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The Things I Used To Know

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Jean

When Mikasa got home she walked directly into the bathroom to shower. She didn’t even drop her purse on the kitchen table, or take off her shoes like she normally would. It was almost eight. I hated when she worked late shifts like this. She came home with scrubs splattered in blood and her normally silky, black hair tangled on top of her head in a messy bun she probably redid like ten times throughout her shift.

I called to her from the other side of the door, “I made dinner.”

“Thanks.”

I waited against the wall in the hallway for her to say something else.

“Are you…going to eat any of it?” I asked. I hadn’t made any food for myself, but she wouldn’t notice. She never did.

“Yeah sure,” she said, “I’ll pick at it later.”

I already knew, without having to ask, that later meant after I went to bed. That way, she wouldn’t have to talk to me or hang out with me while she ate. I considered going to bed now. I had a history exam in the morning. Undoubtedly, it would be an hour long struggle of me rereading each question over and over again. The more I tried to read them, the more the letters would end up scattering across the page and rearranging themselves…

“Alright…” I said, and walked back into the living room where I’d been studying.

When she came out, I held in my gasp. She had walked out in nothing but her sweatshirt and panties. She was five foot seven, just two inches shorter than me. She was one of those nurses that practiced what they preached in the sense that she was immaculately fit. Her long legs were wiry and strong. I pictured them wrapping around my waist as her steely, gray eyes rolled back and I just –

I leapt off the couch, dropping my text book on the floor as I did, so that I could wrap my arms around her.

“God damn,” I breathed. She hadn’t done this in weeks it seemed. She always changed in the bathroom now after getting out of the shower. But she looked damn good in that sweatshirt, and I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity.

She tensed in my arms.

“Thought you were going to bed,” she said.

My grip on her loosened. “When did I say that?"

She cocked her head at me. “Didn’t you?”

“No, I told you dinner was ready.” I gestured to the stir fry I’d cooked up for her on the stove. It was cold by now. I hoped it would taste alright heated up.

She glanced at it. “Oh…I’m sorry. I just…”

She was just used to me going to bed early now, is what she just. But I didn’t say that.

Instead, I placed my lips against her ear and whispered, “Ya’ know, I think I could eat again…”

My hand slid down her stomach slowly trailing over her abdomen. Her stomach was as defined and muscular as her legs and I shivered as my fingers reached the hem of her panties.

Before my fingers could slide under, her hand wrapped around my wrist.

“What?” I asked.

“Nothing.”

“Bullshit,” I said. “What’d I do?”

“Nothing. I’m just not in the mood, okay? I was pumping someone’s stomach a half hour ago.” She gently, but firmly, guided my hands away from her stomach and headed toward the kitchen stove. I leaned against the dining room chair.

“So let me take your mind off it,” I suggested. She turned the burner on and the food sizzled in the pan. She kept her eyes on the food.

“It doesn’t work that way, Jean.”

“It used to.”

She sighed now. I’d pushed it too far, but I didn’t care. I’d been holding this in for weeks – no, months. She’d been like this for months. That wasn’t all that had changed, either. She kept coming home later and later. Kept taking whatever shifts her co-workers didn’t want. Kept staying over at Eren and Armin’s place. This was a long time coming, and I only now realized that I wasn’t going to put it off any longer.

I momentarily considered all the times in my life I decided to make a life-changing decision that simultaneously wasn’t my decision at all. It felt like my whole damn life was like that.

“What’s your point?”

“My point is, what the fuck happened? Did I let myself go, or what?” I glanced downward at myself while I spoke, to emphasize what I’d meant. She had only gotten hotter over the years, as unfair as that was. But me? What had I done? I hadn’t even changed my hairstyle since ninth grade. It was still a floppy mess of blond undercut, and it was still immature and impossible to wear professionally. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t noticed I’d gained weight, either.

But I was working on that, I reminded myself. I was working on that, and I was succeeding. She had to have noticed.

She squinted at me, and shook her head like she had misplaced her spot in a book. “What? Let yourself – what are you even talking about?”

“You know damn well what I’m talking about,” I spit, “If it’s not that, what is it? Are you just bored? Cause there are a million things we could do to change that if you’d fucking try.”

“It has nothing to deal with how you look.” She rolled her eyes. “For Christ’s sake, you look exactly the same as you did in high school.”

I snorted. I contemplated giving up the argument altogether if she was going to feign ignorance.

“And I’m not bored, I’m busy,” she said. “I’m not in college anymore. I have a job – a job that for your information, saves lives. Or in some cases, doesn’t save lives depending on whether or not I fuck up, and I’m sorry if it fucking preoccupies my mind a bit.”

I shook my head. I knew she was going to throw that in my fucking face. She was a year older than me, and had taken college courses in high school. Not to mention, my degree was going slower than it should have because my head could only handle so much reading a week.

But of course, it wasn’t enough that I took care of everything else. I was the one that made sure the bills got paid on time. I was the one to clean the fucking house. I was the one to cook the meals every night that she no longer ate with me. I was the one that ran any errands we had.

But it wasn’t enough, and it wasn’t enough when I’d been bartending either. She was always doing more than me.
I swallowed the scream in my throat and clenched my fists. “You don’t have to constantly throw that in my face. I already know I don’t have a job. I already fucking know that your job is difficult, that it will always be more impressive than whatever I end up doing. I fucking know that, Mikasa.”

Her eyes narrowed, and she waved one hand dismissively at me. “I don’t even know where you get this shit. I don’t even – God I don’t even know what you’re talking about sometimes.”

I didn’t say anything as she scooped some of the stir fry onto the plate and headed toward our bedroom.

“I’m heading to Armin’s after this,” she said, referring to finishing her meal.

“I should’ve guessed,” I muttered. Then, deciding not to settle, I called down the hall, “Don’t expect me to fucking be here when you get back!”

She swung around in the hallway. Some of the food flew onto the floor. “What?” Her lip trembled in the way that I loved. She wouldn’t cry, she never did. Her voice didn’t even raise when she got angry. It was almost as if she didn’t care at all. But her lip trembling was one of her few quirks that ever revealed how she truly felt underneath her impenetrable composure.

I smiled at her, although I didn’t know why. I supposed it was because for once she was showing weakness and that made me feel strong. “I’m going out. Don’t wait up for me. Not that you would.”

She scoffed. “Where? Jean…Jean! Where are you going?”

I was already grabbing my Jacket, keys, and wallet, heading out the door.


I didn’t get far. I was at Shamrock’s twenty minutes later. I walked there, despite the October chill. I used to work there, a small gay bar that had never expected me to wear anything leathery or glittery while I served drinks. Luckily, a lot of the people I used to work with had quit. I didn’t really feel like bumping into them tonight and pretending I wasn’t pissed off.

If I was honest with myself – which, as a rule, I generally was honest with myself – I left the house unsure what my plan was, but by the time I got there, I knew.

I hadn’t fucked a man in years.

I’d been with Mikasa for so long. Since high school, it had been Mikasa and no one else. Which was fine with me. I didn’t really care who I was fucking, or what they had going on under their clothes, as long as I was fucking someone.

I had never cheated on her, so it was strange to find myself opening up the door to the bar and heading right to the bathroom to check out how awful I looked. It was strange for me to comb my fingers through my hair, and use my fingernails to pick at my teeth, and pop a mint. It was strange for me to check my hazel eyes for redness, because I’d almost cried on the way here and that post-break-up-desperate-rebound-fuck look wasn’t what I was going for.

But I was most certainly, going for a fuck. And some part of my head was screaming at myself, telling myself that I loved Mikasa and I’d been with her too damn long, and she’d been too damn good to me, for me to fucking consciously and purposefully choose to cheat on her.

Then there was the other part of me.

The part of me that had me glancing at my reflection every time I passed a window or a mirror. The part that forced me to analyze every single shadow I casted on the cement or wall nearby. The part that made me right now, run my hand over the front of my gray V-neck and try to rearrange the loose fabric to rest on my body in a way that didn’t show my protruding stomach.

No matter how much I did this, it didn’t work. My stomach was always visible. It was always hanging over the hem of my jeans, reminding me of all the reasons Mikasa had probably lost interest.

For a second, I debated just sitting in the stalls for a few hours, because I’d rather do that than face sitting at the bar all night and not get noticed by a room full of gay men.

But I remembered a time when I could hardly go an entire shift without one of the guys asking me for my number, and all the times I had to turn them down because “my girlfriend wouldn’t like it,” and I was suddenly angrier than I was insecure. I combed my fingers through my hair one last time, gave my reflection my cockiest, lop-sided grin, and headed out the door to the bar.

I didn’t order a drink because God knew how many calories were in them. Instead I got a water, and I waited. Two guys offered to buy me a drink, but I turned them down and said I was already planning on meeting someone here. They were older, much too old to stir anything in me. I thought I could do better.

As it turns out, I was right.

Around nine thirty, two people walked in that could have been twins if it weren’t for their eye colors. One, was a tall, lanky woman with bronze skin and millions of freckles. Her hazel eyes scrutinized the room with a less than impressed expression. Since she was the only woman in the room, I imagined she was here so that the man she was with wouldn’t have to come alone.

And he was…Oh my god.

He was uh.

He was.

I had to let my thoughts buffer for a moment as I stared at him. He was taller than me, although he couldn’t have been by much. He had bronze skin too, and a smattering of freckles. His black hair was cut like mine, buzzed at the sides and longer on top, except his was parted down the middle and mine wasn’t parted at all. His had the professionalism that I could never get mine to achieve.

He strolled to the bar like he was walking down the sidewalk, like every guy in the room wasn’t noticing him at that moment and wondering why he’d brought a woman with him. His eyes were brown, and warm and comforting the same way black tea was. But outside of his undoubtedly attractive appearance, there was something else that had drawn me to him.

And I thought it was that he had no fucking clue what he was doing. A guy like that should have sauntered in here and taken his pick of the litter. Honestly, he should have been bragging about something by now. But he wasn’t. He had seated himself at the bar, talking quietly with the woman he’d brought, and had ordered a beer for the both of them. He wasn’t even dressed like he was worried about anyone finding him attractive. He was wearing a navy blue hoodie that appeared to have no brand, jeans, and tennis shoes. He hadn’t even noticed anyone staring.

But oh man, he’d sure as hell noticed me.

I let him look me up and down a few times, pretending I wasn’t checking him out too. He did it once, turned to the woman to talk about me, and then looked at me again with her looking too. He continued to look at me for over an hour. He never left his chair, and politely declined – well actually, he obliviously declined – men who came on to him. I doubted he even realized they were trying to make a move.

But he kept staring at me, and each time he did his expression was more and more flustered. He blushed. He ruffled his hair. He tugged at his hoodie like it was too hot in here. He was asked three times something by the bartender before he jumped and realized he’d been spoken to.

And something just lit inside of me. A blaze ran through my limbs for the first time since losing my fucking virginity. He looked at me the way no one had in years. And I didn’t mean he just found me attractive.

I was a good-looking man, and most of the time I was aware of this. Good-looking aesthetically, at the very least.

But he looked at me like I was a wet dream. Like I was a twink he wanted to bend over on a desk. He looked at me like he might fuck me in an elevator or demand that I swallow, and by default felt guilty for the nasty thoughts in his head and that made me hard in my seat. Not necessarily the idea of him being dominating in any way, but the idea of him feeling guilty about wanting me.

I wasn’t just attractive. Only now, was I realizing that I didn’t want to just be attractive.

I wanted to be his vice, his guilty pleasure. I wanted to be the sick fantasy running through this obviously innocent, respectful, and polite man’s head.

I pretended to only just now notice him staring, and then I grinned at him devilishly. He blushed and his eyelids fluttered for a second like he’d shaken a thought from his head. I gestured for him to come my way, and he honestly fucking looked around to see who I meant. I laughed, and kept eye contact with him.

He came over to sit by me.

Chapter Text

Marco

Ymir’s plan wasn’t supposed to work. She was supposed to drag me to this bar to make a point about how I could start dating men whenever I wanted, and fail. I was supposed to sit alone at the bar all night with her, get drunk, cry at some point probably, and pass out in her SUV.

That was my plan.

And now I was walking toward this –

How was I even supposed to describe someone as attractive as him? I thought there wasn’t supposed to be anyone in the world that had literally every attractive trait there could possibly be. He was blond, a well-known weakness of mine, with eyes that were technically hazel, but much more golden in appearance. His teeth were so white and straight, he must have had braces. It caused him to have this grin – like he knew exactly what I feared most in the world – that made me weak in the knees.

He was very thin. I guessed if I were to pick a flaw, I would say he was bordering on too thin, but that was definitely me being knit-picky. Or maybe, me just desperately trying to find something wrong with him so I would be able to talk to him without stuttering or tipping over.

I was walking toward the death of me, was how I decided to describe him.

I pulled the bar stool out, and to my dismay it screeched against the hardwood floor. I winced. He kept smiling at me.

“Uh…hi,” I said.

“Don’t look now, but every single man in the room is mad at me,” he said, still with that perfect grin. I choked on whatever dismissal of that over-the-top-compliment I had. I couldn’t respond to that, so I just shook my head at him.

“Sorry I’m uh…I don’t do this, often,” I replied.

“I can tell.”

I bit my lip. That didn’t sound like a good thing. “Um…so?”

“My name is Jean,” he said.

My head perked up at that. “Jean, like, the French pronunciation?”

“Yeah. But I’m not French. My mom taught French, and wanted to be French, and my dad wasn’t around to argue with her.”

I swallowed slowly, my mouth drying just looking at him. “Oh that’s uh…unfortunate?”

He shrugged. I watched how his leather jacket clung to his broad shoulders. How his V-neck looked bordering around his collarbones and throat. “What’s your name?”

“Marco,” I said. “Italian. But I actually am Italian…Or, my dad is. His family is from there. Italy, I mean.”

God I was babbling and now my face was turning red. I kept my eye on the exit, just in case I needed to quickly never show my face here again.

“You look too…dark to be Italian,” he replied. I raised my eyebrows. I wasn’t used to anyone being that forward about it.

“My mom’s Haitian,” I said. “She’s from Haiti though; like she was actually born there.”

He nodded. “Who’s that?” He pointed at Ymir, who was on her second beer and waggling her eyebrows at me. I refused to make eye contact.

“That’s my cousin, Ymir.”

His eyebrows crooked up at her name, like everyone’s did. “Is that name Haitian?”

“No, just awful,” I replied.

He laughed, and God even his laugh was sexy. It was unapologetic, not the way some people laughed. He laughed like he was meant to, like everybody here had bought tickets to hear it.

“So, Marco. What brings you here? Sincee you don’t normally do this…”

For whatever reason, I noticed then that he wasn’t drinking. I had drunk a beer, but I wasn’t exactly drinking either. If this ended badly, I would be. But for now, we were both sober, and everything he was saying to me he was saying sober.

He was an honest man, and I liked that right away.

“Well,” I started, but wasn’t really sure where to go with it.

Should I tell him about Hitch? I didn’t think it was a good idea to start off a conversation with a gay man about my ex-girlfriend. Nor did I want to think about her, and how eerily similar the two appeared to me now. Both sandy blondes, both forward, both wearing lecherous grins that made weak men fall apart.

I forced the thought out of my head.

“Just went through a breakup,” I said, finally. At least that was true, if not the whole truth.

His eyes flickered for a second. Something darker, something too deep for him to share with a stranger. “Me too.”

I didn’t comment on it. I could tell it was a sore subject without asking.

He sighed, and then looked back to me. “So, you just went through a breakup. In my experience, men want to do one of two things when they go to a gay bar, right after they went through a breakup. They want to find someone to love or they want to find someone to fuck. Which is it?”

I hesitated. What he was saying didn’t only apply to men he knew; it applied to himself. He was looking for one of those two things.

If I was being honest, I was looking for someone to love.

But if I was being realistic, I knew that wasn’t an option.

So, I supposed I’d have to say fuck.

But I was a coward.

"Which one are you looking for?” I asked.

“I asked you first.”

“It’s your assumption that I’m looking for one in particular,” I hedged.

He smiled at me. “Fine, I get it. I’ll say it first, but you have to say it after, okay?” I nodded. I could manage that.

“I’m looking for someone to fuck,” he said. And he said it like ‘I’m looking for my misplaced sweater’.

It took the breath from me. Oh God.

Before I could even stop myself, I added, “Me too.”

His leg touched mine, then his hand squeezed my thigh. I tried not to pass out.

He eyed Ymir. “Please tell me you don’t live with her.”

I laughed. “No. I don’t.”

“Is there anyone at your place?” he asked. “I uh…live with my roommate.”

Oh. My. God. This was actually happening. I had to force myself to breathe normally or I’d hyperventilate.

“No…but I, um. I didn’t drive here,” I said. His face fell, and for a moment I had to consider that this man was actually disappointed he might not be able to have sex with me. “I’ll be right back.”

Before he could say anything, I walked back to where Ymir was sitting.

“Ymir…”I started, cautiously, because she was never going to let me live this down.

“Yes?”

“Uh, um…” What was I supposed to say?

“First, I need you to tell me in a complete sentence that I was right.” Her face was so smug I almost rolled my eyes.

“You were right.”

“About what? I mean, besides everything in the known universe. What, specifically, was I right about, Marco?”

“You were right that I could start seeing men whenever I wanted to.”

“And?”

“All I had to do is try. There. Is that enough? Or would you like to have a celebratory dance?”

She laughed. “I’ll hold back on the dancing for now. What do you ya’ need?”

“Your keys…”

She arched an eyebrow.

“And for you to call Christa to come and get you so that I don’t have to bring you home…”

Her face became concerned. She threw a quick glance at him. He was behind me, so all I could do was pray he hadn’t noticed. “Are you leaving with that guy right now?”

“Uh, sort of.”

“How do you sort of do that?” She leaned back against the bar, probably to get a better look at Jean.

“Okay, fine, yes. I’m leaving with him. Isn’t that what you wanted?”

She sighed. “Yeah. I just thought…you’d start with a date?”

“You know I can’t do that.”

She nodded. I knew she wouldn’t push the subject any further. “Listen, you can have my keys. Just…don’t be dumb, Marco. I don’t want to find out in a month your HIV positive or something.”

I grimaced. She was seriously concerned and I didn’t see her like this often.

“Of course.”

She handed me her keys. Almost as soon as they were in my hands, Jean was up off his stool and following me out the door.

The drive wasn’t awkward the way I thought it would be. I guessed that was because we had been forward enough with each other in the bar that we weren’t trying to figure out what pretense to be under in the car. He said a couple of things. The weather was about to get really shitty, really soon. The song on the radio was underrated. He forgot about something important he was sure, but now that he was with me he couldn’t remember.

He was a lot more laid back in the car than he had been in the bar. I hadn’t thought he was performing in the bar at all, but the way he was in the car seemed to be more natural to him. Probably, he was acting the way he did around friends more than the way he did around strangers he was trying to pick up, in the car.

I guided him up the stairs to my apartment. It was on the third floor, and about half way up he held my hand. I wasn’t sure why. It seemed a bit too affectionate considering we were about to…yeah.

But it felt nice. It let me pretend for a second that this wasn’t what it was, and instead he was my boyfriend I was taking home with me after a date. I wondered if he was pretending the same thing. Then I reminded myself he wasn’t looking for love.

When we got to my door, I pulled out my own keys to unlock it.

“Well, this is it.” I opened the door, gesturing to my entryway which was almost immediately in my living room. The kitchen was further back, next to the dining room, and there were two bedrooms, and two bathrooms down the hall to my right. I quickly scanned my apartment for anything I had left out earlier when I was planning on having a completely uneventful evening.

There was nothing, and I had never been more thankful that I was a decently tidy man. I couldn’t specifically bring to mind anything I’d leave out in the open that was embarrassing, but I’d bet my life there was at least something.

I wasn’t sure what we were supposed to do next, as we stepped in. I told Jean he could put his shoes anywhere, and he kicked them off in the entryway and walked in like he lived here. For a moment, I imagined he did.

Then, as I closed the door behind me and stepped in, he turned to me and placed his hands on my hips. I shivered, unable to stop myself. He leaned in.

I was kissing him. He tasted like he’d just brushed his teeth. His lips were softer than I would have imagined, but thinking back on it, I realized that every part of his face was distinctly sharp except his lips. His lips were round, full, and pliant. I whimpered into him like I never had while kissing a woman.

Then I forced myself to pull away. I swallowed, buying myself some time.

“What? Did I…?”

I shook my head. “I’ve never…”

He dropped his hands from my hips and pulled away from me. “Oh my God, dude. You should have told me you’re a virgin.”

“What? No…God no. I’m not a virgin. I’ve just never done it with a…”

“Stranger?” he asked.

“A man.”

His eyes widened in understanding. “So when you said you’d just been through a breakup…”

“It was with my girlfriend.” I winced. I shouldn’t have said anything.

He nodded. “Well, I’m not gay either. It’s no big deal, if you still want to, I mean.”

I thought I saw him blush.

“You’re not?” I asked.

“I’m bi,” he replied. Irrational relief spread through me. He knew what it was like to be with a woman, and he thought I was bi too. I contemplated telling him I wasn’t, I just couldn’t tell anyone I was gay, but decided against it. This felt better. This felt less like a dirty secret I had to cover up. He’d leave, and he’d think nothing of this encounter at all. He wouldn’t see it as me desperately trying to satiate my sexuality for a while.

This way, I kept some dignity.

“Me too,” I breathed.

He smiled. “Do you still want to…?”

I nodded. I really, really wanted to.

“Well don’t worry about uh, me being a guy, alright? I’ll bottom. Haven’t gotten to do it in a while anyway,” he said, walking through my living room toward the hall as if I wasn’t about to pass out from the blood rush to my cock. “Which bedroom?”

“The one on the right,” I rasped, as I followed behind him. Once in my room, he glanced around. There wasn’t much for personalization, now that Hitch was out. She’d really been the interior decorator between us. Instead there was my desk and laptop, equipped with all the usual desk attire. There was an open closet, revealing mostly clothing I wore to work, but some t-shirts too. I had a TV sitting above a dresser, and a stack of movies on my Blue Ray player.

And then I really blushed.

“Cacti?” he asked.

I glanced at my small collection of mini cacti along my windowsill. Probably one of the few things in my bedroom that said anything about me. I wondered why he was even bothering asking. Wasn’t this supposed to be a one night stand?

“Yeah, I uh,” I said, “Used to live in Texas.”

He grinned. “Whoa…I can fucking hear it now. Your accent. How the fuck did you end up in Minnesota?”

I shrugged. “Parents moved here when I was young. Job opportunity.”

“And they brought Ymir?” he said.

“Ymir’s parents died, and my mom was her God mother. We ended up adopting her,” I said.

His eyebrows raised. “Oh…Dude, I’m –”

“Don’t be,” I said. Then I bent down to kiss him. The more he learned about me, the easier it was to let the boyfriend fantasy grow in my head, and I couldn’t let that happen.

He kept kissing me, and I started to drown in him. Drown in his musky scent. Drown in his wiry limbs. Drown in the sweet noises coming from his throat.

He pulled me by my hips, to my bed, and toppled backward onto it. We kept kissing, until I was certain I’d never be able to make my mouth do anything else again. Until I was grinding against him subconsciously and he was gasping in my ear.

We pulled away to undress. My room was mostly dark, but my window was immediately next to my bed and I’d left my TV on. It lit up the room just enough for me to realize my knit-pickiness hadn’t been so knit-picky. He was very thin. His rib cage didn’t quite show. Still, I could tell the six pack wasn’t from working out, but from a lack of body fat to cover it up.

I pushed that thought away, because he was too sexy to pinpoint the one flaw he had and get hung up on it. In this light, he was all angles and contrasted shadows. He was flat-chested, hairy, had stubble and he was absolutely masculine in every way. I’d never been this hard in my life.

“Damn,” he breathed, looking at my body from where I lay next to him. He unabashedly checked out my cock, and I couldn’t push the touch-starved, teenager feeling out of the pit of my stomach. He bit his lip. He liked what he saw.

He leaned forward, and I gasped when I realized what he was doing. His mouth was on me, and I moaned obscenely almost the second I felt his tongue. My fingers tangled in his hair and I kept moaning, louder than I ever had for a woman, because I didn’t have to close my eyes and pretend it was a man this time. I could look down, and see his hallowed cheeks and stubble and his gorgeous body sprawled out on my bed. My thighs were trembling by the time he pulled off of me.

I almost asked him if he wanted me to do the same. The thought terrified me. I wouldn’t know what I was doing, and I wouldn’t want to screw up. He saw the look of terror on my face and smiled. He shook his head, letting me off the hook.

Then he asked me if I had lube and a condom. I did. The condom, from when Hitch had still been living with me, and the lube for myself, since the past couple weeks that she hadn’t been living with me. Thinking of that gave me some confidence. Everything I would need to do to prepare him I’d done to myself. Everything that would make him feel good was probably something I’d already done to myself.

I was still shaking from performance anxiety though. I considered asking him to top instead, but decided against it. I didn’t know when I’d have an opportunity to be with a man again, and if I reacted poorly to bottoming my first time, that would be all I had to hold onto for a while.

So he bottomed. I prepped him slowly, with him guiding my actions as best he could. I found his sweet spot, and gently massaged it with my fingers. I was breathless at how sensitive he was. When I did this to myself, sure it felt good, but I probably couldn’t get off on it alone. He whispered once that I had to stop, because he was getting close. It made me shudder. My whole body tingled as I continued to stretch him, carefully avoiding putting too much pressure on his sweet spot.

Then he slid the condom on me, and I situated myself between his legs. Before I pushed in, I had another moment of disbelief. I was about to have sex with a man. Finally, finally, I was doing this, after years of fantasizing about it. It made me so emotional for a second I had to blink back tears. Jean, thankfully, didn’t notice.

I eased into him. Immediately, I was overwhelmed by every sensation. It was tighter, hotter, and somehow just felt right in comparison to being inside a woman.

He wrapped his arms and legs around me and told me he was ready. I started to gently thrust. Unevenly thrust. Gasping in his ear and whimpering at how good it felt even with the condom. It would have been embarrassing, if I could focus on anything but how he felt long enough to consider it.

But he was like that too, and I had a moment of pride for doing that to him. For making him gasp my name. For making him tighten around me. For making his legs tremble, his abdomen tighten, and his head throw back. God he was beautiful, I couldn’t fucking believe I’d made it this long without this. How could anything feel so good?

I thrust into him harder. The pleasure was building in both of us and we clung to each other for support. He reached down to touch himself. I was torn between watching his hand work his cock, his hand so tight and thorough around him, and watching his face twist into agonizing bliss.

I managed to get a good look at both, as he shuddered and came on his stomach. The image was everything I’d ever needed, and years of pent up longing pulsed through me as my hips bucked hard and I toppled over the edge.

When I was done, I wanted to kiss him so badly, but I hesitated. He was the one to place his hands on either side of my face, and kiss me until I recovered.

I reluctantly pulled out of him, and tied off the condom before throwing it in the waste paper basket next to my desk. I handed him some Kleenex. He thanked me as he cleaned his stomach off. I threw the tissues away too.

Then there was no reason for us to be around each other longer. I wasn’t sure what would happen. We were laying in my bed naked. Was he going to leave now and never talk to me again?

“What now?” I asked him, feeling idiotic. I wasn’t sure if he’d been the sort to have one night stands before, but if he had the other person probably had never asked him how it was supposed to happen.

His eyes met mine. In the darkness, they were almost blackened, with a blue glare from my TV screen reflecting in his pupils. He didn’t look like he thought I was being idiotic. “I’m tired. Is it cool if I stay here tonight?”

I nodded, hoping I didn’t look too enthusiastic.

“I swear I’ll uh, get outta your way tomorrow morning.”

I didn’t mention that if for whatever reason he didn’t, I wouldn’t care in the least.

“You don’t have work or something, do you?” I asked.

His eyes widened. “Shit! I have class tomorrow and…Fuck, I have no way to get there.”

I started to tell him that I’d call a cab for him, but I didn’t want to let him go like that. Actually, I didn’t want to let him go. “I’ll give you a ride, if you like.”

His eyes met mine again. They were searching, wondering where the offer had come from I supposed, or if there was some other meaning behind my words. “Are you sure?”

I shrugged. “Don’t see why not. Are you at the university?”

He nodded.

“It’s on my way,” I said. His face relaxed then. He snuggled into my chest, and I held my breath before I wrapped my arms around him. Apparently, sex wasn’t the only perk of a one night stand. I let myself hold him, and in that moment consider what it would be like to do this with him every night.

“Hey,” he said. I opened my eyes. I hadn’t been anywhere near sleeping. Just pretending like I didn’t have a million new thoughts flooding through my head. “It was really good, considering ya’ know…you’ve never been with a guy before. It was um, it was really nice.”

I smiled and blushed. “Thank you. I’m sure you…uh, could tell that I thought um, I thought you were incredible.”

“I couldn’t tell.” The way he laughed afterward made me feel as though he’d been genuinely afraid I hadn’t enjoyed it.

It had changed my life.

Chapter Text

Eren

I thought what bothered me most about tonight was: where the hell did this come from? Why now? Why with my sister here, for fuck’s sake?

But apparently, she was offering critical moral support for Armin, or something.

They sat on the love seat across from me, where I was on the couch. The couch that was plenty big enough for three people. I took up as little space as possible.

Armin’s eyes met mine. They were as blue, and clear, and sensitive as ever. But I hated how he looked at me like that, that way that was an apology before I could tell him to not say sorry.

“So,” I started, and it took me a moment to continue that thought, “What did you say it’s called?”

Armin tucked his blond hair behind his ear. “Asexual.”

“And it’s not just that I suck in bed?” I reiterated, because that seemed infinitely easier to handle.

“No, it’s…it’s like being gay or anything else.” His voice trembled and it tugged at my fucking heart.

“But, gay people have sex.”

Armin sighed. “It’s not you, I promise.”

“Never thought you’d be one for clichés, Armin.”

“No really! It’s not you!” He covered his face in his delicate hands, and I almost apologized. Problem was, I wasn’t sure if I was sorry yet. Mikasa gave me a glare that told me I probably ought to be, but I wasn’t sure if I cared what she had to say either. She’d been keeping this from me. She’d been talking to him about this behind my back for months, apparently, when he should have been talking to me. His boyfriend of three years.

She wrapped her arm around his shoulder like she was about to confiscate him from me.

“How is it not me, if you hate having sex with me? Christ Armin! We’ve been having sex for years. Why are you just telling me this now?”

“I…I…Look I didn’t know, okay? It’s not like they teach this in sex ed.,” he mumbled. I could tell he was about to cry, and this time I did hold back my anger. As well as I ever could, anyway.

“So, you didn’t know you hated having sex with me, but now you do?”

“It’s not just you. I’d hate having sex with anybody. I’m not attracted to anybody.”

I tried not to flinch. The words dug deep, even deeper than considering I sucked in bed, and I wondered what I’d done wrong. What I could have done differently.

I took a moment to think. To really think, about what someone else in my situation, someone smarter and calmer than me, would do. “Does this mean we’re breaking up?”

Armin met my gaze again. He looked shocked, like he wasn’t expecting me to ask that. I wasn’t sure how I couldn’t. “Well…that’s up to you.”

“So, you’re not breaking up with me right now. Right?”

“No.” His voice was barely audible.

“But…you don’t want to have sex anymore.”

“Yes.”

I nodded, and laced my fingers together squeezing tightly. “Okay.”

Again, Armin looked at me like he was amazed.

“Really?”

“Yeah. Really. But I’m going to fuck up for a while. I can feel it.”

Mikasa and Armin glanced at each other. That was another thing I fucking hated. Their internal debates. I used to have that with him. We used to have conversations without words, we used to know what the other was thinking, and Mikasa had found another thing to be better than me at.

Mikasa nodded in my direction, clearly giving some unspoken demand to Armin.

“Listen…” he started, “I know it’s going to be hard for you. And I’ve been thinking, you never…never signed up for this. And sex doesn’t mean anything to me –”

He must have seen me wince, because he ducked his head away from me again. Mikasa patted him on the back.

“So, if you want um…if you wanted to have sex with other people as long as –”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Armin,” I groaned, sinking into my couch cushions.

“I’m sorry. I’m just being realistic. I know you’re going to want to have sex, and I won’t. I’m just saying, if you didn’t have feelings for the person…I wouldn’t mind.”

I shook my head. “Mikasa, leave.”

“Armin needs me.”

“Fucking leave Mikasa or I swear to fucking God,” I responded. “I don’t want my fucking sister to hear this.”

“I’m not your real sister –”

“Don’t even pull that shit right now,” I spit. “Get out.”

She left the room, but she was probably watching us from the kitchen.

I moved to sit next to Armin. I took his hands in mine, and just as soon dropped them. I didn’t know the rules yet.

“No, it’s okay,” he said. He managed a smile through his tears. “It’s not like you can never touch me again.”

“Well I wasn’t sure…”

He nodded. “Thanks for considering it.”

I snorted. Yeah, no problem.

“What did you want to say?” he asked, ignoring my obvious irritation.

I made him look me in the eyes. For as weak and brittle as he appeared on the outside, his eyes had gained some strength. My heart thudded hard in my chest.

“You need to be one hundred percent honest with me. I already know I’m not going to fuck other people.”

“But I don’t mind.”

“Really? It doesn’t bother you at all to picture me fucking someone else?”

“Well, not in the way you mean, no. I don’t feel jealous or anything.”

“Why?” I whined. “That should fucking bother you, Armin. People don’t let the person they love fuck other people. It’s not right.”

Armin shrugged. “Says who? If I don’t care, why does it matter? You love me, right?”

I glared at him.

“And if you have sex with other people, is that going to change?”

“I don’t fuck people I don’t care about,” I said, “It’s only ever been you and –”

I cut myself off, so lost in our discussion I had forgotten to protect myself. He didn’t know about Jean. And as far as I knew, Jean had never told Mikasa. As far as I knew, Jean had never even told Mikasa he liked men. That he preferred men, actually. But whatever.

“It’s always been you,” I lied.

And God, I hated myself in that moment. Why couldn’t I just forget? Why did Jean always have to pop into my head at the worst fucking times? That fucking asshole.

“Well…you don’t have to, if you don’t want. I just thought I’d give you the option,” he said. I hoped he hadn’t heard me trip over my words. Armin didn’t usually miss anything, but given the situation, I wasn’t surprised his mind had been distracted elsewhere. Thank God. It had been hard enough keeping it from him for this long, let alone now when it felt like everything in my world was falling apart.

“I’m not going to.”

He shrugged. “Okay.”

I swallowed. “Is kissing out of the question?”

He leaned in to kiss me, but it didn’t sit right on my lips. When he pulled away, he hugged me, and that was when I felt the affection I’d been seeking in the kiss. That was how he would have chosen to mend this argument. Kissing, whether or not he was willing to do it, was in fact out of the question.

“Thank you for being so understanding.”

I snorted again. “I don’t understand it at all. But I’m…I’m going to ty. I mean, I’m cool with it. I know that it’s just who you are…and I love who you are. So it…I’ll figure it out.”

I was tripping over my words, but at least I said what I meant.

Armin smiled.

“I’m going to say goodnight to Mikasa and go to bed, okay?”

I nodded. He stood, but I said his name. He turned to me. “Should I sleep in the same bed?”

He nodded. “Just please wear something.”

Shortly after Armin was done saying goodnight, Mikasa came in and sat next to me on the couch.

“Are you going to break up with him?” she asked.

“What? No, of course not. If I didn’t break up with him when he stopped going by Arianne I’m sure as fuck not going to break up with him over this.”

Mikasa considered this, and if it wasn’t a good enough defense for her I didn’t know what was. I had started dating Armin before he transitioned. Before he even told me that he was trans, and I had still believed he was my girlfriend. He’d told me a year into our relationship that he was going to start hormone therapy, and nothing had changed between us.

Actually, he’d sat me down almost exactly the same way he had tonight to confess to me then too.

“But you’re angry with him,” she said, rolling her eyes in a way that was more exhausted in appearance than annoyed. I hated when she did that, because she’d been doing it since my parents had adopted her. Mom always told me that even though I was Mexican and she was Japanese that we had hung out so much as kids that we still looked alike. Kinda like how dogs looked like their owners, or some shit. But I didn’t think so. She was always so collected, and in control of herself. Laughable, considering my mom also liked to say that I was ‘always about to blow up’.

“Yeah.”

“He said you could have sex with other people, you aren’t losing anything,” she said. Her voice didn’t change much when she was mad. Instead, she said it through her teeth. Naturally, she had misunderstood me.

“Shut up,” I said. “I’m not mad we’re not having sex anymore. I’m mad that he couldn’t fucking tell me. I'm mad that…God I hate talking to you about this.”

She rolled her eyes. “My bedroom was next to yours at home ya’ know. Your sex life isn’t news to me.”

I would have blushed, if she wasn’t bluffing. If she knew anything about my sex life, she would have brought up Jean by now.

“You really want to know?” I asked.

She nodded.

“I’m mad that every single time something important happened in our lives, or something meaningful happened, or we made up after a fight or celebrated a fucking anniversary or whatever… we had sex. I mean, it’s not like…it’s not like we acted like an old married couple. We had sex as much as anyone else our age in a relationship would. It wasn’t ever…a problem for us, I thought,

“And now he has all these memories that for me were made better because we had sex and for him were tainted because of it. He never felt comfortable telling me. I don’t know what I have to do to get him to trust me. To believe that I’m not going to call it quits and run off with some other person.”

“He didn’t know that what he was feeling was…was any different than what others felt.”

“Oh yeah, and how would you know?” I spit.

She winced and looked away from me. “I don’t. He told me.”

“And what else has he told you that he can’t tell me?” I said. “God, shut up, Mikasa. You have no fucking clue what you’re talking about.”

“He told me that he’s been researching it for months,” she said. “That he was scared to take something you enjoyed away from you. And that he didn’t want to tell you until he was sure…and then when he learned what it was, he couldn’t pretend it was something else anymore.”

I stared at her. “Why would he tell you? You and Jean are the fucking epitome of everything that’s hurt him! You have no fucking idea what it’s like to…to have to hide. Or to be afraid of how people look at you. What problems could you and Jean possibly have that…that would make him feel like he could confide in you?

“Hell, every Christmas Armin and I go home and walk in next to you and Jean, and what the fuck happens? Mom instantly asks me why I haven’t pulled my life together the way you have, in front of Armin. Like Armin and I shouldn’t be taken as seriously as you and Jean even though Armin and I have talked about marriage and Jean continues to grunt whenever you bring up getting a joint bank account. For Christ’s sake.”

I stood from the couch, and forced myself to control my voice. I was getting too loud. I couldn’t let Armin hear me lose my shit or he’d never tell me anything ever again.

“Armin sees people like you – straight people who’ve never thought twice about their name or their fucking pronouns – and he thinks about all the people that bullied him. All the people that made him feel like he couldn’t be himself. So why, the fuck, would he go to you?”

I turned to look at her, and almost tripped over the coffee table.

“Are you fucking crying?”

She shook her head, but wiped a tear away anyway.

“Unbelievable. What, can’t handle being told that where you sit on the Kinsey scale’s a lot comfier than it is for Armin? Can’t handle being told your relationship’s easy? Because it fucking is, Mikasa. Don’t try to argue this with me.”

After all, why else would Jean leave me for her? For my fucking sister. God I hated him so fucking much. Mikasa wanted to talk about sharing a wall between bedrooms.

Jean and I had never been that careless. We’d had the shed, and my jeep, and the laundry room at two AM while the dryer was going, and during it all, during every touch of his hands on me, my ears were perked towards the stairs ready to answer my mom when she asked why I was doing my laundry at two AM.

But he had been that careless with her. He’d never had anything to hide with her.

And I guess he didn’t fucking care if I overheard how little they had to hide in the middle of the night, or worst of all in the middle of the day, when my fucking parents were up and I had a friend over, or had been trying to do homework, or contemplating fucking packing my shit and leaving Minnesota and never coming back here again and seeing his stupid hazel eyes and his stupid cocky grin.

Mikasa let me fume for a bit. She waited for me to cool off, to sit back on the couch, before she said anything.

“Eren,” she said, quietly, “You don’t have to tell me how hard it is for Armin.”

I shook my head. Of course I didn’t, because he already had. “Get the fuck out of my house.”

She stood, placing her hand on my shoulder.

“I said: Get. The fuck. Out.”

She grabbed her pea coat and purse. She shuffled around my living room for her boots. I didn’t hear anything, but I knew she was still crying. I didn’t fucking care. She’d go home to Jean tonight, and he’d take her side. Oh, he wouldn’t agree with her. But he’d take her side, like the little bitch he was.

She stood in the doorway before she left, hesitating.

“Christ, what?”

She looked like she might say sorry, but she also looked like she was going to throw up.

“It’s not as easy as you think.”

“I fucking bet.” God, the nerve. If she were a brother, I’d be throwing her ass on the pavement.

“Just…just please, have Armin call me in the morning?”

I turned her direction.

“Call him yourself.”

She ducked her head away from me, and then she got the fuck out.

In the morning, I didn’t wait for her to call. I couldn’t. As angry as I was with her, I knew myself too well. If I waited until I had forgiven her to say something, if I waited until I wasn’t angry anymore, well.

She probably wouldn’t even remember the argument by the time I said sorry.

So for me, it was best to get apologies out of the way. Just preemptively quitting the I-hate-your-guts-and-I-will-never-forgive-you act for time’s sake.

“Hey,” I said. She answered on the first ring. I’d called on Armin’s phone.

She paused. “Hey.”

“God, I’m a fucking asshole, okay.”

“But you were right,” she said.

I shook my head even though she couldn’t see. “That’s…not why I’m calling, okay. Just, look, I’m really sorry. I was…ugh…I was hurt when Armin didn’t come to me first, and that’s not your fault.”

Ugh, I’d punch myself in the face right now if I could, I swore. I hated doing this shit. And it was strange, because every time I got angry, I consciously knew that I was going to regret it and turn into a huge, embarrassing sap in the morning. Ugh.

Whatever.

“I’m just really sorry,” I said.

She paused again. “It’s okay.”

I sighed, grateful she wasn’t going to make me drag this out. “Alright, I’ll pass the phone over to Armin.”

“Wait,” she said.

“What?”

“Is Jean with you?” she asked.

I had been walking upstairs so that I could give the phone to Armin, but I stopped midway up the stairs.

“What? No…why would he be?”

Another pause. Longer than the last couple. “He didn’t come home last night.”

I leaned against the wall. “What do you mean? Where did he go? I thought he didn’t have class on Thursdays. Wasn’t he home all day?”

“Yeah. But when I got home, we got in a fight. And…he sorta stormed out. He hasn’t come back yet.”

It was my turn to pause. My turn to fucking panic and think about him winding up dead somewhere. I didn’t know who would hurt him, but maybe it wasn’t that. When I was diagnosed with diabetes, I hadn’t taken care of myself at all. I didn’t eat enough or ate too much or took too much insulin…and one time my blood sugar dropped low. I almost passed out walking down the side of a highway and whoever found me had to call an ambulance. I couldn’t remember a damn thing when I woke up in the hospital.

Of course, Jean could have just gotten in a good, old-fashion bar fight too. That was entirely possible and sounded a lot more like something he’d do.

“Eren?” she asked.

“Yeah, yeah,” I said. “You called him?”

“He’s not answering…but his phone’s not dead.”

I got the hint. “I’ll call him.”

“And if he doesn’t answer?”

“I’ll look for him,” I said. “I’ll go to the school. I know where his classes are and where he parks and stuff.”

I waited for her to respond. I knew this wasn’t done. “What if we can’t find him?”

“We will,” I said, “Or we’ll file a missing person’s report or whatever.”

I hated when it was up to me to be the strong one. I couldn’t be the strong one about this. Not when it was Jean…I couldn’t fathom trying to explain to Armin why I was freaking out more than Mikasa was when we found out something terrible had happened.

No. I shook my head to clear it. Jean was just ignoring her. Plain and simple.

“Okay,” she said.

“Mikasa.” Oh, God. I couldn’t believe I was letting myself be such a coward. “Uh, what was the fight about? I mean, are you two uh, okay?”

She would read this as concern for her relationship, I told myself. Nothing else.

Last night, I had kicked her out of the house because of her perfect relationship with Jean and it wasn’t fucking perfect.

I was a piece of shit.

“We’re fine, Eren,” she replied. “Just, you know how he is.”

I did know how he is.

“Alright. I’ll give the phone to Armin. I’ll see what I can do about Jean and get back to you.”

I ran up the stairs the rest of the way. I knocked on the bathroom door – something I’d never have bothered doing before – and when he opened it a sliver, I handed him the phone.

“Mikasa,” I explained.

Then I ran back downstairs to find my own phone.

Chapter Text

Jean

I was just leaving that miserable test when Eren called me. I leaned against the wall in the hallway of the Arts and Sciences building. Students passed me as I dropped my backpack. It thudded to the ground. My phone buzzed in my hand. I stared at it. Mikasa had called like seven times, but I’d ignored it each time.

The first two times, I ignored it because I was still with Marco, and I was still pretending she didn’t exist. My clothes smelled like him. Kind of like honey or the way dew smelled in the morning after a rainy night. There were bruises on my thighs and hickies on my collarbones that I couldn’t explain to her, and even worse, didn’t want to go away.

He’d…he’d been everything I needed. Attentive, more than anything.

Not just the quick fuck I was looking for to distract me.

It wasn’t like that, and it should have been. The car ride this morning should have been awkward as hell, but it wasn’t. The only part that was slightly uncomfortable was turning down breakfast this morning. He had been concerned that I wasn’t eating. He had fucking noticed something that Mikasa hadn’t noticed for months.

The next couple of times I ignored it because I’d been taking my test. The test I’d complained to her about over a week ago and almost every day since. The test that scared the shit out of me. The one I’d been studying for each night, while screaming at my textbook because the letters fucking kept dancing on the page and I couldn’t get past the first sentence. Of course she’d forgotten. She was busy, after all.

But this wasn’t her. This was Eren, my bro. My best friend. I could count on him to keep something from her if I really needed him to. I could count on him more than anyone.

I slid my thumb across my vibrating phone.

“Hey, man,” I said. “What’s up?”

“Where are you?”

“Class…where I always am…at ten AM on Friday…” Did anyone fucking pay attention?

“Sorry…Mikasa seemed to think you fled the country or something. I was just wondering.”

I felt the first twinge of something in my chest. Guilt, I realized. An emotion I was only barely acquainted with.

“Yeah…did she uh, say anything else?”

“You guys got in a fight. Nothing else though.” It was sickening hearing him say it like he was reassuring me. He didn’t have to reassure me. He…God, he didn’t owe me anything. I had no right to keep secrets from him, least of all when it regarded his sister.

“Yeah…listen, wanna hang tonight? Just you and me?”

“Why just me and you?” he asked.

“Well…” I wasn’t sure. It didn’t feel right having Armin there, as much as I loved the guy. He was…he wasn’t Eren. “Just because.”

“Sure,” he said. “Your place or mine?”

“I don’t know. I’m not ready to see Mikasa yet.”

He sighed. “Does she work tonight?”

“She’s probably got a late shift.” Although I knew her work day technically ended at five, she’d be there until eight or later.

“Well, I can ask her to come here tonight,” he said, “I’m sure she won’t mind hanging with Armin.”

“Cool.” I was going to hang up then, but he said my name. “What?”

“Uh…nevermind. Are you free now?”

Actually, I was. I had been contemplating whether or not to go back to Marco’s. I’d left my jacket there. I could buy another, but I liked that one, and I liked him. Still, he probably had work and who knew if he wanted to ever see me again.

“Yeah,” I said.

“I’ll head over now.”

I beat him home. I got inside and changed immediately, although there was no way he’d know that I had been wearing the same thing I wore the night before. I changed several times. Enough to get angry at myself and wonder why I was overthinking what I would be wearing when I wasn’t even leaving my apartment.

I settled on jeans and my Packers sweatshirt. Eren hated this sweatshirt. He was a Vikings fan and he was still pissed Minnesota’s team sucked. Since I was born in Wisconsin, I had been raised loving the Packers. Well, loving them as much as I loved football, which had been significantly more in high school when I was still on a football team.

That nerd fucking knocked on my door, when I had told him how many times he could just walk in.

I rolled my eyes as I opened the door.

Upon seeing my sweatshirt, he deadpanned and sighed deeply.

He shoved me aside as he walked through the entryway without taking his shoes off.

“So,” he began, “Gonna tell me what the fuck is going on?”

He sat on the couch, and for a moment it was more like he had tipped. I squinted at him. His normally radiant emerald eyes were darkened by purple circles. His skin, so much darker than mine, was paler than usual. I didn’t think it was just from the sunless sky in the fall either. His dark brown hair hung limply in all directions. He hadn’t showered or shaved.

“Dude,” I said, “You look like shit.”

“Yeah, I do that,” he said, “so you don’t feel insecure around me. Did it work?”

I laughed despite myself as I sat down in my recliner. He was hunched over, his fingers already fiddling with one of Mikasa’s magazines on the coffee table in front of him. His foot was tapping too.

“Does anything ever dent my ego?” I asked, with more confidence than I actually had.

“I figured,” he mumbled. “Seriously, though. What’s going on?”

I hesitated. I didn’t know what to expect with him coming over. We saw each other all the time, but rarely without our significant others. I kinda just wanted to kick it with him and pull out the fucking Nintendo 64 or something. Really, if I was honest, I wanted to stop being twenty one and rewind a few years to the good ol’ days. I couldn’t do that with anyone but Eren.

But he wanted answers, and there was no point in beating around the bush with him.

“I don’t know, dude,” I said. “Mikasa…she hasn’t been the same lately. I can’t shake the feeling she’s gonna leave me here soon.”

He scoffed. “You two? Pff. She’s never gonna leave you.”

His fingers started tracing the woodwork instead of screwing with the magazine. He could never keep still.

“I’m serious. She doesn’t talk anymore. She always comes home late. She takes hour long showers. She’s always at your place.”

“She’s friends with Armin. I’m her brother,” he said, but even I could hear the doubt in his voice. He leaned back in the couch, sinking into the leather, and laced his fingers together. The gesture was so familiar it was almost like we were in the past. Only he didn’t just lace his fingers together these days. He squeezed so tight his knuckles turned white.

“She’s been doing it a lot more. She never used to sleep there,” I said.

He nodded.

“I think it’s because…you know, I don’t work or anything. She’s got to be getting sick of it.”

“That’s not your fault,” he argued. “Just like it’s not my fault I can’t enlist.”

I frowned. I hadn’t thought about enlisting in ages. Eren and I were supposed to enlist together, once upon a time. Until he was diagnosed with diabetes and I decided I wouldn’t go without him. I wouldn’t have made it anyway, with all the trouble I had reading.

“I don’t think that’s the point though.”

He nodded. We were quiet for a moment. I wasn’t sure what else to say and I knew he was still turning that thought over in his head.

“Where were you last night?” he asked. His voice was so quiet I almost didn’t hear it. My eyebrows rose. I couldn’t lie to him.

“I went to Shamrock’s,” I said,

He didn’t get the significance. He glanced at me, his body sprawling out in my living room like a stretching cat. “You talk to Reiner about it? Does he still work there? I bet he’s fucking useless when it comes to women, though.”

I shook my head. “No, Eren.”

Now Eren’s head whipped my way. He stared at me, his face hardened and angry. Some people had laugh lines.Eren had lines in all the places of his face he’d practiced crumpling up into anger over the years. Mostly his forehead. I winced. I was in for it.

“You didn’t,” he said.

“I went home with someone,” I admitted. I tugged at my hoodie, pulling it aside far enough to reveal one of the hickies.

“With who?” he asked, his voice raising instantly.

“Uh, well. All I know is his name is Marco.”

“You’re telling me, you fucked a complete fucking stranger last night?” I nodded. He stood and began pacing back and forth like he always did when he was upset. He laced his fingers behind his neck.

“You idiot,” he yelled, “Do you even know how fucking dangerous that is? And no one would have fucking known where you were if you’d gone missing. If he’d decided he wanted to chop you up into pieces. For Christ’s sake Jean –”

“I’m not a teenage girl.” I stood now, too. “I can look after myself.”

“Clearly you can’t. I can’t believe you either! One fucking fight and you’re already fucking someone else? What the hell, man?”

“It wasn’t like that,” I yelled back. It totally was. “She’s been like this for months. She’s not…she’s not my girlfriend anymore. We’re almost strangers living together. We don’t hang out, we don’t talk, we don’t have sex, we don’t –”

“Shut up for one second,” Eren ordered, raising his hand and looking away from me like I’d just turned inside out, and he was going to throw up or something. “Did you leave my sister because you guys weren’t having sex.”

“I didn’t leave your sister,” I said. “We…we’re not broken up, I don’t think. We can still figure it out.”

“Jean, answer me.”

His eyes were so glassy and big. The rest of his face was hard, but if you looked at his eyes it was like looking at a young boy who’d just learned Santa Claus wasn’t real.

“It wasn’t like that.”

“Then what was it like?” he said.

I wasn’t sure entirely. “What does it fucking matter to you anyway? You’ve never thought I was good enough for Mikasa. You’ve been pissed at me since the moment I told you we were dating! And that was years ago!”

I turned away from him, but his hand latched onto my arm.

“Don’t you dare,” he said. “Don’t you dare make this about my fuck-ups.”

I began to say something, but he interrupted again.

“Lying doesn’t suit you at all, Jean.”

His fingers squeezed, and for a moment I thought I was going to collapse to the floor.

“You know for a fact, I never thought you weren’t good enough for her.”

When he didn’t correct me about saying he’d been angry at me for dating her, it confirmed he had been. That made the tiny bundle of guilt in my chest swarm like a fucking heard of bees and I tried to worm my way out of his grasp. His fingers were digging in so hard…

I ignored the pain. “I didn’t leave her because she wasn’t having sex with me.”

“Then why?”

“Because…I wanted to feel loved again, okay? God,” I spit, “Let me go.”

“And did it work? Did you get what you wanted from that complete fucking stranger?” he yelled, still holding onto my arm.

“Yeah, I did! Sorry I can’t be as perfect as you! Not everyone is like you. You do it all fucking backwards.” I hadn’t meant to say it. These were thoughts of mine I’d held in for so long.

He let go of me, and I teetered on my feet for a second from the momentum of his hand letting me go. I gripped onto the arm rest of my recliner to keep from falling.

“What – what do you mean?” Oh God, his voice. Raspy and low in his throat. I’d heard it like that a few times. It was rare in comparison to his angry screaming. It was a special occasion when he sounded like that.

“I mean you – you fall in love right away. And you…you just go along with it and it takes you forever before you realize – oh yeah, you’d like to put your dick in them, too. You’ve always been like that.”

He stared at me, but I felt like he wasn’t seeing me. I rubbed my arm where he’d gripped onto it.

“Most people aren’t like you. Most people do it how I did. They know they can’t fall in love right away, but they can fuck. They can fuck, and it’s almost as good. It’s almost like the real thing for a little bit.”

He stared at me still. I thought maybe we were going to move on now. Get back to our rhythm. Fight. Make up. Talk. Repeat.

But he didn’t. Instead, he shoved me hard in the chest. My eyes widened as I finally did topple over.

Even as my ass hit the ground like an anvil, even as he screamed something incoherent to me, all I could think as I fell and crumpled into the carpeting agonizingly slowly, was: he hasn’t laid a hand on me like that since I left him.

“Selfish asshole,” he snarled, looking up at the ceiling. He jerked his head toward me, to yell more, probably. But then his face melted into worry, and he knelt down beside me on the floor.

“Jean?”

I couldn’t respond. I couldn’t breathe.

“Jean!”

I gasped when the air finally came back to me. I choked for a second longer, coughing and sputtering on the floor while gripping my stomach.

“What the hell?” Eren choked. “I barely touched you. You used to be able to take a hit, what the hell happened?”

“Yeah fucking right,” I spit. “There are trucks that could have ran me over and done less damage.”

Eren didn’t listen to me. “No. No really, Jean I barely touched you. What the hell, are you…here. Come here.”

And before I knew it, he was reaching for the hem of my hoodie and lifting it. I tried to scramble away, but I was weak and winded already. He pinned me, and lifted my shirt.

His jaw dropped.

“Oh my God. What…Jean, what have you done to yourself?”

Now I was scrambling away and covering my face so he wouldn’t have to see how much that stung. His face was disgusted looking at my body, when it had once looked at me like a Greek God. And now he’d seen it, he’d seen the real reason Mikasa had lost interest. My stomach was so massive I was amazed the sweat shirt had been able to hide it at all.

“Shut up!” I screamed. On wobbly feet, I forced myself to stand. I almost tipped again, and then Eren was catching me in his arms. I nudged him away, but he didn’t let me go. He kept his hands on my waist and it made me wish I could curl up and disappear. “You got to keep your metabolism after high school, I didn’t.”

“What are you talking about? You’re skinny as a rail and you’re taller than me. You had twenty pounds on me in high school… Do you – Do you not see how thin you are?”

I shook my head. “Don’t be a smart ass. I’m nothing in comparison to…to like, Armin. I don’t see you ever give Armin shit for being thin. And he’s…he’s really thin. I bet you don’t mind it on him.”

I hated myself for even bringing it up. He didn’t need to know how jealous I was. Eren had enough things to brag about, let alone his petit, hairless boyfriend that looked attractive in anything. I wondered how it happened, if Eren had always found my size unattractive, even before he met Armin, or if Armin made him realize it.

“Armin is way shorter than you. Armin has always been thin…he didn’t just, just suddenly shred twenty pounds like you,” Eren argued.

“It wasn’t sudden,” I argued, “And it isn’t even close to twenty pounds. Five, maybe.”

He jerked his head for a second like he’d narrowly avoided being hit by a bullet and then his jaw dropped again. “Give me your hands.”

“What?”

"Give, me, your hands.”

I did as he said. He reached out to me, and for a moment I thought he was going to hold my hands in his, but he didn’t. He grasped my wrists and held them in the air. Then with a little more purpose, he curled his pointer fingers to touch his thumbs. His fingers made perfect circles around my wrists, without touching my wrists at all.

And I felt…exhilarated.

He was right! I was thinner! I was finally getting somewhere. The dieting was paying off…I’d do anything to make more progress. I considered when I could find time to start running.

“Do you see?” he asked, still wrapping his fingers around my wrists, like shackles.

“I know,” I said. I grinned at him. He looked at me like he was going to hit me.

“Have you been taking care of yourself?” he asked.

“Obviously.” I gestured by shrugging my shoulders generally toward our arrangement.

Something in his eyes darkened then…but I was so high I couldn’t hardly think about it. I couldn’t wait to weigh myself. I felt like I had last night…watching Marco eye me up and down while we fucked in his bedroom. Watching him want me, unable to get enough of me.

And…

I didn’t think. I just did it.

It was so simple. We were standing so close. His hands were practically in mine.

I kissed him.

Chapter Text

Eren

Jean’s lips met mine. It was like those books with pages that were meant to be flipped through rapidly, and as you watched the pages flicker each drawing on each page changed minutely so that over hundreds of pages it became a tiny movie.

This kiss only lasted a second, but each and every page had taken hours to create, in my mind. His body moving toward mine, millimeter by millimeter and page by page. Slowly watching the progression happen, slowly taking in the feel of his lips against mine, his wrists in my fingers, the warmth of his body…

And then he pulled away, and all of those pages collapsed into each other. It happened so quickly it was barely noticeable. Did it even really happen?

Jean’s eyes widened. “Oh – Oh fuck, Eren. I’m so sorry. Fuck - God, what the hell am I doing?”

I still couldn’t respond to him, even as he raked his hands through his hair. Even as his jaw dropped and he screwed his eyes shut like he had just gotten the world’s worst migraine.

“Dude…I’m…I don’t know what I was thinking,” he said again, taking a step toward me.

I had two options.

Kiss him again, was the first. I knew he wouldn’t deny me. If he hadn’t denied a fucking stranger, and if he’d bothered to kiss me, I knew he wouldn’t turn me down if I kissed him again. He was sorry, but that was because he thought I was mad. If it turned out I wasn’t, he wouldn’t care.

The second was to leave. I didn’t want to leave. The sight of his stomach made me physically ill. In high school he’d been so much bigger than me. He had weight lifted with me every day after school. He was on the football team, for fuck’s sake. He’d come over to my place the day before a game, and we’d make enough food to last a week. Usually, I made him pancakes and he made omelets. I swore he would eat a dozen pancakes and still have room for two omelets and a protein shake. I used to tease him about it.

Oh God, I used to tease him about getting fat.

I’d never fucking meant it, and certainly never believed it would happen, but God…had I done this to him?

I shook my head, in denial.

Stay or leave.

If I stayed I could make sure he ate.

But if I stayed with him, I knew I’d fuck him. There was no pretending that kiss didn’t happen. A thousand memories of those lips had just crawled out of a grave and there was no burying them now.

Armin had given me permission to fuck other people, as long as I didn’t have feelings for them. That meant I couldn’t have sex with Jean.

And that was when I realized, the only cheating that had any significance to Armin, was emotional cheating.

And in that case, I had been cheating on Armin with Jean for our entire relationship.

“Eren?” Jean asked. “You gotta say something, man.”

I perked my head up, and looked into his stupid beautiful eyes and saw how weak he was. Saw how weak his body was, how weak his head was, and thought, shit.

I’m still worse.

“God, I fucking hate you,” I snarled.

I turned around and left before I could see his expression.

I walked outside into the parking lot. It wasn’t quite raining. Outside, it was between air and water and my lungs were so fragile if I had stayed out there I would have drowned in the fog.

But I got into my car and sat in the driver’s seat.

Then I slammed my fist into everything I could reach in that tiny space. I accidentally honked the horn like eight times and hit my rearview mirror so hard it spun completely around and the mirror cracked.

I saw my eyes in the mirror, shattered into pieces, and then I screamed. Just once.

I settled down, eventually. My breaths were long and deep. I felt like it was pointless to even move my limbs, but forced myself to anyway.

I pulled my phone out of my pocket. Mikasa was at work, and I hadn’t at any point asked her to go to my place for a while like I told Jean I would. I hadn’t even called her to tell her Jean was okay, and that was just one more thing to add on to the long list of fucked up shit I’ve done because of Jean.

She answered when I called. I could hear people in the background, but no one screaming about life or death anyways.

“Your boyfriend is fine,” I said. “He was in class.”

“Oh shit. That’s right…he had a test.”

“Yeah,” I said. I hoped I sounded like I was indifferent. Or at least, the usual amount of irritated she would expect from me.

Rain started to spatter against my windshield. I put my key in ignition and my car revved to life. The windshield wipers scraped and squeaked against the glass.

“Did he say where he was last night?” she asked.

“No,” I replied. “He didn’t want to talk about it.”

“Well, thank you for calling him.”

“Don’t have to thank me.”

She paused. “Can I come over to your place tonight?”

I sighed, and despite how mad I was with Jean, I was mad with her again too.

“Why? Aren’t you going to talk to Jean? Like, figure your shit out or something?”

Someone’s voice had risen in the background. She mumbled something to them and it was really loud on the other end for a few seconds. “I gotta go.”

“Whatever. If you want to make a shitty situation even shittier, that’s your business,” I said.

“Eren.” She paused, like she was debating whether or not to say something. “I’m not in love with him anymore.”

I thought maybe my brain had entirely stopped working, because the reaction I was supposed to have to that didn’t happen. I laughed. And I laughed way too hard. So hard she said my name a couple times and asked if I was okay.

“Of course you aren’t,” I spit, “You never loved him at all, did you? Why would you?”

Then I hung up on her.

She called me five times on my way home, and five more times as I drove aimlessly around my neighborhood avoiding my house. Eventually I just pulled over to think.

If I set Jean’s issues aside, and I set Mikasa’s issues aside, I still had a fuck ton of shit I had to think about.

Primarily, Armin. Armin wore a ring on his finger that I’d given him over a year ago. I wouldn’t say we were specifically engaged, in the sense that I had never said “Hey, will you marry me?” I just didn’t think that was something Armin and I ever had to do. It was kind of obvious to us, and most people who knew us, that we were a package deal. We were going to do the whole bit. Get married. Buy a house. Have kids. All that.

It had never really been what I wanted. However, if God had walked up to me and had said, “Eren, you know what? You clearly don’t know what the fuck to do with your life and I’m tired of watching you screw it up. So I’m here to fix it, because that’s what I – God, your Lord and savior – do. Lay it on me son, what do you want to get out of this life?” I would have still told him I had no clue and that he should probably go ask Armin.

But everything was falling apart. Jean had kissed me and I couldn’t ignore it. Mikasa didn’t love him anymore and now I couldn’t be mad at him for cheating on her and I couldn’t be mad at him for kissing me. Mikasa was going to break up with him…and he was going to be single.

And the worst part of it was, he still wouldn’t pick me. Even if I wasn’t in a relationship, he wouldn’t pick me and turn around and tell Mikasa he was dating her brother. Not the way he’d done to me in high school.

But that didn’t stop me from wanting it, desperately. Even if it meant being in secret.

I had to consider if a relationship with Jean in secret was preferable to a relationship with Armin out in the open.

I glanced to my right, and reached to open my glove compartment. Inside, there was a photo of eighteen year old Jean in his red, white, and black football uniform. He had his arms crossed, his helmet being held loosely in his left arm. He wore that cocky grin he always pulled off better than me and for a moment I considered whether or not I had a lighter in here somewhere so I could set it on fire.

I loved him, and I loved Armin. I had loved him the entire time I had loved Armin, and I had loved them equally, and separately without any competition between them. As much as I hated Jean for dating Mikasa, I had wanted him to be happy with her. And as much as I had felt guilty for loving someone else while dating Armin, I hadn’t wanted to break his heart. Especially when I never intended to try to intervene with Mikasa, and my love for Jean had never taken away from my relationship with Armin.

I had been okay with how things were. Was I happy? No, but who the hell was ever happy anymore?

I had been okay with marrying Armin, because I loved him and I wanted him to be happy.

I had been okay with Jean marrying Mikasa if it came to it, for the same reasons.

I was getting by.

Everything I’d ever done in my life was to make other people happy. And to answer my own question, no one was ever happy anymore.

My thumb stroked Jean’s stupid picture before I crumpled it up and shoved it back in the glove box.

I had to break up with Armin.

But first, I had to open my car door. Because seconds after that thought occurred to me, my stomach contents were exiting. I hurled onto the shoulder of the high way.

I knew how it was going to look.

Armin comes out and tells me he can’t have sex anymore.

A day later I break up with him.

Oh God.

And I wouldn’t know how to explain myself.

I drove the rest of the way home. Armin would still be at the office. I sat on the couch, my posture stiff, watching the minutes blink by on my phone waiting for him to get here.

When he did, I jumped up off the couch and pulled him into my arms before he could say anything.

“Uh…hi?” he asked, once I let him go. He dropped his brief case and pulled off his Jacket, not even bothering to hang it up. “Is everything okay?”

I choked for a second. I had no idea how to do this. I’d only ever learned the heartbroken part. So I held onto him longer, until he held me back. I second guessed myself, before I realized that this wasn’t what was best for him. Marrying me, when I could never put my heart fully in it wasn’t what he deserved. I had been okay with loving two men, but I had cheated on him. And just because he didn’t know I’d done it, doesn’t mean it didn’t matter.

He deserved better than me.

“You know I love you, right?” I asked. He glanced up at me. I pulled his blond bangs out of his eyes. His eyebrows were quirked up like he was trying to solve me.

“Of course,” he said.

I hesitated again.

“Eren, you’re scaring me,” he said. I kissed his forehead. I had to. It was the last damn thing I’d ever get to do, and I was going to do it. “What’s going on?”

“I cheated on you,” I said.

His face relaxed then. I saw something in his eyes that took me a moment to define. It wasn’t what I was expecting. Relief.

Oh, it stung. God fuck it hurt. I’d been through fucking enough today, I couldn’t handle this shit too. I felt like screaming until I went deaf.

“Is that all?” he said. He had the nerve to chuckle.

“No, Armin,” I said. “I don’t mean I slept with someone.”

First he looked confused, and then all his features softened and he looked like a porcelain doll with the eyes of a child lost in the rain. Oh fuck my heart was fluttering in my chest, unsure how to handle the onslaught of pain.

“What do you mean then?”

I pulled him into our living room. He sat down on the loveseat. I knew I couldn’t sit. I laced my fingers behind my head and paced around our coffee table.

“Last night, you said all that mattered to you was if I loved someone else,” I said.

I saw him flinch. He still looked confused, but I could tell he was starting to get it. Nothing confused him for long. Not even me, as tangled up as my reasons for my decisions were.

“And I hadn’t realized…I hadn’t realized that cheating was anything but, ya know. Cheating. Fucking someone else,” I said, almost like it was to myself. “That’s the only way I’d ever heard it used, and I hadn’t realized…I didn’t know it could be other things. So I didn’t know it, but I was cheating on you. Since the start.”

“Eren,” Armin said, “Sit still.”

I halted mid-step and turned to look at him.

“What are you trying to say?” he said.

I shoved my hands in my pockets so he wouldn’t see them tremble. “I love someone else.”

Armin didn’t react at first. He was analyzing me. My mannerisms, my words, he was probably analyzing every decision I’d made since we started dating.

“But I’ve always loved you too!” I said. “It…it wasn’t like I was…settling.”

But it almost was…It was so close I thought about taking that back. I didn’t want to lie to him. I decided I shouldn’t. Enough damage was done, adding another bomb to the mix wouldn’t be worth it.

“So, you love two people?” he asked.

“Uh…yeah. I mean, when we started dating I just assumed it would…I would get over it. Thought dating you would help me move on. And I guess…It didn’t go away. I didn’t even realize it never really went away because I stopped thinking about it, until…”

Until when exactly? Last night, when I told Mikasa how comfy it must be dating the opposite gender? This morning, when I pictured him in a ditch? When he answered my call and told me he wanted it to be just us? When I saw his frail body? When he kissed me?

I couldn’t tell for sure. It all blended together now.

“Until I told you I was ace?” he asked.

“What?” I said, returning my attention to him. “What – no. God no. You have to believe me. You coming out has nothing to deal with this. Nothing.”

He looked at me like he wasn’t quite convinced, but said nothing about it.

“I didn’t know you felt that way about Jean,” he said, instead.

I gawked at him for probably an entire minute before he gave me a small smile and looked at the floor.

“I suppose it makes sense,” he said, “You two are the only two people in the world that could ever be so angry about nothing. The only two people I know, who will burn the world down trying to put out a fire.”

Every muscle in my body deflated. “You knew it was Jean?”

“Well who else would it be? Who else have you known that long and kept in your life, that you loved even before me?” He laughed then. “It’s kind of obvious, now that I think about it. You wouldn’t believe how flustered and moody you get around him.”

“Pff, I’m always flustered and moody,” I mumbled. He laughed.

“True. But, it’s different I guess. You were never like that with me.”

My chest pinched. “Armin… You never pissed me off or did anything annoying. I had no reason to…”

He shrugged.

I finally sat down. I was still tapping my feet on the ground.

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

He didn’t respond at first. “Well, thank you for being honest.”

“I should have been honest with you from the start,” I said.

“Yeah. You dropped the ball there.”

I laughed until I cried. I’d never had this many emotions run through me in one day before. It was a lot, even for me. My personal record. It felt good to wipe the tears away.

“I didn’t mean to love him,” I said. “It just happened.”

Armin laughed. “You’ve always had too much love to give and not enough places to put it.”

I shivered at how similar what he was saying was to what Jean had said. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Armin said. “I uh…actually, I have to tell you something.”

My head perked up. “What?”

“So I told you I’m ace…” he started, “But I waited you know, until I was sure. Like one hundred percent certain that it was true and that I wouldn’t go back on my word. I did that for your sake, but Mikasa told me you’d have preferred me to just tell you when I started to doubt. I guess, I’m guilty of holding stuff in too. I…I know I don’t want to have sex. And I’m pretty sure I don’t…don’t really want to be in romantic relationships either…which is probably part of the reason why I didn’t mind if you had sex with someone else besides me.”

There were a lot of thoughts in my head at that point, so naturally, I picked the least significant and most offensive one to speak out loud. “Did you already tell Mikasa this?”

He shook his head. “I figured…you’re her brother. I couldn’t really expect her to keep it from you, if I said I was thinking about breaking up with you. She can be so overprotective sometimes…I didn’t want to upset her. Even though I wouldn’t blame her if she was mad.”

My heart finally swelled a little bit, after an entire day of it being abused like a punching bag. I almost laughed. Of course, we break up and only then does he decide to trust me enough to tell me what’s on his mind.

We were quiet for a while, each of us contemplating the other’s confession. I wasn’t quite sure what Armin meant. If he just didn’t want to be in a relationship right now – I knew he’d always wanted to travel and see the world with me, maybe he was going to do that alone – or if he was telling me he’d never love again.

It kind of felt like he’d never love again, or maybe he never did. I wasn’t sure, but it wasn’t as depressing as it sounded. Coming from him, it sounded kind of liberating.

I realized that if he’d never loved me at all, and if he wasn’t hurt right now in the least, I wasn’t angry with him. I wasn’t hurt. I wasn’t going to consider running away and never coming back, or breaking any of his shit, like I had with Jean.

We were okay. I smiled. I never thought it would be this easy. To think I almost didn’t go through with it.

“I love you,” he said, “as much as I ever have. Just not…not like that, I don’t think.”

“I love you too,” I said. It was true, and it was that way, but I knew it wouldn’t hang around like Jean’s had. My love for him wouldn’t be a plague. He and I would be friends. It would never be awkward or uncomfortable, and that was better than any future where I married him just because I loved him enough to not look for something better.

“Now what?” I asked.

“Well, we still have a couple months on our lease. I’m not ready to move out…”

“Me neither.”

“So, we’ll live together until it ends?” he asked.

I nodded. He smiled. I did too.

“Should we tell anyone?” he asked.

“No,” I said, before I could stop myself. “Please don’t, not yet.”

He nodded, and more importantly, he didn’t ask me to explain why.

It wasn’t until later that night, when I was alone on the couch and Mikasa (who I didn’t speak to) and Armin were talking quietly in his room (officially his room, not mine, we’d decided) that I thought about how breaking up with Armin hadn’t really changed my situation. I still loved Jean. Mikasa still didn’t love Jean.

Every time I closed my eyes, I felt his lips on mine.

Chapter Text

Marco

I woke up later than I should have on Saturday morning. When I did wake up, it wasn’t even because I just happened to wake up. I’d heard my phone buzzing on my nightstand in my sleep.

Stupidly, I had jumped out of bed thinking it might be Jean. I’d forgotten that I hadn’t given him my number except in my dreams.

I glanced at my phone screen, debating whether or not I should answer.

I wasn’t under any obligation to talk to Hitch. We’d broken up, and to say the least she hadn’t made it seem like she wanted to be friends after.

I sighed. I answered it anyway. “Hello?”

“Meet me at Starbucks,” she said.

“Hitch…what is this about?” I tried not to make it sound like a groan. There wasn’t any reason she couldn’t say whatever she had to say on the phone. And if this was about her amending our friendship, well…she’d have to at least try, for fuck’s sake.

“I’ll tell you when you get there,” she said. “Our table, at noon. Okay?”

“You should have asked ahead of time. I could be busy, you know,” I said.

She laughed and then tried to cover it up by putting her phone against her shoulder, like she always did when she was on the phone with her mom.

“Noon. See you then,” she said.

I sighed before stumbling in the general direction of my bathroom to shower and get ready.

I was there before her, of course. I didn’t understand why she even bothered setting up a meeting time if she was just going to blatantly ignore it. She didn’t show up until twelve thirty. When she did, she didn’t even say hi to me or acknowledge that I was there. She first got in line, a line that was impressively long, ordered her ice coffee with no sweetener and walked over to our table.

We’d met at this spot, and we’d sat here a thousand times. Even though it shouldn’t, this time felt exactly the same as all the others.

“Hey,” I said.

“Oh my God,” she said, “Did you just wake up?”

I ignored her. “What’s this about?”

“’Cause your clothes are all wrinkled.”

“Yeah, I hear that happens to fabric,” I spit. “Will you tell me what’s happening?”

That rubbed the smirk off her face. She took a long sip of her iced coffee through the straw. She did it in a way that I could somehow clearly understand was meant to be sexy or distracting, but it sort of made me feel like I was going to gag. A nearby man on his lap top watched though, so I guessed she was doing a good job.

“Do you remember that time like….a month ago, we had sex in my car at my parent’s house?” she asked.

“Jesus, Hitch,” I hissed. “People can hear you.”

“And? Excuse me, sir,” she said, to my horror, leaning toward the man on his lap top, “Am I disturbing your google search of…dogs wearing sombreros?”

The man turned bright red and so did I.

“Hitch,” I hissed, nudging her over the tiny checkered print table. “Why do you ask?”

Her pale green eyes met mine. As overly-confident as her expression was, her eyes were a bit blood shot. It might have seemed like an insignificant detail, but Hitch never left the house unless she was ready to be ambushed by a surprise photo-shoot in the middle of the street. Now that I looked at her, she had missed a few strands of hair with her curler, this morning. Her sandy blond hair had a few stray, straight strands. She didn’t even have lipstick on.

“Are you okay?” I asked, with genuine concern now.

“Do you remember that time?”

“Yeah. It’s not really the type of memory you can forget.” I considered telling her that if I could forget it, I certainly would.

“And remember I had you pull out because I’d left my purse inside and I didn’t want to run through the snow to –”

“Yeah. Believe me, I remember everything in plenty of detail. Why?” I asked.

As soon as I asked it out loud, I knew. I lifted my finger to hush her before she spoke.

“Oh my God,” I said. “You’re not…?”

She bit her lip. She wouldn’t make eye contact with me.

For a second, my mind went numb. All the sounds of the café, the expresso machine, the blenders, the people calling orders, the costumers chatting in line, it all went completely silent. All the motion around me, the man tapping his pencil, the woman in the recliner turning her page, Hitch blinking innocently at me…It all became too quick for me to handle and I closed my eyes and rubbed them.

I snapped out of it, shaking my head and forcing myself to breath slowly.

“You’re pregnant?” I asked. “When did you – how did you find out? How long have you kept this from me?”

She let out a shaky breath. It was so out of place coming from a woman with such a space-consuming ego. It scared the shit out of me. “Well, I was a week late so I got a pregnancy test…And I guess, I’ve known a week. I didn’t know if –”

“You should tell me about my baby?” I snapped.

She paused. Her face became so still, like a painting. So serious. I couldn’t even stand her like this. It was better when we were breaking up and she was throwing my clothes out the window.

“Yeah.” She shrugged. “I didn’t know if you’d want to know. I didn’t know if I was going to keep it, either.”

I sat back in my seat. I rubbed the back of my neck. “Are you?”

“That depends,” she shrugged. “I’m not raising it alone.”

“So, as long as I’m willing to raise it, you won’t get an abortion?” I clarified.

She nodded.

“Then I will.” I couldn’t believe what I was saying. It was the biggest decision of my life and I wasn’t even bothering to think it through. But if she was willing to raise it, shouldn’t I be willing too? I didn’t feel right leaving it up to her, essentially forcing her to get an abortion just because I wouldn’t do it.

Hitch didn’t even want kids when we were dating. I was the one that had casually brought it up to her a couple times, because I did want kids.

This was probably my only chance to raise a child that was biologically mine.

I continued, “I don’t know how it will work…but I have a spare bedroom. I can take the baby on weekends…or if you prefer I could take it week days, once you’re no longer breast feeding.”

“I don’t mean just raising it, Marco.”

I perked my head up at her. Her eyes had turned venomous again, like I’d said something profoundly offensive.

“What? What do you mean…what else would you expect from me?”

“Listen,” she said, placing her hand on mine. Not in an affectionate way. In a condescending way. The way you might put your hand on a child before you explain to them not to eat glue. “Consider my parents. Consider yours. What do they both have in common?”

“They’re both no longer responsible for our decisions?” I ventured.

She laughed, and for a moment I thought she knew that I was gay. That I was being a fucking hypocrite as we spoke.

“I think you mean they’re both super Catholic,” she said. “Either they never know about this baby, or we tell them we’re getting married at the same time they find out I’m pregnant.”

I leaned forward in my seat again. I squeezed her hand. The right way, for the record.

“You don’t want to marry me.”

“And?”

“And I don’t want to marry you,” I said.

Again, her expression and demeanor didn’t change.

“Hitch, please. Don’t make me choose.”

“What do you care?” she asked, “You’d be unhappy with any woman you ended up with. So why not me? Get it over with.”

She shrugged, but I almost choked on air. “Wh-what?” I sputtered.

She smiled knowingly at me. “Why do you think we broke up, Marco? Did you honestly think it was your idea?”

I had. We’d been fighting so much. Every night it seemed, it started off as something insignificant. She hadn’t done the laundry. I hadn’t told her I’d be late coming home. She’d told her mother that I didn’t like her cooking.

Small things, that rolled down hill and became huge things.

She’d fucked someone else. I hadn’t remembered our anniversary. She’d disappeared for a week on a vacation with some friends without telling me. I’d told my parents she wouldn’t ever have kids with me.

And so I’d finally broken up with her.

“How?” I asked. She knew exactly what I meant.

“You were saying a man’s name in your sleep,” she said. “I didn’t think anything of it until you introduced me to your boss a couple weeks later.”

“Thomas,” I said.

“Yeah,” she said, “It’s hard to get more obviously gay than him. Or annoying, for that matter. You could do better.”

It all made sense. She’d started getting so irritable after that day. Yelling at me for things that never used to bother her before. She had wanted me to break up with her. And it was just like Hitch too. She wouldn’t let me off the hook by doing it herself.

“So, how ‘bout it sweetheart?” she asked.

I nodded. “Yeah. Okay.”

“When do you want to tell our parents?” she asked.

I shrugged. Any time would be too soon, so did it really matter? “Thanksgiving?” I suggested.

She nodded. Then she stood from her seat, and left me there without even looking over her shoulder.

On my drive back home, I had reached for my phone to call Ymir. I felt like I had to tell somebody or I was going to burst. I had to get it out of my thoughts, and if anybody would be able to lay it out flat for me to look at, it would be Ymir. But I didn’t call her. Saying it out loud would be giving in. There was a part of me that still hoped I’d find an opportunity to back out of this.

Not raising the kid. The longer I drove, the easier it was to accept that whoever they were, they were part of my life now. I didn’t want to back out of that.

But marrying Hitch? My parents would be thrilled, but my parents didn’t know her as well as they thought they did. If Hitch could do anything, she could perform. She could be anyone’s best friend. I’d never known someone to be able to decide in the first five seconds of meeting someone what their worst fear was, their biggest weakness, and their biggest insecurity was. She fed on that sort of thing, and my parents had an endless supply.

It was actually surprising I’d kept my sexuality from her for so long. She’d probably suspected it before then, but had been waiting for a confirmation.

When I reached my apartments and climbed the three floors to my apartment, I was about ready to fall asleep in my entryway if need be. Being awake was too much at the moment.

Except, there was someone sitting outside my door.

Jean.

He didn’t notice me at first. His fingers were tapping at his phone screen. He had headphones in his ears, and he was nodding his head to whatever the beat was.

When I approached, he jumped and then stood up. He pulled out his head phones and tucked them into his jean pocket with his phone.

The corners of my vision went blurry as I zoomed in on him. Handsome as ever, and rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. He smiled at me, not cocky so much as apologetic.

Oh hell. Jesus. Whatever it was, he was forgiven.

“Uh, hey. Sorry…I’m guessing you’re probably already trying to figure out a way to politely turn me down. But uh, I’m not here for uh…that. I just forgot my jacket at your place. I didn’t know how else to contact you.” He gestured to the front door of my apartment.

I stared at my door for a second like I’d never seen it before.

“Marco?” he asked. “Sorry. I don’t have to go in. It’s leather. I think I left it in your bedroom but I can’t be sure.”

“Right,” I said. “Uh, yeah.” I put my key in the lock and twisted the door knob. I paused before stepping inside. “You can come in if you want.” The invitation wasn’t as innocent as it sounded. I couldn’t summon any guilt about it either. He’d take the hint, or he’d pretend he hadn’t heard it. Either way, I was probably spending my Saturday in bed.

He didn’t answer me, but he stepped inside.

Finding his jacket hadn’t taken any time at all. When I handed it to him, he stared at it for a second and ran his fingers over the leather.

“Can I be honest?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said.

“You were the only good thing that happened this week,” he said. “I know that’s not probably what you want to hear. I don’t want to be clingy if you just wanted to fuck and get rid of me. And before you say anything, I swear, I get it. If you want me to go, I will.”

We were quiet, and I shifted so that I was closer to him standing in my bedroom. The fan spun above us. My blinds were parted so that long thin strips of sunlight stretched across his frame.

I placed my hands on his waist.

“I don’t want you to go,” I admitted.

“It doesn’t have to mean anything. I just…need to get away from my life for a bit.” The way he said it like he was reassuring me that he wasn’t considering me as anything but a distraction stung, but I’d take what I could get. I needed a distraction from my life too.

I nodded at him.

He stood on his toes – just barely – to kiss me. I thought we were both trying to make it last as long as possible this time. He kissed me and kissed me until my lips were raw and moving in synchronization with him like the patterns were memorized. It wasn’t a fight to get our clothes off, or a rush. We kissed between each article of clothing, and then kissed some more while our hands were exploring and learning all of our sensitive areas. His were his ears and the insides of his thighs.

We didn’t speak this time about who was doing what. He situated himself between my legs and I had no complaints. He was able to keep his composure longer than I had the night before last. He’d done this many times, I assumed. Because right when I was about to tip over the edge, every time, he slowed down just enough to keep me hovering.

He kissed me the entire time. At some point he didn’t have the strength to hold himself up on his elbows. His chest pressed against me and I felt skin to skin contact from head to toe. It was enthralling being that close to him, having him inside me and having him feel good because of me. I was trembling with it.

I had expected it to hurt. To feel wrong. Something that I’d have to put up with if I ever did somehow maintain a relationship with a man for any length of time. But it wasn’t. I loved it. I loved every second, savoring each thrust, completely consumed by his motions. I wasn’t doing the work, and so there was nothing to do but feel him and feel how good it felt.

We stayed like that until the sun filtered in at a different angle and made my bedroom glow orange and golden. His eyes were flames as they watched me reach the point of no return. His hand grasped me to help me get there, and his fingers were so deft on me. My body quivered under his touch. My heart hammering because I had never felt this good before and my heart didn’t know how to cope.

I gasped and warned him that I was close, that I couldn’t hold off any longer. He grinned as I came. His body was taut and rigid for several thrusts afterward, and then he moaned as his body went limp on top of me.

He kissed me afterward like he had last time.

And when he got up from the bed, I felt a feeling I never quite had with anyone else. Like I’d been used, like what we’d done was meaningless, and I reminded myself that it probably was.

Until he said, “Hey, can I use your shower?”

“Uh, sure.”

“Wanna join me?” I joined him in the shower, and he continued to kiss me in there.

Chapter Text

Jean

When we got out of the shower there wasn’t any question what was going to happen anymore. I didn’t know how he felt, but I didn’t come here for sex. I wasn’t going to turn it down obviously, but I was honestly just here to be around someone who didn’t fucking hate me. Who didn’t know anything about me. I could be anyone around him, and that was what I needed at the moment. I was sick of being me.

So when we got out, after a giggle fit that had him almost choking on soap in the shower because I’d started tickling him, I bothered to get dressed but made no move to leave his place. He didn’t say anything about it.

I’d started tickling him partly because I wanted to see that stomach of his flex and twist some more, but also because he brought up the bruises Eren had left on my arm. I couldn’t believe he’d left bruises. He’d held my arm pretty tight, but damn. Eren and I once got in a fight that ended up with me accidentally punching a hole through his bedroom wall and getting my arm stuck in the middle of the fight. I hadn’t ended up with any bruises then.

“Jesus, it’s cold,” I muttered.

He walked up to his thermostat. “I have it set to seventy five.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I replied, even though I was shivering. I’d even put on my jacket.

“I’ll turn it up,” he said. I didn’t argue with him, even though it was really shitty of me not to. I didn’t know what kind of financial situation he was in, if he could afford a high electric bill. He might just not want his house to be boiling hot.

When he decided not to put his shirt back on because of how warm it was, I stopped feeling guilty for putting my needs first.

He walked over to his kitchen. “Hey, can I make you something to eat? Or we could order out…”He asked me while opening the fridge so that he could hide his face. I wasn’t sure how I could tell, or why he did it. Possibly it was because he so clearly wasn’t used to company. He wasn’t sure what was appropriate for him to do in this circumstance.

I sat down at the bar stool of his breakfast nook and leaned over the counter. I’d eaten this morning. I’d poured a serving of egg whites into the frying pain and had half a banana. I hadn’t eaten since this morning and my stomach was pinching in pain.

“Don’t order out, man.” I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I ate any of the types of foods that generally were delivered to homes. Besides, I didn’t have any cash on me and he shouldn’t be paying for a stranger’s meal.

“Alright, well. I haven’t gone grocery shopping so it’s either spaghetti, Mac N’ Cheese or hot dogs.”

The idea of eating a hot dog made me want to gag. Pretending to eat spaghetti seemed like it would be difficult. So I said, “Mac N’ Cheese.”

He smiled as he pulled the milk and butter out of his fridge. Seeing the butter alone made me regret my decision. He pulled out the Craft Mac N’ Cheese from one of his cupboards, and the pot he would use to make it. He filled it with water. The burner cracked a bit as he placed the pot over it.

“How old are you?”

“Twenty three,” he said. “Why?”

“Just curious why a grown ass man has Craft Mac N’ Cheese.”

He laughed. I realized that it didn’t take much to make him smile. Not like me. He seemed like he would be content in virtually any situation he was put in. As happy sitting here with me making Mac N’ Cheese as he would be on vacation. It was refreshing being around him, and not feeling like I was being judged or like he thought he was too good for me. It felt natural to be here, somehow, watching him cooking and sitting in his kitchen like I lived here too.

“I’m not exactly a chef. Ymir and I lived together during college, and she did most of the cooking,” he said. “So I’m stuck with everything a somewhat independent preteen could probably make.”

Man, he’d already graduated school. I should have figured. Most college students couldn’t afford a two bedroom apartment on their own.

“What’d you go to school for?”

“Air traffic controlling,” he said.

“Whoa…isn’t that job, like, the most stressful job ever? Or something?”

He shrugged. The water had started to bubble and he poured in the noodles. “So I’ve heard. But in my experience it’s not so bad, if you have the right mentality and keep yourself calm.”

That sounded about right, coming from him. I had no evidence to support my hunch, but he didn’t seem like the type of person to lose his shit in any situation.

“What about you?” he asked. I blushed and flinched in my seat.

“Oh…well um. Right now I’m still just taking my generals.”

I didn’t know what to expect from him. Most people told me I was too old to still be doing generals. And the answer was yes, I was too old. But I only took six credits a semester at this point, so it was no surprise that I hadn’t completed more schooling.

“How old are you?” Marco asked.

“Twenty one."

“Oh thank God,” he said, “I was worried for a second.”

“Thought I was a minor?” I chuckled at him, and he smiled back.

“No, I mean, you don’t look like a minor. But you never know, I guess. You haven’t declared a major then?”

“No.” I cringed. I hated this question too. Everyone was supposed to already know what they wanted to do by now and I still hated every class I had.

“What are you interested in?”

“Being independently wealthy," I replied. He laughed as he stirred the noodles with a fork.

“Really though. There isn’t anything you want to do?”

Well, there was. There were things I wanted to do, but for me it wasn’t a matter of if I wanted to do it. It was a matter of could I do it. My dyslexia made life difficult for me as is. I wasn’t sure I was the type of dyslexic person that shouldered on and eventually became really good at reading and writing. As it turned out, reading and writing were a pretty essential component to most jobs.

I reminded myself that with him I could be anyone.

“I suppose I’d like to write."

“Books or…?”

It made me shiver a little, that he took me seriously when I said that. No one else I knew would have if I had told them I wanted to write.

“I guess. But I don’t know if I could come up with stories.”

He turned to look at me then. “A lot of people don’t make up stories and still write books. Real life has plenty of stories for you to put on paper.”

I blushed and shook my head. If he were someone I knew better I’d probably make fun of his optimism, but at the same time I wanted to believe him. He sounded like he actually believed I could go somewhere. I couldn’t think of anyone who had faith in me like that. “My life’s pretty dull,” is what I said instead.

“I doubt that.” He turned the burner down and pulled the pot off the stove. He pulled out the strainer from one of the cupboards near the sink. Then he strained the pot in the sink.

He began mixing in the cheese, milk and butter. The smell was nauseating. He scooped out equal portions onto a plate for the both of us. Placing the plates on the counter, he leaned on his elbows across from me.

“Uh…napkin?” I asked. He grabbed me a paper towel.

He continued to talk to me while he ate. I didn’t know if I contributed much, or if my responses even made sense. I took a bite of the mac n’ cheese and the noodles felt like swallowing rubber. The next three bites I shoved into my napkin when he wasn’t paying attention. Several times I pretended to wipe my face and spit out what I’d put in my mouth. By the time my plate was empty enough to pretend I’d eaten enough to be full, I had in total swallowed four bites.

It was like my stomach weighed a ton. I couldn’t stand the feeling of knowing that food was inside of me. It made me feel disgusted with myself.

Marco took the plate from me and scraped what was left off the plate into the trash can. “Didn’t like it much, huh?”

“What?”

“You barely ate any of it,” he replied.

“No…I just – I ate before I came here.”

“You came here hours ago.”

I shrugged. “It was a big meal.”

“Well, let me know if you get hungry again, or…I mean if you’re not going yet.” His voice got really quiet at the end of his sentence and he rubbed the back of his neck. He blushed, and it made something flutter in my chest. “I’ll figure something else out.”

I considered asking him if he needed me to leave, but I was selfish and didn’t want to go. I wasn’t ready to go home. Either Mikasa was there and I’d have to face her, or she wasn’t there and that was just as bad. She hadn’t called me today like she had last time. I hadn’t seen her since the fight.

I decided that sense he’d given me the option of not going, I’d stay. “So, what do you usually do on Saturday nights? You don’t look like the type that goes out partying.”

He laughed and shook his head. Then he leaned on his elbows across from me again. “Nope. The most I do is hang out with Ymir and her girlfriend.”

“She’s gay?”

“Yup,” he said, “Like, exceptionally gay. Gayer by the day.”

I laughed. “I bet your parents were pleased when you guys told them.”

He flinched then, and I realized that my sarcasm might have actually hit a note. Sometimes I forgot not everyone was like my mom. My mom was disappointed in me for all kinds of things in high school, but when she caught me making out – pretty heavily –with Eren, all she said was, “Honestly Jeanbo, in the kitchen?” She never brought it up again. I thought she probably came to terms with my sexuality more easily than I had.

“Actually uh,” he stammered, “Neither of us have told them.”

“Dude, that’s fucked up.” Of course, I didn’t really have room to talk either. My mom knew, but if she hadn’t found out I probably wouldn’t have told her either. I hadn’t even told Mikasa.

I could be anyone around him, I told myself again. I could be proud of who I was with him.

“I know. But I’ve only ever been with women, and I just figured…if I can be in a straight relationship and never bother them with it, why not?” There was a sadness in his tone I didn’t think he meant for me to hear. It made me want to hold him.

“Because you…you have every right to not give a shit what they think. Fuck them." Almost instantly, I regretted saying it. I didn’t know how close he was to his family. I probably shouldn’t be saying shit like that to him in his own place. I didn’t take it back though.

He shrugged and started running water in the sink to clean our dishes. I should have probably offered to do that for him. “It’s not that simple.”

“What if you uh…I mean, what if you wanted to be with a guy?”

“I wouldn’t let myself."

We were both quiet. I knew I should leave. He couldn’t have made it any clearer that he didn’t want anything to deal with me…

And I only now just realized I had hoped he’d been interested. God, that was fucked up. Mikasa and I hadn’t even broken up. I’d kissed Eren yesterday for the first time since we were teenagers, and now I was hoping that this complete stranger would fall for me. Someone I’d already fucked twice.

This was very likely the lowest point of my life.

“Can I use your bathroom?” I asked. He smiled at me, like we hadn’t just shared an extremely awkward silence.

“Go for it.”

Before I went to the bathroom, I threw my macaroni-filled napkin into his trashcan. I left him to do the dishes and headed back to his bathroom. I turned the sink on to filter out any noise I made as I knelt in front of the toilet. I shoved my pointer finger and middle finger down my throat for over a minute, gagging on my own fingers until finally the Mac N’ Cheese came up. Part of my breakfast too, I thought.

Good. I felt better even though my throat kind of hurt. The stomach acid burned my esophagus.

I didn’t feel as good as I would if he had told me he would be with a man if he wanted, but still pretty damn good. I wiped my face and blew my nose, because my nose was burning and running now too. The vomit turned my lips and nose pink. They almost looked swollen. It was disgusting, but it was better than being fat.

I flushed and quickly scrubbed over my teeth with some tooth paste. I doubted I’d get close enough to him again tonight for him to smell my breath, but at least if he did he wasn’t going to catch a whiff of the vomit. I splashed water against my face too, before drying it.

When I headed back out into the living area and kitchen, he was done with the dishes and looking through a stack of his movies. I was about to tell him good night and leave when he said, “What are you in the mood for?”

I grinned, sighing in relief. He wanted me to stay. “Pick one of your favorites.”

He picked Pacific Rim, a favorite of mine too, as it turned out. I spent a good portion of the movie teasing him for checking out Charlie Hunnam constantly, and the other portion listening to him discuss the aspects of the movie he loved so greatly. I hadn’t ever looked that deeply into the movie before, but the more he talked about it the more I realized I loved the movie. Or maybe, the more I liked the type of person he was.

Because he didn’t talk about the shit I would have picked. He talked about how the director had made sure to choose a diversity of people to play the cast when he didn’t have to. How all of the women were unique, complex, flawed and important components to the story. The emphasis on familial love and platonic love was as significant as romantic love. How natural Raleigh’s love interest felt in comparison to all the movies these days that made the lead female and lead male instantly fall for each other.

I realized how much Marco cared, how observant he was, and intuitive. He wasn’t the type of person that disliked something just because it was popular, and he wasn’t the type of person that liked something just because it was. He thought for himself, which I didn’t think many people did anymore. I shouldn’t have looked down on him for not telling his parents. He knew better than I did what was best for him, and it wasn’t as if I wasn’t flawed.

At some point, I ended up in his arms. I genuinely didn’t know how it happened, because when we started the movie I promised myself I wouldn’t make a move. He wasn’t looking for a relationship with a man, and I’d already fucked over enough people with my emotions.

But I did. I ended up in his arms, my head against his chest as we watched the movie. It was relaxing feeling his chest rise and fall. He was so warm. Even after he turned up the heat, I had still been cold enough to wrap myself in a blanket on his couch. But when he wrapped me in his arms, I was warm and it felt like the first time in weeks that I hadn’t been shivering.

When it was over, he asked me if I was tired. It was only eight thirty.

I shrugged. “Sorta.” I wasn’t at all, but I hoped that if he thought I was too tired to drive he wouldn’t make me leave.

“Do you want to put in another movie?” he asked. I did. He made me pick it out this time, and I didn’t know what to choose, since most of his movies were nothing like Pacific Rim. They all seemed really…above my head. Deep and dramatic, when I was much more the action and shoot em’ up type.

“I don’t really know any of these,” I said. “How about this one? Sounds bad ass.”

He chuckled at the one I’d chosen. “Kill Your Darlings is not bad ass. But it’s another one of my favorites.”

“Why did they give it such a bad ass title if it’s not?” I grumbled.

He shrugged. “It makes sense if you watch it. The movie’s actually about a famous writer and a murder. You might like it, but I’m biased. I feel like everyone should like it.”

I decided to put it in. Not because I actually thought I’d like it, but because he said he felt like I should. And that made me want to like it.

I shamelessly curled up in his arms on the couch again as the movie came on. Again, I didn’t pay anywhere near as much attention to the movie as I did to him. Until I realized that the main character was in love with his best friend. Other then Brokeback Mountain, I didn’t really know any movies about gay men. Let alone a famous author.

It wasn’t my type of movie at all, but it screwed with my head nonetheless. Seeing how people like Marco and I were treated. How many still were. I could feel Marco’s discomfort toward the end of the movie. His body tensed. The rise and fall of his chest lost its gentle rhythm. I thought maybe he was worried I was judging him for liking the movie. Or maybe it was just hard in general for people like us to see a man destroy his life because he couldn’t come out.

I almost cried toward the end which was embarrassing to say the least. Marco held me tight. He wasn’t emotional, but there was a gloom in his eyes anyway.

“You know,” he said, “All Allen Ginsberg wrote about was stuff that actually happened in real life.”

I perked my head up at him, then quickly looked away because I didn’t want him to see how his words affected me. When I told him earlier I wanted to write, I had said it because for once I could say something like that without someone scoffing or looking at me with pity.

It never occurred to me that I had picked it for a reason.

He ran his fingers through my hair. I shivered. He kept doing it and I didn’t ever want him to stop.

“Are you staying the night?” he asked.

“I – I don’t have to,” I said. “If you have shit going on, or whatever.”

“I don’t.” His shifted on the couch like he was going to kiss me, then hesitated. He kissed my forehead. I wondered if he knew he could do whatever he wanted to me whenever he wanted and I would never tell him no. “I’m going to bed. You’re welcome to join me,” he whispered.

I joined him. We had sex again. Another thing I told myself I wouldn’t let myself do but did anyway. I couldn’t help it. He asked me if I would and I couldn’t possibly say no. He wanted to bottom again, and the way he asked me if I was okay with that…it was like he thought it was a burden for me to have sex with him or something.

Ridiculous, because it was some of the best sex of my life. I used my body to reassure him that it was absolutely, in no way at all, a burden for me. Every time I thought I couldn’t last, he’d moan my name, or tell me how good it felt, and I’d force myself to keep making him feel good. All I wanted in the world, I swore, was to hear him tell me he needed more.

The last two times we’d had sex, we’d kissed after, and we did this time too. He wrapped his arms around me, and continued absently threading his fingers through my hair until he fell asleep.

He said my name in his sleep.

Chapter Text

Eren

As usual, I made up with Mikasa. Again, not because I’d actually forgiven her for anything. This time it was to avoid being questioned by Armin who had already been wondering why Mikasa and I hadn’t been speaking.

“Are you ever going to go back?” I asked, after telling her I’d overreacted. She’d told me I hadn’t overreacted, and not to say sorry. She said she should have told me earlier, but really it was her business and I knew that. I had known it then too. If I didn’t have feelings for Jean, I wouldn’t have cared that she had said she wasn’t in love with him anymore.

“I was thinking I’d go today…” she said.

“Good. You shouldn’t leave him hanging.” I tried really hard to not act like I cared. I took a sip of my coffee and leaned against the counter in my kitchen as casually as I possibly could. Armin had made breakfast, and Mikasa was sitting at the kitchen table eating. Armin had gone to run some errands, which was why Miksasa and I were able to talk.

Mikasa scraped her fork against her plate. Her eyes had drifted off, looking out the window. It wasn’t quite raining, but given Minnesota’s mood during the fall, I gave it a couple hours or less. I was just thankful it wasn’t snow yet. Since I was a UPS truck driver, I spent more than a little too much time of my life driving a vehicle. Company vehicles, snow, and I didn’t go well together.

“Would you go with me?” she asked. I swallowed too much coffee and burned my throat, almost choking when it didn’t go down right.

“What? Why?” I asked.

She sighed, and wrapped the red scarf I’d given her when we were kids tightly around her neck. Her coat was hanging on her chair.

“Just…just don’t want to deal with his anger alone.”

“Why? He’d never hit you,” I said.

Her eyes narrowed to slits, the way they always did when I probed a little too deeply into her thoughts. “I know that. I wasn’t trying to say –”

“Sorry. Shouldn’t have brought it up.” I put my hands up in surrender, almost spilling what was left of my coffee. I decided to dump it out in the sink even though it was still hot.

“I just mean, I’m going to break up with him. And I can’t – can’t handle him the way you can when he’s angry.”

She reached for her boots on the floor and pulled them on. She wanted to go soon, apparently. Uneasiness squirmed in my gut. I was going to have to look him in the eye today, after what I’d said to him. After everything he’d told me, about making amends with Mikasa, even though he was anticipating a breakup for a while. I’d have to act like he hadn’t kissed me.

“I don’t think punching him in the face really qualifies as managing anger,” I told her. Although, she was right. She didn’t understand him at all, never had. Not the way I did.

“Don’t punch him in the face.” The way she said it, I knew it was the end of the discussion. I was coming with whether I wanted to go or not.

The problem was, if I was honest with myself, I wanted to go. I wanted to see him again, and see if he hated me like he thought I hated him. I’d told him I hated him before. Almost on a regular basis, over the years. But never like that.

More than anything I wanted to see if he gave a shit about me hating him. Would it make a difference to him, if we ended on those terms and I never spoke to him again? If Mikasa broke up with him and we never had another reason to be around each other? That was one thing I had always counted on from Mikasa. Because of her, I had an excuse to see him all the time, and now I wouldn’t.

She dropped her dishes in my sink. I followed her to the front door and slid on my shoes and my jacket. I grabbed my wallet, keys, phone, and my diabetic kit with my insulin and blood strips in it, shoving it all in my pockets.

“I’ll drive,” she said.

Mikasa knocked on her own door.

“Just go in.”

“I wanted to warn him,” she said. I rolled my eyes. If she had really wanted to warn him, or talk to him at all, she would have called him in the car. She was stalling.

She opened the door and we stepped in. “Jean?” she asked.

No one responded. We walked further into the room.

“Jean!” she yelled.

Again, no response. His shoes weren’t sitting on the rug like they normally were. He wasn’t home.

“Where the hell does he go? He’s not in class this time.”

If I had thought my stomach felt uneasy this morning, now it was downright painful. I felt a pang of anger and betrayal in my chest. He’d gone back to him. Whoever Marco was, Jean had gone back to him and he’d stayed the night there again. There was no doubt in my mind.

“Do you have any idea where he could be?” she asked. Her face wasn’t even upset. Oh, there was some concern in her expression. She had a tiny frown and her brow had furrowed a bit, but she wasn’t upset he was gone. She was relieved she wouldn’t have to put up with him.

“Eren?” she asked, turning to me. “Do you think I should call him?”

I stared at her for a moment, so long she looked a little terrified. “What do you fucking think? Do you think you should have – I don’t know – Maybe fucking called him yesterday? Or hey! Maybe you should have slept at your own apartment!”

She turned her head away from me, and stared at the ground. She tucked her face into her scarf so I couldn’t see her expression.

“You’re right,” she said,

“I know.”

“I’ll call him right now,” she said. Her voice trembled. She reached into her pocket and I jerked her arm away. She stared at me wide-eyed. I couldn’t tell her the real reason I didn’t want her to call him.

“Hey, uh…” I said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”

“But you’re right, he’s probably waiting for me to call.” She pulled her phone out of her pocket and swiped her finger across the screen.

“No…No, I know Jean. He’s too pissed off right now for you to talk to him. Just…maybe give him some time to cool off,” I lied, somewhat impressed with myself for coming up with an excuse so quickly.

“For how long?” she asked.

“I’d uh…I’d wait until he gets home. Let him come to you.”

An image of him piling through the door kissing some man with his hands wrapped around his waist popped into my head. I didn’t think Jean would be so stupid as to bring Marco home with him when he knew Mikasa could be here, but I also hadn’t thought he’d be stupid enough to go fuck a stranger.

“Actually, why don’t I wait for him? Go back to my place. When he gets home I’ll let him know you want to talk to him.”

“Why would that help anything?” she asked. I bit my lip.

“Don’t you have work tonight?” I asked, trying really hard not to sound desperate.

She nodded.

“Do you really want him to come home and in the middle of breaking up with him have to leave and go to work?”

She sighed and nodded. “I guess not.”

“Then wait at my place,” I said.

She paused, and I was afraid she had a better argument than mine.

“You won’t tell him anything will you?” she asked.

I shook my head.

“And you’ll make sure he isn’t in a bad mood?”

“Promise.”

Mikasa stayed to grab a change of scrubs before she left for work. She thanked me, and once again I told her not to. I wasn’t doing anything for her, even though I probably should have been. I was doing it all for Jean, which I definitely shouldn’t be.

When she left, I stood in the entryway for probably five minutes just staring at the living room where we’d fought.

He’d kissed me. He fucking kissed me for the first time in years and what did I do? I screamed in his face that I hated him and left. If I had stayed, if I had kissed him back, he’d be here right now. We’d have taken it to the bedroom and spent the night together. I would have cooked for him this morning and made sure he ate it. He could have called Mikasa, and we could have gone to my place. I could have broken up with Armin, he could have broken up with her.

It was everything I’d ever wanted for years, only this time it was more than a fantasy. It was a missed opportunity and it was entirely my fault. It was too real for my head to handle right now.

I headed to the kitchen. Mikasa had told me to help myself to the food, but that wasn’t what I was looking for.

Mikasa and Jean didn’t drink except for holidays or birthdays, but they still kept some alcohol in the house most of the time.

I started with wine, because I was pretending that there was a chance in hell I wasn’t getting hammered tonight.

Then, because I was feeling particularly masochistic, I went into their stupid room. I shuffled around through his stuff – not in their fucking drawers or anything, I wasn’t that creepy – but through the shit they had on their floor and on top of their dresser. I found his stupid Packers sweatshirt that I hated so much and pulled it on over my t-shirt.

I stuffed my nose inside of it and smelled it. It smelled musky, like the cologne he’d been wearing since high school. I inhaled again and again.

I sat on his floor in the center of his room and drank wine out of a coffee mug. I’d never been much of a drinker either. Being diabetic, it wasn’t really an option.

I pulled out my diabetic kit and pulled out a blood test strip and my blood sugar monitor for it. I pricked my finger with the needle at the end of my monitor. My fingers were always so swollen, from pricking them so much every day. I usually pricked them at least six times, so I never had a finger that had been spared more than a day.

The blood dripped from my finger and I pressed it into the test strip connected to my monitor. It beeped, and a second later the little screen flashed the number 128.

Not the best score, but not the worst either. It wasn’t worth taking any insulin to try to bring it down to 110, where I was supposed to be. Besides, I’d just taken a shot of insulin an hour ago before I ate. My body probably wasn’t ready.

I sipped more of the wine, until I wasn’t sipping anymore and I chugged the rest of the glass. I walked back into the kitchen to get more and chugged that too.

After a half hour, wine wasn’t enough, so I moved on to vodka.

At this point, their house looked like an amazing place to trash. I walked through the house again. I stumbled and had to hold onto furniture to keep me from tipping a few times.

Jean and Mikasa had photos hanging on their walls. Almost every photo they had of the two of them hanging, there was a photo of Armin and I accompanying it. There was a picture of Jean and Mikasa at prom. Mikasa had worn a red, satin dress with red lipstick. Jean had worn a black tux with a red tie, looking devilishly handsome as always.

I threw that picture against the wall.

There was a picture of Jean sleeping with his hood covering part of his face and that cat Mikasa used to have laying on his stomach.

I threw that one harder.

There was one of Jean and me, too. Mikasa had taken this one. It was taken during high school. We’d had a football game the night it was taken. We won because Jean had caught the final pass and had made a touch down seconds before the buzzer went off.

I remembered that picture more distinctly than I should have. Mikasa and Jean hadn’t started dating, and I hadn’t started being uncomfortable around the two of them yet. Just as Mikasa took the picture, I had hoisted myself onto Jean’s back, forcing him to hold onto me like he was giving me a piggy-back ride. I was grinning in the picture and Jean looked like he was going to throw me down the bleachers.

I slammed that picture so hard into the wall the sheetrock dented. When the frame shattered, I peeled the photo out of the frame and tucked it into the pocket of his hoodie. I smelled the hoodie again, ignoring the smell of vodka on my skin as I tried to focus on his cologne.

I hissed, stumbling where I stood and cursing loud enough the neighbors probably heard me. A chunk of glass had sunk into my foot. I pulled it out, wincing as I did. It would hurt more tomorrow when I was sober. Right now, it was a weak throb. Nothing that was able to prevent me from walking through the rest of the house, and smashing the rest of their photos.

Another half hour later I was walking on wobbly feet as I walked back to the kitchen. Once I was in there, I slumped to the floor. The tile was cold, so I managed to scoot a few feet over and lay on the vent. I dropped my glass, which was still half full and watched the clear fluid inch across the floor.

I cried. Some part of me had known it was coming for a while. I was sort of surprised I made it this far. The tears made my vision murky. Hugging my knees to my chest, I sobbed pathetically and as loudly as I felt like it.

I pulled the photo out of my pocket. I couldn’t see his face through my tears but I didn’t need to.

“You son of a bitch,” I slurred, through salty tears and the residue of the alcohol on my lips. “I hate you. I hate you so much. Everything about you.”

The picture didn’t reply.

“I should have kissed you back.”

No answer, again.

My vision became blurry for a different reason. I didn’t fight it, being awake wasn’t doing me any good. I just laid on my side, tucked my nose into his hoodie, and succumbed to the sweet relief of unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

Marco

I was up way before Jean was. Without disturbing him, I’d gotten out of bed and made myself breakfast. I showered, shaved, and got ready for the day while he slept. He slept long enough for me to clean half my apartment. Around noon, he finally stirred, and I was tired of sitting around anxiously.

I had worried that things wouldn’t be the same when he woke up, and yesterday was an isolated day of my life that was both the worst and the best thing that had ever happened to me. Like everything would go back to normal now, and Hitch wasn’t pregnant and I never had a man over. The only man that had ever made me question my resolve to marry a woman and stay in the closet until my parents died if that’s what it took.

When I heard him roll over in the bed, I went into the bedroom holding my breath.

“Morning,” I said. He peeled his eyes open and blinked at me for a few seconds.

“Hey,” he croaked. He closed his eyes and smiled. His hair was ruffled in all directions. After we’d had sex he’d pulled on a pair of my sweats, one of my t-shirts, and one of my hoodies, which he almost got lost inside of, they were so big on him. He hogged the blankets most the time. My thermostat was still at eighty.

“I made breakfast,” I said.

His eyes opened up without so much sleepiness in them this time.

“What time is it?” he asked.

“Almost one.”

He sat up. “Do you know where my phone is?”

I shook my head.

“Can I use yours to call it?”

I reached for my phone on my nightstand and tossed it into his lap. While he dialed his phone number, I sat on the edge of the bed. A second later his phone started to buzz, and he shuffled around in the blankets until he found where he’d tossed his jacket. He pulled out his phone, hung up on my phone, and tapped at the screen of his for a bit.

“Thanks.” He stood from the bed and kissed me. Nothing had changed. I wasn’t sure if I was relieved or not.

He left the bedroom, and I followed him. He almost tripped on the hems of my pants and he lost his balance a little. I wrapped my arm around his waist so he wouldn’t fall.

“Your pants are too big,” he muttered.

I laughed. “Not on me.”

In the kitchen he reached for a plate, about to scoop eggs onto it, when there was a knock at my door.

Jean glanced at me. I sighed.

“You can answer it,” he said.

“I have to. Ymir knows I’m home,” I said. He shrugged.

“I’ll wait in your room.” I was going to tell him he didn’t have to, but I figured Ymir wouldn’t be afraid to say something to him. Then I realized if she was coming over, she was probably intending to stay here for a while.

“Actually,” I said, reluctantly, “If it’s Ymir…which it probably is…she’s going to be hanging around for a while. I hate to be rude but –”

“Don’t worry about it,” he said, waving me off. He put his plate back on the counter. “I’ll change and get outta here.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. And I was. If it weren’t for Ymir, I would have let him stay until he got sick of me.

“No big deal.” He walked back to my room. About half way there, he turned back around so that he could kiss me again. It was short, but so, so sweet.

He went into my bedroom right as Ymir knocked on the door the second time with significantly more force.

I sighed, counted my last few seconds of the alternate world I’d entered with Jean, and opened my front door. Ymir was standing there leaning against the paneling. Her expression was indifferent, but I knew her well enough to know that she was furious. She’d wear the neutral expression just long enough to hear me defend myself. If it wasn’t to her liking, then she’d really explode.

“So…” she started, shoving me out of the way so that she could come in. “I talked to Hitch.”

I flinched like her glare had slapped me. Of course she had. I hadn’t even thought of it yesterday when I had decided not to call Ymir, but of course Hitch would call her. But Ymir and Hitch were closer than even I was to Hitch. Ymir had been the one to introduce us, after all.

“What the hell, Marco?” she said. She was speaking in her usual tone, but even her usual tone was pretty loud. “You didn’t think to mention to me that you were engaged?” She threw her arms in the air and I ducked out of the way, even though she was nowhere near me.

“It…it’s not like that,” I said. “I – I needed time to think about everything, okay? It..it just happened yesterday.”

“You know she’s already asked me to go ring shopping with her?” she asked.

I rolled my eyes. Of course she had. “We haven’t planned anything yet. Okay – she just wanted to – did she tell you about the baby?”

Now her eyes really widened. She slapped my chest several times in a row until I winced and grabbed her wrists. “You dumbass!”

I couldn’t even defend myself.

“She’s pregnant? You got her fucking pregnant?” She hit me some more, until she lost her energy and fell into my chest. I wrapped my arms around her shoulders.

“Yeah and she uh…she knows about me,” I said, so low in my throat, because it still hurt thinking about her finding out I was gay. I never wanted her to know I was only dating her so no one would suspect. She hadn’t acted as though she was hurt, but I knew her. I knew she was thinking about how the only man that had ever stayed with her for any length of time was incapable of loving her the way she ought to be. I’d done that. “She figured it out.”

“How could you be so careless?” she mumbled into my chest. I almost couldn’t make it out. She shook her head.

“I know.”

“You can’t marry her.” She lifted her head to look at me. “You can’t. I can’t watch you marry her.”

“I have to. She said if I didn’t marry her she’d get an abortion.” I let her out of my arms. Her shoulders were hunched and her eyes were bloodshot like she might cry. Her hands were shaking. For once, they might not be shaking from anger.

“So? Problem solved!”

“I know, I know. But…I’d just feel shitty, I guess. I think she really wants to keep it and I wouldn’t want…want to force her into a situation she doesn’t want to be in.”

Ymir shook her head and turned away from me. “So what, Marco? Have you even considered what kind of mother she’ll be? She’s…have you seen her drive?”

“Shut up,” I snapped, despite myself. Ymir froze in place. “Look, Hitch can be awful, self-involved, selfish and spoiled. She can be downright cruel. I know this. But half the awful things she does, she does so she can hide her insecurities from other people. And the other half she does in the defense of people she cares about. I’m not saying she’d be a perfect mom, but I know Hitch well enough to know that she’s never going to let herself fall below her own standards. She’d never let herself turn into her own mom, believe me.”

Ymir let her tense arms fall slack. A few strands of her brown hair fell from her pony-tail. She covered her face in her hands before her eyes met mine again. “What makes you think she actually wants to be a mom?”

“Because she’s making me marry her,” I said. “She doesn’t love me, you know.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s why you shouldn’t marry her. It’s not worth it. You don’t want to marry her and you don’t want to have a baby. You shouldn’t do this.”

I shrugged. “That’s not true. I’ve always wanted kids. Not this way but…in my situation I have to take what I can get.” I rubbed the back of my neck. Ymir didn’t want kids, and so it was easy for her and Christa. But with me, kids had always been the bright side of being with a woman. It was the one thing that had helped me stay in the closet for so long. I wanted kids more than I wanted to be in love, if that was what it took.

“You could adopt,” she said.

“If I marry a man,” I replied. “Which I won’t. So it’s either marry the woman I already got pregnant, stay single and never have kids, or marry a different woman I can’t love, have kids with her and force Hitch to wonder why her pregnancy wasn’t good enough.”

She sighed then. She wouldn’t argue anymore after that. She knew I had a point.

“Alright. It’s your life.”

Not really, I thought, but I wouldn’t say it.

“Uh…Marco?” It was Jean. He was standing in my doorway, wearing his clothes now.

Ymir looked at him, and slowly turned her head towards me. She clenched her jaw and raised her eyebrows, waiting for an explanation. I rubbed the back of my neck in response.

“Be…right back,” I said to her. I walked to my bedroom doorway where Jean was standing. He’d straightened out his hair, but his face was still stubbly. God, I wanted him to stay. I wanted him to stay because I didn’t know if I could handle being alone right now, if I could handle returning to my life just yet. But his face was stern, in a way I hadn’t really seen before. He was just as angry with me as Ymir, and I figured he had a right to be.

“You heard all of that didn’t you?” I asked.

“Enough of it,” he said. “You got engaged yesterday? Right before I showed up?”

I couldn’t speak, because I might sob. I nodded.

“Is that all you heard?” I asked, wondering if he heard that I didn’t love her, or not.

“I think that much would be enough. But a baby too? I don’t want to know if it’s worse.”

It was worse. So much worse. I wanted to explain. I wanted to ask him to stay so I could tell him the truth. So I could tell him that I didn’t want to marry her, especially now that I’d met him. I wanted to be with him more than I’d ever wanted to be with any other man. But Ymir was right behind me, and I thought I’d already lost my chance at being honest with him.

“I understand. I’m sorry.”

“Congratulations. I hope you two are happy together with your new baby. Seriously. Can I go now? Is Ymir going to choke me on my way out?”

I sighed. My lip trembled and I prayed he didn’t notice. “Uh, yeah. Y-yeah you can go. Sh-she won’t do anything.”

Jean stared at me for a few long seconds, then shook his head. I watched him leave my apartment.

When he left, I didn’t move. Ymir approached me, still looking furious, until she caught a glimpse at my face. I’d managed to fend my tears off until he left for the sake of my dignity. It would be impossible now.

“How…I mean,” she stammered, “He’s the one from the bar right? What’s going on?”

I shrugged. “Just a one night stand. ‘S nothing. Don’t worry about it.”

“A one night stand that happened twice?” she asked.

I shrugged. “He’s no one. Drop it.”

“Oh my God,” she breathed. “You’re fucking him so he’ll stick around.”

I shook my head. “I am not!”

“Marco…doing shit like that doesn’t help anyone, believe me.”

“Well it’s a good thing that’s not what I’m fuck – fucking – God damn it, Ymir. Fuck this. Can you just for like – one day not point out every single thing I’ve ever done wrong? Did it occur to you, that I’m scared shitless right now and don’t know what I’m doing with my life and I’m not thinking any of it through and that I actually just need you to be on my fucking side?”

She raised her arms like she was going to slap me again, and then dropped them. “I am on your side.”

“Well then act like it,” I whimpered, and covered my face with my hands. I leaned against the wall. My legs were shaking. I’d never see him again, and it didn’t matter. Shouldn’t matter, because I wouldn’t have ever had the courage to be with him anyway.

“Whoa, I’m sorry,” she said, resting her hand on my shoulder. “I didn’t…I didn’t think.”

“It wasn’t…I swear I wasn’t just fucking him to get him to stay. He…he showed up here for his jacket, and I – I liked him, so I asked him to come in. And things just happened…but – but it wasn’t just sex. I don’t think it was, anyway.”

“Well, I guess it doesn’t matter what it was if you enjoyed it.” She pulled me by my hand toward my living room couch. She’d probably noticed that I was shaking so badly I might collapse. She leaned against my shoulder on the couch.

“I did. I really did. God, I wish none of this was happening. It was so much easier to ignore being gay before I knew what it was like to be with a guy,” I said. My throat was raspy, but at least I’d stopped crying. Ymir wrapped her arm around my shoulder.

“I don’t care about him anywhere near as much as I care about you marrying Hitch. I don't give a shit that you were fucking him. You shouldn’t feel bad about it. I’d be totally stoked for you and that guy if it weren’t for her.”

“Jean,” I said.

“What?”

“Jean. His name is Jean."

“Do you think he likes you too?”

I leaned my head against hers and hugged one of my throw pillows to my chest the way I had held Jean last night. Kill Your Darlings was still in my Blue Ray player. “I don’t know, probably doesn’t matter now. He heard everything.”

She shook her head at me and clapped her hand against my shoulder. “If what you’re saying is true, and it wasn’t just sex, I doubt he’d give a shit if you called him right now and told him everything with Hitch is over,

“I mean…he might tell you it doesn’t matter, but the dude showed up at your house after a one night stand for his jacket. Most people would rather freeze to death than show up at the house of a one night stand to get their jacket back. I know I would.”

She cringed for a second, then shook her head. Her hazel eyes – nothing like the hazel of Jean’s eyes – stared off out the window. It was raining, pretty hard too. It pattered against the glass and the wood balcony. Even though it was mid-afternoon, the sky was so gray it looked like it was late in the evening.

“You should call him."

“Stuff with Hitch isn’t over."

“Do you think just because she wants you to marry her she’s going to give up dating other people?” she asked. “She’s probably got some poor kid doing her dishes for her right now.”

Actually, I hadn’t thought of that. I just assumed when she asked me to marry her we would be committed to each other. But, I guessed the only people who needed to think we were committed were our parents. We didn’t see them often enough to not get away with an affair.

“She’s pregnant. She wouldn’t…” I trailed off, grasping for any excuse I could. I was such a coward.

Ymir deadpanned. “You think too highly of her.”

“I don’t have his number." His expression before he left made me think my conversation with him wouldn’t be pleasant, even if I did have his number.

“Did you ever go to his place?”

I shook my head. “I know he’s a student, but I think showing up at his class would be about the creepiest thing I could possibly do.”

She sighed. “Probably. I’m sorry, man.”

I shrugged, hoping she would believe I didn’t care. Or, at least not say anything further about it. She looked like she was about to say something, but I cut her off so she wouldn’t.

“Let’s order pizza. Kinda just wanna hang out today, if that’s alright with you.”

“No problem,” she replied. She started searching for her phone, but came up empty. “Shit, left it in my car.”

“I’ll grab mine."

I went into my bedroom and picked my phone up. I slid my finger across the screen. My phone lit up when I did. It wasn’t the home screen with all the apps I’d expected to see. It was the list of all my previously made phone calls, and there was a phone number I didn’t recognize at the top of the list from this morning.

I’d completely forgotten I'd called Jean's phone this morning. Before leaving my bedroom, I quickly saved the number to my contacts under his name.

I wouldn’t call him, obviously, but at least I had some evidence he had existed. At least this proved that for the tiniest fraction of my life, I had known what it was like to have everything I’d ever wanted.

Chapter Text

Jean

My apartment buildings were two and a half miles away from Marco’s. When I had chosen to run to his place yesterday, it had been no big deal. It was forty five degrees yesterday. Foggy, but not uncomfortable to be in as long as I kept my pace up. My run had taken over a half hour, which wasn’t surprising given that it was the first time I’d done any real running since being on the football team. Regardless, I’d ran the whole way and was pretty proud of my accomplishment.

But today it was raining. The rain had hammered into my back and bled through all my clothing. I’d been shivering in Marco’s eighty degree apartment, let alone outside. Running home today, my feet had gone numb. Every inch of my skin was covered in Goosebumps. My teeth were chattering. Each time I inhaled the cold bit at my teeth and my nose.

Still I pushed on. Rain wasn’t going to hurt me. Running heated me up the tiniest fraction. It wasn’t even just about getting the exercise at this point. It was more about getting home and getting into a hot shower. If Mikasa could constantly come home and head directly into the bathroom, so could I.

When I reached the stairway, and walked up to the second level to my apartment building, I keeled over on the balcony gasping for hair. My lungs hurt. My throat burned. The rain was still sinking into my clothes, and by now I thought possibly into my skin. I dug for me keys.

The door was unlocked.

“Shit,” I cursed. Mikasa was home. It shouldn’t have taken me this long to realize that. Leaving Marco’s place, my only concern had been to get away from him. I had no idea what would have happened if Ymir hadn’t showed up. I knew that I wouldn’t have wanted to go yet. I would have faked my way through three different meals and hung out with him again. I would have wanted to sleep there again. Honestly, if he didn’t kick me out by Monday morning, I would have been cool with laying in his warm bed until he got home from work.

Now I couldn’t even go to him for escape. The reason he’d taken me home in the first place – a breakup rebound – was no longer valid. He didn’t seem like the type of guy that would cheat on his new fiancé, but then again he was a stranger to me. Maybe he just wanted to fuck me a couple more times or didn’t want to be rude and ask me to leave. I shouldn’t have assumed things.

I leaned against the door and let the rain sink into my bones. I considered just sleeping out here on the balcony and letting the low temperature turn me into an icicle overnight.

This morning, things had felt so right with him. Maybe it was because I hadn’t felt like that with Mikasa in forever, but I could have so easily seen myself with him. Watching movies with him on the couch and sleeping in his bed with him. Watching him cook and showering with him.

I’d wanted it so bad, and had been too afraid to ask him out. Because I was too afraid to ask him if he was feeling the same way, I’d made an excuse to call my phone on his phone, even though I knew damn well where mine was.

I pulled my phone out of my pocket. The screen had a ‘missed call’ notification on it. I saved his phone number in my phone anyway. Maybe he’d call. Maybe he’d leave her again, and decide he wanted to be with a man after all. But I didn’t get my hopes up, or rather, I really tried not to.

I counted to five before opening my apartment door.

There weren’t any lights on. At this time of day that probably wouldn’t be strange, if the rain hadn’t made it so dark out. I flicked the nearest light switch. My living room illuminated.

All our framed pictures had been smashed to pieces. They were scattered across the living room floor, and if I squinted I could see more shattered in the darkened hallway.

“What the hell, Mikasa?” I yelled into my apartment. I knew she was probably pissed at me for disappearing, but destroying her own house was a little much. It concerned me more than I would have thought, just because Mikasa just didn’t…didn’t lose control like this.

I shivered again. To my left, I reached for the thermostat on the wall. It was at seventy, and I shoved the little dial up to eighty five. I dropped my jacket on the bench in our entryway and kicked my shoes off.

“Mikasa? Miksasa!” I yelled. No answer. She must have been at work, although I couldn’t fathom why she’d leave the door unlocked. Carefully, I stepped around chunks of broken frames toward the hallway. She would be gone for some time. The mess could wait until after I showered.

I didn’t get past the kitchen. I jumped backward, almost landing in some of the glass. Someone was in my kitchen. I flicked my kitchen light on. It was Eren. His eyes were closed, and he was slumped over on his side on the floor. There was a coffee mug laying on it’s side, and water had spilled all over the floor.

“Eren?” I asked.

He didn’t respond.

“Oh, shit!” I yelled. “Fuck!”

What was I supposed to do when this happened, again? I skidded into my kitchen and began shuffling through my cupboards searching for where Mikasa kept the glucose tablets Eren was supposed to take if his blood sugar dropped too low. I’d torn apart half my kitchen before I heard Eren groan.

I dropped to the floor and clapped my hand against his face. “Eren? Eren wake up!”

“Fuck…what?” he groaned, rolling over on the floor.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“Sleeping. Fuck off.”

“Dude you’re in my kitchen covered in…” I sniffed, “Is that vodka?”

“I am not,” he muttered.

I laughed then, and shook his body until his eyes snapped open and he shoved me.

“What the hell?” he asked.

“Are you drunk?”

“Pff, no.” He drew out his answer so long I wasn’t sure he was aware he was even making a noise.

“You are.” I grinned. “You totally are. Oh, thank God.”

I leaned back against my oven and grinned into my hands idiotically. I thought he’d passed out from low blood sugar. He could have died. No one would have fucking known.

Once the relief subsided, I slapped him again. This time hard in his chest.

“You dumbshit,” I said. “I thought you were in a diabetic coma, you dick.” His hand waved in the air to shove my hand away, but my hand had already pulled back. He whimpered a few seconds later, a delayed reaction to me hitting him.

“What the fuck! Stop hitting me,” he groaned. “What’s your problem?”

“What are you doing in my kitchen?” I asked. “Where’s Mikasa?”

He winced, trying to concentrate. By the way he was looking at the ceiling like he’d never seen it before, I assumed he wasn’t succeeding. With great effort, he sat himself up on his elbows and shifted his gaze toward me. His jaw dropped and then he shook his head and rubbed his face.

“I don’t hate you,” he slurred, “At all. I want to, but I don’t.”

It took me a second to understand. Being at Marco’s had thoroughly intervened with all my worries. My expression softened and I tilted my head so that he was forced to make eye contact.

“I know, okay? Relax.” I hadn’t known, but it was good to hear. At least I still had somebody.

“I don’t hate you,” he said, shaking his head again and looking like he might cry. I arched an eyebrow. Usually when he was drunk, he was the angry type of drunk, not the crier. Then I remembered the shattered picture frames. I didn’t know why he took it out on our photos, but I was just relieved it wasn’t Mikasa who had done it.

“Eren, come on man. I know you don’t hate me, you’re my bro. Relax,” I said, even laying my hand on his shoulder to try to comfort him, because he’d never been this torn up by one of our fights before.

I cocked my head at him when I noticed the color of the sweatshirt and the Packers symbol.

“You’re wearing my sweatshirt.”

“I don’t want to be your bro,” he said. “I’m sick of being a bro.”

“Are you sure you’re alright? Is your blood sugar low?” I asked. “Where’s your…your pen thing?”

“I don’t know,” he whined. He tried combing his greasy, brown hair out of his face. His eyes didn’t look right. I couldn’t place what exactly made them look different. His complexion was pretty pale for him, too. He had to have low blood sugar.

“Jesus." I started searching his pockets. First in his jeans, because that’s where he usually kept them. One had his phone in it, but nothing else. I twisted his body so that I could check his ass pockets too. There was nothing but his wallet.

“She’s…she’s uh. She’s breaking up with you.”

I stopped moving. “What?”

“Mikasa. She’s at work. She – she…she’s nothing like me.”

Now I was positive his blood sugar had to be low. The only time he was this incoherent was when he was low. But there was a pang in my chest from his words. There was probably some truth to them in the nonsense. It wasn’t like I hadn’t assumed that she had been thinking about leaving me, and disappearing for two days didn’t help her change her mind. It hurt anyway.

I slumped next to him for a second to think of what to do. I should probably call her and just get it over with. I wasn’t worried about the formalities of a proper breakup. Before she was my girlfriend, she was my friend and I’d prefer she be straight up with me rather than wait to see me in person.

Something heavy pressed against my shoulder. It was Eren, he was already dozing off again. He wrapped one arm around my waist and nuzzled into my shoulder.

I couldn’t just let him sleep in the kitchen. It had to be horribly uncomfortable. Carefully, I sat him up so that his weight wouldn’t cause him to fall over. Then I stood, and leaned down to place one arm underneath his legs and the other underneath his shoulder blades. I attempted to lift him up, but his weight strained my muscles so badly I couldn’t. I frowned and tried again. He didn’t budge. I used to be able to lift him above my head in high school. What the hell had happened?

“Eren, stand up.” I nudged his shoulder again so that he would wake up. His face crumpled up the way it does when he was angry and I almost smiled because of this dork.

After a ridiculous amount of encouragement and mild abuse to his ribs and shoulders, he finally stood up. He was wobbly on his feet, so I wrapped his arm around my shoulders and guided him to my bedroom. He collapsed onto my bed, but pulled me by my shirt with him. I fell on top of him, so that we were face to face. I held my breath. His eyes were closed again.

“Eren?” I breathed, sitting perfectly still.

“Dude,” he groaned, “Why are you all wet? It’s cold.”

I smiled at him and pried his fingers from my T-shirt. It took me a minute before I remembered what I was supposed to be doing. Blood sugar test, right. I reached for the only pocket left – the one on the front of my hoodie – and instead of my hands finding his diabetic kit or his insulin pen, there was a piece of paper.

I pulled it out, and it was actually a picture of him and me from high school. Analyzing the photo, I tried to determine when it had been taken, but couldn’t exactly. We were outside the football field in the photo, but Eren and I had spent a lot of time there.

I studied it a little harder. Eren looked pretty young. His green eyes and evil grin dominated the photo. They were the most noticeable parts of the picture. His cheeks were still round and his arms around my neck were bean poles. I looked from Eren on my bed to Eren in the photo. Eren’s arms on the bed and Eren’s arms in the photo. In the photo, he wasn’t wearing his bracelet that marked him as a diabetic to anybody who found him acting weird or passed out somewhere. I hadn’t seen him without that bracelet on in years.

This must have been right before Mikasa and I had started dating.

I tried not to look at myself, before I’d let myself go. It was such a stupid thing to be jealous of what I used to be. I kept my eyes on Eren instead, wondering if this was a photo of the last time he’d smiled like that around me.

I placed the photo back into his pocket. I didn’t think he even noticed that I’d found it.

Heading for the kitchen to hopefully find something sugary for Eren, I realized all his diabetic stuff was on the floor. I’d stepped right over it to put him in the damn bed.

“Jesus,” I muttered, and bent over to pick up his stuff.

I nudged Eren awake again, knowing I couldn’t test him myself.

“What?” he whined.

“You have to test your blood.”

“Why? I’m fine.”

“Just do it,” I said, placing the monitor and a test strip in his hand. He took his time, messing with the little needle ejector thing for over a minute before he managed to successfully prick his finger. Covering the test strip in blood took less time. The monitor beeped and he read it.

“Shit,” he said, “Fuck.”

“What?”

“I’m over three hundred,” he explained. The blood on his finger was pooling and he wiped it on my hoodie. He grinned at me as he did it, shit head. I’d yell at him for that once he was sober.

“Uh-huh, and is that bad?”

“That’s a lot…that’s like…I’m supposed to be at a hundred-ish,” he said, amused with the word he’d made up and tilting his head. His eyes kept going in and out of focus.

“Well, do you need your insulin thing?”

He shook his head. “Not unless I’m gonna eat.”

“I’ll make you something,” I said, standing to leave. He reached for my arm. I turned to look at him.

“Only if you eat too.”

I kept my face neutral.

“Yeah, sure. But I have to shower first. Why don’t you sleep?”

That seemed to satisfy him because he started to doze almost immediately.

Before I got all the way out into the hall though, I heard him say, “I shoulda kissed you back.”

I paused in the doorway, as if a force was physically preventing me from taking even one more step. Somehow, I’d managed to completely miss what the hell was going on here. It should have been apparent immediately. The smashed photos of all of us. Him wearing my sweatshirt. Him holding the last photo of us taken together before I’d started dating Mikasa. His eyes being blood shot and his face looking like it had been rubbed thoroughly. He had been crying. Him getting so drunk, even though he hadn’t drunk since he was diagnosed with diabetes hardly at all.

This wasn’t about him being upset that he’d said he hated me, although that was what I thought it had been.

This was about him being upset that he loved me.

Oh God. Eren loved me. Of course he did – how could I…?

I twisted around where I stood so fast I almost hit my head on the door paneling.

“Eren?” I said, probably too quietly to be heard. He was totally out. His limbs were sprawled out and he was laying on his side, across the bed horizontally instead of vertically. His feet dangled off the bed. I didn’t have the heart to wake him.

I walked into my bathroom, my heart pounding hard against my chest. I leaned against the wall so that my forehead was pressed into the paint. Our fight wasn’t because he was mad at me for fucking some stranger, or because I was cheating on Mikasa. It wasn’t about him being mad that I had kissed him while he was dating Armin.

I understood, now, why he said he hated me. I hated me too.

I plugged the drain in the tub and started to fill it with hot water. As hot as the water could go. I stripped myself of all my wet clothing and piled it on the floor. I felt the urge to throw up, but knew there was nothing in my stomach that could be thrown up. So instead, I stared at myself in the mirror. My body was empty and yet it was ginormous. My stomach was so wide. I sucked in my stomach and squared my shoulders to try to look like I had when I was in high school. My legs were so flabby. I hated how they looked as I shifted in the mirror. I needed to run more, and get my body back.

I ran my fingers over my stomach, pinching it and feeling hair that had started to grow in places it hadn’t before. Hair lighter than my own sandy blonde color. It was like peach fuzz. It was across most of my chest. I arched an eyebrow at it in the mirror, momentarily forgetting about my weight. Wasn’t I too old for puberty?

I shook my head, deciding I had too much shit to worry about already and standing in the bathroom was still making me shiver. I turned around and stepped onto my scale.

It read back to me 121 pounds, but I didn’t think that sounded right. Mikasa weighed more than that, and I weighed a ton more than her. I flipped the scale over so that it was face down. For some reason, this made me feel better.

Climbing into the tub, I let the heat of the steaming water sink into my skin. It was so hot my skin turned pink, but I didn’t care. Taking a bath or shower was the only time I ever felt warm anymore.

I laid in there until the water was cold. Then I refilled it, because I wasn’t ready to face what was on the other side of the bathroom door yet.

Chapter Text

Eren

I had a headache. My stomach felt queasy. Already, I was wishing I could fall back asleep. I rolled over, spreading my limbs across the bed, when I realized I shouldn’t be in a bed at all. If I were at home, I’d be on a couch.

And that’s when I remembered I wasn’t at home.

I flung myself out of the bed immediately, stumbling in the darkness.

It was dark? How long had I been out? I walked out into the hall. Something skidded across the floor. The glass, from the picture frames I’d smashed…

Why had I done that? Mikasa and Jean were going to kill me.

The kitchen light was on. There was some clanking coming from it. I looked over my shoulder at Mikasa and Jean’s digital clock. It was almost seven AM.

“Shit!” I cursed. I had to be at work in an hour and I reeked of alcohol. “Jean? Or…Mikasa? Whoever’s home, do you have any fucking Tylenol?”

I heard a laugh. A throaty chuckle that was a little too confident, and turned all my bones into fuzzy pipe-cleaners. Jean.

Shit. I quickly tossed his sweatshirt off of me and threw it in the corner behind his door. Tip-toeing through his hallway, I leaned against the wall more than once to keep from stepping on the glass. In the kitchen, Jean had made me half a loaf a bread’s worth of toast and some bacon. He was piling it all onto a plate. He added two Tylenol pills onto the plate and set it on his kitchen table.

“Eat,” he ordered. I sat down at the kitchen table with him. The light was on above us, but given that it was still dark outside it was pretty dim in his apartment. He was wearing a sweater, and underneath I could see the hem of a different shirt too.

As appetizing as the bacon smelled and as great as the bread would be for my uneasy stomach, I hesitated.

“Aren’t you going to eat?”

He rolled his eyes and reached for my plate. He grabbed a piece of toast and began eating it dry, chomping for emphasis.

“Happy?” he asked.

“My head is killing me.” I shoved the two pills into my mouth and dry swallowed them. “Work’s gonna suck.”

He shook his head. “You’re not going.”

“The fuck I’m not.”

“Already called them pretending to be you,” he said, shrugging as he swallowed another bite of the toast. His bites were so tiny. He used to eat…probably the entire piece of toast at once, actually.

“You have my work number?”

“Well actually, Mikasa does. She has it on our fridge.” He pointed his thumb over his shoulder at the kitchen. I stared at the kitchen, vaguely remembering that I had passed out on the floor after bawling my eyes out and spilling alcohol everywhere.

“How drunk was I? Like on a scale, how bad was it?”

“You can remember everything right?”

I tilted my head back to think. I remembered why I came here, and deciding to drink. I remembered testing my blood, smashing all the photos, and getting totally sappy off a picture of Jean and me. That photo was still in his hoodie, God damn it. I’d have to find an excuse to go back there and grab it.

I remembered Jean finding me, but only barely. He had brought me from the kitchen to the bedroom, insisting I check my blood. Which was really stupid on his part because alcohol would make blood sugar rise not lower it.

“Hey, uh…I need to go grab my insulin.” I stood, but before I could leave, he said my name. I glanced at him.

“Do you remember everything?”

“Not really,” I said. “I mean, I remember most the shit I did…uh, sorry about the house. I’ll clean it up while you’re at school…”

“But, you don’t remember anything you said?”

I tried really hard to think of anything for a moment, but came up with nothing. I shook my head.

“Did I say anything really embarrassing you’re going to hold against me later?” I asked.

He shook his head.

I walked back to his room, on sore feet, and realized that I remembered one other thing. Splitting my foot open. I’d have Mikasa look at it later.

In his room, I quickly tested my blood.

“Jesus,” I breathed. I hadn’t been that high in months. I groped around the floor for my pen, and I grabbed that photo of us from his sweatshirt while I was at it. Then I shoved it into my pocket. I walked back to the kitchen. Jean was sitting there, wearing an expression like he’d just seen his grandpa naked.

“Are you okay?” I asked, as I sat down at the table again. I set my insulin pen to a higher number of units than I would normally take for the toast. Then I took the cap off it and lifted my T-shirt. Jean watched me. He’d seen me do it a thousand times, but this time he was looking at it like it meant something to him. “Jean?” I asked. I located a spot on my stomach that was neither too swollen to put the needle through nor too sensitive, and then I stabbed myself with it. I didn’t even wince anymore at the tiny sting of pain. I pressed the button at the end of the pen, and put the lid back on it.

“Huh?” he said, “Oh. Uh, you told me Mikasa was going to break up with me.”

My eyes widened and I perked my head up. “I did? Fuck man…I’m so sorry. She didn’t want me to tell you. We came here earlier today and you were –weren’t here…uh, and I um. Decided to wait for you. I should call her actually…she must be at my place.”

Jean leaned back in his seat and crossed his arms. He wouldn’t look at me. “I’m not…worried about Mikasa. I saw it coming.”

I nodded at him. “You uh…you’ve moved on then? I mean this Marco guy…is he uh, someone you’re going to keep seeing?”

I couldn’t have made it sound casual if my life depended on it.

“You knew I was there?” he asked.

I shrugged. Now I couldn’t look at him either. “I just…just assumed.”

“No. No, he has a girlfriend. A fiancé, actually, and a baby on the way. I’m…you were right, okay? I’m an idiot.”

I tried very hard not to make my relief apparent. “Well I mean, wasn’t he supposed to be kind of a one-time thing anyway?”

Please say yes.

“Yeah, he was. He is. Don’t uh…worry about me seeing him anymore. I’m not gonna.” The way he said it, made me feel like he wasn’t saying it because it was true, but because he was trying to comfort me. I fidgeted in my seat. As an excuse to not say anything for a minute, I ate the three slices of bacon he’d made me. “Can I ask you something?” he asked.

“I doubt giving you permission would really make a difference.”

He smiled and chuckled. He finished off the rest of his toast. “Are you and Armin doing okay?”

I froze in my seat, swallowing everything in my mouth at once. I coughed once, slamming my hand against my chest when it didn’t go down right. “Why – why do you ask?”

“You just said some stuff that made me wonder.” He blushed. I knew he was lying, or at the very least being vague. He was probably doing that on my behalf. I decided not to push it.

“We broke up.”

“When?”

I tossed him another piece of plain toast. It skidded across the table. He didn’t say anything about it, just began nibbling on the crust. I reached for the knife he’d given me and the butter in the center of the table for my own toast.

“Friday. After our fight,” I said.

“Was it…because um…ya' know? ‘Cause I kissed you?”

I flinched. “God no. He decided we should break up. I don’t think he’s told you yet, but he’s…asexual, is the word he used.”

“So he doesn’t like sex,” Jean said, shrugging.

“Why do you know about this and I don’t?” I grumbled, as I spread the butter across a slice of toast. I bit into it. He made his toast crunchier and browner than I liked mine, but the bacon had been spot-on.

“Mikasa brought it up some time ago,” he said, “Can’t remember what for.”

“Probably when he was telling her about it,” I said, bitterly. “Anyway, he doesn’t think being in a relationship is right for him either.”

Jean nodded. “Do you think it’s weird both our relationships ended at once?”

I shook my head. “We’ve kinda done every major life event together.”

He smiled. “What life events?”

I shoved half the remaining slice into my mouth while I thought about it. “Well, we got drunk for the first time together. We tried pot together. We graduated high school together. We snuck out together. We got our licenses within a week of each other. We were on the football team together, we worked at Pizza hut together, and we lost our virgi –”

I snatched up another piece of toast and shoved part of it in my mouth without buttering it.

Jean laughed. “Virginity. You can say it, you prude.”

I rolled my eyes at him. “Whatever, dude.”

He laughed at me again. I blushed. It hadn’t just been our virginity. It was the works. First kiss, first time getting naked, first blow job…first everything. First I love you.

“All I’m saying is, I think it’s weird that you’re only noticing it now,” I said. “By the way it’s really insensitive of you to not ask me if I’m okay. I got shitfaced in your apartment and broke all the pictures of Armin and me. You could ask how I’m doing.”

The excuse came out of nowhere, and it rolled off my tongue naturally. I was relieved I’d found a way to explain it.

Jean didn't apologize. His eyes narrowed, looking me up and down once. Then he looked away again. His fingers threaded through his hair.“You broke the pictures of Mikasa and me too…”

I swallowed my toast and accidentally bit my cheek. It didn’t bleed, but for a second I contemplated doing it. Contemplated if it would hurt more than how I had hurt while breaking the photos. “I really am sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

He sighed. “That’s not what I meant.”

“What did you mean?” I asked.

He stared at me for a long minute. I could see him thinking, twisting his thoughts around like a rubrics cube and trying to make sense of them. Trying to find exactly what he meant and how to say it. He ran his fingers through his hair again. This was just one time out of millions I had wished I could put Jean's head underneath a microscope or plug it into Google Translate and figure out for myself what he was thinking, because frankly, Jean was just really fucking bad at interpreting it himself.

“What if I told you I’ve fucked up my life?” Yeah, those were the words he settled on, even though there was probably an hour's worth of credits rolling through his head.

“I’d believe you and pull out a flow chart of your progress." He rolled his eyes, and I snickered.

“Seriously,” he said. And he was serious. Too serious for seven in the morning during a hangover. I squinted at him.

“Okay then, lay it on me. How have you fucked up your life?” I asked. “I’ll be your monotone therapist.”

He shook his head and deadpanned. He stood from where he was sitting across from me and scooted into the chair next to me. He leaned across the table so that our faces were just a foot apart.

“You uh…you said some other things while you were drunk,” he said.

My heart started hammering in my chest. It was too much for it, it had been treated like a punching bag enough this week. “Wh-what stuff?”

“You said…Never mind. Forget I brought it up,” he said, and he began to stand. I couldn’t let it go though. I pulled him by his sweater back down into the seat.

“You can’t bring something like that up and not tell me, man.”

He was torn, his expression a mix between pity and longing that made me feel like I was sitting in the room naked. “You said ‘I should have kissed you back’. And you were wearing my sweatshirt…and holding a photo –”

“Shut up,” I said, leaping away from the chair like it had electrocuted me. “Stop talking, now.”

He stopped talking. Without even bringing my dishes into the kitchen, I headed to the front door to pull on my boots. I’d be late for work, but at least I’d show up. They weren’t expecting me anyway, so it wouldn’t matter.

“Eren?” Jean asked.

“Dude, leave me alone. Don’t talk to me about it. I don’t fucking want to hear what you have to say…just, whatever. I’m gonna leave, and you’re going to never bring this up again,” I rambled. I kept talking, babbling, about how he shouldn’t have brought it up. A good friend would have acted like they’d heard nothing, would have left me with some dignity. He’d done enough to me, I didn’t need him to humiliate me too.

I stood up, after I’d laced my boots, and opened the door. My insulin pen was still on the counter. I blushed, almost cried, and turned around to grab it. He was watching me, still torn between trying to stop me from going and doing what I had asked.

After snatching it off the table, I turned right back around to leave.

But he wrapped his arms around me. I didn’t consciously decide to lean into him. I didn’t mean to rest my head against his shoulder and curl into his chest, but I did it, and I felt utterly betrayed by my body.

“Don’t make the same mistake twice,” he said. “Believe me, it’s not worth it.”

I slapped his shoulder, and he let me, which was the worst part. He let me cry into his chest like a pathetic child, until I held him back. His waist was so tiny in my arms, so fragile, I kept my hands gentle on him, cursing myself for slapping him. Even if it was without much force.

He walked me back into the apartment with him, but we didn’t go into the kitchen. He brought me to the nearest couch and sat me down next to him. He kept one arm on my shoulder, and I was conscious of it constantly.

“I didn’t have any idea you…you had feelings for me,” he started, “I mean, you do have feelings for me right?”

It took me a minute to say it. I looked away from him when I did. “Yeah.”

“How long?” he asked. There was a croak in his voice I wasn’t used to hearing.

“Never really went away. You know, since high school."

“You’ve felt like this for seven years?” His lip quivered like he was a small child trying not to cry.

I nodded. He shook his head in disbelief. His gold eyes were wide and his eyelashes were wet.

“You should have told me.”

“You were with my sister, dude. How was I supposed to interrupt that?”

He sighed. “I’m sorry.”

I smiled at that. Neither of us apologized much, not unless it was someone who really mattered. He’d apologized when he had kissed me, and that had hurt. It had hurt that he had thought it was something to apologize for. Now it felt like an adrenaline rush.

“What…what are you trying to say, right now?” I asked. “About you fucking up your life. Do you mean…?”

“With you,” he said. “I’ve done everything with you since middle school. Everything, and somehow it slipped my mind that I loved you too.”

It was the words that had haunted the outskirts of my thoughts for years. Hearing them was almost too much. My heart was pounding hard again and I laced my fingers behind my head to try to steady myself. I cried more, but rubbed it away right away. I was sick of crying.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “’Cause…’Cause I can’t handle it if…you wake up and change your mind.”

He pulled my hands a part, and laced his fingers in mine. “I can’t promise anything. My life is pretty fucked up. I still have to figure shit out with Mikasa and –”

“You still have to get over Marco,” I added.

“What?” he said, jerking backward like I’d shoved him.

I rolled my eyes. “How many times have I told you what a shitty liar you are, Jean? I’m not fucking stupid. I can see how he – how he affected you.”

He cleared his throat and bit his lip. “I’m sorry.”

I shrugged.

“But I do love you,” he said, so quietly, reminding me it was only for my ears to hear. “I know it. I don’t know much, but I do know that.”

I smiled at him, feeling sheepish as I did so. It wasn’t a mischievous smile, or a smirk. It wasn’t smug or cocky, or anything like the smiles I was used to wearing around him for so long. It was just my smile. He grinned back.

“Does this mean…?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t really want to have to tell Mikasa and Armin that they broke up with us and now we’re dating,” he said. Then he laughed. “Probably get pretty awkward.”

“Actually I uh…I broke up with Armin after…”

His face became severe “Are you shitting me?”

I shook my head. “He didn’t deserve to be with someone who loved somebody else.”

“So does he know? About…about how you feel?”

I winced. “Yeah…”

Jean closed his eyes for a second, raising his eyebrows too. “Okay then…”

“But if you need some time to figure out your shit or whatever – to unfuck your life, go ahead,” I blurted, afraid I’d lost him when I’d only just gotten him back.

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Can we just…I kind of jumped into shit with Marco and look where it got me. I kinda just want to take it slow.”

I wanted to point out that I wasn’t anything like Marco. I was his best friend. I’d always been there for him. I kept my mouth shut though.

“Sure,” I said. “Can go as slow as you want.”

I tried not to sound disappointed.

He smiled again, softer this time. Then he leaned in to kiss me. I gasped before his lips were even against mine.

This time I kissed him back. I pulled him into me by his shoulders, clutching onto him. Our kissing was rough, hungry, and urgent, like it had always been. It felt like my lips had been in a long distance relationship with his all this time and there was no holding them back now. I kissed him intensely, our teeth clashing at times, and me biting his lip others. He tasted so sweet.

“Want you,” I whined against his lips. He smiled. “Now.”

I pressed his shoulders against the back of the couch, and just as soon as I’d let go, he pressed me against the couch.

“Me first,” he said. He shifted so that he was on his knees in front of me. Then he lifted my shirt up so he could run his hands over my stomach. He trailed his hands delicately over the swollen parts of my skin, right next to my hip bones where I injected myself with insulin. They were always a little sore, just like my fingers. He kissed them.

“You taste like vodka,” he muttered. “That’s not a fucking compliment.”

I laughed and ran my fingers through his hair. “I quit drinking, so don’t worry.”

His fingers were shaking as they fumbled with the button on my pants. Before he even tugged my briefs down I was completely hard.

And I swore the sun rose just for me when his mouth enveloped me because as he sank down it was like heaven rose up and his whole fucking living room caught fire.

I quivered as he worked his mouth on me. God, he loved this. He was so good at it. He used to brag about it all the time. As it turned out he still had his bragging rights. I moaned at the feeling of his tongue. Hot and wet against me, making me shiver. He pressed my hips into the couch so that I didn’t have to worry about trying not to buck into his mouth.

“God, Jean,” I moaned, “S’good. So fucking good.”

I curled my fingers in his hair, tugging on it just the way I knew he liked it and he groaned while I was still in his mouth. It made me clutch onto the leather couch, shaking as he brought me higher. It was all I could do not to push down on his head as he brought me to the brink. I whimpered his name when I came, trembling and panting. I had to hang onto his shoulders.

“Oh my God,” I breathed, when he pulled off.

“Yeah?” he asked, smirking at me. He pulled my briefs and pants back up.

I didn’t have the energy to cut him down a size, so I just nodded. I closed my eyes, suddenly exhausted.

“I think you need to go back to bed,” he said.

I shook my head and pouted. “Not until I’m finished with you. You’re going down.”

He laughed, louder than I had heard in a while, and shook his head.

“My dick will still be here when you wake up."

I groaned, but he was right. I could barely keep my eyes open. Normally, by this time I had drunk a couple cups of coffee, for the sake of the drivers who would like to get to work without me running them over in a UPS truck. Now that I didn’t have any responsibilities, and I had post-orgasm sleepiness, I didn’t have any arguments for him.

I stood and began walking through his apartment, avoiding the glass. I really did have to clean that up before Mikasa came home. She was probably wondering why I hadn’t called her, but I knew she was terrified of coming face to face with Jean. She wouldn’t come here, and so she’d have to wait until I felt like talking to her.

“You’re coming to bed too, right?” I asked, rubbing my eyes as I walked toward the bedroom.

“Yeah." He followed me out of the living room into the hall. “Just have to go to the bathroom first.”

“Yeah sure, whatever.”

He came back a couple of minutes later. I’d managed to stay awake long enough to make sure he wasn’t going to disappear again. Long enough to make sure everything that had happened this morning was real.

He crawled in next to me, and thinking I was asleep, he kissed my forehead before rolling over in the bed.

Chapter Text

Jean

Eren wasn’t in the bed when I woke up. Glancing at the clock, I realized that it was almost one again. Lately it seemed like whenever I tried to sleep I stayed awake for hours. Then I slept later into the day than I planned. So much for school today. Although, after seeing Eren so drunk, and after…getting back together? Is that what it was? Well anyway, after all that, I doubted I could have forced myself to go to school and squint at a power point for a few hours.

I climbed out of bed. Last night, I’d worn two sweaters to bed. They still didn’t keep me warm enough. While shifting through hanging clothes in my closet, I wondered if Eren had turned down the thermostat.

I pulled on the biggest hoodie I owned before walking out into the hall. I had expected there to still be frames and shattered glass across the floor, but there wasn’t. Eren had cleaned it up.

Eren didn’t notice me right away when I entered the kitchen. One reason was because he was facing the stove. The other reason was because he had his headphones in, and was singing to When It’s Over by Sugar Ray. I hadn’t heard it in years…I was surprised I even recognized it. He had a nice voice though, and I leaned against the wall divider from the dining room to the kitchen so I could listen to him for a while.

At the stove, he was flipping pancakes in a pan like we used to do in high school. There was a big pile of pancakes on a plate on the counter to his right.

He took pancakes very seriously. He even did the thing chefs in restaurants do where they toss the pancake into the air and flip it before it flops into the pan again. They were fluffy, thick and perfectly browned. Even the smell…The smell made my hunger claw at the walls of my stomach.

He was expecting me to eat that. Already I knew, I couldn’t turn him down. Not just because he had bothered to make sure I ate toast this morning, but because after last night, I didn’t think I was physically capable of saying no to him. Anything he wanted from me, I would give.

I watched him for another minute. He was in nothing but his briefs. His hips swayed with the music. And yeah, I fucking checked out his perfect ass. His feet tapped too. For once, it wasn’t in the way they did when he was angry or impatient. He messed up the lyrics a couple of times, cursing under breath. I chuckled.

He sang, “And when you go, go, go, go….I know, it never ends. It never ends. All the things that I used to say, all the words that got in the way, all the things that I used to know have gone out the – Jesus Christ!”

I smirked at his expression when he turned around to throw a spoon in the sink and finally noticed me. Wide-eyed and blushing across his cheeks and the tips of his ears. If I had asked him to sing, you bet your ass he would have vehemently denied any singing ability or any recollection of singing in his lifetime. But this wasn’t the first, nor the last time that I would catch him singing to himself when he thought no one else was looking.

I took a couple of steps into the kitchen, and placed my hands on his waist. Wrapping my arms tightly around him, so that his chest was against mine, I kissed him. He couldn’t hug me back because he was holding a spatula and the other had pancake batter on it, but the surprised squeak in the back of his throat was acknowledgement enough.

“Hey,” I said.

“Uh, hey. I made pancakes. Sorry, I didn’t wake you up for school, but I didn’t know –”

“You didn’t want me to go to school,” I said. His blush darkened a shade. I smiled.

“Well…you didn’t want me to go to work,” he grumbled.

“You’re right.” I shrugged. My hands dropped from his waist. I stepped past him and reached for the cupboard with our plates. My stomach was whining like I hadn’t eaten in years…and it hit me that I hadn’t actually eaten anything in three days. Well, I had, but I’d thrown up most of it.

Using a fork, I stabbed through four plate-sized pancakes and dragged them onto my plate. The idea of eating so much food made bile rise in my throat.

Regardless of how I felt about eating the pancakes, I was going to fucking eat them. I was going to sit at my kitchen table with Eren and eat pancakes like we used to. This time I wouldn’t throw them up. One meal wouldn’t kill me.

I grabbed the syrup from the fridge, and a knife from the silverware drawer. Eren followed behind me, and I didn’t miss the look of surprise on his face when he saw how many pancakes I had grabbed. At first it made me want to put the pancakes back. If he thought I was eating like a pig there was no way I was going to be able to avoid going to the bathroom after this.

Then I realized that the last time Eren saw me eat pancakes, I had probably just taken the entire plate he’d made. He didn’t think I was eating too much, he thought I was eating too little.

One meal wouldn’t kill me.

He sat down at the table with me. He’d grabbed the other seven he’d made. The fact that he was eating more than me made me feel the tiniest bit better. He couldn’t possibly think that I was eating too much if he was eating more.

I drizzled my pancakes in syrup. Again, Eren gave me a look of surprise. He smiled though. He took the syrup after me. It was sugar free, and didn’t have any carbs worth taking into account on his insulin. It was sugar free because the only person who ever consumed syrup in our apartment was him.

He must have read all the nutritional facts about the ingredients in the pancakes before this, or for that matter, probably memorized, because after putting the syrup down, he stood up and left the room.

He came back with his insulin pen in his hand, counting units with the dial on the pen before sitting down. He leaned back in his chair, pierced his stomach with the needle, and held the button on the pen down until all the insulin was released into his body. He set it on the table when he was done. During all of this, I couldn’t hold back my fond smile. So many years, I’d watched him stick himself with a needle, and only now was I remembering all the times I had to fight with him to take his insulin. I was glad I didn’t have to anymore.

“I called Mikasa,” he said.

I took my first bite.

“And?”

“She wants to come over this evening.”

It was like she didn’t even live here. Like the lease wasn’t in her name or something. I wondered what we’d do, after the break up was official. Would she kick me out? I couldn’t imagine Mikasa and I ever being angry enough with each other to let something like that happen. We were on shitty terms, but the desire to break up was mutual. Once it happened, I wouldn’t see her any differently. She was Mikasa, one of my best friends. And if Eren was officially my –

Holy shit.

My boyfriend.

She’d probably take over the position of best friend. At least I hoped that would be the case.

I took my second bite. Then a third and a fourth. The bites were tiny and I was eating slowly, but at least I was eating them. They had smelled amazing, but I didn’t taste them. All I could feel was the glue-like consistency of the syrup and the spongey texture of the pancake. Every time I ate now, in my head, the food became something that very obviously wasn’t edible. I couldn’t understand how people let themselves do this, how I had let myself do it for so long. It was repulsive.

Five, six, seven bites.

“Jean?” Eren asked. I’d been silent for too long.

“Sorry, uh, what did you say?”

“You’re cool with her coming over right? To ‘talk’,” he said. He sighed in exasperation afterward, but I didn’t think it was directed at me. The scraping of the forks against the porcelain was interrupting my ability to concentrate. My head felt woozy.

He’d already eaten half of his pancakes, and he had almost twice as much as me.

One meal wouldn’t kill me.

“Yeah, she can come over. I mean, I gotta do it eventually right? No point putting it off.”

Eight bites, nine, ten, eleven…why wasn’t this food disappearing faster? Why was there so much of it?

“Do you want me to stay?” he asked.

I perked my head up at him. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“Well, most people don’t really like an audience for that sorta thing.”

I smiled at him. He looked legitimately afraid I would tell him to leave and go home. Like if he went home and Mikasa came here everything that had changed in the last twenty four hours would no longer exist. I reached for his hand underneath the table. His fingers wrapped around mine a little tighter than they normally would. “I don’t give a shit if you stay. She’d just tell you everything later anyway.”

He sighed in relief. “Good.”

I finished over half of the pancakes. My stomach felt heavy and gross inside of my body. For a second, I imagined myself throwing up my stomach altogether and existing on air.

Twenty, twenty one, twenty two…

“Did she say anything else?” I asked, mostly to distract myself from how much I was eating. I watched him eat more. He only had one pancake left, and he shoved over a fourth of one in his mouth like it was a breath mint.

I envied him. It wasn’t fair that he could eat whatever he wanted and still look so sexy all of the damn time. He was stronger now than he had been in high school. He had to lift so much for his job, he’d gained a ton of muscle over the years. He was nothing but a bobby pin in high school. In comparison to me, anyways.

Twenty eight, twenty nine, thirty…

“Say anything else about what?” he asked.

“Like…me being gone,” I asked.

He shook his head. “Not really. I don’t think she wants to know. You probably shouldn’t bring it up.”

I nodded. He finished everything left on his plate. Standing up from the chair, he walked over to the sink. His dishes clanked as he dropped them in.

I took a deep breath. Then I finished everything left on my plate in five bites. It took months for those pancakes to travel down my throat. It was a miracle I hadn’t choked.

One meal wouldn’t kill me.

When I dropped my own dishes in the sink, Eren placed his hand on the small of my back. “Are you sure you’re not still hungry?”

I nodded. Just walking was disorientating. My stomach protruded way over my pants. It must have been apparent through my layers of clothing. I placed my hand over my stomach to hide it from him. Even touching my own body disgusted me.

“Yeah, I’m full.” And I was. My stomach hurt it was so full. Part of me thought I might throw up from actually being sick this time.

“Okay…”

“Really, I am,” I insisted. He put his hands up in surrender.

“Okay, okay,” he said. “What do you want to do now?”

I wanted to run to the bathroom is what I wanted to do. Reminding myself again that this meal wouldn’t kill me, I ignored the urge. What I needed was a distraction. There was only so much time that could pass after eating if I wanted to throw up, and I needed to keep myself busy for as long as possible. Long enough that if I gave in and ran to the bathroom, nothing would come up when I tried.

“Let’s fuck.”

He laughed at me and raised his eyebrows. “Subtle.”

“Whatever,” I said, and pulled him to my chest again by his waist.

He didn’t argue with me. Using my hands to guide him, he walked backwards down the hall while he kissed me. Twice our kissing was too passionate to possibly walk successfully, and we leaned against the walls. Normally, I thought we both would have gotten impatient. But he had wanted me like this for so long, and I couldn’t afford to rush.

My stomach grew heavier by the second.

Once we were in my room, Eren groaned into my mouth. His hands slid down my sides. Because we were kissing, he couldn’t see me cringe at the feeling of someone touching my fat. He felt my body tense up though.

“Still think I’m too weak to lift you?” he asked, grinning cockily at me. He was mocking me from our younger days. When we had both bet that we couldn’t pick the other up. Unlike me, he hadn’t been able to lift me for more than a few seconds.

“Yes,” I replied. “If you couldn’t lift me then, there’s no way you can now.”

He arched an eyebrow, and for a second he looked concerned. I thought he was going to give me the whole spiel about how thin I was again to make me feel better.

He didn’t. Instead, his hands roamed lower so that they were behind my thighs.

“Hang on,” he said.

I sighed. Theatrically, so he would know what an inconvenience it was, but humored him and placed my hands on his shoulders.

My back slid up the side of my bedroom wall in a second. My fingers sunk into his shoulders like claws. The motion was so fast and unexpected I’d almost fallen on my head.

“Christ!” I hissed. He snickered.

“Told ya’.”

I wrapped my ankles around his waist, and his hands slid to my ass under the pretense of carrying my weight. He held me there for some time. To someone else, it would look romantic or affectionate. In reality, he was just rubbing it in. Asshole.

But I didn’t give him any shit, because his lips were on my neck. I tangled my fingers in his brown hair and whimpered as his tongue laved against my skin. He didn’t smell like vodka anymore, and the smell of his skin and of my Pea Tree shampoo was starting to intoxicate me. He must have showered earlier.

He carried me to my bed, and eased me onto it. His lips never left me. They were on my neck, and my collarbones, and my cheek. His tongue was on my ear and it sent a flicker of electricity up my spine.

Eren’s fingers grappled with the hem of my sweatshirt. It pulled me right out of it. I wrapped my arms around my stomach.

“What?” he asked, still looking at me with hungry, green eyes.

“You want to take my shirt off?” I asked.

He chuckled. “Uh…Yeah? Have you forgotten how this works?”

“Shut up,” I snapped. “That’s not what I meant. I mean, you’re not gonna – like, you aren’t gonna stare are you?”

His eyebrows furrowed in confusion before he realized what I meant. “Oh, you mean like…like when I pulled up your shirt last time? Look, Jean, I don’t care how thin you are. I mean…yeah it’s different, but whatever. I just want you.”

“You don’t care if I’m fat?” I asked. He jerked his head back like he had just smelled something rancid and shook his head.

“You’re not fat, Jean. Not even close. What’s gotten into you?” I rolled my eyes. Did anyone ever fall for that?

Once again, I thought of Armin. Only this time I wasn’t just comparing how thin he was to me, I was thinking about how Eren must find thinness attractive.

“Whatever, you don’t have to try to make me feel better right now. Just, like, do you care?”

Slowly, he slid his arms underneath all my shirts and placed his hands against my stomach. He did it as if he was afraid I might bite him. “I couldn’t care less. No matter how you look, how thin or big, I’m never going to care. That’s not how it works for me. I couldn’t even tell you what my ‘type’ is.”

I wasn’t sure I believed him, but his expression was serious enough.

“Alright,” I said, and I lifted my arms away from my stomach. He pulled off the first sweater and the second.

“Why are you wearing so many sweaters?”

“Because it’s fucking cold in here.” As if on cue, I shivered.

He looked at himself as I said it. He’d been in his briefs all morning. I didn’t know how he could stand it.

He took my last sweater off, and I closed my eyes so I wouldn’t have to see his expression. His hands roamed up my body, touching me like he was reading braille. Then his arms scooped me up, and pulled me further onto the bed.

His lips were exploring again. All across me, but not in the way he had on my neck. It reminded me of when I was a child, and I’d scraped my elbow or bumped my head, and my mom would kiss it better. He even kissed my stomach and the bruises he’d left on my arm from our fight. I had a lot of bruises, but the ones on my arm were the exact imprints of fingers. His kissed those before rubbing them gently with his thumb.

He slid my pants and boxers down after that, completely exposing me. I opened my eyes. His expression was unreadable. It looked like it took a lot of effort to keep it that way. I placed my hands over my stomach again. He had promised not to stare.

“Eren,” I said.

“Hmm?”

“Quit it.”

“You…want to stop?” he asked. Again, it sounded like there was a lot of restrain in his voice.

“No. Not that. Stop looking at me like that.”

“Uh, okay?” He dropped my pants on the hardwood floor. Then he climbed over the foot of the bed. Once he was laying parallel to me, I sat up. He was on his back and God he was…nothing like I remembered.

This wasn’t the skinny kid with braces in high school that got excited about having five chest hairs. This was a man. He was just lying there, like he’d been dropped there from the skies and hadn’t bothered to move. Still, every inch of his body looked like it had been slaved over for hours by a perfectionist sculptor. He wasn’t strong in the sense that he was a body builder or a wrestler. But that just made it better somehow, everything on him was so obviously not done on purpose.

I hadn’t been hard until now.

I ran my fingers through his chest hair and over his stomach through his happy trail. He smiled as I did so. My fingers tugged at the waistband of his briefs. I tossed them on the floor with my pants.

“Who’s doing what?”

He blushed and looked away from me bashfully. “You know what I like.”

I laughed, and as soon as I did he narrowed his eyes at me. So I covered my mouth to wipe the grin off my face. All this time, nothing had changed. I suppose it must have been different with Armin, but I didn’t want to think about that. I only wanted to think about him wanting me, and I wanted to pretend things had never happened any other way.

Mikasa and I were about as lazy as physically possible at home, so we hadn’t stored our condoms or lube in any drawer or desk that would require us to strenuously reach for.

“Lift your head.” He looked confused, but did as I asked. Then I reached my hand into my pillow case and pulled out a roll of condoms and a tiny bottle of lube.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” he said, through a laugh. “What if you left the cap open or something?”

“Shhh or I’ll play hard to get.”

He shushed.

I ripped one of the condoms off and tossed the rest on the floor. I kissed him before I wrapped my arm around his waist and nudged him so that he’d roll over. He was on his stomach now.

“Uh…sick of my face already?” he asked. It was a joke, but I could tell there was some actual insecurity there. Even though I really did want to face him, I didn’t want him to be looking me up and down. He didn’t…he didn’t look at me the way Marco had. Every time he looked at my body, he was analyzing it.

I kissed the spot between his shoulder blades. “No, don’t be stupid.”

“Then why…?” he asked. I kissed his neck, and a shudder ran down his spine.

I couldn’t give him a reason why, so I just said, “Because.”

He hummed and then let his head hit the pillow. “Fine. Whatever. Get on with it though.”

I chuckled and kissed down his back. I kept kissing his body as I prepped him. Kept my one free hand touching him. Touching the nape of his neck, his defined shoulders, the small of his back, and his ass when he finally got desperate on my fingers.

I didn’t bother taking it slow or gentle. He was right. I knew what he liked, and it wasn’t something I could make myself forget. I wrapped my arms around his shoulders so that he could hang onto my wrists for support, and I was rough.

It was both like it had been, and something new entirely. His body felt different in my arms, but the ways he touched me hadn’t changed. The way his hands would tighten when I hit him just right, the way he bit into whatever his mouth could reach. The way his back arched when he got close.

As soon as it did, I already knew what he was going to do, so I pulled my right hand off his shoulder just in time for his own shaking hand to reach for it, and guide it down his stomach toward his hardness. While I was rough with my thrusts, I was gentle with my hand, using only the pads of my fingers to make him feel good.

And the noises – sweet God – I loved to hear him transition from heavy pants, to outdrawn moans, to impatient growls, until he said my name right before he couldn’t make any sound at all. He couldn’t find his voice when he came, hot and wet over my hand. His body went slack. Then his hands were gentle on my arms, soothing, until I gasped his name and caved in to how good he felt.

When I pulled out – and this was our thing – we both tried to take up as much of the bed as we possibly could, because the very first time we had sex Eren bitched about getting too sweaty from sex to cuddle afterward and I had interpreted that as “please, shove me off the bed.”

We didn’t try to shove each other off the bed after that. But every time after that until this time years later, we stretched our limbs out, not cuddling at all except for our hands lacing together.

I told him I loved him again, for good measure, and we said nothing else. I thought that was all he wanted to hear anyway.

Chapter Text

Eren

Jean and I stayed in bed for a couple hours. I didn’t keep track of time, but the room started to dim. The various neighbors surrounding his apartment had come home from work or wherever, and their doors were slamming all around us. Footsteps padded overhead and someone’s television was loud enough to hear through the vents below us.

“Mikasa will be back soon,” I said.

He had been lying with his eyes closed, facing me. He opened them at my words. His expression was solemn. Silently, he climbed out of the bed.

I watched him in his tiny bedroom. He had bruises on the back of his thighs, and I suspected I knew where they were from. There were hickies on him that weren’t from me. I would have thought they’d faded by now, but I supposed they were there to remind me.

But his hair was greasy from sweat, and askew in every direction because of me, and that was all that mattered.

I still couldn’t believe how thin he was. When did it happen? Had it been happening for years and I never noticed? I didn’t think that could be possible, given how many summers I’d spent with him. Those nights where he’d grill in our backyard shirtless, he didn’t seem thin then. That was only a couple of months ago.

Jean pulled on his two sweaters again, followed by a hoodie. He reached for his boxers. They were so big on him, I didn’t know how they didn’t fall right of his body. The last were his sweatpants, and once he had those on I understood why Mikasa hadn’t noticed. His cheekbones were more prominent, but other than that he was practically the same with all his clothes on.

“You should get dressed,” he said. I sighed. Getting up from the bed made our time alone together officially over. It made what just happened officially a memory, and I wanted to savor it longer. I wanted to ache in the aftermath of having him lay on top of me, close my eyes and recall the burn of him inside of me again.

But I couldn’t, so I leapt out of bed after him. My clothes had been in the dryer, so I ran into his laundry room to grab them.

Once dressed, I met Jean in his living room. He was running his fingers through his hair. Not to straighten it, I could tell. He did that when he was stressed.

I slumped into the couch next to him, wrapping my arms around his waist and lacing my fingers together.

“How do you think this will go?” he asked. I shrugged.

“Mikasa’s never been one for drama. If you didn’t already know it was coming, you probably wouldn’t realize it’s supposed to be a break up.” His amber eyes were on me, probably to see if I was lying. He had purple circles underneath them. He hadn’t slept enough since I’d gotten here. When he had, he kept rolling over and adjusting like he couldn’t get comfortable.

“Then again,” I started, “You’re her first break up.”

“Oh God,” he said, covering his face in his hands and rubbing his eyes. “I forgot about that.”

“Yeah…but I mean, she’s the one doing it right? So it’s not like she doesn’t want it.”

“I still think…I must have done something. She didn’t just stop loving me, ya’ know?”

“I do,” I said, because I also hadn’t just stopped loving him, and figured it was probably impossible to do so. He opened his mouth like he was going to apologize, and then didn’t because I kissed him. “Relax.”

He nodded, as he curled his fingers into my hair and nudged my head so that I would lay against his shoulder. I closed my eyes, and it was like the world new I was at peace, because Mikasa knocked on the door. Again, with the fucking knocking.

Jean pulled away from me before he walked over to the entryway. He opened the door for her. There must have been a moment of silent communication there, because they both looked at each other for a few seconds, and turned their heads away to stare at the floor.

Then Mikasa turned her head toward me. “Eren, do you mind?”

“Huh? Oh…uh, sure,” I said, heading for the kitchen. She had wanted me to be there the day before. Why not now?

In the kitchen I drummed my fingers against the countertops, trying really hard not to eavesdrop.

Okay, not exactly trying not to eavesdrop. If I had wanted to be an honest man and do the right thing, I would have gone in the bedroom. But even that felt strange now, it was like the crime scene. So, I was in the kitchen, lying to myself about trying not to eavesdrop and proving it to myself by drumming my fingers on the counters to make it only slightly difficult to make out what they were saying.

My fingers were quivering while I did it. She already knew I liked men, obviously. She’d taken that well enough. But I didn’t know how she would handle finding out Jean was bi. She’d be cool with it if it were someone else, but this was the man she’d been with for years. She wasn’t insecure about much, but I could definitely see her being insecure about not…catching it herself. She didn’t like when she had to be told something in order to realize it.

“Yeah, I figured,” Jean said.

“It wasn’t you,” she said.

“Oh yeah, of course it wasn’t. Don’t pull that shit with me, Mikasa,” he said. Even I was surprised. Mikasa being cliché was about the oddest thing I’d ever heard in my life. It was her first break up, so I guessed it made sense. Armin had done it too, but when he said it I guessed it was true.

I stopped drumming my fingers on the table and laced my fingers behind my bed. I paced around his kitchen, forcing my feet to fit in the squares of the tiles. While forcing my feet not to make any noises against the floor, I walked in a perfect square around his kitchen.

“Seriously, Jean. It’s…It’s not you. There’s some…stuff I’m dealing with right now,” she said.

“That you couldn’t tell me?” he asked. I heard some shuffling on the couch. Probably Mikasa fidgeting uncomfortably, or Jean slamming his hand against the couch in frustration.

“Yeah,” she said. “I’m sure there’s stuff you can’t tell me, too.”

A pause. “I guess, yeah.”

“It…if you want me to be honest, I don’t think we were ever what we were supposed to be?”

Some more shifting. Someone bumped the coffee table. Jean had stood, I thought. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean? What were we supposed to be in your head?”

“Please don’t be angry with me,” she said. It was so close to a whimper that I rotated where I stood, taking one step toward the wall divider, before I realized I couldn’t go out there to comfort her. I’d been so worried about how this would affect Jean, that I hadn’t considered my sister. She seemed so bullet proof all of the time, I never imagined he might hurt her. But Jean was like me when he was angry. The more he hurt the person he was yelling at, the more it fueled him.

“All I mean…” she continued, “Is that…I just don’t think we were ever like other couples.”

“Who the fuck wants to be like other couples?” By the way he said it, I could tell it was through his teeth.

“I do,” she said. “But…I don’t really think that’s going to happen.”

“What could I have done to make it happen? What the fuck did I do?”

“I already told you. It’s not you. I don’t think there’s anything you could have done,” she said.

There was the sound of the leather on the couch again. I was pretty sure Jean had sat back down.

“Then why did we do this for five years? Why didn’t you tell me after a year? Why did you let yourself be unhappy with me for so long?” he asked. Despite myself, I smiled. I thought about him telling me at the kitchen table that he thought he’d fucked up his life. He really did wish things had been different. It almost made up for five years of aching.

“Because I wanted to believe things…would happen. I wanted to believe that after enough time, it would just happen like it does for other people,” she said, so low it was nearly a whisper. I almost didn’t catch it. I had to tilt my head so that my ear faced the living room.

“What things? What do you mean 'it'?” he asked.

“Falling in love.”

Silence. I braced myself. There was going to be screaming. He’d probably break something. Maybe the window, or a car, or maybe he’d break the window with a car. He’d take it out on her, and then on me, and then on the next poor idiot that walked too close to him or looked at him wrong.

“You – you never loved me?” he asked. I whipped my head, again, instinctively taking a few steps toward the hall dividing the living room and the kitchen. He was crying. Jean wasn’t supposed to cry.

“It’s not your fault!” she insisted.

“Whatever Mikasa. Thanks for robbing five fucking years of my life. I could have – God, there’s so much I could have been doing with that time,” he choked. Yeah, like me. “And you fucking let me waste five years believing you loved me.”

I had been right. She never loved him. I was so exhausted of resenting her, so exhausted of being jealous, and angry with her, that it didn’t really process anymore. It was sick, but I’d known for years that life would never live up to my expectations.

“I didn’t want it to be like this. I wasn’t going to tell you.”

“So you were just going to marry me and rob me of ever being loved by someone? You were going to settle for me and never find someone who made you feel the way I do about –”

He cut himself off, so that he wouldn’t say my name.

The book with the little pictures was back. It happened a page at a time. Hearing him build up to admitting it, saying what I’d always wanted to hear, and then ripping the last few pages with the last few drawings out of the book. He didn’t say my name, the pages weren’t flipped anymore, and then they collapsed into each other again. I collapsed too.

My feet gave, and I slumped to the floor like I had the night before.

“Yeah.” She spoke under her breath, but even if I had plugged my ears I would have heard it somehow. It was too good of an opportunity to hurt me some more, for me to ignore it. “Aren’t you glad I decided to leave you after five years?”

Jean didn’t respond. Several minutes passed. My breathing was the loudest thing in the apartment. That was mostly because my lungs were grappling with the oxygen like they were jumping after the string tied to a balloon they’d accidently let go of.

“Look, I’m staying with Armin and Eren,” she said.

“I know.”

“I need to grab some things.”

“Go ahead.”

They stopped talking. I was about to go out into the hall, but there were two sets of footsteps on the hardwood. Why was he following her? My lungs screamed inside of me. My throat hurt from trying to breath.

Mikasa sighed. “Really? You brought someone to our place?”

The condoms…Jean had thrown them on the floor.

“I didn’t bring anyone home,” he said.

“I supposed you just jerked off wearing a condom then?” Mikasa asked.

Jean paused. He wasn’t a good liar. He wouldn’t be able to say anything, if he wasn’t going to tell her the truth.

I laced my fingers behind my head. The kitchen was suddenly too vivid, too sharp, and I closed my eyes. It wasn’t as distracting as being asleep, but it would do.

“Well…yeah. I had sex with someone, but it wasn’t like that.”

I shook my head. Almost like I wasn’t in control of my body, I placed my hands over my ears. And just as soon tore them away, because I liked to torture myself too much. My tears fell, and I cursed them for making me weak.

“What was it like, then?”

“Oh, come on. Like you have any right to get mad? We were together five years, and I never so much as checked out another person’s ass. So yeah, I had sex with someone. When I already knew you were leaving me.”

She didn’t respond. But I could see her venomous glare behind my eyelids.

“And not that it’s your business, but it wasn’t just a random hook up.”

Again, referring to me without saying it was me. He was ashamed, but this time I couldn’t tell if it was because I was a guy or if it was because it was me. Maybe he didn’t care if people knew he liked men at all. He’d gone to the bar to pick up whoever the fuck that asshole was with the baby on the way. He’d done that in public.

It had to be me.

Their feet shifted around in the bedroom. I heard a few drawers open, then the closet.

“Jesus. For fuck’s sake, Jean. There’s still come on the bed. Is she fucking here? Hiding in the fucking laundry room or something? You knew I was coming over!”

My sister never yelled. The sound made my ears anxious.

“God. No. No one’s here. Look, I’m sorry, okay? It was shitty of me to bring them home today, I’m sorry.”

“Yeah you think? Eren’s here for fuck’s sake. What did you just tell him to wait in the living room or did you sneak her in while he was showering?”

I’d never heard my sister like this. One time I crashed my jeep, and she took the blame for me with our parents. My parents took away her phone, her computer, her car, and drove her to and from school every day for a month so she couldn’t see her friends. She had been in volley ball, and they’d taken her out of that too.

All she had said to me was, “You owe me.”

I waited to hear what Jean had to say about that. What horrible lie was he going to come up with to explain where I’d been while he was fucking some girl.

“Uh…”

I shook my head again. More tears fell. I only knew this, because they were staining my shirt. My face was numb.

Mikasa sighed. “Whatever, Jean. I’ll call you once I’ve figured out living arrangements.”

She left the bedroom. I stood so fast I had to cling onto the counter not to fall over. I wiped my face and straightened out my clothing.

She stepped into the kitchen. Her eyes were blood shot, but other than that she looked exactly as she always did. Calm, composure of steel.

“We better get going if we want to make it home before –

“I’m not going yet.”

Her eyebrows furrowed. “What?”

“Uh…I’m staying here for uh…a bit. I’ll catch up with you at home,” I said.

“Why are you staying? Are you mad at me?” she asked. Her eyebrows turned upward and her mouth parted.

“What? Why would I be mad? Just…go. I’ll be home in a bit,” I said. “Gonna make sure Jean’s okay, or whatever.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s my – my friend.” The word tasted awful in my mouth. I could have gagged.

“I’m your sister,” she said.

“And I’ll catch up with you later.”

She hesitated, staring at me like I’d called her a slur or something, but ducked her head down and walked out of the kitchen.

Jean must have been waiting to hear the door slam, because once it did his footsteps were in the hall. I stared at his feet as he walked into the kitchen, stepping on all the lines and not in the squares at all.

He wrapped his arms around my waist. He kissed my forehead. He kissed me on the lips, but I didn’t kiss back.

“I’m so sorry, Eren.”

I shook my head, and pried his arms off me. I physically pushed him a step backward.

“So you do know how to pronounce it.”

“Pronounce what?” His arms were still hanging in the air, like he couldn’t fathom what they were for if they weren’t around me.

“My name. You didn’t tell her about me.”

He scoffed and for a second I considered punching him. “Is that what you’re mad about?”

“Uh, yeah. Is that not good enough for you?”

“Eren, baby,” he said, stepping toward me. I shoved him off again.

“Don’t pull that bullshit right now. Don’t fucking do that to me. Baby doesn’t mean a thing if you’re saying it to brush me off and act like I shouldn’t be mad.”

“You shouldn’t be mad. What was I supposed to do? Look at her and say – Oh yeah, Mikasa, I know you’re really mad. But I have great news. I fucked your brother,” he said, rolling his eyes as he did.

“I’m serious. If you don’t tell her we’re together than we can’t be together.”

“She doesn’t even know I like men,” he argued.

“So? Come out to her. Or are you ashamed of that too?”

He shook his head, but not like he was telling me no. It was like he couldn’t make sense of it. Internally fighting with himself, he was deciding whether or not being with me was worth it if he had to come out and tell her we were together. My legs felt weak again.

“I can’t, Eren.” He used my name again, only now it was like a scab being ripped off a wound and preventing it from healing. “That would kill her.”

“You mean it would kill you. Because you’re ashamed that you’re attracted to men.” I added internally, and me. I even shrugged, like it wasn’t the most painful thing I’d have to come to terms with in my life.

No. I mean, it would kill her,” he insisted. His face had gone from apologetic to a glare. His eyes smoldered like fire, but I was just like him. What had Armin said? About us lighting the world on fire? It made sense, I guessed. Shouldn’t fight fire with fire.

“Oh yeah? How? She doesn’t have feelings for you anymore.”

“What? I know that,” he said, through his teeth again, “I heard her say it. More than once.”

“Then why would it hurt her?”

He looked at me like the answer was obvious, and he had to think through how to explain it to a child. It made me want to hit him even more. My fingers twitched against the countertop from the urge. “Because she can’t stand the idea of someone being closer to you than her.”

“What? That’s fucking stupid she never minded when I was dating Armin.” I shook my head, sighing in exasperation.

He shrugged. “That’s because Armin was never closer to you than she was.”

I whipped my head back in his direction. “What the fuck are you saying? That I didn’t fucking care about Armin?”

He groaned and ran his fingers through his hair. “God no! I’m saying…I’m saying that you guys weren’t – weren’t like we are. Armin didn’t practically grow up in the same house as you. Armin wasn’t around you even before your parents took her in. I was.”

“That doesn’t make any sense, Jean. I’m her brother, why would she give a shit?”

At first his jaw dropped in shock, and then I saw something in his eyes that hurt more than the indifference, more than the anger even. Pity.

“Do you – Do you not see how she acts around you? Whenever you guys fight you say the most fucked up shit to her. And either she doesn’t argue it at all or she explains herself as if everything you’re saying is right. Then when you say you’re sorry she instantly forgives you. No matter what. She has no fucking back bone,” he snarled, his arms flailing in the air with his rage.

The pity vanished and morphed into the only sneer that could possibly make Jean’s gaunt face look ugly to me.

“And honestly? You think I didn’t tell her about us in high school because I was ashamed of my sexuality? I wasn’t any more ashamed than you were. If you remember, you didn’t exactly notify anyone you liked dick either. Because you would have been kicked off the football team.”

“So, shut up,” he continued, “I didn’t tell Mikasa about us because I knew how hurt she would be. How upset she’d be that you were with me first, and you were closer to me and you never even told her. Don’t accuse me of fucking keeping secrets when you did the same shit until Armin decided to transition and you finally told your family you were interested in men.”

I’d kept a mask of anger until now, not letting on to him that I had been crying earlier. I had wanted to for once, be strong, and not betray myself with my own emotions. I couldn’t stand looking weak in front of him, he already pitied me, and was ashamed of me. I didn’t want him to think I was weak too.

But I couldn’t, the tears fell anyway and a sob bubbled up from inside of me. I whimpered. As soon as he heard the sound, he knew he’d won.

“You’re embarrassed of me, then,” I said. “If it were a different guy you wouldn’t have cared.”

If it were Marco.

I’d kill him if I ever met him.

He rolled his eyes and shook his head again. He wandered to the other side of the kitchen, and I couldn’t believe that just a few minutes ago I’d had to pry his hands away from me. That I had been willing to. I wanted to drop to my knees and beg him to forgive me, but I didn’t. It was all I could do to keep some dignity.

“I’m not embarrassed of you,” he said. “Where do you get this shit? She fucking idolizes you. I wouldn’t have any reason to be ashamed to tell her I was with you when she’d probably be jealous.”

“Then why…” Oh God, I shouldn’t ask. I shouldn’t. I should protect what little was left of my heart and run. “Why did you leave me for her? In high school?”

He spun around and looked at me like I was a child again, only this time he wasn’t just going to spell it out for me, he was going to make sure it fucking hurt. “Because I fucking liked her.”

“Di-didn’t you like me? Didn’t it – Didn’t it fucking matter to you at all?!” I screamed.

It got through to him. The flames in his eyes were doused, and then his lip quivered. He was staring at the floor like he wasn’t sure he remembered how he got here.

How had I gotten here? How had I let my life come to this?

“What? Of course...I mean of course it did, but fuck man I was like fifteen! I didn’t fucking know what I was doing or what I wanted. Most the decisions I made weren’t with my head, okay? And … yeah, okay, I liked you. But…it was – it was just a high school crush, ya’ know?” he sputtered,

“No!” I cried so loud my lungs hurt, and Jean ducked his head for a second so he could cover his ears. When he dropped them, I yelled, “No, I don’t fucking know because I fucking loved you!”

He was quiet for a moment. The room was filled with my breath, I was hyperventilating. My finger nails dug into my hands and then into the nape of my neck as I laced them behind my head.

“Eren…I didn’t know you felt that way. I never knew. I told you that…if I could go back and change – No. Not even then, because I don’t regret anything that’s happened…”

I whimpered against my arm. He paused, like he might comfort me. Stepped closer, but then he pulled back.

“I mean, I…I loved her for a long time and up until now, that was true. But…You made me realize – you were what made it change…but I know that doesn’t take away everything that happened before. Still…I wouldn’t change anything.”

But he was lying. I hadn’t made anything change, or he would have come to me Thursday instead of to the bar. He would have been comforted by me, not Marco. He was such an awful liar.

“I thought you said you fucked up your life. I thought you said – you said that you never realized you loved me too. That you wouldn’t change your mind about this – about us,” I whimpered. It was hard to look him in the eye, because I was so ashamed of myself now, but I did. There were so many emotions in his eyes. Anger. Pain. Pity. Sorrow.

He opened his mouth several times to speak. I could see him struggling to put words together in his mind, like he struggled to do on paper.

The ones he chose were: “I said I couldn’t promise anything.”

Everything I ever felt for him snapped inside of me. My love for him, feeling what it was like to be with him the past twenty four hours, it had become the foundation of everything else inside of me. It had been what was keeping me together, keeping me going. Without it, everything else there could be crumbled inside of me like a skyscraper falling to the ground.

I screamed until there was no sound, but I didn’t even know what words I used.

I might have hit him, but it was so fast, I wasn’t sure.

I was sprinting out the door, and when I did, I thought about how the last time he kissed me I didn’t kiss him back.

Chapter Text

Marco

She was as late as she was last time. Like last time, she walked up to the Starbucks counter and ordered her iced coffee without sweetener. She didn’t look the way she used to, to me. Although her appearance hadn’t changed, we, as people, had. She wasn’t just Hitch anymore. Now she was the mother of my child. She was the woman that one way or another, was going to be in my life until I died.

She was dressed as she always was. She had a leather jacket on with fur lining around the hood. Her skirt was a thick fabric, like a jacket, and frayed out at the ends. She wore tights or leggings or whatever girls called them underneath. Her beige skin was visible through them, so I supposed tights.

All this was fine. Except it was twenty degrees out and the roads were covered in ice.

She had to be freezing. This didn’t used to bother me. She always wore irrational attire and while I’d always given her shit for it, I’d always let it slide too.

All I could think about is whether or not my baby was somehow cold. And by my baby, I mean the embryo inside of her that probably didn’t even have arms yet.

She trotted over to our table, in thigh-high, leather boots. They had high heels that made her look like the slightest breeze could blow over her tiny frame, and blow her skirt up while it was at it.

“Should you be wearing those?” I asked, pointing at her boots.

She laughed too loud for anything to be funny, and said, “Oh Marco, you are too adorable.”

“Seriously,” I said, as she slid into the chair on the other side of the checkered table. The coffee shop wasn’t as busy on a Monday evening as it was on a Saturday morning. Other than the occasional stare from one of the employees steaming milk, no one was around to be irritated with her never-ending, self-absorbed presence.

“For the first three months – and the doctor told me this, so don’t give me that look – I can do whatever I normally do. He meant for exercise, but I think we know he meant wear whatever I want, too. And I’m going to do it, because once I’m fat I’m going to have to wear the type of clothing that should never see the light of day,” she said, articulating each word so that I would know not to argue with her.

“You shouldn’t say that about yourself.”

“What?” she asked. She placed the straw of her cup into her mouth and sipped.

“That you’re going to be fat.”

“Well I am, aren’t I?” she asked, “I mean not now…obviously. But once the baby gets bigger.”

“No. You’re going to be pregnant. It’s not like there’s… ‘skinny’ pregnant women. Unless you’re not eating healthily. Which, sense we’re on the subject, you better not even think of dieting or doing any of your…your weird cleanses.” Among the many things I had been relieved to not deal with once we’d broken up, were Hitch’s various diets. And her various workout classes, like yoga, hot yoga – there’s a difference, apparently – Pilates, – again a difference – and tai chi.

She giggled into her hand. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

I clenched my teeth together. “I mean it.”

“So do I.”

“You can’t do it while you’re breast feeding either.”

Her jaw dropped and she scoffed. “How’s that fair? Then I really will be fat.”

“The baby still relies on you when – Honestly Hitch, how do you not get this? You can’t drink either. Didn’t anyone tell you this? Like…in a health class?” I splayed my hands out on the table, getting to the point where it wasn’t even irritation so much as honest to God concern for my child.

She patted my hand, condescendingly. “Alright, alright.”

“Besides you’re twenty two years old now. You’re going to gain some weight. Everyone does after high school, it’s nothing you should…should be trying so hard to avoid.”

Her face turned into a grimace, like she’d tasted something bad.

“Yeah, okay, Marco. That’s easy for you to say because you’re not attracted to women and guys don’t have to be skinny.” She took another sip, carefully placing her lips around the straw so she didn’t smudge her lipstick. She bit on the straw.

I rolled my eyes. “I wasn’t talking just about women. I meant everybody. Girls shouldn’t have to feel like they need to be skinny and it’s not fair to assume that some men don’t –”

I cut myself off.

Jean.

“Marco?” she asked. She waved her hand in front of my face to make a point.

I shook my head, to pull myself out of it. He wasn’t in my life anymore, I reminded myself. I’d fucked up and had to come to terms that. Wherever he was, I was sure it wouldn’t be too hard for him to find someone else to…to do what I would have done. Probably someone better than me, actually. Sense it was apparent that I wasn’t the greatest at being any kind of boyfriend to him.

Being engaged to a woman, and everything.

“So…” Hitch said, when I didn’t say anything. “Ymir told me you got yourself a new man.”

Leave it to Hitch, to know exactly what I was thinking and bring it up in a way that would sting. Her words were so depressingly the opposite of what was true and what I had been thinking that I laughed. “As opposed to all the other men I’ve had?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know who you’ve been with.”

“I haven’t been with anyone,” I said, “And I don’t have a boyfriend, you know, ‘cause I’m engaged. When did Ymir say that? Why do you guys talk about me?”

She giggled into her hand again. Then she flicked some of her sandy blonde hair over her shoulder just as a few guys were walking in through the front door. She looked over her shoulder at them, scrutinized them, and deemed them unfit with a frown.

She leaned into me, and I got the distinct impression this was exactly what she did to Ymir to get her to gossip about me.

“That is so weird, hearing you talk about having a boyfriend. And…What do you mean, you’re engaged?” She rested her chin on her palm, and gave me a dazzling, artificial smile. It took the breath away from me, even as a gay man, only this smile of hers had sort of a lethal brand to it that only Hitch could do. Because it took the breath away from a person just long enough to choke them for a second. I bit my lip, probably blushing just the way she wanted me to. It made me feel like I was in high school, gossiping with my best friend about boys and that was just embarrassing.

“I mean, I said I’d marry you. I sorta assumed I’d be faithful to the person I married.”

I tucked my hands into the pocket of my hoodie and leaned back in my chair, away from her. My chair skidded on the floor an inch or two.

“Really?” she said, clearly amused. She chuckled.

“Yeah? Why are we doing this if we’re not –”

“Marco, sweetie. I’m already seeing some people. You can go out with whatever boy toy you want.”

I deadpanned, trying not to gag at her phrase ‘boy toy’.

Ymir had been right then, about her. I’d told myself a million times to not to question Ymir and I did it all the time anyway. Of course, the only man I was interested in seeing was Jean. It probably didn’t matter what I said to him now. If he wasn’t deterred by being the other…man, by being the affair, then he would be by the pregnancy. It wasn’t his kid, but if he was around me, he’d have to put up with it.

“I can see you thinking about it,” she said.

“I’m not going to do anything,” I said. I looked away from her, keeping my eyes on the employees shuffling around behind the counter.

Over the screech of the blenders, I almost didn’t hear her say, “Why not?”

“Because, I have responsibilities with you and…and okay, yeah. There was someone, but he sort of. Found out. About. You.” I cringed, trying not to recall his judgmental stare, and even deeper than that, the betrayal in his golden eyes. The first man I’d ever been with, who’d ever paid any mind to me, and I fucked it up so impressively. I’d grown up for so long wondering what heartache was like and if it was worse than being in the closet…and I still didn’t know which was worse. They were both so painfully horrible, I didn’t know how I would stand it.

She arched an eyebrow. “Listen, Marco, because I know you’re really awful at this sort of thing. If he’s worth your time, he is absolutely not going to fucking care about any of your pregnant-wife baggage. If I can find someone willing to date me, then you can.”

“You found someone then? I mean, who doesn’t care that you’re pregnant?”

“No. God no. I found someone who doesn’t care that I’m an awful person,” she said while laughing and waving me off. “Which by the way is so much worse than the pregnant-wife thing. I mean, honestly, are you going to dump our kid off with a boyfriend? No. You probably won’t even see the baby that much, unless you want to. And it’s not like your boy is going to be jealous of us.”

Again with the laughing. I saw right through it. Now that I thought about it, we both had the talent of immediately understanding someone’s insecurities, and their weakness, even if she was better at it. I just chose to approach it differently than she usually did. I chose to be concerned, and in her case, I really, really was. Hitch didn’t value herself until someone else did, and she would sell herself so cheaply. That was another reason why I hadn’t minded dating her. I knew, if she wasn’t with me, she was probably going to be with someone who treated her so much worse than not being in love with her.

“Hitch…are you actually happy with this guy?”

The thing about Hitch too, was she wanted everyone to know how many people she had dated and had slept with, but she didn’t ever want to admit that she would settle for anyone who would take her. That was why she didn’t mind in the least that she was marrying me, because at least with me the reason I didn’t love her was because I couldn’t love women, not because she was unlovable.

“I mean, I don’t know that I’ve found someone…to like be with. Like my one true love…or whatever bullshit cliché. But, I like him, and he likes me, and so I’m with him for now.”

Her eyelashes were thick with mascara, and she pulled out a compact case from her Coach purse to fix it. In reality, she didn’t want me to see how emotional she’d gotten. After living with her for a year, she couldn’t hide that sort of thing from me, no matter how hard she tried.

She put her compact case back, and I pulled her hand into mine. She looked at it like she was considering whether or not to wash her hands after.

“Do you actually really like him?” I asked.

Her pale green eyes met mine, and she gave me the tiniest smile. Not as dazzling as her artificial smile, but much more beautiful. She was being vulnerable for once, and I knew she was telling the truth. “Yeah, I really do. So I’m with him, for now.”

“For now?” I asked.

“Yeah. For now. Nothing wrong with ‘for now’. Takes the pressure off, ya’ know? It…it makes it easier to take it day by day, and just…appreciate whatever – whatever it is that we have. I’m sure it won’t last, but…I’m going to enjoy it while it does, I guess.”

One of the employees came by our table with a Swifter Duster mop, and I realized they were closing. It had gotten dark outside, and the snow was still floating toward the pavement out the window to my right.

“Does that work?” I asked her, still looking out the window.

“The way I see it is, if we both like each other, why should it stop us if in a month we don’t? It seems sort of…like pointlessly torturing ourselves. It seems like we’d be robbing ourselves of a month of happiness. And how is that better, really?”

I nodded at her, trying really hard not to think of Jean, and failing.

“Well…it could work out,” I said.

She giggled, from what sounded like actual happiness. “Yeah, I suppose. And if that were to happen, I guess the real question we should be asking is who will my parents hate more? My half-black, gay fiancé or my Jewish boyfriend?”

This time she actually made me laugh for a minute. We stumbled out into the parking lot arm in arm together, giggling idiotically as we came to the conclusion that she would definitely hate me more, because at least a Jewish person couldn’t turn our kid Jewish accidentally like ‘the gays’ could. Then we laughed even harder when we both realized that they were going to be forced to confront that their grandchild had brown skin. I had never seen Hitch look so satisfied and accomplished in her life.

“You know,” she said, once our laughing had quieted and we were further out into the parking lot. A puff of her breath fogged up the air. “He kinda reminds me of you.”

“Who?”

“Marlowe. The guy I’m seeing. You’re both so…stupidly good people. Like I don’t mean he’s nice. I mean, he is …not as nice as you…but also I think he wants to do the right thing. He…he’s good to me, Marco. The way you were.”

I smiled at her then, and wrapped my arm around her shoulder while I walked her to her car. As I was climbing into my own car a minute later, I realized again how much she reminded me of Jean, but also realized again why I had decided to be with her in the first place.

Spending the rest of my life with her had never sounded better.

Chapter Text

Jean

The shower crashed against my skin, so hot that the steam was clouding the bathroom. I didn’t feel anything. The hotter the water was, the less it mattered. I turned it up all the way.

My head was pressed against the shower wall, and my bathroom light was off. I ran my fingers over my stomach in the dark. It was still there. There was still so much to get rid of. I pinched and squeezed at the flesh until it hurt too much to bear. I ran my fingers over my shoulders, and my arms, and my neck. It was like I was still cold, always cold.

This time, when I ran my fingers through my hair, some of my hair went with my hand, and it piled up in the drain. It wasn’t even a handful, but it was definitely some. I knew how my diet was affecting me. There was no way to ignore it anymore. Although I couldn’t quite explain it, my body had covered itself in peach-fuzz-like hair. Even parts of my face I hadn’t used to get facial hair, I know had to shave.

My teeth weren’t right either. I couldn’t understand how eating better could possibly harm my teeth, but it had. My teeth weren’t as white as they used to be. I wouldn’t call them yellow either, though. It was more like there were flecks of brown in them. I tried to use whitener strips on them, and used whitening tooth paste constantly. Several times a day, but there was nothing to do about it.

Everything had changed except my weight – or, the way I looked more specifically. I was as fat as I’d been for months.

Only my weight had changed. Before I got in the shower, before I turned the light off, before I examined myself in the mirror, I had weighed myself.

I weighed 116 pounds. It was an impossibly low weight for someone of my height, and I couldn’t understand it. My only theory was that my muscle had started to deteriorate. I read somewhere that muscle could turn into fat, and that muscle weighed more than fat. So I had more fat, and less muscle.

Or something. Maybe my scale was just broken. I didn’t know. My head hurt all the time.

When the water started to get cold, I climbed over the ledge of the tub. I clung onto the towel wrack, so that I didn’t lose my balance. Twice this week I’d tripped and hurt myself. My head had hit the wall, and I’d landed on my knees. I had bruises everywhere. The ones Marco had left on my thighs over a week ago were still there. Every once in a while, I caught myself trailing my fingers over them. And trailing my fingers over the very different bruises Eren had left on my arm, and the one he’d left on my cheek bone when he’d hit me.

Eren hadn’t come back, and my tears stung on my skin more than the hot water had.

I’d fucked up. I’d never fucked up so much in my life.

Not when I failed my driver’s test four times because I couldn’t read the damn signs. Not when I’d flunked a World Civilizations class last year, simply because I got the numbers of the time mixed up on my syllabus for when I had to show up for my final, and didn’t make it on time.

Not when the teacher in ninth grade had asked me to write down the essay questions for a quiz on the board, and I’d had so many spelling errors that she had asked me if I was in the special education program in front of the entire class, and I had lied and told her I wasn’t. The class had laughed.

I didn’t bother with the light on my way out of the bathroom. I wrapped a towel around my body and walked into my bedroom. I put on socks, and rolled them all the way up. Then boxers, sweatpants, three shirts…step by step counting the seconds of what felt like a laborious process.

After, I climbed into bed. I wouldn’t fall asleep. I never fell asleep when I wanted to, and especially not when I needed to. When I needed an escape, sleep would refuse.

My bedroom was dark. A fraction of light weaved through the currents in front of the window, but nothing else. I curled up into a ball and pulled my covers over my head. The covers still hadn’t been washed. It was hard to breathe underneath them. My stomach ached from hunger, from nausea, from regret…

I’d been up for almost thirty hours. In the four days since Eren had left me, I had slept a total of fourteen hours. It happened randomly. Whatever moment my body decided it couldn’t possibly be awake any longer. It never mattered that much, because if I wasn’t running, I was laying on something that was more or less soft.

He wasn’t coming back this time. He hadn’t heard the same fight I had, and I hadn’t realized it until after he had left.

He didn’t know that when I told him I wouldn’t go back and change anything, and had interrupted myself, I had been about to say I wouldn’t go back and change what we had. I wouldn’t go back and never date him. I wouldn’t go back and never kiss him, hold his hand in his bed at night, or lose my virginity to him. I wouldn’t go back and stop him from falling in love with me, because that was all I wanted in the world. I didn’t care if it was selfish to make sure he’d fall in love with me, because I wanted his love too much.

But what I meant, and what I said, were two different things. He thought I meant that I wouldn’t go back and stop myself from leaving him for Mikasa. Even though that’s exactly what I would do, what I wish I could do.

Just thinking about it, I was crumpling up and sobbing into my hands in my bed. It was like no matter how many times I replayed it, thinking about it was always as painful as if it were still happening. My tears stained my sheets. I ran my fingers over the wet spots.

When I told him that I didn’t regret anything that had happened, I meant what had happened in the last twenty four hours with him. Not the five years with Mikasa. I definitely regretted the five years with Mikasa, and I wished I could have explained to him that I would do anything to get those five years back and do it right this time. Do it with him.

But I had talked about Mikasa right after…and that I had loved her for so long.

He didn’t know that the only reason I’d said a damn thing about Mikasa was because I felt guilty for saying I wouldn’t have dated her. That I would have chosen Eren.

I shook my head in my hands, groaning at how stupid I’d been. I had loved her, but why I should I give a shit about that when she didn’t? Why did I let myself feel guilty about it? It didn’t matter that I had loved her. Loving someone wasn’t enough reason to dedicate your life to them, I’ve only recently learned.

And Eren was what changed everything, and I’d said that. I’d managed to get that much out. My head was so clouded at that moment…so hurt and exhausted from breaking up with Mikasa, so terrified that Eren was upset and that I’d lose him. I rushed to say what I meant, but the words weren’t in the right order in my head, they weren’t coming out the way they were supposed to.

I’d never seen him look the way he did when I had explained myself to him. I’d been mad at him for not recognizing his sister’s clinginess, her desperate need for his approval, but that had been it. I hadn’t even considered anything else until he had asked me if any of it had mattered to me at all. Until I heard him sob like an abandoned child and cover his face in shame. We were fighting about different things, and angry about different things, and talking about different things, and I had realized it too late.

I’d been so panicked that I couldn’t get it right.

I clutched the sheets in my fingers as I let out a sob of my own. I ran my fingers through my hair again, tugging on it so hard it hurt. None of my hair came out this time.

When he had finally said “I thought you said you fucked up your life. I thought you said – you said that you never realized you loved me too. That you wouldn’t change your mind about this – about us,” all I could think about was how I’d responded to him when he’d told me he didn’t think he could handle it if I changed my mind.

I hadn’t changed my mind, of course. I loved him even more, I thought, after Mikasa and I broke up. I loved him for loving me during the years I wasted with her. The years that had probably been obviously wasted in his eyes, and he never said a thing because he wanted us to be happy.

But when he’d told me he couldn’t handle it if I changed my mind, I’d told him I couldn’t promise anything. When I’d said it, I meant that I couldn’t promise that we would tell everybody right away. I couldn’t promise that we would officially be dating and everyone would know, because even though I hadn’t wanted to admit it to him, I was terrified of what Mikasa would think of me when I came out.

I’d given Marco shit for not telling his parents, but I was the same. I was afraid of what people would think, because if they laughed at me for spelling errors, they’d laugh at me for this too.

And I thought about how he was getting mad at me for not telling her right off the bat that we were together, when I had literally told him earlier that morning that I couldn’t promise that I would. I had told him that I wanted to take this slow, keep it between us right now, see where it went.

So I had told him, “I said I couldn’t promise anything.”

But I was giving a defense for an argument that was no longer happening, and I hadn’t known it. He didn’t have a chance of understanding what I was referring to, because I’d never specified to him what I meant by take it slow. And when I said those words that made him crumple in pain, I hadn’t told him that I wasn’t taking back ‘I love you’.

But that’s what he thought.

I gripped at my skin again. There was nothing I could do to distract myself from the heaviness of my chest. It felt like everything inside of me was fighting a vacuum, and that the longer it resisted being sucked in, the more it hurt and the more it was torn to shreds.

I hugged my knees to my chest more tightly. My fingers nails sunk into my skin through my pants. I was panting from the exertion of abusing myself. It was pathetic, really. Not only was I fat, but I grew exhausted and weak in a matter of seconds.

Saying those words to him was the biggest misunderstanding of my life. I had spent most of my life not understanding, and watching people suffer because of it. First my mom, helping me with my homework over the years, continually telling teacher’s she thought I was dyslexic and continually being told that I was just a late bloomer.

Until I was fourteen and could finally be evaluated, and I was diagnosed with dyslexia. But by then, I was so far past the age necessary to learn how to read with dyslexia that it was too late to catch up to others. And when I was put in special ed., I was put in with everyone in the school who had special needs, each one of us with our own individual, unique needs that were all treated exactly the same.

My mom couldn’t afford the proper tutoring, by an expert, who could understand my specific struggles with dyslexia and help me adjust.

Then there was Mikasa. She did almost all of my homework for me through high school, taking the time to try to explain what I was supposed to be learning out loud to me so I wouldn’t become completely uneducated.

Mikasa, who had helped me with college applications, and the SAT. Mikasa who had patiently taught me how I could change fonts, and font sizes on a Word Doc. She taught me how to highlight some phrases and not others, to make my dyslexia easier to deal with.

Mikasa who had paid for at least half my tuition, and never asked that I get a job. She had been the one to pay our bills. She had given me a credit card, so that I could get gas. She had been the one to sit down with me each day at some point, to help me with homework in addition to the stressful job she had at the hospital, and never complained.

Even now, she wasn’t living here, but she was still the one paying the bills. She was letting me stay at a place I didn’t belong anymore, only because she didn’t have the heart to hate me.

If I was ever successful in the least, I owed it entirely to her.

And now there was Eren too. There was no way to summarize in my head what had happened. It had been on my mind since I heard the door slam, and I couldn’t get his face out of my mind. I couldn’t stop seeing him scream in agony and hit me. I couldn’t stop thinking about what Eren might have done once he’d left. There was nothing I couldn’t see him doing. I doubt he cared what happened to him now, or was even thinking about the people around him.

I had done that to him.

I hadn’t eaten anything but chicken broth, egg whites, broccoli, and Saltines in three days. Partly because I refused to use Mikasa’s money to go buy food, and partly because it was all that made sense to me anymore. Dieting, disciplining myself, and learning self-control. I never ate much, and if I succumbed to my hunger in the middle of the night and binged on something I always threw it up. The day before I’d eat half a loaf of bread, thrown it up. Then I ate the other half, and threw that up too. I never let myself off the hook anymore.

I hadn’t gone to school this week, but if I had, I wouldn’t have done well. I emailed my teachers and told them I was horribly ill, and they told me they’d talk to me when I was well again about what I could do. But I knew already, there would be nothing I could do. It was thousands of dollars of Mikasa’s money wasted. Someday, I had to pay her back somehow.

I’d gotten out of the house each night that I couldn’t sleep. It was usually about ten degrees outside, but I wore a coat with my sweatshirts. I ran until I couldn’t feel the air in my throat and had blisters on my feet. I ran even if it was icy or raining. I ran for miles, until I felt I might die. Then I ran back home.

Every part of my body ached, and no matter how much physical pain there was – which I felt something like I’d been run over by a truck, physically – the thing that pressed me most to kill myself was thinking of Eren’s face. I wouldn’t today, but it’d had only been four days. I could last a little longer than that.

I fell asleep.

When I woke up, it was as if I had never slept, even though my phone buzzing on my dresser told me it was hours later. It was ten AM, and I’d been showering at 3 AM.

I hadn’t seen that name in a while, and never before lighting up my phone. There was a moment, when I thought I might have the decency, the self-respect, and the strength to not answer it.

I didn’t.

“Hello?” I asked.

“Hello, Jean,” Marco responded.

“What do you want?” I asked. I heard something on the other end. Maybe he’d moved his phone to a different shoulder, maybe he had sighed, I couldn’t tell for sure.

“I was hoping I could make up for last time,” he said.

“You can’t.”

Another sound, and this time it was too eerily familiar for me to not understand that it was a hitch in his speech, a hesitation, from nervousness. Twice he had almost said something, and had decided not to.

“I just wanted to try,” he said, “I didn’t want things to end that way. But I’ll uh, I’ll let you go – I shouldn’t have even kept your number. I’m sorry.”

“Wait!” I yelled, too loudly to act like I didn’t give a shit about him. I pressed my forehead into my bedroom wall, letting myself simmer in self-hatred for a moment.

“I thought you were engaged?” I asked.

“Well…you’re right, technically. But it’s…it’s complicated,” he replied.

“I don’t get it. Either you are or you aren’t.”

“I am, but I don’t love her. She doesn’t love me, either. She has a boyfriend.” The blunt statement threw me off a bit. It was the kind of statement you only expected to hear in movies. The type of secret you just didn’t share, until you were in your fifties and realized you’d wasted your whole life, and so you got drunk and looked in the mirror and confessed all the lies you’ve been telling yourself all that time hoping you could keep your life from falling apart.

“Then why are you with her?” I asked.

“She’s pregnant. And she told me if I didn’t marry her, she wouldn’t keep the baby.”

When I’d met Marco, I had assumed simply by the slant in his posture and his surprise in my interest that he was probably a doormat. He had been kind to me, and I liked that about him. But he’d let me take advantage of him too, and that bothered me. The same way it bothered me that Mikasa valued her life based on how pleased Eren was with her at any given moment.

“That’s the most fucked up thing I’ve ever seen anyone do,” I said. I paused, thinking about it. Did I really think I had any right to talk? “But probably not as fucked up as some of the shit I’ve done.”

He chuckled, humorlessly. “I know. It’s probably in my top five list of regrets. Alongside not being honest with you in the first place.”

I blushed, and I was suddenly grateful he couldn’t see me and realize how much that statement mattered to me.

“Well…I guess I can’t really hate you for wanting to keep your kid.”

“Glad to hear it.” He laughed. This time it didn’t sound so miserable.

“But…I mean, what did you have in mind? As far as making it up to me.”

I considered what I’d do if this was just a booty call. I liked Marco, and that was the problem. He wasn’t Eren, not even close, but when I was around Marco it was easy to feel like one day things would be better. There was someone else out there who might put up with me when no one else in my life would.

“I thought I’d take you on a date…I think that’s well overdue.” I could hear the smile in his voice, somehow.

“Are you sure?” I asked. My heart had started to flutter at the idea. So this wasn’t just about sex. He wanted to be around me. I felt the same way I had in the bar. He could probably get any guy he wanted with little effort, and he saw something in me.

Don’t fuck this up, I told myself. I couldn’t afford to lose him. He couldn’t see me the way Eren did, I couldn’t handle losing both of them.

“Of course,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

He chuckled again, and I was amazed at how happy I was to hear it. I’d been alone with my thoughts for days. No one had called, not even Mikasa asking about living arrangements. I was sure they had all taken Eren’s side. I’d taken Eren’s side. They probably didn’t know why he was upset, but they’d trust his judgment. No one wanted to talk to me right now except Marco. He was all I had left.

“I don’t know,” I replied, “I sorta…I didn’t think you’d want to see me again after…”

“I didn’t think you’d want to see me again. I’ve been fighting with myself about whether or not I should call you for days…and I just, I gave in. I couldn’t help it.”

I smiled now. “Couldn’t resist?” I teased, sounding more confident than I was.

“I guess not. I really am sorry, for not being honest with you,” he said.

“It’s okay. I’ll go out with you. When were you thinking?”

He paused. I heard some shuffling in the background. “How about now?”

My eyebrows shut up as I glanced at myself. There was no way I was presentable for a date. Honestly I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make myself presentable for a date.

“Sure,” I said, anyway. “Do you want to pick me up? I uh…don’t have a car at the moment.”

Which was a lie, technically. I did have a car, but I didn’t feel right using it. Mikasa had paid for it. She’d also paid for the tabs on the license plates, and was the one who put gas into it. If I got into a car accident, it was her insurance that would have to cover it.

He agreed that he’d pick me up, and I told him where I lived. As soon as he was off the phone I was climbing back into the shower and washing my hair. Three minutes were wasted in there, before I jumped out and stared at my useless wardrobe. I couldn’t fathom trying to pick anything that would look nice on me, because nothing would.

I ignored all my dress shirts, and decided to put on my Packer hoodie again. It had been washed since Eren had worn it, and I’d thrown it under the bed so I didn’t have to think about finding him miserable on my kitchen floor. The only reason I could stomach looking at it this time was because it was the only hoodie I had that was dark enough in color and too big for me. It hid my fat pretty well.

After that, I found jeans. I hadn’t worn jeans in over a month, because they did little to insulate my legs in the cold, and because they were the least flattering thing I owned. But what sort of asshole wore sweats on a date? Jeans weren’t even that great, if I was honest with myself, but they were the dressiest thing I owned.

I slid them on, and almost instantly they fell to the floor. I pulled them back up, and pulled a belt out of my dresser drawer, pleased to see another sign of my progress. Sliding the belt through the belt loops, I ended up latching it on the last hole. They were still a little loose, but I didn’t think they’d fall off if I was careful.

Now, to look in the mirror. I braced myself heading into the bathroom, afraid of what I’d find. In the mirror, my stomach was hidden nicely by the sweatshirt, to my surprise. I twisted to view myself from different angles, and the jeans weren’t as unflattering as I thought either. I grinned. This might not be so bad.

Before Marco arrived, I quickly brushed my teeth and combed my hair. Combing my hair was almost pointless, given that it had always had just enough body to stand up in every direction, but at least I had tried. My teeth were awful too, and I made a mental note not to smile with them exposed, and to keep my lips as close together as I could while I talked.

There was nothing to do about the bruise on my face. I ran my fingers over it again, wondering why Eren hadn’t hit me harder.

Then there was a knock on my apartment door. I left my bathroom.

Marco hadn’t dressed up either, thank God. Maybe we were beyond that now that we’d fucked, I didn’t know. He wore a flannel – he wore those a lot, I was beginning to notice – and with it he wore jeans.

“Oh my God,” he said, and leaned in close enough to kiss me. I almost leaned in too. “What happened to your face?”

We started to walk down the balcony steps toward the parking lot. I hadn’t grabbed a jacket, but the temperature must have spiked, because there were puddles in the potholes where snow had melted and in between snow banks left from snow plows there was yellow grass peeking out. It had to be almost forty degrees – basically tank top whether for native Minnesotans – but I shivered anyway and pulled my hood close to my neck as we walked.

“Jean?”

Oh right. Shit. “Uh…got into a fight with a uh….a friend.”

He'd left his car running, so as soon as we jumped in an onslaught of heat blew in my face. I placed my pink fingertips in front of the vents.

Marco quirked an eyebrow at me, like he didn’t know how far he should push that one. “A friend?”

I sighed, as he put the car into ignition and the engine purred. “Actually uh…if I’m going to give you shit about being honest, I better not lie. I’m shit at it anyway. He uh…was a friend, and then…he was more than that, and now he’s neither.”

Marco gripped both of his hands against the steering wheel. His face was purposely calm, as he stared off toward the main road. A few cars drove by before he said anything.

“This all happened since I saw you last? Or was it…was it the ex from the breakup you talked about when we first met?” His voice was controlled, but he rubbed the back of his neck. It gave him away. I slumped into my seat, looking out the window to my right, because I didn’t want to see the judgment on his face. We weren’t leaving the parking lot until this was settled, I guessed.

“No. Different ex…barely an ex at all, honestly. We uh… we got together after I saw you, but…I fucked up bad. The worst I’ve ever fucked up in my life, and he dodged a bullet.”

“So now you’re going out with me?” he said, through a laugh that sounded like it had caused some pain leaving his body. I was glad he hadn’t asked for any of the details. If I had told him what I’d done, he would leave me too. Although, he was probably already thinking about it.

“I get it if you don’t want to. I wouldn’t blame you. I can’t pretend that I don’t still have – still love him,” I replied. My heart started hammering. Even my hands were shaking. The thought of climbing out of his car and walking back to my apartment because not even this near-stranger who knew almost nothing about me was willing to put up with my shit.

He pursed his lips, and blinked a few times, before he slumped into the seat next to me.

“I don’t know how else to say this other then whatever shit you’ve done, if you already know you’ve fucked up, then it hasn’t been for nothing.”

I turned my head toward him, to call him out on his bullshit, but the distant look in his eyes made me hold back. He looked at his feet, and then so far into the distance he probably saw some of the Twin Cities skyscrapers on the horizon.

“Well, what’s it good for then?”

“I’m just saying, I think…the hardest part about getting your shit together is realizing that you need to. I’m no exception, really. I mean, look at my life. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way,” he said under his breath.

We were quiet for a moment. His hand reached over the car divider and held mine. I gripped onto it without thinking, clung to it like I was sinking and he was pulling me up.

“Anyway, once you’ve done that, you can move forward. You can do whatever you’ve got to do to make it right. It might take you forever, but it’ll still always be better than being ignorant of what you’ve done.”

“He’ll never forgive me,” I choked.

“That may be,” he said.

“Well fuck that,” I said. “Fuck that. I can’t live with – with this feeling forever. And how would you know anyway? Yeah, you fucking got someone pregnant…which…yeah, is pretty fucking stupid, because you’re a God damn adult for Christ’s sake. But, the fact that you’re getting married is not your fault. The fact that she won’t let you be a dad unless you fucking marry her…that’s…I mean there’s no way that was your doing. There’s no way you were the one fucking up there.”

“Jean,” he said, tugging on my hand. I looked at him, into his brown, glossy eyes. So sweet and warm that it made me ache.

“I don’t mean getting married…I’m talking about being in the closet. I’m gay,” he said. “I’m not attracted to women in the least, much to my dismay.”

My jaw dropped. I hadn’t been expecting that, of all things.

“But…but you…?”

“I know it’s…I guess I don’t know what your family background is like, or what your family thought of you coming out. By the sound of it, things went well. But my family…I told you I grew up in Texas. And my dad had been in the air force for twenty five years, and every man in our family since there was an Airforce, has been in the Air force, and I did not enlist.”

He squeezed my hands, running his thumb over the blue veins streaming out toward my fingers.

“That was the first mistake, I thought. When I didn’t do that, they knew something was wrong with me. Because in their minds, the only type of man that didn’t join the military had to be gay.”

My face must have been shocked, because he added, “I’m serious…you have no idea what it’s like living down there. It’s such a huge pressure…and of course that’s precisely why I hadn’t joined. Now things have been better for men like me in the military…but things are only just starting to get better…and when I was a teenager? The thought terrified me, or I would have.”

He rubbed his eyes and cleared his throat before he continued. “Anyway, I tried to make up for it by going to school for air traffic controlling. I told my parents after school, I’d commission as a contractor…or something, in the military. I didn’t do that either. It was my second big fuck up.”

He smiled now, but his eyes were so watery and red I thought he’d probably cry.

“During all this, of course, I’ve tried to get them off my back any way I could. I dated women in high school, and I dated women in college, until I found Hitch. For whatever reason, Hitch rubbed off on me. I got the sense that if she were a man, she’d be the one I picked. If I had been smart, I would have married her right away, and then gotten her pregnant.”

He chuckled, shaking his head. I used my fingers to draw lines on his palm.

“But it wasn’t until I met you, that I realized all the fuckups I’ve had, all the ones I’ve dwelled on for years, weren’t my actual fuckups at all. My actual fuckup was going to school for air traffic control, and not becoming a pediatrician, like I had wanted to. And my biggest fuckup, was not realizing until you stayed at my place, that I should have never let myself plan on marrying a woman. I had been ignorant the whole time, stagnant, and never making progress in five years. Until the last two weeks of my life when you made me realize… I just don’t give a shit. It’s not fucking worth it.”

I smiled at him. “That sounds exactly like something I would make someone realize,” I said, through a laugh, and then he laughed too. His fingers started to lace with mine, and I let him. It didn’t make me feel better, not really, but it was better than gripping the sheets.

“All I’m trying to say is…I’m only just now starting to figure out what I have to do to fix my fuckups. And…and you’ve wasted so much less time.”

I smiled at him, even though I knew there was nothing I could do to fix this fuckup. If Eren ever became my friend again, if he could ever tolerate the sight of me again, he would never stop hurting.

“I guess, yeah,” I said. It didn’t feel like I had wasted less time. It felt like I spent my five years of ignorance preemptively with Mikasa.

I glanced over at Marco, the only person who could – or would bother to – make me smile right now, and I thought that I was in the right place. I was doing as well as I could be right now, because I was with someone I hadn’t hurt. I was with someone who wanted to be near me, and hold my hand. He knew I had fucked up, he knew I loved someone else, and he wasn’t holding this against me. It didn’t change his opinion of me at all, because he had fuckups of his own to deal with.

I decided I loved that about him. In situations where I would judge, Marco wouldn’t.

“God, I’m sorry for dropping all of that on you right now. But it feels better that…we’re not hiding anything anymore, now that we’re officially on a date, and everything.” His smile was hesitant, as if he thought maybe I’d changed my mind and I’d hop out of his car right now. Or maybe he was worried I was still keeping something with him. I squeezed his hand more tightly.

“Yeah,” I agreed, and it was true. It was a good feeling knowing that I had been honest with him. He looked relieved. He smiled and this time it was carefree.

“Okay, well,…we can go now. And, speaking of our date…I realized I don’t actually know much about you at all. So…the only place I could think of is Barnes & Noble. It’s kind of lame… but I always like going there,” he said. There was a tremble in his voice that let onto his nervousness. He was afraid that I would think it was a bad idea, and wouldn’t want to go.

In reality, I really didn’t fucking want to go, but not for the reasons he thought. I didn’t want to turn him down either though. If I wanted anything right now, it was to make him happy. To make one fucking person happier because of me instead of miserable.

“Sounds great,” I lied. I wondered if he could hear it as well as Eren could.

Chapter Text

Marco

In Barnes & Noble, Jean aimlessly followed me around. I had been expecting him to head to the sections that were his favorite. Or maybe, I was hoping he would. You could tell so much about a person by the types of books they read. But he seemed content to comment on the ones I looked at, which were evenly split between biographies and fiction.

“Nope, it’s this one,” I said. I picked up Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood. “This is the most important book that’s ever been written.”

He smiled at the way I said it. “Oh yeah? Why’s that?”

To be honest…I couldn’t quite place it. “Because it’s the only book I’ve ever read that paints humanity to be innately awful, and the world to be significantly uglier than most people would like to believe, and she still makes me think the world is a beautiful place at the end.”

He cocked his head at me. I blushed as I slid the book back into place. “How’s that make it important?”

“Because…because…normally I would be the opposite, right? I would say humanity is innately good, and the world is more beautiful than ugly. But she…she makes me think I’m wrong, and also makes me think it’s okay.”

He picked up the book that I’d put away and paged through it. He didn’t stare at the cover, and he didn’t look at any of the pages long enough to read it. He probably didn’t read books like Oryx & Crake. Some people couldn’t stomach it, and I understood that.

“So why is it ugly then? In the book?” he asked.

“It’s written from the perspective of the last man on earth, but also from the perspective of him in his youth… slowly you watch how he becomes the last man alive,” I said.

“That sounds depressing,” he replied.

“It is,” I chuckled, as I walked into the next isle. My fingers tip-toed across the spines of different books as I searched for authors or titles I recognized. Or maybe, some that looked interesting enough to force myself to find time to read. We swerved around a couple of people in the isle standing, paging through books of their own.

“There’s gotta be something better to read than that,” he said. I feigned offense, dropping my jaw and staring at him with my best puppy dog eyes.

“Get outta here,” he said, shoving me aside. I narrowly missed shoving a book or two off the ledge of a bookshelf.

“Goddamn.” He blushed, and I laughed.

“You act like you’ve never read,” I said. His spine stiffened, and he ran his fingers through his ashy blond hair. “Oh God, you’re not one of those writers who hates to read are you?”

“No, I just…I’m busy. I don’t get to read much. And I uh, I have to read for school too.”

“Oh right,” I said. “God, that was the worst part about college. All the reading. Well…what would you read, if you didn’t have to for school already?”

We passed a couple talking animatedly about a thick, hard cover book that was on the new releases shelf before he said anything.

“I don’t know…I don’t want to just read the same story over and over. I want to…I want to read about people who are like me.”

We walked passed a table with clearance items and all the most popular books on them. One had a small sign in the center of it that read “the best of John Green” and another said “coming to theaters”. Jean didn’t stop at any of them.

“What about you?” I asked. He paused in the walkway, staring at the costumers talking with employees at the customer service desk.

“Well…I mean, like…like I played football, I guess. So maybe that. Or…I don’t know, it would be nice not to read a book about another straight dude,” he said, rolling his eyes. I nodded with him, because that was exactly what I felt every single time I read anything at all. I loved Barnes & Noble, but when I’d first moved out on my own and realized that I could finally get away with reading books that had gay characters in it, I came here and asked one of the employees where there LGBTQ section was.

“Sure!” she had said, and lead me to the isle with the self help books. “It’s right here she said, pointing at the shelf.

“Where?” I had asked, praying this was some type of joke.

“Oh, don’t mind that,” she had said, gesturing to the sign above the book shelf. “It’s right here.”

She pointed at one shelf.

One shelf, with a sticker under it that read “LBTQ books.” She went away after I thanked her, and I began thumbing through the books. All fourteen of them. Three of them actually were self-help books, and had one section within them that was designated for coping with homosexuality. Two of them were books meant for parents to help parents cope with gay children. Three of them were about feminism and the women’s movement, and I couldn’t find anything about the LGBTQ community within them at all. That left six books. Six books with a gay character in them.

I was crushed.

But I shook my head. I was sure Jean and I could discuss that subject for hours, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to be happy I was on a date with him and get to know him.

So to distract myself, I asked, “You played football?” He nodded.

“I was a receiver, and Eren was the –”

“Eren?”

“Oh…sorry. I didn’t mean to…bring him up.” He blushed again, and ran both his hands through his hair. The more he did that, the more ruffled it got. His arms were so slender, the bones in his wrist were apparent. I couldn’t imagine that he’d ever been in any kind of shape to play football.

“That’s his name, then?” I asked, feeling a pinch in my chest. I promised myself I wouldn’t make a fuss about whoever he was. It wasn’t fair of me to expect Jean to drop everything going on in his life for any tiny potential we might have…I certainly hadn’t. Until I did, he could do whatever he wanted.

“Yeah. We…I mean we’ve been friends since we were kids. He was the kicker,” he mumbled, refusing to look at me.

“Wow…since you were kids?” I asked, feeling the pinch cut deeper. Not even because he was talking about Eren, but because I felt so sorry for him. He’d been friends with this guy since before high school, and apparently he’d fucked up bad enough to ruin that.

“Yeah. Anyway, uh. Books like that,” he said, and we moved out of the way for a few teenage girls to pass and head toward the teen fiction section. I hadn’t checked it out yet, partly because I didn’t know whether or not Jean would think it was stupid of me. But I read young adult novels too. They were often more insightful than other published books, and I thought I probably still needed a lot of insight in my life.

“Can’t say I’ve read any about football.”

His brows furrowed. “You never played?”

“Nope. I know…Texas, another cardinal rule I broke.”

He laughed. “Well…did you play anything else?”

“I was in drama,” I replied. He laughed, and he covered his mouth because an old woman nearby had already been glaring at us as if we were chatting in a library instead.

“Oh God. Who am I even with?” he laughed. For a moment, I was hurt at his outburst, until he added, “Were you any good? I bet you were awesome.”

I smiled, and rubbed my neck. “Well I certainly had a lot of experience pretending to be someone else.” He nodded and sighed in agreement.

After a minute of us walking down the line of tables again, closer to the café, his glance drifted my way.

“So…are you telling me you don’t root for any team?”

“Nope, although, I could be convinced.” I stared pointedly at his Packer sweatshirt. “Really? The Packers? You have to be a bigger traitor than a non-fan.”

He grinned. “My mom’s from Wisconsin.”

“And your dad?” I asked.

“He probably is too. Although I wouldn’t know,” he said, and I remembered him saying something to me about his dad…when we first met. Oh right, his mom had named him. His dad wasn’t around to argue.

I cringed, feeling bad for bringing it up again. It must have been apparent on my face, because the next thing he did was gently nudge me to get my attention and say, “Don’t worry about it. I never knew him, but by the sound of it, I wouldn’t have liked him.”

We stepped up onto the tiny stairway leading up to the café. We hadn’t really at any point asked each other if we were going there, but I supposed it was what we ought to do on a date. I could use coffee anyway, after being up until three AM deciding whether or not to call him.

We were next in line, and I saw Jean staring up at the menu. His eyes were winced, and I saw his jaw clench. I already knew what I was getting, because I went to Starbucks with Hitch so much. I didn’t always get something when I was there with her, but I always got the same thing.

“Do you wear glasses?” I asked.

Again he tensed up, and this time it was so out of place…like he’d been electrocuted. He shook his head as he rubbed his eyes and stared up at the menu again.

The woman at the counter asked me what I wanted as she wrote something on the cup for the person ahead of us. “I’ll take a croissant and a small white chocolate mocha.”

She asked my name, and I told her.

She turned to look at Jean, staring at him like he could get hit by a truck and she wouldn’t notice. She picked at her nail polish while he stared at the menu.

“Fuck…” he said, “What’s the one with – nevermind. I’ll just get a small coffee.”

“Do you want room?” she asked. He shook his head.

“What’s your name?” She picked up the small cup.

“Jean,” he replied.

She wrote down “John”.

When we got our coffees, and I got the croissant, I picked at it awkwardly. He hadn’t said anything. He’d just rolled his hood up and crossed his arms on the table, completely ignoring his coffee as it steamed into the space between us at our table.

“Are you okay?” I asked, before taking a sip of my coffee. “She was kind of rude.”

“Huh? Oh, yeah whatever. I’m fine,” he replied. I stared at his untouched coffee, and he made a show of lifting it and taking a sip, then grimacing at the cup.

“Are you pissed she spelled your name wrong?” He smiled at that.

“No, I’m used to it. Although I didn’t think she’d mess up croissant.” He rolled his eyes and pointed at the small, brown bag she’d put my croissant in. I ate the croissant – a little dry unfortunately – while he scrutinized it further.

“Uh…she didn’t?” I replied, looking over the sloppy handwriting. He squinted at it, and then his eyes widened.

“She didn’t?” he asked.

“No,” I said, chuckling. “That’s how it’s spelled. It’s French so I guess…”

“So is Jean,” he replied. I cocked my head.

“Oh, I guess you’re right,” I replied. “But…that’s still how it’s spelled.”

He picked up the bag from me, and squinted at the handwriting. His eyes were so defeated. He let out a sigh.

“It’s okay,” I replied. “It’s a hard word to spell. They do it all weird over there.”

He shook his head. “It’s fine, I just could have sworn that when French makes the…wah sound, it was spelled O-I not I-O.”

I squinted at him, and then then took the bag from him. “That…that is how she spelled it. O-I.”

His eyes widened, and he took it back from me again. He squinted at it longer, and then used his thumb to cover up the C and the R and his other thumb to cover the first and second S. Something with the gesture resonated with me…and my face softened. He’d had trouble reading the menu. He hadn’t shown me a single book. The ones I’d handed to him, he didn’t read the backs or the covers.

He cursed, and I sipped at my coffee before I spoke.

“Jean…are you dyslexic?”

He stared at me, mouth gaping and wide-eyed like I’d caught him stealing from me. Then his jaw quivered and he looked away from me so that I couldn’t meet his eyes.

“Shut up,” he said. “It’s…I can’t help it.”

My eyebrows rose at that. Had someone told him he was supposed to? “I know.”

“And I’m not…like I’m not – like I can fucking read, okay? I just…like, God damn it. I really thought I’d read that right,” he said. “I shouldn’t have even let –”

He looked like he was about to stand up, so I wrapped my fingers around his wrist.

“Jean, whoa, relax. It’s fine.”

“It’s not fine. I’ve spent this whole time here with you watching how I fucking – fucking…and then I give it away on something as –”

“Hey,” I said, loud enough he’d stop talking. I tugged on his wrist, and he turned his head just enough to see around his hoodie. His eyes weren’t like I remembered them. They had dark purple circles underneath them now. His skin was paler than I remembered. It looked a little like plastic, and his veins were prominent in his skin. He was shivering…

He looked sick. He looked horribly ill. I swallowed, trying not to let on to my realization and focus on our conversation.

“Why were you trying to hide it?” I asked.

“Because it’s fucking pathetic. Ha ha…Jean wants to be a writer, but he can’t fucking read his own name on a coffee cup.”

I stared at him. His expression was deadly serious, and I felt the immense urge to pull him into my arms.

“Well…not your name,” I replied. He deadpanned, but when I didn’t apologize for my tasteless joke, he bit around a smile.

“Shut up. It’s not funny, okay? Like…I didn’t want you to know because I – like when I met you and told you I wanted to be a writer, you were the first person I knew I could tell that wouldn’t like…laugh at me. Or feel sorry for me.”

I smiled. “I didn’t think it was a joke. And I wouldn’t have laughed at you or felt sorry for you. I still don’t. No one else should either.”

He looked at me like he didn’t believe me, but I just shrugged. “So what? I mean…yeah, it’s gonna be harder for you to write with dyslexia, but there are still successful dyslexic writers.”

Now he looked at me like he wasn’t sure I was in my right mind. He shook his head, and bit his lip before thrumming his fingers against the table. “Oh yeah? Like who?”

“F. Scott Fitzgerald,” I replied, instantly. I hadn’t gotten around to showing Jean any of his books, but if we’d been in the isles much longer I would have.

“Who’s that? Can’t be that famous,” he replied. I choked on my coffee, burning my throat because I had taken too large of a sip.

“What? He is so famous. He wrote The Great Gatsby,” I replied.

Jean’s eyes widened. “That dude had dyslexia?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “And he’s like…one of the greatest authors of all time. He’s from Minnesota too. Have you read the book?”

“Uh…I mean I…I read part of it in high school.”

I nodded. “Yeah I did too. And then I read it for college. And then I read it like five more times.” It was one of my favorites, but not for the reason’s most people loved it.

“You read it for college? What class?” he asked.

I nodded. “I took an American Lit class, and it was one of the required texts. At the end of the year we had to write a character analysis on one of the protagonists from one of the novels we’d read that semester, and I chose Nick Carraway. I wrote a fifteen page paper on why he's gay.”

Jean laughed, and when I didn’t, he realized I was serious. “Oh, shit. The dude in Gatsby is actually gay?”

“And gay for Gatsby,” I said. Jean smiled. “I mean, that’s just my educated opinion, but I got an A so I’m guessing it was my teacher’s educated opinion too. Actually, there’s a lot of speculation that F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemmingway had a thing, but I just think that’s too good to be true.”

Jean laughed. “Dude…that’s fucking awesome. When I read the book it seemed like it was mostly just a bunch of rich, racist people trying to fill the time.”

“It is, mostly,” I said, “But believe me, the way they teach it in high school is nothing like the way they do in college.”

Jean ran his fingers through his hair. “I should read it again.”

“You should. You should read everything he’s ever written, actually.” I took another sip of my coffee and Jean smiled.

“Is that a fact?”

I nodded. “I mean, you pretty much have to, if you’re going to be around me.”

“Well then, you better start watching Packer games.”

I sighed, theatrically, so he would know what a pain it was, but I nodded. “Fine, I’ll take that bullet for you.”

He grinned. “You better.”

We left the café, throwing our trash in the garbage can as we did. I walked Jean over to the shelf the store had titled “the classics”. Sure enough, the great Gatsby was on one of the shelves. Jean held it in his hands.

“Fuck,” he said, frowning at it. “This book…the font is like microscopic. It’s so hard to read.”

I frowned at him, wondering exactly how bad his dyslexia was. “Did you ever have like…any kind of tutoring?”

He shook his head. “I wasn’t evaluated until I was fourteen. And then when I was diagnosed they put me in special ed., but it’s not the same.”

I shook my head. “It’s not at all…I mean, with dyslexia…patients go through like a very specific learning regimen…it’s like designed for them.”

He arched an eyebrow at me. “How do you know?”

“Well,” I started, rubbing the back of my neck, “I spared you today by only showing you the fiction books I read. But I like to read non-fiction books too…usually medical stuff in magazines.”

He looked at me like the sentence alone had aged him. He shook his head. “You’re crazy.”

I laughed. “I know.”

He continued to squint at the font. I remembered something else I’d read about dyslexia among some of the medical shit I had lying around my house. I took the book from his hands and put it back.

“Come here,” I said, gesturing him closer to me. We walked to the front of the bookstore. Jean asked if we were leaving and I shook my head.

We reached the Nook desk at the front of the store that greeted every Barnes & Noble customer. I picked up one of the nooks and placed it in Jean’s hands.

His shook his head. “Can’t afford it.”

I shrugged. “I can.”

“Dude…you can’t buy this for me. I mean…it’s – it’s over a hundred dollars –”

I sighed and then shushed him. “I have the money. And besides, you need it. You can change the font size and the font if you want. You can highlight stuff and look up words. This thing will help you with reading more than anything, and it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than paying someone to teach you how to read the way you need to.”

His eyes were torn now. He looked between me and the Nook, more than once.

“You could probably buy some of your textbooks on there,” I said. He sighed, and I knew I’d won.

“Thank you, Marco.” It was more sincere sounding than I was used to hearing from Jean. Or maybe, not necessarily more sincere, but definitely more vulnerable. I smiled at him, and with some amount of bravery on my part, I bent down to kiss him.

He kissed me back, passionately, even as a few people snickered when they walked through the front door. My lips tingled afterward.

Once we were in my car, I wasn’t sure what to do next. It was still early in the day, so it wasn’t as if we could use the “it’s late” excuse. Nor did I want to. I started to drive, and when we turned off the highway onto the street that would force me to choose between my place or his, he finally spoke.

“Are you dropping me off?” he asked.

“Is that what you want?”

He paused, and slid his fingers over the cover of his Nook. “Not really.”

“Then we’ll go to my place,” I said, and took a left.

We were quiet again until we were in the parking lot of my apartments. He asked,“You don’t mind do you?”

I smiled, because he had waited until we got here to ask. It made me think he really did want to come to my place, so much so that he had avoided asking me that question until he thought I wouldn’t bother to turn around.

“Not at all.” I grinned at him. He smiled back, but it was shy. He hadn’t been himself today, I realized. Usually, he never went more than a half hour without flashing me one of his brilliant, crooked, movie-star-worthy grins.

We walked up the stairs to my place, and Jean almost instantly settled into my apartment, as if he were a new pet I’d brought home. We almost watched another movie. By that I meant, we put a movie in and let it play, but had been too busy kissing to actually watch it. This time was different than the others. There was no obvious prelude to sex happening. We were just kissing, because we liked each other, and it was the happiest I’d been with him.

At some point we had stopped and he was just resting in the crook of my arm on my couch. It was late enough to make dinner, but I wasn’t ready to invite him to stay. There was a conversation I had been fending off for hours. It had been bubbling in my gut all day, and it was going to burst out of me if I didn’t fucking say it.

“Jean?” I asked.

“Hmmm.” His fingers curled into the fabric of my navy flannel.

“What about Eren?”

His body tensed. “What do you mean? What about him?” His eyes had opened. He sat up, and as soon as I could no longer feel his body warmth and weight, I regretted letting myself speak my mind.

“Won’t he…won’t he come back? Ever?”

“I don’t think so.” Jean’s gaze was downcast. He bit his lip.

“But if he did, you’d take him back right? You’d want to be with him?”

His eyes met mine. They were flashing in reds and greens from my television, but I could still see the gold. They were hardened, trying to decide what to say to me without pushing me away. He didn’t need to do that. I’d already made my mind up about staying.

“Yeah. I’m sorry…I actually really am. But…I would.”

The way he used the word actually to emphasize his apology made me wonder if Jean was used to apologizing. His hand reached for mine across the blankets. His hand shook. I took it in mine, cradling it.

“Alright,” I said to him, “That’s fair. But you like me don’t you?”

He nodded. “A lot.” Then he kissed me again, probably to reassure me, and I held him to that kiss for a moment longer than I would. If there had ever been an unspoken promise, it was that kiss.

“Well…I’m just going to…to say this, I guess,” I started, “I know that Eren will come back. I don’t have to know him, to know that you’re not someone you can easily give up. And… I really like you. More than I’m used to liking anyone, and I want to be with you. So what I’m offering I guess is…I want to be with you as long as I can. I want to be your boyfriend, even if it’s just a month, or a week, or even if it’s only tonight. And when…when he stops hurting and decides he wants to give you another chance, you can go to him. And there will be no hurt feelings, I promise.”

The whole time I had been speaking, I had been looking away from him, too afraid to see what he was thinking behind those golden irises. When I looked at him now, it was hard to place what he was thinking. There was some obvious disbelief, I supposed, in his dropped jaw. But he also in a way, looked like he was in pain. His eyebrows were turned up. His eyelashes fluttered. His hands trembled.

“Why would you do that? That’s…Marco, that’s not fair to you. That’s…that’s letting me take advantage of you.”

I swallowed, buying myself some time, before I smiled. My lip trembled. “I know. And I would like to believe, that if I had been raised differently, if I had been raised to be prouder, I would not let myself be anyone’s second best. But…you have changed my life so completely, and I’m only just beginning to learn how to be myself. I have spent years holding who I am back, and I’m so sick of it. I don’t want to wait any longer. I would be with someone else, but there’s no one else I want.”

One of his arms was hugging a throw pillow to his chest, and the other was clenched tight in my hand. I stroked his thumb with my own. His legs were tangled in mine, so that we could face each other on the couch underneath a blanket. My living room was officially dark, save for the TV and the oven light shining in from the kitchen. My face was in the shadows, so I hoped he could not see how my eyes were fighting tears.

Jean looked like he couldn’t find words. I must have been right, because instead of saying something, he leaned in to kiss me. He kissed me urgently, and desperately for so long I’d forgotten our conversation and had begun to let my hands roam on his back.

He pulled away.

“You are not second best,” he said. “What I have – or had, with Eren…it…it’s not like I could never have it with you. You’re…you don’t treat me the way so many other people do. You see me the way I want to be seen, and you can’t understand what that – what that means to someone like me.”

I kissed him again, as tears fell. I hated whoever had made him feel this way. Whoever had made him think so low of himself, as if he wasn’t worthy of love. I didn’t want to say it, but I’d never felt so strongly for anyone.

It could be misplaced…the way a teenage boy believed he loved the first crush he ever had, but I loved Jean, and I’d never been permitted this foolish, high-school-crush feeling before. I wanted him as long as I breathed, in any scenario I found myself in. I wanted to be there, making sure he knew he was loved, and that he deserved to be.

He pulled away again, but placed his hand on the side of my face. He wiped away the tear. “Look, I love Eren. I probably always will, and if – if I could just stop I would, because loving him hurts so fucking bad. But like, that doesn’t mean…that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be with you.”

“So are you taking my offer?” I asked, praying.

“No. I’m not going to just…just use you until Eren comes around. I’m with you. I’m yours. I don’t know what’s going to happen if Eren comes around, but you can fucking bet I’m not going to figure it out until then. ”

I smiled at him. “So…you’re my boyfriend then.”

He laughed at that, and I realized I probably did sound like the lovesick teenager with his first boyfriend, but I didn’t care. It made me feel too high.

He wrapped his arms around my shoulders. His fingers glided through my hair.

“Yeah.”

I grinned and tucked my head into his neck. We sat like that for a minute, him threading his fingers through my hair, and me holding him close to my chest to remind myself he was mine. Then I realized, I wasn’t done yet. “I – I can’t exactly tell anyone yet. Other than Ymir and Hitch.”

He shrugged. “Me neither.”

I smiled, and my cheeks hurt from it, but I couldn’t stop.

We started kissing again. This time, I rearranged myself so that I was underneath him and he was laying on top of me between my legs. My arms wrapped around his, and my hands explored. He felt…he felt different than last time. He felt like if I put too much pressure on any one part of him, I could break his bones. My hands slid underneath his sweatshirt, I could feel his spine. I didn’t think I could last time I touched him like this. Jean tensed up as my fingers climbed up his ribs. I could count them.

“Jean, are you self-conscious about your weight?” I asked. He cringed, and stopped kissing my neck. He slid down the couch enough to cross his arms over his chest. His head was mostly hidden by his hood. Only his eyes and tuffs of hair peeked out.

“Y-yeah,” he replied. I frowned. Personally, I had never been that thin, but I’d known guys who were. So many of them felt like they were too skinny to ever be considered attractive, and they would try to bulk up muscle by weight lifting and eating way too much. As thin as he was, I wasn’t surprised that he’d gotten shit for it, or that he’d be insecure about it.

“Well, you don’t have to be with me, okay?” I said.

He looked at me skeptically. “It’s kind of hard not to be when…when like, I want you to find me attractive.”

“But I do think you’re attractive. God Jean, you’re incredibly sexy to me,” I said, blushing because it was the first time I’d ever said that to a person and meant it. I’d said it to women, and it was no problem then, but this time it mattered if he thought I sounded like an idiot.

“Really?” he asked.

“Yeah. I mean, it’s no secret that you’re thin, but it’s no big deal to me.”

His jaw dropped. “You think I’m thin?”

I pulled my head back, as if to get a better look at his disbelief, and make sure I hadn’t misheard him. “Well, yeah. I’m sorry if that hurts your feelings. But I don’t think it should, you shouldn’t be ashamed of your body.”

He smiled, laughing in a way that was somehow clearly in relief.

“It doesn’t hurt my feelings,” he reassured. “I mean, other people have told me, but I just thought they were trying to make me feel better.”

So I had heard him correctly. I took a second to organize my thoughts. The fact that he couldn’t tell he was thin was absurd to me. “You thought you were fat?”

“Uh, yeah. But…I must be making more progress than I think. I’ve started to run,” he said, not looking at me. He looked so proud and it made something of cloud in my gut.

I sat us up on the couch. I placed both my hands on either side of his face. “You’re trying to lose weight?”

He nodded. “Yeah, why?”

“You don’t need to,” I replied. He rolled his eyes. “You’re plenty thin. You shouldn’t be trying…it’s unhealthy.”

“You’re overreacting. It’s nothing serious, okay? I just watch how much I eat is all.”

He stared at me so seriously, so genuinely, that I knew he was telling the truth. Still, it worried me. Who had done this to him? His horribly low self-esteem was worse than I thought. It made me even angrier. He wouldn’t feel that way with me, I promised myself. I would do it right.

“Do you want to stay here a while?” I asked.

His eyebrows rose. “Uh…sure. Gotta go back to my place and grab some stuff though.”

“Yeah, okay,” I said, feeling better already. He didn’t have to stay here long, of course. Wherever we were in our relationship, I wasn’t so naive as to believe we were ready to move in with each other. I just wanted him to stay with me long enough to realize that what other people thought about his weight wasn’t true.

“We don’t have to do that right away or anything,” he said rubbing the back of his neck. “In a few days, or whatever.”

I got the distinct impression he didn’t want to be at home. I wondered if someone was staying with him, and if they were the person who’d made him like this. Then my heart started thudding rapidly in my chest when I realized that it could have been Eren. Jean hadn’t said anything that made me think that Eren was a bad guy, but I already knew that his opinions of himself were generally lower than his opinions of other people. I wondered if Eren had abused Jean, mentally or physically in any way.

That night when he undressed for me, he pulled his body over mine, and I saw bruises. So many bruises. When it had been just the one on his face, I hadn’t thought anything of it. But then again, a punch to the face after fucking up badly didn’t seem so shocking. His body though…it was horribly bruised.

I kissed as many spots on his body as I could, to show him that I’d be different. I’d never hurt him.

Chapter Text

Eren

Mikasa had tried to talk to me every day since my fight with Jean. The problem was, I didn’t hate that bastard enough to tell her what he was keeping from her. The longer I ignored her, the more worried she got, the more I saw the truth in everything Jean had said about her. I couldn’t stand the sight of her.

Armin had kept her away from me for the most part. I hadn’t told him anything about what had happened, but you couldn’t keep anything from Armin for long. He must have known, to some degree, that something had passed between Jean and I that I would never be able to talk about. He didn’t ask.

But Mikasa hadn’t dropped it. As soon as I had gotten home – after almost getting hit by a semi-truck and running a red light during my drive – from Jean’s house, I had ran into the back yard, and I had smashed one of the lawn chairs into the patio pavement for several minutes. I had kicked over the other chair, and smashed the patio table glass top with a baseball bat until it was shattered into millions of pieces. I had collapsed in the glass, and now I had cuts all over my hands as well as my feet.

Mikasa had freaked out, and had apologized – Oh God, why couldn’t she see? – for being short with me at Eren’s house when I had chosen to stay behind. Then she had apologized for leaving him. And then she had apologized for anything else she could think of for over ten minutes afterward, while simultaneously screaming at me to stop destroying the patio furniture.

Armin had leaned against the sliding glass door, with his arms crossed, and wearing a worried expression, as he waited for me to be done venting.

When I hadn’t immediately explained myself to Mikasa, I had seen a shift in Armin’s eyes that had told me he knew me better than God, and he had looked at Mikasa and had said, “Didn’t you leave something on the stove? I think I smell gas.”

Mikasa had taken one last worried glance at me, before darting into the kitchen to take care of the false gas odor.

“God, Armin – I – I’m so sorry,” I had said, still kneeling in the glass and staring at what I’d done. My sobs had been heavy, raking through my throat.

He had chuckled. “You destroyed the hideous lawn furniture your mom gave us. You don’t owe me any apology.”

“I’m so sorry,” I had said again, anyway.

He shrugged. “Don’t worry about cleaning it up now. You should clean your cuts.”

Cleaning my wounds was the only thing I’d let Mikasa do, and I still didn’t say a word. When she was done, she had tried to ask me what was wrong, but Armin had conveniently entered the room. “So what were you saying about the pictures again?”

He had glanced at me once, like he had known she couldn’t answer that question, but then he had redirected his gaze to where she sat at the kitchen table.

“Oh yeah. He must have been really angry with me,” she had said. “He took them all down. I don’t even know where they are.”

They were on the shelf above the washer.

I had excused myself, and had ran upstairs to take a hot shower.

I hadn’t left the bedroom hardly at all since. Armin had let me stay up there, in our old bedroom. He and Mikasa were sharing a blow up mattress Armin and I had kept tucked away for guests. Mikasa kept asking why all that was necessary whenever I reemerged downstairs to eat something or to go to work, but I never answered.

Today she must have decided she wouldn’t put up with my shit anymore. Maybe she was past the point of apology. Maybe she was finally angry with me. Maybe she didn’t give a shit about what I thought anymore, like Jean had always wanted.

When she knocked on the bedroom door for the eighth time today, I finally groaned and told her to come in.

I was lying in bed – it was 3 AM, so at least this time it wasn’t because of my lack of desire to function anymore – and I squinted as soon as she opened the door and the hallway light streamed into my cave. Then, as if that wasn’t a likely enough cause for a migraine, she turned on the bedroom light too. The fan was buzzing nearby, and she switched it off as she came in. She sat on the edge of the bed, causing the mattress to sink heavily to my left.

“I thought of something,” she said. She was in her pajamas, flannel pants with a gigantic University of Minnesota sweatshirt. Her hair was pulled back into a droopy bun.

“Good job,” I spit, and rolled over in the bed. Before I could pull the blankets over my head, she tugged away the comforter. I growled.

“What? What! What do you fucking want?”

“My bed,” she said, “had come on it.”

“This is what you fucking wake me up for?” I spit, “Are you shitting me? Of course it did, he fucked someone.”

She waited for whatever her point was to become obvious to me. It didn’t. I stared harder at her, as menacingly as I could manage. She didn’t flinch.

“There were condoms on the floor.”

“And?” I asked.

“If he wore a condom, why was there come on the bed?”

I froze. My glare fell off my face and my jaw dropped. My heart was thudding so hard I couldn’t hear myself think. “What?”

“He wore a condom. Why would there be come on the bed?”

Not sure what to say at first, I swallowed. “Maybe she spits?”

Mikasa rolled her eyes. “Christ. Yeah, us girls, we usually aim for the fucking bed.”

I shuddered. “Gross, Mikasa. Can you fucking leave now?”

“Besides…I think…I think I know Jean’s preferences on that sort of thing,” she said.

“I – I am going to jump out that window…” I said, pointing to my bedroom window behind her, “…and die, if you don’t stop talking.” I knew his preferences too. I also knew, what the fuck jizz looked like when it…when it…landed. It didn’t look the same as it did when you spit, and she must have known that too.

She shook her head. “Eren…you were there. You know who was there.”

“I could have been asleep,” I argued.

“But you weren’t…or you would have said ‘I was asleep’.”

“I didn’t see shit.” I pulled the covers back over my body, so she wouldn’t see my body shake. My cheeks were flaming. The more I moved, the more she analyzed my movements…and I realized, shit.

She already knew.

She just didn’t want to call me out on it.

She wanted me to tell her myself.

“Eren,” she murmured.

“What do you want me to say?” I sobbed, hearing the emotion enter my throat and everything in my mind becoming sharp. It was like I was there again, feeling him behind me, feeling him thrust so good inside of me and his arms curling tight around my shoulders and the sound of my name –my name, after so long trying to imagine it when I was alone – and baby, baby, baby, on his lips and his jaw quivering against my shoulder and…and…

I broke down sobbing. “Turn the fucking light off,” I ordered, through my heaving breaths. She stood and turned it off, but she had left the bedroom door open and the light from the hall still streamed in. I could see one half of her face, and her expression…

She had known before, but my reaction confirmed it. She looked the way she did when my parents had brought her home. To this day, neither of my parents nor she had told me what the hell happened, how she ended up with us and where she was before…but she was a dead girl walking the first few days she was with us.

“How long?” she asked.

I didn’t look at her. “How long what?”

“How long were you two…before we broke up.”

“We weren’t,” I said, “It was just that night.”

She stared at me, her one illuminated eye steely grey and calculating. She didn’t believe me.

“I swear. He never cheated on you, Mikasa. Not with me, or anyone else, not until he knew it was over. And…and he – we – it just happened. I couldn’t say no to him.”

She stood up, abruptly, her expression becoming enraged. “Did he force himself on you?”

I jerked my head in her direction, sitting up in the bed. My motion was so fast my pillow and the blanket fell to the floor. “What? God no! No, of course he fucking didn’t. I mean…I didn’t want to tell him no.”

“So it was just sex?” she asked. I shook my head. Her expression was pained again. She tried to hide it by fixing her hair, and failed. Her bun became even sloppier, and strands of her silky, black hair were glued to her cheek by her tears.

“You love him?” she asked.

I nodded. “I always have.”

Then my sister did something I’ve never seen her do. She cried like me. Not the silent, dismissed cries she usually had on the rare occasions she did cry. Not the ones that would go unnoticed to the rest of her body, as if her eyes were trying to remind her to react and she wouldn’t, not even by a whimper, or covering her face. No, it wasn’t like that.

She slumped onto the bed like her legs had gone numb, and she bawled into her hands.

“Mikasa? Mikasa,” I said, jumping from one end of the bed to the other to pull her hands away from her face. It was like watching your parents fight and being convinced it was your own fault. I couldn’t stand to see her like this, it made me feel like the worst person that had ever walked the earth. I pulled her into my arms. “What the hell? What – what the hell?”

I knew what the hell. I knew exactly what the hell. Jean had told me what the hell.

“It should have been you,” she whined. “It should have been you. It should have been you.”

“What should have been me?” I asked, peeling her hair off her face and forcing her to look at me.

“I never loved him. I – I can’t love him, like that. I tried so hard, and there were so many times I thought it was about to happen, or that maybe it had, and I just didn’t understand the appeal.”

I shook my head, while pulling my hands away from her. I laced my fingers behind my head, and held my breath for a moment. “What are you talking about?”

“I don’t think I’m like you. I don’t fall in love. I’m not even really sure what it is and with Jean…I made him think I loved him for so long. And all this time, I thought I was with him because of how hurt he’d be, thought I was saving him, because he wouldn’t ever find someone else – and I know that was wrong. I shouldn’t have thought he wouldn’t find someone –”

“Yeah,” I interrupted, “What the hell made you think that?”

“Because he just…he had only ever loved me. And you’re right, he didn’t cheat. Up until recently, I knew that cheating was something he could never do.”

She wiped her own cheeks off and shook her head. Her hands, as if on their own accord reached back to fix her hair. She was already building herself back up.

“He gets something going in his mind,” she continued, “and it’s like he can’t fathom any world where it isn’t like that. He loved me, and that was his world. He used to tell me that’s all he wanted. He didn’t know what he wanted to do for a living, didn’t care if he did anything at all, he just wanted me to be there. He’d follow me anywhere I went just because…because loving me was all he cared to do.”

It hurt, oh God, it hurt. I clutched onto my shirt over my heart, and tried not to sob harder, because for once in my fucking life I wanted it to be the other way around. I wanted to be comforting her for once, and I wanted to be there for her. I had never appreciated her enough, and if I never saw Jean again, I’d still hear his words about her in my head as if they were being spoken in my ear.

“I would sometimes ask him, what he thought he’d be doing if we had never dated…and he couldn’t think of anything. He had no idea…or so he said. Then I would ask him…well what would you end up doing if we broke up? And he told me he’d try to get me back.”

As weak as I was, I couldn’t stop myself from breaking down just as she was starting to recover. I leaned into her shoulder and sobbed until her sweatshirt was damp. She wrapped an arm around me and didn’t say anything while I cried. She didn’t even apologize to me for anything.

“But I don’t think he’ll do that,” she said, quickly, trying to reassure me.

I shook my head. I knew he wouldn’t, but that was of little comfort now.

“You know Eren…” Her tone was soothing. I stopped sobbing so loudly. “He told me he wanted the last five years back.”

I wiped my face.

“He said I robbed him of ever loving someone else.”

I perked my head up to look at her. I sniffled. Some stray tears fell.

“I think he meant you.”

I shook my head. “He did. But he doesn’t love me anymore. We got into a fight.”

Her eyebrows rose, but not in surprise. They rose because she was skeptical and for a moment I hated her for doubting me and loved her because she thought him no longer loving me was unlikely.

“I’m serious. I’ve never seen him that angry.”

She forcibly tilted my head so that I had to look into her eyes. “He doesn’t stop loving someone that easily. Once he’s decided he loves you, he can’t let it go. He let me drift away for…God, probably a year before he finally walked out on me.”

“You never made him angry, though.”

She chuckled, and quickly covered her mouth like she hadn’t given it permission to do that. “Of course I did.”

“Not like me,” I said.

“Eren, what was the fight about?”

I looked away from her again. I looked toward the hallway, where the light was shining in. Armin was probably awake. Probably sitting on the couch downstairs waiting for the exact moment his appearance would be needed.

“I was mad he didn’t tell you about us,” I said, “when you came over and you saw the bed and everything. He still didn’t tell you.”

She was quiet. “So…you were the one that was mad.”

“Well…yeah. But he was mad at me because he didn’t think I should be. He didn’t think he should come out to you – he thought it would…would upset you.”

She winced. “It’s really strange. I’ve been thinking about it all day, but looking back…there are some things that have been explained.”

She shook her head. I smiled, despite myself, wondering what gay shit he’d done that had confused her before this.

“But…that still doesn’t sound like anything life-shattering. You guys have been in worse brawls than that.”

I shook my head, wiping my nose with my hand and sniffling. “I swear…it was so much worse. I can’t explain it, believe me, I want to. But you have no idea…how – how hard it is, when it comes to this sort of thing. When it comes to coming out, and telling people…like not just telling them that you’re gay or bi or whatever, but telling them – hey, I’ve been lying to you for years. You know nothing about me. I’m not the person you thought you loved. It makes everything different.”

I searched her eyes to see if these words would upset her. They didn’t seem to, but they darkened in a way that made me think she was hiding something. Well, she’d tell me when she felt like it.

“And…it’s so hard, too,” I kept going, “when you have only so many people you can feel safe with. Only so many people who know what it’s like, who’ve been through it and can help you, and then to find out that you’re – you’re the reason it was so hard for them. I feel like that. I feel like it’s my fault he couldn’t ever tell you.”

Her eyebrows furrowed, and she placed a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “How would it be your fault?”

My body tensed, and I scooted away from her on the bed. I held onto her hand, then looked into her eyes. “He was with me first.”

She just looked confused. “But we…No…we – we were sixteen.”

I shook my head. “Jean and I were together when we were thirteen. I mean…God, it wasn’t like he was my boyfriend. But he definitely wasn’t just a friend. I think it started just because we were the only two people we knew like each other. We couldn’t go to any of the other guys and then it just…just became whatever it was. By the time we were fourteen…or maybe we were fifteen already, I don’t know, we were together.”

Her eyebrows turned up, and she covered half her face in her sweatshirt. Her eyes darted back and forth like she was reading, or trying to find something that would explain it to her in the bedroom carpeting.

All she said was, “I fucking knew he wasn’t a virgin. That asshole.”

I stared at her, open-mouthed to see if she was serious, and when she didn’t take it back I huffed out a laugh.

“He made me think you’d explode if you found out,” I said, gasping on my own sigh of relief.

She pursed her lips. “If you had told me this…even a few days ago, I think I would have. But things are different now, for all of us.”

I nodded, lacing my fingers behind my head again. All of it…our entire fight, was for nothing, and now he was gone. He would never know what a fool I was. What a childish, lovesick, desperate idiot I was, to expect him to come out on my terms instead of his.

“Where is he?” she asked, “Is he at our apartment?”

I shrugged. “I guess. It’s not like he can just drive to his mom’s whenever he feels like it.”

She nodded. “You need to go to him.”

“I can’t,” I said. “It’s too soon. I fucked up too bad.”

She shook her head. “You didn’t. It’s Jean. He’ll get over it.”

I laughed. She was right, I was the grudge-holder, not Jean.

“Alright,” I said to her.

She left the room, and I was already getting out of the boxers I’d been wearing for a week. I hadn’t been wearing much else outside of my work uniform. I didn’t dare smell my armpits before I got into the shower.

Once out, I shaved, and got dressed.

All that was left was grabbing my wallet, my keys, and my phone.

I was out the door in less than fifteen minutes after talking to Mikasa.

I didn’t drive as recklessly as I had last time on my way home. In fact, I thought I drove slower than I usually would. I slowed down when the light wasn’t quite yellow, and took a little too much time getting out of my car, pretending it wasn't the scariest thing I’d ever made myself do. Half of me had believed I would never talk to him again, just because I was so ashamed of how I had left. It had been humiliating, letting someone so angry with me, see me cry and break down like that.

But I was already here, and if Mikasa was right, he still loved me. I had to believe – had to find out – that he still love me.

I walked up the steps to the balcony outside his apartment, and knocked.

I shook my head at myself, annoyed I’d even done that much. I cursed.

But then I realized he wasn’t answering the door. If he was asleep, he probably wouldn’t notice. I considered calling him, because Lord knew what he would do to me in the darkness of his apartment in the middle of the night if he didn’t realize it was me. But I didn’t want to have to put my heart back together when he ignored my call.

So I just reached for the doorknob. It was unlocked. Why was it unlocked? I pushed open the door.

“Jean?” I asked, then louder, “Jean!”

No response.

He wasn’t home, and I knew of only one place he might have gone.

My mind shut itself down, to protect my heart from any further thoughts. I went numb, not just my body, my bones, my muscles and skin, but all of my thoughts. There was nothing inside of me to think or feel anymore. I was empty. This time, there weren’t even picture frames to break.

Chapter Text

Jean

I’d told Marco that I didn’t want to go home right away, and it had been true. I’d spent days in the house with no one to talk to about what had happened. I didn’t want to see all the memories hanging on the furniture and sitting on the bed. Didn’t want to walk in the door and think about how Eren always took his left shoe off before his right and never hung his coat up, but instead threw it on the couch.

Sunday morning though, I decided that putting it off wasn’t going to help anything. I needed to get out of that apartment anyway. It wasn’t mine anymore, and I wasn’t paying for it. Moving in with Marco wouldn’t work either, but I could stay there until I somehow managed to come up with a good enough job to support the rent of my own place.

Marco seemed oddly on edge in the car on the way to my apartment. I couldn’t imagine what had changed between last night and this morning. Maybe he had decided he didn’t want to be with me after all. I didn’t know, and I didn’t have the courage to ask. So we drove in silence.

When we got to my place, I reached for my keys only to remember that I’d left it unlocked.

Opening the door, I stepped aside so that Marco could get around me while I kicked off my shoes. One of my shoes hit the floor, and it bumped into another. It was a boot. A steel-toed boot. It was brown, and the sole of this boot was covered in mud. It was Eren’s boot.

“Shit,” I hissed.

And that’s when I heard the sound of feet thumping on the floor of my bedroom.

“What?” Marco asked. His head drifted back and forth across the entryway, examining the kitchen to the left, the hall ahead, and the living room on the right.

“Jean?” Eren called.

“Oh God,” I said.

“Who’s that?” Marco asked.

“I’m going to be sick,” I choked.

Marco didn’t hear what I said, because Eren stepped out into the hall, rubbing his eyes like he’d just woken up. He was wearing a pair of my sweats and his hair was sticking up in tuffs.

“Jean, thank God, I –” he started, until his eyes caught sight of Marco. His eyes were blood shot and wide. “You fucking brought him home? Are you fucking kidding me?!”

“Jean?” Marco asked, “Is this…?”

“Eren, I can explain, just give me a second –”

“I can’t fucking believe you!” he snarled, through his teeth. His hands were already white-knuckled fists at his sides and his arms were shaking. “Thought you were done with him? What about us? Are you serious? Five days? You got over me in five days?”

“No, of course not –”

“Uh, Eren…I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t be here, but I –” Marco started.

“You’re damn right! Why don’t you get the fuck out of here and go back to your goddamn fiancé?”

I placed my hand to my head, suddenly feeling so dizzy that I leaned against the door. My forehead was sweaty. The sweat ran in droplets down my neck. My vision started to blur.

“Eren…”

“You told him?” Marco asked me.

“Yeah, he did! At the same time he told me he was done with you!” Eren yelled.

“I think there’s been a misunderstanding and –” Marco tried.

“Fuck off. I understand everything perfectly. Jean and I get in one fight, and he’s already fucking you. And if you think this has anything to do with you, you’re wrong. This issue is between me and Jean. And it’s none of your goddamn business. If I were you, I would leave.” His voice was so loud and laced with venom, then it was far away and slurring and becoming one mind-numbing sound. I gripped onto my head, trying to focus on anything. Focus on standing, on breathing, on telling him I was sorry.

Marco’s back straightened, just as mine began to sink down the wall. My hands were clammy, and shaking as I ran them through my hair.

“I think it –”

I didn’t know if Marco finished that sentence or not. The floor smacked me in the face and my vision went black.

When I woke up, I was lying on my couch. I was decently sure that I had fallen asleep, but I couldn’t remember falling asleep on the couch. This had been happening a lot, so I decided not to think about it. I rolled over and decided I’d go back to sleep.

Someone’s hand rested on my shoulder. Firm, rough, and tense. It was strange how I knew the grip by heart. “Eren?” I grumbled, almost smiling I was so relieved he was there.

He nudged me until I opened my eyes. “I called an ambulance.”

I flipped like a switch into a sitting position. “What? What the hell for?”

Eren was sitting on the coffee table, leaning toward me. Marco had his back pressed against the living room wall. His eyes weren’t focused on me. They were glazed over, pointed in the direction of the floor.

“You passed out, Jean,” Eren said.

I shook my head and waved him off. “I fell asleep.”

“You did not fall asleep,” he said. “You collapsed in the entryway.”

My eyes flickered between Eren and Marco, wondering how they were in the same room without arguing. It was surreal to see them together, now. It was like my real life and my alternate life colliding. It felt like a dream. Which just made me want to sleep.

“I’m just tired,” I said. “Relax.”

I laid back down on the couch, content to hug a throw pillow to my chest and fall back asleep.

Eren nudged me. “Fuck off,” I muttered.

“I tested your blood while you were unconscious,” he said. “Your blood sugar is at sixty two.”

I shrugged. “I’m not a diabetic.”

Eren groaned and shook me until I was too awake to sleep. I sat back up. Eren gripped on to my shoulders. “God help me. You’re being a fucking dumbass! Just because you’re not a diabetic doesn’t mean the rules don’t apply to you! Do you even understand how low that is? If you had dropped twenty more… maybe even less, you would have died. You’d be dead by tomorrow.”

I shook my head. “Eren. I’m fine. Look at me.” I gestured to my body with my hand. I still felt woozy, but being woozy was nothing to call an ambulance for.

“You look sick,” Marco said. I whipped my head towards him. His eyelashes were wet. He still wasn’t even able to focus on me.

“What?”

He bit his lip, looking like he felt guilty for even speaking. “You look sick, Jean.”

“I do not,” I replied.

They both stared at me. Eren, was a combination of angry, frustrated, and utterly shocked. Marco looked disappointed, worried, and defeated.

I heard the sirens. They were still a ways off, but they were coming closer. I couldn’t believe Eren had actually called an ambulance over this. He was completely overreacting. I supposed that shouldn’t surprise me.

“I’m not going in the ambulance,” I said. “I’m fine.”

“I told them on the phone how low your blood sugar is. You don’t get to say no,” Eren said.

I groaned into my hands and ran my fingers through my hair. Then I met his gaze. “Why are you doing this? Really? What’s the point? I’m going to go to the emergency room, and the doctors are going to look at me and see that I’m fine, and then I’m going to leave. It’s going to be a huge waste of time.”

Neither of them said anything. Marco looked away from me, and I could have sworn he was crying. Eren looked like he was going to snap my coffee table in half.

“Fuck this,” I said, standing to go to my bedroom and grab the things I’d come for. As soon as I did, the floor spun and I clung onto Eren so that I wouldn’t tip over. My feet felt like they were balancing on a see-saw. My legs were trembling. I fell backward onto the couch.

“See?” Eren said. “You can’t even walk.”

“I just need to sleep.”

Eren shook his head, lacing his fingers behind his head.

We sat in silence. I started to doze again, but was interrupted as soon as we heard footsteps outside. Both Eren and Marco jumped to answer the door. Eren pushed Marco out of the way so he could get there first, and gave Marco a dirty look. I felt like telling him to quit being a dick, but couldn’t find the energy.

Marco came back to sit by me, as two paramedics walked inside.

They saw me on the couch and asked me to get up.

“No,” I said, “I’m fine. You shouldn’t have come.”

“Did you faint?” the man – only a few years older than me – asked.

“I fell asleep.”

The man looked to Marco. Marco sighed, and bit his lip again. He rubbed the back of his neck.

“He fainted,” Marco mumbled. “He’s having trouble standing.”

“I am not!” I yelled at him. Then I turned to the paramedic. “Do I look like I need a fucking ambulance?”

All I needed at this point was some fucking Advil. My head hurt so bad it was throbbing, and the paramedic began to prod at me while I pressed my fingers to my temple. I tried to shove his hand off of me, but my motions were weak and poorly-aimed. He easily avoided me.

One of them stuck a stethoscope to my skin underneath my shirt and sweatshirt. I shivered. The metal against my skin was unbearably cold. So cold it felt like my skin had been exposed directly to dry ice. “Your heart is only beating forty seven beats per a minute.”

“Why are you here if you can’t even count?” I spit.

“Jean,” Marco said under his breath, warning me.

The paramedic ignored me.

Eren had been talking to the other paramedic that arrived in the hall, probably telling him all kinds of bullshit. Now both the other paramedic and Eren joined us in the living room.

Eren was covering his mouth with one hand, like he might puke. He was so genuinely worried, and scared, that for a moment I’d forgotten our fight. I almost stood to go hold him. It didn’t look right on him. It made my skin squirm seeing him like that.

The paramedic took my temperature. “Your temp is 91.”

I shook my head and shrugged. “So? It’s cold in here.”

“Not that cold. Not cold enough to drop your temp to 91,” he said. He lifted my shirt for a second to look at my stomach, and I immediately shoved him off of me and slapped at his hand.

“Get the fuck away from me, right now.”

Protectively, I wrapped my arms around my stomach to hide it from the paramedic’s prying hands.

“You’ve grown lanugo,” the man said, pointing to my stomach.

“What?” Marco asked. “What’s that?”

“Who fucking cares?” I snarled.

“It’s hair growth. It’s a symptom of anorexia. It’s the body’s way of trying to trap in heat when there’s no longer enough muscle and fat to do that.”

Marco audibly swallowed. Eren’s hand dropped from his mouth. I’d never seen him tremble so badly.

“Anorexia?” Eren choked. “Men can get that?”

Both paramedics nodded, as if someone had asked to use the bathroom. “Of course,” one of them said.

Marco shook his head, and this time he was definitely crying. “I should have known. I should – I should have fucking seen it.”

“I don’t have anorexia, Marco. Do you even hear yourself? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. I eat every day.”

“He needs to be hospitalized,” the paramedic who hadn’t spoken yet said.

“What? Hospitalized! Are you – you have to be joking?” I asked, desperately. I couldn’t go to a hospital. I couldn’t sit in the same spot all day. Who knew what they would make me eat, or how much of it. I wouldn’t even be able to get out and run. “You can’t – you can’t make me go. I’m an adult, you can’t force me to go.”

The paramedic shrugged. “Well, you’d be right, if I hadn’t seen the bruises on your stomach.”

Both Marco and Eren’s heads perked up.

“The – what?” I asked. “So? It’s just some damn bruises, I’ll live.”

“Its evidence that you’ve hurt yourself, and we don’t need your permission when that’s the case.”

Marco’s jaw dropped. For whatever reason, it had made him whip his head toward Eren, who looked just as shocked as Marco. They were both staring at me, their eyes harsh and their expressions sharp. It was incriminating, an accusation. The paramedics had turned the only two people I had against me.

“You guys – you have to believe me. I don’t hurt myself,” I said. The last thing I wanted them thinking was that I hurt myself. They’d never look at me the same.

I must have already looked so awful in Eren’s eyes, after my fight with Eren about Mikasa. My inability to come out because I was such a coward. And then screwing up my words so badly that Eren had thought I stopped loving him.

And to Marco, I couldn’t look good either. Now he saw what Eren thought of me. He thought my relationship with him was nothing but a rebound fuck. I’d promised him I wasn’t using him, and I wasn’t, but certainly he had his doubts and Eren hadn’t helped. I could never pretend to be Marco’s dream guy ever again. He knew I was dyslexic, and now he thought I was anorexic. He was no longer an escape from reality because every flaw I’d been trying to hide from him had been exposed. I was no different in his eyes than all the others who had gotten sick of me.

I sobbed.

“Please believe me,” I begged them. “Don’t do this to me.”

Eren’s face twisted into agony, and like a little boy he turned away and covered his face. Marco’s face was completely vacant. It was like he’d already mentally left me.

“We need to get you to the hospital,” the paramedic said.

“Fuck you! Okay?! I’m not going to the fucking hospital! Leave!” I screamed. Neither of them did. The one who’d been standing in front of me picked me up. One of his arms was underneath my legs, the other underneath my shoulders.

“Let me go! I can walk! Let me fucking go!” I screamed, knowing how pathetic and weak I must have looked to Marco and Eren. They must have thought so low of me then, losing my dignity because of a complete stranger and being stripped of my masculinity as the man cradled me.

I kept screaming at them to let me go. They didn’t, even as I tried to kick my way out of their arms. They carried me into the back of the ambulance.

Marco and Eren both darted down the steps after me, and for a moment, I thought they’d realized their mistake. I thought they were going to tell the paramedics that they couldn’t take me, and that they needed to let me go. They didn’t. They didn’t care if they took me, because they wanted me gone.

“I’ll see you at the hospital,” Eren reassured me.

Marco popped up right behind him. “Me too.”

I shook my head, as I was placed onto a bed or stretcher or whatever it was inside the back of the ambulance. “Don’t come. I don’t want you there. Leave me the fuck alone. I never want to see either of you again.”

Eren looked like he was about to beg, and Marco choked on a sob. The paramedics closed the doors before they could say anything More.

The sirens blared as the ambulance pulled out of the parking lot.

Chapter Text

Marco

The ambulance’s sirens vanished in the distance, leaving Eren and I standing in the parking lot together in silence. He was shaking in a way that was hard to tell if it was because of anger or pain. When he spun around to face me, I knew.

“This is all your fault,” he spit. “None of this would have happened if he’d never met you!”

It took me a second to catch up to his anger. His fists were so tight, I imagined he’d hit me like he’d hit Jean if I wasn’t careful. I took a step back. “My fault? I’ve known him for two weeks. People don’t get as bad as him in two weeks. Where were you?”

Eren had been about to interrupt me, but I was learning fast. If you wanted him to hear a damn thing you had to yell louder than his thoughts, which was no easy feat. He spun back around in place, lacing his fingers behind his neck. “If he hadn’t met you he would have come to me two weeks ago.”

“That wouldn’t have made him less sick,” I argued, ignoring the sting that came with the truth of his words. “You don’t know that,” I added, feebly.

He shook his head. “I don’t have time for this.”

He started jogging off. “Wait? Where are you going?”

He turned around and lifted out one arm to show me he was carrying keys. “The hospital, obviously.”

“He said don’t come,” I yelled.

“Then don’t fucking come.”

I gritted my teeth and decided that if he was going to ignore Jean’s wishes then I could to. I was his boyfriend, technically. If anyone should be there between the two of us, it ought to be me. So I ran to my car, and pulled out of the parking lot a minute behind the car I assumed to be Eren’s.

He drove too fast and too half-hazardly for me to keep up, but he never got so far ahead of me I couldn’t see his vehicle. We arrived at the hospital emergency entrance almost at the exact time, and I followed ten steps behind him inside. He didn’t acknowledge me, but the irritation at my presence was plain on his face.

Eren asked for Jean, but before the woman behind the counter could direct him, a slim Asian woman with black hair tied into a braid approached Eren.

“Where is he, Mikasa?” Eren choked.

“Follow me,” she said, waving him on. Then her eyes met mine, and she scrutinized me head to toe.

“Are you looking for somebody?” she asked.

“Jean. I’m with Eren,” I said. Her eyebrows furrowed, and she looked me once over again. Without any more questions, she waved me on.

We walked past several beds that were separated only by curtains that curled around the patients for privacy. The nurses were speed-walking, and no matter what direction they were going, they walked with the purpose of reaching a destination. Their eyes were tunneled and I had to swerve around several of them who hadn’t even noticed my presence. Many of them carried medical supplies I vaguely recognized from different books or from childhood incidents that had put me the emergency room.

Machines beeped and buzzed. I tried not to inhale too deeply, because some of the patients were particularly bloody and the room smelled like copper a latex. Several beds we passed were inhabited by wailing patients or patients that were being interviewed by a doctor with a clipboard. I couldn’t see Jean anywhere, and eventually Mikasa guided us to the last bed in the row on the right. The curtain had been swung around Jean.

Mikasa stopped outside the curtain to peek in and then turned around to face Eren and me.

“The doctor is still with him,” she asked.

“What’s going on?” Eren asked, “What are they doing to him?”

Mikasa’s eyes flicked between the two of us. She wore purple scrubs with a long sleeve black shirt underneath. She appeared nervous for a nurse, considering she must have been around this all of the time.

I tried to listen to what the doctor was saying to Jean, but the patient next to Jean was complaining about stomach pain to a doctor that insisted they couldn’t give him more morphine and Jean was entirely cancelled out.

“He’s…well, they’re trying to get him to eat?” she asked.

“You don’t know?” Eren snarled.

“Well I know that’s what’s happening, but what happened at home?” she asked. “The paramedic said he passed out and that he’s been hurting himself.”

Eren’s eyes flicked once to me, and somehow, I clearly understood that he didn’t want to say it. Or that he couldn’t, and that he wanted me to. Considering how angry he’d been with me in the parking lot, it surprised me that he’d be willing to rely on me for anything.

“He’s got bruises on his stomach that the paramedic believed he put there himself,” I said, still not sure I believed it. Then again, Eren looked upset and shocked enough when he’d heard the paramedic say it.

“Why would he do that?” she asked. I shrugged, because truthfully I had no idea. Jean had been moody around me at times, but I never would have imagined him capable of hurting himself. I still couldn’t.

“The doctor said he’s anorexic and bulimic,” Mikasa said, her voice wavering as she did. “They’ve been asking him all about his eating habits and exercise patterns.”

“I know,” Eren rasped. “I can’t believe it.”

“I can’t either,” I added. But I could. Looking back, I could. Jean had been crying for help since he met me and I plugged my ears, because I had thought I needed him more than he needed me. I shook my head, feeling a shudder go down my spine. “I’m sorry, who are you?” I asked Mikasa, to distract myself.

“I’m his – his friend,” she replied. She was his ex-girlfriend then, I thought. Momentarily, I was as furious with her as I was with Eren. How had neither of them noticed? They were around him way more than he’d been around me.

“And who are youi?” she asked me.

“I’m his – his…” Without thinking, I glanced at Eren expecting him to be livid.

He wasn’t. His eyes were watering again and he quickly wiped his face before Mikasa could see. He nodded at me, giving me permission to tell her.

The doctor came out before I could decide whether or not to lie.

All three of us faced him. He was middle-aged, blonde, with kind but exhausted blue eyes.

“You two must be…?” he said, looking at Eren and me.

“We’re uh…we’re friends of his,” Eren stammered. His fingers fiddled with the hem of his sweatshirt. “Is he okay?”

“He refuses to eat,” the doctor said. “I’ve been asking him questions, but I think he’s lying to me. He’s been throwing up his food, although he won’t say so. He admitted he’s been running, but won’t say how much or how often. I asked him how often he eats, and he said every day, but couldn’t tell me how much he ate. I asked him if he’s been taking laxatives, and he said no. I don’t know if that’s the truth. He also said he hasn’t been taking any dietary supplements.”

Eren clapped a hand over his mouth, and had to wipe his eyes again. My own heart had started to beat faster. I rubbed the back of my neck. I had a hundred questions to ask, but didn’t know where to start and couldn’t find my voice. I bit my lip, knowing my eyes were watering now too.

“Throwing up?” Eren choked. “He makes himself throw up? How do you know?”

“His teeth have lost their enamel, and his esophagus has been damaged and inflamed from stomach acid.”

Mikasa shook her head.

“That can’t be. He’s…you don’t know anything about him. He’s never even been the slightest bit overweight and he’s…He’s…so full of himself sometimes, it’s fucking sickening. He can’t be anorexic.” Eren’s words stumbled out of his mouth in between cracks in his voice and gasps. He sounded like he was trying not to drown.

I stared at him, torn between hating him for what he said and hoping he was somehow right. But I remembered him eating the Mac ‘n Cheese at my place. He’d eaten so little of it…and other than that I couldn’t remember ever seeing him eat. Even last night, he’d picked at the pepperonis on the pizza we’d ordered, but I didn’t think he took more than three or four bites.

Then he’d…Oh God. He’d gone to the bathroom so soon afterward.

The doctor’s hand fell into his pocket, the other loosely gripped a clipboard. The more Eren spoke, the more tired the doctor looked. He was probably younger than I originally thought, just aged by his job.

“Not everyone becomes anorexic or bulimic because they’re insecure about their weight. Many do it just to feel like they’re in control.”

“In control of what?” Eren groaned, his hands coming up like he might punch a wall, and then settling behind his neck again.

“Has there been any recent stress in his life that wasn’t there before?” the man asked. “In the last several months?”

Eren’s eyes flicked to Mikasa, who was hiding half her face in her shirt and blinking a little too much.

“Can we see him?” I asked.

“I have a couple more questions for him,” the doctor said. “After, you can.”

The doctor disappeared behind the curtain, and this time, the three of us collectively tried to listen. We stood close to the side of the curtain, which I was certain probably didn’t go unnoticed by the doctor. Jean probably couldn’t see our feet if he was lying down though.

The person in the next door tent had quieted now. Over the rest of the chaos in the emergency room, we could make out what the doctor was saying.

“Jean, the paramedics noticed you had bruises on your stomach. Can I take a look?” the doctor asked.

“They’re just bruises.”

“It still affects your health,” the doctor replied. Eren leaned in a little too much, and jostled the curtains. He cursed.

“Are there people here to see me?” Jean asked.

“You can speak with them once I’m done asking questions.”

“I don’t want to see them,” he said. “Eren, I know it’s you. Get the fuck out of here.”

Eren’s eyes widened and then he looked toward the floor. He covered his mouth and squeezed his eyes shut as tight as they could go. He started to walk away, and almost as instantly as he did, he spun to face me. He looked like he was going to speak, but I quickly placed my finger over my lips to silent him. His eyes pleaded with me, and I nodded at him to show him I understood.

I’d find him after this and tell him whatever I learned.

“Jean,” the doctor said, “May I look at the bruises?”

“Sure, whatever,” Jean said. There was some ruffling of clothing, and they were both silent for several seconds.

“Did someone hurt you?” the doctor asked.

“No.”

“So you did this yourself?” he asked.

“I trip a lot,” he said.

“On your stomach?” the doctor asked. Jean sighed, and there was some more ruffling.

“Why does it matter?”

“It matters because if you’re hurting yourself I want to help you. Are you depressed?”

Jean paused. There was more ruffling, and the sound of a pen scratching against paper. The doctor was probably writing on his clipboard.

“How would I know?” Jean asked.

“Have you thought about suicide?”

Complete silence. I kept waiting for him to vehemently deny it, to even get angry at such an accusation, but Jean said nothing.

Mikasa, who had been standing so still next to me that I almost forgot she was there, whimpered. I glanced her way. She had leaned forward, with one hand out like she might pull the curtain aside. Her hand was left trembling in the air as she debated. I shook my head at her.

“Is that a yes?” the doctor said.

“Why do you care?”

“I want to help you.”

“Then let me go,” Jean ordered, one hand hitting the bed hard.

“We can’t do that until you’re eating again.”

“I never stopped eating! I eat every day!”

Mikasa whimpered again. “My break,” she said. “I – I have to get back to work.”

I pulled her aside, gently by the arm. “I’ll be here.”

“Who are you?” she asked, again.

“I’m uh…I’m close to Jean. I was there when he passed out,” I said, rubbing my neck.

“Do you go to school with him?”

“No.”

“Then how do you know him?”

Something skidded across the floor on the other side of the curtain. Mikasa and I both jerked our head in that direction. Jean’s food tray was on the floor, and all the food that had been on it was splattered. Milk crawled across the floor. Mikasa took a step in that direction, but the doctor stepped out.

“We need to start him on an IV,” the doctor said. “He won’t eat.”

“I’ll do it,” Mikasa said. The doctor nodded. Then he glanced at me.

“You can see him now, if you want. I’ll come back to check on him in a while.”

“Thank you.” I pulled the curtain aside enough to get in, and Mikasa followed in behind me.

Jean was lying down, curled up in the center of the bed. Mikasa told him she was putting him on an IV, but didn’t say what for. Jean didn’t argue. He was somewhere between daydreaming and zoning out. When he sat up to straighten out in the bed, he did so slowly, with wavering limbs. His whole body swayed for a moment, before he practically collapsed back into the bed. His fingers clung and fiddled with the sheet absently. In his hospital gown, it was impossible not to see how thin he was. His elbow bones jutted out like horns.

Eventually, Mikasa had the IV in his arm, and when she was done, she gripped on to his hand. He didn’t said anything.

“I have to work,” she said.

He nodded.

“I’ll be back though.”

He nodded again.

She hesitated. I knew what she was thinking, because I was thinking the same thing. Say something! Anything, at this point, would have been fine with me.

“Take him with you,” he said, gesturing to me, without even looking at me.

“Jean,” I pleaded. “Please don’t be angry with us. We just want to help you.”

He didn’t respond. Mikasa hesitated. Twice she took one step, and then pulled her foot back.

“You really shouldn’t be unsupervised,” she said.

He rolled his eyes. “I don’t need to be supervised. You’ve proven that for the last five days.”

Her jaw dropped, and her lip quivered. She let go of his hand. He didn’t reach for her.

“Actually, if I’m really anorexic, how come it took you so long to notice? Or Eren?” he said, huffing out a humorless laugh at the end. “How ‘bout that, Mikasa? How come it took everyone until now to realize I’m not fucking okay?”

She couldn’t respond. She just stared at him, open-mouthed.

“Just fuck off.”

She gasped, but then nodded, as if he was right and then she scurried out of here. She didn’t get far enough away for me to miss the sound of her muffled sob.

“Jean…Jean they –”

“Shut up, Marco, God. Did you think I changed my mind in an hour? Why the fuck are you here?” he asked.

I swallowed, choking on the emotion in my throat. My heart hammered, and my hands trembled as I realized what I was about to say, what I couldn’t get off my mind since last night. “I love you, Jean, that’s why.”

He laughed and shook his head, covering his face with his hands. “You’re so full of shit. You think I’m going to just be cool with all of this because you throw an ‘I love you’ at me? Are you fifteen? You don’t do this to people you love. You don’t even know me. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a complete fucking dick. I’m an asshole. People don’t love people like me.”

His eyes were lethal, staring into me and finding my worst fears like I’d known he could when I’d first met him. I remembered being in the bar and already knowing that he’d be the death of me.

He looked away from me, his features softening, and his eyes becoming vacant.

“And I fucking used you. I fucked you, and I made you fall for me, because everyone else around me finally stopped putting up with my bullshit. I wasn’t even myself around you. So get the fuck out of here and stop wasting your worry on someone who doesn’t need it and doesn’t fucking matter.”

I was so shocked with his words that for a moment I couldn’t move. I wondered if this was what it was like, in high school, when girls had broken up with my friends and they were all so hurt and so upset when it had happened. I wondered if this was what I was supposed to feel when one of my girlfriends had left me. If it was supposed to hurt so badly I wasn’t sure I could walk. I wasn’t sure I wanted to, because I had nowhere to go.

Was hating myself what I was supposed to feel? Because I fucking did. I hated who I was. I hated myself for being ignorant, naïve, and inexperienced. I hated myself for thinking that I was in love after two weeks just because I’d had sex with him, and just because he made my stomach flutter, and just because I couldn’t stop dreaming about him or thinking about him.

I hated myself because he hated me.

I might have been older than him, but I knew nothing more about love than a fifteen year old, and I’d just embarrassed myself like a schoolboy with a crush.

My cheeks flamed.

“Don’t fucking cry,” Jean said, “You don’t even know me. You aren’t losing anyone. I could die in a few days, and you’d be over it by next month. Get the fuck out of here.”

He pointed toward the curtain, and before I could upset him further, I stepped out.

For a moment, I just stared at the emergency room as the nurses and doctors blurred by. The paramedics rushed someone in on a stretcher covered in blood, and damn near crashed into me because I hadn’t moved fast enough. One of them screamed at me as they passed, but I couldn’t hear it. The wheels on the stretcher blurred with the noise of the scream, and of the other patients and the footsteps on the tile, and the rush of blood in my ears.

Somehow, I found the strength in boneless legs to stumble toward the waiting area outside of the desk where we’d asked for Jean.

It was quieter over there. Just the sounds of fingers tapping on keyboards behind the desk and one woman talking on the phone with someone. Pages were turned by lone family members looking through magazines. Someone was pacing, and it took me a moment to recognize the person with floppy brown hair and brown fingers laced behind his neck.

“Marco?” he asked, when he saw me. He leapt toward me, until he saw the expression on my face and abruptly stood in place.

“Oh God! Is he okay?” he said, and both his hands clamped around my arms.

“He’s fine,” I replied, robotically. “They put him on an IV that’s feeding him.”

“Then what’s wrong?” he asked, his eyes searching mine. I only now noticed how vividly green they were. They were the greenest eyes I’d ever seen. I squinted at him.

“I should go. You were right,” I said. His eyebrows furrowed as he watched me walk out of the emergency room exit.

Chapter Text

Eren

Before I could think about what I was doing, I was running after Marco out of the emergency room door.

Outside, I grabbed onto his sleeve.

He turned. His eyes looked at my hand on his arm, and they followed up to my face. When I’d first seen Marco, I’d already known that he was the Marco Jean had been sleeping with, and so I hadn’t even bothered to look at his face.

It wasn’t until Jean passed out and he immediately sprang into action that I realized if I had just seen him walking down the street, I would have thought he looked like a nice person. His brown eyes didn’t hold any judgment in them. He hadn’t smiled since I’d met him, but it was easy to imagine him doing it. His skin was a shade darker than mine, and he had dimples and freckles that made him look innocent.

More importantly, he had known who I was, and when he saw me he didn’t do what I would have done. He didn’t hit me. He didn’t scream at me. He didn’t blame me. It was almost embarrassing, how well he handled it in comparison to me. How well he had handled Jean when he passed out, carefully picking him off the floor and asking me to call an ambulance.

“Eren?” Marco asked, “Did you need something?”

God, he was even doing it now. Now of all times.

“What did he say to you?”

“He hates me,” he replied. “I shouldn’t have even followed you here.”

He started to turn again. “Y-you can’t just give up on him,” I sputtered out, not entirely sure why.

Marco looked at me for a long moment, his expression was controlled but his voice wasn’t. In a curt tone, he said, “I didn’t.”

“But you’re leaving.”

“He told me to,” Marco argued, raising his hands helplessly toward the hospital.

I shook my head back and forth so fast it made me dizzy. “He’s not right in the head. He needs you. You’re his boyfriend.”

Marco’s eyebrows shot up. “Eren…”

I couldn’t believe what I’d said either. I hadn’t even thought about what I was saying, but now that I’d said it, I knew it was true. The reason he’d stuttered when replying to Mikasa about his relationship to Jean was because he and Jean had decided to be together and he hadn’t wanted to upset me. He had gone out of his way to avoid upsetting me, as if there was any reason for him to care whether or not he did.

And Jean wasn’t right in the head. He hadn’t been himself for weeks, even when he’d told me he loved me. I had no doubt that when he told me he loved me, he’d meant it, but…he also meant it when he said he wasn’t anorexic.

He was sick. Really, really sick, and I’d neglected it for too long. He’d needed me, and I wasn’t there for him, and now things were bad. So bad. It was my fault, but I wouldn’t be enough.

Marco was the person who’d made him feel better when Mikasa was angry with him. He was the person that made Jean feel better when I was angry with him. If anyone was going to help him get through this, if he hated anyone the least, it was Marco.

I wanted Jean to get better more than I wanted to tell Marco to fuck off and never show his face around Jean again.

“He needs you,” I said again, quietly. “Don’t leave him.”

Marco rubbed the back of his neck. “I don’t know, Eren. We already ignored what he wanted once, should we really –”

“Don’t you fucking get it? What Jean wants right now isn’t important. If it were up to him he’d starve! This isn’t about what he wants,” I yelled, loud enough a few people passing by us on the sidewalk stared.

Marco hesitated, but nodded. “Alright.”

A few more people walked passed us on the sidewalk. It was chillier today. I tugged my hood up around my neck as I headed toward the Emergency room automatic doors. Marco followed.

“Hey uh…” I started, “Did he say anything about uh…me?”

Marco’s eyes were downcast. “No.”

I nodded. I shouldn’t have expected him to, I guessed. Maybe it was better that he didn’t. Who knew what he had to say about me, after all.

“Mikasa is his ex-girlfriend right?” he asked. We walked into the lobby, and I automatically picked the most isolated part I could find. Two chairs that were closest to two payphones on the far wall near a restroom. The light above our heads had burned out. The corner was dim in comparison to the brighter half of the lobby occupied by a mother and her daughter, and an elderly gentlemen with a cane.

I nodded. “They dated for a long time.”

“He told her to fuck off.”

I sighed, shaking my head and rubbing my face. It made me shiver. “He’s – he’s never treated her like that before.”

“I don’t think he’ll talk to any of us,” Marco said. “He wouldn’t even talk to the doctor. He threw his tray on the floor. And he uh…he wouldn’t um, talk about the bruises.”

I shook my head, still in disbelief. It just wasn’t right. Jean had grown up with half the school idolizing him for his football talents and the other half jealous of him because he was dating my sister. If anything, he’d bragged. All the time, about his good looks and his life. So much that it was hard to be around him toward the end of our senior year, because I’d always wondered how it had ended up that way. I had missed the boy that had acne, a voice that squeaked whenever he raised his voice and a picture of his mom in his wallet.

Never in my life would I have pegged him to be insecure, about anything, least of all his weight.

“Eren…?” Marco said.

“Huh? Oh uh…sorry. It’s just uh…I just don’t get it. Him hurting himself, I mean. He’s never…never been like, depressed or anything. As far as I could tell or I would have –”

I cut myself off with a sob and covered my mouth. It was my fault he was here. I had noticed it, and I hadn’t done anything. Even when I noticed how thin he was, it was probably too late to prevent him from getting so bad. But I’d seen him eat the pancakes, and I’d seen him eat the toast and I just thought…I guessed I’d wanted to believe he was fine.

“I thought you did it, at first,” Marco said.

I whipped my head in his direction. “What?”

“The bruises…he told me you hit him here,” Marco said, pointing to his cheek bone. “When I saw the others I just assumed. I didn’t want him around you. But now I know. I’m sorry.”

“No! No! Hell no! I would never – I mean, yeah I hit his cheek. But when I did it I wasn’t even…like, aiming for him. It wasn’t intentional, when I – I wasn’t even sure I did it at first,” I choked, unable to get angry at him for his assumption. I would have thought the same thing, if he’d had the bruises when he undressed in front of me. He must have put them there in the last five days…since I left him alone at his apartment.

I shook my head in my hands, and my tears slid between my fingers. I hated crying in front of people and now I couldn’t stop. It just kept coming. It had been coming for days and my eyes hurt from it. My skin was dry from the salt.

“This is all my fault. I left him in his apartment when – when we broke up. Or whatever we were, I don’t even know. I’m starting to think it wasn’t anything. But I just – just fucking left him there with nothing but his thoughts and no one to make sure he ate and who knows –”

“There’s no way you could have known,” Marco said, his voice soothing somehow. He almost looked like he was going to rest his hand on my shoulder, but thought better of it. His hands looked familiar with the motion, like he was used to comforting people. I wondered if he’d had many things happen in his life where he’d needed to comfort people.

“But there is! I saw how thin he was…I made him eat and I thought that was enough. But for fuck’s sake, throwing up? That’s – that’s not something people like Jean do.”

“I didn’t see it either,” Marco said, “Mikasa didn’t and she’s a nurse.”

I flinched. The second he said it I wanted to hunt her down and yell at her for it, but I knew it would amount to nothing. None of us could go back and see it sooner. She wasn’t any guiltier than I was.

Someone stepped over our feet to head to the rest room. One woman behind the counter looked like she was about to tell me to keep my voice down. I’d memorized that look, I’d seen it so many times. I eyed her over the counter and dared her to say a damn thing to me. She pursed her lips and returned to her computer.

“He hates me. If he hates you, then he really hates me. You’re the one he needs,” I choked, into my hands, so that it was muffled. Marco had managed to hear it.

“You know…when I first asked Jean to be with me, he’d already told me that he’d gone through a breakup. He said he fucked up bad, and that you’d never forgive him. And when he told me he’d go out with me, he warned me before that he didn’t think he’d ever get over you.”

This time his hand did rest on my shoulder. It was so gentle. It kept my thoughts from floating too far away, grounding me in the pitiful hospital lobby. I perked my head up toward him.

“Yeah?” I asked.

He nodded. “I think he’s probably feeling the same thing you are.”

I laughed, humorlessly. “That idiot. Like I wouldn’t forgive him. I’ve forgiven him for worse things than putting his foot in his mouth.”

Marco smiled. “I don’t think it’s fair to say he needs me right now any more than he needs you.”

I shook my head. I didn’t agree, but nonetheless no one would make me leave.

“What’s going to happen? He won’t stay here, he won’t be hospitalized or do…rehab or whatever it is,” I said.

“They have eating disorder centers,” Marco said, his fingers tracing the lines in the wood armrests of our chairs. “But you’re right, he won’t go to one voluntarily. And I think you have to either be a spouse or a relative to make him go.”

“He doesn’t have that,” I said.

Marco nodded.

“He’ll have to – I imagine – do whatever he’d do at a hospital, at home. But he’d have to do it willingly. He’s not going to listen to us, but someone has to get through to him. One of the doctors, maybe.” Marco glanced around the room, as if he might be able to spot the doctor that would help. From where we were, we could only make out a couple of the beds on the other side of the glass doors to the emergency room.

A few more people piled into the lobby and sat closer to us. A family of three walked up to the counters and asked the women behind the desk where someone was. The doors kept sliding across the floors, giving me a headache. Each time they did, a chilly breeze blew in and pinched my neck.

I pulled out my phone, to see how much time we’d been here, and to consider how much longer we could be, when I realized that there was only one person he could talk to that he wasn’t pissed at. This person incidentally, could be quite convincing.

“I’m going to call Armin.”

“Who?”

Right, Marco didn’t know Armin. “A friend of Jean’s.”

“Is he…I mean, he’s not going to get mad at Jean or be cruel, will he?” Marco asked. I shook my head. Then I slid my finger across my screen and typed in my password.

Placing the phone against my ear, it rang a few times before Armin picked it up.

“Hey, Eren,” he said.

“Can you come to the emergency room?” I asked.

“Why? What’s wrong?” Armin’s voice shot up three octaves and pierced my ear.

“Jean’s in the emergency room,” I said.

“Oh my God, what happened?” he asked. I heard some shuffling on the other end. There was static crackling in my ear before I spoke.

“Armin…Jean has Anorexia.”

A pause. It lasted so long I thought maybe our connection was lost. “How bad are his symptoms?”

“He passed out today, which is why he’s in the hospital. He’s – God, Armin he’s so thin. I don’t know how I – how it could’ve –”

“It’s okay. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”

Marco rubbed my shoulder again, listening to be ramble.

“He’s mad at us,” I continued. “He won’t talk to anybody because he – he’s mad we called the ambulance to come get him. You’re the only person he might talk to and you have to convince him he’s sick. He won’t eat anything. He doesn’t believe the doctors.”

More shuffling, and then the familiar sound of the front door slamming.

“I’ll do my best,” Armin said, before he hung up.

“Armin’s coming,” I said, nodding my head as I spoke. “He can help. He’s – he’s good like that.”

Marco nodded. “I believe you.”

I bit my lip and turned to look at Marco again. If someone had told me this morning that I’d be confiding in this man I would have laughed until I suffocated. But he was a good person, or at least I thought. I couldn’t help thinking that Jean could have chosen so much worse. He had stayed for Jean, but it was clear he’d also stayed for me. He wanted to comfort me. He held nothing against me. It was something I couldn’t entirely do for him, but he made me want to.

“Thanks for uh…staying. For him, and everything,” I said, awkwardly fiddling my thumbs and tapping my foot.

Marco shrugged. “If it somehow helps…even if he’s mad at me, it’s worth it.”

“I think it will help,” I said.

Marco nodded. “You know him better than me, so I’ll take your word for it.”

Marco and I sat in silence together. His breathing was calm. While I twiddled my thumbs and tapped my feet, he sat still, leaning back in his chair and placing his head against the wall. He stared at the ceiling, with a relaxed expression, as if he had nothing better to do than count the ceiling lights. But every few seconds he bit his lip, and his expression went from relaxed to on the brink of breaking down.

Eventually, I got so anxious I had to stand up and pace. I paced back and forth, keeping my feet in the square tiles. Marco didn’t say anything. He let me do what I needed to do to keep sane.

He probably didn’t realize that if he hadn’t stayed, I would have already gone crazy.

Chapter Text

Jean

I had noticed Mikasa’s tennis shoes below the curtain, but didn’t realize she was with someone else. She opened the curtain to let Armin in, but didn’t look at me.

“Hi, Jean,” Armin said, searching around the tiny space for a chair. “Can I sit?”

I scooted back on my bed to make room for him. He sat down and pulled his feet up so that he was sitting cross-legged. Armin looked like he’d walked right out of a catalogue. He wore a white button-up shirt with a navy blue sweater vest and a baby blue tie. He even wore khakis. I wasn’t sure he ever wore jeans.

“Did Mikasa call you to talk to me?”

He shook his head. “Eren called me. He told me you were in the emergency room, and that I should come see you.”

I rolled my eyes. My fingers fiddled with my hospital gown. It was freezing in this hospital, and this thin material was doing nothing to warm me. If the doctors really wanted to help me they would have let me stay in my own clothes, or at least brought me a damn blanket. My teeth were chattering, for fuck’s sake.

“What else did he say? You know he called the ambulance right? Like, I’m not here because I have to be. He made me come.”

Armin nodded and tucked a blond strand of hair behind his ear. He hadn’t been facing me. Mostly he had been analyzing the curtained area. It wasn’t much. Most of it I couldn’t name if I tried, but I’d be willing to bet Armin had some understanding of the supplies and the machines surrounding my bed. The most I knew about the place was that it smelled like hydrogen peroxide and that strange material scrubs were made out of. My bedroom always smelled like it, because Mikasa left her scrubs on the floor, but in this place it was so much stronger.

“He told me the doctors think you’re anorexic.” His expression was neutral, and although there was some worry in his blue eyes, I couldn’t detect any judgment.

“You don’t believe them, do you?”

He shrugged. “I’m inclined to believe doctors, generally, but I thought I’d talk to you first. How do you feel?”

“Pissed.”

He smiled at me. “Yeah, I figured. I meant your health.”

I hesitated before replying. Armin was someone I could trust more than myself, and it wasn’t just because I’d known him for a long time or that he was smart. He was someone complete strangers could trust more than themselves, and it had nothing to do with them and everything to do with how Armin was. I’d always had the feeling that Armin was supposed to do something really important, and the only reason he hadn’t yet was because no one had put him in a position that had forced him to.

When it came down to it, Armin was a good man and out of the few people in the world I looked up to, he was one of them.

“I feel fine,” I said, “I’m tired, and I’m cold.”

Armin nodded. “Have you not been sleeping well?”

I ran my fingers through my hair. “Not exactly.”

“Why not? Is it because of you and Eren?”

My eyes widened, and I opened my mouth to speak, but couldn’t think of what to say.

“It’s okay Jean, I know everything. I’m not upset. I just know that Eren was upset with you this last week.”

“I mean, yeah. I guess it could be that.” I shrugged.

“You know when he came home he destroyed the lawn furniture.”

“Are you fucking serious?” I’d been worried about him driving home. I thought of a hundred scenarios where he didn’t notice a red light or a stop sign and was hit in a car accident. I thought about him being so angry that he drove too fast and didn’t make a turn. All night, I thought about what I’d do in the morning if I found out he’d died, I was so certain it would happen.

Hearing all he’d done was destroy the lawn furniture would have been a relief then.

“Then he spent five days in his room,” Armin said. “He wouldn’t talk to anyone. He only came downstairs to eat and go to work. He ignored Mikasa the whole time, until she finally figured out about you two.”

I swallowed, audibly. “She knows? How did – is she –”

“She was okay, don’t worry. Mikasa…has a lot of other things going on in her life now, and I think she was happy to hear that you did too…I only bring it up, because the night she told Eren she knew, she told him to go to you. He had said you were too mad, but she told him that she thought you’d get over it, and so he went.”

I ran both my hands through my hair and tugged at it until some of it came out. Armin’s eyes followed the tuffs that floated to the sheets. His gaze revealed nothing about what he thought of the hair, but certainly he was thinking something about it. I used my hand to flick it off the sheet.

“That’s why he was at my apartment.”

“Where were you?” Armin asked, “When he went there, I mean.”

“I uh…I was out with a friend. And I came home, and I – I think I passed out. But, my sleeping has been so shitty. I was just so tired. So I just assumed…”

Armin nodded. “Well, I know he’s really worried about you. He gets this way with people he loves. I know you understand your body better than he does, but you have to consider that Eren spent over a year of his life denying he had diabetes. I don’t know if you remember what he was like, he tried to hide it a lot. But when he was diagnosed he wouldn’t test his blood at first, and he ate whatever he wanted to. Sometimes he didn’t take his insulin until hours later. His blood sugar levels were so high his doctor denied him his license for year.”

“I remember,” I mumbled, “I remember yelling at him to take his insulin. He’d get mad if we were around someone who didn’t know he had diabetes. He was really embarrassed about the shots he had to take. Thought it made him look like he was begging for attention.”

I shook my head, remembering our fights. His parents made me carry around glucose tablets with me all the time in case his blood sugar dropped. More than once it had, but he refused to take them. Whenever we went out somewhere important, he took his bracelet off and put it in his dresser drawer. I’d yell at them for that too, and when he wasn’t looking, I’d pull it out of the dresser and put it in my pocket before we left.

“I get that you’re mad, but Eren’s sensitive about this. He knows what it’s like to not have control of his body. Food was an enemy of his for a long time before he accepted that he was diabetic. Do you remember what finally made him snap out of it?”

I glanced at Armin. He looked so much like a therapist, sitting on the bed with such perfect posture. His expression was still neutral, but it was more sympathetic than it had been. I leaned back in the bed, because sitting up was getting exhausting. On my way down, I had to readjust the stupid IV in my arm. The thing was so uncomfortable. My head rested against the pillow. I wrapped my free hand behind my head so that I could still face Armin.

“It was that time some stranger found him walking down the highway. Wasn’t he like…in his pajamas or something? And he almost fell off the overpass. The person who found him thought he was drunk. He kept talking about forgetting to set his alarm or something.”

Armin nodded. “And the person called the ambulance, and the paramedic told him his blood sugar was at forty five and that if he had passed out he wouldn’t have woken up.”

I nodded.

“So, you get why he was so terrified when you passed out?”

I nodded.

“And why he’s still being a little overprotective? And by overprotective – I hope you know I mean how…Eren is overprotective.”

“You mean being an asshole?”

Armin nodded.

“Yeah,” I said. “I guess. I didn’t really think of that.”

Armin shrugged. “I know you didn’t, and that’s not your fault. I’m sure he hasn’t explained that this is why he’s so worried about you. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to his worries, or to Mikasa or what the doctors have to say. It’s possible that they don’t understand, but Mikasa and Eren love you.”

Armin scooted a little closer to me on the bed. His expression had become sincere, and deep. It was pretty hard to imagine turning him down, now. Everything he said, he meant. He wanted what was best for me more than anything.

“And the doctors only want to help,” he continued, “They are going to help you based on the evidence they have, and Jean…whether or not you are anorexic, doesn’t change the fact that you’re sick. Your symptoms look like anorexia, and that’s what they have to go with right now. Try not to be so hard on them.”

“They didn’t even ask me first,” I said.

Armin nodded. “They should have tried to talk to you.”

“And…I don’t get why I look anorexic. Don’t you have to be skinny to be anorexic?”

Armin didn’t reply right away, for the first time since he came in. His eyes looked me up and down, and I self-consciously covered my stomach to hide it.

“There are a lot of symptoms of anorexia. Sometimes people with anorexia are thin, sometimes they aren’t. You look thin to me, but there are people thinner than you that don’t have it. That’s not the point, really. You’re tired, you’re passing out, and…have you eaten since you got here?”

“They didn’t serve me food.”

Armin arched an eyebrow. “They didn’t give you anything?”

“They gave me carrots – which are disgusting, jello – which can’t be food, seriously, yogurt – again, there’s no way that’s food, and…some type of meat.”

“You couldn’t eat any of that?” Armin asked.

“It was disgusting hospital food. And he was being a dick.”

“The doctor?” I nodded. He sighed. “Well, I think you have two options. You can be hospitalized, and eat whatever you’re served for weeks straight until they say you’re better –”

“Hell no! They can’t make me,” I said, shaking my head. “I won’t go.”

Armin put up his hand, “Or, you can do it at home. If you’re not anorexic, it won’t be a problem. One of us will cook for you – last I checked you loved Eren’s cooking – and you’ll eat until you can come back here and show the doctors you’re not anorexic.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll eat at home then, whatever.”

Anything but the hospital.

“There’s a catch, you know. Mikasa will have to supervise you.”

“What the hell! That’s basically like being hospitalized anyway,” I argued, throwing my cordless hand in the air in protest.

“It’s better than being hospitalized. You wouldn’t have visitors in a hospital, and you’d have to eat and do whatever they asked. At home you can still do whatever you want. It’s fair, Jean. You can’t expect to go home and prove to us you’re not sick without someone there to see it.”

I groaned and covered my face. “Well fine, Mikasa can be there when I eat.”

“She has to be there to make sure you don’t over-exercise or throw up. She’ll have to be there all the time.” His eyebrows turned up, and he sighed through his words.

I flung myself back into a sitting position, a little too fast. My head started to spin and I had to hold onto it for a second before responding. “I don’t throw up.”

“I know that.”

“I don’t over-exercise.”

“I know. But the doctor’s think you do, so someone has to be there to make sure you don’t,” he explained.

“I’m not a child! I can take care of myself,” I groaned.

“I know you can. But just do it for them, okay? It’ll ease their minds a bit, and once they think you’re better, we can leave you alone again.”

My hands started to shake. Having someone there all the time…making me eat whatever they made…who knew how much it would be or how long this would last. I’d gain weight. All the progress I’d made would be back and I’d have to start over! I couldn’t be that fat again! I wasn’t where I wanted to be now, let alone then.

I shook my head too quickly and covered my face. I started to cry.

“I can’t, Armin,” I whined.

He inched closer to me, and patted my shoulder so I’d look at him. “Why can’t you?”

“I can’t do it. I can’t eat,” I whimpered. “Don’t make me. I can’t.”

Armin tugged on my wrist as he stood up. “I’m going to show you something okay?”

“What?”

“Can you stand up for me?” he asked. I wobbled onto my feet, and hung onto the bed railing so I didn’t fall. Armin reached into his pocket, and pulled out a long, blue, tape measure.

“What was your chest measurement last you checked?” he asked.

I squinted at him, about to demand he tell me what he was doing, but I decided against it. I didn’t want to argue with Armin. He was all I had left and he was the only one who listened to me.

The last time I got measured was for prom in high school. I still remembered the measurements because I’d been damn proud of them. I’d been weightlifting so much to get into shape for football, and had continued even once the season was over, trying to get as big and cut as I could for college. I hadn’t been expecting to continue football in college, but that didn’t mean I wanted to walk in on my first day of school looking like some nerdy ass freshmen.

“Forty,” I said.

Armin gestured for me to spread out my arms, and I did. He wrapped the tape measure around my chest, and squinted at the number it read. “Your chest is thirty five inches around.”

I looked down, trying to see if he was lying. He angled up the tape measure to show me that he wasn’t. My chest was five inches smaller than high school.

I shook my head. “That’s impossible. My chest hasn’t been that small since I was like…thirteen.”

Armin didn’t argue with me, but he didn’t agree either. “What was your waist measurement?”

I shook my head. “No. I don’t want to know. I’m huge, I can’t.”

His eyebrows turned up, and he let out a shaky sigh. “I’m trying to show you something. It’s not nearly as bad as you think, I promise. Do you remember your measurement?”

“I was…thirty four.” My hands were trembling in fear at how much larger my waist was now. I pulled at my hair again, but not as hard as last time. I made sure none of my hair fell out.

Armin wrapped the tape measure around my waist. “Your waist is twenty two inches around.”

My face jerked downward. Once again, he showed me the measurement to prove he wasn’t lying. I used my fingers to follow the tape measure around my waist. He hadn’t put it around my ribs. He’d wrapped it right around my middle, so that it lined up with my belly button. It pressed over the squishy flesh I was always digging my fingers into. He wasn’t even pulling it that tight. My fat didn’t overlap at all. If anything, he was holding it loosely, so that he could show me the measurement.

“What do you think?” Armin asked.

“I don’t understand,” I said, shaking my head again. “It doesn’t make sense.”

“Last measurement, okay? What was your bicep measurement?”

I blushed, thinking back on it. Eren and I had gotten into a contest. We each bet that the other would have bigger biceps by prom and I had won by half an inch. “Fourteen.”

“Alright, lift your arm and flex for me,” Armin said. I did, and Armin wrapped it around my arm.

I could see this measurement for myself. Nine inches.

“Jean? Are you alright?” he asked, as I swayed where I was standing.

“I think I – I think I need to – to sit,” I said, collapsing onto the bed.

“Did you know you were that small?” Armin asked.

I shook my head. “I had no idea. I don’t look like that. In the mirror, I don’t look that small.”

He paused as he sat next to me. He wrapped his arms around my shoulders and held me gently against his chest. “You do to us.”

I held him back and cried into his shoulder. It’d had been too long since I’d seen him. I’d ignored going to his place for almost a month because of problems with Mikasa, and she’d gone there so often he never had a reason to come to our apartment. It figured that I’d only now realize that I missed him, and he’d showed up the second I needed him.

“Do you see it?” Armin asked.

“I don’t,” I said, “I don’t see it. I don’t see what you guys see.”

“But you’ll listen to us, won’t you?”

I nodded.

Chapter Text

Eren

Armin walked back down the hall toward Marco and me. He looked distraught, with dazed eyes and one arm gripping onto the other. When he was close enough to make eye contact though, he gave a shy smile.

He stood in front of Marco and me, and the two of us leaned forward without even thinking.

“He said he’s going to try to do what the doctor’s say,” Armin said. “I don’t know if he’ll be able to. I barely brought up eating and he was breaking down.”

My fingers tightened around the armrests and I let out breath through my teeth.

“He wants to get better though. I measured his waist and it made him realize how thin he is.”

“He doesn’t still think he’s overweight?” Marco asked. I turned to look at him, wondering if Jean had tried to stop Marco from taking his shirts off too. Had he asked Marco the same questions he’d asked me?

I shivered, both from the pain I felt in my chest, thinking that those moments belonged to Marco too, and because if Jean had done it to both of us we’d both managed to miss a blatant cry for help.

Armin shrugged. “I don’t think so. I think he thinks he’s overweight, but he knows logically he must not be. He’s really confused.”

“Can I – Can we uh…” I said, looking at Marco, “I mean should we talk to him? Is he still mad?”

Armin smiled and shook his head. “He isn’t mad at any of you and – who are you? Are you the friend he mentioned?”

Marco blushed and rubbed the back of his neck. Armin scrutinized him closely. It wouldn’t surprise me if Armin somehow already knew everything about the guy without even hearing him talk.

“Yeah, that would be me.”

Armin glanced at me, then back at Marco, and then at me again. It was probably plain on my face. He knew.

I cursed myself. If Armin had been around Jean two weeks ago he would have noticed immediately. He would have stopped it before it had gotten this bad.

“Well, anyway, he isn’t mad at anyone. But…I think he’s quite embarrassed. I don’t think he wants to see either of you because he’s afraid of what you’ll think of him.” Armin tugged at the collar of his shirt. It was something he did whenever he felt overwhelmed, and I wanted for just a moment to pull him aside and ask him if he was okay. When I’d been on the phone with him, I hadn’t thought about how it might affect him to suddenly find out one of his friend’s was anorexic.

“That’s ridiculous,” Marco blurted, “We’d – we’d never –”

“He’s like that,” I interrupted.

Armin tucked his hair behind his ear. “I think you should see him, though. He might be embarrassed, but he’s not going to tell you to go away. I think he needs to see that you don’t think any differently of him.”

Marco and I glanced at each other. We were both thinking the same thing. Should we go in together?

Armin watched us debate internally. He looked like he might suggest something, but decided to leave it alone. “I’m going to go tell Mikasa how he’s doing…”

I nodded at Armin and before he stepped out of reach, I grabbed onto his hand. “You know you’re a lifesaver right?”

He laughed. “Yeah, it’s what I do.”

I watched him walk away, down a different hall that lead toward private rooms for patients that would be staying longer. Mikasa was probably tending to someone at one of the beds, but Armin was always welcome in their break room these days. She’d be back there looking for him soon enough.

“Who is he…uh, to Jean again?” Marco asked.

“A friend,” I said. Marco gave me a look like he didn’t quite believe me. “Really, just a friend.”

“But not to you.”

I was already inhaling to say something harsh, until I realized his expression was completely indifferent to the answer. It caught me off guard. He didn’t mean anything by it. I wasn’t used to that. People said a lot of things, but hardly ever what they meant. It was one of the things I loved so much about Jean. He couldn’t lie for shit, but he also wouldn’t choose to if he could. He was honest, and so was Marco. Or at least, he seemed that way, in that moment.

“He’s my ex. We uh…broke up recently.”

“And now he’s dating Mikasa?”

The sound of those words being strung together physically forced my back against my seat. “What?! No…Armin’s…Armin uh…doesn’t really do that.”

“Women?”

“People. I mean, he doesn’t want to, which is kinda why we broke up. That and…well because of my feelings for Jean.”

Marco cocked his head to the side, considering that, and then shrugged. “Oh. She just looked so relieved when he showed up earlier and now…”

He turned his head in the direction Armin had gone.

“They’re close,” I admitted, “Really close. Like close enough to be together, but they’re not.”

Now that I thought about it, I realized how much closer they’d gotten in the past few months. They’d always been friends, of course. But they were practically inseparable lately, and I didn’t think it was just because Mikasa had more time on her hands since her breakup with Jean.

But Armin had told me that he didn’t want a romantic relationship, and he had no reason to lie.

“Should we go see Jean?" Marco asked, interrupting my thoughts. He was still leaning forward in his seat, like he was waiting for me to give him permission to sprint.

“I don’t know. Should we go in together?”

He looked me up and down then, and sighed. “I don’t know what he’d think of that.”

“He probably wouldn’t like us arguing,” I said. It was pretty much the only thing I was decently sure Jean wanted right now. Whether he thought of us as friends or more, he didn’t want us fighting.

“He probably shouldn’t be around us, if we’re arguing,” Marco added.

“Together then?”

He nodded.

We stood up and walked through the lineup of beds again all the way to the back of the emergency room.

I lifted my hand to open the curtain, and for a moment I felt like smacking myself in the face because I almost knocked on it. Marco pulled it aside for me.

Jean had been facing the wall, until he heard the curtain rings slide against the rod. He tentatively looked over his shoulder, and when he saw us both, his eyes widened.

“What are you guys…?” he started.

“Can we come in?” Marco asked.

His eyes flicked between us, and then he looked at the bed so that he could hide his face. I didn’t miss the blush though.

“Yeah.”

Marco leaned against the only wall that wasn’t crowded with some sort of medical device, and I sat on the edge of the bed. Jean was further up the bed, near his pillow, and hugging his knees to his chest. He looked so fragile. He looked like if he fell off the bed he’d break every bone in his body.

“I guess you guys hate me now,” he mumbled, running his hands through his hair. It took everything I had not to hold him. Not to pull him into my arms and kiss him because goddamn it he was alive and that suddenly seemed like a short term condition.

“We don’t hate you,” Marco said. He nodded toward me when Jean wasn’t looking, encouraging me to speak up.

“Don’t be stupid,” I said. Marco sighed, and gave me an unamused look. I added, “We understand why you were mad. I would have been worse.”

Jean laughed then, into his shoulder. “You can’t give me any shit. If it had been you, they would have had to sedate you.”

I shrugged and nodded. It was too close to the truth to be funny.

Jean turned his body around so that he was facing Marco. He looked at me once, and his golden eyes were apologizing. For what specifically, I didn’t know, but I was beyond caring. He was forgiven for everything. He had been forgiven even before today.

He looked at Marco again. “I’m – I’m sorry about earlier. I – I didn’t mean what I said.”

Marco had looked awful when he first tried to leave the hospital, so I knew whatever Jean had said had been bad. It must have been really bad if Jean was apologizing. There was another pang of jealousy, because everything I was experiencing right now Marco was too. Marco got apologies from Jean now too, when so few people did. I thought Marco and I were probably in the same position. Whatever we were to Jean, we were the same. We were equal, and that stung more than anything. What had taken me years to earn, had taken Marco a couple of weeks.

He was forgiven, I reminded myself.

“You don’t need to be sorry,” Marco said, his voice choking on the word “sorry”. “It’s okay if you meant it.”

“But I didn’t,” Jean replied. “I mean…I don’t – I don’t think you love me. But everything I said…I wasn’t – I made it sound like it was your fault. And all I meant was that you shouldn’t.”

“Shouldn’t love you?” I blurted, even though I knew damn well it wasn’t my place to interrupt, and that I probably shouldn’t have been there to hear him say it at all.

“Yeah,” Jean said.

“Don’t ever say that,” I spit, “Ever.”

Jean stared into my eyes and all I saw was pain. I regretted being so harsh. I regretted talking. He looked at Marco.

“He’s right,” Marco said. “You shouldn’t feel that way. None of this is your fault.”

Jean shook his head. “I don’t mean that. I don’t mean…the anorexia, or whatever.”

He ran his fingers through his hair. His fingers gripped on to his stomach, tightly. So tight he had to be hurting himself, and I realized that when the doctor asked him if he had intentionally hurt himself, he’d probably done it without thinking. Probably without realizing that was what he was doing. I pulled his arms away from his stomach. He gave me a strange look, but didn’t fight me.

“I mean, I – I shouldn’t have let myself be with you when I loved Eren,” he said, so quietly, with a voice that cracked like he was young again. “But I – I don’t want you to think…ya’ know. That I…that I…God,” he groaned. “I don’t know how to say it with you here.”

He looked at me, his eyes rimmed with tears. “Do you want me to leave?” I asked, feeling my heart pinch because I thought I knew what he might say.

He shook his head. “It isn’t going to help anything. I just don’t want to hurt you…Any more than I have.”

Didn’t he know I was used to it by now?

I shrugged. “I can take it.” I molded my face into a smile. It probably didn’t look right, but Jean didn’t look at it long enough to see it was a lie.

“You don’t have to apologize,” Marco said, watching the two of us with a cringe. I couldn’t exactly blame him.

“It wasn’t like you were a rebound,” Jean said, “Before Eren, I wanted to be with you.”

Marco shrugged. “It’s okay. You don’t have to explain yourself. I just want you to be happy, and I know…” He glanced at me. I winced, as I saw for a moment what Jean saw. Someone he cared about in pain. Someone he’d touched and kissed, and laughed with. I saw myself in Marco then, doing what I’d done when Mikasa had first talked to me about dating Jean. Sucking it up. Pretending. Being as strong as you could because that was all you could do.

“I know Eren will be good for you,” Marco finally said. “I know you love him, and you should be with him. I’ll uh – I’ll just leave you guys alone. Jean, please call me when you’re – when you get home? Let me know how you’re doing?”

I’d been so wrapped up in watching Marco try to keep his composure that I hadn’t seen how terrified Jean had become. “What?! No…Marco, don’t go – that’s – that’s not what I was saying.”

He looked at me, worried he’d hurt me again, but I’d known what he meant. He wasn’t choosing me. That wasn’t how it worked, even for people who weren’t as complicated as Jean. I didn’t know what Jean would do. He wasn’t so noble or so selfless as to choose neither of us, the way they did in most books or movies when the entire plot revolved around a love triangle. In fact, I wasn’t sure Jean ever consciously made any of his decisions on his own. He didn’t even make decisions unless he was out of excuses and means to avoid them. He didn’t make a decision to do something unless doing it was his only option, and that could hardly be considered a decision.

I smiled, when he wasn’t looking.

He’d probably make Marco and me choose.

Marco hesitated, but decided not to step out. I wouldn’t have either.

“I’m sorry,” Jean whined, “God, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean – fuck! Can’t I do like – like one fucking thing right?”

He wrapped his arms around his legs, hugging himself too tightly, and cried into his arms. I knew better than to touch him. Anything I did to try to comfort him would be seen as pity, and that would only upset him more.

Marco sat down on the bed.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said, “It’s really not what’s important right now, anyway.”

Jean sniffled into his arm. “I’d hate me if I were you.”

He would, but I’d had just as many moments with him that I’d thought the same thing. I didn’t know if Marco had any moments like that with Jean, but then again, Marco didn’t seem like the type of person that hated anybody.

“I guess it’s good we’re not you,” I replied. Jean snorted, trying to hold in his laugh.

“Fuck you, Eren. I’m serious.”

“I was too. Aren’t you afraid of needles?” I said, gesturing to his IV and then to the spot on my stomach where I injected myself with my insulin. “Yeah, that’d be really bad if I was you.”

He chuckled again and then shoved me away from him. He was still trying to be miserable and he was mad at me because I’d prevented him from wallowing in his self-hatred. “That was like…like forever ago. I’m not afraid of needles anymore.”

“Well good, because it made you look like a wimp,” I replied, and he shoved me again. I couldn’t help but laugh. Even Marco chuckled.

Jean was quiet for a moment, before he wiped his eyes. “Shut up. You’re a dick and I hate you.”

“There it is,” I said, laughing as I leaned onto my back on the bed. “You wouldn’t believe how many times we’ve said that to each other, Marco.”

Marco smiled. “Actually, I have no trouble believing it at all and I don’t think that would change even if you had a tally chart.”

I grinned, my eyes flicking between Marco and Jean. I thought Jean had probably found the only person in the world I would deem good enough for him besides me. If he had to be with someone, at least this time it wasn’t my sister. At least this time it was someone who would love him the way I would. I could handle that, I thought. I’d accepted years ago that Jean would never be mine.

Jean shivered. Immediately, both Marco and I were taking off our jackets and handing them to Jean. There was a moment of deliberation between Marco and me, on who would take theirs back and who would give it to him. Jean snatched both out of our hands and cursed the doctor who wasn’t going to let him die of hunger, but would let him die of hypothermia instead.

He placed my jacket around his shoulders, and Marco’s over his lap.

Marco and I made eye contact, his warm, brown eyes meeting mine. His eyelashes were wet from wiping away tears. I think all our eyes were. He rubbed the back of his neck, and I laced my fingers behind mine, and somehow it became an agreement that we’d both do whatever Jean needed us to do until he was better.

I liked that. I was suddenly grateful that Marco loved Jean, and that was something I could have never imagined happening. But I was, because Jean needed him too. I wouldn’t have been enough. It hurt, but I knew there was something Marco could do for Jean, something he’d been doing for Jean the last couple of weeks, that I hadn’t. Marco needed to be here.

And this way, it gave me more time to pretend Jean would one day wake up next to me each morning, and that would somehow be ordinary.

Chapter Text

Marco

Eventually, Eren and I had to leave. Jean was kept at the hospital overnight, so that they could try to get him to eat. He promised Eren and me that he would, but neither of us were sure. Mikasa told us she was going to work a double shift so that she could stay there and keep an eye on him. That seemed to help Eren relax.

I couldn’t believe that twenty four hours ago I had assumed he had abused Jean. He touched Jean like broken glass, watching the doctors who surrounded him like he was ready to pounce at any wrong move.

Eren and I left the hospital together, walking out into the Minnesota night. October had been kind to us, but it could only go on so long. Snow fell. Not the type of snow that would pile up and paint our town white. It was thin, and when the wind blew the specs of snow hit my skin like needles.

It was funny how the Minnesotan natives were about the cold. Some of them wore shorts into November, and were immediately wearing shorts again in early March. They seemed entirely indifferent – at most, mildly inconvenienced by the weather unless they were driving – and I looked like a damn fool in my Texan skin next to Eren. I gripped onto my sleeves and tucked them over my hands.

I’d hated the heat while I lived in Texas. It was a nuisance, walking around in the summer with sweat running down my legs because I was so hot and salt burning my eyes from the sweat dripping into them. I’d gotten sunburns, and too many freckles.

But the heat was nothing like the cold. The cold sunk into my pores. It invaded my lungs and turned them into glass. It was hard to keep my eyes open, because my eyes would freeze and the tears produced by the irritation would turn to ice stuck to my skin. My nostrils burned with the invasion of the air. It stiffened my body. My fucking bones ached and my hands felt like the skin was retreating away from the tips of my fingers.

The heat was annoying, but the cold was painful.

I shivered. Both Eren and I had left our jackets with Jean.

“You’re not from around here,” Eren said, as we weaved through the rows of cars toward where we’d parked. I hadn’t parked right next to him, but we’d been in the same vicinity.

I shook my head. “Texas.”

Eren barked out a laugh and covered his mouth. “Sorry about that.”

“Yeah, I know,” I replied. “Hated it there, but it’s not much better here.”

“You don’t like it?”

“I don’t like freezing.”

He smiled. “You get used to it. When I was young my parents used to throw frozen pizzas in the yard and all sorts of shit that didn’t fit in our fridge. When the snow melted in the spring we’d find a ton of frozen food that we forgot about.”

I laughed. “Do a lot of Minnesotans do that?”

He shrugged, as we finally reached his car. “Don’t know, but Jean’s family did too.”

“I didn’t even think of that.”

He shrugged again. I realized – almost as if I were watching it from a different person’s perspective – that we were standing in the parking lot, in the cold, talking to each other even though we didn’t have a reason to. I shouldn’t have wanted to talk to him, but for some reason I did. Even about stuff as trivial and lame as the weather.

“Yeah, well…we do a lot of stuff up here you can’t there. In high school Mikasa, Jean and I would snow mobile to school.”

“You’re joking.” I stared at him, waiting for him to say just kidding, but he didn’t. He opened his car door and leaned inside so that he could start it. Just when I was about to walk away, he pulled out the most ridiculous hat I’ve ever seen in my life and pulled it onto his head. I laughed, but he didn’t realize why.

“I’m serious. The sidewalks and the roads are covered in snow and ice. You can drive all the way to school on one without a problem.”

I kept giggling, as I stared at his hat. I wasn’t sure what to call it. It covered his whole head, and had two flaps that hung to cover his ears with drawstrings attached to the ends so you could tie them around your chin. It was covered in fur. Fluffy, and puffy, gray fur. The drawstrings had tiny, furry, palm-palms attached.

“What?” he asked.

“Where…like, where did you find that thing?”

He stared at me, confused for a second and then understanding hit him. “My trapper hat? What’s wrong with it?”

I bit my lip to keep myself from laughing, but did not succeed. “Nothing.”

“Damn right. This hat is fucking awesome.”

“You’re right.” I was still grinning obnoxiously at him. I couldn’t help thinking he looked cute in it. Maybe anybody would in a hat like that, but Eren had big green eyes and his nose was turning pink from the cold and his expression was comically offended in a childish-tantrum sort of way and –

Oh my God.

He was attractive.

How had I not realized this when we first met? I hadn’t been thinking about it then, and even now it held no real significance. But I thought back to the night I met Jean, and had been so awestruck by his good looks, and I had wondered how someone as attractive as him could possibly be single. If I had seen Eren in the bar that night, I probably would have felt almost the same way as I had with Jean.

I blushed, embarrassed by my teenage-like fascination.

For the tiniest moment, I felt insecure about my own looks. I wouldn’t say I was unattractive, not at all. But I was pretty average, other than my freckles, which in my opinion didn’t really help anything.

“Fuck you, dude,” Eren replied, pulling me out of my trance and reminding me to act normal. “I bet you wish your head was covered in this right now. Can you even feel your ears?” he asked. I reached up to touch my ears reflexively, and to my shock I couldn’t. I poked my ears, but all I felt was chilled flesh against my hands. There was no poking sensation against my ears.

“Oh my god,” I said, rubbing them.

“That’s what I thought.” He spoke with a smug expression on his face. I shivered again, which only made Eren look more triumphant.

“I better get back to my car.” I glanced at it, unwilling to make myself walk toward it just yet. There was nothing appealing about going back to my place tonight, and sitting on my couch with nothing to do but worry about Jean. That’s exactly what I’d do, too. Except maybe Ymir would come over, and then I would worry about Jean all night in between her giving me shit about worrying too much about Jean. I sighed.

“Here,” Eren said.

“What?” I managed to ask, before a ball of fluff was thrown over his car and smacking into my face. The hat fell into my hands. “What’s this?”

“My ridiculous hat that’s going to revive your Texan ears.”

I rolled my eyes. “I think I’ll be fine.”

“I doubt it. You’re going to be sitting in your car for twenty minutes waiting for it to warm up.”

I whipped my head in the direction of my car again, only now realizing that the snow was blanketing the windshield and that unlike Eren, I hadn’t warmed up my car. He was right. I put the hat on. It was warmer than it would have been if it hadn’t sat on Eren’s head first. Eren arched an eyebrow in amusement, before he looked over at my car a row away from his.

“Hey, you have okay tires right?” he asked.

“What do you mean?”

He looked at me for several seconds as if he was trying to weigh how serious I was. “Did you buy that car in Texas too?”

I bit my lip, revealing how guilty I was before I even answered.

“How long have you been driving it here?”

“Two years.”

“Have you ever gotten into an accident?” he asked. I bit my lip again. He laughed. “How bad was it?”

“Well, not as bad as the car I totaled before I bought this one.”

“And you never thought – hmmm, maybe the treads on my tires weren’t made for snow? Maybe my brakes weren’t made for snow?”

I shook my head. He covered his face in exasperation, rubbing his eyes out like he hadn’t slept in days. He groaned.

“How do you guys live down there? Honestly?” he asked, walking toward my vehicle. I followed right behind him. “I hear some of you don’t even have grass. You just have like rocks in your yard. So you don’t have to mow, and you don’t have to rake, and you don’t have to shovel, and you don’t have to water your lawn…how lazy can you be?”

I laughed. I’d never thought of that, but I guessed it was true. My parents had a lawn without grass, and other than a few cacti there was nothing to take care of. It wasn’t like cacti were hard to take care of either. That was why they were the only plant in my house. They usually didn’t die because of me that way.

“Hey, we have dust storms,” I defended myself. “And you’d probably be terrified if you saw a black widow or – half the bugs we have there.”

“Maybe.” I got the impression that he didn’t think he would be terrified of any of the bugs, and looking at his face I believed him. He didn’t look like he was capable of being afraid of much.

He knelt down by my car tires, and ran his bare fingers over the treads. He shook his head.

“Start your car. You can wait for it to warm up in mine.”

I hesitated, both of us making eye contact as we once again realized that we were being awfully kind to each other. When I decided to go to the hospital with Eren, I hadn’t known what to expect. It seemed like he had been hell bent on making sure he was there even if I wasn’t, and making sure Jean picked him and not me. But now I thought I probably mistook a lot of his worry for jean as hatred for me. Not when we first walked in the door, of course. Then he’d been mad at me. But as soon as Jean passed out, any thoughts he had about me had been put on hold until now.

“Ya’ know,” he started, and as if reading my mind, he added, “I was pretty determined to hate you.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. And I’m pretty good at it, by the way. Hating people, I mean. But you’re too hard to hate. I was expecting you to be an asshole and you just failed so bad.”

I laughed covering my mouth and then using my breath to heat my fingers right after. “I could try if you want. If you’re willing to put up with an amateur for a while.”

He shook his head. “No, there are enough expert assholes out there as is.”

I smiled, and then turned away to start my car so he wouldn’t see me blush more.

Once I’d done that, I followed him back to his car. He still looked as though he was ready to pull out the grill, but I was shivering. My feet were going numb. Eren was wearing boots, and I thought that if he saw my shoes he’d probably scold me for that too.

He drove a Honda Civic. An older one, I was pretty sure. His car wasn’t neat, but it wasn’t messy either. He had a blanket in the back and a couple of sweatshirts. Without me having to ask, he tossed me one of them.

“I doubt it will fit, but your skin is turning blue.”

It was a Vikings hoodie. I arched an eyebrow at it, but pulled it on.“Aren’t Packer fans and Viking fans supposed to be rivals?”

“We are.”

“But Jean is a Packer fan.”

He deadpanned as he looked at me. “Who said we aren’t rivals?”

I giggled then, into the sleeves of his hoodie, before I readjusted his stupid hat on my head.

“Jean was already on my case about not watching football.” Before I even finished the sentence, Eren was wearing a look of horror, and placing his hand against his chest like I’d physically pierced his heart.

“Are you telling me that you’re not a Cowboys fan?”

I shook my head.

“And here I thought I’d have one thing to hate about you. Just one, Goddamn it,” he groaned, squeezing onto his steering wheel theatrically and sinking low into his seat.

“I’m sorry to disappoint you.” God, when I was around him I couldn’t stop laughing. Or maybe, I was just so stressed from seeing Jean in the hospital that it was pouring out of me through laughter. I’d certainly done my share of crying for one day, and that had hardly eased my mind.

He sighed. “Probably for the best. Trying to convert Jean into a Viking fan is hard enough.”

“I can’t imagine what it’s like when you guys watch games where they play each other.”

His eyes drifted off like he was remembering something, and then he started chuckling.

“Yeah, no one watches the game with us anymore. If we aren’t hurting each other, we probably broke some furniture. Jean threw a pan at me once, and I ducked. The thing was thrown so hard that it broke the damn pantry door and the pan was like – it was like stuck in the door for weeks and no one bothered to pull it out.”

I laughed with Eren, because it was so easy to imagine them being like that. I’d never seen Jean like that, but when Eren spoke so fondly of him, it was like I could remember it too. Without trying to, I planted myself into their memories, and thought about what it would be like if I had been there. I imagined in this case I would be the mediator, trying to calm them down and pull them off of each other. I’d be the literal ref for the opposing teams. It made me so happy, my eyes watered and I rubbed them to hide it. I was blushing again.

“Jean called it contemporary art when he finally called his landlord to send someone to fix it,” Eren said, grinning devilishly.

“That sounds like him,” I replied, smiling. Guilt was starting to cloud the happiness. How dare I be doing this with Eren when Jean was lying in a hospital bed trying to cope with an eating disorder? It made me feel sick. I shook my head to clear it. “Hard to imagine you guys played football together.”

Eren’s head perked up, and for the first time since we left the hospital, he looked saddened again. “He told you we played football together?”

I nodded. “He said you were the kicker.”

“What else did he tell you?”

“About you? Or in general?”

“About anything.” Eren’s voice was suddenly low and hoarse.

“Well…honestly, I don’t think he wanted me to know much. He told me he’d gone through a breakup, and when he told me – when we first met, that is – he was talking about Mikasa. And he told me he wants to be a writer but at –”

“He what?” Eren said, jumping up in his seat so fast he could have hit his head on the ceiling. “He – he what?”

“He wants to be a writer?” I was unsure of myself now.

Eren slumped back into his seat, and stared ahead through the windshield. The snow had started to cloud our vision again, but the general shape of the hospital was still there. The halos of white light around the lampposts in the parking lot were so bright I squinted.

“He never told me that. Whenever he’d talk about college…or a job, he said he didn’t care. It didn’t matter.”

I shrugged. “I think the only reason he told me was that I didn’t know at first he had dyslexia.”

Eren’s eyes widened a little in understanding, and then he tilted his head back against his seat and closed his eyes. “That makes sense. He – you know he’s so weird about his dyslexia. I guess I can’t talk, ‘cause I was weird about being diabetic. But Jean just never… never really got over how people treated him. But…fuck. It wasn’t like I – like I would ever give him shit.”

“What do you mean? How did people treat him?”

“Well you know he was in special ed and stuff. I didn’t think anything of it. I knew Jean forever and he wasn’t any different. He was just Jean. But like, when he was put in special ed everyone on our team kinda like – he wasn’t kicked off the team, but he might as well have been. And everyone called him a retard, or treated him like – well, the way kids treat people with mental disabilities. They were his friends, so why’d they do it?”

Eren was quiet for a moment, and he shook his head. His eyes were on the hospital, and I imagined that he wished he could go inside and be with Jean again.

“I don’t know…I think he was so popular for so long…and yeah I guess a lot of people didn’t act any different, but the guys definitely did. I thought that they’d all finally gotten sick of his cockiness and his popularity. I sure as hell had, but that didn’t mean it was okay to call him a retard just because he could be a dick.”

He still looked like his mind was somewhere else, and this time I couldn’t put myself in the memory. I didn’t want to visualize it. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe Eren, I’d just never personally seen Jean act that way. Or at least not to the extent that Eren was implying, and I got the distinct impression that Eren was still hurt over something. It wasn’t hard to picture Eren and Jean bickering, but seeing Jean actually doing anything that would hurt Eren for popularity seemed impossible.

“We didn’t hang out as much after that,” Eren said, “the guys didn’t treat me the same way. They still liked me, so…and Jean had kinda moved on. He still played, but he pretty much showed up to catch the ball and left. He had better things to do. I guess, I shouldn’t blame him. After that, he found people that wouldn’t give him shit about being dyslexic to hang out with…and I…I hung out with the team still, but…”

Eren was quiet for a long time. So long I said his name, and even then he didn’t respond.

“Oh my God,” he breathed.

“What?”

“He…all this time I had thought…”

“What?” I asked, again, becoming worried even. He looked like he was going to cry and leap out into the parking lot.

“I thought he left me for my sister…He didn’t. That wasn’t it at all! He didn’t start dating Mikasa because –”

“Eren?” I interrupted, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Mikasa’s your sister?”

That pulled him out of it. “Uh? Yeah? Oh shit – he didn’t tell you? Mikasa and I are adopted. I was adopted when I was a baby though. My parents took Mikasa in when she was twelve.”

“Oh okay. And, uh…Jean left you for her?”

Eren turned completely in his seat to face me, and he pulled his feet up onto the seat. He leaned back against the window, his face still in a state of shock. His arms hugged his knees.

“Okay, uh…in high school Jean and I had a thing in secret. And…one day, he kinda just left me for Mikasa. He never broke up with me, he never even really told me it was happening until it happened. And he never said sorry or talked to me about it. I couldn’t figure out why he’d do that, because I thought he – he –”

“Loved you,” I said, for him, because he was choking on his emotions.

“Yeah. But…Now I think the reason he did that was because I was still friends with the team. I mean, I wasn’t actually friends with them, not really…but I played the part. You know, the straight kid part?”

I sighed. “I do.”

“I didn’t want them to be suspicious of Jean and me, so when they started to outcast Jean, I didn’t exactly…I mean, I didn’t join in on making fun of him and I didn’t shit-talk his popularity behind his back with the guys, but I didn’t stop hanging out with them either. He probably thought I had taken their side. He probably thought I felt the same way…and Mikasa…she was so nice to him.”

I swallowed, audibly. Again, I felt like I was invading a situation that was too intimate to be broken up. How was I supposed to fight for Jean when I thought Eren deserved to be with him? I barely knew Jean. I thought I loved him, but Jean didn’t think so. I wasn’t in any position to be with a man anyway. I had a baby on the way. Why was I still in the running?

Why was my car still running, actually? I should leave right now. It was plenty warm. I could give Eren his ridiculous hat and comfy hoodie back and jump in my car and never show my face again. Jean could get better – I knew Eren would make sure of that – and they could live happily ever after. It was the right thing to do…

“Sounds like you hurt each other,” I rasped.

Eren blinked a lot and rubbed his eyes. “Yeah…I can’t believe I never saw it before. He’s, ya’ know…he doesn’t ever think about his decisions. He just does shit, and I don’t think he knows why he does the shit he does until years later.”

“Neither do you, apparently,” I replied. And Eren laughed through a sob.

“We’re too alike,” Eren groaned, covering his face. “You’re so much better for him.”

My eyebrows shot up and I shook my head. “No. Don’t do that to me. I was just thinking I’d leave and you could be with him.”

Eren laughed, but it sounded miserable. “I’m serious. He and I just…we don’t work well together. We’d be better off hating each other, I think. And you…you get him. Like, he told you he wanted to be a writer – something he’d never tell me – and he told you he had dyslexia and you –”

“I figured out he had dyslexia. He didn’t want to tell me.”

“He didn’t?”

I shook my head. “And just because you guys are alike doesn’t mean you aren’t good for each other. That whole ‘opposites attract’ thing sounds like bullshit to me. You guys – I mean, you obviously have some history you need closure to, but you could be happy together. Don’t deny yourself that. Not everyone has the opportunity to have a happy ending.”

If there was anything I’d learned because of the mistakes I’d made, it was that I had denied myself a happy ending, and now when I was ready to accept one, it might be too late.

“Do you really love Jean?” Eren asked. “Really love him? Like marriage and all that?”

I inhaled, waiting for some red flag to pop in my head, reminding me how very little time I'd had to fall in love with him, reminding me I was already engaged, reminding me that I had no one to compare my feelings for jean to…no scale at all…

It didn’t happen. I ignored it all.

“Yeah,” I said. “But you do, too.”

Eren blushed and laced his fingers together as he hugged his knees to his chest.

“Well…I mean, why aren’t you trying to get your happy ending then?”

I shrugged. “I’m engaged, technically. And I have a baby on the way. I can’t expect Jean to…work around that.”

Eren shrugged. “I think you’d be surprised. He’s not…I don’t know. Jean doesn’t get concerned about much. He just takes shit as it comes and goes with it.”

I bit my lip. My chest was swelling with hope that Eren was right, that my situation could somehow be no big deal.

“I mean…I can’t exactly speak for him, but I know it wouldn’t matter to me. The engaged thing…yeah, you should probably figure that out. But the baby? So what? I don’t have anything going on, so why would it matter?”

My blush deepened even more, hearing Eren talk about the situation as if it was me and him and not me and Jean. I was wearing his hoodie and hat. I was too warm, yet I didn’t want to take them off. The clothing smelled like pine trees.

Eren added as an afterthought, “Jean, I guess…yeah, he has school. But I don’t think it would stop him. I don’t know if he told you, but he never really had a dad. I don’t think he’d like the idea of…of getting in the way of something like that. I mean, I guess what I’m trying to say is he would be more understanding than a lot of people would about you putting your kid first, ya’ know? He agreed to go out with you, didn’t he? When he already knew?”

He leaned into me, as if he wouldn’t be able to hear my answer.

I nodded. The hope was bursting in my chest. My heart was thudding hard. I was so confused, between the smell of Eren’s clothing and his car, hearing him talk about how it wouldn’t be a big deal for him, and then reminding me that yeah, Jean had agreed to go out with me. If a baby had been a deal-breaker, would he have done that? Had he even thought about it?

“But uh…I mean, you loved him first,” I said, trying to hide my excitement.

“This isn’t a dibbs situation, you know,” he said, laughing despite himself. “It’s not like first come, first serve. He’s – he’s going to do whatever he wants. Which means it’ll take forever and then it will happen out of nowhere and none of us will know what’s going on.”

“We probably shouldn’t be trying to convince the other to be with him then.”

Eren sighed. “Yeah, but I’m impatient.”

“Clearly.”

Eren was so close to me, in the tight confines of his car. I hadn’t leaned into the door like he had, and now his arm was resting on the middle compartment of his Honda. We were just inches apart. Eren looked like a wreck, and I imagined I wasn’t in any better condition.

“Where are you going tonight?” Eren asked.

“Home.”

“What will you do?”

I sighed. “Worry about Jean.”

Eren bit his lip. “Can I come? I mean…not…not for – I don’t know what I’m talking about,” he said, and I could have sworn he blushed. “It’s just…Armin and Mikasa are going to be at my place when Mikasa’s shift is over, and I – I’d rather bother you than them. Because that’s all I’ve got planned for the evening too.”

I smiled. “Worrying about Jean?”

He nodded. “I’ll drive you crazy, probably. But at least you understand. I know Armin and Mikasa are worried, but they’re not – not like me.”

I nodded. “I have a spare bedroom.”

I had said it without thinking, but now I was glad I did. And I wasn’t sure why I was relieved that he knew he’d be sleeping in a spare bedroom. Was I honestly so self-involved that I had assumed Eren wanted to sleep with me? God, that was embarrassing.

Eren grinned and for a second I couldn’t breathe right. “Thank you so much. I swear I’ll do my best not to drive you crazy.”

“You better,” I breathed, before stepping out of the car and heading toward my own. I needed that cool air against my skin, I was burning.

Once we were at my place, Eren and I both realized how late it was, and we both couldn’t believe we’d spent so long in the parking lot. Eren and I had driven home slowly because of the weather, and it was almost midnight. I showed Eren his bedroom, and he thanked me once again for letting him stay. We chatted in my hallway for a while, both of us leaning against the doors to the bedroom we’d be sleeping in, and it felt wrong somehow that we were talking about Jean while doing what we were doing.

“You going to see him tomorrow?” Eren asked.

“I have to work.”

He nodded. “Me too, but I’ll be home around noon.”

“Aren’t they letting him go?”

“Yeah. We’ll go to his place and I’m sure…God, I don’t know what it’ll be like. But…you’ll come right? To uh…see him…obviously.”

I cleared my throat. It took me a second to respond. “Yeah, of course. I’ll come over after work.”

Eren nodded. “Just so you know…I have to leave pretty early tomorrow. I won’t be here when you wake up.”

“Okay.”

He smiled. “Thanks, Marco.”

He turned to open his bedroom door, and he’d closed it before I’d mustered out, “Good night.”

Chapter Text

Jean

Eren picked me up. I hadn’t been alone with him since our fight. Anytime he’d been there with me in the hospital, Marco was there too. I still wasn’t done wondering how that happened.

“Hey,” he said, as I climbed into his passenger seat. I handed him back his jacket, and kept Marco’s in my hands. Eren glanced at it, but didn’t comment. “How are you feeling?”

“My back hurts. Those beds are awful,” I replied, knowing that wasn’t what he meant.

“Did you eat?” he asked, as he put the car in drive and pulled away from the hospital entrance.

“Yeah,” I said. It was true. I hadn’t eaten much. They tried to feed me the same bullshit they’d brought the first time, and I had to tell them five times that I actually just didn’t like that type of food before they decided that I wasn’t lying and brought me different food. I ate the corn, some of it anyway. I ate a banana too, and drank some milk. They wanted me to eat meat, but I couldn’t, so I ate a hard-boiled egg for them.

When I was done, there was always at least one nurse supervising me for the rest of the night. I’d woken up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, and one of them came in with me. I had fully intended to throw up, but they stopped me, and now I was glad they did. If I had found a way to throw up last night, if they had realized that I was intending to, they would have made me stay another twenty four hours.

Eren sighed. “You didn’t – you swear right? I can trust you?”

“They literally watched me take a shit this morning, dude,” I replied, “I couldn’t have thrown up.”

Eren smiled as we drove and cleared his throat. He watched the road a little too closely. “Good, then.”

I sighed, debating whether or not I should say what was on my mind as we drove away from the hospital. Eren looked nothing like he had yesterday. He’d been a wreck at the hospital even later in the night when we were just talking in my hospital room. He’d kept his distance, not even sitting on the bed with me. Even now, I could see his green eyes scrutinizing me in his periphery, but he wasn’t actually looking at me.

“God, just say it,” he said, after ten minutes of loaded silence.

I turned my head to look at him, and he looked out the window right away. “What happened last night? After you guys left?”

His body tensed, as he turned on to the on-ramp to get on to the highway. He was quiet for a little too long, and he placed his elbow on the door so that he could lean his head against his hand.

“I actually uh…ended up staying at Marco’s.”

“You’re shitting me.”

He smiled, bashfully. “No. He’s – he’s not bad. He’s cool, actually. Kind of a nerd, and kind of helpless, but he uh…I don’t know. It was better than hanging out with Mikasa and Armin.”

Eren blushed. I grinned lecherously. “I’m fucking on to you, Jaeger.”

He whipped his head in my direction. “Wha-what? What do you mean?”

I shook my head, still grinning. “After all the shit you gave me.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he grumbled.

“Uh-huh, sure you don’t.”

“I don’t,” he insisted. “All I’m saying is…I’m just – I don’t know. He’s cool. I’m glad he’s not a dick.”

“You mean you’re pissed that there’s nothing wrong with him, and now you can’t show him up and give him shit for fucking me, without feeling bad.”

Eren switched lanes on the highway so that he could pull into the right lane. We were getting close to my neighborhood now. The roads weren’t bad because it was the middle of the day and the ice had melted. The traffic was light too.

“Shut up.”

“I knew it,” I said, through a laugh.

“I said shut up.”

This time I did, although I had to stifle another laugh.

“Well, I’m glad you guys aren’t…aren’t killing each other.”

“Yeah?”

I nodded. “I thought that was going to happen. Thought you guys would be fighting.”

“No, I mean you’re happy that we’re getting along?”

I shrugged. “Of course. You guys matter to me.”

Eren sighed and looked away from me. If I were to guess what was wrong, I’d guess that it wasn’t enough for him to matter to me. I wanted to tell him I loved him. I always had loved him. And I couldn’t change that. But I also couldn’t change what happened between Marco and me, and I couldn’t consciously reach for his hand right now. I couldn’t let myself, even though I wanted to, because if it were Marco driving instead of him, I’d want to do the same thing.

I was a shitty person, and I could accept that. I did a lot of fucked up things, especially in the last few weeks, but choosing to screw with both Eren and Marco’s feelings was too far. I’d done enough to them already. No matter how much I needed to hold one of their hands, or to kiss one of them, or to tell one of them I loved them, I couldn’t. Not until I figured out what the fuck I was doing with my life, and in order to do that I had to – I had to figure out my eating disorder first.

That was my priority above everything else.

It was probably Marco’s and Eren’s too.

“What did the doctor say?” he asked, so we wouldn’t have to sit in the silence and contemplate our fucked up situation.

“About what?”

He shrugged. “Ya’ know, whatever you gotta do now.”

“He said I should keep my hands busy. He suggested I learn how to knit, or something.”

Eren tried really hard not to laugh, but he ended up snorting and giggling into his hand. “Are you fucking serious?”

“Yeah.”

“And what did you tell him?”

“I asked him if he was fucking serious. He was,” I replied. Eren chuckled again.

“Okay, well, what useful things did he say?”

“I have to eat six meals a day. And I uh…have to make sure it adds up to two thousand calories.” Eren heard my voice waver. My hands curled in Marco’s jacket. Just the thought of eating that much made me ache to run. It was like thinking about food would make me gain weight, let alone actually consuming it. Two thousand calories? Two thousand? I’d be fat again in a week.

“Hey,” Eren said, and this time he tugged on my hand to get my attention. Right away he pulled his hand away, realizing what he’d done, and I almost reached for him again. “It’s okay. I eat that much every day. It isn’t going to hurt you. Promise.”

I nodded at him even though I didn’t believe him.

“I can exercise, but like…I’m supposed to do shit like go on walks or stretch or…I don’t know. Can’t do anything intense.”

Eren nodded. “You never did before, really.”

“I tossed the football around with you.”

Eren smiled. “We can do that without it being intense. If you want, I mean.”

I nodded. I did want to. It felt like throwing the ball around with Eren last summer was a lifetime ago. I thought doing it again would make me feel…like I was myself again.

Eren pulled off the highway and turned on to my street. The parking lot was practically empty at this time of day, so we pulled up to the first row of parking spots outside of my apartments.

“Mikasa is coming in a bit,” he said. “She didn’t get home until like…four AM or something so she’s probably still at home sleeping.”

“Oh God. I was a complete asshole to her.”

“She’s not mad.” Eren shrugged.

I shook my head. “I looked right at her and said ‘fuck you’.”

“I’ve said worse to her. She’s over it. She just wants to see you better.”

I nodded, but already I was dreading seeing her. I didn’t deserve her worry after last night. If she never forgave me I’d understand. I shook my head and ran my fingers through my hair. My hands trembled, and I almost cried thinking about her. I blinked it back, because I was sick of looking so weak. I’d save it for when I was alone and Eren couldn’t see me.

Then I remembered what Armin said. I wouldn’t be alone anymore. Not for a long time.

Eren must have noticed that I was on the verge of a breakdown, because he tugged on my sleeve and gestured toward the door. “Just us for now. Relax.”

That made it worse.

“Marco’s coming over too, uh…if you were wondering,” Eren said, clearing his throat.

I left the car without commenting. I couldn’t if I tried. I had too much on my mind.

Eren followed me up the steps. Admittedly, I was still a little weak on my feet, and it was embarrassing that I had to take my time. Eren spared me the indignity of looking concerned or trying to help me up. He knew me too well.

Once we were inside, Eren paused in the entryway. “I’m supposed to cover up the mirrors.”

“Why?”

“Mikasa told me to do it. You’re not supposed to see yourself when you’re trying to get better.”

“How am I supposed to shave?”

“Well, you either don’t shave or you let one of us do it.”

I sighed. “Is that really necessary?”

“I mean, you could do it yourself and just…take the risk. I don’t know.”

When I didn’t reply, Eren headed toward the bedroom. I followed him. There was a full length mirror in there that hung inside my closet door. Eren opened the closet door, and before he reached for it, I put my hand on his shoulder.

“Wait,” I said.

He groaned. “Jean, I can’t not do it. It will help you.”

“I know, I know.” I knew it would, even though the idea of not being able to see myself terrified me. Now I wouldn’t know if I was getting bigger and there was nothing I could do. “Just let me see myself once.”

“Why?”

I pushed him out of the way and stood in front of the mirror. The last time I looked in the mirror, I’d been ginormous. I’d pinched the fat on my stomach and tried to imagine peeling it off and becoming nothing but bones. I’d stared for over an hour, poking at different parts of me, and rearranging my body into different positions to try to make myself look thinner.

Now, I wanted to see what everyone else saw.

I took my shirt off.

“Jean, you shouldn’t –”

“Shut up. You can do whatever you want with the mirror in a second.”

I stared at myself. This time, I saw a thin person. In a sense, anyway. I saw someone who was thin, but at the same time I thought that person should still lose more weight. That if he just ate a little less, and ran a little more, for a little longer, he’d be perfect.

But I forced those thoughts out of my mind. Instead, I tried to focus my attention on something other than my stomach. I could count my ribs. My collarbones and hip bones jutted outward. My chest was hallow between my pecks, so sallow that I could fill my chest with water if I wanted. I reached up to touch my neck, and then wrapped my fingers around my throat to form a circle. My fingertips could touch, and my hands could surround my neck, without even touching my throat. My fingers looked longer than I remembered, like spider legs. My wrists were so tiny I wondered if they might break when I rolled over in my sleep.

“Jean?” Eren choked, watching me mime a chokehold on myself. I dropped my hands, so that he wouldn’t be scared. When I did, his reflection was visible in the mirror too. He was standing directly behind me, and I could see almost all of him. I could see how wide his waist was in comparison to mine. How big his arms were, twice the size of mine. His shoulders were broader, and his neck thicker.

I thought that was probably what convinced me more than anything. Eren was supposed to be smaller than me. He always had been, and in high school it was something I had strived to make sure never changed. I wouldn’t want to admit it, but I’d always wanted to be the bigger one because I had wanted to be the protector. With this body, I could never be that.

“You can take the mirror now.” I’d seen what I needed to see. They had been right after all.

Eren stepped closer to me. Tentatively, he put one hand on either side of my waist, and wrapped his arms around me. I felt his forehead press against my back, in between my shoulder blades, right where I had kissed him the last time we’d had sex.

He held me like that for a long while. I didn’t want to push him off, and he didn’t want to let go. I placed my hands on his arms.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“What for?”

“For holding you.”

“You’re not sorry,” I said. “I’m not either.”

He huffed out a laugh. I felt his hot breath against my back, and ached for him. Not even in a sexual way. Just feeling his embrace. Having his touch there to comfort me. I never wanted those strong, brown arms to let me go.

I pulled away from him.

“I’m going to shower,” I said.

“I have to come with.”

I turned around to look at him. “You have to shower with me?”

“Well, not like in the shower with you. But I have to be in the doorway.”

I sighed. “Okay, whatever.”

I was about to step into the bathroom, but then I remembered the mirror. Eren took care of the mirror in the closet. For now, he slid it underneath the couch, but he told me he’d take it out to his car when he left in the morning. The bathroom mirror he covered up by taping a few pillow cases over it. He hid my scale too. Apparently I wasn’t supposed to weigh myself. They could weigh me, but I wasn’t allowed to see what the number was.

I undressed while Eren stood in the doorway. He didn’t watch me. I didn’t know if it was because I was so thin now he was passed the point of desiring to watch, or if he was just respecting my privacy. I really hoped it was the latter. It hurt to think that after everything, I’d managed to become ugly in his eyes. In Eren’s eyes of all people, the man without a type, the one that had wanted me when I had back acne and a squeaky voice. It was so shameful, I tried to cover my body up with my spider hands and turned the light off to shower.

Once I was out, I got dressed, and again Eren didn’t watch.

“It’s time to eat.”

I bit my lip. My hands trembled. “Do I have to?”

“Yeah. You’ve only eaten once today.”

“I ate a lot.”

He shook his head. “No, you didn’t.”

“How do you know?”

“Jean, please.”

I ran my fingers through my hair. “What do I have to eat?”

He stood then and headed toward the kitchen.

Already I was turning around, and getting on my knees in front of the toilet. I had two fingers in my mouth when Eren realized I hadn’t followed him. He darted back into the bathroom, and tugged on my shirt to get my attention. His eyes were squinted and turned away from me, like he couldn’t bear to see me kneeling like that. His hand wrapped around my wrist, pulling my hand away from my mouth, and pulling me up.

I felt guilty. I was disappointing him, and I blushed from shame.

“I’m sorry,” I whined, “I’m really sorry. I swear.”

He nodded. “I know.”

He kept his hand on my wrist. As we walked down the hall his hand slid into mine. He laced his fingers with mine, squeezed, and then let me go. I sat down at the kitchen table as he started looking through cupboards.

“If I start making something are you going to try to lock yourself in the bathroom?” he asked.

Locking myself in. I hadn’t even thought of that. I should have done that as soon as he left.

“No.”

He didn’t turn around and face me. He moved on to the next cupboard. “Come here.”

“Really?”

He nodded. I walked farther into the kitchen and leaned against the counter in front of the sink.

“You’re going to help me,” he said.

I didn’t argue with him. There was no point. He asked me to open the fridge and pick something I was willing to eat. I opened it. I hadn’t gone shopping once while I was alone those five days.

“There’s nothing.”

Eren sighed. He looked in the fridge, assuming I had lied to him, and then his eyebrows rose. “Okay, I guess I’m getting creative.”

“Or you could just ask Mikasa to bring food home later and we could wait.”

He shook his head. “Not happening.”

Eren ended up making a bowl of Minute Rice that he mixed egg whites into. He added frozen peas and carrots, which he knew I hated, but dumped so much hot sauce and Cajun spice into it that I wouldn’t be able to taste it. He spent fifteen minutes frying it on the stove, the whole time holding my hand, not out of affection, but to prevent me from escaping. I wished he could let go, but I knew he better not. I knew what I’d do.

“There, fried rice,” he said, as he dumped it into a bowl.

“This is way too much,” I said, looking at my bowl. He’d filled it to the brim. “Do you know how many calories there are in this? There’re so many calories in rice. This has to be like…all the food I’m supposed to eat today.”

“I measured how much rice I put in it. If you remember, I’m sorta used to reading the nutrition labels.”

Of course he had. I blushed. “How much is it?”

“Four hundred.”

I stared at my bowl for a long time. So long that my feet got sore where they were standing and I had to sit at the kitchen table. I used my fork to move the food around in the bowl. My fingers picked out pieces of rice that had burned, and carrot chunks that were too big. I left a small pile of the parcels I wouldn’t eat on a napkin.

Eren rubbed his face and laced his hands behind his head. “You can’t put it off forever.”

“I know.” I pulled out a pea that was clearly too small and would taste like grass.

“What would help?”

Throwing the food away, I thought. But I couldn’t say that, so I changed the subject. “Are you going to eat?”

He looked like he was deliberating. He tilted his head to the side. “Would that help?”

“It did when you made pancakes.” Surprisingly, this wasn’t even a lie.

His eyebrows rose. “Yeah?”

I nodded. “You ate way more than me.”

“Alright.” Then he stood and went and filled a bowl of his own with what was left. He filled his bowl so high that there was a small mountain of rice, and tilting the bowl in the slightest would cause it to spill. He pulled out his insulin pen, and injected his stomach with how much insulin he’d need. Unceremoniously, he began eating huge bites of the rice.

I took my first bite.

He smiled while chewing, but said nothing else while we ate. He finished before me, but seeing him eat way more than me gave me the confidence to eat what I was eating. I couldn’t possibly gain weight from this much, if he hadn’t from as much as he’d eaten.

I waited for each bite to travel all the way down my esophagus before taking the next bite. My stomach kept getting heavier, kept warning me that it was getting too full, that this wasn’t supposed to be happening. The more I ate, the more I tapped my fingers. It was so hard to resist the urge to throw up. I wanted to sprint toward the bathroom.

“Jean?”

“Yeah?”

“You okay?”

I shook my head, while I covered my mouth and forced myself to swallow what was in my mouth. The next bite sat on my tongue for twenty seconds. My mouth wanted to chew, wanted to swallow, but my mind told me no. It wanted me to spit the food out and I couldn’t do that either.

I shook my head again, and the tears fell.

Before he could stop me, I spit the food out on my napkin. “I can’t eat anymore.”

“There’s no way you’re full yet.” His tone was blunt, and it made my skin tighten that he could be so oblivious.

“That’s not it, Eren! I don’t want to be full! You have no idea how – how fucking painful it is to be full. The more I eat the more my body hurts. You don’t know what it’s like!”

Eren was quiet for a few seconds.

“Well, tell me what it’s like then.” It caught me off guard, hearing Eren so calm. Normally, he’d already be yelling back. He’d already be blaming it on me and telling me what I’d done wrong.

“It’s like…it’s like food isn’t food anymore. All the food I see – it’s like looking at cat food, okay? Yeah, I know I can digest it, but would I ever think of fucking putting it in my body? No way in hell.”

I swallowed, thickly, because the flavor was still in my mouth. My arms wrapped around my middle and my fingers dug into my fat.

“And when I put it in my mouth, everything tastes like rubber, and I swallow it, and I can fucking feel it traveling all the way down my throat. It feels like I’m fucking choking. And then my stomach gets so heavy, and it feels so gross inside of me, like there’s this ginormous weight in my stomach that needs to be removed and I only ever feel better if I throw up. It doesn’t go away! It just gets worse and worse the more I eat and it makes me – makes me so sick. My mouth doesn’t listen to me when I tell it to chew and swallow. It’s like trying to swallow gum! But like…every time I swallow it’s more gum than before until it becomes glue in my mouth.”

Eren calmly pushed my bowl away, and picked up my napkin. He walked into the kitchen and threw the napkin away. Then he walked back to me.

“You don’t have to finish it.”

He placed his hands in mine, not only to hold them, but to try to stop them from shaking.

“My stomach – it feels so huge, Eren.”

He pulled me into a standing position, and once again placed his hands on my waist.

“You’re still small,” he said. “See? Nothing changed.”

He pulled his arms away but held his hands in the same shape they’d been in around my waist, so that I could see how tiny the space was between his hands. He held his hands directly in front of his own waist, and the space between his hands was probably half the width of Eren’s waist.

I trembled, but nodded. “I can’t eat more. Not right now.”

“Okay. We can do something else. As long as you don’t throw up, you’re doing good.”

“Okay,” I said, nodding. “Okay, yeah. I can do that.”

“I know you can,” he said. And then he made sure he held onto my hand as he guided me to my living room. He kept his hand in mine, even as he pulled Netflix up and put on the first X-men movie, one of my favorites. At some point, I was getting so antsy where I was sitting, and fighting the urge to run to the bathroom so bad, that Eren wrapped his arms around me. He held me to his chest, to keep me from leaving, but when he held me I didn’t even want to.

Chapter Text

Marco

After work, I couldn’t get to Jean’s fast enough. Before going there, I had stopped at home to grab a change of clothes for work tomorrow and something to eat. It was probably foolish of me to assume I might end up staying the night there, but I didn’t know. Actually, I really hoped I would.

Eren was gone in the morning just like he said he would be, and I felt a twinge of disappointment. When he was there, it was easier to cope with my incessant worry for Jean. All day, people at work had asked me what was wrong, and I hadn’t felt comfortable telling them anything even if I could tell them that it was about the man I was in love with. The only person I’d spoken to about it was Ymir.

“Men can get that?” she had asked.

“Yeah,” I had replied, “Of course they can.”

She had hummed on the other end before adding, “And you’re…you’re gonna try to help him?”

“Yeah,” I had said, “But I don’t know what I’m doing.”

She had paused again. “Ya’ know, Christa had an eating thing a while back.”

“Are you serious?”

Ymir’s girlfriend was many things, but I wouldn’t have pegged her for being insecure about her looks. She was a beautiful girl, stereotypically, with blond hair and blue eyes. Petite too, of course. But what was really attractive about her was she so very obviously would never use her looks to take advantage.

I would have thought she’d be insecure about her usefulness, her purpose, whether or not people liked her or wanted to be around her, but definitely not her looks. She used to be really surprised when I invited her to come over with Ymir, as if her company was a nuisance. Then she would do my dishes, and ask if she could fold my laundry or something because she felt so guilty for just sitting on the couch all day. Ymir was always frustrated about it.

“Course I’m serious. Ballerinas get like that, ya’ know? Or at least, that’s what I’ve heard.”

Now that I thought about it, I could remember dozens of times where Christa had looked in the mirror and almost immediately after said something self-deprecating, or asked Ymir how she looked.

“What did you do?”

“I think in that situation all you can do is make it absolutely clear that you love their flaws,” Ymir said. “I don’t think it’s so much about ‘I’d love you even if you got fat’ – No, not that – that’s pretty much awful. And I don’t think it helps any to say that they aren’t fat, because ya’ know, that’s what everyone would say. Never mind, it’s not even about making it clear you love their flaws. I think it’s really about treating their flaws like they aren’t flaws.”

“But it’s not – not a flaw. And anyway, he isn’t actually fat,” I had said.

“But his eating disorder is a flaw,” she had replied.

“I’m supposed to love his eating disorder?”

“No, you’re supposed to treat it like it’s not a flaw. Do you even listen?”

“But his eating disorder isn’t a flaw either,” I had said, ignoring her question.

“You’re doing a great job already.”

That was the end of the discussion, mostly because I wasn’t entirely sure Ymir was the best source to get advice from on this subject. I’d figure it out for myself.

Since then, all I’d achieved was talking to myself out loud. Usually it was anything from me trying out words that I thought might comfort him, and failing, to apologies for mistakes I hadn’t made yet involving our…relationship? Friendship? I had no idea, but it really seemed like something I ought to know. Yet, I was too afraid to ask, because that was probably stepping over the line.

Now I was parking my car, and holding my breath for three to five seconds at a time as I built up the courage to see him. I had parked next to Eren’s car. He was here. As nervous as I was to see Jean and screw something up, I was nervous to be around Eren too. We’d come to some sort of truce the night before, that much I understood, but how long could that possibly last?

And…what…what did sitting in his car for over an hour and just chatting with him mean? Were we friends? I couldn’t tell. He didn’t try to hide his emotions, but I thought I was probably bad at reading them. I had no idea what he was thinking.

I shook my head as I stepped out of my car. Letting my thoughts simmer too long would help nothing.

I walked up the staircase to Jean’s apartment and knocked on the door.

Mikasa answered.

“Oh! Uh…hi, I’m uh…here to see Jean?” I asked. It probably should have occurred to me that she’d be here, but it hadn’t and now I was even more nervous than I had been.

“Who are you again?” she asked.

“Marco.”

She squinted at me, but let me step inside.

“Where is he?”

She bit her lip. “We’re trying to get him to eat.”

I sighed, as I slid my shoes off and set them aside. I followed Mikasa into the dining room, where both Eren and Jean were sitting. Jean had his arms crossed on the table, and his head hidden his food. There was plate in front of him with two hard-boiled eggs, and a slice of bread. There was a plastic bottle with the word Ensure on it. I wasn’t really sure what the drink was.

I pulled the chair out, and the legs of it slid against the tile. Jean’s head perked up. Eren turned to look at me as I sat down. Eren was to my left, and Jean across from me. Mikasa had gone into the kitchen.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hey,” Jean replied.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Can’t do it,” Jean said.

Eren’s leg was tapping underneath the table and his fingers couldn’t find anywhere to rest. They were on his stomach, and then in his pockets, and then laced behind his neck. They kept moving. “Yes you can.”

Jean shook his head. He picked at one of the eggs, using his fork to poke little holes into it. “It’s so gross. Do you even know what a yolk is? It’s like nothing but cholesterol. It’s horrible for you.”

“The more you put off eating, the more you’re going to have to eat at once. One way or another Jean, you have to eat fifteen hundred calories today,” Mikasa called from the kitchen.

“How many has he eaten so far?” I asked.

“Seven hundred,” Jean moaned, shoving his head back into his arms and pulling his hood closer to his cheeks.

“Good job,” I told him. “That uh – that must have been hard for you.” I sounded awkward, and knew that he probably wouldn’t take anything I said seriously.

“My stomach is so heavy,” he whined. “It won’t go away. It keeps getting heavier.”

“That’ll go away, eventually,” Mikasa said. “Your stomach has shrunk. It gets fuller easier.”

“Shut up, it’s not that!” Jean yelled. “It’s – It’s just. I don’t fucking know.”

“Well, what about that uh…that drink?” I asked.

Jean perked his head up to look – no, glare at it. “It tastes like paint.”

“You don’t know what paint tastes like,” Eren said, helpfully. “It can’t be that bad.”

“Then you drink it,” Jean spit.

“I don’t need it,” Eren said.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Something Mikasa brought home from the hospital. Supposed to help people like Jean with their nutrition,” Eren explained. I nodded. Jean picked at his egg some more, until he was pulling the whites off the yolks. He took the world’s tiniest bite from the egg white. He chewed on it for far longer than he needed to.

I cleared my throat. Mikasa walked into the room, and sat in the chair next to Jean. He took another bite of the egg white. It was like everyone at the table was holding their breath.

“God!” Jean yelled, “Do you all have to fucking stare? Christ. It’s – God, it’s not that fucking big of a deal.”

Eren looked as though he was about to say something, but before he even said it I got the worst feeling that it was going to piss Jean off even more. Probably, he was about to say it was a big deal – because it was – and didn’t realize how much Jean didn’t want it to be a big deal. So I cut in. “You’re right. We’re being way too overprotective.”

“I know,” he replied.

“Someone has to watch you,” Mikasa said. “It’s only because –”

“I know why you have to watch me. But you don’t have to act like it’s a miracle. I’ve eaten three times today already.”

“Speaking of which, I haven’t eaten dinner,” I lied.

“Help yourself,” Mikasa said, gesturing to the kitchen.

I stood up, and as soon as I was far enough into the kitchen that Jean wouldn’t see me, but Eren could, I gestured for Eren to follow. He arched an eyebrow briefly, but almost immediately molded his face into indifference. He stood up, and followed me into the kitchen.

Eren leaned against the counter, looking over his shoulder toward the wall that divided the kitchen from the kitchen table, him from Jean. “What?” he asked, once he faced me.

“We can’t do this to him. He’ll go crazy.”

“I know,” Eren said, nodding, “He’s so embarrassed. The only thing I’ve been able to figure out is that if I eat he can usually eat too. But I already ate this time.”

“I’ll eat,” I said. I opened their fridge to start searching for something I could eat without preparing.

“I wish Mikasa wasn’t here,” Eren whispered, “She…she’s so worried about him. I know she is. And she’s doing everything she’s been taught and she understands eating disorders better than all of us but…”

“She doesn’t understand him,” I whispered, while opening the freezer. There wasn’t anything in there that I could prepare easily. I closed it.

I turned away from the fridge to see Eren’s defeated expression, but he nodded anyway. “Not at all. And…And he’s uncomfortable because he said some stuff to her in the hospital that…he thinks she’s mad at him.”

I shook my head. “She’s fussing over him too much to be mad at him.”

“I know that. But it doesn’t change the fact that since she showed up he’s been so…so tense. He thinks she’s pretending not to be mad at him because he’s sick, and that just makes him even madder. He’d rather her just come out and say it, and stop babying him just because of his eating disorder.”

“But she’s not mad.”

“Like I said, I know. He won’t listen to me though,” he replied. “Honestly I just think he needs to be away from her. They like just broke up, and now…he told her to fuck off at the hospital too. He shouldn’t be around her.”

“What should we do?” I asked, as I searched the cupboards for something simple. There was peanut butter, and I grabbed it.

Eren shrugged and shook his head. “I don’t know. I’ve kept him busy most the day, even when she showed up – watching movies and stuff – but he gets so antsy. Can’t stop moving and his hands keep pinching his stomach. It’s like he doesn’t even know he’s doing it.”

“He should really keep his hands busy,” I said. “Bread?”

Eren cocked his head, his jaw dropping. “Really? That’s what the doctor said. I just thought…thought it sounded kind of stupid. Oh, and…right there.” He pointed toward the end of the counter where the bread sat behind the toaster.

“No, it actually helps patients with eating disorders a lot.”

“The doctor told him he should knit.”

I snorted. “No. Not knitting. We can do better than that.”

I ended up pulling out jelly from the fridge, and I made a sandwich. What would normally take me less than a minute to eat, I made sure took me five minutes to eat as I sat across from Jean. He ended up eating both his eggs (although he continued to avoid the yolks). He sipped at his Ensure.

Mikasa continued to watch him like he was her newborn son, and Eren continually tried to distract Jean from it. Eren brought up a number things. Then he asked Jean what he wanted to do afterward.

“I don’t know,” Jean replied, “I’m so used to doing homework. Or running. I don’t even know what to do.”

“You don’t have homework?” I asked.

Eren gave me a lethal look, and I blushed because I’d said something I shouldn’t have.

Jean sighed. “I’m not going to my classes.”

“Of course you’re not,” Mikasa said, “You shouldn’t be –”

“Yeah, I know. Thanks,” Jean said, pulling a nonexistent hair from his plate.

“Are you going to stay here tonight?” Eren asked Mikasa.

“I have to,” she said. “Who would watch him?”

Eren rolled his eyes, and gave her the most exhausted, irritated glare I’d ever seen. If I were to guess, he was imagining Mikasa’s chair falling out from underneath her.

“I would,” he replied.

“You have to sleep at some point,” she said.

“Oh, I’ll do it,” I said, before I even really considered what I was offering. “I’ll stay and help.”

She turned her head my direction. She examined me closely, her eyes becoming slits as if she was trying to look through me. “Well, no offense, but I really think he should be looked after by people who – who know him better.”

“He can stay,” Jean blurted. She turned to look at him, her eyebrows turning up in response to what he’d said.

“Are – are you sure? He really doesn’t know you that well,” she said.

Again, Eren wore that exhausted expression. He scrubbed his hands across his face, like he might be able to rub the expression off, but it was stuck like that.

“Yeah, I’m sure. Don’t you have work in the morning?” he asked her.

“Well, no, not until two. I could easily stay up late while Eren slept,” she said.

“Yeah, but doesn’t Eren have work in the morning?” he asked.

Eren shook his head. “Took the week off.”

“What?” Jean whipped his head in Eren’s direction. “You’re joking right? You didn’t honestly take work off for –”

“I had a ton of vacation time I needed to use anyway,” Eren said, “Relax.”

“So, Eren can stay up while Jean sleeps,” I said.

Mikasa frowned, but she didn’t argue. Really, I wasn’t even needed. I did have work in the morning, but I got the feeling both Jean and Eren had intentionally avoided asking me that. There was nothing I could contribute to staying here at all, and I really hoped no one would call me out on it.

I wanted to stay. Even though I knew Eren would be here around the clock to keep an eye on him, I wanted to do that too. I wanted Jean to want me to stay. And for some sickening reason, I wanted Eren to want me to stay too.

“Alright then,” Mikasa finally conceded, after a long moment of contemplation. She glanced at Eren. “I’ll go to your place tonight?”

Eren nodded, perhaps too enthusiastically. “It’s closer to the hospital anyway.”

“Right,” Mikasa said. “Right, of course.”

Mikasa was wearing a red scarf, and she pulled it up close to her face to hide her nose and mouth. Her eyes zoned out. She blushed, and I didn’t think anyone else noticed it. Jean was dissecting his bread and disembodying the crust, while Eren tried to discreetly watch him do it.

“Right,” she said again, “I’ll just go then.”

When she stood to leave, no one argued with her.

“Eren, you’ll call me if –”

“Yes, stop worrying so much,” he said, as if he wasn’t probably twice as worried as she was.

“And you’ll make sure that he –”

“Yes,” both Eren and I said.

“I’m right here…” Jean added, shaking his head and rolling his eyes.

“Alright,” Mikasa said, before she pulled on her pea coat and grabbed her purse. “See you, then, Jean.”

“See ya’,” he said.

Once Mikasa was gone, Jean was able to relax. He ran his hands through his hair. His shoulders slumped as he leaned back in his chair.

“Told you she wasn’t mad,” Eren said.

Jean shrugged. “She never acts like she’s mad.”

“She would if it was bad enough, believe me.”

“I know her too ya’ know,” Jean said, “I know how she is.”

“And she isn’t mad at you,” I added. Jean’s eyes flicked toward me, then back to Eren.

“Whatever. Can we just, like, drop it?” he asked.

Eren and I both nodded. Eren asked, “What do you want to do now?”

Jean shrugged. “My stomach hurts. Can’t stop thinking about it.” His hands pulled away from the table, and both of them rested on his stomach. I wouldn’t call it pinching exactly, but he was definitely prodding at it. His eyes were honed in on his crust, the only food left on his plate.

“Maybe you should write,” I said.

Eren cocked his head my direction. He frowned, and I put my finger up to silence him before he asked any questions that might discourage Jean.

“What would I write?” Jean asked.

“Whatever you want.”

“You could talk shit about us,” Eren said.

“I think what Eren means is: you could start a journal.”

“Yeah. Sure. That,” Eren said.

Jean ran his fingers through his hair. “Yeah. Yeah, Okay. But uh…but, I’ll probably screw up a lot of the words.”

“I can edit it if you want,” I said, “Or if you don’t want anyone to see it…I guess it doesn’t really matter if the words are right.”

Jean’s face softened then, and my heart swelled at the sight. He looked the most handsome when his face was vulnerable like that, when his features weren’t hardened by a smirk or a sneer. I wanted so much to kiss him. More than anything, I wanted to wrap him in my arms and lay in bed with him all day, but I couldn’t.

Just as Jean’s face had, Eren’s face relaxed too. He looked like he might reach out for Jean, the way one of his hands rose and almost immediately fell to his side again. It was endearing, and I was surprised it didn’t bother me to see it. If anything, seeing Eren ache for Jean’s happiness made me feel closer to him. We both had the same goal.

We ended up sitting on the couch, with X-men Origins on. Apparently Jean loved these movies. Jean sat between us with his laptop in his lap. He would go several minutes of uninterrupted typing, and then out of nowhere his fingers would hover over the keyboard for several seconds as he stared at the screen. His face twisted into confusion. The more he wrote, the more he squinted at the screen. He high-lighted huge portions of what he’d written, and made the font size much larger than was normally necessary for someone with decent sight. Sometimes he changed the fonts of certain words. He complained more than once that the letters on the buttons were too small. They were too indistinct.

But he smiled, and both Eren and I noticed it. He smiled every once in a while. His smile was shy, nothing like the cocky grins I was used to. This smile looked like it might blow away in the wind.

The rest of the night, Jean stayed on that computer. His hands never touched his stomach. When it was time to eat, he did. He ate absently with one hand, while his other stayed on the keyboard. It was like he was on autopilot. He even drank the Ensure.

Eren and I kept catching each other grinning at him, and when one of us would notice the other staring, we’d both get embarrassed, both look away, and return our attention to Jean, who didn’t notice a thing.

Chapter Text

Eren

Jean slept a lot more these days. He told me that the reason he was sleeping so much more was that he was finally able to sleep, but I had my doubts. I hadn’t forgotten the bruises. In the last four days they had faded some, and Marco and I had been doing a good job of keeping his hands off his stomach. But that didn’t change the fact that the bruises had been put there intentionally. Marco had told me that when the doctor had asked him if he had ever considered suicide, Jean hadn’t answered the question.

Maybe to someone else it would look like Jean simply didn’t want to answer the question. It would look like he was rebelling. Just another way to be uncooperative.

But I knew better. He didn’t answer the question because he knew he’d have to tell the truth. He was too awful at lying. The only reason he’d been able to convince Marco and I at all that he didn’t have an eating disorder was because for so long he genuinely believed he didn’t have one. He could lie to himself, just not to others.

Jean had just gone to bed. A few minutes ago, it’d been time to weigh him. We weighed him each day just before bed.

It was my least favorite time of the day.

In order to do it Jean had to undress. He stood in his boxers, shivering because he still had such a high intolerance to the cold. He crossed his arms, looking for all the world like a small child, and stared at the ceiling while Marco and I both pretended not to feel weird about being in the room with Jean almost completely naked.

It wasn’t as if either of us were checking him out. It would have been impossible in that state, with Jean about to have a breakdown because he couldn’t read how much he weighed and we couldn’t tell him either. I had to cover the number on the scale with my hand in case he tried to peek, and Marco tried to calm him down some and keep him distracted.

No, it wasn’t about checking him out. It was about Jean feeling completely undignified and vulnerable in front of the two people who loved him most, and feeling so ashamed because of it.

That wasn’t the worst of it either. Jean was literally never allowed to be in the bathroom with the door closed.

Most of the time, Mikasa was over and she stood in the doorway with her headphones in. It helped that they’d lived together for so long that an open-door arrangement wasn’t entirely new to them.

Jean had said something like, “Do you really have to supervise me take a shit?”

Mikasa had looked at him with a bored expression. “I helped an eighty five year old man pull a beer bottle out of his ass this morning. If you think you’re the highlight of my day, don’t flatter yourself.”

Then she put her headphones back in and occupied herself on her phone.

If she wasn’t around, it was Marco or I that had to do it. He wasn’t nearly as irritated with us. He skipped irritation and went right to horribly embarrassed and pissed off at us, even though we gave him as much privacy as we could.

Things outside of the bathroom were no better. Jean couldn’t sleep alone. Marco and I had tried to take turns sleeping on the floor, the other on the couch, but Jean had gotten up in the middle of the night. He’d snuck around me while I’d been sleeping on the floor, and threw up his dinner. His coughing and yakking had woken me up.

I found him crouched in front of the toilet, hugging his knees to his chest and sobbing into his arm.

“I don’t need to hear your shit,” he sobbed. “I know I fucked up. I know, I know.”

I’d helped him off the floor. He didn’t have the strength in his legs to push himself up anymore, not without using both his arms to help. He was so weak and fragile. I often worried he’d fall and break something. I held his hand on the way back to bed, and he didn’t ask me any questions when I climbed in with him. Without a word, I wrapped my arm around him at the same time he pulled it toward him. I held him close to my chest all night, using my body heat to warm him and my arm to prevent him from getting up again.

The next morning, I told Marco to sleep in the bed with him. His eyebrows rose, and I told him what happened the night before.

He had bit his lip, rubbing the back of his neck and looking away from me. “Yeah. Okay. Are you uh…you sure you don’t want to do it?”

“Do what?” I had asked.

“Just…I don’t mind sleeping on the couch every night.”

I had shaken my head. “You don’t have to do that.”

“What am I doing?”

“Acting like he’s mine or something,” I had replied.

“I don’t mean to act like he’s…yours,” he had replied, “I just think...what are we doing here? I mean, we both…we’re both acting like his boyfriend. Someone’s going to get hurt.”

I had shrugged. “Yeah? So what? As long as it’s not Jean I don’t give a shit.”

“Yeah?” Marco had asked.

“Yeah.”

Marco had sighed. “You’re right.”

That night, Marco slept in the bed with Jean. I had no doubt in my mind that Jean wrapped Marco’s arm around him too. I wouldn’t say it hurt, exactly. I knew that Jean loved me, and I knew that he loved Marco too, and I was beginning to understand that this was how it was going to be. Just as I had loved Armin and Jean at the same time, he would love Marco and me.

Was that so bad?

I couldn’t be mad at him for loving both of us. It wasn’t something he could help.

And besides, I liked Marco. I liked his calm presence. I liked that he never lost his cool. I liked that his first concern was always the people around him, before himself. He was a good man, and other than Armin, I didn’t know if I would describe anyone else that way. Not even Jean or I really fit my own description of a good man.

In any case, he understood Jean. Each day he helped Jean on the computer with his writing. Marco edited the portions that Jean didn’t mind him reading. He was able to correct Jean’s mistakes, and help him with his dyslexia without ever getting frustrated, the way I would. If I did it, I would just get angry. Not at Jean, but angry that he had dyslexia, angry that it was so hard for him, and Jean would interpret it as anger at him.

Marco was usually the one that was able to convince him to eat. He did it in such a way that he was always able to treat Jean as if he wasn’t sick at all. He explained it to me that way. If we wanted Jean to get better, if we wanted him to eat, we needed to stop acting like he was broken.

Marco had everyday conversations with Jean while he ate, in a way that was hard for me to do. I was usually too focused on how much he was eating, too preoccupied with worrying about him to have a conversation.

Marco agreed with Jean when he said the food was gross. He ate with him, and ate slowly like Jean did, as if he was anywhere near as picky about what he was eating as Jean.

I kept eating a lot. Marco told me I needed to do that. Jean needed to see how little he was eating in comparison. Together, we made it happen. Jean ate six meals a day.

It was going as well as it could, I thought. We’d known it would be hard, that there would be some slipups, but Jean had gained two pounds in the last four days. That didn’t sound like much to me, but Mikasa told me that was a good number for just four days.

Tonight was my turn to sleep in the bed with Jean. I would never let on to Marco how much this excited me. But he probably knew, maybe he even felt the same way.

After cleaning up the kitchen with Marco – yeah, we did shit like that together now – I turned to him. “I’m going to bed.”

Marco looked at the clock on the stove, then nodded. He was in nothing but his sweatpants and a tank top. His brown arms were strong, and flexing as he scrubbed the pan we’d used to make an egg bake. I was beginning to memorize the patterns of the freckles that faded the closer they got to his fingers.

I remembered those arms wrapping around Jean’s slight waist each morning before he went to work. Each morning, his eyes flicked towards me as he did it, as if he was afraid I was going to yell at him not to touch Jean. How could I though? When the two of them looked so fucking precious like that together? When Jean looked so content in his arms, and so sad once he was gone?

“Good night,” Marco said, pulling me out of my trance. “Let me know if the TV gets too loud.” His tone was so somber I almost didn’t leave. The way he said it made me want to turn around and hug him, stay up for a while longer with him instead. His eyes were so big and glassy, if he had asked me to stay, I might not have been able to turn him down.

I wondered if he knew I wouldn’t be able to help Jean without him.

Yeah, I liked Marco a lot. More than I wanted to like Marco. There was a fear, deep inside of me, so deep that I couldn’t dig for it and uproot it, yet not so deep that I could prevent it from ever surfacing.

That fear, was that I would fall in love with him too, and Jean would choose Marco. Then, the two men I loved would live happily together, and I would never be able to resent them. I’d always be happy for them, and that was the worst kind of torture I could imagine.

For Marco was the first person I’d met in years that made me feel like I might be able to get over Jean. Armin had given me that feeling, and obviously he’d never succeeded fully. But maybe Marco could. He was never bothered by my temperament. He never got impatient or irrationally angry. I felt like he could accept who I was unconditionally. All my flaws, my quirks, my habits, anything, he could accept as part of me and learn to love it all.

But, that was assuming he would love me at all.

I shook that thought out of my head as I stepped into the bedroom, closing the door behind me. We kept the thermostat absurdly high for Jean, and it was impossible to sleep in a shirt. Tonight, I debated whether or not just to strip to my boxers. It was nothing Jean hadn’t seen before, and honestly, what good was the pretense?

Jean and I loved each other. And under other circumstances, I could just as easily be crawling in that bed with him about to fuck him. It was nothing Marco wasn’t aware of, and putting my pants on did nothing but remind me that Jean and I were playing the roles of “just friends”.

I pulled my sweats off and climbed into the bed next to him. He stirred almost immediately and rolled over in the darkness to face me. My eyes hadn’t adjusted yet. All I could feel were his hands resting on my chest. They were so cold Goosebumps rose on my skin.

“You’re warm,” he breathed, and curled closer to me. “God damn furnace.”

My heart ached. Oh God, it ached. I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him closer to warm him. He wore two long-sleeved t-shirts and sweatpants. He was covered in more than one comforter and he was still this chilly.

“Sorry I woke you,” I whispered.

He shook his head. I still couldn’t really see him. The only way I could tell he had shaken his head was from his hair brushing back and forth against my skin. “Wasn’t sleeping.”

“Why not?”

He shrugged. “No reason.”

“I bet,” I said. Jean was quiet for a few minutes, long enough I thought maybe he had ended up falling asleep. Then his fingers trailed across my chest and he sighed.

“I love you,” he said, under his breath. “I haven’t…haven’t said it since our fight. Before that actually. We haven’t even…haven’t even talked about it.”

“’S ancient history,” I said into his hair.

“I never meant it like that,” he said. “I wanted to tell you. I thought I was saying something different. In my head it was all different. It – It – I can’t explain it, but you gotta believe me – what came out of my mouth wasn’t what I was thinking.”

“Shh,” I whispered, “I know, baby.”

I hadn’t actually known. Not at all. But once he said it, I figured it was obvious. He never could figure out what order to put words in and how to say it. The relief was so overwhelming I became lightheaded, and grinned into his hair. My fingers stroked his cheeks.

“It should have never happened…And then I…I feel awful, ‘cause if I said shit right, you wouldn’t have gotten mad, and I wouldn’t have seen Marco, and we wouldn’t…we wouldn’t be here right now.”

“You’d still be sick,” I argued. Even I knew that one way or another, what Jean was going through right now had to happen. It was a long time coming.

He shook his head. “Not what I meant.”

“You’re doing it again.” I chuckled. He shoved me, so weakly, I could have mistaken it for a caress. My eyes started to adjust, although I could really only make out the angles of his body, which I tried not to look at.

Before Jean spoke again, a loud static ringing noise started coming from the bathroom. Marco had gotten in the shower, apparently. It was almost loud enough to drown out Jean’s voice.

“I mean…Now you guys are both – you know what I mean. You’re both fucking taking care of me and you’re both – God damn it. I feel like an idiot talking like this. It’s so fucking lame and embarrassing.”

“We’re both in love with you,” I said, so he didn’t have to.

He groaned, impressively, even for him. He slapped my chest again. I barely felt it.

“Shut up.”

“’S true,” I replied, “Do you really think I’d feed your ego just ‘cause? ‘S true, that’s why.”

He shook his head. “I don’t know what to do. I want you both.”

I shrugged. Then I kissed his forehead, because I couldn’t stop myself. “Stop thinking about it. You got other shit to worry about. The only thing that matters right now is your health.”

He nodded, but then he did something he shouldn’t have done.

He kissed me, and – oh, sweet fucking heaven.

Didn’t matter how many times he did this to me, it always took me somewhere else for just a second. It was like remembering every time I ever doubted whether or not a God was out there was slapping me in the face.

“Don’t let me choose him,” he whispered. He placed his hand on the side of my face. His eyes, almost black in the darkness, met mine with an intensity I couldn’t picture in the midst of war. “Don’t let me hurt you again. Don’t let me fuck up. I know it’s you. It’s gotta be.”

“You just said you wanted us both,” I breathed, my head still in the clouds.

“Yeah well, I can’t have both, can I? And it…it doesn’t matter if I love him. I love you too. I’ve loved you longer. You know me better.”

For some God-forsaken reason, I shook my head. I didn’t know why I shook my head, because my head agreed with him. My head had been saying this shit for years. It was me. It had always been me. I was the only one that was ever going to be right for him, so why the fuck was I shaking my damn head like I disagreed? Was I just fucking predestined to always disagree with Jean even when I didn’t fucking want to?

I could have screamed.

But I didn’t. I said, “You love me differently than you love him. He knows you differently than I know you. I know, because you told him you want to write, and you would have never told me that.”

Jean was momentarily thrown off guard. His eyebrows furrowed, and his eyes focused on something that wasn’t in the room with us. They drifted, before he looked at me again. “What?”

I shrugged the pain off, trying to act like it didn’t hurt. “You told him you wanted to write. You think I didn’t realize you never told me?”

“That’s – that’s different. When I told him that I wasn’t even thinking. I was just saying it cause it came to mind and I knew he wouldn’t ya’ know –he didn’t know I had dyslexia.”

“You told him you had dyslexia too, though,” I said. “That’s something I never see you tell strangers. You refuse to even tell your teachers.”

“He figured it out,” Jean snapped. I rubbed his back as soothingly as I could. I couldn’t handle fighting with him right now. I wouldn’t make it.

“Yeah, but when he found out did you stop talking to him?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked.

I shrugged. “Nothing.”

“Yeah fucking right. What the fuck are you talking about, Eren?”

I sighed. Too late now. This was happening. I couldn’t even kiss him again, God damn it. I should know by now never to take a kiss from him for granted.

“In high school, when you found out you had dyslexia you kind of just…just stopped talking to everyone,” I said.

“Yeah, because they kept calling me a retard.”

“But I didn’t call you that,” I said, “I didn’t give you shit for your dyslexia. So why’d you stop talking to me?”

We were silent. It stretched on, nothing but the sound of his breath and my pulse in my ear. The ringing from the shower. The whirring from the vents, blowing heat into the room.

He rolled over and faced away from me.

“Jean?” I asked. My heart thudded hard. My hands were trembling. Why did I let these things happen? Why couldn’t I ever keep my mouth shut for the sake of my own sanity? It was like I loved being hurt by him.

“Because,” he said, “You were…when people found out I had dyslexia, you became the shit. You were the one everyone wanted to invite everywhere. You were the one every girl in the school wanted. You were the one everyone cheered for at games. It used to be I’d catch the ball and run it into the endzone, and they’d cheer. Then you’d kick the field goal. When everyone found out I had dyslexia…it was like I wasn’t on the team anymore. Like I wasn’t even there.”

I sighed. I almost laughed even. “You know you were that person before it was me right?”

“Yeah, okay, I fucking know that. And now I don’t give a shit about it, but in high school, it mattered. You weren’t like me. I don’t even know why I was popular. I was a blunt dick. I treated everyone like shit. I was a flat out bully to some people.”

He cleared his throat and shook head in the sheets. His hands curled into the blankets and pulled them over his shoulder.

“I guess in high school that sort of shit is cool. But you were popular and nice. You picked the dorkiest nerd in the whole school to go out with. I mean, wasn’t Armin like in chess club, for fuck’s sake? Every cheerleader was pissed. You were so much better than me, once you became popular. And it – it bothered me, okay? I thought you were going to ya’ know. Forget about me. Like everyone else had.”

We were quiet again. I was searching for a way to explain my actions in high school away. I didn’t know they had hurt him, I wasn’t even thinking about what I was doing. Hell, at the time I was just trying to stitch up my own damn heart. I hadn’t considered that Jean and I had both drifted apart because we both thought the other was forgetting about him.

God, we were too fucking alike for our own good.

“When you got so popular...I felt like you were gone. I mean, even before you started dating Armin. Like, way before you and Armin were even a thing. I thought I lost you, and that left me with no one,” he whispered.

My eyebrows rose, suddenly realizing something. “Except my sister. She probably felt the same way when I got that popular.”

“Uh yeah, she did.”

“Which is how you guys started hanging out and then…”

“Yeah.”

I blinked back the tears as it all started coming together. I pressed my hand to my own chest, as if I could somehow steady my heart. It had been years. So many years, and all Jean and I had to do was sit down and fucking talk to each other about it. But we’d tip-toed around this subject like broken glass on hardwood floors after a drunken night of smashing memories against walls, for so long it became two entirely different realities in our minds, and now we couldn’t undo it. Jean had spent five meaningless years with my sister, who had never loved him, and I had spent five years of my life praying I wouldn’t dream about him so I could still lie to myself and say I didn’t love him anymore.

I placed my hand on his waist. I couldn’t resist touching him. I curled up behind him and placed my lips on his neck. I trailed kisses along his neck until he sighed, and then placed my mouth on his ear. He whimpered. I knew what I was doing to him, and I kept doing it.

“Eren,” he breathed, biting his lip. His eyes rolled back a little. “Eren, come on what – what are you doing?”

“Missed you,” I said. “Missed you when you stopped talking to me. Missed touching you for so long.”

He sighed again. I started to pull up his shirt, and his fingers clenched. His eyes went wide.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, pulling my hand away. It hadn’t even occurred to me that he wouldn’t let me. It should have. My hand felt dirty for touching what wasn’t mine.

“I see the way you look at me,” he said, “When I get in the shower. You’re so disgusted with me.”

I jerked my head back like I’d been hit. Of all the things. I smiled. “Jean,” I whispered, kissing his neck again. “Thought I told you already. You’re never going to be disgusting to me.”

“I’m so skinny,” he said. “I mean, I know I am. I can’t tell, but I know I am. Armin showed me. I saw it in the mirror. I can’t imagine what I look like to you.”

I nodded. “You are, and we all want to help you gain weight. But it’s not as if the only thing I’ve ever found sexy about you is how skinny or big you are.”

He rolled over to face me. “Don’t lie to me.”

“I’m not.” I kissed his collar bone.

He stared at me long and hard for a moment, searching for a bluff. I wasn’t bluffing, so I let him.

“You sure?” he asked.

“Mmhmm. Gonna let me show you?” I stroked his cheek with my thumb, as I kissed along his jaw.

He bit his lip, sighing heavily, but his eyes flicked toward the door. I stopped kissing him, and moving my hands on him.

“Marco,” he said.

“I know,” I replied. “It’s cool.”

I pulled away from him and rolled onto my back. It was already late. I really should be sleeping. If I weren’t so fucking hard maybe that would be possible.

“It’s not that,” Jean said, “It’s just not fair to you.”

“’Cause you’d fuck around with Marco too?” I asked.

“Well…”

I nodded. “So, you’ve already been fucking around with him?”

Jean quickly shook his head, so fast he looked dizzy for a moment. “I haven’t even kissed him.”

My eyebrows rose. “Really?”

“Yeah,” he replied, “Told you, it’s not fair to you if I’m – this is why I brought this up earlier. I don’t think it’s fair to you guys. I have to choose. And…I – I’m choosing you. So I haven’t done anything with him.”

“But only because you think it should be me,” I said, “You’re picking me because it makes more sense, not because you love me more… Look, I get why you love Marco, okay? It’s not your fault you love him too. I get it. He’s… he’s like the greatest guy. I don’t blame you. I’m not mad.”

He was quiet for a moment, shifting in the bed so he rested on one elbow. I pinched my eyes shut, covering half my face with my hand, anticipating whatever blowback I’d asked for by telling the truth.

Jean laughed. I opened one eye and arched my eyebrow. “Holy shit,” he said.

“What?” I asked, sitting up in the bed. “What’s so funny?”

“You totally fucking like him.”

“What? I do not,” I blurted, blushing. I was so grateful for the dark. “I do not. You sound fucking stupid.”

Jean laughed again. “Dude, if anyone knows when you have a crush on someone, it’s me.”

“Really, because it escaped your attention that I’ve fucking loved you for five years,” I spit.

Jean shook his head. “Yeah, okay, I know. But I also fucking know how you act when you’re losing your shit over someone. You think he’s cute yet?”

“What do you mean ‘yet’?”

“I mean, it takes you forever to figure out you think someone is good-looking.”

“Does not.” I crossed my arms where I was laying.

“Uh-huh. Right. That’s why when you first met me you said I had a horse face.”

“I did not!” I yelled, loud enough that Marco could probably hear, even in the shower.

“Did too,” he said. “And you called me that for like the longest time when we were kids. But a few months into like…seventh grade, I think, you started staring at me in the corner of your eye and blushing a lot. I fucking know you, Jaeger. Don’t try to deny it.”

“Whatever, it doesn’t count. We were too young,” I grumbled. But now I had to think about it. Was I looking at Marco differently? Sure, when I met him it wasn’t hard to realize that he was good-looking. I meant that in the sense that it wouldn’t have been surprising to see someone like him on the cover of a magazine. Square jaw, button nose, big round eyes, adorable dimples and broad shoulders and silky hair and all that…

But it hadn’t meant much to me. It usually didn’t mean much to me when someone was good-looking. I never had that feeling of just looking at someone and thinking that I would fuck them just because. It hadn’t been like that with Marco either.

But would I fuck Marco now?

Jean laughed again, interrupting my train of thought. “I fucking caught you.”

“Shut up,” I grumbled again. “Shut up. Shut up. Shut up.” He wouldn’t stop laughing, so I shut him up by kissing him instead, even though part of me was secretly glad he was laughing. He hadn’t laughed like this around me in so long. He hadn’t been smiling at all since we got home from the hospital, save for once in a while when he was writing or editing with Marco.

He kissed back with more passion than I was expecting. He curled his fingers in my hair. His palms ran down my chest and arms. I moaned into his mouth. I felt so deprived of any contact, anything was making me feel sensitive. My body was shaking. My hands roamed along his body, down his back and over the swell of his ass. Jean groaned. I was about tear our clothes off, I didn’t fucking care. Marco could tune it out. I needed Jean.

But he pulled away. He panted. “Were you serious earlier?”

“Huh?” I blurted, “Wait, what?”

“Were you serious when you said I was only picking you because it made sense, not because I love you more?”

I sighed. My cock was fucking throbbing, but this was important. “Yeah.”

“You think I love him as much as I love you?” he asked.

I nodded, even though it still kind of stung that he’d fallen in love with Marco in such a short time. I still knew it to be true. “Of course.”

Jean pulled away. “And you don’t think I should choose you?”

I groaned, rubbing my face. “I don’t know what you should do, Jean. Do I want to be with you? Yeah, of course I fucking do. Want it more than anything. But this isn’t about me, and it’s not up to me. You have to fucking choose what the fuck you’re going to do. Pick me, pick him, don’t pick either of us, whatever. But don’t fucking pick me because it makes sense. I deserve more respect than that.”

Although, I didn’t understand why Marco was even an option. I hadn’t asked about him being engaged. When Jean went to the hospital, it was sort of the last thing on my mind. I had known that Jean needed Marco and that was all that had mattered to me at the time. But it was clear to me now that Marco still was hoping to be with Jean. He wasn’t acting on it, and he wasn’t putting those feelings first over Jean’s health, but he wasn’t trying to hide his affection either. What was the deal there? Was he planning on leaving his fiancé?

Jean sighed, pulling me away from my thoughts. The room was quiet now that the shower wasn’t running anymore.

Jean sighed. “You’re right.”

“I know,” I moaned. Of course I was. Why the fuck did I let myself talk?

“Ya’ know I can’t do anything with you until I figure my shit out,” he said. “It’s not fair to either of you.”

I nodded at him, and climbed out of the bed.

“Where’re you going?”

“Where do you think?” I said, gesturing to my tented boxers, “To fucking take care of this.”

Jean chuckled, covering his grin with his hand. “Sorry, man.”

“Don’t fucking ‘man’ me, okay,” I muttered, “I just fucking cock-blocked myself.”

Jean snickered, and I gave him the finger as I stepped out of his room –

And directly into Marco, wearing nothing but his towel around his waist.

Pellets of water glided down his smooth stomach and through his happy trail. Water droplets dove from loose strands of his wet, hair. The water meandered through his leg hair down to his feet, pooling on the floor in miniature puddles.

“Oh shit!” Marco said, grinning and swerving around me, using his fucking man hands on my shoulders to scoot me out of his way. As he was walking toward the living room, he said, “Sorry, didn’t think you’d be up or I’d have gotten dressed in there.”

I watched him walk away over my shoulder. Watching the muscles in his back roll as he reached for his discarded tank top on the couch. Watched the curve of his ass as he bent over to grab his sweats. Then I forced myself to look away, just as I heard the wet flop of his towel hit the ground.

“’S okay,” I choked out, delayed, and unsure whether or not he heard me.

I scooted into the bathroom, slumping to the floor behind the door and quickly locking it, before I gave Marco another opportunity to catch sight of my fucking boner. Thank God, I thought. Thank you God, I don’t thank you for much, but thank you so much for not letting that innocent dweeb you created see my raging hard-on.

And after thanking the Lord, I jerked off.

I don’t think I’d ever come from just my own hand so hard in my life. Both of them were in my mind, I couldn’t help it. I thought of Jean’s lips on my neck and the feeling of him inside of me. His hands on my hips, thrusting into me so fucking good that in my mind I let myself scream. I thought of what Marco would look like crouched in front of me, his back arched and all his muscles flexed, with those full, perfect lips of his wrapped around my cock and those innocent eyes looking up at me like he couldn’t get enough and then coming on his –

All over the fucking bathroom floor, and on my own Goddamn face, and in my own Goddamn hair, biting my hand so I didn’t fucking scream either of their names, because it was so fucking good.

Hallelujah, Amen.

I sat on the floor, for a good ten minutes just cooling off and cleaning the damage done to the bathroom up. It wasn’t until I dampened my hair and washed my face that I realized something Jean had done earlier.

When Jean had pointed out that I had a crush on Marco – and oh, I did – he wasn’t jealous.

He didn’t mind that I had feelings for him any more than I minded that he did.

I crawled back into bed with Jean, and wrapped him even more tightly into my arms. He was asleep, but even unconscious his body knew to curl into me.

I stayed up much too late, with my hand on his chest so that I could feel his slow heartbeat.

Chapter Text

Marco

After Eren took his week off of work, I begged my work to let me take off time too, since Eren had to go back. I took two sick days, and three vacation days, but I made it happen. Eren hadn’t asked me to, of course, but I saw the relief in his eyes when I told him I’d be able to take care of him so Mikasa wouldn’t. It amazed me that he was relieved I would be taking care of him, because he trusted me enough to do it. The more I was around Eren, the more I was amazed that he didn’t mind me being there.

When this began – taking care of Jean – I was constantly waiting for the moment someone pointed out that I really didn’t need to be here. I wasn’t as close to him as Eren was, nor as available as Mikasa was. But his apartment felt more like my home now than my own did.

Tonight, Jean had gone to bed early. Eren had gone in the room with him, although he’d told me he wasn’t planning on staying in there long. He’d lay in there until Jean fell asleep, and since it was Friday, my night this time, I’d go in there later.

The living room had practically become Eren and I’s bedroom. There was a small stack of my clothes on the recliner, next to Eren’s clothes. The coffee table was cluttered in cups filled with water. We always managed to miss the dishes we brought to bed with us at dinner time the next day. There was a bottle of aspirin, and a bunch of Eren’s diabetic stuff I made sure never to touch. Our phone chargers, our wallets, and our keys sat on the coffee table too. Eren’s laptop was at the end of the couch, and Jean’s Nook was plugged into it charging.

He’d been using it a lot more, recently. Whenever he handed the computer over for me to edit his writing, he read on there.

A lot of what he wrote about was his struggles with eating. He wrote about being unable to eat the rubbery food. He wrote about missing the burn in his lungs as he ran. He wrote about how fucking annoying we were, because we never left him alone. And he wrote about missing the mirrors.

This was only what he’d let me see. There were dozens of pages he wouldn’t let me see. He deserved that, I thought. We gave him no privacy, he deserved his thoughts at least.

Eren had asked me, “Do you think we should read it? He wouldn’t have to know.”

I had shaken my head. “What good would it do? We’re already supervising him. He’s doing so much better.”

Eren had sighed, “Yeah, I know. But…what if there’s something…wrong? What if he’s…ya’ know. Like, suicidal?”

It had made my heartbeat stumble. Eren’s eyes had met mine. They were wide, and looked for all the world like he had just seen Jean’s headstone.

“Do you think he is?” I had rasped.

Eren shrugged. “I don’t know. I think he would be hurting himself if we weren’t here. And…I mean, look how bad he got when we didn’t realize he was anorexic. We…we don’t want to not notice this one.”

I had nodded. He was right.

And I almost did it. I almost opened up the files he had saved that weren’t meant for us, before I closed it.

I hadn’t closed it out of any sense of ethics. It wasn’t my conscience that made me close the laptop.

It was the fear of what I’d find. “No,” I had said, “We’re here. If he’s suicidal, he can’t do anything about it. We just have to make sure he’s…we just have to try to show him we’re here for him.”

Eren hadn’t looked like he agreed. “We are here for him. That’s why we should look.”

“But do we want to lose his trust? We’re all he has.”

Eren bit his lip, and laced his fingers behind his neck. “Okay, yeah. You’re right.”

So, we agreed not to look, but I thought we both knew that if there was any sign that Jean was going to hurt himself, we would. We weren’t above calling the ambulance, and we weren’t above invading his privacy if we needed to.

Thankfully, we hadn’t needed to. Jean had smiled almost all day today. For early November, it had been unseasonably warm here. The plow had gone through and the pavement of the parking lot was visible. The snow had melted. It wasn’t slippery anymore.

Eren, Jean and I had gone out into the parking lot to toss the football around. Mostly, they laughed at how incapable I was at throwing the ball properly, but Jean and Eren had had fun tossing it back and forth too. At one point, Eren had tackled me into the snowbank bordering the parking lot. He had landed on top of me. I’d been drenched completely from the shoulders down, and again, Jean had laughed his ass off.

Eren had helped me out of the snow, apologizing profusely and wiping the snow off of me. He had been blushing a lot. “Sorry,” he had said, “Can’t tackle that idiot over there. Guess it had to be you.”

We both looked at Jean, who hadn’t heard him speak. He was too thin to be tackled, too fragile, and I had wondered if he would ever be healthy enough again to play football the way he had in high school. By the look of longing in Eren’s eyes, as he watched Jean throw the ball in the air and leap to catch it, he had been thinking something similar.

I hoped the reason Jean had gone to bed early tonight was simply because he was exhausted. Today he’d gotten more physical activity than he had in two weeks.

Now, Eren came out of the bedroom, closing the door as quietly as he could behind him. He was wearing nothing but his sweats.

Oh God, he was doing that a lot. The thermostat was so high and being in this place could be unbearable. I had a tolerance for heat that Eren didn’t seem to have, probably because I was a Texan.

It was the last thing I needed. Here Jean was sick, and in need of fucking twenty four hour care from me and Eren, half the time needing to hold his hand after ate to stop him from running to the bathroom, and I was somehow capable of being distracted by Eren. But how could I not? I wasn’t used to half-naked men being around me (shitty excuse, I knew). I was still getting used to Jean’s good looks, let alone Eren’s on top of it. And Eren was so oblivious to how attractive he was. All the time.

“He’s asleep,” he said. His voice was caught between a sigh and a groan. “He kept complaining he was too full to sleep. We better watch him tonight.”

I nodded. Since the first night Jean had manage to sneak out of the bedroom and throw up in the middle of the night, he’d done it twice more. Once in the morning after I’d gone to work, and once when I’d accidentally fallen asleep on the recliner at the same time Eren had fallen asleep on the couch.

He still took every opportunity he could get, and one of us would find him crumpled on the bathroom floor, squeezing his stomach and crying because he had thrown up.

He had looked at me when I caught him. “I couldn’t not.”

“I know,” I replied. “It’s okay.”

“You know I don’t like it right?” he had asked, “You know I fucking hate making myself do it right? I can’t help it. I can’t stop myself.”

“I know, I know,” I had said, trying to keep my voice calm, even though I didn’t know at all. He stood up from the floor, tipping into my chest because he’d lost his balance. I let him wash off his face and brush his teeth. Then I had walked him back into his bedroom. He hugged me.

“What if I don’t get better?” he whispered. I hugged him tighter.

“You will.” I pressed my lips into his hair. Not quite a kiss, just resting against him.

“But what if I don’t? Or what if it takes forever? You aren’t – you aren’t going to get sick of me are you? You won’t leave right?”

I had pulled away to look him in the eyes. I placed one hand on either side of his face. “I’m not ever going to leave you for something you can’t help. You are going to get better. It might take a long time, but you will. And I’ll be here the day you step on the scale and reach your goal weight. I’ll be so happy.”

Jean bit his lip. He hugged me again, and nodded into my chest. He never let himself be that vulnerable when the sun was up. When it was day time, he was only ever annoyed with us. He was irritated, angry, exhausted, and complained too much about everything. He acted as if his eating disorder was an inconvenience, as if Eren and I were too.

But when the sun set the barriers fell and Eren and I got to see what was really going on in his head. It hurt so much to see it, and it was so terrifying, I preferred his attitude in the daylight.

That night, I kissed him. Jean kissed me back, just a foot away from where Eren laid unconscious in his bed, and I hated myself. Jean looked like he did too. He crawled back into bed with Eren.

This was also why it was so shitty of me to let myself get distracted by Eren. There was enough conflicting emotions already, let alone me blushing at the sight of his chest hair and his taut stomach as he sank into the end of the couch I wasn’t using. He rubbed his face.

“I’ll be up a while,” I reassured him. “And you’ll be gone early tomorrow. He won’t have the opportunity to throw up.”

Eren nodded.

“He’s doing better, Eren.”

Eren’s eyes snapped open. “I know that. I know he is. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t…doesn’t hurt.”

I nodded.

“Can you believe he was like…twenty pounds heavier than me in high school? Granted…I was kind of a twig… but still.”

I shook my head. I couldn’t believe it, but I wanted to. I’d seen photos. I could imagine a day when he’d be that heavy again.

“He’ll get there,” I said, because I wanted to believe it. I wanted to have the hope. Seeing him today, it was hard not to feel like my chest was full of sunlight. He had looked beautiful, in the sunshine, leaping for the ball and tossing it back to Eren. He had looked healthy.

Eren nodded. “Hey, did I hear you on the phone earlier?”

I sighed, and nodded. “Yeah.” Hitch had called me to let me know that she had arranged a time and a date to see her parents. We were seeing her parents a week before thanksgiving, and she wanted me to call my own parents to make plans around the same time.

“That your girl?” Eren asked.

I laughed, humorlessly. “Yeah. I guess Hitch would be ‘my girl’.”

“Well aren’t you…ya’ know, engaged? Look – I’m not judging. Got bigger things to think about. I guess I’m just…just curious.”

I nodded, but couldn’t meet his gaze. Of course he’d been wondering. He’d probably been wondering about it for a while. “Yeah, I am, technically. But she has a boyfriend. We’re not – We’re – It’s complicated. She doesn’t love me, and I’m gay.”

Eren’s eyebrows rose in understanding. His mouth formed an exaggerated ‘O’ shape. “So, how’d that happen?”

I sighed, and adjusted my sitting position on the couch so that my legs were crossed and facing him. He laced his hands over his stomach. “We dated. I uh – I’m not out to my family or anything. And I never really uh…intended to come out. I was dating her just to –”

“Wait,” he interrupted, and he even raised his hand to stop me. “Why weren’t you going to come out?”

“My family would disown me if they ever knew,” I replied. Eren’s eyebrows rose and he shook his head.

“That’s just…That’s fucking crazy. I mean, my parents didn’t take it well either. Which is totally fucked up, because I’m adopted ya’ know? How are you going to go through all the trouble of adopting a kid and then decide certain types of kids aren’t good enough? It’s fucked up…but they got over it. Kind of. As well as any parents do. Yours might come around too. Either way dude, you shouldn’t live your life like that.” His eyes darkened a little. He shook his head before he returned his attention to me.

I smiled slightly. It was nice seeing him like this. When I had first met Eren, I wouldn’t have thought him capable of being so empathetic. Then again, we met under some less than favorable circumstances.

“They won’t accept me,” I said, “And…well, I met Jean before I knew Hitch was pregnant. And when I met him it was like – It was like waking up. Because I realized I just don’t care. I don’t care enough about keeping my family in my life to give up my life.

“No shit. But hadn’t you uh…was Jean your…?”

I blushed, and rubbed my neck. “Yeah.”

“Ho-ly shi-it,” Eren said, enunciating and exaggerating each syllable. “Jesus.”

“Yeah, I know. And then Hitch called me like two days later to tell me I’m going to be a dad and…I don’t know. I want to be one. I really do, and if my parents disown me…they’re disowning my baby too.”

Eren and I were quiet for a second. Eren had a way about him, his thoughts usually filled up the space of the room. Even when it was quiet, even if I couldn’t see him, it was like I could tell he was in the room. I could always feel his thoughts thinking about me.

Eren leaned closer to me on the couch. “It’s crazy to me that people like us really only have each other. I was always jealous of other people, because they had their real parents and I only had the ones that took me in. But really, when I think about it, what does that even mean? So what if they have their ‘real’ parents? Their parents have probably told them their whole lives they would love them no matter what, right? But would they? What if they were like us?”

He paused, and squinted at his hands as he tried to organize his thoughts. His words had hit strong, and now I could think of nothing to say. I knew I would remember this conversation for the rest of my life.

Eren continued, “I think that’s the worst part about being…whatever I am. Or the worst part about being like me, Armin or you, is that we were told the same thing, and believed it. But it was a lie, and our parents – ‘real’ or not – don’t even consider it a lie, because being gay or bi or whatever wasn’t on their list of possible no-matter-whats. It wasn’t something they ever told themselves they would have to love no matter what, because in their eyes it wasn’t something that a parent should be expected to accept.”

I nodded, because that was all I could manage. My vision had clouded with tears, but I was blinking them back. His green eyes softened as he studied my expression.

“You know what’s great about being gay?”

“What’s that?” I choked.

“You pick your own damn family,” he said. “People always say you can’t pick your family, but you can. Because people like us do it all the fucking time, and we always have. Your baby isn’t going to miss your parents because they won’t be your baby’s family.”

His face was so close to mine. I could feel the warmth of his cheeks and his gaze dug deep inside of me and found everything about myself I tried to hide and the worst part is he didn’t mind it. He didn’t mind what he saw in me the way others might. Eren was a judgmental man, that was for certain, but somehow I knew that he had judged me and had decided I was worth his time.

I didn’t know how long we stayed like that, both of us just inches apart, looking into each other’s eyes, before his fingers landed on my cheek the same way a butterfly might.

He swallowed. His eyes were so intense, glassy, terrified. “I love Jean.”

I nodded. My body was shaking. “I do too.”

His fingers curled around the nape of my neck, and threaded through my hair. I shivered.

Eren leaned closer. “Jean says I fall in love too easily, but I can think of only two people I’ve ever loved, and one of them was not nearly as much as I loved him.”

“I’ve never loved anyone but Jean.”

His other hand came to the side of my face. It was even more slowly than the last. He was waiting to see if I’d reject him. He was waiting in vain. He swallowed again, clearing his throat. He looked away, then looked back, and then away again. “I feel the way I did when I was starting to love Jean…but with you.”

“Me too,” I breathed. One more second passed. One more second we both decided not to stop what was about to happen.

His nose bumped into mine, and then our lips met.

I’d kissed many women in my life. Over a dozen, from my first kiss to Hitch.

But it wasn’t until I’d kissed Eren that I realized each person had their own kiss, like their own signature, and their own fingerprint, and their own mannerisms, and sleeping patterns and footprints. Jean’s kiss was firm. His kiss devoted itself to the person he was kissing. His lips had trusted mine, had been my lips’ guardian. They were soft in comparison to the rest of him, and had guided me when I was only beginning to understand what I had missed out on for so many years.

Eren’s kiss was a thief. It was so fast, and it stole the imprint of my kiss right from my lips. It was passionate, longing, lonely, and reckless. When his lips parted from mine, they might as well have been running off into the distance, never to be caught and tried for their crime.

I exhaled. So did he. We waited for it to feel wrong together. For the other to pull away and try to explain the kiss away. Blame it on stress. The heat of the moment. Blame it on how late it was, or how pent up we’d been for two weeks.

Neither of us did that and none of it was true.

That was why I wrapped my hands around his waist and pulled him back to me. He was already with me, adjusting his body so that he could straddle me. He kissed me and each time he kissed me he stole more breath from me. I let my hands roam on his body. They explored his stomach, his chest, his shoulders and his back, until he was grinding against me and I was getting too hard for him not to notice.

He said nothing. He lifted my shirt off, and let his lips trail all over my neck and my chest as he continued to grind against me. He did it until I was gasping and clawing onto the couch. Then he pulled away from me and my skin practically reached for him. He raised his hand to indicate that I should wait. I wasn’t sure how I managed, but as he located his wallet on the counter and ran to the bathroom, I waited.

It was enough time for me to become nervous. For me to try to straighten out my hair, and to smell my shirt and see how bad it reeked, to wonder when I had showered last, and whether or not my shave had been so lazy this morning that I’d missed patches of stubble.

When his legs straddled mine again, bottle of lotion in hand, I was shaking for a different reason.

“You okay?” he asked, and placed his hands on either side of my face. My heart skidded and stumbled back into a slow and rhythmic pace. When his hands were on me it was impossible to feel anything less than reassured.

“Yeah, just uh…I wasn’t kidding when I said Jean was my first. I uh…”

He kissed me.

“’S okay,” he replied. “Do you want to keep going?”

I nodded.

“That’s all I needed to hear,” he replied, and then he scooted down my body and tugged at my sweats. He brought my boxers down with it, and I shuddered. I’d been nervous when Jean had seen me, and I was nervous with him. But Eren’s gaze devoured me. He kissed me, my stomach, my hips, my hardness, and kept going. He kissed me until I wasn’t insecure, and once I wasn’t insecure, his lips wrapped around me.

Oh, God. It was as good as last time. His mouth was different than Jean’s but it was just as blissful. I fought to keep my hips still as his head slid slowly up and down my length. I moaned his name after a bit, warning him that his mouth felt too good. It was too much. When I said that, he had the nerve to lick up and down it, and I threw my head back because the sight was bringing me to the edge alone.

But he pulled away, and I sighed in relief, covering my face with one hand because my cheeks were absolutely burning. He pulled my hand away so that he could kiss me.

Together we got his sweat pants off, and I was once again confronted with my inexperience.

Eren chuckled. “You don’t have to.”

I bit my lip. Jean hadn’t made me do it either, but when I was with Jean I had decided not to do it simply because I thought having sex with him that night was going to be my last time having sex with a man for potentially the rest of my life. I hadn’t wanted to do anything to mess it up. I almost burst into a grin when I realized that the reason I was contemplating doing it now was because I intended to have sex with men until I pruned into an old man and maybe even then too; I didn’t give a shit.

I knelt on the floor in front of him.

“I know,” I said, and kissed his tummy. His fingers ran through my hair. “But I want to. Just…I just don’t know how.”

Eren sank further into the couch cushions, lazily running his fingers through my hair and tilting his head back against the couch. “It’s easy, really. Don’t let porn fool you. Just watch your teeth, and you pretty much can’t fuck it up. Oh – and don’t choke yourself. That’s pretty damn important.”

I laughed so hard I had to cover my mouth, and Eren was grinning too. “Seriously?” I asked.

By ‘seriously’, I meant ‘did he seriously just say that?’ But he had taken it literally.

He shrugged. “Yeah. Unless you want to choke or something, but that isn’t all it’s chalked up to be either.”

I laughed again so hard no noise came out and he was laughing too. I shook my head, mad at myself that this was happening and simultaneously enthralled. Sex had never been like this for me.

“Okay, okay,” I said, still swallowing laughter. “I’ll try not to choke.”

“Yeah, do that,” he replied. He kept running his fingers through my hair, smiling at me so endearingly that I couldn’t possibly feel insecure.

I placed my hands on his stomach, running my fingers over his abs until I realized he had two firm bumps on his stomach, right by his hip bones that usually weren’t defined no matter how muscular someone was. It didn’t look right. I glanced at him. He shrugged.

“My insulin shots,” he explained. “They make the places I inject myself with swollen. Got ‘em on my legs too.”

I nodded. I’d seen him inject himself in both his stomach and his legs, but I hadn’t realized what it did to him. I kissed the bumps on his stomach, running my fingers over them gently. He hummed.

I let my hands glide down to his muscular thighs. I kissed his body the way he had kissed mine. Not to reassure him or comfort him, but simply because I could. I kissed everywhere that he had, marveling at the feeling of his heat and the taste of his skin on my lips.

Without hesitating, I took him into my mouth, and almost instantly I moaned. God, I couldn’t even tell why I had moaned, but damn. My mouth had been waiting to do this for too damn long and I thought Eren agreed. His fingers tightened in my hair, almost pushing my head down as I worked my mouth on him.

He had been right. It was easy. It was natural. I knew what this felt like and I knew what made it feel good. Because of that, I knew what I was doing without having to learn like I’d had to with women.

“Shit, Marco,” he breathed, “I – Fuck, gotta get off of me, man. Feels too good.”

I moaned again with him in my mouth, tasting him, just thinking about making him come with nothing but my mouth. God, I’d spent more than one night alone with just my hand and me thinking about it.

But I pulled off. Another time, I reminded myself. This wasn’t the last time.

After that, Eren asked me what my preference was.

“My what?” I asked. He chuckled as I hoisted myself off the floor and back onto the couch next to him.

“What do you want to do? Do you like to top or bottom?” he asked.

I shrugged. “Doesn’t matter.”

“’Kay then. I like to bottom. That cool with you?”

I thought my eyes might have rolled back a little. He grinned, and gave me the option of prepping him or watching. Jesus, I couldn’t handle questions like that. I was too sensitive as is. He laughed, and I realized he was doing shit like that to screw with me. To see how I reacted because he thought it was amusing to fuck with a near-virgin like myself. I couldn’t even be mad at him for it.

I did it for him, opening him the way I had Jean. He kissed me while it was happening, and the more I thrust my fingers the more desperate and sloppy his kissing was. He slid the condom he’d grabbed from his wallet onto me.

I leaned back into the armrest of the couch, sitting up somewhat. Then he eased himself onto me, still straddling me, and I whimpered when it finally processed that he was going to ride me. My fingers latched on to his hips for dear life as he began lifting himself and sliding back down onto me. I covered my mouth so I wouldn’t scream, and I prayed I didn’t cry because he was so tight, and so hot, and so damn good.

His body surrounded me. His arms wrapped around my shoulders and his thighs hugged mine tightly. His lips were everywhere, biting my shoulders and sucking on them. Then they were on my own lips, hot and wet and needy. I tried to keep up with his lips, kissing him back. I damn near sobbed into our kissing as the pleasure started to coil inside of me. I couldn’t keep my eyes off his body. My fingers were sinking into his hips, but I couldn’t pry them off just as I hadn’t been able to pry them off Jean’s thighs that first night.

I moaned his name, and he was somewhere between growling and panting as he rode me faster. He was close, I thought. I remembered that when Jean had topped me, he had been the one to reach for my hardness as I was getting close, and I did that to Eren now. He covered his mouth as soon as I did, and I heard the muffled syllables of my name over and over and over as I stroked him.

He came on my stomach and I gasped at the sensation of it splattering against my skin. Eren didn’t stop riding me. He placed his hands on either side of my face and stroked my cheeks, whispering praises to me and encouraging me. I gripped onto his hips again and shuddered with my orgasm. Eren steadied his hips, and mercifully didn’t attempt to move for several minutes.

He kissed me that whole time.

When Eren did pull off, I stood and walked to the bathroom. I cleaned off my stomach, and my hand. Then I tied off the condom. Just before throwing it in the trash, I realized Jean would probably see it. I threw it in the trash anyway, but…

Only now was I realizing that I’d had sex with Eren without any intention of Jean finding out. Guilt wormed into my gut in place of the satiated ecstasy I’d felt a moment ago.

When I walked back to the living room, both Eren and I were naked still.

His eyes met mine, and I saw it in him too. Only he wasn’t like me. I felt guilty. I knew I had done something wrong, and I felt downright dirty. I certainly didn’t feel like I deserved to be with Jean and that was – Or I thought that was all I had wanted.

Now, I wasn’t sure.

But Eren didn’t look like he felt dirty. He looked terrified.

I sat on the couch next to him, reaching for my sweats and pulling them on.

“Hey,” I said, and I placed my hand on his thigh. “Are you –”

He stood up and pulled away from me. He fumbled around the room looking for his own pants and yanked them on. He snatched a T-shirt off our pile of clothing and pulled that on too.

“Eren?” I asked.

His eyes were still wide, looking far off.

“Eren,” I said again. He whipped his head in my direction. “Are you okay?”

He shook his head. “Why – what the fuck was I thinking?” He placed his own hand on his forehead as he shook his head back and forth. He rubbed his eyes, and when he pulled his palms away from them they were all blood shot and glossy.

“I – I’m sorry,” I said, “I wouldn’t have done it if I had known. Are you mad at me?”

Now I really felt guilty. My heart started hammering. Had I missed something? I had thought he’d wanted to do it, that he was excited to, even…but had I been mistaken?

He shook his head. “That can never happen again.”

His words were chopped, short, and his breath came in tiny puffs of cut off air as he struggled to breathe. His chest rose and fell too rapidly. His fists were clenched and white-knuckled.

“I’m sorry,” I said quietly, because I couldn’t muster the strength to scream exactly how sorry I was. He shook his head again, but not like he was disagreeing with me. Like he thought the room was an Etch-A-Sketch and he could just shake the image away.

“Never again,” he said, and he looked at me like a he was caught in a bear trap.

“Okay,” I reassured, hoping he couldn’t hear how much that stung in my voice. “We won’t. It was a mistake. It won’t happen again.”

He nodded.

But then he crumpled to the floor. Tentatively, I scooted on to the floor and inched my way toward him. I didn’t dare touch him. His body was so rigid, the slightest touch would set him off. Instead, I leaned back against the coffee table and waited for him to stop weeping.

Eventually, he laced his fingers behind his neck and turned his head to face me.

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

“It’s not your fault. It’s mine. I shouldn’t have let myself do that.”

“Didn’t you…did you want it?” I asked, afraid that I had overstepped my fucking boundaries. I didn’t think I could forgive myself if I had misread this whole situation.

“I did,” he replied, and I held in my sigh of relief. “I wanted it so bad. But I want Jean too…”

I swallowed with some difficulty, then nodded. “I understand.”

“He’s…he’s in there. In the bedroom right there. He has no idea we just – and he’s going to find out. For all we know, he heard. And what’s he going to think of us then? He – I mean, maybe he wouldn’t care, but wouldn’t that just hurt more? If he didn’t give a shit that we fucked each other?”

I nodded and his head drooped as he sobbed more. I hadn’t thought of that, but he was right. If Jean didn’t care if we fucked each other, then he must not love either of us the way we loved him.

Then again, did we have any right to act like we loved him more when we had just done what we did?

But…I did love him. I knew I loved him. I just loved Eren, too. And I had never seen anyone love someone the way Eren loved Jean. I wanted to make sense of it. I wanted to love Jean and Eren at the same time, and somehow find nothing wrong with that. And I wanted it for Eren too. I wanted it even more for him, because the look of pain on his face hurt me more than anything else about this had.

But I didn’t have the right words, so I said the only thing I could think of that might make him feel better.

“Hey” I said, hesitating before resting my hand on his shoulder. His head perked up. “We fucked up, and we know it. There’s nothing we can do about it now. It was just the heat of the moment. We won’t do it again, okay? That’s all we can do. We won’t fuck up again.”

He nodded. “Okay.”

I didn’t expect him to hug me. It seemed like that might be testing our resolve a little too much, but he did. He clutched onto me, and I held him back, and I wondered how we could have possibly come this far. How had it come to this, when we had met the way we had?

“I have work tomorrow,” he said. His eyes were on the bedroom door.

“Yeah, Okay. I’ll see you later.”

The most fucked up thing I did tonight was let go of Eren, and climb into bed so that I could hold on to Jean. He hummed in his sleep, and unconsciously curled into my chest as he did it. I held on to him tighter, telling myself it was to warm him up, and closed my eyes praying for a dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

Jean

While I spoke on the phone with my mom, both Eren and Marco sat nearby pretending not to listen, and pretending I had any privacy in the world. Eren sat in the recliner, and Marco sat as far away as possible from him on the couch. Every time I had tried to speak with either of them the past few days, they both wore distant expressions. Neither of them had kissed me, or held me, or even hugged me, and I couldn’t figure out what I did wrong. I wanted to ask, but who knew what would happen if I asked them?

They had already put up with my bullshit for so long. They had to be getting sick of it. Asking them what I’d done wrong, and therefore admitting I was so full of myself I couldn’t even figure out what I’d done wrong…

Who knew? Maybe they’d leave me.

I didn’t know what I’d do if they left me.

I clenched onto my stomach, so tight I felt like my skin would tear.

“Jean?” My mom asked.

“Huh? Oh, sorry,” I replied.

“So, are you coming?”

“Coming where?”

“Thanksgiving, this year,” she replied, “Won’t be at my house. We’re going to your aunt’s.”

I sighed, as I ran my fingers through my hair. Thanksgiving was like a storm cloud in the distance. It grew darker every passing moment, and I swear the air in the house was thick with it.

“Listen ma…I uh…some things have come up.”

“What do you mean?” she asked. “Are you going to Mikasa’s? Because we don’t have to do it on Thanksgiving Day.”

Good Lord, I hadn’t even told my mom about Mikasa. She must have thought I hated her, considering how little I called her. In reality, I just never knew what to say. What was I supposed to do? Call my mom and tell her about all the stuff that wasn’t going on in my life?

“Mom…” I sighed, “Mikasa and I aren’t – we – no, I’m not going to Mikasa’s.”

My mom paused. It took just a few seconds for her to translate my stuttering.

“You and Mikasa broke up!” she cried, “Why – how – When did this happen? Why haven’t you told me?”

I groaned and sunk into my chair at the kitchen table. Both Eren and Marco looked up. Marco wore an expression of sympathy, and Eren rolled his eyes.

Marco didn’t know. But Eren did, and only now was I starting to understand all the years Eren had gotten peeved because of my mom’s over-the-top adoration for Mikasa.

“Jean!” mom cried, when I didn’t respond.

“It just happened, geez.”

“But what happened?”

I shifted in my seat. I was supposed to be sipping on my bottle of Ensure while I spoke to her. Actually, I wasn’t even supposed to be speaking with her. If I had permitted the doctors to hospitalize me, I wouldn’t have had any contact with any relatives or any friends at all for the duration of my stay. The last three weeks since I’d gone to the hospital would have been absolute hell without Eren and Marco though. I couldn’t have done it. There was no way random nurses were going to be able to manage my eating disorder, or me, for that matter. No way in hell.

“Mom we just…we just weren’t working. I don’t know what to say.”

“Is there someone else? Did you cheat on her? Jeanbo if you cheated on that poor –”

I tuned her out, as my gaze drifted to Eren and Marco again. Marco had his eyes on the TV, but he wasn’t watching it. Eren had his eyes on me, and I thought he was listening to my mom somehow more than even I was.

What was I supposed to tell her? Yeah, mom, I cheated on her with two other men, and one of them was her brother, and I’m sorta in love with both of them, and almost having sex with both of them, and I really don’t know what to do, but hey, at least I don’t talk to Mikasa anymore, and we’re still in kind of a weird friendship limbo, because we never really had time to recover from a really awkward breakup, because days later she realized I force myself to throw up.

No.

“Jean, are you listening!”

“Huh? Sorry, sorry. I didn’t cheat on her, okay? It just didn’t work out. We’re…I’m fine. Everything is fine.”

“How’s school?” she asked, “How are you going to pay for school?”

Oh God.

My hands were trembling now. I hadn’t even been to school since Eren and I got in our fight. It’d been a month. There was no way I could possibly go back and hope to pass either of my classes. I didn’t have any money to pay for them either, or to pay for classes next semester. I didn’t even have a fucking job, and I couldn’t see myself getting one any time soon in the condition I was in.

“Jean?” she asked.

“Mom I – listen I’m – I’m really –”

I wanted to say sick. I wanted to tell her everything. Not necessarily that I had an eating disorder, because I didn’t want – yeah, okay. I was fucking ashamed. I got the girl disease. I wasn’t supposed to care about my fucking weight. And I couldn’t – couldn’t handle the idea of my mom wondering what she’d done wrong. How she had fucked me up so bad that I had started throwing up food to be skinny.

So no, I didn’t want to tell her I had anorexia and bulimia. But I did want to tell her I was sick, and something still stopped me.

It was Eren shaking his head.

“Jean?” she asked.

“I just got a lot going on in my life right now,” I said. “I don’t think I can drive up to Wisconsin this Thanksgiving. But I swear I’ll make it home for Christmas.”

My mom started wailing on the other end, and I set the phone down. Eren promptly stood up and walked over to pick the phone up.

“Ms. Kirschstein?” he asked, “Yeah, it’s Eren. How ya’ doing?”

He winced as my mom wailed on the other end some more. He glanced at me and shook his head.

“No, sorry. Mikasa’s at work,” he said, and I watched his throat physically swallow his groan. “She – yeah, I’ll have her call you sometime…I know, I wanted Jean to come to my place for Thanksgiving, too. The thing is, uh...One of our friends is really sick right now, and Jean and I are taking Care of him.”

Eren began pacing around the table as he spoke to my mom. He pointed at my bottle of Ensure with a stern look, and I sighed. I picked it up though, and began sipping at the dreadful, powdery, milky, all-things-awful beverage.

“No…No, it’s not…not life-threatening,” Eren mumbled, and he gave me the most tender look I’d ever seen that hard face of his wear. I couldn’t fucking stand it so I looked away. “It’s – Yeah it’s serious. He actually has Anorexia and Bulimia – Yeah, guys can get that. And well, he’s going to have a hard time with Thanksgiving, ya’ know? All the food and everything. So, Jean and I are going to stay with him.”

Then Eren’s face crumpled up into the deepest, severest expression of disgust I’d ever seen in my life. “What do you mean ‘is he gay’?”

Oh shit. Oh fuck. God damn it.

“Eren,” I warned, about to stand up and pull the phone away from him if I had to. “She doesn’t – she just doesn’t understand.”

He tucked the phone into his shoulder. “No shit!” he hissed.

“Please,” I said, placing my hands against each other as if I was about to pray. “Don’t yell at her. She’s just old and ignorant. You know she doesn’t have a problem with – with people like us.”

Which was only half true. Sure, my mom had accepted that I liked men and that I had had a relationship with Eren.

She wasn’t homophobic in that sense.

But she was in the sense that she believed boys should act like boys and girls should act like girls. And boys that didn’t act like boys must be gay, and girls that didn’t act like girls must be lesbians.

My mom had only ever met Armin once, and it was about the most uncomfortable experience Armin had ever been put through and I still apologized to him about it every year around the fourth of July, since that was when it had happened.

Eren gritted his teeth and answered my mom. “No, he’s not gay. He’s – he’s struggling. That’s it. He’s sick.”

“Give me the phone,” I said.

“She’s too much of a – she’s stressing you out too much,” he whispered, tucking the phone into his shoulder again. “You’re not supposed to deal with that stuff.”

“Just ‘cause I’m not the one on the phone with her doesn’t mean I’m not dealing with it!” I spit.

He sighed, but nodded. He handed me back the phone.

“Mom,” I said, “Sorry, I wasn’t going to tell you about him. But it’s really important that Eren and I be there for him.”

“Is it that Armin friend of yours?” she asked. “I always knew that – person hadn’t been raised right.”

I swallowed. Almost choked. My lip trembled. “What do you mean?”

“Well, his – is she still going by ‘he’?” she asked.

“Armin is a man.”

Eren’s eyes zeroed in on the phone. I imagined at this moment in time, Eren was thinking of all the different ways he could tell my mother to royally fuck off. Maybe he’d send her a letter. Or write her a song, record it, and then leave it in the CD player in her car. Maybe he’d buy a microphone and stand outside at three in the morning on her front lawn and scream it.

He glared at me then, and I put my finger up to shush him.

“Right, right of course,” My mom replied.

“He is. And it’s not him. Armin is fine. More than fine, actually. So don’t worry about him.”

“Well fine. Who’s sick then?”

“A friend of mine you haven’t met. His name’s uh…” I flicked my gaze toward Marco, who had been watching our discussion with tight lips, like he was biting his tongue. Other than that he looked completely relaxed. His eyes met mine, and he nodded at me. I didn’t even need to ask out loud. “His name is Marco.”

My mom sighed. “Honestly, how could anyone do that to their child?”

“What do you mean?” I rasped.

“No child grows up to…to cry for attention like that unless their parents neglected them,” she said.

There was one infinite second I had to make my decision. To swallow my pride, to mold my expression into indifference, to hide what was really happening from Eren and Marco, to pretend everything was okay.

And I completely fucking ignored that second.

“He’s not crying for attention!” I screamed so loud my voice backfired and huffed in a way that reminded me of a broken muffler.

And oh…It was too late.

As soon as I said it, I knew.

There was no going back.

I dropped my phone, and darted toward the bathroom. I had locked myself in there before either of them could stop me.

Eren’s fists were against the door banging, and Marco was begging me to open up, but I wouldn’t.

I didn’t.

Not even after I had finished purging myself of everything in my stomach. Not even after I took an hour long bath. Not even after they left me alone.

In the tub – the water was starting to cool, I was freezing – I reached for my razor.

I’d been shaving blind the past three weeks. Either Marco or Eren always checked it over for me, and made sure I hadn’t missed anything. Both of them would take it as an excuse to touch my face, to trail their fingers along my jaw and throat. Their fingertips would always hesitated to pull away, and I’d feel the warmth of their hands long after they left me.

I swiveled the razor in my hands a few times.

This was the first time in three weeks I was alone. Normally, someone was always standing in the doorway, watching my every move, looking at my pathetically weak, fragile body and trying not to grimace.

I was disgusting. I was weak. I was crying for attention, and it would be just like me too. That’s what I did, after all. I couldn’t stand to be alone, and no one could stand to be with me, so in order to get people to be around me I had to cry for attention.

At some point, being a general dick must not have been enough.

Even Mikasa, who had always catered to my clinginess, had gotten sick of it.

I placed that razor against my wrist.

The blade was sharp, and it stung, even without putting any pressure on it. I thought about putting pressure on it. I had control over it. Whether or not I bled to death, or received only a nasty scar, or only a temporary wound that would fade in a few weeks, was up to me. This could be the end if I wanted. It would be on my terms. No one could say or do anything about it.

But if I didn’t die from it, then I really did look like I was crying for attention.

I didn’t want my mom to be right. Being an attention whore was even worse than being the anorexic kid who must be gay because he was too much of a pansy to man up. I wonder if when she saw me kissing Eren, she had thought I was a failure then too. She hadn’t shown it, but I couldn’t count how many times my mom told me that she had to work twice as hard because my father wasn’t there. She had to be the mom and the dad, so that I would turn out right.

She didn’t think I failed, she thought she failed.

She hadn’t raised me to be the man I was supposed to be. I wasn’t my dad, but I was a pussy, and that was almost as bad.

And now I didn’t even have Mikasa. The girl my mom had always told me I was lucky to snag. A real woman, she’d said. She always complimented me on how lady-like Mikasa was, as if Mikasa wasn’t the type of girl that said “No, I would tell you,” when I would ask if she had farted.

Mikasa was good at pretending to be lady-like, nothing more.

My mom knew nothing about Mikasa.

In reality, I probably didn’t either. Not like I thought I had. And that just made it all worse. I always said Eren was my best friend.

But it was her.

She was my best friend, and I only said Eren was my best friend because Mikasa was supposed to be my girlfriend, and Eren wasn’t supposed to be my boyfriend.

I’d fucked up everything.

Everything.

But I couldn’t make myself die. I knew I couldn’t. I didn’t want to die. No matter how bad my life was, no matter how badly I fucked up, I would never prefer death. I couldn’t face whatever was on the other side. That was a fear that kept me up at night, not because it was too hard to fall asleep with it on my mind, but because I wouldn’t let myself if I thought I might not wake up. Since becoming sick, I’d been doing that a lot.

I might end up starving myself to death, though. We’d just have to see.

I was still holding the razor to my wrist when Marco knocked at the door.

“Jean?” Marco asked. “We’d really like it if you would come out.”

I didn’t respond. I heard some more footsteps, Eren joining him.

“Alright, I know you probably don’t want to hear what I have to say,” Marco said, “But I do have to say it.”

I contemplated sinking into the water. My limbs were going numb with the cold. Every once in a while, if I was really lucky, I could dip my ears and face, and everything but my nostrils under the water, close my eyes, and my mind would go numb too. There was no noise. There was no sensation. No sight. It was how I imagined death to be.

I did that all the time too, before anyone had figured out I was sick.

But I didn’t this time.

“I love you,” Marco said, “I love you more than anyone I’ve ever known, and you’ve completely changed my life without ever even trying. The world will never be the same, because of you, and I don’t want it to be. I don’t ever want to go back to the life I had before you. I know right now everything is hard. But listen to me: None of this is your fault. None of this is because of you. Your mom could not be more wrong.”

I still didn’t respond.

Then Marco added. “Your eating disorder happened to you, not because of you.”

I sobbed. I sobbed until my vision was as blurry as it would be if I was underwater. I did it for a long time, before someone knocked on the door again.

“Please come out,” Eren said, “You’re driving me crazy, ya’ know? I’m about to do something stupid. This door is not that indestructible, Jean, I mean it.”

“I really think he does mean it, though,” Marco said.

And then somehow, I laughed, because I got the most ridiculous image of Eren carrying a sledge hammer up the stairs to my apartment and Marco watching him apprehensively while strategically trying to convince Eren to maybe not break down the door.

I laughed because it wasn’t an exaggeration in the slightest and somehow it felt…felt natural to picture the three of us in this apartment. It was easy to take that image and sculpt it into a number of other images. Most of them in my mind, were images consisting of Eren about to solve something his way and Marco trying to convince Eren to solve it the way a normal, sane, logical person would choose to solve them.

It was too easy, and it made me so happy, I cried even harder.

Oh, I loved them, and I had never loved like this before. My heart was tender, like it was coming out of a cocoon, and couldn’t be touched because its wings were still too fragile. But it felt warm, my lungs light, and the air within them soft.

I stood.

“Oh, thank God,” Eren murmured, at the sound of the water sloshing in the tub.

I pulled out the drain and dried myself off. I pulled my clothing back on.

As soon as I opened the bathroom door, both of them swarmed and pulled me into their arms.

Again, this felt too natural. I held them back with weak arms.

“I’m fine,” I lied, and for once, Eren let me get away with it.

“Your mom knows,” Eren said.

“I know,” I replied.

“I told her I’d keep her updated,” Eren said, “But she doesn’t deserve it.”

“Did she say – I mean was she like…ya’ know?” I asked.

Eren knew what I was trying to say. Of course he knew. He held me tighter. “She’s so sorry, Jean.”

I nodded. Okay. My lungs had deflated, but okay.

“I think I need to sleep,” I said.

Both of them looked like they were going to protest. I knew they both wanted me to eat again. I’d just thrown up at least five hundred calories, and if I was going to reach my goal today I had to replace them. But I couldn’t right now.

They didn’t argue. Marco nodded, and Eren stepped out of the way so I could go into my bedroom.

I got all the way to the bed before I realized the bed wasn’t enough. I’d end up keeping myself up, just like I always did, if I was alone. I turned around to face them.

“Would you guys, uh,” I started. I blushed. They didn’t make me finish my request. They spared me that humiliation.

Marco took my left side, and Eren my right. Marco’s arm slid under my pillow, supporting my neck. He placed his head in the crook of my neck, and I could feel his breath on my skin. Eren’s arm rested over my stomach, trailing his fingers across it like maybe he didn’t think it was disgusting. Maybe he didn’t think anything of it at all, and I was just me, like he always said I was. Just me. However I was, I was just me, and that was all he wanted. When Marco placed his other hand there too, I closed my eyes, to stop the tears from falling, and finally became drowsy.

Neither of them acted like it was strange for all three of us to be in the bed together. I supposed to them it probably was, but for me…

Nothing had ever felt so natural.

Chapter Text

Eren

Every now and then, there was a moment in my life that if God had told me about years before, like, “Eren, son, one day you’re going to wake up in a bed with two men and not know what to do with yourself, and frankly I won’t know what to do with you anymore either,” I would have called God a liar.

But here I was.

Jean was facing me, his head tucked underneath my chin and both his hands slid up underneath my shirt. I imagined that he’d ended up doing that in his sleep for warmth. It was by far the cutest thing he’d ever done, and if I tried to tell him about it when he woke I knew he’d vehemently deny it and get really pissy about it. I took this moment to run my fingers through his hair and memorize as much of it while I could, because it’d probably never happen again.

Marco was on the other side of him. He had one arm hung loosely over Jean’s waist, and the other tucked underneath Jean’s neck far enough that if I lifted my pillow and laid my head down, Marco would be cradling my face. Marco’s nose was tucked into Jean’s hair, and his shirt was rucked up a ways exposing his tummy. He too, looked cuter than normal, which was more than a little unfair because Marco was cute naturally. Jean wasn’t. Jean had little moments where the cuteness snuck out of him without permission, and I collected those moments. But Marco always looked cute and I didn’t see why today he was unconsciously giving no mercy.

I’d been staring at them for over fifteen minutes, and I still couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t mad. Wasn’t I supposed to be? Here I was, with Jean’s arms – the arms of the man I’d loved ever since I could remember – tucked underneath my shirt, and Marco’s arms – the arms of a stranger that had pinned my hips down on him and moments later held me in a hug that was not strange at all – wrapped around Jean. I should be jealous. I should be uncomfortable. I should be angry and possessive – alright, I shouldn’t be angry and possessive, but the point was that was what I would normally do. Or what I thought I would do. And I felt like I knew myself pretty well?

Who was I kidding, no I didn’t. I should really just ask Armin.

The morning carried on, and I fell in and out of almost sleep, concentrating on the feel of the sunlight from the window warming my skin, and Jean’s pulse in his thumbs on my chest. When the sun was high enough in the sky that the light was blinding, it illuminated Marco’s face and he stirred.

He processed everything, staring first at Jean and then over at me. He blinked several times before he smiled. “How long have we been asleep?”

You have been asleep for a long as time. You and Jean, anyways. I’ve been up since like six,” I whispered, worrying anything would disturb Jean. We didn’t go to bed with him that late the day before. It had been shortly after dinner, and it was probably ten AM now.

Marco shook his head, and then slowly inched his limbs away from Jean’s body. His body went rigid, and he stirred, exhaling loudly and heavily against my chest. Both Marco and I went still. He didn’t wake, so Marco tugged the blanket up behind Jean’s back.

Marco stood, and he took a moment to gaze at the two of us in the bed together. I couldn’t read his expression, there was so much emotion on it that I wasn’t fluent in. I wondered if he felt anything like I did, or if he felt the way I had expected myself to.

“He looks adorable like that,” Marco whispered, gesturing to Jean.

I nodded.

Marco smiled again. “So do –”

Jean rustled, and he cut himself off. Jean began to twist, and to make sure he didn’t get tangled in my shirt I lifted it up and over his hands so that he could roll over. He curled up with the blanket instead, and I pulled my shirt down. “What?” I asked Marco, as I began scooting down the bed away from Jean.

“Nothing,” he replied, “Uh…I’ll start making breakfast if you want.”

I snorted as I climbed out of the bed.

“What?” he asked.

“Sorry, it’s just that you can’t cook,” I responded.

He blushed, and rubbed the back of his neck. “I’d argue with you, but you’re right.”

“I’ll go make it,” I told him, and then before I stepped out of the bedroom, my body tugged me in a different direction, like muscle memory.

I kissed Marco. I kissed him, and then I ripped myself away from him, and then we stared at each other wondering why I had kissed him.

“Eren?” Marco asked.

“I have no idea,” I replied. “I’m – I’m really sorry. It’s just that we – I didn’t even – I –”

“It’s okay,” he said, placing his hand on my shoulder, a little bit like he was asking me if I was okay instead of telling me it was.

We stood there for a moment, with his hand on my shoulder, looking into each other’s eyes. Everyone had something in their eyes. It was my opinion that in the first few minutes of meeting someone, it was entirely possible to know everything you needed to know about them. Not everything there was to know about them, just what you needed to know. Like whether or not they were someone you could stand or not.

Marco’s eyes looked at everything as if he knew nothing else about the world. As if every time he looked into my eyes, it was the first thing he’d ever seen. He had no opinions of it, no preexisting knowledge, and nothing to compare it to or expect from it. But like I imagined babies thought without realizing they were thinking it, he wanted to know everything about it. He was seeing me for the first time, every time, and he wanted to know more.

Whatever Marco saw this time, whatever he had learned from looking at me, it had made him decide to kiss me back.

He had not read anything wrong, because even though my mind was telling my fingers to push him away, they only held on tighter.

But seconds passed, and both of us forced ourselves apart by pushing each other away. “What are we doing?” I breathed.

“I know. I’m sorry I – I shouldn’t have done that.”

I swallowed, and tentatively reached out for him again, placing my hand on his neck. “I didn’t tell you no.”

I shouldn’t have been encouraging him, but I didn’t want him to feel bad about kissing me. I didn’t want him to feel like it was his fault, or that I didn’t want it.

“Did you mean what you said to me when we – last time we spoke, uh, privately? That you feel like you’re…like the way you did when you were falling for Jean?” he asked.

I nodded.

“So…so you like us both, right? I’m not reading too deeply into this am I?” Marco asked. There was a tremble in his voice, and it hurt, because it gave away how scared he was to ask me this. How long had it been on his mind? Why did he think I fucked him, if not because I liked him?

Then I remembered what Jean had said about me. I did it all backwards. I fell in love carelessly, and fucked cautiously.

“Are you asking me if I fucked you like…like a fuckbuddy or something?” I snapped.

Marco winced, and bit his lip. “I didn’t mean like a fuckbuddy. I meant…maybe you didn’t…didn’t have a reason for doing it, I guess. ”

I shook my head, gripping onto his shirt. “I get that you don’t know me, but I wouldn’t do that. I don’t – that’s not me.”

He nodded. “I just…I only ask because…because that’s not why I did it either.”

My face softened, and I felt like hundreds of pins tensing my body up had just been tugged out, and I could relax again. I exhaled as my cheeks tried to pull a smile out of me. I fought it. “You like me then, too? I mean…you weren’t like…caught up in the moment?”

He grinned. “Yeah. And uh…you’re right. I don’t really know you, but I want to.”

We grinned like idiots at each other for a second. I fought my smile and he tried to cover his blush with his hand.

But then the pins were stuck in me again, and my body stiffened. Marco’s brows furrowed until I said, “But, Jean. What do we do?”

Marco was quiet for a second, before he turned his head in Jean’s direction. “I don’t know, honestly. But whatever we do…or uh…or whatever we don’t do…whatever happens, I guess, it has to wait until he’s better. He can’t – can’t have shit like this in his life right now.”

I nodded, while simultaneously feeling like I’d just swallowed smoke. “That could be a while,” I rasped.

Marco nodded. “Months,” he whispered.

“Years,” I added.

We both looked at his unconscious body, and then we both simultaneously, without speaking, decided to go do mindless tasks. I shaved. He showered. I made breakfast. He cleaned the living room.

Marco and I didn’t speak again until Jean climbed out of bed and complained that the eggs I’d made him were too yellow.

I caught myself staring at them more and more. Even now, I’d walked past Jean’s bedroom door, and they’d left it cracked without realizing it. Marco had been sitting on the edge of Jean’s bed talking to Jean. They were talking too low for me to make out their words, but I could tell from their expressions and gestures that it wasn’t anything too serious. Just conversation.

The room was only illuminated a fraction, from what little light squeezed through the cracked door into the room, but I could see Marco’s hand reach up to caress Jean’s face. Jean closed his eyes, smiling, and Marco threaded his fingers through Jean’s hair. He knew just as much as I did, that Jean melted when his hair was touched.

The part that made me ache was admitting to myself that I loved seeing them together. I was beyond telling myself that I was okay with it only because Jean was sick, or that I could tolerate it in the end of Jean chose Marco instead of me. This was nothing like it had been with Mikasa. When he had been with Mikasa, and he had casually placed his hand on the small of her back, or kissed her forehead, or borrowed one of his shirts to her, I had pictured myself in her place. The only reason I had been able to put up with it for so long without exploding, was seeing how happy she made him and telling myself that his happiness was all that mattered.

With Marco it was so different. I couldn’t be jealous of him, or resent him, or imagine myself in his place, because I would just as willingly put myself in Jean’s place.

Jean was a bad liar, but he was also exceptionally perceptive of the truth too.

And he had warned me about falling for people too easily.

Now I was stuck. I loved Jean. I loved Marco.

When I saw them kiss, chastely, in the darkness of Jean’s room, I didn’t feel the sickening twist of jealousy in my chest, or resentment, or darkness. At least not like it was. I thought I would be jealous of not being in a relationship, resent not being with either of them, and probably feel the darkness, knowing that I wouldn’t love anyone but them again. None of this, would be aimed at them.

And when I saw them kiss? I felt the warmth of sunlight rising inside me, as if I were glowing just from the sight of two people I loved, loving each other.

The fear I once had, that Jean would choose Marco and I’d have to relive what I had lived through with Mikasa was no longer there. I could do this, and I thought I could even live more or less happily for the rest of my life, as long as they were together.

And I’d made up my mind.

When Marco stepped out of the bedroom, closing the door softly behind him, he almost bumped into me. He covered his mouth in shock and guilt, as he realized I’d seen them. “You were – Oh gosh, Eren, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to –”

He cut himself off, as he processed my amused expression. I chuckled. “You didn’t mean to kiss him?”

Marco blushed, and rubbed the back of his neck. “I didn’t mean for you to see it.”

I nodded at him, as I leaned back into the hallway wall. “Tell me something.”

He perked his head up at my words. Looking confused, and a little terrified too. I smiled. “What?” he asked.

“If you had to choose,” I started, and already he knew what I was asking. He sighed, his whole chest expanding and contracting in on itself, like even thinking about the question had exhausted him.

“I don’t know,” he admitted.

“What if I told you that I wouldn’t be hurt if you chose him? Would that make it easier to decide?”

“But wouldn’t you be?” he asked.

I laced my fingers behind my neck, tapping my foot on the floor. I started pacing back and forth in the hallway. Marco pressed his back against the wall to stay out of my way.

Part of me wanted to tell him everything I’d realized. Everything that made my chest glow and my whole body tingle with an innocence and pureness I hadn’t felt since I met Jean. But I didn’t think he’d understand. I wasn’t about to stop listening to Jean now, and he’d made it clear that the way I did things wasn’t how other people did things. It wasn’t how Marco did things either, apparently, since he’d gone home with Jean intending for it to be a one night stand.

If I told him that I could love them both from a distance without hurting, he either wouldn’t believe I loved either of them, or he just flat out wouldn’t believe me.

“Eren?” Marco asked.

“Alright,” I said, forcing my feet to sit still, so that I could face him again. “I’m just going to say this. I love you. And I love Jean. And I love, loving you both. I want to be with you both, but I can’t.”

Marco’s eyebrows rose at my confession, and his mouth opened like he might speak, but I held my hand up to stop him.

“Even if I dated you, I’d be giving up Jean, and ya’ know, vice versa. Either way, I’m losing one of you, and…and in the process making whoever gets left out unhappy. But I think…I think I could be happy if you two were together. It’s just – It’s more important for you guys to be happy. I couldn’t be with one of you, knowing the other’s heart was broken.”

Marco and I were both silent for a moment, and I got anxious waiting for his response. I paced some more while his eyes wondered, flipping my words around in his head.

“C’mon, man,” I groaned, when he hadn’t replied for so long. It felt like the sun should already be coming up when he finally spoke.

“You love me? Like, really love me? You’re not just, like, falling for me?” he asked. I looked into the warm, brown puddles that were his eyes, and I nodded.

He exhaled, and closed his eyes for a moment, before stepping toward me. He put one hand on either side of my face. He bent down to kiss me and I kissed him back, too eagerly to act like I was okay with giving it up for the rest of my life, even though I swore I was. I would be as okay as I could ever be without touching either of them.

“Be patient,” he breathed, “I know we’re both thinking about it all the time. I never stop thinking about it, and I’d be willing to bet Jean doesn’t either.”

I grimaced, and glanced at Jean’s door. I didn’t want him thinking about anything but getting better. The bathroom incident had left me constantly on edge, flinching any time he left my sight for even seconds at a time, unless Marco was with him.

Marco stroked my cheek so that I would look into his eyes again. “We’ll figure this out when Jean’s ready. Right now, he’s still too sick. He doesn’t need this – this added stress right before Thanksgiving, when I’m not even going to be here.”

“You’re not?” I choked.

He shook his head. “This weekend I’m going to Hitch’s parents’ place, and Thanksgiving day I’m flying to my own. I wish I didn’t have to. I’d do anything to stay here and help Jean get through it with you, but Hitch and I are telling our parents about the baby.”

“And the engagement,” I whispered. He huffed out a humorless laugh. He shook his head.

“The engagement – look, don’t think about that right now, okay? I’m trying not to, at least.”

I nodded at him. His fingers trailed down my neck. I wanted them to explore more of me. There were parts of my body that missed his fingertips. He used one hand to pull my bangs out of my eyes.

“Promise me that we’ll wait until Jean’s ready,” Marco whispered.

Without thinking, I nodded. When he asked me like that I couldn’t say no.

Marco nodded. “Thank you,” he whispered, and then he kissed my forehead. “Are you going to bed?”

“I was,” I replied.

“I’ll finish cleaning up the kitchen and be right in,” he replied. Then he turned away from me, and I stepped into the bedroom.

I crawled into the bed next to Jean. “That you, Eren?”

“Mmhmm,” I mumbled, and he rolled over in the bed, groping for me in the darkness. I pulled him into my arms. My hand slid over his tummy, and he let me now, without thinking. I’d begun to do it every night in the last week or so. Jean needed to be reminded we weren’t disgusted by his stomach, and if our hands were there, his own hands couldn’t be. The bruises on his stomach had finally begun to heel. My hands trailed up and down his stomach.

“Is Marco coming?” he asked. I smiled. His eyes met mine in the dark.

“Yeah, he’ll be right in,” I told him.

I heard Jean clear his throat, and he pulled me into him by my waist. I rested my head on his chest. His heart thudded too slowly, too weakly, against my ear. Mikasa checked his pulse almost every day. She told me he was doing better, and I trusted her, but sometimes her word was all I had to hang on to.

“What do you think would be happening right now if…if I didn’t get sick?” Jean asked. His fingers trailed up and down my back, making me shiver.

“Everything would be the same. I’d still be with Armin, and you’d…well, I don’t know about you.” Even if he wasn’t sick, he’d probably still have problems with Mikasa. He’d probably have still left her. I couldn’t be sure they’d have had the same fight, but it was possible he would have still met Marco.

“I don’t know about me, either,” he breathed, into my hair. “But do you think if Mikasa and I still broke up…do you think you would have ever made a move?”

“You mean, do you think I would have ever tried to get you back?”

He nodded. I sat up in bed so that I could look down at him. My palm rested on his cheek. “If you and Mikasa broke up…I think if you had broken up any other way, you’d still want her.”

He shifted next to me, exhaling long and hard. I couldn’t make out his face, but I could imagine that my words had stung. “Maybe at first. But I’d figure it out.”

“So why would I have to make the move?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Because it would take me forever to figure out what I wanted.”

I laughed, and rested my forehead against his chest. He was right. “No, I wouldn’t have made a move. I would want to, and it would kill me, but I wouldn’t.”

I knew that I wouldn’t have believed he could want me again. Until I pushed Jean and discovered how thin he was, until he kissed me that first time after so many years, I had convinced myself he had moved on and would never love me again. If Jean hadn’t gotten sick, and he and Mikasa had still broken up, I wouldn’t have made a move. If he did, I’d take it further, but not on my own. I wouldn’t risk being hurt like that again when I still wasn’t healed from the first time. Only now, after finally sitting down and talking to Jean about our past, was I beginning to heal.

“Do you think we’re better off then? Do you think…things are better now because I’m sick?” he asked.

I pinched his jaw between my fingers and tilted his head to look at me, even though he couldn’t have seen much in the dark. “Why the fuck would you ask me that?”

He lifted one of his delicate hands, so that he could gently peel mine away from his face. He placed it against his chest. “So I don’t hate myself for being sick.”

My lip trembled and my eyes watered up, but I blinked back the tears. “I can’t answer that.”

He nodded. “Yeah…yeah, okay. I just couldn’t – couldn’t stop myself from thinking about it. If I didn’t get sick, I wouldn’t have this.”

He stroked my hand so that what he meant would be clear. I swallowed, emotion thick in my throat as I bent down to kiss him so that I wouldn’t have to think about what he was saying.

Like everything we did, we couldn’t do it slowly. We couldn’t do it patiently, or mildly, or half-heartedly. We kissed, and our bodies were moving in a rhythm and when one of us wasn’t gasping the other was. Our hearts were frantic and our fingers were grasping on to each other. I pulled his hair and bit his lip, and his fingers dug into my back.

I wanted him – Oh, fuck – I wanted him, and I couldn’t stop myself. Jean kept telling me he loved me, like he knew no dirty talk would do to make my muscles unwind and my body pulse with need. Once I was whimpering, he rolled me over, with some help on my part because I was much too heavy for him.

Jean was about to pull his shirt off when we heard Marco’s footsteps. Both of us froze, and I knew Jean wouldn’t go further. I didn’t exactly want to go further anymore either, but the problem was I didn’t want to for different reasons than Jean. He didn’t want to go further because of Marco, and I didn’t want to go further without Marco. Whether or not things might be different if Jean hadn’t gotten sick, the point was he had. And it brought Marco into both our lives, and I couldn’t say I preferred my life without him. If I hadn’t met him, I’d never know, but it would be a horrible thing to go my whole life without knowing him.

Marco’s footsteps paused outside of the door. He knocked, and I felt a pang of guilt. Marco shouldn’t have to knock, and normally he wouldn’t. He had knocked because he had suspected something was going on. Jean rolled off of me.

“Come in,” he said.

Marco peeked his head in, took a look at the both of us, and gave both of us a smile. He stepped in, closing the door behind him, and climbed into bed on the other side of Jean. He kissed Jean’s forehead before wrapping his arm around his waist and laying down.

I couldn’t sleep that night. Marco slept with his nose tucked into the crook of Jean’s neck. Jean turned back and forth, clinging to either me or Marco – whoever he was facing at the time – and as I watched, I was left wishing it was me in the middle instead.

Chapter Text

Marco

Hitch called me early on Saturday morning. It was the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and the weekend we were supposed to drive up to her parents’ place in Edina.

Eren had the hardest time staying asleep out of all of us, and he had woken me up when it started ringing, even though I was closest to the nightstand and he was on the other side of Jean. When I pried my eyelids open, Eren was hovering over me with my phone in his hand, looking at it. His other hand rested on my shoulder after he nudged me.

“Sorry,” he whispered, “The buzzing was gonna wake up Jean. Uh…it’s Hitch.”

I sighed, and sat up in the bed, scrubbing my hands over my face. I took my phone from Eren’s hand.

“You’re leaving with her today?” he asked. The way his eyebrows quirked upward as he said it, while he looked at Jean, made my heart hurt.

“Yeah,” I whispered, no matter how much I wanted to tell him fuck it, hell no..

I stood, still holding the phone in my hand and headed toward the bedroom door. I peered over my shoulder to watch Eren climb back into bed with Jean, immediately wrapping all his heavy limbs around him to keep his frail body warm.

I closed the door behind me and walked into the living room. As I slumped into the couch, I finally slid my finger across the screen and put the phone up to my ear.

“Hitch, it’s like…seven am.”

“Meet me at Starbucks,” she said.

“Why? Can’t you talk to me in the car? I’m not even dressed yet.” The drive to Edina wasn’t overly far away, but it could be anywhere from forty five minutes to an hour if the traffic was shitty. We weren’t supposed to be there until noon anyway, which gave me plenty of time to wallow in a pity party that I’d have to leave Jean and Eren behind.

“Well, get dressed, then. And meet me at Starbucks.”

“When?”

“Why would I call and tell you now, if I didn’t mean now?”

“Okay, okay,” I said. “I’ll be there as soon as I can. Because, I do have other stuff going on in my life.” And for once it was true, even if I wondered if this was really the kind of stuff I wanted happening in my life. Maybe being a hermit was preferable.

“Buh-bye, sweetie,” she chirped, and before I could respond, she hung up.

“You’re leaving now?” Eren asked. I hadn’t realized he was leaning against the wall in the hallway, listening. Something told me I was probably supposed to be mad about the invasion of privacy, but honestly I just wished he hadn’t heard it that way. I wished I could break it to him, and Jean, in a way that didn’t make me feel like I was abandoning them.

“I guess, yeah,” I mumbled.

I knew Eren could handle Jean just fine without me. Eren always prepared Jean’s food, counted his calories, and watched him the way I never seemed to be able to. Eren had a sense for when Jean was off. He knew long before I ever did that Jean was considering throwing up. He always seemed to know what made Jean feel better too. He knew that Jean ate better when Eren ate a lot, and Jean felt better when we both touched his stomach. Eren was the one to teach me to place my hands on either side of Jean’s waist, and pull them back to show Jean how small he was. And Eren was the one that could tell when Jean was too antsy not to exercise, but also the one to know when Jean had had enough. He was the one that could always convince Jean that he’d exercised more than he had, that he didn’t need to run.

None of this could have happened without Eren. I was hardly needed at all.

But I knew he wanted me here. I knew Jean wanted me here. Eren hadn’t left his side other than to work since becoming sick, and until today, I hadn’t either.

“Should I wake up Jean?” he asked.

“For what?”

“Ya’ know, to say bye.” He shrugged.

I stood up and leaned over the recliner where Eren and I still had our clothes stacked. I picked up a button-down collared shirt and jeans, the dressiest thing I had managed to pack other than what I wore to work.

I slid my sweatpants off, so I was in nothing but my boxers and T-shirt. After sliding on my jeans, I pulled off the shirt I was wearing. Eren looked me up and down as I dressed, neither with desire nor with restraint, as if he was watching me make a sandwich or water a plant. He watched as I pulled the shirt on and began buttoning it.

“Yeah, okay,” I told him. I didn’t want to wake Jean, but I knew I’d be staying at Hitch’s parents’ tonight, which was a loathsome experience even when Hitch and I were still together, let alone now, and I’d be there well into tomorrow. I wouldn’t get home until late.

It was almost like I wanted to say goodbye to him because some part of me was already preparing to come back and learn that he and Eren had made up, and were together again, and that I’d have to back off.

As I walked into the hallway, Eren pressed a hand against my chest and stopped me. He looked up at me.

“Hey,” he said, and as if he was reading my mind, he continued, “You’ll be back as soon as possible right? We’re – Jean is probably going to go a little nuts without you around.”

I smiled, and so did Eren, and we both stood in the silence of a hallway filled to the brim with thoughts we couldn’t share. “Believe me, not even Hitch wants to spend more time than necessary with her parents.”

Eren nodded, and then his hands slid around my waist, so that he could tuck his forehead into my chest. Both my arms curled around his shoulders. I rested my chin on his, wandering if he had always been this warm, and this firm, and if his embrace had always been this safe.

It was ridiculous. It was one night, I reminded myself. One night away from them. We’d be fine. Jean, would be fine.

But what I told myself and what I knew in my gut to be true, were two different things. Living in this house with them was like constantly walking on a thin sheet of ice over a bottomless lake. Every meal we had, our movements were stiff. Every conversation we had, our breaths were measured. Each morning there was the slightest relief, and over the course of the day walls became paper and the bathroom door looming. Weighing Jean, trying to get through the night without him throwing up, trying not to overstep boundaries in a bed with two warm, comforting men beside me, the sheet of ice thinned with each day.

“Okay,” Eren said, pulling away from me. “Jean’s turn. Uh…just – just go ahead and wake him up. He’ll be able to fall back asleep.”

I stepped into the bedroom, again looking over my shoulder because I assumed Eren was going to join, but he didn’t. He either stayed in the hall outside the door, or had walked away.

I sat on the edge of the bed, already jostling Jean somewhat. When I placed my hand over his cheek and stroked it with my thumb, he blinked a few times. He rolled over to face me.

“Fucking time is it?” he groaned.

“Don’t worry, you don’t have to get up.” I smiled. Jean blinked some more. His eyes focused. He turned his head to the left.

“Where’s Eren?”

“Living room or something. He’ll be back after I leave.”

Jean’s eyebrows turned up, before a memory occurred to him and he figured out what I was talking about. He nodded, while biting his lip.

“When will you be back?”

“Tomorrow night.”

He sighed. His hand reached for my own, and I grasped it tightly. “Don’t take your time, okay?”

I smiled then, and shifted on the bed to stand. Jean didn’t let go of me, so I faced him. With his free hand he gestured for me to lean in. There was no way I was strong enough to turn down the invitation, so I let myself kiss him. Not messily, or passionately, or for any length of time, but it was nonetheless deep. There was enough of it to last me two days.

“I love you,” he mumbled, once I pulled away. His eyelids were already closed again. He was halfway back asleep, and I was happy this hadn’t disturbed him too much.

“I love you, too,” I told him, before stepping out of the bedroom.

I practically stepped right into Eren’s arms when I did. Without warning, he stood on his toes and placed a kiss on top of the one Jean had left there.

“If he gets to, I get to,” Eren muttered. He couldn’t look me in the eye. His cheeks were burning.

He’d been watching, or listening, at least, and I smiled.

I wanted to tell him I loved him too, and I thought I could see his lips holding the words back, in the way he pinched one of them between his teeth. We didn’t say it though, because Jean was in earshot and because the words were much easier to hear in our minds, than aloud. I thought both Eren and I were trying to maintain some semblance of control until the three of us could figure out – figure out whatever all this was.

“Call me if anything goes wrong,” I told him. He nodded. “I mean anything. Even if – even if you just think something might go –”

“I got it,” he said, chuckling. “I can handle it. If nothing else, Mikasa can come over.”

I nodded at him. That would help.

On my way out the door, I was starting to feel a little more at ease. Eren and I had an understanding. We knew our situation, and all we had to do was wait for the right time. We could do that, I thought. Give Jean another week, get him through Thanksgiving, and then we could figure it out.

For once, I walked into Starbucks and Hitch was already waiting there. She was tapping her manicured nails against the little wooden table, and arching a sharpened eyebrow at me as I purposefully decided that I would get coffee this time. I needed coffee this time of course, but I also wanted to annoy her a little bit.

Since it was a weekend, the coffee shop was crowded with early risers, tapping on keyboards and sipping coffee with other people wearing cardigans and sweater vests. Most people were on their phone, some chatting too loudly for my un-caffeinated brain, and others tapping their screens erratically and much, much too often.

Hitch was one of those on her phone, as I sat down across from her, wincing at the screech the chair made against the tile.

“Took you long enough,” she said.

I sipped my coffee. “My bad. I thought we were going to be leaving at a reasonable hour.”

She set her phone down flat against the checkered table-top. Her fingers kept tapping. “You’re not coming to my parents’ place with me.”

I stopped mid-sip, to look at her – look at her closely. Her makeup was modest, although she claimed she didn’t give a shit what her mother thought of her appearance. She wore a baggy, cream sweater that nearly reached her knees, with black leggings underneath, and again, those high-heeled boots I couldn’t stand her in. Her typically wavy, sandy blond hair had been curled and clipped to the side.

Her expression wasn’t a smirk, glare, sneer or some other expression she had intentionally pinned on. This was when she was most beautiful, though I hated to think that. But it was true. When she was too nervous to hold up her arrogance, she let her true self show, and she was beautiful. The night Ymir had introduced me to her, she had been like this, and I had known from that moment on that if it had to be a woman, it could be her. Hitch would never be annoying or frustrating enough, to make me forget the moments when she was like this.

“I’m not? Did they tell you they didn’t want me there?” I asked, setting my coffee on the table.

She shook her head. “I told them we broke up.”

My jaw went slack for just a second, before I could control my expression. “Why? What did they say?”

“Well, I decided to introduce them to Marlowe. He’s coming with me today instead.”

My eyebrows rose. “Already? What about…what about the baby?” I worried for a moment that Hitch was still planning to make them believe she was marrying the father, and quickly added, “You know you won’t be able to tell them the baby is his, right?” Even if he was black too, I couldn’t stand the idea of him pretending to be the biological father. Actually I really wouldn’t want that, even if it made everything a little easier on the both of us, I wasn’t going to create lies for my baby to tell before they were even born.

She snorted. She must have been thinking the same thing I had, because she said, “Oh my God, you know what my mom said when I told her I was seeing someone else? She was like ‘is he African-American too’?”

I deadpanned. “She knows Haiti isn’t in Africa right?”

“Oh, sweetie,” she chided, patting my hand in the condescending way only she could do perfectly, “I don’t even think she knows Africa isn’t a country.”

I shook my head, and took a larger gulp of my coffee than necessary. I scrubbed my hands over my crusty, tired eyes. “Okay, whatever. What did they say about you seeing someone else besides that?”

“Well, I mean, since they don’t know I’m pregnant yet they were pretty stoked.” She rolled her eyes. She looked like she was going to go into more detail, but one of the blenders behind the counter was being used, and she had to wait until the noise settled. By then, she had thought of something else to say, and I was relieved. I didn’t need to hear any more on her parents thoughts of me. “I told them you’re gay.”

“What? Hitch – How – you shouldn’t have don’t that,” I hissed. “That wasn’t for you to decide.”

She waved a hand dismissively at me. “Did you think they wouldn’t figure it out? I mean, just because we’re not engaged anymore doesn’t mean you get a get-out-of-jail-free card, okay? You’re gonna be in this baby’s life, and this baby is gonna be in my parent’s life, and do you honestly think any child of mine is gonna be able to keep their mouth shut on who daddy is fucking?”

A shiver ran down my spine at the thought. Until now, I hadn’t considered what my child would think of who I was dating. I had thought about what both Jean and Eren would be like as fathers (if I were to end up with one of them), much too late in the night with a saddened, painful smile spread across my face, but not what my child would think of having two dads.

“Marco? You okay?” Hitch asked, and this time, when she patted my hand, it was with genuine concern. Her eyebrows furrowed. She looked like she was about to call ten different doctors and a limousine to escort me personally to the emergency room if something was wrong.

“Huh?” I wiped my forehead, because it was hot in here and I had to be beading sweat. “Uh, yeah. I’m fine. You shouldn’t have told your parents.”

“Well,” she huffed, “I couldn’t hold in the good news forever.”

Despite myself, I chuckled. I lifted my cup to take another gulp of coffee. “How’d they react?”

“Doesn’t matter does it? What matters is how they’re going to react when they find out you’re the dad and I’m marrying Marlowe.”

My hand slipped on my cup, and I almost spilled it all over myself before I caught it. My hand placed it in the very center of the table, before retreating into my lap. “You…what?”

“Marlowe asked me to marry him.”

“And you said yes?”

She nodded.

“Hitch…don’t you think it’s a little soon for that?”

She shrugged. “Didn’t you fall in love with your boy right away? Wouldn’t you marry him right now if he asked?”

I swallowed, patting my hand against my leg and adjusting my collar. She was right, of course. She didn’t even have to see me around Jean to know that I would have married him the morning after I met him if he had asked. Well, if I had been in the state of mind I was now, but then, I would have said yes. Because, as childish, or immature, or as naïve as I potentially was, I had fallen in love with him over night. I couldn’t explain it, but that didn’t make it less true. I didn’t want to admit that to her just yet. Actually, I didn’t want to acknowledge the thought at all, in fear of how wrong I could be.

“What happened to ‘for now’?” I asked.

She smiled, sweetly, and I wondered if I was hallucinating for a second. She said, “It became ‘forever’.”

When I was still staring at her like she had just confessed to a murder, she continued, “Listen, Marco. I know you’re new at this, but there are some things in life that just work. And when life gives you something that just works, you don’t question it. Marlowe and I just work.”

I swallowed, tapping my feet underneath the floor, debating how much I should discuss the things in my life that were just working. “I’m sleeping with two men.”

That, was not in fact what I had wanted to say. I had blurted it. The words had been in my head, getting louder and louder until they were screaming, and I couldn’t keep them locked inside me anymore.

“Well,” I clarified, while her expression was still glued into its shocked – a-little-too-enthusiastic at that – state, “I’m in love with two men. I’m literally sleeping with them both. I’m not…not having sex with either. Mostly. Sort of. I don’t know, Hitch.”

Hitch slumped in her chair and sighed. “You’re such a hopeless romantic, Marco.”

“No, I’m just an idiot.” I rubbed my face in exasperation. “I’m living with both of them, and they’re best friends, and they…they’re in love too. It’s a huge mess.”

Hitch snorted. “Back up, just…just put this shit in reverse, right now. You’re living with them?”

I nodded.

“And you all love each other?”

I nodded.

“So, I’ve gathered, that you don’t actually have a problem.”

I paused, waiting for her to explain in one of her own unique Hitchly ways, how it wasn’t a problem to her before I kindly reminded her that in reality it was a problem. I should have guessed that she’d feel like this, given that I was the only boyfriend she ever had that she was actually faithful to, and the only boyfriend that…really ever expected her to be faithful. She had been in a number of “open” relationships before this, and I never really asked her about it much because she truthfully told me she wasn’t a cheater and that was my only concern. Even after dating for a while, she’d never given me any reason to suspect.

“Sweetie,” she chided, “Please drop the Texas and church-on-Sundays in you, and think. You deserve this. After being with all the skanky women before me, and then being with me and still not being happy, you deserve this.”

“They weren’t skanky,” I scolded, before the rest of her sentence processed. “Wait, what?”

“Mina was kind of a skank.” She nodded, pursing her lips like the thought of my last girlfriend before her left a bad taste in her mouth. I almost decided to get into that, even though we’d been down this road too many times, before ignoring the urge. There were more important things to discuss.

“What are you saying, Hitch?”

“I’m saying score! God has looked down on you, seen your gay suffering, and has decided to make up for it. Knowing your taste, they’re probably fucking babes. Have a threesome, buy whatever it is men buy other men – maybe it’s the same shit you bought me, if that’s your type of guy – and relax.”

I stared at her for a minute. Like, an actual minute. A minute that dragged on. “Never mind.”

“What?”

“If it was about fucking them, I’ve done that. I’m not looking for casual sex. I actually fucking love them,” I hissed, trying to keep my voice down so none of the surrounding people in the nearby tables could hear any more of our promiscuous conversation. If it was too early for me, the person the conversation was relevant to, it was too damn early for random strangers too. None of them appeared to be overhearing us, at least. Some of the crowds had filtered out, and the employees were still yelling out people’s orders every few seconds.

“I know,” she said, “And I’m telling you, Marco, you’ve done enough. You’ve been a good, southern boy for long enough. You think it was easy for me to tell my parents we broke up because you’re gay? It wasn’t. Okay, I did it for you, so that you could do you. And it’s not going to be easy later when I tell them I’m pregnant with your kid and I’m converting to Judaism. But I’m going to do it so that I can do me. Do you understand? If you’re going to stop giving a fuck, you need to stop giving a fuck well. Stop telling yourself what you’ve got to do, and do you. Please.”

We were both quiet for a second. Hitch preached to me about this or that all the time. Most the time, I could distinguish between words of wisdom and words of bullshit. There was some amount of trying not to be a doormat too. While dating, it was her biggest complaint that I was too much of a doormat, unless of course, I was being her doormat, which she still likes to take advantage of.

This didn’t feel like a words-of-bullshit kind of speech. And it didn’t feel like it would make me a doormat to listen to her in this situation. That meant that I was supposed to listen to her this time.

“You think I should be with both of them?” I asked, under my breath, as if saying those words too loud would be too much for me to bear, because of course.

Of course I should.

And I had known it all along. I had met Jean, and I had known I had loved him so early on someone more open-minded than me would call it love at first sight. And gradually, in the process of living with Eren, a complete stranger to me, and taking on the task of helping Jean together –like something blossoming inside my chest from just the right amount of sunshine and nurturing –I had come to love Eren. But the seed of it had been there from the start, from the moment Jean had passed out and I had seen the look in Eren’s eyes, the fear of losing Jean, and with him his purpose.

“Marco?” Hitch asked, and I shook my head, trying to clear it of my thoughts. I wondered how long I’d zoned out.

“You’re right,” I said.

“That’s why I said it.”

I smiled, tempted to thank her, but being unwilling to just yet. I knew she was right. And in a perfect world, I’d call the two of them up, and just say it. But it wasn’t a perfect world. It was a world where Jean was sick and I had a baby on the way. In my bones, I still had the views I was taught from my parents, and if all this were a book, there’d be two hundred pages of Jean and Eren’s relationship before I even stepped into the picture. Being with them both, right now, was a fantasy.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Nothing. I need to…just talk about something else.”

“Like what?”

“Did you tell Marlowe about the baby? I would hope?”

She nodded, and a huge grin spread across her face. She covered up half her face with one hand, bashfully, yet the gesture must not have been absent-minded, because she made sure to avoid her eye shadow. I smiled too. Throughout the past couple of weeks since I’d seen her, I never stopped thinking about whether or not Marlowe would leave her once he found out about the baby.

I leaned forward in my seat. “I take it he’s okay with it?”

“Well, he still asked me to marry him right? He’s – he’s actually the best, Marco. He’ll be good, I know he will.”

I’d have to meet him, before I knew for sure. It was my child, so I wasn’t going to take her words for granted. But I also knew Hitch would have kicked his ass out already if she thought for a moment he’d be a bad father. Well, maybe she would have kept dating him for a while, but when push came to shove, she would have chosen the baby. Instead, he didn’t make her choose, and now they were getting married.

“I should meet him.”

“I should meet your boys.”

I liked that. I liked the sound of those two words, put in that order. Now that she’d put them in my head, I’d never get rid of them, no matter how this all played out. I smiled.

“We’ll start with the one who’s going to be my baby’s step dad, okay?”

“Does this mean you’re okay with me getting married?” The shock in her voice, and the genuine relief made the breath in my throat hitch. I swallowed, taking a moment to blink and try not to display how much her concern meant to me.

“Of course. I’ve only ever wanted you to be happy, you know. Your parents on the other hand…”

“I know.” She grimaced at her phone, as if it was symbolic of her parents.

“Just call me later tonight, alright? Tell me how it goes.”

“If it doesn’t make the news,” she groaned. I laughed, and stood to throw my empty coffee cup away.

I walked her to her car, arm-in-arm like usual. Before she stepped into the driver’s seat of her car she kissed me on the cheek, and in the quietest pitch she’d ever spoken, thanked me.

I regretted not thanking her for her advice, as I walked back to my car. Some part of me wondered if everything that happened in my life would be owed to Hitch. If I ended up with the two of them, I knew she would remind me to thank her until the end of our days and in the afterlife, so I didn’t dwell on it too much.

I just smiled on the way home, anxious to see my boys’ faces when they learned that I wouldn’t have to spend the night away after all.

Chapter Text

Jean

They both thought I was writing, which I guess wasn’t wrong. I was writing, but I didn’t think they thought that I was paying any mind to anything outside of my keyboard. When I paused my typing, they just thought I was struggling with a word. Which, again, I was. But when I got to a word that was being a pain in the ass in my mind, I lifted my gaze over my screen, and I kept my eyes on them.

I still didn’t know how to feel about it. On the one hand, when I found the condom, and I thought about them fucking, I got a hard-on and that about summed that up.

But on the other, I thought about them talking in the hallway. I thought about them telling each other they loved me, but that they loved each other too. I thought about them kissing, just a couple feet away from me. I thought about how each morning, they both held me, and yet, they reached over me to touch each other too.

That was the part I was unsure how to feel about. They loved each other, and they wanted to be together, but they wouldn’t tell me because they were afraid it would fuck up my recovery.

What hurt the most was I had picked Eren for Eren. I had forced myself to choose, and I had chosen Eren. And what had he done? He hadn’t chosen either. He had spoken under his breath in the hallway, outside a door that hadn’t quite shut, and told Marco to choose me, because Eren believed he could be happy alone, as long as Marco and I were happy together.

That was such bullshit. How could he? After what he’d been through all these years?

He was willing to put himself in the same place he was when I was with Mikasa, again. After all the bullshit we’ve been through since I got sick, all the realizations about how badly we fucked up in high school, both of us drifting apart because we were afraid of losing each other…I thought we were finding closure. I thought we were getting to a point where we could move on, and…

Well, be together.

If Marco hadn’t come into the picture, if I hadn’t decided to go to the bar that night, what would have happened?

Certainly, Mikasa and I would still have broken up. Eventually. It was only a matter of time.

I would still have been sick, and I still would have passed out. Eventually.

And Eren would have still called the ambulance, and I would have still refused treatment, and Eren would have still wound up stuck in this apartment taking care of me.

We would…eventually, we would have started talking about high school. How my diagnosis had affected me, how me dating Mikasa had affected him…

It would have happened, right? I would have realized my feelings for him, he would have made a move? We’d be together?

But even still, why was I letting myself think that way, as if I’d somehow rather not have met Marco? I was doing it again. I was choosing Eren in my mind because it made sense. Not because I actually loved him any more. I loved Marco just as much for different things, but in the same way. Marco made me feel loved again after so long getting the cold shoulder from Mikasa. He accepted me, as whatever I was, right from the start, and would have never expected anything different. He was the one to make me feel like writing wasn’t a ludicrous fantasy, and he was the one to make me feel like having dyslexia was no big deal, like someone who cracked their knuckles or was afraid of heights. When he had sex with me, he out right worshipped me. He made me feel like the only man in the world, and like it wouldn’t bother him if I was.

And now I was constantly fuming inside, all my thoughts hot, my head aching to the point where I felt like it was going to burst, and always a heavy stomach. My stomach was a cinderblock, and no amount of soft fingertips in two different shades of brown could make that go away entirely.

The truth was, it would fuck up my recovery. It was, fucking up my recovery. I didn’t throw up in the toilet anymore. I threw up in the sink, out the window, and in plastic bags that I threw away. I couldn’t always throw up, not every meal, but at least two out of the six meals a day I got away with.

Marco and Eren hadn’t told me, but I could see it in their expressions when they weighed me last night. I had lost weight, and they couldn’t figure out why.

Right now, as I slumped into my sofa so that my leering at them over my screen wouldn’t be obvious, the two of them cleaned the kitchen together. Marco put away the dry, clean dishes, while Eren washed the dirty ones. There were a lot of dishes now that Eren and I ate six times a day. He always ate with me, because half the time I couldn’t make myself do it if I was the only one eating.

They were both shirtless, in pajama bottoms with ruffled hair. Since the thermostat was so high, and neither of them had any reason to leave the house (Mikasa brought us almost everything we needed), they were almost always like that. The two of them bumped into each other once in a while, Marco reaching his long limbs over Eren’s shoulders to grab a paper towel, a rag, drop some silverware in the sink, whatever.

I couldn’t help but think they looked good together. They would make it, if they chose each other. Eren would quit his job, because Marco would be able to support him. And Eren would stay at home with his baby. Marco had no idea what he was in for, if he chose Eren, because that man was destined to be a father. Armin had two step-siblings. Both of them had kids. And over the years, I had watched how Eren was with them at Christmas, and Thanksgiving, and their birthdays. Once I had walked into one of Armin’s step niece’s rooms, and Eren had been wearing a tutu with lips stick on, and a plastic tiara, while one of the littlest girls called him ‘your majesty’. When I had walked in on him like that, he looked up from me from where he was sitting on his footstool, and asked me if I wanted tea. Because he was holding a tea cup. Without anything in it.

I didn’t even think Eren knew it, but he wanted to be a dad just as much as Marco seemed to.

Yeah, they’d be good together.

When Marco finally noticed me staring, he smiled, and asked, “Writer’s block?”

“Just…trying to figure out how to say it,” I told him. He smiled then, and nodded, as he opened one of our cupboards to place a bowl in it.

How was I supposed to tell them to be together, when I desperately, wanted both of them? How was I supposed to tell them that I wanted them to be together, when I was still stealing every kiss I could get? When I was still getting into heated make out sessions that I had to cut short with Eren? Or asking Marco to edit all of my journal entries, so that he could read what I wrote about him, and get so flustered? When I was still curling into their chests each morning, trying to memorize the exact shape and feel and warmth of each of them? When I was still telling them I loved them whenever I could get away with it, so that maybe they wouldn’t forget when they finally got together…

This was why I had to choose what made sense.

If I chose what I felt, I’d let them be together. And unlike Eren, I didn’t stand a chance. Eren was strong. He could put up with misery and hurt in ways I couldn’t. He could keep it inside himself, and hate the world privately. Sometimes he’d blow up, but not nearly as much as his family liked to give him shit for. When he did get angry, really angry, the kind of angry only Eren could get, it was because someone wouldn’t just let him hurt in peace. Usually, that person was me.

But I couldn’t face pain the way he could. It was selfish, and cruel, and wrong, but not matter how alike we were, this was one way we were different. Eren was strong.

Marco finished putting away the dry dishes. He asked Eren if he wanted any help with the rest, and Eren shook his head.

Marco walked over to me, and plopped next to me on the couch. He glanced at my screen, but his eyes didn’t focus. He wasn’t reading, just checking my progress for the day. It wasn’t until he placed his hand in my lap, to tug at my wrist, that I realized when I had pulled my hands away from the computer I had begun to pinch my stomach. Marco placed his hand against it, underneath my shirt.

“Please, don’t.” His eyes were darkened, as his thumb stroked my stomach.

“Didn’t even – didn’t mean to, sorry.”

“Want me to edit?” He gestured to my screen.

I shook my head. “Not ready yet.” I saved what I had written so far, and then exited out of Word. I turned the laptop off.

Marco wrapped an arm around me. “Are you okay?”

I perked my head up to face him. “Yeah, of course.”

“You’ve seemed…off since I came home early,” he replied.

Had I made it that obvious? I didn’t want either of them to know that I knew, but with each passing day it was even harder to act like I didn’t know. There were so many moments when I had almost blurted something. When I noticed Marco undressing Eren with his eyes, I almost gave him shit for it, when Eren stood on his toes to kiss me a day ago, I almost mentioned that he never used to do that. When Marco said Eren’s name in his sleep, I almost woke Eren up to tell him that when he’d fallen for me, he’d done the same thing. When Eren accidentally called Marco baby, I almost grinned at him, I almost arched an eyebrow, I almost told him “I told you, so.” Because I knew Eren was a little pissed off somewhere inside of him that I had been right, I had called him out on his crush on Marco, and I had been right.

Instead I didn’t say anything, any of those times. I just took all those words I wanted to say, and put them on a Word document. And I saved all the grins I wouldn’t let myself wear, for when I was in the shower alone, and I could think about how much I loved seeing them both like this without anyone there to catch me. And I put all the anxiety I had, in knowing they might pick each other over me, into the tips of my fingers, before putting them down my throat.

It was strange to feel so exhilarated looking at the both of them, and then so defeated when I knew one day, I wouldn’t be a part of it anymore.

Jean,” Marco said.

“Huh?” I turned my head to look at him.

“I said your name like five times.” He placed his hand on my face and stroked my cheekbone with his thumb. His eyes were wide, his eyebrows furrowed, and his mouth opened, then closed, opened and closed, as he debated whether or not he should say something.

My eyes flickered over to the kitchen. Eren had gone. I couldn’t see him. He was either in the bedroom, or the bathroom.

“What’s wrong, Jean?” Marco asked.

I kissed him. At first, he didn’t kiss back. Not with the urgency I had in my lips, but after some persuasion, he gave in. He kissed me, and I felt like our mouths were saying what we refused to say out loud. Mine were telling him not to forget me, not to forget this. The way I kissed him, the way he had taken me home to his place that night, and had touched me the way he had. I kissed him so that he would remember all the times I had used kissing to tell him thank you, because my mouth wasn’t used to say those words.

And his lips tried to reassure me. Tried to calm me. As my lips bit, and pushed, and molded to his, he slowed down. Exhaled through his nose, took his time with each kiss, holding it against his like if he held it there long enough, it would leave a permanent print of my kiss against his lips. It was nothing like it was the first time I had kissed him, when he was unsure of himself. Now his lips were so attentive. It was like they knew, they knew what I was doing.

“Do you guys know where I put my blood test strips and –”

Marco pulled his face away from me. I thought he’d turn to respond to Eren, who was just staring at the two of us now, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed, wearing a tender expression.

But Marco didn’t even look at Eren. He wiped my cheeks, and only then did I realize I had begun to cry.

“Talk to me,” Marco said. “What’s wrong?"

“Should I uh…leave you two…” Eren almost asked, keeping his voice as smooth as he could manage. But his eyes had narrowed in on me. His hands were clenching on to his arms. He wanted to know why I was crying just as badly as Marco did.

I shook my head at him. “Don’t.”

As Eren strode into the room, there was a knock at the door, and he paused mid-step. Eren shook his head and rolled his eyes. “I hate it when she does that.”

I smiled, and so did Marco.

As Eren approached the door, Marco asked me, “You don’t mind if he answers it? If you’re…you’re okay with seeing her right now, right?”

I shrugged. “Can’t exactly pretend I’m not home."

Marco bit his lip, and used his thumb to wipe another tear away. I straightened my back, and scrubbed my hands over my damp face, trying to regain my composure. Maybe Mikasa would be here long enough the two of them would forget to ask me why I had cried. I wouldn’t be able to think of a lie.

Eren opened the door. “Quit knocking.”

She looked at the floor as she stepped past him, tucking her chin into her scarf. She was carrying several bags, filled with our groceries for the week. Eren followed her into the kitchen. Once she set them all on the counter, he waved her away and began pulling out all the boxes and canned foods from the bags before putting them away in the cupboards. Mikasa put away a six pack of Ensure and a carton of milk. After, she joined Marco and me in the living room.

“Not watching anything?” she asked, looking at the blank TV screen.

Marco shook his head.

“I was writing,” I said, gesturing to the computer, so she wouldn’t think I was moping around in misery all day.

She smiled, and to my surprise, she smiled at Marco. Finally, she was beginning to act like he belonged here, and had stopped looking at him like she forgot he existed each time she came over. The two of them sometimes talked about her job at the hospital, which she adored, and which she adored talking about. Marco did too, more than he wanted to show, I thought. He asked questions about her job, and it was obvious she was surprised he knew some of the terms he did, and he would sort of avert his gaze and neglect to mention that his coffee table was stacked with medical books.

“I’m so glad you’re writing so much,” she said to me. She was still smiling, and I wished both Marco and Eren would disappear for a moment so I could figure out the hell why. Not that she never smiled – of course not – but, Mikasa never smiled accidentally. She never smiled for any length of time, without realizing she was smiling.

“Uh-huh,” I said.

Marco started talking to her about how much it helped me, and even as she responded to him, she smiled.

It had taken me years to understand, but smiling just wasn’t natural for her. Even on her happiest days, even when we first got together, and we first moved in together, and she first got her internship, and she first got her job, and I first told her I loved her, and the first time – Okay, I wouldn’t normally say it like this because it was so cliché it didn’t even mean anything anymore, but the first time we made love versus just fucking, she would briefly smile at most. I’d had fights with her about it. And eventually I learned that if Mikasa smiled, she consciously chose to smile, because other people would get mad at her if she didn’t smile when they thought it was a situation where she should. And if she smiled, it was never an indicator of how happy she was. And if she wasn’t a smiling, that didn’t mean she wasn’t happy.

Eren walked back into the room. The moment he heard their discussion, he smiled, but tried to hide it from me because he knew that I hated when they acted like it was a big deal I was improving. Especially now, since I wasn’t improving anymore. Marco knew this too, but when there was someone to talk to about how proud he was of me, he couldn’t really hold back. Part of me thought he probably didn’t want Mikasa to know I had lost weight also, because he knew I wouldn’t want her to get worried and over-protective again.

Eren sat on the couch next to me, a little further away than I thought he normally would. His shoulders were tense, and his feet were tapping, like he might stand up and pace around the apartment until the floor collapsed. I wanted to reassure him that she’d be gone soon, that she wasn’t upsetting me, but then I realized that this time he wasn’t anxious because she was here. He was still wondering why I had cried.

“Oh, Eren,” Mikasa said, and Eren perked his head up. “Armin asked me to tell you to stop by when you can. Or at least call.”

Eren bit his lip. “He can’t come here? Why can’t he just come with you?”

Mikasa’s smile faltered for the first time since she walked in. She sighed. “We’ve been over this. Jean can’t –”

“It’s just Armin. He wouldn’t do anything to stress Jean out,” Eren interrupted.

“That’s not the point. Really, if everything were ideal, you and Marco wouldn’t even be able to see him. He shouldn’t be around people who aren’t –”

I groaned. “I’m fine. I wanna see him anyway.”

Marco sighed. “You really shouldn’t, Jean. You’re not even supposed to be taking phone calls.”

Armin had called a few times to check up on me. He had only spoken briefly, making sure I was still comfortable living with Marco and Eren, like he somehow knew everything that was going on in my life, like a sixth sense. I had told him I was, and he had mentioned that he couldn’t wait to see me. Even though I had argued with Mikasa, I had already known that Armin wouldn’t come to the house. Even if I didn’t think he should have to stay away, Armin agreed with Mikasa, and naturally with the professionals who wouldn’t have let me see anyone if I had gone into a hospital.

I groaned in exasperation and slumped into the couch, tucking my hands into the pocket of my hoodie.

“When does he want me to come over?” Eren asked, keeping his eye on me.

Mikasa shrugged. “Whenever.”

Eren’s shoulders, if possible, were even stiffer than they were before, and his eyes wandered toward the door. “I do want to see him.”

“Go,” I said, before even really thinking about it. “Just go now.”

Eren flinched, and he winced. “You want me to leave?”

I sat up, and turned to face him. “Not like –” My eyes flickered toward Mikasa. I couldn’t say not like I don’t want you here, not like I don’t want you anymore, because I knew that was what he was thinking, so I just said, “that. But if you go now, Mikasa and Marco are here so…you could be ya’ know…back before she leaves, or whatever.”

I felt my face heating up. I felt Mikasa analyzing the situation. She knew Eren had feelings for me, and I for him, and I knew she was wondering about Marco. I felt her gaze on the nape of my neck. I pulled my hoodie up over my head and fell back against the couch.

“You – you sure?” Eren asked, looking me up and down.

I nodded. “Yeah. When’s that last time you’ve been in your own damn house? Go. See Armin. It’s fine.”

Eren looked at Mikasa, as if he was hoping she’d tell him he couldn’t for some reason. “Should I?”

“I don’t see why not,” she replied, shrugging.

Eren bit his lip again, before he looked at me. “And you’re sure you’re okay with it?”

“Eren, fucking go, man. I’m fine.”

He hesitated another second, but stood up from the couch to head into the bedroom.

“That reminds me,” Marco said, “Ymir’s been calling.”

I glanced at him. His face was unreadable, but I thought I understood. “Go ahead.”

“I don’t have to,” he said, “All we’d end up doing is ordering pizza and watching Netflix anyway.”

I sighed. Tilting my head back into the couch, I closed my eyes. “Just go see her. I really, really, don’t mind.”

Marco too, looked at Mikasa for permission. But I didn’t feel like when he looked at her it was because he hoped she’d tell him no. For whatever reason, I got the impression he wanted her to take a hint.

“Don’t worry,” she said, “I’ll keep an eye on him.”

I held in another groan. If I hated anything about “recovery” it was being treated like a pet. None of them ever tried to do it, but they still did. They made me feel helpless. My throat felt thick, almost like it was full of something I was unable to swallow. It was a familiar feeling now, like I imagined smoker’s got when they knew they needed a cigarette. It was the urge to throw up, and I had to keep swallowing and swallowing and hope I could just ignore it.

Marco stood up, and reached around Mikasa to grab one of his sweatshirts sitting on the recliner she was sitting in. He grabbed his phone and wallet and keys.

But then I almost laughed, because he was so Goddamn obvious. He waited by the door for Eren to be done changing, grabbing his own keys, wallet and phone, and filling his diabetic kit with the blood test strips he’d been looking for earlier. Marco leaned against the wall, tapping his leg and adjusting his collar, until Eren joined him. Eren gave him a look like he was thinking the same damn thing I was, but he didn’t seem to realize that I was aware of it too.

I glanced at Mikasa, who didn’t seem to think anything of the interaction, and I was glad for it. It was one thing for me to be aware of what was going on between those idiots, and another for her to know.

They both took one last glance at me. I nodded at them. The two of them stepped out of the apartment, closing the door with a thud and a click behind them. Their footsteps thumped against the wood balcony outside, as they descended down the staircase.

With them gone I didn’t even hesitate. “What’s gotten into you? You – Uh, you look um…happy?”

She tucked her nose into her scarf, but her eyes squinted up like she was grinning. “I don’t know what you mean.”

I shook my head. “Don’t do that.”

“What?”

“You know what I’m talking about. You can’t honestly expect me to not notice when you’re…when you’re so…”

She smiled, and I felt something run up my spine. Maybe she was just finally happy again, after so many months of me weighing her down.

I didn’t know what I expected her to do, but standing up so that she could sit closer to me on the couch, was not one of them. She leaned her head against my shoulder, and wrapped her arms around my arm, and for a moment, I had never been sick, we had never fought, we never drifted or had any struggles at all. And I was just in our apartment again, and she was just the love of my life. I wrapped my arm around her, and she tucked her nose into my chest, closing her eyes.

“Mikasa?”

“I’m moving in with Armin,” she said.

I nodded. “Yeah, I guess that makes sense.”

“No, Jean,” she said. “I’m moving in with Armin.”

My body stiffened. “But he’s…you’re…? Isn’t he like…like doesn’t he like not uh…not do romance, or whatever?”

“Yeah,” she said, “And I don’t either. We’re not in love together.”

I snorted. “What?”

She smiled. I threaded my fingers through her hair, like I always used to, carefully spreading my fingers to untangle the knots in her otherwise commercial-worthy, silky hair.

“It’s – It’s really hard to explain. But you know…I told you I never loved you. But that wasn’t really true. I loved you more than I ever loved anyone. You were the love of my life. Just not…not like that.”

I sighed. “You’re not making any sense, Micky.”

I winced, and she snorted. Oh man, I hadn’t called her that in a while. I hadn’t meant to say it this time, but it felt so natural for me to do when she was tucked under my arm and we were sitting on the couch we picked out together. But, I wasn’t in love with her like I was last time we did this. Not at all anymore, and it didn’t hurt. Not like I thought it would.

“When we broke up nothing was different for me. And I thought it was because I never loved you. But that’s not exactly true. I’ve always loved you, and when we broke up, the reason I didn’t feel any different was because nothing had changed. I still loved you. I just…I’ve just realized that I’m like Armin too. I don’t love like you guys do, but –”

“You just love a shit ton?” I asked.

She laughed. “Yeah. I love you a shit ton."

I grinned, still threading my fingers through her hair. “You sure? Cause I’d completely understand if you hated me. I’ve – I fucked up. I told you to fuck off and I –”

“Walked out on me,” she said, slapping my chest.

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, that was pretty much really horrible of you.”

There was so much I wanted to say to her. I wanted to tell her how sorry I was that it had taken this long for me to sit down and talk to her, to ask her what was going on her life, to figure out that there was something going on her life. More than anything, I wished all of this could have happened a different way. There was no excuse for walking out on a five year long relationship, and no excuse for telling her to fuck off when I needed her most.

I didn’t say any of that, because I didn’t know how. None of it would come out right.

“I’m sorry,” I rasped instead. She patted my chest again, and for some unfathomable reason, I knew I was forgiven.

“It was my fault,” she whispered. “I started realizing months ago that I wasn’t in love with you like I was supposed to be. Armin and I…we’ve…we’ve been figuring it out together and I just – both of us were trying to figure out how to tell you and Eren. I was going to tell you that night…it was the same night Armin told Eren. But I…when I got home I couldn’t do it.”

I swallowed, and wiped my eyes, thankful that Mikasa wasn’t looking up at me. Her eyes were foggy, like she was zoning out, focused on something that had happened a while ago, probably something she shouldn’t have to be thinking about.

“So…you and Armin. You’re a…”

“Couple,” she said.

“But not…?”

“A romantic couple.”

“So like best friends or…”

She slapped my chest. “You’re my best friend.”

“Okay, but…what else is there?”

“Armin and me,” she replied, “We’re – It’s what people like us do. People who don’t have romantic feelings. We’re like…together, in all the ways a couple is just not…not like that.”

“Is that what you had with me?” I asked.

She shook her head. “Probably what I wanted, but it can’t be one-sided.”

I nodded, knowing that certainly hadn’t been what I had wanted. “It’s gonna take me a while to get used to you and Armin. That’s just…just so fucking weird.”

“Says the person fucking my brother.”

I groaned and squirmed underneath her for a second. “Don’t say shit like that. I’m not – We’re not – No.”

She laughed and sat up to look at me. “You don’t have to hide it from me anymore. Please don’t. I don’t care.”

“Really? You really don’t care that Eren and I – isn’t it weird for you? Doesn’t it bother you?”

“Oh, it’s fucked up that’s for sure,” she said, and I winced. She snorted again. “But I’m not mad. I can’t exactly blame him. I mean, look at you.” She waved dismissively at me, as if it should be obvious.

“Did you just hit on me?” This was not how this was supposed to go. When I had told Marco and Eren to leave, I had expected a night of her trying to pry open my mind and figure out all the shit I was hiding about Marco and Eren. I wasn’t expecting…

I wasn’t expecting it to just be us. Me and Mikasa. Like it’d always been.

It was…It was nice.

“Oh please,” she said, before leaning against my shoulder again. She was quiet for a moment before speaking. “It is what it is. He loves you. I don’t want to take that from him anymore.”

I swallowed, deciding right then and there that if I couldn’t talk to Eren and Marco, I could to her. I had to. All my journal did was make everything more helpless…and if Mikasa was smiling so much, if she could be this happy…

Maybe I could too. Maybe everything I was putting up with right now would actually be gone someday, and this problem with Eren and Marco would pass, and whatever came of it would just be normal. Just like sitting on the couch with my arm wrapped around her was. And I would think back on these days, and it would be strange to think that everything that happened had cut me so deeply.

“Mikasa,” I almost whispered, still unsure of what I was saying, “Marco he’s…he’s more than a friend.”

She perked her head up. She seemed to be calculating, pursing her lips as she tried to understand all the implications behind what I had just said. “You’re not with Eren?”

“I’m not with either, right now,” I told her, “But I want both and…uh…Eren and Marco have something going on too. I found a used condom.”

Mikasa sighed. “You men are so lazy about that.”

I rolled my eyes. “It was your idea to store lube in the pillowcase, if you remember. You’re just as lazy. Not that it matters, because we aren’t talking about that right now, are we?” I spit.

She laughed. “So, you’re telling me, that you want to be with both of them, and Eren wants to be with both of you, and Marco wants to be with both of you?”

I nodded. Somehow, in my mind it felt more complicated than that. Surely, everything that had happened in the past week couldn’t be summarized so easily? There must be some words that could portray how horrible this was. When she said it like that, it almost sounded like no big deal.

“What do you think?” I asked.

She sighed. “Well…A few weeks ago I would have said there’s only one way to love. And even fewer weeks ago, I would have sworn on my life that Eren was going to marry Armin, and I was going to marry you. But we were only going to get married, and they were only going to get married, because we thought that was what we had to do. And even though it would make us unhappy, we were going to do it because we thought we had to. But…I don’t think anyone should have to be unhappy. I don’t think that it matters if what Armin and I are doing is something we’re not supposed to do, because we’re happy. Not everyone gets to be happy, you know? So when it can happen…it has to. However it has to, it does. So…I think…I think you should take that into consideration. What would make you happy?”

I cleared my throat, and played with the ends of her hair. She smiled, and I was glad I was around her while she was like this.

“I don’t know,” I said, “It’s – It’s not just me that has to be happy.”

She nodded. “That’s true. Maybe you should talk to them.”

“I can’t,” I said.

“Why not?”

“They don’t know that I know they’ve fucked. I’m keeping it from them.”

She sighed. “I kept the fact that I wasn’t in love with you away from you for months. Can you imagine if I had just talked to you when I first realized it?”

My eyebrows rose, and my hand halted in her hair.

“Yeah,” she said, feeling my body stiffen underneath her as the truth smacked me a little too hard. “You don’t have to talk to them, of course, but you should probably think about what will happen if you don’t."

We were silent for a moment, as I processed those words in their entirety. The more I thought about the words, especially when I thought about them at the same time I thought about the words I’d shared with Eren while discussing what would have happened if I had never gotten sick…I understood that being honest was always going to be hard, but living a lie was even worse, and well…

I was a shitty liar to begin with.

What had happened so far, that much I knew, I wouldn’t change. I would not choose to never break up with Mikasa, or never meet Marco, or never find closure with Eren. But, I knew that what was happening right now…this constant struggle of keeping our feelings to ourselves, and trying to control our love for one another…it could not end well. The last time I had neglected to confront my feelings with someone I loved, Eren and I had split up.

Mikasa had been silent, looking up at me, probably aware that I was far away by now. Somehow, she knew I wasn’t going to talk to her about it anymore. She stood up from the couch.

“Sorry, hon. It’s time to eat.” She headed toward the kitchen to make me food. She didn’t ask me to follow her there, or tug me by my hand, the way Marco or Eren would have. She trusted me not to run to the bathroom and try to throw up, or lock myself in there. Maybe it was because she thought I was getting better, I didn’t know. But now…Now I kind of wanted to get better. I wanted her, and Marco, and Eren to have a reason to trust me not to throw up if I was out of eyesight.

I stayed where I was sitting on the couch, the entire time she prepared my fifth meal of the day for the both of us. She sat almost in silence next to me as we ate and watched TV together, only commenting from time to time on whatever happened in the show. She would look in her periphery to make sure I wasn’t storing food in a napkin like I often did, and then she would return her attention to the screen. I ate everything she gave me. My stomach felt heavy, but my heart, for once, felt light.

Chapter Text

Eren

It was already pretty late when I arrived at my own damn home. I hadn’t been here in weeks, and walking up the driveway and taking the path up to my porch, like I didn’t live here, was bizarre. But really, I didn’t live here. I knew I never would again, and the last time I left my house, the night Mikasa had convinced me to go see Jean, was the last time I was ever in this townhouse and it was still home. It sort of bruised my heart, because Armin and I had lived here for three years, and not too long ago, I had thought we’d be here for three more.

I stared at the front door for a good minute thinking about how every time someone does something in their life, it could be the last fucking time they do it. Everyone’s always told me, hey, life’s too short, you could get hit by a bus tomorrow. Everyone’s heard that. But no one’s been warned, hey, if you’re ever told by someone you’re pretending you don’t love that it will be “just us” before you go to his house, your life will never be the same and you won’t have a say in it at all. No one ever tells you, hey, you’re going to walk out of your home, your feet are going to hit the sidewalk, and it will no longer be your home and you won’t realize it until there’s no going back.

No one ever tells you, hey, you might not love this man someday, but while you’re with him, act like you always will anyway. Act like he is the person you will be with the rest of your life, because you don’t know he won’t be yet. And when he ends up not being the person you thought you’d be with forever, you’re still going to wish you had loved him more, loved him right, loved him with each second you had him, with everything you had until you didn’t love him anymore, because no one ever tells you that the people you love now, no matter if they one day won’t be, are still going to be as important as the one you place your headstone next to.

I knocked on Armin’s front door.

For a moment, I thought I understood why Mikasa always knocked even though I always left it unlocked for her.

The door swung open. Armin was in jeans, a button-down shirt, with a vest over it, and he was wearing his glasses.

He smiled. “You didn’t waste any time.”

He walked in, leaving the door open behind him so that I could follow. I shut the door. We went into the living room, where Armin had all his reports spread out all over the place surrounding his recliner, and a laptop flipped open on the coffee table. I used to hate when he’d have to bring work home, because he’d do it all night and his job took advantage of him. I knew it was because he was an assistant manager now and had to basically babysit six accountants below him, but it still bothered me. He never said anything to his boss about it.

I sat on the couch across from him.

“How’s Jean?” he asked, reaching for the remote to turn down the TV. His glasses flickered with the flashing screen.

“He’s uh…” I started, lacing my fingers together and resting them on my stomach, as I slouched into the cushions. I had gotten used to Jean’s obnoxious leather couch. The one Armin and I had chosen was so much comfier. “He’s eating, I guess. He lost weight this week, though. I think…I don’t know, I swear I always keep an eye on him, but…”

“Start checking the trash,” Armin said. He was looking at his computer while typing.

“Why?”

“Is he ever in the kitchen alone?”

I tilted my head back, with the realization that, yes, he was. All the time.

“He could be throwing up in the garbage,” Armin said.

I nodded, considering all the other ways Jean might have been able to figure out a way to throw up. I wanted to kick myself in the ass for assuming he’d be picky about having a toilet present, for fuck’s sake.

“That’s not really what I meant anyway,” Armin added, over the clacking of his typing. I always wondered how he could do that. He spoke like his fingers weren’t controlled by his mind, and the typing was happening of its own accord, and he was merely observing the phenomenon with me.

“What did you mean?” I laced my fingers behind my neck. My feet began tapping. I never knew what the fuck Armin meant.

“You two. Have you made up, I take it?”

I debated whether or not I had a chance in hell of lying to Armin and convincing him of anything.

Then I realized that, no, okay, I didn’t have a chance in hell, but also I didn’t want to lie to him.

“Sort of,” I started.

Armin stopped typing. He exited out of everything he was doing, and the light flashed across his glasses some more. He shut his laptop, and then leaned back in his recliner. His hand slid his glasses away from his face. He tinkered with them in his hands, like he always had, as he waited for me to continue.

And everything just…gushed out of me.

I told him everything. I told him about Marco and I taking turns sleeping in the bed with him, and that all of us knew that Marco and I were both kissing Jean for a while when the other wasn’t looking. I told him about Jean telling me that he was choosing me, and how I wouldn’t let him do it just because it made sense. Then I told Armin that Jean realized I liked Marco before even I did – Armin’s eyebrows rose up at that, and he nodded like he had figured out why his math problem hadn’t been right – and how that crush was sort of…totally reciprocated, and I fucked him. But, I made sure when I said it, that he knew it was because one way or another I had ended up loving him and he thought he loved me. And now…now we were all stuck.

Armin unfolded and refolded his glasses, making them snap in between my sentences as I spoke. When I was done, he nodded, while looking at his glasses, before he leaned forward and placed them on the coffee table. He rested his elbows on his knees, as he tucked his hair behind either ear.

“When we were together, you loved Jean the entire time right?” he asked.

I winced. “What the fuck, Armin.”

“But you did?”

I squirmed in the couch, not finding it as comfy anymore. I almost stood to pace, but just gripped onto my neck until my nails dug in instead. “Why?”

“Because. You’ve always been this way, apparently.”

“What way?” I asked.

“Capable of loving more than one person at once,” he said. He smiled, his eyes drifting over the house. We had photos of ourselves up. Not as many as Mikasa had put up in her and Jean’s apartment, but a few.

“You say that like it’s a good thing.”

“Isn’t it? Why wouldn’t it be?” he asked, returning his attention back to me.

“Because. How can I ever expect someone to want me if I’m going to want someone else too?”

Armin looked amused for a moment, and I pulled my hands away from my neck so I didn’t end up cutting my skin.

“Could you be with someone who wanted someone else too?”

I had already opened my mouth to say something else when he had asked the question, and now I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. I tilted my head back.

A moment passed, before I said, “I guess. I mean…I can’t really get mad at them for it. I’m the same way.”

Armin’s eyes flicked back and forth, like he was reading his own thoughts, trying to articulate whatever he was about to say in a way that would get through my thick skull. “Could you be with both of them at once?”

I jerked my head back like I was avoiding a fly. “Of course not. I would never do that. Not…not on purpose, I mean. Like ya’ know...with you it was an accident.”

Armin shook his head, tucking his hair behind his ear again. “I don’t mean cheat on them. Could you be with both of them? They’d be with each other too.”

“What, like a threesome?”

“Yeah,” Armin said.

“Ya’ know, as hot as that sounds, it’s way too fucked up. I wouldn’t use them like that. And Jean…Jean’s not in any condition to –”

Armin snorted, and covered his face with his hands, shaking his head. “Oh my God. No, Eren. Not a threesome like that. I mean all of you dating each other.”

I stared at him for what felt like an entire day. His gaze didn’t budge. He meant it, and I couldn’t fathom why he meant it. Normally, I trusted Armin like I trusted gravity, pretty much more than I trusted the sun rising or that two negatives multiplied together actually made a positive.

“That’s – no, we couldn’t. One of us…someone would end up hurt. Or jealous or –”

I cleared my throat, thinking about the three of us dating. Really, trying to picture that in my mind and make it make sense. Of course it was what I would want. It was the most desirable solution. But...I thought about how long I had watched Mikasa and Jean together. I had loved him, and I had dealt with it because she made him happy. And I knew that if Jean had chosen Marco already, I would have been happy for them, because they'd both end up with who they loved most. They'd both be happier.

I was willing to accept that because Jean had fallen for Marco instantly. Marco had gotten what I had ached five years for. When Jean had walked out on Mikasa, his first instinct wasn’t to come to me. It was to go to a bar, and pick up a random stranger. He would have rather fucked a stranger than just come and seen me.

And when we fought, and I was more heartbroken than I had ever been about anything…he had gone and seen Marco. They had agreed to be together.

I couldn’t be with both of them, because I would never be loved by them as much as they loved each other. I would be a third wheel in my own damn relationship, and I wouldn’t even have the dignity to fucking leave them.

That was why I could handle it if they got together now. If they got together now, I wouldn’t know what it was like to wake up in the bed with them, and kiss them each good morning, and come home after work to squeeze between them on the couch and cook for them. I wouldn’t ever experience shaving in the morning with them on either side of me, or trying to all fit in the shower, or – or –

Undressing with both of them, and feeling both their hands on me, and their lips, and hearing both of them say my name and hear both of them when they came and –

No. I had to protect myself before any of that even happened. Because once I knew what it was like, it wouldn’t matter if I was the third wheel. I’d never be able to pull myself away from them, because some love from both of them would be better than the truest love from anyone else.

Armin scooted so that he was next to me on the couch. He placed a hand on my shoulder, and pretty soon I was damn near curled up in his lap, because it hurt just trying to think about it.

“I can’t, Armin. When Jean walked out on Mikasa he didn’t come to me. And Marco…we just met. I know I love him, but I’m…like that. They love each other more than they love me.”

Armin rubbed my shoulder as he looked down on me. “I don’t know about that. I don’t think Jean was intending to fall in love with anyone he met that night, Eren. And…he might have come to you, but you were with me. I don’t think he considered you an option for what…what he was looking for that night.”

I didn’t respond. Armin could make anything sound like it made sense, so I wasn’t sure I was ready to believe this just because it sounded like it made sense. But…really, it did.

Jean didn’t think about anything he did. I imagined that night he just wanted to piss Mikasa off, or at least, somewhere inside him that was all he wanted at the time. He wouldn’t have actually wanted her to know, but it would have made him feel better knowing he’d fucked someone. That he could leave and find someone willing to fuck him that easily. On some level, he felt like he won, like he showed her up, even though he didn’t and he knew he didn’t, because in the end, Jean left that night not because he wanted to but because she wanted him to. He fucked Marco to get back at her, to prove to himself he could move on, and it just so happened he found Marco. If it had been anyone else…

Well, I really doubted they’d be living in the apartment with me taking care of him.

And even if it hadn’t been with Marco, Jean had believed that nothing would hurt Mikasa more than if she found out we used to be together. He had been angry, but he didn’t hate her. He wouldn’t have come to me, for her sake, even if he had wanted to. And he probably knew that the first place she’d go after he left was my place. He wouldn’t have been able to keep it from her, even if Armin wasn’t my boyfriend living with me in the house.

I hated when Armin made sense, but right now, I needed him to make some more.

“What about Marco?” I asked, “You think he loves me as much as he loves Jean?”

I could feel Armin shrug. “I don’t know him, Eren, and so I have no idea how he feels. The only reason I’m certain he loves Jean is because no one would be doing what he’s doing right now if he didn’t love Jean.”

I sat up at those words. For a moment, I just stared at my hands, picturing pale, spidery fingers with beautiful, knobby knuckles in them, and brown hands with sturdy – yet gentle – fingers, dotted in freckles.

“But I asked him to,” I said.

Armin turned his head to look at me, shifting in the couch so that he was hugging his knees. “You asked him to help you take care of Jean?”

“Well…no, not exactly. But he was going to leave at the hospital. I don’t know what Jean said to him but – but it had to be bad, because Marco looked like he was ready to walk off a bridge. And he walked out the door and I – I don’t know why I asked. I didn’t want him to go…and so – so I told him Jean needed him, which wasn’t – ya’ know, I wasn’t, like, lying, but I don’t think that was why I wanted him to stay. I think I just was too afraid to do it alone and thought – I just assumed he could do it better than me and wanted that for Jean so bad. So I asked him to stay at the hospital and – and asked if he would come to the house.” As I spoke, I kept staring at my hands, picturing all the times I’d held Jean with them, and all the times they’d touched Marco’s shoulder, or neck, or waist, as I reached over Jean.

“And you think that’s why he’s there?”

“No. Not anymore. I think he’s glad he stayed, but…he wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t asked him to.”

At first when Marco had come over, I had been so focused on…on winning Jean, as if that was how things worked. I had only kept my eye on Marco, and how Jean was responding to him, to see if I thought Marco was the favorite, and of course I did.

But I didn’t think now that Marco had ever been like that. When he decided to stay and take care of Jean with me that had been his only intention. And we had spent every single day of Jean’s recovery together so far, and one thing that I learned was that even if two strangers ended up living together, they didn’t stay strangers for long. Within days I knew all of Marco’s habits, like rubbing his neck and talking in his sleep. I knew his morning routine, he showered, shaved, dressed, and ate, all before saying goodbye to Jean in the morning. He said goodbye to me too, and on the way out always called his cousin whose name I still couldn’t get right. I learned what he couldn’t do (cook) and what his pet peeves were (leaving the sink running while shaving and turning the TV on too loudly) and everything in between.

Every part of our day was done together, as if we had always known each other. From the moment we woke to when we went to bed, we had to be a team. Someone always had to be with Jean. I took the tasks Marco didn’t want to do or couldn’t do, and he did the same for me. What was hard for both of us, like weighing Jean, or getting him to eat, we did together.

And more than anything, from the very beginning we always had something to talk to each other about. Jean. Our concerns for him. Our memories of him. Our stories about him. Our hopes for him. Every night on the couch, while switching off each night between what he wanted to watch and what I wanted to watch. We never fought, or argued, or held any resentment toward each other at all despite there being every available opportunity for tension. And both of us, I knew, believed we couldn’t have gotten this far without the other.

It cemented a relationship within us that was unlike any other I had ever known. How many other people came to know each other in such a way? How many other people gave up everything going on in their lives, to move in with a stranger, and trusted that same stranger the save the person they loved most?

In all this time, I had been watching for all the signs that Marco loved Jean more than me, that Jean loved Marco more than me, and hadn’t paid any attention to signs that they loved me as much. Could they?

“Eren?” Armin asked, tapping my shoulder. I faced him, and his blue eyes searched my face with worry.

“If I – If I dated both of them wouldn’t…wouldn’t there be like…competition? Wouldn’t someone get jealous or – or wouldn’t a fight, like…if Jean and I got in a fight – which, fuck, you know we will – and Marco took his side, wouldn’t we just end up splitting up?”

Armin arched an eyebrow at me. “I suppose all those things are possible, but it kind of sounds to me like they’re already happening because you aren’t all together.”

I nodded, although I wasn’t convinced. Part of me was sure he was right, and part of me was suddenly certain we were doomed to be jealous, and competitive, either way. The only part of this solution that comforted me was knowing I wouldn’t have to give either of them up. Somehow, it was even more important to me that neither of them would have to give anyone up either.

I swallowed, taking a moment to think about it longer. I still felt like somehow, if something went wrong, it would be my fault. I’d be the jealous one, I would be the competitive one, and I would be the one starting fights. It was amazing Armin had put up with me for so long, and even as Jean and I were starting to rekindle our relationship, I had feared from the pit of my stomach that it would be short-lived. We’d have a honeymoon phase, and then in no time he’d remember why he left me the first time.

“I don’t know, Armin. Just feels…kinda wrong. I feel sort of…greedy I guess, expecting them to, like, love me and want me too. That’s not how it works. People don’t just…just openly cheat on each other. People are supposed to be committed to each other and I – I want that. I want to commit to somebody the way I – the way I didn’t with you, ya’ know? Being with both of them is great and everything, but it just –”

Armin sighed, and I knew he was about to get serious. He was always somewhat serious, but normally he was either too timid to say something, or unwilling to make something his business when it wasn’t his place to. It was only when someone (me) provoked him enough to get past those feelings that he would speak up.

“The reason you think it's wrong is because everyone has told you it’s supposed to be. Just like the kids who beat me up in high school when I came out as trans. I didn’t hate them, because they had no idea what they were truly saying, or thinking, or why they did and thought that way. They were taught from everything around them. When you told your parents you wanted to stay with me, and that you were attracted to men, they were the same way. They had no idea why they hated people like me, or why they thought our relationship was wrong, but they felt that way because they thought they were supposed to. Eren, this is the same thing. Everyone who told me I was wrong for being trans, or that you were wrong for liking men, would tell you that this is wrong too. And why…just why the fuck would you want to do what they think is right?”

I laced my fingers behind my neck, and slumped back into the couch. He scooted away from me, waiting for a response. Now that he’d said what he had to say, he looked like he was worried he had offended me. He had drained himself of his superhero-ness and would be timid again until he recharged. I grinned, and shook my head. Seeing him like that definitely made me want to agree with him.

“I don’t,” I said. “I don’t at all. You’re right.”

He let out a little sigh, and smiled too. “I don’t think you’ll have any trouble committing to both of them. You shouldn’t think of it as ‘openly cheating’. All cheating is, is doing something that would upset the person you love if they found out. If you’re all together and you all know it – in no way at all is that cheating. If anything, I think that says more about how much you love them. Most people can barely commit to one.”

It reminded me of why I had wanted to come here tonight so badly. He knew me better than almost anyone, maybe even Jean. If someone else had come to him with this same situation, the advice would have been different, but he knew me, and he wouldn’t tell me to do this if he didn’t think it was right. If he didn’t think it was right for me.

“You think so?” I asked.

He shrugged, and nodded like it should be obvious. “How many other guys wouldn’t jump on the opportunity to have sex with other people when their significant other gave them permission?”

I laughed, covering my face as it started to burn up. “Shut up.”

“I’m just saying, commitment has never been your issue.”

“Do you think they’ll do it, if I ask?”

Armin’s eyes flickered back and forth again, weighing all the endless data he apparently had to contribute to a situation that wasn’t even his, and he rubbed his chin. “I don’t know what they’ll do,” he finally said, “But I know they don’t want to be in this situation any more than you. Maybe at first they’d turn it down, but eventually they’ll see it’s not worth someone getting hurt.”

I nodded, already contemplating how I could bring it up to Jean and Marco. I couldn’t ask them at the same time. I knew I’d have to go to Marco first, because I had promised him that we wouldn’t put any pressure on Jean to make a decision before Thanksgiving, especially because Marco would be flying to Texas over the holiday, and would be unable to see him. My gut was telling me to break that promise, especially now that finding a solution didn’t seem like it would be painful. It felt like it would be exhilarating, actually, and I thought Jean needed that. Jean needed this problem off his mind. He’d lost weight. Something was getting to him, and what else could it be besides Marco and me?

Slumping into the chair, I sighed. I wouldn’t break my promise. If I wanted to convince them both to be with me, it wouldn’t make sense to betray the trust of one of them right off the bat. I’d wait, talk to Marco alone, and convince him first. Then we could both propose it to Jean – assuming I had successfully convinced Marco this idea wasn’t insane – and Jean would see right from the start how much neither of us minded that he wouldn’t choose, how neither of us minded being shared.

I smiled, and Armin quirked an eyebrow at me. “Thanks, Armin. I owe you. I know I owe you for a lot of things, probably almost everything, so thank you.”

He smiled and returned to where he was sitting in his recliner, flipping open his laptop again to resume his work. “If it’ll make you feel better, I think something just happened in my life that will pay your debt.”

My eyebrow’s furrowed at him. “What?”

He smiled, enough to show his teeth, and then I really became concerned. He said, “Mikasa and I are together.”

The words rung in my ears, and a shiver ran down my spine. It took a long time for me to hear them right, to understand their meaning, and even then I was sure I must have heard him wrong. “You…and Mikasa…are together?”

“Well, not like we were together. Not romantically. She’s my,” Armin paused to sigh, and added, “You’re not going to understand what this means, but she’s my queer-platonic partner.”

Usually, Armin wouldn’t say I couldn’t understand something, and usually, if he did for some reason, I’d get pissed at him for assuming I couldn’t. Like all those times though, he was right. I had no idea what that was. I sat up in the couch and leaned forward, lacing my fingers together.

I cleared my throat. “So…what are you?”

“Well…Mikasa and I are both people who don’t experience romantic feelings. But we’re – for all other intents and purposes, we’re in a relationship. Just not a romantic one.”

I still didn’t understand what he meant, but I trusted what he was saying anyway. Whatever their relationship was, I could hardly judge him for it considering the kind of relationship I was considering with Jean and Marco. And besides, Mikasa had looked so happy at the house…and Armin looked so happy now. I used to wonder if Mikasa would ever find anyone again after Jean, and I had worried that Armin would always resent me for how we had parted. The two of them spent so much time together, it must make sense. Whatever it was, I wanted it for them.

“Are you…okay with that?” Armin asked. Oh God, his hands were trembling. Did he honestly think I would be angry with him?

I laughed. “Armin, I don’t give a shit. There’s no one I’d rather have my sister end up with.” I had said the words to make him feel better, but the moment they were off my lips I realized they were true. No one else in the world deserved my sister, I just hadn’t realized it until now.

Armin beamed, and covered his smile with one hand like he wasn’t supposed to be that happy. “Really?”

“Yeah.” I shrugged. Really, I should have seen it sooner. If Mikasa hadn’t wanted to be around Armin so much, she would have come back to the house already. Armin wouldn’t go to the hospital so much to visit – holy shit. “God damn it.”

“What?”

“Marco fucking called it,” I said.

Armin squinted at me. “What?”

“Marco figured it out first. He asked me if you guys were dating when we were still at the fucking hospital with Jean.”

Armin laughed, and returned to his typing again with steady hands. “Sorry.”

“Yeah, whatever,” I grumbled, pissed I wasn’t the first to notice it. Marco didn’t even know them! Shouldn’t I have been? Wasn’t it my right to notice that my sister and ex-fiancé had a…a thing?

“So anyway,” Armin said. He was grinning and shaking his head as he typed, because I was sitting with crossed arms and pouting. “You don’t owe me anything. If we hadn’t broken up because of Jean, I wouldn’t have her now.”

Something inside my chest swelled at those words, hearing Armin say that about my sister. I would have never guessed that this could happen, but like meeting Marco, I was suddenly immensely grateful it had. Already, I couldn’t imagine anything different.

For once, it felt like things might work out after all. I smiled.

“Hey, could you make us dinner? I don’t have time to tear myself away from this yet,” he said, gesturing to his keyboard. I almost laughed. He couldn't tear himself away, unless of course, he needed to convince me to date two other men.

"Yeah, sure." I stood, and by the time I got to his kitchen, everything about tonight was far behind me. Armin and Mikasa were meant for each other, of course, and there had never been a time when they weren’t. If only, I thought, the same could happen with Jean and Marco. Thanksgiving was coming, just three days, and I was counting the seconds.

Chapter Text

Marco

When I got home, my apartment seemed much bigger than how I remembered. It was too quiet, too vast, and too chilly. I felt like Jean should be walking out of my bedroom with a comforter wrapped around his shoulders to go turn the thermostat up, or that Eren should have been in the kitchen putting groceries away and planning Jean’s meals for the day. The living room wasn’t cluttered with Eren’s diabetic stuff. My entryway was missing a pair of steel-toed boots. The kitchen sink wasn’t piled high with dishes.

I sighed, as I walked through my apartment. I’d already called Ymir. She was on her way over. A pizza was heading this way too. All that I could think to do was water my cacti. It was the only part of my home that actually felt like home right now. Everything else felt like it belonged to a different lifetime, a different me altogether.

I made a mental note to take some of my smaller cacti back to Jean’s place – basically, my new home – with me.

The pizza came first, and before I was even done tipping the delivery woman, Ymir swooped through the door around her. I carried the pizza into the kitchen, following Ymir. She was opening one of my cupboards to grab us both plates.

“Hey stranger,” she said.

I scooted my bar stool out from underneath my countertop and sat down. With my both my hands, I covered my face and rubbed my eyes until I thought they’d sink into my head. “I know.”

“How’s saving your boy’s life going?” she asked, as she placed two plates on the counter and flipped open the pizza box. A few minutes ago I would have lunged at real food. All I’d been eating for the past couple of weeks was eggs, vegetables and if I was lucky and Jean was in the mood, maybe bread. But hearing her question had made my shoulders hunch.

“Do you have to say it like that?” I asked, “He wasn’t ever – he’s not like, dying, okay? He’s not.”

He’d lost weight this week. I still couldn’t shake that kiss either. The taste of his salty tears was still on my lips. He hadn’t kissed me that desperately since before we even knew he was sick. And after – after whatever had happened on the other side of that bathroom door when he’d locked himself in there, the slightest change in his emotions put me on edge.

“Sorry,” Ymir said. She ducked her head down, taking a moment to adjust her ponytail behind her head. “I didn’t mean it like that. Is he okay?”

She placed half the pizza on her plate, even though the plate was roughly the size of one piece, and pulled out another to begin eating it herself. She had swallowed the first half of that slice before I remembered she had asked me a question.

“He’s…” I rubbed the back of my neck, trying to find a place to start. I didn’t know if I wanted to tell Ymir too much about Eren and Jean, and our situation. She wasn’t like Hitch was. She didn’t even trust Jean entirely yet. I knew without having to bring it up that Ymir wouldn’t be thrilled about any solution that involved the three of us being together, and I was stilling clinging on to that hope right now. She had enough bad experiences with just one other person, and until she found Christa she had pretty much given up on finding ‘the one’. She probably didn’t mean how he was emotionally anyway, so I said, “He was doing really well for a while. I guess I shouldn’t have expected everything to…to just go away so easily.”

“You know…it’s really not, like, your problem. I know you love being a good guy, Marco, but…being a nice person only gets you so far. You can’t just – just do everything for people all the time.” She was saying all of this, while chewing around her second piece of pizza. She stopped in the middle of talking to pull a stray pepperoni off her maroon hoody. My back stiffened.

“That’s not what this is about,” I snapped. “I’m not just being nice. This is serious. We’re serious.”

Her hazel eyes widened while a spoke, and by the time she swallowed what she was chewing on, her face had turned into a sneer. “You were the one that told me that dating this guy wasn’t an option. So excuse me for assuming he ended up being more than you bargained for.”

I slumped forward, tucking my head into my elbow and looking away from her. I pressed my forehead against the counter. Well, he was more than I bargained for, but that didn’t mean I wanted to give him up. I tilted my head up to glance at her, but kept my chin resting on my crossed arms.

Ymir glanced at the pizza and then at me. “Are you ever going to eat?”

“Are you ever going to come out to mom and dad?” I asked.

Ymir’s eyebrows shot up, and she dropped the slice she was holding mid-air on to her plate. She splayed her hands across the counter. Her hands were usually covered in grime, her nails turned gray and black, with cuts around the nailbeds. She had a mechanic’s hands, and no matter how often she washed them she could never rid them of the stains.

“I want to. Christa wants me to.”

We were both quiet for a second. Ymir was waiting for my response, but suddenly my emotions were puddled at the edges of my eyes. I breathed in and out, as slowly as I could, trying to turn the scribbles and static inside my head into words. I rubbed my neck. The muscles in my back were tight, throbbing with stress pain.

“Why haven’t you – what would it take for you to tell them?”

“What’s going on, Marco? A few weeks ago I couldn’t even convince you to ask a guy out on a proper date and now you’re, what, going to come out?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I think – I think I have to. I think I’ve finally reached the point in my life where it will hurt more if I don’t than if I do.”

Ymir nodded, her expression so severe that I felt like she was finally on the same page as me. Her eyes drifted over her food, and then over her hands. She wore a gold band on her left hand that she always switched over to her right when we visited home. The band was neither a promise ring, nor an engagement ring, she had told me. She said she didn’t know what it was really, only that Christa had one too and that was enough for her.

“Christa wants me to come out. Sometimes I think she’ll leave me if I don’t. I know if it comes to that I’d tell mom and dad.”

I drummed my fingers against the countertop. Ymir had never told me she thought Christa might leave her. I wouldn’t have ever believed she would until now. But it made me think about what staying in the closet really meant. Before I meant Jean, it had meant survival. It meant a necessary struggle whenever I was around family. And when I was younger, and couldn’t live on my own, it had been hell every single day, because it wasn’t just about keeping a secret. It was being a secret. Everything I had said, every decision I made, I had to wonder if it’s what a straight kid would say or do. It meant constantly playing a role.

But then I had meant Jean, and I had realized how much it could hurt the people I loved too. If I was really considering being with both Jean and Eren, I couldn’t possible stay closeted. It wouldn’t be right for me to expect them to accept that I would never be able to introduce them to family, coworkers, or talk about them with anybody but Ymir. They wouldn’t be my secret. I wouldn’t let them think I was ashamed of them.

“Why now?” Ymir asked.

“It’s just… like I said. Things are serious.”

“What kind of serious? Are you getting married or something?”

“No.” I responded too quickly. She’d barely finished the last syllable of her question, before I was responding. She arched an eyebrow, because she knew I was hiding something.

“Well, that’s a relief…Although if it’s not that then I can’t imagine what it could be,” she sighed through her words, theatrically enunciating each syllable more as she went on. Then she pursed her lips and tapped her fingers pointedly, waiting for me to voluntarily tell her. I sighed, adjusting the collar of my shirt.

“Alright, but I don’t need a lecture.”

She nodded.

“I’m serious.”

“Clearly,” she replied, rolling her eyes. “Do I need to pinky promise or what? Just tell me.”

I nodded, and exhaled into my palms, rubbing my eyes again. “I told you about Eren.”

She turned around to grab a cup from another cupboard. She placed the glass under the faucet and let the tap run for a few seconds. “You’ve mentioned him. Jean’s ex right? He’s helping you and their relationship is complicated or whatever.”

Her elbows rested on the counter across from me again, while she sipped the water.

“Yeah. Well, um, I sort of…have a relationship with both of them. Or, I’m going to. I hope anyway. I haven’t figured out how – how all that’s going to work out yet. But um...” My pause dragged on, meanwhile Ymir stood with her glass pressed against her lips, drilling a hole through the space between us with her stare.

When she finally spoke, she placed her glass on the table, and spoke so low it was almost a whisper. “What about your kid?”

I had been prepared with a comeback, or at least an explanation, to a dozen responses I thought Ymir might say. I was ready to defend myself this time, if she tried to criticize me. I was ready to tell her the whole story from beginning to end, with every little detail, until I could convince her that whatever I had with them was real. If nothing had worked, I had promised myself that I would be mad. Ymir and I had never truly fought, but the few times we almost had, we resolved it because I had decided not to be mad. This time I wouldn’t have. I was so ready to be mad at her if necessary, for once in my life, and then she did this.

“What –what do you mean?” I stammered.

“Well…I don’t know. Should you be fucking around like that with a baby on the way? Do you really wanna lose mom and dad right before you have a baby…just to fool around with these guys?”

“But that’s just it. I’m not just…fooling around with them. I feel like I could spend the rest of my life with them,” I replied, already regretting that I had decided to tell her. I hadn’t thought about that. I had considered many times in my life how it might affect any child I had to have a gay dad, long before I ever thought I’d be with a man and come out. Since being with Jean and finding out Hitch was pregnant it was on my mind as much as Jean’s health was. Without doubt I knew that having two dads wouldn’t honestly harm my kid any, at least no more than straight parents would. But I worried about others. Kids could be cruel, hell, adults could be worse, and sometimes I had nightmares that my kid would be bullied or harassed by others because of my decision to live openly gay.

Now it would be worse. If my kid could be harassed for having a gay dad in a relationship with just one man, I could only imagine the struggle my child might face if I was dating two men. Personally, I could put up with whatever came my way directly. My parents were my biggest obstacle, and once I lost them, I didn’t care who else in my life didn’t want to put up with me. But…I couldn’t expect my kid to feel the same.

Ymir’s eyebrows were still raised. She shook her head, but not like she was disappointed in me. More like she had forgotten every word in the English language and was content to never speak again.

“Listen,” she started, when she found some words, “I want you to do whatever you want to do. I’m sorry – sorry I asked that. It’s not my kid.”

I swallowed, and found that it was somewhat difficult to do. I adjusted my collar again, tugging on it so that I could try to cool down my chest and neck. My face was burning, my heart hammering. How could I have forgotten about my kid?

“Marco?”

It took me a moment to clear my throat, and when I spoke it came out a sob. “What?”

“Whoa…hey, I – look, man, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to –”

“No, you’re right,” I replied. “You’re right.”

She put up her arms up in defense. “Dude, what do I know about kids anyway? Forget it, okay? If anyone is cut out to be a dad, it’s you. And…whatever you decide to do, I trust you. Date them. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

But it was too late. It was stuck in my head now, bolded behind my eyelids and I wouldn’t be able to think about anything else. Ymir stared at me for a long time, her eyes flicking all over the place, her eyebrows pinching together the longer I was silent. When she tapped my shoulder and I looked at her, she swallowed and tore her gaze away right away.

“Are you going to eat?”

“I’m not hungry,” I replied. I wondered if this was what Jean felt like when it was time to eat. If he knew it was food, and knew he was hungry, and knew he should eat, but at the same time felt as though eating wasn’t a bodily function he’d ever learned how to do. The smell of the grease and garlic made something pinch behind my eyelids and I looked away from it.

“Are you feeling okay? You look…a little pale.”

I shook my head. “Not really. Not at all, actually.”

“I’m sorry.” Her voice was too high-pitched, too breathy to be coming from her and yet it was.

I shrugged. “It’s not your fault. It’s probably…better anyway. They can be together then.”

“You won’t have to come out to mom and dad.”

I laughed, humorlessly, and shook my head. “What a relief. Back where I started.”

I stood then, heading toward my front door without really thinking about it. I slid my shoes on, and then remembered the mental footnote I’d made to bring cacti with me. It wouldn’t make a difference now. After Thanksgiving – I decided right here and now – I’d move back in. By then Jean would be past the stressful holiday, and between Eren and Mikasa, he’d be taken care of.

“Hey don’t leave the TV on when you leave,” I said over my shoulder.

Ymir stared at me with eyebrows turned up, biting her lip. If she had intended to argue with me, she held it back. “Don’t be a stranger, okay? Call me.”

I nodded at her. “Gotta arrange rides before we leave anyway.”

She nodded, her eyes widening a bit. During our conversation, we’d both managed to forget that Thanksgiving wasn’t far away anymore. Seeing mom and dad wasn’t a far-off, vague problem anymore. We’d both be putting on our straight faces the day after tomorrow.

That meant I only had two nights left with Jean.

“See ya,” she said.

I shut the door as I reached for my car keys.

I walked right into Jean’s apartment. Jean and Mikasa were sitting on the couch, Mikasa’s legs stretch across Jean’s lap with the Ps4 controller in Jean’s hands. He was flicking through various options on Hulu when they both looked up at me. Mikasa dropped the throw pillow she’d been hugging to her chest on the floor, and sat up.

“You’re back early,” Jean said.

I shrugged. “Ymir had to go. I’m going to shower.”

Jean arched an eyebrow at me, and even Mikasa looked a little confused. Neither of them said anything as I strode to the bathroom.

The shower water stung, but my aching muscles needed the burn. I stood in the shower with the water thudding against my back and shoulders. I didn’t wash my hair, or even really wash my body. The steam rose around me, clouding my vision and my thoughts.

Some time passed. The water had cooled before someone knocked on the door.

“Marco?” Jean asked.

I swiveled to turn off the shower, and stepped out of it. My hands reached for the towel on the rack and wrapped it around my waist before I opened the door a crack.

Jean peered in. He pressed his hand against the door to open it a little more.

“What happened to you?”

“When you kissed me,” I said, surprising myself. I hadn’t thought that this would be the direction I would go in, but I wasn’t really thinking at this point. “Before Eren and I left, what were you thinking about?”

Jean’s eyes wandered, before he swallowed. “Honestly?”

I nodded.

“I was thinking about how afraid I am of losing you two,” he whispered.

Then I kissed him. As soon as I did, I pulled away to make sure it was okay. His lips were on mine again before I could even see his expression, and I didn’t stop myself again. Jean’s hand roamed down my back and his fingers curled over the towel. I let it drop. He tugged me by my waist toward his bedroom, and my fingers tangled in his hair. As we stumbled into the bedroom he let me undress him. Removing one shirt, then the next, until his chest was bare.

His body felt so much warmer now, his skin had regained some of its color. Between kisses I glanced at him while my fingers explored his stomach. His ribs were less apparent, his chest more filled out than it had been. His biceps were no longer thinner than his elbows. His hands were firm on me, stronger than they had been. Jean didn’t stumble once until the back of his thighs bumped the edge of the bed, and he pulled me down by the small of my back over top of him.

My hands tugged at his sweat pants and eased them down. Even as I began prepping him, I thought of Eren. I knew I shouldn’t be doing this. He had worked just as hard as I had to restrain himself, to keep his distance from Jean. Yet I knew that they had moments too. I had interrupted them, more than once. If he were here, certainly, he couldn’t blame me for being so weak?

Then I reminded myself that this would be the last time. After this, Eren would never have to restrain himself again, and I always would. I’d have to restrain myself from calling either of them, or checking in on Jean. At some point they’d move on, forget their feelings for me altogether, and I never would. I’d always think of them, and wonder what might have been.

Jean slid the condom on me, stroking me as he did. It felt so good it almost distracted me. His sighing sounded so sweet, so fresh to my ears after so long, my thoughts were almost cancelled out.

But I could never resent either of them, or regret my decision to leave them. I would be a dad. It was what I had always wanted, and before even meeting Jean I had known that sacrificing everything else I wanted in my life was something I was willing to do to be a father. I just hadn’t assumed that I’d ever get a taste.

As I eased into Jean, and felt the aching, torturing pleasure of him, I realized that I was still grateful to have had this at all.

Jean wrapped his legs around me. He wiped the tears off my cheeks.

“Do you want to stop?” he asked.

I shook my head.

“Are you okay?”

I kissed him and didn’t tear my lips away. Jean let me forget for a little while. His hands were on me, his skin against mine, and the taste of his mouth on my tongue. I made it last as long as I could, sometimes pausing for several minutes between thrusts, allowing both of us to cool down. We’d start at square one. Thrust again, be taken high again, moan and whimper and scratch. Jean told me he loved me. He never wanted to be without me. He needed me. Halfway through, I was too dizzy from how good he felt to hold myself up, and Jean rolled over on top of me, riding me as he leaned down to kiss me. He pinned my wrists above my head, and all I could do was moan and hang on until he made us both come.

We laid in silence for a while, Jean tucked under my arm. I drew patterns on his skin, creating long shadows across his body with my fingers in the dim light.

“Are you going to tell me what’s up with you?” he asked.

I had been laying with my eyes closed, and at his words I slowly opened them. In the last few weeks, Eren and I hadn’t let Jean spend even a moment of his recovery trying to comfort either of us. It hadn’t occurred to me that he had worried anyway, or that he hadn’t wanted to bring it up. I wondered how much else he had paid attention to.

His fingers spread across my chest, splaying his palm flat so that he could feel my heartbeat. It was just a bit too fast. I couldn’t exactly tell him what was on my mind, but I knew he wouldn’t let it go. I decided to say as close to the truth as I could.

“I’m afraid that the way I live my life might make my kid’s life harder,” I whispered, “A lot harder.”

Jean exhaled, blowing his messy, sex hair up in all directions. “Because you’re gay?”

I squirmed for a second, but finally nodded. “Yeah. That’s not it, but – mostly that, yeah.”

Jean sat up on one elbow so that he could face me. His gaze was hard. His jaw was tight. The hand resting on my chest reached up to stroke my cheek. “Why would you think something stupid like that?”

“Because…I just don’t want them – my kid, to live a harder life because of my actions. It might not happen, but it could. And I’d never forgive myself.”

Jean smiled, brushing my hair out of my eyes. “Of course you wouldn’t. But you need to stop being sorry for things you can’t help. You’re going to be an amazing dad, Marco. And I can pretty much guarantee your kid – any kid – would rather have a good parent and put up with shit from strangers than put up with shit from a parent.”

“You think?” I choked.

He snorted. “Listen, I grew up with just my mom. But it never mattered how much suckier my life was because I didn’t have the money to do much, and had had to always wonder why my dad didn’t think I was a good enough reason to stick around, because my mom loved me.”

Jean cleared his throat, his eyes wandering around as he bit his lip, trying to figure out how to say what he needed to say. He paused for a while, which made me realize how important it was to him to get this right. He never thought this long before he decided to speak.

“She didn’t get to spend a lot of time with me because she worked three jobs, and I was home a lot, even when I was still a little too young to be alone. And I had to put up with shitty teachers who thought I was a troublemaker, because I never did my homework, since I couldn’t read right. And they thought my mom was a shitty mom because she couldn’t make it to conferences all the time, and couldn’t afford school supplies sometimes, and they blamed her for my grades even though they were the fucking teachers. Other kids made fun of me for wearing shit from goodwill and all that, until I was old enough to get a job and buy my own shit. It was worse when Eren’s parents had to buy my tux for prom ‘cause my mom couldn’t. But the point is the only person I ever resented was my dad. Maybe not when I was young, because I didn’t understand. But before I was too old, I knew. My mom would turn the world upside down for me.”

His fingers inched up and down my stomach as he spoke, the pads of his fingertips connecting my freckles by invisible lines and creating nonexistent constellations.

“But Eren had two parents. They weren’t his real parents, but I don’t think he would have thought of them that way if they had loved him like my mom loved me. Eren grew up with two people that loved him usually. They favorited Mikasa a lot. And even though he had the stability, and a nice home, and got whatever he wanted – including a brand-new car when he was seventeen – he still always hated living with them. He didn’t want to hate living with them, but he did because they never cared enough about his problems. No one but him, Mikasa, and me after a while since I was there all the time, had any idea what his home life was like. Everyone thought he had it made, ya’ know? I mean, other than that he was adopted. Kids gave him shit for that sometimes, but even that was rare and never bothered Eren too much. It was only ever his parents. They were just plain shitty, and I think it still bothers him even now. He always used to tell me that he wished someone like my mom and had taken him in when he was a baby.”

We were both quiet for a minute. I was waiting to see if he was done, and he was still trying to climb out of his thoughts. He leaned down to place a kiss on one of my more prominent freckles. “Basically, I know you’ll be like my mom, maybe better. No matter how you decide to live your life, you’ll be a good dad and that’s all that matters. You’d never be like Eren’s parents, or yours. You’d accept your kid no matter what, and I think…again, maybe not right away, but they’d feel the same way about you. If anything, they’ll be a little stronger. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Jean kissed me, and I barely registered the kiss before he pulled away. I looked him in the eyes, and before I thought about what I was saying, or the agreement Eren and I had, I asked, “Even if I was in a relationship with two people?”

His eyebrows furrowed at the same time his eyes widened. “What? I mean, I suppose, but why would you be in a…?”

My meaning must have sunk in, because Jean’s eyebrows shot up and he sat up in the bed. “Marco?”

But the front door slammed and both of us leapt out of the bed scrambling to get dressed. I had already pulled on my boxers and sweatpants before Jean halted. He stood in just his boxers, looking at me with glass eyes and a tight jaw. “Why are we doing this? Eren has no right to get mad at us.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, pulling my shirt on.

“Jean? Where’s Mikasa?” Eren yelled from the living room.

“I just don’t get why we’re hiding stuff from each other if –”

But Jean didn’t get to finish what he was saying. Eren’s footsteps had thudded down the hall, and the doorknob was turning. Eren stepped into the bedroom. Jean and I were several feet apart. I was fully dressed, but he was in his boxers. It wouldn’t have mattered if he was dressed anyway, because the lube was sitting uncapped on the nightstand and the box of condoms was still on the bed with the comforter strewn halfway on the floor. Eren’s eyes zoned in on me, then Jean, then the scene of the crime.

His irises darkened, his face fell, but he didn’t say anything. He glanced at Jean. “Is it time to weigh you?”

Jean sighed and nodded, walking toward the bathroom.

Eren and I stood in the bedroom, Eren’s eyes on the bed and mine on him. My heart pounded in my rib cage, waiting for him to be angry, but what actually happened was so much worse.

“Did you guys…uh, did Jean choose you?” he asked, rubbing his arm, practically craddling himself.

I pulled him into my arms at that. His hands were tense on me, almost pushing me away, and at the same time clinging on. “God, no, Eren.”

“Then…uh, what did I miss?” he asked. His arms wrapped around my shoulders then. I wondered what we would do if Jean walked in right now. I’d practically told him how I felt…and more importantly, he didn’t believe I shouldn’t be a father if I was with both of them. It was hitting me, full force in that moment like being smacked by a wave that both of them would be such good fathers. As controversial as it was, my baby would have me, Hitch, Marlow, and Jean and Eren. I’d already decided that Hitch – regardless of what Ymir thought – was exactly the person in this world I wanted my baby to call mom. And Jean and Eren? They both were good enough to earn the title dad. How could that be bad for my baby? How could having too many excellent role models raising my baby be wrong?

“You just missed a moment of weakness on my part,” I said, swallowing. “It was my fault. Are you angry?”

He shook his head against my chest.

“Are you sure?”

He hesitated. “You sure that you guys aren’t, like, together?”

“Eren,” I said, pulling away to place a hand on either side of his face. “Do you think we’d do that to you? Before even talking to you? Or that…either of us could do that?”

“You wouldn’t?” he asked.

“Of course not. If choosing was that simple we would have done it a long time ago.”

He smiled then, exhaling and placing his hand against his chest in relief. “You swear?”

I smiled. “Promise.”

I kissed him too, deciding that I had let myself overstep my boundaries enough today that there was no sense pretending. I followed him into the bathroom, only then realizing that Jean had been alone for a little too long. We’d left the scale out. It was a bad habit, but it was impossible to keep it hidden from him in such a tiny apartment, especially when there were only so many places to hide it and he was always accompanying one of us. The past couple of weeks, we’d just left it out, since he couldn’t be in the bathroom alone anyway and we’d know whether or not he tried to step on it.

In the bathroom, Jean was leaning against the sink countertop, waiting for us.

Eren’s eyes widened. “Shit, Jean, did you weigh yourself? Did you see?”

Jean smiled, and ran his hand through his hair. “Nope. I could have, since you were both taking so damn long.”

Eren and I looked at each other. Eren’s eyes were wide in amazement and I couldn’t think of a damn thing to say. Just yesterday we’d weighed him and he’d lost weight. The only way that likely could have happened was if he’d found a way to throw up despite our efforts. And today he didn’t take the first opportunity he had in weeks to check his weight.

“Well, um, okay,” Eren said, shaking his head like he was trying to shake out his thoughts. “We’ll just weigh you…now…then.”

Jean stepped on the scale keeping his chin up, looking at Eren as I knelt down to glance at it. He weighed a pound more than yesterday, which in all likelihood was because of whatever he’d eaten today with Mikasa. It was still in his stomach, so I knew he hadn’t actually gained it back, but it comforted me just the same. He had gained ten pounds since his treatment began. Now he weighed 119, and if he kept on the weight this time, he’d be 120 in a matter of days. The pound he had lost the last couple days seemed insignificant in comparison.

“Do you think I can get the mirrors back soon?” Jean asked. “Kind of sick of cutting my face on my razor.”

I smiled as I stood back up, and glanced at Eren. “What do you think?”

“If it was up to me I’d let him right now.” Eren’s eyes were on Jean as he stepped off the scale, looking his body up and down. He must have seen how much Jean had improved too, because he smiled. His eyes glinted in a way that I hadn’t ever seen before. Then he looked at Jean. “I’ll ask Mikasa tomorrow, okay?”

“And can I call my mom?” Jean asked. “I really need to talk to her.”

I smiled at him knowingly, and Eren must have realized this question wasn’t up to Mikasa. “Sure. Can call her tomorrow, if you want,” Eren said.

Jean smiled, and nudged both Eren and I aside to leave the bathroom. “I’m freezing,” he explained, as he headed into the bedroom.

Eren and I just stared at each other in stunned silence for a moment, neither of us quite sure what had just happened or what to do. Then Eren grinned and covered his mouth with hand, looking toward the door. “He’s –”

“I know,” I grinned in response, interrupting because I already knew what he was going to say. We were both thinking it. After struggling through the last few days with him and his weight, something had shifted. Jean was suddenly the man I met at the bar again, and I didn’t know what had done it. If it was sleeping with me, or talking about his mom, or something that had happened with Mikasa, or whatever had made him decide not to get dressed when Eren walked in – whatever it was, I didn’t care because Jean was himself again. After weeks of his eating disorder being our constant companion, it finally felt like it was just him with us here. I knew in my gut that he could change again, no improvement was final, so I would enjoy it as long as I could.

“Are you guys coming to bed?” Jean yelled.

Both Eren and I knew that we didn’t need to sleep in the bed with him right now, but we ignored that thought as we walked into the bedroom together.

Chapter Text

Jean

On Wednesday morning, Marco had gotten dressed and ready to go by five am. His flight wasn’t until ten, but he still had to stop at his apartment and pack everything he would need for his trip, drive to Ymir’s place, call a cab and arrive at the airport. Eren and I had both gotten up with him. Eren had made him breakfast and I had moped around relatively close to Marco while he gathered some of his clothing up off the recliner.

“How long is your flight?” I asked.

“Like three hours.”

“You’ll call when you get there, right?” This wasn’t like last time when he left to go see Hitch and I thought he’d be gone for a night. Marco wouldn’t be back until Saturday morning.

Marco must have seen how I felt about him leaving on my face, because he stuffed everything remaining on the recliner into his backpack without folding it. He slumped next to me in the couch and wrapped his arms around my waist. We kissed, and I kept it going even after Marco pulled away. I curled my fingers in his hoodie and he sighed into my neck. Eren glanced over his shoulder at us from where he was doing dishes in the kitchen, but just as soon looked away. If he was upset, he wouldn’t say and I knew it wasn’t just because he was about to have three solid days with me alone.

I kept waiting for one of them to bring it up. For Marco to finally feel so guilty for keeping it a secret, for Eren to reach the point where he couldn’t hold it in any longer and blurt it out in the middle of a conversation. At this point I would even be okay with one of them accidentally slipping and saying something about it, or for me to “accidentally” catch them kissing. I had even contemplated waking Marco up last night and telling him that he had said it in his sleep or something, just to fucking get this over with.

But I didn’t, because the two of them had chosen not to tell me and nothing would change that. After everything, they were lying to me.

Marco pulled away from me, so that he could look me in the eyes. “You have to keep eating.”

I scoffed, “I’m going to.”

“Jean,” he breathed, and his lip quivered, “I mean it. Promise me.”

I cleared my throat. “I promise.”

He nodded, and kissed me again. Eren walked into the room. Marco stood up. He slung his backpack over his shoulder and reached into his jean pocket for his keys. He already had his shoes on and everything. I stood to hug Marco and kiss him goodbye, feeling Eren’s eyes on us the whole time. When Marco let go of me, he faced Eren.

“You’d tell me if he wasn’t doing well, right?” Marco asked him as the two of them stepped toward the door.

“He’s going to do fine,” Eren said.

“I’m right here,” I reminded them. It seemed like I had to do that at least once a day. All I could do was hope that soon enough they would deem me recovered enough to stop talking about me in front of me like that. Eren still hadn’t asked Mikasa about the mirrors, but I thought Mikasa trusted me more than they did. Soon I would be able to show them how much better I was, prove to them that I wasn’t sick like I was before. My stomach was free of bruises now. If my hand roamed up underneath my shirt, I couldn’t feel my ribs like I used to. And above all, that made me happy. Because, unlike what I used to think, I had realized that this wasn’t about gaining weight at all. It was about feeling better because I was doing it right, because I was healthier, because I was gaining weight.

“But you’d tell me?” Marco asked again.

Eren’s eyes flitted to me. I waved. He deadpanned, and returned his attention to Marco. “Yes. Quit worrying. Go.”

Marco gave me one more anxious glance and I smiled to try to reassure him. He nodded before his hand latched on to the doorknob. I watched Eren and Marco fight the urge to hug each other, to kiss each other goodbye like Marco had me. Eren clutched on to his other arm, and Marco rubbed the back of his neck. But they kept three feet apart and I almost groaned wondering how they ever thought they were going to be able to hide this shit from me.

Finally Marco said, “I’ll call later, okay?”

Eren nodded. “Be safe.”

Marco left, closing the door behind him. Eren stared at the door for a second longer than was natural. After, he joined me on the couch. Like Marco had, he wrapped his arms around me. Because I knew he wanted me to, and he wouldn’t do it himself even though he was dying to, I kissed him too.

When he pulled away he asked, “Are you worried about tomorrow?”

I shook my head. I wasn’t worried, at least not the way he thought I was. I wasn’t worried about the food. Eren and I would make the same exact food we’d been making, as if it wasn’t a holiday at all. But we’d watch football together like we did every other year, even though my team wasn’t playing this Thanksgiving like they did most years. The parade wouldn’t bother me, but the commercials probably would. I might not even watch it at all.

Not even calling my mom worried me. I could handle it this time, I was sure. My mom had said and done a lot of hurtful things in my life about people she couldn’t understand, but I at least knew that she would try to understand. If I talked to her about my eating disorder, she’d listen. It might take time, but after all, she had understood when she caught me kissing Eren when I was young. If she could move past that, she could move past this.

I didn’t worry about Thanksgiving. I worried about three days alone with Eren and trying to keep my mouth shut. Trying not to let on how much I knew. He’d figure it out. With Marco gone, there was no one to distract him. With Marco gone, he would let his guard down. He wouldn’t be constantly trying to pretend there was nothing going on. All his attention would be on me and he’d see right through me.

Eren kissed my forehead, before reaching for the remote to find something for us to watch. “Good. I’m glad you’re not worried,” he said, “Because I am.”

Thanksgiving Day morning I curled up on the couch and tucked myself into five blankets while I watched the parade. Eren had been on the phone with his parents for a while, pacing back and forth throughout the house tripping over a laundry basket, and bumping into the bedroom door as he did, because he was shit at multitasking. Also, they were yelling at him. He hadn’t contacted them earlier to tell them he wouldn’t be home for Thanksgiving. Eren had talked to Mikasa and Armin the night before, telling them to go to both their places without him this year. Mikasa had told Eren it was better this way anyway, because she and Armin had to explain their relationship to both their parents and Mikasa wasn’t expecting it to go well.

The whole issue left me gripping on to my stomach. I hadn’t thrown up in a few days and the pinching in my throat was urging me to run to the bathroom.

Every year since I could remember we all had a routine. One way or another, Eren and Armin, and Mikasa and I went to Eren’s and Mikasa’s parents’ place, Armin’s grandpa’s place, and then drove up to Wisconsin to see my mom. Sometimes it wasn’t all on Thanksgiving day. Sometimes it happened on black Friday or the Saturday after, but no matter what, it happened. It was all my fault it wouldn’t this year. It was my fault Eren’s parents were yelling at him right now. Later today I would have to call my mom too, but at least she already knew I wasn’t coming.

I wondered if Eren’s parents would be more upset to know that their favorite, Mikasa, ended up with their less-than-favorite Armin, or to know that their second favorite, Eren, ended up with me. They liked me when I dated Mikasa, but that was only because we were a straight couple. And they tolerated Eren being with Armin, because they still thought of Armin as a girl or “a boy that used to be a girl”. They thought of Eren as someone who was too committed to break up with Armin for doing something “insane” like “becoming” a boy. What would they do now? I couldn’t even let myself think about it, my throat was getting tighter.

When Eren stumbled back into the room I turned up the volume on the TV to make it look like I wasn’t listening. I could hear his mom screaming about all the guests he was disappointing without the phone even being on speaker.

Two commentators popped up on the TV screen and informed me that the average American gained five pounds over Thanksgiving dinner and the following weekend. Then a fitness trainer popped up on the screen and began giving advice on how to improve my daily aerobic exercises and the benefits of swimming.

I turned the TV off just in time for Eren to complete his tenth round of pacing the coffee table and stepping over my feet as he walked back toward the bedroom.

“I don’t even like her pie,” he groaned, and I smiled.

When he finally got off the phone with them, he peeked around the corner.

“Can I call my mom now?” I asked.

He gave me a guilty expression. “Marco just called…like right after.”

“So? Can I talk to him?” He had called us yesterday after his flight landed and had continued texting Eren and me as often as he could get away with. Eren tried to hide the fact that he was getting as many text messages as me, but I knew. He didn’t know how to discreetly type nor did he know how to control his expression after checking his phone. Eren blushed a lot and I felt a little bad for Marco because he couldn’t see the mess he’d made of Eren.

We were both worried the whole night waiting for him to give us some news about how his parents reacted to being told he was having a baby. So far, he hadn’t been able to tell them.

“I want to,” he had said on the phone last night. “But they’re – they’re just...It’s so easy for them to live in their own reality and pretend everything they don’t like doesn’t exist. They’re still asking me if I can convince Hitch to move to Texas. I just told them we broke up an hour ago but it doesn’t make a difference.”

If they couldn’t even confront Marco’s breakup alone, I didn’t know how they would handle his breakup and Hitch’s pregnancy. I didn’t know what to say to him, so I just said, “I’m sorry, baby.”

Marco hummed on the other end. “You’ve never said that before. I mean, to me. Not Eren.”

I had blushed, running my fingers through my hair and sinking into the couch. My eyes had flitted up to Eren, who had been playing a videogame with a concentration I didn’t know he was capable of. “Sorry I – it just slipped,” I had said, probably to both of them.

“It’s okay,” Marco said. Eren nodded. “The thing is…I wanted to come out to them while I was here. Like, come out, come out. Ya’ know, in person.”

“You did?”

“Yeah. But…I just don’t see that happening.” He sighed on the other end. Eren’s phone buzzed, and he paused the game to check it. His eyebrows furrowed as he likely received the same news Marco was giving to me over the phone. Eren began typing.

Just when I was about to force myself to come up with something encouraging, something useful, hell, anything that might give him the slightest bit of hope, I heard someone with a high-pitched voice yelling in gibberish.

“Who’s that?” I asked.

“Mom.”

“What’s she saying?” I asked.

“Something in Creole.”

My eyebrows rose up. Until now I had forgotten his mom wasn’t from America. “Do you speak Creole?”

“Not fluently,” he replied. “I can figure out what my mom’s saying though. Right now she’s yelling at Ymir to help her in the kitchen.”

I had heard a thunk in the background and Marco say, “Ow.” Right after, Ymir had hissed at him not to dump his shit on her.

“I gotta go,” Marco said. “Mom needs help cooking.”

I had grinned. “How the hell are you going to help her cook?”

He chuckled. “I can reach the top shelves. My mom’s like five feet tall.”

“Okay, bye,” I had said, still grinning.

“I’ll call tomorrow.” He had hung up the phone, and I wished I could have said I love him, or that he could have to me, but his family would have heard. Shortly after Eren’s phone had buzzed again. Eren had smiled, and I had wondered what Marco had felt comfortable putting in a text that he hadn’t felt comfortable saying out loud on the phone.

“What is it?” I had asked.

But it hadn’t been anything he couldn’t have said to me. Eren had said, “Marco just texted me ‘I’ll call y’all tomorrow’.”

I had snorted, giggling into my hand now as I pictured a short woman pointing at different cupboards and Marco politely saying his “yes ma’am’s” whenever she did. Marco’s accent was always there, but it was subtle. Most people wouldn’t hear it until he told them he was from Texas. But once in a while I would really hear it. When I did, it was both the biggest turn-on and the easiest thing to tease him about. He had woken up the other day, still sleepy as hell, and walked out of the bedroom to see Eren and me on the couch together folding clothes. He had said, “Y’all made breakfast yet?” Eren and I had lost our shit, laughing until my lungs hurt and teasing him for a good hour afterward. Eventually he groaned and sunk into his hoodie. From deep inside it somewhere he had mumbled, “Never again.” But he would, and I was already waiting.

Now, Eren’s eyes plead with me to not be annoyed with him for taking another call – as if I could get mad at him for talking on the phone with Marco – and I nodded at him to go ahead and take it.

He slid his thumb across his screen and the phone stopped buzzing. Then he ducked into the bedroom, closing the door behind him. He was pacing around in the bedroom probably. I knew exactly why he wasn’t out here. I had gotten my time on the phone with him yesterday, and now Eren would get his, but unlike me, he couldn’t talk on the phone with Marco out in the open.

He didn’t realize how impossible it was for him to keep his voice down. His tone immediately shifted from his earlier grumbling to breathy chuckles and rambling. It rose the hair on my arms hearing him like that.

I couldn’t make out their conversation until Eren opened the door a crack. I assumed he had jumped the gun, opened the door before Marco had finished talking, and then thought the door was still closed enough that his words would be muffled. But I heard him. I heard him say, “Not my parents dude…of course. Marco, stop worrying…I love you, too. Do you want to talk to Jean?...Okay.”

Then Eren opened the door as he tucked his phone into his pocket. He strode toward me. “Marco says he’ll call later. His parents –”

Eren stopped mid-step. His eyebrows furrowed, darkening his turquois eyes as he analyzed whatever expression I was wearing, and then my hands. I pulled them away from my stomach. I really didn’t want the bruises again.

“Are you okay?” Eren asked.

“Why didn’t you tell me you fucked Marco?” The words were out of my mouth and hanging in the air before I even knew I was saying them. The words made it hard to breath.

Eren just stood in the center of the living room with his arms crossed like he was trying to hide himself. He pressed his lips together in a tight line. He stared at the floor because he couldn’t at me. His toes tightened and spreading in the beige carpeting.

“I’m not mad,” I said, and I wasn’t. “I just don’t get why you couldn’t tell me? Like after everything?”

I stood, because suddenly sitting still and crumpled up on the couch was intolerable. I came face to face with him, maneuvering around the coffee table, almost touching him.

“After finally figuring out what the fuck happened to us during high school and – and even after I told you straight to your face that I knew you liked him… Why wouldn’t you tell me? I would have told you.”

I gripped my fists then, and stepped away from him because I was shaking and my heart was throbbing and I could hear my pulse in my ears.

“I would have fucking told you if this was the other way around.”

Eren leaned forward like he was going to pull me into his arms, but thought better of it. “I felt guilty. I felt like I cheated on you.”

“So, lying about it was better? God, Eren! After all the shit you give me about lying? And we – I fucking picked you, and you said no.”

“You know why I said no!” he argued, his hands grappling with the air. He was already shifting on his feet, getting anxious, lacing his fingers behind his neck and cutting of the blood circulation in his knuckles. I could see him fight himself on whether or not he should touch me or look me in the eyes. I made it easy for him and turned away from him. I leaned against my living room wall. My head thumped against it. I stared at marks the vacuum had left on the floor.

“It’s – It’s not that I didn’t want to tell you I just – I couldn’t ever let you be mad at me again the way…”

He trailed off and I looked up at him. He’d covered his face in his hands, but I could see his lip tremble. He was hiding the expression he wore the last time we fought. He hadn’t been able to let me see him like that the first time, and he couldn’t this time either. Everything inside of me melted, remembering how much I regretted yelling at him that time, and I lurched forward curling my arms around him.

“If you and Marco had gotten together I would have been okay,” he murmured into my neck, still hiding his face from me. “It wouldn’t be what I wanted but I would have been okay. But – but if you had been mad at me like – like you were that day and I had to…If I had lost you, like I almost did last time…Jean, I wouldn’t have been okay.”

I sighed, gripping on to his shirt. As frail and thin as I was, he was the one that seemed fragile to me. “You should know by now that I can’t stay mad at you. I can be furious with you and then…” Then he’d do something like this. “I can’t stay mad at you.”

“Marco wouldn’t let me,” he whined. “Get mad at him.”

I snorted and threaded my fingers through his hair. “I’m not mad at either of you. Not for…not for being together. But you can’t keep shit like this from me.”

“Marco thought it would fuck up your recovery,” he said, pulling away from me enough to wipe his face. I didn’t acknowledge it, because I knew how much he hated when people saw him cry. One of his tears slid down my collarbone down my chest underneath my shirt.

“It did,” I said. “I started throwing up again.”

He nodded. “I know. I’m sorry.”

We were both quiet for a moment, and I pulled him back into my arms so that I could kiss his forehead. I held my lips there, smelling his musky, pine-tree smell and feeling the warmth of his breath brush my skin. I’d miss this.

I stepped away. My hands still shook, because I remembered why it had taken me so long to say something. Why when I finally did say something it was on impulse, only because I could never shut myself up when I needed to most. I had kissed Marco goodbye. Now it was Eren’s turn.

I ran my fingers through my hair and looked away from him, staring through the blinds of my living room window toward the parking lot. It was snowing, and I thought about how this would be all I would be able to think about for every Thanksgiving for the rest of forever. I’d never eat on Thanksgiving ever again.

“Listen, Eren. I’m getting better. I haven’t been throwing up, and haven’t even wanted to for a couple days. Mikasa said I could have the mirrors back and she – she isn’t as bad at helping me as I thought. I’m almost well enough to take care of myself anyway, and everything else she can help me with. You and Marco don’t have to stick around anymore. You can, ya’ know, do –”

“Wait, what?” Eren asked, swiveling on his feet to face me. His eyes were wide and glossy still. “What?”

“Well…you love him, don’t you?” I asked. His confusion made hope swell inside me and I stamped it down because it would only hurt more later.

“Well, yeah. But I can’t choose. None of us can and – Fuck.”

“What?”

He stepped closer to me. His fingers curled in my sweatshirt, tugging me closer to him just a bit. “I wasn’t going to say anything. I promised Marco I wouldn’t. But I also promised Marco I wouldn’t tell you about us so…”

“What are you talking about?” I asked, shaking my head.

He hesitated, and then he stepped on his toes kiss me that way he did now. I let him linger, pulling him in for a few more because I was so, so sick of denying myself everything. Denying myself food, denying myself speaking my mind, and denying myself him. I was really bad at it too. Self-control was no asset of mine, at least now that I was getting healthier. I thought I didn’t want it much anyway.

“What, Eren?” I asked once he pulled away.

“I want us to be together. All of us.”

I jerked my head backward and squinted at him as if I’d zoomed in on him too close. He kept his face stern, his eyes on me steady so that I would know he was serious. Eren’s face could be so fierce when something meant the world to him. My eyebrows shot up.

“Can we do that?” I asked.

Eren gave me the tiniest smile he ever wore. “Who cares?”

I blinked at him a couple of times as I let the meaning of his words marinate. I waited for an alarm to go off in my head, but really…my head hadn’t been this silent in a long time. It was clear in my head, like for once being able to read without thinking twice about it. Taking everything I saw without having to decode it or glue fragments back together. There was just me, and Eren, and more space in my head then I could’ve ever imagined.

“I guess I don’t,” I breathed. “I don’t care at all.” What had caring about what other people thought ever done for me anyway? Besides give me an eating disorder? I laughed, and Eren’s eyes widened and a grin as big as his face spread. “Let’s do it.”

“Yeah?” he asked, standing on his toes again to come face to face with me. Seeing him like that made Goosebumps chill my skin. I almost felt like I was going to cry. “Are you sure?”

Then I remembered what Marco had said to me the other day about dating two people at once and it finally made sense. Had they planned this together? “Yeah. Have you talked to Marco about it?”

Eren shook his head. “We were going to wait until after Thanksgiving to figure – figure us out. We’d choose after Thanksgiving. I promised him I’d wait. But I don’t want to choose and I don’t want to wait any longer to not choose.”

I chuckled. “Well, you almost waited. Pretty impressive for someone with your level of patience.”

He rolled his eyes. “We’ll ask him when he gets home.”

I shook my head and kissed him, running my fingers through his hair again and playing with the ends. “I don’t wanna wait for that either.”

Eren’s features softened and his eyes glazed over as my hands roamed from his shoulders to his lower back and to his ass. He bit his lip. “We’ll ask him when he calls back tonight.”

“Do you think he’ll say yes?” I asked, as I leaned in closer, pulling him to me so that his chest was pressed against mine. I thought Marco would. He wanted to, didn't he? That was why he had asked me about dating two men?

“He has to,” Eren breathed, “He can’t not.”

I almost replied, but Eren stole it from my lips as he pulled me in by the nape of my neck. I gave in, deciding that Marco wouldn’t be able to call back for a while and Eren’s fingers were on me right now. I whined into his touch as he began dragging me by my waist toward the bedroom I was suddenly considering all of ours. Eren’s, Marco’s and mine.

This time when Eren pulled off my shirts I didn’t hesitate. This time when his eyes were on me they weren’t worried, or neutral, or fighting the urge to stare. They smoldered, devouring me and I let him touch and kiss and grip on to my body in an attempt to keep getting closer.

He prepped me, and pulled himself up between my legs, so that we could both finally succumb to what we’d been restraining ourselves from for weeks. But this time there was something else, something more to this than last time when we had done this because we realized we loved each other and had never stopped. We had nothing to feel guilty about this time, no bitter memories or grudges we hadn’t found closure to. It was just us, like we had been when we were kids.

As Eren’s hips rocked into me, a wave of every memory of us together rushed into my mind. I remembered why Eren never topped. He was utterly incapable of fucking. He could only take it slow, he could only worship me and leave tracks from his lips all over the place. Eren could only praise me and become overwhelmed by me and shake because of me. I couldn’t remember why I thought Marco was the only one who had treated me like this.

He left marks on me between outdrawn moans. He touched them after his teeth left them there just as tenderly as the bruises I’d left on myself. I became drunk with it, mindless, easing back in my bed and spreading my arms because that was all there was to do when my body was experiencing that kind of bliss. It rose in me slowly, each new layer of pleasure as thin as tissue piling on top of each other until it was dense and thorough in my body. He brought me right to the brink like that, intoxicating each nerve in me until I was whimpering and quivering. When I finally came it rushed through me and I laughed in the relief. Eren groaned with his lips against my neck as he went with me.

“Fucking needed that,” he mumbled, his lips still against my neck. He smiled dopily at me after.

We spread out on our backs this time, fingers twining for a while. Eventually Eren’s hands roamed to my stomach. This time it wasn’t to prevent me from feeling insecure, or to prevent me from leaving bruises. It was because I was finally starting to look like myself again and he couldn’t keep his hands off me.

We didn’t speak, but something in time had shifted. A before and after to my life like so many others. Before and after I dated Mikasa. Before and after Eren and I broke up the first time. Before and after I realized I had an eating disorder. Before and after the three of us happened.

Now that we had Marco, – I prayed we had Marco, and I wasn’t a man who prayed – now that none of us would be settling like we had before when we couldn’t have each other, I figured this was it. There was nothing else in me that wondered if there was something – someone – more, and I couldn’t think of any other way to define “love of my life,” or rather, the loves of my life.

Eren caught me smiling. “What?”

I shrugged, lacing my fingers with his over my stomach. “Just feels right.”

Chapter Text

Eren

The parade had ended. Jean and I had turned it to football. The Chicago bears were playing the Detroit lions. Jean had told me, “I want them both to lose,” and I had laughed. They were rivals to both the Vikings and the Packers, but more so to the Packers. He wasn’t paying any attention to the game right now though. He was sitting at the kitchen table, in his boxers, on the phone with his mom.

As I put chicken filets in the oven and stirred fried vegetables in a pan on the stove, I kept looking over my shoulder at him. Today was the first day he hadn’t bothered to get completely dressed, over-dressed, actually. I hoped the days of him wearing three shirts at a time and two pairs of socks would be behind him, because I loved seeing him like this.

His hair was tousled, and it was only getting worse because whenever Jean was on the phone – or doing anything that left one hand free at all – his fingers were threading through his hair and tugging on the ends. It was like his hand did it on its own accord, and Jean just humored it. The marks I’d left on his neck, shoulder and collarbones were the only marks on him. No stomach bruises, or cuts from tripping anymore. It looked so sexy, and his skin had tasted so good. I already wanted him again.

His body was still wiry. I wondered if he’d ever look like the boy I knew in high school again, if he’d ever be sturdy, or springy, or muscled again. It wouldn’t matter either way, to me. Right now, all that mattered was that I couldn’t see his ribs. His ankles no longer looked like something I could snap in half and use as kindle. His shoulders were broad again, his chest filled out…

Oh God, yeah, I wanted him again.

“Eren,” he said, and I shook my head to clear my thoughts.

“Hmmm?”

“The stove…” He pointed at it, and I jumped because the steam didn’t look like steam so much as it looked like smoke. If I wasn’t careful I’d set the fire alarm off. I spun the dials on the stove back in a flash and grabbed on to an oven mitt to wave around above the blackened vegetables. I inhaled, and the burnt broccoli stung my nose. I sighed. The odds of Jean eating burned vegetables were practically zero, which meant this batch was mine. I ducked down and peered into the oven to make sure the chicken hadn’t exploded or something. It hadn’t.

When I turned back around, Jean was grinning at me with the smuggest expression. I flicked him off and he snorted. Then I turned around. Reaching for the cupboard and opening, I pulled out a plate and dumped all the used-to-be-edible vegetables on it.

“What?” he asked his mom. “No, sorry. It was something Eren did. Yeah, Eren’s still with me. I can’t be alone.”

As I dumped a new portion’s worth of vegetables into the pan, I tried not to crinkle the bag. That way, I could shamelessly eavesdrop on Jean’s conversation with his mom. The vegetables hissed at me, but after a moment they simmered down.

Jean’s conversation with his mom thus far had been mostly superficial. Polite. The type of conversation most people my age had with their parents, but maybe a little more stiff. Because unlike conversations I had with my parents, Jean’s mom knew something was wrong and she had chosen to ignore the subject too.

Until now.

“I’m – No. I’m doing better. I swear,” Jean said. His eyes flicked toward me, and I smiled at him – trying to look encouraging while also feigning obliviousness to their conversation. Jean smiled back, but it looked doubtful. “Yes, I’m eating. Eren’s cooking right now.”

I stirred the vegetables in the pan, trying to making them the exact right temperature for Jean because regardless of whether or not he was doing better, Jean had become the pickiest damn eater in the whole entire world and maybe the universe too.

“It’s not like that. It’s – I can’t explain it, okay? It’s not about being skinny. I don’t – I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what it’s about,” Jean stammered, his voice becoming smaller and weaker the more he spoke. I wanted to tear the phone from his hand and crush it. His mom – she was a lovely woman and probably just stupid, but I couldn’t forgive her – had shallow thoughts, a thick skull and too tight a leash wrapped around Jean’s throat. Mikasa told me to let him call his mom because she trusted Jean, and I trusted her, and I was learning to trust him again. But I didn’t trust his mom.

“I didn’t tell you because I knew you’d –” Jean cuts himself off to sigh, and just to fill the awkward silence I pull out another plate and dump Jean’s portion of vegetables out the pan. I turned the dials on the stovetop until they were at zero, before ducking down to check on the chicken again.

“I knew you’d – it doesn’t matter anymore. Please listen to me when I say I’m doing better. I’ve gained weight. I’m eating every day. I’m eating a lot actually.”

Another minute or two passed and Jean’s mom’s voice had risen high enough that I could hear it ten feet away in the kitchen even though the phone wasn’t on speaker. Jean shifter around in his seat. His feet tapped against the floor and the hand running through his hair lowers to his stomach.

I was on him in an instant, wrapping my hands around his waist and pulling his arm away from him. I placed one hand on either side of his waist, and pulled them away so that Jean could see how thin he was still. He nodded at me, and then my hands were around him again, touching his stomach. My lips pecked against his neck. The sigh he let out urged me to do it again, and I pecked at his neck until it wasn’t pecking anymore and it was outright sucking and biting.

Jean squirmed in his seat as I did but didn’t say anything because he was still on the phone with his mom. Jean sighed, this time for an entirely different reason. His shoulders hunched and he covered his face with his hand. “Mom. Stop. I am fine…Even Mikasa thinks so. She thinks I’ve made almost a full recovery.”

Ouch. I paused my biting and kissing and sighed for the same reason he had. I knew he didn’t want to play that card. I knew he didn’t want to have to acknowledge again that his mom valued Mikasa’s opinion more than his. His mom had been like that since they’d been dating, and hell, mine were the exact same way since they adopted her. Mikasa had a way about her. It wasn’t intentional, but when she had an opinion people agreed, the same way when Armin said a fact, people didn’t question it. They were becoming better for each other by the minute.

Mikasa never said Jean had made almost a full recovery either. What Mikasa said was, “He’ll probably never get totally over it. Eating disorders tend to stick around.”

When she’d seen my horrified face, and Jean’s sickly pale face and his fingers pinching his stomach at her words, she added, “That doesn’t mean he won’t learn to control it. People do get better. He could gain all the weight back and eat everyday on his own without any problems. It’s just…”

“It’s just?” I’d said.

“It’s just always going to be hard for him. Like, ya’ know…when people quit smoking. They might go years without smoking…doesn’t mean they don’t crave a cigarette. Sorry, I know that’s not what you want to hear.” And she had been sorry, I could see it in her eyes as she tucked her nose into her scarf.

“If it’s about self-control…” Jean had started. When he had started to speak again, I had gotten the feeling he was originally going to say something else first. “It took a lot of self-control to stop myself from eating. I know that – you don’t have to tell me how fucked up that is, but it’s true. So, if it’s self-control…I can do it. I just gotta do it the opposite way I used to.”

He had shrugged afterward. It was a little forced. He was trying so damn hard. He still was. He always would.

Jean’s mom’s voice quieted. Even with my ear right beside Jean’s, I couldn’t hear what she was saying. I kissed Jean’s neck again. I couldn’t stop. I had five years’ worth of neck-kissing to make up for and I wasn’t wasting any time.

“I know, mom. But you really don’t have to worry. They’re – Mikasa is taking care of me.”

Another pause. Another sigh. Jean’s hand reached up to grasp mine.

“No. We’re not back together. We’re not going to be.”

His mom went off on a rant. Jean glanced first at me, clearly apologizing with the furrow of his eyebrows and the frown. I waved it off. He tapped at his neck. Grinning, I dutifully continued kissing his neck as he tuned out his mother and stared at the wall like it was a complex puzzle he’d rather solve than hear her voice.

“I know how hard my break up is for you, but you have to understand…Mikasa and I won’t get back together. Ever. It didn’t work out. It can’t work out.”

And this time I heard his mom, almost as if her voice had come from inside my head like an invasive thought right before falling asleep. Jean flinched back and held the phone a few inches away from his ear. “What could have possibly broken you two up? Why can’t it work out?”

“I’m already in love with –”

And Jean cut himself off.

Because he couldn’t say, Mom, I’m already in love with two other men. I’m already committed to Eren and Marco.

My fingers gripped on to his hand so tightly his knuckles turned white between mine. I knew he felt guilty for not telling her, and I needed to reassure him that he didn’t have to. I wasn’t ready to tell my parents either, after all. It might be a long time before I was ready for that.

“Yeah,” Jean said under his breath, “I’m seeing someone else. I – I love him.”

Jean’s eyes pinched shut when his mouth formed the word him, singular. Only now was it sinking in that being in this relationship meant constantly denying our love for one of them. It was like keeping our relationship private wasn’t just a matter of not telling people, it was a matter of always subjecting one of the two we were dating to being a third wheel.

Maybe it would be best if Marco didn’t agree to our relationship. Maybe Marco would be way ahead of us, would consider all we were taking on beforehand, and avoid it. It hurt that part of me hoped for that, as desperate as I was to be with them. The closet had been a dark and cold place for me. It was no more inviting the second time around.

Jean groaned. “Yeah. I still like men. Haven’t quite kicked that habit yet.”

Just like that, I’m pulled out of my brooding thoughts and I snorted into Jean’s neck. He giggled and I kissed him again and again over top of one of the blossoming hickies I’d left right below his earlobe, right on that spot that could make him hard in an instant. I was just about to bite down when his hand yanked away from mine and muzzled my face, pushing me away.

“Quit it, Eren,” he hissed, smothering his phone in his shoulder.

The sounded wasn’t drowned out by Jean’s shoulder. His mom yelled, and Jean flinched again. “You’re back together with Eren?! You are! Aren’t you? That’s why he’s there all the time and not her!”

Jean didn’t reply at first. His jaw dropped. He wasn’t ready for her to know that yet. I wasn’t either, frankly.

“I should have known,” she said. And she said it in this melodramatic, poor-me-my-life-is-so-tragic-I-have-a-bi-son-that-likes-anal-feel-sorry-for-me-God way and I just about snatched the phone away and threw it. Actually my hand lunged for it, but Jean swatted me away again and I backed up into the sliding glass door to Jean’s balcony behind his kitchen table and thudded against the glass.

“You know I don’t – don’t have a problem with the gays,” she was saying, now that Jean had put it on speaker. He’d probably done that because he knew I was too invested now not to ask him every few seconds what she was saying. Jean was covering his eyes and slouching back in his chair like he hoped the ceiling would collapse and crush him. “It’s just –”

“I’m not gay, mom,” he spit. When he pulled his hand away from his eyes, they appeared to have purple bags underneath them several shades darker than they were a moment ago. His face looked exhausted, aged, like it might fall off if the air-conditioning blew too closely to it.

“I know that!” she yelled, as if she was truly offended and shocked that we would make that assumption. “I’m just saying…if you can love a girl…why would you…?”

“I didn’t…that’s not how it works and you know it. Don’t pull that. You didn’t choose to love my dad any more than I chose to love Eren and…and you should understand that. I don’t blame you for loving my dad, you know. I still don’t. To this day.”

I winced. Even if I pretended that the pause after “and” wasn’t supposed to be replaced with “Marco”, that sentence was still excruciating to hear. In all the years I’d known Jean, he’d only truly talked about his dad a grand total of four times. Only twice was it in front of his mom, and both times he was reassuring her that he didn’t care that he’d grown up fatherless and it wasn’t her fault. I knew that he really felt that way. He wasn’t lying to her, I’d be able to tell. But I also knew that this was a low blow. This was something they’d tip-toed around for years, never bringing up, because Jean knew it would get under her skin and he didn’t want to do that to his mom, because at the end of the fucking day…

He fucking loved his mom.

His mom was silent. Jean let out a shaky breathy. I stepped up behind him and placed both my hands on his shoulders. I squeezed.

“You can’t choose. Everyone says you can. Especially about gay people. Everyone likes to say that they can’t hate us for ‘who we choose to love’, but the bottom line is we don’t choose. We don’t choose to be gay, or bi, or whatever. And we don’t choose who we love either. And that’s what this is about, mom. You’re not upset with me for ‘choosing’ Eren over Mikasa. You’re upset with me for ‘choosing’ men over women.”

My chest had inflated and deflated in a second. My lungs hurt. It took me a second to breathe again. How many times had I heard that grumpy voice of his fuck up something important he was saying? How many times had I seen those eyes struggle with words on paper? And all this time, he had been afraid to tell me he wanted to be a writer because he somehow believed I thought he’d be bad at it. No. Not at all. It was moments like this that I knew he had to write. He just had to.

There was more silence. Jean shivered, but his jaw clenched and I knew he wouldn’t give in to her silent guilt trip.

“Eren has done so much for me. As much as Mikasa has. Mikasa has someone else now, and I have him. He loves me. You want what’s best for me, right? Well I’m old enough now to recognize what’s best for me on my own, and it’s him.”

Again, a wave of hurt rushed through me, because we were leaving Marco out. Even if we hadn’t technically spoken with him yet, even though we weren’t technically the three of us yet, I was already thinking of us that way. It felt like a whole part of my chest was vacant every time Jean referred to me and only me, as if Marco wasn’t best for him too, as if he hadn’t played as big of a role in his recovery too.

She was silent again. Jean’s jaw dropped, but she cut him off. “I do want what’s best for you, Jean.”

“I know that,” he replied.

“Eren is a good man.”

“I know that too.”

I squeezed his shoulders again, more for me than him.

She finally said, “Okay.”

Jean smiled. “Okay.”

Jean and I ended up in the bedroom again. I figured this would be happening a lot now and I was so ready for a full-time half-chub. I’d been jerking off for weeks and it was almost to the point where I’d be better off not fucking getting off. After kissing him to the point where he had to abruptly say goodbye and hang up on his mom, I imagined he’d been in a similar state.

We were on our sides, facing each other on the bed. Jean’s breath was still heavy from fucking me into the bedframe. Before we’d started, I had asked in a not very discreetly way, “You sure you can hold yourself up that long?” To which he sneered at, and took as a challenge. He succeeded. I couldn’t bend my legs or even curl up and hold my knees to my chest in the aftermath because I was so sore. I’d do it again though. I’d do it until my legs went numb for all I cared.

I reached for him and his fingers laced into mine. “What’s on your mind?” I asked. I could never tell what he was thinking.

“Marco.”

I nodded. He was on my mind too. Not at the forefront, especially not a few minutes ago. But now that we were laying in the bed naked together, I couldn’t dismiss the feeling that we were cheating, somehow. It felt wrong. After hearing Jean’s mouth step around his name a dozen times on the phone, having sex afterward kind of topped it all off. We didn’t even know if he would want this, if he would be angry at us for making a decision without him. It was hard for me to imagine him angry, but I didn’t want to. The first time I saw him pissed I hoped it wouldn’t be because of me.

“He won’t be home for two days,” Jean said. “He’s stuck with his parents right now. I know he doesn’t like to complain, but it fucking sucks for him there.”

“I know.” Every time we spoke on the phone with him he sounded worse. I thought about the night we had sex for the first time. He was so defeated when he told me he’d have to give up his family. He didn’t want to hate them, or be angry or resentful of them. They forced him to be. Marco was never supposed to feel those things. They didn’t belong to someone like him. It was unnatural.

Jean shifted closer to me on the bed. I had to admit, the bed felt too spacious without Marco.

He placed his hand on my chest and kissed me.

“When he calls we should tell him.”

My eyebrows rose. “Over the phone? While he’s there?”

“Oh come on, you really think you can wait until Saturday evening?”

I sighed. He was right. Whether or not it was a bad idea to tell Marco now, and whether or not I logically knew that we probably shouldn’t…my patience would run thin before Jean’s did. I was already fidgety. Underneath the light, breathy, I-just-had-sex feeling in my chest, there was something else that felt a little nauseated. I was nervous. So nervous, and so excited, and so terrified all at once. I’d go crazy before Saturday.

“Okay. On speaker phone. Together.”

Jean smiled. “Yeah. Together.”

I scooted even closer to him and he wrapped his arms around me. It felt so much like when we were younger. He’d walk to my house and come in through the front or back door without knocking, without any phone call ahead of time or any plans made. My mom or dad would notice him, and by ‘notice him’ that’s really what I meant. “Oh, Jean’s here,” and that was that. He had really, practically lived with us.

He’d make his way up to my room, and maybe we’d fool around, maybe we wouldn’t. Maybe we’d argue or play videogames or go outside and toss the football around or barbeque or any number of things. But at the end of whatever it was we were doing, night would come, and even though there was a sleeping bag set up on the floor that he could jump in quick if he needed to, he came in my bed with me. And he’d hold me, even if he never did that after sex at all.

We’d be awake, trying to probe each other’s minds and each of us would struggle with it so much. As natural as it was for us to go from football, to arguing, to trying to defeat the other in a videogame by kissing him spontaneously, to giving the other a blowjob to distract him from his homework…it was so hard to just fucking talk to each other because it really was the ultimate broken rule.

Obviously, we weren’t supposed to be gay. And neither of us technically were, but we were doing gay shit together.

But really, talking to each other, telling each other how we feel, that was the final act. Sex we could blame on hormones, loneliness, practice for future reference or whatever…we could explain fucking each other away and so could other people if we ever got caught. If the situation was ever that desperate.

But telling each other at night that we loved each other, that we had dreams about living together one day, and fears about separating once we enlisted was irreversible. Once I was diagnosed with diabetes, it was fear of us separating for college.

Treating the other like we were supposed to be treating a girlfriend neither of us had was the ultimate crime.

But one night I forced him to face me and I told him that whatever happened we could never be apart, and from then on, we spoke to each other. He told me about his mom, and I told him about my parents, and we talked about what we’d do if we weren’t doing football (although he never mentioned writing) and worst of all we talked about being married one day but not to each other. We talked about wives we assumed we’d have and it hurt but I’d never been so vulnerable in my life as I was at the moment I told him I was afraid I’d cheat on my wife with him.

Now, I was faced with the same dilemma but my life was everything I would never have imagined. Well, almost everything I would never have imagined.

“Jean, what if he says no?”

“He won’t.” Jean’s fingers threaded through my hair.

“How do you know?”

“Because…I think he’s already thinking about it. He asked me if he’d still be a good dad if he was dating two men.”

I sat up just enough to look down and face Jean. “Really?”

He nodded. “He wants to. And I think…I think I made him realize that it’s impossible for him to be a bad dad.”

“No kidding.”

Jean tugged at my hair and I rested my head on his chest again. It wasn’t the most comfortable, mostly because he was still a little bony and I was still a little afraid my head was too heavy and would somehow crush him. But I wouldn’t rather pull myself away from him.

“I want it so bad,” I whispered.

“Me too.”

I bit my lip. Jean’s eyebrows furrowed. Our hands laced again. And then, as if all of this was meant to be, one of our phones started vibrating from inside one of our pants’ pockets on the floor.

Jean was on the outside of the bed (my side was against a wall), so he climbed out and kicked our clothes around until he found the phone that was ringing. It was his. As he slid back in beside me underneath the comforter, he held the phone out to me, and I took it. We both stared at the lit up screen for a second longer while it vibrated. I glanced at him.

“Speaker?” I asked.

“We’re doing this, right?”

I nodded.

“Speaker.”

I slid my thumb across the phone and pressed my thumb into the ‘speaker’ icon.

“Hello?” Marco asked, “Jean?”

“It’s us,” I said. And whoa did I get a wave of this-is-going-to-be-an-everyday-saying-pretty-damn-soon feeling as I said it.

Marco chuckled on the other end. “How’s Thanksgiving going?”

Jean sighed. I winced. Well, it wasn’t awful, it just wasn’t really Thanksgiving either. “Fine,” I said.

Jean added, “Yeah. It’s fine…How’s yours? Did you uh, ya’ know, tell them yet?”

Now it was Marco’s turn to sigh. There was some shuffling on the other end and what sounded like a door being shut. “About the baby? Yeah. My mom’s thrilled for the wrong reasons. My dad’s angry with me for…all the other reasons. ‘Cause I’m not marrying Hitch. My mom’s still pretending I am marrying Hitch. So now they’re arguing. Ymir is being a referee. And I’m hiding.”

Jean glanced at me, and somehow I could just hear what he was thinking. You still want to tell him?

God damn it…Yeah, I did.

I hope I gave him an expression that clearly asked, Yeah, but should we?

Jean shrugged, so the message must have gotten across.

I puffed out a breath of air, trying to think of a topic that would buy Jean and me some time. “So…coming out is outta the question then, huh?”

Marco paused before speaking. “I’m still hoping there’s an opportunity. I had no idea my parents were so…so delusional about me. Like, I knew they were homophobic and I knew they wanted me to marry Hitch but…my mom is outright pretending that Hitch and I are together. She won’t listen to me at all. And my dad’s so angry that he’s…threatening me. I can’t explain how, exactly. He hasn’t said any actual threats. But I can tell. I’m an adult and there’s nothing he can take away from me…but it’s like, like he’s threatening to disown me just from this. Let alone being gay.”

“So…you want to tell them before you come home?” Jean said, clearly looking for clarification so that he and I could make our decision.

“Yeah. I think – I think it’ll only get worse. I can’t protect them anymore. I can’t let them…let them lie to themselves anymore. It’s like they’re both completely oblivious to the fact that I’m gay, and it’s also like they’ve always known. They’ve always been dreading it, I think. I just want to get it over with.” The amount of genuine fear and loss in his voice startled me. He almost sounded sick. It terrified me, but even more than that it enraged me. So much so, that I considered buying a fucking ticket to Texas for a moment, because I couldn’t stand – it was unbearable now – to be away from him. For him to speak like the only reason he was coming out was so that he could relieve his parents of their dread instead of relieve himself of his own closeted struggle was so unjust.

I glanced at Jean. His mouth opened like he was going to ask me something, but he saw my expression. He knew. He nodded and held his finger up so that I wouldn’t speak, because he knew if I did I’d probably be yelling.

“Marco, before you tell them, we uh, Eren and I gotta ask you something.”

“Hmmm?” He hummed it, so upbeat, as if a moment ago he hadn’t said what he said. The way he did it was innocent. It was obvious he had no idea what we were about to ask was anything potentially life-changing.

I took a deep breath, and so did Jean, and we both glanced at each other.

He whispered, “It was your idea.” Then he nodded at me.

“Guys?” Marco said.

“Okay, um. Well. Jean and I were wondering…okay, so, um.”

Jean sighed. I glared at him.

“Jean and I were wondering –”

“If you’d be our boyfriend,” Jean finished, and I’d never admit it but I was so grateful.

There was a pause. “What?”

I swallowed. Jean rubbed my shoulder. His hands were shaking. I glanced at his stomach and pulled his other hand away from it.

“We want all of us to be together. We want you to be our boyfriend,” I rasped, barely being able to find my voice.

“Really?”

Was that a sob?

“Yeah,” Jean said. “If, ya’ know, that’s not –”

“Yes.”

Jean and I said at the same time, “Wait, what?”

“Yes. God, yes. Yes a thousand times yes,” Marco replied. I thought I heard him sob again. Oh, God, I needed to be near him.

Jean and I were too stunned to speak for a minute. My hand was trembling holding the phone.

“So, that’s it then,” Jean said.

“We’re together?” I asked, still not quite ready to believe it.

“Oh my God,” Marco breathed, “I really have to tell my parents now.”

Jean and I both glanced at each other. “You’re going to tell them you’re dating two men?” I asked.

“Do it, Marco,” Jean said, “Don’t give a fuck about it either.”

Marco laughed. “Yeah, I’m going to tell them. You know…I didn’t actually think I’d be able to get one of you, let alone both, and now I’m too happy not to say anything. I’d so much rather have the two of you than them.”

I cleared my throat, stilling thinking of the conversation we had before our first kiss together.

“You sure?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’m sure. I want this.” I believed him. My chest swelled with the happiness and I placed my free hand against my chest to steady my wild heartbeat.

“Is that why you asked me about dating two men? When you were worried you wouldn’t be a good dad?” Jean asked.

Marco chuckled. I could feel the heat of his blush through the phone, I swore.

“Yeah. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. And I just – I know I want it for myself, but I got two people to think about.”

“Oh my God,” I blurted, ‘Does this mean…? Does this mean Jean and I are dads too?”

“No. I mean, not unless you want to. You guys don’t have to feel obligated to –”

“Fucking yes,” I hissed. “Oh my God. You realize your baby is going to have four dads? Four! No one’s ever going to fuck with this kid.”

Marco laughed, but as soon as I said it I realized that I didn’t stop to ask Jean. Marco had told us that Hitch was marrying someone else, so I knew whoever he was would be around. Obviously Marco would be, like, the alpha dad. And I was so ready to be the sidekick dad 2. Or maybe I wasn’t. I didn’t care. I’d figure it out. I’d have a lot of help, after all.

But Jean…I glanced at him, suddenly afraid that I’d just dragged him into this.

Jean was grinning at me and he ruffled my hair like I was a child. “I knew you’d be down for it.”

I mouthed, “What about you?”

He deadpanned. “You don’t honestly think I’d do that would you?”

“Do what?” Marco asked.

“Walk out on this,” Jean said. I winced, remembering a couple of times Jean had said ‘walked out on me’ about his own dad. He had told me many years ago that his dad loved his mom, even once he was born, but he never wanted a baby. “Marco and his baby are a package deal. I knew that a long ass time ago. Can’t have one without the other, and I’m okay with that.”

I grinned then. “So, as I was saying, four dads.”

“Hitch will be thrilled,” Marco said, through a laugh. “I’m already preparing to hear her explain to our child that it takes four of us and only one of her.”

I snorted. “Yeah, right.”

Jean was about to say something, but there was a woman with a husky voice in the background saying, “Marco? What are you doing? Mom’s almost done cooking.”

“Are mom and dad still arguing?” Marco asked.

“No. For now,” the woman replied.

“That’s Ymir,” Jean said to me.

“She sounds terrifying.”

“She kind of is,” Marco added, after he told her he’d be right down. “Anyway, I have to go.”

“Good luck,” Jean said. “Remember what I said. Fuck them all to hell, who gives a shit.”

I snorted and ducked my head into his neck. Marco laughed too. The wise words of Jean Kirstein.

“Put that in a fortune cookie or something,” I told him.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Marco replied. “I have a feeling I’ll be catching an earlier flight. I’ll call you both later.”

“Okay,” I said. Jean gave the phone a grimace. Neither of us liked thinking about what might force Marco to leave early. Or at least, I thought Jean was thinking along the same lines as I was.

“I love you guys,” Marco said.

A shiver ran down my spine and I gripped on to Jean’s arm for support. He let out a shaky exhale. From now on I would hear those words in that order from either Jean or Marco every day. No more whispering it, no more leaving the room to say it, or screaming it in my head. I’d be saying it to them too, all the time. I couldn’t wait for every day.

“Love you,” I said.

“Love you too,” Jean said.

Marco hung up the phone. Jean and I didn’t process the relief, and the excitement, and the joy right away, but when we did, we collapsed into each other once more. The bed was even bigger than it had been before. Although I really did hope things went well for Marco, because Lord knew coming out was terrifying, I wouldn’t mind it a bit if he caught an early flight.

Chapter Text

Marco

Once I was off the phone with…my boyfriends, Ymir came back up the stairs. Now I could hear my mom yelling for me from downstairs, but I was barely ready to face Ymir let alone her or my dad.

Ymir popped through the guest bedroom door – what used to be the bedroom I spent my teenage years inhabiting – with an especially exhausted brand of glare she saved just for our parents.

“Good, you’re off the phone. Now you can stop ignoring mom?”

“Ymir, they asked me to be their boyfriend.”

It took Ymir quite a long time to understand what I was referencing, to recall the conversation we had in my apartment just a few days ago.

She shut the door behind her, leaned against it, and crossed her arms. “You’re shitting me.”

I shook my head. “I’m dating two men as of right now.”

She snorted and covered her face. “That’s the most fucked up thing I’ve heard today, and I had to listen to Christa tell me about her mom’s vegan Thanksgiving dinner.”

I rubbed the back of my neck blushing. I shrugged. “Ymir...you’re gonna be with her forever, right?”

Ymir’s face softened, and for a moment she looked pretty, and fragile, and gentle, and kind. Her eyes drifted as she thought about my question. “Yeah. Why?”

“How did you know that you would be?”

“Just knew it in my gut, I guess. She was the only person that ever made me feel like…nothing could ever make me leave her. If I ever had to choose between her and something else, no matter what I had to give up, it’d, you know, never be her.”

She looked away from me. Her arms tightened on her arms and she grimaced like she’d smelled something awful. She wasn’t used to talking to me about this kind of thing. I wondered if this was what she was like around Christa all the time. If she could just say what she felt without having to feel uncomfortable right after.

“That’s what this is for me,” I told her, “I never want to lose them. I’ll do anything I have to, to make sure I don’t.”

Ymir smirked at me, like she didn’t believe me. But maybe she realized how serious I was, or maybe she understood that if I had questioned her saying the same thing it would have infuriated her, or maybe she even believed me – I hoped that was it – because her jaw dropped and her eyebrows rose. She shook her head.

“You’re happy then? You don’t…have any doubts or worries or anything?”

I shook my head. “Not even a little.”

She nodded then, biting her lip. Then she pulled me into her arms and hugged me close. I smiled and sighed in relief. The last time I’d been in her arms, it happened in response to me telling her I was going to marry Hitch.

When she stepped away, her eyes were watery and she straightened out the wrinkles in my shirt on each of my shoulders. “What now?”

My mom called for the two of us from downstairs. Her voice was exasperated, and she proceeded to curse in Creole. I’d kept her waiting over ten minutes. I hated to think of what I was about to do. That this might be the last time I stood in my childhood bedroom. This might be the last time my mom and dad thought of me as just their son, who was just visiting for Thanksgiving. They were about to meet someone different. Someone they might never want to know very well. I sighed. As much as I resented my parents for locking me in the closet my whole life, for preventing me from ever pursing my own dreams, or the men I’d loved over the years in silence, or pressuring me to love the women I couldn’t love, who deserved to be loved… I didn’t want to have to do this to them.

I read somewhere that change is what happens when stepping forward becomes easier than staying in place.

My life in the closet had become more unbearable than coming out to my parents would be.

Part of me thought I had always known this would happen, and was relieved it had finally come. And another part of me, a more fragile, frightened part of me was still urging me to do it before I backed out and changed my mind. I needed to get it over with.

“Marco?” Ymir repeated. I shook my head, focusing on the present, and my mom yelling about something on TV. “What now?”

“I have to tell Mom and Dad.”

Her face crumpled and she covered her face so she could slide her tears away. “I know.”

“What’s wrong?” I pulled her wrists gently away so that I could examine her expression. Never in my life had I seen Ymir react to anything like this, except her parents’ car crash.

“I have to too,” she said. “We can’t do it to them twice. If just you come out…they’ll think I’m the normal one, ya’ know? They’ll think ‘at least we still have Ymir’. I can’t…I can’t lead them on like that.”

“That’s not why I’m doing this. You have to come out when you think –”

She placed her finger against my lips to quiet me. “I have to. I have to now, or I never will. If you come out, and they take it badly…I’ll know they’d do the same to me. I’ll never have the courage to tell them if I know ahead of time what to expect. Might as well do it now, when I can pretend they’ll welcome us with open arms.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, almost whispering. My heartbeat felt weak in my chest thinking about her coming out. I never intended to pressure her into doing it, but at the same time I wasn’t willing to stop her if she thought that was what she had to do.

She gave me a weak smile. “Yeah. I mean, we do everything together right? Pretty sure we stepped into the closet holding hands.”

Despite myself, I huffed out a laugh. She was right. Before her parents had died, we’d been close. Her mom and my mom were not only sisters, but best friends, who married brothers, who were also best friends. We’d always been together, and once her parents died and she moved in…it was effortless to consider her a sister because she basically already had been. And then when we found out we were both gay she became my best friend too.

We were watching a Disney movie when it happened. She was ten and I was nine…and she asked me if I wanted to marry Cinderella. I told her no, I didn’t want to marry a princess, and her exact words were, “Good, she’s mine.” After she had called dibs on Cinderella, I told her in different words that I would take the prince off Cinderella’s hands.

It only seemed appropriate now that we would come out together.

“So, just…go downstairs, right now, and tell them?” My voice squeaked at the end like it would have when I was a teenager. I was about as terrified now thinking about coming out as I was when I was sixteen.

“No time like the present,” she said, sighing through her words. “Come on.”

She hooked her arm in mine, the way Hitch often did with the both of us, and I got a rush of confidence thinking of her. If Hitch were here, this would all be so much easier. For me and Ymir. I didn’t know exactly how Hitch told her parents that I was gay, she was pregnant, and engaged to a Jewish man all at once, but I can only imagine that she had either done it all like she had rehearsed her lines for ages beforehand or she had said it off-handedly, mentioning it in passing and barely acknowledging her parents reactions. In any case, her parents were already over it and so was she. It would have been even easier for her to tell off my parents than her own.

Once we were down the stairs, my dad looked up from where he was sitting on our couch, and my mom popped her head out from the kitchen. My mom’s eyebrows furrowed at the sight of Ymir and I arm-in-arm, but dropped her mouth presumably to begin ordering us to set the table and place the food in the center. The air was filled with every flavor of Thanksgiving I could imagine. For a moment, as I breathed it in and my mouth watered I thought about calling it off and telling Ymir that we could wait another day. We could have one more Thanksgiving with my parents without it having to be ruined.

But like Ymir said, if she didn’t do it now, she wouldn’t. I was beginning to think I was the same way.

So even though my mom was wearing an apron and holding a wooden spoon coated in mashed potatoes, I asked her if she’d have a seat next to dad. She smiled, and it hurt for a second, before darting into the kitchen to put the spoon on the counter and pull her dreads from the hairnet she’d wrapped them in. After, she made her way to the couch. My mom looked like a cruel woman when she wasn’t smiling. She wasn’t old, at least not to me, but the sun in Haiti and Texas was brutal and her skin was tired. She had frown lines and crow’s feet. But when she smiled she looked like she did in all the photos of her holding me as a baby, with high cheekbones blushing over skin much darker than my own.

It hurt to see her smiling because she didn’t know I was on the phone upstairs speaking to my boys. She thought I had been speaking to Hitch. And when I told her about the baby, I had asked her to sit down on the couch next to dad just as I was now. I knew as she sat down next to my dad, who wrapped an enormous arm around her petite frame, she believed I was about to tell her I was engaged to Hitch.

Ymir and I glanced at each other, somehow silently communicating the question how should we start?

When she shrugged, I sighed. It was up to me then. It was my fault we were coming out at all.

“Mom, dad,” I started, “I have something I have to tell you. Something I’ve been waiting to tell you for years.”

My mom’s eyebrows furrowed, worried already. My dad’s fingers combed through his graying beard, but outside of that he wore no expression. He wouldn’t worry ahead of time like my mom would. Maybe it was the military man in him or his nature, but my dad didn’t pay a lot of mind to what-ifs and to-bes.

My breath hitched then, as I realized that I’d done as much prelude as possible. Ymir squeezed my arm. I was so grateful she was with me.

“I’m gay,” I said.

When neither of them responded, I wondered if they hadn’t heard me. But my dad’s eyes narrowed and my mom shook her head – not like she was rejecting what I said, but like she couldn’t understand what I had said. Like she sincerely couldn’t process such words coming out of her son’s mouth.

So I continued. “I’ve always known. Until recently in my life, I wasn’t going to do anything about it. I was going to marry Hitch.”

My mom’s eyes widened and she began to grin. She always heard what she wanted to hear.

But my dad’s face had become vacant. He had hazel eyes like Ymir’s. They appeared empty now. He frowned. It felt like he had checked out of this conversation altogether.

Nothing could be done to take it back, so I kept going. “But I can’t marry her. I don’t love her. I can’t love her, even if I’d like to. I know she deserves it. I actually…I’ve found…”

How did I say it? My parents already didn’t believe that gay people actually fell in love with the same gender. If they couldn’t believe that, I could hardly expect them to believe I could genuinely love two men and be with two men at once. Maybe that would make it easier. If I told them something I knew they wouldn’t believe or take seriously, then it was almost like it wouldn’t be a big deal to say it.

Ymir squeezed my arm again. She looked at me in her periphery, and gave me a small nod.

“I’ve found two men. They’re names are Jean and Eren. I love them both. And I’m in a relationship with both of them.”

My dad looked away from me. My mom’s head whipped his direction, then back at me.

“I don’t understand?” she asked.

I sighed. “Mom, I’m gay. I’m attracted to men. I love two very –”

“No!” she cried, “No, I don’t understand!”

Ymir winced. I bit my lip, but I didn’t look away from my mom as she proceeded to have a panic attack. She jumped up and began fanning herself with her hand, shaking her head. She scurried into the kitchen, muttering something about forgetting to wash some dish and clean up some spill or something. I knew she was lying. I knew she was doing what she always did, finding a way to ignore what had just happened.

From the kitchen she yelled, “The baby! Marco, the baby!”

She was having a harder time ignoring this than she usually would.

I sighed. Just when I was about to turn around and walk into the kitchen to comfort her as best I could, my dad began to speak.

“You’ve upset her,” he said.

“I know,” I choked. “I didn’t want –”

“What did you want then, son?” he asked. “Was it not enough for you to move away? To not enlist? To get some innocent girl pregnant? I’ve been trying to let your mom down easily for years. But she’s kept her hopes up for you, telling me that you’d come around. That you’d make us proud. And now…now I think you’ve finally done it. Why you’d rather be a faggot then just…we never expected much from you. We weren’t strict or cruel or wrong to you. We were good parents. Especially your mother. I don’t know why you insist on making her feel like she’s screwed you up.”

“I didn’t – she is – I know she’s not –” I stammered, trying not to sound so affected by my dad’s words even though my lungs were raw with the ache of air hitting them and my body felt like it was being weighed down and dragged to hell from right here in the living room. “She didn’t screw me up.”

“I know that,” he said, “Believe me, I know it’s not her fault. You have only yourself to blame. But, that doesn’t matter because even if it is your fault, you will act as if it’s not and your mother will act as if it’s hers.”

“Dad, that’s totally unfair! Marco has never –” Ymir began.

“Enough!” he yelled, “This discussion is over. Marco, pack your things. Get out of my house.”

I nodded, turning to do as he said. The pain in my stomach made me wonder how long it would be before I felt the relief, before I felt free of the closet and to be myself. Was coming out a lie? Did anyone ever actually feel like they could be themselves once it was over?

“But dad!” Ymir yelled, as I pulled away from her arm in mine. “I’m gay too! If you’re kicking him out, you have to kick me out!”

I turned to face her, to see my dad’s reaction. This was Ymir challenging him. She had been my dad’s favorite, despite not being his biological daughter. She looked so much like her dad, his brother. She had been the one to work on cars with him, go to football games with him, and go hunting with him. He had always said, “If only she were a boy,” because then he’d have his dream son. The one I never was. My mom had wanted her to be the perfect daughter. The one who wore makeup and dresses and learned to dance or sing. But my dad never worried about that with her, and I thought it was because if anyone ever pointed out that she looked or acted like a boy, my dad could blame his brother and my mom’s sister for not raising her right. He got the advantages of a son in a daughter, while simultaneously not having to take responsibility for it.

My dad’s jaw dropped. “You…you what?”

“I fuck girls,” she spit. “I have a girlfriend. I’m going to marry her.”

“Well,” my dad said. Then he chuckled. I wanted to scream.

My mom peeked out from the kitchen. She looked distraught now, like when she found out Ymir’s parents had died.

“Is she…” my mom started, “You know. Like a real girl?”

Ymir and I both understood what she meant. Does she act the way girls are supposed to?

Ymir’s features softened. Her muscles loosened and she looked my mom in the eyes. “She’s, uh…she’s a ballerina.”

My mom gave Ymir a tiny smile.

My dad asked, “What’s her name?”

“Christa,” she responded taking a step away from my dad. Her eyes flitted between my mom and dad a couple times, then she looked at me with a questioning look. I knew what she was wondering. I knew she wouldn’t understand even if I told her.

But, my parents didn’t care if Ymir was gay because they always knew she was. My dad had never seen Ymir as a daughter. This was basically the same to him as if I had told him I was marrying Hitch. It was exactly what was expected of her, even if they didn’t approve of her being gay. And my mom? My mom got to claim a ballerina as her daughter-in-law. She’d love Christa. Everyone did, but my mom would especially. She was short, tiny, blonde, blue-eyed, and wore a dress almost every day with high-heels. She was everything my mom wished Ymir could be.

And the worst part of all this was, I was happy Ymir got to keep our parents. She’d lost her own once already. I knew coming out for her had greater stakes than it had for me, because if they had rejected her she would have lost her parents twice. She knew the hurt of losing them once, and she had dreaded it again. I never had that pain. It was all fresh to me.

My parents continued to ask her questions, and Ymir answered them, curtly, without any energy. She still had wide eyes, because unlike me, none of this made sense to her. She had expected a blow-out. She had expected us to go down together.

I retreated to my old bedroom and packed my bags. An hour later I had bought a ticket online. It didn’t depart for two hours, but I would head to the airport now.

Once downstairs my mom and dad both stared at me as I headed toward the door. Ymir ran up to me and hugged me. She whispered that she was sorry in my ears.

“I don’t blame you,” I whispered back. “I’d keep them if I could too.”

She cried. She asked me if I was mad. I shook my head and let go of her before putting my hand on the doorknob. She stepped away.

When I had opened the door, and still neither of them spoke, something flared up in me. Something I couldn’t douse. I had to speak.

“Mom, dad,” I started again, “I don’t imagine you’ll ever want to speak to me again. I understand. I guess that means you don’t want to meet your grandchild either,” my mom whimpered at this, “and that’s okay too. I just want you to know that you haven’t made me regret my decision to be with Jean and Eren. They’re the only people who have ever truly loved me.”

I looked my dad in the eyes, who wore a frown tugged in the shape of disgust. My mom was crying. She looked like she might even talk to me. Like she might take it all back. But I wouldn’t let her, because if she took me back it would be the same as pretending for the rest of her life that she didn’t know I was gay. I wouldn’t live like that anymore. If they were ever going to speak to me again, and welcome me back into their lives, they would have to welcome the real me.

“It was your job to love me for I am. If you had done nothing else, but love me for who I am, you would have been good parents. That’s what parents are supposed to do. It’s what I plan to do with my own baby. I will never let my baby know what it’s like to have people like you for parents.”

My mom burst into tears and my dad opened his mouth and began yelling at me. I didn’t hear any of it. I didn’t care enough to hear him trying to justify his hatred for his own son, or redefine what it means to be a good parent to me.

I just the door on them. As I stepped out onto my porch, I smiled thinking of my baby. I had worried what kind of father I would be, if I would be enough, if my decisions would affect my baby’s life in bad ways. But a rush of relief flooded my veins as I realized that I wouldn’t ever fuck up as bad as my own parents had.

When the taxi showed, I stepped inside grinning. In just a few months, my baby would be here. And they would be my everything. I would give them everything my parents had never given me and more.

That was all I really needed. I had never actually needed my parents, beyond needing a place to sleep and food to eat. They were just two people I was forced to grow up with, but that didn’t mean they had to matter to me. They had never loved me, after all, and I had wasted time trying to love them. All that energy could be put elsewhere now. To my boys, to Hitch, to Ymir, to my baby. To my real family.

While waiting to board the plane at my gate, I called Hitch. We’d already spoken earlier today, long before I came out to my parents. Her Thanksgiving was going as rough as mine, given that she had invited Marlowe. She had told me, “But hey, at least this year I get to eat as much as I want and neither of my parents can tell me to watch my figure. No more of my dad telling me ‘boys don’t like a fatty’ and my mom telling me ‘if I eat too much I’ll look pregnant’.”

We were taking turns complaining about parents, and it was my turn once again.

“How’d it go?” she asked.

I huffed out a sigh, trying to find words to describe the absolute tear between my past and my future. The tear that probably wouldn’t ever be sewed back up. “You know,” I started, “I didn’t think it was possible to feel better. I thought I’d never get over it. But…I don’t care. I thought I did, but I don’t. My parents are strangers to me and it’s…it’s just so much better that way. I finally feel like things are the way they’re supposed to be. I’m not going to miss them. I don’t think – I don’t think I’m even going to think about them.”

“That’s good, Marco,” she said under her breath, like she didn’t believe me. If I were her I probably wouldn’t believe her either. But I wasn’t lying, and she’d realize that in time. “What about the baby?” she asked.

I smiled, blushing in the airport like a lovesick idiot. “I can’t wait to meet them.”

She let out a nervous chuckle on the other end. “You really don’t care if…if your parents –”

“I don’t. I don’t care,” I told her.

She sighed in relief. “Me neither.”

Overhead, the intercom began announcing that all the platinum and gold members or whatever should begin boarding.

“You gotta go?” Hitch asked.

“Not yet.” For whatever reason, I really didn’t want to stop talking to her. I wanted to see her almost as bad as I wanted to see Eren and Jean. They had to meet her. Hitch would love them, although she would make them doubt whether or not she did at first. They’d be skeptical of her, but I knew if they listened to me and gave her some time to drop her act, they’d see everything in her that I did.

“How’s Ymir?” she asked.

“I think she’s okay. Right now she’s worried I’m mad. I think she feels guilty that they accepted – well, I don’t know that accepted is the word. I think she feels guilty that they’re putting up with her being gay and not me, but she doesn’t have to. I’m happy she doesn’t have to lose her parents twice. She needs them. I don’t.” I wondered what she was doing right now. If she had called Christa yet, if she had sat down to have dinner with my parents, if they were going on with their Thanksgiving like nothing had ever happened…like I had never existed at all… I waited for the pain to sting, but it didn’t. I hoped she was able to get me off her mind, although I knew she probably couldn’t.

“God, Marco,” she groaned, “Why do you always have to be such a saint?”

I snorted and shook my head as they began calling for first class overhead. Several people surrounding me in the nearby fold-out seats stood and scuttled over to the line to get on the plane. Once it had quieted again, I responded.

“I’m about to go home to two boyfriends who are…” I hesitated, “anxious to see me. Um, I’m pretty sure there’s nothing saintly about a threesome.”

Hitch barked out a laugh. “I’m just so proud of you.”

“Yeah, I figured you would be,” I replied, even as I became nervous thinking about what was waiting for me at home. Until now I hadn’t considered that having two boyfriends would actually, literally, mean we’d probably all…have…sex…together. “Oh my God…A few weeks ago I was nervous about kissing a guy for the first time and now I’m going to…”

“Fuck two at the same time,” Hitch answered for me, in a high-pitched, mischievous voice, “Gay life is truly amazing, Marco.”

“Oh, God,” I muttered in exasperation.

“You’re going to be saying that a lot pretty soon,” Hitch squealed. “Relax, it’s not so bad after the first time.”

“A threesome?” I asked.

“Yeah. I mean, you know, you have to –”

“I’m in public,” I cut her off, “I can’t talk about this right now. Or ideally, ever.”

She started to speak again, but the intercom rang overhead again and it was my turn to board the plane.

“I gotta go.”

“Okay, okay. Go. Text me so I know you got home, okay?”

I told her I would, and then reached for my backpack before getting in line. In three hours, I’d be back in Minnesota, getting in a cab, and heading home.

By the time my plane landed, I was caught between exhaustion and being hyper. Both feelings were at a tug of war inside of me, as I considered that today had been the longest day of my life, and yet it was only just beginning of my life. My cab ride was slow. The cab driver spoke to me, and I was polite. But the whole time I was trying to pay even an ounce of attention to him, because my mind kept wandering further and further into the future as I considered that my parents were a memory and Jean and Eren were waiting for me at home.

I paid the driver, tipped him well for the boring and long drive. I hauled my luggage up the stairs to Jean’s apartment through the wispy snow falling. Once there, I exhaled.

My hand twisted around the doorknob which had been left open. I wondered if they had been expecting me, or maybe Mikasa, or if they had forgotten.

Placing my luggage on the couch so that the heaviness of it wouldn’t make any noise, I left it there and tip-toed down the hall. With the bedroom door too, I hesitated, but since it was silent and they were clearly both asleep I gained the courage to step in. The door clicked shut behind me, and then all I had to do was wake them.

Jean was spooning Eren, which I smiled at. He was usually too cold to be on the outside. Clearly, both of them were naked, and a shiver ran through my body as I thought about the day they must have had, the days to come. But they looked so relaxed. Jean even looked healthy, his cheeks fuller and his skin not so white under the light filtering through the windowpane. Their breathing was drawn out, in sync, both of their chest rising simultaneously and falling together too. As I counted their breaths, I stripped to my boxers and tossed my clothes in the laundry basket by the dresser. I smiled. Brushed my tears away. I was home, I was home, I was home.

Placing both my hands on each of their shoulders, I nudged them both awake. Eren jerked upward in alarm, and Jean rolled over and grunted. Neither of them understood immediately what was happening. Eren was the first to realize it was me, and he shook Jean further into consciousness.

“What!” he hissed as he spun to face me.

“Hi,” I whispered. “I’m home.”

They both sprung into a sitting position. One of Eren’s hands was tugging me by my wrist toward the bed, and Jean was up on his knees leaning forward to kiss me. I gave them both the attention they were seeking. Flowing from kissing Jean to kissing Eren to being wrapped up in both of them. Before I ever really decided to be, I was lying between them on the bed, one arm wrapped around each. Jean’s leg hooked over my waist and Eren’s head rested against my chest.

We’d never been like this before, but it was easy, it was natural, it was an instinct that had unraveled as if it had been counting the seconds for me to be theirs.

None of us commented on it, but we were all thinking it. We were all thinking that this was surprisingly easy for something we had all thought we couldn’t do.

“Are you okay?” Eren asked.

“I’m more than okay,” I told him.

“They kicked you out,” Jean mumbled.

“I know.”

“What did they think of you being with us?” Eren asked.

“You told them about us, right?” Jean asked.

“I did,” I replied, “but it doesn’t matter what they said. They’re – they’re not in my life right now.”

Both of them were silent.

“It’s okay,” I reassured them, knowing they were going to be hung up on this even more than I was. “If they ever want to step back into my life, they can. But that’s up to them, not me.”

“Fuck yeah,” Eren muttered.

“It’s about time,” Jean said.

I chuckled, and pulled them both in closer. They laced their fingers together over my waist, and for sometime I did nothing but take turns kissing them back and forth. I never got sick of it. The thrill never gave me a rest. Each time I kissed one of them the elation expanded and grew. They were my boys. I could kiss them each whenever I wanted to, never having to worry about the other being jealous, or angry, or hurt. The more I kissed them, the more I realized I had lost years of my life to my parents, and I didn’t want to waste any time making up for it.

Before the exhaustion from the day finally took me, Jean slurred, “Love you both.”

“Love you two,” Eren said through a sigh.

I smiled. My lip trembled. My eyelids fell. My chest swelled with happiness. “Love you guys.”

Chapter Text

Eren

Last time I was curled up in the corner lying on Jean’s – now my – kitchen floor, I at least had a decent excuse. Sure, it was four a.m., and I liked to think God sort of looked the other way to a lot of things that happened at 4 a.m. I was only human, after all. But this time I wasn’t drunk, and I wasn’t heartbroken, and I wasn’t alone. At least not in the apartment, anyway.

This time, I just couldn’t sleep. Every time I thought the most momentous day of my life had passed, I was wrong. The day I learned my boyfriend of three years was asexual, the day Jean kissed me again, the day I found out he had an eating disorder, the day I lost him again after just getting him back, the day I learned my sister was happy with Armin, the day Marco and Jean both became mine: I thought they were all it.

But once again, I was wrong.

And after today, I really needed a break from momentous milestones in my life.

Mikasa and Armin had finally come over for a visit earlier today. Armin hadn’t seen Jean in forever. I’d known they were both dying to see each other, and they’d spent most of the day talking to each other without hardly acknowledging Marco, Mikasa, and me. I didn’t blame either of them. Armin could make Jean feel better about his eating disorder in ways the rest of us couldn’t. Armin made Jean feel so easily like it wasn’t his fault, like it wasn’t something to be ashamed of, and I felt eternally grateful to him for helping Jean that way.

But before they left, Mikasa cleared her throat in the least subtle way she could manage, and Armin and Jean redirected their attention from Marco’s laptop to the rest of us again.

Armin bounced off the couch to join Mikasa where she was standing at the forefront of the living room near the TV. Marco sat on the recliner, tucking his phone into his pocket. Jean shut the laptop and scooted closer to me so that he could wrap his arm around my shoulder. I loved that it had only taken a week for Mikasa to get used to us all openly displaying affection. Now she could not look more bored by it.

After four seconds passed, I was tired of waiting. “Hello? Are you going to…you know, say something, or…?”

Mikasa rolled her eyes, but Armin smiled. “You should say it Mikasa, you’re his sister.”

My eyebrows furrowed and I sunk into the couch, my eyes flitting between them and steadily narrowing. Marco gave me an amused expression, but Jean looked just as wary. See, he understood.

“What? What the fuck is going on?” I blurted, thinking of all the horrible things that could have happened since I last spoke to my parents. What if they had died? What if they had moved to Florida? What if they had moved closer to me ?

“Relax,” Mikasa huffed, “Armin and I are getting married.” My sister said this the same way she might say Relax, Armin and I are buying new furniture, or Relax, Armin and I borrowed your frying pan.

“You’re what?”

“Getting married,” Mikasa repeated, smiling this time as she glanced at Armin in the corners of her eyes.

“We want to adopt kids one day,” Armin explained, “it’ll be easier if we’re married.”

I turned my head to look at Jean, to see if he was computing this any better than I was. His mouth hung open and his eyes were wide, distant. He shook his head, huffing out a laugh and running his fingers through his hair.

“What the fuck,” he muttered, and then glanced at Mikasa and Armin. “You’re telling me, that I couldn’t get you to marry me in the span of five years,” he said, facing Mikasa, “And Eren couldn’t get you to marry him in the span of three years,” he continued, facing Armin, “and now the two of you convinced each other to get married in like...three weeks? A month?”

“I think it’s more like they couldn’t get us to marry them,” I replied.

Mikasa shook his head. “No he’s right. He couldn’t get me to marry him.”

My hands flailed in the air. “Oh my God, Mikasa! You let me shit talk Jean like a hundred times because I thought he wouldn’t marry you!”

She grimaced. “Yeah…”

Jean whipped his head back between me and Mikasa. “Well fuck, Mikasa you could have defended me!”

“Yeah,” I spit.

Jean whipped his head back in my direction. “Oh shut up, you ass. You were the one talking shit.”

I was about to yell at my sister for letting me be an ass when Armin had decided our bickering wasn’t really helping anything.

He sighed. “Anyway, you’re happy we didn’t marry you guys, aren’t you?”

Jean grumbled, “Well, yeah, now.”

“Exactly,” Armin said.

“Are you sure you…” I started, facing first my sister and then Armin. Neither of them looked the least bit uncertain, and I knew if I asked them if they thought this was happening too soon, they would point out how quickly my current situation with Marco and Jean had happened. Besides, it wasn’t fair for me to doubt them when neither of them had ever doubted me. Mikasa rarely made mistakes. Outside of dating Jean, she might not have ever made any serious life mistake. And Armin over the past several years had become the most confident, self-assured man in my life. They knew they were ready, and I needed to be ready too.

“When’s the wedding?” I decided to ask instead.

“June, probably,” Mikasa answered.

I shook my head in disbelief. “Did you tell mom and dad?”

“I wanted you to be there,” she responded.

“Same for me,” Armin added.

I smiled. That made it all a little better. Jean still looked a little down. I wanted to ask him what was on his mind, if it was something Marco or I should be worried about, when Mikasa spoke up again.

“I’m going to need one of you to be my maid of honor,” Mikasa said, resting her head against the wall like saying this was a huge inconvenience. Her eyes flitted between Jean and me. We both jerked forward at once, both of us shoving the other.

“Me! I’m her brother!” I spit, “It should be me!”

“Oh, fuck off Eren, that’s a lame excuse,” Jean spit, placing his palm against my forehead and shoving me on to my back while he faced Mikasa. “Let me do it.”

I swatted at his hand until I finally shoved it off my forehead. Marco was chuckling at us and shaking his head.

“I’m going to need a best man,” Armin said, as Jean wrapped me in a headlock.

Jean and I sat still, but Jean’s arm didn’t loosen on me.

“Me!” we both yelled.

“Fuck you! I’m his best friend!” I yelled, tugging on his wrist. I knew that I could pull it off easily enough since he was very weak. The reason I couldn’t just rip his arm off of me was because I was afraid I’d actually hurt him, and gently prying him away took a lot more strategy.

“Well – I’m Mikasa’s best friend!” Jean yelled. His head whipped her direction, as if he wasn’t quite sure he was right and he needed her to back him up. She did, by nodding.

I grunted at Jean and spun in the seat, about to pick him up and drop him on the couch if I needed to, when Armin must have caught on to what I was doing. He blurted, “So, it’s settled! Jean can be Mikasa’s maid of honor, and Eren can be my best man.”

Jean and I froze once more, slumped into the cushions, and loosened our grips on each other.

“Yeah, okay,” Jean muttered.

“Fine,” I agreed.

After that, Mikasa and Armin asked Marco if he’d like to be an usher. Of course Marco told them he’d be honored, and I was certain he probably was. He’d become good friends with them, but he wasn’t yet close to either of them and there were many other people they could ask. Before Armin and Mikasa left for the evening, I had thanked them for the offer. Mikasa had shrugged and Armin had told me there was no need. They each gave me and Jean a hug before they headed down the stairs toward their car.

When we entered the living room again, Marco was flipping through the channels. He turned down the volume.

“All the people we thought we were going to marry are getting married.” He chuckled. “I still can’t believe Hitch is marrying someone who isn’t me. I didn’t think anyone would – I didn’t think she’d do it.”

Jean was shaking his head and scrubbing his hands over his face. Something was still bothering him. “It sucks.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I thought you’d be happy for them,” Marco said.

“Me too,” I added.

Jean shrugged and curled up in a ball on the couch, hugging a throw pillow to his chest. “I am happy for them. It’s just…we’re never going to have that. We don’t get to get married.”

Marco and I were both quiet. I had already thought about this, and I didn’t mind. Marriage, specifically, had never been what I wanted. I wanted to love somebody as much as I was capable of loving them for as much time as I got on this planet before I died. Marriage probably would have happened, if I’d only found one person, but I would have only done it for that person or to placate my parents or because society made me feel obligated to.

Jean however…I didn’t think it had exactly been his goal either, but if I knew him well, and I thought I did…marriage to him meant that he had achieved all those things I wanted. He didn’t necessarily care about marriage as much as he cared that marriage meant he had succeeded. He had found the person he was going to be with forever.

Marco sat on the couch next to Jean and pulled him into his arms. Jean was still trying not to show how much it mattered to him, and somehow Marco held Jean like he was the one that needed comforting, for the sake of Jean’s pride, probably.

“I know,” Marco said, nearly whispering, “I wanted to get married someday too. But…it’s not so bad. Not when…Until recently I wouldn’t have been able to marry anyone I truly loved either. Marriage isn’t…it’s just a title. We have everything they have, just…without having to deal with changing our names and getting used to rings.”

Jean glanced at his left hand. I wanted nothing more in the world than to slide a small gold band on to his delicate ring finger.

“I guess you’re right,” Jean said.

“I’d marry you right now, you know,” I told him. “I would have years ago.”

Jean smiled, and gestured for me to come toward him. I sat on his other side. His head tilted so that he could kiss me. My chest still warmed whenever I was with the both of them at once. My hand reached around Jean to hold Marco’s. He tightened his grip on mine.

“I don’t need to be married though,” I told him. “We’re not missing out on anything.”

“Hell,” Marco said, “I’m happy to even have this. My life could have been so different.”

Jean’s head tilted up. “If I had never gotten sick. I hate to think that having an eating disorder sorted my life out for me but –”

“Hey, stop,” I said, placing my hand on his cheekbone. “A lot of things are like that. If I had never gotten diabetes. If your dyslexia had been diagnosed. If my sister hadn’t dated you. If I hadn’t met Armin…”

“If I had enlisted,” Marco continued, “If I hadn’t moved to Minnesota. If I had married one of my earlier girlfriends, or Hitch never found out I was gay.”

“Oh my God,” I said facing Marco, “Jean and I were going to enlist too! We didn’t because I found out about my diabetes.”

“What branch though?”

Jean looked at Marco, smiling knowingly, “Air force.”

Marco laughed. “Okay…so, we all might have met anyway.”

“Or we were always meant to meet. One way or another.”

“It kind of feels like that sometimes,” Marco admitted. “Everything worked out so…perfectly.”

“It’s just luck,” Jean said quietly, “But I prefer it this way. I’d rather we have met this way than…in like, basic training or on a plane or something.”

“Me too.” While I had wanted to join when I was younger, I hadn’t realized what I really wanted was just to help people. To make my life count for something. The military was meant to save lives, of course, but there were other ways I could do it. Other ways that wouldn’t keep me away from the men I loved. I just hadn’t…figured it out yet.

Marco nodded. “Besides, this way we get to stay together.” Marco was smiling too cheerfully for the corners of Jean’s mouth not to turn up at least a little bit. Marco kissed Jean’s forehead. Jean looked like he was about to drown in our affection and he squirmed out of our arms to place his elbows on his knees.

At that moment in time, everything had felt as it should be. But by dinner, when Jean was still picking through the remainder of his salad in the living room, Marco and I began talking.

“Did you mean what you said about marrying Jean years ago?” Marco asked.

At first I hadn’t heard him, because I’d placed a pan in the dishwasher. “Huh? Uh…yeah. Why?”

I looked over my shoulder at Marco, where he was scrubbing the silverware in the sink. He shrugged, looking through the small window above the faucet. “No reason,” he responded.

Something pricked at the back of my neck and my shoulders stiffened. I expected Jean to give moody, half-ass responses like that, but not Marco. Since I’d met him, he talked about his feelings without hesitation. But now I was wondering if the reason he could always talk like that was because he never had anything on his mind that he had any reason to fear saying out loud.

I spun around, placing my hands on the countertop so that I could watch him scrub a fork cleaner and longer than necessary.

“Tell me,” I said.

He sighed. “It’s not that…I’m trying to keep anything from you. I guess I just don’t know how to say it.”

“Out loud,” I said, “That’s how you say it.”

He smiled at that. Then he nodded, finding some resolution to whatever he was torn about. He dropped the fork on a towel lying out beside the sink. Flicking his hands so that residual water would fly off his hands, he turned his head to face me. “You and Jean are always going to have this really long history that I never get to be a part of.”

And just like that, I felt the first crack rip through the surface of what until now had been a relationship that was a little too smooth. Every relationship had that moment. I’d had it with Armin, I’d had it with Jean, and everyone in the world who’d ever had a significant other, had had it with that significant other. The moment it stops being perfect.

While Marco was drying off his hands, I considered how I could possibly talk to him about this without screwing it up. Without getting too angry. I glanced at Jean on the couch in the living room, who was pulling a radish shredding out of his bowl with his fork, and grimacing it at it. He had no idea what we were talking about.

“Marco…” I started.

But he stepped in front of me, placed one hand on either side of my face, and kissed me. “It’s okay, love.”

He walked out of the room before I could come up with a single sentence that might make him feel comforted.

When Jean had finally finished eating all that he was going to eat – which, thankfully, was most of what I’d made for him – I sat down beside him and told him what Marco had said.

Jean quirked an eyebrow. “Most of that history is really messed up. I don’t think he’d want to be a part of it.”

I had shrugged. “He doesn’t know that.”

“I guess not.”

“Do you think that this is going to work?” I asked.

“What’s going to work?”

“Us. The three of us.” My voice was low. I was staring at the hallway, wondering what Marco was doing, if he’d gone to bed early. After a moment, the shower started running.

“Why the fuck would you say that?”

“What? It’s just a fucking question.”

“No it’s not. Why wouldn’t it work? It was your idea.”

“Just forget it,” I’d said, waving him off and standing to leave him.

Jean tugged on my wrist. “Are you saying you don’t want to be with us?”

“No, of course not. That’s all I want.”

“Then what is it?”

“I don’t know.” It was my honest response. I hadn’t known. Jean had dropped the subject, mostly because I refused to keep talking about it. For a good hour I’d managed to convince myself that I was overreacting, that it wasn’t a big deal, that there wasn’t anything actually wrong.

But there was. I could feel it in my gut. I never ignored my gut.

By one in the morning I had ended up where I was now, cycling through all the memories I had of our relationship so far…and all the memories I had that made me think it wouldn’t work. I could barely talk to Jean about the three of us without him getting mad. I knew, although I wasn’t really paying any mind to this knowledge, that Jean was only so defensive about it because he wanted it to work and he would confront any suggestion that it wouldn’t work with hostility like he did anything else in his life.

I kept thinking about how none of this would have happened if he hadn’t gotten sick. I would have never fallen for Marco if I hadn’t lived with him for the time I had while taking care of Jean.

The thing was, we weren’t taking care of Jean anymore. Sure, we were helping him. We were keeping an eye on him. But, for the most part he was a free man. He left the house to run now, when he wanted to. He closed the bathroom doors. We’d given him the mirrors back.

And when we had, Marco and I had stood on either side of him in the bathroom. Jean had his eyes closed. We both gripped one of Jean’s hands. Jean was in nothing but his boxers, he’d insisted he see it all at once and get it over with. When he opened them he just stared at himself for a really long time. He tugged his hands away from the two of us, and touched various parts of his body. His biceps, his neck, his sides, his hipbones, his jaw, his wrists...everywhere. His hands landed on his stomach. He didn’t pinch. When he looked away, his lip had quivered. His eyes shut, and I knew he would refuse to cry. He left the bathroom shaking his head.

I’d run after him, pulling him into my arms by his waist, and that made him flinch.

“Wanna talk about it?” I had asked.

“Nothing to talk about.”

“Are you sure you –”

“I just have to get used to it, Eren. Okay?” He’d pulled his hands away from me. After that, he locked himself in our bedroom for a while and Marco and I had sat on the couch for an hour in complete silence, worrying about him, but unwilling to upset him even more by invading his space. Private space he had earned, and had worked hard for, that shouldn’t have to be taken away from him so soon.

Later that night, Marco had gone into the bedroom without me. The reason he’d given me for going alone was because he thought Jean might still be upset about me asking him if he wanted to talk earlier. But I knew better; Marco wanted to go in alone because he thought if I did, Jean and I would inevitably start fighting. Marco was better at talking to him than me.

“Eren made dinner,” Marco said, as he stepped into the bedroom. I had waited just outside the door.

“Not hungry,” Jean responded.

“Then you don’t have to eat.”

I had winced because that wasn’t what I would have said. Hearing him say he wasn’t hungry only ever made me ask him to eat.

The bed shifted under the weight of Marco sitting down.

“Aren’t I supposed to?” Jean asked.

“You’re supposed to eat when you’re hungry,” Marco said, “so you don’t have to eat unless you are hungry and there’s some reason you won’t eat.”

Jean didn’t speak for a long minute. “I’m not hungry.”

“I believe you.” Marco was able to keep his voice so calm. I envied him. “Is there a reason you’re not hungry? You must be getting sick of the same meals all the time.”

Marco and I both knew that wasn’t the reason Jean wasn’t hungry. Marco didn’t have the same ability to tell when Jean was lying. I knew in that moment he wasn’t lying, but even still, the reason he wasn’t hungry had nothing to do with getting bored of the food we made him.

“I didn’t think I’d look like that,” Jean said. “In the mirror. I didn’t think it’d be that bad.”

“Why do you think it was bad?” Marco asked.

“I just look so…not fat, I guess. Not yet. But I don’t look as good as I used to.”

The bed shifted some more. I figured Marco was scooting closer to Jean.

“Did you feel alright about yourself before looking in the mirror?”

“Yeah. I thought I’d look like how I feel.”

“So, you do feel good about your body.”

He hesitated. “Well…yeah, more than I did when I was super skinny.”

“I’m sure looking in the mirror after so long was a shock,” Marco said, “Last time you saw yourself you were unhealthy…but at the time you thought that was normal. You haven’t been able to change the way you look at yourself the same way you’ve been able to change the way you feel about yourself, since you started recovering. But you’ll get there. In a few days you probably won’t even notice the mirrors.”

Jean sniffled. I fought the urge to burst through the doors. “Like I said, gotta get used to it.”

“You know, you look great to us, don’t you?”

“You wouldn’t tell me if you thought I looked like shit,” Jean said.

I couldn’t fight it anymore, so I stepped into the bedroom. “You’re right. We’d just wait for you to pass out and call an ambulance again.”

Jean rolled his eyes. “That would only happen if I lost the weight I gained back.”

“And that’s the only way we’d think you look like shit,” I said, shrugging.

Marco wore a stern expression. “We never thought you looked like shit to begin with.”

I swallowed. “Uh…I meant that’s the only way we’d give a shit about how you look again.”

“I get it,” Jean spit.

The subject was dropped. I thought Jean felt better, but not because it had anything to do with me. If anything, I’d made it worse. When it came to him, I always made it worse.

I had always wondered if I was ever really helping Jean at all, or if it had been all Marco. And Marco and I would only get along, and have any interest in each other, as long as Jean needed to get better.

We’d all started this relationship at different moments in time, under circumstances that would never be replicated. How could we possibly make it work?

I sat up, so that my cheek wasn’t squished against the tile anymore. I probably had a square face print, or something. My head rested against the cupboard underneath the sink. I stared at the fridge. Every cell in my body was freaking out, but I was finally reaching the stage where I couldn’t cry or shake any longer. I would scream, I wanted to scream, but I wouldn’t want to wake my boyfriends.

Somehow, I failed to even do that. My thoughts must have been too loud for Jean. He was such a light sleeper, especially since he’d gotten sick. He’d probably rolled over in bed and realized that there was a little too much space on his right side, or maybe he had gotten cold. Marco and I were still, for the most part, letting him sleep in the middle.

Jean’s feet ended up in front of mine. I looked up to face him.

“What are you doing? Is your blood sugar low?”

I shook my head. Checking my blood was the first thing I’d done when I came in the kitchen. It was the usual reason why I couldn’t sleep.

“I couldn’t sleep,” I told him.

“And, so, the obvious thing to do about it was come sit on the kitchen floor?” he asked. He reached for me, gesturing to let him help me stand. I figured I’d be too heavy, or it would be too much of a strain on him. Even though that was probably overprotective me, I chose to stand on my own.

“It felt like the most appropriate place to freak out.”

He arched an eyebrow. He probably couldn’t see me very well. I hadn’t turned on a light. I was standing in front of a window. Jean’s deck light glowed outside and illuminated his face. So I could see how concerned he looked, how heavy the bags under his eyes were.

“Why are you freaking out?”

I sighed. “I can’t even talk to you about it because we’ll – we’ll probably fight.”

“That’s a stupid reason not to talk about it, Eren,” he groaned. For a moment, he struggled to calm himself down, contain his expression. He placed his hands on my shoulders and forced me to make eye contact. “Nothing good comes from us keeping shit from each other. In five years, I don’t want to be finding out what was on your mind now. Okay? If we’re gonna fight, fine. Let’s get it over with. Better that then pretending there isn’t a fucking problem as if that’s somehow gonna make it go away.”

He was right, and I knew it. Despite that, it still took me a while to respond. I swallowed, looking away from him. “I can’t shake the feeling that I’m going to fuck this up.”

Jean’s eyebrows furrowed. “How would you fuck this up?”

He didn’t even have to ask what I was referring to. He must have known to some degree that I was feeling this way already.

“I feel like Marco is better for you. Or like, our history is going to make Marco feel like a third wheel. Or, the only reason this all worked out is because you ended up with an eating disorder and – and what if, you know, what if once you’re healthy there’s nothing holding us together anymore?”

Jean backed away from me. I swallowed back a sob. I felt like my thoughts were going to burst out of my head if I didn’t talk, but I also felt like I’d bite my tongue until it bled to stop myself from making this worse.

“See why I didn’t want to tell you?”

“You just…just told me earlier today not to think of it that way. Do you – do you even know how fucking difficult it is for me to accept that the best thing that’s ever happened to me is a direct result of the worst thing that’s ever happened to me?”

The sob escaped. “Fuck! Fuck, I know. I’m – I’m literally fucking this up right now.”

Jean pinched the bridge of his nose. He sighed. I figured he’d walk away now. The couch wasn’t so uncomfortable. I’d gotten used to sleeping on it. I wouldn’t be sleeping tonight, but I could lay on it until morning.

But Jean didn’t walk away. He didn’t yell either. “Eren, I can’t tell you that it’s all going to work out. I can’t tell you we won’t regret this. That’s probably what you want, but I can’t. Not too long ago, I would have said that Mikasa and I were going to work out.”

I nodded. He stepped closer to me. His hands were on my waist.

“But I wouldn’t have done this if I thought you would fuck it up, baby. You won’t fuck it up because you can’t.” He kissed my forehead. A shiver ran down my spine.

“Am I interrupting something?” Marco asked. His question was so sincere that I snorted. As if there was any way Marco could be interrupting his own relationship.

Jean pulled his lips off my forehead, and looked at Marco leaning against the fridge. I hadn’t even noticed him enter. He probably woke because my voice had risen too high.

I shook my head, then wiped my nose on my sleeve.

“Eren thinks he’s somehow going to fuck everything up.”

I glared at Jean for saying it so trivially.

Marco gave me a confused expression. “What makes you think that?”

“Just…earlier today you brought up…our history.” I gestured to Jean.

Marco rubbed the back of his neck. “So…isn’t that me fucking up?”

“What? Marco, no – I should have been able to make you feel better about it and I couldn’t.”

“Why, does it bother you?” Jean asked Marco.

Marco bit his lip. “It doesn’t, really. Sometimes I wish I knew you both longer, that’s all.”

“Me too,” Jean said. “But just because we didn’t know you longer doesn’t change…you know, us.”

“I know,” Marco responded. He looked at me as he said it. “I’m not worried about it. I just want to know you two as well as you know each other.”

“You will.” Finally, there was some determination, some confidence in my voice. “And it won’t take years either.”

Jean smiled. “Yeah, what he said.”

Marco rubbed his neck again, but this time he was smiling. If it weren’t so dark in this kitchen, I’d probably be able to see his blush.

This time Marco stepped in front of me. He said, “None of this could have happened without you, Eren. We got together because of you. You’re not going to fuck it up.”

I inhaled with some difficulty, and before I could doubt his words, Marco reassured me with his lips. He didn’t stop kissing me right away. I wasn’t sure if I was anchoring him to me or if he didn’t want to leave, but he kept kissing me. Slowly, grazing my lips, making me impatient and frustrated for more. I tried to pull him closer. I hoisted myself up on to the countertop and tugged him by his waist between my legs. Marco sighed through our kissing.

“Fuck,” Jean cursed, under his breath.

Marco’s lips parted from me so that he could look at Jean. “What? You’ve seen us kiss.”

“Uh, haven’t seen you guys kiss like that before.”

Marco, innocent as ever and entirely unaware of how badly I wanted him, asked, “Like what?”

“Like…”Jean started.

“Like you’re about to fuck me,” I answered for him.

Marco’s mouth formed an O in understanding and he pressed his lips together in a thin line. The hand that was still on my waist curled in my shirt and the other ended up in his pocket. He shifted his weight. He was adorable when he was embarrassed. I wanted him even more.

And when I realized that I could tell Jean was hard through his sweatpants, I wanted him too.

I gestured for Jean to come closer. He took Marco’s place between my knees and I wrapped my arms around his shoulders. I kissed him the way I’d kissed Marco, but Jean caught up with me faster. His teeth were tugging on my lips. His nails dug into my hips. If he had the strength to lift me off the counter, I knew he would have.

When Jean faced Marco again, Marco wore an expression like he was in mild pain.

Jean didn’t let him wear it for long. His arms slid around Marco and Marco was already clinging back, running his hands through Jean’s hair and kissing him more urgently than he had with me. Jean teased him with his tongue and teeth like he had me. His hands roamed past the small of Marco’s back and gripped on to his ass. Marco moaned into the kiss, and suddenly my boxers were getting too wet for comfort.

We hadn’t fucked yet. Not all three of us. There hadn’t exactly been any good opportunity to, but also I thought we were all still too timid to try it. Every time I thought about having sex with both of them, I felt the way I had the day Jean and I decided to have sex for the first time as teenagers. Like a nervous, self-conscious, inexperienced virgin.

But I felt like I would die of impatience if we didn’t do this right now. Judging by their expressions when Jean finally released Marco, they were in similar states of distress.

“Should we?” I asked. They didn’t need me to explain what I meant. We’d all been thinking about it for days. Hell, I’d been thinking about it for at least a month.

“I can barely handle one of you,” Marco whined. I snickered and Jean wore a smirk.

“Hey, if you don’t want –” Jean began.

“No, I do,” Marco blurted.

“Then should we?” I asked again.

“I don’t think I can wait any longer,” Jean answered.

“Okay.” My voice wavered. I slid off the countertop. Jean reached for my hand and we fallowed Marco out of the kitchen to our bedroom.

Undressing and kissing we’d done. The three of us undressed each other without any fumbling or elbow-bumping of any kind, all while taking turns kissing. It still amazed me how naturally it could feel for all three of us to do that together. I had gotten used to feeling two sets of hands on my body, one pair of lips kissing my own while another pair wandered over my shoulders or neck. I did the same to them, kissing Jean’s sensitive ears and Marco’s freckled shoulder blades.

When we were all naked, Jean grabbed the lube and condom box. He stared at the condoms, unsure of how many to grab.

“Who’s doing what?” he asked, “I feel like we need to strategize or something.”

He was half-joking, but I could tell he was as nervous as we both were. One of his hands rested on his stomach.

“I’ll pretty much be happy with anything,” Marco said.

“I think that’s true for all of us,” Jean responded, “Unless…Eren?”

He glanced my way, and I inhaled, realizing they were leaving it up to me. I laced my fingers behind my neck, trying to keep calm. Honestly, I’d probably be happy with anything too. I’d be happy to watch them. But…they were giving me the option to ask for what I wanted not what would do. The fantasies I had of them when I was alone had changed very little, and it cluttered every thought I had most of the time.

“Okay,” I breathed. My voice wasn’t strong enough to actually make the request out loud. My face was burning. I didn’t know why I was so embarrassed. I’d fucked them both, and I could hardly pretend to be modest in bed, especially with Jean.

I asked Marco to turn on the light. Neither of them argued. Even if I was nervous or self-conscious, I still wanted to see them. Then I gestured them both to the bed. I pulled Jean by his wrist so that he was sitting behind me. Marco sat on the bed in front of me. Because I was on my knees, both of them knew right away what I was asking for. Marco covered his mouth as I started going down on him. Jean cursed again, but seconds later I felt his lubed fingers begin to prep me.

It took me several minutes longer than normal to relax, to actually stop freaking out and worrying that I was making an ass of myself, and actually enjoy what was happening.

Marco made the sweetest fucking sounds. He was the most sensitive between the three of us, giving the most praise too. His fingers threaded through my hair, making sure that he could watch my mouth work on him. When I glanced up, he gasped. His eyebrows turned up. His cheeks were pink.

His leg muscles tensed and his hips fidgeted. The more he moaned for me, the slower I went, the more time I took making sure that he was absolutely beyond feeling good. I hadn’t gotten to do this since the first time Marco and I fucked, and even then I had to cut it short. This time I could make it last, and I wanted to. I wanted to hear my name leave Marco’s mouth like that all night.

From behind me, Jean was trying to keep his hand steady on me. But it was hard for him, he wasn’t a patient man and all he could do right now was watch the two of us. He made it perfectly clear what that was doing to him with all the cursing and encouragement he was giving me. His free hand had begun to stroke himself, probably just to keep the ache at bay.

Jean’s fingers knew my body a little too well. They were making it difficult for me to focus on Marco as they circled my sweet spot. Jean knew it too, and he whispered against my back, “That good, baby?”

I moaned, unwilling to pull away from Marco to answer him. That made Marco’s fingers clutch in my hair.

“Fuck, fuck,” he breathed, “Take it slow, love. F-feels – feels too fucking good.”

How was I supposed to take it slow when all I wanted was more ? I wanted more of Marco in my mouth, and I wanted more of them surrounding me, and I wanted more of Jean inside me. I needed more.

I pulled off of Marco, and the poor guy looked relieved. I wondered how close I’d gotten him. If it would take me very long to make him come. I didn’t want to do that to him already.

I looked over my shoulder at Jean, who looked like maybe he’d been drugged, with glazed over eyes.

I squirmed backward. “Quit it with your fingers. I’m ready.”

Fuck, okay,” he rasped. But first, he stood off the bed so he could lean over and kiss Marco. Jean’s hands grazed over Marco’s stomach and length for a second. Marco squirmed under the attention. “Look so sexy, baby,” Jean whispered.

Marco hummed against Jean’s lips, which Jean had told me the other night he loved. I liked it too, and the moment Jean’s lips left his mine replaced them. Marco made a noise of surprise, but then smiled into my desperate kissing.

But before Jean returned to me, Marco leaned over so that he could kiss Jean’s stomach. He kissed straight up and down it, spreading his hands across it, reassuring Jean how sexy he thought he was. Marco must have been thinking that Jean was still a little insecure about his weight, so I took the time to do it too, while Marco pulled Jean’s cock into his mouth. Even as I left a hicky on Jean’s hip, I stared and stared and stared until I thought my brain had a glitch at Marco’s lips spread around Jean. After he pulled off, Marco gestured to Jean and gave me a turn to do the same. Jean had already been gasping because of Marco and now he was outright panting.

“Christ,” Jean hissed, yanking himself away from us so that he could roll the condom on. He positioned himself behind me, and I couldn’t wait a second longer. I eased back on to him all at once on my own. Jean gasped and his fingers dug into my hips for support. As he let me adjust, I returned my attention to Marco, licking up and down his hardness. He whimpered, watching me. One of his hands curled in the comforter, and he tilted his head back, squinting as he grappled with trying to pace himself. I decided to go easy on him for a while longer.

Jean started thrusting into me and I groaned, my eyes rolling back. He used his knees to spread mine, and I arched my back. “Fuck, Eren, Goddamn,” Jean breathed, as his hands slid over my ass and across the arch in my spine. I couldn’t help it. If I wanted him to hit me where it felt best, I had no other choice than to display my ass in the air like this. I didn’t even care. Every thrust was worth it, sending me a little higher and making my head a little bit more clouded.

My mouth took Marco all the way in, but I didn’t move it. Marco cursed when he realized what I wanted, and he supported himself with one hand on the bed and the other in my hair as he began gently thrusting into my mouth.

Sooner than I wanted to be, I was thrusting back against Jean to meet him, and pulling Marco closer by his thigh. I couldn’t get enough of either of them. It was rare that Jean got this vocal during sex, or that I got to hear how good he felt. His voice was husky and his grip on me tightened so that he could yank me back by my hips onto him. Each time he did I was rewarded with a moan. Maybe my name too, or his hand gripping my ass.

Marco’s body shuddered. I looked up. He was watching Jean and feeling the incessant vibrations from my throat around him, since I couldn’t keep myself quiet. Both of his hands came to either side of my face as he looked down at me. He bit his lip. His thrusting was slow and deep in my mouth. Whenever he almost pulled all the way out, I leaned forward so that I could keep sucking him off.

His thumbs stroked my cheekbones. “Feels so good, love. I’m – fuck, I’m gonna come. I’m s-so close.”

At that, Jean’s hips involuntarily jerked, and he had to pin my hips in place so that I would sit still. We were all close. My limbs were shaking with it. I could feel my heartbeat in my ears and toes. It felt like the sun was rising in my stomach and I was to the point of dizzy exhilaration.

I pulled off, only long enough to nod at Marco and kiss the head of his cock. His eyelids fluttered and he thrust into my mouth harder than he had before. His hand – gently, somehow – pinned me down, but I wanted him to, so I didn’t care. I closed my eyes and stroked his thigh as his voice rose. He moaned my name a number of times, each time losing his breath more until he gasped and his hips jerked and I could taste him at the back of my throat. His breath caught, he sighed, and then I pulled off of him.

Then I was sitting up and reaching for Marco so that I could kiss him. Just as soon as I had stopped, Jean was reaching for him and kissing him over my shoulder. His thrusting had slowed and I whined hoping he’d speed up again. He did, but his thrusting was uneven. His body was shaking. His fingers were leaving bruises on my hips.

“Marco,” I whimpered.

“Hmm?” he hummed as his lips roamed down my neck.

“I need, fuck, I – I need…” I stammered, reaching for my cock and stroking myself. Marco’s eyebrows rose and he nodded. I reached for Jean’s arm, and tugged it around my waist so that I was sitting straight up in his lap, the both of us on our knees. Jean had little room to thrust, but I could grind against him and ride him while Marco blew me. Marco, despite still being pretty new at this had learned quickly. He didn’t struggle with the size and his lips were just so – fuck – so full and smooth along my length. Jean looked over my shoulder, probably seeing how pretty Marco looked taking all of me in his mouth, looking like he loved the taste and would like to never stop.

“Shit,” Jean breathed. His free hand, trembling, reached around me toward Marco and threaded through his hair. Jean bit on to my shoulder as my hips sped up on him. His hand pinned Marco’s head down like Marco’s hand had mine. It didn’t look like Marco even noticed. “Sh-shit, that looks so fucking hot,” Jean moaned, right against my ear. “Eren, b-baby, I can’t last. You feel so fucking good. S-so tight.”

I laced my fingers in Jean’s hand and brought it up to my mouth. I bit into his fingers like he was biting into my shoulder. I couldn’t respond to him. I couldn’t find the words. The ecstasy between riding him and Marco’s mouth on me was too overwhelming. Within a few more seconds I had reached the point of no return, and I choked on their names one after another until I couldn’t keep up with that either and it just became, “Please, please, please, plea–

I gave in. I tightened around Jean, and came down Marco’s throat, as I fell forward, barely supporting myself on Marco’s shoulders. My chest felt elated, blood rushing through me and heating my whole body. The edges of the room blurred and I felt like I was floating through Jean’s last few hard, deep thrusts. My name rung in my ear, then Jean’s body slumped around me.

Some part of me was aware that kisses were being pecked along my shoulders and a strong, freckled hand was sliding up my thigh, but it took quite a while for me to waft down from my high.

The three of us collapsed in the bed. Jean was on the outside, and he half-hazardly tossed the tied-off condom toward the waste-paper basket. I didn’t bother to check if he’d made it. I was too busy panting and trying to recover.

“Fucking time is it?” Jean slurred, shifting on to his side so that he could glance at the alarm clock. He snorted. “It’s almost six.”

Now that he mentioned it, I realized that without the bedroom light on, we’d still be able to see just fine. White daylight filtered through the curtains onto our bed. Marco was the one to stand up and turn off the light. He looked a little dizzy as he did so, and practically fell on his face back into bed. When he met my eyes he was wearing the dopiest smile. Jean giggled on my other side, and pretty soon I was smiling like a complete idiot too.

“Can’t believe that just happened,” I said.

“I just had a threesome,” Marco sighed, “Everything happening in my life came out of nowhere. Nothing has happened how it was supposed to.”

Jean spooned me, and rested his chin on my shoulder so that he could look at Marco. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

Marco huffed out a laugh. It was nice. I wanted to hear him laugh again.

“It’s an amazing thing,” he answered.

“Not that long ago I…” Jean began. He seemed to think twice about what he was saying, but I nudged him. He had started to say it, he would finish it. We could take it. Despite Marco’s look of fear, I knew he wanted to hear it too. “Not that long ago I was okay with dying.”

I flinched, and Marco’s eyes darkened. His hand reached for Jean’s, and their fingers threaded together over my ribcage.

“I wouldn’t die for anything now,” Jean said, “I won’t starve for anything either. All that time I thought losing weight was all that mattered and now…now I just want the two of you. That’s all I want.”

My throat felt like it was too tight to speak. I shifted closer to Jean in the bed, hoping he would understand.

“You do have us,” Marco said, “You always will.”

“I know,” Jean responded, “And now there’s too much to live for.”

When Marco smiled, it was hard not to believe anything he’d say. I knew even though I wasn’t looking at Jean, that he was probably smiling too.

“I remember when Jean was in the hospital,” I whispered, before I ever really decided I had something to say, “All I wanted was to wake up next to Jean. I wanted that to happen so often that it was just an ordinary morning. Now…now I wake up next to both of you and I – I don’t think even a decade from now I’ll find that ordinary. I think every morning it will always be just – just –”

Marco chuckled, as I struggled with the word. “Extraordinary?”

“That’s it,” I snapped, “If you’d given me just a second I would have gotten it. Extraordinary.”

Jean chuckled. He pulled me closer to him and hugged me tight. Marco leaned in so that he could kiss me once more. The two of them got up together before I fell asleep. They had slept most of the night, and in any case, Jean couldn’t easily fall back asleep after being woken up. The TV was turned on and the deck door opened. I heard my boys walking around the apartment, just starting their day together, doing entirely ordinary stuff for a Sunday morning. But I hugged the blankets close to me and the smell of the two of them made me drift off. Extraordinary, extraordinary, extraordinary, I swore.

Chapter Text

Marco

Outside, snow was falling a flake at a time, barely sticking to the ground. This winter was mild for Minnesota, and I was grateful. Not just because of my Texan skin, but because Hitch would be driving to work every day of her pregnancy up until she had the baby. Right now, I was waiting for her and Marlowe to pull into the Starbucks parking lot. When they did, I sat up straight, and tried to relax. Why I felt so nervous, I didn’t really know. But she was marrying him, and I knew that not me, or her parents, or the world or even God could talk her out of it if she wanted this. So he better be a good man.

Hitch sparkled more than the snow, in a red, sequined hat, scarves and mittens. She wasn’t wearing those boots I hated either. She wore actual boots this time, but they were covered in fake fur that also sparkled. Beside her, stood Marlowe. He was much taller than her. His face was good looking, but it wasn’t noticeable at first because his hair was the most noticeable thing in a ten mile radius. It was a hideous bowl-cut-undercut…thing. I wondered how long Hitch would let him keep it cut like that before the wedding.

But he was smiling at her, and his arm was around her, and he pointed at a puddle near the curb she almost stepped in. Really, the looked good together. She was smiling too, really smiling, for no other reason than that he was with her.

The bells rang above the door as they stepped inside. Right away, she gestured toward me. Marlowe looked at me, and I smiled. He did too, but I could tell he was as nervous as me. I supposed I should have considered him more. He was the only one in this situation waiting for approval. I felt kind of bad.

Hitch damn near skipped up to me, with Marlowe trailing behind her.

“Marco, this is Marlowe,” she crooned, “And Marlowe this is Marco.”

He reached out to shake my hand and I took it.

“Nice to meet you,” he said.

I felt like Hitch’s dad or something and I chuckled. “You too,” I said.

“Well, I’m getting coffee,” Hitch chirped, purposefully leaving us alone together because she could. Marlowe winced. I wondered how much Hitch had told him about me. It was entirely possible she’d given him the wrong idea, and made him much more terrified of me than he needed to be.

“She looks happy,” I said.

He looked as if these words startled him a bit. “Yeah? She’s always like that.”

My eyebrows rose, and I laughed. “Then she really likes you.”

Marlowe smiled, but wiped it off his face. His posture straightened, and he looked me directly in the eye. He placed a hand on the table, like a judge dropping his gravel. “I love her. I’m going to take care of her. The baby too. I mean – not in place of you, of course. No one could replace the baby’s father. I just mean, your baby is in good hands. I’ll be the best father I can be.”

His face was stern, but his eyes were wide like a helpless animal. Somehow, I could tell he’d rehearsed these words. Maybe he’d even said them to Hitch at some point. His words, the way he spoke with such conviction, his whole demeanor reminded me of Eren. If he was anything like Eren, then he’d keep his word. I smiled.

“I know,” I answered.

He perked his head up at that. “You do?”

“I trust Hitch.”

At that very moment, Hitch trotted back. “I already told you, darling, I don’t spend my time with losers – that reminds me, Marco. I’m sure I’m probably supposed to trust that you’ve got two really fine specimens at home, but I’m a believe-it-when-I-see-it girl so you’ll have to introduce me. Soon. Like, probably, as soon as possible.”

I gaped at Hitch, my eyes flitting between Marlowe and her. But Marlowe looked unfazed, indifferent even by Hitch’s casual declaration. Maybe he thought they were my roommates?

“Hitch, have you told – ”

“Did you honestly expect me to keep that a secret? God, Marco, who do you think I am? Besides, Marlowe was adopted by two moms he doesn’t care if you’re in love with a man…or two.” She explained this like it was a monumental inconvenience for her while she sipped her coffee. She wouldn’t be able to drink that for much longer, I hope she knew. I’d have to ask Marlowe to keep an eye on that for me. Hitch could give up just about anything. She’d quit smoking long ago. She never drank anymore. But coffee? There’d be hell to pay when she couldn’t get her coffee.

I turned to face Marlowe. I stammered, visibly, to say something to him, and he looked at me with a curious expression as if he couldn’t fathom why I was struggling to talk about this subject. Part of me just wanted to scold Hitch for telling, although she was right, I wasn’t surprised and I should have known. But all of me wanted to ask Marlowe what his childhood had been like.

“You really have two moms?”

He nodded.

I cleared my throat, rubbing the back of my neck. They probably could tell my face was heating up. “Can I ask you what it was like?”

Marlowe tilted his head, pursing his lips to think about it. “Well, I started calling my moms by their first names really young.”

“That’s it?” I breathed. “You weren’t…picked on?”

“Oh, I thought you were asking about my moms specifically. Of course I was picked on. I was the Jewish kid being raised by two women who dressed me a little too formally until I was old enough to pick my own clothes. And gave me an awful haircut. But to be honest, I can’t even remember anything people said or did to me.”

He certainly did turn out alright. He had Hitch. Plenty of men had applied for that position and had gotten rejected.

My baby’s situation was different of course. He or she would be black, instead of Jewish, and have…a variety of dads. Plus Hitch. But his words gave me hope that we could make this work, because this baby was going to be surrounded by more love than he or she could handle. That much I knew without doubt.

“So, your childhood was still good?” I asked. He arched an eyebrow. “Sorry, I don’t mean to be nosy. I just…I worry about…”

“Oh! Baby names!” Hitch exclaimed. Everyone in the coffee shop glanced at her. Until then, I hadn’t realized she wasn’t speaking and now I could hardly believe it. She didn’t even look like she had been daydreaming. “Clear your schedule one of these weekends Marco. We have a lot of baby books to sort through.”

I sighed, and nodded at her, before returning my attention to Marlowe. He was smiling at Hitch when he noticed me waiting. Like a switch had flipped, his face was stern again, soldierly. Hitch mentioned to me at some point on the phone that he was a cop. I pictured him giving this face to the people he pulled over.

“It must have been, because I can only remember the happy times.”

I grinned at that. If I could ask for my child to describe his or her time growing up in anyway, those would be the words I’d choose.

The three of us talked some more. Well, Hitch talked some more, and Marlowe and I listened. I supposed that Hitch had to make up for her full minute of silence while I asked Marlowe questions. She talked mostly about the nursery she and Marlowe were setting up, and what paint to choose. She asked me if I wanted to know the sex of the baby, and I didn’t, because really, why did it matter? And what relevance did the sex of the baby have to the bedroom anyway? Since meeting Armin, I’d been thinking about this a lot. Not that I hadn’t exactly before, but I had thought about it mostly in terms of the possibility that my child could be gay, and therefore go against gender norms because of sexuality. But now, Armin had made it all seem even sillier to me.

As it turned out, gender norms weren’t what Hitch was worried about anyway. “How long are they going to subject parents to painting bedrooms baby blue or pink? Everything I shop for is either blue or pink! It’s going to be so hard to find anything that isn’t pink or blue and it’s going to look like Easter threw up on our baby’s bedroom. I can’t even stand it.”

I snorted. “Paint it whatever color you want then, Hitch.”

She nodded, like she was never concerned about my opinion to begin with. Really, she just liked to complain. “I’ve already picked out a lavender I really like.”

I chuckled. “So, then why were you asking me about what color to choose?”

“Um, for your nursery, of course?” she huffed. “You are going to turn your spare room into a baby room aren’t you? I won’t have my baby sleeping on a couch, Marco.”

The question hit me like a truck. For a good ten seconds, I couldn’t make myself think. I just stared in shock at the checkerboard pattern on the table. All I heard was Hitch clicking her manicured nails against wood. The question hadn’t occurred to me and it felt impossible to process. For weeks I’d been staying at Jean’s apartment. It had practically become home to me, other than the bills I paid for my own apartment. How would three grown men and a baby all fit in one apartment? Eren and I were already crowding the living room with clothing and personal items from each of our places.

We’d have to move.

“I guess…I haven’t thought about it.”

Hitch scoffed like she knew I wouldn’t have, which was annoying, because I’d probably thought about virtually everything else. Including whether or not she’d made an appointment to have an ultrasound, which I reminded her about the night before.

I sighed, slumping in my chair a bit. “I’ll talk to Eren and Jean about it, okay?”

“What’s the problem? It’s not like you can’t afford a new place,” she said, shrugging. That much was true, but the money I had saved was hopefully going somewhere else. This too, I had been meaning to talk to Jean and Eren about, but had been too nervous that I’d bring it up and never go through with it. I knew they’d support me, but I was afraid I’d chicken out. Somehow it felt safer to not even mention it until I was sure.

“Doesn’t your apartment have enough room now? If it has two bedrooms?” Marlowe asked.

I nodded. That seemed like a better option to me. At least it was still pretty close to where Jean and Eren had lived before. “Yeah, it does. It could be crowded, but it does.”

“You should just move there,” Hitch said, while sipping her coffee.

“We should.” I rubbed the back of my neck, gazing out the window at my car. I had the urge to call them right now about it. I wondered if they’d want to. I couldn’t make them. I had told them from the start that I wasn’t going to force them to raise my child with me. But I also wouldn’t compromise on raising my child to be with them. My stomach was twisting in a knot thinking about trying to balance living somewhere else and being their boyfriend.

“I’ll ask them tonight,” I repeated.

Before either of them could respond, Marlowe’s phone began buzzing. He checked it, sighed, and stood. “It’s work, I’ll heat up the car.” Kissing Hitch on the forehead first, then pulling on his jacket, he strode out of the Starbucks toward his car, being cloaked in a sheet of snow. Hitch watched after him, smiling on accident again. She glowed now, like she never had before. I didn’t think it was just because of Marlowe, but also because of the baby. Hitch had wanted the American dream, white-picket-fence fairy-tale more than she ever wanted to admit.

“He seems good for you,” I told her, “I like him.”

She grinned. “Me too, that dork.”

“When are you coming over to meet Eren and Jean?” I asked.

She shrugged. “I don’t know, but it better be soon.”

“Okay.”

The two of us stood when Marlowe sent a text to Hitch that the car was warm. Like she always had, she hooked her arm around mine. It felt so natural to be with her like that, effortless in a way that I’d never had with her when we were dating. I thought that if we were still together, and still pregnant, our lives and eventually my baby’s life would be significantly harder than it would be now. So maybe, my choosing to be with Eren and Jean was better for us after all.

“Thank you, Hitch. You know, you’re…you’re the only person in my life who’s ever supported me. You know, besides Jean and Eren,” I said, under my breath. I stared at my shoes as they sunk into the snow. My cheeks heated up. Normally, expressing emotions wasn’t difficult for me, but I guessed I was still somewhat embarrassed I’d put her through this.

“That’s what a best friend does,” she replied, like it was obvious. “I mean, do you think I had anyone else in my life like that? Before Marlowe?” She laughed, humorlessly. “God, no.”

Hitch stepped into the passenger seat of her car. Marlowe was already in the driver’s seat. He told me it was nice to meet me, and Hitch told me to say hi to “my boys” for her, before the two of them drove off.

When I got home, Jean was on the couch, his fingers tapping away at his keyboard as he wrote. Eren was sitting on the floor, close to the TV, playing Call of Duty. Both of their heads perked up as I entered. Eren, only for a second, but Jean’s eyes lingered on me as I brushed snow out of my hair and off of my shoulders.

I sat by him on the couch. He always tilted the laptop away while writing, even though he knew I’d edit it later. He explained it was because he couldn’t focus with someone looking over his shoulder.

“Hey,” he said, without looking up from his laptop, “So, what’s the verdict? Marlowe gonna be a good dad or what?”

At this, Eren whipped his head around to face me. Already, he was so Goddamn protective, and if it wasn’t so endearing I’d laugh.

“He’s a good guy,” I said, “Hitch even told him about, uh, our situation.”

Jean’s eyebrows rose and Eren snorted.

“What did he say?” Eren asked, and I could practically hear the arguments he had ready to contradict Marlowe’s hypothetical disapproval going through his mind. Jean only winced, like he was preparing himself to hear something very loud and obnoxious.

“Well, he’s adopted, and he grew up with two moms so he didn’t seem all that worried about it.”

Both of them said nothing, waiting for me to add a “but…”. When I didn’t give them one, Jean sighed in relief and Eren’s body relaxed. Jean began typing again. The war sounds coming from Eren’s game grew louder as he turned up the volume on his game.

I wanted to stay like this, but we had other matters to talk about. My throat went a little dry thinking about what I was about to ask. Every time I tried to find the words to ask them, I got a jumble of random words and stuttering inside my own head. I inhaled and exhaled slowly, trying to sooth myself.

“You guys, can I ask you something?”

“One sec,” Eren said, pausing his game and quitting.

As he shut off the TV and Ps4, Jean turned to face me. He shut his laptop. I didn’t think he’d do that unless he got the impression that whatever I was about to ask was somewhat serious. Same with Eren turning of his game. They knew. It was a little easier to breathe knowing they were willing to listen.

Eren sat on my right, so that I was in the middle.

“Hmmm?” Eren hummed.

I placed both of my elbows on my knees, hunching over so I wouldn’t be looking at either of them. I rubbed the back of my neck. “While I was with Hitch today, she asked me what color I’m going to paint the baby’s room.”

Neither of them replied, obviously not understanding the significance of the question, just as I hadn’t. I let out a shaky breath.

“When she asked, she meant in my apartment…but I haven’t been at my apartment other than to water my plants in weeks.”

It dawned on Jean first. “Are you moving out?”

Really, I’d never moved in, but it felt like home. Or at least, they felt like home. This apartment would probably feel like nothing but sheetrock without either of them.

“Well actually, I was wondering if you guys would want to –”

“Oh my God, really?” Eren blurted, jumping up on the cushion, onto his feet, crouching beside me. He was grinning.

“You’d want to move in with me?” I asked him.

“Uh, fuck yeah? Um, really yes? So, yes. Right, Jean?” Eren was speaking faster than either of us were hearing and it took Jean a moment to process Eren’s blabbering. Once Jean did, he was smirking.

“I mean, your sister is going to get tired of me being a free-loader eventually.”

Eren barked out a laugh. I’d forgotten that Jean wasn’t paying for this place. He would have needed to move out eventually anyway.

“So, does that mean…?” Before this moment I hadn’t realized that the reason I was so nervous on the way home was because I kept waiting for something to mess this up for us. I kept waiting for something to get in the way, to make us fight, to split us up, and again this wasn’t it. I let out a relieved laugh and covered my face. Dozens of images of the three of us going about our days in my apartment flooded into my head. It was a fantasy I couldn’t have come up with on my own, too good – yet true. “Are you guys sure?”

My head turned between them. Eren’s eyes were lit like strobe lights, and flickering between me and Jean like them too. Jean was smiling, but he looked much more amused by the two of us. I didn’t think it mattered to him where he was as long as we were there.

“I’m sure,” Jean said, “And I don’t think you should ask Eren that question. He might reassure you the rest of the night.”

Eren deadpanned at him, and Jean snickered. Before Eren could come up with a snide comeback, I sank back into the cushions. “Thank God,” I groaned, scrubbing my hands over my face. I turned to Eren, kissing him, which was enough to distract him from Jean’s teasing. Then I turned to Jean to kiss him too.

Eren stood up then, probably to begin making dinner. I watched him go, unabashedly checking him out in his boxers. I glanced at Jean, who was of course, doing the exact same thing. “I guess we better start packing soon,” Erem was saying, as he entered the kitchen, “Jean, when is the lease on this place up?”

Jean jerked his head up at the sound of his name, looking away from Erens ass, suddenly remembering where he was. I giggled and he swatted at me. “I don’t know, exactly. I’ll ask Mikasa.”

“We’ll have to start moving into my place soon though,” I added, “Especially if we have a baby room to get ready.”

Jean didn’t look too excited about it, and Eren groaned from the kitchen. “You can’t expect me to decorate. Armin did all the decorating, okay, I don’t know shit.”

Jean laughed, and said under his breath, “I bet you any money he changes his mind once the baby is here.”

“Oh, I know,” I responded, then louder, “Don’t worry, Eren. You don’t have to help.”

“What?” he snapped, as he opened the fridge door, “I didn’t say I wouldn’t help at all.”

Jean shook his head, reaching for his laptop. He picked up where he left off, typing. I was so proud of him. After I’d downloaded a dyslexia friendly font on his computer, he’s begun typing so much faster. I didn’t think it was just because of the font, either. He was learning, to some degree, hot to deal with his dyslexia. Sure, he was a little slower than most, but it used to be that he could only write two pages a day, and now he was writing more like ten.

He’d already read The Great Gatsby too. And his response was, “Dude. Nick Caraway is so gay. How do people not realize that?”

He was on to a different novel now, one I hadn’t read. Although, every night after he read, I asked him to tell me how the story was going. I didn’t really care about the story. I cared about how Jean discussed what happened in the story, how it made him feel, and especially when he explained to me how he would have written it differently if it was him.

Even Eren had said, one night after Jean had gone to bed, “He sounds like a writer. I don’t even know what he’s saying anymore, so it can’t be that bad.”

I had nodded. “I’m proud of him.”

“Me too,” Eren had replied, “He used to avoid reading everything.”

“As long as he keeps this up and doesn’t get discouraged –”

“Which he might,” Eren interrupted, sighing as he did.

“I think he could really get somewhere with his writing.”

That was the last we had spoken of it, and that had been over a week ago. But it had been on my mind each day since. Nothing made the soft spot I had for Jean ache more than when I saw him deep in concentration, reading or typing.

“Here,” he said now, handing me the computer. “I kind of rushed. I was trying to get it done by the time you got home but…anyway, you can edit if you want. Don’t correct any of it for me this time okay? Just, you know, tell me what I did wrong.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” I responded. He sighed in exasperation. I always said this to him.

“Tell me if anything can be improved,” he recited.

I laughed. “Will do.”

“You nerd,” he muttered, as he stood to join Eren in the kitchen.

While the two of them began boiling water on the stove, and pull out some plates, I read through what he’d written today. Most of it was a conversation he had with his mom, and his struggle with only saying Eren’s name when he spoke to her. I inhaled, because it was suddenly hard to breathe, reading how much he wished he could say my name to her. He was angry about it, frustrated, but sad more than anything. He was so afraid that telling his mom he was seeing two men would break her heart.

I read through three whole pages before I realized I’d barely done any actual editing. If he’d made any really awful mistakes, I probably would have noticed. Instead of rereading all of it, I wrote some notes at the bottom of his page. He used several words like a crutch, and they popped up in nearly every paragraph. Too often he started sentences with the word “it”, without making it immediately clear what the “it” was referring to.

In the kitchen Jean and Eren were discussing how Jean was feeling today, how much he thought he could eat. For the past week, Jean had been eating three full-sized meals a day. Eren had started cooking food for Jean beyond just vegetables, eggs and other overly healthy food. Some days were still hard of course, but if someone was just meeting Jean now, they’d assume he was just a picky eater.

I smiled. Eren spoke to Jean differently than he used to. He always sounded like he was testing the waters with Jean, starting with something small and working his way up. Even when I could tell he was impatient – he pressed his lips together, and gripped too tightly on to the nearest object – he kept his voice level.

Then I heard Jean say, “Give me whatever you’re having.”

I could hear Eren’s surprise when he responded, “Jean, I eat more than you and Marco combined.” It was true. All while Jean was recovering, Eren ate every time Jean did. Jean ate six times a day. And for each of those six rabbit meals Jean ate, Eren ate whatever would be considered a normal sized meal. The other day when Eren caught Jean staring at his stomach in the mirror, Eren stood right beside Jean and slapped his own stomach. It made a crude sound, because he was starting to get somewhat of a gut. Jean had laughed, as Eren responded, “You ain’t got nothing on me, baby.” Then Eren kissed Jean and told him to get in the shower and stop staring at himself.

Now, I glanced up, just in time to see Jean shrug and lean back against the counter. “So what? If I can’t finish it I won’t.”

Eren hesitated, but gave in. “We’re going to need to open a second box then.”

I started reading again. Jean left a space between talking about the phone call with his mom, and the next subject. First he mentioned that while trying on some of the close that had become too big for him at his thinnest – he was finally able to wear a couple pair of jeans as long as he wore his belt clasped on the last notch – he’d found his backpack. When he dropped out earlier this semester, he had stuffed all his school supplies in his closet.

Jean wrote about searching through the backpack and realizing just how horrible he felt about not continuing school. He’d hated it while he was still going, but now he felt like he could do it again. If he was a little healthier he could go. The reading wouldn’t be as bad, and now that he knew what he wanted to do, he could pick a major.

At the end of his writing for the day, he mentioned wondering if it was too late to enroll for the spring semester. But right after writing that sentence, he wrote, “Never mind. It’s definitely too late to apply for financial aid.”

Jean had mentioned to me before that Mikasa had paid for his education so far. He’d worked, but only when he wasn’t in school. Working got in the way of homework, and he needed every night to work on it. He couldn’t just throw something together.

“Marco, do you want cheese on your spaghetti?” Eren yelled from the kitchen. I jerked my head up, remembering where I was. I hadn’t edited this section either.

“Uh, sure,” I responded. I saved Jean’s draft and closed the laptop. My heartbeat reverberated throughout my body as I considered talking to them about the other thing I’d had on my mind for weeks.

Jean and Eren joined me in the living room. Jean carried two plates, he handed me one. I set it on the coffee table knowing that I wouldn’t be able to eat while talking about this.

Eren sat on the recliner, and Jean right beside me. Eren practically drank his spaghetti, and Jean made it dance back and forth on his fork before eating any of it.

“Jean,” I said, “You think you’re ready to go back to school?”

Jean exhaled, and bit his lip like he’d been waiting for me to ask. “Yeah…I think so. I mean, I eat on my own now, right? Mikasa thinks I’m as better as I’m ever going to get so…”

Eren perked his head up. His fork paused midway through the air. He looked between the two of us. It was obvious this was the first he’d heard anything about school.

“And you want to enroll in the spring?” I asked.

“Yeah, but, I can’t.” His fingers swirled his fork more than necessary. He wouldn’t look at me. “Probably get a job soon, something decent. Then I can apply for financial aid in the spring. It’ll probably be jack shit since I dropped out this semester but I don’t know what else to do.”

“I can save too,” Eren added, “Armin and I were saving up to buy a house, you know. We’re going to split that money.”

“Yeah, but didn’t you say it wasn’t very much?” Jean asked.

Eren opened his mouth to respond, but I interrupted. “I have the money.”

Both Eren and Jean stared at me. “What do you mean?” Jean asked.

“I mean, I have the money. You can enroll in spring.”

Jean scoffed like he thought I was joking, then stared at me wide-eyed when he realized I wasn’t.

“Marco…you know it’s going to be a few grand, right? Like…it’s a university, not a community college. It’s going to be expensive.”

I nodded. “I have the money for the spring semester. And the fall. And every year after that.”

Both of them gaped at me.

“I think I’m going to quit my job,” I continued. I figured I might as well get it all out there all at once. Now that I knew Jean wanted to go to school, I wanted to go even more. Neither of them would let me back out of becoming a pediatrician, right? So I had nothing to be afraid of. “I never wanted to do this job. I wanted to go into medicine. So I think I’ll enroll with you. And I’ll go to school to be a pediatrician…if you, you know, want to…”

Both of them were still gaping at me.

“Okay, look,” I explained, “I don’t know if you guys realize this, but my parents paid for my college. And now I’m an air-traffic controller. So I have no college debt, and I’ve been doing this for over a year now, all while living in a two-bedroom apartment. And for a while, I split the cost of that with Ymir. Do you know how much I make?”

They both shook their head.

“Six hundred thousand dollars a year,” I whispered, a little embarrassed to say it out loud.

“Ho-ly shit,” Eren drawled.

Jean whistled. “Christ.”

“Yeah. I’ve saved…a lot of money.”

Eren glanced at Jean. The two of them looked like they were silently communicating something. Or maybe, just clarifying that they were both shocked. I hadn’t told either of them about this.

“So, let me get this straight,” Eren said, “You have enough money to pay for your education, Jean’s education, and to safely quit your job to go to school.”

“Pretty much.”

Eren shook his head while he began eating his spaghetti again. I finally picked my own up.

“So, Jean, do you want to go to school with me in the spring? We have to enroll soon if we’re going to.”

“Hell yeah,” he responded, “Oh my God, hell yes, Marco. Why didn’t you say you were rich sooner? This – this is fucking awesome.”

Eren nodded. “No kidding.”

“It didn’t come up.”

For some reason, both Eren and Jean found this hilarious and they laughed around choking on spaghetti. But I didn’t mind, because I could breathe again with ease. They were moving in with me. Jean and I were going back to school. I’d become a pediatrician like I always wanted to be.

In fact, now that it was out in the open I couldn’t stop grinning the rest of the night. I didn’t speak much. I mostly listened to Jean shit-talk Eren while he played videogames, and try distract Eren enough to make him play worse. Long after Eren and I had finished eating, and Eren had been playing videogames, Jean was still eating.

He took a bite, a minute or more would pass, and he’d take another. But he kept eating.

The plate wasn’t licked clean or anything, but Jean had eaten more in this one meal than I had seen him eat in weeks. Sometimes, he went entire days without eating that much. Once he sat his plate down, I scooted closer to him on the couch. My hand slid around the nape of his neck, pulling him in so that I could kiss him good and long. He knew why.

Jean went to bed first. He didn’t usually. This was because Eren and I still got really tense whenever he was out of sight. We tried not to be and Jean scolded us, but it was a reflex now. Tonight, I wanted it to not be a big deal, because so far tonight nothing had been. He deserved to go to bed when he wanted to.

But that didn’t mean I didn’t peer at the bedroom door in the corner of my eye.

“I had no idea Jean was even thinking about school,” Eren mentioned, as he stood up of the floor and turned the Ps4 off. “But I’m glad he’s going. He needs it, I think. Something normal going on his life.”

“I think he needed the time away too, though. Not just because of his eating disorder, either. He needed time away to learn how to deal with his dyslexia. He can do that now,” I said, keeping my eyes on the bedroom door. I had the sudden urge to hold Jean.

“I didn’t know you were thinking about school either,” Eren said, as he joined me on the couch. I wrapped and arm around his shoulders. Eren laced his fingers over his stomach. Something about how tight his grip was, how forced the motion felt, made me think something more was on his mind.

“I’ve been thinking about it since the last time I was in school. Now that I don’t need my parents’ approval I can do whatever I want. And I want to be a pediatrician.”

“That’s, like, perfect for you.”

My cheeks hurt from smiling. I rubbed the back of my neck. “I know.”

“I wish I could find something like that. It’s not that I hate my job. It’s honest work, you know. Someone’s gotta do it. Nothing wrong with that. But I’ve always wanted a job, that like, I could help people in I guess.”

Eren’s eyes met mine, and I rubbed his shoulder. “You know, I could pay for you too.”

Eren shook his head. “I don’t mean school. Like, I wanted to be in the military you know. That’d help people. And if nothing else, I could be a cop. But I’m a diabetic, and you can’t do either if you’re a diabetic.”

Eren’s eyes were glazed over, staring somewhere far off now. He looked so solemn, I couldn’t even stand it.

“There’s got to be another job,” I said.

“One I don’t have to go to school for? I mean, no offense, it’s just not my thing. I hated school, and I didn’t even have an excuse like Jean did.”

My head rested against the couch cushion. I gazed at the ceiling light. Eren rested his head against my chest.

At first, it was impossible to think of a single job that didn’t require a college education. It seemed like everything needed a degree lately.

But then my eyes roamed around, finding patterns in the pop-corn textured ceiling. My vision glided over a vent, and a crack and then –

A fire detector.

And then, it was so obvious I laughed.

Eren perked his head up.

“What?”

“Eren…have you ever considered being a fire fighter?”

Eren’s eyebrows furrowed, as my question was processed. His eyes widened, at first looking confused. But then a grin crept across his face. His eyes met mine.

“Marco, you’re a genius,” he gasped. I was about to say thank you when his lips crashed into mine. He kissed me until I sank into the cushions. He crawled on top of me, straddling me, kissing me more than I could possibly kiss back. I laughed between them and he just kissed around it.

All at once he shot up. “Do you really think I could do it?”

I shrugged, folding my arms underneath my head. “Why not?”

He laughed then and leapt out off of the couch. He was already half-skipping, half turning around to face me, on his way to the bedroom. “I gotta tell Jean,” he explained.

I stood up off the couch to follow him into the bedroom, all the while thinking about how everything had fallen apart, and everything had been put back together bit by bit by us. It felt too good to be true, to meant-to-be, but I knew it wasn’t. We’d worked hard for this, and one day, when our lives were as perfect as we imagined, I’d think back to this day. I’d forget the hard parts, the struggles, the moments we’d almost given up, and I’d wonder how we managed such a life. As I watched Eren kissing Jean awake, I thought about how one day I’d probably blame it all on luck.

Chapter Text

Jean

Seven months later…

In the courthouse, Eren and Armin were standing across from me. Like me, they wore suits. The minister Eren’s mom had asked to ordain the wedding, stood between us behind a podium. Everyone else that had been invited, Armin’s sister Annie, Eren’s mom, Armin’s grandpa, Armin’s nieces, Marco, his plus-one Hitch, a few friends that worked with Armin at the bank and a few nurses that worked with Mikasa were all sitting in the pews waiting for the wedding to begin, except for my mom who had called me this morning to tell me she’d gotten on the road late, and couldn’t make it on time.

Both Armin and Mikasa had agreed a simple court date would be best, given that their union wasn’t of the romantic sort. However, Eren’s parents didn’t approve of this, and Eren’s mom had insisted we dress for the occasion. Specifically, that Mikasa wore a dress.

Eren had been especially stressed lately, unable to relax in our new apartment and constantly cleaning, cooking, folding, repairing, decorating or baby-proofing something. This was partially because he’d volunteered at a local fire department recently. He couldn’t become an actual fire fighter unless he got a fire science degree, which he was torn about. I hoped he would, but even still he assured me he was already far happier volunteering than he ever had been at UPS.

But his stress was mostly because of his parents. They’d been staying with Mikasa and Armin, and the two of them were more than a little confused with their kids’ situations, and neither Mikasa nor Eren knew how to make it better. His parents didn’t really understand why Mikasa and Armin were getting married if they were just really close friends, and why she had to pick “the one born a girl” to marry. Which, to say the least, put Eren in a constant state of nearly exploding, even though Armin took it in stride, always being polite to Carla and Grisha regardless.

On top of this, Eren had ended up telling his parents where he lived now. He’d had to. They were trying to convince him to come live with them, and of course, he hadn’t been able to say he was living in the old apartment with me anymore because Mikasa had confessed that we were no longer renting the place. Again, she’d had to, because she’d had to explain why they had to go to Armin’s townhome instead, when that was a slightly further drive for them.

So his parents were wondering why he was living with two men.

“I have to tell them,” he’d said to Marco and me the night before. “If I wait to tell them then they’ll just get even madder that I waited to tell them.”

I’d nodded, because I knew his parents. They held grudges, which was probably why Eren had learned to hold his own, but his parents were worse. They took everything their kids did personally, as if raising them alone had given them the right to decide Mikasa and Eren’s fates. They often told Eren, “We didn’t have to adopt you, you know.”

“Maybe not before the wedding,” Marco said, “It’s Mikasa and Armin’s day…I know they’re not…I mean, I don’t think they want their wedding day to be a bad memory.”

“Wait until right before they leave,” I said, “That’s what I’d do.”

Eren had snorted. “Yeah, I know.”

“Shut up,” I responded. “You want to make it easier on yourself, don’t you?”

Eren had agreed that he’d wait until the end of the reception tonight.

Right now, he looked like he was struggling to sit still. His expression was pinched. His eyes flitted everywhere but his mom, until they landed on me.

And for just a second, I knew he was thinking the exact same thing I was. Here we were, in a chapel, wearing suits, standing across from each other and looking into each others’ eyes before a minister. I smiled at him, so he knew how much I loved pretending that this day was for us. He smiled back, and the creases in his forehead smoothed out.

“Marry me,” he mouthed.

I smiled again, but this time it was pained. Ever so slightly, I tilted my head toward Marco sitting in the pews. He had an arm wrapped around a very pregnant, and very exasperated Hitch.

In the months since Eren and I had met her, we’d gotten used to her being around. She often stopped by our apartment with Ymir.

But the first time she met us it was at my and Mikasa’s old place. She strutted into our apartment ahead of Marco, without even asking him if she could step in, and called both our names.

Eren and I had been in the bedroom, still naked and lazy from fucking twenty minutes before that, when we heard the door slam.

She’d yelled, “Come meet the ex!”

Together, Eren and I had leapt out of bed, scrambling to get dressed. Marco and Hitch were chatting in the kitchen, but I hadn’t been able to make out anything they were saying.

Once dressed, Eren and I walked out of the bedroom, both of us trying to look innocent as if Marco and Hitch were our parents. Marco blushed when he saw us, because he knew, and Hitch grinned and clapped her hands together because she knew too. She spun around to face Marco, still wearing that grin, and winked at him before she turned to face me.

She wore leggings and a tight, mauve sweater. Her hair waved down around her ears like it had been sculpted by an artist to look that way. She had huge green eyes – not like Eren’s green, paler and shallower than his – and eyelashes that practically brushed against me.

Okay, yeah, she was fucking hot and I was the only person in the room who knew it because Eren’s sexuality was honed exclusively to Marco and me, and Marco was gay.

“Stop staring,” Eren muttered, low enough Marco and Hitch wouldn’t hear.

Maybe Eren did know.

“Shut up,” I muttered back.

“Oh, I knew I could rely on Marco to have great taste!” she chirped, revealing her least appealing attribute. Her voice sounded like a mix of tinnitus and a car alarm. “Look at that one!” she said, pointing at me like I was a zoo animal, or maybe like we were really over-priced furniture. “He’s practically the boy-band version of me!”

“The fuck I am,” I said, even though that didn’t stop her from pulling me into a hug. Marco sighed and covered his face in embarrassment. Eren looked like he wanted to spray Hitch with water. And I stood there, unsure how to process this because I wasn’t going to say something rude to the mom of Marco’s baby, even if I kind of wanted to really sort of badly.

As soon as she let go of me, she pulled Eren into a hug, and he glanced at me while in the hug like what-am-I-supposed-to-do? I shrugged at him, and bewildered, he hugged her back.

She pulled away. “It’s so nice to finally meet you two. Marco’s told me all about you guys.”

Eren and I both glanced at Marco, who grimaced and nodded. Then he gave first me, then Eren a kiss like he always did when he came home. Despite Hitch’s gawking earlier, she didn’t react to him kissing us. I’d expected a crude comment but already it was as if Marco kissing us was commonplace.

“By the way,” Marco said, when he pulled away, he pointed at me, “Hitch, he’s Jean,” and then he pointed at Eren, “And he’s Eren.”

“Got it,” she said, nodding as she strode into the living room. I had an uncomfortable suspicion that we were Boyfriend 1 and 2 in her head. “Are they helping us pick baby names?” she asked, looking at Marco.

Although I didn’t care for the way she didn’t ask us directly, I thought it was kind of her to offer. She didn’t have any reason to trust Eren and me yet, let alone let us participate in preparing for the baby to be born. But she did, and I figured it must be because she really trusted Marco that much. We didn’t need to prove that we’d be good fathers because Marco had assured her we would be.

I smiled because of that, and said, “It’s up to you guys.”

Eren said, “Yeah.”

“We’ll let you know which ones we liked,” she said then, and Marco nodded. He finally looked relaxed. It was obvious when he came in he’d been worried, but he didn’t need to be. Hitch was…okay, and we were okay.

That happened six months ago and looking back it was surreal thinking that she had been a stranger and now she would be a part of my life forever.

I gazed at the two of them in the crowd, and Marco caught my eyes. He smiled at me, and when I turned my head, Eren was gazing at Marco too.

The music chimed overhead, snapping me out of my daydreams. It was the traditional wedding march music. Everyone straightened up. The audience turned to look over their shoulders and Eren, Armin and I turned to face the entrance. A moment later, Grisha stepped in with Mikasa latched to his arm.

I bit onto my lip, gazing at her, blinking too much because if anyone had the right to cry today it was Armin, not me. But I couldn’t help it.

Because for the first ten seconds that she walked down the isle, so beautiful in a simple white dress that didn’t quite reach the white sandals she’d chosen, all I saw was my other life. Me, just over a year ago, with her. Before everything had started hurting, and before time had torn us apart, and before I had stopped eating, and before she had begun to realize she didn’t have feelings for me the way she should, I loved her. I loved her so fucking much. I’d wake up with her every morning and run my fingers through the black hair sprawled against my pillow, and wrap my arm around her waist and tell her good morning. We’d get up and make breakfast together while the morning news played. She’d tuck her hands into my back pockets and tease me about my bed head. I’d watch her pull on her scrubs, often tearing them off of her midway because, God, I could hardly wait for her to get home so I could have her that night. And then she’d walk out the door, laughing and pretending to be mad at me for making her late, and I’d think – shit, I’m going to marry that girl. I’m going to marry Mikasa Ackermann and if I regret everything else in my life, I won’t regret that because it is the one, true thing I did right in my life.

It was bittersweet. The ache was deep, but I smiled. We’d told each other that we regretted dating, and that we wouldn’t have done it if we had known this was how it would turn out. But I knew now that wasn’t true. I wouldn’t take it back. She made me so happy for so long, and really, that wasn’t suddenly untrue because she didn’t anymore. It wasn’t her fault we didn’t work out.

The fact was, not all relationships were meant to last forever. And that didn’t mean they weren’t good relationships. People weren’t meant to fall in love in any certain way, and it shouldn’t be anyone’s goal to ever want the love-at-first-sight-together-forever relationship. Forcing a relationship to last when it wasn’t meant to only hurt you more in the end.

And now I understood everything so much more. Because now I had Marco and Eren – a relationship I would have never considered a year ago because a year ago I still believed everything was supposed to happen in that one spectacular way and I was only allowed to love one person with everything I had for this one entire lifetime and well, there were just too many other people worth loving, I guessed. Marco and Eren had too much love inside of them to give, and even if I would have never believed that was true for me, it was.

As Mikasa paced up the isle beside Grisha, I felt security in knowing that I owed fate nothing. I didn’t know how my life would turn out, I didn’t know if I’d be with Marco and Eren forever, I didn’t know if others would come into my life or if they would leave…

But I knew I loved them more than anything, and that unlike with Mikasa, I didn’t have to try to be happy with them and it didn’t feel like an unrealistic, distant fantasy to grow old with them the way it had with her.

I turned my head to my left just as Grisha kissed Mikasa’s cheek. Mikasa turned to me and hugged me. I held tight.

“You look beautiful, Micky,” I whispered, even though that wasn’t what I meant and wasn’t anything she needed to hear. It was true, though. She smiled at me as she turned to Armin anyway.

He held out his hands and she took them in hers. They were both smiling, but Eren and I were the emotional ones. Eren looked like he was going to pop. His lip was quivering and he’d wiped his eyes a couple of times. I grinned at him and he just shook his head, wiping his eyes again before turning his attention to the minister.

Armin and Mikasa’s vows were traditional, and the actual wedding was a short event. For pretenses, when the minister said “You may now kiss the bride,” Armin did, and then the minister said, “I know pronounce you husband and wife.”

The ceremony didn’t last long after that, and then Eren and I were being tugged left and right for pictures. The photographer had no sense of personal space, and he would move my head for me and pinch my cheek whenever I wasn’t smiling. Majority of the reason Mikasa was even smiling in the photos was because she was laughing at Eren and I squirm.

Finally, when the picture-taking was over, everyone retreated into the basement of the courthouse chapel for the reception where Eren and I had set up a few tables and Mikasa’s nurse friends had set out the food that Carla had cooked. It was hardly a reception at all, but the candle light and the flower pedals that had been tossed over the tablecloths Mikasa had sewn herself made it seem like something much closer and warmer than anything that would require a catering company.

As everyone seated themselves, I caught a glimpse of my mom at the foot of the stairs, scanning the room for a place to sit behind her tiny glasses. I hopped out of my chair beside Mikasa’s and strode to greet her. When she saw me, really saw me for the first time since last summer, my mom’s jaw dropped and her eyes immediately flooded with tears.

“I know, I know, mom.”

Her arms wrapped around me, and she sobbed into my dress shirt. I was grateful music was still playing and the rest of the guests were already babbling.

“You’re so thin,” she said, and it was muffled by my shirt, “So thin, Jean. You look so sick.”

I swallowed, and contained my expression so she wouldn’t know how much that hurt. She hadn’t seen me when I was at my worst. Even though I’d gained over twenty pounds back since my lowest weight, the last time she’d seen me I weighed easily thirty pounds more than this, and my hair had been thicker, shinier, healthier. My teeth had been whiter. My skin had been clearer. Now it was rough from shaving areas I didn’t used to have to shave, and it was always so dry. I burned easily and peeled easily.

I looked like shit compared to what I used to, and even though I was much healthier now, she wouldn’t be able to tell.

“I know, mom,” I choked. “But I’m getting better. Every day I’m getting better, I swear.”

She glanced up at me. “Did you…get…shorter?”

“Yeah. I lost an inch,” I said. I was five foot eight now.

She tugged me into her arms even tighter. “Oh, Jean.”

I sighed. She wiped her eyes, and took in a deep breath while straightening out her dress as she collected herself.

Though I’d been about to change the subject, Eren approached us and did it for me. Like they were old friends, he pulled her into a hug. “Hey Ms. K.”

A wave of nostalgia bit at me. He’d used to say that every day after school when he’d come over to my place. It was like traveling back in time.

“Eren,” she said, looking up at him. Her voice was stiff, but polite. “It’s good to see you again.”

“You too,” he replied, and then looked at me. Somehow his expression clearly meant can I touch you in front of her? I reached for him and he smiled as he wrapped his arm around my waist and mine slid around his shoulders. My mom looked between us, and as if to give us her blessing, she nodded.

“Doesn’t he look great?” Eren asked, like he could feel the same hurt I felt from a moment ago. “I can barely believe he was sick at all.”

My mom’s eyes widened. “He’s not sick anymore?”

“Didn’t he tell you?” Eren said, giving me a dirty glare.

“I told her I’ve gotten a lot better.” The main reason I never told my mom I wasn’t sick “anymore” as if there was a before-and-after-cure to being anorexic and bulimic with body dysmorphia that often caused me to look in the mirror and often see myself as bigger than I was – so much so that I carried a measuring tape with me everywhere, so that at a moment’s notice I could wrap it around myself, measure my waist, and ground myself again in reality – was because it wasn’t true. I’d be sick the rest of my life. I’d handle it better. I’d go a very long time without any issues. I’d “look” healthy again. But that didn’t mean that at the end of today, after eating the cake, I wouldn’t consider going to the bathroom and throwing up. It wouldn’t mean that I wouldn’t end up having to ask Marco or Eren to keep an eye on me.

But Eren had a different definition of “better” than me. His definition was “Jean learned to fight it” which was true, and therefore I was cured.

“He’s more than better,” he reassured my mom, “he’s kicking its ass.”

This made my mom smile. “I am proud of him. Especially after seeing his grades.”

Groaning, I covered my face. “Mom,” I said, drawing the word out. She couldn’t hardly make it five minutes into a conversation with someone else without bringing up my grades. This wasn’t the first time this had happened. She’d done it at church, and at work, and at her knitting club, and even to the cashier at the grocery store. I knew this, because a few days ago she had called me to inform me about all the people who were so happy to hear I wasn’t a drop out after all.

My grades weren’t even that good. I’d gotten one A, two Bs, and a C. My grade point average was actually pathetic, at the moment. But compared to dropping out midway through the semester? They were stellar to my mom.

“I know,” Eren continued, as if he too, couldn’t hardly hold in his need to brag about me. “He didn’t even need that much help. I hardly notice his dyslex –”

“Eren, quit it,” I hissed and he rolled his eyes, but kept his mouth shut because he knew how embarrassed I was. Not because he’d brought up my dyslexia, but because I felt ashamed for needing help at all let alone a lot. And…I actually did need a lot of help. At least, more help than I should have to have at twenty two years old, which would be none. But every night Marco had looked over my homework anyway, making sure it was free of spelling errors. Sometimes, I needed his help reading, and I’d had a lot of assigned reading because I was currently an English and Non-fiction writer’s workshop double major.

“Jean! That’s wonderful,” My mom chirped again, her eyes flooding with tears she wouldn’t release, as she no doubt recalled the years of struggle I went through in high school undiagnosed. I’d almost dropped out my senior year, now that I thought of it. And that thought, even though I hated to admit it, kind of made me glow from the inside out too. Because, God damn, I was improving. I wasn’t great, or even perfect, or even okay most of the time, but I could still be starving, I could still be illiterate, and my mom could still be worried and ashamed. But she wasn’t. She was proud.

My mom pulled me and Eren into a hug at the same time, and Eren laughed as he held her back. His arm was still wrapped around my waist, and he pulled me close. I wished I could kiss him, but even that I wouldn’t do surrounded by all these people. I didn’t want the attention right then.

Marco walked up to us right then, and both Eren and I turned to him.

“Sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt,” he said. I could see the pinch in his eyes from being left out of this. It hurt more than I expected to see him feeling like a third wheel. I wanted to reach out to him, but shoved my hands in my pockets instead.

“Mom, this is Marco,” I said, doubting she remembered the time I told her Marco was sick instead of me. That was months ago. Whenever I was on the phone with her I’d avoided saying his name.

“Nice to meet you, Ms. Kirstein,” he said, even remembering that it wasn’t Mrs. like everyone always assumed, “I’m Jean’s – friend. I go to school with him.” He shook her hand, and even bent down a little so that she didn’t have to tilt her head all the way back to look at him. Marco looked handsome in his suit, looking as always like he could be a Calvin Klein model and a kindergarten teacher, somehow. I could tell my mom was more than a bit impressed.

“Really? What are you going for?” she asked.

“I’m pre-med.”

My mom’s eyes widened, as if it had never occurred to her that I might hang out with someone that would be a doctor one day. I couldn’t fight the smirk on my face, because even though Marco would never brag about it I sure as fuck would.

He turned to me and Eren then. “Mikasa and Armin are waiting for you guys to give your speeches.”

I winced. I’d told Mikasa just how thrilled I was at the idea of speaking in front of a crowd, and she had nodded as if she too, could hardly stand the thought of her own wedding. Not getting married, exactly. That she wanted more than anything. But the wedding was another story. She couldn’t wait for this day to be over.

“I’ll be right there,” I said, glancing at her around Marco’s shoulder, sitting at the longest table in the very center with the cake in front of her. Armin was by her side, arm resting on the back of her chair and holding a glass of champagne as he spoke to his sister, standing across the table from them at the moment.

“Me too,” Eren added.

“Okay I’ll tell them,” Marco said, but just as he was about to leave, Hitch strode up behind him, one arm pressed into her back and the other clenched into a fist. “Hitch?” Marco blurted, as he caught sight of her face.

“It’s,” she started, then after taking an immense breath, “happening.”

Marco’s eyes widened with worry as he placed his hand against her back. Something inside of me jerked, as it finally hit – oh fuck! The baby was coming. I whipped my head to look at Eren. His eyes met mine and he looked like he’d been electrocuted, his body was stiff like he was about to spring up and run a five-K.

Marco turned to us. “We – I’m sorry, we have to go.”

Eren and I both nodded as Marco nudged Hitch forward, holding onto one of her hands as she trekked up the stairs back to the chapel. As she walked up he turned to me, placing both his hands on my shoulders. “You’ll tell Armin and Mikasa for us?”

“Yes, yes, of course, go.” I waved upward at the stairs, but he wouldn’t go yet.

In his periphery he glanced at my mom, then Eren, then back to me. “You and Eren will come as soon as you can?”

I felt like my knees were going to melt, thinking of not being there when the baby was born, but I nodded. “As soon as we can. I promise.”

“Okay,” he said, just as Hitch screamed, “Marco! Now!”

And he almost made it up the stairs without incident. Just before Marco was about to run up the stairs behind her, Eren blurted, “I love you.”

Marco had gone. I had no idea if he even heard Eren’s instinctual confession of love that went with every goodbye between us. I glared at Eren, and he cringed. We both inhaled, preparing mentally to face the consequences. My mom, who had seen this all play out, to her credit looked very concerned for what likely appeared to her as Marco’s girlfriend, was now flicking her eyes between Eren and me.

I gave Eren a look. Not a you-dumbass-way-to-go look, but a I-guess-it’s-time-to-come-out look. He knew exactly what my look meant. He gave me one curt nod, letting that breath he’d held out of his lungs as he left to go find his parents, who would be leaving in an hour or so anyway.

Now my mom only faced me, demanding an explanation with the tightness of her lips.

I took her hand in mine.

“What was that about?” she asked. “You lied to me? You aren’t with Eren after all?”

I shook my head, biting my lip. “I didn’t lie to you mom.”

That wasn’t the whole truth though. I’d kept something from her, which I knew at times could be just as bad.

“Eren is my boyfriend. But Marco is my boyfriend too. I love them both.” The words after all this guilt building up inside of me, and stress over coming out to her, and constant nagging at my thoughts about what her reaction would be…had actually been quite simple. I said what I meant, and I felt so relieved, so happy, to no longer hold it in. I wanted to say it. I wanted people to know.

My mom just stood there, like she was in shock. She blinked a number of times, while biting her lip. “But…Eren said he loves Marco, too?”

Well, that could have been about a thousand other words in a worse order than that. “We’re all together.”

My mom looked like she had just swallowed something awful. I knew she was trying to find a way to tell me she didn’t like it. My mom had never told me not to live my life or make the choices I wanted, but she never minded telling me what she thought about it either. I braced myself, holding my breath for what she had to say, trying to predict what it would be and how I’d respond. My feet were falling asleep, prickling as if they wanted me to run away.

“They took care of you when you were sick? Sicker?” She corrected herself right away.

“Those two, Mikasa and Armin.” When I told my mom Mikasa was getting married, she was less pleased that I wasn’t the groom but excited for the wedding as if Mikasa were her own daughter. Since I’d told her about the wedding, she’d even been respectful of Armin’s gender because “Mikasa wouldn’t marry any man that’s not a good one”. I’d agreed, but didn’t believe marrying Mikasa specifically made him a good man. I might still be in bad shape if he hadn’t thought to bring that tape measure to the ER.

“But mostly them.” Hopefully that tipped the scale in my boys’ favor.

“They brought you to the hospital?”

“Called the ambulance.”

My mom still looked torn. She looked like she was feeling something she didn’t want to feel and was trying to shove it back inside of her. But then she gave me a dainty smile and pulled me into a hug. Her body, big as it was, felt fragile in my arms, weak. These ten months since I’d seen her last were the longest I’d ever gone without seeing her. I’d missed her. My life was out of balance without my mom in it, and now she was hugging me like everything would be okay. When she tried to pull away, I held her tighter.

“That settles it then,” my mom said, “They’re my family.”

Eren and I gave speeches.

First Eren had stood, after all the glass-clanking had finished. He was even more uptight than he had been before. His parents had left the moment he came out to them about dating two men. He’d had to pull Mikasa and Armin aside in the middle of their meal to apologize. Armin had assured Eren he understood and Mikasa had shaken her head, tipped her head back to swallow an entire glass of champagne, and then added almost like it was to God, “Really?”

I’d hugged him and kissed him quick, hoping he understood how sorry I was for him. But he shrugged, reassuring me he was more angry than upset. His tears had been angry tears, before I wiped them off his face.

Despite this, he managed to give his speech like a pro. He always did that public speaking thing so well. I hated him in high school. No cards or anything.

He started, “If you haven’t figured it out yet, Armin is the greatest man on earth. Seriously, he could save the world if he wanted to, but he’s too busy baby-sitting my beautiful nieces, Jean and me.”

Of course the audience chuckled, and it wasn’t even a polite ha-ha. Fuck this guy.

“He’s done so much for me. He’s made sure I’ve taken my insulin, gotten my license, passed my classes in high school. One year, a particularly hard year for me,” and he glanced at me. He kept my gaze for a moment, before returning his attention to the small audience.

“He began tutoring me, but it was more than that. Armin was my therapist for a year. My coach. My cheerleader, literally.” Again, a chuckle since everyone in the audience knew by now he was trans. Even a laugh escaped from Armin because he absolutely wasn’t one of the cheerleaders, but when he and Eren had begun dating and Armin hadn’t come out yet, his cheering from the stands had been so loud the cheerleaders couldn’t hear themselves think.

“If I hadn’t had him that year, I doubt I could have kept playing football. Hell, I doubt I would have graduated…But that’s not what this is about. It’s not about Armin and me. It’s about Armin and my sister, Mikasa. He’s going to be there for her now,