So brutal when the words are on
The tip of your tongue,
So strange when your tired eyes won't
Shut your brain down.
Hold back the melancholy,
Hold back the fear, darling,
It's a crime. (Quiet the mind)
-IAMX (Quiet the mind)
dude where the fuck r u?
Will you just chill out, I’m almost there, my last class was all the way on the other side of campus!
Even though it may appear as though we were irritated with each other, judging from our messages, we really weren’t—just the opposite, actually. It was our way of saying that we were excited to see one another. In fact, I was wearing a grin that could have split my face in half as I sent that last text.
The weather that day fit the mood as well— bright and sunny, not a cloud in the sky. The walkways were littered with the first fallen leaves of fall, and they crunched under my shoes as I hurried along.
In case you couldn’t guess, I was on my way to meet up with Jean at that moment. He was waiting for me by the fountain on the south side of campus so that we could go to lunch, and I was running a little late…
This was only ever an issue on Fridays. For the previous two weeks, Monday through Thursday, we would head off to eat lunch together immediately after astronomy, so no waiting was ever involved. Fridays were obviously a different matter.
But yeah, after our first “sleepover weekend”, every weekend became “sleepover weekend”. We ate our lunches and dinners together, and evenings tended to be spent in the dorms, either his room or mine; a lot of the time Jean’s, since that’s where the video games were, but he sometimes wanted to get away from his roommates for a little while, so we’d go to my room instead and watch a movie or browse the internet and talk. The evenings spent at my dorm were always relaxing, and I loved how close to Jean they made me feel.
But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy going to Jean’s—quite the contrary, it was always a blast at his place!
Reiner and Bertholdt, two of his roommates, were really nice and a comfort to be around, even if I felt a little awkward, what with knowing too much about their nighttime activities and all. I also recognized Bertholdt as the guy that had moved out of my room, and although I had resented being alone in my room at first, I silently thanked him in my mind. After all, if he hadn’t moved out, I probably wouldn’t be able to have sleepover weekends with Jean (I also appreciated that Bertholdt moved in with Reiner, simply because it prevented their sexual activities from migrating over to my place if he had chosen to stay in Sina).
Reiner and Bertholdt sometimes had a friend over, a short blond girl with blue eyes and a hooked nose. She tended to wear a grey hoodie and a generally bored-yet-intimidating expression. I usually found her lounging in the sitting area with them, her eyes glued to her phone.
Connie on the other hand—well, he was Connie.
Jean, Connie and I would always play video games together, and it usually ended with a fight between the other two. Except for the days when Sasha was over, however: an energetic, food-loving, red-headed sophomore who was as quirky as she was hungry. The evenings when Sasha was present, the fight would be between her and Connie, with Jean and I tossing bets on who would throw the first punch; it was almost always Sasha. We didn’t blame her, considering that whenever we would bust out Connie’s N64, he would purposely select Rainbow Road on Mario Kart to piss us all off… we all hated that track. Whenever that happened, Connie was guaranteed three smacks in quick succession, one from each of us.
The nights spent in Maria with them were always noisy and eventful.
Clearly, Jean and I had become inseparable, and though neither of us had said it, we were both quite positive that we were each others’ best friend. There was no one in the world I felt more comfortable with.
So it was with immense excitement that I made my way to the fountain, not expecting anything out-of-the-ordinary to occur at all. Not that an “ordinary” had been established for me at that point, but still.
The fountain was only several yards away when I heard the drawling and sluggish voices.
“Heeey, cutie, where you headin’ off to?”
“You wanna join us for lunch?”
I turned to see a group of five or so guys of varying height and build at the edge of the walkway, standing in a loose circle. Curious, I slowed down, shuffling along until I could see that in the center, a tiny blond girl stood, clutching her bag to her chest as she stared up at the men warily.
“What’s the matter? Why so quiet?” one man asked.
I stopped, contemplating if I should intervene or not… I still wasn’t too sure what was going on there…
“N-no,” the girl said softly, looking down at her feet. “I just… have somewhere I need to be, so if you’ll excuse me-“ she bravely tried to nudge her way past them, but the men moved to block her path.
“Whatever it is, I’m sure it can wait, right?” one suggested, the rest throwing in a chorus of “yeah”s and “come hang with us”s.
I watched as the small blond’s shoulders began to tremor a bit, throwing her gaze around the circle as she desperately searched for a means of escape… but she was surrounded on all sides by a bunch of pushy guys.
Her line of sight fell on me, then, and I stiffened.
Wide blue eyes, a pleading frown… Yeah, yeah, I know. I gave her an almost imperceptible nod before taking a step toward the obnoxious group, and her expression melted from one of fear to one of hope. It was heartwarming.
“Hey, you guys,” I spoke up, “she just said she has somewhere she needs to be—could you just back off and leave her alone?” Five irritated sneers turned to me then, and I shouldered my way into their midst. “Surrounding a girl like this and trying to herd her away is really creepy, anyway,” I said, placing my arm around her shoulders in an attempt to discreetly lead her out of the circle.
“You know this girl?” one of the taller men snarled at me. My heart rate started to pick up at this point as I realized where this was going.
“Well, no, but—“
“Then just mind your own fucking business!”
There was a loud smacking sound and a squeak from the girl beside me as I felt the man’s fist collide with the center of my face, knuckles hitting the bridge of my nose and between my eyes. I reeled back, color exploding across my vision as I felt the numbing pain of his blow.
Ow, I thought, leaning forward and bringing a hand to my face, only to pull it away when something warm dribbled onto it. I looked down to find splotches of crimson blood on my palm.
The shady men were then closing in around us, jeering and laughing.
“Shit happens when you try to play the hero, huh?” said one, pushing me roughly from behind. The girl then decided to cling to the sleeve of my jacket as the guys got closer.
“Should’ve known you’d just get your ass kicked, man,” said another to the right, and he took a swing at me, but I blocked it with my only free arm, the other still in the tiny girl’s clutches, and one of the men took the opportunity to make a grab at her.
“H-hey!” I yelled, pulling her closer as another guy shoved at me, hot blood pouring profusely from my nose. I was in some really deep shit…
All of us froze. Collectively, we turned towards the fountain, in the direction of the feral scream, and-
“Jean!” I gasped, blood dribbling over my lips and flecking off them as I said his name.
Jean was actually sprinting towards us at full speed, announcing his arrival loudly with a battle cry that could only fit a personality as fiery as his.
Here we go, I thought, scooping the tiny blond up—she didn’t protest, as she was probably far too entranced with the mysterious lanky figure that was speeding in our direction and would arrive within the next 2.65 seconds. I had to act fast or she’d get caught in the middl-
“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” One guy stepped in front of me.
“Incoming,” I answered.
Jean burst into the circle with all the agility and force of a frenzied gruella fighter, dropkicking the tallest man in the chest and sending him toppling to the ground. The other four converged on him (he was standing on the guy he’d just dropkicked, I might add) and I quickly stepped away from the action, carrying the small girl to the nearest bench so that I could set her down and help Jean out.
“Who the hell are you!?”
A tall young woman with pulled-back brown hair and freckles stopped me, appearing in front of me all of the sudden and shoving a pointed finger into my sternum accusingly.
“I-I’m Marco, but-“
“Marco, just where do you think you’re going with my girlfriend?”
I stiffened, eyes flitting from the woman in front of me to the blond in my arms and back up again. The shouts behind me were getting louder, and I wanted so very much to just turn around and see what was going on. I hoped Jean wasn’t getting his ass kicked, and the thought occurred to me that Oh god, he’s outnumbered he probably is!
“Ymir!” the little blond said delightfully, squirming in my hold. “He helped me! I was surrounded, and these guys wouldn’t leave me alone, but he-!”
A shout that was unmistakably Jean’s almost made me drop the chick.
The woman called Ymir peered around us at the brawl that was most definitely happening. “Those the guys?” she asked, and we both nodded in unison.
“I’ll be back,” she said, stepping forward. She stopped next to me though, and grabbed my shoulder roughly. “Don’t go anywhere, Marco, I’m not done with you yet.”
I spun around to watch Ymir leap into battle, where two guys were holding Jean while the rest beat on him relentlessly. Her long legs swung up to kick one guy upside the head.
“Your girlfriend is kind of a badass,” I said.
The little blond blushed cutely, and I set her down on the nearest bench. And I was about to turn and join the fight as well, but she grabbed my arm again.
“Wait! You’re bleeding!” she said, tugging at my sleeve and motioning for me to sit next to her.
“Oh, but my friend-“
It was Connie this time, stopping in his tracks at the sight of the blood dripping off my chin, and I was quietly contemplating the number of uncanny coincidences occurring that day when he said, “What the hell is going on!?”
I didn’t have to say anything; the sounds of Jean and Ymir and the five men behind us caught his attention immediately, and as I turned to look, I found that they’d already attracted a sizable crowd of spectators.
“Jean’s gotten into another fight, eh?” Connie said, snapping a picture of the scene with his phone.
“Hey! What are you doing!?” I asked, bewildered.
“Requesting backup,” he almost sighed, exasperation crawling into his voice while his thumbs franticly tapped at the touch screen of his cellular device. He locked his phone then and handed it to me.
“Watch that for me, will ya?” he said, proceeding to then run headlong into what was now a flurry of struggling limbs, punching and kicking and shoving what they could. It looked as though two of the guys were beating the crap out of each other, not realizing that they were on the same side…
Connie got smacked upside the head the second he got close. It figured.
Where the hell is public safety when you need it!? I thought.
“Come here,” said the tiny blond, her voice soft and soothing. She pulled me down onto the bench next to her, and I reluctantly obeyed.
“Thank you so much for helping me,” she said, digging through her bag. “You’re really kind.”
“O-oh, no problem,” I said. Actually, big problem, I thought, listening as Jean shouted something foul at Connie.
The girl then pulled out an unopened pack of Kleenex, ripping them open and extracting one. She used it to wipe at the blood on my face, kneeling on the bench and leaning her face in close to mine.
“What’s your name?” I asked, transfixed by her eyes—they were so bright, and so blue. She really was adorable, almost angelic. It didn’t excuse five guys trying to round her up, but still.
“Christa,” she said, and the name suited her well.
She brought out a second Kleenex. “Okay, now please hold your nose with this, but don’t lean back, alright?”
I accepted the tissue from her and obediently held it over my nose, pinching it shut as I did so.
Christa decided just then to prod at the bridge of my nose, and I flinched. “Ah! Sorry, did that hurt?” she asked, and I nodded.
“I’m afraid we’ll see some swelling and bruising soon… sorry, you got punched because of me.”
“No brah-blem,” I said again. I pulled the tissue away from my nose to see how much blood it had collected, but Christa then smacked my shoulder, scolding me and instructing me to put it back, and I did.
“STAY OUT OF THIS, JEAGER,” Jean yelled, and Christa and I watched from our seats as an Asian girl in a red scarf dragged an excited-looking brunette boy away from the fight. Among the quickly-thickening crowd, I spotted Sasha, howling and cheering for Jean and Connie. She was also shoving chips down her gullet like she was at some sort of boxing tournament. Close enough, right?
I then noticed three familiar faces heading over, confused as they surveyed the scene. I waved them over, and they began to wade through the masses of over-eager violence enthusiasts.
“Marco!” Reiner boomed, Bertholdt and Annie trailing behind. “What happened? We got Connie's text.... You out of the ring already?”
That sort of bruised my ego, but thankfully, Christa saved my street cred for me: “He rescued me from a group of creeps!” she piped. “Ymir wants him to stay here so she can talk to him after she’s finished.”
Reiner’s attention turned to her. “Christa!” he said. “I almost didn’t see you!”
“Wow, Marco, you rescued her from a group of guys? That’s… pretty impressive,” Bertholdt said, wringing his hands nervously and glancing at the fight. I was about to mention how I would have been screwed if Jean hadn’t busted in like a maniac, but then Reiner said to Christa, “Where’s Ymir, then?”
A distinctly-feminine voice rang out over the sounds of the cheering crowd then, screeching, “GET HIM, BALDY!”
Ymir had one man in a chokehold, Connie running up and shouting, “DON’T CALL ME THAT!” One blow to the guy’s temple and he was out like a light.
I watched with pride as Jean, battered and bruised and bleeding, slung one of the guys around and into the tallest one, who had recovered from the dropkick sometime earlier.
“Hey, Annie,” Reiner said, voice low as he cracked his knuckles, “Aren’t these the same sons of bitches that tried to fuck with you last week?”
She sighed, her bored expression unfaltering. “They just don’t learn, I suppose.”
The two then proceeded to step forward and kick ass, Bertholdt standing idly by Christa and I, and I made a mental note to tick off Annie only if I was feeling particularly suicidal.
The fight continued for the next several minutes, until there was a cry of, “PUBLIC SAFETY! HURRY, SCRAMBLE!”
The crowd somehow managed to disperse in under five seconds, and we all did the same… the men I’d “rescued” Christa from picked up their fallen friend and raced away, while I scooped Christa back up and rushed after the others, who’d all shot in the direction of the dining hall.
“We kicked some serious ass, my man!” Connie grinned, leaning across the table next to me to pound fists with Jean, who laughed in response.
Our entire table was loud and obnoxious, the adrenaline from the fight still coursing through all of our veins. Most of us were sporting injuries of varying fatalities- split lips, blackened eyes, bloodied noses and swollen cheeks- Connie was “five hundred and ninety three percent positive” that he’d broken one of his fingers. Annie was the only one who’d emerged from the battle unscathed, save for having her hair taken down so that it swung over half her face.
Connie sat to my left, Christa to my right, and Jean across from me, with Reiner next to him, followed by Bertholdt. Ymir and Annie sat on the other side of Christa.
We’d all pushed several tables together so that we could eat together and celebrate our “victory”, so we were all seated along one long table. Sasha eventually joined us, sitting across from Connie and entertaining everyone with a play-by-play of the brawl, and sometime during her over-dramatic reenactment, the Asian girl and her angry-looking friend joined us, pulling up chairs near Bertholdt and Annie. They’d brought with them a guy with a boy-ish face and blond chin-length hair, bangs hanging over his thick eyebrows, and I instantly recognized him as one of my classmates in my History class.
“Mikasa, Eren, and Armin,” Jean had explained, pointing each of them out in turn. I learned that the three of them were rarely ever seen apart from one another, that Mikasa was “kickass”, that Jean did not get along with Eren all that much, and that Armin was “a pretty cool dude”. I also learned that Jean had attended the same high school as them.
“Alright, guys, let’s all give it up for Marco, the guy who valiantly rescued and protected our dear, sweet Christa,” Reiner boomed, getting to his feet and raising his cup of Sierra Mist.
There were several woops and shouts of praise as everyone at the table around me stood up, raising their drinks as well. I was absolutely flustered, glancing at Jean for help, but all he did was shrug, which was really no help at all. Even Annie was participating, though still without a smile or any trace of enjoyment.
“To Marco,” Connie announced gleefully. “Who cares if he pretty much got his face rearranged!?”
I winced at that, but I supposed it was pretty fitting, considering the now-purpled-and-swollen bridge of my nose. Christa then leaned over and planted a small kiss on my cheek, and everyone laughed as I flushed a bright red—my face was so hot that I was surprised it didn’t burst into flames right then.
“Come on, Marco, get in on this!” Sasha encouraged, one hand holding her cup high over her head while the other stuffed her cheeks with French fries. Reluctantly, I got to my feet as well, and we all clinked our cheap, plastic, dining hall cups of soda together in some trashy imitation of a formal toast.
When we sat back down, Jean said, “What the hell? Your ass would be wrecked if I hadn’t shown up, and you’re reaping all the benefits!?”
I chuckled lightly, then reached over and grabbed his hand in mine.
“Oh, Jean,” I sighed dreamily, noting with intense satisfaction the way his face went pink at that, “It’s ok—you’re my hero.” I fluttered my eyelashes girlishly at him, and he spluttered and pulled away, everyone else cracking up at our exchange.
Ymir leaned over Christa then, her arm around her tiny shoulders, and said, “Oi, Marco, remember how I said I wasn’t done with you?”
“Hey, relax, will ya? I just wanted to invite you to my party next week! Thursday night on Halloween, you’re free to bring any friends you like.”
“Oh!” I said, surprised. “Well, I, uh…”
The entire table exploded into complaints and shouts of encouragement.
Connie said, “Hey, Marco, go so that you can bring me!”
“Me too!” Sasha yelled.
“You guys can already come,” Reiner rumbled, then gestured to Bertholdt and Annie. “We’re going too.”
“How is it that you were already invited?” Jean inquired, and Bertholdt nervously replied, “W-well, we were already friends with Ymir, so-“
“I’ve known her since even I was a freshman,” Reiner agreed.
It’s such a small world, I thought to myself, looking around at them all.
In the end, it turned out that pretty much everyone at the table was confirmed to attend, and although I didn’t really see myself as the party type, I agreed to go, and everyone cheered. I made sure that Jean knew that if I had to go, then so did he, and he grimaced in resignation.
The rest of the meal was spent in idle chatter, all of us joking around and discussing the fight from earlier. For once, I felt rather pleased and at peace in a large group of people, and I had a great time—I really hoped that all of us would get to become great friends. It was strange and almost inspiring how an all-out brawl that should have gotten all of us in deep trouble had ended up bringing us together.
Looking across from me, I found that Jean didn’t appear to be sharing the same sentiment. He looked almost… sick, busted lip and swollen cheek aside.
“Jean…?” I said quietly, everyone else engaged in their own conversations around us. “You alright? You don’t look too good…”
His eyes met mine and he nodded, but he still looked awful, face pale and eyes glazed over. Pushing away from the table, he hastily excused himself, saying he needed to use the restroom. When he returned, he looked much better, his color having returned and a wry grin replacing the hollow frown he’d worn before. So I let it slip from my mind and joined in on the lighthearted conversation with everyone else, and he did too.
The week before the party went by just as quickly as the previous weeks had—time flies when you’re having fun with Jean. We’d even skipped a class or two to spend time together, which kinda went to show that we were only studious as long as we were friendless. Oh well.
“Ymir throws the best parties,” Reiner had assured us, when Jean and I had expressed wariness about going the night before. “They’re actually pretty rare, but worth it. The only reason she’s even throwing a Halloween party this year is to celebrate her newly established relationship with Christa. She’s taken a liking to her like no other.”
No one would let us back out of the party, anyway, and I would feel terribly guilty about it if I had… Ymir’s invite had been her way of showing appreciation to me for keeping Christa out of harm’s way, and I respected that.
“It’s not like there’ll be a ton of people there, though,” Bertholdt had said. “Ymir is pretty choose-y about who she lets wreck her house. And also, w-well, you didn’t hear this from me,” he lowered his voice, “But she’s not the most socially-adept girl in the world. She actually kinda ends up pushing a lot of people away with her insensitivity, and she even scares some. D-don’t get me wrong, though, Ymir’s pretty cool.”
I nodded, and I felt a bit better knowing that the party wouldn’t be open to everyone and their grandma; the idea of being shoved into a house filled with drunk, sweaty strangers hadn’t been all that appealing to me.
The evening of the party arrived, and although I had initially volunteered to drive Jean and myself (as well as a few others) over to Ymir’s, Armin quickly dismissed the idea.
“I’ve already decided to be a designated driver, so I’ll just pick you up when I come for the second round of people,” he said. I was going to protest and say that I wasn’t planning on drinking, but in truth, I wasn’t sure if I would or not… I hadn’t drunk before. Better safe than sorry, right?
So in the end, Armin was essentially our bus driver, going between Ymir’s house and the campus two or three times. I thanked him profusely when Jean and I hopped into his SUV, apologizing for the hassle, but he assured us that he didn’t really mind.
We were Armin’s last batch of passengers, so when we got to Ymir’s house, we were pretty much the last to arrive. When we walked in, the music was blaring, and although there weren’t a ton of people, there was still quite a lot- around 50 or so, all crammed in. It was a two story house, though, with plenty of wide spaces, so it wasn’t actually a tight fit. Most of the people were dancing, and a good portion of them were all sitting around in the living room, drinking and laughing boisterously. One of the first things I noticed, however, were the two extremely frilly Lolita-esque maid style dresses hanging on the wall opposite the front door… which was extremely odd to see in a house that supposedly belonged to Ymir.
Annie, Bertholdt and Reiner were among those lounging about, and Bertholdt got up immediately to come talk to us.
“I, uh, figured I should give you guys fair warning, Jean in particular,” he said, glancing franticly between us and the maids dresses on the wall, “Don’t get into a fight with anyone. There’s a rule at Ymir’s parties that those who start fights have to wear the dresses, then fight in them.”
Jean and I exchanged questioning frowns, and Bertholdt said, “It’s just to discourage wrecking her house too much. B-but, there were two guys who started fighting at one of her parties last year, and… well, it was definitely the highlight of the night.”
We nodded understandingly, and he went back to sit next to Reiner on the couch. “I really hope someone gets into a fight, then,” Jean grinned, and I laughed, nodding.
“HEY, GET BACK IN THE BASEMENT, WEEDIE, YOU CAN’T BE UP HERE SMELLING LIKE THAT!” someone screamed, and Jean and I watched as Connie suddenly ran through the crowd and down the hallway, Ymir hot on his heels. She stopped when she saw us in the living room. “Heeeey, so it’s the guest of honor!” she said, then she scowled. “Your bald friend is breaking the rules about marijuana staying in the basement.” She then took off, darting through the throngs of dancers that clogged the hallway, and we shrugged and followed her. We were lead straight into the kitchen—the room where the music was the least deafening--where we found Connie trying to sneak away with an entire box of pizza. “Heeeeey,” Ymir scolded, “You can’t take the whole box, I don’t care how starving you are. Put it back.”
“But it’s for Sasha,” he complained. “Do you even know what she’s like when she’s hungry?”
Dying whale noises could suddenly be heard from below our feet, somehow overpowering the sounds of the blaring music and loud drunks.
“Dear lord, take it. Take it and go back to the basement, you hear?” Ymir said, and Connie grinned appreciatively, folding up the box and heading out from the kitchen. “Ooooh, heeeeeey Jean, Marco,” he said, nodding to each of us in turn, his bloodshot eyes barely even focusing on us as he passed by.
We stared after him for a moment before Jean finally said, “Yeeeaaaaah, we’re not joining Connie and Sasha with the stoners.”
“Didn’t plan on it,” I said. And so we decided to have a seat at the kitchen table together, Jean pulling out several cans of beer from a nearby cooler. “You know how to hold your booze down?” he asked casually, cracking a can open.
I stared blankly at him.
He stared back.
“Y… you’ve never drank before!?” he looked absolutely shocked.
He scowled, skeptical. “You mean to tell me, that in all your eighteen years of life, you’ve never once consumed alcohol?”
“Nineteen years,” I corrected him, “And yes that’s exactly what I’m saying.”
He paused then. “Nineteen? Wait, when’s your birthday!?”
“Sixteenth of June.”
“You’re a whole year older than me, but you’re still a freshman?”
I looked down at the rough wood of the tabletop. “Ah, well, after high school, I spent a year working two jobs to help pay for college, so… yeah.”
“Huh,” was all he said. “You never told me that.”
I shrugged. “You never asked.”
“Fair enough,” he sighed. “That just means I’m gonna have to keep a close eye on you. But there’s no way in hell that I’m about to miss out on watching Marco Bodt get wasted for the first time.”
I squinted at him. “What makes you think I’m gonna get wasted!?”
Jean said nothing—simply rested his head in his hand, elbow propping him up on the table, and he took a sip of his booze, staring at me with a smug expression. Then he nodded towards one of the cans on the table, and back at me.
I rolled my eyes and reached for a can, popping it open with ease. Looking down at the liquid inside, I took a second to mentally prepare myself and took a small sip.
It. Was. Disgusting. I grimaced at the awful taste that was assaulting my taste buds. “Not gonna lie, this stuff tastes vile,” I told him. And yet, he still didn’t say anything. Took another drink… He was still wearing that smug, self-righteous expression, and it was sort of starting to irritate me.
Cautiously, I took a second gulp, letting more of the vomit-inducing beverage roll down my throat. I smirked at him then. “You expect me to get drunk on something I can barely even drink?”
“Tell me what your high school was like, Marco.”
“Tell me what your high school was like.”
Okay, that was pretty random. I didn’t know where he was going with this, but I humored him anyway. I started telling him about my high school, the friends I’d had there, the girlfriend I’d had sophomore year, the teacher that hated my guts, the music club I’d been involved in, things like that. He in turn kept the conversation going; how far did I get with my girlfriend? Was she hot? Did I get my teacher fired? Ooh, I was in music club, what did I play? Would I play a song on piano for him sometime?
And as the conversation droned on, I hadn’t paid much attention to the can I was holding, but somehow, it had become empty. I supposed that I’d subconsciously taken sips from it as I’d talked and listened, but to drink the whole can and barely realize it? I could feel a dull buzz in the back of my skull, and before I knew it, there was a second can in my hand… Jean had taken the empty one away and replaced it with a new one, opening it for me and placing it in my grip.
I stared at him blankly.
“Well?” he said, bringing his lips to his drink. “Go on.”
“Uh… where, was I again?” I asked.
“You were telling me about your traumatic childhood events involving Furbies.”
I don’t know how long we sat there talking for. It was probably hours… everything was fast and slow, all at the same time. It went by in a blur, yet it felt as though time had slowed down. After a while, even the music had gone down in volume, and Jean and I were talking to one another in low murmurs. How much had Jean drunk? I had absolutely no clue- I was struggling to keep tabs on my own beer count. I felt a bit woozy, and as I spoke to Jean, my mouth made strange slurring motions so that the words wouldn’t come out right. It was a peculiar sensation, but I didn’t mind it… I actually liked it.
Something I distinctly remember from that party was the low rumble of Jean’s voice, how warm it felt as his words weaved around me, pulling me into their low tones and soothing, smoky sounds.
“Careful Marco, Jean tends to kiss a lot when he’s drunk.”
I jumped at the sudden intrusion on our conversation, pulling back from Jean’s face- I hadn’t noticed how close we’d been.
“Jaeger, shut the fuck up!” Jean yelled, and I turned to find Eren standing behind me, effectively knocking three empty cans off the table as I did so.
“I just thought I’d give him fair warning!” Eren shouted back, exasperated. “You do kiss when you’re drunk, you know you do. More importantly, Mikasa knows you do!”
“I said to shut the fuck up!” Jean leapt from his chair, knocking it to the side with a loud ‘clatter’ of wood on linoleum. I flinched at the sound. Was Jean always this easily pissed off when he was drinking....?
“We were fifteen, for fuck’s sake! If I recall correctly, that was around the same time you were tied to the flagpole and got your ass kicked-“
“That has nothing to do with this!” Eren barked, his hands balling into fists at his sides. “While we’re on the subject of dumb shit we did in high school, who was the one who ran up to Mikasa on the first day of school like a complete dumbass and said ‘I’ve had dreams about you, let’s get married and have a dozen children’!?”
“I NEVER SAID THAT!”
“You might as well have! You always went on and on about your fucking stupid-ass dreams, like any of us even gave a shit! Who would even believe such bullshit in the first place!?”
Jean’s eyes widened, and I could already tell that something inside him was starting to unravel… he was edging closer and closer to his breaking point.
“They weren’t bullshit, Jaeger, shut your fucking mouth! Just shut up and stop talking!”
A muscle beneath one of Eren’s eyes twitched. “Or what? You’ll have another nightmare about me and come running and crying like that one time!?”
“WE THOUGHT YOU HAD DIED, YOU ASSHOLE!” He lunged at him, and Eren backed reflexively into the wall. Jean grabbed him by the shirt and hoisted him up to his eye level, slamming him back into the wall again and I dropped the drink I was holding, scrambling out of my chair after Jean.
“WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS SO DAMN RECKLESS!?” he shouted into his face, and a look of furious confusion crossed Eren’s features. “WHAT ARE YOU EVEN TALKING ABOUT!?” he yelled back.
Armin ran into the room right then, eyes wide as he took in the sight of Jean pressing Eren into the wall, the two screaming at each other with all the breath in their lungs. “Eren!?” he said. “Jean, what are you doing!?”
“JEAN!” I cried out, but he wasn’t listening. I began pulling at him, trying to pry him off of Eren. Armin did all he could to help, but he wasn’t all that helpful, to be honest.
“JEAN, LOOK AT ME!” I yelled into his ear, and he paused.
“Is someone fighting!?” we heard someone yell excitedly from the hallway, and Jean finally let him go, dropping him to the floor with a dull ‘thud’.
“Take care of Eren, I’m…. taking Jean outside…. Ok?” I said, struggling to translate thought to speech.
Armin nodded, his hand on Eren’s shoulder, while I grabbed Jean by the arm and began tugging him through the hallway, towards the front door.
“I don’t want to go outside!” he protested, to which I answered, “It’s outside or the dress.” That was when probably half of the entire household flooded into the narrow passageway, in the direction of the kitchen. “I heard them over here!” we heard one person say. “I wonder who was fighting,” said another.
The witch hunt for the fighters was on.
Jean obediently followed me.
And although I struggled to walk in a straight line, repeatedly bumping into walls and people, we successfully escaped the confines of Ymir’s house.
Cool nighttime air filled our lungs as we sat there, shoulder to shoulder, on the steps of Ymir’s front porch.
Jean was leaning forward, eyes shut tight with his head in his hands, and I silently watched over him as his breathing slowed. I wasn’t sure how many minutes ticked by in silence, I was far too intoxicated to make an approximate estimation, but it was probably a lot. When he finally opened his eyes, breathing normally once again, I ventured to ask, “Are you ok?”
He didn’t even look at me. He just sucked in a massive amount of air and slowly, ever so slowly, so slowly that I thought he would deflate like a balloon and shrivel up beside me, he let it out.
“I’m fine.” His voice was hoarse, and he did not look fine.
“….Do you want to talk about it?” I tried. He shrugged.
I was at a loss for words. I had never seen Jean so enraged, so off the deep end and out of control. I wasn’t even sure what had triggered it…
“Jean? What was Eren talking about? What nightmares?”
He shook his head, staring down at the steps beneath his feet.
So he didn’t want to talk about it. He didn’t want to talk about anything, and that scared me. In that moment, whatever closeness I felt I had shared with Jean was gone.
“Come back, Jean,” I said quietly, my voice cracking. He looked at me then, eyes wide.
“I’m…. right here, man. I’m right here.” He threw me a look of confusion, which then twisted into one of concern, and I sighed.
“You really don’t want to talk about it?” I said.
He frowned, scowling again, and turned his gaze to look over the front lawn. “Did you know that I’ve never had that many friends?” he mumbled.
I stared at him. “O-oh…?”
He chewed at his bottom lip. “Yeah. And… not that many people have been very close to me.”
I didn’t say anything. I wanted him to keep going. I liked where this was going.
“I feel like… you’re the closest to me that anyone’s ever gotten.”
He snapped his mouth shut then, and I waited patiently for him to continue, but he didn’t.
“S-say something,” Jean said, and I raised my eyebrows at him. “Like what?” I wondered.
“Like, how stupid what I’m saying is!”
“But I don’t think it’s stupid at all.”
“Really,” I confirmed.
We sat there quietly for a brief moment, thinking.
“So… am I your best friend?” I prodded, and in the darkness, I could’ve sworn Jean was blushing.
“W-well… yeah, of course! That’s a dumb ass question, of course you are.” I smiled wanly as I watched him swallow, his fingers fidgeting and pulling at the sleeves of his hoodie. “Am… I your best friend?”
I nudged him lightly with my shoulder. “Yeah, you are.”
The tiny smile that crept onto his lips filled my heart with a strange, bubbly happiness that bordered on giddy, and I pressed my lips together, attempting to suppress a smile of my own. Me and Jean were best friends. Hopefully forever, I thought.
“I feel lonely whenever I’m with anybody else,” he blurted, and I was suddenly all ears. But he’d stiffened up, eyes wide, and I could tell he’d said something deeply personal… now he was too afraid to continue what he was saying.
“Keep going,” I encouraged. “What do you mean?”
He glanced at me, his amber eyes filled with such uncertainty and fear that it almost hurt, and I gave him a reassuring smile. “I’m listening,” I told him.
He took another massive breath before looking back down. “I feel lonely whenever I’m with anybody else,” he repeated, “But… not when I’m with you.”
I kept quiet, giving him time to collect his thoughts as he continued. “I don’t get along with people, Marco, I…. not a lot of people understand me. And it’s my fault for being so hard to understand, but still…” He clutched his arms to his stomach, then, hunching forward. “I’ve felt like, for a long time, I don’t exist on the same plane as everybody else… at least, emotionally. I don’t click with anybody, and nobody connects with me on an emotional level, and I… I’m really lonely.” His voice as he said that last sentence came out as low whine, so filled with pain that it sounded like a desperate plea for help. What Jean was saying was incredibly complicated, and definitely a bit difficult to understand, but I was doing my best to see where he was coming from.
“Everyone else seems to have people they instantly connect with, people who understand every aspect of them, and I didn’t think I would ever find someone who could be there for me like that….”
My mind clung to his every word. Didn’t? I thought. As in, past tense? He thinks he’s found someone like that now?
I cleared my throat nervously. “Do, uh… do you think I could? Y’know… be that kind of person? For you?”
He wouldn’t look at me. “Maybe.”
I looked down at my hands, feeling my stomach churn uncomfortably. “Jean?”
I looked back up and placed my hand on his shoulder. “I’ll find you. Whatever plane of existence you’re walking around on right now, I’ll go looking for you, and I’ll find you.”
“…..Thanks, Marco,” he whispered.
We sat there like that for a few brief moments, reveling in each other’s presence as we huddled in our jackets, the cold air seeming to press in around us.
Sitting there, so close to Jean, both physically and emotionally, I felt like…. I felt like I wanted to-
I pulled my hand away and leaned over the side of the cement porch steps.
He was answered with the sound of vomit splattering to the earth, and he patted my back soothingly. “Way to ruin the mood, buddy,” he said. I couldn’t even throw him a witty retort; I just continued to vomit and dry heave. He rubbed my back, saying, “Deep breaths… take slow, deep breaths.”
He was right. The puke had ruined the mood, but probably not in the way he’d thought.
Because I had felt like I wanted to hold his hand.