The lounge really isn't the best place to have an emotional crisis. Sure, it's comfortable, and Catullus can sit on both the weird web chair and a bean bag chair, which is way better than having an emotional crisis in his beat-up desk chair. But the door can't be closed because it gets locked, and for some reason (okay, because Clodia) he's not trusted in the closed lounge. So now he is trying very hard to maintain composure in a public space, hoping no one comes in.
That thought appears to have summoned someone on its own. He thinks the kid who just entered is Vergil, a first year who appears to be best friends with Varius, the first year who lives across the hall from Catullus. Varius has probably invited his girlfriend over again, and after an incident that Varius still doesn't tell him about, Vergil doesn't want to be anywhere near them when they're together. At least Vergil seems quiet, and more afraid of him than anything else. Maybe that's why he likes bees, they're supposed to be more scared of you than you are of them, even though you can't sting them or whatever.
"Am I interrupting anything? I just wanted to find the copy of De rerum natura here, mine is in Quintilia's room and she’s not home. I can be on my way." Vergil says so quietly Catullus almost doesn't know he's saying anything.
He's a little too observant, this one. Catullus is about to respond that no, he really doesn't need anything, when Vergil leaves of his own accord. He hasn't brought the book with him, though. Catullus looks for it himself, finds it in about two minutes. He's sure Vergil would have found it faster, and wonders why he left so quickly.
He gets his answer when Vergil comes back five minutes later with two cups of tea and quietly hands him one before picking up the book. He thinks he should introduce himself now, since Vergil has just given him tea and left him alone. No one ever does things like that for him. "I've seen you before, you're Varius' friend Vergil, right? I'm Catullus." is all he can get out sounding relatively normal and not like someone who's about to cry.
"Oh, are you? I read your poems during gap year. I thought they were very good. Varius swears they've influenced mine." Vergil replies, still barely audible.
Catullus smiles a little at the compliment. He doesn't think Vergil would lie if he's anything like his overly honest friend group. (He hears they, like, have criticism sessions. It's apparently an old Epicurean thing.) "Thanks, man. You'll have to let me look at some of your poems." he says. "If you want, that is" he adds as Vergil looks mildly terrified at the prospect. Varius says he hates everything he writes, which sounds more like anxiety then quality of his work.
"It isn't very good, but maybe later I can show you what I sent in as my portfolio to get into the creative writing program here." Vergil replies, smiling back. Whether he's trying to be polite or is happy someone's interested in his work is impossible to tell.
He walks up and shuts the door. "I hope you don't mind. I'm sure they'll trust you in the lounge if I'm here. I did that in case you wanted to…express what was upsetting you." Vergil says. It's clear that he's implying it's okay to cry, or yell at nothing in particular, or whatever. He sits against the back of a chair, hiding himself from view again. It's another sweet gesture, and honestly, he's being too nice for someone Catullus has just met. He knows it's because Varius likes him, probably, or because Vergil can't be mean to people ever for some reason. For a moment, he wonders if Vergil wants something from him, but from what Varius has said, it doesn't seem like he would ever want anything from anyone.
And now, he's crying a little. He's trying to be quiet about it, trying to drown out the sounds by drinking his tea obnoxiously loudly. It turns out you can't really drink tea that loudly unless you want to spill it on yourself, which he does, which makes him cry more, because wet clothing is terrible, and none of his clothing is even really his, and he thinks this is from an ex anyway, so it shouldn't matter, but it does, everything matters so much, and now he's crying alone in a lounge because Vergil has left, which he supposes is good, but just feels more lonely, because he's, you know, alone in the lounge, and he can hear people being happy outside, and it's not fair, everyone has friends who love them and partners who actually love them back except him, and he just has so much love to give them, and he can't, and…
Someone is knocking on the door. He goes to check, it's Vergil. He lets him in. Vergil's brought a sweater, which he places on the table where Catullus was sitting, and sits where he was sitting before.
Catullus puts on the sweater, which has what looks like ivy on the shoulders and arms. It's a little too warm for the weather, but he'll manage. When he finally talks again, all he can say is "I wasn't crying, or anything", which is a little ridiculous since Vergil definitely heard him cry.
"You're aware that it's okay to have emotions, right? If you make me cite you all the times mythological heroes cried or otherwise had emotions, we'll be here all day." Vergil says. From anyone else, it would sound rude or sarcastic, but he just sounds like he's stating facts, which is oddly calming. After no response, he adds, "I'm not going to tell anyone, if that's what you were worried about. I respect your privacy."
Catullus half wants to believe him, half knows that isn't true. Everyone says awful things about him when he gets too emotional for their liking, say he isn't good enough or masculine enough for them. He wonders if people say things like that to Vergil or if he's somehow really sheltered. Or maybe he just doesn't care.
(Catullus wishes he didn't care what other people said about him.)
"You're sweet, Vergil. You don't have to try to make me feel better about messing up, though." he settles on.
"It isn't a mistake, though. You can express yourself however feels right, and you're just as good and valid a person. You don't have to conform to anything." Vergil replies. It's a sort of normal thing people tell you when they're trying to make you feel better. Anyone else, he'd tell them to leave. “Look, I know what you think will help, but where I come from…” Catullus starts.
“I’m just going from experience. When I was younger, I thought I couldn’t be a man because I like plants, and I like gentle insects that won’t hurt you unless they’re provoked, and I like writing poetry and thinking about philosophy late at night while looking at the stars. And none of that fit with how I was told I should experience my gender. I know what we’re told, that you have to be perfectly masculine to be valid, and that there’s only one way to do things, but. You don’t have to be like that. The way you are is perfect for you, and I really like what I’ve seen of your personality in your poems. I know Varius thinks highly of you, and he doesn’t lie. Also, he kind of hates most people.” Vergil adds, laughing a little.
He stops talking then, and turns back away and sort of sinks to the floor. It must have been hard for him to say all that, and Catullus knows Vergil only trusts him because he’s more or less friends with Varius, and was crying pretty inconsolably. Vergil probably doesn’t think Catullus will remember half of this, or was just really trying to get him to shut up. “Thanks. I won’t tell anyone, or. Whatever.” he says. “It’s cool of you to tell me stuff. Umm.” He pauses. He’s not sure where to go from here, not sure if he even should say anything.
“I just thought it could help you. Varius has told me quite a bit about you. I apologize if I’ve overstepped anything. I think I have to...see Quintilia now, see if my book is really there with her. I get nervous about things, you understand.” Vergil says, a bit rushed. It’s obvious he’s making an excuse to leave, for which Catullus is grateful. He waits for Vergil to leave before washing out the cup, leaving it outside Varius’ room, and goes to his room.
Catullus thinks a lot about what Vergil said, thinks about how people have treated him poorly. How his “friends” would call him slurs based off the fact he actually had feelings sometimes, or the remarks on how he looked a bit “girly”, or a memorable remark from normally sweet Veranius that he was “clingier than his girlfriend.” He can't really think of any of his friends who hasn't once done something like that, wonders who really even cares about him. Maybe Vergil had really nice friends, or things were just easier for him, because of course they would be.
Catullus decides to go to Vergil again. He waits outside the door a bit. Someone else comes up - a little shorter than Vergil, with infuriatingly good posture and a large bag filled with books. He thinks this is Vergil’s friend Quintilia that he’s always going on about. "Can I help you? You're either waiting for me or Vergil or Horace. I suspect you might be the new friend Vergil was talking about." she says. "I'm Quintilia, I hear you've been told something about me. Would you like me to call Vergil for you?"
"Umm, sure? I'm Catullus, by the way." he replies. He thinks for a moment that Quintilia could probably help him too, wants to ask about so many things, really, but before he can decide what to ask, Vergil comes down the hall.
"It was nice to meet you. By the way, I hope Vergil can help you. I've been told a bit about you, and I think he and I can help. I'm usually in my room if you need me." she says before disappearing again.
"I hope you weren't waiting for long." Vergil says. "Was Horace not home? He would have opened the door for you."
Catullus looks at Vergil's door and, yeah, the memes and weird glitter stars are definitely not Vergil's super specific hipster aesthetic. There's no other name, though. "I didn't know he existed until Quintilia mentioned him. I didn't want to bother him."
"It's pretty much impossible to bother him for too long. And he loves new people. That's okay, though. Would you like to come in, or would you rather talk elsewhere?" Vergil asks, while putting his keys away. Catullus doesn't know why he bothered asking if he knew what the answer was.
“I think we could go somewhere without anyone else, unless you don’t think Horace would tell anyone anything.” Catullus replies.
Vergil takes out his keys again and smiles. “He won’t tell. Also, I can just ask him to leave. He asks me to leave enough times, I think I can ask him to go once in return.”
It turns out Horace isn’t even inside. Also, that he has even more memes inside - Catullus has no idea how he gets that much print money, let alone how one person could be so devoted to something so insignificant. It’s almost inspiring. There’s also more glitter on his side - it looks like it spilled. He picks some up, because it’s clearly not being used, and he kind of deserves glitter. For making it through so much of today without feeling unreasonably anxious. He puts it in his hair for now, because that seemed reasonable for all of five seconds. (It wasn’t reasonable, but he’s nervous.)
“I, umm. Left your cup with Varius. And here’s your sweater, I washed it so it wouldn’t be gross from crying or whatever.” he says, handing Vergil the bag he put the sweater in. “And I wanted to thank you for helping me the other day. It really meant a lot. I’ve been. Thinking about it, though.”
He pauses, not sure what to say, not sure why he’d even come except it felt right. He turns away from Vergil a little instinctively before continuing. “People have been bad to me about. Being me, yeah. And I’m...kind of scared to express myself in any way other than I’m doing now, even though I’m really uncomfortable like, all the time, and I feel like I sort of act like an asshole, but it feels more…secure, I guess. Like I'm carrying a shield with me, and though some potentially good people can't get to me, bad ones can't either. Or something like that, I can't actually think of cool similes on the spot."
"Oh, no, you're fine. I understand that a lot. That's going to take a while to get rid of-" Vergil begins to say.
"I'm going to stop right now with it. Cause it isn't who I am and the only people who like me for it are the two friends I don't even like at all." Catullus says before Vergil spends time planning something he won't even be able to accomplish. Vergil looks a little upset though, so he adds "I didn't want you to waste time scheduling something that I would just overthink and mess up."
Vergil nods sympathetically. "At least let me tell your advisor, mine, or both what you're up to. They might be able to help, especially Maecenas."
"I don't really want to tell mine. And I don't know yours, maybe if I meet him and like him, you can do that." Catullus concedes, mostly because Vergil probably will be really insistent about it, and he doesn't want that.
Maecenas is the best. He's quiet at first, but nice and witty and he has great taste in office chairs. He's already gone off on some tangent, so Catullus is just sort of staring out the window as Maecenas keeps talking. He thinks Maecenas is trying to talk about self expression, but isn't really sure.
(The best part of meeting Maecenas is that at the end he gives Catullus a brief hug and tells him that he believes in him, which is probably the sweetest thing that's happened recently in Catullus' life.)
Maecenas says he'll make sure Catullus is okay, and seems sincere. He says he's always been fine just being himself, and that he wants everyone to feel the same. He says he cares about Catullus, and no one has ever said that before quote so genuinely.
(Catullus can't really imagine him ever lying, for some reason, and trusts him. He stays sitting outside Maecenas' office for a while, content.)
He stays outside there more frequently, because Maecenas always has good advice, and so do some of his poets. Plotius brings brownies sometimes, too, for no apparent reason. That makes them pretty much the best, as far as Catullus is concerned. Today, they’ve brought brownies again, cementing their place as Catullus’ current favorite of Maecenas’ poets.
“You look like you need a brownie. Waiting for Maecenas long? Sometimes it takes forever to get to him.” Plotius says, pulling out a brownie and gently placing it in Catullus’ hands. It’s still sort of warm, which means Plotius actually times baking before going to Maecenas’ office. That’s...probably the best way to get to him, actually, Catullus thinks.
“I haven’t. I just, like, sit here sometimes, you know? Sometimes he comes out and gives me advice about stuff or just says hi, and sometimes you guys come and talk to me, too. I’m just still working stuff out, and it’s good to have people around.” Catullus replies.
Plotius smiles and just says “Yeah, I feel you on that.”
Catullus doesn’t know how to ask them anything out loud, actually, so he just sends them an email. It’s not even formatted right and there’s no subject. All it says is “hey u use they/them right? i dont wanna mess up. also how do u figure out that stuff lol” because he had to press send after about thirty seconds if he wanted to not delete it.
Plotius looks at him and smiles again. They type something up, insert...random pictures, for some reason, and then press send.
Catullus opens his email to an email composed of reassurances, a few pictures of nice things, and tons of links. He turns over and gives Plotius a hug, because they deserve it and are one of the nicest people ever.
Plotius hugs him back and gives him a kiss on the forehead. “Good for you for starting to figure out a thing!” they say. “Come talk to me whenever.”
“Yeah, I will.” Catullus says, right as Maecenas comes out.
“Do either of you need anything?” he asks. “Aww, you baked for me again, Plotius, you’re a darling. Catullus, do you need me for something, or just hanging out here again? I’ll take Plotius first, at any rate, you look like you’ve been interrupted.”
“I think I’ll just email you later.” Catullus replies. “Have fun, Plotius, and thanks again.”
“Of course! See you later!” they say.
Catullus walks back to the dorms and lies down in his room, looking at the ceiling for entirely too long while thinking. He goes to get some hot water and comes back to make hot chocolate, then thinks some more about everything, because it’s not like he’s going to get any work done today. He decides to text his brother Lucius to ask him for help, and partly to see what he’s okay with. His brother is pretty much the only person there for him, after all. “hey lucius u wanna talk today ? or not its ok :)))” is what he ends up sending.
Lucius calls him back about a minute later. “Gaius, you texted me? You sound a little upset, from what you sent. Is something stressing you out?” Catullus has no idea how Lucius figured that out - probably magic, or the fact that Catullus texts him about ten times a day about random stuff and knows his tone well.
“Umm, just a little. I just...you would still love me no matter what, right? Sometimes I feel like you're all I have, and I wouldn't want to lose you."
"Of course I would. Are you in trouble? Did someone say something bad again?"
"It's…it isn't that. I met someone today who isn't a man or a woman, and I related to that way more than I expected, and I just…if that ends up being, well, if I'm like…"
"Of course I would still love you. Would you want me to just refer to you by your name, or alternate calling you my brother and my sister, or something?"
"Either of those would work fine. Thank you, by the way. It means a lot."
“Of course. I love you, Gaius. Call me again whenever, okay?” Lucius says, before hanging up. Catullus feels much better, and is super relieved that his brother is being so great. Lucius has always been such a darling, and Catullus doesn’t know what he’s done to deserve such a brother. He thinks for a minute, and texts back “hey for the referring to me thing can u try usin different pronouns 2 refer to me? lik all three please idk what wil fit so”
“Sure thing sis <3! xx” Lucius texts back.
The next day, Catullus sends out basically the same message to Maecenas, Plotius, Varius, and Vergil. Maecenas replies that he’s happy to, Plotius sends a string of colourful hearts, Varius says sure, and Vergil says yes, and for some reason adds a picture of a bee and a heart. Why, Catullus will never know. They all come over, soon, with seemingly everyone else from their little circle. Plotius and Valgius have made a flower crown for Catullus, Vergil has made tea for everyone, and Horace has made special colourful glitter, a mix of yellow, purple, black, and white, and a sparkly pin with space for pronouns with help from Vergil. Quintilia and Domitius tell Catullus how proud they are, and have brought a tin of what looks like baked goods. Propertius has written Catullus a brief poem, which earns him a hug and a smile. Varius says he’s proud of Catullus, too, and promises to write something about this when he has time. Catullus hasn’t felt this loved by friends for a long time, hasn’t felt this level of self-confidence ever.
Maybe everything is going to be okay in the end.