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“I’m gonna die today.”

 

He doesn’t know why he even says it, but Connor looks over at him, tilting his head to the side. Evan doesn’t meet his eyes. He can’t. “Is that so?”

 

“Yep,” Evan says, closing his eyes when the cool breeze sends some of the smoke from Connor’s joint into his face.

 

“Oh,” Connor says after a moment.

 

Evan takes a deep breath, slouching down a bit against the tree behind him. He’s sure he’s going to have mud stains on the butt of his pants, and for a second he’s worried his mom’s going to yell at him, but then he remembers it’s his last day on this earth and he can’t find it in himself to care.

 

“Me too,” Connor says casually a few moments later, and when Evan glances over at him he takes a deep pull of his joint, avoiding Evan’s eyes. Or maybe he just doesn’t care enough to meet them.

 

He wonders how they both ended up here. And he wonders if Connor’s telling the truth, but he doesn’t see the point in Connor lying to him.

 

“Gotta be honest, Hansen, I never pictured you as the suicidal type,” Connor says, gaze lazily sliding to Evan. “No offense,” He tacks on.

 

“None taken,” Evan sighs, running a hand through his hair. “Call me Evan. Or don’t, whatever. I just— fuck. I’m surprised you even know my name. Nobody ever notices me anyway. It’s not like anybody’s going to miss me, which… it sucks.” He deflates, fighting back tears and cursing himself because the tears were supposed to be gone by now, and Connor just keeps staring at him, calculating, as Evan looks away and aggressively wipes at his cheeks.

 

“If it makes you feel better, at least I know your name.” Connor pauses. “Only because you have a creepy crush on my sister, but still.”

 

“Yeah, that doesn’t make me feel better at all.”

 

Connor shrugs. “Sorry.” He doesn’t sound sorry.

 

Evan should leave. He’s not supposed to be here anyway, he’s supposed to be throwing himself off a roof or the tallest branch or a fucking skyscraper or something. But he stays put. He can’t get his legs to take him anywhere but here.

 

“I don’t have a crush on your sister,” Evan says after a second, just because he can. “Just saying. She’s— she’s great and all, but… that was a long time ago.”

 

Connor laughs once. “Dude, I don’t give a shit. And she’s not great. She fucking sucks. I don’t know how you ever had a crush on her. You must have bad taste.”

 

“She can’t be that bad—“

 

“Have you ever seen her speak to me at school?” Connor’s head snaps to face Evan, his eyes cold and angry. “Ever?”

 

Evan hasn’t. He was surprised when he found out they had the same last name, and even more surprised when he found out they were siblings. “No.”

 

“That’s because she doesn’t want people to know we’re related. Which, like, I get it, y’know— I’m the fucking gay school shooter wannabe. I’m kind of the family embarrassment, so.” Connor snaps his mouth shut, clenching his jaw. “Whatever, it doesn’t matter.” He crosses his arms, resting them on his knees.

 

“That’s... really shitty,” Evan replies quietly, because it is and he doesn’t know what else to say.

 

He feels Connor look at him. He meets Connor’s eyes and Connor’s immediately dart away. He rests his chin on his arms. “I guess.”

 

They lapse into silence, Evan picking at his cast and Connor taking a drag every so often. Evan considers leaving, but. Connor’s not leaving. And it’s kind of nice to be in the presence of someone else before it’s all gone, even if he refuses to admit it.

 

The wind gusts hard in their direction, and Evan curls in on himself. He’d forgotten how fucking cold it gets at night in the fall, but he hadn’t planned on being conscious for longer than fifteen minutes after leaving his car. Connor glances at him.

 

“You’re cold,” Connor states matter-of-factly.

 

Evan nods. He’s sure Connor’s about to ask him to leave, or at least politely suggest that he go find somewhere else to kill himself so he doesn’t have to witness it, but.

 

“Take my jacket,” Connor mumbles, putting the joint out in the dirt and starting to slide his jacket off his arms.  

 

“No, no, that’s okay, I’m good, don’t— you don’t have to—“

 

Connor rolls his eyes. “Christ. I’m a fucking heater, Hansen, don’t worry. I’ll live.”

 

They both pause, Connor’s words echoing in their heads, and then Evan hears Connor snort. And then Evan looks over and sees that Connor has a hand slapped over his mouth and his shoulders are shaking, and he’s hit with the sudden realization that he’s never ever seen Connor Murphy laugh.

 

Evan doesn’t want to laugh, because the accidental joke is so fucking morbid, but Connor’s hiding his face in his arms and then Connor snorts again and Evan’s cheeks betray him, and he turns away from Connor to press a palm to his mouth.

 

Evan takes a sharp breath in and then Connor’s collapsing into giggles, his shoulder bumping Evan’s and god, Connor really is a heater. Evan can practically feel Connor’s body heat radiating off of him as he inches closer, giggling, and Evan has a fleeting thought: he’s never going to hear that laugh again. This is the first time he’s hearing it, but he doubts many others have heard it lately, and. It feels… special, hearing Connor Murphy actually, really laugh. But both he and Connor won’t ever laugh again after tonight. That’s weird to think about.

 

That thought kind of kills the mood, no pun intended.

 

Connor’s laughter dies down and he shoves his sweatshirt in Evan’s direction, immediately withdrawing his arms and folding them across his chest when Evan takes it from him.

 

It’s soft. It’s really worn down and thin, but in the best possible way because Evan knows Connor’s been wearing this for years and that it’s well loved. He feels like he’s intruding on something as he pulls it over his shoulders, because it smells like weed and febreeze and Connor and that’s weird. He’s wearing Connor’s sweatshirt and they’ve only really known each other for thirty minutes at best.

 

He pulls it a little tighter around him.

 

Connor laughs that sarcastic laugh that Evan’s only ever heard when Connor’s talking back to teachers or responding to the people who pick on him. Only this time, it’s softer. Friendlier. Evan looks over at him. “How long do you think it’ll take them to notice we’re gone?” Connor asks, bracing himself against the wind.

 

“I dunno. My mom’s barely home, and I miss enough school to go at least a week without any suspicion.” Evan tries to ignore the sadness that suddenly weighs on his chest.

 

Connor hums. “Yeah. The family is probably going to think I ran away or something, because sometimes I just fuck off for a couple of days and no one asks any questions, and the school’s probably going to assume the same. I doubt they’ll even go looking for me,” Connor says, shrugging.

 

“Ever? They’d notice eventually.” Evan feels weird talking about Connor’s death in a non-hypothetical sense. It doesn’t feel right.

 

“They won’t,” Connor says simply. “I’ll just be that kid who threw a printer once in second grade that everyone forgot.” He glances at the ground. “Then they’ll find my body and it’ll be too late for anyone to care. At least you’ll get a Facebook page or something.”

 

Evan scoffs. “Yeah, a Facebook page full of people pretending like they ever gave a shit about me or knew who I was in the first place. I’d rather be forgotten.”

 

“That’s a fair point.” Connor pauses. “So what’s the plan?”

 

“The plan?” Evan asks.

 

“You know. The plan ,” Connor repeats, drawing a line across his neck with his finger.

 

“Oh,” Evan’s face heats up. “I was just gonna— I dunno, like, jump.” The word hangs in the air.

 

“That’s dumb.”

 

“What?”

 

“That’s not efficient at all. You’re way more likely to survive that than if you slit your wrists or down an entire bottle of sleeping pills.” Connor says it like they’re talking about the weather or the latest football scores.

 

“I know,” Evan says, “I… I know.” He doesn’t know what else to say, because, well.

 

When he looks over, Connor’s looking at his cast.

 

“Oh,” Connor says quietly.

 

Evan plows forward, avoiding his eyes. “It just seems less… intense. It’s less pressure. Like, what if I don’t take enough pills? Or what if I get scared and call 911? Or what if I don’t cut deep enough and then chicken out? At least with a fall, I don’t have time to rethink anything. It’s just... done.” When the words come out of his mouth he realizes just how fucked up they really are. Connor doesn’t seem phased.

 

“Yeah, I get that.”

 

“What’s, um— what’s your preferred method?”

 

Connor smiles bitterly. “Pills,” He says easily. “All I gotta do is just lay down and die. Easy.”

 

Evan nods. It’s that easy. For a second, he feels warmth in his chest because Connor smiles at him again, this time warmer than the last.

 

Evan’s never really had a bucket list.

 

He’d always wanted to visit some other state, or actually see the world in its full capacity, but he just always knew he’d chicken out of it one way or another. He didn’t see a point in making a bucket list because he didn’t picture himself living past eighteen anyway. And sure, he wants to lose his virginity before he dies, but that’s just a dream and he knows it. There’s really nothing else he can think of, so he’s never really had a bucket list.

 

Except maybe to have made one friend.

 

“For what it’s worth,” Connor says casually, “I don’t think you should die tonight.”

 

“Huh?” Evan asks suddenly.

 

“You heard me.”

 

“I— why?”

 

Connor sighs like it’s obvious. “You’re, like, a saint. You put up with Jared Kleinman for fuck’s sake. And I saw you pick up Alana’s books after she got shoved by that dickhead in the hallway yesterday. You’re… a good person. I dunno.” Connor tucks a strand of hair behind his ear, staring into the forest. “You got a second chance when you fell the first time, and I think you should take it.”

 

Evan just sits there for a second, staring at him.

 

The tips of Connor’s ears have gone red, and he curls in on himself a little more. Connor’s… he’s kind of cute. Evan feels a weird clenching in his chest. He just. Evan just doesn’t understand. Connor’s never even talked to him aside from that time he pushed him, and those words were not kind, so Evan just. Doesn’t get it.

 

“What?”

 

“Just— just take the compliment, Evan,” Connor says harshly, going redder.

 

“You are… you’re trying to talk me out of suicide,” Evan says slowly, “While you prepare for your own suicide? Isn’t that kind of fucked up?”

 

For a second, Evan had forgotten that Connor could be, like, really fucking scary, because right now he seems like a decent person. But when Connor turns to him with fire in his eyes, Evan remembers. It hits him like a train. He gulps.

 

“Didn’t I tell you to just take the fucking compliment?” Connor asks, baring his teeth like he’s trying not to completely lose it.

 

“Yeah,” Evan says shakily, “But… it’s… you don’t deserve to die either.”

 

Connor laughs, and it’s loud and scary. “Please tell me what I contribute to this world. Enlighten me, Evan Hansen. I can’t fucking wait for you to come up empty.”

 

Evan thinks for a second, because he really doesn’t know Connor that well, but he remembers one thing.

 

“You write.”

 

Connor’s head snaps to the side, eyes burning into Evan’s face, and Connor goes bright red. “What?”

 

“You— you, um. In fifth grade, we had this— this assignment in English where, um, we had to write creative stories and then the teacher read them to the whole class. Yours was, uh— yours was about a magical tree that transported people to another dimension when they were feeling lonely,” Evan laughed a little at the memory, “And I just remember sitting in class and considering asking for a copy because it— first of all, it blew everyone else’s writing out of the water, seriously, and second, it was… just so relatable? Like, the only person that talked to me— talks to me, I guess— is Jared, and back then he had more friends so he wouldn’t really talk to me in school and I’d sit on the bench during recess because I didn’t have anyone to play with and—“ Evan stops himself, fully aware he’s rambling, and Connor’s giving him this open and honest and broken look that Evan can’t even begin to describe. As he looks at Connor, the memories come flooding back.

 

“And in eighth grade you put a poem in the yearbook and I just remember circling it because it… I think you wrote it, I don’t really remember, but… I really liked it. And you signed my yearbook that year, and you were the only one because everyone was passing yearbooks around in math class and no one… no one asked to sign it.” Evan takes a deep breath. “So you came over to me and kind of ripped the book out of my hand and signed the top corner and didn’t really say anything else and just dropped it back on my desk and walked away and I have to admit I was a little scared but— it just—“ His fingers brush against the block letters on his cast. “You’ve always made me feel less alone, so. I think that matters.”

 

Connor doesn’t respond for at least five minutes.

 

For some reason Evan waits, watches Connor as he sits there with his head in his arms and his shoulders rise and fall with his breath. Eventually, Connor lifts his head slightly.

 

“Mrs. Morrison asked to talk to me in the hallway after class about that story,” Connor says quietly.

 

“She did?”

 

“Yeah. She, um… she asked me if I was having problems at home, which. Duh. The psychology is practically screaming at you with that one,” Connor says, and laughs a little. “I kind of can’t believe you remember that.”

 

“It… it meant a lot to prepubescent me,” Evan responds, and immediately feels dumb as hell. He blinks a couple of times, processing what he said. Oh no.

 

But then Connor smiles a crooked smile at him, finally letting himself sit up. His smile widens and he narrows his eyes. “Did it?”

 

Evan feels himself go red. “Not— not like that—“

 

“It’s okay, Hansen. I can’t say I didn’t kind of have a thing for you in middle school.”

 

Evan stops breathing. He’s sure his face resembles a tomato. “You did?”

 

Connor laughs fondly. “Yeah, dude. Probably would’ve gone for it if I hadn’t been so socially awkward and angry.” He pauses. “Angrier, at least.”

 

“Oh. Wow. Okay.”

 

“That’s weird of me to say, isn’t it?“

 

“No no, it’s fine, um— it’s cool—“

 

“Don’t act like it’s not at least a little weird, man—“

 

“I mean—“ Evan cuts himself off and Connor grins at him. Evan catches himself thinking that in another world where eighth grade Evan didn’t have crippling social anxiety and eighth grade Connor Murphy didn’t have extreme anger issues that made Evan want to cower in a corner around him, he probably would’ve been… dating Connor Murphy. It’s a weird thought. Because Connor was one of the smartest kids in Evan’s classes, and Evan was always jealous of Connor and his smarts and his looks and Evan always wondered why he had no friends. Until Connor opened his mouth and anger and insults tumbled out.

 

“Oh well. I’ll never have to deal with the repercussions of telling you that, so it doesn’t matter, right?”

 

Evan feels his heart sink.

 

As much as his mind and body are aching for it, just a little echo in the back of his mind, right now the echo is a little quieter. He doesn’t want to die right now. He doesn’t.

 

“I won’t if you won’t,” Evan says.

 

Connor raises an eyebrow at him. “Won’t…?”

 

“Kill myself,” Evan says, voice cracking on the last syllable.

 

Connor hums.

 

They sit there for what feels like hours.

 

“You should get home,” Connor says eventually, startling Evan out of his thoughts.

 

Evan doesn’t budge. “So should you.”

 

Connor measures him up. He scans Evan’s face, and as red as Evan knows it is, he doesn’t back down from the eye contact. He needs to let Connor know he’s serious.

 

“Do you need a ride?” Connor asks, tone careful and calculated.

 

“Nope.”

 

“Okay,” Connor says, looking away.

 

“Will I see you at school tomorrow?”

 

Connor sighs in frustration. “Why do you even care?”

 

“I…“ Evan’s not sure, actually. “I don’t… I don’t know. But I do. Why do you care about me ?”

 

“Who says I do?”

 

Okay, that one stung a bit. Evan decides to risk it. “ You did. When you told me I shouldn’t kill myself, like, fifteen minutes ago.”

 

Connor just sighs, looking away. He doesn’t deny it, which Evan counts as a win, and slowly Evan rises to his feet and dusts off his pants.

 

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Connor.”

 

There’s no response, so Evan just sighs and walks to his car. He feels eyes on him as he walks away, and when he gets home, he flops down in bed. This whole night has been so fucking weird. First, he and Connor just happened to bump into each other at the park, which was weird enough, and then they shared basically their life stories with each other despite having known each other for, like, an hour. And Connor gave Evan his sweatshirt to wear and told him he had a crush on him in eighth grade—

 

Connor’s sweatshirt. Fuck.

 

Evan reluctantly takes it off and folds it up neatly, placing it in his backpack. He’ll give it to Connor tomorrow. Because Connor better be at school, and if the only reason Evan has to live right now is that Connor might make it through the night, so be it.

 

Connor doesn’t deserve to die, no matter what he’s done in the past. Evan is going to make sure he knows that.













Chapter Text

Waking up the next morning is not what Evan had planned on his weekly agenda.

 

He also hadn’t planned on kind of befriending the guy who would win Most Likely to Shoot Up a School in the yearbook if that were a category, but here he is, walking through the crowded halls and seeing absolutely no sign of Connor Murphy. He’s distracted, so he keeps bumping into people, and that’s only causing the anxiety of not seeing Connor literally anywhere to skyrocket, because then he feels bad about pushing people but he’s too anxious to say anything so people probably just think he’s someone who pushes people now. Great.

 

Evan thought for sure that Connor would be at school the next day, waiting for him against his locker or smoking outside the door or some other early 2000s teen movie cliche. But as he scans the faces of the people passing by, the voice in his head only gets louder.

 

He’s not here.

 

He’s dead.

 

You weren’t good enough.

 

You actually thought you could save him?

 

Pathetic.

 

“Hansen,” He hears from behind him, and he about jumps out of his skin when a hand claps him on the shoulder. He spins around and comes face to face with literally the last person he wanted to see this morning.

 

“God, Jared— give me a warning next time.”

 

“God? That’s a high compliment.” Jared smiles at him obnoxiously, waiting for him to laugh, but Evan’s heard that one too many fucking times and he’s really really not in the mood, so he just stares at him. “Jesus, what’s your problem today? And why are you all jumpy?”

 

“I’m not —“

 

“Jumpier than usual, which is saying something, because you’re literally always on edge, I feel like I manage to scare you at least once a day, but first thing in the morning? You must be on drugs or something because—“

 

Jared ,” Evan hisses at him, glancing around them where people have begun to stare. “Do you have to be so— so loud all the time?”

 

Jared raises his eyebrows. “Okay, seriously man, who shit in your cereal today?”

 

Evan sighs in frustration, scrubbing his hands over his face. “It’s— I told you, I’m fine.”

 

“Whatever you say, dude,” Jared replies, leaning against the lockers and crossing his arms. Evan just sighs again, struggling to get his shaking hands to work well enough so he can unlock his locker and Jared just standing there and staring at him really doesn’t help. When he finally does, he unzips his backpack and his breath gets caught in his throat when he sees Connor’s sweatshirt folded up nice and neat on top of his books.

 

He coughs, trying to force some air out of him, and he nonchalantly picks up the sweatshirt and places it gently in his locker. A second later he gets a strong whiff of weed and febreeze— and by the scrunched up look on Jared’s face, he does too.

 

“Woah, is that why you’re so freaked out? You been having fun without me?”

 

“It’s— it’s medical, you know, for my, uh— my anxiety and all that.” Evan feels a bead of sweat run down his back.

 

“Since when? Is weed even legal here?” Evan’s eyes dart around for a distraction, anything , but people have begun to scatter from the hallways.

 

“Um— they, uh, I think they just passed—“

 

Jared holds up a hand. “Y’know, I don’t care. More importantly, why didn’t you invite me? You know I’ve always wanted to try—“

 

The bell goes off, and Evan breathes a silent sigh of relief.

 

“Anyway, tell me more about this later. I got a muy caliente date with Señorita Sanchez,” Jared says, shooting Evan finger guns before spinning on his heels and heading down the hall.

 

Evan doesn’t even have the energy to correct Jared when he gets Señora’s name wrong, because he already knows the reply: Señorita sounds hotter, Evan, duh. Evan rolls his eyes as he watches Jared walk away.

 

There are only a few people left in the hallway now, none of which have long brown hair and combat boots on. Evan’s stomach twists with guilt, and as he gathers his books, he feels like he might pass out.

 

Connor isn’t dead. He’s just late today. Everything’s fine. It’ll be fine. Connor skips all the time. He’s fine.

 

Evan takes a steadying breath before racing down the hallway to beat the late bell.






Connor’s not in English either.

 

Next period is lunch, and if he’s not here by then Evan isn’t going to know what to think. It’s not like he has Connor’s number and he can just text him like, ‘ hey man, u alive ?’ He can’t even utter two words to Zoe because she’s intimidating as hell and it would be weird to ask how her brother’s doing considering the fact that he and Connor have never even talked or hung out before. She’d just laugh at him and tell the whole school that he’s an idiot and then they’d all point at him in the hallways and—

 

God, get it together, Hansen. He can’t be dead. He’s just not at school. Maybe he’ll be at lunch. The words of Dr. Sherman echo in his head: Don’t worry before you have to.

 



He’s not at lunch.

 

And okay, at this point Evan’s fucking worrying.

 

He shouldn’t even care, really, because he doesn’t even know this kid, but. Fuck. He could .

 

The final bell rings and it’s decided, Connor’s not there. He’s not coming. He’s probably dead somewhere, and tomorrow morning the announcements will say they have an important assembly later on in the day where they will announce to the school that a fellow classmate is dead, and then Evan will throw up because he does that when he’s nervous and then he’ll go down in history as the kid who puked during an assembly.

 

Okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but in the moment it seems plausible.

 

Evan reaches his locker and there it is, Connor’s hoodie. Sitting on top of all of his other books like it belongs there, but simultaneously looking so out of place. He looks around to make sure Jared’s not going to pop out of thin air and jumpscare him, and when the coast is clear, he takes the sweatshirt carefully out of his locker and holds it in his hands.

 

If Connor’s really dead… his family will probably want this back. And it would be really, really selfish of Evan to keep it, but…

 

He shoves it into his backpack.

 

“Hansen.”

 

Once again, Evan is startled out of his thoughts, but this time the voice is much softer and much closer. He whirls around, hands slamming against the lockers behind him, and then he’s staring into ice blue eyes. To his surprise, Connor has a bit of brown around the iris of his left eye. Evan had never noticed that before. He takes a step back and immediately relaxes.

 

“Jesus Christ, you scared the shit out of me.”

 

Connor shrugs. “Sorry.” A second later, he says, “I thought you were Jewish.”

 

Evan’s mind goes blank. “I am. What?”

 

“You said— nevermind. Hi, by the way,” Connor says awkwardly.

 

“Hi,” Evan says after a moment. Then it hits him.

 

Connor’s not dead. Connor’s right here. And he could be hallucinating, but he’s pretty sure he’s not and that Connor is living and breathing and staring at him right now.

 

“You’re not dead,” He says on an exhale like it’s the most normal thing on the fucking planet. He’s never gonna get used to that, the way they can just talk about death like it’s nothing.

 

“Neither are you,” Connor counters, shoving his hands in his pockets and shifting his weight from foot to foot. He’s having some kind of staring contest with the floor.

 

Evan clears his throat. He has a sudden urge to pull Connor into a bone-crushing hug, but that’s really fucking weird and they don’t even know each other, so he pushes that thought way way way down. “Well… I’m glad.”

 

“Yep.”

 

More silence. It’s deafening in Evan’s head.

 

“I have your—“

 

“Do you have my—“

 

They both stop, looking away and laughing. Evan reaches down into his bag, and as he zips it back up he sees that his hands are shaking.

 

“Thanks,” Connor mutters as Evan hands over his hoodie.

 

“Oh, uh— no problem,” Evan nods. He expects Connor to turn around and walk away, because the hallways are starting to empty and people are slowly trickling out of the school, but. He’s not moving.

 

“Anything fun happen in English?” Connor asks, gently kicking at the floor and actively still avoiding eye contact.

 

“Oh, uh— not really,” Evan says, because honestly, he can’t remember. He absolutely was not paying attention. “It was pretty boring. Same stuff as yesterday.”

 

“Oh. Good.”

 

Evan wants to ask him so many questions. Where were you? Why did you let me worry? Are you okay? Where the fuck were you?

 

“So, um— what changed your mind?” Evan hears himself ask. Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

 

Connor’s eyes flash with something unrecognizable. He looks away, and Evan swears he’s just going to start walking down the hall, but then Connor looks down and his cheeks turn the slightest bit of pink.

 

“Wanted my sweatshirt back,” Connor mumbles, shrugging.

 

Yeah, okay, that’s not what Evan had been expecting.

 

But nonetheless, Connor’s here and he’s breathing and he’s still talking to Evan which. Is something, at least.

 

“Oh.”

 

“Thanks again,” Connor says quietly. It takes a second, but Connor makes fleeting eye contact and then he’s walking down the hall, and Evan just watches him go. He wants to tell Connor to wait up, to walk him to his car or ask for his social media or something so that they’re not done, because he really doesn’t want them to be done. Because no one’s ever even attempted to do what Connor did. Connor talked him down. And it worked .

 

And sure, that little echo is still there, but another nagging voice in his head is telling him that hey, at least someone cares.

 

It’s something. It’s got to be.

 

When Evan gets home and settles on his bed he tries to focus on homework, he really does. He sits there for a solid thirty minutes with his chemistry homework in front of him, twirling his pencil around in his fingers, but.

 

Somehow he finds himself on his phone, and somehow Connor Murphy’s name ends up in his search bar on Instagram.

 

And when Evan sees the username con.murphy420, he knows he’s found the right person.

 

The pictures are all in black and white, and there are only a couple of them, but Evan taps on every one. The newest one, a high-contrast photo of his hand holding a cigarette, is only a couple of days old. The caption is simple, just some song lyrics that Evan doesn’t recognize. He makes a mental note to look them up later. The next photo is of a (presumably) grey cat, and the corner of Evan’s mouth quirks up at the caption, which reads, ‘ Found this girl outside begging for food. Keeping her. ’ It’s from a couple of months ago. Evan wonders if he actually kept the cat.

 

The oldest one kind of breaks Evan’s heart. It’s from three years ago, and it’s Connor holding a polaroid of himself and Zoe when they were kids. It doesn’t have a caption, but it doesn’t need one, really. They have their arms slung around each other, and Zoe’s wearing overalls and has a bandaid on her knee and a missing tooth, and Connor has much shorter hair and he’s got his tongue poking out, wearing a plain shirt and jeans. It’s really fucking cute.

 

They’re so different now. Zoe doesn’t want anything to do with Connor, and by the way he talked about her, he has no hope of them ever fixing what went wrong. Evan wonders what went wrong. He also wonders why Connor has such a huge time jump from this photo to his newest.

 

Evan goes to zoom in, because Connor just looks so damn different, and— fuck.

 

Shit.

 

Fuck.

 

He accidentally liked the photo.

 

From three years ago.

 

He liked Connor’s Instagram photo from three fucking years ago.

 

Which tells Connor that he was stalking him, that he was being a goddamn creep and zooming into Connor’s photos and now there’s literally no hope of Connor ever speaking to him again because that’s fucking weird and creepy.

 

So he does what any sane person with crippling anxiety does. He freaks the hell out.

 

He’s glad his mom isn’t home, because if she heard the amount of pacing coming from his room she’d be worried for sure. Evan tries to calm himself down but he’s fucking hyperventilating and he’s never been able to do that breathing thing that Dr. Sherman recommended, because he’s too focused on the fact that he feels like he’s going to pass the hell out.

 

He hears a ping from his phone and freezes in place.

 

Evan immediately grabs his phone, attempting deep breaths and failing miserably. He especially fails at deep breathing when he sees the notification pop up on his screen.

 

con.murphy420 : Sup stalker.

 

Yeah, okay, he needs to take a breath.

 

Another notification pops up.

 

con.murphy420 : (I’m joking. That was a joke.)

 

He exhales the breath he's been holding, grinning down at the tiny screen.

Chapter Text

“This is weird, isn’t it? Like, we haven’t really— we haven’t really even talked that much and I just, like, asked you to eat lunch with me out of nowhere and I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable or anything but I justthoughtmaybewecould—“

 

“Not weird,” Connor interrupts him sharply, mouth full of pizza. He doesn’t follow up with anything, just turns back to the lunch tray on his lap.

 

Evan just nods. “Okay.”

 

And yeah, he said okay, but he’s, like, the furthest from okay. Well, that’s not true. But he’s pretty damn freaked out, and Connor’s just sitting there next to him and he’s not talking. What if Connor doesn’t want to be there? What if he just agreed to eat lunch with him to pity him? What if—

 

“Hansen?”

 

“Huh? Yes?”

 

Connor gives him a strange look. “Are you…um, are you gonna eat anything?”

 

Evan looks down at the tray on his lap. He hasn’t touched it. “Oh. Uh. I dunno, I’m not really that hungry.”

 

Connor blinks at him. “You should eat.”

 

“Yeah, I mean, you’re not wrong, I just. I dunno.”

 

Connor just raises his eyebrows and looks at him for a second, then reaches for his apple and shrugs. “Suit yourself, I guess.”

 

Evan picks at the grass, desperate to change the subject. “So, um… why do you, uh— why do you eat out here?”

 

He laughs, but it’s bitter. “You should see what it’s like if I eat in there. That cafeteria is like a fucking zoo.”

 

“People pick on you,” Evan says softly.

 

“Yeah, no shit.” Connor says back. “I don’t think I’ve eaten in there in, like… almost three years?”

 

Evan nods. “Yeah. I’ve seen you in the lunch line, but I’ve always kind of wondered where you went after that.”

 

Connor looks over at him. “Huh.” He kind of sizes Evan up, blue eyes boring into his. Evan swallows. “Didn’t think… hm.” He looks away and Evan feels like he can finally breathe. “Anyway, what do you normally do for lunch? You eat with Kleinman or something?”

 

Evan laughs once. “Oh, yeah, no. No, we don’t eat together, he kind of, um… he eats with other people?”

 

“What? Why?” Connor asks, looking over again, and his eyes are cold. He looks kind of upset. It makes Evan’s chest feel warm.

 

“Oh, um, he has… other friends that he. Eats with.”

 

Connor just blinks, and Evan wonders what he’s thinking for a second. He also wonders why it takes Connor so long to form sentences. He thinks it’s probably because Connor doesn’t talk to people in a kind manner very often.

 

“So you don’t sit with them?”

 

Evan looks down. For some reason he can’t look Connor in the eyes anymore. He picks up his fork and pushes his green beans around. “Nope.” And Connor’s about to say something else, so Evan quickly adds, “I mean, it doesn’t really bother me that much— like, I hang out with Jared after school and stuff, so like, it doesn’t really matter if we eat lunch together—“

 

“So you eat alone?”

 

Evan stops. “Yeah.”

 

“That sucks.”

 

“Yeah, I mean, like I said it doesn’t really bother me that much so—“

 

“You don’t have to lie to me, Hansen. I know it sucks.”

 

Evan sighs. “Okay, yeah it does. But, like— if I say it’s fine, even though it’s not, then it makes it less… painful, right?”

 

Connor looks at him like he’s crazy. “Your logic is super fucking flawed, but whatever.” He laughs a bit and Evan’s taken back to that night in the park.

 

“Just— just let me be in denial, okay?” Evan laughs, and Connor looks back at him with the slightest smirk. They make eye contact for a second, and then Evan looks down, smiling to himself.

 

Connor’s about to say something, but the bell rings very loudly above the two of them and Evan about jumps out of his goddamn skin. Connor heaves a giant sigh, lifting himself up and— to Evan’s surprise— waiting for Evan to do the same. They walk inside and take their trays up, and they get a couple of glances, but nothing too serious.

 

“So, uh— see you later, I guess,” Connor says, waving awkwardly before walking down the hall, and it strikes him right then and there that neither of them are really experts at this friend thing they have going on. If it’s even a friend thing.  

 

“Oh, yeah, see you!” Evan yells after him, way too late as Connor’s already turned a corner. Stupid. And he doesn’t see Connor for the rest of the day, not even in passing. For all Evan knows, Connor could have just walked out after lunch. It wouldn’t be unlike him.

 

Which is kind of worrying, to be honest. Because Evan’s suddenly feeling responsible for Connor’s existence for some reason, even though he shouldn’t because Connor’s his own person and does what he wants, but like what if Connor has decided from their one actual real conversation that Evan’s not worth his time? Or what if he goes straight from the school and straight to that park?

 

But to be fair, he did say he’d see him ‘later’, whatever the hell that means. Maybe that’s just something cool mysterious people say to seem… cool and mysterious.

 

God.

 

Either way, when Evan gets home that day he feels better than he has in… a very long time, actually. He hadn’t seen Jared all day, which was kind of a good thing considering the torture he would endure when Jared found out about his friendship with Connor, and he didn’t publicly embarrass himself in front of the entire school, which was definitely a good thing.

 

And on top of that, he didn’t eat alone today. Not that he actually ate, but the sentiment is there. He definitely isn’t used to that, eating with someone else, considering the Jared situation and also the fact that his mother works weird hours and picks up shifts and Evan practically eats alone all the time, really. He’d never realized how much it sucked.

 

Naturally, when Evan gets another DM from Connor that night, he’s kind of caught off guard.

 

con.murphy420: Hey.

con.murphy420: Weird question.

 

And of course Evan’s about to freak the hell out, but then—

 

con.murphy420: Ok not that weird but whatever.

con.murphy420: I need to get out of the house. Are you busy?

 

Of course Evan’s not fucking busy, who the hell does Connor think he is?

 

evan22hansen: not busy!!

 

And he thinks the exclamation points are a little much, and although they’re very accurate, he tries again.

 

evan22hansen: not busy. what’d you have in mind?

 

It doesn’t take long for Evan to receive a reply, and it doesn’t take long for Connor to show up at Evan’s doorstep, giving him a timid half grimace half attempt at a grin.

 

“Have you eaten?” Connor asks, climbing into the car before Evan can really get the chance to answer.

 

“Oh, dinner? No, not yet, actually. But I’m fine if you already have and of course you don’t have to take me anywhere just because I haven’t eaten yet—”

 

“So food it is,” Connor says loudly, quickly shutting down Evan’s rambling, and Evan would be lying if he didn’t jump a little. Connor glances at him before muttering an apology. And if Evan’s being completely completely honest, he kind of appreciates the fact that Connor’s blunt and cuts off his rambling, even if it’s only because he finds it annoying. Because sometimes he doesn’t even realize that he’s doing it, and to have someone check him like that is something Evan’s never had the luxury of.

 

Evan quickly realizes that Connor’s not saying much on the car ride to… wherever they’re going. Like, Connor isn’t really much of a talker, but this silence is kind of deafening. He feels like he’s about to hyperventilate because he knows Connor didn’t mean it really when he yelled at him but he still yelled at him , and the air just feels wrong and pretty soon, before he can even process it, he’s talking.

 

“Is everything okay?” He asks quietly, and immediately regrets it when Connor shoots him an angry glance. He deflates after that though, running a hand over his face and shaking his head, which is very dangerous while driving. Evan readies his hands for if he has to steer the car.

 

“I’m— no, I guess. It’s not.” Connor’s knuckles are white on the steering wheel.

 

A beat of silence.

 

“Do you, um… would you like to tell me about it?”

 

Another beat of silence.

 

“I mean, not that you have to or anything,” Evan adds. “You definitely don’t have to—”

 

“It’s—” Connor takes a sharp breath in through his nose— “My family just sucks, okay? I— I don’t think I can talk about it right now without… freaking the fuck out.”

 

Evan takes a breath, and then nods. “Okay.”

 

Yeah, he’s a little scared. But he’s supposed to be trying with this friend thing, because he knows Connor can be pleasant to be around and he knows that his anger isn’t directed toward him and he knows that even if only the smallest amount, Connor cares about him. So he reassures himself that it’s not him, it’s not him, it’s not him, and that it’s going to be okay. Even if his brain won’t let him believe it.

 

Connor parallel parking is probably one of the most magical things Evan’s ever witnessed.

 

He did it flawlessly, like he was just born with this innate knowledge of how to maneuver a vehicle, and Evan kind of laughs a little when he manages to take only one try to pull it into the spot.

 

Connor whips his head around at the sound. “What?” He spits out angrily.

 

“No no, I’m not laughing at you, just— um, that was— that was really impressive.”

 

“Oh.” Connor says quietly. “Thanks.”

 

“It took me at least three tries for maneuverability, and also I’m too anxious to actually drive, so. Yeah. Impressive.”

 

Connor looks over at him, outwardly radiating stress. “I, um…” He takes a deep breath, running his fingers through his hair. “Yeah, I… did it first try, actually.”

 

“That’s cool. I’m kinda jealous, actually.”

 

Connor gives him an almost smile before getting out of the car, and Evan’s grateful, because he almost starts rambling again.

 

When he gets out, he’s… more than surprised, to say the least. They’re in front of this beautiful brick building built into a shopping strip, with outdoor seating and fairy lights hanging from the overhang. The door has a decal with a coffee cup on top of a book, and Evan quickly puts two and two together.

 

“It’s… it’s a café,” Connor says as Evan gets out, “Obviously. Well, actually, it’s a bookstore with a built in café, but whatever.”

 

“Wow. This place is… really nice.”

 

Connor looks almost pleased, but his eyebrows are still pulled together in stress. He has his arms crossed over his chest like he’s afraid his heart is going to fall out. “Yeah. Come on,” He says, leading Evan inside.

 

Evan thinks it’s the most beautiful place he’s ever seen. There’s a small counter in the corner with red barstools, a huge highly decorated sign above that with all of the options, there are lights hanging everywhere, and there are rows and rows of books with beanbags and chairs scattered about for people to lounge in.

 

“They have sandwiches and stuff,” Connor says, already walking forward, and Evan is quick to follow him. As cheesy as it sounds, at the mention of sandwiches his stomach growls and Evan can think of nothing better to eat.

 

Once he stumbles through the ordering of a roasted tomato chicken avocado BLT panini (which is absolutely a mouthful of a name and is totally unnecessary), he and Connor settle in the corner of the store on two matching bean bags with a sandwich and a black coffee between the two of them.

 

“Coffee?” Evan asks, taking a timid bite of his sandwich. It’s a little too hot and he burns his tongue, but he doesn’t really know Connor at all so it’s not like he can just spit it out. He deals with the pain, as any sane person would do. “It’s, like, 8pm.”

 

“Hey, I don’t try and regulate your caffeine intake,” Connor says jokingly.

 

Evan smiles. “Touché.” He takes another bite and takes a second to look around.

 

The atmosphere in here is quiet and comfortable, with some indie music playing softly above them, and Evan feels almost at peace, which is the closest to feeling at peace he’s probably ever felt. The little corner they’re tucked into is between two bookshelves, and usually the impending doom of the possibility of bookshelves falling on him is too much but for some reason it feels safe. Evan can see the appeal.

 

“Do you come here a lot?”

 

Connor looks over at him like he’d been zoning out. “Oh, yeah, um. I come here a lot to think. This is kind of my corner.”

 

Evan feels his cheeks tinge red. He’s in Connor’s corner.

 

To cover up that embarrassment, he decides to joke around.

 

“So you like to hang out in…“ He scans the books around him for the first time, and when he turns around, he realizes that their bean bags are pushed right up against a set of comic books. “...the comic book section. That’s, uh…“

 

“Stupid?” Connor asks.

 

No , no, I was gonna say it’s relatable. And also kind of unexpected, to be honest.”

 

Connor cocks his head to the side, furrowing his brow with a smirk on his face. “Why?”

 

“Oh, well, you know, you… you don’t strike me as someone who reads anything other than classic literature and poetry.“

 

He covers his mouth as soon as it comes out, because okay, he’s getting way too comfortable around this dude to be cracking jokes like those, but as Connor has a record of constantly surprising him, he laughs.

 

“Yeah, I guess I do come off as kind of pretentious.”

 

“I mean, I didn’t say that—

 

Connor raises his eyebrows. “Evan. Come on.”

 

“No, you— you just—“

 

“It’s true, though. I do really like classic literature and poetry.” Connor cracks a smile. “But I can also appreciate a Wolverine comic book once in a while.”

 

Evan almost gasps. “Wait— I had a whole collection of vintage Wolverine comics when I was a kid! I bet I still have them—”

 

“No. Really?”

 

“Yeah, dude. It was one of my favorites. My mom used to read them to me and do voices and everything.”

 

“I can one-up you,” Connor says casually, taking a sip of his coffee with a smirk. “I have an X-Men comic that was signed by Stan Lee himself.”

 

“No you do not.”

 

“I do!”

 

“Connor. Are you serious?”

 

“Yeah, dude. I’ll have to show it to you sometime.” That sentence makes something twist in Evan’s chest.

 

“Yeah,” Evan agrees breathlessly. “I’d love that.” After a moment, under his breath, he adds, “You really aren’t as cool and mysterious as I thought.”

 

Connor fakes a scoff. “I can be a nerd and cool and mysterious at the same time.”

 

“I dunno,” Evan says, taking a bite of his sandwich. “I feel like that’s not a thing.”

 

“Whatever. I’ll be the first, then.”

 

A comfortable silence falls over them, and for the first time in a long time, Evan doesn’t feel completely alone.

Chapter Text

“This is my cat, her name is Shadow.” Connor pauses. “And don’t judge me for that, okay? The parents let Zoe name her, so of course now our cat has the most basic cat name in the entire fucking world.” It’s getting colder now, the chill of fall finally starting to set in, and Connor pulls his sleeves down over his hands as he points his phone screen in Evan’s direction.

 

Evan’s never heard Connor talk this much in his entire life. Thank god for Shadow.

 

It’s nice, being around Connor. Evan feels like he can breathe; like he can be himself and not have to worry about stepping on eggshells so he doesn’t get made fun of for regulating how much he stutters or how many breaths he takes in a minute because how many breaths is too many and it’s. It’s just nice.

 

Connor makes him feel like a person.

 

“My dad has a cat named Oreo,” Evan says, and he feels a lump form in his throat and clears it before any sort of emotion can creep out and scare away his semi-new friend. “I feel like that one beats Shadow on basicness.”

 

Connor nods after a moment. “Your dad wins for being the most basic for sure.” He swipes left on the photo and Evan sighs a silent breath of relief when Connor doesn’t bring up his dad. “I love this one. She looks like a fucking shrimp.”

 

“She’s adorable,” Evan says kind of breathlessly.

 

Connor smiles triumphantly like a new father showing off his baby photos. It’s a look Evan has never seen on Connor’s face literally ever. Happiness is a good look for him, he thinks. “I love that cat.”

 

Evan laughs softly. “I’m jealous. I was never allowed to have animals.”

 

Connor looks scandalized. “Are you actually serious? I feel like you of all people could use an animal in your house. They relieve stress and all that stuff.”

 

Evan sighs, looking down and picking at a string on his pants. “Yeah, I know. I’ve always wanted one, and I begged my mom for a dog for years, but we both know no one’s in that house enough to take care of any animal, so.”

 

“Oh.” Connor frowns. “That’s kind of the saddest fucking thing I’ve ever heard.”

 

“No, yeah, I know. It’s… I wish it could be different, you know? Like, I wish… I don’t know. I wish a lot of things could be different.” He doesn’t really know what he means by that, but he looks over at Connor anyway in hopes that maybe he does.

 

Connor blinks at him; holds eye contact like he’s trying to relay a message through telepathy or something. “Me too.”

 

“Hansen? Evan, where the hell are you?” He hears coming from inside, but before he can even think about hiding or running or anything, Jared bursts through the cafeteria doors and immediately spots them both. He has to admit that it looks kind of sketchy, the two of them sitting on the grass outside of the school, and Evan’s heart drops to his stomach when Jared’s eyes narrow.

 

“Jesus. Fucking. Christ.” Jared drawls, walking a little closer to the two of them, glancing between them both and shaking his head. Evan can practically feel Connor tense up beside him. “I knew it wasn’t medical,” Jared huffs under his breath.

 

Connor glances at Evan. “What?”

 

“Nothing,” Evan spits out loudly, trying to communicate to Jared with wide eyes that he should probably leave right now, “Do, um— do you need something, Jared?”

 

Jared rolls his eyes. He pulls out a paper and flops it around. “You said I could copy your chem during lunch, remember? Jesus. You could’ve told me you had a date, dude. I’m cool, I understand. Lots of people swing both ways these days.” Jared glances over at Connor with a furrowed brow. “Though I’m not sure I approve of you dating the school shooter of all people. There are plenty of better guys at this school—”

 

“We’re not— Jared, Jesus—

 

“Don’t you have something better to do, Kleinman?” Connor grits out, practically vibrating with anger. There’s a venom in his words that Evan hasn't heard in a long time. “Go be a fucking piece of shit somewhere else.”

 

Fuck.

 

Jared looks speechless, raising his eyebrows and taking a step back. Unfortunately, he’s not speechless. He never is. “Piece of shit, huh? Funny. Last thing I remember you were such a freak that everyone was too afraid to come near you, isn’t that right, Murphy?” Jared turns back to Evan, and Evan feels Connor about to get up. “Come on, dude, I can hook you up with much cuter guys—“

 

“Just— shut up, Jared.” Evan hears himself spit out. Connor freezes. “You don’t— you don’t get to decide who I… who I hang out with, okay? Just leave.”

 

It takes Evan to realize what exactly just came out of his mouth, but he could have guessed based solely on the look on Jared’s face. “Woah, okay, hold on. Are you really defending him, Evan? Really ? Connor Murphy. Really. Over me, your best friend.”

 

Evan tries to speak, he really does, but nothing comes out.

 

“Jesus. I don’t see you for, what, three whole days and now you’re fucking around with some batshit emo kid?” It’s a joke, but there’s real anger in Jared’s eyes. “I’m worried about you, man. You’ve changed.”

 

“Don’t act like you’ve ever cared about him,” Connor says, rolling his eyes. Oh no. Oh no no no no. Evan moves the tiniest bit closer to Connor, pressing his knee to Connor’s as a signal to simmer down. He prays to god that Connor gets it because he doesn’t know if he could speak if he wanted to.

 

“Oh, and you do?” Jared asks, folding his arms and quirking his eyebrow. The second of silence following that is crackling with tension.

 

“Well, I’m the one sitting here and you’re the one demanding homework answers that a middle schooler could do on their own.” Connor shrugs, crossing his arms to mirror Jared. “Seems pretty fucking simple to me.”

 

Jared sputters for a moment, looking between the two of them. “Fuck you, Evan. Asshole.” He goes to turn away, but stops at the door and turns around. “When this freak ruins your fucking life, don’t come crawling back to me. I won’t be there.”

 

With that, the door slams behind him.

 

Evan takes a moment to steady his breathing. “Jared’s, um… he can be a bit dramatic. I’m sorry.”

 

When Connor doesn’t answer, Evan glances over at him and sees that Connor’s curled himself into a ball with his knees to his chest and his hands in his hair. He’s pulling so hard that he could probably pull it out, and Connor’s shaking, and Evan kind of has no idea what to fucking do.

 

“Connor?” Evan asks timidly. No answer. “I— should I leave? What can I do?”

 

He can hear Connor’s labored breathing, like he’s having some sort of attack, and Evan’s concern grows as time ticks by without a response. The reality of the situation is actually sinking in now. The words I won’t be there are repeating in his head, and he’s fucking angry, because Jared’s never been there, he wasn’t there the night Evan texted him asking if he could come over because that night he had the overwhelming urge to not exist and Jared doesn’t even talk to him outside of their discord or asking for stupid fucking homework answers and—

 

The bell rings.

 

Connor’s up as soon as it happens, so fast it feels like he got up before the bell, and he slams open the doors before Evan can even blink.

 

As per usual, Evan doesn’t see Connor for the rest of the day. As per… not usual, Evan doesn’t hear from him that night, either.

 

And when the next day rolls around and he doesn’t see Connor at school either, he starts getting flashbacks to that day that feels like so long ago when he thought Connor was dead and his worrying gets so bad that he texts him during class , which is something he’s literally never done in his life because who the hell would do that knowing they could get caught?

 

He doesn’t get an answer then, either.

 

Evan tries to call during lunch, and although his anxiety is telling him that he’s being dramatic and that the texts and calls are excessive, there’s a little voice that’s yelling at him in the back of his mind because even though they’ve only known each other for a little while, he knows Connor. He thinks he knows Connor.

 

He knows enough to realize that this isn’t good.

 

And of course Evan sees Jared in the hallway, and even though he barely even glances at Jared, of course he notices and fucking trips Evan in the middle of the crowded hallway and he drops all of his things and people laugh and it just. Sucks. It really fucking sucks. Because the past couple of weeks he’s felt like things were good, that they were getting better, that he was getting better, but now it feels like he’s taken two steps backward. Into a pit of fire. With spikes at the bottom.

 

When he gets home that day he’s exhausted and he has a bruise on his elbow and his knee and when he lays in bed he breaks down. He cries and he screams into a pillow and even though he knows he’s having a panic attack he doesn’t take a pill because it doesn’t fucking matter, nothing helps and he thought he was getting better .

 

Crying is supposed to help, right? It’s supposed to relieve some of the pent up emotion, right? But when the tears stop and he’s laying there gasping on his bed he still feels that empty dread in the pit of his stomach. He wants so badly to be in the presence of another human being because he feels like he’s going insane here, like the room is shrinking or something. He needs someone. Anyone.

 

His mom doesn’t come home that night.

 

Evan doesn’t sleep.

 

Another day passes with no word from Connor and Evan’s starting to get angry because it’s not fucking fair. He’s used to this with Jared, being ignored for a couple of weeks until Jared pulls his head out of his ass, but Connor. Connor doesn’t just get to walk into his life and show him what it’s like to be cared about and then just up and leave with no explanation. It’s driving Evan crazy because on top of having literally no one, he has no idea what he did wrong. He’s gone over the series of events so many times in his head, recounted the movements he made and words he spoke and he has obsessed over every little thing that happened with Connor and with Jared beforehand and he just. Can’t figure out where it went wrong. Why Connor just stopped caring all of a sudden.

 

He doesn’t know how long it’s been since he’s heard from Connor, but at some point he decides to send one last text. It can’t hurt, right? He’s at rock bottom. What’s another stupid text?

 

 

Evan: just tell me what I did wrong

 

 

He’s tired and he’s empty and he’s so drained from the lack of sleep that he does that edge-of-sleep thing where he feels like he’s falling and wakes up with a racing heartbeat when he hears his phone ding.

 

 

Connor: Please just let me go.

 

 

It catches him so off guard that suddenly he’s more awake than he’s been in the past week, because what’s that even supposed to mean? He’s been silent for nearly a week and when he finally answers he’s being cryptic and stupid and Evan feels a spark of rage in his chest.

 

 

Evan: screw you

Evan: everything was fine and then you disappeared for a week and I had no clue what was happening or if you were dead or what

Evan: if you don’t wanna be around me anymore that’s fine I don’t care, just tell me what the fuck I did that made you so angry

 

 

His first instinct is to throw his phone across the room after hitting send, but he always fucking cries when he’s angry so the tears start and this time they’re fucking relentless. He buries his head in the pillow and wonders how many times in the last week he’s done this, just laid down and cried because that’s all he’s been able to do.

 

Evan’s not sure when exactly he falls asleep, but he’s shaken awake by his mom telling him that she picked up a pizza on the way home from work and to come downstairs when he’s hungry but if he’s being honest, food is the last thing on his mind.

 

He has three new texts from Connor.

 

 

Connor: Jared was right.

Connor: I’m going to fuck up your life just like I fuck everything else up. So please just leave me alone and stop worrying about me because I don’t fucking matter and I can’t be the person that brings you down when you have so much potential.

Connor: I hope you and Jared can fix things. I’m sorry.

 

 

It’s bullshit.

 

It’s utter bullshit.

 

Deep down, Evan knows Connor’s hurting and he regrets being so fucking angry at him earlier but none of the things Connor said were true. None. And even deeper down he knows he can’t let this go because no one has ever really understood him, not even his shitty therapist, and it might be selfish and they haven’t even known each other for two months but Connor’s the best friend he’s ever had so he’s not just going to stand idly by while Connor self-destructs. He’s not.

 

The phone rings and rings and rings and Connor doesn’t answer.

 

He tries again. No answer.

 

He’s about to fucking give up, just accept that Connor won’t budge and must just be telling him that so he doesn’t have to say how annoying he actually thinks Evan is, how much he hated hanging out with him, but then his phone rings.

 

He picks up after the first ring, and no words will come out. The other line is silent. He has so many things he needs to say. So many things to lay on the line. But every time he tries the words get stuck in his throat. He hears some rustling on the other line and then Connor clears his throat.

 

“Hi.”

 

That seems to do it.

 

“I can’t— I can’t fucking believe that you made me think you’re dead.” Evan says, pacing his room with the phone pressed hard to his ear and his free hand tangled in his hair. “It’s not true. It’s not. You’re not going to ruin me, or fuck up my life or— whatever because I was going to kill myself and then you were there and I didn’t, and I haven’t really felt that bad since then and I’m not just going to give up on you because you’re pushing me away.”

 

“Evan—“

 

“No, shut up. I don’t care if people talk. I don’t— I don’t give a shit about what Jared thinks; he’s a fucking idiot and he’ll be over this in a week and everything will be back to normal and I just.” Evan’s voice cracks and he takes a breath. “I don’t think you know how much you mean to me, okay? I’ve been. I’ve been worried sick. Because considering how we met and everything, you’re not— you could’ve— I would’ve blamed myself, you know? I— I fucking care about you. I’m not— you can’t just be an amazing friend to me and then just. Just leave. I can’t— I don’t. I don’t want that.”

 

When he finally steps off of his soapbox, he takes another breath and then sits on the bed. It’s silent for a long moment, but then he hears Connor sniff and all of his anger and resentment drains out of him.

 

“I’m coming over,” He announces, standing up and pulling a jacket on while his phone balances between his ear and his shoulder.

 

“You really don’t—“

 

“Text me your address or I’m asking Zoe for it,” Evan says, then hangs up quickly before Connor can protest. He doesn’t even have Zoe’s number. He doesn’t know why he even said that. And then he just sits on the bed for a second, processing everything, because he just told off his best friend and then invited himself over and hung up on him and he still can’t tell if Connor wants anything to do with him or not.

 

But Connor texts him the address and he’s out the door before he can even think about it.

Chapter Text

Evan: please let me in

 

Connor: You don’t have to do this.

 

Evan: i want to. come on it’s cold

 

Connor: You don’t have to do this, Evan.

Connor: Please just go home.

 

Evan: no

 

Connor: Please don’t do this.

 

Evan: not leaving you, sorry

Evan: actually i’m not sorry

 

Connor: Stop. Leave. Move on.

 

Evan: Connor. let me in. please.

 

At that moment he can’t exactly pinpoint which interpretation of that he means.

 

Connor: Please stop.

Connor: Go home.

Connor: I don’t want you here.

 

Evan: sucks, i want to be here, so

 

Connor: Evan stop.

 

Evan: no

Evan: I’m not leaving until you open this door and let me in

 

A minute of silence.

 

Evan silently and very naively hopes it’s because Connor’s coming down to unlock the door and let Evan in and Let Evan In and then they’d hug and everything would be okay for a while. Connor would be okay. Evan would be okay. Everything would stop being so fucking bad.

 

And he’d have his friend back.

 

Connor: Guess you’re going to freeze to death then.

 

He should’ve known that’s not how it works.

 

He sighs. Sinks down onto the Murphy’s front porch.

 

And just. Catches his breath for a second.

 

Because he’d just up and decided that he was Going To Connor’s House, that he was going to show up and. And. He hadn’t exactly planned what to do after that, he just knew it was what he needed to do. It felt like his legs had done all the work for him, like his brain was just absent when he decided he needed to do this, to protect Connor. And now he’s here, sitting on the Murphy’s front steps like a creep or some modern fucking Romeo and Juliet remake, and Evan can’t even imagine what Jared’s going to say when he—

 

What he would say. If he and Evan were on speaking terms. Which.

 

Jared’s a dick. He’s a grade-A asshole. Evan knows this. He’s stupid and he’d blunt and he can be so fucking mean, but. Evan hasn’t forgotten a time when he wasn’t. He still remembers the sleepovers and the times they’d sneak away when their parents talked and talked and talked and times they’d play Xbox and yell at little kids about their game strategies like are you trying to get us killed and he remembers coming out to Jared and Jared just. Hugging him. And not letting go for a long time.

 

But that was before Evan had anxiety and became too embarrassing and too clingy and Jared found other friends who didn’t have a crippling mental illness that’s too much for anyone to deal with and before Jared had a car that he needed insurance paid for and before Evan became such a fucking burden to everyone.

 

He shouldn’t care. He really shouldn’t.

 

Evan’s mom would have said it’s because he has a big heart. Evan knows it’s because not many people ever care, ever notice, and for a time Jared did. Evan hasn’t forgotten. He's not sure he ever will.

 

Connor cared, too. Past tense, just like Jared. Connor was kind and still sort of closed off but he was getting there, they were getting there, and Evan did something to fuck it up. So he just sits on the Murphy’s doorstep, deciding if he should text Connor again or go home or take a walk or—

 

Or.

 

No. He can’t go there.

 

His hands are getting sweaty. He balls them into fists, finding comfort in the sting of his nails pressing hard into his palms.

 

He’s supposed to be over this. He can’t be like this when he’s supposed to be talking someone down or whatever. Connor could be in there with a noose or a blade or a bottle of fucking pills and Evan’s here thinking about. About how sometimes he wishes he could just.

 

He’s a bad friend, he’s decided. Jared’s upset. Connor’s upset. God knows the only thing connecting them is Evan. He’s the common denominator. He’s the problem. He should have seen this all along. Why did he actually think he could have friends? That he could possibly be happy? That— that he could have something… not bad in his life. Something. Anything.

 

When he sighs out he feels like the whole world is weighing on him; his shoulders, his back, his neck; and that the exhale out only sinks him down further. He has a fleeting thought that maybe he’ll feel like this forever. Maybe the sadness and the constant fear and constant worry and twitchiness will never end. Maybe— if he could just—

 

He startles when he hears a door creak open from behind him.

 

And he doesn’t turn around. Not at first. He just sits there, eyes squeezed shut, shaking like a fucking leaf, all shuddering breaths and bleeding cuticles, but then.

 

“You’re still— You’re.”

 

When Evan glances over his shoulder he gets a glimpse of the Connor in the cafe/bookstore he took Evan to. He sees the one sitting on Evan's bed and talking endlessly about how fucking stupid and pointless the Star Wars prequels are. The one scrolling through photos of his cat and smiling because he can’t keep his affection for this fucking cat in like he keeps every feeling in, hidden from everyone.

 

At one point, for just a split second, he wasn’t hidden from Evan.

 

Connor’s face goes blank. It's terrifying. It’s like a chalkboard being wiped clean. “Go home.” Connor doesn’t look at him when he speaks, instead directing his words into the cold night, breath fogging up the air around him.

 

God, he looks awful.

 

Like he hadn’t slept in weeks. Week , probably, Evan thinks. He can’t be sure. It especially doesn’t help that the halogen porch light is kind of making Connor look like a corpse; skin tinted blue, cheeks hollowed. Evan thinks for a moment that if they were on Evan’s porch, he would be washed over with this dim orange glow from their shitty light bulbs they got from the dollar store.

 

“You… are staring at me,” Connor says, but there’s no bite, no teasing, just. Nothing. It’s what he imagines the base of a human is like. A Ken-doll. Except, like, 6-foot and gangly and emo and gay.

 

And, like the complete and utter idiot that he is, Evan blurts out the first thing he can think of. “How long have I been out here?”

 

Connor’s gaze drops to him and Evan notices that Connor’s gripping the door so hard his knuckles are white. His face contorts just a bit, his eyebrows pulling together and his nose scrunching up just a bit, but in his eyes Evan can tell he’s not there. “What?”

 

“I, um. Have I been out here long?”

 

Connor just looks at him. Blinks. Shakes his head like he’s trying to get a bug out of his hair. “I. I don’t. I don’t.” He shuts his mouth. Opens it. Shuts it again. “Like, an hour. Maybe an hour and a half?”

 

Evan just blinks right back at him. “Oh.”

 

Connor still has his eyebrows pulled together, glancing from side to side like he’s trying to remember lines to a poem or a math formula or something. And with that same bewildered look on his face, he takes a step back, and then another one, and then he’s shaking his head again like he’s fighting a war in his own brain and then he heads inside.

 

And the door’s still open.

 

And. Well.

 

Evan doesn’t want the Murphys to get robbed or get fruit flies or have a rabid raccoon run into their house or anything, so.

 

He finds himself shutting the front door behind him and following Connor up the stairs like a sad puppy. And when this ghostly Connor walks into his room Evan notices he doesn’t have a door. For some reason it makes his breath catch in his throat. Connor sits on his bed slowly, so slowly, and then he scoots backward until he’s against the wall where the headboard should be and pulls his knees to his chest and tips his head back against the wall and his eyes are closed and he just. Sits there.

 

It takes a moment for Evan to remember he has legs.

 

He sits down on Connor’s bed, because Connor’s room is practically barren and he’s got a desk but he doesn’t have a desk chair and Evan wonders if that’s for the same reason there’s a hole where his door used to be. When he sinks into the mattress below him, completely across the bed, Connor doesn’t even flinch.

 

Connor’s been in his house a couple of times, but Connor had never invited Evan over to his. It got too loud, Connor said. Naturally, Evan had never seen Connor’s room before either, so he takes some time to look around.

 

When he’d imagined Connor’s room, it was nothing like this. This is a prison cell. He’d imagined dark walls and dark flooring and rock band posters and art supplies and sketchbooks and piles and piles of books, all wider than they used to be because Connor had taken the time to underline his favorite quotes but sometimes he’d do it just to scribble. He’d imagined a cat bed right next to Connor’s, and a closet so overflowing with clothes that the doors wouldn’t close.

 

Connor doesn’t have closet doors.

 

Connor does have a desk, yeah, and he has a rug on the floor that’s almost completely pushed underneath his bed depicting Van Gogh’s starry night, which he imagines would be very expensive, and he has a bed and a tall, overflowing bookshelf but he doesn’t have anything to let anyone know it’s his. His bed is just a mattress on a box spring, he doesn’t even have a bed frame, and he and Connor are both sitting on an expensive-looking navy blue comforter. It’s soft. Evan’s comforter is covered in fabric pills and rips.

 

It doesn’t add up.

 

“God, you think so fucking loudly ,” Connor says sharply, shocking Evan out of his thoughts. Connor still hasn’t opened his eyes.

 

“I— I’m—”

 

“They took it all. After the first time I, y’know.” Connor visibly swallows. Evan’s heart drops into his stomach and he’s suddenly underneath a tree with mud on the ass of his pants and a plan to not exist. He'd never thought about— He'd never given himself time to think about this. About the reason they were here right now.

 

“They, um,” Connor laughs bitterly, smiling this incredibly pained smile, “Cynthia read up on teen suicide and Larry decided, ‘ hey, let’s just take everything that’s solid and remotely moveable to make him feel like he’s in a padded cell. That’ll fix everything, and then we don’t have to worry about him fucking up our lives anymore.’”

 

Evan wants to say something. Anything. His words get stuck on the way out.

 

“It’s always something temporary. ‘ Maybe the cat will help with his outbursts, Larry. Oh, how about a new rug? You like art, don’t you, Connor? How about a new comforter? Your old one is disgusting. Connor, what about a new car? A baseball glove? Will that fix you, Connor? Will that make you less defective?

 

He still hasn’t opened his eyes. He’s twisting a ring around his finger.

 

“Spoiler alert: it didn’t,” Connor adds. “Obviously.”

 

Evan’s mouth is so dry, suddenly. He opens his mouth to speak. All he can manage is a choked sigh.

 

But he has to do something to rid Connor of his scrunched up nose and knitted eyebrows and now Connor’s absentmindedly scratching at his left arm through his hoodie and Evan doesn’t want to think about that. About what's underneath. But Connor doesn’t stop. So Evan does the only thing he knows to do.

 

He gets up and Connor’s face falls just a fraction, but he steels himself again when Evan sits down on his side of the bed. He scoots over and leans against the wall, and the space between their arms is so close but they’re not touching so it makes the hair on his arms stand up. When Evan’s situated next to him, Connor resumes with the scratching. It’s like he doesn’t even register he’s doing it, like it’s automatic.

 

“Just— stop that ,” Evan huffs out, grabbing Connor’s left hand and pulling it away from him. Connor’s entire body tenses up, and as Evan looks at Connor’s raised shoulders he realizes that, oh, he’s holding Connor’s hand.

 

Connor doesn’t pull away, doesn’t relax his shoulders. He just… doesn’t .

 

So Evan adjusts his awkward hold on Connor’s hand to something more comfortable and he doesn’t either.

 

After a minute he hears a pop and glances over at Connor to see that his jaw is clenched and that sounded like it hurt. Shit. Evan guesses he’s grinding his teeth, which he knows can lead to headaches, which can lead to grinding your teeth down to nubs, and then your nerves are exposed which hurts, and then you have to get dentures at eighteen because your stupid friend is just sitting there while your grind your teeth away and he doesn’t know how to comfort people properly.

 

Evan looks down at their clasped hands. Evan’s fully holding his hand, a full grasp of their interlocked fingers, arm overlapping Connor’s and practically pinning him there, but Connor’s spidery fingers are full of so much tension and every other second they twitch just a little bit, like Connor’s purposefully keeping himself from relaxing into Evan’s touch.

 

Evan also notices that they both have torn up cuticles and horribly bitten-down nails. They should work on that or something. As he listens to Connor’s breathing, Connor’s very alive-and-living-and-not-dead breathing, he reminds himself, he observes that the nail polish on Connor's thumb is chipped and it kind of looks like Africa.

 

Connor takes in a sharp breath from beside him, scaring Evan for probably the hundredth time today. His face is still pinched, eyes closed, and his jaw is still locked but his lip is wobbling. Evan just grips his hand tighter, giving it an experimental squeeze and watching Connor for a reaction. For him to become human again.

 

Connor just squeezes his eyes shut more, so tightly it looks like it hurts, and then Connor’s opening his mouth. Closing it. Opening it again.

 

“You— don’t—” Connor starts, voice scratchy. He clears it. “You don’t—” His face falls. Crumbles. He swallows. “Have… to…”

 

“Oh, shut up,” Evan exhales almost fondly, pulling Connor into a bone-crushing hug that both he and Connor were not anticipating in any way, shape or form. For a second Evan thinks Connor’s just going to stay there frozen against him but he stays put anyway, resting his cheek on Connor’s shoulder and squeezing him like he’s about to disappear and then he hears it.

 

It sounds like a deranged laugh at first, and Evan successfully holds back a flinch. But then it happens again, and again, and then Connor’s deflating against Evan’s chest and winding his hands into the front of Evan’s old summer camp sweatshirt and gasping for air.

 

“I didn’t— you— you didn’t— I don’t underst— why do you— why do you— even— care , why do you— I don’t even—”

 

“Shhh,” Evan shushes him gently, eyes stinging with tears without his permission because he knows this feeling. Connor just sounds so broken. Evan knows this, this feeling. He was here, hyperventilating and screaming and crying, every single fucking night, but then he wasn’t and he had Connor and sometimes it was only the crying which. Was something. He finds himself cradling Connor’s head against his shoulder and gets an immediate rush of affection in the center of his chest.

 

“I’m— Evan, I’m so fucking— God,” Connor cut himself off, shaking his head and winding his hands further into Evan’s sweatshirt, pulling him closer, voice cracking, “I can’t understand, I can’t— why do you— I’m just— I’m just so—

 

“Don’t,” Evan says to him, clear and steady. Connor shakes his head slowly against Evan’s shoulder, shuddering.

 

“You— you stayed, you didn’t— why didn’t you— everyone always,” Connor sucks in a stuttering breath, letting out some empty, ragged sobs, “God, everyone… I’m— I—”

 

Evan squeezes him so tight he’s sure Connor’s going to break in half. “Shut up,” Evan says harshly, maybe too harshly, with watery eyes, trembling to the core, hands shaking where he’s holding Connor against him. “You don’t get to—” Evan’s voice cracks, and he lets a few tears shed. Clears his throat. “You don’t get to decide— who I’m friends with. Or who I— who I care about.”

 

Connor just keeps shaking his head, making an attempt to catch his breath but every failed attempt just seems to upset him more, and Evan knows there are tears and snot on the front of his sweatshirt which is pretty gross but he’s done the same exact thing to the school nurse and his therapist and his third grade teacher and his Aunt Martha and his bus driver and a security guard at the mall and his mom, so, so many times, and Evan can’t find it in himself to care right then.

 

At some point they’re laying down next to each other and Connor’s curled up against Evan’s chest, the same vice grip on the front of his sweatshirt, hiccuping and doing his best to take shuddering breaths as Evan rubs circles into his back.

 

He’s not sure who falls asleep first.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Waking up in someone else’s bed is never not disorienting.

 

Especially when Evan is woken up with a stabbing pain in his side and a quiet chuckle from across the room.

 

He groans, because no one wants to be woken up like that, and when he blinks his eyes open he’s face to face with the cutest, chubbiest grey cat he’s ever seen in his life. She’s draped over his side, her back paws pressing into Evan’s back and he can’t help but let out a chuckle because of course this is how he would meet the famous Shadow.

 

She blinks at him very innocently, like she hadn’t just almost taken out one of Evan’s kidneys, and he shakes his head at her, scratching her behind the ears and grinning widely despite himself when she nuzzles into his hand.

 

He hears a soft laugh coming from the corner and glances over to see Connor sitting there against the wall, cross-legged on the floor with a sketchbook open across his lap. Its pages are worn and yellowed, like he’s had it for a long time, and when Connor sees Evan looking his smile falls just a little bit and he closes it.

 

“Guess she likes you,” Connor says with an almost-smile. His eyes look sad.

 

At the sound of Connor’s voice, Shadow uses Evan’s torso as a launch pad and Evan lets out this ‘oof’ sound, watching as Shadow bounds over to where Connor’s sitting on the floor. “Guess so,” Evan grits out sarcastically, pressing a hand to his side and sitting up in the bed. Connor’s bed.

 

At first he flushes a little pink, because he hadn’t meant to spend the night and what if Connor didn’t want him to? What if the reason he’s on the floor is because Evan sleeping in his bed makes him uncomfortable? What if he thinks Evan’s weird for falling asleep practically cuddling him last night? But then he’s brought back to last night’s events; showing up uninvited, following Connor up to his door-less bedroom and Connor collapsing into his arms. He thinks they should probably talk about it, even if he’s already forgiven Connor for ignoring him for an entire week. Evan couldn’t be mad at him if he wanted to be.

 

He looks over at Connor again, Shadow peacefully curled up in his lap, and when they make eye contact Connor’s face goes blank just like it had last night and Evan feels his stomach drop. Evan’s always been a person who’s easy to read, and he guesses Connor’s no different. He might even be better at reading Evan than most. Connor looks down at his cat.

 

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Connor says softly, running his hand down her side. She stretches one of her paws out and nuzzles against his knee. “Not— not right now, at least, I dunno.”

 

Evan takes a breath. “Okay,” He says gently, “But I think… I think maybe we should eventually. Not, like, immediately, but…” He trails off, and Connor doesn’t look up.

 

“You hungry?” Connor asks, still running his fingers through Shadow’s fur.

 

Evan’s going to give him this, changing the subject, just once. But he’s not letting Connor get out of talking about it later.

 

“Yeah, a little,” Evan sighs, stretching and pushing back the comforter. “Are— is your family even home?” He asks with dawning realization.

 

Connor laughs once, rolling his eyes. “Zoe wanted to go skiing with the family, and me being the person that I am, I said ‘ fuck that ’ and they don’t really bother to argue with me anymore, so.” Connor goes quiet, furrowing his brow. “You can leave if you want,” He adds, quieter.

 

“I’ll leave if you want me to,” Evan suggests, and when Connor doesn’t answer, he continues. He doesn’t miss the side of Connor’s mouth twitching upward, though. “Skiing sounds awful. I hate the cold. I feel like— I feel like if I were to try that I’d either have a panic attack or die or something. That’s just— that’s how my life goes,” Evan says, trying to sound lighthearted.

 

Connor smiles a bit. “I like the cold,” He says simply, “I hate skiing, though, because it’s just an excuse for Larry and Cynthia to try and act like our family is fucking normal. Also, exercise.” Connor scrunches up his nose and scratches Shadow’s forehead. “No thanks.”

 

“That’s… so relatable,” Evan laughs, sitting on the edge of the bed— Connor’s bed— and tilting his head. “Food?”

 

Connor glances up at him. “Yeah.”

 

 

“Did I ever tell you about that time in middle school when I— you might remember this, actually— I faked an asthma attack so I didn’t have to do the mile run?” Evan says casually, smirking at Connor and taking a sip of his tea. He let it cool off this time, miraculously.

 

Connor almost spits out his coffee. “ You ? Breaking the rules? No,” Connor shakes his head, “You’re lying.”

 

“I’m not!” Evan protests, face turning pink, “I’m serious. I— I mean, obviously no one found out, but like. I just really, really didn’t want to run, and I felt like everyone was staring at me already, so.” Evan shrugs. “I still kinda feel guilty about it, though.”

 

Connor barks out a laugh. “Of course you do.” He takes another sip of coffee. “I was the kid who just walked the whole fucking time and wore skinny jeans.”

 

Evan grins at him. “Yeah, I can see that.”

 

“I’m jealous. You’re innocent-looking enough that you can get away with that shit.”

 

Evan absolutely does not feel his cheeks turning red. Nope. “I look innocent, huh?”

 

“You’re like, the literal embodiment of innocence. I knew you had a devious side in there somewhere.” Connor grins at him, and okay, yeah, Evan's face is red. “I stopped being able to fake shit like that after I faked sick and Cynthia found me smoking pot in the living room in my underwear,” Connor says, straight-faced, and Evan can’t help but laugh. He absolutely does not picture Connor in his underwear. Nope. Not at all. “Moms aren’t supposed to see that shit.”

 

Oh.

 

Mom.

 

Evan shakes himself out of his thoughts. His mother . Fuck. “Shit,” He mumbles, pulling out his phone to check for missed calls. He hadn’t even told her he was going over to Connor’s, let alone spending the night.

 

“Everything alright?” Connor asks, adjusting his position on the bean bag.

 

“I’m— I didn’t exactly remember to tell my mom where I was going last night,” Evan says, distracted, pulling out his phone and fumbling with the unlock code. “She’s gonna kill me.”

 

“Shit,” Connor agrees.

 

“Yeah.”

 

When he finally unlocks his phone he has no new messages.

 

Evan shuts his eyes for a second, breathing out a sigh and trying to ignore the way his heart breaks just a little.

 

When he looks up Connor’s looking at him expectantly, taking a bite of his muffin and raising his eyebrows. Evan just shakes his head. “It’s— it’s fine, she just. Probably just didn’t come home last night, so.”

 

Connor’s face falls just a bit but he nods, and it’s silent for a very long time. Well, that’s probably an exaggeration, but as every second passes by he can feel the sadness creeping up the back of his neck and he wants to cry, but he doesn’t think he has the ability to cry about this anymore.

 

“Um,” Connor starts, crumbling up his muffin wrapper and avoiding Evan’s eyes, “Do you, like… do you need to— we could talk… about it or something, if you—”

 

“No,” Evan says, louder than he wanted to. “No, um, I’m okay. I’m good. Let’s just— do you wanna go play video games or something?”

 

He prays that Connor doesn’t say anything, because he gave Connor an out this morning so Connor kind of owes him one. He eyes Evan suspiciously, pursing his lips, before shrugging and nodding his head. “Sure.”

 

The walk back to Connor’s is relatively silent, but Connor kind of clears his throat in the way that Evan’s learned he uses when he wants to say something but he also really doesn’t.

 

“Listen, I’m—” He cuts himself off, taking a breath. “I shouldn’t have just. Ignored you, or whatever. Just— the shit Jared said to me really got in my fucking head, you know?” Connor says, hunched over in a way that’s absolutely not good for his neck and looking intently at the ground as they walk side by side. “So. I’m sorry for. For doing that.”

 

Evan looks over at him, but Connor just keeps staring at the ground. “It’s— I forgive you.”

 

“You don’t have to,” Connor says, flipping his hair forward so it hides his face from Evan’s view. “I get it if, like. You know, since I haven’t been… the nicest, um— nicest person and last night was kind of a lot, I get it, y’know, and it won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t wanna—”

 

Evan just sighs, and his body does that thing where it decides things without his brain’s permission and his hand shoots out to the side and grabs ahold of Connor’s for the second time in the last 24 hours. Evan almost lets go, because they’re literally in public walking down the street hand in hand, but he doesn’t really have the words to say right now, so he just takes a breath and accepts that he’s already done this, he can’t take it back now. Not that he even wants to, exactly. So he gives Connor's hand a squeeze and waits for rejection.

 

But.

 

It has the initially desired effect though, because Connor immediately shuts up and if his face is as red as Evan’s in this moment he’d never know. It takes him a second, but eventually Connor relaxes into his touch and Evan feels Connor’s fingers press against the back of his hand.

 

They only let go of each other when they finally reach Connor’s house, and if Evan happens to notice that Connor looks a little pinker than usual, he doesn’t mention it.

 

He spends the night again, this time shooting his mother a warning text first, and Evan takes Connor's couch. He doesn’t sleep much, but it’s worth it because he doesn’t want Connor to be alone. And although Evan doesn’t think he’ll ever admit it, he doesn’t want to leave.

 

 

Evan wakes up on Monday morning in his own bed, immediately missing Shadow jumping on him to wake him up instead of being shaken awake by his mother. She’s actually upset, he quickly realizes, because he’s slept way past his alarm and he has to scramble to pull on clothes while she warms up the car. That should have been the first sign that this day was going to go to shit.

 

The second sign comes when he’s opening up his locker and Jared “accidentally” bumps into him as he’s making his way through the hall. He almost drops his books again, which was probably Jared’s true agenda, but he doesn’t and thanks his lucky stars that Connor doesn’t see Jared do that. He doesn’t need any more drama pushed onto him after this past week.

 

In chemistry, which he shares with Jared, comes the third sign. They’re doing this stupid thing where they take turns reading paragraphs in the textbook and whoever reads last gets to pick who reads next, which Evan can’t stand because he doesn’t know which one he’s going to read so he can’t prepare, and at least if they go by rows then Evan can count the number of kids in front of him and practice. But of course Jared reads his paragraph and then chooses Evan to read the longest paragraph on the page, and Evan stumbles his way through it, sweating through the shirt he’s wearing, and people laugh and they look at him and by lunch Evan’s kind of a wreck.

 

“You good?” Connor asks as Evan slumps against the wall beside him, lunch tray in hand.

 

Evan leans his head back against the brick wall, letting a sigh escape him. He doesn’t want Connor to have to deal with his problems. Connor’s going through enough. He fought with his family as soon as they got back on Sunday and Connor had texted him that he was suffering and Evan just can’t do that to him today.

 

“Yeah,” Evan says, trying to appear cheery but not too cheery. “I’m good. Tired. It’s— I’m good. How was your day? I mean, like, how has your day been up to— up to this point?” Nice going, Evan. Real smooth.

 

Connor gives him a look. “Uh…” He trails off, blinking at Evan. “It’s been… good. I guess.”

 

“What have you— um, have you done anything interesting today?”

 

Connor scrunches up his face. “Did you steal some of my weed?”

 

“You— what?”

 

“You’re acting, like, really weird today.” Connor says, wiping his apple off with the sleeve of his hoodie. “Did Jared mess with you? ‘Cause I swear to god—”

 

“No!” Evan says, too quickly, too loudly, and Connor just narrows his eyes. “No, no, uh, nope. He’s— I haven’t even seen him today, so.”

 

“You have chem together.”

 

Evan’s surprised he remembers that. “Oh, he— he wasn’t there.”

 

“Uh huh,” Connor deadpans, unconvinced. “What did he do?”

 

“He didn’t— it’s not a big deal or anything,” Evan breathes out, very obviously lying.

 

“I’m not gonna kill him, you know.”

 

“No, I know, it’s—”

 

“Unless you want me to.”

 

“No, I do not, just—”

 

“You’re a really shitty liar, Hansen—”

 

“Can we just drop it?” Evan snaps, and his voice echoes around them.

 

Connor’s silent for a second, but then he raises his hands in surrender and goes back to picking at his food. And Evan’s immediately filled with regret.

 

Because he didn’t mean to snap at Connor, he just. Doesn’t want Connor to feel responsible for shit he brought upon himself. Evan breathes out a sigh, pushing his hair off of his face and trying to ignore Connor hanging his head in Evan’s peripheral vision.

 

But he can’t help but glance over at him out of the corner of his eye when he notices Connor fishing around in his bag. He looks away when Connor pulls something out, and he braces himself for the smell of a cigarette or a vape or weed or something but. That does not happen.

 

Instead, he watches as Connor’s hand comes into view and he gently places an old, rusty penny on Evan’s thigh.

 

The confusion is what forces Evan to look up at Connor with a questioning look on his face, and Connor glances away for a second before gesturing to the penny resting on his leg. “You know… penny for your thoughts, or whatever.”

 

Okay, that’s probably the most endearing thing anyone’s ever done literally ever.

 

Evan hesitates, processing the situation, watching Connor’s face go red, and then Connor looks away and mutters, “Just— it was stupid, I’m sorry—”

 

“I didn’t mean to yell at you,” Evan blurts out, getting Connor’s attention. “I just— I’m not doing the best today and I took it out on you and I’m sorry.”

 

When he finally looks up at Connor, he looks confused. “That was you yelling?”

 

Evan blinks. “Yeah?”

 

“Huh,” Connor says, biting into his apple. “I must be really fucked up, then.”

 

Evan can’t help but snort. “Dude—”

 

“It’s fine, though,” Connor continues. “So what’s going on?”

 

Evan sighs, picking up the penny and slumping over so that his shoulder is pressed to Connor’s. “I miss Jared.”

 

“Why?” Connor says immediately, but then shakes his head. “Shit. Sorry. Comforting friend mode is on. I’m listening.”

 

Evan laughs. “It’s just… Jared was the only one I had for a really long time, and… like, I know he’s an asshole and I know he’s not always nice to me and he doesn’t like to call me his friend and he eats with other people, but I love him, you know? It’s... it's pathetic, really.”

 

“It totally is,” Connor says lightly, bumping Evan’s shoulder and smiling at him.

 

Evan smiles back. “He’s like a mean older brother that you know loves you deep down, but he just sucks at showing it.”

 

He feels Connor tense up beside him.

 

“No, no, I’m sorry, oh my god, I didn’t mean it like that, Jesus, I’m so sorry—”

 

“It’s cool,” Connor says, relaxing. “I get it. Go on.”

 

“Are you sure? I really didn’t mean anything by it, I would never—”

 

“Evan,” Connor says a little louder than before, but without malice. “Shut up. I’m not upset. Go on.”

 

“Okay. I just. I really miss him. I want to know why he gets so angry at me all the time, and if he really wants to—” Evan takes a breath. “If he even wants to be my friend for real instead of 'Family Friends', I guess.”

 

Connor sighs, leaning against Evan’s shoulder. “I could kill him.”

 

Evan scoffs. “Yeah, that would solve all of my problems.”

 

Connor laughs just a little, bumping Evan's shoulder with his own again. “You could… talk to him? I dunno, I’m bad at advice.”

 

“That’s… that’s an idea. I just don’t know if he wants to talk to me.”

 

“You could talk at him.”

 

“Pffft.”

 

Connor hums. “He probably does want to talk. Just, like, text him or whatever and be like, ‘hey, fuckwad, i miss you.’”

 

Evan bites back a smile. “I could do that.”

 

Connor turns his head toward Evan’s just a bit. “That exact wording?”

 

“Yep. Word for word.”

 

“Wow. I’m impressed.”

 

“Shut up.”

 

“I’m a bad influence on you, obviously,” Connor teases, sitting back up so he can finish his lunch. Evan immediately misses the warmth.

 

“Maybe,” Evan says with a grin, digging into his own lunch.

 

It’s quiet for a moment.

 

“So… you wanna listen to music?” Connor asks, mouth full of apple, holding out an earbud.

 

Evan smiles at him, and it’s genuine. “Yeah.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

At first, Evan thinks he might be actually going insane.

 

It’s about time, he thinks.

 

It isn’t impossible considering the very recent history of his mental health, but as he sits on the bed pulling his covers up to his nose and cowering against the wall, he decides that something is definitely tapping his window. With intent. After it happens a second time, and then a third time, it’s official. This is happening. Someone, or even scarier, something is tapping his window with purpose.

 

This thought, of course, brings upon others. It’s not a serial killer, Evan tells himself, because he’s on the second story and they would have just broken through the window if they wanted to murder him so badly instead of just tapping on it. Duh. It could be a tree, because there’s one right outside of his window, but he doesn’t think trees are capable of making this gentle “plink” noise every few seconds.

 

The curiosity is too much after the fourth tap, so he makes a silent prayer to whichever deity is listening so he doesn’t get axe-murdered and pushes back his comforter with a sigh.

 

Evan stumbles over to his window, rubbing at his eyes because he had just started falling asleep and he’s kind of pissed that his anxiety just had to yell at him about this of all things. He heaves it open and it creaks a little bit when it gets stuck, but he’s greeted with the cool night breeze and a familiar voice.

 

“Fucking finally — uh,” Connor clears his throat and puts on a Victorian-esque voice, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your… cast? I guess? Fuck, I dunno.”

 

Evan shakes his head, suppressing a laugh. When he looks down, Connor’s doing the same. He’s looking up at Evan and his eyes are shining with mischief and Evan kind of never wants to look away. Connor should always be this happy.

 

‘Let down your cast’, huh?”

 

“Oh, fuck you. I’m the one with all the hair. What else was I supposed to say?” Connor throws his hands in the air and laughs, a bright and genuine sound.

 

Evan shakes his head, biting back a smile. “Can I help you with something?”

 

“Just popping by,” Connor says easily, but he has a strange look on his face. It’s suspicious. Evan raises an eyebrow.

 

“A, um— a text would’ve been nice,” Evan teases, tilting his head.

 

Connor scratches his head. “Shit, sorry, it was sort of a last minute thing— can I like… come in? It’s cold.”

 

“Oh! Yeah, yeah, um… I’ll be down in, like, two seconds. Hold on.”

 

“Don’t let me freeze to death!” Connor yells after him with a laugh, and Evan holds back a cringe and makes a mental note to tell Connor to work on his volume control because his mom is asleep and if she knew he was sneaking boys into the house, well…

 

Well.

 

It would definitely conjure up a conversation, that’s for sure.

 

When he opens the door Connor’s right there, grinning widely, and the fact that Evan hasn’t slept combined with the light from the porch for some reason has the audacity to make Evan yawn right in his face.

 

“I just got here and you’re already bored?” Connor says with a fake sneer, pushing past Evan into his house, “I thought you were one of the good ones.”

 

He’s not sure why, but that sentence warms him to his bones.

 

Connor starts up the stairs two at a time, and while Evan’s definitely not short he’s certainly not as tall as Connor and struggles to keep up the pace. “You are— you’re faster than I thought you’d be,” He says casually, trying not to sound too out of breath. He doesn’t think Connor would mind, though, strangely.

 

Connor glances backward. “Grow longer legs,” He says with a shrug.

 

Evan bites his lip to hold back a giant grin. He’s hit with this sudden rush of affection for this stupid boy who’s agreed to be his best friend, and he so badly wants to tell Connor how much he appreciates his presence but he doesn’t want to break this happy spell they have between the two of them at the moment. It’s too precious to risk. So he keeps it in.

 

The bed squeaks loudly when Connor unceremoniously flops belly-first onto it, and Evan almost pops a blood vessel shushing him.

 

My mom is asleep! ” Evan says with the best whisper-scream he can muster but he’s giggling, so the effect is quickly lost. “God, she’s gonna think—“ Evan’s face is suddenly warm.

 

Connor smiles an evil, evil smile. Evan’s reminded quickly of Jared because he knows what’s coming next. If he ever fixes things with Jared, he has a feeling that they’ll get along just fine. Eventually. “What’s she gonna think, Ev? Huh?”

 

Ev. That’s new.

 

Evan sputters for a second, because. The closest he’s ever gotten to a nickname is Tree Boy or Acorn or something else on the verge of mortifying, and this. It’s not. It’s… Evan doesn’t mind it. He doesn’t mind it at all.

 

“She’s— oh shut up, Connor,” Evan grumbles, watching the latch on the door as he shuts it quietly. He makes sure to take an extra long time to shut the door, and that might have something to do with Connor’s ever-so-present skill to make him blush constantly. Either way, he hopes he can blame his rosy cheeks on the cold. Or his lack of sleep. Or something.

 

He doesn’t turn the lights on in case his mom walks past, but Evan plops down onto the bed, softer than Connor did before him, and turns to see Connor with his arms behind his head, head tipped back and eyes closed. He has this soft content smile on his face and for once Evan can actually see his whole entire face because it’s not hanging over his eye for once. He finds himself staring.

 

It’s interesting, is all.

 

“Did— did you come over here just to sleep in my bed, or what?” Evan stutters out, desperate to fill the silence. He quickly realizes that what he’s doing could be considered flirting because he’s tired and his brain is thinking weird things and flirting was not the goal, so he backtracks. “I mean, not like— I’m not saying you’re like coming onto me or anything and like if you did I wouldn’t necessarily—

 

“Woah,” Connor says, sitting up. “I didn’t catch a single word of that, what’d you say?”

 

“That’s— it’s fine. It’s. I’m tired. Anyway,” Evan says with a breath, “What are you, um. Are you okay?”

 

“Knew that was coming,” Connor says under his breath, leaning back on the bed again. “No, not really,” He sighs.

 

“Tell me about it,” Evan says sincerely, and he doesn’t even stutter or beat around the bush because this is just what they do for each other.

 

Connor sighs even louder, just for dramatic effect. He throws his arms over his face and Evan almost laughs. “I don’t wanna .”

 

“Connor, you know I won’t judge you or anything—“

 

“No, no, I know, I just…” Connor blows a raspberry with his lips. “It’s not anything huge, but it’s… a lot. Just Larry being… fucking Larry ,” Connor spits out, throwing his arms to the side so they dangle off of Evan’s twin-sized bed.

 

“What did, um… what did fucking Larry do this time?” Evan asks timidly. It has the desired effect, because Connor throws his arm over his eyes again and lets out a snort.

 

“You’re sure you wanna know? It’s a long-ass story. I wouldn’t even want to listen to myself speak for that fucking long.”

 

“I want to know!”

 

Okay , okay. He, like— alright, so we were eating dinner and of course I was being myself and not responding to Larry’s questions, and mind you, Zoe wasn’t either, but she’s not the fuck-up kid so I guess it doesn’t matter.”

 

“Hey, don’t—“

 

Anyway , so Larry starts telling me how disrespectful I am and how I’m never gonna go anywhere in life ‘with this attitude’ and so I said, ‘Hey, your shitty attitude got you somewhere didn’t it? ’ And so of course Cynthia backs up Larry even though he was the one picking on me in the first place when I was just minding my own damn business, and Larry goes, ‘This is exactly what I’m talking about! Maybe if we would have forced you to go outside or join a sport or something you wouldn’t be like this!’” Connor’s voice for his father is half-British, like someone who’s trying to sound smart. He wonders if Larry actually sounds like that.

 

“Did he— did he actually say what I think he’s about to say?”

 

Connor opens one eye and holds up a finger. “Hold on. This is the best part. So Cynthia defends me now because she can’t pick sides apparently and says, ‘Just because Connor wasn’t in sports doesn’t mean he’s any less than you, Larry!’ ” Connor does a shrill, nasally voice to imitate his mother and Evan holds a laugh behind his hand.

 

“I hope your mom doesn’t actually sound like that.”

 

“Oh no, she does. So anyway, Zoe left the room at this point and I don’t blame her, honestly, but then Larry says ‘Maybe if you hadn’t babied him he wouldn’t be painting his nails and slamming doors! Maybe he’d have a girlfriend instead of a drug dealer! ’”

 

Connor looks at Evan for a response, but Evan just sits there looking at Connor with wide eyes and an open mouth. He frowns. “Oh no. Connor .”

 

Connor grimaces. “Yeah. But there’s more.”

 

“Jesus.”

 

“So Cynthia goes, ‘You’re not making any sense, Larry! I don’t see how that’s related at all!’ And Larry goes ‘Maybe if you would have let me give him the tough love he needed he wouldn’t be such a goddamn pansy! ’” Connor sighs, shaking his head and tangling his hands in his hair. “And we both know what that was implying. So.”

 

Connor’s eyes look empty. Evan scoots over to that they’re almost hip to hip and lays down next to him, staring up at the ceiling. The glow stars are still there from when he was little.

 

“Did you know he was… like, that he didn’t accept you, or…?”

 

Connor closes his eyes for a moment. “Not really. I mean, he wasn’t psyched about it when I told them all in, like, middle school, but he hasn’t really brought it up and so I guess… I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Evan says softly. He means it.

 

Connor doesn’t smile, but his eyes shine just a little at Evan’s words. “Wanna hear how the story ends? It’s a major fucking plot twist.”

 

“Oh— yeah, yeah, of course.”

 

“So after he says that I get madder than I’ve literally ever been before in my entire life. Cynthia’s yelling at him which surprised the shit out of me, but then I go, ‘Just call me a faggot, Larry! We both know that’s what you really want to say!’

 

“Oh, shit. Nice.”

 

Connor smirks at him in the darkness. “ Oh shit, indeed. Larry almost came around the table but thankfully Cynthia pushed me up the stairs before he could and then… then I just put on some headphones and tuned out.”

 

Evan clears his throat. “If he would have… um, he wouldn’t have like— would he have, like, hurt you? If he would have gotten to you?”

 

Connor gives him this soft look that Evan can’t really describe. “I don’t… I don’t think so. He never has, and I’ve given him worse than that, so. No.”

 

Evan just nods. He lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding.

 

“But I’m not completely done yet.”

 

“What— seriously?”

 

“Yeah, dude. So in the middle of one of my favorite songs, I feel someone tap on my shoulder because of course I was zoned the fuck out listening to my music at the highest volume possible.”

 

“Naturally,” Evan laughs.

 

“Always. So it scared the living shit out of me, and I was about to get really fucking mad, but. I looked up and it was Zoe, of all people.”

 

“Zoe? I thought—“

 

“Yeah, me too. So I take out my headphones and just kind of look at her for a second, and I think she considered leaving or regretted the decision or whatever because she took a step back, but then she was like, ‘I heard what dad said about you. ’”

 

“She heard?”

 

“Yeah. We always hear them fight, hence the headphones.”

 

Evan frowns.

 

“It’s kind of funny, because that was the quietest I’ve heard her talk to me in years. So I said, ‘And ?’ like an asshole because I fucking suck and I thought she was gonna yell at me or something like she usually does, but she just said, ‘Dad doesn’t know anything. He’s a dumbass.’ And I just kind of sat there because the bitch hasn’t sided with me since elementary school, so I kind of thought it was a prank but then she just sat down on my bed next to me for a while and we didn’t talk but. It was so… not bad? Like, she hasn’t wanted to even be around me for such a long time and I… I don’t get it, honestly.”

 

“You don’t?”

 

Yeah ,” Connor says like it’s obvious. “I’ve been… not good. To her. And that’s partially because she’s a fucking bitch, but whatever. She takes every single moment she has with me to tell me how much she can’t wait to get away from me because I’ve ruined her life, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be confused.”

 

“That’s… she sounds awful. Do you even want to be around her?”

 

Connor hesitates. Sighs. “Things are too fucked to ever get fixed between us.”

 

Evan props himself up on an elbow, turning to look at Connor. “I don’t think so.”

 

“You don’t know Zoe, then.” Connor raises a challenging eyebrow, rolling his eyes and scoffing.

 

Evan bites his lip, choosing the next words carefully. “Okay, I’m only saying this because I’m your friend and I care about you, so don’t get mad, okay? But, um… do you… do you even know Zoe?”

 

Connor blinks once. Twice. Three times. Bites the inside of his cheek.

 

“Connor, you can’t… if you want to fix things with her I think… I think you’ll basically have to start over with her.”

 

Connor just chews on his fingernail.

 

“Because she’s not just gonna let you back into her life. I think… if tonight wasn’t just a one time sibling solidarity thing, I think that means she wants to try too. Which— which is good! But you have to, like, actually tell her that. That you want to fix things. And like, apologize and stuff. You know?”

 

“Never said I wanted to fix things,” Connor mumbles, eyes glued to the ceiling.

 

Evan looks pointedly at him. “Connor.”

 

Connor rolls his eyes.

 

“I don’t think it’s a lost cause,” Evan says softly. For just a second he considers calling Connor by a nickname, but he chickens out before he can.

 

The words hang in the air between them and they’re both quiet for a long, long time.

 

Eventually, Connor closes his eyes and speaks.

 

“You’re straight, right?”

 

Evan almost chokes. “Um— I, uh. No?”

 

Connor raises his eyebrows. “‘ No?’

 

“No, um. No . I’m not. Straight.” Smooth. He’s glad Connor can’t see his burning ears in the dark.

 

Connor nods. “Oh. Cool.”

 

The tension is suddenly so thick Evan feels like he could catch on fire at any moment. Connor turns on his side to face Evan and his heart rate kicks up, Connor’s eyes searching his face.

 

“Does your mom know?”

 

Evan purses his lips. “No. It’s never… I guess it’s never been a, um… it’s never been a relevant subject, I guess.”

 

“I get that.” A pause. “Do you think she’d be okay with it?”

 

“Probably.”

 

Connor finally looks Evan in the eyes. “That’s good.” His lopsided smile doesn’t reach his eyes.

 

“It is,” Evan says lightly with one of his nervous laughs, hoping Connor will change the subject because for some reason it’s weird and there’s tension between the two of them.

 

Silence.

 

“So what’s your deal?”

 

“My— my deal ?”

 

“Yeah, y’know, like… you said you’re not straight, so…”

 

“Oh!” Evan doesn’t know why he’s suddenly anxious, but this conversation is carrying a lot of weight for some reason. He starts fidgeting with the hem of his shirt. “Uh… I don’t— I don’t know, really. Anyone, I guess?”

 

Connor smirks at him. “Sounds like a fun time.”

 

Evan immediately flushes, lightly punching Connor in the arm. “ No , that’s not— I didn’t mean— I haven’t even ever—“

 

“Ev, chill.” There’s the nickname again. Connor makes it sound so effortless to just give someone a new nickname without worrying if the person’s going to hate it or not. Evan’s jealous, quite frankly. “ I’m stuck with only boys. At least you have options .”

 

Evan scoffs, talking without thinking. “And it makes me feel extra horrible about myself because I have so many options but no one—“ He cuts himself off. “Yeah.”

 

Connor’s looking at him with a new interest. Evan has a hard time meeting his eyes. “Fuck them. Everyone at our school walks around with a giant stick up their ass.”

 

Evan smiles. “Sounds uncomfortable.”

 

Connor smiles wider. “It’s not as bad as you’d think.”

 

Evan can’t help but laugh. “You’re— you’re stupid,” He says fondly.

 

He can’t remember the last time he was around someone who made him laugh like this, but every time he’s around Connor he’s actually, genuinely happy. He’s content. Comfortable, for once.

 

When Connor falls asleep, Evan listens to his soft breath and tries to will himself to sleep. He really does. But every couple of seconds his eyes are drawn to the sleeping form beside him and Evan finds himself mapping out every freckle, every little imperfection. Connor has a tiny scar near his eyebrow, Evan discovers, and he also discovers that Connor’s eyelashes are really fucking long.

 

Evan smiles suddenly when he remembers how Connor had shown up to his house that night. He fucking quoted Rapunzel at him, for god’s sake. Evan doesn’t understand why Connor’s so good to him. Everything Connor does makes Evan so happy, and Connor’s so endearing, and he gets it, and he’s kind of perfect and Evan almost moves to caress the side of Connor’s face because there’s a hair that’s about to go in his eye but. That would be super weird.

 

The conversation they’d had is weighing on Evan’s mind as he shifts fully onto his side, facing Connor. He assumes that Connor had asked about his sexuality out of curiosity, or because his dad’s a blatant homophobe and he wanted to know if Evan’s family was the same, or. Something.

 

Something.

 

It doesn’t matter, really. He falls asleep thinking about how lucky he is to have someone like Connor in his life.

 

And if Evan wakes up first and Connor’s fingers are somehow laced with his, nobody needs to know. Not even Connor.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Winter sucks,” Connor mumbles, eyes fully closed, as Evan approaches the table.

 

“Relatable,” Evan replies, setting his things down with a plonk on the table next to him. He doesn’t have any idea how Connor knew it was him, but it makes him smile nonetheless. Connor glances up at him from where he’s sitting with his cheek pressed to his crossed arms.

 

“Midterms suck.”

 

“Also relatable,” Evan says, resting his face in his hands and tilting his head at Connor. Something’s off. “So, um— anything fun happen in any of your classes? Or, like… anything… not fun?”

 

Connor sighs, dramatically pushing himself up so that he’s resting on his elbows. “No,” He says shortly, pushing his food around with his fork. “Wish we could be in our spot, though.”

 

“Me too. Um— fuck the cold!” Evan announces in an attempt to make Connor laugh, loud enough for Connor to hear but soft enough so he doesn’t disturb anyone else in the library. He takes his water bottle and holds it out like a toast, and Connor snorts and rolls his eyes before bumping his milk against it.

 

Then they sit there in silence, which is slightly unusual considering how much they’ve grown comfortable with each other in the past few months. If something was bothering Connor, Evan would like to think that he’d tell him about it. But for some reason, he kind of doesn’t want to bring it up. It just feels wrong. Bad timing or something.

 

His anxiety counters that with a not-so-subtle, ‘ But what if he’s mad at you? Sick of you? Just ask him already.

 

So.

 

“Did, um… did something happen?”

 

Connor blinks, glancing up at him for a second with the darkest glare Evan’s seen from him in a while, and he pulls his sleeves down over his hands like he does when he’s uncomfortable. “Doesn’t matter,” Connor says, his tone edging on annoyed.

 

“Okay.”

 

More silence. Evan takes a bite of his lukewarm hotdog.

 

Everything was fine this morning. He had texted Connor good morning like they had recently gotten into the habit of doing, and he seemed content when he stood at Evan’s locker and walked with him to class. He was fine in English, so it had to be something very recent. What changed between then and now? Is Evan’s presence annoying him?

 

Connor groans, sliding his palms down his face. “I can feel you staring at me.”

 

Evan coughs, looking down at his tray. “Sorry,” He almost whispers, feeling small.

 

Yeah, Evan’s definitely annoying him. He decides to count the number of corn kernels on his tray a couple of times to keep his brain occupied as it screams at him to escape to the bathroom or to flee the country or something. When Connor’s in one of these moods, it’s hard to get him out of it without someone’s feelings getting hurt.

 

It takes a second, but Connor huffs out a breath eventually, winding his hands into his hair. “It’s not you.”

 

“Huh?”

 

“I’m not—” Connor cuts himself off, groaning in frustration. “I’m not mad at you, okay? I’m. I’m sorry.”

 

Evan looks down. “It’s fine.”

 

“Jesus, Evan— it’s not fine. I’m being pissy and I’m sorry.”

 

“I know you’re sorry,” Evan says genuinely, meeting Connor’s eyes. “It’s okay, really.”

 

Connor lets out a breath, slumping onto the table. “I am… irritated.”

 

Evan hesitates. “I get it if you don’t wanna talk about it but just so you know I’m here to listen and if you want to talk about it I really won’t mind I just don’t want you to be unhappy,” He says all in one breath. He makes himself smaller, curling his shoulders inward to prepare for impact.

 

“It’s just gonna make me even more angry,” Connor counters, clenching his jaw. He starts bouncing his leg, his knee knocking softly against the table and making the whole thing vibrate.

 

“Hm,” Evan thinks, scooping up some corn and then watching it fall back down onto his tray. “But maybe… maybe if you tell me about it… some of the anger will, like… leave? And you won’t be just bottling it up and stuff.”

 

Connor purses his lips. “Yeah, maybe.”

 

“Only if you want to, though,” Evan continues, getting anxious. “Like, you don’t have to. I just want to help.”

 

Connor looks to the side, and when he looks back at Evan his eyes soften. “I know. So— ugh. Earlier I was walking to class and I overheard something that made me want to slam someone’s head into a locker. Or, like, my own head.”

 

“Uh-huh,” Evan prompts him to go on.

 

“Fucking—” Connor takes a second to breathe. “Jared Kleinman.”

 

Evan’s heart stops for a second. “Oh, uh— J-Jared, huh?” The hem of his shirt is suddenly very interesting.

 

Connor sighs again. “Yeah,” He says flatly. “I was at my locker and he was behind me talking to someone and he said something.”

 

Evan blinks. “He said something ,” Evan repeats.

 

“Yup.”

 

“What— what did he say?”

 

Connor dramatically blows out a breath like this subject pains him. “Alana came up to him and asked him where you had been recently because she hadn’t seen you two together.”

 

Evan raises his eyebrows. He tries to ignore the fact that his heart just about drops into his stomach. “Oh.”

 

“He said—” Connor clenches his fist. “He said you were too busy with your new best friend to give a shit about him anymore.”

 

Evan just sits there.

 

“And I really just wanted to punch him in the fucking face, because he’s the one who freaked out on you for no fucking reason, and he has no right to say that you don’t give a shit about him anymore because he knows you have anxiety, he knows he’s the one who fucked it up, and he also knows that you have a huge fucking heart and that you probably miss him. So i’m kind of mad that he’s being such a fucking dick .” Connor shuts his mouth and closes his eyes, clenching and unclenching his fists.

 

After his heart skips a beat at you have a huge fucking heart , he processes what Connor’s just told him. “He’s… oh my god, he’s jealous.”

 

Connor’s eyes are wild. “What?”

 

“I can’t believe I didn’t realize it. He’s…” Evan trails off, not sure how to approach this. “He’s an interesting person. Whenever he’s in pain or something, he always uses shitty jokes or anger to cover it up. He— he doesn’t know that I know because I’ve never really confronted him about it, but… I think he’s jealous. Of us.”

 

Connor licks his lips. “Jealous.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Well, he’s got a shitty way of showing it.” Connor takes a rather aggressive bite of his hotdog, glancing at Evan’s tray before looking back up at him. “You should eat.”

 

Evan looks down at his tray, which has barely been touched. “I don’t know how you eat this food.”

 

“I eat it so I can live ,” Connor says pointedly, taking another bite. It strikes a chord within Evan, and he remembers all of their conversations about suicide and self-hatred and life and he can’t help the sneaking suspicion that this is all connected somehow. “Eat, Ev. You’ll be hungry.”

 

So he doesn’t argue.

 

 

Connor hasn’t texted him all afternoon.

 

Which would be fine. It would be healthy, even, if that was something that happened a lot. But it doesn’t. Connor is almost always texting him to complain about one of his mom’s new fad diets or Zoe’s shitty TLC shows she makes Connor watch with her. So when it’s nearly 8pm and it’s been radio silence from Connor ever since lunch, he gets a little worried. It’s almost normal to not see Connor for the rest of the day, but after school? They’re always in contact.

 

Needless to say, the state of Connor’s mental health is on the forefront of Evan’s mind.

 

It makes Evan wonder if he’s become too attached to Connor. He shouldn’t be relying on him for every little thing, he shouldn’t be constantly thinking about him and wanting to be around him and wanting to hear from him, even just to know what he’s up to. It’s not normal.

 

He misses Connor, though. He can’t help it. But maybe Connor’s starting to get sick of him.

 

Maybe he’s overreacting.

 

It’s 1am when he finally decides that he needs to stop worrying and just go to sleep, but a part of him wants to wait up just in case. He’d texted Connor a couple of times, just telling him little things that have happened since he got home like his mom actually being home for dinner and how the old Wizard of Oz was on TV tonight, but he’d gotten no response. Nothing.

 

Maybe Connor’s in one of his moods, like Evan had previously expected. Sometimes when he’s angry he tells Evan that he’s feeling pissy and that he’s probably not going to want to talk much, and that’s probably the case, but something still feels wrong about it. Connor’s just off . He usually wants to talk about it, and Evan wants to fix it.

 

A ping coming from beside him has him shooting up in bed to grab his phone.

 

And.



Jared Coolman : Skype?



That’s. That’s an interesting turn of events.

 

Evan doesn’t really know what to say. Or what to feel.

 

He could pretend to be asleep, because he doesn’t turn on read receipts for this exact reason, or he could say no and that he was about to go to bed, or he could reply with something snarky about what Jared had said just earlier in the day but that feels like a lot so he just does what he does best.

 

He gives in.



Evan : sure



He heaves his ancient laptop onto his bed, flipping it open and waiting very anxiously for Jared to call him. He can’t help but wonder what this is about, why it’s happening, if Jared’s going to tell him off for something he didn’t know he did—

 

The tune of a skype call coming in has his stomach in a twist.

 

“Hi,” Evan says, voice cracking when he sees Jared’s pixelated face on the screen.

 

“Hey,” Jared says, looking down and adjusting his glasses. He takes a breath. “I am such a giant dick.”

 

Evan’s caught off guard, frankly. He laughs just once, too loudly, then when Jared looks at him with serious eyes he composes himself. “I, uh. Yeah. You kinda are,” He admits, face burning. He guesses that this random streak of confidence comes from Connor.

 

Jared runs his fingers through his hair. “I mean, you didn’t have to agree with me. Jesus.”

 

“You… you said it first.”

 

Jared rolls his eyes. “Yeah. Anyways, I, uh. I am… sorry. For being such a giant dick to you.”

 

Evan pauses. “You’re sorry?” He was half expecting for Jared to either be mean to him again or to act like none of this ever happened, but he’s pleased with this alternative.

 

Yeah , Evan, good god. Don’t make me say it again, it was painful enough the first time.”

 

Evan cracks a smile despite himself. “Is everything okay? You kind of freaked out for no reason. I’ve been… I’ve been worrying, honestly.”

 

Jared shakes his head, looking up. “Man, I do not understand you. I’ve been ignoring you for a month and you’re asking me if I’m okay.” Jared laughs. “I guess he—”

 

Jared’s connection cuts out for a second and he’s frozen on the screen.

 

“— so I just wanted to apologize because I was just being a jealous little bitch and honestly, it kind of sucks to not have you to pick on.”

 

“That… doesn’t really make me want to forgive you, Jared.”

 

“C’mon, you know I’m just kidding.”

 

Evan hesitates. “Yeah, I… I guess.”

 

Jared lets out a frustrated sigh. “Evan, my dude. Come on. I like to make jokes . I’m funny. You know this.”

 

Evan looks down, face reddening. “Yeah, well, sometimes it doesn’t feel like a joke, okay?”

 

A beat.

 

“Well, shit. I guess I didn’t really… I didn’t really think you took that shit seriously.”

 

“Well. I did. I do. A lot. Like, maybe I want to be called your friend instead of your family friend if you care about me so much. And maybe I want to eat with you at lunch sometimes, because— it sucks when someone who you think is your friend constantly fucks with you and makes you question if he’s actually your friend or not.”

 

Shit. He doesn’t know where that came from, but he’s damn proud of himself for telling the truth. He makes a mental note to tell Connor about it later.

 

Jared’s face falls. “Why didn’t you tell me, man?”

 

Evan looks down and picks at a hangnail. “I thought you’d laugh at me or something and then— I dunno. You’d leave for good this time.”

 

Jared doesn’t speak for a long time.

 

“I just,” He says finally, “I had no idea, Evan. I’m really sorry.”

 

Evan’s never heard Jared sound this serious or genuine before. It’s kind of freaking him out. “It’s okay. I’ll get over it. Not sure if Connor will, though.”

 

“Speaking of, I also promise to be nicer to Hot Topic, even when he’s being a giant douchebag.”

 

“Jared. He’s my friend .”

 

“I know, I know. Joking. Jokes .” Jared pauses. “I’d like to formally invite you to the cool table at lunch tomorrow,” He announces, “ And you can bring your emo boyfriend as your plus-one because I’m so incredibly generous and amazing.”

 

“Oh, um— thank you, but I don’t really like the cafeteria that much. The noise is kind of… a lot. And I don’t really think Connor would be welcomed with open arms, either.”

 

Jared rolls his eyes. “God, you drive a hard bargain. Alright, fine. Since you begged and pleaded, I’ll eat lunch with you and Fabio in the loser department.”

 

Evan’s eyebrows almost shoot into his hairline. “You— you want to eat with us?” He feels a bit dizzy all of a sudden. He doesn’t know if he can handle that .

 

If Jared rolls his eyes any more they’re going to get stuck in the back of his head. “Duh, dude. I never really—“ He cuts out again, face frozen on the screen.

 

“— and I know she’s into me, but whatever. Anyways, I’ll see you at school tomorrow, man. Night.”

 

“Night, Jared.”

 

He lays back in bed, shell-shocked. Jared Kleinman, who has formerly claimed that he doesn’t give a shit about anyone but himself because he’s the best, actually apologized. Evan doesn’t think he’s ever seen Jared own up to his actions before, unless he was in trouble and admitting the truth would get him less of a punishment.

 

Huh.

 

Interesting night.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Evan tried. He really did.

 

He had packed his stuff up before the bell for once, he shot out of his seat and shoved most of his stuff in his locker and he even ran up to the library even though it was up, like, a million flights of stairs and he was embarrassingly trying to hide the fact that he was out of breath by the time he finally got there.

 

Because the last thing he wanted was for him to be the last one to arrive at the tiny table in the back corner of the library, but when he gets there he immediately spots Jared yapping at Connor and tapping his pen while Connor scowls and glares at him. Fuck.

 

As he gets closer, he sees Connor’s eye twitch. Then Connor shifts his jaw and. Evan’s not feeling positive about this whole endeavor, honestly. He looks like he’s about to lose his mind or storm off or start yelling or all of the above simultaneously.

 

“...so I was like, ‘ Evan, you’ve gotta stop humping trees, man. It’s fucked up .’ And he tried to deny it, because he wants everyone to think he’s a sweet little angel, but he really just has a super intense tree kink. Sometimes those sweet branches are all he can think about.”

 

“Uh.” Evan stops about three steps away from the table.

 

“Evan!” Jared says brightly, flipping around in his seat. “Welcome! I was just telling Connie here how you broke your arm.”

 

Evan feels his breath get caught in his throat. He coughs, trying to force it out, but all he can see is the view from where he had laid on the ground, blinking in and out of consciousness just waiting. He wasn’t even sure if he was waiting to die or waiting for someone to find him. Either way, it was the waiting that was more excruciating than the pain of his twisted arm. He can still kind of feel his rapid heartbeat and breathing from that night, and how much he was sweating and how for just a second, even though he was sure he was just a couple seconds from death, he was worried about dirt stains on his shirt.

 

While Jared’s turned around in his seat, Connor takes the opportunity to mouth ‘ I’m going to kill him ’ at Evan, who frowns in response. “ Connie ?” Evan manages to choke out.

 

“Yeah,” Jared says easily, flipping back around when Evan takes the seat next to Connor. “It’s a nickname. Y’know, like how you’re Acorn and now he’s Connie. I dunno, though, it doesn’t have the right ring to it. He needs something more… exciting.” Jared puts his feet up on the table, leaning back in his chair so it tips off the ground a bit. Unfortunately, those feet happen to be right in Connor’s personal space, just inches away from his lunch.

 

“I have an exciting one,” Connor says lightly, looking at Jared way too calmly. Fuck. Not good.

 

“Oh shit, really? Lay it on me, man!”

 

“Alright, hold on to your seat, here it comes,” Connor holds up his hands and Evan braces for impact. “ Connor . It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think ?” With the last word, Connor shoves Jared’s feet off the table and Evan clamps a hand over his mouth to keep the giggles in. Connor settles back into his seat, glaring at Jared’s shocked expression. When he hears Evan laugh he glances over at him for just a second, grinning slightly. It disappears when Jared talks again, and Evan almost blushes because it’s like that smile was only for him.

 

“God, you two are no fun at all .” Jared rolls his eyes, crossing his arms. “That was a good one, though. You got me. Congratulations.”

 

Connor just shrugs, hunching forward and trying to hide the satisfied look on his face.

 

“So, Acorn,” Jared starts, putting his feet up on Evan’s side of the table, “It’s been a hot minute. What have you and your boy toy been up to these days?”

 

Connor pauses for a second, but then takes a quiet breath and lays his palms flat on his knees. Evan quickly glances at him and sees that he has his eyes closed. “Oh, um— y’know, just hanging out. Watching movies and stuff.” The second he mentions a movie, Evan knows he’s fucked up. Majorly.

 

“Ohhhh,” Jared nods slowly, “I see. Like, Netflix and chill?” He waggles his eyebrows at Connor.

 

Jared— you’re such an idiot,” Evan says almost lovingly, desperately wishing for a cool breeze to come through a window right about now to tone down his red face.

 

“You didn’t deny it!”

 

“How could I be Netflix and chilling with Evan when I’m spending so much alone time with your dad?” Connor says quietly, almost nonchalantly, flipping the page of a book he’s miraculously conjured since Evan had last looked at him.

 

There’s a few seconds of stunned silence before Jared starts cackling.

 

Evan immediately feels the weight of anxiety pressing on his chest because people start looking , Jared’s being so loud, and Evan feels his hands start to shake as the new librarian starts marching toward them. He tries to take a deep breath, but he can’t help but focus on all of the pairs of eyes that are looking at him, judging him, and.

 

He really can’t breathe when Connor’s hand falls on top of his and squeezes.

 

Evan glances over at him, but Connor just keeps his eyes glued to the pages in front of him and gives Evan’s hand another light squeeze.

 

“Young man, are you aware that you are in a library?” The librarian asks, cocking his head to the side and tapping his foot. He’s the kind of guy that Jared absolutely cannot stand; a ‘hipster wannabe’, as Jared would put it. He’s got this mustache that he twirled the ends of and tortoiseshell glasses and he’s wearing a button-up and patterned socks and Evan can practically see the cogs turning in Jared’s head.

 

“I am, actually. I have eyes, you see.”

 

The librarian presses his mouth into a line. “Keep it down,” He says sharply, turning on his heel and marching back over to his desk.

 

When he’s gone Evan’s anxiety starts to cease and he’s finally able to take a breath.

 

Connor doesn’t move his hand.

 

Evan’s not complaining.

 

“God, that new guy is such a douchebag,” Jared huffs, turning back around and crossing his arms. “He’s new, though, so he still wants us to like him. He’ll learn soon enough.”

 

Connor breathes out an exasperated breath from beside him.

 

“Anyways, Connor, my dude! I had no idea you actually had a sense of humor!” Jared laughs, earning a death glare from the librarian. Jared waves at him and he just rolls his eyes, sticking his nose back into his newspaper.

 

“Fuck off,” Connor says flatly, flipping the page with one hand. Evan keeps his other hand in his lap. “Also, it’s ‘ anyway’ .”

 

“Huh?” Jared asks, mouth full of grilled cheese.

 

Connor sighs, flexing his fingers against Evan’s. “Nothing.”

 

“Seriously, though. You’re fucking funny . If someone woulda told me that Connor Murphy had a sense of humor, I wouldn’t have believed them. But look at you!” Jared gestures to Connor, making him flinch. “A regular comedian. Your mom didn’t mention that when I was at your house the other night,” Jared adds, sitting back with a satisfied smile on his face. Connor sizes him up, tilts his head to the side.

 

“She did show you the extra-small condoms in the cabinet though, right?” Connor asks, completely dead-faced and monotone. “Or were you too busy looking for my dad’s Viagra?”

 

Jared barks out a laugh, face disgusted, slapping his hands on the table. “Dude, you’re gross !”

 

Connor just shrugs, looking back at his book. Evan squeezes his hand when he laughs, earning a slight twitch at the corner of Connor’s mouth.

 

“My god, Hansen. I approve of this one.” Connor’s hand relaxes against Evan’s. “You really know how to pick ‘em,” Jared laughs, shaking his head.

 

“Pick—?”

 

“Oh yeah, Con-Con, by the way, I didn’t end up using your condoms from the cabinet. Figured I’d risk it for the biscuit, you know what I’m sayin’?”

 

“Funny. I thought the exact same thing when I fucked your dad.”

 

Evan decides right there that this is literally the weirdest experience he’s ever had in his life. He doesn’t know that he could even speak if he wanted to.

 

“Damn, I should have known when I banged the hell out of Zoe that you were going to be just as uptight.”

 

Evan’s hand about snaps in half at the way Connor’s crushing it in his, gripping onto Evan so hard that he starts to shake. “Don’t you dare talk about my sister like that.” Connor leans closer to Jared. “ Ever . Got it?”

 

For a second there’s fear in Jared’s eyes, but then he just smirks. “Sorry, dude. Struck a nerve, huh?” He asks Evan, trying to get him involved. Evan just sits there, eyes wide. He’s never been one for fighting or flying, he’s always preferred to freeze.

 

Connor’s hand falls from Evan’s as he suddenly pushes back his chair and stands, gathering his stuff. “Bell’s about to ring,” Connor grits out. “See you later,” He says to only Evan.

 

Once Connor’s slammed the library door behind him, Jared turns to Evan.

 

“Well,” He says, putting his feet on Connor’s chair, “I think that went well.”

 

Evan just rests his head on his forearms, groaning. He can still feel the warmth of Connor’s hand in his.

 

 

“Tell me again why I agreed to this?” Connor asks, pinching the bridge of his nose.

 

Evan sighs, scooting closer and bumping Connor’s shoulder with his own. “Jared wanted to say sorry for— for being a giant dick earlier, basically,” Evan says, unsure if he should ignore his sudden impulse to wrap Connor in a hug or to just do it and see what happens. “You don’t have to be here if you don’t want to— I can just tell him not to come over, or you can… you can leave or something or if he’s already on his way I can tell him to turn around, or—”

 

Connor just places a hand on Evan’s forearm, settling back into Evan’s old couch. It shuts Evan up immediately.

 

“Sorry. Rambling.”

 

“Stop apologizing,” Connor says flatly. “Kleinman is a giant douchebag.”

 

“I know, I’m sorry, I should have told you we were going to eat lunch with him—”

 

“But he’s… really funny, actually.”

 

Evan stops. “What?”

 

“It pains me to admit that, honestly,” Connor sighs, “But it’s true. I don’t mind being around him that much.”

 

“You—” Evan stops. “Are you— where did Connor go?” Evan asks, turning toward Connor and grabbing his shoulders before he can stop himself. He squints into Connor’s eyes. “Connor? Are— are you in there?”

 

Connor grins, pushing Evan off of him. “Shut up. I never said he wasn’t an awful person, because he is, and he’s been bullying you for years—”

 

Unintentionally—

 

“— and that fucking sucks, but I’ve already said my piece to him about that so I don’t think I need to say it again.” Connor freezes in place.

 

“What—” Evan pulls back. “Your piece ?”

 

“Uh,” Connor flips his hair so that it falls over one of his eyes. “Yeah, um. I may have… talked to Jared. About how he was treating you.”

 

Evan’s heart kind of breaks. “So… he didn’t apologize to me because he was sorry? Just… because you told him to do it?”

 

“No,” Connor says desperately, putting a hand on Evan’s arm again. Evan almost wants to shake it off.

 

“I can handle my own problems, you know— just because I— just because it’s hard for me to stand up for myself doesn’t mean I’m not able to, Connor—”

 

“I know that,” Connor says gently, grip tightening on Evan’s arm.

 

“I don’t need you to be my guardian or, or anything— I can— I’m a big boy, I can handle a little conflict once in a while, I’m not completely helpless—”

 

“Evan!” Connor shouts, eyes closing. Evan’s glad his mom isn’t home. “Let me talk, fuck . I didn’t ask him to apologize.”

 

Evan blinks. “Then what did you say?”

 

“I just—” Connor shakes his head. “I kind of blew up on him, okay? I saw him in the hallway after lunch yesterday and told him how he was being a literal sack of shit to you. That’s it.”

 

“That’s it.”

 

Yes . I swear. I told him how much you missed him and… how much he doesn’t deserve you as a friend and how he should have— I didn’t tell him to apologize, basically. All I did was tell him off.”

 

Evan uncrosses his arms. He scratches a spot behind his ear. “Okay.”

 

“Listen— I know you can, like, fight your own battles or whatever. I’ve seen you do it. I wasn’t… doubting you. I was angry.”

 

“I know,” Evan says quietly. He feels like an idiot for getting mad at Connor for no reason. “Sorry.”

 

“Why?” Connor asks, bumping Evan’s shoulder. “We’re cool.”

 

“I yelled at you.”

 

“Again, I don’t think you understand what yelling is,” Connor laughs, shaking his head. “I’d get upset about that too. It’s chill.”

 

Evan bumps his shoulder back, looking up at Connor and giving him a timid smile. Connor returns it easily, pushing his hair back off of his face. And then he leans closer, narrowing his eyes, and Evan’s heart starts beating out of his chest. He can’t help but keep his eyes open, mind racing, and then Connor lifts his hand to Evan’s face and Evan feels like he’s short circuiting.

 

This can’t be happening.

 

It can’t.

 

The biggest problem is that Evan doesn’t know if he wants to push Connor away or not.

 

“Eyelash,” Connor mutters, picking something off of Evan’s cheek and pulling back, holding it out on one finger. “Make a wish,” He says sweetly, and Evan’s just stuck there for a minute.

 

Okay.

 

When they met, he remembers sitting there on the grass with Connor by his side, happy that he got to at least be with someone before he was gone. He remembers Connor offering him his sweatshirt, and telling him he didn’t deserve to die. Caring, like no one else had. And he knew next to nothing about him.

 

But this feels like a completely different person. It’s the same Connor, but he’s nothing like the detached person Evan had met that night. Connor cares more than anyone Evan’s ever called his ‘friend’. He cares about Evan for real this time, not just about how he thinks Evan’s a good person and has a future. He cares. He knows Evan and how he is and how he acts and feels, and he cares. He stayed.

 

It’s more than Evan could have asked for.

 

He has what he’s always wanted: a good friend. So what does he have left to wish for?

 

Evan shakily blows out a gust of air and the eyelash flies off of Connor’s index finger, Connor smiling with satisfaction when it disappears.

 

“What’d you wish for?” Connor asks, winking and poking his arm.

 

He doesn’t even want to admit it to himself.






Chapter Text

Evan is not jealous of Jared.

 

He’s not.

 

It’s just that ever since all three of them hung out at Evan’s house the first time, Jared and Connor aren’t fighting as much. Well— they are, but it’s more like play-fighting at this point which Evan still doesn’t really understand, because they still constantly threaten each other’s lives, but they’re not actually fighting. He thinks. Which is good, it’s really good, and Evan’s really proud of both of them for managing to get along, but.

 

It’s just.

 

Sometimes he misses the quiet, non-stressful lunches and all the peaceful times he and Connor had together before Jared decided that he was invited.

 

It’s not that he doesn’t like Jared or like being around him, not at all. He loves Jared like a brother. He’s so, so glad Jared’s back in his life, and he’s also glad Connor isn’t constantly (seriously) threatening to wring his neck anymore (probably). But Connor around Jared is sort of different than Connor around Evan.

 

It’s not enough for anyone else to notice, not outwardly, but Evan notices. Connor is sort of… softer around Evan. More open. And Connor is still a good friend, he’s still attentive around Jared, but he’s sharper. On edge. And Evan gets it, Connor’s not used to Jared’s presence yet, but if that were true, he wouldn’t offer to include Jared in everything they do, right?

 

To be fair, Evan has the ability to say no. Connor always checks in, makes sure it’s okay if Jared joins them, but Evan doesn’t want to sound like a dick. And he doesn’t want to sound like he just wants Connor all to himself. Because that’s not exactly the truth.

 

He doesn’t want that all the time, at least.

 

Maybe he just wants to watch a movie on the couch without Jared interrupting during all the important parts, okay?

 

“Oh… my… god ,” Jared whispers, louder than any other whisper anyone’s ever whispered, bumping Evan with his elbow. “Is he… the hot dad’s getting kidnapped, isn’t he?”

 

Evan sighs, elbow on the armrest and cheek resting in his palm. He opens his mouth to speak, but Connor beats him to it from across the couch.

 

“No, of course not. He was invited to a fun birthday party with the fucking terrorists .”

 

Jared pushes him. “Fuck you, man.”

 

Connor grabs a handful of popcorn from where the bag is resting on Jared’s lap. “Hey, it’s not my fault you’re a fucking idiot—”

 

“Shut the fuck up!” Jared laughs, attempting to grab the popcorn Connor’s currently shoving into his mouth. Once he gets a couple of pieces, he laughs triumphantly and Connor punches him in the shoulder. Hard.

 

“Dude! What the hell?” Jared pushes him back and Connor just laughs, settling back into the couch and fixing his eyes on the TV. While Jared’s focus is on his phone, Connor steals the popcorn and winks over at Evan. “I’m not Evan, Con-Con. I don’t like it rough.”

 

And that just puts so many images in Evan’s head that immediately warm Evan’s entire face and ears and he pushes those images down down down , buries them in the back of his mind because they’re both spending the night and he absolutely cannot be thinking about that or anything like that right now. Or ever.

 

Ever is good.

 

“You don’t?” Connor asks, faking surprise. “I figured, you know, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Jared blinks at him. “Y’know. Because your dad seems to like it rough.”

 

“You’re such a fucking dick ,” Jared rears back and punches Connor’s arm, but Connor doesn’t even flinch, he just continues staring at the TV. He turns to Jared.

 

“Wait, sorry, was that, like, supposed to hurt or something?” Connor raises an eyebrow, dodging another punch from Jared. When he misses, Jared yanks the popcorn out of Connor’s hands and the entire bag about falls on the ground, but very luckily for all of them, Evan manages to catch it before all of it falls to the floor.

 

“Okay, yeah, I— I’m not picking that up,” Evan says to them, hiding the popcorn under his arm where neither of them can reach it. He pops a couple of pieces into his mouth and smiles at them when they both pause, Jared’s mouth hanging open in betrayal and Connor’s glare sending daggers. “What? I didn’t drop it.”

 

“Dammit, Hansen,” Jared grumbles, heaving himself off the couch, “When did you get so confident? Making me do shit. Jesus.”

 

Evan can’t help but glance over at Connor, shocked to see Connor smirking as he gets off of the couch. Evan looks down, smiling to himself and shrugging. “I don’t know.”

 

Jared just rolls his eyes, picking a piece of popcorn off the floor and eating it before anyone can tell him otherwise. “God, get a room,” He groans, picking pieces of popcorn up and shoving them into his mouth. Evan immediately flushes, opening his mouth to speak, to ask Jared what exactly he means even though Evan is very aware of what Jared’s referring to, and he thinks he wouldn't really mind getting a room with Connor, but—

 

“You are not eating that off the fucking floor.”

 

Connor beating him to it seems to be a common theme lately. Evan doesn’t mind that much, really.

 

Jared shrugs, eyes wild and defensive. “It hasn’t been there for that long, dude. Five-second rule.”

 

Connor shakes his head and closes his eyes, gathering the popcorn off the ground as Jared continues to eat it off the ground. “One, that’s a myth , dumbshit. Two, it’s been way longer than five seconds. Three, you’re a disgusting fucking human being.” He stands up and makes his way over to the trash, and when he turns around, Jared’s making full eye contact with him as he slowly shovels the floor-popcorn into his mouth. Evan snorts.

 

“Tony Stark would be disappointed,” Connor murmurs as he settles back into the couch, turning the volume up higher to drown out Jared’s protests.

 

 

Evan’s in the middle of contemplating his whole entire life and existence on this planet, staring at the ceiling fan and listening to Jared’s deep breathing when he gets a text at 3:13 am. He ducks underneath his sleeping bag and pulls out his phone.

 

Connor: Are you awake?

 

Evan smiles to himself. Connor knows him so well.

 

Evan: always

Evan: are you?

 

Connor: You’re stupid.

 

Evan: and ur no fun

 

Connor: Anyway. This floor is uncomfortable. :(

 

Evan: yea it is I’m sorry :-(

 

Connor: We could always sneak away.

 

Fuck. PG thoughts, Hansen. Get it together.

 

Evan: when Jared wakes up he’s gonna literally kill us if we leave him here alone

Evan: u can go sleep in my room if u want

 

Connor: But then it’ll look like I’m the asshole who left you guys on the floor alone to go sleep in a comfy bed.

 

Evan: sooooo u want me to also look like an asshole?

 

Connor: Basically.

Connor: :)

 

Evan: also my bed is far from comfy

 

Connor: Better than the floor.

 

Evan: jesus

 

Evan audibly sighs. He’s pretty sure it’s impossible for him to say no to Connor, like, ever. He hears Connor breathe out a laugh from across the room.

 

Evan: it’s a twin bed Connor

 

Connor: We can do it. I’m kind of a twig anyway.

 

He’s never really had butterflies in his stomach before like people talk about in the movies, but he’s pretty sure what he’s feeling right now is close enough.

 

Evan: fine lets go

Evan: but we’re telling him that you begged and pleaded until I agreed to go with your evil plan

 

Connor: Deal.

 

When he hears Connor start to shuffle around, Evan takes that as his cue to very slowly unzip his sleeping bag. He watches as Connor takes a large step over Jared, nearly losing his balance and slapping a hand over his mouth to keep from laughing. Evan bites the inside of his cheek. He gets up as slowly as possible, trying his best to ignore Connor snickering from the bottom of the stairs.

 

“Shut up ,” Evan whispers, laughing and nearly tripping over all the blankets and pillows strewn across the floor. As they race up the stairs, hands pressed to their mouths to keep quiet, Evan’s heart leaps into his throat. He’s never really had someone who understands what it’s like to have sleepless nights, nights where his brain just won’t shut off. It’s nice to have someone who understands him. Who doesn’t mind sitting with him until his mind stops racing.

 

His heart still seems to race, though.

 

“My god,” Connor says quietly as he sits on Evan’s bed. He looks down at his phone, unlocking it and squinting at the bright screen in the dark room. “Guess who just texted me.”

 

“Who? It’s 3 am.” Evan’s not jealous.

 

“Fucking— Zoe .” Evan raises his eyebrows, jealousy fading as Connor shrugs. “She— this is so weird— she asked me if I was okay? Like, I don’t think she’s done that in… she’s not usually… she doesn’t usually text me,” Connor eventually says, flopping backward onto Evan’s bed and holding his phone above his face. “Huh.”

 

“So you’re getting along?” Evan asks nonchalantly as he climbs under the covers.

 

Connor shrugs, but he looks satisfied. “Guess so.”

 

Evan pulls the covers up to his chin, grinning at Connor when he rolls over to face Evan, locking his phone and tucking it under his arm. Evan observes that Connor gets a little dimple on his left cheek when he smiles fully, like I-can’t-control-it smiling, and it might be his favorite thing in the entire world. It hits him then that they’re, like… super fucking close to each other, only a couple of inches away from each other, and their arms are almost touching and if Connor gets under the covers their legs would be touching too and that’s just— a lot to think about.

 

And he shouldn’t really be thinking things like that about his best friend, but here he is, being a fucking creep.

 

“So…” Connor trails off, and Evan might be fucking insane, but he swears that Connor’s gaze flickers to his mouth for a split second. Fuck. “What do people usually do at sleepovers?”

 

Evan clears his throat. “Uh… I dunno, um— sl-sleep?”

 

Connor’s eyes scrunch up when he laughs. His lips look soft. “Besides sleep, shit head.” He flicks Evan’s nose, and.

 

Evan’s brain is sort of malfunctioning, and he just keeps looping back to how kissable Connor’s lips are and how all he would really need to do is lean forward, just a little, and he could— he could—

 

If he doesn’t say anything in the next five seconds he’s worried he’ll do something he can’t take back.

 

“I’ve— you know I didn’t really have friends be-before this, right? Like, I had Jared but Jared wasn’t really someone who wanted to be around me for anything other than his own personal gain at the time and so I haven’t really had any sleepovers also they make me kind of anxious because you have to make sure everyone eats and that you have good movies picked out and—”

 

Connor clamps his hand over Evan’s mouth. Evan gulps.

 

Connor leans closer. “Shut up.”

 

Fuck.

 

When Connor leans back, he’s smirking. He rests his elbow on the pillow, propping up his head with his hand. This time, Connor absolutely looks at Evan’s lips.

 

Yeah, he’s fucked.

 

 

“Okay, what’s going on with you?” Jared asks that Monday, coming up behind Evan and putting a hand on his shoulder. Evan tries to get away, but Jared just keeps walking with him.

 

“What— I don’t know what you mean, Jared—”

 

“Bullshit,” Jared spits out, grabbing the handle of Evan’s bookbag before he can walk away. Fuck. A couple of people give them dirty looks as they dodge around the two of them. Evan grimaces at them apologetically.

 

Jared leads Evan over to the set of lockers next to them by his backpack, and Evan sighs in defeat as he leans his shoulder up against them. “I really don’t… I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Evan sets his jaw, looking anywhere but Jared. Jared squints at him.

 

“That’s what you say when you’re lying to me.” Evan sighs again.

 

Connor always says he can read Evan like a book.

 

“Hold on... did you get laid?” Jared asks suddenly, stepping closer to examine Evan’s face.

 

He immediately goes red. “What? No, no, god, of course not—”

 

“It was Connor, wasn’t it?” Jared grabs Evan’s cheeks, turning him from side to side. Jared starts muttering to himself as he moves to examine Evan’s neck. “No, he would’ve probably left marks—”

 

What— ?”

 

“That’s what you did when you abandoned me in the living room! I fucking knew it,” Jared almost yells, laughing, and Evan grabs him by the collar of his shirt, pulling him forward.

 

“Shut. Up.”

 

“Woah,” Jared says, eyes wide, taking a step back. “Dude. Take a chill pill.”

 

Evan huffs, crossing his arms and leaning his back against the lockers.

 

“If anything, your reaction just proved it.”

 

Evan’s eyes dart over to Jared’s. “Proved— proved what, exactly?”

 

“That you totally wanna fuck Con Bon.”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“You know. Condor. Con-tron. Con-man nine thousand—”

 

“Okay! I get it.” Evan shakes his head, burying it in his hands. “Just. Shut the fuck up about it, okay?”

 

Jared doesn’t talk for a second, which is highly unusual, and that’s enough to make Evan look at him again.

 

“Wait. You were being serious?”

 

Shit.

 

“Um— I mean— like, not really— I… fuck.” Evan shakes his head again. “Yeah, Jared. I was being serious, okay? Fuck— we didn't, like— we didn't do anything, but. Yeah. I guess I... like him, or something. Don't freak out about it, it's, it's not a big deal or anything. He probably doesn't even like me back.”

 

“Oh my god .”

 

Dude— I told you not to—”

 

“That makes so much sense!” Jared starts counting on his fingers. “He defends you like you’re his wife, you two are always so blushy around each other, you’ve been super weird around him every time we’re at lunch, he always asks me if you’re okay when you’re not at school or don’t answer his texts or something, he threatened to kick my ass if I was ever mean to you again, he says he loves you—”

 

“I— wait, he what?” Evan's pretty sure he's dying.

 

Jared cocks his head. “Yeah. When he was threatening to kick my ass he said, and I quote, ‘ he’s the best person in the entire world and he has the biggest heart and I love him so if you ever hurt him again I’ll hurt you but worse and also I long for his dick in me. ’”

 

Evan blinks.

 

“Okay, not that last thing, but he said all of that stuff, like, in a row. I don’t know. He said it, though.”

 

Evan takes a breath.

 

And another.

 

He slides down the lockers, trying his best to take deep breaths, but pretty soon he’s hyperventilating and Jared’s kneeling at his side, asking him something that he can’t quite hear or focus on enough to comprehend.

 

And then someone’s pushing Jared out of the way, both hands on Evan’s knees, frantically searching his face for comprehension, hair falling in front of his eyes and they’re so blue and.

 

Evan finally admits it to himself, Connor’s fingers laced with his as he tries his best to breathe:

 

He’s falling in love with his best friend.

Chapter Text

“So, Acorn,” Jared says, faking nonchalance and slamming his textbook shut. “I have a question for you.”

 

Evan looks up from his paper, glares at him with an eyebrow raised. “About the homework?”

 

Jared purses his lips, looking to the left and shrugging. “... Yeah.”

 

A blink. “Are you sure it’s about bio?”

 

“Yes, mom, it’s about fucking bio. Hop off my dick, dude. Shit.”

 

A beat goes by, then Evan takes a deep breath and breathes out slowly. “Okay. What?”

 

Jared smiles as sweetly as he possibly can, resting his head in his hands. “Is Condom a top or a bottom?”

 

“Jesus Christ— Jared— that is not about bio—

 

“What? It’s biology—

 

“Will you just shut the fuck up— ?”

 

“I’m just saying— you guys are, like, literally a match made in heaven. You’re all meek and shy in real life, so you’d totally dominate in the bedroom. And Connie-boy’s the opposite so I feel like he would be more of a receiver, if you know what I’m sayin’—“

 

“What about me?” Connor asks casually, raising his eyebrows as he appears out of nowhere and sits in the chair next to Evan’s. And Evan prays that Jared doesn’t fuck this up for him, prays that Jared lies for him because this is all so new, being real with his feelings, and he really doesn’t want to fuck this up.

 

“Um— well, uh, Connor , we were, uh—“

 

“We were talking about if you like it up the ass or not,” Jared helpfully adds, stuffing food into his mouth.

 

Jesus. Christ.

 

Connor doesn’t look phased, just blinks at them and observes Evan’s face. “No you weren’t.”

 

Jared pauses, and he and Evan share a glance. “We weren’t?” Jared asks him, and Evan can tell that Jared is just as thoroughly confused as he is.

 

“No,” Connor says easily, taking a sip of water, “Evan’s red and sweaty so obviously he’s anxious. You must be lying.” Connor turns his head more toward Jared. “Also, you’ve used that on me before when I’ve overheard you talking about me, so nice try, dipshit.”

 

Jared shoots Evan a look before plastering back on his usual persona. “That was one time . Ugh, fine, you got me.” Jared stops and Evan prays to god that Connor doesn’t push it—

 

Connor sizes him up, the corner of his mouth twitching upward. “So what were you two talking about that involved me, Ev?”

 

Out of the corner of his eye he sees Jared raise his eyebrows and mouth ‘Ev?’ at him from across the table. And he also makes a crude sexual gesture at them that Evan doesn't think he's made since sixth grade, but he tries to ignore that. Evan’s really, really fucking glad Jared’s enjoying himself, because he’s entering full-on panic mode.

 

“Oh, you— you know, just, um—”

 

“Evan has a crush,” Jared says believably, and Connor turns his attention to Jared instead. Thank god . But also. Jared just. He. That mother fucking—

 

“Not on you,” Jared reassures him quickly, and Connor just frowns at him as all the nervous energy leaves Evan in one breath. That was close. “I was just telling him that he should tell you who it is already. You two are like— the bestest of friends , so.”

 

Jared’s trying to help, Evan knows that, but now he’s on the fucking spot again. Which is fantastic.

 

“I dunno, uh, it’s pretty— pretty embarrassing, Connor, you probably don’t even, like, want to know,” Evan laughs nervously.

 

Connor narrows his eyes in interest, wearing a fraction of a smile. “Who says I don't?”

 

Evan’s mind starts racing. He needs to name a random person. He can’t say Connor, because obviously, and he can’t say Jared because that’s just dumb but it has to be someone that would be embarrassing to have a crush on, but not someone that’s well known because there’d be a reason for Evan to be crushing on them, he thinks, but also what if Connor were to ask more questions and Evan had to make up this web of fucking lies that he gets trapped in and then Connor doesn’t want to be his friend and his life is over and— and for some fucking reason, he suddenly blanks on everyone's names in the entire school.

 

“It’s Zoe,” Jared blurts out, eyes wide as he looks over at Evan with so, so much regret in his eyes. Evan didn’t even know Jared could feel regret before this.

 

Connor doesn’t even look at Jared, just keeps his eyes trained on Evan. “Zoe,” He repeats, and his eyes narrow in a different way this time. The look on Connor's face makes Evan's stomach turn.

 

Jared snorts loudly, like it’s obvious. He’s a really good liar. Except only Evan knows that when he crosses his arms like he just did, it means he’s omitting the truth. “Yeah, man. He’s had a crush on her for, like, the entirety of puberty. Everyone knows that.”

 

Connor tilts his head just a centimeter, staring Evan down like he’s trying to look into his soul or make Evan burst into flames or something.

 

“Oh, shit— speak of the devil!” Jared exclaims, earning a well-deserved shush from everyone else in the library. “Look who it is!”

 

And there she is. Zoe Murphy. The girl he was formerly obsessed with in middle school. Everyone knew it. Even Connor, apparently, considering he mentioned it the first night they met. Jared knew it. Zoe must know, too. She must think he's a creep. The thought makes it impossible for Evan not to blush.

 

“Interesting,” Is all Connor says, turning back to his food and stabbing his fork in some green beans.

 

“Oh, um— hi, everyone,” Zoe says softly, giving them an awkward smile. She rocks on her heels just like Connor does when he’s feeling nervous and out of place. Connor doesn’t usually pick at his nails, though. “So... Connor, uh— I just wanted to give you these hair ties back. So. Here they are.”

 

She puts them on the table next to him, hesitating, waiting for a response.

 

A response doesn’t come.

 

The silence is maddening and Evan can feel himself on the verge of an anxiety attack; he can just tell, every sense is upped in sensitivity, and he waits for Connor's hand to meet his, grounding him like that never fails to do. 

 

That doesn't happen either.

 

“Okay, uh, bye then. I guess.” She laughs, very much a forced laugh, then pushes some hair behind her ear and gives Evan and Jared the tiniest wave before turning on her heels. It’s something Evan would have found incredibly endearing years ago, but now it just reminds him of Connor.

 

Jared talks at them for the rest of lunch. Neither are really in the mood for conversation.

 

 

“Why in the actual fuck—

 

“Dude, don’t freak out, I just— she’s the first person I saw, okay—”

 

“— would you suggest his fucking sister ? Are you— are you kidding me, Jared ?”

 

“Listen, Evan,” Jared puts his hands on Evan’s shoulders and he violently shoves himself away from Jared, pacing back and forth in the small space.

 

“Don’t fucking touch me, Jared,” Evan fumes, trying to take in at least a little bit of oxygen.

 

“Evan, I’m— dude, I really didn’t mean to do that. I fucked up.”

 

“Yeah, you fucking did.” Evan slumps against the wall, winding his hands into his hair. “Do you even remember how he acted when you mentioned his sister the first time we hung out together? Do you ?”

 

“I— he didn’t storm out this time, okay? That’s a positive.”

 

Evan’s head snaps up. “A positive? He didn’t talk the rest of lunch! He probably fucking hates me!” Evan's voice breaks and he fucking hates it.

 

“No, dude, he probably— I dunno, they don’t really get along, do they? He’s probably just in a shitty mood because he saw that bitch and everyone knows he hates her ass—”

 

“They’re— they were fixing things, they were getting better— ” He hears a loud rushing in his ears, his hands can’t grip his hair tight enough, everything is fucking blurry—

 

“Okay, so he’s mad because you don’t have a crush on him instead, then! Fuck, Evan, I don’t have every single solution to all of your stupid fucking problems!”

 

Jared slides down the wall across from him, putting his head in his hands.

 

It’s silent for a long, long time.

 

Evan wishes he had Connor here to make it better.

 

“I’m— I’m sorry, dude. I didn’t mean that.” Evan looks up at the sound of Jared’s voice. “She’s the first person I saw, I was— I was trying to save your ass—”

 

“You’re the one that put my ass on the line in the first place.” When Evan speaks, he’s surprised to hear that he sounds fucking exhausted.

 

“I know.” Jared sighs, genuine. “I’m sorry, man. Fuck.”

 

Evan sighs. “I know.”

 

Jared blows out a breath. “What are we gonna do?”

“I don’t—” Evan shakes his head, squeezes his eyes shut. “He probably thinks I was just using him to get to his sister this whole time.”

 

“But that doesn’t make sense at all,” Jared protests, standing up to pace. “I’m pretty sure that interaction was the first time you two have communicated since, like, freshman year.”

 

“Basically,” Evan breathes.

 

“So then he has to know that— that it’s just a coincidence, like, he probably knows you’re all faithful and shit to him at this point—”

 

“You don’t get it,” Evan groans, “He doesn’t trust people. He, he literally can’t trust people. And I was probably the first— the first person he actually fucking trusted , and now he thinks I’m just the same as everyone else. Fuck , Jared—” Evan holds back tears. The last time he’d cried in front of Jared, he’d videotaped it. Evan’s practically a professional at holding his tears back at this point. Jared keeps pacing, and Evan kind of can’t take it anymore. “Please sit down— pacing makes my anxiety, like, ten times worse.”

 

Jared sits down beside him, slinging an arm around his shoulders. “We’ll figure it out.”

 

“He hates me.”

 

Jared scoffs. “That boy wouldn’t hate you if you took a dump in his bed. He’d probably thank you or something. Or jerk off to it.”

 

“I love him,” Evan sniffs, and it surprises even himself. He’s never really said it out loud before. He takes a shaky breath, resting his head on Jared’s shoulder. He almost pulls away, because that’s not something they do, but Jared just holds him tighter.

 

“I know.”

 

“He’s— he’s, like, literally the best thing that’s ever happened to me, Jared. You don’t even know. And now he hates me and he’s probably never going to talk to me again because of course I can’t have one fucking nice thing in my life and I’m a stupid piece of shit who caught feelings—”

 

“Hey,” Jared says clearly, pushing Evan back a bit. “Shut the fuck up. You continue that thought and I’m literally going to fight you, right here, right now, in this dirty-ass high school bathroom where you’ll probably catch an STD if you breathe this air, let alone get any open wounds. And you definitely would, because you know I’d win in a fight. Okay?”

 

A beat. “Okay.”

 

"I won't hesitate, bitch."

 

"I— I know—"

 

Jared pulls Evan back to where he was resting against his side, this time bone-crushingly close. Evan kind of can’t breathe, but Jared’s showing some sort of affection for once, so he can bear it. He has half the mind to say that he's not into choking, but he doesn't want to steal Jared's lines. 

 

“Alright, enough of this gay shit,” Jared says, pushing Evan away.

 

Well, the affection was good while it lasted.

 

Jared slaps him on the back. “We need a plan, Acorn. Let’s get your boy back.”

 

 

No matter how many times Jared says he’s working on the plan, Evan doesn’t believe him. It’s not even just that he doesn’t believe him, it’s that he doesn’t believe his plan is going to work, either. And he doesn’t even know what the point of the plan is.

 

Is it to get Connor back in a friendly way? Evan’s fine with that. He’s more than fine with that as long as he just gets to keep Connor in his orbit. But if Jared’s going to fucking slip a love letter in Connor’s locker or some other dumb shit then Evan would rather not, thanks.

 

There’s not a chance in hell that Connor likes him the way Evan likes him. There’s no way. Yeah, Connor told him that he used to have a crush on him in middle school (which is coincidentally the same time Evan had a crush on Zoe, which probably fucking sucked) but he wouldn’t tell Evan that unless the feelings were completely gone, right? It’s possible. Evan doesn’t like Zoe anymore, contrary to popular belief, so it’s completely possible for Connor’s feelings to be gone, too.

 

But.

 

It’s just the way he looks at him. The way he cares. Everything. It fits too perfectly.

 

But Evan can’t let himself think like that when there’s only a slim chance that Connor actually shares any fraction of the feelings Evan has for him.

 

“So… tell me again why you decided to tell Connor that Evan has a crush on his sister?”

 

This ‘plan’ is involving a lot more people than Evan had expected.

 

Jared sighs in frustration. “Because, Miss Most-Likely-To-Become-President , she was the first one I saw. I told you this. Fuck. You gotta listen up if you wanna go anywhere in politics.”

 

Alana beams. “You think I could be the president? That’s always been my dream. The first female president of the United States. How did you know? It’s probably because you heard about the leadership course I lead this summer! It was fantastic; I’m leading it again next summer if you two would like to join! It’s so much fun and it’s really informative as well, and I could probably even get you a discount on program fees—”

 

“Beck,” Jared calls, stopping her in her tracks. “Evan. Con-Con. Gayness .”

 

“Right,” Alana says, pushing her glasses up her nose. “I feel that this whole thing could have been avoided if you had just been honest, Evan.”

 

Evan slides his palms down his face. “Of course! Let me fire up my fucking magical DeLorean and I’ll be right on that.”

 

Alana stiffens. “I sense some unexpected sarcasm. And don't joke about that; time is very sensitive, you know. Anything you change could change the course of the rest of your life. Have you heard about the butterfly effect?”

 

“Yes,” Evan and Jared groan in unison.

 

“Oh. Cool, I guess.” Alana furrows her brow.

 

Jared sighs. “Listen, you’re the only chick I know relatively well, so I need you to give ol' Evan over here some emotional advice, okay? Women are pros at that shit.”

 

“Then you should know that I’m much more well-versed in the female department. Evan is interested in men.”

 

The denial section of Evan's brain wants to yell that he's bisexual, not gay, but he doesn't even know that for sure. More importantly, Evan’s kind of lost. “How— how do you two know each other, exactly?”

 

Alana smiles like she’s just been told she won the lottery. “It’s a funny story, actually—”

 

Alana, please,  come on, man

 

“Jared was sitting at the lunch table all alone one day, and I pretty much never have anyone to sit with, so I came over to him and noticed that he was reading a comic book!”

 

“— I have a reputation—

 

“He likes to tell people that he’s popular, but really he’s just lonely. I’ve always wondered why you never sit with him at lunch, Evan, considering the fact that you’re such close friends and he talks about you all the time.”

 

“Jesus fucking—”

 

“Anyway, Evan, we started talking and then I invited him to Comic-Con with me!”

 

Evan stifles a laugh. “Oh my god .”

 

“And I got so many phone numbers that day that Jared asked me how I pick up bitches so easily— his words, not mine; I’d never objectify a woman like that— and we’ve been acquaintances ever since!”

 

Jared has fully collapsed into himself on Alana Beck’s floor, covering his face. “And this is why I don’t hang out with you at school. Because you take every single opportunity to fucking embarrass me in front of other people.”

 

Alana grins widely. “That’s because most of the time you deserve it.”

 

Evan’s taken aback, honestly. He can’t even be mad about the fact that Jared’s been ignoring him at lunch all these years, sitting alone just to save his ‘reputation’. It’s kind of fucking hilarious.

 

Connor would think it’s funny if they were actually talking instead of just sharing awkward glances in the hallway and trying to sit as far away from each other at lunch when all Evan wants to do is be close to him.

 

No crying in a stranger's house, Evan. Collect yourself.

 

“Wow, Jared. You’ve— so you've been a nerd this whole time?”

 

Alright, I get it. Yeah, we do nerd shit together, ha ha, whatever,” Jared grunts, pouting, his face red. “That’s not what we came here to talk about, Merriam Webster. Fuck.”

 

“Right.” Alana looks fully satisfied. Evan thinks he could get used to being around her if she’s able to embarrass Jared this easily. He’s not used to Jared getting put in his place at all. It’s refreshing. “I think you need to apologize to him.”

 

Evan blinks at her. “For what ?”

 

She rolls her eyes. “Obviously he’s upset with you, Evan, so even if you don’t know what you’re apologizing for, you should do it anyway. At least that’ll get him talking to you, right?”

 

Hm.

 

His denial brain screams but we're still talking, it's just small talk and not the usual banter and smiles, it's fine, but.

 

“You have a point.”

 

They’re quiet for a second, just mulling things over, but then Jared looks up with a smirk on his face. “It’s funny, Lana…”

 

She juts out her chin, perfecting her posture. “What’s funny?”

 

“I didn’t realize it before, but both of my groupies wanna get it on with the Murphys.”

 

Alana sets her jaw, making strong eye contact as her face turns red. “Connor Murphy is not my type,” She says confidently, and.

 

Evan’s. He’s confused.

 

And also kind of really fucking jealous, for a second.

 

“Oh no, you know who I’m talking about,” Jared says casually, smirk deepening. He waggles his eyebrows.

 

Alana looks away, the same stony expression on her face. She shrugs. “The Murphys don’t have a third sibling, so I don’t have any idea what you could be referring to.”

 

Jared breaks. “Come on, Alana, we both know if you had to choose anyone in the school to fuck the shit out of it would be Zoe! Fulfill my hot lesbian fantasy for a second!”

 

Evan feels himself being tugged onto his feet, tripping after Alana as she drags him down the hall. She’s still red. “Ignore him. Anyway, just find a good time and tell Connor how you feel—”

 

Jared runs after them. “Lana and Zoe sittin’ in a tree—

 

“I promise you, it’ll be worth it, Evan.”

 

K-I-S-S-I-N—

 

She slams her door behind them.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Honestly dude, I’m a little sick of hearing about this all the time.”

 

Evan should have seen this coming, honestly. It’s not that Jared has actually been expressing that Evan’s extremely annoying when all he can talk about is Connor, but Evan can just tell. He’s starting to annoy himself, too.

 

“Not that I don’t love you or whatever, but like…” Jared trails off, shrugging and taking a sip of his Mountain Dew. “You gotta do something about this. The plan isn’t working and Bon Bon’s just getting worse—”

 

“What, what was the plan, exactly? Because I don’t feel like you’re trying to help me at all, Jared.”

 

“Evan. Acorn . Listen to me. I want nothing more than for you to live out your gay little love story, but we’ve tried literally everything. He’s not budging. I’m kind of worried. We really fucked up, man.”

 

Silence.

 

Okay, now Evan’s angry. Jared seems to realize what he said, or maybe it’s because of the look on Evan’s face, but Jared goes immediately white as a sheet.

 

We fucked up?”

 

“Uh— I didn’t, um, I mean—”

 

You were the one teasing me about him. You were the one that made up the whole crush thing in the first place. You were the one that said, that said it was fucking Zoe of all people, and you were the one that said you were going to fucking help me but you’re not doing shit—”

 

“Okay, fuck, I know, just take a breath. You’ve gotta stop hyperventilating, dude.”

 

I am not hyperventilating—

 

“I don’t think he’s hyperventilating quite yet,” Alana chimes in out of nowhere, looking up from her homework and cocking her head to the side. “He’s going to eventually, but right now he’s in the beginning stages of an anxiety attack.”

 

They both pause and stare at her.

 

“Also, it’s your fault, Jared.”

 

Jared throws his hands in the air. “Fuck, I know! I’m— I’ve said sorry a million times , what the fuck else can I do—”

 

“You really— you think sorry is going to fix anything?” Evan asks, desperate tone to his voice.

 

“I mean, no, but we’ve tried everything—

 

I’ve tried everything, you haven’t done anything to help me besides making me feel like a burden when I want to talk about this. I thought you were, that you were my fucking friend, Jared—”

 

“Alright,” Alana says loudly, holding her hands up to both of them. It shuts them up. “Firstly, it’s Jared’s fault that this particular situation even happened.”

 

Jared huffs. “You already said that,” He mumbles quietly.

 

She shushes him, turning to Evan before he can respond. “But, secondly, I don’t think Jared can really be the one to fix this, Evan, because it was your problem to begin with. Jared was trying to help, but he did the opposite, so now it’s on you.”

 

“What? It’s his fault —”

 

“But this all started because you weren’t honest with Connor. It sucks, but it’s the truth. Jared should apologize to him when this is all over,” Alana shoots him a pointed look and he rolls his eyes, “But I don’t see anything that Jared could do to help right now.”

 

Evan knows where this is heading. It’s where this conversation always heads.

 

“I can’t tell him,” Evan declares, standing up, and beginning to pace around the room. He likes to think that it helps, but in reality, he knows it only makes him worse. “I’m not. I can’t do that. It’ll— If I tell him, everything will be ruined.”

 

“How?” Alana asks calmly, and honestly… Evan’s never thought about why it would ruin things. Besides the fact that Connor could never like him back in a million years.

 

“I mean— he doesn’t like me back, so—”

 

“How do you know?”

 

He doesn’t. “I just— I just do, okay?”

 

“Okay, so you tell him that you have romantic feelings for him and he doesn’t feel the same. What happens next?”

 

Evan purses his lips, standing in place. “He… he calls me a name or something and then… and then doesn’t want to be my friend anymore?”

 

God, it sounds so stupid saying it out loud.

 

Alana just looks at him. Evan turns red. “So after all that you two have been through as friends, he’s just going to tell you he never wants to see you again?”

 

Evan doesn’t say anything, just sits back down on Jared’s bed.

 

“I think that’s highly unlikely. If he’s this upset because he thinks you two aren’t genuine best friends and that you haven’t been truthful to him, what makes you think he’s not going to jump at the opportunity to be your friend again?”

 

Jared’s eyes go wide. “I never even thought about that.”

 

Evan hadn’t either.

 

Alana smiles triumphantly. “He cares . Evan, your brain is playing tricks on you. Anxiety disorders are notorious for that. He’s not just going to abandon you because of one little thing. You need to explain yourself, even if that means telling him the whole truth. If he doesn’t feel the same way, tell him that you still want to be friends because he means a lot to you. It’s going to hurt, but it will be much better than letting him slip away.”

 

The silence lingers a bit.

 

Jared turns to Evan. “Told you girls are pros at this shit.”

 

Evan just sighs. “I feel— I feel sick just thinking about telling him. It’s— I’ve never had this much of a… crush on someone before? God, that sounds so fucking stupid.”

 

Jared snickers behind his hand. Evan ignores him.

 

“It’s not stupid. Your feelings are valid, Evan. Telling him is the only way you’re going to get the old Connor back. I promise, he doesn’t hate you. He’s heartbroken. He probably thinks something’s wrong with him .”

 

That sentence alone breaks Evan’s heart. Resonates in his soul.

 

“Fuck.”

 

Alana nods, and Jared looks down at his books.

 

 

Over the next couple of days, Evan tries to find an opportunity to tell him. He does. But Connor’s not talking at lunch; hell, he’s barely even eating anything at lunch. It makes Evan feel sick to his stomach. He looks like he’s lost a couple of pounds as well, because his cheekbones look sharper but in a sickly kind of way. His eyes have lost all light when he actually does talk, and lunch is endlessly awkward.

 

Not to mention the scratching. Evan prefers to push this thought as far down as he possibly can whenever possible, but he can’t help but notice that Connor’s been wearing a sweatshirt every single day. Not a t-shirt or a long sleeved shirt or a button up or something, a sweatshirt. One that hangs down past his hands. Which would be normal if it was still winter, but the snow is slowly melting and it’s warming up and yeah, the weather is on and off, but it just rings a familiar bell and Evan catches himself trying to get a glimpse of Connor’s arms at every opportunity. He’s not sure he wants to witness what he’ll find, though.

 

And Connor’s hands are usually relatively still when he’s relaxed and sitting at the lunch table, but he’s been scratching at his thighs and rubbing at his sweatshirt sleeves when he thinks Evan isn’t looking and it’s so so scary but Evan doesn’t want to think about it. He’s a coward. He doesn’t know what to say.

 

He feels like he isn’t allowed to say anything anymore.

 

But they haven’t been ignoring each other, per se. it’s just. It’s different. Evan feels like he’s lost half of the person he— the person he loves, like the Connor he knew was a ghost only he could see or like an imaginary friend that was never there in the first place. Like they’re going backward.

 

He’s honestly starting to wonder why Connor even hangs around them at this point.

 

But he takes what he can get.

 

 

“So, Zoe… how was your day today? Did anything interesting happen?” Alana asks her, heart-eyes mode engaged, leaning forward where she’s sitting on the floor. The wine bottle in her hand almost tips over.

 

When Evan went a week without being able to work up the courage to talk to Connor, Alana had a suggestion that Jared immediately agreed with and Evan gave in to eventually, even though he knows it won’t have the desired effect.

 

Maybe it’s just because he wants to see Connor. To make sure he’s still alive. To hear his voice again. Sue him.

 

So she invited them all to her house, happily announcing that her dads leave the liquor cabinet unlocked because they trust her not to make stupid decisions while they’re gone, and now they’re all sitting in a weird distorted circle on her basement floor.

 

It’s not loosening them up or making Connor talk or anything like Alana thought it might. It’s just making everything weird.

 

Evan just wants to go home.

 

Zoe looks up, dropping the strand of hair she was twirling on her finger to hold her hand out. Alana passes her the bottle and she takes a tiny sip. Alana looks delighted. “Not… not really. Um… oh, a guy asked me to prom in jazz today. That was… interesting.”

 

“Ooh, did you bang him?” Jared asks, ripping the bottle from her hand and chugging. Zoe watches in disgust, tucking her hands in her lap.

 

“Jared, that’s rude,” Alana mutters.

 

“Um— no, Jared. I didn’t. I said no, actually.”

 

“Oh, what a shame . Why?” Alana asks, clearly not bothered at all. Jared rolls his eyes, taking another swig.

 

Zoe shrugs. “I dunno. He’s a fine guy and all, but I’m not really… a prom kind of girl, I guess.”

 

Connor snorts, rolling his eyes and tucking himself into a ball. He looks kind of dead, and a part of Evan regrets agreeing to this because Connor is not a pretty sight. His under eye bags are worse than the day before and it looks like he’s drowning in his giant black sweatshirt, arms hugging his knees. Evan wishes he could hug him instead. He notices that he hasn’t washed his hair in a while, because it’s looking greasy and frizzy and he just looks so tired and it hurts Evan’s heart. Connor catches him staring and glares right back at him, like Evan’s just another passing face in the hallways. That hurts worse.

 

He hasn’t said a word all night, so naturally, everyone’s eyes are on him when he talks, satire dripping from every word. “I’m sure there are plenty of guys just lining up to ask you to prom.” Evan looks down, face burning at the feeling of Connor’s eyes on him. “And I’m sure you’re loving the attention, as usual.”

 

Zoe sighs, obviously frustrated. She looks hurt and confused, and Evan feels the same way. He thought they were getting better.

 

Is this his fault?

 

“Actually, Connor , he’s the first one to ask me, so.”

 

“I’m sure he won’t be the fucking last,” Connor mutters. Evan doesn’t look up, but Zoe sighs again.

 

“What, you jealous?” Jared asks with an inappropriate laugh. He’s downed half the bottle at this point, so Evan manages to wrestle it from him and sits it next to his knee. He’s not much of a drinker anyway. When he glances up again, Connor looks like he’s on the brink of an explosion and tipsy Jared just looks happy that he got a reaction.

 

“Zoe! Um, would you mind elaborating on the promposal—?” Alana proposes, obviously trying to steer the conversation in a different direction.

 

That doesn’t happen, because of course it doesn’t.

 

Connor shoots daggers with his glare. “Jealous of this bitch? Fuck no. I’m not really into awkward prom night car sex with people I don’t give a shit about, personally.”

 

“What the fuck is your problem?” Zoe spits out, making everyone but Connor jump. “Why are you being such a fucking dick to me, Connor? I thought we were good! What did I do?”

 

Evan sees a flicker of emotion in Connor’s eyes, quickly replaced with pure nothingness. A blank slate. It’s haunting. “I don’t know, Zo , maybe I’m upset about how many years you spent treating me like a piece of shit. Oh, or maybe it’s because of all of the times you took dad’s side instead of mine, or all the times you’ve stolen fucking everything from me—“

 

“Fuck you!” Zoe shouts, rising to her feet. Connor joins her. Alana and Jared are watching in horror. “I fucking knew you weren’t capable of change. You’re the same as you’ve always been: nothing . You know why I treat you like a piece of shit? Because that’s what you are , Connor—“

 

“Look in a fucking mirror, Zoe.”

 

“Find your own way home,” Zoe snaps, rushing to the door. She doesn’t even bother putting on her shoes, just grabs them and her purse. “See you guys at school,” She snarls, slamming the door behind her.

 

For a second, everything is fragile.

 

Connor’s standing there, fists clenched and his entire body trembling; Jared and Alana are trying to look anywhere but in Connor’s direction, eyes wide; and Evan’s just stuck there staring at him. He can’t look away. No one’s breathing, really, just waiting for something to break.

 

When it does, Connor whips around and gives Evan this crazed look, a mix of anger and confusion and fear and regret and sadness and every negative emotion a person could have. He looks so broken that Evan just wants to reach out and pull him into a hug like he’s been wanting to all night, but he knows he’ll probably never be able to again. Connor doesn’t look at the others, and Evan doesn’t look away. For a second it’s just them. No one else. There’s something familiar in his glare that Evan can’t quite place.

 

He can’t pinpoint a certain thought going through his mind in this moment. He wants to hold Connor in his arms, wants to make him a bowl of soup and wrap him in a blanket, wants to wipe his tears and kiss his cheeks until everything’s okay, wants Connor to hold his hand again and look at him like he used to, wants everyone to be gone so he can just sort out everything he wants to say and wants Connor to be able to listen to him and believe him when he tells Connor he loves him, because it’s so true. Even when things are bad.

 

Then Connor huffs out a harsh breath, pushing between Evan and Jared and heading for the door.

 

He leaves.

 

Emotionally, he’s been gone for a long time.

 

That’s when Evan really breaks for the first time since this whole thing happened.

 

He’s not really… there for most of it. He remembers thinking Alana’s hands were Connor’s and breaking down even more when he realized they weren’t, remembers Jared’s knee pressed to his own and his hand on Evan’s back, because he knows Evan doesn’t like to be touched much when he’s like this, remembers Alana forcibly taking Evan’s phone so he doesn’t call and call and call, and he remembers feeling like this couldn’t possibly get better. Like he doesn’t know what kind of life he could live without Connor.

 

He falls asleep on Alana Beck’s couch, dreams evolving into nightmares.

 

 

Honestly, after the failure of a party at Alana’s, Evan doesn’t expect any of them to want to talk to him ever again.

 

Jared and Alana for sure, because they witnessed him at his lowest he’s been in a long time and he didn’t really think people would want to stick around after that. Except for Connor, of course.

 

He kind of doesn’t want to think about Connor anymore.

 

He’s stopped coming to school. Not all together, but he’s showing up less and less and every day Evan feels like the opportunity to tell him is slipping right out of his hands. Connor doesn’t talk at lunch anymore, not even to yell or make a snarky comment or anything. Evan kind of wants him to yell at this point. It’s better than silence.

 

It’s probably too late to make this right, he supposes.

 

But the last person he expected to be texting him at midnight on a Tuesday is Zoe Murphy. On Connor’s phone.



Connor : Hey Evan it’s Zoe

Connor : Mind if I call?

Connor : It’s abt Connor



When he sees it’s Connor’s name he goes through a whirlwind of emotion. He’s happy, then relieved, then confused, then sad, then worried, and now he’s anxious and also sick to his stomach at the same time.

 

But his gut is telling him that this is serious and he’d probably still do anything for Connor, even if this is all over.



Evan : yeah of course



He answers on the first ring.

 

“Hey—”

 

“Evan,” He hears Zoe breathe, “I can’t find him.”

 

Evan’s stomach drops. “You— you can’t.”

 

She sounds like she’s out of breath. “No, we’re— he never leaves his phone, um, when he kind of just leaves the house without telling anyone so when he didn’t come down for dinner and I found his phone, I got really, really worried and so I— you know, I know you two aren’t really talking right now but—”

 

“No, no, thank you for telling me. He hasn’t said anything to me, but, but I can always ask around—”

 

“Please,” Zoe asks him. Begs, really. “Anything helps. I’m. I’m really worried about him, Evan. He hasn’t been… good.”

 

Evan gulps. “I know.”

 

There’s a pause. “Tell me if you hear anything, okay?”

 

“Yeah, I. I will.”

 

She hangs up without a goodbye.

 

There’s not a single doubt in Evan’s mind. He knows where Connor is.

 

And he knows why.

 

 

It feels like his legs can’t move fast enough.

 

He knows he’s not the fastest, but he’s not the slowest, either. He’s been an apprentice ranger at this park for the past two summers so you’d figure he’d be faster at navigating this place.

 

He hasn’t walked it in the dark much, though. Just once.

 

Jared seems to think he’s moving too fast, considering the amount of inappropriate Sonic references he’s making. They aren’t funny. He’s grateful Jared agreed to come along, but at the same time, he wishes it could just be him. He doesn’t know what he’s going to find, and he doesn’t know if he can handle it. If Jared can even handle what he might come across.

 

There’s not really a coherent thought in his brain at this particular moment. All he can see is a forest of darkness and he smells the night time and he feels his legs moving but he isn’t really processing any of that, really. It feels like he’s on autopilot.

 

Jared suddenly stops beside him.

 

“Oh my god,” He exhales, pointing, and Evan stops dead in his tracks, all his breath leaving him at once.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The first thing he notices as he sprints in Connor’s direction is the blood.

 

It’s worse than he could have expected, honestly. 

 

When he reaches Connor, he notices a couple of things right away. Connor’s head is tipped back against the trunk of a tree, arms limp at his sides that Evan doesn’t think he can stomach looking at because they’re just… pure red , and his breathing is shallow and ragged, chest rising and falling at an unnatural rate.

 

“Connor,” Evan says, shouts, he’s not sure which. Connor’s eyes blink open slowly and he starts to smile, but then his face falls. 

 

“Evan,” He breathes, shaking his head. “No. No, no, no, Evan, no… you can’t…”

 

“It’s okay,” Evan reassures him even though it’s really, really not. “Connor, look at me.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Connor gasps out, eyes falling shut, shoulders shaking, and he sounds so small. “I didn’t mean to, I didn’t, really, I’m, I’m sorry, Evan, I’m sorry…

 

His voice cracks and Evan’s heart is in his throat. He can barely hear anything over the pounding of his pulse in his ears. 

 

Evan looks behind him to see Jared just standing there with his mouth hanging open like he’s trying to find the words to say. 

 

“Fucking do something ,” Evan yells to him, voice coming out rough, “Call someone, fuck , I dunno, just do something ,” And then he turns back to Connor. He’s still repeating his apology like a mantra.

 

“Okay, it’s okay, just… hold on, I’ve got you,” Evan says gently, immediately slipping his sweatshirt off of his shoulders, gathering Connor’s arms and wrapping them up with it the best he can. “Here, it’s alright, we’re gonna… we’re gonna get you some help, okay?”

 

Connor’s eyelids keep fluttering open and closed, looking everywhere like he’s not sure where to focus, and Evan wonders how much blood he’s actually lost. He just sits there and holds Connor’s forearms tight together, but he can already feel the blood starting to soak through. 

 

“Evan, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to,” Connor repeats, shuddering and struggling to catch his breath. “I didn’t mean to.”

 

“I know,” Evan says to him, even though he doesn’t. 

 

“I left you—”

 

“No no, It’s okay, it’s really okay—”

 

“I left Zoe, I, I, I left everyone—

 

Evan holds on tighter. It’s getting increasingly harder to be strong for him because all Evan wants to do is cry and scream and break down.  “No you didn’t, we love you, we get it, it’s okay—”

 

“I didn’t even get to say… get to say I’m sorry, Evan,” Connor sobs brokenly, head lolling unnaturally to the side. Evan traps Connor’s wrists in between his bent knees and cups his cheeks, bringing his head back to a normal position and trying to get Connor to open his eyes. 

 

“It’s okay, really, I’m here now, I’m— I’m sorry I didn’t get here sooner, Connor, I’m so fucking sorry.”

 

“No, no, you don’t, you don’t get it, I didn’t get to—” Connor coughs. “I didn’t get to say sorry to Zoe— I’m sorry , Zoe, god, or— or you, Evan, I didn’t mean to, I’m sorry.” Connor’s eyes slip closed again. “I didn’t mean to,” He says quieter, and Evan’s hit with a wave of sickening realization. 

 

Connor thinks he’s dead.

 

“You’re okay,” Evan reassures him, wiping Connor’s tears with his thumbs and shaking him a bit so he’ll open his eyes. Evan just barely registers Jared on the phone with someone in the background. “You’re gonna be fine. I’m here, don’t worry, I’m here. I’m not leaving you. You’re breathing, you’re okay, it’s— It’s gonna be okay.”

 

“You’re not real,” Connor sobs, so broken that Evan has to physically stop himself from breaking out into tears. “You can’t be, I fucked it all up, you hate me, you, you never even—” He cuts himself off, taking a sharp breath in through his teeth. “It hurts,” He breathes, shaking his head back and forth again.

 

“I know, I’m sorry, you’re gonna be just fine.”

 

“Make it stop,” Connor asks him, eyes squeezed closed. It feels like a huge weight is crushing Evan’s chest. 

 

“I— someone’s coming, don’t worry, you’re okay.”

 

“I wish it was really you, I wish— I wish I didn’t screw everything up, I wish— ouch, fuck , it hurts—

 

“I’m real, I promise, I’m here, I’m, I’m, I’m not leaving, okay? I’m not leaving you again.”

 

“I didn’t mean to, Evan, I’m so sorry,” Connor says again, finally meeting Evan’s eyes for a second.

 

“I forgive you,” Evan says immediately, shaking his head and stroking Connor’s cheekbones with his thumbs. “Shhh. I forgive you.”

 

And then Connor’s being taken away, Zoe appears and Jared has to grab onto Evan by the shoulders to keep him back, and after that, it’s kind of just blurry and confusing. 

 

He books an extra appointment with Dr. Sherman and Jared’s there for him, he knows that; he spends a couple nights at Jared’s and breaks down in his arms and when he feels like he doesn’t want to breathe anymore Jared’s there too, reassuring him that everything’s going to be okay. That Connor’s going to be okay.

 

He leans on Jared the most, but Alana’s there just as much. Zoe comes over sometimes, which is confusing but not unwanted, and the four of them sit right next to each other, shoulders almost touching, trying to ignore the fact that everything’s going downhill and it feels like their lives are spinning out of control. 

 

They don’t talk about Connor. 

  

He doesn’t really want to think about Connor in the hospital, hooked up to a bunch of tubes, cheeks sunken in, thin limbs and greenish skin. The first time he’d seen him he had to back out of the room to go throw up in the bathroom, but the next couple of days were better. They didn’t say a word to each other in the hospital, just sat there next to each other in silence. But at least Connor let him stay in the room with him. 

 

They spoke for the first time after it happened while Connor was in psych. Evan doesn’t like to think about that either; the dead look in Connor’s eyes and the bandages covering his entire forearms. 

 

Connor comes back to school on a Monday, looking a little bit less skeleton-like but a lot more exhausted. His dark circles are almost purple and he’s still wearing long sleeves, but Evan doesn’t fault him for that. 

 

And. They haven’t talked about it yet.  

 

Any of it. 

 

Evan keeps having nightmares about Connor bleeding out in a bathtub or finding Connor in his bedroom hanging from the ceiling or something else equally as horrific, and honestly, the last thing on his mind is telling Connor about his stupid fucking crush. It’s not even relevant anymore.

 

“Hey,” Connor says quietly from behind him, scaring Evan out of his thoughts. His voice sounds scratchier than usual. It feels like that first day they talked at school.

 

“Oh, hi,” Evan says awkwardly, not looking directly at him as he shoves his books in his locker.

 

Connor clears his throat. “Lunch?” It looks like even just speaking exhausts him.

 

Evan smiles as convincingly as he can. “Let’s go.”

 

Zoe and Alana eat with them now, which is something. Alana claims it’s because she wants to keep an eye on everything, but Evan and Jared think it’s just because she wants to be around Zoe. And Zoe’s never really explained why, but she doesn’t really have to. She sits in the seat between Evan and Connor and looks at her brother worriedly when he’s not looking, checking his tray every so often to make sure he actually eats. 

 

He gets the idea that they’ve talked things out, talked about absolutely everything, because Zoe shoots him these weird glances sometimes but then immediately corrects herself with a polite smile. It makes Evan feel weird.

 

He really, really hopes she doesn’t blame him for everything.

 

“How are you doing today, Connor?” Alana asks politely like she’s done every day since it all happened. 

 

He’s zoned out and Zoe has to elbow him to get his attention. “Oh, um… I’m okay. Better.”

 

He doesn’t sound the same. 

 

Zoe smiles slightly at him, motioning to the food on his tray. He gives her an attempt at a smile and picks at it hesitantly. 

 

“Thank god, lunch was starting to get goddamn boring ,” Jared says with a smile, and Connor smirks at him. “Oh my god, I forgot! Guess who passed his fuckin’ Spanish test?” He asks proudly, holding out his arms and gesturing to himself.  

 

Alana gasps happily, punching him gently in the arm. “Jared!”

 

“That’s— that’s awesome, dude,” Evan says, trying to be supportive but kind of unable to take his eyes off Connor. He’s eating, thankfully, and he shivers a little as a breeze from the windows blows through the library. Evan thinks it feels nice, but lately Connor’s been really cold. 

 

“You sure Señora gave you the right paper?” Connor deadpans with a straight face. 

 

Everyone pauses for a second, unsure how to react, but then Jared snorts and Connor’s mouth twitches into a smile and everyone laughs and for a second it feels like everything’s alright. 

 

Connor glances over at Evan and the rest of the conversation fades into the background as he quirks an eyebrow at him, looking suggestively down at Evan’s tray and back to meet his eyes when he notices that Evan hasn’t eaten much. 

 

It warms Evan from head to toe. 

 

Worrying about Evan, when everyone’s worried about him. 

 

He reluctantly stabs into his green beans and Connor smiles down at his own food. Evan wonders if Connor’s ever going to stop making him feel like they’re the only two people in the room.

 

 … 

 

Weeks pass, and Connor gets better. Lunch actually starts to be fun again; Zoe talks to him (and has a surprising sarcastic sense of humor) and Connor is starting to make eye contact with him for more than five seconds. And Evan’s so glad Connor’s getting better. He couldn’t be happier about it.

 

But. Evan’s not getting better.

 

It feels like every day that passes by where Connor’s improving, Evan’s steadily declining. He and Jared have both decided that it’s too late to tell Connor about the Zoe situation, but it’s weighing on his soul and Evan’s tried to make it clear that he was never using Connor to get to her. Connor says he knows that now, and smiles at him, and even if the smile is fake, he’s trying. Evan can tell he’s trying to believe it.

 

He feels like he’s not really allowed to reach out to Connor when he’s down, because Connor’s still in his little bubble of recovery time and Evan doesn’t want to make him worse. Doesn’t want to bring him to that point again just because he’s a little sad. He can deal with it.

 

But he really misses being able to lean on him when he feels like this. Not that he wants to dump all of his problems on Connor, but it’s always been nice to have someone around to listen who actually knows what he’s going through. He misses it. It’s stupid, but the part he misses the most is being able to hold Connor’s hand. Actually, it’s more like he misses Connor being able to sense when he’s upset and choosing to hold Evan’s hand. Because he knows it’s one of the only things that actually helps. But he figures Zoe sits in between them for a reason, because she doesn’t want Connor to get hurt again, and he respects that. They might need some time apart after all of this.

 

And it’s not like he can just vent to Connor about the fact that his nightmares about him are progressively getting worse. 

 

He’s working on it. Dr. Sherman says he’s on the right track and that the work they’re doing together is going to pay off in the long run, but Evan’s kind of tired of trying. He just wants it to be better already. 

 

Evan pulls the covers up over his head, trying to block out the seemingly constant buzzing in his brain. He debates calling Jared, but he’s bugged Jared about this enough in the past month. It’s always the same thing: he dreamt about Connor dying again last night and he doesn’t think he’s ever going to stop. And then he cries about how much he misses him, because it feels like Connor’s not really entirely there yet. And then Jared tells him it’s going to be okay and he just needs to give it time.

 

Alana is too hopeful for Evan’s current life outlook. Whenever he talks to her about this she says to stay positive and positive things will come. He thought she was supposed to be the intelligent one. 

 

Zoe has asked him for advice a couple of times; what does Connor like to do in his free time, what should she say to Connor when he’s beating himself up, stuff like that. Evan still feels a little weird about talking to her, though.

 

So he’s left to fend for himself. He hasn’t even told his mother because she’d want to know all of the details and then she’d constantly ask him how he’s doing and if he’s been taking his meds more than she already does, and he does not need any more of that. It would drive him insane. 

 

He can do this. He’s pushed through this before on his own. He can do it again.

 

… 

 

It’s on a particularly bad night that neither Alana or Jared answers him that he finally breaks down and texts Zoe. 



Evan : hey zoe. can I ask you something?



It sounds weird and if Evan received the same text he would be spiraling, but Zoe responds in less than a minute.



Zoe : Yea sure what’s up

 

Evan : do u ever get nightmares about it?



It takes her longer this time. 



Zoe : Yea I do

Zoe : They get p bad I didn’t know anyone else got them

Zoe : I can see why you do tho

 

Evan : yeah. 



He’s not sure what else to say.



Zoe : Have you talked to him abt it

 

Evan : no. I don’t want to make him worse or anything so I figure I should just keep it to myself

 

Zoe : It might help he’s better now and he’s able to talk abt it

Zoe : I talked to him and it was a really good conversation it made me feel a lot better maybe you should try it



Maybe he should. 

 

He can’t help but hesitate, though, because what if he’s only comfortable talking about it with Zoe? What if Evan says something that triggers him? What if it’s weird? Awkward? What if Connor doesn’t care anymore? What if he can’t actually talk about it yet and she’s setting him up for failure because she believes it’s Evan’s fault? 

 

And right in the middle of his panicking, he gets another text.



Connor : Hey. Need me to come over?



Fucking Zoe Murphy. God dammit.



Evan : it’s okay i’m good

 

Connor : Lies and slander. You seem to forget that I can literally always tell when you’re lying. ;)

Connor : But I won’t come over if you don’t want me to.



God, it’s not like Evan doesn’t want Connor to come over. That’s all he wants.

 

But he can’t risk putting him in that position again. He can’t risk Connor feeling the way he felt ever again. He needs to walk on eggshells for him. 



Connor : I want to come over though. I know you think I’m still fragile and all that crap but I’m getting better. I can talk about it. It had to have been hard for you. 

Connor : I want to help. Please let me.



And he’s never really been able to say no to Connor, has he?

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“You look like crap,” Connor says the moment he steps into Evan’s house.

 

It makes him smile. He trails after Connor up the stairs, trying to think of something to say. It’s weird, Connor being here again after all this time. “I’m— at least one of us is looking better.”

 

Connor sits carefully on Evan’s bed, raising an eyebrow. “You better not have been about to say you’re sorry.”

 

Evan flushes. “Of course not.”

 

Connor grins knowingly. “Good.”

 

“Great.”

 

Awkward silence. 

 

“Haven’t really been sleeping,” Evan says quietly, shutting the door and sitting further away from Connor on the bed than he would have a month ago. 

 

He sees Connor nod out of the corner of his eye. “I can relate.”

 

Evan chances a glance at him, going redder when he sees that Connor’s staring back at him. 

 

“You don’t have to… be strong , or whatever, for me. You’re allowed to not be okay right now.”

 

That does it for him.

 

His chin starts to wobble and he looks away, crossing his arms and begging himself to stop. He doesn’t want to cry in front of Connor. He can’t. He has to— he should be comforting him . He kind of gives himself away when he sighs out a loud shaky breath, though.

 

“Hey… Evan? Can I… is it okay if I hug you?”

 

It takes him a long moment but eventually he nods, just once, and Connor’s arms are around him in an instant. He rests his head on top of Evan’s and Evan automatically wraps his arms around Connor’s torso, trying his darndest to keep in those tears.

 

He hears himself whisper, “I missed you,” at the same time that he hears Connor whisper, “I’m sorry.”

 

“Don’t be sorry,” Evan says back, cheek pressed to Connor’s chest. He can hear Connor’s heart beating steadily. Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry.

 

“I’m… I am, though. You shouldn’t have had to… witness. All of that.”

 

Silence.

 

“And… I missed you, too,” Connor adds, holding Evan’s head gently against him. He runs his fingers through Evan’s hair. “Duh.”

 

Evan wants to laugh, but nothing comes out. 

 

They stay like that for a while, Evan’s stuttering breaths slowing down until he gets himself more under control. He hates himself a little bit when he pulls away.

 

He could’ve stayed there forever.

 

“I just— I need you to know that, that I would never use you to get to Zoe. And, and I never, ever have. And I never will.”

 

Connor looks down. “I know. I do. I just— I freaked out. I don’t… care that you… whatever. Like her . I don’t mind.”

 

Evan can’t really correct him, can he? God, he wants to.

 

He looks over at Evan. “My rational brain knows that you wouldn’t just… that we’re too far into this and that I should trust you by now—”

 

“I get it,” Evan reassures him. “You don’t have to trust me completely yet. I understand.”

 

“I know I don’t,” Connor says gently, “But I want to. I’m— I’m trying to, at least.”

 

“I know you are.”

 

Silence.

 

“Do you like your therapist?” Evan asks, hoping to change the topic before he starts crying again. “You said you two are a good match, right?”

 

Connor sighs. “Yeah. She’s really patient with me when… when I’m too hard on myself, or I get angry, or whatever. It’s just… kind of hard because I fucking hate talking about my feelings but she says it’s good for me and it’s been helping me deal with everything but. I just hate it. I’m just glad Larry doesn’t know I’m going.”

 

Connor’s rubbing at his wrists again.

 

“Hey,” Evan warns, looking pointedly at Connor’s hands and raising his eyebrows.

 

Connor smiles sheepishly. “Sorry.”

 

“I… kind of always dread seeing Dr. Sherman. That’s probably because all it does is— is make me feel worse. I don’t know. I think I should start looking for a new one. Like, he’s been helping me with this nightmare stuff, but other than that he—”

 

Evan quickly realizes what he’s said when Connor furrows his brow.

 

“Nightmares?”

 

“Yeah, they’re… that’s why I can’t. Sleep. Most of the time.”

 

Connor looks down. Evan feels a pang of guilt hit him square in the chest. “They’re about me.” It’s not a question.

 

Evan chews on his lip, holds his breath. “Sometimes.” It’s not a complete lie.

 

Connor nods. Takes a breath. “Okay.” 

 

“You’re not allowed to say sorry,” Evan adds playfully, nudging Connor with his knee.

 

Connor hums a laugh. “Fuck you, you’re the one who isn’t allowed to apologize.”

 

“Same goes for you.”

 

It feels warm and familiar when Connor rolls his eyes. “Whatever. Um… you know you can always tell me when you’re struggling, right? I’m literally never busy. My life is so fucking dull right now, seriously. I’m not allowed to do shit.”

 

He can’t help but smile. “Yeah, I know that. I just… didn’t want to put more on your plate that you couldn’t handle. Not that I don’t think you can handle this stuff, because I know you and I know you can handle most things but like the thing is I didn’t think after all of this that you’d really want to get into all of my feelings about it because it would probably make you feel all guilty and that’s the last thing I want, so—”

 

“I get that.” A pause. “Thank you.”

 

It feels like there’s a lot more weight to those two words than usual.

 

Evan rolls his eyes to cover up the fact that he still feels like he could cry at any moment. “Shut up, you don’t have to thank me.”

 

Connor doesn’t say anything, just smiles in a defeated sort of way because he and Evan both know that he needs to stop deflecting, but Connor lets it go.

 

After a while, Evan stifles a yawn.

 

“You’re tired,” Connor says.

 

“Very.”

 

“I can… I can leave, if you want to get some rest—”

 

“No,” Evan says too quickly. “I mean… you don’t have to leave, but if you want to that’s okay too, it’s not like I’m, like, forcing you to leave, or. Or anything.”

 

“Guess that means I’m staying, then,” Connor announces, standing up and going to undo his pants, which.

 

Um. 

 

Words. Evan can speak. He has the ability to English.

 

Connor pushes his jeans down his legs and Evan averts his attention to anywhere but there, feeling heat gather in his cheeks. 

 

“I have— there are, um, there’s— I have pajama pants in the… in the dresser…”

 

“Which drawer?” He hears Connor ask.

 

“Um…” Which drawer? Which drawer does he keep his pajama pants that are soon going to be on Connor’s bare legs… his… the drawer. Which drawer? Fuck.

 

“Nevermind, I found them.” Evan hears shuffling from behind him. “Scooch over,” Connor says, pushing at Evan’s shoulder and sliding underneath the covers when Evan does so. He turns back to face Connor now that he can’t see his bare legs, because Jesus Christ, and Connor blinks at him once. 

 

Evan feels like he should say something. Break the silence. But he’s kind of just enjoying staring at Connor’s face, Connor looking right back at him like he’s not afraid to learn everything there is to know about him. To know him completely, inside and out. 

 

“I missed you,” Evan says again, because he just has to. 

 

“I missed you, too. So much.”

 

… 

 

Connor’s bleeding. 

 

He’s sitting there crying and screaming and trying to move and he’s bleeding and he’s fucking dying , Evan’s sure of it, Connor’s dying but Evan can’t scream for help. He can’t find his phone. He can’t see anything else, knows Connor’s sitting on something but can’t make out what it is. Connor’s head falls forward and his hair falls in front of his face, and Evan runs forward but he’s being held back and he tries to yell, tries to tell Connor that he’s okay and that he’s going to be fine but even when the restraints are gone and he falls to the ground he still can’t get closer. 

 

Connor’s bleeding, fading away, and he can’t do anything about it.

 

Then he’s on the ground and Connor and Jared and Alana and Zoe are there, just looking at him, waiting for him to do something. They look disgusted. Evan can’t breathe, he can’t move, he’s struggling but he can’t yell and his friends aren’t doing anything. They aren’t helping, Evan’s yelling, he’s screaming, he’s begging, why aren’t they helping? Help, please, I can’t breathe, please, please help, someone

 

He’s shaken awake by both of Connor’s hands on his cheeks, a worried wide-eyed look on his face. 

 

 

Evan glances at the clock with bleary eyes. “You don’t have to keep sitting here with me.”

 

He looks over at Connor who rolls his eyes, shaking his head. “I’m aware.”

 

Silence. 

 

Evan shifts to face Connor a little bit more. “The floor is uncomfortable.”

 

Connor snorts. “I’ve had breakdowns on things way more uncomfortable than a hardwood floor. You underestimate me.” With a more serious expression, he adds, “You don’t have to try so hard to get rid of me. I’m not going anywhere, you know that.” When Evan doesn’t respond, Connor sighs and continues. “I’m better now. Not completely, but… I’m getting there.”

 

Evan manages a half-smile when Connor nudges him with his knuckles. He rests his head back against the mattress, cringing at the cold metal of the bed frame on his back. He’s still kind of struggling to catch his breath and attempting to calm the buzz of anxiety in his brain, and Connor’s cross-legged on the floor next to him, picking at a thread from Evan’s ratty old pajama pants. 

 

“Thank you. For listening to me, Connor, I. I appreciate it.”

 

Connor smiles that crooked smile and Evan feels a grin pull at his lips. “Always. I’m… not going to let it get that bad again. I promise. Okay?”

 

“Okay.” 

 

He has to believe it. He has no other choice.

 

“Um…” Connor pulls his eyebrows together like he’s about to say something. Evan glances at him. 

 

“Yeah?”

 

“It’s— it’s fine. Doesn’t matter.” Connor shakes his head, pursing his lips and leaning closer to the thread as if that’s all he can focus on. 

 

“Well now you have to tell me,” Evan sighs, fake-exasperated, grinning in response to Connor’s slight smile. “I have anxiety, you know. If you couldn’t tell.” It still feels kind of weird to be joking around with him.

 

Connor rolls his eyes. “Pulling the anxiety card. I see how it is.” He scoots a bit closer to Evan, uncrossing his legs and hugging his knees to his chest. The hems of Evan’s pajamas sit about an inch above both of Connor’s ankles. “Fine. You win. Okay, um… so…” Connor shakes his head again. 

 

“I mean— you definitely don’t have to say it, I was just—“

 

“No no, I— I want to.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“Okay, so… before we… started actually talking and hanging out and stuff, I, um… remember that ski trip my family went on in the fall?” 

 

Evan nods. He remembers it like it was yesterday. Doesn’t think he’ll ever forget it, honestly. It was the first and only time he’d been to Connor’s house, and it was the first time Connor had ever really opened up to him. Shown that he was vulnerable.

 

“I knew I was gonna be able to get out of it and have the whole weekend to myself, so I kind of just. Planned… to not… be alive. When they got back.” Connor shuts his eyes. 

 

“You… Connor—

 

“But then you kept talking to me for some reason, and we’d eat lunch together and I was like, ‘ you know what, this is okay. ’ But then that thing with Kleinman happened and I thought I fucked it up, you know? I started thinking that maybe I was dragging you down and that you deserved better than me—”

 

Not true—”

 

“—so I just. I… I pressed play on the original plan? I guess?”

 

The room seems to spin for a second, a crushing weight landing right on Evan’s chest. Connor takes a deep breath. 

 

“I had— it was all ready. I had a plan. I— I had a, um…” Connor trails off, wiping his face and shaking his head. “I had a... I had a belt in the closet. And I wasn’t going to let anything stop me this time. I was… I was determined. I knew you’d be the one that would— I dunno, that would be able to stop me, so I… tried to push you away, obviously. But then you texted me and I… I wanted the chance to say goodbye. Didn’t feel like I deserved it, but I’m fucking selfish so I texted back anyway. I figured… you deserved an explanation, at least.”

 

“Connor,” Evan says brokenly, blinking back tears. It’s harder to hold them back watching tears gather in Connor’s eyes as well.

 

“But then you showed up at my fucking house like a lunatic and you sat on the steps until I finally came down to check if you were gone and you weren’t and I was just so.” Connor shakes his head. “I dunno. I didn’t get it, I guess. Like, why would you… stay with me like that? No one had ever—” Connor shuts his mouth, opening his eyes and avoiding Evan’s. “You just. You have no idea.”

 

Evan’s at a loss for words. He wants to speak, to tell Connor how much he appreciates his existence but he knows that if he opens his mouth right now, all that will come out is I love you. Because it’s true. It’s never been more true.

 

Connor laughs, a bitter yet surprised sound. “You just keep… being good to me? Which is, like… so weird? Not that you’re weird or anything, but like, I’ve never had anything. Like this. A friend, before. So.” Connor clears his throat awkwardly. “I’m really sorry I was… such a dick to you when it was bad. Thank you for… for being there. Both times.” Connor looks to the left. “All three times, I guess.”

 

“I’d do it all again,” Evan says without missing a beat.

 

When Connor looks over at him, Evan sees that he’s blinking back tears. Connor’s eye twitches a bit and he looks down. “Why?” He asks softly, aggressively wiping at his eyes and pulling his sleeves down over his hands. 

 

Evan doesn’t even have to think about it. “You’d do the same for me.” 

 

Connor looks up and his expression is a mixture of so many emotions that it’s indescribable. “Do you know… this is gonna sound super fucking cheesy, and if you ever mention this to anyone I’ll literally murder you, but like— do you have any idea how many times you’ve… like, saved my actual life?” 

 

Evan wonders if Connor’s cheeks match his own right now, because he can’t look Connor in the eyes. 

 

He shakes his head, screwing his eyes shut. “I didn’t— you were the one that didn’t go on with it that first night, and you didn’t go on with it the second time, and Jared called 911, so— I didn’t really do anything, Connor, that was all you, and—“

 

Connor pinches the bridge of his nose. “Will you please just shut up for a second? I’m being fucking sentimental and it’s a rare occasion.”

 

Evan’s mouth snaps shut. 

 

“The first night…” Connor trails off, taking a moment to compose himself. Steady streams of tears are running down his face by now, and Evan’s feeling exactly the same. That night changed his life. He wants to reach out, wants to hold Connor close to him and tell him it’s okay, he’s not alone anymore, he’ll never be alone again, but Connor needs to talk and Evan needs to listen. 

 

“The night we met… you know this, but I was going to… kill. Myself.” Connor swallows. “Basically, I had this huge fight with my family and fucking Larry told me I was worthless and—” Connor stops, shaking his head like he’s trying to shake the memories out. They had never really talked about that night and what drove them to that place at that time, and suddenly the memories are flooding Evan’s mind. It feels like a dam of emotion has just been broken, because now he’s holding back sobs and seeing Connor struggle like this only makes it worse.

 

“You don’t have to,” Evan says softly, placing his hand on Connor’s without thinking. He thinks Connor might pull away, but instead Connor sighs in relief and laces their fingers together.

 

It’s cheesy, but it feels like home.

 

“He said I was worthless and for the first time… Cynthia didn’t defend me. She didn’t… she didn’t fight him on it. She just sat there. And I… I said something to Zoe, I don’t remember, and she… she said dad was right. So I got the pills out of the medicine cabinet and told myself that this was… this was the best way because it was the most painful and I… felt like that’s what I deserved.”

 

“Connor,” Evan breathes out, gasping through his tears and tightening his grip on Connor’s hand to make sure he’s real. That he’s here. Connor squeezes back.

 

“You… sat there with me. And just talked to me, even though… even though we were both planning on dying. And at first I was like, ‘ Can’t this kid just fuck off so I can do it already? ’” Connor laughs through his tears, wiping his cheek on his sleeve. “And then you told me… you told me all that stuff you remember about me. The story, the yearbook, the poem… I felt like… even though we didn’t know each other, we… you cared. About me. Which sounds really fucking stupid, but that’s what I thought.”

 

“I did,” Evan insists, pulling their clasped hands closer. He’s careful not to tug on Connor’s arm too much. “I do.”

 

“I know,” Connor says softly. “And then when you left I realized that… that I kind of didn’t want you to leave.” He pauses for a second, searching Evan’s face, putting on a smirk. “Wanna know a secret?”

 

And even though Connor’s voice is rough and he’s crying, Evan smiles. “Lay it on me.”

 

“I kind of, um…“ Connor takes a second to laugh and push his hair behind his ear. “I let you… walk away with my sweatshirt.”

 

Evan has to turn away because he’s smiling so hard that his cheeks hurt and he’s sure it’s ugly because he’s crying but then he’s laughing and Connor’s looking at him like he’s not an ugly-crying laughing mess. “You… yeah?”

 

“Yeah,” Connor says, laughing and wiping his tears again. “The next day you asked me why I didn’t… and I said it was because I wanted my sweatshirt back. I just wanted to… to see you again.”

 

“You’re a shitty liar,” Evan says, sniffing.

 

“You’re right. And… we were in our spot one day talking about… how you missed Jared, before we all got closer, and… you mentioned something about Jared being the older brother that treats you like shit but you still love him.”

 

“I really didn’t mean—”

 

“I know,” Connor says gently, tapping his thumb against Evan’s hand. “But… you said that, and it kind of hit me that maybe… maybe Zoe didn’t actually give up on me. Maybe… maybe she still had some hope, or something. I don’t know.” Connor looks down and his hair falls in front of his face. “So that night at dinner, I didn’t fight her. I even… fuck, I didn’t even yell at her in the car on the way home from school. She thought I was pulling a prank on her or something, but… I kind of realized that it was nice to not be yelled at. And then when Larry made a comment about the gay thing… she came into my room and sat there with me and… it was like when we were kids. And then I just… kept being nice to her— most of the time— and she kept being nice to me.

 

“And then she started sticking up for me during dinner and asking to braid my hair and all of that other stupid shit— TLC shows and stuff— and it felt like I… mattered. Just a little bit more. And I pushed her away when… when it got really bad, but I just tried to remember what you said, and… and how proud you always were that things were getting better, even though I was convinced that you hated me. And now we’re even closer than before. And that… definitely would not have happened without you, so.” 

 

Evan feels himself get choked up and he coughs to try and hide the sob about to escape him, but Connor just laughs, stroking Evan’s hand with his thumb. “Fuck you… making me cry,” Evan stutters out, and Connor’s laughter is like the sun. 

 

“Shut up. I’m gonna cry more if you keep doing that,” Connor laughs, looking down at their hands and wiping his face with the back of his hand. “So, like… long story short… thank you. For staying. And being there. And like, letting me be your friend and stuff.”

 

Evan looks up suddenly into the most vulnerable eyes he’s ever seen. “You were never an— an option for me,” Evan says sincerely, looking down at their hands and sniffing. “It wasn’t like— ‘ Oh, do I really want to— to be friends with this guy who basically talked me down from suicide? ’ It was— I always kind of. Ever since you told me I was… that I was worth it, that I shouldn’t do it, I always kind of knew that you were… it for me.”

 

Connor blinks at him, expression unreadable. 

 

“That sounds— whatever. I don’t care how it sounds. You’re it. You’re my best friend, you— you put up with Jared even though he’d been shitty to me just because I need him in my life, you fucking yelled at him to— to get his shit together because he was b-being so shitty. And he did. You made him your fucking friend . Connor, you— you’re the reason… I’m happy? I guess? You’re… here. Always. Whenever I need you. Even when I’m fucking crying on the floor at 4am, you’re here. And I… haven’t had— had much of that before. Ever, actually. You’re it . I can’t imagine… being this happy with— around anyone else.”

 

It’s not a love confession, per se. He didn’t say it, didn’t say those three words, but Connor’s just staring at him with his lips parted and it’s really distracting, so he needs to fill the silence. 

 

“And I know… I know that sounds weird, whatever. It’s just true. You’re not a monster, or a burden, or— or anything that you’ve ever thought you were. I’m… I’m sitting here right now, and I’m even happy because of you. So. That kind of… speaks for itself. You’ve… saved my life, too.” 

 

Evan looks down, unable to escape Connor’s lingering gaze. He notices that both of their hands are trembling, so he just grabs on tighter. Connor lets out a little breath, calling attention to his face. His eyes are closed, and he’s using his available hand to get the hair out of his face. When he opens his eyes, they’re staring right into Evan’s.

 

“Sorry I… dumped all of this shit on you, Con. You just— you mean the world to me. I really don’t know what I’d—”

 

It takes a second.

 

Maybe a couple of seconds. 

 

Okay, a full three seconds. Whatever.

 

It takes Evan Hansen a full three seconds to process that Connor Murphy has just cut him off by pressing his lips to Evan’s, both hands grasping at the sides of Evan’s face, traveling around his neck to pull him closer, and it takes Evan another second to remember to do something with his fucking hands. 

 

So he grabs onto the first thing he can grab hold of, which just so happen to be Connor’s thighs, and when Connor separates their lips to tilt his head and he’s pressing his soft lips to Evan’s again, his brain is full of white noise, of static, and he feels himself push up onto his knees. Connor’s cheeks are wet with tears, and Evan’s glad he and Connor both wiped away their snot before this happened— but that’s a fleeting thought because Connor’s hands are slipping down Evan’s back and tugging him forward by his shirt and then he finds himself wrapping his arms around Connor’s neck, their lips only breaking apart so Evan can climb into his lap like he’d done it a million times before. 

 

It’s weird because he knows he should be freaking out. He knows he should be pushing Connor away, or having an anxiety attack, or questioning his whole entire life, but all he can do in this moment is just feel. Process Connor’s hands pressed to his back, warm and secure; Evan’s own hands tangling in the roots of Connor’s hair; the sound of Connor’s uneven breathing, not to mention the little fucking noises he’s making, Jesus Christ—

 

Process, feel, react, repeat. 

 

They break apart when a door slams from below them, and when Evan finally opens his eyes again he realizes that he’s climbed fully on top of Connor, pushing his back to the ground, and that he’s currently straddling his hips. He’s suddenly very, very aware of everywhere the two of them are touching, and it’s. A lot. And Connor’s eyes are so wide, frantically darting around Evan’s face, his lips so so red and Evan doesn’t really know what to even say, and apparently neither does Connor, because they both just stay there looking at each other for a second, trying to catch their breath. 

 

He wants to kiss him again.

 

“Your— um—“ Connor swallows, clears his throat. “Your mom?” 

 

Shit—”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Um, she kind of doesn’t know you’re here?” Evan awkwardly climbs off of Connor’s lap, getting to his feet and watching Connor sit up, standing on his long long legs and Evan’s kind of really fucking distracted.

 

“It was a last minute thing, so that… makes sense.”

 

Evan paces around his room and scrambles to make his brain work. 

 

“Okay, um— she’s gonna check on me, she always does that when she gets home from work— you gotta hide somewhere.”

 

Connor doesn’t look phased that he has to hide but he still looks nervous, dropping his gaze from Evan’s face when Evan looks over at him. Avoiding him. “Where should I go?”

 

“Uh—“ Evan walks over to his bed, making eye contact with Connor when he hears his mother’s keys land on the counter from downstairs. “Fuck. Okay, just like— lay down over there,” He whispers, gesturing to the side of his bed furthest from his door. Giddy laughter bubbles in his chest when Connor almost trips over his own feet. 

 

Connor lets out a quiet snort. “What if she comes over here?” He whispers, trying not to laugh. 

 

Evan hears a creak on the stairs and turns to Connor with wild eyes. ‘Shut up,’ He mouths, trying his best not to catch the giggles himself. He settles under his bedsheets, facing away from the door and pulling his blanket up over his face. He can’t risk looking at his mom, and he definitely can’t risk looking at Connor because he’ll either laugh or pop a boner or something because he’s still thrumming with adrenaline and neither of those options are optimal for this exact moment. 

 

His door slowly opens and Evan all but holds his breath. He’s half-expecting Connor to pop up and go, ‘Hi, Mrs. Hansen!’ , but that doesn’t happen and Evan thanks his lucky stars it doesn’t. He doesn’t hear anything, keeping his eyes shut tight, and when he hears his mom sigh, it’s followed by the gentle click of a shutting door and footsteps down the hallway. 

 

Evan peeks out from beneath the covers. “She’s gone,” He whispers into the darkness. 

 

Connor blows out an exaggerated breath, pushing back his hair and rising to his feet so he can sit on the edge of Evan’s bed. “That was…”

 

“Yeah,” Evan confirms, breathless, sitting up and avoiding eye contact. He doesn’t know if Connor’s referring to the kiss or the mom-walking-in scare, but either way, he agrees. 

 

And. 

 

The kiss

 

Evan can pinpoint the exact moment that this situation catches up to both of them, because Connor coughs and looks away and Evan himself furiously blushes. 

 

“So…” Connor says casually. 

 

Evan lets out a nervous chuckle despite himself. He audibly gulps when Connor turns toward him, giving him a shy smile. He gazes into a pair of hooded blue eyes and. 

 

And, well. 

 

This time it’s not Connor initiating things.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

When Connor starts to pull away, Evan can’t lie and say he doesn’t protest. He does. 

 

He pulls Connor back to him with both hands on his jaw, and for a second Connor sighs into the kiss, hands twisting into the back of his shirt. But then he seems to regain his senses, because he makes a sound of protest and pulls away for real this time, leaving Evan trying to catch his breath and chasing Connor’s mouth with his own.

 

“You kissed me back,” Connor says breathlessly, shaking his head in confusion. 

 

Evan blinks. Furrows his brow. “I’ve been kissing you back. I literally jumped you, like, fifteen minutes ago.”

 

Connor rolls his eyes, pushes Evan back a little bit. “Yeah, but… you… I don’t, uh. You like my sister?”

 

Oh yeah. Fuck. Evan forgot about that. 

 

“That’s… not true.”

 

Connor just looks at him. He scoots backward on the bed and Evan misses his warmth. “...Okay. Can you… like, elaborate on that, please?”

 

“It’s… it’s a long story.” Evan sighs in frustration, reaching for Connor’s hands. “Come back.”

 

He pulls them away. “Could you at least give me the short version? Because it kind of feels like the only reason you kissed me back is because… because of everything that’s happened lately—”

 

“No, no, god, of course not—”

 

“And I told you I don’t care if you like my sister—”

 

“I know, but—”

 

“— and it’s really fucked up if you think kissing me back when you don’t like me the way I like you is going to make me feel better or whatever—”

 

“I love you, okay?”

 

Well. That’s one way to go about all of this.

 

It works, because Connor stops and stares at him. After what feels like hours, Connor speaks. 

 

“I’m… really confused. I don’t know what to say.”

 

“I know. I know. Just—” Fuck. “Hear me out. Okay, so… remember the day Jared told you it was Zoe?”

 

Connor tightens his jaw. “Unfortunately.”

 

“He was covering for me.”

 

Connor looks down, thinking.

 

“Because we were talking about you . How I… have a crush on you .”

 

Connor starts biting at his nails, furrowing his brow like he’s trying to process everything. It takes him a long, long time, and the silence feels like it just fucking drags. It feels like hours. 

 

“So… you really  were talking about if I like it up the ass or not?” There’s a smirk on his face now. 

 

Evan breaks out into a grin. He’s very red suddenly. “Uh— yeah, actually. Well— Jared was, I didn’t— I mean basically I was just listening in, I wasn’t being creepy or anything—“

 

“So… Jared was talking to himself about if I like dick in my ass and you were listening in , huh?”

 

“Well— I mean, not that I wasn’t, like, at least a little bit interested—”

 

“Evan. All you had to do was ask.” Connor pokes his arm. 

 

“Oh my god, shut up , Jesus Christ .” Evan hides his face in his hands, still trying to figure out if this is a dream or not. It doesn’t feel real. His lips still kind of tingle from where Connor’s were.

 

“Huh.” Connor can’t hide his smile. “And— okay, there’s still one thing I don’t get. If Kleinman knew that you… knew it was me, why would he tell me you have a crush on my fucking sister ?”

 

“I am… still trying to figure that out, honestly.”

 

“You know… that’s pretty in-character for him, I’d say.”

 

“It really is. He’s kind of a dick.”

 

Connor turns to him, mouth pressed into a line like he’s trying not to smile. 

 

“Oh my god, don’t say it.”

 

“Oh, come on, I have to.”

 

Connor .”

 

“He’s a dick, but he’s our dick.”

 

Evan sighs in fake exasperation, shaking his head and glancing over at Connor who’s giggling at him from across the bed. “Our collective dick.”

 

A comfortable silence falls over both of them, and it’s another one of those moments where they are both incredibly aware of what the other is thinking. In this case, Evan knows they’re both thinking about where to go from here, because he sure is. 

 

Connor said… he said you don’t like me the way I like you , so that has to mean something, right? He basically said he feels the same way, right? That he likes him back?

 

“Alright, so…” Connor’s voice gets Evan’s attention, brings him out of his head. “So you said… you said you love me.”

 

Evan feels himself go red. He pushes through it, straightens his shoulders a bit. “Yeah.”

 

“Like… like friend love , or—”

 

“Connor. We literally just made out for, like, half an hour.”

 

“I know , I was just… just making sure.” 

 

Evan doesn’t blame him. This whole thing has been a fucking trainwreck.

 

“Well, since we’re doing confessions and shit… same.”

 

Same ,” Evan mocks him, snorting.

 

“What? What’s funny?”

 

“That’s not— that’s not how I imagined you confessing your love for me would go, honestly.”

 

Connor smirks at him. “You really expected something different?”

 

“I mean, not really.”

 

“No no, please, tell me what you had in mind.”

 

Evan bites his lip, turning to the side so Connor can’t see as much of his embarrassingly rosy face. “Honestly, I’ve never been able to imagine it because… I never thought it’d happen.”

 

Connor breathes a laugh. “We both know I’d be the one confessing before you’d ever do it.”

 

“No, I mean… like, I didn’t think you liked me. Like that.”

 

Connor looks honestly bewildered. “I literally told you when we met that I’ve had a crush on you since middle school. Like, present tense.”

 

“Yeah, but… I thought maybe, you know, like, since my crush on Zoe in middle school has gone away that maybe… maybe yours did too, and—”

 

“Not to mention the millions of hints I’ve been dropping throughout our whole friendship…”

 

“It could have been… I dunno, it could’ve been… friendly… banter, or something.”  

 

“Friendly banter.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Evan.”

 

“What? It’s possible.”

 

“You’re such a fucking dumbass.” Connor says it with such fondness in his eyes that Evan could drown in it. 

 

“I know I’ve said it a lot, but… I really did miss you, Con. Like, a lot.” The nickname still feels weird coming out of his mouth. 

 

Connor ducks his head down so that his bangs fall in front of his face. “I thought we were done with the sappy shit.”

 

“Okay, I’m done now, promise.”

 

“The nickname is new,” Connor murmurs as he scoots closer, reading Evan’s mind as usual. “I… don’t mind it.”

 

Evan takes both of Connor’s hands in his just because he can. “That’s Connor code for ‘I like it’, right?” He teases, poking Connor’s cheeks when they turn pink. 

 

“Fuck,” Connor mutters, shaking his head. “You’ve figured me out.”

 

Evan just laughs, nervous butterflies in his stomach when Connor scoots a little bit closer and gives him a Look that makes his heart flutter. 

 

“I wanna kiss you again,” Connor says simply, tilting his head.

 

“Okay.”

 

… 

 

“Fuck, man. Anybody home?” Jared knocks on Evan’s forehead but ends up practically punching him instead. 

 

“Ow,” Evan whines, “What was that for?”

 

“Oh, I dunno. It’s almost like I’ve been talking to you or something but you’ve decided to cosplay as a brick fucking wall today.”

 

Evan blinks. “You have?”

 

“Oh my god— were you smoking dope with Gerard Gay again? Because I told you last time, I’ve always wanted to try that shit.” 

 

He can’t lie, the mention of Connor brings so many last-night memories that Evan’s face turns a little red. He can’t help his slight smile either. “We weren’t— he doesn’t do that around me anymore. He knows I don’t like the smell.”

 

Jared narrows his eyes. “Uh-huh. So then what’s got you all—” Realization dawns on Jared’s face and Evan avoids eye contact, shaking his head. 

 

“I’m— I’m tired, sorry I wasn’t listening to some story I’ve heard a million times before—”

 

“You and Connie made up, huh?” Jared teases, grabbing for Evan’s shirt collar. “Lemme see—”

 

Jesus— ” Evan pushes Jared away before he can because he is very aware of the fact that he woke up this morning with an actual hickey low on his neck and he wore this exact shirt because of that. “Yeah, but— nothing, like, happened or anything.”

 

Jared purses his lips, crosses his arms. “That’s what you said last time.”

 

“Yeah, but last time it was true—” Evan stands there with his mouth open and shuts it the second Jared starts laughing. 

 

“Oh my god,” Jared wheezes, clutching at his stomach, “I can’t— fucking believe you fell for that,” He cackles, and Evan just stands there because he doesn’t know what to say. 

 

Once Jared’s done and realizes that Evan’s being quiet, he asks, “So you two like… actually fucked?”

 

No ,” Evan says desperately, punching him in the arm. Jared makes a face. “We didn’t— it’s none of your business, anyway. I was up late, okay? That’s it.”

 

“Sure,” Jared says, and Evan’s so fucking glad he dropped it because he doesn’t know if he can handle confrontation about this when he’s not even sure it’s a Thing yet.

 

They get to the table and Zoe and Alana are already there, Alana leaning on her elbow and looking at Zoe like she hung the moon as usual. Zoe’s talking with her animatedly, waving her hands and she seems to be in a good mood.

 

And she’s sitting next to Alana today, which. Hm.

 

Evan takes the seat one away from Zoe, leaving room for Connor, and Jared sits down next to him. 

 

“So, what are you two lovebirds chatting about?” Jared asks, pulling out his lunch and immediately biting into a sandwich. 

 

Alana shoots daggers at Jared. “Zoe got a solo in band! And an A on her biology midterm,” She says smugly, smiling sweetly at Zoe. Zoe elbows her, rolling her eyes.

 

“It’s not that impressive. You did all the work anyway.”

 

“You make it sound like we cheated.”

 

“It feels like we cheated. I don’t think I’ve gotten an A in bio since… I started taking bio,” Zoe admits, looking over at Alana and trying to hold back a smile. It reminds her of Connor, who is still not at the table.

 

“Hold up, am I missing something?” Jared asks pointedly, making a face at Alana that says ‘what haven’t you told me?’

 

“Oh, we’ve just been studying together a little bit,” Alana says nonchalantly, and Jared shakes his head and narrows his eyes enough for Alana to notice but not enough for Zoe to question it. “Zoe’s mom promised her an allowance raise if she got mostly A’s on her midterms, so of course I volunteered to help her with that.”

 

“Of course,” Jared says sarcastically. “You’re a real saint, Beck.”

 

“I know.”

 

“Anyone seen my brother?” Zoe asks suddenly, looking past the three of them to search around the library. Evan can’t help but worry.

 

“I saw him this morning,” Alana chirps, looking at Zoe with these big brown eyes and putting a hand on her back and wow, she’s really going for it, huh?

 

“Haven’t seen him,” Jared says.

 

“Helpful,” Zoe quips, shaking her head and taking a drink of her expensive looking coffee drink she probably smuggled into school.

 

Evan pulls out his phone under the table and not-so-surprisingly has a text from Connor himself.

 

 

Connor: Be there in a bit. Fell asleep in class so I’m in the office. 

 

 

The text is followed by about ten eyeroll emojis and Evan can’t help but snort.

 

“Did you find your boyfriend?” Jared asks, smirking in Evan’s direction and Evan can feel the heat rising to his cheeks. 

 

“Connor’s gonna be late, he’s good,” He tells Zoe, who nods and breathes a quiet sigh of relief. 

 

Evan yawns and stretches, finally feeling the weight of only a couple hours of sleep on his shoulders. He stretches his neck, rolling his head to the side and he catches Alana’s eyes, which. They’re wide and almost horrified and he quickly realizes that he needs to pull his collar back up or he’s going to have to explain that to Jared and the sister of the person that gave him the mark in the first place. Dammit, Connor. Fuck. 

 

He clears his throat, adjusting his collar and trying to convey to Alana to keep her fucking mouth shut through one look and a raise of the eyebrows, and she nods curtly. 

 

That’s when he sees Connor coming through the doors, and. He looks like he didn’t sleep at all last night, and Evan doubts very much that he did. 

 

He slides into the seat next to Evan’s, and Evan suddenly feels very weird about this whole thing. Like what they have going on right now is fragile. Connor yawns and Jared smirks at him, raising his eyebrows. 

 

“So, Connor…” Zoe starts without looking up, “Mom asked me where you and the car were this morning and I had no idea what to tell her so I just told her you spent the night at Evan’s with him and Jared. Just so you’re prepared for all of her questions.”

 

Evan doesn’t even dare look at him, but he makes the mistake of meeting Jared’s and then Alana’s eyes who both look at him with too much knowledge of what’s going on. 

 

It’s probably written all over his face. 

 

“Did she believe you?” Connor asks, calm and cool. Evan admires that. 

 

“I think so,” Zoe says, looking between the two of them. “Where did you actually go, though?”

 

Zoe’s… she’s covering for them, Evan realizes. She knew Connor was going to Evan’s last night, she was the one who told him Evan was even struggling, so… she’s covering for them. Which means she must know what happened, right? But when would Connor have had the chance to tell her?

 

“Out for a smoke,” Connor says carefully. 

 

“Figured,” Zoe says just as calm, and Evan’s heart is beating so wildly that he represses the urge to hold Connor’s hand under the table.

 

It’s not that he doesn’t want them to know, not exactly. He just doesn’t know what this thing is yet or what Connor wants out of it. Sure, they shared all of their feelings and all that sappy shit last night, but it could’ve just been in the moment stuff. They haven’t really talked about it. Officially.

 

“Um,” Jared says because he’s a fucking dick who can’t let things go, “Okay. What are you two hiding?”

 

He’s looking at Evan and Connor.

 

Alana’s trying not to laugh and Zoe’s just looking down at her phone like she couldn’t be bothered. Evan feels a buzz in his pocket. 

 

“Hiding?” Connor asks, challenging Jared with his eyes.

 

Connor’s got Jared’s attention now, so Evan looks down at his phone. 

 

 

Zoe: Should I keep going? 

 

 

Okay, so Zoe knows. He doesn’t mind, but he kind of wishes Connor would have told him he was telling her first. And what did he even tell her? That they made out on Evan’s bed for like three hours last night until they saw morning creeping through the blinds? That Evan admitted to being in love with him? 

 

 

Evan: yeah i think so

  

 

“I’m pretty sure you’re hiding something.”

 

“I mean, you already know where I am most nights, Jare-bear .”

 

“And where’s that, Connie ?”

 

“At your house, in your dad’s room. Duh.”

 

Jared sighs. “Fuckin’ walked right into that one, didn’t I?”

 

Evan looks up and Connor’s smiling, but he’s rubbing at his arms again. The scars must be healing. 

 

He gets another text.

 

 

Alana Beck: What the fuck is happening???

 

 

Shit. God dammit.

 

“Um,” Evan starts unintelligently, pausing when everyone’s eyes are on him. “I’m. I’ll be right back, I um. Bathroom.” 

 

He tries not to push his chair back too harshly even though he wants to get out of there as soon as possible, but he needs to get the fuck out of here right now before he spontaneously combusts or admits to the entire table what went on last night and that’s the last thing he wants. 

 

Because he doesn’t know what Connor even wants to tell them or if he wants to tell them at all. Or if Connor just wants to make out with him sometimes and last night meant nothing.

 

He practically sprints to the bathroom, taking deep breaths once he gets there to hopefully even out his heart rate and stop what he’s sure is about to happen. 

 

Connor must want to hide the fact that they’re… whatever they are. He obviously doesn’t want anyone to know because Evan’s stupid, he’s not ideal, he’s not someone anyone would want to be tethered to and Connor knows that. He knows that and so he’s decided that no one needs to know. 

 

Or maybe he thinks it was a mistake and that’s what he told Zoe and that’s why she’s covering for them, because if Jared knew he’d never let them live it down and Alana would press the subject until she knew all the details because that’s just what Alana does. Connor thinks it was a mistake and he never wants to be around Evan ever again and Evan misses him already, misses their subtle touches before things got complicated and he wants last night’s Connor back. Fuck.

 

The door creaks open.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Evan? Hey, Evan, it’s alright. You’re okay. Shit, can you even hear me?”

 

He opens his eyes and— it’s literally the last person he could have expected.

 

“There you are. Hey,” Zoe says softly, pushing his hair back because it’s probably matted to his forehead with sweat. “The bell rang.”

 

He’s confused more than anything.

 

“You’re— this is the boy’s bathroom,” Evan states very obviously, shaking his head.

 

“I know,” Zoe rolls her eyes, “But gendered bathrooms are stupid and we’re all dying and you’re obviously not okay, so. Here I am.”

 

Evan tries to take a shaky breath. “Well. Hi.”

 

Zoe laughs. “Hello. Are you… Connor told you, didn’t he?”

 

“Uh…”

 

Zoe sighs like Evan’s missing something obvious. “I told Connor to go see you last night because you… missed him, needed him, whatever. And then he sat down and… basically told me he was going to finally tell you how he feels.”

 

Evan doesn’t know what to say. 

 

“He… how long have you… ?”

 

“At first, all I knew was that Connor was fucking pissed at me and that you had a crush on me, which I thought was weird because we’ve talked, like, once. Then after everything… happened we talked and… he told me he had feelings for you. So of course I was like, ‘ oh shit, that makes sense’ , and… yeah.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“And then last night he didn’t update me on anything so I assumed it went badly, but based on your reaction I’m guessing it either really did or really didn’t. So I’m here if you want to talk.”

 

Evan says nothing. 

 

“... Or not. I can just sit here with you.”

 

Evan nods, and she sits down beside him like Connor’s done so many times before.

 

“He really likes you, you know,” Zoe says conversationally, letting their shoulders briefly touch. “God, I’m pretty sure we talked for, like, two hours straight about all the reasons he… he likes you. It’s the most he’s ever talked to me about something dealing with his emotions, which is definitely telling.” 

 

Evan swallows. 

 

“He… last night we, um— so, he came over—”

 

The door opens again and Evan’s met with long brown hair and a black sweatshirt and he simultaneously wants to disappear and hug and kiss Connor at the same time. It’s all very confusing.

 

“Oh. Hey, Zo.” Connor looks surprised. Evan can relate. “What is this, a family meeting?”

 

Zoe sighs, getting to her feet and dusting off the butt of her pants. “Dammit, Connor. We were just getting to the good part, too, fuck.”

 

“Um—”

 

“I’m leaving; you guys need to talk it out. You’re obviously crazy for each other, so just say it.” Zoe says bluntly, pushing open the door. “See you later,” She adds casually, letting the door slam behind her and then it’s just the two of them. For the first time since last night. 

 

Evan immediately feels nervous. He doesn’t know why.

 

Connor looks away, hesitating by the door.

 

It makes Evan feel sick to his stomach.

 

“If you think this was a mistake just say it,” Evan says, too loud in the small bathroom.

 

“What?”

 

The door opens behind Connor and he whips around, stepping forward at the poor kid who probably just needed to pee. Evan hears him squeak and the door slams. 

 

“Last night. Just tell me what you’re thinking because— I’m convinced that you’re trying to keep it a secret because… because you regret—”

 

“No,” Connor says firmly, coming over to stand in front of him. “Don’t do that.”

 

Evan struggles to take in a deep breath.

 

Connor sighs in frustration, sitting down next to him and almost violently reaching for his hand. He presses a kiss to Evan’s knuckles. “You’re so dumb.”

 

“Um— Connor—?”

 

“I fucking told you I love you, and you told me you love me, and I don’t regret it, okay?” Connor isn’t looking at him. 

 

“Okay.”

 

“I wasn’t… we’re both fucking stupid. I wasn’t sure if you wanted to be, like… I dunno, like if you just wanted to be fuck buddies or just like feel each other up every once in a while or—”

 

Evan laughs bitterly. “That’s what I thought you might want,” He admits.

 

“Fuck,” Connor laughs, “We need to get better at this whole communication thing if we want this to work.”

 

This ,” Evan repeats. “Which is…”

 

“Fucking— I dunno, being… together?”

 

Evan grins. “Really?”

 

Connor raises an eyebrow. “That’s what you want, right?”

 

“Yeah, duh. Do you?”

 

“I just told you that—” Connor stops, taking Evan’s face in both of his hands. “You’re so fucking stupid, I love you so much.” 

 

And then they’re kissing again, both of Evan’s hands landing on Connor’s neck and playing with the baby hairs at the back of his neck and Evan’s so in love, sitting here on this dirty bathroom floor with his favorite person in the entire world. 

 

… 

 

“So… Evan,” Alana says as they’re packing up to leave, and Evan wants to fucking disappear for real this time. He’s glad he stopped Connor from giving him any more obvious marks on his neck.

 

"No."

 

"Aw, come on."

 

He groans. “Please don’t.”

 

“To be fair, Jared told me to ask.” 

 

“Tell Jared to mind his own business,” Evan says sort of angrily, because he’s really fucking tired and all he wants to do is snuggle up in bed and sleep for, like, four days straight.

 

“Oh come on, Evan.” She lowers her voice to a whisper. “That hickey was intense—

 

Okay , I am officially done with this conversation.” He walks away from her, throwing his hands in the air. 

 

“Tell me later, okay?” She shouts after him, and. Later. They’re all supposed to meet at the Murphy’s for movies on their giant flatscreen and sectional couch because Evan’s couch is just too small for the five of them, and Evan’s just relieved he doesn’t have to clean his house tonight. 

 

Evan sighs. 

 

“No,” He calls back, but he’ll probably tell her. In his own time.

 

Connor’s leaning on the car when he gets there, Zoe in the driver’s seat on her phone. 

 

“Hey,” Connor says, opening Evan’s door for him. Evan opens his mouth to make fun of him. “Don’t you even dare make a comment because I will actually end you—”

 

“What a gentleman,” Evan quips, barely avoiding Connor punching him in the shoulder. 

 

“You two are gross,” Zoe mutters when Connor gets in the front seat and Evan in the back. “Surprised you didn’t pick the back seat, Connor.”

 

“Didn’t want to put on a show for you, Zo .” 

 

“Ew, fuck, please stop.” Zoe turns the key and jumps when the speakers blare with the weather report. She turns it down to a low hum, background noise. “Could you turn that shit down before you get out the next time you decide to borrow the car?”

 

“Nope,” Connor says nonchalantly, propping his feet up on the dash. 

 

Zoe pushes Connor’s legs so they fall off the dash and Connor surrenders with two hands in the air as Zoe starts to drive them all out of the parking lot.

 

Evan gets a text.



Connor : Should I put them back up?

 

Evan : absolutely



So he does, and Zoe half-heartedly screams at him and swerves into the other lane and Evan’s terrified but also he’s never felt more happy. 

 

When they get to the Murphy house, which Evan hasn’t visited since the Murphys were away on the ski trip back in the winter, he gets a little nervous. Connor groans when he sees that one of their parent’s cars are in the driveway, and that makes Evan even more nervous. He fiddles with his sweatshirt sleeves.

 

“Oh come on, Connor, you probably won’t even run into her,” Zoe sighs, putting the car in park. “And if you do, you can… tell her he’s my boyfriend, or something.”

 

Connor looks at her with wide eyes. “Okay, do you even think before you speak?”

 

“Hey, I’m just trying to help,” Zoe responds, but she’s laughing.

 

“Fuck you, no you’re not.”

 

“Am too.”

 

“Are not— fuck, are we fucking twelve or something?”

 

Zoe opens the door. “You started it.”

 

When they finally get inside, Evan’s greeted with whiskers tickling at his ankles and he immediately leans down and scoops Shadow into his arms. She squirms a bit, but then Connor scratches her head and she purrs, all four paws in the air.

 

“I missed you so much ,” Evan baby talks to her, scratching her behind the ears. 

 

“Since when have you been to our house?” Zoe asks, slipping her shoes off before she steps onto the carpet. 

 

“He came over once,” Connor says quickly, glancing at Evan for permission before wrestling Shadow out of Evan’s arms and into his own. He kisses her on the forehead and then sets her down at his feet. “Oh, take your shoes off. The parents don’t want stains or whatever.”

 

“Makes sense,” Evan shrugs, although he’s never understood why rich families even bother. They can afford to clean a carpet.

 

“Yup, mom would rather have the house smell like foot stank than have her precious carpet stained.” Zoe rolls her eyes, hanging her jacket on a hook and Evan realizes that he’s literally never hung his jacket on a coat rack. He just throws it on the couch or his bed or his floor or something.

 

He feels oddly out of place here.

 

“This carpet was expensive ,” Evan hears from behind him, and he turns around to see the most put-together woman he’s ever seen. She’s got medium length red hair and a tight smile, with an actual dress on and jewelry and Evan’s pretty much only seen his mom in scrubs or pajamas. She stops in her tracks when she sees Evan standing there. 

 

“Oh, hello!” She rushes over, immediately pulling Evan into a hug.

 

Mom ,” Connor and Zoe groan, and she takes a step back.

 

“Sorry, Evan. You’re Evan, right?” She asks, cocking her head to the side, and he sees where Connor and Zoe get it from. “You can call me Cynthia.”

 

“Yep; Cynthia, Evan. Evan, Cynthia.” Connor gestures to the both of them. “We’re going to my room now,” He says shortly, grabbing Evan by the sleeve and beginning to pull him upstairs.

 

“Connor,” His mother says, a warning tone in her voice.

 

He stops, sighs. “Sorry. Mom, this is Evan.”

 

“Nice to meet you,” Evan says awkwardly, surprised that he got that sentence out without a single stutter.

 

“Nice to finally meet you, too, Evan. Will you be staying for dinner?”

 

“Um—” He looks at Connor, who rolls his eyes. 

 

“We’re getting pizza with our friends, remember?” Zoe chimes in, pushing past them and heading up the stairs. “Stop harassing them,” She calls, and Evan hears the door to what he assumes to be her room slam.

 

“Right.” She looks like she almost has tears in her eyes at the mention of their friends. Evan’s seen that look on his own mom’s face too many times to count in the past couple of months. “You two go on, I’ll just be down here watching TV if you need anything.”

 

“Okay, bye ,” Connor says sort of exasperatedly, pulling Evan up the steps and into his room. 

 

It looks different. It still doesn’t have a door, but they’ve given him some of his furniture back which surprises Evan a lot considering the fact that Connor’s last attempt was… pretty serious. There are even some pages of sketchbook pinned to the wall that he presumes are Connor’s drawings. It feels more like Connor .

 

“Did you draw these?” Evan asks, coming closer to them because he never really knew Connor to be an artist. He’s always thought of him as more of a writer.

 

“Don’t be weird about it,” Connor mumbles, sitting down on the bed and crossing his arms.

 

“These are… they’re really good, Connor, seriously,” Evan says quietly, skimming his fingers over the drawings like he doesn’t believe they’re actually drawings. He has charcoal on his fingers when he pulls them away.

 

“Okay, thank you, you can shut up now.”

 

Evan tries not to smile, sitting down next to Connor on the bed. “They are, though.”

 

Connor leans closer, narrowing his eyes. “I told you to shut the fuck up.”

 

“Actually, you told me to shut up . You never mentioned—”

 

“I swear to god I’ll kiss you right now—”

 

“You say that like it’s— like it’s a threat—”

 

Connor leans forward and pecks him on the lips, just once, sitting back on the bed and crossing his arms again. 

 

“That was barely a kiss. Pretty sure—  I remember you promising an actual kiss,” Evan teases him, waggling his eyebrows when Connor rolls his eyes. 

 

“Not sure if you’ve forgotten, but I don’t exactly have a door.”

 

“Fuck,” Evan sighs, reaching for Connor’s hand. “That’s… I’m disappointed.”

 

“Me fucking too,” Connor says, smiling softly at Evan like he’s sorry. Like he could ever disappoint Evan when all he really wants is to be around him. The kissing is great, it’s fucking fantastic, but it’s not like that’s the only reason he’s here. 

 

“Oh! I have an idea,” Connor says, getting up and heading to his closet which now has doors.

 

“Connor, closets aren’t very sound-proof,” Evan teases.

 

Connor actually snorts, and Evan laughs. “When did you get so— no, you absolute fucking creep. I found something I thought you’d be interested in.”

 

“Oh, right, of course.”

 

Connor shakes his head. “Alright, horndog, close your eyes.”

 

Evan can’t help but laugh. “Eyes are closed.”

 

A few seconds later he feels paper in his hands, feels Connor’s weight on the bed and hears Connor speak from beside him. “Open.”

 

He’s about to pull a Jared and ask if it’s some kind of sex toy, but when he opens his eyes he’s met with a stack of stapled papers and the words ‘ The Helping Tree ’ scrawled across the front in a child’s handwriting. 

 

“Oh my god, are you serious?” Evan exhales, turning the page and beginning to read.

 

“I wasn’t very creative, was I? I basically stole that title. I think it’s technically plagiarism.”

 

“Oh my god— I can’t believe you found this,” Evan says incredulously, shaking his head and tracing his fingers over Connor’s fifth grade drawings. One is of a boy who he assumes is Connor, peeking inside the hole of a tree. The one on the next page is the boy falling down the hole Alice In Wonderland style, and Evan laughs and turns to the next page.

 

“It’s kind of a good story. For me being a fifth grader, and all.”

 

Evan elbows him in the side and Connor huffs out a laugh. “Told you,” Evan mutters.

 

“Oh shit, I totally forgot.” Connor gets up off the bed again, shuffling around in a cardboard box in the corner of his room until he pulls out what looks to be another book. 

 

He holds it up so Evan can see. “Seventh grade yearbook,” Connor says, laughing, and Evan smiles so widely at him because he’s so glad this is the boy he fell in love with.

 

“How the hell—”

 

“Cynthia brought this box up to my room the other night,” Connor shrugs, sitting next to him again. “It’s not eighth grade, but. I figured it was close enough.” He starts flipping through it nonchalantly and Evan’s just so lucky. He’s so full of love and gratitude and he’s never been so fucking happy he didn’t go through with it that first night they met. He never thought he’d actually be happy to be living and breathing, but here he is. It feels incredible.

 

“Oh, and you can keep my story thing, by the way. My mom’s already made, like, fifteen copies because she thinks it’s so cute. I know you said you’ve always wanted a copy, so—”

 

“Can I kiss you?” Evan asks out of the blue, dropping Connor’s fifth grade masterpiece on the floor. 

 

Connor stops in the middle of flipping the page of the yearbook, keeping his head down, but Evan can see the smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. “I mean, I’m not going to stop you—”

 

The moment Connor looks up Evan’s pulling Connor in, wrapping his arms around Connor’s neck and exhaling at the feeling of Connor’s hands on his back. Both books fall to the floor and the nostalgia is quickly forgotten, as is the lack of a door, but they make a silent decision that it’s a problem for future-them to deal with. 

 

… 

 

“Con-Con, you could actually see your eyes !” Jared exclaims, ripping the yearbook from Zoe’s hands. He looks up at Connor in confusion. “When the fuck did you grow all that hair?”

 

“He decided he was never cutting it again after dad made him buzz it in sixth grade,” Zoe answers casually, ripping the book out of Jared’s hands with equal force. “It was a dark time for all of us.”

 

Connor grimaces and Evan squeezes his hand under their shared blanket. 

 

“Wasn’t I also in your class, Connor?” Alana asks politely, peeking over Zoe’s shoulder to get a better look.

 

“Oh, there you are!” Zoe exclaims, squealing when she finds Alana’s picture. “Oh my god, the double braids! The braces ! I can’t handle it, it’s too cute.”

 

Alana grips her forearm and laughs. “I look awful .”

 

“It’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life.”

 

“Where’s your picture, Zo? I bet it’s cuter.”

 

“Prepare to be wrong,” Zoe quips, and Connor and Jared and Evan all share a Look, because. This is interesting. Jared raises his eyebrows and makes a gesture with his fingers and his tongue that Evan kind of never ever wants to see again. Ever.

 

When Zoe finds her class, she groans. “Oh my god.”

 

“Dude, band girl, you look like such a bitch ,” Jared laughs, grabbing the yearbook and tugging it closer to himself to get a better look.

 

“I was a bitch,” Zoe rolls her eyes, “I was, like. Super depressed.”

 

“Relatable,” Jared nods.

 

“Same,” Alana says quietly.

 

“Ditto,” says Connor, “But you could have guessed that.”

 

“Yeah, me too,” Evan agrees.

 

They all kind of look at each other before Zoe breaks the silence.

 

“Connor, do you remember that time you caught me making out with someone in the band room?”

 

Connor laughs once. “Of course. You made me spit on my hand and shake your spitty hand and promise not to tell a soul. It was fucking gross.”

 

“Do you remember who it was with?” Zoe asks carefully, and Connor raises his eyebrows when he remembers. 

 

“Oh, yeah. Do you ?” Connor asks, looking at her like he’s unsure he wants to talk about it. Or he’s unsure she should be talking about it.

 

“Seventh grade me is— is dying to know who it is,” Evan adds, and Zoe just rolls her eyes. 

 

“So, like… do you remember Katherine Carter?”

 

“Oh my god,” Jared whispers, leaning forward until he’s completely in Zoe’s space. “That super religious girl who moved right before high school?”

 

Zoe pushes Jared back just a bit. “Yeah, her. She cornered me in the band room one day after school and told me I played the saxophone really well—” Zoe cuts herself off with a laugh. “And then she pushed me up against the wall and started kissing me and it was literally all braces. It was kind of disgusting.”

 

Alana looks horrified and also happy, like she can’t tell what direction this story is going in.

 

“Hot,” Jared says, dodging a punch from Zoe. 

 

“I’d punch you too if I was any closer,” Connor murmurs. Evan giggles a little and sees Connor smile out of the corner of his eye. 

 

“Anyway, she’s still a devout Christian, apparently, but she hit me up on Facebook last week asking if I was in town.” Zoe laughs again. “Can you believe that?”

 

“She’s probably still closeted,” Alana explains, leaning away from Zoe a little. “I feel kind of bad for her.”

 

“Me too,” Zoe says quickly, glancing at Alana before glancing away. “You think I should tell her she was my sexual awakening?”

 

Everyone stops for a second, because.

 

Zoe just… she. She’s.

 

Alana blushes furiously, and Jared pulls out his phone like he’s about to text her something slightly homophobic about them having hot lesbian sex later. Evan’s sure of it. 

 

“You definitely shouldn’t,” Connor says after observing Zoe’s pink cheeks forming in the silence. “She’ll get, like, obsessed with you. Trust me. There was this guy in sixth grade who Larry invited over to play football with me because that’s when I told him I wanted to start painting my nails, and… let me just say one thing. Those type of people don’t let their first kiss go, like, ever. Especially their first gay kiss.” Connor pauses. “Buzzcut,” He says quietly to Evan, and Evan just nods his head in realization.

 

“That’s true,” Alana chimes in, putting a comforting hand on top of Zoe’s, “A girl grabbed my boobs in the closet of a church once and then wouldn’t leave me alone for months. Her mom kept asking my dads if we could have sleepovers. It was super awkward.”

 

Zoe laughs, blinking a couple times. She looks like she might start crying. “That sounds awful. But long story short— that’s pretty much… why I was such a bitch. I was super confused about all that shit and— I’m just glad Connor was out because he basically caught all of the homophobic shit from our parents first. Thanks for that, Con.”

 

Connor shoots her sarcastic finger guns. “Thanks for using me to save yourself from suffering.”

 

Zoe just smiles back. Evan feels Connor’s hand tighten around his.

 

“Huh,” Jared says quietly, turning his attention back to the group. “So I’m the only fully straight one here?” 

 

Connor snorts. “Bet,” He and Zoe say at the same time, and they fistbump over everyone as Jared makes a noise of protest.

 

“What? It’s true .”

 

“You’ve got Chris Hemsworth as your computer background,” Evan teases him. “Shirtless.”

 

Jared scoffs. “Can’t a guy love Thor without being discriminated against?”

 

“You’re telling me you’ve never even thought about fucking a guy?” Connor asks, leaning over Evan slightly to look at Jared. Evan suddenly feels very hot under the blanket.

 

“I mean… if I was given the opportunity, I’d definitely try it.” Jared grins. “Especially if it was with Chris Hemsworth.” 

 

“He’d never go for your nasty ass and we both know that,” Connor deadpans.

 

“Let’s file you under bicurious, then.” Alana says with finality, settling back into the couch and grabbing the remote. “Zo, did you put the movie in already?”

 

“Yeah, hold on, I gotta find Jared real quick.” She makes quick work of reopening the yearbook, flipping through the pages, and then she stops, slapping a hand over her mouth. “Oh my god.”

 

“What? It can’t be that bad—” Jared stops when he looks down at the page. “Oh, it’s really bad. Shit.” 

 

Zoe bursts into giggles, leaning her head against Alana’s shoulder. Evan exchanges a glance with her and she blushes again, looking down at the page. 

 

“What the fuck is that face ,” Zoe asks through her tears, wiping at her eyes and trying to contain her laughter.

 

“Let’s— Evan, where’s Evan?” Jared demands, ripping the book out of Zoe’s trembling hands and ignoring her cackling. It makes Evan giggle a bit and he feels Connor shake with laughter next to him.

 

“Look at this fucking dweeb!” Jared exclaims, turning the book around and shoving it in everyone’s faces. 

 

Evan’s got his hair slicked to one side like a goddamn comb-over, and he’s wearing one of those oversized polos his mom made him wear every picture day. He groans, dropping his head into his hands. Everyone stifles their laughter.

 

“Burn it,” Evan mutters, and he hears Connor laugh. 

 

“It’s cute. You look like a little accountant,” He says into Evan’s ear, tickling his side and Evan pushes him away before immediately pulling Connor back against his side. 

 

“Shut the hell up.”

 

“It’s true, though, Evan. I bet if we would have talked to each other, we would’ve been little dweeb friends before this.” Alana sounds a little sad, and Evan feels the same suddenly.

 

“You’re probably right,” Evan says quietly, leaning closer to look at himself all those years ago. 

 

“We all look so tiny,” Zoe comments, flipping back to her page and grinning softly.

 

It’s quiet for a moment.

 

“Alright, homos, enough reminiscing. We’ve got some Avengers to watch,” Jared announces, clapping his hands and getting up from the couch to crouch in front of the Murphy’s flatscreen. “Yo, Bon-Bon, how do you work this thing?”

 

They get the movie started and devour the pizza and eventually Connor migrates from leaning slightly against Evan’s side to resting his head on Evan’s shoulder to wrapping his arm around Evan’s waist over top of the blanket, and they get a few glances from the other three but they don’t mention anything. Probably because Connor glares at them every time they do. Connor makes a joke every time Thor comes on the screen which evolves into a conversation about which Avenger has the best ass, and it feels… weirdly natural. Like this is where Evan’s always been meant to be. 

 

Evan shivers about halfway through the movie, exhaustion threatening to finally take over. He tries his best to stifle a yawn, subtly leaning further against Connor. He’s a heater, after all. 

 

“You’re cold,” Connor whispers, a subtle reference to their first real conversation, and Evan smiles.

 

“A little,” He admits.

 

“Hold on,” Connor whispers, pushing the blanket off of him and turning away to pull his sweatshirt over his head. He shakes the hair out of his face before he drapes the sweatshirt over Evan’s legs, leaning back against the couch with folded arms.

 

It’s not the same one, not the one from that first night, but the sentiment is there and Evan seriously has to take a few seconds to collect himself before he tackles Connor with kisses. 

 

Evan chuckles quietly at one of the stupid parts and Connor leans up to press a gentle kiss to his jaw, right there in front of everybody. Evan just stares at the screen, gripping Connor’s hand like a lifeline, and when all eyes land on them, Shadow decides to make another appearance and jump right onto Connor’s crotch. She has impeccable timing. The small kiss is quickly forgotten, even though Evan kind of wants to tell them now.

 

When Shadow’s finally settled on Connor’s lap, he squeezes Evan’s hand like he knows what he’s thinking. 

 

They’ll tell everyone when they’re ready. They’ve got time. 

 

… 

 

Evan wakes up with a dull ache in his neck and Connor draped over his body, drooling where his head rests on Evan’s chest. 

 

He doesn’t remember falling asleep but he also doesn’t remember anyone turning off the TV, and as he looks around, he sees that Jared has moved to sleep on the floor and Alana and Zoe are probably the two lumps under the blanket that Connor and Evan were sharing as they watched the movie. He doesn’t remember them stealing the blanket, either. Thieves. 

 

It’s not cold, though. Actually, he’s pretty warm in Connor’s sweatshirt with said boy’s long limbs enveloping Evan in a sleepy cocoon. He’s thirsty, though, he realizes, and although falling asleep again is tempting, he’d really like some water. And the Murphys probably have one of those fancy water filters in the fridge, too.

 

He sighs as he gently pushes Connor’s arms and legs off of him, and for a second when Connor groans and turns over Evan’s afraid he’s woken him up, but Connor stills and Evan hears his slow, steady breathing start again and he smiles. 

 

He may spend more time than he’d like to admit just staring at Connor, but that’s unimportant.

 

Evan yawns, stretching his arms above his head as he makes his way up the basement stairs. He’s pretty sure he hasn’t even slept for that long, but he feels pretty energized. He can’t help but grin as the realization of this day and this relationship and these friends he has hits him and when he opens the basement door, his grin drops when he sees Cynthia Murphy at the kitchen table.

 

She turns around at the sound of the door, smiling brightly when she sees it’s Evan. Her makeup is gone and Evan thinks this is the first time he’s seen her look like an actual mom, her hair in a ponytail and bags under her eyes. The blinking light from under the sink is the only one that’s on, which doesn’t help her case. It just makes her look more tired.

 

“Evan, hi. Is everyone asleep?”

 

Evan rubs his eyes. “Yeah, um— yeah, they’re all asleep down there. Just me.”

 

Cynthia immediately gets up from her chair. “Need some water?”

 

He wants to tell her that no, he’s fine, but she’s already up and he’s so tired so he just collapses into the chair across from where she was sitting. “That— that’d be nice, thank you.”

 

“It’s no problem at all,” Cynthia says softly, rummaging around in the fridge. She sounds tired but still happy, and Evan briefly wonders if it’s just a facade.

 

She places a cold glass of water in front of him like magic, he hadn’t even seen her pour it, and then she sits down in front of him. “Did you all have fun last night?”

 

“Yeah, it was, it was a lot of fun. Thanks,” He says again, taking a sip, and Cynthia just smiles at him.

 

“I heard you all laughing,” She says happily, “I’m so glad that— that everything is good.”

 

“It is,” Evan confirms. He has a feeling there’s more to it than that.

 

“Connor’s… so happy these days. He talks to his sister, they get along, he— he tolerates his father, which is saying something, and he doesn’t ignore us at dinner and I’m—” She shakes her head, focusing on Evan again. “My apologies. I’m just so happy they’re happy. And that they have a friend like you.”

 

“Oh, um.” Evan doesn’t really know what to say. He clears his throat. “I’m— I’m just happy to be around them, you know? They’re really good friends. To me. Um. Yeah. They’re, they’re great.”

 

Cynthia reaches over to place a hand on top of Evan’s. It’s the most motherly thing he’s seen her do since he’s met her, and he’s thinking he might have misjudged her when they first met. “Thank you,” She says sincerely, nodding and gripping Evan’s hands with both of hers. They’re cold. “Just. Thank you.”

 

Evan doesn’t respond, just smiles politely at her until she lets go of his hands. He doesn’t feel like he deserves this praise at all. Connor pulled himself out of the dirt and so did Zoe, they worked it out together, Evan had almost nothing to do with it.

 

“Well, I won’t keep you,” Cynthia says softly, gesturing to Evan’s empty glass. “Do you need another?”

 

“No, no, thank you. I’m good.”

 

“Okay. Let me take care of that for you,” She reaches over and takes the glass, bringing it to the sink before Evan can protest. She turns around, hands on her hips. “Go on, off to bed. It’s still pretty early. You could probably get some more sleep, although that old couch isn’t going to do much for your back.”

 

Evan smiles at her, grateful that Connor and Zoe have someone who cares so much. “Thank you,” He tells her again, pushing his chair in and heading back to the basement door.

 

She just grins at him with tired eyes, waving him off.

 

He goes back down the steps with a big smile on his face. He’s so warm, so happy here that he doesn’t want to leave this moment. He wishes he could stay here forever.

 

But he’s also looking forward to making new memories like these, new experiences with his weird group of friends that the universe pushed together for some reason. He climbs onto the couch next to Connor, who’s stretched out on the side of the sectional not taken up by Zoe and Alana. He sighs happily, slotting himself between Connor and the back of the couch.

 

As he drifts back to sleep, face nuzzled in Connor’s hair and arm wrapped around his waist, he takes a deep breath. Takes a moment to be present, to capture this fraction of time, this feeling of being so safe and loved and important. Like he belongs here.

 

He feels Connor shift underneath his arm. 

 

He’s home.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Jared corners him when he’s at his locker the next morning.

 

“Hansen, you’re such a fucking liar.”

 

Evan sighs. “Noted. About what, exactly?” Evan’s not stupid, he knows what Jared’s referring to, but sometimes he likes to play stupid so he gets to talk less.

 

“The fact that you’re sexually attracted to emos,” Jared says, leaning up against the locker next to his. “One in particular.”

 

“Oh? Which one?” Evan shuts his locker. 

 

“God, Con Con has changed you, dude. My clever jabs don’t even phase you anymore.”

 

Evan smiles at him. “I didn’t lie, technically. I just… didn’t tell you the whole truth.”

 

“Well, now that everything’s settled between you two lovers, will you promise to tell me every single detail of your private life together? Please?”

 

“Absolutely not,” Evan laughs and starts walking toward his next class, Jared not far behind him.

 

“Oh come on, Evan, at least tell me if you’ve fucked or not.”

 

Evan sputters for a second. “We— no, I will not, you don’t need to know everything, and for the record, no, we have not, so.”

 

Jared actually pouts. “Why not?”

 

“Be— Because, Jared, I’m pretty sure I’m not, like, emotionally or physically ready for something like— why the— God, why am I even telling you this? Jesus Christ .”

 

“Because I’m your best friend and I deserve to know.” For a second Evan thinks he’s dropped it, but sadly, he’s just getting started. “When you say you’re not physically prepared, does that mean you’d be the one getting—”

 

“Nope,” Evan plugs his ears with his fingers, walking faster, “I’m not listening to you.”

 

The afternoon brings Evan to Connor’s room, Shadow sleeping soundly on his lap and both of his feet asleep as well so he doesn’t wake her, per Connor’s request. 

 

“You’ll never guess what Kleinman asked me today,” Connor says through a mouthful of cookies Cynthia brought up to them after dinner. 

 

“Jesus, what was it?”

 

Connor laughs a little. “First, he asked me if we’ve had sex yet.”

 

“Me too.”

 

“Not surprised. Second, he said, ‘ theoretically, if you were to fuck, would you be the bottom or the top? ’”

 

Evan feels his ears turn red. “Oh my god,” He laughs, but like... secretly he’s wondering the answer to that as well. 

 

“Yeah. It was actually the worst interaction I’ve ever had with him. Like, literally the actual worst.”

 

But like what did you tell him is on the tip of his tongue, but he holds it back. “I’m sure you’ve had worse.” Evan reaches for a cookie, all the while watching Shadow to see if she’s offended by his movement. 

 

“Oh yeah, for sure, but that’s just a stupid fucking question. Firstly, why in the hell would I tell Kleinman what we get up to?” 

 

“Uh-huh.” Evan gulps. Connor takes a bite of his cookie.

 

“Secondly, I’d obviously bottom, at least for the first couple of times.” Connor looks over at Evan and smirks, taking another bite and raising his eyebrows a couple of times when Evan reddens impossibly darker. “More experience, y’know?”

 

Jesus. Fucking. Christ.

 

“Good to— um, good to know,” Evan squeaks out, rather aggressively petting Shadow’s back. 

 

Connor tries to hide the fact that he’s about to laugh, but the look on Evan’s face must be really fucking funny because he snorts and the next second he’s doubled over in laughter, shaking the entire bed. 

 

Shadow’s not impressed.

 

“Oh no, I’m sorry,” Connor says through laughter and cookie, reaching out to her as she bolts through the door.

 

“Relatable,” Evan mutters, punching Connor in the arm when he continues to laugh. “Not funny,” He adds. 

 

“I’m sorry, oh no, I’m sorry,” Connor grabs onto Evan’s arm. “It’s just— the look on your face, oh my god.”

 

Connor dissolves into laughter again, and Evan still doesn’t know if he’s kidding or not.

 

… 

 

It's a learning process, really. It’s not always perfect, not by a long shot. 

 

“I don’t… wanna be here anymore,” Evan says softly, muffled by the crook of Connor’s neck.

 

“What do you mean?” Connor asks him carefully, hands running slowly through Evan’s hair. Evan can tell he’s bracing himself and that the question was completely unnecessary, because Connor's well aware.

 

“You— you know what I mean,” Evan sniffs, one hand on Connor’s heart to match it’s beat. It’s grounding more than anything.

 

“I don’t know what to do,” Connor admits, kissing the top of Evan’s head.

 

“I’m sorry,” Evan says, instantly regretting it when Connor pushes him back with a frustrated groan. 

 

“Stop fucking— we’ve talked about you saying sorry over things you can’t control,” Connor snaps, getting up and off the bed to pace around the room. 

 

“Connor, I don’t— I’m— I didn’t—”

 

“Just— just shut up,” He says, kicking over a pile of books on his floor. Shadow scurries out the open door.

 

Evan shuts up.

 

“I’m so fucking sick of feeling useless,” Connor says mostly to himself. “I feel like— I want to do something so badly to help, but I can’t do anything— ” He kicks over more books, “I want to help but you’re not getting better, fuck.”

 

That stings. 

 

“I’m not just going to get better all of a sudden, it— you know it takes time, I’m, I’m— I’m trying—

 

“I’m sick of trying,” Connor almost yells, throwing his hands in the air. “I just want you to be better. I want things to be better. I want to be enough.”

 

Everything goes quiet for a second.

 

“I’m— if this isn’t what you signed up for, you—”

 

“Shut the fuck up, Evan,” Connor snaps at him, yanking at his hair.

 

“No,” Evan challenges, still crying. “I’m trying to fucking communicate with you, but you won’t talk to me, you’re just standing here yelling at me about shit I can’t control—”

 

“You know what? I’m gonna take a walk.” Connor slides his shoes on and heads for the door.

 

“Way to run away from your problems, Connor. Real fucking mature.”

 

Connor can’t slam the door shut but the effect is just as painful as he listens to Connor race down the stairs and slam the front one. He feels empty when the loneliness sets in and he watches Connor leave, racing down the street with his arms crossed and his head down. And honestly, more than the loneliness, he’s just worried.

 

Evan’s not sure what Connor will do when he gets like this.

 

Connor’s not frustrated with Evan’s slow progress. He’s not mad at him for sometimes taking steps back, because he does that himself sometimes. Connor’s frustrated because he wants to be the one that makes it all better. He wants to be enough to fix him but he’s not enough, sadly. Just Connor will never be enough. He helps, absolutely, but it's not that simple. Evan’s always going to have a mental illness, he’s always going to be like this. Connor dulls the pain, but he’s not the cure. That’s Evan’s job.

 

Connor doesn’t come back until almost midnight, the floorboards creaking underneath him. Evan hears him take a deep breath and he squeezes his eyes shut, pretending to sleep. It’s probably better this way if Connor’s still upset.

 

The bed dips under Connor’s weight and Evan almost gasps when Connor’s arm snakes around his waist. He feels Connor’s forehead against his back and his heart breaks a little.

 

“I’m sorry,” Connor whispers, sniffing once.

 

“I know,” Evan answers.

 

A broken sigh. Connor clears his throat. “Why are you still here, I— I thought you’d be… gone or something.” Evan feels Connor shake his head. 

 

Evan puts a hand on the one Connor has resting over Evan’s heart. “I’m not going anywhere, remember?” It’s always the same answer.

 

Connor sighs again, pressing his cheek to Evan’s back. “I remember.”

 

They’ll talk about it in the morning.

 

… 

 

“You’re sure you wanna go for another?” Connor asks, sizing Jared up as he reaches into the tupperware container. 

 

Jared stuffs another brownie in his mouth. “Yeah, dude. They’re fuckin’ delicious.”

 

Connor’s a considerate person, so when Jared mentioned weed for the thirtieth time and Connor got tired of it, he ordered edibles instead of something for them to smoke. Evan tried one of Connor’s and immediately decided that he doesn’t just hate the smell, he hates the taste, too. They’re fucking gross. “They hit pretty hard, just warning you. Especially if you’re a first-timer.”

 

“Shut up, Connie Wonnie, I can handle it. Don’t you worry.”

 

It only takes fifteen minutes for Jared to change his mind.

 

“I can’t feel my legs,” Jared says, dazed, laying on his back in Connor’s basement. 

 

“You’re fine,” Connor says with a roll of his eyes. Zoe giggles and Evan just cuddles into Connor’s side. He’s even warmer when he’s stoned, Evan realizes. It’s nice.

 

“I’m not,” Jared argues, “I’m dying. Am I levitating? Holy shit.”

 

“He’s so gone,” Zoe laughs, poking Jared in the side and watching him flail. 

 

“Should we, like…” Evan trails off, looking at Connor. “Should we help him, or something?”

 

“Gotta wait until it wears off,” Connor says after a second, looking at Evan. “Plus, it’s funny.”

 

You’re funny,” He responds easily, letting his eyes trail wherever they want to because he just can’t find it in himself to care when the others are so free of inhibitions. Turns out he really, really likes looking at Connor’s mouth.

 

“You’re… pretty,” Connor says back. 

 

“Oh my god, Connor, I’m fucking— can you hear me? Am I talking out loud? Oh sweet Jesus, I’m dead, am I dead?”

 

The rest of the night is kind of a blur.

 

… 

 

“Wanna hear something really fucking stupid?” 

 

He pulls back and laughs, but the tone of Connor’s voice lends Evan to believe that it’s more than that. 

 

“Go for it.” He pushes Connor’s hair back so he can look him in the eyes. 

 

“I’m… my fucking brain is trying to convince me that the only reason I still have you is because you just haven’t… gotten tired of me yet. And that one day you’re just gonna decide that it’s not worth it anymore.”

 

Evan pulls him closer, brackets his arms around Connor’s body like a floatation device and presses a kiss to his forehead. It’s not the first time Connor’s doubted himself, and it won’t be the last. “Your brain is a compulsive liar.”

 

Connor sighs, frustrated. He rests his head on Evan’s chest. “It doesn’t feel like a lie. I dunno. It’s like… like I’m just waiting for you to leave.”

 

“‘M not leaving you,” Evan reassures him. He knows he’s pushing, but he needs Connor to know. Connor sighs so quietly that Evan isn’t even sure if he actually did.

 

Connor doesn’t answer, just lifts his head up to look Evan in the eyes. “When am I gonna stop feeling like this?” 

 

Evan thinks it would be better if Connor were crying or screaming or yelling at him or something. Something else. Anything would be better than the empty, dead look in his eyes. 

 

He swallows thickly. He’s felt this. He feels this. He feels it right to the core, a sad sickening empty feeling that swallows him whole sometimes. “I don’t know,” He says honestly. 

 

Connor just nods. “Fucking sucks.”

 

He runs his hand through Connor’s hair again, watching as Connor’s eyes flutter shut. “I know. I’m right here, though. Always.” 

 

Connor laughs just a bit, enough to reassure Evan that he’s okay. Tonight, they’re okay. Evan scratches a little at his scalp. “You can’t know that.” 

 

The response comes easily. “I do know it, though. Even— even if it’s not like this, even if we’re not together like this for the rest of forever— but I can’t even imagine not being able to kiss you and stuff— God, that sounds so dumb, I’m so sorry— anyway, I’ll… I will always be here for you. Like, always. You just get me, I don’t know. I’m not just— not just gonna let that go.”

 

Connor’s blushing now, eyes tightly closed. “Shut the fuck up.”

 

Evan can’t help the bewildered laugh that escapes him without his permission. “What? It’s true.”

 

“I know,” Connor says, sounding small. “Me too. So.”

 

Evan smiles just a little, pulling Connor in. It’s not long before they both fall asleep.

 

… 

 

“She’s not gonna like me, I just know it.”

 

“Connor— you’ve already met her, like, a bunch of times.” 

 

Connor stands in front of a full-length mirror, pushing his hair around from side to side and adjusting his clothes. He leans in and closely examines his face, picking at a spot on his cheek.

 

He huffs in frustration. “Yeah, but it was almost always in the dark.”

 

“You make it sound like… like she’s, like… walked in on us or something. Multiple times.”

 

The comment makes Connor snort, which was the intended reaction. “Fuck.”

 

“Uh-huh.”

 

“I really need to work on thinking before I speak.”

 

“You really do.”

 

Connor turns back around, but instead of heading over to his bed where Evan’s sat, he makes his way over to the window to shove it open. “It’s fucking hot .” 

 

Evan looks at him apologetically. “Won’t be much better at my house, sorry. AC is expensive.”

 

Connor groans, pushing up the sleeves of his black sweater and flopping on the bed next to Evan. “I should send you down there to ask Cynthia to turn it on. I bet she’d say yes if it was you.”

 

He doesn’t know why, but the sentence makes him blush. “Oh, uh— I dunno if I’m the best at, at talking to parents—”

 

Connor gives him that look that Evan’s come to know as the ‘shut up’ look. “Chill. I’m just kidding.” He rolls closer to Evan, propping himself up on his elbows. “Tell me she won’t hate me.”

 

Evan almost laughs at how that comes out of almost nowhere. “She won’t. I feel like even if you, like, destroyed the house or something she’d still be happy I have a friend.”

 

Connor blinks slowly at him. Not in a judgemental way, but like he’s sizing Evan up or thinking intently about something. “Are we sticking with ‘friend’, then?” He says eventually.

 

Evan’s stomach flips over. “I mean— like, you’re definitely not just my friend and my mom really won’t care if I— like, she won’t care how I introduce you to her, plus you’ve already met before so I— so I don’t really need to introduce you at all, but if you want me to tell her we’re— like if you want me to tell her about us I really don’t mind because, like, I’m totally not ashamed of you or anything.”

 

Connor doesn’t interrupt his rambling, just waits until Evan stops himself. “Well now I’m starting to worry that you’re actually ashamed of me,” Connor winks, punching Evan in the arm harder than he intended to. Evan tries not to make a face. “Shit, sorry.”

 

“You’re good.” Apparently he made a face.

 

“How do you feel about… you know, about the b-word?”

 

Evan blinks. “Bitch?”

 

“No, dumbass. Like…” Connor averts his eyes. “ Boyfriend , or whatever.” 

 

Evan can’t really hold in the surprised breath that escapes him. “Um— I dunno.”

 

“Me neither,” Connor admits, picking at his chipping nail polish. “I don’t feel like it… fits. Not that I’m saying we’re not... together, or whatever, but that label just feels... I dunno.”

 

“Same,” Evan exhales, because that’s exactly what he was thinking. Connor’s not just his boyfriend. He’s more than that. He’s his best friend, the one he goes to about everything, he’s Evan’s rock, the only person in the entire universe that really, truly understands him. Connor’s everything. He’s not just someone Evan kisses occasionally and walks down the hall with holding hands to show off the fact that they’re together. The word just doesn’t feel right. 

 

“Like… it feels kinda dumb and, like, very high school to call you my boyfriend, you know?”

 

“Definitely,” Evan agrees. “It’s… we’re more than that.”

 

Exactly ,” Connor breathes, and when he looks at Evan he seems relieved. “It just, like. It is what it is. You’re my best friend who I really like to kiss all the time. Like… my fucking soulmate, or whatever.”

 

He’ll never get used to the feeling he gets when Connor just casually says things like that. Never. He has the sudden urge to kiss him, right here, right now. 

 

“Yeah, um. Boyfriend doesn’t feel like enough, for some reason. You can… you can call me your boyfriend if you want to, though. It’s easier to explain than, like, best friend and also soulmate.”

 

“Right? You can, too, if it’s easier.” Connor’s grin reaches his eyes. “Thank god we got that out of the way.”

 

“Glad we’re on the same page,” Evan chuckles nervously. He feels a buzz in his pocket and curses himself for getting lost in conversation. “Shit.”

 

“Hm?” Connor asks, getting up and going over to the mirror again as Evan checks his phone. 

 

“My mom,” Evan says distractedly, typing out a message to his mom to let her know that they are not, in fact, dead. “We’re a little late.”

 

Connor curses under his breath, running his fingers through his hair. “Fuck. I look so bad .”

 

Evan looks up for a second and gives Connor a confused look. “Since when?”

 

Connor just rolls his eyes, but Evan doesn’t miss the pleased look on his face as he goes back to pushing his hair into place. “My hair’s all frizzy. How am I supposed to impress your mom with this stupid fucking hair?”

 

Evan blows out a breath, shaking his head. “It’s good hair.”

 

“Yeah, when it’s not sticking up all over the place.”

 

Evan’s struck with an idea as he watches Connor watch himself. “Why don’t you just put it up?” If Evan were taken to a court of law, he’d swear under oath that he isn’t asking Connor to do this because he finds it extremely attractive. He’d probably be sent to jail.

 

“If I leave it up too long it starts to pull.”

 

Evan purses his lips. “Bring a hair tie? Then you don’t have to put it up ‘til we get there.”

 

Connor’s face falls and he turns a bit red, closing his eyes for a second and sighing. “I can’t.”

 

Evan’s confused. “Why not?”

 

Connor takes another breath. “Because.”

 

“Because why?”

 

“It’s embarrassing.”

 

“Come here,” Evan says, patting the spot next to him. Connor pouts and rolls his eyes, but he does it anyway. Evan pokes his cheek. “Why?” He asks, a little more gently this time.

 

Connor groans, tipping his head back. His next words come out rushed. “I can’t keep them in my pockets because I’ll lose them and I can’t keep them on my wrist because it makes me… fucking think bad things, okay?”

 

Evan stares at him for a second, computing in his mind. He’d never even realized. Connor hasn’t worn his hair up in so long, ever since his attempt, and Evan hadn’t even noticed. 

 

He feels like an idiot.

 

“I… I didn’t know, Con. I’m sorry.”

 

Connor rolls his eyes. “Definitely don’t apologize. It’s fine. I’ll just show up to your house with disgusting hair and your mom’s first impression will be that I’m a nasty stoner who hasn’t showered in a couple of days because he’s fucking depressed. I’m sure she’ll be thrilled to know I’m the one dating-slash-corrupting her son.” Connor pauses. “You think I have time for a shower?”

 

“I’ll do it,” Evan blurts out, still reeling at the word dating

 

Connor narrows his eyes. “Bathe me?”

 

Evan exhales a laugh. “No, I’ll. I’ll wear the hair tie on my wrist so you don’t… so you can have it for later.”

 

Connor goes redder than Evan’s ever seen him. He kind of just stares wide-eyed at Evan for a second, searching his face, and then he looks down. “Really?”

 

Evan shrugs. “I mean, yeah. Why not?”

 

Connor stops. Takes a breath.

 

“Evan?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“I’m gonna kiss you now.” He’s already pulling Evan forward with two hands on his cheeks.

 

Needless to say, they show up at Evan’s house about an hour later than Heidi had expected them with red cheeks and equally messy hair. 

 

Connor pulls into Evan’s driveway, tapping his fingers nervously on his thigh. It really is fucking hot, and Evan feels a bead of sweat run down his back as Connor puts the car in park.

 

“It’s not even April. I’m dying, it’s so hot.”

 

Connor stares forward, endlessly tapping his fingers. “Uh-huh.”

 

“Connor,” Evan says gently.

 

He doesn’t answer, just keeps staring forward. He starts to shake his knee.

 

“Hey,” Evan almost whispers, putting a hand faintly on Connor’s. His fingers still. “Look at me.”

 

Connor doesn’t turn his head, but when he glances over at Evan he looks like he’s either about to cry or explode. “I’m gonna fuck this up. I dunno how, but I just feel like I’m gonna fuck this up, Evan.”

 

Connor’s fingers twitch under Evan’s hand. Evan slides his fingers in between Connor’s until they’re interlocked.

 

“You’re not,” Evan says, soft but clear at the same time. “I know you. You’re not.”

 

Connor doesn’t answer.

 

When Evan adjusts his arm and feels a weird pulling sensation on his wrist he suddenly remembers. “You want your hair tie?”

 

Connor relaxes just a bit. “Yeah, please.”

 

He tugs the elastic off his wrist and hands it over, rubbing at the spot where it left a pink ring around his wrist. “Those things are small.”

 

Connor shrugs, letting his head fall back and gathering up his hair. “Small wrists.”

 

Evan’s kind of entranced, honestly. Connor’s not even looking in a mirror or anything, he’s got his fucking eyes closed, and he’s still managing to pull all of that hair into a perfect little bun on the back of his head. That on its own is amazing, but coupled with the view , Evan’s definitely not complaining. He can see the underside of Connor’s jaw where he literally just had his mouth and the long line of his neck and Evan’s suddenly really, really happy he has a door. 

 

Connor takes a deep breath, exhaling slowly. He glances in the rear view mirror. “Okay.”

 

Evan smiles at him. “Okay?”

 

“Let’s fucking do this.”

 

The second they walk through the door, they’re greeted with the smell of bread. Garlic bread, to be exact, and something in Connor seems to relax a bit as he toes off his shoes and Heidi peeks her head in from the kitchen. He smiles nervously at her and Evan can’t even bother to worry about the fact that his house is so much smaller than Connor’s because that smile makes hope bloom in his chest. 

 

“Hey, Connor!” She says excitedly, wiping her hands on her pants and heading over to him with a wide smile and open arms. 

 

“Hi, Mrs. Hansen.”

 

“Heidi,” She corrects him as she pulls him into her arms. “It’s so good to see you, honey!”

 

Connor’s kind of frozen in place and Evan almost laughs. He should have warned him that his mom’s a hugger. “Oh, um, it’s nice to see you too.”

 

His mom pulls back and opens her arms to Evan. “Come on, give your old mom a hug.”

 

He makes a big deal out of faking a sigh just to make Connor laugh, then he hugs his mom tight. “How was work?”

 

Heidi waves him off. “It was work, you know how it went. Anyways, the spaghetti’s almost done so you boys have the honor of setting up the fine China.”

 

Connor looks like he wants to correct her but holds it in. Evan’s eternally grateful. 

 

They set up the paper plates around the coffee table in the living room just this once , his mom had said. She offered to watch a movie while they eat and Evan and Connor had gladly accepted that, thankful for the distraction from complete awkward silence. 

 

“I like your hair like that, honey,” Heidi says through a mouthful of pasta, gesturing at Connor with her fork. “It suits you.”

 

She must have noticed Connor adjusting and readjusting his bun, pulling pieces out and tucking them behind his ears. 

 

“Oh, um, thanks,” Connor says quietly. 

 

Heidi looks at him like she’s remembering something. “Probably long enough…” She mutters under her breath, then louder: “Has Evan asked to braid your hair yet? He’s been talking about it. I taught him how to braid mine when he was really little so he’s an expert now.”

 

Connor cheeks go pink. “ Mom ,” Evan says, elbowing her gently. 

 

“What? It’s not like I’m bringing out the baby photos, honey. I could.”

 

“Please don’t.”

 

“Definitely do,” Connor pipes up, looking down at his spaghetti and tucking a strand of hair behind his ear. He takes a bite. “ Especially the bathtub ones.”

 

Heidi cracks up and Connor’s eyes sparkle just a little more than usual. It heavily outweighs the mortifying idea of Connor seeing Evan’s bathtub photos. “You crack me up, Connor, oh my god.” She wipes her eyes. “Keep this one around, Evan. We could use a little more laughter in this house.”

 

Connor’s not looking at him but he’s biting back a smile, pushing his pasta around on his plate. 

 

“I definitely plan on keeping him,” Evan says out of nowhere. Connor’s eyes widen and he grins at Evan. He knows his mom is already looking at them. 

 

“So, what, you’re kidnapping me or something?”

 

“I thought I told you that already.”

 

Heidi shakes her head fondly, rising to her feet. “That’s been the plan this whole time.” She walks toward the kitchen, raising her voice a bit when she disappears behind the wall. “It’s bedtime for me, boys. I don’t want to see plates out here in the morning, okay?” He can hear her throwing the plate in the trash. 

 

“Of course,” Connor says to her, giving her a reassuring smile when she walks back into the room. 

 

“Glad someone’s around to keep this one in line,” Heidi says to him, winking. She walks over to Evan and ruffles his hair, dropping a kiss on his head. “Night, boys. Don’t stay up too late.”

 

“We won’t,” Connor and Evan easily reply in unison. It’s a lie and they all know it. 

 

She smiles at them before heading down the hallway, and when the hallway light flickers off, they turn to each other and smile. 

 

“She loves you, I told you.”

 

“You did,” Connor admits. 

 

There’s a moment where neither of them talk, they just let their eyes roam. Connor’s gaze goes from Evan’s torso and up again, and it kind of feels like someone cranked the thermostat up a couple of degrees. 

 

“So you talk to your mom about how much you wanna braid my hair, huh?”

 

“Shut up.”

 

And a little later, after Connor leaves and Heidi knocks gently on Evan’s door:

 

“So… you and Connor, huh?”

 

Mom .”

 

… 

 

“Are there any of me?” Evan blurts out because he’s just so curious. 

 

Connor seems caught off guard. “Uh…”

 

“I won’t be, like, offended if there aren’t any. Or if— if you just don’t wanna show me, that’s okay too, just— whatever you’re comfortable with—“

 

“There are,” Connor nonchalantly answers his earlier question, keeping his eyes glued to the page as his pencil moves fluidly across. 

 

Evan doesn’t say anything, just nods. 

 

“You’re allowed to ask me if you can look at them,” Connor rolls his eyes fondly. Wind gusts through the open air and Evan breathes in the fresh air, watching as Connor pushes his hair out of his face. 

 

“Can I, then?”

 

“Duh,” Connor answers immediately, sighing in frustration as another strand falls in front of his eyes. “Fuck, can I see the hair tie?”

 

“Yeah, of course,” Evan replies, sliding the elastic off his wrist and putting it on Connor’s thigh. He’s used to the mark it leaves now. 

 

“Thanks,” Connor mutters, and Evan can’t help but stare as he stretches back to gather it up into a bun. He doesn’t know why he loves it so much, but it takes every ounce of his self control not to push Connor on the ground and make out with him, like, right now. 

 

“God, get a room ,” Jared sneers from Connor’s other side, and honestly, Evan forgot he was there. He’s looking right at Evan, and he can’t even say he’s embarrassed. Staring is a justified reaction. 

 

“Fuck off, Kleinman,” Connor sighs, but there’s no bite. It’s all fond. 

 

“I can't believe I’m a fucking fifth wheel,” Jared pouts, leaning back against the wall with his arms crossed and his lunch tray balanced on his thighs. “You guys are gross,” He says to Alana and Zoe, who just roll their eyes and go back to animatedly chatting. 

 

Connor lets his arms down and has a perfect bun, which never fails to amaze Evan even after he’s watched Connor put his hair up numerous times. Connor says something to Jared and then starts flipping through his sketchbook, his lunch tray abandoned on the grass in front of him. 

 

“You’re staring,” Connor says quietly, just for Evan, smirking down at the pages in front of him. 

 

“Oh, um—“ Evan almost lies, but. “Yeah, I was.”

 

“So I should wear it up more,” Connor nods. “Good to know.”

 

“Careful, Hot Topic, you might have to bring tree boy an extra pair of pants if you’re gonna start doing that shit.” Jared gives Evan a shit-eating grin that Evan wants to slap right off of his face. He tries to convey that exact thought with a death glare in Jared’s direction. 

 

“Worth it,” Connor mutters, eyebrows pulled together in concentration as he flips through the pages at the end. He stops suddenly and raises his eyebrows. “Here,” He says quietly, letting the open sketchbook land unceremoniously on Evan’s lap. Connor leans back and crosses his arms, mirroring Jared, like he’s bracing for impact. 

 

Evan looks down and he’s met with— his face. Like, actually recognizably his face. That’s the one that’s the most developed, and Evan recognizes it from a photo Zoe took of him and posted on Instagram when they were all hanging out one night. 

 

The one right under that is a half-complete sketch of Evan bent over his homework, and fuck, he really has bad posture. He needs to work on that. Evan can’t help but smile at that one, because Connor’s always had trouble focusing on his homework but Evan never imagined that Connor took any time out of his day to doodle Evan when he isn’t paying attention. Or that this is what Connor preferred to do over homework at that time. It makes his face turn red.

 

The last one, a messy gestural drawing in the bottom corner, is of Evan at the table they sat at in the library before they were finally able to move back outside for lunch. It’s all lines and scribbles but it’s definitely Evan, and he guesses it’s from one of those days where Connor didn’t have much of an appetite. 

 

“Are there any of me, Connie?” Jared says, suddenly right beside him and half on top of Connor’s lap. It makes Evan jump out of his skin. 

 

“I see your stupid face enough in my daily life and in my fucking nightmares,” Connor quips, elbowing Jared off of him and looking like he gets great satisfaction in that. 

 

“So that’s a no?”

 

“Christ.”

 

“Connor, these are… fuck, these are amazing,” Evan says genuinely, giving him a bright smile to show him that he means it. Every word. 

 

“Yeah, they’re alright I guess.” Connor reaches over to take the book back and Evan fights the urge to reach up and plant a kiss on his cheek. Or, like, his mouth or something. Anywhere, really.

 

“It’s true, though,” Jared elbows Connor, “They’re really good, so shut the fuck up about ‘they’re alright’. No more of that shit.”

 

“Thanks,” Connor mutters with the smallest of smiles. 

 

… 

 

“Did you ever imagine you’d be here right now?”

 

“What, like… alive?”

 

“No, no,” Evan shakes his head, “I mean, yeah, but like, literally right here. This moment.”

 

“Never,” Connor admits, glancing over at Evan. He reaches across the space between them, hoodie abandoned on the grass somewhere above their heads. He nudges Evan’s hand with his. “Nothing like this. I never thought I’d live to see graduation. I just kind of stopped daydreaming after ninth grade.”

 

“Me too,” Evan says softly, turning back to look up at the sky. The clouds are beautiful and so are the treetops, but all he can see in his mind’s eye even when he’s not looking is Connor laying there in the grass looking at him, cheeks flushed from the heat and his hair spread all around him like a halo. “Kinda surreal.”

 

Connor hooks their pinkies, rustling the grass beneath them. “Truer words have never been spoken. It still feels like a dream to me sometimes.”

 

“Same.”

 

“Well… actually, I might have daydreamed about something along these lines in the past.”

 

Evan looks over at him in curiosity. “Yeah?”

 

Connor licks his lips, cheeky smile on his face. “Yeah, but those fantasies didn’t involve talking about death or, like, clothes, but everything else was the same, so y’know.” Connor rolls over onto his side to face Evan, slipping his fingers between Evan’s.

 

“Oh fuck off,” Evan laughs, throwing an arm over his face.

 

“Hey, don’t you judge me. Eighth grade was a hard time, alright? And sometimes all that helps is taking off your pants and imagining that one sweaty anxious kid without a shirt on.”

 

“That’s… milder than I had expected, honestly.”

 

“Oh, sorry, did you want to hear the rest? It gets worse.”

 

“We were thirteen, of course it gets worse.”

 

“I could always show you instead.”

 

“Oh, I can imagine it vividly already.”

 

Connor grins at him, pulling him in by the shoulder so that Evan has to roll over to face him. “Kiss me,” He demands, tilting his chin up and giving Evan no other choice, really.

 

Not that he would ever choose anything else.

 

They pull back and Evan runs a hand through Connor’s hair, pushing it back and watching as Connor slowly blinks at him. “I’m so glad we’re here,” Evan says, whispered like a secret between them and the trees. 

 

He doesn’t have to worry how Connor interprets it because he means it in all the ways, every way there could possibly be to convey this feeling. 

 

“I am, too.”