Jean had always loved being behind a camera.
The world was a more beautiful place, captured on film or in digital stills, and Jean much preferred pictures to people. On the back side of a camera, no one could see the way he easily flustered - his slight stutter often making conversation nerve-wracking - and few people bothered talking to him at all. Pictures told stories when words failed, as they often did for him, and he clung to them for that reason. In his first year of college he'd fallen in love with photography, and broken his business-minded father’s heart by majoring in it. He moved from city to city afterward, looking more for inspiration, than for a paying job. He'd find work, he assured his parents, but more than that, he knew he'd find happiness. But first he'd need to find his footing.
Legitimate jobs were few and far between, even with a degree. Finding and keeping work was more important day to day than nailing down a job doing what he loved, but he kept working in his field on the side. Rushing from day jobs to night gigs photographing local events was tiring, but he had goals to work toward. Still, he poured most of his money into his equipment, and was left with little for necessities, much less for rent. So when a friend he'd made working a sanitation job in his new city offered him a place to stay for half the cost of the going rate, Jean moved in almost immediately.
Reiner Braun was a decent guy. Jean had been living with him for over a year by the time he found steady work somewhere other than bussing tables or cleaning toilets, and never once in that span of time had Reiner gotten the least bit upset when Jean was late with his chunk of the rent. Sure, he could be unnecessarily loud and inappropriately crude, bordering on obnoxious at times. But he was also generous, and never self-serving in his motivation. He was usually the one buying the groceries and keeping them hooked up to WiFi, and didn't even mind Jean using his Netflix account. All in all, Reiner was a gold star roommate.
Until he got a boyfriend.
It started off pretty harmless; Jean didn't care if Reiner had boyfriends or girlfriends or any friends at all, as long as it didn't change things around the apartment. But after a few weeks, Reiner insisted that Jean had to meet his boyfriend, and assured him that they'd get along famously, before Jean could offer a single word of protest. But it wouldn't have mattered, really. It was Reiner’s apartment, after all.
So Jean resigned himself to making awkward conversation in the name of keeping things civil in their shared space. He'd just keep to himself during the boyfriend’s visit, he reasoned, and it would be over before he really had time to care. He even came home from work a little early the evening they were expecting company, to make sure he hadn't left anything too offensive lying around the apartment. But to his surprise, Reiner had already cleaned and tidied rather thoroughly.
That wasn’t the only surprise.
Bertholdt - Reiner’s very quiet and very reserved boyfriend – was nothing like the projection Jean had made of him in his mind. He was polite and friendly, and didn't speak much more than he was spoken to, though conversation with him did seem to come easily once it started. Jean actually liked him, and found himself wondering exactly how Reiner had landed someone so pleasant and normal. Jean relaxed, and lingered in the living room with the two of them longer than he'd planned.
Reiner was very affectionate. Jean should've expected as much; it was like the opposite side of a coin he'd seen the face of many times. The boisterous behavior he expected from his roommate translated to copious displays of affection, heaped onto a willing if not slightly embarrassed Bertholdt. Not even half an hour passed before Reiner was sprawled out across his lap, an arm slung over his shoulders and a messy kiss pressed to the side of his face between every few sentences as they talked. Jean suddenly felt like he was spying on their private time, from the same living room seat he'd been in the entire evening.
“You need to come out sometime with me and Bert,” Reiner remarked, plunging his hand into a deep bowl of popcorn he'd retrieved from the kitchen a moment before. He threw a piece at Jean to be sure he had his attention. “You're never gonna meet any dudes, sittin’ on your ass at home all the time. ‘ve you ever even been to any of the clubs around here?”
“Not really my thing,” Jean replied honestly. And watching Reiner bump his nose against Bert’s before popping a handful of popcorn into both of their mouths, he was pretty sure he'd rather go anywhere with anyone else, rather than out with the two of them.
Jean didn't even bother mentioning how much it irritated him that Reiner seemed to have no problem divulging information about his personal life – including the fact that he was gay – to literally anyone who would listen. It wasn't that Jean was extremely introverted, but he did like to have a few secrets. Being acquainted with Reiner made that almost impossible. Jean simmered, just below his skin, trying to keep his eyes to himself to keep Reiner from teasing him about blushing. Again.
“Well, if you change your mind, let me know. I think I'm gonna have Bert bunk over with me every other weekend, so you’ll have more than a few chances.”
“Every other weekend?” Jean asked, before he could stop himself. Reiner nodded enthusiastically; Bertholdt swallowed and scratched at the back of his neck.
“Assuming that's alright with you.” He looked back at Jean anxiously. Jean nodded, affixing a smile to his face that he hoped was convincing.
“Oh yeah, yeah, man. No problem.” After all, it couldn't get much worse than their first visit there had been. Jean could just avoid them the next time, stay out of their way and hopefully out of earshot of their ridiculously drippy sweet talk. “Besides,” he added, “It's Reiner’s apartment. I'm just staying here.”
Reiner bumped his shoulder against Bert’s. “Told you Jean was a good dude.” They resumed talking, voices low despite it seeming like they were only discussing their day, and Jean was once again left feeling like he was peeking through a window that he shouldn't have been looking through.
He gathered his things and headed to his room, and hoped that Bert wouldn't spend the night. Unfortunately though, he did, and that was the night Jean learned just how thin the walls between the bedrooms were in their apartment, and how little Reiner apparently needed to sleep.
With two weeks until Bertholdt’s next visit, Jean immediately started planning for how to get away from the noise, next time.
Jean’s major problem with finding an escape route from listening to another evening of sappy babbling and long night of squeaking bed frames was the fact that he was fairly isolated there in town.
He only had a handful of friends there, mostly people he'd met through work and through Reiner, and most of them wouldn't have space for him to crash overnight, even if he'd wanted to. His family were all at least a two hour drive away, a bit much for a one night trip in the name of awkward avoidance. So Jean settled for the best option he had, which was to lay the details of the situation out for his coworker at the local news outlet and sort-of, kind-of friend, Eren. He was an asshole, but he also lived alone, and was almost as painfully boring and single as Jean.
“So you just need a place to crash for the night while they're holed up, doin’ it?” Eren asked in response to Jean’s explanation, stacking printouts and notes that would be a blog post by that evening. Jean nodded.
“That's about the size of it.” He picked up a paperweight on Eren’s desk, a small, glass figure of some kind of long-haired monster that Jean turned over and over in his hands as he sighed. “I don't mind ‘em man, I really don't. And it's his place, but God, they're so damned loud. Like I could hear the shit they were saying while they were goin’ at it.”
“Gross,” Eren laughed, and Jean nodded, dropping his chin into his open palm as he flopped down onto Eren’s desk.
“So you free this next weekend?” He asked, hoping the implications were already clear; he wasn't looking for a date – he was looking to avoid overhearing someone else’s.
Eren shrugged and nodded. “Sure. But you'd better bring some food or something. Can't let you leech off my couch for free.”
“Wouldn't dream of it,” Jean smirked, and replaced the paperweight as he stood from Eren’s desk, knocking over a haphazardly stacked mountain of sticky notes in the process. Eren plucked one of the pads of stationary from the floor and chucked it after him, but Jean dodged it, out the door before Eren could get angry enough to take back his invitation.
At least the coming weekend would be a little bit less of a disaster.
It turned out that ‘a little bit’ was a pretty accurate unit of measure. Crashing with Eren was more trouble than it was worth.
Eren lived in a small studio apartment, a tight squeeze with barely enough room for one person to be comfortable. With Jean joining him, they were almost tripping over each other if they so much as moved. Add to that the strange, slightly chemical smell emanating from Eren’s excuse for a couch, and Jean was wholly uncomfortable, even before trying to rest.
Sleeping there was an even bigger train wreck.
Eren had no spare blankets, only one slim, disgusting-looking extra pillow, and his couch almost made sleeping on the floor seem appealing – or it would have, if the floor had been vacuumed sometime in the past six years. In the open air of the small space, Jean could hear every sound Eren made in his sleep, though most of those sounds were his buzz saw-like snoring. By the time Jean realized he wasn't going to be getting any sleep that night, the sun was beginning to peek around the corners of Eren’s single, shaded window.
Jean thanked him all the same, too tired to take a swing at him about what an absolute nightmare it had been, staying there. Heading back to the more spacious apartment he shared with Reiner, he almost convinced himself that it wasn't worth the hassle to try to come up with another place to escape to during Bert’s next visit. But then he walked through the front door and found them, mostly naked and sprawled out on the couch together, still asleep.
He made note to himself to never sit on the couch again, and quietly padded past them to head to his own bed, hoping to catch enough sleep to think clearly again later that day.
There was something about Bertholdt that made Jean almost feel guilty about resenting his presence in the apartment.
He was a really nice guy, and – when Bert wasn't balancing a very attention-hungry Reiner on his lap – Jean actually enjoyed talking to him. It was a shame that he couldn't spend more time getting to know him outside of ‘the guy who Reiner seemed to be surgically attached to at the neck’. But all the two of them seemed to do when Bert was visiting was make out and not-so-covertly grind in each other’s laps, until night fell and they locked themselves away in Reiner’s bedroom to have poorly concealed, extremely vocal sex.
Jean really wanted to like Bert more than he did. But every time he saw his face, he knew it wouldn't be long before he would have to deal with an obscene amount of PDA all over the apartment. There was no escaping it.
But Jean tried.
Mostly, he stayed gone, finding things to do and errands to run whenever Bertholdt was due to visit. Despite Reiner’s persistent asking, he never once entertained the idea of accompanying them out, even less thrilled with the idea of purposefully filling the role of third wheel. Instead, he did his own thing, lingering in stores, stopping for dinner – anything he could do to stay busy and stay out of their way.
Eventually, though, he would have to sleep. He couldn't reasonably spend every other weekend pulling all-nighters, though it was something he briefly considered in his desperation. Something he gave more serious thought to was the idea of sleeping in his car. The third weekend that Bertholdt came to stay, Jean hauled a bag full of bed clothes out to his car and set up camp in the apartment complex parking lot. He made it all of three hours there before he decided that almost anywhere else would be a better option for his spine.
Ultimately, he settled on one of the three long couches in the lobby of the complex. The staff that worked the front desk were usually gone by nightfall, so Jean met no resistance in setting up his things there in the foyer. Very few people walked the halls after midnight, so he figured anyone that might do so would have no trouble ignoring him there.
He pulled his tablet from his bag and propped it on his drawn-up knees, tapping the time away as the minutes rolled by. Wrapped up in what he was doing and not much in the mood to socialize, he was caught off guard by a gentle tap at his shoulder. He tugged his headphones from his ears and looked up to see a man standing over him, grocery bag in hand and a worried expression on his face.
“Are you alright?”
Jean blinked back at him. He wondered if maybe they knew each other somehow, and Jean was just forgetting exactly how. The other man certainly looked familiar, but Jean couldn't place where he'd seen him before, nor did he fully understand why a complete stranger would ask him how he was doing in the middle of the night. Still, he nodded automatically, stammering through a quick response.
“Y-yeah, yeah, I'm good. I'm just… killin’ some time, w-waiting on somebody to leave.”
He winced at the words as they left his mouth, feeling the skin of his face prickle with heat. Saying it like that made his reason for being there seem a lot harsher than he'd meant it to. But the other man nodded like he understood, and his expression softened, just a little.
“Is everything alright, though? Do you need anything, maybe some company?” He dug a hand into the grocery bag beneath his opposite arm and pulled a massive bag of chips out of it. “I’ve got snacks.”
His smile was absurdly charming, and despite the fact that Jean really didn't want to entertain anyone else, something about the genuine graciousness in his voice made his offer hard to turn down. Jean shrugged, motioning toward one of the other couches, willing his skin to cool off before the stranger could catch sight of his flush.
“If you've got time to waste, I won't stop you.”
“Alright, great.” The other man settled onto the second couch with a flop, tearing into the bag of snacks and setting it, opened, between himself and Jean. “My name is Marco, by the way. I live in 206.”
“That’s right above me!” Jean said with a start, and he realized he'd seen Marco at least a few times in the elevators or stairwell. “Are, uh… Are you the guy that always sings in the shower?”
“Guilty as charged,” Marco grinned, and Jean could almost match his voice to the one he often overheard, a faint song drifting down from the floor above in the mornings while he readied for work. It matched the sweetness of his other features, a warm smile, shiny, dark brown eyes and hair, and skin dusted with freckles that framed it all to make him look every bit a Boy Scout. A really cute Boy Scout. Jean swallowed; Marco smiled wider. “Any requests for next time?”
“Anything you've got lined up is better than listening to my roommate,” Jean groaned, changing the subject to keep from meditating on how attractive Marco was. “I'd listen to you sing nursery rhymes before I'd sit through another night of that.”
“Your roommate?” Marco asked, polite but curious. Jean plucked the bag from the space between them, snatched a handful of chips out of it, and settled in to unload his grievances on poor Marco.
To his surprise, Marco didn't even get uncomfortable, listening to him complain about Reiner and Bert. He tried to make a point that his discomfort had nothing to do with their sexualities, or with them, as people. But he figured the gruesome details of having to hear Reiner talk about how ‘colossal’ Bertholdt was – even through several feet of wall – would scare Marco away from the conversation. Marco didn't even flinch, though.
“I'm sorry,” he offered, cracking open an energy drink from his bag and offering one to Jean. “Makes me kind of glad I live alone, to be honest.”
“I'd like to,” Jean admitted, “But I've still gotta get my feet under me before I have the cash to get my own place. Newspaper doesn't pay much.”
“Makes sense.” Marco kicked off his shoes and crossed his legs. “You mind if I hang out and keep you company while you're out here, tonight?”
Jean smacked at the couch cushion beside him, reaching for his phone and hissing when he saw the time. “Ah, you don't have to, man. It's already after two in the morning. I'm alright.”
“I really don't mind,” Marco assured him. “And besides, I've got nothing else gong on. Might as well.”
“If you say so.” Jean conceded, but he didn't bother saying aloud that he was actually pretty damned happy to have someone to pass the time with.
As it turned out, Jean didn't get any more sleep, spending time in the lobby than he had when he'd spent the night with Eren. He made sure to stuff his blankets back into his bag before the staff returned for the day, to make it look like he hadn't been intending on sleeping there. The day started so early that he didn't even have time to think about sneaking in a nap before his stomach was growling for breakfast. But he didn't feel like he'd missed much.
Talking to Marco was actually fun, even though he'd sacrificed sleep to do it. Marco was interested in whatever Jean had to say, and despite feeling like he would combust under his attentive gaze, Jean didn't hold back. They talked about him being new to the area, about his job and his photography, and Marco followed with genuine intrigue. He seemed a little more tired than Jean felt, that next morning. But he offered to take them both to grab something for breakfast, and they continued their conversation right where they'd left off in the lobby, laughing over pastries and coffee with too much sugar.
The few times that Jean had encountered Marco before that night, he'd taken note of how cheerful he was. Marco always seemed to be smiling, and living below him, you could almost feel his positive energy, leaking down through the floorboards of the unit he lived in, seeping through the vents and pipes in the form of his voice as he sang happy melodies. Up close, in the unhurried pace of actual, friendly conversation, Marco was even more charming – and really good-looking. Jean tried not to think about the latter fact, too much. He didn't want to risk making things awkward by harboring an obvious crush on his neighbor and new friend, but he did find himself hoping for more chances to see Marco face to face in the future.
When Jean finally returned to his own bed, Bert and Reiner had both left for the day, and he had the place to himself for a while to catch up on some of the sleep he'd lost. Instead, he found himself poking around Facebook, wondering what Marco’s last name was, and what his chances of finding his page were. When he finally passed out from exhaustion, it was with his laptop still in his lap, and a smile on his face.
In the following two weeks, Jean seemed to see Marco everywhere.
Maybe he was just more aware of his presence. After all, it was probably completely normal for the two of them to run into each other a lot, given that they lived in the same town, the same building. But every time he caught sight of Marco at the grocery store, in line at the bank or walking the halls of their complex, he felt heat rise to his cheeks and a flustered smile pull at his lips. He waved like an idiot every time, infinitely grateful that Marco didn't see him for the socially clumsy fool he felt like. Marco would cheerfully return his greeting, and Jean would feel the burn in his cheeks spread down his neck and linger for hours.
When it was time for another visit from Bertholdt, Reiner stepped up his efforts in asking Jean to join the two of them that evening at a local club. Jean was more firm in his refusal than ever, insisting that he had his own plans. He only hoped Reiner and Bert wouldn't see just what those plans were, see him camped out in the complex lobby again, hoping to run into another tenant. Maybe Marco would meet him there, again.
It was worth a shot.
When midnight came and went, Jean started to feel increasingly ridiculous, sitting on a couch in a semi-public breezeway, hoping a person he barely knew would opt to come spend their Friday night with him there. He began to pack up his things, slinging them into a bag to haul back up to his and Reiner’s apartment, and wondering if he could make himself fall asleep quickly enough to block out the noises Bert and Reiner would make upon returning – and to forget his embarrassment at how much time he'd wasted, waiting on someone he'd never even bothered inviting there.
But the door to the lobby chimed, and Jean’s eyes flickered up to it for a moment, just in time to meet a smiling face. Marco made his way over without hesitation, but he hovered for a moment before taking a seat.
“Same thing as last time?” He asked, and Jean felt his blush flare up at the fact that he would be lying if he said yes. He shook his head.
“Oh?” Marco blinked at him, his expression beginning to set with worry. Jean shook,his head again.
“No. It's nothing – they went out, this time. I guess I could be up there, trying to pass out before they get home, but…” He willed his voice to remain steady, not to stutter through the rest of his explanation. “I had a pretty good time down here, last time. So. Yeah. Here I am.”
Marco grinned. “Well, I guess I'm glad I usually hit the supermarket after hours on the weekend, then.”
“Me too,” Jean replied, and tried to pretend he wasn't melting. Marco didn't seem to notice. He just offered Jean some snacks, and settled next to him – on the same couch with him, this time – and they talked like old friends.
By the time Reiner and Bertholdt dragged themselves back in, the night was fading, but Jean and Marco were still talking, Jean waving at the others as they passed.
“You know, if you're looking for a little more comfortable place to crash when he has his boyfriend over, you could always come hang out at my place.” Marco suggested, as they split a massive cinnamon roll over breakfast that morning. “It's just upstairs, and no one would bother you there. I mean, if you're not comfortable with that, I--”
“No, no, I am!” Jean insisted, and immediately slapped a hand over his own face, kneading at his temples with frustrated embarrassment. “I mean… Sorry, it's just. It's a lot better than what I've been doin’, y’know?”
“That's the idea.” Marco smiled. Jean nodded.
“I'll do that, then. Next time. If you're sure it's okay.”
Marco nodded, grinning. “Of course it is! I'll just go to the store at a halfway decent hour and have snacks on hand before you get there.”
Jean grinned down at his cup of coffee, the steam cool against his fevered face as it rose.
Taking Marco up on his offer was way more nerve-wracking than it should've been.
Jean found himself standing in an elevator on a Friday night, feeling like he was going on a first date. He wasn't; it was nothing like that. But he still felt an anxious flutter in his stomach as he waited outside Marco’s door, listening for an answer to his knock.
Marco greeted him with a smile from behind the half-opened door, and threw an arm around him to pull him inside. Jean felt the stomach flutter break into a momentary riot as Marco led him in, waving in the direction of a spare bedroom. Jean exhaled sharply, relieved; he wouldn't have to spend the night, cramped up on a couch. Marco patted his shoulder, slipping his arm away and disappearing for a moment to retrieve refreshments. Jean took a moment to take in his surroundings and just breathe.
They had as good a time as Jean had hoped, and in some ways it was even better. Marco was the type of person who was extremely comfortable in his own space, and he made Jean feel that same comfort, even if his proximity did leave Jean’s stomach dancing. They watched movies that they did more laughing at than actually watching, and ate more junk food than was probably medically advisable. Marco asked to see some of Jean’s work, and the two of them ended up scrolling through months of his portfolio, whiling away a solid hour talking about pictures. Their caffeine high kept them awake until nearly three in the morning, but as Jean piled his own things into the extra bed Marco had offered him for the night, there was a different kind of high, keeping him from settling down to sleep.
Marco was so much fun. So easy to be around. And Jean was actually looking forward to the next time Reiner had company.
What started with very platonic intentions soon veered into other territory.
With a sort of standing ‘date’, every other weekend, Jean and Marco traded phone numbers, added each other on social media, and made a habit of running into each other with greater frequency. They saw each other more than twice a month, but those nights were still Jean’s favorites. He almost wished he could spend every weekend with Marco, but that bordered on making him the kind of annoyance he was trying to avoid. And the last thing he wanted to do was annoy Marco.
It became painfully obvious very quickly that Marco was a little more interesting to Jean than the rest of his social circle. He had good friends in several cities, and people he liked to hang out with after work, but no one held his attention like Marco effortlessly did. Jean didn't like using words like ‘crush’; he was a grown-ass man, not a junior high schooler. But Marco made him feel that same fumbling, stuttering, blushing exhilaration he hadn't felt about another person since he still had bad hair and braces, and he tried not to think about just how applicable that word had become.
That definitely wasn't the kind of thing he talked about, though. Especially with Marco, himself. Jean could barely carry on a regular conversation with him without flustering. He knew he'd never make it through something like that without tripping over his words.
Besides, he wasn't even sure if Marco was single. He never mentioned a girlfriend or a boyfriend, but Jean couldn't imagine someone like him not having a significant other. There wasn't a way to ask that wasn't terribly awkward, either. So Jean just kept his curiosity – among other things – to himself.
“So you have a girlfriend? Boyfriend?”
It was Marco, asking Jean that question as they sat, stretched out across his living room floor one Friday evening. His tone made it sound like the most natural thing in the world to be talking about; Jean tried to match his casualness.
“Uh, no. Nobody.” He swallowed, gnawing on his lip for a moment before adding, less gracefully, “I prefer boyfriends, personally.”
“I'm fine with either,” Marco said with a smile. Jean inhaled slowly, deliberately keeping his keel even.
“You dating anybody right now?”
Marco shook his head, and Jean let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. Marco smiled a little wider, threading his fingers behind his head.
“I've been single for a while now. Just… waiting, I guess.”
“Waiting?” Jean asked. Marco shrugged.
“For the right person. Doesn't seem to be a whole lot of interested parties in this town, though.” He chuckled, but Jean frowned back at him.
“I doubt that.”
Marco shrugged again, letting his hands drop to his side as he pulled his legs in to cross them. “Eh, I don't know. I could probably find somebody if I went looking. Maybe sometime.”
“Maybe,” Jean agreed, but the usual fluttering in his stomach had turned to a sour swirl, and he changed the topic before it could get any worse.
That night, curling up in the borrowed bed in Marco’s guest room, Jean wondered exactly what Marco was looking for in ‘the right person’. He wondered if – whatever it was – he might have it in himself. But more than anything, he wondered if he would be able to work up the nerve to tell Marco that he wanted a chance to find out, before it was too late.
Jean spent way more time than he really even had to spare, thinking about the next time he'd be staying overnight with Marco.
Once he realized that he really wanted to ask Marco out, all he could think about was how to do it properly. Planning was everything to Jean, the only way he could keep his nerves at bay. So he thought about every possible scenario, everything he could say or do that might convince the guy who had quickly become his closest friend to consider letting the two of them become even more.
In the end, all of his careful thought didn't amount to much. He arrived at Marco’s door the next Friday, ready to make some kind of epic, romantic move, to try and sweep him off his feet – and ended up literally tripping on his own feet as he walked in, landing face-down on the living room floor, groaning more with embarrassment than at the slight sting of his rug-burnt face.
Marco was beside him immediately, helping him up and dusting Jim off, checking him for any sign of injury before finally cracking a smile. Jean twisted his mouth and tried to pretend he wasn't dying inside, his face on fire under Marco’s bemused gaze.
“What was that about?” Marco laughed. Jean frowned.
“Shut up!” He groused. “I wouldn't laugh at you if you wiped out in the middle of my living room.”
“I think you would,” Marco snorted, leaning forward to press his forehead against Jean’s. Jean’s eyes went wide at the tenderness of his touch, but Marco seemed unfazed. “I mean, I kinda hope you would, honestly.”
Jean blinked back at him for a moment, the fluttering in his stomach at an all-time high as he finally let himself smile, catching the contagion of Marco’s grin. “Maybe a little.”
“Just a little?” Marco teased. Jean shrugged one shoulder, smiling wider.
“How bad of a wipeout are we talkin’?”
“Probably not as bad as yours, just now,” Marco replied. “That was Olympic.”
“You're an asshole.” Jean said it through a grin, nudging his shoulder hard against Marco’s arm, and wringing another beautiful peal of laughter out of him. Marco bumped back against Jean’s shoulder, sighing as he caught his breath.
“You’re so cute when you're pissed off.”
Jean could tell by the way Marco’s face fell that he must've had some kind of look of panic on his face. He tried to say something, but his mouth wouldn't work. All he could do was stare at Marco, waiting.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to be weird.” Marco scooted back, moved to sit across from Jean rather than beside him, looking at him head on. “I, uh. I probably should've told you this some other way, but – I kinda like you, Jean. Like... you know. I kinda really like you.”
Jean sucked in a sharp breath, like he'd been stung by the blow of Marco’s words. “You… Really?!”
“Yeah, really.” Marco smiled, though the edges of it were jagged with nervousness. “I guess it's kind of weird, me having you over to stay so much. But that's why I didn't tell you. I didn't want things to get weird, and. Yeah. Now they probably are.”
Jean stared at him. He knew his face was probably beet red, but more than just drowning in his own embarrassment, he was angry. With himself, with the situation? He wasn't sure. He groaned, cracking his knuckles to give his hands something to do other than punch the floor.
“I can't believe this! I had this whole thing planned out, and – God, I seriously--”
“Jean?” Marco stared at him, obviously uncomfortable. Jean dragged a hand down his face, shaking his head apologetically.
“I like you, too,” he blurted out, “Like… the same way. I like you, and I was gonna try to tell you that tonight, but then I fell on my damned face and looked like a moron and I didn't wanna make this weird.”
Marco cracked a small smile. “Well, now it's weird, anyway. So might as well.”
“I guess so.” Jean took a deep breath, confident at last that at least he wouldn't make a bigger mess of the evening than they already had, together. “I really like you, Marco. You're seriously one of the best people I've ever met, and I wanna keep spending the weekends with you and having breakfast and watching stupid movies and texting each other memes and shit, but I also wanna take you somewhere nice and dress up and spend way too much money on you and…” He trailed off, trying to catch his breath as Marco’s widening smile threatened to rob him of it completely. “I wanna kiss you, Marco. Can… Can I do that?”
“Even after I laughed at you, you still wanna kiss me?” Marco chuckled. Jean nodded, finally smiling, himself.
“I'd expect you to do the same for me.”
Marco nodded. “I hope to meet your expectations, then.” He leaned forward, halfway to where Jean sat, waiting with a satisfied smirk on his face. Jean closed the space between them and kissed it away, and the next time he bothered to look away from Marco’s gorgeous face, the sun was beginning to spill into the room through the wide double window.
For many weeks after that, the two of them argued as to what their first date truly was. Marco thought it was that evening, laughing between breathless kisses in the living room floor of his apartment, but Jean thought it was the following Friday, when he moved his things from the guest bed to Marco’s bed, even though Reiner wasn't entertaining guests that weekend at all. Either way, every Friday became their day, losing sleep but finding each other through soft, lingering touches and whispers between kisses.
When Jean finally secured a promotion, he had everything in order to finally move out of Reiner’s apartment, and even offered to help move Bertholdt in, since it was obvious that they’d been hoping for that arrangement for a while. When he mentioned moving to Marco, Marco tutted about the money Jean would be losing, paying full price for rent somewhere else, when he could be saving for bigger things. His motivations were pretty transparent, but Jean didn't bother teasing him about it.
As the lease came due for renewal, Jean signed his name beside Marco’s, and moved his things up one floor, to listen to his boyfriend’s shower serenades, firsthand. Jean had a beautiful portfolio of work under his belt, but some of his favorite photographs he'd ever taken were the ones snapped in those early days, sharing space with Marco. Documentation of starting a life with the person who made his better, every day; they were pictures that replaced words, still not enough to describe just how happy he was.
But those photographs, he kept for himself.