Blood was rushing through Ethan’s ears, an odd echoey sound almost as it gushed like a river from the previous adrenaline rush he had as he practically crushed the obstacle course beforehand. They had him going up against Matt, one of the demonstrators for the course, seeing as Ethan clearly had a bit more experience and skill against Mark and James. It only seemed fair to put him up against the guy who also knew how to do the course really well.
Ethan was tired and fucking anxious though. An entire camera crew (granted he knew them, but it was still quite a bit of people, and he hadn’t done stuff like this in front of a live crowd since his gymnast days, except for his famous backflip stunt obviously) and two people he was close to, as well as military guys? All watching him and judging him? He could already feel the tears wanting to creep up underneath his eyeballs and peak out in his lower lid.
”So Matt and Ethan are gonna race,” Alex announced to the cameras, the two racers on their respective sides in a ready position. “This is all out, hardcore, no mercy on either of you. I want you to just tackle the obstacle course, and may the best man win.” Ethan was trying desperately to grasp the present moment, not wanting his anxiety to get the best of him so quickly. The race hadn’t even started for fuck’s sake. Alex finished explaining and Ethan nodded like he was somewhat okay in any sense of the word.
And then came the god forsaken countdown.
Ethan dug the ball of his foot into the grass.
He tried not to focus on Matt as he leaned forward a bit, preparing his takeoff.
And they were off. Ethan broke into a full on sprint, trying not to let his spirits get down when his eyes betrayed him and glanced over to Matt, who was already beginning to get ahead. Ethan threw his hands out and let them hit the log, propelling himself over it swiftly and easily. He kept storming on, already swinging his arms back by the time his feet were back on the ground in order to swing them forward and grab the metal bar. Jumping wasn’t difficult as he felt the smooth metal of the pole meet his palms, wiggling in the slightest as he heaved himself up and swung over, finishing it off with a swing forward with—as Alex had put it earlier—pizazz on it.
Ethan couldn’t help but notice that by the time he was reaching out to jump over the next bunny hop, Matt was already over it and preparing to jump on the next logs. The brunette shook his head defiantly, he was going to push through this course and his mind. They could get this over with and he could go home and let the rest pan out.
”That spin!” Mark exclaimed somewhere in the background, Ethan caught a glimpse, the man’s eyes were glued onto Matt, and just the tiniest pang of disappointment struck Ethan in his chest. “Crazy!” The raven-haired man finished just to twist that screw on Ethan’s skin more, or so it seemed to Ethan anyway.
The dirt flew out from underneath Ethan’s feet as he thundered on, thanking the universe when he managed to not slip on the metal poles that sloped down. He plopped the bend of his knees on the poles either side of him and began furiously scooting down, the slight residue of rainwater oddly comforting to him.
”So quick! He’s good.” Ethan didn’t feel like confirming what he already knew Mark was talking about, and that was furthered proven when Ethan had just begun to stand on the logs to waddle down and Mark had already made a comment saying “Excellent balance.” Matt had swiftly gone down them already. Ethan pressed on, ignoring the bit Mark was doing, even if it was dragging on a bit long now.
The brunette bit his tongue as Mark made another remark on how much better Matt was doing against Ethan, and he felt his stomach drop a bit as he watched Matt sail over the wooden plank wall with some ease. With a silent plea to the universe to help him make this, Ethan sprinted at the wall full speed, jumping as high as he could as his hands gripped onto the wall shakily, the toes of his shoes slipping and sliding pathetically against the wall, failing to help him up.
“No!” He wanted to give up now. “Fuck!” He was too tired and too stressed, not in the right headspace and certainly not getting any help or support (even if the jabs were playful) from the others. He was so almost done with this whole thing. But he really didn’t want to make this awkward for everyone else, he didn’t want Matt or Alex or Mark or James or anyone else to think they had done something when Ethan finally threw his hands in the air, stressed and frustrated, and stormed off. So he just kept on, jumping back off of the wall and running back to the previous bunny hop, sailing forward and trying again. Suppressing a cry of relief as his arms latched onto the top and his feet found purchase on the wall, Ethan finally tried to hoist himself up. He was feeling better about this.
”Ethan you’re garbage!” He almost stopped dead in his tracks, that is before he realised it was another one of those bits Mark was doing, so he simply plastered on the character and responded as he struggled to get himself to the top.
”I know.” He honestly wasn’t even sure Mark could hear him, but he could care less.
”You’re trash!” Ethan was breathing hard now. “What are you doing with your life! You thought you could win?!” The brunette grunted, even as he scrambled to the top without falling, it suddenly seemed pointless. It wasn’t gratifying. It was stressful and making it hard to breathe and see clearly. Since when did those tears start pouring from his eyes?
”Against Matt? Look at him! He’s almost done. Your time is horrible.” It’s a bit. It’s a bit. It’s a bit. It’s a bit. It’s a bit. It’s a bit. It’s a bit. “Your time is disgusting. You’re disgusting. I’ve never been more hideoused by someone in my life.”
And then it happened. The damn Ethan had temporarily built up had exploded much sooner than he had anticipated. He had jumped down from the wall and his body was too tired to keep him up and going.
Ethan collapsed to the ground, his thin body crumpling into a heap with his knees up in his face and his arms over his head, leaving it tucked down towards his chest. Everyone froze, a moment of brief confusion and panic settling amongst the camera crew and the others.
And then they heard the gut wrenching sobs erupting from Ethan. His body wracked as wave after wave of blood-curdling screams of pained blubbering spilled from him, his tank top now dirtied and scuffed, he must have hit the ground pretty hard when he fell.
Mark was bolting towards Ethan in an instant, leaving James anxiously standing on the sidelines a few metres away, unsure of what to do in this situation. The raven-haired man slid to Ethan baseball style on his knees and was placing his big hand on Ethan’s shaking shoulders, practically moving him like an old tattered rag-doll who had lost at least half of its stuffing as he placed the sobbing boy’s back against his left bicep, the right one gently holding one of the brunette’s wrists in an attempt to pull a hand away from his face. Ethan’s body shook violently as he cried, shielding his face from everyone.
”Eth, hey c’mon bud, look at me. Can you do that for me?” Mark kept his voice quiet, thankful no one was coming too close, Ethan wouldn’t be able to handle that.
The brunette was distraught, shaking his head as he continued to hiccup and blubber, curled in on himself.
”Fuck off Mark!” Ethan’s voice was shrill, making Mark flinch hard for more reasons than his volume. “Shut the fuck up!” Mark looked up, hoping that by some chance someone would know what the fuck was going on.
The raven-haired man scrambled for some sort of context, a confused look on his sweaty face. “Ethan what–are you okay?”
”Clearly not! I’m not okay so please leave me alone!!”
Mark felt crushed and so goddamn confused, even more so when the brunette planted his palms on Mark’s chest and pushed, hard, sending Mark back and away from him. Ethan scrambled to his feet, his hands and clothes covered in dirt from where he had crashed into the ground.
It was here that Mark finally got a look at Ethan’s face, red and shiny with tears and snot, screwed up in a look Mark could only describe as pent up frustration and hurt.
”No! God Mark just leave me the fuck alone. I get I’m shit, I’m fucking tired of hearing it!!” He huffed tiredly, sniffling and hiccuping again as he stomped away. Mark saw the back of his white tank top, dirty footprints on the back of it and dark stains that he was sure would take a few washes to get out. Guilt swarmed his chest as confusion settled in his head.
Mark could only feel like he had seriously fucked up, and he was about to let Ethan go, but the boy had barely made it a few yards before he was falling to his knees in the damp grass again, clutching his upper arms for dear life as he began crying again. Mark knew immediately he was having a panic attack, and he sprang to his feet and made a bee-line to his friend. His arms cradled the fragile brunette as he let pent up stress and emotional turmoil pour from him as fat streams of tears rolled down his splotchy face, warm droplets hitting Mark’s arm.
“It’s okay, let it out. No one here is going to hurt you.” Mark muttered quietly into Ethan’s ear, rubbing the boy’s arms and prying his digging fingers out of them, little crescent moon marks indented into the pale skin.
Ethan sobbed and sobbed. Loud and heavy, the sounds of him desperately trying to regain breath only for it to all be exerted from his lungs with another cry twisted at Mark’s heart. Mark sat there with him for half an hour, eventually wrapping his arms around him at some point and rocking the brunette back and forth comfortingly. Not a single person dared to interrupt this, fearing they’d trigger Ethan, and it seemed like he was finally beginning to calm down.
Even after they finished and called it a day, Ethan muttering broken apologies with an equally broken voice to everyone, it seemed to still be just as tense in the car. They hadn’t even pulled out and the atmosphere was so charged that Mark felt like leaving to give his friend some space.
Hesitantly, he glanced at Ethan, the brunette looked all sorts of broken and exhausted, his brows furrowed and his eyes red from his breakdown earlier.
“Forget it, Mark. I’m sorry.” His voice was tight and his grip on his upper arms tighter. Mark reached over and brushed his fingers over Ethan’s, sighing internally as the brunette loosened his grip, the red welps from earlier were still fiery and present.
“Don’t be sorry.” Mark had to keep his voice lower, he knew he had a tendency to be loud, just because deeper voices carry easier, but the last thing he wanted to do was intimidate Ethan by being loud and unnecessarily aggressive.
Ethan gave Mark a quick glance, studying his expression for a second before resuming his staring contest with himself in the rearview mirror on his side of the car. “I’m just stressed and I let it get to me. I shouldn’t have been so angry and mean to you like that.”
The raven-haired man furrowed his brows, partially in guilt and partially in confusion. “I wasn’t being a ray of sunshine to you out there. Bit or not, I said some awful shit to you. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been like that.”
They sat in silence, the AC blowing and serving as background noise. The tension had seemed to subside.
“Hug?” Ethan asked softly with outstretched arms. Mark smiled and rolled his eyes playfully as he hugged him.
As they sat there in their embrace, Ethan relaxed and Mark gave small compliments here and there. They stayed like that for about five minutes, and by the time they had pulled away, Ethan already had fresh tears leaking down his face, but a small smile accompanied them this time.
“Are you okay?” Mark asked calmly, looking from Ethan’s left eye to his right and back again.
The brunette nodded with a small laugh. “Yeah yeah, just feel a little silly about everything that happened.”
“You had a panic attack, Ethan. No need to feel silly over it.”
Ethan nodded softer as he used the palm of his hand to rub at his eyes, wiping away the tears. “Yeah.” The brunette looked out of the front window, watching the light rain hitting against the glass and dribbling down. “So we forced James Charles to run a military course and I then proceeded to have a breakdown on said military course. This channel is fucking weird.”
Mark laughed and joined Ethan in watching the rain.
“Well it’s got two weirdos runnin’ it.”