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heartbreak and healing

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Roman’s shaking a little. He is shaking but he folds his arms over his chest and raises his chin anyway, glaring down his shirtless reflection and pressing his arms against himself tight, like it would bind him back together.

But no. The cracks are still there. …Cracks. Cracks. Like a porcelain doll. Etching out like a spiderweb, like a broken mirror, from his heart. Roman tears his eyes away from the deep red fissures and stares himself in the eye.

There’s an answer to the number of questions in here, pinging around his skull like popcorn. There’s an answer he doesn’t like but has to face is true.

He… Well, it’s hard to put into words, really. But…

His arms fall to his sides, and he traces the tallest crack with a fingertip, feeling how it hurts a little to press down, tracing it even though it only travels about an inch and a half up his chest, snaking off towards his right collarbone by the time it hits his sternum. It’s red, but barely so. When Roman first noticed them, he almost thought they were black.

When Roman had first noticed them, they’d been hairline fractures. He had panicked, and after spending an hour fretting and prodding and poking in front of the mirror, had gone to bed with the hope that he could sleep it off.

But things were starting to add up, now. Because they had only formed after… after the wedding. They had only formed after Roman had gone down in the hallway from a shock of grief so palpable it soared straight over emotion and landed firmly in pain had lanced through his chest.

Roman presses the pads of his fingers over his heart and feels how it hurts, trying to fight down his grimace. Curse him. Curse his imaginary form and how his creative status took euphemism and metaphor takes things so literally. His heart has broken, it seems, and it is now tearing him apart.

Roman lets his hand fall, debating covering it with foundation or something, before there’s a knock at his door.

“Roman,” comes Virgil’s voice. “There’s waffles up for grabs, if you want.”

“I’ll be right down,” Roman calls back, turning away from the mirror and fumbling for his undershirt.

“Want me to wait, or…?”

“No, no. Go get a headstart.”

Virgil’s footsteps shuffle away from the door hesitantly. Roman pulls on his shirt and grimaces again at how he can feel the slight way the cracks make his skin tug in weird ways as his muscles move.

 


 

Roman comes downstairs when he is fully and immaculately dressed. It takes a while to lace his boots, it always does, but he likes them too much to leave style by the wayside. But by the time he comes downstairs, everyone is there. And nowadays, he means everyone.

Virgil is sitting at the dinner table with two plates in front of him. One is empty, and the other has three waffles on it, while the communal help-yourself plate is empty too. It seems Virgil grabbed some for him before they disappeared, which is nice of him. Logan sits at the opposite end of the table, alone, frowning down at his phone as he cleans up the last of his own waffles which must have been appropriately drowned in crofters. Remus is sitting on the couch – upside down, feet hanging over the back of the couch and kind-of in Virgil’s face (and clearly on purpose), but he’s watching… some cartoon or other. Roman can’t be bothered to check.

And Patton and Janus are in the kitchen. They’re in the kitchen, cleaning up batter and bowls and laughing to each other. Patton’s face is lit up with laughter, probably from a joke Roman didn’t hear, and Janus’ eyes are glittering with mirth, and both look far more light-hearted than Roman’s seen in a long time.

The cracks throb and ache a little at that, but it’s not enough to throw Roman off his paces. Not yet, at least.

The laughter immediately quiets as he walks in, though. Patton’s eyes lock with his for only a second before his grin drops into a polite smile that grates to see, and a silence falls across the room.

Roman realises he’s just kind of standing there, and winces. He doesn’t say anything. He just drops his head and hurries over to the seat Virgil’s pulling out for him to take. No grand entrance, no declarations, no songs, no quips. Roman has learnt over the years to read the room, and he can well tell that it is not a room welcome to such antics anymore.

Or at least; as his eyes flick up at the sound of quiet humming, and sees Patton shoot a smile at Janus, who’s started humming… god, is that Phantom? under his breath; such antics aren’t welcome from him anymore.

Roman clears his plate without really realising it, and he eats them dry. No sauces or toppings or anything. He’s a little more on autopilot than he’d like to admit, and Virgil seems to be taking notice.

“You alright?”

“Just dandy,” Roman shoots back, smiling a little at his own subtle gay joke, before setting his cutlery down on the plate in front of him.

“You seem out of it.”

“Accidentally stayed up late,” Roman says automatically, punctuating it with a shrug. “Got a new project, it’s kind of stressing me out.”

Janus’ eyes flick to him, almost imperceptibly. It’s not a lie, Roman chants in his head. Or perhaps more accurately, it’s enough of the truth for now.

“…Need help?”

“No.” Roman reaches over and slides Virgil’s used plate towards himself and stacks it under his own. “But I’ll let you know if I do down the line.”

That is a lie. They all know him well enough to know it, too. Virgil sees it for what it actually is, though – an end to the conversation – and he shrugs and goes back to his phone too.

Roman gets up and makes his way around the table. He pauses at Logan’s elbow, waiting until the other side acknowledges him, before quietly holding out one hand, balancing the plates in the other.

Logan blinks for a moment, before handing over his own plate. He doesn’t thank Roman as the prince takes it. That’s okay. Roman’s not hunting for it. He just adds it to the stack and walks on eggshells all the way into the kitchen, where the fun conversation quiets down with every step closer he takes.

He hates this. He hates that it went this far. He hates that he’s done this to the people he loves. And he hates how it’s all his fault.

That thought is not a new one, really, but it brings around a new effect. His heart aches, sharp and hot, a new pain that stabs right through him and makes him stumble. Stumble straight into the wall. And he drops the plates.

Smash.

He didn’t mean to.

He didn’t mean to.

Roman needs to move, to clean this up, to fix it, but all that is going through him in this moment in time, enough to blind out the pain, is that he didn’t mean to.

There are curses shouted around the room, mostly from people scared by the sudden noise, but Roman is just staring down at the most recent pile of mistakes, the newest thing he’s destroyed by laying his hands on, and-

Is someone calling his name?

He only snaps to when someone all but elbows him out of the way. He stumbles backwards even more, hand latching to his sash (totally not over his heart) as the elbower manages to hit him right where it hurts.

“I’m sorry,” he says, and realises it’s Logan who’s elbowed him aside, looking sour. “I was… I…”

“Would you at least mind moving from standing in it?” Logan orders him sharply, and Roman does his best to leap backwards like he’s been stung.

“It was an accident,” Roman is still talking. “I didn’t mean to, I was only trying to help.”

“And clearly, it has gone the same way your help usually goes,” Logan says, sharp and to the point as he crouches down to start picking the larger pieces out of the mess to put into a rubbish bag Patton’s holding open for him. “Surely one would learn to keep their nose out of it by now.”

Roman’s eyes widen. He fights to try and defend himself but no words come. The room finds a way to be even more silent, until Logan finally looks at him, with a bitter glare.

“Why don’t you keep out of the way,” he snaps, “while we fix your mistakes again?”

Roman’s grip over his heart tightens because oh, that hurt. That hurt so bad, it hurt bad enough that it’s stabbing, and he can’t breathe and he’s pretty sure he can feel the cracks widening without having to see it.

He takes one step back. Then another. Patton is staring at Logan, mouth open, and those are the only two in Roman’s tunnel vision at the moment.

Roman does not stay to hear what Patton will say. He couldn’t take it, not from him.

He doesn’t even bother to go for the stairs. He sinks out on the spot, hoping he doesn’t look too much like a wounded animal as he goes.

 


 

“You can’t say that,” Patton finally manages to break the shocked silence of the kitchen. “You… that was cruel, Logan.”

“It was true,” Logan grouses, turning back to the pile.

“Get up,” Virgil says gruffly, and suddenly he’s standing behind Logan, face stormy. “I’ll finish this.”

“No, it’s fine-”

“It’s clearly not. Get up, and either go apologise or have a fucking nap. I don’t care, just don’t pull that stunt again.”

Logan stands before Virgil makes him (because he has that look about him) and tries to swallow his anger.

“I’m sorry,” he says formally, swallowing hard and adjusting his tie. “I… I have not slept very well this past week and my patience seems to be growing thin.”

Virgil shoots him a hard look. Patton swallows. Janus has moved to stand beside Patton in the kitchen doorway, leaning on the doorframe with a similarly hard look on his face. Remus is watching from over the edge of the couch with something far too interested for Logan’s liking.

“Go sleep,” Patton nods to the stairs. “We’ll… let’s deal with this tonight. You’ve clearly woken up on the wrong side of the bed.”

“My bed is pressed up against two walls, I can only get out of one side of it, there is no wrong side-”

“It’s an expression,” Janus cuts in before Logan can continue, and Logan is left to shake his head and all but storm away as everyone else watches, and slowly, the mess gets cleared up.

As Virgil stands, stepping back so Janus can vacuum, Patton catches his arm and pulls him aside.

“Can you… check on Roman?” Patton asks him, and Virgil studies his face. Patton was always pretty good at hiding his emotions, more than they ever really realised, but the way his eyes are shining with something grieving finally sways him. It’s clear he doesn’t know if he should do check on Roman himself – and doesn’t even know if he wants to, but despite everything, he’s still worried about the prince.

“Okay,” Virgil agrees, choosing not to have a go at him. “I might give him a little time, though. I don’t think he wants to see anyone right now.”

 


 

Roman makes it to his room, and his back thumps against the door as he gasps for air. By the gods, that hurt. It hurts so bad. He fumbles to get his layers off and staggers over to the dresser again to realise with hitching breaths that it wasn’t just him feeling things.

The cracks are bigger. And they’ve solidified into a wine red. The more horizontal cracks have begun to reach around his ribs and he might yet wake up to find them on his back tomorrow.

He makes it to his bed and sits, falls backward and pants at the ceiling. This is the worst it’s felt yet, and Roman thinks he can see the pattern now.

It has to be heartbreak. The thing that makes this worse is the grief over hearing and knowing and processing his myriad of mistakes. And it’s probably only going to go downhill from here.

He presses his hand lightly over his heart again and thinks about Logan’s words. It hurts, everything throbs as he reflects, but he makes himself reflect because Logan is right. And Logan’s been very patient with him in the past. They were just plates, sure, but it was clearly the last straw.

I’ll eat separately from now on, maybe, he thinks to himself. So I don’t have to risk upsetting Logan like that again.

It will probably be better for them all all-round. He’s not as stupid as they all think. He can take a cue, and he can play his role accordingly.

The… the transformation, the whatever it is, has left him exhausted. Roman manages to crawl into bed, he flicks his wrist to magic off his boots because he doesn’t have it in him to do it for real, and he pulls the covers up over his shoulders right up to his chin and rolls over, all but passing out.

 


 

Virgil knocks lightly on his door an hour later, calling his name. He sticks his head in the room and his expression softens when he sees Roman sleeping. He flicks the light out and carefully closes the door.

 


 

Roman wakes up in less pain than he fell asleep in, which is nice. A quick glance at his clock tells him it’s the same day – though barely, as it’s now about quarter to midnight, and the thing that actually woke him is not chest pains but hunger pains.

Roman sits up, the blankets sliding off his bare chest, and he blinks twice as he could swear his new afflictions are… glowing? It dies away pretty quick, if it is. It’s a trick of the light if it isn’t. The light is low, so that’s possible, even though Roman doesn’t remember turning them off himself. But still. He changes into his pyjamas, pausing in front of the mirror to make sure everything’s covered, before shuffling to his door.

The house is pretty quiet when he emerges into the corridor. He leaves his door ajar and wanders down the hall and down the stairs. The TV is on and Patton is asleep in front of it. It looks like he was supposed to be waiting up for someone, but took an impromptu nap. Roman grasps the banister as he quickly has to wonder if he’s waiting for him.

What does he want? To console him? To tell him Logan was wrong? Or, what is more likely, that Logan was right?

Sure, he’ll probably tell him that Logan was too harsh, but…

Roman shake his head and manages to sneak past. He has too many feelings about Patton to sort out, and waking him now would not help.

He steals his way into the kitchen and stands there for a moment with hands on his hips, trying to figure out what to do. He combs the fridge and finds leftovers from what they must have eaten tonight, and he can recognise Logan’s cooking when he sees it.

Maybe Logan’s remorseful. Maybe Roman’s on his first strike. Roman takes it and a fork and sits at the table, and eats as quietly as he can. Patton stirs but does not wake.

“Oh.”

Roman flinches, almost drops his fork, but saves himself last-minute even as the snappy movements make his chest ache.

He looks up and sees Janus at the top of the stairs, face unreadable, and Roman flushes before he can try and scrape together a poker face.

“You…” Janus trails off, his voice also low so as not to disturb Patton, “…made quite the spectacle, earlier.”

Roman swallows hard, sets his fork down, and chooses his words carefully.

“It won’t happen again.”

Janus descends the last of the stairs and closes the distance until the only thing separating them is the table.

“Why’d you drop the plates?”

“Dizzy spell,” Roman lies. It’s compulsive, and again, close enough to the truth that it will do, “I’ve been getting them a lot lately. I’ll be more careful.”

He doesn’t really want to tell Janus what’s up. He doesn’t want to tell the guy who… doesn’t… like him? Roman has to assume he doesn’t. Despite what he really wants, Janus’ actions have been clear, he mustn’t like Roman. But Janus is now studying him with something in his eyes that almost looks soft. It might even be pity.

“You do that,” he agrees. “And if you find the time to tell the truth some time, we’re here for that too.”

Roman’s hands tighten on the table, and he can only look away.

“I need to understand what’s happening first,” he whispers, his voice hoarse, and can’t meet Janus’ eyes. After all this time, after everything, the most agonizing thing about this is the honesty, but if it gets Janus off his back, then it gets him off his back. “I… I don’t want to hurt everyone any more.”

He stands, and he can’t look at Janus. It hurts too much, he can’t breathe past the lump in his throat, and the subtle feeling of something prickling even further across his skin. He almost rubs over his heart, but manages to keep his hands still. He can’t give the game away so soon.

Janus folds his arms, and studies Roman. “You have people who want to help you,” he points out, and raises an eyebrow as Roman shakes his head.

“Goodnight, Janus,” he says, and skirts both the table and him and makes for the stairs.

“Aren’t you going to finish your food?”

“I’m not hungry,” he lies one last time for the night. “Goodnight.”

Janus watches him go, before slowly turning to clear Roman’s mess up behind him.

 


 

Roman stays up til 4am, sleeps a little more, wakes up at 10am and bides his time until he can strike the least busy sweet-spot between breakfast and lunch to approach the kitchen. He feels ragged and hopes he doesn’t look it, but it’s so much effort to get into his normal outfit that he nearly doesn’t.

He must be deteriorating faster than he expected.

Roman magicks his clothes so they slide onto his limbs by themselves and makes his way downstairs. The only people there are Virgil and Logan, sitting on the couch and discussing the thing they’re watching. It looks to be a deep space documentary.

Roman tries to sneak down the stairs as quietly as he can but they hear him pretty quick. Virgil shoots him a sympathetic look that says talk later, and Logan’s is… fragile, to say the least.

Roman offers them a stiff nod and hurries into the kitchen to make a sandwich or something.

He stands there and eats, vaguely out of sight, and debates sinking out from here. He’s so lost in his thoughts that he doesn’t even realise the others have already closed the distance, and Logan only gets his attention by clearing his throat.

Logan’s in the doorway now, only a couple metres away from where Roman has been leaning against the fridge. He jumps, clutching at his heart over his shirt as the lurch hurts, before putting on a smile as he gathers himself.

“Hello,” he says.

“Hello,” Logan shoots back, and he’s toeing the ground like an anxious teenager. “Roman, about yesterday-”

“I’m not mad,” Roman launches out, not meaning to, but the words have left his mouth before he can think.

Logan looks up, and grimaces a little. “I… You have every right to be. I was in a foul mood, and you did not deserve to be the recipient of that.”

Roman shrugs, and takes another bite of his sandwich. He hates how closely the two of them are watching him. It makes his skin crawl, and his skin’s taking enough abuse as is.

“I get it,” he says eventually. “Hell, it’d be hypocritical if I said I didn’t forgive you.”

Logan looks at him funny. Roman finishes his sandwich, swallows, and tucks his hands behind his back as he stands up straight.

“Thank you for your apology,” he says formally. “But it’s not warranted.”

They’re looking at him funny. He doesn’t understand why. Logan was right, of course, yesterday. He’s just trying to actually begin to take accountability for his mistakes.

“And I’ll make sure something like that doesn’t happen again,” Roman smiles; all teeth and nothing happy.

“I…” Logan looks baffled, like Roman’s thrown him for a loop.

Why isn’t it working? It’s supposed to be working. He’s supposed to be working to fix this all.

It’s beginning to dawn on Roman that… maybe he can’t.

“I’m sorry,” he says, and he hopes Logan knows he means it. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I would like to get back to work.”

Virgil tries to catch his arm on his way past. Roman manages to slip his way out of it and shoot him a friendly smile as he disappears up the stairs.

He makes it back to his room before the floodgates open.

 


 

Roman is woken by knocks on the door. It is now late afternoon, almost four o’clock, and he’s accidentally fallen asleep at his desk. He doesn’t understand why he’s sleeping so much. This ailment must be taking it out of him.

The knocks come again, and Roman gets to his feet and goes to answer the door.

It’s Patton.

Patton!

He hasn’t spoken to Patton one-on-one in a very long time. Since before the wedding, maybe even before the trial. For someone so near and dear to his heart, Patton has been drifting away from Roman for a very long time, and Roman’s a little afraid of what might happen now with him so close.

He has never really gotten over Patton.

Patton’s eyes search his face, before he smiles gently, in that way that’s not been directed at Roman in months. “Hey, Roman,” he says softly. “Can I come in?”

Roman’s hand shoots up to lean on the doorframe.

“I just want to talk,” Patton says. “Not even about anything in particular, if you don’t want. I guess I realised we… haven’t caught up in a while.”

For a reason, I’m sure.

Roman’s chest aches. He shouldn’t, but he’s always been weak for Patton. He steps back, steps aside, and lets Patton in.

Patton closes the door behind him as Roman pads across the room to sit on his bed. He gestures for Patton to take the chair, but Patton hesitates, crosses the room, and lingers over him.

“Can I sit next to you?”

Roman looks down, before looking back up at Patton and smiling. “If you want.”

It hurts. Not literally, not this time, not yet. It hurts because he is so close to the person he loves so deeply and has hurt so much. Patton deserves better. Patton deserves someone who won’t hurt him. Someone like-

Roman grasps at his chest before he can even think about hiding it, gasping sharp and high as the cracks run deeper. Patton kneels in front of him, taking the hand gripping his own knee and calling his name, asking if he’s alright.

Roman grits his teeth and tries to pull through it, riding out the wave and trying his best not to concern Patton too much. Patton cares so much, too much, too much for his own good.

Eventually, he can straighten up, breathe deep, and meet Patton in the eye.

The wide look of concern there almost breaks him again.

“Oh, hon, are you okay?”

Hon.

“I’m fine,” Roman lies, quick as you please, and smiles despite himself. “I… I think I’ve just been… sick, recently.”

“Can I help?” Patton’s eyes are liquidy and earnest. Roman is overcome with an instinct, and instinct he’s had a few times but only ever acted on once – one Christmas years ago when the two of them were younger and bumbling and unafraid of their feelings and trying each other on for size.

But no, he can’t do that now. Especially when Janus is such a better choice for Patton now than Roman could ever be.

“No,” Roman says, his words wandering out from his lips before he can think them through, and his honesty cuts them both right to the quick. “I don’t think you can.”

Goddammit. Roman can’t tell the truth when he wants to, and can’t lie when he needs to. Patton’s face falls, and he slowly shifts from kneeling in front of Roman to sitting beside him. Roman feels  how the bed dips under Patton’s weight.

“It looks like it hurts,” he says softly.

Understatement of the century.

“I guess I’m just having some heart problems,” Roman half-laughs. “I’m figuring it out.”

He does have some running theories. Patton doesn’t look convinced.

“Look, Logan said he apologised to you,” he starts, and Roman nods along. “But both him and Virgil are worried because you, well, they said you… took it weird.”

Roman shrugs. “I mean…” he quickly trails off before he says what he actually thinks, but he’s clearly said too much as it is.

Patton takes a sharp breath in, one that Roman feels lance through his own chest, before a gentle hand cups his jaw and turns his head back to meet Patton’s eyes.

“You don’t think you deserve it, do you?” Patton asks, plain and simple, voice cracking.

Roman’s lip wobbles. It’d be so easy to lie, but he’s so sick of it by now. And part of him wants to just let it spill to him, let it all spill, but he can’t afford that, not now, not after everything, because maybe Patton doesn’t even remember that one night when they decided to see what the fuss about mistletoe even was.

He can’t put words together. Any words, truth or lie. His eyes probably say enough, though, enough to make Patton’s own expression crumble.

“Oh, honey,” he murmurs, and pulls Roman into a gentle hug. “Honey, no.”

Roman’s hands have shot into the air, hovering over Patton’s sides but not touching because it’s been so long since he’s been hugged that it almost feels like he’s forgotten what the protocol is. And he doesn’t know whether he’s allowed to touch Patton or not.

But Patton’s breathing hitches, and Roman feels his lips move against his own throat.

“Please,” Patton begs him. “Please hug me back.”

…How could Roman deny him that?

He does. He wraps his arms around Patton as tightly as he dares and enjoys the hug for what it’s worth. He might not get one of these again, especially not from Patton, especially when Patton finally realises that he really isn’t going to be worth all the work that it’s going to take to piece this broken prince of his back together again.

Roman’s got a couple running theories about his condition now.

The first, of course, is that it’s heartbreak. Something metaphorical that has inflicted itself so very thoroughly across and into his skin like a brand, like a punishment. Thomas is broken up over many things right now, Roman is too, and maybe like his ego, which bruises, Thomas’ subconscious is giving it form.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s rot. Maybe he’s rotting away from the inside, because finally his core, the very heart of his function, has finally given out from the weight of the shit Roman keeps doing and doing, against the nature of what he should be for his family. For Thomas.

Maybe this was always set to happen, from the moment Janus put on Patton’s smile.

Dammit, he has always been so weak for Patton’s smile.

Roman’s hands tighten on Patton’s shirt as new, fresh pain lances through him. This time, he might be crying.

Patton’s arms tighten around him, and even though it doubles the agony, Roman doesn’t tell  him to stop. He’s been hungry for this. He’s been missing Patton so badly.

“What helps?” Patton’s lips are still ghosting his throat. “What helps make the pain go away?”

“…Sleep,” Roman shrugs. As best as he can tell, it’s sleep.

“Do… do you want to have a sleepover? Like old times? Build a pillow fort? I can do most the building.”

“…Not today,” Roman whispers, but he’s so touched, he’s so touched Patton’s offered, that Patton’s remembered.

Though honestly, what is he on about? He’s Patton. He never forgets.

Patton ends up trying to help him get ready for bed. Roman is greedy, he’s so greedy, he feels like he’s just lapping up the attention like a kicked puppy, but he can’t help himself. It’s only when Patton quietly asks if he needs help getting changed or not that he’s jolted back to the moment.

“Oh, no,” he smiles far too broadly and flicks his wrist, and his clothes change into his pyjamas seamlessly. It takes energy, it takes more and more energy to do quick changes and stuff like that now, but right now he hasn’t got a choice.

“Okay,” Patton says, but his eyes are shining with something a little hurt, like he’s upset that Roman’s not letting him in.

Oh, no. Roman can’t. He can’t ever do that again. Because the last time he let Patton bear the full force of his emotions, it almost destroyed them both. No, he’s keeping Patton safe this way.

Patton insists on tucking him in, though, helps him lay back and arranges pillows and blankets for him. Fussing. He’s worried. Roman smiles up at him in a lame attempt to try and assuage his fears.

Patton smiles down at him too, before leaning down and pressing a quick little kiss into his hair.

“I’ll check on you tomorrow,” he tells Roman as he straightens up, before crossing the room and pausing in the doorway. “G’night, Roman.”

“…G’night.”

Patton flicks off the light and closes the door.

Roman pulls the covers over his head and tries to use them to muffle his tears as his chest stabs with hurt again.

 


 

Roman’s reached a point where it might not be getting worse anymore. Maybe it’s just plateaued, and it can get worse. Or maybe this is it, this is just his state now. The cracks are wide now, maybe a half-inch on average, and over his heart, it is ruptured like a centrepoint. Roman was right about a glow. Now the cracks are bigger, he can see that the red in there isn’t just wine-dark but a shifting nebula of molten reds and hints of gold. Sometimes he swears it pulses in time with his heartbeat.

He's just glad it doesn’t show through his clothes.

Roman really doesn’t have the energy he used to, either, nowadays. He has migrated to wearing simpler clothing. A week or two in, he’d swapped back to his old outfit because it was easier to get on and off. A month or two later, now he’s just wearing… clothes.

Comfort over style, nowadays. He can’t even bend over to lace up his boots anymore. He even wears slippers sometimes instead of real shoes.

The others have noticed, of course. They aren’t stupid. He has just had to quietly say it’s health complications and handwave as many comments and questions as possible.

Thomas summoned him once in this state. He was visibly shaken, and Roman could only laugh ever so quietly.

“I… were you serious about the world outgrowing princes?” Thomas asks him seriously, eyes shining. God, he can really see where Patton shines through.

“Oh, this?” Roman looks down at his baggy clothing and sighs. “This isn’t me abandoning that, as such. I just…” He shrugs limply. “I’m not well.”

“Not… well? That can happen?”

“I guess so,” Roman shrugs again, and folds his arms across his chest. “It’s… I don’t think this sort of thing’s quite happened before, but we’re figuring it out.”

“Are the others helping you?”

“Yes.” Oh, that’s bold. Lying straight to his centre’s face. Still, the others would help if he asked, have offered, even, but Roman doesn’t even know how to fix it, let alone what they can do about it.

“It’s, uh,” Thomas shifts on his feet. “Not a ‘bruised ego’ thing again, is it? I could understand if it is.”

Roman rubs his arms and tries not to clutch his shirt over his heart. “Not really,” he says softly. “But it might be of a… similar vein.”

“Is there anything I can do, then?” Thomas is so earnest, he steps towards Roman, and Roman’s so afraid as to what might happen if he gets any closer.

“I don’t know,” he says. “I just…”

He presses his hands against his eyes and debates, debates talking, debates telling someone his feelings for once.

“It hurts so much,” he’s speaking before he can make up his mind as to whether he should. “It… it’s so draining. And I think it’s…”

He clamps his lips shut and turns away, already mad that he’s said so much. But Thomas closes in, takes his hand and gets Roman to look at him again.

“Please,” he says, so softly. “Roman, talk to me.”

“It always gets worse when I am reminded of my mistakes,” Roman blurts, eyes suddenly stinging with tears that desperately want to escape. “It hurts so much to accept them, even though that’s what’s needed from me.”

“What’s needed?” Thomas echoes, worried.

“If I can’t accept and improve, then… then everything I do, for you and for them, is pointless. How can you be expected to overcome new trials and adversities when I can’t learn from our past?”

“You sound like you’re in it alone,” Thomas points out, clasping Roman’s hand firmly. “And I can tell you without a doubt that I’ve had a very similar talk with Patton. And… there are people who understand this, Roman, and people who want to help you. And I’m one of those people.”

You shouldn’t.

“I can do it on my own.”

“But you said it hurts. …Maybe you need a hand?”

Roman pulls his hand away from Thomas, despite how much it pains him. “You don’t understand how broken this all is,” he says, painfully honest. “You don’t understand how broken I am. I can try to improve but I… I don’t think I can change.”

“You already have,” Thomas replies, eyes sad. “And I promise you a lot of it is for the better. I’m sorry your introspection is so painful. It usually is very easy to turn into self-loathing, too.”

Roman flushes, and shakes his head, not because Thomas is wrong, but because he’s too right.

“I…” he swallows hard. “I have to go.”

“Don’t be a stranger, Roman,” Thomas tells him as he pulls away again. “I want to help you if I can.”

“I know,” Roman mumbles.

“I love you,” Thomas then follows it up, perfectly earnest and honest. “I value you so much, there’s no one else who can do what you do, Roman.”

Roman doesn’t reply. He can hardly hear over all the thoughts swirling in his head that say otherwise as he sinks out.

 


 

It hurts. It hurts so bad. Roman makes the mistake of rising up in the hallway outside his room instead of in his room, and he wraps his arms around his chest as he stumbles towards his door, trying not to whimper.

There’s someone on the stairs. As he shoulders open his bedroom door, he hears someone call his name.

Roman staggers in through the door as it swings open under his bodyweight and the follow-through sends him sprawled out on the floor, head spinning under a crush of white noise as his body rebels against him. He swears he can taste blood.

“Roman?”

Someone’s in his doorway, and curses as he curls in on himself, outwardly crying from pure pain alone for the first time. Roman has a pretty high pain tolerance, when all is said and done. But he’s so tired, he’s so worn down, and this blow is new and fresh and hurts more than anything else so far, and he’s raw and hurting from the belief that he can’t trust anyone with this.

He’s alone. He’s alone, and he might be dying.

Hands. Hands on his side, on his shoulder, carefully easing him upright. Roman curls into the person with a gasp as he rides out the wave, somehow finding the wherewithal to flush with embarrassment in the middle of that even as another pair of arms wrap around him.

The smell is what’s telling. It’s a bad smell. It’s Remus.

Roman lets his brother hold him, not understanding why, and then Remus is moving, and suddenly Roman’s been picked up.

“Shit,” he finally hears Remus say. “Should you be this light?”

“I’m not well,” Roman says faintly.

“Yeah, duh.”

Remus is moving. The world is a bit of a blur still but Roman realises as he’s lowered onto familiar softness that Remus has put him down on his bed. Roman closes his eyes and tries to gather himself as Remus drags his deskchair over and parks up at his bedside.

“Are you dying?” Remus asks him, voice oddly serious, and Roman’s eyes snap open and they finally make eye contact.

Remus looks… shaken. Maybe his intrusive thoughts are running wild after finding his brother sobbing on the floor. Understandable.

Roman wets his lips and hesitates. “…Maybe.”

“Maybe?”

“I don’t know!” Roman eases himself into a sitting position and Remus is quick to adjust pillows for him so he has support. “I… I don’t know.”

Remus is staring at him, in that unnervingly close way that always gives the impression he’s trying to analyse his bone structure or something.

“What’s that?” he finally says, leaning over and touching something on Roman’s collarbone.

Roman knows without looking, judging by the familiar way it hurts when Remus’ finger presses.

“Ah,” he says. “I didn’t realise it had spread that much.”

“Spread?”

Remus tugs the neck of Roman’s shirt down a little, and makes a choked noise at the realisation that this mark keeps going down.

“I…” Roman bats his hand away. “Don’t worry about it.”

“I’m worried,” Remus snaps back. “I’m worrying about it. Roman, you’re clearly in pain.”

“You love it when I’m in pain.”

“No, I love it when I’m causing you pain. And you know that what I do isn’t permanent. That’s half the point.”

Roman has teared up a little at that. It’s a semi-fucked up Remus way of admitting he cares about his brother.

“Show me,” Remus says, and he’s grabbed the bottom hem of Roman’s shirt.

“No,” Roman tries to bat his hands away again.

“Show me!”

“Stop trying to care!” Roman finally succeeds in hitting his hands away, and Remus looks wounded. “You… what’s with you? You haven’t cared about me, and given my current developments, you shouldn’t either.”

“What, I should love you because you’re dying?”

“No! You shouldn’t love me because I’m a horrible person! And I’m only getting worse!” Roman glares at his brother through tears that started falling without his permission. “What’s so hard to understand about this?”

Remus looks stumped. He slumps back in his seat, hands in his lap, looking like Roman just kicked him in the stomach.

“…I’m a horrible person, too,” he finally whispers. “Because I have been the biggest dick to my brother all the while he’s suffering.”

“I… Suffering’s just part of being me,” Roman says limply with a shrug that hurts and tugs in a number of weird and bad-feeling ways. “You… you haven’t.”

“Careful, there,” Remus tries to joke. “All that edge and you’ll summon our emo.”

His eyes are usually bright, and his heart isn’t in the joke. Roman sighs, he feels really tired all of a sudden. A thought rears its head – something he hasn’t considered but is inspired by what Thomas said to him. It usually is very easy to turn into self-loathing, too.

Is this self-inflicted? Is he that much of a bleeding heart?

“You…” Remus reaches out and hesitates before his touches his brother’s arm, like he’s not sure where to put his hands to make sure he doesn’t hurt Roman. “Please, can I help? Can I see?”

“I don’t know what you can do to help,” Roman says softly. “But…”

He shakes his head and sighs. “Fine.”

Remus has to help him take off his shirt, and as more and more is revealed, until the shirt hits the floor and Roman braces himself on the bed, not meeting Remus’ eyes.

“Holy shit,” Remus says.

Roman sits up, swings himself upright and gets to his feet, despite Remus trying to keep him down. He staggers over to his dresser and pauses in front of the mirror, before taking it all it.

It’s… worse. His breath stops in his throat as he just tries to comprehend what has happened to his body. It’s almost like the time he broke his mirror, but… it’s him. His torso is an intricate weaving of rich red cracks, and he twists despite the ache to check his back and sees it covers that too. He runs a hand over the base of his throat, noting that the cracks are even beginning to reach that high. Onto his shoulders, too. No more tank tops, then. He shies down the top of his pyjama pants just over one hip to see if it stretches down, and… yeah, it’s beginning to spread down to his thighs as well.

“Fuck,” he says.

“Fuck,” Remus echoes. His brother gets up and comes over, crowds his space and carefully, carefully, puts a hand on his back. Roman’s too tired to flinch.

“Does it hurt?”

“Yeah.” This far in, there’s no point in lying.

“This is… Roman, this is fucked. You… we need to tell everyone.”

“Don’t be dramatic.”

“Dramatic?!” Remus grabs him by the shoulders and turns him so Roman has to face him and look his brother in the eye. “I’m sorry, dramatic? Roman, look at you! The only one being dramatic here is you trying to wallow!”

“I’m not wallowing,” Roman swallows hard. “I’ve… I’ve earned this. This is my burden to bear.”

“Earned…” Remus lets him go and staggers backwards, ending up in the chair again. He’s rubbing his forehead, bewildered and pained. “What have they done to you?”

“I did this to myself,” Roman shrugs, baring his arms. “I… This is my punishment.”

“For what? Being you?”

“I suppose it must be.”

Remus pauses as Roman says that, and looks up again, eyes glinting with unshed tears.

“I mean,” Roman laughs, tilting his head back and reaching up to massage at his temple. “What else have I done?”

The sound of crying hits Roman first, and then Remus does second, squarely and in the jaw. Roman staggers with a cry – though it’s nothing compared to the agony he’s been living in for the past month. Next, as he’s trying to gain his balance again, Remus latches on in a huge hug as he proceeds to sob into Roman’s shoulder.

His arms are tight around Roman’s torso. It hurts and comforts in equal amounts. Roman does not tell him to stop.

Roman hugs him back, letting Remus grieve.

Then, “why’d you punch me?”

“Because you’re a fucking idiot, and I love you,” Remus mumbles back. His moustache prickles against Roman’s bare skin. “A-and I didn’t mean to, it just happened, I’m sorry.”

“Okay,” Roman accepts that as it is, and lets Remus hang on for dear life.

 


 

It takes a long time to convince Remus to leave. He doesn’t want to, of course, and the look in his eye tells Roman he’s afraid that he will come back tomorrow and find his brother in pieces on the floor.

Roman’s afraid that Remus is going to kick down everyone’s doors and spill the beans on what a weak person he is. And weak is the word for it, because when Roman wakes the next day, he can barely sit up.

He’s still not wearing a shirt. Must’ve passed out without one. He forces himself to summon one onto himself, rather than go through the agony of trying to get one over his head manually. The room swims as the energy drains.

This is bad.

Roman can’t sit up. He can barely keep his eyes open. It feels like it’s been forever and like it’s hit him all at once at the same time.

He wishes it would end. He’s beginning to not care how that end comes about.

 


 

Remus is in the kitchen, which is odd, because he’s banned from the kitchen, and he usually respects that because it’s more trouble than it’s worth for him otherwise. But Patton comes downstairs that morning to the cacophony of clattering dishes and the smell of something burning, and no, no, no, no, no! And he has to pause at the foot of the stairs and watch Remus panic, trying to gather his bearings as he hears the sound of scraping against the bottom of a frying pan.

He steps on the squeaky stair as he dismounts the staircase, and Remus’ head snaps up. Patton takes a hasty step back when he realises that Remus is in tears.

“Help me,” Remus begs, and Patton is lost for words. “Please. I’ve… I-I…”

Remus is clearly on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Patton hurries over before anything more can go wrong, and the first thing he does is turn off the stovetop and help him scrape it all clean.

“I…” Remus is scraping his failed attempt of pancake batter into the bin upon Patton’s direction. “I know I’m not supposed to be in here, but I wanted to make Roman breakfast.”

“That’s very nice of you,” Patton says politely.

“I can’t cook,” Remus mumbles.

“It’s okay,” Patton smiles. “I’ll help you. It’s a nice surprise for Roman.”

“I’m trying to help him,” Remus looks like he has to talk or he’ll explode. “He… he’s not well!”

“I know,” Patton hums, turning away with a clean bowl to start making a new batch.

“No, you don’t understand,” Remus grabs Patton by the shoulder, eyes wild as he turns Patton around. “He… h-he! Fuck, he didn’t want me to say. He’s such an idiot. He might be dying and he doesn’t want me to say.”

Might be dying. Might be dying?

“What?”

Remus’ face crumples. His hands are shaking. Patton pulls him into a hug and lets Remus cling to him, staring into space as the duke starts to cry in earnest.

When Remus has cried himself out a bit more, only then does Patton dare to ask. He wets his lips and quietly raises the question.

“W-what do you mean by …dying?”

Remus goes tense in his arms.

“I…” Remus pulls back and runs his hand through his hair. “I don’t know. I don’t know how to describe it, it looks like he’s falling apart, and I mean that literally.”

Patton frowns, unable to imagine it, but the look on Remus’ face – pure distress – is enough to get him to not question him on that front any further.

“I…” Remus’ eyes are roaming the room, like he just can’t stop talking. “Yesterday, he was so weak. I don’t know what he’ll be like today. I don’t know if he can climb stairs anymore. I want to help him but I don’t know how.”

“Does…” Patton searches for a person, any person, the right person to name here. He’s also trying not to feel insulted that Roman never actually told him. “Does Thomas know?”

“Whatever it is only got worse after he came back from talking with Thomas,” Remus shrugs wildly. “I don’t think so. I think I’m the only one who’s seen it. I…”

He claps his hand over his mouth and shakes his head.

Patton turns away and wordlessly keeps making pancakes.

 


 

Virgil comes downstairs next, surprisingly, and Patton hands him the bowl with the rest of the batter and leaves him in charge, following Remus up the stairs with a platter of breakfast to take to Roman’s room.

Remus helped, not with the cooking, but with laying all the plates and cups and such out for him. Patton follows the duke up the stairs with bated breath, letting Remus knock on Roman’s door and enter first.

“We made you breakfast,” he hears Remus say as he rushes to his brother’s bedside, leaving Patton to elbow the door open a little wider.

“Who’s we?”  he hears Roman ask, before choking on his own breath as Patton enters. He’s quietly quite sad that that’s the reaction he gives Roman, but he bundles that up and carries the tray over to Roman’s bed.

And fuck, Remus is right. Roman looks like he’s withering away there on the bedsheets. Pale as anything and there’s no life in those eyes of his.

There’s something weird on his skin, like a thin black line, creeping up over his collarbones. He can see it over the top of Roman’s shirt.

Patton sets the tray down gently on Roman’s lap after Remus helps to get him into a sitting position, propped up and comforted by pillows.

Patton sets the tray down in front of him, and before he can’t help himself.

“You know you can tell me anything, right?”

Both Creativities look at him wide-eyed. Patton looks up and tries to smile but he’s tearing up too much to get his point across.

“I… I care about you too much to lose you, Roman.”

Roman looks terrified. And then he turns to Remus and snaps, “what did you say?”

“I-!” Remus looks like he’s been slapped. “You really expect me to keep a secret?”

“Fuck,” Roman grumbles, and makes no move to touch his food.

“Roman,” Patton has cupped Roman’s jaw before he can think – he has a lot of emotions bundled away he’s been working through over the months, but despite himself one of the oldest and most consistent has been loving Roman despite everything that has happened; despite what Roman must think of him – and he’s turned Roman’s head to meet his eyes. “I… I need you to be honest with me. I need you to tell me if I can help you. And I don’t mean fix you. You are deserving of help, whether or not you believe you are broken.”

Roman’s eyes are wide, and his breath is hitching.

“I’ve seen how you hurt,” Patton continues, unable to take his hand away but sitting on the bed, trying to be close to him. “Please… Roman.”

“I can’t,” Roman’s lower lip is wobbling. “I… Patton, you haven’t seen me. It’s too much work.”

“Not to me.” Patton speaks without thinking. “Not if it’s you.”

Roman bursts into tears.

Patton quickly passes off the tray of food before scooting in even closer, letting Roman fall against him and curl in. His body shakes, and Roman’s hot to the touch, almost feverish. Patton carefully wraps his arms around Roman, trying to be ever so gentle.

Remus is hovering, and Patton shoots him a pained look, and the duke slowly backs away and sits down at Roman’s desk.

“I just…” Roman shakes his head. “I don’t want to keep hurting you. I don’t.”

“I don’t understand.”

“All that pressure, over the years, it was me, Patton. I should have given you space, I should have left you be, I should have-”

“I would have been worse off for being alone,” Patton cuts him off, his grip tightening without meaning to as he even dares to imagine it. “You know me, Ro. I couldn’t stand it.”

Roman’s shaking his head.

“How much have you been lying to yourself?” Patton’s continuing, he’s still talking even though this might ruin them more. “How much to you have to deny yourself before you allow us to help you? Roman, I can’t take seeing this. I can’t take seeing you hurt.”

Roman pulls back – or he tries to, but he’s so weak he can’t force his own way out of Patton’s arms. Patton gets the hint, though, and lets him go willingly. Roman doesn’t shove him away. He instead carefully takes Patton’s hand in his own, and puts it over his heart.

Patton desperately tries not to put too much weight on it, just in case.

“Huh,” Roman says, quietly to himself. “That… doesn’t hurt as much as I thought it would.”

Patton’s hand flexes a little as he processes that statement. Then he looks up, his brown eyes wide and watery.

“Let me see,” he says.

“Patton, it’s-”

“Let me see.”

There are footsteps out in the hall. It seems their arguing has drawn a crowd. Virgil appears in the doorway, eyes wide, eyeshadow dark, taking in the scene.

“What’s wrong?” he demands, voice urgent.

“Nothing,” Roman says, lying through his teeth.

“Everything,” Patton says at the same time. “But Roman’s gonna tell us how we can help, right?”

“I-!” Roman’s gone even paler.

Remus clears his throat pointedly, making his brother look over.

“If you don’t spill the beans, I will,” he says, casually and conversationally, but very clearly a threat.

Roman starts crying, but it’s dead silent. His eyes flick around the room at the gathered crowd, and his breath hitches as Logan and Janus appear over Virgil’s shoulders.

“It’s a whole party, huh?” he wheezes, trying to laugh even though tears are running down his face hot and fast. “I… Well, I suppose you all deserve to know, in case this goes where I assume this is going.”

Patton’s hand over his heart tightens just a little at that, but otherwise, Patton manages not to react.

Roman put his hand over Patton’s and squeezes lightly.

“Help me sit up,” he says, “and help me take off my shirt.”

Patton does as he is bidden, Remus jumping up to help as the others enter the room properly, and tries to ignore how much the prince’s voice is shaking.

Roman wheezes a little as Patton helps negotiate him out of his sleepshirt, and Patton’s hands start shaking as more and more damage is revealed.

By the time Roman’s shirt hits the floor again, Patton can barely bring himself to lay hands on his friend. How could he? The agony that Roman has been in is spelled out plain and simple through his skin.

“Oh shit,” someone says. “Shit, Roman!”

Roman’s shoulders are shaking. “Do you understand?” he breaks his silence. He reaches out as much as he can, and Patton gives him his hand in an instant.  “Do you understand why I didn’t say anything?”

“How did it get this bad?” Patton squeezes his hand and tries not to cry himself – though the wetness on his face tells him he’s failed.

There’s someone beside him, now. Everyone’s crowded around. Ah, it’s Logan, and he kneels down beside the bed and takes Roman’s other hand, which had been resting on his stomach, and carefully starts examining the cracks.

“Does it hurt?”

Roman wets his lips, and seems to be debating telling the truth. He ends up locking eyes with Patton, and he swallows.

“Yes,” he says. “Very much so. Especially when they widen. But it hasn’t done that dramatically for a while.”

Remus clears his throat.

“Well, I talked to Thomas yesterday, and that was the worst one, but I don’t think there’s going to be much left in me, to be frank.”


“Do you know the cause of this?” Logan’s voice is fragile. “And can we fix it?”

“I think…” Roman trails off, shakes his head, and smiles. “I don’t think I can be fixed.”

Logan’s grip on his hand tightens. Virgil comes and sits on the end of the bed, and Janus stands over him.

“The cause,” Janus prompts, obviously not missing how Roman didn’t answer the question. “Do you know it?”

“I…” Roman looks like he wants to disappear. “I have… ideas, but nothing certain.”

“Thomas’ creativity does tend to take metaphors quite literally,” Logan glances at Janus, at Virgil, at Patton, and at Remus as Remus comes over to really close the ring. “I… like bruised ego, for instance. But it’s not that, is it?”

Roman shakes his head, slowly, painfully.

“Heartbreak, I think,” is all he says.

Heartbreak.

Patton has to look away.

“Heartbreak,” Virgil echoes.

“It’s just a theory,” Roman shrugs, despite how it must hurt. “Other idea is my own body’s shutting down against me because I’ve betrayed my purpose by hurting Thomas and getting in the way of his dreams and this is my punishment for it.”

Roman then blinks, like he didn’t mean to say all that out loud.

Everyone’s staring at him.

He wets his lips, and tries to go on damage control.

“I, uh, of course, it could be-”

Virgil’s hand on his knee cuts him off.

“Do you actually believe that?”

Roman blinks at him, almost bewildered. It is answer enough for the room.

He feels the energy shift. The room feels all but frigid. Roman yawns, wide and half-teary, and wonders briefly over whether going to sleep now will mean he wakes up tomorrow at all.

There’s a hand on his face, the coldness of the hand jolting his eyes open, and he realises it’s Logan, guiding him to make eye contact.

“The day you dropped the plates,” he says, low and urgent, “was that this?”

“It wasn’t the start of this,” Roman shrugs again. “But… it was when the cracks started to widen, yes.”

“Did I cause it?”

“You? No. It…”

“Tell the truth, Roman. I can take it if it means we can save you.”

“But why?” Roman shakes his head. “You can fill my role.”

“We can’t,” Logan says earnestly, and glances around the room in a panic. “We can’t.”

“We can’t,” Patton agrees, pressing Roman’s hand to his lips frantically, trying to find some way to prove his care, to be even closer.

“We can’t,” Virgil enforces. “Thomas would never do anything, ever, because he’d have no motivation.”

“He’d never sing again,” Janus follows up, his voice surprisingly urgent. “He’d never sing, he’d never act, he’d never write or even organise the fridge in order of colour again. He’d never sling around another nickname, he’d… Roman, surely you must realise to some degree how integral you are?”

“He’s got another creativity,” Roman sighs.

“And you think I could be anything like you?”  Remus demands. “I’m insulted. I don’t want to be like you, I want to have you. Because then I don’t have to fill a void knowing for the rest of our sorry lives that if I’d acted faster, I’d still have a brother.”

Roman’s shaking his head.

“Do you really think you get to shirk your duties like this?” Janus says, and it seems to be the wrong thing because Roman twists away and rips his hand out of Patton’s grip to cover his mouth, and they all have to watch in horror as the cracks somehow manage to widen.

Roman goes limp on the bed, and pants.

“I just think,” he gasps for air, “that you all will be better off without the dead weight.”

It’s a poor choice of words, and Logan and Virgil seem to be in tears now.

“Get Thomas,” Patton says, voice calm and even.

“No,” Roman’s eyes shoot open.

“Get Thomas!” Patton turns to Janus, who looks pale, but nods once and sinks out.

“I can’t let him see me like this!” Roman has sat up somehow, clawing at Patton until Patton gives him his hands to clutch. “I-I can’t let him know I’ve failed!”

Janus rises back up into the room with a woozy Thomas clinging to his arm. Thomas looks around with a worried expression and a question on his lips until he sees Roman.

“Oh my god,” Thomas stumbles over and Logan gets out of the way so Thomas can take his place. “Roman! You said you were ill.”

“I am,” Roman half-smiles.

“Don’t pull this on me now,” Thomas puts a very careful hand on Roman’s chest and winces in sympathy as Roman hisses, almost like he can feel it too. “Oh, oh, that makes so much more sense now.”

Roman’s lip is wobbling. “You knew, didn’t you?”

“I… I had my suspicions, especially after our talk. But… oh, Roman. It’s gonna be alright, I promise.”

“Very kind of you to send me off into that goodnight so quietly.”

“Where’s your rage, then, Roman? You aren’t supposed to go quietly! You’re…” Thomas has started crying too, hell, everyone in the room has by now. “I was supposed to fight for you, bud. I’m so sorry. I failed you.”

“I should have been flexible for you,” Roman whispers, taking Thomas’s hand and fiddling with it, looking at it and not his centre’s eyes. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not in your nature,” Thomas whispers back. “You’re one-natured, and I’m not. I should have seen how you both were hurting. It was just…”

“You don’t have to say it,” Roman rests his head against Thomas’ arm. “I was glad you helped Patton first. I would have insisted on it if you didn’t.”

Patton claps his hands over his mouth and tries not to be horrified. Thomas had been very patient and they had worked through their feelings about the wedding together. Janus had been very helpful, too, actually. But if he’d known Roman was dying of a broken heart…

Was it destined? If it hadn’t been Roman, would it have been him?

“I have to learn,” Roman says, so tired, so tired. “Or I have to go.”

“You have learnt,” Thomas reminds him, so carefully, so gently. “Clearly, or you wouldn’t accept this lying down.”

“I haven’t got a choice otherwise at the moment, Thomas.”

“You know what I mean, you asshole.”

Roman laughs, even though it takes it all out of him. He falls still, and closes his eyes against Thomas with a sigh.

“I’m tired,” he says. His voice is so small.

“I know,” Thomas half-laughs himself. He reaches around Roman and pulls him in closer, letting Roman cuddle into his side as he sits on the bed next to him. “You can rest, bud. You’ve done so good.”

“I didn’t mean it,” Janus blurted. “I-I didn’t mean it.”

Roman’s eyes wander open, and he regards Janus with a curious look. “It’s okay if you did,” he replies, and Janus’ face crumples even more.

“It’s not,” Janus shoots back.

“You don’t have to feel bad about telling the truth just because I look like this.”

“Is that how much you’ve been lying to yourself?” Janus steps closer, now moving past Patton. “That you’ve convinced yourself every cruel thing we’ve said about you is true? People get angry, sometimes, Roman, and people say things they don’t actually mean. I would think you know this better than us all.”

Roman’s head falls back against Thomas, who shoots Janus a look that asks be careful.

“I do.”

Janus takes off his hat and rakes a hand through his hair, letting his hat disappear with a flick of his wrist as he picks his words carefully.

“Then you should know that I… I was just frustrated, and trying to get under your skin. I didn’t realise how successful I had been. I didn’t mean to isolate you. I-I… I didn’t…”

Janus presses his hands to his face and steps back. Roman watches him carefully, but closes his eyes and smiles. “Thank you,” he says.

Janus steps back and kicks himself about that that seems to be enough to make Roman content. He’s not crying. He’s not. He’s really not.

Someone leads him away.

Roman noses a little into Thomas’ side.

“I’m sorry,” he says again.

“So am I,” Thomas replies. “I don’t want to hear you apologising, Roman. I don’t think a single moment of this has been your fault.”

Roman makes a sound that tells them all he doesn’t believe that, but lets it slide. Thomas yawns as Roman’s eyes slump. It is late, Patton supposes, even as he dares to take Roman’s hand again.

Roman opens one eye a crack and smiles at him.

“I want to talk to you,” Patton tells him quietly, hyperaware of everyone in the room hearing his words. “I wanna talk to you alone. There’s something I think we need to talk about.”

Roman looks… accepting, even if he doesn’t look thrilled. Thomas shoots him a look of his own but doesn’t say anything.

Roman doesn’t respond to his name after another half-minute. He’s fallen asleep. Thomas settles in beside him and is unwilling to move – even at the warning that spending a whole night in his mindscape probably isn’t going to be good for him.

Thomas is unwilling leave, even suggests moving Roman, but is eventually convinced to go sleep. In the end, everyone splits off to sleep. Patton promises he’s going to return to his own room after checking on Roman one last time, but in reality he makes a comfortable bundle of blankets on the floor and burrows in.

Somehow, he finds enough of a moment of peace to slip into sleep himself.

 


 

Roman wakes up during the night. He brute-forces his way into a sitting position and notices with surprise that Patton is asleep in on a makeshift pile of bedding on the floor beside him.

His door opens a crack, and he sees the glint of light reflecting off someone’s eye. That someone takes a sharp breath in at realising that Roman’s up, and Roman sighs.

“Come in,” he calls quietly. “And don’t wake Patton.”

The door opens, and Virgil slips in the gap, socked feet silent against the carpet. He pads across the room, making a beeline for the bed, and steps over Patton carefully.

He sits down and stares Roman in the eye. Roman notices he’s been crying.

At first, Virgil doesn’t say anything. He just grabs Roman as carefully as he can manage (although Virgil’s affection has always been a little rougher than most, but that’s okay), and tugs him into a hug, burying his face in Roman’s neck.

Roman slings his arms around Virgil’s hips and sighs, patting the small of Virgil’s back lightly.

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell anyone.”

Roman shakes his head.

“Like, I get it,” Virgil counters himself quickly. “And god, I probably wouldn’t have, in your shoes, but also fuck, that’s so stupid, why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want to add any more stress,” Roman shrugs. “You’ve seen what every single group meal has looked like for the past month, V. It just… seemed like more trouble than it was worth.”

“Worth your life? I don’t think there’s enough trouble in the world to be worth dunking that.”

“Right.”

Virgil grits his teeth at that passive response. Clearly he wants to (lovingly) raise his voice, but they promised not to wake Patton. Instead, he pulls back and looks Roman in the eye.

“Ro, are we friends?”

Roman blinks at the question, and panic floods through him. “…I thought so? If it’s still in the air, then yes, I consider you a dear friend, b-but-!”

“Wait, shit, okay, I didn’t mean it like that. I consider you…” Virgil lowers his voice even more, glancing towards Patton in an attempt to make sure he was still asleep. “I consider you one of, if not my best friend, especially at the moment. What with… everything that’s happened.”

“I’m amazed you even want to talk to me, after everything that’s happened.”

“I think you’re too hard on yourself,” Virgil shakes his head. “Roman, if there’s one thing you have made very damn clear over these weeks is that you are aware that change is needed, and I have seen you change. I don’t know if I like how much of you I’ve seen go down the drain, because you think you can’t be yourself.”

“Being myself got us into this mess, Virge,” Roman says tiredly. “After fives years, something’s gotta crack.”

“Don’t say crack,” Virgil snaps, not out of anger but just out of stress. “I swear to god, Roman, don’t say crack.”

Roman laughs, tiny and pained, but a laugh none the less.

“You aren’t the sole problem here,” Virgil repeats himself, wondering when it’s going to sink in. “You have to realise that on some level. Because god, Roman? I’ve been there. And sure I wasn’t being physically torn apart over it but I get that you want the suffering to end, but there’s more than one way to get there.”

Roman raises a hand between them and waits for Virgil to take it, trying to ignore how much he’s shaking. Virgil does, takes it in an instant, and he is steady, if not a little clammy.

“But the problem is…” Roman starts, hesitant, but one glance at Virgil gives him the courage to finish his thought, “what if I can’t be fixed? What if I am doomed? I… I don’t want to get my own hopes up again. I can’t do that to myself twice.”

Virgil rubs his thumb across Roman’s knuckles a couple times as he chooses his words. “You keep talking,” he says, low and gravelly, “about being fixed. Roman, …e-even if this is… it, you don’t deserve to go out suffering and alone. You deserve help and love and care purely because you are real and living and here, and part of our family, not just because you are in pain. I refuse to think we can’t help you. I refuse to think that we lose you like this, but… if we do, you’re not going out by yourself. I can promise you that.”

Roman was already on the brink of tears – he has been for days – and that is enough for him to start gently weeping. He leans forward, and Virgil gets the hint and wraps his arms around the prince. The grip is firm and it hurts a little but Roman’s glad, he’s glad because it makes him feel solid and real, it makes him feel like he isn’t going to break, it…

It makes him feel loved.

God, he’s so tired. But for once, he feels warm. It doesn’t hurt as bad. He slumps against Virgil a little and lets his head fall into the crook of Virgil’s neck.

“Tired?”

“Mm,” he hums, eyes closing. “M’sorry. It just... hits pretty fast.”

“It’s okay,” Virgil says, and he swears he hears Virgil’s voice crack, swears he feels something wet drop onto his hair, but he’s too tired to accuse him of anything. “Can I stay?”

“Yeah,” Roman mumbles, head spinning a little as Virgil helps him lay back down. Normally, he’d be cursing himself out for being so weak. But he’s just a little taken with how warm he’s feeling right now.

For once, he’s not afraid of falling asleep.

 


 

Virgil sleeps propped up against the side of Roman’s bed, and he sleeps fitfully. So that way, he’s awake when Patton rouses himself. Patton doesn’t look that well-rested either, but he lifts his head and fixes his bleary eyes on Virgil, and blinks slowly, before smiling.

“Morning,” he says, voice kind of gravelly from sleep.

“Morning,” Virgil mumbles back. “Sorry, I just had to make sure he was… okay.”

“Mm,” Patton agrees, sitting up and stretching. Then, after a moment, he scoots out of the blankets, grabs the top-most once, and scoots over to Virgil, sitting side by side so he can sling the blanket around both of them. “Me too.”

Virgil is tense for a moment, but it doesn’t take long for him to relax, and a word or two of consent has him resting his head on Patton’s shoulder, melting into the other. Patton hums again. He seems exhausted.

He has vague memories of seeing Virgil and Roman talking in the dead of night. But Patton quietly realised that was a private conversation, and drifted back to sleep while he was still in its clutches. He’s curious, of course. He wants to know what they talked about, but he has to know it’s not his business.

Virgil sighs, and Patton rests his head against Virgil’s as anxiety starts quietly crying. Everyone’s been crying a lot lately. But god, it’s so much to process.

“He’s gonna be okay,” Patton says, in a voice so firm that it surprises both of them.

“I hope so,” Virgil murmurs back. “He… he’s not convinced. Or, he might be a little more convinced now.”

“That’s good,” Patton says, ignoring the ache in his own chest. It’s nothing physical, not like Roman. He just wants him to be healthy, to be alright, wants him to live. It hurts, seeing him so assured of his downfall. But after spending so long alone in this state? Patton can’t blame him.

It hurts, but he can’t blame him.

“Did you sleep much?” he asks, feeling Virgil shift his weight to be more comfortable.

“Nah,” Virgil sighs. “I… couldn’t make it through the night.”

“Sleep now, if you want,” Patton offers. “I’ll make sure you both are alright.”

It doesn’t take long for Virgil to drift off. Patton settles down to wait, and drifts off himself at some point too.

 


 

Roman is roused his from his oddly peaceful slumber by the door being opened with a sing-song “breakfast’s ready!”

The voice is silky and gentle, and Roman sits up and realises through his bleary blinks that it’s Janus. Huh. He’s never heard Janus talk to him like that before.

It’s cute.

Janus pauses in the doorway, before laughing a little, and leaning back out into the corridor. “I’ve found them.”

“Hm?” Logan sticks his head around the door as Janus crosses the room, and snorts himself as they see Patton and Virgil curled up against each other under a blanket propped up against Roman’s bed. Roman looks over and laughs, a surprisingly light sound seeing how exhausted he was yesterday, and he shifts in bed so he’s a bit more comfortable.

“Good morning,” he says, smiling.

“Good morning,” Janus replies, putting down the tray on his lap. “You seem… well.”

Roman blinks, before looking up at Janus with realisation. He can’t find the words in that moment, but Janus is right. He feels… okay.

“Porridge,” Janus presses the spoon into his hand. “Honey and spices, and with cream. Logan says that’s how you like it.”

“Logan’s right,” Roman says in a small voice, and he shoots Logan a smile, who totally doesn’t preen under the reaction. “Thank you.”

He begins to eat (finally has the stomach to eat something) as Janus crouches down in front of his guardian angels and gently shakes them both awake.

Virgil wakes first, bleary and armed with a death glare, but he does mellow out as he comes a little more to his senses. Patton takes a bit to shake awake, always a heavy sleeper, but eventually he does sit up and stretch tall, yawning.

“What time is it?”

“About 10,” Janus says, standing. “We’re having porridge.”

Patton gets to his feet and offers Virgil a hand up, and then and only then turns and looks at Roman. The delight on his face to see Roman sitting upright makes Roman grin.

“Hi,” he says.

“Hi!” Patton says back, and perches on the edge of the bed with the sunniest look Roman’s seen in a long time. “Hi! You look well.”

“That’s what Janus said,” Roman winks, and takes a moment to have another spoon or two, at least while it’s still hot. “I feel better.”

Virgil wanders over to stand beside the bed, hands in his pockets, and shares a smile of his own. “Pain?”

“Yeah, still,” Roman shrugs. “I don’t know if that’s going away. But anyway. Go have your breakfast. It’s good. Quality control can confirm.”

Janus laughs at that and ushers the others from the room. One last glance over his shoulder shoots Roman a look that is too complicated for Roman to translate into words. But it seems to read in a way that suggests that he’ll be back to check on him.

Roman eats, he scrapes his bowl clean. He sets it aside, and goes to sit back, but for the first time in a long time, he has the energy to feel restless. He glances around the room, twiddles his thumbs for another half-minute, before murmuring a quick ‘fuck it’ to himself and swinging his legs over the side of the bed.

The room doesn’t really swim. His legs don’t give out. His chest hurts, an ache that has been rotting right through him for so long it’s almost an old friend at this point, but it doesn’t send him to the floor.

He makes it to his vanity, puts the tray down there instead of his bed, and sits. It takes him time, but he gets his shirt off, and thinks about swapping out these ones for button downs, much less effort, and he leaves it in his lap as he evaluates. Because he’s having ideas, and he’s prepared to be disappointed, but…

He tears up a little as he realises he’s right. The… the cracks, they’re smaller. They’re smaller! His fingers find a patch of clear skin to explore and he can only smile. Virgil was right! It’s fixable!

There could be hope for him yet!

There’s a knock on his door, and Roman flinches and snaps around in his chair – doubling over a little as that hurts, but smiles as he realises it’s Janus in the doorway.

He’s… not as scared of Janus, at least not at the moment. Janus is at least trying to be gentle with him, so he’ll take it while he can get it.

Janus enters, clearly surprised.

“Don’t mind me,” Roman says, turning back to the mirror. “I just had to check something.”

“They’re smaller,” Janus comments, and Roman watches his reflection come up right behind him, and Janus’ hand rests on his back. “A Christmas miracle.”

“More like a Nightmare Before Christmas miracle,” Roman quips, and he rubs over the epicentre over his heart thoughtlessly.

“Virgil?”

“We talked, last night,” Roman couldn’t bring himself to meet Janus’ eyes. “And I guess it helped.”

“So emotional repair brings physical repair,” Janus murmurs to himself, mostly. “That’s good to know.”

Roman shifts in his seat and tries to smile. Janus can see his discomfort, and takes back his hand.

“I’m… apologies, Roman. I guess I’m leaping straight over our troubled waters into wanting to help you.”

“If that’s what you want to do, then I don’t mind building our bridge again.”

Janus looks at him in the mirror, and Roman makes himself look back, and makes himself smile. Janus hums, something Roman wonders whether he’s picked up from Patton or not, and shakes his head gently.

“I would like to repair the one we have, if possible,” Janus’ hand trails along the back of the chair as he moves around to Roman’s side, and kneels down on one knee. Roman tilts in his chair to they are face-to-face. “I know there is a lot of legwork to be put in on my side, but-”

“On both sides,” Roman corrects him, and he reaches out and takes Janus’ hand before he can stop himself. “Did I ever apologise for my behaviour?”

“Your apologies are written all over your skin,” Janus replies seriously, eyes wandering over Roman’s chest. “And your physical change of behaviour has been enough to prove to me you regret it. But if you feel you need to say it, I’m listening.”

“I’m sorry,” Roman declares. “I’m sorry for laughing at your name and villainising you. I’m sorry for trying to shoot you down without giving you a chance.”

Janus looks sad at that, but lets Roman finish and squeezes his hand gently in support.

“My turn,” he says seriously. “Roman, I’m sorry I used you.”

Roman stares at him, stunned by his bluntness.

“I… well, because I did. The first time, I used you to try and get into Thomas’ good books. Virgil called me out, of course, and I half-expected it. But I played into your…” he shoots Roman a look that makes him flush, “interests, and… yes, I’m not necessarily proud of that.”

Interests. Does he mean the stage or does he mean Patton? God, is he that transparent?!

“And… the trial. I thought I could get you on my side. I thought… I think I wanted to make a point, and you ended up being my poster child. And you became a martyr instead. I should have known that in your heart of hearts, you are selfless to the point of destruction, and you would have bowed to Patton and what you all considered ‘right’ anyway.”

Roman recoils a little at that, and Janus winces because he’s clearly unhappy with how he’s worded that.

“I’m not some… dog reliant on what Patton says or thinks,” Roman shoots back.

“No,” Janus agrees. “But… you’d have to be blind to ignore how much you do for him.”

Roman looks down, and hopes he isn’t flushing as hard as he looks like.

“Is it that obvious?”

“I don’t know if he knows, but… at least to me? Clearly.”

Roman shakes his head and goes to take his hand back, but Janus hangs on for another moment. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m not here to interrogate you over your taste in men. I hope you work it out. But I’m here to… I drove you into the ground, didn’t I?”

“I did that myself.”

“You spiralled, but I gave you the push.”

Roman doesn’t counter that, because Janus isn’t wrong. He just had no idea that Janus was so aware.

“So,” Janus looks down, takes a steadying breath, and looks up again. “What I’m trying to say, is… I’m sorry, Roman. I really am.”

“You have everything you want,” Roman says before he can think. “And you got yourself there. I… I feel like I can’t be mad at that.”

“You can, and you should. But I don’t have everything I want,” Janus says, mysterious as ever as he gets to his feet, but not letting Roman’s hand go just yet, cradling it in his own.

“And what’s that?”

“A friendship with you,” Janus smiles, a real smile that Roman’s never seen directed his way before. “If you’d be willing.”

Roman looks down for a moment, considering, before he looks back up with a stony expression. He holds it for a second, just to unnerve Janus, before it breaks into something far sunnier.

“Finally,” Roman smiles back, “someone to sing show tunes with who won’t complain for 20 minutes first.”

Janus laughs, he laughs, he actually tips his head back and laughs good and heartily, before turning this oddly bright look back onto the prince. “It’d be an honour,” he says. He squeezes Roman’s hand one more time, before letting it go. “Now, do you feel like you can come downstairs today, or…?”

Roman turns back to the mirror and studies his own face for a moment.

“No,” he says politely. “I might stay in here today. Or even have a shower. God knows I haven’t done that in a few days.”

Janus laughs a little at that. “I wasn’t going to say anything,” he banters, “but that could be nice.”

Roman rolls his eyes at the ribbing and lightly punches Janus’ arm before he can step out of the way. “I get it, I get it,” he gripes good-naturedly. “Now, leave me to my beauty routine.”

Janus does as requested, though the way he lingers in the doorway tells Roman he doesn’t want to leave Roman on his own. He doubts any of them do. They might be taking it in turns, yet. But he waves him off, gathers some clothes, and heads off to the bathroom.

He does, notably, not lock the door, though. …Just in case it comes crashing down. And by it, he means him.

 


 

One sleep later and he’s feeling better again. Emotional healing equals physical healing. Roman has been running on fumes and spite for so long that the hardest thing about this whole thing has been actually learning he can recover, and that he probably should.

Logan has taken to checking on him so regularly that Roman doesn’t need a clock anymore to tell when an hour has passed. It’s nice, it’s sweet. Obviously Logan feels awful and is trying to make it up to him, and Roman doesn’t want to use Logan like that, but to have such gentle attention from Logic is something so novel and something he doesn’t want to give him. He hopes he doesn’t have to.

Janus has taken him up on that comment on singing duets, and it’s helping to give Roman his lung capacity back. It also turns out that somehow, somehow, Remus knows how to play piano! Or, perhaps with how Creativity works, similar to Roman speaking Spanish, Remus can play piano purely because he thinks he can, or because he wants to.

But they’ve found space in Roman’s room for a baby grand piano (second-hand and white, of course), and Roman still has to sit, he can’t handle being on his feet for long stretches of time yet, but… it’s fun. He’s never hung out with Janus or Remus like this, and it’s nice to find someone to be musical with. Patton isn’t as nerdy on musical theatre as he is, but will still try and connect over music. Virgil and Logan don’t sing, and they don’t necessarily gel on his music tastes either.

This has been new. It’s been amazing. Even if his body is still fragile, emotionally? Roman’s feeling better than he has in a long time. Maybe ever.

Virgil makes him leave his room. Which is ironic, Roman thinks, seeing as if Virgil had a choice, he’d probably never leave his own room ever. But Virgil gets him up and walking, gets him downstairs, helps him down and on the rare occasion that it’s a particularly bad day, carries him back upstairs so he doesn’t exhaust himself sinking out. Roman had no idea Virgil was so strong! And perhaps it’s a ‘if-i-can-see-him-he’s-not-dead’ sort of thing, but honestly, it’s nice to be noticed. And to be noticed for reasons that aren’t being told to pull his head in.

Patton’s been engaging with him as much as possible. They’ve rewatched Steven Universe together at Patton’s request. They’ve binged Disney movies and musicals, even ones Patton probably doesn’t like, he gets Roman to sit up at the breakfast counter as he cooks, he reads books with him and joins Roman at the table for group drawing sessions. He is there, he is there, he is so there all the time that it makes Roman’s heart sing, because finally he has Patton close to him again.

He's so scared it’ll come crashing down again, but he’s tried to promise himself he’s going to enjoy it while it lasts.

Does Patton know? Does Patton know that that childish infatuation he once admitted to so many years ago still lives strong, nestled right beside Roman’s broken heart? Roman has no clue, and he doesn’t think he should risk it. He’s happy to love Patton at a distance. He’s happy to watch Patton chat away about his day and the discussion he had with Logan this morning over the stir fry he’s trying out, or taste-testing the soup Patton’s making.

He catches himself one day with his chin propped up in his hand, staring dreamily at Patton as Patton kneads dough, totally not watching his arms, only disrupted when Janus slips past Patton to grab a glass of water and shoots Roman an amused look.

Patton looks over to see what Janus finds so funny, and Roman is caught with that lovestruck look on his face. He tries to drop it, to hide it as anything more neutral, but it’s covered in blush before he can get his chickens in a line.

Patton blushes too, for some god-forsaken reason, caught staring with some cogs whirring behind his eyes, until Janus seems to elbow him accidentally, and he is spurred back into action with a squeak.

Roman and Patton can barely look at each other for the next ten minutes. Eventually, Patton finishes his kneading, and puts it away in a covered bowl to rise and such, before turning and slamming his hands on the counter in front of Roman.

“I need to talk to you!” he exclaims, still red in the face. “I have been meaning to and accidentally putting it off!”

“I-is it important?”

“Yes!” Patton’s face drops. “No! Maybe? It’s important to me!”

Roman can’t help but smile, and the heat finally starts to disappear from his face. “Okay,” he says. “Tell me.”

“I, uh, it’s… ugh! Gimme a sec!”

Patton turns away and washes his hands, fumbling in his rush, before leaving the kitchen and skirting around the bench until he’s beside Roman, turning the prince towards him on his rotating barstool.

“I…”

Patton suddenly glances around, self-conscious, and sees that there’s no one else downstairs.

“Okay,” he whispers, before turning back to Roman, who’s got such a question on his face that it’s so earnestly cute.

“Okay,” Patton says again. “Roman, I got something I need to say. About you. To you. Um.”

Roman tries not to look as scared as he suddenly feels, but it clearly doesn’t work, because Patton sees his panic and immediately goes on damage control. “Oh! Oh, no, hon, it’s nothing bad, nothing bad at all. I, uh, it’s just a little hard for me to put my words together! Haha, give me a mo, okay?”

Roman nods, his breath still catching over hon. When did it shift from kiddo to hon? He feels like he noticed the first time it happened, but it’s become so much more regular an occurrence nowadays. It still feels as electric as it did the first time.

Roman studies Patton’s face as Patton half-turns away, watching the way his hair falls and Patton reaches up without a thought to push it back out of his eyes, the way his glasses frame his face, the way he’s chewing his lip anxiously, the way there is still heat rising to his face, the way his eyes are glittering with something Roman can’t name.

“You’re beautiful,” he whispers to himself, and he’s cupped Patton’s cheek in his hand and turns Patton’s head towards him so he can study him better without really thinking about it, seeing how Patton’s eyes go wide and that flush darkens, and his own breath hitches because yes, he thinks he’s read this situation correctly. “Has anyone ever told you that?”

“You have,” Patton breathes back, voice equally as soft as his own hand comes up to rest on Roman’s wrist. “I-I… Roman…”

“Yes, Pat?”

“I love you.”

Roman blinks. Once, twice, before the words land and he gasps, like the air’s been knocked out of him.

“I love you,” Patton repeats, like now the words are out, he can’t get over how they feel in his mouth. “I love you and I think I’ve been in love with you for a very long time.”

“Ye gods above,” Roman murmurs, watching Patton study him right back with wide and totally-not-anxious eyes, “that’s fortunate. Because I think I’ve been in love with you ever since-”

“That Christmas?”

“…Yeah.”

“God, me too.”

Roman laughs, and goes to drop his hand, but his breath seizes up as Patton’s hand slips up his wrist and presses Roman’s hand to his face, so he can’t move. Not that Roman wants to.

“This whole time?”

“Yes,” Roman shrugs. “I… I didn’t act because I didn’t know how you felt. And then I knew… or, uh, I suppose I thought, that you could do so much better than me.”

“That’s very ironic,” Patton says quietly, almost meekly, “because I felt the same way. I just thought… you and Virgil, seemed to get along so well, even when I couldn’t be enough for you.”

“Oh my god,” Roman snorts despite himself. “I couldn’t dream of kissing Virgil. But that’s very funny, because here I was telling myself I was nothing for you compared to Janus.”

“Janus?!” Patton echoes, shocked, before he laughs too. “Oh, that’s… Roman, hon, I appreciate Janus very much, but I think he’s a good friend and nothing more. I don’t think I’ve ever felt about anyone else the way I’ve felt about you. Even when things happened, even when things changed, I always found that deep in here,” and his spare hand touches himself lightly over the heart, “there was a part of me that loved you.”

Roman’s smiling. He’s also crying. He’s not sure when either of those things started happening but he’s so full of emotions he might just burst.

“I love you too!” he exclaims. “I… I have tried not to, for our sakes, but I could never get over you.”

Patton smiles back, his own eyes very watery.

“It’s fortunate, then,” he notes, stepping in a little closer, “that you’ll never have to.”

“Oh,” Roman breathes, his heartbeat speeding up as Patton inches closer, until he’s standing between Roman’s knees, and now it’s Patton reaching to tilt Roman’s head up, eyes flicking to each other’s lips and back. “Thank god.”

“Kiss me?”

Patton’s voice is tiny, but his words are like a roar in Roman’s ears.

“I thought you’d never ask.”

Roman meets him halfway. It’s soft, sweet, it’s tender and it’s hesitant. It’s a peace offering, a bridge, it’s an acceptance of a long and sordid past. It’s Roman melting against Patton as Patton wraps his arms around his prince, being there, grounding him.

It’s so much and it’s not enough. Roman is drowning and Roman is floating. He’s electric and he’s earth. He doesn’t know but he’s so full of everything all at once that when Patton pulls away he’s far more breathless than he should be, and far closer to tears, too.

“Okay?”

“So okay.” Roman leans in to brush noses with Patton. “Again?”

Patton laughs, and indulges him.

They break away to the sound of clapping and cheering, and also of scolding, and they both snap around to realise there’s a crowd on the stairs, and Janus and Remus have given them a standing ovation, Virgil’s frantically trying to shut them up, and Logan’s pinching the bridge of his nose with a good-natured sigh. Then, he looks up, grins at his oldest friends, and says “took you long enough.”

“Oh god,” Roman says.

“You knew?!” Patton exclaims.

“Neither of you are that subtle,” Janus drawls, sharing a knowing look with Logan. “I’m just glad you got there on your own, finally.”

“On our own,” Roman folds his arms and raises an eyebrow at Janus. “Sure thing.”

“Well, you know me,” Janus smirks. “I do so love to give a little push now and then.”

Roman’s about to break off into a full indignant argument, when Patton just laughs and spins Roman’s seat back around his back is to the stairs, and he kisses him again.

“Guys!” Virgil exclaims, but it’s clearly light-hearted.

Roman makes the most obvious moon-eyes of his life at Patton as they break away again. “I could get used to this, you know,” he grins.

“Good,” Patton winks back. “You’re very kissable.”

Roman proves his point as the others start trying to heckle them from the stairwell.

 


 

About half an hour later, Roman crashes good and hard. He’s fine walking around, hell, he’s over the moon! And then the next moment, he’s lowering himself into a seat as the room phases in and out, a wave of exhaustion settling so thoroughly into his bones that it nearly knocks him breathless.

This doesn’t go unnoticed. Patton’s by his side in a heartbeat, and… judging by how cold those hands are, it’s Logan, too.

“Are you okay?”

“I…” Roman cuts himself off with an enormous yawn, and unconsciously rubs over his heart. “I think so. ‘M just tired all of a sudden.”

“Pain?”

“No.” Roman blinks slowly. “I feel really warm.”

Logan’s hand presses against his forehead. “No fever,” Logan notes, sounding worried.

“Like… cosy sort of warm,” Roman tries to continue, leaning into Patton’s side. “Feel good. Just… tired.”

“This happens most times, doesn’t it?” Janus’ voice comes. “Both on damage and healing. He falls asleep and something happens.”

“…Do you think it’ll be good things?”

“I do,” Roman mumbles. “I’ll riot if it isn’t. It doesn’t hurt.”

And actually, yeah. Maybe it’s just the suddenly delirious state he’s in, but… he’s not in pain right now. He feels warm down to the tips of his fingers, and oh so heavy. It crashes through him again, enough to make his ears ring, and he slumps even more. Hands catch him before he topples out of the chair.

“Help me get him upstairs,” someone says. It sounds like Patton.

“I gotcha,” says Virgil, Roman thinks, and is then quickly followed by the familiar sensation of arms slipping underneath him, and then being effortlessly lifted and carried upstairs. Roman’s head lolls against Virgil’s hoodie.

“You good?” Virgil asks him.

“Mm,” Roman hums. “Think so.”

“Alright.”

It doesn’t take long. He’s being ferried into bed and tucked in, and he can open his eyes enough to see that sky blue he’s so fond of, and manages to snag Patton’s hand before he can step too far away.

“Oh,” Patton turns back. “Do you… want me to stay?”

“Mm-hm.” Roman gives him a tug, trying to pull him in closer. He… he feels warm and heavy and exhausted and cuddly and he just wants Patton. Maybe he’ll regret this when he can think straight. But Patton kicks off his shoes, folds away his glasses, and snaps himself into some pyjamas and shrugs.

“Alright, hon,” he says. “Scoot over.”

No qualms, no questions, no weirdness, no distaste. Patton just slots in like he’s always belonged there, and it’s never been easier to fall asleep pillowed up on his chest.

 


 

Patton is the one woken by Roman this time. The prince sits up, and is already tugging off his shirt as Patton is still propping himself up on one elbow, fumbling for his glasses.

He turns back in time to see Roman grinning down at himself, as his cracks have closed by a good half-inch all around. He even manages to twist, and Patton can see that actually, some of the ones on his back have actually sealed, and they only really reach around to his ribs and intercostals now.

“Roman,” Patton murmurs, glowing with pride to see him so healthy, more so than he’s been in a long time, and Roman turns to him and all but throws himself at Patton, knocking Patton back down onto the pillow as he leans over him, eyes glittering.

“Good morning, my illustrious partner,” he coos, and Patton can’t keep all the fondness down in his chest.

“Good morning, my sweetest prince,” he says right back. “Hope this isn’t too forward.”

“Nah,” Roman kisses him, once, twice, three little pecks. “It was so nice to sleep beside someone.”

“On someone,” Patton jokingly corrects as he negotiates Roman off him and sits up. “I felt like a pillow.”

“And what a marvellous pillow you are,” Roman jokes back. “The best pillow I ever had. The most handsome one, too.”

“You charmer,” Patton rolls his eyes, and tries to ignore the fact that Roman still has his shirt off. Roman kisses him again, bouncing on the bed a little, like he’s so excited to actually be able to do it he can’t stop.

Patton can’t blame him. He feels the same.

It’s a slow morning, for the two of them, slow and lazy and delightful. They end up downstairs by 11 for a late brunch, Roman wearing a button-up white shirt that he leaves half-done-up, almost like he’s showing off his recovery. The pattern is weird, but he can’t deny the results. And he hasn’t felt this good in so long. Both emotionally and physically.

Thomas summons them an hour later. He’s standing in his lounge, as per usual, and is talking to Logan when Patton and Roman arrive, this time standing closer than normal.

“I was trying to… I guess, like, sink down to you guys,” Thomas is raking a hand through his hair, “like I did with Janus, but I must not be able to do it by my… Roman!”

All eyes are on him, and for the first time in a long time, Roman doesn’t mind. It feels comfortable, even, like it used to.

“Hi, Thomas,” he says simply, smiling.

“You!” Thomas clasps his hands and grins. “You look so much better! I’m… oh my god, I’m so happy for you.”

“We’ve been… figuring stuff out,” Roman’s smile turns shy. “A-and let’s say some important conversations have been had.”

“Roman’s beginning to believe he’s worth the effort now!” Virgil calls from his seat on the stairs. “It’s great.”

“Hell yeah!” Thomas turns back to him, pumped.

“Also he’s now realising how much we all love him,” Patton adds, which makes Roman blush because he doesn’t know if Patton’s meaning them or not but he’s also not wrong.

“Good,” Thomas folds his arms.

“And we’re hoping that he’s fully realising how integral he is to our healthy functioning not only as parts of a whole, but as a family,” Logan finishes, arms folded in a mirror of Thomas’ pose – though it probably was not intentional.

Roman looks down, feeling very choked up all of a sudden.

“That’s good,” Thomas agrees, in a voice so soft that it makes Roman’s head snap up in a heartbeat. Thomas meets his eyes, the same liquidy expression rippling across his face. “Roman, that’s great.”

Roman pauses, before tugging open his shirt a little more. “And I’m getting better,” he says, softly but genuinely. “I really am.”

Thomas takes one hesitant step forward, then another, before he closes the distance and pulls Roman into the biggest hug he can. Roman goes willingly, laughing delightedly at it all, at the love, at the lack of pain, at the moment in time.

“I’m gonna be okay,” he mumbles into Thomas’ shoulder, just loud enough for his centre to hear. “I promise.”

“You better be,” Thomas whispers back. “Or… Or I’ll…”

“Leave the threats to me,” Roman leans back with a laugh. Thomas laughs too, and gives him one last quick hug – like he just can’t believe he gets to have the honour of holding Roman in his arms – before letting him go.

“I… I mostly wanted to check in on you guys,” he confesses, retreating to his normal spot. “And mostly Roman. No other issues? Nothing I should know?”

“Nope,” Roman shakes his head. “All present and correct.”

“Fantastic,” Thomas clasps his hands again. “Roman… god, Roman, I’m so proud of you. I hope you know that.”

Roman’s lip wobbles. “I… I think so,” he says in a tiny voice.

“That’s enough for me,” Thomas smiles. “But let me know when you need a reminder because that I can do.”

Roman feels tired all of a sudden again. He smiles, and yawns, and takes Patton’s hand for support. Patton squeezes his hand gently, and they ignore how Thomas raises an eyebrow at that.

“I think I need to go sit down,” Roman says quietly, which gets everyone’s attention in an instant. “Thank you, Thomas. Have a good rest of your day, and don’t forget to get groceries.”

“Oh! Oh shit, thanks,” Thomas pulls out his phone and starts setting reminders, calculating budget. “Catch y’all soon, okay?”

They all sink out together, Roman leaning on Patton more and more. They end up laying him out on the couch. He’s asleep within the minute.

 


 

Time goes on and on. Heartbreak is nothing linear, of course, and neither is recovery. Roman’s cracks might never seal fully, but by the time a month or so has passed, they are thin and dark, looking more like hairline fractures than proper, actual cracks.

He’s back to his princely self. He can wear his clothes, he can do what he used to. He’s happier and healthier and he’s so in love with Patton it’s not even funny.

He’s finally found himself again, it seems. Finally rediscovered how to live and love being alive. And oh how he missed being him.