The next day arrived with weak light slanting in through the blinds, a dull, throbbing headache, and Mikasa’s face hovering over him.
He squeezed his eyes tight again, and cautiously kicked up at the blankets. A stab of pain shot up just below his left knee, but beyond that he couldn’t feel the starchy sheets or the rub of a hospital bootie against his heel.
“Eren? Is everything alright?”
No, and it’s not gonna be. Ever.
He grunted, and swiped a hand over his face. His whole body felt sticky; covered in lay of old sweat, and in some places, dried blood. The drugs hovered on the periphery, a sickly, swoopy feeling whenever he tried to turn his head.
“I-I’m glad you’re awake,” Mikasa faltered. She fiddled with the end of her scarf absentmindedly. It was beginning to fray. Her eyes had taken on a glassy, exhausted look. “Do you want something to eat? It’s almost four in the afternoon.”
“Nah.” Just the thought of food made Eren’s stomach clench. “Wait, how long have you been here? Don’t you have-” His lips froze on the word practice.
“That’s not important right now.”
“Are you kidding?!” Eren growled, a little more forcefully than he intended. As Mikasa’s eyes widened in surprise, he realized that he’d never manage to explain how practice was the most important thing now that couldn’t go. That he’d give anything to listen to Levi berate the group, or freeze his ass off in the locker room, or do sets until he wanted to puke. Anything just to swim again.
“Hey.” Her fingers brushed his arm. “I’ll go back tomorrow if that’s what you want. But people are going to ask questions…”
Jean, especially. And you wouldn’t be able to answer half of them.
He shook his head, throat too tight to speak. The tears that had been itching at the corners of his eyes finally spilled over; every dark, mangled emotion he couldn’t name bursting out like water escaping through a crack in a dam.
Mikasa threw her arms around him, pressing her own damp cheek against his.
“You’re here and you’re alive. That’s what matters,” she whispered into Eren’s ear. “I can’t lose you too.”
First Eren freaks out, then he and Mikasa miss practice- what the HELL is going on? Jean wondered as he shuffled back to the locker room. Levi hadn’t mentioned their absence, which in and of itself was odd. Usually he’d interrogate the rest of the team until he learned of the missing person’s whereabouts.
Unless they had a vacation planned or something?
Though judging from the vague, irritated comments Eren occasionally made about his father, Jean suspected that was an unlikely option.
Still preoccupied, he snatched a towel off the bench and began rubbing down his shoulders.
“Um, I think that’s mine.”
“Shit! Sorry, Armin. Here, use this one. It’s not all soggy yet.” he proffered his own towel, which had been hanging half-out of his bag as usual. Jean shook his head, amazed at his own idiocy.
The blond boy squinted, scrunching up his nose slightly. “Something bothering you?
“Do you know what’s going on with Eren and Mikasa?” Jean blurted out, before quickly scanning the locker room to make sure no one had heard him. Fortunately, Connie had his headphones on, and Reiner and Bertholt were locked in a towel-snapping competition. Or rather, Reiner was snapping his towel and Bertholt was half-heartedly flopping his against the floor, rolling his eyes at his more exuberant partner.
Armin’s expression darkened. “I didn’t think anyone else noticed. I have no clue what happened but it can’t be good.” He blew out a long breath, puffing up his damp bangs. “I tried calling both of them this morning to see if they’d give me a ride, but nobody answered. I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if Eren lost his phone or something, but Mikasa usually answers after like, the first two rings. What’s really worrying me though is that neither of them has told me what’s wrong.”
“Oh.” Jean’s heart sank. If the third musketeer was out of the loop, then he didn’t stand a chance.
“I’m going to try again once I get home.” Armin paused for a moment, repositioning the contents of his backpack as the two boys headed for the door. “You wouldn’t happen to have a car, would you?” he asked hopefully. “I don’t mean to be a bother, but it’s kind of a long walk…”
“Sorry, today I’m-”
“Jean you’re finished, FINALLY. Let’s go, tacos await!” Sasha pounced as soon as he set foot outside the locker room, latching onto his hand with a vice-like grip.
How did she change so fast? I thought girls were supposed to take longer.
He gave an apologetic shrug over his shoulder as she dragged him towards the parking lot. Armin looked like he was choking back laughter as he waved goodbye.
“Alright, you’ve torn me away from my beloved for an evening, granted an evening full of delicious, greasy, fast food, but you’ve been sitting there with a long, sad, horse-face this whole time. So spill.” Sasha leaned back and took a noisy sip of her drink.
Jean slouched further into the squeaky vinyl booth. He picked moodily at the foil wrapper around his burrito, running through various catastrophes that could have befallen the Jaeger family over the course of two days.
Maybe his grandma died. Or a pet? I remember he wanted a dog. But even that wouldn’t cause him to miss practice. Stomach flu?
“Hello?!” She waved a hand in front of his face. “What’s going on in that oddly shaped head of yours?”
“Aw dude, your fingers smell like hot sauce.” He flicked his straw wrapper at her.
Sasha dodged it with practiced ease.
“I’m waiiiiting. If it’s not Marco that’s been making you all goofy, then who?”
Jean sighed. No use dodging the issue any longer. He’d been the one to bring it up, after all.
“Eren,” he mumbled into a handful of chips, bracing for the reaction.
Sasha did not disappoint.
Her mouth dropped open almost comically wide. “AM I HEARING YOU CORRECTLY?!” She pantomimed scraping wax out of her ears. “THE Eren Jaeger, constant pain in your ass and wet-willy giver extraordinaire?”
“Fuck you, I’m serious.” Jean gave a pained smile to the cashier, who was glowering in their direction. The tips of his ears were on fire.
“I can’t really explain it that well, but I think he has this awkward crush on me and-” He quickly related the story of the fight, and his subsequent attempt to contact Eren.
“Wait he liked YOU first?” Sasha scoffed incredulously.
“Look I’m trying to ask you for advice, okay?” He hissed. “I’m desperate.”
She scrutinized him for a moment more before her brows softened and she placed a hand over her mouth.
“Ohmigod you aren’t jerking me around. Ohhh honey. You’re are in so deep….”
“I’ve noticed,” Jean went back to dissecting his burrito. Why can’t I have a normal fucking relationship for once? No hopeless pining, or sneaking around, or… Whatever the hell Jaeger and I have been doing the past eight years or so.
“I think you should go for it,” Sasha interjected with a loud crunch. Jean noted that the remained of his tortilla chips were now clenched tightly in her fist. She winked smugly and popped them in her mouth. “Like, itsh weird bu’ I c’n sorta shee it yanno?”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full. Were you actually raised by wolves?”
A satisfied gulp.
“Don’t try changing the subject on me! I know the whole thing with Marco was really rough, and honestly you guys were cute, but Eren has potential. The two of you fit together like…” She tapped her lower lip, “rye bread and peanut butter. It sounds kinda strange at first, but it’s actually pretty tasty.”
Jean stared at her blankly.
“D-did you just compare me to a sandwich?”
“Shut up, that was a great metaphor.”
“Whatever, the point still stands. I think at this point you either need to confront him about what’s going on and lay everything out on the table, or resign yourself to a life full of sexual frustration.”
Jean sighed, grabbing his tray now covered in wrappers.
“I’ll think about it.”
“Atta boy!” Sasha punched him in the thigh as he walked past. “Let me know how it goes.” His back was turned to her, but Jean was sure she was giving him a dirty wink.
Connie was picking up Sasha, which left him free to be alone with his thoughts for as he strolled to his car. The parking lot was deserted save for an empty plastic take-out bag, rolling across the asphalt like a corporate tumbleweed.
I can’t wait to get out of this dump.
It wasn’t the first time in his life that Jean wished he was a smoker so he could light up a cigarette and squint philosophically over the roof of his car, smoke wafting past his lips just like in the movies where the outcast boy spouted deep, meaningful platitudes until he eventually won over the pretty but troubled girl and they became chain-smoking, poetic outcasts together.
That’d fuck up my lungs though. ‘Sides it stinks.
He settled himself behind the wheel, but didn’t put the key in the ignition. Sasha’s optimism was quickly rubbing off.
What if he’s been skipping practice to avoid me? He might not tell Armin about that… On the other hand, what if Sasha’s right- could we actually be happy together? Late-night phone calls, long walks on the beach sort of thing?
The thought almost made him laugh out loud, but he muffled the sound with the back of his hand. Not that there was anyone around to see him cackling like a loon all by himself.
I think Eren’s more the shove-you-against-a-wall type…
“Crazy bastard,” he muttered, shaking his head.
Jean checked his phone one last time, though at this point it was more a formality. He was surprised to see Armin’s name flash across the screen.
A voicemail? Nobody leaves those anymore.
“Hey Jean, it’s Armin,” an out of breath voice crackled through the speakers. “I still can’t get in touch with Mikasa and I’m getting worried. I was thinking we should go over to their house tonight and see what’s up. Or at least make sure it’s still standing?” There was a slightly hysterical edge to the joke. “Call me back.”
Jean revved the engine, as he sent back a quick text to let Armin know he was on the way. A steely dread was collecting in his belly.
Can’t back down now. One way or another, we’re going to settle things.