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Like most things he does, Evan comes to regret punching Josh very quickly.

The surge of accomplishment he feels begins to bleed out of him when his mom picks him up, very obviously assuming that Evan had been the one injured until she walked into the office in time for Josh, still bleeding, to be led into the nurses office.

She’d had quite a lot to say in the car ride home.

Evan was grounded — which he expected, but the disappointed, angry look in his mom’s eyes as she’d handed down the punishment made his stomach churn.

His mother ended up skipping the rest of her classes and calling into work, which only made Evan’s guilt worsen, and by the time evening rolled around he had worked himself into a right mess.

His mother, who for once had the time to make dinner, was a flurry of motion around the kitchen from the way her foot falls could be heard by Evan who was up in his room. He doesn’t know what he expects his mom to make for dinner, but when the harsh smell of burnt veggies and his mother’s frustrated cursing seeps into his room, he can’t say he’s surprised.

Forty-five minutes later she comes up the stairs with two plates of pizza and the remnants of tears on her face.

Somehow, that is the worst part of his day, when she walks in, trying so hard to hide the redness on her cheeks as she hands him a plate.

She sits with him as they eat, both relatively silent until Evan finishes his slice and denies her request to get him another one. She kisses him on the forehead, tells him she loves him, and leaves, her own dinner only half eaten.

His anxiety doesn’t lessen once his mom leaves; if anything, it only builds up without a distraction in the room. He pulls the covers on his bed up around him and over his head, trying the good ol’ “hide from your internal anxieties” trick which, y’know, has never worked in the past, but there’s a first time for everything.

But go figure, all the blanket over Evan’s head succeeds in his making the air hot around him, which makes breathing uncomfortable, which sends him into a mini panic of why can’t I breathe am I dying is this revenge for punching Josh?

He kicks the blankets off of himself quickly and doesn’t bother to retrieve them from the floor; he’s sweaty and hot enough as it is, and trying to precariously hang off the edge of his bed in order to grab the blanket he doesn’t even need won’t help anything.

His phone buzzes from its place on the floor with his blankets, and with a groan Evan grabs it and tosses it back onto his bed with a huff when he sees it’s just another alarmed text from a friend; this time, it’s from Zoe.

After a moment he picks up his phone again and unlocks it without responding to Zoe’s text (and he only has the strength to get slightly upset at himself for not answering), instead navigating to his messages with Connor and, without really meaning to, begins piling on the fears he’d been sitting on since this whole mess had gotten him suspended.

As he waits for a reply, Evan shakes his head at himself and shoves his head into his pillow. Because, he knows he isn’t going to not graduate over this; it’ll show up on his record, and he can expect to have to spend the rest of his time in school hiding whenever Josh or Parker are around lest he be given the same “punishment” Connor had been what seemed like so much longer ago than it was.

The memory of what those two had done to Connor momentarily makes Evan question his regret, but then a pair of texts come in from Connor and they send his panic into overdrive.

God, had Evan actually broken Josh’s nose? It was one thing to bruise him up and make him look ugly, but it was another to break an area of someone’s face. Would he press charges? Would Evan be arrested? Is his life over?

He texts as much to Connor — who, despite the copious typos, seems to get the message — with tears dotting his eyes, and immediately Connor’s calling him. Evan swallows the lump in his throat as he hits ‘answer.’

“Hey.” Evan can immediately tell he’s frowning. “You alright?”

“Perfect.” He’s sure it’s unconvincing.

“Nothing’s — you know that I’m not gonna let anything happen to you, right?” In any other scenario, the words would have brought Evan to his goddamn knees with love for Connor, but all it feels like now is an empty promise that Connor can’t keep, no matter how hard he tries.

Despite that, he feels his shoulders shrug in passive agreement. “I g-guess so.”

“No. Hey.” There’s a brief pause punctuated by the sound of soft footsteps. “You’re going to ride out this suspension and then come back to school a fuckin’ legend. I’ll be right there with you.”

It’s a nice notion, but once again, it seems too good to be even remotely true. Evan sniffs and immediately winces at the noise it makes.

Suddenly, another thought hits him. “I’m gonna miss your b-birthday.”

He hears Connor laugh, and the sound momentarily touches a smile to Evan’s face.

“You think I’m going to school on my birthday? I’m taking you to A La Mode to split an ice cream cake.”

“I’m grounded — can’t leave the house,” Evan says, more pouting than frowning.

Connor seems unbothered by that little detail. “Then I’ll bring it over to yours and we can pirate the new Spider-Man.”

Evan smiles despite himself. “I think that goes against the whole concept of grounding, Connor.”

“Since when do you know me to follow the rules?” Connor teases back, a laugh in his voice.

As Evan exhales, he feels his playful spirit leave him as well, leaving him feeling heavy and uncomfortable. “Fair p-point.”

“Ev?”

Evan sighs at his mood drop being caught so quickly. “I’m scared.”

“Of what?” Connor sounds slightly farther away than before, but Evan doesn’t let it bother him as he tries his best to answer honestly.

“A l-lot, I guess? That you’ll go — that tomorrow at school they’ll come after you.” Evan forgets to breathe during his first rush of words, and has to take a moment to take in a shuddering breath, make sure Connor can actually understand what he’s saying. “Or Jared. O-Or even Elliot. I just — something feels wrong, Connor. And I—I don’t know what it is, and that’s scary.”

There’s a short pause. “Do you want me to come over?”

Evan almost wants to accept the offer. Connor always has a sort of presence about him, something that rather implies than tells you that not much is going to fuck with you if he’s around.

But this feeling of... wrongness, it isn’t some bully with a bloodlust or the beginnings of a panic attack; it’s...there’s this low-lying something simmering in the pit of his stomach, and for better and worse Evan doubts even Connor’s ability to make it go away.

“No. I’m okay. I p-promise. Get some sleep though, okay? I love you.”

Evan can guess Connor is unhappy with his response, but if he is he doesn’t clue into it in the slightest. Instead, with a smile in his voice, he tells him, “expect to wake up to a bunch of texts tomorrow. Love you too.”

Connor ends the call and Evan, unsatisfied with how the conversation ended, sends Connor all of the stupidest emojis he can find in a quick look through, before locking his phone and plugging it into the charger.

It takes Evan nearly two full hours of tossing and turning to fall asleep, but he eventually is able to and when he wakes up the next morning he’s cold and it’s just about the time Connor would be getting to school.

Despite waking up almost an hour and a half later than he usually would, Evan is tired, but he guesses that can be attributed to the adrenaline rush and subsequent anxiety yesterday. He considers just falling back asleep, but the draw of texting Connor all day eventually pulls him from bed. He shoots Connor a few texts about waking up early before removing himself from bed completely, pulling the covers off of the floor and half-making the bed, and heading down to the kitchen.

Evan busies himself with making a few toaster waffles for breakfast, and even as he glances back and forth at the clock every so often and clearly sees the time he would be spending in school passing by, the reality of the fact that he’s been suspended still hasn’t quite sunk in.

Which is fine. The less time he can spend freaking out over this the better.

His phone buzzes on the counter, and just as the waffles are popping out of the toaster he reaches for it and reads the messages with wide eyes.

From: con

ur a fuckng hero ev

i thnk elliot just came out. he nd kleinman look happy

And. Well.

It’s not like he hadn’t had his suspicions, but to have the fact that Jared and Elliot were dating confirmed in such clear terms was a decent shock at just past eight in the morning.

To: con

so they are datign? congrats to thjem though

Connor’s response is snarky and sarcastic, and out of everything it’s what makes him smile.

To: con

shut up jared woudl neevr tell me who his boyfrjend was i always thought he was lying

He and Connor remain in a similar vein for the remainder of the day; Evan texting Connor, Connor texting Evan, all without either of their phones dying and Connor getting his phone taken by a teacher. The only lull in the conversation is during lunch time, and Evan is happily surprised when the explanation Connor gives is a blurry selfie of Jared, Elliot and himself hanging out in the lunchroom together.

As Evan’s making himself a late lunch his phone rings, and for some reason he’s expecting it to be Connor despite him being, last he checked, ten minutes into last period.

Evan’s stomach twists; is something wrong? Connor said he was in class, maybe something happened?

He presses answer before he reads the caller ID and actually drops his phone when the voice he’s greeted with isn’t Connor’s.

“Evan.”

He scrambles to grab his phone off the floor, and the most violent shutter runs down his neck when he turns the screen to face him and the contact name blinks up at him.

Noah Hansen.

“Hi — uh, hello.” Evan all but abandons his half-made lunch, instead opting to use the counter as something to lean against.

His dad had always had a deep, low voice; and the static of the phone did nothing to lessen the effect his voice had on Evan.

At least when his dad calls in the middle of the night, Evan is laying in bed and isn’t in danger of falling down.

“I got a call from your school yesterday.” The question as to why his dad is calling is answered, but if Evan is being completely fucking honest he’d have rathered it stay a mystery. “And I’d like you to explain why you were suspended.”

“I—” How was Evan even supposed to explain it to him? To Noah Hansen, his absent, way fucking beyond distant father, who called a maximum of three times a year, whose birthday present to Evan for the last ten years had been forty dollars in an unsigned card. Who Evan had seen once since he left all those years ago, whose face Evan could only remember being flat and unbothered in disinterest, who Evan remembers, before things had even gotten bad for him, regarding Evan and his stuttering and his fumbling with words and his habit of crying curled up in his bedroom closet with a wave of his hand and a huffed out “he just needs to man up and get over it.”

How the fuck is Evan going to tell him that he broke a kid’s nose defending his boyfriend and his gay friends?

“Spit it out, Evan, I’m waiting.” There isn’t an edge in his voice, there never is. Even at his angriest Evan’s father was a picture of neutrality; even voice, relaxed jaw, arms crossed over his chest but not tense. Evan doubts he has his arms crossed, but the vision Evan has of his dad otherwise practically leaks how true it is through the phone.

“Well, I — there were these guys, and—” How much does he even know? How much did the school tell him? And better yet: why is he on the fucking call list in the first place? “A-And they were — you know Jared, right? Jared Kleinman? He’s my friend, and they were — his boyfriend—” The word slips out before Evan can censor it, before he can lie about it, and the hum of disapproval his dad makes over the receiver nearly has him dropping his phone again. “They threatened him, and then. And then they threatened me and my friend, and I—I was being a m-man, right? Standing up for — I was holding my ground, not letting anyone walk over me. And that’s what I should do, right?”

He laughs nervously, his fingers moving to his hair and beginning to clench and unclench. “So I—I stood up for myself, da — I didn’t let them walk all over me anymore. Over — over my friends anymore. D...Didn’t I do good?”

Evan wants to hit himself for that last sentence; for letting his insecurity over the whole god damn thing compel him to ask his shitty dad for his approval.

His dad is quiet for a long moment. “Who is this boy to you, Evan?”

“What? What do you mean?”

“This friend—” The stress on the word makes Evan squirm. “What is your relationship to him? Or, better question, what were the boys threatening you over?”

“They’d—” Evan takes in a breath. “The two boys — they’d beaten him — Connor — up before, and they were — they said they would do it to him again, and I couldn’t let that happen. N-Not again.”

“Why did they beat him up? Could he not defend himself?”

“Against t-two people?” Evan demands, then quickly clams up. “I mean. Um. I’m not sure? I think it had to do with g...rumors?”

“Rumors, hm.” There’s a pause. “Well, if he’s being targeted because of rumors, perhaps he should have acted to clear up the rumors after the first time.”

Is he actually implying…?

“What are y-you — what is that supposed to mean?”

“If the rumors weren’t true, wouldn’t he have tried to disprove them before he was roughed up again? Perhaps he should learn to save his own skin, instead of...flaunting whatever it is people are so bothered by.”

“So being — so having a boyfriend is something worth — it makes it alright to be attacked?” Evan snaps, and god damn it he’s shaking, and that feeling, the one he felt yesterday, when Josh was threatening Connor is back, and his hands begin to hurt he’s squeezing his phone so hard.

“Someone seems to think it is.”

“That doesn’t make it okay!” Evan tries to push down the rise in anger, but there’s frustrated tears in his eyes and he can feel his breath beginning to go uneven. “Y-You — why would being gay make that — why would — damn it! He’s a person, you don’t even — you don’t know anything about Connor! If you knew, maybe you’d—you’d know that he doesn’t deserve any of the bad in his life, just because he’s gay or mentally ill or—or any of it! Do you...do you think e-everyone who isn’t your bullshit definition of ‘good’ deserves to be b-beaten bloody in a bathroom, dad?”

There’s a long, long pause, only punctuated by the sound of Evan’s heavy breathing.

“If it taught them a lesson, then yes.”

“Fuck you,” Evan spits, blood hot in his veins, anger carrying his words more than reason, “I guess that makes me one of those — one of your definition of, of a ‘bad person,’ because I’m not straight, and C-Connor is my boyfriend, and Jared is my best friend, and he and his boyfriend are gay, and—and fuck you. You don’t know anything. But I g-guess you think I deserve to be attacked.”

“I guess I do.” The words don’t have some deep, profound effect on Evan; they just leave him feeling dull, a low buzz in his head. The anger doesn’t fade. “I question the sort of people you surround yourself with, son.”

“D-Don’t call me — I’m not your son. You’ve made that perfectly clear.”

“Fine.” Noah’s tone doesn’t change, doesn’t even reflect the tiniest bit of anything other than disinterest. “If that’s how you want to act, I’ll play along for now. You don’t want me to be your father? Then you’re not my son.”

“You haven’t been my father fo—”

“Perhaps if you had been raised better, without being coddled by your mother all your life, you wouldn’t have ended up such a disappointment.” He hums appraisingly. “When you stop wasting your life away cowering under the speech impediment and spending your time protecting people who aren’t worth it, maybe you can grow into someone respectable and worthy of being more than a doormat. Until that day, don’t expect any further contact.”

The line goes dead, and for the second time the phone drops from Evan’s hands.

It takes a long, long time to retrieve it from the floor; it’s only after Connor’s text tone coming through for the tenth time in the past few minutes that Evan finds the strength to stoop down and pick it up.

His homescreen is a picture of him and Connor he’d taken the night of their date. The half of the screen Evan’s image occupies is nearly unrecognizable underneath the cracking of the screen, and it’s almost as if it’s some sort of god damn sign.

Evan looks down at his hands. His right hand is bruised, and he’s still in the clothes he was wearing yesterday at school. He’s sure his hair is dirty, his eyes underscored by bags, his face unwashed and soaked in tears.

He’s crying over one conversation with his dad. After one stupid chastising.

Is this all he’s got to offer? Is this all that he amounts to?

Maybe he’s right. Look at yourself.

Aren’t you just pathetic?

If he can’t handle the truth from his own dad, who he doesn’t even care about, how the hell is he meant to handle when everyone else leaves? When his mom gets tired of his shit, of paying for his meds and coaxing him through panic attacks and every other horrible thing he’s put her through his whole life?

When Jared really gets tired of his shit? When he cries one too many times or snaps at him for something stupid he did?

How is he going to handle Connor leaving, when he finally realizes how much Evan just brings him down? How much shit Evan gets him into? When he loses interest, because that’s all this is, right? A passing interest?

Because why would someone like Connor ever have a genuine affection for Evan?

There’s a nasty voice in the back of Evan’s mind.

Don’t give them the chance to get tired of you.

With difficulty, Evan pulls up his messages with his mother, types out something without really seeing it, and begins to walk.

To: Mom

I’m sorry for being a burden all these years.

You won’t have to worry about me disappointing you anymore.