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Something of an Accident

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Homecoming is next week and their new English teacher, a Ms. Petra Ral, decides now would be a good time for cultivating classroom harmony. A joint presentation with random pairs is not Eren's idea of fun, but it's okay because he's paired with Bertholdt, who's really good at English. Mikasa's with Krista, who's practically an angel, so that's okay too, but Armin, poor Armin, is stuck with Jean Kirstein, resident asshole. Eren has vowed a long time ago to protect his friends but no matter how much he begs or whines, Ms. Ral won't change the groups.

"I appreciate the effort, but it's fine. Really!" Armin tries to reassure him, rolling his pencil back and forth on his desk, seemingly unaffected. He is way too cool about this, Eren thinks, gritting his teeth at his friend's words.

"Jean's really not that bad once you get to know him."

"And just exactly have you been 'getting to know him'?" He asks, eyes narrowed suspiciously and the blond just laughs.

"We talk sometimes since we're next to each other in chemistry and math. You do know we've been going to the same school since 5th grade, right? He's funny."

The brunette shakes his head violently. "No. No, Jean is not funny."

---

Armin doesn't tell Eren but maybe he's got the teeniest tiniest crush on Jean. He's smart, funny, good-looking, athletic, and kind. Most of the time. There's something about his eyes that make him sigh a little, something about his smile that pulls at him, something about the way he says his name that just makes him melt. And maybe it's a little more than teeny tiny since it's been persisting like a bad itch since freshman year. So when Jean texts him asking to meet at the library for their project, he nearly jumps out of his skin before he has to remind himself that this is for a mandatory homework assignment and Jean's only doing this because he has to. Still, it doesn't keep him from agonizing over his outfit for the hour leading up to their meeting time. Discussing The Great Gatsby is difficult when he's so thoroughly distracted. Nick's problems can wait. Jean has nice hands, he finds himself thinking as the brunette outlines their main topics, staring just a little, and he blushes when he feels a gentle tap on his forehead.

"Sorry," he mumbles quickly and the other just laughs, handing him a pencil. Jean has a nice laugh, one that makes him feel comfortable. He feels his heart stop a little bit then smiles back quickly before ducking his head, willing himself not to blush because he's most definitely not falling in love with the star quarterback of Rose High.

---

Still, it hurts when he sees him dancing with one of the cheerleaders at the homecoming dance, sneaking out the back door with their hands entertwined.

---

It's the fourth quarter and they're just one touchdown away from winning the state championship but Connie is a far better wide receiver than he is a quarterback. He fumbles and they haven't gotten a first down yet. Jean is watching the field with a desperate look in his eyes and Armin can't help but sigh as he makes his way to the brunette and begins taping up his knee.

"Armin, what?" He splutters, nearly jerking his leg away in surprise. Armin keeps his eyes focused on the bandages.

"I wouldn't do anything too crazy and I can't make any promises, but this should give you a few minutes," he says quietly and the smile that lights up on Jean's face makes his heart do sommersaults.

"You're amazing," the other breathes and Armin talks Coach Smith into subbing him in for the last five minutes. He can barely stand to watch, clutching at his hands until his knuckles turn white because this could have been an awful decision, the absolute worst, but Jean's got that determined expression that just dares fate to disagree. And when they win, Jean pushes his way off of the field toward the blond and pulls him into a crushing hug. He smells like sweat, grass, spearmint, and Jean. Armin smiles into his shirt, cheeks flushed, and whispers a congratulations in his ear. Hopefully, Eren is too preoccupied with the trophy to pull them apart.

---

The next week is a blur of interviews and school assemblies and the whole state now knows the name of Rose High.

Party at Ymir's tonight! You need a ride?

Armin shows up fashionably late, thanks to a flat tire and Eren's refusal to call Mikasa for help (something about male pride), tugging nervously at the collar of his tshirt. Sasha shoves a red cup into his hands, a dark liquid sloshing over the side, and he stares at it for a moment before draining the contents. After all, he's thirsty and everybody knows by now he's not that good with alcohol. He follows his friend into the living room where he discusses politics with Bertholdt over some chips and dip (he hadn't even known there was a vice-vice president) before wandering into a back room.

"Dude, what did you give him?"

"I just gave him what everybody else was drinking."

"That was fast," he hears soft discussion above him and the sound of shushing, but he's pressed up against a warm body, arm wrapped around his waist, and nothing really matters. It's comfortable. He can hear a soft heartbeat and wonders why his cheeks feel like they're burning. He wakes up the next morning on an unfamiliar couch with a headache and a jacket thrown on him, legs tangled with a certain brunette. From this angle, he can see mused short hair and a smear of lipstick. It feels like his chest is being squeezed and his cheeks still feel hot.

On Monday, Eren and Mikasa corner him at lunch and he looks up apprehensively at his childhood friends.

"So," Eren starts by staring unwaveringly into blue eyes. "What is up with you and the horse? You two have been awfully chummy lately."

Armin chokes on his egg salad, hastily wiping at his mouth. "Nothing is going on between me and Jean. He has a name, Eren. It would be nice of you to use it."

He receives a suspicious glare for his response and shrugs, returning to his carrot sticks which he crunches loudly, hoping Eren will get the hint. He doesn't. "I already told you. He's really not that bad."

"I saw you sleeping with him at the pa-" Eren begins but he's cut off by the sound of a water bottle being placed onto a table with much more force than necessary. Armin's cheeks are blotched with red. "A-Armin?"

"Eren. Mikasa. I'm serious. There's nothing going on." His voice is oddly strangled and high-pitched, his eyes look slightly lost and they drop the issue. For the time being.

---

"This movie is stupid," Connie whispers not-so-quietly and Sasha giggles. Somebody, most likely Ymir, throws popcorn at them. "I mean, did you just see that? Stupid."

Armin sneaks a glance at Jean, who's watching the television intently, the tips of his ears red, and he hides a smile because he knows who picked tonight's movie. When it's over and Eren complains loudly about what a waste of two hours that way, the blond shrugs and casually comments. "It was alright. I liked it."

"You did?" Jean asks eagerly with that stupid lopsided grin and he's got butterflies.

"Of course he didn't, asshole," Eren snarls, pushing his way between the two. "Come on, what else is on Netflix?"

---

One day, when Eren and Mikasa are out of school for dentist appointments, Jean offers him a ride home and Armin tentatively agrees, unable to stop the smile that spreads across his face when he takes a seat in a beat up red Chevy. The brunette gets them hopelessly lost and they're both hungry so he pulls into a McDonalds up ahead and orders burgers. They talk about TV shows and favourite foods and the radio plays softly in the background. Armin licks the salt off his fingers and laughs when the other finally pulls out his phone to search for directions because what city is this, even?

It's dark by the time Jean finally drops him off at home and he gets out, wondering if he should say something. "I had fun tonight," tumbles out of his mouth before he can stop it and Jean smiles back. "Me too."

It's not a date, it's not a date, he tells himself over and over as he skips up the stairs two at a time to his room. He falls onto his bed, clutching his pillow to his chest and buries his face in it as he inhales deeply. It's a school night, so he should sleep soon, but he can't bring himself to care. Armin grins widely, squeezing his arms around himself and it feels like his heart's about to burst. It's not a date.

---

Sometimes, Eren catches Jean looking at Armin funny in class and he wonders if he needs to intervene (with his fists) before something, he doesn't know what, happens.

---

With winter break only a few days away, there's suddenly a flurry of last minute projects and holiday plans. Armin sips a peppermint latte while listening to Eren and Connie argue, feeling just the slightest bit sentimental as snow begins to fall in gentle flurries from the grey heavens. "Look, it's snowing."

Eren breaks into a large grin. "Finally," he exhales. "I was thinking we wouldn't get a white Christmas this year."

"You're not even religious," Mikasa notes, dropping her bag and joining them by the window. "We don't celebrate Christmas."

"We still get gifts though, right? Wait, Mikasa, did you not get me a gift this year?!"

They're bickering when Armin notices Jean watching them (him?), and he fights a blush as he smiles a little, beckoning him over. Jean pulls up a chair and puts his elbows on his desk. "Hey."

"Hey." He pauses for a moment, just looking at the blond. "You know, I was thinki-"

"What are you even doing here? Your seat is on the other side of the classroom." Eren interrupts just as Mr. Zacharius walks in, sniffing the air intently as always.

"I'll catch you later," Jean mumbles, shooting a glare at Eren as he returns to his seat. It's hard to pay attention and the blond breathes a small sigh of relief when the bell finally rings. His latte is cold.

---

They bump into each other, literally, outside the mall on Christmas Eve and Armin nearly drops the packages he's holding.

"Last minute shopping?" Jean asks, pointing at the wrapped boxes and the blond just nods. He holds up a bag of his own. "Me too. Mum kept on complaining about how all I got her last year was a spatula, so thought I'd step it up this year."

Armin laughs and somehow they end up getting coffee together. They wander the streets for a while, admiring the lights and decorations, chatting offhandedly.

"Well, my car's here," Armin says somewhat reluctantly, and then Jean is close, really close. He squeezes his eyes shut, tensing slightly, but then a cold hand brushes at his cheek. He slowly opens his eyes and looks up at the other.

"Sorry. You had an eyelash."

A nod is all he can manage, trying his best not to look too disappointed. What had he been expecting anyway? He shifts the boxes in his arms. "Well, I-I'll see you around then."

Jean nods and walks away, pausing to shout a Merry Christmas over his shoulder before he's gone and Armin sits in his car with the engine off for a long time.

---

It's a new year but nothing seems new. It's the same old grey sky Armin stares at as he sips his Earl Grey and rereads an old favourite. He turns the pages slowly and stretches out a little. The house is quiet save for the occasional creak of aged floorboards and he keeps an eye on his phone even though he's not exactly expecting anything. He's probably waiting in vain. He should give it up. After all, the new year is a time to start over.

That night, he dreams of warm, gentle hands and soft lips that claim him. A familiar voice whispers his name over and over again and he tangles their fingers together. It makes his heart race, makes him forget everything. His chest feels tight. He wakes with a start, cheeks thoroughly flushed, and blames the romcom he watched last night. It's hard to look him in the eye when he walks into the classroom the next day and he lets his head fall onto his desk, ignoring the sounds of concern his friends make around him.

Winter is slow, cold, wet. It drags him down. Scraping off his car windshield is tiring and he's sick of gingerbread and cinnamon. Armin longs for spring, for warm weather and budding branches and birds. Time feels as if it's stuck in molasses and he spends more time staring out the window than listening to lecture.

---

Valentine's is next week and he fantasizes about confessing as he walks down the aisles of the local drugstore, surrounded by pink hearts and glitter. It's supposed to be romantic. He pauses for a moment, staring down at a box of chocolates wrapped in gold paper and almost buys it. He chastizes himself mentally on the way home, hands stuffed into his pockets. He's just being silly about this.

Krista brings everybody homemade heart-shaped cookies and Armin is munching on one thoughtfully when Jean practically throws himself into the seat next to his. "Hello?" He ventures, crumbs around his mouth. Jean takes one look at him, lets out a short laugh, and quickly swipes his thumb across his lips. He doesn't seem to notice the way Armin burns up at the gesture, instead leaning back in his chair and heaving a great sigh.

"You've got... A little something. All over your face." He pauses. "This is a shitty holiday."

He doesn't elaborate but the blond nods a little, offering a quizzical smile. Jean grunts, his face in his hands. "You know, I keep thinking I'm gonna spend this day with someone special but it's been 16 years."

Armin can't help but laugh a little. The blond fiddles his thumbs and wonders if he should have purchased those chocolates. "I never thought of you as a romantic. You were looking for that special someone ever since you were a baby?"

"You know what I mean," he says, grinning. "I'm waxing poetic here. Cut me some slack. Hey, you wanna come over tonight? Play some video games or something. I mean, only if you want to though." "Y-yes! I do!" Armin hopes he doesn't sound too eager but Jean doesn't seem to care.

---

After Jean beats him at some fighting game for the fourth time, he gives up, moaning as he flops back against the couch, nearly knocking over a soda. "I suck at video games."

Placing his controller to the side, Jean laughs as he grabs some chips from a nearby bowl and crunches them loudly. "Come on, it wasn't that bad. You almost got me the second time."

"Because your hand slipped," the blond growls, rolling over so that they were facing each other, a pout on his face. "Don't give me any of that pity crap."

Jean tries not to laugh and feeds him a chip as he changes the channel to a movie. He watches it for a moment, but the discovery of the pyramids isn't really all that interesting to him. "Hey."

"Hey," he replies, swallowing. "What's up?"

"You're a lot different than I thought you were," Jean admits. Armin doesn't know what to think about the statement so he stays quiet. The other looks like he's struggling with words and he leans forward a little so that their hands touch just slightly. He cocks his head, smiling in what he hopes is a reassuring manner. Jean tangles their fingers together and squeezes gently. "I don't get it."

"Don't get what?" His heart is racing at a thousand miles an hour and he hopes his palms aren't sweaty. He's never held someone's hand before, not like this, and Jean just makes him nervous in general. The brunette looks away, running his hand through his hair and he groans.

"I don't even know." It comes out as a whisper and he's shaking just a little bit, but so is Armin. He pulls them together, face buried in golden locks and they stay like that in silence. Armin raises his free hand and clutches Jean's sweatshirt desperately, hoping he can't hear his heart pounding. "I don't know, Armin."

---

He can't stop thinking about it, can still smell Jean's cologne, can still feel the way he trembled. They had held each other until past midnight, when Jean's mother had complained about how loud the television was and they had finally pulled away. It had been cold, so Jean loaned him a jacket before driving him home, hands still linked. He had wished him goodnight and let go. Armin's sprawled out on the floor, still in his borrowed jacket, wondering what to do now. His head is spinning and he's scared, because he wasn't ever supposed to fall this bad. It was only a little crush and now it's spiraled so far out of control he doesn't even know how he feels anymore, just knows that maybe, just maybe, he wants him.

---

When he sees him at school on Monday, he panics and hides behind the vending machines. He's clutching a plastic bag with a washed sweatshirt in it and wonders how he should face him. There are heavy circles under his eyes because he hasn't spent the weekend agonizing over what happened. Technically, nothing happened, but something happened, right? He doesn't know what to say, how to act, and everything's all messed up and wrong.

In the end, he chickens out and asks Reiner to deliver it to him. Who knew falling in love was so complicated?