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too busy saving everybody else to save yourself (and you don't want no help)

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"David Isaiah Jacobs, don't you dare storm off like--"

The bedroom door shuts. Locks. Shaking hands run through rough, oily, tangled hair. Heart beats faster and faster as the pit of shame grows deeper and deeper and he can't do this, not now, not now, not when his family is relying on him, not when he's been doing this for years, years of isolation and hard work and wanting to make them proud and wanting to help them and now they hate him and they're screaming at him and he never should have came home and he doesn't want to be here but he needs to be here and he can't take this anymore and–

Before David knows what's going on, a sob rips itself from his throat, clawing at him like an animal; it hurts, it's raw and ragged and deep and he finds himself clutching at his chest as the tears in his eyes boil over. A panic attack, again, the fifth this week, the second today.

And the people who are supposed to help him are the ones he's shutting out.

Seconds and days and minutes and years and weeks and months pass until he's on the ground, back pressed to the wall. He's spiraling, the room is spinning, his body feels heavy but he's alive like a livewire and his head can barely hold itself up but his hands are shaking like a leaf and he's a walking contradiction but he's better and he's bad and he's a mess but he should have expected this and he's fucking up. He's fucking up. He's hurting. He's fine.

Don't do this to yourself. You deserve this. You're struggling. You're a disappointment. You know things will get better. You're nothing but a fake. Grades aren't going to matter if you get your degree. Drop out.

Drop out.

Drop out.

David pulls at his hair and curls in on himself and prays that it's going to pass easily.

***

When he wakes up, he's on the floor.

About five seconds pass. Five blissfully ignorant seconds, five seconds where he doesn't have to deal with the weight of the world. He looks at his window and sees the fading colors of the sunset and hears the sound of the cityscape below him and things are fine until he remembers why he's here. Why he's home, in Chicago, instead of home, in his shitty little NYU dorm, but he's home, in Chicago, and he needs to be home, in his shitty little NYU dorm.

Home doesn't feel like home no matter where he is, and it's terrifying.

He sits up slowly, groaning and stretching his back; he feels his hip pop and notes how tense the rest of his body is, like he's in a constant state of fight or flight. Once he’s up, he stays there, motionless, one hand braced against the floor, the other on his knee, staring off into space. He’s hungry. Has he eaten since he left New York in a rush?

Did he tell anyone he was leaving New York in a rush?

The thought is a bullet that strikes him through the heart, and David scrambles to stand, to gain his footing, to run to the bed where his backpack lies, stuffed to the brim with clothes, ones that were on his floor, ones he hasn’t hung up in the since washing them weeks ago. He probably doesn’t even have a full outfit with him. He probably doesn’t have anything important with him.

His laptop is lying unplugged on his desk in his dorm room. Textbooks, notebooks, calculator, pencil bag– all of it is at NYU Home, because he threw all of it out of his bag, he had to, he couldn’t handle it being near him or on him or in his bag or at this house and even his phone was shoved in the very front pocket of his backpack because he couldn’t do it, not now, not ever, no, no, no.

His stomach flips when he picks up his phone, and he feels the anxiety rise in his chest as he turns it on. 

29% battery. Ten missed calls.Six calls from Jack. Eighteen messages. Nine messages from Jack. Twenty emails. One email from Jack.

David gulps and clicks on his texts.

jackie baby (12:07 PM): have a good day today <3 see you later, lmk how your quiz went

jackie baby (1:32 PM): hey are you still coming to the library?? we were supposed to meet up lol, howd your meeting go

jackie baby (1:40 PM): still gonna study drop by if you want

jackie baby (3:27 PM): just left. everything ok ??

jackie baby (3:39 PM): sorry for blowing up your phone im just worried.

jackie baby (4:40 PM): do you wanna go to the dining hall w me? We don’t have to talk about it

jackie baby (6:02 PM): nvm grabbed dinner with spot and race. spot told me you went home. he didn't understand why you didn't tell me. i don't know why either

jackie baby (6:03 PM): we don't have to talk about it but as your boyfriend i'd rather know when you're struggling. 

jackie baby (6:40 PM): just let me know you made it. i'm sorry for spamming you just please let me know you're okay. i love you

David drops his phone and wipes his eyes on the back of his hands. He didn't even tell Jack… The only reason he even told Spot was because Spot came back to the dorm while Davey was in a packing frenzy, trying and failing to get the fuck out of the room, the building, the city, the state as fast as possible. He booked the flight two hours before departure and barely made it to the airport on time, even though he'd usually be to the airport three hours early. While on the plane, he was so far trapped in his own head that he didn't even know the flight had passed until they landed. 

And now he's made Jack angry, and his parents angry, and he regrets coming home because everyone is angry. 

David climbs onto his bed, sits with his back against the wall, and lets the tears fall slowly.

***

When David finally calms down, when he finally picks his phone up again, he sees a new message there on the screen. One from Jack, of course. Jack, who has always been too good to him, too good for him, too good to be with a mess like David. Jack is sure of himself, and knows who he is. He's an average student, for starters, and he doesn’t hide it– he coasted through his gen ed’s, and his personal mantra was “C’s Get Degrees” before he started taking the major-focused courses, like art history and studio . He doesn’t worry about exams as long as he passes with a 75. His studies come second to his social life and wellbeing.

But he’s got friends. He’s got a group of people to rely on when things go south. He’s allowed to have fun and be a college kid and not absolutely kill himself with work and school and homework and hours and scholarships and organizations and leadership positions that won’t even matter in twenty years. And Jack has a good balance, Jack has been trying to get David to have a good balance, but David can’t justify getting below a 95 on his exams and David can’t–

David can’t–

His thoughts are cut short when the phone in his hand begins vibrating, Jack’s photo flashing on the screen. David shuts his eyes for a moment, but answers the call. “Hey,” He says in a weak voice, hiding his face behind his free hand despite the fact that Jack can’t see him.

“Hey?” Jack responds. “That’s all I get?”

With a shaky sigh, David rubs his forehead. “I- I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have come here, I–... I’m sorry…”

“I’m not angry,” Jack says, his voice soft, less harsh, “I’m just… worried. You didn’t answer my calls, my texts– it’s been eight hours, Davey, I thought you-... I don’t know. I thought you were hurt.”

David doesn’t say anything for a few moments, just listening to Jack’s breathing through the phone. Oh, how he wishes he could feel it, could rest his head on Jack’s chest and feel his breath, listen to his heartbeat. David knows he could if he didn’t fly all the way home on an impulse. David knows this is his fault.

“I’ll be- I’ll be back tomorrow,” David finally says. “I… I’m gonna look at flights back in a few.”

“Is everything okay? All Spotty told me was that you were goin’ home. Your folks’ alright?”

“They’re fine,” David mutters. “They’re just fine.”

“...Are you okay, Davey?”

David hesitates, unsure. He’s not okay, but he’s not bad. He’s being dramatic. He’s fine. He’s not. He should be.

With a sigh, David whispers, “I don’t know.”

“I’m hanging up,” Jack murmurs, “and I’ll video call you, okay?”

“No, you– I know you were gonna be busy tonight, you don’t need–”

“Davey.”

“...I’ll talk to you in a second.”

Jack hangs up, and, like clockwork, David is immediately faced with his video request. David waits for a moment, trying to work up the courage, but he eventually accepts, watching as his face- red and blotchy and damp with tears- fills the little corner of the screen.

Jack’s face is right in the center though, in his dorm room; David can tell his phone is propped up against the textbooks on his desk. His eyebrows furrow as he sees David, though, and he frowns. “Oh, Davey… amor, what’s wrong?”

“I-I don’t know,” David repeats, eyes glancing away from the phone. “I… I-I don’t kn-know what’s wrong with m-me, I just–”

“Hey, hey, nothing is wrong with you,” Jack cuts in. “Nothing is wrong with you. You’re just going through a tough spot, aren’t you?”

David shrugs, a gesture barely seen on screen; with the way he’s laying on his bed and the way that the phone is positioned, Jack can only see about three-fourths of David’s face, and only a sliver of his shoulder. “I-I shouldn’t have come home,” David whispers. “They just–... They don’t get it.”

“What don’t they get, darling?”

“Anything. I- I thought they could- could help me, but they- they’re just disappointed, a-and I don’t-... I don’t kn-know what to do,” He mumbles. He wants a hug. That can’t happen. 

Jack is silent for a moment, but Davey watches him lean in closer, taking up more of the frame. The video quality isn’t the best– Jack is a ride-or-die Android user– but it still brings comfort knowing he cares.

With a glance to the side, Jack nods to himself. “Why’d you go home, Davey?”

David chokes up before he even says a word.

The tears prick at his eyes and he turns away, only for a moment, because he knows that Jack is going to worry regardless. “I-I’m just… I can’t- can’t focus and- and I feel so- so stupid because my- my grades are slipping and I ca-can’t just… I can’t catch a break… I-I thought that- that coming home would m-make me feel better, but my- my parents are ju-just asking why I can’t k-keep my grades up and my- my GPA is gonna fall, and I-... I can’t do this anymore…”

“...Davey…”

“I-I kn-know, I know, I sh-shouldn’t have come home, b-but I- I had to leave, Jackie, I had to–”

‘Hey, hey,” Jack starts, gulping. “Look at me, cielito… There we go. You don’t have to apologize, Davey. Okay? You don’t have anything to apologize for. If you needed to get out of there, then you needed to get out of there.”  

David nods, shutting his eyes tightly. “I-I got- I got a seventy on- on my quiz and freaked out, and I- I just broke down, Jack, I-... I didn’t know wh-where else to go, but now… Now my mom is- is asking why I can’t just study more but I do nothing but study, and I- I’m still not good enough, and it-... It’s n-never enough.”

Jack is silent for a long while. He nods, and David watches him shift the phone to the left. “You don’t have to be perfect, David. I know it doesn’t feel like it, but being perfect– it ain’t sustainable. Okay? You’re gonna burn out even more than you already have. You don’t have to be perfect.”

“I-I know.”

“You don’t have to do 100% everyday,” Jack murmurs. “And if your GPA a couple decimal points? It’s okay. I ain’t the best, but I still got a 3 somethin’. You’re not gonna not graduate because you don’t have a 4.0.”

David breathes heavily, wiping his eyes and nodding. “I-I know, it- it just… I-I’ve never… I feel like I-I’m not good enough anymore, and I kn- know I am, I know that, it just...”

“Feels like you’re trapped?”

“Yeah.”

They sit in silence for a moment. David stares at the screen, at Jack’s face, and he wishes he was next to him. Wishes he could hold him. All he wants is Jack, and that’s all he’s wanted all day, all week, but he’s been so busy studying, and the impulse decision to go home just rooted in his mind and wouldn’t let go. David is drowning in it all. Jack is the one who saves him.

David takes a deep breath. “I think I’m going to… drop a few classes, and- and take a step back from some student orgs…”

Jack nods. “I think that would be good,” He says softly. “It’s still early in the semester, babe. If you’re already struggling– which isn’t a bad thing, it just– I think you would… I think it’d get harder later on, and you shouldn’t have to deal with that, yeah? You shouldn’t have to kill yourself just for a class. There’s no shame in takin’ it easy.”

“I love you,” David murmurs, running a hand through his hair. It’s oily, and gross, and sticking up everywhere. “Ugh. I need to go shower.”

“Wish I was there to help,” Jack says with a smirk, and the comment catches David off guard– he barks out a weak laugh, rolling his eyes, and Jack only grins. “Don’t roll your eyes at me! You know you’d like it.”

“I would, and that’s the problem,” David grins. “If you start that, I’ll never be able to shower alone.”

“Save’s water. It’s a good, financially sound, environmentally friendly idea,” Jack defends, gesturing dramatically. “Plus, I get to kiss you all I want.”

David sits up and brings the phone with him, wiping his eyes with one hand. “I can’t believe you want to in the first place,” he starts, “but I definitely won’t complain. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?” 

“I can come get you,” Jack offers. “It’s only, what, a ten hour drive?”

“Twelve,” David corrects with a soft smile. “Just pick me up from the airport and we’ll call it even.”

Jack nods, and takes a breath. “You sure you don’t wanna… stay a few days? Campus’ll still be here when ya get back. Maybe you should take a break while you’re away.”

David sighs. “I know I should, but… I don’t know. My parents are busy this week. I should’ve… called, or something, ‘cause… I don’t know. They didn’t seem too happy to see me back unannounced.”

“I’ll pick you up,” Jack says with no other questions. “Let me know when, yeah? And I’ll Venmo you the cash for the ticket.”

This sweet, perfect guy. David doesn’t deserve him. “You don’t have to do that,” David says softly; a ticket will probably take up most of Jack’s paycheck, and David doesn’t want that to happen.

Jack thinks for a moment, then nods and stands– David can see him walking to his bed, and he returns with his laptop, wordlessly opening it and signing in. David stays silent, watching him, waiting; even through the grainy camera, Jack looks beautiful. Messy curls, glasses sitting on his nose; he rarely ever wears them, so this is a treat. He’s wearing one of David’s hoodies, too. He’s gorgeous, and generous, and just a few moments later, he looks back at the screen. “You mind flyin’ Southwest?”

“What?”

Jack turns his laptop around, pointing it to the phone screen. “I’m buyin’ your ticket.”

David stares for a moment, then shakes his head, but he can’t hide the smile on his face. “You’re such a dumbass,” He laughs. “Southwest is fine. Can I at least cover half?”

“Nope,” Jack responds with a wide smile. “And when ya get here, we’re gonna skip classes for the day, and we’re gonna hit the town. Play hooky, y’know? I’ll email my professors, tell ‘em I’ve got, like, swine flu or somethin’.”

As Jack keeps talking, David’s laughter only rises; Jack is completely serious, Davey can tell, but Jack makes him feel like he’s walking on air.

Slowly, David nods, rolling his eyes. “I guess I can handle a day or two off,” David murmurs. “As long as I spend it with you.”

“Ditto,” Jack says with a smile, glancing up from the laptop screen. “I love you, Davey.”

“I love you too, Jackie,” David responds, then shifts on the bed, propping his phone up against the pillow. “Tell me about your day?”

Jack nods, heaving a dramatic, over-the-top sigh. “Well, I told you I got dinner with Spotty and Racer, right? These dumbasses, let me tell you, they…”

And as Jack launches into his story, as animated as ever, David lies and listens. Listens to this perfect man, listens to the love of his life, listens to the best thing to ever happen to him. 

Things aren’t perfect. His parents are still disappointed, and they’ll be disappointed when he ups and leaves in the morning. This is going to be a shitshow and a half to explain to his professors.

But David will get through it, as long as Jack is by his side.