pairing: platonic anxceit
word count: 1351
warnings: hurt/comfort, open ending
“Do you ever feel like it went too fast?” Virgil asked, without looking up.
Janus glanced at him very quickly so Virgil wouldn’t notice. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”
“You do.” Virgil was reading something on his phone and bunching his hoodie around his wrists. As if he wanted to pretend this conversation wasn’t happening. “Acceptance. Redemption. Whatever. You got yours a while ago, and I just...I dunno. I wondered.”
“If it happened too fast?” Janus repeated, turning the words over in his head. “After years of isolation, I would say it didn’t come quickly enough.”
“Yeah, but that’s not what I mean,” Virgil said. “I mean the actual thing. ‘Cause when I got accepted, it was quick. Too quick. Like everyone just decided, right then, that I could be part of the party.”
Janus decided not to answer, just to see if Virgil would continue.
He did. “And it was like a state of emergency, then. You know? There wasn’t another option.” He pulled at his sleeve. “I know they care about me. I care about them. But...yeah. You know what I mean, right? It didn’t start out with them trying to help me. It wasn’t about me. I was hurting Thomas, it was a crisis.” Virgil’s voice dipped to a mumble. “Makes me think things have to hit rock bottom for any of us to change.”
Janus swallowed, and realized he was looking at Virgil again. He quickly looked away and busied himself with adjusting his gloves. “And what’s wrong with that methodology? Sometimes a wake-up call can trigger what’s needed.”
“You know what’s wrong with that!” Virgil sounded frustrated, but not like he usually did with Janus. Like he really, genuinely wanted Janus to understand. “If we wait until the eleventh hour, everything’s just gonna fester. Thomas is gonna improve jolt by jolt, and if stuff slips through the cracks, it’ll never get fixed! Just ‘cause stuff isn’t the worst it could literally be right now doesn’t mean it shouldn’t get better.”
“We can’t aim for perfection,” Janus said. “If we try to fix every tiny thing, no matter how inconsequential, at all times? I would definitely enjoy that kind of workload and vigilance. Sometimes you don’t need to be on your guard.”
“You’re calling me paranoid.” Virgil blew out a breath of air. It rustled his bangs. Janus was looking at him again--shit. “Maybe you’ve got a point. But maybe I’ve got one, too. There’s a middle ground between fix everything all the time because nothing’s good enough and let everything become a trash can until it spills over. Right?”
“Look at you, believing in a middle ground. How forward-thinking.” Janus couldn’t resist the jab. “Next you’ll tell me some people aren’t inherently evil. And, gasp! That two different perspectives can both be true!”
“Yeah, yeah, don’t get all smug on me.” Virgil paused. “I’ve changed. You know that.”
“I definitely don’t,” Janus said. “And it wasn’t just because of one major crisis, was it?”
“You pin your acceptance on a singular moment. As if the official words made it true, not the actions.” Janus looked up at the ceiling and kept his voice level. Virgil was right--honesty was easier when you didn’t acknowledge it. “Yet even before you were accepted, you had become one of the group. And afterwards, they worked to include you, help you, understand you. They worked with you. That’s your acceptance. It’s continuing to this day.”
Virgil cleared his throat. “So you’re just proving my point that we need to fix things bit by bit?”
“I’m saying we’re already doing that.” Janus huffed. “We could be better at it, obviously. But no change is a single isolated incident, and to think that your acceptance was only because of the emergency...” Janus trailed off. hoping he could get away without finishing the sentence.
Damn it, Virgil. “It’s lying to yourself,” Janus finished. “And it’s wrong.”
“Oh.” Virgil sounded very small, for a second. If they weren’t across the living room from each other--if they weren’t years away from friendship--Janus might have put a hand on his shoulder.
“You are here because they want you,” Janus said, the truth stinging his tongue. “Things are changing because you all want to be better.”
“And you?” Virgil asked after a quiet pause. “Do you...want to be better? Do you really feel like you’re not another crisis-induced 180 degree turn?”
Janus counted the cracks on the ceiling. Of course he didn’t feel that way. He belonged here, and it was only a matter of time before the rest of them realized that. He didn’t need to be better. He was the constant--the others had to change.
Or he needed to change to suit them, and he wouldn’t be able to. If he wasn’t good enough as is, he had no idea how to fix that.
Or maybe both things were true at once. All of them could be better. All of them could be worse.
“Sometimes I agree with you,” Janus finally said. “Sometimes I think that I am another friendship of convenience. Thomas needs me, so I am accepted. That there’s nothing more to it--that everyone has an agenda.” He sighed. “But unfortunately, I’m not cynical enough to believe that.”
“You like us,” Virgil said with a hint of a tease.
“Unfortunately,” Janus repeated, smirking at the ceiling. “I should distrust you all. I should treat this as a convenient exchange of affection for assistance. I should look at the years of isolation and say it could never be erased. But... there were moments, even before I was accepted, where change was starting to happen.”
“Not on my end.”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” Janus said. “You spoke to me and you looked me in the eyes. That was change.”
“And hopefully, there will be more change.” Janus was thankful Virgil was not looking at him, because that meant Janus could smile. “And more rest, of course, because self-care is important. We should appreciate the way things are, not just toil over self-improvement.”
“Yeah, I used to think like that, too.” Virgil almost sounded fond. “But it’s not as much work as it seems like.”
“Oh, yes, transforming myself from the dastardly villain, befriending my former foes, and undoing years of distrust and lies is just a walk in the park.”
“What do you think you’ve been doing right now?”
Janus jerked his head around. Virgil was smirking at his phone.
“You’re literally doing it,” Virgil said, still smirking. “You’re literally improving yourself right now. ‘It’s so hard, woe is me’? Come off it, this is a polite conversation we’re having and you’re not covered in hives yet.”
“I resent your tone,” Janus said. “Do you think change will magically occur if I keep gaining friendship points through banter with you?”
“Probably can’t hurt.” Virgil thumbed at his phone and shrugged. “Like you said, actions speak louder than words.”
“Yes, no words are involved in this conversation right now.”
“You knew what I meant. Jackass.”
Janus rolled his eyes. Virgil still wasn’t looking at him, but Janus wasn’t looking away, and that was a start. “No, I totally didn’t.”
“Good,” Virgil said. “And I got what you were saying, too.” He waved a hand at Janus. “We’re talking and not killing each other. This is how acceptance works. Congrats.”
“A high bar.”
“For you and me? It’s progress.”
Janus settled on the couch and scuffed his feet on the carpet. The TV sat in front of them, blank and empty. Virgil was contorted comfortably in the recliner, scrolling on his phone again. They weren’t actually that far apart from each other, Janus realized. And Virgil didn’t seem to care.
Fine, maybe it was progress. Maybe this was how acceptance was supposed to feel--not one big, glorious epiphany. Not a half-baked speech as the plane was going down. Acceptance was steady and quiet and almost invisible, and it didn’t end for a long, long time.
Janus was alright with that.
“As a fair warning to the antisocial,” he said, turning on the TV, “I’m going to watch a few episodes of Avatar. Stay, or don’t, I hardly mind.”
Virgil paused and glanced up through his bangs. “Which episodes?”
“Only the filler episodes. If I see a hint of plot or character, I skip to the next one.”
“You’re the worst,” Virgil said, cracking a smile. “I’m in.”
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