It’s late morning when Roman wakes up slowly again. There’s a gentleness to it, something he never knew Virgil’s room could provide. He could almost pretend that nothing happened. In fact, he believes that, at first, only vaguely wondering why he is in Virgil’s room in the first place. But then, suddenly, his body shivers, and he remembers the feeling of snow underfoot, and his breath catches.
Virgil turns in his sleep, mumbling a little. His nose touches Roman’s neck so he stays still, not wanting to wake him.
“Mmm... Roman,” Virgil says, eyes shut. Roman can tell he’s still deep in sleep, his lips hardly moving. “Safe...”
Roman closes his eyes, and bites his lip. “Yes,” he whispers back, and Virgil sighs, sleepy and relaxed next to him.
He waits for another hour before carefully moving out of the bed. Virgil remains oblivious, sleeping on. Roman watches his chest rise and fall slowly and, far from the first time, feels a twinge of guilt. He’s exhausted because of me.
Roman tries to fix it. He goes to the kitchen, and tries to make hot chocolate, because despite all of Virgil’s bluster about how he prefers bitter black coffee, Roman knows he has the biggest sweet tooth of them all.
He’s not sure what causes it. Maybe it was always going to happen. Maybe it’s the shock of the sudden cold from picking up the black china mug. All he knows is, one moment, he’s reaching for the mug, and then he’s hit with an overwhelming wave of dizziness and-
He’s walking through the forest, and his eyes sting with the piercing brightness of the sun, how it makes the snow unbearable to look at. Then, all of a sudden, the world is plunged into darkness, but that didn’t make any sense, day didn’t turn to night, it was... ill...it was... what was that word, again? Someone knew these things, didn’t they? He can’t think-
Roman gasps, the fog in his eyes clearing to see Logan gently shaking him by the shoulders.
Logan smiles, clearly relieved. “There you are.”
“I-I forgot you first,” Roman says. He’s shaking, and Logan’s hands tighten around his forearms, now. “I’m s-sorry, I didn’t mean to-”
Logan gently but firmly guides him to sit on the couch. His eyebrows are raised slightly, confused, but Roman appreciates the lengths he goes to trying to understand him.
“You know, I don’t think Virgil ever really liked that mug,” Logan says, voice light. “So you’ve probably done him a favour.”
Roman laughs, and for the first time in his life says, “Logan, be serious.”
Logan smirks. “I’m always serious.” Then, he sobers. “It really is alright, Roman. You can’t blame yourself for circumstances beyond your control.”
Roman shakes his head. “No, I should have- how could I even- and your job is so important-”
“Well, I won’t argue with you, there.” Logan falters a bit, pushing up his glasses. “Um, apologies. I was aiming for levity but...” He trails off, and thinks for a long moment, and Roman doesn’t dare interrupt him. Eventually, he says, “You know I have an appreciation for poetry?”
Roman just nods.
Logan smiles again. “Well, you create the poetry.”
He tries not to ruin the moment, he really does, but even though Logan’s words cause a warmth to flood through him, he can’t stop himself from shivering.
Logan frowns. He places his hand on Roman’s bare arm hesitantly, still rubbing up and down even though he finds no goosebumps. “You don’t feel cold,” he says, puzzled.
Roman doesn’t know how to explain it to him. He doesn’t know how to say that sometimes, he still feels the cold, biting wind, as if he’s still trapped.
Logan passes him another mug. It’s warm, Roman can feel it in his hands, his fingers running over the slightly chipped handle. Logan’s morning tea. He lets the warmth spread through his palms, even though his hands shake. It’s grounding. Real.
He steps further through the woods. At one point, he tries to turn back, retrace his footsteps, but everything is too much; too confusing. A man dressed in blue blocks the path. His eyes flash yellow behind his glasses, and it feels both familiar and wrong.
“You’re not good, you’re not bad. You’re just nice,” the man hisses. He steps to the side for Roman to pass through, and Roman feels his eyes on him, a harsh judgement.
It’s mid-afternoon by the time Virgil rises. He greets Logan and Patton, yawning and stretching. Roman curls himself up tighter on the couch. He stares at Virgil’s still too pale face, how his shoulders are slumped in exhaustion.
You’re responsible, you’re the one to blame, it’s your fault.
He starts when Virgil sits down next to him, leaning against him as if it’s nothing at all, as if he trusts Roman completely.
“I...” Roman clears his throat. “I tried to make you hot chocolate but I- I broke your mug. I’m sorry.”
Virgil huffs out a tired laugh. His hair is tickling Roman’s cheek. “Thanks for the thought, sunshine,” he murmurs, and then he sighs, content, closing his eyes.
Sunshine. Roman blinks. He’d said that once, hadn’t he? But not quite the way Virgil said it.
The cold, for once, is kept at bay.
“Why would he like you? Come on, now, really! Look at you- you think that he’s impressed?”
That night, the cold returns, and with it, there’s a restlessness. Roman can’t keep still, his mind screaming at him to act, do something, but he doesn’t know... Wait. Yes, that’s it!
“Kiddo, what-?” Patton takes him by the hand, pulling him back. “Roman, how long have you been here? It’s not good to-”
“B-burn them,” Roman says, pushing the crumpled papers between them. “P-please, they-”
“They’re no good, they’re just wasting space, they’re-”
“Roman,” Patton says firmly. “No.”
“But-” Roman reels. “But they...”
Patton carefully takes the papers from him, smoothing them out and placing them back on the shelf. Roman can see the system he uses, how he’s sorted the memories into age and significance.
“I can’t get rid of them,” Patton says. His eyes are searching Roman’s, but Roman doesn’t know what for. “They’re special, and they’re a part of you, and you deserve to be proud of them.”
Roman sinks down to the ground. He’s overwhelmed by what he’s done. Broken into Patton’s room, betrayed his trust, why surely he’s no better than...
“It’s okay,” Patton says, voice low and sincere. “You just need to get to bed. It’ll help, trust me.”
Roman can’t. He can’t go back there. Not ever. He leaves quickly, and bangs on Virgil’s door before he can back out like a coward.
Virgil opens it after the first frantic knock. He opens his mouth, and Roman cuts across him: “I-I’m sorry, I just... I can’t.”
Virgil steps aside. “Come in,” he says softly, as if Roman never needed a reason to.
He panics, near the end. He feels the cold seeping through his bones, and it makes his muscles ache, and soon his knees buckle. He wants to cry out for help- someone; anyone- but he can’t remember their names.
Were they ever there?
The cold reaches his chest, and he gasps with the fear of it. But then, through the storm, he sees someone, and he nearly weeps with relief.
He finds his voice. “H-help! Please you- you have to save me!”
The words feel wrong to his own ears, like he’s being forced to follow a script. But, as the stranger gets closer, all worry melts away. He’s a stranger, yes, but there’s something knowable about him; Roman can recognise something in his dark eyes, in his black cloak trimmed with purple.
The stranger grips his chin, and leans in. Roman closes his eyes.
A low chuckle. “Oh, Roman.” Roman opens his eyes to see another flash of yellow. “If only there was someone out there who loved you.”
He wakes up crying, and is ashamed of it. He tries to hide his face from Virgil, gasping into his pillow, but Virgil is stroking his hair, telling him he’s not alone, humming so sweetly, and he’s being so kind, why, why would he...
He doesn’t realise he’s spoken aloud until Virgil is clinging to him, pushing the nightmare away with his words.
“Because you deserve...” Roman hears him swallow and, why does he have to make everything worse, he’s making Virgil cry again. “Because I love you,” Virgil says, far too fierce and powerful to be a lie.
Roman grimaces, keeping his face turned away. “You shouldn’t. I’m-”
“-getting this all wrong, aren’t you, Roman? And hurting them in the process...”
Virgil pulls back. Gently, he cups Roman’s cheek and Roman finally turns to look at him.
“You’ve remembered things,” he says, quietly. “Haven’t you?”
“I...” Roman sucks in a breath as another tear breaks free, but Virgil wipes it away with his thumb. “I didn’t forget a-all the time.”
Virgil nods, and moves so they’re both sitting up. “Yeah?” he says. Not demanding; not presuming just... there. An invitation.
Roman looks up, trying to blink everything away. “He said... nice things, at first. Then... b-before you came. For a moment I could- I knew who I was. He- he said th-this was how things were meant to be. It was b-better this way. I... wasn’t good enough.”
Virgil exhales, breathing shallow. “He’s a monster.”
“But then-” Roman hears Virgil make a soft noise of alarm as he feels sobs catch in his throat again. “Wh-what does that say about me? I- I believed him.”
“That doesn’t say anything about you,” Virgil says. “Jesus, Roman, that... he knows nothing. How can he know that you’re everything he isn’t and- you don’t know how much good you bring, do you?”
Roman sighs shakily. It’s all the reply Virgil needs.
“That’s okay.” Tentatively, he wraps his arms around Roman and squeezes. “I- I didn’t either, at first. For... for me, I mean. You know who helped?”
Roman shakes his head.
“You,” Virgil breathes. “Look... we’re in this together. Let me show you. Let me help you.”
They have to face it eventually. Roman is glad Virgil is there with him, holding his hand as he opens the door. It’s quiet in there. Not too warm, not too cold. And, mercifully no wardrobe.
“So.” Virgil strokes his knuckles with his thumb, slowly. “How does this usually work?” His lips curve into a smirk. “Click your heels three times?”
Roman smiles. For the first time in a while, it doesn’t feel like an effort. “It’s... different each time. I could-” He shrugs. “I could make it like that for today, if you want?”
Three clicks later, and they’re in a grassy golden meadow. The sun shines- warm but not fierce. In the distance, there’s a lake, and he can just about see the outskirts of a forest. Not a thorn in sight.
Virgil whistles lowly. “Amazing.”
Roman shrugs. He’s not really done anything, yet.
“Well, then.” Virgil half-twirls about in a circle, so he can see everything, and Roman stifles a giggle. “What do you want to do today?”
“I’m...” Roman sighs. “I’m not sure.”
But, Virgil just grins. “Nothing, then? Great, my favourite.” He flops down onto the grass, hands behind his head. Roman suddenly feels glad Virgil brought his headphones- they add a reality he has been missing.
He lies down next to Virgil. It’s the most calm he’s ever felt, just doing nothing at all. He catches snatches of song from Virgil’s headphones, but what’s a little louder is Virgil’s gentle murmur of singing along:
“No-one is alone. Someone is on your side... No-one is alone.”
Roman wants to say ‘thank you’ but the words sound too empty, too bland for what he really wants to get across. He closes his eyes, and concentrates. He hears the hooves first, and he sits up, shocked at how quickly it worked.
There, by the lake, he can just make out a unicorn drinking. Its horn is a dark purple, it’s mane streaked with red and gold. Its movements are slow and peaceful.
“Oh, wow.” Virgil is sitting up, too, eyes wide. “That’s... nice one. Beautiful.”
Roman looks at him, really looks at him. He sees how Virgil is completely relaxed, his eyes sparkling in the sunshine. He remembers, suddenly, what Virgil said about him already saving him. Perhaps... perhaps it’s true.
“You’re doing good, Roman,” Virgil says, heartfelt, and then he lies back down on the grass.
Good...? Roman closes his eyes, and breathes in deeply. He can hear Virgil’s calm breathing, far-away birdsong. For once, he might even be able to believe that.
“Yeah, I... I think I am.”