A story by heroes and vilains
Janus Bullard: A second chance
Chances come and go whether you notice them or not. This is Janus' final second chance.
As their luck would have it, they slept terribly that night.
Nightmares of Virgil and Castile getting crushed because of whatever they did had them waking up several times.
This led to them sleeping through their alarm and missing their bus. Twice. Meaning they’d be late to school. Which meant that there was no bus ride there with Virgil, and no spare minutes before class started. Which meant they’d have to wait until after class, possibly until lunch to talk to him. Their heart was hammering in their chest. Sure they knew that as long as they got Virgil to hear them out, things would most likely be fine. But they were still terrified.
They didn’t know for sure how they’d done it, what they’d done even. What if they got upset and hurt someone? They took a deep breath. They just had to stay calm. Calm and focused. One step after another.
They made it to their homeroom. Eyes darting around until they found Virgil… Sitting next to Castile… Next to Roman. They probably should stop treating their friend’s friends so hostile. They had to trust Virgil’s judgement. Besides, Roman hadn’t actually done anything wrong. They’d assumed he was a bad brother, but other than Remus not wanting to bother him with his problems they had no proof of that.
Virgil was an amazing friend and there was a whole list of things they didn’t tell him because of their own reasons. So maybe Remus had a reason they never knew about too.
They heard the teacher say something, but they were trying to focus on staying calm.
They felt the tension in their gut surge as Virgil and Roman, who had both seemed in a good mood moments ago, tensed as their presence was announced.
“They don’t know, they can’t possibly know what happened yesterday,” they reassured themself as they walked over. They tried not to think about how troubling it was that their best friend responded to their presence in the room like this. They just had to ask Roman, nicely, to switch seats, even if it was just for this one time. They needed a chance to tell Virgil they were sorry. If nothing else, they needed him to know that.
As they made their way over however, a vibrant collection of colors started registering in their mind. Slowly it sunk in that this vibrant collection of colors was Roman.
His hair… The shirt.
Wait, Roman Castile was gay? No, no. They needed to focus. Now was not the time to unpack that. Or the possibility that the reason Roman was so invested in Virgil al this time was because he… Liked him.
It was easier said than done. Especially when it was only the recently openly gay Roman who looked up at them when they arrived. Virgil’s eyes were pointedly turned away from them.
Clearly yesterday’s text had gotten their hopes up too much.
Janus took in a breath and formulated the question in his head. “Can you move to a different seat? I need to talk to Virgil.” That was hopefully not too commanding.
“Move, that’s my seat,” they hissed instead. No! No! Where did that come from?
Roman moved his chin up, his eyes challenging.
“De ninguna manera. You want to sit with the coolest kid in school, get here on time.”
The remark and Roman’s clear honesty was a sharp reminder. Janus had been holding Virgil back. His high school life could have been so different if he hadn’t stuck with Janus this long. Was Virgil even going to believe they were sincere in their apology? Would he want it now that he knew he could do better?
There was a pressure in their chest, a familiar one. They had to get themselves under control. Or else they would do something they’d no doubt regret.
“Excuse me?” they demanded, sounding angrier than they wanted, clenching their fist, hoping to get a grip on themself.
They needed to calm down. They’d end up hurting someone. They’d end up scaring Virgil away for good.
“Mr. Bullard! Seat! Now!” The teacher’s voice snapped Janus out of their racing thoughts.
They lowered their fist as they turned their attention to Virgil. Hoping that he’d somehow understand that they needed to talk with him. Virgil was still not looking right at them though. His face had something disappointed. Janus realized it must’ve looked like they were about to punch Roman right then and there. Why did they keep making things worse?
“You heard the teacher Jan. Just go,” Virgil instructed to Janus’ astonishment. No… That tone... Were they really too late?
Unsure what else to do they took a seat. It was on Virgil’s left, across the path for the teacher. They didn’t even register their neighbor. Their mind fully on ways to fix this. Maybe they’d have a class with Virgil. Was there any chance he’d picked sociology even if he was mad about it?
“Good.” Janus did not care much for what the teacher had to say. They were much more worried about messing up their next chance as spectacularly as they’d done with every other one they’d been given so far.
“As I was saying, I hope the rest of the year will go without any more incidents like yesterday.” Janus felt his jaw set at the reminder. Not that they’d stopped thinking about it since. “Mr. Anker, Mr. Castile, I speak for the whole school when I say that we are happy to see you two are back and unfazed by yesterday’s incident.”
“Thank you Mrs. Foster.” It might be odd. But it was a relief for Janus to hear their friend flustered at the attention. They weren’t so out of touch with him that they’d missed him becoming a social butterfly all of a sudden.
“I wouldn’t dream of depriving you of my radiant presence for another day!”
Janus felt extremely jealous of Roman. How they wished they had his confidence to walk around with their identity on full display like he was.
When the bell rang, Janus wanted to follow Roman and Virgil out, but they needed their schedule.
“I hope this is no new habit of yours Mr. Bullard. You’ve been getting good grades and that has allowed you some flexibility from your teachers, more than we typically allow students to have in fact. But you are a junior now. You’ll have to start to get serious about academics if you want to be able to make it in any college. Is that understood?” Janus clenched their jaw. “Yes ma’am,” he replied stiffly before leaving. Great, now the teachers had it out for them. It wasn’t like they asked for anything too drastic. If they had, surely someone would have said something before now.
They hurried through the hallways, to find their locker. To their relief they spotted Roman and Virgil walk ahead of them once they got there. They hurriedly got their things in order and rushed in the direction they saw them disappear to. They witnessed Virgil closing his locker and following Roman farther up the hallway. They took a moment to collect themself.
There was still a little time before they had to be in their first class.
Enough to get Virgil’s attention. Enough to get him to agree to have lunch together or something.
As they approached the two and repeated what they were going to say as a mantra in their head, they heard Roman speak up. “Where are we headed next?” Roman had his head in his locker and was thus unaware of Janus’ presence. Virgil had his back turned and was looking through his backpack.
Once he pulled out the piece of paper that no doubt held his schedule Janus was overcome with curiosity. Maybe they could wait for a shared class? One where maybe Roman wasn’t there to distract either of them.
In an impulsive, and very stupid move, Janus snatched the paper from Virgil’s hand and studied it. They might not know their schedule by heart yet, but they knew it well enough to see that it had nothing in common with Virgil’s.
“Hey!” Virgil protested. It occurred to Janus that they’d overstepped, again, but out of pure habit they pretended to be in control of the situation anyway. There were too many people around, they couldn’t let themselves be vulnerable.
“How can we have no classes together? I thought we were going to take sociology?”
They didn’t have to look at Virgil to know that they just said the dumbest possible thing.
They’d say that their brain to mouth filter was taking the day off, but that would imply their brain was involved to begin with and they seriously doubted that.
“No!” Virgil snarled as he took back his schedule. Janus looked at Virgil, surprised at his hostility. They had never seen him this angry. Save maybe at some bullies who’d bothered them or Remus in the past. This was worse though. This anger was steeped in hurt and betrayal. They really wished they were braver so they could muster the strength to apologize no matter who was around to hear. They thought they’d grown past their cowardice after middle school. Clearly they’d been lying to themselves.
“You were,” Virgil reminded him bitterly. “I tried to tell you that I wanted to do art, and you didn’t listen. Like usual.” The bitterness and disappointment in Virgil’s voice and face cut deep.
Virgil turned to Roman with a finality that sent panic down Janus’ spine.
“We’re in building C. Let’s go.”
And with that Roman and Virgil pushed past a devastated Janus. They couldn’t let them leave though. They had to do something.
“Virge come on!” They pleaded, dashing out in front of the two.
“You are mad, I get it. I’m sorry okay?” As they said the words they knew they weren’t enough by a long shot. Still it felt like a relief to say them. Why hadn’t they allowed themselves to say it for so long?
There was a faint spark of hope in Virgil’s eyes, though it was immediately smothered by distrust and fear.
“Can’t we talk about this?” Janus pleaded, latching on to that one moment. Just a talk, that was all they needed. “We always work things out,” they tried to remind him.
Virgil flinched away from them. This situation was clearly upsetting him. Maybe they should try again later. When they had more privacy. Virgil didn’t like causing a scene. Janus knew that. They realized that they should have respected that and waited for a better time.
“My decision is final J. I’m done enabling your behavior. I thought I was helping you out, but I was making it worse. I can’t protect you anymore… You are right. Sometimes we have to do what’s best for us. And for me, that is not being around you anymore.” Janus recalled they would say something along these lines every time Virgil had taken hits meant for some random other kid. They never expected Virgil to finally take those words to heart by cutting ties with them. Janus reached out. Instinctively wanting to comfort their friend when he seemed distressed, disregarding the fact that they were the cause of it. They were blocked by the very colorful Roman Castile though.
“He’s asking you to back off. Give him some space.” Later Janus would think back and realize that Roman meant to diffuse the situation. His voice was calm, his face reassuring, understanding even. But in that moment Janus just felt their temper flare and they needed an out. So they slammed Roman against the lockers. They were filled with pain and frustration and their mind conjured the worst they could say to lash out at the poor soul that found themselves on the receiving end of that. “Stay out of it Chapero!” they growled. Who was he to interfere with their business?
Next thing Janus knew they were the one being pushed against a locker. In a strange way it was a relief. To find someone who was as angry with them as they were. There was also a strange sort of validation to see Roman break his calm and controlled streak he had going when dealing with them. Very clearly, the thespian had hit his limit when it came to patience.
“You better not know what you just called me,” he warned.
Janus, stupidly, doubled down and grinned at him with feigned confidence. Again that strange vindication took hold of them when they were confronted with cracks in Roman’s perfect image. “I don’t say anything I don’t mean. Payaso.” Well that was a lie. Janus wondered how often they told the truth lately. It felt like most of what they said the last few years was deceptive in some way. No wonder Virgil wanted nothing to do with them anymore. Still, Roman wasn’t perfect either. It was a comfort. A small and petty comfort, but a comfort non the less.
“Roman! What’s going on? Let him go. Let’s just go to class. Please,” Virgil pleaded. Janus was reminded of the times when Virgil would pull them away from a fight and he’d be upset and fed up instead of comforting.
Roman turned his attention to Virgil and relaxed. “Sorry. You’re right. We’ll be late,” he sighed. Janus was let go and watched the two walk away. “Get to class Jan!” Virgil called back.
“This isn’t over!” Janus promised, still frustrated. But they knew they weren’t in any shape to talk to Virgil right now. Their first class was Math, luckily they didn’t see anything new because they didn’t have the mental energy to pay attention to that on top of calming themselves. Between classes they tried to catch Virgil alone.
First time, he was accompanied by Roman the whole way, so that didn’t work. After sociology, which Janus did find interesting, even if their enjoyment was tarnished a little by the possibility of having ruined things with Virgil over it, they managed to see Virgil exit the art room, accompanied by his teacher.
“…Need that one back after your date with miss Stacey.” They heard the man say. Virgil took off to his lockers. Janus felt their stomach turn. Virgil already had a girlfriend? Since when? What else had they missed?
Not wanting to waste any time they grabbed Virgil’s shoulder and turned him around.
“We need to talk, now,” they said urgently. Scared that something else would come around to ruin this chance too. Virgil’s frown didn’t bode well though.
“Are you going to apologize to Roman?” he asked briskly.
“What?” Janus asked, confused for a second. That was clearly the wrong reaction.
“Or any of the people you’ve tormented over the past year, if not years? Because the only way, you and I are ever going to be on speaking terms again is if you stop acting like everything I despise in this world. Which, in case you are unaware, is a narrow minded, homophobic, bully.”
Janus felt shame sink in. Of course. In their anger they’d used a slur that they hated themselves. If Roman had translated for Virgil, and knowing their friend, Virgil wouldn’t have given him the option not to translate, that made him look real bad. And there was really no excuse for their behavior. There were reasons, but no excuses. They knew that.
“I already told you Janus. I’m done. When you start acting like my friend again, I’d like to have him back. I miss the Janus I’d stick by no matter what. But the guy I’ve seen the past year… I don’t know who that is. All I know is I want him nowhere near my family.”
Janus looked up clinging on to the fact that Virgil wanted things to go back to normal too.
But Janus understood that saying what he said to Roman was going to make Virgil defensive. “Listen, I messed up. I got mad and I just said the worst thing I could think of okay? I know that won’t excuse it. What with your dad and his boyfriend situation...” That was actually a decent apology. Janus was a little impressed with themself. They could do something right after all. Sadly, Virgil might’ve misread it. He got tense and defensive all of a sudden and Janus wracked their brain to figure out what they’d said wrong.
“What do you mean…? If you said something to upset Patton or Logan, I swear!”
“NO!” Janus exclaimed. Clearly Virgil didn’t know Janus had talked to uncle Lo and Patton when they returned from camp, or at least not what was said. Suddenly uncle L’s strange behavior after Virgil returned came to mind. Had… Had Virgil said something to him about what happened? Had Janus missed their chance to make things right long ago?
“I didn’t… I promise. I just… Need you to hear me out, like now. I need to tell you something important. Let’s just go somewhere quiet for a bit. Okay? I swear I’ll leave you alone after… Just please Virgil. I need you to know…” Even if they had messed up their friendship beyond repair, Virgil had the right to know the full story didn’t he?
Janus saw the hesitance in Virgil’s eyes. For a second they thought there was a chance. But then the slightly shorter teen’s frame tensed and he shook his head.
“I can’t Jan. I want to. Trust me, I really want to be friends again. But I know that if I go with you now, things will just go back to how they were and that… I was being suffocated by you Jan. I didn’t feel like me with you anymore. Even when we were just us I couldn’t be myself. I’m sorry. But I’ll listen, once you’ve proven you're over this whole,” he gestured to the general space between them. “Thing where you think you can control my life. It’s not good for me.” Each word was like a punch in the gut. There was guilt and regret and heartbreak. When Virgil moved away from them, despair overtook their judgement. They couldn’t let him go without explaining.
There was a strange surge running through them as they pushed Virgil against the locker. Their hold on him felt firmer than they expected, but they paid it no mind.
“Damn it Virgil! Just stop being dramatic and come with me!” They demanded. It couldn’t end like this. They wouldn’t let it end like this.
Virgil’s eyes hardened, he lifted his chin and spoke with more certainty than he ordinarily exhibited. “No!”
“Let him go Bullard!” That got their attention. They looked up and they saw Roman stand there, ready for a fight.
The part of Janus that always looked for a fight when they couldn’t deal with their own feelings latched onto that. They messed up, they knew. But maybe if Castile messed up too, they wouldn’t feel as bad.
“I’ve got this Roman,” Virgil spoke reassuringly. Roman looked past Janus to address Virgil.
“I know. But you don’t have to do this alone.” Roman was flanked by two of his friends and listened as one of them whispered something, only nodding in acknowledgement.
His eyes were burning with determination as he addressed Janus. “I’ll ask one more time. Leave him alone.”
Janus let go of Virgil and turned to their opponent.
“Think you can take me Castile?” they challenged, itching to vent this awful feeling inside on something. They approached Roman, leaving a few feet between them, daring him to deal the first blow.
“I’m not going to give you the satisfaction of getting me in trouble,” Roman replied calmly. That wouldn’t do. Janus wanted him to be mad, to fight! To be justified in disliking him the past two years in some way.
“So you’re just talk then huh?” they taunted. “Afraid to get your butt kicked in front of everyone? Trying to score easy points with Virgil? Hoping I’ll let you steal him from me that easily?” His fault, his fault. This was all because of him!
“Trying to repay him in some small way for saving my life yesterday. But none of that is any of your business. Virgil’s decision to finally break free from you has nothing to do with me, and everything with how you’re treating him. I don’t understand what he saw in you that made him stick around this long. But you took it for granted and now it’s done. Leave him alone.” The words were true and so they hurt as they easily broke through the lie Janus was trying to tell themself.
Other members of Roman’s lunch group arrived and then all of them except Roman started sending other students away. Roman kept staring at them.
Janus tried to think. It was surprising to them that Roman didn’t want as big an audience as possible for his deed of heroism. Maybe he was trying to be modest? That was good. The less people around the less likely they were to accidently hurt someone. They tried to relax, but as perception and reality clashed and the possibility of another thing going wrong increased, their nerves built. They couldn’t let that show though.
“What’s wrong Castile? Don’t want an audience? I thought you lived for the cheers of a crowd?” They taunted. It had no effect. Something had to happen though. Anything.
“Or maybe this is an exclusive event? Just for your little fanclub and Virgil? Is he your newest devoted follower?” They cringed at their own accusation. Virgil was no follower. He was non-confrontational, but he had his own opinion and would stand up for it. Janus was currently paying for forgetting that it seemed.
“You guys should head to class.” Janus felt relieved. Less bystanders was good. Roman’s friends protested for a moment but Roman stood firm on his decision. “You’ll all get in trouble if you don’t get to class in time. Now go. Tell our teacher that Virgil and I will be there soon. I’m not feeling well and Virgil is looking out for me.” Janus felt sick to their stomach at Roman’s nobility. It’s not right! Their world was falling apart and Roman was endearing himself to Virgil with every word out of his mouth!
“Making your friends lie for you Castile? Some friend you are.” At this point Janus was latching onto anything they could to criticize Roman in some way.
Roman quirked a brow. “Or tell them the truth. Apparently Bullard wants detention on the first day.” Great. Good job Janus. Now Virgil won’t be the only one upset with you today.
Moments later Janus, Roman and Virgil were the only ones left.
Janus’ hurt, anger, jealousy at everything Roman stood for, and guilt melted together in their gut to pure vicious spite. They were angry at themselves, but Roman was their target.
“Now we’re talking! A private show, just for you Virge,” Janus looked back at him, but Virgil was looking right past them to Roman. They noticed how he held a hand to his chest. Had they been too rough? They never meant to actually hurt Virgil. Just grab his attention. They looked back to Roman, trying to ignore the spike of guilt.
“Virge? You okay?” Roman asked, not even paying attention to them and that annoyed them to no end. Did he think he was too good for them? Did he think so little of them he didn’t even consider them a threat?
“Yeah, fine,” Virgil muttered. From the corner of their eye they could see him approach. They stopped him with a gesture. They weren’t sure what would happen if they saw Virgil physically choose Roman over them. It was a moot point. He had chosen. But still they wanted to hang onto denial a little longer. To their relief, Virgil didn’t approach any further.
“Just get to class. I can handle myself,” Roman assured Virgil. Still ignoring Janus even existed. Janus could feel the pressure built. It needed out. They didn’t want something to fall again. Roman, it was his fault. Yesterday would have been fine if he hadn’t been flirting with Virgil when they needed to talk to him.
“Stop mocking me!” Janus exclaimed. There was a flash of white hot rage and then, Virgil was in front of them, falling to his knees as he clutched his stomach in pain.
Roman was kneeling next to him concerned.
What had they done? “V… I...” they started, unsure what to say. Virgil’s tear filled eyes didn’t help them unjumble their thoughts.
“Messing with him emotionally and mentally isn’t enough for you? You have to resort to physical violence as well? What kind of friend are you?” They wanted to protest, but they couldn’t. Roman was right. They lowered their gaze in shame and walked away. Once outside they started running, faster and farther, right into the forest near the school.
Once they reached a clearing they fell to their knees and started crying their heart out. Virgil’s words echoed through their mind. The friend they used to be. Virgil wanted that Janus back. Was there any way they could go back to that? Where to even start?
They didn’t know how long they cried, but when they were done they looked up to find large branches had fallen off the trees surrounding them. Some trees looked like an elephant had used them as a backscratcher. They were pushed away from the meadow, roots pushed deeper on one side and up to the surface on the other. There were some smaller trees that had snapped. Had they done this?
They whipped at their eyes. This had to stop. They needed to tell their parents what happened. And they needed to listen to Virgil. Show that they could be better, or not better, themselves. Show that they could leave the charade behind before they could be trusted to be honest about their identity.
They’d apologize to Roman and everyone they ever picked a fight with or pushed out of their way to take out their frustrations or to hide their feminine side. They’d write Virgil a letter so they couldn’t mess up again.
“My, my. What a fine mess you made,” a bemused voice observed.
Janus turned around and got ready to attack. They weren’t sure what they’d do exactly. But every cell in their body told them that this was a fight or flight situation.
Wait… they knew this person.
“Don’t you worry,” they smirked gently. “You have quite some power. It’s a waste to hide such a gift away,” they told them.
“It’s a curse,” Janus objected.
“Your little incident of yesterday, yes I saw.” They were seen?
“But it doesn’t have to stay like that.” Janus blinked. It didn’t? They were offered a hand.
“I can help you Janus. I can help you prove yourself to everyone who looks down on you. And more importantly, to Virgil. You are a victim of some tough circumstances. But just trust me, and I’ll get you everything you wanted. I’ll help you be someone Virgil will adore. A hero.” The words swirled in their mind so beautifully. If they became a hero… They’d be better than the useless coward Virgil had known in middle school. They’d top Virgil’s expectations and conditions by a landslide.
Their hair still stood on end. There was definitely something fishy about the person in front of them. But… This offer was too tempting… If they could help them control this, and be someone Virgil would let into his life again…
With a trembling heart they took their hand.
“Smart choice Janus. I am known as, ‘the collector’. I think we’ll get along.”
@cirishere @hestianerd1 @moonlightshow00 @naturallyunstablegamer @alias290 @meowthefluffy @frida0043 @angelic-cali @selenechris @theblackveilinreverse
my reading of cassandra in s1-s2 tilts hard towards her having a crush on rapunzel that kind of decays over time into this painful servile devotion and then shatters in the shell house, and i’m. let’s just say not particularly fond of requited cassunzel as anything but an AU, and even then i am picky because i feel like a lot of AU cassunzel fics recreate the exact interpersonal dynamic that puts me off cassunzel in canon except it’s explicitly being framed as romantic now and. no thank you.
(i used to be more ambivalent about requited cassunzel but frankly the way cass is written and read in heavily cassunzel circles lately has soured me hard on the ship in general. it’s very knightly devotion and self-sacrifice turned up to eleven because folks are deep into the princess/knight dynamic, and cassandra being all dour and emotionally constipated so that rapunzel can crack through her walls and fix help her, and generally glossing over the pain and anger cassandra expresses in s3 as a direct result of those two dynamics because it gets waved away as just, like, things zhan tiri planted in her head or like a façade for cassandra actually pining for rapunzel but shoving her away because blah blah abandonment issues. i cannot emphasize enough how much i loathe this.)
i wrote a post a while back breaking down the toxicity i see in the friendship between cassandra and rapunzel, which can be summed up as ‘cassandra repeatedly and consistently states her boundaries or feelings, and rapunzel repeatedly and consistently runs roughshod over them and never apologizes, and because rapunzel has so much social and political power over cassandra, cass has no recourse and no way to get rapunzel to stop doing this other than by blowing up and leaving the relationship altogether.’ THEN, in s3, after she takes the moonstone and forcibly removes herself from this relationship, cassandra is narratively stripped of agency - her villain arc is, from beginning to end, cassandra being moved across the playing board by zhan tiri - whose ultimate function in the narrative is to erase rapunzel’s culpability in destroying her relationship with cassandra, to shoulder the blame for cassandra’s violent breakdown, and to facilitate a redemption without rapunzel needing to learn anything by being so awful that the status quo established in s2 looks better by comparison.
like, s3 ends with cassandra brokenly sobbing and pleading for forgiveness from the same friend who literally maimed her and then blamed her for it, and prior to that treated her so poorly that cassandra ended up apologizing for being upset about it. and the most rapunzel apologizes for is being an obnoxious “flower child” cass had to babysit in the early days of their relationship. gbfjdbfk like ?? god.
and of course there’s no problem with like - if a post-series fic wants to examine that and treat cassandra’s problems seriously and fairly, and explore rapunzel realizing her mistakes and growing as a person and recovering from the trauma that led her to act that way, and over the course of that they fall in love? i have no problem with that. (that seems to be the trajectory this fic is following, and i am enjoying it immensely. likewise @erazonpo3’s CTA au, which is tonally quite different but dealing with similar themes of healing / growth / eventual reunion and rebuilding.) and i also have no problem with cassunzel aus like untangled or burn a broken effigy that either set up circumstances where cassunzel happens without the fucked up power imbalance and toxicity or where the fucked up power imbalance and toxicity are seen and tackled by the characters and rapunzel gets the character growth she was denied in TTS itself. but… like. i feel like it is way way way harder than it should be to find this kind of cassunzel content versus cassunzel content where cass barely seems to exist outside of being rapunzel’s slavishly devoted protector and moody fixer upper and that has burnt me out hard on the ship in general.
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