Jean lay absolutely still, Marco’s breath tickling the back of his ear. One hand rested tentatively on his hip like a bird ready to fly away at any moment.
“Are you sure your parents aren’t coming home soon?”
Marco hummed an assent, sending a puff of air scurrying down his neck.
“They’re going to my Aunty Kathy’s for dinner, so we’ve got at LEAST three hours. And that’s assuming they don’t get too drunk to drive. We could have all night.” He gave the hip he was holding a squeeze.
Jean didn’t need to crick his neck around to know that Marco was grinning, it always showed in his voice. He nuzzled into Jean’s neck, tugging lightly on his side in an attempt to turn him around, but he resisted.
“Why don’t you just tell them? That we’re, y’know…”
His back grew suddenly cold as Marco sat up with a frustrated sigh.
“You know why.”
Jean finally rolled over, propping up his head with his arm. Marco had scooted to the other side of the bed, his back pressed against the wall.
“Yeah, you’re scared.”
Marco scowled; a rare expression of displeasure that didn’t fit his face, scrunching his features like a sweater that had shrunk in the wash.
“It’s not as simple as that! I’m graduating next year, remember? If my parents don’t support me, there’s no way I can pay for school. Now I know your dad still has issues, but you don’t even live with him. At least your mom-”
“But YOUR mom’s super nice.”
“She’s the one who wants me to go to a Catholic college so I can meet a nice girl and have 20 grandkids for her to spoil. Point is, I can’t risk sacrificing my future, even if it means I have to stay in the closet for four more years,” he finished bitterly.
Protests bubbled up behind Jean’s lips, building pressure like a shaken soda can.
I’m tired of sneaking around, he wanted to say. I went through all the stress and pain of coming out to my family. Dad still can’t quire look me in the eye, but now that things have stabilized I want to enjoy the benefits. With you.
But the look of abject exhaustion on Marco’s face stopped him; hollow-eyed with skin taut around his mouth. With a sigh, he sat up and pressed a hesitant kiss onto the other boy’s forehead.
“I’m home!” The door banged shut behind him as Jean kicked off his shoes. The cramped apartment was already filling with the scent of home-made spaghetti sauce, making his mouth water.
“How was practice?” His mother called from the kitchen. “Did you ask your coach for that letter of recommendation yet?”
Jean winced. A half-completed application to the elite Trost University was still saved somewhere on his computer. The deadline was fast approaching, but since the whole relay debacle Jean thought it best not to press his luck.
Besides, I gotta make sure everything is exactly right. That I’ve checked all the boxes- community service, extra-curriculars, AP classes but also something in the arts so that I look well rounded…And swimming. They don’t give out athletic scholarships to just anyone.
He gave a non-committal grunt in response to his mother, and crept up the stairs before she had a chance to interrogate him further. Only once he was safely within the confines of his room could he relax.
Jean flopped down on his bed, glaring at the battered laptop sitting docilely on his nightstand. A reminder of all the work he still had left to do before his college dreams became a reality.
I don’t want to think about that right now. Time to relax post-workout.
Hell, I don’t want to think about swimming PERIOD. Once practice is over, I’m out of the pool, and it’s done. Else I’ll turn into Eren. Stupid obsessive bastard probably sleeps in his trunks.
The memory Eren’s wild, heated face during their argument surfaced at the thought.
He considered texting Mikasa to ask if he’d calmed down at all, but his fingers danced over the keys; hovering indecisively over one letter after another, before he finally shoved his phone back into his pocket.
Why the hell was he acting so weird in the first place? I can understand the baseline pissy-ness, especially after the pressure Levi put on us, but he’s never gone off on me like that before. Not without a reason, anyway.
Jean rolled over onto his back. Trophies from years passed stared down at him from crowded shelves on the walls adjacent to his bed. He’d tried to shove some of the older, more embarrassing ones into a box in the attic but his mom always found a way to put them back up.
Was it really something I said?
He scoured his brain for anything out of the ordinary.
Teased him about showing up in the first place, implied that the disqualification was his fault- sure that must’ve stung but he would’ve done the same if our positions had been reversed…
“What’re tryin’ to do anyways, punch me or kiss me?”
Fireworks went off in his head. Enormous, fiery explosions of color that spelled out “YOU’RE A FUCKING MORON”.
The disproportionate rage and lack of personal space, coupled with the sudden panicked flight, all pointed to Eren’s version of a big, gay meltdown.
A few years ago Jean might have laughed himself sick at the thought, but now he was just confused.
He looked so… scared?
He remembered how much his own hands had trembled, how he’d had to spit out the words like they were burning him so he wouldn’t have time to change his mind.
And now he’s probably beating himself up about it. Or he thinks I’m even more of a giant asshole.
“Ahh shit,” He breathed aloud. He punched Eren’s number into his phone with swift, violent jabs of his finger, but of course his call went straight to voicemail.
So much for a relaxing evening at home, Jean thought as he slung his coat over his shoulder.
He was floating, weightless; his limbs suspended in something heavy and dark. When he tilted his head upward, he could see silvery light filtering through. Fractured, like he was underwater. He tried to kick towards the surface, but the substance was too thick to allow purposeful movement. Instead he was buffeted gently back and forth, like a raft lost at sea.
He not so much heard the voice but FELT it reverberating in the space, reduced to muffled, cottony vibrations.
He found he was too tired to form complete thoughts; each one drifted in and out of his consciousness, a passing stranger on the street. It would take too much effort to follow one to its logical conclusion, so instead he just watched them go. Brief blips of awareness that were soon lost in the dark.
An emptiness gnawed at him, like a task half-forgotten. He tried to listen to his own breathing, but the only sound was the fading echo of the voice.
It was a long walk to Eren’s house, but Jean didn’t feel like trying to explain to his mother why he needed that car, let alone dealing with her reaction.
“Eren Jaeger? It’s been YEARS! I thought you didn’t get along. Which is a shame, because you two used to play together all the time, remember? Such a nice boy. Tell him I said ‘hi’. Mikasa too. Those poor kids, losing their mother like that…”
Yeah, he was going to skip on the gushing and the awkward questions for now. Besides, he could certainly use some time to clear his head.
Maybe this can be the one time I’ll actually think before I act.
Jean realized that perhaps the opportunity for that had passed, since he was already out the door and well on his way. He heaved a heavy sigh and kicked at a tuft of grass growing along the sidewalk.
I don’t even know how I feel about all of this. It’s just a bit much to take in right now I guess. Especially after that whole business with Marco at the beach.
He quickly pushed away memories of teeth dragging across skin, warm hands pressed against his waist after so long…
“That’s over,” he grumbled aloud. I can’t keep picking at the same old scab.
But what about Eren?
“He’s a righteous dickwad who can’t keep his mouth shut!” A stray cat looked up, alarmed, from its perch along a neighboring fence. Jean scrubbed his hands furiously through his hair.
Where the hell did this even come from anyways? We’ve spent most of our lives trying to out-douche each other. Is this some sort of kindergarten romance where he shows that he likes me by being really obnoxious?
He snorted derisively, but the heat rising in his cheeks told another story.
The whole situation is ridiculous. What if I’m completely wrong about him in the first place? It’s not like I’m some genius at reading people. Marco and Mikasa’d be the first to agree. Then I’d wind up making an even bigger ass of myself. How do I even go about asking? “Hey man, don’t take this the wrong way, but it seems like you have a crush on me”? That doesn’t sound vain or anything.
Lost in thought, Jean hadn’t noticed that he’d nearly arrived. After so many years, he’d been expecting some sort of huge change, but Eren’s house stood at the end of the block as usual. The lawn looked a bit weedier than he remembered, and the paint on the shutters was faded and beginning to peel as if they hadn’t been painted since the last time he’d been over, but otherwise everything was exactly the same.
We used to hold the end-of-season parties on the front lawn, back when we were still with Coach Ral. Eren’d always come up with some stupid game but we’d all go along with it anyways, running around pretending to be aliens or explorers or some shit, because he could tell a pretty good story. Make us almost believe we were all on Mars.
He stepped up onto the wide porch, recalling sun-warmed grass under his feet and the taste of lemonade. His finger hovered over the doorbell, but a cold sweat was breaking out on his neck, insides turning to mush. He took a deep breath, then turned away.
I was wrong. Marco’s not the coward, I am.
Jean dragged his feet the whole way home, but he didn’t dare look back.
Once he’d reached the safety of his bedroom, Jean finally broke down and whipped out his phone.
Sasha picked up on the third ring.
“What is it this time, Jeanny? Don’t tell me you’re here to talk about your boy problems again.”
He merely scowled into the receiver as he closed the door so his mom couldn’t eavesdrop.
“Seriously?!” Sasha squawked, correctly interpreting his silence. “Dude, you really gotta let Marco go. He’s all toned ‘n freckly ‘n tan ‘n all but-”
“It’s not about him,” Jean snapped. He was already beginning to regret this decision. “Look, it’s complicated. Why don’t you meet me at Taco Palace after practice tomorrow so we can talk about it in person?”
God, I’m so pathetic. And whiny.
Sasha paused on the other end. “I dunno, Connie said he was coming over later to marathon the original Star Wars trilogy. Apparently it’s ‘a necessary part of my cinematic education,’” Jean could almost hear the air quotes.
“I’ll buy you a Grande Burrito.”
“With extra queso?”
He made a noise of protest in the back of his throat before finally caving.
“Dammit, fine! With extra queso.”
Jean threw his phone down on the bed with an exaggerated sigh. He still had a Bio test to study for and an English paper due later in the week, but he knew trying to concentrate on anything at this point was useless. Instead he stuffed in his earbuds and turned the music up loud enough to rattle his bones.