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Even sighs as the door falls shut behind him, slipping out of his shoes and calling out a weak 'hello'. Mum comes to meet him at the door almost immediately, like she has been ever since Even started going outside again, but her usual faux-cheerful smile is replaced with a more serious expression.

Even's heart sinks.

He's been doing good. He always answers his phone, he never stays out longer than a couple hours, he's gone to every single therapy appointment. So what is it now?

“Even, darling, do you remember Isak? Marianne's boy?” she asks.

Even practically freezes in his movements with surprise. Isak?

“The one who used to go on holiday with us when I was little?” he asks back, pulling his jacket off over his arms and putting it up on the rack by the door.

Mum smiles and nods.

“Yes, that's him.”

“Yeah, sure,” Even shrugs. They were never super close, but what with going on shared holidays for a large part of their childhoods and staying over at each other's places when their respective parents wanted to go out, they sort of grew up together, for a while. Even remembers lording his own higher age over Isak at every opportunity, except when it somehow meant that Even was supposed to be the one sharing all his toys, being patient, looking out for Isak. He hasn't seen Isak since he was about twelve, though. Mum and Marianne drifted apart a little, he thinks, and the shared holidays ended.

“What about him?” Even asks, the dread from before seeping back in. Sure, he hasn't seen him in ages, and hasn't thought about him in almost as long, but he doesn't wish him ill or anything.

“He's going to be staying with us for a while,” mum says.

“What? Why?” Even asks. They haven't seen this kid in, what, six years? And now he's moving in? Now?

Mum sighs, and looks like she's collecting her thoughts for a moment.

“Marianne isn't well. She… can't take care of him right now,” mum says.

Even feels his face pull into a frown. 'Not well'? What does that mean? Was she in an accident? Or is it the same kind of 'not well' that Even's been for months.

“What about his dad?” Even asks.

Mum's serious face tightens for a moment before she smooths it out into a pleasant smile.

“It's just easier this way, alright?” she says. “He'll stay with us for a week or two.”

“Okay...” Even says. It's not like he has anything against Isak. He hasn't seen him in years, so he has no idea what he's like these days, but if Even remembers correctly he should be about sixteen now. They'll probably get on well enough. Even's not really up for much socialisation these days, but he figures if Isak's been sent to live with old family friends because his mother is 'unwell' then he's probably not about to chat Even's ear off.

Unless he's the type who overshares.

Even really hopes he's not that type.

“So, where is he going to sleep?” he asks.

“Your room,” mum says, cutting off the outrage she must see on Even's face immediately. “We can't have him sleeping on the sofa for that long.”

Even groans a little and immediately feels bad for not wanting to share. He's not a child anymore, after all.

“Yeah, alright. Sorry,” he says. “Of course I'll share.”

“I knew you would, darling,” mum says and leans in to give Even a hug. “Dad already picked him up and we'll have dinner together in a few minutes. It should be just about done. Why don't you go re-introduce yourself or something?”

Even suppresses another sigh and nods.

“Yeah, sure,” he says.

“Be nice,” mum says, holding on to his arm when he takes a step deeper into the flat. “He's having a tough time.”

Even bites back a sarcastic comment but doesn't suppress a roll of his eyes. Mum lets him go with a sigh.

Not that Even wishes whatever's happening with his mum on Isak, but how convenient for his own mum to have found him a live-in childhood friend who's also 'having a tough time'. If Even were just a little bit more cynical he'd probably think she was faking it.

But when he finds Isak sitting on the sofa in the living room, tucked into the furthest corner of it but his back ramrod straight, like he's trying to be as unobtrusive as possible, there's not a hint of faking it anywhere in him. Instead he looks… pathetic, really. Not like the kid Even remembers, but there's still a bit of baby fat on his cheeks, his jawline still soft. The way his hair falls around his face, wavy and golden, really only adds to the wide, wet eyes and the way he's got his hands folded in his lap, fingers weaved tightly together like he doesn't know what else to hold on to.

He stares up at Even and blinks, face clearing slowly with recognition, and then he looks Even over just once, from head to toe, like he's checking to see how Even's changed, too. Even's taller, mostly. Still quite gangly.

“Hi,” Even says, and stuffs his hands in his pockets awkwardly. He doesn't want to hover over Isak, but if he sits with him then he has to decide how close, and every answer to that feels wrong too.

“Hi,” Isak says back.

“I'm sorry about your mum,” Even says, because that feels like something he should say.

Isak flinches a little and looks away, swallowing heavily before he turns back but doesn't quite meet Even's eyes.

“Yeah, thanks,” he says.

They fall into silence for a good handful of seconds too long to not be awkward, while Even tries to wrack his brain for something to say.

“We can go pull out the sofa in my room for you, if you want?” he suggests finally.

“Um, your mum already did,” Isak says.

Even huffs a sigh that's also a laugh, somewhere.

“Of course she did,” he says.

“Sorry. For making you share,” Isak offers, looking up at Even with big apologetic eyes. He really looks a little bit like someone killed a puppy right in front of him. Like he is the puppy, maybe.

“Nah, it's chill,” Even says and then decides to just sit down, letting himself drop onto the sofa, slumping back against the backrest with a deep sigh. He doesn't know when being at home went from being in a safe place where he could rest to feeling like even just being inside the flat is sucking all the remaining energy out of him, but it's exhausting. Especially since he's here the majority of every damn day.

This silence between them feels a little less oppressive than the last one, and Even lets his thoughts wander for a moment, grinning when they catch on a memory.

“Hey, remember when we thought wallpaper was something someone had painted on the wall and we tried to imitate it?” he asks.

Isak lets out a little snort of laughter.

“At that cabin?” he asks back.

“Yeah,” Even says. “We fucked that wall up good.”

“Not as badly as those cushions we tried to use as airbeds by that lake,” Isak says. “The big ones with those floral patterns or whatever.”

Even's eyes go wide as he remembers standing at the edge of the small wooden pier, Isak's hand in his, ready to jump in, and the increasing horror in his belly as they watched the gigantic cushions sink to the bottom of that lake (was it even a lake?). Turns out they were entirely unsuitable as airbeds.

“Fuck, that's right!” he says and turns to look at Isak with a grin wide on his face. Isak meets his eyes with his own grin lighting up his face, and the moment their eyes meet, they both burst into laughter.

Even can't remember the last time he's laughed like that.

When mum comes to collect them for dinner ten minutes later, Even swears she's trying to hide how much she's beaming too, and the lightness seeps out of him, replaced with ounce after ounce of leaden guilt.

 

Isak goes to Nissen, and he's, apparently, a very diligent student.

That's one of the first things Even learns about him, when, the next morning, when mum comes in to kiss him goodbye as she leaves for work, she tells him Isak already left. And when Isak comes back in the afternoon, he goes straight to homework on the kitchen table.

Even has missed too much school to go back now, and even if he didn't he's not sure he could face going back to Bakka. All the people there who know exactly what he did, the way they'd whisper and smile at him sympathetically. Even just thinking about it makes Even's skin crawl.

Still, watching Isak with his head bent a little too closely over his textbooks, the frustration with his own uselessness, his lack of anything to do feels even stronger.

So he makes cheese toasties and sets two of them down next to Isak without asking.

Isak jumps a little, staring at the cheese toasties and then up at Even with wide eyes.

“Thank you,” he finally says, a little quietly.

Even shrugs it off.

“Figured you'd be hungry.”

“Um, yeah. Thanks,” Isak repeats.

He doesn't touch the cheese toasties at first though, and Even tries not to feel insulted. Instead, he rinses the utensils, wipes down the kitchen counter, and puts the damn cheese back in the fridge before he forgets.

When he turns back around, Isak's already finished one of the toasties, the second one halfway gone. His shoulders are a little hunched, like he's trying to hide it from Even, so Even doesn't hover and just leaves him be.

He smiles to himself though. That's one productive thing he did today, at least, even if it was just feeding a hungry teenager a none-too-healthy snack.

 

Isak also doesn't talk much.

He answers when spoken to, and he makes polite smalltalk with Even's parents when they initiate it. He says hello and please and excuse me and thank you. Even's sure if he initiated any kind of smalltalk with Isak, he'd answer to that too.

But he doesn't speak much of his own volition. He doesn't comment on the weather, or ask for things, except when he asks mum to show him how the washing machine works so he can do his laundry. Mum shoots Even a very significant look at that, but Even's pretty sure if the situation were reversed, he wouldn't expect Marianne to do his laundry for him either. Or at least he wouldn't feel comfortable expecting it.

When they're all watching TV at night, he excuses himself to Even's room and does more homework, or reads, or whatever the fuck he does in there. (Even doesn't even want to think about any kind of activities he definitely doesn't want to know about.)

One evening, mum presses him to join them all in a round of Settlers of Catan, and Isak does without putting up more than token resistance. He's friendly throughout the game, but when mum asks him if he'd like to play another round, he declines.

“I'm really tired today, so I think I'll just go to sleep,” he says.

Mum smiles at him and nods.

“Of course. Thank you for joining us.”

“No, of course. It was fun,” he says, and he's smiling too, but judging by the look his parents exchange, Even's not the only one who saw the way it shook and how quickly he made his exit.

 

And the thing about Isak going to sleep early is that he doesn't seem to sleep very well. A week in, Even's fallen asleep before Isak stopped tossing and turning every night, even when Isak went to bed before he did. And when Even wakes up in the middle of the night to go for a piss or get a glass of water, more often than not he hears Isak sigh in a decidedly awake fashion or sees his eyes glittering across the dark room before Isak closes them quickly and pretends to be asleep.

 

Even doesn't know what he's supposed to do with this friendly ghost living with them. He's not even sure it's his place to do anything in the first place, but seeing Isak so despondent makes him think that whatever's going on with his mum must be some really tough shit.

So he just… keeps making toasties.

Once, he puts a little of every spice they have on it, just for a reaction, and cracks up laughing when Isak pulls a face.

“What the fuck did you do to this poor cheese toastie?!” Isak asks, staring down at the toastie in his hand with outrage all over his face.

“Just wanted to see what it'd taste like,” Even says innocently.

Isak raises a challenging eyebrow.

“Oh yeah? Then how come you're not eating any?”

“Because you're the guest, of course. You go first,” Even says and grabs the other toastie off Isak's place with a flourish.

It doesn't smell too horrific, but when Even bites into it it just tastes… wrong. On every level Even can think of, it's just… wrong.

But Isak's laughing at his expression and so Even grins back.

“Delicious,” he says. “I don't know what you're talking about.”

“Then you can have them,” Isak says, pushing the plate away.

“And deprive you of your snack? Absolutely not,” Even says and saunters out of the kitchen. He does keep the one he has, though.

It's the kind of bad that makes him curious whether it's really that bad. If the next bite won't somehow be less horrible. It never is, but it means that Even eats the whole thing anyway.

When he goes back to the kitchen for a beer or some juice, or fucking tea for all he cares just so long as it washes that taste out of his mouth, Isak's plate is empty and he's pulling a face like he's still got that taste stuck on his tongue too.

Even grabs two glasses and the bottle of Fanta from the fridge, fills them both, and swaps Isak's empty plate for one of them.

Isak takes large gulps and drains the glass in one go. Licking his lips, he sets the glass back down before looking up at Even.

“Thank you. But please never do that again.”

“Give you Fanta? I thought you liked it,” Even says, taking a small sip of his own Fanta.

Isak rolls his eyes.

“You know what I meant.”

Even grins and ruffles Isak's hair, laughing when Isak bats his hand away with a grumble, leaving him to the homework he's still doing.

 

He does it again.

“Even!” Isak complains, but when Even laughs at Isak's face he can tell Isak's biting back his own grin.

“Fuck's sake, you're the worst,” Isak says.

“There, there,” Even placates, and hands him the other toastie, the one he spared. “I promise that one's fine.”

Isak stares down at the toastie like it's about to poison him and then sniffs it carefully. He flicks his eyes back up at Even suspiciously for a moment before he takes the smallest bite Even has ever seen a sixteen-year-old take.

Even and feel his shoulders and stomach shake with held-back laughter. When Isak huffs a small, relieved sigh he can't hold it back anymore, leaning against the kitchen counter and laughing while Isak glares at him.

“You're a terrible person,” Isak says.

“No, I'm not,” Even quips back.

Isak wrinkles his nose, considering, and then grins.

“I guess you're okay.”

 

Even starts looking forward to Isak coming home.

He's been bored by himself at home for a while, but even though Isak's still not exactly the liveliest company, even just having someone new there, someone else to think about, to focus on, has shaken something in Even awake he forgot was asleep.

So when Isak sits at the kitchen table and does his homework the second Monday he's staying with them, Even digs his sketch pad out of the box of crap he didn't want to deal with, tears out all the used pages, and sits down opposite Isak with a pencil.

“Is it cool if I sit with you?” he asks.

Isak looks up from his homework – mathematics, by the looks of it – and shrugs.

“Yeah, sure.”

So Even sits, and draws. Or doodles. Mindless lines and shapes that come together or not. He's not paying enough attention for it to be anything good, until Isak groans a noise of frustration and drops his head down onto his textbook with an audible little thunk.

“I hate everything,” he whines, accentuating each word with another thunk of his forehead against the table.

“There, there,” Even says. “You'll figure it out.”

“Are you good at maths?” Isak asks, looking up at Even.

“Not particularly,” Even says. “But it's year one stuff, so… want me to have a look?”

Isak looks at him for a while and then sighs.

“No, it's fine. I can work it out,” he says and then goes back to it. His head's propped on one hand, gaze flitting morosely between the text book, the problem set, and his attempt at solving it.

Even picks up his pencil and draws.

The lines of his arm, the curve of his nose, the swirls in his hair. Question marks floating around his eyes along with mathematical symbols he remembers. A whole bunch of nonsense, but when he's done, he tears it out and slides it over on top of Isak's homework.

Isak startles, looks at it for a little and then looks up to level Even with an unimpressed stare.

“Hilarious,” he says, balls the drawing up and chucks it at Even's head.

Even smiles his best smile.

When mum and dad come home with takeout, mum freezes in the doorway to the kitchen for just long enough for Even to notice and pretend he doesn't. She squeezes Isak's shoulder when she passes him and leans down to press a kiss to Even's hair. She doesn't say anything about the sketchpad and Even pretends he doesn't notice the way dad puts an arm around her either.

Isak notices, but he doesn't say anything about it, just gives Even a short look before asking if he can help set the table, gathering up his homework things to pack them away.

 

Even hasn't spoken to any of his friends in months, and sometimes, when mum and dad – and Isak, now – have left, he sits on his bed and stares at their contacts in his phone, just trying to make himself message them something. Just anything. Only a “hello” if he can't manage more but… something.

His therapist says closure would probably be good for him. And for them too. That he'll have a harder time moving on if he doesn't talk about it. But he talks about it with her and he talks about it with himself all the fucking time.

He doesn't know what to say to them.

How to say “I'm sorry I kissed you, I didn't mean to put you in that position” to Mikael.

How to say “I'm sorry I looked for the ugliest parts of your religion” to Yousef.

How to say “I'm sorry I put you through all this and then didn't even have the fucking spine to face you” to all of them.

Problem is – he still doesn't have the spine.

His phone screen goes black, and tears well up in his eyes and he's so, so sick of crying. He just feels so helpless, feels it in every one of his cells, and he doesn't know what else to do. He doesn't know how to do something he's so scared of.

 

He hasn't spoken to Sonja in a while either, not ever since he told her he needed his space, that he couldn't be her boyfriend right now, and she had kissed him on the forehead and told him she understood. It had felt like benediction then, like he didn't have to feel guilty for not being what she needed from him, because she didn't actually need anything.

Now, he has no idea how to ask her if that means she's waiting for him to get better, to call her and tell her he's back to his old self and wants to take her out on dates again, wants to hold her hand on the tram and kiss her in a movie theatre even though he loves the film and really wants to see it. Just because he wants to kiss her more.

He's not as scared of calling her as he is the boys, but he doesn't want to do it either. He misses her, but he doesn't miss her as much as he thought he would. As much as he thinks he should. He likes her, she's a wonderful person – vibrant, clever, loving. Even with his complicated feelings for Mikael, Even never felt like he was falling out of love with her.

But now, somehow, he feels like he has. And he keeps hoping that if he just gets better, just learns to turn into the person he was before all this again, then he'll feel about her like he did then as well. She deserves that much from him, doesn't she?

 

Isak still doesn't sleep well, so one evening, on a whim, Even asks Isak if he wants to watch a film with him. Maybe it'll put him to sleep. Distract him from whatever it is that's keeping him up.

Which is how they end up on his loft bed, side by side, laptop balanced on their legs.

“What do you want to watch?” Even asks.

Isak shrugs.

“I don't know? What do you usually watch?”

“I'm not in the mood for my usual,” Even says.

Isak nudges him with his elbow.

“Well, you're still going to have to tell me what that is so we can avoid it.”

“Romantic drama,” Even says.

“What, like, 'Romeo and Juliet' and that kind of stuff?” Isak asks.

“Yeah,” Even says with a grin. “Exactly like that.”

Isak hums contemplatively.

“Then we're going to watch Transformers. The first one.”

Even can't help but groan.

“Nooo, come on. Are you serious?”

Isak grins at him.

“I'm completely serious. Have you ever seen it?”

“No, I don't need to see it to know it's shit.”

“Ah, but that's where you're wrong, Even,” Isak says and pulls it up on Netflix. “This is two hours of brainless explosions, talking cars, and Megan Fox in tiny shorts. Lean back and enjoy it.”

Even is quite sure he won't, but Isak seems to actually be looking forward to this, which is an emotion he hasn't seen Isak express in the ten days he's been here, so he shuts up and lets it happen. And half an hour later he actually finds himself chuckling at a few jokes.

It's dumb. It's so, so dumb. But it's entertaining, and somehow Even gets swept up in it, explosions and silly one-liners, and Megan Fox's tiny shorts and all.

By the time it's over, they're both slumped over a little further and Isak's yawning fairly regularly.

“If you want you can sleep up here with me,” Even says.

Isak freezes next to him, his entire body going rigid.

“Why?” he asks.

Even shrugs.

“The pull-out's not very comfortable, and I can hear you tossing and turning. Maybe you'll sleep better on a proper bed. It's big enough for both of us anyway.”

Isak stays silent for a while longer, but then he relaxes again.

“Okay,” he says quietly. “Thank you.”

“It's chill,” Even says with a shrug and closes his laptop, setting it down by the foot end of his bed where there's a little space between the mattress and the bannister around it.

He wiggles out of his jeans and just drops them down over the side of the bed, but Isak makes the trek down the ladder and goes to brush his teeth, changes into the t-shirt he sleeps in, and then seems to fret for a moment before grabbing his pillow and duvet and climbing back up to join Even.

Even lets him settle in, doesn't say anything about how careful Isak is to keep distance between them. He waits for Isak to look at him again to smile at him and say, “Good night, Isak.”

Isak gives him a small smile in return.

“Good night, Even.”

 

Even wakes up once because he's too warm that night, Isak's duvet half piled on top of his, but Isak sleeps through Even pushing the duvet back off himself. When Isak's alarm rings in the morning, he shoots upright in bed and stumbles down the ladder muttering a string of “fuck, fuck, fuck” to himself, and Even just laughs to himself.

“Sorry,” Isak mumbles, but Even sits up and shrugs down at him.

“It's okay,” he says and watches Isak grab some clothes out of the gym bag of stuff he brought and move underneath Even's loft bed to get changed. Clever.

“When do you leave?” Even calls down.

“Like a half hour, why?” Isak calls back.

Even looks out the window, at the leaves of the tree outside lit up by sunshine and flips the duvet back.

“I'm going to walk with you.”

“What?” Isak asks. “Why?”

Even swings his legs down over the ladder, crawls two steps down and then hops off, putting his hands on his hips and staring at Isak who's doing up the fly of his pair of jeans.

Isak stares at him with wide eyes, hands on his jeans and sleep t-shirt on the floor. Even stares back, forgetting what he was about to say for a moment because Isak… Isak does not look like what Even remembers looking like at sixteen. Are those… are those fucking abs?

“Because I'm bored as fuck,” Even remembers to say then, and turns away to walk over to his wardrobe.

Fuck.

Was that noticeably weird?

Isak snorts.

“Can't relate.”

“Be glad,” Even mumbles, and pulls a large, black hoodie out of his closet. It's a hoodie kind of day, he thinks.

Later, when he's walking to the tram stop with Isak, he's glad for the decision, the spring wind still chilly and trying to crawl in under his clothes everywhere it can.

Isak pulls his faux letterman jacket higher up on his shoulders, and Even wonders if that's who Isak is at school. One of the sporty boys who flirt with girls easily and are always surrounded by big group of friends. It seems unlikely given how much time he spends at the flat, and usually doing homework when he does, but Even doesn't want to stereotype. Isak can be athletic and studious.

When the tram comes into the stop, Even's actually a little bummed to interrupt their conversation about the life cycle of memes.

“See you later,” Isak says and hops on, turning to give Even a little wave.

Even smiles and waves back.

 

Having Isak around doesn't exactly make everything else easier. Even doesn't suddenly feel like he can just pick up the phone and call his friends, or Sonja, but it makes that feel less like the end of the world. Like there's a world and a life for Even that doesn't have anything to do with what happened last year. Like Even doesn't need to try so hard to be who he was then. He can just… be.

 

Isak's phone keeps vibrating and lighting up with text messages.

He's been staying with them for two weeks now, and Even doesn't want to ask his mum about when Isak is leaving again. For one, because he doesn't want Isak to leave, but for another because mum hasn't made any mention of it and somehow that feels significant.

“Someone really wants to talk to you,” Even says idly, sketching another doodle of Isak bent over his homework. He's typing an essay today, fingers flying over the keyboard for a while only for him to sigh, stop, and re-read what he just wrote before the cycle starts over again.

Isak reaches over for his phone and glances at the screen, sighs again.

“My girlfriend,” he says.

“You have a girlfriend?” Even blurts, completely blind-sided by this piece of information.

Isak looks up, defensive frown darkening his face.

“Yeah? What of it?”

“Nothing,” Even is quick to say. “Just… you didn't say.”

“You didn't ask,” Isak counters.

Even nods a little. It didn't occur to him to ask. He hasn't asked about Isak's friends either. Or about just what is wrong with his mum. Why he can't be at home with his dad.

“What's your girlfriend's name?” he asks now.

“Sara,” Isak says, already staring at his laptop again.

“And how did you meet?” Even asks.

“We're in the same class.”

“So how did you get together?” Even asks next, folding his hands and putting on an innocent smile when Isak looks up to huff at him.

“We dated in lower secondary and when we got drunk at a party a couple weeks ago she blew me in a bathroom,” he says.

“Wow,” Even says drily. “Romantic.”

Isak shrugs.

“She's not the romantic type.”

Isak's phone vibrates again.

This time, Isak picks it up, reads through the messages for a moment and then sends a message back. He types for longer than Even would have guessed, but sighs again when he finally puts the phone back down.

“Stress?” Even asks, genuinely this time.

“She's always stressed,” Isak says vaguely.

“But not with you?”

“Hm, no,” Isak says dismissively. “Some bullshit girl stuff.”

“That's not very nice,” Even says.

“It is bullshit,” Isak says, looking up again with a frown. “It's all about who said what behind whose back… like. Grow up. There's a whole world with issues more important than who wore fake eyelashes and who got a fake tan and whose skirt was too short.”

Even frowns back.

“Guys can be just as superficial. Which girls have the hottest bodies, who listens to lame pop, who hasn't kissed someone yet… it's the same kind of bullshit.”

Isak seems to mull it over for a few seconds and then shrugs.

“Yeah, okay, but it's still bullshit.”

“So why are you dating her?” Even asks, glancing back down at the phone when it vibrates again.

Isak blushes and squirms a little. He looks over at the phone too and picks it back up, typing out another reply.

“I like her,” he says when he puts the phone back down. “Why else?”

Why else?

Even stops asking, and picks his pencil up again.

 

They bow out of TV with Even's parents and decide to have another movie night.

“I'm not watching Transformers 2 though,” Even insists, and so it takes them a whole fifteen minutes of back and forth before they settle on Spirited Away.

While Isak pulls it up, Even slips back out of his room to the kitchen to get them each a glass of water. His parents are still watching TV in the living room, though the volume's turned down and he can hear his mum on the phone someone. It's only when he makes his way back that his ears catch on something and he halts in the middle of the hallway.

“That's bullshit, Terje, she's not 'stressed', she needs help!” mum snaps, rooting Even to the spot.

“You can't possibly expect your teenage son to-- no, that's crazy-- oh, for fuck's sake, don't get all high and mighty with me.”

Even stands in the hallway, a glass of water cool in each hand, and doesn't know what to do.

He'd forgotten Isak's dad's name, but he's certain that's who mum's talking to.

“I'm not sending him back to live there by himself--- she needs professional help! You cannot possibly expect him to shoulder that responsibility! He's sixteen years old!”

The floorboards creak as mum starts pacing, and Even snaps himself out of his stupor. He sneaks back into his room, not wanting his parents to see him standing in the hall.

Isak's just where he left him, up on the bed, scrolling through his phone. Even hopes he didn't hear any of that, and hands the water glasses up to Isak before climbing up to join him.

 

“Hey, Even? Can I ask you something?” Isak asks later, when they've already turned out the light.

“Hm? What?” Even asks back.

“What's… going on with you? Why don't you go to school?”

Even exhales a shuddery breath and rolls onto his back, staring up at the ceiling in the dark.

“I'm bipolar,” he says, heart racing, and a lump in his throat.

“What does that mean?” Isak asks.

“For me it means I get really high, basically think I'm invincible, and then I crash and get really fucking low,” Even says.

“So you were… depressed? That's why you couldn't go to school?”

Even hums his confirmation.

“I'm sorry that's happening to you,” Isak says, and Even looks over to him when he hears the rustle of the sheets.

“I'm better now,” Even says.

Isak smiles a little smile.

“I'm glad.”

 

“How come you never have friends over?” Isak asks the next day, like that first question broke a dam, and now he's asking all the ones he's been holding back so far.

“How come you never go see yours? Or your girlfriend?” Even asks back, immediately defensive.

“My best friend's mostly hanging out with his girlfriend and I don't want to third wheel that again. Sara's usually with her friends, and they're too exhausting for me all at the same time.”

“Do you even want to be dating this girl?” Even asks.

Isak looks up to glare at him.

“I told you, I like her,” he says.

Do you though? Even wants to ask, but Isak's tram rolls into the stop and Isak turns away without another word.

 

“I did some fucked up stuff, when I was manic,” Even says at night, in the dark. He's still sorry for this morning, and it's easier when he doesn't have to see all of Isak's face to talk about this. “I can't… I don't know how to talk to them now.”

“Did you hurt them or something?” Isak asks.

“No, not like that,” Even says. He takes a deep breath in and exhales slowly, balls his hands up into fists and then releases them again. “I kissed one of them.”

“A boy?” Isak asks, voice suddenly so hushed it's like he fears his volume alone could hurt Even.

“Yeah,” Even says.

“And he…?”

“Pushed me off. Said some stuff I don't exactly remember. Just about how it was wrong and shit, I think,” Even says. “I obsessed over it and pulled up everything about gay people in the Quran I could find – he's Muslim – and I posted it where the whole school could see. Then I crashed.”

Isak doesn't say anything, and when Even looks down from the ceiling over at him, he's got a hand pressed over his eyes.

“Isak?” Even asks, reaching out but pulling his hand back again before he can actually touch Isak.

“I wish I didn't feel like this. I wish I could just turn these fucking thoughts off,” Isak presses out.

“Like what?” Even asks.

“My best friend's ex girlfriend, I-- she was worried he was cheating on her and I let her think he was. And when she cheated on him I told her not to tell him and then made sure he'd find out anyway, because I knew he'd forgive the cheating more easily than the lie, and all because I--”

Isak breaks off, presses his lips together. He shakes his head a few times and refuses to say anything more.

Even's heart beats heavily in his throat, fingers curling back into fists.

“Were you jealous?” he asks, and then adds, just to be sure, “Did you like her too?”

Isak barks a hollow laugh and takes his hand off his face.

“No, I didn't fucking like her. God, I wish that weren't the first fucking thing everyone thinks of.”

“You liked him,” Even says, and somehow it feels like a fucking revelation. This pain is something Even can understand, at least a little.

“I liked him,” Isak confirms, voice flat. “I liked him and even if he'd ever have liked me back I wouldn't have deserved it for what I did. You think what you did was bad? You were literally out of your mind. I wasn't. I was just awful.”

Isak cheeks are wet and getting wetter, and Even looks at him and doesn't know what to do. Thinks comfort him, thinks look at those cheeks, that hair, how sweet that mouth looks when it smiles . Thinks, kiss him.

His cheeks flush, but before Even can try and parse that thought, Isak rolls over and presses his forehead to Even's chest, right where his heartbeat thunders under his skin.

So Even puts an arm around him and holds him.

 

Isak blushes when they wake up in that same position the next morning, almost flinches away from Even's touch, and doesn't say anything about it.

Some things are better kept to the dark. Even gets it.

After Isak's hopped on the tram for school, Even walks around aimlessly for a while and finally makes his way to Sofienberg Park. He treats himself to coffee from KB on the way and then sits in the sunshine, staring down at his phone again.

He hasn't done that in a while. He knows he's not going to reach out to the boys today, but maybe he can manage messaging someone else.

Sonja

Can you meet me today?

Yeah, of course! Are you doing okay?

I'm good. I'd like to talk.

Sonja must be in class, and Even insists she doesn't cut, but says he'll wait around Sofienberg Park and to text him when she gets out of school. He pulls his tiny green notebook and a pen from his jacket pocket, and settles in.

First it's just doodles, meaningless shapes and symbols. Then it becomes Isak. Hunched over his homework, crying in the dark. Even's heart aches for him and it aches for himself and he wishes this were easier. It's 20-fucking-16 and here they both are, agonising over the fact they want to kiss boys. It feels like it shouldn't be such a big deal, but Even remembers what it felt like when Mikael pushed him, and he's almost glad that Isak doesn't.

The doodles turn to words, “I wish I didn't feel like this” spreading over the page until Even segues into Isak's name, briefly wonders what his last name is and how odd it is that it hasn't occurred to him to wonder before now. Then, there, in the bottom right corner of the page, he writes “I wanted to kiss him”.

He blushes again, tears the page out and balls it up, stuffing it deep into the pocket of his jacket.

He did want to kiss him. He thinks of Isak's face and his laugh and remembers his almost-abs and knows he still wants to kiss him. The thought makes his cheeks glow, fragments of memories and imagination coming together to paint a vivid picture before he shakes the thought off and goes back to doodling non-Isak-things.

 

“I broke up with Sonja,” Even announces over dinner.

Mum and dad look surprised, but Isak looks straight-up floored. Even supposes he shouldn't have made such a big deal about Isak never mentioning his Sara when Even hadn't mentioned Sonja either. In his defense, things with Sonja were lot a less clean cut.

“Is that…?” mum asks carefully, not knowing how to turn this into a question that asks Even whether he's alright without outright asking him.

Even sighs.

“It's fine. She took it well. We're not really in love anymore,” he says. “You shouldn't date someone out of convenience if you're not into them.”

Isak flinches a little, and Even almost feels mean. But he means it, too. He'd held on to Sonja because she'd made it easy, but he hasn't wanted to date her again ever since he got better. Waiting hasn't made his feelings come back, and she deserves better than for him to make her hold on to something that's not there anymore.

“No, of course, you're right,” mum says. “You're okay?”

This time, she's only asking about how he is. Even doesn't know when he learned to tell, but he smiles at her.

“Yeah, I'm okay.”

 

Isak's been here for three weeks when he tells Even about his mother.

“Do you think I'm a bad person for not staying with her?” he asks, facing Even in the dark.

Even shrugs.

“Probably not,” he says. “What's wrong with her?”

Isak shrugs too.

“I don't know. She thinks the world's going to end and angels are going to come and punish us for our sins,” he says, quietly.

That certainly doesn't sound like 'stressed', and Even feels a flare of anger at Isak's dad for refusing to deal with it and putting Isak in this situation.

“Sometimes she doesn't recognise me. And sometimes she does, but she insists we need to repent and just. She doesn't hear a thing I say when she's like that,” Isak goes on. “And even when she does she insists she's fine, that she just needs some rest. And dad doesn't--”

“You're not a bad person for not wanting to be around for that,” Even says, even as his heart hammers away in his chest. “They're your parents. They should be the ones dealing with this.”

“But I get so angry at her sometimes,” Isak whispers. “Why can't she see how far gone she is? That she needs help? Doesn't she get how exhausting it is to take care of her all the fucking time?”

“That's not fair,” Even says, hot all over with how fast his heart is beating. “Guilt isn't going to help. Guilt doesn't motivate, it just makes you want to hide.”

“You think I don't know that? I know guilt. I feel like shit over Jonas and Eva every day--”

“This isn't about you, your head isn't telling you things are real that aren't,” Even says, stomach sour, and voice sharp. “You have no idea what she feels like.”

“Oh, and you do? Because you had one episode where you kissed someone and felt bad about it?” Isak spits, sitting up in bed so he can stare down at Even.

“Fuck you,” Even says. “You have no fucking idea what you're talking about. Get out.”

“What am I talking about then, Even, huh? Fucking tell me if you know so much,” Isak demands, grabbing his pillow and angrily gathering up his duvet.

“I stepped in front of a moving fucking car, Isak, is what the fuck I'm talking about. So don't pretend--” Even bites out, sitting up as well.

“What is going on here?” dad cuts in.

Even hears the blood rush in his ears, feels his heart pound in his chest – but he didn't realise they'd gotten loud enough to be heard outside his room.

Isak's staring at him slack-jawed and terrified, pillow and duvet piled limply into his lap.

“Nothing,” Even says. “We're fine, dad. Sorry.”

He doesn't look away from Isak as he says it, sees him swallow heavily.

“Alright,” dad says after a moment. “Work this out. But keep it down.”

“Yeah. Sorry, dad,” Even says. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Even. Isak,” dad says.

“Goodnight, Johan,” Isak says quietly, and then Even hears the door shut again.

Isak just continues to stare at him for a good while longer.

“Why did you…?” he finally asks, voice barely more than a whisper.

“What do you think? Because dying sounded like not such a bad idea,” Even says, huffing a hollow laugh. “But I couldn't commit to it so it was a really slow car. I didn't even really break anything.”

Isak barely blinks, just stares at Even.

“But it was obviously on purpose, so I had to stay in hospital for a while and then I could barely get out of bed for weeks.”

“I'm sorry,” Isak says. “I'm so sorry. I didn't mean-- I'm so sorry.”

Even swallows and nods.

“It's okay,” he says.

It's not, but he believes Isak that he's sorry, and that's almost good enough, even if Isak shakes his head.

“Come on, lie down,” Even says, suddenly exhausted. “Let's just sleep.”

Isak looks down at Even with those big eyes of his, holding on to the duvet in his lap like he can't believe Even would want to share his bed with him. Under different circumstances, maybe Even wouldn't, but he's feeling shaky and vulnerable, and he doesn't want to be alone.

He doesn't usually talk about what happened with anyone but his therapist.

“Come on,” he says again, and this time Isak comes.

He lies down on his side facing Even, and looks into his eyes with just about as much emotion as Even can handle.

“Do you think my mum wants to die?” Isak whispers, eyes wet.

Even shrugs.

“I don't know. But I know mum's trying to get her help.”

Isak nods a little.

“I don't want you to want to die. Either of you,” he says, and Even feels his throat close up.

“I don't want to die,” he says, eyes suddenly stinging for a moment before the tears spill over.

“Okay,” Isak whispers, and reaches out to pull him closer.

Even presses his face into Isak's chest and lets him hold him as he cries. He barely feels the fingers carding through his hair over the way the tears just won't stop. Eventually though, they stop again, and he barely has time to notice how drained he feels before he slips into sleep.

 

They go back to walks to the tram in the morning and cheese toasties in the afternoon like nothing happened.

 

Isak talks to mum one evening about whether there's anything he can do to help his own mum, and afterwards he crawls into Even's bed and cuddles close. Even holds him and doesn't ask any questions. There are times for questions, and there are times for cuddles.

 

“You should reach out to your friends,” Isak says, wiping tears off his face as the credits to Romeo + Juliet roll over the screen of Even's laptop.

“Aw, did that make you emotional?” Even teases to mask the way his heart still beats overtime whenever someone brings the boys up.

“Obviously,” Isak pouts. “But, shit, look at what miscommunication does. And no communication is miscommunication by default.”

Even sighs. Isak has a point, but he doesn't like conceding it.

“Look who's Mister Emotional Intelligence all of a sudden.”

“You only have yourself to blame,” Isak says with a grin, but his eyes are still serious.

Even sighs again.

“I'll do it if you break up with your 'girlfriend',” he taunts.

He expects Isak to scoff and drop it, but instead he considers him and nods once, sharply.

“I'll hold you to that.”

Isak can be determined when he wants to be, but Even still figures he's got a few days before he works up the courage.

 

When Even comes back from a walk the following day, he finds Isak working out. Actually working out. Isak's doing sit-ups and squats and planks and all sorts of things Even doesn't know the names of.

“Why the sudden workout?” he can't help but ask.

Isak shrugs and then grins.

“Felt like it,” he says. “I broke up with Sara.”

“Breaking up with someone makes you want to work out?” Even asks, ignoring the way his stomach fills with nervous butterflies at the thought of what that means.

“Yeah, I just wanted to do something. I like exercise,” Isak explains. “I feel better.”

“Right,” Even says. “Can't relate, but. Sure.”

Isak laughs and pulls his shirt off to wipe it over his face, and suddenly Even's belly is full of a veritable kaleidoscope of a completely different kind of butterflies.

“Your turn,” Isak says, and it takes Even a good two seconds of panic to realise he's not asking him to take his shirt off.

 

Isak doesn't push, but he keeps shooting Even these looks over the next few days that make it very clear that he hasn't forgotten.

The thing is, Isak does look better. He looks like he feels better, like not actively pretending to be into this girl (or any girl?) took a load of his shoulders and he can breathe more easily. Even doesn't think he's told any of his friends the real reason behind the breakup – or at least Isak hasn't said if he did – but knowing that something is the right choice isn't always enough.

At least not until Isak slams his laptop shut on the Friday of his fourth week with Even's family. Even on a Friday afternoon this boy does homework. If he's not getting straight sixes, Even doesn't know who in the world would.

“Come on,” Isak says, getting up and jerking his head for Even to follow.

Even gets up.

“Where are we going?” he asks, slightly amused by Isak's take-charge attitude.

Isak grabs Even's phone from the table in one hand, and Even's hand in the other and then pulls him from the kitchen.

“You are going to send your friends a text,” he says.

“Isak--” Even tries to protest, even as Isak marches them into his room.

“No, you promised,” he says. “You know, I talked to Jonas. I told him everything.”

Isak's stubbornly looking ahead, giving Even a gentle push towards the ladder of his loft bed.

“It was tough as shit, but I'm glad I did it, even if he's going to be lowkey mad at me for a while.”

“Are you though?” Even asks, but Isak doesn't let him get away with it.

“Yeah,” he says, hoisting himself up after Even and sitting down between him and the ladder. Even could probably escape over the side of the bed, but how silly would that be? It's just a text.

Isak doesn't press him again, just sits there and watches Even stare down at his phone. Finally, Even puts in his passcode, heart already in his throat. His mouth's gone dry and his tongue feels like it's stuck to the roof of his mouth, so it's probably good he's not going to call.

Even just reading their group chat name makes him want to back out.

But Isak shuffles forward, presses one knee to Even's leg and gives him a nod when he looks up.

All the boys in the yard

Boys. I'd like to explain if you give me a chance. Even

It doesn't take him long to write, even with his shaky thumbs. He's had months to compose it after all.

He presses send before he loses his nerves, and then throws the phone down on the duvet like it's about to self-destruct.

“Holy shit,” he whispers and then looks up at Isak.

“Feel better?” Isak asks.

Even shakes his head.

“I don't know.”

Isak grins.

“You'll feel better,” he promises, just as Even's phone beeps with an incoming message. Then another one, and another one, and a few more.

Even can't quite manage to pick it up.

“Want me to check?” Isak offers, but Even shakes his head and then reaches for his phone.

His hands are shaking, and it almost makes him want to laugh. He takes a deep breath and then puts his passcode in again, the message thread still open.

And there they are, all of his boys. Mutta and Adam enthusiastic as always, Yousef saying he's missed him. Elias reminding him he's welcome and Mikael-- Mikael saying there's no need to explain, they're just glad to have him back.

Tomorrow? Even asks because suddenly he feels the full weight of all those months without his best friends and he can't wait to see them again.

There's a chorus of yeses, of trying to figure out when everyone gets out of class, and finally Yousef suggesting they just go for some kebabs at seven, when they're definitely all done.

I'll be there, Even sends, and waits only long enough to see everyone confirm that they will too before looking back up Isak.

“Now, do you feel better?” Isak asks.

Even drops the phone and surges forward, pulling Isak into a hug that topples them both over. It takes a moment for them to sort out their limbs, but Isak's laughing along, and Even's still holding him close.

“I do feel better,” Even says.

He's pretty sure this is better. He's a little light-headed and he can feel his fingertips tingle, but there's an absence of weight in his chest that makes it feel like he's only breathed half as much as he could until now.

“I feel so much better.”

“I'm glad,” Isak says and hugs him back, Even half pressed on top of him.

Isak smells like his shampoo and shower gel and their washing powder now, and he's warm. Warm and solid and hugging Even close like he's making sure this new-found lightness won't make Even drift off on a breeze.

And when Even pulls back to say thank you, for not letting Even get away with putting it off, with making up excuses, he looks down at Isak and all thoughts fly out the window, except one.

Look at those cheeks, that hair, how sweet that mouth looks when it smiles, he thinks. Thinks, kiss him

And when he looks more closely, lets his gaze meet Isak's, there it is, the twinkle he never saw in Mikael's eyes. The whole kaleidoscope in Even's belly reflected in Isak's eyes.

“Isak,” Even says, because he wants to know what his name tastes like in his mouth.

Isak smiles at him like he can tell.

“Yeah,” he says, not like a question, but like an answer.

So Even smiles back, and leans down, and kisses him.

 

The End