Spriggan Fan Fiction ❯ With Love from Anonymous ❯ With Love from Anonymous ( Chapter 1 )
With Love From Anonymous
Summary: Most soldiers have better things to do than plan surprises for Valentine's Day. But as Jean discovers when he acquires a secret admirer, some have different priorities…(shounen-ai. Was there ever a couple more obvious than Ominae + Jean?)
Genre: Romance mild angst & sap.
Warnings: yaoi (male homosexual intimacy), mentioned yuri (same for females).
Spoilers: Uh, none in particular - takes place some time after the movie, on another miscellaneous Arcam base. (Movie canon, as I've not read the manga.)
Archive: Please, take it - maybe then I'll be able to find a place with more Spriggan fanfiction.
Disclaimer: The movie Spriggan & its characters are not mine. The people who do own them know who they actually belong to, so I won't bother listing them.
A/N: I have to confess, my favourite bit of the entire movie is the bit where Jean says, "Yeah, you're too soft all right. But I guess that's what I admire about you." What's even better is that in the Japanese version it's `like' instead of `admire'. I know those two are competitors, even rivals, who turn out to be friends, but they work even better as a yaoi pair, don't you agree? [That said, I adore friendship fics.]
A/N 2: Sacre bleu is a French oath that (literally) means `sacred blue'. Isn't it fun & intellectually reassuring to be able to swear multilingually? Gaijin is Japanese for `foreigner'. There are t-shirts that say `baka gaijin'. I want one.
Jean Jacquemonde noted with mild surprise, as he put on his pants and jacket, that the pockets of both articles were filled with small heart-shaped chocolates.
One eyebrow furrowed slightly, the Frenchmen deposited the objects onto his foot locker. Each and every candy was wrapped in red foil and printed with little white flowers. There was no brand mark on any of them, neither were there any finger-shaped indentations to give a clue to their previous owner's identity. They seemed to bear no ill effects from their stay in his clothes (a territory about which Jean was normally rather more discerning when it came to granting access), so he ate one.
Ominae was amused when Jean explained the source of the stashes of red foil he was periodically throwing in the bin. The younger Spriggan cast a few theories on their origin, mostly pertaining to hidden time bombs and threatening conspiracies, but was soon distracted when he was hit by a paintball.
Jean considered the possible origins for a time, but swiftly discovered that it was more entertaining to hit Ominae in *ahem* unusual places, especially since the Japanese soldier was the one who had put pink paint in Jean's gun. The friendly rivalry between the two manifested itself in a furious game that tested the limits and skills of both until they were ganged up on by the other team and drenched. Jean knew his hair would be tinted interesting colours for weeks - the curses of being blonde. It was much harder to spot the green and blue in Ominae's coal-black mop top than it was to see them in his own.
When the squad finished the drill (it had been a brilliant if unconventional idea to use paintball gun games as morale-boosting activities that also served as training) and returned to their barracks, there was a teddy bear sitting on Jean's pillow.
As he rescued the cuddly toy he'd smothered when he'd dropped his sweaty workout suit on it, he wondered even more where it had come from. The bear was pure white, absurdly fluffy, and half the size of his fist, and on the sole of one foot crimson stitching spelled out `be mine'. It all seemed highly unusual, if not downright amusing.
Now Jean Jacquemonde was not an idiot. He knew the signs of a courtship ritual when he saw one - he was French, after all. What made things interesting was the issue of whom. There were only four women in the base Jean was stationed at - a situation the Women's Army Representatives, or WAR, was bitching about in true female form - and all were accounted for. Marienne was wearing Jase Bryce's ring on her third finger, while Dreu and Sera were more interested in each other than in any man, and everyone knew Major Kaname had a mutual `professional' respect with Captain Sanders.
So that left guys. And while Jean had nothing against homosexuality - lucky, since his mentor in childhood had turned out more Dandy than Andy, and a brilliant if unorthodox melee soldier - he honestly had never thought about the subject in relation to himself.
He decided the time had come for some serious self-analysis and introspection, so he dragged Ominae down the pub to get plastered.
When Dreu, Sera, Marienne, Bryce and half the off-duty personnel on the base invited themselves along, things began to look interesting. In fact, they began to look just a little bit out of control. Jean forgot about the chocolates and teddy bears when his commanding officer took charge of the kareoke machine. He supposed maybe the Japanese weren't so bad, if they were responsible for introducing that to eastern Europe. (Not to mention that Ominae was Japanese, so he had to give the Orient some credit for that.)
The most interesting bit of the entire evening (that Jean could remember, anyway) was that Chase Levy had brought a disposable camera, not to mention 5 rolls of film.
Sometime the next day, at a cruel and ungodly hour far too close to lunchtime, Jean's commanding officer's commanding officer lined up all the miscreants and, after dealing each and every one of them a stinging slap across the cheek, gave a blistering and constipated-sounding reprimand for their irresponsible and downright disgraceful behaviour. Jean wasn't really listening, partly because he had a massive fecking hangover, but mostly because he was wearing a heavy silver chain necklace that had been inserted into his shaving kit when he wasn't looking.
In the mess hall later that day, Ominae asked him where he'd gotten the necklace, but snorted and looked away when Jean broached his secret admirer theory. The blonde was annoyed.
"You're such a teenager," he said scornfully. "A four-second attention span when it comes to anything but sex."
"Hey, I resent that!" protested the Asian. "Five seconds."
Jean rolled his eyes.
"And besides," Ominae continued, as he returned his attention to his plate, "there's nobody in this outfit I can think of who'd be coming onto you. Have you noticed the looks on everyone's faces when Sera and Dreu start in on the PDAs?"
The Frenchman glanced over at the table diagonally opposite, where Sera was being as subtle as a brick about having her hand on her girlfriend's knee.
Ominae grunted as if his point had been proved. "If you could see your face right now," he mumbled around a mouthful of some strange green mush trying to pass as beans, "you'd know I'm right."
Jean huffed and looked away, but conceded that yes, there was something moderately interesting about two women being romantically affectionate in front of him. A smirk played across his lips as he considered the altogether unlikely fantasy that the gifts had been from the girls and they wanted him to join them. Leaning forward slightly, he crossed his legs under the table and called himself firmly back to the present, and his present company.
He wondered what Ominae would do if Jean put his hand on his knee.
The Frenchman blinked. That was unexpected. He glanced at the other man out of the corner of his eye, thanking the stars that he'd learned how to do so subtly. He hadn't considered his friend that way before … hadn't actually considered any male that way before. Obviously more introspection and self-analysis was needed, if he was coming up with thoughts like that out of the blue - although perhaps with just a little less alcohol and pub-taking-over involved. They seemed to invite trouble.
Speaking of which, there was a crowd around Chase Levy, and people were exclaiming over what looked like photographs.
There was a thump on his arm. "Jean! Come on, let's see what the photos turned out like." Ominae's face looked older than his years as he grinned devilishly, and Jean matched his friend's expression as they made their way over to the focus of attention.
Jacobs saw them coming. "Hey, Ominae! Jean!" he called. "You gotta see this one!" He snatched a photo from Sera, who yelped and made a lunge for it.
"No don't! Give that back!" she protested vainly, as Jacobs struggled out of the crush and made his way over to the two Spriggan. He flourished the picture at them, waving it around so enthusiastically that neither could get a good look at it. The fact that Sera and Dreu were hanging onto his arms and trying to grab it out of his hand made it more difficult. Eventually Jean reached out and swiped it himself.
Then he saw why the two women were reluctant to relinquish ownership of the picture. The image showed himself, Ominae, Dreu and Sera engaged in what looked like a free-for-all of hands, lips and tongues, about as raunchy as it was legal to get in a public place. He gave a low whistle, and felt rather than saw Ominae's jaw drop.
"I don't believe it," whispered the Asian. "I got with two hot lesbians and I don't remember?" His voice scaled up the octaves as his indignation grew until Jean laughed out loud.
"Hey, if you like that photo you'll love this one!" called a voice, and Jacobs presented another picture. This one showed the same situation, minus the women. It was blurry and indistinct, but there was no mistaking the subjects. Jean Jacquemonde and Ominae Yu were kissing. Enthusiastically. Without a care for the camera or anything else. The Frenchman noticed that the other Spriggan's hand appeared to be roaming up his back under his shirt.
"Sacre bleu," he muttered. He turned the photo ninety degrees to see if it still looked as … as … something. The image remained the same. Damn photographic evidence. `The camera never lies'.
"Well, maybe it's a good thing I don't remember that night," said Ominae. He sounded utterly bewildered and there was a splash of red across his cheekbones. "Jean, I didn't know you turned bi when you got drunk."
"Neither did I," the blonde responded.
Dreu snatched the picture out of his hands. "If you don't like it, I'll have it," she said. "Pervert," whispered her girlfriend. The brunette replied haughtily, "As if they wouldn't behave the same way with a picture of us."
Jean was glad for the distraction. He felt acutely embarrassed, especially since he'd just been imagining what Ominae's leg would feel like under his hand. And truly, he'd had no idea he had such tendencies when he'd had a few too many. Previously, Jean Jacquemonde had been as straight as any man. He still retained his quintessentially French appreciation of female beauty, as evidenced when he admitted that, yes, he would be interested in a picture of Dreu and Sera engaged in the activities he'd apparently engaged in with Ominae last night. However…
*What if it's Ominae sending me those presents?*
…he had to admit to a certain - fascination? intrigue? morbid curiosity? - about the idea of becoming romantically (well, physically, at least) involved with the Japanese Spriggan.
Stop, stop, stop.
That was just moving way too fast. Time for a cold shower and a serious re-think - without the application of alcohol.
The serious re-think was undertaken during unarmed combat drills later that day, after Jean found himself noticing the way Ominae's singlet and sweat pants clung to him with sweat. As the Frenchman tried to go easy on some poor opponent he methodically went over everything he thought and felt about the Japanese Spriggan.
He liked Ominae as a person. That was true enough. They got along well, in a combination of rival/comrade/friend way. Being the only two Spriggan on the base gave them a mutual understanding and empathy, as well as the fact that they'd known each other longer than they had anybody else - back when Jean was more rival and mentor than true ally, when Ominae had yet to control his emotions and when the blonde was still at the mercy of his berserker tendencies. They had history.
At one stage, he'd definitely considered Ominae to be somewhat of a younger brother, since neither of them had had siblings. From that association, particularly after the incident with Noah's Ark, had developed closeness and the beginnings of trust. There weren't many people Jean could depend on no matter what, but Ominae was one of them.
So far there was friendship and trust on a deep level. That was well and good. But…
…but now there was something else that left Jean shaken and reeling when it revealed itself.
*I want Ominae Yu.*
It was only a set of reflexes so well-developed they were instinctive that saved Jean from getting a boot in the chest, as the realisation he'd just had stunned him into momentary inaction. A swift swerve, a whirl of mingled limbs, and his opponent was on the ground, arms and legs folded up like a crab underneath Jean's lighter but better-positioned weight.
"That was a bit close," called a voice.
*Speak of the devil…*
"He almost had you for a second, Jean," said Ominae cheerfully from the sidelines.
Jean's victim groaned as he was released and got to his feet. "Just my luck to draw a Spriggan for my last opponent," he grumbled good-naturedly.
"Career hazard," said Major Kaname blithely as she passed. "Who knows, maybe someone here will learn something from Jean and Yu." This last was in a deliberately loud tone, as the superior officer inspected her minions. Some of those nearby (mostly the ones who had lost their matches) scowled at the two Spriggan, but the rest rolled their eyes tolerantly. They were accustomed to Major Kaname's use of the pair as role models for the mere mortals in their regiment.
"You look a bit ruffled yourself, Ominae," Jean commented, forcing his heartbeat to slow and his head to clear. Bless the self-control acquired from a lifetime of being a soldier.
The Japanese teenager scowled. "I was distracted," he muttered, "and Ray tried a new move."
"It would have worked, too," lamented the other private, "if he'd been anyone except Ominae Yu."
*Ominae Yu will never be anyone except himself* Jean thought as he stared into the middle distance. *I wouldn't want him otherwise.* A troubled sigh almost made it past his attitude of indifference, but was stifled just in time. *Why is this happening to me? He's my friend, I shouldn't be thinking about him like that. It is a betrayal of his trust … and he doesn't trust many people.* A feeling of resolution tamed the turbulence of his thoughts. *I should place more value in the fact that he does trust me.*
A shrill whistle blast halted Jean's introspection and Ominae's protests that Ray's new move wouldn't have worked on Jean, either. The Frenchman obediently refocused his attention to Major Kaname as she read the assignments for tomorrow (he had to bite back a groan of dismay when he discovered he was on duty all morning) and then dismissed them to dinner. Most of the privates went immediately and noisily to the showers, thence the mess hall, but Jean stayed behind. He wanted to get in some more intense training without being interrupted.
The vacant silence was disturbed when Ominae spoke from behind him. "You staying back too, eh Jean?"
He closed his eyes against the feelings the other man provoked in him and steadied his voice. "Yeah."
"Looks like we had the same idea. Spar with me?"
"Sure, why not."
The voice that spoke the words was his own; the smirk that twisted his lips as he and the teenager sprang into action was made by his muscles; the eyes that smiled at his most worthy opponent belonged to him; but for all his conscious intervention they might as well have been obeying someone else's orders. On a level below deliberate thought, he enjoyed spending time with Ominae. So that, at least, hadn't changed.
The adrenaline rush he got through sparring with the other Spriggan was also indifferent to any other feelings he might be harbouring for him. Ominae tested Jean's limits, allowed him to really stretch his legs and go for broke. They spurred each other on, pushing one another to do their best, and the result was exhilarating.
Of course they couldn't really go all out, as they'd be in deep shit if they trashed the gymnasium, but it was near enough.
As they sparred, the effort of keeping up with Ominae balanced with the concentration required not to cause significant damage to the equipment in the room meant there was no space in Jean's head for anything else. His world was reduced to attacking, blocking and counterattacking, reaching the boundaries of both his abilities and the room they were in as he and the Japanese soldier chased each other around with increasingly fast and elaborate combinations. One second they were duelling up and down the stadium seating, the next they were on the other side of the gym, kicking target dummies at each other. Jean's blood was up and his mind was racing.
When they were in the middle of the combat floor, recalling their judo training as they repeatedly twisted each other into pretzels, there was a commotion at the door, and Major Wyatt marched in with an empty box in one hand and Stefan Aurelia's ear in the other.
"Jacquemonde!" shouted the major, and Jean released Ominae from a stranglehold (though the teenager was preparing to trip Jean's legs out from under him in order to free himself).
The two Spriggan stood at attention as Major Wyatt approached, but the grey-haired soldier snapped, "As you were," and presented Aurelia, who was going red in the face with embarrassment and what looked like guilt.
"This low-life spawn of a maggot," began the major, prompting Jean to smirk inwardly at the man's familiar style of insult, "admits to taking something of yours, Jacquemonde. Does this-" he held up the box "-look familiar?"
On closer inspection, the box proved to have been a gift-wrapped container for gourmet peanut cookies - Jean's favourite. A small tag dangling from the bow bore his name. His brow furrowed in confusion.
"Looks like your `secret admirer' struck again," Ominae theorised, sounding amused.
"Jean's got a secret admirer?" Stefan blurted, then shrank into himself when Jean shot him a Look. "Um … I'm sorry?" he offered.
Major Wyatt tugged sharply on his ear. "You shut your mouth," he ordered.
"Yes, sir," mumbled Stefan.
"As the former owner of the stolen property," the major continued, tightening his grip on the private's ear until he squawked in protest, "Jacquemonde will decide your punishment."
Ignoring the mutter of, "Crap," from Aurelia, Jean nodded in acknowledgement. He studied the guilty man as he worked out how he felt, and concluded that he was annoyed. Those were his cookies, damnit, and they came from his secret admirer! Whether or not that admirer was Ominae, as he'd been wondering (and privately beginning to hope), was irrelevant. He frowned, and watched Stefan wilt.
"Private Aurelia," he enunciated, "can forfeit his next night off and spend it cooking brownies for the entire company. And if they're not up to standard, he pays for the materials out of his own pocket."
Major Wyatt nodded in satisfaction, but an expression of dismay came over Stefan's face. "Not tomorrow night!" he protested. "Gaijin are playing at the club in town tomorrow night! I've got tickets! They only play that gig a couple of times a year!"
"I'm well aware of that fact," said Jean icily. He smirked. "Maybe one of the others might tell you about it afterwards."
"You can't do that!" Stefan whined, and was promptly cuffed again by Major Wyatt. He scowled, but was silent.
"I'm glad we could settle this amicably," said the major. "I know how touchy an issue cookies can be." There was a twist to his lips that belied his thorough understanding of the psyche of his younger subordinates, and Jean smirked in response. An exchange of respectful nods, and Stefan and Major Wyatt were gone, leaving the two Spriggan alone in the gymnasium.
"Peanut cookies," mused Jean, half to himself but making sure Ominae could hear him. "Not many people know they're my favourite."
He could have sworn the Japanese teen tensed in alarm for a moment before covering the reaction by heading for the door. "Well, that ought to narrow down the options," he called back over his shoulder. "I'm going to have a shower. Good spar."
Jean watched his friend's back. "Yeah, good spar," he echoed quietly, and followed.
So now he'd established what he felt for Ominae Yu. On top of caring for him as a friend and respecting him, the European had somewhere along the line developed an interest in his younger counterpart. The question that remained was whether these feelings were genuine, or just because the romantic atmosphere evoked by his secret admirer was affecting him.
Speaking of which-
What if it wasn't Ominae sending him those presents?
Jean nearly groaned out loud. Unconsciously he'd managed to half-convince himself that the gifts were from the person he hoped they were from - that Ominae felt the same as he did. But the chances of his admirer's identity being that perfect were far from certain. And Jean knew now that if it was anyone except Ominae, he couldn't respond the way they'd be hoping. Previously he'd have been willing to take a chance on someone who put that much thought and effort into getting what they wanted. But after his epiphany just a short while ago, he couldn't imagine being with anyone else.
Some things just happened too quickly to keep up with.
So he made a determined effort not to think about his dilemma while they were in the showers - tried not to think about anything, in fact, aside from acting casual while he and Ominae were wet, naked, and only a few feet away from each other. He wasn't entirely sure he could blame his blush on the heat of the water, but the Japanese teen didn't say anything. Jean didn't know whether he was relieved or disappointed. Neither did he know whether he was imagining the red on Ominae's own face.
The next morning dragged for Jean. The iron self-discipline he'd had drilled into him for years prevented him from slacking off his duty through boredom, but it didn't make it any more interesting. Eighteen paces along the north side of the colonel's bunker, same on the south, twelve down the west and east. Twenty-four vertical bars in the railing on the longer edges. Sixteen for the shorter ones. Two windows in each wall, one visible and three concealed doors, and a single other person on duty.
"Sooo … how're you and Ominae going?"
Curse female intuition.
"I don't know what you mean, Dreu," he said coldly, and the woman smirked.
"Don't play dumb with me," she said. "I know killer chemistry when I see it!" She studied him for a reaction, but Jean controlled himself sufficiently to disappoint her. "Well, if you're not together, you should be," she concluded. Jean, remembering an earlier conversation along similar lines, seized the opportunity to change the subject.
"Sera's right - you are a pervert." He turned away and started walking to the opposite corner. She paced him, alert and watchful as duty demanded but managing to pay enough attention to tease him anyway.
"I stand by what I said then. Any man in this base would do the same for us." She grinned. "Even you and Ominae. You may want each other, but you both still like women. Oh, how I adore bisexuality in men."
"You're a nymphomaniac, too."
"Coming from Sera, I'd take that as a compliment. Coming from you, I'd still take that as a compliment." Her eyes danced as she chuckled at her own wit.
Jean shook his head in mild amazement at Dreu's irrepressibility. "Does Sera know you flirt with other - people?" he asked, having to correct himself in mid-sentence from saying `other men'. He suspected neither woman would take kindly to such a slip of tongue.
"Oh, of course," she replied breezily. "She punishes me afterwards, which is possibly why I keep doing it."
Jean's eyes widened and he quickened his stride. Dreu laughed out loud, annoying him thoroughly. It seemed that the base's resident lesbians were well aware of the effect they had on men, helped of course by the fact that both Sera and Dreu were admittedly attractive, and exploited their advantage every chance they got. Pair of teases.
"You know…" she said slowly, "it's Valentine's Day tomorrow. What are you getting Ominae?"
"I thought we'd left that topic," Jean said irritably, and forced himself not to blush.
"I'm getting Sera a sunflower in a pot," Dreu said, leading Jean to suspect that however interested she might be in his and Ominae's romantic prospects (or lack thereof), she was more interested in talking about her own plans.
"Thankyou for your time and attention," he muttered to himself, half annoyed at her apparent ignorance and half relieved she'd dropped the topic.
"Oh, I'm sorry, did you want to talk about Ominae?" she said.
Jean cursed to himself. He thought he'd been quiet enough that she wouldn't notice, or at least not notice his sarcasm. He turned and glared at her. "No, I did not want to talk about Ominae-" he began heatedly, intending to quash her ideas once and for all, but she interrupted him.
"What? Geez, Jean, what kind of friend are you?" she demanded.
"You know what I mean!" he snapped, his instinctive defensiveness only making him more aggravated. "I am not interested in my friend that way. Now would you kindly drop it?"
"Okay, okay!" Dreu was grinning as she raised her hands in surrender and turned to survey the surrounding area again. Security shifts were largely a technicality at the moment, as no intelligence had been received of any threats to the site, but there was always the possibility that someone with less-than-pure interests would get wind of what lay below this particular ARCAM base. Jean himself wasn't sure what the scriptures they'd discovered signified, but the upshot was that, today at least, Dreu felt reasonably free to harass him without placing the mission in jeopardy.
She looked out across the rocky hills now, watching the green-brown grass fade to grey under cloud shadows. "Jean," she said, "what would you say if I told you I knew who your secret admirer was?"
The Frenchman's face betrayed his surprise and interest a split second before he could snap his masks on. He hesitated for a moment, considering his answer. When he gave it, his voice was calm and empty of his earlier irritation. "I'd ask you not to tell me."
Dreu looked at him in surprise. "What? But why? Don't you want to know?"
"I'm curious," he admitted, "but I'd rather they revealed themselves in their own time than find out through somebody else." He allowed his lips to quirk. "Kind of spoil the surprise, wouldn't it?"
Her grin expressed her good-natured disappointment at not being able or allowed to surprise the unflappable Spriggan. "I suppose that makes sense," she said. "I'm glad you feel that way - glad you feel at all, actually. There were rumours going round that you aren't really human, just a well-designed robot, because you don't get emotional."
"Hm." He had to smirk at that one. "Who told them?"
Dreu laughed. "Allah be praised, he can joke!"
Half-listening to the brunette, Jean's mind was buzzing. She knew who his secret admirer was. And she had been asking about him and Ominae. Was it too much to hope? After all, she was friendly with the Japanese Spriggan, he might have told her, or even asked her for tips. He dismissed the thought as soon as it formulated. Ominae was fiercely independent when it came to people he cared about - his decision to blindly seek vengeance on Fattman at the Ark site showed that. He wasn't likely to seek or accept advice on something he'd be so sensitive about.
Jean pulled himself up short as he realised he had, once again, been most of the way to talking himself into believing that Ominae was his admirer when he had no evidence. He sighed irritably. So much for being an emotionless robot, he was now letting emotion cloud his judgement to the point of absurdity. And he used to be the one lecturing Ominae about not letting his feelings affect how he acted…
*Curse that admirer, whoever they are* Jean thought grumpily, and forced himself to pay attention to Dreu again.
The two soldiers were late to lunch, as they'd spotted a vacant air hockey table in the lounge (a rare enough occurrence) and been unable to resist the temptation. Jean had won, but it was close - before he'd been posted to this particular base he'd never encountered the game. Ominae, on discovering this, had made it his mission to teach him, and although they didn't really get enough free time for the blonde's skills to truly develop, he had a set of reflexes and a natural aptitude for learning that enabled him to hold his own.
He found himself thinking of the teenager while they were playing, and it was a greater distraction even than the fact that Dreu's tank top didn't always cover everything it was supposed to. Jean decided that the black of her bra, as it was intermittently exposed by her vigorous wielding of the bat, wasn't as soft and absolute as that of Ominae's eyes, and knew he was gone.
However, his romantic mushy thoughts were pushed to the backburner when he and Dreu walked into the mess hall to find Stefan Aurelia telling anyone who'd listen, in a loud, penetrating voice, that Ominae Yu was gay.
The scene was as tense as a battleground - Stefan and Ominae were in the middle of the room, the private standing with feet braced and eyes wide with dramatic flair, the Spriggan sitting closed in on himself, arms and legs folded. On one side of the room, half a dozen men were packed closely together, with scowls ranging from disgust to contempt. Facing them were a number of indignant and defensive soldiers, primary among them Sera. Many more around the hall looked unconcerned or curious.
Jean and Dreu appeared to have walked in at a moment when everyone was taking a deep breath. The air was ringing as if somebody had just shouted something, but from the other side of the door there hadn't been any audible yelling, at least nothing more than the usual chaos of lunchtime. Now scattered conversations still provided the requisite background hum, but there was an agitated silence around the confrontation between the two groups flanking Stefan and Ominae.
"Uh … mind telling us what's going on?" said Dreu into the quiet.
Heads turned in their direction, and Stefan snapped an arm out and pointed at the blonde Spriggan.
"Jean! You got together with Ominae that night at the pub, didn't you?"
The Frenchman was conscious of intense scrutiny levelled at him from a large number of people, and had to force his feelings under control so his face wouldn't betray his perturbation. Keeping his gaze squarely fixed on Stefan, he removed every trace of emotion from his voice save for just a hint of defiance. Something on an instinctive level was telling him to be ready to defend Ominae.
"Yes. What of it?"
"Faggot!" growled a voice. Jean turned his attention towards a honey-blonde Caucasian man with startlingly dark hazel eyes and a voice that sounded like it was being ripped out of his chest. The soldier was glaring at him, and as Jean raised an eyebrow he snapped, "You know, we thought you Spriggan were so tough - real men, y'know. And now it turns out you're nothing but a pair of poofs!"
Something like boiling ice sparked in Jean's veins, making his eyes and his cheeks warm. "Why don't you come over here then?" he said silkily, compressing venom into his words. "I'll prove to you how gay I am, and you'll love every second of it."
Some of the man's companions had to smother laughter, receiving harsh glares in response that caused them to wilt, but Ominae's defenders hadn't bothered to suppress their amusement and were mocking the man as he fumed. The derision in the women's laughter, especially, was cruel to hear.
"What's the matter, Rhys?" taunted Sera. "You can dish it out but you can't take it?"
"Going to start dropping the soap a bit more often from now on, eh Rhys?" added Marienne. Her husband contributed a few comments to the affirmative that induced further waves of mirth.
Jean, however, was more concerned with the tension evident in Ominae's posture. The teenager was clearly humiliated and desperately trying not to show it. None of the other soldiers would have been able to tell, but the blonde Spriggan had learnt to read his comrade's moods over the years and his miserable fury was screaming out for Jean to notice.
Rhys was now roaring obscenities at the two females, his face reddening, but the thin black-haired man beside him thumped him in the shoulder.
"Shut up!" snapped Diemen. "Don't you see you're just proving you're as stupid as they are?"
Rhys scowled, but complied, and the darker man stepped forward. "I don't have a problem with faggots," he stated. Jean thought angrily that he'd just contradicted himself by using the derogatory term. Diemen cast a disdainful look at the Japanese teen, and there was a derisive curl to his lip as he stated, "They just shouldn't be in the army. They shouldn't force their lifestyle on normal, decent people."
Protests immediately burst from the crowd supporting Ominae, but Diemen merely sneered.
"You just prove my point. Look at how disruptive this atmosphere is. We've been divided because there's something wrong with someone here."
"Wrong?! There's nothing wrong-"
"You're the one being disruptive-"
"There wouldn't be any division if narrow-minded jerks like you-"
"CAN THE SPRIGGAN SPEAK FOR HIMSELF OR NOT??" Rhys' enraged bellow cut across the ensuing storm of anger and halted the babble of heated talk. He glared at them all, even his eyes reddening with his ire. Silence fell again, and all eyes turned to the teenager still sitting mutely in the middle of it all.
Ominae stood calmly, his face the dispassionate mask Jean remembered with creeping horror from the missions where something snapped and the Japanese Spriggan would lose himself in his desire for vengeance, for death. He stepped forward, a sick feeling in his heart, ready to strike his friend if need be to restore him to his senses. Then the black-haired teen turned that empty gaze on the half-dozen figures who stood in opposition to him, and every single one of them flinched.
"You're just pissed off because it turns out I've got a better chance of getting laid than you have."
Stunned silence enveloped the entire mess hall for perhaps three seconds. Then Jase Bryce and Chase Levy howled with laughter, and suddenly the tension was released in a gale of all-consuming hilarity. Even Stefan Aurelia was laughing, but Jean felt no relief that the man appeared to be on their side after all. Someone as motor-mouthed as the Dutch private was a loose cannon, not a trusted ally, and they would probably be better off without him.
The amusement sweeping the room absorbed so many people that Jean almost missed Ominae's departure. He nearly didn't see the black hair and khaki sweater leaving the room, the teenager's back as straight and rigid as the table he'd just left. Jean went after him.
He caught up with his friend in the dorms, right beside his bed. Ominae heard him coming, of course, and paused to let him catch up. He was looking at the ground, still defensive and shaken from the ordeal, and Jean felt a surge of concern for him. He seized the Asian's chin in his hands and forced their eyes to meet. Ominae's inky pools seemed blacker than usual, but he wasn't closing Jean off from seeing their depths. He was upset, embarrassed, and angry, but there was strength and resilience behind these feelings that Jean recognised. The blonde let his breath out.
"Good. I knew you'd be fine, but I wanted to make sure."
He didn't like the way Ominae looked away again as soon as the Frenchman released his gaze. Frowning, he studied the other's profile.
"You're not gay." His tone belied an attempt to mask disappointment, and Jean's eyes widened. Why would that matter to him? …Unless…
Honesty forced him to tell the truth. "No." Ominae's shoulders sagged. Jean opened his mouth to continue, but he was forestalled.
"Then I guess I won't be needing these." Before the blonde Spriggan could question him, he opened his foot locker and took out a bouquet of long-stemmed Valentine's day roses.
Jean's jaw dropped. "Ominae?" he said. "All along … it was you?"
"Not many people know peanut cookies are your favourite," the other reminded him.
The Frenchman couldn't seem to tear his eyes away from the teenager. Ominae was staring somewhere over Jean's shoulder, jaw clenched, his fingers tight enough around the stems of the roses so that they broke. Everything Jean felt for the younger Spriggan was throbbing in his temples and he drew a breath. All he could see was Ominae.
"You know," he began quietly, "I was wondering what I'd say to my secret admirer if it turned out they weren't who I wanted them to be." He waited a heartbeat, just long enough to compose himself, then said in a voice brimming with emotion, "Guess now I won't get to find out."
Ominae barely had time to glance up, eyes wide, before Jean kissed him, and the roses fell forgotten to the floor.
After the scene in the mess hall, nobody needed to be told Jean and Ominae were together, but Dreu and Sera liked telling people anyway. Of course not everyone was so thrilled, but the majority of people didn't press their views on anyone, so there were always those willing to tell those who did advertise their narrow-mindedness where to go.
And while Jean and Ominae knew they couldn't let their emotions get in the way of their duty, for just a little while they could let their hearts rule them, and everything else was … nothing.