For Jean, it starts early on - when they've just become Scouts, in fact.
It's one day that they're making out in some empty room, sitting in the square of sunlight from the window, soaking it in. They're facing, their legs spread and bent around each other, so that they're close. They're both shirtless, but Jean doesn't think they'll go much further today, because they've been kissing for a while now and neither of them has made a move. They have more free time lately, and they can afford the luxury to waste a hour on lazy kisses, so Jean is alright with that.
Very, acutely alright with that. Eren's lips are surprisingly soft, and warm, and Jean suspects his mouth feels rough and chapped in comparison, and Eren's legs and arms wrap around him in a way that is at the same time delicate and strong and makes him want to melt. Fuck, since when he enjoys kissing the asshole so much? The sticky sweaty fumbling sex they have, he can rationalize that as just blowing off steam - but kissing, like this, slowly, savoring? Kissing fucking Eren?
At the beginning, their kisses were terrible - clinking teeth and bleeding lips and noses bumping - and it was okay, they were just a way to move from fighting territory to fucking territory. Nowadays, it seems like they've learned each other - Jean drools and overdoes it with the poor attempts at technique, Eren is a biter and much too rough and selfish as fuck - and while Jean thinks they're still kind of terrible, it's a terrible that suits them, and he's getting into it to the point that he doesn't want to move forward, doesn't want to move at all - he just wants to kiss Eren, again and again, forever.
What the hell.
Eren's hands move to Jean's shoulders and Eren lets himself fall backwards on the floor, pulling Jean over him, still slow, still without that frantic urge that is usually the sign that they're moving to the sticky sweaty fumbling stage. Jean observes him for a long moment, and Eren looks back at him. His eyes are half-mast, precious shimmering gold barely peeking from under long black lashes, and his lips are pulled in a little smile, and there's a bit of a blush on the apple of his dusky cheeks and Jean swallows.
"Oh, no," he whispers.
"Hmn?" Eren asks.
"It can't be. I can't- ugh- I'm in- I l-" and then for once his brain-to-mouth filter decides to do its job and he cuts himself short just on the verge of blurting it out.
Eren cocks an eyebrow.
"The fuck are you going on about?"
For Eren, it arrives later, and since it's Eren, it's much less tranquil.
They're out drinking, the whole squad, and Connie and Jean and Sasha are riffing on something or other, it's not really important. What's important is that Eren is laughing so hard there are tears in his eyes and his cheeks hurt.
Without meaning to, he looks at Jean, who is grinning wide, his eyes alive and shiny like coins and his face red, all bright teeth and sharp angles, and while most of his brainpower is still employed in following Sasha's intricate description of how her pa deals with tax collectors using bear traps and deer piss, a stray part of him registers that Jean looks handsome tonight - and then it goes on, following something that is apparently a very well beaten path just under the surface of Eren's conscience - he's handsome every night, really, I don't get Mikasa, but then again I'm glad she said no, I would be heartbroken if-.
And then the rest of his brain catches up and Eren stops laughing entirely.
Jean's eyes meet his and his expression softens ever-so-slightly, just a twist of the eyebrows, the corners of his lips dipping down a little - a nothing, but Eren's cheeks feel hot, and he turns his head to the side quickly.
He stands up and mutters something about needing a bathroom. This is a very rough tavern, so he gets pointed to the back entrance and the small street out of it. It's dark and it smells, in there, and the air is cold, but it's lonely, and he can see a little portion of star-dotted sky between the houses' roofs.
He presses against the cleanest portion of wall he can find, heaving in big breaths, his heart beating in his chest like a bird fluttering in a cage.
Jean. Eren is...Jean...
"Eren? Is everything alright?"
...leaning from the door, the warm light from the tavern haloing him.
"You sure?" Jean gets out and walks in front of him, presses a careful hand on his forehead. His words slur a little bit. "You ran out like you had a Titan behind you. Did you drink too much?"
Eren grabs him by the neck and pulls him in for a kiss.
Jean makes a little surprised noise, but doesn't protest - he answers the kiss instead, but tries to keep it kind and slow even as Eren rushes him forward, as usual - it drives Eren crazy.
"What is it?"
Jean moves to kiss under his ear, along the line of his neck.
"I...want your mouth."
"Jerk," he mutters.
But he goes down on his knees, because Jean is secretly a huge pushover, and Eren moans and looks up at the slice of starred sky and berates himself for being a coward.
Jean shouldn't be worried about Eren. He saw him emerge from the corpse of a massive Titan after they had already started to mourn him, he saw him order around Titans like some kind of terrible god, he saw him regrow limbs, for fuck's sake. Plus, he has Mikasa raining from the sky when things go wrong, and Armin organizing elaborated plans to keep him safe, and Erwin willing to put the survival of the entire Legion in jeopardy to make him come back home alive.
And yet, Jean wonders. There's a form of safety that goes beyond integrity of the body, and nobody in Eren's life takes care of that, not Mikasa, who doesn't understand it, not Armin, who has given up his own, not Erwin, who apparently doesn't give a fuck - and sure as hell not Eren.
"Jean? What are you doing staring like a creeper?"
"Nothing, I'm still half asleep."
"Yeah, same for me."
Eren looks exhausted, but he's moving around with alacrity, and seems overall serene. He's always happy when he knows they're going outside, even with the heavy weight of responsibility on him - something about how it makes him feel free.
Still, Jean wonders. Eren looks so young when he yawns, and the shadows under his eyes are dark enough to belong to somebody who didn't sleep at all, rather than somebody who woke up early.
"Are you scared?"
"No, should I be?"
There, Jean guessed right - his voice trembles, ever so slightly, and Jean wonders how comes that nobody ever notices those things, apparently, except himself. Maybe Eren doesn't allow himself even the odd little slip in front of others. Maybe he thinks Jean won't notice.
Maybe it's just sleep deprivation talking.
"Well, I am scared," he says, because it's the truth.
There's something in Eren's eyes for half a second, but it's just a flicker - it's dark and dull, like the impression of depthless nothing Jean gets sometimes when he looks in the eyes of a Titan, and, yeah, definitely sleep deprivation.
"What? No, don't worry, Jean! You just stick close to me and I..."
"We're on different sides."
Eren blinks, once, twice.
"The new formation, remember?"
Eren looks at him, completely dumbfounded, like Jean just spawned a new head or something.
"Yeah. I...yeah, you're right, but I just realized..." Eren bites his lip.
Eren's hands are trembling as he fits the straps and his eyes are dull and dark again and Jean is suddenly struck by the thought that Eren will be sad when Jean dies. He always knew he would be, rationally, because Eren isn't heartless - he's got this grand, generous soul, in fact - but for the first time it hits him, fully, that Eren will mourn him, cry over him even.
Which is weird, how his worry started being about Eren, then about himself, then it rounded up to being about Eren again, because the thought bothers him. So much. Not, disturbingly, the part in which he dies (a sad waste of a hot hunk, but it's bound to happen) but the part in which Eren's sad.
Eren turns the full force of his eyes on him and they're wide and nervous and beautiful oh god and Jean feels the words get stuck in his throat, as cliché as that sounds.
Jean, get it together. It's just words. Words. Puffs of air. You can do this. You talk a lot, way too much sometimes. Go, do it, it will make Eren flustered. He's so cute when he's flustered. It will make Eren happy - you get the chance to make Eren happy, for once in his fucking life, take it, you useless son of a bitch.
"...I...ah, just...Good luck."
Yeah, he chickened out. He's officially humanity's lamest.
Eren snorts at him, but even through his self-loathing, something in his eyes keeps Jean on edge. He looks like Eren, the usual Eren, the immortal asshole - and yet, for a moment there, Jean could have sworn...
Stupid, stupid, stupid fucking Eren.
He was there. He found you, out of some miracle, just as you were there, fiddling with your equipment, wondering if you'll make it back, wondering for how long you can keep going before cracking, wondering if Jean, Armin, Mikasa - how many people will die for your sake today? Are you worth it? You were about to just let yourself fall where you stood and start crying and crying.
But he found you, and he was kind and nervous and tried to make you feel better even when you didn't deserve it, even when you were being a fucking sniveling coward on the whole line, and an useless idiot to boot.
He wished you good luck, and you said something inane, and he actually indulged you, didn't even make the comment about you being a dumb suicidal bastard - and it was there and it was perfect, the instant when you both knew that you were saying goodbye. But you wasted it.
He made to go, but at the last moment, on the door, he stopped, and called out to you.
"Eren." He bit his lip, blushed, didn't turn back fully - he avoided your eyes. "You don't have to play strong for me, alright? Mikasa and Armin need you strong, but I, I don't give a fuck. So don't pretend you're not scared when your hands are shaking so bad you've been trying to tie the same strap three times in a row. I feel like you're underrating my intelligence and it pisses me off."
And you, you stutter one second too much, and Jean, he's not waiting for an answer - and as you reach out your hand to grab his wrist he's already out, and you blurt out "Jean, I lo-" to a closed door. He did his part, he did it so well - he gave you a chance, and you fucking blew it.
You see him later, when you all gather in the courtyard. He's in other squad, on the other side - he passes you quickly and nods at you as he takes position.
You won't see him until the expedition is over. Maybe not until he's a half-eaten corpse. Maybe never again.
Stupid, stupid, stupid as fuck, Eren.
A lot of things in Jean's life would be much easier if Eren wasn't so fucking gorgeous.
Hot, like Jean himself thinks he is, cute like Armin, distantly perfect like Mikasa, soft-sexy like Sasha - those, Jean would be able to handle.
But Eren eschews human concepts of attractiveness. As a Titan, of course, he is prettier than your average Titan, almost handsome (ugh), but even normal Eren, in that trance-like rage state he gets into, has at times something definitely superhuman about himself. He really is like an angry, terrible god, and the comparison makes Jean want to bang his own head against the wall as punishment for ever conceiving it, but also makes him feel dizzy with the realization that he gets to have him - hold him and call him names and kiss him.
And sometimes, like now, even save him - cutting off nerve endings, pulling him out of his Titan cocoon, surrounded by steam, and Eren looks like an image from a nightmare, and yet at the same time it's still Eren, the stupid asshole that slept in his bed the other night, the weight of his arm familiar as Jean puts it around his own neck to help pull him out.
Mikasa lands next to them.
"Is a fucking jerk," Jean says, rudely.
She visibly relaxes.
"You need help?"
"You've got it. Formation holds."
"Then we'll be fine, my horse is here," he points at Buchwald with his chin. "Stay around, though."
"I'm never far. I'll shoot the flare."
She launches the 3DMG and flies away.
Jean follows her with his eyes for an instant, a bit awed at her grace as usual, a bit surprised.
As he finishes pulling out Eren, he wonders. Mikasa protests when somebody tries to directly take care of Eren in her stead. It's usually nothing more than a quick "Let me do it," but she does. She still does it when it's Levi. She never did it with Armin.
She doesn't do it with Jean anymore.
Jean has no idea what that means, if it even means something. But if it does...
Eren stirs, and Jean goes down on one knee on the nape of Titan Eren to take a better hold of him. He's carrying him bridal style, Eren's arm around his neck still. Eren nuzzles his nose against his uniform, his eyes still closed, moving like a sleepwalker. He smiles a little dumb smile, and mutters, with the softest, kindest voice Jean ever heard from him - "Jean."
This is not something real. Eren is just...weird right out of the Titan. He doesn't mean - nobody knows what dreams he makes when he's in the beast anyway. He might be having a little moment thinking of how good Jean would taste as he eats him.
But he's also fucking gorgeous, Eren, unrealistically beautiful in his arms, the marks of the Titan nerve endings looking like some exotic decor, the steam around him making him look like an apparition, and yet at the same time weighing on Jean as something real, his eyes fluttering under his eyelids the way they do when Jean is woken by his noises at night and finds him having a nightmare.
Jean swallows. Mikasa says the formation holds. She's close. No emergency flares. They have half a minute. Not more, but half a minute they can spare.
He buries his face in the crook of Eren's neck, kisses him desperately. Eren chuckles in his sleep. His skin is hot and slightly damp.
His voice breaks as he says it, as loud as he can be without screaming, again and again and again, slowly, savoring the words as they leave his mouth. It feels so good to say it right in his heated skin - but Eren can't hear, and the words leave a weird taste behind.
He dries his tears on Eren's uniform, adjusts his hold on him and moves, before anybody can realize he's wasting the Scouting Legion's time tearfully declaring his love to unconscious Titan shifters.
Sometimes he looks at him, focuses, and says it in his mind, loud and clear, over and over.
It's practice, for when he will actually gather the courage to say it out loud. And there's always the off chance that Jean could turn and ask what's going on and Eren will just blurt it out before he realizes it.
He says it when they're in bed, raining fervent kisses on him, making Jean's breath catch even as he whines about Eren keeping him awake for this bullshit. He says it when he meets his eyes from the other side of the room, and Jean cocks an eyebrow and gives him his "the fuck you want, asshole" look, but his lips curl up just so as he does, a tiny tiny smile that he never makes for anybody else but Eren. He says it when he's between his legs, sucking him off, and Jean's arrogant expression melts away to reveal awe, like Jean can't quite believe it is actually happening. He says it as Jean helps him fix the gear's straps on his body, his face set flat and stern, his hands precise and quick and practical - he's so serious about it, never takes the chance to cop a feel, even if Eren bites his lip and teases him.
He's saying it right now, as they're riding back to the Wall, his front pressed against Jean's back, his face on the nape of his neck, his arms tight around his waist.
Jean's tone is stern and angry, but his shoulders are shaking. Eren doesn't need to listen to know what he's saying, but he does it anyway.
" - break the formation like that, really! You should know better by now, you fucking asshole, you can't risk your limbs just because you'll grow them back, that's not how...hey, what the hell! Fucker, stop mouthing at me, I'm pissed at you!"
Eren laughs. He presses another kiss to Jean's nape, rubs his nose on the short hair there.
"Sorry, do go on, I forgot bitching and moaning at me is the highlight of your day," he says, but he actually means another thing, and he keeps on saying that in his mind all the way back to the Wall, even as he takes Jean's insults.
He says it, over and over again, loud and clear, and hopes that one day Jean will hear.
Other people whisper it to each other's ear, like a secret, one romantic, perfect night, during a candlelit dinner. Or they say it, out loud, not caring who else hears, while they're walking towards danger side to side. Or they yell it, their voices breaking, while they're tangled in the sheets and in each other's limbs, sweaty and bruised with kisses.
Since it's them, it's one sharp early April morning, and they're cleaning Jean's room, which is so often Eren's room too lately. The crisp air and white sunlight enters from the open window, and they're surrounded by the fresh smell of clean sheets, and Jean is still numb with sleep and with spectacular bed hair, and only half-listening as Eren, way too angry for the early hour and dressed in full mom attire, berates him for his inefficient dusting routine.
And this is exactly when Jean blurts it out.
Eren stops saying whatever it is that he was saying and raises his face to look at him, his mouth hanging slightly open, his eyes wide as saucers under the kerchief wrapped around his head, his cheeks flushing, his knuckles going white around the broom's handle.
Jean snaps his mouth shut, silently going so red that he's afraid he's going to faint - but, there's no going back now - the ropes are launched, the hooks bit in, gravity should do the rest.
He clenches his hands and lets his eyes fall to the ground and says it again, so neither of them can pretend it never happened - no turning it into a joke, he thinks, no tiptoeing, no even ifs or despites or whens. Eren doesn't deserve such things - his body gets cut up so much, but he's a whole package and that's how Jean's taking him.
"I mean it. I love you."
"I love you too," Eren answers, before Jean's voice is even done echoing in the air, jumping at the chance, immediately turning it into a challenge - even slightly pissed off that Jean beat him to it, and he could have picked a more romantic moment, the asshole, isn't he the one who's into the mushy stuff - but who is he kidding, it's fucking perfect, it's always been fucking perfect.
"Oh, fuck, I do. I love you." He repeats it, like he used to do in his head, not entirely just because he wants to one-up Jean.
Jean lets out a little noise that is half embarrassed laughter and half sob because he always only ever thought as far as confessing, about how happy it would make Eren, never about Eren saying it back, but he is, he's saying he loves him. Eren Jaeger loves him. Wow.
And to think his mum said Jean would never amount to anything.
"You're so red," Eren says, but he doesn't sound mocking.
He isn't mocking. He's fascinated, because Jean looks so surprised - he had no idea? Really? Eren doesn't know how he could have made it more clear - but then again, Jean took him by surprise, too, even if he himself must have thought it was pretty obvious.
It was pretty obvious, and yet, here they are, rendered speechless and flustered by saying obvious stuff to each other, stuff they should know already. They're such fucking idiots. If humanity could see them right now, the best and brightest, the very last hope, they would just go and surrender to the Titans because we're clearly all doomed.
Eren chuckles a little bit at the thought. Jean half-laughs, too, again, for his own private reasons, and circles the bed to wrap his arms around him, one hand on the nape of his neck, pulling the dumb kerchief off his head, the other on the small of his back, and Eren puts his arms around his neck and tilts slightly on tiptoes, pressing against him, to meet his lips.
And then they burst into laughter and finish making the bed.