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Dirty Laundry

Chapter Text

Don’t care about what you did
Only care about what we do

It was a Monday afternoon, in early March, when they collected their mock results.

Each student, lined up outside the college canteen, had taken their A Level mocks across the months of January and February. And now, with every subject graded, it was the time to receive their results.

The atmosphere was thick – dripping with tension as students filed into the room in clusters of friend groups. Rows of white envelopes, ordered alphabetically, stared back at them. To no surprise, some students were much, much more terrified than others.

By this point in the year, almost everyone had gotten at least one offer (or rejection) from the universities they’d applied for. They also had entry requirements. And at this point, if they weren’t at least close to those…

Well, that would be an issue.                                                                                

Of course, there were only the mocks, but that didn’t eliminate the nervousness coursing through their veins, as they picked up the envelopes with their names, and flocked into their respective groups.

As usual, the first students to collect their results were Oz, Gilbert, and Alice. (And Vincent, who was Gilbert’s brother… who followed Gilbert in every step he took.)

Behind the façade of a beaming smile, Oz trembled internally as they gathered in one corner of the theatre, Gilbert beside him and Alice just ahead of him.

Alice, without a single millisecond of vacillation, tore open her results. Her eyes only had to scan over the sheet once, before she flung it into the air, and clenched a fist in victory. “Aha! Suckers! I only failed one thing!”

“Ah, well done…” Oz said, albeit he couldn’t quite grasp she was marvelling over failing a subject. However, he found it difficult to trust that luck was on his side instead. As comfort, with slightly shaking hands, he and Gil both peeled open their envelopes at the same time, shooting each other the odd, nervous glance.

It only took one glance for him to register his grades: Bs in Psychology, Sociology and Business, and C in Biology.

Unable to stop it, Oz felt a disappointed frown tug at his facial features. If he wanted to get into university, he had to get at least one A. But then, his gaze averted to Gilbert, the raven smiling. And that beaming smile was contagious; enough to make Oz smile a little too.

Gilbert, his smile fading slightly, scanned over Oz’s grade sheet. “Hey, you passed everything. A-Are you not happy?”

For a few seconds, Oz’s gaze appeared to be locked on the paper. Then, after staring in contemplation for a little longer, he simply folded the page in half, glanced up, and smiled at Gilbert. “No, Gil. I’m happy.”

Although he suspected the blonde was lying, Gilbert didn’t question him; he didn’t want to upset him.

“So, what did Gil get~?” Oz chuckled, now back to his usual ‘happy-go-lucky’ attitude.

“Oh, just…” Gilbert gave a bashful smile, scratching the back of his head in avoidance. “C in Physics, an uh, A in Maths, and… t-the same as you in Business.”

Only as Oz complimented him did Gilbert realise how quiet Vincent had gone.

“Vince? How… did you do?”

When Gilbert spoke to him, Vincent’s gaze instantly reverted from the floor, following the deceiving smile donning his lips. “It seems as though I am on track for History. I may, however, have to work somewhat harder at Computer Science and Literature if I want to reach my offer of ABB.”

“I’m… sure you’ll do fine, Vince…” Gilbert said, words dripping with uncertainty. He was fairly certain Vincent bunked half of his lessons – even more as of late – and most of his teachers hated him. Nonetheless, that wasn’t his concern. He couldn’t be concerned. Concern never went well between the two of them.

“Yes. I hope Gil gets into uni, too,” Vincent smiled the smile which no one trusted. “Though, I must leave now. If you’ll excuse me.”

Without another word, he spun on his heel, and promptly took off.

“Ah…” Oz stammered. “Do you… think he’s disappointed?”

“Hm…” Gilbert’s face was the epitome of confusion. “I have no idea what he’s thinking.”

“Hehe, yeah...” Oz laughed, albeit nervously. “So… did you get any more offers?”

It took a few seconds for Gilbert to know what he meant. But when it finally clicked, he couldn’t resist as a slight smile tugged at his lips. “Yeah, for Experimental Physics. But it’s AAB, so…”

“You’ll be fine. Gil is super smart.” Oz grinned at him, before scanning the room, and laying eyes on three of their other friends. “Ooh! Let’s go see how they did!”

The group Oz excitedly ran over to, with Gilbert and Alice trailing behind, was another sub-group within their main group. And, once again, it consisted of a mere three people: Sharon, Reim, and Break. (Oz always called them the ‘glasses squad’ considering every single one of them wore glasses).

Reim and Sharon were both incredibly hard-working, and as a result of that, each had offers at Cambridge university; Sharon would read Medicine, and Reim would read Classics. They were also well-known as a couple, but hanging around them never felt at all awkward.

Break, on the other hand, was the polar opposite. He was lazy, and definitely not aiming as high. Oh, and why he’d taken Sociology A-Level, no one knew.

“How’d you guys do?” Oz asked as he bound up to them, waving his result sheet around.

“Ah, Oz. It seems as though you’re here for the grand opening~” Break chuckled, clutching his envelope between two hands. But he had yet to open it. “Sharon? Ladies first~”

“Gladly,” Sharon said, bold and proud. With little hesitancy, she slit open the top of the envelope, and pulled out the sheet, reading over it briefly. Her confident expression remained unchanging as she read them out. “A* in Psychology, A* in Biology, A in Maths, and A in Chemistry. I think I'll be okay getting into Cambridge, don't you?”

The chorus of “congratulations” she received from everyone was nothing new.

From beside her, Reim smiled, although seemed slightly intimidated at the same time. (Nothing new there). Nervously, he proceeded to open his envelope.

After reading the grades listed, his face conveyed a mix of emotions, but the positivity woven into his smile didn’t falter even once.

“And Reim?” Sharon grabbed his attention rather abruptly, folding her results sheet over and pocketing it. “How did you do?”

“Well first of all, I obtained an A* in Latin, which I am very pleased with. I also achieved A’s in French and Sociology, so this is on track as well.” He paused speaking for the sake of cleaning his glasses frantically. “However, I appear to only have obtained a B in History, but that’s okay! To me, that clearly provides something to work on. If I am to get the grades for Cambridge, that is.”

With everyone marvelling over the couple’s extraordinary success, no one noticed that Break had already opened his results.

Oz was, as expected, the first to notice.

His face was the picture of disappointment, though. And his gaze, locked on the page, seemed fixated on one single grade.

“Break? How’d… you do?”

Break didn’t answer; the circle fell silent.

“Break? Are you… okay?”

The second Gilbert spoke, as opposed to Oz, Break’s gaze shifted from the page to meet his eyes. His expression now nonchalant, he discreetly adjusted the part of his fringe which lay over his glasses, before a sad smile crept onto his lips. Whether it was out of regret or self-loathing or something else entirely, no one would know. “Ah, yes, I’m okay. I could have done better, though, but they could be worse, right~?

“Yeah, maybe…” Reim’s eyes fell to the floor, as if he was unable to bring himself to look directly at the other. “W-What did you get, if you don’t mind sharing?”

Initially, Break seemed reluctant to read his results aloud. However, after a few seconds, he glanced at the sheet again, and then said with an indecipherable tone, “C in Chemistry, D in Physics, and E in Sociology~”

Silence returned once again.

“I… really thought you had a chance with Sociology…” Reim said quietly, unable to force a smile upon his lips. “But… I’ll help you catch up, i-if you want.”

“A-And if you want help with Physics, I’d be happy…” Gilbert attempted to flash him a smile, however it came across as an awkward attempt at sympathy, rather than sincerity. “I know you don’t have Maths as well, so there’s some stuff that’s more-“

“You needn’t worry about me,” Break cut him off, slipping the sheet into the shirt pocket of his jacket without another glimpse of it. “I can assure you that I am fine with how I did, despite what it seems~”

“Well… ok…” Reim seemed totally unconvinced, but at the same time, he didn’t want to start any arguments.

Oz, on the other hand, seemed mostly unfazed by the tension in the air; a breath of fresh air for them, really. Excitedly, he waved at the other two main members of their group – Elliot and Leo – before running over to them. “Hey! Guys! How’d you do?!”

“Tch, don’t be sound loud,” Elliot winced exaggeratingly, earning a discreet chuckle from his partner, Leo.

Elliot and Leo weren’t your average couple. In fact, if you hadn’t ever seen them interact, you wouldn’t think they had any compatibility whatsoever. They were total opposites; Elliot was from a rich, aristocratic family, whilst Leo was living with foster parents and about seven foster siblings. And, of the two, Elliot was much, much more hard-working.

But Leo was significantly smarter. Somehow. No one really knew how or why.

“Ah, Elliot’s just bitter,” Leo chuckled, nudging his boyfriend and earning a glare in response. “Why don’t you tell Oz what you got, Elliot?”

“Stop mocking me,” Elliot scolded him, albeit lightly. With a second scoff, he opened the results sheet again, and read them aloud. “Biology: B. Literature: B. Music: A. Drama: A.”

“Well… well done on Biology!” Oz was beaming, sure enough. “Ah, hehe… I only got a C… anyway! Leo?”

“Gladly.” Leo’s grin was ever smugger and more arrogant than Sharon’s. “Biology: A. Literature: A*. Music: A*. And Drama: A.”

“Ah! Leo, you did amazing!” Oz gawked. “Oh, and… congrats on getting into Oxford! Hehe, I don’t know if I ever said it formally…”

“Thank you, Oz,” Leo’s grin, much to Elliot’s apparent irritation, only widened. “It’s nice to know someone isn’t jealous.”

“Oi! Stop makin’ shit up!” Elliot said, as he folded his arms over his chest and pouted. “Tch, I’m still going to a Russell Group uni…”

“Hm, yes, but it’s not Oxford, is it?” Leo replied with a derisive snort, pulling his phone out of his pocket discreetly.

Watch it, shorty.”

“Insult my height again, and you’re getting punched.”

Needless to say, that argument quickly (and irrationally) progressed, until Oz and Gilbert were having to jump in and separate them, as per usual.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the room, there was the “popular kids” group, you might say.

Everyone knew who they were, everyone knew their gossip, and everyone knew who and when they’d each slept with each other, or another random member of the college.

They relished in such attention.

Primarily, the group consisted of Levi, Oswald, and the girls – Domi, Lottie, Jeanne, Lacie, and Ada.

In terms of grades, they were all fairly similar, achieving anything between A* and B, usually. And if their college days could be summed up in one slogan, it would be “work hard, play hard”.

Really, in almost two years of A Levels, that had yet to change.

The first of them, Levi, managed to get into all five universities he’d applied for to read Law without doing a single bit of extra reading last year. Thus, boldly, and with no nerves or hesitation, he ripped open his results sheet and read the grades aloud. “A* in Philosophy, B in Psychology, and A in Law. Woah, crazy shit.”

“I have to say, I’m surprised you got an A in Law~” Lottie said, her tone condescending, as she wrapped her fingers around his arm. “Ah, but you haven’t beaten my A*, I’m afraid~”

Levi smirked. “Language and Latin?”

“Let’s not pay attention to the trivial things. For no revision I’d say a D and C is passable.”

No one – not even Domi, who was Lottie’s best friend since childhood – knew what Levi and Lottie were to each other. Partners? Friends with benefits? Partners in crime?

Who knew?

All they really knew was that the two had slept with each other on multiple occasions.

Speaking of Domi, she was undoubtably the next to tear open her results, shamelessly like everything else she did.

Domi had never been a favourite of the teachers. She was arrogant, problematic, argumentative, but also incredibly smart. Not hard-working, mind you – she had yet to actually complete an assignment. And yet, still, the references from her teachers were apparently enough to get her an offer for Politics with French, at AAA.

“Congratulations on that A*~” Domi bound up to Lottie and engulfed her in a tight hug, her own slip of paper falling open. “Who really cares about English Language?”

“Not me, evidently, although I do have offers of AAB,” Lottie said, winking at her best friend. “So? Yours~?”

“Nosey,” Domi teased, but read them out with no qualms. “Bs in History and Drama, and an A in French. Considering French is technically my first language, I should have gotten A*. Ah, it sees I’m out of practice, though.” Her gaze then fell on Jeanne, as she nudged her arm suggestively. “Tu pourrais peut-être m'aider~?

Jeanne immediately flushed of colour. “Eh?!”

“I’m messing with you, of course~” Domi purred. Delicate fingers brushed over the paper in Jeanne’s hold. “How’d you do?”

“A-Ah…” Jeanne stammered, clearly flushed by the random display of… affection, maybe? “Um, I got an A in law, and eh, Bs in History and… French.”

“Oh~?” Domi’s fingers, laced between Jeanne’s, only tightened. “Maybe I can help you?”

Her face now bright red, Jeanne instantly tore her eyes away from Domi. “T-That won’t be necessary.”

“Domi, you’re very off-putting,” Lottie shook her head, teasingly scolding her. “Is Lacie coming in today?”

“Oswald said she would,” Levi said, “Although I don’t see him anywhere.”

Lottie’s mouth dropped open to retort with some snarky, derisive comment. But before she could, Ada arrived, running over to Domi and engulfing her in a hug.

Domi was, of course, beaming. “More female attention, aye? I’m on fire~”

Oh, and that was another thing – Domi was totally shameless about being bisexual. Albeit most of the group were convinced she hadn’t been with a guy even once. And everyone knew her and Jeanne had each had a thing for each other back in year 11.

“I got a B in Art!” she squealed, eyes almost glazed with tears of joy. “And I passed History!”

Sure enough, the chorus of “congratulations!” commenced.

Ada wasn’t necessarily a main member of their group. Really, she was popular with everyone. She may not have been the brightest of them, but anyone you asked would say she was the kindest, most earnest person they’d ever met.

A few moments later, the final two – Oswald and Lacie – arrived, Lacie strutting ahead of him into the canteen like her attendance was above 50%.

To tell the truth, Oswald and Lacie were quite the enigma amongst the group. They were twins, and if you brushed aside appearances, they were total opposites. Oswald was studious (to some extent) whereas Lacie showed up to college less than half the year. And, although he claimed to care, Oswald had never lifted a finger in telling her otherwise. In fact, Oswald never lifted a finger to do anything, really.

Their parents were, for some reason, hardly in the picture. To the group’s understanding, they worked long business trips away from home, thus the twins themselves never had to work for themselves.

“Nice to see you showing up for once,” Domi snorted, as Lacie finally reached the group, the envelope ready to be opened.

“It’s nice to be here, too,” Lacie responded with a sarcastic grin. Dutifully, she tore open the top, and pulled out the results which everyone waited eagerly to hear. “B in Philosophy, B in Psychology, and an A in Computer Science. So my teacher can suck my dick.”

At that, Lottie, Domi and Jeanne erupted into a hysterical fit of laughing. Truly, they would never be able to get over how Lacie managed to do so well without showing up to the classes.

“And you, Oswald?” Levi smirked, nudging the noirette on the shoulder discreetly.

His gaze, stoic as usual, lifted slightly. He opened the results, and, after very little time to read them himself, he passed them to Levi.

“AAA. Smartass.”

“Our UCAS points add up to the same,” Oswald said bluntly, pointing at Levi’s sheet.

“Are you proud of your sister, Oswald~?” Domi said. Of the group, she was the only person who ever dared to piss Oswald off.

Not including Lacie, of course. “Even if he was, he wouldn’t say.”

“I’m sure he’s beaming with joy inside,” Levi replied as sarcastically as everything else he said. “If not, I’ll treat you to a reward myself.”

“No, Levi, I will not sleep with you,” Lacie politely rejected, albeit the devilish smile donning her lips suggested otherwise.

Levi shrugged, and grumbled under his breath in misery, “Worth a shot.”

“Any of you hear how Jack did?” Lacie asked, as she slyly scanned the room for the blonde.

Jack was Lacie’s ex, who she’d dumped last year because of the multiple accusations he’d fired at her. Since then, he seldom interacted with them, but every now and again, an awkward encounter would occur.

“Well…” Ada piped up, keeping her voice low. “Vince just told me he, eh, failed everything, I think…”

“He can’t have passed when he didn’t show up to any of the exams,” Domi said, smirking. “Anyway~ If that’s all the business I have here, I think I’ll go and pay a visit to my dear Noé~” she then declared, finally letting go of Jeanne and leaving her alone. She turned on her heel, sending a dismissive wave their way as she headed towards the centre of the room.

Noé was Domi’s brother, and even though they weren’t related by blood, they’d known each other since they were 11. They lived with Domi’s grandfather, who had been and will always be a catalyst to their ever-growing sibling bond.

It wasn’t entirely mutual, though – Domi was a lot more protective over Noé than the other way around.

She didn’t exactly approve of his group, either. But nonetheless, for Noé’s sake, she still forced herself to interact with them.

“Domi!” Noé yelled the moment he spotted Domi making her way over. “How did you do?!”

“Amazingly, my dear Noé,” she said, flinging an arm around his shoulders and peering over at his results sheet. “I want to know about you!”

“Domi, I’m glad you asked!” Noé was genuinely beaming; to compare him to an excited puppy would be… actually pretty accurate. “First of all, despite how badly it went for all of us, I got an A in French! Can you believe it?! Ooh, and I got an A in Literature, which really surprised me actually, because that exam went horrifically! History was a B, and I’m happy with that too! Particularly since that paper 1 was also horrendous! And lastly, I got a C in Sociology. But! That doesn’t matter because I only need AAB to do French at the Univers-“

“Noé, that’s enough,” Domi cut him off with a finger over his lips and a smile he always fell for. “I have to say, though, I am surprised even you didn’t get an A* in French. Did anyone?”

“Yeah, one person,” Noé answered, before waving to the others. “Flo! Come here!”

“Tch,” said person he gestured to snorted, blatantly unimpressed. “Who’re you showing me off to this time?”

Flo – technically Florence, but you’d get punched if you dared to call her that – was most likely the smartest of that group. (Although that wasn’t difficult when there were only four of them). She was also two years younger than the rest of them, having moved to England from France a few years ago, and consequently ending up in a different year group. And even since then, she’d skipped a year.

But, to let her age and pastel pink hair fool you would be naïve. She was by far the most savage of them, and when that group included Vanitas, you knew she meant business.

“Domi hasn’t seen anyone who got A* in French,” Noé said.

Tension lingered; Domi and Flo had never liked each other.

Noé, of course, was oblivious to such tension.

“Anyway, I’ll be off before that rat Vanitas shows up.” Ah, yes, Vanitas. Noé’s boyfriend. Another person Domi hated.

Sure enough, though, the moment she said his name, Vanitas showed up. A fleeting second passed where he didn’t acknowledge it was her, but the moment he did, he froze in his tracks, before exhaling a disgusted ‘huff’. “What the fuck is she doing here?”

“Vanitas, be nice,” Noé scolded, rolling his eyes.

A little like Elliot and Leo, without seeing them together, anyone with half a brain would take one look at Vanitas and Noé, and just know they weren’t compatible. After all, Noé was hard-working, enthusiastic, and well on his way to a Russell Group university, whereas Vanitas was moody, feisty, and… currently failing everything.

But, of course, that didn’t stop them from having a four-year relationship, which was still going strong.

“I see you failed everything, then?”

Vanitas shrugged, and then proceeded to tear the paper in his hands in half. “I passed French. And I care fuck all about Literature and Art.”

Ignoring Vanitas and flat-out refusing to comment on his mass failure, Noé turned to Flo again. “Where’s Roland?”

“Why would I care?” Flo snorted, but reluctantly answered anyway. “He’s gone to flaunt his A* in R.S. to everyone.”

“Asshole,” Vanitas muttered under his breath. He hated Roland more than he hated Flo. “So, you beat your boyfriend in R.S. or what?”

“He is not my boyfriend!” she refused through gritted teeth, clenching the fist which was dangerously close to decking Vanitas in the fact. “And no, I got a B.”

“Ha.” Vanitas snorted.

“Better than your one C and two Es.”

“Hey, hey, stop,” Noé, once again, found himself in the middle of another dispute. However, his assistance didn’t last long, as Roland soon came bouncing over to him. “Roland!”

Roland’s eyes were sparkling.

It made Vanitas want to vomit.

“Well done on the A*!” Noé congratulated, his eyes wide like Roland’s, as they switched papers and continued gawking over each other’s results.

Across from them, Vanitas simply rolled his eyes, slipping out his phone and kicking back against one of the tables. “They’re at it again.”

“I don’t see why Roland is so happy. He failed art,” Flo commented. “Oi, ass, listen to me.”

“Sorry, all I hear is droning,” Vanitas drawled, and then flashed her a brief yet patronising grin.

At that, the pair entered round two of their bickering.

That was completely normal for them, though.

In fact, for every single person who stood in that room, none of this was really any different. All it consisted of was pretend grades on a piece of paper which, in a few months’ time, when the real thing came around, would probably dictate each and every one of their futures.

Fortunately, they still had a long, long way to go before then.

And long it would be.

Dirty laundry
Looks good on you

Chapter Text

“If you keep talking to me, I’ll fucking punch you.”

“Don’t give me that shit! You’re the one who started this!”

“Bitch, no. I’m not the one who keeps bragging about their French grade!”

“Yeah, but just because you’re jealous, it doesn’t mean you have the right to lie to everyone that I cheated!”

“Oh please, don’t be a drama queen. I told two people.”


At that, Flo frowned, folded her arms over her chest, and declared that the end of their argument.

Vanitas, on the other hand, found himself smirking. With the satisfaction that he’d successfully pissed her off fuelling the smug grin donning his lips, he plugged both headphones back in his ears, and completely ignored Flo’s attempts to speak to him.

Meanwhile, across from them, Roland was totally disengaged from the entire dispute, his attention instead devoted to reading.

The three had been in the library for over an hour and a half now, being stuck together for their double ‘study periods’ – no one actually studied during them. The time was coming to an end now, which was fortunate, since Vanitas and Flo were both on the verge of actually killing the other.

“Wait,” Vanitas pulled the earbud out of his left earbud momentarily, “is he seriously reading a fucking bible?”

“He’s been reading it for the past hour, dipshit.” Flo rolled her eyes at him. “He’s not listening to us, either.”

Flo was right; Roland was oblivious to the fact they were even speaking about him.

“Fucking weirdo…” Vanitas grumbled.

“Did you do the Literature homework?” she asked, right before the earbud made its way back into his ear.

Vanitas blinked at her exactly three times. “We had Lit homework?”

“You are insufferable,” Flo commented, rolling her eyes back at him with equal attitude. “Yes. Maybe you’d know if you showed up to more than one lesson a week!”

He snorted in derision. “Bold of you to assume I show up to one lesson every week.”

“You’re right. How stupid of me,” she said, words dripping heavily with sarcasm.

“Good to know you’ve finally come to terms with that.” After glancing up at the clock, Vanitas didn’t hesitate in pulling out his pack of rolling tobacco and paper.

The glare fixed on Flo’s face stayed consistently vicious as Vanitas began rolling a cigarette at an antagonising rate. He never paid that much attention to detail, so it was obvious that his end goal was pissing her off.

And oh boy, was it working.

“Noé told you to stop smoking during study periods,” she scolded, folding her arms over her chest with an audible ‘hmph’.

“Yeah, well Noé’s not here, is he?” Vanitas retorted. With his bitter-as-ever scowl locking on her, he brought the cigarette to his lips, sealing it before clutching it between two fingers and pulling his coat over his shoulders. “Besides, ‘study periods’ my ass. When’s the last time you saw me open a book in this dumbass library?”

“Your grades reflect that.”

“Seriously, go fuck yourself,” he spat, standing up and throwing his rucksack over his shoulder. “If Noé asks where I’ve gone, say I went to the bathroom.”

“As if I’d cover for your ass.”

“Love you too.”

And with that – along with a bitter smile – Vanitas left.

“Did you hear any of that?” Flo rolled her eyes, turning back to Roland.

Roland didn’t even flinch at the hostility of her words.

“Oi!” She smacked his arm, forcefully stealing his attention from the bible. “Are you even listening to me?!”

“Hm?” Roland glanced up. The smile on his lips was genuinely pure, and Flo failed to stay mad at him. “Of course I am!”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah!” Roland was beaming. For some reason. “I’m always listening! You were arguing with Vanitas, and now he’s gone. Now, in four seconds, Noé will be arriving.”

Flo shot him a perplexed glance, but before she could say anymore – exactly as Roland had predicted – Noé appeared behind them, bounding up to the duo.

Within a second, however, the optimistic expression was replaced with a disappointed, confused one. “Where’s Vani?”

Flo cringed internally; she always cringed when Noé called Vanitas ‘Vani’. Rolling her eyes, she quickly came to the conclusion that going with Vanitas’ cover story was easier than arguing with him later over it. “He went to the b-“

“He’s gone for a cigarette,” Roland answered, clearly oblivious to Flo’s pissed off glaring. “What? Lying is a sin.”


“That’s very honourable, Roland! I envy your honesty!” Noé said, smiling wide as he clenched a fist determinedly, as if he’d just re-evaluated his entire life choices right then. A few moments later, however, he returned to looking let down, in a way. “He ignored me then, huh?”

“I don’t see what else you were expecting,” Flo grunted, “Anyway, Roland and I are going to the new club they’re running at the Humanities department. You coming?”

“Why of course!” Noé, once again, was beaming, after his fifth 180 personality flip that minute. “Let me get Vanitas!”

“As if that’s gonna work…”

Before she could be heard, Noé had already spun on his heel, turned towards the exit, and instigated the search for his boyfriend.

By this time, at the very beginning of lunch, most students had finished their fourth lesson, and were now heading to either the canteen, or the common room. For some, who had just had a free period, they were already where they needed to be.

Like Oz and Alice, for example, who had just spent fifty minutes in the common room sifting through offers – and rejections, mostly – for Alice’s university applications.

“Did you get anything back from your fourth choice?” Oz asked. His arms, folded on the desk, were currently acting as a pillow for the side of his face, as his will to continue slowly faded away.

“Yeah, they rejected me!” Alice pouted and crossed her arms stubbornly. “Idiots. I would’ve been a great student there!”

“Ah, maybe if you passed you subjects…” Oz murmured.

“Don’t sass me,” she said, picking up the pen and balancing it on Oz’s head, evidently beyond bored at this point. “Anything above an E is technically a pass anywhere! So I don’t see why I should be getting higher than that!”

“You say that, but… you still have to pass! A-And you got a U in Geography!” Oz tried, but was ultimately wasting his breath; Alice seemed utterly disinterested. “Ugh. Just… h-how many other offers do you have?”


“What is it?”

“CEE for Media. I only have to get C in Media anyway, so I don’t know why the teachers are always at me,” Alice groaned, “I’m hungry.”

“Okay, but… that still doesn’t take away from the fact you got a U in Geography.”

“It’s fine. Someone in my class is going through stuff with me.”

Despite being slightly hesitant to believe her at first, Oz felt himself internally breathe a sigh of relief. Finally, he would be able to focus on his A Levels, rather than learning half of the specification for Alice.

And, as if on cue to save Oz from slowly spiralling to insanity, Gilbert arrived at the common room. Wordlessly, he joined their table, sitting next to Oz as always.

With a sheepish grin, Oz slumped against Gilbert’s shoulder, exhaling a deep, blatantly fed up sigh, before whining, “Gil… I have given up.”

“Uh…” Gilbert muttered, cautiously pulling his lunch from his bag and dumping it on the table in front of them. As he began to unscrew the cap of his drink, he eventually thought of a response. “I… have nothing to say.”

“Ha, seaweed head is speechless over my stupidity,” Alice snickered, before devouring the first part of her lunch. Which was, unsurprisingly, entirely meat.

“That’s nothing to be proud of,” Oz deadpanned, furrowing his eyebrows slightly.

“If she wants to fail everything, that’s her choice,” Gilbert shot back. Glare softening slightly at his next comment, he lowered his voice so that only Oz could hear him. “Don’t drive yourself up the wall about it, okay?”

“I won’t.” Oz smiled at him, softly. But something was missing. Something didn’t seem right. But Gilbert could not place a finger on it for the life of him. “I promise, okay, Gil?”

Gilbert nodded. He didn’t say anything back.

A second later, Oz peeled himself off him.

“I don’t get why everyone is faffing over me for failing,” Alice grumbled, sensing the obvious tension. Albeit for all the wrong reasons. “Break failed most of his subjects too.”

Immediately, Gilbert and Oz visibly tensed up. The glances they exchanged were more or less unreadable.

“I… don’t think you should say anything about that to him…” Gilbert suggested, his awkwardness just barely passing off as politeness.

When Alice let out an audible ‘huff’, Oz turned to the raven, and asked him discreetly, “Did you find out if he’s… genuinely upset about it, yet?”

“No, but…” Gilbert shifted uneasily. “He was speaking to our Physics teacher for a really long time after period 1 today, so… I don’t really know, to be honest…”

At that, Oz was just about able to crack a small, but sympathetic smile. “I hope he’s okay…”

Gilbert, however, seemed unconvinced. “Yeah, I… hope so too.”

Meanwhile, arriving around now was Elliot and Leo. The scowl spread across Elliot’s face, crossed with the smug grin donning Leo’s, was enough for anyone to deduce that they had, yet again, engaged in a pointless dispute over the recent results.

Before anyone could address the tension, however, Elliot dumped his bag beside them, and then took off to queue for food.

“Is… everything alright?” Oz asked, hesitant to interfere with their relationship.

“Hm… who knows?” Leo felt his phone vibrate within his pocket, discreetly slipping it out and holding it under the table to read it in a moment. “Oh well. He’ll get over it.”

“Ah…” Oz didn’t seem convinced. “Ok…”

Once he was sure no one was paying too much attention, Leo glanced down at his phone.

[Tumblr] allthatglittersaintgoldsweetie sent you a message: how’s your day going?

Ignoring Elliot when he sat back, Leo shuffled along slightly, before tilting his phone so that his boyfriend couldn’t read it. Leo didn’t need Elliot interrogating him about his online friend. (Or about the fact he had Tumblr, for that matter.)

When he was certain Elliot couldn’t see, and was too distracted with ranting to Oz and Gilbert, Leo typed out his reply.

[Tumblr] hell-is-empty: half decent.
hell-is-empty: rlly want a smoke rn but my bf would kill me

Just as Elliot’s curious gaze trailed his way, Leo clicked off the app and loaded another random tab.

“You’re not eating?” he grumbled, scanning Leo up and down.

“No,” Leo said bluntly. His phone vibrated in his hand, and he tried his best not to react. Instead, he fiddled with the earphones wire, attached to his phone from earlier, as a futile distraction. “I’m not hungry. I’ll eat when I get home.”

“Uh, ok…”

Leo’s disinterested tone clearly lost Elliot’s attention, at which point he glanced down, and read the most recent message.

[Tumblr] allthatglittersaintgoldsweetie sent a message: tough luck. sneak off?

If he could, he would.

“Oi, Leo,” Elliot nudged him, somewhat aggressively. Once again, Leo jolted, and shoved his phone back in his pocket. “Let’s go.”

“Where?” Leo asked, sensing the tension between the group. Clearly, he’d missed something; probably someone pointing out something logical to Elliot when he was mid-rant.

“Music room.”

“Alright,” Leo shrugged, feeling his phone vibrate in his pocket again. He rolled his eyes, waved goodbye to the group, and promptly followed Elliot. “Can we go to the bathroom first?”

“Sure. Whatever,” Elliot said, not thinking much of it. “Friday. Are we still on?”

“Depends how much work I have to do.”

“Tch, oh please. You and your A*s could do fuck all ‘til exam season and you’d still keep the same grades up.”

Leo smiled, teasingly dragging a finger along Elliot’s arm. “Is that jealously I see again~?”

“No! I’m not jealous of your grades, for the last time!”

“Sure, Elliot. Sure.”

Just outside the canteen, tucked away behind two walls where few people could see, was a smoking shelter. Most colleges had one, particularly when half the students would be 18 anyway – it was easier than dealing with students bunking, and much easier than dealing with students lighting up in the toilets. It was still, however, quite discreet, a transparent plastic shelter with a bench inside.

Every lunch, at the same time each day, the same people would be there: that included Vincent, Vanitas, and Levi, along with Lottie and Domi, who hung by at the sides, waiting for Levi.

Vanitas, earphones glued in his ears and eyes locked on his phone screen, was undoubtably zoned out, the cigarette between his fingers occasionally being brought up to his lips, as if he had only then remembered it was there.

Levi, to no surprise, wanted to make conversation.

“So, Vincent,” he said with a wiggle of his eyebrows, tapping the ash off his cigarette. “How’s dating Ada going?”

“High maintenance, to say the least,” Vincent replied, a sinister smile donning his lips. Briefly, he dragged on the cigarette, and spoke again through a plume of smoke. “But I get plenty back.”

“Look, that’s some good energy right there,” Levi winked. He and Vincent weren’t close friends or anything, but they were sure as hell on the same wavelength as each other when it came down to their attention from girls, and their attitudes in response to said attention.

A few moments later, the relaxed atmosphere was abruptly interrupted by none other than Noé, running over to them yelling Vanitas’ name repeatedly.

Noé was quite well-known among the year group. And that was for a variety of reasons. But he always tried his best to get along with people – perhaps that was why certain people didn’t like him all that much.

“Vanitas,” he said one last time, and he walked straight up to his boyfriend, pulled the cigarette from between his fingers, and dropped it on his floor.

There was only one person in the world who Vanitas wouldn’t slap for doing that so care-free, and that was Noé.

“What?” Vanitas grunted in response, irritably, as he glared down at the cigarette, now snuffed out against the gravel.

“First of all, I told you not to smoke during frees. Flo and Roland reminded you, I’m sure,” Noé scolded, although not very seriously. And by the bored, blunt expression on Vanitas’ face, he wasn’t taking it too seriously, either. “Secondly, we’re joining a new society.”

“Rejected,” Vanitas said nonchalantly.

“Rejection rejected,” Noé furrowed his brows slightly. “You did exactly what I asked you not to do, Vanitas.”

Eyes flitting down to the cigarette, Vanitas rolled his eyes. Noé, in all fairness, had a point.

“Fine,” he said with an exhausted sigh, grumbling under his breath, “but only because you didn’t give me a choice…”

“Good!” Noé’s stern glare instantaneously disappeared, as he tugged Vanitas’ wrist and dragged him down the pathway.

Before he was out of sight, however, Domi snickered, turned away from Lottie for a second, and yelled after him, “You can do better!”

“Be nice!” Noé called back, continuing in his path and hauling Vanitas with him around the corner.

“Alright, I’m done here,” Levi declared. He flicked the cigarette aside. “Let’s go find the others. I need to find Oswald.”

“Why?” Lottie raised an eyebrow quizzically. “So you can have a silent conversation with him?”


“They’ll be in the canteen,” Domi said, scrolling through her phone idly. After a savage, bitter, sidelong glance at Levi, she added, “Try not to fuck anyone on the way.”

“I’ll do my best.” Levi gave an exaggerated, exasperated sigh. “See ya, Vincent.”

Once he waved the others off – just briefly – and watched them leave, Vincent stayed put for a few minutes, and then lit his second cigarette.

When Ada finally arrived to the common room, after engaging in a conversation with almost every person she passed in the hallway, it was quite honestly a surprise that the only person there was Jeanne. Usually, Jeanne could only ever be seen with Domi.

Her attention was devoted entirely to the open textbook, and the headphones plugged into her ears meant she didn’t notice as Ada tip-toed up to her, tentatively placed the bag down, and took a seat. “Erm… hi!”

“Oh!” Jeanne immediately flinched, a flustered smile creeping onto her face as she flailed her arms apologetically. “Sorry, I didn’t see you th-“

“It’s fine,” Ada laughed. Her laugh was contagious, and Jeanne soon found herself chuckling to herself too.

Ada and Jeanne weren’t the closest to each other in the group, but like all members of the group, they were perfectly capable of getting along like a house on fire.

“So…” Jeanne began to ask, with an edge of hesitancy, whilst packing her books away. “How’s dating Vincent going?”

“That’s the big news of the school, huh?” Ada gave a slightly nervous giggle. “It’s fun. He’s… always really mysterious, and I can never tell what he’s thinking, but… I like him, and… I hope he likes me back.”

Jeanne smiled. There was no way that someone couldn’t like Ada. “I’m sure he does.”

(That being said, it was Vincent they were talking about here, and his reputation with women wasn’t always the brightest.)

A moderately awkward silence hung over them briefly, but before it could linger, Domi, Lottie, and Levi arrived. They didn’t say anything, but rather made their entrance by Domi sneaking up behind Jeanne, and wrapping her arms around her neck. Jeanne’s head froze at first, but then lulled onto the arms enclosing her in a tight, affectionate hug.

“There’s my favourite girl-friend, eh~?” Domi purred, directly in Jeanne’s ear.

To no surprise, Jeanne was now a blushing mess.

“Looks like you’ve got some competition,” Levi snickered, nudging Lottie hintingly.

“And Domi doesn’t either?” Lottie retorted, a savage grin tugging at her lips. Discreetly, she nudged Levi back, winking at him, but taking a seat beside Domi nonetheless.

Whilst Jeanne, Lottie, Domi and Ada all collectively exchanged hugs, and Levi tried not to get turned on by it, Oswald arrived. He didn’t say a word, sitting down next to Levi. Not once did his line of view avert from his phone screen.

Once Domi finally sat down, her gaze stiffened, shifted to an interrogative one, and fixed on Oswald. “Where’s Lacie, then?”

You told us you’d bring her in this week, at the very least,” Lottie further scolded, albeit more teasingly than Domi.

Oswald’s fingers froze instantly. Then, sharp eyes shot up to glare at Domi.

There was a solid four second pause before he even spoke. “She didn’t want to.”

Audibly – somehow – Levi rolled his eyes, and flung an arm around Oswald’s shoulder. Oswald didn’t even flinch; spare the irascible aura he always carried with him. “Basically, Oswald’s saying he couldn’t be fucked with her today.”

“Once again, drag her,” Domi said, “Don’t give her a choice. We want to see her. Kidnap her.”

“I second Domi’s plan. It’s fool-proof.” Lottie said.

Wordlessly, Oswald gave a dismissive shrug. “I don’t own her.”

“Whatever,” Domi groaned, as she sarcastically threw her arms up into the air. “Guess we’ll be inviting ourselves to yours later.”

“If I don’t go, will I be missing anything?” Levi gave another suggestive wink.

“Fuck no,” Lottie scanned him up and down, feigning disgust to cover up her amusement at his remark. “Keep your dick out of this.”

Meanwhile, back with Oz, Gilbert and Alice – on the other side of the common room – only five minutes after Elliot and Leo disappeared, Break arrived.

The heavy atmosphere probably said quite clearly they’d been talking about him. But nonetheless, Break chose to ignore it, instead greeting them all as if nothing was different, before reverting his focus to his phone, the hood of his second jacket (he wore about three) covering his face.

Shortly after that, Sharon and Reim emerged from the corridor.

As they slowly approached the group, Reim hastily dropped his hand from Sharon’s, leant towards her, and said, “Does Break seem… upset to you?”

Stopping in her tracks, Sharon gave him a reassuring smile. “Now isn’t the time to talk about this, okay?”

“Yeah…” Reim tried to protest, but the comforting squeeze at his hand told him better. Wordlessly, he trailed behind Sharon as they continued walking towards the group. “Sorry we’re late. Sharon, uh, got kept behind.”

“Nothing bad, of course,” Sharon declared, as smug as ever. “It was simply another teacher congratulating me on Cambridge. I hope we didn’t leave you too long.”

“Ah, not at all…” Oz stammered, reaching up to scratch the back of his head. In all fairness, it wasn’t unusual for people to be intimidated by Sharon. “Break only got here a couple of minutes ago anyway…”

At the mention of his name, Break didn’t even flinch.

“Break?” Reim called. Only then did the other pay attention. “Where did you go?”

Break didn’t respond immediately, instead fiddling with the small black ring on his septum until it was straight, rather pointedly – Reim was holding back his comments. With a disregarding shrug, he answered casually, “I got lunch. Is that okay~?”

There was a biting edge of bitterness woven deeply into his words, but for the sake of avoiding any arguments, Reim chose to pretend it didn’t exist. “What did you get?”

“This,” Break said as he promptly reached into his bag, and pulled out a tub of ice-cream.

“… that’s your lunch?”

“Of course~!” Break perked up within a second, whipping a spoon out of nowhere and digging in. “This is veeeeeery nutritious, you know.”

Reim cocked an eyebrow. “Really?”

“Definitely!” Break nodded. “You see, I’m a Scientist – I know these things. Reim only studies pointless subjects.”

Ignoring that last comment, something fluorescent blue in a bottle in Break’s bag caught Reim’s eye. And, despite knowing Reim could see, Break didn’t stop him as he peered over, and once again raised a judgemental eyebrow. “Seriously, Xerx?”

If calling him by his first name touched a nerve, Break didn’t show it. Instead, he continued devouring the ice cream, and Reim soon gave up any concerns which may have built up.

Until Vincent arrived, at least.

He didn’t say a word, instead wrapping his arms around Gilbert’s neck, and nestling his head in his shoulder with a sinister smile.

Gilbert shot a perplexed, extremely uncomfortable side glance to Oz. Clueless, Oz shrugged, silently laughing at Gilbert’s expression of pure horror. A few seconds later, though, he froze, turned his head sideways, and sniffed. “Have you been smoking again?”

“Of course not,” Vincent flashed his brother an innocent smile, but didn’t pull away.

From across the table, a toxic scowl morphed onto his features, Break called, “He’s lying!”

At that, Break got an elbow to the ribs from Reim, and an unimpressed glare from Vincent, who finally pulled away from Gilbert and allowed him to breathe again.

“Stop trying to stir problems,” Reim whispered.

Break, however, had clearly been sent into a mood, readjusting his glasses matter-of-factly before plugging his earphones back in and ignoring Reim’s continuous attempts at conversation.

The rest of lunch proceeded as usual, normal conversations with the usual jokes. That, and Break not uttering a word, considering Vincent seemed to have invited himself to sit down, and no one had the guts to tell him to leave.

A few minutes before lunch finished, when Reim and Sharon left early for period 5 classes, Break stood up abruptly. Unplugging his headphones for the first time in twenty minutes, he slipped out the bottle of water from his bag, downed some of it, and then blinked momentarily at Reim and Sharon.

“Good to see you’re still here,” Reim said sarcastically, albeit sarcasm had never been his strong point, so really, it just came across as awkward.

“Ah, sorry, I’m heading to the bathroom,” Break smiled as he flung the rucksack over his shoulder. “See you in Sociology~”

As Break headed off in the opposite direction, neither Reim nor Sharon said a word. Exchanging concerned glances at each other, they didn’t realise they’d been holding their breaths until Break was out of sight.

“I know there’s something wrong with him,” Sharon said, her words soft. “But I can’t place a finger on it…”

“Yeah…” Reim murmured, “I don’t want to poke at it too hard, though. Otherwise we’ll have a repeat of… of last time.”

“Now isn’t the time to discuss this, either,” Sharon discreetly took his hand in hers, giving the usual comforting squeeze which, alone, said “I’m here”, and was always enough to calm him down. “I have Psychology now. Care to walk with me?”

“O-Of course,” Reim found himself flustered. That girl worked miracles sometimes.

Unfortunately, whatever sense of ease she’d given him was proving to be temporary, as soon as Reim walked into Sociology, and saw an empty desk next to his seat. Within his chest, he felt his heart sink.

Thoughts of apprehension and distress at where the hell Break was lingered in his consciousness, but nevertheless, he still acted normal, submitting his essay to the teacher. Taking a seat, he simply waiting anxiously for the other to arrive.

Fifteen minutes into the lesson, and he finally rocked up.

Given that he was mid-sentence, the teacher didn’t interrogate Break about why he was late, glaring at him instead then continuing his lesson.

The moment the teacher stopped speaking, and a chorus of murmurs over the current task filled the room, Reim took the questioning upon himself.

“Why are you so late?” he asked, eyebrows pinched together.

“Ah ah ah, Reim. This is nothing~” Break quipped, balancing the pen between two fingers and teasingly knocking Reim on the head. “Don’t be nosey~”

“Yeah…” Reim refused to meet eyes with the other. “Sorry.”

His apology was, however, insincere.

Whatever it was which was causing, well… this, was nothing worth fretting over. Not when Break had built a wall around himself, at least.

For both of their sakes, and Sharon’s too, he could only hope that it was nothing after all.

The nagging voice at the back of his head told him otherwise.

Chapter Text

Gilbert had never liked confrontation.

Unfortunately, for almost as long as he could remember, his life had consisted of him, and Vincent. Their parents were, for the most part, out of the picture, working an excessive number of hours each day just to support their kids financially.

They hadn’t always lived like that, mind you. Gilbert’s earliest memories were positive. Their parents used to work for a large company – the company owned by Oz’s father, that was – but when Vincent and him were 4 and 5, they were made redundant.

Those days were, needless to say, not his brightest memories. Nonetheless, they still had a roof over their head, so Gilbert didn’t like to complain.

The ordeal had clearly taken a greater toll on Vincent, though. And even at the age of 17, he was still sent to a therapist three times a week, for the same problems he’d been diagnosed with 10 years ago.

His performance in college was no better, and, as he pulled up to their driveway, Gilbert had to prepare himself for yet another confrontation, after his teachers had oh-so-politely informed him that Vincent had bunked last period.

With that, they threatened to contact their parents again. He hated when their parents got dragged into these things. They were working their hardest to keep them alive; Vincent should be his responsibility in college.

Clambering out of his car, he drew in a deep breath, and headed towards the front door.

The house was silent at first, and Gilbert almost let out a sigh of relief. Perhaps there wouldn’t be a confrontation after all. Maybe Vincent had already left.

Stepping into the lounge, Gilbert promptly dropped his bag onto the sofa, before digging into it, and retrieving the pack of cigarettes from the inside pocket.

Smoking wasn’t something he was proud of, by any means. It was merely something which Break had tricked him into starting early in year 13. He tried to keep it at bay – Oz would be disappointed, and he knew it – but ultimately, Gilbert had always been weak-willed, so everyday when he returned from college, nothing stopped him reaching for the pack, and sneaking out to their back garden.

As he wandered into kitchen, Gilbert was reminded of the one thing which did stop him getting his post-college nicotine fix: Vincent.

For some reason, he always felt guilty smoking around Vincent, considering the other started shortly after him, so Gilbert always blamed himself. He was still his younger brother, if only by 10 months.

Clenching the pack, like a reflex, he froze when Vincent turned around, and laid eyes on him through the open door. “Ah, Gil. Welcome home.”

Gilbert slipped the pack discreetly back into his pocket. “Your, erm, teachers spoke to me when college ended. Why did you leave?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Gil,” Vincent said, dropping the cigarette into the ashtray. He smiled, the same way he always did, which no one trusted.

“Don’t make this difficult,” Gilbert sighed, trying not to let his frustration show in his words. “You bunked Literature. Elliot said you weren’t there either.”

“I apologise.” Vincent’s words were totally insincere.

“You haven’t answered my question.”

“Don’t worry about it, Gil.”

“That’s not an answer.”


Gilbert blinked exactly four times. “That’s still not an answer.”

At that, Vincent didn’t respond. Instead, he shuffled back into the house, glanced down at his phone briefly, before pocketing it, and grabbing his coat. “I’ll be leaving now.”

“What?” Gilbert found himself irritably cocking an eyebrow at his brother. “Vince, you know I have to drive you to therapy in ten minutes.”

“I have plans to meet someone, I’m afraid,” was the only explanation Vincent offered, as he checked his phone once again, and then spun on his heal towards the door. “Don’t wait up for me.”

“Hey! Vince! Don’t leave when I’m-!”

The door slammed shut.

“- speaking… to you…” Gilbert’s words trailed off, as he came to the quick conclusion that this time, it really wasn’t worth the stress.

He hated yelling at Vincent, too. It got them nowhere.

All it accomplished was driving Vincent further away, and making Gilbert blame himself for everything even more.

With Vincent now gone, though, Gilbert took the opportunity to step outside himself, retrieve the cigarettes back from his pocket, and light up.

The nicotine coursing through his blood from the first inhale was hardly relief, but at the very least, it took the edge off.

After the third drag, reluctantly, he reached back into his pocket, and pulled out his phone again.

It was already nearly 3:30pm. And, like every evening, Gilbert was working from 6pm to 9pm. It wasn’t much – a simple job in a nearby café – but it was enough to support his own expenses. Unfortunately, it left him very little time for himself, which, today in particular, wasn’t easy, considering he had a business essay and two sets of Physics questions due tomorrow.

With another deep drag of the cigarette, Gilbert simply decided that tonight would be another night where sleep was not the priority.

“Hey! Alice! Wait up!”

By the time Alice realised that Oz was calling after her, he’d already caught up, and was walking along side her like normal.

“Hey Oz!” Alice greeted, a beaming smile on her face.

In the same way his did to other people, Alice’s smile always made Oz smile too. “You seem happy.”

“I am!” Alice said, “My dad made chicken wings!”

“Ah… uh, nice!” Oz tried to seem excited to mask his disappointment. “So uh, I guess that means you can’t stay after school with me, huh?”

Confused, Alice turned to him. “Was I meant to?”

“Well… you’ve still got a lot of revision to do, I guess. A-And you have a Geography test next week.” Oz sighed internally. He knew it was pointless, but he felt too defeatist giving up. So, he persevered. “Are you sure you can’t stay for maybe, uh, half an hour?”

“Sorry Oz.” Alice didn’t sound particularly apologetic. “You heard me, my dad made chicken wings!”

“Ah, yeah. Sorry. I guess you’re right.”

Oz had met Alice’s parents plenty of times. And they were some of the nicest people he’d ever met. Whenever he needed something, they’d always be there. Albeit Oz could rarely take up the offers, but he never underestimated the sentiment.

However, Alice was an only child. She was spoilt, having had everything she’d wanted handed to her. They weren’t rich or anything, but anything lacking in material gain would always be made up with attention. The focus in Alice’s household was always Alice. Despite this, they didn’t push her academically, which is why Oz ended up being the one to remind her to actually work and do assignments and show up to lessons.

“How about tomorrow?” Oz asked.

Suspiciously, Alice narrowed her eyes at him, and folded her arms over her chest. “Why not just go home? You can’t spend your whole life at college, ya know!”

“Yeah, sorry. My bad.” He lowered his head, his gaze falling to the floor.

Titling her head, Alice tried to meet eyes with him again. “Are you okay?”

It was a simple, straight-forward question, and her words didn’t seem overly concerned. And yet, Oz still found there was a lump in his throat when he answered. “Yeah, I’m fine. I’ll… see you tomorrow.”

“Well… okay! Bye!”

With that, she was bouncing out of the college, and towards her dad’s car, parked only across the street.

Once he was alone, Oz sighed, pulled out his phone, and checked the time.

He wasn’t going to make the bus now, and his father worked a lot; he wouldn’t make time to come and pick his son up. But the next bus wasn’t for another hour. And Oz would rather not sit in the library alone for an hour.

Reluctantly, he pulled out his phone, and dialled the first number which came up.

“Hey, Gil.”

“Uh… Oz?” Gilbert sounded flustered, almost as if he hadn’t meant to answer the call.

“Are you home yet?” Oz asked, trying to sound less… desperate, in a sense.

Yeah… I have work at six.”


There was a short pause. A silence, which lingered over the call.


“Yeah, ignore me.” Oz shook it off. “Forget I said anything. I’m guessing you have work to be doing.”

Wait. W-Why did you call me in the first place?

“I missed the bus.” He laughed, sheepishly.

Oh…” Another brief pause. “Did you… want me to drive you home?

Oz felt his stomach twist into knots.


He hadn’t realised he’d gone silent.

“No thanks,” Oz smiled. “I’d rather stay here until I have to leave.”

“Ok… well, I-I’ll come and do work there, I guess. Just… give me five minutes.”

“You don’t have to do that, Gil,” Oz tried. Now, he just felt guilty. He should’ve never dragged Gilbert into this. Gilbert clearly had better things to do with his time.

“No, it’s okay. Maybe I’ll work better there. At least Vincent won’t show up.”

“Yeah, he’s… not here,” Oz chuckled, trying to hide the lump in his throat. Even hearing Vincent’s name unsettled him, more so when he was alone. “Thanks, Gil.”

Although he couldn’t see him, he was fairly certain Gilbert was smiling. “Yeah, no problem.”

The phone call ended with the usual beep.

He knew that, ultimately, Gilbert hadn’t wanted to agree. But, out of pity, he still said yes. At that thought, Oz had to sigh, shake his head, and laugh tragically at himself. He’d pity himself too.

Sure enough, by the time Oz reached the library and set up in the corner of the room, like he did most days, his phone vibrated.

[From Gilllllllll :3, 15:24] im leaving now.

Sometimes, Oz felt like he didn’t deserve Gil, but at least he had someone there for him.

The girls had always been some of the last students to leave the college site at the end of the day.

It wasn’t like they were particularly eager students. Mainly, it was because one or more of them usually had detention, and so it was their number one goal to waste the teacher’s time. That, or they had the ability to make conversation with anyone and everyone upon a glance.

Today, however, Levi was (to no surprise) resitting an exam, so Lottie had been kind enough to perhaps not mess with the teacher on this occasion. Instead, she waited outside the school gates, perched on the wall and idly scrolling through Instagram.

After 15 minutes or so, the giggling and excited chatting behind her signalled Domi’s arrival.

“Took your time,” Lottie teased, jumping off the wall and brushing off her skirt, before pocketing her phone. “Ooh, am I missing something?”

Pointedly, Lottie waved a finger at Domi and Jeanne’s arms, interlinked tightly. She cocked an eyebrow, earning a snicker from Domi, and a blushing Jeanne beside her.

“No, not yet~” Domi purred.

“U-Uh, ok?” Jeanne said, unsure of what else to say.

Spinning on her heel, Domi took Lottie’s arm in her other elbow. “Are you going anywhere?”

“Nope~” Lottie answered, a grin tugging at her lips.

The same grin was soon enough donning Domi’s lips too. “Perfect. Fancy paying Lacie a visit?”

“Of course.” Lottie was twirled around by Domi, who changed their direction on the spot. “Are we sure she’s home? She might have fancied another trip to Westfield.”

“She went there yesterday…” Jeanne pointed out.

Lottie snorted. “As if that would stop her. I’m guessing you spoke to Oswald, then?”

“Mhm,” Domi hummed. She disconnected her arms from Lottie and Jeanne as they arrived at the convenience store, retrieving her purse from her jacket pocket. “Oswald said she’s home. Now, who wants wine?”

“Not red,” Jeanne interjected abruptly. “S-Sorry. I prefer white.”

“No need to apologise~” Sure enough, Domi was back to flirting with Jeanne, as she dragged a finger along her jawline. “A woman only wants the best wine, after all.”

“Get rosé.” Lottie winked. “It’s Lacie’s favourite.”

After nodding and proceeding into the shop, Domi returned within a couple of minutes, holding two bottles of wine – one rosé and one white. Once they were in her bag, she took their arms again, and whisked them off towards the good side of town.

Lacie and Oswald’s house might have been close to the centre of town, but by no means did that make it small. Even from the outside, you could tell that the inhabitants were rich, and that the teens who lived there were downright spoilt.

Separating from the other two, Domi took no time hesitating as she rung the doorbell and knocked on the door obnoxiously.

There was a brief silence, before the sound of footsteps pattering against the wooden floorboards loudened, right up until the door swung open, to reveal Lacie. Her hair and make-up was fully done, and she wore tight, ripped denim jeans, a purple crop-top, and a black fleece, but despite her appearance to impress, the three knew she hadn’t actually left the house.

“Expecting us?” Domi winked.

“I should have,” Lacie smirked, glancing down at the screwdriver in her hand, spinning it skilfully, before placing it on the ledge beside the keys. “Come on. I’m guessing you brought booze.”

“Would you expect less?” Lottie chimed, walking past the threshold and following Lacie into the living room.

Whilst Lacie flopped down onto the sofa like nothing was out of the ordinary, Domi, Jeanne, and Lottie all froze at the doorway.

“What you got there, Lacie?” Domi quipped, as she folded her arms over her chest and raised an eyebrow questioningly.

“Oh, that.” Casually, Lacie glanced across at the mountain of wires and metal and plastic and who-knows-what-else on the coffee table. “I took apart my laptop.”

Lottie was the first to question it. “Why, exactly?”

“It wasn’t working.” Lacie shrugged. “I found the problem. But I got bored putting it back together.”

Everyone knew that Lacie was probably the most intelligent of all of them, evidenced by the fact this wasn’t the first time she’d successfully taken apart her laptop to fix it. Each time they came to visit her, she was up to something genius. But, despite that, she was still too lazy to go to college.

Yet another reason her teachers despised her and her success.

“What’d you bring me then?” Lacie asked.

Domi sent Jeanne to the kitchen to get four glasses, before pulling out the two bottles of wine. “The classics~”

“Classy,” Lacie snickered, “I would’ve been content with vodka, personally.”

Lottie dropped onto the sofa beside Lacie. “Seconded.”

“I have class, my ladies~” Domi declared boldly.  

Once Jeanne returned, Domi poured herself and Jeanne a glass of white, and Lottie and Lacie rosé. One thigh kicked up on Jeanne’s lap, she joined them on the sofa, elegantly sipping the wine.

“So,” Lacie paused mid-sentence as she took another gulp, “where is Oswald?”

“Waiting for Levi,” Lottie answered, raking a hand through her hair. Out of everyone, she tended to know most about what was going on between everyone. “He had to retake a test.”

Lacie cocked an eyebrow. “And you didn’t?”

“Funny,” Lottie deadpanned. She didn’t sound too amused, but the others knew she wouldn’t take it personally. “I did, but I couldn’t be bothered.”

“Mhm. And what about Ada?”

“Let me guess,” Domi cut in, swirling the wine in her glass. “With Vincent again?”

“Yep,” Lottie said.

“Ugh.” Screwing her face up – blatantly disgusted – Lacie took another large gulp of rosé. “I hate Vincent. He spends a suspicious amount of time with Jack.”

Confused, Domi shot her a quizzical look. “I’ve never seen them together.”

“Sometimes they… meet after History,” Jeanne pointed out. “But Vincent doesn’t show up anymore. So um… I don’t know if that’s where he is.”

“Probably is.” The disapproving scowl remained on Lacie’s face. “On the few occasions I’ve shown up, they’re always buddying up in Computer Science.”

“You ought to make an effort with him, you know,” Domi said, her tone playful as always. “You’re supposed to get along with your friends’ partners, you know~”

“Funny you say that,” Lacie grinned, nudging the girl beside her. “You never make an effort with Lottie’s.”

All eyes on her, Lottie surreptitiously sipped on the wine, and then laughed. “You think Levi is my only partner. How sweet.”

“Oh, believe me, Lottie,” Lacie refilled her glass, “we know there’s many others.”

“Are you ever going to tell us about any of them?” Domi asked.

Lottie shrugged. “You’d only know a couple of them anyway. Besides, you’ve had far more sexual partners than me, Domi. They were just all female.”

“Of course!” Domi apparently took pride in that. “Who could resist these curves~?”

“Not Jeanne, obviously,” Lacie gestured to the other, only exacerbating the blush already spread across her face.

“M-Maybe less so if you weren’t sort of…” Jeanne shifted, “…sitting on me?”

“You love me really,” Domi grinned.

“Get a room, ladies.” Lacie rolled her eyes. “Film, anyone? Levi will invite himself around here once he’s done, and Oswald will hardly say no.”

“How about a romantic comedy?” Lottie proposed.

Domi quipped from the end of the sofa, “A graphic one, perhaps?”

“You know my parents still track this thing, right?” Lacie narrowed her eyes at her, before shaking it off with a chuckle. “We’re not watching lesbian porn on my TV.”

“Check Netflix,” Lottie said, “Just don’t put on anything that’ll get Domi turned on, or you ranting about Jack.”

Lacie chuckled again. “When Domi is permanently horny and I really hate Jack, that’ll be easier said than done, my friend.”

Before he even pulled his keys out, Leo knew he was in for trouble.

He hated having a foster sister. He hated her. She was bossy, uptight, and seemed to think she had some sort of authority over him, despite being two years younger.

Leo had grown up with his parents, until he was 12, when his mother and father were killed in a car crash. It was an extremely rough period in his life, yet with some miracle, he was taken into foster care almost immediately, and had been there since. With that, however, came six foster siblings which he automatically become responsible for.

Most of them were young; they didn’t hassle Leo. But, as said before, his oldest foster sibling who’d been there since she was 8 – still younger than him – was a pain in the ass.

Like almost every day, he was arriving home late, having done nothing he was told to do. Yes, she asked him to collect their siblings from their carer, but the way Leo saw it, that wasn’t really his top priority.

Bracing himself, he unlocked the front door.

Before she saw him, Leo caught a glimpse of her, standing at the kitchen counter, and unpacking the shopping. Part of him wanted to slip upstairs without her knowing, but the brand-new pack of cigarettes awaiting him in his pocket urged him otherwise.

Pointedly dropping his bag on the chair beside the door, Leo traipsed into the kitchen without a single word.

It fact, it took him until the sink before she noticed.

When she did, she sounded pissed. “Leo.”

Florence,” he replied mockingly. Slowly, he poured a glass of water and sipped it, a teasing smirk twitching at his lips behind the glass.

“Don’t call me that!” Flo retorted, slamming the fridge door shut. “Where the hell are the others?”

“Hm…” Leo hummed. He slid the door to the garden open wordlessly, placing the glass on the table a couple of feet from the door. Then, the pack of cigarettes in his hand, he took pleasure in watching her glare at him as he slid one out, stuck it between his lips, and lit it. Dragging on the cigarette, instantly feeling the relief from the flood of nicotine, he said defensively, “What?”

“You didn’t answer my question!” Flo yelled, “Where the fuck are our siblings, Leo?"

“Was I supposed to collect them?” Leo said, as he inhaled on the cigarette again, and turned his head to exhale away from the house. She was already pissing him off.

“Yes! We said that this morning! Where the hell were you?”

“Picking up some stuff.” Leo waved the cigarette at her matter-of-factly. (That wasn’t all he bought, but she really didn’t need to know that.)

Flo scoffed. “Tch, that’s a disgusting habit you’ve got there,” she said, “and go and pick our siblings up, fucking hell!”

“Do I look like I give a shit?” Leo said bluntly. “No. You go do it.”

“No way!” He could tell Flo didn’t want to raise her voice, but she always lost her temper before he did. “I’ve done it everyday this week! At least pull your weight a little bit!”

Leo was quickly losing his cool too, and the cigarette dangling between his fingers was hardly doing much to help that. “I have four subjects, alright? I have a shit ton of work to do, so get off my case! Jeez, you sound like Elliot.”

“Well of course.” Flo’s words turned bitterly sarcastic. “If you don’t listen to your boyfriend, why the fuck would you listen to me?!”

“That’s irrelevant.”

“You can’t talk about workload anyway! I have a job, unlike you, and I’m a year younger!” Flo said, kicking closed the kitchen cupboard after placing the last bit of shopping away. “Besides, you’re not even doing work! You’re just smoking those cancer sticks!”

That crossed the line.

Without a second to broad over his actions, Leo wrapped his fingers around the glass beside him, and launched it at Flo. She dodged, and it narrowly missed, instead crumbling against the granite counter with an audible smash and spilling into a mess of water and broken glass on the kitchen tiles.

“What the fuck?!” Flo shrieked, wide eyed and staring down at the shards of glass.

When he saw the tears in her eyes, Leo admittedly felt a little guilty. Whenever they rowed like this, he knew it reminded her of how she used to live with relatives from the UK, who’d argue and argue non-stop.

“Flo, look-“

“No, fuck you! I don’t want to hear your shitty excuses for being such a deadbeat brother!” she screamed, grabbing her keys from the counter and glaring daggers at him. “You’re the oldest, Leo! Y-You’re meant to set an example for us! But no! Instead you’re selfish! Mum needs your help, but you just… don’t care?! I’ve already done all the shopping for today – you were meant to do that too, you know! I can’t run around doing everything for you forever!”

By the time Flo finished shouting at him at the top of her lungs, she was breathless; panting and teary-eyed. One single tear crept down her cheek, but she wiped it away immediately.

Frustrated and guilty, Leo dragged deeply on the cigarette, before sighing, and pulling her eyes to his. “Look, I’ll… pick them up tomorrow. But I really do have work to do today.”

“Fine,” she spat, spinning on her heel and storming towards the front door. “You useless piece of shit.”

Leo, dropping the cigarette by his foot, wasted no time in grabbing another glass from the sink, and throwing it at Flo. Once again, she dodged, flipping him off as it collided with the door frame.

Not once did she lock eyes with him when she swung open the door, and slammed it shut on him.

Shit,” Leo hissed, feeling every ounce of anger build and build. Folding his arms over his chest, he collapsed back against the wall.

He didn’t mean to make her upset like that. But this was nothing new. Every exchange between them – be it alone or with their mum – ended the exact same way: Flo storming off, and Leo finding an excuse to leave, and smoke, usually.

With an audible huff, he dug a hand into his pocket again, and pulled out another cigarette, still craving the nicotine to calm him down. The cigarette between his lips, Leo lifted the lighter up to it, and inhaled, before pulling the stick away from his lips along with a stream of smoke.

Staring down at the cigarette, he couldn’t stop the guilt from his and Flo’s argument taking over his conscience. After another drag of smoke, Leo pulled out his phone, and messaged the one person he always went to.

[Tumblr] hell-is-empty: got into another fight with my foster sister
hell-is-empty: feel like shit

Within half a minute, the reply came through.

[Tumblr] allthatglittersaintgoldsweetie: talk to me

Chapter Text

“How was your day, Ada?”

From across the dinner table, Ada smiled at her father, picking up the knife again and cutting through her food. “It was good! I stayed behind with my History teacher to go through my most recent assessment. She says it looks really promising!”

“Impressive,” Xai – their father – commented, responding with a fleeting smile. A second later, his expression returned to its usual stern nature, as he redirected his gaze to Oz. “And you?”

Shifting the food around his plate with the fork, Oz kept his head locked downwards. “Good.”

Oz didn’t want to steal the attention from Ada.

Ada was evidently the favourite child. She was only two months older than Oz, the two having different mothers. Oz’s mother died at birth, whilst Ada’s mother had divorced Xai after finding out about the other women. What exactly had happened around the siblings’ birth, Oz had never known. He just knew he was the unwanted child.

There were a lot of unanswered questions in that house, but of everything, the one thing Oz knew for certain was that Ada was the favourite child.

Despite being older, though, Ada had always looked up to Oz.

Idle chatter continued amongst the three for the rest of dinner, until they had all finished, and the conversation came to a natural end. The silence made Oz’s heart sink, nausea stirring in his stomach; Friday evenings were always the worst, because he couldn’t go anywhere once the usual was over.

“Would you like any help clearing up?” Ada offered, placing her knife and fork together in the centre of the plate.

“That’s very kind of you, Ada,” Xai smiled. “But I’m sure we will be okay. Haven’t you got work to do?”

“Well… yeah, I guess.” Ada shot a fleeting glance to Oz in her peripheral vision, which was promptly dismissed. “I was… going to head out later, i-if that’s okay…”

“Of course,” Xai said, “Be back before midnight, as usual.”

“Okay, well… thank you!” she beamed, standing up and tucking her chair under the table. Once again, she shot a sidelong glance to Oz. “If I don’t see you before I leave, uh, goodnight!”

“Goodnight, Ada,” Oz said, his words quiet. He smiled, albeit faintly, before she spun on her heel, and his smile faded.

Silence lingered once it was only him and Xai, left in the room, alone.

The tension was thick. The air felt heavy. So heavy, Oz felt himself holding his breath. His hand lay across his stomach, clutching his other arm, forming something like a shield. And his eyes stayed fixed to the floor.

Yet still, it was silent.

“Oz.” Xai’s tone was cold, bitter, and blunt. “Take these plates to the sink.”

Oz immediately stood up, gathered the plates, and shuffled to the sink, not daring to make a single sound.  

“We need to talk about your grades.”

His blood ran cold.  

This discussion was inevitable. Their mock results had been sent home, no exceptions. There was no chance his father hadn’t seen them.

“What about them?” Oz asked, feigning cluelessness, but the tremor in his voice was far too prominent. As he placed the plates in the sink, he tried desperately not to make a sound, before pinning his hands at his sides so they stopped shaking.

“They’re not good enough.” Xai spoke with venom and distaste thick in his words. “You chose to take four subjects. I don’t expect you to be getting adequate grades.”

Oz swallowed, his breath catching in his throat. “Sorry, I-“

“Be quiet,” Xai snapped, as he rose to his feet and lifted a hand to halt him. “If you don’t attain the grades you need for university, I will not pay for your accommodation. I will not allow you to live under my roof, either. You will be alone in the world.”

“I-I’m sorry,” was all Oz could stammer, subconsciously tugging on the sleeves of his jumper.

“You’re lucky I am even letting you stay here.” The sound of Xai’s footsteps, stomping across the floor, made Oz’s heart thump even harder. “You are 18 now. I have no reason to keep you here, unless you make a difference in this world. And without satisfactory grades, you will do nothing.”

“Y-Yes f-“

“Look at me when I am speaking to you!”

Oz’s mouth dropped open to answer, but before he could make a single sound or even crack a whimper, his father grabbed his wrist. His fingers, curling inwards, dug deeply into his wrist, at which he flinched, and hissed internally.

Silence ensued once again. It was deafeningly loud, however; Oz could hear every breath, every beat of his heart. Besides that, though, he’d completely frozen, his eyes locked on his father. His father, whose cold glare was solidly fixed on Oz.

After a minute of no response, he raised a hand.

Oz was too used to this by now.

It was only one hit, but it hurt. Physically, the skin on his face was burning; pulsating. Emotionally, the pain was on an entirely different level.

Inhale. Exhale.

It’d be over soon, right?

The next thing which pulled Oz from his trance was the smash of glass.

“Clean this up.” Xai promptly gestured to the shards of glass, spread over the linoleum floor. “And finish the washing up. Then, go up to your room immediately. If you disturb me-” he looked him dead in the eyes, “- I think you know what to expect.”

Swallowing down the rising nausea and tightness in his throat, Oz nodded. Tears spilled over his eyelids, in both fear and pain.

“Don’t be pathetic,” his father spat, before turning towards the door and slamming it shut behind him. The sound reverberated around the room, but the beating in the blonde’s ears was too loud for him to register anything else.

Without another sound, tears streaming down his face, Oz did exactly as he was told, cleaning up the glass from the floor whilst trying to settle the nauseating rolling in his stomach.

He shouldn’t have felt like this.

To some people, Friday nights simply weren’t for staying in.

And to Lottie and Domi, Friday nights were created for the sole purpose of going out, partying, and getting drunk.

As per usual, Domi was at Lottie’s, the two having been getting ready for over an hour. So far, they’d each fully done their make-up, and had successfully gossiped about almost every single person in their college.

Right now, Lottie was sat at her dressing table, precisely and carefully painting her nails as Domi stood behind her, curling her hair.

“Do you know if Ada’s coming?” Domi questioned, fiddling with section of Lottie’s hair. “If I’m guessing, unlikely.”

“You’d be right,” Lottie sighed, “She told us she had to work, but let’s be honest here, we all know this is the night she sneaks out to see Vincent.”

“Shame. I have to say, Ada is fun to be around.”

“Particularly for Vincent, I’d say,” Lottie snickered, placing the nail varnish bottle aside and flexing her fingers. “He’ll be all over her, and she won’t say no.”

“Hm…” Domi narrowed her eyes, as she turned off the hair curler. “Lacie’s right, though. I don’t like Vincent.”

“He’s a psychopath, I’ll admit,” Lottie shrugged, before standing up and shrugging off the dressing gown. “He’s useful in some ways.”

Domi, stepping to the side, also ridded herself of her (Lottie’s, actually) dressing gown, leaving the two both in their lingerie. “You only say that because you’ve slept with him.”

“Not whilst he was dating Ada,” Lottie said, cocking an eyebrow. “What do you take me for?”

“A whore,” Domi shrugged, and then giggled, wrapping an arm around the other’s shoulders. “I’m joking, of course. I love you really.”

Lottie grinned. “I know you do. Now, what are wearing?”

“You’ll no doubt let me borrow your clothes.” Detaching herself from the other, Domi proceeded to the wardrobe, flinging the doors open. “Let’s see what we’ve got.”

The process of choosing what to wear was a lengthy one at best. They each wore the same size, so always shared clothes with no fuss. Besides, Lottie seemed to have an endless supply to all the best brands, and Domi could hardly not take advantage of that.

It took twenty minutes and a pile of rejects for the two to come to a decision. Domi went with a black, body-con, halter neck mini dress with silver heels, and Lottie ended up with a tight, provocatively short black mini skirt, along with a pink crop top and matching pink stiletto heels.

“You look gorgeous, as always~” Domi winked, as she unplugged her phone and placed it into her bag. A devious grin tugging at her lips, she froze. Slyly, she unzipped the secret compartment of the clutch page, her fingers wrapping around a small transparent bag of white powder. “Fancy a hit? You know, to really start the evening.”

“Was spending an hour and a half getting ready not a good enough start for you?” Lottie titled her head at the other, snickering, as she stepped into her shoes and added three inches to her height.

“Is it really the same as drugs, my dear friend?” Domi took another step closer to Lottie, and flung an arm around her shoulders.

Delicately, Lottie wrapped a hand around Domi’s wrist, embracing the hug. She sighed, her head lulling downwards slightly. “If you insist… I’ll have to politely decline.”

Domi, her face a picture of shock, retracted from Lottie instantly, continuing to gape at her like the world had ended. “Do my eyes deceive me?”

Without a word, Lottie shrugged.

“… Are you seriously declining coke?”

“If you must know, I felt a little rough last night. And this morning.” Lottie’s emotionless expression was soon converted to a devilish smirk, matching Domi’s perfectly. “Believe me, though: next time.”

“I’ll be counting on it.” Reluctantly, Domi slipped the bag back into its place in her purse. “Ahhh, maybe I can pressure Jeanne into it?”

Laughing, Lottie knew to just shake it off. “You do you, Domi.”

“Perfume, lastly.” Domi strode back over to the dressing table, fingers brushing over the countless bottles of expensive perfumes, all different shapes and sizes and colours. The grin fixed to her lips widened, as she picked up a small pink bottle, turning to Lottie. “Do you think Jeanne will like the playboy one?”

“Considering she’s a lesbian, probably not,” Lottie snickered, heading over to where Domi stood and selecting the first bottle she laid eyes on. “You really want her to notice you, don’t you?”

“Ah, Lottie, you must have wanted to get in her pants before.”

“I don’t exactly swing that way. But I can see why you do.”


“She’s already fallen for you, Domi,” Lottie insisted. She rolled her eyes, and doused her arms and neck in perfume. “What more do you want?”

Once Domi finally settled for one of Lottie’s Chanel perfumes, she answered. “I want her to pine for me.”

“Needy,” Lottie snorted. “Already, are you ready to go?”

“Of course. When wouldn’t I be?”

It may have only been 8pm, but when you were rich and spoilt, getting pre-drinks at a bar was really no big deal.

For them, Friday night would only now begin.

It wasn’t a very big secret that Flo’s home life wasn’t the best.

All her friends (read: Roland, and Noé, and some person called Vanitas who she definitely wouldn’t consider a friend) knew that she’d been in foster home since she was 8. They all knew she had an older brother whom she hated. They all knew she was constantly weighed down by running errands for her siblings and her mother.

They also knew she’d had a – to put it bluntly – shitty past, her parents having died when she was young, leaving her stuck with relatives until they finally let her go somewhere else. Her foster mother was one of the nicest people in existence, but the situation with her brother always cancelled that out. And despite knowing about his existence, her friends didn’t actually know it was Leo.

That was probably for the best. Flo knew she’d told some pretty awful stores about him.

It was currently half eight, the family only now eating dinner. At one end of the table, their younger siblings bickered and laughed and threw food around – nothing too unusual – which their foster mother tried to settle them.

At the other end of the table sat Flo and Leo, opposite each other, in total silence. Leo’s attention was split between aimlessly picking at his food and texting underneath the table, whist Flo was multitasking with actually eating and glaring at Leo across the table.

Sure enough, Flo wasn’t the only one to notice he wasn’t eating.

“Leo?” their foster mother asked, tilting her head slightly. “Are you not going to eat anything?”

For a few seconds, Leo didn’t respond, and the table fell silent. Then, with an obnoxious roll of the eyes, he dropped the knife and fork on the plate, shoved it backwards, and stood up from the table abruptly. “I’m not hungry.”

She sighed. “Leo, can we please-“

“No,” he cut her off before she could finish, kicking the chair under the table and storming off to upstairs.

The kids were stunned into silence.

“Flo, would you mind checking on him?” she asked, concern evident in her words.

“What?! No!” Flo tried to refuse, but the soft sadness behind her mother’s gaze was enough to convince her otherwise. “Fine. But if he gets annoyed at me, I’m leaving.”

“Yes, okay. Come back down when you’re done.”

Rolling her eyes behind her fringe, Flo reluctantly stood up and followed Leo up the stairs.

They’d never been close. Neither of them ever felt like they could reach out to each other. Whenever Flo tried to reach out to Leo, she was met with a wall. And there was no reason for now to be any different.

Unsurprisingly, when she arrived, Leo’s bedroom door was locked. Knocking would’ve been pointless, so without making any sound beforehand, Flo let herself in his room.

“Did mum send you here?” Leo muttered, his head turned down to his desk as he picked up the pack of cigarettes and pocketed them.

“No,” Flo lied, quite obviously. “Alright, yes. She did.”

“Knew it,” he grunted, slipping his jacket on and stepping into the torn-up pair of trainers underneath the bed. “What do you want?”

“Where are you going?” Flo interrogated. When Leo didn’t respond, she took the hint, closing the door behind her and folding her arms over her chest. “Well?”

“Just to the park. To smoke, cool down for a bit,” Leo said quietly, pulling out his phone and typing something out. “You’re always the one telling me I shouldn’t smoke in front of our siblings.”

Flo scoffed. “You weren’t going to anyway. Our mother would shred you alive.”

“She doesn’t need to know, either.” Leo rolled his eyes. “So keep your mouth shut and stop poking into my business.”

A brief moment of silence dominated.

“There’s something not right about you,” she said, her words softening at her next comment. “Tch, you do know you can talk to me about it, right?”

“No, I can’t. And I could say the same thing back at you.”

Flo couldn’t bring herself to retort. There was nothing she could say – nothing that wouldn’t be hypocritical, at least.

Neither of them spoke for a few moments, Flo kicked up against the door whilst Leo stood, without a word, in the centre of his room, tapping his phone against the palm of his hand.

Biting his lower lip, he eventually asked, “Can I borrow ten quid?”

“No fucking way,” Flo instantly refused. It wasn’t a decision which needed too much deliberation considering the last time Leo had paid her back for anything was never.


“No! You never pay me back!”

“Five, then. And I swear this time I will.”

“There is literally no reason for me to trust any of what you’re saying,” Flo deadpanned.

“Look, if you lend me the money, I’ll take the kids to their Saturday school tomorrow.”

Once again, there was no reason for Flo to believe him, but the look of almost desperation in his eyes was enough to convince her. Reluctantly, she shoved a hand into her pocket, sifting through the cash folded inside her phone case.

The moment she extended the five-pound note to Leo, he took it, grinning at her (albeit teasingly). “Thanks, sis.”

Her mouth dropped open to protest, and interrogate, but Leo was already gone, clambering out of the window without a second to look back. She cringed, internally – hearing “sis” always bugged her.

When she returned to the dining room, Flo found herself lying through her teeth to cover for him. “He’s okay. He’s just… doing work.”

“Alright.” Their mother smiled weakly.

The rest of dinner proceeded in silence. After her confrontation with Leo, Flo couldn’t bring herself to find her appetite again, finishing half of the plate before excusing herself to upstairs.

Once she was alone, in her room, she exhaled a sigh of relief. For some reason, she always felt like she was holding her breath around… well, her entire family. She locked her door, pulled out her phone, and dropped down onto her bed, stretching out on her front.

Having Tumblr wasn’t something Flo had ever or would ever admit to her friends. Everyone knew that there was a “certain type” of person who had Tumblr, and Flo didn’t want to be that person.

Nonetheless, in a way, inside her head in this other world online, she was.

The first things she’d always scroll through was memes. It was a small thing, but chuckling internally at stupid things and mindlessly hitting the reblog button always proved relaxing, for whatever reason.

It only took a minute, however, for Flo to reach the posts from the blogs which she always regretted following.

The post was titled “You don’t need crippling self-hate to be trans!”, and it was long. Flo couldn’t bring herself to read it all; partly because she was lazy, but mostly because it was… uncomfortable. Something always bugged her when reading stuff like that. Something weirdly foreign yet annoyingly familiar.


That thought was only given two seconds to cross her mind, before she instantly closed the tab and threw her phone across the bed.

Something didn’t leave her alone, though.

Something just didn’t feel right.

It was incessant, and repetitive, but every time any kind of suspicion or inkling that there was a slight, miniscule thought that this was somehow linked to dysphoria, Flo shut down her train of thoughts, and dumped her head in her arms.

Her breaths were steady, but deep. A tightness rose in her chest, as she wriggled slightly; moving her front against the mattress was an irrefutably wrong sensation. It was a sense of disassociation, like her thoughts and body didn’t quite match, and this body she was stuck in wasn’t meant to be hers.

Discomfort might have described it best, but no words could truly convey it.

She didn’t want it to be true – dysphoria was a real thing, and she was probably just being dramatic. Something about it, however, felt almost too true.

But instead of pondering over those feelings, Flo repressed them, and thought about something boring like school work until finally, they left her alone, and the tears prickling at her eyes ceased.

Now simply wasn’t the right time to confront it.

Having said that, for the rest of that evening, right until she passed out on her desk, the thought never really left.

Even though it had just passed midnight, Noé was only now beginning to appreciate how quiet this house was when Domi was out.

Usually, Domi took the house for herself. Their grandfather allowed either of them to have whoever they wanted over, and that didn’t stop at house parties. So, most of the time, Noé was confined to his room.

Not that he minded, or anything.

Tonight, however, Domi was out. And if she wasn’t, she would’ve never let Vanitas into their house.

Currently, the two were in the lounge, the lights dimmed and the TV playing, but neither of them were watching it. Instead, Vanitas’ head was laid on Noé’s legs, which were kicked up onto the sofa.

It was peaceful, but the unspoken words seemed to linger.

Noé wanted so desperately to ask if he was okay.

He couldn’t, though. Vanitas never took personal discussions well. He was closed off, and in their three-year relationship, Noé had learnt that best.

It hadn’t always been like this. The pair had first met when they were only 11, and had been what most people considered “best friends” since they were 12. Sure, Vanitas had always been one to keep things to himself, but at the very least, he trusted Noé. That, unfortunately, didn’t seem to be the case anything, and the façade of “a good, admirable couple” grew harder and harder to uphold.

Gently, Noé’s fingers slipped through Vanitas’ hair, softly sifting through the uneven layers in an attempt to ignore the feeling that something wasn’t right. Vanitas didn’t even flinch, his attention remaining fixed on his phone.

Noé couldn’t even see what he was doing. He respected every part of Vanitas’ privacy, obviously, but things always felt so cut off. Particularly as of late, when they continued growing more and more distant, until Noé didn’t actually know what they were anymore.

But to maintain their functioning relationship, he kept his mouth shut. It wasn’t worth arguing; Vanitas saw no value in apologies, so it was a dead end each time.

The silence proceeded for another half an hour.

And Noé couldn’t bite his tongue forever.

“Vanitas,” he said, his words forgiving, but woven with concern. Right before he spoke, he switched to French – maybe it’d re-establish the connection they once had. “Vanitas, je veux que tu saches que si quelque chose ne va pas, tu peux m'en parler.

When Noé earned nothing in response, he assumed Vanitas didn’t understand him.


With a heavy, exhausted, worn-out and fed-up sigh, Vanitas pocketed his phone. “Sweet-talking to me in French won’t work, Noé.”

The lack of proper response was disappointing. What was even more disappointing was when Vanitas pulled out the tobacco and rolling paper from his pocket, and began rolling a cigarette.

“Come on, Vanitas. Let’s not do this again.” Noé tried to softly push him. He felt himself trying to push a brick wall, however, he persevered. “We need to talk. For real this time.”

“I don’t want to talk about this now,” Vanitas said, bluntly, as he raised the cigarette to his lips to seal it.

Noé exhaled, knowing full-well he’d dug himself a hole already. “You know Domi is out, right? She won't be able to hear you.”

Sulkily, Vanitas fiddled with the cigarette between his fingers. His words were barely audible. “It’s not that.”

Est-ce que c'est parce que mon grand-père est à la maison?”

Vanitas frowned. It evidently took him a few seconds to decipher what Noé had even said. Then, he muttered, “Non. Je veux pas en parler.”

Noé’s heart sank. Of course he’d say he just didn’t want to talk.

Just as Vanitas pulled out his light and sat up, blatantly showing he was done here, his phone vibrated, seemingly grabbing his attention.

“Who’s that?” Noé, admittedly, let the question slip before he evaluated why he shouldn’t have asked it.                                                                                                                                              

“Doesn’t matter,” Vanitas murmured, sticking the cigarette between his lips as he headed for the backdoor.

Once again, a bitter silence filled the room.

Noé soon found himself unable to tear his eyes from the door, which promptly slammed shut, almost reinforcing the wall between them, just to rub it in.

There was something wrong, beyond his control. It was pulling them apart, bit by bit, until they could not longer be in the same room without something kicking off.

And yet, for whatever reason, Noé could not for the life of him place a finger on what it was.

Chapter Text

“Reim. Are you going to the canteen?”

When he first heard Sharon call his name, from a few feet behind him, Reim jolted.

Freezing in his tracks, despite the crowd, he turned around briefly, locking eyes on Sharon as she walked up beside him. Wordlessly, she reached out, and intertwined their fingers; Reim never used to be one for public display of affection, but Sharon had eventually gotten him past that.

“Yeah,” Reim said, glancing around as they reached the canteen. A disappointed look spreading across his face, he turned back to Sharon. “Do you know where everyone is?”

“Oz will be somewhere with Alice, most likely. Elliot and Leo are always late. And today is the day Gilbert finishes third and doesn’t come back until sixth.” The way her words lingered suggested she wasn’t done speaking. And sure enough, she wasn’t, as she shifted slightly when they sat down, before asking, “Have you seen Break yet today?”

Reim, unconfident in his words, replied, “I can’t be sure, but I believe I saw him coming in earlier.”

“Strange,” Sharon commented under her breath, shuffling closer to Reim and pulling out her lunch. “On another note, I got another offer for Medicine.”

“That’s great!” Reim congratulated her with a kiss on the cheek, beaming widely. “Where for?”

“King’s College London, AAAA. Obviously, Cambridge is still the front-runner.”

“Yes, yes, of course. It’s Cambridge, after all.”

The two continued to engage in idle chatter about university offers, until Break arrived.

…Break usually carried himself lazily, to be blunt, but this was something else. First of all, his attention seemed focus on nothing except his phone, both earphones plugged into his hair, stealing the other part of his attention. On his way over to Sharon and Reim, he didn’t glance up once, pushing past everyone in his path. And when he finally sat down, without uttering a single word, the tense, irascible aura radiating from his mere presence instantly put a halt to Sharon and Reim’s conversation.

“Good afternoon,” Reim greeted, partially jokingly, but his furrowed eyebrows said quite clearly that he wasn’t overly impressed with Break’s demeanour.

When he earned no response, his frown deepened, before he reached over, and yanked one of the headphones out of his ear.

Break froze, reluctantly pulling the other earphone out, then pocketing them and glancing up. The smile he sent towards Reim was bitter, and bluntly forced. It was fleeting, too, and a moment later, Break’s attention reverted to his phone, as his hair fell over his face and shielded him to the prying eyes of Sharon and Reim.

Rather pointedly, as if to intentionally annoy him, Sharon said, “I believe he is in a bad mood.”

“No idea how you came to that conclusion,” Reim replied, sarcasm woven deeply into his words. “He seems… hungover. Weird for a Tuesday.”

“Ah, you hit the nail right on the head…” Break muttered, fiddling with his septum ring for a moment. He spoke passively aggressively, almost as if he was annoyed that Reim had figured him out.

“Where did you go?” Reim confronted, “You weren’t at break.”

“Shops,” Break’s answer was incredibly brief, and the bluntness embedded in his tone suggested it was a closed off statement for a reason.

Reim, scanning him over again, only appeared confused. “But… you have no food?”

“Hm…” Break hummed, his undivided attention still devoted to his phone. “No.”

It only took one concerned glance to the other for Sharon to take over the conversation.

“Break, we talked about this.”

The initial silence suggested Break knew exactly what she was referring to. “I’ve already eaten,” he said. He wasn’t a good liar.

And, of course, Reim knew that. “You’re lying. Here, I’ll share my food.”

“Hm… you see, you’ve got chicken and rice, and I’ve been thinking about going vegetarian lately~” Break quipped. His 180 personality flips would always confuse Reim and Sharon.

“I swear, I can never keep up with you…” Reim sighed, faceplanting. At this point, he’d nearly given out. Break clearly knew him and Sharon were hinting at a serious upcoming conversation, and evidently, he wanted to do his very best to postpone that discussion.

“Ahh, neither can I, really,” Break grinned, finally putting his phone away. Silence took over the three for no more than thirty seconds, before Break abruptly picked up his bag again, flung it over his shoulder, and prepared to stand up. “Anyway, I’m off to the bathroom.”

“Sit down,” Sharon instructed, and sheepishly, Break actually obeyed, sticking his hands in the pockets of his third oversized jacket. “We need to talk.”

Ah. There it was. That talk.

Which, after a prompting glance fell on him, Reim quickly concluded was apparently up to him to initiate; trust Sharon to drop that on him.

“I-I don’t want to intrude, o-or anything…” he started hesitantly, “But you seem distant. I’m not imagining this, Xerx. I know you better than anyone. I’ve seen you at your worst. And I’m… we’re just worried that… you’re going back there.”

“You needn’t worry. I’m not doing anything suspicious.” Break brushed it off with a smile immediately. There may have been a fleeting, second-lasting look of guilt, but neither of them saw it for long enough to be sure. “You see, I may or may not have Physics work due in, you know, next period.

“Right…” Reim wasn’t buying it, but before he could stop the other this time, there was a light squeeze on his wrist from Sharon, telling him not to push it. So, against his will, he bit down the urge to call after Break, and simply stopped talking.

“He’ll be fine,” Sharon reassured, her words soft. “He’s stronger than you think. Although I have to say, I do wonder why on earth he took Physics without Maths when it’s evident that’s what he struggles most with.”

“No idea,” Reim shrugged. “I just… sorry, I really hope he’s okay.”

The smile from Sharon was, once again, enough to diminish any momentary fears. “We all do, Reim.”

Elliot would always wonder how he could lose Leo at college so damn much… when they were in all the same classes.

To no surprise, today was no exception, as he wandered from his period five lesson of Biology to the final lesson of the day: Literature, questioning to himself how the hell Leo slipped away. He was sure Leo would magically appear again now, though; Leo would never miss Literature. (Well, he often did, but Elliot tried to ignore that minor fact.)

Sure enough, sitting right there in his normal spot, at the side of the room beside the window, was Leo. The oh-so-innocent expression riled Elliot up further, as he stormed over to him and dropped down into his seat.

Leo’s mouth dropped open to greet Elliot, accompanied by a snarky grin implying he wanted to make a snarky comment. But, before he could, Elliot fired his interrogation at him in the usual not-so-clandestine shout-whisper. “Where the hell were you in Biology?! We had a test!”

“Precisely.” Leo lifted his pen matter-of-factly.

Elliot raised an eyebrow. “What?”

“I’ve missed too many lessons this half term, and I need to cram the content before I can sit the test. So, I skipped it.”

“Why don’t you tell me about these things?” Elliot sighed, rolling his eyes internally to mask the fact he felt let down, in a way. He wanted Leo to trust him, but evidently, he didn’t, and that hurt a little, to tell the truth. “You know, instead of just sneaking off.”

Leo, averting his gaze to the blank notepad in front of him, shrugged. “You would’ve kicked up a fuss. I didn’t want you telling our teacher where I was.”

“What?” Elliot scoffed. “So I get to say ‘oh yeah, sorry, but I don’t know where my boyfriend is’ like a total idiot?”

Once again, Leo shrugged dismissively. “At least she’s not expecting an A* from you.”

“I’m your boyfriend, Leo,” Elliot said, turning the other way as he lowered his voice. His words brought a blush to his face, but that was only followed by frustration at the lack of response from Leo. “I’m not gonna rat you out, jeez.”

“Alright, whatever,” Leo hummed, fiddling with the pen in his hand, waiting impatiently for their teacher to arrive.

As the two continued to wait in silence, Elliot eventually mustered up the courage to turn back around to Leo, idly scanning the room before furrowing his eyebrows. For some reason, the usual background smell of stale cigarettes seemed stronger than usual.

“Have you been smoking?” he said, pointedly sniffing as the question rolled off his tongue before he could consider the fact the sudden confrontation might not have been the best idea ever. Especially not when Leo already seemed aggravated by him for some reason.

Blinking, Leo slowly turned to Elliot, shooting him a perplexed, momentary glance. “Don’t you think you’d have noticed by this point if I smoked?”

“Well…” Valid point, Elliot reluctantly thought to himself, accepting it must be someone else. “Yeah, I guess.”

Shortly after that, thankfully before the lingering awkwardness could last for too much longer, their teacher arrived, dropping her bag onto her desk and issuing a brief apology for being late.

When she pulled out a stack of test papers – marked ­test papers – Elliot’s heart sank.

“I’ve marked your latest test,” she said, beginning to hand out people’s respective tests. “I’m impressed, I have to say. For most of you, I’m positive you’ll get the same grades as we’ve predicted on your UCAS applications when you sit your actual A Levels. As usual, swap papers with the person next to you, read through theirs, and pick out the same things we usually look for: things worded well, interesting concepts, contextual links, and perhaps things not worded so well.”

Coincidentally, Elliot and Leo were the last to receive their tests back, the teacher sliding theirs onto the desk. Then, she flashed a smile, and crossed glances with Leo. “Can I speak to you outside a moment?”

“Sure,” Leo said, although Elliot knew he was reluctantly following her. Right before he left, however, he stopped, grinning at his paper as he nudged it towards Elliot. “Have fun reading.”

Scowling, Elliot picked up Leo’s paper.


Of course…

Leo always did better than him. Elliot was, to no surprise, a straight A student. He was predicted four As, which was beyond enough to get him into any Russell Group university. But that wasn’t quite enough for him; not when Leo was a straight A* student. There was absolutely no reason for them to compete when it came to grades, but Elliot couldn’t bring himself not to feel a slight inferiority complex when he compared his 76% to Leo’s 94%.

Reading through it didn’t make him feel any better. If you looked past the borderline illegible handwriting, which Elliot had gradually learnt to decipher with ease over the years, everything was flawless. The wording was concise yet intricate, and every paragraph was perfectly structured to the point where he was practically laying out the marks for the examiner.

Elliot was jealous. He knew that. He couldn’t even try to deny it.

When Leo returned, his irascible aura seemed exacerbated, and Elliot could tell he was even more on-edge than he was when he was taken out.

“What was it about?” Elliot questioned, squinting briefly at the paper in his hands.

“Doesn’t matter,” Leo answered, as vaguely as possible. One elbow leant against the table, wordlessly, he picked up Elliot’s paper, and began reading. Naturally, his fringe fell over his eyes like curtains, telling the world quite bluntly that he didn’t want to speak to anyone.

Even if it was absolutely none of his business, Elliot desperately wanted to know what the hell it was that their teacher had spoken to Leo about. Because, whatever it was, had clearly touched a nerve with Leo.

Yet, still, the one thing Elliot couldn’t do after all this time of being with Leo was understand what was going on inside his head.

It was irrefutably frustrating that he had nothing else to do, or say, to maybe cheer him up a little. He was his boyfriend, for God’s sake. Something was clearly missing; something obvious yet discrete at the same time.

For now, though, Elliot gave up trying to understand him; such a futile hope really wasn’t worth the effort.

Returning home to an empty house was certainly off-putting.

Usually, by the time Gilbert arrived home, Vincent was already there, either because he finished early, bunked his last lessons, or had been driven home by some other random year 13. So, needless to say, when he got home today, called his brother’s name but got no response, Gilbert was a little… concerned.

Particularly when, like most days, he had a scheduled therapy appointment. He was on his last chance now, as well; if he missed any more appointments, they’d almost certainly kick him out the program.

Gilbert, instead of immediately going back out, shuffled through the empty house to the back garden, dumping his bag down in the kitchen before pulling out the pack of cigarettes left in his jacket from yesterday and lighting up.

Exhaling the first breath of smoke, he retrieved his phone, and loaded up the conversation with Vincent. However, right before he could his send, his phone froze, vibrating a moment later.

[Incoming call: Oz]

A perplexed expression stretching across his features, Gilbert picked up the call. He saw no other option; if it was something important, he couldn’t exactly ignore him.

“Oz?” he answered, silently dragging on the cigarette and praying that the other couldn’t tell what he was preoccupied with.

“Ah, hi Gil,” Oz replied, almost as if he was surprised that Gilbert had actually picked up. “I, uh, missed the bus, so… I was wondering if you could drive me home?”

“Um, well, I…” Gilbert’s words trailed off. He hated having to refuse Oz’s requests.

“Sorry. I know you’re probably busy. It’s just my… father wanted me home early today.”

“Yeah, sorry… I have to drive Vince to therapy, er… now?” Gilbert declined as politely as possible, puffing on the cigarette again in hope it would make him feel less guilty somehow. “Speaking of which…” his tone turned slightly irritated, “do you have any idea where my brother is right now?”

“Well…” The other end of the line fell silent for a moment, spare the rustling of paper, before Oz responded. “He’s out at the smoking shelter with some other year 13s. I’m… not sure, but I think they’re smoking pot?”

“Goddammit Vince…” Gilbert cursed under his breath. This was the second time this had happened this month. And there was only so much persuading him and his parents could do to get Vincent not kicked out of his therapy program. “Uh, yeah, sorry Oz. But I have to go find my brother now and give him an earful.”

“Hehe, it’s okay,” Oz chuckled, albeit his amusement seemed forced. “Thanks anyway. And uh, good luck with Vincent.”

“Yeah…” Gilbert grunted, ending the call as he placed the cigarette back between his teeth.

Already feeling himself grow pissed off by the other, he sent Vincent a very passive-aggressive message.

[To Vince, 15:24]
where the hell are you

Less than a minute later, he got his response.

[From Vince, 15:24]
at collwge

[From Vince, 15:25]
dson’t worry avbout me gil, i’lk walk

Rather reluctantly, Gilbert came to the quick conclusion that Vincent was, most likely, high right now.

With one last aggravated inhale on the cigarette, despite it having done nothing to even remotely calm him down, he typed out one last message before grabbing his car keys and heading back to his car.

[To Vince, 15:27]
it’s -1 degrees, your therapy is in the next town, and the appointment is in 30 minutes. i’m coming to get you now.

Even though Gilbert didn’t check his phone once when he was driving back to their college, he was certain Vincent wouldn’t have replied, or even seen his message. And sure enough, when he pulled up outside the school gates, barely visible through the bushes which shielded away the smoking shelter, the shocked expression spreading across Vincent’s face confirmed that he definitely wasn’t expecting Gilbert to show up.

He wasn’t stupid, though. He wasn’t Vincent’s mother (although it certainly felt like it sometimes), so instead of clambering out of the car, approaching him, and embarrassing them both, Gilbert remained in the car.

As always, a few minutes later, Vincent appeared, staggering down the steps out the college with a slight inebriated sway in his steps.

From the moment he climbed into the car, without uttering a single word, Gilbert confirmed for the final time that he was sure as hell stoned. And no calmer, for that matter; no, if anything, getting high made his natural aura of creepiness seem even more prominent, along with exacerbating his usual aggravation towards the world and everything in it. It was a miracle he’d even gotten in the car without protest.

“Are you taking me straight to therapy?” Vincent questioned, his tone resembling a scolded child, as he turned his head downwards and placed his hands in his lap.

“Yes. We’re already late,” Gilbert answered, trying not to sound too disappointed in his brother. Because that would definitely provoke him more.

“Hm…” Vincent hummed disapprovingly. “Hey, Gil. Can I have a smoke?”

“What the hell? No, this is my-“ car. He cut himself off mid-sentence, remembering that Vincent was far from in his right mind. His parents went in his car sometimes, so letting Vincent light up would be foolish. But letting Vincent grow even more temperamental – before therapy, of all times – was even more foolish.  He sighed, pulling the pack from his pocket and holding it out to his brother. “Fine. But roll down the window.”

Without any sign of gratitude, Vincent plucked a cigarette from the pack. Sticking it between his lips, it took him multiple tries before he finally lit up. When he forgot to roll down the window, Gilbert internally rolled his eyes, and flicked the button himself.

“So…” he started tentatively, the smell of smoke (annoyingly) reminding him of the cigarette he didn’t get to finish earlier. “Are your… t-the new meds working?”

A dismissive grin barely tugging at his lips, Vincent’s reply came with a sinisterly nonchalant, mellow tone. “You let me worry about that, alright, Gil?”

To avoid conflict, Gilbert simply nodded.

(He wasn’t convinced.)

Leo smokes. Not many people know this. He’s not proud of it, he doesn’t particularly enjoy it, and he knows he should break the habit eventually.

Just… not yet.

In fact, very, very few people know – two, namely: his online friend, and his pest of a sister. Once again, he’s not proud of it, hence no one else knows. But that singular fact is also what leads to the same routine every night of hiding away, in the shroud of bushes at the very end of the garden, hoping to get through one smoke without Flo chasing after him to argue the money which he may or may not have borrowed.

Speaking of his online friend, this was the main time they each spoke. Of course, they were in touch throughout most of the day, but the secrecy they had from family and friends was mutual.

[Tumblr] allthatglittersaintgoldsweetie: my bitch ass uncle keeps whining about my grades
allthatglittersaintgoldsweetie: fucking dick
allthatglittersaintgoldsweetie: like do i care? no. no i clearly dont.

Leo chuckled, holding the cigarette between his teeth and holding it there, inhaling briefly, as he replied to the spam of messages.

[Tumblr] hell-is-empty: results day might have been like two weeks ago now but my biology grade still bugs me

[Tumblr] allthatglittersaintgoldsweetie: you think it’s the drugs?
allthatglittersaintgoldsweetie: i cant even deny it anymore, thats definitely one of the reasons mine are so shit

[Tumblr] hell-is-empty: yeah, maybe

[Tumblr] allthatglittersaintgoldsweetie: i do remember seeing some smartass kid in my class acting all disappointed with his high ass grades

[Tumblr] hell-is-empty: ohh what if it was me haha

As he hit send on the most recent message, Leo chuckled aloud a little. Funnily enough, despite being in contact with each other for well over 6 months and knowing next to everything about each other, they’d never shared their locations. Being in the same place was too far-fetched, and unlikely.

Besides, part of their friendship relied purely on anonymity. But Leo had to admit, it was be fucking surreal to meet your online friend in real life.

Just before he could ask the other the question which had been resting at the back of his mind for a long time, he was beaten to it.

[Tumblr] allthatglittersaintgoldsweetie: that reminds me, whereabouts are you from?

Without much of a thought, Leo typed out his response: a one-word name of a town, followed by another message of “wby?”

There was a solid minute until he received a reply.

[Tumblr] allthatglittersaintgoldsweetie: omg
allthatglittersaintgoldsweetie: do u go to pandora college by any chance
allthatglittersaintgoldsweetie: or live in the estate near it

Leo had to read over that message three times before it sunk it. And when it did, his limbs froze, the cigarette dropping from between his fingers.

[Tumblr] hell-is-empty: holy shit what are you doing rn

[Tumblr] allthatglittersaintgoldsweetie: outside having a fag
allthatglittersaintgoldsweetie: why?

He couldn’t believe this was happening. The overwhelming feeling of many emotions which he couldn’t comprehend was insane. So much so that his hands began to tremble.

[Tumblr] hell-is-empty: do you know the park, like right in the centre of the estate, with the wooden hut and broken swings?

[Tumblr] allthatglittersaintgoldsweetie: yeah its like 2 minutes from my house
allthatglittersaintgoldsweetie: holy shit is this actually

Leo felt his heart miss a beat.

[Tumblr] hell-is-empty: go there now. like rn.

The second after he shoved his phone in his pocket, he felt it vibrate, but Leo didn’t care. Grinding the cigarette into the twigs with his foot, he climbed over his garden fence with a rush of adrenaline, and began speed walking down his road, towards that park.

Part of him still refused to believe this was even happening. It was too much of a coincidence. There was a misunderstanding. Or maybe he was just delusional, or imagining it.

Whether this was really happening or not, the chances of this were so slim it made his head spin. This being the fact that his most trusted friend – the person who had seen the best and worst of him; the person who had listened to every tiny irrelevant problem he’d had; hell, the person he literally shared an addiction with – might have been five minutes away from him this entire time.

When he reached the park, having no idea how much time had passed, Leo was sure his heart stopped at the sight of a silhouette.

The figure had his hood up, hands stuck in his pockets with his head turned downwards.

And Leo knew it was him.

His footsteps barely made a sound as he approached him, his mouth dropping open but producing no sound. Every breath caught in his throat. And yet still, he was heard, the figure visibly jolting before turning around, his eyes widening.

The two stared at each other for a solid minute, before Leo mustered up the courage to say something.

“You’re…” he said, his voice cracking as the indescribable feeling of intense relief continued to overwhelm him. “… Vanitas, right?”

“Yeah…” Vanitas nodded, pulling the hood away from his face and raking a hand through his dishevelled hair. “And you’re… Leo. Elliot’s boyfriend…?”

“Ha, y-yeah…” Leo felt himself crack a smile. But not before a flood of tears suddenly spilled over his cheeks.

When Vanitas grew as emotional as he did, the two practically gravitated towards each other, engulfing one another in a tight, reassuring hug. A hug which spoke a million words. A hug which was 6 months overdue.

It took at least 5 minutes before they stopped sobbing, pulling away from each other with a sheepish glance. Wordlessly, Vanitas wandered over to the swings, and naturally, Leo followed.

“Sorry, I’ve… never spoken to you,” Vanitas said quietly, turning his head back towards the ground and rolling a cigarette.

“You’re in my Literature class,” Leo pointed out with a somewhat bemused grin, as he lit a cigarette for himself. After the first exhale, he felt… content. More so than he’d felt in a long, long time; like he was with the only damn person he could truly trust.

“Oh.” Vanitas’ expression was totally blank. He lifted his head up, lighting the cigarette before briefly meeting Leo’s eyes. “I don’t show up much. I got an E, so…”

Leo nodded, tapping the ash off the cigarette and trying to ignore the fact that he was probably that “smart ass kid” Vanitas was talking about earlier.

“So…” Vanitas paused, dragging on the cigarette. “How’s your sister been lately?”

To no surprise, Leo and Vanitas each knew their respective pasts. Leo knew that Vanitas’ father committed suicide and his mother ran off when he was 11, and that he’d been adopted by his uncle when he was 12, with whom he had the most toxic relationship ever with. Not even Noé knew all of that. And likewise, Vanitas knew all about how Leo had been in a foster home since he was 12, with a sister he also struggled to find middle ground with. And, once again, Elliot knew very little of that.

“Weird,” Leo answered. It was an ambiguous response, and he only expanded it after another inhale from the cigarette. “She’s always telling me there’s something wrong.” He glanced down, shamefacedly. “And obviously she’s… right, but… there always seems to be something wrong with her, too.”

Vanitas, out of simple compassion, nodded. Basic sympathy was usually enough between them.

And then, they talked.

They talked for hours, and hours. Neither of them were keeping track of time.

Until finally, for the first time in several hours, their conversations came to a stop, and silence befell the park. The moon shone brightly, being the only source of light spare the embers of their cigarettes.

Although painful, their focuses soon fixed on each other’s hands – shaking hands. And suddenly, the weight of the air around them was just as uncomfortable as the cravings which, evidently, they’d managed to ignore.

Up until now, at least.

“How long?” Vanitas asked. It was a simple question, but the ominous edge embedded in his tone made it quite clear to Leo what he was talking about.

“I don’t know,” Leo muttered, reaching into his pocket for his phone, cursing under his breath when he noticed the missed calls from Flo. Or, more noticeably, the fact that the time was 1:30am. “Shit, I need to go home.”

“9pm. That’s how long for me,” Vanitas said, dropping his cigarette onto the ground. “How long has it been, Leo?”

“I’m trying to remember,” Leo replied, his words barely audible. Already, the anxiety from this length of cessation was getting at him, clawing at his skin. “Like, 6 hours. Over. Shit.”

“Fuck me, you must be feeling worse than me,” Vanitas murmured as they both stood up, moving slowly closer and pulling each other into a tight, reassuring hug. “We’ll do this again, yeah?”

Leo, burying his head in Vanitas’ shoulder, exhaled shakily, trying to shut off every craving-fuelling emotion in his body. “Please.”

From the moment they pulled away, the two began going their separate ways. The moment was gone; now, they had one priority, and one only.

Halfway through the speed walk to his house, Leo felt his phone vibrate, only then remembering that Vanitas now had his number.

[From Vanitas, 01:37]
im glad we met. for real.

He smiled. Barely. And with trembling fingers, just about able to type two words, Leo replied.

[To Vanitas, 01:38]
me too

Chapter Text

[To Alice, 07:56]
im outside

[To Alice, 07:59]

[To Alice, 08:04]
we said 8… :( I’m guessing you’re not even awake yet

Sighing, Oz finally accepted that Alice was probably still asleep. Despite the fact they agreed to leave for college at 8am, get there at 8:15, and have half an hour to sift through UCAS stuff, once again figuring out where the hell Alice was meant to go once she left college.

Right when he was about to give up hope and call her, the sound of eager thudding down stairs began growing louder, before the door swung open a second after a brief silence. Alice, to no surprise, was still in her pyjamas, her hair beyond a mess.

“Why didn’t you tell me it was snowing?!” Alice yelled the moment she laid eyes on outside. It wasn’t snowing anymore, but if Oz wanted to get her out of the house, telling her about the three inches of snow blanketing the ground probably would’ve been a decent start. “I want to play in the snow!”

“Alice, we said we’d leave at 8,” Oz deadpanned, following her inside the house.

“Exactly!” Alice exclaimed, kicking the door shut and scrambling up the stairs, back up to her bedroom. “So I set my alarm for 8!”

Oz did have to stop and question how she was almost 18.

Wordlessly, he followed her into her bedroom; he’d been here enough times. And Alice didn’t appear particularly phased about him being there, as she stripped off her pyjamas and changed into jeans and a bunny jumper. Still, though, Oz had the decency to turn around, and help pack her rucksack.

“Where’s your Drama textbook?” he asked, staring at the mess before him which was somehow excusable as a desk.

“I lost it,” Alice replied. Clearly, it wasn’t a big deal to her. “Come on, I need breakfast!”

“Alice, we need to go,” Oz sighed, but dragged himself down the stairs anyway, taking her rucksack with him. Because, obviously, she wasn’t going to remember it. When he reached the kitchen, he exhaled another heavy sigh, as he dropped down at her table and hunched over. “We don’t have time to make bacon.”

“I need nutrition, Oz! Don’t you know anything?!” she said.

“Well… where are your parents? Eh, don’t they usually make it?”


“… right.”

The kitchen, expectedly, fell silent. Spare the sound of sizzling bacon which was being turned over and attended to an excessive amount. After about 10 minutes, the time having reached quarter past eight, she was finished, leaving the frying pan on the hob and seating herself at the table, opposite Oz.

However, instead of instantly devouring every ounce of food on the plate, she picked up the fork, paused, and then shot a vaguely interrogative glance at Oz. “Why do you always leave your house so early?”

“I’m not sure.” Oz chuckled, shrugging sheepishly. “I guess I’m just hard-working?”

Alice, unconvinced, narrowed her eyes at him, but didn’t say anything more, digging into the six slabs of bacon piled on her plate.

She was finished in two minutes.

“Alright, let’s go!” she declared. The plate abandoned on the table, she grabbed her bag from beside Oz, and tugged him out the house by the sleeve.

At least we’ll be at college by 8:30… Oz thought to himself, ultimately in defeat.

The air was bitterly cold, but what was even colder was the two snowballs which were promptly launched at his face.

“Ah, Alice… why?” Oz whined. Despite his annoyance, though, he couldn’t help but laugh a little. They hadn’t had snow in so long, and getting bombarded with snowballs reminded him of when he and Ada were young.

“You always look really sad!” Alice declared, circling the sidewalk in search of more snow. “So I thought I’d cheer you up! And you’re smiling, so you can thank you ya know!”

His smile faltering a little, Oz forced himself to chuckle again. “Yeah… thanks, Alice.”

Flo didn’t like to consider herself anti-social.

Having said that, it was painfully true that she was.

Of their entire group (all four of them), there were two introverts, and two extroverts. Vanitas was, annoyingly, like her: introverted. Most of the time. And they hated each other. (Of course, that would never be because they were even remotely similar, or anything.) Roland and Noé took the extrovert titles, getting along with anyone and everyone. In their own ways.

Sometimes, Flo let her introversion take over, keeping her head down in a textbook for two double periods. She had no idea where the others were, but honestly, she couldn’t have given less of a shit.

Until Roland appeared.

Jesus fuck… Flo groaned internally, cursing herself after she realised the mere thought of the word “Jesus” was probably what attracted him in the first place. Why he was here, she didn’t know; he was supposed to be in lesson now. Flo knew this; she knew everyone’s timetables better than they did.

Cranking her neck upwards, Flo sighed aloud when Roland sat down opposite, with the sickening beaming smile spread across his face. “Hello!”

“Why are you here?” she grunted, yanking one headphone out. Not that she was remotely interested in anything he had to say; she really didn’t feel like speaking to anyone right now.

“I finished my test early,” Roland answered, the smile donning his lips showing no signs of faltering. “It was RE, and my teacher understood, so she let me leave early. How kind of her!””

Flo blinked a couple of times, and then turned back down to her work. “Alright,” she muttered, hoping Roland would get the hint and leave.

Obviously, expecting Roland to get the fucking hint was like expecting Roland to suddenly turn atheist; it just wasn’t going to happen. And instead of leaving, he switched chairs to sit opposite her, and stared at her until finally, he caught her attention again. But he didn’t say anything. He just sat there, without a word, with his hands cupped together on the desk in front of him, and the smile still there.

“What do you want, Roland?” she sighed, reluctantly turning off her music.

“You’ve been distant lately,” Roland stated simply. His words were untainted by judgement, but it still managed to piss Flo off.

“I don’t need to have this conversation with y-“

“You know I respect you, and your privacy. I understand that. And I admire you as a person,” Roland said. For each word, his tone remained completely level. “However, it is also my duty to ask you if you are ok. And not only because Jesus would want me to, but also because I want to. As your friend.”

For a second, Flo didn’t know how to respond.

She was so close – so close – to spitting it out. Blurting out that for the past few weeks she’d had these stupid, incessant feelings of wrongness warping her entire body. Blurting out that something wasn’t right and that she was more or less in denial at this point.

But nothing came out.

When she did manage to speak, it was aggressive. “I’m fine.”

Roland tilted his head at her. “You’re a terrible liar.”

“Roland, in the nicest way possible, piss off?” she spat, packing away her things without a second thought. “Let me deal with my own problems, alright?”

Mouth dropping open, Roland didn’t get the chance to stop Flo before she grabbed her bag, and stormed off, her footsteps pounding across the wooden floor.

And this time, he didn’t follow her.

Break arriving to lunch ten minutes late with nothing to show for it was beginning to become a regular occurrence now.

In all honesty, Oz didn't really feel like he had anything to do with this ordeal. And from the awkward, avoidant expression spread across his face, neither did Gil. To them, this was between Break, and Sharon and Reim.

Which was why he felt his heart drop when he saw Break arriving at their lunch table, presumably having disappeared to the shop as usual beforehand.

“Hey Break!” Oz greeted, doing his best to mask the awkward silence radiating from Sharon and Reim’s collective presence.

“Ah, hello Oz~” Break chimed. For once, his aura lacked its usual suspicious edge, but the interactive glares from the other two hardly served as compensation. “Say, I don't know why Reim and Sharon aren't saying anything.”

“Well first of all, it could be to do with the fact you disappeared after period 4,” Reim deadpanned.

Pulling out a box of 6 iced ring doughnuts, Break waved a dismissive hand. “Nonsense~!”

“Xerx, we talked about this. You know what I mean by that.” Reim tried to lower his voice, but the frustration in his tone meant he failed to. “Sorry. I apologise if I made a scene.”

“If he wants attention, give him attention,” Sharon said with a smile. The smile itself was just misleading.  

An awkward silence initiated.

“You can have the rest of this, if you want,” Oz offered, pushing his half-finished pot of fruit towards the other. It was a brief attempt at creating peace, but his lack of appetite was also part of his reasoning.

“Hmm, I appreciate the offer, but I'll have to decline, I'm afraid~” Break hummed, finishing his last doughnut. “Besides, Oz, you could use it yourself. You're a little thin if you ask me.”

“I don't think you're in the position to be saying that to Oz,” Reim scolded, clearly kicking Break from under the table.

It was a simple comment. Oz had no reason whatsoever to think anything of it, but because he could stop and think rationally, his anxiety decided to make itself known. Racing thoughts made his head spin. What did that even mean? Did Break suspect something?

Did they know about his father, somehow?

The next time he glanced across the table, snapping back into reality, Break had gone, and Alice had helped herself to the rest of his lunch. As per usual.

The voice speaking to him was Gilbert's. “Oz? Are you okay? You look a bit… pale?”

“Yeah, I'm fine,” he lied, along with a fake smile. Within the pockets of his hoodie, he felt his hands shake.

Right now - during lunch, at college - wasn't really the best time to be feeling like this. But he did. And nothing else could help it.

“I'm… gonna head to the bathroom quickly,” Oz said quietly, trying not to draw attention to himself.

“If Xerx is in there, tell him to get back here,” Reim said.

Although he nodded wordlessly, as he picked up his bag, Oz wasn't prepared to get involved in the ongoing problems between those three.

Trundling through the snow across to the bathrooms, he tried - and failed - to slow the incessant thoughts. Nothing seemed to work. And like always, he was back to square one.

Once in there, he shuffled into one of the stalls, taking brief note of the other closed door; presumably where Break was. Trembling hands just about managed to close the door behind him, before he dropped his bag onto the floor, and internally cursed himself for being so loud.

This really wasn't the time or place to be doing this, but he couldn't see any other way of alleviating everything which came flooding back, all because of one insignificant comment.

Oz didn't hesitate too much, or overthink it, as he opened the zipped pocket inside his bag and pulled out the razor.

He'd never told anyone about this vice. No one needed to know. It was simply a distraction, which he'd stupidly made a habit of.

But no one needed to know that.

Rolling up his sleeve, Oz tried not to pay too much attention to each scar etched into his skin. His wrists, right up to his elbows, were covered in scars, all overlapping; some old, some new.

Slumped against the wall, with the razor ready in his right hand, finding old scars to simply reopen was easy enough.

One cut later, and Oz could ready feel his attention slipping away from his thoughts and zooming in on the string, and the blood forming beads against his pale skin.

One more, he told himself.

Right before he could, there was concerning splash, it sounded like, from a few stalls away.

That was Break.

Break was throwing up.


That makes sense.

Nonchalantly, Oz drew the blade over his wrist one last time, before cleaning off the blood from his razor with tissue and pocketing it.

His sleeves still rolled up, he opened the door silently, and wandered over to the sinks. No one else was there, apart from Break. And Oz couldn't care less about what Break had to say to him; if he wanted to point out the self-harm, then so be it. Either way, what could he do, when he himself had just been caught purging?

Of course, it was a very broad assumption to make, and Oz knew that. But it made so much sense.

Sure enough, two minutes later, the stall door clicked unlocked.

In his peripheral vision, Oz saw Break stop where he was, like a deer in the headlights. And he stared, for a good few seconds, at Oz's wrists, and the red water running into the sink.

“You were throwing up,” Oz said, words void of any emotion.

Break, as usual, smiled widely, and waved a dismissive hand. “Must be food poisoning. I really ought to go vegetarian.”

“Why are you doing this, Break?” Oz sighed. He kept his gaze on his wrists, waiting for the bleeding to stop, and avoiding all eye contact. “Especially after last time?”

“I don't-”

“Don't play innocent with me,” he tried. It felt weird, really; he'd never spoken like this to Break. Their friendship was hardly close, and now this was happening. Now they each knew their probably deepest secrets.

“Alright,” Break sighed, throwing his arms up, his smile faltering slightly and turning shameful. “You caught me.”

Silence ensued.

“But,” Break gestured to his wrists, now plastered in red-stained tissue, “you can't exactly play innocent either.”

“Yeah…” Oz sighed again, smiling sadly, as he continued waiting for the cuts to stop bleeding. “You're right.”

“Well, now that this has happened...” Break said, his tone indecipherable, and as he started washing his hands, Oz found himself pondering over whether he was annoyed, embarrassed, or something else entirely. “Naturally, I don't want you to tell Reim about this. However, I'm sure you don't want me to tell Gilbert, either.”

“Yeah… please don't,” Oz chuckled sheepishly, instinctively covering his wrists with his sleeves at the mention of Gil. “He'd be… disappointed.”

“Likewise, hm,” Break hummed, “Well… that’s perfect, then~! I'll keep your little secret if you keep mine. Do we have a deal?”

“On one condition,” Oz interjected, folding his arms over his chest. “You talk to me about this. I know there's… very little I can do, but I don't want you battling this alone.”

“Hm, I suppose I could say the same back to you, you know,” Break said, shaking Oz's hand loosely. As loose as it was, though, the feeling of his bones protruding from his fingers made Oz's heart sink. “It seems we've made an alliance, of sorts~”

“Yeah. Also… Reim wanted you back.”

“Ugfh,” Break gave an exasperated sigh, dragging himself across the floor and out the bathroom. “Fine, let’s go back. And remember, Oz: act normal~

Oz nodded, and followed Break without protest.

He was, however, admittedly unsure of how to act normal after having maybe the weirdest encounter with someone he'd ever had.

“Hm… Gilbert?”



“Hell no. I doubt he can even get it up.”


“God no.”

The obvious disgust woven into Lottie’s tone at her suggestions made Domi chuckle.

Currently, Lottie was at Domi’s house, the time slowly creeping up to 9pm. They were playing Domi’s favourite game, which was called “can I guess who Lottie was with last night?” – she lost, usually. Lottie was actually a lot more secretive than she let off.

“Hm… what about Jack?”

“As if I’d sleep with him,” Lottie screwed her face up, shifting slightly, her head laying on Domi’s stomach as she scrolled through her phone. “I wouldn’t sleep with my friends’ ex anyway.”

“You say that,” Domi narrowed her eyes jokingly. “But, I’m fairly certain you’ve slept with Vincent.”

“Do you have any actual evidence of that?” Lottie said.

“Everyone says he’s good in bed.”

“Doesn’t mean I’ve slept with him.”

“Yes, it does,” Domi countered, chuckling to herself. “Hm… what about Noé?”

Lottie paused, cranked her neck to the side, and stared at Domi blankly. “As if you’d let me fuck your brother.”

“If it meant he broke up with Vanitas, I’d let you.”

“Right,” Lottie huffed. The room fell silence for a mere few seconds, before she sat up abruptly, with her eyes fixed to her phone scene. “Sadly, I have to leave you to it. My mum wants me home.”

Domi responded with a derisive snort. “Yeah right. You’re just going to see Levi again. To fuck.”

“Alright, you got me there~” Lottie snickered, throwing her jacket over her shoulders and picking up her phone. “What can I say? He’s home alone.”

“Ok, but, serious question now,” Domi said, rolling over onto her stomach and narrowing her eyes up at Lottie. “What’s really going on between you and Levi?”

At first, Lottie didn’t respond, as if the question made her… uncomfortable. Pocketing her phone, she stepped into her heeled boots, left at the side of the room, and zipped them up, before pulling out her phone again. Only when she caught sight of Domi’s impatient stare did she reluctantly reply. “That’s a topic for another time.”

“Hm…” Domi rolled off the bed, wandering over to her. “Is it because you’re seeing other guys?”

This time, Lottie simply didn’t give an answer.

“I’ll see you at college tomorrow,” she said, her tone blank of emotion.

Out of habit, Domi engulfed her in a tight hug before she walked out the door. That didn’t, however, stop the concerned, put-off frown stretching across her face. “I don’t like this secretiveness.”

“And I don’t like your interrogativeness,” Lottie winked. It was teasing, but also hiding a biting edge.

Without another glance at Domi, she set off down the road, the click of her heels muffled by the layer of snow, still barely covering the ground.

To no surprise, her, Domi, and Levi all lived in the same area of town; the rich, middle-upper class part. Because of that, after only five minutes of walking, she arrived at Levi’s.

Levi’s parents – like Lacie’s – often weren’t there. They had better things to do. All of Levi’s older siblings had left home, and were either at university or working. (It wasn’t much of a shock that Levi was the youngest.)

And “home alone” always meant the exact same thing.

“Waiting for me, are we?” Lottie purred, walking up his porch once she spotted him, leant against the door frame with a cigarette dangling between two fingers.

Within a second, the grin twisting at her lips was captured by Levi’s, his tongue slipping past her lips. The embrace was brief, but that was all they needed. That was why Lottie never answered Domi’s question: she didn’t know.

When it came down to it, sleeping with each other a few nights a week seemed to work.

“I wish you’d quit smoking at some point,” Lottie pouted, pulling away but keeping her arm where it was on his back. “You taste gross.”

“Sure,” Levi shrugged, pointedly dragging on the cigarette. “I’ll stop smoking when you stop sleeping with other men.”

Her smirk turned more devious. “We both know that’s not going to happen.” She leant up, planting her lips onto his once again. “But, I suppose you’ll have to suffice for tonight~”

“Noé, seriously, you bought champagne?”

His expression turning perplexed, Noé tilted his head at Vanitas. “I don’t see the problem.”

“It’s not a problem, it’s just a bit extra,” Vanitas pointed out bluntly, gesturing to their surroundings. Which were, to be specific, a picnic blanket, a park, and an inch of snow.

“Yes, but we agreed this would be our date night!” Noé tried to justify, handing Vanitas a glass and popping open the bottle. “I bought this a week ago. And you see, I hadn’t planned for snow in March.”

“No one did,” Vanitas muttered under his breath, pulling his coat tighter around him. He hated the cold. Why the fuck was it even snowing in March anyway?

“I knew you weren’t going to turn down alcohol,” Noé smiled, filling Vanitas’ glass before attending to his own. When he was done, he carefully placed the bottle down beside him, and then raised his glass. “A toast.”

“Sure, but,” Vanitas touched their glasses together with a clink regardless, “what to?”

“Hm… us?”

“… alright.”

Noé smiled. And as much as Vanitas hated to admit it, Noé’s smile was contagious. And he couldn’t resist cracking a grin to cover up the grimace threatening to twist onto his face; he’d never had much of a taste for champagne.

A few seconds later, the two gravitated towards each other, their lips connecting as naturally as they always did. Briefly, he felt the metal of Vanitas’ tongue piercing brush against his tongue. Eyes lulled shut, Noé slowly began dissociating from their surroundings, the fact that it was 11pm and minus seven degrees becoming irrelevant.

Vanitas pulled away a minute later, digging a hand into his pocket as if he’d just remembered something. And he had, as a few seconds after, he pulled out a blunt, already rolled and held tightly between two fingers. “Want a hit?”

Noé paused.

On most occasions, he didn’t think too much about drugs. When he was 13, and had been adopted by Domi’s grandfather, Domi’s older brother – Louis – was 15. For an unknown length of time, he’d been experimenting with drugs. And at that point, he passed away. A heroin overdose. Neither him nor Domi knew much else.

The weight of Louis’ death certainly dragged him down sometimes, but Noé was hardly closed minded. There was, irrefutably, a big difference between meddling with drugs like heroin, and smoking weed occasionally. And if he were to say he and Vanitas had never gotten high together, it would be a total lie.

It was merely something small they shared, every now and again.

“Sure!” Noé replied with a beaming smile, snapping from his trance.

With precision in his every move, Vanitas lifted his lighter to the tip of the blunt, inhaled smoothly, and passed the blunt to Noé. Placing it between his lips, Noé couldn’t help but become captivated by the smoke, spiralling into plumes from Vanitas’ mouth.

After a few puffs from the blunt, he began to feel his inhibitions slipping away.

But neither of them was totally inebriated. Weed never had that effect on them.

“Hey Vani,” Noé said, exhaling smoke and passing the blunt down to Vanitas, whose head was now placed in his lap. “Can you promise me something?”

“What?” Vanitas grunted. He tapped the ash off the blunt, watching it crumble into the grass, before inhaling deeply from his, avoiding Noé’s gaze entirely.

Noé paused, momentarily. “Promise me you’ll tell me if things get really bad.”

Keeping the blunt for himself this time, Vanitas’ reply was as vague as it could be. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Well…” Noé stammered. He dragged his fingers through his hair, mentally exhausted, it seemed. “Everything with you recently, like how… distant you seem. It just… it reminds me of Louis, before he, you know, passed away. And I know I'm not… I shouldn't pry into your life, but… I won't judge you, Vanitas. I love you, and I'm not willing to lose you yet.”


Nothing but silence.

In all honesty, Noé felt a little let down. Here he was, pouring his heart out to Vanitas; talking about something which he’d bottled up for a while now.

And in response, he got nothing?

Stubbing out the blunt, Vanitas stuffed his hands into his pockets, before exhaling softly. “I’m not using regularly.”

His words were almost inaudible.

“But… you’re using?” Noé said.

Another pause. Vanitas bit down on his lower lip, before clicking the barbell in his tongue against his teeth, and shrugging. “Experimenting.”

Noé felt his chest tighten, and his blood run cold.

“Ok…” he said, “Well… you can stop, right?”

“And there it is,” Vanitas spat, his words laced with a harsh bitterness.

“What did I do?” Noé asked, as he felt his heart sink in his chest. “Vani-“

“For fuck’s sake Noé, you know what you do,” Vanitas accused, rolling his eyes and sitting up. “You coax me into telling you shit, with your emotional bullshit, saying you won't judge ‘n all that crap, and then you try and change shit anyway!”

Noé’s mouth dropped open to reply.

Vanitas cut him off before he could. “Just… pretend I didn’t tell you anything, please.”

“I only want the best for you, Vani,” Noé tried.

Despite his pleading, though, Vanitas still stood up, and turned on his heel, picking up his phone. “That’s not up to you, is it? You don’t know what’s best for me.”

“I want to know, Vanitas! I-I don’t want to feel like I’m treading on egg shells around you!”

His back to Noé, Vanitas spun around, and said one last thing. “If you don’t want to be treading on egg shells, then… you shouldn’t have broken them in the first place.”

Beneath his drug-addled mind telling him “ooh, what a nice metaphor!”, Noé sighed, a pang of guilt making his chest ache once again, as he watched Vanitas storm off into the distance.

He’d tried to reach out. And he failed. Miserably.

And yet, despite all the emotions dwelling inside him right now, Noé knew that, by tomorrow, Vanitas will have wiped this interaction from his mind. 

Chapter Text

Sometimes, secrets existed for a reason. Break had always been a strong believer of that.

The incident from yesterday was still fresh in his mind. Walking out of that stall and laying eyes on Oz, pointedly with his back to him, made him panic more than he ever had before. His secret was no longer a secret. And the last time that happened, he ended up in treatment for 8 months.

Oz was different, though. They had blackmail against each other. Neither of them would dare say anything to anyone else, out of fear for themselves. On top of that, Break had been growing suspicious of him for a while; he was oddly distant, and yet so good at hiding it. Too good, almost. So, needless to say, the incident in the bathroom yesterday wasn’t the only pending topic of discussion.

That was what Break hoped, at least. They’d formed an alliance – in a sense – after all.

With that in mind, they were meeting the very next day, at 8am sharp.

Break didn’t mind leaving his house early. It wasn’t as if he had a bad home life. If anything, it was the opposite; he’d been spoilt rotten as one of only two children, far apart in age, and he knew that. He also knew he was an absolute shit to his parents. Did that stop him? Of course not.


Being pulled from his trance, Break slowly cranked his neck to the side, turning his phone off as Oz approached him.

“Good morning,” he greeted in response, his words totally void of the usual teasing edge.

Oz, averting his gaze to the floor, subconsciously pulled his sleeves over his wrists – it now made so much sense why he always did that – before staring off into the distance and asking, “Where did you want to go?”

“Hm…” Break hummed, pushing himself off the wall and gesturing down the street. “The field?”

“Sure,” Oz agreed, following the other away from their college, and down the small alley which led to the park. At this time in the morning, it was deserted, but for the sake of privacy, they still settled down on the grass far away from the path, shielded by bushes and underneath a tree. The snow from yesterday has already melted, and the grass a little wet, but neither of them seemed to care all that much.

The lingering tension seemed to worsen the longer the silence proceeded. Crossing his legs over, Break hesitated for no more than a minute, before digging a hand into his bag and starting the conversation again. “You want a little pick me up?”

“Heh,” Oz chuckled solemnly. “You sound like a dealer.”

“Is there really much difference?” Break chimed, holding up a poorly rolled blunt between two fingers. He grinned. “Hm?”

There was a brief moment of silence, where Oz pondered on the offer, before a slight smile curved at his lips. “Yeah, sure.”

“I’m surprised,” Break pointed out, trying to conceal the fact he was genuinely shocked that Oz had just accepted the offer for drugs. Without a word, he stuck the blunt between his teeth, pulling the lighter from his jacket pocket and smoothly lighting up. The smoke spiralled upwards, but the high wasn’t enough to distract Break from the awkwardness of this… exchange?

“Why do you have it?” Oz asked, the blunt promptly being passed to him, as he took a tentative but smooth hit.

“I’ve had it hidden in my bag for a while. Ah, just when it feels right, you know? Mhm… I was right to suspect that Reim wouldn’t recognise the smell of pot, thankfully.” Break took the blunt back, dragging on it greedily. “I have to say, you don’t strike me as the type of person who’d done drugs before.”

Oz tried not to smile regretfully again, as he accepted the blunt once again and inhaled on it – once again, swiftly, as if it was hardly new to him. “I’d rather not go into it.”

For the next few minutes, neither of them said a word. Instead, the time was filled by passing the blunt to one another a few times.

Eventually, Break got bored of the silence.

“Why are we here?” he asked, tone indecipherable, as he ground out the blunt into the grass.

His attention dedicated to the blades of grass which he fiddled with, Oz simply shrugged. “How long?”

As much as Break wanted to feign innocence, he knew it was pointless. Still, though, something about what was going on right now felt inherently wrong.

“How about this, then,” Oz said, “Everything you tell me, I tell you the same.”

“I suppose we have to say something,” Break snickered. “Otherwise this is pointless.”

“Mhm.” Oz nodded.

Break hesitated, almost wishing he had something stronger than weed. Then, he answered. “8 months, give or take. Since the holidays of year 12 into 13, to be specific.” He paused, but clearly wasn’t done. “Well, the second time, at least. I’m sure you know about the first time.”

Oz and Break had been in the same group since secondary school. It wasn’t much of a mystery.

Slowly, Oz nodded.

“And you?” Break asked, briefly gesturing to Oz.

Subconsciously pulling his sleeves further over his wrists, Oz glanced down once again. Sheepishly, he spoke. “4 years. Everyday.”

Break had to bite down on the inside of his mouth in order to stop himself reacting visibly. “I see,” he said, “Does that, by any chance, have to do with why you leave your house early?”

Oz froze immediately.

“I can see the bruises, you know,” Break added, watching Oz tense up even more. “I know it’s not Ada who does that. And there’s only one other person who could be at fault.”

“Yeah…” Oz sighed, a sad, almost depressed aura clinging to his words. “I leave early to get away from… my father. Usually I just… get what I need to do done, and then… get out before he wakes up.”

From the very brief, momentary gesture to his wrists, Break was pretty sure he knew what he meant. It was crushing, and even though they weren’t really close, he still wanted to go right over to Oz’s house and kill his father. Oz was a good kid; everyone knew that. He couldn’t have done anything to deserve this kind of treatment. But, he couldn’t. If Break did anything outside of their deal, Oz would be going straight to Reim, and he knew it.

“Only the morning?”

Wordlessly, Oz shook his head. “At least twice a day. It’s… a little random; sometimes based on opportunity.”

The silence resumed, to no surprise. Ultimately, Break knew he’d be answering the same question in a second.

Oz, not needing to say a single word to get the point across, stared expectantly at him.

“Four times a day,” Break sighed, dropping his line of view. He knew it was bad. He didn’t need a disappointed silence from Oz. “Three minimum.”

Silence, again. Oz couldn’t think of another question. He didn’t want to ask anything which would be awkward to be asked back. (Which was most things, unfortunately.)

Instead, after another minute of no one uttering a sound, he chuckled, the haziness from the drugs finally getting to him. “This is weird. We’re just… talking about our problems, and yet… nothing is getting saved.”

“Hm.” Break paused. “Better each other than the people we’re closest to.”

“Yeah… I guess you’re right.”

“Mhm,” Break hummed again, before grabbing his bag and standing up abruptly, swaying a little as he did so. “If we’re done here, for now, I ought to go. I have Physics work due in… half an hour, give or take~”

“Are you any better at Physics when you’re high?” Oz asked, tilting his head.

“Hm, no,” Break frowned. “If anything, I’m worse.”


“Hopefully, if I go through the questions and draw some question marks, it’ll look like I tried.”

Chuckling under his breath, Oz followed a few footsteps behind break. He trod lightly, feeling practically weightless. Odd, since he’d never opened up like this to anyone before, and drugs didn’t have this much of an effect, usually.

If this was all this deal entailed, then perhaps things might just be okay.

“Leo? Are you paying attention?”

For the fifth time that hour, Leo wanted to strangle his teacher at the sound of his voice.

“Did you ask me something?” he drawled out, trying to conceal the irritability in his words, as he pulled the pen away from his teeth and glanced up at his Biology teacher. Thanks to his glasses, he wouldn’t see the venom in his glare.

“Yes,” the teacher sighed, gesturing to the diagram on the board. “Which synapse is this?”

“I have no idea,” Leo said bluntly. He could feel everyone in the class staring at him in awe, but he couldn’t give less of a shit.

The teacher frowned. “See me after class, please.”

Under his breath, Leo cursed. “For fuck’s sake.”

Clearly, though, it wasn’t under his breath enough; Elliot heard.

“It’s your own fault for not showing up,” the blonde scoffed.

Along with that teacher, Leo wouldn’t have minded giving Elliot a slap, too.

He wasn’t usually this intolerant. Today, however, it seemed as if everything was collectively working against him. For one, his absences in Biology had finally caught up to him, and his place in the final A Level exam was put on the line if he didn’t stop skipping. Today was a full day, as well, and Biology would’ve been the lesson he skipped for the sake of catching up on work for the other lessons.

And to top all of that off, Flo was being a stubborn ass – in his opinion – this morning, and had refused to lend him any money to buy cigarettes, so his last smoke was yesterday evening. To make that worse, until he got more money somehow, he was without, putting him even more on edge.

Leo tried so hard no to make Elliot suspicious, but he was fairly certain he’d failed at this point. Especially since he’d spent the last hour of this godforsaken Biology lesson effectively smoking the pen and resisting the urge to throw something across the room.

After what felt like an eternity, the lesson was finally over.

Before he could leave, though, his teacher called him over, dismissing Elliot. At least they were alone, Leo considered briefly. Because, despite what he might protest, Elliot would have sided with the teacher.

Perching on the side of his desk, his teacher promptly crossed his arm over his chest, and directed his stern gaze on Leo. “We need to talk about your attitude.”

It took an incredible amount of self-restraint for Leo not to roll his eyes. The conversation hadn’t even started yet, and he already couldn’t wait for it to be over.

“You haven’t shown up a significant amount recently. It’s not like you. And unfortunately, it’s having an impact on your grades,” he sighed. “Considering you haven’t shown up to our last two mock tests, I’m going to have to put a U down on your final report.”

That got Leo’s attention.

Sure, he technically already had a place at Oxford. He was predicted the right grades, and they’d liked him at the interview. So, it wasn’t like his place was compromised or anything. However, getting a U in anything at this point in his A Levels would spur at the very least an intervention.

“Can’t I resit?” Leo tried. “I can learn the stuff. Just give me a week-“

“I emailed you and offered a resit multiple times, Leo. You ignored me every time,” he cut him off, holding a hand up to halt the other. “So no. You’re not resitting.” He paused, seemingly waiting for Leo to reply. But he never did. “You’re an exceptional student, Leo, and it’s incredible that you’ve been offered a place at Oxford. I can understand if Biology isn’t your favourite subject, but you have a lot of potential. Your ability to learn and recall information is astonishing. But I'm afraid you're reaching a point where you're going to struggle catching up.”

“Cheers for that,” Leo said sarcastically, letting his words slip before he could remind himself who he was speaking to right now. “Now I know I’m officially fucked.”

“Don’t use that kind of language with me.”

Biting back a scoff, Leo rolled his eyes, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Alright,” he mumbled sulkily, “Sorry.”

“Why aren’t you showing up?” The teacher questioned, his tone softening. “What happened to your work ethic?”

He didn’t want to think about the cigarettes, or how badly he needed one. He didn’t want to think about the drugs, and how – in about ten minutes – it’d be time to shoot up again. Hell, he didn’t want to think about the situation with Elliot. Or Vanitas, for that matter.

There were so, so many answers which were painfully true. But instead, Leo simply sighed, and shrugged. “Too much work.”

“I know you’re doing four subjects, but you’re more than capable of getting four A*s if you just put in the work.”

“I am putting in work,” Leo countered. “Ask my Literature and Music teachers. They’ll tell you.”

“I don’t want to keep telling you off for attitude,” he scolded. “You can leave now. I expect to see you in all our lessons, between now and exams. Do you understand?”

“Yes sir,” Leo grumbled, almost inaudibly. Dragging himself out of the classroom, he was eternally thankful that Elliot had the patience of a twig, and had consequently given up on waiting for him.

Finding Elliot was, however, the last thing he wanted to do. Instead, he spun on his heel, and headed straight to the library to try and cram the content he’d missed in total isolation.

It was only a day or so into this alliance, but Break and Oz were already starting to form a timetable of their habits.

Currently, as the time neared the end of lunch, the two had retreated to the bathroom, praying they didn’t seem too suspicious, to indulge. There was, unfortunately, no nicer way of putting it. Couple that with the fact they were both coming down from weed, it wasn’t the most positive interaction they’d ever had.

“You’re very quiet,” Oz pointed out nonchalantly as the stall behind him swung open. He stood at the sink, running cold water over the fresh wounds, self-inflicted less than two minutes ago.

Break chuckled, wandering over the sink beside the blonde and dragging a hand through his hair. “Should I take that as a compliment?”

“Hm,” Oz hummed, furrowing his brow slightly at the last cut, which annoyingly persisted to bleed. “No. It’s more worrying, if anything. It… shows you have a lot of experience in keeping this a secret.”

Silently, Break nodded.

And the two proceeded to, as usual, stand awkwardly, in silence.

After another minute of trying to get one of the cuts to stop bleeding, Oz was beginning to feel light headed. He should’ve panicked. But really, this wasn’t a rare occurrence. From beside him, Break finally finished washing his hands, pulling out his bottle of water and tipping it down the sink.

The perplexed gaze spread across Oz’s face was quickly replaced by an expression of subtle shock when the other retrieved a bottle of vodka from his bag. Break saw him stare, but for him, his attention was clearly directed at the red-dyed water, running down the sink and into the plug.

Quickly, Oz picked up on where he was staring, as well. He gave a sheepish laugh. “Do you ever get worried you’ll go too far?”

“Hm. Perhaps,” Break said, emotionless. “But I could say the same to you.”

“Yeah…” Oz frowned. His eyes softened, briefly, before he forced eye contact with the other. “You should really control your drinking though.”

As if out of spite, Break lifted the bottle (now filled with vodka) to his lips, and sipped nonchalantly. The burning taste didn’t faze him one bit. “How come?”

“I know I’m not one to lecture you on healthy coping mechanisms…” Oz broke eye contact, glancing downwards, relieved to see the tap water clear once again. “But drinking neat vodka for lunch is… well, another level.”

“Hm. You could be right.” Break knocked back another mouthful momentarily. “But that’s a discussion for another time.”

Wordlessly, Oz nodded, before following the other out of the bathroom; back to the canteen, where they’d be back to pretending everything was fine.

Maybe, he thought to himself, if they pretended for long enough, it might even begin to feel like that, too.

Tonight, Levi was hosting the usual Friday night get-together.

Lacie didn’t like Levi.

It hadn’t always been like that. In hindsight, they should’ve seen it coming, since Lacie seemed to be capable of developing beef with literally anyone. In this instance, though, she blamed Levi. He was the one who spread the rumours they’d slept together online. He was the one who caused Jack to go bat-shit crazy on her.

She would never sleep with him anyway. Lacie liked to consider herself as someone with standards.

It was already 8:30pm, the others having arrived awhile ago. But when the invitation came straight from Levi, Lacie was reluctant to leave until she knew she wouldn’t get stuck alone with him.

Only now did she arrive, banging impatiently on the door before pulling her phone out.

A minute later, the door opened.

“You know,” Levi said, “the door doesn’t open faster if you bang louder.”

“My mistake.” Lacie delivered her response with a bitter smile.

Vaguely, Levi gestured to the half-drunk bottle of Echo Falls in her hand. “Nice to see you bought us a drink.”

Lacie shrugged, before inviting herself inside. “I got thirsty.”

Levi had, undoubtedly, always been the richest of all of them. And considering there was a decent amount of competition in the group, that meant something. His house was immaculate, but as with Domi, and Lacie, and occasionally Jeanne, his parents often left him to his own devices.

When Lacie eventually made it to the conservatory, where they usually spent their nights, everyone else was – thankfully – already there. Lottie was stretched across one of the chairs, her face glued to her phone, whilst Domi and Jeanne were curled up together (more so than usual, actually) on the sofa. Without much deliberation, Lacie dropped down on the chair across from Lottie. 

“Where’s Oswald then?” Levi asked, opening the window and perching on the ledge, as he lit a cigarette.

“Couldn’t be fucked, to quote him,” Lacie said. Narrowing her eyes, she pointed at Domi and Jeanne, raising an eyebrow along with a quizzical glance. “I’m not imagining things. You two are being clingier than usual.” She smirked. “Is there something you’re not telling us~?”

“To be fair,” Lottie interjected, “this is fairly normal.”

The smirk which usually donned Domi’s lips widened. Jeanne, on the other hand, was a blushing mess, desperately glancing up to Domi for guidance.

“Well…” Jeanne stammered. “We, um… w-“

“Yep! We’re dating~!”

Whilst they wanted to say congratulations, or ‘wow, that’s amazing!’… this really wasn’t a surprise.

“Congrats,” Lottie snickered, “Haha. Lesbian.”

“I’ll have you know I’m bisexual,” Domi corrected, her hand slipping down the Jeanne’s thigh. “Tits are just better.”

Lacie sighed from across the two, who promptly began debating which was better out of dicks and tits. A conversation which Levi seemed to want to weigh in on a concerning amount.

“So, Jeanne,” she asked, “How did this come about?”

“Well… we both arranged blind dates earlier this week, coincidentally on the same night as each other, and then… it was with each other,” Jeanne explained, the thought of it sending blood rushing to her face. “So we… went out to dinner together, as a date.”

“What happened from there?” Lacie grinned. She could see where this story was going to end.

“I asked her out,” Domi answered, leaving Levi and Lottie alone to flirt, now that their debate had come to an end.

“I-I confessed first…” Jeanne added.

Proudly, Domi winked. “My seduction plan worked.”

Lacie didn’t have the nerve to challenge Domi on that one. Instead, she simply cocked an eyebrow judgementally.

Lottie, on the other hand, had no qualms asking what they were all thinking. “So, you fucked already?”

“Of course!” Domi said, somewhat defensively, her grip on Jeanne’s thigh tightening. “First dates exist for the sole purpose of hooking up, right?”

“For once,” Lottie said with a smirk, “I agree with you.”

It was the third night this week Vanitas had agreed to meet up in secret with Leo, and he still couldn’t believe he’d met him.

Needless to say, Vanitas felt like shit after last night. Him and Noé had barely spoken to each other at college today. Sure, he shouldn’t have stormed off, and the guilt from that was irritating. But what weighed him down and constantly ate at his conscience was the fact Noé knew about the drugs.

Hence, he was meeting Leo. Talking things out with the one person who could empathise the most would surely be damn-near therapeutic.

He lit a cigarette, mindlessly dragging on the smoke as he leant against the smoke.

Eventually – 5 minutes late – Leo arrived. As usual, the first thing the two did was pull each other into a tight hug. Sure, it might’ve been how Vanitas also greeted his boyfriend, but it wasn’t the same. It didn’t mean anything unless they were romantically involved.

“You okay?” Vanitas asked, tilting his head at the other, who seemed weirdly distracted. He inhaled on the cigarette, pulling away from Leo.

“Hm,” Leo grunted, his eyes fixing on the plumes of smoke for a fraction of a second.

“Jeez, ok,” Vanitas sighed, “What happened?”

Glancing down at the ground, Leo furrowed his eyebrows, seemingly reluctant to say anything but answering nonetheless. “I ran out of cigarettes last night. My foster sister was being a stubborn shit and didn’t lend me any money. And I’ve had the shittiest day ever, thanks for asking, and it’s been over 24 hours since my last smoke.”

“Shit, all day?” Vanitas winced internally. “You must be desperate.” Without hesitation, he extended the half burnt-out cigarette to Leo. “Take it; I’ll roll another.”

Leo clearly didn’t want to say it, but from the way he took the cigarette gratefully and inhaled like his life depended on it, Vanitas could tell that – in that moment – he genuinely needed it. Whilst rolling and lighting another for himself, he simply waiting in silence for a few moments.

Then, he spoke again. “You couldn’t borrow money from Elliot?”

Inhaling on the cigarette again, Leo shook his head. “No. He doesn’t know. He’d probably break up with me if he found out, too.”

“You wouldn’t quit for him?”

“Fuck no,” Leo said, screwing his face up as he flicked the ash off the cigarette. “I started when I was like 12. I’m not stopping now.”

“Wait, seriously?” Vanitas found himself gawking over that little addition. Not even he could compete with that.

“Mhm,” Leo nodded, albeit sheepishly. “It was when I was in-between foster homes. There was about a month during which I was in the care home with a few slightly older guys, and I got involved with them. By the time I was taken into my current foster home, I’d already made a habit out of it.”

“Woah,” was all Vanitas could bring himself to say. “I always thought Noé would be more annoyed than he was. I think he was more curious, at first. Now he just accepts it. A little bit like with the tongue piercing.”

“Elliot is just… judgemental,” Leo frowned, sucking the life from the cigarette before grinding it out with his foot, tucking his arms beside his chest. “He can’t know about any of what goes on outside of college. That’d be the end of us. He already pries too much about my biological parents, and… why I’m in foster care.”

“He doesn’t know about that?”

Wordlessly, Leo paused, then shook his head.

“Fairs. Noé is too soft to ask about that,” Vanitas snickered. His grin, however, soon faded, morphing into a resentful scowl. “There’s this girl we hang out with – Florence – who’s like, two years younger. She’s the only difficult friend I have. I hate her.”

There was a brief moment of silence, during which Leo’s head whipped up, and he stared blankly at the other. “Pink hair? Doing A levels early? Always wears over-sized shirts?”

“Uh, yeah…” Vanitas said uneasily, “Why?”

“Mhm. Yeah, Flo.” Leo’s expression conveyed a whole array of emotions. “That’s my foster sister you’re talking about.”

“Shit, really? Sorry. I hate her.”

“Don’t apologise. We both do,” Leo chuckled lightly; although forced. “She’s irritating, and explosive. We both are. She’s the only other person who knows about the smoking, and that tends to be the root of most of our arguments. The most annoying thing is that she actually cares about me, I think. She pries for information like Elliot does.” He continued shuffling the dirt around beneath his feet, refusing eye contact. “Did… you never realise she was in foster care?”

“Well, she mentioned it, but…” Vanitas paused to drag on the cigarette, before pulling out the loose tobacco and rolling a second for the other. “I guess it never really clicked? She never mentions having a foster brother.”

“I’m surprised.” Leo, once again, gratefully accepted the cigarette, lighting it like it was his last lifeline. “I’m also surprised she doesn’t tell Elliot stuff he’s… not supposed to know.” He paused for a few moments. “But she… she doesn’t know about the drugs.”

For a minute, Vanitas simply stared in contemplation at Leo. “Your relationship seems so much more… difficult than mine. Noé is like a puppy. He’s easy, and incredibly simple to satisfy.”

“Yeah.” Leo deadpanned through a cloud of smoke. “Elliot is… the opposite, you see.”

“Man, I hope things get better for you…” Vanitas exhaled. “Noé can’t know about the drugs, though. Particularly after what happened to Louis. It would break him. And he already knows too much.”


Sure enough, the guilt returned to the forefront of Vanitas’ mind. “He sort of knows about the drugs now. Experimentation, in his eyes. I don’t know how long it’ll be before he wants to know more.”

“I don’t even want to think about what Elliot would do, or say, or think.” Leo paused, pacing back a fourth a little. “He might be a pain in the ass, but… I’m not ready to lose him yet.”

“That’s…” Vanitas was, for once, totally lost for words. “I… hope things get a little easier for you.”

“Yeah…” Leo smiled. The smile was completely forced, though. “Me too.”         

Chapter Text

Just once – just once – Reim would’ve liked Break to show up to college on time.

Unfortunately, he had no control over the other. He wasn’t his parent (not that Break listened to his parents much more, and everyone knew that), and he didn’t have the same connection to him that Sharon did. Still, though, they only had to show up to tutor once a week. Surely it couldn’t be too hard just to show up?

At the very least, Reim was able to get on with his practice essay in peace without listening to Break whining about how he had to re-sit his Physics and Sociology mocks, albeit the room was fairly noisy. Most students seemed numb to the fact they had actual exams in less than two months.

After ten minutes of intense study, Break finally rocked up, dragging himself into the classroom, acknowledging that the seat next to Reim was the only place left, and reluctantly approaching him. Reim, of course, knew that it was best he didn’t react right now, choosing to instead watch from his peripheral vision. The aura from Break was off-putting, but what was even more off-putting was the faint smell of alcohol and smoke which clung to him.

His hood hung over his face, Break slumped his head against the table, not catching even a glimpse of the stern expression glare directed at him.

With an audible huff, Reim dropped his pen, and yanked the hood off Break’s head. “You’re hungover again.”

Groggily, Break peeled his face off the table, gave a wry smile, before dropping the façade all together. “A liiiittle bit~”

“Where were you last night?” Reim interrogated. “Need I remind you that it was a Monday night? Where would you possibly have wanted to go on a Monday night?”

“Relax, Reim,” Break groaned, leaning his head on his elbow and sighing exhaustedly. “I was only at the bar with a few friends from my Chemistry, that’s all.”

’Only’,” Reim retorted sarcastically. He sniffed. “Have you been smoking?”

“Hm,” Break hummed as he fiddled with his septum ring. “Socially.”

“Give me your bag,” Reim said. Really, he couldn’t be bothered with Break already. “I don’t trust you.”

Break, reluctantly, hauled his bag off the floor, and dumped it on Reim’s lap, before planting his face back onto the table.

Aside from the concern at the lack of books and paper and completed assignments, there wasn’t much to spark interrogation. Spare the pack of cigarettes, that was, which were promptly held up. “Really, Xerx?”

Sitting up again, Break shrugged. “They’re not mine.”

“Good,” Reim said, pocketing them himself. “Because you’re not getting them back.”

Too exhausted to argue, the other simply rolled his eyes. Slapping a hand over his forehead, he winced at the light, snatching the bag back off Reim and retrieving the water bottle.

It was discrete, but Reim still saw the slight grimace which tugged across Break’s face when he sipped on the water.


Oh shit. The realisation hit Reim like a train. That’s not water.

“I’ll be taking that too,” he said in a haste, grabbing the bottle from Break’s clasp before he could even comprehend what he’d said. He frowned, sniffing the bottle. Which was, sure enough, not filled with water. “Seriously, Xerx? This is pure vodka in here.”

Break tried to laugh it off. “Hair of the dog method, you see~”

“That’s called alcoholism.” Reim deadpanned.

Sure enough, Break resumed sulking a moment later. He snorted. “Hardly.”

To Reim, however, this little revelation felt like a stab in the back. Surely – surely – his drinking alone couldn’t be the reason Break had distanced himself so much.


“Is this what’s been going on with you lately?” Reim asked. It was interrogative, but with sincerity laced into his words all the same.

The pause between the question and the answer was… concerning, to say the least; it made Reim wonder if this was truly the problem to begin with.

“Ok, ok, confession time: I may have been drinking a little more than usual recently. Exam stress, and such,” Break chimed, the hangover still audibly weighing him down nonetheless. “But rest assured, Reim, I have this totally under control. I am promise you I am fine.”

Reim wasn’t buying it.

But he didn’t want to lose trust completely. He didn’t want to exercise the thought that Break had been hiding a drinking problem for who-knows-how-long. And he couldn’t fathom what would happen if he ended up shipped off to rehab and thrown into withdrawal, a mere couple of months before his A Levels. Because, now that it had an explanation, the light trembling in Break’s hands made him flat-out nauseous.

“Tell me honestly, Xerx,” he said, “If you had to, right now… could you stop?”

The hesitation in his response made Reim’s blood run cold.

But as usual, Break replied – cheerfully as ever – after a few seconds contemplation. “Of course!”

“Good.” Reim picked up the pen, signalling the end of that discussion. “Then stop now, before I tell Sharon about this, and send you to rehab.”


No response.


Still nothing.


“Hold on,” Gilbert muttered in response. Oz sighed, and gave a fake pout, but Gilbert showed no remorse. “Let me finish this question.”

With another audible huff, Oz gave up for the time being, sinking against the wall and glancing back down at his textbook. It was just a blur of words at this point; nothing was going in.

The college day had ended about 45 minutes ago. But, as per usual, Oz wanted to find any excuse possible not to go home. Unfortunately, Alice had detention, but on the bright side of things, Gilbert had agreed to stay with him, and Alice would no doubt want to go out and get food once her detention was over.

Gilbert didn’t seem to want to stay, mind you. He probably did it out of pity. So, Oz let him focus on his work. (Provided he got a little attention every now and then.)

A few minutes later, Gilbert dropped the pen, picked up the mark scheme, and smiled.

“You work really hard at Physics,” Oz remarked, spinning around and face-planting the window sill.

“Well…” Gilbert stammered, shooting a confused glance at Oz before shaking it off. “It’s a hard subject, and I only got a C in the mock. And I… don’t think I’ll get an A in Business, so… if I want AAB, I need to get a… an A in this.”

“I’m sure Gil will get an A if he keeps working hard. Gil is realllllyyyy smart,” Oz chuckled, sitting up as Gil turned the page, and began working on the next question. “Hmm… maybe you could help Break sometime?”

Gilbert dropped the pen, and froze. He sighed, staring off into the distance, seemingly formulating what he was going to say. “Break is… stubborn. I can’t really help him. It’s like he’s… built a wall around himself. Even if he does understand something, he refuses to acknowledge that he actually does. And he just… gives up.” The air hung thick around them, but Gilbert wasn’t finished speaking. “But, I don’t think he wants to give up, because he gets frustrated when he can’t do it. Yet, at the same time, he seems to… straight-up refuse help from anyone to tries to help him, so he ends up just… going around in circles, I guess.”

Oz had never heard of that side of Break before. And yet, he couldn’t say it surprised him. “Hm…”

“You know…” Gilbert said, “You should look out for yourself sometimes…”

The blonde said nothing. He glanced down, wordlessly, and pulled his sleeves over his wrists.

“You… seem to have been talking to Break a lot recently, that’s all…” Gilbert continued, “And I just… please don’t forget about yourself too. I… don’t want you to hurt yourself, by stressing over things you can’t control, you know?”

“Yeah, thanks Gil.” Oz couldn’t hold back the slight smile tugging at his lips. “I promise.”

His chest ached. It was a blatant lie, and he knew it. Stressing over things he couldn’t control was the only thing Oz could ever bring himself to do. That, and hurting himself.

“You know…” he snickered, grinning deviously. “I could say the same to you, Gil.”


Without warning, Oz leapt forward, reached past Gilbert’s shoulder, and swiped the pack of cigarettes from his jacket pocket.

“Wait, don’t-!” Gilbert tried to stop him. Unfortunately, he was a couple of seconds too late; by the time he caught up to what had actually happened, Oz had already found the cigarettes, and was now tossing the box up and down. He stared nonchalantly at Gil, making his reaction totally unreadable if it wasn’t for the eyebrow raised in judgement.

Gilbert, flustered from the initial panic, tried desperately to muster up an excuse. After five seconds, however, he gave up, sinking forward and exhaling again. “Sorry. I should’ve told you. But I… was worried you’d be… disappointed.”

Oz kept his stern stare for another few seconds, before breaking into a grin and chuckling. “Hehe, I’m not going to judge you, Gil.” He snickered again. “Besides, it was obvious.”

“Sorry…” Gilbert apologised again. “T-That was… Break’s fault, too…”

“Break, huh?” Oz quipped. He pondered for a moment, before asking, “Does Break smoke too?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah.” Gilbert stared at him blankly. “I thought people… generally knew that?”

“Eh, no,” Oz said bluntly. “Hehe, I think you’ve just exposed him.”

“O-Oh…” Gilbert murmured. “P-Pretend I didn’t tell you that, please…”

“Alllllright~” Oz handed back the cigarettes, picking up his phone and checking the time. “You know… there’s still 15 minutes before Alice gets out, so you could sneak one now…”

“Uh? I-It’s fine, honestly,” Gilbert stammered. In truth, he felt stupidly exposed. Particularly since he’d somewhat lied to Oz. But he didn’t want Oz to think any less of him than he probably already did. “I-I’m not like Vince. I can… go without.”

“Hm… how are things with him now?”

Gilbert glanced down, hoping they’d avoid that topic. “I… don’t want to talk about it.”

“Hmm. Fine.”

The two fell into an awkward silence for the next 10 minutes, Oz face-planting the textbook whilst Gilbert carried on with his work.

Neither of them spoke a single word to each other from then on; what broke the silence was Alice, bounding down the corridor and launching herself onto Oz’s back.


“I’m out!” Alice screeched, sliding off Oz before screwing her face up. “It’s really gloomy here! What the hell happened?” She turned to Gilbert. “Oi! Have you upset Oz or somethin’?!”

Oz and Gilbert exchanged awkward glances for a second, before chuckling.

“He hasn’t hurt me, Alice,” Oz sighed. He smiled; Alice always made him smile, purely with her stupidity. “Ah, are we still good to go and grab food somewhere?”

“Of course!” Alice yelled, as excitable as usual. “I’m starving!”

“Gil?” Oz asked, nudging the other with a smirk. “Hehe, we need a lift anyway.”

“I don’t start work until six, so…” Gilbert would’ve preferred to revise, but he couldn’t say no to Oz. A break might do them all some good. “Yeah, I’m in.”

Oz smiled, and discreetly exhaled a sigh of relief as they headed out to the car park; for once, he had an actual reason to stay out later than usual.

Vincent was crafty. And he knew that.

Crafty, and risky. Stupid was what his brother called it, but Gilbert wasn’t here right now. It had just passed 8pm, and although a rarity, his parents were home; that was hardly going to stop Vincent sneaking outside to the front of the house for his usual nicotine fix.

Besides, he was expecting someone.

And sure enough, a few minutes later, Vincent spotted his guest strutting down the pavement to his house, the heels of her boots clicking against the gravel as she approached him; the usual smirk donning her lips.

“Good evening,” Vincent said in a whisper, sucking the life from the cigarette and dropping it on the ground, before taking two steps forward and wrapping an arm around her waist. Lips planted onto hers, he kissed her lightly once, and then slid his tongue past her lips.

Lottie smirked into the kiss; Ada was lucky if she was getting this on a daily basis.

… but Ada didn’t need to know about this.

Pulling away, Lottie’s mouth dropped open to speak, but before she could, Vincent placed a finger over her lips. “Shh.”

With the hand not on her waist, Vincent pulled out the keys to Gilbert’s car, which he mistakenly left behind. And, although sceptical, Lottie didn’t say anything as she climbed into the passenger seat and allowed Vincent to start the engine.

“Do you even have your driver’s license?” She cocked an eyebrow suspiciously.

Putting the car in reverse, Vincent grinned. “Provisional.” His grin widened. “But I’m sure Gilbert won’t mind me borrowing his car whilst he’s at work.”

“I beg to differ,” Lottie muttered under her breath, as Vincent pulled out onto the road. “Where are we going?”

“A hotel, somewhere; I don’t want to disturb Gil, you see,” Vincent answered, “I also don’t want anyone getting the wrong idea about us.”

“I mean, you are cheating on your girlfriend.” A smirk soon tugged at Lottie’s lips. “But it’s with me, so I can understand your dilemma~”

“You get plenty from this too.” Vincent smiled in response.

The drive to the hotel on the other side of town took no longer than ten minutes. The receptionist gave Vincent a strange glance when he handed her a credit card, but she didn’t question it fortunately.

“How are you paying for this?” Lottie questioned when Vincent took her hand and led her to their designated room. “You know I would have paid. I’m loaded.”

“I appreciate the offer, but that won’t be necessary.” The smirk donning Vincent’s lips, somehow, grew even more devious, as he held up the credit card he’d paid on. “This is my parents’ card, you see.”

“Daring~” Lottie chimed, seduction laced into her words as Vincent pushed open the door to their room. “I like that in a man.”

“I’ll give you my best.”

The second after he spoke those words, Vincent grabbed her by the shoulders, spun her around, and pushed her backwards, the two collapsing onto the mattress in sync. One hand sliding down Lottie’s crop-top, he slowly clambered over her, his legs straddling her hips. Unhooking her bra, Vincent stripped her of her top entirely, before shrugging the leather jacket off his shoulders.

He leant down, feeling her smirk against the kiss. He knew she liked it a little rougher (and better) than he gave it to Ada. Whilst his left hand cupped the side of her face, bringing it closer to him as he slipped his tongue past her lips, his right hand snuck down to her mini-skirt. Sliding his fingers over the hem of her thong, Vincent grinned into the kiss, pulling down the fabric and flinging it over his shoulder.

His arousal pressing into the side of her thigh, Lottie eventually got the hint, her false nails dragging temptingly down his arm before reaching his pants. Swiftly, she undid the zipper, pulling down his jeans as he hoisted her up.

Right when Lottie tugged down his pants entirely, Vincent groped blindly at the wall and switched the lights off. Neither of them got around to closing the curtains; anyone who happened to glance in on this action should consider themselves lucky.

As usual, though… this was entirely a secret, just between the two of them.

To them, Ada needn’t know about any of it.

In her 16 years of being alive, Flo couldn’t remember a time when she actually liked herself.

It had always been small, trivial things. Some could be attributed to what her previous relatives said to her; some things just felt like deep-rooted discomfort, which she could never put a label to. It just wasn’t right. And that was that.

Flo had gradually learned to move on with her life, albeit sometimes, she had bad days. And this just so happened to be one of them.

The time was already reaching 10pm, which felt stupid when she’d wasted the last half an hour searching for something to wear which didn’t make her uncomfortable. (Well, more uncomfortable than standing in the mirror – regardless of what she was wearing – felt.)  

So far, it was unsuccessful – as indicated by the ridiculous pile of t-shirts thrown onto her bed.

All Flo was trying to do was pick a goddamn outfit for tomorrow. But everything she tried on, from jumpers to t-shirts, were all… bad. For whatever reason, she hated them. Everything looked stupid on her. It was either too tight, or it was shaped strangely. Either way, after half an hour, all she’d achieved was a huge mountain of rejects, and the feeling she could cry at any minute.

“Stupid…” she muttered to herself, almost inaudibly. Her chest ached; the only way to stop the tears welling in her eyes was to stop what she was doing, inhale, exhale, and then open her eyes again.

She still wasn’t happy. Tears relentlessly began to brim in her eyes, and this time, an irritated sniff and wipe of the eyes still wasn’t enough to get rid of them.

Reluctantly, Flo gave up; jeans and an over-sized hoodie would have to suffice… even if it was going to be 20 degrees.

Throwing the clothes onto her floor, Flo quickly got dressed into her pyjamas, before sliding into bed and curling up into a ball. Her knees pressed tightly into her chest, and even though it hurt, it felt most comfortable.

After letting a few last tears drip down her cheeks, she finally sat up again, picking up her book and opening the page with the folded over corner. It was book called “If I Was Your Girl.” Flo had seen it mentioned somewhere on Tumblr a few weeks ago, and was captivated by the summary and reviews alone.

… not that that meant anything, of course.

She was only reading for two minutes before her chest began to tighten again, and tears began to well in her eyes, dripping over her eyelids and pouring down her cheeks in a seemingly endless stream. Naturally, the book fell from her hands, closing the page she was on.

Everything felt so… overwhelming. Her thoughts and feelings all going a billion miles an hour made her head spin.

Flo didn’t know how much time passed before the door clicked open, her mother peaking around into her room.

“I heard you were upset,” she said softly, her voice a whisper; the other kids must be in bed by now.

“I was silent.” Flo sniffed, picking up her phone and discretely opening Tumblr.

“I know. Leo told me,” she explained, stepping past the threshold into her room fully. “He said he heard crying. Do you want to talk about it?”

Son of a bitch, Flo cursed internally. “No. Go away.”

“Flo, I’m trying to help-“

“Get out!” she screamed. The moment the look of fear and shock spread across her mother’s face, a pang of guilt shot through her. But before she could apologise, her mother turned away, closing the door silently.

Inhaling deeply, Flo tried to revert her focus to her phone. Namely, Tumblr.

Tumblr, unfortunately, was not particularly helpful right now. Each time she read another stupid pride post, she was left with the same irritating question to herself.

What if – and that wasn’t to say it was set in stone and fated by the entire fucking universe and it was unchangeable – but what if she was trans? Then what?

It wasn’t something Flo liked to think too much about. She hated overthinking it, because each time she did, she got a little closer to reaching an answer; an answer she didn’t like, all because this stupid discomfort which stuck on her conscience 24/7 never really left her alone to think rationally about this.

And nights like these were becoming concerningly frequent as of late.

With tears still streaming down her face, Flo closed Tumblr, and loaded up the messages with the only friend she felt she had any grounds to trust.

[To Roland (aka jesus), 22:49]
I’m sorry for pushing you away when I know something is wrong

The second after she’d sent the message, Flo regretted her decision.

But, in his own ways, Roland had always been there. Further demonstrating that was the fact he messaged back within a minute.

[From Roland (aka jesus), 22:49]
You can talk to me about it anytime. I will always be here to listen.

[To Roland (aka jesus), 22:50]
Sorry, I panicked

[To Roland (aka jesus), 22:50]
I don’t want to talk about it yet

The next message truly reminded her why Roland was, all in all, a good person.

[From Roland (aka jesus), 22:52]
That’s ok. I’ll be here to listen, and listen only, when you need me to listen.

Soon enough, her eyes were glazed by tears once again. Eventually, with tears still trailing down her cheeks and her phone still clutched in her hand, Flo fell asleep.

Gilbert was sick of his brother at this point. He was sick of him randomly disappearing. He was sick of him avoiding the little responsibilities he had. He was sick of lying to their parents about where he’d gone.

Above all, though, he was sick of getting home from work at 9:30pm, and finding his car, keys, and their parents’ credit card gone.

He hadn’t even tried to cover for him this time. There was no point. If Vincent wanted to explain where he was, with Gilbert’s car, then he could. Obviously, though, he didn’t want to explain himself, because it was 1am, and he had yet to return.

Only half an hour ago had their parents finally given up waiting for him to return, and gone to sleep, worrying about where he was. And the guilt was eating Gilbert alive; he shouldn’t have left his keys at home, particularly when this wasn’t the first time he’d pulled this stunt.

Finally, though, the house was quiet, and Gilbert took the opportunity to sneak downstairs for a smoke. It wasn’t until the pack of cigarettes was clutched in his hand and he was almost outside that Gilbert remembered how much he needed one; he hadn’t smoked since that morning, and the situation with Vincent certainly didn’t help him.

Speaking of Vincent, the front door clicked open a second later.

“Vince,” Gilbert whispered aggressively. He really didn’t have the energy or willpower to deal with him right now. “Give me back my keys.”


There it was.

He was stoned.

“My keys, Vince,” Gilbert sighed, “You have my car keys.”

“Ah, yes.” Vincent’s focus seemed non-existent. He blindly groped at his pocket for a few moments, before pulling out the keys and dropping them in Gilbert’s hand.

“You’re walking tomorrow,” Gilbert deadpanned, blatantly unimpressed. “Where even were you?”

The grin which tugged across Vincent’s lips, as he turned towards the stairs, made him feel sick. “I think it’s best you don’t know.”

“Vince, you can’t get away with being stupid and irresponsible forever.” He felt his cool slipping from his control; frustration welled within him further. “And you’re being reckless! I-“

“Gil, please don't shout at me. I'm currently very high right now and nothing you say is sinking in.”

“I…” Gilbert stammered. Then, his heart sunk. “Just… got upstairs.”

It pissed him off, because nothing – not even the fact he’d clearly upset his family – could wipe that stupid grin from Vincent’s face.

“Okay, Gil. Goodnight.”

In honesty, Gilbert felt numb at this point. Because if he thought more about it, the more it weighed down on him. He was sure he held his breath right until he was outside, and the cigarette was lit in his hand.

And if his night couldn’t get any worse, one slip of the hand when he loaded WhatsApp landed him in the chat with Oz.

Oz, who was – at 1am – still online.

Gilbert didn’t want to care. He didn’t want to beat himself up over it.

… with that in mind, he sent him a message.

[To Oz, 01:09]
is there a particular reason youre still up?

The five-minute interval between him sending the message and receiving a reply was a little… off-putting.

[From Oz, 01:14]
talking to Break

[From Oz, 01:14]
i know he wouldn’t want me to tell you any of this but

[From Oz, 01:15]
i really think he’s dealing with a lot more than he’s letting on

Despite how passive aggressive it might have sounded, Gilbert left him on ‘read’. Because, as much as he cared about Break and all, he could only wish for Oz to look out for himself first.

Chapter Text

“Oh, hey Oz, I thought you’d be-“


“Uh, o-“


Gilbert had definitely felt more welcomed by Oz than this before.

Lunch had just started, and as always, he’d expected to find Oz waiting in the canteen. So, it was definitely surprising to find him hiding behind a row of lockers, spying on the exit to the Geography classroom.

“Why are we here?” Gilbert whispered, finally playing along with Oz’s spying game.

“Look!” Oz shout-whispered, gesturing at the benches opposite the door to Geography.

Gilbert blinked. “I don’t see anyth- oh.”

It was Alice, and… Jack?

“I didn’t know Alice and Jack were friends…”

“They’re not,” Oz said. It was discreet, but if you tried hard enough, you could hear the disdain woven into his tone. “I didn’t think so, at least…”


“I mean… I knew someone was helping her with Geography,” Oz whispered, waving at the textbook open on Jack’s lap. “But I never knew who it was!”

“Well…” Gilbert stammered. He probably should’ve tried harder to do so, but as far as he could see, there was no issue with the current situation: Alice might not get a U in the end, and Oz could focus on himself for once. “That’s… a-a good thing, right?”

“Ah… well…” Nervously, Oz scratched the side of his head, responding with an uneasy laugh. “I… don’t really trust Jack.”

“Hm?” Gilbert cocked his head slightly. “I didn’t think you and him had ever really… spoken?”

“We haven’t, but… I don’t know. He’s, ah, always the one caught up in the scandals, and he starts a lot of drama. And… I’m not sure. I just get this… weird vibe from him. And it know it’s a little mean because, well… as I said, we’ve never really spoken, but I guess I-“

“I didn’t know you were involved with Jack.”

The moment Gilbert and Oz both heard that voice, they physically jolted, and leapt forward, turning around and sure enough spotting the source of the voice: Vincent.

“Vincent, what the hell are you doing here?” Gilbert sighed. He sighed, so heavily, because really, he was so done with Vincent’s bullshit.

The smile he earned from Vincent in response was sickening. “I was only walking by, and I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. And I wondered, Oz, because I never knew you and Jack spoke a lot. That’s all.”

Oz, his body frozen stiff, could only crack a forced smile out of politeness, as he averted his gaze to the floor and replied. “Well, I don’t, but…”

“Please do not worry about it,” Vincent smiled, somehow seeming more and more off-putting than before with each word he said. “Oz, you should see this as a positive change. Now, you have no reason to keep helping Alice with her Geography, correct?”

It also seemed that, with every word, Oz edged back an inch, and his focus deviated further from Vincent. Internally, Gilbert was scratching his head over what caused him to panic so much, but asking would only stir problems.

For both his and Oz’s sake, the most he could do was try to get rid of Vincent.

“What did you want, Vince?” he asked through an irritated sigh.

“I was wondering if you had a spare cigarette,” Vincent said, “I’ve run out, you see.”

It irked Gilbert immensely, because if Oz hadn’t found out about that only a week ago, he would’ve been exposed. Albeit Oz’s attention was currently elsewhere; he wasn’t listening to a word of what was going on.

Reluctantly – and only for the sake of getting rid of him – Gilbert discreetly slipped out his pack of smokes, and pulled out a singular stick, dropping it in the palm of Vincent’s expectant hand.

“Thank you, Gil,” Vincent said, pocketing the cigarette. And what irritated Gilbert even further was that he couldn’t even tell if Vincent was being sincere or not.

“Buy your own next time,” Gilbert said under his breath, slipping into the space between Vincent and Oz. “Please go now.”

“Alright,” Vincent smiled. He smiled that stupid, innocent, patronising smile that Gilbert felt the insatiable urge to slap off his face. Still, though, he left, leaving Gilbert to uselessly ponder on what terrible crimes he must’ve committed in his previous life to deserve Vincent as a brother.

Once he’d finally disappeared, Gilbert exhaled a huge sigh of relief, before turning back to Oz.

It was weird, and almost concerning how distant Oz had grown across the space of a few minutes. His gaze was locked on a single point in the corner of the floor, and his eyes were almost doubled in size. Despite the stillness in his expression, though, his breathing seemed panicked.

Gilbert hadn’t seen Oz like this in a long time.

“Oz?” he said, his words soft, but still making Oz wince slightly. “Are you… okay?”

Oz couldn’t bring himself to respond at first.

His head was spinning. Adrenaline coursed through his veins at a terrifying rate. Thoughts and emotions overwhelmed him, leading to a tightening sensation in his chest and nausea stirring furiously in the pit of his stomach.

Five seconds later, and he was able to just about pull himself from his trance, and fake a smile at Gilbert. “Yeah, I’m fine, Gil.”

“A-Are you sure?” Gilbert asked, blatantly unconvinced. “It’s just… you seemed really unsettled when Vince was h-here…”

“Yeah.” Oz gave a sheepish chuckle, despite the sickness in his stomach persisting to grow. “I just… don’t really trust Jack, or Vincent. At all, really. Sorry Gil.”

“D-Don’t apologise,” Gilbert sighed, “Really. I… sometimes he drives me insane.”

Oz knew Gilbert continued speaking after that. The faint murmur echoed in the back of his mind repeatedly, but he couldn’t sharpen his attention for long enough to actually listen. All he could focus his attention on was the nausea sitting like a rock, and desperately trying to wipe that certain face from his mind.

“Oz? Are you with me?”

One lurch of his insides later, and Oz knew he was going to be sick.

“Yeah. I-I’ll be right back,” he said hastily, trying to hide the trembling in his words. It wasn’t working, but Oz didn’t have time to settle Gilbert’s worrying; his top priority, in that moment, was staggering to the bathroom.

When he got there, it was empty, thankfully – spare Break, that was. He was stood at the sink, his hair a dishevelled mess like it had just been tied up as he washed his hands thoroughly.

At first, they ignored each other, Oz proceeding to the sink at the end of the row and splashing a handful of cold water over his face. He inhaled deeply, and then exhaled, trying to regulate his breathing. But every attempt at calming himself down was futile when the image of that person’s face was still clear in his head.

By no means had he composed himself, but after another minute, Oz finally felt like he could speak without puking. Straightening up slightly, he tilted his head to the side, making brief eye contact with Break before speaking. “Before or after?”

With a brief hum, Break readjusted his glasses, and then answered. “After.”

Oz went to nod, but all of a sudden, he was met with one final wave of nausea, causing him to gag before darting towards one of the stalls. He didn’t get a chance to close the door or give himself any privacy, as he immediately collapsed onto the floor and hung his head over the bowl.

If he had eyes at the back of his head, Oz knew he’d see Break, staring questioningly at him, but he was too pre-occupied with his stomach emptying itself to care about what Break (of all people) had to think about this.

Then, he fell silent, inhaling deeply through his nose to suppress the nausea. A nagging thought at the back of his mind made him question how the hell Break willingly engaged in this. He exhaled, shakily, but the sickness didn’t leave.

“Is that it?” Break asked, traipsing over to the other almost silently.

Wordlessly, Oz shook his head, heaving again.

“Kneel, and hunch,” Break said, his words strangely calming, as he grabbed Oz by the collar, hoisted him up, before pulling his hair away from his face. “And keep your stomach above your head. Gravity pulls it down; it’ll make this easier.”

The fact alone that Break’s techniques genuinely worked made Oz feel even more sick.

“Tilt your head more,” he added calmly, rubbing circles around the blonde’s back, “and breathe. Breathe in when you gag.”

Through strained gagging, Oz attempted to nod. And eventually, after another five minutes, it was over, and he was left dry heaving painfully.

“Thank you…” he breathed out; his elbow leant on the toilet seat holding his head up as he pressed a hand to his forehead.

Break, turning away from the stall, said nothing, simply retracing his steps to the sink, before washing his hands once again.

“It scares me…” Oz added, “because you’re so… good at this?”

“Experience. What else can I say?” Break quipped. But his words were significantly less enthusiastic than usual, as he checked the time on his phone – slightly annoyed – and frowned. “I need to go.”

“Where?” Oz questioned, standing up and wavering a little as he made his way to the sink, wiping his mouth. “It’s only the beginning of lunch.”

“Hmm, yes, but I have a Physics paper three resit to do now,” Break said, “So I’m afraid I have to go do that now.”

“Oh…” Oz stammered, averting his gaze to his still trembling hands. “Well… are you still okay to talk after school?”

“Should be,” Break answered, spinning around to the door whilst fiddling with his septum ring and readjusting his glasses. “Go to the library. My exam is two and a half hours.”

“Alright,” Oz muttered, smiling weakly at him. “Thanks Break.”

Break didn’t reply.

With an audible sigh, Oz turned around, headed back towards the bathroom stall, and wiped away the tears before pulling out his razor.

It only took until the end of the day for Oz to start feeling genuinely embarrassed about what happened earlier.

For one, he didn’t see Gilbert for the rest of lunch. After calming down with his usual method, Oz had retreated to the library, burying his face in his textbook. (His father had wanted better grades, after all.)

Not only that, but Break seemed… pissed off. Of course, partially based off what he’d learnt last week, Oz had his suspicions of why. But above all, Break would want an explanation eventually. Passing it off as food poisoning or a virus unfortunately wasn’t going to work so grandly this time.

Now, it was slowly creeping up to 4pm. Oz was fairly certain his father didn’t want him home early today, but then again, he was also certain his father had probably blocked him on his phone. So, despite Alice and Gilbert having to go straight home, Oz stayed at school, and waited for Break.

Originally, he’d been trying to revise Biology, but after a mere 15 minutes, he gave up, slumping his head against the table and instead scrolling through his phone, staring at memes.

He was exhausted; both physically and emotionally. Talking about his problems to Break was the last thing he wanted right now. Maybe he could be the listener for once. It wasn’t like he wasn’t used to that, after all.

Speaking of which, Oz was fairly certain Break should have finished by now. Granted, it was a two-and-a-half-hour paper, but he should’ve finished a little after half past three.

[To Break, 15:53]
done yet?

A few minutes later, he got a reply.

[From Break, 15:57]

Oz started typing his reply, but before he could send it, Break’s next messages came through.

[From Break, 15:57]
go to smoking shelter

[From Break, 15:57]
need a quick one first

In that moment, Oz couldn’t help but chuckle; he was either really desperate, or he’d somehow figured out that Gilbert had accidentally shared that tiny fact.

Taking his time, he packed up his things, before dragging himself down the stairs from the library, and across the courtyard. He’d never actually been to the smoking shelter; he’d never needed to. But still, every student knew where it was.

When he turned the corner, Break was already there, leant against the post holding up the shelter. He was trying to light the cigarette, despite the flickering lighter and the wind and rain. Eventually, right before Oz reached him, he succeeded, inhaling as if it were his last lifeline. Then, along with a stream of smoke exhaled through pursed lips, he pulled the cigarette away, balancing it between two fingers.

Weirdly, it reminded Oz of the time they smoked pot together.

Once Break realised Oz was staring, his mouth dropped open to speak, but before he could, Oz interjected.

“I already knew,” he said, “Uh, since yesterday, at least. Gilbert, um… dropped it. Accidentally.”

“Hm,” Break hummed, making brief eye contact with Oz before sucking on the cigarette once again. “I figured he might.”

“How did the… the resit go?” Oz asked, keeping up the idle talk, avoiding the commencement of a ten-minute awkward silence.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

His attempt failed.

The next five minutes proceeded in silence, Oz standing wordlessly in the rain whilst Break paced back and forth, desperately puffing on the cigarette to try and still his trembling hands. But they continued shaking, and Oz was left wondering if the nicotine was the only thing he was currently deprived of.

“Why… didn’t you say anything about it before?”

“Keeping it a secret was going alright, if you ask me.” Break shrugged as he tapped the ash off the cigarette, before puffing on it again.

“So why now, all of a sudden?”

Break hesitated at first, glancing down sheepishly. “You wanted to talk. That paper went terribly, and it was stressful. Combine that with the fact my lunch fix was hindered, and, aha, I’m sure you know how addiction works.”

“Yeah…” Oz felt a slightly pang of guilt, along with an urge to apologise. “Sorry.”

“Are you any better now?” Break asked, ignoring Oz’s apology all together.

“Yeah, thanks…” Oz murmured, praying that Break wouldn’t want to go into that now. Because, ultimately, Oz knew that he’d have to talk about it eventually, but now really wasn’t the time.

Dropping the cigarette on the ground, Break exhaled the last puff of smoke. He tucked his arms under his elbows, perching anxiously on the bench at the back of the shelter. “Why are we here again?”

“To discuss your drinking,” Oz said nonchalantly, watching with a raised eyebrow as Break pulled out a second cigarette and lit it. “And your smoking, it seems…”

“There’s nothing to discuss about this,” Break said pointedly. “It is what it is.”

“Are you not worried that… Reim will find out?”

He paused, dragged on the cigarette, and then shrugged. “I’ve kept the bulimia a secret.” The bluntness of his words was almost painful to hear. “Although… he unfortunately suspects I have a drinking problem.”

“Did you… tell him everything?”

Break didn’t answer. Instead, silence lingered.

Do you?” Oz asked. He had to, being unable to erase the image of his shaking hands from his head.

“Last Tuesday,” Break said simply, “he told me to stop.”

The tone of his words seemed laced with guilt. And ultimately, Oz was fairly certain he knew the answer to the question he was about to ask.

“Did you?”

Wordlessly, Break shook his head, his eyes covered by his hair, falling over his face.

“Anyway~” he chimed after the pause, shooting a sharp, interrogative but teasing glance at Oz. “Enough about me. Do tell me: what was earlier all about, hm?”

At that, Oz felt his heart freeze in his chest. He knew it was hypocritical, and selfish, but the thought of talking about it made him feel almost as sick as it did earlier.

“I…” he stuttered, “I know we agreed to be… to be truthful, but this… has nothing to do with the self-harm.”

Without saying anything, Break merely blinked at him. Inhaling on the cigarette, he thought about it for a few moments, before exhaling the smoke, dropping the half-smoked cigarette, and standing up. “If that’s everything, then, I suppose I’ll be going home now.”

Internally, Oz let out a sigh of relief. But still, the image of Break’s shaking hands persisted in his thoughts. “You’re not going home, are you? You’re going for a drink first.”

“Aha, you got me there~” Break quipped, throwing his arms up in a fake surrender. “In my defence, I… haven’t drank today yet.”

“That’s… good, I guess,” Oz said. Together, they turned away from the shelter, wandering back across the courtyard to the gates. And if only to confirm his suspicions, after saying goodbye, Break took off in the direction of the bar.

Oz sighed, feeling his phone vibrate in his pocket.

[From Xai, 16:01]
Where are you?

[From Xai, 16:02]
I instructed you to be home no later than 4pm.

[From Xai, 16:11]
Come home this instance.

The next notification sent his heart to his stomach.

4 missed call(s) from Xai

So, there was a curfew after all, and apparently, he wasn’t blocked; Oz was truly kicking himself for forgetting. With a deep sigh, he mentally braced himself for the impending punishment, before reluctantly setting off in the direction of the bus stop.

Sometimes, Vanitas fucking hated his life.

That wasn’t to say he wasn’t privileged or anything. In fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth. He lived in a decent three-storey house on the cusp of the good part of town, with an uncle who was filthy rich.

His uncle’s name was Ruthven, and they really, really didn’t get along. Ruthven was Vanitas’ late mother’s brother, and that alone was a sore spot between them. But what was even more of a sore spot between them was Vanitas being, well, Vanitas.

It was only 9:30pm, but the moment Vanitas heard the front door click open from his room, he grinned deviously, perching on his window sill as he lit the just rolled cigarette. The footsteps up the stairs sounded just as bitter as he imagined they would, particularly when Ruthven had almost certainly noticed by now that Vanitas had – yet again – ‘borrowed’ his credit card.

“Vanitas,” Ruthven called, pushing open the door to his bedroom and shooting a venomous glare the moment he saw him. “You know exactly what I’m going to say to you.”

Teasingly, Vanitas exhaled a puff of smoke out of the window. “Nope.”

“First of all, I have already told you not to smoke inside.”

“Hm, yeah,” Vanitas shrugged, dragging on the cigarette pointedly. “But I don’t give a shit.”

“Put it out,” Ruthven instructed, but the defiant grin from his nephew flaunted his disobedience, and he gave up on that battle for now. “What did you use my credit card for?”

“Only ordering pizza,” Vanitas groaned, the lingering silence implying he wasn’t done. “And beer.” He snorted, snickering under his breath. “And cigarettes.”

“When are you going to learn that being a spoilt brat will get you nowhere in life?” Ruthven sighed, furrowing his eyebrows. “You’re 18. You are incredibly lucky that, after everything, I still allow you under this roof.”

The fact that Vanitas knew he was pissing him off made him smile inside. He loved it. “So, you’d throw out the orphan? Wow, how thoughtless.”

“Your mother is not dead. You are not an orphan. Do not blackmail me,” Ruthven spat, “I am under no obligation to keep you under my roof. Legally, you are not my problem.”

“Ok,” Vanitas said, throwing the cigarette out the window. “So why haven’t you thrown me out yet, asshole?”

“Use that tone of disrespect with me and you’ll be on the streets tonight.”

Try me.”

“Stop,” Ruthven cut him off before Vanitas could slur the next insult. “You father would be ashamed if he saw you right now.”

That crossed the line.

“Who the fuck do you even think you are?” Vanitas snarled, grabbing his jacket from his desk chair and throwing it over his shoulders. His voice trembled in anger; Ruthven rarely brought his father into this. “You know nothing about my father. How dare you use him against me? You piece of shit-“

“Get out of my house this instance,” Ruthven said, stepping out of the way. “Do not come back until midnight, when I am asleep, and will not have to speak to you.”

“Fucking good, you ass,” Vanitas stormed past him, grabbing the bottle of vodka he had hidden in his school bag before kicking open the front door. Right before he left, he spun on his heel, stuck a finger up to Ruthven, and yelled, “Fuck you!”

His hands shook out of anger alone. And without even thinking about it, Vanitas pulled out his phone, and messaged the only person he could trust right now; the only person who he could speak to without wanting to break down at the mention of his father.

[To Leo, 21:39]
can u make it to the park

[To Leo, 21:39]
like now

The reply came within a minute.

[From Leo, 21:40]
yeah lemme just shoot

Without fail, Vanitas knew what that meant. So, he didn’t reply, instead setting off in the direction of the park. If Leo had dropped what he was doing to use and then meet him, he’d be there within ten minutes.

And sure enough, no more than ten minutes and one cigarette later, Leo showed up to the park, walking over to the swings where Vanitas was and lighting a fresh cigarette.

“Talk to me,” Leo said, perching on the swing next to him as he placed the cigarette back between his lips.

“It’s my shitty uncle again,” Vanitas droned. “I don’t know who the fuck he thinks he is to always bring my father into our conversations. But… I’m out of there now, so it’ll do.”

“Good,” Leo murmured. He flashed the other a smile, and Vanitas instantly felt the huge weight on his shoulders just… alleviate.

A moment later, he grinned, before gesturing to the small hut on the top of the slide. “I’ve got a little something. Care to join?”

“You know that’ll be a yes,” Leo snickered, dropping his cigarette onto the ground, snuffing it out, and following Vanitas.

Said little hut wasn’t particularly spacious, but it was big enough for both of them to sit stretched out, shielded from anyone walking past who might see them. Not that many people would be around at this time on a Tuesday night.

“So,” Leo said, “your surprise?”

“Always trust my sources,” Vanitas winked, exhaling the last puff of his cigarette before flicking it out the hut, and pulling out a perfectly rolled joint. A proud grin donned his lips as he asked, “You in?”

“Shit yes,” Leo answered almost instantly.

“Stupid question, but-” Vanitas paused to light the joint, inhaling deeply and letting his eyes lull shut. Then, exhaling as the weightless feeling reached his head, he passed the joint to Leo. “- you’ve done this before, right?”

Nodding, Leo took the joint, and took an equally long hit. “Only a few times, at parties.”

“Huh,” Vanitas received the joint back, taking another hit. “Unlike Noé, occasionally, I’m guessing Elliot doesn’t smoke pot with you.”

“Elliot wouldn’t touch weed with a barge pole.”

“Fair enough,” Vanitas shrugged, handing the joint to Leo.

Several minutes passed in silence, the two passing the joint back and forth. Of course, because THC wasn’t the only drug coursing through their blood, the high was something unimaginable, and by the time the joint was fully smoked through, the two were nothing short of intoxicated.

“I’m exhausted,” Leo said, tilting his head upwards and proceeding to snicker at his own comment. His words came out as a nonchalant drone, void of emotion spare lethargy. “My Biology teacher’s been hounding me to go to all his lessons, just because me getting an A* would look good on him.”

Vanitas snorted. “My teachers gave up getting me to pass.” He paused, watching Leo bite back another yawn. Crossing his legs, he lightly patted his thigh. “Lie down.”

“I’m too high to protest you right now,” Leo said, before laughing at his own response once again. And that alone made Vanitas chuckle, as the noirette leant down, laid his head on Vanitas’ lap, and kicked his legs up onto the wall of the hut.

When Vanitas’ gaze travelled downwards slightly, he couldn’t help but smirk deviously, and chuckle again. “You always seemed like the type to get horny when you’re high.”

“Shut up,” Leo said teasingly, lifting hand to weave his fingers through Vanitas’ hair. Turning his head to the side slightly, he cocked an eyebrow at the other, at which point he knew he’d been caught out. “Hehe, you can hardly talk.”

“Mhm…” Vanitas hummed, staring deeply into Leo’s eyes. And in his irrational, inebriated state, the next words he spoke was quite literally his exact thoughts. “Let’s have sex.”

Immediately, Leo froze, and sat up. It seemed as though the soberness which hit him like a brick had yet to catch up with Vanitas. His lips parted partially; he was physically in awe.

“Here, let me help you.”

Without vacillation, Vanitas leaned forward, and placed his lips onto Leo’s, sliding his tongue into other’s mouth almost instantly. And initially, Leo – after getting over the initial shock – merely melted into the embrace, lifting a hand to cup Vanitas’ jawline.

Then, half a minute later, his eyes snapped open, and he pulled away, panting furiously as the blush across his face deepened. “This…”

The way Vanitas, in his drug-addled mind, saw it, there was no issue. Sure, he shouldn’t really sleep with Leo when he was dating Noé, and he a voice nagging him at the back of his mind told him quite clearly that Noé would be devastated if he found out. But at the same time, what he didn’t know couldn’t hurt him, right?

From the look on his face, Leo seemed to be waging the same war mentally.

“No one will ever know,” Vanitas whispered, his face edging closer to Leo’s again by the second. His rational thoughts took too long to trundle through to his consciousness, and he’d already made his mind up.

(Besides, he was horny. And high. They both were. And in this case, evidently, their genitals were thinking for them.)

“Vanitas, we… we have boyfriends…” Leo tried, but as Vanitas continued moving closer, his words trailed off. The taste of Vanitas’ lips was still fresh in his senses; he was desperate for more. So desperate that the morality of the situation never  crossed his mind for more than a millisecond.

“This is just once,” Vanitas’ breath brushed hot against his ear, as his hand crept down his waist to his crotch. “Between us, and only us. They never have to know.”

“… okay,” Leo exhaled, leaning forward into the kiss the moment it was initiated again. He smirked into the kiss, as Vanitas bit down on his lower lip. And suddenly, the guilt of having this one-night stand was gone, instead being replaced purely by lust and the heat between them.

Even in their inebriated, incoherent states, though, deep down, Vanitas and Leo both knew that this wasn’t going to be just once.

Chapter Text

It was official: Leo hated Biology.

He didn’t exactly know why he took it in the first place. Perhaps it was because Elliot said they should take it, back in year 11, and Leo blindly followed him. Or maybe he was just delusional and had thought that taking three art subjects and a Science would be a good idea.

Whatever the reason, he now hated.

With a heavy sigh, he forced his attention back to the textbook. His pen hovered over the paper, but he never wrote anything. He felt as though he was reading a foreign language. The diagrams and graphs made zero sense, and his focus couldn’t stay sharp enough for more than five seconds to read the goddamn tiny writing. He’d felt dizzy and nauseous all morning, but it was growing worse now that he was reaching the comedown. And it was at this point that Leo thought, maybe, he’d overdone it this morning when he used.

He couldn’t help it. Anything was better than remembering the previous night, when he’d willingly cheated on his boyfriend of four years. He hated himself, but more importantly, he hated the drugs.

That being said, Leo gave up, collapsing back in the chair and picking up his phone. Period three had just ended, and Leo had to facepalm mentally when he realised Elliot and him both had a free now, and any second now, Elliot would come and find him in the library to scold him for skipping Biology again.

“Oi! Leo!”

There it is.

“Where the hell were you in Biology?!”

Leo sighed, and pulled out one headphone. He fiddled with the wire instead of looking at Elliot; he couldn’t bear to look at Elliot. The guilt alone killed him, leaving a hollow, heavy feeling in his chest. “Working,” he said briefly, before pointedly plugging the headphone back in his ear and turning to the textbook. “I’m busy, Elliot.”

Elliot clearly had other ideas, and he reached down, and yanked the headphone from his ear. “I’m not buying your bullshit excuses anymore, Leo! I deserve to know what the hell is going on with you! S-Starting with this!”

His heart was racing so fast, terrified that word had leaked of last night’s events, that Leo failed to stop Elliot from reaching into his jacket pocket and pulling out the pack of cigarettes.

Leo’s mouth dropped open, as he prepared for another row with Elliot. But he didn’t want to cause a scene, so after a couple of seconds, he sunk back into the chair, faced the other direction, and responded with a nonchalant shrug. “What of it?”

“Don’t play innocent, Leo! You know exactly what!” Elliot yelped, holding the cigarettes out of Leo’s reach.

Annoyed, Leo flipped the textbook shut, and grabbed his jacket. “Fine. Let’s go.”

If it was up to him, they wouldn’t be having this conversation now. Unfortunately, it was something which was long overdue, and if nothing else served as a positive of this, at least it was an excuse to go outside for a smoke. And it didn’t matter if he’d had a smoke only half an hour ago; Leo was not having this conversation without a cigarette in his hand.

Once they reached the courtyard, Elliot paused, and – unimpressed – asked, “Where are we going?”

Before he could stop him, Leo plucked the cigarette from Elliot’s hold, shook them matter-of-factly, and replied, “Where do you think, smartass?”

Elliot waited for a moment, before reluctantly following him down the path to the smoking shelter, keeping his arms tightly folded over as if this was the dirty part of the college.

To him, it probably was. And with that in mind, Leo proceeded to the shelter, ahead of Elliot, before lighting the cigarette with a hand sheltering the flame. When he exhaled the first drag, he could physically feel Elliot glaring at him.

“Well?” Elliot scoffed.

Leo shrugged, inhaling briefly on the cigarette again. “What?”

Elliot’s mouth dropped open as if he were about to blurt out a lecture about why smoking is terrible and how disappointed he was, but instead, he simply paused, and then closed his mouth again. His glare softened, his expression turning slightly… upset, if anything, as he said, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“This has nothing to do with you, Elliot,” Leo sighed along with a cloud of smoke, as he pointedly held up the cigarette. “I started before I even met you. It was never worth mentioning.”

In blatant disbelief, Elliot raised his eyebrows. “You were twelve?”

“Mhm,” Leo nodded, trying not to think of how he’d told this story to Vanitas only a couple of weeks ago. “It was when I was between foster homes. I got in with this group who were, maybe, a couple of years older, and they… introduced me to it. When I moved out of the care home and into my current foster home, I’d already made a habit of it. And by the time I met you I was already used to one or two a day, and I just… yeah.”

“Well… you know I wouldn’t judge you, right?”

Leo could tell that was bullshit from a mile away. “Yes you would. Of course you would. You’re judging me right now.”

“Alright, then yes! I am judging you!” Elliot said, throwing his arms up. “How can I not judge you when all you do these days is keep secrets and avoid me?!”

“Because I don’t want to lose you, Elliot!” Leo yelled, feeling his chest tighten, and ache, and it wasn’t due to the smoke. “I-I’m not ready to lose you over some stupid decision I made six years ago!”

(Obviously, Leo consciously decided to leave out the part about “stupid decisions I made last night”.)

Stunned into silence, Elliot could only stammer in response, “I… I’m not going to break up with you, y-you know…”

Leo didn’t appreciate Elliot enough. Here he was thinking he’d break up with him over this, and yet he… didn’t care? If anything bothered him, it was the fact Leo had kept it secret that hurt him.

But Leo wasn’t ready to share with him ever secret he was harbouring. That feeling alone made his throat ache and tears brim in his eyes.

“Sorry…” he muttered, staring down the cigarette, but not lifting it to his lips yet.

Elliot scrunched his nose up. “Why are you apologising?”

“I don’t know…” Leo said under his breath. “I just… feel like I should apologise.”

“Oi,” Elliot said, gesturing for the other the moment he caught sight of the light glinting in Leo’s tear-glazed eyes. “Come here.”

Leo knew he’d cry, but he still approached Elliot, holding the cigarette as far away as possible as the other wrapped his arms around his shoulders. Hesitantly, he hugged Elliot back, letting a few stray tears fall down his cheeks.

He was reminded, in that moment, why he really did love Elliot.

Soon enough, a hug turned into a kiss, which shortly turned into making out. But no matter how hard he tried, nothing could alleviate the guilt, or erase the memory of the fact he’d cheated on him last night. He was meant to be only Elliot’s, and yet he’d given himself to someone else, willingly.

A moment later, he pulled away, breathing in on the cigarette and hoping the nicotine might knock him out.  

Elliot frowned, pursing his lips in disgust. “I hope you quit that.”

Glancing down at the cigarette, derisively, Leo snorted. “In your dreams.”

Showing up late to Sociology was no longer a rare occurrence for Break. And unfortunately, he was fairly certain Reim knew that by now.

Fortunately, Reim didn’t know where Break went, which meant he always had the time and privacy to sneak a quick smoke before showing up ten minutes late. And in his defence, he usually had Physics beforehand, and that always made him crave something to calm his nerves.

Also, because it was now period six – the end of the day – everyone was either in lesson, or they’d gone home. So, thankfully, Break found he was alone, as he leant up against the pole of the shelter, stuck a cigarette between his lips, and lit up.

A second after taking the first inhale, Break noticed he was not alone after all. With a discontented sigh, he exhaled a puff of smoke, and stared ahead at the wall, pretending he hadn’t seen the person approaching him.

“So you continued that.”

Said person was Levi. Break didn’t particularly feel like interacting with him right now.

“That’s hardly news to you,” Break rolled his eyes visibly, tapping the ash off the cigarette before his gaze finally fell onto the other. “You’ve seen me here before.”

“Hm,” Levi hummed. Break failed to decipher what he even meant by that, as he watched Levi pull out his own pack of smokes, and gesture for his lighter. Reluctantly, he chucked it over, before tucking it back into his pocket once Levi joined him at the shelter.

“Don’t you have a lesson to be in?”

“Nope,” Levi said, “But you do.”

Even though they were nearly three metres apart, Break still felt claustrophobic at his presence.

Despite the silence, Levi still struck up a conversation once again. “I haven’t spoken to you in a while, that’s all.” Another pause, during which he briefly dragged on the cigarette. “The last time would’ve been at that family reunion back in February.”

Break couldn’t help but snicker to himself when the memories of said event arose in his mind. “That was a good night indeed~”

“You’re only saying that ‘cuz you got drunk, and laid,” Levi smirked, seemingly proud of the other. Then, before the silence could resume, Levi gestured to the cigarette, and asked, “Your parents know?”

“Mhm,” Break said ambiguously, knowing full-well it was an extremely sore topic. A sore one, but a known one nonetheless. “They’d kill you if they knew you’d started me on it, shall we say?”

Derisively, Levi snorted. “Oh please, I’m only your cousin.”


Break didn’t like being reminded that he was blood related to Levi.

Their mothers were sisters, and in the family context, they only ever saw at reunions, weddings, birthdays, and occasionally funerals. But at college, you wouldn’t even guess they were related. Apart from hair colour – which you couldn’t even tell when they both dyed it frequently – they didn’t have any resemblance whatsoever. They were into different things, different people, and different subjects.

And because of that, Break didn’t tend to associate himself with Levi.

When Levi spoke again, snapping Break from his trance, the seriousness of his words made his heart sink. “I wanted to ask about something.”  

Immediately, Break fell silent, dedicating his attention to the cigarette in hope he’d take in enough nicotine to pass out.

“I don’t know exactly what’s wrong with you,” Levi said, “But you’re getting worse.”

Break frowned, and began sulking. “Tch, no I’m not.”

There was a short, silence-filled pause, as Levi hesitated over his next words. Eventually, though, after a heavy sigh, he spoke, his tone blunt and painfully upfront. “It’s your eating disorder again, isn’t it?”

His chest grew tighter. His heart tensed. His throat felt like it was about of close on him. But still, Break said something; he only dragged on the cigarette.

Levi continued. “Let’s think… are you starving yourself like last time, or… are you making yourself sick now?”

As the clenching in his chest only increased, Break hastily spun around, furrowing his eyebrows as tears annoyingly brimmed in his eyes. They had yet to fall, but he knew that, inevitably, the moment he spoke, they would. He never wanted this conversation to happen. Being reminded of last time something like this happened was too much alone.

His mouth falling open, Break sniffed, one single tear rolling down his cheek. And, reluctantly, he gave the one-word sickening truth.


Break sniffed again, a hand instantly flying up to his face before the last tendrils of his emotional control slipped from his grip. Only then did it occur to him that that was the first time he’d admitted to himself – let alone family – that it was bulimia. It was the first problem he’d confessed that he had a problem; a problem which was totally out of his control.

The silence proceeded for another minute or so, before Levi dropped the cigarette on the ground, and stomped it out with his heel. “Do you want to get help?”

“No,” Break answered nonchalantly. It was a simple – too simple – answer. But he didn’t want help. He didn’t want to go back to that stupid treatment centre again.

Not after last time.

“Alright,” Levi shrugged. “I won’t tell anyone.”

“Why do you even care?” Break scoffed, taking a shaky inhale from the cigarette as if he’d just remembered it was there.

Turning on his heel, Levi exhaled, rolling his eyes and folding his arms over his chest. The gaze he sent to Break seemed… disappointed. “Because I refuse to watch my family waste away. Particularly when I didn't do anything.”

His line of view falling to the smoke rising from the cigarette, Break had to finally admit that he felt like absolute shit. He felt guilt, because everyone who tried to help him was just being pushed away, or destroyed. And in that moment, the only think Break wanted was a fucking drink.

Sure enough, as always, that craving over-ridded his sensibility.

“Levi,” Break called, halting the other in his tracks. “Do you have any alcohol?”

Levi cocked an eyebrow at him, turning to face him. “I thought you had a lesson to go to.”

“I haven’t drunk anything today,” Break tried to reason, knowing full-well his argument had little meaning.


“I promised Reim I’d go sober. But, ah, I’m afraid that’s easier said than done.”

Despite the slightly disappointed stare, and the reluctant sigh, Levi still dug a hand into his bag, chucking Break a can of beer with a discreet wink. “Next time you see me at the pub, you owe me a pint.”

Snuffing the cigarette out, once he realised there was nothing left of it anyway, Break nodded. Then, once Levi’s back was turned again, he cracked open the beer, and downed half of the can in one swallow.

He knew Reim would smell the alcohol on his breath, and he knew he would be pissed when he noticed, but Break saw little incentive to stop, when his main priority right now was getting the damn trembling in his hands to cease.

After a while, scrolling through Tumblr became mentally exhausting. And Flo would’ve liked to have blamed that on why she felt like absolute shit, but in truth, she could play the blame-game all day.

Her mental state had been gradually declining for a very, very long time. When it started was too far back to pin-point. However, now, Flo struggled to ignore it.

She’d been here all evening: wedged in the corner of her bed with her knees packed tightly into her chest. All day, the world had felt as though it was caving in on her. Every feeling felt amplified, right until now, when her hands shook relentlessly, and her eyes ached from holding back tears.

At the very least, though, Flo had finally (and incredibly slowly) come to terms with what the problem was.

The problem was denial.

The problem was every time she tried on new clothes, and they didn’t quite look right. But instead of questioning that inner voice which told her they were simply wrong, she ignored it.

The problem was every time she took a goddamn shower, and caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. Seeing her reflection made her feel physically sick, but instead of telling someone, she brushed it off as nothing.

The problem was every time someone simply spoke of her. Each time she heard “she”, or “her”, Flo would internally cringe. It just wasn’t sticking, and it felt awkward. Misplaced.

Heck, the problem was every time she spoke to her family, like her mother calling her “daughter”, or Leo calling her “sister”, and she’d be suddenly filled with discomfort. And it wasn’t like she didn’t care for her family (although sometimes she had to question whether she wanted to consider Leo as a brother); she just didn’t want to be a daughter, or a sister.

And after ignoring all of that, for years upon years, Flo knew that denial wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Denial wasn’t going to fix the fact she felt trapped, and broken.

Yes, broken. A boy living in the body of a girl: how much more broken could you even get?

Flo had always expected this to feel like one big revelation. That was what it was supposed to be, right? A sudden epiphany during which every hinderance in her life finally had an explanation.

But instead, it felt more like a stab in the chest.

At the same time, though, it also felt like one big sigh of relief. Because, in a sense, everything did make sense now. Everything finally fucking made sense because she was clearly born in the wrong body, and she didn’t want to – couldn’t – live as a girl anymore.

With a quiet sniff, Flo picked up the phone again, opening Tumblr as if it were a reflex at this point. But instead of aimlessly scrolling, she simply flicked to the profile page.

The name she always went by online stared back at her.


She didn’t know where it’d come from. But throughout her life, it seemed to have just… stuck with her. It had always been the name she told the internet; the name she used in games; the name she used in stories. It was, largely, the name which fitted with all the other puzzle pieces in her brain. There was no better, more fitting name than that; it was significantly better than “Florence.

With a single tear escaping the well brimming in her eyelids, two words were promptly added to the profile.


And that was it. That was the very first step.

She’d finally – after going in circles with herself for weeks upon weeks; months upon months - stopped denying it.

No, he'd stopped denying it.

He stared at those two words, millions of emotions building within him. Now that he’d identified the problem, he felt lost beyond words; overwhelmed beyond belief.

What was he even supposed to do now? He couldn’t just chop of his breasts and change how the entire world saw him overnight.

After half an hour of quietly sobbing to himself, Astolfo stopped crying. And a second later, there was a knock on his door.

“Come in,” he said, wiping the tears from his face the best he could, knowing full-well his eyes would still be bloodshot, and it was inherently obvious he’d been crying. Hearing his voice made him cringe, as always; it just didn’t match what was in his head.

Admittedly, Astolfo had to admit he was considerably confused when Leo stepped into the room.

“I heard you crying again.” Leo spoke quietly, his tone unnervingly calm. He sighed, leaning against the door and dragging a hand through his hair. “There’s something wrong with you. I’m not stupid, Flo.”

He cringed internally. The desire to correct Leo – and blurt out every aspect of that confession – was burning on the tip of his tongue. But he just… couldn’t. Astolfo didn’t trust Leo enough – or at all. So, instead, his reply came bitterly. “I could say the same to you. Just go to your new boyfriend before I tell Elliot you’re seeing someone else.”

Yeah, Astolfo wasn’t stupid either. The regular disappearance; the constant texting. He’d known Elliot for long enough to know that Elliot wouldn’t text Leo so late at night, nor would he go out so late.

With an irritable sigh, Leo said, “He’s not my boyfriend. We’re just friends.” The fact his temper stayed intact was the most disconcerting part. “And get your nose out of my life. You know nothing about me.”

“Well you know nothing about me!” Astolfo blurted out, shrinking back into the corner of his bed. He didn’t mean to scream; he hated being the one to start these arguments. Eyes aching, he wanted nothing more than to be alone right now. “Just… please go.”

A pause later, Leo exhaled softly, and then shrugged. “Alright.”

The moment the noirette was gone, Astolfo broke again, being filled with the same, incessant thoughts of utter hopelessness as before.

How the hell was he supposed to come out as transgender to the world, and socially, if he couldn’t even come out to his family?

For Gilbert, it appeared as though it was now time for the 1am worry cycle all over again.

As per usual, Vincent had disappeared earlier, and had yet to return. Their parents had totally given up by now; they would be gone at 5am. And to be totally honest, Gilbert probably wouldn’t have still been up if it wasn’t for the fact he’d been on facetime with Break for the past three hours, trying (and failing) to figure out what the hell went so wrong in his paper 1 Physics mock to get him less than half the paper right.

“I really don’t see your problem with this,” he sighed, burying his face in his hands. Since his phone was propped up on his laptop, he knew full well Break would be able to see his irritation clearly, but he honestly didn’t care anymore. “We covered this stuff ages ago.”

“Hm, yes, but if the overall force is going downward, why would something still move in a circle, hm? Surely it would just… cave inwards, no?”

Gilbert couldn’t stop the dumbfounded expression forming across his face, as he face palmed once again. The fact that Break’s face seemed as clueless as before irked him even more. Irritated, he answered, “For the fifth time this hour, there’s a perpendicular force as well. If you take the resultant force at literally any point, it continues in a circular path.”

“Right, right,” Break said, nodding idly as he pulled the pen away from his lips and scribbled something down. “And how do you work out resultant force again?”

“... you’re joking, right?” Gilbert deadpanned.


It was at that point that Gilbert decided they needed a break. Because if he had to hear one more stupid question, he might actually break his phone. They’d been on circular motion for 45 minutes, and he was sick of it. On top of that, Gilbert was growing particularly impatient, and the fact that it’d been 8 hours since his last nicotine fix really wasn’t helping. And given the fact Break had been either eating non-stop or smoking his pen for the last hour, he guessed the craving was mutual.

“Why did you take Physics again?” Gilbert questioned with a sigh. He subconsciously patted the pocket of his jacket, checking the cigarettes were there as they always should be.

“Hm, well I liked it at the time,” Break murmured, fiddling with the hair band tied to his wrist. “Things changed; you know?”

“Yeah, right. Well, we’re taking a break,” Gilbert said with a rather obvious eye roll. He had little care for what Break had to say at this point, as he pulled out the pack of smokes from his pocket and dug around on his desk for the lighter. “Ten minutes, ok?”

“Hmm…” Break replied with a disapproving him. “I think you ought to sleep, Gilbert~”

“I can’t. Vincent isn’t home yet.”

Right as he said that, Gilbert heard the front door click open.

“Yeah, I’m gonna have to call you back…”

He was fairly certain Break had hung up by the time he spoke anyway. With a heavy sigh, Gilbert pocketed the cigarettes, and proceeded down the stairs. Sure enough, he found Vincent stumbling through the front door, the stench of alcohol clinging to him.

Things had been understandably bitter and awkward between the two since the incident with Jack. So, in a sense, Gilbert was glad that Vincent didn’t initiate a conversation. Instead, he slipped past him, forcing a brief smile as he watched Vincent wrestle with his shoe laces.

He wasn’t planning on saying anything; these confrontations were getting boring now. But when Gilbert passed the kitchen counter and saw Vincent’s meds for today still in the pack, he couldn’t stay silent.

“Why didn’t you take your meds today?” he said.

Vincent’s response was classically ambiguous, inadequate, and heavily slurred. “Please don’t worry about me, Gil.”

Gilbert didn’t even know why he tried. He didn’t even try to reason with a drunk Vincent. And after a ten minute smoke-break, he was back up in his bedroom, calling Break back.

For some reason, Break didn’t pick up. Gilbert wanted nothing more than to sleep right now, but he still had work himself to do for tomorrow anyway; let alone helping Break.

He tried the call again. And still, Break didn’t pick up. Only after calling for the third and final time did Break finally answer, hitting the answer button right before Gilbert gave up for the night. Because of where his phone was, Gilbert ended up with a full view of his bedroom, but there was no Break.

“Give me five more minutes,” Break said, sounding slightly… breathless? And what took Gilbert even more by surprise was the brief glimpse he caught of Break with his hair tied back. Which was… unusual, to say the least.

Wordlessly, Gilbert then watching Break pull out a cigarette, open his window, perch on the ledge with his legs handing out, and light the cigarette.

“That was a while,” Gilbert commented, kicking himself afterwards for making such a stupid comment.

Break didn’t reply. And only in that moment, with the cigarette dangling between two fingers, streams of smoke pouring from his hung lips, did he realise how… broken and dead inside he looked.

Instead of saying something relevant or logical, though, Gilbert leant his elbow on the desk, rested his face on his palm, and spoke without thinking. “I didn’t know you still smoked.”

“That’s a lie.” Break snorted. “You told Oz about it last week.”

“Yeah… sorry…”

“I’m still partially keeping it secret, though,” Break said, inhaling deeply on the cigarette. When he tilted his head back, exhaling the smoke, he sighed, glancing down at the ground. “Please don’t tell Reim.”

His words were solemn, and nonchalant, as if he were self-loathing over it.

Oz’s words rang through his head; Break really wasn’t ok. It was painfully obvious now. Truthfully, Gilbert wished he’d noticed it sooner.

“Break, is… everything okay?”

“Hm?” Break feigned cluelessness. But he was a terrible liar, and Gilbert could see through that lie like it was glass. “Ah, I had a terrible day, that’s all.”

“Do you… want to talk about it?”

Throwing the cigarette out the window, Break chimed, “Nope~”

There he was with the 180-personality flip once again, as he slid off the window, grabbed a beer from the top of his cupboard and cracking it open. He sat down at the desk, downing some of the beer before picking up the pen and flipping it into the air. “So~ where were we?”

For the first time that evening, Break suddenly seemed like he wanted to try.

Unfortunately, for Gilbert, all that meant was that tonight would be another night where sleep simply wasn’t the priority.

Chapter Text

By the time Friday of that week came around, Oz and Break were both mentally exhausted. But, unfortunately (for both of them), that didn’t stop their daily meeting.

It was one of the rare opportunities where they both had a free. And for once, Break actually wasn’t bunking Sociology or Physics. That, however, meant it was the perfect excuse to sneak out for a smoke without having to make up some bullshit excuse for leaving to Reim.

He had to admit, though: it seemed strange that Oz was suddenly not staying after college anymore. Originally, he’d been most keen to stay out of the house for as long as possible – and after learning about his father, Break wasn’t in the least bit surprised. Which meant it was odd that Oz all of a sudden wanted only to speak during lesson times.

Break assumed the worst; he didn’t want to ask.

Besides, Oz usually asked the questions here.

“Have you honoured Reim’s request yet?”

“Hm…” Break hummed, glancing down at the cigarette before lifting it to his lips. He assumed Oz would take that as a ‘no’. “Ah, I have gotten better at being sober during the day. But I’m afraid that never lasts past the evening. Binge drinking all evening seems to be my latest habit.”

“Surely that’s worse.”

“Yep,” Break nodded, tapping the ash off the cigarette. “Mornings aren’t particularly pleasant at the moment.” He gave a wry chuckle. “You’d think I’d be used to throwing up by now, but when it’s out of my control… eurgh.”

“You’ve been invited to Sharon’s birthday party, in a couple of weeks, I’m guessing?”


“Please be sensible.”

“If you’re there too. I might need supervision~” Break tried to joke, but Oz knew he wasn’t joking.

Wordlessly, Oz nodded. Then, after a short pause, he asked, “Does anyone else know yet? About the bulimia, I mean…”

“Hm…” Another dissatisfied hum. “Levi does.” Break saw Oz’s mouth drop open, ready to bombard him with questions; after all, they didn’t at all seem like family. Before he could, though, Break answered to his confusion. “Levi is my cousin.”

His mouth snapping shut, Oz had to visibly fight back the urge to stare. “I didn’t realise you were… cousins.”

“Hmm. If possible, I try not to associate myself with that group.” Break took another drag from the cigarette, intently focusing his attention on the plumes of smoke rising from the burning ash, rather than the actual real-life conversation. “Sometimes that doesn’t quite work out.”

“What relation is he to you?” Oz said, tapping a finger to his chin. “Now that I think about it, you do sort of look alike.”

“Don’t compare me to him…” Break exhaled along with a disappointed sigh. “Son of my mother’s sister. He’s the youngest child. Spoilt rotten.”

“I… barely know of him.”

“I’d rather not talk about him,” Break frowned. He paused, then perked up a second later, after flicking the cigarette into the ashtray and tucking his arms into his chest. “Anyway~ that’s enough about me. What about you?”

Oz shrugged. “I’m good. As I’ll ever be.”

Break could’ve smelt bullshit from a mile away.

He was sure he wasn’t the only one who’d noticed these things, either. Gilbert must’ve noticed it; it being the way he always avoided personal questions, or averted his gaze the moment anyone threatened eye contact. And in that respect, Break sometimes believed – truly – that Oz was deeper into this than he was.

But then again, he could hardly blame him. If what Oz said (and the just about noticeable bruises) were anything to go by, his father had punished him for just about anything, including his feelings. So really, it was no surprise he had such difficulty opening up to even someone he had no reason not to trust.

However… even Break knew that this alliance wasn’t helping either of them. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t exploit it, though. If Oz interrogated him about his problems, you could sure as hell guarantee Break would do the same back.

“You’re lying,” he accused bluntly. “I can see the bruises, you know.”

Once again, though, all Oz responded with was an ambiguous shrug. “I’m grounded at the moment.”

“You’re 18,” Break deadpanned. “How can you be grounded? You’re not 5.”

“Well…” Oz chuckled nervously, scratching his head. “He… he doesn’t let me stay out anywhere. And if I disobey, then… he threatens to kick me out, and not pay for my living costs at university. It… doesn’t last long, though.”

“Can’t you get a job?”

Oz shook his head. “He won’t let me.”

Break could also tell that one was a lie. But after a second of thought, he realised Oz had probably had every ounce of self-confidence beaten out of him. A job probably wouldn’t work out.

There was an awkward, heavy silence. One which made Break deliberate over the question continuously circulating his mind.

Eventually, he went ahead and asked it.

“Has he ever sexually assaulted you?”

The abrupt pause in the conversation was truly disconcerting. What was even more so was the way Oz’s eyes widened, a terrified stare refusing to leave the ground. Break wished he could see inside Oz’s head, just for once.

Internally, Break felt himself sigh when he saw the brief shake of the head, albeit twenty seconds of tension later.

Oz cracked a smile, snapping out of his trance with a more distinct shake of the head. “No. He… hasn’t.” The lingering silence exacerbated the tension. “That… wasn’t him, so… don’t worry about it, okay?”

The ambiguity of the response made Break even more suspicious.

Did this mean he was raped at some point?

Maybe it was ages ago. But still, he desperately wanted to interrogate Oz with questions, just the way he did with him; however, if this really wasn’t something Oz was ready to talk about, Break was willing to (just about) respect that.

“If we’re done here,” Break abruptly proceeded to the exit, sticking his hands in his pockets – his trembling hands, and this time, he didn’t think it was the sobriety which placed him on edge, “I’d like to head to the library.”

“Yeah, sure,” Oz shook himself out of it, following Break towards the main building. “Do you have much work?”

Break snickered. “If we’re counting the Sociology essay due after lunch which I have yet to start, then, yes.”

For Leo, it was coming up to that time of night.

That being the time he snuck out with a pack of smokes to meet Vanitas in secret. It occurred more and more often now, and whilst he would have liked to have said the sex only happened once…

It hadn’t.

The past few meetings involved drugs. (Well, more of them). Drugs involved being inebriated. Being inebriated always ended in hooking up. That was just how it’d gone.

Was he proud of it? No way.

Would he still do it? Definitely.

So, in summary, Leo felt guilty as hell. But tonight was Friday night, and trivial things like feelings wasn’t going to stop him having a good time.

He also didn’t want trivial things like someone knocking on his door repeatedly to stop him, but here he was, rolling his eyes at the sound and subconsciously clutching the pack of cigarettes; just in case it wasn’t Flo.

“What?” he grunted.

Thankfully, it was Flo, and Leo’s grip consequently loosened. “I’m coming in,” she declared.

When she first walked in, turning her back to close the door behind her, Leo briefly noted she’d done some strange, barely noticeable things to her appearance. Cutting her own hair, so it now sat slightly below her chin, was one of them; Leo was fairly certain he hadn’t ever seen her cut her own hair in the 6 years they’d been siblings.

The two stared blankly at each other.

Leo finished tying his shoe lace before he scoffed, “Well?”

“I need to talk to you,” Flo declared, the seriousness of her tone off-putting.

“Make it quick.” Internally, Leo rolled his eyes, as he pulled out the pack of cigarettes as if to emphasise his next point. “I’m going for a fag. Hurry up.”

“That’s okay. I’ll make this as quick as possible,” Flo said, her words sharp and bitter. “I know you’re cheating. And don’t try to deny it this time. I’m not a fucking idiot, Leo.”

Leo froze, but nonetheless used every ounce of self-control not to show it, instead appearing appalled, and offended.

She’s bluffing. There’s no way she knows.

“I’ve already told you, Flo, he’s just a friend,” Leo sighed. “If you’re not going to trust me, what am I supposed to do? I’m not going to spend my evening trying to convince you.

She cringed, and screwed her face up in disgust further. “You’re not convincing me at all.”

“Good.” Leo was growing pissed off now. If Flo thought she knew anything about him or his personal life then she could go fuck herself, for all he cared. And that anger was evident through the next words he spat at her. “Because your opinion means shit all to me, got it?”

“Listen, Leo,” she stepped closer to him, as he folded his arms over his chest defensively, “you’re lucky I’m not a complete bitch of a sibling or I’d be posting online right now that you and someone else were hooking up, got it?”

“Don’t even try to intimidate me,” Leo said. His head was clouded; his train of thought was temporarily derailed, still gathering itself after his last shot. “You don’t scare me.”

Flo paused for a moment, judgmentally squinting at him. “Are you high right now?”

“What? No,” Leo groaned, shrugging exaggeratingly. “Why the fuck would I be high?”

“I don’t know, you tell me! How am I meant to trust you at all?!”

“I never asked you to trust me!” Leo yelled, “If you think I’m cheating on Elliot – my literal boyfriend of four fucking years – then so be it! Obviously my word means fuck all to you, so why should it matter?”

“You’re making no sense right now.”

“I can’t be arsed to deal with your bullshit now, Flo,” Leo groaned, clambering onto his bed, propping the window open, and swinging one leg out. “Tell mum I’m doing homework.”

“Homework. Sure.” Leo heard Flo scoff from behind him. The moment he was halfway down the street, though, a lit cigarette between his fingers and the comforting burn of the smoke filtering down his trachea, Leo stopped caring about her.

As expected, by the time he reached the park, Vanitas was already there, perched on the swing whilst scrolling through his phone. When he laid eyes on Leo, a tiny smile tugged at his lips, as he stood up, wrapped an arm around his waist, and placed his lips softly onto Leo.

The taste of Vanitas’ lips on his; the familiar chill of the tongue piercing, made Leo anything but guilty. It was comforting; reassuring.

Yes, he was cheating.

Yes, he knew it was bad.

Yes, Elliot would be disappointed. But, really, Elliot would never find out. It was something new, and that was all. A change from the dismal routine which drained the life out of him.

It was a positive change. It was nice to be with someone different, who understood all the pain he went through in secret, for once.

“We can’t stay here long,” Vanitas said quietly, pulling away from Leo and wrapping his arms around his shoulders.

The smell of Vanitas calming him, Leo buried his face in the crook of Vanitas’ neck. They stood like that, melting in each other’s embrace for a while, before pulling away, and perching on the swings.

“Why not?” Leo asked, idly, as he snuffed out the cigarette which he’d only just remembered he was holding.

“I’m heading to Noé’s. Domi is out, apparently,” Vanitas explained, rolling his own cigarette, his eyes locked on the gravel beneath his feet. “So we can’t get high.”

“As if you’re not already high,” Leo muttered under his breath as he flashed a sneaky grin at the other. “What for?”

“He wants to know more about the drugs, I think,” Vanitas said, “I should’ve never told him. He cares too much.”

“Are you going to tell him about everything?” Leo tilted his head at the other, slumping against the chain of the swing.

Vanitas hesitated, before lighting the cigarette, letting the smoke flow past his lips, and finally shaking his head. “No. He doesn’t need to know about it.”

“I don’t blame you,” Leo gave a half-hearted, pained chuckle. “Good luck, though.”

“Yeah, it should be okay. Noé doesn’t usually dwell on things. Knowing how our talks usually conclude, the night will probably just end in make-up sex.”

Leo snorted. “Classic.”

Yes – like many nights, Domi was out. And for the first time in a while, including Oswald and Ada, everyone was there.

For most of the afternoon, the girls had been at Lottie’s house, spending hours upon hours doing their hair, make up, and deciding what they’d wear. Levi and Oswald had been studying late at college, so by the time they got back to Lottie’s, they had officially decided it was time to say “fuck it” to the world, and that it was time to party.

Besides, it was Friday. And showing up to their jobs the next morning hungover wasn’t exactly a rarity to them.

Upon arriving to the club at about 10pm, after an extremely heavy session of pre-drinks, Levi and Oswald grabbed a drink, before immediately heading outside to smoke pot. The ladies, however, took their night with a little more class. (And all of them wearing things from Lottie’s collection.)

Domi was, as per usual, wearing a plain black halter-neck bodycon dress, which ended somewhere just above her thighs. Accompanying that was silver platform heels and a clutch bag, flaunting the most designer brands. Lottie, this time, wore a black dress too, with a heart-shaped chest and a band of netting hugging her stomach, before the dress broke off into a skater skirt, once against barely covering her ass. Complimenting Domi’s shoes, she wore rose-gold stilettoes, with a matching clutch and bracelet.

Jeanne, as instructed by Domi, ended up wearing tight (very tight) leather jeans, and a pale pink crop top, which spilled out into laced just past her breasts. Since Domi was taller anyway, she was wearing very high heeled leather boots, with studs accessorising the ankle and wedge. Alongside her was Lacie, donning the usual black miniskirt, see-through, long-sleeved purple crop top, and shoes which matched the top.

Finally, there was Ada, sporting her own clothes as opposed to the rest of them. And when she showed up in an emerald green, fully-jewelled mini-dress with slits at each thigh – along with sparkly black stilettoes – it became obvious that her father must be loaded.

After quickly getting their drinks at the bar, the girls soon found a table, away from the booming music of the dancefloor; they weren’t drunk enough for that yet.

“So~ Ada, tell us,” Domi started, leaning over the table as she fiddled with her straw. “How come you’re out with us tonight?”

“Mhm, it is strange,” Lottie added, “Vincent let you out?”

“Yeah, sorry I don’t… spend as much time with you.”

“No need to apologise,” Lottie quipped, “I’m sure you’re getting plenty from him~”

“Y-Yeah…” Immediately, Ada blushed. “He… said he was out with other friends. And Oz was sick earlier, I think, so… I thought I’d leave him with some quiet, for once…”

“I bet he’s with Jack…” Lacie snarled under her breath, her face screwing up in disdain at the mere thought of Jack. “They’re always buddy-buddying around each other nowadays.”

“Mhm, yes, it is a little suspicious~” Domi chimed. Impatiently, she checked her phone, before sliding her empty glass towards the centre of the table. “I’m heading to the restroom. Lottie, Lacie, come with me.”

As usual, no one (particularly not Jeanne) dared question Domi’s orders.

“Why’re we here?” Lacie asked the moment they reached the bathroom, leaning against the sinks.

Checking over her shoulder briefly, Domi soon gave her response, pulling out a bag of white powder, along with her credit card. “Coke, anyone?”

“Definitely, but,” Lacie grinned, pointing a thumb at the door. “Why’d you leave them?”

Deviously, Domi smirked. “We’ll leave the coke virgins out of this for now~”

“Oh please, Ada is dating Vincent,” Lacie emphasised, “and he’s high 24/7. He’s almost certainly roped her into getting fucked with him.”

“And by him,” Lottie added.

“We’ll leave them for now.” Domi slipped open the bag, tapping the powder onto the edge of the sink. “So, you in?”

“Fuck yes.” Eagerly, Lacie stepped forward, folding her arms over her chest. “Lottie?”

“Hm… I’ll pass.”

“Say what?” Domi deadpanned. Her hand froze. “Am I even speaking to Lottie right now?”

“Haha, very funny~” Lottie chimed, sighing tragically at herself. “Last time I mixed coke and alcohol it didn't go great. Besides, I was out with someone else last night, and we may have taken ecstasy, so I’m a teeny bit rough from that, I’m afraid.”

“Hm… lame excuse,” Domi frowned, nonetheless arranging the coke into two lines. “But fine. Next time, though, alright?”

“Yes, of course~”

“Got a fifty?” Lacie asked, digging into her purse. “I only have twenties.”

“Nope, sorry. Check with rich-bitch over there,” Domi winked at Lottie.

Lottie gave a typical sigh. “You know me too well, it seems.”

Promptly, she pulled out a fifty-pound note, rolling it up and passing it to Lacie. Accepting it gratefully, Lacie didn’t hesitate in snorting the line, knocking her head back, and sighing blissfully. Eyes adapting to the light, she gave a brusque “see ya, bitches,” before stumbling towards to the bar to get the next round of shots.

“Hey,” Domi said, capturing Lottie’s wrist before she made it to the door. “If there's anything wrong… you do know that I want you to tell me, right?”

“Yeah,” Lottie smiled, but never met her eyes. “Now’s just not the time, okay?”

“Fine.” She rolled her eyes, staring back at the line already rolled. “Hm…”

“You want me to send Jeanne your way?” Lottie snickered, already having read the other’s mind.

“Yeah, why not? Might as well try and destroy the last of her innocence.”

“Domi, she’s dating you. Does she even have any innocence left?”

“Not much, I can assure you~” Domi chuckled, watching Lottie leave the bathroom without another word. Her smile faded.

Damn, there’s definitely something up with her…

This was not a discussion which Vanitas felt ready to have yet.

(Or, rather, ever.)

He was already an hour and a half late, having stayed with Leo longer than he’d anticipated. Who could blame him, when the nerves were tearing him apart inside?

It was dark by the time he reached Noé’s house, the time nearing half ten. The cigarette, held between two fingers, seemed to burn away too quickly, but not before he stepped into the front garden.

Ever since Noé texted him, asking if they could talk, and in person, he knew what it was about.

His hands trembling, Vanitas kicked back against the wall of the porch, and brought the cigarette back up to his lips. The nicotine did very little to calm his nerves, or the fact that his hands shook for reasons other than nerves. He’d been out too long. His last fix was too long ago, and Vanitas was left wondering whether he should just give up and go home.

“Oh, hey.”

Visibly jolting at the sudden voice, Vanitas quickly turned his head. Guilt was unknowingly painted all over his face as he stared up at Noé, streams of smoke pouring from his lips. Shaking his head, he snapped out of his trance fairly soon. “Sorry, I… didn’t see you there.”

“It’s okay,” Noé smiled. The bastard was still smiling. “You can… finish the cigarette. I’ll wait.”

The smoking had always bothered Noé. For him to disregard it, Vanitas knew the drug revelation must’ve hit hard. Clearly, Noé’s priorities were set elsewhere; precisely where Vanitas didn’t want him meddling.

An awkward silence lingered, until a couple of minutes later, he sucked the life from the cigarette, stubbed it out on the wall, and tossed it into the road. Tucking his arms tightly into his chest, he exhaled the smoke softly, before turned to Noé. “Alright. Let’s go.”

“Do you want a drink?” Noé said, as he guided them into the kitchen.

Vanitas cocked an eyebrow. “Depends what you’re offering.”

“Hm…” Noé murmured to himself, opening the fridge and scanning over its contents briefly. “Beer?”

Considering Vanitas was nearing the verge of withdrawal, alcohol would do him good right now. “Sure.”

Wordlessly, Noé took two bottles of cheap lager from the fridge, clipped them open, and handed one to Vanitas. “Living room.”

“Is anyone else home?” Vanitas questioned, having to stop himself from downing the entire bottle. He’d never particularly liked the taste of alcohol, but if it got him drunk or at least a little light-headed, it was good enough.

“No,” Noé answered simply, taking a seat on the sofa. From the way he sat, perched sideways on the edge of the cushions, Vanitas sat opposite, the two just over foot away from each other. “You know… you said nine.”

“Yeah.” Vanitas gulped, averting his gaze for a moment as he leant forward and placed the bottle on the coffee table. “Homework ‘n stuff.”

“Oh. Okay.”

Noé didn’t seem to be buying it.

Vanitas changed the topic of conversation instantly. “What did you want to talk about?”

“I think you know, Vani,” Noé spoke calmly, his hands placed neatly on his lap. He took a deep, nervous breath, exhaling shakily, before he continued. “You know I respect you. I’ve said this a million times. I respect your privacy, and your right to… to make your own choices.” He paused. “But… I’m also your boyfriend. I don’t want there to be secrets, or otherwise the trust will… just break down, and then, I guess… what’s the point in the relationship?”

Swallowing down the constricting feeling in his chest, Vanitas remained silent.

“I promise, with all my heart, that I won’t do anything to stop you. As I said, you have my respect, w-when it comes to your privacy.” Noé inhaled again. “I just want to know. I want to know what you’ve been doing.”

“… alright.” Vanitas reluctantly agreed. How couldn’t he? Noé just poured his heart out to him, to the point where Vanitas was only a couple of pushes away from breaking down and telling him everything. He shrugged. “What do you want to know?”

“I don’t care when this started. In fact that, I… don’t really want to know,” Noé said, “But I just want to know everything you’ve taken. Since it started. And I won’t judge you… trust me, please.”


“Yes,” Noé gulped audibly. Vanitas almost felt bad for scaring him already. But he’d done it now; he’d hinted at the fact it was a long list. Because it was.

The tightening in Vanitas’ chest was growing unbearable. He couldn’t face lying to Noé anymore. Each time his lips parted, and he prepared to speak, his throat ached, and tears came dangerously close to pooling in his eyelids.

All in all, he felt like a complete piece of shit of a person.

“Can I write it down?”

Noé nodded, smiled, and – without a word – bent backwards, pulling a notebook and pen out from the drawer under the coffee table.

At first, Vanitas’ mind went blank. He wrote down the most obvious one. But after that, he was stumped. Eventually, a minute or so later, he got writing, only then realising this was a stupidly, concerningly long list.

Of course, he didn’t write everything on there.

And if anything, he did that to protect Noé. Because Noé didn’t need to know about everything.

Without uttering a word, Vanitas handed the completed list to Noé, and watched his face drop.

“Weed… okay. I… can’t really say anything about that,” Noé managed to chuckle, half-heartedly. He continued reading. “Coke, ok… ‘ket’? What’s-”

“Ketamine,” Vanitas said simply, picking the beer up again.

“Ah.” Noé’s face remained stoic as he read through the rest. “Ecstasy… spice… Xanax, o-ok… bath salts?”

“Another legal high.”

“Yeah, ok…” Noé still managed to keep a straight face. “GHB… PCP… LSD, shrooms… you wrote pills?”

“Anything, really,” Vanitas tried to explain. “Percocet, um, Oxy, Valium, stuff like that.”

“Ah. And…” Only now did Noé’s face fade into one of fear, almost. “You did… meth?”

Vanitas paused, shrugged, and replied with a nearly inaudible mutter. “Experimented.”

“That’s…” -okay. Clearly, Noé couldn’t even say that anymore. It wasn’t okay. He folded the paper in half, and handed it back to Vanitas. “You… you didn’t do heroin, right?”

“… No,” Vanitas said. Nonchalantly, he flicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth, the jewellery clicking against his front teeth.

Louis died of a heroin overdose. That was all he’d ever really been told about him.

“Okay…” Noé breathed a sigh of relief, it seemed.

“What…” Vanitas started again, meeting Noé’s eyes. “What happened to Louis?”

Once again, Noé sighed. “We never really knew how long it’d gone on for.

“Every time he tried a new drug, he’d come home, drunk and high; shouting. Me and Domi were 13. I-I’d only been adopted recently, but it… apparently went on for longer. He was only 15.” Noé paused for a second. “Him and our grandfather would… shout and shout. And then the next morning, all would go quiet. And Louis wouldn’t come out of him bedroom all day. Once night came around, everything started again. The same cycle.

“I remember one time, after a particularly bad few days, Louis spoke to Domi and I. He explained how he’d been doing some bad stuff, which was hurting him and everyone around him. And we asked him, ‘why do you still do it?’, and he just said it… made him feel good.

“He told us how, the more you do the bad stuff, the better it feels. But if you stop… it gets worse. And becomes ever worse than before. And he… said he couldn’t stop. I suppose that was his… way of telling us he had a problem. I wish I’d noticed that he was in the throes of addiction, but I… didn’t see it.” Noé exhaled softly, taking a break to sip slowly on the beer. Vanitas didn’t say a word. “Domi and I asked him if grandfather knew, but he just said that it… wasn’t the time.

“About 2 months after that, he was admitted to an in-patient drug treatment centre. He returned after 3 months, but after two days, Domi and I watched him, and she just said to me that he’s… still doing the bad stuff. And sure enough we… found him dead two days later. Heroin overdose.”

Noé should’ve been crying. Telling that story to the second person he loved who he was watching it happen to should’ve torn him apart. Vanitas should be comforting him, promising not to do the same. But Noé’s words remained level throughout, his face void of any emotion.

Instead, Vanitas cried.

He felt like shit. Noé shouldn’t have to go through this again.

But, like he promised, Noé didn’t judge. Rather, he leant forward, and wrapped his arms around Vanitas’ shoulders, pulling him into a tight, reassuring hug.

Noé didn’t judge. And he was open to him. He told him everything he wanted to know.

Vanitas did the opposite. He betrayed every ounce of trust he was given. He’d cheated on him, above everything. The wall between them was still up, and no matter how desperately Vanitas wanted to cry out to him – yes, I have a problem; yes, I’m addicted; yes, I want help – he said nothing, silently sobbing into Noé’s shoulder.

“Hey,” Noé pulled away, grabbing Vanitas’ shoulders. He forced a smile until Vanitas was left with no choice to meet his eyes. “Look at me.”

“I… I’m sorry,” Vanitas sobbed. Tears streamed from his eyes.

“It’s okay, Vani. Don’t cry on me now,” Noé tried, smiling wider. Gently, he manoeuvred his hands, cupping the side of Vanitas’ face, and running his thumbs under his bloodshot, tear-filled eyes, drying the tears which continued falling. “I love you, Vanitas. I always will. You know that, right?”

Stunned into silence, Vanitas said nothing, sniffling to himself as more tears brimmed at his eyes. “I…”

He couldn’t say it. His throat constricted.

The moment Noé’s lips made it onto his, though, a familiar warmth filled him, as he slid his tongue past the other’s lips. His eyelashes felt damp against his cheeks, but still, he pulled away for a second, keeping one hand cupped on Noé’s jawline.

Quietly, he murmured against his lips, “I love you too.”

Vanitas would never forgive himself for the fact that, in that moment, he wasn’t thinking about Noé.

Instead, he thought about Leo.

Chapter Text

“As I’m sure you all know, your French speaking exams are next Thursday and Friday.”

Even though this was hardly news to them, a collective sigh still commenced, as if everyone in the class had somehow thought that they’d avoided the topic for the whole lesson. Clearly, this was not how they wanted to end their lesson.

There weren't many people who studied French A Level at their college. It wasn’t a very popular choice. In fact, there were only six: Vanitas, Noé, Astolfo, Roland, Domi, and Jeanne. And each of them had some French in their blood.

That, however, didn't change the fact that only one of them got an A*.

Astolfo had always known he was the brightest in his class. He was the only one of them (except Noé, who only missed out on an A* because he answered the wrong part of the exam) who had lived in France, and so had any actual speaking practice. He hadn’t always lived in France, though. Unfortunately, when he was 4, his father – single father – passed away from terminal illness, leaving him living in France with his aunt and uncle. Until he was 8, at least, when the authorities finally caught on, and he was taken out of that toxic excuse for a home.

It was because of that different schooling, however, combined with the fact he was already academically ahead for his age group, which led to Astolfo ending up two years ahead in English school.

“I know there’s only ten minutes left, but I want to pair you up one last time. We don’t have a lesson tomorrow, so the next time I see you will be Monday next week. Next lesson, I want you to present your fully practiced speaking exams, both questions and answers for each section, including chosen topics and on-the-spot,” their teacher explained. She glanced over everyone, before taking the whiteboard pen. “Domi and Jeanne, I want you two together, since you got the same grade. Noé and Roland – you two struggled on opposite sections, and-“

Astolfo wasn’t stupid. He knew what would happen next.

“- Flo and… Vanitas. That leaves you two, okay?”

“Ok,” Astolfo spoke through gritted teeth. When everyone around him moved seats, he bit down on his tongue, clenched his fists, and shifted around to the desk with Vanitas. Vanitas, who sat slumped back in the chair, staring up at the ceiling, with a pen balancing between two fingers. “Je ne veux pas bosser avec toi.”

Immediately, Vanitas cocked his head up, staring at Astolfo blankly for a few seconds, almost as if he were trying to translate what he’d said. Then, he sighed, and spat back, “Débrouille-toi.”

Although he didn’t want to, Astolfo quickly realised he ought to just suck it up, and at least try to be the bigger person here. He also realised that speaking to Vanitas in French was a waste of time when it took him a minute to translate each sentence in his head. On top of that, Vanitas seemed more irritable, and tired, than usual, and Astolfo couldn’t be bothered to deal with that.

“What’s your chosen topic?”

Once again, Vanitas cranked his neck up, and then shrugged, clueless. “I don’t fuckin’ know.”

Eyebrows furrowing and arms folding over his chest, Astolfo hunched forward, and said, “I thought your mother spoke French.”

Don’t bring that up,” Vanitas spat, averting his eyes immediately. Through gritted teeth, he added, “She ran off when I was 11, after my father offed himself. We never spoke French together.”

“Fine. I won’t mention it again.” Astolfo could, at the very least, be sympathetic towards the loss of parents. Overwhelmed by guilt for even mentioning it, he apologised. “Sorry.”

Vanitas didn’t acknowledge his apology.

“I’ll just…” he continued, sifting through his folder, “… pick a random topic. Let’s go with… society.”

“Shit, that one might be mine.” Vanitas said, finally sitting his lazy ass up and opening his notes.

Astolfo used every bit of willpower not to deliver the insult resting on the tip of his tongue, asking the starter question in some vague hope they’d actually get something useful out of this exchange. “Quelle est ton opinion sur la société?”

To little surprise, Vanitas’ initial stare was totally blank, before he flicked through to the page of his notes with this topic, and, completely ignoring what he had written, replied, “Va te faire enculer.”

Watching him slump back into the chair, Astolfo could’ve punched him in that moment. “Did you not write anything?”

“I did,” Vanitas, staring up at the ceiling, gave a dismissive shrug. Sliding the notes across to the other, he exhaled heavily, and said, “But it’s shit.”

“… that looks like you copied it from Google translate,” Astolfo deadpanned.

Bemusedly, Vanitas snorted. “Bold of you to assume I didn’t.” Sighing again, with hands stuck in his coat pocket, he groaned, cocking his head back. “Shit, I need a cigarette so fucking bad.”

Staring in utter stupidity at him, Astolfo – judgement woven into his words – said, “It’s period 2.”

“Yeah, but I promised Noé I’d quit. Stupid fucking idea.” Vanitas pulled out a pack of nicotine gum, and, through struggling excessively with the blister pack, eventually took out two pieces, and stuffed them between in his teeth. “Fuck me, it’s not easy.”

Listening to Vanitas whine about such a trivial thing made Astolfo think too much of Leo. They were practically the same person, and it scared him. For a brief second, Astolfo thought of what would actually happen if the two met, but he quickly banned that cursed thought from crossing his consciousness.

“What goes on between you and Noé is none of my business,” Astolfo started. He tried to keep his tone level, and calm, but with building hate and frustration, he failed to do so. “Regardless, though, I want to practice for the exam which is in a week! My grade shouldn't be comprised because I get stuck with a useless shit like you!"

“Oh please. As if I’d compromise your grade,” Vanitas scoffed, raising a hand to cut him off, before casually placing his arms over his stomach and sliding back again. “You’ll get an A* anyway.”

Taken aback by what seemed like a compliment, Astolfo nearly choked.

Vanitas – the person who cursed him, hated him, disrespected him, fought with him; hell, he’d bullied him for four years – had just given him appreciation, in literally one of his lowest times?

For a second there, Astolfo could’ve cried.

Je ne veux pas bosser avec toi.” – “I don't want to work with you.”

Débrouille-toi.” – “Deal with it.”

Quelle est ton opinion sur la société?” – “What do you think about society?"

Va te faire enculer.” – “Fuck off.” [Literal: “Go get fucked in the ass.”]

Not only did Leo hate Biology, but he also hated Drama.

A little like with Biology, he wasn’t sure why he ever chose it, and was pretty certain at this point that it was because of Elliot. Out of his four subjects, Leo only really liked Literature and Music. And because of that, he saw little point in showing up to the other two. Technically, he was supposed to be in Biology now, but it was the last period of the day, and he really couldn’t be bothered. Elliot had been on his tail since their discussion nearly two weeks ago, thus when Leo finally got away from him, his top priority was making a beeline for the smoking shelter.

As surprising as it was to find Vanitas waiting there, perched on the small bench, it was definitely a pleasant surprise.

Leo smiled, venturing up to the other and only making his presence known when he was two feet away from him. “I didn’t expect you to be here.”

Immediately, Vanitas glanced up, a smile tugging at his lips the moment they met eyes. He stood up, closing the gap between them. Wrapping an arm around Leo’s waist, he leant down a little, their lips almost but not quite touching. “I could say the same to you.”

Right before their lips connected, Leo gave one last glance over his shoulder, ensuring the coast was clear. He managed to ignore the guilt of doing this at college once Vanitas’ tongue slid past his, and the familiar taste of the coldness of the metal piercing sent a shudder through him.

For a split second, however, Leo saw Elliot’s face in his mind. And he pulled away. “I’m skipping Bio.”

“Daring,” Vanitas teased, pulling away from the other before sitting back on the bench. “Can I bum a smoke?”

“Sure, but,” Leo held out the pack with no hesitation. He slid one between his teeth, lifting the lighter to the tip and then passing it to Vanitas. “Why?”

With another heavy sigh, Vanitas paused to light the cigarette, before giving him an answer. “Noé thinks he’s convinced me to quit for him. As if.”

“Elliot’s the same,” Leo groaned, pointedly holding up the cigarette. “He knows about this now, and seems to be under the false impression that I’ll magically stop for him, even though it’s none of his business. I only got away from him today by saying I felt sick and making a beeline for the bathroom.”

“Jesus fuck, how did that happen?” Vanitas said, the tension visibly melting from his shoulders.

“He found my pack, which led to a whole new conversation starter. He's coming to mine tonight, for us to talk for the first time in a while. I'm guessing we'll patch things up.” Leo paused, dragging on the cigarette. “Or it'll just lead to sex. I'm not arguing.” 

“That’s how things with Noé and I went. It went well, though. Mostly.” Vanitas couldn’t help but snort. “The sex went well, at least.”

Leo could tell he was lying. A moment of silence commenced, as Vanitas stood up to briefly to tap the ash off the cigarette, into the ashtray. Silences between them were always slightly awkward, because silence usually meant the guilt of the very situation could rise again.

Fortunately, Vanitas broke the silence after only a couple of minutes. “I’m guessin’ you’ve been invited to Sharon’s birthday party?”

“Yeah. She’s in my group.” His tone shifted slightly. “Are you going?”

“Of course. It’s an excuse to get shit-faced.” He paused, picking up on the awkwardness. “Are we going to…?”

Leo’s expression quickly turned uneasy. “It’s risky. Elliot will be there. Most likely following me around all night, too.”

“Yeah, fuck. Same with Noé,” Vanitas said, biting his lower lip before taking another hit of nicotine. “Especially since he’s… suspicious of my drug use now.”

There was another pause, during which Leo took a shaky drag of the cigarette, stubbed out the remains, and lit a new one. Nervously, he spoke. “It’d be nice not to fuck in a park for once.”

“Yeah,” Vanitas gave an equally nervous chuckle.  

“I can probably ask Sharon to set up a room. Keep it secret, like it’s a surprise.”

Cocking an eyebrow, as he ground the finished cigarette out with his foot, Vanitas asked, “You sure that’s safe?”

“Hopefully,” Leo snorted. “We won’t be long. Sharon will be too drunk to remember I said anything.”

“Cheers.” After the slightly insincere, snarky-sounding gratitude, Vanitas gave a genuine smile. “I’m looking forward to it.”

“Can you get more pot?”

“Obviously,” Vanitas said as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. He then shifted, instinctively folding his arms over his chest. “I’m… going to Noé’s beforehand, so I’ll probably have to bring my own shit, too.”

“Same here,” Leo said, a smile cracking at his lips nonetheless. “It should be good though. You in?”

“Fuck yes. Sounds like a solid plan.”

Even though it was several hours ago, Astolfo was still irrefutably pissed at Vanitas for earlier.

He was sick of him. For years and years, he’d had to deal with his bullshit. But today, he crossed the line. And it wasn’t like he did anything catastrophic. But Astolfo simply didn’t possess the emotional capacity to deal with said bullshit. He was tired, frustrated, and in physical and mental pain. In summary, he felt like complete shit.

There was only one more period of the day. He wanted nothing more to do with Vanitas, but it was their only shared free period of the day. So, instead of going home, Astolfo waited, headphones plugged in. Vanitas had yet to show up, and that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. For once, his head was buried in the Computer Science textbook; for once, he could have a break from French.

Vanitas’ words from earlier continued to ring throughout his head, but he felt no more confident than before.

An uncomfortable expression discreetly morphing across his face, Astolfo shifted, sliding further into the chair. Out of all the days his period could strike, it just had to be this one, didn’t it? Purely existing, and hearing people called him “her” and “Florence” was enough to trigger incessant thoughts of dysphoria. Having to see blood every time he used the toilet only exacerbated that. Not to mention the terrible cramps which didn’t leave him alone, irrespective of painkillers or position.

If his mental state truly was deteriorating, it was at the worst time possible: two months before his A Levels started.

A moment later, there was a polite tap at his shoulder. He glanced up, seeing Roland, staring at him with a blank smile across his face.

“What?” Astolfo snapped. The second he saw Roland’s smile disappear, however, he sighed heavily, took one headphone out, and apologised. “Sorry. I’m just… really not with it today.”

Roland was, for a few seconds, completely silent, before he glanced over his shoulder, and leant forward. “Are you ready to talk about it yet?”

Instantly, Astolfo’s mind flashed back to the incredibly suspicious and cryptic conversation over text he’d had with Roland a couple of weeks back. He was surprised Roland hadn’t brought it up until now.

Still, Astolfo remained silent.

“I have an idea of what it could be,” Roland continued. “But I don’t want to jump to conclusions until we’ve talked.”

He froze.

There’s no fucking way he’s guessed this.

“It’s not… that,” Astolfo lied. It was such a blatant lie. “Believe me, you wouldn’t have. It’s just that… time.”

“… oh,” Roland’s eyebrows shot up, as he pulled back slightly. Still, though, the smile returned to his face. “Did you want some painkillers?”

“No. They did nothing,” Astolfo sulked, burying the side of his face in his palm. “I’d rather go home.”

“Why don’t you?”

“Because I’m waiting for Vanitas,” he explained through tightly gritted teeth. The more he spoke of it, the more it pissed him off. Why the fuck should he have to wait for that jackass?! “Alright. Let’s go.”

Curiously, Roland titled his head, nevertheless following Astolfo without question. “Where are we going?”

“We’re going on a hunt.”

“Who for?”

“You’ll see.”

It wasn’t much of a mystery where Vanitas was. Astolfo took less than a minute to put two and two together. His snapmaps showed them in the same place, so he had to still be at college. And there was only one other place Vanitas would spend his frees.

As he approached that corner, sure enough, he heard Vanitas’ voice.

The second voice, however, made Astolfo freeze in his tracks, Roland crashing into his back.

“Why did we-?”

“Shh!” Astolfo cut him off, raising a hand.

Is that… Leo?

“What the fuck…” he murmured, before bursting ahead without hesitation. Once he entered their vision, Vanitas and, sure enough, Leo, both froze, staring at him blankly.

Seeing those two stood together made Astolfo’s blood boil. “So it’s you,” he said to Vanitas, his vicious glare darting to Leo. “It’s this guy?”

With a blatant eye roll and a matter-of-fact drag of smoke, Leo said, “Flo, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

From beside him, Vanitas raised an eyebrow. “You know her?”

“Yeah,” Leo gave a tentative nod. “She’s my-“

“He’s my brother,” Astolfo interjected. He couldn’t stand being treated like the stupid younger sister. He wasn’t delusional. And yet, what he saw before him, he couldn’t quite comprehend.

If Leo was cheating on Elliot with Vanitas, then… Vanitas must be cheating on Noé. That thought alone made him furious, and Astolfo had to clench his fists until they burned in order to fight the desire to punch both of them square in the face.

“I don't know what the fuck is going on between you two, but you both have boyfriends outside of this, for fucks sake!” He screamed, voice cracking. “What the hell are you doing?!"

The glance which Leo and Vanitas exchanged was indecipherable.

“You’re jumping to conclusions again,” Leo said, dragging on the cigarette. But his hands were visibly beginning to shake, most likely with anger.

“No, I'm not! Quit treating me like I'm delusional!” he screamed, his chest aching more and more with each strained word. Tears brimmed in his eyes, threatening to fall unless he swallowed them down. “B-Besides, you have Biology now! You've consciously bunked to be with this asshole! You're both cheating scumbags!” Astolfo paused. The next line rested temptingly on his tongue, but he hesitated, fearing either of their reactions. But he couldn’t not say it. With an audible crack in his voice, Astolfo continued, “Imagine what Elliot or Noé would think of this, for Christ’s sake?! They'd be heart-broken!”

His vision went fuzzy. His head spun. Barely, he watched Leo hand the cigarette to Vanitas, sighing heavily as he stepped forwards towards him.

“What the f-?!”

Before Astolfo could even finish the sentence, the rest of his words were slapped out of him. Leo had barely given any warning, lifting a hand and delivering what was the most painful smack to the face Astolfo had ever felt. It hurt more than the times he and Leo had fought before.

It hurt more than what his relatives used to do.

It burned.

From the corner of his tear-blurred vision, he saw Roland, attempting to intervene before getting swatted away. Leo grabbed his collar, pushing him backwards until he smashed against the pole. The back of his head took the brunt force of the push, a ringing sound overwhelming his senses. His heart was beating faster and faster, as Leo closed the gap between them.

Astolfo didn’t want to open to his eyes. Fuck, he couldn’t. He couldn’t face the angry expression facing him, barely an inch away.

Once again, Roland tried to stop him, grabbing Leo’s arm. “Don’t touch her like-!”

“Stay the fuck out of this!” Leo yelled, yanking his arm from Roland’s grip and attempting to slap him too. At the very least, Roland was able to dodge.

Astolfo wanted to stop crying. He felt beyond pathetic, cowering in the face of his brother’s outburst.

“Stop crying and fucking listen,” Leo spat, slapping him one more time. He winced, still keeping his eyes locked shut. “If you dare speak a word of this to anyone outside of here so help me God I will make your life living hell. Do you understand me?”

His threats meant nothing. Lower lip quivering, Astolfo finally broke open his eyes, eyes filled with tears and glaring back at the burning hate in Leo’s. “Y-You’re a piece of shit, you know that?” he said, “Y-You’re only angry because you’re guilty.”

Leo’s grip on his shirt tightened, as he raised his hand again. Astolfo mentally braced himself for yet another hit, praying that it wouldn’t burn as much as the others did.

From his peripheral senses, he heard Vanitas edge closer, extending a hand almost in fear. “Hey Leo-“

Before Vanitas finished speaking, Roland intervened yet again. And this time, he caught Leo totally off guard, his clenched fist colliding with his cheek in a brutal punch. Leo stumbled back, and the second he released his clutch, Astolfo ran back, stumbling towards Roland and clinging to his arm instinctively.

He could see the tears streaming down Leo’s face, even when he lunged forward again. Astolfo flinched, but for no reason.

This time, Vanitas had him, arms wrapped around his waist to restrain him. “Leo stop, she’s your sister.”

At the touch, Leo calmed down, only marginally, as Vanitas began softly raking his fingers through the other’s hair, whispering something inaudible to him.

From that picture alone, Astolfo knew he wasn’t delusional.

They really were cheating. It was hauntingly obvious.

Snapping from his trance, he pulled away from Roland abruptly. Tears continued trailing from his eyes, as he lifted a shaking hand to his face. “Don’t call me your fucking sister!”

He felt sick. So sick he could throw up at any second. Never before had Leo gotten that violent with anyone; not even him. On the verge of a mental breakdown, Astolfo had no choice but to turn around, and leave. He had to get away from there. Seeing Leo’s face, gently being caressed by Vanitas, made him even more nauseous.

Meanwhile, unsure of what to do, Vanitas remained silence. The only person remaining was Roland, staring at him. And the look in his eyes made Vanitas swallow thickly. Roland had never seemed so… intimidating, and angry.

“You should be ashamed of yourselves.” He spoke calmly, a stark contrast to his anything but calm expression, before spinning on his heel and walking away.

In his hold, Leo continued to tremble. Vanitas had never seen that side of him, and it nearly scared him. “You okay yet?”

Having calmed down very little, Leo still couldn’t speak yet, instead panting heavily as the tears continued falling.

His words trembling, he eventually managed to utter two words: “I-I’m sorry…”

For the next minute, Leo only spoke those two words, burying his head in Vanitas’ shoulder. And it was painfully clear to Vanitas that the guilt was hurting Leo far more than he was letting off.

Despite what the guilt might be doing to him, though, Leo continued to cling to Vanitas as if he were his last lifeline.

“So are you gonna tell me how you got that bruise or not?”

And just like that, the brief moment of tranquillity they managed to share abruptly collapsed.

Leo sighed, listening to the way Elliot’s heartbeat fractionally increased. Currently, they were at his house, spending time together for the first time in weeks. They laid on his bed, Leo’s head rested upon Elliot’s chest, as his hand ventured around the other’s crotch, subtly teasing him. He’d calmed down since earlier, but that was – most likely – because he hadn’t seen Flo since then. In theory, right here and now, he should’ve felt at peace.  

However, it was moments like these when Leo felt the guiltiest. He loved Elliot; he always would. And yet, he couldn’t tear himself away from Vanitas, either. He hated himself for wanting Vanitas in the first place.


Elliot didn’t need to know the full story. With another heavy exhale, wishing he could smoke but being too afraid to tell Elliot that, Leo answered, “It was just a fight. I feel like shit about it. Please don’t worry about it.”

The response was vague, and ambiguous. Leo could tell that Elliot wasn’t at all convinced by it.

Thankfully, before the conversation could proceed, there was a soft knock on the door.

“Who is it?” Leo called, fiddling with the sheets between two fingers. In his mind, it would be either his foster mother, or Flo. His heart began racing at the thought of it being Flo, who knew things which could tear his life apart.

His anxiety was settled, marginally, when a quiet voice called back. “It’s… Helen.”

Shooting a perplexed glance at Elliot, Leo stood up, grabbing the cigarettes from his desk and quickly hiding them in the bookshelf next to the door. He checked over his shoulder at Elliot one last time, just to find he looked equally as clueless, before opening the door.

“Hey,” he said, his words soft.

Helen stared up at him with wide eyes, stepping back slightly. She may have only been seven, and she’d always been shy, but… not like this. “Um… hi Elliot.”

“Hi.” Elliot waved, cracking an awkward smile from across the room.

“What did you want?” Leo asked as he crouched down to her height.

“Mummy wanted to speak to you…” she said, tucking her arms into her chest. “Florence was… upset about something.”

“Oh…” Leo let the murmur slip past his lips involuntarily.

Staring up at the bruise on his cheek, Helen titled her head, questioning, “Did you and Florence get into a fight?”

Sighing, Leo flashed her a gentle smile. “Yeah, we did. But everything is okay now.”

“Well… mummy still wanted you downstairs.”

“Alright. Let’s go,” he said, standing back up to conceal the exaggerated eye roll and reluctantly following her. Leo casually ignored the judgemental stare from Elliot which bluntly said “what the fuck?”.

When he arrived downstairs, sure enough, Flo was there. Evidently, she was trying to stay as far away from Leo as possible. She was tucked into the far enough of the sofa, slumped over with her face leaning in her palm, and her elbow resting on the side of the sofa. The tear stains no longer coated her cheeks, but the bright red bruise covering her left cheek made Leo’s chest ache.

No matter how pissed he was at her, he shouldn’t have slapped her that hard. Seeing the mark it left amplified that guilt.

“Thank you, Helen,” their mother said, gesturing to the stairs. She sounded pissed, and Leo could only assume that was his fault. “Go back upstairs, please. Leo, sit.”

Suppressing the impending roll of the eyes, Leo unwillingly obeyed, seating himself on the opposite end of the sofa to Flo. She refused point blank to meet eyes with him, and when their mother said nothing, Leo decided to speak up first. “Why did you snitch?”

“She didn’t,” his mother answered, folding her arms over when Flo didn’t want to speak. “I asked her what the bruise was. She told me.”

Wordlessly, Flo shifted.

“Flo, did you punch Leo?”

“No,” Flo muttered, sulkily.

“She didn’t,” Leo confessed, “Roland did.”

The fleeting confusion quickly left their mother’s face, and was straight away replaced by anger. “I don't care what caused this argument. But don't let it happen again, okay? Leo you're 18, for Christ's sake! What were you thinking you'd get from punching your sister?!"

“I didn’t punch her,” Leo countered. He could feel his heart facing, and the frustration building, but for once in his life, he wanted to be able to control the urge to lash out. “I only slapped her.”

“And pinned me to a wall,” Flo added discreetly.

“I don't want you two fighting,” she said, “You're meant to set an example to your siblings!”

If Leo wasn’t going to lash out in his second outburst of the day, he had to walk away. Healthy mechanisms for dealing with building frustration was something he’d simply never learnt. “Fucking hell,” he grunted, standing up, heading towards the stairs, and patting his pockets, instinctively searching for the cigarettes. Which… were hidden upstairs. “Shit.”

“Watch your language,” his mother called, but Leo was already halfway up the stairs.

He didn’t exhale again until he was back in his room, locking the door. Retrieving the cigarettes, Leo slipped open the pack, but he never took one out. Instead, he stared at them in contemplation. If Flo and his mother were still downstairs, there was no chance he’d be able to sneak outside, but with Elliot in his room, there was absolutely no way he’d get away with sneaking a smoke on the window, either.

“Can’t you at least wait until I’ve gone home?” Elliot said.

After an audible sigh, Leo closed the pack, and chucked it back in its place on the bookshelf. For Elliot, he’d wait. Silently, he returned to the bed, sitting up beside Elliot. He dropped his head onto his shoulder with a huff.

Elliot suspiciously raised an eyebrow at him. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I just… I got into a pretty nasty argument with Flo earlier,” Leo admitted, ensuring he kept the details vague. “It’s sorted now. It was my fault anyway, so I’m… feeling a little guilty, still.”

Of course, Leo didn’t disclose the real reason he felt guilty.

“Come here,” Elliot said, sliding a finger along Leo’s jawline. Too exhausted and too desperate to protest, Leo went along with it, planting his lips onto Elliot’s.

The second Elliot’s tongue slid past his lips, Leo remembered why he really loved Elliot. This was the Elliot he knew; he was soft, and gentle, and he knew every nook and cranny of Leo. Each kiss felt personal, and genuine; not high, apologetic, or pleading. It was real, and that should’ve been enough.

“Already?” Leo chuckled against his lips as Elliot’s hand began working on the zip of his jeans.

“Get the light,” Elliot said, his breath catching in his throat. Distinctly, Leo felt his arousal pressing eagerly into his thigh, and he’d be lying if he said he didn’t feel the same. Once he was fully hypnotised by the kiss, Elliot flipped him onto his back, switching their positions with an amused smirk. “That’s better.”

Groping blindly for the light switch beside his bed, Leo promptly sent the two into darkness. Even if being in bed with Elliot felt real, and meaningful, he was nonetheless plagued by guilt in that moment.

Because even though it was Elliot’s hands all over him, and Elliot’s lips pressed to his, Leo still thought about Vanitas.

Chapter Text

Like with any good occasion, Levi and Oswald were starting off the evening together, in Levi’s car, with a joint to share between them.

Neither of them was particularly close to Sharon, but her 18th birthday party was sure to be iconic when everyone in their year had been invited. And Sharon was notoriously popular with almost everyone anyway. Hence, they couldn’t possibly miss this.

“You gonna need a ride home tomorrow?” Levi asked, puffing on the joint before passing it back to Oswald. The other took it silently, not saying a word or even flinching as the car swerved around a corner.

“No,” he said, emotionlessly.

“Oh?” Levi cocked an eyebrow, the brakes screeching as he slammed down on the pedal, barely realising in time that they were approaching a red light. “Planning to get laid or something?”

Oswald, tapping the ash off the joint out if the window, merely stared at Levi, a moderately judgemental look in his idle eyes.

Levi snickered. “Wait. Are you a virgin or not?”

To little surprise, Oswald said nothing initially.

“It’s just,” Levi accepted the joint back, “As your best friend, obviously, I feel like this is something I should just know. But I don’t?” He paused, exhaling the smoke out the window. “So, you ever been laid?”

Stoic gaze not leaving the window, covered by half-lidded eyes, Oswald answered, “Yeah.”

“Woah.” Levi’s eyebrows shot up. He threw the remains of the blunt away. “I cannot imagine that.”

“What do you take me for?” Oswald said nonchalantly.

“I dunno. Someone who’s never touched their dick, let alone let someone else?” Levi paused. “You masturbated?”

Too high to give a shit about the truly disturbing set of question he was being confronted with, Oswald replied promptly. “Yeah.”

“Shit. Does Lacie know?”


“Man, that’d be weird,” Levi shivered at the thought. “You’re an enigma to me, you know that, right?”

“Yeah,” Oswald nodded, not jolting when they came to an abrupt stop outside of Lottie’s house.

Pre-drink sessions were often hosted at Lottie’s. Particularly on weekends, when her parents weren’t around. Most of them had jobs (still, miraculously) or rich parents, so expensive champagne was to be expected. That, and the familiar smell of fancy French perfume which Levi and Oswald were promptly bombarded with the second they walked in the door.

Sure enough, Lottie, Domi, Jeanne, Lacie, and Ada were there already. Each of them wore the same style bodycon dress; Lottie’s pink, Domi’s black, Lacie’s purple, and Ada’s green. The only exception was Jeanne, who wore a tight black boob-tube along with leather jeans – once again, everyone could tell this was Domi’s idea.

“Nice of you to show up eventually,” Lottie said sarcastically, winking at them entered the lounge.

“We almost opened the champagne without you,” Domi added.

Under her breath, Lacie discreetly muttered, “I don’t see why we didn’t.”

After giving sarcastic gratitude for such a pleasant greeting, Levi and Oswald promptly wandered off. Meanwhile, Lottie almost followed, but was stopped by Domi, standing by her side at the back of the lounge. She turned around, observing that no one else was watching. The music was blaring, and Lottie barely heard her.

But she did. “It’s good to see you’re drinking again.”

“You really didn’t like my sober streak, did you?” Bemusedly, Lottie raised an eyebrow, as she gently sipped the champagne, her lips barely touching the beverage.

“I didn’t not like it,” Domi replied, “It just worried me. I know you pretty well, you know. It was just obvious that something was wrong.”

“I’m okay, I promise,” Lottie shifted. “Let’s go back to the others.” She smirked, glancing over her shoulder. “I can see Jeanne staring longingly for you~”

“Ah yes. She must be.” Domi spun around, holding her glass up to Lottie. “Here’s to a good night.”

“Yeah,” Lottie smiled, trying to shake off the unidentifiable feeling of nausea and dread. “Cheers.”

Gilbert had never been a huge fan of parties.

Each one he'd been to had ended badly, regardless of whether he drank or not. Once, Vincent stole his car and crashed it. Another time, he drank too much and confessed to his crush at the time. Heck, he’d even started smoking at a party last year (courtesy of Break), and he wasn’t even drunk then.

What was worse was that, as of late, whenever he went to parties with Oz, he’d always disappear, and then return around half an hour later far more drunk than before. And usually, Gilbert had to drive him home, in a thick silence, before leaving at the door of his house which always made him feel unsettled.

If it was up to him, he wouldn’t be going to anymore parties. Particularly when it was only two months before their A Levels, and most of his weekend had been dedicated to revising. Gilbert had, luckily, not been called into work today, but by time the evening came around, after 9 hours of Maths revision, he was almost looking forward to a night away. Combine that with the fact his parents had been home all day and he was too afraid to risk going outside for a cigarette, Gilbert was practically itching to get out of there.

On his way down the stairs, although he didn’t want to, Gilbert felt compelled to check on Vincent. Or at the very least check he was still there.

“Uh… Vince?” he said, slowly creaking the door open and immediately being assaulted by the smell of cannabis. “Please stop smoking pot in your room…”

“Hi Gil,” Vincent smiled, turning his head away from the task at hand. He glanced at the pile of pre-rolled joints, before returning his gaze to his brother. “Don’t worry. I haven’t smoked anything in here.”

“Right…” he said. Only then did Gilbert notice what he was actually doing: rewiring… cameras? “What are you…?”

The sickening smile stayed locked at Vincent’s lips as he said, “I think it’s best you don’t know, Gil.”

Sometimes, Vincent really did creep him out. The only (cursed) thought which came to mind of what he was possibly doing was preparing to record a porn video with someone. Gilbert shuddered internally at said thought and shut it out of his mind, before pulling away from the door and subconsciously gripping his car keys tighter. “I’m going out now.”

“I’m going elsewhere tonight,” Vincent said, but his expression was unreadable.

Internally, Gilbert exhaled a sigh of relief. For once, he could get away from his brother. And since their parents were also home, it wasn’t his concern where Vincent actually went, either. “Alright. Bye.”

The drive to Oz’s house took no more than ten minutes, Gilbert pulling up on the opposite side of the road, as he was usually told to. He waited, for a few moments, in the vague hope that Oz was watching out for him, before pulling out his phone.

[To Oz, 20:05]
im outside

Five minutes later, and when there was no sign of Oz, Gilbert picked up the phone again, and called his contact. Still, there was no answer.

Just as the call went to answerphone, however, the front door opened, Oz slipped out. It always made Gilbert chuckle to see him moderately dressed up for these parties, in his signature shirt and jeans with designer labels which he never understood were actually designer.

“Hey,” he said, scrambling into the car after flashing Gilbert the remnants of a weak, forced smile. “Sorry, I was… doing something.”

“It’s okay,” Gilbert said. Silence ensued the moment he began driving.

Oz only spoke again once he turned right at the end of his road. “I thought we were going to Sharon’s…”

“We’re going to Break’s first,” Gilbert said after a deep inhale. For some reason, he didn’t feel good about this evening, and in every vision of something going wrong, Break was the cause of it.


The silence continued. It didn’t end until they pulled up to Break’s house. And just as they did, Gilbert felt his phone vibrate.

[From Break, 20:12]
come to the door, Im not ready

“Alright, let’s go,” Gilbert sighed. He just wanted to get to where they wanted to be. Now, he had to deal with Break.

“Where are we going?” Oz asked, sounding more or less bored, as he followed Gilbert out of the car.

Gilbert exhaled heavily for the fifth time that minute. “Break isn’t ready.”


As if the silence continuously followed them, Gilbert and Oz approached the door without uttering a word to each other. And when Emily – Break’s 10-year-old sister – opened the door, both of them exchanged notably awkward glances.

“Um…” Oz started, rolling his eyes at Gilbert after giving a teasing nudge. “Where’s Break?”

“Xerxes!” she called up the stairs, ignoring Oz’s question.

“Send them here!” he yelled back, as if he was reluctant to communicate with his sister. To convey that, Emily didn’t say another word; she simply stepped aside, let Gilbert and Oz inside, and ran off.

“That was…” Oz started.

Gilbert finished. “Awkward. I know.”

The last thing Gilbert wanted to do was spend time in Break’s room, most likely listening to him complain about Physics or A levels or Reim or his family or literally anything. But Sharon was inviting them early to her party, and Sharon was Break’s friend, and Sharon scared Gilbert a significant amount. So, he’d done as he was told, and sauntered up the stairs to Break’s room.

Upon letting themselves in, the two found Break, cross-legged on his bed in front of the mirror, and straightening his hair. “Hello there~” he greeted. “Fancy a drink?”

Silence. Of course.

“Sure,” Oz shrugged, and headed over to the tray of drinks Break had half-heartedly prepared. “Is this like some pre-pre-drinks?”

“Yep~! Gilbert?”

“I’m driving…” Gilbert said, his nose twinging at the smell of smoke which always clung to Break’s room. It made him crave a smoke even more, as he wandered over to the desk, glanced down idly, and asked, “Been revising?”

“Sort of…” Break answered with an ambiguous chuckle. “I started with Chemistry, then got bored, so tried Physics. Ah, quantum stuff still messes me up.”

“Break…” Gilbert sighed, picking up the sheet of indecipherable scribbles. “You are aware that wavelength and frequency in quantum Physics are still not the same thing, right?”

Break froze. “Are they not interchangeable?”

“… no.”

“… oh.” Switching off the straightener, Break pouted. “That explains the 10 incorrect answers.”

“Are we going yet?”

“Nearly,” Break snickered, detecting Gilbert’s impatience and clearly wanting to test it. “Let me have a smoke first, honey~”

Gilbert tried to pretend he didn’t hear that. Instead, he watched in desperate agony as Break perched on the window sill by this bed, pulled a cigarette from the pack, and held it between his lips. Only did he release the breath he was holding when Break said, “Want one?”

“Yes,” Gilbert accepted, biting his tongue when he realised how eager that sounded. Hesitantly, he sat opposite Break, accepting one and pulling out his own lighter. Once the stick was lit, and the first drag of smoke had delivered the much-needed nicotine to his brain, Gilbert remembered to give Break the well-deserved grief. “I still hate you for this, by the way.”

“Mhm, I know you do~” Break quipped, his words muffled by the cigarette as he lifted the lighter up to the tip, cupping a hand over the flame. Then, turning his head to exhale away from the room, he held up the pack again. Gilbert’s heart stopped the second he realised the pack was extended to Oz. “And you?”

Oz paused in contemplation, but only for a second. “Sure.”

“W-Wait, Oz… are you…” Gilbert stammered. He wanted so badly to tell Oz he couldn’t take up the offer, but he knew too well that the cigarette clutched between his fingers would greatly contradict that. “Have you even smoked a… a cigarette before?”

“No,” Oz said plainly, setting his drink on the side of the bed as he took the lighter off Break. Upon lighting the cigarette, he screwed his face up, but still took a smooth drag. He didn’t even cough once; that alone was enough to set Gilbert’s nerves on edge. Because, either, he was lying, or he’d smoked something before. “First time for everything, right?” Oz said over the silence, snapping Gilbert from his thoughts, as he picked up the drink again.

“Time for a second drink!” Break declared, resting the cigarette on the ashtray before sliding off the ledge and stumbling across the room to his desk, where he shakily prepared himself something which vaguely resembled a triple gin and tonic.

It was at that moment that, upon a brief glance to communicate said thought, Gilbert and Oz concluded that Break was already drunk.

“Let’s have a toast.”

“To what?”

“Your birthday, of course.” Reim smiled, handing Sharon a glass of champagne, as she sat up in the bed and pulled the covers over her chest.

“How long until the others arrive?” Sharon asked, accepting the light kiss on the cheek from Reim when he climbed back into bed with her, now dressed in the bare minimum. Her and Reim had only just finished celebrating alone, and were still coming back to reality after making love for the second time that day.

Reim sighed at the mere thought, and checked his watch. “Soon, I believe. Gilbert was bringing Oz and Break. I’m not aware when Elliot and Leo will be making it.”

“I hear Elliot is still having trouble with Leo,” Sharon said, climbing out of the bed and draping her dressing gown loosely over her shoulders. “Or rather, his family.”

“You know more about that than me,” Reim laughed weakly. Despite knowing he had little-to-no involvement or interest in gossip, Sharon still shared everything with him. “Are you working tomorrow?”

“No,” Sharon said, elegantly sipping the champagne once again. “I trust you’ll take care of me tonight.”

“Haven’t I already?”

“Clever,” Sharon deadpanned, perching at her dressing table. Just as her mouth dropped open to speak again, there was a quiet ping from beside her. “Yours or mine?”

“Mine,” Reim said, finally standing up from the bed. “What does it say?”

“It’s Oz,” Sharon said, “They’re on the way.” She paused, placing the phone down for a split second, before it vibrated again. But she didn’t read it out this time; she only stared.

“What now?” 

“He said Break is drunk already.”

“Oh,” Reim sighed, his tone turning slightly irritated. “That means he broke his promise.”

Quizzically, Sharon titled her hair at him. “What promise?”

Reim shifted, picking up his clothes as a distraction. “I’m sorry if I didn’t tell you this. But I… kept finding alcohol in his bag, and he’d… show up to lesson drunk. I asked him to stop drinking, but I… suppose this means he isn’t sober anymore.”

“Reim,” Sharon spoke softly, her words gentle and calm but with concern woven into them. She picked up the hair straightener, letting the silence dwell for another few moments. “I think it’s best that you understand that his drinking isn’t necessarily the problem here.”

It was a pointless question, because he knew that dreaded answer, but he had to be sure. “W-What is?”

“It’s his eating disorder again. Surely you must’ve seen it.”

“He…” Reim tried, staring at the wall. He felt his heart begin to race. They couldn’t be going through this again. “It got better though…”

“Yes, he did,” Sharon said, “But I’m afraid he’s regressed.”

“I… how can you tell?” Reim asked. Sure, he might’ve sounded ignorant, but he didn’t want to know the truth.

“The wardrobe.” She spun around and pointed to the furniture, plastered with her revision notes, all aesthetically laid out and pristinely coloured with the theme that Reim had come to learn belonged to Psychology. “Above the handle.”

The very title of ‘eating disorders’ seemed to amplify his nerves. Despite that, Reim still glanced down, reading where he’d been told with clenched fists.

Criteria for anorexia includes (but is not limited to) – persistent limitation of one’s nutritional intake; conscious distress over body image; disturbances in body weight. Physical disturbances may also lead to a number of psychological disturbances, such as anxiety, paranoia, mood swings, or secrecy.

Everything was ringing bells in his head. Some from last time, and some from the fact that everything he was reading seemed to be happening right now. He’d just been too in denial to do anything.

“So… what do we do?”

With a soft exhale, Sharon said, “We can’t do anything until he confesses, or we catch him.”

Reim froze. “Catch him?”

“Look at the revision cards again,” she instructed, finishing the fixing of her make-up before standing up and picking up the dress at the side of the room. “I think it's best you understand that it might not just be anorexia we're dealing with this time.”

His eyes glossing over the notes again, Reim soon picked up on what she meant; the small paragraphs about bulimia, and purging-type disorders, stood out more than they should. Right as his mouth fell open to ask another question, however, Reim’s thoughts were halted in the process, the doorbell ringing throughout the house.

“Let them in. I’ll be down in a minute,” Sharon told him, glancing out the window. “Break just fell out of the car.”

“Wonderful,” Reim deadpanned, trying to mask the worry hidden in his words with sarcasm.

“Act normal. There’s nothing we can do tonight, is there?”

The moment her lips met his cheek, Reim was once again reminded that this woman had damn superpowers. “Yeah… I guess you’re right.”

“For the last time, Vanessa, he’s not a sexual predator!”

Elliot groaned, dropping his head onto the table in defeat. Every damn time the topic of Leo came up with Vanessa and Ernest, the conversation turned into a catastrophic mess. Vanessa was a homophobic piece of shit, in his eyes, and Ernest was the worst kind of opposite, who believed the only thing gay people did was sleep around. Yeah, he might have been financially privileged, but since coming out, his family life had been anything but privileged.

Considering Leo was expected to arrive soon, needless to say, this dinner had been a disaster; Elliot did honestly hate the fact that both siblings decided to come home this weekend, of all times.

Vanessa, in absolute disgust, screwed her face up. “How old is he?”

Sighing internally, Elliot already knew where this was going. “I- 18, but th-!”

“And how old are you, Elliot?” 

“Look, I- 17, but that-!”

“See?” A smug grin pulled across Vanessa’s lips, as she slumped back in the chair with her arms folded over her chest. “You’re 17 and he’s 18. That means he’s harassing a minor.”

“Vanessa, we’re still in the same year! I-It’s no one’s fault that his birthday just happens to be in October, and mine’s August!”

“I bet he’s only coming here so you can bum in private before the party,” Ernest snickering, subtly sipping his drink as if he’d never said anything. “Need any lube?”

“We are a normal couple!” Elliot yelled, unsure why he was even trying to talk sense into them. “We do normal couple things! It's been over 3 and a half years like that, for fuck’s sake! Why do you still have an issue?! Can’t you find something else to complain about?!”

“I haven’t got a problem with gay people,” Vanessa countered defensively, “I just don’t think it’s safe for you to be with him.”

“…” Elliot couldn’t quite find the words to respond at first. “… that’s literally homophobic.”

Once again, Vanessa screwed her face up. “Why?”

“Because you know nothing about him! I-I’ve never even let you meet him!” Elliot said, burying his face in his hands and doing his best not to cry in frustration. “The only reason you don’t like him is because he’s gay!”

“That’s not it. I just think he’s a bad influence,” Vanessa claimed, standing up from the table as if to signify that this debate was over. Until she drew in a breath again, and spoke under her breath with such disgust. “You weren’t gay before you met him…”

“But I was!” Elliot tried. Before he went onto that rant again, he paused, drew in a deep breath, and pulled his phone out, discreetly texting Leo.

[To Leo, 20:53]
Go to the usual place, not front door

“Look, Elly,” Ernest said, elbows propped up on the table as if he were about to make a genius suggestion. (Elliot doubted so.) “If you really want one, I’ll find you a better boyfriend. Just… not Leo.”

“N-No! I’m not searching for someone else! A-As much as you might not like to believe it, I love him! We’ve fought through so much to be together and I refuse to let you ruin it!” It hurt to have to shout at his siblings like that, but the pressure in his chest continued to build, and the welling tears of frustration never seemed to subside. Sure, Vanessa had always been like this, but what probably felt worse about the situation was that still, in the year and a half she’d known about their relationship, it hadn’t blown over.

“Hmph. You shouldn't be around him. He's a bad influence and I don't want him around this house.”

“Fine! I’ll go to the party now!” Elliot threw his arms up. It was futile. “Are you happy now?!”

“No,” Vanessa, once again, twisted her face up in disdain. “Because he’ll be there.”

Right when his mouth dropped open to retaliate, Elliot felt the tears brim in his eyelids again, threatening to fall after one hitched breath. He clenched his fists, gritted his teeth, and just about managed to walk away. Upon getting the fuck out of there, he went straight to his room, slamming the door shut with a heavy sigh.

The moment he glanced up, and saw Leo waiting on the balcony, the sigh softened.

“Hey,” he said, stepping out onto the balcony.

“You know,” Leo said, as he closed the gap between him and Elliot and wrapped two hands around his neck. “One day I’ll fall whilst trying to climb up onto here.”

“As if,” Elliot grunted under his breath, one arms snaking around Leo’s waist before he placed his lips onto the other’s. Immediately, he felt the tension dissipate from his shoulders, as he melted into his kiss and finally let his eyes fall shut.

A little over half a minute later, Leo pulled away, tilting his head up at the other. “Something up?”

“Tch…” Elliot frowned, kicking open the door and letting him and Leo inside. “Just my siblings again.”

“Hm…” Leo hummed, dropping onto the bed and pulling his phone out. Elliot knew Leo didn’t like to get involved in the business with him and his siblings. There wasn’t much point; it wasn’t like he could change Vanessa’s mind. And out of fear of her accusing him of being a sexual predator to his face, Elliot would never introduce the two to each other.

As Leo’s attention was stuck to his phone, the other took the opportunity to serve their pre-drinks. Most people would’ve arrived at the party by now, but him and Leo were usually later anyway. The only alcohol Elliot had was stuff Leo had bought him, locked away in a cupboard at the bottom of his wardrobe. With the admittedly minimal stash, he was still able to make two vodka and cokes, handing one to Leo before collapsing onto the bed beside him.

“Classy,” Leo snickered, sipping tentatively from the drink.

“I need it,” Elliot groaned, exhaling a heavy sigh the moment his head hit the pillow. “Fuck, I’m exhausted.”

“Aw, poor baby,” Leo cooed teasingly, placing the drink down on the headboard before intertwining his fingers with Elliot’s. He paused for a moment, tapping his phone to his lips. Then, abruptly, he pulled away, sat up, and tossed the phone aside, announcing, “I’m going to piss.”

“Don’t be so crude,” Elliot said, disgusted, but a moment later, he laughed it off.

About thirty seconds after Leo had shut the door, the silence was interrupted by his phone vibrating. Curious, Elliot cranked his neck sideways, catching a glimpse of the phone screen.


“Who’s…” The word slipped past his lips before he could stop it, and just at that moment, Leo returned. He, like Elliot, only saw the phone screen for a split second.

Their eyes met. And all of a sudden, the atmosphere shifted. Wordlessly, Leo picked the phone up, breaking eye contact as he cancelled the call.

“Who’s Vanitas?” Elliot asked. He tried so hard not to sound interrogative, but ultimately failed. How could he help it?! 

“Just another friend,” Leo said.

“Well… why is he calling y-?”

“It doesn’t matter, alright?” Leo snapped, pocketing his phone as he chewed on his lower lip and shoved his hands into his pockets. “Are we going soon?”

“Uh, yeah, sure,” Elliot said, trying his best to pretend that none of that ever happened. Despite his efforts, however, the awkward silence continued to linger for their entire walk there.

“Are you ready to go yet?”

Gritting his teeth, Astolfo chose to ignore Roland’s question for a little longer.

In all fairness, though, Roland was probably growing bored by now. Because – under Astolfo’s orders – he’d been facing the window for the last 20 minutes, as the other tried on countless outfits. The floor was a mess, and so were his drawers, but Astolfo couldn’t quite bring himself to care.

He hated it. Every single outfit he tried on looked wrong. Female clothes had always fit wrong; they were too… sexualised. Everything was lower-cut or too tight. But now that he actually knew what the problem was, it seemed worse. Every curve made him uncomfortable just looking at, and thinking about how misplaced everything was triggered more dysphoric thoughts whenever he caught an unintentional glimpse of his reflection in the mirror.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Astolfo was slightly – only slightly drunk. To toast to pre-drinks, Roland had brought a bottle of champagne. But Astolfo had never drunk alcohol before, so whilst Roland slowly sipped his glass, Astolfo made his way through about five. He needed to be drunk for this; the only reason they were going to this party was because Noé wanted them to go.

Grabbing his glass and downing the rest, Astolfo finally settled on what he was wearing; black skinny jeans, and a white blouse, tucked in just enough so that it sagged past his chest. He had to say, he was surprised Roland hadn’t commented on the darker shade of pink now in his hair, too.

“Alright, you can look now.” The outfit wasn’t great, but Astolfo thought he might punch the mirror if he had to look at his reflection – even more so unclothed – any longer.

“Fancy,” Roland smiled, shuffling up on the bed as Astolfo sat down beside him, picking up his phone. Observing the silence, however, his smile dropped. “Are you sure you want to go?”

Fingers pausing over the keys, Astolfo pretended not to react.

“I’m not going to be annoyed if you don’t want to,” Roland continued, “There only reason I agreed to go was because Noé wanted us to. But if you don’t want to go because Leo will be there, or…” He paused for a moment, cupping his hands over his lap. “… for other reasons, I won’t be annoyed. In truth, I don’t really want to go.”

“Yeah, sorry,” Astolfo sighed. Internally, he was beyond relieved. “I… really don’t feel like going.”

“That’s okay,” Roland smiled, subtly reaching over and taking the wine glass from Astolfo’s hand right as a picked it up again. A good call, probably. “Do you want to talk about it yet?”

There is was again. Of course Roland still remembered that terribly, suspiciously cryptic message a couple of weeks ago. But no matter how hard he tried, Astolfo couldn’t bring himself to speak, his heart beating faster and his breath catching in his throat.

Without question, Astolfo trusted Roland with his life. From the moment he moved to the UK, he met Roland. And despite largely differing beliefs, something sparked between them. Astolfo was always that nerdy kid, and Roland was (understandably) disliked by most of his peers. For many, many years, they’d been best friends. Roland had always, without fail, stepped in to defend Astolfo; socially and physically. And he’d listened to him. He noticed when things weren’t right.

Hell, Roland had been like the older brother he’d never had. (Because Leo certainly wasn’t going to take that role.)

Unfortunately, another thing about Roland which was undeniable was his faith. Astolfo had always known his beliefs. His entire family were members of the church, and since he was able to, Roland had been working his way up the church, following in his father’s footsteps. No matter the situation, he always managed to somehow link to the bible. Usually, Astolfo ignored it.

But Roland himself had never given his opinions on all those topics – all the ones which were a grey area within the church. Things like drug use, and sex before marriage, and anything surrounding the LGBT+ community. If he was to suddenly lose Roland over this… Astolfo wasn’t quite sure what he would even do.

“I said this before,” Roland spoke calmly, careful not to pull Astolfo from his trance too abruptly. “I think I have an idea of what this is about.”

No, you don’t. “Fuck, yeah, o-okay…” Astolfo stammered, blinking away the tears and averting his gaze. “We can… talk.”

Even now, Astolfo still hadn’t made his mind up.

He was sick – undeniably fed up of living with this kept to himself. The way he saw himself contradicted the way everyone addressed him. Roland wasn’t going to tell anyone before he was ready; that, he was sure of.

But at the same time, the thought of finally coming out as trans made Astolfo’s heart race. He’d feel… exposed. Sure, relieved, but how the hell was he even supposed to approach this?

Maybe – just maybe – Roland had guessed it. Maybe his subtle changes hadn’t been subtle to Roland: someone who’d known him for years upon years, and seem him at his highest and lowest. Maybe Roland had genuinely figured this out. That thought alone made his heart race, his palms sweating as he clenched them tighter.

“Is it to do with yourself?” Roland asked.

Wordlessly, Astolfo nodded, biting down on his tongue until the urge to cry dissipated enough for him to think straight.

His heart continued racing. No, Roland couldn’t have figured it out. He can’t have. It was too discreet. Roland probably didn’t even know about that stuff.

Still, through the silence, tears began to brim in Astolfo’s eyes, dreading what Roland might say now.

After a deep breath, Roland spoke.

“Are you trans?”


“Is that it?”

At first, Astolfo’s instinct was to deny it. But, deep down, he knew that the tears now spilling from his eyes, and the blank picture of shock spread across his face had given it away. “How did you…”

“Something had been distracting you for a while,” Roland said, his hand making its way up to Astolfo’s shoulder to give a brief reassuring squeeze. “And at first, I didn’t want to bring it up, because I thought it could be exam stress. But then… it got worse, even after the mocks.” He smiled, once again, as if to let Astolfo know that he was still there. “And you’re one of the smartest people I know. So I thought… maybe there was something else. Then, you started changing how you dress, and… your hair, and the subtle changes suddenly made sense.” He paused. “And then you… when you screamed at Leo not to call you his “sister”, suddenly it… clicked. You were trans.”

“Y-Yeah…” Astolfo said. And despite the tears which continued to fall, suddenly, it felt like a huge burden had been lifted off his shoulders. “I… sorry for not telling you.”

“It’s okay.” The other shuffled closer, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. With an exhausted huff, Astolfo dropped his face into the crook of Roland’s neck.

And he cried. He cried for a solid five minutes, before sniffing, and finally cracking a smile. “Sorry…”

“Don’t apologise, dummy,” Roland chuckled, jokingly slapping his shoulder. “Did you pick a name yet?”

“Uh, yeah…” he said, “Astolfo.”

Immediately, Roland’s smile stretched wider. “I like it. It suits you.”

“Thanks…” Astolfo’s voice cracked, as he sat up. Puffy, tear-glazed eyes met the other’s, staring back at him with genuine openness. And all of a sudden, Astolfo felt guilty for underestimating him. “I… I wasn’t sure how you’d react.”

“Astolfo,” Roland said, turning to face him, an unreadable expression spread across his face. He took both of Astolfo’s hands in his, gripping them with firm reassurance. “I know you hear a lot of negative crap about Christianity. But I want you to know that those people don't represent Jesus' beliefs. Because Jesus loves everyone. Jesus' love is unconditional.” Sure enough, the smile returned to his lips a second later. “And I know this doesn’t mean much to you, but… I can assure you; He loves you too.”

Roland might have thought it didn’t mean much to him, but it did. Religion was one of – if not the most integral part of Roland’s life, and he’d just shared it with him. And it was enough to make the tear re-appear in his eyes. “T-Thank you…”

Without another word, Roland stood up, wandering over to his bag and pulling out his tablet. Then, sitting back down next to Astolfo, he placed the tablet between them, crossing his legs over on the bed.

“What are we doing?” he asked, wiping the tears away.

“We’re going clothes shopping!”

“I… I don’t have any money. My deadbeat excuse for a brother stole it all,” Astolfo said sulkily, “And I… don’t get paid for another 3 weeks.”

“That’s okay,” Roland beamed, “I have money.”

“Y-You don’t have to do that…”

“I don’t have to, but I want to.”

“Thanks, really…” Astolfo laughed. And for the first time in a stupidly long time, the happiness he felt seemed genuine; not forced. “I’m glad I told you.”

Their eyes meeting again, Roland gave the other’s hand another encouraging squeeze. “Me too.”

Chapter Text

The music was loud. The walls seemed to quake. Most rooms were busy, and hot, and sweaty. The stench of various substances clung to the atmosphere. The house, however, was still impeccably decorated, the kitchen having been set up the most extensively with an endless supply of wines, spirits and cocktail kits, along with a punch fountain. Everyone was dressed up, running around wishing Sharon a happy birthday despite probably having never spoken to her. And by the majority, people were drunk (or high). Sure, the vibe was great; it was your typical college party, really.

Break and Oz, however, had already had enough of it.

They’d only been there for an hour. People hadn’t even started arriving until half an hour ago, but nonetheless, after sitting in the conservatory with Gilbert, Sharon, and Reim for an hour with Gilbert watching Oz suspiciously and Reim watching Break suspiciously, they were utterly done. It had only taken one moment of distraction from the game of Cards Against Humanity for Break to nudge Oz’s arm, and escape with him to outside.

Besides, Oz wouldn’t mind a break from it either. Too many people being in one space with him set his anxiety running wild.

“Gil didn’t follow, right?” Oz asked, rather pointlessly, since he knew Break was too drunk to have heard him. He checked over his shoulder, once more, then set his sights on the back of the garden. Thankfully, Sharon’s garden was pretty large, and the cluster of bushes at the rear gave perfect cover.

“Ah, do you think Reim has noticed I’ve drank?” Break pondered aloud, as he stuck the joint from his pocket between his teeth and lifted the lighter up to the tip. He inhaled deeply, holding the smoke for a few seconds whilst he passed the joint to Oz.

“Well…” Oz chuckled, once again checking over his shoulder before lifting the joint to his lips and breathing in, letting the smoke flow into his lungs. “It’s quite obvious.”

“Hm, ‘s that so?”


“Oh,” Break deadpanned, smoke spilling from his partially parted lips. The two continued in silence for a couple of minutes, passing the joint back and forth.

“This is stronger than usual,” Oz said, already feeling his head cloud from the drug.

“Hm…” Break hummed, his face morphing into one of disapproval. “Different supplier.”


He shifted. “That rat, Vincent.”

Immediately, Oz felt his heart stopped. Uncomfortable didn’t even begin to describe how he felt at the thought of smoking something administered by him, but at the same time, the only thing which seemed to resume his heartbeat was another puff. “I didn’t think Vincent was coming.”

“Neither did I, but he’s here,” Break shrugged. “He’s dealing. Or I’m just hallucinating~”

“… how much did you actually drink today?” Oz asked, and regretted querying it instantly.

“Hm…” Break murmured, “It was about two when I ran out of cigarettes, so I ditched Physics revision and went to the store. And when I went there, I thought, might as well stock up on the booze.”

Out of concern, Oz couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow. “You’ve been drinking for over 7 hours?”

“Mhm, maaaaybe~” Break snickered, “I assure you, I’m perfectly fine.”

“That bottle of gin you used to make the G and Ts was three-quarters finished.”

“Ah. Yes. That was new.”

“I… ok.”

“Don’t pester me,” Break pouted teasingly, pausing to take another hit. “What about you, hm? How’s your day been?”

“It… could’ve been better.” Oz shuffled the dirt around with his feet, inhaling deeply on the joint upon learning to appreciate the increased strength.

“Was it your father again?”

“No.” Oz suddenly averted his gaze downwards, exhaling the smoke. “Ada and I drove to the library to do revision. It was… fine for the morning, and then we went out for lunch. I’m… not really sure what happened, but things got… really busy. And I panicked.” He paused, sucking the life out of the joint, snuffing it out on the ground, and hoping that the world around him stopped spinning eventually. “I… didn’t have my razor with me, so it… was a fairly unproductive afternoon.”

Break fell silent. “Did you get to eventually?”

“Yeah, but… only when I got home. And that wasn’t until several hours later,” Oz said, shamefacedly. He really hadn’t wanted to talk about this; it was embarrassing. “I was so desperate I… cut too deep, and blacked out for a bit on the bathroom floor. When I woke up, it was nearly time for Gil to pick me up.”

He didn’t say anything, but from the way Break’s eyes widened, Oz could tell he was concerned too.

“So you’re drinking on an empty stomach?” Break asked. Subtly, Oz nodded. “Ah, I’m probably still drunker than you~”

“Mhm,” Oz shifted uncomfortably. “Look, I… know I’m in no position to tell you what to do. But… please control yourself. This is Sharon's birthday party. No one should have to deal with you because you drank too much.”

After a few seconds of silence, Break scoffed. “Pssh. You’re overreacting, I’ll be fine~!”

“Hm,” Oz hummed. But really, he knew there was nothing he could say. He had no leg to stand on when it came to healthy coping mechanisms. So, without another word, they headed back inside.

With the alcohol combined with the stronger than usual weed, Oz was truly struggling to ignore the haziness clouding his judgement. He almost didn’t notice Gilbert calling his name when they stepped inside.

“Oz!” Gilbert yelled, standing up off the chair. “Where did you go?!”

“Relax, Gil,” he chuckled, avoiding eye contact out due to the paranoia that his pupils were far more dilated than normal. “We just went to get dri- hey! Elliot and Leo arrived!”

Whilst Oz ran off to great the other two, Gilbert was left drowning in an awkward silence with Break. He felt like he was suffocating, albeit that could have been because of how crowded this damn room was. And he was working tomorrow, so he’d chosen not to drink. Hence, he was already bored.

“Hey, Break,” he said, discreetly nudging the other. If it was up to him, he wouldn’t be spending any extra time with Break, but the conversation he was mentally preparing for was long overdue. “Do you, um… want to head outside?”

“Hm?” Break hummed, blinking in confusion. “Oh. Yeah.”

Watching him stumbling outside would’ve made Gilbert laugh if it wasn’t for the fact Oz had greeted him in the same manner.

“So, Gil, why are we here?” Break asked. Blindly, he fiddled with the pack of cigarettes, eventually freeing one and lighting it. “Ah, I didn’t realise Gil wanted to be here alone with me. Perhaps he is g-“

“Cut the crap, Break,” Gilbert snapped, halting his confrontation with Break for a split second as he lit the cigarette. “You know exactly why we’re here.”

“Do I?”

“Yes, dammit! W-We’re here to talk about Oz!”

Freezing, Break cocked an eyebrow. “Oz?”

“Yes, Oz!” Gilbert yelled. He groaned internally, the nicotine doing little to nothing too tame his frustration. “I don’t care what excuses you give me, because you’re a bad influence on him! W-What about the smoking, huh?! What is that about?!”

“Pssh, Gilbert, Gilbert,” Break chuckled, shaking his head mockingly. “That is a mere one-time thing.”

“Don’t treat me like I’m stupid!” Gilbert continued, “Ever since you started spending more time with Oz, h-he’s gotten worse! H-He’s grown more distant with the more time you spend with him!”

“Fuck you, alright?” Break blurted out. Gilbert was taken aback immediately; he very, very rarely saw Break snap, but when he did (particularly when considerably drunk), it was nothing short of terrifying. But Break’s glare remained vicious as ever, as he threw aside the cigarette and spun on his heel, spitting his words with a bitter edge. “Oz had problems long before I started speaking to him! You were just too blind to see them!”

With that, Break left, crashing into the sliding door on his way back inside. For a few minutes, Gilbert remained outside, the cigarette burning away between his fingers untouched as he pondered on that one single thing Break had said.

Oz… already had problems?

“How long do you reckon we've got?”

“Hm, half an hour, give or take.”

The moment they locked the door, Leo and Vanitas spun around to each other, their lips connecting and eyes closing. A second later, they parted. Leo proceeded straight to the window, fiddling with the latch briefly before cracking it open. He glanced outside, checking no one else was watching. Of course, he felt bad about this, but the desperation to get high and escape from reality for a few minutes was far too overpowering.

“Want the pot?” Vanitas asked, shrugging his jacket off and tossing it onto the bed.

“Not yet. Fuck me, I need a cigarette first,” Leo shook his head, rummaging through his pockets until he found the pack of cigarettes. He slipped one out, stuck it between his lips, and lit it.

Wordlessly, Vanitas walked up behind him, keeping well away from the windows. Arms wrapped around Leo’s waist, he sighed, burying his head in the crook of his neck. Leo smiled, running his fingers through his hair. He chuckled, and passed the other the cigarette. “Rough day?”

“That’s an understatement,” Vanitas groaned, head jerking up instantly, as he gratefully took his cigarette from Leo, stuck it between his lips, and inhaled for a solid five seconds. Then, exhaling out the window, one hand intertwined with Leo’s. “This is the first smoke I’ve had in two days.”

“Why are you actually quitting?” Leo snickered, taking the cigarette to stick it back between his lips.

Vanitas shifted, waiting until Leo passed the cigarette to him again before he replied. “Noé’s still suspicious of my drug use. And there’s not a chance I’m stopping the other stuff. But at the same time, I… want to show him I care, I just…” Vanitas sighed, reluctantly passing the cigarette to Leo. “I’m a lot deeper into this than he thinks.”

For the next couple of minutes, Vanitas and Leo remained in silence, passing the cigarette back and forth. Eventually, once that had burnt away, Leo flicked it out of the window, and Vanitas lit the blunt. Idle chatter commenced as they exchanged the blunt, still wrapped in each other’s arms as their perceptions slowly began slipping further from reality.

Once finished, Leo ground the blunt out on the window pane, before dropping it outside and drawing the curtains. Then, with a seductive smirk donning his lips, he spun around, cupping the side of Vanitas’ face as he leant up and kissed him. Immediately, Vanitas took control of the kiss, pushing the other backwards onto the bed. They continued, only for another minute, before the two sat up, grabbed their jackets, and shuffled to the ends of the bed.

“You need to shoot first?” Vanitas asked.

“Mhm,” Leo nodded subtly, pulling the paraphernalia from his inside pocket. “Yeah. It’s been a few hours.”

“Same,” Vanitas said nonchalantly, and then grinned, digging through his jacket pockets. “You ever had sex on a heroin high before?”

Leo shook his head. “No.” He shifted, staring down at the fresh syringe. “Not immediately, at least.”

The fact that Leo and Vanitas had both been living, and successfully hiding, a heroin addiction wasn’t something well known. Only they knew it – amongst all the lies, and the cheating, and the ways of getting around cravings and withdrawal and side effects – and it was the one thing only they themselves shared.

Neither of them was proud of it. Neither of them had intended for it to happen. Neither of them had wanted to shoot up at college, or in their boyfriends’ house. That was just what heroin did. It made their inhibitions slip away; their reasoning falter as every action happened without thought when under the influence of it. They rarely used to get high anyway, but every action was also fuelled at getting that sweet fix at some point or another.

Leo knew Elliot would be heart-broken if he found out about this. He’d be angry, and disgusted; how else would you react to finding out your boyfriend was a heroin addict?

Despite that thought crossing his mind every time Leo picked up the syringe, it never held him back from tipping the drug into the burnt spoon. He glanced around, noting Vanitas was at the same stage. “Do you have water?”

“Yeah,” Vanitas nodded, shuffling around some more before pulling out a bottle of water, and balancing it between them.

For the next few seconds, neither of them made eye contact. Instead, they fixed their attention on the task at hand.

It started with adding a few drops of water to the spoon, then flicking the lighter on underneath it until the mixture boiled. The look of anticipation said everything, and Leo could’ve sworn his hand shook in anticipation. Once liquified, they then added a small cotton bud to the spoon, before drawing the liquid into the needle through the filter.

Conveniently, in the heat of the moment, both of them had already taken off their belts, so easily formed the tourniquet around their forearms. Leo refused to look at Vanitas for the last stage, as he lined the needle up to the crook of his arm, then pushed, drawing the syringe full of blood before compressing the piston again.

There was a brief moment of tense silence, the two both staring into space with idle eyes.

“Are you…” Leo breathed in heavily, the drug already pumping all over his body, warming him; comforting him. “Are we good?”

“Yeah,” Vanitas exhaled, holding his palm to his forehead for a few seconds. “You?”

“I think so,” he huffed, chucking aside the used syringe.

Leo hated having to do this. But the fact was, each time they shot up, there was a chance they’d overdose. There was no regulation with heroin; each dose had differing strengths, and even though an overdose might not be fatal, it could – at the very least – dampen their plans.

With multiple drugs circulating their body and clouding their judgements, it wasn’t long before Vanitas placed his lips back onto Leo’s. Instantly, Leo parted his lips, letting Vanitas explore his mouth. His hand slid around to Leo’s shoulder, as he pushed him backwards against the mattress. He swung his leg over, grinding against the other’s hips through his pants before bucking up his waist and pulling away.

Gazing into each other’s eyes hazily, they had yet to finish panting. Vanitas, still sitting above Leo’s crotch and smirking at the feeling of the throbbing tightness, began sliding his pants off, before throwing them over the side of the bed. Meanwhile, Leo unbuttoned his shirt, leaving it half off his shoulders as his hand slipped down to his jeans, tugging them away from his hips when Vanitas sat up again.

“Ngh…” An involuntary moan slipped past Leo’s lips, Vanitas tongue sliding up his bare stomach, leaving a train of saliva. He planted his jawline with kisses, whilst his other hand trailed down his chest, sneaking into his underwear and squeezing his crotch.

“You like that?” Vanitas grinned, their lips crashing together once again.

“Hngh…” Leo shuddered in pleasure, a smile tugging at his lips, as he just about managed to nod. He grunted, his breath strained as Vanitas slipped a hand under his thigh and parted his legs. Once Vanitas started grinding onto his arousal, teasingly, and enticingly, Leo finally had the decency to pull the covers over them.

In that moment, it didn’t matter that they each had boyfriends outside of this. Because this felt like real intimacy.

It wasn’t until after 10pm that Levi, Oswald, and the girls showed up to the party.

Upon arrival, they split up almost immediately, dispersing into the crowd to socialise. Lottie went missing virtually straight away, but Domi didn’t think too much of it; especially when she had Jeanne clinging to her arm, slightly drunk already from pre-drinks and stumbling in her heels beside her. She’d also crossed paths with Noé, and had spent ten minutes or so speaking to him. Noé, who seemed drunk already.

Around twenty minutes later, Lacie finally caught up to them, a drink in her hand. “Where’s everyone else?”

“Hm… Lottie went missing within five minutes, shortly followed by Ada. Ah, I think Ada wanted to speak to her brother. Levi and Oswald fucked off about 10 minutes ago,” Domi explained, dragging her nails over Jeanne’s wrist. “I couldn’t lose my dear Jeanne, obviously~”

Lacie snickered into her drink. “Lesbians.”

“Indeed,” Domi winked, “Who wants to head to the main dance room?”

“Heck yes,” Lacie said, following Domi as she led them to the entrance hall, which seemed to be serving as the makeshift dancefloor. “I’m just about drunk enough.”

“I think I can help with that~” Domi chimed, pulling out three coloured pills from her bra. “Want one?”

“Definitely.” Lacie took hers immediately. Jeanne took a little more convincing, but eventually, Domi got her to do the same too. And once the high hit, Domi was soon grinding up and down Jeanne’s thighs, leaving her a blushing mess – as usual. Soon, however, after another few shots of vodka from the flask in her purse, Jeanne was more than engaged, the two running their hands over each other; dragging their fingers over every curve.

Around five minutes later, Lacie returned. “Jeanne, looking eager~”

“Yeah…” Jeanne murmured, eyes darting away.

Domi leant over, and kissed her cheek, before taking her hand in hers. “She’s always eager for me.”

“I can see,” Lacie raised an eyebrow. “Anyway, I need another drink. Anyone want anything?”

“Gin and tonic for me, please~”

All three of them jolted in sync when they heard Lottie’s voice from behind Domi, a huge smirk painted across her face as she placed a hand on her waist.

“Someone’s glowing,” Lacie said, “Who’d you fuck this time? That was quick.”

Lottie’s grin widened, as she cracked her knuckles tactfully. “I work my magic efficiently.”

“So it seems,” Lacie chuckled, “Anyway, I’m getting another drink.”

“Hmm, Jeanne, baby,” Domi purred, “Get me another drink, please?”

“O-Ok,” Jeanne stammered. Her eyes shot all around the room before she located Lacie and followed her.

Domi laughed at the sight – evidently, Jeanne wasn’t an accustomed drug user – before spinning back to Lottie, grabbing her hands, and pulling her into a slow dance. “So~ best friend to best friend, who really was it?”

“That’s still a secret, I’m afraid,” Lottie said, shaking her head at the other, as they continued swaying to the music a little. “They gave me an ecstasy pill, so I’m positively buzzing.”

“That’s my girl.”

“By the way,” Lottie paused, briefly glancing over her shoulder, “Vincent’s here.”  

Domi froze in her steps. “I thought he told Ada he wasn’t coming?”

“Oh, he’s here alright. He’s dealing.”

Sceptically cocking an eyebrow, Domi said, “So you slept with Vincent.” She deadpanned, “Classy, particularly when he’s dating your friend.”

“Not quite,” Lottie chimed, “His acquaintance, to be exact.”

That was when Domi pulled away, staring blankly at Lottie for a few seconds. Like Lottie had earlier, she checked over her shoulder quickly, before turning back, and scoffing, “You slept with Jack?”

Right before she nodded, Lottie caught a glimpse of Lacie, re-entering the room. Under her breath, with an extra err of caution in her words, she whispered, “Don’t tell Lacie he’s here.”

“Or that you slept with him.”

With a discreet wink, the other tapped the side of her nose, before Domi’s attention was once again captivated by Jeanne, tugging on her wrist and handing her the glass.

“Thank you, baby~” She leant over, planting a quick kiss on her lips and trying to erase the previous conversation with Lottie from her mind. Tentatively, Domi sniffed the cup, a smile twisting on her face as she dragged her fingers through Jeanne’s hair. “Ah, wine. My favourite. You really do know me best.”

“There wasn’t much else…” Jeanne whispered, her hand sliding into Domi’s.

“Hey,” Lacie greeted, having gotten momentarily trapped in the crowd. “Where’s Lottie?”

“She’s right-“ Domi spun on her heel, eyebrows furrowing the second she noticed Lottie’s absence. “Oh.”

“Probably gone to get laid again,” Lacie muttered under her breath, staring down at the two drinks in each of her hands. “Oh well. Looks like two drinks for me.”

“I was speaking to her a moment ago,” Domi said, once again scanning the surroundings. Even with her ecstasy-hindered vision, she could still easily tell that Lottie was not in that room.

“You gonna look for her?”

“Mhm,” Domi nodded. This was getting concerning now; Lottie never disappeared this much. She handed her drink to Jeanne, before spinning around and heading towards the stairs. “I’ll be right back.”

Elliot sometimes wondered if he’d ever get better at not losing Leo at social gatherings. They’d only been talking to Oz, and then when Elliot turned around again, Leo had just… gone. And Oz seemed pretty out of it, so was apparently clueless as to the fact he’d even gone.

He’d waited, for a few minutes, before giving up. Oz had found Gilbert, and seemed to be searching for someone else anyway. Instead of hanging around them like a leech, Elliot headed to where the drinks were. Leo might be there, right?

Sighing at the boring selection of wines and spirits lined up along the counter, he soon headed to the fridge. The frown on his face only deepened at that point. Clearly, all the best drinks had been taken.

“There’s not the best selection of drinks, is there?”

… That voice sounded familiar, and yet, Elliot still couldn’t quite pinpoint who it belonged to. It wasn’t until he turned around, and laid eyes on his face, that he figured out who it was. “Um… Noé, right?”

“Yeah. You’re in my Literature class,” Noé chuckled, scratching the back of his neck, flashing the other an awkward smile. “Looking for something?”

Elliot grumbled, “More like someone.”

Noé gave a wry laugh. “Well, I doubt you’ll find them in the fridge.”

Needless to say, Elliot didn’t really get his humour. He stared at him, bluntly unimpressed. He’d barely even spoken to this guy before, so he saw little reason to tell him who he was searching for and why.

Noé, on the other hand, seemed more than happy to share his dilemma to this almost-stranger. “Anyway! I was searching for Vanitas. I was speaking Domi for a while and I don't know where he went or how long ago he disappeared, so… I went to get a drink.”

“Yeah, I… lost Leo,” Elliot reluctantly admitted, pulling out a can of lemonade and mixing it with a quarter of a cup of vodka. “He disappeared about 10 minutes ago. Tch, it’s so crowded in here.”

“Probably how I lost Vani,” Noé laughed, masking the discreet concern woven into his tone. “Want to head outside for a bit? Since we’ve, uh, both been ditched.”

Elliot shrugged. “Sure.”

The situation may have been awkward, but Elliot saw no harm. He was pissed off at Leo, and this Noé guy seemed chill enough; not to mention he could probably relate to him anyway.

“So, do you know Sharon?” Noé asked. The two made their way outside, standing at the side of the garden, which, thankfully, wasn’t too crowded, spare a few groups.

“Yeah,” Elliot said, sipping his drink and screwing his face up; perhaps he’d overdone it on the vodka this time. “She’s in my group.”

“Oh, nice!” Noé paused shortly after. A disappointed look morphed onto his face. “Huh… I half expected to find Vani out here. I had a surprise for him.”

“What was it?”

“Well…” Hesitantly, Noé started, albeit avoiding eye contact, which already seemed unusual. “Things have been a little rough between us recently, and I feel like I’ve been a… a little harsh on him. So, I bought some weed off Domi, just so we could… forget about everything and have some fun together.” His words saddened. “And now he’s disappeared.”

The parallels between Noé and Vanitas’ relationship and his and Leo’s almost seemed scary. Putting himself in Noé’s shoes wasn’t really difficult at all. “Tch, just smoke it without him.”

Yes, if he’d done the same for Leo, and Leo had just run off, he would be pissed. Heck, he was pissed. Not to mention worried, purely because of the fact Vanitas had, for whatever reason, called him earlier.

Sure, the fact they’d both gone missing simultaneously was most likely a mere coincidence. Elliot always trusted Leo with all his heart, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that this wasn’t a coincidence. That thought alone, however, rattled him with guilt.

“Hm… I guess you’re right,” Noé hummed, digging through the inside pocket of his grey, crop-sleeved, designer blazer. “He’s… probably done drugs already anyway.”

Only when Noé lit the blunt, and the smell assaulted his senses, that Elliot realised he’d never actually seen weed up close before. What panicked him even more was when Noé extended the blunt to him with a beaming smile, after exhaling a puff of smoke briefly.

Elliot was fairly certain the look of shock on his face said all it needed to.

“Oh! This is your first time? Ah, sorry, I shouldn’t have assumed-“

“No, it… I don’t mind,” Elliot stammered. He’d never, ever felt the urge to even try drugs before, but right now, when it was right in front of him, he felt overwhelmed by… pure curiosity. “I, uh, had a really strict upbringing. I’ve… never really been allowed to parties until recently. And Leo and I have… never done that, either.”

“Oh. Well that’s okay!” Noé’s beaming smile returned a moment later, as he took a quick hit on the blunt again. “I won’t force you. But if you’d like to try it, the offer’s there!”

This time, his curiosity (coupled with being tipsy-bordering-on-drunk) winning, Elliot nodded, pinching the rolled paper between his thumb and middle finger when it was handed to him again. He stared at him, contemplating, before tentatively lifting it to his lips and inhaling.

The disgusted expression which his features twisted into can’t have been pretty, and mid-way through exhaling, Elliot burst out coughing. “Ugh. That feels so… weird. How can anyone like this?”

“Yeah,” Noé chuckled half-heartedly, accepting the blunt back and taking a deep drag from it. “I’m still not totally used to the taste. Still, I think it’s better than cigarettes.”

“God, don’t even get me started on them,” Elliot groaned. At the back of his mind, he was paranoid of every sensation, scared that his control and perception of reality was slipping away with every beat of the heart pumping the drug through his body. Every change went noticed, but he didn’t feel high yet. “They smell disgusting. I still don’t understand how Leo smokes them.”

“Hm…” Noé hummed in thought, momentarily tapping the ass off the blunt and passing it back to Elliot. “Leo seems really similar to Vani. It’s odd they’ve never spoken before.”

After the second puff of weed, Elliot was slowly starting to feel its effect. His head felt like it was turning to cotton, his mind addled and thoughts muddled. Still, though, his memories from earlier were more or less in-tact. And at the mention of Leo and Vanitas speaking, he couldn’t help but bring up the earlier incident.

“You… mentioned them speaking to each other,” Elliot said, “Earlier at my house, when he was in the bathroom, Leo’s phone starting ringing. And it… said “Vanitas”?”

“Huh…” Noé murmured through a cloud of smoke. “That’s weird…”

The third time Elliot took a puff from the blunt, he was beginning to get used to it. Just as he passed it back to Noé, he heard someone call his name, turning his head to see Oz bouncing up to them. “Elliot!”

“What?” Elliot grunted.

“Hm… I didn’t think you’d be out here.”

“Tch,” he scoffed, “I lost Leo.”

“Oh…” Oz sulked for a second, before turning his head towards the other with a bright smile. “Hey Noé!”

“Oh, Oz! Hi!” Noé greeted, flashing an equally-excited grin in response. “Want a hit?”

“Sure!” Oz accepted the blunt gratefully, taking a deep inhale and then passing it back.

Internally, Elliot was very, very confused. Firstly, Oz and Noé seemed to know each other, and secondly, Oz was doing drugs?! “What the hell?” he said, the words slipping out before he could consider how rude and confrontational they might have sounded.

“Oh,” Noé said, sticking the blunt between his lips. “Oz is in my Sociology class.”

“Hehe, yeah,” Oz grinned, turning back to face Elliot. “Also, Reim and Sharon are back now. They want to play a game. Everyone else is there. Ah, except for Break. We seem to have lost him.”

“Oh, sure…” Elliot exhaled. He didn’t particularly want to join in; definitely not after getting high for the first time ever.

“Go with them,” Noé said, stepping out the blunt onto the grass. “I’ll go find Roland and Flo. If they arrived.”

“Oh. Ok. Thanks, by the way. I… hope you find Vanitas,” Elliot said.

“Yeah, Noé smiled, albeit faintly. “Likewise.”

Then, following Oz inside, Elliot only then began to notice how his head was fuzzy, and his steps felt uneven. How the hell Oz was able to act normal after smoking that stuff, Elliot couldn’t figure out.

The conversation with Noé remained fresh in his mind even once he was back inside, and Elliot couldn’t shake the sickening feeling that none of this was just a coincidence.

Anyone who chose to believe Vincent when he said he wasn’t going to be at the party was, in his opinion, incredibly foolish.

He’d been selective who he’d let see him, of course. Vincent’s main goal had been dealing, and after a couple of hours of sneaking around, he’d gathered a decent stack of cash. Besides, people he’d lied to couldn’t see him anyway; his hobby, if you could even call it that, worked on trust. (Well, more like manipulation).

Satisfied with himself, he headed outside, sneaking into the small hoard of bushes at the side of the house – somewhere only he and his accomplice had been tonight.

“Did you find anything?”

“Yes,” Vincent smiled devilishly, meeting eyes with Jack – his accomplice in this so-called hobby. “Something well worth the effort.”

Jack and Vincent had only been in contact with each other for a few months. They met in Computer Science, shortly after Vincent had hacked the school’s unofficial social media website. And since then, they’d been working together – in and out of college – to gather blackmail and secrets of everyone in their year, and post it online.

Everything they’d exposed so far, through anonymously posting on said website, had been minor. But when they caught wind of the party, it was a priceless opportunity. Irrespective of their motivations – be it revenge, for amusement, or due to mere boredom – the two had formed quite the team.

Nobody knew it was them, however. And the anonymity of the situation made it even better.

“Did you find anything?” Vincent asked, slipping a cigarette from his pocket and swiftly lighting it.

“Not yet,” Jack said, accepting the cigarette when it was passed to him. He hummed, raking a hand through his hair as he passed the cigarette back. A sly grin twitched at his lips. “But I’ve been speaking to Alice. According to her, Oz and Break have been spending an unusual amount of time together.”

“I’ll consider setting cameras up where they’re likely to be, then,” Vincent said, a sinister chuckle following. “Whilst I might not need anymore blackmail against Oz, I would definitely enjoy ruining Break’s life.”

“I thought you might,” Jack smirked, “So, what did you find?”

“Something incredible.” If possible, the malicious grin stretched across his lips grew wider, and more devious. “I have obtained a video of Leo and Vanitas sleeping with each other, thus cheating on their respective boyfriends. The video is from the bedroom on the third floor.” Vincent paused, taking a long drag from the cigarette. “There is also another secret in the video which will certainly ruin their lives if exposed.”

“Show me,” Jack instructed, leaning over Vincent’s shoulder and watching the phone screen, his face showing no emotion whatsoever. “If I may ask, what is your personal grudge behind this?”

“Hm, it’s small,” Vincent spoke with disdain thick in his words. “Last year, I was paired with Leo in a Literature project. The task only lasted a week at best, but for some reason, he wasn’t keen on working cooperatively. After insulting me a couple of times; telling me I had “loose screws”, he stopped speaking to me. Whilst he got an A that term, I was given an E because of it.”

“This video is perfect,” Jack’s words seemed to hold little emotion, spare a subtle edge of excitement and eagerness. It was almost psychotic. “Edit it, and send it to Elliot and Noé immediately.” The smirk abruptly made its way back onto his face. “Then upload the video online, at exactly 11pm.”

Chapter Text

Ten minutes of searching later, Domi gave up.

“I can’t find her anywhere,” she said, sliding into the empty stool after finding Jeanne and Lacie had retreated to the conservatory.

“You think she’s okay?” Lacie asked, nearly falling off her chair.

“Yeah, she’ll be fine,” Domi reassured, taking Jeanne’s hand in hers. Despite what she said, though, she wasn’t at all confident. “Lottie’s smart. She’d find one of us if she was in trouble.”

“I’ll stab them if they hurt my girl,” Lacie said, her words dead serious. “I still reckon she’s off getting laid.”

“She’s already hooked up with someone tonight,” Domi smirked devilishly.

“Ooh, that’s fast, even for her,” Lacie snickered, “So, who was it?”

It took an incredible amount of self-restraint for Domi not to grin even wider. Even drunk and high, though, she knew better than to tell Lacie that Lottie had hooked up with Jack.

“Well,” Lacie paused, taking a long swig of Lottie’s gin and tonic. “That doesn’t mean she hasn’t found someone else to sleep with.”

“Hm, but I’d know what she’d sound like if she was getting.”

At that, Jeanne perked up, twisting her head to Domi with a bewildered and slightly terrified expression. “How do you…”

Domi simply squeezed her hand. “Don’t worry about it, baby.”

“Jeez, and I thought Lottie was straight,” Lacie said. She sighed, running her fingers over the rim of the empty glass. “Got any weed?”

“Yep,” Domi nodded, the smirk twisting back onto her lips as she pulled out a pre-rolled joint. “Only one, though. I sold the other one to Noé.”

Lighting up, Domi dutifully took the first puff, before passing it to Lacie. Then, she detached her hand from Jeanne’s, and pulled out her phone.

“I doubt she’ll reply,” Lacie remarked, taking the joint and sticking it between her lips.

“If she doesn’t, she’s in trouble.” At that mere thought, Domi felt her heart begin to race. If it was really true that Jack and Vincent were here, there was always a chance that she’d be in trouble. She swallowed thickly, typing out the message discreetly under the table.

[To Lottie xx :3, 22:46] where you at hun? Xx

“There. Sent,” Domi said, pocketing her phone again before running her hand over Jeanne’s thigh.

“Maybe she’s outside with someone…” Jeanne suggested, barely aware of her surroundings and certainly not aware of Domi caressing her leg.

Subtly, Domi shook her head in response. “I checked there.”

Just as she passed the joint to Jeanne, there was a tap on her shoulder. She spun around, spotting Ada, leaning against the table with a glass of champagne in her hand and a beaming smile spread across her face. “Hey!”

“Someone looks happy~” Domi purred, subconsciously checking her phone to see there was still no reply. “Ooh, perhaps you were with Vincent?”

In an instant, Ada’s face dropped. “Vincent isn’t here tonight.”

“Oh, yeah.” Cursing herself internally, Domi only then remembered that that rat had lied. “Sorry, I forgot.”

“That’s okay,” Ada smiled, perching on the spare stool as she sipped the wine. “I bumped into Oz, and then started speaking to loads of people!”

Whilst Ada continued recalling every conversation she’d had in the last half an hour, Domi’s attention was promptly pulled from the discussion as she felt her phone vibrate. Even though that should have been a relief, it didn’t settle her racing heartbeat.

[From Lottie xx :3, 22:49]
Im in the bathroom on the third floor.

Right. That couldn’t be good.

[To Lottie xx :3, 22:49]
is everything ok???

[From Lottie xx :3, 22:49]
Can we talk about smthn?

“I think I know where Lottie is,” she declared abruptly, disregarding whoever she’d just interrupted. She took one last hit from the joint, then rested it on the ashtray and slid off the stool. “I’ll be right back.”

Domi barely listened to whatever was said to her prior to her taking off. All she could focus on was the fact that her best friend could be in trouble.

The house was like a maze, but after a couple of minutes, Domi found the bathroom she was taking about. Tentatively, she knocked on the door, waiting for a response before calling, “Lottie?” 

The reply was delayed, and breathless. “It’s unlocked.”

Upon entering the room, the person she was searching for was finally found. Said person was, however, crouched in front of the toilet, her hair tied up. The smell of bleach clung to the air, and Domi couldn’t help but wrinkle her nose at the stench. She closed the door again, folded her arms over her chest, and snickered. “Wow, you really are sick. I didn’t realise Jack was this bad in bed.”

Despite the disgusted, nauseated expression stuck on her face, Lottie still cracked a wry laugh. A second later, however, the nausea took over once again, as she turned her head back to the toilet and gagged.

“Damn…” Domi couldn’t help but mutter under her breath. Perching on the bath tub, she began to rub gentle circles over Lottie’s back, holding her breath for the next couple of minutes until she finished throwing up. Once she had, slowly, Domi stood up, pouring a glass of water and handing it to her.

Lottie exhaled, sipping the water carefully as if the queasiness had yet to leave. “Thanks…”

“Do you know what this is?” Domi asked, tilting her head slightly.

“Yeah,” Lottie sighed again.

Jokingly, Domi cocked an eyebrow. “Girl if you die on me before our exams, I’ll literally kill you.”

“I won’t die,” Lottie said, shaking her head tragically. She groaned, burying her face in her palms. “I lied about taking the ecstasy, by the way. I’m sober right now.”

At that, Domi silenced. Internally, she felt stupid. Her best friend was right in front of her, clearly dealing with something alone, and she knew nothing of it. Her words were laced with concern; she spoke. “I don’t want to pressure you. But I’m getting worried about you.”

“Don’t worry. I promise I’m not ill,” Lottie chuckled again, albeit forcefully. Averting her gaze, she merely glanced down at the floor. “Sorry I never spoke to you about this.”

“Sorry for not noticing. You look pretty sick babes,” Domi said sarcastically, giving a derisive snort a second after. “What, are you pregnant?”

There was no verbal response. There was no non-verbal reaction. Lottie did nothing at all. Instead, she lifted the cup to her lips again, not uttering a sound.

The lack of response hit Domi far too hard, too soon.

“Wait,” she said, totally frozen. “Are you actually pregnant?”

Twenty minutes later, and Elliot was really, really starting to get worried about Leo’s mysterious disappearance.

Since going back inside, after various other people had run off, he’d mainly been roped into talking to Oz and Gilbert. For one, Elliot was wondering how the hell Oz was able to upload a coherent conversation after smoking that stuff. He certainly couldn’t.

He also couldn’t think rationally, his attention constantly strayed from the conversation and returning to paranoid thoughts about Leo’s whereabouts. Sure, Leo notoriously had a penchant for going missing at parties (and since learning of his secret habit, Elliot could now see why), but it was – at most – for ten minutes. Thanks to the combination of weed and alcohol, Elliot couldn’t help but assume the worst.

“Hey, Elliot.”

The sound of Oz’s voice quickly snapped his attention back to reality. “Hm?”

“Ah. Sorry. Do you know when Leo is coming back?”

Son of a bitch, Elliot thought. As if I really need reminding of that right now. “No. But I… I’m gonna search for him now.”

Before Elliot could think twice about that decision, he’d already stood up, and started walking towards the stairs. Instinctively, the first place he checked was the first floor, which was, if his drug-muddled head could recall correctly, where most of the bathrooms were.

As he wandered aimlessly, steps feeling heavier than they should, Elliot only then thought to text Leo again. The moment he retrieved his phone and glanced down, however, he crashed into someone.

“Sorry,” Elliot grunted, not thinking too much of it. Not until he looked up, and laid eyes on who. “Noé?”

“Oh. Elliot. Hi,” Noé greeted. His words didn’t carry the same bubbly excitement they did when he first met him, though. Instead, his words were thick with worry. He scratched his head, eyes scanning the surrounding walls. “Are you… still searching for Leo?”

“Uh, yeah…” Elliot said, pocketing his phone. “You?”

“Yeah. Have you seen Vanitas at all?”

“No, sorry,” Elliot lowered his head. “I’m… starting to get worried now, t-to be honest…”

It wasn’t a lie – every possibility had raced through his mind at least once by now. Had he gone home? Was he in trouble? Was he sick? Was he doing drugs? Has he gotten into a fight? Was he with someone else? He felt bad for even considering that last one, but the coinciding absence of Vanitas put him far too on edge to dismiss the possibility all together.

“Do you know where he could be?” Noé asked.

“Not a clue,” Elliot said, “Maybe outside? I’ve… never seen him do drugs, but maybe he… I’m not sure. Sorry.” He paused. “Where could, um, Vanitas be?”

“I… honestly don’t know,” Noé gave a sheepish laugh. “I hate to admit it, but I… think he’ll be doing drugs. Maybe with someone else, too.”

Elliot’s mouth dropped open to reply. Abruptly, he was halted, the silence being killed by a loud ping. He and Noé both stared at each other. For some unexplainable reason, all his senses seemed to merge into one at that moment. “Yours or mine?”

“I… both?”

Refusing to tear their widened eyes from each other, Elliot and Noé both slipped a hand into their pocket, pulling out their phones and glancing down in sync.

Email: anonymous
[video attachment]

“It’s, um…” Elliot stammered. No, he had to be imagining this. “Did you get an anonymous email too?”

“Yeah,” Noé nodded. “Oh! There’s a video attached.”

“Same. Do we open it?” Elliot asked. Even whilst high, he still took a second to consider his cyber-security. “It could be dodgy.”

“Um… well, we both got it at the same time, so I… whoever sent it probably wants to make a point, right?”

Elliot managed to nod, only slightly. “Yeah. Let’s… ok.”

His heart was racing, so fast he swore it would beat out of his chest, as he turned the volume up, and hit the play button. Initially, the video buffered. But what did load was a screenshot of the first second.

Before it even finished loading – despite the poor video quality – he immediately identified what it was.

The screen had Leo, and Vanitas, both sat on a bed, about half a metre apart. The camera angle was more or less straight on, capturing the room at a slight angle. From the terrified expression spread across his face, Elliot guessed that Noé had deduced the same thing.

Two seconds later, the video began playing.

Leo glanced around, noting Vanitas was at the same stage. “Do you have water?”

“Yeah,” Vanitas nodded, shuffling around some more before pulling out a bottle of water, and balancing it between them.

For the next few seconds, neither of them made eye contact. Instead, they fixed their attention on the task at hand.

It started with adding a few drops of water to the spoon, then flicking the lighter on underneath it until the mixture boiled. The look of anticipation said everything, and Leo could’ve sworn his hand shook in anticipation. Once liquified, they then added a small cotton bud to the spoon, before drawing the liquid into the needle through the filter.

Conveniently, in the heat of the moment, both of them had already taken off their belts, so easily formed the tourniquet around their forearms. Leo refused to look at Vanitas for the last stage, as he lined the needle up to the crook of his arm, then pushed, drawing the syringe full of blood before compressing the piston again.

There was a brief moment of tense silence, the two both staring into space with idle eyes.

“Are you…” Leo breathed in heavily, the drug already pumping all over his body, warming him; comforting him. “Are we good?”

“Yeah,” Vanitas exhaled, holding his palm to his forehead for a few seconds. “You?”

“I think so,” he huffed, chucking aside the used syringe.

The video glitched. The screen fuzzed. Elliot and Noé couldn’t tear their eyes from the screen, despite the fear of what they’d see next.

A second later, it resumed, flashing to another video.

It wasn’t long before Vanitas placed his lips back onto Leo’s. Instantly, Leo parted his lips, letting Vanitas explore his mouth. His hand slid around to Leo’s shoulder, as he pushed him backwards against the mattress. He swung his leg over, grinding against the other’s hips through his pants before bucking up his waist and pulling away.

Gazing into each other’s eyes hazily, they had yet to finish panting. Vanitas, still sitting above Leo’s crotch and smirking at the feeling of the throbbing tightness, began sliding his pants off, before throwing them over the side of the bed. Meanwhile, Leo unbuttoned his shirt, leaving it half off his shoulders as his hand slipped down to his jeans, tugging them away from his hips when Vanitas sat up again.

“Ngh…” An involuntary moan slipped past Leo’s lips, Vanitas tongue sliding up his bare stomach, leaving a train of saliva. He planted his jawline with kisses, whilst his other hand trailed down his chest, sneaking into his underwear and squeezing his crotch.

“You like that?” Vanitas grinned, their lips crashing together once again.

“Hngh…” Leo shuddered in pleasure, a smile tugging at his lips, as he just about managed to nod. He grunted, his breath strained as Vanitas slipped a hand under his thigh and parted his legs. Once Vanitas started grinding onto his arousal, teasingly, and enticingly, Leo finally had the decency to pull the covers over them.

The video ended.

Elliot froze.

For a few seconds, he didn’t know what to think. It was like all thoughts had ceased. It felt as though his breathing and heart had stopped. His eyes had doubled in size. The only proof he had left that he was even still breathing was the shaking of his hands. Every sound seemed distorted. His head spun.

Elliot was almost tempted to play the video again, as if he didn’t trust what he’d seen.

The silence persisted.

Leo and Vanitas had… injected drugs?

Leo had… cheated on him?

Fuck!” Elliot hissed, clenching his fists until they physically burned. Only then did his blood begin to boil, his breathing heavy and erratic. Tears slipped past his eyelids before he could stop them, one hand flying up to his face to conceal the inevitable reaction. He spun around, kicking the wall impulsively before the tears finally stopped.

No words could accurately convey the mixture of angry, frustrated, pained emotions overwhelming him in that moment.

Noé, on the other hand, had yet to move. But like Elliot, his hands visibly trembled, and his eyes – stuck open – were glazed with tears.

“We need to find them,” Elliot said, fully aware of the tremble in his words. He couldn’t help it; holding back the anger and burning hate physically hurt. His chest felt as they it could explode.

Wordlessly, Noé finally met his eyes. He nodded.

Although the video quality wasn’t great, Elliot could tell instantly which room it was filmed in. Without sparing a millisecond to brood over the consequences of a sudden interrogation, he shot off towards the stairs, sprinting up them – three, four at a time – until he reached the third floor.

It wasn’t until he arrived at the bedroom door, panting; breathless, that he turned around to check Noé was still there.

Through the door, they heard moaning. Moaning, and the quiet creaking of mattress springs.

Fuck,” Elliot shouted in a whisper. “I-It’s locked.”

“Stand back,” Noé said. Elliot obliged, once again locking eyes on Noé. Tears streamed down his face, his features twisting into an expression of determination, and rage.

With clenched fists, Noé lifted his left leg, and kicked in the door handle. Elliot’s eyebrows shot up when the lock broke and the door swung open after just that one kick. But he didn’t have time to stare in awe at Noé’s strength.

Instead, he stormed into the room, and flicked the light on.

Sure enough, in the bed, under the sheets, was Vanitas and Leo – Leo pressed up against the headboard and Vanitas on top of him.

Leo was the first to notice, an unreadable expression like a deer caught in the headlights spreading across his face as he cursed, and threw Vanitas off of him. Half a second after, he caught on.

“How the fuck did you get in here?!” Vanitas yelled, him and Leo exchanging horrified and guilty looks.

“The video?!” Noé screamed. “What did-“

“Why the fuck did you make a video and send it to us?!” Elliot interjected, storming across the room to the side of the bed where Leo sat, cowering beneath the sheets; shaking like a leaf.

Leo hastily pulled away from the bed, barely able to grab his pants from the floor due his hands shaking so severely. He exhaled, attempting to redress himself. “W-What video?”

“This!” Elliot yelled, thrusting the phone into Leo’s view. The second it began, Leo froze completely. His eyes tripled in size, and the second the video finished, he stood up, shrugging the shirt back over his shoulders as he stormed over to the bookshelf.

Upon brief inspection, he found it; a small camera, tucked behind two books, and an audio recorder.

“N-No, this can’t… Shit!” Leo hissed, slapping a hand to his forehead. All colour drained from his face within an instant. He grabbed the camera, threw it on the floor, and stomped on it, smashing the plastic. “Fuck! Who the fuck did this?!”

“Does it even matter?!” Elliot yelled, words rough as he approached the other and grabbed him by the collar. “Don’t you dare try to pin the blame on someone else when you’re the one who cheated on me! Fuck, how could you even do this?!”

“I…” Leo stammered. He choked, his breath catching in his throat as he sobbed again. He turned his head a second later, catching Vanitas’ equally as panicked stare. Neither of them could speak. They couldn’t even begin to explain themselves.

Everything was too much. Too much happened too fast.

A second later, there was a harsh slap across the side of his face.

“Don’t look at him! Answer my fucking question, Leo!” Elliot yelled. He slowly began to feel his control over his anger slipping, but truly, he couldn’t care. If he were to lash out right now, so be it. “How the fuck could you do this?! A-After everything we’ve been through!”

“Don’t touch him like that!” Vanitas interjected from across the room, still sat up on the bed, wrapped in the sheets. Seconds later, he turned his head back to Noé, who stood in silence merely trying to make sense of what was going on.

“Stay the fuck out of this!” Elliot said, head whipping around to face the other. The other who’d laid his hands all over his boyfriend. The one who’d put his lips on his boyfriend. The one who’d literally been inside him. “I-I could say the same thing to you, asshole!”

Right before Vanitas could retort, he laid eyes on Noé again. Noé… holding the syringe, staring in total silence at it. “Noé, I… I didn’t…”

“You lied…” Noé said, the stream of tears starting again. “You… you said you hadn’t…”

Elliot hadn’t even thought about the drugs yet. Suddenly, he was overwhelmed by the thought that this was a conversation he should not be hearing.

“Come with me!” he said, words horse and bitter, as he grabbed Leo’s wrist. He didn’t give a shit that Leo was half-undressed, his jeans undone and shirt half off; he just wanted to get him away from Vanitas.

He didn’t even know where they were going. Eventually, Elliot found somewhere slightly private, the bushes hiding the small area from the view of the rest of the house. Once there, he threw Leo away from him, the other colliding with the fence.


If he hadn’t heard that voice, Elliot would’ve assumed they were alone.

“Did you like my email?”

Vincent,” Elliot spat, glaring daggers at the other man, stood kicked up against the wall with his hood up and a cigarette dangling from between his teeth. A wicked smile tugged at the same lips. “It was you?!”

“Why the fuck did you hide cameras in the bedrooms?!” Leo screamed, slamming a fist into the wall. “I… you sick cunt! W-What would you even achieve from doing that?!”

“Don’t get angry at him!” Elliot yelled, “While agree this is fucked up, stop ignoring the real issue!”

“Well you were never meant to know!” Leo’s voice cracked again, his words much more guilty than threatening.

“Settling old history is all,” Vincent smiled, stubbing out the cigarette on the wall and walking away. “I’ll leave you to yourselves.”

“Answer my fucking question, Leo.”

“I’m sorry, okay?!” Leo cried. His eyes were red, and puffy, and no matter what was said or done, the quiver in his voice or the continuous stream of tears never ended. “I-It was never meant to happen like that!”

“For fuck’s sake, Leo! Don’t keep making excuses for sleeping with someone else!”

Despite Elliot screaming at him, Leo still didn’t answer. Instead, he cried to himself, burying his face in a shaking hand and repeatedly muttering, “I’m sorry, I…”

“Fuck! I can’t even believe this!” And it was true; even now, when he’d seen it with his own eyes, Elliot couldn’t quite come to terms that this was happening right now. “After everything we've been through together and you just… fuck!”

“I n-never meant for this…” Leo sobbed, “I… i-it was the… we never… w-we met through the d-drugs, I-“

“And the drugs!” Elliot screeched, only then remembering the first part of the video. “How the fuck could you have done heroin, Leo?! Why heroin?!”

“It wasn't a one-time thing, Elliot! I'm an addict, fucking surprise!” Leo blurted out. His hands persisted to shake, the track marks on his arms now hauntingly visible. It made Elliot feel sick. “I-I've been shooting heroin for 18 months! But I-I’m not going to tell you about that now because you're too irrational!”

“Can you blame me right now?!” Elliot was sure that, at the volume he was shouting, other people must have heard them. “Can you blame me when I just caught my boyfriend of four fucking years – the only person I’ve ever loved – in bed with someone else?!”

Leo didn’t speak. He could only sob wordlessly, unable to mutter anymore worthless excuses.

“Why him, Leo?! Why did you and him even meet tonight?!” Elliot said, tears breaking past his restraints as his throat began hurt from shouting so much. His chest felt heavy, the memories from earlier suffocating him. “And the phone call! What, did you plan this?!”

“It wasn’t just tonight, dammit!”

All of a sudden, Elliot felt his heart stop. Then, with fists clench tightly shut to drown out the desire to hit the other, he furrowed his eyebrows, and crossed his arms over his chest. “Tell me everything. If you want even an inkling of another chance with me, you’re gonna tell me everything right now!”

“Fine! Fucking fine!” Leo gave up, throwing his arms in the air, and taking a step back. Still failing to stop the tears, he drew in a deep, shaky breath, gradually lowering his arms and tearing his gaze away from Leo. “We… we met on Tumblr. And we… we’d both doing h-heroin, and we were the same age. So we… it was only texting, f-for the first 6 months.” He paused. Evidently, thinking back to this was painful. Thinking back to a time when none of this was happening was painful. “Eventually we… we found out we were at the same college, so we… we met up, i-in person.”

Clueless. Elliot felt clueless, and lied to, on so many damn levels. “And then like that? You hooked up just like that?”

“No! We… we were just friends!” Leo tried, “But it… it felt good to have someone who understands you, a-and knows what you’re dealing with.”

“I’ve been with you through everything! How could you even say that?!”

“You don't know what it’s like to be addicted to fucking heroin, though!” Leo spat, burying a hand in his dishevelled hair and exhaling heavily. “Y-You don’t know what it’s like to be dope sick or in withdrawal or going crazy because of it! You don't know what it’s like to have to shoot up in the school bathroom, or…”

Elliot’s face dropped. “You… you’ve used in my house, haven’t you?”

Chewing on his lower lip, turning away from the other, Leo nodded shamefacedly.

“Wow. Unbelievable,” Elliot shook his head. “So how the fuck did tonight happen?!”

“I-It was only one night, at first…” Leo started again, trying to no avail to wipe away the mess of tears. “We… we both got really high, and e-ended up sleeping together. I… we didn’t know what we were doing…” Leo’s words trailed off, another surge of tears breaking from his eyelids. “It was meant to be once. But it felt right, so we… we kept on doing it. And it… the guilt has been driving me crazy. We kept it a secret, and it drove me insane.” He sniffed, swallowing thickly. “But I… I couldn’t shake the feeling that Vanitas meant something, and we just… I don’t know! I’m sorry, okay?!”

Elliot wanted to feel bad for him – he was clearly upset about this – but he absolutely could not bring himself to feel even a shred of sympathy towards the other. “You love him, don’t you?”

“No! I… you’re the only one I love! T-There’s nothing more between me and him!”

“You’re lying.”

“I don’t love him!”

“You’re lying!”

“Fine, yes!” Leo snapped, “Yes, I… there’s something there, e-emotionally, but… that doesn’t take away from what I feel towards you!”

“I trusted you, Leo! Despite every suspicion I had that something was going on, I still fucking trusted you, dammit! And you… you’ve broken that! And if there’s no love here, and no trust, then what the fuck’s the point in this relationship?1”

“E-Elliot, no…” Leo begged. He begged, sobbing quietly as he stepped forwards and grabbed at the other’s chest. “Please don’t do this. I… I’m sorry, I’ll do anyth-!”

“Save it.” He spat. “I can’t forgive you for the lying, and the fact you cheated on me multiple times!” Elliot swatted his hand way, spinning on his heal and turning his back to Leo. “We’re over!”

“Jesus Christ, Lottie, are you serious?!”

“I’m sorry, okay?” Lottie sighed, flushing the toilet and standing up, her arms shaking under the strain. “I didn't know when the right time was to tell you.”

“Wait a second,” Domi cut her off, folding her arms over her chest. “Are you actually pregnant?”

Once again, Lottie exhaled, pulling her hair down and tilting her head. A regretful expression spreading across her face, she finally spoke. “Yes, I’m pregnant.”

Domi’s stare was totally unreadable. In all honesty, Domi herself hadn’t a clue how to react or even what to think yet. “Since when?”

“Right now, I’m at about… two months?” Lottie said, along with a light chuckle to conceal the nervousness in her words. She glanced down, lightly patting her stomach. “I’m lucky there’s been no bump yet.”

“Wait, how did this even happen?” Domi interrogated, screwing her face up slightly. “You’re on the pill, right?”

“Well, yeah,” Lottie spoke, her words more and more on edge the more bitter Domi sounded. “But there was a mistake back in early February. I ran out for a bit and couldn’t get more.”

What the hell?

That was the one thought continuously circling Domi’s mind. Said thought was also spread across her face. Her face contorting into one of disapproval and intense judgement, she scoffed derisively. “How could you be so stupid?”

Immediately, Lottie took another step back, crossing her arms over and raising an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”

“If you’re going to be whoring around so much, at least take responsibility for your actions!” Domi spoke with venom laced into her words, blatantly conveying her thoughts.

“I thought you were my best friend! Why can't you be a little more supportive?!” Lottie yelled, running a trembling hand through her hair. “This is hardly easy for me! I'm sitting A levels whilst pregnant!”

“Yeah,” Domi said, “And whose fault is that, hm?”

Lottie shrugged. “Mistakes happen.”

“Who’s the father?”

Silence. Lottie instantly averted her gaze to the floor, scratching the side of her head.

… Of course. “What, you don’t know?”

Drawing in a shaky breath, Lottie spent a few seconds visibly holding back tears, before replying, “It’s Levi… I think.”

“You think?” Domi said.

“Look, there’s only one other person this could be,” Lottie explained, “And we usually use protection, so it… it’s almost certainly Levi.”

Domi, still coming to terms with this, was yet to give any kind of positive reaction. She’d never seen Lottie as irresponsible, or stupid, and yet here she was; pregnant by mistake. “Does he know?”

“No,” Lottie snapped, “And if your reaction is anything to go by, I don’t think I want to tell him!”

“Can you blame me?” she shrieked, “What am I meant to say?! Congratulations?! It’s not like you wanted this child, right?!”

“Regardless of whether it was intentional or not, the person living inside me right now is still mine! And contrary to what you might think, I’m not stupid, and I will take responsibility for the life I created! And that’s why I’m keeping this child!” Lottie yelled. There was tears fresh in her eyes, and Domi couldn’t feel even a hint of remorse. “Maybe you could act like the best friend I thought you were, and support me through this!”

“You’re joking, right?” Domi scoffed, once again taken aback. “You’re actually keeping this child?”

“Yes! I am!” Lottie said, slamming a hand onto her hip and shooting back an equally-as-venomous glare at Domi, despite the tears. “You got a problem with that?!”

“My opinion won’t a difference here,” Domi spoke just as bitterly, but quieter this time. “But I refuse to support you through your mistakes. You slut.”

“You know what?” Narrowing her eyes, and failing to stop the tears falling down her face, Lottie pushed past her, and kicked the door open. “Fuck you alright?”

Only then, as she watched her best friend storm off crying, did Domi consider that – just maybe – she’d been a little too harsh on her.

In her defence, it was so, so sudden. And yet, at the same, everything just happened to add up. The sickness, the refusal to drink, the rejection of drugs. Domi almost felt ignorant for not figuring it out sooner. And even if she had been too harsh, Domi still stood by her opinion that it was stupid.

She knew Lottie slept around a lot. Hell, before committing to Jeanne, Domi did exactly the same (albeit she rarely ran the same risks). What she couldn’t understand was how Lottie had let this happen, and at such a crucial time in her life.

Domi didn’t feel guilty for long after, as she promptly switched off those malicious thoughts and pulled out a bag of coke. After snorting a couple of lines, any lingering shock from the indeed abrupt revelation was quickly annihilated, her head returning to its inebriated state.

Right before she made it to the stairs, however, Domi stopped in her tracks, a quiet sob ringing in her ears. A sob which was far too real to be her head playing tricks, and a sob which was hauntingly familiar, too.

Is that… Noé?

“Elliot’s been gone for a while…” Oz commented idly, gazing out into the garden as he spun on the stool. “Do you think he’s still searching for Leo?”

From beside him, Gilbert sighed, following where Oz’s eyes trailed to. He took a brief drag on the cigarette balanced between two fingers, as if only then remembering it was there, before replying, “Maybe.”

The silence which hung between the two was awkward. Oz pretended not to notice, as he sipped on the lemonade (which also had a splash of vodka added, but Gilbert didn’t need to know that), and did a full rotation on the stool once again. The conservatory, where they currently were, was by far the least crowded room of the house, and seemed to be the main room where people had gone to smoke pot, given that the garden was even more crowded.

Oz knew Gilbert was suspicious of him. Apart from when he’d gotten away with Break, Gilbert had been watching him most of the night. It made him panic, because if Gilbert had noticed something was off, they could be in for an even more awkward conversation; definitely not a conversation Oz wanted to have whilst high.

If anything, he wanted to slip away someone private right now, and cut. He itched for the razor, but after earlier, Oz had been far too paranoid to bring it with him.

A few minutes later, their silence was broken, when Oz caught a glimpse of Reim on his fifth spin of the stool that minute. “Hey! Reim!”

“Hi Oz.” Reim sounded sober, but upon watching him discreetly stumble up to where he and Gilbert were sitting, Oz deduced he was anything but sober.

He chuckled internally, watching Gilbert stare down at the cigarette in a brief moment of panic, before breathing a sigh of relief once he realised Reim hadn’t even noticed. Oz grinned. “What brings you here?”

“Well…” Reim bit down on his lower lip, repeatedly drumming his fingers against the edge of the table. “Xerx seems to have missing most of the night. Someone I spoke to said they’d seen him smoking cannabis earlier.”

Awkwardly, Oz shifted. “Sorry, I haven’t seen him…”

“I…” Gilbert stammered, staring at the cigarette with a seemingly guilty expression which Oz only could’ve wished to understand. “Me neither, sorry…”

“I’m… heading to the bathroom now, anyway,” Oz announced, standing up before Gilbert could say anything. “I’ll let you know if I see him.”

“Thanks,” Reim smiled, sliding onto the stool next to Gilbert.

The desperately clueless expression Gilbert flashed to Oz before he took of made him chuckle a bit. Gilbert might not have wanted to be alone with Reim, but Oz had other priorities right now, as he prayed to whatever mythical deity was out there that there was a razor somewhere in the bathroom.

What he heard, upon arriving at the bathroom, was something he was far too used to hearing.

“Break?” he called, hearing the other retch painfully again. There was something wrong, though; Break never audibly threw up.

Sure enough, after a brief pause, the door opened, and the moment Oz entered the room, Break crawled back across the tiles to the toilet. He groaned, leaning an elbow on the toilet seat and resting his face upon his palm, refusing to meet Oz’s eyes.

The thick stench of vomit indicated quite clearly to Oz what had happened. “Is… everything okay?”

A rather pointless question.

With another self-pitying groan, Break bent over, and face-planted the toilet seat. “I drank too much…”

“Does this normally happen?”

Break paused. “No.”

“What happened?” Oz asked. He couldn’t help but feel genuinely concerned, and also slightly pissed off that Break had been this irresponsible.

His mouth dropping open to respond, Break’s attempt at speaking was quickly halted when he gagged again. Hastily, he sat up again, retching into the bowl painfully. Oz instinctively looked away, but not quite quick enough – he still noted that Break wasn’t using any of the techniques he’d learnt to use when purging. That meant his drinking really was out of control, and that alone scared Oz.

Soon enough, Break was finished, hanging his head over the bowl for a few more seconds. Then, raking a hand through his hair, he murmured, “I hate throwing up…”

Oz couldn’t help but give a wry chuckle. “That’s not something you’d expect a bulimic to say.”

“It’s not a fetish.” Break spoke defensively. “Oww… my head hurts.”

Wordlessly, Oz traipsed over to the sink, pouring a glass of water before wandering over to the bathtub. Perching on the edge, he leant forward briefly, passing the glass to Break.

Only when Break extended a hand to him did Oz notice how pale he was, compared to his usual complexion. Not only that, his skin was glazed with a thin sheen of sweat, and his hair was a mess.

“Do you need to go to the hospital?”

“No,” Break grunted. He gagged again, but nothing came up, then continued sulking. “I don’t want to ruin Sharon’s birthday.”

“You can’t stay here,” Oz said. Although he knew he was in no position to tell Break what to do, he couldn’t lie to him, and at the very least, he could try to talk some logic into him.

“Well I can hardly go home like this,” Break whined, lifting his head after another dry heave and burying his face in his hands. “I’ll just… finish puking, and then walk home.” He sighed, glancing down at his lap and adding under his breath, “Or, find more clothes…”

Following his line of vision, Oz eventually spotted the subtle dark wet patch around his thighs. His jeans were black, so it couldn’t easily be seen, but it was there enough for Oz to figure out what this accident was.

With another fed up groan, Break cracked his neck, cringing at the sound before asking, “Do you think I’d be better if I just made myself sick?”

Oz shrugged, unwilling to start lecturing him. Sure, it was bad, but Oz was hardly sober himself either. “Maybe.”

“Hm…” Break hummed, contemplating for a few moments. Then, he climbed onto his hands and knees, refilled the glass of water, and dropped back onto the floor. Staring at the glass, he spent a couple of seconds simply swirling the water around, before screwing his face up. “Downing this in itself with probably make me sick.”

Unable to think of anything to say, Oz remained silent. He watched wordlessly as Break brought the glass to his lips, and proceeded to gulp all of it in almost one breath. After finished, he was breathless, and even more pale than before. Without making eye contact with the other, he sighed, staring down at his fingers. “Well I can’t do it if you’re watching…”

“Do you want me to leave?” Oz asked nonchalantly.

This time, when Break went to reply, he gagged, swallowing thickly before pulling himself onto his knees. A few seconds later, he heaved again.

Oz had really genuinely wanted to look away. But the streaks of red amongst the bile and water captured his attention. And from then, he physically couldn’t turn away.

He pursed his lips, willing himself not to seem too shocked. “Do you… remember how much you drank tonight?”

“No,” Break said, panting for a few seconds. He leaned over his bowl again, this time catching a glimpse of the blood mixed in with his vomit when he retched. “Oh… that’s not good.”

“Mhm,” Oz hummed.

“Not the first time it’s happened, mind you.”

And then he saw it. His focus seemed to zoom in on every bone protruding at every joint, and the paleness of his skin, and the way his hands shook. And the blood he choked up. It was at that moment that Oz realised that the person in front of him was really dying.

The words slipped from his tongue before he could think twice. “You’re going to die if you keep doing this.”

At first, Break didn’t make a sound, his hair shielding his face. He leant on the toilet seat, one hand holding his forehead up. Silence consumed the room, until the sound of a strained sob broke it. It was until the single tear trailed down from under Break’s hair that Oz even realised he was crying.

“I… I don’t want to die,” Break sobbed, his entire form trembling.

“I know it doesn’t mean much coming from me,” Oz said, followed by a self-deprecating chuckle. “But you need to get help.”

“Not again…” Break whined, another trail of tears proceeding. “I… I don’t want to die yet.” A few seconds passed, Oz not saying another word, before Break silenced, staring down at the toilet and reaching up to flush it. “I think that’s it for now.”

“Where are you going?” Oz asked, drumming his fingers against the edge of the bathtub; he still had himself to attend to.

“I need a smoke,” Break grunted, thoroughly washing his hands as he always did, until the scratches over his knuckles began to bleed. Once done, he glanced down again, his jeans still slightly damp. After little consideration, he took off one (of three) of his jackets, and tied it to his waist. “Hm… that should cover it.”

“You need to go home,” Oz urged weakly.

“I won’t drink anymore,” Break said. They both knew it was a lie. But before Oz could protest, Break had gone, leaving the other alone.

Trying to shake the image of his dying friend from his mind, Oz inhaled a deep breath, before opening the cupboards above the sink and beginning his search.

“- I trusted you, Vanitas!”

“I know, and I’m sorry?! Okay?! How many times do I have to say that?”

Yes, that’s… definitely Noé… Domi thought to herself. And… Vanitas.

Immediately, she spun on her heel, eyebrows furrowing as she sauntered back across the corridor to the bedroom which was the source of the shouting. The moment she reached the room, peering through the open door, she spotted Noé, stood a metre away from Vanitas. Vanitas… in the bed, undressed, with his head in his hands.

“I… I don’t know how you can even excuse this?!”

They were both crying. They were both shaking. Domi had no idea what had even happened here, but given the fact Vanitas was currently undressed, it couldn’t be good.

“I…” Noé continued, clenching his fists as if he was physically holding himself back. “I can deal with the drugs; I could’ve help-!”

“You couldn’t have helped me, Noé!” Vanitas blurted out, cutting the other off as he lifted his head from his hands. But he never met Noé’s eyes; instead, his gaze fixed on the window. “I'm an addict! I'm high and have no idea what I'm fucking doing half the time!"

“Don’t blame your addiction on the fact you cheated on me!”

The moment he said that, it clicked in Domi’s head. She swallowed, stepping out from the door frame and clearing her throat audibly. “What’s going on here?”

Vanitas was the first to notice her presence, his head snapping up. “Piss off, alright?”

Cocking an eyebrow, Domi shot back a glare which blatantly said ‘speak to me like that again, I dare you.’

“He…” Noé stammered, his eyes wide open. His vision shot to Domi, before darting back to Vanitas. “I caught him… sleeping with someone… else.”

Words could not accurately describe the urge Domi felt in that moment to slap Vanitas, and then punch him, and then kill him. She could barely think straight, but at the very least, she could tell Noé was upset. Without a word, she stepped forward, wrapping her arms around Noé and pulling him into a tight hug.

From the moment she began rubbing comforting circles on Noé’s back, he froze. Then, there was a sniff, before he resumed sobbing wordlessly. He buried his face into her shoulder, tears continuously streaming from his eyes.

When Domi finally opened her eyes, she met Vanitas’.

The glare he received was even more venomous than her next words. “You better get the fuck out of here in the next three seconds or I will personally castrate you with a rusty spoon.”

Wiping the tears away from his face, Vanitas caved under her threatening gaze, scrambling out of the bed and hastily pulling his pants back on. Sliding into his shoes, he never bothered redressing before scooping his stuff up into his arms and retreating from the room.

“It’s ok, Noé,” she said, her words soothing but hiding an undertone of passive aggressiveness.

“I don’t know what to do…” Noé sobbed, “I… I can’t understand him, but I…”

“Shh, it’s okay,” Domi spoke calmly again, raking a hand through his hair. “Confront him. And maybe punch him, too.”

“I’ll… Okay,” Noé nodded, sniffing away the rest of the tears as he pulled away. “Thanks, Domi.”

She forced a smile. “No problem. Are you feeling a little better now, hm?”

“Well… a tiny bit, but…” He shifted. “Are you okay, Domi? You… seemed a little agitated.”

The bitterness of her smile remained as Domi’s mind flashed back to the previous conversation with Lottie. The one which she had yet to move on from.

“Nothing’s wrong.” She lied. “Everything’s fine, Noé. Don’t worry about it.”

Chapter Text

“Do you need help with that?” Roland asked.

“Tch…” Astolfo stared down at the key in the door, unable to stop the handle spinning enough for him to remember which way to turn it. “… maybe.”

From beside him, Roland chuckled, gently nudging Astolfo out of the way as he reached forward and opened the door, letting the two in.

It was edging close to 1:30am, the two having left shortly after 10pm to go and get food. And since then, they’d mainly been wandering around the town aimlessly and occasionally buying more drinks. Astolfo was far more drunk than Roland – who barely bordered on tipsy – and extremely grateful that his foster mother and siblings were all out this weekend.

With an exaggerated sigh, Astolfo collapsed onto the sofa, letting his hair fall over his face to cover the subtle smile which involuntarily tugged at his lips. Tonight had felt like a dream, albeit the spinning of the floor probably didn’t help. But in all seriousness, for the first time in an extremely long time, Astolfo felt like he was happy. Genuinely happy; not forced.

Really, though, it was all down to Roland.

“Do you want some tea?” Roland asked, making his way to their kitchen.

“Mhm,” Astolfo grunted, finally hauling himself off his face and slumping back against the sofa cushions. Idle eyes watched the ceiling in awe, the sound of the kettle whirring slowly zoning out until Roland returned, holding two mugs of herbal tea. He took his, feeling the warmth in his hands before resting the mug on his lap and staring at the steam rising. “Thanks.”

Roland sipped the tea for a few seconds, wincing at the heat, as he sat on the chair adjacent to the other. “I should head home soon. Tomorrow is Sunday.”

Astolfo snorted. “What happens if you show up to church hungover?”

“I’d rather not think about it,” Roland said with a nervous laugh.

“What,” he scoffed, sitting up and pulling out his phone, “does getting drunk not interfere with your values or some shit?”

“Well, it’s a bit of a grey area,” Roland explained, staring past Astolfo and out at the garden. “On the one hand, alcohol is mentioned multiple times in the bible. However, being drunk is clearly harmful to the body. I suppose, as… long as you take responsibility for your actions, and don’t harm anyone, then… it’s not really a sin.” He paused. “I’m sure that belief would be disputed, however.”

“Hm,” Astolfo hummed, the other’s words going straight in one ear and out the other, more or less. In all honesty, Roland probably wasn’t even that drunk – but Astolfo couldn’t really tell. Everyone seemed sober to him right now.

“Would it be possible to leave my car here until morning?”

“Yeah,” Astolfo grunted, “My… siblings aren’t back until midday.”

When the conversation faded out once again, Astolfo laid back down on the sofa, unlocking his phone. Without thinking, he went onto the school media app, scrolling aimlessly through his feed.

The school social media app wasn’t anything official; it was merely an app made by some students a few years back which was taken over by computer science and media students every year. Each class automatically got a forum, hence, primarily, it was used for simple, college-related things. Recently, however, someone had been anonymously posting off-topic things related to various college students, but because it was unofficial, teachers refused to get involved.

Within a minute, after seeing countless reposts of the same thing, Astolfo realised something had happened.

A second later, he spotted it; a video attachment, titled “A little treat from tonight.” And the post already had countless comments.

“Hey, Roland,” he said, abruptly sitting up again and strangely feeling himself sober up a little. “Do you know if anything happened at the party tonight?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Roland answered, “Although we haven’t gotten any drunk texts from Noé. Which seems strange. Why?”

“Well… there’s a video. From tonight. The uploader has no name.”

“Let’s see it,” Roland said, sliding across to Astolfo’s sofa and peering across at his phone. Their shoulders barely touched, but the second they made slight contact, Astolfo felt himself freeze.

Shaking off the thought, he played the video. And by halfway through it, he really wished he hadn’t.

The two watched in silence as the video progressed past Leo and Vanitas preparing and injecting something to Leo and Vanitas hooking up in this random bedroom. Every kiss and moan and grind made Astolfo more infuriated – merely watching it.

By the end of the video, Roland had been rendered speechless, his eyes widened.

“What the fuck?” Astolfo muttered under his breath, mindlessly scrolling through the excess of comments. “Why the fuck would they put that online?!”

“I don’t want to defend them,” Roland said, his words level. Astolfo had no idea how he remained calm. “But, they’ve both gone to great lengths to keep this a secret.”

“Yeah?! And?”

“There’s always the possibility that they didn’t film or upload this.”

“Fuck, you… you could be right…” Astolfo grunted, slumping back against the sofa. Then, a few seconds later, he shot up again, heart racing. “And the drugs?! What the fuck is that about?!”

“Please don’t jump to any conclusions-“

“I’m not making assumptions, Roland! Do you have any idea how much money I’ve given him over the past year?! How distant he’s been?! How much he’s stolen?!” Astolfo yelled. Tears began to slip from his eyes, his hands shaking as he buried his face in his hands. “I… he’s an addict, Roland. I’ve been funding his habit, fuck! And Vanitas! H-He’s stolen from me too! D-Does that mean I’ve been fuelling both of them?!”

“Hey, come here,” Roland murmured, extending an arm and pulling Astolfo into his hold. His fingers slowly dragged through his hair, hugging him tighter with every sob until he stopped crying. “There’s no way you could’ve known.”

“I don’t give a shit about Vanitas, but… Leo’s supposed to be my brother! How did I not see it?!”

“Astolfo,” Roland said, firmer this time, as he pulled away and looked the other dead in the eye. “This isn’t your fault.”

“… fuck, I know…” he sulked, pulling away, and picking up his phone again. All of this seemed to have sobered him up, and Astolfo was left wishing he had more alcohol. “Where even is he?” He loaded Snapchat, and was left praying to whatever mythical deity was out there that Leo had done the same recently. When he saw his location, he exhaled a slight sigh of relief, however, that didn’t stop his heart beating erratically again. “His… his Snapmaps says he was just around the corner from here, 15 minutes ago… so, he’s close, I-I think.”

“You need to talk to him,” Roland said, standing up and retrieving his jacket from the other chair. “I should leave now.”

“Yeah, ok,” Astolfo sniffed. Across from him, with a sappy expression which he couldn’t deny, Roland opened his arms, and Astolfo couldn’t resist chuckling a little as he stood up, and was immediately engulfed into a tight hug. Roland always gave good hugs; he was tall, and muscly, and Astolfo felt himself almost melt. That was, however, only up until he remembered the current situation. “Fuck this, I need to speak to Noé.”

“I can’t tell you what to do,” Roland declared, pulling away and heading to the door. “But stay safe, okay?”

“Yeah, thanks,” Astolfo grumbled, collapsing back against the sofa. He exhaled, letting his eyes fall shut for a moment. “And thanks for everything, tonight.”

With that same earnest smile, Roland replied, “You’re welcome. I’ll see you tomorrow morning, maybe.”

From the moment Roland left, Astolfo felt a little lost in the silence. If Leo’s location fifteen minutes ago was really to be trusted, he’d be home any second now. His heart pounded; his stomach was uneasy. Astolfo had no idea how he was even supposed to approach the topic.

Five minutes after that, the front door clicked.

Astolfo shot up, perching on the edge of the sofa as Leo stumbled through the door. Upon a glance, he could tell he was very, very drunk, or high, or both. The stench of alcohol and smoke quickly hit afterwards, his view trailing down to the ­empty bottle of vodka clutched in Leo’s left hand.

“We need to talk,” he said. He knew it sounded lame, but in the panic of the moment, when he was unsure if Leo had even seen him there, it was the best he could do.

“Fuck off and go to sleep,” Leo spat. As usual, his words were bitter, but there was also an extra hoarseness and shakiness in his voice; one which sounded strained, as if he was holding back a plethora of emotions. Pacing back and forth, slowly edging closer to the stairs, he spoke again. “I’ve had the worst night ever, a-and I need to be alone right now.”

Abruptly, Astolfo stood up, and said, “I’ve seen the video.”

At that, Leo froze. His eyes shot open. “Wait, what video?”

“What?” Astolfo scoffed, “The one with you and Vanitas! It’s online.”

“Wait what?”

Swallowing thickly, Leo pulled out his phone, trembling hands navigating around the screen. From the moment he clicked on the video, Astolfo could tell he was just as shocked. Without speaking, his breath caught in his throat, tears pouring down his cheeks in single streams. Shakily, he began scrolling, laying eyes on the over-one-hundred comments.

“No, no, no, no…” Leo continuously murmured to himself under his breath. Throwing his phone onto the floor – another crack forming across the screen – he then launched the bottle of vodka at the adjacent wall, watching it shatter into pieces. “Fuck!”

“What the fuck even was that video?!” Astolfo yelled, folding his arms over his chest. Never before had he seen Leo so drunk and aggressive; it scared him a little, because he was unpredictable.

“I didn’t fucking make the video!” Leo screamed, arms flailing around as if it would somehow help validate his point. “Vincent snuck a camera in there, a-and sent it to Noé and Elliot, and now he… he put it online, fuck!”

“Whilst I agree that’s messed up,” Astolfo reasoned, “that doesn’t excuse the fact you were cheating!”

“For fuck’s sake, I’ve already said I’m sorry!” he yelled, clearly disregarding the fact they had neighbours and it was nearly 2am. “I never planned for it to happen! I never meant to make everything such a mess! But I can’t control my feelings!”

“No, you can’t control your feelings, but you can control how you deal with them!” Astolfo said, trying and failing to keep calm. “You could’ve been honest, instead of lying and cheating and letting everything build up until it spiralled out of control!”

“Yes, I know, I get it! All I’ve done is caused shit for everyone and you don’t need to fucking remind me!” Leo shrieked. Tears continued streaming down his face, his eyes bloodshot and dilated. Everything he said was screamed with an edge of irrationality. “You know sometimes I think things would be better for everyone if I offed myself, so spare me the lecture and don’t remind me of all the reasons I’m a shitty human being!”  

Taken aback by that, and internally terrified that he wanted to die – even if it was only the alcohol and drugs talking, Astolfo stopped yelling for a moment. “Fine. What about the drugs?”

Leo froze. “I can’t talk about this now.”

“Tell me what they were or I’m showing mum the video.”

“You fucking wouldn’t.” Leo lunged forward, grabbing Astolfo by the collar.

Astolfo couldn’t bear this again. Fuelled by rage and burning disgust, he shoved Leo back, the other staggering. Whilst he was still in his reach, Astolfo lifted a hand, and delivered a harsh slap to his face.

Seeing him sway, and clutch the burning red mark across the other’s cheek, Astolfo was filled with twisted delight. He deserved this.

“You’re my brother, for fuck’s sake!” he screamed, clenching his fists, “Tell me what it was!”

“It was heroin, that’s what!” Leo blurted out, tears pouring down his face every time he tried to wipe them away with a shaky hand.

“What the…” Astolfo muttered, “Why the fuck did you take heroin with that bastard?!”

“I’m an addict, okay?! Big fucking surprise!” Leo continued to yell, his voice cracking more and more each time a new wave of tears came trailing down his cheeks.

“Why heroin though?! Are you insane?!”

“It didn’t start as heroin!” Leo tried to explain, each word slurring into an incoherent sob. “I never wanted any of this to happen! Do you think I planned to become an addict?! No! And yes, I hate myself too, so please stop screaming at me because I can’t take it anymore!”

A second later, Leo broke.

Astolfo didn’t know what to think. On the one hand, he wanted to hate him. He didn’t want to feel even an ounce of sympathy. But at the same time, Astolfo knew what it was like to feel like this; lost, like everything was working against you, and every attempt you made to help simply made things worse.

And despite the stupidity of everything he’d done – despite the cheating and the lies and the manipulation – the person in front of him was still his brother.

“Where’s Vanitas?” Astolfo asked, heading straight to the door. He had to find Noé. Noé would be heartbroken, just like Elliot probably was. In that moment, it also clicked with him: Noé’s brother died of a heroin overdose. “I… I have to find Noé.”

“He’s… he’s still at the party, I think,” Leo stuttered, grabbing a handful of tissues from the kitchen counter. He sniffed, drying half the tears from his face, and then shot a sheepishly desperate glance at the other. “Do… do you have any cash?”

“Tch, so you can buy drugs?”

“Look, unless you want me to go into withdrawal right now – which I can assure you, no one including me is ready for – then yes!”

“No,” Astolfo spat, “Fuck you. I’m not giving you a penny more.”

“Well I’m an addict, Flo!” Leo screamed, and Astolfo was left fighting the urge to correct him. “I’m getting dope somehow! So either you give me the money, I steal something, or I’ll go and whore myself out on the streets right now!”

Once again, Astolfo was left feeling very, very little sympathy. He couldn’t stand being blackmailed like this, but the priority right now was going to the party to slap Vanitas. Reluctantly, he sifted through his jacket pocket, flinging the emergency £10 note at him and spitting, “Go fuck yourself.”

He didn’t once look back when he slammed the door, loaded up the address on his phone, and began speed-walking to the party.

Never before had Oz seen Elliot cry so much.

When he first found him, nearly an hour after he’d originally gone searching for Leo, frantically and drunkenly pacing around the kitchen with clenched fists and gritted teeth, he was pissed. Then, the moment he asked what had happened, Elliot broke.

Since then, the two had been on the sofa, Oz trying his best to comfort the other through his incoherent sobs. His understanding of the situation was lacking. But Elliot seemed adamant on him not watching the video, so he didn’t mention it. In all honesty, he hadn’t really wanted to watch two guys cheating on their boyfriends and hooking up. Definitely not when one of said boyfriends was his friend. He was, however, pretty drunk (and high), and curiosity had won over common sense.

“I can’t believe he cheated on me…” Elliot murmured for the fifth time that minutes, shaking his head when more tears slipped from his eyes. “After everything I had to go through with my family, and he… I thought I meant something!”

Only then did Oz realise that he’d never really known what happened, in that respect. “What… actually happened, w-with your parents?”

“Well… I came out to them, after we’d been going out for a while,” Elliot explained, trying and failing to hold back tears. “They had gay friends, so I… expected them to not really care. But I read them really wrong.” At the mere memories, a frown tugged at his face. “But they freaked, and at first I wasn’t even allowed to see him. So I snuck out, and… hoped it would blow over.” He shifted. “It never did… Vanessa is as homophobic as a person can get, and is convinced Leo is a sexual predator who ‘turned me gay’, and Ernest just thinks gay people fuck all the time.”

“Oh…” was all Oz could mutter, unable to think of a better response. There was nothing he could say which would make this better. Finding out your boyfriend of four years was cheating on you must be soul-crushing. But as pissed as he was at him, Oz was also worried about Leo. Because Leo – a recently exposed heroin addict, who was currently very upset – had upped and left.

“Why the fuck did Vincent film it anyway?” Elliot muttered under his breath, burying his face in his hand as Oz gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “I would’ve found out eventually, but… maybe more subtly!”

“Mhm, yeah,” Oz nodded, his next words slipping out under his breath before his drug-addled mind could think twice. “Vincent is an asshole.” Just then, he saw Gilbert returning from outside in his peripheral vision. He smiled at Elliot, once again giving him a comforting pat. “Don’t mention the Vincent part to Gil, okay? It’ll just worry him more.”

Right when Elliot nodded, and attempted to wipe away some of the tears, Gilbert sat down beside him. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Elliot murmured, downing more of the drink in his hand. And Oz really didn’t blame him for wanting to get wasted right now.

“Look, I, um…” Gilbert started awkwardly. “Sorry about what happened. A-And if it makes you feel any better, we didn’t watch the video.”

You didn’t,” Oz muttered through a sip of his drink, the cup thankfully covering his smirk from Elliot’s sidelong glare.

Just as Elliot prepared to interrogate him – a decision Oz would rather not justify – Reim came running over. And if it wasn’t for what he said next, Oz might have been thankful.

“Hey,” Reim greeted, almost panting; a worry-stricken expression spread across his face.

“Is everything okay?” Oz asked. Immediately, he was filled with panic; he’d totally forgotten about Break since earlier

“I’m really sorry to have to do this, but, Gilbert,” Reim paused to inhale a deep breath, “can you drive Xerx to the hospital?”

“Why?” Oz interjected, slightly too soon.

“Well… I found him in the bathroom, and he’s really sick,” Reim said, concern evident in his words, which seemed suddenly much more sober than before. “The confusion is the biggest concern, though. I think he might have alcohol poisoning.”

“Well… of course,” Gilbert nodded. Mutual panicked stares were exchanged between them for a few moments, before he stood up, grabbing his keys from his pocket. “Do you need any help?”

“Yes, most likely carrying him,” Reim gave a sheepish laugh.

“Are you okay on your own?” Oz asked, turning his head to Elliot. Although he wouldn’t say it, this was a perfect opportunity to leave the horribly crowded room. And Break was still his friend, and this – this worried him.

“No,” Elliot sulked, sniffling quietly, “I’m going home now. Hopefully Vanessa will be asleep so I don’t have to listen to her nagging, saying ‘I told you so’.”

“Oh, Oz…” Only then did Reim catch on. “You really don’t have to come.”

“No, it’s okay. It’s really crowded here anyway,” Oz gave a light, forced chuckle, waving Elliot goodbye with a discreet pat on the shoulder. “Besides, I’ve… been with him most of the night anyway.”

“Oh. Well… thanks,” Reim smiled.

“I’ll help carry him,” Oz offered. He was hardly strong, but based on everything he knew, Break could hardly be heavy. “Gil, bring the car round the front.”


In silence, Reim began leading Oz through the crowds to the downstairs bathroom; the same one Oz had found him in earlier.

“So, how much has he drank anyway?”

“I’m not sure,” Oz said, stopping once they arrived at the door. “I never really saw, but… I know it was a lot.”

Once they made it into the bathroom, sure enough, Break was in there. However, he was not conscious, and was instead passed out against the edge of the bath tub. The whole room stank of vomit, and he was somehow even paler than when Oz left him a couple of hours ago.

Even with his weight spread across two people, the fact that Break was so light made Oz feel sick. Only then did he begin to regret agreeing to join them. It was late, he was tired, he was drunk, he felt ill – a hospital was the last place he needed to be right now.

By the time they reached the car, things didn’t get much better. Purely for the purpose of avoiding conversation, Oz opted to sit in the back with Break. However, the lifeless form curled up beside him only made him uncomfortable; it was as if he was next to a dead man. Seeing that sent shivers down his spine, and the crawling sensation stirred in his veins again, filling him with the urge to cut for the third time that day.

“What’s the nearest hospital with A&E?” Gilbert asked, switching the engine on but staying stationary.

“Oh, god, I’m not sure,” Reim gave a sheepish laugh, reaching into his pocket to pull out his phone.

Oz answered for him. “St Peter’s.”

The awkward silence which hung in response made him wish he hadn’t said anything.

“Ah, the… one closer doesn’t have an emergency room,” he continued, “It’s about 20 minutes away.”

“Okay…” Reim said slowly, typing the address into Google Maps. After giving the first direction, leading them onto the main road, Reim exhaled, sliding back into the seat. “Sorry for having to do this.”

“It’s fine,” Gilbert said. His words were tight, and it was painfully obvious that driving to a hospital at 1am was really not fine. “I… trust you’ll scold him when he wakes up.”

“You bet I will.”

Oz groaned internally; that was another rant from Break he’d have to prepare for.

The rest of the journey proceeded in total silence, spare Reim giving the occasional directions. It wasn’t until they reached the hospital that anyone spoke again.

“I’ll run inside and tell them the details,” Reim said, “Can you bring him in?”

Nodding, Oz and Gilbert were once again plunged into silence. Wordlessly, they hoisted Break onto their shoulders. Neither dared to speak as they dragged him across the car park and into the reception. Once they got rid of him, and the hospital staff took over, it was much more than just a physical burden which was suddenly alleviated.

The waiting room was everything you’d expect from a Saturday night; relatively busy, but mostly filled with drunk people. Break had apparently been a priority, given the fact he was literally unconscious.

“Does… Sharon know where we are?” Oz asked quietly. The quietness exacerbated his paranoia, making him think everyone was staring at them.

“No,” Reim said, “I suspect she’ll be too drunk to notice anyone is missing.”

Immediately after that, the conversation died. The next ten minutes followed similarly, until the doctor re-emerged from the corridor, and called for them.

“Mr Regnard’s, uh,” he paused, “friends?”

“Yes, here,” Reim said, standing up hastily and gesturing for the others to follow.

Oz cringed internally, him (and Gilbert, by the looks of it) having momentarily forgotten that Break’s name was, well, not actually ‘Break’. It was a trivial thing, but since he was young, Break had hated his family name, which was of European decent. So, before any of them, spare Reim, knew him, he introduced himself as such.

“How is he, sir?” Reim questioned, the three being led into a private room. Break was already there, covered by a blanket. He was laid on his back, and if it wasn’t for the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest, Oz would genuinely assume that he was looking at a dead person right now.

“Stable,” he answered, words nonchalantly as he pulled out a clipboard and pen. “We’ve inserted a catheter and are administering fluids and nutrients via IV. He should wake up soon.”

“Do you know when he’ll be able to go home?” Reim said. Oz and Gilbert remained on the opposite side of the room in total silence.

“Most likely tomorrow. Since he’s a legal adult he’ll sign himself out, but we’ll only discharge him once all symptoms are gone and the alcohol is out of his system, mostly. Because most people who drink to this extent have underlying issues, we may also have to ask some questions regarding why this happened.” He spoke calmly, giving Reim a slight smile before asking, “Could I ask some questions now, about tonight?”

“Sure,” Reim said, shooting an indecipherable sidelong glance at the other two.

“Firstly, from when they began, what were the symptoms?”  

“Vomiting, confusion,” Reim began to list, “and he collapsed.”

“And how long ago were they?”

“The first instance of vomiting was about 40 minutes ago, I believe,” Reim answered.

Oz shifted, staring down at the floor. His mouth dropped open as he drew in a breath, leaving the room hanging. “It was… He was first sick about two hours ago…”

“Oh…” Reim muttered. Seeing the look of disappointment spreading across his face filled Oz with guilt. He felt bad for knowing this when Reim – his best friend – didn’t.

“Does he drink regularly?”

Internally, Oz froze, waiting to hear what Reim would say.

“I’m… not entirely sure, to be honest.” Reim gave a nervous chuckle, then a desperate glance at Oz. “Does he?”

“Um… yeah.”

The doctor raised an eyebrow, and Oz was kicking himself for seeming so suspicious. “How much?”

He shouldn’t have said anything. He shouldn’t have answered. He shouldn’t have- “Probably… somewhere around half a bottle to a whole bottle of vodka or the equivalent in a day, I-I think.”

“Right.” He said nothing else regarding the matter. And Oz just about thought he’d gotten away with it, until the doctor asked him, and directed his next question at him. “Does he have any history with physical or mental health issues?”

Wordlessly, Oz shrugged; he knew the answer, in short, but it was Reim’s turn now.

“Nearly 3 years ago, he went into treatment for anorexia,” Reim said, “He was there for two months, and completed the program.”

“Mhm. And does he have any current mental health conditions?”

After that question, the room fell into a horrible silence. Oz itched to speak up, and give an answer. But he knew he couldn’t. Break would shred him alive if he found out he broke the deal. Worse, he’d tell Gilbert about the abuse, and the cutting, and Gilbert didn’t deserve to deal with that burden.

He remained silent.

“Not that I know of,” Reim answered, after acknowledging the other’s lack of response. “I’m… aware there’s a chance he might’ve relapsed on the eating disorder, but… nothing is confirmed.”

“I see,” the doctor hesitated for a moment, before his eyes shifted downwards to the clipboard. “Has he consumed any other substances tonight?”

Reim paused. His mouth dropped open to answer. “N-“

“Just weed,” Oz said. The very second after he said it, however, he regretted it. This was for the sake of his health, sure, but Oz couldn’t stop thinking about how he’d just exposed himself.

The deadpan stares directed at him made Oz further think, shit, I really should not have said anything about that.

“How much?”

“Half a joint, I think,” Oz murmured. His drug and alcohol addled mind was unable to think of a better excuse, as he shamefacedly gave the truth with his eyes directed at the floor, avoiding the possibility of eye contact. “I, uh, shared it with him.”

Even if his gaze locked on the ground, Oz knew Gilbert’s face right now would’ve been the epitome of disappointment. He couldn’t bear to look.

“Thank you.” The doctor promptly killed the silence, and Oz couldn’t have been more grateful. “That’s all for now.”

“Oz, you…” Gilbert stammered.

This was not a conversation Oz wanted to have now. But it was happening. Really, he had to be grateful that smoking pot was all Gilbert knew about, yet at the same time, his heart proceeded to race, and he was once again left with the crawling sensation trailing over the inner surface of his wrists. “Can we talk about this in private?” he pleaded.

“Okay,” Gilbert said. No matter how hard he tried, from his tone alone, Oz failed to decipher what he was feeling.

They both turned around, heading out of the room. On the way out, Oz turned again, thanking the doctor with a fake smile, before escaping from the tension.

Meanwhile, as he watched the other exit the room, Reim almost felt back for Oz; he was about to get the scolding a lifetime. Similar to the one Break would get when he woke up. He would make sure of it. At the very least, Break would not be getting away without a discussion after pretty much ruining the rest of Sharon’s party.

He turned back to the doctor. “Sorry for all the trouble.”

“Really, there’s no need to apologise.” The doctor held up a hand, halting him. “We’re quite used to this. Anyway, if that is all, I need to go and attend to other patients. He should wake up relatively soon; you’re welcome to stay with him until then.”

“Right, thank you,” Reim said, flashing the other a smile as his phone began to vibrate in his pocket. He broke out into a cold sweat when he saw it was Sharon, and realised there was no way of getting out of this call. Hesitantly, he answered it. “Hello?”

“Hey,Sharon spoke over the phone fairly quietly, he words barely audible against the background noise and subtle slur. “Where are you?”

“The hospital. Sorry.”

There was a short pause. “Is it Break?”

“Yeah,” Reim bit his lip anxiously. “He… The doctor seems fairly convinced it’s alcohol poisoning.”

“Oh,” Sharon muttered. Reim was unable to figure out whether she was worried, upset, or annoyed – probably a mix of all those emotions. “Is he okay?”

“He’s unconscious. Stable, but unconscious,” Reim said, “I’m really sorry this happening. I hope you’ll be fine without us. If it makes you feel any better-“

“Don’t scold him,” Sharon cut him off, her tone calm and cool; a stark contrast to Reim, who was quickly losing his. “Wait until Monday, when we can have a civilised discussion.”

“… okay.” Reim didn’t want to wait, or go easy on him. But ultimately, Sharon knew best when it came to these kinds of things. “I’ll… see you later. Probably. I’m not staying here forever.”

The call ended.

Exhaling a heavy sigh, Reim’s gaze fell on Break again. “Xerx, you’re so stupid,” he said, sitting down on the chair opposite the bed and folding his arms over. Mentally, he ranted to himself, preparing to keep calm the moment Break came to.

Ten minutes later, that moment arrived.

It was gradual, but after stirring for half a minute, Break’s eyes cracked open. He squinted, eyes trailing all over the ceiling, as a confused expression morphed across his face.

“Where am I?”

“The hospital,” Reim said as he stood up, folding his arms over his chest. He sighed, remembering that Break’s eyesight was terrible without the glasses which were currently in Sharon’s bathroom somewhere. “How are you feeling?”

Break shifted, nudging his arms against sheets in a failed attempt to move. “Nauseous.”

“Are you going to be sick?”

“Hm,” Break paused. The silence worried Reim, and for good reason, apparently, as the other soon sat up. “Yep.”

“Brilliant,” Reim couldn’t help but mutter sarcastically under his breath. Hastily, he glanced around the room, spotting the stack of buckets soon enough.

At first, Break didn’t do anything. Instead, he sat up further, arms trembling against the strain. Breaths shallow, he closed his eyes as he folding one leg underneath the other, placing the bucket in his lap and staring for a few moments.

“I won’t watch,” Reim declared, turning to face the wall. And the second he spun around, in the corner of his peripheral vision, he saw Break retch.

But he didn’t hear it; spare the quiet splatter of vomit hitting the walls of the bucket.

Break didn’t gag, or heave, or continuously gasp for air. It made Reim feel sick, to the point where he almost wished he could hear the other throwing up, purely to mask the silence. The only explanation for this was that Break was used to this.

Reim, albeit unwillingly, began replaying what Sharon said. This time, when he heard those words clear in his memory, he believed them too well.

“Are you done yet?” he asked, a few minutes after.

“Yeah,” Break exhaled, dumping the filled bucket on the table next to the bed as Reim turned around. “Sorry…”

“I don’t accept your apology, Xerx,” he said firmly, “I can’t even express how irresponsible this was, and on Sharon’s birthday, nonetheless! And I don’t want to have a go at you, but… I can’t help but think you really do have a drinking problem. Because you never stopped, did you?”

Silence proceeded.

“No,” Reim frowned, clenching his fists by his sides. “I didn’t think so.”

“I haven’t gotten this drunk in a while,” Break tried to explain, fiddling with a loose thread on the edge of the bed. Eye contact was totally out of the question. “But today-“

“Save it for when you’re sober.” Reim cut him off. “I don’t want your worthless excuses right now.”

After ten minutes of aggressive, rage-fuelled speed walking, Astolfo arrived at Sharon’s house.

He was panting, and his legs hurt (boots with a heel probably weren’t the best call), but he didn’t care. Instead, he stormed straight into the garden. And immediately, he spotted Vanitas, leaning against the fence with a cigarette in one hand and a red cup in the other.

His view seemed locked on the adjacent fence, but even from five metres away, Astolfo could clearly see he’d been crying.

“Hey!” he yelled, Vanitas visibly jolting as he strutted over to the other. “We need to tal-“

“Look, if it’s about the video,” Vanitas said before pausing to take a long drag from the cigarette, “I’ve heard enough already.”

Astolfo took a step back. “What?”

“Oh, you haven’t you haven’t seen?” Vanitas spat mockingly, sticking the cigarette between his teeth and pulling out his phone. “Some year twelve kid: ‘what whores, I hope they fucking burn in hell’. Another person in our year, who I don’t even fucking know: ‘can’t believe they’d do this. Elliot and Noé are such nice people! They don’t deserve them’. And then there’s over 50 comments telling us to go kill ourselves, because whichever sick cunt uploaded this decided to enable anonymous commenting.” His words were bitter, and laced with venom. “So, spare me the lecture, because I’ve fucking heard enough, and piss off already. Go make sure your brother’s okay or something.”

“Are you seriously telling me that you care more about Leo than your own fucking boyfriend?!” Astolfo screamed. He took a step closer, his heart racing the same way it did when he confronted Leo.

“We made a mistake! I fucking know that, Flo!”

“But how the fuck could you do this to Noé, of all people?!” he shrieked, too angry to take notice of the fact he’d been dead-named. “He could never hurt anyone and you’ve just broken his heart!”

“We wanted to keep it a secret!” Vanitas said, eyes shaking as he placed the cigarette between his teeth and inhaled. It did nothing. “Nothing was meant to be official or anything!”

Astolfo groaned in frustration, flailing his arms in accordance with his words to amplify that. He knew other people were watching, and possibly filming, but all he could think was ‘fucking good’. “I can't believe you. I just can't imagine what went through your fucking heads when you disregarded your current relationships and decided to get off with each other!”

Rolling his eyes, Vanitas flicked the cigarette onto the ground. “Why the fuck are you getting involved anyway?”

“Because Noé is my friend, and he’s been hurt, that’s why!”

“What’s going on?”

As if merely speaking his name summoned him, Noé arrived, wiping his eyes as he approached the two. He stood back, however, leaving a solid two metres between him and Vanitas.

“This bitch is getting involved in shit which has nothing to do with her!” Vanitas spat, shooting Astolfo a disregarding look before dropping the cup and closing the gap between him and Noé. He reached a hand out. “Listen Noé, I… I’m really sorry.” Soon, tears began to shed from his dilated, bloodshot eyes. “I-I am, I swear I-“

“Save it. I’m done crying over you,” Noé said, staggering back and swatting Vanitas’ hand away. He exhaled a shaky breath, turning to Astolfo. “Hey, Flo, can you leave?”

“Sure,” Astolfo sighed internally, kicking himself for wanting to correct Noé at a time like this. Leaving the other two together – drunk, alone, and angry – seemed like a terrible idea. But the confrontation which was sure to happen needed to happen.

There was, however, one more important think which needed to happen.

“Vanitas,” he said, taking one step closer to the other before delivering a harsh slap to his face. A well-deserved slap. “Fuck you. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

As he spun on his heel, a proud grin tugging at his lips amidst the remnants of tears, Astolfo was glad he’d made the trip here, purely for slapping Vanitas.

Meanwhile, after watching the other leave, Noé promptly turned back to Vanitas. His heart pounded, his eyes burned, and his chest ached. After two hours of crying endlessly to Domi and her friends (who seemed way too eager to listen), Noé was physically and mentally drained.

But he wasn’t done here yet.  

“Tell me everything.”

What?” Vanitas coughed, dragging a trembling hand through his hair.

“I can live with the drugs, Vanitas,” Noé began calmly, however his tone quickly began to sound livider with every next word. “But I can’t live with the lying, or the cheating! So if you want to prove that there’s any trust left whatsoever left in this relationship, you’re gonna tell me everything right now!”


“Yes, everything!” Noé screamed, grabbing the other by the collar and pulling him closer, until their faces were just over an inch away from each other. “From the drugs to Leo to sleeping together: everything!”

“Alright! Fuck, okay!” Vanitas shouted. He tore himself from Noé’s hold, pacing back and forth and raking his hand repeatedly through his hair. Then, he inhaled, but was unable to stop the tears from continuing to trail down his cheeks as he started speaking again. “I-I was… 15, when I first smoked pot. And I… I liked being high. It was fun, y-you know? It was an escape from all the shit I could never get away from inside my head.”

Noé paused for a second, titled his head. “Like what?”

“Fucking everything, Noé!” Vanitas snapped, along with a new wave of tears. “I’ve always hated myself! I-I'm failing in college, I barely have any friends, my parents both abandoned me, and I'm an irresponsible and unfaithful piece of shit who's terrified by the concept of commitment! How can you expect me to like reality?!”

“I’m not feeling sympathy until you tell me everything.”

Yeah, so you’ve fuckin’ said!” he said, his voice hoarse and cracking. “I… Over the next two years, I just… tried every drug under the sun. Drug after drug; high after high.” He swallowed. “E-Eventually, when I was 17, I… tried heroin.” The lump in his throat hitching in his breath, Vanitas continued crying, his hands shaking as he attempted to wipe away some of the tears. “I felt better than I ever had before, so I just… kept on doin’ it.”

“How long?” Noé asked.

“Just over a year,” Vanitas sniffed. “Halfway through that time, I… I met Leo, on Tumblr. And y’know there’s that drug community, where worthless junkies like me – us – rant about shit… Well, I-I started speaking to him then. We were both addicts.”

“Six months?” Noé said, words laced with judgement and ridicule.

“No! I swear, Noé, w-we were only talking, for six months. And then… a-around a month ago, we… realised we went to the same college. And we met up. Only then did I even find out it was him!” He pleaded. But Noé pushed away any vague attempt at reconciliation, through subtle touches or those tear-glazed eyes which he would not give in to. “It was just good, to have someone there who understood you, and what you were going through. B-But one time we… we took it too far, and we got really high, and then… yeah.” Vanitas paused, sniffling as more tears escaped. “W-We hooked up.”

“Who initiated it?”

Visibly, Vanitas froze, and took a shaky inhale. “Noé, you… you really don’t need to know-“

“Tell me whose idea it was!”

“It was me, alright?!” Vanitas shrieked, turning away from the other; unable to look at him any longer. “I-I thought it would be once. It would be meaningless. But it… it turned into more. And I… we didn't stop.”

Noé furrowed his eyebrows, crossing his arms over at his chest. “Did you not even think about the consequences?!”

“You weren't meant to fucking know about it. Noé, please!”

Sniffing, despite the firmness of his glare, Noé’s last emotional wall faltered, tears slipping past his eyes. He spoke bitterly, with an edge of sarcasm, pathetically wiping away the first few tears with the palm of his hand. “You know, it's a great feeling when you find out your boyfriend sees your relationship as no more than a lie.”

With that, he stormed off.

“Noé please!” Vanitas screamed after him, and begged for him to stay, but to no avail.

As he watched the other leave, and turn his back on him without a second glance, Vanitas found himself feeling more lost than he ever had before. He sobbed, collapsing back against the fence with an audible huff, and sliding down onto the ground; burying his face in his knees.

What… am I supposed to do now?

Chapter Text

The first Monday back at college after the party was destined to be a disaster.

Astolfo and Roland themselves hadn’t actually been there, but they still knew exactly what’d gone down. They’d seen the video; they’d seen the comments, and the recurring posts the whole of the next day.

Needless to say, as they settled down in the canteen for lunch, the primary topic of discussion was that video. All they heard around them was people spitting those names.

“Is Noé here today?” Roland asked, managing to switch himself off from everyone else.

Astolfo visibly shifted, clearly being unable to do the same. “No.” He paused. “But Leo is.”

Secretly, Roland worried for him. Leo was, as they’d seen on many occasions, incapable of dealing with stressful situations in a controlled manner. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if life at home for Astolfo yesterday had been hell, and a small part of Roland feared that Leo might have even hurt him. “How has he been?”

“Well… I had to give him more money.” Astolfo shuffled in his spot once again. “Unsurprisingly, he was… pretty sick and hungover on Sunday morning, so I had to deal with that bullshit the first half of the day.”

Roland snickered, “How was your head on Sunday morning?”

“Tch, shut up,” Astolfo glanced aside sheepishly. “Mum and the siblings didn’t get back until later, but once they did, he’d just buried himself in work. Then he spent the rest of the evening either locked in his room reading or outside smoking.”

“He didn’t hurt you again though, right?”

“God no,” he grunted, “He’s too busy being guilty and sulking. He’s not even aggressive anymore, he’s just… depressed.” He paused. “But believe me, I’m not buying it. I’m waiting for him to snap.”

Internally, Roland exhaled a sigh of relief. But that relief was short-lived, as a second later, the two of them laid eyes on Noé approaching. An air of awkwardness hung over them, increasing in weight as Noé got closer.

“Hey,” he said, sitting down across from Astolfo. Compared to the usual bubbliness of his greetings, he sounded monotonous, his words carrying no emotions, seemingly numb.

It was hardly surprising. “Hey,” Roland said. In response, Noé gave an obviously-forced smile.

“Are you okay?” Astolfo asked, his words quiet and genuine.

Noé gave a wry chuckle. “I’ve had better days.” The fleeting smile was, once again, fake. “I like your jumper, by the way. It is new?”

Only then did Roland realise that Noé didn’t know about that. And from the sheepish look spread across his face, his view locked elsewhere, Astolfo was fixated on the same thing.

The silence proceeded. Right before Roland was about to answer, simply to break the silence and change the topic, Astolfo sat up.

It was incredibly abrupt, from when he drew in a deep breath, to when his mouth dropped open, two words slipping past his lips. “I’m trans.”

At first, Noé’s stare was blank. Within his chest, Roland’s heart began to pound, his eyes involuntarily widening. Coming out with that was so… unexpected, particularly when Astolfo had taken several weeks of everything building up before he told Roland.

Then, a moment later, Noé smiled. “Cool.”

Internally, Roland exhaled a sigh; he was beyond happy for Astolfo. After all the bullshit he’d put up with this weekend, he deserved at least one good thing. He reached across, giving Astolfo a comforting squeeze of the shoulder when he saw him glance aside.

“Did you know?” Noé said.

Wordlessly, Roland nodded, and smiled.

“Hey, it’s cool,” Noé turned to Astolfo. “There’s nothing wrong with it.”

“Thanks…” Astolfo murmured, significantly less confident than he was a mere thirty seconds ago. “And… sorry if it was a little sudden. I just…”

“Don’t apologise!” Noé scolded mockingly. A second later, he grinned, giving the other a teasing nudge of the shoulder. “What name should I call you?”

“Um…” Once again, Astolfo turned his head away. So much so that Roland barely caught the faint blush which spread across his face as he muttered, “Astolfo…”

“Hey, that’s a cool name,” Noé said, his gaze dropping to his untouched food. He exhaled lightly, closer the box. “Sorry guys, I know I just got here, but I… I’m really not hungry. I think I’m gonna head home after period five anyway.”

“Give yourself the space you need,” Roland said, smiling at the other as he stood up and flung his bag over his shoulder. He didn’t blame him for wanting to leave, considering everyone around them was still talking about the video with Vanitas and Leo. “I’ll pray for you.”

“Yeah, thanks,” he said, spinning on his heel and pretending to smile. “See you later.”

Whilst Roland dwelled on the absence of all emotion from Noé’s words – which was uncharacteristic in itself – he barely noticed as Astolfo let out a loud huff, and dropped his head onto the table.

“Can I help you?” Roland chimed, prodding the side of the other’s head. He snickered, seeing the other smirk behind the curtain of hair draped over his face.

Begrudgingly, Astolfo peeled his face up from the table, a blush forming across his face. “Look, I… i-it’s nothing much, but-“

“Ohh,” Roland’s lips twisted into a sly grin, the redness of Astolfo’s cheeks instantly giving it away. “So you like Noé?”

“Shh!” Astolfo hissed aggressively, his arms flailing around erratically. A second later, he dumped his head back on the table, groaning audibly before sitting up. “Sort of…”

“Is that why you told him?”

“Well… yeah.” He shifted. “I mean… I’ve liked him like… that for a while, but… you know, he’s gay. And he really is, because no straight man wears cat t-shirts and pastel jeans.”

“You’d know,” Roland couldn’t help but add.

“Shut up,” Astolfo teasingly shoved his shoulder. “Anyway, I… obviously he wouldn’t like me before, but now I… maybe I have a chance?  I mean… I’m not really a real guy, so he probably wouldn’t be interested in me. A-And even if he was… it’d be… horrible to tell him that now!”

“Astolfo, you’re as valid a guy as any,” Roland said. It hurt him to hear the other say that, but unfortunately, he’d probably hear it a lot. “But you’re right. Noé only recently broke up with Vanitas, so… give it time, okay?”

“Yeah, I will,” Astolfo exhaled, once again slumping over the table and burying his face in his arms. “I’m exhausted.”

Lightly patting the other’s head, Roland was, for once, grateful that Astolfo wasn’t looking at him, purely so that he couldn’t see the discreetly disheartened expression spread across his face. That realisation had hit him like a rock, and no matter how hard he tried, Roland couldn’t bring himself to feel happy for the other.

As Domi arrived to lunch from her last lesson, she had never been so utterly disappointed to see Levi and Oswald already.

For understandable reasons, Lottie wasn’t in college today. And now, Domi was beginning to think she just might have been too harsh, albeit her memories of that night notably hazy. She had little recollection of the events or how much substance she’d ingested, but the very-upset-Noé, the video online, and the killer hangover she had the next day were pretty decent indicators of what went on.

At least Lacie had shown up.

“It’s rare to see you here,” Domi said, approaching the group already at the table.

“How could I not be here?” Lacie scoffed, “After all the drama that went down with that video, I needed to see what happens.”

“Right, right,” Domi nodded, not at all surprised. She sighed, glancing down at Levi whose face was planted on the table. “Why’s he sleeping?”

Because,” Levi whined, fiddling with the pen held between two fingers. “I’m still recovering. And I smoked far too much weed and cigarettes, and now I can’t smoke at all.” He groaned again, tossing the pen aside and throwing himself onto Oswald’s shoulder, who didn’t even flinch. “’s okay, I can live without…”

“He’s lying,” Lacie whispered, shaking her head tragically.

“Agreed,” she nodded, biting her lower lip. It wasn’t really her place to tell anyone about Lottie’s news, but at the very least, she could keep it from Levi. Levi, who was – probably – the father. “Hey, can I speak to my girls in private for a moment?”

“You want to talk, or you just want to finger Jeanne?” Lacie snickered, nudging Jeanne up as she began blushing.

“Preferably both,” Domi said, smirking as she grabbed Jeanne’s hand. “But I know my baby has the house to herself later.”

“Um, yeah…” Jeanne added, flashing Domi a brief smile.

“See? She wants it,” Domi winked, before leading the three to a small bench, cut off from the playground and invisible to anyone walking past.

“Is this about Lottie?” Ada questioned, “I just… haven’t seen her today, that’s all.”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot about her,” Lacie said bluntly. “She never returned to the party, did she? I know you went to search for her, but by the time you got back you seemed to have adopted a crying-Noé, so it never crossed my mind again.”

“Did you manage to find her?” Jeanne asked.

“Oh, I found her alright,” Domi said, huffing under her breath as she lowered her voice. “In the bathroom, puking.”

“And I thought she could handle her liquor,” Lacie snickered.

“That wasn’t it. She was sober,” Domi countered, “Look, if I tell you guys something, can you just… pretend that you don’t know?”

In sync, the other three nodded.

Thus, with a deep breath and closed eyes, Domi bit the bullet, and straight up announced, “She’s pregnant.”

“Holy fucking shit,” Lacie hissed, “Man, how did we not see that coming?”

“Honestly? I’m pissed I didn’t.” At the mere thought of that discussion, Domi’s eyebrows furrowed in frustration.

“Is this…” Ada began to question tentatively. “Do we congratulate her?”

“No,” Domi snapped, a little too rashly. “Pretend I said nothing.”

“Is she keeping it?” Lacie asked.”

“Yeah,” she said, “Fucking stupidly.”

“Well…” Ada muttered, seemingly unsure of how to react. She was, however, doing better than Jeanne, who had yet to speak a single word on the matter. “Does she know who the father is?”

“Levi, obviously,” Domi scoffed. “Honestly, I think I was a little harsh when I reacted, but it was a shock, you know? I think it was a justified reaction…” She shrugged. “Sort of.”

Lacie snickered. “You gonna tell the guys?”

“If Levi’s the father, Lottie needs to be the one to tell him.”


“Alright, let’s go back,” Domi groaned, spinning on her heel and pulling Jeanne with her, who still hadn’t uttered a sound.

Sure enough, as they walked back to the guys, an awkward silence hung over everyone. Revealing that Lottie was pregnant in the space of three minutes was probably not the best idea ever, but in her defence, Domi was still in the process of finding something positive to feel about the whole situation.

In theory, Break knew he shouldn’t have been at college today. He was tired, and ill, and on edge, and weak. (Albeit that last point was due to the fact he hadn’t eaten for the last two days, which subsequently led to him not purging. And that put him on edge.)

What also put him on edge was the constant anxiety of running into Reim or Sharon. He daren’t look either of them in the eye after Saturday’s incident, so reluctantly, he’d spent the entirety of lunch in the corner of the library, where not even Sharon would think to check for him. He hadn’t even spoken to Oz since the incident, but that conversation was due for after college, when everyone else had left the college site.

Lunch had only just ended, and technically he had a lesson to go to. But, facing Reim without having snuck a quick smoke first was out of the question, even if there was the possibility that his teacher would be pissed at him being late yet again.

In that moment, his attention was devoted to sticking a single cigarette between his teeth, pulling out the lighter, and lifting the flame to the tip. He leant against the pole in the centre of the shelter, continuously flicking the switch on the lighter until the cigarette was lit.

That very second, however, he heard a voice which made his heart stop.

“I thought you’d be here.”

The words we matter-of-fact, but still scolding, and through a panicked inhale of smoke Break sincerely prayed that Reim was not there. He glanced up.


Of course it was Reim.

“Oh hey Reim~!” Break chimed, the hand holding the cigarette waving idly as he attempted to discreetly exhale the smoke.

Reim, freezing in his footsteps, about two metres from Break, raised an eyebrow, flashing him a judgmental glance. “So, this is where you bunk your lessons?”

“Mhm,” Break hummed, shuffling the dirt around by his foot. He dragged on the cigarette again, holding the smoke for a few seconds before slowly exhaling. “It’s not a big deal, Reim. It’s my own choice.”

Reim fell silent. Then, he sighed heavily, and spoke, his words firm and laced with reprimand. “The fact that you smoke isn’t the problem, Xerx. Sure, it’s disgusting, and I can't even pretend to understand why you’d pick it up as a habit, but that's not the problem!” He snapped. “The problem is that something was bothering you so much that you felt the need to start smoking in secret before asking for help!”

Break said nothing. Sure, he felt guilty, and the hand holding the cigarette didn’t move an inch, but he felt no urge to do anything about said guilt.

“There’s people who care about you, Xerx,” Reim continued. “I don’t know exactly what is wrong with you and why you’re destroying yourself like this, but it’s unnecessary, and selfish to the people who you don’t trust enough to let help you!”

“Stop reciting what Sharon told you to say,” Break said, bringing the cigarette back to his lips. Halfway there, however, he dropped it, as Reim abruptly lunged forward, grabbed his collar, and pushed him backwards against the pole. His eyes widened in shock; Break very rarely saw Reim get this annoyed.

“This isn’t about Sharon, Xerx!” he yelled, their faces barely two inches away from each other. “This is between you and me, as friends!”

Shoving him away, Break deliberately turned his back to the other, and picked up the cigarette again. He tapped the ash off it, before bringing it to his lips and taking a deep drag. Deep down, it terrified him that Reim seemed to know so much, but in his eyes, the only way to avoid that was to continue feigning innocence. “I don’t understand why you assume something else is wrong. Am I not allowed to have habits?”

“You’re allowed to have habits, obviously,” Reim said, his eyebrows pinching. “But these aren’t just habits; these are self-destructive vices!”

“But that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong!” Break snapped, staring down at the cigarette but being too afraid to take another drag, in fear of getting that disappointed glare once again. “Maybe I’m just fucking stressed because we’re sitting A Levels in less than a month and I’m failing two thirds of my subjects!”

“This is your problem, Xerx! There’s help right in front of you, but instead of accepting it you just… give up!”

He was right. Reim was completely and utterly right. But Break had barely admitted that to himself yet. “Maybe because I’m fed up of not giving up and still making no progress!”

For a second, Reim paused, breathing in deeply in some feeble attempt to approach this more rationally. Then, he spoke again. “If you don’t want to talk to me about this, then that’s fine. I’ve done everything in my power to reach out to you and if you’re not interested then… you don’t get my help. Now let’s go; we have a lesson to get to.”

Reluctantly, feeling somewhat like a scolded child, Break extinguished the barely smoked cigarette, and followed Reim. All the while, he cursed himself internally, for being foolish enough to think that Reim wouldn’t notice every tiny change which hinted that something was, in fact, severely wrong.

Oz was nowhere near ready to speak to Break yet.

Sure, they had this arranged meeting. It wasn’t a huge shock. But that didn’t make it any easier; if anything, he’d spent the day dwelling on it. He had yet to find out what the hell happened on Saturday. He had yet to find out when Break even got out of the hospital, or if he’d managed to actually speak to Reim yet.

Before he made it to the usual place they met, however, Oz was stopped.

“Hey! Oz!” Alice yelled from somewhere behind him, and by the time he’d turned around, she’d already flung herself onto his shoulders, attempted to bite his cheek. It made him smile, just a little. Alice always tried to bite people’s faces when they seemed sad. “I’ve got some questions for ya!”

“Ah, Alice…” he sighed, chuckling lightly as she slowly slipped off his back. “Hey.”

“Listen,” Alice said, dead seriously. “I don’t care what happened at the party, but I’ve seen the video, and what the hell happened?! Everyone is super depressed now!”

“Alice…” Oz exhaled, shaking his head. “Did you actually… watch the video?”

“Yeah, what of it?”

“It was… Leo and Vanitas cheating on their boyfriends…” he deadpanned.

“What?! I thought Elliot and Leo were just friends!” Alice yelled, pouting and folding her arms over her chest.

“No,” Oz couldn’t help but laugh; she really was clueless. “They’re boyfriends!” He paused, awkwardly scratching the back of his head. “Well, they were… Anyway, I’ve gotta go now, but I’ll text you later.”

“I bet you’re going to speak to that angsty bastard again,” Alice frowned, “And yeah! Text me you idiot! I need updates!”

Once Alice ran off, Oz snickered again, unsure what was funnier: the fact Alice seemed interested in gossip, or the fact she’d now dubbed Break as ‘that angsty bastard’. That, or she meant Gilbert. Both worked.

When he arrived at the smoking shelter, he was left waiting no longer than for five minutes. Eventually, Break showed up, greeting him chirpily as usual but with a hidden aura of fatigue. He walked straight past Oz, perching on the benches as he slid a cigarette from the pack and held it between his teeth. After lighting it, he stared at the ground for a little, before meeting Oz’s eyes, which had involuntarily locked on the smoking rising from the burning ash.

Wordlessly, Break held out the pack to Oz. For a moment, Oz seriously considered it, but eventually, common sense won over, and he shook his head. Whilst it may have given a temporary sense of relief, taking up a habit like that when he was frequently locked in his room and financially cut off was just foolish.

“When did you get out of the hospital?” Oz asked, breaking the silence.

“About eight. In the evening.” Break’s tone was hauntingly nonchalant. “My parents were pissed. And then I got a passive aggressive text from Sharon.” He paused for a second, dragging on the cigarette and taking a moment to smoothly exhale. “But I’ve managed to mostly avoid them all day. Ah, spare the fact Reim caught me bunking Sociology for a fag. Mhm, not a great conversation.”

“Was he annoyed?” Oz said as he shuffled the dirt around at his feet.

“I think so,” Break said, “Ah, I think he was angrier about the fact I’d kept it a secret. But he’s perceptive. Soon, he’ll demand to know what else is wrong.”

Oz said nothing. Really, he didn’t blame Reim.

“How did the rest of your night play out, then, hm?”

“Well… Gilbert found out that we’d smoked weed, and he got… really angry,” Oz started, folding his arms tightly over his chest and instinctively pulling his sleeves over his wrists. “And then halfway through our argument outside the hospital, I nearly fell over, so he gave up and drove me home. But then the second I got out of his car at my house, and he drove off, I threw up, and effectively crawled to the door.”

Break fell silent for a few moments. “Did your father do anything?”

“He, um, he wasn’t home.” Oz shifted, a tiny, tiny discreet smile tugging at his lips at the one single good thing which happened that night. “He didn’t get home until midday on Sunday, by which point, eh… the hangover was nearly over, at least.”

Oz pretended not to see Break’s barely noticeable sigh of relief that nothing happened with his father.

For a minute, at least, the silence proceeded. When Break threw the cigarette onto the ground, and stubbed it out with his foot, Oz finally decided the address the real reason they were here.

With a heavy sigh, he said, “What happened Saturday, Break?”

“Hm,” Break hummed, tapping a finger to his lips expectedly, as if he wished there was still a cigarette there. He rolled his eyes, before sighing, and lowering his voice. “I slept with someone I shouldn’t have. Again.”

“Again?” Oz’s eyebrows shifted up slightly.

“Mhm.” Break nodded. “I’ve hooked up with him at multiple parties, and then I just get more drunk. It’s stupid.”

Oz had nothing to say to that. He had never, ever dealt with this issue. Not in the way Break seemed to have, at least. As usual, he shifted uncomfortably, and changed the topic. “Were you serious? When you said you didn’t want to die?”

Pulling out a second cigarette and lighting it, Break gave a very, very subtle nod in response. “Yeah.” He paused, dragging on the cigarette. “I want to get help. I’m dying, and I… I want help.”

Words couldn’t describe the conflicting sense of relief and guilt which Oz experienced in that moment. Sure, he was beyond relieved that he wouldn’t have to constantly deal with the burden of Break’s secret, and worrying that one day he’d be dead. But at the same time, surely, should he also get help?

That was an issue for another time.

“How are you going to do that?” he asked.

“I don’t know.” Break shrugged, tapping the tip of the cigarette against the edge of the seat. “I can’t exactly go up to Sharon and Reim and say ‘so I’ve relapsed on my eating disorder and am now purging multiple times a day’, can I?”

Half-heartedly, Oz chuckled. “Ah, well, when you put it like that…”

“It’ll be bad, after last time,” Break said, “Sharon will be devastated.”

“What…” Oz began to ask, his curiosity winning over sense. “What actually happened last time?

“Hm, I guess you weren’t really there,” Break huffed under his breath, pausing for a long drag on the cigarette. He tilted his head up, and exhaled, before continuing. “It was never bulimia last time. I had anorexia for over a year, and then one thing led to another, and I was forced into therapy.”

“You were forced?” Oz couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow. “What happened?”

“Sharon and Reim kept asking me if I was okay. Eventually, I broke.”

“Will the same happen this time?”

“Probably.” Break shrugged. “I give it a week, at best.”

Swallowing thickly, Oz said nothing else. Whilst he constantly felt on the verge of a breakdown, he hadn’t realised Break was more or less at the same point too.

“Anyway~” Break chimed, seemingly brushing off any care for telling this like it was nothing. “Towards the end of… hm, it must’ve been year 10, I started seeing a therapist, three or four times a week. But I wasn’t sticking to the program, and they begged and begged me to go inpatient. So, eventually I left school slightly early, and spent the summer of that year doing a six-month recovery program in two months.”

“How come they didn’t make you stay?”

“It was never bad enough,” Break said, “and I’d already started the program. The only issue now is that I never figured out how to have a healthy relationship with food. I mean, it was never about the food anyway. It was more, and still is, about control. But that, alone, I never dealt with.”

“Oh…” was all Oz could say. Hearing the full version of that story made him feel even more guilty; if Break was prepared to go back to all that, how could he sit there and do nothing.

Above the guilt, though, Oz felt nowhere near ready to tell anyone else about everything yet.

“Is it worse this time?” he asked.

“Of course,” Break snorted through a puff of smoke, stepping forward to put out the cigarette in the ashtray. “I wasn’t dying last time.”

The very second Gilbert returned home – on a day where Vincent yet again had therapy – to find Vincent not there, he officially decided he was sick of this shit.

Even worse, this time, their parents were also home.

“Where’s Vince?” his mother asked, shooting up from the sofa and his father paused whatever they’d been watching.

“I’m really sorry, I…” Gilbert exhaled heavily, dragging a hand through his hair as he dropped his bag onto the floor. He inhaled again, waiting until the urge to cry dissipated from his chest before speaking again. “I tried looking for him, but I couldn’t find him, and he won’t answer his texts.”

A nervous, over-the-shoulder glance at her husband later, his mother replied, with a hint of urgency in her words. “But if he doesn’t show up again, he’ll be kicked out of the program.”

“Yes! I know that! I’ve told him that a hundred times!” Gilbert snapped. He groaned, fed up of feeling like he was responsible for this. He was tired, and overworked, and wanted a cigarette. Above all, he wanted a way to defend himself, but the painful sensation of pure frustration building in his chest made it impossible to even think rationally.

The only thing which alleviated that was his mother, walking over to him and leaning up to hug him. Moments later, buried in her arms with his head sitting just above hers, Gilbert exhaled again.

“You’ve done more than enough, Gilbert,” she said softly, “This isn’t your fault.”

Tears pricked at his eyes, and he wasn’t sure why. Hearing someone tell him that meant an unconceivable amount, as if the huge burden he’d lived with for the past year was slowly dissipating.

“I’m… I’m gonna do work now,” he muttered, pulling away and hastily wiping away any remnants of tears.

“Ok,” his mother smiled, gently rubbing his shoulder, like a touch of reassurance, before she spun around and grabbed her keys, briefly nodding at her husband. “We’re going to find your brother.”

The moment his parents left, Gilbert only hesitated for a few seconds before he clutched the pack of cigarettes in his pocket, and snuck outside. He lit up, and felt a fleeting, if that, sense of relief.

Then, five minutes later, the doorbell rang. It couldn’t be his parents, because they’d have a key. Which meant it had to be…

“Vince…” Gilbert muttered under his breath through gritted teeth, resting the cigarette on the saucer left outside and creeping back inside, keeping the door shut as much as possible to ensure the smoke didn’t waft in.

Sure enough, standing in the doorway was Vincent, his phone held to his ear, although Gilbert did wonder if he was actually speaking to anyone given the awkward silence of the call on his side. Vincent made eye contact for a split second, flashing him a brief smile before shoving past him inside. He paced for a few seconds, quiet murmurs escaping his lips which were inaudible to Gilbert. The aura he radiated was unsettling, like he was angry at something or someone for something they hadn’t even done yet.

Eventually, he gave up trying to figure it out, heading outside to finish the cigarette, and waiting for Vincent to follow. Which, less than a minute later, he did. Frustrated already, Gilbert snuffed out his own cigarette, folding his arms over and watching the other try and fail to light a cigarette against the wind, then give up and pull it away from his lips.

“Yes, I technically have it,” Vincent hissed, a little louder this time, and suddenly Gilbert was filled with the feeling that this was a conversation he shouldn’t be hearing. “But under no circumstances am I uploading it.”

With that, Vincent hung up, and lit the cigarette.

“What was that about?” Gilbert asked curiously. He hated to admit it, but when Vincent was as unresponsive and nonchalant as this, it honestly intimidated him.

“Nothing important,” Vincent said, smoke pouring from his lips.

“Vince our parents are out looking for y-“

Before Gilbert could finish the sentence, however, the sound of a door slamming shut cut him off, him and Vincent both turning around simultaneously. Gilbert froze, eyes widening as he saw their parents, standing in the dining room equally as shocked but for a very different reason.

For a brief moment, he glanced back at Vincent. Vincent, who said and did nothing, except drag pointedly on the cigarette. Behind the façade of nonchalance, Gilbert could tell he was pissed.

“Vincent, put out the cigarette and get in the car,” his mother said firmly, “We’ll talk about this later. You have therapy to go to now.”

Wordlessly, Vincent dropped the cigarette onto the ground, stomping it out with a little more aggression than necessary. In all honesty, Gilbert was surprised he actually obliged.

Concern echoed in his subconscious. Concern for this poor therapist, if anyone. Whenever Vincent was in a bad mood, he wouldn’t speak, until eventually, everything built up. And he snapped.

But, at least this time, Gilbert wouldn’t be there to see it.

Chapter Text

“Okay, you start.”

“Um… Selon vous, l'école reflète elle la société?”


“… Pourquoi pas?”

“Um… I forgot,” Noé said after a short pause, giving the other a sheepish laugh. He reached over, plucking the folder from Astolfo’s hands and scanning over it. “Sorry, it’s a hard one to remember.”

Astolfo wasn’t buying it. Noé was, easily, an A* student. But given the events of only that weekend, it would’ve been frankly naïve to think Noé would just pick himself up again and carry on being said A* student. Really, Astolfo should’ve known that the only reason he accepted his invitation to “revise” was because it was a break from everyone else.

Unfortunately, the coffee shop they’d settled at was frequented by kids from their college all the time, so even now, they still heard the faint murmurs, and still caught the awkward stares, of everyone around them, wondering who Noé was with or what he was doing out, or whether he’d officially broken up with Vanitas yet.

Regarding that last point, not even Astolfo knew.

“Est-ce que ça va?” he said, hoping that speaking in French would at least mean less people would eavesdrop them. “Depuis la fête, tout le monde parle de toi et Vanitas... On s'inquiète pour toi.”

“Can we do this in English?” Noé asked, his words tight, as if he was holding back tears, and suddenly Astolfo felt guilty for the idea. “It’s just that me and, um, Vanitas used to talk in French whenever it was personal. And I… yeah.”

“Sorry, it’s my fault,” Astolfo said, “Sometimes I accidentally slip into French.”

“It’s okay.” Noé gave a half-hearted, forced chuckle, scratching the back of his head. The fleeting smile which had begun to tug at his lips was soon gone. “I guess I’ve been feeling down lately. That’s… probably the best way I can put it.”

“Do you… want to talk about it?”

“Not really, but it can’t hurt, right?” Noé shrugged. “I guess I’m… still struggling to come to terms with the fact Vani cheated on me. And the fact he’s gone down the same road as Louis.” At the mere mention of his name, Astolfo saw the lump in his throat hitch, as he picked up the mug of coffee and sipped it to hide the crack in his voice. “From Louis, I… know there’s really not much that can be done at this point. And even if he did cheat on me, I can’t pretend I don’t care about him.” He glanced downwards, breaking their eye contact. “Even now, I… I’m worried where he is, and what he’s doing.”

Even if Astolfo had very, very little respect for Vanitas, hearing Noé talk like that – talk like there was truly nothing left – made his chest feel heavy. He couldn’t begin to fathom what it’d be like to suddenly lose the closest person in your life. The closest person in his life was Roland, and even then, he and Roland weren’t together or anything. Empathy had its limitations, though, and if Astolfo could barely imagine losing Roland, then he definitely couldn’t pretend he’d know what losing your other half was like.

“Are you going to break up with him?” Astolfo asked, subtly trying to shift the conversation away from Louis and the possibility of both of them crying.

“I’m not sure myself. I feel numb to the idea,” Noé said, and no matter how hard he tried, Astolfo could not seek out even a shred of emotion woven into his tone. “Sometimes I feel like I need a fresh start. Because three years of loving someone with my everything has just been flipped upside down and I guess I’m just… lost.”

Astolfo didn’t want to be thinking about himself right now, but when Noé mentioned ‘new start’, he couldn’t help but dive into imagining the many directions this conversation could turn to. Involuntarily, his face flushed a faint red. “Well… i-if someone asked you out right now, w-what would you say?”

The very second Astolfo said that, he realised how stupid he was. There was absolutely no chance that didn’t sound suspicious.

Tilting his head to the side, Noé said, “Is this your way of asking me out?”

“Um…” Astolfo murmured, fully aware of the redness of his cheeks. Still, he denied it. “… n-no.”

The stammer in his words made it obvious he was lying. Apart from telling people he was okay, Astolfo wasn’t a great liar. Considering Noé had known him for a few years, he knew that too.

“You know,” Noé said, his eyes locking on the mug of coffee which his hands had locked around, an indecipherable expression morphing onto his face. “I’m not going to be mad at you if you like me.” He smiled, if only slightly. “It’s kind of obvious, actually.”

“Well… i-it’s nothing new…” Astolfo stuttered, his heart racing. He knew he could trust Noé, but confessing your crush was painful regardless of who it was too. And part of him felt guilty for pouring such a burden onto him at a time like this. “And… now seems like a… a really insensitive time to say something because you deserve time. A-And I don’t really count as a proper guy but-“

“You are a proper guy. Otherwise I wouldn’t be considering the offer.”

“Yeah I’ve heard that a lot. I just wish I could believe it myself,” Astolfo said under his breath. Then, it clicked. “Wait, you’re considering it?!

Noé chuckled quietly, sipping on the coffee to hide the smirk twitching at his lips. “I can’t accept it anyway, because… me and Vanitas haven’t officially broken up. But… I’d say it’s pretty much over anyway.”

“I… ok…” Astolfo still couldn’t keep up with the conversation, his face still hot and heart still pumping furiously.

“Look, I… couldn’t really promise anything from this relationship, but maybe at least it’ll indicate whether I really want to move on, or if it’s just a sense of… nothingness.”

“I guess…” Astolfo murmured, unable to face the other as he dragged a hand through his hair. “Sorry for bringing it up.”

“Don’t apologise.” Noé shook his head, a smile appearing on his face which – for the first time that day – actually felt genuine. He handed folder back to the other, placing his hands together and on the table in front of him. “Alright. Shall we continue?”

Wordlessly, Astolfo nodded, blindly taking back the folder, once again being reminded of one of many reasons why, in his eyes, Vanitas never deserved Noé.

“Selon vous, l'école reflète elle la société?” – “In your opinion, do schools reflect society?”

“… Pourquoi pas?” – “Why?” [non-personal]

“Est-ce que ça va?” – “Is everything alright?”

“Depuis la fête, tout le monde parle de toi et Vanitas... On s'inquiète pour toi.” – “Everyone has been talking about you and Vanitas since the party, and people are getting worried about you.”

“Well done everyone. That’s a wrap for the day.”

Amongst the idle chatters of everyone else in the group, Roland began packing away his things, thanking the priest and saying goodbyes as others began to leave.

Not many people knew that this was where Roland spent his Wednesday nights – only Astolfo did. It was nothing too important; merely a discussion group for young people, such as himself, who were all seeking to get closer to God for various reasons. It was set up for people considering donating their lives to the church, and when his own father was also a priest, Roland fell nothing short of that.

Needless to say, as a group fuelled by a mutual love of Christ, everyone got along with everyone, but Roland’s closest friend there was Olivier. They’d known each other since childhood, since Olivier had always been to Roland’s father’s services. And even now, when he was 20, Olivier would always be there on Sunday, as well as at said group on a Wednesday.

Roland knew Olivier’s opinions, and place within the community. They might have differed from Roland’s, but despite the other’s subtly-evident prejudices, he never hesitated to talk to him about things.

“Do you want me to drive you home?” he offered, the two walking into the carpark to find it was raining.

“Yes, thanks,” Olivier said, frowning at his now wet hair as they got into Roland’s car. “Do you want to get something to eat first?”

“Ooh, great idea!” Roland beamed, “Let’s go to that café. I’ve had such an eventful week to tell you about!”

Whilst on the short journey slightly out of town, Olivier pretended not to remember Roland’s previous remark, as they instead engaged in meaningless chatter. When they arrived at the café, however, and each ordered tea to start with, Olivier brought it up again.

“So, you said something happened?” he said, hopping onto the stall at the table by the window as Roland followed.

“Oh, yes!” Roland said, admittedly having forgotten he’d ever raised it. Even though they had differing opinions about most things, he still trusted Olivier, and so didn’t feel particularly hesitant to share, well, everything. “It was a girl’s birthday party on Saturday, but we didn’t go. But oh my, it was a terrible night! Someone uploaded a video of two people in our year sleeping together even though both of them had been in long term relationships.”

“Hmph,” Olivier grunted, folding his arms over his chest with a sneer. “How disgraceful.”

Brushing off his comments, as he always did, Roland continued. “And on another note, my best friend came out as trans. Which wasn’t much of a shock because I’d seen it coming, but I’m glad he told me! And then I bought him loads of new clothes, because it turns out his brother is a drug addict who’s been stealing from him this whole time!”

The initial pause from Olivier was tense. Roland’s smile began to fade, as they silence proceeded right up until the waitress brought over their drinks.

“You can’t tell anyone you did that,” Olivier said firmly, lifting the mug to his lips. “It directly conflicts with everything you believe in.”

“Even the part which says Jesus welcomes everyone with open arms?” he said, unwilling to argue with his friend. His words were simple, and that alone seemed to provoke the other. “Even those who sin, as long as they repent.”

At that, Olivier said nothing.

“He’s still the same person,” Roland added.


Anyway,” Roland carried on, his tone losing part of the excitement woven into it. “Then he told me he likes our other friend, even though Noé technically hasn’t broken up with Vanitas.”

Olivier cocked an eyebrow, meeting his eyes for a split second. “You don’t seem too happy about that.”

“Yeah, I’m not, to be honest,” Roland said, a faint smile twitching at his lips; a faint, regretful, almost self-pitying smile.

“It’s okay,” Olivier said, muttering under his breath: “I never got on board with the whole homosexuality movement either.”

“No. That’s not it.” He couldn’t help but laugh a little. “It’s… quite the opposite, actually.”

Roland paused, picking up the tea and blowing on it as he acknowledged that Olivier wouldn’t say anymore. Tentatively, he began speaking again, after inhaling a deep breath as he prepared himself to tell someone about this. “For a long time, since we were young, I’ve had feelings for him – her, back then, obviously.” He sighed, sipping on the tea and subtly screwing his face up as it burnt his tongue. “I’d heard he had a thing for me a while ago. But I… always hid it, because I didn’t want to be seen as the creepy friend.”

“Where is this going?” Olivier asked with a hostile edge to his words, his eyebrows furrowing.

“Well… when he came out, I thought my feelings would change.” For the first time in a while during their conversation, the slight smile returned to Roland’s lips, as he confessed, “But they never did.”

After the few seconds of silence, Olivier said quietly, “You can’t tell this to anyone.”

“I wasn’t going to. Not soon, at least,” Roland chuckled, “I don’t even have a label yet.”

“Do you even need a label?”

“Conventionally, yes.” Roland slumped backwards in the chair. If he was still getting used to talking about this stuff, Olivier must be overwhelmed right now, and like with most people, he was willing to respect that. “But to be honest, I’d rather just say that I’m attracted to whoever I like, irrespective of gender.”

The blank eyes staring back at him made him panic, just a little. However, a few moments later, Olivier broke the confused stare with a roll of the eyes. He sighed, and said, “You’re a true follower of God. It would… take a lot to change that in my eyes.”

Finally able to smile without being regretful, or self-pitying, Roland turned to face Olivier, his eyes gleaming in the low-lit artificial light of the café. “Thank you, Olivier.”

Of all the things Domi had planned to do that week, visiting Lottie was never initially one of them.

She hadn’t been at college once yet, despite Lacie eagerly showing up every day to see her and interrogate her about the news. But things were getting awkward now, because every day Levi would ask where Lottie was, and every day Domi had to lie, to avoid telling him that the real reason she wasn’t there was because she’d just found out she was pregnant with his child.

On top of that, Jeanne had told her to go. Weirdly enough, Jeanne had said very little since the revelation. All she’d asked was for Domi to make sure she was okay. So, with that in mind, Domi finally got away from Noé’s sobbing for one night, and headed to the other’s place.

The walk to Lottie’s house wasn’t long, and it was one Domi had etched into her memory. Her house was huge, but thankfully, the gate was open.

After knocking on the door, within five seconds, it swung open. Her mother answered. “Oh! Hey Domi, I haven’t seen you in a while!”

“Yeah, college and shit,” Domi said, scanning her mother up and down and noting she was dressed up particularly fancy. Lottie’s mother was the nicest person on earth, but to Domi she’d always seemed more like a friend than a mother. She was a model, and a single mother, after all. (Domi definitely blamed that partly for the current situation.) “I came by to see Lottie. She hasn’t been at college all week.”

“How sweet of you!” her mother said, her smile beaming as she picked up her handbag and slipped into a pair of 6-inch heels. “She’s been ill.”

“Just ill?” Domi cocked an eyebrow. She wouldn’t be surprised if Lottie had told her mother, but given the fact her mother was being as friendly as usual, chances are she hadn’t.

“Haha, maybe hungover too. I don’t need to know what went down at that party you girls went to.” She winked, sliding past Domi.  “Anyway, I’m heading out, so could you let her know?”

“Sure,” Domi nodded, “Have fun.”

Before her mother was even out the door, Domi was off. She didn’t really have to tell Lottie where her mother was going; like her daughter, she spent most nights out with other men.

Within a second of Domi knocking on her bedroom door, Lottie called back, “Who is it?”

“I’m coming in.”

A moment after he declaration, Domi clicked the door open. She only caught a brief glimpse of Lottie off-guard, stretched across her bed on her stomach, eyes glued to a textbook, before she shot up, pulled her headphones off, and tilted her head. With bitterness woven into her words, she said, “Come to apologise?”

Domi shrugged. “Depends how this goes.”

“Well?” Lottie raised an eyebrow, sitting up against the headboard and folding her arms over her chest. Likewise, Domi copied the same posture, leaning against her now closed bedroom door and looking the other directly in the eyes.

“How did you know?” she asked.

Scratching the back of her head, Lottie sighed, and seemingly reluctantly answered, “I missed a period at the end of February, and then I kept getting sick. And I… thought back to the week I missed the pill at the beginning of the month, so I took a pregnancy test, and it… came back positive. For three-plus weeks.”

Silence proceeded.

Until Domi interrupted it. “You need to tell Levi.”

“I don’t know when, or how. It’s big news, you know? And I doubt Levi wants to be a father.”

“He might not want to be, but he’s not a complete asshole. He’d take responsibility for his actions.”

“I haven’t even told my mother yet,” Lottie reasoned, but Domi’s glare didn’t soften in the slightest.

“Why are you keeping it?” Domi interrogated, the hostility of her tone intensifying.

“You do realise I’m under no obligation to tell you that, right?”

“Yep, but you’re gonna tell me anyway.”

A frown morphing onto her face, Lottie scowled at the other, but nonetheless answered a moment later. “I thought about it, for a while. But eventually I realised, it’s my child, and even if it was a mistake, my baby still deserves its life. And I’ll give them a good life.”

“But what about the baby?” Domi said, “Think about it, Lottie, you’ll be at university! Tell me how the fuck you can raise a child at uni!”

“You know I don’t have to get a degree.”

“Fine.” Domi pouted. “But how are you gonna keep the baby happy, and, gee, I don’t know, alive?!”

“Look around you, girl.” Lottie snorted derisively, gesturing to her room, from the wardrobe of designer clothes to the gleaming white en-suite to the dressing table to expensive cosmetics. “Is money seriously going to be an issue here?”

“Bitch, your mother’s gonna give her money to all men she’s sleeping with before she spends it on your mistake.”

“Alright, get out!” Lottie yelled, standing up from her bed and approaching the other, until they were barely a metre away. Harshly, she pointed a finger at the door. “You have no right to bring my mother into this. And keeping this baby is rightfully my decision!”

For a few seconds, Domi fell silent, resisting the urge to slap the other. Her heart pumped fiercely, and she was once again back to feeling little to no remorse for her original reaction.

Stepping forward to further close the gap between them, she clenched her fists by her hips, and spoke venomously. “Yeah, I’m not apologising for my reaction, or for calling you a slut.” She spun around, pulling down the door handle and kicking it open, before turning back to spew one last comment. “Because that’s what you are.”

The quiet sniff and sob she heard as she slammed the door shut did not faze Domi one bit.

Knocking on Leo’s door always made Astolfo nervous. But now – now it was worse. Because, although he wished he didn’t, Astolfo knew exactly what he could be interrupting.

And today, Astolfo had interrupted.

“Leo?” he called, after the initial response of nothing but silence.

“Wait a second!” he yelled back hastily. “I’m busy!”

Yeah, busy, Astolfo scoffed internally. Still, he found it impossible to shake the hideous nausea accumulating in his stomach, as the twisted, vivid images of what Leo might look like right now began to haunt him. Thankfully, he was only waiting for a minute, until the door swung open.

By the time Astolfo had hesitantly stepped into the room and shut the door behind him, Leo was already back at his bed, perching in the centre of it with crossed legs, staring idly into space and slowly sipping from a glass of water. Through the curtains of his fringe, he caught a brief glimpse of his dilated pupils, before he shut his eyes.

Astolfo really began to wonder if this was really what being high was all about; zoning out, and being totally unresponsive. And watching his brother trapped in that state made him downright uncomfortable.

Meanwhile, Leo knew this wasn’t exactly normal. He knew he was being stared at, but his biggest priority right now was bringing himself around from the sudden wave of dizziness. He was also trying to figure out whether this was an overdose. The water gently falling over his tongue made him feel sick. His blood felt like it was slowing dramatically, and the strange sensation of numbness made him feel as though he could sense every synapse in his body and mind being blocked, one by one.

“Leo. You’re worrying me now.”

Ah, shit. She’s still here.

“I’m fine,” Leo lied, forcing his eyes open and swallowing down the urge to be sick as he stood up, and walked over to his bag.

“Don’t do that, for fuck’s sake!” Flo yelled, burying her face in her hands. “That really freaked me out!”

“Sorry, okay?” Leo sighed, unable to fathom the thought of even more guilt hammering him down right now. He swallowed again, digging through his bag some more until finally, he pulled out three ten-pound notes. Traipsing over to the other, he handed over the cash. “Look, I know this is nowhere near what I owe you. I’ll probably be asking for it back in a couple of days, but… for now, take it.”

“Uh…” Flo muttered, tentatively taking it. “Where did you even get this?”

“Doesn’t matter.” Leo averted his eyes to the floor, blocking the answer to that from his mind as he pulled out his phone and checked the time. “Alright, I’m leaving now.”

Flo’s eyebrows furrowed. “You shouldn’t be seeing him after everything that happened.”

“I know that,” Leo said, pulling his jacket over his shoulders and picking up the pack of cigarettes on the edge of the desk. “But Elliot’s gone. That’s already happened. I need someone there.” He paused. “Look, the damage is already done, so quit reminding me of it.”


The disappointment in Flo’s face was further guilt which Leo couldn’t take. Not right now, at least, during this state of seemingly perpetual sadness. So, out the window – as always, he left. His head was hazy, and walking to the park this time felt like déjà vu; like he knew how this would end.

Perching on the swing, with a freshly lit cigarette dangling between his fore and middle finger, Leo wondered whether Vanitas would even show up. His trust remained, though, as Vanitas arrived barely two minutes later. Wordlessly, they gravitated towards each other, falling into a tight hug. And that hug turned to a kiss.

A few seconds later, like the guilt caught up with him, Leo pulled away, placing the cigarette between his lips and inhaling deeply. Silence proceeded, the two sitting down on the swings and not uttering a word.

“How are things?” Leo asked, his tone void of any emotion. Sighing, he exhaled a puff of smoking, cursing the horrible mix of opiates and nicotine clouding his inhibitions; that awful feeling which was the reason for all of this to begin with.

Vanitas shrugged, pulling out the packet of rolling tobacco and the loose papers. “Eh. I haven’t broken up with Noé. Well, yet. I told him everything – literally everything at the party.” He paused. “It’s only a matter of time before he realises he deserves better than a piece of shit like me.”

Leo said nothing. He wanted to console Vanitas, but he couldn’t. There was no defense for what they do. They shouldn’t even be together right now.

“How about you?”

“I didn’t tell him anything,” Leo said, his words only nonchalant for a bit, before his voice cracked, and a wretched sob escaped his throat. A single stream of tears trialing down from each eye, he hastily wiped a hand over his cheeks.

Vanitas said nothing.

“Sorry,” Leo muttered with a quiet sniff. “It just feels like everything has come crashing down, all at once, and I… I don’t know what to do, or where to go.”

“Sorry,” Vanitas spoke calmly. So calmly it was eerie; like he’d already accepted this was rock-bottom, and there was no way of creeping back up from it. “It was my idea.”  

“I agreed…” Leo countered under his breath, dropping the cigarette once he’d remembered he was still holding it.

“I can’t pretend we did nothing wrong. We fucked up, badly.” Vanitas exhaled, bringing the cigarette to his lips and holding the lighter up to the end. “But I’m not going to judge you here.”

“I miss him.” Leo sniffed, shakily brushing a finger under his eyes. “Everything just feels… empty. A-And my own company is the heroin, but that’s the… the cause of all this shit.” He sobbed, pausing for a few seconds and swallowing thickly. He felt nothing short of wretched, as he cried, and watched Vanitas say and do nothing in his peripheral vision. “So everything I use, I feel like… absolute shit.”

“Would you stop for him?” Vanitas said.

Leo paused, and then shook his head, his tears falling from his cheeks onto his lap. “I… doubt I could.”

With a quiet sigh, he raised the cigarette to his lips again, inhaling deeply before tilting his head upwards to exhale. Leo never once stopped watching. Not until he spoke, at least. “I like you.”

The calmness and sincerity behind his words only made Leo sob more.

“But that doesn’t mean we have to keep doing this if it’s hurting you.”

“You’re the only person I have left…” Leo whispered, shaking his head as more tears began brimming behind his eyelids. “I-I miss Elliot, but I… I don’t want to be alone. And there’s no chance I have a second chance with him.”

Vanitas sighed. “If you just… get through your A levels, go to fuckin’ oxford… you can start fresh, you know?”

“I think I should give up on Oxford now,” Leo said, pulling out another cigarette and lighting it. The feeling of smoke drifting down his throat was far from comforting at this point; it made his chest feel heavy, if anything, worsening the constant stirring which made him want to cry and throw up. “I’m so behind in Biology I won’t get an A. It’s… I’ll end up in Clearing.”

“Don’t you have a backup?”

“Yeah.” Leo snorted. “At the university Elliot is going to.”

The silence was the worst part. They both knew exactly what each other were thinking. There was nothing enticing, or new about any of this.

Had they stopped?


“You…” Leo stammered, his hand beginning to shake at the thought. He swallowed, refusing to let himself cry again. “You weren’t the first person I’d cheated on Elliot with.”

“Hm.” Vanitas kept looking straight ahead. “I figured.”

Shakily, Leo took a long drag from the cigarette, holding the smoke for a few seconds. He exhaled, watching the smoke spiral upwards towards the sky, hoping the tears which brimmed behind his eyelids wouldn’t fall.

“I’ve sold myself for drugs too,” Vanitas said, “It never felt like it counted, when there was no emotional attachment.”

“I did it again, yesterday.” Leo sniffed. “And today. I can’t… bring myself to steal anymore, so I just…”

“I get it.”

With an exhausted huff, Leo dragged one hand over the cold metal chains of the swing, the slight shiver which ran through him being the only thing reminding him he was even alive right now.

“I miss Elliot,” he whispered, a single tear rolling down his cheek.

“We fucked up,” Vanitas said gently, placing a hand softly on Leo’s shoulder. “That’s just what happened.”

“Break, for the last time, log e and natural log are the same thing!

Collapsing back on the chair, Break muttered, “Grumpy…”

On the other side of the face call, in his own bedroom, Gilbert sighed, face-palming for a second. He inhaled, held his breath for three seconds, and then exhaled, attempted to regain his composure.

“Sorry,” he mumbled, dropping the pen and glaring at the other through the phone screen. “It’s just that it’s midnight and nothing I’m saying seems to be going in for some reason.”

“You know you don’t have to help me just because Oz told you to,” Break said, picking up the pack of cigarettes from the side of his desk and bringing them into the camera’s view. Smoothly, he slid one out, standing up from the desk but leaving his phone leant against the computer screen, as he sauntered over to the window.

Gilbert groaned, albeit quietly, trying not to make his frustration vocal enough to wake his parents up. “Break, I’m helping you because you’re my friend.”

Derisively, Break snorted. With one hand cupped over the cigarette as he lit it, he perched on the window sill, and cracked the window open. Gilbert always wondered why he put himself through the torture of facetiming Break when he smoked, whilst he himself was craving the exact same thing. But, as usual, smoking was too risky, especially after his parents caught Vincent; if they heard anyone sneaking downstairs, they’d assume it was Vincent, and then he’d get caught. So, he suffered in silence.  

“How’s Sociology going?” Gilbert asked idly, his phone vibrating furiously all of a sudden.

“Eh,” Break shrugged, by which point Gilbert had paused the facetime in favour of opening the texts from Oz. “I got a D on the most recent exam, which is better than an E at least~”

Gilbert nodded to himself, albeit he’d stopped listening to Break all together.

[From Oz, 00:14]

[From Oz, 00:14]
are you still awake

[From Oz, 00:14]
have you heard from Break

[From Oz, 00:15]
check the school website

[From Oz, 00:15]
do you know who uploaded it

Curiously, Gilbert placed the phone down again, switching back to the facetime and noting Break hadn’t moved, as he loaded the school social media website on his laptop. For some reason, his heart was racing, and a sudden feeling of dread overcame him.

“Hey, Break,” he said, internally rolling his eyes at the terrible speed of his internet connection. Eventually, a video loaded, but the image continued buffering. “Check the school site. Oz told me someone uploaded another video.”

“Hmm,” Break furrowed his eyebrows. “Who of this time?”

The image loaded. Gilbert squinted. “You, and… Oz?”

“What the fuck,” Break muttered, throwing the cigarette out of the window and hurriedly storming over to his computer. He leant over the desk, clicking several times before pausing. Gilbert pretended not to see how his eyes tripled in size, and his hands begun to shake viciously. He pulled away, a second later, grounding his hands into his hair. “Fuck!”

“Do you… know what’s in it?”

“Yes,” Break said harshly, pacing back and forth for a few seconds before turning back to the phone and picking it up. The screen went blank, just as Break spoke again. “I-I have to go.”

“Wait- Break-“

“Whatever you do, Gilbert, please don’t watch that video.”

Without another work, Break ended the call.

Gilbert sighed, falling back against the chair with his mouth hung open. His heart raced, but that didn’t take away from how… patronised he felt. Clearly, something was going on between Oz and Break, and he was sick of constantly being in the dark about everything.

Tentatively, Gilbert played the video, and turned the sound up on his laptop. The video was poor quality – it looked like it had been filmed on a cheap camera, from the smoking shelter, at their college – but the audio-

The audio was too clear.

“Were you serious? When you said you didn’t want to die?”

“Yeah. I want to get help. I’m dying, and I… I want help.”

“How are you going to do that?”

“I don’t know. I can’t exactly go up to Sharon and Reim and say ‘so I’ve relapsed on my eating disorder and am now purging multiple times a day’, can I?”

“Ah, well, when you put it like that…”

“It’ll be bad, after last time. Sharon will be devastated.”

“What… What actually happened last time?

“Hm, I guess you weren’t really there. It was never bulimia last time. I had anorexia for over a year, and then one thing led to another, and I was forced into therapy.”

“You were forced? What happened?”

“Sharon and Reim kept asking me if I was okay. Eventually, I broke.”

“Will the same happen this time?”

“Probably. I give it a week, at best.”

The moment the video finished, shock turned to numbness. Break’s words had sounded empty, but the revelation itself was almost unsurprising. With his words echoing through his head, wordlessly, he put down the pen, closed the textbook, and climbed into bed straight away.

Gilbert didn't sleep that night.


Chapter Text

7 missed call(s) from Reim

2 missed call(s) from Sharon

[From Sharon, 05:37]
We’ve seen the video.

Of all the ways he could’ve woken up, Break swore this was the worst possible option. And that was coming from someone who had woken up hungover, and coming down, or passed out from vomiting too much. Or in a hospital with your best friend staring at you disappointedly.

No, this was worse. Especially when he wasn’t hungover, or drunk, and his memories of the previous night were vividly intact. He remembered it, and he hated it – no, he hated himself.

6am was too early to be awake for him, and yet Break knew that, with the way his hands shook and his heart raced, he wouldn’t get back to sleep. So, he sat up. And he picked up his phone.

He couldn’t call Oz. He’d kept him up until 2am last night, screaming at him for something he couldn’t control anyway. But Reim – Reim already knew too much. Break hated himself for not trusting him, but the fear of him being told off for all of this, even though that was what he deserved, was overwhelming.

Fighting back the urge to cry, Break called Sharon. His hands trembling, and lips quivering, he left the phone resting in his palm for a moment. As the call began, and he waited for Sharon to answer, he reached forward for his glasses, finally being able to see clearly.

Seeing clearly meant seeing the notifications. Seeing the notifications meant seeing the tens of messages and replies to the video. For a second, Break wished he’d just been content with being slightly blind all day.

Suddenly, the monotonous beep of the phone stopped. Sharon answered the call. But she didn’t say anything, instead allowing a heavy silence to overshadow any attempt at conversation.

The silence was haunting, though, and Break was just about ready to hang up before finally, he worked up the courage to say something. “You’ve seen the video.”

He tried to sound strong, and firm. However, the shake of his words and the strain of his voice gave everything away the second he opened his mouth. For another few moments, Sharon continued to say nothing; Break was convinced he would go crazy, any second now, unless she said something. Anything to reflect what she thought of this all, be it disappointment or anger or pity.

Eventually, the silence was broken again.

“Yes,” she said, “Reim sent it to me.”

Silence returned. And Break didn’t even realise he was crying until he felt the tears drip from his eyes onto his cheeks. He sniffed, planting his face in his hand despite the fact he was alone. Under his breath, so that no one else could hear him, he whispered, “Sorry…”

“It’s fine,” she said, but the quiver in her words suggested otherwise. “Reim will be at yours in an hour to pick you up. Then we’ll talk, okay?”

There it was; the catch, the scolding. The interrogation they’d probably been waiting to do for months.

“Okay,” he said, sniffing as he ended the call and tossed his phone aside. Notifications kept coming through from that stupid school app, but Break couldn’t face reading them. He sighed, burying his face in the palms of his hands and just letting himself cry for a moment, in silence, before standing up. 7am wasn’t usually a time he was awake, let alone leaving the house, but thankfully, his family wouldn’t be awake then either.

As quietly as possible, he traipsed down the stairs. Breakfast wasn’t usually something he ate, but with the slowly crumbling stability of his mental state in that moment, Break forced himself to eat – just so he’d have an excuse to purge. And two slices of toast with highly sugary jam was hardly the best food for purging, yet Break couldn’t bring himself to care.

When he went upstairs, locked the bathroom door, and turned on the shower, it hurt. It hurt more than usual, not only physically, but mentally as well. Because he knew that everything he was doing was wrong, and hurting so many people. But he didn’t stop.

After getting out of the shower and getting dressed, half-heartedly drying his hair, Break finally drew the curtains, only to notice it was pouring with rain. Still, he cracked it open just slightly, perching on the ledge and lighting a cigarette. One smoke turned into a tumbler of gin, and before he could set his head straight, it was 7am.

Seeing Reim’s car pull up outside made Break feel nothing short of nauseous, but he’d already thrown up once that morning. His footsteps feeling heavier than they ever had, he grabbed his back, flung his jacket over his shoulders, and left the house. The rain seemed to be hammering down harder than before, and by the time he reached Reim’s car, he was nearly soaked.

As he clambered into the car, much like Sharon, Reim said nothing. He said nothing for most of the journey. And like the phone call this morning with Sharon, Break had to end the silence.

“Where are we going?” he asked.

“24-hour diner, a couple of streets from our college,” Reim said, his tone indecipherable, a painful parallel to the conversation with Sharon. “No one from our college should be there at this time.”

To little surprise, the rest of the journey proceeded in total silence. When they arrived, it was still pouring, but at least inside was virtually, spare a few slightly older students – presumably from the local university – with headphones in.

The silence was slowly driving Break insane. He had absolutely no way of knowing what Reim thought. Whether he was shocked, or angry, or upset, or disappointed, or frustrated, or in disbelief – he just didn’t know. Wordlessly, Reim led the two over to a booth in the corner of the diner, out of sight from the rest of the vicinity. Immediately after sitting down, the waiter came over.

For a brief second, Reim glanced at him. But eating was the last thing on Break’s mind right now.

“Could I just get two coffees, please?” he said, cracking a smile to seem polite, albeit Break could tell it was forced, and that couldn’t be a good sign.

“Sure,” the waiter droned, “Sugar and milk?”

Once again, Reim locked eyes with Break for a split second. Break glanced away instantly.

“One with both, one with neither, please.”

As Reim paid, Break said nothing. He refused to meet eyes with him again, or say anything. Instead, he stared at his hands in his lap, picking at his nails and praying his hands would stop shaking eventually. Above all, he wanted a drink.

Once they were alone again, Reim inhaled deeply, and then placed his hands on the table in front. With sincerity laced into his words – much more than Break had expected – he said, “Sorry for not seeing it.”

Break could’ve sworn his heart stopped for a couple of seconds. “What?”

“The warning signs were there,” Reim said, calmly, and discreetly. A stark contract to the interrogation Break had played out in his mind so many times. “The disappearances at lunch. The drinking. The… weight loss. And the… almost disregard for all the progress you’d made last time. It was… painfully obvious.” He paused, flashing a self-pitying smile and a simple shrug. “But I didn’t notice. I… chose not to see those things. And Sharon told me it was. She knew everything. But I… refused to believe it.” Once again, silence interrupted, for a moment or two. “So… I’m sorry. You shouldn’t have had to burden this alone.”

“You’re not the one who’s supposed to be apologising,” Break muttered, his hair falling over his face. And he let it, because the last thing he wanted to see right now what that stupid, self-pitying expression morphed across the other’s face.

Out of the corner of his eye, however, he saw Reim shrug. “We’re not perfect. It happens.”

Break’s mouth dropped open to respond, but before he could, the waiter arrived, and then fled a moment later. Hesitantly, he reached forward, and picked up the coffee. Steam still rose from it, and one sip later, his tongue was burnt, but he didn’t care.

“How long until Sharon gets here?”

Checking his watch, Reim answered, “Give it 10 minutes.”

With a heavy exhale, Break dragged a hand through his hair, before reaching into his bag and pulling out his phone.

Clearly, Reim spotted the blatant display of exasperation. A short moment later, he lowered his voice, and said, “You can go and smoke now, if you want. J-Just before Sharon gets here.”

As with everything that morning, Break was tentative, as he reached into his bag again and pulled out the pack. But instead of leaving, he just stared at it, feeling this overwhelming flood of guilt rather than a craving. “Did you tell Sharon?”

“Yeah.” Reim nodded.

Break bit down on his lower lip. “Figured.”


Dismissing that last apology, Break slipped a single cigarette out – knowing full well he’d end up chain smoking if he took the whole thing – along with the lighter. He shrugged the hood of the jacket over his head, before fleeing the diner without another word.

Outside was still pouring with rain, and Break was forced to make a beeline for the small shelter just across the pavement. As he lit the cigarette, his hands shaking, the smoke felt unusually heavy in his chest. And every exhale suddenly felt as though he was breathing his life away. That sensation, however, wasn’t just from the smoke. It was merely triggered by seeing his hands, and wrists, and the bones protruding at every joint, reminding him that he was literally starving to death.

But, now that it was finally in his reach, getting help was honestly the last thing Break wanted.

Sharon didn’t want to have left the house at 7am on a Thursday morning.

However, she also hadn’t wanted to wake up at 5:30am to a call from Reim about how a video of Break talking to Oz about his relapsed eating disorder was uploaded online overnight. And as she got into her car, Sharon realised how she was barely holding it together at this point.

In fact, she’d been barely holding it together for several weeks now. Everything which was wrong was hauntingly obvious, and yet, out of her own selfish fear of confrontation, Sharon had said nothing. Albeit, it wasn’t entirely selfish, because they had no proof. They’d never had any proof. It was obvious something was burdening him, but they still didn’t do anything until he confessed.

They didn’t last time, either.

As she got into her car, and began driving to the address Reim gave, Sharon really wondered how she was supposed to keep calm; how she was supposed to ignore how her best friend from childhood was fading away. How were they supposed to help him?

The drive was, as expected but also dreaded, far too short, and within five minutes, she pulled up into the car park. Her steps shaky, Sharon slowly proceeded inside, spotting Reim and Break once she entered the building. Reim clearly hadn’t seen her, his guilt-stricken gaze locked on his lap, and Sharon admittedly worried for a few moments that he’d said something he shouldn’t have.

Break, on the other hand, caught a brief glimpse of her in his peripheral vision. But he pretended not to, innocently sipping from a coffee mug as if everything was normal.

Wordlessly, Sharon walked over to them, and sat down. Taking Break’s hands in hers, with a gentle squeeze, she said, “We’re here now.”

The quiet sniff a moment later made her heart ache. Because, underneath all the insecurities and the self-destruction, the person in front of her was still the same friend she’d known since childhood, with the same vulnerabilities and flaws.


“Why aren’t you annoyed?!” Break snapped, but his hand – shaking softly – remained within hers. Tears continued to flow down his cheeks, as he swallowed thickly, and futilely tried to wipe them away. “I-I’m the one who hid this, and lied, a-and didn’t ask for help even though it was always there! And you… i-instead I made you watch me slowly get worse, and nearly die, and you just… you’re sorry?!”

Sharon hadn’t even realised she was crying until she saw the concerned expression morphing across Reim’s face.

She sniffed, a regretful, pitiful, and apologetic smile tugging at her lips. Her other hand, now trembling more than the other one, wrapped around Break’s other hand. And she turned to face him, staring until her tear-glazed eyes met his.

“We… we really thought you’d gotten better, for a long time…” she said, voice cracking at each subsequent sob. “So we… we pretended not to notice. A-And it was obvious something was hurting, and yet we… we did nothing. You… shouldn’t have had to be exposed like that!” she cried, gratefully accepting the napkin passed to her from Reim. “S-So please… accept our apology!”

Within a few seconds, the tears were once again falling down Break’s cheeks. “I… I want help, and I don’t want to die like this, a-and I want to make something of my life. But now I’m stuck in this bullshit cycle and I don’t know how to get out!”

From across them, Reim bit down on his lower lip, as he asked hesitantly, “Is it… um, worse than last time?”

Sheepishly, Break nodded, the tears finding coming to an end (for now). “At the party, I… vomited blood. So… yeah.”

Silence commenced, and it was haunting.

“Can I ask,” Sharon started, brushing away the remnants of her smudged mascara. “Why were you talking to Oz?”

“He…” Break shifted, seemingly uncomfortably. “He caught me purging one day, and we… made an agreement, of sorts.”

“What was his side?” Reim asked.

Dropping his head, Break refused to look at them, as he muttered quietly under his breath his answer. “I can’t tell you.”

“Okay,” Reim said. Discreetly, Sharon shook her head at him, signalling for him to stop asking. “So… d-do you want inpatient or… outpatient?”

“Outpatient,” Break answered instantly. “I can’t miss out on college now. I’m already failing two of my three subjects.”

“We’ll call the therapists. The same as last time,” Reim explained, nodding briefly at Sharon. “And… you’ll go with him. To tell his parents.”

“Fuck,” Break cursed under his breath, exasperatingly dragging a hand through his hair. “They’ll be so… disappointed.”

“Break.” Sharon turned back to him. “You need to stop underestimating everyone.” She smiled, if only slightly. “People care about you, you know.”

“Sorry…” he murmured, tears slipping from his eyelids again. “I thought I was better, and it’s like I’ve… let everyone down.”

“We’re not perfect, Break,” Sharon said gently, squeezing his hand. “So just… let yourself cry for once, okay?”

And he did. Past the shield of his hair, draped over his face, Break cried. It was like he’d built this barrier around himself, and kept it up for so long.

Perhaps that was why he was so broken when it finally crumbled.

Despite everything he'd done to deserve it, Astolfo was finally beginning to feel guilty about how he'd treated Leo. 

He hated him. That wasn't questionable. Everything he'd done in these last few weeks was totally unjustifiable, and Astolfo was fairly certain he would never be able to completely forgive him. 

However, Astolfo also acknowledged how Leo must've felt worse than shit right now. Everything he had – which wasn't much – he'd lost. He'd been a slave to his addiction, and his own goddamn emotions; that last one was something Astolfo could empathise with. And the thought that he could possibly relate to him was terrifying, but also unavoidable. 

Above everything, though, Astolfo knew he had to tell Leo about himself. 

He prayed, internally, that Leo wouldn't be mad. In theory, he shouldn't, but Astolfo didn't put it past him to ridicule it simply because he didn't like him. And that nagging thought at the forefront of his mind was louder than common sense. 

Inhaling a deep breath, Astolfo checked the time, the clock ticking just passed 7:30pm. Everyone else - spare Leo, obviously - was out at a school play tonight, so Astolfo trusted this to be the best time to come out uninterrupted. For a few seconds, he tried and tried to think of a reason not to, but ultimately, there was no reason. 

As much as he hated him, Leo was still his brother, and he deserved to know.

After knocking on Leo’s bedroom door a couple of times, Astolfo realised he must be outside. That, or he’d snuck out again. Nevertheless, he slowly crept down the stairs, his footsteps making minimal sound as he traipsed through the kitchen to the back door.

Sure enough, Leo was outside, sitting on the ledge of the wooden floor where the patio dropped to grass, with a cigarette in hand and the ashtray resting beside him. For a brief second, a cold sweat washed over Astolfo, and he was overwhelmed with panic.

He stepped forward, sliding the glass door open. Leo didn’t say anything, or do anything, and yet, the aura of their non-existent interaction already told Astolfo how truly depressed he was.

“Are you okay?” he asked, trying to sound sincere rather than blunt.

Turning around, catching a brief glance at who was there, Leo snorted in derision. “That’s a stupid question.”

“Um…” Astolfo started hesitantly. Already, he regretted coming out here. “Can I sit?”

Leo didn’t reply at first, instead placing the cigarette back between his lips and inhaling, holding for a few seconds before exhaling exhausted. Then, he shrugged, and muttered his response through a puff of smoke. “Sure.”

In that moment, as he sat beside him, keeping a foot at least between them, Astolfo realised how lonely he must’ve been.

“Why are you here?” Leo interrogated, albeit nonchalantly.

“I… wanted to talk to you about something,” Astolfo said, rubbing his hands against his thighs. The friction created warmth, which – for just a second – reminded him he hadn’t gone insane yet.

“Go on,” Leo said. After passing the cigarette to the hand furthest from the other, he took another long, thoughtful drag, before staring off into the distance. “Well?”

Well…” He frowned. “When you kept asking me if I was okay, I…. kept saying I was. And I… shut you out, and tried to shift the blame to you.”

“Yeah.” Leo snorted. “And you were right to be suspicious.”

Shifting, Astolfo inhaled, and replied, “Yeah, but you… you were right to be suspicious of me, too.”

After a momentary pause, Leo turned to face him, raising a judgmental, questioning, and quite concerned eyebrow. “You better not be shooting heroin into your veins too.”

“God, fuck no.” Astolfo brushed it off with a wry chuckle. Seconds later, the smile died, his face losing all emotion, as he glanced down at his hands, now trembling in his lap.

He was really doing this. He was coming out to the one person who had totally neglected him. He was sharing his deepest insecurity with someone who didn’t ever seem to give even a second to consider his feelings.

But, as always, Astolfo’s impulsivity won over.

“It’s just…” He paused, again, drowning in the sound of his own heart pounding out of his chest, barely hearing the words leaving his own lips. “I’m trans.”


That was it. That was the only sound which left Leo’s lips. Without another word, he sucked the life out of the cigarette, snuffed it out in the ashtray, and slid out the pack. His eyes never met Astolfo’s once, as he stuck another cigarette between his lips, and lit it, taking a long, deep drag before inhaling smoothly.

Astolfo was convinced, in that moment, that telling him was a bad idea. No matter how irrational it sounded, he knew Leo hated him right now. Why else would he just say that?

“Well,” Leo said, pulling the cigarette away from his lips. “What do you want me to call you?”

All of a sudden, Astolfo wanted to cry. His chest felt tight, and was accompanied by an overwhelming feeling of guilt about how he’d underestimated him. Because the reaction he’d gotten was probably the most down-to-earth reaction he was ever going to get – no one telling him it was “cool!”, or that they were happy for him.

It felt like he understood, even though he’d never been through the same.

“Um… Astolfo,” he said.

“Ok.” Leo shrugged, placing the cigarette back in his mouth as he huffed. Then, pulling it away and resting the same hand on his knee, Leo’s gaze locked solely on the cigarette, and the smoke drifting up past his face from between his lips. “Sorry, by the way.”

Astolfo was taken aback by that, to say the least. He turned to face him, but got nothing in response. “Sorry for what?”

“Everything,” Leo said, his words void of all emotion. Hearing that alone made Astolfo’s heart ache. In that moment, hearing Leo angry rather than nonchalant would’ve felt more comforting. “The stealing, the guilt tripping, the fact I’ve been a deadbeat, the neglect, the fighting, the… the cheating, and… the drugs. I’m just… awful.”

“You’ve made some mistakes, okay? No one’s going to pretend you didn’t fuck up,” Astolfo said, “But that doesn’t take away from how smart you are, and… determined.”

“I want to do better,” Leo admitted, tapping the ash off the cigarette into the ashtray. Quietly, he sniffed. “Now that I have nothing else left.”

Rubbing both hands against his thighs again, Astolfo gave a slight shrug, and said, “You still have me.”

There were a few seconds, where neither of them moved a muscle. And then, abruptly, Leo turned to face him. Before he could say or do anything, Astolfo felt himself being pulled into a tight, apologetic hug.

In the many years they’d known each other, this was undoubtedly the first time they’d hugged. Or had any moment of peace together. With that thought in mind, Astolfo hugged back. A second later, his felt Leo’s throat hitch, tears soaking into the back of his shirt.

Moments later, they pulled away.

“What… actually happened?” Astolfo asked. “W-With the drugs, I mean…”

“I don’t want to talk about it now,” Leo murmured under his breath, inhaling deeply on the cigarette for a couple of seconds, as if it would somehow make this easier. Sighing, he answered nonetheless. “It wasn’t always heroin. For a few months, about a year ago, I was… taking those painkillers; the ones I’d been given when I broke my wrist a few years ago. I liked the feeling, so I just… kept on taking them. And eventually… I guess it wasn’t enough, so I started heroin.” The melancholy in his words, like he’d just accepted this and given up wanting to change it, made Astolfo feel sick. But the pause was only temporary, as Leo continued, shortly after. “My… biggest regret is shooting heroin for the first time.” Almost – almost – he cracked a smile; a self-deprecating one, at that. “It feels… so fucking good, so you… never stop. And I never did.”

“Could you stop now?”

Barely, Leo shook his head. But he did, and the answer made Astolfo feel nauseous.

“When you…” Astolfo shifted, unsure if he should ask his next question when he wasn’t even sure if he wanted to know the answer. “When you said you’d be better off dead… did you really mean that?”

“Hm.” Leo gave a wry laugh. “I’m not even sure myself.”

He was right; he wasn’t ready for that answer. “Just… don’t do anything stupid, alright?”

“I won’t,” Leo said, stubbing the cigarette out in the ashtray. Promptly, he stood up, taking the ashtray with him. “I need to go and do work now.” He paused. “Thanks for telling me, by the way.”

“Yeah, sure, but,” Astolfo narrowed his eyes at the other, “you were supposed to make us dinner tonight.”



“Just… use the thirty I gave you yesterday to order pizza or something,” Leo said. As he spun on his head and slid the door open, he snickered, turning back to Astolfo briefly. “Use it before I ask for it again tomorrow.”

“I’m telling you, Noé: you can do better.”

“Domi,” Noé sighed for the fifth time that minute. “Whilst I appreciate the fact you care, I think, I’m not going to break up with Vanitas simply because you don’t like him.”

“Noé,” Domi deadpanned from across him, turning her gaze from the night sky back to Noé. “You seem to be neglecting the fact he cheated on you and has also been shooting up heroin in secret.”

“Whilst you may hold a valid point,” he said calmly, sipping from the bottle of beer which was beginning to freeze his hand, “I don’t really feel like I can hold the heroin against him. And really, Domi, you shouldn’t either.”

Noé hadn’t wanted to play this dirty, because bringing up Louis definitely hit a nerve. But at least Domi was pouting now, rather than saying “I told you so”.

“Regardless,” she started again as she took a swig from her beer, “You can do better than someone who’s sleeping with another guy. Period.”

Hesitantly, Noé bit down on his lower lip. “You… really think I should break up with him, huh…”

“Face it, your relationship is fuckin’ over,” Domi pointed out. “Look, just call him now; tell him you’re done.”

“I should do it in person.”

“Fine. Text him, and tell him to meet you!” Domi yelled, making a stupid gesture at Noé. “He’s got fuck all of a life. He’ll meet you now. And you’ll tell him you can do better than a cheating scumbag.”

As much as Domi has a very… harsh way of putting it, Noé knew, deep down, that she was right. “Okay… I’ll… I do it.”

“Perfect.” A wicked grin tugged at Domi’s lips. “Do it. I’m heading to Jeanne’s now anyway.”

For some reason, it felt wrong texting Vanitas to come and meet him as soon as possible. What felt even more daunting was the fact Vanitas replied almost straight after, and before he knew it, Noé was throwing on a jacket and leaving the house.

He was going to end this. He deserved better. Vanitas was unfaithful; he didn’t deserve him.

By the time Noé arrived at the park, hands lightly trembling in his pockets which wasn’t due to the cold, a sickening feeling resided at the pit of his stomach. Vanitas wasn’t there yet, leaving more time for the anticipation to build.

Amongst the silence, he noticed the hut, and for an unexplainable reason, he felt weirdly drawn to it, as if someone had mentioned it before. With a deep inhale, Noé climbed up to it. Once he reached the top, it became clear why he felt so weird about it; the stubbed out joint and discarded condom in the corner of the space made him feel sick.

Hastily, he clambered back to the ground, but his gaze remained locked on it.

Eventually, Vanitas arrived.

“So this is where it happened,” Noé said, his words nonchalant, as he continued staring at the hut. “This is where you slept together.”

With a long, painful inhale, his breath trembling, Vanitas spoke with desperation in his voice. “Is there anything I can do to make any of this better?”

The nagging voice at the back of Noé’s head (which mainly sounded like Domi) predominantly told him to say no, however, he couldn’t bring himself to do so. Not when Vanitas was almost begging for forgiveness. And for once, Noé chose to trust him.

“Stop seeing him.”

From the way Vanitas hesitantly chewed on his lower lip, Noé knew he shouldn’t have had that much faith in the person in front of him.

“Look, I…” Vanitas stammered, refusing any eye contact and instead staring down at his hands. “His head isn’t in the right place right now, and I’m worried he’ll do something bad…” he swallowed thickly, “… something he can't take back, if I leave him now.”

“That’s fine. And I understand that.” Noé paused, closing his eyes. It took an immense amount of willpower not to cry, and cave in, but Domi was right. Vanitas didn’t deserve him. “But I can’t be in this relationship knowing I’m not the only one.”

“I’m sorry,” Vanitas said, his words quieter than before; the defeat was more evident. “I should’ve told you.”

“Which part?”

“All of it. But I… the drugs, okay?” Vanitas replied, shielding his face with a trembling hand. “I shouldn’t have been such a selfish cunt, and I shouldn’t just… admitted something was wrong. And then… this wouldn’t be happening.”

Noé fell silent for a few moments, once again attempting to initiate eye contact, but receiving nothing in response. “Would you go to rehab?” he asked.

Biting his lower lip, again, Vanitas’ hands began to shake more as he answered, “Look, I… maybe. I need time, Noé.” He paused, briefly, shuffling the loose gravel of the tarmac around with his feet. “It depends if Leo-“

“I really didn’t want to make you choose between me and him, but you don’t get both of us.” Noé spoke firmer this time. It broke his heart, because he still loved Vanitas. But not this Vanitas. “The drugs, I could’ve helped. But I can’t change what you did. And I can’t pretend it didn’t happen.”

With an obvious eye roll, Vanitas finally worked up the nerve to look him in the eyes. “You don’t always have to be the hero, Noé.”

The strain in Vanitas’ words was too audible. Because Noé could tell – Vanitas knew where this was going. And as the words rested on his tongue, Noé shut off his thoughts, refusing to overthink it any longer. Vanitas had hurt him; that was it. Every second they were together was painful, because despite this terrible thing he’d done, Noé still kept him around.  

It didn’t have to be like that, though.

“And you shouldn’t have to be the villain, either,” Noé said, his voice wobbling as a single trail of tears left the corner of his right eye. “This… isn’t going to work, Vani.” The next two words barely left his lips. “It’s over.”

A few tears slipped down Vanitas’ cheeks. But he didn’t say anything.

Wordlessly, Noé stepped forward, closed the gap between them, and hugged Vanitas. And despite his arms wrapped around him, Vanitas still didn’t say anything.

He didn’t hug back, either.

“Goodbye, Vanitas,” Noé said, before turning on his heel and walking away. He walked away without once looking back, purely so that he didn’t have to see the look of hurt, and pain, and despair spread across Vanitas’ tear stained face.

But as he walked away, Noé felt nothing. His chest felt hollow, and the rest of him felt numb. He hadn’t even realised he was crying until a gust of wind brushed past him, his damp cheeks feeling cold all of a sudden. His feet were touching the ground every second, but he didn’t feel like he was walking. He barely felt alive; instead, it felt like his heart had been ripped out and thrown onto the ground and stomped on a thousand times, because suddenly all these emotions he’d felt for three years meant nothing.

Everything was gone, it seemed. The only way to describe this feeling was… a bitter loneliness.

Wiping the tears from his eyes, Noé put little thought into his next move, as he pulled out his phone. And he messaged the only person he felt he had left to actually be there, and give him something more than bitterness and empty promises and apologies.

[To Astolfo, 22:02]
I know my answer.

“So, did you enjoy that?”

Watching Jeanne blush and nod, Domi felt herself smirk, shuffling across the bed closer to the other and wrapping her arm around her shoulders. With a content sigh, Jeanne shifted closer to Domi, burying her head in the crook of her shoulder. Gently, her hand crept over Domi’s stomach, circling the skin just beneath her breasts.

“Oh?” Domi said, raising an eyebrow. “You wanted to go again?”

“I don’t think I could,” Jeanne said, flashing the other a bashful smile.

Moments like these really made them feel sane, amongst all the chaos going on at college. A Levels were less than a month away. Lottie was pregnant and wasn’t showing up to college. Domi seemed to be able to pick a fight with her at any moment. And at college, all people seemed to be able to talk about was the events online with Noé, Vanitas, Leo and Elliot.

Leaning over, Domi softly placed a kiss on Jeanne’s cheek, before taking her hand in hers.

“I went to see Lottie yesterday,” she said quietly, squeezing Jeanne’s hand. “Like you told me to.”

“Good.” Jeanne said, albeit her tone sounded slightly tentative, and disbelieving. “How’d it go?”

Domi shifted, squeezing her hand again as a frown tugged at her lips. “I wanted it to go better.”

Even though Jeanne fell silent, Domi continued talking.

“Like, it’s completely ridiculous. She’s a college student! She can’t be raising a child as well! It’s stupid. It’s like she hasn’t thought this through at all. Like, ok, you can give the usual ethics speak but if the child can’t have a good life then she has to abort it. I don’t give a shit if that doesn’t follow her morals or some shit; the baby won’t even have a father-!”

“Domi, with all due respect,” Jeanne cut her off, turning to face her with an indecipherable expression spread across her face. “I’d... rather not listen to you ranting about our friend whilst we’re in bed together.”

Derisively, Domi scoffed. “Your friend, maybe…”

Suddenly, the atmosphere between them changed. Domi couldn’t bring herself to argue with Jeanne, but she was beginning to tell that Jeanne wanted to avoid the topic arising between them. Now, the air they shared felt heavy, like it did at college.

Domi being Domi, she sat up, leant her elbow against the pillow, and gave Jeanne a flirtatious wink. Once she had her attention, she moved forward, brushed a hand over Jeanne’s jawline, and whispered in her ear with the most seductive tone she’d ever used, “Baguette~

Immediately, Jeanne snickered, flashing the same grin which made Domi’s heart melt. Before Jeanne pulled away, Domi pulled her closer, raking her hands through her hair as she leaned down, and placed her lips onto hers. Her hand subtly sneaking down to Jeanne’s thighs, she tenderly dragged her fingers over the insides of her thigh, teasing her.

Pulling away, for a just a second, Domi slid her tongue over her lower lip, her finger gliding over Jeanne’s cheekbones. “Ahh, Jeanne~” she hummed, “You really are the only person keeping me sane these days.”

Chapter Text

Some people had bad days. That was a fact of life. And no matter how hard you tried, everything seemed to just get worse and worse. People ignored you; maybe you got some bad results, and then someone got mad at you for something you didn’t do. And then there’s good days, where everything works in your favour, and finally, it feels like all those days of pretending to be positive were finally paying off.

Right now, Oz was irrefutably having one of those bad days.

It was only 10:30 that morning, but he’d barely gotten a wink of sleep last night. For some reason, yesterday had felt like everything which had been building up between him and his father came crashing down. All the silences, the absences – it all amounted to yesterday, when he was hit and kicked and shouted at, until eventually, he was locked in his bedroom. From there, Oz couldn’t remember much more than having a complete breakdown until 4am, when he finally passed out in a pool of his own tears.

Currently, he was tucked away at the table in the corner of the library for a cover period, hoping that no one found him. The last person he wanted to see was Gilbert, since Gilbert would ask if he was okay – as usual. But in this mental state, where his sanity truly felt as though it was falling apart by the seams, Oz knew he couldn’t keep up that lie today.

“Can I sit here?”

Head whipping up instantly, Oz found himself exhaling an internal sigh of relief when he saw it was only Elliot. Sure, being alone was more preferable, but he should’ve seen this one coming; they were in the same cover period, after all. In reality, Oz was a little surprised it had taken this long for his tranquillity to be disrupted.

“Sure,” he mumbled, flashing a forced, discreet smile as he pulled both headphones out. The self-pitying, solemn expression Elliot seemed to wear 24/7 now made Oz just as guilty as it was supposed to.

“Sorry, I just…” Elliot tentatively took the seat. “Leo isn’t here today yet, and I’m… yeah.”

“How are things?” Oz asked, tilting his head to rest his one side of his head on his palm. In truth, he didn’t want to know. Listening to Elliot whine about Leo was the last thing he wanted to do right now, but he wanted to seem polite, if anything.

“Not great,” Elliot said under his breath, dumping his head in his hand.

“Does your sister know?”

“My plan was to pretend everything was okay,” he said, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. “But clearly she saw something happened, and eventually I broke. And now she just keeps saying bullshit like ‘I told you so’.”

Wordlessly, Oz nodded. There was little he felt comfortable to say right now; he was definitely not in the right mindset to give advice. So, he remained silent.

“I’m… really worried about him, t-to be honest.”

“Have you spoken to him since the party?” Oz asked.

“No,” Elliot shifted, glancing down at his lap. “I can’t bring myself to. I don’t know what I’d say.”

Unsure of what else to say, Oz said nothing, letting Elliot lead the conversation.

“I… can’t erase that video from my mind,” he continued, “But we were together for so long, and I just… now it’s over?”

“I’m curious…” Oz started the question hesitantly. “How did you two meet? I-I mean, you’re total opposites, you know?”

“Yeah,” Elliot deadpanned, although half self-pityingly. He exhaled for a few seconds, before cracking a tiny, involuntary smile as he reminisced. “We were in year 8 at the time. I… never had many friends, and neither did he. We were always in the same classes, but for some reason we never spoke. And then… we got paired up in a project. Physics, to be specific.

“At first, he treated me like I was… stupid.” At the memories, Elliot frowned, but the soft, fond aura to his expression never left. “I mean, Physics was always my worst Science. But he wasn’t exactly great at it either. He teased me endlessly, despite that.

“The project finished, obviously, but we never stopped speaking. I guess it evolved into something like a friendship. And he barely knew who I was, so it wasn’t until later in our friendship, you could call it, when he found out about my family.” Elliot paused. “Most people left when they found out they couldn’t get a spoonful of that wealth out of me. But… Leo stayed.

“Eventually, we moved into year 9. And then he started acting… weird.” After another pause, Elliot forced an awkward laugh. “Really, I should’ve noticed that was flirting.”

Wordlessly, Oz also forced a light chuckle. He glanced up at the clock, noting it was break soon, and he might finally get some sort of emotional relief. If Elliot wrapped up this story in time, that was.

“He took random days off, and never really said why.” Elliot shifted. “I missed him, really. Things felt really empty when he wasn’t there. And at the time I had some… very deep-rooted homophobia, and I hated myself for it. When I realised I was gay I refused to believe it.

“But Leo being Leo, he obviously figured out something was going on. And one day, we were at his house, and he… got into an argument with his sister.” Elliot paused. “Then… we kissed. It just happened. It pretty much turned into a natural progression after that…” His words trailed off, quietly, and Oz felt bad for even asking when the tears began to prick at his eyes. “Fuck, sorry. You… shouldn’t have to worry about this.”

“It’s okay.” Oz lied.

“I… I hate it. I should hate him for what he did. And I… I don’t want to feel bad.” Elliot inhaled, dragging a hand through his hair as he hastily wiped the tears off his cheeks. “I feel sick thinking about where he is now, or what he’s doing.”

“Try contacting him,” Oz said, packing up his things and putting on his jacket. “Sorry, I have to go now. I need to use the bathroom.”

It wasn’t a total lie, and Oz felt terrible guilt for suddenly leaving like that. But, the crawling sensation on the under-surface of his wrists was incessant, and he failed to ignore it.

Hopefully, at the very least, he’d make it to the bathroom, and into privacy, before he had a full-on breakdown.

It didn’t take long, and after five minutes, Oz was (somewhat reluctantly) heading to the canteen. One more day: he only had one more day of upholding this “I’m fine” façade before the weekend.

Unfortunately, upon arriving at the canteen, he was smacked by the realisation that the only person there was Reim. Given the fact he was also in that video, Oz knew for certain that Reim would want to speak to him. And speaking to Reim about Break’s emotional baggage whilst making excuses for his own was the last thing Oz needed right now.

Before he could turn around and leave, however, Reim met his eyes. Reluctantly, Oz sat down opposite, as he accepted defeat and realised, he’d have to speak to him.

“Hey,” Oz said quietly.

“Hi…” Reim said, equally as hesitantly, and at the very least, Oz felt content with the fact he wasn’t the only one who found this incredibly awkward.

Still, though, he was better off getting this over and done with. “I’m… sorry I didn’t tell you. About everything. I just… didn’t feel like I could.”

“It’s fine,” Reim said, but that twitching smile tugging at the corners of his lips told another story. “I’m… glad someone was there for him, at least. Sorry for not intervening.”

“Well… it’s easy to know when something is wrong,” Oz murmured. Subconsciously, he tugged his sleeves over his wrists, glancing down at his lap and involuntarily bouncing his knee up and down. “But it’s… harder to know what is wrong, I guess.”

“Yeah,” Reim replied. A nervous smile morphed across his lips. “Also, I… know it’s not my business, but… is everything okay with you?” He paused, momentarily. “I-It’s just that Break mentioned one half of an agreement, and I just…”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

It hurt. It hurt Oz a lot to lie like that. His chest physically ached, but there was no way he’d delve into that with someone he barely knew. Not even Gilbert knew. Gilbert, who would be so utterly disappointed; that thought alone made Oz want to retreat back to the bathroom and cut again.

“So… when we talked, he said you actually caught him purging,” Reim continued, “When did… that happen?”

Internally, Oz freaked out. Either he didn’t tell Reim the whole story, or he told him too much and dug himself a hole. Lying was a great mental burden, particularly when Reim was being so transparent about everything, but Oz couldn’t bring himself to address his own problems right now. He kept the details vague, instead. “It was in the bathroom, about a month ago. Just at lunch.”

“Oh, ok.” Reim bit down on his lower lip. “We’re getting him therapy, so… please don’t worry about him. I… can imagine it wasn’t nice watching him slowly…” Pausing, Reim had to swallow, “…slowly kill himself.”

“That’s good.” Oz smiled. But that smile was just another lie, to add to the collection.

He wasn’t happy. Sure, he was glad Break was getting help, however, at the same time, Break was the only person he had left who he could actually talk to.

As they’d planned, Oz was – for what could be the last time, which was a terrifying thought – heading to the smoking shelter at the end of the day. To speak to Break. Even though Break, unlike him, was actually starting to get his life back on track.

Dwelling on that was unlikely to do any good, but Oz couldn’t help it. Given the fact he’d spent the whole of lunch at a revision session, he was incredibly on edge. Briefly, Oz wondered if he could sneak to the bathroom, and quickly get done what he needed to do.

When Oz turned around, his heart sunk at the sight of Break, just arriving with a blasé wave. “Hi.”

Even though his words sounded the same, Break’s aura seemed different, as he shuffled past Oz, perched on the bench, and began digging through his bag.

“What did you last have?” Oz questioned, tugging his sleeves further over his wrists as he fiddled with a loose thread on the hem.

“Physics,” Break deadpanned, pulling out the pack of cigarettes and sliding one out. His lips wrapped around the cigarette, he then began searching for the lighter, rummaging through the bag as he mumbled, “My teacher keeps telling me he thinks I could get a B.” He snorted. “Ha, futile hope, but I appreciate the sentiment. I’ll be lucky to get a C at this point.”

Oz could hear him speaking, but he wasn’t listening. Instead, his focus zoomed in on the cigarettes, a million and one thoughts firing through his head. Once Break acknowledged the lack of response, and followed his line of vision, he awkward extended the pack towards him. And Oz didn’t deliberate too much as he stepped forward, and plucked a cigarette from the pack, pinching it between two fingers. In that moment, he was so damn desperate for something to fill that emptiness inside of him, it didn’t matter if he got addicted in the process.

One thing he did notice was the way Break’s eyes were bloodshot, and not in the high kind of way. That sight left Oz locked in a trance, until he heard the flick of the lighter from Break, before it was thrown at him. Hastily, Oz stuck it between his lips, and lit it, the smoke pouring past his lips and down his throat. It burnt, and tasted disgusting without the added alcohol, but the feeling of smoke moving in and out of his lungs would suffice as a distraction; a distraction from what he was really missing.

“You’ve been crying,” he said, without thinking, as he blew out the smoke.

“Hm,” Break hummed, dragging on the cigarette for a solid five seconds, before exhaling with an exhausted sigh. He spoke quietly, with a slight tremble in his voice. “Right before I left, my teacher stopped me, and he just said… ‘I know this is hard. And I know you’re struggling. But I know you can do this’. And, ah, it just hit hard.”

“Oh.” Oz muttered.

“So I’m signed up to therapy again,” Break announced, quickly changing the subject, and understandably. “We’re just waiting for a referral now, but there’s a plan more or less in place already.”

“That’s good.” Oz forced himself to smile; to pretend to be happy, as he breathed in another puff of smoke. “How often?”

“Three times a week,” Break said. He paused, inhaling on the cigarette, but Oz was fairly certain he heard… actually a shred of positivity in his words. “Then there’s a longer appointment at the weekend. Two hours private, one-hour group therapy.”

“Did you tell your… your family?”

“Yeah,” Break’s tone dropped as he spoke, “But Sharon mainly sorted things out. My parents are paying, though. As always.”


“I stopped drinking, too,” Break continued, his eyes locked on the cigarette in his hand, or rather – the hand holding the cigarette, which lightly trembling. A sorry smile tugged at his lips. “Ah, I know I sound all positive and all, but my head’s a mess.”

“It’s… good that you stopped drinking, I guess,” Oz said, lowering his voice further. Paranoid, he glanced back and forth, and up and down, constantly aware that they were potentially being watched. He swallowed, placing the cigarette back between his lips and breathing in as if he’d just remembered it was there.

Break, once again, noticed that behaviour. “We don’t have to keep doing this,” he said, “There’s a camera and microphone somewhere here. And I don’t want you to be exposed too.”

“I don’t-“ Oz began to say, but was cut off promptly when his phone began to vibrate in his pocket. With a trembling hand – because there was realistically only one person this could be – he pulled it out, swallowing thickly when he saw it was his father. “I, um…”

“Take it,” Break whispered, sticking the cigarette between his teeth and folding his arms over.

“Yes?” Oz muttered over the phone, instantly being greeted by a heavy silence from his father. When he began speaking, Oz still said nothing, subtly dragging on his cigarette and waiting for the nicotine to kick in and do something to ease the anxiety driving him slowly insane.

When the phone call was over, he slowly peeled the phone away from his ear, tilted his head upwards and cursing under his breath, “Shit.

Snuffing out the cigarette in the ashtray, Break merely shot him a perplexed glance.

“I have to go…” Oz said, taking one last drag from the cigarette before grinding it out. “My… father said I couldn’t stay late today.”

“Good luck,” Break said with a subtle wink. Oz wished he could believe him. Realistically, he knew he was fucked, particularly since, now, he’d missed the first bus, and he smelt of smoke. As he turned to leave, he cursed himself internally for forgetting the clear instructions he’d been given this morning.

It was times like this when Oz hated himself the most.

“I don’t want to do this.”

With a reassuring smile, Roland took his hand, and squeezed it. “You’ll be fine.”

Astolfo swallowed; he knew he was right. Roland was always right when he said that. He’d be right about this, too.

The time was creeping past 9pm, when all his younger siblings were asleep, and Astolfo was fairly certain the only person awake and home (which Leo probably wasn’t) was his mother. His mother, who – with the support of Roland, as always – he was about to come out to.  

“Are you telling Leo too?” Roland said, leading the way as he stood up.

Hesitantly, Astolfo stood up after him. His reply, he muttered under his breath. “I already told him.”

“Oh,” Roland paused, turning back to him. But Astolfo couldn’t make eye contact right now; he was too nervous to think straight. “We don’t have to do this if you’re not ready.”

“No, fuck, no, I need to,” Astolfo cursed, pushing past him and pulling open the door. “Come on. Let’s get this over with.”

“Don’t rush it,” Roland whispered.

Tip-toing across the corridor and creeping down the stairs, Astolfo ignored him. Sure enough, when they got downstairs, the only person they spotted was his mother, curled up on the sofa with a book in her hands.

For a second, she didn’t notice them, and as the socially awkward friends they were, Astolfo and Roland simply stood in silence at the bottom of the stairs. They waited, for a minute at least, before she glanced up. She met Roland’s eyes, along with his beaming smile, but Astolfo refused to meet hers.

“Are you off already?” she said to Roland, “It’s only Friday so you don’t have to leave now.”

“I need to talk to you,” Astolfo interjected, stepping ahead of Roland. When he spoke again, he softened his tone, just marginally, “…a-about something.”

Placing the book down beside her, his mother’s gaze turned gentler, but no less concerned. “Is everything okay?”

“Uh…” Astolfo stammered, biting his lower lip. Immediately after sitting down, he shot a frantic glance at Roland, desperate for a sign of what to do, but Roland’s stare was indecipherable.

Worried already, she glanced up at Roland. “Are you staying?”

“Yes, he is,” Astolfo said, trembling fingers wrapping around Roland’s wrist. Tugging him sideways, he pulled him onto the sofa. His mouth dropped open to speak, but no words left his lips. Astolfo sighed, planting his face in his hands. “Sorry…”

There was, after less than a second, a comforting hand rubbing circles on his back. Finally, Astolfo breathed.

“Take your time,” his mother said, a small smile still stuck on her lips.

“I’m sorry I didn’t… talk to you about this sooner. I know it’s been obvious that something is wrong, but I… tried so hard not to think too much about it.” As he reached the end of the sentence, Astolfo’s throat hitched, his voice cracking. He sniffed, tears brewing in his eyes and spilling over his cheeks in discrete trails. “I’d… I’d always been uncomfortable in myself. And it wasn’t just because of where I… was previously. I-I mean, that didn’t help, but I… you always did so well taking care of me, and I-I’d feel bad saying anything was wrong.”

“Flo,” she said, and Astolfo winced internally. “Please don’t feel bad for your feelings.”

“O-Ok…” he sniffed, wiping away the tears and sucking in a deep breath. “I… It got worse, recently, and I thought about it all the damn time, and I couldn’t not think about it.” He paused, pulling his thighs together over his hands just to stop them from shaking. “And eventually I realised, I… I’m trans.”

The silence hung, but it wasn’t awkward. If anything, the silence was comforting, as his mother calmly stood up, walked over to him, and pulled him up by his shoulders. Softly, and giving him all the space to reject the hug at first, she wrapped her arms around him, letting him bury his head in the crook of her neck for a moment.

“Thank you for telling me.”

“Yeah…” Astolfo said, pulling away with a sniff. “I… I think I have to get a new therapist.”

Nodding, his mother smiled again, holding his shoulder and giving a comforting squeeze. “I’ll start looking for a gender therapist tomorrow. And we can talk this through with your siblings, alright?” She paused, rubbing his shoulder yet again as more tears began to fall. But for once, Astolfo knew they were tears of happiness. “I’m really proud of you,” she then turned to Roland. “And thank you for being there for him.”

“It was my pleasure,” Roland said.

“I now understand all the new clothes,” his mother chuckled, sitting back down on the other sofa. “As I said, you can stay a little longer, if you want. Just be quiet. Your siblings are in bed.”

“Thank you,” Roland smiled. Astolfo could’ve sworn his mother and Roland both got sick of smiling sometimes.

“Alright,” Astolfo said, thanking her again before leading Roland up the stairs. Right before he began ascending them, however, he paused, spinning on his heel as his stomach dropped. “Also, mum, have you seen Leo today?”

“Yes, I saw him when he got back from a revision session,” she said, “He seemed fine. Why?”

“Nothing, I just…” Astolfo murmured, turning his back on her. “I didn’t see him get home, that’s all.”

Wordlessly, Roland followed him, most likely wondering why Astolfo bothered asking that last question. He himself didn’t really know; despite everything, Astolfo still struggling coming to terms with the fact he actually cared for him, in a way. Not only that, but not only had he not seen him arrive home, Astolfo hadn’t once seen him at college, either.

As if those thoughts alone summoned him, just as he and Roland reached his bedroom, the opposite door cracked open. With his head downwards, glued to his phone, Leo exited the room, a pack of cigarettes clutched in his other hand. The moment Astolfo froze, Leo glanced up and spotted the two.

His line of vision didn’t go to Astolfo though. Instead, a passive aggressive glare was directed at Roland. Only then did Astolfo remember that incident at college recently, where Roland had punched Leo and left him with a black eye for nearly a week.

“Hey,” Leo said, his words holding a biting edge. For once, Astolfo was fairly certain that wasn’t aimed at him. As if to emphasise that point further, when his gaze shifted to Astolfo, his words softened. “Is mum still downstairs?”

“Yeah.” He nodded. “She’s down there reading.”

As expected, upon hearing that response, Leo knocked his head back with an exasperated groan. “Fuck.”

Without making anymore eye contact with the other two, he turned back to his room, leaning against the door. Attempting to click it open with one hand, he held the phone up to his ear with the other, fiddling blindly with the door handle in the meantime. Watching those failed attempts made Astolfo sick to his stomach; he knew what Leo had just been doing.

“Crack a window open,” Astolfo said quietly, shifting uncomfortably as he opened his own bedroom door. “I’ll… call you if mum comes up here.”

“Cheers,” Leo murmured, shuffling into his room and mumbling something over the phone.

Once they were safe inside Astolfo’s room, the two sat down on the bed together, switching on the TV and grabbing two Wii remotes. There was a brief moment of silence, as Astolfo set up a round of Mario Kart and threw a remote at Roland.

“He’s probably calling Vanitas,” Astolfo said.

“Yeah,” Roland replied, “I heard Noé broke up with Vanitas last night, officially, so they’re probably both feeling terrible.”

“Did he actually?” Astolfo’s eyebrows shot up. Despite their conversation recently, he was fairly certain Noé wouldn’t have the heart to do it. Then, the text from last night suddenly appeared at the forefront of him mind. “Oh! Speaking of which, I got a really fucking weird message from Noé last night and I have no idea what it means.”

“Show me,” Roland said, pausing the game and shifting a little closer to the other. Sliding his phone out, Astolfo quickly found the message which he may or may not have pinned, and passed it to Roland. At first, Roland’s expression remained blank, and then a second later, a slight smirk twitched at his lips, as he handed the phone back. “You know how you told me you accidentally confessed and sort of asked him out?”

“Yeah…” Astolfo didn’t get it at first.

Ten seconds later, after blinking five times, it hit him like a train.



“… Oh.” Instantly, Astolfo shifted into freak-out mode, burying his hands in his hair. His heart pounded, and annoyingly, his cheeks flushed red too. “Oh my god, are we really a couple now?! Should I have replied?!”

“Maybe you should wait until you see him,” Roland said, nudging his shoulder discreetly.

“Yeah, you’re… probably right.”

“You know,” Roland spoke calmly; even more so than usual, weirdly. “This probably isn’t the relationship you’re expecting. He’s a broken man right now.”

“Yeah…” Astolfo lowered his head, a regretful smile tugging at the corner of his lips. “I know he’s probably just… using me for emotional satisfaction. He’s just lonely.” He paused, holding his arms over his chest and shrugging. “I don’t mind.”

“Hm,” Roland hummed. And once again, Astolfo sensed an aura of… awkwardness, almost. “Sorry to change the topic, but I’m just thinking. You seemed strangely calm with Leo.”

“We had a good talk yesterday,” Astolfo explained. He scratched the back of his head, eyes locking on the adjacent wall. “I’m… actually really worried about him. He’s lost hope in everything, and I’m… worried he’ll do something stupid.”

Silence proceeded.

In response, Roland’s hand made its way to Astolfo’s shoulder. Finally, he met his eyes. “I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

For the first time ever, Roland’s calm and collected smile did little to convince Astolfo that things would be alright.

By 10pm that day, Oz had reached his limit.

Ever since getting home, he was dealt with in the normal manner from his father. The normal manner meant yelling, and insults, and being hit; shunned. Ultimately, it ended with him being locked in his bedroom, from the outside, with no where to go.

He hoped, and prayed, like he did every time, that Ada would notice he was gone. But this wasn’t Ada’s responsibility, and it wasn’t her duty to know his every move. At one point, he did hear her question where he was, however, a second later, his father managed to convince her that he was simply ill.

Oz wondered if that was even a lie. He felt sick, and depressed, and no matter how hard he tried, his hands hadn’t stopped shaking in those 6 hours he’d been in there.

He was hungry, and tired. Worse, after one poor decision earlier, part of him was yearning for a cigarette, which only gave him one more reason to hate himself.

Above all, he needed to cut. But there was no razor in his bedroom, and with his bag taken by his father, Oz saw no way of relieving that urge.

Being locked in his wrong wasn’t really a new concept, mind you. In the corner of his wardrobe, where no one else would ever look, there was a stash of water bottles and a bucket. The use of that alone was enough to leaving him feeling humiliated and scrapped of his dignity on more than one occasion.

Usually, he lived with it. He tolerated it. He took it as his punishment for being born, and he went with it.

But today was a bad day. A really, really bad day.

Oz couldn’t recall ever hating his life as much as he did right now. He felt suicidal, almost, because with every hope of getting out came with another message from the self-deprecating voice in the back of his mind telling him why he doesn’t deserve to get out of this.

That was the reality; there was no way out.

Except, really, there was. Deep down, he knew he could leave at any time. Hell, he was eighteen. A legal adult.

He just had to tell someone. That thought was nothing short of terrifying. Sure, he was content with spending his life helping other people, and listening to their problems. But why would anyone want to do the same for him? Not even Break would anymore.

As another spell of tears spilled over onto his cheeks, Oz repressed another sob, and then his phone vibrated.

[From Gil, 22:03]
were you in today? i didn’t see you


Gilbert had always been there for him. That fact was undeniable. Whether Gilbert really deserved to be stuck with the burden of knowing all of this was more debatable.

His hand continued shaking, and he never typed out a response. It wasn’t until the phone vibrated in his hand that he even remembered Gilbert was still waiting for a reply.

[From Gil, 22:05]

[From Gil, 22:05]
are you okay?

That was the last straw. Gradually, tears glazed over his eyes, blurring his vision. Said tears then spilled over onto his cheeks, as he choked back a strained sob. No amount of words could describe the heaviness of his chest in that moment.

He couldn’t even pretend to be okay anymore. Years and years of lying had eaten away at him enough now, and Oz would truly rather die that put up with any of this any longer. And that voice in the back of him mind, repeating to him that he’d rather die, was most concerning.

Because, if he didn’t leave now, Oz worried that he might act on that voice.

And that was a burden Gilbert definitely didn’t deserve. Nor Break, or Ada, or Alice.

Before he could weigh up the consequences, Oz brought up the chat again, and typed out a reply which he’d never be able to take back.

[To Gil, 22:06]

[To Gil, 22:06]
i’m really not okay