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Virgil traces patterns on his arms, again and again and again, trying not to push too hard but almost unable to help himself. It leaves raised lines on his skin, temporary proof of his recklessness; an external sign of his internal struggles, even if he's the only one to ever see it.

He hopes he's the only one to ever see it. He doesn't need their worry or their pity. Doesn't need doctor's appointments and over-cautious actions, keeping sharp objects away from him, questioning him if he’s gone for more than 3 minutes alone, every injury he gains being suspicious. He doesn’t need that.

Except he does.

He wants their attention, and he knows that makes him weak, but he needs someone to notice. He needs worried glances and concerned questions. He needs someone to give a fuck whether he lives or dies because he can't do it himself anymore.

He knows he has people who love him. He has Pat and Roman and Logan, he has his parents and he has his classmates, but their protests are quiet in his mind as he traces again and again and again.

It's moved up to scratches. A stinging pressure. A brief outlet for the emotions bubbling up and over in his mind.

It was the little things--it's always the little things. It's so easy for everything to become too much. The sounds are too much and the heat is too much and the pressure is too much and he's running before he can even think. He has to escape. Has to get away from the sensations clinging to his skin and soaking up his calm like a sponge. Away from the thoughts that fill his mind no matter how hard he tries to block them out.

They noticed. His classmates. They always do, it's impossible not to, but they never follow. It's not their place to care. They care in the kind of way that you care about children starving on the other side of the world: full of pity and inaction.

Sometimes they whisper. Whisper about the boy who just bolts out of classes. The boy who won’t speak, won’t acknowledge you or anyone else. The boy who just sits there tracing patterns on grid paper or ripping up worksheets or forcing his mind away from here, away from this school, away from his body, until that’s not enough for him anymore.

Sometimes they don’t even grant him that.

Later he'll be yelled at. That was the cycle, after all. Escapism, silence, anger, shame; around and around it goes. He's not allowed to do this, they say. He's not allowed to be like this. He's not allowed but he doesn't have any options; he just wants another option .

He rips his hands away as he presses a little too hard, skin tearing and blood springing to the surface. It beads, red and warm and it's like a bucket of cold water being dumped on him.

They'll see.

Fuck.

He's never careful enough. The moment is all-consuming and without consequence; it consistently results in bad decisions.

He sucks his wound into his mouth as best as possible. It isn't a lot of blood, but it would last. It would exist outside of this cold school stairwell, outside of this moment, and he needed his best to make sure it wasn't seen.

Because, sure, he wants people to recognise he's struggling, but this isn't how he wants to do it. Not really. The image of devastation on Patton's face is too vivid in his mind. The look of betrayal, the complete and utter sadness, the disbelief that he could do something like this. He’s seen it before. He can't disappoint him like that.

Patton's too much of a caretaker, consistently worrying over everyone else. Roman who's in a much worse place than Virgil is, hating himself with a passion, self-destructive and dragging away every moment of Patton’s attention; Logan who’s lost all sense of purpose, sitting with him on the rooftop at night, asking why he should even bother when nothing’s real anyway.

It drains Patton to the core and yet he can’t stop.

No. He can't add to that. That would just be cruel.

Virgil is supposed to be Patton’s rock, supposed to help him when it’s all too much, but he lives in a constant state of fear. Lives knowing he’s not capable of being enough. Lives knowing that soon he’s going to die.

It won’t necessarily be his choice—he’s not actively suicidal—but he is going to die. The future is an unattainable concept full of it gets better’s and impossible plans. He can’t picture it. It’s not going to happen. He is going to die.

Maybe not today; maybe not tomorrow.

But soon.

His awareness fades back into the cool wall pressed to his back, the cool tiles underneath him. Cool; cool; cool. It's calming. He wishes he could feel the cold breeze stinging his skin instead of this constant contact, but he'll take what he can get.

There’s only so many quiet places to go in a school setting. He’s tried the bathrooms before, but the instant someone walks in it’s like they’re snatching away every inch of comfort and calm that he had.

There used to be some abandoned classrooms over by the driveway. They were a favourite of Virgil’s. The last place people thought to look. Quiet. Secluded. Safe. He could sit there and watch patterns dance over the concrete and over the sky and over his skin. They’re not abandoned now though; they’ve been donated to one of the neighbouring schools as it undergoes repairs.

So this is the best option. But he can’t stay long, someone will find him

He breathes.

1.  2. 3. 4.

The sound echoes around him but he barely notices.

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

Chest heavy, eyes heavy, everything is so, so heavy.

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.

He picks himself up off the stairwell and makes his way back to class. The walk is hazy, doesn’t stick in his mind outside of one foot in front of the other and trying not to lose himself. The door approaches, foreboding, a barrier between Virgil’s unclear bubble and dozens and dozens of eyes.

He pushes it open.

The room is loud; the teacher is missing; Roman is looking right at him.

It’s all too much but he knows he can’t leave again, so instead, he breaths and he sits. His workbook is open where he left it in the middle of a sentence. His bag is shoved under the desk. His best friend is staring.

“Where were you?”

Roman is searching his face, eyes tracing over every feature like it could grant him the secrets of the universe. He’s suspicious. He has a right to be, not that he knows that necessarily.

Virgil looks down at his book. “Just in the bathroom.”

His eyes flicker up to Roman for a half-second. He needs to know. Needs to know whether he believes him.

He doesn’t.

Roman’s face. That is the face of someone who knows you’re lying but also knows why you’re lying. He’s been in this position before and he wasn’t going to say anything. Roman knows the courtesy will be repaid when the circumstances are reversed; a silent agreement to keep this from Patton at all costs, all the better for all of them.

Virgil exhales.

“Okay,” Roman says, his tone is casual and yet anything but, “Well you know you can talk to me if anything’s up, right?”

He did know.

Despite the way he felt, Roman still operated, still lived. He listened to his friends, was there to bitch and moan to about anything you needed; he went out, drank too much and didn’t care, but he’d never pressure you into anything you weren’t comfortable with—he knows the importance of boundaries; he’d be there for Logan and he’d be there for Virgil too if he said he needed it.

So, Virgil did know.

He chuckled. “Yeah, of course.”

He did know.

But it wasn’t enough.