The next day was business as usual. Mikasa mentioned nothing about their tussle over breakfast, for which Eren was extremely grateful. He hated apologizing about as much as he hated feeling like an ass; a character trait that had not exactly won him many friends over the years. Instead he did her laundry, even making sure to separate out the white clothes and folding everything neatly before placing it in the hamper.
He knew he was forgiven when she came out of her room with her favorite red scarf wrapped tightly around her neck.
“I don’t care if it’s hot out. It smells nice.”
Unfortunately, the next day at practice didn’t go any better. Levi was even crankier because diving had started up and was thus limiting the swimmers’ lane usage.
“I don’t see why you can’t practice at another time. Or why you need to take up two whole lanes for falling in the water,” he grumbled at their coach, Hanji.
“Aww cheer up, Grumpuss. I know you’d miss my shining face every morning!” They reached over and pinched his cheek. For a moment Eren thought he was about to witness murder firsthand, but Levi just scowled and slapped their hand away, muttering something about “lost brain cells from landing on your head”.
Eren, on the other hand, was not so easily swayed. The shortage of space meant that he and Jean were now forced to share a lane, though he and Connie were too busy trying to get a peek at the divers to notice the predicament.
“Alright ladies,” Hanji clasped their hands together, swiveling to address the two girls lounging next the one-meter board, “We’re gonna start with some lineups to get you guys back into the swing of things, but then I want to see you flinging yourselves off three-meter like a lover jumping off a cliff!”
Instead of running screaming for the locker room, like any sane person would, the gangly brunette punched the air with enthusiasm.
“That’s my girl, Sasha!” Connie called gleefully, giving her a thumbs up.
“I didn’t know you had a girlfriend!” Eren exclaimed.
“Yeah, well um it’s pretty recent. We met here over the summer actually, when we were both training for this season.”
“Good for you,” he murmured, trying to keep any trace of jealousy out of his voice. Eren glanced over at Sasha’s counterpart, a tiny blond girl with huge blue eyes who was busy adjusting the boards.
“Forget about it,” Connie said, following Eren’s thought process. “Not only is Krista gay, but her girlfriend is Ymir. So she’d kill you in a heartbeat.”
Eren shuddered and glanced quickly at the well-muscled girl with a smattering of freckles and a permanent scowl a few lanes over. She hadn’t noticed.
“Hey, is that Marco guy on the team this year?” Jean cut in, squinting over Connie’s head for a better view.
“Nah, he graduated last year.”
“Why, do you liiiike him?”
“Shut the fuck up, Jaeger.”
Eren grinned and pushed further.
“It’d make sense, actually. After all, you only ever fall for people you never have a chance with. Like Mika-”
He was silenced as Jean firmly grasped his hair and shoved his head underwater.
Levi’s whistle pierced the air, interrupting their struggle.
“Okay maggots, we’re doing a drop-out set. That means you swim 100s until you drop dead or miss the interval. When that happens, you get out of the pool and watch your stronger teammates until nobody’s left. Three people have quit since yesterday’s practice. I’m hoping to double that number today.”
Maybe being a diver wouldn’t be so bad after all…
This idea was quickly discarded as a giant splash erupted next to him.
“YAHOOO! Excellent smack!” Hanji crowed as Sasha rose to the surface. Her back was the color of a fresh sunburn.
“Next time, open up a teensy bit earlier, and don’t tuck your head, okay?”
Sasha mumbled something unintelligible as she floated over to the side of the pool.
“Ignore the damn divers!” Levi barked. Half the heads in the pool, who must’ve been thinking the same thing as Eren, swiveled guiltily back around to face him.
“Get ready, we’re going on my mark…”
“Hey Coach!” Jean called. “Who do you think should lead lane three, me or Jaeger?” He smirked cockily at Eren.
“Connie.” Levi muttered, without missing a beat. “And if you interrupt me again, I swear to God I’ll shove your goggles down your throat.”
The 100 meter freestyle was one of Eren’s favorite events. Four laps of the pool, no-holds-barred sprinting. After swimming it over and over again on an ever-shrinking interval, he was starting to reconsider.
I will not drop out before Jean, I will not drop out before Jean, I will not-
Three strokes, breathe. See the cross on the bottom of the pool, tuck head, flip, kick, breathe. Touch the wall. Safe for the ten seconds before the next round starts. About half the team was on the pool deck by now, crowded together for warmth. Armin was among them, his lips slightly blue.
He’d been one of the first ones out, which wasn’t entirely a surprise. Armin was a very psychological swimmer, which was why he excelled so much in distance. He knew how to swim against his opponent, adjusting his pace accordingly to tire them out or get too confident so he could swoop in and win at the end. In practice however, he tended to get intimidated by the faster swimmers, and had difficulty finding the right pace. That and he wasn’t very good at sprints.
Push off the wall, kick, three strokes, breathe. Jean’s feet still churned the water ahead of him.
Keep holding on. You want this more than he does, right? He’s just a selfish dick who wants bragging rights and college scholarships.
Halfway there. Eren’s foot was starting to cramp.
Maybe you can beat Mikasa too! Hell, this set isn’t about technique, or even speed. It’s about who can push through the pain the longest. And if there’s one thing I’m good at…
He reached out and touched rough concrete. Finished!
“Kirstein, Jaeger, out.” Levi announced dispassionately.
Eren looked at the clock. Two seconds too slow.
With a grunt, he hauled himself out of the water, skin prickling at the unwelcome contact with cold air. He couldn’t muster up the energy to be disappointed in himself.
Technically, I didn’t get out before Jean…
Bertolt was still going strong, cleaving the water with his massive arm span. Mikasa, of course, showed no sign of slowing down, but it was Annie who was leading the pack. Eren watched in awe as she reached the wall effortlessly, with plenty of time left before the next set to catch her breath.
How does she do that? She doesn’t even look tired- she looks BORED.
As the whistle blasted and the remaining swimmers kicked off once more, Eren scrutinized her strokes. Not a movement was wasted; her entire being was dedicated to propelling her through the water as swiftly and as cleanly as possible. When the torturous exercise was finally over (Mikasa shooting daggers at Annie after she finally missed the interval), Eren knew what he had to do.
He let Jean mosey over to Mikasa and try to stammer out a compliment that would fall on nearly deaf ears, while he tried to intercept Annie before she got to the locker room.
“Hey. You swam really well.”
Annie turned to look at him with one eyebrow raised up so high it almost touched her swim cap.
Wow Eren, you sound almost as smooth as Horse Face over there.
“I was wondering if, uhh,”
“Not interested,” She stated flatly. “I don’t date freshmen.”
“I’m actually a sophomore- but that’s not the point!” he yelped hurriedly as she rolled her eyes and took another step towards the door.
“I was hoping you could show me some technique stuff. Coach said mine wasn’t very good.”
Annie hesitated, one foot hovering in the air. Finally she put it down and sighed, looking him in the eye for the first time.
“Alright fine. We can meet here on Saturday afternoons, though that’ll have to change once school starts cuz I’m president of the Judo club and that’s when we meet.”
Eren resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at Jean as he passed. Instead he enjoyed the look of puzzlement that crossed his face as Eren wrote down her number on the back of his hand.
“You did not manage to get private swim lessons from Annie Leonhart.”
“Connie, if you let your mouth hang open like that, you’ll start catching flies.”
“Dude, she must be totally into you!”
Eren laughed and shook his head.
“Nah, trust me, when I first asked she looked at me like I was a piece of gum stuck to her shoe.”
He, Armin, Mikasa, Connie, and Sasha were sitting around the picnic table in Connie’s backyard. The evening air was warm and muggy, carrying the faint scent of the pizza they had recently devoured.
Mikasa frowned, picking at a leftover piece of crust.
“I think you guys are blowing it out of proportion.”
“Are you serious?” The gravity in Connie’s voice was belied by the fact that he’d stuck two straws underneath his upper lip to make fangs. “That chick is ice cold! I don’t think I’ve ever seen her smile let alone take somebody under her wing.”
She shrugged. “Annie seems nice enough to me.”
“Err maybe we all just need to get to know her better,” Armin cut in before Connie could open his mouth with an incredulous response.
“Well it looks like Eren will definitely know her better by the end of the season, if ya know what I mean,” Sasha grinned, jabbing Eren in the side with her elbow.
“Can we please talk about something else?” An uncharacteristic flash of annoyance flickered across Mikasa’s face.
Armin immediately launched into a discussion of his latest dilemma regarding the number of AP credits the school would physically allow him to take, but Eren couldn’t focus.
What would it be like to date Annie?
He tried to picture her delicate fingers reaching out to correct him; adjusting his elbow or brushing across his shoulders, or their hands entwined as they walked across the parking lot in the setting sun.
But all he could seem to focus on was her stone-faced expression that made his stomach curdle, not with infatuation, but fear.
Sure I admire her as a swimmer, and I can’t deny that she’s beautiful; though in a strange and terrifying way. But that’s different, right?
The sting of a water balloon bursting across his face interrupted his musings. Connie whooped and scampered around the side of the house, another projectile clutched in his fist. Eren gave chase as he tore off his damp t-shirt and rolled into a whip. Sasha lunged out and grabbed his ankles, which sent them both crashing to the ground. He scrambled around to put her in a headlock, but Connie sat on his back. They might have stayed locked in endless combat forever had Armin not arrived with the hose.
They lay in a heap; breathless with laughter and soaked to the bone, desperately clinging to the last few days of summer before school intruded. Even Mikasa was smiling, though her grey eyes were foggy, clouded by an emotion that Eren couldn’t begin to unravel.