Jean found Eren outside the bar, his breath clearly visible against the chilly air of winter. Steam was already rising from the knuckles of Eren's right fist, his eerily calm face a stark contrast to the explosion that took place just moments ago.
"You know I thought about hitting him as well, those comments were out of line" Jean grinned as he ran his fingers through his now longer hair. Eren turned to face him, after his recent growth spurt they were now eye to eye.
"So, I won't be disciplined then squad leader Kirstein?" Eren eyed Jean as he took a sip of the beer in his left hand, Judging his old rival's reaction to the poke at his new promotion. Jean snorted before he replied.
"As if, I couldn't discipline you if I tried. You only answer to the higher ups, unfortunately." Jean jumped a little at the loud laugh Eren let out in response. Eren's demeanour had changed dramatically since the battle at Shiganshina. Finding out the truth of the world, the limited time he had and the memories swimming within his mind not of his own. Eren had changed and many were worried, this new drinking habit added to the worry.
"They're worried about you. You know that right?" Jean leant on the wall next to Eren, both now looking down at the now long restored Trost district.
"The government? You know I'm just a means to an end for them, the next holder of the power of the titans will be the same." Eren took a larger mouthful of his beer, his eyes glazed over in a way that even Jean found unsettling.
"Your friends you idiot. Even I didn't think you could be that dense. You hardly speak anymore, you're out drinking all the time… You even look different" Jean turned to face Eren, feeling rather dismayed that he of all people had been the one saddled with bringing this up to Eren.
"Thanks Jean, I didn't know how much you cared about me." The titan shifter turned away as he heard Jean scoff.
"I'm not joking here, Eren. Mikasa and Armin are very worried, Connie and Sasha too." The bitter cold spread across Jeans face as a gust of wind hit him. He smoothed his hair back into place as Eren stood in silence, his back still turned to him.
"Why are you the one telling me this?" His voice was surprisingly soft, not the sort of reaction Jean had anticipated, his response caught in his mouth.
"I… spoke to everyone. They agreed that I'm so blunt that it would be easy for to be bring up. I just didn't expect the opportunity would arise after you knocked a man out. I did not want to speak to you, but my mother convinced me that even you need help." His cheeks reddened at the last admission, he had blurted it out in a moment of honesty that he had not planned.
"Your mother? Well she is a nice lady" He turned to face Jean, a mischievous glint in his eyes as he jabbed at his comrade.
"Eren…" That old feeling welled back up inside him, Eren could be an insufferable blockhead sometimes.
"What? She is a nice lady, I've been different these past few years because I've been trying to figure out how she could have raised a dick like you" The smirk broad on his face as he shook with silent laughter. Jean did not see the funny side, knocking the bottle out of Eren's hand and pushing him into the wall of the pub.
"Listen jackass. I'm not here playing games with you. My friends are worried about you, our commanders are worried about you and so am I." His voice was louder than he had wanted, the words coming out more in a shout than anything else. Eren looked straight through him, another unnerving habit that he had acquired in the past few years.
"No matter what choice I make, thousands of people are going to die. I know suffering, I have suffered greatly in my life. But I don't just know my own pain, I know my fathers, I know the suffering of my namesake, Eren Kruger. I know war. I know more death and pain than anything, I know my fathers last moments as I killed him. This infiltration of the mainland. Thousands upon thousands will die, I know this, they must. If we fail to act every man, woman and child on this island will die. I know you will be there, but you have the choice to not be. I do not, I must be there. I posses the memories required, I have the power of the titans. I know I will die in 5 years' time, I will never see the world, never have a family. That is why I am acting different. I know the reality of war and this world, even if I survive the planned assault and subsequent battles, I won't have time to live aftwrwards." His shoulders relaxed, a weight as heavy as the boulder he had held in Trost had been lifted off them. Jean was quiet, and then he spoke.
"You have to move forward. I admit when we first met I thought you full of hot air and bravado. But that wasn't it. You were a man of your word, when Trost fell under siege of the titans, you showed no fear whilst I wanted to cower within the walls. You knew before any of us what needed to be done, it took me a while to see that. This was before you knew anything of this power you posses now, or the memories that came with it. But I offer you this advice: keep fighting. Armin told me about your dreams of freedom. These people on Marley stand to take away that freedom, use that as your resolve. I do not want to kill anybody, but I know I must fight to protect my family and all the people that inhabit this island. "He eyed Eren carefully, gauging his reaction. Jean knew that Eren could act… explosive when he had tried to advise him before.
"My resolve is not the issue, it's just everything. I never got to live my life and I never will. I will just end other peoples lives instead" Eren was solemn now, Jean hated it. It did not suit him at all.
"And you save over a million by doing so. We are not fighting the people in Marley, just the ideology. If we destroy that, we don't have to fight this war that you fear. And you can live the life you want, maybe with Hange's increasing knowledge about titans you could live longer, who knows?" This was weird, Jean did not expect the conversation to go like this. Eren was not one that usually needed a pep talk. The moonlight illuminated the town well, the scars from the battle over 3 years ago now healed long ago.
"Maybe I should talk about it more then, it could help I guess. I never was the most socially gifted person" Eren scratched at the stubble that now grew across his face.
"You think? I mean man you were an asshole, but in a way I envied you." Jean was shocked at himself, but the conversation had become brutally honest.
"You had the strength and still do, the strength I wished I had. I can command a squad well, but you can motivate people to act in ways I cannot. I… resented you due to the attention Mikasa gave you." Jean looked down as his cheeks heated up. He was surprised that bringing up Mikasa still felt raw and hurt after 6 years. Eren was looking at him in a way that he had never seen before. But by the way he was scratching his chin, Jean assumed he was deep in thought.
"Mikasa hmmm. It explains a lot. You still have a thing for her?" The same strange expression was plastered on Eren's face as his green eyes focused on Jean, it was unsettling.
"I'm not sure myself anymore. She is amazing, beautiful and incredibly talented." Jean looked at the stars that dotted the clear nights sky as he spoke honestly. Bracing himself, not sure if he was going to receive a punch like the unfortunate man at the bar or a response.
"She has always been beautiful, ever since I knew her. I just couldn't bring myself to tell her it. My ego and my pride… For so long it was wounded by her strength. I just wanted to look after her. And now I know I will have to leave her soon, fuck this curse." Eren threw the beer bottle at the ground in his frustration.
"As much as I think you can be a horse faced bastard, I know at least you're reliable. I can't believe I'm saying this, but you could be good for her… she needs somebody dependable. She is so very strong but also incredibly fragile. "The words sting more than Eren expects, his heart feels heavy and the thought fills him with jealousy. But… he must let go of his personal feelings, it is selfish when you are living on borrowed time. The moonlight illuminates Jean's face, shock clearly expressed on his face. He looks down at the ground and quietly responds to his old rival.
"Don't. That girl loves you more than anything. The way she looks at you, I'd have moved mountains for her to look at me like that. But the older I get the more I realise you can't change people like that, you just accept it for what it is. Everybody will be second best to you in her eyes, and that will last forever I'm sure. I know how bad you are with your feelings Eren. It has taken me cornering you outside a bar to open up after 2 years. Let me ask you this and I want the truth, do you love her? As a woman, not as a friend or as that family bullshit she uses to justify her clear love for you." Jean looks at Eren with a stare so intense Eren steps back. His eyebrows furrow in thought… and seemingly pain.
"I love her as a woman. I always have, it has just taken me years to figure it out. She was just always there you know? I never really had time to think about it. But as I have gotten older I have thought about it. I love her, but I cannot be so cruel to her. I will die within the next 5 years, maybe sooner. Mikasa wants a family, she deserves one." The admission brings a silent tear to his eye, and he realised it had never felt so relieving to cry.
"Tell her, tell her and be happy. We could die tomorrow. Even if you had 5 months, they would be the happiest 5 months of her life. We all know this, your obliviousness to her very obvious love for you was a running joke in training… and it still is with those who know you two now. You two deserve to be happy Eren, and even if Hange doesn't figure something else and you do die early… Mikasa will cherish her time with you for the rest of her life. I can find happiness elsewhere, and hopefully find somebody one day who loves me like you two love one another." Jean lets out a shaky breath, the icy air now making his lips feel numb.
"If you don't tell her, I will tell her you told me… And that you cried." Jean lets Eren gaze at his trademark smirk.
"I'll do it, horse face." Eren's words are serious, but his face has an alien expression on it: a genuine smile.
"So, before you punched that guy, it was your turn to buy the drink remember." Jean starts to walk back to the entrance of the pub, talking over his shoulder back to his friend who appears to look 5 years younger than he did just a few minutes ago.
"Of course, you'd remember that you smug bastard" Eren grinned as he shook his head and followed his old rival, now friend. Yes, the future was going to have some dark times, but Jean was right, he should try to be happy for what time he could.