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No one from Trost has rough hands.

It’s the thing that Marco had noticed about Jean first. A little hard maybe, a few ragged fingernails here and there, but not the same type of hands that Marco and his ilk has from the fields and forests. Jinae is not a place where pencil pushing is profession, and although he knows that Trost isn’t the interior, it might as well be from where he’s standing.

The first time they go to clean their ODM gear, Jean curses. The gas tanks are too hot to touch, and he jerks his hand back.

“Here,” Marco offers with a shrug, “let me.”

He’s careful—has more calluses, more of a confident touch—to detach the tanks away from the pack and set them down on the bench.

“I don’t need you to do it,” Jean growls, holding his burnt finger defensively.

“Just this once,” Marco says, smiling easily. “No big deal.”

Jean’s hands grow rougher over time, and Marco becomes fascinated with them. His fingers are long, adept at wielding the ODM blades, and he’s fast. He looks like he’s flying sometimes, and Marco thinks about it a little too much.

Although Jean’s hands grow rougher, he becomes more careful about the way he does other things—holding a spoon, pulling on his boots, flexing his fingers. He’s traded in the softness of Trost for the stealthiness of survival, and there’s something so compelling and clever about his fingers now, that Marco just can’t resist after a while.

“Did you know,” he says one evening as they’re walking to dinner together, “that you can tell someone’s future by reading their palm?”

Jean snorts at Marco and rolls his eyes. “What hick legend is that, Marco?”

“I dunno. I just always heard that growing up.”

“Yeah, okay,” Jean says, narrowing his eyes and stopping abruptly. He holds out his hand, and Marco’s eyes widen. “I don’t like the idea that my future is already decided, so show me. Prove it.”

Marco’s hit some sort of strange sore spot, and he studies Jean’s face. His pupils are dilated with concentration, and his fingers are lax with his hand palm up, offering it to Marco.

“Um,” Marco says awkwardly, “well.”

“Go on…” Jean challenges.

Marco takes Jean’s hand in his and looks at his palm. He really doesn’t know much about palm reading—it was just a superstition that he grew up with—but he takes the opportunity to study the creases in Jean’s palm.

“I think if this line,” he says, tracing light fingertips over the crease of semi-circle that extends from the edge of Jean’s index finger to his wrist, “isn’t broken by another line, then you’re supposed to live a long time.”

To his surprise, Jean’s fingers close abruptly and flip Marco’s hand over, peering closely at his palm now.

“You know what I see?” Jean asks.

“What?” Marco asks, hoping he doesn’t sound too breathless. Apparently, he’s not successful, because Jean raises his eyes a little, surprise sparking, but he doesn’t comment on it.

“Absolute and utter bullshit,” he says, but doesn’t let go of Marco’s hand. “You die by fucking up. That’s it. If you’re not good enough to hack it in this world, you get eaten outside the wall. It’s got nothing to do with hands.”

“You can tell a lot about a person by their hands,” Marco blurts out, moving to pull his own hand back. Jean holds on, though, and Marco’s eyes widen.

“Yeah,” Jean says, “you can.”

Jean is putting on a brave face, but Marco can see the blush creeping up his neck.

“Let me see your hand again,” he says breathlessly, trying not think.

Marco doesn’t know how long that line in his own hand is, but maybe it’s short; maybe it cuts off before his thumb. Their mortality has never been closer than it is now as trainees, learning how to hone skills that will keep them alive—whether by hiding in the interior or slaying Titans outside the walls.

Jean gives Marco his hand willingly, and Marco brings it up to lips; Jean’s eyes close and he takes in a shaky breath.

They miss dinner.

In the dark shadows of one of the outbuildings, Marco ends up pressed with his back against Jean’s front, kissing at Jean’s palm and then sucking on his index finger as Jean moans behind him, his other hand in Marco’s pants as he jerks him off.

After he comes, and Jean has his face pressed against the back of Marco’s hair as he tries to catch his breath, Marco kisses his palm and murmurs, “You’re right. It is bullshit.”