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Evan is almost sad as his feet bring him closer and closer to his final destination.

Not sad in the sense that he was sad about what he was doing , but more about the place he was doing it, because the bridge near the orchard is a nice picnic spot in the summer, even if it is all dried up at the bottom, and, well. Who would want to picnic at a bridge that someone threw himself off of?

Because — because who is Evan to ruin this place for everyone? Who is he to taint what is, really, such a lovely spot with his own issues? And what is he going to do if someone is there? Leave and come back? Wait it out? What if someone sees him, what if—

Evan stumbles as the road shifts from cement to dirt, his hands instinctively moving out in front of him to soften the blow. Bits of gravel bite into the exposed skin on his hands and arms, but the pain pale in comparison to the not-so-distant memory of his drop from the tree.

Right. The tree wasn’t high enough.

As he stands and inspects his arms, he notices the tan line on one of his arms in the fading daylight. The reminder of his first failed attempt spurs him forward.

His hands curl and uncurl of their own accord as he walks, itching for something to keep them occupied, because since he stopped taking his meds he’s had the strongest compulsion to be moving and doing something (like take his pills, but he can’t because he needs those) but the whole bottle is stored away neatly under his bed and even when his fingers cramp from twitching and his panic attacks get worse and more frequent he can’t okay, because he needs them as his last ditch if he can’t—

His phone buzzes in his back pocket, startling Evan enough to stop moving completely.

Maybe it’s his mom. Maybe she knew he was lying about going to Jared’s, maybe she got to take a shift off, maybe she knows what he’s planning because, really, how well did he hide his pills?

Or maybe it’s Jared, because maybe his mom called to make sure he was still coming over, which she hasn’t done since Evan was, like, ten (which was the last time Evan was even actually over there) but he’s been using the ‘Jared’ excuse a lot, lately, so what if his mom called Jared and Jared is calling to ask why he isn’t at his house, or maybe why Evan even said he was coming over at all.

Or, maybe, it’s Zoe Murphy, maybe she’s realized that Evan has been in love with her since, like, seventh grade and has called to tell him he’s a creep and he should fuck off? But why would Zoe be calling Evan anyway? They’re not even friends, they’ve talked maybe two times, Evan couldn’t even ask her to sign his stupid cast at the beginning of the year. Zoe wouldn’t call him. How would she even get his number anyway? Why would she even want to?

He hesitates before pulling out his phone, and the brightness of his screen momentarily makes him squint.

It’s not his mom, it’s not Jared, and it’s certainly not Zoe.

Hi Evan! It’s Alana, Alana Beck! We got assigned that project together? I actually have a new partner, she’s new and she’s deaf and I’m the only person that knows sign language so I said I’d volunteer to be her partner! Anyways, hope you can find someone else to do the project with!

Evan stares at his phone until the screen goes dark. He places it into his pocket, and continues walking.

By the time Evan reaches the bridge it’s long past sunset and everything around him is bathed in hazy blue. There’s no one in sight and there probably hasn’t been in a while; the air is still and everything around him is dead silent.

The bridge, a wrought iron structure that sticks out like the bright red sore thumb that it is, stands out only slightly in the twilight backdrop, and with little hesitation Evan steps forward until the cool metal of the closest support beam is in his hands, giving him something to curl into. The blunt lines of his fingernails don’t even begin to make a dent, a stark contrast from the bruised crescent moons in his palms.

In the darkness, Evan is afraid to even breathe. Afraid to upset the quiet beauty the silence around him creates. His lungs feel heavy in chest, and as he glances far below he winces at the idea of his ultimate end being the thing to upset the peace in this otherwise beautiful spot.

He leans fully on the metal of the bridge, exhaling as gently as possible.

He usually enjoys silence; strives for it, even. He has spent countless hours of his life trying to perfect himself, turn himself into someone that is silent, doesn't draw attention, doesn't make too much noise. But here, now, faced with the overwhelming reality of the silence, of the loneliness, of the fact that even if he did make noise no one would be there, it's sort of harrowing. Disturbing if he thinks on it too much. But he is calm. 

Silence is the worst when it's palpable, Evan decides as he stares out into the long-dry riverbed. When the air is so thick that breathing takes strength, when the quiet is so pure, he can only hear the ringing in his ears. So fragile that a drop of glass could shatter him.

The air is tangible silence, and Evan is suffocating.

Despite the tense atmosphere he’s created, he’s calmer in this spot than he’s ever been before. He’d been here many times before — mostly as a kid, but more recently to test the bridge’s viability as a means to an end — but a sense of dread and foreboding always clung to his insides until he was far, far away from the edge.

The first time he came since his childhood he was so scared he could hardly walk without his knees giving way. That was about a month after he broke his arm, and sometimes he would get sick because when he was only holding on with one arm, he felt too much like he was swaying.

The times subsequent were easier. After figuring well, hey, this place is pretty high up, why not? he came back again and again to test things out. Dropped rocks from the bridge and timed how long it took for them to hit the ground, surveyed how often people came for picnics, found the point highest from the ground.

No one actually knew how far away from the ground the bridge was, and when Evan had come on one of his visits armed with a tape measure, his results had been inconclusive. From what he did gather, though, his tape measure was reached just past halfway to the ground, and that was good enough for him. It was certainly higher up than his tree had been.

But now, after running all of the tests, observing all he could, planning every detail down to the way he wanted to land, Evan is calm. His chest is heavy, deep breaths are hard to come by, but he is calm.

He lifts a foot experimentally and dangles it over the edge. The air is still enough that the shoelaces on his sneakers don’t even shift. Still holding onto the bridge, he swings his foot back and forth, testing the feeling of weightlessness.

There’s a beat of hesitation, but Evan lets go of the red metal and looks headlong into the ground awaiting him.

All is calm, and he takes a step.

“What the fuck.” The stillness of the night is shattered to pieces, and Evan scrambles desperately to take hold of the bridge again. The loss of the silence brings about the loss of control, and within moments he’s hyperventilating, hands sweating and heart racing.

Evan glances over his shoulder and in the darkness can make out a slight, tall figure standing at the very edge of the treeline.

“I-I’m sorry?” Evan chances in response, eyes on the person as they step forward.

And, well. Of all the people he expected to see tonight, Connor Murphy was not one of them.

Chapter Text

Connor had never put much thought into how he was going to die.

Truth be told, he didn’t really give a shit how it happened when it came down to it. The end result was the same, so did it really matter how he got there?

He’d played with a few ideas, sure — swallow a bullet, down some bleach, wrap his car around a tree, overdose on heroin, slit his wrists in the bathtub — but it all seemed like a whole lot of work to just end up dead. Why do something dramatic like splatter your brains across the wall when you could just throw yourself off a building, or whatever?

Which leads him to where he is now: stepping out of his car a half mile or so from the old bridge just outside of town, which he’s pulled into a gutter on the edge of the woods to, hopefully, keep people away for a few days.

He lights a cigarette before slamming the door shut and continuing the rest of the way on foot, occasionally tapping ash off of his cigarette as he walks.

He hadn’t left a suicide note, or anything like that — there wasn’t exactly a point. He didn’t have anyone to leave behind clutching a note and crying in the first place, and if he did, he wouldn’t really be in this position, would he?

His mother will get to live out the fame of having a dead kid for a while. His father will be able to say his only child is a success, when Zoe grows up to do whatever the fuck she ends up doing. And Zoe? She’ll be relieved that her freak brother is dead, that she doesn’t have to deal with Connor threatening her while he’s high off his ass.

Maybe the remainder of his pot stash he’s left on his pillow can act as his suicide note.

Through gaps in the trees Connor can make out the tall structure of the bridge, and as he breaks through the foliage he goes to put out his cigarette against a tree when he stops short.

“What the fuck,” he demands out loud, because, what the fuck, there’s someone perched on the bridge looking as if he’s about to step off.

The person jumps about a foot in the air and grabs hold of the support beam at his side, the sound of his sudden hyperventilating filling the air. He casts a glance over his shoulder, and with a raise of his eyebrow Connor realizes he vaguely recognizes the kid.

They stare each other down for a few moments before Connor demands, “What the fuck are you doing here?” and stalks forward, shoving his hands into his pockets and balling them into fists because why the fuck is Evan goddamn Hansen about to jump off a bridge, it’s me who’s supposed to be offing himself.

“I. Uhm. Enjoying the view?” Evan tries, voice squeaking upwards. Connor’s frown deepens, and without breaking eye contact with Evan he spits his cigarette onto the ground.

Evan’s immediate response is to stamp it out. Connor watches, studying him with narrow eyes. He squirms under Connor's unimpressed look.

“Yeah, well, can you go enjoy it somewhere else?” Connor’s foot taps impatiently. Evan looks at him and seems to mull over what to say.

“I’m—I’m actually here to do something,” he decides finally, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. Connor pins him with a look.

“Yeah? So am I. Now get the fuck out of here.” He shoulders past Evan roughly and takes his spot on the edge, leaning against the support beam and waiting for Evan to listen to his demand.

“Oh, what are you doing here?” Connor looks over his shoulder, watching as Evan immediately begins to stammer. “I mean — that was rude to ask, sorry — I was just curious because, well, it’s dark out and it’s just a bridge, there’s not much to do, yanno? Sorry, um.”

Shrugging and running a hand through his hair, Connor turns away and eyes the long drop apathetically. “Same thing as you.”

“Oh, enjoying the view?”

Connor shakes his head and pulls at a bare thread in his pocket. “No. I’m going to jump off.”

Evan clams up immediately, staying silent long enough for Connor to think he’s finally left before asking, “Why are you going to jump?”

Connor snorts at that, turning to face Evan and shrugging his shoulders. “‘Cause I’m fucking crazy and don’t want to be alive anymore, obviously. Why were you about to jump off?”

Evan looks from side to side, seeming to assess his options, before stepping forward and joining Connor on the edge. He looks down towards Evan’s hands and watch as they clench and unclench almost rhythmically.

“F-For the same reason.”

“You still gonna jump?”

Evan shrugs. “Not until you leave.”

Connor turns to face outwards towards the dry river bed, idly wondering how long it’ll take him to hit the ground. “I’m not leaving, so looks like you’re out of luck.”

Evan starts at that, and Connor feels his eyes on him. “So you’re just going to jump with me right here?”

“What does it matter? You’re going to jump too, aren’t you? Whoever goes first, it’s still two bodies. It’s not like you’ll have the time to be traumatized.”

Evan is quiet after that, and the two stand in silence for several minutes until Connor pushes himself upright and moves to the edge of the bridge. A sweaty hand grabs hold of his arm, and in reflex he kicks Evan backwards, sending him crashing backwards and onto the safety of the bridge.

“Why the fuck did you touch me?” Connor demands, eyes narrowed. Evan opens and closes his mouth a few times. Annoyed, Connor turns back around.

“I don’t think you should jump.”

“That’s pretty fucking hypocritical coming from you, Hansen,” Connor replies bitterly.

“Maybe it is,” he says back, and Connor hears him stand, “but it’s true. You shouldn’t die. Not now, at least.”

Connor rounds on Evan, anger building. “Why the hell would you say that? Try and convince me I shouldn’t jump off this bridge right fucking now so you can what? Laugh at me at school? Tell everyone crazy fucking Connor tried to throw himself off a bridge? Is that it?"

“No, no!” Evan replies hastily, facing his palms towards Connor defensively. “I just — you have people who would miss you.”

“Oh, would I? ” the laugh Connor barks hurts his throat, and Evan winces at the sound. “Like who? My sister? My parents? They’ll all be better off once they have to scrape my body out of the river.”

“That’s not true! Zoe, she — you should see how mad she gets when she sees people pushing you around in the hallways!”

Connor is unfazed, and steps closer to the edge. “You’re a fucking liar, Hansen. Fuck you. Get the fuck away from me.”

Evan seizes forward and and grabs at both of Connor’s arms at once, hauling him away from the edge and sending them both tumbling to the ground, Connor splayed out painfully on top of Evan. Gritting his teeth, he braces himself up on one arm and scowls down at Evan.

Even in the low light, Connor can see Evan’s face flush. “I-I’m so sorry, god, did I hurt you? Shit, I — Sorry, you just looked like you were going to jump and I didn’t want you to, fuck, if you’re going to punch me just do it, okay?”

Anger bubbles under the surface of Connor’s skin, fingers itching to take Evan up on his offer because damn it, this wasn’t what he came here for. Instead of boiling over, Connor exhales, and the heat of his previous anger begins to slip.

Wordlessly, Connor pulls himself off of Evan and runs a hand through his hair, pointedly avoiding Evan’s concerned gaze. A hand curls around his shoulder.

“Just. Fuck off, Hansen. I’m not gonna jump, you convinced me, congrats,” he says wryly, shaking the hand off. “You can go collect the Boy Scout badge for talking a freak off the edge of a bridge now.”

“So you’re leaving now?” Evan asks quietly, the sound of a few pebbles being flicked around filling the air.

Sighing heavily, Connor stands and looks back towards Evan, still on the ground. “Yes, I’m leaving. I suppose you’d like to hold my hand on the walk back to my car, too?”

Connor doesn’t get the embarrassed (or, even worse, serious) answer he’s expecting; instead, Evan casts his eyes towards the ground and mutters a pitiful, “I’m not, uh, leaving?”

“The fuck you aren’t, Hansen. Get up.”

Evan’s shoulders sag. “What’s the point?”

“The point is,” Connor begins, annoyance mounting, “you just talked me out of killing myself. Me. As in, Connor Murphy, resident crazy kid. I’ll be damned if I walk out of this and you don’t.”

Evan bristles at that. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“It means, you’re Evan Hansen, the kid who falls out of trees and breaks his arm in stupid ways and gets other losers to sign his dumb cast and writes letters to himself. Not Evan Hansen, the kid voted ‘Most Likely to Shoot Up a School and/or Kill Himself’ in the unofficial yearbook superlatives poll.”

“Oh, god,” Evan moans, flopping onto his back and physically cringing, “you remember the letter thing?”

Connor huffs. “You mean the letter where you wrote creepy shit about my sister? Yeah, I remember.”

“All the more reason to throw myself off the edge, really. S’not like it would matter if I did, in the grand scheme of things.”

“Don’t give me that nihilistic horseshit,” Connor bites roughly, rolling his eyes. “If life is really so meaningless, why haven’t you jumped already?”

Evan gives pause at that, staying silent for a long time before finally pulling himself to his feet and rubbing awkwardly at his arm.

Connor gives him a sidelong glance. “Still gonna jump?”

“Not tonight.” Another pause. “Can I take you up on that offer to walk you to your car?”

“Really, Hansen, I’m not going to jump.”

Evan smiles the tiniest bit. “I know.”

Shrugging, Connor takes Evan’s hand, and takes a step.

Chapter Text

Connor takes a few steps and nearly gets his arm ripped out of it’s socket when Evan doesn’t move with him, instead staying planted to the spot.

“W-Why are you, ah, holding my—my, uh, hand?”

Connor fixes him with a look. “You just said you wanted to take me up on my offer.”

“How does that relate to, uh,” Evan gestures weakly with his free hand, face heating up, “this?”

“‘I suppose you’d like to hold my hand on the walk back to my car, too?’” Connor parrots, still looking unimpressed. Evan watches as his foot begins tapping in annoyance.

Blanking, Evan pulls his hand from Connor’s and wipes the sweat off on his jeans. “Oh, I didn’t mean like the hold your hand part of that, because yanno, this is, like, the second time we’ve talked and, uh, that’s kinda weird! Not that you’re weird or anything, god that came out bad, it’s just that we hardly know each other and holding hands is kinda a really big step yanno?

Connor stares at Evan through his whole spiel, his unbothered demeanor eventually causing Evan to trail off and go silent.

“Are you done?”

“Yes, um, sorry.”

Evan watches Connor turn on his heel and begin walking off for a few moments before jogging to catch up and settling into pace next to him. Pushing his hands into the pockets of his pants, he allows the admittedly awkward silence to wash over him as they walk.

Until, for the second time that night, Connor breaks the quiet. “Did you actually fall out of that tree?”

“What do you mean?”

“I said what I mean. Did you fall out of the tree, or let go?” he asks as casually as if he were asking about the weather or, like, what the homework was, or something. Which, actually, doesn’t make much sense, because Evan is pretty sure Connor doesn’t do homework, so why would he even ask about it?

Evan does what he does best in response: deflects. “Is this, like, the kind of conversation you have with all your friends?”

Evan notices the way Connor’s shoulder seem to hunch at his statement, and he internally winces.

“I don’t have any friends.” A pause. “You’re avoiding the question.”

“Oh, am I? Well, you see, I thought I was just asking a valid question because asking someone whether breaking their arm is a result of a failed suicide attempt is kind of weird, right? Like, who asks that? Well, I mean, I guess you do? But I was just wondering if this is like, the sort of thing you always ask people? Like, ‘hey, is this your first time trying to kill yourself?’ Like it’s a normal question, like asking about the homework? Which is actually a bad example because you don’t even do homework. Or maybe you do, maybe I’m just being presumptuous, but I never see you doing it, so it’s like—”

Connor is staring at him again with that same half annoyed, half bored look, and Evan trails off, looking anywhere but the boy in front of him.

“You talk a lot.”

Evan laughs a little at that. “It’s funny, actually, I really don’t, except when I’m nervous, then I tend to ramble which is kind of what I’m doing now, and what I just did, I’m just really nervous, and, uh.”

You’re annoying him, Evan, he thinks you talk too much, shut up.

“Am I making you nervous?” Connor’s voice is monotone, but Evan doesn’t miss the clench of his fists at his sides.

Evan fiddles with the hem of his shirt. “No, not you. It’s just, this whole situation, I guess? Like. Foiling each other’s suicide attempts. That’s not a thing that really happens a lot, and I’m honestly trying to figure out how to cope with it without hyperventilating or bursting into tears.”

Connor visibly untenses, and Evan chalks himself in a minor victory.

“Drugs help,” he replies conversationally, shrugging his shoulders. Evan gives him a sidelong look.

“Don’t drugs, like, contribute to brain deterioration and depression and things like that? So, don’t they make it worse?”

Connor shrugs again. “Maybe. But if you’re looking for instant gratification, it’s the way to go.”

They’re both relatively silent after that, until Connor veers off into a low gutter and Evan hears the sound of a car engine starting. He stands in place, holding his arm awkwardly and unsure what to do.

A few moments pass, and he hears Connor yell, “the fuck are you doing just standing there?”

“Waiting for you to leave?”

Connor lays on the horn, and Evan instinctively jumps. “Get in the car, Hansen.”

He quickly hurries down the uneven dirt into the gutter, making his way to the passenger side of Connor’s car and placing himself in the passenger's seat. Connor slings an arm over the back of Evan’s seat — and Evan certainly doesn’t blush at the close proximity, no sir — and cranes his neck as he floors the gas and shoots backwards, scaring the living hell out of Evan as he scrambles for his seatbelt, and stammers in horror at the discovery that there isn’t a seatbelt.

“W-Where are your seatbelts?” he demands, instead digging his fingers into the plush seat and staring at Connor in bewilderment.

A grin touches the corners of Connor’s lips, although it’s more the sort of grin that precursors doing something stupidly dangerous than because of happiness.

“Waste of space.”

“Are you trying to die?” And, yeah, that’s definitely a stupid remark on Evan’s part, but he’s in a car hurtling down the road at — good god, the speedometer is tipping sixty — a horrifically fast speed for a bumpy dirt lane without any seatbelts, with it’s driver being someone who not ten minutes ago was ready to throw himself off a bridge.

Disturbingly, Connor’s smile grows wider, and with a bark of laughter he yells, “yeah, kinda!” as the speedometer passes seventy-five, and Evan prepares himself to die.

Because, yeah, okay, maybe this isn’t how he planned going out: crashing dead-on into a tree or a house or whatever Connor Murphy, resident drug-riddled, suicidal asshole decides to steer into, all while Evan is helpless to the events as they unfold.

Connor shifts his eyes towards Evan, and even in the dire circumstance Evan finds himself, he can’t argue that there’s something sort of astonishing about seeing Connor looking genuinely excited.

Connor Murphy is laughing, head thrown back and dark hair spilling over his shoulders, eyes glowing like a sunset in hell, and Evan can’t look away.

He’s going to die, but maybe the view won’t be so bad.

But he doesn’t. Neither of them actually die; instead, Connor mercifully slows to forty miles per hour (still far too fast for a residential neighborhood, but a significant improvement nonetheless) and with dying laughter asks Evan how to get to his house.

Despite stuttering and second-guessing his navigation, they end up at Evan’s in one piece, sitting in Connor’s car and unsure how to end the night.

Deciding to be polite, Evan offers a, “thank you,” hand gripping the door handle. Connor gives him a look.

“For what?”

“Just...everything. Thanks.” He pauses, unsure of what to say. “Um. I can give you my number if you want.”

Connor quirks an eyebrow up, resting an arm on the steering wheel. “Coming from the guy who freaked out when I held his hand?”

Evan buries his head embarrassedly in his hands, the sound of Connor’s dry laughter filling the car.

“I meant,” he begins, face still flushed, “if you ever...find yourself wanting to go back to the bridge. Or. Whatever the case may be. I-I meant what I said tonight.”

Connor’s face settles into a frown, and he purposefully looks away from Evan as he rummages around for a pen. In the back of the glove compartment (stowed away behind several small baggies of dubious contents, a pack of cigarettes, and a wallet) is a pen, and after shutting the glove compartment he looks around for a scrap of paper but comes up empty.

And. God. He doesn’t want to have to write on Connor’s hand, because that means touching Connor, which isn’t the worst thing, it’s not like he’s some dirty hobo, but they’ve only been friends (is that what they were?) for about an hour, is it socially acceptable to take his hand to write on? And what if Evan’s hand is sweaty? What if Connor pulls away?

He worries at his lip for a few moments before reaching out with a shaky (only slightly clammy) hand and closes his fingers around Connor’s wrist, because maybe he’ll embarrass himself, but if the alternative is Connor thinking he should just kill himself without having anyone to talk to, the choice is kind of obvious, right? Evan hopes so.

Connor doesn’t yank his hand away or react in immediate disgust, instead just looks pointedly out the window, so Evan takes it as a good sign and quickly scrawls out his cell number onto the back of his hand. Absently he notes the presence of dark nail polish on his hand, before letting Connor go and wiping his own hand on his jeans.

“Just, text me or call me or whatever. If you ever need to.” He pushes open his car door and exits, looking down once more at Connor. “Goodnight, Connor.”

Evan doesn’t expect a response, but regardless he feels anxiety curl in his stomach when Connor doesn’t say anything in return. He shuts the door and walks briskly towards his front door.

He doesn’t hear the rattle of the engine until he’s inside.

Evan showers despite the late hour, hoping to wash away the events of the day. His skin is raw and red when he finally steps out, and the depressive weight in his chest doesn’t magically disappear (it never does) but he feels better, and maybe like he can get a few hours of sleep.

As he’s settling into bed, his phone hums on his bedside table.

From: Unknown

its connor. thanks. and u too.

Chapter Text

“Where were you last night?”

Connor doesn’t even have both feet in the kitchen before Zoe is trying to get him in trouble. His parents look towards him immediately, expressions reflecting confusion but eyes saying he was out, look who’s surprised, not us.

His bag knocks against the chair as he sits, and as he reaches for the vial of caffeine pills on the table (conveniently placed next to the fruit basket, and if that isn’t telling as all hell) he responds, “why the hell does it matter?”

Her face scrunches in annoyance. He takes the pills dry.

“You weren’t home last night?” His mom approaches the table, yoga mat strapped over her back.

“Again, why the hell does it matter?"

“I was looking for my phone charger and when I went into your room, you weren’t there and your window was open.” Zoe takes a bite of an apple. Connor pushes a hand through his hair, Zoe’s annoyance quickly reflecting back onto him.

“That’s funny, because when I left last night your car was also gone. Off with your girlfriend?” he asks snidely, lips quirking upward at the downturn of his sister’s.

“Zoe!” Connor is unabashedly flipped off as his mom rounds on Zoe, and he flashes her a wicked grin.

His dad huffs and looks up from his phone for the first time that morning. “Zoe, we talked about this. We don’t think you should be spending so much time with that girl.”

“And especially sneaking out!” his mother adds, then turns squarely back to Connor. His grin drops. “And just where were you last night?”

“Oh, you know,” he begins conversationally, waving a hand flippantly, “stealing cars, shooting heroin, sucking dick for money. The usual.” He stands and shoves the chair back into the table, making extra sure it squeaks. Zoe slams her hands over her ears, eyes narrowed viciously.

“Fuck you, Connor!”

“Zoe—”

“Fuck you too!”

Connor!

He has a cigarette in his mouth before he’s out the front door, and it’s lit before he reaches his car. He slams the door shut as he sits and pushes the key into the ignition, but stops short when he sees a dried sweaty handprint on his passenger door handle.

And. Well. Fucking gross, but Connor supposes he’s lucky Evan Hansen didn’t throw up in his car or something.

The brief thought of Evan gives him pause, and he takes the turn out of his driveway a little fast, cutting off some old bat on her phone. He centers himself and lays on the gas, memories of the previous night coming back in snippets.

He was going to jump off a bridge. That was kind of the main event.

No, scratch that — the mutual talking down from the bridge was the main event. A fucking weird main event, admittedly. Connor was still wrapping his head around that.

The fact that Evan Hansen was seconds away from throwing himself off was...certainly something Connor hadn’t been expecting to see. Which made sense, they’d maybe said three sentences to each other total in...ten years of knowing each other.

It was weird circumstance, sure, but that didn’t explain away why, long after he’d returned to his room and sprawled out across his comforter, Connor couldn’t get the image of Evan perched on the edge, a half step away from falling, out of his head.

A gray station wagon runs a stop sign, nearly T-boning the fuck out of Connor and his car, and he inhales sharply through his cigarette. Smoke blows out through his nose unpleasantly, and in mounting anger he cracks the window and spits it out with force.

He’s on edge the rest of the way to school, white-knuckling the steering wheel and near-flooring the gas pedal. He nearly misses the turn into the parking lot, and he has to swing the turn so sharply his head smashes against his window, and dammit, why does Evan fucking Hansen have to be right about the fucking seat belts?

His arms shake as he swerves in and takes up two parking spaces, and he fumbles with his keys. And — and he’s not fucking imagining the eyes on him through his windshield, he knows damn well everyone could see him smash his head against the window, and can see his jaw clenching so hard his teeth chatter, and that he can’t fucking grab his keys, his hands are shaking, so can everyone stop. Fucking. Staring.

He finally yanks the key out and the engine goes dead, and Connor needs to get the fuck out of this car. Kicking the door open, he grabs his bag from the passenger seat — eyes catching on Evan Hansen’s fucking handprint, and fuck him for being right about the fucking seat belts — and slams the door shut so hard the glass in his window shakes.

There are eyes on him. Everywhere. The entire god damn world is spectating on Connor’s disaster of a morning, and he’s about five seconds from getting back into his car and driving it into a wall, and he just needs everyone to stop fucking staring stop looking fuck fuck stop—

“Yo, Connor!” He tenses all at once, standing straight as a board as Jared Kleinman approaches him from behind. “Saw you just a sec ago! You have a seizure on your way in or somethin’?”

“Kleinman, you stalking me now?” he whirls around, feigning casualness, but his hands still shake. “You almost sound concerned. Should I expect a love confession next?”

Instead of retorting in his own defense, Kleinman smirks and throws an arm over Connor’s shoulders. “You caught me. If I suck your dick will you spare me when you start writing bad slam poetry about how much you hate all of our classmates, or whatever else it is you get up to?”

Connor senses a pair of eyes on him, but they aren’t the prying sort from before; more nervous, afraid to be caught.

“Hansen,” he calls, elbowing Kleinman roughly and stepping out of his grasp, “come control your boyfriend, will you?”

When he turns to face Evan, his eyes are totally downcast, gaze caught on the fraying seam in his shirt. His fingers clench and unclench much like they did last night on the bridge, although now their focus is on a bare thread in Evan’s shirt.

“Nah, Evan isn’t into me like that. Although, he does like somebody, don’t you Evan? What was her name again? I think it rhymed with Schmoey Smurphy…” Evan’s attention is caught in an instant, eyes wide and visibly stricken.

Connor, for the moment, is unconcerned with him. “Shut the fuck up about my sister,” he says darkly, popping his knuckles one by one.

“It’s not me who wants to fuck her, man.”

Fuck it, Connor thinks, and shoves Kleinman hard enough to send him sprawling. He turns on his heel to leave as shouts begin to fill the air, and he’s almost out of earshot when a particularly nasty comment flies from Kleinman’s mouth among a sea of other profanities and buries itself in Connor’s head:

“Go fuck off to slit your wrists in the bathroom, asshole!”

He’s hardly through the school doors before his scars begin to itch, and he can’t escape the feeling.

Looks follow Connor around his first three classes, prying gazes like pinpricks inserted one by fucking one into his skin. The worst is at the back of his neck, where he knows knows knows that people are watching for signs of tension in his shoulders, a slight quiver that will tip them all off that he’s going to lose it.

The feeling radiates down his spine until he’s shivering, slowly spreading down his torso where his stomach twists and his arms where the needlelike stares make his scars itch more and soon he has to take his third bathroom break of the period because he’s scratched himself hard enough to reopen his old wounds again.

Connor should ditch. He should ditch and get high because that usually calms down the itching and the needle looks and turns the staring away for at least a little while and maybe he should just drive himself straight off that fucking bridge because that’s the more permanent solution, isn’t it? To the itching and the staring and the aching and the bleeding, just let gravity flatten him against the bottom of the riverbed.

His phone buzzes. The needles prod at the backs of Connor’s eyes.

From: evan

i’m sorry about Jared

Footsteps sound outside the bathroom door. He grabs his bag and throws himself into the handicapped stall, sliding down the wall as soon as the door is shut and locked behind him. The footsteps pass. He throws his head backwards, hard, against the cold tiling of the wall, and the needles minutely lessen.

Connor doesn’t have to respond. He’s not going to. He’s going to calm the fuck down, you psycho, get it the fuck together, and calmly walk out of the school, and calmly throw himself into the freeway.

His phone buzzes again in his hand.

From: evan

what he said was really shitty.

Two more in succession.

i saw yuo hit your head. are you alright?

sorry if i’m botherign you

The reminder of this morning’s collision sends a surge of pain through his temple. A gentle prod of his fingers against the spot hints to him he has a bruise. Sighing, Connor unlocks his phone and taps out a quick response.

To: evan

ur not. just in class. and thx

He pushes up his sleeves and yanks a few times on the toilet paper roll, then uses it to dry up the light trickle from a few of his old cuts. The itch is gone; instead replaced with a deep-set burn in his bones. And Connor is so tired.

From: evan

would it be a dick move to say “I told you so” about the seatbelts?

Connor can’t help the light smile that crosses his face.

To: evan

yes

The red splotches on the toilet paper begin to darken in color. Crumpling it up and standing, he tosses the soiled paper into the toilet and flushes. By the time he’s washed his hands and grabbed his backpack, Evan has texted back.

From: evan

fair enough

wghat class are you in?

Chapter Text

As Evan pushes open the library door just as the lunch bell sounds, he ponders just how his life came to this.

He’d planned his suicide for months. Down to the last degree. Picked a date and stuck to it. And it had all been ruined by Connor Murphy of all people. Talked down from suicide by Connor Murphy.

Connor Murphy, who he has been texting back and forth all day.

And. Yeah. It’s weird, okay, because prior to their meeting on the bridge, the only other time they’d talked is when Connor had first of all, shoved him and called him a freak and, second of all, found his therapy assignment and thought he had done it to make him upset.

And now they’re texting frequently. And, yeah, maybe the whole joint-foiled-suicide thing made some sort of connection between them, but it’s still fucking weird, and Evan is honestly still lost.

The librarian doesn’t smile as Evan passes him (after so many times of Evan walking by wordlessly, why would he?) and he quickly takes his usual seat near the back of the library, the table at the intersection of the large historical fiction section and the sparsely-populated LGBT literature section.

He pulls a sandwich and a water bottle out of his backpack and instinctively looks at his phone as he takes a bite. A slice of Kraft cheese between two pieces of white bread.

Very representative of his mood this morning.

His screen lights up silently with a text from Connor.

ur not in the cafeteria

No, no he wasn’t. After Jared’s run in with Connor in the parking lot that morning, Evan had less than kindly reprimanded him (“Jared, what the hell, could you be more of an asshole?”) and been told to fuck off. After stony silence in third period, he’d taken Jared’s hint and gone to the library to spend his lunch period.

To: Connor

I went to the library instead

The second bite of his sandwich goes down like paste, and Evan has to take a long drink of water to keep it down.

There’s an antsy energy to Evan that he can’t quite get rid of; he can’t keep his leg from shaking, or his foot from tapping, or fingers from clenching and unclenching. It might be a side effect from not taking his meds. It’s most definitely a side effect of his adrenaline spike last night.

The thought of last night sends a jolt through Evan, and his fingers curls tightly of their own accord, ripping the sandwich in his hands apart. Dropping it onto the table with a sigh, he decides he’s not particularly hungry anyway.

The library doors open, and just as Evan is brushing his ruined sandwich back into the plastic baggy it came from and shoving it into his backpack Connor peeks around the historical fiction shelf and mock-salutes him.

“Hey,” Connor greets casually, plopping down into the chair opposite Evan. “So this is where you come and hide out.”

Evan smiles a little sheepishly. “Sometimes, yeah. Mostly I sit with Jared — I’m sorry about him, by the way — but he’s kind of mad at me and he’s sort of my only friend and it would be awkward sitting with him while he’s ignoring me, because I wouldn’t talk to anybody at all and that would be...I’m rambling again.”

Connor shrugs and grabs Evan’s water bottle, taking a long sip. “It’s certainly different from you not talking at all.”

“Sorry.”

“Why the fuck do you apologize so much?”

The question makes Evan flinch, but Connor’s tone isn’t accusatory or angry; instead phrased as an actual question and tone genuinely curious. Evan takes his water back and fiddles with the hem of his shirt.

“I dunno. It’s just sort of a reflex,” he responds quietly, eyes down. He hears Connor snort and look up.

“My philosophy is,” Connor begins, propping his feet up on the table, “be unapologetic, even if everyone else fucking hates it. Everyone in this school has a problem with me, but you don’t see me stuttering out ‘sorry’s whenever someone calls me a freak or a cocksucker or whatever the hell else they say to me.”

Evan sighs, rubbing the back of his neck. “That might work for you, but it just. Doesn’t for me. I’m not confident, so I can’t just fake it despite everything.”

Connor barks out a short, humorless laugh, and it gives Evan cause to look up.

“Who the hell said anything about being confident? In case you don’t remember, I tried to throw myself off a fucking bridge last night. I’m not exactly the poster boy for self confidence.” He runs a hand through his hair, not meeting Evan’s eyes. “I hate myself, sure, but I’m not going to apologize because everyone else hates me, too.”

“Why do you hate yourself?” Evan blurts before he can shut himself up. Connor physically tenses at the question. “Shit, that was so insensitive, I’m sorry, you—you don’t have to answer that. I. Uhm. Sorry.”

Tension slowly leaving his shoulders, Connor shrugs and digs his hands into his pockets, but still doesn’t meet Evan’s eyes.

“Combination mental illness and drug abuse, coupled with a shitty homelife and shittier school life? I don’t know. Why do you hate yourself, Hansen?” Evan can see the moment Connor’s attitude shifts, hear the drastic tone change as the tables are flipped on him as Connor deflects.

“My therapist says it might be because my dad was absent when I was a kid, during my ‘important developmental age,’” he responds, and is surprised when Connor bursts into the same loud, wild laughter from last night in the car.

Daddy issues? That’s, like, the oldest excuse in the book. Jesus, man.” Connor brings a hand to his mouth to stifle the laughter, but Evan can’t help but crack a smile and soon they’re both near rolling on the floor and it’s good. It’s good and the tension is alleviated for just a moment and everything is okay.

The librarian snaps at them to be quiet. Connor flips him off with his free hand and laughs all the harder seemingly out of spite. Evan, behind his own laughter, watches him.

Connor starts with harsh, barking laughter, head thrown back and movements more exaggerated. He devolves from there into near hiccups and snorting sounds, and Evan is pleasantly surprised to hear quiet giggles spilling out from behind his hand as his breathing slows. The corners of a smile poke out from beneath his fingers, and for just a moment Connor is smiling, and Evan can forget that this is the same boy that fifteen hours ago was going to kill himself.

But the moment passes; the bell rings and the smile falls from his face, replaced with a mutedly content look. He stands and looks towards Evan.

“I don’t know about you, but I, personally, have had enough of school today.”

“You’re ditching?”

Connor cracks a small smile. “Don’t sound so affronted, Hansen.” He pauses, looking distinctly more uncomfortable. “You can come with, if you want.”

Evan feels his own smile fall. He’s inviting you out of politeness, you know, a nasty part of his brain reprimands. And that ugly part of his mind is right, because why wouldn’t it be? He and Connor have had what, one lunch together? An hour or so last night? They weren’t friends. Connor didn’t think they were friends.

Because why would he? “No, that’s alright. Don’t do anything s — well, don’t do anything. Please?” Evan’s voice cracks on the ‘please’ and he kind of wishes the floor would swallow him whole. His face heats uncomfortably, and a few chuckles pass Connor’s lips, distinctly different from the whooping laughter and shy giggles from before.

“You drive a hard bargain, Hansen. But fine.” He turns to leave, but pauses and turns around. “Text you later?”

Evan nods a little too vigorously. “Yeah, sure. And invest in a seatbelt, would you?”

Connor sticks his middle finger up behind him as he leaves, but there’s a smile on both of their faces.

Chapter Text

Connor begins abandoning his spot in the back of the lunchroom in favor of joining Evan in the library. In the few classes Connor comes to notice he has with Evan, he migrates slowly over to him and stays the entire period. Meets him halfway in the hallway towards their next class.

And it’s...nice. Having Evan around.

And this...this camaraderie with him wasn’t something Connor ever anticipated. After Evan ruined his suicide attempt, Connor was fully intent on simply going back the next night and finishing the job.

But dammit, Evan’s pitifully soft “don’t do anything. Please?” stuck, and even when he’d approached the edge after ditching class he...well, fuck, he was still alive, in any case. So he’d scolded himself and resigned to do it the next day.

But Evan persisted, ending every little get together with “see you tomorrow, right?” or “stay safe, Connor” or something equally sappy and meaningful and Connor can’t. Can’t even drag himself to the bridge anymore without an overwhelmingly guilty feeling hanging over him.

He scratches at his arm absently, but the sudden sting does nothing to alleviate the depressive weight clouding his head. He blinks slowly and finds himself wandering towards the library, the movement automatic.

Someone joins Connor at his side, and it isn’t Evan.

“Connor, my buddy, my man!” Jared slings an arm around his waist casually, and it takes everything in Connor not to smash his head into the neighboring wall.

“Kleinman.” He robotically reaches towards Jared’s wrist, resting on the small of his back, and wrenches it away from his body. He laughs but keeps his distance.

“So, what’s the deal with you and Evan?” Through the corner of his eye he sees Jared rummaging in his backpack for something. “You two fucking?”

He’s obviously trying to bait Connor. The nasty grin on his face screams go after me, you freak, I dare you.

So he doesn’t bite. “Oh, yeah, obviously. You want in?” Jared laughs but shakes his head.

“Nah, been there, done that, man.” He’s watching Connor’s face, grin widening. Connor raises an eyebrow but stays impassive. “I’m kind of seeing someone right now.”

Connor coughs in surprise. “Bullshit. Who the fuck would wanna date you?

Jared, for the first time during their conversation, looks less than giddy. “He’s not out.”

“Mhm.”

Anyways,” Jared continues, smile returning, “You and Evan. What’s going on there?”

Connor pauses in front of the library door and watches Jared take a few steps before turning and backtracking. “Ah, this is where you two go to jack off to tree porn or whatever.”

“Yup.” Connor adjusts his bag on his shoulder and stares Jared down. “Was there a point to this conversation?”

“Oh, sure. I learned that my best friend is fucking the creepy school shooter kid and you take him into an institution of learning — the library — to corrupt him. I’d say this conversation was rather successful.”

“For someone who supposedly has a boyfriend, you seem pretty fucking obsessed with the sex life of your best friend.” Connor lets a grin slip onto his face as Jared’s eyes narrow. “What did you say your boyfriend’s name was again? He’d probably be interested to know that you’re so invested in — and you told me this — your ex’s sex life?”

Connor hisses sharply as he’s shoved against the wall, and despite the breath being knocked out of him, his nasty grin widens at the sight of Jared, standing at a meager five foot seven, huffing and bracing an arm against six-foot Connor’s chest.

“Shoving another dude against a wall, damn, Kleinman.” And maybe Connor’s baiting him now. Maybe he’s itching for him to throw a punch, instigate a fight so he can hit back twice as hard. “First Evan, now me. Who else have you cheated on your boyfriend with?”

The punch doesn’t come. Jared stares him down for a long moment before shoving off roughly and taking to glaring at him from a few feet away.

“Just...fuck you, Connor. Fuck you.” Shoulders hunched, Jared turns to leave just as the library door swings open.

Evan looks wide eyed between Connor and Jared as he retreats. He moves a few paces towards Connor, still braced against the wall, but calls, “Jared!”

He spins around on his heel, face red and looking monumentally pissed. “What, Evan? What could you possibly want from me, now that you have Connor fucking Murphy to suck your dick?”

Connor watches with a frown as Evan seems to process. His shoulders hunch ever so slightly, his hands do that clenching and unclenching thing, and eventually he drops eye contact with Jared.

“Nothing to say, huh? Not a word for me, the only guy who hung out with you for years , now that you’ve found someone new to put up with your shit?”

“You never even really liked me!” Evan bites back, voice surprisingly harsh, taking a half step towards Jared. “Y-You only ever hung out with me because your parents won’t pay your car insurance otherwise! Y-You always make me feel like shit, you laugh at me constantly, you won’t even let me call us ‘friends’! What are — how can you be mad at me when you don’t even think we’re friends?”

“I was here, what else do you want?”

Connor stares curiously between Evan and Jared. He catches Jared’s eye, and his scowl deepens.

“The fuck are you looking at, Murphy?”

“T-That’s what I want!” Evan bursts out, fists clenched at his sides. “You’re mean, and you spend all your time putting everybody down, and the m-minute someone else talks to me you lash out and—and it’s like even though you don’t even like me, I’m the only one who will hang out with you, and as soon as Connor ‘impedes’ on that suddenly it’s his fault! Maybe I’d want to hang out with you if you weren’t such an asshole, Jared!”

Jared sets his jaw and half turns away from Connor and Evan. “Whatever. Fuck you, Evan.”

The minutes following Jared’s harsh exit are tense, Connor’s eyes locked on Evan as he continues to stare down the hall. He stands board-straight, arms clasped at his sides and face unreadable.

Unexpressive Evan is...unsettling, Connor decides, and cautiously touches his hand to Evan’s shoulder.

“Are you—”

“Let’s go,” Evan whispers, posture all at once shifting from defiant and angry to defeated and small. He brushes lightly past Connor and reenters the library, Connor trailing a few paces behind.

“Uh.” Connor watches as Evan quickly packs up his things and slings his bag over his shoulder.

“Where are we going?”

“Don’t care. I-I just need to be out of here. I need to—” He rushes past Connor again and out the library door before he even finishes his sentence.

Chapter Text

Evan has never ditched school before.

Well, that’s sort of a lie, because there have been days where things have just been too too much and he’s not gone in at all, and that’s kind of like skipping school, isn’t it? But he’s never done the kind of ditching that cool kids and stoners do, like leaving after a few classes to go shopping or smoke or whatever they do.

But he’s skipping now, and whatever this situation is doesn’t fit quite into the shopping or smoking category (he hopes not. If he tried to smoke right now he’d probably pass out or something) but that isn’t important because he’s at Connor’s car (and when did he become close enough with Connor that he can just run out of the school and expect a ride somewhere?) and Connor isn’t out here, and Evan can’t get caught or he will probably die.

He’s halfway between breaking into Connor’s car or just high-tailing it away from the school on foot when the car unlocks and he hears Connor approaching from behind.

Evan opens the driver's side door and practically throws himself into the seat. Connor looks at him curiously but doesn’t say a word; instead, he slams the door shut and gets into the passenger's seat. He drops the keys on the dash and gives Evan another odd look.

“Can you even drive?”

“Well, um — no, I don’t have my license I’m sorry, I’ll get out—”

Connor holds a hand up to silence him. “I didn’t ask if you had your license. I asked if you could drive.”

It’s not what Evan’s expecting. “I mean — I know where the pedals are and, um. Maybe?”

“Are you having a panic attack right now?” The question startles Evan more than the previous one, and he actually jumps.

“Undecided.”

Connor shrugs and sets his feet up on the dashboard. “Good enough for me.”

Evan starts the car and pulls out slowly — with only minor heckling from Connor — and watches the speedometer carefully until they’re out of the school zone and moving towards the back part of town. He feels Connor’s eyes on him every few moments, not so much nervous in the way Evan found himself observing Connor’s driving; instead more genuinely curious as to where Evan was taking them so soon after having a blow up with Jared.

And, well — Evan isn’t totally sure himself. He’s approaching a fork in the road, and conveniently enough one branches off towards his neighborhood and the park and all the nice places in town, and the other branch will take them off the pavement and, should he go far enough, directly off the fucking bridge that started this entire thing.

Evan is so, so close to turning onto the street that will take him home. To turning right and going home and taking his meds again and telling his mother everything and apologizing and, and, and—

When have I ever made the ‘right’ decision in life?

He veers sharply to the left and watches as the speedometer pushes fifty.

“Hansen.” Connor’s clipped tone hardly registers. Evan is so tired. “Let’s turn around now.”

Connor’s knuckles are white as they clutch the plush seat underneath him. Evan moves through the slight turn in the road too fast, the car buckling beneath him.

“Slow the fuck down, you’re going to roll the car.” The words come out harsh, but there’s a shake in Connor’s voice that is almost drowned out as the pavement ends and the car hits the dirt road roughly.

“Evan, stop,” Connor warns, and his hands are on Evan’s arm, causing him to jerk the wheel and nearly take out one of the side view mirrors on a tree. “Evan!

Connor abandons the idea of prying Evan’s hands from the steering wheel and instead just goes for it himself, half-standing in his seat and wrenching the wheel hard to the right, pulling them off the road. Something clatters as if it’s broken, and as Evan finally releases the wheel they break through a wooden fence.

Evan’s immediately catapulted forward, and without the protection of a seatbelt his face smashes into the wheel and fuck fuck fuck that hurts. He finally gets the sense to take his foot off the gas.

The car slowly sputters to a stop, Evan clutching his already-bleeding nose and Connor beginning to hyperventilate at his side. In the back of his mind Evan registers the sound of the passenger door opening, and the sound of Connor retching through the gap while trying to keep breathing.

As an afterthought, Evan pulls the key from the ignition and drops it into a cup holder, eyeing Connor warily as he empties his stomach onto the ground.

Connor slowly sits up a few minutes later, chest still heaving but no longer getting physically sick. He stares straight ahead, back straight as a board and very pointedly not acknowledging Evan. Anxiety builds in Evan’s stomach, the realization of what the fuck he just did washing over him.

He was going to drive Connor’s car off the bridge. That makes him, like, an attempted murderer right? Because deep down he knows he wouldn’t have stopped to let Connor out, he would have just kept going and going and going and going and gone.

Evan’s crying. Evan’s crying and it’s stupid because this is his fault, what right does he have to cry, he crashed Connor’s car and made Connor sick and maybe he hurt his nose but that was his fault, what right does he have to cry—

There are hands on him again, and he’s shaking and trying to pull away and sobbing I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry he can’t breathe, can’t shake the grip Connor has on his arms sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry Connor wrenches Evan’s arms from his face, his fingers are brushing against his nose and it hurts and he’s so, so sorry Connor.

That disgusting feeling builds in his stomach, climbs up his throat and he knows he’s getting to the point where if he doesn’t calm down, doesn’t stop crying and start breathing he’s going to get sick, get sick because he’s crying too hard and he’s gross and, and—

“—Alright, out of the car, you’ve got it.” Connor’s voice inexplicably pulls his attention to his immediate left, which is weird because a second ago he was in the passenger’s seat to Evan’s right, that doesn’t make sense. The door next to Evan is open and Connor is there, hauling Evan out of the driver’s seat just in time for him to fall hard onto his knees and throw up onto the ground.

The sun is shining and Evan’s face is hot hot hot while he empties his stomach. Connor stands above him, but despite being close enough to touch Evan very pointedly does not look up at him, partly because he’s throwing up and he just crashed Connor’s car in a spur-of-the-moment suicide attempt, but also because the sun will be in his eyes and he has enough going on as is, he doesn’t need to go blind from looking up at the sun, too.

Connor takes a half step to the right, and shade washes over Evan as his coughing turns into disgusting — but, mercifully, empty of vomit — dry heaving. He still refuses to look up.

It’s silent for a long moment, save for Evan’s harsh breathing. Evan isn’t sure just what the hell he should do and, if he were in Connor’s position, he’d probably be even more confused (and angry; so, so angry at Evan-who-is-not-him-in-this-metaphor for what he’s done).

The area around his mouth and nose is wet, but it tastes less like bile and more like blood and the pain in his nose is at the forefront of his brain in an instant and he grits his teeth, tears falling harder, but does. Not. Look. Up. He’ll stain his face and shirt and whole body with blood, keep the bleeding going, maybe even never stop, it's what he deserves — before he faces Connor after this.

He waits. He waits for Connor to leave, or scream at him, or maybe beat him up because whatever he decides to do, he’ll deserve it, won’t he? Connor, who — who has acted almost like a friend to Evan these past few days, who eats lunch with him and laughs with him and at him sometimes and for the first time in years has given him a partner on a school project, where they both just work alone, and Evan just goes and.

And fucks it all up, as usual.

I should have just killed myself when I had the ch—

“I’m gonna be honest,” Connor says softly, gently, in a tone Evan doesn’t recognize and nearly makes him jump, “I’m not really sure what to do right now, I’m not usually the one comforting people but. Uh. I guess I’ll try.”

He slowly sinks into a sitting position in front of Evan, long legs crossed and hands folded politely — the position looks incredibly awkward and out of place on him — in his lap.

“I think we’re in an old apple orchard. Place shut down years ago, but when I’m looking around I can see a few rotten apples in the grass. It’s kind of cool that apples are still growing even when no one is taking care of the trees.”

Evan’s knees begin to ache from staying perched up on them so long. He wants to look up at Connor, ask him why he’s being so nice, when Evan obviously doesn’t deserve it. He can’t.

Whether it’s from being too ashamed to look at him or too selfish to make Connor stop trying to make him feel better, he doesn’t want to admit.

“I used to come here when I was a kid. Back before it—” He stops himself, all of a sudden sounding tense, before letting out a harsh breath. “Back before I got fucked up. They used to have, uh, hay rides here. Me and Zo would ride around for hours, hiding in the hay bales to make our parents think we’d gotten off, just so they’d stop looking for us and we could keep going around the orchard.”

“I was ten, Zo was nine when we stopped coming. Something, uh, something bad happened the last time we went, I don’t — I don’t really remember what I did.” His voice falls to a hush, for the first time sounding dejected and small and. And Evan wishes Connor wasn’t so sad. Wishes he hadn’t crashed them into a place where Connor has bad memories. Wishes he just—

“I remember, when my mom told me we couldn’t come back, I was still like. Like, doing bad, but not so bad as when it happened. I acted like I didn’t care, like it was Zoe’s fault we couldn’t go back, but a year later when I heard the place closed I just — totally fucking lost it. Cried for hours about it, which was stupid but like. It seemed important at the time, you know? Something I really liked was taken and now it was gone for good and it just...didn’t seem fair to younger me.”

Despite being the one Connor is addressing, Evan feels uncomfortably out of place. This — this memory of Connor’s is so obviously private, and from the fragile tone of his voice Evan knows it’s hurting him to talk about, and it feels like a grievous invasion of privacy to be hearing about how this so obviously wounded child had his heart broken because of an apple orchard shutting down.

Connor sighs, and just like that the moment is over. “Fuck. Sorry. Me talking about flipping my shit over a stupid apple orchard probably isn’t helping, I just. I don’t know what to do. I never have people around after my panic attacks, so I don’t really — I’m not really sure how to help.”

“Wh-Why are you—” Evan sucks in a breath. His voice is raw. He still doesn’t look up. “Why are you doing this.”

“You’re obviously fucked up over what happened. You’ve been in the same position for like ten minutes.”

“N-No,” he protests petulantly, clenching his hands into fists. “Why aren’t you upset — why aren't you furious at me for what I did?”

“In case you don’t remember, a week ago you were about to jump off a bridge. And you were dead fucking set on going there again a few minutes ago. I’m not gonna rock the boat by, like, yelling at you or whatever. You’re not exactly in a good state of mind right now.”

It’s pity, he’s pitying you because you’re weak, he doesn’t care, no one does, pity, pity, pity pity pity—

“For Christ’s sake, Hansen, get out of your own head for a second and look at me, would you?” When he doesn’t, Connor takes matters into his own hands and pulls Evan’s chin up until he’s made eye contact.

“Don’t go spiraling on me here. I know what you’re thinking, and I’m not feeling fuckin' sorry for you. You’re not a baby. But I know where you’re coming from. That’s why I’m not pissed.” He pauses, and lets a small smile cross his face. “Besides, I think the bloody nose is punishment enough.”

The tension isn’t gone, but Evan feels minutely better. “I think it’s, um, broken,” he says a little weakly, pulling away from Connor’s hold.

Connor snorts and rolls his eyes. “If it were broken you’d be crying a lot harder. I'm sure it hurts like a bitch, but you’ll be fine.” He stands and brushes stray grass from his jeans, then holds a hand out towards Evan. He has to fight a grimace at the realization that the hand is stained red with Evan’s blood.

“Let’s just — let’s just fuckin’ forget about everything for a little while, alright? Fuck school. Fuck Kleinman. Fuck every shitty thing about our lives.” His face breaks out into a grin, and with a feeling of finality Evan accepts Connor’s hand with his own blood covered one.

“And hanging around in an apple orchard for an afternoon is going to make things better?”

Connor helps him to his feet and shakes his head. “No, nothing is ever going to get better. Not for me, at least. I can live with that, and for right now I can pretend. Can you?”

Inexplicably, he mirrors back Connor’s smile. “I can sure as hell try.”

Chapter Text

“So let me get this straight.” Connor is half lying in, half dangling out of the passengers seat of his car while he digs through the glove compartment. Evan stands a foot or so away, holding Connor’s feet aloft so they don’t dip into the pool of vomit just outside of the car. Evan laughs oddly before continuing. “You have moist towelettes in your car but not seat belts.

He crams his registration back into place, wet wipes in hand as he responds, “Correct.”

“Your priorities are kind of fucked.”

“A lot of things about me are fucked,” Connor counters easily, rolling over in the seat and sitting up to face Evan. “Also, just call them, like, wipes. Calling them ‘moist towelettes’ makes you sound gay, and that’s coming from a gay kid.”

Evan drops Connor's feet, but mercifully they hit dry grass. “You’re gay?”

Connor tosses a few of the wipes to Evan, who fumbles and lets them fall, once again landing away from the vomit pool. Connor tears one he’s kept open with his teeth and begins cleaning his hands of Evan’s drying blood.

“I am,” he responds after a moment, catching Evan’s eye when he’s retrieved the wipes from the ground. “Is that an issue?”

“Oh, no!” he waves his hands defensively. “I, um. I’m bi? I — yeah.”

The admission isn’t a surprise, but it does bring a certain comment of Jared’s to the forefront of Connor’s mind.

Been there, done that, man.

Connor wrinkles his nose at the thought. In theory, the idea of Evan and Jared dating wasn’t...entirely out of the realm of possibility, but as Connor stares at Evan, the thought of Jared having an arm around his waist or holding his hand or kissing him seemed. Well.

Fucking gross, for one, because Jared.

But, coupled with the fact that anything having to do with Jared in a romantic light made Connor want to throw up again, the idea that Evan would even want to date him seemed weird. Because Connor isn’t blind, he sees that, while Evan sort of follows Jared around like a lost dog (the last week or so aside), he never looks happy. Sort of standing in his shadow, letting Jared take the reins in whatever interaction they had.

Which. Well. It was hardly Connor’s business, and maybe it was his recent sour confrontation with Jared, but thinking about Jared and Evan makes him scowl.

“D-Did I say something wrong?” Evan’s stopped wiping at his face, eyes cast timidly on Connor, who finally zones back in.

Connor shakes his head and drops the wipe onto the floor of his car. “No. Just thinking. And. Uh. Obviously I don’t care. I just told you I’m gay, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, I guess.” Evan looks between the dirtied wipes in his hands and Connor, and without a real thought he plucks them from Evan’s fingers and drops them onto the floor.

“Thanks.”

“Yeah.”

Connor grabs the keys from the cupholder and climbs out of the seat, shutting the door behind him and pocketing them. It’s silent for a long stretch, Evan’s face growing red in the uncomfortable silence and Connor scrambling for an idea of what to talk about.

Fuck. He’s terrible at this, and Evan just had a panic attack for Christ’s sake, where do you even go from there? He can hardly talk about the fucking weather when Evan tried to drive himself off a bridge.

“I’m sorry about your car,” Evan says quietly, playing with the hem of his shirt. Connor looks up at him before shaking his head.

“S’just dented. It’s not a huge deal, really.” He idly kicks at one of the tires, but before the awkward silence can resettle around the two of them he moves forward and takes Evan by the arm, who jumps but doesn’t pull away.

“Look, I know this is awkward. And to be honest, I have no fucking idea how to rebound from what just happened. But me and you are gonna forget everything shitty about our lives for a little while, and that includes what just happened, so. Just. Tell me about these fuckin’ trees or whatever you wanna do.”

The muscles in Evan’s arm tense, but he still doesn’t pull away. Instead he smiles a bit. “Okay.”

Connor feels himself smile back, and as he drops Evan’s arm he asks, “alright, seriously, what should we do? You’ve got a busted ass nose, I’ve got a busted ass car.”

Evan turns his head, shrugging. “No cars, no noses, damn. I can’t think of anything that doesn’t involve both a nose and a car.”

“When did you become such a smartass?” Connor’s smile widens, an idea forming in his head. “Wait. I’ve got something — Tag! ” He takes off sprinting in the other direction, leaving a surprised Evan in the dust.

“What are we, ten?” Evan yells, the sound of another pair of footsteps filling the air.

“You tell me, Boy Scout!”

The area they’re in breaks off into two sections, a huge field of tall, dying grass, most likely crawling with bugs and small animals but with ample place to hide, and the rows of apple trees with plenty of objects to duck around. Connor knows he can’t outrun Evan for long, so in a spur of the moment decision he veers sharply to the right towards the apple trees.

Evan’s laughing behind him, sounding distinctly closer than he did before. Connor weaves through the trees, rotting apples squishing under his sneakers. As he ducks behind a tree a few rows away from Evan, a loud wet sound comes from behind him, immediately followed by a muted “fuck!

“I think the trees are rebelling against me,” Evan whines, eyes scanning the rows in search of him. Connor pushes a hand over his mouth to keep from laughing at him, and grabs one of the sole apples still on the tree. It’s brown and mushy, but it’ll serve his purpose well.

“You’re in my apple orchard now, Hansen!” He chucks the apple but misses, instead splattering across Evan’s left sneaker. He shouts in surprise but a smile grows on his face as he charges towards Connor and slaps him on the arm.

Tag!” He goes to take off in the opposite direction, but before he can Connor presses his palm into his back and whispers, “Tag.”

Evan swats at Connor’s arm, “Tag.”

Evan’s shoulder. “Tag.”

A poke at Connor’s chest. “Tag.”

Connor, grinning, flicks Evan on the forehead. “Tag, no tag backs.”

“That’s cheating, you can’t do no tag backs with only two people.”

Connor sticks his tongue out. “I just fuckin’ did. You lose.”

Evan smiles but puts his hands up in defeat. “Fine. You can have your dirty victory.” Evan looks upwards, pulls another rotting apple from the tree, and drops it into Connor’s hand.

“Your prize.”

He bursts into laughter as Connor stares at the fruit in his hand, nearly doubled over and panting. Connor can’t help but laugh along with him, dropping the apple and devolving into hiccuping giggles himself.

“I think I got that shit under my nails,” Connor breathes out as their laughter winds down, trying to pick it out from the underside of his nails without destroying his polish.

“How do you get them like that?” Evan asks before immediately clamming up and flushing. “That’s a stupid question, sorry, um. Obviously you paint them. Sorry.”

Connor holds up a hand. “I’m declaring a new rule: there are no stupid questions, unless they’re, like, really stupid. Also, no more apologizing. You’re fine.”

Evan looks at him and nods, biting hard onto his lip.

“You really want to say it again.”

“Yes, very much so.”

Connor grins and holds a hand out for Evan to see. “Anyways. It takes me a while to make them look good. I used to get the polish all in my cuticles and shit, it looked really bad, especially ‘cause I use black polish. But I’m pretty good at it now.”

Evan looks down at his own hands, frowning a bit. “I tried to paint mine once, but. Uh. I got it all over the place and smudging it and it looked really bad. Plus, my nails are too short.” He holds a hand up sheepishly, revealing five bitten-to-nubs nails.

“That’s why I started painting mine. I used to, like, rip the whole nail out when I was younger when I got really worked up. But having stuff on them kinda helps, so I don’t do it so much as a nervous habit now.” He looks away from Evan and mumbles, “I could paint yours sometime, if you wanted.”

Evan makes a small noise. “You’d really do that?”

“I mean, if you wanted? I have colors other than black, or I can steal some from Zo, or I could just buy some.”

When Connor turns back towards Evan, he finds him smiling with a light blush on his face. “T-That’d be really cool. Thank you.”

Connor shrugs. “It’s no big deal. Also, can we move? It smells like shit from all the rotting apples.”

Evan nods and they both begin moving back towards the field. Connor notices Evan looking a bit unsure, tapping his fingers against his sides and whispering something to himself.

“Sorry?” Connor asks.

“O-Oh, it was nothing, it’s just. Most of the apples aren’t actually rotting, they’re oxidizing? It’s stupid, sorry.”

“Shut up and talk about the oxidizing apples like you want to, would you?”

“Okay, well. When there’s a cut in an apple, oxygen gets in, and—”

Evan continues on his tangent of oxidizing versus rotting apples as they exit the line of trees, going on for a few minutes until finally ending on the ever-eloquent, “and. Yeah. It’s not very interesting, but.”

“Hey, it’s very interesting,” Connor counters, only half-teasing, as they move into the tall grass. “You’ve moved from ‘Evan the tree kid’ to ‘Evan the apple and tree kid.’ This friendship continues to surprise me.”

And. Fuck. He’s used the f-word , and Evan’s stopped in his tracks. Connor pauses too, subtly angling away from Evan because Christ if that wasn’t a stupid and presumptuous thing to say.

“What was — what did you say?” he asks softly, glancing up at Connor, whose face begins to burn. He stuffs his hands into his pockets uncomfortably.

“Nothing. It was stupid. Just forget it, okay?”

Evan shakes his head slightly and moves to start fidgeting with the hem of his shirt. “You — you said no stupid questions. Do you consider me your friend?”

“Yes? Fuck, Evan, I don’t know,” he grumbles, still not meeting his eye.

To Connor’s surprise, Evan lights up at his side. “You called me Evan. You usually just call me ‘Hansen.’”

“I called you Evan when you were — well, I called you Evan before.”

Evan’s face is red, but he’s smiling. “You’re — you’re my friend t-too, Connor.”

Connor will sooner die than admit to the warmth that spreads through his chest at Evan’s admission. Will sooner die than let himself linger on the rush he feels when Evan smiles up at him, eyes crinkled in delight and face glowing in the combined sun/blush duo. Will sooner die than admit he can’t rip his eyes away from the sight of Evan grabbing his hand and taking off running into the field, pulling Connor along.

Evan’s hands are warm.

Somewhere near the middle of the field, Evan flops onto his back, letting gravity do the work of bringing Connor down next to him. The impact takes the breath out of him, but he recovers quickly and lets the sun shine on his face.

Evan’s hand is sweaty, the sun against his black sweatshirt is uncomfortably hot, and the after-effects of throwing up are still curled in his stomach, but Connor can’t help but radiate contentment.

“What’s your favorite color?”

Connor turns towards Evan, brow furrowing. “Why?”

“J-Just tell me.”

“Purple. Light purple.” Evan shifts his hand around slightly in Connor’s. “What about you?”

“Orange,” Evan responds after a moment's thought. “Or green. Or blue.”

“That’s half the rainbow, Hansen.”

Evan smiles a little and squeezes Connor’s fingers. “You’d think my friend would call me by my name.”

“Watch it, I could go back to ‘tree kid.’”

Evan laughs. “Or ‘freak’?”

The warmth of the sun and their laughter and of Evan saps from Connor all at once, leaving him with a nasty chill and an itching in his arms. He drops Evan’s hand like it hurts to touch.

“Connor, I’m—I’m sorry—”

“Don’t be,” Connor whispers quickly, letting his eyes refocus on the sky. “It’s true.”

“You thought I was laughing at you.”

“It still happened. I was a dick.”

“So was Jared,” Evan says softly, and both of them go quiet after that. Connor moves a hand to scratch at one of his arms, the muted ache doing nothing to make him feel better.

“I’m gonna break a rule for a second.” Connor curls in on himself away from Evan, drawing in a breath before continuing. “That day...There was. A lot going on. My meds had just been adjusted, go figure, and I had a fight with my parents, and then Jared, and then you.”

He feels Evan’s eyes on the back of his neck. His gaze is less like needles and more like lasers, and once again Connor is warm, but the feeling is unpleasant.

“I. I attempted after school that day. It didn’t work, go figure, the ceiling fell in before I could do much more than bruise my neck.” He laughs weakly. “My parents thought I was just trying to make a mess, cost them a few hundred bucks to get it fixed. Isn’t that fuckin’ sad?”

“There were a few times before that, obviously unsuccessful. I went to rehab the second time, which fuckin’ sucked, but. Uhm. I don’t even know why I’m telling you this, honestly.”

“It’s okay,” Evan replies quickly. “I’m sorry.”

“What happened to no more apologizing?”

“You broke a rule, so can I. Now just, like, look at me, would you?”

Hesitantly, Connor rolls back over and finds Evan facing him, a hand curled under his head like a pillow. He smiles sadly.

“Thank you for telling me.” Connor rolls his eyes.

“Don’t go crying on me.” He touches a finger lightly against Evan’s nose, who winces in response. “Your nose is kinda fucked up, by the way.”

“Is it really that bad?” When Connor nods in response, Evan groans and rolls onto his back.

“How am I gonna explain it away?”

Connor grins. “Say you got in a fight.”

“N-Not a chance! I look like I lost.”

“Just say the other guy looks way worse.”

“And who’s gonna believe that I — who’s gonna believe that?”

Connor shrugs and sits up, letting his eyes wander around the field. “I’ll back you up.”

“You’ll associate with me publicly?” Connor wrinkles his nose at the comparison, however vague, between him and Jared. But the answer he knows he's going to give makes him feel sort of like he's won out against Jared, so he pushes the feeling out of his mind.

“Sure. I’ll say I helped, then no one’ll mess with either of us.”

Evan laughs, mirroring Connor’s upright position.

“That’s nice to know, but it won’t do anything to help how much my face hurts right now.”

Eyes widening with an idea, Connor springs to his feet and holds out a hand towards Evan. “I think I know something that will help, and it’s only a few minutes from here.”

Evan takes his hand, and after helping him up they walk back towards Connor’s car in relative silence until they’re in front of it. Taking his keys out of his pocket, Connor fixes Evan with a look before deadpanning, “by the way, you’re sitting in the passenger’s seat.”

“I kinda figured.”

It’s a pain trying to move through the hole in the fence once they’re both in the car, but after a few minutes of bumping the jagged edges of the broken fence and cursing, Connor finally manages to make it through without fucking up his car too much more and pulls onto the dirt road.

“So where are we going?” Evan asks, and from the corner of his eye Connor can see him staring.

“Surprise.” In a rare submission to the law, he brings the car down to just five over the speed limit. “On an unrelated note, what’s your favorite type of ice cream?”

“Vanilla.”

Connor can’t help but chuckle. “No kidding.”

“Vanilla is a perfectly good flavor! F-Fuck you!” Evan bites back indignantly, a smile on his face. Connor shakes his head and bites back his own smile.

“Oh, sure it is, for two year olds and weenies.”

“What’s your favorite flavor then, you ice cream elitist?”

“Fighting words, Hansen. However, my favorite — and the best — flavor of ice cream is peppermint stick.”

The small sign for A La Mode comes into view, and Connor quickly puts on his blinker and turns into the parking lot. Taking very little time to park, he pockets his keys and motions for Evan to follow him towards the front window.

He’s uncomfortable, is Connor’s immediate thought as he takes in Evan’s body language while he approaches the shop. Biting at his lip, Connor watches him as they step towards the window to be greeted by an older man with white hair and a whiter smile.

“Afternoon, boys,” he greets. “Can I get ya something for that nose of yours?”

Evan laughs awkwardly, and in a rash decision Connor takes his hand. Evan visibly startles but doesn’t pull away, and Connor let’s out a breath of quiet relief.

“A bag of ice would be great, honestly,” Connor tells the man, who graciously does not comment or even look at their hands. “Along with a small peppermint stick in a dish. Evan?”

When he doesn’t respond, Connor squeezes his hand again and says, “and a small vanilla in a cone.” He counts the squeeze Evan gives in response as a success.

“That it?” Without much more chatter, Connor pays for the ice cream and watches through the window as the man quickly puts together their orders and dumps a tray of ice into a Ziploc bag.

“Have a nice day, boys!” the man calls as they turn to leave. Evan, to his credit, waves before following Connor towards a shaded bench to sit at.

“Thank you,” he says immediately, passing the cone back and forth between his hands. After a moment he settles, and gently presses the ice pack against his nose with his free hand. “You didn’t — uh, well, you didn’t have to.”

“I offered. Now eat it.”

Not needing to be told twice, Evan begins in on his ice cream, Connor following soon after, comfortably silence falling around the two of them as they eat.

Connor is halfway through his ice cream before he realizes he’s still holding Evan’s hand.

“T-This was really fun, Connor. Thank you,” Evan says as they’re finishing up. “Sorry for sort of hijacking your school day.”

“This was way better than being at school, anyways.” He stands, letting go of Evan’s hand in the process, and tosses his empty dish into a nearby trash can. “We should do this again sometime.”

“You think?”

“Yeah.” He motions for Evan to follow and the two begin back towards Connor’s car. “Yeah, let’s make this, like, a thing. if either of us has, like, a supremely shitty day, let’s just leave and hang out at the orchard. Deal?”

Evan smiles as he climbs into the passenger’s seat. “Deal.”

“Good. And how about we take the scenic route home; we’ve gotta figure out a cover story for your fucked up nose.”

Chapter Text

The lie Evan and (admittedly, mostly) Connor come up with is that someone accidentally opened their locker in Evan’s face. His mom nearly had a heart attack when she saw him after classes, and the vague look of disappointment in her eyes after he feeds her the story makes his stomach turn, but she lets it go and Evan gets away with skipping school for the first time.

He comes to regret the decision (well, almost) when his mom drops him off and all eyes are immediately on him — or, more accurately, his nose. Evan had checked it out extensively in the bathroom that morning; his nose and the area spreading at least an inch outward in each direction from it was splashed in purples, blues and blacks, and it was. Well.

His face is kind of disgusting.

(Even without the bruise).

There’s sweat coating the back of his neck before he’s even inside. Eyes flick to his face faster than he can keep up with; and they’re real, it’s not the anxiety, everyone’s staring at him and this is the opposite of what he wants, what he’s strived for all of his high school experience.

His hands slip from the straps of his backpacks. He wipes them on his jeans. It doesn’t help.

“Hans—Evan!” Connor jogs into view, an easy smile on his face. Evan wishes he was in the mood to return it. “You look like shit.”

“T-That’s what. Uh. I kinda gathered that from all the staring.”

Connor’s smile turns understanding, and to Evan’s surprise he winks.

“Yeah, you may look like shit,” he begins loudly, all eyes in the vicinity turning to him, “but you're a dream compared to the other guy!”

Everyone around them falls into hushed whispers, and counting that as a success Connor leads the way towards the cafeteria. As they enter the crowded room, Evan gives him a quizzical look.

“What are we doing in here?”

“First of all, showing off your shiner. Bump up your street cred.” They both laugh at that, and Connor steps into the short line at the front. “Second, I forgot to eat last night. You want anything?”

“I’m fine.”

Connor grabs an apple and a can of Pepsi, bringing them quickly to the register and dropping a few crumpled bills into the hand of a lunch attendant. As he and Evan turn to leave, someone approaches and stops a few feet away with a shy smile.

“Hi!” the boy greets, digging his hands into the pockets of his jeans and bouncing on the balls of his feet. “I just wanted to ask what happened to your nose?”

“Uh.”

“Actually it’s my friend who wants to know? He didn’t want to come up and ask—”

Stick to the script!” someone hisses from across the cafeteria, and the boy in front of Evan blushes. Connor glances somewhere over the boy’s shoulder, but Evan doesn’t want to break eye contact and seem rude.

“It’s not my friend who wants to know, actually. Just me. Um. What happened?”

Evan rubs the back of his neck awkwardly. “I got into a-a fight?”

The boy’s eyebrows skyrocket to his hairline, smile widening in...adoration? “Wow, that’s so cool! I mean. Are you okay? Damn, that was rude of me, wasn’t it? I’m sorry! I’ve just never seen someone who’s been in a fight before. Does it hurt? It looks like it hurts.” He pauses and flushes again, suddenly looking sheepish.

“I’m rambling. I do that sometimes. Sorry.”

Evan offers an awkward smile. “That’s okay.”

The boy brightens immediately. “Cool! My fri—I just wanted to ask because people are saying, uh,” he leans in conspiratorially and flicks his eyes towards Connor, “he hit you, but because you’re hanging out I don’t think that’s true?”

Evan blanks, and he feels Connor stiffen at his side. “W-Wh — who’s saying Connor hit me?”

“I don’t know!” the boy says immediately, putting his hands up defensively. “That’s just what my friend, I mean, that’s just what I heard!”

Before Evan can respond, Connor mutters, “Kleinman,lowly at his side, pulling his attention away from the boy in front of him. Jared comes to stand a few feet away from the boy, looking distinctly uncomfortable.

“Nice nose.” Jared’s tone isn’t friendly.

Evan frowns. The boy pushes Jared’s shoulder gently. “C’mon, man,” he mumbles, eyes cast downward.

“What did you say your name is?” Connor pipes up suddenly, an odd smile on his face. Evan’s confusion grows as Jared’s face darkens from annoyance into something akin to horror.

“Oh, I’m Elliot,” the boy responds brightly, the only one of the group smiling. Jared nudges Elliot gently and motions with his head.

“El, let’s go,” he says quietly, turning to leave. Elliot’s grin drops for a moment as he looks between Evan and Jared, but it returns in time for him to wave goodbye and turn to follow him. The ten minute warning bell blares, the sound dimmed some by the noise in the cafeteria.

“That was fun,” Connor says drily, taking a bite of his apple and adjusting his bag on his shoulder. Evan shrugs uncomfortably and watches the group of teenagers moving en masse towards the exit.

“Hey.” Connor pokes him, causing him to start and look back at him. “Don’t think about him. Okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. Uh.” He tries to give Connor a smile. His attempt is pitiful enough to make him laugh, and Evan feels minutely better. “Let’s go to class?”

Connor rolls his eyes but nods, tossing his mostly-eaten apple into a trashcan as they pass it and joining the back of the crowd trying to leave the cafeteria.

They happen to share their first period together, and as they walk together towards their English class Connor is intercepted and pushes against a row of lockers.

“What the hell, Connor!”

“What the fuck, Zoe!”

Evan looks between the two siblings bewilderedly, immediately noting Connor’s change in demeanor. Zoe looks towards Evan suddenly, eyes softening in concern when she glances over his face.

“Evan!” She moves her focus from Connor to Evan, prodding gently at his nose with long, polished fingers (somewhere in the back of Evan’s mind, he remembers that Connor touched him the same way not a full day ago). He winces at the burst of pain the sensation causes.

“You look terrible,” she says quietly but bluntly, and yeah, she’s definitely Connor’s sister. “Did my brother really punch you?”

“I’m right here,” Connor snaps indignantly.

“No!”

Zoe drops her hands. Evan takes in a shuddering breath. Are my hands sweaty? Why am I thinking about that right now? Say something!

“No! Uh. Connor didn’t hit me. Really.” He tries to smile reassuringly; the disbelief that flashes across Zoe’s face tells him it’s probably not working. “He helped me out afterwards, though.”

“Why would he do that?”

“Because we’re friends now, genius.” Connor crosses his arms and pouts. Evan has to bite back a laugh at the sight. Zoe pins Evan with a long, quizzical look, and Evan can’t help but squirm.

Her eyes are strangely piercing.

“Why?”

Evan coughs, confused. “I’m sorry?”

“Why are you friends with him? When did this happen? The only time I’ve seen you two together is when Connor shoved you all those months ago.”

“God forbid anyone try to make up for their mistakes,” Connor grits, pulling his arms tight against his chest.

Zoe’s eyes are still distrusting, but she offers a shrug and takes a step back. “I’m not going to pretend like I get it. But if you’re really friends, okay? Cool.” She looks towards Connor. “Why not invite him over for dinner?”

“What?”

W-What?”

Connor’s voice takes on a vaguely horrified edge, while Evan’s voice comes out squeaky and afraid. The five minute warning bell goes off.

“You know it would make mom and dad happy,” Zoe says, voice surprisingly soft. Connor’s eyes flicker with something Evan doesn’t recognize, but when he blinks it’s gone. “After...after everything.”

“They’ll make it weird.”

“I’ll keep them off your back.”

“Why?” Connor demands, glancing at his sister distrustingly. Zoe smiles at Evan, and he can’t help but blush at the sudden attention.

“Because Evan’s kinda cool.” Connor snorts, but the sound is cut short as Zoe punches him in the arm.

“Be nice, asshole,” she bites, pushing a bit of hair behind her ear. She turns her attention to Evan. “Don’t listen to him. He’s an idiot. Will you come over tonight for dinner?”

Both Murphy siblings zero their attention in on him, waiting for an answer. Evan’s hands begin to sweat again. Okay. Options.

He can say no and make Connor and Zoe mad/sad/disappointed. Then Connor won’t want to hang out with him, and Zoe will think he’s rude for not coming over when he’s invited, and. Well. Bad option.

He can say yes and go over and critically embarrass himself in front of Connor and Zoe’s parents. He might knock over an expensive vase, or say something horribly offensive, or throw up because he’s so nervous and. And.

Both options have high failure probabilities. His hands clench and unclench at his sides. Two sets of eyes stare at him, waiting for an answer.

Zoe’s eyes are soft and hazel and hopeful, a tiny smile crinkling the corners of her eyes. Connor’s eyes are dimmer and blue (but not entirely, and how did Evan not notice those eyes) and slightly narrowed but nice and. And Evan can’t say no to either of them.

“I’ll ask my mom?” he tries, and the anxiety coiling in his stomach is countered slightly by the wide smile he receives from Zoe. She takes his hands in hers sweaty, sweaty, sweaty don’t freak out and squeezes gently.

“Great! I’ll let my mom and dad know. See you later, Evan!” She waves to Evan and gives her brother another look before jogging down the hallway. As she turns a corner, Connor groans loudly at Evan’s side.

“S-Sorry,” Evan apologizes quickly, guilt filling him for accepting the invitation. Connor rolls his eyes and begins moving again towards their class, Evan having to jog to keep up.

“Whatever. It’s your funeral.” As Connor pushes open the door to their first class, he looks at Evan with an odd look on his face.

“I’m gonna tell you right now that tonight's gonna fuckin’ suck for both of us. I’ll prep you in class, c’mon.”

As the late bell rings, Evan shoots a text to his mom. He gets his response before class even begins.

from: Mom

Sure sweetie! Have fun! <3

Evan lays his head wearily on the desk as Connor begins hashing out the details of dinner.

Chapter Text

Connor is, by all means, not at all ready for Evan to have dinner with his parents.

He can smell the gluten free Hell Casserole from his room, and Evan’s been texting him near non-stop since they parted ways at the end of the school day, both fearing the night to come. Even Zoe had seemed to catch onto the tension, but the damage was done; her text to their mother was sent, received, and responded to with an enthusiastic yes.

Zoe pokes her head into Connor’s room with a slight frown. He spares her a quick glance before flopping backwards onto his bed.

“Sorry in advance,” she tells him as she moves into the room and settles on the edge of Connor’s bed.

Connor looks over towards her and mirror her frown. “What for?”

“For scaring off Evan after he eats mom’s cooking.”

“Oh, yeah. That.” He props himself up on his elbows and glances at his bedside clock. 6:53. Not long before Evan’s set to arrive. “Thanks for hooking this up.”

“Connor! Zoe!” Both siblings towards the direction of the door as their mother calls out for them. “Our guest will be here soon, come down here so you’re ready to greet him!”

“Good luck,” Zoe mutters under her breath as she stands, not waiting for Connor and going downstairs ahead of him. Sighing and standing up, Connor checks his phone and quickly scans over the most recent message from Evan — ill be thjere soon — before pocketing it and stomping his way down the stairs.

His mom is just pulling the casserole out of the oven when Connor makes his way into the kitchen and. Fuck. Tonight is going to suck, if the fucking casserole is any clue.

“Zoe’s setting the table, and your dad is finishing up some work in his study right now. Do you know when your friend is going to get here?”

“He’ll be here at seven.” His mom sets the casserole dish down on the counter and smiles at her handiwork. “Mom. Don’t make this weird. And don’t talk about his face.”

“Why would I make it weird?” she counters immediately, tone lighthearted but eyes flashing with hurt. Connor ignores it. “And what’s wrong with his face?”

“Just. Don’t ask him a million questions and especially not about his face.”

“If he’s your friend, me and your father want to get to know him, Connor.”

Connor bristles at her words. “Yeah, like I don’t know exactly what you’re playing at—”

There’s a timid knock at the door, temporarily diffusing the situation. An uneasy smile slips onto his mom’s face. “Go let him in.”

He turns on his heel and stomps out of the room without a word, passing Zoe who looks at him in muted understanding. He shoves a hand in his pocket, picking at a loose thread as he moves towards the front door.

He opens it and finds Evan in a decidedly nicer shirt than the one he wore to school, but still of his trademark blue polo variety. His hand fiddles with the edge of ones of his pockets (and Connor would bet anything he was doing his best not to mess with the edges of his nice shirt), where the fabric is beginning to come undone. The bruise on his nose is beginning to go yellow around the edges, but the area inner towards his nose still shines like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer after a violent assault. Evan smiles, but the curve of his lip is fake and obviously attempting to mask his anxiety.

“Hey,” Connor greets casually, opening the door a bit wider to allow him in.

“Hi, C-Connor.” Fuck.

It’ll be a god damn miracle if even one of them makes it through this dinner.

“Son, bring your friend into the family room!” Connor’s father yells, and Connor tries to ignore the way Evan flinches at the sound. He offers him a pitying look before turning towards the living room, Evan trailing close behind.

His father sits perched in his armchair, newspaper folded in his lap and looking appraisingly at Evan, his mother stands by his side with her apron on and a smile on her face, and Zoe sits with her legs crossed on the floor, and it takes all Connor has not to gag at the nuclear family picture his parents have constructed for the evening. Zoe shoots him a look across the room.

“Introduce us, Connor,” his father says casually, eyes zeroing in on Evan’s nose. Connor rolls his eyes and digs his other hand into his pocket.

“Evan, my parents. Parents, Evan. You know Zoe. We’re all friends now.” Evan waves awkwardly as Connor concludes his introductions.

“It’s lovely to meet you, Evan,” his mom says, approaching Evan and squeezing his shoulder. To her credit, her gaze doesn’t linger on his bruise too long. He smiles back.

“You too, Mrs. Murphy.”

“Larry and Cynthia, please.” His mother claps her hands gently and motions towards the dining room. “Dinner is about ready, Connor can show you to the table?”

Evan follows him wordlessly as he moves out of the room, and sits in the chair next to the one Connor plops down into. His fingers clench and unclench rhythmically, bunching the fabric of his khakis on his thighs.

“Dude, give me the signal and I’ll fake a heart attack and bail you out,” he mutters as Zoe joins them in the dining room and takes a seat at one end of the table. She smiles sadly at Evan.

“The casserole sucks,” she tells him bluntly. “Just try and control your gag reflex and hope for the best.”

“I-I’ll be fine,” he replies, more to Connor than Zoe, but clams up as Connor’s parents step into the room and take their seats. The food is passed around in relatively silence; only once everyone has piles of casserole and salad on their plates is the quiet broken.

“So, Evan,” she begins, taking a small bite of her casserole. “How did you and Connor become friends?”

“School project,” Connor cuts in, sensing the immediate tension in Evan’s posture. The state he was in, Connor wouldn’t have been surprised if he spilled the whole bridge thing on accident. “We sort of clicked from there.”

“Your mother wanted to hear it from Evan.” Connor’s hands clench underneath the table, already having had his fill of passive aggressive quips for the evening, thank you very fucking much.

“I-It’s not very interesting, really? It’s not interesting,” Evan begins cautiously, shrugging. “We partnered up for, uhm, a project and became friends, kinda, after that?”

“What’s the project about?” his father asks, swallowing a bit of salad.

“English. Book project.”

“What book? Connor, I haven’t seen you reading anything.”

“He — Connor reads at school!” Evan supplies a bit loudly, before immediately shrinking back, face flushing. “He’s. Um. Connor’s a really fast reader. He usually reads at lunch or during study halls.”

“You shouldn’t read while eating, son. Your age group has enough trouble connecting with people with all these distractions.”

The offhand jabs turn Connor’s stomach. The sensation of needles pokes at his face and neck and hands, everywhere his family and Evan are staring as the comment settles into awkward silence.

His arms itch. Fuck.

“So!” his mother says after a beat, refocusing her attention on Evan. “Do you know what you’d like to do after high school?”

“Not really?” Evan pauses. “Well. I. I interned at Ellison Park over the summer, the one just outside of town? It’s a State Park? And that was fun? Once the park opens up in a few months I might apply again. I’m n-not, um, I’m not sure though.”

“You like the outdoors, Evan?”

“Oh, yeah,” Zoe replies before Evan can, looking towards her dad. “Evan’s, like, a tree expert. Right?”

Evan shrugs, looking sheepish. “I guess? I only spent a few months at Ellison. Trees are okay.”

“No,” Zoe pushes, propping her chin up in her hand. “You’re like, really smart when it comes to trees. And plants in general. You were in my Ecology class last year, and always knew everything about all the plants.”

“How interesting!”

Evan squirms at the attention, and with a frown Connor notices Evan’s mounting anxiety at the barrage of questions. His hand not being used to eat clenches but doesn’t unclench, instead begins to shake at being held into a fist for so long. Connor can practically see the bruises forming on his palm.

His mother asks another question that Connor doesn’t pay attention to. Instead, he slips one hand under the table and grips Evan’s arm below the line of the table. He visibly starts, but otherwise doesn’t bring attention to the action.

“Evan?”

“O-Oh, I’m sorry, can you, uhm, could you repeat that? Sorry. I.” Connor’s thumb sits on the main vein in Evan’s wrist, his racing pulse noticeable even with his light touch.

“Of course, dear. I asked if you did any sports or extracurriculars.”

Evan’s fist slowly opens, laying limply at his side. “I did track sophomore year because my friend did it, but, uh, neither of us really liked it? Sometimes my friend makes me go to GSA with him too? But other than that, n-no.”

Connor feels Evan physically deflate as he talks about Jared, and in a bold move he lets go of Evan’s wrist and takes his hand instead. His palm is hot with blood rising under the skin from the previous pressure of his nails biting into them, but it’s not bad, and it seems to help some.

“GSA?” his mother asks, and Connor winces away in time with Evan.

“I’ve seen you there before, I think,” Zoe tells him, smiling a little. “Yeah, I definitely have.”

“What’s ‘GSA’?” their father parrots, looking confused. Zoe bares a smile and looks to him.

“It’s the club ‘Lana started. Or. One of them. For gay and trans kids and stuff.”

“That girl again,” he mutters, and Connor feels his heart squeeze in pity as Zoe’s smile immediately drops. “She certainly does get up to a lot.”

“Very ambitious,” her mother adds, taking another bite of her food. “It’s good for Zoe to have friends with drive, isn’t it, Larry?”

“Girlfriend,” she snaps under her breath, and all eyes at the table turn to her. “Alana is my girlfriend.”

“Of course,” Cynthia agrees. “She’s a very nice girl.”

“Don’t patronize me.”

“I’m not—”

“Bullshit.” Zoe pushes her plate away from her, hard, and sits back in her seat with her arms folded. “If you weren’t patronizing me, you and dad wouldn’t still be dancing around the fact that I’m dating Alana even though you've known for months.”

“Four months,” Larry says, voice clipped.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“He was just clarifying, Zoe—”

“Yeah, dad,” Connor cuts in sharply. “What does that mean?”

His mother gives them both a pointed look. “This is hardly something we should be discussing right now, especially when we have a guest.”

“Your mother’s right.” Larry’s gaze lands on Evan and Connor’s arms, where just below his line of sight their hands are still intertwined. “Connor, the last time you brought a boy over and we had this conversation, it ended quite badly. Have a bit of respect for your current company.”

Connor drops Evan’s hand like it burns, pulling back his arm and digging his nails into the sides of his jeans to keep from having a total fucking meltdown at the dinner table, because. What the fuck.

The last time he had anyone over was in, like, seventh grade, when he’d stopped giving a shit about his parents knowing he liked boys and had invited a boy over to play Mario Kart and have dinner, because that’s what you do when you’re thirteen and have a stupid crush you don’t know how to deal with, right? And it wasn’t Connor who brought up liking boys, it was his dad who brought up the stupid subject of whether or not he’d told his friend about it because not telling him isn’t fair to him, Connor, he has a right to know, and the boy had left after that and didn’t text him back and the next day at school everyone wouldn’t stop calling him fag and queer and, and, and—

Evan’s hand grabs at Connor’s arm and pulls it away from his leg, running a shaky thumb along his knuckles and squeezing his wrist gently.

Zoe pushes her chair back harshly from the table and stands. “Thanks for dinner,” she says, voice monotone, sparing a look towards Evan and her brother before wrapping her arms around her middle and quickly exiting the dining room.

“I’m done too.” Every bit of exposed skin feels like it’s being jabbed and jabbed and jabbed with needles, except for the hand Evan holds. He doesn’t linger on the thought. “Evan. Let’s go.”

Evan drops his hand before standing and following Connor out the door.

“T-Thank you for the meal, Mrs. Murphy,” he says quietly, almost apologetically, before catching up with Connor in the hallway.

Evan doesn’t retake his hand, and the needles spread down to Connor’s fingertips.

Chapter Text

The slam of Connor’s bedroom door serves as the metaphorical final nail in the coffin, and Evan can only sit on Connor’s bed and watch.

“I can’t believe they’d do that,” Connor hisses, hands tangling in his hair and tugging as he begins to pace. “What a fucking disaster.”

Abrupt laughter fills the room, the manic giggles radically different from the sort of laughter Evan has heard from Connor in the past. It’s a harsh sound that grates against Evan’s ears, and he wants to say something to make Connor feel better, but it’s glaringly obvious they’re both totally out of their element and Evan can’t find the words.

“Did you hear them making fun of me the whole time? Like I’m too fucking stupid to understand their stupid fucking passive aggressive insults? And Zoe, fuck, they were digging into her too! Why would they do that to us?” His pacing quickens, and he hunches his shoulders inwards, almost as if he’s trying to fold himself in half.

“I fucking hate them.” Connor swings his head to look at Evan. “Is it like this for you? Is this shit normal?”

“No, I. I don’t have family dinners often, and it’s j-just me and my mom if we are together.” Connor’s comforter is soft and black, and he feels bad about the wrinkles he’s inevitably making as he grips at the fabric. “I’m sorry.”

“Why are you apologizing? It should be them that’s sorry! They’re the ones who made this whole fucking thing weird, God!” Connor halts and yanks the zipper of his hoodie, breaking it off in the process. He quickly takes the jacket off and bunches it into a messy ball, hurling it at the door.

“Or maybe it’s me and Zo who should apologize, because we’re such immense fuck ups, right? Right?” The word is shouted viciously at the door, Connor’s chest heaving. “God forbid Zo talk about her girlfriend and me bring someone over that’s a boy, because since I’m gay I have to want to fuck him right? Have to have bad intentions with everyone I meet? Is that the gay thing, or the crazy thing, huh Larry?”

“Connor, tell me how I can help—”

Evan’s given a look harsh enough to make him wince. He doesn’t catch whatever Connor mumbles.

“What?”

The anger doesn’t sap out of Connor, not by a longshot, but a sudden invisible weight seems to hang heavy off of his bones, curling his arms over his chest and causing his posture to wither like a dying flower. “I should have just jumped off that fucking bridge when I had the chance.”

“No!” Evan’s outbursts surprises him, but Connor hardly moves a muscle. “No, okay — don’t say that, Connor!” He jumps up from the bed and strides across the room, pulling Connor’s arms from his chest and holding his hands firmly. He won’t meet Evan’s eye.

“I—I’m just as clueless at comforting people as you are, but l-listen to me, okay? You know I was gonna jump that night too. If you hadn’t stopped me, I would have. You — Connor, that night you saved my life, and things still suck, but I’m glad to be alive, even for just a little while.” He tries to smile, squeezing Connor’s hands. “Like when I’m — like, when I’m with you. F-For the first time in a long time, I have whole periods where I forget about all of the bad stuff. A-And maybe I don’t make you feel the same way, but—”

“You do,” Connor whispers, and when Evan searches his face he finds his cheeks blushing bright pink.

“And just. Now that we’re friends, things are happening that didn’t before, y’know? Even when Jared is mad at me, I have someone to eat lunch with. I have a partner in school projects, and someone who takes me to get ice cream and I’m even friendish with Zoe now, who I’ve liked for so long and now she’s talking to me! And just—”

A violent shudder passes through Connor, and it’s not until he roughly pulls his hands away and backs up halfway across the room does Evan realize.

Zoe, who I’ve liked for so long.

Ice shoots up Evan’s neck.

“What?” Connor’s voice echos the expression on his face; soft, wounded, betrayed. He shakes his head and the look is gone, instead replaced with a harsh frown, not unlike the one Evan was faced with during his original altercation with Connor in the hallway.

“Is that why you’ve been hanging out with me?”

“N—”

Connor braces himself against the wall, hand balled into fists and watching Evan with the most cagey, distrustful look Evan has ever seen him wear, and he wants to vomit.

“Of fucking course.”

No no no no nononononononono—

“...This whole time, you were just using me to get to my sister?” Connor pushes away from the wall all at once, closing the gap between him and Evan. Evan notices, through a haze of panic, the fact that Connor is taller than him, by a good few inches. “Jesus fucking Christ, you knew I was gonna jump off that night and waited for me, didn’t you?”

“Conno—”

“You knew, and you manipulated me off the bridge, so I would feel guilty and like I owed you something! You — I bet fucking Kleinman is in on this too, isn’t he? That piece of shit boyfriend of his too, right? You’re all secretly laughing it up over how fucking stupid I am. Fuck you, Evan.” Connor pushes at his shoulders, not enough to send him onto his back but hard enough to make him stumble.

Evan feels his hands begin to tremble, hands balling into fists hard enough he can feel his palms bruising as his nails bite into his skin. The damage is done, he told Connor of all people about his crush on Zoe, it’s all his fault he’s upset, what do I do how can I make this better fuck fuck fuckfuckfuck—

“And to think that I thought we were actually fucking friends. You just wanted to get with my sister this whole time. You fucking ass, she has a girlfriend! She doesn’t fucking want you! What’s—” Connor’s whole body begins to shake, eyes flickering between Evan and a fixed point behind him on the wall. “What is wrong with you?! She doesn’t want you! I’m the one that’s actually been here for you, Evan, what’s so wrong with me that—”

The door bursts open just as Connor’s hands grab the front of Evan’s shirt. Zoe snatches the back of Evan’s collar and begins hauling him towards the door before either boy can respond.

Evan pulls against her, because I need to go back, he’s so upset, it’s all my fault I can fix this, I need to help Connor but she yanks him through the door without a word before pulling him into her bedroom and locking the door, and all Evan can think about the first time he’s in Zoe Murphy’s room is the fact that Connor’s eyes were wet and absolutely desperate before he lost sight of him.

It’s a look he’s seen in himself before.

He can’t breathe.

“Z-Zo — Zoe I, I need t-to—” Evan’s eyes swim, but he can vaguely make out a pair of eyes in front of him. Soft and hazel and narrowed in concern; a stark difference from the icy and frightened blue and brown eyes that had shut tight to block out tears Evan had left behind in Connor’s room.

“No,” she says firmly, taking him by the shoulders and pushing him into a sitting position on her bed. Her comforter is navy blue. “You need to stay here, Evan.”

A painful crack sounds from the other side of the wall. Evan jumps; Zoe winces and casts a sad gaze towards her door. Evan imagines it’s the drywall cracking as Connor puts something — his fist, his foot, his desk, maybe? — through it.

“I need to f-fix this,” he argues, straining his ears and hoping to hear something from Connor through the wall. Zoe squeezes his shoulders, hard, refocusing his attention momentarily to her.

“It’s no use, okay?” She pulls away and crosses her arms over her chest, wincing as another loud noise comes from the opposite side of the wall. “When he gets like that, you have to just let him...calm down.”

“I need to h-help him, Zoe!” he bites at her, and a cold resolve sets on her face. She stares down at Evan, frowning.

“No. You need to leave, Evan. I don’t know what happened but, something...Something about you in there with Connor triggered something, and nothing you can say to him will help him right now. Tonight’s been a disaster, and just. You should just leave, alright?”

She looks so much like her brother like this, with her shoulders hunched and a scowl on her face. Evan feels tears slip down his cheeks as the isolated pounds on the wall morph into dull thumps. His stomach turns at the thought of what Connor is doing.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers as he stands and quickly moves past her and out of her bedroom. As he passes Connor’s closed door, his ears catch low mumbling that he can’t quite make out.

He wants to say something.

I’m sorry. Please don’t hurt yourself. I’m glad you’re alive. I want to keep being your friend.

Evan is a coward. He is a coward and he bolts out of the Murphy household without even thanking Connor’s parents for having him over. Larry and Cynthia watch him go, and the volume on the TV almost manages to drown out the overwhelming tension in the house.

Almost.

To: connor

connor

connor im sorryu

pkease do tn hurt yoursefl

please plkeasw please be safw

im si sorty

Chapter Text

Zoe slams the door behind her as she takes Evan away, and Connor is pretty sure he hears the click of the door’s outside lock. He scrubs furiously at his eyes, which are already watering against his will, and takes the few strides towards the door, jiggling the doorknob and beginning to panic as his insides immediately start to feeling too large for his body because Zoe’s locked me in here, she thinks I was going to follow her and hurt Evan.

After he threatened Zoe that one time a few years back, he earned himself a lock on his door, which any teenager wants, but not in the way Connor has it. His door locks from the outside, meaning whenever anyone feels like it they can trap Connor in his room, because he’s dangerous and needs to be caged like a fucking animal, apparently.

Connor’s room is already small. It’s too small, and when he’s suddenly trapped in here, vulnerable to the will of his family, it’s so much worse. The control is ripped from his hands, and he’s often left to the four walls of his room for hours and hours on end because—

How will we know he’s not dangerous anymore if we can’t see in?

We just have to leave him for as long as we can, let him burn himself out.

When he gets like that, you have to let him just...calm down.

His family’s voices rattle around his head, and he’s full on crying now, yanking on the doorknob and rattling the lock and he thinks he might be yelling, near begging for someone to let me out, please, I’m not going to hurt anybody, let me out!

He’s not going to hurt anybody.

Zoe thinks he’s going to hurt Evan.

No. No. He would — Connor would never hurt Evan. Even if he’s spiraling, even if he’s seething mad and itching to hit something, he won’t take it out on Evan. Because — because Evan has come to be his friend, dammit, even if Connor was just being used in an attempt for Evan to get closer to Zoe, the asshole has rooted himself into Connor’s chest and head and life and he. Can’t. Can’t even imagine hurting him, despite the hole in his heart.

He’ll prove he won’t hurt Evan. Prove he can’t. He leaves the door and stands in front of the wall his room shares with Zoe’s, and with little hesitation he balls his right hand into a fist and rams it straight through.

Can’t hurt anybody with a fucked up hand.

The pain doesn’t register immediately, but the noise hurts his ears and when he pulls his hand out of the cracked drywall, it’s covered in a thick white dust and bruises are already beginning to stain his skin. The slight twitch of his fingers immediately starts his bones screaming in pain and he barely keeps from doubling over, whimpered curses leaving his mouth as fat tears carve shiny tracks onto his cheeks.

Connor slides down the wall into a sitting position, cradling his injured hand into the space between his chest and knees. His good hand curls into the hair near the back of his head, tugging harshly in an attempt to calm down, because if I have a panic attack in here, I won’t be able to calm down, and I’ll be stuck in here, so shut up.

“I can’t hurt him,” he says weakly to himself, but hoping someone — Evan? Zoe? Who knows — can hear him anyway. He tries to control his breathing, but the pressure building in his chest doesn’t slow. “I can’t hurt anyone anymore. Let me out!”

Connor waits, pushing his good hand over his mouth to try and stifle his heavy breathing, listening for the tell-tale tiny click that means his door is unlocked and he isn’t trapped anymore.

He just doesn’t want to be trapped.

Please,” he whispers against his hand, and slams his head against the wall behind him. And does it again. And again. And again.

Someone moves clunkily down the hallway, stopping momentarily outside of his door, and Connor allows himself to hope. Allows himself to think for just a second that maybe someone listened, maybe he’s going to be let out and he won’t be stuck in this tiny, tiny room anymore and—

The footsteps continue down the hallway. There is no click. Connor doesn’t even need to check to know that he’s still locked in.

Sobs take him over with full force, and all Connor can do is bury his head into his knees and try to calm his breathing, but he can’t, he’s going to be stuck here forever, all alone, he’s going to die in this room he can’t get out Evan’s gone and he hates him and Connor’s just crazy crazy crazy.

Evan has just been lying to him. Zoe thinks he’s dangerous. His parents won’t let him out for hours. He has no friends and everyone in the entire goddamn world will be better off when he finally fucking kills himself.

It takes Connor a few minutes to find the strength to stand, even aided by the wall, and even longer to shuffle across the length of his room towards his bedside table. The sloppily patched hole in the ceiling where the fan came down mocks him as he digs through his drawers, and in rising panic he realizes he doesn’t fucking have anything.

His meds are — they’re in the bathroom, right? His parents made him move them to the bathroom when they found out he wasn’t taking them a few months back. And they purged his room of anything sharp a while ago, too, and literally anything he could use is in the bathroom.

And he is trapped in his room.

“No,” he hisses, pulling the entire drawer out and dumping its contents on the floor. He sifts through it quickly, not even bothering to not use his injured hand — and that sends a second burst of pain that nearly sends him to his knees — but comes up empty.

God damn it.

The window.

Connor snaps his head towards the window, which, really, was how he started this whole fucking thing in the first place. He moves in long strides towards it, only to stop a few feet short as the light from his room glints on the padlock.

He’s an idiot. Fresh tears burn his eyes. After Zoe busted him for sneaking out the night he went to the bridge, he’d earned himself a shiny new lock to compliment the one on his door, the key of which was in his parents room.

Any feelings of rebellion escape Connor as he stares at the lock, and he feels his knees giving out from exhaustion. He staggers backwards away from the window, eventually smashing against the wall on the opposite side of the room and collapsing on his ass in a sobbing, red-faced heap. His hurt hand digs into something soft, and he pulls his discarded hoodie into his lap and buries his head into it before biting down hard and letting himself scream.

This is all he fucking has at this point. The ability to scream, and nothing else, because any other control he has was ripped from him the moment Zoe locked the fucking door and trapped him in here. He can’t leave, he can’t get help, he can’t even kill himself. With that door locked, he has absolutely no control, no choice in anything that happens.

His arms burn, and he can almost feel every individual cut.

I have this.

By the time he finishes, his throat aches from screaming, there’s blood caked under his fingernails and he hasn’t left a single wound unopened.

Chapter Text

The days following Evan’s dinner at Connor’s house are some of the worst he’s had in awhile.

He’s not expecting to see Connor the next day, but he still feels guilt manifest in his gut as he stares at his empty seat in each class they share. Added to it are the glares he receives from Zoe when they cross paths in the hallways, and he’s relieved to be able to go home at the end of the day, with the promise to himself as he goes to sleep that night that he’ll see Connor tomorrow and apologize.

But Connor, again, doesn’t show up.

He’ll be back on Monday, Evan reasons, and spends the entire weekend holed up in his room, sending message after message to Connor, who doesn’t even open them.

But when Connor isn’t in school on Monday, Evan begins to panic.

That’s — now it’s been five days of radio silence from Connor, and Evan’s mind immediately assumes the worst. And he wishes he could blame his thoughts of oh my God, Connor’s dead on the anxiety, but he knows Connor’s suicidal and in a bad place, and he can’t shake the thought once it’s in his mind.

When he walks into school on Tuesday, almost a week after the dinner, Evan can hardly focus on how to walk correctly he’s so hung up on Connor. He might be going crazy, because every time he turns his head he thinks he sees Connor’s hair splayed out behind him as he walks, or his eyes flickering in the bright classroom lights, or hears his high-pitched, hiccuping laugh whenever he shuts his eyes.

He closes his eyes to focus on the sound (and maybe he is crazy) as he walks towards his first class, and slams into someone hard enough to stumble.

“Watch where you’re going, ass—” Evan’s eyes snap open as Jared’s voice fills his ears. “Evan.”

“Jared,” he breathes in response, taking in his friend’s (can he still call Jared that?) face. There are bags under his eyes, his hair is messy (but not in the way Jared’s hair is usually slightly messy, like ‘my hair is purposefully messy because it looks cool’, like ‘my hair is messy because I don’t care enough to make it look actually good’ messy), and his stance is insecure and...sad.

“Are you alright?” Evan asks gently. Jared scoffs and rolls his eyes.

“Just fucking fine, thanks.” He turns to leave, but Evan reaches out and grabs the back of his shirt — and, remembering that’s how he was pulled away from Connor, suddenly drops his hand away.

“I’m sorry.” He watches Jared’s face for some kind of reaction, and, getting none, he continues despite a bit of rising anxiety. “I just — things have been kind of bad, lately, something happened with Connor, and—”

“So that’s why you’re talking to me. Glad to know I’m that important to you.”

“Jared, no. Okay. Just.” Evan shakes his head, trying to gather his thoughts. “I’ve — I missed you. I don’t like being mad at you. I’m sorry, okay?”

Jared frowns and shifts his eyes towards the floor. “Fuck. I’m sorry too, okay? I. My boyfriend has been ignoring me lately, and it’s probably because his parents hate me or whatever, and. I’m just stressed about everything.”

“You thought I was abandoning you,” Evan supplies softly. Jared’s frown deepens as he crosses his arms tightly over his chest.

“...Something like that.”

“I’m sorry.” He nudges Jared gently, and his gaze flashes up to Evan. “Can we be friends again?”

Jared rolls his eyes, but the action is almost fond, and Evan counts it as a success.

“This isn’t permission to start talking about your weird sex life with me, you know,” Jared says after a moment, regaining some of his humor, but the offhand mention of Connor makes Evan’s stomach drop. Jared seems to take notice of the sudden tension, and nudges Evan.

“Did you two break up or something?”

Evan shakes his head just as the bell rings, and they both begin moving towards their first class.

“Something...happened.” Jared looks at him to continue.

“Okay, s-so — Zoe saw us hanging out and was kind of confused, right? And she asked me over for dinner, and I couldn’t say no, that would be rude, so I went over but Connor’s parents are. Kind of awful? Or, his mom is kind of nice, but his dad is mean and also homophobic I think and—”

“Dude, the point?”

Evan stammers, trying to will the words out. “I...I kind of told Connor I like Zoe?”

“You what?” Jared stops in his tracks, looking up at Evan incredulously. “Evan, no offense, but you kind of fucked yourself over.”

“N-No kidding. He got really mad,” Evan replies softly, wincing at the memory of Connor’s betrayed expression. “And he hasn’t been at school since, and I’m afraid he — I think he might have hurt himself.”

Amusement falls away from Jared’s face, instead replaced with a thoughtful expression.

“Do you think he would actually…?”

“I don’t know! But he’s not opening my text messages, he hasn’t been at school, and Zoe glares at me whenever she sees me.”

Jared scans the hallway before moving into the classroom. “Have you tried, like, apologizing? Like in person?”

The thought of going back to the Murphy house sends an unpleasant rush up his neck.

“I’m pretty sure Zoe would take my head off.”

As Jared sinks casually into his seat, an impish grin crosses his face, which doesn’t help to set Evan more at ease.

“Well, it’s a good thing we’re cool again. I, your bestest buddy, am here to help. I’ll hit his house up after school.”

As Evan takes his seat next to him, the thought of Jared trying to make nice with Connor makes his stomach turn. Because, yeah, he was Jared’s friend again (and the realization that Jared referred to himself as Evan’s ‘bestest buddy’ makes him want to smile) and he was Connor’s friend (but was he, after his fuck up?) but the two of them together. Well.

“Connor, loving the new haircut! Very school shooter chic.”

“You’re such a freak.”

“Go fuck off in the bathroom to slit your wrists, asshole!”

“The fuck are you looking at, Murphy?”

The two of them hardly have a good track record, and Evan’s anxiety immediately spikes at the thought of a one-on-one, private confrontation between a wildly upset Connor and...Jared. Jared whose very presence seemed to set Connor on edge, Jared who couldn’t seem to have one positive interaction with Connor, Jared whom Connor lumped in with ‘all the shitty things in our lives’ during his and Evan’s trip to the apple orchard.

Jared, who is volunteering out of the goodness of his heart to try and reason with Connor.

“T-That seems like a horrible idea. You being alone with him. With Connor.”

The bell rings again, and the teacher calls for the beginning of class. Jared doesn’t look away from Evan.

“Look, man. You’re obviously torn up about this. And God knows you aren’t gonna make the first move—”

“I’ve been texting him nonstop for a w-week!”

“Okay, that’s gay, but an actual, in-real-life move,” The teacher shushes him; Evan’s face burns; Jared ignores them both. “Unless you’re going to go after school yourself.”

He’s about to retort fine, I will, but he remembers all at once therapy. Alternating Tuesdays and Thursdays, and a quick count on his figures confirms that shit.

“I can’t.”

“Then I’ll go,” Jared concludes, and finally turns towards the teacher.

“Jar—” Evan’s shushed by the teacher, and seizing with embarrassment, he resigns himself and spends the rest of the day wrestling with just how the confrontation between his two friends will go.

Chapter Text

When there’s a knock at the front door, Connor doesn’t really care to question who it might be.

He’s expecting whoever it is — probably a salesman or something — to give up and leave, but after five minutes of incessant pounding on the door Connor doubts that will be the case with growing agitation.

It’s not his parents; his dad is at work and his mom is off on some spa retreat, and it’s not Zoe; she wouldn’t bother to knock (it is her house, after all) and the door is unlocked, anyways. He doubts it’s Alana; her knocks are quick and precise, and she doesn’t come by when Zoe isn’t around, so.

Maybe it’s a murderer, Connor muses weakly, as he pries himself from his bed for the first time in a day or so and stomps down the stairs. He curses as he nearly trips over his long pajama pants, and ends up grabbing the stair railing with his fucked up hand, fingers beginning to burn under the stupid hand cast he’d been forced to wear. When he finally makes his way to the foyer, the expression he’s wearing as he pulls open the door is hardly friendly.

“What the fuck.” Jared’s shit-eating grin isn’t what he’s expecting; it’s about a hundred times worse.

This is exactly what Connor needs right now; his ex-friends ex-best friend, whose last encounters with him have almost resulted in fights, standing on his doorstep and looking like he’s going to say something stupid, offensive, or both.

“You’re alive,” Jared comments, an odd look in his eye, but it’s gone when he shakes his head. “May I come in?”

“Absolutely not. Get the fuck out of here, Kleinman.”

Jared moves past Connor through the doorway anyways, and lets his eyes wander around the foyer. “You have a lovely home.”

“Why are you here?” Connor demands, crossing his arms over his chest and biting back a wince as the fabric of his shirt rubs into the raw skin there. He’s at least lucky he’s taller than Jared, because the way Jared was looking at him coupled with the fact he had at least suspected he wouldn’t be alive, he's feeling exceptionally small.

“I’m trying to save my best buddy’s sex life.”

Connor tenses all at once, and pointedly looks away from Jared as his face is scrutinized.

So he knows.

“So you know,” he replies drily, moving one arm to push a bit of greasy hair out of his face with his good hand. Jared’s eyes snap to his injured hand, and Connor internally curses.

“We can talk about that later. How’d you fuck up your hand?” He moves into the family room and flops casually into Connor’s dad’s arm chair.

“I punched a glasses-wearing piece of shit who broke into my house.”

Jared wrinkles his nose but doesn’t otherwise acknowledge the comment. “Fine. If you don’t want to talk about that, we can talk about what went down on your date with Evan.”

Connor sinks into one of the couches, folding his arms into his lap.

“It wasn’t a date.”

“You both wanted it to be.”

Connor lets out a harsh laugh. “As if you don’t know exactly what was happening.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jared’s tone is inquisitive, not accusatory, and for a moment Connor can almost believe he’s being serious.

Then he remembers who the fuck he’s talking to.

“As if you weren’t in on Ev—Hansen’s fucking — whatever the fuck that was. Pretending to be my friend to get with my sister. You can’t tell me you weren’t waiting on the sidelines, laughing your ass off every time we hung out.”

Jared’s gaze turns from confused to concerned, and his eyes look as though they’re about to bug out of his head. He sits up from his slouched position on the chair, back straight as a board, and looks at Connor intensely enough to make him squirm.

“You think Evan—? Jesus Christ, man,” he breathes, running a hand through his hair. “You think Evan Hansen, the kid who can’t even ask a teacher to go to the bathroom, is masterminding a plan to hurt you behind your back?”

“Why wouldn’t he?” Connor bites back, although he curls in on himself more as he speaks. “I’m just the fucking crazy kid, right? The freak?”

Jared winces away from the word. “Dude, think for a second. Does that really sound like something Evan would do?” He pauses, watching Connor closely. “I mean, I wouldn’t put it past me, sure, but Evan? Not a chance.”

“Why are you here, anyway? Don’t you and Evan hate each other?”

Jared closes off immediately; posture tensing, eyes casting downwards. “When he barrelled into me into morning nearly having a panic attack thinking you were dead, I figured we could set aside our differences for a little while. To deal with your whole...situation.”

“You don’t like me. Why would you do that?”

Jared frowns, still not meeting Connor’s eye. “My boyfriend...I got called out on my shit. He’s super pissed at me.”

Connor snorts and messes with the hem on his sweatshirt; and then, realizing it’s a tic he picked up from Evan, stops immediately.

“How did you land Elliot, by the way?”

Jared’s eyes snap to attention quicker than Connor would think possible, his jaw set and face uncharacteristically serious.

“Don’t.” Connor nearly flinches at the edge in Jared’s voice. “Fuck. Just. Sore subject, alright?”

“Fine. Your boyfriend told you to apologize…? That doesn’t explain you still being here, trying to convince me Evan isn’t a total asshole.”

Jared turns his head away, looking distinctly uncomfortable. “Maybe I’m trying to make sure my friend is happy too, alright?”

“You don’t like Evan. Not really, anyway.”

Jared rolls his eyes. “Just like you don’t like him?”

Connor frowns. Jared continues.

“Look. We don’t like each other, but we both care about Evan — we’ve also both wanted to fuck him, but that’s beside the point.” Connor scoffs, face heating up at the accusation. “Seriously, he’s probably about to pass out in therapy right now because he feels so bad. So just give him a chance, alright?”

Connor mentally files away the word ‘therapy’ for later. “How do I know you aren’t just fucking with me?”

Jared shrugs and stands, scuffing his sneakers on the carpet, probably leaving a dirt smudge. “You know that Elliot is — well, you know who he is. I’m not gonna try anything when you have that over me.”

And he seems...genuine, and for once Connor doesn’t really question whether Jared is telling the truth. He still fucking hates him, he’s an ass, sure, but his intent in showing up at Connor’s house doesn’t strike him as malicious.

But there’s something… “Has he been? Okay?” Jared’s eyes flick back to Connor, a knowing smile on his face, and Connor wishes he’d kept his mouth shut.

“Honestly? He’s been a mess. Not really...seeing, sometimes, you know? He kinda thought you were dead. Like you offed yourself. You weren’t answering his texts.”

His phone is somewhere in the hole in his wall, and all at once Connor wants to retrieve it and read every single message Evan’s sent.

Jared looks as though he’s about to leave, hovering on one foot, expression unsure. He turns back towards Connor, chewing his lip idly.

“I...something doesn’t make sense. Why did Evan saying he likes Zoe piss you off so much anyway? I mean, Beck is constantly running her mouth about how in love she is with her, and lamenting about the softness of her lips or some shit, but you don’t seem to give a shit. Why is that?”

Jared looks to Connor for an answer, but he draws a blank at just why it made him so upset.

Because, yeah, the whole betrayal thing is what set him off (the memory of that night makes his arms burn), but if Evan liked Zoe...why should he care? Zoe’s his little sister, sure, but she can handle herself well enough.  She’d probably kill someone herself if they made a wrong move towards her.

So why was I so upset?

“Oh, yeah, how could I forget?” Jared asks after a moment, shit-eating grin back on his face, “it’s because you’re gay as shit for him.”

Connor fishes a pillow out from underneath him and chucks it at Jared’s head. “Says the one who openly admitted to wanting to fuck him.”

Jared catches the pillow as it hits him in the face and laughs. “What can I say, he’s kinda cute when you get past all the stuttering.”

“You can get the fuck out now, Kleinman.”

He listens, tossing the pillow back onto the couch before turning on his heel. “See you at school, Murphy!”

The door shuts loudly behind Jared, leaving Connor to his thoughts.

Evan — at least, according to Jared — was not just using Connor (and Christ if that doesn’t make him want to jump for fucking joy). Sure, he’s into his sister — which is weird, but whatever — but…

Evan wants to be his friend. Evan doesn’t hate him.

Evan likes him.

(As a friend.)

Connor takes the discarded pillow and rolls over onto his stomach, pressing his face into the soft fabric and trying to push down the sudden rush of heat he feels at the thought. His bad hand gets trapped under his body and he winces, the memories of that night resurfacing and doing well to make his giddiness subside.

God, that — the fact that he was stuck in that room all night, almost thirteen hours still makes his skin crawl, and as soon as his mom had let him out in the morning he’d taken a shower, bandaged his split open arms, and broken the lock the fuck off his door and window.

He knew it was only a matter of time until it was replaced, but at least he could feel secure in the fact that he wouldn’t be trapped in his room again. At least for a little while.

Turning over onto his back, Connor tries to focus his thoughts away from that awful awful night and onto something more...pleasant. Because shit, he’ll take being stupidly content and red faced over being in a panicky haze and reliving the night in his room.

The orchard, his mind supplies, and the warm feeling returns.

The apples. Playing tag. Running through the tall grass while holding Evan’s hand. Eating ice cream while holding Evan’s hand.

Evan.

The front door opens, rousing Connor from that train of thought, but as he slinks towards the staircase there is one very prominent thought in his mind:

I need to go back there.

With him.

Chapter Text

When Evan wakes up on Wednesday, all of his texts to Connor display the tiny ‘read’ symbol and Jared has sent him a confirmation of sorts.

From: jared

when u and connor fuc i dnt want the details lol

Wonderful.

He’d been practically shaking with anxiety the entire day prior; even Dr. Sherman had picked up on it, and a good chunk of his session was spent discussing the issue (right after he was chided for not bringing a letter to himself again).

He talked a lot about Connor; what kind of person he was, what the fight was about, how he and Evan became friends (Evan nearly had a stroke trying to bullshit a way through that one), and. Just.

When you talk for an hour about somebody, you remember the little things that maybe you didn’t before.

Like the way Connor’s laugh sounds kind of like someone’s shaking a jingle bell too hard; soft at the core but loud and attention-consuming and still kind of pretty. Or how his legs are scrawny and look like they can’t hold his weight, but suddenly he’s running like the wind and leaving everybody else in the dust. Like how when he smiles, it’s such a rare thing, and seeing his eyes crinkle at the edges and his gums peek out beneath his lips is like being privy to a secret.

Or, like how when his eyes are wide and afraid and hurt, the spot of brown in one of his otherwise blue eyes (Dr. Sherman tells him it’s called heterochromia) goes hard and Evan can see himself reflected back in it.

He...talks a lot about Connor, and the newfound knowledge about him makes it hard to sleep. He almost doesn’t realize Connor’s actually read his messages, he’s so out of it the next morning, but it’s as he’s pulling on his shirt that he realizes and hurries to get himself ready.

The car ride to school has him buzzing with nervous energy, and he’s glad he’s dropped off without any questioning from his mom (because how would he explain that he’s thinking about how pretty Connor’s eyes are without being weird?). His feet carry him on autopilot into the school, and he finds himself in front of Connor’s locker a few minutes later.

He’s doing his best not to look like he’s waiting for someone, because that will garner questions and weird looks and if Zoe sees she’ll probably take his head off, and if Jared sees he’ll probably make fun of him (although, the voicemail he received last night along with the text that featured a male voice that wasn’t, ah, Jared might contradict that a bit), and if Alana sees she’ll ask him a million questions, and really the only person he does want to talk to is Connor—

“Evan?” He jumps half a foot in the air as a hand squeezes his shoulder, but he’s quickly brought back to the present when he turns and sees it’s Connor, dressed and out of bed and smiling a little and alive.

He’s alive.

Thank God.

“H-Hi,” he replies sheepishly, taking in Connor’s appearance. His hair looks a little dirty, there are bags under his eyes, and his hand is — his hand.

“Your hand,” Evan whispers, the muted ‘crack’ he heard that night in Zoe’s room playing on a loop in his mind.

Connor pulls it behind his back quickly, before sighing and letting Evan view it. “I broke a few fingers, go figure.”

“Sorry,” he whispers, and he is. I’m sorry for making you think I didn’t like you. I’m sorry you hurt yourself. I’m sorry I’m not a good friend.

“Water under the bridge.” Connor pauses to chuckle at his own joke, before producing a sharpie and handing it to Evan with a smile on his face. “Sign my cast?”

Laughing a bit himself, Evan takes it and scrawls his name messily across the back of his cast.

“How long do you have to wear it?”

“Like another two weeks, I think.” He puts the sharpie away and frowns a little. “I’m sorry too. For...freaking out.”

“It’s okay! Don’t — don’t apologize. And. Um. I don’t really like Zoe anymore?” Connor stares down at him a little quizzically. “I mean! She’s really nice and cool and it’s not that she isn’t wonderful, I just...don’t...like her anymore? How could I compete with Alana anyway? I can’t! I don’t really know why I don’t like her anymore—”

“Evan,” Connor says firmly, taking him by the shoulders. He’s smiling. “Shut up, would you?”

The words aren’t kind, but Connor’s tone is soft and affectionate, and Evan finds himself mirroring Connor’s smile as he nods and starts to walk towards the gym.

Connor gives him an odd look but follows him anyway. When they come closer to the gym entrance, they find the doors congested with a horde of students trying to push their way in. Evan feels himself go a bit green as other students crowd around him and Connor, and he jumps a bit when a hand curls around one of his.

“Sorry,” Connor mutters over the loud chatter of the people around him, looking pointedly away. “Crowds aren’t my thing.”

Connor’s hands are soft. “Me neither. Which makes the hour and a half assembly we’re about to have fantastic.”

“Maybe I should’ve stayed home another day,” he replies drily, looking over the heads of the crowd. “Sit under the bleachers with me?”

Yeah. Under the bleachers, that are holding, like, a million kids that probably weighs a billion pounds. Like that isn’t going to cave in and collapse on him and Connor, crushing them. And then everyone will panic and evacuate the building, leaving Connor and Evan under the bleachers forever with no one to get them out and they’ll starve under there.

Or, what if a teacher catches them, because no one is supposed to be under there? Then they’ll get in trouble, and Evan probably won’t get expelled because he doesn’t get in trouble, maybe just detention, but Connor will get expelled because he gets in trouble a lot and sits under the bleachers all the time, and maybe they’ll think he’s smoking under there, and then he’ll get arrested. He’ll go to jail and have his entire life thrown away all because Evan wants to be indulgent and sit with him, alone and away from everyone else.

Evan feels his hand begin to go clammy, and self-consciously he pulls away just as the crowd begins to move. He doesn’t even get the chance to wipe it on his pants before Connor’s taken it back and squeezes nervously on his fingers. He doesn’t move after that.

The slowly make their way through the doors, and Evan doesn’t object despite his nerves when Connor veers away from the crowd and leads them both to a small corner underneath the bleachers. It’s relatively clean, Evan supposes, and sits himself down against the wall, finally letting go of Connor’s hand.

“Y-You do this a lot, huh?” he asks, eyes scanning around in the dark. There’s light peeking through the slits in the bleacher seats, but not enough to fully illuminate the spot they’re sitting in. He’s waiting, muscles tense, for someone to find them and yell at them or for the bleachers to cave in or something equally as awful.

Connor, to Evan’s embarrassment, seems to catch on to his nervousness. “Yeah, whenever we’re stuck in here for an assembly or something. No one ever checks under here, we’re fine.” Connor smiles at him in the dark, the thin beams of light catching on the white of his teeth.

The principal begins talking but the rumble of voices from the bleachers doesn’t quiet — typical, but it gives Evan and Connor a cover to talk freely.

Slowly, Evan’s anxiety about something happening slips away, and he finds himself laughing along to Connor’s jokes and scooting himself closer, leaning on him when he promises to show him a video that’s “like, the funniest fucking thing I’ve ever seen.” He’s surprised when the sound of hundreds of feet stomping off the bleachers fills his ears.

“It’s over already?” Connor asks, exiting the video compilation he had been showing to Evan on his phone and pocketing it.

“I guess?” Evan stands awkwardly, trying not to hit his head on any of the support bars as he does. Connor stands with a bit of difficulty, eyeing the metal poles around his head warily.

They both make their way out from under the bleachers in silence, maneuvering themselves into the back of the crowd of other students. Evan catches Jared’s eye, and he blushes at the thumbs up and wink he’s given.

“I’m going to AP Lit,” Connor mumbles, shuffling his hands around in his pockets. “What about you?”

“Precalculus. Uh. H-Hey.” He’s been thinking on it for a while, but he hasn’t had the guts to spit it out. Connor looks at him curiously. “Would you — do you w-want to maybe — Connor, d-do you—”

Connor watches him patiently, not taking on an annoyed or confused or angry expression, and Evan’s nerves quell enough to push out, “doyouwanttocometomyhouseafterschool?”

“Okay,” Connor breathes in reply, before Evan can panic too much. “I’ll drive?”

“Okay — sure!”

They finally make their way through the door, and with a sort of sinking feeling Evan realizes their next classes are on opposite sides of the school. Connor offers a dorky little wave.

“Meet you in the library for lunch?”

Evan nods, and as he turns towards his next class he can’t help a smile.

The rest of the day passes fairly quickly, the only parts of which that stick out being his lunch and shared classes with Connor, and he can’t help but walk towards the parking lot with a bounce in his step. Connor’s waiting when he arrives, just stubbing out a cigarette.

“Passenger’s seat,” Connor tells him with a teasing smirk, and Evan flushes at the memory as he enters the car. He goes to reach for the seat belt, but remembers and pulls his hand back.

“Shouldn’t you invest in some of those already?”

Connor puts the car in reverse and maneuvers out of the parking lot, staying fairly close to the speed limit. “I’d get my license taken for not having any in the first place. Then I’d have no way to drive your ass around.”

They both laugh as Connor makes a right.

“So Jared talked to me yesterday.”

Evan bites his lip. He’s been waiting for this, and he just hopes it isn’t as bad as he fears. “How did it...He didn’t say anything awful, did he?”

Connor shakes his head. “No. He was civil, actually. It was probably just because I have something on him, but. Yeah. We talked.”

“What did you s— what did you guys say?”

“He didn’t tell you?” Connor asks, looking confused. He makes a left turn.

Evan shakes his head. “He. Uh. He went right from yours to his boyfriend’s, I think.”

Connor purses his lips, tapping the fingers of his good hand on the steering wheel.

“We just...talked, about what happened, I guess. How I thought something that...wasn’t true. I guess. He corrected me. Told me I was being an idiot, which I guess I was. Asked me about my hand, too.”

“How did you hurt it?” Evan knows, and he’s pretty sure Connor knows he knows, but he needs to be sure. Even if the thought makes him sick.

Connor stares straight ahead, looking incredibly uncomfortable. “Which way should I turn from here?”

“Right.” He does. Evan frowns. “Connor.”

“I punched the wall.” Before Evan can ask why, Connor continues. “I felt trapped. Zo thought I was going to — well, she saw me grab you, I think. My thought process was that, uh, if I disarmed myself, I couldn’t hurt you anymore.”

Evan feels his stomach drop out from under him. Connor thought — he thought he had to incapacitate himself to prove he wouldn’t hurt Evan. Oh God. He could have stopped him, he could have gone back to Connor’s room, and stopped all of this—

“You wouldn’t — I know you’d never hurt me.” Not now, his mind supplies, and Evan hastily crushes the thought, disgust for himself swelling at even letting the thought enter his head. “I should have went back—”

“No. Zoe wouldn’t have let you. She knows what I’m capable of, my parents do, too, that’s why I had that—” He cuts himself off harshly, knuckles going white as he squeezes the steering wheel. His injured hand twitches uncomfortably.

“Connor, what—” He catches a shake in Connor’s jaw. “Pull over.”

He doesn’t have to say it twice. He puts on his blinker and pulls into the shoulder of the road, putting the car into park with his injured hand and wincing.

“You had...what?” Evan asks softly, afraid to hear the answer.

“It’s a non issue at this point,” Connor says firmly, looking pointedly out the window.

The worst comes to the forefront of Evan’s mind, and he doesn’t want to confirm anything, but he has to make sure. “Connor, do you parents hur—”

“No, Jesus fucking Christ, Evan,” he hisses, looking at him wildly. “My parents don’t fucking beat me. You think I’d be alive if they did?” Both implications behind the words make Evan’s heart hurt.

“Then what do they do?” Evan demands, turning to fully face Connor.

“It’s stupid,” he replies lamely, all at once seeming to deflate. “It’s not even a big deal.”

“Bullshit. You — you thought you had to break your own hand to prove you wouldn’t hurt me. Something’s going on, Connor.”

They’re both silent for a long minute, until Connor whispers, “the lock.” Evan looks at him to continue.

“I...they have a lock on my door. On the outside. Zoe...when she took you away, she locked the door and I couldn’t.” His whole body begins shaking, breath quickening and face going pale. “I couldn’t get out. For thirteen hours. I was trapped for t-thirteen hours—”

Connor curls in on himself all at once, bringing his knees to his chest and digging his nails into his thighs, breath coming out in short hisses from between his teeth. Evan jumps into action before he can really process, throwing his door open and rushing to the driver’s side, guiding Connor out of the car and into the open, giving him room to breathe because Evan knows from experience that being in a car during a panic attack is horrible, and especially considering the circumstances—

Connor doesn’t even bother to right himself once he’s on the ground; just stays curled up in an awkward position, fingers shaking as they dig deeper into the skin beneath his jeans.

Evan realizes, with the drop of his stomach, that Connor’s just going to have to ride this one out, and he hunkers down next to him. But he doesn’t touch him.

“Connor,” he says, willing his voice to be clear and concise, “I’m right here. You’re not trapped, you’re not in your room, you’re here with me, okay? I’m not going anywhere, I’m staying right here. Is it okay if I take your hands?”

His injured hand falls to his side, and Evan takes it gently in his, trying to avoid the injured fingers. The cast makes it hard, but he takes to rubbing at the pulse point on Connor’s wrist, muttering as he does.

“I’m right here. You’re free to move, you’re not trapped. You’re not going to hurt anyone, you’re not dangerous.” Connor, having been relatively quiet, starts at that; chest hitching, and a moment later releasing a shuddering breath. Slowly, Evan moves onto his knees and sits himself in front of Connor, reaching out gently for his other hand. He squeezes gently at Connor’s fingers, and smiles a bit in relief when Connor intertwines their fingers himself.

“There you go. Here, I’m gonna do some breathing exercises my therapist taught me, can you try and follow along?” Evan begins, just doing simple in through the nose, out through the mouth breathing, trying to exaggerate it a bit for Connor’s sake. Slowly but surely Connor begins following along, taking in air and letting it out.

“I usually don’t think they help, because it’s just breathing y-y’know? But I can focus on how stupid it is for long enough to calm down.” He laughs weakly before continuing the structured breathing.

He knows that — that when you’re in the middle of a panic attack, the last thing he wants is for someone to coddle him, or tell him everything’s fine, or act as though breathing will magically make it all go away, and he at least suspects that Connor’s the same.

After another few minutes or so, Connor slowly removes his head from his knees, wiping at his eyes despite them looking totally dry. He takes his hands away from Evan and folds them in his lap, looking embarrassed. Evan moves to sit at his side, leaning against the door of the car and looking casually over at his friend.

“Sorry,” Connor mumbles weakly, voice a little hoarse. Evan offers a smile.

“What happened to the no apologizing rule?”

“We’re not at the orchard.”

Evan shrugs. “Even still, you shouldn’t — you don’t have to apologize for that. Ever, okay? I...I get them too. Which you know. Ha.”

Connor meets his eye for the first time, face a little flushed. “Um. Well. Thank you. I don’t usually have people around in the aftermath, so I don’t really. Know. How to respond.”

“Whatever feels right, I guess?” Evan tries.

“Um.” Connor’s face goes all the more red, and suddenly his arms are thrown around Evan and he’s being pulled into a hug. Fingers dig into the fabric of his shirt, and Connor’s head falls into place against his neck, and Evan couldn’t not reciprocate if he tried. He rubs one thumb in circles along Connor’s back, and bites back a smile when Connor seems to sink into the motion, going limp against Evan’s chest.

“Thank you,” Connor whispers against Evan’s neck, and he has to fight the urge to squirm as Connor’s lips tickle the skin there, because he’ll be damned if he pulls away before Connor’s ready.

“Of course.”

They stay like that, Connor nearly in Evan’s lap and both of their arms around each other, for a while, until — Evan suspects — Connor’s arms begin to ache from the odd position and he pulls himself away, face bright red. He stands and brushes himself off as if nothing happened, reaching out his good hand to help Evan to his feet. He thinks his hand might linger a bit in Connor’s after he’s standing, but he doesn’t let himself think on the moment as he asks, “are you alright to drive?”

Connor shoves both hands in his jacket pockets. “Think so. Better than you, I’m sure.”

“You’re probably right,” Evan agrees, circling the car and settling back into the passenger’s seat. Connor starts the car and pulls back onto the road, and seems to think on what to say for a minute, chewing his lip nervously.

“What is it?” Evan asks, almost hoping it’s something to do with...well, what caused him to have his panic attack in the first place, because holy crap is that something that needs to be discussed.

“I’m just trying to wrap my head around something,” he admits, looking sheepish. “You and Jared…”

“Me and Jared — oh. Oh. Do you mean when we, uh, dated?” Evan guesses. Connor’s face is a brighter red than it was when he pulled away from their hug, and Evan imagines he isn’t much different.

“Uh. Yeah. Most of sophomore year, actually. It’s uh, it’s weird, isn’t it? But yeah, we realized that...maybe we weren’t the best of matches, romance-wise, and split up. We’re over, though, if you were wondering? Like. Totally. He has his boyfriend now, and I’m not really into him like that at all anymore. Which you probably don’t care, I don’t know why I’m telling you! Uh…”

Connor just smiles, expression oddly wistful, and turns onto Evan’s street. Evan doesn’t have to point out his house but Connor pulls into the correct driveway anyways, and Evan can’t help the smile that follows that.

Connor parks and shuts off the car and looks over towards Evan. “Alright, what are we doing?”

Evan, embarrassedly, realizes he hasn’t thought of what they were going to do.

“A movie?” He winces when he realizes how lame that is. Connor, however, lights up.

“Only if I get to pick.”

“Deal.”

Chapter Text

Connor feels warm.

Which — okay. He’s laying in the middle of the orchard, and he’s wearing a black hoodie, and it’s a bright and sunny day, and he thinks he remembers the forecast saying it would be somewhere near seventy degrees out today, but. It’s different.

He feels warm, not hot, and for some reason like he could rival the goddamn sun, and it’s kind of incredible.

Evan is next to him, laying on his back and pointing up at the clouds overhead (and they’re the white, fluffy kind; the kind you can find shapes in), commenting excitedly how one of the stupid clouds looks like a bird, or something.

Connor isn’t paying attention to the fucking cloud.

He’s watching Evan’s face. His eyes are brilliant green like the forests he seems to like so much, and his face is freckled and tanned and slightly chubby, and he has just this — this look of contentment and almost childlike excitement, and it’s not an expression he’s ever seen him wear before, but Connor decides he loves it and wants to see it always.

Connor? Evan asks, greengreengreen eyes on him, pulling him from his thoughts. Are you even paying attention?

Oh, sure. That cloud looks like… he stares up at a random white puff. Like cotton candy.

Evan laughs, soft giggles interspersed with light snorts, and maybe it would be considered an ugly laugh by normal standards but it’s Connor’s favorite sound in the entire fucking world now, apparently.

If I’m boring you, just tell me, Evan says softly, looking away, and Connor frowns.

You’re not, he tells him immediately, poking at Evan’s cheek. As he’s pulling away, he notices Evan’s gone bright red. I think you might have a sunburn, Ev, your face is red.

Evan, inexplicably, goes darker, and still won’t quite look at Connor. N-No, it’s not, uh, the sun. I just...Can I ask you something?

Connor nods, trying to smile reassuringly. What is it?

Evan angles himself a little closer, until he’s only a few inches or so away from Connor. He feels his breath hitch, because, holy shit, what is he doing, and he’s about to verbalize his question when a hand slips into his and squeezes.

He goes from warm to hot hot hot all at once, wrapped up in the feeling of Evan’s hand in his and he knows he’s held Evan’s hand before, sure, but it’s different this time. It’s different because Evan is so so close, and he’s staring up at Connor with this look, and his face is flushed and his hand is hot and heavy in Connor’s, and the shift in context is immediately clear.

This isn’t just a friendly sort of comfort anymore.

Evan squeezes Connor’s hand again: a question. Is this okay?

As an answer, Connor brings the back of Evan’s hand to his lips, and it feels like coming home.

Connor sits up in bed with a start, eyes wide, and fucking screams.

What the fuck?

He jumps away from his bed, body humming like a live wire, backing up against the wall and letting his eyes scan the room around him while he tries to take back control of his reeling mind, because what the fuck.

The door is thrown open next to him, Zoe stepping in with — a baseball bat. She makes eye contact with him, trying to decipher just why the hell he woke up screaming at — Connor looks at his bedside clock — 6:12 am.

“Get out!” he hisses, guiding her out the door and slamming it behind her, because this is absolutely not something he needs to deal with this morning, or ever, in fact, thanks very fucking much.

Zoe snaps a few curses at him through the door and stomps back to her room, mercifully leaving Connor by himself. Groaning, he takes the few steps back to his bed and flops onto his stomach, half hoping to just fall back asleep and see where it takes him.

Absolutely not, he thinks to himself immediately, and grabs his phone because fuck going back to sleep.

He flips through his music library before deciding on something he hopes is loud enough to drown out his thoughts — and, when his parents inevitably come banging on his door telling him to turn it down, too — and hits play.

It’s not even anything particularly pleasant; all guttural, yelling verses and deep, heavy bass and drums. On a good day he’d never listen to it, but.

Today’s hardly starting off good.

But it felt good, didn’t it? Even if it wasn’t real, he was happy. And, really, it doesn’t have to have a non-platonic connotation; he’s held hands with Evan tons of times, and it’s never made him feel like that, so it’s probably a fluke. Some sort of...fucked up wet dream.

The feeling of bringing Evan’s hand to his mouth makes his lips burn, and he rubs at them furiously.

He can hardly explain away kissing his friend’s hand as platonic, can he?

For reasons he can’t place, the idea of anything like that involved Evan sends a burst of self hatred through his entire body.

That’s bad, he reminds himself viciously, scowling up at the ceiling. He’s your friend. Having thoughts like that about him is bad. Stop that.

It’s fine. Connor is fine. It’s just some stupid dream bullshit.

He unlocks his phone and idly opens Instagram, and before he can really process it he’s scrolling through Evan’s Instagram, which. Fine. This’ll serve as proof enough that whatever... that was was just like, a fever dream, or some shit.

He feels his forehead with the back of his hand. Normal temperature. He scowls.

Evan’s Instagram has only a few pictures; a picture from a few years ago, which looked basically like he did now except for a few extra pounds of baby fat in his face and a few less freckles, a few from his summer interning, a selfie of Jared’s, and a more recent candid that Connor guesses Jared took.

He’s sitting on a run-down wooden fence, only half-facing the camera, and the sun is shining in such a way it adds a golden sheen to his usually darker hair. He’s pointing to something out-of-frame, with an expression Connor pegs as genuine childlike excitement, eyes wide in wonder and mouth open in a huge, dorky grin.

The caption reads evan whenever he goes outside lol. And, yeah, definitely Jared.

Selfishly, Connor wishes he could have been there to see what he was so excited about. Even more selfishly, he saves the picture to his phone and spends several more minutes looking down at it, trying not to smile like a fucking idiot until there’s a knock at his door telling him to “get ready and please turn the music down, Connor!”

Opting to not try very hard on his appearance today, Connor pulls off his sleeping clothes and pulls on a signature outfit: a black t-shirt, a pair of jeans that he guesses aren’t that dirty and a gray sweatshirt; which, he realizes as he’s pulling it on, is a bit too small, and he’d usually wear his black one but he slept in that one last night because it was comfortable and smelled kind of like Evan and—

We’re stopping that train of thought right in its fucking tracks, he thinks bitterly, and throws his hair up in a bun; a look he hasn’t worn to school often, but he (hopes) thinks somewhat disrupts the ‘school-shooter’ stereotype he usually seems to wear.

He frowns a little at the thought, and makes his way down the stairs.

Zoe’s silent as he enters the kitchen, but he’s not really expecting anything different. His dad’s sitting in his usual spot, a look of distant disappointment on his face as he takes in Connor’s appearance, and that’s not anything new, either.

He decides that today isn’t a day he really wants to linger, grabs his backpack, and heads out to his car. Before he starts his car, he absently checks his phone and is immediately glad he did.

From: evan tree boy

woukd it be alright if you gave me a ride to school todsy?

Connor quickly shoots back a confirmation text and pulls out the driveway, trying to remember the quickest way to get to Evan’s place. He’s pretty sure he misses a few turns, but he makes it to Evan’s driveway in a reasonable time and honks the horn quickly. Evan’s out the door before Connor can pull his hand away from the horn, and something about the fact that Evan was waiting for him makes his chest warm.

Stop that, he reminds himself, and puts on an easy smile as Evan sits down in the passenger’s seat.

“You look different,” Evan says in greeting, and Connor can’t push down the feeling of badbadbad at the comment. Evan starts, flustered, and waves his hands wildly. “I mean! Y-Your hair — you have your hair up. I’ve never seen you wear it like that before. I—It looks nice.”

This time it’s the heat in his cheeks that he can’t push down. He unsuccessfully tries to bite back a smile as he puts the car in reverse and mutters, “I just didn’t want to deal with it this morning.” Evan just shrugs in response.

“Thanks for, uh, giving me a ride. My mom had the early shift this morning,” Evan says after a moment, effectively changing the subject, to Connor’s relief.

“It’s no problem,” he replies, smile dropping a bit as Evan’s eyes shift away self consciously. “I mean it. You ever need a ride, or whatever, you can ask, okay?” I’ll always be here for you, he almost tacks on, but he figures it’ll just come out awkward.

“T-Thank you, Connor.” A pause. “You’re a really good friend.”

He feels his face go warm at the praise. He’s just trying to be nice. Don’t make it weird.

Connor’s eyes catch on a sign up ahead for a Dunkin Donuts, and using a hand to shift around in his console he finds his wallet and makes the turn into the drive thru. He looks towards Evan.

“What do you want?”

Evan goes red, shaking his head. “You don’t have to get me — I don’t want anything!”

“I’m calling bullshit.” He pulls the car forward a little more. “I’m getting a coffee. What do you want?”

“You should get something to eat, too, you know. Breakfast is very important,” Evan tells him matter-of-factly, and Connor has to bite back a grin at his nagging. Instead he rolls his eyes but relents.

“Fine, fine. If you don’t tell me what you want, I’m just going to order you something random and make you eat it.”

Evan smirks and makes a zipping motion across his lips (and God, what is he, ten years old?), crossing his arms and raising an eyebrow at Connor. Connor scoffs in fake affront and pulls up to the ordering station.

“I’ll have a small black coffee, a small frozen hot chocolate, and two breakfast sandwiches on Texas toast.”

The drive thru operator tells him his total as Evan slaps his arm, looking flustered. “I didn’t tell you anything because I didn’t want you to spend your money on me!”

As Connor pulls up to the window, he just grins down at Evan. “Too late, I already ordered it.” He gives the drive thru person his debit card in exchange for the frozen hot chocolate, and hands it to Evan with a teasing smile. Evan takes it, pouting, but doesn’t go to take a drink.

He’s given back his card, as well as his coffee and the two sandwiches, and with a short ‘thank you’ he pulls back out onto the road and towards the school. Evan stares at the bag in his lap dejectedly.

“Thank you,” he says petulantly, “but I’m not hungry.”

“Wasn’t it you that said that breakfast was very important? Eat up, Ev,” Connor replies brightly, before promptly flushing at his use of the nickname.

God, what is wrong with Connor today? First the fucking dream, now all of these stupid thoughts and calling Evan by some weird nickname? He’s never been like this before, and a heavy feeling of something wrong crushes over him like a goddamn tidal wave.

Connor stares straight ahead, so he doesn’t see the expression on Evan’s face as he whispers, “you’ve never called me that before.”

“I wasn’t thinking,” he replies quickly, which is a lie because really, he’s been thinking too much about certain, bad things he shouldn’t be. “Won’t happen again.”

He takes a long sip of his coffee and is at least spared from burning his tongue too much as he pulls into the school parking lot. They’re running a bit late from their stop for breakfast, so he has to pull into a space a little ways away from the entrance.

When Connor shuts off the car and spares a glance towards Evan, he sees he’s drinking the frozen hot chocolate he had gotten him. He makes a face that melts into a smile.

“This is really good, thank you,” Evan says again, this time more earnestly, and Connor just offers a smile back before pulling one of the sandwiches from the bag and unwrapping it, gesturing for Evan to do the same.

They eat in relative silence, watching the people loitering in the parking lot through the windshield. Evan makes some comment about the sandwich being “really fucking huge, Connor!” to which he just grins teasingly back.

When they’ve both mostly finished their food, Connor unlocks the doors and steps out of his car, waiting for Evan to do the same before relocking it and pocketing his keys. The walk to their first class — AP Environmental Science — is quick, and as Connor settles down in the seat next to Evan’s, his eyes catch on the TV stand at the front of the room.

“Evan, did’ja see?” Jared pops up in front of Evan’s desk, smiling teasingly. “We’re watching a nature movie today. That’s practically a porno to you, isn’t it?”

Evan flushes and buries his head in his hands, but Connor can see a smile peeking out from between his fingers and he decides not to press Jared on the comment. He picks up Evan’s drink and takes a sip, then throws a wink towards Connor.

“Speaking of pornos,” Evan mumbles, cutting Jared off, “I think that voicemail you left me a couple days ago would qualify.”

Connor’s eyes widen at the same time as Jared’s; but his reaction is more in wicked intrigue than Jared’s embarrassed panic. “Evan, you need to let me see your phone.”

“I’ll kill you,” Jared counters immediately, and Connor takes a sick sort of delight in the way his voice drops an octave and his face goes bright red. “Don’t you dare.”

“Evan, think of the blackmail,” Connor tells him, only half teasing. Evan brings his head out of his hands and feigns a pout.

“I deleted it after I listened to it. But Jared, you really should be more careful—”

Jared looks at the drink in his hands, and tries to steer the conversation with a hurried, “early morning coffee date, huh?”

Connor rolls his eyes. “Subtle.”

“Don’t go starting a fight with your boyfriend right here,” Jared shoots back saccharinely, flashing a white smile just as the bell rings and the teacher calls attention to the front of the class. Jared winks and offers both Connor and Evan sarcastic thumbs up before drifting to the seat on the opposite side of Evan and settling in.

The teacher starts the movie without much preamble; some boring documentary about fracking or some shit, and all Connor can do is prop his chin up on one hand and hope he doesn’t hit the floor when he inevitably falls asleep.

He at least tries to keep his eyes focused on the movie, but without any interesting stimuli his mind begins to wander.

Evan makes a noise next to him, and when Connor glances sideways at him he sees him watching the movie with rapt attention, eyes wide and focused; and for once, his hands aren’t fidgeting, just hanging at his sides.

Evan. It always seems to come back to Evan, doesn’t it?

And, well, shit. There’s not really a point in not thinking about the dream, is there? It happened, and it’s fucking weird, and it leaves a bad feeling in Connor’s chest, but it happened. He dreamed about being alone with Evan and laying with Evan and holding Evan’s hand and kissing Evan.

No. He didn’t kiss-kiss Evan; he just sort of...touched his hand to his lips.

That’s fucking kissing, dumbass.

Whatever the case may be...it happened, and even if it wasn’t a conscious decision to dream like that about his friend, the fact remains that the memory feels nice. Or, at least, as nice as it can, when there’s a storm of self hatred and bad swirling in his stomach.

The fingers on Connor’s good hand twitch, and he can’t help but focus on Evan’s hand as it just hangs there. His fingers are kind of short and chubby, and the skin on the back of his hand is littered with freckles. From experience, Connor knows that Evan’s hands are warm and a little bit rough from all the tree climbing.

Experience is the word he lingers on, and. Yes. He has experience holding Evan’s hand, but all the times he has it hasn’t been something he’s thought about. It’s been spur of the moment; like when Evan took his hand and ran in the orchard, and when Connor took Evan’s hand and squeezed at A La Mode because he was anxious about ordering. Or when he gripped onto Evan’s hand for dear life during that horrible, horrible dinner with his parents, or when he took Evan’s hand yesterday before the assembly because he hates crowds, he feels trapped in them, and maybe he thought a little bit about the fact that he might feel better if he took Evan’s hand right then, or—

Connor shakes his head, trying to refocus his attention on the movie, but he can’t. Not when every part of him is trying to urge his hand forward, make him take the leap and knot his fingers with Evan’s and squeeze.

He could, feasibly, do it without being caught. They’re in the back of the classroom, out of the view of everyone (save for maybe Jared if he got curious enough, or Alana Beck from her spot diagonal from Connor). He could take Evan’s hand and stay like that for the entire goddamn period, if he wants.

And he wants, dammit.

His hand is visibly shaking as he reaches for Evan, and he’s so close to brushing his fingers with Evan’s when the sleeve of his sweatshirt scrunches up towards his elbow, and he stops short.

The cuts on his arms, most of which had been mostly healed, had been ripped open that night in his room and he’s faced with the ugly aftermath of his actions. His scars are already ugly; uneven, sloppy, sometimes intersecting lines in various stages of healing. But now they’re all harsh red, the visible effects of being torn open again clear on his skin, as evidenced by the biting nail marks and crescent-shaped bruises he’d left himself that night.

Disgusting bad wrong wrong wrong crazy wrong bad bad gross grossgrossgrossgrossbadbad crazy.

He’s sat there, arm frozen in mid air long enough to call attention to himself. Alana Beck is looking at him, visibly horrified, and the sting of needlesneedlesneedles her staring sends through his arms is enough to stir him to action. He yanks his sleeve down roughly — aggravating the wounds in the process — and grabs his bag, hurrying out of his seat and into the hallway before more people can take notice of how ugly he is.

He pushes his way into the bathroom, hoping to whatever the fuck is out there that he’ll be alone in there. The two boys at the urinals, who simultaneously turn to him and grin, tell him pretty clearly that no one is listening.

The blond one pushes away from the urinals and grins antagonistically. “Somebody’s obviously cracked out of his mind.”

Bad bad stop please go away I can’t do this right now please, leave me alone, I’m disgusting please just leave me alone please please pleasepleaseplease—

“Why don't we help him sober up some?” the redhead responds, before they both grab the front of his sweatshirt and haul him into a stall.

Chapter Text

Usually, Evan can tell himself he’s just imagining that people are looking at him and whispering. He can keep his eyes trained on the floor and try to laugh to himself and reason, haha, there I go again, it’s my anxiety making me think they’re all staring at me and talking about me and laughing about how gross and weird I am and how everyone secretly hates me and—

The point is, he can usually at least recognize it’s his own fucked up brain that’s making him an anxious mess. But when he spots Zoe and Alana, huddled by Zoe’s locker, eyes locked on him and whispering furiously to each other, he can’t wave it away. He looks away and back again, half expecting to find his eyes playing tricks on him.

They’re still staring, and Evan begins to sweat.

Adjusting his backpack nervously, he grasps for a shred of confidence and uncomfortably makes his way towards the two girls. Alana at least attempts a smile; Zoe just stares at Evan, expression guarded and angry, and he tries to swallow down his rising panic.

“I — uh, is something going on?” he asks tentatively, eyes flicking between Alana and Zoe. Alana’s smile drops somewhat.

“Okay, this is a really big secret, okay? I’m only telling you because you’re Connor’s best friend,” she begins, before dropping her voice to a whisper. “In AP Environment today, I saw something bad.”

“With Connor?”

She’s about to respond but she’s cut off by Zoe, who takes a half step towards Evan and stares at him harshly. “Are you saying you don’t know?”

“Wh—”

“Zo,” Alana says gently, putting a hand on Zoe’s shoulder, “I don’t think Evan knows.” Zoe nods and takes a step back, eyes averted, before taking off walking in the opposite direction. Alana sighs as she watches her girlfriend go, but doesn’t follow after her.

“What’s wrong with Connor?” Evan asks, trying to inject a bit of strength into his voice, because Connor did seem weird this morning, and he left class so early and just never came back, and if something’s wrong he could be upset or hurt or worse and he needs to find him—

“He…” Alana takes a deep breath, and Evan’s panic rises as he catches the shine of tears in the corners of her eyes, “Connor has been self harming. A lot.”

He’d...had his suspicions, but to hear it confirmed is like a kick in the stomach. “H-How do you know?”

“Today in Environment, his sleeve rolled up and I looked over at just the right time and saw it. It’s awful, Evan, his arms were all red and bruised and it looked like he’d been attacked by some sort of animal. He saw me looking, I think, and that’s why he left. I just — I feel awful, and I know you’re Connor’s best friend, so I thought you should know. And Zoe, too, because she’s his sister and all.”

“She didn’t know?” It comes out before he can stop it, and he immediately feels guilty at pinning blame on her. Of course she didn’t know, he’s been keeping it from everybody.

“No. I told her in our next class. She was really upset.” Alana glances down the hall where Zoe had stormed off, and Evan gets the hint.

“Yeah, go find her. Um. I’m gonna meet Connor for lunch. Thank you. For telling me.” Alana nods grimly before speeding off down the hallway, leaving Evan to his thoughts.

Evan’s an idiot, isn’t he? He should have guessed that Connor was hurting himself. The signs were there, for God’s sake: the past suicide attempts, the drug use, all the sweatshirts and long sleeves, and probably more. It’s been in front of him the entire time and he hasn’t noticed.

What if he’d died?

No — no, Connor, he’d. He’d promised that he wouldn’t. Connor’s fine, isn’t he? Evan begins walking towards the library, feet carrying him faster than usual.

What if he’s dead right now?

Evan’s running now, racing off towards the library with a crescendoing chorus of he’s dead, oh my god, Connor’s dead and I killed him, crashing around his head. The halls are empty, and his shoes make that awful awful screeching noise as they skid along the floor, but he doesn’t care I need to find Connor.

He slams into the library entrance and practically throws the door off its hinges, startling the few students and the librarian inside. The librarian hisses something at him as he passes, but he can’t hear it over the pounding in his head and the sound of his breathing and the near-screaming in his head of Connor Connor Connor.

Please be here, Evan begs internally, and rounds the corner to their usual spot and nearly collapses in relief when his eyes focus on the back of Connor’s head. His shoulders are hunched in, and his head is on the desk, and it looks like some of the hair has been forced out of the bun on his head, but he’s here and he’s okay and Evan could die happily in this moment, knowing Connor’s not dead.

“Connor,” Evan breathes out, taking a few steps forward and waiting for the him to turn around and greet him with a small smile and make some comment about how red his face probably is. Connor’s still hurting, and Evan knows that a smile isn’t going to help anything in the grand scheme, but he’s practically on top of the whole world right now, dizzy off the knowledge that Connor’s okay.

But Connor isn’t looking at him, and he actually flinches away at the sound of Evan’s voice, which sends a shot of anxiety up Evan’s neck.

“C-Connor?” he tries again, voice much less steady. He steps closer until he’s standing above Connor, waiting for a response. He hesitantly sets a hand on Connor’s shoulder, and winces when Connor flinches away so harshly his chair wobbles.

He steps back from Connor immediately, and instead moves to the chair on the opposite side of the table and sits. Connor’s arms are shaking on the table, and Evan can’t see his face from where it hides behind his elbows. He doesn’t make any noise besides shallow, uneven breaths from between his teeth, almost as if he’s in pain, but other than that it’s impossible for Evan to tell what’s wrong.

“Go aw—” Connor’s voice cracks. “Fuck off, Evan.”

“No,” he replies firmly, but his hands begin to clench and unclench underneath the table. “I’m not leaving you alone. Something’s wrong.”

“I’m fine.”

“Then why won’t you look at me?”

With a deep intake of breath, Connor lifts his head and stares somewhere behind Evan’s head, but Evan can hardly focus on the fact that Connor isn’t making eye contact because oh my god Connor.

His lip is split, and there’s a smudge of dry blood stuck in the crease of his mouth. His face is red and splotchy, and what skin isn’t red is beginning to sprout deep blue and purple, the worst of which being in the area under his eye.

“Jesus Christ, Connor,” Evan whispers after a solid minute of just staring, moving from his seat and bending down in front of him. He takes Connor’s chin and inspects him more closely, and is glad he did when he catches a deep nail mark along the line of his jaw.

“Did you hit back, at least?”

Connor snorts, pulling himself away from Evan’s hands. “With one holding my arms behind my back and one kicking my ass?”

“There was two of them?” Evan demands, staring down at Connor incredulously. “Who are they?”

“It’s hardly relevant. It happened. I’m over it.” He’s lying, he’s obviously fucking lying. Why is he trying to protect them?

“I’ll—I’ll, Connor, I’ll—”

“You’ll what, Evan? No offense, but you’re not exactly about to go kick their asses. They knocked me down a peg, and I know they’d knock you down several. You’re not getting involved.”

Evan feels his hands shaking at his sides, anger and frustration rising to the surface, and he doesn’t want to take it out on Connor, but he just— “Why are you protecting them, Connor? They hurt you, and you won’t even tell me who they are! You’re my friend, Connor, why won’t you let me help you?”

“I don’t want them hurting you too!” Connor’s chair is flung backwards as he stands, and his hands are clutching at Evan’s shirt, and he doesn’t look angry, he looks pained, and Evan doesn’t know what to do.

“I’m fine, Evan, I can’t let you...I don’t want you getting hurt because of me.” Connor’s hands drop, and he goes to step away, but Evan reaches out for his sleeve before he can.

“Okay,” he tells him softly, stepping closer, until they’re practically touching. “Okay. You don’t have to tell me. It’s okay.”

Pushing past his trepidation, Evan gently wraps his arms around Connor and pulls him in for a hug. Connor freezes up for a moment, before giving in to it and circling his arms around Evan’s waist, head falling into place against his shoulder.

“I’m sorry for getting mad. I just—” Connor pulls away after a long moment, looking sheepish. “Orchard day?”

Evan nods, and they go.

The librarian eyes them warily as they leave, but they have no trouble sneaking out of a back door and into the parking lot. As he’s settling into the passenger seat of Connor’s car, Evan sends Jared a text to not wait up for him and puts his phone away.

The sky is a bit overcast, Evan notices with a frown, but he hopes the rain stays at bay long enough for them to have a little while to unwind in the orchard. Connor stares up at the clouds as he pulls onto the road and shakes his head.

“We — well, we probably won’t get rained on.”

“Very reassuring.”

Connor smiles a bit, and the bit of relief it brings Evan is palpable. The tension from the library hasn’t totally subsided, so the silence they lapse into is a bit awkward, but it could be worse.

When he’s sure Connor isn’t looking, Evan focuses his attention on Connor’s arms. His sleeves look almost stretched to ensure they reach all the way down his arms, the cuffs bunched up around his wrists.

He has to fight to keep a frown off his face at the knowledge of what’s under his sleeves.

Evan must zone out, because in what seems like no time at all the car has been pulled up next to the hole in the fence and Connor is shaking him gently. He jumps and immediately rushes out a ‘sorry!’

They walk casually into the orchard, both silently taking in the familiar scenery. A particularly strong gust of wind goes by, giving the expanse of long yellow grass the effect of waves in an ocean. The same gust of wind chills Evan to the bone, and he shivers involuntarily.

“Someone should’ve worn a jacket,” Connor comments smugly, and Evan flicks him on a bruise-free area of his forehead with a fake scowl.

He realizes the cue a bit late, and rushes to take the chance before the moment passes. “Um. Speaking of.” Scanning the area quickly, he sits down near the edge of the grass field, waiting for Connor to do the same.

“I think you—you know what I’m going to ask, right?”

All remnants of Connor’s smile fall away, and he pulls his arms defensively into his lap. “I have an idea.”

“You can’t get mad at Alana for telling me.”

“I can, actually, because it’s none of her fucking business.” A pause. “She told Zoe too, didn’t she?”

Evan nods; there’s no point in lying. Connor curses and flops onto his back.

Fantastic. Can’t wait to go home to Cynthia crying and Larry whining about what a fucking failure I am.”

They’re both silent for a long time, but Evan can’t think of anything helpful to say. He’d probably get punched if he tried to spring Connor with a ‘you shouldn’t do that to yourself,’ and Evan would punch himself if he even tried the ‘it gets better’ bullshit. But he has to say something, dammit.

So he asks for the ugly truth. “Is it my fault?” It’s insensitive, and maybe he should get hit, but he needs to know for sure.

Connor makes an affronted noise, but doesn’t sit up. “Of course not, don’t flatter yourself. Technically, I haven’t actually done it since before the night at the bridge.”

That’s almost three whole weeks. “I mean, trust me, I tried. Someone must of at least suspected, because my room had been raided. But my options were limited, so I had to improvise.”

‘It looked like he’d been attacked by some sort of animal.’

“I’m sorry.”

Connor doesn’t respond, and once again they lapse into silence. Evan thinks that Connor will say something else, but what be fifteen minutes pass with nothing but their breathing passing between them.

Evan’s eyes move towards Connor’s arm, and without giving himself time to think he takes Connor’s hand. Connor glances quickly to their hands, saying nothing, but Evan can feel the increase in his heartrate through his wrist.

Evan waits. He waits, and gives Connor plenty of time to pull his hand away. To tell him to fuck off. To do anything to discourage Evan from doing what he’s about to do. But he doesn’t; he lets Evan hold his hand, let’s Evan rub his thumb in circles on the back of his hand, and let’s Evan take Connor’s sleeve in his other hand and gently roll it up.

And it’s—it’s bad. Connor looks away, biting hard on his split lip, eyes shut tight as Evan takes in what’s in front of him.

Criss crossed marks in various stages of healing, some more pronounced than others. Most look as though they’ve been torn open fairly recently, with messy, jagged nail marks cutting into the middles of the otherwise almost clean lines.

They look recently aggravated, but not recently made, and with a sigh Evan begins making soft circles on the scars with his thumb.

“Is this okay?”

Connor shrugs, eyes still closed. The cuts on his arm are hot to the touch. Evan hopes his touch is comforting.

“They’re disgusting, aren’t they?” Connor asks softly. “I’m disgusting.”

“I don’t think so,” Evan replies after a moment, not looking up. “Whoever told you that is wrong.”

Connor goes to say something, but whatever it is dies on his lips. Evan adjusts his fingers so he’s less cradling Connor’s hand and more properly holding it; his fingers slot between Connor’s and he squeezes, and smiles softly when Connor squeezes back.

“Hey, Connor?” Connor actually looks at him this time. “I’m really glad you’re alive.”

And it’s like a dam has burst; tears rush from Connor’s eyes, his breathing turns heavy and labored and his whole body shakes like a leaf. It’s the first time Evan has seen Connor cry, and his heart hammers in his chest at the sight of Connor, reduced to tears over something as simple as Evan being glad he’s alive.

He lays himself down gently next to Connor, still holding his hand. “It’s—it’s true, y’know? I’m really glad you’re alive, and I’m really glad you’re my friend, and you deserve to know how much you mean to people — h-how much you mean to me.”

After that they go quiet; the only sound filling the air being the wind and Connor’s shallow breathing. Evan just lets him cry himself out, holding his hand the whole time and rubbing gentle circles on the back of his shaking hand.

“Thank, uh, thank you,” Connor says after a long stretch of time, pulling his hand away from Evan’s and sitting up. Evan follows suit and smiles sheepishly.

“Of course.”

“God, I just made it really fuckin’ awkward,” Connor groans, rubbing at his red eyes and frowning. “Sorry.”

Evan shakes his head. “No apologizing, remember?”

Connor laughs and stands, scanning around the orchard. He offers his good hand to Evan and helps him to his feet. “How about we forget about what just happened and go climb a tree.”

That sends a jolt through Evan; but how can he refuse after Connor’s just broken down in front of him? He forces a smile and trails behind Connor as he seeks out the ‘best’ tree.

“Fair warning, the last time I climbed a tree was when I was, like, eight. You’re not allowed to laugh at me.” Connor leads him to the base of a large tree, and with a small smile he lifts himself onto the first branch.

“N-No promises,” Evan replies a little weakly, hesitating. Connor’s already a good ways up when he yells, “don’t leave me hanging!” and immediately bursts into laughter at his own joke.

“That was awful.” Taking a deep breath, Evan makes his way onto the lowest branch, and slowly begins scaling the tree, always remaining a few yards below Connor. The height checkmarks pass through Evan’s mind with rising panic; and he has to stop when he reaches roughly twenty-five feet up he’s shaking so badly.

I shouldn’t be up here I need to get down I can’t be up here I’m going to fall it’s not high enough.

“Jesus, Evan, I don’t know how you do this,” Connor yells from somewhere high above him. Evan can’t see him anymore; can’t see anything but the branch he’s standing on and the ground below him.

“If I fell from here, I think I’d die.”

He should’ve died that day.

“I let go,” Evan whispers to no one, and his hands can hardly keep their grip on the tree. He’s so high up. “I let go. I let go. I let go. Connor, I let go.”

“Shit.” The sound of hurried climbing down rattles through the trees, and within a minute Connor’s got a steady grip on Evan and he’s trying to help him down. It takes a while, Evan is hardly helping with his panicking, but soon enough they’re both on the lowest branch and Connor has his arm anchored around Evan, keeping them both seated.

“I lied,” Evan whispers. “That night at the bridge. You asked if I — you asked me if I fell or let go and I said I fell but I—”

“It’s okay,” Connor says, and doesn’t object when Evan leans into his side.

“I lied—”

“I knew.”

“A-Am I that obvious?”

Connor shakes his head. “I just get it.”

“I’m sorry,” Evan says, but he doesn’t know what he’s even apologizing for anymore. Connor just nods.

“It’s okay.”

And suddenly it’s raining; there’s water coming down in sheets all around them and somewhere in the distance there’s a clap of thunder and it serves, at least momentarily, as a distraction from all the bad.

“So much for us not getting rained on,” Connor mutters drily, obviously trying to alleviate the tension, and Evan manages a smile.

“Fuck, let’s get out of here.”

Chapter Text

Evan holds Connor’s hand on the drive home.

Or, rather, Evan sort of cradles Connor’s clunky cast and occasionally brushes their fingers together, but the intention is the same, and despite being soaked near to the bone Connor feels warm.

The feeling is heightened when, once he’s pulled into Evan’s driveway and stopped, Evan doesn’t make any move to leave; just stays, looking down at their hands, a ghost of a smile on his face. And it’s nice.

It’s really, really nice, and Connor wants to tell him so.

“I can’t believe you still managed to paint your nails with a broken hand,” Evan comments, looking up at Connor and grinning. Swallowing back what he planned to say, Connor shrugs and smiles back.

“I could be in a full body cast and I’d still have them painted.”

Evan drops Connor’s hand and reaches for the door. “Thank you, for today. I think it was good we had another orchard day.”

“Me too.”

“And I meant everything I said today,” Evan adds, pushing open the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay? Have a good night, Connor.”

And then he’s gone, rushing into his house with his arms over his head, vainly trying to shield himself from the downpour around him. Connor watches with a smile until Evan’s through the door, before putting his car in reverse and heading down the road back to his own house.

Today had been...a rollercoaster, for a whole host of reasons.

The dream, for one. Followed by the overwhelming urge from then on to hold Evan’s hand. And the memory of dream-him kissing dream-Evan.

Getting his ass kicked in the bathroom, too, while trying to suppress a panic attack. Being trapped in a tiny bathroom stall with two big guys with his arms behind his back and a flurry of hits to his face and abdomen for a solid ten minutes. Having to watch from the ground with tears in his eyes that he refused to let go and watch as the two guys — who, he learned through each other’s shouts of encouragement, were named Josh and Parker — celebrated and laughed at him before leaving him alone.

And everything about his time at the orchard as a whole. There’s way too much shit to ponder there.

The gist of the day, however, is simply: Connor likes being with Evan.

Connor likes Evan. When the thought crosses his mind, he doesn’t push it away.

I like Evan.

It’s like breathing a sigh of relief, to finally have confirmation. Connor stops at a light.

There’s no one — no one has ever made Connor feel like Evan makes him feel. He’s had crushes, sure, he’s thought about boys at their school in the dead of night and let himself wish, back before the mantra of you'll find the right girl some day, Connor was drilled into his head. And even after that, on those lonely nights, he let himself indulge in thoughts of a different sort of comfort; the kind that leaves him sweaty and sticky and mostly like he wants to throw up. He’d long since passed the point of resignation to a life of dirty, emotionless fucks with his dealer and the other ‘bad’ kids from out of town or whoever else he would get before he eventually offed himself.

But. Evan.

And he’s not in love with him, Connor can at least grant himself that victory — it’s been less than a month, and even considering the current circumstance that would be fucking weird. But God if he isn’t terrified of that reality hurtling towards him faster than he’d like.

And. Well. It’s not going to happen anyways, so Connor may as well just get the fuck over it. He knows Evan’s type, at least to some extent: pretty and to a degree feminine, light haired and shorter and someone who is going somewhere in life, like Zoe and even Jared, if Connor lets himself ponder the thought.

He is none of those things: he’s a walking six foot disaster of hard edges, emotional issues, and disappointment, destined to be dead before age twenty-five.

That’s Connor’s reality, and he can live with that. As long as Evan wants to be his friend, he can live with that. And even when he doesn’t, when he’s off doing bigger and better things and leaving Connor in the dust, well. Connor knows where he’s ending up anyways.

When he pulls into his driveway, the rain hasn’t lessened. Shutting off his car and grabbing his bag, he hurries into the house and slams the door behind him just as his phone dings.

From: ev

i had a lot of fun wiyh you today connor

wait not fun fuck

ok

i likrd spendign more time alone with yuo

thats weird sorry

Connor buries his head in his hands, trying to suppress both the growing smile and growing blush on his face.

What a cute goddamn loser.

“Connor?” Zoe yells, the sound of her feet stomping down the stairs accompanying the question. She rounds the corner to the foyer and raises an eyebrow at him. “Good God, your face.”

"I'm aware." He pushes his hair out of his face, feeling self conscious. Zoe appraises his appearance with an odd look on her face.

"Am I just supposed to accept that this is a thing right now, and not get any explanation?"

"Yeah, pretty much." He examines his cuticles, mostly because he knows that acting uninterested in Zoe off pisses her off. "Any other questions, or am I free to go?"

She rolls her eyes. "Obviously not. Where have you been?"

“Out.”

She scowls. “You’re soaked.”

“No kidding.” He pulls his wet hair off of his forehead and attempts to slick it back.

“Where were you.”

He drops his bag on the ground and sends a response to Evan, and shamefully screenshots the messages from Evan to look at later. “I ditched and hung out with Evan. Why the fuck does it matter?”

“You’ve been hanging out with him a lot.” She pauses, eyeing his phone. “Are you texting him right now?”

Instead of answering, he pockets his phone and looks pointedly away. “You’re blushing, you are texting him.”

“It’s cold and it’s raining,” he bites back, but his voice lacks real fire. Zoe smiles, not in a snide or sarcastic or mean sort of way; a real, genuine smile, and if Connor wasn’t so afraid of what she’s about to say he could almost appreciate seeing his sister looking so happy.

“Do you like Evan?”

And like hell he’s going to answer that, especially so soon after just admitting it to himself. He brushes past Zoe and into the kitchen, hoping to brew a cup of coffee. She trails after him, expression a morph between concerned and amused.

“Connor, do you like him?” He fills the kettle with water and sets it on the hot stove. “Connor.” There’s not much instant coffee left, but he dumps what remains into a mug. “Connor. I’m not going to stop bugging you until you answer me.”

He absentmindedly flips her off, and with a frustrated sigh she steps to his side and glares at him. He goes to look down at her but just sees her feet, and with a frown he remembers how he isn’t much taller than his sister anymore.

Damn Murphy genes.

“Please,” she says firmly, frown deepening. “You’re my brother, and I hate you sometimes, but. He makes you happy, doesn’t he?”

“Something making me happy?” he parrots back sarcastically, tapping his fingers on the countertop. Connor expects her to roll her eyes, but she doesn’t; just stares at him sadly, and it rubs him the wrong way.

“I see you with him, sometimes. How you look at him. It’s how I look at Lana.” She pauses, looking at her hands. “I think you like him, and you just don’t want to admit it to yourself and potentially ruin anything.”

“I have admitted it to myself, thanks,” he snaps, but the edge in his voice is gone. “Seriously, why is the entire fucking world so obsessed with me liking Evan?”

She shrugs and jumps up on the counter, swinging her feet. “Because it’s obvious? I don’t know. But now that you admit it to yourself, you need to tell him.”

“Yeah right.” The kettle begins to whistle, and he uses the distraction to pry himself away from the topic. Zoe persists, anyways, over the shrieking of the kettle.

“You’re a dumbass, and you need to tell him.”

“You’re the dumbass, and absolutely not.” He shuts off the stove and fills his cup up with the boiling water. “I’m not exactly his type. He’s not interested.”

“How would you know?”

“Because I happen to know all of the people he’s been interested in, and I hardly follow the pattern. I have it on good authority he isn’t interested.”

Zoe frowns but doesn’t respond, instead just watches Connor make his coffee with an expression he can’t quite place. After adding a bit of cream to his coffee, he turns to leave, but a soft kick to his thigh stops him.

“What?”

“Connor?” Zoe asks gently, looking oddly distressed. Connor frowns and turns on his heel to face her, expression darkening as he watches Zoe fidget from her seat on the counter.

“You know I — Connor, you know that I love you, right?”

He feels himself flush, and with a scowl he pushes a hand through his hair. “Yeah, okay, Zo. I love you too.”

“Now go and text your boyfriend.” Her words are teasing, but her voice waivers.

“Shut up, Zo.”

Chapter Text

Evan is not someone who would be considered physically affectionate by normal standards. He doesn’t like touching people, people certainly don’t like touching him, and the thought of being physical with him sends most members of the general public running.

Connor Murphy, as he has been in many other aspects of Evan’s life, is the odd one out.

His hands are on Evan, all over Evan, gripping at his waist and running his nails down Evan’s back and raking his hands through Evan’s hair and pulling gently at his legs so he can better fit in his lap. Because.

Because Evan is in his lap, and, even worse, he’s not freaking out.

He’s hot, it’s hot, it’s so hot, Connor is so hot—

Connor’s teeth find Evan’s neck, and it’s hot, and it’s good, and Evan can’t help the noise he makes as Connor’s lips form a smile and he mouths the word pretty against his skin.

Connor, he breathes, and then he wakes up.

His room is hot but it’s not a nice kind of hot; it’s stuffy and sweaty and sticky, Evan is stuffy and sweaty and sticky, and he feels like he needs to take a shower even though he took one — he checks the clock at his bedside, it’s nearly seven in the morning — ten hours ago.

He tosses the blankets off of his body, then immediately scrambles to pull them back on because no that’s not something he needs to expose, even if his room is empty, thank you very much.

“Fuck,” he whispers, wiping a bit of sweat off his forehead, because what else can he do besides swear and question what the fuck was that?

Because. Uh. It’s not normal to dream about sitting in your best friend’s lap and kissing him and — and moaning to the thought of him calling you pretty, is it? The only person he could ask is Jared, but Evan would rather do gym class for another year then tell Jared about his dream.

It’s weird. It’s weird, and it’s not normal, Evan’s not normal, that’s gross — no, not Connor, Connor’s not gross, he could never be gross, it’s Evan that’s gross — what does this mean, what? What?

Does this — does this mean that he likes Connor? What if he does like Connor? What if he doesn’t? If he doesn’t, what does it mean? Why would he have a dream about Connor like that, where the end result is obviously se—

“Evan!” He nearly jumps out of his skin as his mom calls to him through the door. “Time to wake up, sweetie!”

“O-Okay,” he calls back cautiously, slowly prying himself from bed — and, mercifully, his erection has gone down — and stepping towards his closet.

He picks out a purple shirt that he, with an odd feeling in his stomach, realizes he bought sometime after Connor told him it was his favorite color, as well as a pair of jeans and his regular sneakers. A glance at his clock tells him he’s a bit behind, and as quick as he can he combs his fingers through his hair, brushes his teeth, and grabs his backpack and phone before heading down the stairs.

Evan checks his notifications and frowns when he doesn’t see what had come to be a daily ‘good morning, evan’ text from Connor, but he simply sends one of his own and pockets it. His mom is waiting at the kitchen counter with a banana for him, and with a smile he takes it.

“You need a ride this morning, honey?” she asks, finishing up a granola bar. He nods and slowly peels the banana, taking a bite.

Her phone buzzes, and after a moment of digging around in her scrubs she waves a hand towards the door. “We have to get going now if we’re both going to make it.”

Evan tosses the half-eaten banana in the garbage and follows his mom out to the car, sitting himself in the front seat and checking his phone again. Still nothing from Connor.

He shouldn’t be worried, he reasons. He’s still just frazzled from the dream. Connor’s fine.

As his mom backs out of the driveway, she glances over at him staring down at his phone. “You know, I’d like to meet him sometime.”

Evan jumps in his seat, immediately flushing. “I-It’s not like that!” He knows he sounds defensive. It’s the dream. “Really, mom.”

“Even still, I’d at least like to meet him. You spend a lot of time together.”

Evan frowns. “He’s not — Connor’s a g-good person. Really. I like being his friend.”

“Sweetie, I wasn’t accusing you of anything,” she chides gently, smiling, “I was just saying that you’ve been friends for a while and I still haven’t met him. Am I not a cool mom? Do you have to hide your friends from me?”

“No!” He pauses, and then laughs. “No, really. I’m not hiding him from you. I’ll ask him over for dinner soon.”

She pulls into the school and stops in the drop off lane. “Okay. Have a good day, sweetie, make good choices. I love you!”

“Love you too,” he answers honestly, maneuvering himself and his bag out of the car and waving before shutting the door. He scans the front of the building for Connor, but he’s not there. Evan checks his phone again.

His message hasn’t been read, and with a sinking feeling he thinks that maybe he isn’t imagining something being wrong anymore.

Evan tries calling him as he walks into the school, and after two minutes of just ringing he frustratedly hangs up and shoves his phone back into his pocket. The hallways are oddly barren for the time of morning, and with rising panic he heads towards the cafeteria.

As he’s stepping through the door his phone buzzes, and the speed at which he whips his phone out of his pocket could be considered magic. He frowns when he sees it’s not Connor, but Jared.

From: Jared

come to the caf. Now

He doesn’t need to be told twice. His feet carry him quickly into the cafeteria, and he doesn’t even have the time to scan the room for Jared before he’s being hurriedly pulled by aside by him. The expression on his face is grave and one of the most serious Evan has ever seen.

“Evan, for the love of God, please tell me it wasn’t your idea,” he demands, voice scarily urgent.

Evan just stares. “What are you talking about?”

Jared looks like he’s about to crumple, hands curling into fists at his sides. “The Connor Project, Evan.”

Connor’s name jolts him, and he wrings his hands nervously as he asks, “‘The Connor Project’?” Jared’s face goes stony, and he shakes his head. “Jared. What is it? You need to tell me, Jared!”

Jared digs around for his phone and messes around on it for a second, and as he’s waiting Evan’s wandering eyes take focus on the fact that nearly everyone else around them is doing the same, staring intently at their phones, pointing something out to others, and whispering as if it’s all some dirty little secret.

He shifts his attention back to Jared just as a phone is shoved into his hands, and without hesitating he begins reading the webpage open.

TheConnorProject.com

The Connor Murphy Project was started to bring awareness to self harm and mental illness through Connor Murphy, a high school senior from New York state who has suffered from both for a long time.

Connor has survived many suicide attempts, the first of which being—

And it goes on. Paragraphs detailing his suicide attempts, his scars, his anger issues, and oh my God.

Evan is going to throw up.

“I need to find Connor.” I need to find Connor I need to find Connor I need to find Connor I need to find Connor—

Evan’s not — he’s not sure where he’s trying to go, all he knows is that he’s running, that he just needs to get out of the cafeteria because Connor isn’t there, and he needs to find Connor, and anywhere Connor isn’t is a place Evan shouldn’t be in, because the one truth in the fucking universe in this moment is that Evan needs to find Connor, and he needs to find him now.

He moves through a corner too hard and slams into a row of lockers, and normally he’d be hung up for hours on being so loud and clunky and attracting so much attention but no one is here, why is there no one in the hallways in the morning, this doesn’t make sense, where are they, where is Connor?

At the far edge of the hallway is a circle of kids, tightly packed against a set of lockers and Evan knows who’s trapped in the middle of it.

Trapped.

Evan runs faster.

It’s quieter than Evan expects it would be; the crowd around Connor doesn’t speak, they don’t even whisper; just stand and stare and watch as someone slams Connor into his locker.

And he’s not — Connor isn’t doing anything. He’s standing there and taking it and watching the crowd with the most dejected, wounded look Evan has ever seen him wear (and it’s that same look from that night in Connor’s room, he knows that look and what it preludes, fuck) and Evan’s anxiety is the last goddamn thing on his mind as he shoulders through the crowd to stand next to Connor.

Someone hisses Evan’s name, and the burn in the back of his neck makes him flinch, but his eyes stay on Connor. The bruises on his face are purplish and pronounced, it looks as though he’s had his hair pulled at, and the look in his eyes scream panic. His pupils shift around the circle of people, and Evan guesses he’s scanning for exits and his heart hurts because there aren’t any. Evan can feel them all closing in, and maybe it’s in his head, but if it is then it’s definitely in Connor’s head, too.

The rest of him, however, stays apathetic. Evan watches the harsh line of his mouth as he asks, deadpan, “was it you?”

Evan reaches out in Connor’s direction, and whether he’s going for his face or his hand or his sleeve or whatever, he doesn’t care as long as it helps Connor. He settles on his hand, taking his uninjured hand and squeezing.

“Connor, no,” he says, and he means it, he needs Connor to know he means it, “I’d never do that to you. I’d never do that to you.”

He steps closer to Connor, and with slowly growing relief he watches as his eyes soften. Connor’s fingers shake in Evan’s but he squeezes back, and he still looks like he’s going to cry and scream and throw up but at least he’s safe, and—

“We got another fag?” Evan doesn’t even register he’s being spoken to until Connor’s eyes focus on something over his shoulder. “Shit, Murphy, this your boyfriend?”

“Yo, what’s your name?” Evan turns towards the other voice as it addresses him, all of the anxiety he’d pushed aside in the heat of the moment hitting him like a goddamn bus as the two boys heading the witch hunt against Connor round on him.

“Who was it Murphy was crying for? Ethan? Eric?” Selfishly, horrifically, the fact that they didn’t even know his name hits before the fact that Connor was crying his name does.

“Evan, right?” The first one, the blonde one, takes a step towards Evan, and he’s going to throw up. “Is that how Murphy snivels in bed? ‘Evan, Evan, Evan!’ Y’know he has a pain kink, right? You’ve seen the website.”

Connor’s hand tears away from Evan’s, and the action startles Evan so much that he flinches and makes a noise. A gaggle of snickering rips through the small crowd, and the reality of being laughed at you’re being laughed at you’re a laughing stock Evan makes him freeze up.

Connor buries his hands in his pockets, and just stares for a long moment. He’s not shaking, his eyes aren’t shifting around, he’s not doing anything except staring and Evan thinks it’s worse. The apathetic look is haunting, and Evan actually has to take a step back.

“That’s the sort of look school shooters get before the go fucking crazy, isn’t it?” The redhead stage-whispers to the group, and another shot of laughter fills the air.

Connor leaves, and Evan does not.

He thinks it will be the laughter that follows him after his mind-numbing panic attack immediately following the dispersal of the group. It’s not.

Connor’s dead eyes do not leave his head, and he’d prefer the laughter.

Chapter Text

When Connor gets home that first night, his room as been ransacked.

The remaining bit of personality he’d had from last time is gone; the posters on his wall are gone, his magazines and sketchbooks and journals have been pulled from their spots in drawers and on his desk and under his bed. His drawers are empty and his phone charger is gone and that fucking lock is back on his door.

He senses someone step into the room with him. “Connor, sweetie, it’s just temporary.”

Connor turns towards his closet, noticing the door is ajar, and finds it nearly barren. The only shirts still hanging are ones without sleeves. “Mom—”

“We need to know for sure, Connor,” she says gently, stepping closer and placing a hand on his cheek. Her eyes are so sad, but it’s a sort of sad that makes Connor wish he was dead because she’s not sad, she’s disappointed, she’s just sad that she has a son who’s so fucked up. She pulls her hand away and holds it out.

He needs to check. He needs to check but he can’t she’s right here, she’s staring, and his arms are on fire, but he needs to check. He needs to make sure it’s still there, tucked into the space between his bed and the wall.

He’ll have to take a chance. He unzips his sweatshirt with shaking fingers and drops it into her outstretched hands, the urge to scratch scratch scratch tear it all off rip them all open intensifying as Cynthia stares long and hard at his arms.

The overwhelming urge to vomit hits him, and he does. The burn as the bile moves up his throat nearly chokes him.

“Oh, Connor,” Cynthia whispers, bending down to touch his forehead as he crumples in on himself, tears gathering in his eyes and eventually spilling out. She pushes his hair back and sighs, rubbing a thumb under his eye.

“I’m sorry, mom, I’m sorry.” What is he even apologizing for?

For being a nuisance, the truthful part of him says with finality. For being crazy. For being bad. For hurting yourself like a freak. For not hiding well enough.

For still being alive.

“You get into bed. I’ll clean this up.” He pushes his fists against his eyes and slowly stumbles backward into bed, pulling his knees up to his chest and trying to make himself as small as possible.

“Cynthia?” Connor flinches at the sound of Larry’s voice, and when he steps into the room stuffs his head into his pillows because he is not letting Larry see him cry. “You talked to him.”

“He’s sick,” his mother responds, and Connor can guess she’s motioning to the pile of vomit on the floor.

“And he’s also almost eighteen. He’s a big boy, he can clean up his own messes.” Larry takes a few steps, probably hovering somewhere by the door. “Now. I don’t want the floor to stain.”

Connor hears his mother leave, and he feels his heart go into overdrive when the door shuts behind him, but there’s no click.

There’s no click there’s no click you’re not trapped shut up calm down, Connor.

He takes a harsh intake of breath and shoves a hand between his bed and the wall, and nearly fucking cries again in relief when his fingers curl around his Evan sweatshirt.

It’s just a sweatshirt. It has nothing to do with Evan shut up.

He pulls it out and presses it to his chest, breathing in the fabric and maybe it doesn’t smell like Evan anymore but it’s still soft, and it’s still his favorite hoodie and it still reminds him of his day with Evan so he holds it close anyways.

There’s a sharp knock at his door, and hurriedly he pushes the sweatshirt back into its hiding place. No one steps into the room, and after pausing another moment to wipe at his eyes Connor pulls himself from bed and shuffles out of his room towards the bathroom. He spends the rest of the evening cleaning the floor, the words he can clean up his own messes ringing in his ears.

And Connor goes to school the next morning. He goes even though he’d rather do anything but, and he knows he’s being laughed at and he knows he’s going to get shoved around and that he is never, ever going to live the — the fucking Connor Project down. Some piece of shit’s sick joke is going to haunt him for the rest of his fucking life and he doesn’t even know who it is so he can kick their ass.

When he’d woken up that first day to his phone buzzing in succession with Facebook notifications, he’d known something was wrong. He never woke up with texts or messages or mentions, and he hadn’t known what to expect. But the link plastered across half of the student body's various social media sites, in every private message, paired with literally every mention of his name made his stomach sink so low he’d feared momentarily that it had actually dropped out.

And he’d read it. Read the entire website, put together professionally enough but with a sort of hurriedness that gave him the impression it was done fairly quickly.

His mind had immediately gone to Evan. In every moment since he’d read through the website, the overwhelming thought in his head was that Evan had put it together. He didn’t have a real reason other than the fact that he knew the details up on the website, they were things he hadn’t told anyone, but at the same time he couldn’t fully let himself believe it. Not after everything they’d gone through. He wasn’t sure whether he wanted to kill Evan or cry to Evan or never see Evan again or just kill himself, so he’d let the two conflicting feelings wrestle around in his head until he was trapped against those lockers and he couldn’t think anything anymore.

Then Evan had shown up, and he’d given Connor this look, he seemed so adamant against the very idea that he could have done that to Connor, and for a moment he was almost content to just stand there and hold Evan’s hand and bask in the fact that it wasn’t Evan who did this to him.

But then he’d been called a fag, and Evan panicked, and he’d left.

There’s a string of laughter from Connor’s side. It’s pointed and harsh and ugly and it grates against his ears, but he doesn’t react. Doesn’t blow up or go crazy or pull out a gun like everyone expects him to. Just keeps walking, because at this point that’s all he has the will to do.

He’s held back after all three of his first classes, and normally he’d snap or curse or just storm the fuck out at having so much extra attention called to himself, but all he has the energy for is nodding and nodding and nodding when they tell him Connor, you can talk to us and Connor, let me refer you to our school nurse and Connor, perhaps you should cover your arms up. He doesn’t snap no I fucking can’t or fuck you I’m not talking to anyone or fuck you, I can’t, my parents took away all of my fucking shirts.

He just nods, and moves through the day, and doesn’t even let himself linger when he doesn’t see Evan at all during the day.

The ability to ward off the particularly nasty intrusive thoughts wears away throughout the day, and by the time he’s stepping into his car that afternoon there’s a chorus of voices telling him to drove off the bridge, jump off, wrap yourself around a tree, throw yourself into the highway.

He goes home instead, where he finds Zoe crouching on the floor of the kitchen and is immediately told to fuck off.

He doesn’t do his homework — his newfound complacency doesn’t stretch that far. He lays on his bed and stares at his blank walls and tries for a while to fight off the bad bad bad thoughts, but eventually they overtake and he lets them be.

You’re a bad person. He knows.

You’re bothersome. He knows.

All you do is hurt people. He knows.

Evan isn’t going to hang out with you anymore. He knows, and that one hurts a lot.

You’d be better off laying in a bathtub bleeding out. He knows.

He knows.

There’s a knock at Connor’s door. He doesn’t care enough to answer or tell the person on the other side to piss off. He doesn’t care.

“Connor.” It’s Larry, go figure. Even his ceaseless hatred for his father has dulled into muted acceptance. “Come out or I’m calling your mother.”

Ah. He’s suspected Connor’s offed himself (you should have). He slowly moves from his bed, leaving his Evan sweatshirt halfway under his pillow, and opens the door. His father stares down at him with that ever present disappointment in his blue eyes.

Usually Connor hates the shared trait with Larry. Now he doesn’t care.

Larry moves wordlessly into the bathroom, obviously expecting Connor to follow, and once they’ve both stepped inside Larry takes both of Connor’s prescriptions bottles and holds them out.

“Your mother and I agree that it’s these that are making you like this. I knew drugging you up was a bad idea, but she never listens.” Larry pops off the childproof caps (it’s been a long time since you were a kid, such a long time since you weren’t fucked up) and dumps the contents of the vials into the toilet, flushing them all unceremoniously. Connor watches them all disappear with unblinking eyes.

(Now you can’t get rid of me.)

He knows.

Larry leaves without another word. Connor grabs a pair of scissors from the cabinet anyways. The cool blades sit dangerously between the waistband of his pants and the skin on his hip.

Larry is in his room when he reenters, holding Connor’s hoodie in one hand as if it’s the most disgusting thing he’s ever seen, as if touching it is going to infect him with something.

“You were supposed to give up all of these.” His eyes read disappointment (look at him, he’s never been proud of you, only annoyed, never good) and Connor just stares. “Are there any more?”

He just stares. He is too tired. Larry shakes his head and leaves, taking the sweatshirt with him. (The only good thing you had left is gone.)

Connor doesn’t sleep, he hasn’t in the past few nights, just stares at the stains on the ceiling where his glow in the dark stars used to be, for hours and hours on end. He’d arranged them in the pattern of a teddy bear when he was five, and the remnants of the hastily torn down decorations make his heart hurt along with his stomach, which hasn’t had much in the way of sustenance since the night before the Connor Project went live.

Sometime around eleven o'clock he hears the click on his door, and the usual panic the sound brings doesn’t fill his chest. Nothing happens. He just stares at the ceiling and lets his eyes unfocus and lets the bad in him take control.

No one would miss you. They’d all laugh. He rolls over, pinning an arm under himself, and he winces as it aggravates his cuts. They’ve all placed bets on when you’d off yourself. You could be making someone some good cash tonight.

The low glint of light coming in from his window shines off the silver blades of the scissors. Connor gets a headache from staring unfocused at them for so long. You have a way. It’s right there. No one wants you here anymore. You’re a burden.

He slowly sits up. Swings his feet over the edge of the bed. You’re a monster. You’re abusive. He stands, taking the scissors with him and sitting himself cross-legged on his floor. It’s the perfect time. No one will wake up for hours. He pries the blades apart, looks at them blankly.

Perhaps he should write a note.

Who would care? Your parents? Your sister? Evan? They’ll be relieved when they don’t have to deal with you anymore.

You’re right.

You were meant to die young anyways. You were never meant to live.

You’re right.

Do it. Tear yourself open.

Connor thinks of Evan. Of his first real meeting with him, the way he wrote his number on Connor’s hand with the promise that Connor could text him if he ever wanted to kill himself.

You text him all the time. You always want to kill yourself. You’ve used up your share.

His phone is charging downstairs in the kitchen. The door is locked. He wants to call him so badly. He wants to hear Evan's voice. He wants reassurance that he's not a burden, not a failure, not a laughing stock, not better off dead. He wants a reason not to.

Connor is alone.

I’m still here.

He wishes he was alone.

Do it, you freak.

He does, and then it hurts. His hand spasms before he’s made much headway, fingers seizing around the handles of the scissors and around nothing on his injured arm, and tears prick at his eyes and he hurts but he can’t. Stop. He goes deep enough that he curses, but he bites down hard on his lip, finishes one jagged line, turns his eyes away, and moves to the next arm, the fingers in his cast shaking and dripping.

And then it’s red, he’s red, the floor is red. All he sees is red, and even when he pulls his eyes away and stares at the ceiling the stains from the stars are red. The light from outside the window is red. His shaking hands and the scissors he sets down and the puddle that’s growing underneath him is red.

And then it’s Evan, and he’s laying on the ground in the orchard but he isn’t, he’s alone in his room and he’s laying in a puddle of himself but when he shuts his eyes it’s Evan, it’s all Evan, every part of him has been touched by Evan and he’s all he can think of, Evan, he’s sorry, Evan, he’s sorry, Connor’s sorry, he’s sorry—

And then he’s gone, and there’s nothing left.

Chapter Text

There is no good reason to ever receive a phone call in the middle of the night.

Evan knows this, and his heart stops when his phone rings at half past three in the morning.

There’s only three instances Evan can remember getting a call so late, and none of them are good. One is on snow days at school, and the anxiety behind getting calls so early have programmed him to hate snow days.

But that isn’t it. It’s April, it hasn’t snowed for weeks.

Another is calls from his father. Even though the time difference is only three hours, half of the already few calls he receives from him end up waking him up at night. And none of those awkward, tense calls exactly warm him to the idea of late-night calls, either.

The last only happened once, and Evan witnessed it secondhand when he was thirteen. His mother had gotten the call at four in the morning tell her that her father had died.

Snow days, his father, death.

As Evan reaches for his phone, he hopes to God it’s his dad.

Incoming call from: Zoe Murphy

No no no no no no no.

“Z-Zoe?”

All he hears for a long moment is hard, rasping sobbing through the receiver. Evan’s hands shake as he sits up.

“Evan — Evan he just went into surgery, I got here just after him, I found him, Evan, I heard him crying—” Zoe succumbs to a round of hiccups, cutting herself off harshly. “I-I heard him crying, I found him Evan, there was so much b-blood — it’s all over me! I did this, oh my God I did this to him, what if he dies, Evan please come—”

The line goes dead, but Evan is already out of bed and pulling his shoes on.

He must be making quite a racket as he moves down the stairs, because a light flicks on upstairs as he’s shoving his phone into the pocket of his jacket.

“Honey?”

His mother’s car keys rattle in his shaking hands.

Connor.

“Connor,” he says, gripping the keys tightly. “Connor.”

“Evan, what’s going on? Where are you going?” She sounds so worried, he hates making her so worried, but Connor is in surgery bleeding out and all that matters in the world at this moment is getting to the hospital to be there with him.

He has to be there, has to hear in the moment whether Connor is going to be okay or n—

No.

There is no alternative. Evan will drive himself crazy if he lets himself dwell on that.

The door slams behind him as he runs out of the house.

Panic of a different sort bubbles in his stomach as he pushes the key into the ignition, the hum of the engine underneath him and his sweaty hands sliding off the steering wheel reminding him of last time he drove.

The resignation. The apathy. The numbness.

Is this how Connor felt when he—

His face is wet as he pulls out of his driveway.

Evan falls into autopilot, hardly registering the turns he takes way too fast towards the hospital he only half remembers the route to. His eyes blur as he floors it through a red, and whether it’s from tears or panic or fatigue he doesn’t know, but when his eyes defog the sky is a little lighter and he’s taking up two spots in the hospital parking lot.

Evan hates hospitals. Despises them. He always feels like there are eyes on him, and it’s so bright that it makes his eyes hurt, and it always smells like rubbing alcohol and sweat and anxiety.

The pair of nurses at the station stare at him as he hurries through the sliding glass doors, there’s a baby crying somewhere a few rooms away and the air is humid and stifling.

“Are you alright?” The nurse’s voice is quiet over the sound of his hard breathing. “Sir, your hand is bleeding.”

The keys. Evan drops them suddenly, then immediately ducks down to retrieve them from the tiled floors. His finger leaves a tiny smudge of blood as it grazes the floor. A similar smudge stains the keys. There’s a bead of red on his palm. He drops the keys into his pocket and balls his hand into a fist.

“Connor — Murphy. Connor Murphy. Where is he?” There’s blood welling in his palm; not enough to be concerning, just enough to stain him red. The nurses glance at him with concerned eyes anyway.

“Are you family?”

The lie comes easily. “Yes.” It doesn’t feel like a lie.

One of the nurses clicks around on her computer; the other shuffles through a drawer. “He’s in surgery right now. The rest of his party is waiting in the ER.”

He turns towards the sign reading ‘emergency room - this way’ but is stopped by the other nurse clearing his throat. “A bandaid?”

Evan takes the step forward, retrieves it — with some difficulty, his hands are shaking, he needs to find Connor — and moves quickly towards the emergency room.

He hears the Murphy’s before he sees them; after a long string of white corridors and endless signs pointing him down different hallways, the same sobbing he heard on the phone touches his ears. Methodical pacing accompanies the crying as he picks up the pace, and as he’s a turn away from the waiting area he hears Connor’s mom’s voice tearing into someone.

“It’s been nearly an hour since he got here, you have to have some news!” She’s standing only inches from a tired-looking nurse, tears streaking down her face and touches of blood smeared on her shirt. “That’s my son in there, that’s my Connor, please give me something!”

Connor’s dad stops his pacing and moves towards her, taking her by the shoulders. “Cynthia. Please.”

“Please what, Larry? O-Our son is bleeding out on an operating table, and they won’t even tell us how he is!” She cups a hand over her mouth as she begins crying full force, and Connor’s dad just looks once at the nurse before leading his wife out of the waiting room, leaving him with just the nurse and Zoe.

She’s sat in one of the padded chairs against the wall, staring at her (bloody, red, shaking) hands with harsh breaths heaving out of her mouth. The nurse leaves just moments before Zoe digs her hands into her hair and begins sobbing all the harder.

Evan swallows down his own oncoming panic attack, and moves towards her. There’s a clock ticking on the wall. The rhythmic tick tick tick makes him antsy.

“Zoe? Zoe, it’s Evan,” he whispers, moving into the chair next to her but keeping his distance. She yanks hard on her hair, pulling her knees to her chest and shoving her face into her legs.

“You’re hurting yourself,” he tells her, reaching a hand out towards one of her arms. She flinches away as he touches her, and he backs off. “Zoe, you’re going to hurt yourself. G-Go wash your hands in the bathroom, okay?”

“I did this to him,” she hiccups, rocking gently in her seat. “It’s my fault, it was my idea, Evan if he dies he’ll—”

“Connor isn’t going to die,” he says firmly, more for himself than for Zoe, because all that’s keeping him from joining Zoe in her breakdown is his near-obsessive mantra that Connor is going to live, Connor is going to be alright.

“He’s going to be okay, and you’ll get to apologize.” He reaches for her hand again, and this time she lets him pry it away from her head. “Go wash your hands in the bathroom.”

She uses her sleeve to wipe under her eyes and nods, slowly standing — nearly slipping on her socked feet — and shuffling towards the restroom a few feet away. She shuts herself in, and Evan allows himself a moment to sag back into the seat.

The blood on his hand is drying. The clock keeps ticking.

4:17 A.M.

Connor’s father reenters the waiting area, tired eyes focusing on Evan. He hesitates for a moment before slowly walking towards the water cooler and filling two cups. He balances them both in one hand and takes the seat next to Evan.

“Zoe called you?” Evan nods as he takes the offered cup of water from Mr. Murphy and takes a tiny sip. He sighs and pushes a hand through his hair.

“Did you know?” Mr. Murphy asks suddenly, eyes boring into Evan with an intense weariness that almost convinces Evan he’s sincere. The comments from that dinner dig into the back of his brain, though, and Evan can’t help but think he reeks insincerity. “Did you have any idea that Connor—”

“No,” Evan whispers, meeting his eyes unabashed. He wills himself not to be the first one to look away. “Did you have any idea, Mr. Murphy?”

“Larry.” He drinks all of his cup in one sip. “Cynthia suspected. After this whole Connor Project thing, we — I...I don’t know about any of this. Who has a kid expecting to deal with all of this?” Larry’s laugh is self deprecating and tired, and Evan has to fight to keep his eyes from narrowing. He bounces his leg instead.

“I care about my son. I really do,” he says softly, pushing his weight onto his elbows which he has balanced on his knees. Evan notices the way he doesn’t say ‘love.’ The clock keeps ticking.

4:31 A.M.

“I don’t know how to deal with this. Does that make me a bad parent?”

“My dad left when he didn’t know how to deal with me,” Evan replies, looking down for the first time. “You stayed. You’re staying. That — t-that counts for something.”

Larry looks as if he wants to respond, but his eyes trail down to Evan’s hand. “You’re bleeding, son.” He sits up, looking a bit pale. “Unless it’s—”

“No, it’s mine.” Evan holds up the crumpled bandaid and begins unwrapping it. “Sorry.”

Larry takes it from his fingers and unwraps it himself, gesturing for Evan to hold out his hand. His fingers shake in rhythm with Larry’s as it’s placed over the tiny cut on his hand. He closes his hand gently into a fist.

“Thank you—”

“What are you doing?” Zoe demands from the doorway of the bathroom, hands clean but shirtfront and sleeves still covered in rusty, drying blood. Larry stands slowly; Evan jumps up. Her eyes begin to water again. “Where’s mom?”

“She’s getting some fresh air. She’ll be back in a minute or so.” Larry shoves his hands into his pockets just as his phone rings. He looks between his daughter and Evan before taking his phone and motioning for the door.

“I’ll fetch her when I’m finished.” He leaves; Zoe glares; Evan shrinks under the tension.

Zoe slams the bathroom door shut behind her and returns to her seat, looking up at Evan until he sits down as well. She looks at his hand. The clock is so loud.

5:07 A.M.

“That was awfully charitable of him,” she bites, eyes narrowing in the direction that Larry exited from. “It’d be nice if he’d thought to do that when I found him bleeding out on the hardwood.”

Evan flinches away from the harshness of her words, and Zoe immediately deflates. He searches for a response; some kind of solace, maybe some reassurance, something to try and ease the tension. But the words fail him and he stays silent, instead moving a shaking hand into Zoe’s and squeezing.

This isn’t the Murphy I should be holding hands with, he thinks, and his eyes burn.

It’s a long time before Larry and Connor’s mom reenter the room, but when they do she seems much calmer and allows Larry to guide her to a chair. When she’s seated, he returns to his pacing, and none of the four in the room look at each other.

Evan is practically off the walls with anxious energy; the high stress of the situation with no outlet leaves him a sweaty-palmed, leg-shaking, nail-biting, finger-clenching mess. He could probably run a fucking marathon if it weren’t for the fact that he’d sooner die than leave the waiting room, than leave the place where he’s going to hear the news the quickest.

It must be hours he’s in the waiting room, because Larry begins getting — mostly likely work-related — calls in succession; enough to warrant him being told to either silence his phone or leave. Evan refuses to look at the fucking clock despite the deafening noise it bring to the room; he can’t bear to actually quantify how long Connor has been in there. The vague sort-of time passes in slow motion but at the same time in a haze; and Evan’s not sure whether it’s because he’s tired or he’s agonizing over the wait or maybe a combination of the two.

The anxious part of his brain whispers that the longer Connor’s surgery takes, the less likely his chance of survival is. The slightly more rational part of him responds that the doctor’s would be out and be breaking the news if he was hopeless.

Evan takes that sliver of rationality and runs with it, because the alternative makes him sick to his stomach just to think about.

It’s Connor’s mom who notices first when a doctor walks through the doors covered in blood and still wearing OR gear, and it’s like the world is moving through slow motion as she runs towards him and grabs onto the front of his scrubs, Larry rushing to join her side.

Zoe’s nails dig into Evan’s hand as she grasps desperately at him, and when Connor’s mom collapses to her knees his heart fucking stops.

No. No no no no no nonononononono. Connor’s not dead. He can’t be.

He can’t be.

Larry sinks to the floor with her, shakes her by the shoulders. A sob rips out of Zoe’s throat and she tears her hand away, jumping to her feet and taking off towards her parents.

“He’s going to be okay.”

Those five words push air back into Evan’s lungs, set his heart back into motion, jumpstart his brain into a frenzy of Connor’s okay he’s okay he’s okay he’s okay he’s okay he’s okay he’s okay.

Zoe rushes back over to him, begins sobbing into the fabric of his sweatshirt. “Connor’s gonna make it. He’s gonna make it.”

The relief that washes over Evan is palpable, and despite the good news he can’t help the sudden gasping, the sudden tightness of his lungs and wetness of his eyes because Connor’s okay he’s going to live he’s going to survive, he’s alive, Connor’s alive and Evan can’t push back the rush of emotion that overtakes him completely.

He can’t hear the clock over the sound of himself and the Murphy’s. He spares a glance at it through watery eyes.

It’s 7:52 A.M., and Evan knows what it feels like to care about someone — no, to love someone so much that it hurts. Knows what it’s like to love Connor so much that it hurts.

Chapter Text

The feeling of waking up in a hospital after a suicide attempt is not one Connor intended to experience again.

Hell, he never intended to experience it the first time.

But he did, and he does, and this time it’s his arms that hurt (elbow to palm, he did it the right way, dammit) and not his abdomen.

The distant pain of having his stomach pumped pales in comparison to that of failing again. He can hardly feel his arms. There’s a drip at his side, a few actually, and he recognizes the name of a strong pain medication.

And. Fuck. His head hurts, too, but there comes a weariness in the aftermath of having passed out and Connor knows he won’t be able to get back to sleep, at least for a little while. He grabs the sides of the bed (and he hasn’t been restrained, which is good, he supposes) and hauls himself into a sitting position, cursing as it aggravates his arms and an alarm goes off from beside him.

A nurse bustles into the room and Connor watches her bob cut brown hair bounces just above her shoulders as she stops the alarm and goes through his vitals.

“It’s nice to see you’re awake,” she says with practiced kindness, warm brown eyes flickering to his face quickly before she looks towards his arms. “I’m Carmen. I’ll be your nurse for this shift. How are your bandages?”

He shrugs and turns his arms to show her. Carmen seems to find them satisfactory and nods, straightening back up and checking his IV lines.

“How is the pain?”

“Three.” He’s done this before. “I don’t suppose my family decided to go home.”

Carmen smiles sadly, but increases the the flow on the pain med IV anyways. He decides she’s not the worst nurse he’s ever had. “I’m afraid not. You have a few people out there.”

Connor sighs, because he knows he can’t bar them access. He leans back and frowns, brushing some hair out of his eyes and — there’s no blood in it. Someone’s bathed him.

His frown deepens. “What time is it?”

“Almost nine thirty.” Carmen moves towards the door. “My call button is on your right. Try not to move around too much, your stitches are still fresh and might come undone. We’re limiting your visitors to two at a time, so do you have any preference as to who comes in first?”

He’d rather none of them come in ever, but even with that extra kick of medication coming through Connor knows it isn’t going to happen. “I don’t care.”

Carmen nods and exits, leaving Connor to himself for a few moments. He knows what to expect, at least; his mother will be hysterical and he’ll feel guilty for making her cry, Larry will be disappointed and unhelpful and make Connor really wish he had succeeded, and Zoe will be stoic and uncomfortable, silently wishing Connor had actually done it.

He doesn’t know who he wants to see the least.

Evan. Definitely Evan. Imagine if he saw me like this.

Connor’s heart hurts, but the medicine is beginning to really take effect, so he mostly ignores it.

Go figure it’s his mother and Larry that walk into the room, and neither of them are in tears, which is only half surprising. But it’s his mother that looks sad and vaguely disappointed, and the look doesn’t sit right with Connor. They both approach his bed silently; Larry pulls up a chair and sits (he stood last time, the whole time) and his mother settles gently on the edge of the mattress, taking his hand.

“Oh, Connor,” she whispers, pulling his right hand to her mouth and touching his fingers softly to her lips. He notices for the first time that the cast is off (and, belatedly, he figures they had to cut it off to stitch him up), wincing at the pressure on his broken fingers. She doesn’t seem to notice.

“I’m so sorry,” she continues, tears gathering in her eyes but not quite falling. He blinks owlishly at her. “We were so close to losing you, the doctors weren’t sure, you were in surgery for hours! Oh, if Zoe hadn’t found you when she did…”

Zoe found me? The thought makes Connor sick to his stomach.

“Zoe found me?”

It’s Larry that speaks up. “Yes. I’m not sure what she wanted in your room, but...she’s the one who found you.”

It’s silent for a few minutes after that, until Carmen reenters the room. She idles by the door for a moment before stepping in and looking towards Connor. “I have a few availabilities for the psychiatrist. Is there a time that works best for you?”

He’s a bit surprised she’s asking him, not his parents, but there’s no point in squandering the opportunity. “As soon as possible, I guess. There’s not exactly a point in putting it off.”

“Psychiatrist?” Larry asks, looking disgruntled. Connor fights the urge to roll his eyes. We’ve been through this before.

“Yes,” Carmen pipes up before his mother can, “it’s procedure for attempts by minors. I’ll be back in an hour or so to bring you to your room for the next few days. The doctor will meet you there.” She leaves without much more preamble, and Connor wishes his parents would follow.

“Well.” Connor’s mother stands and briefly brushes herself off, motioning for Larry to follow. “I know your sister wants to talk to you. We’ll be right outside in the waiting room if you need us, sweetie.” She presses a kiss to Connor’s forehead before leading both herself and Larry out of the room.

Connor waves half heartedly after the door has shut behind them. His head feels full of cotton; like it did the first few times he got high. He takes to running his hands through his soft hair until the door clicks open and the soft pit-pat of socked feet makes their way towards the bed.

Zoe looks a mess, and Connor’s stomach drops.

She’s still in her pajamas; a pair of fuzzy pants way too out of season for the time of year and patterned with tiny stars. The knees are stained dark brown, as are the cuffs of the sleeves on her ugly band pun shirt and her socks. She’s obviously been crying, hard; with tear streaks cutting across her otherwise red face, and the still-present twitch in her mouth that he knows is her biting back tears.

He opens his mouth to say something, to tell her he’s alright, to apologize, and she bursts into tears.

And suddenly, all at once, he knows.

It must show on his face, the realization, because she takes a physical step back and begins shaking. “I’m so sorry.”

He doesn’t know how to respond. Or maybe he does, but his tongue suddenly feels heavy and his eyes feel droopy but he’s not tired, and what a damn good time it is to be at the peak of his pain killer high.

“I wish I could take it back. I wish I’d never done it.” She pauses, takes a few steps towards the bed and sits. “I wish I’d never brought it back up with Lana.”

Connor shrugs, because it’s all he can do. “So both of you?”

She nods. “We — we just wanted to help, you know? I never — I didn’t want you to do this. I didn’t want everyone to turn on you.”

“I’m sure they’ll have something new to talk about now.”

“Will you take this seriously?” she hisses, then immediately shrinks back, a few hiccups escaping her throat. “You tried to kill yourself, Connor! I—I found you.”

“You also made a mess.” His eyes scan over her ruined clothes. She balls her hands into fists and punches the mattress.

“This isn’t something to joke about. You almost died.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time.”

She opens her mouth, looking like she wants to yell, but the fire seems to die out before she can say anything. She sighs and pulls her arms into her lap, suddenly looking small.

“You’re too doped up to actually talk about this.” She sniffs, wipes under her eyes. “Let’s talk about something else. Evan’s mom is really nice.”

Connor frowns in confusion. “When did you meet Evan’s mom?”

“She ran into the waiting room just after you got out of surgery. I guess Evan stole her care to drive here—?"

"Evan's here?"

Zoe gives him a look, like it's supposed to be obvious that Evan would be here. "He has been for hours. After she grounded him and, like, immediately ungrounded him when he explained everything to her, she just kinda sat down and talked with us. She's really nice.”

Fuck. “What a lovely first impression of me. Sitting outside my waiting room after I killed myself." He crosses his arms over his chest, and immediately winces and pulls them back into his lap. "She’ll never let me hang out with Evan once I’m out of here.” And that’s if Evan even wants to hang out with me anymore.  

Something must show on his face, because Zoe stands and moves for the door. “I’ll send him in.”

“Zoe, no—” She’s gone before he can tell her absolutely not, I’m high on pain meds and fresh off a suicide attempt, seeing Evan is the last thing I want to do, and he curses and flops back onto his bed.

The door reopens a minute later, and god dammit Connor wishes the first thing he thinks when he sees Evan is god he looks good for someone who’s been crying.

The fact that he’s there at all makes his heart do something funny in his chest. He doesn’t have the capacity to shove it down as Evan stalks towards his bed and kneels onto the mattress, staring Connor dead in the eye.

“Connor,” he whispers, and touches a hand to his cheek, eyes beginning to water for what probably isn’t the first time that day. “You’re okay.”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” he asks, trying to put on a smile, but when Evan’s face crumples he notices what he’s said. “Oh. Yeah.”

Evan’s eyes are so warm, and so green, and Connor doesn’t object when Evan’s other hand finds his other cheek and effectively begins cradling his face. “I thought you were d-dead.”

“Sorry.” He’s not sure what he’s apologizing for.

For attempting? For scaring Evan? For not succeeding? He’s not sure.

Connor might be tired.

“I thought you were dead,” Evan repeats, the final word a half-sob, squeezing his eyes shut against an influx of tears. “Y-You asshole, I thought you were dead for hours. Connor, what would I have done if you had? I—” His voice breaks and he slumps forward ever so slightly, and his health be damned, he wraps his arms around Evan’s midsection in an awkward hug.

“I’m so glad you’re aliv—"

“—I love you.”

He doesn’t even know he’s said it until Evan flushes dark and pulls away a few inches. Connor’s always liked the color red, but he decides the shade on Evan’s face is his favorite. The thought of red sends a jolt through him.

Red red so much red, he’s bleeding red he’s sitting in a pile of his own red it hurts he hurts.

Connor’s arms hurt.

The hands on Connor’s face go clammy and pull away, moving to rest at Evan’s sides. “I m-missed you too, Connor—”

“No,” Connor insists, pulling Evan closer, because he’s just said he loves him, dammit, he’s not running away from this. Neither of them are running anymore. “No, fuckface, I love you.”

Evan’s mouth opens to sputter embarrassedly, but Connor hardly hears it. Everything in the goddamn world has shifted to white noise; everything except the way Evan’s mouth looks soft and sweet and welcoming.

And Connor really, really wants to kiss him.

It’s the same way he wanted to hold Evan’s hand in class what must be a million years ago; there’s a pull in his gut and an itch in his fingers and it’s so strong, and the way it spreads in him is so warm, Evan is so warm, and he wants.

There’s nothing stopping him. No sudden appearance of his scars will scare him off this time; Evan’s here, despite knowing about his scars and despite knowing about his attempts and he’s here, in the recovery room in a hospital, hours after he’s tried to kill himself.

He’s here.

Maybe it isn’t healthy to kiss him right now, so soon after everything’s gone to hell, but for the first time since Connor’s woken up (and, probably, the first time in even longer) he feels okay. No, he feels good. Evan makes him feel good.

He wants to kiss Evan.

And then he is.

Connor doesn’t exactly remember moving his hands from Evan’s waist to his hair, but he’s not complaining as it allows him to just pull Evan into the position that he wants him. And Connor’s a fucking genius; Evan’s mouth is soft and sweet and very welcoming, even though it seems more than a little confused and also a little bit too wet to be an actually good kiss.

Evan doesn’t really do much of anything while Connor has his way with him; just sort of sits there with his hands at his sides. And maybe it’s not quite like one of the (many) dreams and fantasies and thought sequences Connor’s had about kissing Evan, but it’s still Evan, he’s still kissing Evan, so it’s practically perfect.

Connor will be the first to say he’s not a good kisser. His experience is limited as is, even more so to quick, heat of the moment kisses, but the way he feels with his mouth on Evan’s is like fucking flying and he wouldn’t trade this moment with Evan for the best kisser in the world.

The heartbeat monitor at his side spikes, the beeping sort of killing the moment. Connor pulls away grinning, watching as Evan’s face goes from dark red to nearly purple he’s blushing so hard. Evan sits up and coughs.

“I kinda hoped I wouldn’t be high the first time I did that.” His words are starting to slur, just a bit, but he thinks Evan gets the message regardless.

“Y-You’ve, uh, thought — this is something you’ve thought about?”

“‘Course. Haven’t you?” Connor can’t help but laugh at himself. Evan doesn’t seem to get the joke.

That’s alright, Connor can laugh enough for the both of them. He’s so happy. Fuck, he just tried to kill himself and he’s on cloud fucking nine.

How fucked up is that?

The door opens, Evan jumps practically half way across the room, and Connor’s laughter dies out. It’s his mother.

What a cockblock.

“They’re ready to move you now.” She looks at Evan a little suspiciously. He shrinks under her gaze, and Connor frowns. “It’s probably time for you to head out, Evan.”

“O-Okay.” He looks towards Connor and tries to smile, but it’s wholly unconvincing, and Connor thinks he might be shaking. “I’ll, um, I’ll be back l-later.”

And then he’s gone, and Connor is still on top of the world, but the lead balloons of doubt are beginning to bring him back to earth.

Chapter Text

In the near full day since he saw him, all Evan has been thinking about is Connor.

The hushed yelling and subsequent grounding — and ungrounding — he’d been given in the lobby at the hospital brought him back down to Earth a bit, but even his mother’s disappointment and panic couldn’t dispel the rush he felt every time the words Connor’s okay flicked through his head.

Connor is alive, he’s living and breathing and he’s a wreck, he’s in the worst state of mind he could possibly be in, and Evan loves him.

And Evan loves him.

He hadn’t dwelled much on the thought when it had first struck him, when Connor’s parents were still on their knees, when Zoe was clutching his shirt and Evan was breathing so hard he felt like he might pull all the air from the room.

He loves Connor, and maybe he doesn’t know quite what that means, but it’s a cardinal proof in his life at this point and Evan’s not really sure he could not love him at this point.

And Connor loves him back.

It’s the last thing that should be on his mind, considering everything, but as Evan stares out the window as a class drones on around him, all Evan can think about is Connor and loving Connor and Connor loving Evan and Connor kissing Evan.

That’s the big one.

Connor, all in practically the same breath, both kissed Evan and told him he loves him.

And Evan, for better or for worse, did not reciprocate either.

He feels his mouth dip into a slight frown. He — no matter his thoughts on the matter, it was a good thing that he didn’t kiss back. Connor was vulnerable, suffering from a huge physical trauma and was obviously off his rocker on pain medication, and no matter how much Evan wanted to kiss back, to hold Connor and kiss him and make sure that in that moment everything was alright, he was overwhelmingly grateful that his anxiety had made him falter.

He does, however, regret not saying he loves Connor back.

Because — sure, there was a huge chance that what Connor said was borne from being in such a whirlwind situation; people in high stress environments say things they don’t mean in the heat of the moment. It happens. But Evan still wishes he had said it back.

Because God, Evan can’t even remember what was the last thing he said to Connor before his attempt. But now, faced with the reality that Connor did try to kill himself, that he could have died and whatever Evan last said to him was so inconsequential it left a pressing discomfort in his stomach, Evan doesn’t ever want to say goodbye to Connor without some variant of ‘I love you’ following him out the door.

The entire situation is messed up. It’s crazy and scary and having so many things out of his control makes Evan feel like he might explode. But the one thing keeping him sane is the fact that Connor’s alive, he’s being taken care of, and he’s on his way to getting better.

God, Evan hopes.

He feels someone nudge his shoulder, and shaking his head to momentarily clear his thoughts he looks up to see who he recognizes as Jared’s friend Elliot hovering over him, looking concerned and uncomfortable. Exactly as he’s been since the news broke to the school about what happened.

(Because of course they know. Of course Connor can’t catch a break, even when he’s in the hospital.)

“Hey man, the bell rang.” Elliot shuffles his feet, begins bouncing his leg. “You okay?”

They both know it’s a bad question; neither of them are okay. Evan was, well, himself and Elliot...apparently he hadn’t heard much from Jared since he bolted from the school yesterday morning when the news of Connor’s attempt was announced over the intercom. He’d been practically buzzing with anxiety the entire class.

Elliot rubs absently at one of his eyes. Evan decides not to press.

I’m alright, just thinking, is what he means to say.

“Connor kissed me,” is what he actually says, and Elliot’s leg stops jittering in surprise. Evan claps a hand over his mouth, embarrassed, but then remembers who he’s talking to (Jared’s friend, who more likely than not has been privy to Jared’s opinion on their whole...situation) and pulls it away, resigned.

“That’s…” Elliot ponders the correct phrasing. “Interesting. I mean! Uh, congratulations?”

Evan almost manages a smile as he stands and pushes his bag over his shoulder, falling into place next to Elliot as they walk. “It’s, uh, i-it’s not an ideal situation, no.”

“Meaning…?”

“The kissing isn’t so bad as the context around the kiss itself?” His voice squeaks up at the end and Evan isn’t sure he’s even making sense, but his mind is such a jumble he doubts he could articulate something better.

“Fair enough, dude.” Elliot stops in front of a locker and begins working at the combination, and Evan sticks around, unsure of whether Elliot has moved on from the conversation or not.

“He also said he loves me,” Evan supplies, and then immediately wants to bang his head against a locker. Elliot pulls his eyes away from the lock in his hands and sort of grins.

“How many pain meds was he on?”

Reassuring, Evan’s mind supplies drily, but he knows Elliot doesn’t mean it offensively. “I’m not sure? But whatever it was, it was. Strong. He sounded drunk by the time I left.”

“Do you think he meant it?”

Evan wrings his hands uncomfortably. “I don’t know. I—I don’t think I can write it off as being platonic at this point. After, uh. After that. So. I don’t know.”

“Do you want him to have meant it?”

The million dollar question.

If he means it, that means Connor actually loves him. In some form or another, if Connor stands by what he said, something’s going to change. Even disregarding the kiss — the kiss — it’s not a boundary either of them have crossed up until this point.

Is Connor ready to cross that boundary? Is Evan?

Evan’s admitted to himself that he loves Connor, in some form (who is he kidding, he had that stupid dream, Connor kissed him, Evan knows in exactly what way he loves Connor). But admitting it right now, here in this little slice of time with Elliot, would mean it’s real. It won’t be something he can run away from anymore.

Am I ready for that?

“Y-Yes,” Evan replies softly, steeling himself. Elliot smiles. “Yes. I do.”

The bell rings again, startling the two of them. Elliot shuts his locker and they both jog off in the general direction of their next classes.

“I figured that’s how you’d answer,” Elliot tells him as they turn a corner. “You look dumb in love.”

Evan can’t help but flush at the statement. “That’s probably just the relief.”

Elliot laughs as he stops in front of a classroom. “Yeah, sure, man. Oh, and for the record.” He leans in and giggles against Evan’s ear. “Connor totally meant it.”

He waves as he steps into the classroom, leaving Evan on his own in the hallway. He hurries the few yards to his own classroom, eager to just get through the day so he can go see Connor again and...maybe begin to figure things out a bit.

The day passes slowly, as they usually do when all you want is to make time pass quicker, and by the time he’s stepping out of the (admittedly awkward and uncomfortable) cab he’d hitched a ride in — his driving privileges had been revoked, which was not surprising, considering his lack of a license — he’s practically buzzing with nervous energy.

His walk into the hospital lobby is much calmer than his one previous, and the new nurses at the front desk seem much more at ease directing him towards Connor’s new room. The elevator ride to the floor where Connor was staying is miraculously empty, and Evan finds himself nervously fidgeting with his hair, messing with the hem of his shirt, smoothing his hands idly over his face because when did they get so red?

The doors open and he hurries through, silently counting down the numbers until he gets to the one Connor is residing in. Outside of the room in a plastic chair Zoe is napping, knees pulled to her chest and hair splayed out around her. She’s changed clothes and showered, he can tell from her appearance, and he’s relieved she seems much less upset in sleep.

He knocks gently on the door, and the sound of Connor’s mom calling him inside immediately after. He steps in and locks eyes with someone who is decidedly not Connor; he’s glared at until he moves towards the opposite end of the room where he sees another bed poking out from behind a privacy curtain.

“Connor, Evan’s here,” his mother says to Connor as Evan waves awkwardly. Anxiety coils in his gut at the prospect of what could happen. Connor mock salutes back.

“Can we have a few minutes, mom?” Connor smiles for emphasis, and immediately it’s clear to Evan that he’s putting on an act for his mother — and, probably, everyone else, too.

She seems wary but nods, stepping towards the curtain. “Just let me know if you need anything, okay?” Connor nods and she leaves, and it’s not until the door clicks shut behind her that Connor’s face drops.

Evan idles at the end of the bed, not sure where to begin. Or where to sit. Or where to even put his hands. He settles for his pockets. Connor stares up at him oddly.

“So you came.”

Evan nods. “I did.” He pauses, looks around. “This is a really stupid question, but — h-how are you doing?”

Connor snorts and flops back onto his pillow, avoiding Evan’s eye. “Oh, you know. Fresh off a suicide attempt, getting weaned off the pain meds while being hovered over by every type of person I would rather never see again? I’m just peachy.” He sighs and runs a hand through his hair. “At least I’m off active watch.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Me too.” Connor looks up at Evan and lets his mouth to set into something that looks almost like a smile. “Even though it’s fucking mortifying, I’m glad you came.”

Evan takes in a breath. Here’s his in.

I’ll always be here for you, Connor, I love you, is what he means to say. Is what he is going to say.

“It’s nice to see my first friendly face in here,” is what Connor says, cutting him off, and Evan’s heart thumps anxiously in his chest.

“W-What do you mean?”

Connor shrugs, fidgeting idly with the bandages around one of his arms. “Well, out of everyone I’ve seen the past two days, seeing you again for the first time is better than all of it. Even if the fact that you have to see me like this makes me want to die.”

Evan tries not to physically flinch.

Connor doesn’t remember he was here before.

Connor doesn’t remember kissing Evan.

“Fuck. 'M not supposed to say that shit.” Connor laughs wryly. “I actually haven’t been awake that long, I don’t think. Was drugged to hell and back for like my entire first day apparently.”

Evan coughs but hides it underneath a laugh. “No different from a usual night for you, huh?”

Connor breaks into giggles at that, pushing his hand in front of his mouth to hide it. “Damn, when did you become such an asshole? Hey, come sit, you idiot. S’been a while, you need to tell me what everyone’s saying about me at school.”

Connor pats the space on the bed next to him, smiling for real this time. Evan puts on a smile of his own, walking over to the bed.

Evan was the one saying the kiss was poorly timed. That it shouldn’t have happened. Connor not remembering is a blessing in disguise, even if it hurts to think about.

Connor only kissed him because of his medication. Connor only said he loved him because of his medication.

Connor doesn’t really love him.

It’s fine. Connor doesn’t remember. That’s okay, he’s okay. As long as he’s okay, nothing else matters.

As Connor launches into a story about his roommate, Evan can’t help it as his thoughts turn selfish and run off with a fantasy of Connor actually loving him back.

Chapter Text

When Evan leaves, it feels like a weight is being lifted off of Connor’s chest, and he hates it.

He hates that it’s his fault Evan’s presence makes him so uneasy. He hates that Evan wouldn’t even let their arms touch when he finally sat down on the edge of Connor’s bed. He hates the way Evan kept casting those stupidly captivating green eyes towards the curtain, looking for some sort of excuse to jump away from Connor, to put some distance between them, because he’s obviously uncomfortable being so close.

Connor hates himself, but what else is new.

And, to add another tick to the list of things Connor fucking hates, he hates lying to Evan. Because god damn it, he remembers kissing him.

How the hell could he ever forget something like that?

How could he ever not be able to feel the ghost of Evan’s lips against his, soft and surprised and slightly open because he wasn’t expecting to be kissed? The softness against his fingers as he carded his hands through Evan’s hair, squeezing as gently as possible so as to keep his head still but not hurt him? The sensations of being able to fly under Evan’s gaze, of bursting into flames under his light touch, of wanting to laugh and cry and just stay like that forever with Evan?

The memories keep him up at night, and having Evan there, in the flesh, as a reminder that it will never happen again makes Connor’s heart hurt.

He knows it was horrible and disgusting of him to kiss Evan. He was practically in the midst of a panic attack caused by thinking Connor was dead when Connor had just grabbed him and — and held him there. Forced him to stay still while he kissed him. Told him he loved him like some sort of fucking idiot and put Evan into a position that would make Connor’s skin crawl with discomfort, if their roles were reversed.

He hates seeing Evan leave, but he couldn’t be happier that he does.

He’s left alone for once — save for the fucking douchebag in the bed on the other side of the room, but all he did was watch bad TV and rot — but of course all Connor can focus on is Evan.

He just left, for fucks sake. Think of something else for a change.

Yeah, right.

Evan didn’t bring up the kiss thing, and Connor wasn’t really expecting him to. It would have been awkward and uncomfortable and most definitely would have resulted in Connor embarrassing himself even further, but at least it would have cleared the air and Connor wouldn’t be such a fucking liar.

But even with that hanging like a weight on his conscience, something about the whole encounter hung even heavier on Connor.

Evan didn’t like him back.

Which. Okay. Sure the timing of the kiss was inopportune at best and literally the worst fucking timing at worst, but it had happened, and there’s no way in hell Evan doesn’t remember it, and so the only reason for him not to bring it up was the fact that Evan didn’t feel the same way.

Which is fine. Connor’s a suicidal freak who’s an asshole to boot, and they weren’t exactly years in to their friendship like Evan and Kleinman were. Evan has no good reason to like Connor the way Connor likes him, and it’s fine.

It hurts in a way that rivals his cut open arms, sure, but that’s not Evan’s problem.

There’s a knock at the door that he guesses is a nurse, and decides to let his roommate field it, instead opting to kick his blankets frustratedly onto the floor as some small act of anger. Two pairs of footsteps step behind his curtain, and he barely has time to yank his blankets back up to cover his flimsy hospital gown before Zoe and Alana are settling into the two chairs at the side of his bed, matching guilty expressions on their faces.

Alana looks the most uncomfortable Connor thinks he’s ever seen her, and she at least has the decency not to look at the eyesores that are his arms; instead, her eyes are focused on the curtain to his side. Her body language is rigid; shoulders tense, back straight as a board and hands clasped tightly in her lap. Connor can see tears budding in the corners of her eyes.

Zoe looks as she has since he arrived at the hospital; overtired, visibly upset, and overwhelmingly guilty. She looks so much younger with her legs folded up in the chair, picking anxiously at a fuzz on her pants, hair somewhat shielding her eyes from him.

“We all know what this is about, so let’s get it over with.” Connor’s visit with Evan has left him on edge. He doesn’t have the patience or niceties to spare, but he does feel his shoulders sag when both girls wince away at his words.

“Connor, I’m…” Alana looks straight at him, but falters, seemingly trying to find the right words. “I don’t know the words to tell you how sorry I am for all of this. I never wanted to hurt you, but now that I have, I…”

“We wanted to help,” Zoe cuts in abruptly. “We...it wasn’t meant for people from school to find. It was supposed to stand as something to look up to, a way to show that recovery is possible—”

“Oh yeah, I’m recovering real well,” he cuts in sharply, with more anger than he means to. Zoe bites her lip but doesn’t respond, and Connor feels his temper flare at the way they’re both ready to just lay down and let him tear into them.

“It was wrong of us,” Alana continues after a long stretch of uncomfortable silence. “I took the website down after—after what happened.”

Connor huffs, the urge to make them hurt right along with him outweighing the notion of just letting it go. “You can say it, it’s not some dirty fucking secret. You took it down after I slit my wrists and tried to off myself.”

A sob hiccups out of Alana, and Connor immediately deflates, the feeling at disgust towards himself return tenfold. “I — Fuck. It happened. The website’s down. I...There’s no use in staying angry at you. It’ll only delay my release more, and fucking hell do I want out of here.”

He takes in a deep breath through his nose, shuts his eyes. “So, apology accepted. You’re forgiven. It’s fine.”

“No it’s not,” Zoe cuts in, looking offended. “It’s — it’s the opposite of okay, Connor. Something we did made you try and kill yourself. You can accept our apology, sure, but — don’t just brush this off.” She pauses, really looks at him for the first time. “You don’t have to forgive us. You can let yourself be angry at us, Connor.”

He rolls his eyes, but the pressing weight at the back of them makes it difficult. “You make it sounds like I have a choice.”

“You do.”

“No, I don’t. They check my heart monitor, they know when I go batshit. If I get angry, and don’t accept everything that’s thrown at me with a wide smile they’ll lock me up in psyche until my birthday rolls around, and then if I’m not magically recovered they’ll court order me to stay in the ward until I either get really fucking good at lying, or let myself be doped up permanently.” Connor huffs again, averting his gaze from the girls. “If I want to get out of here, I need to behave.”

There’s a long, awkward stretch of silence, and Connor’s afraid he’s going to let the waterworks out until Alana says softly, “you’re here to recover, Connor.”

“I’m here to ‘recover,’ there’s a difference.”

“There shouldn’t be.” Alana looks at him, and he feels exposed under her gaze. “You should be here because you’re hurting, and you need help to get better, and you should be able to be honest about how you feel here.”

Connor doesn’t respond to that. He can’t. Not when her words unintentionally strike too close to where his head is right now.

“You’re sick, Connor, and you should be here because you’re trying to get better. Not because you’re trying to get out.” A phone buzzes, and Alana pulls hers from her pocket and quickly reads over the screen.

“My dads want me home. I should get going.” She stands, presses a kiss to Zoe’s cheek. It only contributes to the pressure behind Connor’s eyes. “I’ll see you later, Connor. Get better soon.”

As soon as the door clicks shut behind Alana, Zoe turns towards Connor. “Did something happen with Evan?”

Connor blanks. Jesus, is he that fucking obvious?

He deflects. “Are you seriously trying to pry into my fucking love life right now?”

Zoe winces, but doesn’t back down. “No, but—”

Connor could not be happier to hear his door open again. His roommate makes a noise of distaste. Someone he doesn’t recognize knocks obnoxiously on the curtain before stepping around it, a small smile on his face.

“I don’t suppose I could have a few minutes alone with him?” Zoe frowns, obviously annoyed at being cut off. Connor couldn’t be any more relieved.

“Is it important?”

“It’s about Mr. Murphy’s release.” The words are hardly out of his mouth before Connor is shoving his sister with his foot.

“Out. Now.” She glares but goes quietly, slinking around who Connor assumes is some sort of doctor with a frown on her face. When the door shuts once more, the man moves to the side of Connor’s bed and smiles down at him.

“I’ve already discussed with your parents, and after looking over your progress from the last few days we’ve come to the conclusion that you should be clear to leave after the rest of your mandatory watch period is up. To be released into the custody of your parents, of course.”

Connor nods along, at least pleased to have a timeframe to work with. The man continues with that same smile. “I’ve looked over your evaluation, and for the time being we’re going to be continuing with your usual prescriptions, although the doses will be increased slightly. Your parents told me you stopped taking your medication just prior to coming here, which you also noted in your evaluation.”

They forgot to mention the fact that Larry flushed them. Connor nods again.

“Your parents also agreed to signing you up for weekly counseling sessions without the need for a court order. Of course, should you purposefully not attend these sessions, the need for a court order may be brought to the table again. Does this all sound okay?”

Connor shrugs. “Sounds fine.”

The man nods once more and begins to move towards the curtain. “It’s about dinnertime, so I’ll let you be. A nurse should be around in just a bit with dinner. I’ll also tell your family to perhaps go and get something to eat themselves, unless you’d rather have the company?”

Connor almost finds himself smiling some. “Yeah, let them get something to eat. Maybe take a shower. I’ll be fine for a while.”

The man nods. “Alright. I’m going to open the curtain up a bit more to make the monitoring intervals a bit quicker.” Connor just shrugs in response and watches as the man pulls the curtain open enough to reveal the door and exits, leaving Connor to his thoughts.

And. Well. Above all else, he’ll be out of here in just a few days. Even though it means going back to school where he’s sure the entire student body is laughing at him, and he’s probably irreversibly fucked up his friendship with Evan, and he’s more likely than not going to be stuck with giant, clunky bandages broadcasting what he did to the whole world, it’s a start.

Chapter Text

Evan visits Connor for the remainder of his four-day stay in the hospital, usually not hanging around for more than an hour at a time. Which was fine; there was usually always a nurse or a family member or some other interruption that gave Evan a reason to leave without feeling awkward.

It didn’t, however, stop him from feeling guilty about wanting to leave.

Which — he can’t say he didn’t want to be there. Not in the slightest. The part of his day he most looked forward to was when school let out (or, on Connor’s last day, when it became a decent time of day for Evan to visit) and he made his way to the hospital.

But there was always that discomfort that hung in the air between them, and every time as he left the hospital and loaded himself into whatever car awaited him (usually his mom or Jared’s) he couldn’t help but beat himself up for letting something Connor didn’t even remember come between them.

But eventually Connor is discharged, and the flurry of relieved texts he receives from Connor put a smile on Evan’s face.

He missed this, and he’s glad things are, at least at their very base, moving back towards normal.

Connor goes home on a Sunday, but doesn’t come back to school until the following Tuesday, arms shoved deep into his pockets (not quite hiding the bulky bandaging just beneath his sleeves) and hood pulled over his head. The entire hallway stares as he meanders up to Evan who is waiting at his locker, but they’re left alone, and as they’re settling down in their seats Evan can’t help but be relieved.

The day goes surprisingly well; Connor and Evan are joined for lunch by Jared and Elliot in the library, and even though Connor looks slightly uncomfortable the whole time Evan knows he appreciates it.

Evan wishes he could feel the same.

Because. Well. Ever since that whole kiss thing — and Connor’s subsequent amnesia of the whole thing, having been mentioned in nearly the same instant Evan was ready to finally say I love you — he’s had this itchy feeling that something’s wrong. That something’s changed.

And to be fair, it kind of has. Even if it hasn’t for Connor, Evan can’t shake the feeling of uneasiness he gets whenever he’s around Connor too long. What’s worse is Evan can’t even pinpoint what the feeling is. Whether it’s guilt or frustration or even discomfort, being able to know what exactly he’s feeling would be so much better than the not knowing.

But he doesn’t know. But whatever it is is strong, and overpowering, and each time Evan sees Connor he feels it driving a wedge of pure awkwardness between them.

So, the next day, he tries ignoring Connor to see if it makes the feeling go away.

And it’s — the difference is minute. His lingering discomfort over the whole situation is still present in his chest, but for the most part putting some distance between himself and Connor sems to lessen the feeling.

Of course, it makes room for an entirely new set of feelings: longing, and guilt.

The look on Connor’s face when he sees that Evan has sat himself away from their usual spot in Environment on Wednesday nearly makes Evan’s heart break. He resists the urge to look backwards during the period, but the feel of Connor’s anxious, insecure eyes burning unspoken questions into the back of his neck is nearly enough to chill Evan to the bone.

And it continues; Evan has lunch in a classroom and the computer lab instead of his usual spot in the library; he feigns a migraine or excuses himself to the bathroom for half the class or angles himself away from Connor more often than not, and as horrible as it sounds the fact that Evan is the one driving the wedge between them, the fact that he has control over the stupid awkwardness and uncertainty is somewhat relieving.

But God does it hurt abandoning Connor. As the days go on he finds himself sleeping less, eating less, opening up less and hating himself more.

It’s torture, but he can only imagine what it is for Connor.

Evan is called on it the following Monday, when he’s yanked into the boy’s bathroom closest to his locker and pushed against the wall by a disgruntled looking Jared.

“What’s wrong with you?”

Evan doesn’t understand at first; and he attempts to pull away from Jared’s grasp just as the bell rings. “We’re going to be late, Jared.”

“Screw class. What the hell has gotten into you?”

Slowly, it dawns on Evan. “I-I don’t know what you mean, Jared—”

“You’ve been ignoring Connor.” Jared leans in, eyebrows furrowed, pulling Evan down by the neck to get access to his ear. “It’s been a week since he got out of the hospital after trying to off himself, Evan. What’s going on?”

A shudder goes down Evan’s spine at the reminder. God, how awful are you? You’re his only friend and you’re ignoring him so soon after he tried to kill himself, how selfish are you to just—

“Fuck, Evan, don’t get lost in your head right now, okay?” Jared pauses for a moment, face suddenly going stony. “Did he do something to you?”

“N-No!” That snaps Evan right out of it and he panics, glancing from side to side frantically. “No, Connor wouldn’t — he’d never do anything bad. Don’t think that he did. Please.”

Jared’s face softens a fraction, but his eyes remain unconvinced. “Then why have you been ghosting him?”

And. Well.

Shit.

Should Evan tell him the truth? Is it really important outside of his own headspace? He’s the only one that even remembers it — if he can get over himself and this stupid... whatever it is that he’s feeling, he’ll be fine. He’ll go back to being Connor’s friend, and there won’t be any discomfort, and he can be what Connor needs and it will all be fine.

Evan just needs to get over himself. And that doesn’t involve telling Jared.

He just isn’t going to tell him.

“Connor kissed me,” he says, and promptly falls to the floor when Jared lets him go in surprise. He’s hauled to his feet a few seconds later, Jared’s wide eyes staring at him incredulously.

“He what?!”

Evan sighs. That’s the second time he’s spilled the beans unintentionally. “I. Y-Yeah. That first night after he woke up he—” It’s different than telling Elliot was; Jared he’s known for years, and by his reaction, Evan knows Jared is going to have quite the opinion on their whole situation.

“He told me he loved me, and he kissed me.”

Jared stares for a long moment, takes in a deep breath, and pushes his hands into his pockets. “Okay. So then you broke up?”

“What?”

Jared shrugs. “Why else would you be ignoring him after he kis — oh Jesus, Evan, please tell me you didn’t just bail on him after he kissed you.”

At Evan’s uncomfortable silence Jared screams, jumping Evan nearly out of his skin. He pushes a hand over Jared’s mouth in alarm. “S-Shut up! What if someone heard?”

“You bailed after he kissed you!” Jared accuses, pointing a finger in Evan’s face. “I know you’ve got anxiety, dude, but Jesus—”

“I was going to,” Evan says softly, looking down. Jared looks at him, expression thoughtful.

“And what happened?”

Evan sighs, pushing a hand through his hair. “He — he was on a lot of pain medication, and—”

“Oh no.”

“—when I went back the next day to tell him, he—he didn’t remember I had even been there.” Evan sighs again, not looking at Jared. “He doesn’t remember it happened. Why should I bring it up now?”

“You’re way beyond that, man,” Jared says a little breathlessly, smile beginning to touch his lips, “you just need to take the plunge and ask him out.”

“Absolutely not."

“Why?”

Evan frowns, frustration beginning to rise to the surface. “He — Connor only k-kissed me because he was high on pain medication. He doesn’t — he doesn’t like me like that. Just leave it alone, okay?”

Jared is silent for a long moment, and Evan almost thinks he’s put the matter to rest. But of course it’s Jared he’s talking to, who always has something more to say.

“Do you know for sure?”

Evan frowns. “Well, no, but why would he ever—”

Jared takes a step closer, puts his hands on Evan’s shoulders. “Dude. I know it’s scary, but — you should ask him out. If Connor Murphy has any brains in his entire goddamn body, he’ll say yes.” Jared flashes a grin. “Trust me.”

“Connor’s in all AP classes, of course he has brains,” Evan says a little petulantly, but feels himself becoming acquainted with the idea anyways. Jared nudges him with a smile.

“Then I guess you’ve got a shot then, huh?” He winks for good measure. Evan shakes his head.

“Is — it’s hardly a good time to ask something like that! After everything.” Evan feels his face fall though he’s the one bringing up the fact. Jared taps his chin for a moment, then sighs.

“Fair point. But just — think about it, okay? I think things’ll work out.” He points a thumb towards the door. “C’mon, we’re already crazy late.”

They both rush to class after that, and after being scolded for a bit the rest of the day passes with relative ease. Evan can’t bring himself to rejoin Connor in the library for lunch, but promises himself he’ll catch Connor at the end of the day and both apologize and…

And ask Connor out. On a date.

A romantic date.

This is going to go horribly.

By the end of his last period Evan has worked himself to a sweat; his hands are shaking so badly his teacher tell him to give up using his pencil and to do his work at home. There’s a seemingly ever present tremor running up Evan’s neck, and his hands are so slick with sweat it takes several tries to shove his things into his bag without them slipping out of his hands.

Evan’s a fucking mess, and he’s not in the slightest prepared for this.

He rushes as inconspicuously as possible to Connor’s locker; not wanting to call attention to himself but also no wanting to miss his chance. He catches Connor just as he’s shutting the door to his locker, and with a slight shake in his step Evan approaches.

“Hi,” he says, and immediately wants to punch himself in the face at how scratchy and high pitched it comes out. Connor stares at him wordlessly, shoving his arms deep into his pockets and narrowing his eyes just slightly.

“All done ignoring me?” The words come out defensive and while Evan winces, he can’t blame Connor for his response.

“Yes,” he says honestly, rubbing his arm nervously. “And I — I’m sorry, Connor. It was wrong of me to ignore you, especially when y-you haven’t done anything wrong. And when you need — you need a friend. Someone to b-be at your side. I’ve just been so confused and my head has felt so weird and—and I don’t know how I feel about some things and other things I’m so sure about but it’s all so confusing and.”

“I’m rambling again.”

Connor nods, raising an eyebrow. “You are.”

“Sorry. I.” Evan winces at how nervous he sounds. “I just...I’ve been feeling a lot of different things and I don’t know how to d-deal with it all, I guess?”

Connor’s looking at him, waiting for him to continue. Now is Evan’s chance. There’s no one here to interrupt them; just him and Connor. Connor, who he’s grown so close to in really, such a short time. Who, until all of this happened, made talking seem easy as breathing.

Who made Evan’s heart flutter, and palms sweat, and cheeks red.

No more running.

“C-Connor, do you — I, would you maybe — Connor, will you—” Evan blushes frustratedly, and to his horror he feels flustered tears begin to form in the corners of his eyes. Just say it!

“Connor—”

Connor sort of smiles, messing with the cast on his hand. “Do I want to hang out with you? Sure.”

“No!” Evan bursts out, much more forcefully than he means to. He slaps a hand over his mouth, then quickly pulls it away. “I. No. Not hang out. Do you. Um. W-Want to go on a date. With me? Uh.”

Evan has never seen Connor more red than he is once Evan finally forces the question out. He pulls his uninjured hand over his face, averting his eyes.

“Oh.” A long pause, and Evan isn’t sure he breathes. “Okay. Sure. I need to leave now.”

Evan nods, feeling heat creeping up his own face. “T-That’s okay! Um. Can I pick you up t-tomorrow? At six?”

Connor just nods, and he looks as though he’s about to collapse. “See you, Ev.”

Evan stares after Connor as he hurries away, and it’s not until a janitor comes down the hallway and gives him an odd look that he realizes he’s been rooted to the spot.

He called me ‘Ev’ again.

As he rushes out to meet his Mom’s car, he hurriedly texts Jared.

To: Jared

i thijnk i jsut asked connro out

and i think he said yse?????

he caleld me ev whta does tht mean

WHAT AM I GOIGN TO DO FOR THE DTAE ITS TOMORROW

ijm so hapyp

Chapter Text

Connor stays home from school on Tuesday.

Cynthia swallows the excuse of ‘I need a day off’ with surprising ease, and Connor’s more than grateful to not have to put up a fight. There’s a beat of hesitation on her face.

“I don’t have to go out. Should I stay…?” Her face goes sad, and Connor feels himself frown.

“It’s okay.” He tries to smile, but he’s sure it’s unconvincing. “I’m actually. Uh. Going out tonight. If that’s okay?” Shit, he hadn’t even asked.

To his further surprise, Cynthia beams. “That’s wonderful, Connor! Where are you going?”

He realizes all at once that he doesn’t even know. He’d just been left with the promise he’ll be picked up at six.

“I’m not sure? It’s a surprise.”

“Is it…” she leans in, eyes alight. “Are you going on a date?”

His sudden blush seems to be answer enough. God, is he glad Larry already left. She takes a step and pulls Connor into a tight hug, and he finds himself sinking into it slightly.

“Well, I’ll leave you be. Go get prepared, or whatever you need. I’ll check in around lunch time, okay? I love you.”

“Love you too, mom.”

She clears out not soon after; leaving Connor loitering in the kitchen to make himself a cup of hot chocolate. His hands shake.

Christ. Evan asked him out. On a date.

A romantic date.

I'm going on a date with Evan!

In just a matter of hours, no less. His stomach is queasy at the thought.

Connor doesn’t even want to chance coffee; his anxiety would be through the goddamn roof if he decided to add caffeine to the mess that was his body today. So he settles on hot chocolate; it’s out of season for April and makes his tongue ache at the sweetness, but he takes it all down in just a few sips anyways.

Jesus, he’s a wreck.

“Tough morning?” Zoe asks as she steps into the kitchen, backpack hanging off her shoulder and phone in hand. She looks up from it to smile a little awkwardly at him.

His fucked up relationship with Zoe is the last thing on his mind. He pushes past the thrum of annoyance seeing her brings on. “Something like that.”

She takes in his appearance, and frowns. “Are you not going to school?”

“No.” He pauses, tries to keep himself from sounding pathetic. “Will you do me a favor?”

Zoe perks at that, and puts her phone away entirely. “What?”

“Tell Evan I’m...I’m okay. And I’ll see him tonight. And that I’m excited. Wait, fuck, don’t say that! Uh, tell him I’m not missing school because of him, I’m just nervous — no don’t say that either!” He buries his face in his hands as Zoe begins to laugh.

“It sounds like you’re preparing for a date,” she jokes with a smile, then suddenly blanks. “No.”

“...No,” he parrots back uneasily, face going even redder. She punches him in the arm.

“Oh my God.” She points. “You’re going on a date with Evan.”

All Connor can do is bury his head in his hands, trying to shove down a smile at the words. “You’re going to be late for school,” he grumbles, and he’s sure the words are muffled. She seems to get the message regardless.

“You’re not weaseling out of this conversation forever,” she tells him sternly, grabbing a bagel and taking a bite. “I’ll tell Evan you’re practicing your kissing skills on your pillow.”

She laughs at the string of expletives he lets out, and then she’s gone. Connor sets his cup in the sink and moves back towards the stairs, fully intending to crawl back into bed and sleep for another few hours.

When he wakes it’s to Zoe smacking him with a pillow, demanding to know if he really slept all day, Jesus Christ, Connor, it’s four in the afternoon! He jumps out from under his covers and rushes into the bathroom to shower, anxiety screaming in his head tenfold what it was this morning.

The warm water is welcome, and while it helps melt away the tension in his muscles, his mind remains a flurry of adrenaline and panic.

He’s a fucking idiot. What was he thinking, sleeping all day instead of preparing? Of psyching himself up? Now he’s, fuck, less than two hours away from being picked up and he’s groggy, he’s shaking, and he’s standing in the boiling shower spray hyperventilating.

Christ.

He loads probably too much shampoo into his hair and works it near painfully into his scalp, trying to work on calming his breathing as he washes the bubbles away. He’s already spent too long in the shower by the time he’s washing his body, so he forgos conditioner and moves into drying himself off.

By the time he’s set his hairdryer down his hair is fluffy but lacks its usual softness, and he’s a bit put off until he realizes it won’t matter much, anyways.

It’s not like Evan’s going to be touching it.

Connor moves back to his bedroom, and with a frustrated groan sets to work on finding something to wear. His mind blanks as he roots through his drawers and sifts through his closet, and abandoning all hope of being not pathetic he opens up his phone with the intention of actually fucking Googling what to wear on a date when several text notifications catch his eye.

From: Zo

i can’t believe i’m about to do this

evan is practically vibrating in the hallway

if i wasnt about to deliver your gross love message this would almost be cute

update he is no longer vibrating.

i think i broke him oh no. the pillow comment might not have been a good idea

sorry

Connor’s going to cancel the date. Fuck this, he’s already made an embarrassment of himself and the date hasn’t even started. With frustrated tears budding in his eyes he goes to text Evan that he’s cancelling when he notices he has a few messages from him, too.

From: ev

you’re not at scjool?

are yuo okay for our d

our thjng tonihgt?

if you need to cnacel thats okay!!!

skjdbffsdfkmn

i thjnk zoe wasd mkaing fun of usbut??? it wascjute

I MEAN !!!

six. wear somethign nice

I MEAN

this is jared lololol as u cn see evan is a mess. hve fun use protection hve him home by 11

Connor tears into his closet with renewed vigor in search of ‘something nice.’

And he realizes, as the pile of clothes on his floor grows larger, his options are worryingly limited. Even after his collection of hoodies was reinstated following his psych’s order, his clothing supply was hardly something to gawk at.

Buried in the back of a drawer is a gray button up, and after a few minutes he finds a decent pair of jeans with minimal rips in the legs. His regular sneakers should be fine, and to pull the whole look together he moves back into the bathroom and swipes Zoe’s eyeliner.

Zoe leans herself against the doorframe just as he’s finishing up, and she eyes him up appraisingly. “Nice.”

He blinks a few times at his own reflection before turning his gaze towards Zoe. “I’m never speaking to you again.”

“He likes you, stupid.” She takes a step towards him and tugs slightly on his collar. Her eyes move to his arms. “Put on a jacket. It’s cold.”

It’s almost eighty degrees outside, but her glance downwards towards his arm has him getting the message pretty clear. He nods and moves towards his room again, Zoe trailing behind. He spends a few moments staring at the pile of clothes on his floor before Zoe steps forward and picks something out from the top. It’s a black jacket with bleach stains all over it, with an especially large one taking up nearly half the right side.

It’s the jacket he wore the first day of school. The jacket he wore the day he pushed Evan.

The jacket he wore the night he…

“I can’t wear that.” He picks at the cuff of his sleeve. “It’s not ‘something nice.’”

“You realize Evan will think you look great no matter what you wear, right?”

He makes a face but pulls it on anyways. It’s as comfortable as he remembers, and he sinks into it. Zoe gives him two thumbs up. “Perfect. Now go, it’s almost six.”

Try as he might to, y’know, not look desperate, as soon as he hears a knock on the door he’s pulling it open and there’s Evan, smiling nervously and Jesus Christ he’s holding a flower.

He pushes it into Connor’s hands. Connor just stares at it for a long moment.

It’s a half dead, horrifically ugly thing. It’s yellow petals are beginning to fall out, and god damn it Connor is about ready to kiss Evan on the spot when it’s being pulled back out of his hands.

“Sorry! T-That was rude. Uhm. It’s — the flower is ugly anyways, I’ll just—” Before Evan can finish whatever stupid tangent he’s on, Connor’s taking the flower back from him and placing it gently in the pocket of his jacket.

“No. It’s pretty.” He smiles, really smiles, at Evan. “Thank you. Now where are we going?”

He shuts the door when he notices Zoe watching with a smirk, and with a nudge they walk to the car waiting at the end of Connor’s driveway.

Connor automatically moves towards the drivers side when Evan stops him. “Actually, I’m going to drive.”

Connor smiles teasingly towards Evan and taps the top of the car. “You? Driving? That seems like a disaster waiting to happen.”

“S-Shut up!” Evan punches him gently on the shoulder as he steps into the driver’s seat. “It’s not far.”

He just smiles as Evan pulls out of the driveway and onto the road. “So where are we going?”

“Surprise.” Connor has to laugh at the coy smile that touches Evan’s lips. For a few moments they lapse into silence, Evan chewing on his lip nervously. Connor touches the flower in his pocket.

“You—You look nice,” Evan says softly, and Connor’s glad he’s looking down as his face blooms bright red. “I l-like your jacket.”

“Thanks.” Connor looks over towards Evan and for the first time takes in what he’s wearing. A deep purple shirt in Connor’s favorite shade and a pair of navy jeans.

Connor feels underdressed.

“Hey Connor?” Evan’s looking at him, and Connor’s afraid he’s been staring because Evan is bright red and his hands are clenching and unclenching on the steering wheel.

“What is it?”

Evan moves one hand from the wheel and gently places his hand over Connor’s cast. “Is this okay?”

Connor’s blushing so hard he fears he might pass out. Instead of answering he moves his other hand on top of Evan’s and squeezes, the weirdness of the position be damned.

Time passes like that, quasi-holding hands until Evan turns into a familiar hole in a fence and the car comes to a stop.

Oh my God.

Evan shuts off the car and moves to the passenger’s side, opening the door for Connor with a nervous half-smile. He takes Evan’s offered hand and steps out, looking in awe at the spread in front of them.

Under the tree they climbed on their last trip to the orchard is a large plaid picnic blanket, an assortment of small candles laid out on and around it. A small bouquet of daffodils sits next to a wicker picnic basket.

It’s amazing.

“It’s amazing,” Connor says softly, and without letting go of his hand Evan leads them both to the blanket.

“Oh, I’m glad you like it!” They both sit and Evan begins sifting through the picnic basket. “I wasn’t s-sure at first, like I wanted to take us t-to an art show but? It was a — it’s like forty-five minutes away, and I wasn’t comfortable driving that far, and I—I didn’t want to make you drive, so—”

“It’s perfect,” Connor reassures him, pulling his jacket a little tighter around himself.

It is perfect, it’s wonderful and thoughtful and kind and so absolutely Evan.

And so...not Connor.

And this — this isn’t genuine, right? It can’t be. Not so soon after the whole — the god damn kiss thing. Evan doesn’t really want to date him, right?

This whole... date business is to make the kiss thing less awkward. It has to be. Because Evan is, well, Evan; kind and caring despite his anxiousness, always doing the most to make people (make Connor) happy.

And Connor is Connor. Someone who can’t even have one friend without falling for him like an idiot and kissing him the same day he tried to kill himself.

The flower in his pocket feels like a dead weight.

“C-Connor?” Connor’s eyes snap to Evan, who has stopped pouring them both glasses of sparkling cider to stare at him worriedly. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” he says forcefully, then immediately curls inward on himself and backtracks. “Nothing, really. I’m fine.”

Evan scoots himself a bit closer to Connor and looks him closely in the eye. “No, w-what is it? Please tell me if something — if I’ve done something wrong.”

Connor yanks at the cuffs of his jacket frustratedly, refusing to make eye contact. “You didn’t do anything wrong. I’m just an idiot.”

“You’re not an idiot,” Evan says firmly. “Please tell me what’s going on. I ca — you’re my friend, Connor, I want to help—”

“That’s what’s wrong,” Connor whispers, still not looking at Evan. “I — you’re just doing this because of everything that's been going on with me, right.”

“W-Why would I do that?”

“Because I kissed you after trying to kill myself! And — and this is just you trying to keep me from going off the deep end, right—”

Evan tenses at his side, and Connor feels himself do the same.

“You remember the ki — you remember kissing me?” There’s a tremor in his voice. “Why did you lie to me, Connor?”

“Because I know you don’t like me, and I don’t want to ruin what we have because you’re so — you’re so fucking important, Evan, you’re the one person I can rely on, the one person who stays with me even though I’m so stupid and, and a freak, and—”

Evan grabs onto the edge of Connor’s jacket sleeve, using his other hand to touch Connor’s chin just enough to nudge his eyes towards Evan’s. Connor hates the way Evan’s eyes go sad when he sees the tears budding in his.

“You’re not a freak, and you’re not stupid,” Evan whispers. “And you’re not — there’s no way you could ruin this—”

“Yes, I am! I always ruin it, Evan!” He laughs harshly, moving out of Evan’s grasp and pushing a hand through his hair roughly. “Fucks sake, I’ve already ruined it with that stupid fucking kiss, and now you’re trying to fix my fuck up with all this, trying to make me feel better by humoring me with a date.”

“No, Connor!” Evan blurts, putting his hands on Connor’s shoulders. “I-I’m doing this because I like — no, d-dammit — I love you, and I loved it when you kissed me! And I—I want to do it again. K-Kiss you. If y-you’re okay with that.”

Connor just stares.

Evan doesn’t think he’s a freak. Evan likes kissing him. Evan wants to kiss him again.

Evan loves him.

Evan loves me.

“I love you,” Connor whispers. Evan smiles and angles himself closer.

“I love you too.”

Connor moves his hands to Evan’s hair, carding his hands through gently, because Evan deserves all of the soft touches in the world and more. He gives him space to move away, gives him time to change his mind, to backtrack, but he doesn’t. He just smiles, face bright red and green eyes so, so soft, and lets his hands fall across Connor’s shoulders. Connor can feel them shake, but his face is confident; sure.

Connor grins, and pulls Evan’s face in to meet his, and it feels like coming home.

Chapter Text

Evan gives Connor a kiss on the cheek as he settles into the passenger’s seat of Connor’s car the next morning. The smile the action earns quells any rising anxiety.

The car ride to school is silent, because all that needed to be said had been the night before on their date-turned-vent-session. In the hours they’d sat together in the orchard, they’d at least broken the surface of working through their multitude of issues; Connor his feelings of inadequacy and being undeserving of Evan, and Evan of his anxiety over, well, everything.

They talk about Connor’s attempts. They talk about Evan’s past attempts. They talk about the kiss. They talk about Connor lying about the kiss. They talk, and they talk, and they decide on a few things.

One; they’re in love with each other. It’s out in the open, they both freely (and soberly) admit to it, and they couldn’t be happier.

Two; they’re...dating, now. Boyfriends (Evan has to bite back a smile whenever that thought crosses his mind).

And three; for now...for now, no one needs to know they’re dating.

And, yeah, Evan is fully aware that Jared will probably catch on the second he sees them. Zoe probably will, too. But they don’t need to be outright about it, especially not with the harassment Connor has been taking from people since the whole Connor Project thing and his subsequent attempt.

For right now, Connor and Evan are okay with just being together quietly.

And they’d discussed that too, the night before; that this — them dating doesn’t have to change anything. They were best friends before, and the addition of some extra hand holding — and maybe some kissing if they’re particularly feeling like it — isn’t something they want to allow to make things weird.

They had feelings before they dating and had a (mostly) pretty good friendship. Being Connor’s boyfriend doesn’t cancel that friendship out.

Connor moves a hand from the steering wheel and reaches for Evan’s, pulling it to rest on the console. Connor’s cast rests gently on top of Evan’s knuckles, and they both smile as Connor makes a left turn into the school parking lot.

As soon as they step through the school doors they’re being intercepted by Jared and Elliot who are both grinning knowingly, and Evan can only roll his eyes because of course Jared spilled to Elliot.

“So,” Jared begins conversationally, linking his arm with Evan’s, “how was your d—?”

“Great,” Connor cuts in with a nasty grin of his own.

“Aw c’mon, Connor! We want to know!” Elliot whines, idly twirling a fidget spinner around in his fingers.

Connor shrugs. “Sure. You can tell me all about your dates afterwards.”

Jared and Elliot both flush and clam up, and Evan rolls his eyes again. Connor moves down the hallway alone towards his locker as Evan stops at his own and quickly pulls out a few of his books, moving to push them into his backpack just as there’s a confused noise behind him.

“Hey, man,” Elliot says, slightly disgruntled, and Evan turns to find him staring down two much taller, much more physically imposing boys, one of whom was holding the fidget spinner above Elliot’s head.

“Hey, man.” The other one, the blonde, slaps Elliot on the shoulder as he throws an arm around him. “Aren’tcha a little old to be playing with toys at school?”

Jared, who had been watching with visibly mounting anger, steps forward and pushes a finger into the red head’s face. “Lay the hell off of him.”

“Chill, Kleinman, we’re just messin’ with him,” the redhead tells him nonchalantly. “Isn’t that right, Elly?”

“M’name’s Elliot.” He pulls harshly out of the blonde’s grasp and moves to stare the other one in the face. “Give it back, man. I’m just trying to get to class.”

“Yeah? So are Parker and I.” He leans down to get right into Elliot’s face and jerks a thumb towards — who Evan supposes — is Parker. “We’re just tryna get to class, have a good day, y’know? But when we see a buncha dumb fuckin' queers—” A harsh shudder runs through Elliot, and Evan sees Jared’s fists clench in the corner of his eye—

“—blocking our way, it kinda sours our day, y’know? So.” He jabs a finger into Elliot’s chest, making him fall a half step back. Evan reaches out and grabs Jared’s arm before he can stalk forward too far.

“Evan, let me go.”

“You’re gonna make yourself scarce. Get the fuck out of our way. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll hold my boy Parker off from kicking your ugly teeth in.” The blonde’s smile is sinister. “But you gotta be real good, because Parker really hates fags. Especially the fat, ugly, big-toothed ones.”

Elliot balls his hands into fists, eyes averted from the boy in front of him. “M’ not a fag.”

The blonde laughs. “Oh, really? Kleinman looks about ready to duel me like some sorta queer knight in shining armor. Such a good boyfriend. Kinda like a puppy, huh?”

“Get the fuck off me, Evan!” Jared actually pushes Evan back to get his arm loose, slotting himself between Elliot and the blonde with a rapidly heaving chest.

“Shut the fuck up, asshole!” He looks like he’s about ready to shove him and start an actual fight, but the bell rings and it seems to de-escalate the situation some.

“C’mon, Josh,” Parker says snidely, dropping the fidget spinner to the floor and smashing it underfoot. Josh shoulders past Jared roughly and walks away, leaving him, Elliot and Evan be.

Elliot wipes embarrassedly at his eyes and shoves his hands deep into his pockets, quickly stalking off in the opposite direction. Jared, face still bright red with anger, glances back and forth a few times before rushing off after him, calling out, “El, wait!” as he runs.

Evan, thoroughly shaken, goes to class.

Connor is waiting in their usual seats at the back of the Environment classroom, phone in hand and mouth set in a worried line. When he notices Evan walk in he smiles, but it immediately drops once Evan sits.

“What took so long? And where’s Kleinman?” Evan just shakes his head and pulls a notebook out of his backpack with trembling hands. “Evan?”

“S-Something happened with Elliot. Some guys named P-Parker and, uh, Josh.”

Evan notices the way Connor tenses up at the names, but he ignores it for the moment in favor of focusing on Connor’s hand taking hold of Evan’s and squeezing.

“Is this okay?” Connor asks quietly, rubbing his thumb gently along Evan’s knuckles.

“Yes,” Evan responds quietly, then lapses into silence as the teacher takes his place at the front of the room and begins addressing the class.

The rest of their class period passes like that; listening to the teacher speak while hand in hand with Connor, and while the whole thing with Elliot this morning has an uneasy feeling digging into his gut, the feeling of Connor’s thumb rubbing reassuring circles on his hand helps it some.

When the bell rings they take their time picking up, and as they’re getting ready to leave Alana approaches and wraps Evan in an unexpected hug. He flinches but returns it, confused at the way Alana smiles into his shoulder.

“Oh, I just knew you and Connor would get together. You’re both so wonderful, I know you two will work out,” she tells him gently, and he feels himself mirror her smile. Connor watches in hesitant curiosity until Alana pulls away and leaves, but doesn’t ask about it until they’re walking towards Connor’s next class.

“What did she want?”

Evan smiles a bit. “She said we’re g-great together.”

Connor grins at that, tossing an arm casually over Evan’s shoulders and squeezing his arm gently. “She’s not wrong—”

“Ethan!” Evan tenses at the voice, slowing his pace to a sudden stop. A hand wraps around his other shoulder and pushes him against a row of lockers. Josh stands above him, grinning nastily.

“So it’s official, huh?” Parker pipes up from behind Josh, staring down Connor as he speaks. “Guess there really is someone out there for everyone. Even for suicidal freaks like Murphy.”

“Fuck off.” Connor grips Josh hard on the wrist and pulls his hand away from Evan roughly. Josh shrugs and shoves the hand into the pocket of his jacket.

“Y’think he’d remember what we said about fags from this morning, wouldn’t ya?”

“He might need a reminder,” Parker agrees, taking a step to the side and effectively trapping Evan against the lockers. “Murphy, too.”

Evan catches Connor wince from the outside of the mini circle trapping him, and with mounting anger he realizes just who it was that beat Connor up, what seemed like all that time ago.

“It was — you’re the ones who did it, aren’t you?” Evan demands, taking a half step towards them.

“Evan—” Connor begins, voice tight.

“N-No!” He faces Connor, hands tightening into fists. “It was them, wasn’t it?”

Connor just nods, averting his eyes in shame.

“And we’ll do the same to you,” Parker tells him threateningly, eyes narrowing.

“W-Why don’t you just leave me and Connor the hell alone? We haven’t — we’re not bothering a-anybody, you guys are just p-piece of shit, homophobic assholes who need to find ‘easy’ targets because—because you’re too weak to pick on people your own size.”

Josh leans down, nasty smirk melting into an angry sneer. “Why don’t you try saying that to my face, fa—”

Evan doesn’t think. Doesn’t allow his anxiety to make him hesitate. Doesn’t let his mind trip him up.

This is the person who assaulted Connor. This is the person who has terrorized people for so long, who has faced no consequences for being an abusive bully and a violent homophobe. This is the person who, more than anyone, deserves to be taught a lesson.

Evan is done hesitating. He is done letting himself get walked on, done being so afraid of everyone that he’ll let those he cares for most get hurt in the crossfire.

He’s done letting Connor down because he’s weak.

Evan doesn’t let his hand shake as he punches Josh in the nose as hard as he can.

Josh stumbles back at the impact, blood immediately beginning to seep down his face. He pushes his hand up to his nose, staring at Evan with wild, angry blue eyes. Parker takes a step forward, looking as if he’s going to retaliate, when someone grabs Evan’s shoulder and hauls him backwards.

“Hansen, principal’s office! Now!”

Evan loiters for a moment, focusing his eyes on Connor. He’s looking in awe at Evan, and shaking his head firmly he takes the few steps forward and pulls Evan into a long kiss.

Evan tries to grin into it, but falters. Connor pulls away, frown on his face but eyes wide with wonder.

“Punching hurts,” Evan says dumbly, staring at his knuckles, which he could tell already were going to bruise.

“You’re fucking crazy, Ev, Jesus,” Connor whispers, grinning fiercely. “You’re a fucking idiot, Christ. You’re gonna get suspended.”

Evan lets his eyes travel to Josh, who was on his knees on the ground, tears budding in his eyes. “W-Worth it.”

Connor begins barking with laughter as Evan is grabbed by the shoulder again by the teacher and guided towards the principal’s office. As he turns a corner he cranes his neck to get another glimpse of Connor, and the last he sees of him is him mouthing ‘I love you.’

Once things have calmed and Evan’s sat in the office, waiting for his mother to pick him up and officially begin his suspension, he can’t bring himself to regret what he did in the slightest.

Chapter Text

Evan gets suspended for a week.

Which, grand scheme, isn’t that huge of a deal; Connor’s done that and worse before. But it’s Evan, and it’s also mid-April, and with senior final projects and graduation just around the corner Connor understands Evan’s mild panic that’s seeping through his texts the night he’s suspended.

From: ev

What if they dont let me gradutae?

How will i get the homework

Oh my gof josh is goign to kill me when iget back

All valid concerns, but Connor knows that Evan will work himself into a god damn mess before his suspension is up if he doesn’t relax.

To: ev

ur doing well in all ur classes. they wouldv told u if u wernt graduating. ill bring u th homework.

ill kill him first. mayb give parker a matching brokn nose 2 match

From: ev

Oh god it’s actually brokne?????

i

Connor frowns at his phone and quickly moves to call Evan, pressing speaker as he listens to it ring. Evan picks up after two.

“Hey,” Connor begins, increasing the volume on his phone a bit. He can hear Evan breathing. “You alright?”

“Perfect,” he responds with a breathy laugh, panic punctuating through the quiet static of the phone.

“Nothing’s — you know that I’m not gonna let anything happen to you, right?”

Connor imagines Evan shrugging. “I g-guess so.”

“No. Hey.” Connor stands moves towards his closet. “You’re gonna be alright. You’ll ride out this suspension and then come back to school a fuckin’ legend. I’ll be right there with you.”

He hears Evan sniff. “I’m gonna miss your b-birthday.”

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

“I’m grounded — can’t leave the house.”

Connor shrugs, flexing his injured hand a bit. It hardly hurts anymore, which is a good sign. He frowns when he remembers this is the cast Evan didn’t sign. “Then I’ll bring it over to yours and we can pirate the new Spider-Man.”

“I think that goes against the whole concept of grounding, Connor.” He hears a smile in Evan’s voice.

“Since when do you know me to follow the rules?”

“Fair p-point.” The smile in Evan’s tone is replaced with sniffling, and Connor’s own smile drops.

“Ev?”

There’s a sigh on the other line. “I’m scared.”

“Of what?” Connor sets his phone gently on his bed and sifts around for his shoes.

“A l-lot, I guess? That you’ll go — that tomorrow at school they’ll come after you.” A shaky breath. “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.”

“Do you want me to come over?” Connor asks softly, eyeing the bedroom door that he knows is locked. The padlock on his window taunts him.

Connor’s not sure what’s worse; the idea of his parents listening to the psych at the hospital and removing his door all together, or the fact that they didn’t.

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

Connor wants to bring up the fact that he doubts he’ll be sleeping when he knows he’s trapped, but he doesn’t. No need to worry Evan further. “Expect to wake up to a bunch of texts tomorrow. Love you too.”

A few moments after he hangs up Evan sends him a string of stupid emojis, and Connor is smiling as he lays down and tries in vain to sleep.

He must, eventually, fall asleep, because he wakes to the sound of his door unlocking and his mother stepping into the room.

“Connor, time for school.” She stays just long enough to see him sit up fully, then she’s gone, shutting the door gently behind her.

Connor pushes a hand through his hair as he stands, sifting through his closet idly until he pulls on a decent outfit and grabs his phone. He sends Evan a good morning text with the tacked on promise to text him all day and heads towards the stairs.

Zoe’s at the table on her phone, a half eaten bowl of cereal in front of her. Connor guesses Larry has already left from his absence at the table, and as he moves to head out his mother stops him.

“I got a call from the doctor,” she begins, and for a moment Connor tenses. Why was his doctor calling her? He’d been attending his weekly therapy and taking his meds.

Is something wrong?

“And he said you can get your cast off soon!” She smiles. “I made an appointment for the twenty-first.”

“Gotcha.” He notices her frown as he moves towards the door, and before he leaves he grabs an apple and takes a bite in an attempt to appease her. “I’m gonna head out.”

“Okay. I love you!”

“You too.”

The drive to school is uneventful, and Connor feels his mood drop as the prospect of Evan not being there begins to set in. By the time he’s pulling into the school parking lot he’s frowning, and as he shuts off his car he looks at his phone.

From: ev

I love waking up early evne when i don t have school

tha t was a joke im kiddign

Connor smiles a bit, pockets his phone, and steps out of his car.

He feels himself tense as he walks into the school, the reality of what Evan said last night setting in a bit. Would Josh and Parker try to make a move to retaliate for Evan’s, well, Evan’s fucking badass sucker punch the day prior? Would they start harassing Connor again, this time with the ammo that he is actually involved with Evan?

Will they pull him into the handicapped stall again and…

Connor shakes his head and begins undoing the lock on his locker. No, it won’t. Nothing is — well, he’s going to be fucking fine. If Evan of all people can beat goddamn Josh in a fight, Connor’ll be fine.

As he’s turning away from his locker, books in hand, Connor sees something out of the corner of his eye that nearly makes him drop everything in surprise.

It’s Jared and Elliot — not exactly an unusual sight to see them together, especially with Evan absent — but it’s the fact that Jared has an arm around Elliot’s middle, and Elliot’s leaning into him ever so slightly that has Connor blanking.

Jesus, was Evan cold clocking Josh all that was needed for Elliot to come out?

Despite his confusion, Connor finds himself smiling as they pass. Jared catches his eye and absolutely grins, looking as genuinely proud and happy as Connor has ever seen him. Elliot turns to wave at Connor before looking back towards Jared like he’s hung the fucking sun.

Connor pulls out his phone to text Evan.

To: ev

ur a fuckng hero ev

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

The response is almost immediate.

From: ev

so they are datign? congrats to thjem though

To: ev

was it nt painfully obvious

From: ev

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

Connor laughs a bit at his phone before heading to class.

On his way to Environment he catches sight of Josh and Parker; Josh with a bulky bandage on his bruised nose and Parker looking embarrassed by it.

Connor can’t help but grin in grim satisfaction at the sight.

The rest of the day passes slowly, but easier than it could because he texts Evan all the while. His teachers are beyond caring about him having his phone in class; he’s a senior a month away from graduating with decent grades and is otherwise not bothering the class.

Over the course of the day he and Evan end up exchanging somewhere near five hundred texts, the only lulls in the conversation being at lunchtime when Connor make the uncharacteristic move to sit with Jared and Elliot in the cafeteria, where to his surprise they’re left alone.

As the end of the day approaches Connor finds his texts going unanswered, and while it’s weird he doesn’t question it much until the bell rings and he gets up to leave. Once he’s in the parking lot he texts Evan again only for it to still go unanswered, and feeling a frown take form on his face he presses the call button and brings the phone to his ear.

It rings, and rings, until finally it tells him to hang up and try again.

Connor tries again, and again, and again, each failed call quickening his pacing and making panic curl tighter in his chest.

When the sixth call sends him to Evan’s nonexistent voicemail, Connor steps into his car and pulls out of the parking lot towards Evan’s house.

He keeps trying Evan, his phone sitting in the passenger’s seat on speaker. The few minutes it takes to get to Evan’s house feel like fucking hours, and by the time he’s whipping his car into the driveway his leg is bouncing like crazy and he can hardly breathe.

Evan’s mom — Heidi — gets out of her own car, tears streaming down her face and still in hospital scrubs. She runs up to Connor as he gets out of his own car, eyes desperate.

“Do you know where he is?” she demands, voice shaking but firm enough to let him know that whatever’s got her so upset, it’s fucking serious.

“No, he stopped answering my texts. What’s — what happened?”

“He—” She pushes her hand over her mouth just as sob tears out of her throat, but she shakes her head against it. “Evan just texted me — texted me saying I won’t have to worry about him being a disappointment anymore, and—and he, that he’s sorry.”

Connor’s heart drops out of his chest.

“What is he sorry for?” she whispers, wiping under her eyes. “For — for getting suspended? He knows that—that I, that I don’t think he’s a disappointment, right? I don’t hate him, I—”

Connor can’t breathe. His lungs are too big for his chest — no, his lungs are too small for his chest. He can’t pull in enough air to stop his head from spinning, his heart is beating too fast and his pulse is crashing against his head and visions of Evan invade his thoughts, and suddenly all he can think about is Evan, Evan crashing into the fence, Evan driving with the intent of going off the bridge, Evan going to the bridge, going to jump off, he’s going to—

“The bridge,” Connor chokes out, knees wobbling suddenly under his weight. Heidi looks at him.

“What?”

“I—” He can’t worry about the repercussions of this now. Evan’s going to fucking kill himself. “I became his friend the night we both tried to kill ourselves.”

Heidi looks at him, stricken to the core, but Connor continues, he can’t stop, not after he’s held this all for so long.

“We — the bridge. We were both going to jump off, and—and, and I scared Evan, as he was about to—” His breathing his harsh, Connor can’t see. “We talked each other out of it, we — I gave him a ride home, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

“Where is my son? Where is Evan?” Her words are soft despite the anger, the sheer horror on her face, and it’s almost worse than being screamed at for letting this happen. For letting Evan continue on like everything is normal after he tried to off himself not once in Connor’s presence, but twice.

“The bridge. Past the orchard — outside of town, that way—” He points down the road. “I — call an ambulance. I need to — I can—”

Connor can’t see. All his eyes show him is the image of Evan perched on the edge, hands curled tightly around the red support beams on the bridge, half a step away from letting himself be flattened against the bottom of the riverbed.

Evan is going to die.

He could be stepping off as Connor just stands there, shaking and panicked and—and crying?

Connor can hardly grab onto the door handle they’re shaking so badly, and he thinks Heidi might be yelling, but all he can focus on his putting his car into drive and speeding down the road so fast he might end up dead before Evan gets the chance.

I need to find Evan I need to get to Evan Jesus Christ if he dies I die I can’t kill him I can’t he needs to live, god fucking dammit, I love him I need him to be okay please, God, let Evan be okay.

The drive to the bridge has never felt longer.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

The notion of life moving in slow motion during a crisis is bullshit.

There’s nothing — nothing about Connor’s drive to the bridge is muted or slow. The world hasn’t stopped turning. It’s moving at a million miles an hour, the trees are a blur of motion just outside of the windows, the old engine on his car is wailing and even that seems to be going faster than normal.

The entire fucking planet has gone into overdrive, and it’s overwhelming.

Connor pulls a sharp turn and his head smacks hard into the window — a familiar feeling that once again has his vision blurring momentarily but he doesn’t have the time for this, for fucks sake, if the rest of the world has jumped into motion that means Evan has, too, and he could already be—

Connor has stopped looking at the speedometer. All he knows is that he’s going far too fucking fast for the road he’s on, and Evan would have had no way to drive there, so he had to walk which means Connor still has time, he still has a chance, Evan still has a chance.

His hands won’t stop shaking.

The hole in the fence where Evan crashed flies by before Connor can even process it, the only clue being the way his surrounding become slightly less familiar.

He guesses he’s got about two minutes before he drives up to the bridge.

Flooring the gas pedal, he resolves to get there in one.

The police in this town are awful fucking lucky they aren’t patrolling this road, because Connor doesn’t doubt for a second he’d pull something risky and get his ass arrested if something got between him and the bridge right now.

The brief gaps in the trees begin to be filled with flashes of red, and just as aggressively as when he was accelerating Connor slams his foot on the break and winces as his car begins to skid, and for a brief moment he’s terrified he’s going to flip his car.

But he doesn’t, and he doesn’t have the time to thank his lucky stars because he’s opening the door and running out into the trees before the car even stops.

Something snaps underfoot, and it startles Connor enough to make him look — a cellphone. He doesn’t need to think to guess whose it is, simply grabbing it and taking off running again.

He left his phone. That — that doesn’t have to mean anything. He could have just left it. Just because Connor found it doesn’t mean—

Branches cut at Connor’s face as he breaks through the treeline, and he lets out a sob when he sees Evan still standing.

Evan startles, one of his feet slipping from it’s place tucked against a support beam. He regains balance quickly, but Christ if Connor feels as if seeing him almost slip shaved ten years off his lifespan.

“Evan!”

He doesn’t turn around; just stands and stares down over the bridge. “You should go.”

“I don’t want to go.” Connor takes a few steps forward, but keeps his distance. “I don’t want you to go, either.”

“We don’t always g-get what we want, do we?” Evan snaps with surprising bite, fingernails tapping without rhythm on the metal. “I suppose you—you think I should just step down and cry about my feelings, right?”

Evan still isn’t looking at him. Connor taps his foot, unsure of how to respond. “I’m not going to tell you what to do.”

“No, you’re n-not.” Evan coughs a few times, then rushes to bring breath back into his body. “You’re not going to tell me anything, because—because you—” Evan’s free hand clenches at his side, tension rising up his spine.

“Y-You’re going to leave me alone, and just let me finish this.” His voice breaks on ‘finish,’ and they both wince.

Connor takes another step forward. Evan turns on his heel, eyes alight with anger and tear tracks marking up his face. “Get away from me!”

He moves a half step back, nodding. Evan’s knees begin to shake and he uses both arms to brace himself against the support beam at his side.

“Stop—Stop looking at me like that.”

“Like w—”

“Like I’m a disappointment!” Evan snaps, using the back of one hand to wipe at his face. “Like — like you’re afraid of me. Just stop. Everyone else in the entire world is disappointed in me, knows how weak and stupid I am. My mom, Jared, Zoe, Alana, my dad…”

The frustrated sob comes out of Evan as a round of coughs.

“Your dad?” Connor asks tentatively, though by the way Evan grimaces he thinks he’s hit the mark.

“He—” Evan forces out a laugh, running a hand frantically through his hair. “The s-school called him, for some reason, even though he hasn’t even been in the same fucking state as me since I was a kid, and he—he calls me, and asks why I was suspended, and y-you know what he says?”

“H-He — he—he called me a disappointment. That people like me deserve to be beaten up, i-if it teaches them a lesson. That—” Evan moves his eyes away from Connor towards the ground, beginning to shake harder. “That all I’ll ever be good for is being walked on.”

“And it’s true, isn’t it?” Evan asks the air gently, shaking his head. “All I — all anyone ever does is walk all over me. Ignore me. Nobody — I’m invisible. I always have been. And — and for the first time, you made me feel like somebody could see me.”

Connor takes a step forward. Evan doesn’t seem to notice. “But I don’t know why you’d want to see me. All I do is d-disappoint people.” He breathes out a short laugh.

They drift into silence, and Evan turns around.

“Wait,” Connor pleads, forcing his voice to be soft. “Ev, just listen to me for—for a minute, okay?”

Silence. Evan doesn’t move any further.

“I. I know what it’s like to feel like that — like all you ever do is disappoint people. I feel like such a fucking failure all of the time. My sister is terrified of me and my mom is exhausted because of me and Larry, god all I do is fucking disappoint Larry.” He takes a harsh breath. “I know what that feels like. I’ve stood where you’re standing, more than once. And I—”

Evan’s begun to shake again. Connor prays he’s on the right path with this. “I’ve been there, waiting for the right moment to jump. To be honest, I kind of still want to. I’ll probably still want to for a long fucking time. And I know that probably applies to you, too. But. But god damn it Ev, sometimes we just have to say fuck you and keep living.”

“I’ll just disappoint everyone again.”

“What absolute monster is going to be disappointed that you didn’t kill yourself?” Connor demands, a little harsher than he intends. “Think about that. Why do you want to impress someone like that?”

Evan is silent.

“Exactly.” Connor takes a moment to think about what to say. “Look. Our — so much about our lives is shitty. You don’t need me to tell you that. But — fuck, Ev, we’re almost eighteen. We’re a month away from graduating and never having to see Parker and Josh and everyone like them ever again. We’re almost — you’re almost there, Evan. You’re so close. And I don’t know what I’d do if I saw you come to an end before you could really live.”

“Please — please don’t make this a ‘you jump, I jump’ kind of thing,” Evan whispers, gripping onto the railing at his side. “Don’t do that to me.”

“It’s true though, isn’t it?” Connor asks quietly. “You’ve — Christ, Evan, you’ve saved my life more than you know.”

Connor feels himself tearing up, but he powers through, wrapping his arms around himself. “The night here, obviously, but — I never told you this, but. For almost a week after that night, I came back. I stood where you are, and I—I was there.” Connor laughs a bit.

“But your corny, caring ass would never leave me alone without telling me to ‘stay safe’ or make me promise to see you tomorrow or something like that, and I never could.”

“I never could,” Connor repeats softly, then shakes his head and looks back towards Evan. He might hear sirens. “And — fuck — there’s a dozen more times where something you did or said made me pause, and think, and just...not. I’d hear your voice or read a text from you and things wouldn’t be better, fuck they wouldn’t even be good, but it’d give me a reason to not, y’know? So — thank you. Thank you for—for giving me a chance? For pulling me out of that place even though you didn’t always mean to. No one else has done that for me.”

Connor has to really try to calm down his breathing, but when he can, he whispers, “I can’t wait to see what you become.”

Evan turns back around to face Connor, and there are fresh tears on his face. “If — if you’re trying to say things are going to be perfect, that—that I’m going to wake up five years from now and be healthy and happy and better, I d-don’t believe you. I don’t — I don’t want to wait. I want to be happy now.”

Connor manages a smile. The wail of an ambulance has never been more comforting. “No, nothing is ever going to be perfect. Not for either of us. But for right now I can pretend; can you?”

Evan just nods and Connor couldn’t even begin to quantify the relief he feels when Evan steps down from the edge, sways gently on his feet for a moment, and falls to his knees.

Connor rushes forward, pulling Evan against his chest and wrapping his arms tight around him. He pulls his jacket off one-handed, wrapping it around Evan’s shoulders and allowing him to fully sink into him. Hands form a vice grip around bunches of his shirt, Evan’s tears soaking his front and his sobs filling the still air around them.

Connor wants to say something, tries to find the right words, but he falls short. What could he possibly say? What else is there to be said?

It seems wrong to speak, with the state they’re both in. The ambulance must be just out of his field of vision, with the way the sirens are beginning to drown out Evan. Connor settles for rubbing circles onto Evan’s back and hoping his words show through.

I’m sorry. I love you. You mean to much to me. I’m so glad you’re alive.

Footsteps move into the clearing, and faintly the sound of Evan’s mom crying breaks through the shrillness of the sirens. Another pair of arms wrap around Evan, another pair of green, green eyes come into view streaming tears, a curtain of blonde hair falls across Evan’s face and head and back and seems to cover him like a protective blanket, and for the first time Connor feels as though Evan is really safe.

Connor is shaking, Evan is shaking, but he’s alive and Evan’s alive and though neither of them are anywhere near okay, for now, that’s enough.

Chapter Text

“You’re going to burn if you don’t put any on.”

Evan stares at himself in Jared’s mirror, watching through the corner of his eye as the tube of sunscreen is waved at him. The hand wrapped around it is red, and Evan has to fight the urge to roll his eyes as Jared’s equally red face grins at him.

“Says you.”

“Yeah, says me,” Jared shoots back, pulling up the sleeves on his gown to show off the extent of the sunburn he’s stuck with. “Look at me. I’m a fuckin’ lobster because I didn’t listen to El when he told me to put some on. Or Alana, either. I think even Connor hit me over the head with it at one point.”

Evan examines his own gown in the mirror. The standard blue and tan of his school colors, with the edge of the gown coming down his legs a bit too long and brushing the tops of his new dress shoes. The only parts of him not covered by the gown are his hands and his head.

“Are they meeting us here or at school?” Evan asks, ignoring Jared with a small smile. Jared shrugs in a “suit-yourself-but-you’ll-regret-this” kind of way and tosses the sunscreen onto the bed.

“Alana’s at the school. Valedictorian shit or something.” Jared picks up his phone from somewhere on the bed and after a few moments continues, “Connor’s gonna drive him and El here, then we’ll all go.”

“How long til they’re here?” Evan thinks there might be a stain on the front of his gown. He rubs at it, frowning.

“Eager, huh?’ Jared wiggles his eyebrows at Evan through the mirror, but the wince he morphs into after makes Evan think that his sunburn is putting a damper on making suggestive facial expressions at him.

“H-Hardly.” Evan smiles grimly at what the day is bound to hold; sitting in the sun during speeches, having to walk up on stage with hundreds of eyes on him, attending graduation parties. “Can’t imagine you are either, what with — what with your face.”

Jared snickers, retrieving the sunscreen from the bed and squeezing what looks like half the tube into his palm. “What with my face, huh? Biting words, Evan.”

Evan steps away from the mirror with one more downcast glance at the smudge on his gown, giving Jared room to observe himself in the mirror as he gets to work rubbing in the pile of sunscreen he’s got in his hands. He moves to the bed, taking a bit of loose fabric from his gown between his fingers and rubbing it.

He’s graduating.

And. Well. So is everyone else in his class. But despite himself, the words send a shockwave through Evan whenever he hears them.

After his attempt, no one was really sure if he was going to be up and out of inpatient to face it in time for the ceremony. He’d ended up missing his senior prom, which for some reason had him upset enough to warrant going back on mandatory watch for a few nights. He’d spent another good few nights crying to his mom about the idea of not graduating at all, which he handled about as well as he did missing prom, but eventually he was clear and after that hurdle came the prospect of just not being ready to face the school.

But he was here. His mom was downstairs talking with Jared’s parents, the muted laughter coming through the shut door faintly. He’d been free from the hospital for a solid three and a half weeks now, after staying for just shy of a month. He’d even gotten back into the swing of things at school, turning in his final projects and homework assignments with a smile, only for it to end soon after getting back into routine.

Things still weren’t great, or even good at times; much like how Connor had been received, Evan still got looks ranging from pity to disgust to just plain curiosity, and all of the attention still made it hard to breathe a lot of the time. His suspension was still on his record, and no one in Parker’s friend group was particularly kind to him upon his return to school.

He’d finished his senior year with decent grades, but more importantly, he’d finished his senior year. And Evan was proud of even just that.

Not to mention how proud Connor was.

Connor.

As he would come to find out, Connor had told Evan’s mom about how they met, and eventually told his own parents. From what Evan could tell, that wasn’t a very good night for Connor, but since then he’s seemed much lighter, like he could finally breathe. Evan could relate.

Really, fully explaining everything to his mom took Evan a good week to be ready for. He’d had to relay bits of information to police officers and nurses and psychiatrists, but for reasons Evan wasn’t sure of, telling his mom was the hardest. He had known he’d of had to eventually, but the thought of confessing all of what happened, all the bad things he did made him sick to his stomach.

She was understanding, and though she cried, he knew she wasn’t angry, and his breathing became just a bit easier.

And, luckily, that aspect of what happened stayed fairly quiet; Evan’s mom, Connor’s family, a few cops and his therapist, and eventually Jared were the only ones who knew the extent of what happened, and Evan knew that both he and Connor were just fine with that.

Evan could only really start breathing, though, when a breakthrough that wasn’t even his happened. The day Connor came into Evan’s room, very obviously crying but smiling in what Evan could only describe as relief as he announced that his parents were taking the lock off of his door and his window for good.

Evan had cried, too, and for the first time in a long time it was happy crying.

Aside from the circumstances at hand, after that point things for the most part quieted down — more often than not Evan spent the remainder of his time in the hospital bored out of his mind. But he figured it was better to be bored but improving than stimulated but getting worse, so he made the most of it. Did puzzles, read books, did homework, and while the sluggishness of his days left him groggy and cranky at times, the slowness was a welcome break from all that he’d been through.

Jared grins at Evan through the mirror. “Lost in thought, there?” Then, smile drooping some, “Are you alright?”

Evan smiles back at him. “Yeah. Uh. Nervous.” Someone lays on their car horn very obnoxiously from Jared’s driveway. Evan stands and waits for Jared to rub in the last of the sunscreen and pocket the bottle before moving with him down the stairs.

Evan waves to Heidi and Jared’s moms as the horn goes off again, and with an exasperated look thrown towards the door he jogs after Jared and has to take a moment to blink against the bright sun that threatens to blind him as he steps outside.

“It’s not like we’re gonna be fuckin’ late, relax!” Jared yells over the horn, putting a hand over his eyes against the sun and glaring towards Connor’s new car. Elliot waves through the windshield as Connor mouths something back to Jared in response, and eager to get out of the sun and take advantage of the new air conditioning system Connor’s car was equipped with both men run towards it.

Evan swings into the passenger’s seat with a smile, relaxing against the headrest as the AC immediately helps the sweat problem he was already developing.

“Can we just sit in the car the whole time?” Jared asks from the seat behind Connor, pushing his face up towards the front so the cool air blows on his face. Elliot tugs on Jared’s seatbelt, urging him to put it on. “Drive right up on stage when they call our names.”

“Nope.” Connor smiles as he puts the car into reverse, offering a quick, awkward wave to Jared and Evan’s moms, who had stepped out of the house to see them off. “You could work on your tan, anyways.”

“Fuck you.” It’s said without bite, more with a whine, and Elliot pats Jared’s head sympathetically before adding, “he’s not wrong, you know.”

Jared whines again, finally putting his seat belt on. Evan snaps his into place as well, ignoring the burn of the hot fabric in favor of being thankful Connor’s new car actually had seatbelts.

Elliot and Jared fall into conversation behind him, and under the sound of their voices Connor glances at Evan and asks, “how are you?”

Evan smiles, really smiles, and reaches a hand over to squeeze Connor’s. “Okay. Nervous. I can’t believe — I didn’t think it’d ever end.”

Connor smiles ruefully, stopping at a red light. “You and me both. But look at us now, huh? Got our own fancy gowns and everything. It’s the real deal.”

“The real deal,” Evan repeats quietly, still not quite accustomed to the fact that he’d be getting his diploma in a matter of hours. This trip to his high school would be his last. He’d never have to see any of his classmates again, if he so chose.

And, with the exceptions of his present company, Zoe and Alana, he did.

The short ride to school passes with excited chatter between the four of them, and by the time they’re out, checked in, and waiting around on the field where their graduation would take place, parents and families were already beginning to fill in the reserved seats.

Evan chooses to stand by his friends as long as he can, because once the ceremony starts they’ll be seated alphabetically and he’ll be stuck a quarter of the alphabet away from Connor and Jared. He scans around the area for Alana, hoping to at least greet her before the ceremony, but he never sees her.

Evan pulls his phone from his pocket and checks the time; it was getting close to the point where they’d have to find their seats. Evan’s hands find the spot on the front of his gown, rubbing it anxiously between two fingers. He flinches away from the noise as someone taps on the microphone and announces would all graduating students find their seats, please.

Connor waves towards Jared. “I’ll meet you over there, just gonna walk Ev to his seat.”

“How romantic,” Jared coos back, turning to his boyfriend and planting an obnoxious kiss on his cheek. “You can go find your own seat. My feet fuckin’ hurt.”

Connor drapes an arm over Evan’s shoulders and leads them both away from their bickering friends, and after a moment Connor slows his pace and drops his hand from Evan’s shoulder to his hand, squeezing gently.

“Still don’t like crowds,” Connor tries with a smile, not quite hiding the tenseness in his voice. Evan continues to rub at the spot on his gown.

“You alright?” Connor steps in front of Evan, gently pulling his hand away from his gown and moving them to rest at his sides. Evan shrugs, and to his horror feels a lump in his throat.

“Nervous.”

“How many times have you said that today?”

Evan shrugs again, pointedly looking away from Connor. “It’s true.”

“Maybe so.” Connor licks his thumb and uses the nail to scratch at the spot on Evan’s gown. In a few seconds, it’s gone. “But think of it this way: all we’re doing is listening to a couple people talk, watching for an hour as people go and grab a piece of paper, and then going home.”

“Thanks.” Evan reaches for one of Connor’s hands and holds onto it greedily. Connor smiles and drops his head to give him a quick kiss. “It’s just — it’s what you said. A lot of people. A lot of eyes that are gonna be looking at me when I walk up there. Eyes that know—”

“Hey.” Connor uses his free hand to touch Evan’s cheek. “We talked about this. Extensively. No one knows anything, remember? It’s us, our parents, and Jared that know.”

Connor grins, a little ruefully. “And besides, no one is gonna be paying attention to us walking up, anyways. By the time they start calling your row everyone’s gonna fuckin’ be asleep anyways. All anyone’s gonna think is ‘it’s too damn hot out.’”

Evan smiles a bit. “Okay.” He pauses for a second, notices that most people are in their seats. “By the way, if you — if you or Jared cheer for me when my name is called, I’m disowning you both.”

Connor laughs, beginning to walk again. “No promises. You know I can’t control him, and, well. He just has a way of influencing a crowd.”

“Guess I have to start filling out the divorce papers during the speeches, h-huh?” They both laugh as they come up to Evan’s row.

“You’ll never get me to sign ‘em.” Connor squeezes Evan’s hand one more time before letting him go. “Good luck. You’ll do great.”

“You too.” Evan pushes himself up on his toes and gives Connor a short kiss. “Love you. See you after.”

“See you after.” With a goofy wave, Connor turns and jogs back towards his row. Evan looks back towards the row he’s seated in and once again finds himself grateful that he’s managed to have an aisle seat. Even though it means he’ll be the first in his row to go up, he’ll take that over being squished in the middle of a row between two people.

Evan doesn’t know the boy who gives the opening speech, and when it’s over he finds himself not quite remembering what was said, too focused on how hot it was outside. Though Connor was right about the heat taking over the focus during the ceremony, he wishes they had just done the ceremony in the gym.

The principal speaks next, and while Evan listens to the opening with the intent of listening, his phone buzzes in his pocket and he scrambles to pull it out and shut it off before he causes some sort of interruption. He has to fight a smile when he sees it’s a string of texts from Connor featuring selfies from the worst possible angles. To a particularly unattractive shot of Connor’s left ear and an under view of some random guy’s chin, Evan responds with ‘hot’.

From: Con

shldnt u be payin attntion

With a sarcastic frowning face and a ‘fine,’ Evan locks his phone and is glad he thought to put it on silent when a slew of complaints from Connor come through.

Eventually the principal finishes her speech and after a few moments applause Alana steps on stage, proud and somewhat misty-eyed expression on her face. As the sound from the audience dies down, she takes in a deep breath and looks out into the crowd, and Evan, for the first time, is hit with the reality of where he is.

“Ellison County High School—” Inexplicably, she breaks into nervous laughter, tears already gathering in her eyes. “God, I didn’t think I would cry so soon!”

The crowd laughs, more with her than at her, and with a sad smile she continues. “Hi, fellow graduates. Peers, acquaintances, friends, teachers, and everyone in between. It’s been an interesting few years together. Over the last four years here at Ellison High, we’ve learned a lot. We’ve learned to do that math problem that seemed impossible, we learned to conjugate our verbs in English, Spanish, French, and German. We’ve learned how to cut in the lunch line, and get out of class early, and pass a test we didn’t study for until five minutes before. And these will all, in some way, carry us through the rest of our lives, one way or another.

“I think, though, the most important thing we have learned in these past four years is to grow. To change, to push past who we once were, who we were stuck being, and find ourselves on the better end of progress.

“I’d like to take a few more minutes of your time — and not many, I promise, because trust me I know how hot it is out, too — to talk about what we’ve learned and why it is so important. In addition, I’d like to talk about those we must thank, and those we must remember.” Any noise throughout the crowd stills, and with a deep breath punctuating the silence, Alana continues.

“I told you that the most important thing we learned here was the ability to grow. All of us, since stepping through the doors here on our first day of high school, have changed. And this is so important. And I’m sure some of you are wondering just what the heck I’m talking about; my dads had no idea, either.

“I’m going to call a few people out right now, sorry.” She’s smiling, and the crowd laughs. Evan hopes he’s not included in the people being ‘called out.’ “First is Haley Balkan. I remember that she walked in here her freshman year, was quiet as a mouse and didn’t really open up all that much. Now look at her — she’s rocking bright pink hair and will take every opportunity to tell you about it!” Alana points, and a few rows in front of Evan he sees a girl standing and waving. A round of applause runs briefly through the crowd.

“And Nella — Campanella Prince! I’ve known you forever, Cam. And as long as I’ve known you, you’ve been growing. Your personality, your maturity, your art — gosh, your art! You’ve grown and improved so much in these past years. Can we give them a round of applause, too? Can you stand?”

Evan has to crane his neck around to see someone not quite stand, but still wave with a small smile on their face. After a moment the attention returns to Alana. “And Evan Torres!” Evan has to fight down the rush of adrenaline at hearing his name, though it isn’t really his.

“Evan, sorry to call you out like this—” there’s a jokingly indignant shout from near the back of the crowd, “—but I just had to mention you. We haven’t been friends all that long, but even still I’ve seen you grow so much. You’ve really come out of your shell. When we were freshmen, I would’ve never pegged you as the type to start up a club, but look at you now! You’ve made so many friends, you’ve brought together so many other people, and that’s such a startling difference from how you started out high school.” There’s another round of applause.

“And this one is a bit more personal, but please bear with me.” Alana’s smile doesn’t quite fall, but the intensity lessens, and though Evan has an inkling of what she’s going to say next, he still isn’t quite prepared for her to turn her eyes onto him, before flicking them to somewhere farther into the crowd.

“A few months ago, I found out a friend of mine was hurting very badly. Actually, let me rephrase — I don’t think we were quite yet friends. But I discovered he was hurting. And, you all know me, I always have to do something about everything.” Laughter. Evan begins to fidget with the fabric bunched by his legs.

“However, this...this thing that I did. I didn’t think it through very well. It ended up hurting this person a lot more than it did help.” Alana casts her eyes downward, pausing. “And as a result, something very awful happened. Something that, try as we might, we can’t fully move past. I think about what happened every day.”

Alana wipes at her eyes. “But this isn’t a sad story. At least, it isn’t now. I was forgiven, despite my awful mistake. And this person — I’ll have him stand in a moment, if he would — had no reason to forgive me. He didn’t have to. But he did. And I—” Alana smiles a bit. “And that moment, that forgiveness, is a very large part of why I believe that growth has been our most important attribute learned here. Connor, will you stand?”

There’s a short pause as he stands. “The Connor I knew — the Connor I think we all knew — wouldn’t have forgiven me for that. The Connor we all knew would have gotten angry, would have thrown a fit—” The crowd breaks into soft whispers, but Alana continues.

“I imagine you’re all thinking, ‘why is she being so mean to him’? And, well. This story, this isn’t about Connor’s growth — though he has, especially in the past few months, grown more than I could ever imagine. This story relates to my growth.”

Silence.

“Connor Murphy is someone that all of us have some preconceived notion of. We had our opinions of him set, even if we’d never spoken to him before. We had all decided that Connor Murphy was a certain type of person. But I don’t think we could have all been more wrong.”

“Connor Murphy has defied all of my expectations. He has moved from someone who was feared, who was laughed at, who had so much going against him — all because of people like us, who had false notions about him stuck in our minds — into the person he really is. For the first time, I think I’m really seeing. Seeing the way he smiles in the hallways at people as they pass, even when they refuse to smile back. Seeing the way he reaches out to others like him, to others who have been deemed by the rest of us as different, as someone who is to live on the fringes.”

“Seeing, for the first time, the way he wants to help people.” Alana smiles, and she’s crying for real now. “Thanks to Connor Murphy, the disaster of a project myself and my girlfriend started, The Connor Project, is back online, and taking steps to actually help people.”

Someone behind Evan begins clapping — he’s betting on Jared — and faster than Evan can keep up with the rest of the crowd is bursting into applause, and when Evan looks behind him he sees Jared with an arm slung proudly around Connor’s shoulders and a genuine smile on Connor’s face.

By the time Alana regains her composure and the crowd quiets, Evan’s hands burn from clapping too hard. “It seems I’ve gone a bit off script, this is taking a lot longer than I intended,” she admits, voice cracking slightly, and the crowd laughs. “So, Connor, thank you. Not just for giving me permission to gush about you on stage, but for everything I gushed about you.”

“I’d also like to thank all of the staff and faculty who have made these past four years so special. If I were to thank each and every teacher who has positively touched my life we’d be here all night, so I suppose I’ll have to settle for this overarching thanks.

“And thank you, all of my fellow students. My fellow graduates. We really made it, huh?” Alana’s smile falls from something elated into something somber.

“As a class, we have been blessed as to not have had to mourn any of our fellow classmates. There have been some we’ve lost — to moving away, to dropping out, to any number of reasons — but I am so glad that I can stand here and know that everyone I’ve grown up with is alive and healthy.” Alana’s eyes find Evan’s.

“This year we have been faced with the potential to lose people. We have come close, on more than one occasion. And just because they’re all still here, that doesn’t lessen the impact of how we almost lost them. So as we take a small moment of silence, I ask you to remember those we’ve almost lost. Remember that pain is a hell of a thing, that all of us are feeling in ways that everybody else has no way to know about. A moment of silence,” Alana says, softly, the final syllable shifting the crowd into silence.

A brief gust of wind blows past, a momentary relief from the staggering hot. As the air resettles and the heat comes back to the forefront of everyone’s minds, Alana glances once more out into the crowd and clears her throat.

“So, here we are. In just a few minutes we’ll begin getting our diplomas, and much sooner than we think, we’ll be done. We’ll find ourselves surrounded by hugs and tears and watery smiles and ridiculous selfies. We’ll start rushing home to prepare for graduation parties, updating our statuses to ‘just graduated,’ and, at the risk of being cheesy, taking the first step into the rest of our lives. We’ll try to stay in touch, but...we all know how it is.

“As a final thought to leave you on, I’d like to quote Walt Whitman, because since finding this piece—” She pauses, looking a little sheepish. “Or, rather, since watching the movie from which this quote is also recited, and crying my eyes out, I have not been able to get it out of my head.”

“Whitman wrote, ‘O me, O life of the questions of these recurring, of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities filled with the foolish. What good amid these, O me, O life?’” Alana pauses, smiles, eyes once again watery but gaze firm and proud. “‘Answer: that you are here—that life exists, an identity; that the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.’”

“I hope,” Alana begins, eyes scanning the crowd, “to one day be able to celebrate the verse in which you all contribute. That you all may be satisfied — no, that you all will look back on all of your lives, on the way you’ve lived and loved and grown, and be proud of the verse you have contributed to the world. All of you. Thank you.”

Evan is one of the first to his feet, clapping and beaming brightly up at Alana as applause breaks out in thunderous swells all around him. It’s not long before everyone in attendance is standing, the sound of cheering cutting through the harsh heat that Evan can feel is beginning to turn him red. Alana preens under the attention, shutting her eyes as if to savor the moment, before giving a short bow and making her way back to her seat.

As the applause and cheering die down, the principal takes Alana’s place at the podium and asks would the first row of students make their way to side stage, please. Several teachers place themselves around the long table holding the diplomas to be handed out, gathering the first few and standing at the ready to hand them to students as they shake the principal’s hand.

Idly, Evan wonders which of the seemingly hundreds of diplomas laying on the table is his.

The handing out of the diplomas is a surprisingly quick affair; faster than Evan expected. Walk up the stairs and across the stage, shake the principal’s hand, accept a diploma from a beaming teacher and retake your seat. Each person takes only about ten seconds.

Ten seconds to officially graduate high school.

Within a matter of minutes the first row of students are back in their seats and taking selfies with their diplomas in hand — and maybe that’s a dramatization, they’re not all doing that, but Evan catches his left eye in the camera view of someone in front of him — and the row right in front of him are making their way towards the stage. Evan uses the heel of his hand to wipe at his forehead.

It would be his turn after the row in front of him is finished. He’d be the first person in his row to walk across the stage. He’d shake the principal’s hand (make sure it’s not too sweaty, that would be embarrassing, he’ll have to wipe it off first), take the diploma, and be done. It wouldn’t be so bad.

Evan swallows and watches as Elliot takes the paper from a teacher’s hand and waves towards the crowd. And just like that he’s done, moving back towards his chair with a bounce in his step.

Yeah. Evan will be fine.

On a whim, Evan pulls out his phone, doing his best to hide it in the sleeve of his gown as he goes to his text messages. Zoe’s sent him a selfie, giving the camera a thumb up. There’s teal coloring her hair now; the color is a stark contrast from the light pink blouse on her shoulders. Underneath the picture is an excited ‘good luck, kid!’

As he’s moving to lock his phone, a notification comes through from Connor. And then another. As the final few students make their way back to their seats, Evan has just enough time to grin to himself at the blurry image of Connor winking with his tongue out with the caption ‘go get em, tiger’ before he’s locking his phone and rushing to stand and take his position at the lead of his row.

And. Shit. He’s walking. He’s walking and the person next to — behind? — him is breathing on his neck, mumbling to himself about something Evan can’t bring himself to care about. His face is definitely sunburnt, and god damn Jared was right, he should have put on some sunscreen. He wishes he’d thought to bring something to drink, because his throat is dry and he feels sort of like his lips might be chapped from the sun, and thank God he isn’t going to have to speak because he knows that if he tries his voice will crack. Whether it be from the anxiety or the dry heat or maybe the tightness that had developed near the end of Alana’s speech, Evan isn’t quite sure but regardless he — shit, he’s nearly tripped on his way up the stairs as his name is announced to the crowd.

There’s a polite smattering of applause as he moves towards center stage, rudely interrupted by the sound of his mom cheering loudly — he looks out towards where he hears her voice and smiles — and, even more rudely, the sound of Jared and Connor standing and screaming his name — and he pointedly looks away from the audience after that, fighting down an embarrassed flush as he remembers to wipe his hands on his gown as the principal extends her own to him.

His smile is tight and he very much avoids her eyes as he shakes her hand, still more than a little bit mortified over being hauled to her office during the whole Josh debacle. But she smiles warmly and offers him a genuine “congratulations” before retracting her arm and cueing him to grab his diploma. He does, and before Evan can really think about it he’s already down the steps on the opposite end of the stage and halfway back to his seat.

Huh. Not so bad after all.

As the ceremony moves slowly onward, Evan can’t help but keep his gaze focused on the paper in his hand. He doesn’t want to open it here — it seems too premature. The fact that he has his diploma hasn’t exactly set in, so for now he’s content to just stare at the neatly rolled diploma he’s got resting in his lap, looking up only to applaud Jared significantly more enthusiastically than everyone else.

Jared blows an obnoxious kiss to the crowd — to Elliot, more realistically — as he walks across the stage, earning a smattering of amused yet stunted chuckles. Evan bites down a smile as Jared walks past the rows of students with his hand extended for high fives, and though he rolls his eyes he puts his hand out to slap Jared’s as he passes.

And then it’s Connor’s turn. There’s a noticeable shift in the volume of the applause as Connor’s name is announced, but to Evan’s relieved surprise it seems to get louder, not quieter. The principal seems to linger just a little bit as she shakes hands with Connor, but he seems uninterested in her; his eyes are shifting around the crowd, seeming to take it all in.

Inexplicably, Connor breaks out into a grin, and Evan finds himself more blinded by the intensity of his smile and the light in his eyes than by the sun beginning to dip into his peripherals.

Connor moves away from the principal but pauses after he’s handed his diploma, again taking in the crowd with that smile still on his face. As Connor pulls the diploma to his chest and looks down at it almost greedily — proudly? Triumphantly? — Evan finds himself struck with a sudden surge of confidence and with his legs shaking only slightly he stands, cupping his hands around his mouth and shouting, “Go Connor!”

Connor’s eyes zero in on him immediately, and his smile growing even wider he waves towards Evan and, obviously mocking Jared’s previous display, blows the the biggest, most obnoxious kiss he can in Evan’s direction, laughing as he’s urged to move off the stage. As Connor finally makes his way down, Evan makes a show of catching the kiss with a laugh before sitting down.

The rest of the ceremony passes without issue, and though it’s slow it’s manageable. There’s a steady flow of notifications flooding his phone, and though Evan doesn’t check them all he can guess that the vast majority are badly shot selfies of Jared and Connor posing with their diplomas, both separate and together.

And, finally, the last student has crossed the stage and taken their diploma. Everyone seems relieved, Evan himself included, to be nearing the end of graduation. Though he hasn’t been able to wipe the smile off of his face since Jared’s appearance on stage, he’s more than ready to go home and unwind for a bit.

For the last time, the principal approaches the podium. “Would the graduating class of 2017 from Ellison County High School please stand.”

They do. Evan can practically hear his heart thumping in his chest. There’s thunderous cheering all around him, and with his diploma clenched in his left fist he feels himself beaming with pride.

“You may all move your tassels from the right side to the left.”

They do. Evan can’t help the way his fingers shake as he does. The shouts around him get louder, crescendoing in time with the way his heart rate picks up even more.

“I now pronounce you all graduates of Ellison County High School. Congratulations!”

It’s like the air’s been sucked out of his lungs. There’s cheering all around him. The person next to him his whooping and high-fiving everyone in his reach. As caps begin flying into the air, Evan removes his own and tosses it up, not even caring to watch where it lands.

I made it.

He did. He made it, he successfully navigated high school, he made it through all twelve God awful years of high school in one piece. He’s here, standing in the sun that’s definitely frying his skin, with people who love him all around him. He wanted to die and sometimes, honestly, he still does. He still can’t breathe right when talking sometimes, he still panics when thinking about his dad or his attempt or anything, really, but it’s okay because he’s alive and recovering and he’s—

He’s standing still, the sun shining brightly. There’s light all around him.

People begin to collect their caps and shuffle around him to greet their families. Evan lets them, not letting the faint touches bother him as he shuts his eyes and takes a deep breath.

There’s a diploma in his hand. He’s Evan Hansen, he’s eighteen years old, and it’s in this moment that, for the first time in his life, he can envision himself with a future, and not just...stopping.

He doesn’t know quite what that future may hold, but...

He’s got a shot at one.

I made it.

It’s not until there’s someone pressing their hand into his that Evan opens his eyes. Connor’s by his side, leaning into his shoulder and pressing a firm kiss into his hair. He’s holding his diploma tight enough to wrinkle it, but there’s such a fierce look of excitement on his face that Evan can’t bring himself to call attention to it.

He can’t know for sure, but he thinks Connor might be having the same revelation he is.

Evan looks to Connor, mirroring his grin, and reaches up to give Connor a proper kiss. Connor’s arm moves from pressed against Evan’s side to sling around his shoulders, giving just as much into the kiss as Evan.

When they pull away, both boys are beaming.

“We made it,” Evan says softly, eyes forward as he watches Jared, Elliot, Alana and Zoe approach. When Alana catches his eye, she waves.

“We did.” Connor glances out past their approaching friends. “Who would’ve thought?”

Evan tries to follow Connor’s gaze, but finds only empty sky out beyond. They stay like that for a moment, silent but content, staring trance-like out into space.

As the sound of Jared’s voice yelling, “party at my place!” in their general direction, both Evan and Connor tear themselves from their thoughts and look towards the sound of their friends. Evan spies his mom a few paces behind the group, talking to Larry with a smile on her face.

He looks to Connor. “Y-You ready for this?”

With a grin, Connor retakes Evan’s hand and looks back towards the sky. He follows Connor’s gaze, the blue of the sky seeming to stare back at him.

“Are you?”

For the first time in a long time, the answer is yes.

No matter what the world wants to throw at him, he’s ready.

Together, living, breathing, alive, Connor and Evan step into the sun.