I’ll take you there one day.
The ocean. I promise
Jean wakes up. It’s cold.
He’s usually the first one awake, likes to catch the morning sunrise before the day turns into another stress of humanity clawing their way to survival. Where he can sit on the top of the wall and think about how easy it would be to just fall. He would. If he wasn’t such a fucking coward.
Honestly though, why the fuck is he still here? He doesn’t deserve his life, not when there have been so many others that had theirs taken away for no goddamned reason. Marco, Bertolt, Reiner, Krista, Ymir, Armin, Connie, Sasha, Eren, Fuck...
He shakes his head. Grips on handles of his hair and hunches dangerously over the edge of the wall. The key around his neck hits his chin as he bends,
He’s the only one alive, but he’d stopped living the moment he was alone. So fucking alone.
Why the fuck am I still alive?
When Jean signed up for the Army it wasn’t for any other reason than to score a cosy stint near the king, where he’d be well within the walls and well away from titans.
And he was on his way to achieving that, except Eren Jager has a way of fucking with his ideas and morals and entire life. Now he’s a fucking scout who deals with titans every damn day.
His Père once said, if you don’t get what you want, then you were never meant to have it in the first place.
Marco was the first. The exact cause of death isn’t recorded down anywhere, only stating that it was combat related.
When Jean had stumbled across his mutilated body in the violent red of the street it took him all of two seconds to analyse the tooth marks and bloodied gore where the left side of his friend's body should be, and figure out that Marco is totally fucked.
Why they hadn’t recorded 'Monster' as the cause of death, Jean doesn’t know.
The next death is written in a letter. In writing he doesn’t recognise but a wax stamp that symbolises his village.
Eren reads if for him, having found him curled up in one of the old watchtowers on the outskirts of the Survey barracks with hands shaking so badly and vision so clouded that Jean couldn’t make it past the first sentence. It’s okay Jean, let me…
It was a letter about a plague infiltrating his village and leaving it in ruins. He’d read so softly and delicately, like each word was a knife he was reluctant to use. It didn’t matter though, because it drew blood either way, and afterward Eren had tentatively offered his hand. Fingers uncurling from a fist and reaching out.
Jean grasped it like a lifeline, not letting go even when they left the watchtower. Which was okay, because Eren didn't let go either.
From then on, they had dead parents in common.
Then Eren kissed him.
From then on, they were a thing.
There was a period of time, a single year, afterwards which was probably the last time Jean felt genuinely happy. Everything, even down to the air he breathed tasted fresh and sweet.
Despite the sounds of mindless monsters screaming Jean was actually happy. Mostly the feeling of contentment was due to the arms around his waist and shoulders under his hands and the cracked lips against his. All belonging to Eren, on cold nights under bed sheets and warm nights under stars.
I’ll keep you warm.
The stories of Oceans belonged to Eren too. Sometimes wild and fierce, sometimes calm and still.
Eren was like an endlessly burning flame, so bright and ablaze that it set everything around it on fire including Jean. Not that Jean hadn’t jumped willing into it, heart first and with abandon.
You’re such an idiot Jean. Don’t you know what happens to love in war?
It was weird at first considering their history together of butting heads, and that still happened, except the end result was often a passionate session of kissing and touching. People had accepted it more quickly than Jean had thought although everyone had pretty much gotten with each other anyway.
Bertolt and Reiner. Ymir and Krista.
Annie and Mikasa were dancing around like birds when they thought no one was watching, and Connie would make goo-goo eyes at Sasha whenever she was in sight.
An entire year went by like this. Where none of them, the people Jean truly cared about and considered family, fell prey to the war that raged beyond the wall.
Death seemed like someone else’s problem, perhaps the guy who took his own life after he’d watched his girlfriend be swallowed whole, or the woman who cried hysterically in the night for her headless friend.
Death lurked blissfully on the outskirts of Jean's mind, and with all his childish naivety he actually thought it might stay there.
You're such a fucking idiot Jean.
Yeah. He knows.
Annie. Armin. Reiner. Bertolt. Mikasa. Eren…
All at once.
Don’t you know what happens to love in war?
Their deaths aren’t recorded. In fact, they aren’t even registered as dead even though their names have been carved into crosses.
Jean never saw them get slaughtered, just remembers hugging Eren one last time. Being confused when Eren pushes his key, the thing he’s carried around his neck since the beginning, into his palm and whispers, “Keep it safe for me.”
Eren had kissed his forehead with a pained expression on his face. “Keep yourself safe too, okay?”
He gripped Jeans hand tighter, mouth slightly ajar as if to say something but shakes his head instead.
Jean tied the key around his neck. Wondered briefly why it felt so heavy.
He watched them disappear into the tree line from the top of the wall, thinking how jealous he was that they were picked for a special mission whilst he had to stay behind and help manage the new scouts arriving that day.
“Stop sulking Kristien,” Ymir tells him. “You're disturbing the peace.”
“Shut up Ymir, you always disturb everything.”
“You’re just being a fucking pain. Your boyfriend will be back in no time. Don’t worry.”
When they don’t return on their ETA it doesn’t bother anyone. Not at first. There’s been plenty of times where teams haven’t returned for a couple of days due to the number of titans they encounter which would cause delay. However, they had been gone an entire week and Jean curses himself every day that he didn’t go out looking for them right away. He blames himself and then his superiors, Captain Levi and Commander Erwin, who don’t seem to even care at all.
That night he and Connie changed the sheets on the now forever empty beds and cleaned out the belongings of their friends from under their bunks. Connie pretended to look away when Jean cried whilst cleaning out Eren’s bunk, and no one said anything when Christa forced him to move so she could clean it out properly.
Whilst he holds his tears and grips Erens key, recalls the Scouting Legion Motto, For the Glory of Humanity.
He doesn’t think there’s any glory in the death of children.
It had been an entire week since the announcement of his friends' deaths. Their funerals were small and quick. No bodies to burn, no graves to dig.
On Jean’s first night off he goes to the pub in town looking for anything even remotely capable of numbing the pain inside, fast, else he’ll have a fucking meltdown. He’d been suppressing his emotions in order to help his remaining friends, and with him in charge of the new recruits there’s no time for collapse. He needs an outlet, and what better than alcohol and sex?
Within the hour there’s someone with a Rose insignia on their jacket touching his leg, breathing into his face words that Jean’s too drunk and depressed to make out properly. Or rather he doesn’t care what this man is saying, only that he has tan arms that are almost as big as Eren’s and a low husk of a voice.
“What’s the key for?”
“Nothing. Don’t touch it.”
Jean hoped that if he closed his eyes and drunk enough liquor then he might have convinced himself it was Eren.
“Never fucked 'scout before,” the man says as he shoves Jean harshly against the wall of the alleyway outside the bar. A ringing sound echoes in his head from the impact, and he tries to keep his footing, but the man has him pinned and is simultaneously hoisting him up and yanking his pants down. “So hot.”
And the fuck is this guy on about? Jean knows he looks like utter shit. He hasn’t sleep or eaten in an entire week. Must look like some victim of a titan attack. When the man penetrates him he can’t help the tears from forming in his eyes, and whilst the man shushes him and tells him he’ll be gentle, Jean just tells him to shut up and-
“Fuck me already.”
The man obliges eagerly.
It’s not pleasant. It doesn’t feel like Eren, but somewhere in the back of Jeans mind he thinks of tan muscles and green eyes and stories of a forbidden book containing secret oceans… He goes through the motions, mind clouding into a numb blankness where he can’t think, he can’t think, he can’t…
He sobs into the man’s shoulder as he ejaculates. White hot semen running down both his stomach and the inside of his thigh. When they’re finished the man tucks himself away then moves to help Jean with his pants but Jean hisses venomously, shoving the man away and shakily putting his pants back on himself.
The man- hell, he doesn’t even know his name- stares for a moment, face what looks to be concerned in the lamplight. “You okay kid? I didn’t go too rough on ya, did I?”
“No. Fuck off.”
“A-Are you sure? You don’t look too good. Do you want me to-“
“I said fuck off already!”
After a lingering look of hesitance the man turned and left the alley.
Jean sinks down onto the ground, feeling as if someone had liquefied his bones and muscles. He barely had the strength to wipe the tears from his cheeks. He’s cold, and sore, both externally and internally, physically and mentally. He’s exhausted and sick of feeling-… feelings.
Minutes, possibly hours later, he stands and walks home. His neck feels sore where the string cuts into his skin.
If anyone notices him limping that night or a couple of weeks later again, no one says anything.
Krista’s waiting for him with the excited crowd of new recruits, and if it weren’t for the green of her cloak Jean quite possibly could have mistaken her for one of them. She’s just that fucking small and innocent and he totally understands Ymir’s constant need to protect her. She frowns at him when he approaches, giving him a critical once-over and opens her mouth. She doesn’t say anything though, not until the recruits are occupied with learning how to assemble and disassemble their 3DMG gear.
She talks very lowly, an effort not to embarrass his authority in front of the recruits, “You look pale.”
He grunts and flushes red. Oh well, at least that solves the pale problem.
She leans in and sniffs. “You smell like vomit too.”
“Yeah, new perfume. Like it?”
Her eyebrows narrow. “I don’t think it’s going to attract anyone.”
“That would make sense. Since Ymir gave it to me—”
Jean shrugs, avoiding the glare she sends him by picking out a recruit and heatedly explaining to her why it’s so important to learn how to assemble the gear, especially out in the field if your own gear malfunctions and you have to DIY a new one. The recruit stares at him sceptically.
“How are we supposed to get all the way back to the wall for spare parts when we’re stranded without gear?”
“You go for a walk in the forest. Try not to get eaten.”
“Where am I supposed to find spare parts out in the forest?”
Jean would have thought this was obvious, but other recruits are staring at him the same way and he wonders how the hell anyone expects these kids to survive outside the wall with their clear lack of— well, lack of everything.
“Take it off a body. There’s bound to be at least one by the time your gear malfunctions.”
The recruit curls back in horror, orange hair cropped short yet still managing to get in her face. It’s as if Jean had just suggested she eat the body for nutrition and some of the other recruits grimace. One actually mutters gross. Jean seriously wonders what the fuck these kids are thinking applying for the army when they can’t even handle the thought of a dead body.
Was he like this when he first started? He hopes not. Sure, it’s scary seeing a titan for the first time, and watching people literally get eaten alive does nothing to help him sleep at night, and technically he still hasn’t gotten over the death of his friends. Doesn’t know if he ever officially will… but at least he’s not this stupid. Not anymore, anyway.
The recruit, who Jean thinks he may have problems with in the future, recovers from her shock. “Why would I disrespect a body like that!?”
Ah, Jean forgets about the change in mindset one undergoes when leaving the safety of the wall. Death is so common that a decomposing body is like a patch of wildflowers. There’s nothing beyond the wall except for the primitive instinct to survive, maybe kill if you’re capable. All the bullshit and emotions you feel are put on hold until you’re no longer under threat.
“Respect for the dead is something you deal with inside the wall. Out there is nothing but danger. If you want to live past your first mission, I’d suggest you learn how to survive. If that means taking the gear of a fallen soldier then you better be prepared to rip their legs off to get at it. Do you understand?”
Christa clears her throat from behind him but doesn’t interrupt, a quick glance over his shoulder reveals the dark shadow over her eyes. She knows exactly what he’s talking about. Knows her own brutality in the field. Jean’s not too tired to feel bad though and decides to stand from where he’s crouched down by the recruit. “Back to work.”
The recruit glares down at her clenched hands, grits out, “How can you live with yourself?”
Jean doesn’t. “You just do.”
Ymir's a talkative drunk.
“You know who I’m sick of?”
Jean doesn’t know nor does he particularly care. Ymir has a habit of talking shit about everyone (except Christa, obviously) but lately it’s been about politics and the like. Her conversations range from who’s fucking who, to the king being a self-righteous coward who uses the military as a disposable defence so he can live without having to worry about the wall breaking down before his death.
They try to avoid talking about the king since it's taboo to speak ill of royalty. The risk of someone overhearing them could result in charges of conspiring against the crown and potentially their deaths.
On more than one occasion Jean’s witnessed the mysterious disappearances of outspoken soldiers, and even more so the public executions used as warnings.
Jean knows Ymir’s witnessed this too. But sometimes she talks recklessly and brashly, not a care as to who she brings down with her. Except maybe Christa.
“I’m sick of Connie barking around Sash but never having the guts to bite. And I’m sick of Sasha being too damn stupid to figure out what’s fucking right in front of her. They need to fuck already.”
“Nah,” he says contrarily, rolling onto his stomach. The two of them are sitting in their new sleeping quarters, their legion now small enough to combine both girls and boys into one cabin. There's only five of them left after all. “It would be better if they waited till the war ends. when all this titan shit is over.”
He knows the face Ymir is making at him, but he stares determinedly down at where he’s picking the string tied around his neck. He refuses to take it off, even in the showers. He’s worried that somehow Eren would know and be angry at him, thinking he’s trying to wash away the memories of him. He’s not, no matter how much more stable he would be if he couldn’t remember Eren at all.
“Well,” she says around a bottle of rum they stole from Levi’s office, “it sure is awful cute of you to think there will be an ‘End’ to this war, Jeanbo.” From the way she says it, all patronising and sarcastic undertones, it sounds like she thinks it’s anything but cute.
“What’s that supposed to mean? You don’t think there will be?”
Ymir shrugs vaguely, scrutinising the neck of the bottle nursed between her freckled hands. “I think there will be… eventually. But none of us are going to see it, not in our lifetime, not with the jobs we have. We’re the first line of defence against those things, and even though we haven’t seen the armoured titan or anything, who’s to say that it’s not still out there. Waiting for us to let our guard down before wiping us out all out. Successfully this time. Hermia is the only city left, and the capital. It’s happened once, who’s to say it won’t again.”
Jean glares at her. “Why are you always so fucking pessimistic.”
She scoffs, “Like you’re one to talk. Mr My-Boyfriend-Died-I’m-So-Pathetic-Without-Him.”
“Just shut the fuck up, Ymir. I’m fucking serious, I’m over your shit.” His fists clench in a fruitless effort to stop them from shaking. He can feel Ymir staring at him, but he refuses to give her the satisfaction of anything but the cold shoulder. She’s such a fucking bitch sometimes.
How the fuck does Christa put up with her bullshit? She’s nice when we’re alone. Yeah right.
She continues her tirade anyway. Voice the cusp of a slurred purl.
“And it’s called being realistic, Jean. Not- Not pessimistic. I have no reason to believe we will win this war, and I ain’t wasting my fucking time betting on goddamned miracles either. We’re dropping like flies in numbers every day whilst titans are multiplying out of fucking thin air. Our food supply is practically non-existent and there are all sorts of sickness and disease being passed around like a fucking common whore. Jean, listen… If we don’t die out there then- then we’re gonna die in here. Humanity is rotting, from the inside out. We’re losing on both sides of this fucking wall.”
She takes another long, desperate swig of the bottle. Wipes her mouth on the grimy sleeve of her uniform, and whispers lowly, “I-I don’t know how you can ignore that. Whether you choose not to notice or…”
Like you can just ignore any of this. I’d give my left fucking arm for ignorance.
Immediately he thinks of Ewin and feels guilty.
There’s blood on the palms of his hands from where he’s now digging his nails and he wraps them in his cape to hide the shaking, tucks them close to his chest, grasps tighter onto Eren's key. Warm from where it’s rested between his palms.
Ymir’s not wrong. Jean has noticed. He noticed a long time ago. Just doesn’t think he can handle that specific truth looming over his conscience right now. Would rather focus on killing titans and making it through the day without even thinking too heavily about Eren.
“Anyway,” she says after a long silence. “That’s why I think Con and Sasha should fuck. Cause they might never get the chance.”
Jean smiles heartlessly at the ceiling, suddenly tired and utterly done with this conversation. “Well, I still think they should wait. It’s just going to hurt more if they’re together and one of them dies.”
Ymir gives him a morose ‘you speaking from experience Jeanbo’ gaze and whispers, “S’too late anyway. Connie’s already in love. It’s gonna hurt no matter what.”
Connie dies first.
As bad as it is Jean supposes it’s good that he did. If it were Sasha then he doesn’t know how Connie would have handled it. At least that’s what he had thought, until he saw the look on Sasha’s face as Connie shoved her out of the way of the clamping titan hand, only to be caught himself and bitten in half right in front of her. Jean was there, saw the whole thing, killed the titan immediately but by then it was too late.
Connie was half a body and already dead.
Sasha’s face though... it was something Jean couldn’t remove from his thoughts until after the funeral, where he found her sitting by the newly engraved wooden cross, speaking softly to it. He thought about turning around but dark clouds were right above the wall, indicating a barbaric rainfall, and already it was starting to mist around them lightly. If he’d left her she might have caught the flu sickness. Then he’d have two dead friends instead of one.
He put a hand on her shoulder, hesitantly, knowing that if she’s feeling anything like Jean felt at Eren’s funeral, she’d turn around and murder anyone who tried to take this moment of grief from her. But she just shakily clasps his hand and holds it, not looking away from the grave.
“I loved him,” she said. “I never got to tell him.”
Jean doesn’t know what to say, so he remains silent. He wants to tell her that Connie had known, somehow, except he doesn’t know if that’s the truth or just something he’d like to believe.
He decides he’s too tired to believe in anything anymore.
“You ever heard of an Ocean?”
Jean hadn’t. But he assumed it was something amazing if the lightning filled tempest of excitement in Eren’s eyes was anything to go by.
“It’s like a lake, but big, bigger than all the cities and farmland inside the wall. And blue. And beautiful.” Eren leans his chin on Jean’s bony shoulder, sneaking his arms around his waist to link over his abdomen. “Like you.”
Oh jeez. Has Eren been reading some of the girls' cheesy love poems?
Jean twists from his boyfriend’s arms to stare, incredulous, “Are you calling me big?”
“And blue, and beautiful.”
Jean slaps him playfully if only to hide the reddening of his cheeks, as Eren drags him back onto his lap.
“Shut up, Loser.”
He can feel Eren smile against his neck, feels his abnormally sharp incisor tooth (fucking animalistic fangs that leave marks all over his body) graze against skin. Like a knife against a throat, dangerous, fatal, and utterly thrilling. He leans back into the broad chest behind him, knowing that no matter how hard he presses against it, it will remain firm, moored to the ground like an anchor.
Please don’t leave me.
Jean closes his eyes. Tries to imagine an Ocean. Can’t really. Just keeps thinking of the murky brown puddle that formed outside of his house as a kid whenever it rained. A giant mud puddle doesn’t sound beautiful, and it’s hard to make it blue considering Jean’s not the most imaginative person. But he trusts that Eren can see it, and smiles anyway at the intense burning in his eyes.
“I’ll take you there someday,” Eren says. “I promise.”
Jean just nods. “Okay.”
He’d been promoted to Squad leader when a shortage in superiors appeared after a particularly violent attack. The Military supervisors had just taken those with the most field and survival experience and gave them leadership positions. Jean’s not sure if he’s ready to be responsible for several lives yet, he’s only 17 after all, but there's really no one else to take the position.
His team don’t like him very much, which is fine with him, because he doesn’t like them either. Or himself.
He barely remembers their names, and sometimes doesn’t even recognise them. He’s sure they’re beginning to think he’s a mental case, which, okay isn’t too far from the truth… Maybe if he referred to them by their names instead of insults or generalised pronouns they might give more positive responses.
Something to work on, perhaps.
Although he can’t seem to forget the presence of the orange haired recruit, who’s the most vocal and annoying person he’s ever met. Besides Eren. The recruits name is Moselle and won’t shut the fuck up about how much of a psycho Jean is.
He’s 100% sure she’s the one spreading rumours about him cutting himself. He's totally not, Sasha can testify to that, she knows him better than anyone. He will admit he's got cuts and scars, although they're completely normal, every field soldier gets them, nothing unusual.
Except she's also telling everyone he's trying to purposely kill or seriously maim himself just to get discharged from the legion. Keeps saying she once caught him trying to cut out his own tongue.
Which everyone now thinks he’s crazy enough to do to himself, especially after he publicly lost it at a recruit who was giggling during the execution of the kings personal advisories.
That whole event did not bode well with Commander Erwin and the newly appointed second-in-command Levi, who’d both been annoying him lately with questions related to mental health.
“Are you suicidal?”
Jean pretends to think, says sarcastically, “Well, I do throw myself willingly into a field of flesh-eating monsters at least twice a week… so maybe?”
“Kristien, don’t fuck me around.” Levi’s still a total cunt, but Erwin’s nice and smiles encouragingly. It’s partly why Jean’s had a crush on him since forever.
“If I say yes will I have to go to medical?”
Other than that Moselle mostly gossips about how unstable he is as a leader, and is probably why Erwin keeps popping round corners and none-too-covertly asking him questions about his teams' well-being.
Even some of the older scout leaders are giving him cautious looks like they don’t know if one day he’s going to simply explode and start off on a murderous rampage as if he hasn’t known some of them for years.
He’d request for a transfer but simply doesn’t have the energy to even raise the issue. Plus, he figures the red-headed root (one of his roots) of his problems will die soon anyway, with the way she’s determined to bring back every godforsaken recruit that’s injured.
He refuses to think her stubbornness is anything like his own, and her passion is anything like Eren’s. She’s useless at killing titans and Jean’s told her as much. However, she'd simply spat in his face and told him that there’s more to this job than just killing.
Jean begs to differ.
They’re on a mission with Sasha and Christa's squad. Their leader, a runty piece of shit called Huron, is probably the worst leader Jean’s ever seen, perhaps beside himself. The bastard wouldn’t know a plan if it hit him in the face. The only reason their squad’s made it this far with minimal casualties is because they don’t get many field missions and because Sasha and Christa are experienced enough to make good tactical decisions.
Jean leaps from tree to tree, explaining to both teams his plan of action. Although it’s only mildly cloudy the canopy in this part of the forest is thick, making everything below appear dark and gloomy. It’s hard to identify titans in this light, especially when they’re standing still enough to be mistaken as a tree in the distance.
Jeans determined not to make it one of those situations where you only know of the titan when it knows of you fist.
He’s just about to tell everyone to take caution, not that they shouldn’t be already, when he hears a scream. It’s not someone from his team, at least he doesn’t think they’re from his team. The kid had apparently mistaken a titan shoulder for a tree branch and therefore had his arm bitten off.
Jean immediately sends out orders to kill, but already every other titan in the area is alerted. Jean instructs his squad to carry out the plan of luring the Titans to the kill location where the canopy is thinner and more sunlight filters through, making it easier to see. Christa and Sasha take off, along with most of the scouts. Jean remains at the back, ready to follow them up with the remaining squad.
He takes off through the trees until he sees a flash of orange fly down to the forest floor. He doesn’t have much time to detour, knows he’s got to pursue the Titans and be there for the massacre they’ve planned in the kill location, but he needs everyone there to assist.
He reaches the forest floor in seconds, anxiety sprinting along his spine at being so low and exposed.
Moselle is kneeling over the stupid recruit who landed on the titan, hands hovering over the messy stub of a forearm. Jean can see the sharp tooth of bone sticking out amongst the gore, stained slightly pink with blood. The kid's not even crying, just breathing heavily and staring into space. At least, Jean thinks, he’ll die numb with shock, instead of conscious and in pain.
He slaps a hand violently on Moselle’s shoulder and rips her away, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing recruit! Get back to the fucking plan.”
Moselle struggles against him, a fire of hatred behind her eyes that Jean knows is reflected in his own. His anxiety fuels his anger because they don’t fucking have time for this. They need to be at the kill location in less than two minutes if they have any hope reducing casualties. Jean’s already lecturing himself about detouring.
“Let me go!”
“Get to the kill location.”
“Let go you fucking asshole!”
“That's an order recruit.” They don't have time for this. They're in danger.
“How can you just leave him!”
Jean’s gut is on fire and his hands are starting to shake, but refuses to give in to his illogical emotions by physically steeling himself and pushing anything even remotely resembling vulnerability deep down into the dark part of himself he isn’t brave enough to venture.
“He’s already dead.”
She screams, “He’s not!” And attempts to kneel down beside the recruit again, but Jean’s stronger than her and won’t release his grip. She shrieks in pure animalistic anguish and outrage. “You fucking monster! He's not!”
“Get to the fucking kill location now!” He shouts at her, shaking her back and forth callously. His patience has snapped as he starts to forcibly drag her away.
“We can’t leave him like this!” She has tears in her eyes now. “What the hell is wrong with you! He’s still alive! He’s going to die alone unless we-“
She chokes and stares, horrified. Eyes so impossibly wide and stricken with shock. Jean ignores the betrayal shinning there too, reminding himself that yes, he may be an asshole, and he may be a little bit fucked in the head, but he’s also a survivor.
Can’t be one without the other.
He retracts his sword from where it’s buried in the chest of the fallen recruit, who hiccups once, blood spilling over his lips and down his chin before he collapses into stillness. He sheaths his sword and swipes a hand over the recruits face to close the eyelids. His eyelashes catch the blood on Jeans palms.
Moselle simply stands and shakes. Jean finally decides he's run out of the time he literally didn't have to deal with this and takes to the trees.
The mission is rather successful despite the circumstances. They have 12 confirmed kills and only two deaths. When they return to the wall four days later Ymir’s there to greet them, loudly explaining how boring it was without them there to complain to.
But her whining is only received halfheartedly when they see the relief in her eyes.
Sasha and Christa are to take most of the credit, although they beg to differ that it was Jeans plan in the first place that really got them through, “Even if you did arrive late to the party,” Sasha says.
No one asks him why though, not even Christa, who’s usually the first person to pester him when he does weird stuff. Jean supposes the success of the mission is distraction enough, as well as the promotion of Sasha to squad leader. Since the other death was Huron, space had conveniently opened up.
Jean’s walking back from the debrief office when Moselle confronts him. It’s dark and he’s exhausted, so he walks straight past her first.
“Hey!” She shouts.
Jean turns around. It’s getting dark fast, but the nearest lantern offers enough light for him to see the fierce and resentful expression on her face. He does not want to deal with this right now but thinks he probably owes the girl some form of explanation, or at the very least acknowledgement, of what happened.
“I did what had to be done.” His voice is cold even to his ears, and Moselle laughs.
“You’re pathetic,” she says, “And a coward.”
“Yes.” Jean agrees. “I am.”
His agreement seems to phase her little. “I should report you. You don’t deserve the title of Squad leader.”
“No, I don’t.”
“You don’t deserve to be alive.”
Something inside Jean cracks. His heart feels like it’s beating against a brick wall. Left hand absently flying to his chest to clutch at Eren’s key. A habit born from suffering. “No.”
There’s an infinite number of people who deserve life more than he does. The boy he killed included.
Moselle is shaking now, the glimmer of tears falling down her cheeks. “You could have saved him.”
“Possibly.” Although he doubts it. “But it likely would have led to the death of someone else. Perhaps even you.”
“I don’t care!”
Of course, she doesn’t. Jean really doesn’t want to be here, want’s to curl up in his bed now with his key and sleep. Maybe this time, if he’s lucky, he might even die. How many times has he gone to bed wishing he’d never wake up…?
“You could have saved him you fucking bastard.”
“He was going to die anyway. The wound was too great for any medic to successfully treat by the time he’d returned to the wall. At least his death was quick.”
He hopes in vain that these words will pacify her, at least until tomorrow, after he’s attempted to rest.
“It’s… you just stabbed him. You killed him.”
“I have a duty to humanity, to keep it safe at all costs… his death was essential.”
“Because you have a duty too. And you can’t fulfil that if you’re fucking dead.”
Moselle covers her face with her hands. Whimpers. Jean sighs.
“Look, I’m sorry. But there’s nothing I could do except keep him from dying slow and alone.” Because fuck, if Jean doesn’t have nightmares about that every fucking night. Sometimes it’s him, sometimes it’s his friends. Sasha pleading for him to save her, Christa begging him to kill her, Eren… alone in the dark and surrounded by monsters, calling out his name but ultimately bleeding out. Jean can’t think of a worse way to die. “You need to get it together if you’re going to survive this war. Don’t burden yourself with the death of others.”
At this her head snaps up, eyes suddenly bright and accusing. “Why?” she snarls. “You did.”
“You don’t know anything,” he hisses, turns away from her.
“I know that almost all your friends have died… Is that why you’re so demented and sad? Because your team died?”
Partly, mostly. Don’t narrow it down to one thing.
He wonders how she knows this, but then it’s no exact secret how out of the infamous 104th legion only four fucking people remain. He knows how people stare at him, the older scouts who knew of their circumstances and the new ones who learn of their legacy. He wonders if they, he, is a disappointment to any of them.
He doesn’t have any particular attachments to this recruit, or at least that’s what he tells himself. He knows her name, know’s she’s hot-headed and doesn’t think much of him at all. If he were to give her any advice, not just as her squad leader, but as a comrade it would be-
Jean has to swallow past the lump in his throat before he can speak again.
“You will realise one day, that surviving doesn’t mean living, and to consider yourself lucky when your death comes before your comrades. It’s difficult to understand, and i-i do hope you never will, but loosing even a single person in your life can ruin you. And no matter how hard you try, you will never ever be prepared for it.”
She’s still looking at him like he’s absolute scum and he decides he doesn’t care anymore. Fuck her. He’s said his piece and he’s not going to change like she wants him to. He’s going to just go back to bed. He’s going to sleep because he’s so fucking tired.
He almost makes it around the corner but Moselle isn’t finished yet.
“Do you know what everyone’s calling you now?” He turns his head, giving her a view of the sharp angle of his face. “They’re calling you deranged and psycho and insane,” she says.
Oh, yes. He already knew that. He’s heard the whispers a bunch of times.
They’re not wrong.
“They’re saying you’re some sort of lucky death charm. And the religious kooks are saying you're an angel of death.” That’s a new one.
He turns to her, and asks, “Are we done here?”
Her tears have finally dried up even though her eyes are still red and shiny. She sniffs haughtily, wipes her nose, and takes a deep almost resigned sounding breath.
“I think so,” she says.
She's gonna figure you out. Better hide.
It’s Christa next, and Ymir immediately after.
This time Jean’s at the barracks then it happens, teaching his squad how to properly clean their weaponry. He’s explaining the importance of keeping your weapons free of rust when he hears howling, mistaking it at first for a wounded animal that’d wandered in.
But it’s not. It’s Ymir sprinting towards them with blood splattered on her face and down her legs, a limp human shape in her arms. His heart skips a beat at the tangled and bloodied blonde hair. Ymir’s face resembles an open wound, gushing with emotion and raw pain.
Not Christa. Not Christa. Not Christa. Anyone but her.
It should be you.
Jean’s not aware that he’d been running to meet them until he's suddenly there, staring at the hole in the little blonde's side where her stomach should be. For a brief moment, it’s Marco’s glassy-eyed face looking up at him, then Connie’s, and even Eren’s, but they vanish when Ymir screams for help, laying Christa down on the ground and cradling her head.
Hands wave over the body, unsure what to do. There's just too much missing. The dark red in the centre of the wound gushes violently and just won't stop. Jeans to scared to put his hand there to stop it, worried somehow he's going to hurt the little angel further even though he knows, he knows, it's too late.
Somewhere in the distance, someone's shouting for a medic. It might be him.
The medics come.
There’s nothing they can do for her.
They carry her body away gently in a stretcher, abnormally cautious of every limb they move. Jean looks up to see two medics he recognises, sits with them sometimes during meals, both with grimaces on their faces that can only be explained as personal loss.
Of course, they knew Christa. Everyone did. She was the only goddamn piece of light around here sometimes.
“We’ve got her. We can’t-… I-I don’t think there’s anything we can do for her,” one of them explains like Jean doesn’t know that a fucking titan bite is fatal. They don’t take her to the medical barracks. Jean doesn’t have the courage to watch them take his friend to the body retrieval station, where they’ll strip what salvageable pieces of uniform and gear she has to give to the next up-and-coming victim.
Instead, he turns to Ymir like the coward he is.
Ymir is distinctively silent, a sharp contrast to the howling uproar she caused only minutes ago.
When Sasha approaches her she snarls, causing the brunette to stumble away abruptly, and Jean can see the tension in the line of Ymir’s jaw, the clench of her fists. He recognises the signs of someone withholding a breakdown, then none too gently drags her into a nearby storage room with saddles and creates of riding gear.
The door closes. The room is suffocating. Tension thickens the air like smoke in a fire.
Jean holds his key.
Terrified, he watches from the corner as Ymir fights with herself, hissing and scratching and drawing blood where she can. It’s like watching the foxes captured by his father, thrashing mindlessly about in their cages, scared and snarling, rubbing their fur and claws raw against the metal. As a child Jean would beg for his father to release them, unable to stand the desperate howling he could hear all the way from his room. It was only the gruesome bludgeoning of their skulls on the stump just outside the lean-to that would cure the noise.
A sight somehow easier to stomach than the remains of bloodied claws and mattered fur stuck in the wiring of the cages.
Because at least Jean knew they weren’t in pain. They weren’t screaming.
Tears salt his cheeks in sticky tepid lines.
When Ymir’s screaming finally morphs into keening, and her body is a hunched over, broken object on the ground and the air in the room stops violently simmering, Jean crouches down in the tense space beside her. Hands uselessly clasped together, numb with cold.
Ymir speaks. He doesn’t hear it properly. “P-Pardon?”
“Where is she…”
Jean licks his lips dryly, chin wobbling at the image of Christa’s blood-soaked corpse being taken away, then at the thought of her little figure tumbling down into the mass grave like an abandoned dolly. It’s where all the bodies they bring back go since there’s no longer time nor room to bury each person individually.
Christa deserves better, he thinks. They all do.
Except for you.
He can’t tell Ymir where she is. He just can’t. If he tells her where Christa lies, at the bottom of a god-forsaken pile of carnage with maggots and rotting flesh she might just dive in after her. Even though it’s likely she already knows, she’s not stupid. Jean’s just too much of a wimp to say it out loud.
He settles for a gutless, “She’s in a better place.”
Of course, Ymir doesn’t accept this. Doesn’t believe him. But she remains quiet, uncurling like a piece of crumpled parchment does after it’s carelessly thrown away. When she looks at him next it’s with an eerie calm, one that gives Jean a daunting chill right from the back of his neck to the base of his spine. “Ymir-“
“She is, isn’t she. In a better place.” Her hands are clasped together, tucked in close to her chest. With her like this on her knees, it gives her the uncanny impression of praying. Jean bows his head, although he doesn’t think Ymir sees. Doesn’t think she sees much of anything.
Again she startles him when she speaks. She’s surprisingly vocal, although her voice is distorted with the sharp claws of anguish wrapped around her throat, along with a deep, resigned anger.
“We won’t win this war.”
She closes her eyes to look more fierce and more vulnerable than Jean has ever seen her.
“When it ends, it won’t be a win. It will be a great loss, dealing with the pieces of humanity left behind.” Suddenly she turns to him, seizing his arm viciously, snatching his line of sight with her red-rimmed gaze. “Promise me something.”
Jean swallows shakily. Nods. Still can’t feel his hands, only know’s they’re there from where they’re pulling on the key.
“Promise me that you will bury me next to her… When I die, you will bury me next to her. Put my name on her cross.”
Her gaze turns wild, desperate. A plea from a soon-to-be-corpse, Jean knows. “Promise me.”
He nods, “I promise.”
Ymir is found at the bottom of the wall the very next morning, skull caved in and body a shade flatter. She’d jumped whilst they were asleep. Jean doesn’t cry when he puts her name on the cross next to Christa’s.
Even Beyond Death, Do We Stand Together.
He and Sasha stand above it, holding each other's hand tightly, scared even the wind might take them away.
And then there were two.
In a spur of the moment, after returning from a normal mission, Jean takes a knife one day and cuts his wrists.
Frantically, line after line, along both his arms, ranging from shallow to deep, however not deep enough to become life-threatening, at least he doesn’t think. His skin is so thin from malnourishment that the knife glides easy, and Jean’s experienced with slicing things open, he does it for a living, so the cuts are clean, precise almost if he wasn’t in such a fevered state of mind.
It’s incredibly stupid he knows, but as he watches the red make rivers along his arms and wrists and pool into drops on the tips of his fingers he can’t help but feel better. Relieved almost that he actually can still bleed, that he’s not immune to death.
He still has the ability to die.
The rumours aren’t true. He’s not immortal.
He just has to wait.
The new recruits file into the cafeteria, boisterous as always. Young boys and girls, wide eyes, plump faces, wearing newly washed one-size-doesn’t-fit-anybody uniforms salvaged from previously fallen comrades. Sasha points at a small brunette recruit arguing passionately with another, a boy with straw-blonde hair like Armin, and snickers something that sounds like, “They’re totally gonna start making out soon.”
The recruits take their seats, laughing and yelling. One kid stands and throws his bread at another and everyone laughs until one of the older recruits, a man called Dietrich, marches over and cusses them out. He explains none too patiently how food is scarce and they shouldn’t be wasting what they have. He briefly flicks his eyes over to Sasha and Jean’s table, like it’s their fault the kids were loud before he returns to his own.
Jean gives him the fingers and Sasha leans back to shout, “Oi, Dietrich, you remember what smiling is?”
“Go to hell Brous,” he says, scratching at his beard.
“Well, it’s go big or go home, right?” Jean quips over his shoulder in response. Dietrich waves them off.
The newbies settle after that.
Sasha huffs, amused. “Good ole’ Dietrich. Always putting people in their place.”
“He’s awfully grouchy today,” Jean says, taking a small bite of his bread. It sticks to his teeth when he chews.
“I think he’s grouchy every day.”
“Yeah, but today he’s awful,” Jean says.
Sasha takes his soup from under him, as per usual. She’s past telling him he should eat more, knowing he’ll just bitch at her or throw it up later. Some people (Dietrich) give them the stink eye since Sahsa gets two meals instead of once like everyone else. Jean just glares back at them. If they want two meals they should get better friends. He’s just trying to keep his friend healthy and alive.
The fucks wrong with that, Dietrich?
His stomach starts to cramp, and Sasha pretends not to notice when it grumbles.
“Ya know there’s a list going around,” she says between mouthfuls. “Of the hottest recruits in the Legion.”
Jean leans his head on his hand, staring idly as one newbie pulls another’s pigtails. These kids truly are kids. “Who’s at the top?”
“Captain Erwin, who do you think?”
Of course. Erwin’s got a way of making people fall in love with him on sight. Whether it’s because of his physical appearance or that when he smiles at you it’s like you're the one and only thing that could have brightened his day. Jean fell for it, and he’s not surprised that everyone else did too. He wonders if Erwin’s aware that everyone wants to fuck/marry him.
“But get this, you got fourth on the list.”
If Jean was into the habit of eating he would have spit out his food. “The fuck? Are you serious?”
Sasha grins at him, a little smug, “I know right? It’s fucking hilarious. I can’t believe people think your ugly ass horse face is actually attractive. I mean, there’s no way it’s your personality.”
“Oh yeah? And what did you score huh?” he snarls.
Sasha shrugs, says “It was a dicks only list. I didn’t qualify.”
“Whatever,” Jean says, then announces he’s going to shower. Sasha gives him a vaguely worried glance.
“Again? Didn’t you have one this morning?”
Yes, but he still feels dirty. Plus, they’re going into town tonight, visiting Sasha’s mother. He wants to be especially clean for that.
The showers are mostly empty save for two recruits who look like they’re about to leave anyway. Still, it makes him nervous to be around them with his back turned so he waits outside for them to leave.
As they pass by he catches their conversation. Isn’t he from 104? Yeah, I heard he’s a mental case. Look at him now.
He glares at them as he walks in. They scurry off like mice.
Jean strips off his uniform, let’s it fall to the ground. He’ll ask if he can wash it properly at Mrs Braus’ house. See if she wouldn’t mind stitching some of his clothes together either. His pant’s need to be taken in around the waist and his jacket around the shoulders, although he could probably leave the jacket. Just the pants.
The shower’s only lukewarm, better than cold at least. He finds a bar of soap on the ground, tiny pieces of stone stuck to it. He scrapes it off and scrubs himself down, gentle over the lines of bruises over his body. His 3DMG gear has started to give him actual scars now. Jean can visually trace where on his body the straps would be if he was wearing it. Sometimes he takes a turn too fast or pulls up too harshly, and his straps will pull tight everywhere, cutting into his thighs and hips. It looks absurdly like weird, creepy tribal markings.
He stays in as long as he can, attempts to jerk off, but his dick hasn’t been interested in anything in a long time.
You’re dicks just depressed. Sasha explained to him once. Bet your butt is too. Probably misses Eren’s dick. Jean pulled a face, and Sasha laughed, Don’t worry! I’m sure Eren’s dick is missing your ass just as much on the other side.
Jean no longer talks to Sasha about his sex life. He instead chooses to deal with it internally, (i.e going around to random pubs and seeing if he can get laid for the night).
He usually can, guys dig the haunted and underfed look apparently.
Or because you’re so easy. Worth nothing.
Town is abnormally busy. It’s a Sunday though, perhaps that’s why. More and more people have turned to religion as the times become desperate. There’s more money been invested into the church than the military by the people. Jean doesn’t know why it’s not the priests or nuns that are out there every day fighting titans.
Sasha’s mother moved to the centre of Hermhia a year ago when her husband died, having selling the farm and buying a place on the second to top floor of an apartment block. She has a nice view of the town centre and there’s a bakery right below her where she works. It’s a tiny apartment though, Jean and Sasha barely fit in the mattresses in the lounge area.
Mrs Braus throws her hands in the air at the sight of them. It rained on their way there, and whilst it seems to have stopped, they’re still dripping.
“Goodness, you two look like wet kittens. Take your clothes off before you come in, I’ll get you some towels.” She hobbles back into the house while Sasha and Jean remove most of their clothing, bar their underwear. Mrs Braus returns with dry clothing and then both Jean and Sasha are sitting in the tiny kitchen wearing old but dry dresses.
“You really do look pretty in that dress Jeanbo, like a girl,’ Sasha teases, slinging an arm around his shoulder. “Prettier than me.”
Jean snorts, “Most animals are prettier than you. Even that gross alleycat that hangs 'round Levi’s office, with only one eye and no ears.”
“That is true. Gordon is a fine piece of art. Pulls more pussy than half the Legion.”
Jean snickers, glancing around to make sure they weren’t overheard.
Mrs Brous hangs their clothes to dry for the morning over the coal range, where a kettle is boiling next to a pot of soup. Sasha’s mother is one of the best cooks Jean knows, and on more than one occasion he’s begged her to come and work of Survey as a cook, so they could have something other than more-liquid-than-potato stew for once.
Jeans not too bad in the kitchen himself, but cooking makes him too sad for reasons he doesn't discuss anymore. The army took away much from him, and there's no time for pastimes.
“Eat up, Sprouts.” She says, placing two steaming bowls of broth in front of them. With actual identifiable vegetables and meats. The bread is plush against his lips and there’s no crunching sound when Jean bites.
“Thank you, Mrs Brous.”
Mrs Brous tsk’s. “Sweetheart, I’ve said you can call me Gerda.”
“Can I call you Gerda too?” Sasha asks.
“No, now eat your broth before it colds. Jean, honey, there’s plenty more if you’d like, don’t hesitate to ask.”
Jean awkwardly looks down at his nearly full bowl. “Thank you.”
She gives him a long, pensive stare, narrowing her eyes over his shoulders and cheeks. Jean’s collarbone is sticking out from where the neck of the dress is too big and he shrugs his shoulders together in an effort to subtlety rearrange the fabric so it covers it. Mrs Braus frowns. She makes an even deeper frown when Jean asks if she could possibly stitch his pants up tighter, but agrees to do it. He thanks her, although she just sighs, “Are you feeling alright honey? Are you eating?”
He simply nods, tells her it’s normal, it’s just the way his body is. He can tell she doesn’t buy it, and when he curls up on the mattress in the lounge for the night he can hear Sasha and her mother talking about him in hushed voices, assuming he’s asleep.
“He looks deathly thin. The poor thing. He could fit into my wedding dress.”
“Mum, he’s fine. He’s just… He’s a good soldier. His weight isn’t interfering with his mission success or survival, so it’s not an issue that I can take to Medical, or to Levi.”
“Missions aren’t everything.” Mrs Braus says haughtily. “What about his emotional state.”
“What about it?” Sasha counters. “No one’s emotional state is normal. He’s fine, honestly. When this is all over, I’ll let you take him in and you can fatten him up or whatever, but please don’t push him over this. It’s the least of his worries… our worries.”
“I suppose. I’m glad you're looking after him, love.”
“Nah, he’s looking after me. He’s the one who always makes sure we have the best gear. Hey, has that offer for seconds extended to me as well? Or was it just for your favourite child?”
“You have the appetite of your father, and he was a 43-year-old man.”
When Sasha climbs into bed a couple hours later she spoons up next to him, slipping an arm around his waist. He lets her hold him, says nothing when she traces the lines of his rib bones and hip bones. She trails along the healing scars on his arm. He feels her sigh behind him and reaches down to entwine their fingers. He hasn’t cut in a long time, and even though he knows Sasha knows, they’ve never talked about it.
“Do you want to die Jean?” She whispers to the dark.
And the darkness answers back, “I don’t know.”
Gera Braus dies softly one night, and Jean hates that he’s standing over another grave, holding Sasha’s hand again, because he’s the only one she has now.
Yeah, poor Sasha.
Who would want only you?
Jean tries and fails at feeling guilty.
Eventually, Sasha dies too. Because of course she does and it’s not the titans that get her. It’s the fucking flu.
Plus, she’s friends with Jean which apparently by some universal law gets you killed.
Jean sneaks into the isolation tent at night and stays by her side with her hand in his till morning, where he begs and pleads for her to get better, to stay, to not leave him alone. She pats him on the cheek and apologies for not sticking with him till the end, tells him not to give up hope.
“Please Sasha, please don’t leave. I don’t- I can’t-”
“Don’t leave me. Please, Please-“
“It’s gonna be okay Jean. It’s okay.”
No, it’s not.
He watches in mute horror as Sasha's gaze creeps slowly upwards, and fades into nothingness.
It rains when he puts Sasha’s cross into the ground. Big, fat drops of water soaking him all the way through. He doesn’t care. He sits there, looking at all the names of his friends sketched into the wooden crosses. All kept neat and tidy and clean where Jean has tended to them regularly.
Eren’s key is cold in his hand, and Jean’s heart is in so much pain it’s hard to breathe.
There once were twelve.
And now there is one.
There wasn’t really ever any argument about who would be the big spoon and who would be the little spoon. During the start of their relationship, Jean was the taller one, but he was skinny.
Eren was broad, his chest and arms wide and packed with muscle, and it wasn't long before he caught up to Jean in height either, give or take a few months.
It didn’t matter, because Jean despite his sometimes callous exterior was an internally sentimental person, who rather liked (re; craved) the feeling of Eren surrounding him. And on those nights were Jean’s toes simply refuse to warm and his blanket feels like ice itself, Eren will somehow know and sneak into Jean’s bunk like a shadow. Curling around him so Jean can greedily clutch at him and his freakishly beneficial titan heat. Tucking his iceberg toes between Eren’s thighs and sometimes (if it’s really fucking cold, like when the door iced over and they were stuck inside for half the day waiting for it to thaw) he’d force himself into Eren’s shirt too, and even if Eren complained about it stretching with the both of them he always allowed it.
There wasn’t ever any competition over who was top or bottom either. Eren was top. Jean was bottom. Simple as that. Jean never argued, never wanted to, never even crossed his mind. Although it did make sense. Eren was stronger, had more stamina, was able to thrust into Jean repetitively without getting lost in the sensations like Jean so often did.
He was a very determined and one-track-minded person.
Their first time wasn’t as awkward as Jean had thought it would be, considering Jean’s probably the most sexually awkward person he knows, even Bertolt was more confident with himself than Jean. But Eren was determined and had a way of looking at someone without any judgment. Like Eren understood what it was like to be embarrassed of your own skin.
Which he probably did, considering the way he can turn into a giant naked monster.
“Are you sure you wanna?” Eren had asked, considerate, but his voice betrayed the obvious eagerness. His whole body had morphed into a predatory stance that Jean hadn’t realised he was backing away from until he’d hit the corner of the stable they were cleaning... or meant to be cleaning.
“Yeah,” He’d said, trying to sound more confident than he felt.
He knew Eren would back off if he thought Jean had the slightest bit of uncertainty towards the situation, “I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t want it.” When he says it his eyes flicker down to the noticeable bulge in the shifters pants, looking something like he’d stuck a large stick down there. “For fuck's sake Eren.”
“Good,” Eren says, and Jean can detect the relief in his voice, even though he’s clearly trying to come off as not a desperate sex addict. He wonders if this is Eren’s first time, because it’s not Jean’s first time.
Although, when they eventually transgress to the clothes off stage, Eren’s hands, which had currently been roaming over bare skin, come to a halt on his hips, and he looks down with his lip bitten between his teeth, eyebrows fused together. “Ah…”
Jean leans back from where he’d been assaulting Eren’s neck with his tongue. “What?”
“So what do…” He trails off. Jean laughs.
“So you are a virgin!”
He can feel Eren get hot with embarrassment under the pads of his fingers, and a cute flush spreads up his neck. Jean wants to trace it with his lips. Eren takes a step back, looking ridiculously sexy with a flush on his face and his dick erect. It’s lucky that they’ve been assigned to stable cleaning all day and that the stables are a far way away from the barracks, also no one is going to be using the horses today because it’s raining, so the chances of someone walking in on them is low.
Also, thank fuck for tack rooms that lock from the inside. There’s really nowhere soft to lay, but they haven’t even reached that stage yet… Jean will sort that bridge when he reaches it, which is hopefully soon.
“I’m not a virgin virgin. I’ve had sex before. I just… haven’t done it with a dude.” He looks at Jean’s surprised expression, and yells defensively, “What!”
Jean shakes his head, “Who the fuck have you had sex with? When?”
“On my 15th birthday, one of the girls there wanted to help me celebrate. I think her name was Zivia.” Jean continues to stare, mouth open, Eren, with more exasperation than defensiveness, yells once again, “What!”
“What? Well was she good?” Jean tries not to sneer. Knows it’s completely irrelevant that Eren’s slept with another person when he’s standing right here in front of him now. Also, it’s a little hypocritical of him too when Eren’s not the first person he’s ever slept with. He really needs to tone down his attitude towards this.
But the smirk the titan shifter adopts tells Jean that Eren knows exactly how he’s feeling. “Are you jealous?”
He scoffs to hide his own blush. “Hardly.”
“Well, to answer your question, she wasn’t too bad. Did this real neat thing with her tongue when she was sucking me off.” He stares down at Jean determinedly, fully aware of the trap he’s trying to set. Well, if it’s a challenge he’s posing then challenge accepted.
“I can do neat things with my tongue too.”
From there Jean finds himself on his knees, sucking Eren’s dick, which he’s already done many times before but this time it’s with the intent of outdoing that Zivia whore. It’s selfish and shallow and totally dirty, but Jean kinda likes the praise he gets when he does his own tongue trick.
Then Jean’s standing with Eren behind him and bending him over one of the saddles, and Jean’s talking him through the art of preparing someone for a penis. The talking turns moaning and gasping, cause Eren is fucking huge inside him, "Fucking titan of a dick."
“Oh yeah baby. So- Fucking- Fuck!…” Eren groans from behind him, hot breath like steam in his ear. His hands clench around his hipbones, jerking Jean’s body to him. It’s fast and kinda sore but Jean doesn’t care. It feels good. Great. Fantastic.
Jean’s thighs slap against the leather saddle, dick bumping into it painfully, but it still feels so good that he’s coming within minutes, Eren right behind him and filling him with his own warmth. They’re sticky and tired afterwards, too worn to properly move from where they're bent over the saddle, let alone put clothes on. Eren’s heavy above him, Jean pushes him off to allow air into his lungs. There’s white spunk all over his stomach which he lazily wipes off with his hand.
“That was-“ Eren starts.
Eren’s green eyes glow in the dusky hue of the sun. His face is angled in the shadows, as is his tan body. For a 16-year-old, he’s pretty toned.
Jean fumbles for his shirt, picking hay and dirt out of the crevices before throwing it over his head. He feels satisfied that Eren’s obviously satisfied and sex with Eren (so far) has been way better than any other sex he’s had… which concludes to one other time when a friend of his cousins came to a family dinner, and one thing led to another and… Jean found out he liked guys and not girls, even though he’s never experimented with a girl. He’s very sure.
“We should do it again.”
Jean stops pulling on his pants. “You do realise we have to actually do our job and clean the stables, right? Otherwise, the Captain’s never gonna let us work together again.”
“The Captain can suck one. Come on!”
With a roll of his eyes Jean finishes dressing and throws a pitchfork at Eren. He catches it clumsily. “The Captain will cut off your dick if these stables aren’t cleared. Then how are you going to fuck me?”
They get back to work with regular distractions of butt slapping and kissing. Captain Levi raises an eyebrow when they return hours after schedule, and they miss dinner, but Jean’s got some favours with the chef and they managed to score a bun to share.
That night they sneak out to the showers for a repeat of the stables, Eren hoists him up against the shower wall, lets gravity assist with the thrusting and power (not that Eren needs it with his freak titan strength cause fuck he’s weird).
Not once do either of them questions it.
After the funeral, Jean moves into a one bedded room, by himself. Alone. Where he curls up and stares at the wall for days on end. Not Eating. Not Sleeping. Not Talking. He can’t even cry. Doesn’t have anything left in him.
Commander Erwin comes and sits with him. Puts a hand on his shoulder, rubs his back. He doesn’t comment about the way Jean’s spine is practically sticking out of his body, or the fact that his collarbones are sharp enough to cut someone. Jean doesn’t see the grimace but he hears it. Erwin forces him to sit up, forces him to drink and eat a few morsels of stale bread.
He even wraps Jean’s wrists in bandages, silently cleaning the crusted blood where it dried. He gives Jean a wet cloth to clean Eren’s key, that Jean didn’t even know had blood on it.
“Why are you doing this?” Jean asks when Erwin helps him remove his 3DMG straps, which he hadn’t bothered to remove when he’d initially fell into bed.
They’re in a war and Jean’s not the only one losing people.
Erwin looks at him with pained eyes, but Jean can’t understand what's causing the pain. “I owe a favour to a friend, to keep you safe and as healthy as possible.”
“Ah…” Erwin shakes his head, “No one important. I’m sorry.”
There’s no energy left in Jean to inquire further so he lets it slide from memory. “Hey, at least now I don’t have anyone else to lose,” he laughs brokenly, even though it isn’t funny in the slightest.
Erwin doesn’t comment. Puts a hand on his back and guides him to the showers.
Moselle, because after all this fucking time she’s still alive, takes him to one of the few remaining pubs in Hermhia. A dingy sort of grotto tucked away in on of the back alleys.
“You need to do something other than moping. You’re gonna drag the team down.”
He can’t really argue with her, even if he wants to. He doesn’t feel like he has the energy to win. Plus, she’s decided that whilst she hates him he’s something that she has to put up with until she’s skilled enough to receive a squad of her own. They’re both hoping it’s sooner rather than later. Jean’s been begging Levi to promote her since week 1.
They catch a ride into Hermhia on the back of the delivery truck. Which technically is not allowed, but the cart driver is from the same village as Moselle, so as long as they get on and off ten minutes away from town the driver doesn’t mind. The scouts they pass who are walking along the side of the road shout and give them the fingers, although no one rats on them.
Moselle stops him before they’re outside the pub, licks her hand and attempts of style his hair. She complains that it’s greasy.
“What’s it to you?” He sneers.
She looks at him thoughtfully. “You’re right. I’m not the one you’re trying to sleep with.”
Jean wants to ask who it is he is trying to sleep with but they’re already inside by that point and Jean’s ready for a drink... or two, or three. You know what, let's not put a limit on it.
The bar is surprisingly crowded. Most people are from the Stationary Troops, there’s a couple from Survey here, some of the older Scouts who Jean thinks have done what he’s doing and just left for the night. They see Dietrich and make their way over.
Dietrich gives Jean one of the most disapproving glares he could possibly muster, but he smiles at Moselle like she’s an old friend. Who knows, they just might be. Jean doesn’t pay enough attention to his squad to care who they hang out with, so long as it doesn’t hinder them from their duties.
Some scout Jean thinks he recognises is telling a story of a mission, “-and then this titan just crashes into another one, and they both fall-“, and Jean half listens as he surveys the room once again. It’s gloomy since half the lanterns haven’t been lit, no one seems to mind though. Makes it easier for people to reach out to each other. He sees Dietrich stretch an arm around Moselle, and Moselle laughs and pats at his chest playfully. Jean decides it’s time for a drink.
The bartender says they haven’t got whiskey.
“Haven’t had rum here in months. All I’ve got is beer, cider and wine.”
Jean grimaces, supposes cider isn’t too bad and asks for a pint. It tastes watered-down.
He decides to shift over slightly but stay leaning against the bar. Someone shouts something suspiciously close to ‘For his majesty the king! May the wall fall at his death!’, and the whole room erupts into raised drinks, shouts and cheers. Jean lifts his drink from the counter as he’s jostled from a gang of shooting stationary troops beside him.
The troops beside him settle down, although one throws an elbow his way and knocks Jean’s drink so it spills over his hand. “Fuck!” Jean groans.
The rose guard turns around, “I’m sorry,” the feminine voice says, taking Jean slightly off guard. She’s tall, almost as tall as Ymir, and certainly taller than him which is why Jean had assumed she was a man. She had shoulder length blond hair and dark freckles across her cheeks. She actually looks like the offspring of Christa and Ymir.
“It’s… fine. It’s fine.” Jean wipes his hand on his cloak, and downs the rest of his cup. The girl is looking at the insignia on his back.
“Oh, you’re Survey.”
Jean nods distractedly trying to hail the attention of the bartender. He doesn’t want to get roaring drunk but he’s too sober for this shit.
“So you’ve probably seen a titan before right? Up close?”
Jean turns to her incredulously. What kind of question is that? Does she know what he does for a living? Of course he’s seen a titan. “Yeah. Killed some even.”
She fucking looks astonished at this information, and turns to her friends, “Oi, this guy’s killed a titan before!”
And then Jean’s swamped by five other people, the blond girls' friends probably, and wishing he was anywhere else but here. He stretches up to look over their shoulders to where he thinks Dietrich and Moselle are still sitting but can’t see past the crowd. He sighs.
“No way.” One of the troops says as she hangs off the shoulders of the girl. This one has black hair and an ugly snub nose. “Is that really what happens in Survey? You kill titans? I thought it was just going over the wall and making sure there’s no holes in it.”
Jean levels snub nose with a cold glare. “Whatever.” He doesn’t have to explain himself. This is probably why each legion sticks to themselves.
“They’re asking Rose for volunteers to join Survey. Apparently, you guys keep dying.” Snub says. They all laugh, even Jean.
“Yes. We do. We keep dying because we’re actually helping the survival of humanity. You wouldn’t last a fucking day beyond the wall. Bet you’ve never even been out there. Bet you’ve never even seen a fucking titan.”
"Yeah? Well, I bet they're not even that scary."
He should not throw his glass at her. He should not throw his glass at her. He should not—okay there’s glass in her hair. Whoops.
Snub is quiet with shock, and everyone’s looking at him, quiet too with what Jean presumes is also shock. The crowd in the bar are still cheering and hollering, so Jean backs up and slinks into it figuring the lights are low enough that he can disappear easily. When he fights his way to the booth he’s not surprised to find it empty. Not that he came with Moselle to actually hang out with her but… he hopes she hasn’t left to have sex with Dietrich, although that is probably exactly what happened.
Whatever. He doesn’t need looking after.
As if anyone would look after you.
People do. Erwin and Levi do.
They don’t want to.
God, he needs another drink. But he needs to leave the bar before Snub nose sets her hounds on him. He slips out of the bar like a breath. It’s not until he’s outside that he realises how cold it is. Freezing in fact. He can’t remember what season it is, hasn’t exactly been keeping a calendar lately. From the look of the trees and weather, he thinks it’s maybe winter. Sure is cold enough to be winter, maybe spring, although he hasn’t noticed the climate warming.
It’s not raining, but it’s cloudy. Jean looks up and thinks he can make out some stars shining through the billow. It’s pretty. The stars are even prettier out at the barracks, away from the town. And out beyond the wall, where there’s no one, the stars are the brightest Jean’s ever seen.
It’s because he’s looking up that the punch takes him by surprise.
“You skinny motherfucker, that was my girlfriend!” a gruff voice shouts.
Jean gets to his knees from where he’d previously been sprawled out on the flood. He spits out blood. The punch made him bite his tongue. He looks up warily and spies Snub Nose, Tall Blondie and a couple others. The one who punched him is shaking out his hand.
“She’s your girlfriend?”
“Yeah, she is, you Survey scum.”
He smilies bloodily at them. “She must be great in bed if you can put up with her.”
His head hits the concrete, at the same time someone shouts in the distance. Jean, through the ringing in his ears, hears the Rose Guards swear, then the sound of their boots clamping against the cobblestone as they rush around him. With squinted eyes, he can make out a blurry figure coming towards him, large and imposing, and wonders who this new guy is that sent the others running.
The figure, Jean would like to say a man but after meeting the blonde girl tonight he doesn’t feel too confident in his assumptions, crouches next to him and rubs his hair.
Jean see’s shaggy hair and muscled arms, and immediately, foolishly, thinks Eren.
But when his vision finally stops swimming, he can see that no, it’s not Eren, you fucking idiot. The face is wrong, too round, and the hair is shaggy, but it’s black rather than the oakwood brown of Eren’s. And the eyes… they’re blue, not green.
The man shakes his shoulder, “Hey kid, you okay? I scared them off for ya. Why’re they beating you up? You steal something?”
He drags himself up from the ground, wiping the blood from his mouth and spitting. He regards the man, thinks he recognises him from somewhere but doesn’t know where. Can’t put his finger on it until—
“Holy fuck,” the guy exclaims, “You’re that guy I fucked in the alleyway.”
Jean stares at him, trying to recall a specific time to his specific face. He’s fucked a lot of guys in alleyways, so it’s a little hard to narrow it down. Although maybe this is the guy from the very first night. He certainly has the arms…
“Yeah, it is you! Fuck, I was pretty drunk that night, and you were a fucking goner. I was actually debating whether I should go through with it, but,” he laughs shyly, scratching at the back of his neck, “you were pretty demanding.”
It seems to be getting colder by the minute. Jean’s shivering under his cloak. “Thanks for the help.”
“S'nothing. Why were they beating on you anyway?”
Jean shrugs nonchalantly, rubs at his chin to see if it's bleeding. “Got into an argument.”
The guy frowns, “Yeah, I could see that. Got psychical pretty fast.”
Jean wraps his arms around himself, lets his cloak fall over his elbows to keep the meagre warmth close. “I smashed a glass on a girls head.”
“Ah,” the man muses, “that would do it.”
“She was being a bitch.”
He laughs again, then gives Jean a none too subtle once-over, before introducing himself as Bjorn August, from the Military Police. Jean finally notices the horned horse insignia on his forearms. Military Police, Jeans never formally been introduced to someone from the Kings Guard, the title carries too much weight supposes that’s why the others ran off, because they know this mans word means more than theirs in any circumstance.
Jean tries not to the hate man because of it. “I’m Jean Kristien. Survey Corps.”
August looks at his cloak. “Cold?”
There’s no point in lying because Jean’s shaking like a leaf now, so he stays silent.
Bjorn August holds his arm out. “Care to come home with me then? I got a fire going. It’s warm.”
August’s house is nice, it even has proper curtains, and an actual shower all to himself. It’s a fair ways walk from the pub, because its close to the Royal Capitol, and probably the closest Jean’s been in a while to the king.
He asks Jean if he’d like him to make some tea or coffee, and if he’d like a shower, and then if he’d like to wash his clothes, which is how Jean ends up sitting in front of the fire in only a shirt and blanket, sipping the best cup of tea he’s ever had. August is sitting to the left of him, watching him with interest.
Jean stares unashamedly back at him for a while, until he can’t take the staring and snaps, “What?”
August leans forward, elbows on his knees. “Nothing. You just have very prominent cheekbones.”
“Thanks.” He sips his tea.
“So Survey huh? How’d you end up with that shit stick?”
Jean shrugs, the collar of the shirt slips over his shoulder, and he tugs it back up. “I was actually going to join the Military Police.”
His eyes widen as he leans forward eagerly, “Is that right? So what… you chose to become a scout over a kings guard?”
August laughs and stares at Jean in a ‘how on earth can that impossible thing happen’ kinda way. “You chose Survey over Military. That’s fucking insane! I had a cousin in Survey, you might’ve known him. He was a tall bastard, with dark hair like mine. Soren Felker was his name.”
Jean shakes his head.
“Ah, right. He was long before you’re time. How old are you, 16? 17?”
“Well, as I said. Long before your time. He died when I was just graduating. Was kinda the reason why I never went into Survey. I would’ve, if he was still there, except when I got offered a position in the Kings Guard it would’ve been crazy to pass it up.”
The fire groans as a gust of wind howls down the chimney. Jean hopes he can stay here the night because it’s starting to rain. He can hear the raindrops knocking on the window, and they don’t sound happy.
Suddenly, Jean glances over at August curiously. “You ever met the king?”
“Nope. I patrol the Kingdom gates, but the King never leaves his private quarters anymore. Only a select few are allowed to see him.”
Well, that’s fucking weird.
Jean yawns, tired suddenly. He looks at August.
“So, are we gonna fuck or what?”
Levi calls him into his office a few weeks later. To maintain the pretences surrounding Jean and Captain Levi’s relationship, they wait until the door is closed behind them to speak to each other as they usually would.
“You look like shit, kid.”
“You look like someone starved a cat and then strangled it to death.”
Jean looks down at the orange near-hairless tail sticking out from behind Levi’s chair and snorts sarcastically. “Okay.”
Jean’s still bitter at the fact that Levi never warranted a proper search party for when Eren went missing, how he was so easily prepared to write the case off as a titan massacre, no bodies, no traces of anything. He was still pissed at Commander Erwin, who always stood stoically behind Levi’s desk, for authorising the mission and not looking into greater detail what exactly it was that he was sending Jean's friends out into. He hates them both, but has also forgiven them, because what the fuck else is he going to do?
“Jean, when was the last time you had a medical check-up?” Erwin sighs like he’s genuinely worried.
Jean is well aware of what he looks like. He doesn’t particularly care for keeping up with representations of Survey. There are scruffier looking people here, he just so happens to be one of the few unlucky ones under Levi’s radar of personal interest. He knows how Levi looks at him, like an old dog that doesn't know it's been put down yet. And that he’s surprised every time Jean returns home from a mission that should have really left him dead.
Jean doesn’t know why he isn’t dead yet either, just that he isn’t. And might not be for a long time if things keep going the way they’re going.
“Scratch that,” Levi hisses, “When was the last time you ate, or even slept.”
Food’s been out of the picture for a while now. Jean’s been living on the bare minimum. However, considering the rapidly depleting amounts of food being imported from the city it’s not unusual for him to be cutting back on meals. Many of the older scouts have started rationing their meals, giving it to the kids instead who are still growing.
As for sleep, well, Jean hasn’t had a good night of that since Eren’s disappearance.
”You’re becoming a liability, to yourself and your team.”
Jean hunches his shoulders, sheepish. “Yeah, sorry. But maybe if I knew what the fuck I was fighting for anymore, I might actually want to fight.”
Erwin crosses his arms and Levi fixes him with an unimpressed glare. Ever the disappointed parents. They never really bothered to get to know him until Eren died, and then suddenly they wanted to keep tabs on him like he was actually worth something to them.
Somewhere along the way, as more of the 104th legion faded away, Levi and Erwin were the ones Jean depended on to be constants in his life. Even his room had changed into a single bedded room, having been kicked out to make room for the other recruits, who were getting pushed out for the incoming tide of new recruits. There were tons of them, now that the King had ordered the Rose Garrison to participate in the front lines of the battle. Seeing as how Survey was lacking in manpower and more and more titans were breaching the wall and making it crumble.
They were useless though, most were too young and too dumb to teach properly, inexperienced and not fully understanding the weight go the situation. Most hadn’t even seen a fucking titan before, let alone been up close to one out in the open.
Most of them died within their first few weeks. Like lambs to the slaughter. The king really must be desperate. Jean doesn’t know the full extent of how much Titan shit humanity is in, knows that there’s only a little over a thousand of his kind left now. If not less than that.
He only hears what Levi and Erwin tell him, which in itself isn’t much.
“Listen, Kristien, I’m going, to be frank with you.” Levi starts (as if he’s never frank with Jean), resting his elbows on his desk and leaning forward. “There’s a movement going on, both beyond the wall and within it. I can’t tell you what it is, or what exactly is going to happen, but I just want you to be on your guard during the next couple of months, okay kid?”
Jean raises an eyebrow at him, scratching his neck, “Okay, sure… What? Has some rebel organisation decided to take on the king? ‘Don’t see how that would affect us unless we were forced to take defensive measures on his behalf. Although I think a rebellion would be welcome, no?” Jean smiles sadistically, “I’m surprised something like this hasn’t already happened. The current king is shit.”
He adds as a sneering afterthought, scoffing the motto, “‘For His Majesty the King.’ What the fuck are those military police fuckers even doing? Fucking useless. At least the Scouting Legion has a cooler symbol than a horse or a rose…”
His superiors just stare, Erwin coughing into his hand to hide his smile, whilst Levi remains stone-faced as always. They make an odd couple, the two of them, something Jean figured out when he was asked to accompany them into town for a military meeting of sorts and saw them making out in the hallway when he went looking for them.
It’s endearing if Jean wasn’t so pettily jealous.
“Just be careful kid. And get some sleep, would you? I have people complaining of corpses walking around at night, and I have a feeling they’re talking about you.”
Jean gives him the finger as he leaves.
High in a tree, Jean watches as one of his squad members disappears down the gaping hole of the Titans' jaw, hand reaching out and upwards, catching the yellow ridge of a tooth just as the titan’s mammoth teeth clamp down. The scout's hand severs from the body, sticking out from between the jaws of the monster like a piece of food. The tips of the Titans' teeth are stained red.
Jean orders his squad, the few that are left, to retreat and regroup. Give them some time to catch their breath and calm their nerves before attacking once more. Some of them it’s their first time out in the field.
His wrist is bruised from a miscalculated jump yesterday, making his draw time slower than usual. And the branches in this area are thin, unreliable.
He’s watching his squad rest when something catches his attention. Really he should be focusing on the bloodthirsty monster at hand but he can’t when he thinks he sees the vividly green eyes of the dead, just above him atop the think tree branches, shrouded in brown autumn leaves.
Vivid green eyes. Eren’s eyes.
His breath leaves him as he stares back into the shadows of the tree above, watching the eyes watching him. Knees suddenly weak, throat dry, palms sweating where he grips his swords in white knuckles. “Eren,” voice not strong enough to make a sound, just the spill of air over open lips.
It’s Eren. Or maybe Jean’s finally insane.
Jean turns to look at the scout who shouted just in time to see a large hand advancing in his direction. He has seconds to leap out of the way, landing on another, more unsteady branch, which he then bounds off onto the monsters back slashing at the nape of the neck. It’s a routine task, having done it countless times. Jean’s already back to the branch where he saw the eyes, looking up feverishly at the foliage above. Trying in vain to catch a glimpse of the very eyes that have haunted the forefront of his mind each night.
He climbs up into the space where Eren would have been sitting, seeing no sign of damage to the plants as if he was never there. A figment of Jean’s imagination. Surely.
“I swear I saw him.”
Levi doesn’t look particularly pleased about this comment. Looks concerned actually. Like Jean’s a lost child looking for their dead parent. “Listen, Kristien, I’m sure you thought you saw Jaeger, but it’s just not possible.”
“But they never found the bodies!” Jean persists, desperately. He stamps a hand on Levi’s desk, the wind momentum lifting papers and guiding them to the floor. Levi grimaces and leans down to collect them, ignoring his subordinates stare. “There’s no evidence that they’ve died.”
“Jean,” Levi warns.
“What if they’re out there? What if-if somehow they survived, or at least Eren did, cause ya know, he has his titan powers and shit. What if he’s survived and is living out just beyond the wall. What if-“
“Don’t you think that if he were still alive he would have reported back to me? That’s what any normal scout would do, is return home to where it’s safe. Jaeger’s an idiot but not that much of an idiot.”
Levi orders the paper and sets it square on his desk. Sighs through his nose and rests his forehead against his hand. He looks old. Older than Jean ever remembers him to be. Jean forgets sometimes that that Levi’s lost people too, Petra, Hanji, not Erwin though. Not yet. At least he has someone.
You have no one.
Jean steps back from the table, wrapping his arms around himself, cold suddenly.
“Kid, I think you should just forget about today, at least for now. I know things are stressful, and it’s getting increasingly hard to keep a positive attitude, but— Ah, fuck.” Levi reaches under his desk and retrieves a clear bottle of golden liquid. Jean’s never seen his Captain drink alcohol before. Is surprised further when two glasses follow. Alcohol is hard to come by these days, not even the medical tent can afford it for cleaning purposes. Only people who Jean sees drunk nowadays is the old coots who know where to get it. He supposes this makes Levi an old coot now too.
He pours two glasses halfway, pushing one towards Jean, who nurses it between his hands as he waits for the burn of the first sip to fade.
“It’s strong. Probably should've given some warning.” Levi’s smiling around his glass.
Jean sits down on the small padded sofa Levi keeps in his office for late nights. “Where’s Erwin?” He asks after some time of silence.
“Out doing business.”
A pause, then, “I really did see Eren, you know.”
He doesn’t know why it’s so important to him that Levi believes him. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t want to believe himself insane, doesn’t want to start seeing his dead friends everywhere. He just needs someone to tell him it’s possible that Eren could be out there somewhere, still alive. It might just ease the guilt Jean feels for still having his life.
He might be able to get more than a few hours’ sleep at night and eat full meals instead of picking around them or giving them away. Might be able to stop the consistent weight he feels pressing down on his chest, constricting his lungs to take shorter breaths and crushing his heart until it beats too fast or not at all. He’s an everlasting panic attack.
The alcohol is warming from his heated palms, and the sweat makes the glass slippery, yet Jean focuses solely on his captains’ reaction.
Levi sighs, gaze fixed deep into his glass.
“Kid, you’ve survived longer than I’d thought. Longer than most, myself and Erwin aside… How old are you again?”
He sits back in his chair, putting his feet up on his desk in a very un-Levi like way. “When I was 19 I was being recruited for Survey. Or was I 18?” He shrugs. Explains how they used to recruit when soldiers went they were much older. “Doesn’t matter anyway.” Jean imagines his captain at his age, finds it difficult.
He knows a little of Levi’s backstory, only what the man himself has let him know. That he came from the underground, when it still existed, found by Erwin and arrested for something or other. Erwin struck him a deal; his service in Survey in exchange for his freedom. Jean doesn’t know if even this is true, or if it’s just a cover-up to hide the real story. But he does know that when the underground was bombed a few years back, Levi had taken a week’s leave, when he’d never taken one before.
Looking over at Jean curiously, Levi asks, “What did you see in Eren Jaeger anyway? And don’t say personality. I’d like to think I’ve raised recruits with better standards for themselves.”
Jean shrugs, tipping his glass to his lips and downing most of the contents inside. The room is warm with a soft draft coming in from the open window, where the afternoon sun is dripping through, giving the room a light red hue. It’s one of the most peaceful moments Jean’s had over the last couple of months. He tries to savour it.
“I don’t know.” His eyelids droop. “Everything I suppose… I liked his eyes, and his hair. It was usually knotted, and I liked untangling it when we were in bed. I liked how strong he was. He used to lift me up all the time, said it made him feel manly, and I said it made him look stupid. Cause I mean… he was the same height as me and all that… it’s weird.”
His mouth seems to have been taking orders from some unknown entity because Jean’s mind is screaming for him to shut the fuck up before he starts crying, this is his captain for fucks sake, why the hell is he telling Levi this?
But he really can’t stop, throat feeling like it’s made of molasses.
“I liked how loud and opinionated he was. Passionate. We used to argue a lot.” Levi snorts from where he’s staring out the window but otherwise doesn’t interrupt. “But it was fun. He used to come into my bed in the winter, ‘cause he was really warm from his titan thing where I was always so cold, and he didn’t want me to walk over his bed and get colder. So he would climb in next to me. Even though that wasn’t allowed. Sorry.”
“No,” Levi says, “I’m sure everyone did it. I used to do it.”
Levi shrugs like he doesn’t care whether Jean believes him or not. “I was better at not getting caught though. These kids act like they’re not even trying to hide.”
Jean pictures a younger Levi, like a shadow, slinking around at night to Erwin’s room and ordering him to let him under the covers. Can’t imagine that Erwin would have ever rejected him. He laughs slightly at the image.
But what Jean really liked about Eren was that he was always so determined when he did things. And when he cares, he truly cares. When he loves he gives it his all. It’s… scary at first. Overwhelming. Like there’s a sudden rush of attention and touch in your life that wasn’t there before, and then when the shock rolls over, it’s like you need all that love and attention, and Eren was more than happy to give it.
Which is possibly why Jean is still not over the fact that he’s gone. The withdrawal from a relationship like that is soul-shattering, and Jean thinks he will spend the rest of forever picking up the pieces and mending his heart.
His eyes are too heavy now to keep open, as is his body. He’s lying on the couch without registering the fall, mind heavy like it’s been filled with warm water. He can make out Levi’s face over him, recognises the covering feeling of the blanket, understands the words, “Go to sleep kid, you might not look like shit as much in the morning.”
Bjorn August never shuts up, even when they’re both laying in bed, blankets strewn around to look like some form of nest, naked and lazy. Jean winces as he moves to the side to collect his things, tugging his underwear and pants on. When he turns around to find his shirt he sees August staring. August pats the place beside him on the bed, and with much hesitation, Jean climbs over to nestle beside him.
“Jesus, don’t they feed you in Survey?”
Jean rolls his eyes. “Least I’m not getting fat like some assholes.”
His bedmate takes this opportunity to act offended and wrestle Jean underneath him, “Not fat, muscle.”
Jean uselessly tries to push him off, but he’s too weak, and honestly, that probably is due to his diet. “Thought muscle wasn’t supposed to be squishy.”
“Fuck you, you skinny little legion rat.”
He bites at Jean’s neck until Jean manages to shimmy out from under him.
“Hey, what’s the key unlock?” August asks, bending over to rummage through a draw in the bedside table.
Jean wishes he’d put a shirt on. “I dunno,” he shrugs.
“Well, that’s fucking dumb. Want a smoke?” August pulls out a thin cigarette and waves it in Jean’s face before placing it between his lips and lighting it with matches. The smoke curls over his nostrils and into the afternoon sunlight creeping through the gloom of the room.
It looks so tempting and August knows it. “The fuck did you get a cigarette from?”
August shrugs, “I know people. More connections in Rose than Survey. You chose the wrong trade sweetheart.”
Jean’s eyes water when smoke is blown directly in his face. He coughs. “Yeah, no shit. I would kill to have a job where I can sit on my ass all day.”
August just grins at him. He passes the smoke, but Jean declines. “You sure?” August says, confused but otherwise unbothered. He takes another drag and puts his hand on Jean’s leg, petting it softy. It’s not an insinuation though, it’s a comfort, Jean thinks. They sit in silence for a while, August surprising with his ability to keep quiet for more than ten minutes.
“You know, you never did tell me what you’re key unlocked darling,” August asks around his cigar, eyeing Jean’s chest. “Does it open a chest full of treasure? The kings' royal coffer or vault?” He clicks his fingers, “Oh, I know. It’s a key to your heart isn’t it?”
He starts chuckling, deep and boisterous. Similar to Eren’s, except without the taunting undertones. Jean rolls his eyes and pets the key fondly, eyes flicking over to August with a teasing smile. “Wouldn’t you like to know…”
“I would actually.” The seriousness in his voice catches Jean off guard, putting him on edge and losing his smile. “I barely know anything about you, and I know you like it that way.”
From the hesitant expression on Augusts face, the man knows they’re going into uncharted, groundless territory.
In an effort to divert the conversation Jean scoffs, laughs nervously and says, “You know plenty. You’ve seen me naked. Hell, you’ve fucked me.”
“That doesn’t mean I know you.”
“You know enough.” Jean eyes lower to where Augusts cigarette drops ash onto the blankets, reaching out to gently brush it away. When he looks back up Augusts eyes are imploring him intensely. “What more do you want from me?
“I want to know you.”
“You already know me!”
“But I don’t,” he insists. “Yes, I know what you look like naked, and what turns you on, and what position makes you cum faster. I know you're from the Survey Corps, from 104th, and that you’re the last one… I know you’re sad, and I know you’re scared, and I know you don’t want to let anyone in anymore. That you think even this,” he gestures between them, “is a risk you can’t afford. Because you think if you lose another person you’re not going to be able to go on. I know all that, but I don’t know anything about you other than the terrible things…”
Jean wonders when his eyes started watering. He administers August with a resentful glare. “How the fuck do you know any of that?”
“Because I see it in myself.” August grabs at his hand, holding tightly, hotly, refusing to let Jean go even as he instinctively jerks away, “I know what it’s like. I know. And- And I’m not asking for you to fall in love with me. It’s obvious you can’t do that. But I’m asking you… I’m asking you to let me in, Jean. I’m asking you to give me something I can hold onto until you’re gone.”
The sob Jean represses swells in his throat like a festering wound, pulsing in his oesophagus and into his lungs so he can barely breathe.
What the fuck is wrong with him? Why is he saying these things?
He wants you to let him in.
Does he know what that means? Does he know it’s gonna hurt?
It's always gonna hurt.
Jean doesn’t have anything to say to that, still can’t breathe past the lump in his throat. But he can do this, for August. If August needs something to hold onto, then Jean can offer something small. It’s not like the guy is asking Jean to hold onto something in return.
He has such a guilt in his chest that he knows he deserves. It carves and chips and splinters away at his insides like a carver chiselling wood. It’s such a constant feeling of sick and unease that Jean only notices it when he’s run out of things to distract him.
Perhaps he can take from that guilt and turn it into something presentable for August, carve it himself into a fact instead of a decision… not that Jean can tell the difference, but at least a fact can’t hold blame.
“I’ve killed people,” he whispers. So quietly, August leans in to hear him, resting his forehead against Jeans.
Jean shakes his head against Augusts. “I’m a bad person. A bad friend.”
At the admission, the lump in his throat inexplicably dissolves. Eren’s key doesn’t hang as heavy around his neck. The guilt still splinters, but at least he can breathe.
“It’s okay, everything’s gonna be okay,” he hears, sees pink lips moving.
This… This is what August wants. Someone he can reassure and say ‘everything is going to be okay’ to. Whether it’s for his own comfort, or if he takes comfort in comforting someone else… Jean doesn’t know. He doesn’t mind.
He can be that person.
Even if you don’t deserve it.
The walk to the graveyard isn’t far from the Survey Barracks.
A small slice of land from a farmer that donated it when his daughter died in the war, and wanted everyone to have a burial ground. The act of burying the bodies stopped years ago though when the death count rose too high too fast, and instead, people dug large craters and simply burnt the bodies.
The farm is just used for headstones, or rather crosses, divided into ranks or legions. Most of 104th are together, with the exception of Sasha who is buried with the other squad leaders, and where Jean will be buried if he doesn’t move rank between now and his death.
The road to the farm is long and twisted but Jean takes the shortcut that reaches diagonally between the farm and barracks. Although the track is muddied in the rain, a deep thick sludge that sticks to Jean’s boots and climbs his pants. Few people are at the site, as few rarely are. Families and friends stopped visiting long ago when it became too dangerous to travel out of the city.
Although Jean kinda gets off on the risk of knowing that, were the wall to be breached, he would not make it back to Survey in time to suit up.
Probably wouldn’t even try.
He washes his hands with the bucket of collected water at the boundary post of the farm, then walks the distance to the 104th cluster of crosses. A permeant flattened dent of grass and dirt showing how often Jean’s feet have treaded here.
It’s so quiet. Not a sound other than the rain, and Jean shivers with the eeriness. Finally, he reaches the crosses, avoids looking at them collectively in case he overwhelms himself with the number and kneels down to the closest one. Reiner’s one. In his pocket is a small knife which he uses to scrape off the moss and mould growing on the wood, then re-carve Reiner’s name.
Christa used to do it, saying it was a respectful way to remember them. Jean doesn’t know how she’d managed it, considering her as the most emotionally fragile out of their entire group and thinking that this act of visiting their friends’ graves would have really torn her up. Except Christa would always return in good spirits like she’d been cleansed.
She was strong.
When Jean took over he never walked away with that feeling. Never felt anything other than a depressive anger when he carved Eren’s name into the cross, over and over.
He’d broken it, once, having lashed out in a moment of overwhelming emotion and kicked right through the cross, snapping it in half. He had personally handcrafted a new one for Eren that very day and always made sure that he was calm whilst near.
He’s just finishing weeding around the bottom of Reiner’s cross when he notices something in the long grass. He stares, bewildered, hesitant to reach into the tumble of weeds and pull out the small candle nestled underneath.
It’s tiny, easy to make by ripping other wax onto a coal-covered stick, much like the ones they’d used to make whilst in the Training Corps. Candles they’d made themselves from collecting wax from the drippings in the mess hall, lighting them so they had some form of vision whilst they talked late into the night when they weren’t supposed to. Jean had woken many mornings with bags under his eyes from staying up all night gossiping.
His chest winces at the memory, and with a quivering hand he reaches over to the next cross, Armin’s cross, whining when his fingers feel against the surface of grizzled wax.
Someone has definitely been here, between the time of now and four weeks ago, someone has been here.
Shakily he clutches the candle in his hand, bringing it to his collarbone and kneeling over.
He wants to cry, so, so badly. Wants to know who did this, who put this here. He can’t handle these surging feelings of loss, not twice. He’s already mourned his friends. Why does the world insist on reminding him how alone he is?
You deserve it.
It goes on like this for a long time.
He kills. He cries. He kills some more and cries less because who the fuck even cares?
He watches people die, again and again, those who’ve recently joined and those in ranks above him, as few that there are.
Dietrich’s dead eyes stare at him from a pile as it burns, and it should’ve been you, it should’ve been you, it should’ve been you—
It goes on like this for a long time.
Suicide was never an option until it almost became the only one left, and after a terrible night full of tempestuous weather both indoors and out, Jean’s forced to reconsider his options.
The fact that Erwin and Levi are now up his ass about eating and sleeping and keeping his hygiene somewhat decent, then trying to distract him with more missions than any normal soldier would be able to keep up with, it’s hard to find the energy to kill himself when he’s so bone tired.
He tries to make a noose, then laughs at himself for the fact that he actually has to try to kill himself, in consideration of what he does for a living.
His whole duty as a scout is suicidal, why the fuck is he even trying.
One night he taps his knuckles on Levi’s door, not surprised when he enters to find Erwin there too. He raises an eyebrow at the flustered looks on both his superiors’ faces. After all, it was Levi that instigated the ‘no sex on Military grounds/missions rule’ (which everyone ignored to the best of their abilities).
“Kristien,” Levi coughs, idly shuffling around papers, meanwhile Erwin pretends to be interested in something through the window. “To what do I owe this visit?”
“Just wondering when the arrival of the new 3DMG gear will be here. My swords are blunted.”
He stands straight when the captain stares at him suspiciously. “Is that right?” He says, sharing a glance with his partner.
“May I ask where this sudden… inspiration to fight has come from?” Erwin says, and if Jean was paying attention he might have noticed the trace of uncharacteristic nervousness in his voice.
Jean simply smiles sadistically, clasping his hands behind his back as a mock of courtliness. Somehow he still finds the spirit to be an asshole. He's not dead yet.
“I don’t wanna go down without a fight.”
You wake. You kill.
He wakes again… doesn’t know if he ever actually sleeps. Might just close his eyes and lay numb and still for a couple hours. Is that sleep?
If it is, why is he so tired?
You wake. You kill. You starve.
They run out of food. Jean gives his meals away to some of the recruits whose cheekbones are starting to show, not that it does any good, the meal itself is more water than food. Some of the recruits start passing out in training, bodies so tiny and frail, Jean wonders how they ever made it past registration in the first place.
Although he doesn’t really wonder, knows registration is basically non-existent when he sees the body of an 8-year-old return from outside the wall. 3DMG gear almost the size of her entire right leg, the only one left now.
He doesn’t wonder why they’re recruiting babies anymore, but rather how they make uniforms that small.
And then another one, this one nothing but bones, a skeleton who’s skin forgot to fall off. She’s so fucking tiny with glassy eyes and cracked lips. Starved to death, like a rat stuck in a barrel. No one even knew she was hiding under the bed until the smell started to affect the other recruits.
Jean wishes her good luck as she’s thrown into the mass grave.
Asks her silently to send a message to his friends when she reaches the other side.
You wake. You Kill. You detach.
He’d like to weep, but can’t seem to find the emotion.
He catches recruits leaving the barracks late at night, bags under their arms as they throw gaunt, frantic glances over their shoulders for people like Jean, who's on guard duty to make sure no one abandons the war.
Jean never alerts anyone.
Just watches them fade into the darkness, into… freedom? Happiness? What are they looking for? There’s nowhere to run? The city is crawling with guards that would cease and punish them on sight for abandoning their duty, perhaps they’re fleeing to the wild, the few places inside the wall where the Titans haven’t breached.
Jean supposes they could make it, find a farm somewhere and hideout, scavenge enough food together to last them a couple more weeks.
He watches them and doesn’t say anything. It’s crossed his mind a couple of times just to gap it, see how long he’ll survive away from the legion and city. But he can’t.
Everybody you ever loved died here.
And he will too.
He wakes. He kills. He still can’t sleep.
He’s so tired.
He’s so fucking tired.
“I gotta get back before it’s dark,” Jean says but doesn’t move. He’s lying on Augusts bed, naked, watching smoke curl from lips that were previously wrapped around his dick. Huh.
August, who’s been uncannily silent and thoughtful ever since that night, hums. He doesn’t move either. Jean watches the butt of his cigarette slowly be eaten by the flame. He still doesn’t know how the fuck August manages to acquire smokes when Jean knows some of the more seasoned recruits at Survey who have direct connections with the palace can’t even manage extra soap anymore, let alone a comfort like a cigarette.
Eventually, Jean stands and puts his shirt on. The pain in his backside is still there, but less so. He doesn’t know why he feels so sore, it’s not like August was exceptionally rough or aggressive, but Jean’s sure he’s waking up tomorrow with bruises. Whatever, they’ll just blend with the others.
He reaches the door, but for some reason feels compelled to look back on August. He’s grown a beard now, proper, down to his collar almost. Jean hates it but doesn’t care enough to comment.
August gives him a level stare, “Why does this feel like it’s the last time I’ll see you?”
Because it probably is.
Jean’s free days have become shorter and lesser. Today was the first day in almost two months where he was successful in taking a day to himself. No one stopped him on his way to town with some titan problem, which is what usually happens. It’s a miracle that August had the day off too. The Royal Capitol has been tense lately, Jean’s heard through the grapevine that the king is making strange demands, asking for all Military Police to abandon their posts to dig trenches and place sandbags around the immediate perimeter of the king's castle.
Word is that the Royal Capitol is preparing for when the wall breaks, which might be true, except Jean would like to know how the king plans on housing the entire population in just the kingdom.
Of course, that is if the king had any intention of keeping the population inside the walls he’s building around the castle inside, or if all this effort is to keep everyone out.
That’s fucked up.
It is. Jean knows it. Levi and Erwin know it. And when he looks at August, and the way he talks about his job and the military, and how he’s laying on his bed and looking at Jean like he’s burying him, he knows August knows too.
Jeans job keeps out titans, and August’s keeps out humans.
Perhaps that’s why August needs to tell Jean that everything’s alright, to quiet the screech of guilt in his mind that he’s helping a cause only a select few will benefit from.
Even August might not be included in that list. He’s Military, but he’s not the king or one of his associates, and he doesn’t have the money to pay for one of the ’special positions’ at the castle Jean’s heard rumours about.
Jean slowly walks over to August, bends down, and sighs into his hair. “The sex isn’t that bad.” The man doesn’t look like he believes it, probably because it was said without much conviction. Jean nods and licks his lips, kissing the top of his head. “I’ll come back eventually.”
After a moment, August smiles an empty smile. His eyes are resigned and sorrowful.
“Sure you will.”
Jeans smile is just as empty. “See you on the other side, Bjorn.”
He and his team are assigned a stretch of land alongside the wall where a hoard of titans have apparently been wearing down the brickwork. It’s unusual behaviour for titans to gather in one area without the incentive of a large group of humans being near since the only people around are the three scouts assigned as watchmen.
“How long?” he asks, indicating towards the horde with a nod.
“They’ve been doing this for weeks.” One of the scouts says. “It’s like they know this area isn’t as strong as the others. I think they’re getting smarter.”
Jean had wanted to snap at him for putting words like that into the air, but in all honesty, this whole situation was weird, alongside the weirdness that Jean’s Squad was sent to do it. Usually, Jean was reserved for more radical events, such as abnormals or wall breaches. Not facile titan reaping.
He’ll not complain though, and certainly, his squad won’t.
His squad, which now consists of 12-year-olds. He’ll not complain about that either though, because Moselle has a 9 yr old on her squad, and Jean doesn’t think he could handle that.
They’ll die on your team. Everyone always does.
They pitch camp in a barn on the abandoned farm opposite the horde, and whilst it’s uncanny listing to the toneless moans of monsters when they sleep, Jean finds it easier to listen too than the rain outside. Rain meant wet and wet meant slippery, which in turn led to less safe grappling opportunities.
“Will it clear up? The rain?” Olive, his oldest recruit at 14 asks, staring nervously out the barn door.
A kid who’s nicknamed Four because of his missing pinky (caught in his 3DMG gear at practice, Jean didn’t want him on the team but didn’t get a choice), responds, “Kristien said it was going to clear up tomorrow morning.”
Jean did say that. But it will probably rain anyway. Which is fine, rain just means they’ll be a few hours behind schedule.
He rolls over and pretends to sleep.
That morning Jean asses the situation. It’s only drizzling but he decides to wait a few hours for the weather to simmer down anyway. The mission goes off without a hitch, leaving a pile of dead titans at the base. By noon they’re ready to pack up for the half a day journey back to the Survey barracks. He thinks he might go into town tomorrow, see what’s left of Hermiha.
If he can convince Levi to lend him a horse he might even go to the Royal Capital, see if he can find any pubs that are still open for business, maybe mess around with some Military Police…
They take their job so seriously. Jean smiles as he scuffs a puddle on the top of the wall with his boot.
Suddenly the wall shakes, Jean, can feel it vibrating through his boots, jerking his knee bones and rattling the metal of his gear. His troop stop and start murmuring.
Beyond the rain, he thinks he can hear the sound of rubble falling, or crashing.
“What was that?” Four asks. Olive shifts beside him nervously. “Did you hear tha-“
Immediately Jean hushes them, hand in the air for silence. A dark squirming in his stomach, the gut feeling of impending doom is heavy inside him. He strains his hearing beyond the rain, and… there… the distant but definable sound of screeching. He looks up, and his eyes widen drastically.
In the distance, in the exact direction of Hermiha, he can see a humanoid shadow, fuzzy but dark in the rain. He recognises it immediately as the Colossal Titan.
His mouth dries despite the rain dripping from his lips, because no… no this is… this can’t be…
“Fuck. Oh god no, no no no fuck!” He keens quietly, putting a hand on his hip and bending over like his spine is compacting under the sudden stress. He thinks he’s going to have a panic attack.
One of his other scouts' gasp, “Is that…” They point in the direction of the figure, hand trembling like Jean’s entire nervous system. “Is that the…”
“Colossal Titan,” Olive whispers in horror.
“I-I thought it didn’t exist!” Someone cries.
It doesn’t. It shouldn’t, Jean thinks to himself. It hasn’t for years… why now. What…
He didn’t ever imagine something like this to be the end of them. Not when they were doing so well at peacefully dying off, just slowly declining in numbers until there’s none of them left. Not a rapid attack like this is too much, this is different. Jean never thought he would have to go through this shit again, not again… god…
“What do we do?” His team shout at him, and Jean shakes his head because he doesn’t know. Has no fucking clue what to do. How the hell does someone go against… that! There’s too few of them now. In reality, Survey’s basically non-existent, The Rose guard have no idea what they’re doing when it comes to combat and the Military police won’t step in until the king himself is threatened… it’s impossible. There’s nothing they can do.
“Sir! What should we do?”
Jean doesn’t know, but he sprints towards the figure anyway.
By the time they reach Hermiha, the town is in ruins.
Smoke rises from burning wood, hissing in the rain, which somehow has escalated into a proper storm, but Jean can’t tell the difference between the thunder, the tumbling buildings, and the roaring of the sweeping mass of titans littering the area.
They’re everywhere, more than Jean’s seen before, like every titan in existence has gravitated to the gap the Colossal Titan made in the wall, and are now splashing and spilling through it like a released damn.
Jean orders his team to stay close, and as they reach the scouting legion barracks everything is in chaos, and his team end’s up splitting apart anyway. He spies a familiar flicker of red and reaches out.
“Moselle!” he screams above the anarchy of noise drumming in his ears. She turns to him, eyes wide.
“It’s the C-Colossal titan, it’s real. It’s here.”
He can see that. “What’s the Commander doing about it? What’s the plan?”
But she shakes her head. “The Commander- no one can find him. He’s gone. No one knows what to do, everyone’s just running towards the Royal Capitol… Sir, what-“
She’s cut off as a titan stumbles into the barracks, followed by others, and they both leap out of the way. Jean knows they have to get out of here, except he doesn’t like the idea of going to the centre of town. He goes anyway, killing what he can and desperately avoiding what he can’t. He wants to look for Levi and Erwin, ask them what the fuck, but is too wired and in shock to make a proper strategy to find them.
It’s still raining.
Jean stands on the top of the cathedral, watching with Erens key clutched in his trembling hand as the Colossal Titan steadily lumbers towards the Royal Capital.
Obviously, it intends to strike the palace and the king, which Jean would consent to if more than two-thirds of the remaining population wasn’t living there. All the other titans are stumbling after it, including the Armoured Titan and a mass of other abnormals.
It’s like they’ve all gathered to destroy humanity on the same day.
To the right of him another building collapses, a titan pulling the mangled body of a woman from the rubble and tossing it carelessly over its shoulder. Jean can’t believe it. They’re not even eating people, just killing them.
To the left is a family, two children crying, banging on the door of a house, screaming to be let in. A gruesome titan with teeth growing outside of its mouth bats them away from the door with a single swing of its fist, a sickening high pitched scream falls is ripped from the children mouths upon impact with the wall they flew into. Then silence.
Jean stares at the splattering of red where the family collided against the wall. Unblinking, unfeeling, his hands slipping against the cathedral steeple, causing him to almost fall the 50 or so feet down.
He needs to stop, needs to force himself to calm down, take deep breaths. No use having a panic attack in the middle of a war zone. No use at all. But fuck it if anything is going to be of use right now. Fuck, his entire squad is separated, he couldn’t even keep them together. How the hell is he going to be helpful? He’s useless anyway, goddamn fucking useless. He-
Just lay down and die.
He has to move.
He has to move now.
The fucking titan has spotted him, lazily grinning at him with his freakishly ingrown teeth. Jean stumbles his way down the church, blood pumping so rapidly he can feel it moving around his body. He land’s badly on his ankle but barely notices the pain, running along the roof and leaping from the direction of the titan. He needs to shake him, get him off his trail. Jean’s smaller and more nimble, but he’s already short of breath, having run all the way here from when he and his team first felt the wall tremble, and his lungs can’t seem to inhale anything that isn’t dust or smoke.
And this rain, this godforsaken fucking rain is like thunder in his ears.
Move! It’s right fucking behind you, move!
The roof is smooth and wet enough that he can slide along easily enough and maintain his momentum when he dodges his way out of the titan’s fist. Jerkily, he pivots into a crouching position facing the titan, and leaps onto the fist buried in the broken bricks of the church roof. His shoes barely find grip on the titan's arm as he scales upwards towards the titan's toothy face, side-eyeing the other large hand rapidly approaching his right.
He anticipates then it’s going to swat at him and uses that as a platform to boost his way to the titan’s grotesque face, lining up his swords to skewer its left eyeball. The force releases a squishing sound, like stepping in mud, and the black ink of the pupil explodes over Jean’s hands, but already Jean is focused on ascending to the titan’s head, where from there he impales the titan’s neck.
The titan falls to the ground, and Jean with it, barely keeping balance when the body hits the stones. He rests, as in falls to his knees on the carcass of the titan and choking on his breath. Only for a moment though. There's no time for rest, no time for him to let his guard down. Not here. “Come on…” he begs of himself, “Get up, come on.”
Get up you useless fuck.
He forces his exhausted legs to take him to the titan's face to retrieve his other sword, ghosting a smile when he finds that the head is turned sideways and not face down. A dribble of slime follows his sword as he pulls it from the socket.
“Ew.” He says, walking to a nearby puddle to clean it. It’s darker down of the street, sheltered from the sun by the rain. Around him people are scurrying from alleyway to alleyway like rats in sewers, some stopping to glance at him curiously, recognising the insignia on his back. But he’s not bothered by anyone.
Perhaps if instead of wings he had a rose, people might look to him for guidance.
Perhaps they know you’re a weakling just by looking at you.
“For the Glory of Humanity,” he says, half a sob.
Jean doesn’t bring glory, he brings death. His squad, which he shouldn’t have let split up, his health, which he shouldn’t have let decline, and his friends, which he just- he can’t.
“Okay,” he breathes, having finally inhaled a sufficient amount of oxygen into his lungs. “Okay, I need, I need to just-…” What? What is there to do? The walls are broken, he’s sure that the Kingdom is done for now.
However, he does need to get out from street level, realising just how dangerous his current position is. When he makes it to the rooftops he has decent sight of the Royal Capitol, can see the Colossal titan’s back as it marches through the castle like it’s a mound of dirt.
Jean just hopes that whatever nobility or citizen who lived in the Capitol managed to escape down into the bunkers below the castle before the titans set upon them. Although judging by the sinisterly vague pitches of screams, Jean has a sick feeling not everyone’s made it to the bunkers.
He can spy only a few other military personnel in action, appearing like flies buzzing around the Titans. Everyone else is probably dead, or maybe hiding, having become too overwhelmed to fight. Jean wouldn’t blame them, he was seconds away from hiding himself only moments ago. It’s unlikely any Stationary Guards are fighting still, as they have lesser combat experience, along with being on the front lines with the Scouting Legion, it’s simply circumstance that they’re first to go.
And Jean doubts the Military Police will be abundantly helpful, for their cosy ranks close to the king means they’ve even less titan experience than anyone from Stationary. For fucks sake, this is just a hopeless shit show.
They are so underprepared for an attack, how the fuck did anyone let this happen.
Maybe if he could reach some of the other militaries, form a plan, see what they think should be done. Perhaps he should head inwards, further towards the city. Its suicide, he knows that, but maybe he’s been kept alive to perform suicidal acts and survive them. That logic has been applied to his life up till now, surely it hasn’t abandoned him.
Angel of death.
Maybe he should just go back to the Scouting Barracks, try to see if anyone’s still there, maybe Levi and Erwin are, although Jean can’t imagine them just sitting out of something like this.
Fuck, he doesn’t know! He’s not- not sane enough to deal with this. He’s tired and sore, and the odds are so monumentally stacked against him it seems like insanity to not just roll over and die.
At some point, he stumbles across an alleyway of bodies, the rags of civilians mixed with the cloaks of green and patches of blue. It’s an unusual, concentrated amount of people to be in an alleyway as if they were corralled. There must be at least 50 of them, strewn amongst the rubble of the fallen buildings on each side.
Jean spies the tiny, dust coated fingers of a child peeking out from under a slab of rock and decides to avoid the alleyway all together, least his stomach decide to rid itself of the non-existent contents inside.
A spike of cold runs the length of his spine. His ears are pricked as he turns and peers wild-eyed into the alley.
Coughing, then, “J… Jea-n.”
Yes. That is the sound of someone dying. It’s hacked and jagged but quiet. Jean doesn’t recognise the voice, but they know his name, which means-
He stumbles over the rubble and bodies, desolately ignoring the carnage of lives he’s stepping on. His knees become weak and trembling, staying upright becoming almost to great of a task to perform but he forces himself to stand, to continue. He must. Someone’s calling out for him. Someone needs his help. He can’t, he-
He knows that hair. Orange like an autumn leaf. Attitude to match the colour. It’s Moselle, half buried with blood spotted spittle leaking from her mouth, but alive.
Around her body is dust and debris, and he cut’s his hands trying to dig her out. She coughs harshly when she’s pulled from the wreckage, and almost crumbles in his arms like the buildings around them. Her vacant eyes gaze up at him, widening in pain when she coughs, crushed hands jerking towards her stomach.
Jean only then notices her entire torso is stained in red, shakily lifts her top to reveal a gruesome sight of a crushed ribcage. It’s like it’s been rolled on by a rolling pin, so flat that the skin has burst and the ribs have broken and torn through, sticking out the side like demented fingers clawing their way out.
“K-Kill… M-Me…” She jerkily closes her eyes. Breaths shallow and fleeting, like she’s whispering secrets. “Jean, kill m-… k-k-…”
He doesn’t know how long she’s been in this state, but he knows she’s not going to survive much longer. Maybe a day at the most, if it’s a slow and painful death fate has planned for her, which by the looks of it, it’s exactly what fate has planned.
He’d promised himself no more attachments long ago, but realises he’s become careless, allowed himself to feel safe thinking that there wasn’t anyone else left to lose. However, emotions have a sadistic way of blending into things and hiding in places they’re not welcome.
He shouldn’t have become attached. It would make this so much easier.
As stoically as he can, he slits her throat and lets her blood warm his hands as he cradles her head. When her eyes dull and her breathing stops for the final time, he staggers back out of the alleyway, near falling against the other side of the street to vomit acidic bile.
Time passes, although Jean’s not sure if it’s seconds, minutes or hours. Could have been days for all he knows. Doesn’t care either.
The sun is still in the sky, although barely. Everything is dark from the rain, and wet. It’s becoming increasingly harder to see, Jean strains to find area’s that aren’t just a black endless pit. At least with the increase of rain it blocks the sounds of carnage around him, although Jean’s so tired he’s not sure if he’s just numb to sound. His heartbeat even seems quiet, his breathing too. Like they’ve both just… stopped.
His 3DMG gear is inoperative, from having been caught off guard and brutally kicked into a wall. His gear taking the brunt from both sides, saving him from broken hips. It’s discarded somewhere in the cities centre, where Jean had finally decided to go only to be driven out again by the collective number of abnormals crawling the place.
He’d managed to salvage his swords from another recruit, a rose insignia on their back. Their head’s a plate of mince on the ground, he carefully steps around it to retrieve the swords.
They’re still sharp, as if they’ve never seen battle.
Although he’s not sure what good they’ll be to him anymore. They feel heavy in his hands. He’s not sure how many Titans he’s encountered, not even sure if he’s succeeded in killing the ones he got personal with. Every grotesque nightmare is the same, Jean can’t tell one from the next.
His entire person is running on instinct.
He shakes, cries, kills and lives, but he can’t remember when this cycle started. If it was today or yesterday, or years ago.
Maybe when Sasha died, or Eren. Maybe Marco or his Parents. Maybe he has just been broken from the start. Marco said he wasn’t strong, and fuck he’s right. Jean’s not strong. He’s fucking pathetic.
But-… As if any of it is even fucking relevant anymore. He realises he’s complaining about death, the one inevitable fact of life, and wonders if any of it it was ever relevant.
Existentially relevant, he means. Because existential relevance is something he’s having a hard time understanding about himself.
Somehow his ankle causes him to start limping, although he can’t remember how or when he got the injury, can’t even feel it, only knowing it’s there from the off-balanced gait of his run. His lips are dry despite his entire body being drenched in rain.
Eventually he comes across an empty building with a missing door and stumbles into it. Upstairs is completely gone, as if something sliced it away with a knife, which means rain is pouring in through the open stairway. However, the majority of the downstairs is dry, with a couch in the corner even, that Jean falls onto carelessly.
He’s so numb, his nerves are shot and frayed. All over feels like an open wound that he can’t feel physically, but is psyching himself over mentally. When he tries to push himself up to remove his cloak his hands tremble so badly that he falls back down. They’re shaking so terribly, seizing, and Jean briefly entertains the idea that he’s having an aneurysm from the amount of exhaustion he feels.
He holds desperately to Eren’s key.
Like a lifeline.
“Please let me sleep,” he begs his body. “Please go to sleep.”
He’s so tired. He doesn’t want to think anymore. He can’t. He just can’t. He can’t keep doing this, not with the devastation of the city, not with the screams of the civilians. Or the monsters roaming outside, or the rain flooding the streets. He certainly can’t deal with the amount of death, refuses to even venture into that mindset, can only allow himself to be self-pitying of just how alone he is.
He’s alone. So alone. Always alone. Why… Why can’t he just sleep? Go to sleep. “I can’t do it anymore, please.” Please, “I can’t.”
His ears are ringing with the pulsing of his head, as if his brain is expanding out of his skull, pushing arduously against his temple and out his ears. So alone, so alone. God you’re pathetic, but he can’t handle even himself right now. Just wants to sleep, just sleep please, just—
“Oh fuck, Jean.”
Useless and weak and pathetic. He should have died long ago. Save him the trouble of dying alone now, in some random room on a half sodden couch. Alone. Alone. Alone.
“It’s alright baby…”
Something touches his back, softly. Jean flinches. Whimpers. Turns around, or tires to. He feels someone try to uncurl him. “No.” He’s past begging, only whimpers now, breaths shallow and soft. “Please no.”
“I can’t believe I found you, fuck Jean. You’re alive. You’re fucking alive.”
No. That voice. That’s his voice, he knows it’s his voice, it’s coming from his mouth. An outline of his hand on his wet shoulder, Jean knows the feel of that hand, the pressure. He knows goddamn it. He knows but he can’t understand, can’t think, can’t feel, can’t breathe—
“No, hey, baby. It’s okay, I’m here, hey.” Breath on his face, hot, but Jean refuses to open his eyes. Can’t remember when he closed them. “Jean, you’re crying. Why are you crying?”
Is he? Does he still have the energy?
Jean blinks his eyes open, waits until the tears drop from the top of his pupils down onto his cheekbones. He sees someone above him. Shaggy hair. Tan skin. Hot skin. Like the tears against his face, the skin is burning against his shoulder where a large hand grips it, hard, grinding his thin bones together. It hurts but it’s a feeling that Jean can latch onto, navigate around.
When the image comes into focus, Jean’s heart finally, finally, stops.
Because he sees Eren’s green eyes, and they’re so beautiful. So fucking beautiful. He never wants to look away, doesn’t want to ever look at anything else again. Will willingly stay captured in this moment of just Eren’s jade eyes. God he’s beautiful. Jean tries to reach out but his arms are too weak. He’s so weak. Eren is right there and he can’t even hold him. That’s fine. It’s fine. You’re fine. He’s content with just looking.
They’re so bright, so real, and they’re so determined, always determined, no matter what.
Jean smiles. Tries to keep his own eyes open, but his lids are led and require more energy that Jean has to hold up. When he lets them fall he lets tears fall too. Feels himself fall, into that dark oblivion. He’s terrified.
He sleeps. He dreams.
Of being jerked around slightly, like when he was a child and his father would swing him in circles, pretending to be a windmill and Jean was the fox pup who had clung to the end.
Of being forced to stand in the rain for hours and complete drills. Levi’s voice ringing in the background like a clock tower bell.
Of climbing into his parent’s bed after a nightmare, fabric a material solace against his skin.
Of laying next to something warm and soft, yet solid at the same time. Soft and Solid. Feels like a body, like Eren. It’s most likely not Eren, but Jean pretends it is. When he feels his cheek vibrate he pretends it’s resting on Eren’s chest, and Eren is speaking, can almost hear him. “I’m so glad you survived Jean.”
Jean doesn’t know what that means. He doesn’t care.
He dreams, and he’s surprised. He didn’t think you could dream in death.
Jean wakes slowly, lethargically.
He’s first aware of the backs of his eyelids, glowing a womb-like red in the sun, whose rays he can feel flame against certain parts of his body, his face and legs. It’s hot, but not uncomfortable.
There’s a warm cocoon of softness around him. Jean is very confused as to where he is at the moment, however his minds so at ease and unguarded that he can’t find the strength to question it, just accepts that he’s safe for now, hopefully.
Safe in death.
He thinks he falls back asleep, and the next time he wakes he’s a little more conscious, forces himself to move.
He stretches out from his curled position, tentatively, not sure how far this cocoon goes, not sure how damaged his body is from the past hours… days… he doesn’t know. All he can remember is being sent out on a mission along the wall with his team, and the rest of his memories are a blurry mess.
Not that he tries incredibly hard to focus them.
His muscles argue against him when he tries to sit up, spine shrieking a series of clicks and pops, head thundering a storm of protest. He ignores it in favour of opening his eyes.
A room, large, with a double bed which he’s currently residing on, and a set of draws against one wall. It’s a corner room, with two sets of windows getting in the opposite corner of the door, the curtains closed save for the sliver of light which woke Jean before.
There’s a pile of clothes on the floor which Jean doesn’t recognise, and a few books stacked in a chair next to the dresser. Jeans breath catches when he sees the Survey Cloak displayed on the wall behind him, edges spread out like wings, the insignia of the Scouting Legion in clear view in the centre.
Someone definitely lives here. And whoever they are, they’re part of Survey. This calms Jean marginally.
He shuffles to the end of the bed and stands unsteadily, falling back down when he tries to step.
Come on, get up.
Finally, with some failed attempts, he manages to stumble his way to the curtained window, his ankle throbbing with each step. It’s bruised, Jean can’t remember how. He falls against the window, clutching onto the curtain for support. Why is this so hard? Oh yeah, because he’s a pathetic weakling.
When his internal gravity finally finds its balance, he opens the window.
“Oh,” Jean says breathlessly.
Big, Blue, Beautiful… Ocean, his mind supplies helpfully. It has to be.
He knows he’s far, far away from the land he lived in, as beyond the window is the biggest body of water Jean’s ever seen, sparkling in the sun like kings jewels. It’s so expansive, endless, Jean’s eyes follow it along, up and up and over and over until the thin line meets the clear of the sky, almost indistinguishable in colour. Like a giant reflection of sky, a blue blanket broken only by the white lips of waves. Where does it begin, where does it end? How did it get there? It must have taken an awful lot of rain. But Eren was right, he thinks, it is big and blue, and-
Oh… That’s, oh…
Ever so slowly Jean turns around. Eren grins, says, “It’s beautiful like you,” and Jean’s lungs fucking shatter.
“Holy fuck… you're fucking alive,” Jean says.
“Always was,” Eren says.
Eren stands in the doorway, looking everything and nothing like when he disappeared. He’s bigger, taller, much taller than Jean now, which Jean’s far too overwhelmed to bitch about, something he would have done before, but not now.
Now that Eren’s standing right fucking in front of him.
Eren’s obviously been eating well and sleeping well, something unclenches deep within Jean knowing that his boyfriend wasn’t suffering, that he’s healthy and been looking after himself. All those terrible nightmares of Eren lying in a ditch, starving, scared, hiding for his life, they can vanish now, because he’s here, he’s fine.
His jaw is broader, has stubble on it. They can finally shave together, he thinks, absurdly.
Eren’s hands' jerk at his sides, his whole body is stiff, restrained, like he’s holding back from charging over to Jean and hugging him. Jean really wishes he would stop holding back.
“Beautiful like you, right?”
Eren’s voice. Smooth. Older. He sounds like a grown-up. When the fuck did that happen?
He can’t take it, the howling inside is too much now. His composure breaks down, and he blindly stumbles towards his once-dead-now-alive boyfriend, arms out like a child, sobbing in relief when he’s met halfway with strong arms and broad chest. Shakily he touches them, clings as his legs buckle from underneath him. The fucking traitors. Jean wishes he could pull himself together, but doesn’t know how. Doesn’t even know where to start.
Here Eren is, and all you can do is cry like a fucking bitch.
He feels Eren usher him over to the bed, settling them down amongst the soft material. Jean tries to calm himself, takes deeper breaths so he doesn’t just start screaming,
Although it’s basically pointless. He can feel the tears running down his cheeks, feel his nose blocking up. Because now he’s seen Eren, feels Eren. Eren’s here, he’s here…
Jean gasps wetly, nasally from his blocked nose. His fingers are gripped so tightly into Eren’s shirt and skin they’re white. He worries he’s hurting him but Eren seems fine. He’s alive of cause he’s fine. “You’re alive. You’re fucking here. .”
“I am.,” Eren says. The words breathed low into the shell of Jean’s ear as he cups Jean’s hollow cheek with a calloused hand, absently thumping over the contours of Jean’s ribs. “I’m here.”
Jean really really wants to stop crying. He can’t. His hands shake when he presses them over his mouth, tucks himself in close to Eren to stifle them. Head and shoulders hunched, like he’s trying to hide away from everything. He probably is.
It’s just that there are so many emotions. Happiness of course, and relief, shock is probably the strongest at the moment, followed by confusion.
Don’t forget guilt.
He cries for a long, long time. Until it’s dark outside. And Eren, thank god, doesn’t move an inch. Just holds him together whilst he falls apart.
At some point he tries to tell Eren about how everyone’s dead, it’s just them now.
He’s so sorry he couldn’t keep anyone alive. He tried, he really did. But it wasn’t enough.
He wants to ask him so many questions, like how he got here, but Jean’s no longer capable from speech, just lunging, wretched sobs that cut his throat raw.
When Eren pushes him down onto the bed, pulls the blanket over them, Jean calms slightly. Fuck, he’s fucking tired again. He’s just been asleep for who knows how long, and now he’s tired.
“It’s okay. You can rest. You’re safe now,” Eren’s saying. He keeps saying it, as if the more it’s spoken the more Jean will believe it.
Jean will only believe it if he never sees a titan again till he’s on his fucking deathbed.
Eren’s arm is heavy around him. Jean would give anything to keep it there. He hopes Eren will keep it there. He wants to ask, but he’s still too tired to even lift his head, let alone form a sentence and make it loud enough for Eren to hear.
He wakes up to Eren’s eyes staring at him, and fuck, were they this green before? How the hell is someone born with an entire forest in their iris?
Am I dead?
He doesn’t realise he’s said it out loud until Eren chuckles. “No.”
But it was a literal question. He licks his lips, surveys the room with a depressed type of suspicion, unwilling to part with this fantasy just yet. “How do you know?”
Because all of this is way too surreal to actually be any form of reality.
A crevice forms between Eren’s eyebrows, Jean reaches a shaking hand up to trace it. His skin is so pale and skeletal compared to Eren’s, like death warmed over.
“Jean,” Eren reassures, lacking the amused laugh of before. “You’re not dead. Hey, look at me,” he says when Jean’s eyes trail off to where his fingers glide over the soft skin of Eren’s throat. Jean flickers his attention back to him. “You’re not dead. You’re not dead, baby.”
Jean stares for a long time, trying to detect any falsehood. But Eren’s trustworthy, an open book. He wouldn’t lie to him. Hell, Jean doesn’t care if this is a lie or not. Doesn’t care if he’s going to wake up to the eye of a titan staring at him through the caved in roof he fell asleep under.
Jean’s going to take this for what it is, peace.
Eren kisses him then, hard, persistent, which is fine because Jean’s nearly forgot what Eren’s lips felt like, and a thorough reminder such as this is definitely in order. He opens his mouth and gladly lets Eren inside, his head pushing into the pillow it’s resting on almost painfully.
The bed creaks slightly when Eren shifts his weight to slip himself between Jean’s legs, tracking a series of kisses up his sternum, his chest, collarbone, neck, jaw, like footprints.
“Eren,” he gasps. It feels so good to say his name.
“Three years, Jean. Three fucking years of fucking abstinence,” Eren says into his neck between fevered bites, voice rushed, hot, like a kettle boiling against his skin. “God, I almost died not seeing you. I wanted to. So badly. Wanted to just grab you and take you back with me so many times, you have no idea.”
Jean really does have no idea.
He makes a mental note to ask Eren about all this afterwards, but right now it’s not relevant. Nothing is, except for the feel of Eren against him. He reaches his arms to wrap around and grip at shaggy hair, pulling it as he pants against Eren’s ear.
Eren noses his neck, “How are you feeling?”
Confused. Excited. Scared. Still tired for some fucking reason
“Fine.” He pushes Eren’s face away when he feels him licking him. “Ew, gross.”
Eren chuckles. “You sure you’re feeling alright? You were pretty out of it when I found you. You had a pretty bad fever,” he says. He feels Jean's forehead, but Jean shoves his hand down.
“Yeah, Eren, I’m fine. Just tired.” He’s been sleeping for a while though, so shouldn’t he be energised instead of depressed?
“Well, at some point we should get up. I can show you the village, and you can meet everyone. I know Armin wants to see you. You won’t believe how much he’s grown, he’s almost as tall as me, still lanky though, but-“
Wait. “Armin? Armin’s alive?”
Eren stares, blinks. “Ah, yeah. Yeah. He’s alive, he’s…” He pauses.
“What? He’s what?” Jean’s heart starts beating rapidly. He hadn’t even considered that if Eren’s alive, then some of the others might be too.
The crease between Eren’s brows is back, he looks pained, suddenly, and confused. “Jean, has nobody explained to you what’s going on?”
He shakes his head, suddenly tense, “No. No one’s said anything. I haven’t- or I don’t think I’ve seen anyone in days, except for you.”
“Do you-… do you know what’s happened to the Royal Capitol?” Eren asks. “Do you remember anything of the past week?”
Jean thinks over his recent blurry memories. With a clearer, not so sleep-deprived mind, he can put the memories into focus. It’s like wiping down a fogged mirror.
“I remember seeing the colossal titan. I was on a mission and was coming back. And the wall was shaking ‘cause the titan had broken it…” He trails off as images of the city going up in smoke plague his vision. The sound of buildings falling and rubble crumbling, people screaming and blood on his hands.
He shivers. Closes his eyes. “It’s all gone, isn’t it? The Scouting Legion, Stationary and Rose. Hermiha, the Royal Capitol… even the people.”
He’s not as alarmed as he thought he would be, considering the substantially unstable grasp he currently has on his mental/emotional state. He’s more resigned if anything. This outcome, really, was inevitable.
He knows he’d been fighting a losing war the day he joined, he’d just hoped he’d be dead before it they actually lost.
In an instant he feels older, and the mirage of the happy reunion with Eren now lays shattered around his feet.
With a deep, controlled breath, he says, “Its okay. It was bound to happen at some point, right? I mean, it’s a miracle humanity made it as far as they did. And look at us, we’re still alive. You’re still alive. So not everything is lost.”
But Eren’s face is still strained. Jean’s forced smile falters, “Eren?”
Eren presses the pads of his thumbs against his eyes, speaking softly, as if to himself “I have to tell you. It’s the right thing to do. I have to.” He suddenly stares Jean deeply in the eyes, hands framing his face, grasping his pointed chin. “I need you to listen to me, and please, promise me you’ll wait until I’ve finished talking. I need you to listen.”
This is weird, Eren’s never looked at him like this before, like he has something to hide, something dark. Guilt distorts his boyfriends face, and Jean feels a rock settle in his stomach. “Okay.”
“Promise me you’ll wait till I’m finished,” Eren says.
Jean rolls his eyes, fidgets with his key. “Yes, Eren.”
Eren’s eyes go to the key, staring at it for a long time. His eyes go suddenly soft, “You kept it…”
Eren sighs, grimaces, “I don’t even know how to…”
“Just fucking say it already!” Jean huffs. Eren appears taken aback momentarily, at the outburst, but quickly composes himself.
He takes a deep breath.
“I’m part of a rebellion, or was, since it’s over now. We’re the ones who took down the wall. The rebellion planned, with the help of Commander Levi and Erwin to plan a mission to take down the king once and for all, and start a new civilisation, one that has learnt from the others mistakes and..." He trails off. Reaches out to grab Jeans forever trembling hands in his own.
"I’ve been living here for the past three years, training in my titan form, occasionally travelling back to the Royal Capitol for information or supplies. Our plan was to take down the king, but none of us could get close to him, and seeing how corrupt humanity was, we decided to just… well, get rid of it all. Start anew. Someone posed the idea to crash the wall and let the Titans do the job for us. And well, here we are.”
But Eren doesn’t stop there. He keeps going. Keeps talking. Each sentence, word, syllable, is like a stone thrown into a pond, creating ripples, too many to count, and slowly, ever so slowly, the pond clears and Jean starts to understand what’s happened.
Eren’s not the only one alive. Armin and Mikasa are too. As is Annie, Bertolt and Reiner, who are all titan shifters like Eren, in fact Bertolt is actually the fucking Colossal Titan, and Reiner the Armoured. With their help they managed to take down the wall, releasing the Titans on the city like dogs on a convict. When Jean asks how Eren knew where to find him, Eren admits he didn’t, his titan smelt him, and followed his scent to the room he was hiding in.
They live in a village far from the wall, with other titan shifters, who were cast out long ago. “They’re very peaceful,” Eren explains hastily as if justifying something. Jean’s not sure what.
These titan shifters are the rebellion, led by The Woman, Kana.
“Is that her name?” he asks stiffy, simply to fill space of silence Eren left after saying her name. “The Woman, Kana. That’s what people call her?”
“That’s what people know her by. She’s a legend you know.”
You know… How on earth was Jean supposed to fucking know? The way Eren says her name, and the way he talks about her, like he talks about the Ocean or killing titans, makes him think that he should know of her. She must be important if she’s managed to lead a successful rebellion and destroy an entire civilisation.
Jean doesn’t hold the same amount of enthusiasm for this woman as Eren does.
“So that’s why you left,” he says, leaning away from Eren. “Why couldn’t you stay? Or t-take me with you?”
Now Eren really looks pained, which he shouldn’t. He wasn’t the one who had to live inside the wall for the past three fucking years watching his fucking friends die one by one.
Apparently, Eren had told Erwin and Levi to watch out for him, which Jean clumsily puts together that this was the reason why his Captain and Commander were so weird towards him, looking after him and whatnot. Explains the weird incident with Erwin after Sasha died.
Eren says he would sometimes sneak over the wall, or follow behind him on missions, just to watch him. He grabs Jean’s elbows as he says this, forces him to look in his eyes. “I was always with you.”
But Jean shakes his head because while he might have been there physically, he wasn’t there emotionally. He’d let Jean believe he was dead, that they were all dead. Not once in three years did he reach out to him, just watched him slowly die inside from afar. “It was so hard to stay away, baby, so hard.” He pleads. “But I had to. Kana said no insiders must know. And I didn’t even expect you to live that long-“
Wait… What? What?!
“-so I just thought it would be okay to, like, watch you from a distance. Make sure that when you did die you weren’t just burnt in a heap like all the others. I was gonna bury you here, in the village, where I would be buried. But- but you fucking lived, you survived. And so when the attack date of the city came round, I made Levi give you that mission along the wall, so you were out of the way of everything, and wouldn’t get hurt. But when Armin went out to get you, you were gone. Somehow you’d already reached the city, and then… well i- i thought you’d died in the attack. Then I smelt you when I was walking by as a titan and-“
Eren hadn’t expected him to live. He was waiting for him to die. He didn’t care.
You should’ve died. Everyone wanted you to. You shouldn’t be here.
“What the fuck Eren.” Jean stands, all of a sudden feeling too claustrophobic next to him, in this room, in his own head. There’s an anger bubbling in his chest and a panic welling in his throat.
Eren stands too, although he has enough sense to stay away. Instead, his hands raise, placating, “Jean-“ he says.
“Shut up!” Jean screams.
“I know this is a lot to deal with after what you’ve been through and-“
“Stop it! Stop fucking talking.”
He’s hyperventilating, but there’s simply not enough oxygen in his lungs and head to process all of this information at once. It’s insane. Fucking insane. It can’t be real, this has to be some fucked up nightmare, and Jean’s going to wake up any minute now by the ringing of the bell in the Survey barracks, will have to get out of bed, get dressed, go outside, line up, get orders…
You know it’s real.
He’s going mad, everything is out of proportion, everything is falling apart, breaking, shaking to pieces around him. Tears well in his eyes, and he hates them, hates that he’s crying. Hates himself. He needs to keep himself together but he can’t, he’s at the end of his rope, there’s nothing to hold onto anymore.
His hands cover his ears, but that doesn’t stop the shouting of his breaths. God, why is he here? He shouldn’t be here, shouldn’t have survived. He can’t take this. He doesn’t understand. It shouldn’t be him, it should be everyone else. Sasha, Christa, Connie, even Ymir. They wouldn’t be freaking out like him, they would be brave, strong, would understand.
He doesn’t understand.
In the background is Eren’s panicked words, but Jean has no patience for him anymore, not when he’d said that he’d expected him to- to die…
If he had a white flag, he would raise it. He’s done, so done. How did it come to this, when it was so peaceful only moments ago?
Someone puts a hand on his shoulder, and he rips it off, but it’s persistent. He looks up, glad to see not Eren, but honestly, Erwin is no better.
They’ve all lied to him. They’re all at fault.
Jean wipes his eyes and gets a grip of himself, a weak grip, but enough to hopefully fool everyone here. He glares accusingly at his former Commander, “You’re a lying bastard.”
Erwin’s face doesn’t flinch, but his hand grips tighter on his shoulder, “We’re sorry Jean.”
Jean shakes his head, “No. You’re not. If you were fucking sorry then… then…” He has to make a conscious effort to remember to breathe.
Behind Erwin he sees Eren, standing stiffly, guilt on his face once again. Levi’s voice breaks through the ringing in his hears, low but cutting, “- I told you to get us as soon as he wakes up. That was the deal if you watched him, you would get us. You bloody idiot.”
“I was just-“
“No, you’ve fucked it up. We were going to tell him slowly, not load it all on him at once. He hasn’t even eaten yet, and you go and tell him everything and expect him to have a clear head about it? For fucks sake Jaeger, what the hell were you thinking? How could you not know something like this would happen?”
Eren suddenly turns defensive, hands clenched into fists, and for small moment Jean thinks he’s going to punch the small-statured captain in the face.
“He’s my boyfriend, I know what to say to him.”
Levi scoffs, “You haven’t talked to him in three years. You were dead to him Eren. We all fucking were. That’s why it’s difficult to explain all this. It was difficult for even us to wrap our heads around and we didn't even like you!” He digs an accusatory finger into Eren’s chest. "This whole thing might have gone better if you hadn't fucked it up."
“I’ve fucked it up?”
“You’re the one who told him!”
“And you’re the one who didn’t!” Eren yells suddenly. His entire body is shaking, tense with anger, at least that’s what it looks like. Jean doesn’t know anymore, doesn’t think he knows Eren at all, or himself. “I told you we should have taken him and everyone else right from the beginning. They could have helped us. I told you and Kana that. But you guys insisted on this being a fucking secret and now…”
"I didn't insist it," Levi snarls.
Eren looks at Jean, steps closer. “Jean. Jean, I’m so sorry. This wasn’t my idea. I wanted to take you away so badly, I really did. But i-i couldn’t.”
If he or anyone here is looking for forgiveness then they can go suck a dick, because all Jean wants to do now is be lazy and go back to bed. Maybe jump off a cliff too.
“Please,” he says. “I’d like to be alone now.”
Jean wishes he could sleep away his remaining days. That way, he wouldn’t have to listen to Eren knock on his door each day, erupting with apologies and pleas, trying to coax him out of the bedroom. Jean doesn’t know where the shifter’s been sleeping, but it certainly hasn’t been with him.
“Go away Eren.”
“Not until you come out.”
“Please. You need to eat something.”
“I’m fucking fine!”
Finally, after days laying in bed and trying to untangle himself from the thick guilt-ridden thoughts and feelings coiled around him, he washes and dresses and leaves the room. His uniform has been cleaned and returned to him in the form of a folded up pile on the chair. It’s still loose on him but somehow feels more comfortable and right than anything else in his life right now.
There’s no use in laying around all day. He’s been given a second chance at life, so he’s been told. He should be grateful.
Jean has to hand it to Erwin, he really is the single most held together, stable person Jean knows. Because not only is he dealing with Jean, but he’s also dealing with Levi.
Levi is… not so stable. Jean thinks he was, maybe, when he first arrived. But as Jean’s started to get better (slightly, hardly noticeable), Levi is doing the opposite.
And Erwin just handles.
Jean thumps down the stairs of... is it still Eren’s house? He knows he’s been sleeping in Eren’s room, but all of Eren’s stuff has been moved, so is this Erwin and Levi’s house now? Jean doesn’t know.
Erwin’s in the kitchen, making something that smells like ash and smoke. For all that the man can handle, he can’t cook for shit. Jean takes a chair at the kitchen table. “Morning,” he says.
“Good morning Jean. How are you feeling?” Erwin is smiling as he takes out a black loaf of bread from the fire oven. “Oh dear. It’s burnt.”
Impossibly, Jean laughs. He quickly hides his smile when a glare is sent his way. Erwin puts the loaf on the bench with a sigh and folds his arms. “I don’t know why, but cooking is just not my forte.” He looks at Jean quizzically, and then smiles, “Why don’t you do breakfast? Hm? And I’ll go wake Levi up.”
Although his smile is innocent, his eyes are full of amusement and cunning. He strips off his apron and throws it at Jean. “We’re overstocked on a lot of food items, so don’t worry about being sparse with the ingredients.”
His footfalls are heave as he ascends the stairs, and he can basically hear Levi hissing at him through the floor.
Jean hesitantly rummages through the cabinets, making a mental list of what ingredients they do and don’t have. He discovers a pantry full of vegetables that need to be used before they expire, sees a stack of browning celery and knows there’s an entire jar of milk on the counter, fresh from the local farmers that needs using before it curdles.
Cream of Celery Soup it is then.
As he fills a pot with water and lets it simmer of the open flame in the coal range, Jean’s suddenly glad mother wasn’t bothered that he was a boy when she taught him how to cook. He knows that it’s usually classified as a girl thing, and he’s definitely been teased about it whenever he was seen helping his mother in the kitchen by the other children who happened to be visiting with their parents. But Jean’s mother never had a daughter and Jean’s father wasn’t as old school as some of the other fathers in the village, so he allowed for his mother to teach him ‘feminine’ trades such as cooking and sewing.
Being sickly as a child probably helped with his fathers' conviction too.
And although he forgot the majority of his sewing knowledge, he can recall many recipes and tips his mother had ingrained in him as soon as he became old enough to help.
Jean’s just straining the celery and additional herbs through the sieve when he hears the front door swing open. He looks up to see Eren, of fucking course. Walking forwards until he standing awkwardly at the end of the kitchen, watching Jean with such a hope in his eyes that Jean almost feels sick.
It’s like he misses you. Why the hell would he miss you when he left you?
Yeah, Jean would like to know that too.
Eren smiles, “Hey.”
“Ew.” Oh, he hadn’t meant to say that... Fuck it, it’s how he feels.
Eren’s not phased. He looks down to the basket in his hands. “I brought vegetables.”
“We have enough vegetables already. Those will rot.”
“You should come out with me today, for a walk. You haven’t left this house yet. Armin really wants to drop by, but he’s worried if he pushes he’ll cause you distress or something.”
“You clearly don’t have that problem.”
“It’s a beautiful day. The sea is calm. I can teach you to swim.”
“I’d rather drown.”
Eren's smile drops. “For fucks sake Jean, give me a fucking bone will you? I’m trying here.”
Jean turns on him from where he’s been stirring the soup, spoon pointed at Eren accusingly. “And I’m trying to not punch your fucking face,” he spits. “The hell you keep coming round for? I think I’ve made it clear I don’t want to see you ever in my life again.”
Why are you lying to him you stupid asshole.
Eren has the audacity to take a seat at the table, as if he’s actually welcome. As if Jean’s not sneering at his face. “But I wanna see you. I miss you. It kills me to know you’re here and I can’t even be with you.”
Jean snorts. “You seemed okay when I was behind the wall.”
He doesn’t look at Eren when he says it. But he can hear the guilty moan. “I’m sorry. I really am.”
“Drop it,” Jean says. He drops a tablespoon of butter in the pot, along with a handful of flour. It’s silent for a while, Jean’s just watching he pot bubble and Eren’s tapping annoyingly on the table surface, until he says, “I didn’t know you could cook?”
“My mother taught me. Said I would make someone happy one day if I could cook them a meal. Forgot half of what she taught me though.”
Eren sniffs. “Smells good to me.” He looks at the burnt bread. “You make that too?”
“Erwin did. He’s terrible in the kitchen. I hope Levi knows how to cook, otherwise they’re going to starve. Would you stop fucking tapping?”
Eren stills. “How’s Commander Levi holding up? I heard he’s become a little…” He trails off, not knowing what to say, then a thought occurs to him. “Have they left you here by yourself?”
“I’m allowed to be by myself, you know. I’m not going to do anything stupid.” Jean turns. “Erwin and Levi are upstairs.”
He’s not sure how much he should disclose to Eren. Eren and Levi seem to be close, in that weird love/hate way that makes people unsure whether or not to step in when they fight.
Or at least Levi seems more emotionally invested in Eren than he is with anyone else, bar Erwin of course, so he figures it’s probably okay.
“Levi’s finding it hard to adjust. I don’t know exactly what’s wrong, because most of the time he’s awake he’s snarling at everything. Erwin says he’s depressed, which I get. He says that he’s already lost two homes, the underground and then the Legion, which is why he doesn't-“
Jean cuts himself off when he hears someone descend the stairs. Moments later Erwin appears with a very miserable Levi in his arms.
And Eren, the dumb fuck, stands and salutes.
Levi glares at him like Eren’s the entire reason for every bad thing ever.
“Fuck off Jaeger, I don’t have the patience for your face right now.”
Jean winces, then realises what a hypocrite he is because he was literally thinking the same thing when Eren first walked in the door. Erwin places Levi on a chair on the table by Eren, who’s awkwardly dropped his hands to his sides.
Erwin, bless him and curse him, says loudly, “Eren! It’s so nice to see you! You should come round more!”
Levi says, “When I’m dead.”
“Why don’t you stay for lunch? Jean’s cooking something good.”
“Better than your odious fucking disasters,” Levi snarls.
Erwin just smiles fondly, and Eren stays for lunch.
His curiosity eventually overrides his self-deprecating depression.
He ventures out with directions towards Armin from Levi, who besides Ewrin was the only one that Jean could tolerate the face of right now. Although even Erwin’s a struggle to deal with, at least Levi doesn’t pester him about his food intake and sleep patterns.
Eren’s right, Armin is tall. He’s probably the same heights as Reiner, maybe, if they stand back to back. He has a beard even. He’s also grown his hair out, no longer sporting the bowl cut with the fringe and instead looking like some sort of unorthodox inventor with a small ponytail at the nape of his neck and stands of hair drooping down over his face as he leans over what seems to be maps on a large table. He looks up as Jean knocks, smiles. It doesn’t reach his eyes.
“It’s good to see you’re awake and about.”
Jean nods. “Good to be awake and about, I suppose.”
Armin puts down the pencil in his hand and sighs, eyes flickering from Jean’s uniform to the way his hands shake slightly by his sides.
“I’m sorry about the way things played out. I can’t imagine the shock all this must be to you.” He rubs his neck. “It takes some getting used to, living in the village. Trust me.”
The trust me part of the sentence hangs in the air, and they both can taste it, something sour and unwanted. Jean shrugs it off, “Yeah, well, I’m just counting myself lucky that I’m alive at least. Um, when you have time, do you mind showing me around? Levi and Erwin said you would, a-and I don’t really want to have to ask, well, Eren, so…”
Armin looks thrilled to have been asked, and Jean’s glad he’s not being a pest. “Yeah, sure, gladly.”
The leave what Jean thinks is the ‘Map’ room, due to the maps and pieces of paper strung all over the wall. He sees a giant scrap of paper on the floor to the left, with half-drawn landmarks and pictures scribbled over it. He makes out some of the words, Forrest, Sea, Village and Cliffs. He sees the outline of the Royal Capitol, feels a pang inside of him at the chicken-scratch cross over it.
“I know that you didn’t arrive here with much, but everyone here is pretty okay with helping each other out, even if you are an Outsider.” Jean hesitates to think what being an Outsider implies. The way the man says it makes it seem like it's as bad as.. well, as bad as a titan. Armin continues, “Perhaps a new pair of shoes. A haircut maybe, although your hairs not actually that long, just unkempt. I know a spinster who can make you a bit of a wardrobe, so you don’t have to wear your scouting uniform anymore.”
Jean silently clutches the cuffs of his sleeves, hunching his shoulders. He doesn’t want to throw away his Legion uniform.
“I can get a job for you too. Everyone has to do their part in the village. Don’t worry, I won’t let you be put somewhere that’s not suitable for your… current condition.”
“What’s your job?” He asks, staring at a family with small children as they walk past a dazzling water fountain.
“I work on the discovery expeditions, mapping out new land areas with Kana.”
Kana. That name again. Who is she?
“What does Eren do?” He can’t help himself. So far he’s successfully committed to ignoring Eren as much as he can but… it’s hard when the other man is all he thinks about. Hard and getting harder. Jesus, he really shouldn’t word things like that in his head, especially while thinking about Eren of all people.
“When he’s not off with all the other shifters doing Perimeter Security around the village he’s usually with Reiner and Bertolt. They help with construction of the village, building new building’s or repairing old ones. This village was already here when Kana came through here,” Armin’s eyes glint. “Which means that someone had lived outside the wall, long enough to build an entire small settlement. And either it was in a time before the Titans, or during, meaning that people managed to live outside the wall, in the open, with titans.”
In all honesty, Jean doesn’t care at all. Of course he’s not about to tell Armin that and hums respectively in response, but he really doesn’t care. What does it matter anymore that people lived outside the wall? The wall doesn’t even exist.
“Come on, I’ll show you the village now.”
The village is more of a town, with a centre square and market area. Armin explains how titan shifters have lived here for many decades, and there’s around 400 of them currently. “Not everyone has the power to shift,” he says, “In fact, most of them don’t. Less than a quarter of the population can successfully transform. And they’re not sure how their powers manifested.”
“How do you keep the Titans away without walls?” Jean asks, feeling extremely exposed without the shadow of the Wall in his sight. He’d never thought he’d miss the Wall.
“Oh, Titans don’t come near us at all. In fact, there hasn’t been a titan sighting since the very first weeks of settlement, supposedly at least.” Armin answers very matter-of-factly. He takes them towards the Ocean, to where the rest of the village, including Eren’s house, is built into the side of the cliff. Little box houses made of stone, connected by trails and stairs carved into the rock, large balconies and windows staring out at the blue of the sea.
Jean hasn’t had the courage to go near the ocean yet, preferring to hang at the top where the forest he knows is.
The beach stretches along the land for miles to the west, and to the east are cliffs with scary jagged rocks sticking from the water like teeth. The cliffs remind him of the walls, they’re similar in height, except where the walls are sandy brown, the cliffs are coal black. They scare him also, the thought of falling. He hasn’t seen a single 3DMG anywhere, now thinks it’s unlikely he'll see one again.
Armin seems to pick up on the fact that Jean’s not super excited about going to the ocean, so he roughly explains the area from half-way up the cliff, where the dock is for the boats, and how far they’ve managed to explore.
“There’s a little island just north-west of here, and Kana plans to build a shrine on it, for the Wall and everyone inside it.”
Jean scoffs. Yes, because that totally makes up for everything. The lives of soldiers, people, innocents. Like it can be sealed within a tombstone.
Armin glances at him curiously from the side, wisely choosing to not say anything.
The village/town is big, but not big enough that while Jean’s walking around he doesn’t run into Eren. Because he does. It’s outside the spinsters' house, where Jean was to meet up with Armin so they could get him outfitted into regular clothing, instead of his Legion uniform.
For a while, Jean had rebuked the idea, more as a rebellious statement that he’s not just going to change his clothing and forget the past, but he’s grown tired of it, being sentimental is emotionally draining. Plus, the uniform is starting to wear down, and Jean doesn’t want to wreck it any further.
Armin’s already waiting for Jean, and as he comes round the corner, leaning against the wall he makes out the unmistakable figure of Eren too. It takes him only slightly by surprise because he knows for a fact that the taller has been stalking him for his duration in the village. He purposely ignores him and instead glares at Armin, who simply shrugs and shoots him an apologetic what-can-you-do smile.
He can tell him to fuck off, that’s what he can do.
He doesn’t even need Armin here, let alone Eren.
“Let’s get this over with,” he snarls.
“Hey Jean. It’s good to see you out of the house and meeting new people in the village. I hope no one’s giving you any trouble.”
“They weren’t until now.”
“Well, if anyone does, let me know. I’ll sort them out for ya.” Eren punches his fist into his palm meaningfully. Jean snorts.
Eren then throws his hands up, suddenly irritated. “Geez, ever the ray of sunshine you are.”
“Well if you don’t like the weather you can leave. Again.” He purposely stresses the last word but doesn’t feel as satisfied as he wanted when Eren’s mouth turns downwards and his eyes flicker with remorse.
“Armin! You’re here! It’s so lovely to see you again. And Eren, I haven’t seen you since you the last time we fitted you. Oh, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen you before.” A girl, younger than Jean, with ember orange hair and nights sky of freckles on her face speaks from the now open door they’re standing by. She’s beautiful, in a unique and youthful way, and her eyes are an intense colour of green, perhaps even brighter than Eren’s.
“It’s good to see you too Agnes.” Armin answers, and it would take a dead man to miss the blush on his cheeks and stutter in his voice. Jean smirks to himself, happens to catches Eren’s gaze, who gives him a cheeky eyebrow raise. Jean glares.
Armin continues, “This is Jean, the boy I was telling you about. The one from the legion.”
Agnes’ lips from an o of surprise, and suddenly her bright eyes flare with curiosity. She turns to face Jean more directly, abruptly stepping close to him, startling him enough that he stumbles back into Eren, who’s hands clamp down on his hips to steady him. “Really? From the same Legion as Armin and everyone? Oh yes, I remember you now, you were part the 104th. Wait, that means you were inside the wall all that time? Oh, how horrible! What an awful place to live. I must have killed you to live in a place like that.”
“Not really,” Jean mumbles, even though it’s partly true. Still, he doesn’t like the way she talks about it. Hermhia was a shit hole, but it was where all his friends lived, so it still had some level of quality to it, enough for Jean to get offended when people who haven’t even been there talk about it like it was hell on earth.
“Oh, I’ve heard stories of what it was like inside. About the famine and corruption and disease. And that the king was a greedy sick old man, who kept all provisions and the like for himself. I can’t imagine living in a place like that.”
“It was only like that towards the end,” Armin says softly, placing a hand on Agnes’ freckled shoulder. He briefly looks at Jean, worried, like Jean’s going to freak out again. But Jean’s fine, he’s fine. Doesn’t need to be handled like glass. Isn’t a child.
The redhead beams at Armin, oblivious, and invites them inside. Jean follows Armin and Agnes through a dark hallway, Eren right on his hackles.
They come to a colourful room, full of strips of fabrics and string, and half made garments strewn about tables and benches. The place is barely tidy, but clearly organised, and in the middle sit’s a woman with smilier red hair and freckles to Agnes, although when she turns around her face is younger than Jean expected. The lady is almost identical in looks as Agnes, bar from her eye colour, which is a rich dark brown. She smiles warmly when they enter, placing a needle and thread in a pin cushion on the table.
“Hello Armin, you haven’t been around lately. Found something else that’s captured your interest have you? My dear sister, you’re going to have to start making an effort with the man if you want to keep a hold of him.” She gives a pointed look at Agnes.
“He’s just gotten back from the Mission, so he hasn’t exactly been around, Margrit,” the younger sister exclaims.
Armin is beet red, but manages to stutter, “We’ve explored new areas of the surrounding forest, so I’m in the process of mapping out each one whilst the memories are still fresh. It’s only lately that I’ve had time, now that everything has settled.”
“At least you aren’t frolicking with other girls while away, or are you?” Her stare turns directly to Armin, who smiles in the placating, annoying way he does.
“Armin’s not like they guys you date Margrit. He has values,” Agnes chirps defensively, flicking her hair over her shoulder and a smile at Armin.
“Hmm.” Margrit turns her attention to Eren. “Hello big boy, it’s nice seeing you again. Are you just here for the company or do I need to expand more of your waistlines? That shirt is looking a little tight. Perhaps you need to lay off the bread.”
“Always a pleasure seeing you Margrit. So are you and Nicolaus still a thing or have you dumped him already?”
“He’s coming over for dinner.”
That'sts what… 3 weeks now? New record.”
Margrit gives a short laugh, then turns her attention to Jean as if suddenly noticing him. “So this is the boy from the scouting legion, is it? The one you’ve been so caught up on all these years, Eren. What a pretty thing you are too. No wonder Eren was so adamant about getting you back, look at those cheekbones.”
This time it’s Jean’s turn to flush red, as Eren coughs awkwardly behind him.
“Oh sweetheart, don’t worry. It’s only that there’s few new faces to see anymore, it gets rather boring. But at least we all have something new and pretty to look at, don’t we Eren.” She gives Eren a wink, who looks like he wants to both wolfishly grin with pride and melt with embarrassment. Jean certainly wants to do one of those things, but the lady had beckoned him over with her measuring tape and placed it around his waist.
“Well, at least you won’t use up much material.”
She doesn’t outright comment on his weight, or lecture him about eating habits, which is sure as fuck a first, and immediately Jean begins to like her, as if she hadn’t just made him super uncomfortable seconds before. She doesn’t flinch at his weight, but he can see Eren grimacing from his corner. Armin and Agnes have fled the room entirely, the sounds of their voices can be heard from upstairs when one of them shouts or laughs loudly.
“There, all measured up. I’ll make you the essentials, and then perhaps a bit more since winters coming, and it wouldn’t do to have the new kid freeze to death before we get to know him. What did you say your name was again?” She asks as she rummages through the fabric on the walls. Jean puts his arms down awkwardly.
“It’s Jean,” Eren answers for him. When Margrit leaves the room, Jean turns around to glare.
“I can speak for myself.”
“… I can also get my own clothes by myself.”
Eren shrugs, doesn’t look up from where he’s fixated on his feet. “Uh-huh.”
“So you don’t need to be here.”
Jean should stop being so snarky, but he doesn’t know how to feel. He’s angry, but has nothing or no one to take it out on, expect Eren, who’s an easy target to hate since he’s obviously not going to give up on Jean. However Jean still loves Eren, is glad that he’s here but… but he’s confused. He doesn’t want to be robbed of the ability to mourn his friends and life inside the wall, except that's what it feels like.
And again, the little voice in his head whispers It shouldn’t be you. You didn’t deserve survival.
Yeah, no fucking shit.
“I probably don’t, but everyone’s been asking for you. Like, Reiner and Bert haven’t seen you yet. And I know Mikasa wants to ask you some questions. But we’re all meeting up down the beach this afternoon, with some other people.” Eren scratches the back of his head awkwardly, and Jeans glad that it’s a habit of Eren’s that he recognises from before. “There’s gonna be a campfire and shit.”
“Will you come?”
He wants to and he doesn’t. Levi keeps insisting Jean get the fuck out of the house instead of moping, and Erwin keeps telling him to talk to other people in the village, amongst pestering him about other things. Both of them are annoying as hell, but Jean’s not going to take someone caring about him for granted… besides Eren that is.
Yeah, Fuck Eren, but Jean says Okay anyway.
Only because he can’t stand having Eren around him and alive, and not be able to touch him because of his own personal anguish against him. Jean suddenly decides he’s allowed to be conflicted and confused, as of only a week ago did he think that everyone he knew and loved were in graves. But then again, maybe it’s wrong for him to be this accepting of his fate and move on so quickly, perhaps it’s insensitive of him, to his now dead friends who should be beside him and getting invited to campfires on a beach.
It’s like his happiness is a candle that’ s constantly being blown out.
And now Jean feels horrible, because he’s alive and get’s to experience what a beach actually is, and how dare he be excited about anything when he friends don’t even get to experience life anymore.
“Awesome!” Eren says, loudly. Jean, despite himself, smiles. Eren always was boisterous and loud, he’s glad that hasn’t gone away, that he hasn’t matured too much without Jean. “I’ll pick you up outside my house. Yeah? We can walk together.”
“Sure…” God he feels so guilty. How dare he, how dare he, how dare he.
Although Jean just wants to return back to Eren’s bed and hide under the covers again, he sucks in a breath and forces himself together. Margaret’s returned with materials, and he doesn’t want to give Eren any more cause for worry.
“Now, why don’t we get you out of those clothes.”
Jean finds out that he’s not actually staying at Eren’s house at all, and not stealing Eren’s bed like he thought he was. Eren had given his house to Levi and Erwin, which would explain why they were always around to pester Jean, whilst Eren had moved into another just down the road.
One he’s building himself. A number of times Jean’s wandered past the house and seen Eren working on it, carrying planks and laying tiles. Sometimes he’s with Reiner, and sometimes he’s shirtless. But Jean didn’t know it was Eren’s own house he was building and feels slightly better about his sleeping arrangements now.
Levi’s sitting at the kitchen table, tapping his fingers furiously on the table surface. If anything, Levi’s gotten even grouchier since the whole End of Humanity thing, which confuses Jean, since one would assume that without the threat of death creeping around every corner that one would become much calmer, or at least less of a sourpuss than previously.
Erwin tells him one day, when Levi’s gone to find new people to yell at in the village and it’s just the two of them in the house, that Levi finds it hard being safe. “It’s probably the first time in his life that he doesn’t need to think about survival, his or others. Even in the Legion, he had to worry about whether or not he would be thrown out if he made the wrong move.”
Erwin then gives him a lopsided smile, “I suppose he’s bored now. Maybe we should find him some titans to keep as pets, could even name one after Hanji. We could let them loose on the village and pretend like we’re back inside the wall. We still have all our old gear after all.”
It was such a terrible idea that Jean’d had tears in his eyes whilst he begged Erwin not to do it. Erwin, the insane asshole, had just laughed him off and served him breakfast. Fuck, Jean hated his sense of humour.
Levi switches from agitated tapping to pacing, back and forth like a cat in a cage. Jean looks towards the door and tries to will into existence Eren’s arrival, only so he can get the fuck out of here before his Commander decides Jean’s a good candidate to release anger on.
Come on Eren, for fucks sake.
Jean sits as silent as possible at the table, trying to appear as least triggering as possible, until finally there’s a thump on the door and Eren casually pokes his head in, “You ready to go?”
At that moment Levi decides Eren’s his new target and starts going off on him about manners and the proper way to knock on a door, things Eren wouldn’t ever know about because he’s Eren, and Jean quickly shoves him out the door and out of the line of fire.
“Fuck, I knew he was grumpy but what was back there was a goddamn dragon.”
“I mean, you did just barge into his house…”
Eren thumps him on the shoulder, moves to grab his neck, “Jean, honestly, the guy is gonna suck as an old man if he doesn’t lighten up. I’m talking like, don’t even look at my lawn or you’ll be burned alive, kinda old man.”
Jean covers his mouth and snickers, casting a sideways glance at Eren, who’s smiling a smile that reveals both his incisor teeth. “Erwin said he’s just bored, now that he’s safe. Like he doesn’t know what to do with himself when there’s nothing to fight for.”
Eren pauses, expression thoughtful as he looks at Jean, and says softly, “Is that what it is?”
Jean would reply, if he thought Eren was talking to him. He waits for the taller to start walking again, but Eren’s like a wheel that’s stopped spinning, staring at his open palms.
When they’ve been standing there for a couple seconds longer than necessary, Jean impatiently tugs at Eren’s sleeve and pulls him along. It’s good to know he’s still a fucking weirdo.
They reach the town centre, where people have finally stopped giving Jean weird looks now that he’s no longer sporting the Scouting Insignia on his back anymore, and instead a fitting pair of pants, a grey shirt a size too big because, “You’ll probably grow into it when you start to fatten up, hopefully,” and a pair of boots. It’s not as comfy as the uniform, but only because it’s new and unfamiliar.
Two things Jean would avoid if he could, new and unfamiliar.
Jean might not get any weird looks, but Eren sure does, mostly from the opposite sex. Girls stare with big doe eyes, whispering and giggling to each other when they think they’ve been caught. Eren doesn’t seem to notice the attention, but Jean does, reminds him of back at the Barracks, when Eren told him who his first time was, and how after that Jean couldn’t resist glaring at the girl whenever he saw her, and luckily for her that wasn’t often. He can’t even remember her name now.
He wonders, after all that's happened if Eren remembers her name either. He must. He’s the one that fucked her.
Midday turns into evening, and the sun runs slowly into the ground. They reach the top of the cliffs, where the zigzag of stairs lead down to the stretch of sand below, where it’s just light enough to make out the whitewash of waves but dark enough to see the glow of the bonfire. Jean stops at the first step, realising suddenly that since he’d woken after Hermhia he still hasn’t been to the beach. For unknown reasons, it feels like something he has to confront. Immediately he feels stupid upon the thought because it’s a beach for fucks sake. It’s not like he has any fucking idea of what a beach is actually like, let alone why he’s so fucking afraid of it.
But his legs feel numb and his throats closed up, and Eren must see something in his eyes because he’s suddenly close and his hands are warm and-
“Calm down, calm down. Deep breaths Jean, just breathe.”
He can feel the pulsing of Eren’s breaths on his forehead. It reminds him to open his lungs.
It’s just a beach. Why is he getting so worked up? Why is he so goddamn fucking pathetic?
Eren startles, hands tightening where they grasp on Jean’s elbows. Jean rips himself away, forces himself to breathe in, and tries to get himself the fuck together.
“Jean?” He sees Eren tentatively approach him from the corner of his eye.
“I’m fine.” He is. Now.
“Are you sure? If you’re gonna freak out on me, then it’s okay, like… it’s okay to freak out, ya know?” Eren’s rubbing his neck, an almost pained look on his face. It’s a reminder that there’s still someone in his life that actually gives a shit, and Jean swallows past the lump in this throat.
The titan shifter looks at him for a long time. “You’re sure you’re feeling okay? We don’t have to go tonight if you don’t want to. We could-“
“No,” Jean interrupts him. “No I do- I do want to go, it’s just…” What could he say that won’t sound stupid or crazy? “It’s just… “ How can he explain that he wishes he’d died along with his friends? That one of them should be here instead? “…i’m nervous to see everyone.” He finishes lamely. Not the truth, but not entirely false either.
The few times he’s been around town he hasn’t seen much of his old comrades, other than Armin when he got his clothes and Reiner in passing when he saw him helping Eren build his house. Jean should offer his help, not that he could do much, but he’s sick of being sick, and sick of being useless. Jeez, Erwin’s awkward motivational pep talks about ‘inner attitude’ might just be rubbing off on him.
They’re still at the top of the stairs, and the sky is only getting darker. Eren tentatively reaches for Jean's hands, grinning like a dog when Jean doesn’t pull away. Because his hand is large, and calloused, and so incredibly warm from his lame titanness. It spreads through his hand and like a wave, melts the ice along his spine, allows his body to be led down all the way down the stairs, to the beach, where the crashing of the waves are almost too loud in his ears.
He startles. Eren grips his hand tighter.
“Why don’t we just spend tonight at my house.”
Eren lives in the residential area on the cliffs, 4 or so doors down from the spinsters. He lives at the end of the ledge, the house built into the cliff like all the others, but appearing as sturdy as the walls Jean grew up in. Eren’s ginning the entire way as he leads him by the hand to his front deck, and then to the door.
“Built it all myself,” he explains. “Took me the better part of a year. I wanted it to be perfect.”
Jean thought that Eren’s house was the one he saw him building the other day.
Eren laughs. “Nah, that was for Armin. Me, Reiner, Bertolt usually build the houses 'round here, people seem to think we’re good at it, and we like doing it. Sometimes some of the other men will help out too. Not often though, since they all have other jobs. But between guard shifts, it gets pretty boring, so it’s fun to be able to do something helpful and hand’s on.”
Jean can’t think of anything worse, being out under the sun all day, working with wood. He’d rather… he doesn’t know. Eren opens the door and sets about lighting all the lanterns in the room. Slowly, the room glows to life in a golden wave, and honestly, it takes Jean’s breath away.
Everything is made out of deep, rich oak, even the table and chairs. There’s a fireplace made out of stone in the centre, the fire beneath slowly waking up as Eren lights it. The kitchen is bare, but the counters are large, and the table and chairs are clearly meant for feasts. It makes Jean giggle, because how on earth did Eren think he was going to manage a feast when he can barely cook anything.
To the right is a twirling staircase, which Jean guess leads to the attic, where he presumes the bedroom is. It’s a little odd, since Jean can see an indoor balcony where the edge of the loft is, presumably so the room can be kept open and warm. All Eren has to do in the morning is get out of bed, walk to the ledge and he’d be able to see the front door.
Jean turns behind him and see’s the last glimmers of the setting sun on the ocean through the absurdly large windows. Of course, Eren would have the biggest view of the ocean.
“Do you like it?” Eren says, where he’s still crouched by the fire. “It’s not too small right? I didn’t want to make it big because for the longest time I thought it would be just me living here.”
“No, it’s wonderful.” Jean wants to ask who Eren thinks is going to be living here with him now, and briefly entertains the idea that it could be him. Maybe. If Eren would let him. “Really. It’s beautiful. You built it yourself?”
“Chopped the wood and everything.”
“What about the carvings?” Jean nods to the designs embedded in the wood along the frames and beams of the roof, the stairwell, the fireplace, just as an effort to keep the conversation going. His hands are still shaking, cold and gripping at his elbows. It’s still there, the overwhelming anxiety and sadness he felt before, although he did have to admit that most of it was left at the entrance to the house. And Eren’s smile is slowly chasing the rest away.
Eren starts explaining proudly how he befriended some old man down the road, who said he would carve the wood for him if he vowed to protect the village. “I mean, I was going to anyway right? But he seemed to need my word… I dunno.”
He points up at one of the beams in the ceiling, where the intricate carvings suddenly stop. “He died a few weeks after I finished securing the floor.”
Jean, feeling awkward, hesitantly puts his hand in Eren’s. “I’m sorry.”
But Eren shakes his head. “It’s fine.” Then, like with so many of Eren’s thoughts, they flicker across his face as he stares pensively into the fire. “ But… it’s weird though. Everyone here praises me for being a shifter when back at the wall they put me in a cage… It’s weird to be treated like a criminal one day and a hero the next. Even though I don’t feel like much of a hero… I was just doing what I thought was best for humanity like I’d been doing in Survey. Now that everything is fine, I don’t know what to do anymore. I mean, sure I go out on patrol, and I’m glad everything is peaceful and all but-“
He shrugs, glancing around the room as if in search for his next words, arms hanging limp. “I think I miss fighting for something.”
Then he sighs, and sits down at the head of the table, “I miss fighting for something bigger than myself. I know it hasn’t been long since the wall broke and the war finally ended, but I’m waiting for this feeling to go away, and for me to finally feel settled, complete… but it hasn’t happened yet and I’m so scared I’m going to feel this empty and alone for the rest of my life.“
Jean can see the panic in the man's eyes and feels a bone-deep exhaustion settle back down inside of him. He needs to fix this. He's so, so tired of seeing the fear in peoples eyes. So fucking tired of people around him that he loves hurting. He's so tired suddenly that he forgets to be angry with Eren, instead he lets his walls fall down and offers what little solace he has to him. Just to make the pain stop, just for now.
It's too much, to be mad at Eren and at himself right now. Perhaps tomorrow he can wake up and hate him
“You’re not alone… I-I’m here.” He kneels next to him and gently touches his hands with his own anxiety-ridden ones. Eren gabs him like a lifeline. “Honey I’m here,” he says again softly. “You aren’t alone. You might feel empty, and scared, a-and I’m so sorry I’ve left you to feel that way… but you aren’t alone.”
And fuck it if Jean’s eyes aren’t getting wet.
Eren stares at him for a long time. Jean wants to know what he’s looking at, what he’s searching for. If it’s answers, then he wants to tell him he’s looking in the wrong place. Jean doesn’t have any answers, if he did then he wouldn’t be searching for them himself.
Eren’s eyebrows crease. He clearly found something in Jean, because he covers his face with his rough, calloused, war-torn hands. “I thought you were gonna die for sure. I’d even prepared myself for it, and it made it easier… but every single time I went back to the wall, and found out you were still alive… I was just waiting. I could only wait for the day someone told me you weren’t around anymore. I prepared myself, but not for you to return. And now I don’t know what to do.” ”
He takes a deep, ragged breath. The kind soldiers would take when they know it’s one of their last, laying on the forest floor with blood in their lungs. Or the kind of breaths Sasha would take, towards the end, when her lungs started failing her.
“Everyone else died. No one survived. They told us to forget. Kana, s-she told us we had to let go, but I couldn’t…. I couldn’t let go. I watched you and begged for you to live. I should have begged for the others too, but I didn’t… and I can’t let it go. I still fucking can’t.”
Jean can only imagine. At least for him, he didn’t have to choose, didn’t have to decide on the lives of his friends. All he had to do was fight until he died because that was the only option, there was no alternative. But Eren had to choose, has to live with that choice… and Mikasa and Annie. Bert, Reiner and Armin.
Jean wants to hate them. He tries, on behalf of everyone he’s ever loved who died. But he can’t find the strength to overcome his own hatred towards himself. He was actually there, he wasn’t even trying to survive, knowing life itself would be so much easier if Jean didn’t have to live it anymore.
You’re undeserving of everything you have. Your life, your second chance, your friends, your opportunities, your love.
And you fucking know it.
Jean knows it more than anything in the world.
Eren’s trembling almost as much as Jean’s hands are, and he’s gripping Jean by the head, forcing him to look into his furiously green eyes. With the reflection of the flames flickering in them, they look like forest fires.
The wettest forest fires Jean’s ever witnessed.
“I’m so sorry I let you down baby. I should have been there to protect you. All of you.”
And Jean knows he should be mad. He shouldn't be forgiving. Shouldn't because someone has to be mad in place for- for- everyone. But Jean is so tired.
He just wants to be held. Is that so much to ask for? If he forgives Eren, just for now... If he can just fall into his arms.
“Eren,” Jean whimpers. It’s all his voice can deliver. “It’s not your fault. Stop. It’s not yours, it’s mine. Eren please-“
But the shifter’s not listening.
“It’s not fair,” Eren cries feverishly. “I should have been there to keep you all safe! You’re so weak and small. So fucking fragile andIi just abandoned you. You can’t heal like I can. You could have died. You should have.”
Jean knows. “It’s okay, Eren, honey-“
The taller man stands abruptly, pacing around the room, caged. When he opens his mouth to speak, Jean can see steam escaping from between his dry lips.
“It’s too peaceful here. It’s too fucking quiet! What the hell do they expect us to do! Build houses!” His voice is a brick scraping along the ground. “We’re soldiers for fucks sake! We’re not supposed to run away from the war, we’re supposed to fight!”
Desperately, Jean wants to comfort him, to be able to tell him that everything’s okay, that he’s wrong, that it was okay for him to leave, Jean was okay with it. Except, he’d be lying.
Tell him the truth. Tell him it was never his fault. Tell him it was yours. You did this. You killed your friends, you watched them suffer. and you’re doing the same thing now.
“No!” Jean screams, sick of his own mind.
He crushes Eren’s head into his chest. From Eren’s sitting position by the fire, where he crumbled in exhaustion after his his face ends up pressed into the soft of Jean’s stomach, but still he curls over him, and Eren’s arms latch around his waist desperately.
“They call us heros, but we just left you.” He’s just muttering now. Working himself into a state. Jean squeezes him one last time before pulling as far back as Eren’s arms will go.
“I’m so sorry” he murmurs, kissing Eren softly on his lips, then forehead. “I’m so sorry.”
“We left everyone.”
Yes, they did.
“Jean, we let everyone die.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
Eren pulls his face away, and wipes at his eyes. He exhales, stares at the table for a beat and then shakes his head. Jean’s slightly disconcerted at the almost serene smile on his face, like he hadn’t just been crying only moments ago. His skin is still clammy where Jean can feel when he holds his hand. He leans back and smiles at the roof.
Then starts laughing.
“Oh god. It feels so good to say that.”
Jean’s totally fucking confused now. He wipes his own tears and tries to compose himself. “What?”
Eren’s eyes are still forrest fires, but they’re calmer. Simmering from blazes to flames between blinks.
“Talking about it,” Eren says, like it’s obvious. “All this,” he gestures to the room, to Jean, “I’ve never been able to talk about anything with anyone, because they don’t fucking understand. I mean, i’ve talked a little with Mikasa, and i know Bertolt always brings it up, but i’ve never been able to. It’s such a weird thing to talk about, because to everyone else who lives here, the wall, and the war, it never happened. They’re so far removed from it that they can’t even relate. So it just, it feels good to finally fucking cry.”
Then he laughs, and fuck if his laugh isn’t the most calming, reassuring thing in the world. It makes Jean feel warm and numb.
“Feel like a fucking girl,” Eren mutters.
Jean, still a little stunned at this sudden emotional turn around, gives Eren a soft pat. “Hey, i cry all the time.”
The shifter smirks and stands up, dragging Jean up with him. “Yeah? That’s because you are a girl.”
They grin at each other.
“Ya know, i saw you in a dress once. Round at Sasha’s mum’s place. You looked pretty girly to me. Cute though,” Eren says.
“What!” Jean exclaims, scandalised. “You little pervert!”
“I mean- yeah,” Eren says cheekily. “Honestly though. You should ah-“ he coughs, “wear dresses more often.”
“Oh god.” Jean covers his face as they ascend the stairs. “It was wet and Sasha doesn’t have brothers. And Mrs Brouse’s husband died so there wasn’t really any guy clothes around.”
Eren leads him upstairs, confirming that it is the bedroom. And it’s fucking stunning.
The bed is large, ridiculously so. Almost four times the size of the cots they had in the barracks, made from some type of rusty coloured wood. “Kauri wood,” Eren says. On the bed is a large assortment of blankets and furs. Eren proudly goes on to explain how he’d skinned some of these wolves himself.
“That old man i was telling you about? He also makes pelts.”
Jean falls down onto the furs. It feels nice. It smells nice. Smells like Eren. Smells like home.
You don’t deserve it though. How many fucking times do i have to remind you.
Deserved it once. It was home not that long ago.
That’s before you killed all your friends.
It could be home again.
Why are you suddenly optimistic? What the fuck changed?
Jean doesn’t know. He has a suspicious idea that it was the titan shifter he just saw break down and build himself up in the same ten minutes.
Eren jumps and flops down next to him, hands behind his head. “Cosy huh?”
“Hmmm.” Jean closes his eyes. Let’s the grey fur of the wolf tickle at his cheeks as Eren shifts around. “I still can’t believe you were watching me.”
He feels his hand become enveloped in a larger, much warmer one. Shit, his hands are still shaking.
“I like to think i’d never really left you. I know i abandoned you, but i still watched you and thought about you. ”
So he was still there. Jean knows this. He knows that Eren just stood to the side and watched Jean slowly decent into madness as their friends were picked off by death one by one. He fucking knows this already because Eren’s already explained it to him, which is why he’s not surprised or angry at the titan shifter.
He’s angry at himself, over the fact that if he’d looked hard enough he might have been able to see Eren, might have been able to talk him into staying with him, back at Survey.
Who knows, Jean might have even run away with him.
Surely if the roles were reversed, Jean would have run away. He would have begged Eren to run away with him, even though he knows Eren would have never ran away from the fight…
He shakes his head.
Eren was like a star hiding in the glow of the moon. Always there, but not quite bright enough to shine through the intense luminesce of the moon. Jean hadn’t even known he should or could be looking for his supposed long lost boyfriend…
“I-I should probably go back… to Levi and Erwin’s.” But he really doesn’t want to. Can’t stand the thought of Eren bing here all alone by himself. He knows what it’s like sleeping in a house by yourself, and Jean can barely stand it, having to constantly check on Erwin and Levi to make sure they’re still there. All through the night whenever he awoke from a nightmare.
He’d do it to Sasha too, especially when she was sick.
Jean’s looking to the floor, so he doesn’t see the way Eren’s face falls, but he feels him move closer. His chin lifts from the finger nudging it. “I can walk you home,” Eren says softly, and the smaller tries not to let the disappointment show, because Eren’s such a nice guy for offering… “Or-“ he continues, “you could stay here the night.”
When Jean wakes that night, as he always does, this time sobbing over faces he knows are rotting ten feet in the ground behind a broken wall, he’s not alone.
For the first time he falls asleep after a nightmare, in the titan warmth of his lovers arms, tucked in as close as possible as if he’s some lost thing that keeps getting lost.
It's one of these mornings where Jean’s struck with the thought that if Eren was watching him this whole time like the freak he is, then he probably saw him with- “Shit.”
Eren, alerted like overprotective boyfriend he’s recently become ever since Jean unofficially moved in with him. The few things he actually has is still over at Levi and Erwin’s house, mostly because Levi’s in the middle of a mid-life crisis and Erwin thinks that it’s better if Jean waits till he’s feeling better to break the news that he’s moving in with Eren.
“I just don’t think he could handle knowing that most of the cooking he eats in the future is going to be made by me,” Erwin says, scratching his head in the same way Eren does when he feels a little useless or embarrassed, “I’m not the best cook, according to him.”
“And the whole village,” Jean mutters. A comment that goes largely unappreciated. Levi would have laughed if he’d been around to hear it and not upstairs sulking in his bed.
“Also, Levi’s not very impressed with Eren at the moment, so I don’t know how the idea of you moving in with him is going to go over. He thinks you should at least try and talk to the butchers' son across the road. He was that Bob has a very stable career ahead of him and isn’t prone to, and I quote, ‘behaviour fit of an imbecile’.”
Jean laughs when Eren splutters indignantly at that. Erwin offers him one of his signature apologetic smiles, which Jean actually thinks he should stop doing entirely because the bastard can near get away with anything when he flashes one of those. Even Levi falls for them time and time again.
"Jean? Baby, you're shaking."
It's a day where they get to have breakfast together. And Jean's fucking ruining it.
“What? What’s wrong?” Eren asks frantically, grabbing one of Jean’s hands in his own rough, honey coated one. Jean’s too panicked to be grossed out by the stickiness.
Fuck… and Jean really thought he was calming down with his whole random panic attacks.
Seriously, he’s narrowed them down to mostly at night or whenever something particularly triggering happens, like Eren saying Mikasa and Annie are coming over for lunch. It's triggering because up until a few months ago Mikasa and Annie were long dead, and the prospect of inviting them over for something as mundane as lunch is sometimes a little much to wrap his head around.
Oh fuck… is he really hyperventilating again? Honestly, how much a pathetic emotional mess can he be before Eren loses patience with him? Seriously, he knows he’s a little insane but all this crying and breathing and just not holding himself together is starting to get on his own nerves.
Eren stares, eyes squinted and searching, trying desperately to make sense of the word. “What?”
“August.” Eren must know. Surely, if he’s creeped on Jean as much as he says he has, then he must have seen Jean hanging out with a member of the Kings Guard. Going into bars and fucking men in the alleyway, until finding something a little more permanent with Bjorn. Who’s probably dead now. Hopefully. Jean doesn’t like the idea of anyone still surviving in that hell hole of a place. And August doesn’t deserve that. He’s a good man.
Probably why Jean can’t feel guilty over him. He does over the nameless men before him, but he understands that what he and August had was… needed. August needed something to hold onto at night, and Jean needed something to make him feel alive, even just for a couple of hours. He hopes Bjorn's death was quick.
“Bjorn August helped me,” he says, glad his voice is somewhat steady. “You and everyone else were gone, and he... he helped keep me together.”
Eren listens patiently as Jean tells him in fragmented stories of his endeavours after Eren ‘died’, and Jean actually fucking cries again when he says, “If he was here I would thank him. I’m glad you had at least someone who kept your head on straight.”
“You should probably thank Moselle then too.” He should. Because otherwise Jean is the only person in the world who knows about them and he- he can't handle that weight.
Eren blinks and smiles at him softly, still holding Jeans hand with his nasty honey covered one.
“Tell me about her.
Believe it or not, Eren doesn’t think Jean’s a monster after he tells him about his life in Legion post-disappearance.
It’s probably why Jean, so full of relief was he, agreed to go to the stupid bonfire Eren was invited to.
“It’s basically like the one we were gonna go to last time… except I’m pretty sure someones bringing alcohol.”
They take their shoes off when they reach the sand, leaving them with a pile alongside the others. Jean counts ten pairs at least, wonders who else they belong to, and how many people are going to be here.
A stream of footprints leads to the bonfire, and Eren and Jean diligently follow it, the glow getting brighter with each step. Jean can hear noise when he’s not twenty meters away, someone’s playing a form of string instrument he hasn’t heard since Hemhia’s last ever spring festival. In fact, the bonfire itself is eerily reminiscent of the spring festival. People are shouting and laughing. A silhouette is making large gestures to other silhouettes seated on logs. He thinks someone’s singing, a girl.
By the time they get close, he can hear the crackle of the fire, only because everyone else is suddenly still. All eyes are on him, faces a mixture of confusion and suspicion from those he doesn’t recognise, and unreadable expressions from those he knows.
It shocks him into silence too, how much everyone’s changed. They’re all older. Jean supposes that he hasn’t seen them since he was 16, and now he’s… he must be 20 now. It’s… what? Autumn? His birthday is around this date, isn’t it? Maybe he’s 21…
What matters is that it’s been 4 years since he’s seen these people. His friends. And it’s been 4 years since they’ve seen him.
They’re in for a disappointment.
Everyone’s so incredibly silent until Mikasa walks up to him, her usually stoic face crumpled with some form of sorrow Jean’s sure is reflected in his own. He tenses when she gets nose to nose with him. He expects a punch, or for her to spit in his face, and to ask him why he didn’t try to keep their friends alive, why he’s so fucking useless. He closes his eyes, listens intently to the tune of the waves crashing and the fire crackling, and waits for pain.
She places her arms on his shoulders and pulls him in close. She puts her chin on his shoulder so her hair tickles his cheek, and whispers, “Thank you for staying alive.”
When Jean opens his eyes, everyone else is moving towards him. Reiner and Bertolt, with their arms open wide, and Annie, the smallest of smiles on her face.
They all look so happy to see him, at least.
Do they know you’re a murderer?
Jean is introduced to the other’s he doesn’t know. They all appear to be around the same age, his age, except for Agnes, who spends the entire night latched to Armin’s side and staring into his eyes, whilst Amin hopelessly stares back.
He’s already met Margrit, but he’s introduced to Nicolaus, who’s more handsome than Jean would have guessed. There’s a girl called Bella, who Jean discovers later was the one singing, and also that she’s expecting a child with Krause, the man next to her.
“If it’s a boy I want to call him Dimitri, after Krause’s father, and if it’s a girl, well…” she blushes and leans in closer to him. Jean feels compelled to do the same, as if this is some embarrassing secret. He couldn’t know what would be embarrassing about a baby name. “If it’s a girl I’d like to call her Kana, after The Woman Kana.”
“Kana?” Someone across the fire says, looking over in their direction. Bella sits up stiffly, eyes flickering nervously at Jean as if he’d expose her secret.
Luckily the attention is taken from them when Reiner asks, “Hey, isn’t she meant to be coming tonight?”
For some reason he looks at Armin when he says this, as does everyone else. Armin shrugs from where he has Agnes draped across his shoulders, “I think she said she was gonna come later in the evening.”
A quite murmuring ripples amongst the group. “You might finally meet her,” Eren tells him.
There are a few others whose names Jean’s forgot. Like the one guy whose skinned head reminds him of Connie, just without the energy and all the anger Eren had when he was 15. Another guy, shorter and fatter than everyone else by at least a head each way, and some mousy brown girl who doesn’t speak at all.
Eren’s dragged away to wrestle Reiner, Krause and funnily enough, Magrit. Jean panics at being left alone and undefended for all of five seconds before Bertolt sits down next to him in his lanky, clumsy way. It’s curiously a relief to see Bertie’s still
“Anybody still call you Horseface after Eren left?”
Jean grins, “Ymir, occasionally. Only when she knew it would piss me off.”
He laughs. “So, how are you finding the village? People aren’t too weird?” he says.
“Not really. Everyone’s finally stopped staring at me though, that was weird,” Jean says.
“When we first arrived, it was the same. Most of the village hadn’t seen outsiders in years, they didn’t know how to respond. Once they found out we were shifters they started to relax though.”
Oh, right. Bertolt’s a shifter. Jean tries not to tense, but he doesn’t do a very good job. “You’re the colossal one right?”
“Yes. And Reiner is the Armoured Titan,” he says.
He forces a laugh. “Makes sense actually. You’re really tall and Reiner’s, ah, buff. I don’t really get Annie though.”
Bertolt grins something private and amused. “She’s a diamond in the rough.”
The conversation is light. Once the strangers get used to Jean, and Jean used to them, the laughter he could hear when approaching returns. Somebody starts passing around bottles of beer like it’s cheap wine, and Jean doesn’t hesitate to take one, if only to take the edge off his anxiety.
When a couple of the men (and Margrit) leave the fire in search of more wood to burn, he finds himself sitting next to Mikasa again, with Annie all curled up in her lap like a cat in the sun with Mikasa’s red scarf tight around her neck. Jean’s never known them to be this openly affectionate, and can’t help but point it out.
Mikasa smiles at him, which he’s never known her to do. “I suppose things just happen, and people change. I’m a lot happier now than I was,” she says.
“When did this happen?“ He gestures to Annie, who just stares back. “Like, officially?”
The men have returned with the wood, throwing them down in piles and on the fire. The flames spit small cinders into the night every time a piece is thrown. Eren sits down heavily next to Jean on the sand, leaning his back against the log. He steals the bottle Jean’s holding and takes a long sip, although Jean has no idea why, because Eren can’t get drunk and the beer tastes like ass.
“That,” Eren points, “happened when Annie almost turned to crystal, and Mikasa was the only one who could stop her…”
“It’s super romantic,” Reiner teases. “And funny.”
“Its funny until Annie’s in titan form and freaks out over Mikasa getting a scratch,” Eren says.
“That happened once,” Mikasa rolls her eyes.
“Yeah, and Bertolt nearly lost a hand because of it,” Reiner says, although any animosity he may have can’t be detected through the toothy grin he’s sporting.
“It grew back!” Annie hisses.
Bertolt pouts. “Still hurt.”
“Don’t be such a baby,” Annie says and flicks sand at him.
Fuck, this is weird to see. They’re all so much different from what he remembers. They’re so free.
He wonders how much being a titan really affects their lives, now that the war is over. There’s no reason for any of them to shift anymore since there’s no threat of titans… well, besides the ones that wander into the village outskirts, which are dealt with by other titan shifters since there's no wall anywhere.
Jean hadn’t realised it before, but having the absence of the wall, being able to look up at any point in the day and see it’s tall, looming shape; it’s weird. Adds to all the fucked up anxiety he’s already loaded with.
For fucks sake, he’s so over feeling this way. Here he is, with all his fucking friends who are alive, safe and actually happy, and he can’t even be grateful. Instead, as he looks out at them and just feels angry, and sad. He’s felt a lot of things in the past month, and still, he can’t decide if he preferred the numbness he felt before or this tempest of emotions.
With that thought in mind, he snatches the bottle Reiner offers him almost desperately, simply scowling when Reiner laughs, “Finally learnt to handle your alcohol, Jean?”, but not stopping until he reaches the bottom of the bottle.
The conversation turns to gossip about people Jean hasn’t met yet. Occasionally, when Jean moves too much or makes any type of noise, they’ll all leap over themselves to explain to him who these people are, “Oh you’ll love her, she’s gorgeous,” and, “You’ll absolutely hate him, he’s a brute.”
He has Eren nuzzling his neck and mumbling “bullshit” every time someone says something he disagrees with. Jean doesn’t mind, is quite content to be left out of the conversation. He’s snuggled up under Eren’s arm, leaning partially against the log and mostly against Eren, soaking up the titan warmth since the bonfire’s died down to a simmer instead of a blaze, and the night air is starting to get frisky with the temperature.
Jean’s waiting for someone to notice the fire dying, doesn’t want to be the one to point it out, so they can collect more wood and stoke it up. No one’s mentioned anything yet. The alcohol in everyone's systems is probably numbing them from the cold.
That tactic isn’t really working for him. His hands have started up with their godforsaken shaking again (more from the cold this time than actual fear, thank fuck) and there’s a small breeze biting at his neck. But the alcohol is numbing him against other things.
Like the fact that he’s an absolute fucking murderer.
He’s not even paying attention to the conversation anymore, just staring at the way Bertolt will wrap his arm around Reiner when he sees the other getting a little too excited, or when Annie unconsciously grabs for Mikasa’s hand every now and then like she thinks she’s going to disappear. Fuck, does he get that?
He’s not paying attention to the conversation, not until the conversation’s focused on him. “What?” he asks warily, to find that everyone's staring at him again.
This time not with the curious, who is this new person, like before, but the wary, what the fuck is going on with this guy, kinda look.
When no one says anything, he looks to Eren, who murmurs tensely, “They… they want to know what it was like behind the wall.”
Jean shifts uncomfortably, not sure what to say. The kid who reminds him of Connie leans forward on his knees, eyes eager and alight with curiosity.
“Tell us what it was like behind the walls. Please? I heard everybody had Lupus.”
Where the fuck had that rumour even started?
Jean swallows. Shrugs. “I don’t know anyone who had Lupus.”
The kid actually looks disappointed. Jean wants to punch his stupid face.
“People still got sick though. Right?” Reiner says, giving Jean the side eye like he’s gonna interrupt him. “I remember seeing red crosses painted onto doors and churches when we broke through the wall. I presume they were turned into medical bays when they ran out of tents.”
Armin, turning away from Agnes for the first time the entire night, says, “Most people got the flu. I’m actually surprised you didn’t get it.” He stares at Jean, who shifts uncomfortably.
“Yeah. Um, I-I’m surprised too. I mean, the amount of time I spent in the Medical tent with Sasha. I should have caught something.”
“Sounds like it would’ve been safer out in the field,” Eren says. He squeezes Jean's shoulder.
“Why’s that?” Agnes asks, then blushing at her outburst. Jean’s honestly forgot there were people here who had little to no idea what being out in the field is like. He’s not sure how much the villagers had to do with busting down the wall, but from what Jean’s concluded it's that most of them were kept away from the war.
“We started running out of medical supplies, so the tents were just somewhere to put people until they died. Although not everyone who was sick went into the tents straight away. It was usually a last resort thing. If people were literally too sick to fight, or even clean the weaponry, it’s only then that they were sent to Medical. Otherwise, people weren’t really allowed to take sick days off, because there already wasn’t enough soldiers out in the field…”
He remembers when Sasha first got sick and requested just a couple days to recuperate, which would have been okay except that a few weeks before they’d lost nearly two entire teams on separate missions dealing with a horde of abnormals. So Sasha was needed, and couldn’t afford to be idle. Jean watched as she got sicker and sicker and weaker and weaker yet still smiling and giving him shit for being 4th on that fucking list…
Jean volunteered for her as much as possible. Knew she would only get worse if she kept going out and staining herself. Even Levi and Erwin tried to help, by giving her as many of the ‘lazy’ missions as possible when they knew Jean couldn’t cover…
Except it wasn’t always up to them, and during one particularly bad storm Sasha was sent out, returning with one foot already in the grave whilst Jean, who was perfectly healthy, had to stay behind and just hope.
“When Sash got sick, i-i tired to take over her duties. I went on a couple of her missions when I didn’t have my own. They let me for a while because… I was one of the few that would make it out, always surviving… I don’t fucking know why…”
You never deserved to.
Yeah, he already fucking knows that voice, thanks.
“How often were you made to go out?” Mikasa asks, sounding almost accusing. Jean can’t tell if it’s because of him or on behalf of him.
Jean notices that it’s the rest of 104 that have crowded in. That the others, the ones who aren’t part of their… their group, have been actively blocked out from the conversation.
Suddenly there’s a weight on Jeans tongue, heavy and thick, as he realises that this conversation is something they’ve probably been waiting for. To finally know what it was like after they left.
But honestly, Jean’s doesn’t think he can even get the words out. How is he meant to explain in a matter of fact way everything he’s witnessed?
“A lot,” he whispers. “There weren’t enough… we kept dying. There weren’t enough people to-to just sit around. And then they started recruiting kids. We had to keep fighting even though we kept dying-”
He feels Eren place a hand on his shoulder. The kindness of the gesture makes him want to lean closer and hide. I don’t fucking deserve-
“How did they die?”
And there it is. The question. Jean didn’t think they knew how their friends died, but he didn’t expect any of them to actually ask… maybe Armin, privately, because he seems like the type of person that would respect the knowledge of their deaths.
It was Mikasa who asked, which makes sense. She was always, in his eyes, the strongest of them all. In the sense that she never got caught up in her emotions like he did, never succumbed to the fear.
He braves a glance up, see’s the flames of the fire flicker in their glassy eyes, and a random spike of fear claws up his spine.
They look unnatural, surrounding him like this, like wild dogs, hungry and desperate for information. He knows it’s his imagination, but his heart rate picks up, as does his breathing, and the darkness around him is suddenly closing in and fuck fuck he can’t breathe what the fuck is he doing how can he just sit here and talk about their deaths and not feel anything oh god oh god no no no-
Breathe… they have to know, they need to know.
“T-They died…. They-“ Get the fucking words out. “Connie was first. H-He died in the field. And then it was-“
Details, give them details.
“Mikasa,” Eren growls in warning, if possible moving closer to Jean, who really just wants him to get away. It’s too close. He can feel his breath on his neck… it’s so similar to how it used to be before he left, when they were together and his breath used to make him shiver in excitement… not dread…
Mikasa fixes her brother with a glare, challenging him to push her further. They both want to know, he can tell. Everybody does.
“He died from a titan attack. Pushed Sasha out of the way to save her and got ripped in half.” Amazingly, his voice is steady, if somewhat strong. “He loved her? Did you know that? And Sasha loved him back. She lived with the guilt that she never told him.”
Jean takes satisfaction from the grief on their faces, feeling sick but empowered, he sits up straighter, shakes off Eren’s hand.
He wants them to hurt.
“Christa died from a titan attack too,” he says bitterly, voice sharp like a knife. “The official reports said that she was tending to an injured recruit, neither of them made it back alive. Ymir was… distraught.”
Reiner grimaces grabs Bertolt’s hand. Jean tries simultaneously not to smile or cry, digs his fingers into the sand.
“She killed herself. That's how she died. She hung herself from a rope in the fucking tac room. S-She couldn’t live without-… without-”
Damn, so close.
Maybe you could say it if you weren’t such a coward.
Eren reaches for his shoulder again, “Jean-“
“It was just me and Sasha for a long time,” he snaps. Eren has the foresight to recoil, at least. “It was just us. We were alone, but we were together, so it was okay…”
No, it wasn’t, don’t lie to them.
“I-It wasn’t okay, but it was better than when… it was okay until… u-until she died too.”
He’s not going to talk about her death. He can’t. Not even with this newfound bravery stemming from the hate he feels at these people, his so-called ‘friends’, at abandoning him. Them.
“You wanted to know how they all died? You wanted to know what it was like? Well, that’s what it was like. It was horrible and scary and lonely… I had to kill people, not just titans, because the war twisted us and made us… made me… monsters…
That’s what happened after you all left. Everyone died. Everyone fucking died and not a single one of you were there to-to… we needed you guys there to fight with us. We were dying and you knew that, but you didn’t do anything. You just let it happen to fill out some stupid plan that just killed everyone anyway!”
He stands, has to leave before he freaks out again.
“Everyone fucking died. But not me… why not me. Why am I the only one who has to deal with this shit!”
He can’t stand to see the way they’re looking at him, whether they’re concerned, angry, or scared, or all three. He turns, leaves even when he hears Eren shout for him to stay.
He tries not to feel disappointed or hurt when he gets halfway down the beach and realises no one’s following him, not even Eren.
It’s because you’re pathetic and they know it.
“No, it’s not, it’s not.”
It is. You’re just a useless coward who couldn’t keep anyone safe.
“I know! Shut up!”
Because of you.
Except the wind is howling too loud and the waves are crashing too hard that his voice is simply swallowed in the chaos. When he falls his hands are wet and covered in sand. He must have started running at some point because he’s a lot closer to the water than he realised. That is, when he realises he wasn’t running towards the village, like he thought he was.
He scrambles away from what he assumes is the edge of the water, Still surrounded by darkness, but the crashing of the waves is so intense he knows on some instinctive level that if he continues forward he’s surely going to drown…
It wouldn’t be such a bad thing for you to just d-
“Get the fuck out of my head!”
As if nature itself had ears, the wind dies down to absolute stillness, and the horrifying ravaging of the waves has ceased. It’s so still and black, Jean is momentarily unconvinced he’s still living.
It's like everything has been sucked away, even the lights of the bonfire and village are too distant to see. He must have been sprinting in order to get to the shore so fast. He doesn’t remember running this far but he’s reached the water's edge and now he’s lost, doesn’t know which way to go. He’s fucking lost. God he can’t see anything—
Except he can. There’s a light to his left and it’s getting brighter. Jean figures it must be Eren or someone coming to get him, and he feels relieved as well as guilty. He probably owes them all an apology, it wasn’t like it was their faults that humanity was in trouble to begin with. They were just kids at the time when they left, they wouldn’t have been able to understand what their actions meant.
He hopes anyway.
When the light gets closer it becomes too bright to look at and Jean shields his eyes. He can only make out one pair of footsteps that stop when they’re a meter away. Jean stands from the sand, relieved beyond belief to be able to fall once again into the warm arms of someone who loves him undoubtedly.
“Eren. Eren I’m so sorr-“
“So you’re the little scout Jaeger wanted to keep.”
Jean flinches. He doesn’t recognise the voice speaking. It’s deep, but feminine. The flame lowers to reveal a dark-skinned woman with lean, muscled arms and long black hair fused into a loose braid. As Jean’s staring at the woman in shock the woman is staring back.
“There’s not very much to you, is there. Scrawny. Sad. I suppose you had a pretty face once, before all the hunger.” She steps forward and Jean straightens indignantly, narrowing his eyes back at her angrily.
“What’s your name boy,” she asks sternly. There’s a strange tingle in the air that indicates everything about her is domineering, assertive, aggressive.
Jean doesn’t say anything. Doesn’t think he can yet. His mouth is thick with sick and dread.
“You're mute also?” She laughs nastily. “How tragic.”
“Fuck off,” Jean snarls. The woman’s eyes expand, but she’s not caught off guard. Jean feels the anger he felt back at the bonfire renew with a vigorous passion, and he’s really like to punch this bitch in the face right fucking now. “I know who you are. I know what you did.”
She smiles a hideous smile. “Do you?”
“You’re the one they call The Woman Kana. You’re a fucking monster.”
All vile amusement drains from her face, and Jean’s left to look at the critical stare of Kana, made more terrifying in the dark of the night and the flickering light of the lantern she’s holding. When she steps forward Jean refuses to step back even though he wants to, so now they’re standing nose to nose with the lamp between them.
“You know not of monsters.” She hisses, pressing the lantern into his pelvis. “You know not of the horrors inside the wall.”
“Know not? I lived in the fucking wall!”
“Then why are you angry at me? If you lived inside then you must know of the kings greed that poisoned your land.”
He takes a small amount of pleasure in the way her eyes narrow in annoyance as he scoffs, “Of course i knew. Everyone did.” He doesn’t scoff from amusement but rather the irony that even the people who weren’t directly affected by the king hated him. “But we would have naturally overthrown him, like every other historic civilisation.”
She shakes her head. “No. You wouldn’t have.”
“And how the fuck would you know!”
“The kingdom was corrupt. The king was willing to sacrifice the entire population within the wall just so he could outlive another titan threat. He is the monster, leading you all like lambs to the slaughter. You were all going to die anyway, at least now humans have a fresh start to be virtuous and moral. People here understand and value their lives, because they haven’t got some asinine wall separating them from reality. You lived like herded cattle, can’t you see that!”
“There must have been a different way!”
“He was using you! He sabotaged humanity!”
“He gave us a chance to live!”
Kana shrieks and drops the lantern so she can launch herself at him. Fingers curled into claws that grasp his shirt and throw them both to the ground. She punches him in the jaw before he manages to roll her over and throw sand in her face. He can barely see from the lantern light, which is wedged in the sand and still somehow aflame.
“There was no other way,” Kana cries, shoving him off her. He lands on his shoulder and rolls into a crouch, ready to take her one if he charges at him. Except she just sits by the lantern, hands resting on knees, feet buried in the sand and chest heaving almost as hard as his own. “This… this was the only way to ensure Humanity’s future. Rid the world of the corruption, and from it’s ashes rise a knew colony of humans, some half-breeds, or titan and man, where we can survive peacefully. So long as we have shifters, there will not be a need for a king, or a ruler. They will provide us with the peace.”
Jean doesn’t understand her demented logic one fucking bit, and frankly doesn’t care. He’s already classed her as some crazy bitch with whatever issues. He can’t blame her for his friend’s deaths like he so desperately wants to, it’s possible that they all would have died anyway. It was probably likely.
And he can’t blame himself either. Not entirely. They were all just fighting for survival, it just so happened that Jean won his fight.
Still, it’s her fault that all those other, innocent civilians were slaughtered like animals in a pen.
“Why not just leave it alone?” Jean asks into the darkness. His clothing is wet and sandy and scratches against his skin. The adrenaline hasn’t entirely worn off, not yet, Jean can still feel his blood pumping, but the wind is beginning to bite against his cheeks, and his nose is starting to drip.
Kana’s crawled over to retrieve the lamp, stuck half heartedly from the sand like buried treasure. She sit’s beside it, looking determinedly into it’s light. “Leave what?”
“Hermhia. If we- if we were destined to destroy ourselves anyway, why not just leave us alone. Why put in so much effort in something you believed was going to happen anyway. Unless, you didn’t truly believe it would happen.”
Kana’s gaze is undeterred from the lamplight.
“Because,” she starts, “It was my duty.”
“Bullshit,” Jean whines, fed up.
She finally does look at him. “I do not have an explanation that you will accept.”
While this is true, it doesn’t mean that Jean feels any less angry. It’s not enough. There has to be something more. Both he and Kana it seems fought so hard for so long that there has to be something more.
“So that’s it… it’s all over. You got rid of all the bad shit, and now what? We live like this until we die and someone knew corrupts humanity again?”
The clouds in the sky still haven’t cleared. They must be at a standstill, like the wind. Like Jean’s fucking life. Kana takes a deep breath. “Perhaps. I like to think that everyone in this village has the morals to create a generation of peace, at least for now. We need to keep moving on, focus on what will heal and restore and unite, instead of pollute, poison and fail. We will learn and adapt, instead of hide behind walls. We will look danger in the face and find ways to overcome it instead of locking it out.”
“Why couldn’t you do that before?”
“Jean… The wall kept the titans out, but it also kept any possible progression of humanity out too. I’ve told you, they were going to die anyway. Their deaths were-“
“Essential.” Jean finds his eyes suddenly burning, at the realisation that he and Kana are the same.
He thinks back to his argument with Morselle, over the recruit he’d killed. How he’d said almost the exact same thing, with the exact same line of thinking. That recruit, with his bloody body, was going to die and so was everyone within the wall. In order to keep anything alive, the boy and Hermhia had to fall.
They had to.
He couldn’t stop the boy from getting hurt by the titan, he could only make it hurt less.
“Oh god,” he whimpers. Had Morselle looked at him like he’s been looking at Kana?
Like a goddamn monster.
Suddenly she laughs, falling flat onto the sand and staring up to the quiescent sky. “You get it now. Don’t you?”
Jean howls, gut wrenching and agonising. Raises his hands, almost like he’s praying, then grips his head, as if he could crush the tempest of thoughts and accusations raging in his mind.
“You understand now!” She keeps talking and he just wants her to stop.
In the end he simply can’t listen to her anymore. Has to leave, has to go. Get away from her and all her fucked up logic, before he’s dragged back right into that line of thinking.
His legs wobble and shake as he runs from her. Not caring what direction he’s running in, almost hoping it’s towards the choppy jaws of the waves, to give a somewhat romantic ending to his life. He just hopes it’s not Eren who finds his pale water-logged body washed up on the shore. Hopes it’s someone else. Hope’s it’s someone who doesn’t even care enough to report it.
He trips, falling so his hands become buried in the sand. There’s no attempts to stand after that, not desire to move. He’s right back to where he started before Kana found him, curled up on the edge of the beach, in the dark, alone. Crying. Wailing. Hurting.
For everyone. For everything. He hurts for his parents. For his village. For the legion. For his people. His comrades. His friends. For all the destruction and death he couldn’t even hope to stop.
“So fucking useless. Fucking pathetic. Fucking weak!”
He’s such a goddamn— “Fuck!” He screams in a long, burning cry. He screams and screams and screams until his vocal chords feel like they’re ripping apart, making inhaling feel like a blood filled gulp of water.
There’s no worry of anyone hearing him. The roar of the ocean devours any sound he makes like it’s nothing.
He screams until his head rings.
He feels nothing.
Not his hands, not his feet. His arms, his legs, torso, face. He can’t feel anything. He can’t feel his heart, or his head. He can’t feel his grief or depression, his guilt or anger.
It’s like… someone’s tipped him upside down and shook him until he vomited all the stones he had inside of him weighing him down.
He feels so empty, so tired, and it’s scary but… he feels free.
Eventually he feels light enough to stand. The clouds in the sky have started to take forms
And wouldn’t you know, he walks right into Eren.
“Jean! What happened? Are you hurt?” Eren’s all over him, brushing his wet hair from his forehead and holding him out by his shoulders to look him over. Jean tries to wave him off and move closer so he can burrow away in Eren’s heat. “Kana said you’d gone this way, and that you were really drunk. Are you okay?”
He flinches at the mention of her name.
“I’m fine. I wanna go home.”
“Yeah? Okay. That’s probably a good idea, you’re fucking freezing Jean.”
Jean just hums in response and allows himself to be ushered under Eren’s arm, presumably towards home. He’s not looking forward to walking up all those stairs, and wonder if he’s pathetic enough for Eren to carry him.
“I’m so sorry you were pushed to talk about those things, i knew you didn’t want to, i should have told Mika to shut the fuck up.”
Jean seriously can’t do this right now. “It’s okay. I don’t even care. I don’t— Can you take me home? Please?”
Eren’s looking at him like he’s about to loose it, and maybe he is. But he’s drunk and exhausted. And the fucking wind is back, biting into his skin mercilessly. And Jean really just wants to be in Eren’s titan warmth under the thick furs on his bed, in his home.
“Why are you wet? Did you go in the ocean? Jean, you’re so fucking drunk right now, and you can’t even swim, the hell were you thinking?”
Jean shakes his head. “I don’t know. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I-I don’t—”
Eren seems to realise that Jean’s totally fucked up right now, because the anger in his brow ceases. He steps forward and rests his chin on his head, and Jean wishes desperately in that moment that they were kids again, that Eren wasn’t so tall and big, because it’s just too different. At least if Eren was shorter Jean could feel like he might actually be able to protect him in some way, instead of just cling like he has been.
Also, it turns out he is pathetic enough for Eren to carry him.
When he wakes, he feels sick. Not in his usual, ‘oh god my life a mess i’m a disgrace to human kind’ sick, but more in the ‘i drank way too much last night and now the effects are haunting me’ sick. Eren, bless him, has a bucket ready and waiting for when Jean leans over the bed and hurls his heart out.
He throws Eren’s key over his shoulder like a girl would her hair, so it’s away from the range of fire. He’d hate to get puke on it, he got blood on it once and almost had a panic attack until Levi slapped him and told him he can just clean it.
Distantly, he’s aware of Eren crackling up behind him, and tries to glare at him over his shoulder.
“Sorry, i just haven’t seen you hungover in years. Remember when you used to try and drink me under the table, before you realised i couldn’t actually get drunk. Oh man, you used to get hammered, and i’d have to carry you home and lie to the guards about where we’d been.”
Jean smiles, “Never— never used to work though. Smelt too bad.”
The titan shifter moves forward to rub Jean’s back, thumbing the key on the string, “I remember. You were a real lightweight though. Still are, ya runt.”
“Shouldn’t you be feeling sorry for me? I’m sick and you’re my boyfriend. Make me feel better.” The hand on his back halts it’s pattern of circles, and Jean glances of at Eren’s face, curious at the astonished look he finds there. “What?”
“You… You said i was your boyfriend.”
“Well you’re not my girlfriend.”
“No i mean-“
Jean cuts him off with a hand on his knee. “You are my boyfriend Eren. Always have been. I’ve been with other men, some more seriously than others but… it was you. It’s always been you.” Suddenly he becomes self-conscious, as if he doesn’t know that by sleeping in Eren’s bed and living in his house that Eren obviously wants him. “If you wanna be my boyfriend, that is. You don’t have to. I know i’m a wreck at the moment, hell, i wouldn’t even date myself.”
Eren cuts him off with a kiss on the lips.
And immediately regrets it. “Gross. Vomit kiss.”
Jean giggles. Eren leans back to look at him, head tilted. The smaller puts the bucket down carefully and stares back. “What?”
“You seem… different. Lighter.”
Eren shrugs. “Probably just the sun. Let me see if we have anything to eat. You hungry?”
“Well, I am.”
He lays in bed at night, surrounded by lush furs and Eren, and realises that the scary emptiness inside him that formed during his worst breakdown to date, is actually filling up.
Eren said he seemed lighter, well Jean felt lighter.
And instead of questioning it, or looking too deeply into it, he decides to let it be for a little while longer.
All that angst, whilst it had been released that night, is still in his heart. However, instead of letting it drag him down, he feels like he’s come to terms with it enough for it to be endearing, almost sacred. A part of him he’ll carry with him in respect for his friends, past and present.
That’ll have to be enough for now.
One morning, he wakes to find Eren’s side of the bed cold. When he ventures downstairs he almost screams in fright to see someone in his kitchen who’s not big or muscly or containing any other distinctively Eren traits.
The person has their back to them, but that moonless black hair is unmistakable.
She turns to him, and shoves a wooden spoon into his hand. “Apparently you can cook.”
Jean takes that as an indication that he’s making breakfast. He’s still in his pyjamas, aka Eren’s shirt with thankfully a pair of boxers. He, he should put on pants. “Where’s Eren?”
Mikasa leans against the island counter, folding her arms against her chest. She looks stunning as always, her hair long and cascading over her shoulders in a loose plait. Jean’s glad he never had to see her covered in blood. He doesn’t know why, but he doesn’t want to think of those graceful locks blood clumped and filthy.
“He’s on patrol. Every morning except Friday and Saturday.”
Oh. “So why are you here?”
“Because you’re here.” When Jean just looks on confused she huffs impatiently. “Eren still doesn’t think you’re healthy enough to be alone.”
“And-” she goes on, cutting him off. “And, I wanted to apologise. For pushing you. The other night. It wasn’t fair.”
That take’s Jean aback a little, because fuck, he barely remembers what went on at the bonfire, compared to the mind fuck that was the conversation with Kana. He opens his mouth to say it’s alright, but the women isn’t finished.
“I know you’ve been through a lot. We have too through. I know that it must have killed you to be right there when they all died, but at least you didn’t have to sit on the sidelines and watch. At least you got the chance to fight alongside them.”
Jean stares. He can’t believe what he’s hearing, because Mikasa’s eyes are actually tearing up, and she’s wiping her nose. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“It’s all my fault! That they died. Sasha and everyone. We left them behind. We left you behind, I can’t understand how you can even be in the same room as us!”
Okay, this conversation is more unsettling than the one with Kana…
“Mikasa, it’s… it’s not you’re fault.”
“I left them behind!”
“Yes but-“ What could he say to that?” “So did I.”
That gets her to look at him, albeit with incredulous confusion. “What? You were there the whole time.”
“Yes, I was, and I still let them die. And then after that, I left them too.”
Mikasa is looking at him like he’s the stupidest person on the planet. But honestly, Jean’s tired of talking about this, both to himself and others. He’s tired of constantly thinking about it. Having their faces constantly in the back of his head all bloody and broken. He doesn’t want to forget them, but he wants to remember the good things about them, not just their deaths.
He wants to let go.
So does Mikasa, and everyone else. Eren knew how to move on, plus he had Jean, who survived…
He slowly walks over to her and wraps his arms around her. He’d never thought he’d be able to get this close to her ever, at least not before she’d fled with the others. It’s nice to see she’s more open now. More human.
“How can you…”
Looking at Mikasa, he can understand her need that night to know how they died. Jean had wanted them to hurt, but hadn’t realised that they already were. It must have torn them, every day, to make the decision to stay and fight for this new age of humanity, instead of returning back to everything they know, their friends, to fight the losing battle of their old one.
He was blind to the regret he saw on Eren’s face before, but now it’s stark in his mind.
He is still not sure what he can say that will relieve Mikasa of her conflict, because he knows there was nothing he was willing to listen to when he felt this way. It took him years to move on, and only recently had he come to anything resembling peace. Only this morning in fact.
She needs to forgive herself, like Jean is trying to do.
“If it’s my fault that they died, and it’s also yours then it’s Eren’s too. And Annie’s, and Armin’s. It’s Bert, and Reiner’s’, and even Kana’s. Fuck, it’s the King’s fault as well, along with the fucking titans and the walls. It’s everyone’s fault, and… and if it’s everyones fault, then how can there be someone to blame? I mean, they were going to die, but at least they died believing they were fighting for peace. They didn’t die because of us, they died for us. ”
Her arms tighten around his waist.
Jean says, “They fought for us. They fought for our survival.” He pushes her back so he can look into her eyes. “Don’t take that away from them.”
She wipes her eyes, and grimaces at her tears, “I’’m such a crybaby these days.”
He smirks and breaks the tension between them by searching through the cupboards for flour. Pancakes aren’t too hard.
“Same here. I cry all the time too. It’s so fucking stupid.”
Eventually, he has to break the news to Levi that he’s moving out. With Eren. Yes. Because they’re in a relationship. Yes, he’s sure. Yes, he’s aware of Eren’s intellectual capabilities. Well, no, he wouldn’t exactly call him an idiot- Yes, Jean will come and visit. He promises.
Levi sits at the foot of the bed as Jean packs away his Survey uniform, Eren and Erwin are downstairs, Eren is slightly too afraid to come upstairs from the way Levi legitimately hissed at him at the front door.
“Careful with that, don’t crease it,” Levi snaps, eyeing the fabric in Jean's hands worriedly. Jean looks down to find the scouting crest staring back up at him, and feels himself smile.
“Eren has his hanging above the fireplace. I might see if I can hang mine there too.”
“Stupid. What if it falls in the fire.”
“How do you know,” Levi presses, but when Jean looks up to make eye contact, Levi’s eyes are quickly diverted to the window. He’s been absolutely destroying himself over the events of the wall. Like Jean has, and everyone else it seems. Even Erwin, who Jean knows is hurting from the way he sometimes answers the door with red-rimmed, swollen eyes.
Even Kana, who apparently made it her life goal to bring the wall down.
Levi’s in the same boat as everyone else. Jean also, even though he’s probably feeling the best he’s felt in years. Well, he still feels like a pathetic piece of shit, but he supposes that he’s always felt like that. More intensely over the past few years, a little too intensely actually, but it’s less so now, and to him, it’s an incredible feeling.
“Because I’ll hang it carefully. I’ll make sure it has strong support.”
“How do you know if the support will be strong enough.”
He hesitates, thinks carefully over the small conversations he's had with Erwin over these past couple weeks. Thinks on the words and warnings Erwin has murmured to him over the benchtop while Jean slaves over the stove cooking them dinner, Just be careful with him. He's vulnerable right now. Delicate. He's putting up a brave face because that's all he knows to do, but he's still hurting. Erwin chuckled to himself then. We're old Jean, we don't bounce back as easily as you kids.
“I don’t know. You don’t I guess. You just gotta trust it.”
Levi frowns and crosses his arms. Mutters a begrudging, “Yeah, alright.”
Jean doesn’t think his hidden message actually got through to Levi until a couple weeks after he’d moved out, and he’d came round to visit Erwin and Levi and to steal their milk because Eren, the fucker, keeps drinking all theirs.
He actually drinks everyone else’s too, but he’s too scared to drink Levi’s because of whatever weird primal dynamic they have with each other, Eren’s afraid to take anything of Levi’s. However he's not afraid to piss him off, a feat he’s demonstrated countless times.
It’s when he walks in the door and sees Levi with one of the ugliest monstrosities in the world purring happily in his arms, and Jean almost drops his basket.
“What is that?”
And Levi just looks at him with an actual, toothy smile and says, “It's Gordon...”
"Holy Shit. That's incredible. When-... How..."
Then he gets a proper look at the thing in the Levis' arms he realises that no, it's not Gordon.
While this thing is undeniably ugly and has just as much if not more saliva dribbling from his mouth, the pelt is off colour, and it still has both of its ears. It's not the same cat, and Jean almost laughs at the absurdity of his conclusion.
It's not the same cat, and Jean would tell him as much, actually opens his mouth but closes it just as fast. Because Erwins there now, standing behind Levi with a hand placed protectively on his shoulder and a tense expression on his face. "Good morning Jean."
"Morning," Jean replies. The bucket in his hand suddenly becoming slippery in his hands as his palms start to sweat. He's not sure what's going on here, and he stares at Erwin for a long time trying to decipher the message he's sending. "I see you have a new pet," he settles on, watches warily as Erwin's face twists into something similar as he looks down at his partner.
"It's Gordon," Levi insists. However, his voice takes on an almost childlike tone, one of pleading and in need of reassurance. Jean looks quickly between the two men and finally clicks when he sees Erwin's hand tighten on Levi's shoulder as if he's seconds away from pulling Levi through the door. Keep him away from the truth. Keep him safe. Because this cat isn't Gordon, obviously not. That would be ridiculous. But Levi thinks it is. And Erwin doesn't want Jean bursting what little bubble of happiness his partners managed to scrape up off the floor. And now they're both looking at Jean with the same desperate question, It's Gordon?
So Jean puts on his best smile, "Well, I came here to see if I could borrow some milk, but I suppose you'll be needing it."
He watches as Levi's grin returns to his face, and the tense like of Erwins shoulders drop. Peace restored.
"I'm sure we can spare some," Erwin says, expression now grateful.
Sasha grips his hand, squeezing tightly, enough that the knuckles of her hands are whiter than his, even on her tanned skin. It’s absurdly cold, her hands. She should have worn her gloves. It’s winter after all. When she turns and smiles at him, he smiles back, even though he can’t see her eyes. She’s looking right at him, but he can’t see her eyes. Her hair’s getting in the way. It’s windy up on the wall. She tells him to come to the ledge. Tugs on his hand.
“You can see the sea from here,” she says, but the wind is so loud her sentence is jolted. “The sea Jean,” she goes on. “Look.”
He doesn’t want to, the edge of the wall looks sharp and unstable. There’s no barrier. They’re going to fall.
“Look, Jean, you can see them at the bottom.” She tugs insistently at his hand. It’s started to rain, water slithering between their palms, causing Jean’s grip on her hand to slip.
“Jean,” she says, and suddenly she’s on the edge of the wall- the cliff, staring at him with eyes covered by hair. “Don’t let me go, Jean. Don’t let me fall.”
Jean’s throat is like a knot strung tight. The rain pelts his face, his palms, and he reaches out to her like reaching for survival. Desperation clawing at his insides, as he steps closer to her only to find her tilting backwards.
“Stop!” he screams, jolting forward, grasping onto her hand at the last second but- but the rain- his hands are slippery, she slides right through. And she falls. Jean screams. His knees hit the edge as he peers over.
He expects to see Sasha’s face as he leans over the cliff ledge, torn and broken from the fall, except it’s not Sasha’s face he sees, it’s Moselle’s. And she’s beautiful, laying at the bottom of the cliffs amounts the snaggletooth rocks and colliding waves. They crash against her but she doesn’t move, not an inch. Hand’s tucked under her chin, creating the vision of praying. The only thing to react to the motion of the waves is her hair, almost glowing in its fiery colour, dry even as the water tugs and pulls it.
He calls out to her, but the rain is still too heavy. But he needs to get to her. She’s in trouble. She needs help. He can’t leave her. He can’t abandon her. She was part of his team, he was her leader, and he leads her to her death.
Shakily he stands, ready to jump.
Except something taps his shoulder. He twists around. It’s Eren. He’s shorter than him, younger, face still round and cherubic with youth.
“Oh my god,” Jean whimpers, raises a shivering hand to young Eren’s cheek.
He moves to brush aside the askew strands of hair covering those ocean eyes Jean knows are under there, only to stop in his tracks as he catches a figure behind Eren’s back. He peers at it until it comes into focus from the rain. His heart stops; if it ever was beating.
Then there's another figure, to Eren’s right.
All his squad members. All his murders. Everyone he was meant to keep alive. Everyone he was meant to save. Their heads are all bent down. Eyes covered.
“Jean,” Eren says.
Jean’s eyes snap back to the forelock of hair obscuring Eren’s face.
“Wake up,” he whispers. And pushes him off the cliff.
He doesn’t realise he’s awake until he’s looking around the room, reassuring himself that it's not a cliff. It is not raining inside. He is not falling. He’s in bed, with Eren, and he’s- he’s crying. His lungs hurt. He’s fucking screaming? Why’s he screaming when he can’t even breathe? He leans over onto his side, tries to tuck his knees up, get smaller, get safer, except something on his arm is stopping him.
A hand. A fucking boiling hot hand.
“E-Eren!” he chokes, scrambling to where his boyfriend’s laying next to him on the bed. Somehow he makes it into Eren’s arms, thrusting his face into Eren’s bare chest. Doesn’t realise how cold he is until he feels Eren’s skin. “Eren, I-I can’t- c-can’t breathe. I can’t-“ He feels his head being forced up, still pressed against the chest but so his throat is extended. A deep voice tells him to breathe.
It's not working.
"It's okay. You're okay. Breathe Baby. Come on."
"C-Can't Eren... I c-"
He forces his eyes open, squints up through the tears but can't see anything. The world dark and dim and scary. So he closes them, tries to focus on something else, anything else, to distract him from the agonising burning in his lungs and crawling fear in his throat.
Erens still whispering. Lips wet and voice hoarse against the shell of his ear. Everything's alright. You're safe. Nothings gonna hurt you. You're okay. I'm not gonna let anything bad happen to you ever again.
Oh. He would sob at that if he could. But all he can do is gasp and tremble.
Sometime later, not sure when the panic dies down and settles like a cold stone in his stomach. He becomes aware that he's moving. Gently, Softly. Back and Forth. Back and Forth. He's rocking?
He's being rocked.
And oh, but that feels nice. Soothing.
Doesn't want it to stop. Ever. He feels safe.
“You wanna talk about it?”
No, he does not.
But Eren's brows are drawn together in the way that means there's only one answer to the question.
Jean bury’s his face in his tea, lets the peppermint-laced steam of the mug soothe his agitated eyes, dried up and tight from the salt of his tears. He really does not want to talk about it, but Eren does, and he won’t leave until he gets what he wants, which is Jean feeling better apparently. Part of his hero complex. It’s so sickeningly sweet and heartbreaking, Jean knows he can’t do shit in defence.
Plus, Eren doesn't have work today, so if Jean wants him to go do something other than pestering him about his out of control emotions then he better make a pretty convincing lie that he's fine.
"Just a nightmare, you know how it is."
Eren regards him with that patronising look, the one that makes Jean feel like an invalid, broken thing. He doesn't give him that look often because he knows how much it pisses Jean off, but sometimes it's unconscious, and those are worse. "Second time this week though, and you didn't fall asleep afterwards. It was so bad it kept you awake."
Jean rolls his eyes, "Like you don't get nightmares."
More than a handful of time's Jean's woken to the sound of the shifter grunting or yelling. Once he even reached up to bite his hand, would have too if Jean hadn't stuck his fingers in Eren's mouth first. Wich, by the way, fucking hurts like fuck.
"Mine don't give me fucking panic attacks."
"Well mine don't- they don't- you know what? Mine are fine, they're just annoying. I can deal with them, okay? I'm sorry I woke you up. Jesus."
Eren frowns. "You shouldn't have to deal with them. Not alone. Stop being a girl and talk to me."
"What do you want me to say!"
"Tell me what your nightmares about." He sits back and crosses his arms, glaring at Eren from across the table.
"Fine." His glaring switches from Eren to the window, where it's cloud and misty outside. Jean watches all morning as the storm slowly slunk towards them over the ocean. He didn't want to admit it, but due to his shitty ass dream the oncoming storm had put him on edge the entire morning, and he knows Eren picked up on it. "I just dreamt about everyone. Who else would I dream about?"
"Everyone? As in-"
"Everyone! Sasha, Christa, Connie. You." His tea is too hot as he gulps it down, he grimaces. "You pushed me off a cliff, asshole. There, I've talked about it. Can you just go and do- whatever you were gonna do today?"
Eren takes a bite of his honey covered toast. "Was planning on meeting up with Armin, Bertie and Rei. "
"Oh? You want the house key then? I'm helping out at the school today, teaching some of the kids how to cook meals that won't make them sick."
He's been working at the school only a short period of time, but Agnes, who's now a proud teacher-in-training, suggested he find something to do that isn't sulking around town or having sex with Eren. The idea of working at the school arose when he dropped by her house one evening to give her some of his muffins (he'd made too many and didn't want Eren eating them all and getting fat) and found that she was in the middle of a lesson/teacher-y thing with a couple of kids. The kids took one bite of his muffins and asked him to teach them how to make them. And the school has a kitchen so... he might as well teach them something.
Plus he's been given free reign over the school garden, and can't wait to experiment with different herbs and vegetables. His and Eren's cliffside home doesn't really cater for a garden unless all the potted plants Jean's hoarding wherever there's sunlight in the house counts as one. Eren counts it.
It's fun so far, and the kids like to learn, girls especially, the boys prefer the gardening side more. It was a lot more fun after the kids get over their initial fear of learning he's from inside the wall. It's still weird to Jean, everyone's reactions to him. The others don't get treated like he does.
Erwin and Levi kinda do, to an extent, but everyone treats him like he's some unstable monster.... like back at the barracks. He tries not to take it to heart. Plus, what need has he to get the approval of the village when he already has his friends.
Also, he doesn't think Kana, their village 'leader' or 'councilwoman' or whatever the fuck she's calling herself now, will let him leave anyway. Who else will she yell at when she's drunk? Eren stares suspiciously at him, then grins.
"I'm glad you're okay. And it's good to know I'm still the man of your dreams horseface."
Jean grimaces. "Lame."
"See you when I get home, baby." Eren kisses him on the forehead.
When he leaves Jean sits and stares absently at the table. The rays of the morning sun stream in through the window, bathing the scene in yellow and gold. Everything is so motionless, so quiet now that he's alone. The energy that is Eren Jager having left behind a stillness that feels near cold despite the sun. Jean takes in the painted teapot to his left, still hot enough for vapour to rise from the neck. The freshly baked bread. Eren's plate still with crumbs on it, sitting across from him waiting to be collected and cleaned.
It's so fucking domestic, and Jean is grinning like so wide.
Perhaps he still has nightmares, but these moments of peace make up for them.
Armin and Agnes get married. About Fucking Time.
There’s a tradition in the village where vows are said morning and night. There's a sunrise ceremony, where a torch is lit at sun up, where it burns all day until the sunrise ceremony, where they extinguish the torch and seal their marriage with a kiss. Their wedding was simple and beautiful, down on the beach with a spring sea sunset.
Armin looks handsome, Agnes looks beautiful with a flower headset, and Eren, standing to Armin's right, looks downright gorgeous in his best, cleanest clothing thanks to all the scrubbing Jean did, "Honestly Eren, who fucking thinks it's a good idea to wear a light coloured shirt to a mud fight. You have so many other nasty clothes you could have worn."
At the evening dinner, Eren tugs on his waist, pulling away from an elderly couple who were crediting Jean for the soup he'd made for the ceremony. They end up a little ways along the beach. When they're far enough away that everyone looks like specs, he twirls Jean round to capture his lips. Jean melts into him gratefully, leaning up against him, clinging to his shoulders.
"Fuck. Looked so fucken hot today Eren. Look hot now."
He smiles into the kiss when he feels Eren's rumbling growl. He kisses him some more, before smugly trailing down the shifter's body to mouth at his dick, fumbling his hand into Eren's pants. Before he makes a grab at it though he looks up at Eren, and almost bursts out laughing.
He looks so frustrated and hungry. Good. Jean winks at him, cheekily, and tries not to laugh as Eren desperately whips his own dick out of his pants and shoves it down Jean's throat.
They eventually do progress into fucking, hard and quick and dirty, like back when they were scouts. In between training sessions when they were frustrated and energised and horny, looking for release. They're not as young anymore, but they're almost just as horny. Jean grins as he sits atop Eren, who's dick is wedged firmly and deeply in his ass, every, warm, large, bit of it. Yeah, he keeps forgetting how great riding Eren's cock is. He should indulge it more often. And from the look of absolute euphoria on the shifters face below him, he thinks he wouldn't be rejected.
It's awkward reintegrating into the party, and again, Jean has flashbacks of the barracks where both of them are awkwardly making eye contact with each other and giggling. Mikasa catches onto exactly what they've been doing and makes a disapproving face.
"You two disgust me."
Eren just wraps his arm around Jean's waist and says smugly, "Not as gross as you and Annie-Bell over there fucking in the bathroom at Armin's engagement ceremony."
"This is his wedding."
"What about at his birthday last year?" She rolls her eyes, but the tips of her ears are tinged suspiciously red. Jean snickers.
"You two gotta stop having sex at Armin's events. He's gonna disown the both of you when he finds out."
Eren pinches his hip and leans down to bite none too gently on his ear, "He better not find out."
After the sunset and snuffing of the flame, there's dancing and singing. In the lamplight everyone is bathed in a soft golden glow, giving the ceremony a warm, kind-hearted glow.
On the dance floor, Agnes is positively gleaming as she dances with her sister and husband, swinging from one's arms to the other. Eren's twirling Mikasa as Bertolt dances with Annie. Reiner's sitting down by the band, nursing a sore foot after one of the many brat children running lose practically jumped at him and knocked him over onto a chair. In an effort to not crush the child beneath him, Reiner had twisted himself awkwardly so he landed on the chair with the child on top instead of the other way round. Which probably would have resulted in a squished child. Honestly, a part of Jean is a little disappointed with the outcome.
He's sitting with Levi and Erwin- well he was until Levi unexpectedly left to go growl at some kids trying to sprinkle sand on the roasted pig, with Erwin following behind closely in case intervention was required.
Jean's fine sitting alone. In fact he prefers it considering the company he's about to have, who is currently eyeballing him determinedly across the dancefloor and now making her way over and shit, Jean feels utterly too sober to deal with Kana right now.
She sits down next to him, smiling as people bow, actually fucking bow, their heads to her in respect. Jean just snorts. "I really don't know how you have these many fucking people thinking you're amazing."
She turns to him but doesn't look at him, smiling out into the crowd instead. Always the image of confidence, peace, and strength when in the presence of the villagers. Not if they're by themselves though, then Jean gets to see the real bitch behind the pleasant smile and welcoming waves.
"They respect me."
She just shrugs, but Jean thinks she might have huffed quietly in amusement. "I heard you made the soup. It was very delicious. I had some before."
"You did?" Should have poisoned it.
"Yes," she says, "Pumpkin soup is one of my favourites."
"It's Armin's favourite too. Although he likes his with way to much salt than considered healthy. I just made it so everyone could enjoy." He takes a sip of juice, spiked with Reiners homemade vodka. Agnes wanted to keep the event alcohol free, 'for the children', except Jean's seen almost every adult here with a hipflask or the like.
"So what are you again?" He asks, "Councilwoman? Village Leader? King? Are you still The Woman Kana? Or are you now The Councilwoman Kana."
"I'm still The Woman Kana, all though that last one sounds rather appealing."
"Yeah? Is that what's gonna be written on that shrine of yours?"
Kana grins self-satisfyingly. "Maybe."
Jean's about to retort, except both of them are suddenly getting pulled up to dance. Kana sends a wink over her shoulder at him as she's dragged to the centre by the bride herself.
Eren's tugging at Jean to stand, and he does so with a put-upon sneer. He doesn't like dancing much. Never was good at it. Christa was good at dancing. She must have come from a posh background since she knew all the proper, fancy dances as well as the common swing dancing.
Whenever they went to events as Scout Leaders all the soldiers would line up for a chance to twirl the prettiest girl in all of Hermhia around. Although they had to fight through Ymir's death glares first, and wait for when the freckled scout went to the bathroom to ask Christa to dance. Jean liked to watch the beatings that would happen when the soldiers got a little too handsy. Not by Ymir, but by Christa herself, who would then lecture them on the proper etiquette of dancing and where it is and isn't appropriate to touch one's partner. And yes, the ass falls into the latter category.
She painstakingly tried to teach them once. Sahsa, Connie, Ymir and himself. Except he was absolutely terrible, and Ymir wasn't any good either, so the two of them just gave up straight away and watched as Connie and Sasha threw each other around the room.
It was hilarious, because Connie was shorter than Sasha, but didn't mind being the girl partner when Sasha insisted she be the leader, because she's taller and has "bigger biceps than both of Connie's arms combined."
"You with me baby?"
Jean startles as Eren snaps fingers in his face. "What?" Eren's staring at him, bemused. He must have drifted off... "Sorry. Um. I don't know how to dance."
Eren smiles comfortingly, "It's fine, I'll lead."
"Yeah, I-I still don't think-"
"Just trust me."
Jean trusts him. Trusts the pressure Eren's hand's supplying at the small of his back and gives into it, allowing Eren to lead him around the floor. He steps on his feet a couple times and scuffs sand up their legs, but Eren only chuckles as Jean buries his reddening face into his chest after a spectacularly failed twirl causes them to almost knock over the same elderly couple who complimented Jean on his food before.
He's beyond grateful when the music slows to something soft and serene, so they can just stand and sway gently in a circle. He smiles peacefully as he catches Agnes and Armin swaying, both staring lifetimes into each other's eyes.
He nuzzles deeper into Eren's shoulder as he gazes. Holds the taller boys neck just a little bit tighter. In return he feels the soft pressure of lips on his hair, then the sharp but not uncomfortable point of a chin resting atop his head.
They turn slowly, Levi and Erwin coming into view, looking comedically cute as usual due to their size difference. Levi appearing small and fragile next to his partners nearly overbearing bulk, however, the utterly sappy smile Erwin's giving Levi lessens his domineering impression and Levi's way too fucking scary and aggressive to ever be considered fragile.
Reiner and Bertolt are sitting to the side, foreheads together, murmuring words and thoughts only they can hear.
Annie and Mikasa are wrapped around each other like tangled ropes. Annie tucked in small and close, still with Mikasa's scarf wrapped tightly around her neck.
Instinctively, Jean feels for his key. Holds it in the warm space between his and Eren's bodies. He can feel the shifters abnormally powerful heartbeat on the back of his hand. He closes his eyes and lets Eren lead. Because he can. Because they're both here.
Didn't see that one coming
Jean wakes up. It's warm.
He's usually the first one awake, likes to catch the morning sunlight before the day turns into another stress of-of nothing. He's fine. He's great. After what he's been through there's nothing life can throw at him that makes him want to break down. Because he's broken down before, too many times. He's a fucken expert at it.
He's seen death. Had it rear it's ugly head in his face. Had his friends die, then more of his friends die. Had some of them come back to life. He's been so exhausted it's a miracle he ever woke up. He's been shattered into a million different pieces of the course of his life that he'd never thought he'd find any ever again. But he did. He found Eren.
And whats even weirder is that he actually found the fucking ocean. Just like he'd been promised. He leans out on the balcony, watching the sea as it swells and sways, like lungs breathing. It's so endless, the horizon isn't a wall it's a window, and Jean doesn't ever think he'll get over the rush of freedom he feels when he looks at it. Why the fuck is he still alive?
Because he's lucky.
Because he's a survivor.
And now he gets to live.