn all of their houses down." Alvarez was tearing up too. Jean felt a little uncomfortable with all of the displays of emotion but was still pissed at them for upsetting Jeremy so he didn't stop glaring. 

They both started crying and hugging each other talking in an incomprehensible blend of Spanish and English.

"I think it's getting late and time to get some sleep." He told Laila.

She nodded with a glance at the clock, "Yeah I'll get us an uber. They've reached the point of no return."

Alvarez and Jeremy spent a good five minutes hugging each other, tearfully and saying goodbye how much they loved each other until Laila broke them apart and started to gently herd Alvarez away.

"Will you be alright with him?" Laila asked with a nod towards Jeremy.

"Yeah, I'll make sure he's good." He told her a bit surprised that she was willing to trust him with an inebriated Jeremy just like that. 

"He might try to eat candle wax so keep an eye on him." She added as a warning, as she got Alvarez out the door.

"He might what?!" He asked at the door already closing behind them.

"It smells good like cupcakes and sweet stuff, but it tastes really bad." Jeremy explained, lifting up an unlit yankee candle and inspecting it thoughtfully.

Jean took it out of his hands as a precaution. Jeremy pouted but let him, soon getting distracted by clinking the empty glasses together.

He managed to get Jeremy to brush his teeth, and drink plenty of water before he decided he was too tired and laid on the floor to go to sleep.

When he refused to move Jean picked him up and tucked him into bed. He kept trying to get back out and follow him like a drunk duckling, suddenly having energy, if not motor control. By the fifth attempt resulting in Jeremy giggling, tumbling out of the bed and clutching onto Jean's leg on the floor preventing him from moving, he texted Laila, snapping a pic of Jeremy attached to his leg like a toddler.

Jean: <<what do I do. He won't stay put.>>

Laila: aww hes adorable

You are gonna have to stay in bed with him until he falls asleep

He is just gonna keep following you

Make sure he drinks some water 

Tell him a bedtime story or something.

Jean: << ok >>

 

 He coaxed Jeremy into drinking more water and then picked him up and put him back into the bed, and let Jeremy pull him into bed, crawling in after grabbing a large mixing bowl just in case. Jeremy cuddled up to him curling up on his chest. 

"I'm so glad you're here." He murmured sleepily. Jean wasn't sure if he meant in general or now specifically.

"Me too," He was, he really was.

"Mmmm, this is nice." Jeremy nuzzled the join of his collarbone and neck. The touch was more electric than it should have been. Jean's heart pounded so hard he wondered if there was any chance Jeremy couldn't hear it.

"Yeah," his voice sounded unreasonably hoarse. 

"You're nice." Jeremy mumbled. And Jean believed him. At least this side of him was, a side he had never been able to explore or experience.

Jeremy ended up falling asleep on top of his chest with his fists clenched into his shirt. Despite the mess in the rest of the apartment and the itch to clean it up Jean was loath to move and disturb him. He'd wake up first regardless and pick it up then, he decided. 

With nothing left to do and nothing left to distract him he couldn't get the images of Jeremy dancing out of his head. He couldn't deny it any longer, he was screwed. He didn't mind, not really, but he needed to know exactly what this was so he could fix it and brace himself for when it all fell apart. Was it love ? Or was it just strong physical attraction compounded with the intense trust and emotional intimacy?

Maybe it would go away. Other than Renee, Jeremy was the first person he really trusted, that he allowed himself to be vulnerable with. Hopefully, that's all this was, intense infatuation, not something that was going to burn him up from the inside out and not fade. There was a voice in the back of his head that told him to just stop lying to himself and own up to it. He wouldn't, not yet, he wanted to pretend it wouldn't absolutely gut him when it was over, when Jeremy found someone else, when Jean was pushed to the sidelines, once he was fixed enough to function. He wanted to pretend for as long as possible.

Chapter Text

Jeremy 

Jeremy woke up with a pounding headache and a mouth that tasted stale. He sluggishly looked around to see that Jean was already up and picked up his phone to see a text from Alvarez.

Alvarez. You sure there is nothing going on between you two. You were all over him last night. Practically gave him a lap dance at one point.

Oh god, Jeremy thought remembering. He had done that. To a song that's refrain included the words love love me. God, that probably came across as super desperate.

Jeremy: Shit, what else?

Alvarez: It didn’t seem like he minded. You danced with him and he watched you all night. Then later on like, yelled at us and kicked us out for making you sad." 

Jeremy: Shit sorry I'm a weepy drunk. Oh god, I was crying all over him.

He grimaced trying to think back if he touched Jean without his permission, or if he had made him uncomfortable, the night was too hazy in his mind. 

Alvarez: Nah I fucked up. Bringing up Chris and Heather was a low blow. And yeah a bit. He was holding you too though, so it didn’t seem like it was unwelcome. 

 

Before he could respond  there was a sudden earsplitting shriek coming from the other room. Jeremy stumbled out of bed in a panic. Fuck what happened? God was Jean okay?

He barreled into the living room to see Jean standing on top of the couch with a broom in his hand pointing defensively at the TV.

 "Are you okay? What happened?" He panted looking around frantically for something that would have hurt or upset his roommate. Jean stared at where the television stand met the wall. There were cups bags and loose chips scattered everywhere.

"There is a rat!" He said pointing at the television stand. The way his mouth caressed the R and formed the word was too confusingly attractive for how asleep and how hungover Jeremy felt. 

Jeremy almost fell over with relief once he processed what had been said. "A rat?" He said trying not to laugh. God, he was so hungover, and possibly still a little drunk. Was Jean, a 6'4" world-class backliner made of pure muscle, scared of a rat? His position standing atop the couch with the broom extended in a defensive stance pointed to yes.

"It startled me." Jean defended, "it just came out of nowhere and ran across my foot. And it's massive. It was probably lured here by the stacks of dirty laundry and food all over." 

"It's not going to hurt you." Jeremy picked up a shoe and made his way over to the TV.  He was used to all sorts of bugs, animals and other pests. He grew up on a farm. And the family cats had a lovely habit of catching things and bringing them to people, often alive.

"Wait no!" Jean exclaimed, suddenly fearful and grabbing his arm with the shoe pulled back. "Don't hurt it. Please don't hurt it!" 

Oh, god. He thought he might be in love with Jean. Animals were the major soft spot for him, he felt guilty over squishing cockroaches sometimes. 

"I won't I was just gonna try to make a noise to startle it back out. What do you want me to do? I could try to lure it into a box or something? Take it outside?" He tried to soothe away the wide-eyed fearful look on Jean’s face. He wouldn't have hurt it, to begin with, not if he could avoid it. But he didn't want it to freak Jean out. 

Jean chewed on his lip for a second, which was distracting and something his still slightly inebriated mind fixated on. His tongue flicked out for a second. Goddamn it, he was hot.

"We could try that. It's not like it’s hurting anything. I don't mind if it’s here, I was just eh, surprised."

Jeremy wondered when the last time Jean had seen or interacted with any animal. Other than maybe a bug, from his reaction and the growing look of curiosity and wonder in his eyes he imagined it had been a long time.

"Maybe we could keep it as a pet?" Jeremy offered, watching him. Jean had climbed off of the couch and was crouched on the ground, still a good distance away, trying to peer behind the TV. Something that evoked such a positive response in Jean could be great for him.

"No," Jean shook his head and gave him a sad smile. "I wouldn't want to take it and keep it trapped in a cage. It'll be happier as it is. Free."

The way he said it broke Jeremy's heart. He felt an immediate stab of hatred for Tetsuji and Jean's parents.  There was a slight scratching and out from behind the television stand came a small grey mouse. 

"Is that it?"

"Yeah," Jean said he still looked a bit nervous about its reappearance.

"That's not a rat, it’s a mouse and it’s tiny." He tried not to giggle at the idea that this was what had made Jean let out that god awful shriek.

Jean scowled at him. "It seemed bigger. And more threatening. They carried the plague you know." 

"Pretty sure that was rats, not mice."

"Technically it was the fleas on them and I don't see why this mouse couldn't have fleas. I could have died, Jeremy. One could have bitten me and then I'd be dead. Or have rabies."

"Not sure either of those things are an instant kill."

"Could be you don't know." He retorted churlishly glaring at Jeremy’s laughter.

"So um what do you want to do about it?" He willed his face back under control. 

"Do we have to do something?" Jean looked between the mouse and Jeremy nervously.

"I mean it might get into our stuff and food. They aren't considered super sanitary, and when there is one there are usually others. I know that when you report them to campus as a maintenance/housekeeping thing they usually set out traps for them. Kill traps usually, sometimes glue though and then they kill them after, or you know throw them away or something then they’d starve." If someone else in the building reported mice, maintenance put out traps it had happened a few times before. And when there was one there were usually dozens. He didn't want them to kill an animal Jean had started to bond with. That would be terrible. And he hated the mouse traps. His cats were one thing, but the traps and the sound of them going off and then sometimes the sound of struggling or suffering was terrible and horrifying. He shuddered slightly, some might consider it stupid to form such quick attachments but he couldn't seem to help it and he couldn't stop feeling guilty about it. Most farm kids were cavalier and accepting of animal death, Jeremy wasn’t, not quite, never had been. It was always sad and he always cried. It probably helped that his family never raised animals for food or selling, nothing more than a hobby farm and eggs from chickens. Not that he would have ever allowed them killing one of their animals. 

Jean paled. "I… I don't want them to hurt him. Please."

"I won't say anything." He assured him. "Let's try to catch it and we can bring it outside or something. We can get live traps too from the store, that won't hurt them at all. Plus if we are good about not leaving food out at night we probably won't see any and it won't be an issue. This is my fault. And not gonna lie I can be a bit of a slob especially once the semester starts up. So just like tell me to clean my shit up and I will. I'll try to remember to do dishes and not leave food out." He gestured to the half picked up the mess on the table that Jean had been tidying up.

Jean nodded.

The mouse had scurried away so Jeremy started to help Jean pick up the rest of the clutter.

"You like animals then?" Jeremy asked figuring it was a safe question.

"Yes," Jean said but he looked pained.

"Did you have a pet as a kid? Or when was the last time you chilled out with animals or something?" Jeremy asked cautiously, if Jean was interested they could go to his family's farm and just being around all the animals one day. They should anyway, or at least he should his sister was due at the end of the week or maybe next week, him not knowing probably meant he was not going to be a good uncle, but she and her husband were staying at the farm for the first month or so after the baby was born for extra help.

Jean hesitated and closed his eyes. "In the Nest. When we were younger, fourteen or so, a fan gave Riko some raven fledglings."

Jeremy's heart immediately sank and this story would not have a happy ending. For Jean or the birds. If the perfect court had had actual living ravens he was sure he would have heard about it. 

To his surprise Jean kept going but like once he started he couldn't stop. Jean's voice was soft when he continues almost fond, not happy, not close, but the kind of melancholy that comes from a kind of almost happiness that has been spoiled. "There was one for each of us. Three. I was important enough to get one too. That made him angry I think, he hurt me that night. But, I was in charge of taking care of them. Riko didn't care about them. Kevin helped me name them, Huginn and Muninn were one and two, Riko and Kevin's, after Odin's ravens. Mine was named Morrigan after the Celtic raven goddess. Kevin was smart, he knew better and didn't get as attached as I did, he mainly left them to me. He knew what would probably end up happening, and so did I. But I loved them. So much. They were the one good thing I had most days, something to look forward to and take care of. They were sweet and good and fun. Something nice in the Nest something I cared about that I felt cared for me. They liked me best. I had never had any kind of pet before, even in France, there were some strays and neighborhood dogs, but my parents would have hated the mess and noise. But I had the ravens, and I learned everything I could about them, it actually helped me learn how to read in English, the Master wasn't super big on schoolwork or anything outside exy, he had us enrolled in online courses and paid someone to do most of our work. I might have never learned otherwise. I looked up things when allowed to use a computer or phone and read all the care books and things the person had given us. I taught them tricks, Morrigan could even say some words. It’s funny you know, I actually really like ravens, the birds I mean, the players, the team, are awful.” 

Jeremy had never seen this before, Jean smiling and almost happy when recounting a memory. “We had them for a long time considering, it's hard to know what it was in real-time not Raven time, but almost a year. But they aren't always the friendliest of creatures and they hated Riko. He never played with them or took care of them. And he tortured me in front of them, they hated it. They're super smart you know, corvids, and can hold grudges and understand things. I usually made sure they stayed in the cage with the cover on and he’d ignore them but sometimes he’d shout or throw things at them. He got angry if they made noise and would shake the cage to make them quiet. I kept them in my room and tried to make sure Riko only hurt me in his room. I didn't want him to remember they existed during those moments, and they’d freak out if they saw him hurting me. Riko ignored them until one day he didn't."

Jean blinked his eyes rapidly moisture starting to accumulate there he rubbed it away and composed himself. That was somehow worse to see. To see Jean mentally steeling himself for what he was about to reveal. To have the emotion in his voice and on his face disappear. 

 

~~~

"What happened?" He was glad at least that Jean had had something, some small measure of happiness, something good. At least for a little while.

 He cleared his throat and continued trying to hide "He was trying to mess with Huginn or do something with him or to him. I don’t know. He nipped at him. I don't know if it hurt he didn't bleed or anything. But he was furious. He hit him, knocked him into a wall, hard. But he was just a bird and still so young, he didn't know any better. And the other birds started freaking out and so did I, I tried to stop it. I panicked and fought back. I shouldn't have done that. Fighting back always makes it worse. He likes it when you fight back when he knows what he is doing hurts you and breaks you more than anything else. It just eggs him on and encourages him. It's best to lay there and take it, do what he says, let him get it out of his system as quick as possible. Resisting just feeds into it." Jeremy felt ill, how often did Jean just lie there and take it. And what exactly was it that he took. What kind of monster hurts a baby bird? 

Jean jerked his head quickly and continued, "Anyway, Huginn tried to fly away when Riko picked him up again, he scratched him a little with his talons. So he snapped his neck. He killed him just like that. Dead." 

Jeremy reached out and touched Jean's arm lightly not sure if he should move to put an arm around him or hold his hand. He wanted to comfort him in some way. He was sick to his stomach at the image of a teenager, a kid really, murdering an animal just because he could. Because it would hurt Jean. “You don’t have too…” he drifted off.

"I… it's okay. I’m okay with you knowing. No one else besides Kevin does. I… I didn't react well. I started screaming at him, crying and fighting. It was the first time I had fought back in a while and he… he just laughed. He had enjoyed it. Killing. And he enjoyed seeing how devastated and upset I was even more. He got Kevin to hold me down and restrain my legs while he handcuffed me and cut me to ribbons with his knives, for talking back. Morrigan and Munin freaked out, after seeing him kill their brother and hurt me. They were screaming in the cage. He cut off pieces of my skin and tried to feed it to them. He was too busy taunting me to pay attention and opened the cage instead of dropping it in. They flew out and attacked him. They tried to protect me. Morrigan, wouldn't him near me she'd shriek and claw at him if he came close. Munin too, he kept trying to dive-bomb him. They actually managed to scratch him a bit, left a scar on his arm" Jean's lips twisted up in a cruel approximation of a smile. 

"He got calm then. Suddenly. And he stopped trying to get at me. Stopped trying to hurt my birds. He had Kevin let me up. And -- I was so stupid for a second I thought it might be okay, that it was over and he felt bad. Like they had successfully protected me. I should have known better. He told me to get the birds back in the cage and I did. I calmed them down. Then he --" Jean cuts himself off perilously close to losing the blank objectivity with which he spoke and Jeremy knows that somehow, it gets even worse. He tugs Jean into his embrace and holds him, to let him know that he is there, that he will protect him now. 

"Take your time. Whatever you need. Did he kill them?" He asks softly, wanting to spare Jean from having to say it.

"No. I did." Jean confesses the words sticking in his mouth.

Jeremy is confused momentarily. Surely, Jean knew it wasn't his fault. Then Jean continues voice flat without inflection, eyes glazed over. "He made me torture and kill one of them. He told me if I didn’t he would torture and kill both of them himself, dissect them piece by piece as slow as possible if I didn’t. He said he'd hurt me less too and let one live. I could keep one, or he would torture and kill both, worse than I would have. He even let me choose, out of fucking kindness." 

Oh, god. Oh, no. 

"So I did. I tortured and killed Munin. And it was terrible. The screams… It was so terrible and I still hate myself for it. Then... " Jean looked terrible like he had aged fifty years in the telling of this story, his voice running a razor's edge between empty blankness to utter devastation.

"He tortured Morrigan anyways. He broke her wings, and legs, yanked out her feathers and cracked her beak. Kevin held me back, and he did it right in front of me. I couldn't do anything I was so useless. He used her dead brother's talons on her and poked out her eyes. She made the most awful sounds. But he didn't kill her. He let her live,” He framed the word with sarcastic air quotes.  “She was alive, so he kept his promise he said. Then he left. And she was dying and in so much pain. I didn't want her to suffer. She would have only been hurt more and kept barely alive as a toy for his amusement and a tool to hurt me more. If she even survived. I didn't want her to be in pain any longer, so I put her out of her misery and killed her. I wished someone would have done the same for me."

Jean's voice wavered like he was on the edge of a breaking point and his eyes were wet and glassy. "I killed them. They tried to protect me, the only things to ever try and they died for it. They were the only things that cared about me in that place and I killed them. I choose to."

"Oh darling." Jeremy squeezed his arms tighter around Jean fiercely. "It's not your fault. It's not. You did what you could. You did what you had to do. You were given an impossible choice and did what was best. I would have done the same. I'm so sorry Jean. I'm so sorry." He felt tears slipping down his own face but paid them no mind. 

He had had to make the choice to put down beloved family pets before, and it was heart wrenching, terrible, and still caused him grief on top of piles of guilt. And that was nothing compared to what Jean had been forced to do, the choices he had made. 

"He made me eat them." Jean hisses hands clenched white-knuckled onto Jeremy's shirt.

"What?" Jeremy was unable to stop his horrified question. He must have misheard, he had to have misheard. 

"We had nutrition plans. They were strict. You eat what you are given or you don't eat. I was hungry all the time because I wouldn't have performed well enough to earn food, didn't deserve it or Riko just took it away. They are simple things, the food, maximum nutritional efficiency. I thought it was an unseasoned chicken and rice thing I ate most of it. Riko told me what it was when I was half-way done eating it. It was Huginn. I threw up. But he held me down force fed me the rest of the plate. The next meal I knew what it was right away, they'd decorated the plate with feathers and a head. I refused to eat it. But I wasn't allowed to eat anything else at all, until I ate the other two. He starved me until I eventually gave in. I was so hungry. I made it four or five actual days I think, maybe six. Nine raven ones. I tried. I really did. But I was so weak from being beaten everyday for lagging behind in practice, so hungry that I did it. I gave in. I couldn’t just let myself die. I thought I’d be able to but I was too weak and a coward. I ate them I think they’d gone bad by the time I --. I threw it all up the second I could in the bathroom. I still hate eating chicken or any kind of meat or animal. It makes me sick. But I don't have a choice."

He wonders if Jean ever told anyone before, about it about anything. Once he decided to say something it all came rushing out of him like a geyser no matter how painful. He hoped it helped, talking about it. Instead of making it worse. Jeremy grew up on a farm, while he personally didn't eat any meat ever, his family was mostly kosher and half were vegetarian, let alone a former pet, he was no stranger to that reality. He'd had neighbors that had had pigs one day, then bacon the next. This was different, he could not imagine the depths of cruelty a young Riko Moriyamas was capable of, the imagination to make another boy first torture and murder his pets and then force him to eat them or starve to death.

~~~

"You," Jeremy's own voice cracked and he took a second to get himself under control. "You know you don't have to eat any meat here right? You can go vegetarian if you want. It's your decision."

"I need to stay on strict nutrition plans and meat and protein so I will have optimal performance on the court. It's not possible."

"There are other stuff you can have and still get all your nutritional needs met, tofu, soy, beans, vitamins. There are supplements too. Eggs if you are still okay with those. I'm a vegetarian myself, I have been as long as I can remember and I'm a division one athlete." He offered.

Jean looked surprised and confused. "How?" 

"I mean it takes a little more work but not much. You have to eat a bit more. And I'm far from the only athlete who doesn't eat meat. There are a lot of professional athletes who are vegetarian even a bunch who are straight-up vegan, no eggs, or dairy or anything with an animal byproduct. Serena Williams is."

"Who?" 

"Multiple gold medal-winning tennis player. She’s incredible best in the world, besides maybe her sister and super famous. How do you not know who she is?"

"It's not exy."

There was silence for a moment and Jeremy struggled to think of something to say, to make Jean feel better. A simple wow, sorry you had to go through that, wouldn't suffice. At least this was something he could do, not a solution but an action. If eating meat upset and triggered Jean he shouldn't have to.

"Can I really? " Jean’s voice was soft.

"Yes, of course. You can eat whatever you want, only you get to decide that. It's your body. And it is healthy and provides enough nutrients if you are worried about that."

The utter confusion on Jean's face at being offered a choice hurt, but it slowly faded into something more considering. "Really?" he asked again.

"I've been vegetarian pretty much my whole life and you've seen my cooking skills and I'm still fit and healthy enough to be an athlete."

Jean slowly dragged his gaze up and down over Jeremy's body, lingering slightly on history toned arms and legs and anywhere that his skin remained bare. Yes, I can see that." Jean murmured barely audible. A short shiver ran across Jeremy's spine. 

Louder he asked "Coach Rheman won't punish me? Or you for suggesting it?"

It was like being kicked whenever Jean asked things like this. The constant expectation of punishment for doing things without permission, or things different from how they had been in the nest.

"No, he won't. He can't, you are allowed to eat whatever you want. As long as you don't start messing with drugs or performance-enhancing stuff you're good. You could probably even get away with a little pot on the offseason if you really wanted, as long as it wouldn’t show up on a drug test.”

Jean nodded, "I don't want to eat meat anymore then, especially poultry."

"Okay, yeah that’s fair." Jeremy beamed at him, so relieved he was making the choice for himself, setting boundaries and saying no. He mentally started planning out meals, restaurants, and groceries.  "Are eggs and dairy still okay? What about fish?"

Jean chewed on his lip thinking about it, "Dairy's fine I'm French, I need cheese. Eggs are okay too, fish maybe, we'll see."

Jeremy flashed him another grin. "Alright, I'll make us something to eat, want anything in particular?"

Jean immediately made a face, "I'll cook, don't worry about it."

"It's not a problem," he quickly offered.

"I would rather not be poisoned thanks," Jean fake winced dramatically. 

"I'm not that bad of a cook," he protested and he really wasn't. Yes, he wasn't good and made a lot of mistakes but he could survive on his own in the wild. 

"It's not a risk I'm willing to take, you can pick what I make and watch but I'm not letting you touch the stove," Jean said heading into the kitchen and poking around to see what they had.

He scowled and Jean just laughed. He had the kind of beautiful laugh that was infectious and Jeremy couldn’t help but join in. "You could teach me?"

His parents and siblings had tried repeatedly, but he still burnt eggs half the time he made them. "Alright, maybe we should take a cooking class at some point, I don't know what I am doing either, but at least it’s edible."

"That sounds great!" He was thrilled by the idea, it was the first time Jean made a suggestion that would involve them going out and interacting with people in real life that wasn’t attached to exy. Plus it was a thing that couples did sometimes.

Not that they were a couple. And it would be cute, he could picture a candlelit montage of them throwing flour or batter at each other then Jean wiping a bit away that accidentally ended up on his face at the corner of his mouth… He mentally took hold of himself.

Jean grabbed some vegetables from the fridge and a carton of eggs. He froze for a moment when he picked up the kitchen knife and his eyes went blank for a second. He quickly shook the moment off and started to chop up the veggies with a white knuckle grip on the knife. 

"When are Alvarez and Laila coming back over?" He asked after he put the knife back away.

"Oh, um probably afternoon, I doubt they will be up before then."

"Plenty of time for the gym and court then," Jean said looking a little too pleased with himself.

"Both?!" Jeremy was still technically hungover.

"Mmmhmmm," he confirmed with a smirk, as he started in on some kind of omelet or veggie egg scramble.

Jeremy begrudgingly agreed and went to pick up the rest of the living room. 

When he sat down to take a bite of the eggs it was delicious. "Mmmm, this is great," he said with his mouth still half full of food. Jean gave him a withering look with one eyebrow raised.

He flushed and swallowed. "How did you learn to cook anyway?" He knew Jean hadn’t had access to the kitchens at all in the nest.

"My family had a cook. I'd sneak down there and spend time with her and watch her cook. We were left alone most of the time, my parents didn't notice or care, and she'd give us sweets sometimes. And Renee and Abby encouraged me to be in the kitchen sometimes when I was in Palmetto. They didn’t leave me alone a ton, not after… It doesn’t matter. I watched them cook, they had me help a few times." His lips and eyes remained soft enough that he knew it wasn't a wholly unpleasant memory. 

He wondered who the us Jean referred to was though. He didn't push though, Jean would tell him on his own when he was ready. It was what worked best for them, and Jeremy wouldn't have it any other way. Things he wanted to keep buried in his past could stay there or remain a mystery to Jeremy if that's what Jean wanted.

 


 

Jean did end up dragging him both to the court and the gym. Combined with the hangover, he felt half alive by the time they made it back to the dorm.

Jean insisted on taking the stairs and Jeremy dragged his feet and complained. He kept taking breaks to stop and sigh dramatically and catch his breath.

By the third pause, Jean just rolled his eyes and approached him. "I am going to pick you up,"

Jean could pick him anytime, he thought dazed by Jean in tight black athletic wear and sweaty.

 He must have said yeah or made some kind of confirmation noise because next thing he knew Jean had looped an arm around his waist and picked him up tucking him under his arm against his side. 

He let out a startled yelp at the sudden change in height and angle looking directly down at the stairs. This was how Jeremy carried chickens. He was bigger than a chicken.

"Do you want me to put you down? Will you be able to walk on your own?" Jean asked giving him a wry grin as he started back up climbing the stairs, they only had a flight left.

"No, I'm good. This is good. Great." God, was it weird he was so turned on right now? 

Jean huffed slightly adjusting his grip and made his way up the rest of the stairs, while Jeremy did everything in his power to not get hard. 

Once Jean had deposited him onto the couch and left to go shower he scrubbed his eyes with his hands. That was going to be hard to forget, and he knew he would be replaying it on a loop in his head, especially when he was alone. God, the way his biceps flexed and stretched his shirt and how veins stood out so near to his face was etched in his brain. He had carried him up half a flight of stairs tucked under his arm like a sack of potatoes like it was nothing, after a full workout and running drills on the court. He'd broken a sweat but not much. Not that Jeremy minded him sweating on him at all. Holy shit.

Instead of processing what had just happened and dwelling on it more he texted Laila and Alvarez for an ETA and plan, suggesting another quiet night in and playing some games rather than going out. He didn't want to overwhelm Jean with crowds and drain him too early in the week. There wasn't too much super exciting even since it was only Tuesday.


 

Chapter Text

Jeremy

Alvarez and Laila came over and were their usual exuberant selves. Jean still seemed tense and on edge but gradually was getting used to the added presence of two more people. He flinched a bit less and didn’t look as if he expected a blow from every wave of Alvarez's hands. He even chatted with Laila a bit more, while not completely comfortable with her, she seemed to put him more at ease than Alvarez did. Alvarez in contrast to Laila made their gestures of friendship loudly and with more brisk and sudden movements and struggled to relate to him and communicate on the same level. He could tell they were getting a bit frustrated with the way Jean shut down a little every time they tried to get him to talk about himself.

Alvarez was bullheaded though and stubborn, they’d keep trying and trying new things until they knew more about Jean and were finally friends. The only way she'd write him off is if he was suddenly revealed to be homophobic or racist or some other kind of bigot. Like a Trump supporter. And Jeremy was confident that wouldn’t happen. He had no problem with Jeremy a bisexual, part Jewish, mixed-race, afrolantinx man, so it seemed less than likely. Yes, Jeremy had been duped before on that front and had someone say something antisemitic or extremely racist in front of him not knowing that he identified as one of the groups they were bashing or joking about. But that wasn't Jean. Jean was, Jean was awesome. If he had a prejudiced bone in his body it was probably the result of the brainwashing in the Nest.

He was pulled out of his thoughts by Alvarez loudly saying, "Jean, Jean, Johnny boy." 

Jean looked at her nervously, muttering something scathing under his breath in French. "Yes?"

"I propose we play a game. So we can all get to know each other. Rules are we go in a circle first person asks a question then we go around the circle everyone answers and then the person who asked the question answers for themself. Sound good?" They asked brightly, with a feral glint in their eyes that said they wouldn't back down.

Jean backed up a bit startled. "You three already know each other. Have for years. What benefit would the game pose?" He gave her a stony look to let her know he saw through her transparent ploy to learn more about him.

"Well yes. I know most things to know about Jeremy and Laila too. But there are always new things to learn. And I don't know much about you and you don't know much about any of us. So you will get to learn more about us than we learn about you in total."

Jean narrowed his eyes at her and gave him a questioning look. "You don’t have to play Jean,"

"Hey!" Alvarez interjected, he shushed them and continued.

"You don't have to. And even if you do, you don’t have to answer or respond if you want to. You can always pass. If you wanted you wouldn’t have to answer stuff about yourself at all and could just ask questions about us and learn things about us without saying anything about yourself. No one has to answer if they don't want to” Jeremy was quick to clarify, Alvarez looked a little disappointed but said nothing when faced with his glare.

Jean looked considering for a moment, calculating, before he shrugged, "Fine I'll play, why not? He said with a casualness that Jeremy couldn't quite make himself believe. His relaxed pose seemed forced and there was a line of tension underneath.

"Awesome!" Alvarez proclaimed, "I'll ask the first question," they said plopping down next to Jean so he would be the first to answer. 

"Favorite candy?"

Jean looked confused and paused, "we weren’t allowed candy in the nest I don’t remember the last time I had any. Jeremy gave me some licorice and something like it but red, the other day and it was god awful. It tasted like wax and sadness."

"Hey, Twizzlers and licorice aren’t bad," Jeremy said affronted. He'd been sharing. They weren't great but not terrible and he'd wanted something sweet and it was all he’d had in the apartment hidden on top of the fridge for a few months. 

"No he's right they are awful you have terrible taste Jer," Alvarez said with a laugh, Laila grinned and nodded in agreement.

"Y'all are mean." He said with a pout.

"I can't believe Jean hadn't had candy in years and the first thing you gave him was fucking Twizzlers and black licorice. You're a bad friend." Laila said laughing. 

Okay, that was fair, Jeremy thought, he resolved to take Jean to a candy store and get him to try everything to find out his favorite candy later.

"He took me to a bakery and we got an insane amount of sweets there, so don’t be hard on him." Jean defended him with a crooked half-smile on his face. 

"Oh god, you took Jeremy to a bakery. You can’t do that. He has no self-control and will try to get everything and eat it all at once. He is literally a kid in a candy store." Alvarez said laughing.

"Hey!" He said too busy laughing along, overjoyed that they seemed to be getting along to defend himself. He just wanted them to be friends.

"Yes, that was quickly apparent," Jean said with a wry twitch of his lips.

They moved on to Laila who's favorite was peanut butter cups and his own which was literally any of those Lindor truffle things and then finished with Alvarez who liked sour patch kids and skittles.

Next was Jean's turn, he asked everyone’s favorite color. Laila's was purple, Jeremy's red and Alvarez liked green. Jean hesitated for a moment eyes fixating on the yellow sweater Jeremy was wearing before he said yellow himself. It made Jeremy warm for some reason.  

Laila asked for people's favorite scent. Jeremy said vanilla or something warm. Alvarez just said girls and especially you baby, waggling her eyebrows at Laila suggestively. They took every possible opportunity to hit on their own girlfriend. Jean shrugged and said he didn’t know, maybe grass and the trees. Laila said lavender for herself.

On Jeremy's turn, he asked what everyone's favorite TV show or movie was as a kid. Alvarez and Laila both said Mulan, Jean surprisingly had one, naming Kirikou et la sorcière , as one he remembered watching repeatedly and liking as a child. Jeremy had enjoyed the Harry Potter movies. 

Alvarez paused on her turn thinking before asking “Are you religious?"

Jean didn’t pause too much before answering "Catholic technically? I never got the chance to be confirmed and it wasn't important enough to them before I left for the nest. I don't really believe in anything. It wasn't permitted in the nest. And there was no god there." He gave a skeptical shrug, not saying that he doubted god could be real because of what he went through but Jeremy could see it in his face. " The churches were beautiful though. You?" He turned to Laila who was next.

"I'm Muslim. My parents and my dad's family are Muslim, my mom ended up converting when I was little too. My dad wanted us all to find our own paths and figure out what we believe on our own, he educated us about his faith but made it clear that if we found a path to Allah that was great but he'd love us all the same if we didn't or went another way. He was super supportive when I came out as trans too and helped me pick out the name Laila."

Jeremy grinned Laila's dad was one of the kindest people he had ever met. He had tried to teach him how to cook some traditional dishes before he had burnt everything and been promptly kicked out of the kitchen for causing smoke alarms to go off three times in a row, and wrecking a pan. He had just laughed and said he would leave the eating to Jeremy and the cooking to anyone else, but he was still welcome in their home anytime. Just not in there.

Jean smiled a bit sadly, "He sounds lovely."

"Jer your turn," Alvarez reminded him.

"Oh yeah, well my Mom's Puerto Rican and her family is super Catholic and my Dad's Jewish. So I got, like, some religion from both sides but neither is super pushed or emphasized. We kinda do both, I did have a Bat Mitzvah and stuff. But we also do Christmas and Easter alongside Haunakah and Passover. So I got double holidays and presents growing up which was neat. Christmas and Easter are a bit more just commercialized and secular if my Abuela isn't around though. I probably relate more to the Jewish part of faith but also I have no idea."

Jean nodded and Alvarez quickly jumped in. "My family's pretty Catholic too. But us younger gen are more just catholic adjacent more atheist/agnostic than anything. My Abuela almost had a heart attack when Tía Dolores opened up her sex shop and married a protestant. Not sure which was more shocking to her."

After more prompting from Alvarez, Jean asked everyone what languages everyone spoke.

"English, Arabic and a little Spanish, from LA and these two, also a phrase or two of French because of colonialism," Laila said.

"English, Spanish, French, some Hebrew, and some Elvish, Dothraki, and Klingon." Jeremy offered. 

At Jean's confused expression Alvarez laughed. "Those aren't real languages they are fictional nerd languages and don’t count."

"They do a little, maybe a fraction of a real language." Jeremy had gone through an extremely nerdy phase in middle school.

"What are they?" Jean looked bewildered.

"Elvish is a language from Lord of the Rings and Legolas and all the other elves were super hot so I learned a bit. Klingon is from Star Trek and Dothraki is from Game of Thrones and there were a lot of shirtless muscular men, Jason Momoa is super sexy so I learned a few phrases of that too." He explained. "I'm definitely not fluent in any of them.

Alvarez rolled her eyes. "Nerd, I speak Spanish and English what about you Jean?"

"French, and I'm mostly fluent in Japanese and English."

"Just mostly?" Laila asked politely.

"They didn't talk to me a ton except for commands, so I didn't know how to say everything. I'm getting a lot better now because I'm allowed to talk and Jeremy talks to me, and he even lets me speak to others and watch TV, read or be on the internet." He said it so casually and with a shrug like Jeremy was the weird one for letting him do things and not forcing him to be completely isolated. He didn't even seem to realize how horrible what he said was until he took in the horrified looks on all of their faces and suddenly looked embarrassed.

Laila opened and closed her mouth unable to respond to that. "I… shit."

Jean tensed and his shoulders twitched up and down in an approximation of a shrug. "It's your turn." He said softly looking at the floor.

"Yeah, right. Sorry." Laila froze for a minute before coming up with a question. "Um if you could transform into any animal what would it be?"

"Dog. Or a wolf or maybe a cat or a lion. No probably a dog they seem like they have a good time." Jeremy responded quickly. He still was caught up with what Jean had said, he even lets me . He didn’t want to be hurt by that, and he wasn’t, not really even though it did hurt.  But did Jean truly think that that was exceptional, that Jeremy had any control over his life like that?

"Donkey," Alvarez said with a grin.

"Why a donkey?" He asked not expecting that answer and forcing himself to re-engage in the game. 

"Well, I already have a great ass." Alvarez gave Laila a roguish grin and put up finger guns.

He rolled his eyes and turned to Jean. "I'm not sure," he shrugged, "A wolf or a tiger maybe or something small like an ant or mouse. A bird might be cool, like an eagle. Flying sounds great."

"Not a raven?" Alvarez asked curiously, almost teasing. They missed the murderous glare Jeremy sent their way. They didn’t know he reminded himself. They didn’t know what Jean had been through. 

"No," Jean murmured, not quite erasing the pain in his voice "hopefully not."

"Ah, sorry," Alvarez said with a wince, looking immediately regretful.

Laila said she'd be a butterfly but ideally not one that died right away.

Jeremy asked the group what their favorite type of music was, getting a variety of answers, Jean didn't know. Even music had been taken away from him in the nest. Then Alvarez asked for everyone's worst haircut, which had some truly dreadful results. Jean couldn’t think of one because he never had a choice in his hair, Laila had cut her own hair once in elementary school, Jeremy had gone through an insecure phase in middle and high school of straightening his hair and using a lot of product and chemicals before he embraced his natural hair. Alvarez also mentioned the time he accidentally gave himself a mullet and he kindly pointed out that they’d had a bowl cut as a child. 

Jean asked if they had pets, Laila had a cat that lived with her parents, Jeremy had a ton, Alvarez's family had two ancient dogs and an ill-mannered cat. Jean had none, but there had been a stray dog he played with in Marseille before he came to the US. He didn’t mention the ravens. 

Laila then asked if anyone had ever broken a bone. Jeremy never had, but Alvarez broke her left arm climbing a tree with Jeremy when they were six.

On Jean's turn, they all went silent. He paused to think about it for a second. "At least six fingers, most were broken a couple of different times. A few toes, and my ribs a bunch of times in a few different places but I was never allowed to go to the doctor, so some of the times might have just been bad bruising. And I've dislocated a lot of joints too if that counts. And a lot of sprains. Oh, and my nose was broken a few times, so was my jaw, a few teeth, and I'm pretty sure he fractured my skull at least once. There were probably more too." He shrugged like it was something normal that couldn’t be kept track of by anyone, like a hangnail or minor bruises from an exy game rather than broken bones.

Laila looked like she regretted asking, Alvarez looked so furious that Jean flinched away from them for a second hastily looking away and apologizing with a quick "Sorry."

The apology only made it worse. "Fuck. Don't apologize, that's not your fault." They said, forcing themself to unclench their fists. He could tell they had already decided on adopting Jean (once they won him over) would defend him fiercely.

Jean jerked his head in silent confirmation and turned to Laila, "You?" 

"Just sprained my wrist, I fell off my bike and landed weird as a kid. Nothing broken." She still looked shaky and shot Jeremy a quick glance to confirm that they could keep playing.

The continued through another two rounds and a half with lighter topics. They learned that they all hated lacrosse and lacrosse players and had mostly neutral to negative views of hockey. Jean hadn’t had any kind of ethnic food in years or much that was spicy, while the rest of them loved spicy food. Everyone shamed Jeremy for enjoying pineapple on pizza. They all shared when their birthday was and zodiac sign and how Riko had made Jean lie about his. Jeremy made a mental note of Jean's so he could do something to celebrate it later even if it was just a cake between the two of them. They shared other trivial facts until it was Alvarez's turn again. 

They turned to Jean and asked, "So what's your deal, what are you into? What's your sexuality?"

This was Jeremy’s fault he had confessed his attraction to Jean; but insisted that, to the best of his knowledge, he was straight. Alvarez was fishing, possibly on his behalf.

Jean froze every line of his body went abruptly rigid and still. His face was wiped clean of emotion and his eyes became dull and glassed over. He had even stopped breathing. He opened his mouth but nothing came out and he snapped it shut again.

  It was the type of stillness and panic Jeremy could only see because he had spent so much time with Jean already, observing him, reading his emotions and his little ticks.

Alvarez, god bless them, hadn’t spent that time with Jean yet and didn't notice anything was wrong yet. They continued oblivious, "are you gay? Or whatever? You're gay right? Not that it matters but you seem to cool to be straight. Plus your eyes were glued to Jeremy's ass last night so..." 

“Alvarez!” Laila reprimanded sharply.

“What? You had to have noticed too right? He was practically drooling.”

It was meant as a compliment, a joke, they had no way of knowing or guessing this topic could be a major trigger for Jean. They hadn't seen the gruesome scars, stretched across his skin, labeling him. 

Jean recoiled away from her. Gasping raggedly, his breath started up again but he was hyperventilating. He was starting to shake, his eyes pinched shut,  he jerked his head and shook it, like he was trying to stay in the moment. Lips moved muttering soundlessly with his nails digging into his arms. He seemed to try to make himself smaller in the corner of the couch. His eyes darted around the room fearfully but Jeremy wasn't sure he was seeing the dorm room in California. This line of questioning was obviously a major trigger for Jean.

"Woah man, you good?" Alvarez asked, alarmed, catching on to Jean's obvious panic, and reaching for him unthinkingly. Jeremy snatched their arm out of the air before they could touch him. It seemed to happen in slow motion. 

"Leave," he ordered, his captain-voice firmly in place. They looked briefly startled. But then acquiesced and started to move "both of you. Just go. I'll call later but you need to go." 

"Now." They both were jolted into action by the firmness of his tone. He turned his full attention on Jean, trusting them to make their own way out. 

"Jean. Hey, look at me. Riko is dead. You are not in the Nest. You are in California. You are a Trojan. You are safe." He reminded him soothingly, repeating himself again and again.

"Please," he begged. "Please don't hurt me. Please not again, no more. I'm not, I promise I'm not. I can't." 

It wasn't working no matter how much Jeremy repeated himself. Nothing he was doing seemed to be working. Nothing he was saying got through, not reminding Jean where he was, who Jeremy was, that he was safe, that Riko was dead, any of it.

His scratching at his arms was becoming concerning, beads of blood were welling up. He dug his nails into the still red scar tissue where Riko had carved a word into his arm.

"Jean, you're hurting yourself please stop!" He begged in French. He didn't want to touch Jean when he was like this and make it worse, but if he didn't stop clawing at his arms he might have to. 

"Jean come back to me. Please." 

  He wanted to cry, he didn't know what to do. He made a split-second decision to grab his weighted blanket on the couch and let it fall loosely around Jean's shoulders and thrust a pillow into his arms. He was careful not to touch Jean with his own hands. Or touch him at all, even with the barrier of a pillow and blanket between his hands and Jean but it still resulted in him flinching away from his movement. 

One of his arms lunged out and grabbed him, clasping his forearm like he might shove him away or pull him somewhere, then his hand moved down and squeezing his hand in an iron grip. Jeremy felt a surge of hope go through him.

"Please Jean. You're okay. It’s me, Jeremy. You're in California, I promise no one is going to hurt you. Nothing can hurt you here. You're safe. You can touch me if you need to." Jean at least seemed to be aware of his presence by reaching out and taking his hand. It was something.

Jean stilled and the frantic clawing had stopped. He took in a few shuddering breaths. "...J-Jeremy?" He gasped raggedly.

"Yeah, it's me." He reassured him quickly, giving his hand a mild squeeze, relief washing over him but not fully doing away with the sticky fear. "I'm here, right here. What do you need? How can I help?"

Jean untangled his other hand from the blankets and grasped his free hand squeezing a tad too tightly. Jeremy squeezed back in gentle reassurance, sitting back down beside him on the couch.

"The others… " he took a quick darting glance around the room. "Where did they go?"

"I told them to leave, they're gone. I'm so sorry Jean -- "

"I'm going to be sick." Jean groaned and lurched to his feet rushing to the bathroom. Jeremy followed as quick as he could to find Jean hunched over in the bathroom heaving. 

Shit, Jeremy thought crouching down next to Jean, hesitating before he rested a hand on his back "It’s going to be okay," he murmured, "you're alright."

He rubbed Jeans back gently while he retched over the toilet until he had emptied his stomach and was dry-heaving.

Jeremy wordlessly handed him a glass of water from the sink once he was able to sit up and sat back down next to him leaning up against the shower.

He waited until Jean had unconsciously slipped his hand into his own hand before starting to try to apologize again. "I'm sorry. I shouldn’t have let Alvarez--"

Jean cut him off with a wave of his hand and a shake of his head. "Not their fault. They couldn't have known. And it's not yours either." Jean shut down any of Jeremy's attempts to apologize. He still couldn't help but kick himself, he should have known better.

He pinched his eyes shut for another moment and shuddered. 

"Jean…" he said softly guilt running through him like poison for all that he knew it might be misplaced.

Jean shuddered and let out another watery gasp. "No one’s fault but Riko's. Him and his Raven minions. The Master too." He tipped his head back against the wall and his face smoothed over into something blank, horrible and defeated. His eyes flat and dull, lifeless. 

He squeezed his hand and tried to somehow funnel all of his compassion and love and support for him in that single touch. He felt helpless. Jean just looked afraid.

The only sparks of life behind his eyes were ones of fear. "I can't. I'm sorry, I can't, it's wrong." he choked out.

“Hey, you don’t have to say anything. You don’t have to explain or tell me anything you don’t want too. It’s alright. You can if you want, but that's your choice” Jeremy tried to reassure him. He wanted to hunt down and resurrect Rikos corpse so he could put him back into the grave personally, for ever making Jean utter the phrase it's wrong, about himself. 

“I --” Jean cut himself off and was silent and tense for at least full minute, indecision warring in his eyes until his shoulders slumped suddenly like all of his strings had been cut abruptly. “I can’t,” he said softly sounding so utterly defeated and tired. “I can’t be proud like you, Jeremy.”

And fuck if that didn’t break Jeremy’s heart. He tried to think of something to say. Was there anything he could say? He settled for giving his hand another squeeze and wished he could somehow channel all the things he had no words for into that one gesture and into a soft loaded whisper of his name. "Jean…" 

Jean took another breath and looked away, hanging his head and pinching his eyes shut. “I think I’m gay.” 

“Oh,” Jeremy breathed. He wasn’t sure if he was surprised or not. “Okay. That’s okay. It’s good. You know that right? And you aren’t alone.” He asked gently. He felt the need to tread carefully, like too much and Jean would spook. If he was too assertive in his acceptance, too firm about just how okay and good that was. I can’t be proud like you Jeremy. He had said.

Jean shrugged but his shoulders were tense and shaking. His eyes still closed like he was afraid of what he would see if he opened them. 

Jeremy carefully and slowly reached out to put an arm around Jean’s shaking shoulders, stopping just before he touched him, “Can I?”

Jean jerked his head stiffly in a nod. Silent tears spilled down his cheeks. The shaking calmed slightly but he was still stiff and tense. He rubbed his back and rested his head on Jean's shoulder. He only relaxed minutely.

"That’s not all. I need to, I need to tell you. You should know.” Jean relinquished his hands to scrub at his face and get rid of the wetness.

"You don’t have to"

"I know," Jean looked up at him with bloodshot eyes. “I have never had to say it but--" Jean cut himself off. “It's bad Jeremy”

“Being gay isn’t bad. There is nothing wrong with it, there is nothing wrong with you.” Jeremy asserted firmly struggling to keep calm and not sound harsh. 

“I know, well I don't -- it is --” Jean cut himself off. “That’s not what I’m talking about. I know being gay isn’t inherently wrong or shouldn’t be, not if you, Laila, Alvarez, Renee, Neil, K--, and other people are or at least kind of. But--” he looked so conflicted, so pained. 

“You can tell me, I’ll listen.” he offered, “It’s okay. I promise”

“I want to.” He sounded so heartbreakingly vulnerable. “But -- but you won't want me around anymore if I do. And at the very least you will not see me the same way and I don’t even know how to start.”

“It’s okay. You can tell me, however, you need to. And I can’t think of anything that would make you not want to have you around anymore.” Jeremy would almost certainly even find it justified if Jean had murdered someone.

Jean nodded, closing his eyes once more and swallowing, “Okay. Don’t, don’t say anything until I’m done.” he shuffled away from Jeremy and put some distance between them on the floor, and leaned against the bottom of the sink across from him. He pulled his legs up to his body and wrapped his arms around them. He looked off to the side not meeting his looking at him and his eye glassed over and haunted

Jeremy nodded in agreement and braced himself.

~~~~~ 

 

“Right after I turned sixteen, Kevin and I--” Jean paused voice flat, “We weren’t together, not exactly. But we weren’t, not together either. We kissed, not often but a handful of times in the weeks after my birthday. He was nice to me. He was the only one. He treated me like I was human. And I’d never looked at women that way. And I tried. I really tried, so hard, to look at women that way or feel something for them and be attracted to them. I tried for so long but it just didn't take. No matter how beautiful they were. I just couldn't make myself interested. Just men and it happened between others frequently enough at the Nest that I didn’t know it was that wrong. I mean we had the whole don't be gay media training speech but… I thought if it didn't get outside the Nest, it was fine. We still tried to keep it a secret, I guess we weren’t careful enough and someone saw and told Riko. He didn’t take it well." Jean let out a dry huff somewhere between a gasp and a laugh. 

"He tortured me, used his knives and made Kevin watch, and hold me down which was normal. He carved the word f-f-faggot into my back. It was the first time he wrote a word instead of something random, or abstract patterns. Then…”

Jean tightened his arms around his legs knuckles whiting out, “He ordered Kevin to fuck me.” 

Jeremy didn’t say anything, but his throat tightened and his own fists clenched. Please god no. Don't let that have happened to them.

“But Kevin couldn’t get it up. The blood, crying and begging put him off I guess.” Jean sneered and let out a cold and humorless laugh, but his eyes remained flat and fixated on some point on the ground, and Jeremy could see his hands shaking despite his tight grip on his legs.

“So, Riko called in the others, six at first, there might have been more later, I don’t know, he’d had it planned. He told the others to take turns, let them do what they wanted as long as it hurt. I couldn’t even fight properly. I was still handcuffed. He made Kevin watch while they gang-raped me. As a lesson, because that’s what I was and what I deserve. That’s what happens. You can’t play exy if you’re gay.” Jean’s voice broke and he ached to comfort him, to do anything to help but he kept still and silent like he had said he would.

“I think he would have done it even if Kevin had gone through with it first, I think he expected him too though because he never hit him before that night. It still worked though, it effectively killed anything Kevin and I ever could have had.”

 He had known, on some level, the second he saw the scars, the words. There had been other signs too. He hadn’t been certain and tried to come up with other explanations, he didn't want it to be true, but really he had known. He'd known Jean had probably been raped in the Nest. He still wasn’t prepared to hear it. 

“He did it again and again. He would wait just long enough that I’d heal some, so it would hurt more. He made Kevin watch five times, by the fifth time I didn’t struggle, I didn’t do anything. I just let them. They didn't even have to tie me down, I just let them.” Jean choked his nails digging into his arms again.

“He didn’t watch or make Kevin watch after that, it wasn't fun if I didn't struggle, not enough of a show. But it kept happening. It just kept happening and I didn’t do anything because I was afraid it would go back to being worse. Of having it be so many people and a public display. If someone on the team did a good job and deserved a reward he'd let them, and send them to my room at night. For a while, anyone who could get a goal past me was allowed to --. Or if anyone just wanted too whenever. Assistant coaches, the Master never himself, I mean he knew and when I was younger he looked at me and touched me. And there were a couple of worse things -- But he didn't actually, not like what --. He still didn’t care. And Riko wouldn't stop it. No one would.” Jeremy was pretty sure there were tears running down his own face. 

 “And they knew I was a target. And I didn't fight back anymore. Kevin wouldn’t even look at me after the first time, wouldn’t speak to me or have any contact with me unless it was to tell me what to do or stitch me up." Jean choked back sobs but, kept going.

 It was like once he started talking he couldn't stop. He told him about the emptiness felt after being all but abandoned by his only ally. How he'd reached out for Kevin, after the first time once everyone else had left the room and just been roughly shoved away and left to deal with his injuries alone. How despite that, he hid what was still happening from Kevin as best he could. The way he viewed the rejection and distance as his fault because he was wrong and broken, almost diseased and infectious that's why Kevin stayed away. Why Kevin refused to so much as touch him anymore. 

Jeremy couldn’t fight back his tears. He wanted to scream, he wanted to rage at the world and ask why? Jean didn’t deserve this, he hadn’t deserved any of it.

"I tried to kill myself. I just wanted it to stop for it to be over, all of it, not just the rape, but the constant torture, pain, loneliness, and emptiness." He rubbed his wrists and Jeremy could see thick layered scar tissue from handcuffs around each wrist and deep lines above it on either side. "I did it wrong, cut horizontal instead of vertical, I hadn't known. Kevin found me and must have told someone because I lived. He asked me to live like he had any right after everything." His shoulders were shaking and tears were running freely down his face now. 

"They never left me alone after that. Ever, not even to use the bathroom. There was always someone watching. I never had the opportunity to try again and even if I did the punishment, the first time was so severe it wouldn't be worth it if I didn't actually die. They almost killed me punishing me. As soon as I wasn't in danger of dying, the Master used a whip on me until I passed out from blood-loss again. I couldn't stand the next day so I got beaten for not doing well in practice."

The world had been blown apart into a million tiny pieces. He hated the way Jean's voice went from broken and lost to clinical and undetached wavering back and forth.

"It was a bit better though, after. Kevin wouldn't touch me, still won't, unless it was an absolute medical necessity, but he talked to me again, occasionally, and had to be around me sometimes to watch me, and it happened less and it wouldn't be as many. Especially if it was his turn watching me. I think they must have known Kevin wouldn't like it if he found out, And Kevin didn't find out, I made sure of it. I didn't want him to find out and stop speaking to me again because of how disgusting and wrong I am." 

Jeremy felt sick he couldn't imagine the constant surveillance and thinking it better if someone talked to him, and that being raped less and by fewer people at once was an improvement. He was furious at Kevin too in that moment. How dare he cut Jean off like that. Had he not seen how badly his friend was suffering? Or had he been too afraid of the consequences for the both of them if he reached out?

"Riko didn't care that they fucked me, thought it was funny and said I must want it because I was a f-- because I was gay. I didn't. I promise, I didn't want it, I didn't like it, any of it." Jean's voice was small and desperate. Jeremy's heart felt like it had been shattered into a million tiny pieces. "It hurt. I remember and it hurts." 

I'm going to kill him, he thought, he knew that Riko was already dead, he still thought it. The others weren't though. The others who had hurt Jean. Oh god, Jeremy thought realizing, he'd met some of these people, played with them and against them, been friendly. Without knowing what kind of vile monsters they were, what they were capable of. He'd have to again, and more importantly Jean would. Jean would have to interact with the men who had raped him again, play against them at the very least, maybe even on the same team in the pros. 

"I know, I know you didn't," he told him, unable to keep it in, fiercely trying to keep his own tears from falling by swiping at his eyes.

"But I didn't do anything!" He retorted almost angry, but at Jeremy, for interrupting or himself he wasn't sure. "I didn't try to stop them, I was too much of a coward and just let them, and did what they wanted. I must have if I just let them. It's disgusting. I'm disgusting!"

"You aren't. Jean you aren't, that's not true, nothing could be further from the truth. I'm going to stop talking now because I said I wouldn't until you are finished and I shouldn't have said anything at all. But I need you to know you aren't disgusting, okay?" 

Jean grimaced and shook his head. "I am. Riko was right. I'm disgusting wrong and diseased. I got sick. Syphilis. Jared tested me and I had it. I don't even know when I got it or who gave it to me. It could have been over winter break. Riko made his lackeys gangrape Neil and me. Or it could have been from earlier or it could have been Riko himself. He only actually raped me once himself, in the Spring after his father died, before he'd just make me… with my mouth." Jean made a vague gesture and shuddered. 

"It was too gay for him otherwise and I'm too dirty and wrong . It didn't count that way if it was just my mouth. It didn’t count if the M-- or anyone did that, didn’t matter. Jared says it counts and he might have given it to me that way too. I don't know." 

He looked hollowed out, he was shaking. "You aren't disgusting that doesn't make you disgusting, wrong or diseased any of it. It's not true. And it matters. Okay?"

Jean shook his head, gasping. "I am. And worse, I let you stay with me and touch me without you knowing how soiled  I was even after I found out. I let you comfort me without you knowing why and I didn’t deserve it. I was so fucking selfish and took it. but you shouldn’t have touched me at all and I'm not worthy of it. I’m tainted, and I'll taint you too by being so selfish. And I can't you're so good, but I'm wrong and bad. I shouldn't have asked you to. You shouldn't touch me, I'm worthless I'm disgusting and sick and --" Jean's chest was heaving and his words frantic and running together between sobs, poisonous and sharp towards himself.

"Jean. Come here." Jeremy cut him off, unable to hear more untrue horrible things that Jean thought about himself that he had been made to believe. He took his hand and gently tugged him into his arms. He collapsed onto him with heaving sobs.

"You're not, you aren't I promise okay? You are so good and worthy of everything. That shouldn't have happened to you. You didn’t deserve what happened to you, not ever. I am so sorry it did, I would give anything to take that away and make it so you didn't have to go through that. But it doesn't make you unworthy. It doesn't, it couldn't. Okay? You survived. You survived, and you're going to keep surviving. And you need to know that none of what they told you is true. You aren't disgusting, you are not tainted, or unworthy or sick or any of that bullshit. You are Jean Moreau and you are the most amazing person I have ever met. You deserve the world and happiness and anything you want. You are so good okay? And nothing could ever make you not. Nothing they did to you, or could ever do to you, would make you unworthy or disgusting. It wasn't your fault. None of it was your fault, not ever. I'm so sorry it happened. God, I'm so sorry." His own voice was breaking and his throat felt tight, and he had long lost the battle with his own tears. He wanted the heads of everyone who had ever laid a hand on the man in his arms on a pike.

Jean sobbed raggedly against his shoulder. "But I didn't say no. And I didn't really fight back so it doesn't really count. And what Riko did doesn't either --"

"It's still not your fault." He told him firmly, barely managing to keep his voice from breaking into incoherent sobs. This wasn’t about him. "You didn't consent, couldn't have in an environment like that. It's still rape, its still wrong. And so is what Riko did to you. Any sexual act is something that needs to be mutual, all parties need to want, enjoy it and consent to it. What they did to you was wrong it wasn't sex it was rape." 

Jean shuddered and nodded against his shoulder without looking up. "I thought it would be the same here. I thought you or your coach or someone would…" Jeremy's heart broke even more. 

"No one will ever hurt you like that again." He vowed. If the universe had any justice or mercy in it at all he would be able to keep that promise. He'd find a way to kill anyone that would ever try.

Jean's hands clenched in their grasp and he sobbed brokenly into his shoulder. He tightened his grip around Jean like he might be able to physically hold him together if he just tried hard enough.

"I did get sick though." He rasped.

"That's not your fault either. And it's okay, you're better now right? You got antibiotics? It's nothing to be ashamed of, no matter how you got it, and especially not the way you got it. It wasn't your fault."

"Yes." He choked out. "But I’m --  it's still… dirty."

"No, you aren't. You're not. People get STIs all the time. I've gotten them, several. It sucks, but you got the kind that goes away and can be cured and now it’s gone. And what they did to you doesn't make you… it just doesn't. They are the monsters, not you, they are the ones with something wrong with them. Nothing they could do to you would ever make you dirty okay?" He didn’t know if anything he was saying was helping, or if it was the right thing to say, or if he was just making it worse. He had no idea what to do. 

"You've gotten them?" Jean wouldn’t meet his eyes and was wheezing. He pressed a handful of tissues into his hand and he blew his nose.

"Yeah, a couple of times. It was all curable bacterial stuff and they’re gone now." Jeremy wasn't sure why Jean was asking, why that was the part he fixated on.  If it was because he was 'good' and a standard for that if he had gotten them then Jean wasn't terrible for having gotten one too. Like how he seemed more open to talking about his own traumas and past once Jeremy had talked about his own. How he'd been slightly less mistrustful and more willing to accept help after he mentioned his own anxiety and depression when Jean first arrived. Jeremy wasn't sure how he felt about being put on a pedestal like that, a standard of good that Jean felt he needed to compare himself to. But in this instance, if it would help Jean in any way, to stop berating and blaming himself, if it would help him to stop believing in all the hateful abuse he'd had spewed at him, he’d accept it gladly. Perhaps just knowing he wasn't alone would be enough.

"Okay," Jean shook his head to himself, the word ripped raggedly out of his throat.

~~~~

 

"What do you need right now?" He offered, Jean just curled deeper into his arms burying his head into his neck. 

"Just don't leave. Please." He gasped wetly into the crook of his shoulder.

"Never," Nothing could drag him away. He held Jean and let him sob into his shoulder, he didn't even try to stop the ugly messy tears rolling down his own face. 

They stayed like that for what might have been hours on the bathroom floor. He only shifted once to reach out and grab more toilet paper for both of them to use as tissues. Jeremy would have stayed there for days.

After the heavy sobs subsided and were replaced by more subdued sniffling, Jean’s grip on him loosened somewhat. "Are you asleep?" He asked.

"Not yet," Jean mumbled back.

“Hungry?”

“If you think reliving and talking about some of my worst trauma means I am going to let you cook you are mistaken.” Jean tried to sound brusque and joking to make light of the situation, but failed miserably, it fell a little too flat, still too raw.

"I won't burn anything, just grab ice cream and spoons if you want or pop something in the microwave." Jean had barely eaten that day as it was and thrown up what he did eat.

Jean shook his head. "Not hungry. I don’t think I’d be able to eat anyway."

 He let it go. "What do you need right now?"

"Just stay with me. It’s been a long day. And I'm so tired." He looked exhausted, telling Jeremy everything he had today had clearly taken its toll and he looked like he was about to drop. Jean telling him about the birds felt like it had happened days ago instead of just hours, on top of everything else.

"Yeah of course. Do you want to go to bed?"

Jean nodded slowly and got to his feet. Jeremy guided them into the bedroom and waited for Jean to make a decision about the nights sleeping arrangements.

Jean stared at the bed for a minute without speaking. Jeremy would more than understand if he couldn’t stand having him close tonight and in the same bed.

Jeremy took half a step back. "Can I stay or do you --"

"Don't leave." Jean caught his arm and released it just as quickly. "Stay with me. Please." 

"I will," Jeremy said sitting at the edge of the bed and waiting for Jean to crawl in with him.

"Where do you want me?" He asked when Jean climbed in beside him and as they get into bed

"Can you just hold me?" Jean’s voice cracked a little as he asked, facing away from him.

"Yeah, always." He wrapped his arms around him curling up behind his back. "Are you okay with being the little spoon?" Jeremy asked. They hadn't cuddled like this before he wanted to make sure no lines were being crossed, usually Jean was the big spoon or Jeremy ended up sprawled on top of him or they slept face to face.

Jean turned his head to look back at him with blank confusion for a moment before raising his eyebrows as the light-bulb went off, "Oh. Like this you mean? This is good. I like this." 

Jeremy nodded "Okay" and snuggled closer to Jeans back wrapping a hand around his waist and resting his forehead on the back of his shoulder.

They didn’t talk, they just kept each other’s company silently while Jeremy held Jean until his breaths evened out and he thought he fell asleep.

"Remy?" Jean asked so softly Jeremy wouldn’t have heard it if the room wasn’t completely silent.

"Yeah Jean?"

"Thank you." The sincerity in Jean's voice hit Jeremy and he almost started crying again. This wasn't something Jean should be thanking him for. This shouldn't be special, Jean should have always had this available to him. Affection, comfort, love, and compassion. And what happened for him to need it so desperately never should have occurred in the first place.

"Always," he said thickly. It was as much a promise as it was a you're welcome.

Jean drifted off sometime after that, Jeremy was tired too but didn't sleep. He couldn't.  Every time Jean stirred in his sleep throughout the night twisting and letting out a terrible pained and frightened sound it sent daggers through Jeremy's heart. He would hold him closer and soothe him murmur reassurances to him as best he could until he seemed to relax and fall back into a more untroubled sleep.

Always, he vowed again to himself it didn't matter what the future looked like for either of them. Jeremy would be there for Jean in whatever capacity he was allowed and wanted, always. Because Jean deserved an always no matter what form it took.

Chapter Text

Jean

Jean woke slowly to a warm body plastered against his back and arms and a leg loosely draped over him. The initial flash of instinctive icy fear vanished when he remembered. Remy. He was safe. Jeremy wasn’t going to hurt him.

Jeremy started to pull away in response to him tensing up, removing his leg from over top Jeans and letting go of him.

"Remy," He murmured, taking hold of his hand and pulling his arm firmly back around his waist. "Stay." 

"Okay," Jeremy mumbled sleepily curling back into him. A puff of warm air hitting the back of his neck. "I didn't know you were awake. Sorry if I woke you." 

"Mmmm. You're warm." He yawned closing his eyes and stretching slightly before pulling Jeremy back close flush against his back by the hand he still held to his waist. He was always so warm, while Jean was always cold. So cold. It was like the sun itself was trapped under his skin, melting the ice that threatened to take up residence in his veins. 

"Are you going to go back to sleep?"

He hummed noncommittally with his eyes closed. He was comfortable. In that hazy place between awakeness and sleep when it would be so easy to slip back into slumber. Golden and rosy light streamed in from the window from the sunrise, not quite reaching the bed yet.

"I'm probably going to go back asleep." Jeremy yawned. 

"Hand me my phone first?" He asked. 

Jeremy put his phone in his hand then and within minutes his breath evened out and he became a dead weight at his back.

Just a few more minutes, he thought, plugging the phone to charge. He'd wake up and text Renee soon. He let his eyes slip shut and Jeremy's warm weight and even breaths against his back lulled him to sleep within moments.


When he woke again hours later and shook off the remaining tendrils of lethargy. Jeremy was still asleep. He turned his phone on and went through his notifications. 

There were the usual messages from Renee and a few from Laila apologizing for the previous night and hoping he was alright.

He winced slightly. 

Jean: <Better now> He texted back. 

He scrolled through the social media sites Jeremy had shown him. It was mostly memes, half of which made zero sense and weren't even that funny. He saved a couple he thought Jeremy might enjoy and some he wanted explained before he went back to his messages to Renee.

Renee: Hope you are doing well and have a good day . She'd sent

He deliberated for a minute before texting her back.

Jean:  <I talked to Jeremy yesterday>

 <I mean I always talk to him. But I talked to him about things that happened to me in the nest.>

 <I had told him things before but. I told him more yesterday and in more detail. Things I hadn’t ever talked to anyone about before. That Riko and the other ravens did to me.>

She'd be able to read between the lines and know what he was talking about.

Renee: How did that go and how do you feel about it?

Jean: <I freaked out when his friends were over, we were playing a question game and Alvarez asked something and I had a panic attack. He got them to leave and helped me calm down and I told him. It was kind of awful and I cried all over him but I feel a bit better now.>

<it went okay. He said it wasn't my fault.>

Renee: He's right. It's not your fault. And I'm glad you were able to talk to him

Jean: <I've decided to become vegetarian too.>

Renee: Oh that's exciting. Do you mind if I ask why?

Jean: <We had pet Ravens when we were younger in the nest. I loved them and took care of them. Riko killed one and made me kill the other two. Then tricked me and made me eat them. I hate eating meat especially chicken.>

<Jeremy told me I don't have to eat it if I don't want to. He's vegetarian and still a good athlete. So are a bunch of other professional athletes so I would be able to.>

<don't tell kevin. He'd be obnoxious about it or give me a long and detailed history of vegetarians and athlete diets>

Renee: I won't. But I'm proud of you. For making that decision and doing what you want and what’s good for your mental health.

Jean: <thank you.>

<it's getting easier.>

<making choices and decisions>

<partially because I am pretty sure Jeremy would survive on candy and pizza if I didn't make the choices about food.>

Renee: Would he?

Jean: <I saw him eating just handfuls of stale gummy bears and drinking chocolate milk straight from the jug at 3 am once. I had to take it away from him.>

<I'm not even sure if he was awake.>

<I only noticed cause I felt him get out of bed and went to check on him when he didn't come back>

Three dots appeared and disappeared as Renee typed out her response and deleted it. After a few minutes, Renee replied with just, oh? Then after another minute what do you mean felt him get out of bed?

With a flush of guilt, Jean realized he had never told her about how Jeremy helped him after nightmares and how after over a week of spending most the night in each other's bed they had just pushed the beds together and made it an official arrangement.

Jean: <we pushed our beds together and sleep in the same one now>

There was another long pause from Renee. How do you feel about that? 

Jean: <it's nice. I like it a lot and don't have as many nightmares. He was ending up in my bed anyway or me in his after he helped be after a nightmare each night.>

<plus he's warm> And soft Jean thought. And I think I am more than halfway to loving him, he didn't say.

Renee: That's good. I'm glad he's helping you sleep better.

Jean: <he really is.>

He paused. He hasn't talked to Renee much about Jeremy specifically other than they got along and a few of his anxieties about the rest of the team and Jeremy's friends being introduced and Jeremy not being around as much.

Jean: <he's so different from anything I imagined.>

<he's so good>

<nothing at all like the nest. Complete opposite of Riko in every way.>

Renee: That's good. You are becoming friends then

Jean: <he is kinda impossible not to like>

<I thought the whole sunshine thing was just an act but its not.>

<I mean there's so much more to him than just that, but, he's like a human embodiment of the sun.>

<I know he's the captain, but he hasn't once treated me like property or like I'm inferior. I keep waiting for the shoe to drop but it doesn't.>

<He hasn't ever hit me. Or even yelled.>

Renee: Good. That's the way it should be. I would come and kick his ass if he was anything like Riko.

Jean: <he wouldn't be. I trust him.> 

It hit him in that moment how revolutionary that was for him. What it meant that he could say that. He trusted Jeremy. And Jean Moreau didn't trust anyone, not completely he knew better than that. But he trusted Jeremy. He still had reservations, fears, and insecurities but that was leftover from all the trauma he went through.

Renee: I'm glad. I'm so happy for you.

Jean: <hes like a fucking puppy>

Renee: In what way?

Jean: <he's so positive and just good. Sometimes he's absolutely ridiculous but it's still kind of adorable you know?>

He didn't wait until Renee responded until he continued.

<and he can't cook for shit. Like the only danger, I'm in from him is if he accidentally poisoned me with his terrible cooking.>

Renee: Do you cook then?

Jean: <yeah. And each time he gets so happy and excited like I did something good.>

<i've been looking up recipes and I kinda want to take a cooking class with him?>

<Is that weird?>

<i've never taken a class before for fun. It wasn't allowed and I never actually got to learn anything from any of my classes in the nest.>

<and he got so excited when I mentioned it to him.>

<like I doubt it would turn him into a good cook or anything but it might be fun>

<Oh and I kinda made a friend with this middle-aged French woman who owns a bakery near here.>

<Jeremy took me one day, I'm pretty sure it was just an excuse for me to talk to a native French speaker cause he just shoved me towards her and then ran off to look at cupcakes>

<but it was nice to talk to a native speaker again. I hadn't in years. Jeremy speaks French and talks to me in it all the time but it's different. And she gives us free baked goods whenever we go in. Her son is a fan of Jeremy's too>

Renee: Wow that's amazing Jean!

I'm so proud of you

Maybe she could give you guys the cooking lessons

That wasn't a bad idea, Jean thought. Pauline seemed absolutely enamored with Jeremy and provided he didn't break or wreck anything she might be amenable to the idea.

Jean: <maybe>

He’s pretty, he typed out and paused before deleting it without sending. Jeremy was though. He was pretty. 

Renee: So how are things now that Jeremy's friends are there? I know you were nervous about it and Alvarez said something to make you have a panic attack?

Jean paused to think about it before texting her back. Jeremy's friends were a lot, Alvarez especially could be a bit loud and overwhelming. But Laila was very nice, and Alvarez seemed to have good intentions and wanted to get to know and include him. They hadn't been the best at actually implementing that, but aside from the incident where they'd accidentally made Jeremy cry, Jean held no ill will towards them. They hadn’t tried to hit him or Jeremy, they hadn’t teased or laughed when he let details of the nest slip. And Jeremy liked them, and Laila was dating them.  It was too early for Jean to trust either of them, but it didn't seem impossible and Jean wouldn't rule out a friendship with either of them yet. And Jeremy hadn't abandoned Jean for them yet, he was starting to be cautiously optimistic that he wouldn't. Not completely at least.

 And Jean wouldn’t mind, if he was still included, got to be around Jeremy and bask in his light and happiness while he talked and danced with his friends. It would be worth it. It would be good, it would be enough. He could share, as long as he still got to be around him, pretend he was part of the group and mattered. That he wasn't a burden.

He texted Renee back with a brief summary of his thoughts and agreed to call or video chat with her soon.

Jeremy was still snoring softly against the back of his neck. Somehow he had adjusted his limbs so his legs were around Jean's waist and arm draped over his shoulders clinging to him like a backpack. 

He wondered what the odds of him being able to disentangle himself and crawl over top of Jeremy to get out of the bed without waking him were. Jeremy was a deep sleeper so it wasn't impossible.

He rubbed the back of Jeremy's hand absentmindedly. He was a bit surprised that he was okay with this, having Jeremy at his back, being the 'little spoon' as he had called it. That it didn't trigger anything and cause him to fall into panic. He wondered if it was because no one had actually stayed in bed with him after, or even pretended at some facade of affection or gentleness. 

Or was it simply that he trusted Jeremy. He was glad either way that this hadn't been ruined for him. Touch was difficult for him, complicated but it wasn't impossible. Very few touches had been given to him at all, and the ones that didn't cause pain were virtually nonexistent. He'd come to expect pain each time someone touched him. But he also craved it, even when it hurt, but especially when it wasn't intended to. It held back the vast emptiness that threatened to consume him at times, it stopped the deadness when he couldn't feel anything. Feeling something, even when it wasn't necessarily good, like a closed fist to his face or a brutal check against the wall, at least made him feel alive, like a living thing if only on the outside.

But touches like this one, deliberately good, gentle, ones never intended to hurt, were something else. It provided an anchor to the moment, yes, and could help pull him back to reality in the midst of a nightmare, panic attack or flashback. But it was also more, it was safety, warmth, feeling alive and at home. It was compassion and gentleness where he'd had none for so long. And it was also intoxicating, dizzying sometimes because of how right, how good it felt to have Jeremy's hands on him and his hands on Jeremy. He'd thought about it, briefly in small moments he tried to ignore or deny, particularly when he was alone what Jeremy's hands would feel like in other less platonic situations. What his lips might taste like. Seeing Jeremy dance the other night had the unfortunate side effect of increasing these thoughts tenfold.

Jeremy would never hurt him, he trusted his hands, more than anyone else's, sometimes more than his own.

And Jeremy hadn't rejected him, or pulled away once he knew, once Jean had told him as he had feared. He hadn't expected him to exactly but he didn't know how to expect anything else. He had told Jeremy of the worst things that had ever happened to him, things that still filled Jean with disgust and self-loathing at the thought of. And Jeremy had taken him into his arms and told him it wasn't his fault. He hadn't been repulsed and denied Jean his touch as a result. He didn't shove him away.

And he was realizing that Jeremy wouldn't be the person Jean loved  thought he was if he had. He could never imagine him doing that to someone else, but it still didn’t fully erase what Jean had been conditioned to believe and expect, that Jeremy would change his mind and abandon him. Realize he wasn’t worth the effort. That Jean was only pretending really, at mattering, being worth the effort. That what happened didn't actually count, and Jean was just making it into a big deal and was weak to still be affected by it.

Jeremy wouldn’t. If Jean could choose to believe in something he would pick Jeremy and the sun over any god or church. And Jeremy was the sun anyway. 

He checked the time on his phone wincing when he saw it was practically noon. As much as he was loath to move he couldn’t justify staying in bed. Though the idea of spending the rest of the day lazily cuddling with Jeremy was sorely tempting. Especially after the reopened wounds from yesterday still felt raw and vulnerable. But the bright light of day wouldn’t allow that.

He buried his face in the pillow and groaned softly before carefully removing Jeremy’s limbs and attempting to slip away. Jeremy's eyes slipped open and he sluggishly reached for him clinging to his torso, limbs still heavy from sleep, sitting up before Jean could successfully get up unnoticed.

"Where are you going? Stay in bed with me." Jeremy slurred.

"It’s after noon I have to get up." He whispered back, his words were undermined by him not trying to disentangle Jeremy's grip. "you can go back to sleep."

He looked so warm and soft and inviting. He hadn’t seen Jeremy's face yet that morning and seeing it now, hair rumpled from sleep, lips plump and lax, pillow creases on his cheeks, warm chocolate eyes heavy-lidded and hazy with sleep was doing nothing for Jean's resolve to get up.

"But you're warm and nice," Jeremy whined nuzzling into his chest. 

It took a considerable amount of conscious effort not to fold his arms back around Jeremy and fall into bed. "I'm going to go make us breakfast, you can go back to sleep for a bit."

"Boo," Jeremy sighed, relinquishing his hold and flopping back onto the pillows to peer at Jean with eyes half-closed.

Jean reluctantly left the bedroom running a hand over his shortly shorn hair. 

Upon further inspection they had very little in the way of actual groceries, they had premade stuff, wrapped snacks, bread, fruit and half a carton of eggs but not much that required a lot of cooking. Which made sense, Jeremy should not be in charge of cooking. But Jean was starting to enjoy it. So they should probably have more groceries in the dorm, not that he had the faintest idea of where to start.

He couldn't ever remember going grocery shopping or what one was supposed to buy or keep on hand. They'd had help in France to do that and he wasn't even allowed in the kitchen in the Nest. 

He had no desire to go out to one of those loud, busy and stressful stores where everyone would stare at him, point and whisper at best, and try to grab him or talk to him at worst. But he did want to try cooking more than just sandwiches and eggs. The pain perdu had been fun but it had been fairly basic, just eggs, milk, sugar and bread.

He made them a pot of coffee and found some oatmeal in the back of the cupboard to make that seemed within his talents to make. 

Before the coffee had even finished brewing Jeremy came rushing into the kitchen looking startled, but calmed quickly when he saw Jean. His hair stuck up at odd angles and was flat in other places, his fingers twitched to fix it. 

"How are you doing?" He asked softly.

"Okay," he said dismissively he could see the worry in Jeremy's eyes but genuinely didn't feel the need to immediately delve right back into everything. "We need more groceries."

"What?"

"Groceries. Things like flour, milk, vegetables, you may have heard of those, they are quite nutritious and as I understand a rather key part of the whole vegetarian diet thing."

"We have food," Jeremy opened the cupboard pointing inside like he was correct.

"Remy that's a half-empty bag of stale tortilla chips, a completely empty bag of potato chips aside from crumbs, I'm not sure why it isn't in the garbage, and three loose Oreos. And a single onion"

Jeremy snorted, grabbing a can of Monster and adding it to his coffee as sweetener much to Jean's horror. "Oreos are vegan you know."

"How are you alive?" Jeremy burst out laughing and Jean refused to listen to any answers he might have, dishing out two bowls of oatmeal. He tried to confiscate the coffee but Jeremy managed to pour the entire thing down his throat and on his shirt chugging it rapidly. 

Jeremy, then, immediately grabbed a bottle of maple syrup and butter from the fridge and put an unholy amount of both on top of the oatmeal.

"Jesus Christ. You are an animal." Jean told him snatching the syrup away before he could give himself diabetes and eating his own oatmeal plain.

"It tastes good." He mumbled through a mouth full of food. He shouldn’t be cute when he was talking with food in his mouth. Why was he cute?

"So does heart disease" he retorted irritated only to get another blinding grin from Jeremy.

"It's too bland otherwise." 

Jean responded with something that might have been "you're too bland otherwise" under his breath, to get even more delighted laughter from Jeremy.

Jeremy insisted on cleaning up because he had cooked. 

"What's the plan for today?" He asked cautiously he knew Jeremy had a bunch of events and things he wanted to do this week for pride. Jean didn't want to get in the way of those plans.

"Depends, what do you want to do?" 

Jean gave him a blank look and when no assumptions or suggestions were made he sighed. "I honestly don't feel like going to the court or gym today." He admitted, there were too many bad memories associated with those places and he wanted to be selfish and take the day off.

"Then we won't go. Honestly, your dedication is astonishing and we don't have to go at all until practice starts up unless you feel like it."

Jean nodded, he was unsure if he would physically even be capable of going that long neglecting exy practice. He couldn't indulge that much, and some habits from the nest, the obsessive need to be perfect at exy, might never go away. His life was still on the line after all. He couldn't let himself forget that.

"You said you wanted to do Pride stuff this week, was there anything you planned on doing today?"

Jeremy bit his lip. "Jean… you know you don't have to go to those if you don't want to." He told him slowly.

"I know but you want to go. I'm not going to keep you from doing that." He said even though the idea of going sent him into a familiar spiral panic. 

What if he was seen, photographed, at one of these events? Would people know then, that he was gay? Would they assume? And would the main branch kill him for it? 

He had always been taught that you can't play exy if you were gay. That it was wrong, that no team would take him, especially not professionally. And he knew homophobia was still very real and present in the sport. There were no openly queer professional exy players. If people thought he was gay, he might not get a spot on a team, even rumors could prevent that. And if he wasn’t making enough money for the main branch he was dead. If he was a financial loss, and couldn't get a high paying spot on a team they would kill him. And being gay might be a problem just financially, before even taking into account prejudices that the Lord and the yakuza might have.

On the other hand, everyone knew that Neil was trans. He'd been outed after the incident with his father, his deadname had been plastered across TV screens and newspapers. There had been some well-publicized backlash and transphobic fans but the main branch still made a deal with him, knowing, in the midst of the media being particularly vicious. And Neil wasn't making any particular efforts to hide his whatever, with Andrew either. It wasn't public, yet, but if you saw them together and knew anything about them it was easy enough to tell. The main branch had to know. Maybe they didn't care too much about the investments' personal lives, provided they still made money, maybe they were actually progressive. There'd been some positive feedback and support as well.

But then again maybe one queer player was enough, it was unavoidable with Neil and he was cute and popular despite being a shit-stirring asshole. Neil mattered, Jean didn't. He had potential, Kevin day thought he would make court, he was famous and well regarded, talented. Jean, on the other hand, was overlooked, three, Riko’s bitch, faded into the background, good, but never too good, careful not to outshine Riko. Already damaged and injured, his future abilities unknown. He was an afterthought at best, and unlike Neil, his mobster family didn’t give two shits whether he lived or died. Neil had some protection from the Hatfords. Jean had been sold and his parents never looked back. He was a transaction. They didn't care. 

He realized he was starting to hyperventilate and staring off into space without saying anything when Jeremy touched his arm lightly pulling him to the present

"Jean? Hey, what's going on inside your head?"

"Sorry." He quickly apologized. Pinching the bridge of his nose he tried to remember what Jeremy had said in response. "What did you say?"

"Forget it. We won't go. Don't worry about it." A furrow appeared between his eyebrows and Jean wanted to smooth it out with his thumb. 

"No I'm fine I just didn't catch what you said. Can you repeat it?" 

Jeremy didn't look like he believed him for even a second. But he still sighed and relented. "I said there are a couple of things, there is an open mic at a coffee house tonight, a concert going on later which I probably won't go to. Club things on Fridays throughout the month and the parade on Saturday. The parade is the main thing. But people can be a bit grabby and well over-affectionate and not mindful of personal space. And also like really, really, visibly gay and you might get hit on. And if you aren't comfortable with all of that we don't have to go. I completely understand."

Jean nodded swallowing, "It's not that. I mean I probably wouldn’t react well to a stranger grabbing or touching me at all. But... " he sighed. "It’s not important. It actually sounds really nice and you want to go so we should, I'm not going get in the way of that."

"But what? And your comfort is more important than me seeing some off-key pop-artist that I'm not even into or getting drunk with strangers in some club."

"… would people know? If I'm there with you and they saw me at these things. Would they think -- " he still struggled to say it. The amount of pain and fear and bad memories attached to the word still outweighed any positive connotations it had. "Would they know I'm gay too?” 

He winced briefly. He felt like a homophobic asshole. Jeremy was bi, openly, and unafraid of his identity in a way Jean was envious of. 

"Oh. Well, it's possible but people probably wouldn’t just assume that.  They'd probably just think you were an ally at most and going to support your new teammates. A lot of straight people go to the events too, some are allies, some are just there for a good time." Jeremy continued to ramble on, "And the goggles of heterosexuality are insane. Like the media goes out of their way to view and see everyone as straight. They thought Alvarez and I were together. And tried to play off her making out with Laila after a game as really close friends. Ya' know gal pals. I once told a reporter I planned on celebrating a win by sucking dick and he thought I was joking and just super comfortable with my masculinity and secure in my heterosexuality. There was an actual article written about it and how the hahaha, no homo, of sports are today analyzing what I really meant when I said that. I had to loudly and repeatedly say I'm bi before they caught on. And even then, I was with Jessica for almost a year and so everyone thought that meant I was straight again."

Jean blinked a bit shocked. He guessed that might be true, and he had never heard about Jeremy being bi or anyone on the Trojans team not being straight for that matter, hadn't known until he'd arrived. He had seen kisses between Laila and Alvarez on TV and that was the only reason he had had any inkling that they weren't straight. A reporter had made a vaguely racist comment on how kissing and other forms of affection seen as gay in the US were common in other cultures and countries between friends but that had been it. Jean, as someone from a country where cheek kisses were common, had sensed that the one between Laila and Alvarez had had a bit too much tongue and groping for it to have been strictly platonic.

"You told a reporter that you were off to go suck some guys dick and they no homo'ed it?" Jean clarified. Because that was truly amazing and he had no idea how he hadn't heard about it. He was probably busy being tortured, now that he thought about it. 

"Yeah, pretty much. Also, I said many guys. And mentioned eating ass. And got a bit graphic with gestures before Coach made them turn the cameras away." Jean’s brain went a little bit weirdly fuzzy when he thought about Jeremy in that position. It had caused a similar reaction before too when he'd told stories about Chad and Ash, but he had attributed the fuzziness in his gut and mind and the heat in his face to just being worried and perhaps uncomfortable. He wasn’t so sure now, but he refused to let himself dwell on images of Jeremy like that when he was standing right next to him.

"It's just… " he banished the other thoughts from his mind as he figured out how to explain. "The Moriyamas. The main branch, I'm worried they might kill me if they thought I was gay or unprofitable somehow, like if rumors prevented me from getting a good spot on a team. It's not a big deal though, I'll figure it out."

Jeremy's eyes widened abruptly. God, he was pretty. "No that's a very big deal. Fuck. I didn't think of that. Shit. Yeah, no. Not at all worth the risk."

"They probably won't." It was a possibility, yeah, but it seemed unlikely the more he thought about it. With the way, the world was becoming it was actually possible that the first openly queer players might have good publicity and additional opportunities for revenue through sponsorships with companies that seemed 'woke'. He knew there were lines of rainbow sports apparel. Something like that maybe. And they could have the fake charities they were funneling money through as a front be queer related. Or maybe they'd put a bullet in him while he slept and make it look like an accident or suicide. He shrugged. It didn’t really matter. He couldn’t control it either way.

"That isn’t comforting." Jeremy protested, glancing at the door like he was afraid a Moriyama henchman might come out at any moment.

"I mean it was Neil who made the deal. And they know he's trans right? And so does everyone else by now, unfortunately, but they still made the deal. And he isn't exactly keeping his shit with Andrew secret." 

"Still, it's not worth the risk. Jean if you think they might kill you --"

"I want to go," he was suddenly angry not at Jeremy but at the world and himself.  Why shouldn’t he get to go? If he actually was straight would he even be thinking about this or worried about it? It wasn’t fair.

 "I want to go. I want to see. I need to. I need to see that it isn't all just violence and pain. That being gay isn't just terrible and emotionally and physically scarring. Cause I am. I am and I can’t fucking change that. If it could be changed I'm pretty sure--" he struggled to even say it and it just made him angrier. "I'm pretty sure that him r--- I'm pretty sure what he did would have. But it didn't. I'm still a faggot but I'm just terrified of it and myself, of people knowing and any type of intimacy with another man. You said it’s about being proud right? Despite everything? Still, existing and surviving? I just want to see what it might have been like if he hadn't broken that part of me. I need to know that all of it isn't like what it is in the nest. And see if one day I can not be afraid of being gay anymore." 

He was bitter and he was furious, resentful, but he needed to know. He hadn't known how badly he wanted to see until he even said it. He panted ready to argue with Jeremy if he suggested him staying home for his safety. He wanted to be done, he wanted to be done with being afraid and fuck the Moriyamas they could kill him if he liked. He was furious, defiant and in that moment he thought it would be better to be killed actually living as much as he was able; than to be killed anyway but constantly cowering away in fear. He had done that and it wasn't living. 

Jeremy stepped forward and embraced him, squeezing him tightly. "Why are you hugging me? I just yelled at you." Jean was completely bewildered by this turn of events. He hadn't expected Jeremy to hurt him, but he expected him to yell back or at the very least argue. He'd yelled, okay, maybe being hit and beaten for being defiant wasn't normal, but hugging surely wasn't.

Jeremy just hugged him tighter. "You stood up for yourself and got angry. That's a good thing. And what you said was a lot and that was probably really hard to get to that point and admit it and you are so fucking brave after everything and." 

Jeremy looked up and held his head between his hands and looked him in the eyes. Oh. Oh no. He thought as he noticed Jeremy had multiple shades of brown in his eyes like whorls of a tree from whiskey to auburn and chocolate and light coffee. And there was an indescribable reddish undertone that made his eyes the warmest thing he had ever seen. It changed a bit depending on the lighting. He made a mental note to google brown gemstones later to come up with an adequate comparison. God his eyes were gorgeous. "You're amazing and so strong and fuck. Also, you got pride down to a T by the way, so great job there." 

He stepped back, and Jean wished he hadn't. "And if anyone tries to fuck with you or the Moriyamas come for you they'll have to go through me first."

Jean scoffed, Jeremy was tiny. "I can literally pick you up and throw you, I don't think you'll be much threat to the yakuza."

"Oh, I know you can." Jeremy purred with a smirk. He then immediately looked flustered and started stammering, taking another step back. "Yeah. Uh. You're obviously very strong and you were able to pick up and throw Rick and he's bigger than me. And you carried me up the stairs yesterday. Which was impressive. But anyway Pride will be fun and no one will make any assumptions about you that can't be waved off. Especially next to me. I'm very gay. Like super gay. I mean I'm technically bi but I’m super femme and flamboyant sometimes. I'll probably wear heels and makeup. Anyway, I'm going to go get dressed now."

Jeremy quickly left the room shutting the door of the bedroom behind him.

Huh. That was odd, Jean thought, grabbing his empty coffee mug. Then the idea of Jeremy in heels came to his mind unsolicited and he dropped the mug fumbling and juggling it for a second until he got it safely in hand and back on the counter. His face felt hot. What just happened?

He pulled out his phone and texted Renee. 

Jean:  <I think I need to talk to you later about something>

She responded within a minute.

Renee: absolutely anytime. Do you want to talk right now? I can call

<no> he texted back quickly.

Jean: <and before you ask everything's okay. But not now later. It's complicated. But nothing bad. I just don't want to be overheard>

Renee: is it something to do with Jeremy then?

Jean: <maybe>

<idk>

<a bit>

Renee: Okay whenever you want and are ready. I'll always make time for you Jean.

He felt a little warm. Renee was his first real friend and she'd saved him. He would always have a special place in his heart for her. 

Jean: <thanks>

<I'll let you know>

By the time he had finished talking to Renee, Jeremy had come back out of the room and changed out of the clothes he had been wearing since yesterday. Shorts again, instead of the sweatpants he'd been wearing. Although these shorts went down to his knee. Jean wasn't sure if he was saddened or relieved by that fact.

"When are Alvarez and Laila coming today?" He asked.

"That's up to you. I told them I wasn’t sure if they were allowed to come over today." His face twisted slightly.

"Don't not see your friends or keep them from coming over on my account."

Jeremy scowled, "I'm not. I specifically told Alvarez not to ask any super personal questions and they just went and ignored that and--" Jeremy cut himself off with a gesture looking pissed. 

"I'm fine," Jean pointed out. Jeremy didn't seem like he bought it. Which was fair.

"If you want them to come over you can invite them. But I'm not going to. I have told them as much. Any invitation back here is going to have to come from you, not me."

Jean raised an eyebrow. "I may have yelled at them over text last night after you fell asleep." He admitted. "Alvarez more than Laila"

Jean sighed. While he appreciated Jeremy's defense and pettiness it was not needed in this instance. Last night had been awful, yes, he'd had flashbacks to some of the worst moments of his life and then confessed everything to Jeremy. But it hadn't been Alvarez's fault, and certainly not Laila's who had probably already guessed his sexuality and not said anything to anyone including her partner. Besides, he needed to get used to this, to people other than Jeremy. To people that wouldn’t effortlessly avoid all his triggers and lines without it seeming like he was tiptoeing around him.

Best to bite the bullet. He texted Laila

Jean: <do you want to come over?>

Jean: <Alvarez too I don't have their number>

Laila: If that's alright with you she replied 

Laila: Jeremy still mad? 

Jean <a bit. But it's fine if you come over.>

<I won't let him bite>

Laila: We'll be over soon. Laila agreed

"They're coming over." He told Jeremy who nodded.

 

___________

So people can envision these characters however they want but as I have finally figured out how to add pictures to Ao3 so I thought I would show you some people that kinda matches how I see Jean and Jeremy. There are a couple people for each kinda a blend, not super exact. 

For Jean

Third image is closest

Fancast

 

For Jeremy (Without facial hair)

First image is closest

Style and stuff wise Jaboukie Young White from the Daily Show also especially for Pride

 

Chapter Text

He went to go change to shorts and a t-shirt rummaging through his meager belongings and clothes. He would rather not be wearing the exact same clothes they had seen him in the night before.

Everything he owned was in black. Except for a red and gold USC tank top that Jeremy had given him and a pair of black track pants with a white stripe. Ninety-five percent of the clothes were athletic wear and he only had one pair of jeans and a black t-shirt that wasn't technically athletic wear but he had worn to the gym. Most of it was also long-sleeved aside from one other athletic shirt. And he had two pairs of black gym shorts.  The rest were long sweat and track pants. Even his underwear and socks were black.

He sighed grabbing the tank top and a pair of gym shorts it was too hot and he wasn't bothered with hiding his scars anymore. 

Jeremy smiled softly when he came out. "Trojan colors look good on you,"

He felt heat rise to his cheeks and scratched the back of his neck awkwardly. "I have come to the realization that this is the only thing I own that isn't black."

"We should change that. Brighter colors suit you. You can borrow anything of mine you want whenever, especially if you want to wear something other than athleisure."

He rolled his eyes. "Not sure your clothes would fit."

"I have a lot of oversize stuff and sweaters because they are comfy." 

Jean just hummed in response and plopped down beside Jeremy knocking their shoulders together.  It was too hot for sweaters, Jean had no idea why Jeremy had so many sweaters and hoodies while living in southern California.

He pulled out his phone and showed Jeremy the things he had saved for him that morning. They slowly migrated closer to one another until Jean’s arm was slung over Jeremy's shoulders and Jeremy's legs were over his lap. 

Jeremy was showing him the wonders of funny animal videos when Laila and Alvarez arrived. 

Jeremy got up to let them in but only hugged Laila giving Alvarez a frown. It almost made Jean want to laugh to see Jeremy be petty and rude, mean even, by his standards. Everyone else he knew probably would have just punched the person they were mad at. But no not Jeremy, he would just frown and give you a disappointed look. It would probably be less funny if Jean was the one he was mad at, that would be awful. But fortunately, he was not the victim of Jeremy's look of disappointment, Alvarez was, and Jean was just petty enough himself to appreciate it.

They did look thoroughly chastised though and entered the room hesitantly. He raised a hand in acknowledgment. Alvarez and Laila both faltered for a second wide-eyed staring at his arm. 

Ah right. The tank-top showed a lot of his scars, including the still healing word worthless crudely carved into his arm.

He hastily pulled his arm back down. "Uh, hey." He said awkwardly. He had no clue how to proceed. It was easier with Jeremy, he said what he was feeling and made Jean feel comfortable doing the same but that had taken over a month of constant exposure to Jeremy talking about his feelings. 

"Hey," Alvarez said cautiously, she glanced over to Jeremy and Laila for a second. "Um, can we talk?"

"Yeah," he agreed they might as well get this over with. Laila started to naturally drift away to give them space but Jeremy stayed put narrowing his eyes at Alvarez. Jean rolled his eyes at him with a huff and gestured for him to go.

"You're sure?" Jeremy asked in French.

"Yes, I’m fine. You're being dramatic. If there is a disaster I'm sure you'll be able to swoop in on your white horse and save me. Now shoo," Jeremy stuck his tongue out at him and went to join Laila in the bedroom in a huff giving them the pretense of privacy.

He turned back to Alvarez, "He's very protective of you." They observed.

"Yeah. Well, I'm fine though I've been through worse, I can handle you I'm sure."

"Yeah, I've gathered that." They muttered with a not so subtle glance to the scars on his arms. Thick rings around either wrist from repeatedly struggling against cuffs.

They let out a sigh and looked him in the eyes. "I owe you an apology. We are going to play together on the court. I don’t want a rift between this and I want to apologize regardless. I’m not going to try and excuse my behavior or anything but I want you to know I’m sorry. I know not everyone has the same comfort zones and I should have been more accommodating of yours and tried to figure them out instead of walking all over them. I'm not going to bother giving you excuses or explanations because they don't matter, I fucked up and didn't listen to Jeremy and my actions hurt you. I need to take responsibility for that. So I’m sorry and I want to know what you need from me. What can I do to help or what should I not do?"

Jean was stunned, It wasn’t just Jeremy then who was like this. He had been prepared for something more along the lines of a physical altercation. “Did Jeremy put you up to this?”

They winced, “No, I feel bad and just wanted to apologize and make sure we were cool. He's not even speaking to me right now. Which I probably deserve. He does this silent treatment thing when he’s pissed. It’s real cute until it’s you he’s mad at.”

“Oh,” He couldn't understand that Jeremy being mad on his behalf. If anything Jeremy should have been mad at him for ruining a night with his friends. No one had ever been mad because of him, not at him before, not even Kevin. It was always Jean's fault. Just listen do better, and he won't --. He wondered if Marianne had been when she came back from university to find Jean gone. Sold to the Moriyamas. He'd pictured it sometimes, his older sister finding out being furious and coming to Evermore to save him once she found out. To take him home. They'd get Claire too and the three of them would get a house on the beach somewhere away from their parents, away from the nest, and they'd be free and happy. But it never happened, and eventually, he stopped dreaming, stopped imagining it. It hurt too much.

“And I know emotions and tough stuff isn't really my strong suit Laila is way better at all of that, and you have Jeremy he’s better at it too --. You could talk to me too if you wanted, I wouldn't tell anybody. Especially about sexuality stuff that's no one's business but your own and I'm sorry for nosing around. I mean Laila would probably be more helpful, but if you ever just want moral support or someone else in your corner I'm here too.

And I know it's none of my business but I get it feeling ashamed and scared of your sexuality and everything. Or even just questioning it. My family is super traditional and I didn’t know how they would react when I came out and they were okay actually. Not the best, but not awful and we got through it. But that's not the point. The point is I get that fear and shame and confusion, hell practically every queer person does. And I-- Again it’s none of my business and -- Fuck I’m fucking it up again arent I?”

Jean winced but managed to stay in the moment barely. His hands shook. It had helped slightly telling Jeremy what had happened to him. He knew he had not deserved it. And he still struggled to silence Riko's voice screaming at him in his head. They know, they know, they know what you are.

"Also I can't imagine you think highly of me anyway with the whole me upsetting Jeremy thing that other night. It's my fault I'm a sloppy drunk and we used to joke like that all the time and share weird stories it wasn't a big deal. Jeremy would too. But. Jessica and then Rick literally immediately after really did a number on him. And between you and me, Jessica was just as bad, I know she slapped him at least once and was just so manipulative and controlling. I fucking hated her, she was so mean to him and put him down constantly but played it off like she was the victim and it was okay if she was the one doing it because she was a girl or some bullshit. But Jeremy cared about her and just ate up the manipulation believing he should just do better, try harder, be a better boyfriend. Sometimes I forget or can just be an insensitive asshole. But I gotta have something going for me if Laila can stand me and Jeremy's still willing to be my friend right?" They gave him a weak self-deprecating smile.

Jean nodded fist-clenching slightly at the thought of Jeremy's exes. "You shouldn't tell me things about him. Or his past. If he wants me to know he will tell me." He growled as a warning. He couldn't have them gossiping. Not about Jeremy. And especially not about him.

"Yeah. You're right. Sorry. Fuck, I'm an idiot. Feel free to tell me to shut up whenever. He did say I could though if it helps a while back, kinda weird actually before we came back he said if you ever had any questions about him or his past to tell you, with a few exceptions. And for what it’s worth though, I think you're really good for him. He's more like himself and the way he used to be, freer and shit. Happier too, I haven't seen him as happy as he is with you in a long time."

"Oh." Jean had thought he was just like that.

"Most people just think he's like that all the time," they continued like he could read their thoughts. "because in part he is but mainly he's gotten really good at just pretending. But you can see through it. Even I can't half the time, and I've known him most of my life, he's like my brother. That’s probably why he still puts up with me, we’ve been friends since we were in diapers."

He was briefly envious, could Kevin and he have had that? That close lifelong family-like friendship. If they hadn’t been pitted against each other, made to hurt each other and stand by while the other was hurt? If Riko hadn't enjoyed cruelty so much, been so jealous or if he wasn't there entirely. It was a useless thing to imagine, it didn't change the past, nothing could. And Kevin had left him to rot, he didn't hear from him for over a year. He could have called him, texted, anything at all. When he finally did it was just to ask about the ravens' transfer and Kevin hung-up on him the moment he confirmed it. 

Jean just nodded unsure of what to say.

"So yeah. I'm sorry. I don't expect you to accept my apology or forgive me. Or to even trust me because I broke your trust and haven't done anything to earn it back or gain it in the first place.  But I will try. So if you have any lines that you need me to stay away from you can tell me and I'll try to respect those. And feel free to stop me from putting my foot in my mouth at any time."

Jean paused, "I can’t really--" he started up again, "anything to do with my sexuality or sex involving me specifically is a line for now. It's fine if you all are talking about yourselves or others as long as everyone involved was having a good time. I don't know if or when that will change for me though. I don't know where all the other lines are for me so much has happened that I don't know what will be a trigger until it is, then I’m suddenly back there and I can't -- " He groaned, pressing the heel of his hand to his eyes. It was frustrating.

"Would asking myself what would Jeremy do be a good line to follow?"

Jean gave a dry chuckle, "Isn't it always?"

"Well…"

"He's, I don't know. He gets it. And seems to know where lines are before I do. He's observant. And it's different when it's him. " He didn't want to say too much, give himself away, but Jeremy was exceptional in every way. "If I'm having a panic attack or something get him. He helps. Somehow."

"Okay," they said softly with a small smile."You do know he's a dumbass though right?"

Jean snorted again, "Oh, absolutely. He's just a kind one."

"Has he started any fires in the kitchen yet?"

"No, but I legitimately believed he was trying to drug or poison me for about a week." Mainly because that is exactly what Riko or a Raven would have done but also because everything Jeremy made that required more than just heating up tasted unnatural somehow. Except for his tea and coffee. Those were nice.

"Yeah, that's fair he once used a crushed up mint cough drop as a substitute for mint leaves or mint extract."

"Unfortunately, I believe you." Jean got up to go end Jeremy and Laila's exile into the bedroom. "He poured Monster in his coffee this morning. I'm waiting for him to collapse from heart failure at any moment."

He turned his back to Alvarez to go and they let out a shocked and angry wheezing sound. Fuck. Tank top. Scars. He turned back and they looked horrified and furious. "What the fuck!"

"Jeremy, Laila come back in," he sighed resigned. He might as well get this over with. He turned back around and held up placating hands to Alvarez.

Jeremy hurried to his side touching his arm and giving him a concerned look but Laila stayed behind him at the door and hissed "Oh my god."

"Yep, come on," he waved her into the room. He could feel the anger in the room. It made his hair stand on end and it was electric. It took every ounce of strength he had to not flinch and cower from it. Anger only leads to pain, violence and more scars. Flinching made it worse.

"What the hell? What did he do to you? Please tell me that's not what I think it is on your back."  Alvarez looked sick and grabbed their girlfriend's hand the second she was close enough.

Jeremy opened his mouth to intervene, and Jean brushed the back of his arm "Did you tell Alvarez they could tell me things about you?" He asked in French. He needed to know if he could trust them

"Yes--" he confirmed quickly.

"And you trust them. Both of them. Can I trust them?" Jeremy must have heard the severity and the seriousness in his tone because he took a moment before responding.

"Yes, with my life. There is no one I know better in the world. Alvarez can be a bit nosy, super insensitive and protective of me but I trust them. Laila too, she's one of the best people I know. I trust them both with my life. And I’d trust them with yours too if it came down to it."

Jean nodded choosing to believe Jeremy's answer and take it at face value -- for now. "Then it's fine. I don't care that they saw. I was worried about you seeing at first and kicking me off the team or something but that's it. I can handle this"

Jeremy pursed his lips, and narrowed his eyes, but didn't say anything.

"If you think it's the word faggot carved into my back with knives you would be correct." He bluntly threw the truth in their faces switching back to English to see the reaction. They both recoiled away in horror or fear.

Jeremy flinched a little too at the harshness of his words but squeezed his hand and stayed by his side. He appreciated the reminder of where he was.

"How? When?" Laila seethed at the same time as Alvarez almost growled: "Jesus what did he do?"

He felt his stomach turn over. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and focused on the warmth from Jeremy's palm on his arm. 

He made another snap decision and yanked the tank top off over his head. Better to get this done all at once. Half of the team would see anyway next week in the locker room. And he was sure the rumors would spread and everyone would know about the scars in a day or two's time after that. He couldn't control that. It would happen, he couldn't control that, but this he could.

He turned around so they could see the mess of his back and see everything else written there. The hundreds of scars across his skin. His shorts were slung low enough on his hips that they could probably make out the gist of the words at the base of his spine too. Fine, fuck them he thought grimly. He would own what happened to him.

"It was Riko. I was barely sixteen for this one and he used knives." He told Laila, tracing the top of the scar, then glanced over his shoulder at Alvarez, "Everything. Knives, fists, electric shock, waterboarding, burns, whip, starvation, more and worse, anything he could possibly think of. He did whatever he goddamned wanted to me for over ten years. Pretty sure he googled worst torture methods more than once and then tried it out for shits and giggles."

He turned back around both of their complexions had turned to an awful ashy grey. Laila made a wounded sound in the back of her throat and clapped a hand over her mouth at the sight of his chest, looking away. Unable to handle it.

Alvarez stared at him looking away and looking back just as quickly, barely blinking in a state of a kind of repulsed shock and horror alongside morbid fascination and curiosity.

They took in his front the bright red scars, still fresh. 

His hands started to shake. He clutched Jeremy's arm to anchor himself to the present and felt his hand slip into his own. Jeremy soothed the back of his hand with his thumb.

He blinked open his eyes and tugged the tank top over his head covering himself. It barely mattered, the scars were still there underneath and them not seeing them didn’t make them go away or make it any less real. It was a comfort to them if anything. He looked away not sure if he would see revulsion on their faces, more morbid curiosity and fascination or pity. 

Even Jeremy had reacted at first, not terribly, not disgusted no, but there had been a few traces of pity mixed in among the sorrow, anger, compassion and empathetic tears.

He finally glanced up after a minute of dismayed silence to look at their faces. Pity then. He wasn't sure what to do with that.  Pity was useless. Pointless, it didn’t do any good for anyone. There had been no pity for him in the nest so what was the point of it now. It couldn't change anything.

"Why?" Alvarez normally looked cheerful, they had laugh lines around their eyes and dimples. Even earlier, when they came in cowed and sheepish to apologize there was an air of happiness about them. But not now, now they looked like they had just been told monsters are real and were struggling to believe it despite evidence right in front of them. Which in a way was exactly what happened.

"Because he could." Jean sighed. They couldn't understand and were lucky for it. He didn't know why, he'd asked himself that again and again and even convinced himself that he must deserve it, but the actual truth was he didn't know.

Was it the abuse Riko had suffered himself from the Master? Lots of people were abused, Kevin, Neil, himself, Renee, and they didn't turn into abusers. The abandonment by the main branch? He was hardly the first person to be cast out by his family or the first rich kid with daddy issues. The twisted mentoring of Nathan Wesninski? Again Neil had been raised by the Butcher and been encouraged to hurt others as a child but he never took pleasure in it. Had he just enjoyed it and gotten off on the power? Or had he just been born that way? 

“Because no one ever told him, no and he saw me as property.  He was encouraged to hurt me and he enjoyed it. The master made it his job to discipline me and fix my attitude problem when I first arrived and he just kept at it, long after I submitted." Jean spat.

Laila slumped down on the couch next to Alvarez, stunned, and spoke first. "He should have been arrested. I know he's dead now but, Tetsuji, other people in the Nest? They belong in jail, they must have seen, they're bystanders if not accomplices. You’ve gotta tell someone."

"No." He snapped quickly. Yes, they'd known not all of it, but they'd known. Everyone had seen something, a hit, a cut, an unexplainable bruise or a word carved into his skin. The Master and an assistant coach had even walked in on Riko sexually assaulting Jean, and he'd just laughed and told Riko to finish up and meet them in his office before walking right back out. He'd been on his knees handcuffed to a wall, face bruised, and bloodied, fresh slashes across his skin. They'd seen what Riko was doing, had to have known there was no way it was consensual and they'd just walked out. The assistant coach had come back later and Riko let him --.

"They can't get away with it," Laila protested.

"They already have," he snarled, "there's no point."

He felt the nauseating fear bubbling up under his skin. His heart thudded trapped under skin that felt too small. 

"They need to be held responsible,"  Alvarez agreed all righteous fury. Jean thought of all the times he had been held responsible. For his mistakes, his failings, others not falling in line fast enough. Things that were his responsibility. He'd be held responsible if the Moriyama secret ever got out. And they'd make it worse than anything he had ever gone through before. They'd kill everyone in this room alongside him first, saving Jeremy for last so he would hate him in the end. Then Jean would have to watch him die too, while he cursed his name.

“The police--" Laila started. There was no justice. There would never be justice for him. That he got out of the nest at all was an impossible dream that he should be grateful for.

"Line." He gasped hysterically. "Line it's a line. I can't."

Jeremy rubbed his back to soothe him. Whispering French reassurances and reminders into the bare skin of his shoulder. His fingers grazed his skin on his back, skimming over the scar tissue but not flinching from it or focusing on it. Some of the tension in his spine drained away at his caress, he was in California he was safe, he could see the sun shining through the window.

Alvarez had abruptly stopped and pulled Laila back, the second he declared there was a line."Okay, okay, no police." 

"I can't tell you why. It's a line, but you cannot tell the authorities. It's life or death, mine and yours. I'm okay now, I got out, I'm free and I'm not being hurt anymore, I'll live. That will change if anyone tells the police. Okay? I won't explain it or why. But no police. Got it?" 

Neither of them looked happy about it but they respected the boundary Jean had set to his surprise. "Okay, I promise. It's your choice." Alvarez agreed first. "I won’t ask why unless you want to tell us. Okay?"

"Thank you," he acknowledged, "I don't want to talk about the Nest in depth. That's another boundary, don't ask questions out of nowhere about what they did to me, no specifics if I can or want to tell you something I will." 

"Alright, of course." Laila's voice shook, "but you can if you want. Talk to us about it, or me at least."

"Me too," Alvarez added. 

He wondered if he could really. If they would understand or just try to fix him enough that he was easier to deal with.

"Noted." He tried to be brusque about it, "we're done then yeah?"

Alvarez nodded their lips pinched into a thin line but accepting the subject change.

Everyone was silent for a few uncomfortable minutes until Jeremy piped up with, "I wonder what would happen if I tried to climb this building using a rope and harness made of red vines or Twizzlers."

"Absolutely not." Jean was quick to say as Alvarez's eyes lit up seeming a bit too desperate for a change to a lighter topic.

"Could you also use duct tape so it would be safer?" Alvarez asked.

"No." Jean reiterated. "No climbing."

Jeremy ignored him and said, "Yes, but the red vines would still need to be structural and bear weight to count but duct tape could be used to connect things."

"No." He thought they were joking but he couldn't be sure. 

"It could work, I'm pretty sure I've seen a youtube video with people doing it with just duct tape. Incorporating the red vines would be the tricky bit. Weaving a bunch together maybe?"

"Jeremy, no." He would injure himself, bad enough to prevent him from playing exy.

"Jeremy yes!" Alvarez encouraged.

He looked to Laila for help. "They won't really, right?"

She adjusted her headscarf briefly. It was a soft pink today with gold embroidery, "No they would, they'd probably start from the bottom of the building though, so if the system failed he wouldn't fall far and die."

"Have they done this before?" Didn't Jeremy just say yesterday he hadn't ever broken a bone? That seemed incredibly lucky if he was this cavalier about safety.

"They climbed a building with bedsheets once, and they both made clothing out of none clothing materials before. But this exact thing no." Laila looked entirely too comfortable with Jeremy and Alvarez's antics.

"I made a dress out of condoms once and wore it in drag to a sex-ed event." Jeremy input excitedly.

Jean's face twisted up involuntarily, "That's so gross." 

"They weren't used." Jeremy defended himself. That was slightly better.

"It was iconic," Alvarez stated proudly.

"Yeah. Like Lady Gaga wore a dress made out of meat and as another bisexual myself I just have to try to bring myself up to that level, but as a vegetarian, I choose to use the wrappers for a different kind of meat."

Jean groaned, "I only understood half of that and not sure if I even want to know the rest."

"He's talking about dick. Meat equals dick. Condoms are dick wrappers, like sausage." Alvarez explained helpfully.

He gave them both a withering look, "Yes, I got that part, thank you oh so much." 

"Anyway the climbing thing," Jeremy circled back, he, unfortunately, hadn't forgotten about it.

"Nope." 

Jeremy kept going practically bouncing with excitement, making plans with Alvarez that would almost certainly result in his death.

"You will die." He told them as Jeremy pulled up amazon to see if he could order supplies in bulk.

"You can stand at the bottom and catch me if I fall. You're strong. I trust you." Jeremy said dismissively while he and Alvarez debated the different structural integrity of licorice varieties and if heating them and sticking them together would be beneficial.

"I am not participating in this," Jean told him firmly.

"Guess I'll die then!" Jeremy was cheerly flippant.

"I will use the licorice to tie you up and keep you here dumbass," Jeremy was not taking his threatening glare seriously at all and just laughed.

"Kinky, I'm into it," Jeremy smirked.

Jean shoved his laughing face away, ignoring the rush of heat to his cheeks. Struggling to keep a straight face himself but refusing to give him the satisfaction of laughing. Jeremy was ridiculous, and he couldn't help but appreciate that Jeremy was still joking around with him and not walking on eggshells more than he could say.

"If you wait until after the season's over and your idiotic plan won't cost me championships. I'll supervise." He relented.

Jeremy grinned, "Absolutely! It's a fucking deal. I can't afford the amount of red vines I'd need until I get that pro money anyway. I'm going to climb the entire building." He shook Jean's hand enthusiastically like they had just made a blood pact.

He rolled his eyes but went along with it. Hopefully, Jeremy would forget by then. 


They went to a coffee house, the four of them. It was crowded and there was a rainbow flag hung at the door and other flags and stickers and symbols of pride strewn throughout.

Jeremy kept looking at him out of the corner of his eye, assessing, concerned. Jean just nodded and observed silently. There were couples, men sitting together, holding hands, kissing, laughing. Women together too, and people with pins displaying their pronouns. Even a scattering of couples that might have been straight, although Jean had no real way of knowing. They looked happy, most of them. There were people young and old, a few children with their parents, and teenagers and preteens on their own.

They watched people perform, some sang, and played instruments, a lot of people read poetry. Some were talented, others less so, they all got applause. One man did a magic show and pulled a bunch of flowers out of a hat and presented it to a man in the audience with a kiss on the cheek. Jean wondered if they were together or just strangers. 

All these people had entire lives, and even the ones who weren't obviously queer were supportive, caring. No jeers, taunts or slurs. No violence. Some people had written their own songs about their struggles and triumphs. Some just sang covers. It was nice. None of the four of them performed themselves but they each got a coffee and a pastry and watched and cheered for others. The other three struck up conversations with strangers, and the room was filled with laughter, music, and chatter. 

Jean brushed off anyone who tried to talk to him and just observed silently. One particularly cocky looking man made a comment about the all-black ensemble Jean had put on before they left and blank face asking if he had been to a funeral inviting conversation. He wandered off awkwardly when Jean just stared at him in stony silence. He shrugged it off when Jeremy looked between the two of them concerned.

He was envious of the people here. The support, the barebones of a community he saw before his very eyes. He wondered if he could ever get to that point. To be comfortable enough among strangers to bare himself, and the tragedies of his life to an audience. To reach out and joke with people he didn't know.

No one seemed to recognize him at the very least or no one commented. The stark three on his face and the obvious scars there had garnered a few lingering stares, but no one said anything.

It was a good night, draining but good. By the time they made it back to the dorm room Jean was exhausted from all the social interaction and wound tight being out in public. He mumbled a few half-hearted reassurances to Jeremy before he went into the bedroom and collapsed face-first on the bed without removing his shoes.

When Jeremy eventually came in later, Jean generously let him take off his shoes before tugging him into bed still half asleep and sprawled out with his head on Jeremy's stomach and closing his eyes to sleep. 

"I still need to take my own shoes off." He half laughed softly. Jean didn't move. He was warm and comfortable.

"Shhh, Remy it's time to sleep." He grumbled, without opening his eyes.

Jeremy wriggled his legs a bit to kick his shoes off disrupting Jean's position pillowed on top of him slightly, Jean wasn't awake enough to care.

"Okay, we're good now." Jeremy rested his hands lightly on his shoulders and he responded with some kind of affirming grunt before falling back asleep immediately.

Chapter Text

Jeremy 

Jeremy was away from Jean for the first time in almost seven weeks since Jean had arrived in LA. It was weird now that Jeremy was thinking about it. Jean had always gone with him whenever he went to the store or did anything even when he hadn't been talking to Jeremy. He hadn't gone anywhere by himself either. But this morning Jean had insisted that Jeremy go without him to see a band in the park with Laila and Alvarez, even though he'd been considering skipping. He was probably sick of him at this point and could probably use the space. Jean had cited being too tired and drained to go himself, which was understandable, and a lack of interest in the music. Which was also fair, they weren't that good. At all. 

It was just noisy, crowded and loud more than anything, at least 80 percent of the people around him were well on their way to being drunk. The crowd was jostling and he kept getting bumped into and trodden on. Jean had definitely made the right decision in not coming.

After another song that he could barely hear the lyrics too, he found Laila and Alvarez who were barely paying attention to the show either and told them he was going home early. He was still holding a bit of a grudge against Alvarez for the other night and hadn’t spent the concert with them even though Jean had told him they were fine and worked it out.

He made the trek back to his car and stopped at a booth someone had set up selling pride merchandise. He hesitated looking at the pins, scarfs, and flags in a few of the different flag patterns. He picked up a thick black leather bracelet that had a rainbow flag on the inside but was solid black and partially braided on the outside. He slipped it on his arm to try it. You couldn't see the rainbow at all when someone was wearing it, and it was made of soft and supple leather that was comfortable. It could probably be reversed too so the flag was displayed more prominently. But this way was better, stealth and a secret symbol.

"How much?" He asked the seller.

They gave him the price and Jeremy agreed, buying a rainbow pride pin as well. The seller wrapped them up and Jeremy carefully slipped his purchases into his pocket.

He wasn't sure if Jean would like it, if he would even wear it. He'd never seen him wear jewelry, not that Jean even owned any. This was fairly simple and masculine though. It would look good on him, so Jeremy hoped he might. He also knew Jean didn't have any Pride things at all, he hoped he wouldn't take offense at the gift. He wanted to give him something, a symbol, even if it was just a small token, especially after what he had said about Pride yesterday. And the terrified and longing way he had looked at couples and rainbow flags in the coffee house last night. This was something Jeremy could give him, that he could wear if he wanted to, but nobody would be able to see it or what it meant unless Jean chose. 

Once he made it to his car he put a grocery store into his phone. He could show Jean he did know what a vegetable was.

As he drove his thoughts turned back to Jean. They almost always did, even when he was alone. Actually especially when he was alone. It felt like Jean had always been here and he couldn't imagine life without him but that wasn't true. Jean hadn't been in LA long, not really, but so much had happened. Practically every day was emotionally and mentally exhausting, something happened, he remembered something, had a flashback, made a huge step forward. But very little time had actually passed since Jean was in the Nest, being hurt by Riko. Less time since Riko had died, only days before Jean arrived in LA.

Was it even possible for a person to recover mentally and emotionally from what Jeremy now knew Riko had done to Jean that last night in such a short amount of time? It definitely wasn’t if Jeremy was being honest with himself. Jean was pushing himself, and actively working to recover, but how much was too fast, too soon?

He could see Jean struggle and try valiantly to hide it every time they so much as left the apartment. He still couldn't speak with Coach and could barely look Jared in the eye. It was a small miracle that he was so comfortable with Jeremy, only because he’d been so pushy and careful in the beginning, and even then there was a small voice in his head that wondered if Jean was only pretending to be comfortable with him for his benefit. He had adjusted somewhat to Laila and Alvarez but only just. Worry at what would happen when the rest of the team arrived gnawed at him. That and guilt.

He knew what was happening wasn't what was best for Jean's mental health. Being thrust onto a new exy team, expected to play, constantly having triggers thrown into his face and with the knowledge that his life was on the line if he did not succeed. He wondered if he would ever be able to convince Jean to go to therapy and put himself first instead of thrusting himself headfirst into triggers and putting on an act.

He did things knowing they would trigger him, like displaying his scars, diving headfirst back into exy, all the trips to doctors, leaving the apartment, every forced interaction with their coach, and forcing himself to eat meat, chicken especially when he knew it was a trigger. Striving to improve was one thing but Jean pushing himself too hard, too fast, rushing his recovery and ignoring his mental health would get him nowhere good.

By the time he reached the store, it was later than he planned, he turned the car off. Before he made it in, his phone went off and he quickly answered it without checking the caller ID, worried that Jean might need something.

"Hello?" 

"Jeremy, hey it's Kevin." Came a familiar but slightly slurred voice and he froze on the spot, then turned around to go back to his car. He wasn't willing to risk an altercation with a racist middle-aged white-lady who would yell at him or worse for being a black man angry in public.

"Kevin," Jeremy repeated not keeping any of the ice out of his voice. He had thought he had known Kevin, that they were friends. But everything Jean had told him these past weeks painted a very different picture than the polished, attractive, and competitive boy he had played against and chatted with. He had thought he'd known Jean too, at least vaguely in passing, and the past few weeks had just taught him how good people got at putting on a mask after spending time in the Nest.

"Ah," the levity had gone from his voice. "He told you then."

"He's my roommate Kevin and my friend. He's told me a lot of things, you're going to have to be more fucking specific." He snapped back, getting into his car. 

A part of him remembered that Kevin was a victim of Riko's abuse too. That it wasn't actually completely his fault. That he couldn't even imagine being in the situation either of them were forced into. What little he knew about Kevin's time in the Nest was horrific too. But at that moment he was furious at him. He'd stood by and watched as Jean was tortured and raped. For years and did nothing, said nothing while Riko used Jean as his personal cutting board. Held him down and took part in the abuse. Emotionally abandoned Jean when he'd needed him the most. And actually left him years later to suffer alone under Riko. 

"I… I'm sorry." Kevin stammered, "I… he,"

"I'm not the one you need to fucking apologize to." Jeremy snarled. He would regret this latter, he knew it. Jeremy was furious, it was all too fresh in his head the horrors Jean had gone through and there was no one else he could blame and lash out at that had been there, other than Kevin at that moment.

"I know, I know."

"Why are you calling?"

There was silence on the other end of the line for a minute. Then softly at first before quickly becoming strong, obnoxious, and insufferably confident. "It's June. And Nicky's been talking about pride stuff. And I know you're bi or whatever. I just wanted to make sure you kept Jean out of it, if you were doing gay shi-- uh stuff. It's easier if he's straight and isn't associated with that kind of thing, better for his career."

And Jeremy just fucking lost it. 

"How fucking dare you?! How dare you call me and say that you absolute piece of shit. After what you did to him! Fuck you, Kevin! You held him down while Riko carved," Jeremy couldn't even say the word. "Into his back. You watched while he was raped. Repeatedly. And you abandoned him afterwards! He fucking needed you! And you shoved him away. How could you? You wouldn't even fucking talk to him. You made him believe all that homophobic garbage and other bullshit Riko spouted was right. Did he ever mean anything to you at all?" 

Kevin immediately started crying hysterically on the other end of the line, sending a small stab of guilt through him, it barely registered. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. It was horrible, it was so horrible and it was my all fault. I shouldn’t have ever kissed him, to begin with. He's my friend, my brother. They'd told us it was wrong. It wasn't worth it. It's my fault. I should have done what Riko asked, it would have been better. It's my fault."

"Are you seriously suggesting that you should have been the one to rape him instead?" Jeremy hissed in a horrified gasp. 

"I don't know. I don't know. Maybe I could have hurt him less. Maybe Riko wouldn't have let all the others -- If I just did what he wanted. It was my fault. The punishment was for me not him. I tried-- I stayed away from him after. To keep him from getting angry. I had to stay away from him, Riko would have killed him or kept hurting him and made it worse. I thought if I ignored Jean and pushed him away Riko would stop. But he didn't. Because it was my fault in the first place. It was my fault." He was barely coherent.

Jeremy's bottled up anger didn't leave him. But it wasn't directed at Kevin anymore, not just Kevin at the very least. "Kevin you were just kids. Fuck. It wasn't your fault you did the right thing in not… you being assaulted too, wouldn't have made it any better. He still would have hurt him." 

They had only been sixteen. Jeremy immediately hated himself for yelling at Kevin. They'd just been kids. Younger than Mickey, his little brother. What was wrong with him?

Jean, unfortunately, was not the first person he knew that had been sexually assaulted. He still felt guilty over what happened to his other friends. Wondered if there was any way he could have stopped it or prevented it. If he had gone with them to a party instead of staying at home. He couldn't imagine being forced to actually watch that happen to his best friend and then being told it was his fault. God poor, Kevin. Poor Jean.

"I probably shouldn't have shouted at you."

"It's okay," Kevin slurred. Jeremy was pretty sure he was drunk. "I… he told you? Why did he tell you? He always tried to keep it hidden. I think Riko might have still been letting people-- and he also --. I was never sure. He tried to pretend it wasn't happening, so I let him."

"He told me some," Jeremy confirmed softly. He wouldn't share Jean's confidences with anyone, not even Kevin. Perhaps especially not him.

"How's he doing? Really?"

"I'm not spying on him for you. Ask him yourself."

"I don't think he wants to hear from me."

Jeremy couldn't say whether or not that was true so he said nothing.

"Is he… is he liking LA? Has he adjusted at all, can you at least tell me that?"

Jeremy paused, "Did you know he thought I was going to hurt him? When he first got here, he thought I was going to hurt him like Riko did. He thought you'd sold him to me. Kevin, he thought I was going to… " 

Jeremy's breath hitched. He hadn't let himself think about it, not a ton. How Jean had been so sure that it was going to be more of the same, that he or his coach would hurt him that way. 

How when he finally explained about the Moriyamas he cited being allowed to eat and see the sun as reasons why he didn't mind Jeremy's rule over him. 

"He thought I fucking owned him. He said he didn't even mind because I at least let him eat and see the sun and hadn't hit him yet." 

Kevin was silent on the other end of the line, but Jeremy could still hear him sniffling.

"Did you even ask him if he was okay with being sent here or did you just tell him he was going? Did he get any input?" He tried to ask gently, to not yell at someone who was already crying but he was still so upset. So angry that Jean hadn't been offered a choice in his own life.

Kevin paused voice small, "I knew you probably wouldn't hurt him. I trusted you'd take care of him. You said you would. You're a good person"

"So you didn't then. You didn't even give him a goddamn choice in any of this. And how the fuck would you know I'm a good person? You barely know me, Kevin, I thought Riko was a good person before all of this, a bit of a dick but mostly alright." 

He tried to keep the venom out of his voice but couldn't. Kevin couldn’t have known, not really, that Jeremy wasn’t just more of the same. A few chats before and after games and at banquets and following each other on social media couldn’t tell you anything about a person. 

He had known Jean, Kevin, and Riko for years, at least he thought he had. He had known them for years and he never noticed, he never saw, he never did anything. How could he have been so blind? He could have stopped it, maybe, helped done something, even if it was just the help and support of a friend. Someone who Jean could talk to. But he didn’t, because he was to blind to fucking notice the way Jean always favored different parts of his body, that the bruises weren’t from exy, the way Kevin and Jean were too respectful, fearful even around their captain. The way Jean was always at a distance from everyone else, mocking remarks other Ravens made that he caught fragments of that were horrifyingly cruel with the context he now knew. He should have noticed, there had to have been signs.

"I thought it was for the best." 

"Best for him? Or best for you?" He challenged. 

At least in Palmetto Jean had known people, had Renee, Kevin, and got to know the others a bit. He'd been thrust into the arms of strangers, with no reason to expect anything but abuse in California.

"I don't know." Kevin admitted, "both in a way. I know I couldn't, I can't. I wouldn't really be able to recover with him here. And he wouldn't be able to with me around either. Not after everything. You were the nicest person I could think of so I sent him to you. And he's got a better shot at Court eventually playing for the Trojans rather than the Foxes, especially considering his injuries. Less likely to be hurt again. Your team doesn't get red cards for fighting their own teammates on the court at least."

"You still should have asked. I think he's had choices taken away from him enough already in his life, don't you?" 

"Yes," he whispered. "Is he there? Can he hear us?"

"He isn't with me. I'm in a grocery store parking lot, he's back at our place " Jeremy sighed. "If you think I'm going to keep this conversation from him you'd be wrong."

"What do you mean he isn't with you? Did you leave him alone? Who's with him?" Kevin sounded abruptly panicked. And Jeremy sat up straight from his slouched position. 

"No one. I went to a thing alone. He was tired and told me to go without him." Jean had been adamant about Jeremy leaving and him being alone.

"You can't leave him alone. He can't be left alone. I told you!" Kevin sounded frantic.

"He told me to go. I haven't before but he said I should." Jeremy trusted Jean when he said he'd be fine.

"Last time he was alone he tried to kill himself. I'm not talking about years ago, I'm talking about him being left alone at Abby's and taking a bunch of pills." 

Jeremy's stomach dropped to his feet and all the air left his lungs abruptly. 

There were pills in the apartment. Jeremy's anti-anxiety medication, antidepressants and Adderall for his ADHD. If someone were to take enough of one or all of them it might easily kill a man. There were probably painkillers he'd never thrown away too. He didn't think Jean would, but Kevin did, he had known Jean for longer, been there for the darkest moments of his life so Jeremy could feel nothing but dread in that moment.

"I need to go!" He hung up on Kevin ignoring anything else he had to add and powered on the car trying to get back to the apartment as fast as possible with little regard to traffic laws.


 

Chapter Text

Jean wouldn't. Jean was getting better. He was talking to Jeremy now. He wouldn't. He wouldn't hurt himself or leave his body for Jeremy to find. Please god.

Jeremy rushed home frantic and ill at ease. Jean was fine, he tried to convince himself. He was probably fine. But he hadn't answered his phone once.

He couldn't remember the drive or parking or the elevator up to the dorm.

He ran in calling Jean's name to get only silence.

"Jean!" He glanced around the living room and kitchen. Jean wasn't there.

He threw open the door to the bedroom. Jean wasn't there either. 

The panic was bubbling up inside him thick and suffocating. He pounded on the bathroom door only to find it locked. 

"Jean! Please! Are you in there!" 

No response but he could hear the shower running.

"Jean open the door!" He begged only to get no answer. His heart thudded in his throat. He needed to get in there.

"I need you to open the door or I'm gonna break it to come in."

Nothing but the rushing of water and the frantic pounding of Jeremy's heart.

"Please," he was desperate. Fear tasted like poison on his tongue.

Still nothing.

"I'm coming in, stay away from the door." He couldn't wait any longer he gave it a few seconds before he slammed himself into the door.

The first time didn't work so he kicked it. And ran at it with his shoulder to get in.

Once he shoved in the door he found Jean sitting fully clothed in the shower icy water washing over him. His lips were blue and he was shivering with his eyes closed. But he was alive, at least Jeremy thought so. An ugly nauseating mix of fear and relief ran through his stomach.

He slammed the shower off. Jean didn't even flinch.

"Jean!"

He scrambled into the shower, slipping on the laminate and crouched down in front of him. Panting to catch his breath.

"Hey darling, can you look at me?" He urged. Jean was shaking violently he wasn't sure if it was from spending god only knows how long under the frigid spray or if he was still in the midst of a panic attack or flashback. Probably both.

He was alive. There was that at least.

He reached out and pulled his hand just as quickly back. Jean had said no touching him when he was like this. Jeremy was determined to respect that.

"Jean, please open your eyes." It was so cold in here. The AC and fan were blasting and the water had been as cold as it could get. Jeremy was shivering already and he was mostly dry and had just gotten there. Jean was frozen solid, judging by the blueish tinge to his lips and fingers.

Jean's eyes slid open but they were completely empty and stared off into the distance somewhere behind Jeremy's head.

"Okay, okay. That's good, thank you, Jean" he murmured in French. Jean's gaze remained lifeless fixated on some unknown point. The showerhead maybe?

"Did you take anything?" He asked holding his hands out for Jean to take.

Jean shook his head numbly. Resting his face against the side of the shower, his body was limp.

"Jean, come on, talk to me, please?" He shifted closer. He was soaked and trembling. He yanked a towel from the rack and held it out for Jean to take.  He recoiled eyes wide and darting and nostrils flaring in fear at the sudden movement.

"Fuck, I'm sorry. I’m sorry. You're cold and wet, you need to warm up." He dropped the towel in between them to hold out his hands again. It was like they were back at the beginning again, those first few days when everything Jeremy did just seemed to make things worse and Jean flinch from him.

Jean turned his head to stare at Jeremy's hands blankly.

He held them up slowly, "I won't hurt you,"

Jean blinked at him again and then slowly took his hand weaving their fingers together. Jeremy wrapped his arms around him pulling his shivering body close and Jean leaned forward to rest his forehead on his shoulder. "I know Remy." Jean's teeth were chattering. 

He ran his knuckles over Jean's back. He draped the towel slowly over his shoulders as soon as he was able.

 "You're freezing," he murmured back, rubbing his arms with his hands in an effort to warm him up.

"I didn't take anything. I promise." Jean shivered against him.

"Okay," Jean felt like ice. "Let's get you out of here and warmed up alright?"

Jean nodded and stiffly followed him out of the shower slipping and stumbling a little. 

He went into his own closet and pulled out old dry comfy clothes that would be big enough to accommodate Jean's broad shoulders and height. He turned to give him privacy to change when Jean immediately started shucking off his drenched clothes and replacing them with the dry ones. He left once he was done to give Jeremy privacy to change out of his soaked clothes. 

He brought his roommate a thermos of hot tea and wrapped them up together in blankets once they were both in dry clothes, in an attempt to banish the persistent chill. He rubbed Jean's hands between his own and blew on them. Jean just stared at him like he was lost.

He waited until Jean had gained back some of his color he asked, "What happened?"

"I don't know, I texted Renee a bit after you left. I meant to call her but I didn't, Then. I was alone, isolated. And it just got suffocating. And I couldn't get out of my head. I just needed to feel something." Jean admitted slowly.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have left. I shouldn't have left you alone." He had had doubts about leaving, he should have listened to them.

"It's not your fault. I told you to, you were respecting my boundaries. I thought I could handle it. It's not your fault that I couldn't. I really thought I'd be okay on my own. But I couldn't handle it. I thought the water would snap me out of it. But. Then. I was drowning. He was drowning me. I couldn't be left alone for just a couple hours without spiraling. It's pathetic." Jean dragged his hand over his face frustrated.

"It takes time. It's okay." Jeremy didn't think he was easing Jean's frustration that much, as he just grimaced slightly.

After a few moments of contemplation Jean began again, "You can touch me, I think. Next time I'm having a panic attack or a nightmare or whatever. When I'm not really there. You can touch me to get me out of it. Just you though, no one else. And just my hands or your arms around me if you think it's safe. Still not my hair, or my neck or lower back or any of the other bad areas."

"Why?" Jeremy asked he was willing too, of course. If it would help. But he was wary of Jean pushing himself into something before he was ready for it.

"It helps. It's grounding. When I can feel something real it pulls me out. I don't know if it can be an ongoing thing. But I want to try. I think it might help." He had noticed that, that within seconds of reaching out and touching Jeremy, Jean calmed down somewhat. But he hadn't been sure which came first, did Jean calm down with a comforting touch or did he reach out for one once he had calmed down enough to accept it.

"Okay," he agreed. "I hope it helps."

"I don't want to hurt you." Jean quickly clarified, "Only if you think it's safe and you could get away if I lashed out on accident. But you can try next time. If you want. We can see. I want to see if it helps."

He wasn't as worried as Jean was about that, he understood Jean's reluctance but was starting to realize that some of Jean's rules for personal space and distance during a panic attack were for Jermey's safety and protection not his own. He'd be cautious if only to spare Jean the guilt if he lashed out when he didn't know it was him.

"I will. Do you want to talk about what happened when I was gone, what caused your panic attack?" He offered equally prepared for Jean to say nothing at all as he was for Jean to say something heartbreaking.

Jean's eyes glassed over slightly then he opened his mouth to speak "His favorite thing was finding what you care about and using it against you. Making what you care for most hurt you. Taking away what you love or tainting it and destroying it so you can't enjoy it anymore. So it only brings you pain. I loved water and swimming as a kid, beaches, so he waterboarded me, though partially as an experiment to see if it was really as mentally scarring and damaging as the news said it was. He kept doing it because it really, really, was. Now I can barely shower without having a breakdown. I'm gay, attracted to men and he… "

 Jean trailed off eyes freshly awash with pain. "Took that from me too, wrecked it or fixed it depending on your point of view. I loved exy, not anymore, they made it about survival, pain and punishment. I liked animals, especially dogs, and he made me into one, thought it was funny to make me wear a shock collar. I loved the ravens, my birds, and he killed one and made me kill the others, made me fucking eat them. Kevin. I…, Kevin. He made him hurt me and hold me down and help, made him a bystander to my pain. Made him be another overlord who commanded me and dealt out punishment. He broke us, Kevin and I, and it can never be fixed. It might never be completely forgiven or forgotten what we did to each other. Me too, I hurt him too, Riko broke his fucking hand and I kept him still for it, to broken in to do anything except obey. I don't blame Kevin anymore, I understand it, I did the same to Neil. But I don't know if I can ever truly forgive him, and even if I can, I can't forget it, let it go. I can't forget the way he made excuses for him, and told me it was my fault and the way he still liked Riko and was his friend and brother, how they'd laugh and play together when we were kids while I was still tied up somewhere and hurt. I think that might have been what started it, Riko was jealous when I showed up and Kevin paid me any attention. We will never be what we might have been and we never can. We won't ever know. And that's okay. I've made my peace with it, honestly, it was probably just proximity and we are, if not friends, something between friends and brothers who don't get along always." Jean's voice wavered at the end.

“Our last interaction was a fucking fight. He was mourning him, Riko, he was sad, he missed him.” Jean sneered cruelly, “He tried to make me go to the funeral, to say something nice about Riko, to feel sad even for a second that he was dead. But I wouldn’t. Because I’m not, the day he died was the best day of my life, I’m glad he’s dead. So he fucking punched me.”

Jeremy felt a flash of fury. He was glad he hadn’t known that particular piece of information earlier, he doubted he could have controlled his anger at Kevin half as well as he had. In his mind, it was more damning than anything that happened during the nest or trying to escape it. At least then Kevin was forced and fleeing his own abuse. Hitting Jean after it was all over because he wouldn’t mourn the man that had him tortured and raped for ten years, that was worse. He knew, logically, that it wasn't black and white like that and how from his own past you can care and love the person hurting you. But Jeremy didn't feel very detached and logical right now. Not when it came to Jean, he was probably as emotionally invested as possible.

"He called. Kevin. When I was out. I think he might've been drunk." Jeremy whispered softly trying to keep his voice even and controlled.

Jean looked surprised and cautious. "What did he say?" 

"I kinda yelled at him." He admitted with a wince.

"You kinda yelled at him?" Jean perked up looking a bit delighted by that fact. 

"Yeah, more like I really yelled at him. I was a bit mean. Maybe I shouldn't have been, but I don't regret it." 

"Why?"

"Well…"

"Jeremy, you're a good person. I've only ever seen you yell at people when they said or did things to me."

 Something must have shown on his face because Jean followed up with a strained "Ah. So what did he say about me?"

Jeremy huffed not wanting to create additional problems between the two of them. 

"Remy." There was no way he could hold anything back when Jean called him that. He was weak to it.

"He started off with some bullshit about me making sure I kept you away from any gay stuff or pride related stuff I planned on doing because he knew I was queer. And I kinda snapped and started shouting at him."

"What else?" His eyebrows were knotted together and his nostrils flared. 

Jeremy gave Jean a rundown of him and Kevin's entire conversation not holding back any details when asked. He had told Kevin as much, he wasn't going to hide anything from him.

"I'm still going you know." Jean fumed when Jeremy was done. "to Pride and everything. Fuck Kevin. He can't tell me what to do anymore. I'll make my own goddamn choices. I'll be as gay as I want. I'll paint my face with a glitter, ride a goddamn unicorn in leather chaps, shirtless, wearing a rainbow flag as a fucking cape if I want to."

"Okay," His lips twitched, it was quite the image Jean painted. 

"He is such a fucking asshole." He growled in frustration. "he's an annoying, exy-obsessed fucking asshole. Also self-obsessed. I'm shocked I was ever attracted to him. Why? What the fuck? I mean was I actually or? In my defense, we were teenagers and literally the only two people around the same age that wasn't a complete fucking monster. Also, some of his habits are so unattractive and disgusting. I once saw him wear the same pair of underwear for about a week. And there was a time were he didn't clean his jockstrap for far too long because it was lucky. He's such a dick. He shouldn't have said that shit to you. The borderline homophobic crap. It's what we were taught yeah but--. Fuck him." Jean finished his rant with a cut off gesture of his hand. His accent always got stronger when he was upset.

"Don't push yourself just to spite him. He meant well, I think." he cautioned. He didn't like how pleased he was to hear Jean imply that he was no longer interested in Kevin and tried to bury that reaction. It probably meant he was a bad person how satisfied that made him. And as much as he loved the idea of Jean fully indulging in acts of gay liberation it felt too soon.  And there was still the risk of retaliation by the Moriyamas.

Jean let out a long gust of breath, deflating. "Spite is my favorite motivator."

Jeremy smiled, of course, it was. Jean was a man who had kept his accent and language just because it pissed Riko off even though they tried to force him to stop with the violence. He wasn't even surprised.

"I was afraid of Kevin too." Jean started again,  "Still am, a bit, I think. Not in the same way as Riko and I don't think Kevin ever wanted to hurt me or enjoyed it like Riko did. But he did. Hurt me. Physically and emotionally and all that shit. Every goddamned day."

When Jeremy didn’t say anything immediately, he continued.

"You know half the words are from after Kevin left. Maybe not quite that many but a lot. I distracted Riko so he could get out. I told him to go while we were practicing and I pissed Riko off just enough that he'd be punishing me for a while to give him a longer window to escape. The team was supposed to practice right after it happened. Kevin had bones sticking out of his hand so he was left behind. He said he was just going to go to the hospital to get help then he'd come back. He might even be back by the time all the practice and torture was over. I trusted him. He promised. See you soon, he said. I never thought he would --" Jean broke off. 

"He only got out because once practice was over Riko and most of the team were too busy watching what happened when he hooked me up to a car battery and shocked me, for anyone to check where he was. Half the ravens watched and laughed when I lost control of my bodily functions. And after that Riko was too busy sexually assaulting me to send anyone to check on Kevin or check himself. It bought him enough time to escape and get a headstart. Once he realized he was gone though…" Jean trailed off, eyes becoming vacant and haunted as he shuddered.

"I'm sorry," it wasn’t enough. Saying sorry, wasn't enough.

"He knew what Riko was. He knew what he was leaving me to. He knew what I was going through just to buy him a window to escape. He knew he'd be angry. And he just abandoned me. He didn't expect me to survive and he did it anyway. I did everything for him. Always, I did whatever he said, everything he ever asked of me. I thought he was my friend. That he actually cared about me. He threw me away. He left me for dead. So where the fuck does he get off telling me to do things now? I don't owe him shit. Neil was the one who made the deal not him. Renee was the one to go back for me not him. He left me." Jean's voice broke and he angrily scrubbed away the water that was welling up in his eyes.

He took Jean's free hand and gave it a squeeze. "You don't owe anyone anything. Just do what you want and what will make you happy."

Jean grunted in response fiddling with Jeremy's fingers. "I'm not sure what that is. I don't know if I know how. To be happy that is."

"Then try everything."

"Hmmm" he traced the back of Jeremy's hand, the ridges, and contours of his knuckles.

They sat in silence a minute and Jean took a gulp of his tea and let out a satisfied sigh. "Do I even want to know how much sugar you put in this?"

"Probably not. It's mostly honey if that helps."

Jean made a disgruntled sound that indicated that it did not in fact help. He kept drinking the tea though.

"Have you thought about therapy or something?" Jeremy asked cautiously after a few more minutes. "No pressure either way but it might help you with more coping mechanisms and stuff. Especially if you want faster results. They can give you the tools you need and support. That's all they do, give you tools and instructions to work on yourself. It's not weak. You're still the one doing the work."

Jean made a face.

"I go to therapy. Especially after all the stuff with Rick but I haven't gone in a bit, I need to schedule another appointment, I keep forgetting. Do you think I'm weak?"

Jean sighed. "No." he admitted begrudgingly.  "It's just. How can I sit there and tell a therapist that…. And everything else and trust that that won't become public. That they wouldn't report it for illegality."

"Confidentiality. They can't legally say anything about you. It's against the Hippocratic oath for one thing." 

"Okay and then I have put another person at risk for retaliation by the yakuza. I shouldn't have even told you, I didn't mean to. But you deserved to know the risk. And doesn't that only work if they believe what I'm saying is not a threat to myself and others?" 

Jeremy sighed.

"I'll think about it." Jean allowed with a groan. At least there was that, it was more encouraging than a hard absolutely not. 

"I'm not sure. I'm not saying no. I've done a lot of reading about it. And coping mechanisms. And talked to Renee. And I did talk to a therapist once or twice in Palmetto after," he stuttered, "well, Kevin told you."

"Yeah. Do you feel up to talking about it?" He asked cautiously. He should also probably shoot Kevin a text to let him know that Jean was okay. But he knew he wouldn't be able to keep from cussing him out some more; so he decided not to. If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all, that’s what his mom always told him.

"I assume that's why you were worried I had taken something." 

Jeremy nodded.

 "I tried killing myself again because they wouldn't let me go back, and I knew they would get me back somehow and it would be worse that I didn't go willingly. I saw an opportunity to end things, to make it so they never could take me back and I took it, it was the first time I had been alone for long enough to try. Turns out after working with the foxes Abby keeps anything other than mild aspirin and ibuprofen locked up, including my pain meds so she caught me after having emptied part of a bottle of ibuprofen, I hadn't read the label. They brought the shrink in to talk to me a few times. It was mainly a few hours of her offering me tea or hot chocolate and me refusing to say a word." The caviler way he said it sent a chill down Jeremy's spine. 

Jean's shoulders hunched and some of the vulnerability he had tried to hide away shone through. "Maybe I'll try again. Not for a while, but someday. Therapy I mean. Not the other thing, I won't, I won't do that. And I'm glad it didn't work."

"Okay. It's your choice. I think it would be a good idea though. Just to try it maybe?" He didn't want to push, but he wanted to at the same time. He knew it had to be Jean's choice in the end.

"Maybe," Jean allowed, and Jeremy let the subject drop.


They settled into playing video games bundled up together on the couch for an hour or so, until Jean got frustrated with losing and sourly pointed out all the inaccuracies. It was Mario Kart. He was practically pouting. It shouldn't have been endearing but it was. They switched into binge-watching cooking shows on Netflix.

"It's weird you know." Jean began partway through the second episode. "These past few weeks I've said more to you than I have in years. In any one day, these past few especially, I've spoken more than I ever did the entire time in the nest. And even before really. It's like I can't stop talking sometimes because I actually can now. And you listen. You actually listen to me and care about what I say and act like it matters. I've never had that before. It means the world to me, Jeremy, you have no idea."

Jeremy wanted to cry and was struggling not to because it was so goddamn unfair and cruel that just talking and having someone listen was so noteworthy that he felt the need to thank him for it. That bare minimum of human interaction and decency hadn't been even possible for Jean. 

But Jean just looked at him with something like wonder, caressing the edge of his jaw with his thumb. "I never knew the power of words before now. And the relief at having them in the open could bring. Thank you."

He caught Jean's gaze darting down to his lips and the pink of Jean's tongue flicked out to swipe his lower lip. His heart pounded. He was so gone for Jean, god that was undeniable at this point wasn't it?

Then Jean drew away slowly his touch lingering longer than it might have but not as long as Jeremy would have liked.

"Anyways, thank you, Remy. I mean it".

"Yeah. Always, Jean." He managed to get the words out without crying but only just.

Chapter Text

Jean

The parade hadn’t started yet but the atmosphere was good, charged, and excited. Happy, like the coffee studio had been but louder, bolder, there were people everywhere in every shape and color, holding hands and embracing. Men with men, women with women, and people whose gender Jean wasn’t sure about, kissing and laughing openly. Children, families, people with grey hair in walkers and wheelchairs. He didn’t know what half the flags stood for or what their colors meant but they were strewn everywhere. The crowds were too much, too loud and too close, and overwhelming, but it was good. The shrieks and screams weren’t ones of anger or fear and he could still tell the difference. He stayed close to Jeremy and couldn’t help but flinch at the noise and sudden movements towards him touching his arm for reassurance. He took his hand at one point for a second, no one even batted an eye at them. He refused to let himself panic and need to leave. Everything would be fine. 

He had stubbornly insisted on still going after Jeremy offered again to stay home and watch on TV or find somewhere less crowded to watch. He hadn’t taken too much convincing, he knew how important it was to Jean, and wanted to go himself. He even had an absolutely ridiculous outfit. An incredibly distracting and ridiculous outfit. 

Jean had almost had an anyeresum when he walked out of the room wearing heels, fishnets, a rainbow -- he wasn’t sure if it was a speedo or underwear of some style of shorts that didn’t really have any actual leg to them, a mesh top that was also rainbow with nothing underneath it, he could see his fucking nipples and it didn’t even go down to his midriff so what even was the point of it? He wore the bi pride flag as a cape. And his legs looked so long and toned. His nails were carefully painted in pink, purple, and blue, something that had taken the time the night before and he’d helped with but somehow made his fingers look longer and hands more delicate. 

He’d just stared at Jeremy for much longer than was appropriate and muttered something about him being careful not to cause an injury in the stilettos he was wearing because it would affect the season. 

Which was significantly better than saying what he had been thinking, which was that he could see the outline of Jeremy’s dick and wanted to squeeze his ass and run his hands all over him. Jeremy had then proceeded to demonstrate exactly how graceful and coordinated he made wearing 6 inches heels look. The effect that heels had on the angle of his hips, combined with the fishnets and the flimsy excuse for shorts he wore made looking at him wearing sweatpants a challenge; so he quickly left to change into jeans and compose himself in the bedroom.

Laila and Alvarez had also dressed up, or maybe Alvarez just looked like that all the time. They appeared to be wearing some kind of corset that looked uncomfortable, combat boots and lots of spiky jewelry, they had on rainbow leggings as well. Laila just wore jeans and a t-shirt with pink, yellow and teal stripes and her loosely wrapped headscarf had pale pink, light blue, and white stripes. It took him a minute to realize the patterns were flags too.

He tried not to look at Jeremy for too long. Or look anywhere other than his eyes and face. There was just so much skin. Even his face was distracting because Jeremy had put on eyeliner and glitter and it made his eyes pop and eyelashes long and highlighted his cheekbones and bone structure. Jean was going to die. 

He was also not the only person to have noticed how amazing Jeremy looked. He glowered at all the men who approached. His death glare at everyone ogling Jeremy deterred some, but not all. One man approached and did grab Jeremy's ass from behind making him yelp in surprise and Laila had to grab the back of his hoodie and yank him back to keep him from immediately decking him.

"Fuck off." He snarled.

The man held his hands up surrendering, "Hey man, don't let your boy go out dressed like that if you don't want people to notice. It's all good fun."

"It's fine, Jean. And we're not…" Jeremy placated him. 

The man immediately then turned back to Jeremy and started to hit on him, until he cut him off with a, "I'm actually just here with friends right now, some other time maybe."

The man nodded, accepting that and left. He was not the last one to approach. 

One approached Jeremy, looked him up and down, and just asked “Top?” in an oddly hopeful tone.

Jeremy just replied with “Bottom,” and the man left with a disappointed sigh to Jean’s confusion.

He looked to Laila for clarification and tried to keep the shock and confusion off his face when she whispered an explanation in his ear. This was fine. 

Jeremy shrugged at the look on his face and laughed, “I mean technically I can top, in like an emergency or if a girl isn't into pegging, so I guess I’m vers bottom, but I typically prefer not too.”

Jean was too flustered to respond and ask what kind emergencies required Jeremy putting his dick in someone or what the hell pegging was, and didn’t have to because another man approached vying for Jeremy’s attention, with a similar inquiry seeming to think that the flag he wore as a cape said something about the position Jeremy took sexually.

Jean wanted to hit him too but refrained from violence. Some people weren't even hitting on Jeremy, some approached to ask for directions or just to complement his clothes and some kids recognized him from the exy team. 

The joy on one boy’s face, probably around eight or nine years old, when he loudly announced to his parents "See, I can still play exy if I'm gay, Timmy's a liar." Hit Jean harder than it should have. He felt himself freeze and watch Jeremy crouch down to talk to the kid, sign an autograph, and take pictures. Something like hope and joy flooded his chest, but he still couldn't bring himself to approach. He made sure his hood was up and his sunglasses covered his face and just hoped he wasn’t recognized.

Once the family had skipped off Jeremy looked up at him, his lips twisting into a soft smile, the nameless feeling in his chest increased ten-fold.

Someone else started to flirt with Jeremy, they had piercings, tattoos, and brightly colored hair but were very attractive if you were into that kind of thing Jean observed darkly. He wondered if Jeremy was into that kind of thing and immediately compared his own dark monochrome and possibly boring appearance. 

“You’ve got to hand it to them. It’s pretty brave of them to come up when Jean’s over here looking like he wants to just fucking murder everyone that looks twice at Jeremy, looming over them like an omen of death, with the pulled up hoodie and, dressed all in black. Plus he looks scary as hell with the glaring and literal face tattoo. Like the grim reaper.” Alvarez commented saddling up to him and Laila. 

He shot Alvarez a personal dark look for the comment but they just laughed. Which was a bit insulting. What happened to his scary reputation? “I could throw you across the fucking street.”

Alvarez laughed and repeated what he said in a crude and over-exaggerated French accent. “I could trow you across ze fucking street. Yeah, yeah, that’s real cute French fry. I’m terrified.”

“Pute.”

“Close enough to Spanish that I know that one, my lovely accordion player.” They said cheerfully.

“Good. And what the fuck is that supposed to mean? I don’t play any instruments.”

They just repeated what he had said again in a mocking French accent. They continued to bicker going back and forth briefly distracting Jean from watching Jeremy and scowling at everyone who approached.

His focus returned however as he watched yet another man approach Jeremy and flirt with him touching his arm. The man in question was tall, blonde, tanned, stereotypical California surfer handsome. It made Jean grind his teeth in frustration. Jeremy looked more interested this time. Tilting his head and laughing at something the blonde asshole was saying. 

For some unknowable reason, Jean found himself at Jeremy's side with an arm slung around his waist giving the man the frostiest glare he could. He didn't recall making the decision to do so, it just happened. 

Jeremy looked up at him wide-eyed, mouth parting in an O of surprise. He tilted his head down closer to him, "Remy, the parade is starting," he murmured just loud enough that the other man would hear.

"Right, yeah of course," Jeremy blinked up at him, voice a bit shaky. 

He turned away from the man he had been talking too without another word and followed Jean back to his friends. A flare of smug satisfaction went through him, and he turned back to give the crest-fallen man a smirk.

Music started to play over loudspeakers and they watched the parade slowly begin. 

Within a minute it was almost like a slow-moving party. A fast tempoed song with a lot of bass came on and Jeremy let out a cheer and grabbed Alvarez's hands running forward a few paces to dance. It was in Spanish, from what he understood it had something to do with cars? Jean looked away for a few minutes to watch the parade and people dancing in the procession and when he looked back he almost choked on his own tongue.

Jeremy was… dancing he supposed might be an accurate term but it mainly involved his hips and ass and there was lots of jiggling. His entire face burned but he was too fixated to bring himself to really look away. Jesus. Jeremy turned slightly more towards him and he quickly forced himself to tear away from his gaze and turn to Laila.

“What the fuck is he doing?” he managed to hiss out to her who was watching Alvarez and Jeremy do… whatever the hell that was, but didn't seem to be having the same difficulties with processing it as he was.

“Twerking,” she smirked.

 Jeremy turned so his back was to Jean again and he was only able to let out an inarticulate strangled sound at the sight. 

She patted his arm gently. “Alright there?”

“What’s it called when it's like a panic attack? And you can’t breathe. But you aren’t scared or remembering shit and it’s good? And you like it a lot. Like a lot, a lot. And don’t really want it to stop, but also think you might pass out or die still?” Maybe it was a heart attack. He couldn’t believe after everything he had survived he was going to die because of this .

There was jiggling. How was he managing to stay balanced, he was wearing heels? Oh, god. Merde.

“Attraction? Gay panic?” Laila grinned, then face fell abruptly, “Oh shit sorry, I didn’t--”

“Yeah, that.” He confirmed without taking his eyes off Jeremy. He didn’t care that Laila had caught him, she knew already, probably wouldn’t tell anyone. Not that anyone who caught him staring could possibly not realize how attracted to Jeremy, Jean was.

He knew he should look away but he just couldn’t. He felt his pants tighten. God. 

Jeremy wasn't even the only one. There were hundreds of fit men, many shirtless, and it was stressful. Jeremy was the one Jean watched the most, the best looking, in Jean's probably biased opinion. But there were others. And most of them were gay, or queer and possibly interested in men. He held no illusions that they would ever be interested in him, scarred as he was but, still he wasn't alone. And he couldn’t deny they were attractive. He saw flashes of the community that Jeremy had so passionately described.

It seemed impossible. Overwhelming. That there were this many others. He eventually managed to tear his eyes away and turn back to the parade, because continuing to watch Jeremy's ass bounce while he was twerking would probably make him pass out as the blood drained down from his head to his dick.

There were so many people, proud and waving flags. Men kissing on top of floats. People dressed more dramatically than Jeremy. Some in full drag. Weird leather masks that he wasn't sure he understood, maybe it had something to do with the furries Jeremy had tried to explain to him.

He pointed out flags and things and asked Laila what they all meant. She explained to him patiently and kindly answered all of his questions without judgment. Jeremy turned back to him after he stopped dancing and gave him a blinding grin that made his chest hurt. He pulled back to stand by them and helped answer his questions, beaming up at him with shining eyes the entire time.

"So you are pansexual, that’s the light blue, yellow, and pink?” He asked

“Yes,”  Laila said with a smile.

“And Jeremy, you’re bisexual?” 

“What's the difference, are they the same or…?” He didn’t want to offend them and knew they probably weren’t, but he was still a bit confused. But neither Laila or Jeremy had been bothered by any of his questions so far and he hoped it was safe enough to ask. 

“No they aren't the same, but they are kind of similar.” Jeremy grinned, “Actually, it's that Laila wants to fuck pans and I only get horny if people buy me stuff or if they are riding a bike.”

“I am fairly certain that was a joke.” Laila rolled her eyes at what Jeremy had said, while Alvarez let out a bark of laughter. 

“Good catch, that has nothing to do with that at all. Laila’s better at explaining stuff than I am though.”

“So pan means all, and it is the attraction to all genders or how I like to think of it as attraction regardless of gender. Bi means two, and some people define bi as the attraction to just two genders but that isn't 100% accurate for all people because there are trans and non-binary people, and most of the bisexual people I know don’t exclude them from the scope of people they are potentially attracted to. So bi is the attraction to two or more genders, it can even mean all genders for some people like Jeremy and the choice to identify with pan over bi or vice versa is up to the individual person.”

“Yeah, they are not the same but they are similar,” Jeremy added,  “and the definitions definitely overlap some. Some people go with whatever colors or flags they like best, some people choose bi because its more widely recognized and mainstream, others choose pan because it explicitly includes trans and non-binary people, and they don’t want leave room for doubt or prefer that definition. Or because of the connotations of a gender binary system with bi. For some people but not all, if they are pan it’s because gender isn’t a factor in attraction at all, whereas for bisexuals it might be a factor in your attraction or different for different genders even though you are still attracted to multiple. So like for me, the way I am attracted to people does have something to do with gender, even though I am attracted to most genders. Gender is still a factor and part of it. Does that make sense?” 

Jean nodded.

“Whereas I don't really consider gender as a factor in my interest of people, at all.” Laila jumped back in “There are also other multisexual identities, there is also polysexual, which is pink green and blue, and it is the attraction to multiple genders but not necessarily all and omnisexual attraction to your own gender and all other genders. I don’t see a flag for them here yet, but it looks kind of similar to the genderfluid flag I pointed out earlier but it goes light pink, dark pink, black, then dark blue and light blue.”

She pulled out her phone and showed him a picture of the flag before continuing “There are others too and probably will be more in the future, definitions and labels change too over time. And these are just for English, I’ll admit I am not familiar with how it works in other languages but I do know people borrow a lot from English pretty frequently.”

“Yeah, I’m not sure either, I know some for Spanish that are pretty much the same, but I have no idea for French or anything,” Jeremy added.

Jean nodded and a part of him wished he was able to take notes before he realized that neither Jeremy or Laila would have a problem with him asking again and he would have free and unlimited access to the internet as well. 

 “Also people can use one label for a while and then decide to use a different one or try one to see if it fits better. It doesn’t have to be fixed. They can use more than one too“ Alvarez jumped in, “Like I am a lesbian, but I’ll also use sapphic or just gay or queer, mainly I am into just women, but non-binary people too sometimes.”

Laila continued “I have seen it done where pan and other non-monosexual identities are kinda umbrella-ed in under like a bisexual umbrella. Then like underneath are that other multisexual identities like pan, polysexual and omnisexual are there, so if one is pan, one is also bi but more specified is pan. I don’t really agree with that or see it that way personally, but if that conceptualization and language works for some people that’s great for them.”

“I sometimes can see it like that,” Jeremy added, “Like I use bi, because it’s what I always have used and because I look fantastic in purple, but I also can relate to aspects of other labels like pan or polysexual and would be comfortable considering myself both pan and bisexual. But I know some pansexual people might take issue with the umbrella concept, in part because there is a tendency from straight people and others to just want to call any non-monosexual identity bi, and say that people who identify themselves in another way are doing it for attention or are trying to be ‘special snowflakes’ or something else shitty and condescending. So it makes sense for people to be defensive of their identity. Also, I have heard people say that being bi is inherently transphobic or non-binary phobic and excludes them from being people bi people are interested in which is also really shitty and not at all true, though I guess I can’t speak for every single bisexual on the planet, and I'm sure there’s some out there that are. It sucks because our communities have more in common than they have different, and they shouldn’t be pitted against each other. Luckily most people in real life are pretty chill and not like that at all but I also have witnessed some fights go down on the internet from a distance. But also it’s really complicated, so like, why not just let people identify how they want and not police or argue with them about it you know?”

 “Yeah, I totally agree,” Laila said, “ It’s really complicated, and I think everyone sees and views things a little differently and ultimately language and categorization is something that’s personal and up to the individual even though it is also used to communicate with others.”

“Yeah, that’s fair. And there is a difference between sexual and romantic attraction too. There are asexuals and aromantics, and a whole spectrum of identities for each. Some people are asexual and aromantic but some people aren’t and are asexual but still experience romantic attraction, so they might be asexual and panromantic. The same thing goes for aromanticism, some people are aroace but other aromantic people still experience sexual attraction just not romantic attraction. There’s polyamory too, it's the blue, red, and black, and it encompasses people who have non-monogamous relationships. Gender though is different and a whole other thing altogether.” Alvarez said. 

“Gender wise there are transgender people who identify as a gender other than the one they were born with like me, this does include nonbinary people, of which there are a ton of non-binary gender identities, but if a nonbinary person does not want to also identify as transgender or feel they don’t fit under the transgender umbrella they don’t have too.” Laila continued.

“Yeah, like even though I am genderqueer slash gender-fluid I don’t always feel like I identify with the label transgender, though on more masculine leaning or agender days sometimes I do, more so.” Alvarez added, “Also a lot of bi and pan people use gay or queer as an umbrella term too, and they absolutely can.”

“Everyone defines their own sexuality and gender a bit differently. And that’s allowed, it’s okay and it’s good. It comes down to individuals choice” Laila smiled.

“When it comes down to it, labels are for you not anyone else. How you define them and identify is up to you, not anyone else, what is important is that you like the label and are comfortable with it and find happiness attached to it. Some people don’t label themselves at all, and that’s completely okay. It is about the individual, labels can be used as a tool to find community and people with common views and experiences and as a tool to explain yourself to others but that is secondary. Labels are for the individual before they are for anyone else, and no one owes anyone an explanation or justification of what labels they use for themselves.” Jeremy’s eyes were shining like they did whenever he got passionate about something, and if Jean hadn’t already had feelings for him he probably would have gotten them then from the look on his face. 

“But that's our views and it's honestly pretty complicated and there are probably other people who see things differently who aren't necessarily wrong either. And you are free to do your own research and everything. Though I am pretty strong for inclusion over exclusion and will argue with people who try to keep others out of the community.”  Laila finished as they turned back to focus more on the parade which was ramping up even more. 

He still felt like he should have been taking notes, and while he was still confused; he appreciated the openness and honesty that they offered him without getting mad that he didn’t already known or acting condescending toward him. 

It was all overwhelming, exhausting, and a bit terrifying. But, he didn’t feel like there was a spotlight on him and everyone was watching like he had feared. There were so many people and people dressed so extravagantly that Jean practically disappeared in comparison. The illusion of anonymity was comforting. 

He was gay, and that was okay. It couldn't be unnatural or wrong when there was a sea of other people who were too, and thousands who supported it. Who would support him. Maybe. It was alright. He was going to be alright.

 


Jean felt unusually sore, achy, and hot by the time they returned to the apartment splashing cold water on his face. Jeremy took one look at him then cursed, "Shit,"

"What?" He asked, concerned looking at Jeremy's worried face.

"I forgot that you were white."

"Huh?" Jean was even more confused. It was fairly obvious. He’d pretty much gone ten years without exposure to sunlight. His complexion was closer to a porcelain dinner plate than it was to Jeremy's.

"Sunscreen. I don't really burn so I didn’t think about it. I don't even own sunscreen. You're like super sunburnt. Like really red. Does it hurt?"

"Oh." Yeah, that made sense he remembered getting sunburns as a kid, but he had gone years without being in the sun at all and hadn't been outside for very long since. So he hadn’t remembered that. They'd been outside in the California sun for hours watching the parade and festivities. And Jean was wearing all black.

Jeremy shoved a glass of water in his hands. "Drink this, I'm pretty sure I have aloe somewhere for burns." 

Jean obediently drank the water and took a glance at his reflection in the mirror while Jeremy scoured the apartment for aloe.

His face was bright red and pink at best, especially over his cheekbones and nose and tips of his ears. His skin was mildly blistered in a few places. He prodded at his face gently. It stung, but it was nothing he couldn't handle. It only registered as pain now because it had been so long since he actually was injured. The sunburn and stubbing his toe one night had been the worst pain he was in since California. 

It still amazed him that Jeremy hadn't once raised his voice or a hand against him. Not once. Not even when he was an asshole and refused to cooperate or speak. That wasn't allowed in the nest he'd had silence beaten into him, then he would be beaten again for staying silent when he was expected to speak. The lines between being caned for silence and bludgeoned for speaking out of turn were so blurred and confusing. Half the time he had not known if the Master or Riko was hurting him for saying something they didn't like or not saying what they wanted to hear.

Jeremy let out a shout of triumph from the other room and returned with a bottle of a gooey gel. Jean patiently allowed Jeremy to fuss over him and smear the stuff on his face.

He continued to fret and fuss over him, even offering him a popsicle and getting him water, until Jean was forced to roll his eyes.

"It's not that bad, seriously, I've had way worse."

That was apparently the wrong thing to say because Jeremy just looked upset, "You shouldn't have had worse. And I should have remembered to get sunscreen or something. Also, you might get skin cancer now."

Jean let out a huff of laughter, "It isn't your fault or responsibility. I didn't think about it, and I'm not going to get skin cancer. Thanks for taking me though. I had a good time." He added at the end changing the subject before Jeremy could say anything else.

"Okay. I'm glad." He smiled softly at him. 

"I'm going to call Kevin. Let him know I'm not dead."

Jeremy gave him a small smile and went to go do laundry to give Jean privacy to make the call. He appreciated the thoughtless gesture that Jeremy gave without even thinking about it. 

He dialed the number and didn’t wait for Kevin to say hello once he picked up. "I'm gay Kevin and if you have a problem with that you can go fuck yourself with your exy stick."

"I… I know. I'm sorry."

"Fuck you. There's nothing wrong with it or me."

"I know. Fuck. I know. I'm. Well, I'm something too. I don’t know exactly what yet but… I’m working on it. I'm happy for you I guess. I'm sorry I was shitty. Makes sense that you’d come to realize it or accept it with Jeremy around. He's, I mean he's just, wow. You know, well you know, you've seen him obviously. He posted a picture of what he was wearing today. Hey, do you think he might--"

“No Kevin,” he growled hackles rising and cutting him off. “Don’t. Don’t you fucking dare.”

“What--”

“Don’t you dare.” He snapped again, switching to Japanese, threats were always better in that language, more serious. And on the off chance, Jeremy could hear he wouldn’t understand. “If you try to take him from me, I will kill you. I swear to god. He’s mine.” 

He struggled not to keep screaming at Kevin in a possessive rage. He’d said he’s mine, that Jeremy was his. Like a toddler who refused to share or some kind of animal. Like Riko or Jeremy's ex and Jean immediately loathed himself for it. He wasn’t a possession. 

Jeremy wasn’t his, he wasn’t, and never would be. And Kevin was less broken, less damaged, he recovered even his hand from the nest with time, could be with people that way without problem and always got everything Jean didn’t. A choice between them was obvious. If he tried to take Jeremy, or worse just slept with him then cast him aside as he had with so many others, not even appreciating him the way he should, Jean would kill him. Or it would kill Jean. He wasn’t sure. Maybe both. 

Kevin always got everything. Jeremy, California, were the only things Jean had ever had that was his, that he didn't have to share or get it taken away. And it was still only because of Kevin he reminded himself bitterly, he was the one who had asked the Trojans to take him. Jean was another one of Kevin’s cast-offs too. 

“I didn’t know-- You two are?”

“We’re not. I can’t -- But you can’t Kevin. Please. After everything you’ve done, let me have this. Let me have him. Please.” 

He wasn’t above begging. He knew he was no competition for Kevin. Kevin was mostly whole, undamaged, unscared. Still beautiful. Capable of functioning semi-independently. Who wouldn’t choose him over Jean? Jeremy would pick him in an instant. 

“If you ever cared about me at all, you won’t.” He sounded too raw, too vulnerable to continue speaking a language he’d received nothing but abuse, and switched back to English. But not French, somehow he could still distance himself from it, and when he refrained from using his mother tongue. It was easier to pretend the thought of Jeremy and Kevin together that way didn’t utterly destroy him in English.

“I won’t try to sleep with him.” Kevin agreed irritably after a few moments.

He nodded even though there was no one there to see it, feeling a wave of relief go through him. "Thank you,"

Kevin was silent for a second.

"He's his own person, I shouldn't have-- " he choked. Jeremy had told him how the possessiveness and jealousy of his exes had hurt him. What was wrong with him? Who was he to put that limit on him?

"It doesn't matter anyway."

"Thea?" He asked. The only person in the nest that had held Kevin's attention for more than a one-off, the only one he hid from Riko.

Kevin groaned, "It's complicated. She's pissed at me, but that's not what I meant. Jeremy wouldn't, not with me. He likes you, more than me. And I'm pretty sure he hates me now. Which is fair."

"What do you mean? He doesn't." Jean didn't think Jeremy was capable of hating anyone.

"He yelled at me in defense of you and… I mean he wasn't wrong. Pretty much called me a piece of shit for everything. No scratch that, his exact words were absolute piece of shit."

"Yeah, he told me." He didn't mention the state Jeremy had found him in when he came home. He still couldn’t imagine why Jeremy would be legitimately upset, he was probably just trying to make Kevin be nicer because that was the kind of person Jeremy was. He made everyone better just with his presence.

"I'm sorry you know. For everything I really am. I thought. I thought if I cut you out and ignored you he'd stop --. And then leaving -- "

Panic bloomed in Jean's chest. "I'm not talking to you about this right now."

"Okay, yeah, sorry, okay."

There was silence. He hadn't expected Kevin to agree. He'd expected him to push, argue, like he always did. To make himself feel better, appease his own fucking guilt, even if it tore Jean to shreds.

"But um, I won't go for him. I mean he's nice and hot and good at exy and everything but… I don’t know, I'd probably not want anything more than sex and..."

Jean felt an irrational and stupid need to jump to Jeremy's defense and tell Kevin exactly how lucky he'd be if he ever got a chance with Jeremy. Jeremy deserved more than just sex. But he didn't, because this was what he wanted, for Kevin to back off. 

"Yeah, anyway. You actually have feelings," Kevin sounded oddly bitter about that. "for him and shit. That have a chance of being reciprocated. So I won't get in your way or fuck that up for you. You should go for it though."

"He doesn't want me." He didn't bother confirming he wanted him.

"I may be emotionally stunted, and not know shit about that kind of thing, but I think he could. It's possible. I don't know why he would, you're a fucking asshole. Fucking Jeremy might make you unwind a bit or something."

"You too, brother," he scoffed. Kevin meant it as a joke, but it still stung. 

He'd become what he had to to survive, donned armor so it was harder for slashes to land on his vulnerable belly. He knew that there was no reason for Jeremy to return his feelings, he didn’t need it pointed out by the person who had been there for all the wounds and words that had turned him into what he was. 

Who knew exactly how unworthy he would be of Jeremy. He couldn’t even picture Jeremy and him together for more than sex. He hated the way he said it, how it made the way he felt for Remy feel dirty and cheap. Fucking. That wasn’t what Jean wanted, but he knew he wasn’t good enough for anything else. 

"So..."

"I'm hanging up now. Good talk. Let's not do it again."

He heard Kevin curse at him and say bye before he ended the call.

That hadn't been… terrible. It could have gone way worse. It certainly could have gone better. By the standards of his interactions with Kevin it had gone pretty well, he still wasn’t over Kevin’s mourning for Riko and how he had gone to his funeral. Tried to make Jean go, saying I know he was terrible, especially in the end, but he was our brother, we were a family, complicated yeah, but he cared about us. Don’t you care that he’s dead, won’t you miss him just a little? He’s dead, get over it. What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you care? It was pretty much the last time they had interacted, at least in person and directly, and it would have escalated into violence if Renee hadn’t stopped Kevin after the first punch and Andrew hadn’t stopped him from retaliation.

Riko could rot in hell, he had no fond memories about him or complicated feelings about his death. Not like Kevin did, they had actually been friends once. Jean’s feelings for Kevin though, that was complicated, he still cared about him, he had been the only one to even try to help him in the nest. 

There had even been good moments, few and far between as they were, something faintly resembling fun and normalcy. What he imagined family and friendships looked like for other people. And his betrayal had been unexpected and particularly sharp. But he missed him. He really did. He’d chosen his new number in part for him, 28, two and eight, Kevin and Renee, the only thing he had ever had that resembled a friendship or positive relationship from before California.

Maybe someday he would be able to talk to Kevin, he was still his brother after all, without being left feeling hollowed out. Empty, scrapped raw, and drained. He wanted to be friends again, he did, but he needed time.

He dragged a hand over his face. Fuck, he needed to shave too.

Jeremy knocked gently on the door not coming back in until Jean invited him. 

His tentative smile sent a wave of relief through him for no reason at all. “Hey,”

“Hey,” he echoed, feeling his lips twitch upwards without his control.

“You, good?” Jeremy’s eyebrows were furrowed in concern, biting his lip.

“Yeah, it’s fine. It’s just Kevin.” He let out a heavy exhale. Jeremy’s half-smile and soft brush of his hand, the simple kindness and gentleness in everything he did, washed away the tension and stress he carried from the call. 

“I have something for you, I should have given it to you earlier but I decided to wait.” Jeremy looked shy all of a sudden, nervous.

“Oh?”

“Yeah, it’s, well here,” Jeremy quickly passed over a small black drawstring bag and retreated.

He opened it up and pulled out a black woven leather bracelet, there were two silver beads on either end and a drawstring to tighten it. The inside was rainbow, and it looked like it could be reversed if so desired, but otherwise the exterior was a supple black braided leather. He felt a lump in his throat at the recognition of the colors that had been plastered all over the parade today. There was a small pin in the bag as well, also in a rainbow. The bright colors contrasted so sharply with the darkness of the nest and  represented everything that was forbidden there and not allowed to flourish. There was no place for love of any kind there. But here there was a place and the potential for love of all kinds. 

“You, don’t have to wear it or anything, either of them. I don’t know if you like jewelry or anything, but I saw it yesterday and I just thought you might like it -- And no one can see the rainbow on the bracelet from the outside -- Sorry it’s stupid I shouldn’t have--.” Jeremy rambled nervously waving his hands and cutting himself off at random points.

“Jeremy, I... “ He felt his throat tighten. It shouldn’t mean so much. He shouldn’t be moved to tears by something as simple as this. The silent unspoken acceptance. He couldn’t remember the last time anyone had actually managed to give him anything.

No, it was Claire. She had made him a drawing of the two of them and given it to him before he had left. She told him to come back soon, and to look at it so he wouldn't be lonely on his trip. He remembered looking at it and tracing over the indents where she’d pressed her crayons and colored pencils hard into the paper. He made the mistake of looking at it in front of Riko, he’d burned it in front of him. He wondered if Claire even remembered she once had a big brother now.

 Kevin tried too, to give him some fruit and nicer portions of the food he got to eat, a candy bar on his birthday once. But Riko threw it on the ground when he caught him and prevented it from happening. The bloodshed that followed ensured Kevin never tried to give him anything again.

He wrapped his arms around Jeremy and buried his face in his neck to hide the tears that were forming rapidly in his eyes. He didn’t even have to hunch over, Jeremy was still wearing the ridiculous heels. 

“Fuck I didn’t mean to make you cry. Shit--” Jeremy panicked, bringing his arms up around his shoulders.

“Thank you,” he choked into his neck, “It means a lot, and I’m going to fucking wear it.” Maybe not so people could see the flag but he was going to wear it.

“Oh. Okay good. You like it then? And you aren’t mad?”

“Yeah I do, and not mad, opposite of that. It’s…” he trailed off, unable to explain it, “Thank you, Remy I mean it.”

“You’re welcome.” he murmured softly.

“I’m going to get glitter on you,” Jeremy whispered after a few more minutes of just standing there holding him. Jean took that as his signal to pull away.

“Sorry,” he muttered embarrassed. At least the sunburn would keep a flush from betraying his emotions for the next few days. 


He waited until Jeremy had fallen asleep beside him before texting Renee. 

Jean: <I’m gay.>

Her reply was within minutes.

Renee: Thank you for telling me. That must have been hard, I'm proud of you.

Jean: <We went to pride today, there are so many others, it isn’t wrong. It isn’t bad. People can be happy. It’s supposed to be good.>

He remembered the men embracing and kissing on top of a float. Openly, freely, happily. The families and people young and old at the coffee studio. The joy Jean saw, the freedom and love, support, and safety. It was like nothing he had ever imagined.

Renee: You’re right

He curled closer to Jeremy letting his face drift to his hair and inhaling deeply. He smelled sweet like honey and cream, like heaven. Like home. 

Jeremy made a soft sound in his sleep and shifted closer, wrapping his limbs around him and putting his head on his shoulder. Jean wasn't able to suppress the shudder that ran through him as Jeremy nuzzled into his neck and the bare skin of his face and arms touched his own. Jeremy's skin was soft and warm against his and Jean had never felt safer than he did in that moment against all odds.

He brought his arms up around him and Jeremy let out a soft sigh. Jean's heart clenched painfully, he ignored it and sniffed his hair again. Sweetness, softness, and safety. That's what he smelled like, that's what he was. Tomorrow he would meet the rest of his team, he would have to go back to work, back to exy, but tonight he got to have this and somehow that made it all feel worth it.

Art by punchsomeoneforme Art for Pride

Chapter Text

Jeremy

Today was the day. His teammates had been moving into the dorms all morning. Normally Jeremy would have gone out and greeted every one of them and offered to help, but the hollow look in Jean's eye and the subtle flinches at every shriek, and thud from people moving in, dropping things made him stay. He didn't mention it, neither did Jean. He was back to being a silent and somber flinching statue hovering around him.

When they all met at the court later Jean seemed to have put on the same blank, slightly arrogant, and scary mask that he wore when he had first arrived. Everyone was chattering noisily and waving their arms about, Jeremy winced on Jean's behalf. He never would have thought twice about the chaos before. But now seeing Jean clench his jaw and grind his teeth harder at every shrill laugh and visibly recoil, shoving shaking hands into his pockets when the sophomore and junior dealers started throwing a water bottle back and forth, it made him want to tell them all to be quiet. 

But Jean wouldn't want that, he told himself. He was clearly doing everything he could to prevent his new teammates from noticing his distress and Jeremy was determined to respect that and not draw attention to it. He wanted to reach out and take his hand but he wasn't sure if that would be allowed or welcome in front of everyone else.

"All right everyone shut the hell up and settle down. That's all of you here so the first team meeting is about to start!" Coach Rheman shouted to make his voice heard above the roar, and he felt Jean jump slightly at the sound before everyone else gradually settled down. 

He introduced himself and Jeremy first, then Laila as vice-captain. He started to read off the names of all the new freshmen letting them know to inform him of any nicknames or preferred names if they wanted to go by something different.

"Also Jean Moreau has transferred to our team from Edgar Allen. So give a warm welcome to your new teammates." 

There was a loud roar of cheers, shouts, and clapping. Jean stayed rigid at his side and acknowledged the noise with a slight jerk of his head.

"Jeremy, lead some icebreakers and shit while I get locker assignments organized."

He nodded his head and stepped forward having everyone introduce themselves to the group with their names, pronouns, year, and position as well as a fun fact. When two of the freshmen made a scoffing sound at the mention of pronouns he immediately launched into a speech about their importance. 

He tried to pay attention to everyone’s answers he really did, but he kept getting distracted. He wanted to watch Jean see how he was doing and reacting. After they went through the icebreaker he gave them a chance to split up into small groups and get to know other teammates who weren’t in their year or played the same position. 

Immediately a bunch of people started converging on Jean who went rigid. A freshman, the new striker he was pretty sure his name was Katsu, bounded up to Jean, and held out his hand with a huge grin.

“I’m Katsu Nishimura, striker, I can’t wait to play with you, you’re fantastic Trojans are really lucky you decided to transfer. Well me too, I guess because I’m a Trojan now. I was going for the Ravens, but I guess I didn’t make the cut. No surprise really, I am shocked I made the Trojans, my mom is thrilled.”

Jean just stared at him blank-faced for a few moments before shaking his hand as quickly and perfunctory as possible. “Jean Moreau, backliner,” he stated without any inflection. 

A few more players had converged and they now had a small audience.

The smile on Katsu’s face faded a bit and became sad. “I’m so sorry for your loss. That must have been hard to lose a friend like that. I always looked up to him.”

“Yeah, man. That sucks, let us know if there is anything we can do, we are your teammates now.” Max Reed, one of two Maxes both of which were fifth-year seniors and backliners, offered sympathetically.

“Yeah, sorry about Riko, he’ll be missed.”  

A few more teammates echoed similar condolences in a soft murmur.

Jean’s face closed off became abruptly cold and hard. “Don’t be. I'm glad he’s dead. He was a monster.” He snapped his words echoing loudly throughout the room

Katsu reeled back looking shocked, and so did the rest of the team.  “Dude what the fuck?!”

 Someone else let out an audible gasp.

The freshman looked pissed, and so did the rest of the team with the exception of Laila and Alvarez, Jeremy couldn’t help but wince. 

He knew how this looked, things weren’t off to a great start. He'd told his teammates about not being too touchy or invasive with Jean. At least the ones he was closer to; but hadn't said much more than that, wanting Jean to be able to form his own relationships with the others without them having preconceived notions or knowledge that Jean might not want them having. He probably should have mentioned not bringing up Riko, and sent a mass text so they knew what a world-class douchebag he had been.

"Don't be an asshole!" Someone else shouted.

“What the hell is wrong with you?" Reed snapped as the room came to a standstill and everyone stared at Jean. Jean flinched slightly but then his face hardened to stone.

"Leave it Max--" he tried to say but he continued anyway.

 "Suicide isn’t a joke!” Reed looked furious, and Jeremy remembered that he and his brother Lewis, who was also glaring at Jean furiously from the corner, had a relative they lost to suicide. 

“I’m not laughing,” Jean snarled practically baring his teeth.

“What the fuck's your problem? You don’t have even a little sympathy or anything? He was supposed to be your friend and he died!” Mack, never one to hold back on calling people out on their bullshit, snapped.

“My only regret is that I wasn’t the one to pull the trigger and that I didn’t get to see it happen.” 

Jean looked about thirty seconds away from decking the next person to confront him and quite a few of the Trojans, particularly Katsu and the Reed brothers looked like they wanted to hit him as well. So Jeremy swooped in while the rest of the team was silent after reeling back in shock.

"Okay so our next activity is going to be splitting up into groups, let’s try to get one person from every position in each group without repeating years, a couple of groups might have some repeats but 7 groups of 4. Talk about what you did over break and reintroduce yourselves. GO!" 

The Trojans reluctantly began to divide up into their groups and Jeremy pulled Jean over to be in a group with him. 

"You okay?" He whispered

"Fine." Jean snapped without elaborating. He recoiled when across the room Charlie let out a shout of laughter as his boyfriend Leo, the junior goalie, launched himself at him to claim him into his group.

They were joined by Prisha and Mack, both of whom gave Jean a dirty look before joining. 

"I'm Prisha, junior offensive dealer, she/her/hers. My cousin got married and we went to India for the wedding." She kept the statement short and clipped.

"Mack sophomore goalie they/them/theirs or ze/zem/zir. I started learning archery." Zir tone was also frosty at best.

"Nice that sounds awesome, what made you want to get into that," Jeremy asked enthusiastically, trying to break the ice a bit more.

"Honestly, so I could make jokes about being a real arrow ace as in ace at archery and being aroace." 

He caught Jean's lips quirk up for a half-second out of the corner of his eye at the joke but it disappeared so quickly he might have imagined it.

"Nice awesome love the puns! Prisha how was India, how long did you stay?"

"Not quite two weeks it was great, but also exhausting. Jet lag was pretty intense. I hadn't met half the relatives that were there before."

"What about you Jean?" He tried to get them to engage in conversation with him.

"I've been with you the entire time." He looked a little taken aback. His entire body was rigid with tension and he would twitch and flinch minutely every time someone moved or shouted in the background.

"Yeah, but they don't know that," he made a gesture between the three of them. Jean raised an eyebrow. He repeated the gesture a bit more vigorously.

Jean rolled his eyes. "Fine, Jean Moreau, he/him/his, backliner, I've been staying with Jeremy. Happy?"

"Delighted." He flashed him another grin.

Jean just sighed. 

"I'm Jeremy, captain and striker, he/him/his and mainly just been hanging out with Jean."

"What have you guys been up to?" Mack offered, Jeremy was immeasurably thankful for the effort to end the awkward silence.

He turned to Jean letting him pick up the conversation and accidentally initiating a staring contest until Jean gave in with a sigh and spoke, "Training, Jeremy went to pride. I got sunburnt." 

Jeremy left them to make stilted conversation and check in personally with other teammates having them switch groups a few more times and help coach. Laila went to be in Jean's group so he felt a bit better about throwing Jean to the metaphorical wolves as he attended to his other responsibilities as team captain.

Lewis went to join Jean’s group approaching him from behind and clapping him on the shoulder as he did so. “Look, man, are we going to have a p--” he didn’t finish his sentence before Jean reacted, immediately spinning around grabbing Lewis’ wrist with one hand for a second then the other coming up around his throat pinning him against the wall.

Lewis gurgled letting out a strangled noise, unable to say anything while Jean shifted back but didn’t let up the pressure on his neck assessing him with cold and unsettlingly empty eyes. “Don’t. Or we will have a problem. Understand?”

Reed leapt forward to defend his brother but luckily Jeremy was closer holding him back with a hand, while Alvarez also moved to get between them. 

“Jean put him down, please.” he murmured in French, brushing the hand that was still loose at Jean’s side.

Jean flicked his gaze over to him for a second, eyes widening slightly before he nodded and immediately dropped Lewis who fell back and staggered against the wall coughing and sputtering, heaving in ragged gasps of air.

 “Sorry,” Jean muttered, giving him another half glance, as Lewis rubbed his neck wheezing, and his brother came forward practically shaking with rage and gave Jean a murderous look as he took him to go see Jared.

Jeremy heard muttered whispers about Jean. What an asshole. Did he get kicked off the Ravens? Some even suggested as an aside that Jean was the one who bullied Riko to the point of suicide. It made Jeremy grit his teeth but the gossip stopped the second he got close enough to each group and he held back on confronting them unless they approached him directly.

The few people who did approach Jeremy, angry at Jean, he waved off. Telling them firmly to leave it and reiterating that they didn’t know the whole story and Jean was their teammate now and he expected them to welcome him with open arms.

Coach reentered the room having gathered and organized all the locks, he saw Jean jump from across the room actually bringing his arms up to shield his face for half a second when Rhemen shouted upon entering. They went through some more activities and paperwork for an hour or so until Rhemen dismissed them.

"Alright, everyone come and collect gear and a lock go get your shit situated in the locker rooms men on the left, women on the right. If you are nonbinary go wherever you want and switch at your leisure. Or you can use one of the bathrooms and keep your shit in the office or elsewhere; if there is no one in the away lockerrooms for practices you may use those. Just please don't strip in the lounge and yes, Ryn and Alvarez that means you two. You almost gave Jared's boyfriend a heart attack last year when he came to drop off his lunch. I am aware of the problems inherent in a gender binaric system but you need to keep your clothes on when in a public space. And USC won't fund an additional locker room. Change out and come back for team photos."

Jeremy helped coach distribute the locks and explain how they worked before bringing half the team to the men's locker room.

While he went over locker room rules and where to put dirty uniforms so they could be washed, Ben started messing around whipping a towel at people. He tried to ignore his immature and generally assholish behavior for a second to help the freshmen until there was a shout.

He spun around to see Ben drop the towel after whipping it at Jean landing at least one hit, that Jeremy caught, against the back of his legs and try to dive out of the way, before Jean grabbed him by the collar, punched him in the face and put him on the ground all within half a second.

Fuck.

"Do it again and I'll fucking kill you." Jean snarled at Ben crumpled on the ground at his feet.

"What the fuck! Can you not be an asshole for like five minutes?" Reed shouted helping Ben up off the ground. 

Jean clenched his fists and took an aggressive step towards him, Jeremy rushed forward and got between them again. Jean stopped his stance softening slightly. "It's okay. It's okay. Ben don't hit people with a towel."

Ben started to protest and get aggressive but Jeremy silenced him with a glare. Ben was an asshole and generally not the most popular guy on the team, still, he could hear soft mutterings throughout the team mostly against Jean. Even from people who also wanted to punch Ben half the time.

"Change out for pictures." He snapped to the rest of the team and took a step back. Jean just shrugged face blank, seeming unbothered.

He heard a gasp once Jean tugged off his shirt, he wasn’t sure who, but the room had gone eerily quiet and still. Everyone was staring at Jean, at his back, at the hundreds of scars. Most silvery and faint against his pale skin but enough were red, horrifying, and ropey standing out. Letters, and other patterns clear enough that it was obvious all the wounds were deliberate. 

“Holy shit?” he heard one person say and a soft “What the fuck?” from someone else. Jeremy didn’t take his eyes off of Jean, prepared to intervene if necessary if he lashed out at someone again. Jean turned away from his locker to face his teammates taking in their horrified faces and the wet choked gasp someone let out at seeing his chest with an irritated look on his face. A few people looked like they were about to be sick.

The scars were horrific, and Jeremy hadn’t seen them nearly enough yet to get used to them. To stop the apoplectic rage that went through him at the thought Riko doing all that to Jean. The way his throat closed up and tears pricked his eyes as he thought about the few stories he knew behind them. He doubted he ever would.

The room was completely silent, you could hear a pin drop.

Jean made a bitter scoffing sound surveying their shocked expressions, face cold and eyes hard, his tone almost mocking, condescending, “I told you he was a monster. And you didn’t believe me did you?”

“Riko did all that to you?” Katsu stared at his chest wide-eyed like he couldn't believe what he was seeing.

Jean rolled his eyes, gestured to the words Property of Riko carved into his chest. “No, I just thought this was a good look. Of course, he fucking did this to me! All of it and a whole lot more. Although, a couple are probably from other Ravens. Can’t really recall all of them, he liked to get other people involved sometimes. Not like I ever had much choice in the matter. The words though, that was all him. Wait, no, almost forgot, these ones I did,” 

Jean held up his wrists and pointed out the thick rings around each one, “Handcuffs cut into your skin when you struggle too much. Did you know that? If it happens enough times, the scabs tear, and all the scar tissue really builds up.” His voice was high and sounded a tad manic. 

Jean continued when everyone remained deathly silent in horror, “I did these ones too,” Jean pointed out the cuts above his wrists staring right at Reed and giving him a cruel smirk. 

“Didn’t work. And as you all know, suicide is no joking matter. So, the whip marks on the back of my legs were a fun family project for Riko and the Master for that little indiscretion. Now, are there any more fucking questions?”

The freshmen looked scared, Katsu, in particular, looked stunned and on the verge of tears, his eyes wide and lip trembling. He held up his crumpled jersey to his chest. 

Jean finished getting dressed and immediately stormed out, leaving the still motionless room in stunned silence. 

Reed was the first person to say something horrified. “Jeremy, what the actual fuck--?”

“I told you to leave it, Max.” he sighed.

He hurried into the rest of his uniform and looked back at both of the Maxes no one else had moved; everyone was staring at him waiting for direction or an explanation. He didn’t know what to say. 

“Make sure the freshies know how the locks work I’m gonna--” He gestured at the door Jean had disappeared through,  Reed and Tran just nodded a bit numbly. 

He caught up to Jean in the lounge where he was slumped on one of the couches with his head in his hands. “Hey,” he hesitantly reached out and touched one of his hands. 

Jean dragged his hands down his face and flicked his gaze over to him. “Sorry,” he muttered.

"What why?"

"For traumatizing your team. And punching that guy and choking that other guy."

"They're your team too. And they'll be fine. Ben shouldn't have done that. I’ll talk to Lewis."

Jean made an irritable noise. Jeremy knocked their shoulders together, "How are you doing?"

"When are we starting practice?" Jean dodged his question.

"We are just doing pictures remember? And everyone else needs their physical today. Plus tomorrow will probably be mostly team bonding, orientation, and rules. We might do some practice though."

"For an exy team, you don't play a lot of exy."

"It's the first-day people are meeting each other."

"If you practiced more maybe you would have won championships already." Jean snapped. 

Jeremy didn't bother responding that if what the Ravens did and what Jean had been put through was the cost of winning championships he didn’t care if they even qualified or won a single game.

They got through the pictures without further incident for the most part. Everyone who had been in the men’s locker room stayed mostly silent and subdued. No one else messed with Jean or said anything else about him. Teddy repeated Jeremy's words of you don't know the whole story to his on again off again girlfriend Paige when she made a snide comment and he heard Reed whisper something similar to his girlfriend Vanessa, also saying they shouldn't be mad at Jean.

But the flat haunted look never really left Jean’s face. Jeremy couldn’t help but notice the way his eyes darted around skipping from person to person and how he flinched and braced himself every time someone so much as walked past him or suddenly came into his sight. 

Aside from when Jean recoiled at a locker being slammed and hid his shaking hands in his hoodie, he wasn't sure if anyone else noticed how frayed and barely keeping it together he was. Tran and Reed had exchanged grim looks and shot a concerned glance between Jean and him but nobody said anything.

 Conversation, as they left the stadium, was stilted, and though he caught up and chatted with his teammates he tried to keep Jean in sight as much as he could. He eventually stopped trying to push Jean's participation in conversation when it just seemed to make things worse and he wouldn’t say a word to anyone.

Someone must have said something about Jean to everyone on the other half of the team at some point. By the time he went around to everyone’s room to check up on how they were settling in, everyone had stopped glaring at Jean who remained a silent and hunched-over shadow trailing after him.

 Instead, everyone looked concerned, if a bit apprehensive and shocked. Mack opened zir mouth to say something when they visited zir room but closed it after Jeremy gave zem a small shake of his head. 

He wasn't even sure if Jean was even mentally present in the room with them. He hadn't spoken or made eye contact with anyone since they left the stadium. 

Once they returned to their own dorm Jeremy tried again. "Can I make you some tea?"

Jean jerked his head in confirmation but still wouldn't look at him. He felt like they were back at the start again, and it made Jeremy ache to see Jean smile or express anything at all even if it was just anger.

Jeremy brought the tea over to him and Jean jerked away with wide and wild eyes at the sound of the mug clinking against the table.

"I -- I'm sorry," he choked out, wrapping his arms around himself and speaking for the first time in hours.

"It's okay," Jeremy made sure to keep his hands where Jean could see them and move slowly and telegraph his movements. Jean watched him warily eyes tracking his hands and body in a way he hadn't in weeks. 

"I know you won't --" Jean furrowed his eyebrows and a flash of frustration went over his face briefly replacing the panic, "It's just--" 

He cut himself off again and glared at the ground bitterly. 

"Can I come sit with you?" He asked tentatively expecting to be denied or pushed away again, but Jean nodded looking exhausted. 

He situated himself on the couch next to Jean, far closer than he needed to be, and pulled his knees up to his chest.

Jean shifted closer to him so their bodies were pressed together and let out a sigh seeming to let out at least a hair of the tension he carried throughout his frame.

"I wish I wasn't like this," he confided softly

"It's okay to not be okay." He whispered back.

"But I was. I was okay, I was doing better." Jean sounded so bitter and his eyes looked like they were made of steel.

"You still did okay, today."

"Remy, I managed to alienate and make your entire team hate me and think I was a monster within 10 minutes of meeting them."

"They'll get over it. And if not that's their problem, not yours. Yes, choking Lewis and punching Ben was not great, but honestly half of us have wanted to hit Ben at some point and Lewis probably won’t hold a grudge. It was the first time you had been surrounded by a bunch of people, the entire team, in the stadium no less. Give yourself a break.”

Jean let out a dry huff. 

"I agree with you by the way." He said after a minute, not sure if he should be saying the words even as they were coming out of his mouth. "He was a monster and I'm glad he's dead."

Jean nodded and Jeremy felt his hand slip into his own without words.

Jean took a sip of the tea he had brought him and let out another sigh unwinding a little more. "It's remarkable how good this always is compared to everything else you make."

He felt his lips twist up into a smile at the jibe and nudged Jean lightly with his side. "Rude."

"I honestly thought you were trying to drug or poison me for over a week." His lips quirked up slightly. Even though it broke Jeremy’s heart a little that that had been all Jean had known to expect and the implication that that had happened before, he felt his own smile broaden at the ghost of one appearing on Jean's face.

He was so beautiful and his eyes shone like they were made of silver. Jeremy would do anything to keep smiles on Jean's face instead of the blankness, anger, or fear that were there when they weren't alone.

"I'll take the compliment then when I can." He said curling up closer to Jean.

Jean folded his arms around him and swung his legs up onto the couch pulling Jeremy to his chest with a relaxed sigh. They fit together so naturally and perfectly. Jeremy wondered if this would be okay in front of the others. Jean had not seemed to mind a ton when it was just Laila and Alvarez; or at the very least hadn't been put off by Jeremy curling up beside him and drunkenly using his lap as a pillow. But, would that go for the rest of the team too.

He couldn't bring himself to ask in that moment though. He was too content in Jean’s warm and soft embrace, with how he could feel his chest rise and fall with each breath against his back to question it or point it out and risk Jean no longer feeling comfortable.

"Thank you," Jean murmured after a few minutes

“For what?"

“For this. For being you.”

Jeremy twisted his head around to look Jean in the eye and his breath caught at the way his gaze was so soft and felt fragile somehow as if it was spun of glass. 

Jean's hand came up to caress his cheek gently, cloud grey eyes so soft, and Jeremy's heart caught in his throat.

"I--" he started to say he didn't know what but was interrupted by his phone buzzing loudly on the coffee table and Jean's hand fell away. 

Jeremy felt the back of his neck heat up and turned away to grab his phone and check the messages before settling back against Jean.

There were a bunch from each of the freshmen who he had text him so he would have their number after giving out his own and a few from his other teammates. He declined invitations from Teddy and Lewis to play video games and another from Charlie and Leo to watch Queer Eye that he might have considered if he had wanted to be anywhere else but nestled up with Jean on the couch.

He made sure to check in with Artie and verify that Ben, their resident asshole and only cismale sophomore, hadn't given him any trouble about using the men's locker room today. He hadn't caught anything or even seen the two interact but he admittedly had been more focused on Jean.

Rivers had made a couple of comments at the end of last season when Artie came out as trans but had been swiftly shut down by practically the entire team. Coach had also made it very clear in a private conversation between Jeremy, and him that if Ben continued to harass or make comments about the Trojans’ many queer players he would be off the team or benched until he could treat others with respect.

Jeremy had lucked out with Rheman, he was the first queer Trojan or at the very least the first openly queer one and had been welcomed with open arms for the most part. He even started making optional diversity trainings mandatory for his players at Jeremy's behest, and actively worked to create a comfortable and welcoming environment for all. 

After Jean put on some exy reruns of past games with others in their district to 'study' Jeremy felt his attention wander.

“Hey Jean, what's your major I never asked?” 

"Sports management or something. All Ravens have the same major and classes. It's more efficient and ensures that no one is away from their assigned partner or needs to waste time on course work, instead of practicing.”

“Yeah, that sounds like a cult. Do you like it?”

He felt Jean shrug behind him. "I didn't really have a choice. It's not particularly interesting but it doesn't matter, someone else usually did the coursework for me.” 

Jeremy wasn’t even surprised at the blatant plagiarism and cheating that apparently went on in the Nest at this point. Of all the other things that they did, this was comparatively minor.

“You know that's not going to happen here right? And also you can switch if you want. Was there any difficulties transferring credits or whatever I know USC has some general requirements and block courses. Did they transfer?”

“I don't know Kevin did all the paperwork and sent it in. I didn't see it.” Jean still seemed more focused on the exy game than their conversation, not seeming to realize that he probably should have had a say in his coursework instead of having it chosen for him.

Jeremy’s lips thinned out into a tight line. "It's your choice, not his.”

He felt Jean shrug again against his back. "I was busy recovering from all the lacerations, broken ribs, concussion, and other injuries. I didn't really care. He offered me a say but I just told him to take care of it. They didn't let me practice for some reason, and actually gave me pain killers so I mostly just slept and tried to exercise when the nurse wasn't paying attention.”

Jeremy swallowed the increasingly familiar horror at the nonplussed and dismissive way Jean mentioned his injuries and made a mental note to make sure Jean actually rested and followed the doctor's orders on the off chance that he got injured again at USC.

 "Do you know if you have to take any gen eds? Or anything you could take ones you are interested in or electives if you are able to?”

“It's not like it matters what classes I take or anything. I'm going to be a pro exy player and if I don’t make the cut, well then it doesn't matter because I'll be executed. There really isn't much point to what classes I take, what I learn, or even if I get a degree." Jean said it carelessly like it didn't matter not even stilling his hand from where it was absentmindedly rubbing Jeremy's scalp, even though the statement sent a wave of icy fear down his spine at the idea of Jean being suddenly and brutally murdered over how successful he was at a stupid sport. 

"I think I need to take a summer class in a few weeks. I remember Kevin mentioning he had to sign me up for it. I'll have to check." 

"Wait what? You're taking a summer course?” Jeremy almost turned around, how was this the first he was hearing about it?

“Yeah, pretty sure.” 

“Do you need, like, books and stuff? Do you even have a computer?”

“Oh I didn't think about that. I guess. I'm not even sure what course it is. Just that I need to take it to get on track here. Kevin bought me a laptop, I haven't taken it out of the box. Pretty sure he got me a webcam too and installed skype or whatever in case I wanted to talk to him or Renee, but I haven't opened that either. I just have to pass and do well enough not to get on academic probation and lose my spot on the team.” 

“Okay, well summer semester starts in July and it’s only a couple of weeks but it can be kinda intense. Just the one class right?”

“Think so,” Jean seemed disgruntled when Jeremy got up out of his lap to get out his laptop and figure things out.

He spent the next half an hour showing Jean how to login to the school's portal and all of the subsequent sites to see what courses he was actually enrolled in and the details and if he wanted to switch. As he continued to do so it became very clear that Jean hadn't had to do any real school work since the French equivalent of elementary school, and another wave of apprehension went through him. 

Jean was smart. He knew that it was obvious, he was brilliant he had an eye for strategy and details, a shockingly amazing memory considering the probably high number of concussions he had received, and spoke three languages, without any formal schooling in them. But college was hard, really hard. If Jean failed he wouldn’t be able to play and then he would literally die. 

Student-athletes had a reputation for not being the best at academics. But, USC was a fairly well-renowned school that took academic standings and performance quite seriously and put some pretty strict requirements on their student-athletes. At least Jean now knew that he was in fact taking a course this summer. He shoved down the urge to call Kevin and yell at him for enrolling Jean in things without consulting him but let it slide as Jean didn't seem upset or even aware that it wasn't normal and he had been recovering from being tortured at the time.

As Jean figured out how to use the laptop he hadn't even taken out of the box yet Jeremy got another series of texts from his teammate

Max Reed: (hey, I'm sorry for giving Jean a hard time earlier. I had no idea still don't actually.)

(There's clearly more going on than we know about,)

(Look, I’m not happy he choked my brother or anything, but I get why he might have a pretty adverse reaction to being grabbed from behind and getting barked at like that. Lewis does too, he’s not mad or anything anymore.)

(I mean Riko did all that to him? What the hell man?)

(There was all the speculation and shit after Kevin said he never went skiing but… And there’s always been rumors about hazing and unhealthy practices at Edgar Allen...)

(I can't believe it. Some of those looked old as hell.) 

(Like he was tortured right? That’s what that looked like)

(Legit torture, the handcuffs?)

Jeremy: Yeah

Max Reed: (And what they said? The words? That is so tremendously fucked up.)

(Is he okay?)

(Nm forget I asked that. it's a dumb question)

(Would it be alright if some of us came over and apologized? Or just hung out? Lewis feels pretty bad and one of the freshmen is really upset too, but I stopped him from coming over, for now, I figured it’d be better to ask first.)

Jeremy glanced over at Jean who was finally acting like himself again and engaging with him and immediately wanted to shield him from the outside world and everything that had pretty much made him shut down earlier.

Jeremy: I'm not sure now is the best time.

(Okay no problem)

(We gotta catch up later though yeah?)

Jeremy agreed and put his phone back down. Hopefully, tomorrow would go better.

 

Wonderful Art by punchsomeoneforme <a href="https://archiveofourown.org/users/Punchsomeoneforme/pseuds/Punchsomeoneforme">.of Jean and Jeremy at pride from the last chapter

Jeremy and Jean at Pride

Chapter Text

Jean

Jean didn’t understand the point of all the stupid little games they were playing. He didn’t give a flying fuck what anyone's name was, what there favorite color was, favorite summer memory. He had flicked his eyes over to the bluish tank top Jeremy was wearing before responding with blue on his turn. It looked good on Jeremy.

They were an exy team, number 2 in the NCAA and they had spent yesterday and a good part of today doing nothing . Talking about the rules, getting to know each other, the schedule. He was exhausted, he'd barely slept last night, not wanting to wake Jeremy up screaming when he inevitably had a nightmare, which he had failed at when he passed out anyway. Jeremy calmed him down by holding him and counting out his breathing even though he had barely been awake himself. He'd managed to get a few peaceful hours after that when Jeremy had somehow ended up sprawled over his chest rather than on the other side of the bed and he quickly fell back asleep while trying not to move and wake him.

Apparently they would have more free time than Jean had ever imagined, he had thought that once the team arrived things would go back to normal, relatively speaking. The vacation was over. But apparently they wouldn't even spend 6 hours a day practicing, the absolute minimum anyone at the nest ever would have gotten away with doing if they were lucky during the eight hours a day they were awake.

The coach had apologized for taking up to much of their fucking time yesterday and today. That's all anyone was doing. Talking, apologizing, making sure everyone was happy, and getting along. Friends. He barely held back the sneer and scoff that itched to get out. It was almost pathetic. A couple of the freshmen made comments about the workload they were going to have to put in being intense and kinda a lot, hard, and Jean had to bite his tongue to keep himself from laughing or screaming at the idiotic children. He didn’t want to disappoint Jeremy or let him see the cruelty and violence that was always bubbling up under his skin.

He kept glancing over to check on him and Jean felt wound so tight he could snap at anyone at any moment. He struggled to make sure that that person wasn't Jeremy but, he was pretty much the only one trying to talk to him and include him. He had either scarred off and disgusted half of them with his scars, and horrified or repulsed the others with his words about Riko. Barely anyone would meet his eyes. Laila and Alvarez did, on occasion but they were busy with everyone else too and gave him space after he snapped at both of them. 

They stopped for a break, a break from doing absolutely nothing, but apparently people got breaks from their breaks here. One of the players approached him while Jeremy went and got people snacks. Like they were fucking toddlers who needed the juice boxes and fruit snacks he was offering.

A backliner thrust his hand out and Jean leapt back to avoid a punch to the gut only to stare at the hand that was extended towards him and flick his eyes up to the concerned and slightly alarmed face looking at him.

Max Reed, that was the player’s name, African-American, average build, 6'3", backliner, fifth-year senior, one of two fifth-year senior backliners named Max, the other being Max Tran also a backliner. His younger brother Lewis, who Jean almost strangled, was also on the team and a junior backliner. Weaker on his left side, foot turned out when he was about to make a feint, defensive of teammates, could be provoked with certain insults that Jean personally could not stomach. And some other bullshit he had spouted in the past few days that wasn't in his Ravens notes that Jean hadn't paid attention to or forgotten.

He stared at his extended hand until it retreated. He had seemed particularly angry at him yesterday. And he had hurt the man’s brother. He wondered what he was waiting for. Was he waiting to hit him until Jean let his guard down? Until there were less witnesses? Maybe he was waiting for Jean to screw up bad enough that no one would care if he hurt him. They probably wouldn’t much anyway, he had already attacked two of their own. He was Jean's competition as one of the starting backliners, Jean threatened his spot, his rank, it was only a matter of time before he and the rest of this team turned against him.

If it wasn't Reed it would be someone else. Someone here would hurt him; it was inevitable. He just didn't know who yet. There were too many people here for them to all be like Jeremy. He trusted Laila and Alvarez to an extent because Jeremy did. And he trusted Jeremy enough to hope that his team wouldn't hurt him too badly without someone interfering. He was ready, he couldn't let his guard down.

"I'm Max Reed but everyone just calls me Reed because of the other Max and my brother just goes by Lewis. It can be a bit confusing sometimes. I think we got off to the wrong foot yesterday, but I look forward to playing with you and stuff. We'll definitely be stronger with you here to help our defensive line."

"Okay," he stated flatly.

"Your footwork and precision with passes are really impressive you're super talented.”

"I know." He wasn’t sure what he was playing at, was it a jibe at the last time he played the Trojans and had a sprained ankle slowing him down? He had still played better than any of the Trojans fueled on desperation and fear.

Reed scratched the back of his neck and laughed awkwardly, "You must have some good tips to improve accuracy."

"Raven drills are meant for Ravens your team is not up to caliber to handle them nor the skill level to execute them." 

"Cool yeah, well that's what practice is for, I guess."

Jean stared at him refusing to show any weakness that might come back to haunt him later until Reed shuffled off to go talk to the other Max looking back at him over his shoulder with a wince at something he said.

Jeremy was sweet and caring. It wasn't his fault, and wouldn't be. Jean was an intruder here, he knew what to expect, there would be backlash, Jeremy's good intentions and kindness couldn't protect him forever. He would try and succeed to some extent but it couldn't last, not for everyone on this team. He had known since the beginning, but somehow these past few weeks he had lost sight of that. That his experiences with Jeremy were singular and wouldn't last. Yes, he'd come to realize Laila and Alvarez weren't major threats but everyone else? Especially the men? The Coach? Maybe he wouldn't beat his players to the point of losing consciousness but he must do something, for discipline. Especially with the way everyone was so respectful towards him. They must be afraid of something.

Laila and Jeremy came back in with the snacks to a roar of cheers that made Jean grit his teeth. He felt more at ease having Jeremy in his line of sight though. Jeremy probably would try to stop his teammates from physically harming him.

He put the snacks on the table and the team fell on it like animals and made his way over offering him a juice pouch and some fruit snacks looking at him with puppy eyes until Jean took them.

He tried to not look at Jeremy, it made him feel soft, safe. Weak. Over the past month, he had come to associate Jeremy with safety rather than fear as he should. The rest of the team was not Jeremy. He couldn’t let his guard down. Couldn't let anyone see his weaknesses and Jeremy was rapidly becoming one. Who was he kidding? Jeremy already was.

He had to fight for his spot here. To prove his strength and worth or it would all be taken away. To earn his spot on the starting line and make sure people were afraid enough that they wouldn't try to take it or put him in his place. He wouldn't let what happened to him in the Nest happen here. He couldn't, he was allowed to fight back here, Jeremy said. He wouldn't allow others to touch him, he didn't have to stand by and passively take it anymore. 

The one advantage of the scars marring his skin was it was hopefully enough to make him physically undesirable and unattractive. It wasn’t enough to make him let his guard down, it hadn’t been enough to save him completely in the Nest but it put off the Master at least, once they started accumulating. And the Trojans were less isolated; they could go elsewhere for those types of needs or at the very least find easier prey than Jean. So long as there was no one who found the scars more appealing, got a sick satisfaction from touching them and adding to them like Riko or Johnson, they might give him an additional shield from unwanted advances. There had been lingering glances in the locker room yesterday but they hadn’t been overtly predatory as far as he could tell.

They were finally dismissed and told to change out to do some actual exy practice. He felt and saw the eyes on him in the locker room. The cut off and hushed whispers. He ignored it. Everyone was too much of a coward to actually say anything to him directly this time. Good, he had scared them off and now they knew what he could survive. Hopefully, it would put them off any personal experimentation regarding the level of pain Jean could endure.

He felt the walls of the court close in around him once they were locked inside. Everyone was active and running around and shouting. The red of the Trojans jerseys was too similar to the bloody color of the jerseys Ravens wore sometimes during practice or certain games. The court was always a battleground. It became harder and harder to distinguish between the players here in California and the phantoms of Ravens his mind created. A ball slammed into the court wall the noise too sudden and jarring.

Jean couldn't breathe. 

~~~

Riko ripping off his helmet and slamming his head up and down to the court floor by yanking his hair, so hard his nose broke, the way he struggled and started choke, feeling seconds from drowning in his own blood bubbling and pooling on the floor. A racket or foot pressed against his neck, the threat of death, keeping him still and unstruggling while two other Ravens took turns kicking him in the ribs for fumbling a pass. Being forced to stay late and scrub away all the blood soaking into the freshly waxed floor, only to have Riko come in as he was about to finish and cut into him some more and pour the cleaning solution into the cuts to make it burn and sting before making him clean up the mess again. 

Something brushed him and he lashed out to protect himself. Grabbing at the grate of a helmet he slammed them into the wall, baring his teeth. “DON'T FUCKING TOUCH ME!” 

All he saw was Johnson’s jeering face. Mocking him for being so weak. All he heard Riko cackling in the background encouraging him to fight back and win if he wanted to sleep alone and undisturbed that night. 

There were hands-on his arm yanking him and grabbing at him. He lashed out again. They always outnumbered him. Never let your guard down. Court was the only place he was allowed to fight back. And if he wasn't strong enough it was always worse later. He heard a grunt of pain as his fist made contact with a jersey and exy padding. 

Another a shout in the background. “Don’t touch him.” 

He lashed out with his feet to kick the other attackers' legs out from under him without letting go of the other's helmet. Knocking at least one person away with his elbow. Williams and Johnson rarely attacked alone. Always more than one, both of them together. Need to fight both. One of them holding back his arms while the other slammed his face into the plexiglass over and over. Riko offering him up as a reward for the night to whoever could make him bleed the most during practice. 

“Teddy get back, stop trying to grab him.”

He couldn’t breathe. He was suffocating. Hands against his throat, yanking out his hair. Being kicked and checked over and over. Rackets slamming into his ribs and diaphragm knocking the wind out of him leaving him gasping.

"Jean, Jean!" He heard a voice calling him distant like he was underwater. Drowning.

"Jean!" His name. No one called him that except Kevin. Closer this time.

He felt hands against his own barely there. Soft and gentle, not forceful, he could get them off with a flick of his wrist if he wanted. "Hey it's me, it's Jeremy. You're in California. You're safe. Riko's dead, he can't hurt you anymore. No one's going to hurt you."

He loosened his grip on the attacker's helmet and stopped trying to kick everyone else away. The voice switched to French. "That's it. That’s it. It’s okay, you’re okay. Can you let go of him please?"

He let go and whoever he was holding immediately scrambled away. He wasn't sure why he was listening or why he trusted the voice. And warm hands were immediately in his own, and they were pulled up to feel soft skin and hair brushing the tops of his knuckles. 

He blinked and shook his head.

His vision cleared slightly and Jeremy was in front of him. He'd taken off his helmet at some point and held Jean's hands up against his neck and shoulder.

"Hey," He looked concerned. "You back with me?"

"Remy?" 

Jeremy let out a sigh of relief, a soft smile appearing on his lips, "Yeah." 

He let go of his hands and looped his arms around Jean's shoulders and pressed close. He had to stand on his tip-toes. He felt warm even with all the padding and gear between them; he sunk down into Jeremy’s arms in an instant. 

The nauseating realization of where they were and what just happened was like a slap. "Who did I --"

"He's okay. It was one of the freshmen, Nishimura, he bumped into you by mistake. You didn’t hurt him. He was a bit startled though. Teddy and Lewis tried to pull you off and you hit them, but they were wearing gear so they’ll be fine.”

“Fuck, red uniforms I couldn’t tell --” Everyone would know now. The fear felt like ice. That he was vulnerable, weak. They would use it against him. He screwed up. He attacked their teammates for no reason. Again. Made himself into an enemy. He was the villain here no one else.

His breath was coming in ragged pants speeding up again. 

“It’s okay. Jean, it’s okay. Let’s get off the court. Alright?”

“No, I have to stay. I need to practice.” He couldn’t fall behind. He couldn’t be useless that way too.

“Not right now you don’t. Come on.”  He urged.

“I can’t fall behind. It won’t happen again.”

“We were only going to play a game of passing the ball back and forth. It’s not a big deal. I’ll have them switch to the yellow jerseys for next time. Okay?”

“I’m good. Sorry. I’m good, I can play.” He had to be able to play. That was the one thing he always had to do. No matter what. He had to play. No exceptions, no breaks. That’s all his life was for. 

“Jean, look at me.” He looked up and met Jeremy’s eyes for a second, then they slid over behind him to the rest of the team staring at them. Watching, judging. 

He wanted to run. Every time he ran it was worse. Being thrown down the stairs after he tried to escape the nest. Riko's laughter ringing in his ears.  Can’t escape, trapped. Locked in.

The coach came into the court with a shout. “What are you all standing around staring for, back to work! Knox, Moreau, come with me.”

Jean recoiled as another stab of ice-cold fear went through him. They were going to be punished. He had screwed up, they were going to get rid of him or worse. What punishment had he earned them for his mistakes? He was vaguely aware of Laila and Alvarez getting the others’ attention and making them move away.

Jeremy turned away for a second and said something to someone but Jean didn’t even hear it. 

Being made to strip down and play nude after the Masters beating. Getting hit and shoved into walls again and again with no protection for his already bruised and battered body. Taking balls and rackets to his sides and face, the impact splitting the skin on his eyebrow and being suddenly blinded by the hot blood in his eyes. The sick snap of fingers and toes from having them stomped on when he inevitably fell. Locked in the court without clothes overnight freezing and starving, unable to get out only to have some Ravens get let in by Riko and lead by Johnson and Williams…

“Jean, hey don’t pay attention to that. Look at me. You’re in California.” He turned his attention to Jeremy, focussing on how he could feel his arms around him when he pulled him close once more, smelled the sweet scent of his shampoo, and the warmth in his eyes. He knew Jeremy. 

“I can’t-- I can’t” he could barely breathe

“It’s okay, you’re going to be okay.”

He let him lead him away and off the court, feeling some relief go through him once they were back in the lounge. He slumped on to the couch and Jeremy knelt down in front of him and held his hands murmuring soft reassurances and reminders while Jean’s head was still filled with static. 

“Knox…” He disrupted practice. For everyone.

“Not now coach. Give us a minute.” Jeremy muttered to the voice behind him

“See me in the office once you can.” The older man left with a sigh and he was alone with Jeremy.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” He gasped. They had to punish him, there was no way around it. He was going to be the reason why Jeremy’s kind and the good team had to resort to violence. It was the only way people could handle him. Make him act right with the threat of pain. It was his fault, he brought it on himself, he didn’t deserve the kindness and patience Jeremy had shown him without knowing any better. He had to accept it. Not fight it. Getting angry, arguing makes it worse. Bow your head and take it. 

~~~

"Don't speak unless spoken too." A heavy blow from the Master's cane landed across his face leaving his ears ringing. 

"Speak out of turn again and I'll have your tongue cut out."

Jean nodded keeping his head bowed. 

"Understood?" The master demanded. And Riko's clawed hand gripped his face forcing his mouth open nails digging into his cheeks, Riko placing a knife between his teeth and against his tongue like he was going to do it then and there.

He tried to nod vigorously. He understood. He wouldn't. He would be good. He could be good. Anything to make it stop. He could taste blood from where the knife shoved into his mouth pressed up against his tongue.

"Say something!" Riko snapped pulling the knife away and moving his hands to his hair and jerking his head back pressing the blade against his exposed throat.

"Yes. Yes, Master. Yes, my King."

Riko released him and shoved him to the ground with a sharp kick to his diaphragm. Holding him down with a foot on his chest laughing at the involuntary pained whimper he let out from the foot irritating the lacerations hidden under his shirt.

"Stupid dog." 

~~~

~~~

"Jean, Jean." He struggled to pull his attention back towards Jeremy letting out ragged breaths and trying to match his breathing.

Jeremy held him and spoke to him gently until he managed to make himself calm down enough to accept what must be coming for him with a straight spine. Even though the sound of the Master's cane meeting flesh reverberated in his mind on a loop and he got up and went to Rheman's office. 

He had survived before. He could again. That’s what he did, he got up again each time to get thrown back to the ground. Over and over, until he was numb and used to it. He survived, endured, did what he had to. He was a survivor. 

He was cold. Numb.

“You attacked three of my players today, and two yesterday from what Ben tells me.” Rheman started when they walked in.

“Ben was --” Jeremy tried to defend him. Why? Didn't he know that that would only make him angrier, that he risked the anger turning towards him? He was talking without permission.

“Not now, Jeremy,” Rheman said. And Jean felt cold, he couldn't let him get mad at Jeremy, he was his partner here. He had to protect him.

“I did,” Jean admitted, forcing himself to stand up straight and not flinch, unsure whether looking Rheman in the eye would make things better or worse for him and settling for looking at his nose or forehead as a compromise. 

“I can’t have you injuring your teammates.”

“I understand. Please --” He shouldn’t even ask. It might make things worse or have the opposite result from what he wanted, but he made himself continue, for Jeremy’s sake. “Please don’t hurt Jeremy too. It was only my fault. And --” 

He stuttered looking back down at the floor but he forced himself to continue when he was met with stark silence. “Sir, if I may ask, don’t make him watch. I’ll do whatever you want. Anything .” 

He couldn’t look Jeremy or the Coach in the eyes and stared at the floor instead. Was he respectful enough? No one was saying anything. He hadn’t reacted well when he had called him master before but was sir not enough? Did he want him to beg? The Master hadn’t been fond of it, but Riko had been, some others too. 

“Sir please, don’t punish him --” He tried, terrified. He didn't know how he would be able to live with himself if Jeremy was punished for his mistakes.

“Fuck, kid. What the hell did they do to you?” Rheman’s voice had gone from gruff to low and soft.

Jean flinched, he couldn’t help it. 

Jeremy’s hand slipped in his and a soft murmur of “Ne t’en fais pas,” don’t worry, it’s okay, subdued some of the fear sprung from letting a reaction slip out.

“I’m not going to hurt either of you. No one’s hurting you or Jeremy, understand?” 

He didn’t, he didn’t understand. Jeremy had become his partner here for all intents and purposes and he had screwed up. Even Riko and Kevin were punished for each other's mistakes. No one was exempt from the Master’s cane, every Raven learned that day one. 

"Then why is he here?"

Rhemen backed away from them and went behind his desk. What was he grabbing? Why was he doing that?

"I figured you would be more comfortable with him here, if you would rather him not be here he can leave."

He shook his head, tightening his grip on his hand and Jeremy gave him squeeze back so he turned to look at him instead. He looked heartbroken and on the verge of tears. The only reason the sight didn’t send another spike of panic through him was he was already so exhausted and his attention was held on the real threat in the room. Somehow his mind couldn’t even begin to associate Jeremy with anything to do with a threat or danger anymore.

Rheman sat behind the desk, and kept his hands above the surface and held up slightly. He let out another sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose for a moment. “I am not a doctor. I’m not a psychologist or therapist or any of that. I’m just a jock that got lucky somehow. But it seems to me that you have a pretty serious case of PTSD, and being here is making that worse for you.”

His voice was even more gentle, it was worse somehow because of that, and when he continued but his words filled Jean with sheer terror, “I’m sorry, but I can’t in good conscience have you out there, continuing playing, and possibly injuring my team. Not to mention what it is clearly doing to you.”

This was it. He was done. He would have to go back. The Nest was the only place that would take him now. The only place that knew how to break him into submission and some semblance complacency to function. It had been nice while it lasted. Being allowed to see the sun, eat and breathe without doing something degrading to earn that right. Having someone who cared about him, who would wipe away his tears and hold him when demons from his past were screaming in his ear. God. He would miss that the most, miss Jeremy. Losing this after having a taste would be the worst thing he ever endured but he was still glad he got the chance. He wouldn’t give it up or change it. At least someone might miss him when he inevitably died or was killed off. He hoped Jeremy wouldn’t fight it, it would only put him in danger, but deep in his gut, he knew he would. He always said he would fight the Moriyamas if they tried to send him back to the Nest. And Jeremy had proved over and over again that he was a man of his word. God, he had to stop him, he’d get himself killed. 

“Coach,” Jeremy spoke, he heard it, but his voice seemed distorted and far away.

“I’m getting there Knox. You need to go to therapy. I am sorry, but I am making it mandatory. You can’t set foot on the court again until you do.”

“What?” What was he talking about? 

“Not just the one appointment with a school counselor either. I can’t physically force you into an appointment each week, but you aren’t playing unless you go. Until your therapist says otherwise, but, I would prefer you to continue for your entire time here. I don’t care who you decide to see, private practitioner, whatever, that’s up to you, you can take whatever time you need to find a good fit, and/or get to a good place before you start practice again. If insurance is an issue I will personally cover it and any other expenses, regardless of who you see. What you talk about with your therapist is between you and them, I don’t need to know about it. You can watch practice from the lounge, stands, coaches box or wherever off-court, if you want, until you find someone; but you aren’t participating until you see someone. Even if it isn’t who you end up sticking with. Therapy at least once a week or no court. You’ll be dismissed from practice and anything else for your appointments.”

Rheman sighed and looked between Jean and Jeremy, he was still clutching Jeremy’s hand like a lifeline. “And a teammate of your choosing can also be excused to go with you if you desire.”

Jean was in shock, his mind was buzzing and empty simultaneously.

“I’m sorry if this seems harsh. But I am responsible for your wellbeing and the wellbeing of everyone else on this team. And that means prioritizing your mental health.”

Jean just stared at him. Part of him was angry. Who the fuck did he think he was making him go to therapy? Therapy wasn’t what he needed, he just needed to get over it. He needed a consequence for the way he was behaving now, if he was scared enough he wouldn’t act this way, even though it was born of fear too. But mostly he just felt numb.

“We will also be wearing the gold or white jerseys for the foreseeable future, can’t promise for games, but for the next month or so of summer practice at least, we'll reintroduce them slowly later. Jeremy, you will tell the team.”

“Yes, Coach.” Jeremy’s head bobbed beside him.

“Alright you’re dismissed, go change, Jeremy will take you home. Knox stay here for a moment first will you?”

Another flash of fear and protectiveness went through him at the thought of leaving Jeremy alone to possibly take any punishment he had earned them. Just because he was too weak to receive a proper punishment didn’t mean Jeremy still wouldn’t face one. 

“It’s okay. I promise Coach isn’t going to hurt me. I’ll be right out, okay?” Jeremy whispered in soft French giving his hands a squeeze, and Jean reluctantly left to wait for Jeremy in the lounge. 

When he returned Jeremy patiently allowed him to inspect his arms and turn them over to check for bruises and just smiled sadly when he did the same to his face tilting his chin from side to side.

"He didn't hurt me, Jean. He wouldn't, not ever. Rheman doesn't hurt his players or punish them like that." 

That didn't make any sense but he couldn't find any injuries so he accepted Jeremy's words.


He was irrational when they got back. Clingy, making sure that a part of him was always touching a part of. Jeremy at all times like he might disappear if he didn't. Jeremy didn't seem to mind wrapping them up in blankets on the couch.

He shoved aside the hissed whispers that he was weak for wanting comfort, weak for needing something to anchor him to reality. Maybe he was, he didn’t care, he was selfish too, so he would take it when it was so freely given. 

"I thought I would have to go back. I thought he was going to send me back to the Nest when he told me I couldn't play."

"You are never going back there again."

"I'll have to eventually. We'll probably play them in the spring. And if I make Court."

"You still don't have to go back there. If we even have a game there, everyone would understand if you didn't play."

Jean hummed, "We'll see. Something to talk to the therapist about I guess."

Jeremy put up with his grumbling he let his head fall against his shoulder, eyes feeling heavy, letting out a yawn.

"Do you want to take a nap?"

"No, I won't sleep tonight if I do. Just tired, put on one of your mindless TV shows."

“Okay,” Jeremy let him lean against him absent-mindedly stroking his shoulder.


Laila came over after a few hours when the rest of the team finished up practice and filled Jeremy in. Neither Jean nor Jeremy got up from where they were nested on the couch. The weighted blanket around his shoulders combined with the warmth and weight of Jeremy against him made him feel even more sleepy and relaxed.

Laila sat on one of the chairs and joined them in watching something that Jeremy had put on Netflix. He honestly wasn’t even sure what show it was or even what it was about. Partway through an episode, there was a knock at the door and Laila got up to get it after a nod from Jeremy.

"Um, is Jean here?" Came a cautious voice, "I thought this was his and Jeremy's room?"

Laila turned back to them, "It's Katsu,"

The freshman he had attacked. Jean winced. He owed the kid an explanation or an apology at the very least. That was probably the healthy and correct way to interact with someone who you'd grabbed and pinned up against a wall at random right?

He got up and shook his head at Jeremy's worried look. Laila took a step back and went to go sit with Jermey and he turned to the freshman who was nervously wringing his hands at the door.

"I wanted to apologize," Katsu started with a guilty look at him.

Jean was immediately confused, he'd been the one to attack this kid unprovoked. "Why? I'm the one who..."

"For what I said about Riko, and getting upset with you and judging you and shit. I shouldn’t have. I… I didn't know. I had no idea. I always looked up to him and Tetsuji when I was younger.  I got into Exy because of him, a bit. I saw him as a fucking role model. Fuck, I'm so stupid, I looked up to him. I had no idea what he was like, and I still don't but--” Katsu was stammering and looked genuinely distraught. Strange.

"No one did. That was the point. No one saw what he was. He was a monster but always put on a smile for the press." 

"He… I can’t believe he did all that to you. Fuck, yeah he was obviously a monster then. Why? Why would he do that?" 

“Because he was an egotistical maniac with a knife who got off on torturing people, and I was there.” It wasn’t the whole truth, but what else could he say? Oh well, have you heard of the yakuza? Riko was the second son and cast off of the head of an international crime syndicate and he had daddy issues that manifested in a very violent way.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

Jean furrowed his eyebrows "Why? it's not your fault. You didn't have anything to do with it. If anything, I owe you an apology for attacking you unprovoked.”

"Yeah but… it still is awful that you went through that. It sucks. And I made it worse yesterday by asking and getting mad. I was going to come over and apologize last night but Reed stopped me. And today, I upset you, I'm guessing you thought I was Riko right? When you had me pinned against the wall?"

“I didn’t think you were Riko, I thought you were Johnson actually.” He admitted, he didn’t know why, but to him, Riko had been laughing in the background. 

Katsu wrinkled his nose at that. He looked so young. Had Jean ever been that young? “The big white backliner who graduated last year?”

“Yeah him, thought Myers and Lewis were Williams and Riko or someone else, they would team up.”

“We don’t look anything like any of them.” He sounded confused again.

“I never said it was logical.” Jean sighed.

“They hurt you too?” Katsu’s lower lip was trembling and for some reason, Jean didn’t bother lying.

“I can count on one hand the number of Ravens that didn’t go out of their way to, and learned to enjoy it, at least a bit. Or cared even the slightest and tried to stop it when Riko did. Kevin Day, Thea Muldani, and Zoey Peterson. Maybe a few more when I was a kid but I never knew their names.”

 It was unlikely those who made it as a Raven through the first summer of training without being cut or worse were rarely ones to shy away from violence. It practically became an initiation ritual. It was learned, you learned to attack those weaker than you or get attacked yourself. Or you shut up about it and keep your head down at a minimum.

“Zoey Peterson?” He asked cautiously, he didn’t recognize the name. Of course, he wouldn’t, even as a Ravens fan.

“She would have been a freshman backliner in my sophomore year. She didn’t make it.” They would have been partners, were for a bit, for punishment, not surveillance. There was a distinct difference between the two types of partners. Williams and Johnson had taken a particular interest in her too. Jean couldn’t stop it. 

“What do you mean?” He looked like he didn’t really want to know the answer.

“She couldn’t handle it. Hung herself halfway through summer training. Edgar Allen never released her name, the tragic story of a troubled girl who couldn’t handle being away from home for the first time. They covered it up. She wasn’t the first.” There hadn't been many, most people who couldn't handle it dropped out, unable to handle the rigorous nature of being a Raven, but it had happened. It was after Thea left, and they hadn’t watched her the way they watched him. And didn’t care that she died, they didn’t even pause practice, no one spoke about it, and her name was never said again. 

He looked stunned and upset. Jean wasn’t even sure why he was talking to him. He was so tired. He glanced back at Jeremy where he was watching them from the couch, he heard them but didn’t say anything, just looked at him with his concerned and caring eyes. Laila’s lips had thinned out hearing the conversation but didn’t comment either.

“Come on in kid,” he sighed and moved to let him the rest of the way into the room before collapsing back on the couch against Jeremy, who took his hand with a slight squeeze without a word.

"Are you sure? I don't want to intrude." He took another step into the room but didn’t join them yet.

"Up to you," He didn’t particularly care either way. He was tired and just wanted to sit and do something mind-numbing with Jeremy for a while until it was a socially acceptable hour for him to go to sleep.

Katsu hovered in the entryway nervously for another moment before coming to the rest of the way in and tentatively sitting on the chair across from Laila. “What are you guys watching?”

“Great British Bake Off,” Jeremy told him, curling up closer into Jean’s side and leaning his head on his shoulder. He absent-mindedly started to run his fingers through his hair when Jeremy encouraged him to with a slight nudge. He was like an affectionate cat or puppy.

Laila, Jeremy, and Katsu made conversation, letting Jean get away with small hums of agreement every now and again but otherwise not contribute. Alvarez joined them after a bit bringing with some convenience store pastries which they shared. 

“I could do that.” Jeremy chimed in after a bit, referencing the cake being made on screen.

“No,” Jean said with barely a glance up at the complicated recipe a contest was doing which involved multiple components and steps.

“Okay we could do it together,” Jeremy offered instead. 

“No I could do it, you can stand there and look pretty and occasionally hand me eggs.” Alvarez snorted in response to Jean’s words.

“I’d still get to eat the cake right?” Jeremy asked with a small pout.

“Yes.” Jean agreed.

“Then fine,” Jeremy seemed satisfied enough by that and returned to nestle tight up against Jean’s chest.

“Is he like a bad cook or something?” Katsu asked confused, to which Laila and Alvarez both started laughing.

“Terrible,” Laila laughed, “There’s a reason why he is banned from the kitchen at my parents’ house.”

“Never eat anything, Jeremy makes for you,” Alvarez advised.

“Traitors,” Jeremy grumbled halfheartedly but didn’t try to defend himself.

“He makes good coffee and tea. And what he makes won’t kill you, he’s getting much better.” Jean allowed, making Jeremy perk up a bit and smile up at him, pleased.

“Oh, okay,” Katsu said with a nod, seeming to take the advice very seriously. 

“I sense you don’t have the best standards when it comes to food Jean, his cooking could absolutely kill you,” Laila said with a laugh.

Jean shrugged, “That’s fair I guess, I wasn’t allowed to eat a lot in the Nest, technically there was a professional cook and it was never good food or seasoned at all, at least what I was allowed to eat. And Riko or the others did poison it a few times. And drug it to see what happened.” 

There was a moment of silence where everyone stared at him. “Dude, that’s majorly fucked up you know that right?” Katsu asked bluntly.

“Yeah, but I lived and his bitch ass didn't, so technically I won.” Laila and Alvarez did not look remotely amused by his flippant response.

Jeremy snorted slightly at least, “Sorry, it isn’t funny.” 

Jean looked down at him where he was trying to hide his face against his shoulder, “Nah, it is a bit, Every day I think how pissed off me still being alive, while he’s dead would make him. He’s probably looking up at us just furious.” 

“Up?” Alvarez asked.

“Yeah, Riko’s for sure in hell, if it exists,” Jeremy added a bit darkly.

“Oh yeah, you’re right.” Alvarez nodded and everyone else seemed in agreement. 

After the end of the episode, the other three left mentioning something about getting food and picking up supplies to finish up in their rooms. 

He ended up dozing off, falling asleep on Jeremy after the others left. Only waking when Jeremy herded him to bed telling him to take a nap. 

He slept. But without Jeremy beside him and there when he woke up his dreams were filled with nightmares. Worse than usual. They didn’t vanish when Jeremy slept next to them but they weren’t quite as frequent or as intense, painful, and vivid. And when he woke up he was able to remember where he was quickly, that the contents of the dreams were in the past.

~~~

“Please. Please stop.” He sobbed. It wouldn’t make a difference, it never did.

“She’s dead because of you. You killed her. Shouldn’t you be punished for that? Don’t you deserve it?” He couldn’t argue. It was true. Riko paused lazily from slicing back forth shallow cuts across his stomach to hold a lighter to the blood and watch it sizzle after each slice.

He screamed arching his back, the movement causing the knife to catch and tear.

“She had potential. If you hadn’t been so repulsive maybe they wouldn’t have gone after her instead.”

A chunk of hair was ripped from his scalp before he uttered a fast agreement.

“But who’d want you? It's like fucking a dead fish, it’s not interesting for very long. You just lay there. Pathetic. Of course, they got bored. Poor girl. You couldn’t even play well enough to avoid punishment. So Useless. Do you think she needed that? On top of everything else?

“No, no she didn’t,” It was his fault. He hadn’t done anything. He had just stood by maybe if he had been better, somehow, they wouldn’t have hurt her too. 

 “You’re so useless she had to be punished for your mistakes, it’s all your fault. Everything that happened to her. Enough to end her own life. If you’d been good at anything, she might have been good. What a shame. Though I hear she had some help with that idea. What did you say to her? The only way out was death?”

Riko wrapped his hands around his throat and tightened only letting up when he was about to pass out for emphasis. 

“She wasn’t property like you three. Not a pathetic mutt. She could have left. Could have had a life. But you didn’t want that, did you? No, you wanted your little friend here with you, you wanted her to suffer.”

He hadn’t he swore he hadn’t. 

“Riko stop, that’s enough, it wasn’t his fault how can you say that,” Kevin said, even reaching out as if to grab Riko, pull him away. Before leaping away when Riko slashed at him.

“You shut your mouth, Kevin, unless you want to join him. Or would you rather take a turn punishing him? Huh? Do you want to be holding the knife? Hmmm? Would you like a turn punishing him? It has to be done. He’s so useless. Fucks everything up. Everyone.”

Kevin flinched and backed away staring at the floor with wet eyes, rubbing the slices on his bicep from when Riko had made good on those threats and turned his knives on him.

“That’s another word for you Jean. Useless. It’s all that you are. Can’t stop anything, can’t protect anyone, you’re good for nothing, aren’t you? Nothing but pain”

Jean knew better than to say anything but an agreement. Knew not to move while he carved the word across his bicep, biting back tears. If Riko messed up he would do it again, and again and again and again.  “Yes, yes I’m useless,”

~~~

He awoke with a shout and spent the next few minutes trying to himself down from panic. Blood and flames on a loop in his head.

Jeremy was gone he realized as he left the bedroom and scanned the rest of the apartment. The icy, choking feeling in his veins only intensified. He left you. You don’t matter. He didn’t care. Of course, he left. Everyone leaves, you aren't worth sticking around for. He forced down the remembered whispers of Riko’s taunts, and the knives that threatened to take over his vision, stumbling to the door and into the hallway. He heard Jeremy’s voice coming from a room down the hall, and the heavy feeling lessened as he made his way over. Once Jeremy’s head popped out of someone’s door and he could see him the ice cracked, he no longer felt seconds from another breakdown but the ice didn’t fade completely. 

Jeremy smiled at him as he made his way over, “Hey, sorry I just stepped out for a second to look at the beta fish, Reed and Tran got. Isn’t he cute?”

He nodded a bit numb and gave half a glance towards the vibrantly colored fish. He was so pathetic and useless. He couldn’t even handle Jeremy stepping out for a few minutes and not knowing where he was when he woke up. Like a child. 

Reed and Tran said something else and may have even asked him to contribute to the conversation but he didn’t notice. After another few minutes, Jeremy laced their fingers together and they returned to the room. 

The rest of the evening was spent alone with Jeremy for the most part. Jeremy didn’t ask, not about Zoey, he heard him mention it, looked concerned, but he didn’t push. Jean told him anyway, hitched sobs into his chest. While Jeremy held him and told him it wasn’t his fault over and over.

"I didn't even think about her. Or don't. Not much. But she died. A person died and everything kept going like nothing happened. No one cared. Everyone just forgot. Me too, I barely remember. I should care more, I don't. I didn’t. What’s wrong with me?"

"You do remember. You care. You clearly do, it hurts because you did. There is nothing wrong with coping how you did. You only just got out of there. You went through more every day there than most people do in their entire lives. Any one thing that happened, one day would be enough trauma to haunt someone their entire life. You are so strong. There is nothing wrong with you.”

“I couldn't save her.’

“It wasn't your fault. It wasn't your job to save her. Someone should have, should have saved you too, stopped what was happening but it wasn't your fault. It was never your fault."

“It didn't feel like it.”

They both skipped the gym the next morning. No one questioned it or was even angry.


 

Chapter Text

He was surprised the next day when the coach actually barred him from practice. He had found a therapist, with Jeremy’s help and a shockingly fast suggestion from Dr. Dobson via Renee. The therapist he would be seeing apparently specialized in PTSD and cases of extreme trauma such as torture and sexual assault. He had even scheduled an appointment, though the soonest he would be able to be seen was next week. He explained everything to Rheman but he still refused to let him play.

After repeated reassurances and even promises from Jeremy, Jean decided it would take a lot to earn violent retribution for a bad attitude from the man. So he immediately tested that by cussing him out and telling him exactly what he thought of his shitty team. He wondered what would be enough to make him snap. How far he could go. Calling him a fucking idiot, that needed to keep his nose out of Jean’s business might do the trick. 

He recoiled away jumping back when Rheman shut his folder, feeling a mixture of vindication and fear that his test worked.

“I’m not going to hurt you, Jean,” He told him wearily. 

Jean shrugged, “Not yet, maybe, but you will.”

 He felt the urge to topple over all the carefully stacked manilla folders just to push him closer to that edge. It was going to happen, anticipation was worse. He didn’t though because Jeremy was out in the locker room and would probably be disappointed if he did.

“No, I won't. But I understand why you think that.” He sighed, “I called Wymack yesterday.”

Jean flinched slightly. Kevin’s dad knew about the Moriyamas, the truth, certainly more than he should. 

“He explained some things to me that were frankly shocking. And terrible. The fucking mafia?… Regardless, it only cemented my decision. You are not setting foot on my court until you get some therapy.”

“I found a therapist.” He snapped.

“And after you have actually visited with them, I am willing to reconsider. But setting the appointment isn’t enough. If I had my way you would spend the entire summer in physical therapy and a fuckload of actual therapy until you have recovered more. However, due to the circumstances and the apparent death sentence hanging over your head, if you are not playing, I will allow you to return to the court after a visit or two with your new therapist next week.” Rheman’s tone was stern, firm.

“Fucking fine then.” Jean didn’t bother resisting the urge to kick the filing cabinet. It made a satisfactory metallic drumming noise. Rheman didn’t react other than another sigh. 

“What Tetsuji did to you was terrible. What Riko did was terrible. I understand why you can’t trust me. That’s fine. You don’t need to. But I promise you that your time here will be nothing like the Nest.”

Jean just glared at him. 

“If you want, you can take notes on practice and make suggestions or critiques. You certainly have experience and are a fantastic athlete. But that’s all I’ll allow. If you’d rather return to the dorms or leave and do something else, that’s fine too.” Rheman offered. 

“Whatever.” Jean snapped before slamming the office door shut behind him and stomping off. 


Letting Jean give his teammates pointers was apparently a bad idea. It was like none of them had ever heard any criticism before.

Within minutes he had made at least six people cry and the rest looked pissed off and close to tears. With the exception of Jeremy who just smiled at him and said thank you for the advice, even though he had called him, along with the rest of the team, a useless idiot with an exy stick, that could be outdone by a blindfolded child. Laila and Alvarez hadn’t seemed overly distraught either after a few minutes, and neither had Katsu, the only freshman that he hadn’t managed to made cry, with his scathing and deeply personal reviews of their performance. 

After returning to the dorms he was given a fairly wide berth by the rest of his teammates that were still stung by his accurate appraisal of their talents on the court. 

He waited until Jeremy left to go across the hall with teammates, he had to help someone assemble some furniture or something. Jean hadn’t paid attention

 He glanced out the door once to make note of where Jeremy was going to be in case he had a panic attack from being left alone in their room, he knew where to go to find Jeremy. It wasn't so bad though if he knew others were in reach and just across the hall. He waited a minute more to make sure Jeremy wasn’t coming straight back before he called Renee.

“How long did it take you to love Allison? How did you know?” He asked after a barely perfunctory greeting.

“Nice to hear from you too, Jean."

"Yeah, yeah, sorry, but can you answer the question?

"I think it's a bit different for everyone. It kinda built up slowly, she was with Seth at first, and I knew nothing would come of it and when we first met we didn’t get along. But I admired her the more I got to know her and wanted to spend time with her. Being around her makes me happy, and feel lighter. I felt like she knew me and really saw me. Little things she did would make my pulse race like when she brushed my hair back or leaned on me. And I would do anything to see her happy, to make her smile. It felt different from the way I felt around Dan or the other foxes, I wanted to kiss her and see her blush and laugh. And I wanted to know everything about her, what made her laugh, what made her cry, what kind of lunch she had that day, anything. Spending time with her was easy and went quickly, I feel at peace when I’m with her. I think that’s how I knew. Love doesn’t have to be complicated, heavy, or difficult. It can be, sometimes, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be simple, light and easy.”

Jean felt a sinking feeling in his gut, he had hoped his suspicions about how he felt about Jeremy were wrong. Or at the very least were less serious. He had known though, deep down, before he had even asked. He'd come to the conclusion himself.

“Does this have anything to do with Jeremy?” Renee asked, always perceptive. 

He considered lying but he couldn’t, not to Renee, there was no point. “Yes, it does.”

She didn’t ask him to elaborate, just hummed softly, in acknowledgment. 

He sighed. “Does it go away?”

“Do you want it to?”

“No, maybe, I don’t know. I like the way I feel around him. It’s… It’s like you said. And when I'm with him, everything doesn't feel so bad, so hard, it's easy. But it's hard sometimes. Knowing he doesn’t and won’t ever feel the same way.”

“How do you know he doesn’t?” She questioned softly.

“I just know.” It was impossible for it to be anything different. 

She clicked her tongue softly. “You know him better than me, I suppose.” she didn’t sound like she completely believed it but didn’t argue.

“Yeah,” He could hear the defeat in his voice.

“I'm sorry then.” She murmured sympathetically.

“Is it worth it, even if Allison didn’t feel the same way about you, would it have been worth it?” He asked, hoping for an answer that would suggest something but utter misery going forward. 

“Yes.” She answered immediately, “She didn’t at first. I fell for her when she was still with Seth, I don’t think she started to feel the same way until after he died, and after she started to heal from that loss. And even if she never did it would have been worth it. Love is always worth it, I think. But that’s just me.”

He hummed in agreement waiting to see if she would continue.

“Feelings change you know. They can grow and develop over time. Just because he doesn’t feel that way for you now doesn’t mean he never will,”

He made a small noise of disagreement.

“And just because you feel this way for him now doesn’t mean you always will.” She added.

He disagreed with that too, loving Jeremy was like breathing at this point. It was like loving the sun, bright, impossible to ignore, and impossible to forget.

“I don’t think I want to. Stop loving him that is. Even if he won’t ever feel the same.” 

Even if it were to go unrequited the rest of their lives. Loving Jeremy had helped fix something broken inside him. Filled the gaps in his heart and it wasn’t that it made him whole again, it felt like that sometimes, but no. Loving Jeremy had shown him that he wasn't as irreparably damaged as he had thought. He could still love, he still had that capacity and if he could love him the way he did, utterly and completely there was hope for him after all. 

He didn’t need him to love him back, he had survived long enough without anyone loving him. He could continue. He didn’t think he could survive not loving anything at all. Not anymore, not when loving Jeremy went hand in hand with living again and learning to love life. It taught him how to love himself, loving Jeremy until he was able to bring himself to love other things too. He knew he wouldn’t stop and that was okay. It ached. It burned, it closed off his throat and was a heavy weight on his chest. But at least he felt something, feeling something was always better than feeling nothing at all. 

He was the sun. You didn’t need the sun to love you back in order for you to love it wholly and completely. 


Before Jeremy returned there was a knock and he opened the door to see both the Reed brothers standing there and felt a shiver of fear and anticipation go through him. 

"Jeremy’s not here." 

"Yeah man, I know. We just passed him on his way to the laundry. We wanted to talk to you.” Reed told him, giving a smile that did nothing to help his anxiety.

Jean stiffened but opened the door more with a sigh. Fair’s fair, he guessed. Probably better for Jeremy not to get involved.

He stepped back letting them the rest of the way into the room. "I'd prefer if you didn't go for my face. Or leave permanent scars, but I won't stop you.”

They both froze. 

"What are you talking about man,?" Lewis asked slowly, while Reed looked suddenly apprehensive.

Jean rolled his eyes, "I hit you yesterday and choked you on Sunday. Fair is, fair. Take your shot. Better do it before Jeremy gets back though because he'd try to interfere. Don’t worry, I won't tell him.”

"Did -- do you think we came here to beat you up?” Reed stammered, taking a step back, and rounding his shoulders slightly like he was trying to make himself smaller.

"Obviously.”

“Why… why would we do that?” Lewis sounded genuinely confused like the concept was foreign. 

 “Because I hit you. And he's your older brother so…” Jean gestured vaguely, not necessarily wanting to give them ideas if it wasn’t what they had in mind.

"Dude, did you even know it was me?" Lewis asked gently, a bit aghast.

"I knew who you were on Sunday. Sort of. Mostly.” He hadn’t had a flashback, but he had reacted on instinct not knowing who he even had pinned until Jeremy got involved. 

"Yeah, man but…” Lewis seemed doubtful.

"I don't like being touched from behind. I can't promise it won't happen again if you grab me."

"Yeah, that's fair but --”

"Just do it already,” He cut Lewis off. 

“No, we aren't going to hit you,” Reed told him like he was the one being unreasonable. 

"Why the hell not? I can take it. I guarantee I've had worse.” It was the way it worked, it wasn’t even a bad thing. Jean had hurt Lewis, so he got to hit him back, and Reed was his older brother it was only natural for him to be protective and seek some kind of retribution. He had seen how furious he had been on Sunday. He had wanted to hit him then. It was a good thing, protecting the people you cared about like Andrew did with Kevin and Neil and his family. Like Neil did for Andrew. Like Renee did for the foxes. How he had when Jeremy’s ex should up, you protect the people you care about. Like you did for partners. You hit back and protect the people you love so it won't happen again. 

"Because that's a fucked up thing to do?” Reed seemed shocked and slightly unbalanced.

“Then why the hell are you here?” What other possible reason could they have had for coming over together at a time they knew Jeremy was gone.

“To talk. And I was going to apologize for grabbing you and shit.” Lewis still sounded disbelieving.

 Why the hell did people keep apologizing when he was the one fucking up and hurting people. Jeremy, he had come to terms with, was an exception, he had assumed once the rest of his team arrived it would go back to the standard rules and way things worked. It wasn’t necessarily a negative, they weren’t bad people and cruel like the Ravens, but he had been violent and belittling towards them so why were they being nice? Why were they apologizing for grabbing him when he had reacted with strangling  Lewis and probably wouldn’t have stopped if it wasn’t for Jeremy? It felt suspicious. 

“Also we wanted to make sure you were good. And see if you wanted to hang out or something. We're going to be playing together a lot, so…” Reed seemed to lose confidence in what he was saying as Jean just stared at him. 

“Why?”

“Because we are your teammates and care about you?” Reed looked at him like they were speaking different languages.

“That's stupid you’ve known me for a few days and most of our interactions have been me attacking Lewis, and your other teammates. And insulting all of you.”

“Well Katsu doesn't care, neither does Teddy at all, he pretty much knew he was going to get punched when he got involved. So did I. And we all pretty much hate Ben anyway for shit he said about Artie and honestly everyone who isn’t a straight cis white man, and we have wanted to punch him for a while so…”

"Katsu seems like an idiot.” He was still following him around and trying to make conversation with him. They didn’t even play the same position and would mostly be at opposite ends of the court so it didn’t make sense. 

“I mean he's 18, what were you like when you were that age?” Reed gave a short laugh.

He blinked at them deadpan, “If me thinking you were coming here to beat the shit out of me upset you, I really don't think you will like the answer to that question.”

 They both winced, realizing where he had been, and what had been happening to him, now that they had seen some kind of visual in the form of his scars that probably filled in some gaps in their imagination.

“Um, do you like video games?” Lewis scratched the back of his neck.

Jean stared at them. What kind of question was that? “I've played Animal Crossing and Mario Kart with Jeremy but that's about it.”

“Want to play now?”

“Would you accept just punching me and leaving?” Jean asked legitimately thinking that would be easier. Easier to understand for sure. 

“Nope!” Lewis gave him a cheery grin. God. All these fucking idiots were going to be like Jeremy weren’t they?

“Then fine.”

“I mean if you don’t want us in your space, we can go, we don’t want to cross any boundaries or anything,” Reed said politely, as his brother was already poking around at the gaming system.

Jean rolled his eyes clicking his tongue, “I don’t give a shit. Do what you want.”

They set it up and each took one of the chairs in the living room while Jean sat on the couch with his arms crossed participating only minimally and mainly losing the races until Jeremy returned.

"What are you guys doing?" He asked sitting down on the couch next to Jean.

Jean thrust the controller into Jeremy’s hands and wrapped an arm around him tugging him close. "Mario Kart. It's your turn now."

"We have a fourth controller," Jeremy offered wriggling even closer and leaning his head back against Jean's shoulder.

Jean let out a hum of acknowledgment content to just watch, letting his arm fall down to curl around Jeremy's waist, and resting his cheek against the top of Jeremy’s head for a moment. Reed glanced over at them, eyes widening suddenly, missing a turn on the track and getting pushed off of it by his brother who let out a shout of victory as he passed him.

Reed cursed and refocused his attention on the game but kept darting glances back over to them periodically looking like he was trying to solve some sort of puzzle. Maybe Jeremy usually sat with him?

The underlying tension he carried that hadn't left even when Lewis and Reed had revealed that they had no intention of harming him, abated bit by bit with Jeremy’s presence and gentle touch. In the Nest, there was nothing no feeling, no touch, just coldness, emptiness, loneliness, and isolation only broken up by sharp and burning flashes of pain before leaving him with nothing again. Pain and nothingness that was the cycle he got, it wasn't like that now. 

He felt a wave of relief go by that he was still able to have this at least in this moment. What had become his crutch for now. Jeremy was physically affectionate with his other teammates too, yes. But he still was with Jean or at least hadn't stopped yet. And things had changed somewhat but for today at least Jeremy had chosen to sit with him instead of someone else.

After a bit, there was a knock and another uninvited guest made his way into the room.

Katsu ended up taking the fourth controller, sitting on the ground, and chattering away with Lewis and Reed. 

After a while, he tried to loop Jean back into the conversation.

"You know I have a friend that's French too, maybe you know him."

Jean stared at him without blinking. 

"Nevermind, my bad not all French people know each other, duh. Obviously. And you just moved here. Anyway, he was on my high school exy team and still is because he had a late summer birthday and I had an early summer birthday so even though I'm barely a month older he's still behind a year. I hope he gets into the Trojans next year. It would be awesome to have him on the same team. But his mom's from France and she has this awesome bakery not super far from here and her food is so-" 

"Wait. What's his name? And his mom's name?" He cut off his rambling.

"His name's Phil and his mom's name is Paula or something.

"Her name's Pauline. Is the bakery called Le Petit Chat?

"Oh my god yeah!"

"Yes I've met them, Jeremy's taken me there a few times."

"Holy shit. That's totally awesome!"

“I love eating chatte it always tastes amazing,”

Jean coughed and then couldn’t keep himself from bursting out laughing when Katsu continued to go on about how good chatte and everything else tasted. 

The others gave him an odd look, but Jeremy just stared at him, mouth slightly open and expression soft. 

Once he was able to stop laughing he explained, “Katsu you just announced you love eating pussy. I mean good for you, I guess live your life, glad you enjoy it. But uh if you were talking about the bakery it’s pronounced luh peti sha . You really need to use an article and no hard t’s, it’s masculine. Otherwise, you are using a vulgar word for a vagina.” 

“Oh my god. Really?” he looked completely stunned and flushed bright red.

Jeremy started giggling too, momentarily distracting Jean with how fucking pretty he looked. 

“Is that why his mom always laughs at me? Why wouldn’t Phil tell me?” Katsu was aghast.

“Maybe he thought you were just really into eating people out. But I mean it’s slang, so it’s possible he didn’t know if he only speaks French with his mom and grandparents.”

“Holy shit. Dude, I have said that to his mother’s face. So many times, fuck. I said her chatte was the best-tasting thing in the world. You’re sure?”

Lewis and Reed had both started cackling at the freshman, pausing their game as Jean nodded.

“Holy shit dude, did you tell an old French lady you liked her pussy?” Reed laughed.

“Oh my god. I totally did. I have said that exact thing. More than once. Oh, no.”

Jeremy let out another snort of laughter burying his face in Jean’s shoulder.

“So you’re saying I should not just call the bakery, chatte, for short?”

“Yeah, no, absolutely not. That means pussy.”

“I have been doing that for years . I have been telling people I’m going out to eat at chatte for years.”

"You should probably stop."

Lewis let out a roar of laughter, “Dude, I would have paid so much money to see you say that to the sweet French baker lady, I have been there and agree everything is fantastic. But, Jean you shouldn’t have told him. That would have been so funny."

Katsu continued chattering away with him and the others once his humiliation wore off until he and Lewis left to get dinner, Reed lingered for a few more minutes.

“Hey, Jeremy, can I borrow some knitting stuff? I am trying to learn so I can make a bi pride beanie for Nesa. Do you give gifts for Pride month? I haven't dated a bi girl before and I want to show I'm supportive.” Reed asked as he was about to leave.

“Yeah, sure books are in the bedroom, top shelf on my desk. And the knitting stuff is there too on the desk. I think she would appreciate it but, no it's not a gift-giving holiday, but I think that's super sweet and she'll love it.” Jeremy said without looking up from where he was leaning on his shoulder.

Reed nodded went to grab what he needed and came back out giving them another long odd look for a second. Jean raised his eyebrow waiting for him to say something. Make a remark about the probably pretty questionable, sole king-sized bed in the room. Jean was aware that that wasn't really normal despite Jeremy’s assurances. But he opened his mouth and just closed it again shaking his head slightly. He still looked like he wanted to say something but was holding it back.

“Uh, well, anyways, have a good night, see you guys tomorrow.” He pitched his voice a bit higher at the end like it was a question before shaking his head again and leaving.

Chapter Text

Jean

 

Jean hadn't been barred from the gym, or rather Rheman couldn't prevent him from working out in the athlete's gym at the same time as the rest of the team. He was pleased to note that despite setbacks from his injuries he could still lift more or at least match what anybody else was lifting on the team. 

He waited to shower until he returned to the dorms, and there was a door with a, recently fixed and replaced, lock between him and the outside world.

Jean couldn't keep thoughts of Jeremy out of his head when he was alone like this in the shower. Well, he probably could have, he didn't even try. Didn't want to. Detailed drawn-out fantasies of Jeremy were all he would ever have so he might as well indulge. 

The faceless and vaguely formless men of his previous fantasies had all been rapidly replaced by Jeremy before he had even intended too. At first, it was because he was someone objectively attractive who hadn't hurt him becoming someone that represented a person who wouldn't ever hurt him, but it quickly evolved into more as his feelings for him expanded and spread like wildfire through his body and mind.

The first few times had been shocking and more intense, better than anything he had experienced previously so it quickly became a habit. Or an addiction. Something he did not because he had too, a bodily need to be met, but something he enjoyed and even craved.

He could picture Jeremy here in the shower with him in a lazy sort of clarity whenever he touched himself. The water droplets running rivulets down his neck, down the curved dip of his spine. Catching on his eyelashes. His eyes dark and bright. How he'd let Jean kiss him and touch him. How he'd want him back just as much as Jean desperately wanted him.

He worked himself over while he pictured himself kissing Jeremy's lips, tasting his mouth and skin mixed with the water of the shower. Showering was not nearly so foreboding and fear-inducing experience when he pictured Jeremy with him, although that's not why he did it.

He imagined kissing and licking a path from his mouth to the top of his neck. Curling one hand into Jeremy's hair and letting the other one reach around to squeeze his ass.

His breath hitched as he sped up his hand, closing his eyes to focus on his fantasy. He'd press open-mouthed suctioning kisses down every inch of Jeremy's neck and throat. Lave his tongue across the skin to lap up the beads of water accumulating and tugging his hair gently to reach all angles. Working his way down to the join of his neck and shoulder and sucking a mark there. He wanted to worship every inch of Jeremy.

He wondered what kind of noises he might make if he would make any at all. He gripped himself tighter twisting his hand at the base, wishing and imagining it was Jeremy's on him instead. He barely stifled the whimper that escaped his lips by biting his lip.

He knew what Jeremy looked like, could easily imagine him without clothes from the few glimpses he had seen. Skin smooth and golden brown like clay with the odd freckle and mole. He knew what he felt like too, soft smooth and oh so warm in his arms. The lean and toned muscle of his arms and torso, he was slender, yes, but clearly strong and athletic. His upper body was nearly hairless, the flat slightly defined muscles of his pectorals, his nipples, his abs, and how they all had been clearly visible under that ridiculous mesh shirt he had worn to Pride. How his smile made a dimple appear on one cheek but not the other. How he did an insane amount of squats and lunges whenever he was at the gym which had a very clear and excellent effect on his physique. 

He thought about running his mouth across Jeremy's shoulder and grazing his teeth against his prominent collarbone before soothing it with his tongue. He wanted to find all the sensitive spots on his body, make him feel good . He wanted Jeremy to touch him back.

He came with a startled and cut off gasp as he was overwhelmed by the sudden drop into intense shuddering pleasure.

He couldn't even bring himself to feel ashamed of it anymore. There was nothing wrong with his sexuality and so long as Jeremy never found out about it there was nothing wrong with thinking about him that way. It was far better and healthier than jerking off in the bathroom or shower in the nest with somebody waiting just outside the door who would come in if he took too long at any rate. Or under the covers with Thea or someone else 10 feet away sleeping or pretending not to notice.


The rest of the day was the same as the last. Jean watched practice, gave harsh criticisms, only making one person cry this time. The sophomore dealer. And they went back to the dorms. He had even managed to apologize to the other backliner he hit, Myers, but was shrugged off by a "Nah man, it was my bad. We're good, don't worry about it."

It wasn’t as Jean had feared, not exactly, not yet, though it was still too early to tell. Jeremy didn’t completely abandon him. They still spent time together alone, slept in the same bed, seemed to be touching constantly when they were by themselves. But now the other Trojans were here. And they were loud and popped in at random times. No more privacy. Jeremy seemed to be declining invitations on Jean’s behalf at first, keeping his distance from his friends for him, so Jean made an effort. He didn’t want to lose Jeremy. Or prevent him from being with his friends. 

He followed Jeremy around like a lost dog, a shadow, while he chatted with everyone else. Unless asked direct questions he rarely spoke to anyone other than Jeremy, Laila, Alvarez and shockingly Katsu. The freshman had continued to follow him, determined to befriend him around like a miniature Jeremy, only more oblivious, annoying, and a bit less persistent. And not as careful, quite a bit stupider and not nearly as attractive but those last three were probably subjective. Even though he had some particularly harsh remarks to say about his playing, Katsu only looked hurt for a few minutes before bouncing back and trying to ask him for advice. The other backliners were friendly too but mainly kept their distance and gave him space, offering to spot him at the gym, but not forcing their presence onto him.

 It grated on him though, being around the team. It was exhausting. Jeremy tried to include him, and most of the team seemed to be more careful, softer with him. He wondered if they had just picked up on his weaknesses naturally or if they had been warned by someone else to be gentle with him. He hated that every motion, every shout, startled him and made him flinch back or react with violence to protect himself. And he hated the soft sympathy, pity, in everyone's eyes when he did. That he wasn’t strong enough, so people walked on eggshells. 

He could barely focus; everything was a blur of names, faces, and voices. On anything really, he felt scrapped raw by just a few days of interaction.

He found himself immeasurably grateful for the time he had spent with Jeremy before everyone arrived. How he had softened his rough edges, helped him heal, at least a little, wormed his way under his defenses through persistence and smiles. Without the past seven weeks, he would probably be doing much, much worse. And he still was flinching and expecting violence to come out of every shadow. Snapping and angry, aggressive towards almost everyone who wasn’t Jeremy. The fierce need to protect his space.

He even caught himself afraid of Jeremy for unconscious half-seconds, the voice in his head was back hissing at him when he wasn’t paying attention when his focus was on his teammates, the threats, He’s your captain, he owns you, he needs to punish you, you deserve it, he should be punishing, he only isn’t because you are so weak , the past weeks had given him enough confidence, enough trust to know that it wasn’t true. Not of Jeremy at the least, Jeremy would never hurt him, would never tell him he deserved it, was one of the first who told him that he hadn’t, it was enough to disregard the doubt, and keep faith that Jeremy was good. Because he was, so good . And he hated that the poisonous whispers of doubt, insecurity, and fear had returned, that they would be about Jeremy of all people. But at least he didn’t believe them. Not completely, not when it came to him. 

He glanced over at him sitting on the couch in time to see his reaction when his phone rang. Jeremy picked it up, immediately letting out a shriek of joy and then started rapidly conversing with the person on the other end in Spanish. Jean couldn’t follow the conversation, he could swear he heard his name mentioned at least once, but he wasn’t actually sure.

Once Jeremy hung up he turned to him a wide grin splitting his face. "What is it?" He asked, it couldn't be anything bad, not when it made him smile like that. Like he was the sun itself.

"I am an uncle. My sister had her baby last night."

 Jeremy started looking at his phone again, "Oh my god, he's so cute," he gasped covering his mouth as he presumably looked at the baby pictures. “Come see, he’s perfect.”

Jean made his way over and looked at the images on the phone, there was a tired-looking woman who looked remarkably like Jeremy with her hair tied back in a poofy ponytail holding a squishy looking baby wrapped up in a blanket. Jeremy scrolled through some more pictures cooing, over close-ups that showed the baby’s few wispy curls and a red scrunched up face.

“What’s his name?” Jean asked.

“Miles Dante Knox-Goldstein. We have the same middle name, they thought about Jeremy, but Adam, Iva’s husband, has a coworker named Jeremy who is just the worst. And Dante is a good name. Holy shit. I'm his godfather too!”

"Congratulations," Jean smiled looking at Jeremy's ecstatic but slightly panicked face.

"He's so little. I mean Ellie was tiny too, but I forgot. He was supposed to come last week"

"ALVAREZ, " He ran to the door, shouted out into the hallway and several Trojans poked their heads out of doors.

“What?” They poked their head out of their room.

“IVA HAD THE BABY.” Alvarez shrieked and ran into their room followed closely by Laila to coo over the baby pictures too.

"You finished the blanket right?" Laila asked.

“Fuck, I need like one more row and to tie it off,” Jeremy groaned.

“You aren’t going until this weekend, right? You have time” Alvarez asked.

 Jean felt a cold dread go through him. Jeremy was leaving. Of course, he was, it should have been the first thing he thought of the second he broke the news. Of course, he was going to see his nephew, his godchild, the second he could. He had probably mentioned something before. Jean was such an idiot. In his mind, he had had until classes started up in the fall to get used to being alone, or at a minimum until the summer classes. 

What if the weekend without him broke Jean down enough again where he wouldn’t trust Jeremy when he got back, and all the fragile progress was destroyed. It doesn’t work like that he tried to tell himself. He knew it didn’t work like that, but recovery had setbacks, steps backward relapses all of that. What if he lost him? What if he came back and after spending time with his own family realized how useless, and pathetic Jean actually was. Spent some time around normal, good people, they had to be good if they raised Jeremy, without the shadow of Jean looming over him, Jeremy would come back and realize what Jean really was.  Stop it. Stop it. He shoved it down, made his face blank, happiness would be too much of a stretch, unbelievable, not react. 

“Yeah, I'll leave after morning practice on Friday and come back Monday afternoon. I got to let Coach know." Jeremy said, continuing to talk to them about things too quickly for Jean to really follow.

It was fine, he would be fine, he would latch on to Laila, Alvarez, even the chatty freshman, and the other two backliners if he had too. He’d call Renee, Kevin, Neil even as a last resort. He could get through it, he would think of it like a test. Maybe it would be easier, without Jeremy there to pull him out of the shower last week Jean surely would have been able to on his eventually. After at least a day right? If he had tried harder. There would be no obligations for him between the time Jeremy left and the time he returned anyway, so even if he did fail miserably it would be fine. It wasn’t enough time for him to starve, either, he knew from experience, dehydration might cut it close but he could make it, so even if he failed at the most basic and essential components of living, eating and drinking, he would survive. In some shape or form. He couldn’t let him see, he deserved to be able to spend time with his family without worrying about Jean. 

Pretend everything is okay. Jean knew how to do that. He let out a stilted breath and watched Jeremy run frantically, pulling out a ball of yarn and what looked like a mostly finished blanket and start working on it once Laila and Alvarez left. 

“I started this forever ago but forgot to finish. I just need one more row though and to tie it off.” Jeremy muttered focusing on the blanket in his hands. Jean just nodded.

Once Jeremy finished the blanket and he unfurled it showing Jean. It was made of soft yellow, green and purple yarn and was very obviously hand knit, it had some looser and uneven rows but overall it was well made and it was clear Jeremy had spent a lot of time and energy working on it.

“It’s wonderful. You did a great job,” Jean told him and Jeremy beamed at the praise before carefully folding it up and putting it on his desk before rejoining him. 

“What do you want for dinner tonight?” Jeremy asked as he hopped up onto the counter while Jean started to look through the cabinets.

“We need groceries. Actual vegetables are a major part of the whole vegetarian thing, as I keep trying to remind you. Also tofu or soy and beans, protein substitutes. And some other supplements. I've done some research. You can't live on grilled cheese and Mac and Cheese."

"Okay, we can go now if you want? I need to go out anyway and get something else for my sister and the baby. Do you think I should get something for her husband too?"

Jean hesitated, they had gone out and to stores, several times since Jean had arrived and he could handle it, provided they didn't get separated, and it was a smaller store. A big, busy, grocery store would be too much for him to handle today though on top of everything else and being surrounded by the team that morning. "Is there somewhere smaller we could go, with not a lot of people?"

Jeremy bit his lip. "I'm not sure. I guess I could go on my own if you want if you gave me a list? But last time..."

Jean grimaced. Jeremy was right he would immediately get lost in his own head if Jeremy left without him. He hadn’t been able to handle him stepping out for a few minutes while Jean took a nap yesterday. Though lately, he had been able to manage it if Jeremy left their room and Jean knew where he was in the building or down the hall.

"We could wait until Laila and Alvarez are ready to do their shopping and Laila could stay with you while Alvarez and I go out? Or I could give them a list." He suggested.

"That could work." It would have to, it would be best to have Jeremy go without him, and see how he handled it if there was at least someone else. Best to try it now, before this weekend when he would have to spend four days on his own. A miniature test, knowing what was coming to an extent might make it easier to bear.

He could handle it. Hopefully. He had to. Jeremy was leaving him, to go see his family, as he should. He would not let him see how terrified Jean was to be on his own. He couldn't hold him back more than he already did. 

He wondered if Laila or Alvarez would permit him to stay with them or follow them around like a lost shadow until Jeremy got back. He had to get used to it anyway, once the school year started they'd have separate classes and have to be apart. He had to learn to be on his own or have someone else other than Jeremy with him. 

Whenever he was allowed to leave the Nest for classes there were always at least three ravens in the class, and there was never a time when he was permitted to be without a partner even while inside the Nest. It wouldn't be like that here and he had to get used to that. He could do it. He had managed to go through the airport and fly across the country on his own somehow.

After a bit Laila and Alvarez came over, Jeremy hesitated before leaving. Making sure Jean knew he could call him, and fretting for a moment before Alvarez tugged him away while Jean shooed him out the door.

He let out a heavy breath and glanced over to Laila. She had come over without asking why she probably deserved an explanation as to why she had been called upon to babysit an adult. 

“You’re probably wondering why…” He started gesturing to himself vaguely. 

“You don’t owe me an explanation if you don’t want too. I'm happy to listen if you feel like sharing but otherwise it will be nice to just spend some time with you. Jeremy and Alvarez are amazing, but they can be a bit. Well, extroverted.” She said with a smile

“Yeah,” he agreed with a dry laugh. He didn’t mind too much though, especially not when it came to Jeremy. “Still… “ He sighed before giving her a slightly edited explanation about Raven partners, and how he hadn’t been left alone for more than a minute or two in years. 

“It got worse after, some things.” he finished tracing the scars on his wrists unconsciously. “Anyway, Jeremy left for the concert last week and I had a complete breakdown within a few minutes.” He was managing okay now, at the moment. A bit on edge, but not completely tipping into a panic. At least Laila was here, he liked Laila. If he stuck with her and Alvarez it might be somewhat bearable. Night would be a problem, but he would deal with that when he had to. He doubted they'd let him stay in their room much less allow him to crawl into bed with them. Not that he thought he would even be comfortable sharing a bed with someone who wasn't Jeremy.

“Fuck. That’s understandable. I’m sorry. That’s super shitty.” She said sympathetically.

“It’s not so bad. Especially when Jeremy’s around. He makes everything better.”

"You look at him like he hung the moon," Laila observed with a sigh and a slight smile.

"No, the sun. He's the sun." He choked out unable to stop himself. Brilliant and warm, everything he went without and everything he longed for in the Nest. His eyes stung and his throat started to close of its own volition, he blinked and tried to push the sudden swell of emotion back down.

Laila looked at him hesitantly, "Jean I don’t mean to pry. And you really don’t have to answer at all, you can just tell me to fuck off if you want, but… Jeremy, you're in love with him, aren't you?"

Jean's shoulders slumped defeated, "Is that what this is?" he didn't mean for it to sound so raw, so much like a yes. He still hadn't found a better word for it, but there was no use in pretending or denying it anymore, even to himself, after his conversation with Renee.

"How could I not?" He admitted genuinely wondering, how could someone spend any meaningful amount of time with Jeremy and not love him. Who could not love the sun? It pulled everything in, entire planets pulled into its orbit. Jean was nothing compared to that. And how on earth was he supposed to stop?

 Not that Jean even wanted to, it was just knowing he couldn’t, that he had no control over the way Jeremy made him feel and how that left so much potential for it to hurt, and it would eventually. He didn't mind, truly, but deep down he knew it would end in his heart being broken in some way or another and he couldn't help but dread it. 

"You should tell him,"

"I can't." He shouldn’t have even told Laila, but she had obviously seen, he didn’t do a good job of hiding it.

"He probably --"

"You've seen my scars. The way I look. There is no way in hell he could ever want me or be attracted to me. And that's not even getting into all the other reasons why he wouldn't want to be with me."

"Jean that's not true--"

"No Laila," he interrupted. "You don’t know everything, I can't. He could never want me, he knows how broken I am and he deserves more than me, more than I can give him. I can't -- I couldn't -- " Jean stammered trying to make her understand. Jeremy could not possibly want him. 

"I wouldn't be able to give him what he wants, what he needs. I couldn't be with him that way, the way he wants. Not physically." He wanted to, badly, thought about it, imaged it, but the idea of actually acting on it filled him up with fear as cold as ice. He knew he wouldn’t be able to reciprocate everything, do all the same things Jeremy might do for him. He wouldn’t be able to hold up to his past partners. 

"Sweetie, Jeremy doesn't care about all of that. He'd never ask you to do something you weren't 100% comfortable with, or rush you, you know that right?" She asked gently.

"He deserves it though. And I can't, maybe not ever. And he shouldn't have to wait around for something that might never happen. And even without all of that, emotionally and mentally? I'm damaged, he deserves someone that he doesn't have to take care of and constantly bend over backward to avoid triggering. A boyfriend, not someone who you can't even leave alone for an hour without calling a sitter for." He gestured to Laila as evidence.

 "I can't even be left alone, how fucked up is that? He doesn't need me constantly clinging on to him dragging him down, always a second away from freaking out. It's bad enough already he barely has any time away from me and wastes all of his energy making sure I'm okay and comforting me as it is. I'm not good enough for him, nowhere close. He doesn't deserve to be trapped in a relationship with someone like me. He should have a whole person, someone who can take care of him for once, who can give him everything he could ever want, who can worship him the way he should be." His voice cracked a little on the word worship. Jeremy made him understand why so many people throughout history had worshiped the sun.

"He deserves everything. Certainly better, and more than me." He reiterated finishing. No one less than perfect could ever deserve Jeremy.

"Maybe you should let him decide that. The way he looks at you, he must feel the same way. He wants the same thing. And he does those things because he loves you, Jean. If he didn't want to be around you, and all of that he wouldn't. Take a chance."

"He doesn't love me, Laila. He can't. I'm not-- I'm not lovable. No one ever has and probably no one ever will." He thinks his sisters might have, he can't remember if it was ever said. But that was long gone, another life, he wasn’t the person they had known anymore, and it wasn't the same.

 "And it's okay, what I have now is better than anything I ever imagined. Honestly, I won't ask for more. It's not worth losing him. He will reject me, and I'll lose what I have now. I'm not willing to take that risk."

"Jean," Laila looked like she might start to cry. "I love you. Okay? You are lovable. I may not love you the way you love him, but I do love you. So much. And Jeremy does too.” she held up a hand to keep him from interrupting to protest. "Even if , a highly unlikely if, it is not in the way you want him to, he does love you. You are his best friend and he loves you, regardless of whether or not he's in love with you, he does love you. Friends love each other. And I'm fairly certain he's in love with you as well."

Jean didn't say anything. One part stunned, one part disbelieving. Renee told him she loved him all the time, but that was Renee, she was all about god’s love for all living things and shit. And he never really believed it, it was just something she said. She was his friend because she had to be because no one else would be, a lost cause, appealing to her Christian sense of charity or whatever. He wasn't worth the difficulty for normal people. Laila had barely known him for two weeks. And she was calling him Jeremy’s best friend? Jeremy had called him that once, but wasn’t that really Alvarez?

“Alvarez is his best friend not --”

“Within ten minutes of us leaving after we first met you, they said that they had clearly been replaced. They aren’t mad either. Happy if anything, that Jeremy let you in so quickly and that you are so close. The way he smiles when you’re around is… Honestly, I have never seen him look at someone like that before. You’re his best friend or one of them at a minimum.”

‘I --” He broke off confused, Alvarez had known Jeremy since they were toddlers, while he'd only been in his life for a few months.

"Do you want a hug?"

Jean nodded and let Laila fold her arms around him

"He’s the sun, Laila he's the fucking sun." He whispered frantically. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do. I can't. I love him, but I can't." 

"Anyone with eyes can see the way you two feel about each other. You could just tell him. And be happy." 

It wasn’t that simple. Couldn’t be.

"Don't tell him. Or Alvarez. Please." He begged. Alvarez was slowly becoming his friend now too. Through small gestures and the way they sought to include him and didn’t talk down to him, treated him like a fully functional person at team events, provided a buffer, and redirected attention when Jean needed. But despite how much more comfortable he was around them now, they were Jeremy’s friend first. They might tell him, and even if they didn’t, they might want to. 

"I won't. But you should, when you’re ready. Whether or not you end up together isn't the point, you'll make yourself miserable trying to hide it. And it wouldn't wreck your friendship, even if he doesn't feel the same way. Trust me I went through it with Alvarez."

Laila underestimated how accustomed Jean was to hiding things and living with being miserable.

"I like the way he smells," he groaned miserably.

Laila patted his back and made a noise of sympathy. “It will be okay.”

It would be; but people needed the sun but the sun doesn't need people in return, he reminded himself.

It wouldn't stop the feeling of his heart being ripped out when he pictured Jeremy moving away after graduation. Getting signed to a pro team away from him, gradually drifting apart as his life continued without Jean. Meeting up with him for drinks when their teams played each other, hearing about his new life. Jeremy falling in love with a beautiful man or woman, getting married, having children with them that had Jeremy's wild curls and bright eyes. Of standing by while Jeremy’s life continued without him in it, of being no more than a footnote, an old friend. He wondered if he would even be invited to Jeremy's future wedding. Which would be worse, watching Jeremy commit himself to someone he loved from the sidelines, someone that wasn’t him, or hearing about it from a distance no longer important enough to even be included. Jeremy didn’t need Jean, but Jean needed him so much it hurt.

He would do anything, anything to stay at Jeremy's side for as long as possible. But the truth was he wouldn't be. Ten years from now Jeremy would be happy and fulfilled and Jean would be alone. Going through the motions day in and day out, playing exy and making money until he couldn't anymore, and he was put down like an animal that could no longer work. That’s all he was, in the grand scheme of things. 

Jeremy was graduating this year, and Jean wasn't this was all he would get. One year. Jeremy barely mentioned his old roommate and teammate, Brian, who had graduated, it would be the same for Jean, he would be forgotten. Jeremy would leave him, just like everyone else. Kevin, his parents, Marianne, various nannies that raised him, hell even Renee, though it wasn't her fault he got sent across the country. 

A part of him hated himself for letting it go this far. For letting them grow so close, for allowing himself to think of Jeremy as a constant, safety. Home. He had gone so long without it, why did he need it now, latch on to it? He thought if it had been anyone else, this wouldn’t have happened, he wouldn’t have fallen in love so fast and so hard. 

He had had friends before, technically upon reflection people he cared about who cared about him. Renee, Zoey, Kevin, Thea, Neil to an extent when he wasn’t running his mouth in a way that would result in him being tortured. A few older Raven men and women he had long forgotten that helped him or at least were kind that first few months before they graduated and their replacements were harsh and cruel. He was even making new friends, well he didn’t hate them, here with all the happy-go-lucky idiots he had suddenly found himself surrounded with, none quite so blindingly sun-like as Jeremy. 

But Jeremy had wormed his way under his walls in a way no one else could; with his persistence, constant striving to be safe, to help, the way he listened. His blinding smiles, honesty, constant kindness, how could he not love him? He didn’t want to stop, it was far better than numbness after all. But the thought of Jeremy leaving like he would one day hurt. It hurt like nothing else. Why did it hurt so much? He had been through so much pain, real pain, actual fucking torture, the worst things imaginable that a person could go through. And this? This hurt? It was stupid, foolish, and weak. But it still hurt, different from everything else, yes, but somehow nearly as painful.

Chapter Text

Jeremy

"Jeremy I don’t think it's just a crush. What's going on between you and Jean." Alvarez asked as they were on their way to the store. 

“You're right it isn't.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

"I'm in love with him," Jeremy admitted. Saying it out loud didn't make it any less real.

"Okay…" They said gesturing for him to elaborate.

“You don't understand. It's more. Like some of the people I dated yeah they turned out bad and it ended shit, but I really thought I loved them. But this? This is something else, and it just blows all that out of the water. If what I felt then was love, there is no word for this. It's like, going outside on a clear night in the middle of nowhere and you can see the stars and the moon and the milky way and it just makes everything else seem so small and insignificant in comparison. And it's the most beautiful thing you've ever seen, it's awe-inspiring and makes you believe in something more, something bigger. That's how I feel, every time I look at him it's like seeing the moon and the galaxy full of stars for the first time. I feel it in my bones, in my chest. And it hurts but I also wouldn't give it up for anything. And I don't even care if he ever knows or is with me. I just want him to be happy, to see him smile. God when he smiles.”

“It wasn't like in movies, you know, where you make eye contact and its instantaneous something clicking into place. It built. Bit by bit. Slowly that part of me didn't even realize until now how deep I had gotten and I'm saying it all out loud and kinda freaking out. Everyday it's stronger, everyday I think, oh this is love, what I felt yesterday was nothing in comparison to this. And then I see him again and all over again. I think I might burst from it. But then he laughs or smiles and I don't care, it's worth it. If soulmates are real he's mine. And it sucks that I'm probably not his but at this point, I can live with that. I love him. I just-- "

He looked up at Alvarez and they were tearing up a bit. "You should tell him."

"I can't, I... No. I'm his captain anyway and --. His last captain was Riko, he hurt him, Alvarez. Really, really bad. You've seen his scars that isn't even half of it. I can't. Even if he--. I can't make a move. I would never know, I'd never be able to know if it was because he liked me back, or if it was because I am his captain and he thought he had too. Or that he thinks he owes me because I am the first person who has been kind to him and hasn't hurt him. Or because I'm the person who he has been confiding in and helping him recover.”

“And that's disgusting Alvarez. It's manipulative and a totally bad power dynamic. I won't do that to him. I can't. And even if all of that wasn't the case, he can do better, he deserves better, deserves everything. He is so amazing you have no idea. He's selfless and so fucking strong --" he cut himself off before he could go into the long list of reasons why Jean Moreau deserved the world and was the most fantastic person on the planet.

"I can't. I just can't, okay? It would have to come from him and him not knowing how I feel ahead of time. And even then I'd have to quit being captain." 

Fuck, but even then there might be the problem of Jean thinking he had to stay with him even if he didn't want to anymore because he quit the captaincy for him. He’d thought about it extensively and he just couldn't see it working no matter how he approached it. With Jean's history and past issues with consent and power, there was no way he could be with him and be captain. 

Maybe he should just quit the captaincy anyway. It was stressful, he liked it, but it was stressful especially with his anxiety.

“I still think you should tell him.”

“I can't, I just told you why."

"I won't tell him. I won't," they reiterated, "but you should. The way he looks at you acts around you, there's no way he doesn't have feelings for you. You sleep in the same bed for fuck's sake Jeremy. Every time someone approaches him or tries to touch him he flinches, even if it's just a little. Even from Laila who literally is incapable of violence, that’s why she’s a goalie. But not you, he doesn't flinch around you, if anything he leans towards you. You two touch all the time casually. He reaches for you all the time. You're the only one that can calm him down when he's having a panic attack, or that he will even recognize."

"That's why I can't," he cut them off. "He trusts me and me telling him about my stupid feelings would complicate that and he wouldn’t anymore. He wouldn't be as comfortable and okay with cuddling and everything if he knew I had feelings for him. I don't want him to lose that support. Also, it’s probably because we spent a month and a half alone together just us, it took a long time and a lot of work to get him to trust me even a little. And I…." 

He broke off, throat tight. "I can't lose him, Alvarez. I just can't. I love him so goddamn much and nothing's going to change that but, I need him so much. I don't know what I would do without him. Without the talks the cuddling and everything else. I thought I would never be able to really trust someone after Rick and Jessica, but with him… I always feel safe, and like he actually wants me there and I'm not just annoying or inconveniencing him. I need him, I need him in my life. He is the best, most selfless person I have ever met."

"Oh, sweetie."

"It's fine. I mean I'm not going to get over it. But I can handle it." 

They just sighed and patted his arm reassuringly, with a slight grimace.


He called Rheman on the way back letting Alvarez drive and Coach cleared his plans to visit his family and miss a few practices.

“I called Wymack. Jesus Christ, I know it’s not all of it but… the Yakuza? You knew. How long have you known?" He said after giving his approval to leave.

Jeremy winced, he had wondered if that could come up, Alvarez gave him an odd look but didn't push after he shook his head. "He told me that day in your office after you went to get Jared."

"And you didn’t think that might have been good information for me to know?"

“It’s not my story to tell.”

Coach yelled at him a bit and gave him a lecture, an extended one from the other day about looking out for Jean and being careful. 

“That kid has clearly been through hell. He trusts you, and it doesn’t seem like he does anyone else. And after what Wymack told me I wouldn’t be surprised if he never trusted me. I’m not sure how you managed it, but I suppose if anyone could it would be you. You better not break that trust, Jeremy. You’re a good kid, best I have ever had if I am being honest, and you know I don’t like to pick favorites but if I did it would be you. There is a reason you were made captain. But this is some tough shit. Fuck. Look out for yourself too, I know it's a lot, and I know you probably know more than I do more details. If it comes down to being his captain or his friend, and you know I am not saying this lightly, be his friend. He sure needs one.”

“Kinda already planned on that Coach.”

“You still aren’t getting away with any bullshit, even if you manage to rope him into whatever scheme you lot come up with.”

"Yeah, alright."

“And it goes without saying, and I really don’t believe you would but if you ever--” Rhemen’s voice was harsh.

“I would never hurt him. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I did.”

Rheman sighed and Jeremy could practically hear him nodding over the phone.

“Christ, Tetsuji actually owned him. Never liked the man, always preferred Kayleigh, thought it might have been her death that made him like that, but now I can’t help but wonder if he had something to do with it. What a piece of shit. I have half a mind to get on a plane to West Virginia and give him a piece of my mind myself.”

"Me too. Probably not a good idea though what with the mafia and everything."

“I assume he’s going with you, to visit your sister and the baby?”

“Yeah, I figured because you aren’t letting him practice anyway…”

“Fine, take him with, have a good time.”


Jean seemed off the rest of the night and in the morning too. Jumpier than usual, distant and quiet. He wondered if he was nervous about meeting a whole new group of people.

He was pleased though that he was wearing a slate grey t-shirt Jeremy had grabbed for him at the store on impulse. It made his smokey eyes stand out like storm clouds. He'd started with a bright teal and blue Hawaiian shirt with Eiffel towers on it instead of pineapples, but he ended up grabbing a few more and some plain colored t-shirts Jean had laughed at the print on the shirt and seemed to like it even though, Jeremy doubted he would ever wear it.

He was wearing the bracelet though.

It was starting to get late and if they wanted to avoid delays tomorrow they should be ready to go straight after the gym. 

"Jean, are you packed for tomorrow yet?"

"What?" Jean froze looking confused.

 “For my parent's house this weekend?" Jean's eyes widened but looked less nervous than he had the past few days all of a sudden.

"Sorry, did I not actually ask? I should have asked if you even wanted to come first. It’s stupid, I shouldn’t have just assumed. You totally don’t have to come. But you are invited, and I’d really like if you did, my parents already set up space for you and everyone wants to meet you. But they can be a lot so--” 

“I can come with?” Jean sounded so vulnerable for a second, hopeful, it made Jeremy stop everything for a moment, and realize how close he had come to majorly screwing up. Shit.

“Of course. I’m sorry for just assuming you were coming, I should have talked to you about it.”

 “I thought…” Jean trailed off and looked away, making Jeremy's heart sink. Had he thought he would just leave him? Even after Jeremy knew how much Jean struggled with being alone? 

He had Jeremy realized, feeling cold. He really thought Jeremy would just abandon him like that. "I wouldn't have just left without you. Especially not without talking about it first. Fuck. I’m an idiot, I'm so sorry.”

"Oh." Jean paused for a moment, "Your family won't mind? I don't want to intrude, it seems like something special for just family and …"

"You wouldn't be intruding. They want to meet you."

"Okay. Yeah, what should I pack?"

He helped Jean pack and Jean seemed remarkably more at ease the rest of the night and the following morning. 

He felt another sinking feeling in his gut, this was another reason why he could never tell Jean how he felt. Jean had been a wreck the past few days over the thought of being left alone, as he now realized putting the pieces together. Because he had been an idiot and hadn’t actually talked to him about it, assumed it would be obvious, because he was already taking Jean’s presence in every aspect of his life for granted.

If he told Jean how he felt about him, Jean would agree, would be with him, he wasn’t sure of it but it seemed. But it would only be because he thought Jeremy would abandon him if he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t, he would never do that to Jean, but after every other shitty thing that had happened in Jean’s life, all the people that had abandoned him without a thought, how could he expect anything different.


The drive was a couple of hours north and inland.

Jean napped for the first hour but started muttering and twitching in his sleep. Jeremy woke him by calling out his name, Jean had not included nightmares when he told Jeremy it was okay to touch him, and he was reluctant anyway while they were speeding down the highway.

Jean blinked at him once he awoke, rubbing his eyelids and muttering a quick grunt of thanks. 

He started playing some music, interrupted by the easy conversation which flowed between them. Jean listened to him talk about his family and asked questions when appropriate seeming to absorb everything he was saying.

He was telling Jean how his sister met her husband when Jean held up a hand. "Wait, just a second, I do want to hear more but did the man in the song just say 'to the window, to the wall, to the sweat drip down my balls?'" 

"Yeah it's Lil' Jon"

"Gross,"

"It's a good song."

"It seems vulgar,"

Jeremy grinned dancing a little in his seat to the music-making, Jean snort, "If you think that's bad, just you wait, give me a second."

He tosses Jean his phone instructing him to play a few more songs next.

They continued their conversation about Jeremy's family while listening to the music in between Jean's running commentary on the lyrics.

“This one’s just come on Fuck me, emo boy, on repeat basically.” Jean scoffed unimpressed, though he did look over to see him looking at his hands in confusion.

“What is it?”

“I'm trying to figure out what eleven inches is.”

“Like just less than a foot.”

“Why do you think that would help me?”

“Well a foot is like 30 centimeters and an inch is like the tip of your thumb to the first knuckle give or take, so 11 inches is 1 inch less than a foot so like 30 centimeters minus the tip of your thumb about?” Jean looked very unimpressed with his impromptu conversions into metric but he could see him doing the mental calculations. 

“Huh, okay,” Jean said with a shrug, Jeremy had no idea what to make of that response or what that could mean. 

Soon the look on Jean's face morphed into one of horror and disgust, as he heard the lyrics to Fack by Eminem come on

Looking utterly appalled he turned to him "Everything about this song is very… descriptive. It also seems very demeaning towards women."

"Fair, just wait it gets worse."

Jean's jaw job and he looked horrified laughing slightly. "What did he just say about gerbils?"

"Oh my god." He turned to him with a look of confusion, "Please tell me I am wrong about what a gerbil is. Jeremy, what's a gerbil?"

When Jeremy was too busy laughing to respond. Jean's voice grew more panicked, "What the fuck is a gerbil?"

"It's like a little mouse-like animal."

"God, that's what I thought, why? What is wrong with people?" Jean groaned dropping his head into his hands as the song ended with the lyrics Shove a gerbil in your ass through a tube on repeat ending the song.

"That man needs therapy."

"Probably.

Deepthroat by Cupcakke came on, and Jeremy started singing along, wonderfully and perfectly on beat, he might add. Jean let out another miserable groan, laughing into his hands, face turning bright red.

"Oh my god. What is wrong with you?"

He peeked at him for a half-second through his hands to see his improvised dance moves, "Keep your eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. If I die because you were singing about getting fucked and sucking dick and we get in a crash, I swear I will torment you from the afterlife."

He put one hand back on the wheel for Jean's peace of mind but kept singing.

"Okay that one was just very graphic," admitted red-faced once he was done. "You have proved your point, congratulations."

"You could play --"

"Nope, my turn to pick the music," Jean said keeping the phone out of his reach.

Jeremy grinned, next time.


 

Chapter Text

Jeremy

 

They pulled into the long driveway of Jeremy's family home. A large house with faded paint peeling that once was probably blue or grey and a barn off to the side. The yard was littered with children's toys and a trampoline in one corner.

The two dogs came running to the car barking as they pulled in.

"You okay with dogs? They will probably jump on you,"

"Yeah," Jean looked a bit nervous as the porch door opened and his brothers came spilling out to greet them with a shout.

"Jeremy's home," Mickey shouted.

He turned off the car and stepped out immediately getting jumped on by the dogs soon followed by Mickey tackling him with a hug.

After receiving a few welcoming licks to his face by the dogs they ran over and started jumping on Jean, as his other brother, José jumped on him too.

Mickey was taller than him by now, which seemed unfair, and José was already the same height at 5'6", he would probably surpass him too soon he was still gangly and awkward at thirteen. 

Picking himself up from the grass and dusting himself off he tried to pull the dogs off of Jean, who were desperately trying to pick his face despite it being out of reach "Hey, don't jump on him," said as much for the dogs as his brothers as he pulled Sandor, the bigger of the two a pit and shepherd mix off.

"It's alright, I like dogs," Jean said with an actual smile, that made Jeremy's insides feel funny

 He knelt down to scratch Clegane's ears, an unidentifiable mix breed, possibly heeler.

He let Sandor go on accident and she bounded over to Jean giving him a few licks to the face, making Jean's eyes widen in surprise before letting out a short laugh. She rolled on her belly and lolled her tongue out demanding belly scratches which Jean tried to give her despite Clegane still jumping all over him desperately licking his face and wagging his tail.

"Come on, come on," he said, pulling the dogs off him once more before he could be tackled as he saw his mom step out and call them inside.

Jean insisted on grabbing both of their bags and brought him to the house.

"Welcome home sweetie," she said, pulling him into a tight hug. He relaxed into it smelling her hair.

"Missed you." He whispered.

She let him go and turned to Jean, once Jeremy introduced them, "Welcome, I hope you make yourself at home here. You are welcome anytime."

Jean nodded stiffly, "Thank you for having me, ma'am,"

"Oh none of that, you are family now. Can I hug you?" Jean's eyes widened a bit. He had warned and lectured all of his family about giving Jean space and not being too overwhelming or grabby, and he hoped everything would go alright.

"Um, okay?" Jean said hesitantly before being pulled into a crushing hug, Jean looked over her much shorter shoulder to him with wide and confused eyes.

"Mama, that's enough don't crush him."

"Of course dear, José, Mickey come help your brother and his guest with their bags!" She shouted, making Jean jump a little.

"That's okay Mrs. Knox I can--"

"Nonsense, I'll show you to your room. And call me Maria. You'll have to stay with Jeremy, Iva and Adam have taken over her old room, well it's the guest room now. And Mickey and José are sharing because the AC went out and it's too hot for José in the attic."

Jean nodded politely and followed up to Jeremy's childhood bedroom, not much had changed since high school. Still a twin bed, writing desk, posters for exy and a few TV shows on the wall. The majority of the floor space had been taken up by an air mattress. 

"Well, I am going to go start with lunch and see if Iva needs anything. They're in the living room last I saw. Adam had to go back to work, they don't give him more than two weeks off at that job of his and he is saving all of the vacation time for when Iva and he go back home in a month."

She turned and left them to themselves. 

"You good?"

Jean jumped a little but quickly relaxed and nodded, "Your mother seems lovely. You look like her."

"Thanks." He hoped he would age as gracefully as his mom.

"You must want to meet your nephew,"

"We can take a minute if you need, my family can be kind of overwhelming," he offered

Jean cracked a smile at him, a real one, small but warm, "I'm good, thank you though."

"Okay, just be sure to let me know if you need space or anything," he offered again as they walked down the stairs.

His brothers were in the living room with his sister who sat on the couch with a small bundle in his arms. Iva looked tired but happy, her hair pulled back into a loose bun.

Ellie sat next to her, looking at the baby and jumped up when she saw them with a shriek throwing herself at him, loose curls bouncing. "Jeremy!"

Leaping at him and grabbing his legs.

"Hey, bunny what's up?" He said kneeling down to give her a hug.

"Iva had a baby." 

"I see that, hey Iva," he gave his sister a smile.

"He sleeps a lot."

"I bet, babies sleep a lot. You did too."

"I'm not a baby anymore. I'm a big kid."

"I know," she tugged out of his arms and brought him over to Iva.

"Oh, he's beautiful,"

"Thank you," she said with a smile offering him over, "want to hold him?"

He accepted the baby into his arms, who only wrinkled his nose and made a few squeaking noises but didn't wake up. "I can't believe you pushed this out of you."

José made a gagging noise in the background and Mickey smacked the back of his head. 

"Play nice," he warned.

"Me neither, I am glad that part is over, not keen on repeating it anytime soon but it was worth it."

"Who's he?" Ellie asked, staring up at Jean and tugging on his pant leg.

"Um hello?" Jean said looking down at her.

"This is my friend Jean, he lives with me at college."

Ellie squinted up at him still tugging on his pants. 

"It's lovely to finally meet you," Iva said, "We've heard so much about you."

"Oh?" Jean blinked.

"Yeah," Mickey snorted, "Jeremy won't shut up about you."

"Nothing bad, I promise." Iva laughed.

"Oh that's good. I've heard a lot about you all as well. Congratulations on your baby."

"My name's Ellie!" Ellie interrupted tugging on Jean's hand to get his attention again. 

"Oh yes, sorry." Jean knelt down so he was at eye level and offered her his hand to shake very seriously, "it's lovely to meet you."

"Yes. I know." Ellie told him shaking his hand like it was a business meeting making Jean grin quickly.

Ellie “Why do you have a three on your face? Is it marker?” she poked Jean’s face and tried to rub his tattoo off.

“Ellie, we don’t grab people without permission, we ask before touching other people remember? And that’s a rude question.” he scolded immediately as Ellie started to prod at Jean and practically climb all over him. He felt an immediate wave of apprehension go through him, he didn't want her to trigger anything for Jean which could result in either or both of them being hurt.

“But why?” she looked over her shoulder at him confused practically standing on Jean, but she stopped grabbing his face.

Jean laughed, eyes lighting up in a way Jeremy had rarely seen. Rather than looking ill at ease, he looked completely comfortable. It made his breath catch 

“It’s okay,” he said sitting on the ground fully with his legs crossed to better accommodate her and be at her level.

“I was three years old last year, but now I am four and a big kid,” she told him.

“You definitely are.”

“The baby is littler than me though. He’s my nephew and he cries a lot. He was only born a few days ago, I get to hold him, but only if Iva says it’s okay and she helps.”

“I bet you are going to be a good aunt.” Jean looked over to where Jeremy was holding the baby with a smile.

“Are you three? Is that why you have the number? You are very tall for a three-year-old, but my friend Amy is three because she is younger than me and I have to be nice and share toys. But even though she is littler she is taller but not as tall as you. I will share toys with Miles too when he is bigger.” 

“No, I'm 21,” Jean told her seriously like it was a completely normal thing to ask and he was having a conversation with an adult.

“That’s very old, do you have a bedtime?”

“Sometimes,”

“I have a bedtime and nap time, but sometimes I just pretend and get up and play with toys.” 

Jean grinned but told her, “Sleep is very important, you need sleep to grow.” 

“You talk funny.”

“Ellie, that’s not very nice.” Iva scolded with a smile from where she was watching them both on the couch with Jeremy. 

“I am French, so I have an accent and when I was your age I lived in a different country and spoke a different language,” Jean explained.

“I speak English and Spanish, Momma speaks Spanish when she was little too and she talks funny.”

“You must be very smart to speak two languages.”

“Yes. I am smarter than Jeremy, Auntie Alvarez says that Jeremy is dummy thick so that means I am smarter.”

Jeremy choked, while Mickey and José started laughing. 

“When did they say that?” Jeremy asked once he stopped coughing. 

“I heard them. You were guys outside with Auntie Laila and were drinking grown-up juice. It was nighttime. Alvarez also said he was a himbo but I don't know what that means.”

“Why weren’t you sleeping?” Jeremy scolded lightly, face still feeling warm.

“I am a spy.”

“Okay.” Jeremy sighed trying not to smile.

“Can I touch your face again?” Ellie asked this time before reaching out.

“Alright?” Jean said confused and she resumed poking at the tattoo and feeling the ridges of his scars.

“What are these?” she asked prodding at the tattoo and several scars.

“The three is a tattoo, and the other things are scars."

“Why did you get a tattoo on your face, that seems silly?”

“You’re right it is silly. A very bad idea.”

“I have a scar,” Ellie pointed to her knee where there was a small scar, I fell down off the scooter and scraped it.”

“That sounds like that must have hurt a lot, you are very brave.”

“How did you get your scars? Did you fall too?”

Um,” he shot a quick glance over to Jeremy probably for help looking slightly uncomfortable but not overly so. “for some of them,”

“Which ones?”

“Uh, the one over my nose, I fell down the stairs,”

“Oh that must have hurted, I fell down the stairs because José and I were playing and I got in a box and slid down the stairs and fell out and it hurt.”

“What about this one, and this one?” She pointed to the ones on his mouth, the one that stretched from the corner of his lips curving up towards his cheek and the one that ran vertically over his lips on the other side

“Ellie, stop asking Jean questions,” Jeremy asked when Jean's face went blank for a half-second and he stalled.

“It’s okay, I uh, got them from a monster,” Jean said, letting out a breath. Iva gave Jeremy a quick questioning look.

“Really?”

“Really.”

“You must be very brave and strong.” A flash of something more complicated went over Jean's face and Jeremy felt a brief pang in his chest.

“Thank you,”

“Did it hurt? It looks like it hurt.”

“It did hurt a lot,” Jean told her gently but didn't elaborate anymore.

Ellie took her hands back and bit her lip looking worried, “Does it still hurt?”

“Not as much,” another look passed over Jean's face for a moment and Jeremy knew he hadn't spoken the whole truth. He wondered if his scars ever ached or if there were phantom pains and immediately felt sad. Jean shouldn't have to hurt anymore. Not ever. 

“When I get hurt, momma, daddy, or Jeremy gives me a kiss and makes it better.”

She said before grabbing his face aggressively and giving him a wet kiss over his scars. “There all better.”

“Thank you?” He said blinking a bit looking over to him in confusion.

“Jeremy you need to kiss him too to make it better.” Jean’s face quickly went red.

“That’s okay Ellie, Jean doesn’t want me to.” something else flickered across Jean's face for a half-second but it was gone too quickly for him to interpret it.

“No! You need too!” She stopped her foot angrily with tiny clenched fists, pouting and shaking her finger at him

“Ellie,”

“Now!” she pouted again looking on the verge of a tantrum.

He handed Iva back her baby and went over to sit with them giving her a hug. "We respect other people's space and boundaries alright?"

She pouted for a minute about not getting her way before running out of the room and saying she would be right back.

"You alright?" He murmured in French. 

"Fine, your sister is very sweet," Jean reassured him, getting to his feet and helping Jeremy up after.

"They still hurt?" He asked softly, to quiet for his other siblings to understand even if they spoke French. "Your scars?"

Jean winced, "Ah you caught that. Not bad, don’t worry about it, just some nerve damage. Twinges occasionally. If there’s a storm or something. Most were shallow anyway."

"Jean…"

"I'm fine Remy." Jean switched to English.

He sighed, dropping it for now. "Come meet the baby,"

He pulled Jean over and a breathtaking smile flitted across his face as he saw the baby. "He's beautiful."

"Would you like to hold him?" His sister offered

Jean blinked, looking caught off guard again, "May I?" 

Iva smiled and put him in his arms, not even needing to adjust his hands or show him how.

Miles woke up from being handed off and started fussing for a few seconds but Jean just stood, swaying back and forth gently while humming and he calmed down immediately and went back to sleep.

"You've done this before I see?"

"Yes," Jean confirmed looking down at Miles with a soft look on his face. Jeremy was too caught up with how at ease Jean looked for a second before the implication of what he said settled in. He had done this before? What baby? He couldn't imagine there ever being an infant in the nest. But Jean was only ten or eleven when he had left France. So he probably didn't have a kid that Jeremy didn't know about.

Iva kept talking before he could figure it out and he decided to wait. "What part of France are you from?"

"Marseilles,"

"Ah, my husband and I went to France on our honeymoon but didn't have a chance to go there, just Paris and a few days in Nice. I've heard it's lovely though."

"It is,"

"Do you get to go back often?"

The smile left Jean's face momentarily and the one that replaced it was false. "Ah. No, I haven't been to France in a little over ten years."

"You must miss it."

Jean swallowed and nodded looking down. Iva must have picked up on his unease because she didn't continue that line of questioning.

"Well, how are you liking California?"

"It's lovely," Jean turned to Jeremy for a second and gave him a small smile as he spoke. 

Iva and Jean continued to make small talk for a few minutes, while his brothers showed him some things on various video games. The small talk was shockingly functional, when he had seen his other teammates try, Jean mostly just stared at them giving one-word answers and occasionally calling them idiots or other insults. It was sweet that he was trying.

Ellie eventually came running in and grabbed Jean's hand. "Come on. I need to show you something."

"Okay," Jean agreed, handing the Miles back to his mother. 

Jeremy went to follow but Ellie held out her hand stopping him. "No. Just Jean, not you."

"I can't come?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"Because,"

"It's fine Jeremy stay with your brothers. I'll come to get you if I need to.

"You're sure?" Jeremy hesitated. 

"Yes," 

Jean let himself be led away by Ellie who was chattering to him quickly about something or other.

He played video games with his brothers for an hour or so after his sister and Miles left for a nap before wandering into the kitchen in search of Jean.

"Have you seen Jean and Ellie?" He asked his mom as she pulled a pan out of the oven.

"They were playing outside for a bit on the swings and stuff." She gestured out the window, "Ellie dragged him upstairs awhile ago. He's very good with kids."

"Yeah, he is." Jeremy agreed, shocked himself. Jean had flinched and struggled with almost everyone he had interacted with since Jeremy had met him but seemed completely unbothered by Ellie, pretty much letting her do whatever she wanted and going along with what she said.

"You might want to go rescue him, she mentioned playing dress up and doing makeovers, she'll boss him around and monopolize his attention the entire time he's here if you let her."

"Yeah, good idea." Ellie loved glitter and it took ages to get off.

When he went upstairs to Ellie's room and turned his head in the door he paused to take in the sight, shocked. Ellie was sitting on the floor in front of Jean repeating lyrics and hand gestures to a French song Jean appeared to be teaching her while he braided her hair. They were both covered in a light dusting of glitter. Ellie paused singing periodically to give him vague and probably incomprehensible instructions for her hair. 

Tourné tourne les jolis Moulin

Tapé tapé petites les main

Nagé nagé petits poisson

Volé volé volé jolie papillon 

"Hey," he said, knocking on the open door lightly.

"Jean is teaching me, French." She shouted excitedly.

"I see that."

"I want green next, then blue, then pink" 

"Okay, can you hand it to me?" Jean asked and put green bobble pony-tie on the third thick braid he had made. 

"I think I messed up then, there is only enough hair for one more, I did it for four, not five. I can start over?" he told her as he moved to the next section combing through it with his fingers gently oil. 

Ellie tipped her head back, "That's okay I did not specify. It was my communication issue. Next time." Jeremy bit back a grin. He wondered where that phrase had come from. "Pink next then."

Jean let out a chuckle and went back to slowly plaiting her hair. Jeremy wondered how Jean even knew how to do that? Braiding natural hair was something you were taught, Jean wasn't perfect at it but, he seemed to know what he was doing with the way he carefully worked sections and used a comb to part the hair in mostly even sections in her dark brown hair. His own hair was slightly looser and had a bit larger curls than Ellie's, still a ways off from his dad's hair but somewhere between it and his mom's, like José's, Mickey had even straighter hair and while Iva's hair was almost exactly like his mom's. Had Thea taught him to braid? It seemed unlikely. 

"How do you know how to braid natural hair?” He asked and there was an unexpected flash of agony over Jean’s face, and Jeremy regretted asking the question though he did not know why.

"My sister, Claire, I did her hair. Her mother was Senegalese." he eventually whispered, furrowing his eyebrows as he finished off the last slightly braid with stiff fingers, and went to redo the slightly sloppy first one after asking Ellie. “It has been a long time, I’m not good at it anymore, not that I was fantastic at it in the first place, I can't do anything too complicated. Just children's styles, I wouldn't be able to braid the way your mom's hair is. The repeatedly broken fingers don't help."

"Your stepmother?" Jeremy asked cautiously, apprehensive. Jean had never mentioned his life before the nest, never mentioned his family.

"My father's mistress. I never met her she, um, passed shortly after Claire was born. She was only a week or two old when father brought her home. I was the only she let do her hair, once she was big enough to make her demands known. I'd tell her stories to keep her entertained.  She would sit still if I was the one doing it. The au pair taught me." A half-smile flickered across his face before it faded.

Jeremy didn't ask anything else, the pain too evident in Jean's voice for him to continue that line of questioning, especially with his little sister present.

Jean finished up the braid taking a picture with his camera and handing it to her for approval. "Good?" He offered with a small smile.

"Perfect, thank you." Ellie threw her arms around his neck and gave him a hug. Jean froze for a second, blinking rapidly, eyes shinier than they should be, before hugging her back.

"Mama almost has lunch ready, why don't you go wash your hands and tell Iva while Jean and I clean up in here?"

"Okay," Ellie quickly agreed, skipping out of the room.

Jean looked away for a second starting to pick up the hair ties. "I um, don't know where she got these, she just handed them to me and told me to do her hair."

"It's fine," Jeremy took them and put them on the desk, "are you alright?"

"Yeah, fine." Jean still wouldn't look at him. "Sorry I --"

"Hey, it's alright. I know how demanding Ellie is. Are you okay though?"

Jean shrugged. 

"I didn’t know you had a sister." 

"Two. I had two sisters, Marianne and Claire. Marrianne was older than me by nine years, Claire was younger by six."

"Have you…?" He didn't know what he was going to ask and trailed off. Have you heard from them? Are they alive? Any question seemed cruel.

"I don't know what happened to them I… Marriane would be thirty-one now, Claire fifteen. I…" Jean trailed off blinking rapidly.

"You don't have to talk about it. Not right now."

Jean nodded stiffly letting out a sigh "Later, tonight. I… I miss them." 

Jeremy wrapped his arms around him and pulled him in. He could see in his mind a picture of a younger, happier unscared Jean suddenly taking care of a little sister, playing with her like he had with Ellie, doing her hair and his heart broke a little.

He hadn't thought much about what Jean's family might have been like. The assumptions and judgments he made about them were not kind, his father had sold him to the Moriyama's. He hadn't thought about him having siblings, people he'd loved, people he'd lost. He had had a life, and it had been taken from him, while he was thrown into unimaginable cruelty.


Jean seemed to, if not bounce back quickly, do alright as they gathered around the kitchen counter while Mom finished pulling stuff out and he and his brother set the table and bickered over placemat colors and mismatched plates. Iva sat at the table feeding Miles.

Jean was listening very seriously and nodding to a long story Ellie was telling him with dramatic hand gestures and a plot that seemed to have something to do with collecting eggs from the chickens and getting chased by one but also involved magic.

His mother was chopping up a salad and asked Jean a question when he flinched before freezing up when he turned to look at her. 

"Jean are you alright dear?" Mom asked, waving the hand back and forth vaguely.

Jean's face was blank and his breathing sped up, eyes following the knife in her hand. 

"Mom put the knife down." He said quickly getting in between them and blocking Jean's line of sight. 

"Hey, hey, Jean. You're safe. You're in California, it's me Jeremy. He can't hurt you anymore. He's dead okay? He isn't here. I'm going to take your hands now alright?" he murmured softly, not paying his family any attention as the backed away quietly in the background. Jean had closed his eyes, and jerked his head once, which was probably as close to a yes as he would get.

He took his hands rubbing the back of his knuckles with his thumb and reassuring Jean softly. Until his breathing evened out and he opened his eyes again.

"Remy?" Jean sagged in relief, touching his forehead to Jeremy's. 

"Yeah, you're okay." Jeremy embraced him briefly.

Jean let out a sigh, straightening back up. "Yeah. Shit."

"It's fine."

"There goes my plan to go a few days without one. I'm sorry Mrs. Knox." 

"Don't worry about it honey, I didn't know."

"Are you okay?" Ellie asked coming running back up and tugging on Jean's sweats from were Mickey had pulled her aside. 

"Ellie, give Jean some space," his mom told her, coming up to grab her.

"It's alright. Yes, I'm okay. I'm sorry I didn't mean to scare you." Jean said softly with a slight smile.

"I wasn't scared, just worried. What happened?" He tugged on his leg until he knelt down to talk to her at eye level.

"Knives scare me sometimes, sometimes I see one and get scared for a few minutes that's all. Your brother helped me."

"Oh okay, that makes sense. I'm scared of the dark, vampires, sharks, werewolves, and sometimes snakes but not bats because they eat mosquitos. But sometimes spiders even though they eat bugs too."

"That makes a lot of sense. I am scared of the dark too. And spiders. I make Jeremy take them outside."

Ellie proceeded to tell him about all the spiders she had seen and take Jean to the porch to see a spider's web that was in the tree outside and retell the plot of Spiderman and Jean listened, nodding along and asking questions.

"He's very good with kids." His mother remarked, putting the salad in a bowl.

"Yeah, he really is." 

"I didn't mean to upset him, are you sure he's alright?"

"Yeah man, is he good?" Mickey asked, looking worried.

"No, but he will be. He's been through a lot, knives are a pretty big trigger. I should have mentioned it, I didn't think. Just don't grab him or touch him when he's having a panic attack or yell at him. Just get me and he'll be fine."

"So are you two… ya know?" Mickey made a crude blow job gesture with his hands and mouth.

His mother scolded him lightly but also looked at him expectant. "No, we're just really good friends. And roommates."

Mickey scoffed, "Yeah, okay sure Remy . Imma go get José off the computer."

Once he left his mom turned to him with a more serious expression on her face.

"He looks haunted," his mother observed.

He glanced out the window where Jean had picked Ellie up and put her on his shoulders so she could see eggs in a bird's nest in one of the hanging plants.

"Yeah," Jeremy sighed, "he has been through hell and back several times over. Honestly, I'm shocked with how well he is doing every day. I think it would have shattered anyone else.

"Why did you lie to your brother, I understand if he doesn't want people to know and we will respect that but --”

"We aren't together, we’re not, I’m not ready for another relationship yet anyway. I'm not over what happened with Rick, and Jessica. Half the reason it got so bad with him was because I rushed into something before I was ready because I just wanted to be loved and ignored the red flags.

“I can see the way you look at him. I'm not blind you know. You certainly could do worse.”

“He hurt him, mama.” he whispered, “His last captain, really bad. Way worse than Rick did me. The scars, and then some. And I just don’t want to screw things up. It’s a miracle he trusts me and that took a long time to build. I..., I can’t tell him my messy feelings. I just want to be there for him. But yeah, I love him. Of course, I do.”

“He cares about you, deeply. A mother always knows.”

It helped, somewhat, but of course Jean did, it didn’t mean anything. Jean was so full of love and compassion, even after everything he went through, that was a miracle in itself. And Jean was safe now, for the first time in over a decade, and Jeremy was kind to him, it made sense that he’d care about him. He couldn’t get ahead of himself though, it wasn’t the same.

At lunch Jean looked hesitant, staring at his plate with a complicated expression on his face, before taking a bite of soup with a sigh, before his eyes widened in shock, and taking another bite.

Iva noticed and laughed, “Don’t worry, the rest of us know how to cook.” 

 “Oh, no, sweetheart, you haven’t been eating Jeremy’s cooking have you?” His mom asked sympathetically. Jeremy was pretty sure he should be offended.

“I um,” Jean’s face flushed, 

“Mijo, have you been poisoning this boy?” Jeremy’s mom laughed, okay he was offended. Yes, he wasn’t a great cook, but also some of his flavor combinations and preferences were a little unusual that’s all. 

“We have all tried to teach him, but he can’t follow a recipe to save his life and forgets about what he is making half the time, leaving it burnt or overcooked,” Iva told him

"In my defense, this is a big family and everyone else can cook and so can Jean so it's not like I'm going hungry.”

"He really isn't that bad," Jean tried to defend him weakly, "and he makes really good tea and coffee. Well one time he put Monster in his coffee instead of sugar, I didn't try it and I thought he was going to die but he didn't."

"Jeremy that's disgusting," Iva scolded.

"You're just cranky because you went nine months without caffeine or coffee, I need fast juice and that shit works."

"Pretty sure that --"

"No fighting at the table," his mom reminded them before their bickering could go any farther. Jeremy crossed his arms and stuck his tongue out at his sister.

Chapter Text

Jean wasn't jumpy or nervous around Ellie at all, and not so much around Iva, José, or his mom either, he flinched a few times around Mickey. Maybe it was because he was tall but he adjusted pretty quickly

That wasn't the case around his dad or Adam, Iva's husband. For the first few hours after they arrived, he was on edge, jumpy and overly respectful, keeping his head down and not meeting their eyes. It helped somewhat Jeremy guessed, that everyone was so focussed on Iva and the baby, not them, and it was probably hard to be afraid of someone holding their newborn grandchild or son and crying because he was so perfect.

 He eventually warmed up to them a bit more and was even smiling and laughing at his dad's terrible jokes by dinner which was later than planned, but he still jumped when one of them moved out of the corner of his eye or in the second it took for him to recognize them as it got darker.

They were all sitting in the living room watching a movie before bed, Frozen, Ellie picked. His brothers were playing poker with Adam, and Jeremy sat in the middle of the couch between his sister and Jean the rest scattered on the couches and chairs. Ellie got up from her bean bag and came up to Jean crawling to sit in his lap. 

"This can be a scary part so you can hold my hand if you want." She offered.

"Thank you, I appreciate it." Jean smiled.

As the movie wrapped up and she got distracted she picked up Jean's arm and pointed at it, "What's this?"

"Um…"

Jean looked down before paling slightly and freezing

"It's a word I don't know how to read yet."

Jean gave him a desperate look and looked towards the other adults in the room who clearly lost. 

"W-O-"

"Uh. Hey, do you want to see a magic trick?" Jean asked abruptly, turning his arm over so she couldn't see it and offering a distraction.

Ellie gasped eyes wide, "You know magic?"

"I uh, sure do. I'll teach it to you."

He proceeded to show her a trick with a coin seeming to make it disappear from his hands and pulling it out from behind her ear to her awe, then pulling another coin out of Jeremy's ear.

Then teaching her the steps rearranging her clumsy hands so she could match the illusion.

Ellie then tried to do it to everyone in the room with mixed success results sometimes dropping the coin.

"Where did you learn that?" Jeremy asked shocked. He was still learning new things about Jean every day.

"Kevin was weirdly into magicians for a while when we were like 12. Like super into it. He had a cape. It's really fun to tease him about it. Please bring up the Magnificent Dayman Lord of Mysteries and Darkness next time you see him." Jean gave a wicked grin.

"Oh my god. Was he any good?" That was not at all the answer Jeremy had been expecting. 

"Oh no, he was terrible. Absolutely awful. But he was very serious about it like you know how he is about exy? Well maybe not you've never had to practice with him, lucky you, but it was like that. Very intense. But a bit worse. And about magicians. And ‘the sacred and storied art of illusions’ ." Jean mocked, mimicking Kevin's slight Irish accent and looking delighted by the memory. It was nice, nice to see him remember something good that brought him joy.

"You know, I don't think any of the foxes know about it. I think it's important, a very pivotal time in Kev's life. Give me a second, I need to text Neil, I'm sure he'll want to help Kevin achieve his childhood dream of becoming a wizard."

An hour later Jean laughed and flashed him a text from Kevin that simply said I hate you. You're the fucking worst. But he had also included a picture of them. Jean and Kevin at twelve, smaller, chubby cheeks, smiling, a shadow that might have been Riko in the background. Kevin wearing a top hat with a stick in hand and arms around Jean and Jean a purple sparkly cape with stars and moons. Oh god, they were just kids. Marker on their faces instead of tattoos. They looked happy. 

But the bruises on Jean's face made his gut lurch, the bloody lip, the shadows under his eyes, skin over his arms that seemed a little too tight, the bruises around his neck and arms that looked like fingerprints. He looked so young, but also old, his eyes more tired than any twelve-year-olds should have been, a sharp contrast to the toothy grin and arm around Kevin’s shoulders. 


They made there way up to Jeremy's childhood bedroom. The air was sticky and the faint breeze from the day was gone leaving the air stale and sweltering.

"Do you want me to sleep on the air mattress or…?" He trailed off feeling warmer than could be attributed to the humidity.

"I am not about to kick you out of your own bed."

"Yeah, okay, it's just a twin and I thought it might be a bit of a tight squeeze."

Jean shrugged, "It's not like we haven't done it before."

Jeremy smiled faintly, thinking of the week and a half or so they had spent together on one twin bed in the dorms before pushing them together.

"Unless you don't --" Jean began.

"No I like sleeping with you," Jeremy said then stammered, "I mean --"

Jean smiled faintly, "I know what you mean. Me too."

It shouldn't have made his heart race but it did.

"So… sorry if my family's been a lot. I know we can be kind of loud. They all like you though and…"

"It's okay," Jean reassured him, "I like them too."

"Oh, okay, good." Jeremy wasn't sure how to ask if he should just say it or lead up to it. He was curious, Jean had had sisters, he had said he would talk about it that night, "Ellie likes you a lot. She kinda has this tendency to latch on to people."

Jean looked sad, "Yeah, Claire did too. It's a kid thing, I think,"

"You don't have to but…" he wanted to know.

"I was five when she was born, almost six. I never met her mother, she was Senegalese, I think, I'm not sure if Claire was born in Senegal or France or what. My father came back from a business trip and brought her home, she was a newborn, and so tiny. Said she was his daughter and her mother had died. Not sure how, if she even did, if she was killed. I was 5 so I didn't ask, didn’t think it odd. I was just happy to have a baby sister. My mother may have done it, killed Claire's mother, she wasn't fond of my dad's mistresses but tolerated it sometimes. She didn't really like Claire’s presence either, but mostly ignored her, me too if I am being honest. Claire was left to me, the nanny and Marianne before she left college to raise. Until Sabine, the au pair, died, my mother did kill her, poison, father was having another affair. Sabine had been the one to teach me to braid. We got a new one but she wasn't as nice."

"Fuck, that's messed up. How old were you?"

"Eight, I was old enough by that point that I didn't really need one and could take care of Claire mostly on my own. Marianne was away at University already. She was 10 years older than me. She was the one who took care of me really, my parents were indifferent."

Eight did not sound nearly old enough to take care of yourself, let alone a toddler. He waited, he'd learned it was usually better to just let Jean talk.

"They'd hit us sometimes if we were in the way. Not often and not hard just the occasional slap, mostly we were ignored and left alone. My mother didn't question me leaving. Didn't care, barely reacted she was a cold woman, from what I can remember. I didn't know what was happening at the time but I remember hearing my father say he could always make another son one night in his office."

Jeremy knew that not every parent was like his own. He had been fortunate he had never doubted for a second growing up that his mom and dad loved him like he was their entire world. He could easily see what Jean would have been like as a child sweet, caring like he was now, only softer. Loving and taking care of his baby sister like she was his whole world. How could his parents have had Jean for a son and just not cared? If he ever ended up in the same room as them, he doubted he would be able to exit it again without telling them what a mistake they had made, at the very least.

"Jean that's fucked up. And they shouldn't have hit you at all. Ever." Jean shrugged then let out a long sigh.

“I didn’t know everything when I was a child, and my memories are hazy at best. My father was cold and distant, as was my mother. They cared about appearances more than anything, that and money. I learned more about them in the Nest. Heard more about their dealings, the criminal enterprise. I learned things about the Moreau family that would turn your stomach, Jeremy. Atrocities.”

 “When my father sold me to the Master it is possible, I suppose, that he thought I would lead a moderately decent life, playing exy, becoming an asset and a tool for profit. But it equally possible, no actually substantially more likely, he assumed he was selling me to a man who wanted me for no more reason than that he liked to fuck young boys and the two he already had were far too valuable and well known to risk physically and mentally damaging that way. 

“Maybe he even knew the truth, that I would spend most of my days in unimaginable agony, that I would be molested by the Master periodically upon my arrival until I became either too old or too scarred to hold his interest, that he would let his deranged nephew torture and use me as a plaything, encourage him to, that I would be beaten, tortured, starved and abused every fucking day. That I wouldn't even see sunlight for almost a decade. That my survival would depend on a fucking game, that I would always be far too injured for any sane man to allow me to even participate in. He knew the possibilities. And he sold me, his child.”

“And my mother didn’t even care, she barely blinked. We weren't very close but still, she was my mom. Neil's mom ran with him, she didn’t hug me goodbye, my father did that at least, I think it was the only time he ever hugged me, he told me to be good. I thought I was going to some kind of summer camp. That's what the nanny told me, it might have been what she thought. They put me on a plane with strangers and they never looked back. They didn't even wait for me to make it through security before turning around.”

“And I have no idea what happened to my sisters. Marianne was an adult, hopefully safe, but he might have married her off to another crime lord, maybe one with morals maybe not. It happened in our world, Neil’s mother, my mom was from an old crime family too, I don’t think it did, but I don’t actually know much about how things worked, I --. But Claire. She was young. And he was so bad with money, he gambled, spent it on luxuries no one needs, coke, he could have slipped into debt again and --” Jean choked sounding frantic.

 Jeremy took his hands and helped guide his head between his knees, words continued to spill out of his lips unguarded even as his breathing slowed.

“Riko told me she was dead. I didn’t believe him. Choose not to. Couldn’t, didn’t want to but --” Jean cut himself off, panting, taking another moment to regain control of his breathing.

“I used to convince myself that I would know somehow. If either of them died or were in pain. But it was just a lie to make me feel better, I don’t know. And there were other things the Master and him said later that made me think they were still alive, threats but-- I have no evidence, either way, dead or alive. Claire probably doesn't even remember I ever existed. If she’s even…" Jean let out a half-formed sob.

"It was 2 weeks before her birthday, I thought I would be back in time to celebrate it with her," he whispered so soft Jeremy could barely hear him. "I promised to bring her a present from America, she was going to be five, and I let her down, I never came back. I bought her a toy in the airport during a layover but the Master took it. He probably threw it away. I tried to call her, on her birthday, but they wouldn’t let me."

Jean brought his knees up to his chest sitting up against the wall at the head of the bed. "I failed her."

"You didn't. Jean, you couldn't control that."

"She was five. Not even. All she would have known was her big brother left her, and never came back like he promised. Do you think Ellie could understand it? At her age?"

Jeremy shook his head. There was no way of explaining it to a child. “I don’t know,”

"We only had each other. Me and her, once Marianne moved out. I grew up knowing they were the only ones who ever loved me and I left. Claire grew up with no one. Even if she is alive how could she ever forgive me for that?"

"She would be fifteen by now right?" 

Jean nodded, "Her birthday is in September."

"She probably knows then. By now that you didn't want to leave her.

"If she even remembers me. If she's even alive."

Jean let Jeremy pull him into a hug and leaned on him while adjusted so his back against the corner his bed was pressed into and Jean was able to stretch his leg while still resting his head on Jeremy’s shoulder.

Jean stared at his arm after a few minutes, at the word Ellie had tried to parse out earlier. Oddly calm. "It's not true."

"Of course it's not Jean--"

"No, I'm not worthless. I know exactly what I am worth. It's not a particularly clean or even sum of money. 567,027 euros. That's all. It is a lot of money, technically, I suppose, for an unproven child. He only saw me play in person for an hour or so. A small fortune. Neil was worth a couple million. 

 “That's what my family sold me for. Not even 600,000. My father had 2 Lamborghinis, one brand new at the time, a Bugatti, yachts. Multiple. Each worth more than that, most worth a few million when he bought them. Just one of his fucking cars cost more than what he sold me for, most of them double, triple. He bought a new car that same week you know. €500,000, he might have got a loan for some of the cost. Still, he took me in a drive in it. Showed it off, told me all about it, the costs, the features, it was odd, he was never one for father-son bonding. Three days later he put me on a plane, hell maybe he bought it with the money he got for me. And that was just at the house in Marseilles he had other assets, probably whole houses, estates, elsewhere. I don't know whose idea it was, if the Master approached my father or if my father sought it out. But no, not worthless. I'm not worthless. 567,027.”

“Less than a fucking car. Than anyone of his fucking cars or prized possessions. He was so proud of them. Collector's items had a lot of offers always said, could have made a profit. But no. He loved his little status symbols more than he ever loved me. Better to sell me instead. He could always make another son. That's what he told my mother. I fucking heard it. Can't make another limited edition sports car. Sure he had debt gambling, drugs, loans, jewels for mistresses, hundreds of thousands of dollars owed to the yakuza. Unfortunately for me, I was the easiest asset for my father to part with."

Jean let out a choking noise, eyes wet, sniffing slightly, and looking away. He wrapped one arm around Jean's back resting his hand on the back of his neck holding him tight when Jean didn't immediately pull away and actually pressed closer.

He could feel Jean's hot wet tears against his neck. "I should hate them. They were my parents, they were supposed to protect me and put me first. And they threw me away. They were awful parents and awful human beings. But they were still my parents. And I loved them, and I thought --"

Jean's voice was unbearably small when he continued, "I really thought they loved me too. At least a little, deep down."


It was hours later and Jeremy still couldn't sleep. His mind kept going back to that picture of Jean and Kevin, and what Jean had said about his family. He had been even younger when he had left. Ten, Jean said, almost eleven like that statement made any difference. How could they have done that to a child? To their own child? To Jean? Who had only wanted to take care of his baby sister, bring her back a present and have his parents love him?

He thought about what Jeremy had said about his life, about the Nest. About Tetsuji Moriyama and all Jeremy could feel was hatred. His hatred for Coach Moriyama perhaps surpassing even his bone-deep hatred for Riko. Jean had had a life, and he had taken him from it, hurt him in the worst ways possible, and let others do the same and more. He hated him, perhaps it felt different from his loathing for Riko because he was still alive. Still breathing, wealthy, respected, honored even. He got away with it with everything he had done to Jean, to Kevin, Neil, every player who'd ever been on his team, hell even to Riko. He got away with it scot-free, none the wiser, not even a slap on the wrist. 

Jean minimized the abuse from Coach Moriyama, called it not as bad. And maybe compared to what Riko and the other Ravens did to him Jean really saw it that way. And Jeremy hated that. The way he dismissed years of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse from a man who bought him as a fucking child. He could see that Jean was still terrified of him, in the rigidity of his spine and the wide-eyed look on his face whenever he came up, he still called him Master which was beyond twisted. In the flinching and often submissive way, he interacted with their coach and older men at first. How he'd jumped out of the way and bowed his head whenever Jeremy's dad approached him.

Hatred was something Jeremy hadn't really understood or even felt. Not really, not until Jean, not until he had heard what had been done to him. Fuck he had been so young. But he hated Tetsuji Moriyama, loathed him with an unsettling and dark passion. The man was evil.

He forced himself not to cry.

 Even if that hadn't been keeping him up the temperature would have. The heat was sweltering. He had gotten used to the air conditioning in the dorms.

He groaned and Jean tossed and turned next to him. 

"You awake?" He whispered.

Jeans eyes blinked open and he nodded, "Can't sleep it's too fucking hot."

"Yeah me neither." He agreed. They'd tossed all blankets save for a sheet off, Jeremy couldn't sleep without one no matter how hot it got.

He got up and opened the window more, and checked to see if he could turn the fan on any higher. He couldn't.

He tugged his tank top away from his skin to fan himself. Jean's eyes trailing after him from where he propped himself up slightly in his bed him, his cheeks had a faint rosy hue from the glow of the dim lamp.

"You could…" Jean started, "you could um take your shirt off? You don't have to," he said quickly, "but I wouldn't mind. If you didn't wear one. To bed, I mean."

Jean looked away quickly, face and neck red from the heat, he was clearly overheated too. "You sure?"

"Yep," Jean confirmed quickly, voice a bit high and Jeremy tugged his top off letting out a sigh of relief at the cool breeze from the fan against his skin.

"You too," Jeremy offered, taking in Jean's flushed state.

"You're sure?" 

"Yeah, I don't mind, why would I?" Other than the fact that Jean was hot. "I mean you don't have to." He quickly reassured Jean when he hesitated.

"No I don't mind. I just-- I know -- my scars. They um. They aren't very nice to look at." Jean looked down at where his hand was twisted up in the sheets. 

"Hey," Jeremy murmured coming up to him, Jean's pupils dilated at his approach and he tilted his chin up with his hand gently so Jean would look him in the eyes. "I don't care about that. You're perfect. Just the way you are."

"I --" Jean looked at him wide-eyed, the color of soft pillowed ash left over from a campfire, in thin rings around his pupils. And he looked right at him, leaned in for a second by half a breath. His breath hitched

Oh. Jeremy thought. And for a moment he was sure Jean was about to kiss him. Or he would kiss Jean.

But he didn't. And he pulled back, face red and Jeremy took a step back, hoping his thoughts were not written over his face. Perfect just the way you are was probably a more romantic phrase than he should have used. Even though it was true, absolutely a hundred percent true.

Jean cleared his throat slightly, "Yeah okay," tugging off his shirt and tossing it aside

“This okay?” He murmured, slipping back into bed with Jean. 

"Yeah, am I?" Jean adjusted them so they could both fit in the cramped twin bed pressed close together with one of Jean's arms tossed over his waist and the other tucked under his head.

"You're good." He assured him trying hard to stop his heart from hammering so loud and fast at the feeling of Jean's bare skin, slightly sweaty sliding against his own

Don't get a boner. Don't get a boner. He chanted to himself as Jean's thick bare arms wrapped around him and a broad muscular chest pressed against his back.

"It's nice," Jean's words were slightly slurred with sleep and he felt his breath in a hot puff against the back of his neck when he yawned. He could feel the curve of Jean's smile against his shoulder blade, he knew if he turned around Jean would immediately school his face into something more neutral.

His nose and maybe even his lips grazing the back of his neck and shoulder as Jean fell asleep going heavy against him.

God he was muscular, holy shit. He was now wide awake for an entirely different reason. Every time he shifted Jean nuzzled closer, occasionally breathing out a soft word in French, to mumble for Jeremy to understand. Which was unbearably cute and sweet. He never would have guessed Jean was so cuddly when he first picked him up from that airport. 

While it was infinitely better than what had been keeping him up twenty minutes ago there was still the problem of him being wide awake. If he kept still with his eyes closed to keep from disturbing Jean for long enough he would fall asleep. Probably.

Chapter Text

Jean

Jean woke up from a hazy, half-remembered dream, and as he came to he half thought he was still dreaming.

Oh.

Oh. He realized as he woke up.

Jeremy was in his arms, which wasn't by itself unusual at this point, but neither of them wearing clothing was. His mind was startlingly blank. After a moment's investigation and remembrance, he realized that they were in fact, wearing pants. 

Which was probably good. Technically, he acknowledged after the first instinct of not fully conscious disappointment. He would at the very least have wanted to remember what happened to lead them to that state if he wasn't.

The skin on skin contact was startling Feeling Jeremy against him was overwhelming. Soft, warm.

He didn't think he'd ever… at least not that he could remember. Not with anyone. Not in a good way. Not like this.

Had anyone ever touched him like this? The skin of his chest? His back, his arms? Without the intent of hurting him? Without a blade in hand?

Kevin had worn gloves, usually when stitching him up. A brush or two from Jeremy at night when they were like this, through clothes. That was all. Nothing but the often scratchy fabric of his clothing against his torso.

Had it really been just that his entire life?

His throat closed up. It shouldn’t be this much. Skin on skin contact. Something freely given to most fucking infants.

It shouldn't make him feel like he was about to cry like a baby.

He didn't know what to do with the sudden swell of emotion in his chest. In his throat.

Perfect. 

That's what Jeremy had said. 

What he called him.

How?

How could he? How could he say that, let alone think that? When he knew ? When he'd seen ?

Jeremy knew every little part of him now. Nothing hidden, nothing held back. Nothing major, no large secrets. Not anymore. Some of the gory details, he'd been spared. But the rest? Jean found every tragedy in his life spilling from his lips into Jeremy's ears and felt lighter for it.

Lighter for burdening Jeremy with it, who was wholly undeserving of that terrible weight but offered to take so kindly, so patiently that Jean did anyway. So he wouldn't bear it alone.

Because he didn't know how to be alone anymore. He used to be alone in a crowded room and now... 

How could he call any part of Jean perfect? With such sincerity?

When Jeremy was. Perfect. Beautiful, unblemished, kind. Honest. Open. Something golden and unreal.

Precious as sunlight.

When at any given moment Jean was only seconds away from shattering into a million pieces or lashing out with violence, anger, and cruelty.

It's all he'd known. All he was underneath it all.

The world was cruel. But Jeremy wasn't. 

Everything about Jeremy, everything on his skin and the stories they told, every blemish if you even could call them that, every freckle, every small scar, every dimple, everything was worth remembering. When every mark on Jean's skin was only worth forgetting. 

He was perfect even in his imperfections and Jean was anything but perfect.

Jean was something born of the cold, darkness, misery, and shadows. And Jeremy was of the light. Joy, golden and warm. Sunlight.

Drawing him in every second, like a moth to flame and Jean was long past the point of caring that he was going to be burnt.

Icarus and Apollo. Had Icarus been in love with the sun too he wondered? As a child the story seemed foolish, misguided, how could one be so careless but now… 

He knew why in the stories they chased the sun to their doom. Why men had gone blind from staring to long at its glory.

Jeremy Knox.

He wasn't just in love with him. No. Jeremy was love. He was the living, breathing, golden embodiment of that feeling, that longing. 

And he slept. In Jean's arms trusting him enough to do that. When he had known cruelty and violence too. When he knew the cost of misplaced trust. 

And he trusted him . Thought he was worthy enough of his trust. When he knew what Jean was, what he’d done. 

The sun rising in the sky cast the room in golden and rosy light spilling onto Jeremy through the window and lighting him up like he was something holy.

Remember this. He told himself. 

Remember this, this moment because he might never get it again.

The sunlight cast down on them while he held the sun in his bare arms. Head on his chest, curls half in his face, naked arms, and mostly bare legs tangled with his own. The warmth and gentle breathing while he slept. He could feel his heart beating where Jeremy's bare chest was pressed against his. Warm and alive and good.

It was a miracle that he had this at all. Once. 

And he might have it again. He probably would, he realized, which was startling on its own. If he was careful. If he kept toeing that line. Because Jeremy accepted it, him without question, pulling him in deeper and deeper. It was shocking. And he would cherish it every time because he knew. He knew that each time could be the last and how precious and rare moments like this were on this cruel Earth.

He traced the contour of Jeremy's shoulder lightly in wonder, not wanting to wake him but like he was something ephemeral that could vanish in an instant. His face pressed directly over top the scars that Riko had branded him with, labeled him as property. It was there laid bare, and Jeremy was still there.

Jeremy just let out a small sigh and held him closer barely stirring, "Jean," he murmured and he froze.

But Jeremy didn't wake up or say anything else, just nuzzled his neck softly for a moment before going limp again.

It felt like electric shocks going through him and he was unable to suppress a shiver. It was all so much. Every accidental brush of Jeremy's skin against his own, soft graze of his lips near his neck. The scent of his sweet shampoo in his nose. It was so much, he never wanted to end, he wanted to freeze this moment in time and carry it with him always, save it for when the world was too much and his past was crashing over him like waves in a storm. 

He thought his heart would pound right out of his chest. It had to be loud enough to wake Jeremy.

He didn't move, swallowing a sticking lump in his throat.

Then there was a low whine and scratching at the door. It continued growing more distressed and pathetic and he relented

"Remy?" He whispered softly, shifting his arms slightly, in a half-hearted attempt to wake him. 

Jeremy just groaned and mumbled something about a dog but wouldn't wake up.

The dog managed to push the door open and jumped into bed with them licking Jeremy's face and tapping at him with a paw.

"They've gotta go out." Jeremy slurred his words, shifting off of Jean and hiding his head in the corner pulling a pillow over him and immediately going back to sleep.

The dog just stared at Jean unblinking letting out a soft woof and a sneeze.

Jean stared back. Sandor, he was pretty sure that was the dog's name, let out a whine, and started to try and lick his chin.

Jeremy still wouldn't wake up so he sighed, grabbed his discarded t-shirt, and made his way downstairs the dog happily trotting at his heels was soon joined by the other dog. 

No one else seemed to be awake yet so he took them outside. He still woke early, at dawn most days, sometimes he could fall back asleep but most days he just lay there in bed with Jeremy, curled up together until he could no longer justify staying in bed. Jeremy was a living breathing reminder of where he was, that he was safe, that the nightmares and memories weren’t real.  

What was supposed to be just taking the dogs out and going back inside, turned into a walk around the property, and a game of fetch once one of the dogs brought him a stick and a rope.

He managed to play with a rope with one while throwing the stick for the other.

Until one leaped at him while he was unbalanced from the rope and slipped on the wet ground.

He was immediately leaped on and licked as the dogs climbed on him and sniffed at him.

Laughing made it even harder for him to right himself. 


By the time Jeremy woke up and ran outside, letting out a sigh of relief when he found him, he was covered in mud. The smaller dog in his lap and the other at his side, both panting and fairly slobbery and covered in drool. He gave the other one a scratch behind the ears. And got a sloppy lick across the face in return. 

"Are you okay? I woke up and you were gone, I was worried."

"Sorry, the dogs had to go outside." He tried to get up but slipped when one of the dogs grabbed onto his t-shirt and tugged. Grring slightly and wagging her tail. He didn't really care, the shirt was leftover from the Nest anyway.

"Okay and…" Jeremy gestured to Jean's general state.

"We were playing fetch." He grinned.

Clegane grabbed the rope and started running around shaking it furiously. Jumping up at him and jerking it away. Splattering him with mud as he did so. He managed to grab hold of it and held one end firm with one hand while Clegane jerked it back, clamped on fast, and tried to pull it. "And tug." 

He laughed as more mud from the other dog's muddy paws got on him. Dogs were awesome, he had decided, he'd always liked them but he had never had one. On the rare occasions he went to a friend's house as a kid he would play with their dogs.

Jeremy grinned, "I can see that."

"I should probably shower."

Jeremy laughed and if the sun made a sound he was pretty sure it would be that one. "Yeah definitely, so have you just been out here wrestling with dogs in the mud for two hours."

Jean checked the time on his phone, "Yes. I mean, we also did go for a walk."

It was actually kind of surprising. He hadn't freaked out about being alone and far from others once. He'd been completely fine, alone, and far from the house along the fence Mrs. Knox pointed out marked the edge of their property.

Jeremy just smiled at him softly. He looked good like this, outside, the sun behind him lighting him up catching in his hair making it look like he had some kind of ethereal glow about him.


After showering and changing into one of the new t-shirts Jeremy had bought for him he made his way back downstairs. 

Jeremy was on the trampoline taking turns doing flips with his brothers. 

Jeremy saw him and grinned brightly. Wide enough to see from across the yard and he ran towards him. 

Which resulted in him running smack dab into the sliding door. And letting out a yelp at the collision, before crumpling to the ground.

Alarmed Jean slid open the back door and stepped out onto the deck to look at Jeremy sprawled on the wooden planks like a starfish and groaning.

"Are you okay?" He asked crouching down next to him and trying to assess his injuries, slightly panicked.

“‘m fine,” he groaned. Jean checked his eyes for signs of a concussion and his head for lumps before going into the house to get an ice pack from Jeremy’s amused sister and returning to the deck

"Jeremy you are my favorite person on the planet, By a huge margin. And incredibly intelligent. But you're also a fucking idiot," He told him kneeling back down beside him.

"I didn't see it"

"This is the house you grew up in. How did you not know it was there?" He chastised, helping Jeremy up into a sitting position. 

He was fine. He was. But Jeremy possibly being injured made him feel shaky and out of his element for some reason. He’d given himself and others stitches with dental floss, in the dark, exhausted without sleep; emergency first aid to Kevin, Neil, like it was nothing, but this he was nervous about?

Jean pressed an ice pack wrapped in a cold washcloth to Jeremy's face.

"He's fine," Mickey tried to reassure Jean, him, and José joining them on the porch to mock their older brother. Jeremy just let out a whine.

"Haha, you're a fucking idiot." José laughed, agreeing with Jean’s statement.

Jeremy shot a scowl in his direction, while Jean tilted his face back and forth gently to check for any bruises or lumps that might start appearing. He wasn't about to argue with José after watching him run straight into a glass door and fall to the ground.

"Are you sure you're sober?" He asked.

"It's barely 10 AM,"

"Oh, I know, I'm just not sure if you were aware. Also, it's bright out, the sun is reflecting on the window, how the fuck--"

Jeremy whined and leaned into his hand, "I'm injured you have to be nice to me."

"We play on a court with plexiglass walls, should I be worried? We could put tape on it like you do for birds."

"Hahahaha dumbass." Jeremy's brother laughed.

Jeremy just flipped him off. "Eat ass,"

"Nah, I think that's more your thing than mine," Mickey told him with a shit-eating grin.

“Its the great bisexual unifier. Everyone has an asshole and a lot of people like getting it licked, so it helps to be good at it.”

Jean couldn't help but let out a small snort, but Mickey looked grossed out and aimed a half-hearted kick at Jeremy which he dodged easily, "You’re disgusting, I'm telling Abuela you need more church."

"We’re Jewish Mickey,”

“Abuela Narvaez isn’t,” The youngest brother José pointed out helpfully.

“Besides, eat ass, suck dick and sell drugs, it's a good life motto. Well except that last bit." It was Mickey's turn to let out a laugh but Jean just wrinkled his nose in confusion looking between them, mildly concerned.

"Oh fuck, Jean you haven’t seen John Mulaney. God, that's the next thing I'm showing you, it's so good." 

"What's that?"

"He's a comedian, he's hilarious. It's getting bumped up before Avatar the last Airbender, Harry Potter and Star Wars. It won't take as much time."

Jean shrugged easily agreeing. He liked most of the stuff Jeremy enjoyed and even when he didn't he enjoyed watching Jeremy enjoy it and get so excited. 

“Dude you haven't seen Star Wars or Harry Potter?" Jeremy’s brothers were aghast. 

"I saw the first few Harry Potters before I left France, and read the first book but no. I've heard of Star Wars and know it's in space and they have glow stick swords but I've never seen it. Movies weren't high on my parents' priorities."

Jeremy immediately whipped out his phone and started typing on it. "French or English?" He asked

“What?”

“French or English do you want to read the rest of the books in French or English.

“What?” he repeated dumbfounded.

“I'm buying all the books for you. Do you want them in French or English? Physical copies or ebooks we could get them on your phone. But it might be nice to have the physical books. Our set stays here and is pretty worn. We just ignore the very blatant racism, antisemitism, and terfy stuff and we’re good.”

“You don't have to do that,” He tried to say shocked. Jeremy had already gotten him gifts, the bracelet on his wrist, and the clothes he was wearing.

“I know but I’m gonna,” Jeremy barely looked up from his phone where he was still searching.

“It's expensive.” He tried to argue.

“Think of it as an early or late birthday present. I'm doing it, so tell me which you want. I'll reread them too and borrow them eventually and it would help me practice my French with reading I'm not as good because you assholes shove so many fucking letters in there but don't pronounce them, so don't worry about it.”

“French?” He asked softly, "and being able to hold them would be nice.

“Okay, they'll be in the dorm by Wednesday," Jeremy said, finishing his purchase.

Jean was suddenly overwhelmed by emotion. Jeremy kept giving him presents no one had really done that. He hadn’t even known the English word for present or gift, not really, not until recently, coming from Riko it usually meant some new kind of torture or a knife. And he knew Jeremy didn't have a ton of money but he still…

And Jean couldn't remember the last time he read a book just because he could. Or held one written in French. He'd brought his copy of the first book with him to the Nest but it was taken from him when he arrived. He wasn’t allowed to focus on anything but exy.

"I… thank you." He murmured trying to infuse as much sincerity into the sentence as he could. "It means a lot. More than you could know."


Jeremy's father was a kind man. He left Jean feeling on edge at first but the gentle way he interacted with his children and grandchild and the easy and frequent displays of affection with his wife left Jean confused, but not wary of the man. He was shorter than him by ten or so centimeters, fair-skinned and had greying light brown hair and brown eyes. 

He also insisted Jean call him David, not Mr. Knox or sir. Which was unsettling.

Still, when he pulled him aside after he reassessed Jeremy’s potential injuries and finding none to his satisfaction he expected some sort of vague threat or interrogation not, "I wanted to thank you."

"What?"

"For what you did for my son," 

"Oh, um he's fine, I didn't really do anything. I just wanted to make sure he was okay. I don't think he actually hit his face really hard against the window but--"

"No not that," he waved his hand dismissively, "though thank you for that too, sometimes I wonder how he is such an amazing athlete. But no. I meant what you did when his ex showed up. Jeremy told us what happened, and I hate to think what might have happened if you hadn't been there; so thank you."

Oh." Jean had no idea how to respond. Definitely don't offer to use mafia connections to have Rick killed again. Tempting as that idea was. If he ever saw him again he would probably beat the shit out of him before even registering what was happening. He made Jeremy cry, he hurt him. Violence wasn’t the answer, not all the time, but it was the one he wanted to give Rick. "Of course."

David clapped him on the shoulder and said, "You're a good kid Moreau, I'm glad my son met you."

Jean just nodded and muttered a brief thanks, entirely out of his element with this odd fatherly display of affection. He had even offered him a beer, which from the limited movies he had watched was supposed to be some kind of male bonding thing so he politely tried to drink it even though it tasted disgusting.


Ellie had decided to take him on a tour of the house and show him the chickens and animals. There was a barn, with hay in it and a goat that Jean was pretty sure had some kind of mental disorder. It kept ramming its head into things and trying to headbutt his leg. Jeremy just laughed and said it was fine. And the goat left Ellie alone and let her pet him so he just eyed it warily ready to scoop her up if it decided to attack. 

Something about its yellow eyes was evil, he was sure of it. There was another goat too, and it let out a horrendous shrieking noise that sounded like someone was being brutally murdered or tortured. Though come to think of it, he was fairly certain hed never made a sound that loud or intense when he had been tortured, ever. He hadn't understood why Satanist imagery often had goats but he could certainly see this being the reason. 

They also had some chickens and a few empty horse stalls, Jeremy told them how they used to have a horse and a donkey but not anymore and would probably wait until when and if Ellie was to start asking for one before getting another. Which was probably good, horses freaked him out, they were big and had teeth. He would get on one though if Jeremy asked. Probably.

Ellie was showing him the chickens and telling him their names and collecting eggs. A barn cat wound its way around his legs so he picked it up to pet it for a few minutes and purred happily for a bit before it bit him to indicate it wanted to get down. 

One of the chickens had glossy black feathers and was strutting around squawking at the others, running at them, and pecking at them. He nudged Jeremy's shoulder and pointed at it, as it attacked another chicken. "Look it's Riko."

Jeremy covered his face and let out a muffled snort. "Oof, yeah she's an asshole, to the others."

Jean then pointed to another one that had a weirdly bent foot, he hoped there was nothing seriously wrong with it. "And Kevin."

Jeremy grinned, "Do you have a chicken too?"

He surveyed the coop, before pointing at a broken egg that Ellie had missed and fell to the ground, "That one's me,"

"Jean!" Jeremy said a little alarmed and lightly scolding but he could still hear the laughter in his voice.

Suddenly all the other hens converged on the egg and started pecking at it and eating it.  He turned to Jeremy horrified, "Technically that makes the comparison better but what the fuck? Shouldn't we stop them."

"What?" Jeremy had been looking at him funny and smiling and then shook his head confused.

"They are eating the egg. That’s cannibalism what the fuck?!"

"Oh don't worry, we don't have any roosters so the eggs are infertile, but yeah even if it was chickens love eating eggs and will eat each other and kill one another and cannibalize if one gets injured. They are basically dinosaur piranhas."

"That's horrifying," Jean stared at the chickens going insane over a dropped egg and eating it.

Ellie came up to them and handed the basket to Jeremy before reaching her arms up at Jean. 

"Ellie use your words." Jeremy reminded her as Jean was already picking her up.

"Thank you, she said smiling tucking her head into his shoulder.


Jean tried to help out where he could and make himself a useful guest. He was intruding in their space at a very important point in their lives that was usually reserved for just family. He took it upon himself to try to wash up after meals and help Jeremy's parents in the kitchen. 

Mrs. Knox let him cut the vegetables and anything else needing to be done with a knife out of consideration. He was grateful for it, it made sense that Jeremy had learned it all from somewhere. Mr. Knox also taught him some more about cooking and showed him some recipes, giving away Jeremy's favorites. 

He hoped he'd be able to use that information to surprise Jeremy with it soon. Though he doubted it would be half as good. Iva’s sister had been right, both Jeremy's parents cooking, every bit was wonderful. One hundred percent was edible and delicious. 

It called into question Jeremy's skills at cooking because it clearly wasn't genetic.

Jeremy's older sister seemed to have taken a liking to him and readily trusted him enough to take care of her newborn when she had to go to the bathroom, eat, or take a shower and her husband wasn't immediately available.

He swayed on his feet and whispered French nursery rhymes at the bundled infant in his arms. Miles was staring up at him with his tiny face scrunched up in displeasure at waking up to see someone other than his mother holding him. 

He pulled funny faces and kept singing in a low voice and he gradually accepted Jean’s presence deciding not to start wailing, instead looking around the room and ceiling fan with unfocused eyes.

He returned Miles back to his mother once she returned and Mrs. Knox came in from gardening to wash her hands and rummage around for something in the cupboards, offering to make him a cup of tea as she did so.

They sipped their iced tea quietly while watching the others in the yard while Mrs. Knox told him about the plants in the garden.  

“Jeremy says we aren’t allowed to get you with water guns,” José said with a water gun in hand, coming onto the porch from attacking his brothers and brother in law still slightly damp. 

“Thank you, I don’t like getting wet. It freaks me out sometimes.” Jean said 

“Okay, but if you change your mind, here, you can join.” The kid handed him a water gun and ran back out to join his siblings and shoot Jeremy, who was laughing and shouting.

Jeremy’s mother gave him a questioning look as he put down the water gun and pushed it away wearily. “I’ve been waterboarded a lot so I don’t like…” He said in explanation and trailed off face red.

“Jeremy mentioned you had some problems with your last team.” His mother looked at him shocked and wide-eyed. It was shocking how much her eyes were like Jeremy’s, and they were just as kind. 

Jean huffed, “That’s an understatement, but yeah.”

Ellie ran up and grabbed his hand. “Come on, we are playing castle.”

Jean knelt down, “Are we? Where are we going to put the castle?” 

“Upstairs, it’s going to be huge, big enough for you too if you are nice.” She spread her arms wide to show how big the castle would be.

“Okay,” He said, giving her a smile.

“Ellie, did you ask Jean if he wants to play? He might be tired right now. You, don’t have to, if you don’t want to, Jean, feel free to take a break I can take her.” 

Jean shook his head, “No, that’s alright, we’ll have fun.” He had missed this, he hadn’t realized how much. Ellie was so much like how he remembered Claire, excited about everything, and oblivious to the cruelty of the world.

“Okay, I’ll send Jeremy to come rescue you in a bit.”

“NO! Jeremy’s a dragon, he isn’t allowed in!” Ellie shouted, tugging on Jean’s hand. “Come on we need to make a strong castle so he can’t get in.”

He let her drag him off to her room and she started ordering him around and telling him how to build the castle. 

She handed him a sequined skirt and a tutu after they assembled a fort. "Put these on."

"Um. I don't think they will fit, they are your size, not mine." His arms were about the size of her torso.

"Just try"

"It'll break."

She pouted then clapped her hands. "Okay, you wear it around your neck like a cape." She clumsily pulled the sparkly purple skirt over his head like it was a miniature hair salon cape. 

She then had him pull two tutus, hot pink and teal, over each bicep. Like strange poofy sleeves It fit but were a bit tight, he adjusted them so they were just below his biceps and wouldn’t cut off circulation or get stretched. Hopefully.

She then proceeded to put a neon green boa around his neck and start to do makeup for him to make him a princess. He was no stranger to playing dress-up, he had done it with Claire as a child, as well as various tea parties, and superhero games with action and adventure. He wondered if anyone played with her after he left. He hoped someone did. 

He had very little experience with cosmetics but he was pretty sure glitter lipgloss wasn't supposed to go on his eyelids and bright blue eyeshadow didn't belong on his cheeks. But he let her goop and cake weird bits of glitter and makeup onto his face and made appropriate oohing and ahhing noises and compliments when she turned mirrors around to face him.

It mostly covered his tattoo which was nice, with the drawback of headache-inducing colors and the excess of glitter and stickiness.

"You look pretty."

"Thank you."

"You can't be the princess because I'm the princess but you can be the queen."

He felt a grin split open his face. "My brother is a queen you know." 

"Of what?"

"Exy mainly, his name’s Kevin." And vodka, but he wasn’t about to tell a four-year-old that.

"That's nice. But he isn't a real queen then."

"You are exactly right I will tell him."

"I'm going to do lipstick now." She said holding his face still and making a very serious face as she concentrated. 

He had to suppress a laugh and felt his lips twitch anyway. "You have to hold still." she reminded him, and for once the phrase didn’t fill him with dread. It wasn’t a threat like this.

"Didn't you already do lipstick?" He inquired.

"This one is red. It will look pretty. Trust me, honey." 

He barely contained his laughter as she spread more pigment across his lips and cheeks. "Okay, you are the artist."

"There, all done. Can I paint your nails now?" 

"Yes, can I see the makeup?"

"Not yet. But don't worry you look fabulous." He wasn't about to argue with a four-year-old and continued to go with his previous policy of letting her do whatever she wanted, and going along with it.

He held out his hand while she painted a wide array of sparkly colors on his fingernails and all over his hands.

"You need to wave them to dry. And not touch anything for a few minutes. It's important to be patient."

"You're the boss."

He stayed still while she put various bits of costume jewelry on him including a very gaudy plastic clip-on earrings. 

Jeremy knocked on the door before entering the room, and doing an immediate double-take, wheezing and bent over as he tried not to laugh.

"Oh my god." He said, pulling out his phone and taking a picture.

"We are playing princess." He stated flatly.

"Holy shit. Yeah, you are."

"You are the queen, not the princess. Remember, I get to be the princess."

"You're right. Sorry, for forgetting your highness." He said very seriously bowing his head, getting a giggle in return.

"Can I play too?" Jeremy asked, grinning widely and sitting down beside him.

"I don't know, can he play with us, your majesty?"

"He can be the fool." She proclaimed imperiously. Making him burst out laughing while Jeremy looked rather offended.

"Why am I the fool?"

"Because you are a fool. I have decreed it." She pointed a sparkly wand with ribbons attached to it at him.

"Can I be something else? I want to be a princess or queen too."

Ellie paused to think about it. "You could be the horse. Next time you can be the dragon but we don't need a dragon right now because we are in the castle and dragons can't get in. Horses shouldn’t be in the castle either but you're probably a stupid horse."

Jeremy shot him a very unbelievable wounded glare as he laughed before he conceded. "I guess I am the fool then."

Ellie gave a short regal nod before rummaging through the closet and coming back with a few tiaras, crowns, and a jester hat which she pulled over Jeremy's head. "Sing for us fool."

She showed Jean a selection of crowns and offered to let him pick first, while Jeremy sang in the background with a toy ukelele that didn't really work. He had chosen a much more child-appropriate song this time, instead of singing very graphically about blow jobs and being fucked, as he had on the drive down. While that had been very difficult for him due to the imagery of Jeremy like that it provoked in his mind, combined with his probably reckless shimmying and dancing in his seat, this was perhaps more distracting, beautiful like a work of art rather than something sexual and illicit. 

"You can choose." He told her, in reference to the crown, preoccupied with Jeremy singing. God, he was actually an amazing singer, Honey just put your sweet lips on my lips, we should just kiss like real people do. 

Ellie scrunched up her face before choosing the gaudiest and largest of the crowns with fur trim and numerous multicolored plastic jewels. Before placing it on his head. 

Jean froze for a second and let out a long breath as she adjusted the tiara in his hair.

"Ellie, don't touch Jean's hair," Jeremy said quickly stopping singing, voice still kind and not overly sharp but still firm.

"It's fine." He said quickly. When it was a tiny four-year-old with sticky hands right in front of him it wasn't as bad. Her hands were tiny, and she wasn't yanking his hair or trying to force his head one way or another.

Ellie removed her hands quickly and furrowed her eyebrows. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay." He reassured her and Jeremy at the same time. Ellie was quickly distracted again by the game and had Jeremy and him each paint the nails on one of her hands. 

Jeremy's was definitely better, but his own was still better than Ellie had done on her own with Jean's hands. He had managed to avoid getting paint on the back of her hands and covering her fingers.

"You don't have to let her boss you around you know."

"It's okay. I'm having fun."

Jeremy took several pictures of him and Ellie dressed up and sent a few to Jean upon his request.

Jean looked at the pictures of himself for a second and snorted. He looked ridiculous. A tiara on his head, a boa, glittery skirt around his neck. Numerous pieces of costume jewelry, almost any pieces she had been able to find. A tutu on each arm like some kind of strange poofed up sleeve. And makeup that looked like the result of a four-year-old trying to do their interpretation drag makeup with a child's play makeup kit. With their eyes closed. He was also pretty sure she had used markers judging by the scribbles, or maybe some kind of lip or eye pencil. He was going to make it his profile picture.

One impulse he sent one of the pictures to Kevin texting who's the queen now bitch

Kevin: {Dude what the fuck}

{Have you finally lost it?}

Jean: <I'm at Jeremy's parents' place. He has a little sister. We are playing princess apparently>

Kevin: {I can’t believe you just gave me this blackmail material}

Jean: <Do what you want. I think I look pretty hot.>

“Don’t you think Jeremy should wear some fool makeup too?” He suggested to Ellie innocently, Jeremy shot him a glare but conceded and willfully let Ellie paint him in glitter and sequins as well. And many stick-on plastic jewels over his eyebrows and forehead. Also patterned tape, for some reason.

“If shit rips my eyebrows off I am going to be so pissed at you, you know?”

“The queen does not bow to fools, Jeremy.” He said, trying to mimic Kevin’s accent. Jeremy laughed.

“Do you think he looks weird enough?” Ellie asked looking at the masterpiece on Jeremy’s face. Where Jean’s makeup at least very loosely followed the guidelines for what makeup should look like, the goal of Jeremy’s ‘look’ seemed to have been to make it as weird as possible. One eye had been covered by a square in red lipstick with stick-on jewels in the corners. There were many spirals and hearts, and random diagonal lines. 

He managed to get a few pictures of Jeremy too when he wasn’t paying attention. He was pretty sure more than a few of his new teammates would be interested in seeing them.


At dinner, things took an awkward turn when Jeremy's mom asked if he got to see his parents regularly given the distance between California and France. 

Jeremy said something sharp in Spanish that Jean could only assume was some kind of reprimand. 

Jean responded cooly with, "I haven't spoken to them in over ten years, I don't know if they are alive or dead but they are dead to me." 

Adam, Iva's husband looked alarmed. "You haven't heard anything from them at all?"

"My father was a racist, neocolonizing piece of shit, who gambled away all of his money and spent it on women, cars, alcohol, and drugs. He was also a mob leader And sold, me, his only son into slavery. How should I explain that without freaking them out in English?" He asked Jermey in French.

Jeremy choked a little, while Adam paled. "I took two semesters of French in college, I got the gist."

"Ah," Well fuck. 

There were a few minutes of awkward silence. 

"Probably should have had the foresight to take Spanish but I didn't," Adam added awkwardly. Jean nodded. He had assumed Jeremy was the only other person who spoke French.


He stumbled out of bed with a murmur to Jeremy that he'd be right back, to let the dog out. Grabbing a tank top and pushing open the door and stepping out into the hallway.

He froze, as he came face to face with Jeremy's mother in the hallway. Making strained eye contact for half a second before looking away and tugging his shirt on with a mumbled apology. Fuck. He not only just exposed his scars but he had come out of her son's room in the middle of the night shirtless. It's fine he reasoned to himself, they were staying in the same room. And it wasn't like they were actually doing anything so it was fine. He shouldn't be jumping out of his skin like a naughty child caught doing something they weren't supposed to be doing.

"Are you alright?" She wasn't asking about him being awake, he knew that. She didn't stare at the scars too much but he felt her gaze on them. Saw the way her lips thinned out in an angry line. Just like Jeremy had every time he told him some new tragedy or injustice from his past.

"Yeah, uh, just letting the dog out." He gestured downward at the dog standing happily at his feet looking between the two of them. 

She smiled softly, "Don't worry about it, I'll take her out, you go back to sleep."

Jean nodded and muttered his thanks before returning to the room and tugging his shirt back off.

He crawled back into bed and Jeremy shifted slightly before winding his arms around him with a still mostly asleep whisper of "Okay?"

"Yeah," he whispered back, letting Jeremy's limbs wrap around him like he was an octopus, as he made a soft hum of contentment in response.

He idly wondered if he could break the air conditioning in the dorms so Jeremy would be shirtless more often. Which was probably a very creepy and bad thought. But Jeremy was very attractive. And more than that the skin on skin contact was nice, albeit slightly sweaty.

He discarded the idea as a bad one and settled in to enjoy this in the moment.  Jeremy's face was pressed right up against his back where a giant slur had been carved into his skin. And Jeremy didn't seem to care or even notice and was cuddling him like he was one of his giant stuffed animals anyway.

He pulled one of Jeremy's arms tighter around him and made sure his body wasn't positioned on his other arm to avoid it going numb and tingly from his weight, before being lulled asleep by the feeling of Jeremy's chest rising and falling against his back and the warm puffs of air against the base of his neck and shoulder.