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Soulmates in Samarra

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Local Emo Fights The Man

Christmas. A season of forgiveness, of love and charity. It was the season for giving, the season for gathering all your friends and family around you, sharing presents, stories, each others company. It was bright twinkling lights in all the houses and all the shops, it was the same handful of songs that would eventually drive you insane from the endless loop that they seemed to be stuck in, until you were hearing Mariah Carey in your sleep.

It was peace on earth, goodwill towards all men. Or women, he wasn’t sexist. It was a time to eat as much food as you possibly could until you could no longer walk anymore and then spend the evening in a delightful food coma. Christmas was well known for being the best time of the year. This time, it was also going the worst possible time in the history of the world as far as Virgil Sanders was concerned.

Why?

Because at half five on this Christmas Eve - just as the sun was setting of course for maximum dramatic purposes - Virgil was destined to meet his soulmate.

The person he would love and cherish for the rest of his life, the person that would love him in return, that would see all his flaws and issues and love him for them. Who wouldn’t try and change him like almost everyone else in his life. Who wouldn’t abandon him like his parents had. Who wouldn’t hate him for who he was. Who was also hopefully a guy, otherwise he was also destined to have a very awkward conversion with them.

The person he was supposed to be perfect for.

What a load of horseshit.

This whole soulmate thing was a ridiculous conspiracy to start with. The idea that there could be one person out there in the whole world that would be perfect for him, with all those billions upon billions of people that made up the current population and that he was going to know down to the exact second when he met this special someone. It didn't matter who they were or where, somehow fate would ensure that the two of them would be in the same place, at the same time in order to meet.

In Virgil’s case, five thirty-one and seventeen seconds in the evening on December the twenty-fourth this year, to be exact, according to every soulmate calculator website he had checked.

It completely invalidated any concept of free will because it loudly - and proudly - proclaimed that no matter what you might do, you would always find yourself at some predetermined spot on a predetermined day and be forced to fall in love with some stranger. Some literal bolt from the blue and that was it. It wouldn’t matter what your own personal preferences might have been before then, either you completely changed or by some freaky coincidence, that person was exactly who you had always dreamed about.

He didn’t want to be destined to fall in love with anyone. So what if they were meant to be perfect for him? All that meant was that some poor sap was getting the worst deal of the decade in having to love him, in having him as their soulmate. And there was the problem as far as Virgil was concerned. ‘Having’ to love. As if they were designed for each other, as if they had no other reason, no other purpose than to belong to the other person.

Consent mattered nothing it seemed, if the universe had decided you were going to be in love. Your own views and desires didn’t matter, because you were going to love them. End of story. You were going to belong to someone else and somehow learn to live a life with them.

Most people found comfort in the thought of soulmates. Virgil found only a cage, the bars steadily closing in on him as it grew closer and closer to his ‘moment’.

Not to mention, who was ever going to love him?

Virgil couldn’t deny the timer, however. Like everyone else it seemed, he had little black numbers tattooed across his wrist, counting down to the apparently ‘magical’ and ‘wonderful’ moment when your life would become complete or some such nonsense. It didn’t come off no matter how hard you scrubbed, hoping it might be pen, and it wasn’t a static number but rather some living thing that ticked down. Ever down, closer and closer, some remorseless, silent entity. The timer was real, and it was certainly counting down to something.

It was still clearly a government conspiracy.

Keep the population in line, keep them docile so they didn’t question the reality of the world around them, so they didn’t argue or make a fuss about things that might be happening. Well, it wasn’t as though there was any big war going on, there was no hunger games or limit on how many children you had or tossed you into some weird world of smiling androids and perfect, crime free cities that only hid the rot under the glow. Still, they could be in the middle of some dystopian nightmare and nobody would even notice because everyone’s eyes were either glued to their wrists or staring mindlessly into their soulmates eyes while the world potentially burned.

Virgil was not going to be one of those people.

He didn’t buy into anything that the whole soulmate market was selling. He didn’t want anything they were selling but it seemed as though, like with the concept of soulmates itself, Virgil had no choice in the matter. He would change his mind once he actually met the person, his parents told him as a child, a knowing look on their faces. Your soulmate was the most important person in the world to you, after all. Everything would be different once you met them, everything would change. It was all they would say on the matter any time he brought it up, the pair simply shrugging and repeating that your soulmate was important.

More important, it seemed, than your only child, when you were forced into choosing between your partner or your baby. One parent losing control and rejecting him completely, the other following suit simply to keep their soulmate happy. So what if that meant hurting their child beyond belief and destroying their relationship between them forever?

Virgil could never quite work out, looking back on it, why he had thought that telling his already strict and closed minded parents that he thought he might be gay, would be a good idea. Spoiler alert: It hadn’t been. It had, in fact, been possibly the worst idea that Virgil had ever had and considering the competition it had with the countless other terrible ideas of his, that really was saying something.

They had been horrified at the mere idea, at the mere suggestion that their only son might not be the perfect poster boy they had spent so long moulding him into being. It was impossible to them that he might have some thought other than the ones they had placed in his head and far more likely instead that he was just acting out for some childish reason.

As if Virgil had just decided that on a whim. As if he had woken up that morning and thought it would be really funny to try that whole ‘being gay’ thing out and seeing how it felt. As if he hadn’t agonized and second guessed himself every step of the way until finally - finally - accepting who he was. Who was he kidding. He hadn’t accepted who he was. He was pretty sure you never did. You either denied yourself and hid what you were, or you spent your whole life exploring and learning as much as you could about yourself. Every day was a chance to learn.

Not that they could see that of course. Virgil had expected questions, that was simply par for the course, he had seen enough teenage coming out movies and tv shows to know sort of what to expect. He had even been prepared for some degree of hostility, of disbelief because it was a large change. But no, they had to make it all about soulmates - as well as being homophobic and lacking any understanding.

What would he do if his soulmate was a woman? Of course they would be a woman, anyone normal would have a soulmate of the opposite gender. It was far too early in his life to be making such sweeping claims, to be declaring himself something because wouldn’t he look foolish when he met her? It wasn’t too early, it seemed, to declare himself straight of course.

It was just a phase, they insisted. Acting out because he was a teenager and he was trying to push against the rules that they had very kindly set up in order to protect him, keep him safe. Virgil had no idea of how the real world worked, no idea how much trouble he was causing by his silly little rebellion. He had no idea the kind of pressures they were under and how much his acting out was affecting their business. Their clients had little time for people who had a son going through such a silly phase.

And when it wasn’t just a phase, when he remained just as gay as he had always been - they kicked him out.

Happy Sixteenth Birthday, Virgil.

The clothes and the attitude had come later. In a way, he should really thank them for doing that, because it let him find out more about himself, let him discover his style, let him become the anxious, barely functioning unless member of society that he was today. It meant he found a home that wasn’t bound by their rules and the oppressive lifestyle, it meant that he had been given a chance to learn more about himself as he went on, just as he had wanted. He had made choices and friends he never would have been able to if he had stilled lived under their roof. And all it had cost him was losing everything he had known.

Not that he was actually going to thank them for leaving him to potentially die in the street, making him just yet another homeless teenager because of some outdated views about sexuality and the fear of what other, ‘normal’ people might think of them.

That would be insane.

It also reinforced his hatred of the mere idea of soulmates, and this inescapable dread of a destiny that was constantly closing in on him. It was almost time now, almost time for him to become a completely different person, to toss all his previously held views and opinions out of the window and to forget any objections he might have about the concept as a whole.

Well, he was going to do something about that.

It was next to impossible to break the timers people said, because it was fate. Well, it was fate with a capital F, the type that you couldn’t mess with. How could you possibly avoid meeting someone at a certain time when you had no idea who or where that meeting was? Changing your routine wouldn’t change your Fate because the universe had removed the concept of free will and you were always going to change your routine that day and so meet them. It was like that story he had learnt in college. A very old story from Mesopotamia. As he could remember it, it went slightly like this;

One day, a man in Baghdad spotted Death in the market. Understandably upset and terrified by the wicked look that he has received upon meeting the undying’s gaze, the man had turned tail and fled the market, rushing home. He was convinced that he was going to die because of that look, because he had somehow insulted Death by catching her eye and that as a result, he would be dragged to the Underworld.

Determined to outwit Death herself, the man saddled up his horse and fled across the countryside, over one hundred kilometres away to the town of Samarra. There, surely he would be safe. Pleased with his plan and confident that he had survived, he went out to celebrate - and then the man met Death.

The look, Death explains, was one of confusion rather than anger. Death had been simply surprised to see them that morning in Baghdad, so far away from their present location. After all, their appointment was always supposed to be tonight, in Samarra.

Virgil had always weirdly rather liked that story. He couldn’t say why exactly, not when it summed up everything he most hated about the concept of soulmates, of the lack of free will both they and the story proclaimed. You could not escape your destiny, your fate, no matter how clever you thought you were, no matter what kind of steps you took to try and shake free from the shackles of your bonds.

You couldn’t escape your meeting in Samarra.

The story had still lingered in his mind, even now, a couple of years after the class. Something about it had struck a chord with him, to the extent that he had even chosen to write a paper on the story. Part of it was probably the way in which Death had been given female pronouns and the way so many in his class had throw a fit at that, screaming that Death was male and that was all there was to it.

As if they could push their own viewpoints onto a civilisation that was long since dead and had evolved in a completely different set of situations to their own. People who were so alien and far removed from themselves that there were times when it was impossible to follow their reasoning at all. Not that it had stopped his classmates from yelling in horror at the idea of a female Death.

Some of the men in his course had even screamed it was a plot by the liberals, political correctness and all that nonsense that every college debate seemed to spiral down to given enough chance. It would have been easier to argue that point if the professor of the class hadn’t been a middle aged white man who had little time for anything like that. He hated politics, hated anything that might speak of the modern world. All he had cared about, all he had tried to teach, was the lessons of the past. How they then wasted that education in the real world was completely up to them, but it would happen outside of the classroom.

Death comes to you in your own Samarra no matter what you might do to try and avoid it. Just as your soulmate will always meet you, no matter where you went or what you did. The answer to Virgil therefore, seemed simple.

Just don’t leave your home. That was all he had to do. Lock all the doors, barricades himself in his apartment and let the timer run down to zero, all without ever meeting some random stranger. Without meeting anyone in fact. He wasn’t going to even open his door to a pizza delivery guy, wasn’t going to open the door to his closest and dearest friend in case there was someone walking along the sidewalk behind him, their eyes met, and the timer worked its evil magic.

No matter what Remy might say. He lived literally two floors above Virgil and they could see each other every day. Just not this one day, just in case. He knew Remy didn’t really get his fears, but everyone was different and had different experiences. Remy wasn’t ‘due’ to meet his soulmate for another year so why would he worry about anything until the day? He was far more laid back than Virgil, far more relaxed about life in general. He didn’t worry about fate or destiny, didn’t seem to care about it one way or the other.

Then again, Remy had never had the same weight pressing down on his thin shoulders. Virgil envied him in many ways, and the simple fact that he was not nearly as anxious as himself. It would be rather hard to be as anxious as Virgil of course, but there was having a little bit and then being so chill you could be living your whole life lying down. Virgil had even played with the idea of taking the spare key he knew Remy had, just in case. In the end though, he had left it with Remy, his friend solemnly swearing that he would not enter the apartment until after the deadline had passed. Virgil knew that he didn’t understand but more than that, he knew that it didn’t change how Remy would behave.

Remy knew it mattered to Virgil and so it mattered to him, and so he would honour his friends wishes no matter what he personally thought. Just as Virgil would help him when the time came, in whatever way he wanted, even if that meant finding and liking the soulmate.

Virgil had one chance to get this right. One chance to save himself from the misery of a predestined love, one chance to prove that the whole thing was nothing more than an outdated cheap trick designed to keep people oppressed. Or something. He didn’t need or want a soulmate, that was just how you got hurt.

Nobody at work had even raised an eyebrow at him wanting Christmas Eve off. At least, not once they had seen his timer. Then the looks of annoyance had shifted into an all-knowing smug grin, a nod and of course he could have that day off, it was a super special day and one you needed to have free so that the evening could be enjoyed in the blissful embrace of your love, blah, blah, blah.

They didn’t need to know he planned to hide in his apartment all day.

Luckily, his supposed soulmate wasn’t Death. Which meant the chances of actually being able to meet them were almost non-existent so long as he kept the door shut and locked, the windows firmly closed and curtains drawn across so that it was impossible to look out. His own little private paradise for the last day and a bit of his timer.

Short of the person breaking in intent on robbing and possibly murdering him - which would make him Death and not a great soulmate all things considered - there was no way that he could possibly meet a new person if he never opened any door, window or stepped foot outside. There was plenty of food and drink in the apartment, he has his laptop and the television to keep him entertained, Virgil flopping down on the somewhat worn but still super comfortable red sofa he had bought in a flea market years ago.

This was going to be perfect. Virgil had pretty much made it his mission to mess up things for years now, from his parents plans for him, to any attempt on society to regulate how he should and shouldn’t behave. There was little that could make Virgil more determined to do something than to be told he shouldn’t do it or that he should accept things simply because that was the way that they had always been. Nobody should ever think for themselves, not when they could just follow the herd mindlessly and accept what Fate had decided for them before they had even been born. What better way to stick two fingers up to the world than to prove that this whole soulmate thing was just nonsense?

It was early. Far, far too early for anyone to be awake. It was the sort of time that Virgil would normally be going to sleep around at, his brain finally worn down and exhausted enough that it would grant him a couple of hours rest before he had to get up and start it all over again. Most of the time. Not tonight - or this morning, however. He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t even slow down his thoughts, let alone turn off his mind. It didn’t seem to matter how long he had been obsessing over the date, over destiny, his brain showed no signs of slowing down.

With a defeated sigh, Virgil flicked his bedside light on, squinting a little as the room was filled with the warm glow of light. For a few moments longer, Virgil simply lay there, staring at his ceiling as though it might hold the answer to all of his problems. Perhaps he could just spend the next few days huddled up in bed and sleep his destiny away - perhaps not. Virgil wasn’t that lucky, he couldn’t get a full night’s sleep when he had absolutely nothing to worry about. There was no way he was getting any sleep now, not till it was finally over. Time to face the day.

He glanced down at his wrist and the black numbers ticking away.

Thirty-six hours left and counting.

Chapter Text

Hopeless Romantic Looking for Love

Roman would wake up and do the same thing he did first thing, every morning, without fail.

Check the numbers on his wrist. It wasn’t as though they were magically going to disappear or change, but Roman found himself obsessively checking them every morning anyway. And after lunch if he had been busy all morning. Maybe after a workout. Sometimes after a show.

Basically, any time he had gone a couple of hours without checking them, he found himself struck by the urge to see if they had somehow managed to get closer to that beautiful moment.

He was always disappointed to realise the time was still counting down to the same deadline. December twenty-fourth, at five thirty-one and seventeen seconds in the afternoon. The most wonderful time in the history of the world, the time that trumpets would sound and flowers would fall from the sky as he finally met the person of his dreams. Admittedly, the person of his dreams could be anyone, because his tastes changed from moment to moment, Roman falling in and out of love as easily as most people fall in and out of finding a new favourite show to watch.

He loved easily, he smiled and laughed and found pleasure and delight in food and people. He could love a show, an animal or a dear friend in a heartbeat. He could fall out of love just as easily as well - not with his friends, a friend made was a friend kept - but yesterday's treasured coffee shop could be tomorrow's forgotten street. That was just how he was, Roman always on the lookout for something new to experience every day.

When the numbers on his wrist reached zero however, he knew that the person he met would be the most beautiful person in the world and he would love them for the rest of his life. That no matter what else might change about his life, no matter what the world would throw at him and how hard they might have to struggle, he would have the love of his life with him. Roman wouldn’t be alone anymore and he would be faithful and in love and spend every moment he could making sure that person of his dreams was happy.

His happily ever after was going to start on Christmas Eve; what could be more romantic than that?

Not that, that was the important part. Sure, Christmas Eve was romantic, but it didn’t matter when they met - that moment would be the most romantic moment in all of time and space. Roman just wished he could look at the timer and see that while eight hours for example, might have passed in reality, something closer to twenty-four might have counted down on his wrist.

Roman knew that wasn’t how the timers worked of course.

He wasn’t a fool, no matter what some people might think. He understood the science - such as it was - behind soulmates. Once he had been old enough to understand what the black ticking numbers on his wrist had meant, Roman had been obsessed with the whole thing. His parents had told him the meaning as though it was a fairy tale and he had eaten it up in great delight.

He had wanted to know everything. How it worked, if it gave any hints as to who the other person was that he was destined to fall in love with, if it was ever wrong, all his thoughts tumbling over themselves in their haste to be said. And of course, if there was anyway to hurry it up so he could meet the Princess - or Prince - of his heart. His parents had merely laughed fondly, ruffling his hair and saying that love was love. It would happen when it happened.

Which was not the answer a young Roman Princeton had wanted to hear.

If there was someone he was supposed to meet and fall in love with, then why did he have to wait years and years, over a decade even, to do so? That felt like forever. Why couldn’t he just walk out of his house right now and go and find them?

It didn’t work like that, he was told and with that, he was supposed to be content.

It hadn’t stopped Roman from reading everything he could on the subject, and even taking a couple of courses on the whole concept at collage. There was still a lot about soulmates that the world as a whole didn’t understand. How it actually really worked for a start. The greatest minds of countless generations had grappled with the problem, devoting their whole lives to trying to understand it. How it happened was a mystery, how the universe worked out who belonged to who. How it could possibly know from birth, who belonged to who was just mind boggling. But somehow it managed. It also ensured that you would somehow bump into them at the right time.

There were people, plenty of people, who didn’t believe in soulmates. Who found the whole thing just too confusing and impossible to understand or accept. People who would write books on the subject. Or who would try and ignore it in the hope it would go away. Love wasn’t always romantic love, or sexual love, your soulmate could be your platonic other half. Really, Roman didn’t mind what sort of love he got to experience with his soulmate, so long as he got to do it with them.

Some people still claimed they were better off without any sort of love at all.

He had a friend like that. Someone who was too busy with everything life had to offer to worry about loving one special person. Not when there was so many people in the world. His friend would simply shrug off talk about the timer, hiding the little numbers under his sleeves and insisting that no matter what, he wasn’t going to focus his attention on one person. He had been very insistent on that point.

Right up until the point his timer had reached zero and he had locked eyes with the newest transfer student and then he had been forced to admit that perhaps - just perhaps - there was something more to this whole soulmate business than he had first been prepared to admit. Not that Patton spent too long worrying about being wrong, not when he had Logan to love.

It didn’t stop him loving the rest of the world either, which had been his greatest fear. If anything, it made Patton more loving, wanting to spread his own happiness far and wide.

Roman had always been a little jealous of the pair of them, as much as he loved them and was thrilled that they got to be happy together. The first time he saw anyone’s soul mark, Roman couldn’t help but try and work out how long they had left to go. He had done that with Patton’s mark, when they had been ten. Admittedly, it had taken him a long time and more than a little help from his parents in order to get the answer, but, to be fair to him, he had been young.

To know one of his best friends would find their other half at sixteen when he still had so many more years was just galling.

It didn’t stop him from looking at other people’s timer. It was like a compulsion, looking at the number and knowing of course if it was lower or higher than his own. From that it was easy enough for him to take it one step further and work out roughly the time they would meet them, and then get more and more precise. Every time, Roman got faster at working it out, and all on his own.

He had become rather good at Math as a result.

Roman had become rather good at a lot of subjects in fact, although his passion had always remained acting - and the science of soulmates, no matter the occasional scoff that soulmate magic was many things, but science was not one of them.

The evidence didn’t lie though. Soulmates were real and soulmates worked.

His parents were soulmates. Everyone he knew who had met their soulmate were happy. It wasn’t always the blissful, mindless happiness that he had assumed you would feel when he had been a kid. Sometimes, they didn’t always seem that happy, not really and yet they all assured him that it was worth it. If it was love of any sort then it was worth fighting for, worth sticking together, the bad with the good.

It wasn’t a perfect system.

There were people who had never met the other half, where their timer was so long that one of them died before and the timer froze, a moment caught on your wrist forever. Not even Fate was utterly perfect, not against the whims and cruelties of the human race. It was nervous watching it count down and wondering if it might stop at any minute - another reason why Roman would check it obsessively. He had to reassure himself that the number was still moving, whispering thank you to his unknown soulmate for still being alive.

Or then those who had met and then lost them, Roman shivering in horror at the mere thought. He couldn’t even begin to comprehend the trauma that would happen if you lost the person you loved most in your life. Roman had lost his Grandma when he had been a teenager, and that had been painful enough. He had loved her of course, had so many fond memories of her and so when she had passed it had been painful with many hours lost to crying. Losing the other part of your soul would be so much worse.

Roman couldn't even begin to get to grips with the pain, the absolute agony of being in love and then somehow having to work out how you were supposed to carry on going without them in your life. It was one thing to wait for them, to know you were counting down to a meeting. It was quite another to have to live the rest of your life without them. People moved on of course. Sometimes they even found love in the arms of another lost soul but to Roman, for better or for worse, it wasn't the same. He knew he should stop thinking about it, should avoid tempting fate further.

Roman couldn’t help imagining it now and then though. Torturing himself with the idea of finding that perfect One, only to have them torn out of your grasp. It was something out of an epic tragedy, and for all that Roman loved to tread the boards, he had no wish for his life to imitate art.

What was worse?

To have loved and lost. Or never to have loved at all. He wasn’t sure that Shakespeare had come to the right conclusion. At least that wasn’t going to happen to him. It couldn't, surely the world wouldn’t be so cruel, as to bring him so close to the finish line and then deny him at the last moment. He was supposed to meet them so soon now, months melting into weeks with a speed that took his breath away. It had always seemed so long when it had been years, days crawling past with the number barely moving.

Until suddenly, the weeks had become days.

All the more reason to make sure that Roman didn’t disappoint his other half. Didn’t want them to so much as doubt their connection and the love that would grow between them. He was prepared to work for their love and he just had to be perfect for them. There was no way to know what they were interested in, passionate about of course. It didn't stop Roman from learning as much as he could, in as many different subjects as he could.

What if they had a job as a Park Ranger or something? Roman didn't want to show them up, so he had taken a six-week course in basic survival skills. Just in case.

What if they were into something slightly more obscure music wise, like Opera? Better learn the history behind it, the technical terms, some of the most famous plots so he could hold a conversation about the subject without sounding like an idiot. It was better to be safe than sorry.

What if they just worked a casual retail job? Roman couldn't stand the idea that they might think he was too snobby for them, that all he cared about was book smarts or opera or anything stupid like that. He didn’t want to intimidate them with his great grades or his bewildering array of knowledge. He knew how to not flaunt himself, as difficult as that was.

On the other hand though...

What if they became some kind of teacher or other person in higher education? He wanted to be able to move in high society if the need arose, wanted to be able to freely talk to people about almost anything, from chemistry to the fall of the Soviet Union to the best recipe for chocolate chip muffins - courtesy of Patton.

You know. Just in case.

It maybe made him a bit of a nerd, but he was fine with that label. Some of his best friends were nerds and his best friend of all, was dating the biggest nerd in the history of forever. As far as Roman was concerned, Patton and Logan were cool. Which meant it was cool to be a nerd. Or something along those lines. It really just meant he wasn't going to stop studying and finding new topics to research, no matter what people might think. You never knew, his soulmate could be passionately into thousands of different subjects and while it was impossible to learn everything, he could at least make the effort.

It was silly, he knew that, his friends told him that. His family told him that. Every book and magazine he had ever read on the subject told him that. Whoever his soulmate was, they would love him.

Wouldn't they?

As confident a face as he presented to the world, Roman didn't always feel that confident. Not about the important things. Not about the love of his life. Not about someone who was meant to love him. Roman didn't want someone to love him simply because of some numbers on his wrist. He wanted to be worthy of them in his own right, he wanted them to look at him and see someone beautiful, someone special and worthy and loveable in his own right. Someone they wanted independently of numbers on skin.

They would love him of course. They had to. He was a wonderful person, everyone said so.

Despite that, Roman couldn't help but push himself as hard as he could, every day of his life. He needed to impress them, he needed - well, he needed them. Still, what was the worst that come happen? They slam a door in his face? They told him they didn't love him, that he wasn't what they were looking for, he wasn't enough, wasn't good enough?

Actually, thinking about it, that was pretty bad.

It was so nerve wracking now that the moment was so close at hand. All the years and years of dreaming and he was less than two days away from finally - finally - meeting them. After all this time, he was finally within sight of the finish line.

He had woken up far earlier than he normally would, Roman’s heart racing, already halfway through some internal race. It was as though he was a child again, anxiously counting down the hours until Santa visited. Then again, this was going to be his best Christmas ever. All the previous ones rolled into one glorious celebration, a date he has waited for so long for because he was going to get a present like no other soon enough. Best. Christmas. Ever.

No wonder he couldn’t sleep.

Groggily, he peeked out from under his pile of blankets to stare at the clock on the wall. The numbers took a little while to focus, for his tired brain to wake up enough to read them and when he saw what the time actually was, he wasn’t surprised. It was a little after seven in the morning. The morning. Roman normally liked to joke that he didn't know there was a seven in the morning. Logan would probably have a stroke if he knew Roman was willingly awake and moving without any super dramatic complaining. At least, he would, once he had realised it wasn't a case of Roman going to bed at seven but actually getting up.

Still, if his soulmate liked mornings, Roman was sure he would be able to adjust. Or if not, he was sure he would be able to make it up to them in a variety of other ways given the chance. God, he hoped if his soulmate liked mornings, they would still give him a chance.

With a soft sigh, he pushed himself upright and out of bed, staggering over to the door and flicking the light switch, bathing the room in a soft warm glow. Outside, it was still a little dark, the sun still climbing above the buildings, its pale rays gradually lighting the streets.

Happy Christmas Eve, Eve.

He sat down in front of the large vanity, Roman eyeing himself critically in the mirror as he did so. There were some light bags under his eyes, but nothing that some concealer wouldn’t solve. Otherwise he didn’t look half bad. Hopefully good enough for today at least. Tomorrow would be another matter completely but that was tomorrow.

That was the day he met them.

Roman couldn’t help but look down at his wrist to see the numbers ticking away, even though it had been less than a minute since the last time he looked. A bright grin wound its way along his lips as he let out a soft sigh of relief. They were still moving. He was still on course for his date with destiny.

It was strange, he felt almost sick at the thought. All this time, he had been so excited and full of joy and other heart-warming emotions. He had been thrilled every time he looked down and saw that the number had decreased slightly and yet now he felt as though he would rather do anything else other than see the numbers get closer to zero.

Roman swallowed heavily, he couldn’t decide if he wanted to scream from the rooftops that he was about to meet them or spend the next few hours throwing up into his toilet. First night performance nerves had never been this bad, even in his biggest shows. He had felt something sure, but never this. Terror and anticipation bundled together, along with fear and joy, all the conflicting emotions screaming at him until Roman felt like just climbing back into bed and trying to will the world away. Maybe he could go back to sleep and when he woke up, the terrifying moment would be over. No. No, he had to stay awake, had to keep going and overcome this ridiculous and wholly unnecessary stage fright that had crept up out of nowhere and slapped him around the face.

He couldn’t do this.

Yes. Yes he could.

All he had to do was... just keep going. Just let time carry on and hope that his nerves wouldn’t get the better of him. He had seen all manner of soulmate meetings in his time, from the dramatic, to the romantic, to the ones where one or both would end up making complete idiots of themselves. He wasn’t going to be one of the latter. He wasn’t going to lose his voice or say something embarrassing or let his panic get the better of him, not when he had been planning and hoping for this moment all of his life.

The fact remained, though, that Roman didn’t know what to do now; should he stick with his normal routine or should be go out searching? What if he was meant to go left to find them but instead in his panic, he turned right, and they missed each other by a matter of moments?

It didn’t matter. Roman knew this from his studies, he knew that Fate didn’t make mistakes. Whoever was on the other side of that clock, he was going to meet them and very soon now. Whatever he decided to do, would lead to his soulmate. That was just how it worked and it was pointless trying to second guess it. The best thing to do was just carry on with his life as normal and let whatever was going to happen, happen.

His phone buzzed softly against the top of the vanity, screen flashing to life, a picture of Patton appearing there. The mere sight of a photo of his friend was enough to make him smile again, Roman trying his best to push away thoughts of tomorrow and instead focus on the here and now. He unlocked his phone, squinting a little at the bright light as he read the message. Patton would no doubt be surprised to see the little blue tick that revealed he had read it so early in the morning.

He could almost see Patton flailing with excitement, accidently smacking Logan with the phone because when he got excited, he lost all sense of motor control. Which would then be followed by Logan pushing up his glasses in surprise and double checking the time to make sure that it was correct. Roman liked keeping that nerd on his toes and just imagining it was almost enough to make up for being up so early in the first place. Roman shook his head, light brown locks falling around his eyes for a moment before he lifted a hand to push them back out of place.

Black numbers flashed into view as he did, and Roman had long ago got into the habit of pushing his hair out of his eyes with that particular arm, just so he could have another excuse to check his timer without having to actually admit he was checking the timer. It was still moving, still counting down, the nerves making him exhale deeply. Wait. Wasn’t there something he was meant to be doing right about now aside from playing with his hair and imagining how he was driving Logan mad by his unpredictable behaviour.

Oh. The message. Right. He was supposed to be actually reading the message and answering it. Roman’s thoughts were all over the place this morning. It was no surprise really considering the date, but still, Patton would be waiting for an answer. Not to mention actually replying would throw Logan even further, and he can’t deny the thought of doing that makes him snicker a little.

Patton wanted to go carol singing in the evening. Roman swallowed down the butterflies that threatened to escape at the thought of making an actual plan. By making a plan he was removing all of the other potential possibilities and no matter how much he had read and how much he knew about how soulmates worked, there was still that little voice in the back of his mind that worried about the idea that he might make the wrong choice and somehow be the first person in the history of forever to mess up meeting his soulmate.

Roman closed his eyes, hand lifting to pinch at the top of his nose as he tried to will the negative thoughts away.

Carol singing. A fun activity and with one of his all time favourite people. That sounded like a good idea actually. It might take his mind off destiny for a little while and he would be able to bless random people with the beauty that was his voice. It was good practise too, in case he needed to serenade his soulmate.

One quick message back and that was that. Plans made. Which meant he should start to get ready to face the day properly, Roman carefully applying the concealer and getting dressed before making his way downstairs to make himself a cup of coffee. Best antidote to sleep.

A lot of people found his constant thoughts on his soulmate pathetic. Roman knew that. Knew that they would roll their eyes at his - admittedly - over enthusiastic approach to his soulmate. He was a little too eager, a little too forward. Constantly planning his life around one event and one event alone. He knew what they said about him behind his back.

How it wasn’t healthy to be that fixated on your soulmate, especially before you even met them. Some even expressed sympathy for whoever it was, having to deal with Roman day in, day out and that - okay, that hurt. To think that his love might be a curse rather than something positive, but he was still a gentleman. He still believed in consent and talking and no matter what sort of soulmate he had, no matter what kind of love it was, it would be more than enough for him. He wasn’t crazy.

He knew he was obsessed about the idea. He knew that his head was too in the clouds, that he lived, breathed, slept romance and fantasy but such thoughts had helped him through years that were not as rosy as his memory painted them to be. When school had been less a glorious adventure and more banding together with his only two friends and counting the years till freedom. When his Grandma had died and he had felt real loss for the first time and realised someday he would lose his parents too.

At the end of the day, Roman just wanted someone to want him for him. He had to be perfect for them, not the other way around.

Roman stared into his cup of coffee, stirring the drink idly. He should have had a cup of tea, he could have drank it and then examined the tea leaves to see what the future had in store for him in the hours leading up to The Meeting - capital letters more than justified.

He had taken a course in basic divination. Just in case. After all, soulmates were a thing, so it was perfectly possible that astrology, palm reading, crystal balls and the rest were completely legitimate means of discovering what the fates or the stars had in store for you. Some people even made a living claiming they could predict your soulmate. After taking the course, he was less inclined to believe that there was any merit to such things and he had gone in with a completely open mind. Roman had wanted so badly to believe in it, had wanted to find anything he could to help him understand soulmates as a whole and yet despite having the right attitude, he still couldn't bring himself to believe it. Too many sharks swimming in the sea to ever hope he could find a mermaid.

Roman liked to tell himself that it hadn't been a complete waste of time, because maybe his soulmate liked that sort of thing. Reading tea was soothing as well - or that could be the simple fact that you had to first drink a nice cup of tea in order to read the leaves. That was bound to relax you, because you needed the highest quality of tea leaves to get a good reading which meant you were drinking a truly good cup.

Carefully, Roman lifted his mug to his lips, taking a slow sip of the hot drink. Sure, tea was soothing, had that good taste, but it had nothing on the rich jolt of caffeine that decent coffee provided.

He glanced down at his wrist as he lowered the cup once more, to double check the timer was still working for the third time since waking up - or fourth, fifth, sixth, really who was keeping track by this point?

Thirty-four hours left and counting.

Chapter Text

Irresistible Force Paradox

The first ten or so hours passed fairly uneventfully. Virgil got to stay in his room, ignoring the world as a whole. There was plenty of coffee to drink, and for once he actually took the time to make it properly rather than grabbing the quickest, nastiest version he could. Normally there were never enough hours in the day and something had to be given up - if Virgil had to choose between actually getting to drink his coffee or making some fancy blend of coffee and milk but then was unable to drink it because he was going to be late for work, he would pick the first in a heartbeat.

Today was a special day. Today, he was going to treat himself because for once, Virgil had time on his hands. It was fairly liberating, to know that he had no plans and that no matter what, he wasn’t going to leave his apartment. It meant he could let himself indulge with all of his favourite things. Today he was going to stop and smell the flowers so to speak, as he gave the ultimate two fingered salute to The Man. Indoor, not actually flower, flowers.

He spent most of it curled up on the sofa, scrolling through Tumblr on his phone while a series of conspiracy shows played on his laptop. There were some good ones as well as some not so good ones. He had enjoyed the one about Mothman in particular. Coffee, snacks, proof that the world was hiding its best secrets from him, what more could he ask for? Really, it was the best type of day that he could possibly hope for. His idea of a perfect day. So, of course, something was going to come and ruin it.

The worst thing was, it was completely his own fault.

Virgil had grown bored of the current series he had been watching after the Mothman one had finished. Not nearly enough proof and while he didn’t demand hard facts, even Virgil wanted at least some blurry pictures or scraps of fluff that could have belonged to whatever cryptid the episode was focusing on. This was all purely eye witness reports which while entertaining at first, quickly devolved into the ridiculous, even for him.

Perhaps he had had enough of that type of show for now, Virgil listlessly flicking through the various offerings but nothing on Netflix’s was really calling to him. What he wanted was... oh, he knew what he wanted. The classic. The one, the only, busters of myth. Only problem was the show wasn’t on Netflix anymore. Well, it wasn’t a problem, problem, not for him. Not thanks to the wonders of the internet and good friends. A guy had needs after all.

There was only one slight issue, he’d left his USB stick in his coat pocket, filled with recently completely legal downloaded Mythbusters. Virgil had seen most of the episodes already, but they were from one of the earlier seasons and it had been a long time since he had last watched them. They were only half remembered at best, which meant he got to enjoy them all over again.

It was the sort of show that was comforting to Virgil, like a warm fuzzy blanket wrapped around his thin shoulders. As much as Virgil was relaxed and enjoying himself, the numbers on his wrist continued to tick down with an ominous calm, as if the universe was convinced that it would win and force a soulmate upon him. He needed to distract himself from such thoughts, needed to try and let his mind float along and let the rest of the day pass in the same enjoyment as the morning. He still had plenty of time before the dreaded moment and Virgil refused to let it occupy his thoughts any longer. It had already taken so much of his attention through the years, it had already caused him so much hurt and he wasn’t going to let it steal more from him. Not today. Not this day.

Virgil had needed the stick, the perfect thing to distract himself. Now that the idea was pressed into his mind, he found that he couldn’t shake it. Empty cup of coffee was placed on the table, Virgil standing and stretching, letting all his joints pop as he worked out the faint aches from having been hunched over for the last hour or so. It was a good excuse to make a fresh drink at least, may as well kill two birds with one stone.

It also meant he went near the door, when he hadn’t had coffee in a little while and was distracted by other thoughts.

Virgil didn’t see the doc martin he had so carelessly left in the middle of his hallway from where he had half tossed it until it was too late, stumbling over the boot and staggering forward. Arms lifted to try and brace himself, to keep himself from falling flat on his face. He collided with his front door, a dull thunk as his hands smacked against the wood, his arms at least stopping him from hitting it properly.

That had still hurt a little bit. Knocked the wind out of him, Virgil exhaling heavily as he pushed himself away from the door and bent down a little to check his ankle from where he had hit the boot. It seemed fine though, it didn’t even look red. His wrists were completely another matter, a dull ache in both of them and that was just perfect. Just perfect, just what he needed, his precious and rare good mood easily wavering at the slightest little problem. He should have known it was too good to last, and that he didn’t get to be happy, even for one measly little day.

All it would take would be one more gentle little push and he would be back on form as the grumpy Virgil that all his co-workers knew.

A knock sounded on the door, Virgil freezing in place, eyes widening as though he had been caught doing something wrong. Adrenaline rushed through him along with that irrational fear of being caught out, which was ridiculous; this was his home, if anyone was allowed to be here it would be him. Reminding himself of that didn’t change anything though, his heart still pounding frantically away as if he had been caught in a terribly compromising situation. It all flashed through his mind in a split second, the rush of fear and frustration, the annoyance at himself for still being this scared broken little boy who was never able to live up to the impossible high standards of his parents. Everything was always his fault. That was how his childhood had worked and, despite the many years of being on his own, Virgil was still struggling to unlearn the cruel lessons of his youth.

“Carol singers!”

Virgil blinked once. That voice was... annoyingly cheerful, far too cheerful for what sounded like a hellish activity. There was a gleeful lilt to it, as though the person could think of no better excuse for someone to open the door than to be told that there were some people on the other side who were going to sing at you.

He held his breath and hoped they would go away.

“Hello?” That voice again. Seriously, what was wrong with this guy? If you didn't get an answer at a door, you left right? That was the whole point, to find saps dumb enough to open the door and then endure all those out of tune carol songs that Virgil had already endured dozens and dozens of times over thanks to the general inescapable nature of Christmas. For all that he normally enjoyed the holiday, it was far too commercial these days, another example of society ruining a perfectly good thing by letting big business get at it.

“Are you okay in there? I heard someone fall, you’re still alive right? You’re not some elderly person who is lying on the floor with a broken hip, who is just waiting desperately for a hero to come and save you, are you?”

Maybe Virgil was just imagining it, but this guy sounded almost excited at the prospect. Who the hell sounded excited at the idea of some poor old man or woman lying in agony on their own?

Great, the guy was insane. Another reason - as if he needed one - as to why he shouldn’t open the door. Who knew what would happen if he did! Perhaps he would attack him, since Virgil was hardly old or injured and for whatever reason he wanted to live out that fantasy. The freak. Virgil lifted a hand to rub at his eyes, wondering how long he was going to have to stand here and listen to these strange ramblings. He didn’t dare just walk off, back to the comfort of his sofa, not when the man was saying all sorts of things; he didn’t trust the person on the other side of the door, not one little bit.

There was a slight rustle of coats on the other side, as though the person talking had turned to someone else, Virgil unconsciously moving closer to the door, straining to pick up any sounds. The voice had said singers after all, so there had to be at least one other person there. A gang of insane people, his day was just getting better all the time. The voice from before sounded again after another few moments of coats moving, pitched lower this time, as though he was talking to someone with him.

“Maybe I should break the door down...”

No. No, no, no, no, he wasn’t having that! He wasn’t going to let some stupid carol singer ruin his perfectly thought out plan or door. Virgil had no clue how much it cost to fix doors, but he had to imagine a lot - and there was no way he was even going to be able to get it fixed anytime soon if the knucklehead broke it, not this close to Christmas.

There was still over twenty-four hours left and while he could possibly hang out at Remy’s for that time, he didn’t really want to. His friend would let him stay of course, but Virgil could hardly demand his own set of rules be enforced while staying as a guest in someone else's house, even someone who probably loved him more than anyone else in the world had ever done. He wasn’t going to ruin Remy’s Christmas just because of stupid soulmates and an insane festive singer.

“Dude, chill!” Virgil snapped, resigning himself to having to have this conversation. There was a sharp intake of breath from the other side of his door, Virgil feeling his shoulders hunching up and he didn’t like this, not one little bit. It might be still over a day until the judgement moment and the eye contact that would change his life, but the fact he was having to have a conversation with any stranger was deeply off putting and made him want to hide back in his bed for hours. Not that Virgil liked interacting with people at the best of times, but it was somehow worse when he felt as though he had been forced into it, Virgil scowling at his door as though the inanimate object was somehow to blame for this situation.

“Oh, so someone is alive in there!” Okay, he really didn’t like whoever was the owner of that voice. There was a smugness to that voice, proud that he had pushed Virgil into speaking and tricking him into having this conversation. Virgil sighed heavily, drawing out the sound so that the person on the other side of the door could hear it.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m alive, I’m fine, you can go on your merry little way now,” Virgil huffed, lifting a hand to wave him away, not that the other guy could see it of course.

“But... carol singers?”

“How do I know you really are carol singers?” Virgil asked, rather reasonably he thought. “You were just discussing ways to break into my home; you could be thieves looking to rob me for all I know.”

“We are nothing of the sort,” the voice protested in clear horror, sounding utterly taken aback by the mere suggestion. Or else he was a very good actor and was trying to worm his way into Virgil’s confidence by making him feel guilty about such a suggestion so that Virgil would be tricked into opening the door and letting them bash him on the head and rob him of all the crap that he owned and they would be very disappointed in their haul. Joke was on the burglar if that was the case. Virgil always felt guilty about something or other, he had practically made an art form of the thing. He was just very good at suppressing those feelings in order to get through life.

Virgil had been half joking when he suggested the possibility of the man being a thief, but the more he thought about it, the more likely it seemed. Who else would keep trying to offer to sing, who would have knocked a second time in the first place? Who else would have been so eager to kick a door down?

“Ah, but that is exactly what a thief would say,” Virgil retorted, trying to push those thoughts away from him. He wasn’t going to let his own mind get the better of him and trigger a panic attack. Not today, today was going to be a good day no matter what the world tried to throw at him. There wasn’t really much of a chance that the people on the other side were actually bad guys. It was far more likely they were exactly who they claimed to be, albeit a more insane version of the usual carol singers that showed up.

“Well, we aren’t! Cross my heart and hope to die! We just want to sing some songs. Are you going to open the door or not?”

Virgil pretended to mull it over, humming as if deep in thought at the idea of opening the door and listening to some potentially unholy renditions of songs he already knew. On the negative side, having to talk to more people, listen to songs, possibly still get bashed over the head on that slim chance that they turned out to be some cartoon style villains. On the plus side... yeah, Virgil was struggling to think of any positive to opening the door. There was a plus to not opening the door however. He needed to get something out of this. Pushing this stranger’s buttons and enjoying the reactions as punishment for making him have this conversation in the first place sounded like a good idea. It promised to be entertaining at least and if it turned out he was a crazy guy, at least Virgil would know and still have that layer of protection from him.

“How about... not,” he replied at last, voice clear.

“Why not?” Mr Singer sounded honestly surprised and Virgil... well Virgil wasn’t really sure what to make of that. Had he honestly thought that Virgil would just open the door? Virgil didn’t know what kind of world the carol singer lived in, but it clearly was a different one to the world he inhabited.

“I don’t want to listen to carols? I don’t like to waste my time? I don’t wish it could be Christmas every day? It’s cold out there? All I want for Christmas is to be left in peace? Take your pick.”

“Okay Kiddo, I think that’s enough, let's leave him alone.” A new voice now, a second carol singer, this one sounding more reasonable than the first. It reminded him of how other parents treated their kids, firm yet kind, steering the conversation to more pleasing matters without ever being disappointed they had gotten off track in the first place. The sort of voice that his own father had never used on him. Now that had been the kind of voice Virgil might have opened the door too, if it had been any other day than today.

“Fine.” The first voice again, and Virgil could almost hear the pout in that single word. God, he could picture him as clearly as if he had opened the door. He was every popular kid Virgil had ever hated in high school, the ones with the blinding white smiles, perfectly proportioned body and the smug little faces he wanted to punch. He was the cocky, confident kid that was so used to everyone mindlessly fawning over him and laughing at every one of his silly little jokes that it wouldn’t even occur to him that it was possible for someone not to like the stupid thing he said.

And even if they did somehow notice, it would never be their own fault. If someone didn’t like them, then that was because that person was a freak or a weirdo or a loser. Yes, Virgil knew the type of Mr Carol Singer, and he did not like them at all. He could feel his shoulders relaxing slightly at the knowledge there was someone else there, talking some sense into him, that they were finally going, and Virgil could collect his USB stick and get back to his binge watching in peace. It almost made him feel better about having to remember high school in the first place.

“Bye Marv!” Virgil called out, a cheeky note in his voice, unable to help himself.

He had to bite down on the inside of his cheek to stop himself from bursting out into actual laughter at the huff of offended noises that came through the door at him before there was the blissful sound of footsteps departing and then the slam of the outer door letting him know that the carol singers had finally left, leaving him in peace and quiet once more.

That had almost been fun.

--

“What a jerk!”

Roman couldn’t help but fume as he stomped away from the house, practically seething. After that response he hadn’t wanted to go to any of the other apartments in the building, his mood lost for the moment. In such a state he would have been unable to perform to his best ability and that would have been a tragedy for all involved.

Who did that no good, depressing sounding guy think he was, insulting Roman, implying that he and Patton were a band of... of... robbers! It was a stain on his honour to even be accused of such a thing, and almost as badly, it was an insult to dear, sweet Patton as well. Patton who he had seen quite literally scoop a fly out of some water and set it on paper to dry off rather than just running the tap and flushing the little bug away.

Patton literally couldn’t hurt a fly, and this Scrooge had the nerve to insult him, to believe he would try and hurt people, and at Christmas time out of all times of the year. He could see the guy in his head, some overweight little spotty guy who was trying so hard so be edgy just for the sake of it. Someone who probably had no friends at all and acted as if the whole world was to blame for their own terrible personality.

“Come on Kiddo, not everyone likes Christmas,” Patton replied, hurrying after him. Roman couldn’t help but note that he wasn’t stomping along in solidarity with him. Friends were supposed to support friends! Okay, so it would have looked a little daft but still, that was part of the friend code. Patton supported in his own way of course, and Roman couldn’t help but feel a little guilty for even doubting his friendship for a second, in a silly way. It was all that rude jerk’s fault, getting him all worked up and making him second guess sweet, kind, didn’t deserve that, Patton. Oh, it made him so mad.

Roman came to a sudden stop a street over, hands lifting and dropping in a dramatic wave of motion, needing to work off some of the steam that was filling him and he couldn’t even say exactly what it was about the conversation that had worked him up so badly, made the words linger in his mind, the sparkle of a laugh in the insult thrown so casually his way. It wasn’t the first time someone had said they didn’t want to listen to the songs, which had hurt every time, sure, but this had felt different almost. The guy hadn’t even given them a chance, hadn’t even opened his door and that was weird.

Was it possible that he was the thief and had been accusing them of the same act in order to throw them off the scent of his criminal misdeeds? Was Roman going to see reports of a skilled thief working in the city and realise they had been had? He had nothing to tell the police if that was the case, he couldn't describe him in the slightest. Male. With a sinful voice.

Sinfully annoying, he meant. Then again, that voice had been so low, the sound of gravel running through fingers, it was entirely possible that it was fake, a voice put on in order to disguise who they really were, in which case Roman could speak to them and never know. All so the guy could rob the place blind. No. No, that was possibly too dramatic and outlandish even for Roman to believe. Still, something strange had certainly been going on there, something he didn’t understand.

“No, it's ridiculous, how could anyone not want to enjoy the wonderful experience that is listening to us sing?”

“I’m sure he has perfectly good reasons for feeling how he feels. He might not even celebrate Christmas, plenty of people don’t for various religious or personal feelings.” Patton lifted a hand to rest it against Roman’s shoulder, offering a steady weight and heat, and okay, he had a point with the fact that a lot of people didn’t celebrate Christmas and that would have been fine. If he for one second thought Mr Low and Raspy voice was one of them.

Roman had seen the little snowman complete with a sort of cute bloody axe peeking out under the closed curtains - another oddity, who would have closed them so early in the day? Sure, it was going to get dark soon, but that was no excuse to deprive yourself of what little pale sunlight there was. There had also been about half a dozen black sparkly snowflakes stuck against the glass of the window.

Not to mention, Roman had seen the Nightmare Before Christmas welcome mat in front of the door once they had entered the apartment complex and while that wasn’t only a Christmas movie, you couldn’t watch and enjoy it if you didn’t like the holiday. The whole look was somewhat morbid perhaps but plenty of people preferred a more edgy look to their Christmas directions, plenty of people mixed it up with Halloween.

As a final piece of proof, he had the nerve to call him Marv, after the more incompetent Wet Bandit in Home Alone. He could just about buy the possibility that someone who didn’t like Christmas had been forced to watch it - it was one of the classic Christmas movies, the first and second at least. Still, there was no way someone who hated Christmas would have watched it and taken it in enough to have remembered the name to be able to reference it so easily in conversation just to try and score a point against Roman.

This guy celebrated the season all right. He was just being a pain the neck.

Roman didn’t knock on every door after all. Roman prided himself on his observational skills, another course he had taken, teaching himself to notice little things, working on strengthening his memory in every possible way he could. He was good at knowing which house had people who would want to listen to songs and which had people who were either out or not interested.

Sure, he didn’t get it right every time but then he wasn’t Logan, he wasn’t perfect.

“It’s not like you can force him to get into the holiday spirit.” Patton was still talking, still trying to make him feel better, the words rushing into his mind and sparking a whole host of ideas.

“Patton, you’re a genius, that's it!” Roman exclaimed loudly, his bad mood leaving him in a flash as the idea started to blossom into clear life in his life. It was perfect! He didn’t know why it had taken him so long to think of it in the first place, when the whole thing had fallen into place as it had. Patton jumped a little, a soft little yelp slipping free as he pulled his hand back as though burned.

“Sorry, I got over excited.” Roman told him sheepishly and he should know better than to make any sort of sudden or loud noises around Patton. He had just lost control of himself - he was a little too good at doing that, forgetting where he was or who he was with. Patton had never liked loud noise or sudden movements, and he was the worst kind of friend for doing that. Even if Patton always insisted it was okay, that Roman was a loud and dramatic person after all, that he knew what kind of man his friend was and he loved him for it.

It was hard sometimes, to find that balance, to be able to be who he was and yet not make Patton uneasy. More often than not, Roman would find himself trying to shrink his personality down, trying to be less so as not to hurt him and that, ironically, was about the only thing that would make Patton get actually angry with him. If there was even the slightest hint that Roman was changing who he was, then Patton would start throwing soft pillows and toys at him. Something that probably didn’t sound terrible when he was telling the story for a friend who had never met Patton.

Then again, that friend had never met Patton. Had never been on the receiving end of those looks and throws and no thank you, that was not a line that Roman liked crossing.

There was something about that guy though, something that made Roman’s heart race. In annoyance. In a burning desire to prove him wrong and Roman right, sort of way. Something that meant he really had no logical choice but to win. Patton gave him a soft smile, the sort that told him he was instantly forgiven. It was just more proof that really, Patton was too good for this world. He was too kind, he always forgave, no matter who it was or what they had done.

“That’s okay Kiddo... now, what did you mean? What did I say?”

Oh right, his idea. His wonderful, wonderful idea, Roman’s grin grew ever larger and he had to restrain himself from giving an almighty cheer or evil laugh. Another thought suddenly struck him, Roman lifting his arm and awkwardly pulling down the sleeve. Thick coat and gloves did not make fine motor skills easily but after a couple of moments of struggling, he was able to get a peek at his timer. Still counting down, a little over twenty-five hours left to go. Plenty of time to live his own Christmas movie and get to perform a Christmas miracle.

How many people could say that after all? It would be a tale and a half to tell anyone, especially his soulmate.

Attention flicked back to Patton, who was still watching, waiting patiently for Roman to stop daydreaming and explain what he had meant. Roman bounced a little on his heels, rubbing his hands together as he finally gave voice to his wonderful, wonderful idea.

“I am going to get that guy to turn his Scrooge outlook right around. By the time I am through with him, he is going to be singing Christmas songs, and buying the biggest turkey in the butcher’s shop window to send to the Cratchit family. He is going to be the jolliest of dudes by the end of it.”

Roman gave a little spin, arms outstretched as he did, singing a line that came to mind, and what better way to pass the time before meeting his soulmate, who was bound to be so much more wonderful that that guy, than this.

“It’s true, wherever you find love, it feels like Christmas.”

“Um... Roman...” Patton said slowly, expression pinching together into a worried frown. “I’m not so sure that is the best idea you’ve ever had...”

Roman wasn’t listening, the man turning and almost skipping down the street, a gleeful look on his face. If war was what the guy wanted, then a war was what he was going to get. He had no idea what was coming.

“I will ram Christmas down his throat if I have to!”

Chapter Text

Of Christmas Yet to Come

Virgil really wanted pizza.

Not a frozen, shop-bought pizza that he cooked in the oven to middling results. No, he wanted piping hot greasy pizza, with the cheese overflowing and burning hot against your fingers. He wanted it loaded with toppings, so that every single inch was coated with about three different things and every mouthful was a surprise. With sauce that was way too hot and squirted unpleasantly into your mouth. He wanted the kind that you ate and then almost certainly regretted later but at the time it was completely worth it. The memories were worth it too because sooner or later, you would find yourself craving another, and never learn your lesson about what happened after.

That was not the sort of pizza you made yourself but rather the sort you ordered in a late-night fit and waited impatiently for it to arrive. There was, however, no way to get a pizza. It would involve leaving his house and thus running the risk of meeting people, before having to talk to at least the person behind the counter or ordering pizza and having to deal with the delivery guy.

He still had a little over twenty-one hours until the dreaded moment, but Virgil had made a plan, made a commitment, and he was determined to stick to it. Not to mention, if he could be be tricked into his opening his door like that, he could be tricked in any manner of way. Who knew what would happen if he opened his door? The butterfly effect was everywhere and he didn’t dare risk doing something that would upset the fragile balance he had worked so hard to build.

Which meant no glorious cheese filled nectar of the Gods, for Virgil. Sacrifices had to be made for the greater good and nothing could be greater than denying destiny as he so very badly wanted to.

He still really wanted that pizza.

Virgil shook his head roughly, as though hoping to physically dislodge the thoughts from his mind. There is plenty of food in his freezer and cupboards, he has plenty of choice and so what if he can’t have the specific thing he wanted. That was life wasn’t it, you never really got what you wanted, you just had to make do as best you can.

Idly, he swung his legs backwards and forwards, the heels of his feet connecting against his sofa as he considered his options. Virgil would have never imagined staying in his own home would be boring and yet - and yet. Here he was, not even a day into his plan and he was already yearning for something outside.

He had easily managed days, even a week in his apartment without even thinking about going to face the real world. So why was it so hard now, despite having so many choices of what to do and eat still on hand? Virgil had barely done anything today, and yet he wanted to do the one thing he knew he wasn’t supposed to.

It was probably the nerves, in all honesty. He was waiting for something, waiting for the universe to try and pull its trick on him, throw a curveball to try and destroy what little happiness he had managed to create for himself. It didn’t seem to matter that he genuinely didn’t want a soulmate. He was perfectly fine the way he was. Maybe he wasn’t perfect, maybe his life wasn’t perfect, and sure, he had bad days, moments when his anxiety would coil around his throat and squeeze so hard that he thought he might die. Times when all Virgil could do was lie on his sofa and scream into the cushions, tears flowing freely as he sobbed and struggled against all the imaginary ills of the world. His anxiety is a part of him and although he wants to have good days all the time, he knows he will never get completely “better”. There was no cure for what ails him, not beyond drugging him into becoming a zombie and Virgil would rather die than that.

Anxiety and panic attacks are his life, his reality. The thought of being tied to someone and forcing them to endure a lifetime of having to deal with that is enough to trigger a panic attack all of its own, a vicious circle that he cannot help but feed into, more and more. That was all his so-called soulmate had to look forward to, tending to someone who had far more than his share of problems.

He would never do that to another person, would never chain themselves to him.

Not to mention, while those are his bad days, his bad, terrible, quite awful days, he still has good ones. Ones where he is happy and, more than that, whole. There isn’t some person-shaped gap in his life and it’s unfair for the world to consider him an incomplete person because he has yet to meet his soulmate.

It isn’t fair that he is expected to change, and Virgil can feel his heart start to pick up at the thoughts, a tremor running through him, fingers tapping restlessly against the fabric of the sofa, his mind spinning uselessly in the giant hamster wheel that was the topic of soulmates. No matter how fast he spun, he could never escape the topic, could never move because he was stuck in one place. Forever stuck.

No, Virgil wasn’t going to think about this any longer. He knew he was an obsessive type personality, which mixed with his frequent tendency to overthink meant he couldn't help but return to a topic over and over and over again. He knew, as well, that he would come back to these thoughts, and sooner rather than later. It was highly unlikely he was going to get any sleep tonight, but that was a problem for later. His brain was hurting and it was coming close to hurting him. He had to give his tired brain a rest, before his thoughts turned back to the subject. Virgil needed to stop. He needed to stop thinking about it right now. Just for a little while.

Virgil breathed out, something slow and heavy, trying to push away the thoughts with the air, hands lifting away from the sofa and physically pushing. It was like therapist number three had said - or was it number four? Visualise the issue, create a ball of light that is the problem and then crush it. Whichever therapist that had been, they had been a big fan of crushing things. Violence had been the solution to a lot of his problems according to them. Write what you hate and burn the paper. Throw it in the river, take a pillow and beat the crap out of it. Exercise when you felt bad to get the serotonin going. All that sort of stuff, a more proactive response to the issues which had plagued him even as a child.

He had normally just felt like an idiot and his parents had quickly decided to try a different therapist to ‘cure’ their less than perfect son but he found some of the sessions stuck in his mind, even over a decade later and half a dozen therapists since.

Virgil wasn’t really sure if it helped, but he was desperate enough to try and there was nobody around to see how stupid he looked. He breathed in and then out, just as deeply as before, trying to push it all far, far away.

Food. He was going to think about food instead. That was good, that was a diverting subject in its own right. No pizza, which sucks and veered dangerously close to territory he wasn’t going to think about, but he could think about other food. Maybe he should try and be healthy, after all the junk food of snacks and popcorn he had consumed during the day. He could cook some pasta, load up on the good kind of carbs in a bid to distract himself from everything. A bowl of steaming hot cheesy pasta did sound pretty good right about now.

A sharp knock sounded on the door, jolting him from his thoughts, Virgil's head snapping upwards as he twisted around from his spot on the arm of his sofa to stare at the door, eyes blown wide.

Had the Pizza Gods heard him?

Despite himself, Virgil couldn’t help but shift a little, slipping from the spot he had been using as a seat in order to get a better view of his front door, as though he might magically gain super powers and be blessed with the ability to look through the wood in order to see whoever was on the other side. To his eternal disappointment, all he could see was the door. No super powers for him today it seemed.

The knock sounded again.

Curiosity was always his weakness, and he knew one of these days it was bound to get him into some serious trouble that he would then struggle to get out of. He knew that and yet he found himself moving towards his front door, mentally running through the various possibilities. Not that he was going to actually open the door, of course, but he could still satisfy his curiosity to the point of speaking to them through it, to find out what was going on out there.

Maybe it was Remy. Although his best friend would have surely messaged him first, he was glued to his phone and if it could be communicated electronically, then Remy would do just that. Usually with a stream of obnoxious emojis. Virgil didn’t exactly set out to be the most annoying person in the room, but there were times when he enjoyed having that title. It was a title that Remy could take off him in a heartbeat and Virgil could do nothing but bow to the master and jokingly ask to be taught his secrets.

Remy of course would always answer; one day my padawan.

It had to be somebody who lived here, because you either needed to be buzzed in - in which case they would go to the apartment they had planned to visit, which wasn’t his own since he hadn’t let anyone in - or else it was someone who lived here, which twisted back to it maybe being Remy, since he was the only one of his neighbours who actually talked to him.

Unless it was yet more carol singers and like last time, someone had let them in, and they had decided to annoy everyone in the building. Surely Virgil couldn’t be that unlucky. He reached the door - and hesitated, unsure what to do now. Maybe they had already left? It had been a little while since the last knock, long enough for most people to think there was nobody home. Yet another knock sounded almost as soon as he thought that, a voice calling through the door a moment later.

“Merry Christmas, little fella. We know that you’re in there, and that you’re all alone.”

He recognised that voice. It was... the carol singer from a few hours ago? Really? It seemed as though he was that unlucky enough, and more so besides, because out of all the possible carol singers, it was the one he had already met and was utterly insane.

Virgil blinked a couple of times, the words very slowly sinking in, the reference taking a couple of seconds longer to actually come to the surface and when he realised where it was from, he couldn’t help the snort of laughter that slipped free, Virgil instantly slapping a hand over his mouth to try and stifle the noise in case the crazy person on the other side of the door heard it.

The sensible thing would be to ignore it. To just wait until the stranger got bored and left again, so that he could have peace once more.

Virgil had never really been a fan of doing the sensible thing and it seemed as though he wasn’t about to start now, the itch to respond impossible to ignore.

“Did you seriously just quote Home Alone at me, one of the thieves’ lines no less, and think I would open the door? Anyway, I thought I told you, you’re Marv, not Harry,” Virgil called out. He wasn’t smiling. There certainly wasn’t a smile audible in his words, Virgil didn’t do smiling, he was the grumpy one who would hide in the corner, not the one who joked around, who flirted - flirted? He was most certainly not flirting, no matter what his clearly deranged brain might accidentally think.

Just because he pictured the guy as some hot dumb jock type didn’t mean the guy was hot or anything. Not that he cared either way, and all this obsessing over soulmate timers and deadlines was clearly getting to him, that he would be thinking about this kind of stuff when normally he didn’t care.

“Ah, so you know the film well then.”

There was an annoyingly triumphant tone to the stranger’s voice, as though he had won some kind of battle. As far as Virgil was aware, they hadn’t even started the fight and yet he couldn’t shake the feeling that he had lost a point or two - at least in the other’s mind. It was enough to make him forget about his minor inner crisis on his views towards the carol singer and instead focus on the actual conversation.

“Yeah, it's a classic, so what?” His tone was a little more guarded than before, waiting for the punchline, for whatever it was that the stranger had to say for himself.

“For a guy that says he hates Christmas, you sure do know a lot about it; and you called a great Christmas film, a classic.” The tone was different sing song now, clearly pleased with himself and the puzzle that he had so brilliantly solved.

Hates Christmas? When had Virgil ever said he had hated Christmas? Rapidly he thought back over the previous conversation they had had, but aside from a couple of barbs about songs, he hadn’t really said he hated Christmas... it was the season of goodwill, not of hate. Sure, he had been stomping around muttering ‘Bah Humbug’ under his breath this morning but there had been nobody around to hear that and he had gotten better as the day had progressed and he had consumed enough cups of coffee.

“Oh congratulations,” Virgil drawled, making sure his voice was as sarcastic as possible. If this was the way that the guy wanted to play it, then so be it. It was easier than having to explain the real reason as to why he wouldn’t open the door, that was for sure. “You have foiled my dastardly plot to pretend to hate the holiday. Oh, and I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for you meddling kids.”

“No need to be sassy.”

“I think you’ll find my default is either sassy, nasty or grumpy, you’re going to have to deal with it if you plan to keep stalking me like this.” Which was something Virgil most certainly did not want, no matter what any insane little intrusive thoughts might think. Was insanity catching? Had the madman on the other side of the door infected him somehow? There had to be some reason other than curiosity as to why he was indulging any of this. Boredom?

Boredom could work. He had Remy for boredom though and as irritating as the constantly sleep and caffeine deprived man was, he wouldn’t trade his best friend for anything - well, Virgil did really want a new pair of noise cancelling headphones, the proper, expensive kind... nah, the music shop didn’t take pre-used idiots as payment.

“Anyway, I have something for you.” The voice shook him from his thoughts, Virgil raising an eyebrow in disbelief. Virgil had been nothing but rude to the other guy, had been dismissive, had rejected any attempt on his part to let him sing or properly talk to him - he wouldn’t even open the door for crying out loud and still he had apparently taken the time to get him something? Who did that? Why would he do that? What was his end game here?

“That’s nice, still not opening the door,” Virgil retorted after a moment, unsure of what else to say. His voice didn’t sound quite as confident as before, a note of uncertainty entering it and he couldn’t understand what the other man’s play was here. What was his aim here, why was be being nice to Virgil of all people? It made no sense. Nobody did something nice without expecting something in return, at least not to a stranger at any rate. They had to want something back, they always did, which meant that this carol singer was after something.

Whatever it was, he couldn’t even begin to guess but there was some other motive at work here.

On the other side of the door, the carol singer gave a short little laugh, Virgil almost able to picture the way his shoulders would rock a little, his head thrown back in glee, ridiculously shining, perfect glossy hair billowing in the breeze as though he was in some perfume ad and the world had shifted to slow motion. He was infuriating and Virgil hated him a little bit. Hated himself a lot more for imagining him like that, when there was really no need to do so.

“Don’t worry Grumble all the way, you don’t need to open your precious little door for this,” the carol singer promised lightly, apparently amused by his antics instead of annoyed. Virgil couldn’t remember the last time someone - other than Remy - had been amused by his sarcastic and admittedly nasty comments at times. It made his shoulders hunch up a little, teeth on edge and the apparent niceness to the carol singer was far more frightening to him than if he had been rude like Virgil had expected. Virgil had been rude first after all, so it would have only been fair for the man to respond in kind. Instead it was kindness and he never knew what to do with kindness.

A plain white envelope was slid under the gap, skidding across the floor a few inches before resting against Virgil’s foot. He stared down at it as though it might suddenly sprout legs and leap up to attack him. Nothing else seemed to happen and so he bent down, scooping the envelope carefully back up, turning it over a couple of times, still unsure what was going on.

“Go on then,” the voice called, apparently somehow knowing that he hadn’t gotten very far at all. “Open it, let me know what you think.”

He tried to ignore how badly his hands were shaking as he carefully opened the flap, pulling out the thick card within. For a moment, there was silence. Even the carol singer on the other side of the door had fallen silent. Virgil had only known him for a little while, had only had two fairly short conversations with him and yet he had no doubt that such a moment was something rare and so should be treasured.

Then he actually looked down at the card in his hand and all thoughts about the carol singer and how annoying he was, how persistent and how very loud he really was, flew from his mind. All he could focus on was the card and the image on the front of it. It was home made, but expertly so, the drawing crisp and easy to make out what it surely was meant to be. Despite that, Virgil still found himself hesitating and as much as it it looked like... surely it couldn’t actually be what he thought it was?

“Is this... a hard-drawn card of the Ghost of Christmas Future looming over people in a rather ominous manner?” Virgil asked at last, head tilting back up to stare at the door and he didn’t even have the desire to hide the slighted awed hush in his voice. It was exactly the kind of Christmas card he would have wanted to receive, something a little spooky and creepy but still in keeping with the season and what could be more appropriate for the holidays than a card based on one of the most famous stories of all time?

“Do you like it? That’s me and my friends,” Carol singer explained, that puppyish tone returning to his voice and he seemed very eager for praise all of a sudden, as though he needed it even more than Virgil needed pizza. As if he lived off validation and sure Virgil longed to hear praise for his own work too, but he would never have thought to simply just... ask for it.

Virgil squinted down at it again, and now that the guy mentioned it, there was something unique about each of the four characters depicted under the cloak of the ghost. Two wore glasses that were similar, their gazes angled towards each other, a small hint of a smile quirking on the cheek of one as though he just couldn’t help himself. The other had no expression at all on his face, as though a spooky ghost was par for the course in his life. The one the farthest to the left had a star on his shirt, expression hovering somewhere between confused and frightened but there was a warmth to the expression all the same, something open to it, something that made you want to trust him somehow.

It was the one in the middle that Virgil found himself staring at the most however, the one that was the only one properly smiling, staring directly out of the card and at the person viewing it. It didn’t take a genius to work out that was supposed to be the carol singer himself. He looked every bit as dashing as Virgil had imagined, standing tall and proud, well built.

Was it possible for a drawing to be attractive? Not that Virgil found it attractive.

It was kind of... sweet, in a way. A lot of effort had gone into it, a lot of effort directed at him. The thought washed over him like a cold shower, sending a shiver down his back. Nobody was this nice, nobody had ever cared this much about Virgil without Virgil first putting in a lot of effort back. Not even his parents would have bothered to make him a card like this.

Or to be more accurate, certainly not his parents would have bothered to make him any kind of card.

He really hoped he wasn’t going to end up on the front page of some tacky tabloid as the latest victim in some mad serial killer’s rampage. Virgil could see the headlines now:

Local idiot emo lured to death by aesthetically pleasing card and promises of Christmas carols. Turn to page 3 for exclusive photos of his mutilated body.

With a rough shake of his head, Virgil pushed those thoughts away and opened the card, determined not to allow those kinds of dark, negative thoughts into his mind. He already gave them too much power over his mind as it was, let them torment him most nights. He refused to let those thoughts invade his waking hours as well, when he had so much to distract himself from them. Especially since he would be crawling into bed soon and they would be lurking, ready to attack him with a vengeance.

He blinked a couple of times again and this card was like an old one, two punch, first the detailed drawing on the front of the four strangers and now the cutesier drawing on the inside cover made his mind spin all over again.

“There is a dinosaur on the inside of the card, dressed as a Christmas tree, has a speech bubble and says... tree-rex.” Virgil told the stranger, as though he would have no idea of what was within a card he had made himself. The contrast was just too jarring for him not to mention it however, and hope to gain some kind of answer as to what on earth his life was turning into. The man gave another laugh.

“Yeah, Patton drew that - you remember Patton? The friend I was with before, the one who you insulted by calling a thief? Anyway, he wanted to add to the card, so he drew that on the inside for you before signing it. My other flatmates were out at the time otherwise they would have signed it too sorry.”

He was saying sorry... for that? Out of everything in this bizarre conversation, the thing he had decided to apologise for was that the card was only signed by two people? Gaze moved from the picture to the other side of the card and the small message written there in a very fancy cursive script.

Have a Meow-y Christmas!

Lots of love; R & P.

“Thanks, I hate it,” Virgil said drily and perhaps if it repeated that enough times to himself it might actually become the truth. He was not the Grinch. His heart was not going to grow a few sizes simply because someone had gone to all the effort of making him a personalised card despite barely noticing him on the misunderstanding that he didn’t like Christmas.

Not to mention a heart physically growing even one size would surely be fatal and that was the ending of the story that you never got to see. The truth behind the Grinch revealed, the truth the citizens of Whoville never wanted you to see, tonight, in Virgil’s overactive imagination. That was going to be looping in his mind for hours now, he just knew it. Even as he carried on staring down at the little message written within, he knew he was going to be thinking about exploding hearts and dead Grinch’s and all manner of truly festive... cheery... things.

No, he had to try and think of something else. Like the letters the card was signed with. P had to stand for Patton, the friend mentioned before, the really nice sounding one and Virgil couldn’t help a small twinge of guilt at how rude he had been before ruthlessly pushing it aside. This Patton would understand, he was sure, he would know there was nothing wrong in wanting to be left alone in your own house. Clearly, he knew, because he hadn’t come back with the other one. Which meant at least he had a letter to use in place of the mouthful that was ‘complete and utter lunatic moron carol singer’. R. His... not his... the carol singer was called R... something. R would do for now.

Virgil could feel his cheeks heating up and curse this carol singer, curse himself, curse the whole sorry system that had led to this mess in the first place. R seemed like a really nice guy, all of Virgil’s morbid and paranoid thoughts aside. He had come here out of the mistaken belief that Virgil wasn’t a fan of Christmas and was simply trying to bring a little joy to his life. He had made the card - apparently - just to try and make Virgil smile.

No, Virgil wasn’t having any of this. He wasn’t equipped to deal with anything that seemed remotely like feelings. Evade, evade, evade, he had to get out of this conversation, away from this thing that was too much like a moment of some kind. He couldn’t let R know that he was affected by the card, he couldn’t - he wouldn’t - give the carol singer the satisfaction that he had liked it as much as he did.

“I’m gonna go screw it up and toss it in the trash now, bye.”

The sharp intake of breath, the offended noise was like music to his ears, Virgil finally allowing himself to smile, that little knot of panic relaxing a fraction as he slipped back into the tried and tested behaviour of being an arsehole. When it doubt, lash out and hope things went back to the way they had been before, where there were no confusing feelings or complicated thoughts to deal with and no apparently handsome carol singers camped on his doorstep.

“Rude!”

“Hadn’t we already established that was exactly what I was? But I have seriously got to go dude, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

“Ugh. Fine,” R snapped after a pause, Virgil feeling more of that panic fade a little and for all that he might be rude, he knew he would never have been able to leave if he had stayed there. Not just because he wouldn’t have been able to sleep in paranoid fear as to what he might be doing lurking on his doorstep all night, but also because R had gone to all this effort, the least Virgil could do was keep him company until he got bored and wandered out of his life as randomly as he had wandered into it.

“I’ll be back though!” R threatened. “You’ve not seen the last of me.”

“Not seen the first of you either,” Virgil pointed out, reasonably enough he felt. Sure, he now had a drawing to go with the voice and what his own mind had created, but still, there could be a world of difference between the imagination and the cold hard truth of the matter. He could feel the faint stirrings of curiosity, that slowly growing desire to know how close reality was to the picture he had created within his mind. He couldn’t let it overpower him though, because no matter what, Virgil was not going to open that door. Unless R came after Christmas but there was no reason for a carol singer to come after the day itself.

It made him feel strangely... hollow, inside, to to think how finite these interactions really were.

“That’s not... that’s not what I meant! Just you wait Sulky the Snowman, I’ll get you to open this door, you will love it and embrace Christmas.”

With that parting promise? Threat? The man seemed to finally move away, Virgil straining a little to listen to the departing footsteps and the opening and closing of the front door that told him he was finally alone once more.

That guy was... weird. But maybe a little bit funny, if you liked that kind of thing.

Virgil looked down at the card, a smile twitching on his lips despite himself as he walked back into his kitchen, still staring at it as though it was some magnificent work of art that belonged in some museum somewhere for people to fawn over rather than stuck in his grubby little hands, in his dingy little apartment. He had to admit, if only to himself, that it was a real piece of art and he couldn’t even begin to imagine how long it must have taken the carol singer to actually draw. Virgil had a little talent when it came to art himself, nothing in this league of course, but enough to tell him it would have taken the other man time. This wasn’t something you could just whip up in a couple of minutes.

Briskly, he crossed through the kitchen, hand hovered over the bin, still staring at the card and the characters on it. Still staring at his mysterious R, his incredibly talented R, who had gone to all this trouble, this effort, just for him. Who thought Virgil was going to just throw it away, who had no idea how much he was - not - touched by it, how much he actually liked it. The ghost was awesome too, creepy in an understated way, all suggestion in the folds of the cloak rather than out and out body horror. It was almost a perfect card in every way.

Eyes dropped from the card to his now exposed arm and the thick black numbers still ticking down, less than a day left, his breath catching painfully in his throat. With all the excitement of the evening, Virgil hadn’t thought about his approaching doom in whole minutes. The light-hearted thoughts vanished as he stared at them, the chains they represented, the end of a life he refused to give up on.

That’s right. He wasn’t into any of this stupid stuff. He was hiding because he refused to get caught up in all this romantic nonsense and no matter how entertaining a division R was, he had to remind himself that nothing was going to come of this. He wasn’t going to let the other man win.

With a grunt, Virgil turned from the bin and focused on other matters. So, this was the game R wanted to play? Well, if he was coming back, as he promised, Virgil was going to have a surprise for him too, one that should leave him in no doubt as to who he was messing with, no doubt that he had made a mistake in trying to turn Virgil jolly.

And if he left the card sitting pride of place on his table instead of crumpled up in the bin like he had claimed, well that was nobody's business but his own.

Chapter Text

Honey and Bumble

Roman was not the type to be put off by something small like failing on your very first try. Not when he had other plans, other ideas, that he still needed to put into action.

So, his first attempt hadn’t gone exactly according to plan. That was okay though, because it would have been too easy if he had been able to sway him after one little attempt. That just proved that this was a worthy quest he had embarked on, because it had its ups and downs. It was something he would need to fight if he wanted to complete it - and oh, how he wanted to. Roman was almost burning with curiosity about what his reluctant carol... singee? What did you call someone who was on the receiving end of being sung to?

Apart from blessed, of course.

Regardless of the actual term, he was pretty much dying to know what his mysterious stranger actually looked like. He had run through the whole gauntlet of possibilities, from the fat nerd, to the tragically skinny ball of angst. He had pictured a blond, or a brunette, somewhere in between. The age in his head leapt the whole slider scale too, from a teenager barely out of high school and enjoying his first home to a man in his mid forties who was very set in his ways and knew what he did and didn’t want.

For some reason that he couldn’t put his finger on, Roman felt that the guy was probably fairly young. It was possibly the speech patterns, the use of certain words, but he found himself hoping that they were around the same age. Either way, Roman had to know. The mystery refused to give him any sort of rest, circling his mind with thoughts of his soulmate, the twin topics going around and around in his mind and it felt as though he was going mad. There had been plenty of nights in the past when he had struggled to convince his mind to switch off, to be able to wind down, and he had grown used to finding various ways around it. All sorts of efforts to try and combat it, to put himself to sleep. From drinking calming yet disgusting tea before sleep, to various meditation exercises when lying in bed, to making sure the room was at the correct temperature.

All worked to various degrees, but no matter what he tried tonight he just couldn’t drop off. It was as though he was a child on Christmas Eve all over again and far too excited to sleep because he wanted to see Santa. Except this was the night before Christmas Eve and the person he was excited to see was his emo mystery man, followed by his soulmate. It was just too exciting; with his mind running riot, Roman was unable to do little else but toss and turn and will the numbers on the clock to move faster so he could get up once more.

This time tomorrow he might be curled up with his soulmate. The thought sent a thrill through him, the idea that he might be snuggled with up close with them, whoever they were. That he might have his head on their chest, just listening to the heartbeat of the person he could finally love. It was no wonder he couldn't sleep, eagerly wishing away his last night alone. Tomorrow, everything would be better. Tomorrow, everything would be perfect.

Somewhere, around four in the morning, he finally slipped off into an uneasy slumber.

Roman woke up with renewed determination in his heart and mind, a burning desire to get through to the grump on the other side of the door. He had to find the solution to this mystery and convince him to open the door before the sun set today because that was all the time he had left before he met his soulmate, and it pained him to think of having to leave such a puzzle unsolved. The morning routine was blitzed through with more speed than usual, a few quick glances to his wrist, brushing his hair, cleaning his teeth, and generally making himself presentable. There was, at least, no need to spend time agonising over what outfit to wear, because Roman had already picked it out at one in the morning, unable to think of anything else to do.

The faded red and white sweatshirt was pulled on, Roman absently brushing his hands over it, enjoying the feel of the soft fabric against his skin, how it gave him warmth and a feeling of safety. He would have to get changed later, closer to his date with his soulmate, but right now comfort seemed the most important thing, he needed the reassurance the softness of this outfit gave him. He needed to know he could do this, and what better way than to be wrapped up in a hug the whole time?

He moved through the kitchen of his shared apartment with a practised ease, preparing his morning cup of coffee. Thoughts turned from the excitement of meeting his soulmate later, to the issue of getting through that door the emo was hiding behind now.

Eyes flickered down to the numbers on his wrist as a matter of habit, reassuring himself that they were still ticking down. The steady shift of numbers calmed him, as it always did, that single beat down, down, down. He was still on target with his date with destiny. Which meant he had plenty of time to go and annoy that emo sounding misery in the first-floor apartment.

It was time to break out the big guns. Not the biggest gun in his arsenal, for two reasons. One, Patton’s puppy dog eyes only really worked if the door was open and you could see the eyes. Two, he had already sort of spoken to Patton and somehow remained immune. Patton had made it quite clear he wasn't going back there and that as far as he was concerned there was no quest at all.

The man had asked them to leave him alone and so Patton would do just that. He hadn't seemed to have heard the hidden plea within those words, the secret message that had pressed itself on Roman's heart. He hadn't heard the silent cry for help. Roman had heard it through, had heard everything the emo hadn't said, and so Roman would follow through on his mission and bring some light to the dark world his shadowling was stuck in.

Patton wouldn't help.

Which meant the second biggest gun. Thomas. Everybody loved Thomas, the guy was just so gosh darn loveable, he had that smile which shone in his eyes and sounded in his voice, the kind of smile that you felt deep within your soul and had no choice but to respond in kind.

Even his mysterious rough voiced stranger had to love Thomas, surely. It was a little bit of a blow to his ego, to think that the emo would prefer someone over him, even someone as wonderful as Thomas but all he needed was to find that crack in the armour. Once Thomas got him to open the door, Roman was sure he would be able to keep it open, and work his way into the other man’s heart, bringing his Christmas joy to him. He would still have him singing Christmas songs - Roman would do that. Roman would have a tale worth telling.

It was easy enough to convince Thomas to come with him, his friend more than used to Roman’s antics by this point, the other man simply smiling fondly at him and following him out of the door and into the car. If only everyone was this easy to convince - but then it wouldn’t be fun if there was no challenge and Thomas was only easy to sway because he knew and trusted Roman already.

Idly, the pair of them sung along softly to the various Christmas songs that came up on the radio as Roman drove, the route already mapped out in his head as though he had driven here countless times before. With good friends and good music, it seemed to pass in a blur and before he had even really come up with a concrete plan, they had arrived on the street where his emo lived. Car was carefully parked, Roman feeling the familiar dip and swirl of nerves as if he was waiting for the curtain to rise on a new performance.

This was going to be the one, he could feel it. He rubbed his hands together before quickly pushing his sleeve up to make sure the numbers hadn’t stopped in the time it had taken him to drive over here. They were still pulsing away, still there and it gave him that added little bit of confidence, Roman knowing that no matter what happened today, that was still happening this evening.

The front door opened as they walked up the path, a young man stepping out, floppy hair hanging over large sunglasses - even by Roman’s normally dramatic standards those were big sunglasses - the shades obscuring nearly half of his face it seemed. Head was bowed a little, staring intently down at the screen of his screen, seemingly oblivious to the others. Brown satchel bounced against the side of his hip as he moved, and somehow even that seemed to have life to it, as if it was about to do its own thing.

They were about four paces away from each other with a hand flew up, a silent and petulant gesture to stop. Roman was so surprised he did just that, Thomas jerking to a stop beside him. The stranger stopped as well, staring at his phone, one hand still lifted before he suddenly made a few clicking sounds with his tongue and lowered it, staring at the two of them.

“Soooo...” The newcomer drawled, peering at Roman over the top of his shades, half of his mouth twisted into something that could have been a smile. The eyes were sharper than he expected, a piercing green that seemed to stare right into Roman, that seemed to find all his secrets in a matter of moments and judge them wanting.

“You’re the persistent carol singer? Gotta say, you are so much better looking than what I pictured dang, you are looking fine this morning. And who is this cutie?” Attention darted swiftly to Thomas who was still standing beside Roman, the man taking a little step to the side in order to examine him more closely.

“This is Thomas, a friend of mine,” Roman replied after a stunned moment and his morning had gotten very weird, very quickly. Who was this person? How did - how could - they know he was a carol singer, that he had come before? Why was he staring at Thomas so intently? He certainly didn’t sound like Roman’s emo, but Roman didn’t know anyone else in the building.

“Delighted,” The man purred, completely ignoring Roman now and extending a hand towards Thomas for him to shake. He seemed to linger in the handshake just a second longer than was really necessary, fingers brushing against Thomas’ skin as he pulled away at last.

“How did you know I’m a carol singer?” Roman asked, dragging the attention of the man back to him, his left arm lifting as he spoke, offering his hand to shake, the stranger reluctantly looking away from Thomas and back to him, taking his arm as offered. Glasses were pushed back up his face in one smooth motion after he let go, hiding those intense eyes from view. For a long second there was silence, the man's fingers darting over the lit-up screen of his phone and Roman wondered if he had lost his attention before he spoke once more, still apparently transfixed by whatever was on his phone.

“Please, who else would you be coming up to my little neck of the woods at this time of the morning? I know everyone who lives here and all their friends, you are a stranger and the only stranger around here lately has been The Carol Singer. Capital letters implicit.” The stranger grinned, smile shifting from something mysterious to a far sharper expression, mirroring his gaze from before. There was something undeniably dangerous about that expression, and if Roman wasn’t such a confident man he might have shrunk a little under it.

“I’m Remy. That’s my best friend you’ve been bugging with your little act, honey.” It was impossible to tell where the other man was looking now that the glasses were covering his eyes and he could be staring straight at him or glancing at his phone for all Roman knew.

“And what, you’re going to tell me to stop?” Roman asked slowly, feeling the faintest stirrings of panic in the pit of his stomach. What if he had been seriously annoying him? What if he hadn’t been joking about being stalked and he had complained about it to his friends? Which he clearly had. What if he had taken it further and actually logged a complaint against Roman with the police or something? Sure, Roman had wanted to ram Christmas down his throat, but he hadn’t meant literally. He hadn’t meant to genuinely harass the guy to that level.

“What? Are you kidding? This is the most entertaining thing I’ve seen all week. I’m living for it.” Remy exclaimed in glee, head bobbing up and down as giggles slipped free. The menacing expression vanished as rapidly as it had appeared, the young man slipping from a dangerous predator to an overly excited puppy in a heartbeat.

“Please, don’t stop.”

“Okay...” Roman replied slowly and if this Remy wanted him to keep trying, then all the better. He had to be doing something right.

Remy gave that same, small, knowing smile as before, the one Roman had always pictured belonging to the Sphinx or the Mona Lisa. It was the enigmatic smile that hinted at great knowledge on the part of the person giving it, and it reminded him of the stare when they had first met, how he had thought even then, that Remy knew a lot more than he was saying. This smile seemed to reinforce that. Most people - Roman included - considered that kind of smile to be romantic, one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful in all the world. A few thought it irritating, overrated.

For the first time, Roman perhaps knew what those people saw when they looked at that expression.

“Oh honey, if only you weren't about to pop...” Remy drew out the P sound at the end of the word, that all knowing smile growing.

“Pop?” Roman repeated, and the longer this conversation went on for, the more confused he got. Just when he thought he had a handle on what the conversation was about, Remy took a sharp left turn into bewildering city, next stop you have no idea what is going on station.

Remy gestured with the phone held hand towards Roman's arm and the markings clearly visible on it. Oh. He had forgotten he had rolled up his jumper to look at his timer when they had arrived here and neglected to pull it back down, leaving his numbers exposed for all the world to see. Roman couldn’t help but look at it again, tracing the numbers for a moment before pulling his sleeve back down, covering them up again.

A little over eight and a half hours left.

“I don’t flirt with attachment like that... now if you’d come last year...” Remy winked at him as he spoke. Actually winked. As if he was sharing some great secret or joke with Roman, as if yet again, he knew some great secret that Roman didn’t. Whatever it was, he wished the other man would share it, instead of looking all smug and amused by it, holding in a laugh. A blink and it felt as though the two of them were the only people in the world, as if Remy was an all wise, all knowing being who was about to impart his wisdom on Roman.

The moment passed, whatever it was, and suddenly Remy looked normal once more, phone slipping into his pocket before he turned and headed back the way he had come, fishing out his keys to open the outer door of the building before beckoning the pair forward into the warmth. Not that it was particularly cold outside thanks to where they lived but it was still nice to be indoors. He would hate to be outside for too long in the winter, even in the daytime and with a jumper on.

“Listen my little honeysuckle, I'm in a generous mood today and goodness knows, my bumble could do with a whole lot of you filling up his day, so I'm gonna let you in right now.”

Finally. Something was going his way at long last, something beyond mere words. This had to be a sign that today was going to be a good one. Remy pointed to the buzzer and the number four button.

“I'll be home for the rest of the day from about one this afternoon so if your grand plan doesn't work and you come back and need someone to buzz you back in, just push my button. But then I don't need to tell you how to do that.” Remy gave another wink as he spoke, and for someone that claimed not to flirt with people so close to meeting their soulmate he was doing a terrible job of not flirting with Roman. He had a feeling that the other man wasn’t being serious about it, something in the wink and he was back to that strange sensation of Remy knowing something.

“Thank you, Remy.” Roman meant the words, his sincerity clear in every word and really, he didn’t know why this mattered so much to him, he couldn’t explain it and he had tried. Patton didn’t understand, Thomas didn’t understand, and he was sure neither would Logan. Yet it did matter, it mattered more than almost anything else he had ever done and yet he couldn’t explain why. At least his emo’s friend wasn’t asking any questions.

Remy paused, every inch of him frozen like a statue as he stared at Roman, glasses still firmly obscuring his eyes.

“Maybe you’ll do...” Remy mumbled before turning away from Roman and focusing his attention firmly on Thomas. “You certainly would.”

“It was nice meeting you?” Thomas told him, words coming out more as a question than he probably meant. Remy giggled, taking his friend’s hand and shaking it once more, this time in farewell.

“Oh, trust me handsome, pleasure was all mine... hmmm, I could get used to this view.” Remy smirked a little as he spoke before pulling the door open yet again, slipping back outside, phone somehow in his hand once more and Roman hadn’t even seen him pull it out of his coat.

“Good luck, R.”

He was all the way down the path and no doubt halfway down the street before Roman thought to ask him what the name of his emo nightmare was. Oh well. That was part of the adventure and he had gotten the approval of the emo’s friend, that had to mean something… right?

Back to the task at hand. He lifted his hand, rapping sharply on the door. Not that Roman expected it to just open, he had learnt better than that, but it should at least get the emo’s attention.

“Morning loser.” The husky stranger called out, voice a little stilted, Roman feeling a smile stretch across his lips. Normally he had to be the one to speak first, not to mention knock repeatedly. This time it seemed as though the other man had been almost... waiting for him? Or was that too much, even for his hopeful heart.

“Good morning my chemically imbalanced romance. I trust you slept well, hopefully with thoughts of me running through your dreams.”

“Oh, thank god, it is you. I was worried I had insulted Mrs Potts across the hall but no I was right, it was just my insane stalker.” The relief was evident in his tone, the forced casualness of before dropping away. He wondered how much courage it had taken for the other man to greet him like that, to run the risk of looking like a fool if it hadn't been him. It made a swell of fondness rise in him and Roman had been right all this time, the emo did want this. He was enjoying this too, he had to be, otherwise he would hardly be joining in on the game.

“Have no fear, it is indeed I! And I brought a friend with me, to make up for him not being able to sign your card yesterday, Thomas say hello.”

“Hi, I have no idea what is going on,” Thomas said dutifully. Roman turned to look at him, eyes wide with faux hurt and annoyance, hands lifting and falling in silent communication.

“I mean... um. Hi, open the door for my friend please? He isn't a thief and simply wants to serenade you face to face?”

The emo snorted, something loud and unimpressed. “Nice try dorks, but no thanks.”

Well... that had been more of a wet squib than Roman had expected and Thomas was supposed to alter the scales, tilt things finally in his direction. The signs had all pointed to this finally being his moment and instead the emo refused to be charmed. How dare he! Roman was a very charming man with charming friends. What strange magic did the mysterious emo possess, that he could be immune to both Patton and Thomas?

“Oh, I have something for you,” the voice told him suddenly, breaking into those thoughts.

“You do?” Roman felt almost giddy at the news and he couldn't even say why. A gift. A gift for him, from his husky voiced stranger, how very thrilling.

A folded sheet of A4 paper was pushed out from under the door, rolling against the mat there before Roman scooped it up, his own hands trembling a little from pure excitement. He stared down at it eagerly, trying to pick up every little detail in the drawing there, soaking in as much as he possibly could.

What looked like a typical angsty yet chibi character was drawn carefully on the front of the card, hair covering half his face and making it impossible to make out any kind of features. There was something dark on his lips but due to the small size of the drawing it was impossible to work out if it was lipstick or just a lip piercing.

Either would be just... outstanding. The rest of the outfit was what he would have imagined, swirls of black and dark purple, some oversized boots that filled most of the legs. There wasn't much that told him what the guy actually looked like, not beyond dark hair, dark clothes, pale skin. The expected fondness for black clothing made Roman smile a little, pleased he had guessed correctly from the little hints of personality he had been able to pick up. His stranger really was a little emo. It wasn’t really Christmas themed at all, but it was still a card. It was still something that the other man had gone to all the effort of making, all for him.

Maybe he was finally getting through to the emo, maybe he was finally winning him over.

He opened it eagerly, the rustle of paper loud in the otherwise silence of the hallway, Thomas leaning over his shoulder to stare at it too.

A crudely drawn picture of a hand flicking the bird filled almost the whole space inside the card.

Beside him, Thomas broke out into fits of giggles, one hand lifted and lightly pressed against his mouth in a half-hearted effort to silence them, but they still spilled out. Thomas was supposed to be his friend, was meant to be on his side and thus helping him, not laughing at his misfortune.

“Stop it,” Roman hissed, feeling his face grow hotter and hotter. The sight of his red face just seemed to set Thomas off further, his friend almost bent double now as he laughed and laughed and laughed. It wasn't that funny.

Some part of him wanted to tear it up and march out of here right now. To give up on this adventure and call it the failure that it so very clearly is. The card, as rude as it was, sent a very clear message to anyone who saw it. Even he struggled to think of the positives that could be taken from a card like this... wait, no, he could think of one. The emo had taken the time to draw himself on the front of the card. Sure, it might have been just to make him look inside, draw him in but he could have put anything he wanted on the front and Roman would have opened it. It didn't need to be a drawing of himself, he didn't need to give him that gift to match the card of yesterday and yet he had.

There were a number of conflicting signals going on here and he didn't know which were real.

A brief, throaty laugh came from the other side of the door and instantly all of his previous frustration washed away, his good mood restored by the beautiful sound, so melodic in nature. It was all worth it, if it made his stranger laugh.

“I shall treasure it forever!” Roman announced grandly, only half joking.

On the other side of the door the emo spluttered, and he wished more than ever that he could actually see the expression, could use body language to work out if any of this was going his way or not.

“That's not - ok, fine, your funeral dude. You're a weird one, you know that, right?”

“It has been remarked on before,” Roman replied bravely, trying not to think just how many times something like that had been said about him. “Now, about my friend Thomas...”

--

R’s friend had stayed for almost twenty minutes after that which to be fair, was nineteen minutes longer than Virgil had expected him to stay. Thomas had seemed like a nice enough guy, even if neither of them had really any clue what Roman expected to happen with another person there. It had just made Virgil even more anxious and so far, less likely to open his door, no matter how sweet the man sounded. One stranger on his doorstep was bad enough, two was pretty much unbearable.

He couldn’t help but relax a little when Thomas finally left, saying something about having to pick up some last-minute food shopping, and so it was just him and R. Virgil wasn’t sure why he felt more relaxed considering R was still there and thus there was still a stranger camped outside his home. Even if R was starting to feel less and less like a stranger and more and more like... well, Virgil wasn’t really ready to put any kind of term to whatever it was the once carol singer was to him now.

“I wish you would open the door,” R said suddenly, tone wistful. “It’s weird talking to a panel of wood all the time.”

Virgil slid down his door, leaning against it and making himself comfortable. One knee was raised, arm resting on it as he stared upwards towards his ceiling and trying very hard not to think about the way R’s voice had twisted and broke a little, how it had grown softer with every word. He hadn’t realised how many cobwebs there were up there. He had no problem with spiders, the little dudes were just doing what they needed to do in order to survive. They didn’t have to worry about other people’s feelings and if they were even doing the right thing, they didn’t have to remain strong and hold true to ideals that had fuelled them all their lives. They just spun their little webs and caught their flies.

Occasionally when there weren’t enough flies to go around they would eat each other, but that was best not thought about in any great detail. Like most things in Virgil’s life.

On the other side of the door he could hear some shuffling and soft knocking against it, almost as though the carol singer was doing the same, sliding down to settle himself on Virgil’s doormat, letting the wood support him as they both apparently sat there, staring out into space.

“The card was funny,” R admitted after a moment, his voice coming from somewhere in the middle of the door. So, he had decided to join him sitting down. R really was in this for the long haul wasn’t he.

Still weird.

Virgil carried on counting the cobwebs. There was so many up there. The spiders sure had been busy, and he knew he should get the hoover out, he should clean them away because a lot of them had to be abandoned webs but at the same time some of them had to have fat little happy spiders at the centre. It felt wrong ruining their lives just for the sake of what was considered normal. It was normal to not have cobwebs.

It was normal to open the door for people.

“Yours was... okay too, I guess,” he mumbled back as the silence stretched out past comfortable and into awkward territory. It felt like it was something he should say - it was the truth after all. He wanted to admit that he hadn't thrown the card away, that it was still sat on his kitchen table where he could admire it every time he went in there. He wanted to say that he had sat there with R's card in front of him as he had worked hard on his own.

Hell, he wanted to admit that he had worked hard, on the card, that he had practised drawing a version of himself over a dozen times before he finally created a design he liked, one that he felt was worthy of his R, before carefully copying it onto the card itself. There was no way he was going to admit that he had gone to all that effort though, not in case R got any ideas. Well. Any more ideas, the other man seemed to be running in a whole different reality to Virgil’s. It seemed a nice reality, wherever it was.

“Come on, why do you seem to hate Christmas so much?” R burst out, and it was clear he had been holding onto that question for a while now. They were still on this? The man’s wrong idea that he hates Christmas? Virgil had to admire his capacity to hold onto an idea, a stubborn belief in what he thought was right.

It was all wrong though.

“It just isn’t a good time of year for me Mr Carol Singer. In fact, it is pretty much the worse time possible,” Virgil admitted softly. Okay, so he wasn’t talking about Christmas, not exactly but then the stranger on the other side of the door didn’t need to know that. The sentiment was honest enough, he had been dreading this moment for years now, almost as soon as he had worked out when his timer was due to wind down. Not for the first time he cursed whatever cruel twist of fate had decided to match him up with his soulmate at all, let alone on Christmas Eve.

He couldn’t help but think on his past, on previous Christmas, with his parents and the impossible standards they had imposed on him. He couldn't help but think how they had pointed to his mark and told him what a nice girl would be waiting on the other side. How she deserved better than Virgil in his dark, ripped clothing. For her sake he had to change - always her sake, always a woman in their minds, someone soft and quiet, someone who let the men of the family speak first, who would be content to stay at home, who would be empty to all intents and purposes, who would be a wife but not a partner, an equal, this soulmate they wanted for him.

He couldn't help but feel very sorry for their imaginary daughter in law.

It didn't change the fact that they had wanted a son who was as different to Virgil as it was possible to be or that they had used the concept of a soulmate as the stick to try and twist him into the sort of mindless son they felt they deserved. One who would be just as empty and as devoid of passion as the woman they wanted him to marry, no matter his own preferences.

Christmas Eve was a cage this year, and if he wasn't careful, the numbers on his wrist would be the lock and key, trapping him forever into that horrible reality he had fought so hard to escape from.

“Roman...”

“Roman?” Virgil repeated in confusion. Roman what? Roman costume? Roman legions? The Romans were coming? He didn’t know how to respond to that statement, it was random, even for the carol singer.

“That’s my proper name,” the singer - no, Roman - explained softly.

“Oh.”

“It felt weird, you calling me ‘Mr Carol Singer’ when it's serious talk time,” Roman added.

“Okay... Roman. I just don't want to celebrate Christmas...” Virgil trailed off, biting at his bottom lip slightly and he didn't know how to explain it, how to put all of the mess of his feelings into words, how to explain everything this day actually represented to him. No doubt Roman would be like the majority of people in the world in that he believed and loved the whole soulmate nonsense. He seemed the romantic type after all. Virgil didn't want to rant to him, didn't want to try and ruin his belief in them, if belief he had. He didn’t want to dump all his problems and emotional hang ups on R, not so close to Christmas, not when the man was going to go home sooner or later and hopefully celebrate himself.

“But you have to!”

“I don’t have to do anything,” Virgil growled, feeling defensive all of a sudden, cutting the conversation dead. If there was one thing he hated, it was someone telling him he had to do this or that, be one thing or another. He was who he was, and it was almost always a disappointment to people around him. Virgil tried to tell himself that he didn’t care. He never cared when people sighed in shock or looked surprised, never cared when they were shocked by his looks or his behaviour.

He didn’t care. He didn’t. He certainly didn’t care what Roman might think about him if he opened the door, or opened up really in any degree. He didn’t care what he might think of his name. People normally laughed at it of course, but so what. He didn’t care. Virgil lifted a hand to his mouth, chewing nervously on the thumb nail as he warred with himself and Roman had offered so much of himself without ever really demanding anything back. Well, he tried to demand that the door be opened, but that was part of the game, that wasn’t like a name or a story, or friends.

His name was such a little thing to give back, but what if... what if even that disappointed Roman? If it took away from the ‘game’ that the carol singer was apparently playing. What if he laughed. Virgil cared. As much as he hated to admit it, even to himself, he cared what Roman might think of him, and yet he wanted to risk it.

“My name is Virgil!” He blurted out before he could talk himself out of it. Silence filled the space between them, Virgil feeling himself cringe and curl up into a tighter ball and no, no, no, this had been a mistake, what was he thinking get caught up in this fantasy?

“A wonderful name.” Roman breathed at last, Virgil blinking rapidly as the realisation dawned on him. He... he hadn’t laughed. Something fluttered bright in his chest, stealing his breath in a positive way and Virgil didn’t have a name for the strange not panic that was building up in his chest, a weird yet perhaps wonderful kind of pressure that he only half wanted to stop.

“So how long are you going to darken my door today Roman?” Try as Virgil might, he couldn't completely hide the hope in his question, the male feeling himself flush in embarrassment at how pathetic and obvious he sounded. Roman laughed but it didn’t feel vicious or aimed at Virgil but rather with him somehow. It settled Virgil's nerves once more.

“I have to go pick up Logan at three, but I’m free till then.”

“Logan huh? I don’t think you’ve mentioned him before.”

“He’s my final roommate, he’s been out of town the past week. Patton is busy putting together a not at all surprise, surprise welcome back party. He does it every time and Logan always acts surprised. I think Patton knows full well that he isn't surprised, but Patton likes throwing the parties, making the cake and showing his love. Logan hasn't complained yet.”

Virgil couldn’t help but feel a small pang of... something, within his chest as he listened to Roman chat so easily about his friends and the random things they got up to, the easy way in which they all showed their love for each other.

Sure, he had Remy. The majority of the time, Remy was all he wanted too, and one good friend was more than enough for him. He would rather have one friend he knew he could trust rather than a larger circle of people he knew but didn't feel that close to. Remy was better than a whole host of friends - something Remy never failed to remind him and something Virgil would toss right back at him. Their love was something on a completely strange and unique level.

It did sound kind of nice though, to have multiple people caring about you. Actually caring about you as a person and not simply because they were meant to through blood or obligation. A soulmate was an obligation, was someone who was supposed to care because they had to, and not what he wanted in a love.

It didn't matter anyway. A few more hours and it would all be over, and he would be free of society's expectations.

Chapter Text

The Final Countdown

He had pulled up to the train station only fifteen minutes late; for Roman, this wasn’t his worst performance ever. It had been far too easy to lose track of time when chatting to Virgil through the door and in the end it had been the emo himself who had pointed out the time and asked how long it would take to reach whenever he had to go in order to pick up his friend at the right time. That time being... longer than he had to make it there on time. Logan would not appreciate him breaking speed limits or other road safety laws just to be punctual, no matter what.

Logan also probably wouldn’t appreciate having to wait but he was in a lose-lose situation, so Roman went with the one that was less likely to kill him in a horrible car accident and left him open to nerd related revenge instead. That way was at least slower, and he had a chance of somehow getting out of it if he could work out a way to appease an angry Nerd God. Calling Logan a Nerd God was probably good start, he just had to build on that.

At least Logan hadn’t seemed too annoyed when he had finally shown up, simply giving a little huff like sound and entering the car, although it was always hard to tell with Logan exactly what he was thinking. The man was like a stone wall at times, as annoying and as hard headed as anything, without giving away any hints as to what might be going on behind those battlements. Angry, delighted or just plain indifferent, Logan always had the same infuriatingly calm look on his face.

Unless you pushed him too far of course. As entertaining as that was, it was never a good idea to get anyone - especially Logan - worked up to such a point, not when they were contained in a small car. He had avoided any accidents on the ride over here, he really didn’t want to get into a crash on the way back because he had decided to poke a sleeping, maybe grumpy, bear.

Without anything to distract him, Roman couldn’t help but think back to the previous few hours. Time had flown by so fast as he had sat there chatting with Virgil, the emo revealing a sarcastic yet tender side to him that he would never have guessed based on their previous half shouted words. His conversation this afternoon with Virgil had been... illuminating, to say the least. While he was still no closer to understanding just why the emo had decided to lock himself in his home for the run up to Christmas, he had found out a lot of interesting things about the man himself. A lot had been skipped over, of course, talk about love or his family were strict no go areas, letting Roman know that many things had hurt Virgil in the past.

And yet Virgil was still standing tall, unbroken by his agony. He was so brave. So strong, even if Roman was sure that the other man didn’t see it. It was always easier to see strength in someone else over yourself.

The past was a battlefield of scars, a reminder of everything that you had gone through in order to reach today. Some good, some bad. Certain people had it worse than others, with a little good and a lot bad, smoking craters that showed bombs they had only just managed to avoid in the nick of time. Every gash and trench was evidence of survival, as hard as it might be to look back and see anything good in the churned-up mud and blood left behind.

In Virgil’s case, it seemed as though the battle was still being waged, something long and bloody that cast its shadow deep into his present.

Roman had thought once he started to piece together the mystery, he would lose a little interest. Not all the way of course, but normally once he started actually getting what he wanted he would calm down and stop obsessing over it to such a degree because at least he was starting to get the information he had wanted and needed. It was like an itch that needed scratching and you were half way through. Sure, you still had that itch, but it was being satisfied at the same time and you knew something was being done with it. That was how it was meant to work, pleasure and relaxation the further you go. Not with Virgil though. Never with his strange little emo.

Virgil was still as mesmerizing as he had been the night before. More somehow, now that he had a name to go with the drawing he had been gifted. There was so much still hidden, some much he wanted to learn still, as if his thirst for knowledge had become a desperate need and no matter how deeply he drank, the need just grew and grew.

Fingers drummed against the steering wheel, idly tapping out the opening beats to This is Halloween, eyes flickering between Logan sat beside him and the lights that seemed to want to stubbornly remain red the majority of the time, only letting three or four cars through in one green light before it flickered back to red.

Thoughts turned back to Virgil more and more as they crawled through rush hour traffic and what felt like endless queues and endless red lights. It was going to take them forever to get back home at this rate. It was alright for his passenger, Logan seemed perfectly content to simply sit there and let the time pass, his head in a book but then he didn’t need to focus on the road, he could read and be distracted. Roman couldn’t exactly open up the latest fantasy novel he had been reading and let the tedium of the road fall away, not when he was the sole thing between them a painful accident.

Briefly, Roman considered putting the radio on, letting the car be filled with the sound of music. Anything, to drive out the silence. If there was one thing Roman was bad at, it was handling silence. There was too much that was being said in silence, too much he could read in the moments between words. By and large, he knew that silence with Logan was not a bad thing, that his friend wasn’t actively judging him - Logan never had any problem with telling him when he was being judged, something Roman strangely appreciated. He almost always knew where he stood with Logan and that was a very rare thing indeed.

Music would mean singing. He didn’t want to sing right now, his mind was too busy, too full of all these thoughts and while music would relax him, he might forget something important. Roman didn’t want to forget a single thing about Virgil.

Still, he couldn’t help but try and full the silence a little, just to dull its effects somewhat, to pass the time while they were stuck in this car. Not with music, but with words. Plus, he needed to work through the various random thoughts in his head, letting them form sentences as they wanted, just to say something. He hadn’t really taken much notice of what he was even saying until Logan lifted a hand, his other going to his nose to pinch at it. The motion was enough to make Roman stop talking, his attention split between his friend and the road in front of them, cars slowly starting to move once more.

“Roman,” Logan began, voice level. “I swear to all things Crofter related if you don’t stop gushing about this Virgil character, I will jump out of this car while it is still moving and take my chances in oncoming traffic.”

“I wasn’t gushing!” Roman protested, ignoring the way his cheeks felt a little warmer, as he thought back to what he had been saying and how so much of it had been Virgil related - Virgil said this, Virgil had laughed at that, I want to be his friend and I don’t even know why. “Anyway, don’t be silly Logan, you would be stuck twenty miles from the apartment with no way to get there, and that's not very logical is it?”

“I will call an Uber. They will be able to deliver me home or to the nearest hospital as needed,” Logan replied without missing a beat, as though he had already planned that far ahead. Knowing his friend, he probably already had the app open and was a click away from calling them and accepting his fate. It was a drastic move more on par with Roman’s personality, to fling yourself out of a car just to prove a point, but Logan had said he would do it and if there was one thing that Roman had learnt it was never to doubt Logan when he claimed he was going to do something. It was just the sort of thing he would do, simply to be in the right.

And they called Roman the over dramatic one.

“Traffic is on average rather slow today, my chances are good,” Logan added, eyeing the cars outside carefully.

“Fine, I’ll stop going on about him, I guess.” Roman knew he sounded like a petulant child who had been denied his shiny new toy, but he couldn’t bring himself to care; this was the most exciting thing that had happened to him in a very long time and now he was being banned from enjoying it properly because he couldn't share his excitement out loud.

Silence filled the car as they finally turned, slipping away from the heaviest artery of traffic and started to move through side streets which were thankfully far less busy as they drove along them. At the next corner sat a garage, a car half pulled apart in the open space before it, its side slightly bent as though something had impacted against the vehicle. Staring at it reminded Roman of one of the many topics he and Virgil had touched upon during today's conversation.

“Virgil refuses to learn to drive, he says he knows his own weakness and flaws, his car would just end up in a place like this within a couple of weeks. He had one lesson he said and someone managed to rear end him. Who rear ends a learner when they aren’t even moving! Poor guy, he isn’t exactly the luckiest when it comes to things like this.” A fond smile twitched on his lips at the thought and he could almost picture it, the frustration and resignation spilling across the still pencil drawn dimensions of Virgil’s face.

“Ro-” Logan began, but Roman wasn’t listening, still thinking about how much Virgil was missing out on by not knowing how to drive. There were so many places he couldn’t go, so many trips he couldn’t make - the emo wasn’t keen on public transport either, at least not for long journeys and Roman certainly couldn’t blame him for that.

“Maybe next year he could learn, I could try and convince him, it would be fun. I bet Virgil would turn out to be awesome at driving a car, all he needs is a little encouragement.”

“Right, that is it. Where does he live?”

“Oh, good idea Logan,” Roman replied, visibly brightening as he turned the corner, taking them away from the direction of home and back towards the apartment where Virgil lived. “Maybe you will be able to convince him to open the door, you’re good at all that... reason... stuff. He seems immune to Patton and Thomas, so brains over emotions has to be the way to go right?”

“Right,” Logan told him, voice as dry as kindling. Roman didn’t really care though, all that mattered was that they were going back to see Virgil again. It had been less than two hours since he had left and already Roman found himself missing him, wanting to go back and check on his... friend.

Friend didn’t seem to really do it justice however but Roman wasn’t really sure what other word he could use to describe the blossoming relationship between himself and the other man.

Maybe after the party he could ask Logan for some other words, the walking thesaurus had to have something within his memory that would fit when he heard it, the word that would make Roman know that it was them.

Maybe even, with the help of Logan, he could convince Virgil to come to the not at all a surprise, surprise party that Patton should have ready by now. He would like to see the emo in a social setting, see how he reacted to his friends once face to face with them and not hiding behind a door. Virgil would surely crumble further faced with the twin puppy dog eyes of Thomas and Patton, and agree to be best friends forever with all of them before he even knew what was really happening, which sounded like a wonderful outcome for everyone involved.

He would just like to see the emo.

With Logan’s help, surely finally - finally - he would be able to do just that, Roman pulling up a few car lengths down from the apartment block Virgil lived in. He was out of the car in a matter of moments, almost bouncing on his heels as he waited for Logan to carefully get out as well.

“Toss me the keys,” Logan instructed, Roman not even thinking and doing just that. Effortlessly, Logan caught them one handed, walking around the car and climbing into the driver's seat that Roman had just left.

“What... what are you doing?” Roman stammered, suddenly struck by the feeling he had been tricked and possibly even betrayed.

“I, am going home. I am tired and I want my soulmate despite the terrible... surprise party he will no doubt have planned for me. It is part of his charm and I will endure it because I love him and he puts up with my eccentricities in turn.” Logan informed him, key inserted and smoothly turning the engine on. Logan was just going to leave? But he hadn’t even met Virgil yet, he hadn’t tried to aid Roman in his all important, all engrossing quest.

“What about me?”

“You, are going to go and try and convince this Virgil to open his door again because it has been a single car ride and I cannot handle hearing any more about this. Work out how to get it open before your friends - i.e. me - kill you in a tragic accident that will never be proved as murder.” With those words, Logan snapped the door shut and simply began to drive away. Roman stared after him, mouth still half hanging open and surely... surely not even Logan would be so brutal as to leave him here? Not after Roman had gone to all the effort of picking him up from the train station in the first place. It was better than Logan leaping out into the middle of traffic of course, but not by much. Now it was Roman who was without any transport and would have to either call an Uber or walk home.

His car turned the corner at the far end of the street and vanished from view, Roman still staring after it. This was just... this was just Logan proving a point surely. He was just trying to make Roman listen, rub his nose in... whatever it was that he was trying to do. He was trying to teach him something, of that Roman was sure. Maybe Roman shouldn’t have talked about Virgil quite that much after all. He turned, staring down the opposite direction to where Logan had vanished, waiting for him to reappear. All Roman had to do was wait for Logan to drive around the block and then the nerd would show up again. Any moment now. Any... moment... now.

His little car did not speed back into view.

Roman eventually had to admit to himself that Logan probably wasn’t coming back.

He turned his head to look up at the building, suddenly feeling rather unsure about the whole situation. It had only been a couple of hours since he had left after all and for all that Virgil joked and called Roman a ‘stalker’, he had no desire to actually be seriously labeled as one. With the amount of time he had spent here, Roman couldn’t help but feel as though he was hovering dangerously close to that line.

Perhaps he should just head home. It was getting late after all and there were plenty of things he needed to do, not least of which was join in with the party that Patton had organized, because it would come with those delicious little tiny cakes that were a Patton speciality. They would be gone in a matter of minutes and unless someone thought to save Roman some he was probably going to miss out on the best part of the party.

God, he loved those tiny little cakes. They were so moist and creamy, a delicious blend of cake and icing, all perfectly proportioned so you could eat it all in one delicious bite and burst of flavour. They sounded a lot more appealing than standing on a mat trying to convince a stranger to open a door. Even if they were all gone, there would be other delicious baked treats and other things he needed to do before Christmas dawned properly.

In fact, Roman was sure there was a pretty big thing he was supposed to be doing, but he had spent the whole day either talking to or talking about Virgil and it was hard to convince his mind to focus on anything else when it was still running with all the thoughts he had on the other man and the mystery of why he so stubbornly refused to be charmed by the spirit of the season.

He hoped Virgil was okay, that there wasn’t some dark and depressing reason as to why he didn’t want to let the joy of Christmas into his heart.

From what he knew of Virgil already, it was either something super deep and dark, that would give him nightmares if he learnt of it, or it was the smallest, tiniest most petty of reasons possible. There was very little in between when it came to Virgil, the man swung from one extreme to the other.

It was a little over fifteen minutes walk back to his own apartment, a nice enough stroll during the day but it wouldn’t be long before the sun started to set and despite wearing a coat and living in Florida, Roman would not like to wandering around in the dark in December. It would get cold very fast and not the fun kind of brisk, enjoyable cold where you could watch your breath and think of hot chocolate and warm fires. Rather it was the kind of dark endless cold where you could easily forget there was anything good and warm waiting for you at the end of your journey. The kind which chilled you to the bone and left you miserable.

He had no desire to be caught in that kind of weather, which meant he really should head back now. After all, the walk would clear his head and he could start to work on some kind of payback for Logan ditching him here.

Unless this was the revenge for being late in the first place. Which was... well, fair but still, it was a low blow on his friend’s part and required a response of some kind which would spiral into a prank war until Patton eventually put an end to it, as he eventually, always did.

His choice made, Roman turned away from the apartment, intent on getting back home where it would be warm and dry and he could try and chill on his thoughts about Virgil.

“There you are!” A hand wrapped itself around his wrist, almost yanking him off the pavement and into the bushes before he was pulled out the other side and rapidly dragged up the path towards the by now familiar apartment building. It took his brain a few seconds to catch up with himself and realise the voice - and by extension, the hand - belonged to Remy, the man he had met earlier in the day.

“I was starting to think you were going to be late!” There was an almost manic glint to those green eyes, shades dipped low as Remy dragged him up the path, Roman too bewildered to even think about pulling his hand free, simply following as he was bundled through the front door and into the inside of the apartment complex where he finally let go, spinning to face him head on.

Remy gave him a critical look over, clicking his tongue against his cheek as he examined him, Roman self consciously tugging his coat a little closer to cover the faded sweater.

“Well... you’re not perfect but you will have to do I suppose...” Remy mumered, mostly to himself, still staring at him over his large sunglasses. Were those things permanently stuck to his face or something? The sun was due to start to set any minute now and yet here was Remy, inside, still wearing the odd oversized things as if they somehow aided his vision. “Are you ready?”

“I... what?” Roman stammered, feeling as lost as it was possible to be. He had only interacted with Remy twice now but both times had been a bewildering experience with Roman being tossed first this way and then that in the currents of Remy’s words, buffeted by waves and no paddle in sight. Remy sighed, sound long and drawn out, a dramatic noise that seemed to fit the dramatics of the day perfectly.

“You’re here to try and get my bumbl... my emo friend to open the door, right? So, go on, what are you waiting for? You need to knock on the door if you plan to get him to open it; he is many things, but psychic isn’t one of them. He can’t know you’re here until you do.”

“I dunno,” Roman replied doubtfully, shifting a little from foot to foot. “I’m not actually a stalker you know, and I have been here for hours today, I was thinking about maybe leaving him in peace until after Christmas...”

It would mean he had failed and not brought the joy of Christmas to Virgil, but it would also mean he wasn’t harassing the poor guy which had to be the better thing surely. Remy lifted a hand to his face, rubbing at his chin for a moment before shaking his head in disagreement.

“Oh, for the love of... you have to do it! It has to be you! Look, I probably shouldn't say this but...” Remy leaned forward, a conspiratorial air to him and despite himself Roman couldn’t help but lean closer in turn. Sure, he didn’t want to be labelled a stalker but who could possibly say no to learning a secret? Especially if it could help him and he was lucky, he had to admit, that Virgil’s friend seemed so keen to aid him. The why didn’t really matter in that moment. Not when Remy was talking again, sharing his apparent wisdom.

“You want him to open the door? Sing Mistletoe by Bieber, you know the song, right?”

“I know it...” Roman almost wished he didn’t, but Patton liked Bieber and really, once you got past all the more negative aspects of him, he wasn’t that bad - he certainly wasn’t the worst one out there although Roman was hardly going to be joining any line to get into a concert to see him.

“So sing it, he hates it. Trust me, he hears that and he will open the door just to get you to stop.”

“Or he’ll just leave his hallway and go into another room where he can’t hear me and never answer my knocks again,” Roman retorted and that felt like a more realistic option. He had no doubts that Virgil was stubborn enough to do that. If he decided to cut Roman out of his life, then there would be little he would be able to do to stop him. Looking back, it was amazing he had gotten this far with him, that Virgil had indulged him when it would have been far easier to simply stay away from his front door.

“Nah, he likes you too much for that. Trust me R. I’m a very trustworthy person, everybody says so,” Remy assured him. Roman continued to stare at him, that same, doubtful look on his face as he watched the other man and was it too much to hope that he was right? That Virgil did like him and that was why he was playing along?

“Do they?” Roman had come up with a lot of words that he could have used to describe Remy in the brief periods he had thought about him - and thus not about Virgil. Trustworthy was not one of them. There was a prankster god vibe about the sunglass wearing man, something that spoke of eons past and a wisdom that stretched far beyond the mostly empty coffee cup in his hand - a coffee cup? What had Remy been doing before he had all but leapt on Roman? If he was drinking coffee then he should have been inside his own apartment, not lurking near the street as if lying in wait.

“Of course they do. You gotta take a chance, honey, you can do this.” Remy flashed him a brilliant bright smile as he spoke, all white teeth of a predator, that for some reason was trying to help him. He... could, couldn't he. He could do this. Roman didn’t know exactly where this sudden surge of courage was coming from, but he was going to ride this wave for as long as it lasted, hopefully until he reached the safety of the shore.

“Yeah... yeah, okay. I’ll try.”

“That’s the spirit! Go for it honeysuckle, don’t mind me.” Remy darted up the stairs that led to his apartment as he spoke, the whole floor above shrouded in darkness, the young man vanishing into the gloom.

All Roman could think to do was stare up after him, mouth opening and closing, the abruptness of the ending making his head spin. He was well aware that he looked like a fish but what else was he supposed to do when Remy had quite literally vanished into darkness? Still wearing darkened glasses, he had just walked into even darker blackness without even the light from a phone to guide him.

A few moments later he reappeared a few steps down, impatiently gesturing Roman towards Virgil’s door, an unusually serious expression on his face. He didn’t move until Roman did, making sure he was knocking and then disappearing back into the darkness. Roman had a strong suspicion however, that Remy hadn’t gone far. If he wasn’t much mistaken, the green-eyed monster of a man was watching from the shadows. Which was... confusing but when he added it to the list of other things that confused him about Remy, it barely even made the top ten.

Thoughts of Remy were easily pushed aside by the sound of movement from inside the apartment, a gentle knock against wood and then a low voice calling out to him.

“Hello?”

“Virgil! It is I again, the prince of your dreams,” Roman announced grandly, pushing aside any nerves he might have about showing up so soon after last time. Remy seemed eager to see him and it was all probably fine - the song might even work and then it truly would be a Christmas miracle.

“Nightmares maybe,” Virgil replied without missing a beat and that was one of the many things that Roman really liked about him, how he could give as good as he got. He constantly kept Roman on his toes with his responses and was never afraid to fight verbally with him. It was invigorating. He would be a great friend. If only Roman could break down the walls Virgil had so stubbornly insisted on building around him.

“I have another surprise for you.”

“What... another card?”

“Something much better than a card,” Roman promised, and there, in the pit of his stomach, there it was. The familiar swoop of the bottom of it dropping out as though he was in a fast elevator or on some fairground ride. Even after all this time, the nerves before a show never got any easier to deal with and this was one of his more important performances.

Roman offered a silent prayer to any imaginary god that might be listening before opening his mouth and belting out the first few lines of the song.

“What... no... no, no stop, not this, anything but this!” Roman didn’t want to get to ahead of himself and maybe it was just his imagination but mixed in with the horror, he could have sworn that there was a hint of laughter mixed in with the pleas. At the very least, Virgil didn’t sound mortally offended by the song choice so maybe there was hope for him after all. He sang louder.

“Wait... hang on I’ll be right back!” Virgil called out his voice growing ever so slightly muffled as he moved away from the door, Roman pausing in his singing at that, his nerves suddenly growing. If Remy was to be believed, the song should make the door open, which meant Virgil should be coming closer, not moving away and retreating to rooms where he could very easily ignore any sounds from outside.

“Okay...” Roman mumbled after a pause, even though there was no way Virgil could actually hear him. At least he was coming back, he said he would. Roman didn’t think he would be that cruel to lie to him - Virgil had always been honest, sometimes brutally so with his intentions.

He couldn’t help but lean forward just a fraction, straining to catch any sounds and hints as to what Virgil could possibly be doing. Faint noises of things being moved as though Virgil was looking for something, items bouncing against the floor as they were discarded came to him, followed by... the sound of running water? Then the sound of footsteps returning.

“I’m back! And I have a water pistol so don’t you even think about singing any more of that terrible song or I will end you.”

Roman cocked his head to the side as he took in that new information. Remy had been right, Virgil really hated it, hated it enough to threaten to dose him with water just at the sound of it. Of course, if he wanted to use that water pistol, he would have to open his door. Roman wasn’t sure if Virgil had worked that out yet or not. Maybe he hadn’t thought that far ahead. Or maybe this was all just an excuse so he would have a reason to forget whatever promise he had made to himself and actually let Roman into his life and embrace whatever he was trying so hard to avoid.

He hoped it was the later reason.

Roman grinned and opened his mouth, belting out a few more lines to the song, even louder and more enthusiastic this time, not caring if anyone else heard him singing a Justin Bieber song, not even caring if Remy was on the stairs filming this whole thing - it was a small price to pay if it meant that Virgil was finally going to open that door.

“Okay! Okay, geeze, if it make you stop singing that song I’ll open the damn door for you!” Virgil called out before he even finished the chorus, Roman literally bouncing on his heels in sheer joy, his heart pounding.

“Really?”

“Yeah but don’t forget I still have my water pistol and I’m not afraid to use it!” Virgil threatened. As if Roman cared. He would happily take a faceful of water if it meant he finally got to put a face to the name and voice he had grown to know so well.

Roman lifted a hand to brush it through his hair, trying to still his suddenly jittery nerves. It was Virgil. Just Virgil. Virgil who he had been trying to impress for days now, Virgil whose laugh was possibly the most beautiful thing he had ever heard. Just Virgil, everything was fine, everything was okay, Roman exhaling heavily as his gaze shifted automatically to his arm, movement freezing mid motion as his brain caught up with everything.

Eyes widened, staring at the numbers peeking out from his sleeve. In all the excitement, the joy of trying and actually succeeding in getting Virgil to open up his door, he had let himself forget that his timer was going to run down this very evening.

That was the very important thing he knew he had to do, the thing that had hovered on the edge of his awareness before being swept away by a hand on his wrist and the thought of a door opening at long last.

He had forgotten he was destined to meet his soulmate and it was about to happen. Roman had spent his whole life waiting for this moment and had managed to get distracted minutes before it was due to happen, had somehow been swept away by his adventure and quest that he had managed to overlook the most important moment of his life, almost to the point of disaster.

Frantically, Roman glanced around him, straining for any sort of hint as to what he was supposed to do now or where he was supposed to go. Somewhere, so very close was his soulmate and he had to make the right choice to meet them but should he go upstairs? Outside? Stay here? There was nobody. There was nobody here, his heart pounding faster and faster, the same thought looping in his mind, reaching a screaming fever pitch; what was he supposed to do?

Should he run back to the street, he still had nineteen seconds, he might make it on time and there would be a stranger walking past surely, and that stranger would turn out to be his soulmate. Who was going to see him panting and panicking and... oh no. He was still wearing his faded old jumper from this morning; he had never gotten around to getting changed. His soulmate was supposed to see him at his best and instead he was wearing a random top that normally he wouldn’t even leave the house in, and his coat couldn’t hide its faded, aged appearance. He looked like such a scruff and this was terrible.

This was wrong, this was all wrong and Roman didn’t know what he was meant to do. Thoughts were rushing through his mind at what felt like a thousand miles an hour, or else time had stretched as if encased in amber, each second dragging out to be an eternity. Not that it really helped him, it just made the agony last longer, made him fear what he had to be losing any moment now.

Was it possible to miss your soulmate?

He breathed out, something shaky and uncertain, his whole frame feeling as though it was being tossed like some leaf on the wind, trying to push down those thoughts. No, no, that wasn’t how it worked. This couldn’t actually be the wrong place because it was the right time. He had never read of anyone missing their soulmate and he had read a lot on the subject.

Fate doesn’t make mistakes, all the books, all the stories of those he knew who had met their loves, they all said the same thing. This - somehow - was right, this was his moment. He was meant to be here, of all places, for some reason. Here was where it was going to happen. Even though there was nobody here and he was down to eight seconds left.

Right now, what Roman needed was a real, honest to god, miracle.

The click of a lock had his frantic eyes snapping back to the door that was slowly creaking open as though it weighed a lot more than it looked and in his terror he had slipped from one extreme to the other, forgetting that he had finally coaxed Virgil into opening the door and accepting the blessing of the season, that he had ‘won’ his battle and Virgil had conceded defeat.

Virgil.

There was Virgil.

Just Virgil.

He had never been ‘just’ anything and now Roman was about to... holy hell, he was about to meet him. He... was it him? It had to be him. Roman was sure his heart had to be beating so loud that everyone in the apartment complex could hear it. Forget singing, all they would hear was the drum of his heart as it strained and burst against his ribcage, hope filling every inch of him.

It had to be Virgil. More than that, Roman found himself hoping that it was Virgil, that the funny, sarcastic emo he had grown to know over the past day or so was really the person he was destined to spend the rest of his life with. Someone who could match him, who could make him laugh and wasn’t afraid to say what he thought. Somehow who had clearly been hurt in the past yes but had kept going. Roman could think of no greater honour than the idea that destiny might have chosen him to be Virgil’s partner.

If it was him.

Every nerve in his body was screaming, Roman holding his breath, still frozen in place, his hand half through his hair. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the numbers ticking down on his wrist, the stark blackness of them grounding him in this moment as the door was pulled further and further back, a shape starting to form before his eyes.

Three...

Two...

One...

Chapter Text

Love is an Open Door

Zero.

A man stood in the doorway, armed with a bright yellow water pistol. It was a splash of colour in an otherwise darkened setting, and in any other time and place Roman might have found his eyes drawn and caught by it as it was no doubt intended to do so. Now though, now he barely took any notice of it beyond the fact that it was there and aimed at him. That didn't really matter.

All Roman could do was stare, mouth open as he drank in the sight of the man. Of Virgil. Of his soulmate. Roman had spent countless hours daydreaming about what the man would look like - or woman, but even as a teenager, he had hoped the other half of his soul would be male. He had pictured all manner of possibilities, a lot of the time basing his daydreams around whichever celebration he had currently been crushing on because he could imagine no hotter person than that.

Now he realised all those dreams were nothing but the palest possible reflection compared to the real thing, compared to the wonder that was Virgil.

At first glance he seemed around the same age as Roman, skinny to the point that he was hovering on too thin, and he could feel his inner Patton just wanting to shove any amount of home cooked food down his throat to fatten him up a little. Not that it was unattractive, lanky perhaps was the word to describe it, lanky and yet a few inches shorter than Roman who was much more solidly built.

Dark hair that was dyed an even darker purple at the tips covered his eyes, just as in his drawing, making it impossible to really get a good look at them, certainly impossible to make out the colour but there was some form of makeup around them, darkening them and without the hair in the way he was sure they would have popped. Roman had been right about the lipstick, a dark colour staining them, a shade of purple to match his hair. His clothing was a strange patchwork of black and purple, purple boots, black trousers, an oversized hoodie that had both colours woven through it.

Virgil really liked purple, it seemed. Roman was coming to appreciate it as well.

All in all, the drawing had been remarkably accurate for a tiny chibi, capturing a little piece of what Virgil looked like and yet even that hadn’t done the emo any real justice. He was beautiful, the sort of beauty that seemed to grow ever more pronounced the longer Roman stared at him. Looks put together with the personality he had come to get to know and Roman already knew he was in love.

Virgil was breathtaking.

“Roman? Hello... earth to Roman, you in there dude?” Virgil’s voice was half teasing, half concerned, a hint of something in his voice that implied perhaps he felt something for him that was more than annoyance at a persistent weird guy knocking on his door at all hours of the day.

Roman swallowed heavily, eyes flickering back to his wrist, just to make sure that this was real. He had quite literally dreamed of this moment time and time again but never in such detail, never with someone like Virgil in front of him. And never in any of those dreams, had he been able to even see his timer, almost as though his mind refused to create that level of detailed fantasy, as if it had known that upon waking the reality of it not being true would have been too crushing for him to bare.

The timer was stopped at zero.

Virgil lifted his free hand to push some of his bangs away from his face, Roman getting a proper glimpse of his eyes for the first time, strange, enchanting eyes that were as unusual and as captivating as any other part of him. His left eye was green, his right brown and they were beautiful. Those same eyes flickered to Roman’s lifted arm, narrowing and then widening in undisguised shock as he looked at him. Frantically, Virgil looked down at his own arm and pushed up the sleeve of his hoodie, his own timer visible, Roman able to read it even from his still frozen pose.

It was stopped at zero too.

Any lingering doubts about if this was really happening was swept away by that, by the simple fact that Virgil’s timer had reached its end point as well.

For a heartbeat, everything was still and perfect. Just like in his dreams, when they would stare at each other and the world would begin anew. Roman smiled, something warm, hopeful and this was so much better than anything he had imagined, his soulmate was impossibly hot and impossibly wonderful.

Virgil didn't smile back.

Why... why didn’t Virgil smile back? The timer reaching zero was supposed to be something wonderful in everyone’s life, and Virgil clearly already liked him so this should have been a graceful and perfect step forward.

His own smile cracked a little around the edge, Roman feeling it shatter a little as he took in more details, tiny little things that told him all was not as perfect as he had hoped, dreamed, even expected.

Virgil’s face was already pale, a mixture of foundation and the contrast against his darker makeup but Roman swore that it somehow got a few noticeable shades lighter, whiter. His eyes were still wide with shock and perhaps, just perhaps, tinted with the tiniest bit of fear. Roman hoped he was imagining that part, because it was almost too monstrous to even conceive. Why would his soulmate be afraid of him?

“I... I forgot...” Virgil breathed, still staring at his own arm in shock. A light, throaty laugh slipped from Virgil's mouth as he stood there. It was different from the happy noises he had managed to tease from him when there had still been a door between them, and this laugh made him shiver a little, something cold running down his spine.

It was airy, almost ethereal - and terrifying.

It reminded him of a performance of the play Macbeth he had once witnessed, with the best Lady Macbeth he had ever seen. She had floated through her later scenes with a barely-there grace, detached somewhat from everything going on around her. The actress had laughed like that too, at the end. Something deceptively light and innocent and yet bloody despite it. He had never truly believed in her character’s descent into darkness until that performance, that laugh.

It had been madness touched. Just like Virgil’s laugh.

“I forgot,” Virgil repeated, voice as soft as before. This was all wrong, this was all wrong, and everything in him was screaming that he needed to do something, anything to make that voice change, to make Virgil happy once more. Not that Roman had any idea as to what he could possibly say but then he wasn’t going to let a tiny detail like that stop him from doing what had to be done. He swallowed heavily, trying to dislodge the painfully large lump that seemed to have formed in his throat, cutting into him and every breath hurt.

“Virgil?” Voice was little more than a horse whisper, Roman waiting, praying, for Virgil to snap out of it, for him to relax and say his reaction had been nothing more than shock, that he was delighted of course. Just like anyone would be delighted to meet their soulmate. He would laugh and smile and then invite Roman into his flat, slightly shyly of course, he wasn't that sort of person normally but they needed to get to know each other better and their conversations on his doorstep could only take them so far. If Roman was feeling particularly brave, he might even reach out and entwine his fingers with Virgil’s own, warm up those no doubt chilly hands and share another bashful smile.

Roman wanted so badly for that to be his reality but it wasn't. It wasn’t.

Instead, Virgil's head snapped back up to look at him, staring at Roman with a wide, almost unhinged gaze to match his laugh of before, almost as though he had forgotten Roman had even been standing there. There was so much fear in his odd matched eyes, clearly visible now, even though the bangs of hair which were swept low over his face covered them still. It was impossible to deny the terror he could see there, an emotion apparently inspired by the sight of him... Roman swallowed again, feeling a sudden wetness in his eyes, blinking rapidly in a bid to chase away the tears before they could fully form.

“Virgil... please.” Roman didn’t know what he was saying please for, not really. Please don’t be scared? Please don’t do this? Please smile at me, please pretend, please let me be worthy. Please, please, please.

Whatever it was, it seemed to snap Virgil into action at last, the dark haired man giving a shriek while taking a stumbling step backwards into his apartment. At the same time, his finger pressed down on the plunger of the water pistol, a great spurt of water flying out of the nozzle and hitting Roman square in the face, the shock of the cold water making him gasp a little in shock and disbelief. It was as if that water broke whatever spell was holding Roman in place, and he automatically took a step forward, narrowing the space between them once more. Hand finished moving through his hair, trying to push damp strands out of his face, the rich chestnut locks clinging to his skin and creating odd patterns against his cheeks.

“No... no, no, no, no, no,” Virgil stammered, eyes darting between Roman and the water pistol still held loosely in his hand. There was a horror stricken look on his face as he glanced back at his hand, as though it had personally betrayed him by actually firing the water pistol. Maybe later, Roman would salvage some merge scraps of comfort from knowing that Virgil at least hadn’t intended to heap indignity upon humiliation but all he could think of right then was that his soulmate’s first reaction upon seeing him - after terror - had been to throw water at him.

Trails of water droplets ran down his face, leftover from the impromptu soaking he had been given, and certainly nothing else, no tears. Not yet. Hopefully, not ever. Virgil took another step back, door suddenly moving, far, far rapidly than it had opened. It swung on its hinges with a force that took Roman by surprise. He had a final glimpse of Virgil’s still terror-stricken face before the door slammed shut in front of him, leaving him alone in the hallway once more.

“Virgil?” Roman whispered again, voice barely there, feeling his heart splinter, crackling and groaning under the impossible weight that had suddenly been placed upon it and in that moment; he couldn’t understand what was going on. It was as though he was standing on the edge of some giant cavern, and the dirt around the lip was crumbling away into nothingness right in front of his eyes. Down and down it stretched towards an endless water, vanishing into a darkness that was far blacker and deeper than he could possibly comprehend. There were undercurrents there that he couldn’t even begin to trace, currents that would drag him down to their depths without him even knowing.

The sound of a key turning in the lock was deafeningly loud in the otherwise silence of the apartment building, the whole of Roman’s stomach dropping away in shock as the meaning of the noise became clear.

He reached out to bang against the door, hitting it with his fist and Virgil couldn’t just slam the door in his face like that! Not when they had finally met, when he had literally just met. Virgil couldn’t say no before Roman had gotten the chance to even ask any questions. He couldn’t shut him out.

Not when they were soulmates.

Roman could feel a sob building up in the back of his throat, his hand slowing to a stop on the wood as the horrible reality of the moment started to hit him and hit him hard. They were soulmates and Virgil’s instinctive response had been to slam a door in his face and then lock it, because the idea had horrified him so very much. What did that say about Roman’s desirability as a partner that even his soulmate was so disgusted and appalled by the mere sight of him that he had slammed a door in his face. He moved his hand again, hitting it against the door as thought he could somehow get through to him, could make a noise loud enough, painful enough, that Virgil would change his mind and come back to him.

“Virgil!”

“Woah, slow your roll there, honey.”

Roman hadn’t even noticed Remy descending the stairs back down to his level. He hadn’t noticed anything in his misery, Roman turning his head a little to look at the newcomers. Remy always acted as if he knew stuff, as though he had all the answers to the universe. Maybe he would have the answer to this, although Roman couldn't guess what.

“Well, this isn’t going as well as I hoped...” Remy offered him a half smile, something weak and uncertain, a strange hesitance about him which was at odds with his previous behaviour. “Sorry, R.”

Roman wasn’t listening anymore, turning away, dismissing him because he couldn’t help, couldn’t magically open the door for him. It didn’t matter that Remy had clearly worked out what was going to happen before it did - a lot of his past actions made more sense with that in mind. It didn’t matter that someone was witnessing Roman’s very heart be torn from his chest with every passing second that the door remained closed with no sign of Virgil at all. It didn’t even matter than Remy had hoped this would go better. All that mattered, all that could ever matter to Roman was that his soulmate was so close... and yet further away than he could possibly understand.

He lifted a hand and hammered it against the closed door yet again, feeling his voice crack and break in tune to the agony his heart was making.

“Virgil! Virgil please... please open the door!”

“R... R, stop.” Remy cautioned, Roman dimly aware of the other man getting closer, but it was ignored, just like the warning in his words, it was all ignored to knock on the door over and over again. Not even the feel of Remy’s hand around his wrist was enough to stop him, not until the other man was quite suddenly tugging him back away from the door, the strength taking Roman by surprise.

“Okay, you need to leave,” Remy told him firmly, all but dragging him toward the exit. Roman twisted and squirmed in the grip, trying to get back to the door that remained closed, as if in mute mockery of all his hopes and dreams. Remy was deceptively strong however and step by painful step he found himself moving further and further away from the door, just as he had been dragged into the building by the same man, in what felt like a whole different lifetime now.

It could only have been ten, twenty minutes at most and yet the person Remy had pulled inside was not the same one he had pulled back out. That Roman had been innocent - unaware of both the heights and the drops he would reach in the roller coaster that his life had suddenly become. Despite all the pain however, all Roman wanted, was to stay in this building and try and beg and plead his way through the locked door.

Somewhere on the other side of that door was his soulmate. And they were hurting. Roman couldn’t just leave, he couldn’t abandon Virgil!

From what little Virgil had told him of his past, it seemed as though almost everyone important in his life had abandoned him at one time or another. Roman didn’t want to be another number added to that list. He didn’t want to be just another regret for his emo, he didn't want to be someone Virgil either thought of with pain - or worse of all, someone he didn't think of at all, a buried memory in the past that Virgil refused to acknowledge.

“I have to help!”

“Yeah, alright,” Remy snapped, the hand not gripping Roman’s wrist lifting and falling in an agitated fashion, the first real lack of calm that Remy had really shown since his arrival. It didn't help, to know that the unflappable had apparently gotten himself into a flap.

“I get that you want to, but this... this isn’t helping!”

Remy pushed him through the front door, stepping out after him and bodily blocking him from re-entering. He still looked angry, although not nearly as furious as before. There was a more resigned look to his face, and that, if anything, worried Roman even more. Remy had already made up his mind about something it seemed and was determined to follow it through.

“Virgil is in a bad place, the last thing he needs is you yelling and banging on his door and sending him spiralling even further into a panic attack, honey.” Remy explained, one hand in his jacket pocket as though reaching for something.

Further into a panic attack? Did that mean that was what was happening to Virgil right now, alone in his apartment? He was scared and alone and panicking... and Roman had made a huge fuss outside his door, had kicked and screamed like a little child without any thought of what Virgil might have been going through. He had seen the fear and yet had only thought of himself. It shouldn’t matter that his own heart was breaking, not when it seemed as though so was Virgil’s. Roman didn’t suffer from panic attacks himself, but Thomas did to a degree and what little he had seen of those was enough to make him feel stupidly grateful that he didn’t have them himself. They were awful, debilitating things, that could send even the strongest person crashing to their knees.

Virgil was even braver than he had already thought, that he managed to get through each day even with the possibility of that pressing down on him. Roman wanted to take him in his arms and try and kiss the fear and panic away, to chase away the darkest storm clouds that were gathering around his beloved’s head. Knocking on his door might have made it worse - Thomas had flinched and grown increasingly lost in his own panic at loud and unexpected noises - but he knew what he was facing now. He knew how to fight it.

“Then I’ll wait out here,” Roman decided, crossing his arms stubbornly. He wasn’t about to just turn tail and retreat at the first sign of battle.

“Oh, I don’t think so,” Remy told him, subtly shifting his body a tiny step to the side, blocking the door more firmly now. “You being here at all is just making it worse even if you’re not making noises; if you don’t leave, I’m calling the cops.”

“You can’t be serious!” Roman’s mouth dropped open into an O shape and the other man had to be joking surely. Yes, he had made things worse by kicking up a fuss and Roman would never forgive himself for that, would spend countless hours torturing himself with the fact he had scared his beloved at their first face to face meeting. But he hadn’t known Virgil was having a panic attack, he didn’t know him well enough for that. It wasn’t his fault or his intention and Remy surely couldn’t hold that against him to such a degree as calling the police on him? Remy laughed. It wasn’t the light giggles of before, but something harsher, colder, a grating sound against his ears that told him Remy was deadly serious with his threat after all.

“Don’t test me honey,” Remy sneered. “You and your friends might be cute, but you are nothing to me compared to my best friend. What he needs is you gone right now...”

“He’s my soulmate! I have every right to be he-” Roman’s words were cut off as a finger was jabbed against his chest, Remy looking more furious than he ever seen anyone looking before. And he had seen Logan bearing down on him clutching an empty jar of Crofters.

“That is where you and all your little self-entitled romantic people are wrong. Virgil owes you nothing, he isn’t yours just because some number on your wrist says so. He is his own person, he was made for himself, and if you two are ever going to sort your stuff out and be together then you damn well better respect that and not use ‘but we’re soulmates’ as an excuse to do whatever you damn well please.” Voice twisted into a high-pitched little tone near the end, and Roman could practically see the un-gestured speech marks on the words ‘but we’re soulmates’ and it seemed as though both of them had issues with the way the normal world worked.

Roman hadn’t meant it like that. Surely... surely Virgil hadn’t thought he had meant it like that? He didn’t think of him as property or as an entitlement, he would never demand things of his beloved that Virgil wasn’t ready to give - except he had just demanded entry when Virgil didn’t want that.

Had it meant it like that?

He had just said he had a ‘right’ to be here based on this bond between them, a bond that neither of them had even known existed shortly before now. Without that knowledge, Roman probably wouldn’t have protested so much about staying. He would have accepted that someone like Remy, who clearly knew Virgil’s issues so much better than him, was more qualified to help his friend. Not to mention, Roman had just thought that accepting your soulmate regardless was a normal thing and that there was something... different about the two for thinking otherwise. As if he had thought them wrong and no, he had never intentionally wanted to think that.

Roman had always assumed, somewhat naively it seemed, that the moment he met his soulmate everything would be perfect and that yes, they would simply become an item, become one joined partnership instead of two separate, lonely people. He had always thought that they would just be in each other’s lives because that was what happened. He was already slipping into the mindset of calling Virgil his ‘beloved’ despite them never even talking about romance. He hadn’t earned that but had simply assumed he had a right.

He had spent his whole life preparing for this moment, training himself almost. So that he would be perfect for them. He had never even stopped to wonder what the other person might think of him as a person, but merely him as what he could offer them, what he could do to impress them. He had always just expected to be worthy by his accomplishments instead of thinking about the person under the skills and knowledge.

“I...” Roman trailed off, words escaping him, his throat tightening and he wanted to cry all over again, wanted to apologise to Virgil, wanted to beg his forgiveness and try and make it up to him.

Was that for Virgil or for himself?

Remy deflated, pulling out his phone and nervously playing with the object, shifting it from hand to hand without turning it on, apparently needing to do something with his hands before giving another heavy, painful sigh.

“Look... just go home R. Give him time, go be with your own friends, let them support you. What Virgil did just now was super shitty, I’m not excusing that. He’s had an idea about you for a very long time now and you just shattered it. Which I kind of think is a good thing, but he needs time and you need to grieve for what he ruined today.”

Roman still didn’t want to go home. Time might be good for him, it might give him a chance to heal his heart a little, to stitch it back together but he wasn’t convinced it was the best thing for Virgil, who had already proved he was the type of overthink things and who knew what he might decide given enough time to obsessive over the tiny details. Surely it was better he stay here, so he could combat those thoughts, could keep him from slipping further and further away from him.

Again though, was that in Virgil’s best interests or simply his own selfish desires? Before today he would never have considered wanting to be with his soulmate selfish but then before today he would never have even though that there could be people damaged by the mere concept of their being someone out there just for them.

Remy finally thrust his phone into Roman’s hand while he struggled with his own tortuous internal thoughts, Roman glancing down to see the screen was lit up at last, a new contact screen blinking up at him.

“Give me your address and phone number honeysuckle,” Remy ordered, Roman numbly doing as he was told without any further protest, keying it all in without a word and handing it back to the other man. Remy took it, humming softly and then placing the phone carefully back inside his leather jacket pocket.

“If he’s up for it, he will contact you.”

“If?” Roman croaked, his face growing paler. Tiny specs of black swept across his vision and for a moment he felt as though he might actually pass out. There had never been an ‘if’ in his dreams, in his plans for the future. There had never even been the worst nightmare in his mind that this had been the hand of cards he had been forced to play. He had no idea how he could handle an ‘if’. Remy nodded solemnly.

“For what it's worth, I’m sorry it turned out this way. I’ll talk to him, I’ll try and convince him to give you a chance, that is all I’m going to promise. You deserve a chance and hopefully... in time, he’ll let you have one.”

A chance. That was all Roman had ever wanted right? A chance to prove himself worthy of someone. His special someone that deserved to be showered in all the love and affection that Roman could possibly give. A chance to make them smile, to make Virgil smile and laugh, to roll his eyes and call him a dork or a sap or any of the other words he had already tossed out at Roman during their conversations. A chance to protect him against the terrors of the world, a chance for them to grow old together, to learn new things about themselves together. A chance to just... be together.

If Virgil let him.

If.

He wanted to just drop to the floor and cry. To kick and scream like a child, to not have to be the strong one just once. He wanted to give into the tidal wave of emotions inside of him, just as Virgil must have done and lose himself to the pain of this evening. He couldn't though. Not here, not in front of Remy, not when he had to try and remain strong for the sake of this relationship that didn’t even exist yet.

“Call a friend, R...” Remy’s voice had grown gentle, soft and some part of Roman almost wished he was still snapping and snarling, that he was still a blade because that was something he would have been able to fight and struggle against but what could he do against a soft and understanding voice? How could he fight when Remy wanted to help him?

It felt like giving in, but Roman couldn’t fight any more, not right now at least. He drew in a shuddering breath as he pulled his own phone out, swiping it open in one move. For a second, he hovered over the various contacts, torn between who to call before simply smashing against the screen and letting fate decide. Really, it didn’t matter who picked up, the three of them would all be in the same room. Dimly, he registered the familiar and comforting voice of Thomas come through his speakers as he picked up.

“Hey Roman, we were starting to get worried, you ever coming back to the party? I think even Logan was starting to get worried, not that he would ever admit it.”

“Thomas...” Roman whispered, effortlessly interrupting his friend, a crackle of a sob slipping free at the sound of honest concern that instantly followed and how like Thomas, to be able to tell with a single word and sound that something was wrong. “Thomas, I need you to come get me.”

To Thomas’ credit he didn’t ask any questions beyond wanting to know where Roman was and promising to come and get him. There was a rustling and muffled voices before suddenly Patton was on the other end, his voice soft and soothing, the balm of cool water after a sun-touched day.

“I’m here kiddo, I’m going to stay on the line until Thomas gets there okay?” Patton carried on talking, but Roman tuned him out a little, watching as Remy retreated back into the building, firmly shutting the outer door and locking Roman on the other side.

Through the frosted windows by the main door he could see Remy cross the hallway back to Virgil’s door. He could see him pull a set of keys from his pocket and select one, insert it into the lock and open it, step inside and then close it once more.

Remy had had a key the whole time. He turned away, unwilling to stare at a closed door that had slammed shut on his dreams any longer. He was alone now, waiting for Thomas to arrive and take him home, take him away from his soulmate, away from the ruins of a whole lifetime of waiting. He was alone and he had no idea how he was going to fix this. He couldn’t see a way through the storm clouds that had blighted his horizon.

Roman slumped down on the step outside, staring but not really seeing anything. From a great distance he could still hear Patton talking, still not asking any questions or pressing him for information he wasn’t ready to give. He simply chatted, talking about his day, about a dog he had seen, or an adorable elderly couple that had held hands on the bus, about this and that, just a steady stream of sound that Roman could wrap around him.

He sat there as the sun slowly set, as the sky darkened into near black, thousands of tiny stars scattered above him. He sat there without heeding the dropping temperatures, barely noticing the street lights that came on. He sat there in silence - beyond the odd little noise whenever Patton asked if he was still there - until the headlights of a car swung into view, Thomas stepping out of it a moment later. With little more than a mumble, Roman hung up on Patton and forced himself upright, forced himself not to look behind him at the apartment building.

He didn’t say a word as he got in the car, didn’t say anything during the whole ride home, simply staring out at the window and watching the world go by. He didn’t make a sound until he was climbing back out of the car and suddenly Thomas was in front of him, drawing him into a hug that Roman couldn’t have avoided, even if he wanted to. Thomas was warm and full of love, Roman feeling his shoulder sag as he lifted his arms up to wrap themselves around his friend, his head settling against the crook of Thomas’ shoulder. The other man rocked him ever so slightly, Roman sinking further into the hug.

In that moment, the dams that had been holding the world at bay broke and finally -

Roman cried.

--

Virgil didn’t know where he was.

Hands curled tighter in his hair, a choking, gasping whimper of noise rising up around him, noise that his overstimulated brain struggled to place. The sound happened again, his throat hurting as it did, Virgil's tired brain finally placing it. He was making the noise. He was screaming, sobbing, tearing himself apart vocally. Knowing didn’t change a thing, didn’t magically give him control over the sound, and again he heard himself make a noise, another soft wail that was half lost in his harsh, uneven breathing.

About the only thing he really had any control over, was the way his fingers were able to flex and squeeze tighter and tighter, digging into his scalp and scraping against the skin before finding the roots of his hair once more. He pulled at it tugging and tearing strands free, dark hair hopelessly tangled around his fingers. It hurt but that was good, that grounded him a fraction, kept him from spinning away completely. His head was hurting from where he was pulling at his hair and Virgil had to focus on that, on the little spikes of pain that reminded him for better or for worse - for worse, it had to be for worse - he was alive, in this moment. He was a thing, a person, he was here.

He was crying. Or maybe it was just the rain. Was rain always warm? The water was warm against his skin, little pinpricks of heat splashing against his skin and then hissing away into nothingness, unable to penetrate the ice that Virgil was apparently trapped in. Virgil wanted to just drift away from it all, unable to even tell if he was still standing or not. That was bad. Dimly, distantly, he knew that it was bad. Virgil didn’t know why it was bad, and trying to find out felt like far too much effort right now. All he knew was that he shouldn’t let himself drift, that he had to keep pulling his hair, had to keep himself here, that he should try at least, to fight back to something resembling his level of normal. He... should.

Virgil should be doing a lot of things that he wasn't right now, so really, what was the harm in one more little thing?

“Oh... bumble bee...” A voice sighed above him, somewhere far, far above, floating above the rain and above the pain and the fear. Virgil wanted to find that voice, something familiar about it, pushing him into staying in the moment for just a longer. The voice was safety, the voice would make all the terrible thoughts and feelings go away, would keep them at bay. The voice was everything and Virgil wanted so badly to please it, far more than he wanted to do anything for himself.

But it hurt. Everything hurt and he couldn’t move.

The voice seemed to know that however, because maybe it had experience with him. It felt like they had been here before, had done all of this before. Virgil felt old, so old, so worn through and he was tired. He was so tired of doing this dance, being this broken and having to rely on a voice to pull him back.

Hands touched his shoulder. They were warm against the glacier, Virgil flinching at the contact. They pulled away for a moment before slowly reaching out again, hovering against his skin, just above his arm. He could feel them as vividly as though they were actually touching, their heat leaching through to try and touch the core of him.

Virgil wanted to fling himself into those hands, wanted the heat to burn and scorch away all the ice around him. He wanted to run from the hands at the same time, wanted to hide where they couldn't touch him because the thawing would only bring more pain.

“Is this okay?”

Words were too hard to form, Virgil feeling his throat constrict the second he even thought about uttering them. For a horrible moment his mind hung in the middle of the two extremes, the yes and the no, the bravery and the coward. Coming back would just mean falling again, at a later date. Next time it might be harder to come back, next time it might hurt more to start with. The voice clearly wanted him to agree though, the voice wanted him to try. For the voice, perhaps he could try and be brave again, just one more time.

He gave a half little nod, swallowing down the whimper of pain that the movement cost him.

Fingers wrapped around his own, ever so carefully untangling them from his hair. Virgil still couldn't move, could do nothing to help, simply existing as slowly his fingers were uncurled, one frozen digit at a time. Patiently, the hands kept moving, until his own were freed from his hair, the pressure in his head decreasing in turn.

“Can you breathe for me?” The voice asked. Questions. Another question. So many questions and it wasn’t fair that the voice was asking him that, was pushing but he knew it needed to push, needed to make him fight back. It needed to do whatever it could to dissolve the horrible weight that was pressing down on Virgil’s very soul.

Breathing. He had to keep breathing, like the voice wanted. It started to count, patiently restarting every time Virgil lost his focus, never once betraying any hint of frustration at his feeble efforts. It simply counted and he held onto that, forcing his breathing patterns to match the numbers, over and over again until the world was not so distant as before.

He could breathe again without that choking, crushing weight on his chest. The stone had lifted for the moment.

The rain stopped.

Virgil found himself missing the rain, the cold easily filling him, his body made ice. Not numb, numbness would be better but cold, a sharp sensation that crackled all over his skin, blistering him and making him want to cry out in pain. His back was even colder, the chill forcing him to take in where he was. Somewhere tiled, white, everywhere a floating white and he was low down and - oh. Oh, he was sitting down, half curled over himself. He was in his shower. Still fully clothed and very, very wet. Virgil didn't remember turning the shower on, let alone climbing into it in the first place.

A blur was hovering in front of him, blacks bleeding into paler shades and Virgil was so close to recognising the figure, to knowing the voice, he just needed to focus, he needed to keep putting the pieces together.

He was crying, Virgil could feel the tears still winding their way down his face, the trails they were leaving the only part of him that was warm - aside from his shoulders, where the hands had settled once more.

“Let’s get you out of these clothes.” Still that same voice as before, softer than it normally was. Softer than it had any right to be, Virgil letting the same hands shift from his shoulder, to grip him under the armpits and pull him into some kind of standing position. There was no strength to be found, Virgil half sagging against the blur

His hoodie was peeled off him, Virgil giving another little moan as the cold air hit his body, his t-shirt suddenly feeling even more thin and useless against the chill of the moment. It was almost like a slap, shocking him back to a reality of sorts, Virgil sucking in another deep breath and there was only one person that would be helping him right now.

“Re... Remy?”

“There you are bumble bee.” The relief was evident in the voice, Virgil blinking a couple of times to try and get rid of the tears. The fuzzy shape shifted, solidifying into his friend, face concerned as he looked at him, a soft, barely-there smile.

“There you are...” Remy repeated again softly, fondly.

Virgil opened his mouth and then closed it again, the weight of recent memories slamming into him and making him want to double over from the agony of it all., wanted to throw him back into terror and pain

Roman. Roman had been at his door. Roman had convinced him to open his door, and Virgil had... Virgil had forgotten about his timer, had just so casually thrown away a lifetime of commitment and anger. Anger at his parents, anger at the world and most of all, anger at a soulmate he didn't know and didn’t want to know. Then Roman of all people had turned out to be his soulmate.

He had met his soulmate, he had accidentally had his meeting in Samarra after all, just as fate had so cruelly decreed he would, against his own wishes.

And it had been Roman.

Hand lifted, slapping it against his mouth to try and swallow the wild sob that wanted to break free and Virgil could almost see the abyss opening up in front of him once more, a yawning, hungry crevice that wanted him to take a step forward and be swallowed whole. It wanted him to tumble back down and get lost in the sound once more. If he thought about it too deeply then he knew he would do just that, he would start to panic and lose control of his breathing, he would fall and fall and never hit the bottom.

Virgil couldn’t do that to Remy, not after he had gone to all that effort in dragging him back up the first time. He still had to know if he was safe though, the words always just a fraction out of reach, his mind scrabbling uselessly after them.

“Is... is he...?”

“He's gone bumble, don't think about him right now okay?”

Virgil nodded, feeling some of the tension drain from him. Of course he was gone, because Remy was here now and Remy would protect him for everything bad, even if that bad was nothing more than his own bad decisions. Remy was his best friend and in moments like this, Remy was the only one who could ever hope to understand him. Remy was too good for him, and he never knew why he stuck around, only that he was blessed that he did.

Later he would have to ask some questions, he would have to face the fact that despite his best efforts, he had been tricked by the world into opening his door for his soulmate. He would have to face the humiliating facts of that meeting and the awful things he had done to someone he was no longer sure deserved it. There were a lot of things that he was no longer as sure about as he had once been.

He would have to face the fact that his soulmate wasn't quite as terrible as he had always imagined him to be.

Right now, however, Virgil was too wet and too drained to think those thoughts. He was too tired to do anything other than change as Remy directed, pulling on fresh, dry clothes and following him to the living room, settling on the sofa. He accepted the blanket offered - purple, soft, his from his bed - wrapping it around himself although it didn’t give him any heat.

Virgil curled up there next to Remy, his head resting on his friend's shoulder, gaze blank and staring at ahead at the television without seeing the movie that was playing. He focused on his breathing, on trying to find some warmth within himself, on the sensation of Remy beside him, the way his own breathing was even and steady.

He stopped crying.

Chapter Text

Poor Unfortunate Souls

Virgil wasn’t sure how long they sat curled up together on the sofa, Remy a warm and comforting presence beside him. The sharp stabbing pain of his panic had faded into a dull ache, leaving his body and mind exhausted as though he had spent the whole day exercising in some stressful manner. He felt tired, so tired, but it was the type that refused to let him drop off, where the pain of his exhaustion somehow looped back around to keep him awake. Remy seemed perfectly content to remain on his sofa, his friend never so much as hinting at the idea that he might want to go back to his own apartment or that his arm was getting numb from the way Virgil was using it as a headrest, letting him use Remy to ground himself in every possible way.

Whenever he could feel his mind start to slide on the ice, to slip towards the thoughts of Samarra and his soulmate, towards thoughts of... him... Virgil forced himself to refocus instead on Remy. To breathe in the musky scent of his leather jacket. To watch his chest as it rose and fell with every event breath. To hear him breathe and to know he was there. Remy was his cornerstone, Remy kept him going, and, Virgil hoped, that he was even half as good a friend back and he helped in turn. All he knew for sure was how badly he needed Remy right now as he battled the panic back and back again.

Until, eventually, he could think about Roman without wanting to throw up. That had to be progress, right? Virgil could think about Roman, think about the fact that they were apparently soulmates and not have blind, mind-shattering terror and nausea be his immediate reaction. Which gave him time to slowly work through what had just happened and what was likely to happen tomorrow or the next day. If Roman had been as stubborn as he had been when all he had wanted was to get Virgil to open the door, how much more impossible was he going to be now he thought Virgil belonged to him?

“Let’s move to Canada,” Virgil suddenly announced, not moving an inch. Beside him, he could feel Remy snort softly, his shoulder shuddering a little at the motion.

Why on Satan’s Green Earth would I want to move somewhere like that?”

“Well, for a start, it’s colder up there so you’ll be able to wear your leather jacket all year round without looking like a complete weirdo.” Virgil suggested. Remy gave a dramatic gasp hand flying to press lightly against his chest, above his heart as he shifted a little, forcing Virgil to move in turn so they were now facing each other.

“I’ll have you know I look fabulous all the time regardless of the weather or location, missy.” Remy warned, sounding scandalised at the mere suggestion he could be anything other than amazing. It was so very him and despite himself, Virgil could feel the faintest twitch of a smile sneak onto his face.

This. This was what he needed. The appearance of normality, of his world working as it should. Arguing with Remy over something faintly ridiculous was just what he needed - he knew there was sadly no real chance of them fleeing to Canada, despite the fact that it would solve all of his problems. Then again, who knew, he and Remy had done weirder things in the past; anything was possible. It settled him further, Virgil thinking for a moment as he tried to come up with another reasonable excuse for why they should move to another country, far away from anyone they might know.

“Okay, well how about this. Beavers. You could attempt to befriend one, then another and so create a beaver army at your beck and call. You would be unstoppable.” Unstoppable and terrifying in equal measures; he half regretted suggesting it, even as a joke. Remy with an army like that at his disposal would be a mistake, any sort of power would go to his head instantly but he still didn’t look convinced and Virgil knew he was going to have to bring out the big guns if he wanted to win. As well as distract from his previous suggestion.

“Plus, Mounties. I know how much you enjoy the sight of a man in uniform...” Virgil suggested, trailing off invitingly.

Remy tilted his head ever so slightly in acknowledgement and for a moment Virgil even thought he might have won him over, that maybe running away and avoiding all of his problems and feelings would be the solution after all. Right up until the second a sly smile graced his features, one that Virgil knew only too well, a smile that told him Remy knew something - or thought he knew something, a crucial difference - and was getting ready to drop something on him. Virgil could feel himself tense slightly, the nerves building up with every second Remy just sat there, smiling at him.

“Right. This has nothing to do with a certain carol singer being your soulmate or anything like that, right bumble bee?”

Virgil huffed, sinking down a little into the sofa, feeling his cheeks grow red and hot at the accusation. Of course, it was everything to do with that, but Remy didn’t need to be so on the nose about it and bring it up. Virgil didn’t want to have to face those wide, hopeful eyes once more, the joy and delight in his memory of those moments shaking him to the core.

In the few times he had allowed himself to imagine meeting his soulmate, joy and delight had not been the emotions that he had pictured when they were facing him. Horror, disgust, even pity had been the expected reaction. Virgil couldn’t understand why someone like Roman could possibly look at Virgil, think this was the man fate had decreed he love and spend his whole life with, and not be upset at it. Roman was a very handsome, charming - if annoying - young man who had the type of personality most people were drawn to. He could have had his pick of almost any partner he wanted and while most waited for their soulmate there were others who had a little fun while waiting - such as Remy - and others who had loved and lost but refused to let fate say they only had one chance at happiness.

It made no sense that such a ball of sunshine should have taken one look at his apparent soulmate, a miserable dark cloud and think; ‘yes. I want that one’. He was only going to disappoint Roman down the line, was only going to make him grow bitter and resentful against Virgil as time passed. He might be hopeful now but give it time and he would start to want Virgil to be a better version of himself, just as his parents had constantly tried to push him into being someone he wasn’t.

Virgil couldn’t change who he was. He couldn’t swallow down the anxiety attacks, the nerves, the damn stutter that slipped out in his worst moments. He couldn’t smile more or wear bright colours and just be another vapid empty airhead. He couldn’t be normal, not in the way society decreed was normal and there lay his problem - how could he have a soulmate and not ruin them for the rest of society too?

“Why couldn’t you be my soulmate, Remy? I wouldn’t have minded if it had been you.” Virgil complained. Really all of his problems would have been solved if Remy was his soulmate. He already loved him with all his heart and while it wasn’t romantic love, it was still the most meaningful relationship he had ever had in his whole life. Remy laughed softly, leaning over to press a kiss against Virgil’s forehead, something sweet, soft and purely chaste.

It made Virgil want to smile more and sink into his friend’s embrace and go back to forgetting any of this had happened. Remy of course, decided to ruin the moment by opening his mouth.

“Aww, that is very sweet of you bumble bee, but we both know if it had been me there was no way you would have given me the time of day. You would have run and reacted in just the same way.”

Remy shifted a little, curling up on his side, knuckles propping up his chin as he considered Virgil thoughtfully, looking strangely serious, sunglasses propped up on his head. If there was one thing that made Virgil nervous, it was when his friend discarded his usual playful attire and instead insisted on talking to him seriously.

“Have you ever thought that maybe your soulmate isn’t as bad as your imagination made him out to be? If you could accept me, maybe you could accept him?”

Virgil scowled, turning away from Remy completely. He knew he was acting like a child, but he couldn't help it. Soulmate had been the dirtiest word in his vocabulary for almost as long as he had known what it meant. Just because Roman wasn’t a horrible person didn’t mean he could just ignore everything he had ever thought and believed.

“You like Roman,” Remy insisted, still prodding on the sorest spot in Virgil’s psyche. He wanted to tell Remy to stop, to lash out, to do whatever it took to make that voice grow quiet but not even Virgil was as self-destructive as to try and wreck his friendship with Remy. Some part of him wanted to hear these words as well, no matter how badly they hurt him.

“You liked him before either of you knew who you were, so what is the harm in still liking him? He is still the same guy who talked to through the door for hours, he is the same guy who you made a card for, who you liked to joke with. He’s still Roman.”

“No. No he’s not. Now he’s Roman, but with all this pressure and expectation. How am I even supposed to talk to him when the whole world is just waiting for us to be together no matter what? When he probably expects us to just move in together and get married within weeks of meeting.” Virgil shuddered a little as he spoke, his mind spinning increasingly panic filled ideas about how fast Roman would expect to go now that he had found him.

“You don’t know what he expects when your whole history after learning the truth was you doing a Pterodactyl screech and hiding from him. At the very least, doesn’t he deserve an explanation as to why you reacted the way you did? And don’t you deserve to know what he would want from you?”

Virgil’s scowl only deepened. Remy made several good points of course; he was making an annoyingly large amount of sense but that didn’t mean Virgil had to actually listen to any of it. He didn't like to think that he could be wrong in this situation and he hated even more the whisper in the back of his mind that was growing louder and louder - that he was wrong here.

“This is all pointless, anyway. I don’t even know his phone number.” He didn't say the obvious, that Roman would come back, that he would find a way to leave his number for Virgil no matter what he did. He didn’t need to say it, they both knew it.

The silence from the other man was deafening, and something about it made Virgil look back at him, eyes narrowing as he took in the suddenly shifty Remy, as though a thousand ants were crawling all over him, and he couldn’t get himself comfortable as a result. Green eyes flickered up to look at Virgil before glancing away again, his gaze as constantly in minute motion as the rest of him.

“I have his details.”

“What?” Virgil could feel himself grow ice cold at those words, Remy demolishing the wall he had so carefully built around himself. He already had the info? But that took away all of Virgil’s plans of procrastination, all his attempts to bury his head in the sand about the issue for a little longer. He had wanted to avoid the situation as long as he could and now it seemed as though that was no time at all.

“Think about it bumble bee,” Remy pleaded, his eyes wide and dammit, Remy knew how weak he was against eyes that were so soft. He was surprised Remy hadn’t fluttered his eyelashes yet but that was surely only a matter of time. Better to give in now and salvage some shattered sense of dignity rather than give Remy chance to try and twist him into agreeing to far more than he ever wanted to give.

“If I agree to think about it - and nothing but think about it - can we talk about something else for a bit now? It’s going to be Christmas soon.”

“Fine bumble bee, we’re on ice cubes but you know they are going to melt sooner or later.”

--

It was coming up to one in the morning and so technically Christmas day by the time Remy drifted off into sleep, still curled on up on the sofa, his head resting against a cushion. Virgil wished he could fall asleep that easily, but he wasn’t tired. Rather, he felt as though he had downed several cups of coffee in quick succession and was bitterly jittery as a result.

Beside him, Remy snored lightly, shifting a little in his sleep as he moved around, trying to get comfortable, his arms wrapped around Virgil’s torso. With a sigh, he stilled again, Virgil hoping with everything he was that he was just imagining the cold wet spot on his shoulder and it wasn’t drool.

Carefully, he began to move, slowly easing himself out of the hold, slipping from the warm embrace. True to his word, he had thought about Roman, about soulmates and the situation he found himself in.

True to his word he had done nothing but think about it.

Virgil couldn’t stop thinking about it, no matter how badly he wanted to fall into the distracting movie Remy had put on. He had seen Die Hard before and while he enjoyed it, it wasn’t really the right thing for his mood right now. Not that Virgil could have picked anything that could be his right mood. He had no idea what he was feeling, little idea what he was thinking and only the vaguest idea of what he was going to do beyond the immediate moment.

He needed to put his armour back on. It didn’t matter that he had no intention of leaving his home, not today, not tomorrow, perhaps not ever. He still needed to wrap himself up in security and safety, needed to hide himself behind the mask that was his makeup and so give himself the strength he needed to keep going, leaving his living room and returning to the bathroom, flicking the light on as he did.

The shower was still a little damp, but Virgil didn’t look at it, nor his reflection, at least not properly. He focused on one part of his face at a time, too afraid to actually look at himself.

Slowly, Virgil reapplied his lipstick, taking great care not to smudge it as he turned his lips dark. A coloured contact was fished out next - Virgil wasn’t ashamed of his heterochromia, not anymore. He had grown beyond that, if nothing else and while there were moments when his anxiety screamed lies at him that they were all looking, all judging him, he had managed to learn how to tune it out to a degree. Most of the time anyway.

If he was going to have odd eyes, then he was going to go down screaming at the world, which meant there were times when he would put bright, impossible contacts on. If people were going to stop and stare at his eyes, whisper behind his back and mock, as he had so often feared, then Virgil was going to give them something to talk about. Plus, there had been nothing more satisfying in the past than being pulled into teachers’ offices or his bosses office and told he couldn’t wear such unnatural, odd coloured eyes.

The looks on their faces had been brilliant when he had taken a contact out, only to be left with still odd coloured eyes. Even better, had been very rare times when he hadn’t been wearing any and they had to back down upon realising he had a condition and they had potentially opened themselves up to a lawsuit of discrimination.

Even now, the memories made his spiteful little heart sing with dark glee, helping to settle his scattered mind a little. Right at this moment, he needed the courage his favourite colour could give him, Virgil slipping a bright purple one over his brown eye. Eye shadow was next, Virgil slowly blurring it around his eyes, smudging it above and below.

There. Done. Finally, Virgil allowed himself to look at himself properly in the mirror. He looked... well, he looked like someone else and that was sort of the point after all. It was a shame he couldn’t wear his hoodie for the added comfort it would bring him, but it was still soaking wet from his impromptu dive into a shower and so he was left just wearing one of his many purple shirts instead.

Virgil crept back into his living room, holding his breath as he carefully fished Remy’s phone out from his black leather jacket, cringing at every tiny movement and convinced that any second now, Remy was going to wake up and catch him red handed, with the intimating phone in hand. But really, Remy was all but asking him to do this. It wasn’t his fault that his friend had never changed his PIN in all the years they had known each other. It meant Virgil could get into it anytime he wanted and right now, he wanted to.

It didn’t take long for Virgil to unlock it and swipe through to find the newest contact, Roman’s name making his stomach flip flop uncomfortably, another confusing emotion to add to the mess of confusing emotions that were bubbling up inside of him, things he wasn’t close to understanding.

He chewed nervously on his bottom lip as he considered what to do next.

So maybe Roman wasn’t the worst person in the world to have as his soulmate. But he certainly deserved better than the screw up that was Virgil Sanders. If only there was some way he could tell him that, some way he could make him understand that this wasn’t going to work. If only there was some way he could talk to him on his own terms.

Avoidance was normally a pretty good strategy. Avoidance wasn’t going to work here, not with both Roman and Remy working against him. They both knew where he lived and Remy at least knew his favourite hiding spots.

Virgil stared down at the lit screen, the address and numbers jumping out at him, filling his whole mind and refusing to let him relax. What was he going to do with Remy having this information, with this information existing around them at all?

Finger hovered over the delete, his mouth suddenly dry as he thought about it. One little button and then Remy wouldn’t have this information and wouldn't be able to nag him about going to find the other part of himself when he was perfectly happy and content as a complete person in his own right, thank you very much. Perhaps it wasn’t fair of him to accuse Remy of that sort of behaviour. He knew his friend better than that, he knew this wasn’t about that, that for whatever reason, he honestly thought that Virgil talking to Roman, maybe even giving him a chance was the best thing to do.

That still didn’t mean he wanted Remy to know Roman’s number and so potentially contact him. He should delete this.

It would buy him a little time at least, before Roman came back and just gave the information back to Remy. It would let him work out how he was going to get out of this one. The numbers felt as though they were being burned into his brain, searing deep until he could see them even with his eyes closed.

There was only one choice here and he couldn't leave this kind of information in Remy's hands, no matter how much he loved his best friend. It was just too wild, just a step too far. Who knew what kind of dangerous things Remy could do with this and he was pretty much a textbook example of ‘power corrupts.’

No, he couldn’t leave this up to Remy. This had to be his choice. Destiny might have forced him into the original meeting but whatever happened after had to be born of choice and nothing else. He might have bumped into Death on those streets of Samarra but nowhere in the story did it say that the man died, unable to escape the consequences of his fate.

Okay, so it heavily implied it, but that was a completely different matter entirely. He might not have been able to escape what fate had decided for him, but Virgil wasn’t going to just sit back meekly and let it dictate what was going to happen next. There was a Roman out there who had some very wrong ideas about what kind of person Virgil was. He knew what he needed to do and he knew what he wanted to do, before his courage failed him.

He took a deep breath, his choice made.

Virgil pressed down on the delete button.

--

Three o’clock in the morning on Christmas Day. The time when he had imagined that he’d be lying in bed at the very least holding onto wonderful memories of an evening spent with his soulmate, when he would be able to fill his dreams with thoughts of them and what they were like. In his very wildest dreams he had imagined actually physically cuddling them close, just holding them gently in sleep and being reassured by the sound of their breathing that they were real and they were with him. They were supposed to be with him.

Instead he was sat on the sofa of his apartment on his own, mourning the loss of all his hopes and dreams, tears spilling freely down his face without even a token attempt to contain them. Crinkled chocolate wrappers were scattered around the floor, Roman having broken into the emergency Christmas Chocolate supply early. All the romance movies said chocolate was what you were supposed to have after your heart was ripped from you body and crushed into dust before your very eyes. It hadn’t made him feel even the slightest bit better.

Merry Fricking Christmas Roman, and a Happy New Year.

Eyes drifted to the side where a couple of bottles of red and white wine sat so innocently on the side table, waiting for later in the day when they would be consumed along with the ridiculous quantities of food that Patton had been spending the past few days either buying or cooking.

Was it too early to start drinking yet?

What did you do when your soulmate rejected you?

As optimistic as Roman tried to be, he couldn’t really think of any other way to spin what had happened to him, couldn't think of another way to put it. Virgil had met him, had seen him - and had promptly squirted him with water and locked a door to keep him out. This wasn’t the sort of story he could imagine telling at the table next Christmas, a sheepish Virgil sat next to him as Roman recounted their thrilling adventure and the ups and downs of convincing his soulmate and the dramatic - and romantic - way in which he won his heart.

Not won. Won implied ownership, a claim that Remy had made very clear wouldn’t be welcome. Roman was going to have to be very careful how he even thought about Virgil, how he approached this at all, and it just made him cry harder, lost and unsure of what Virgil expected from him.

The bottles continued to call out to him, offering him the promise of momentary relief. If he drank enough, then eventually, the pain would go away for a little while at least. He might even forget about the pain, forget about his soulmate if he drank enough.

Roman would have to drink more wine than was on that table if he stood any chance of forgetting his bewitching Virgil existed.

His friends had been nothing but supportive, of course, and as much as Roman had wanted to remain in the apartment hallway until Virgil let him in, until Roman could beg and plead forgiveness, he had to admit that Remy had probably the right idea in insisting he go home to people who loved and accepted him. They had all hugged him - even Logan had gotten in on the act and Logan was not normally the type to take part in any displays of affection. Unless it was Patton he was hugging or holding hands with or the like. The party had ended quickly after that, Logan even thanking him for helping to do that, his reaction bringing a hint of a watery smile to Roman's face. The smile had only lasted for a fraction of a second before it had crumpled away and the tears had started to fall once more.

They had all done their very best to comfort him, settling him on the sofa and trying to distract him as best they could from his thoughts. Logan had started asking a whole barrage of questions, wanting details in order to solve the problem before Thomas had tactfully suggested they talk about something else. It was Patton who had suggested they spend the evening just hanging out together and forget about everything. Including it being Christmas and any mention whatsoever of soulmates. Even Patton and Logan had refrained from being too couple like around him, settling for holding hands and a brief little kiss when they thought he wasn’t looking.

Roman didn't want to deprive them of their happiness, of course he didn't want them to not enjoy each other's company, especially since Patton had been waiting for Logan to get back and had missed him so much. There was still a not so small part of him that selfishly felt so relieved that he had such good friends, that they were willing to do that because in his current mindset there was no way he could have coped with seeing other people - even his best friends - happy and in love.

Instead all four of them had squashed onto the sofa, determined to distract Roman as best they could. It had been his favourite food, his favourite hot drink and they all watched his favourite Christmas movie together, a family born not of blood but of the shared bonds and love they had for each other. Well, they watched. Roman’s vision was too blurred by the tears to really make out what was happening on the screen. He had seen it countless times before, he knew every scene, every line without having to look at the screen.

Thankfully, none of them mentioned the tears streaming down his face, although Patton’s hand crept across to find his own, fingers winding around his own, during the moment Hans Gruber found his henchman and the immortal line;

“Now I have a machine gun... Ho. Ho. Ho.”

Die Hard was totally a Christmas movie. He couldn't enjoy it however, not like he would normally, not when he couldn’t stop his quiet cries or the torturous thoughts that came with being rejected by his soulmate. The same questions kept spinning around and around his mind, each time he failed to answer them making him more and more frustrated.

Did Virgil like Die Hard as much as he did?

What had happened in Virgil’s life to make him so wary of what was meant to be good?

What had he done wrong?

Why didn’t Virgil love him?

He couldn’t give up. Roman was no quitter and now he had a name, a face to go with his dreams, he had to be more determined than ever. Roman knew he needed to keep trying. He wanted to keep trying. He wanted to see Virgil smile and relax once more, he wanted to see if his lips really were as sweet as he imagined them to be. He wanted to see him for longer than just a few second and he wanted so badly to make him happy.

Virgil deserved that, deserved someone who proved how special he really was, who saw all his flaws and loved him for the person he was because of them. Virgil deserved the very best.

Maybe... maybe he deserved something back too. Roman had spent all this time being determined to live up to his own expectations on what his soulmate would think of him, he had never once thought about what he might think of them in return. He had never expected to be... Roman groped uselessly for the word, his mind blank and unable to accurately sum up his feelings. So upset? Yes and no, he was upset but it was something else beyond that. Anger? No, he wasn’t angry at Virgil, how could he when this was clearly a result of his own pain.

Disappointed?

No... no, he wasn’t disappointed in Virgil, in fact, Roman was pretty sure he was already mostly in love with the emo, but maybe, just maybe, it was okay to be hurt by his behaviour because of the pain it brought him. Maybe it wasn't wrong that he felt something akin to disappointed that his soulmate had turned out to be someone who didn’t want him, maybe it wasn’t wrong that he felt angry at those who had driven Virgil to such an extreme mindset. Maybe he was allowed to have these negative, selfish emotions, just as much as Virgil was.

For now, though, he would mourn what he had lost for a little longer. He wasn’t ready to charge back into battle just yet, he wasn't strong enough to risk the pain of the defeat, if it should happen. It would be a war to earn Virgil’s trust, to hopefully - eventually - earn his heart and no doubt he would lose at least once more. That wasn’t something Roman was strong enough for right now, not after the savage beating his heart had just endured.

The others had all fallen asleep still on the sofa, refusing to leave Roman alone, Christmas Eve or no Christmas Eve. It was sweet, but it just meant that he was now awake and alone, with three people uncomfortably slumped over the sofa and he had to be aware of them at all times. He couldn’t scream and throw things as some part of him wanted to, because it would wake them and he didn’t want to do that to his friends.

They would probably hear him if he opened the wine. They would certainly hear him after he had downed a bottle or two. No matter how sweet a song they sung to him, Roman didn’t dare answer their call.

He didn’t know what made him get up from the sofa and wander towards the door. Maybe his sleep addled, pain filled brain had heard a noise, something he consciously hadn't noted. Maybe he just wanted some fresh air despite the late - early - time. Maybe he was just lucky, the fates feeling sorry for him after everything they had put him through and so wanted to give him something better in apology. Whatever the reason, Roman found himself standing and stretching, feeling his tired muscles pop and ache as he moved out of the room and to the front door. He shoved his hands in his old Letterman jacket as he moved, the red and whites of his old high school a reassuring comfort for him after such an awful day.

A card lay on the mat, his name scrawled haphazardly on the envelope. Who knew how long it had sat there, or how long it would have remained there if Roman hadn’t decided to stretch his legs?

He didn’t particularly want to open another cheerful card wishing him all the best and seasons greetings. Any card reminded him of the one Virgil had given him, the hand drawn card still beside his bed, a fresh wave of pain rolling through him at the reminder that it was there and he would have to look at it next time he entered his room. Roman was highly tempted to just ignore it, leave it where it was and deal with the heart warming message waiting for him in the morning.

But how could a card have arrived in the middle of the night? Who had hand delivered it?

Curiosity was going to get him into trouble one of these days. Then again, curiosity was the trait that along with stubbornness, had led him to Virgil and he knew once his heart stopped hurting quite so much, he would be so grateful for that. Roman picked it up and pulled the card from the envelope before he could talk himself out of it.

The strangest card in the world lay in his hands. Balloons filled the front of it, complete with the words ‘Congratulations on your new job!’ in a metallic font.

He... he didn’t have a new job. Roman had worked for the local theatre for three years now, with no desire to work anywhere else. He hadn’t even looked through the job ads, let alone applied or interviewed or been offered a job. What on earth was this card for? Who was it for? Carefully, he double checked the envelope, just to make sure. It still said Roman.

The curiosity was only inflamed by his lack of knowledge, Roman flipping it open to scan the inside. The card had clearly been re-purposed, a series of hand drawn black clouds dotted around the inside and in them he could make out the odd letter or two, the drawings clearly having been done to cover up whatever had been originally been written there so he couldn’t work out who it had originally belonged to. In fact, the only legible writing was directly inside the card, on the back of the front page, Roman staring at it for what felt like an eternity as his brain struggled to process what he was seeing.

A series of numbers and then a V. Not just a series of numbers but exactly the right amount of numbers to be... a phone number.

He could feel his heart pick up, an almost painful beat as it thudded wildly in his chest, the hope refusing to be silenced, not after it had been fed this tiny taste. It would have latched onto anything given enough time but this - this had the potential to be something real, something that could change his life and he had to hope for the better, Roman fishing out his phone from his jean pocket, eyes never leaving the numbers written in the card.

Part of him was almost afraid they would vanish if he looked away, some final cruel joke from the universe, that it would offer him this lifeline and then snatch it away again. It didn’t matter that he knew such a thing wasn’t possible, that ink didn’t work that way, the fear refused to leave him. Unless it was written in invisible ink and what if he was on some kind of timer here?

The other part of him that wasn’t busy freaking out about the possibility of invisible ink or magic knew that it was highly unlikely that Virgil had gone to that kind of effort. He might be sharp, abrasive at times, but Roman refused to believe he was the type to be maliciously cruel to such an extent. He seemed the sort who would do something in the heat of the moment and then stubbornly cling to it, rather than deliberately planning something to hurt someone. Maybe he was just clinging to a foolish fantasy, but Roman didn’t want to believe that Virgil would do that to him. The logical side of him didn’t believe he would.

Strange, how the two sides of him fighting in his head sounded a lot like Patton and Logan, as they tried to sway him this way and that.

Why was he still staring at the numbers? He had been given a chance, far sooner than he had ever dreamed and instead of acting on it, he was just staring at them in fear. That was hardly the behaviour of a Prince. Roman tried not to think about how his fingers were trembling a little as he typed the number into his phone, card held loosely in his other hand. The phone rang four times before there was a soft click as someone picked up, a slightly hesitant, low voice coming from his tinny speakers.

“Hello?”

Roman felt some of that awful blackness in his stomach dispel slightly, a soft sigh of relief escaping from him at that single word. His hand gripped the phone tighter, tight enough that he fingers started to turn pale but he couldn’t even feel it. All he could feel was that hope which was surging ever more powerfully through him, intoxicating and inescapable. Honestly, he didn’t want to escape it, he wanted to hold onto that hope for as long as possible and let it see him through this conversation.

Softly, as though afraid this was a dream after all, he breathed one word in response.

“Virgil.”

Chapter Text

Love it When You Call

For what felt like the longest moment, neither spoke. Roman could hear breathing down the line letting him know that Virgil was still there, but not saying anything. But he was still there. He was with him - albeit over a phone line instead of in person - but that was still better than what Roman thought he had five minutes ago.

It was hard not to be the one to start the conversation, not to demand answers to all the questions that were tantalising and taunting his brain, but Virgil had been the one to bridge this gap, he had put all his pieces in motion, and Roman was terrified of pushing too hard, too quickly and frightening him off again. There had been a reason for all of this, he had given him his number for a reason.

Roman just had to show he could be patient, that he could be trusted to give his love the time he needed. He did love him. Or at least, Roman thought he did, he loved almost everything about Virgil so far. Maybe it was too early to use that word, along with beloved and all the others he had thought of, but it was hard not to think them, when Virgil tripped him up and sent him falling head over heels so very easily.

“I didn't... um, I didn't expect you to pick up so quickly,” Virgil eventually admitted, a soft little huff of a laugh slipping down the line and Roman felt himself fall just that fraction further at the noise. “I hadn't really planned what to say.”

“Oh,” Roman replied lamely and perhaps he had been too optimistic in thinking that Virgil had this all figured out after all.

Not that he was much better off, he didn’t know what he was meant to say or do in this kind of situation. He wanted to beg, to plead with Virgil to just give him a chance, to just love him - but that was almost certainly going to be the wrong thing to do. Virgil had already made it clear he didn’t consider their soulmate connection reason enough to just swoon dramatically into his arms and let them ride off into the sunset together. No, there had to be more to it than just that.

Roman wanted there to be more as well. He had just assumed it would come easily but perhaps it was more important that it come out of something honest and real.

At least this wasn’t a goodbye call. If that was what he had wanted then Virgil would be saying it already, would be threatening him, telling him to stay away or else. He could have just said goodbye and hung up but Virgil was still on the line, was keeping them connected. It made his heart hurt just imagining what the call could have been about. On the other end of the call, Virgil cleared his throat softly before speaking once more.

“I just... I’m sorry. For screaming in your face. And slamming a door in your face. And uh... spraying that face with water and wow, you must really think I hate your face huh. I don’t. I was about to say I don’t know what came over me, but that would have been a lie.” Virgil’s voice grew ever softer as he spoke, until it was a struggle to hear him at all, his words trailing off into nothing more than breathing sounds once more.

“What did come over you?” Roman prompted after the silence stretched on just a fraction too long. Was this pushing? He didn’t want to force Virgil or make him relive something terrible but at the same time they couldn’t tip toe around this subject. Roman needed to know what had happened, he needed to understand because if he was allowed, he wanted to be there to help next time and the time after that. And the time after that. He didn’t want to be pushed out of the room every time because of his ignorance.

“I had a bad anxiety attack, I don’t really remember much of what happened after I shut the door... on your face. It’s no excuse, I won’t blame my brain on what I did, it is an explanation, not a justification. It was a stupid thing to do and I’m sorry.” There was a muffled sound on the other end of the phone as though Virgil had pulled it away from his face in order to look at it for a moment before the voice came through stronger once more. “Anyway, I know you gave Remy your number and address and here we are. On the phone.”

That was right, Remy had said Virgil suffered badly from anxiety, and at the time Roman had compared it to Thomas’ own struggles but everyone had their own demons and battled them in their own way. It seemed as though Virgil’s were more complicated than he had realised.

They sounded like end game boss types instead of simply end level bosses. That was okay though, Roman was a prince, he had done more than his fair share of dragon slaying over the years. He had beaten back many of his own demons and while there was a lot that he wouldn’t be able to do, a lot that only Virgil could defeat, there was just as much that he could do to help. The reality of the moment made him shiver, just a fraction, thinking back on what Virgil had just said.

“What triggered it?” Roman asked, although he had a pretty good idea of the answer already, as much as he hoped and wished he was wrong. Virgil shattered that hope a moment later with his response.

“You.”

Strange how one little word could hurt so much. Roman's heart had broken so many times over the last twelve hours, over and over it had shattered, only for Roman to painstakingly gather up all the pieces and stick them back together. Those three little letters so casually broke it all over again.

“Well, not... you, you. But what you are, what you represent. I didn’t want to meet my soulmate. I... I don’t know what to say Roman. You must have so many questions about why I’m such a jerk, about what that panic attack did, about why I dislike the idea of soulmates. I... where can I start? I don’t know... I don’t know what I’m doing here, I don’t know, this was a dumb idea, I should have planned more.” Virgil’s voice picked up in speed, words tumbling out over themselves in their apparent haste to be said.

That all sounded terribly like the start of a goodbye speech, of Virgil working himself up into a fresh panic and freaking out again. He didn't know if Virgil would have the courage to reach out again, if his last two encounters with Roman ended badly.

Roman couldn’t let him think too hard, couldn’t let this chance pass him by, mind working furiously. He didn't know what to say, well then, Roman just needed to suggest somewhere to begin.

“Start with... why?” Roman croaked at last, feeling the pressure of all the events of yesterday weighing down on him and until he knew the why, how could he ever hope to battle the demons that stood in silent, invisible sentry between the two of them. How could he prove himself when the battlefield was still so covered in fog of war?

“Why,” Virgil repeated slowly, as if confused.

“Why... everything?”

“Ease into the conversation why don't you.” The tone was slightly biting but at the same time it felt more relaxed, as though some part of Virgil had been building up to this moment in his head and now that it was here, he could strangely relax a fraction. At least it was happening.

“My whole life... my whole life I was told that whatever I might like, or think didn't matter because I had a soulmate out there. Who was designed to be perfect for me and I was meant to be perfect for them. Anything I might be interested in was wrong because what if she didn’t like that or she couldn’t do that. I was meant to be this perfect dutiful son, who didn't have anxiety, who didn't dress in black. And who certainly wasn't gay. My soulmate was the embodiment of everything I was fighting against.”

“She?” It wasn't the most important part of what Virgil had said, but his mind was spinning, struggling to absorb all the information and it was the only thing that had properly sunk in and so the only thing he could respond to. Was part of the problem his gender? Roman wasn’t sure if he could handle that, if Virgil turned out to be that type of person. He wanted to hope not but considered how easily he had dropped the female term into the conversation, he couldn’t be sure of anything right now.

Virgil laughed, his teeth clattering together a little as though cold. It wasn’t as bitter a laugh as before and while it was nowhere near the levels of the light giggles Roman had heard before this had turned into a terrible mess, it still sounded so much better than his terror laugh. It made him fall deeper, and he couldn’t even see the light at the top anymore, couldn’t see any way out of this hole that was his feelings for Virgil - not that he wanted to climb away from them. It also made him feel that perhaps he didn’t have to worry that Virgil was secretly homophobic.

“Oh yeah, of course my parents always insisted you would be a pretty woman. I almost wish I still talked to them, just so I could rub you in their mean spirited, close-minded little faces. The looks would be priceless if I showed up on their doorstep with the most handsome man in the world on my arm and sorry guys, he’s my soulmate. I don’t make the rules, so here is my very gay self showing you my very gay soulmate and we’re going to be oh so very gay together.”

Virgil paused for a moment, his breathing picking up, a series of short, shallow breaths as if something had occurred to him, something he didn’t like. Roman was right there with him, he didn’t like the sound of Virgil’s parents at all and how dare they not realise what a wonderful gift they had been given in their son. They sounded terrible and although he knew very little about them, if Roman was a betting man he would have bet high on the chance that a major part of the reason Virgil had anxiety in the first place was because of the unreasonable expectations they had forced on him. They would have made him worse, not better and he hated that. Hated them, if it was possible to hate someone you only knew one side of.

“Wait, are you even gay too? Or do you identify as something else?” Virgil blurted out, cutting into his internal rant at Virgil's parents and there were probably better ways he could have phrased that but it didn’t dim Roman’s smile. If anything, his good mood only grew because why else would he ask unless he was considering it, even subconsciously? His brain rewound the conversation, picking up on what else he had said and - and oh.

“Oh god yes, I am so very gay,” Roman breathed, feeling a bright smile come across his face, the sun shining down on him once more. He wanted to skip around the apartment, clutching his phone against his heart and sing every cheesy love he knew, even if that did wake up the other three back in the living room.

Virgil thought he was handsome. No, Virgil thought he was the most handsome man in the world, Virgil had imagined a situation where they showed up somewhere and were ‘oh so very gay’ together. Virgil had imagined them together. Virgil! His Virgil! He wasn’t tossing Roman back into the gutter and kicking him in the stomach! This was turning out to be the best Christmas ever.

“See, we have that in common,” Roman told him, trying not to cringe at how terribly desperate that sounded and no, that was a stupid, stupid thing to say. You should give me a chance because we both are attracted to the same gender? What kind of messed up idea was that? Virgil laughed down the line again, that same little huff of a laugh from before that was neither terrible nor utterly magical. It was suspended in the between, just as they were suspended, trapped in some weird not one way or the other.

“I’m a mess Roman,” Virgil whispered softly. “I don’t fit into any of the boxes the world loves to try and place you into. I’m prickly and bad tempered and my idea of fun is to sit alone on my sofa on my phone. I have the grand total of one friend and talking to anyone else for any length of time is normally beyond me. I panic over the stupidest of things and I lose control of myself when I do.”

“Virg-”

“No, please... let me finish. You deserve to know what kind of a screw up I am, and how badly the universe messed up in thinking we could fit together. I think wrong thoughts and I would misinterpret so many nice things you do for me, I would twist them in my head and turn anything positive into a negative. You don’t want to have to deal with me. I’m an awful, mean person and I would be a terrible soulmate for you.”

That line. That terrible, terrible line, gave Roman an idea, as though struck by lightning, so sudden and crisply formed in his mind that it made him gasp a little. Or maybe it was the pain at being rejected once more, because at the end of the day, that was what this phone call had turned into. There was still his idea, the one that even now shimmered so brightly in his mind, an idea that might even work, if he was lucky.

Please, let him be lucky. After everything that had happened, after ever twist and turn that his life had taken in these past few days, please, just this once, let him be lucky and let this idea he had actually work. It was enough to make him swallow down the hurt that came with being rejected - even if for his so called ‘own good’ - and try to focus on the idea over anything else, no matter how badly he wanted to go back down the begging route. Roman sighed, finally settling the card down on the small table beside the door, hand lifting to run through his hair in an agitated fashion, and it was cruel to drag the moment out when he already knew what he was going to say but he had to prove to Virgil that he had thought about this.

“You know, for a guy who insists that he makes his own choices and nobody else has a right to, you seem awfully keen on making my choices for me,” Roman told him, keeping his voice even, He wasn’t angry, but it wouldn’t do to give any hints that he might be, because then the demons hurting Virgil would use that as ammunition, would make him think wrong thoughts that would just spiral out of control.

Roman couldn’t risk that happening. He just needed to make Virgil realise that what he was doing was the same thing he claimed so badly to hate. It could go wrong, of course, those demons could overwhelm Virgil's reality, his guilt could become too much. Or, he could breathe and listen to Roman... Which was why he was still silently praying to any God that might exist, to please, please, let him be lucky.

“Because it's the wrong choice! I’m the wrong choice,” Virgil snapped and no, he still hadn’t understood. It was time to risk everything, to lay himself completely out in the open and trust to that hope because this was the only thing he had left to try.

“Aren’t I the one who gets to decide what is and isn’t wrong for me?”

“I...” Virgil trailed off, voice suddenly subdued. “I hadn’t thought of that. But I will almost certainly hurt you, even if I don’t mean to.”

“Again... my choice to risk that. It is your choice when it comes to your own feelings sure, but it is my choice with mine. My choice if I want to try and woo you, my choice if I think you are worth the risk or not, if you are the right choice or not. To me, you are worth it all.”

There was near silence on the phone, bar a gentle clicking sound, as if Virgil was tapping something. At least he was thinking, he hadn’t rejected the words outright and Roman was desperate enough to take that as a good sign.

“When did you get so sma- I, oh my god dude, will you just chill out!” Virgil shrieked, Roman flinching and there... there went his heart yet again. The broken pieces cracking into even smaller ones, crumbling into dust around him in fact. He had come so close. So near but then near didn’t matter because he had still failed and there were no prizes for second place. Roman couldn’t stop the soft sob of pain that escaped, a mewing noise of agony and in all honesty he didn't want to stop it. He had been strong for so long now.

“No, not you Roman, I, oh god, I’m sorry,” Virgil apologised, his teeth chattering loudly together on that last word and that was what he had been hearing before, his teeth? “See, I’m hurting you already, even though I didn’t mean too. I'm just a little cold which isn’t helping my nerves or my mood. And Remy keeps trying to phone and text me, so my phone keeps vibrating against my ear since I’m talking to you, it's very distracting.”

Roman exhaled, a deep whooshing gust of a breath, feeling his world start to brighten. Virgil had hurt him there, but it had been a misunderstanding; even friends did that to each other all the time without even meaning to. It was far too easy to say the wrong thing, to overhear something you shouldn’t and think it aimed at you when it honestly wasn’t. Roman still wanted to try. He wanted to get to know him, to trust him because if he knew more that wouldn’t have hurt. He wasn’t the sort of Prince that would turn tail and run due to one little thing.

“Why doesn't he just let himself into your place with his key?” Try as Roman might, he couldn't help the hint of bitterness that seeped into his voice at that question, the memory of Remy kicking him out and then opening that door still burned bright in his mind’s eye.

“Ah... well he could but he is probably still there. I'm not.”

Virgil... wasn't in his apartment? Virgil had made it very clear over the time they had known each other that even when he wasn't hiding from the world and rejecting social norms, that he wasn't a fan of going out more often than he absolutely had to. So where on earth was he, if not his own apartment, especially at gone three in the morning?

Wait. How had the card arrived through his letterbox? It was far too late for any one to deliver it through any normal means. There had been no stamp on the envelope. He had even assumed at the time that someone had to have hand delivered it and then when he had actually opened it and seen what was inside, all other thoughts had fled his mind.

“Virgil...” Roman began, voice slow and steady as the potential truth began to crash over him like a great wave of knowledge, something he should have worked out the moment this phone call started. “Where exactly are you?”

Virgil sucked in a sharp breath of air, and Roman felt as though yet again, he already knew the answer, only this time it wasn’t as painful as waiting to hear what had been the trigger for Virgil’s panic attack.

“On your street...” he admitted softly. “Like I said, I didn’t expect you to pick up so quickly...”

Roman was moving before Virgil had finished talking, pulling his shoes on roughly, not even bothering to do up the laces. They flapped and smacked against the ground as he pulled the door open, all but sprinting down the path, hair whipping around his face as he frantically twisted his head this way and what, scanning the area.

There, at the corner, illuminated by a street light stood Virgil, staring right back at him. He wasn't wearing the patchwork hoodie from before and as Roman got even closer he could see he was only dressed in a thin purple top. The rest of the world dropped away a fraction, so that all he could see Virgil, bathed in the pale yellow light of the street light. Laces flapped uselessly against the pavement as he moved towards him. Virgil didn’t move towards him in some slow motion dramatic romance scene from a movie, but he didn’t run either, simply stood there, phone still held against his ear.

Roman drank in the sight of him greedily, as though it had been an eternity since he had last seen him and for all he knew, it might be an eternity before he would ag- no, he wasn’t thinking that. This was going to work, because Virgil had wanted to come and find Roman. He had wanted to talk, had wanted to give his number. He must have wanted something like this to happen because he had remained on the street. It would have been easy for him to keep walking as he talked, since Roman hadn’t realised where he was and he would never have been any the wiser.

Instead, Virgil had waited nearby and hoped that he would work it out. Roman had to hope in return, that it meant something real.

Virgil’s whole body was trembling, and Roman had to hope that was mostly from the cold and not from the stress of this moment. Such thoughts made him wince a little inside, and how could Roman have even thought for a second, that he hoped his soulmate was cold, was in a sort of physical pain rather than shaking in fear because of Roman. Virgil wasn’t the only one making mistakes, even if that one had only been internal.

He had to be freezing. What had Virgil been thinking, going out at this time of night without any kind of layers? All Roman wanted to do was scoop him up in his arms and carry him inside to the warmth, wrap him up in the many blankets that were scattered around his apartment and make everything better. He wanted to kiss every last scrap of coldness away from his skin until Virgil was a giggling, soft, warm puddle in his embrace.

They weren’t anywhere close to being on that level, where he could do such things.

“I see you,” Roman breathed, coming to a stop a few steps away from the other man, close enough to touch, the moment fragile and raw. It could so easily go the wrong way, a single misspoken word, a single wrong look and they could both fall upon the blade that was lurking close by. The slightest little misstep and both of them would be left wounded and bleeding, possibly beyond all hope of recovery.

“Yeah dumb-ass,” Virgil sniffed, and this close Roman could see the tears shimmering in those beautiful eyes - and one of his eyes had somehow changed colour since the last time they had seen each other face to face and Roman loved it just as much. “I see you too, you’re right in front of me.”

“No,” Roman disagreed, shaking his head fondly as he finally hung up, hand lifting to gently catch Virgil’s own, pushing the phone down away from his face, movements slow and steady. Virgil’s hand was ice cold, chilled by the night air and it only reinforced that desire to take him inside, to welcome him into his home. The contact made Virgil gasp slightly but he made no effort to pull away from the touch. It made Roman smile a little, his courage soaring as high as his impossible hopes. Dreams that felt more attainable now, face to face with the undeniable love of his life.

“I see you Virgil.”

Phone was held limply against his hip, Virgil never once breaking eye contact, those breathtaking eyes wide and fixed squarely on him. He was listening. Maybe finally, listening and taking it in.

“What... what do you see?” Virgil asked, voice a hushed whisper.

“You. Not my soulmate, not my trophy or anything like that. Not someone I own or who has no choice in this. I don’t expect anything more than what you are willing to freely give. I hope you will give me that chance, but I know I don’t deserve it solely on the merits of a number... I just see you, and you’re the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen.”

Roman's hand lifted back up, brushing against Virgil’s cheek, gently touching at his hairline as he tenderly tucked a loose strand of hair behind his ear, smile as soft and unashamedly hopeful as before. Virgil's breath hitched in his throat, but he still made no effort to stop him and perhaps it was just Roman’s imagination, but he could have sworn that Virgil even leaned a fraction into the touch. Virgil sniffed again, a hiccupping sound slipping out as he spoke, his voice sounding oddly choked.

“You can't just say stuff like that, God, you're stupidly romantic. You think that solves all our problems?”

Before today, Roman might have thought just that. That all he had to do was say a pretty speech, flash a smile and show some talent towards something his soulmate would be interested in and that would have been enough. Before today, he wouldn’t have understood what having a soulmate really meant. Before today, he wouldn’t have truly realised what it meant to have a partner in life, someone beside him as a real flesh and blood person. He wouldn’t have realised that he had been thinking about it being work but in completely the wrong way.

It wasn’t about trying to fit into whatever shape they had decided, working to be the sort of person they wanted. It was about working together, building together and learning not just who the other person was, but who they were themselves. It was about growing together and becoming new people as a result. It promised to be the best type of adventure.

“No. I think it starts to solve them, it gives us something to work on and from there, we have a chance.”

Virgil’s whole body shook with the force of his shivers and Roman couldn’t take it any longer. No amount of romantic declarations or pleading with Virgil was worth risking his health like this and he had waited in agony and pain for all these hours. He could wait a little longer in hope.

“Come on, let's get you inside, you have to be freezing.” Roman shrugged out of his Letterman as he spoke, wrapping the white and red jacket around Virgil’s shoulders. Surprisingly, he didn’t complain, even going so far as to slip his arms inside, so that he was wearing it properly and that did a whole acrobatic routine of funny flips and jumps to his stomach. It suited Virgil, for all that it was slightly too big for his thin frame and Roman could get used to seeing him in his clothes.

Virgil leaned forward, tilting his head a little to stare directly up at Roman. He made no effort to move though. Simply stood there, in Roman’s coat, standing on Roman’s street and staring into Roman’s eyes. A war seemed to be being waged being those eyes of his, Virgil biting nervously at his bottom lip - that also did funny things to Roman’s insides.

“What if I mess up again?” Virgil asked at last.

“What if I do?” Roman replied. “We’re not perfect and maybe you will mess up. Maybe I will. Maybe this whole thing will crash and burn around us despite both of our best efforts, but we will never know if we don’t try. If we don’t fight and I for one, would rather try and hopefully be happy with you... rather than never try and be miserable alone, always wondering what could have been.”

“But what if you grow to... resent me? I’m not... I’m not like you Roman, I’m not... happy. Outgoing. The thought of going carol singing to a strangers home makes me feel ill.”

Roman could almost see the demons lurking behind Virgil as he stood there, nervously pouring out his fears and worries. They curled themselves around Virgil, shadowy beasts of the not quite there. He could almost hear their hissing lies pressing down on him, how they whispered with forked tongues into Virgil’s ear, trying to convince him of a lack of self worth. Roman hoped that his voice would be stronger than theirs.

“Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t actually want to date myself.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah... given the chance, I only want to date you. With your worries and anxiety and hatred of social interactions included. Sure, there is a lot of ‘what ifs’ in anyone's life but I really don’t want you to be one... I don’t want to look back and think; what if I tried with Virgil instead of losing him before I got to know him?”

“Oh...” Virgil whispered. Was that a good oh? Or a bad oh? Roman couldn’t tell anymore, wasn’t sure even as the faintest smile drifted onto Virgil’s face, teeth sliding away from darkened lips. “You’re such a dork, you know that right?”

Virgil shifted a little, leaning up on his tiptoes to reach higher, hands slipping around Roman’s neck. Afterwards, he would no doubt claim it was the cold alone that made Roman shiver, the sensation of chilled skin brushing over heated flesh, his body responding to temperature and temperature alone. That would be a total lie of course, but he couldn’t let people realise how utterly weak he was for Virgil already, he had to try and retain some tiny semblance of dignity.

Each movement was slow, exaggerated, as though some part of Virgil still wasn’t convinced that his actions would be welcomed. Roman could have sworn his heart had stopped as they stood there, holding his breath and not moving in case Virgil thought of it as some kind of rejection. He didn’t think he had the strength to move anyway, not with the man of his dreams in his arms at long last and so close now he could feel his breath against his skin.

Lips were brushed gently against the corner of his mouth, pressing a lipstick stain in the crease of his lips, where his upper and lower lips met, and Roman wanted to just melt into it. He wanted to kiss back but this was still perfect in its own right because it was Virgil and he was kissing him. The contact was far too brief, Virgil pulling back after a few seconds, Roman automatically trying to chase after him, a breathless hint of a giggle slipping free from Virgil as he kept some distance between them.

Roman pulled back after a second, some semblance of thought returning to him and Virgil... Virgil had just kissed him. Virgil had kissed him. Roman was sure his face was as red as the mark itself, one hand lifting to trace around it in a daze.

“Wow... do it again?” He asked softly, stunned and unable to think of a smoother response. Roman had never pictured Virgil kissing him first but now that it had happened, he couldn’t imagine any other way it could have gone.

There was a satisfied gleam in Virgil’s eyes as he examined his handiwork carefully, Roman’s reaction clearly having been the right one. He could get used to this, Roman giving the shorter man a slightly sloppy smile, still too dazed to think clearly and do anything romantic back. It seemed as if Virgil was indeed a man of many talents, including smiling at him and starting to lean up for another kiss, Roman’s breath catching in his throat in delicious anticipation.

Virgil’s phone vibrated again in his hand, the familiar tones of The Boys are Back in Town shattering the moment and Roman hadn’t even registered it at the back of his neck as they had stood there. Virgil jolted backwards; attention lost from Roman to stare down at the small phone in his hands. Roman really had been lost in the moment not to have realised he was still holding it, in the feel of Virgil against in, in the kiss that had been chaste and yet spoke of a heat yet to come. As in mockery of his thoughts of warmth, Virgil started to shiver again, whatever temporary relief the jacket and moment had provided him lost and he was becoming aware of just how cold he really was.

“Come on, let's get you inside and you, uh... you better let Remy know you’re okay, he’ll never stop texting and calling otherwise.”

“Yeah... he’s a good friend,” Virgil admitted, staring down at his phone with a fond smile on his face, although he made no attempt to click the accept call, just watching as Remy’s name flashed on his screen.

“Are you going to answer?”

“Nope. He is going to never let me forget this as it. He will be impossible to deal with once he realises he won yet again.”

“So, what are you going to do?” Roman asked, genuinely interested. Virgil smiled again, something slightly sly and wicked, his fingernails tapping against the edge of his phone. That weird twisting feeling happened again, and Roman was fairly sure it was a good feeling. Just as he was fairly sure it was one he was going to feel a lot around Virgil, especially if he kept smiling at him in that brave, reckless manner. Virgil was a delightful mix of contradictions, shy and brave at the same time, cautious to a fault and yet capable of making reckless leaps at the same time. Roman couldn’t wait to learn more.

“Well, I wanna send him something a little more... real.”

Shyly, he lifted his phone upwards, camera turned around into selfie mode, eyes slanting towards Roman in a silent question. He could feel his heart swell even more at knowing that Virgil wanted a photo of the pair of them, that he wanted to send that to Remy instead of just a couple of words of text. Something real. Did that mean he wanted to look at it himself, to remind himself of how far Roman was willing to go, how happy he looked after being kissed by Virgil? Did it mean he wanted a good memory captured on his phone for all eternity, to look at any time he wished?

Whatever the reason, Roman was more than happy to oblige, feeling Virgil slot in against his side, pressing close. It made him feel brave, brave enough to lift a hand and wrap it gently around Virgil’s waist, keeping him close without holding him tight so that hopefully, he could break free without any effort if he wanted to. Not that he seemed to want to, somehow managing to press close, wordlessly signalling his approval of the embrace.

Virgil turned a little, half hiding his face in the crook of Roman’s neck, eye peeking out to look towards the camera. Roman could feel the smile against his skin, another lipstick smudge being left there no doubt and he didn’t mind in the slightest. Their cheeks looked a little red on the phone screen, raw from the cold no doubt and yet Roman didn’t feel it. Rather, he felt on top of the world, he felt fantastic, standing in this puddle of light, the rest of the world pitch black around them. Standing outside at gone three on Christmas morning with his soulmate pressed against him and Roman had never felt more at peace, more blessed, and happy.

He stared straight up at the phone, the brightest smile on his face as the flash went off, immortalising the moment forever.