“It’s because we sent him to private school, isn’t it? Maybe if he had some girls around he’d stop with this nonsense.”
“Gary please, don’t be ridiculous!”
“Well why else do you think my son’s a-”
Jean slammed the front door, leaving the sound of his parents’ argument behind him. Heat rose from the blacktop in hot, sticky waves despite the oncoming evening.
Just four more years. He repeated it to himself over and over, like a mantra until the words ran together and lost their meaning. Even so, college was a far-off speck on the horizon with freshman year looming at the end of the summer like a vulture circling a corpse.
I wish I hadn’t told them. I should’ve just kept my big, fat, mouth shut and gone to the eighth grade formal by myself like I was planning to. Now they’ve got one more thing to fight about. Fuck it, let ‘em get divorced.
Lost in thought, Jean hadn’t realized that he’d made his way to his old elementary school playground. Dust rose in little puffs around his ankles as he crossed the tired baseball diamond where he’d spent a few summers playing baseball, back before he started swimming full-time.
I asked Mikasa out right here last year, he marveled as he passed the swing set, still standing in all its rusted glory. Jean glanced around to make sure no one was watching, then lowered himself onto the swing.
So much has changed since then… He briefly wondered how Eren and Mikasa were doing, but pushed the thoughts away before he was flooded with uncomfortable memories from the funeral- Eren looking oddly shrunken for once in a suit that was too big in the shoulders, Mikasa’s thousand-yard stare, like she was the ghost. How he couldn’t even meet their eyes, instead muttering his condolences to patent leather shoes before dragging his mom back to the car.
A tiny part of him wished things were back the way they were in elementary school. When he and Eren talked with their mouths, not just their fists. Maybe then he’d have known what to say.
A shout echoed across the empty park, and Jean looked up to see his father parked on the curb, irritated fingers tapping on the steering wheel. Apparently their conversation wasn’t over.
“You know your mom and I love you very much.”
Jean choked back a sound that could’ve been either a snort or a sob. He slammed the door shut behind him, though the effect was muffled by the muggy air.
Jean reached up to wipe sweat that was beginning to drip into his eyes. The whir of the treadmill and the music blasting over the speakers almost drowned out the pounding of blood in his ears. He knew he should give his body a break after swimming six days a week, but the need to burn off the sickly, nervous energy congealing in his stomach outweighed the risk of over-exertion.
He’s only coming up for my birthday, he reminded himself, still shaking inside when he thought about his mother’s decision to invite his father for the festivities. And how, for some reason, his father agreed.
She knows I don’t want to see him, and I don’t know why the hell he wants to see me. Probably because I’m single now and he’s hoping the whole ‘liking dudes’ thing was just a phase.
Jean was so caught up in his own thoughts, he almost didn’t notice his phone buzzing violently in the treadmill’s cup holder.
“Uhh, hey Armin. What’s up?” He panted out, a little too hastily to be casual. Is everything okay?
There was a rush of static on Jean’s end as the other boy sighed.
“I hate to ask, but could you pick me up from the pool? I volunteered to help Coach Ral plan the conference meet since it’s our turn to host this year, and there’s so much to do it’s insane! I swear I called like, ten different t-shirt companies alone trying to find the best deal and-”
“What exactly do you need from me?” Jean rubbed his temples. I am NOT cross-checking prices for warm-up jackets.
“I think Gramps forgot and went off to bridge club without taking me home first. He probably assumed I was at the library again.” Armin began muttering furiously under his breath, “That reminds me, I have a history test on Thursday, which means I should wait and start my English paper after the meet this week...”
“I’ll be there in twenty,” Jean cut in. “Just, take some deeps breaths, okay? You sound like your heads about to explode.” He snapped his phone shut, cutting off Armin’s slightly hysterical laughter.
It seems like everybody's falling apart these days.
The pool was an entirely different place when it was empty; a vast, dim cavern where what little light made it through the high windows played fitfully on the still water. Jean’s footsteps echoed on the tile. The blond boy was nowhere in sight.
Did he duck out into the lobby as I came in? Maybe we missed each other…
“Took you long enough to get here. I thought I was gonna fall asleep waiting.” The voice was about an octave lower than he was expecting.
“Son of a bitch!” He hissed as Eren appeared from the top of the bleachers. “What do you want?” Armin, wherever you are, you’re a raging asshole.
Green eyes crinkled as a cocky smirk spread across his face. The crutches bumped awkwardly against the aluminum benches as he descended. “I’ve got something to say.”
A thin sheen of sweat shone of his forehead as Eren navigated the transition onto the slick pool deck. Still, it was the first time in months that Jean could feel that raw, unwavering energy radiating off him.
“Oh yeah?” Jean tried to keep his tone light, but inside his organs were being churned to pudding. “What’s with the whole bait-and -switch deal huh? If you’re going for Bond Villain, you need a cat or some shit.”
Eren shifted, uncomfortable for the first time. “I didn’t think you’d want to see me.” He eased himself down onto the bench where the team normally sat during meets, leaning his crutches against the wall beside him.
“Plus it’s weird seeing people who knew me… before. I can tell that they’re trying to act like everything’s normal but then I catch ‘em staring out of the corner of my eye. You can look, you know.” He waggled his stump. “It’s just a fucking meat sack.”
Jean, who had in fact been intently examining his shoelaces to avoid doing just that, raised his head.
“Sorry, I didn’t want-”
“Ah, cut the bullshit.” Eren waved a hand dismissively. “Since when have you ever been worried about offending me?” The wolfish grin had returned.
“Fuck you.” Just to prove a point, Jean reached over and poked him just above where the skin tapered off into thin air.
The other boy froze, then blew out a long, determined breath.
“Good. See? I can take it.”
Jean raised an eyebrow. “So? If that’s the reason you lured me all the way out here, it’s pretty lame.” He sat down next to Eren, tucking his hands between his knees to keep them from shaking.
With a surprising amount of dignity, Eren grasped his shoulders, looked him squarely in the eye and proclaimed, without a hint of fear or irony in his voice, “I think I have a big, gay crush on you because I haven’t been able to get your stupid face out of my head.”
“ARE YOU SHITTING ME RIGHT NOW?” Jean briefly considered wringing his neck and throwing his body in the pool, but though the better of it.
Levi’d kill me for making a mess.
Eren flinched, instinctively curling inward like a bug that had been poked with a stick. “Forget it,” he mumbled. “I’ll just go now.”
“No! Wait, that’s not um,” Jean’s brain cast about for a coherent thought but was unable to find one in the mire of emotion. But Eren was standing to leave, an angry flush spreading up his neck and over the tips of his ears.
For the love of Christ, you can’t let him walk away again. Spit it out! Tell him how you feel. Open your goddamn mouth and-
He settled on simultaneously grabbing Eren’s hand to yank him back down on the bench and leaning forward to smash his face against Eren’s, dragging teeth across his bottom lip until he elicited a gasp.
For a moment he simply stood blinking uncertainly, before letting out a soft whoah, and running a hand through his already disheveled hair.
“C’mon man, I had a whole speech planned. I practiced in the mirror for hours.” Eren muttered in an attempt to regain his composure. He tilted his chin upwards, teasing.
“Moron.” Jean said smugly before he was silenced by another kiss.
Granted, the location was not ideal. The air was humid, damp, and reeked of chlorine, not to mention the unforgiving tile wall against his back as Eren pressed forward. His tongue was clumsy, but he showed no sign of slowing down or taking any direction.
Jean decided to fight fire with fire, and dug his nails into the soft flesh around his ribcage. Eren pulled back with an indignant squeal.
“Pay attention, Asshat. I’ve kissed more people than you. I know what I’m doing.”
Eren stuck out his tongue. “Yeah, well if you’re gonna be my boyfriend or whatever, you should get used to it. Maybe you just don’t know what you’ve been missing.”
“Boyfriend?” Jean’s heart did an odd little seasick swoop.
“Isn’t that the whole point of all this?” He asked testily.
“Y-yeah! I’m just trying to picture how the team is going to take the news. Connie and Sasha might actually die laughing.”
Eren snorted. “Fuck ‘em. They’ll come around.” He paused. “You’re really okay with it though? I know everything’s moving so fast…”
“I’ll be fine. I uh, can’t say part of me hasn’t been wishing this would happen for the past few months.”
“Ha I knew it!”
“Did not!” Jean wanted to punch the smug smile right off Eren’s face. They bickered all the way into the parking lot, where Armin was waiting with an equally satisfied smirk.
If anyone suspected anything, it was him.
They said their goodbyes, Eren brushing against Jean’s hand like he wanted to give it a squeeze but then changed his mind. The light that had been missing from his eyes since the accident was back in full force.
Jean sighed as he watched the two boys leave. The warm and fuzzy feelings he’d gotten from the whirlwind confession were slowly dissipating in the light of all the challenges ahead; dealing with Eren’s injuring, telling their friends, and most of all their families.
Dad’s gonna shit a brick.