Eren stared down at the phone in his hands like it was a snake that could rear up and bite him at any moment. He was surrounded by books, paper, and various other detritus from the first day of school. Another year with listless, boring people, taking pointless classes with teachers who were counting down the years until they could retire. None of that mattered right now.
How am I supposed to do this?
His fingers hovered over the keys, shaking with nerves and indecision. Hundreds of possibilities swamped his brain.
Hey Armin, have you ever had a crush on anyone before?
How does a guy know that he likes other guys? Hypothetically speaking…
Dude I think I’m gay.
He jumped as the phone buzzed in his hands. For one glorious second, he felt relieved: Armin, diabolical genius that he was, had somehow read his mind. Or perhaps noticed his stilted, sullen silence on the car ride home from the beach, doing everything in his power not to look at Jean.
Armin: Are you ready?!?!?
Armin: I am not ready
Then suddenly it hit him: The Roster.
Eren: ull b fine. Bertholt’s the only other distance guy rite?
Armin: BUT HAVE YOU SEEN HIM? HE’S A FREAKING COLOSSUS. Anyway, you guys are coming to get me right? I’d really hate to be late TODAY of all days.
Eren glanced at the clock. Shit.
“yup ttys” he texted back, at the same time cramming shoes on his feet and hollering for Mikasa.
The pool deck was abuzz by the time they arrived, the entire team cramped around the bulletin board outside the locker rooms. Only Annie stood off to the side, aloof, but with a satisfied look on her face.
“Are you shitting me?!” Jean exclaimed, tearing himself away from the crowd. He stalked off fuming towards the lane lines that hung like fat, plastic worms from the wall on the opposite side of the pool. He shot Eren a venomous glare as he passed.
I’ll take that as a good sign.
The spirit of competition was quickly driving all thoughts of romance from Eren’s brain. His heartbeat quickened as they approached the small white squares that had their fates printed on them in a simple, minimalistic font.
Mikasa barely glanced at the list before heading off to stretch with a mere shrug of her well-muscled shoulders. Armin breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that, while he’d been excluded from the mile, he was still slotted in the second heat for the five-hundred freestyle.
Eren had to scan much further down; the curse of having a last name that didn’t begin with “A”. He saw he was… In the last heat of the fifty free?!
“Close your mouth Jaeger, you look like you just shit your pants,” Levi drawled.
How the hell does he manage to sneak up on people like that?
“Err thanks Coach! I know it’s a big risk, putting a rookie in an event that’s so competitive.”
“I’m not doing this as a favor,” Levi bluntly. “It’s a test to see if the extra work you’ve been doing with Leonhart has payed off at all.”
How does he know these things? Maybe he’s ex-Secret Service. Or a ninja in a past life.
“I-I won’t let you down!” Eren stammered, feeling the glorious rush of both pressure and pride within him.
Coach had already turned his attentions back to the pool, but he muttered something that sounded a lot like “You’d better not.”
Eren quickly memorized his heat and lane assignments for his other events. He was in the third heat of the 100 and 200- the latter a move that surprised him as he’d always thought himself a pure sprinter. There would undoubtedly be a relay or two, though those had not yet been posted. With the meet itself still nearly two weeks away, Eren figured Levi was waiting to see how the team dynamics fell into place; choosing only those who could work together as a well-oiled machine.
I beat Jean out in the fifty free, but he’s fastest in all the backstroke events, so I don’t see why he’s so upset. Maybe just because Connie and I were the ones who beat him.
“Nice job.” Eren didn’t think anything could top getting acknowledged by Coach, but Annie’s curt congratulations came pretty darn close.
“Well, uh I guess I should be thanking you for that.”
“No biggie,” she graced him with one of her rare smiles. “You’re not actually as dumb as you look.”
Eren was surprised at the swell of affection he felt in his chest.
Maybe I’ve just been over-analyzing things. What I saw at the park… It was awkward! Anyone would have a hard time getting that out of their head. Besides, Annie’s great to hang out with, and she seems to understand some of the shit I’ve been going through back home. Half the team thinks we’re already dating anyways…
Emboldened by his recent success, and feeling slightly desperate to get Jean off of his mind, Eren reached out to grab Annie’s shoulder as she walked away.
Crap. It had sounded much more relaxed in his head.
Annie’s eyebrows knit together in an odd mixture of confusion and pity.
“Mikasa didn’t tell you?”
“The hell does she have to do with anything?!” Eren blurted out, his anger quickly eradicating any embarrassment he may have felt.
Annie flushed; for her, it was an intimidatingly raw display of emotion. It put Eren instantly on edge.
“I think maybe you should ask her about it,” Annie mumbled, shaking off his arm. She then set off for her lane without a backward glance.
Eren fought back the urge to follow her, as a blast from Levi’s whistle signaled that practice was about to officially start. He took a deep breath and shoved down the confusion and irritation, hoping he could use the ill-defined emotions to fuel his swimming rather than distract him.
That’s the last thing I need right now, he thought as he watched Jean’s lean torso disappear under the water.
“Sooo Annie?” Eren made a valiant attempt to keep his voice casual, but he could tell from the way Mikasa tensed that he had failed miserably.
“What about her?”
They had just finished dropping off Armin at the public library. Apparently one of his AP teachers had already assigned a research paper, and Armin didn’t have the patience to deal with his grandfather’s dial-up connection.
Mikasa was being surprisingly difficult on the subject. He debated coming right out and saying that he’d asked her on a date, but decided against it.
“You guys have seemed pretty close recently,” he hedged.
“She’s my girlfriend,” Mikasa intoned, never once taking her eyes from the road. She clenched the steering wheel like a shield in front of her.
“Your WHAT?” Eren shook his head to clear it. Surely he’d heard wrong?
“We’re dating.” Her tone didn’t waver.
Eren was speechless. He couldn’t wrap his head around it. Mikasa, sharp and opaque, in love with dour Annie? His brain skittered away from the mental image them holding hands, leaning in for a kiss…
“Why didn’t you tell me you liked girls?” He blurted out, feeling slightly betrayed.
Why didn’t Annie come right out and say it when I asked her to date me? It never even occurred to me that she was gay.
“I don’t like girls OR boys.”
Eren stared at her.
Am I dreaming? Hallucinating? None of this is making any sense.
“I like Annie,” Mikasa said simply, as if that clarified the situation.
“Okay…”He waited for an explanation, but none was forthcoming. She merely narrowed her eyes and let out a frustrated huff.
“Just don’t tell anyone.” Mikasa chewed on her lower lip. “I personally don’t care either way but Annie… Has a reputation to protect.”
The air in the van was turgid with unspoken questions. Eren fidgeted in the tense silence. He’d considered bringing up the whole Jean debacle, but now he wasn’t so sure Mikasa was the right person to ask.
Why’s she being so secretive? Doesn’t she trust me? He thought with a small flare of anger.
“What do you mean you only like Annie- she’s a girl isn’t she? That doesn’t even make any sense!”
“You know, you should really talk to Grisha about getting your driver's license.”
Eren sighed and looked out the window instead. Clearly the conversation was over.
Dinner that evening was a silent, hurried affair. Plates were passed from hand to hand with barely a murmur of acknowledgement. Grisha had just returned from his shift, gripping his utensils with hands still raw from countless pairs of latex gloves and harsh sanitizers.
Mikasa coughed pointedly. Eren reached out under the table to deliver a swift, delicate kick to her ankle.
If I bring it up now, he’s just gonna say no because he’s a tired, cranky mess right now.
Unfortunately, either his telepathy failed or Mikasa chose to ignore it because she proceeded to toss her head towards Grisha in a series of short, jerky nods. As if to say, Go ahead, he’s all yours!
Eren’s father put down his fork with a sigh.
“Is there something you want to tell me?”
Nice one. Real subtle. He glared mutinously at Mikasa, but she only raised an eyebrow in her typical impervious fashion.
“I wanna get my license,” He mumbled into his mashed potatoes, cursing the way Grisha’s steady gaze always made him feel small and insignificant.
His father absentmindedly brushed a stray hair away from his temple. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Short, clipped, end of story.
“Why not? Mikasa got hers right away!”
“She’s much more conscientious and careful than you. Plus, the roads are going to start getting bad once winter starts up and I don’t want to have you, an inexperience driver, out in the middle of all that.” The calm, measured tones made Eren feel all the more insulted. As if he was a small child who couldn’t quite grasp the concept that was being explained.
“I think he can handle it,” Mikasa cut in smoothly. “Besides, once I get busy with all the pre-college programs, I might not have time to drive him everywhere.”
“I don’t need to you defend me!” Eren snapped, though he noted with chagrin, that his father’s expression had softened into something more contemplative.
“I’ll think about it,” he sighed, waving a dismissive hand at the two of them. “Right now I need to sleep. Goodnight, and don’t stay up too late.” With a groan of his chair, and the soft clink of cutlery, he was gone.
Mikasa turned to Eren, her lips quirking up as if to say, see, it wasn’t that hard!
“Your turn to do the dishes,” he growled, and stalked off to his room without another word.
As soon as he flopped facedown onto his bed, Eren realized how tired he was. His muscles ached from the consistently grueling practices, and his brain despaired at the notebooks scattered across the floor, holding homework assignments that had yet to be finished. And then there was the whole business with Jean and Annie and Mikasa…
Eren felt his face flush hot against his pillow. With an angry snort, he pushed those thoughts farther down before he had a chance to examine them. He was determined to hold them at a distance, where they could smolder and feed his power in the water without hurting him.