Virgil would never admit it to the others, but a small part of him didn’t believe that they really cared about him. Most days, the thought was easy enough to ignore. It was hard to dispute the love in Patton’s eyes or the genuine tone in Logan’s voice or the clear effort from Roman to be less scathing. But still…overthinking things was Virgil’s specialty. And there was a part of him that couldn’t shake the notion that this, being part of their famILY, was all some cruel joke.
Maybe it had something to do with how much time he had spent around the other Dark Sides, particularly Deceit. Thanks to years of dealing with the toxic side’s whispers, Virgil had made it a habit to not trust anything that anyone said, no matter how good it sounded. That was something he was working on, but on bad days, he couldn’t stop the sly voice dripping with sarcasm from entering his mind, whispering that he wasn’t worthy, wasn’t wanted, wasn’t loved.
And this was a bad day.
Virgil lay flat on his back, headphones cradling his ears, and stared up at the ceiling. He tried to let the music wash over him and block out all the thoughts, but it wasn’t doing much to help. A new song started on his playlist, and his stomach twisted at the irony.
Scared of my own image
Scared of my own immaturity
Scared of my own ceiling
Scared I’ll die of uncertainty
Fear might be the death of me
Fear leads to anxiety
Don’t know what’s inside of me
Don’t forget ab-b-b-b-bout me
Virgil groaned and pulled his headphones off. Fine. If he couldn’t escape the fears that were creeping up in the back of his mind, he may as well wallow in them. It was what he was best at, after all.
They don’t really love you.
The thought flooded his mind, and he squeezed his eyes shut. Once he’d let it in, there was no stopping it. Almost on autopilot, his mind began running through the events of the past week, playing them over and over again in an endless loop.
It had started when he had come down for breakfast a few days ago.
As usual, Virgil had the last to drag himself out of bed that morning, and as a result the other three sides were already gathered for breakfast by the time he staggered into the kitchen to make himself a cup of coffee. He grabbed his favorite mug from the cupboard, then paused, frowning. Was it his imagination, or had the others abruptly stopped their conversation when he had come into the room? He glanced over at them, and felt his heart sink into his stomach when he saw Roman and Logan quickly look in different directions, trying to hide the fact that they’d been staring.
“Morning, Kiddo! How’d you sleep last night?” Patton asked, but his voice was too cheery, his smile too bright. Virgil had gotten good at noticing when Patton was faking his positivity, and this was definitely one of those times. He stared at the three of them, trying not to let his mind run with the worst case scenario.
“Fine…” he murmurred, frowning into his coffee.
“SO!” Roman cried, his voice a bit too loud, his smile showing just a bit too much teeth. “What great adventures await our Prince of Darkness today?”
Virgil eyed him, trying to glean some hidden meaning from the words, but he couldn’t see any beyond the question itself. Still, the way Princey had phrased it made him uneasy, and he only shrugged in response.
“Oh, come now Virgil!” Roman insisted, throwing up his hand over his head. “The day is yours to seize! Surely you aren’t just going to stay cooped up in your room all day!”
“What if I am? That ok with you, Princey?” Virgil bit back, a bit harsher than he’d meant to.
“Kiddos, be nice,” Patton warned, eyeing the both of them over his own mug.
“Whatever,” Virgil muttered, hunching back into his hoodie. The meal continued in awkward silence for a few moments, before Logan broke the tension.
“Patton, did I share with you the details of the latest book I have been reading?”
“No, you didn’t!” Patton quickly responded. “Is it any good?”
“Oh, it’s fascinating. It takes several elements of some of Doyle’s most classic stories and combines them with…”
Virgil tuned out of the conversation, choosing to stew in his own thoughts rather than listen to Logan’s speech.
Did you see how they acted when you came in?
No, I'm just tired. I haven’t had my coffee yet. My eyes could be playing tricks on me…
Did you see Patton fake his smile?
He’s been going through a lot, maybe he’s just sad today, it’s ok for him to be sad.
Is he faking right now?
Virgil stole a glance at Patton, who was wrapped up in Logan’s story. A wide grin was spread across his face, and Virgil’s stomach twisted.
Why would he fake with you and not with Logan?
You know the answer.
And don’t even get me started on Roman-
Virgil was breathing heavily, and it was only when he noticed the other three looking at him quizzically that he realized he’d spoken aloud.
“I’m…sorry, did something I say upset you?” Logan asked, concern etched across his face. Virgil’s cheeks burned and he shook his head, drawing his hood up.
“N-no…no, sorry. I’m just….I’m gonna go to my room,” he stammered out, before sinking down, his coffee left forgotten on the table.
Once in the safety of his room, Virgil took deep, shuddering breaths to calm himself.
Just your mind playing tricks on you, just your mind playing tricks…
Unfortunately, his intrusive thoughts were made only stronger when he gave in to his room, and it wasn’t long before a chorus was playing in his head, overpowering any rational thought he had left.
They don’t really love you.
They don’t really love you.
Virgil silently pulled his headphones on, a few tears leaking from his eyes as he turned up the volume all the way and hit shuffle on his phone.
Truth is that it was always going to end
This symphony buzzing in my head
Took a market of filth
And sold it like summer
The music helped drown out the thoughts, but Virgil couldn’t shake the fear that was building up in his chest.
“Cognitive distortions…” he muttered aloud, willing himself to believe it.
He almost did.
But after a week of the others suddenly stopping their conversations or changing the subject when he came into the room and a strange sense of disconnect from all of them, even Patton…Virgil’s breath caught in his throat.
He should just stop pretending.
They had never really accepted him. They just couldn’t afford him ducking out on Thomas again, so they’d been trying to make him feel wanted.
And then that got boring.
Virgil lay on his bed, tears silently flowing down his face and leaving black trails of eyeshadow against his cheeks. He glanced at the headphones left on his bed and considered putting them on again. Doubt should have finished playing by now, maybe whatever was playing now wouldn’t be so ironically depressing. Tentatively, he held them up to one ear, straining to hear the words that floated gently through the speakers.
I will fear the night again
I hope I’m not my only friend
Virgil sighed and dropped the headphones in defeat. He should just face facts. Confront the others, that’d be the thing to do. Make them admit that they were only pretending…he clenched his fists, fighting off the tremor that came with the thought…only pretending to love him. The sooner it was out in the open, the sooner they could all stop playing these games. Then, everyone would be happier.
Virgil slowly made his way down the stairs, his heart growing heavier with each step. He heard them talking in the commons, and he felt his stomach twist as he heard Patton’s easy, carefree laugh float up the stairs.
He was going to miss that laugh.
But if they didn’t want him around, he wasn’t going to force it. The last thing he wanted was for them to be unhappy. Virgil stuffed his hands into his pockets and kept walking, forcing the tears he could feel building in the back of his eyes away. He wasn’t going to let the others see how much this hurt; that he had truly fallen for their ruse and cared for them…no. Better let them think that he didn’t, it would assuage any feelings of guilt over the matter.
“Guys?” he called, making his presence known. As expected, the other three quickly stopped talking, and as he came down the last few steps he thought he saw Roman hurrying to cover something up on the coffee table. He ignored the hollow ache in his chest and forced himself to keep walking until he was really in the room.
“Hey there, Kiddo!” Patton’s voice was bright and chipper. “What’re you-”
“You guys can stop pretending now,” Virgil said, his voice barely audible, yet somehow demanding the attention of everyone in the room.
“We…what?” Patton looked confused, so Virgil explained.
“You can drop the act, guys. I figured it out…I know what’s really going on.”
The look that the other three sides exchanged with one another crushed any last ounce of hope Virgil had been holding on to.
“You…do?” Roman asked, and Virgil nodded.
“So, you are aware that we…” Logan trailed off, grimacing as Virgil nodded again. “Well then.”
Patton let out a sigh, and he sounded almost…disappointed?
“Oh Kiddo, I’m sorry. We hadn’t meant for you to find out like this, but I guess-”
“We should have been more careful,” Roman finished, rubbing the back of his neck and looking sheepish.
Virgil just nodded. It was all he could do to not start crying, he was afraid that if he opened his mouth, it would all come spilling out.
“Well, I guess there is no point in keeping it a secret any longer,” Patton said, his usual smile sliding back onto his face. Seeing that smile…seeing the one side who he thought maybe had really meant it all so obviously happy to be done with the charade…Virgil couldn’t take it anymore.
“Guess not,” he choked out, turning to head back up to his room, never to impose on their family again. He wouldn’t duck completely out, he knew now that had been a mistake, but it had been just as much a mistake to think he could ever really belong.
“Um…where are you going, Virgil?” Logan’s voice stopped him in his tracks, and he turned slowly, looking back at the others.
“Uh…back up to my room?” he answered with a slight frown. The others exchanged a look, and they seemed…confused?
“Ok…but why?” Roman asked, and now it was Virgil’s turn to be confused.
“I mean, don’t you want to see it properly?” the creative side continued, an unmistakable lfit to his voice, despite the confusion still showing on his face. Virgil knew that tone, Roman was excited about something.
“Wait…see what properly?”
“Virgil…” Logan said slowly, tilting his head slightly to the side. “What did you mean when you said you know what’s really going on?”
Virgil stared at the logical side. Was he really going to make him say it out loud? He hadn’t expected such cruelty from Logan. Roman maybe, but never Logan.
“That….that this has all been an act,” he admitted quietly, his eyes trained on the floor. “That…you don’t really want me around. You just need my function for Thomas, you don’t actually lo-” he paused, unable to even say the word aloud. “Like me,” he finished lamely, knowing that the others knew what word he had been going to say. But honestly, what did semantics matter at this point. He kept his head down, waiting for the blow that was to come, the final confirmation so he could just go back to his room and hide from the world.
For a few, agonizing seconds, silence. When he couldn’t take it any longer, Virgil peeked up through his bangs, and was surprised to see the others wearing various expressions of shock. Logan looked surprised, and Roman indignant, but Patton…Patton looked furious.
“Virgil, we don’t ‘like’ you,” the moral side said fiercely, his fists clenched at his sides. “We love you, and if you ever, ever imply that we don’t, ever again, I…I’ll…” his steely determination began to wobble as he clearly struggled to deal with the waves of emotion washing over him. Virgil locked eyes with the paternal trait, and before he knew it he was being smothered in Patton’s bone crushing hug.
“I will physically fight you,” Patton insisted, his voice muffled by Virgil’s shoulder.
Virgil’s system was reeling at the sudden contact, but he didn’t even mind the sudden overload because Patton was hugging him, and he was warm and solid and safe and he cared and now two more sets of arms were around him and oh god they all cared they were all here and they cared, they all cared after all.
Virgil didn’t know how long the four of them stayed like that, locked in one another’s embrace; he wouldn’t have minded much if they’d stayed like that forever. But eventually, one by one they broke apart until they were all looking one another in the face, not a pair of dry eyes among them. V
“Virgil…” Logan sounded hesitant, but he pressed on with his question nonetheless. “What made you think that…that we do not care for you at all?”
Virgil blinked in surprise as he identified in Logan’s voice what was making him pause…hurt. Logan sounded hurt. Oh no…he realized as he looked around at the others, taking in their expressions. They’re all upset…you upset them, now you’ve done it, why do you have to ruin everything…
“Virge?” Logan’s voice brought him back to reality, and he looked down, embarrassed.
“I…I saw how you guys have…have been acting around me lately, and I just kinda assumed…well, the worst,” he stammered, stuffing his hands into his hoodie pockets. Saying it out loud like that made the whole ordeal sound ridiculous, and he could feel his face growing hotter as a blush crept onto his cheeks.
“Oh…oh Virgil honey,” Patton’s voice was soft and soothing, and even a tiny bit apologetic. “We’re so sorry, we should’ve handled that better…”
“Handled what better?” Virgil asked, now thoroughly confused. If they didn’t hate him, why had they been acting so strangely lately?
“Well…” Roman hesitated, but at a nod from the others he continued. “We were kind of trying to surprise you.”
Virgil blinked. Surprise him?
“But…but why?” he asked.
“We all realized that we were not particularly cognisant of your feelings during the making of the last Sanders Sides video,” Logan explained. “From Roman and Patton’s obsession with past events to my frankly childish decision to back out of the conversation, none of us were very fair to you throughout that whole ordeal.”
“So, we wanted to make it up to you!” Roman said, bouncing a bit on the balls of his feet. “We’ve been discussing the perfect present to make you, and we were going to surprise you with it on your birthday soon…”
“But I guess we weren’t being as discreet as we thought we were,” Patton finished, an apologetic look on his face. “I’m so sorry we worried you, sweetie. But please, talk to us next time you’re worried about something?” Patton’s eyes were wide and pleading, and Virgil just nodded.
“I…think I can manage that,” he said, a small smile playing at the corner of his lips. Patton grinned back, and pulled Virgil into another hug.
Warm. Safe. Home.
“Soooo, do you want to see it now?” Roman asked, clearly excited. Patton broke away from Virgil, an excited smile growing on his own face.
“Yes! Oh, yes! Ready, Virge?”
Virgil nodded, and Logan reached behind the couch and pulled out…Virgil gasped.
It was a notebook, hand bound in beautiful purple leather. As he gingerly took it from Logan’s hands, he saw that his name, Virgil, was embossed in beautiful calligraphy on the cover, no doubt Roman’s handiwork. He opened the book from the back and flipped through, cherishing the sensation of light pages brushing against his thumb. The back half of the book had blank sketch paper, while the front half was lined. It was truly the perfect notebook. As the last few pages flipped by, he noticed writing on the first page, and he opened the book back up to get a proper look at it.
May you find this book useful for all the things to write or draw that the future has in store.
With love, your famILY.
Virgil blinked back tears as he read the message, then moved down to the three unique signatures.
No matter what the future brings, we will be your constants.
My dearest Virgil,
Whatever battles may come our way, I am honored that you will always be there to fight by my side! I promise to fight by yours as well.
I know I can always count on you to be there for us. Thank you so much! <3 Remember that I’ll always be here for you too.
I love you so much!
“Guys…” Virgil stammered, at a loss for words.
“Do you like it, do you like it?” Roman asked, a wide grin plastered across his face. “The notebook was Logan’s idea, and I did the binding and embossing, and then the notes were Patton’s…”
“Yes,” Virgil said, cutting him off. He looked up at his friends, at his family, with tears shining in his eyes. “I…I love it. And…and I-” he struggled to say what he was feeling, surely it wasn’t as simple as those three words, surely there had to be some bigger, better way to express how much this meant to him…
“It’s ok, kiddo,” Patton said, and he was smiling, and the others were smiling, and God Virgil had been so stupid for ever doubting them.
“It’s an understood thing.”