It’s surprising how long it takes him to realize something is wrong.
There is a faint hint of smoke in the air, but that doesn’t bother him – in an apartment building like this, assorted scents aren’t unusual and Jean can usually look past them. It appears the guy straddling him isn’t affected by it either. He ignores the thick feeling of tension in the air, of panic and frenzy; writes it off as his gut being too excited at finally being noticed by the man of his dreams, finally getting laid.
The moaning is what wakes him up. Don’t get him wrong, Jean loves his men vocal, and his dream guy plays the role perfectly – soft pants in his ear, warm and pleasant to listen to, that get louder and louder and louder still, until dream guy is sitting upright on Jean’s lap, blurting out short and sharp calls that sound an awful lot like warning signals.
Rolling over in his bed, he stares blearily-eyed at his phone. It reads ten to three and Jean should not be awake. Dream guy was quite literally dream guy and there are alarms going off outside; they pierce and echo in the silence of his room, but he can tell it’s not quiet out there. Harsh cries of come on and hurry up slide under his door and propel him out of the warmth and comfort of his bed.
Usually, he would ignore something like this, but the alarms are really loud and he’s just noticed that blue and red lights are flashing outside his window. More voices; the rush of footsteps running across the hallway; down the flight of stairs, a door slams.
The cold air prompts goosebumps on his skin and he shivers, pulling on a pair of shoes and stumbling over to the window for a hint as to what’s going on. If the large red trucks and fluoro yellow striped men are anything to go by, someone has set something on fire… at three in the fucking morning.
Cursing every tenant in the apartment building, Jean tucks his phone into the waistband of his boxer briefs and tugs on the hem of his shirt. A jumper would be really useful right now, but it’s dark and he’s tired, and quite frankly disappointed that he didn’t wake up to an attractive man cuddling him, so he merely pulls the blanket off of his bed and wraps the thick, woollen warmth around his shoulders and heads out of the room.
The light in the hallway is harsh on his eyes, considering his whole room is dark, and he squints even more than he had been previously. He imagines he looks fairly nightmarish; terrible bedhead and slits for eyes on a mountain of dark blue blanket that he has wrapped around his shoulders. A girl gives him a strange look as she rushes past. Most of the people can’t complain at his terrible attractiveness (note the sarcasm), because they too look as though they’ve been woken up mid-sleep, at three in the morning – and, well, they have.
There’s a fireman in the middle of the hallway, clad in chunky black boots and a big yellow helmet with the screen pulled up so his voice isn’t muffled when he directs the people down the stairs. He tells them to be safe, to not take anything with them, their lives are more important than their possessions. Most people don’t listen, but scurry past him, arms full of stuffed toys and expensive blenders.
Jean smiles sleepily at the fireman when he walks past, wonders if he should thank him for doing his duty and putting up with all the uncooperative people. But he’s too tired.
In a flurry of quilts, jumpers, bras, boxers, dogs, favourite books and other important things, Jean makes his way through the hallway, down the stairs and towards the foyer of the apartment building. He walks past a man with a cello on his back, a girl in a dinosaur onesie carrying a goldfish in a bowl, and a couple pulling along a television. If anyone wanted to see the true extent of human uniqueness, he decides, they should wake a whole apartment building in the middle of the night. It’s amazing, really.
When he makes it outside, it’s both the best and worst thing that has happened to him that evening. The best because the air is clean – he hadn’t realized how smoky and thick the air was inside, but breathing clearly and deeply out here, he feels a lot more refreshed and awake. But, maybe that part has something more to do with the worst thing that has happened to him this evening: the cold. The city in November is not pleasant and Jean can almost see his breath crystallizing as he breathes it out in puffs of grey. The shivers run down his shoulders in double time and he desperately wishes he had spent a little more time searching for a jumper. Everyone else made time to grab their favourite things, but Jean didn’t even have time to grab his fucking jumper.
Another fireman directs him out onto the road in front of the apartment building. The city doesn’t allow for large grassy areas to be grown around these parts, so the authorities have blocked off this part of the road to oncoming traffic, and the asphalt is decorated in fire trucks, ambulances, men in uniforms, fathers holding sleeping children, mothers clutching the hands of confused and tired toddlers, students bunched together – people, as they are in the early hours of the morning.
Jean sees a little boy holding a Captain America action figure. He rolls his eyes at himself; even the little people made time to grab their favourite things. Why didn’t Jean even think of grabbing anything?
As he stands, cold, despite being wrapped up in a blanket, similar to others who’ve got quilts around their shoulders and ski pants pulled high, he realizes there’s nothing in his apartment worth grabbing – nothing he really needs or wants or cares about. He promises himself not to think that thought again because it’s way too depressing.
More people are ushered out of the building. Jean wonders how many more are left, confused and struggling to wake up to this disruption to their precious sleep.
Well, there are worse things to wake up to: an empty room in an empty life, in which the man of his dreams doesn’t exist.
A significant amount of time later and Jean is standing in the same position he was when he first exited the, apparently on fire, building. His nose is very frozen, as are the tips of his fingers from where they peek out of the blanket around his shoulders, and his blinks are extended by a fatigue that pulls his eyelids down and threatens not to let them back up.
That’s when he notices the boy who is standing by the sidewalk, arms wrapped around his body.
He’s taken aback at first by the bare feet balancing on the edge of the curb. Then he notices that the rest of the boy is quite bare also – in fact, this stranger is as naked as the day he was born, apart from the black Batman boxers that hang dangerously low on his narrow hips. His eyes follow the fine trail of hair leading down from the stranger’s navel and towards his –
Before Jean realizes that he’s staring – okay, he’ll admit he was checking the guy out – he manages to take in the dark caramel coloured skin peppered with goosebumps and defined arm and abdomen muscles, tense from a constant shivering. When he does finally realize what he’s obnoxiously doing – no regrets – and attempts to look away, he finds that the boy is staring right at him quizzically. His body promptly begins to heat up, tinting his cheeks with a faded pink, and he doesn’t feel so cold anymore. Problem is, he can also kind of feel a little action downstairs.
He still hasn’t looked away.
The boy raises a brow. “You wanna take a picture?”
It comes out softer than Jean expected. In the harsh night air he expected more hostility to come from the boy, but now he feels less threatened. Smiling, he reaches down to where he tucked his phone into the waistband of his briefs.
He doesn’t even wait for the boy to protest, but takes the damn picture, because it’s almost four in the morning and his nose is in grave danger of falling off and maybe his brain is a little numb too. With a picture of the gorgeous, almost naked stranger on his phone, he slips it back into the waistband of his underwear and looks back up to see the boy staring at him with his lips parted. Whether the look on his face is amusement or annoyance, Jean can’t tell – mainly because he’s distracted by those very nice lips. How dare this stranger have such nice lips?
“What the fuck?” the boy breathes after a moment. A cold breeze tousles the dark brown hair on the stranger’s head and his body visibly trembles. Jean feels bad for himself for not grabbing a jumper, but he feels even worse for this guy. He forgot his everything.
“Haven’t seen you around here before,” Jean tells him, hoping to change the subject as the peculiarity of what he just did catches up with his tired and cold brain. Truth be told, so many people come and go in this apartment building and he never takes notice of them. He hasn’t seen half the people standing out on this road, doesn’t really make an effort to get to know his neighbours, unless they’re right next door. But it’s a good segue into a different topic and technically he’s not lying.
“Don’t live here,” the boy explains, running his hands up and down his shoulders in a manner that will bring him no warmth, no matter how much he hopes. “Staying over a friend’s.”
“Chose a hell of a night, huh?”
The boy laughs, his breath swirling around him like steam from a hot cup of coffee. Jean smiles. The night is so full of authoritative orders and complaining children, an anxiety in the air that has forced everyone outside to whisper. It’s nice to hear the boy’s laughter, bold and stark against the night. It dissolves the tension around them.
“You live here?” the boy asks him.
Jean nods in reply, sniffling in the cold. “Second floor, twenty-two.”
“No way,” is his surprised reply, “I’m staying in twenty-three.”
“You’re staying with Armin?” Jean asks, when it’s his turn to be surprised. “Where is he?”
“On holiday. I’m actually house-sitting.”
“Oh, okay,” he murmurs pathetically.
Jean wishes he had something more interesting to say. There’s a load of things he could say and he’s only managed to hold back because his brain has thawed a little after this conversation and realized that none of them are appropriate. Are those real? he wants to ask, stealing another glance at the taut abdomen muscles again. Can I take another picture? is the next thing that comes to mind. No, his brain supplies.
He wants to keep talking to this guy. People don’t get chances like these, where you’re stuck outside in the freezing cold at four in the morning because some dumbass had to set his shit on fire. While he’s here, he has to seize it. Ask the guy to touch his abs – wait, no. Ask him something a little less drastic. Maybe he would want to go out for coffee? Ah, yes, coffee; at four in the morning; in their underwear.
Luckily the boy seems to find Jean interesting enough to speak up again, after a few minutes of silence in which Jean restrains himself from asking ridiculous questions and thus committing social suicide.
“I’m Eren.” The name breaks their silence like a sweet, sweet symphony to Jean’s ears. Names – of course. Why didn’t he think of names?
“Jean,” is his contribution to that conversation. Fuck. Eren started last time, which meant it was his turn now. He gathers his breath, holds it for a few moments before the words rush out of his mouth without any time for him to regret them. “Are you cold?”
Shit. Of course he was cold.
“Do you wanna share?” Jean asks.
When Eren frowns, Jean lifts the blanket from around his shoulders slightly and flaps it around a little to indicate what he means. He probably looks like a bird. The icy air that had been previously trapped away from his body suddenly whirls around his pale, thin frame and Jean shudders. Eren still hasn’t moved.
“If you wanna share, get in the fucking blanket,” Jean hisses.
With a quiet laugh, Eren shakily steps off the curb and does a quick jog until he’s standing in the circle of Jean’s arms. Jean breaths in deeply; he could already feel the cold hovering over Eren’s body, like an invisible feather fluttering gently against Jean’s warm skin. When he goes to close his arms around their bodies, Eren moves closer and the icy skin of his back comes into contact with Jean’s very warm chest. He breathes out a mix between laughter and a painful hiss.
Eren laughs against his body, bright and sincere, and Jean forgives him instantly.
They were still standing there when the sun started rising over the skyscrapers.
Not only was Jean warm, but he was also delighted with his situation. At some point during the night – morning – Eren had turned around and snaked his arms around Jean, claiming it was better for body heat. Not that Jean would have complained either way. Eren had his head leaning on Jean’s shoulder, cold nose pressed against his neck, the dark hair tickling his jaw and chin. He wasn’t sleeping, but he looked peaceful.
The morning sun paints orange and yellow streaks across his face. There is a brush stroke just under his eyes, over the bridge of his nose; a dappled flick of sunlight, freckling his lips and his chin. It highlights his dark lashes where they are fanned out against his cheek and it darkens the shadows of his philtrum and the space beneath his lower lip. Jean thinks he is beautiful with the sun dancing across his skin.
When a fireman comes out at half past seven to announce to the residents of the apartment building that it is safe to go inside, Jean doesn’t want to let go.
Turns out some idiot burned his pancakes and set his kitchen alight.
The following week, Jean is having a Parks and Recreation marathon when someone knocks on his door.
When he opens the door and Eren smiles back at him, he frowns. Jean didn’t think he would see him again.
“Hey?” The supposed greeting reflects the confusion he feels.
“Hey yourself,” Eren replies, “You gonna let me in?”
As Jean stares at him the only thing he can think of is how Eren’s chest felt against his and how nice his eyes look in the light, where he can actually see them. They’re brilliant – green and wide and friendly. Undeterred by Jean’s awkward silence, Eren holds up a six-pack of beer.
Laughing nervously, Jean steps to the side and lets the boy in.
“Okay, so, I brought the beer,” he says as he steps into the apartment, prying of his sneakers at the door and grinning up at Jean, “Which means, you gotta order the takeout.”
Jean can’t say no to a smile like that.
Filtered sun dapples his room with gold the next morning and he wakes up to a gorgeous guy whose arms are curled around his waist. Eren grumbles when Jean turns to face him.
He decides there is nothing better to wake up to.