Deadman's Float

Chapter 18

Jean lay spread-eagled on his bed the morning after his agonizing birthday dinner listening to his parents fumble around the kitchen as they attempted to make their own breakfasts without fighting. He angled his neck so he could see the time on his alarm clock and groaned. He and Eren had an unspoken standing date on Sunday afternoons; the one day of the week that wasn’t clogged with school, swim practice, or physical therapy. They usually met at the elementary school playground, then drove to some coffee shop that Eren had gone to with Annie and wouldn’t shut up about. It was nearly always the highlight of Jean’s week, but today he dreaded the encounter. Their little spat from the night before still stung.

Jean swung his legs over the side of the bed, feet recoiling from the cold floor. He shuffled blearily over to his closet, trying to ascertain what color his shirts were without turning the light on.

He’s gonna be all pissed off and defensive right off the bat, especially since I hung up on him. Will we even make it to the coffee shop or will we just start shouting at each other before we even pass the swingset?

He thought about his parents dancing around each other downstairs; avoiding eye-contact, speaking only in stiff niceties.

Two people who throw themselves together and then get violently blown apart- is that all a relationship is?

Jean shook his head, disrupting the gel he’d been carefully using to sculpt his hair.

Stop being so melodramatic.

Still, Eren’s callousness rankled him.

All I needed was a little support. Is it that hard for him to shut his damn mouth and listen to me for once? Maybe my problems aren’t exciting enough. Boo-hoo divorced parents. Just like every other goddamn kid our age…

The anger was back, hot and irrational. Jean shoved boots on his feet and stomped out the door without saying goodbye. He realized that he was actually looking forward to their meeting now. If Eren wanted a fight, well, he was going to get one.

Keeping Grisha’s secret from Mikasa was proving harder than expected. It bubbled underneath his skin, threatening to burst forth from his lips. Even when his father decided that the weekend would be dedicated to “Fall Cleaning,” Eren couldn’t help but grin.

How symbolic. New beginnings, and all that. Though he suspected that this had more to do with the cobwebs reaching critical mass in the basement than it did with a grand gesture of renewal.

“You seem very happy today,” Mikasa noted with a slight hint of suspicion in her voice as she put down her dust rag to crack her back. “I thought you hated sweeping.”

“What? Oh yeah, I do,” Eren flicked the broom lazily, sending a small puff of dirt her way. “I just uhh, I dunno. I guess it’s nice to be well enough to do dumb shit like this.” Even if it’ll take me twice as long to finish, not including rest breaks.

She gave him on of her rare smiles. “We’ll see how long THAT attitude lasts.”

“Yeah, yeah, enjoy it while you can,” he grumbled and swept a larger cloud in her direction. “I gotta meet Jean at one though, so I’ll have to split early.”

Mikasa pursed her lips. “Now that’s more like it.”

They cleaned in silence for a while, until something that had been bothering Eren since his talk with Jean finally made it past his lips.

“Does it ever bother you that Annie wants to keep everything secret?”

Mikasa paused, duster poised in mid-air.

“I’m… happy that she wants to share that part of herself with me. She’ll share it with others when she’s ready.” She scrutinized Eren. “It wouldn’t be fair to try and pressure her. Some people care more about others’ expectations of them than we do.”

Well that would explain why Jean was so pissy last night. He mentally smacked himself on the forehead. Looks like I’ll be doing damage control this afternoon.

“Yeah. Of course,” Eren mumbled and Mikasa placed a hand on his head.

“You have got to learn to stop putting your foot in your mouth.”

“Yeah, I’ve only got one left to stand on,” he drawled. Mikasa rolled her eyes so hard he thought they might fall out of her head.

Jean peeled into the parking lot with a screech of brakes. Eren was already leaning against the slide, scratching shapes in the dust with the point of one of his crutches. From his car, Jean could only see the slump of his shoulders, his face turned downward to focus on the doodles.

Is he angry? Sad? Bored?

Jean slammed the door and steeled himself for the worst as he headed over with no small amount of foot-dragging. The scripts of countless half-arguments he’d concocted on the drive floated around in his head.

He hasn’t even noticed I’m here yet despite all the noise. Oblivious as always.

Sweat gathered on his palms and Jean opened his mouth to deliver a scathing greeting when Eren’s head snapped up.

“Ha! Looks like I beat you here for once,” he waved, grinning cheekily.

Jean froze in his tracks. Eren’s body language was loose and relaxed, the smile genuine.

He’s not mad…

In an instant the desire to fight rushed out of him like steam from a boiling pot. He hadn’t realized how much energy he’d been investing in the buildup of anger until his knees wobbled and he almost tripped.

“I’m uh, sorry about the other night.” Eren took a hobbling step forward. “I didn’t mean to be such an ass. Again. We’re gonna do your birthday over at my house, to make up for the crappy one. Mikasa might even bake a cake. Hey, are you okay?”

Jean furiously wiped his eyes. “Of course. It’s allergies.”

I’m so damn lucky.

Eren shuffled closer until their chapped lips were pressed together. It was an awkward embrace; Eren’s balance was tenuous at best so there was a little swaying and snickering into each other’s mouths, but to Jean everything felt exactly right.

“Again!” Annie hollered from her position on deck. “Remember you have to compensate for your kick now- use those arms to drive yourself forward.”

Eren wiped his brow and took a few deep gulps of air in preparation for another lap down the pool. Pixis had been right; it was almost like learning how to swim all over again, his body struggling against unfamiliar movements, his equilibrium gone. He could feel himself getting stronger with every session, though, and that’s what really mattered.

Annie gave him a high-five once he reached the other wall. Eren clung to the gutter, gasping. Cramps raced up and down his arms, but it was a good release of energy that helped burn away his nervousness.

“That’s enough for today,” Annie said, interrupting his thoughts. “I’m not hauling your drowned ass out of the water. Nice work,” she added as an afterthought.

“Do you really think Coach Levi’s gonna let me do this?”

“Why don’t you ask him?” Annie jerked her thumb at the office door. “He went in there a couple minutes ago. Probably working on the roster for the next meet.”

Eren’s heart clenched painfully. He’d taken care to avoid most of the coaching staff and teammates other than a select few. He scheduled his practices with Annie when the pool was mostly deserted, and skipped the locker room entirely in favor of changing at home (it was easier to dress without looking at his stump there anyways). They were still painful reminders of what he’d lost, and he didn’t think he could stand anyone’s pity-filled eyes drifting to the little nub sticking out of his swim trunks. Not without throwing punches.

Coach Levi might be different though. And if I want this to actually happen…

Annie leant him her shoulder to help navigate the slick and treacherous pool deck. The office door seemed much larger than it had ever been before, and there was a plastic No Not Disturb sign dangling from the knob.

Did he steal that from a hotel?

Eren didn’t have time to ponder the question because the door was flung open just as he reaching out a tentative hand to knock.

“I figured I’d be seeing you eventually,” Levi drawled, ignoring the fist poised a few inches above his forehead. “Come in. Don’t get the floor wet.”

Annie shrugged and let Eren hobble in himself. Fortunately the room was cramped, though impeccably neat, with a chair facing the Coach’s desk only a few hops away.

“Umm so how’s the team?” Eren squeaked from a throat that was suddenly seemed about an inch smaller in diameter.

Levi brushed off the question with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Less shitty. Though it’s a lot quieter during practice without you splashing all over the place.”

Eren realized with awe that this was the Coach’s way of saying he missed him.

I might just be able to pull it off.

“Whatare you here for?” Levi asked bluntly.

Eren cleared his throat and bowed his head.

“I want to swim in the final meet.”

Levi’s dark eyes flashed and he steepled his long, thin fingers like a Bond villain.

“I think we can do something about that.”

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