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The Music In Me

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-Troy-

Troy stepped lightly toward the practice room, humming a pop song they'd been playing in the kitchen under his breath. No one would talk to him, so he usually ate as fast as he could and listened to the radio, and it just so happened they'd been playing the top forty hits today. He heard the faint sounds of a piano and grimaced. Kelsi had been planning to practice with him every day until the performance with Sharpay, but she had abruptly canceled and now the show was rescheduled for the last week of July to give Troy time to practice with a new player. There was no way Troy could hold it against the slim composer, though; her mother had been in a serious accident—that was enough of a shock for anyone without adding the fact Kelsi's father was absent and she was extraordinarily close to her mother. However, Kelsi was still her ever-efficient self even as she dashed out the door toward the hospital. She was already on the phone, arranging for someone else to help him until the show.

So now Troy was going to meet some mysterious replacement who was going to be helping him rehearse every day for the next three weeks. He hadn't been too keen on the whole idea, but as he neared the room, above the piano, he could hear a soft, angelic voice singing along and he just stopped to listen in awe.

"Na na na na, na na na na, yeah... you are the music in me…"

Kelsi? Troy thought, then shook his head. Of course not; Kelsi was still with her mother in the hospital and besides, the voice was a very lovely tenor- tenor-alto, yes, but unmistakably male. It was so familiar and yet he couldn't place it. It felt like he'd heard it before and yet never really listened, but he was definitely listening now.

I'm tempted to just walk in and ask whoever's singing to marry me, Troy thought absently, walking slowly toward the room, careful to walk softly so his footsteps didn't interrupt the singer.

"You know the words 'once upon a time', makes you listen, there's reason. When you dream, there's a chance you'll find a little laugher, or a happy ever after…"

The player hit a wrong note on the piano and Troy heard a muttered curse. He took the opportunity to walk in as if he hadn't been listening and contemplating worship, rounding the corner and coming into full view.

He stopped, stunned. The voice that was singing… was Ryan?

Ryan Evans, drama club extraordinaire and most fashionable guy at East High, was sitting at the piano with a small smile looking a bit sheepish. "Um... hey, Troy. I take it Kels didn't mention I was the one she asked to fill in?" His tone was friendly enough, but he could hear how hesitant the friendliness was. He felt very guilty very suddenly, knowing it was his recent hostility that caused Ryan to be so cautious.

Troy knew Ryan thought he'd be angry, that he'd storm out complaining that Kelsi had thought that the guy who was "stealing his girlfriend" being his new tutor was a good idea, but he wasn't angry, and he didn't leave. Ryan looked genuinely nervous, as if he worried that Troy would yell or immediately start giving him trouble.

"Um… hey, Ryan," Troy greeted him, trying not to voice any of the stupid jealousy he'd been feeling lately, knowing Ryan didn't deserve it. "I… no, Kelsi didn't mention it. Looking forward to it." Ryan examined his own sheepish, ashamed grin for a moment before he gave him another shy smile. "So, um… we gonna start?"

Ryan's eyes widened for a second and the most adorable blush lighted his cheeks. For thinking it, Troy almost hit himself.

"Oh," Ryan said. "Yeah. Duh. So, I was wondering if you would mind doing a run through of the original version, just so I can get a handle on the way you sing… to figure out all the small details. Is that okay with you?"

The blush had faded for the most part and he now looked serious, happy to be working on something he loved. There was a light in his eyes that Troy usually didn't get to see—or rather, that he tried to avoid because Ryan only looked like that when he was singing, dancing, or doing something drama related and Troy didn't like watching Ryan do anything of the sort. Watching Ryan dance or sing with that spirit was something Troy found himself easily lost in, and what was he supposed to say to Gabriella when she caught him staring like an infatuated girl with her first crush? He of course didn't have a crush on Ryan, but he certainly admired him and there were times when they looked like the same thing.

"Um, sure. But who's going to sing the girl's part?" Troy asked, wondering why he had to use so many ums. He was sure Ryan thought he was a dumb jock already, but he didn't want Ryan to think he was an inarticulate dumb jock.

Ryan thought about it for a minute before shrugging. "I'll sing it. No big deal. I know it almost as well as my part for Humuhumu- I was actually there when Kelsi wrote it." Troy didn't like the bitter edge to Ryan's words.

"I'm sorry about that," Troy apologized awkwardly. "Sharpay is…"

"Insufferable?" Ryan offered with a sigh. "I know. Trust me, I know. Don't worry about it." Troy offered him another apologetic grin and Ryan returned it. "I love Shar, I really do, but sometimes… she's just blind. She's not a bad sister at all—she loves me, a lot, and has looked out for me since we were kids. But sometimes I just want to strangle her, no matter how much I adore her."

Troy shuffled his feet, looking down. "Yeah. I mean… she treats you like you're her servant instead of her twin. There are times when I just want to walk up to her and slap her. Then mention you're wearing a scarf, not a collar. It's a wonder you just sit and take it, really- if I were you, I'd have beaten her with a pageboy hat by now."

Ryan laughed and Troy thought it was possibly the nicest sound he'd ever heard. "I didn't even know you knew the term pageboy hat- but I'll take your suggestion into consideration."

Troy blushed lightly and coughed, embarrassed. "I'm not that stupid, you know. I've had girlfriends."

Ryan raised an eyebrow, but his expression of disbelief was good-natured. "Well, I know that, but Gabriella doesn't seem like the type of girl to care about pageboy hats. Then again, why would any of your girlfriends care about pageboy hats? I don't know a lot of girls who wear them—Kelsi does, but I don't know any others."

Troy's blush intensified. "Okay, what I meant to say was, I used to date Sharpay… sort of. Remember? Before Gabriella, Sharpay dragged me everywhere when I had nothing to do. That includes shopping with you two." He paused. "Might have explained her thinking we were meant to be together. I just went along with it, never said no... Chad and the guys always laughed at me for it."

Ryan laughed, too. "Oh, that was funny! I totally forgot about that. She tried to get you to wear a fedora and—okay, fashion hats in general are not your thing, I'm just going to throw that out there right now! You looked completely ridiculous." His words were clipped, forced out between giggles.

Troy laughed, too. "Well, the fedora wasn't my idea if you'll remember!" They both chuckled over that before Troy gave a nervous little cough and got back to the subject at hand. "So, anyway. About the song. Can I ask you something?"

"Sure," Ryan agreed blithely, still sounding rather cheerful from their reminiscing. He rearranged the music so it was at the beginning again, a smile tracing his pink lips. "What about it?"

"Look, this probably sounds like I'm scared—which, I assure you is not the case—I'm just a little…"

"Anxious?" Ryan suggested, amusement clear in his voice, and Troy pointed at him, nodding.

"Yes, anxious! About Sharpay's version." He then realized that he'd left his statement a little vague, and added, "Of the song."

Ryan laughed again and Troy's mind went blank again.

Why on earth is his laugh so pretty? Surely that's not normal. Stupid… he's definitely not human. What is he, then? A muse? Stupid muse.

"It's okay, Troy, I'm promise. It's really no big deal. Sharpay could have done a lot worse," he assured the athlete, still grinning. "She has done a lot worse."

"So it's somewhat similar to the original?" Troy asked hopefully. Ryan's smile froze.

"The lyrics are the same," he tried weakly. Troy couldn't help but laugh again at Ryan's poor attempt to assuage his fears, and Ryan joined in after a moment. "Really, it's not too bad. A stupid pop song at worst."

"All right," Troy chuckled and sat next to him at the piano to get to work.

It was three days later when Troy caught Ryan completely off guard for the first time, and the day he learned something new that he didn't particularly like at all.

It had been at the end of their practice, and Troy had been helping Ryan set the music room to order when a thought had occurred to him, one he hadn't thought would do any damage, and asked, "So, how did you and Kelsi become friends? I don't remember you guys hanging out much last year."

Ryan had frozen, his whole body tensing and Troy immediately regretted his question, though it hadn't seemed offensive in any way. Ryan didn't speak for a few moments and just when Troy was going to apologize and tell him to forget it, because it obviously upset him, Ryan said softly, "It just happened."

Troy's eyebrows furrowed together in confusion. "What—?"

"I don't really want to talk about it, Troy," Ryan said as calmly as ever, but his eyes were dark. "It's no big deal." Troy knew something was up, but just nodded and mumbled an apology. Ryan sighed just as he was about to leave and gave him an apologetic half smile. "Look, Troy, I'm sorry for snapping at you." He didn't elaborate further and Troy didn't ask.

"It's cool," he said, smiling back, but his heart wasn't in it. He was more focused on finding out why Ryan had looked so upset for that split second before he'd schooled his features into something more stony, closed off.

Twenty minutes later, he was taking Kelsi out to lunch, who was now watching him wearily from the other side of a McDonald's booth. She'd been eager enough to get out of the hospital—said all the misery was stiffling her, and that she needed a break—but now that she knew why he'd asked her out, she was far more cautious, just like Ryan had been on their first day of practice, like she thought he'd blow a fuse.

"It's a long story," she said delicately and Troy sighed.

"It can't be that long, Kels. C'mon, tell me." He paused, and added for effect (though it was more true than he'd like to admit), "I'm a little worried… what happened?"

Kelsi gave him that look that made him feel like a douchebag—the 'wow, Troy Bolton actually cares about us little people?' look he'd been getting from everyone every time he tried to make nice. He knew the main problem was that he hadn't worked up the courage to step up and admit to everyone he was being a dick, even though he knew he was, and apologize, but knowing that he was a coward didn't mean he wanted to deal with that look in the meantime while figuring out how to stop.

"Please?" he tried and Kelsi gave a long-suffering sigh.

"Fine," she agreed slowly. "But this stays between you and me, okay? Ryan, and Sharpay for that matter, are not going to be pleased that I told you." She paused, her voice softening. "I'm only going to because Ryan told me how you guys are getting along. He really wants to be friends, Troy—so, for Ryan's sake, don't mess this up." Her eyes were intense. "Please, don't mess this up—it will ruin him. He's getting his hopes up, Troy."

"Just tell me," he said gently. "I have a feeling it has to do with the reason you're looking at me like I'm the answer to all of Ryan's problems."

Kelsi nodded, launching into her story. "Okay, Troy, you know how Ryan sometimes shows up with bruises and stuff at school that Sharpay's always harping on him about covering up?" He nodded—everyone knew about those bruises; they were normally faint, sometimes accompanied by a small cut or a bloody lip. They were rare nowadays, but everyone knew it was because Ryan was a clutz. He was always dropping things, or falling or whatnot. When not on stage, he was a regular toddler—always getting hurt. "Well, the thing is…" She hesitated, but carried on anyway. "Ryan's been getting beaten up."

Troy's eyes widened almost comically, choking on his burger, but his reaction was anything but funny to Kelsi, and to Troy himself. Anger bubbled up inside of him. "What? Kelsi, who the hell has been—"

"I don't know who," she interrupted, her voice tired. "But ever since the end of middle school, Ryan's had a tough go of it. For being Sharpay's brother, you know, and in drama, and... for other things. Everyone figures that because he's always with Sharpay, he's just like her, and… they go too far. It's never been too bad, but it still happens." Troy felt a deep anger at whoever had been hurting Ryan, and then at himself, for not noticing. Really, he'd always taken it for granted that Ryan was just clumsy, never caring quite enough, and suddenly felt like the stupidest person alive. "I mean, obviously, it's not a daily thing. But he gets hussled sometimes… and sometimes it gets a little worse than that." She shifted in her seat, uncomfortable.

"I—I never knew," he said weakly. "He's always with Sharpay, never with friends, and he doesn't really talk to anyone—" He suddenly felt like the world's biggest asshole for glossing over Ryan as he obviously had been. Apparently, everyone had been doing it. He made a mental note to change that.

Kelsi sighed. "Troy, have you ever considered the idea that Ryan sticks so closely to Sharpay because he has no friends?" He looked at her like she was speaking another language, so she continued. "Look. The whole school hates him because he's Sharpay's brother. If he's not with her, then the only friend he's got is me, and that's only a recent thing. So he sticks with Sharpay, knowing that it's pretty much her or nothing—not that he doesn't love her; he does, but... well, you get what I mean."

"Why doesn't Sharpay do something?" he asked, his blue eyes wide. Kelsi gave him a half smile, the expression sad in a way.

"Ah, Troy, you're so unassuming. She's tried. Staged fights with Ryan to try and salvage his reputation, told people to back off, everything. Sharpay may be... difficult to deal with, but Ryan is the only brother she'll get, and she knows it. She loves him dearly, but she had no idea what to do about it."

"How do you know all this?" Troy asked, his voice quiet. Kelsi shifted in her seat.

"Some things I put together on my own, others... I found Sharpay bawling her eyes out one day after Ryan got beat up once," she confessed. "That's how Ryan and I became friends—because I got close to Sharpay, even if it doesn't really look like it to anyone else. She was so upset, I couldn't just leave her there to cry. She broke down, told me everything. I then, by default, got closer to Ryan." Troy tried to picture Sharpay crying over anything but a broken nail and failed, but he knew Kelsi wasn't lying about it. She wouldn't, especially not over something so serious.

"Troy," she said softly. "That's why I was asking you not to hurt him." He nodded. "Please, don't. He's really got his hopes up—you're probably his first real guy friend, other than the workers at Lava Springs, and he's got all his hopes on his friendship with you. Don't let him down."

"Of course," he answered, trying to feel as strong as he was trying to come off as. He knew some things needed to change—the way he was treating his own friends, for one. He wasn't going to try and be a good friend to Ryan without being a good friend to his own, and he was being a complete jerk.

Things were going to change, for Ryan, and for himself.

It was only a week after that when Troy saw the first bruise up close. They'd been sitting together at the piano and Troy had looked over, dark surprise clear in his eyes.

"Ryan." The blonde looked over, his blue eyes so close, so innocent... Troy couldn't believe someone would want to hurt that. "Ryan," he said quietly. "Your makeup isn't thick enough under your eye."

Ryan jerked away from him, his hands flying up to cover his cheekbones, his face turning pink. "I tripped," he muttered softly and Troy sighed, leaning in closer and pulling Ryan's hand away from his face.

"Bullshit, you tripped," Troy deadpanned. "I feel like an idiot for falling for it all these years. Don't lie to me anymore."

"Troy," he said, his cheeks steadily turning darker, and he obviously intended to continue to argue, but Troy cut him off.

"No, Ry, stop. Look, I know I haven't been here for you like I should have been, but I am now, and I'm worried about you." Troy hoped Ryan could hear the sincerety in his voice. "I don't like knowing some asholes have been hurting you." He brushed a hand over the barely visible bruise, and Ryan tried not to flinch. "I'll never hurt you, Ryan."

"I know," he said softly and the brunette hated to hear shame in his voice. Ryan had no reason to be ashamed, and Troy hated the fact that he was. "I just-"

Troy shook his head and wrapped an arm around Ryan's shoulder. "You didn't do anything wrong. Just... I'd like to be here for you, you know? Sharpay shouldn't have to take care of you on your own, Ryan, like I know she is. You shouldn't have to deal with this on your own! We should all be here for you, and it makes me feel horrible because we haven't been. Wildcats should stick together."

"Wow, a famous Troy Bolton inspirational speech, just for me," Ryan said with a half smile, but Troy could see that there were tears in his eyes. "I- thanks, Troy."

He removed his arm from Ryan's shoulder and nudged him with a grin. Ryan laughed, nudged back and put his fingers back on the keys, filling the room with what was quickly becoming their song.

"Dude, going to sing with your boyfriend again?"

Troy rolled his eyes as he took his apron off, smoothing out his hair. "Ryan isn't my boyfriend, man, you know that," he snorted. "And no, but even if I was, it doesn't matter. I think you all forget I'll be singing with Miss Diva herself- I need all the help I can get if I want to survive." Chad rolled his eyes, but Troy knew his friend understood. It had taken a lot of grovelling to even get on speaking terms with the bushy-haired seventeen year old after blowing him off to play basketball with the Red Hawks, and there was still a lot of animosity between them.

"Where're you going, then?" he asked. "Work isn't over for another half hour."

"Cleaning up the golf course," he answered with a shrug. "I promised when I asked to work in the kitchens today that I'd help clean up the courses." Chad nodded and Troy was relieved he didn't push it. If he was pushed, he knew he would wind up admitting that he did have practice with Ryan that evening- and besides, telling Chad they we're going to have dinner together would be way too much ammo.

He waved goodbye to everyone, heading out. The ride to the course was short, his golf cart faster than walking, but he enjoyed it nonetheless, tapping out the beat of You Are The Music In Me on his knee as he drove. Once he got up there, Troy stretched and set about cleaning up the golf course. There were plenty of leftover balls and clubs lying around, but Troy didn't mind the labor. He was in a shockingly good mood, humming to himself as the sun began to set.

"You sound like you're enjoying Kelsi's song, wildcat."

Troy jumped, his eyes wide. "Gabriella! What are you doing out here?" The brunette raised an eyebrow at him.

"I was wondering if you wanted to grab a bite to eat before we head home, actually," she said. "I barely see you anymore."

Troy looked away in guilt. "I would, Gabriella, but I promised Ryan we could practice over dinner. But you could eat with us, if you want," he offered hopefully. To be honest, he'd promised to practice over dinner every night until the show, but he didn't think that information would help his case. After all, she was perfectly right; they hadn't seen each other, not since he'd begun rehearsals with Ryan.

Gabriella sighed. "That's romantic." Troy winced. "Troy, don't you think you're over working yourself?" she asked gently. He smoothed out his wince and raised an eyebrow.

"I'm singing this thing with Sharpay, Gabi."

She made a face, too, sympathetic. "Okay, you're right. Sorry, Troy. Sure. Are you heading there when you're done here?" He nodded and she smiled at him, settling herself in the golf cart to wait.

-Gabriella-

Their dinner went well enough, though Troy could barely keep his eyes off of the lively blonde, who seemed attached to Troy. Gabriella felt guilty for being jealous, but instead of sitting there and holding her, he was on the other side of their picnic basket, set up in the middle of the music room floor, with Ryan instead of her. She really wan't a jealous girl by nature and she didn't feel as close to Troy as she used to anyway... it just hurt to know she'd been replaced, even by a friend. A breakup was inevitable; she knew she was delaying the inevitable. Troy was drifting away from her.

The minute Troy sat down next to Ryan at the piano to demonstrate the song, though, Gabriella knew something was terribly, terribly wrong and the pieces began clicking together. The dynamic between the two was different than any relationship between two men she'd seen before. Gabriella did not know what to make of it.

She could hear Troy's foot tapping in time as Ryan began playing. That was normal, but the soft smile on Troy's face was new, and honestly, it made Gabriella feel like Troy was slipping away from her while she was sitting there, putting a wall between them, with her on one side and Ryan and her boyfriend on the other. The only way she could describe it was like watching Troy let go of her hand to take Ryan's, and Gabriella did not like that at all.

"Na na na na, na na na na, yeah…" Ryan began—sitting much closer to Troy than necessary, his eyes lit like the sun. Gabriella had seen him perform before, but this? This was much more real, and far more personal.

Then Troy joined in and Gabriella couldn't help but tear up as the first inkling of the truth came to life right in front of her.

"You are the music in me," they sang, a shy smile on Ryan's face and Gabriella almost felt intrusive… and sick. They sounded good—too good. Their voices complimented each other, coming together in a nearly seamless, beautiful harmony. Her Troy, a diamond in the rough, and Ryan, a trained performer with the voice of an angel. A pang of biting jealousy hit her again. Why hadn't Troy sounded like that when he sang with her?

They're perfect for each other, she thought. Like they were born to be together. The notion made her cringe, no matter how true it was. She loved Troy, she really did, but… Could he handle never having this again after knowing what it's like?

Gabriella didn't think she would be able to, let alone asking Troy to, and suddenly she knew exactly why she didn't feel like they were really a couple anymore.

"You know the words once upon a time," Ryan sang and Troy grinned as he really got into it. The song was different—more Sharpay-ified, but Ryan and Troy had begged her to keep it as close to the original as she could bare. Sharpay couldn't refuse her brother and Troy, and she agreed. So You Are The Music In Me was re-transposed by Ryan and became slower—still faster than the original—and had regained its soul.

Now it was clear that Gabriella had no part in the soul of the song. It was entirely Troy and Ryan, and there was no room for her. It didn't matter if it was meant for Troy and Sharpay. Even she had no room.

Gabriella knew, without a doubt, that her relationship with Troy Bolton was over.

"Makes you listen…" Troy nudged Ryan's shoulder playfully.

"There's a reason." He returned the nudge with a grin. "And when you dream, there's a chance you'll find…"

"A little laugher…"

Together, they completed the first verse gorgeously. "Or a happy ever after."

"You're the harmony..." Gabriella had to agree with the blonde there.

"To the melody…"

"That's echoing inside my head! A single voice—"

"Above the noise," Troy cut in, his smile wide and innocently delighted.

"And like a common thread… ooh, you're pullin' me!" they finished. Troy was nearly glowing, and something occurred to Gabriella as he sent a grin in her direction.

He had no idea.

He was obviously falling in love with Ryan—already!—and he had no idea!

"When I hear my favorite song—"

Gabriella listened to them finish in a sort of aching silence. When they were done, Troy jumped up like he was being freed from purgatory, but Gabriella knew that wasn't quite it. His energy was from the high singing with Ryan gave him, and with one look at the blonde in question, she could tell he wasn't much better off.

But Gabriella could also tell that unlike her basketball playing boyfriend, Ryan was completely aware of his feelings for Troy… and was ignoring them because of her, for her. A horrendous guilt welled inside of her.

"What do you think?" Troy asked, an excited flush on his high cheekbones.

"It was lovely," she managed to choke out. "Do you mind if I talk to Ryan about something for a minute, Troy?"

It was implied that it was to be a private conversation.

He blinked, clearly confused. "Um, sure, Gab." He stepped out, shutting the door behind him.

Ryan stood in front of her, wide eyed and red faced, as if he already knew what she was going to say.

She spoke softly. "He has no idea."

Ryan blinked as well, suddenly looking as confused as Troy had been. "What do you…?"

She sighed. "He doesn't know. How you feel about him. Or how he feels about you."

"Oh." Ryan shifted uncomfortably. "He doesn't like me the way I like—"

"You love him- or you're falling," she corrected softly. "Don't try and downsize it for me, Ry. I'm a big girl, I can take it." He looked down at his feet in shame. "And he's definitely falling for you, too. He just hasn't realized it yet."

"He… I'm sorry." His musical voice was barely more than a whisper, and his voice had cracked. "You don't know how horrible I feel—" He cut himself off. "But I still… don't know how not to love him. At first, I didn't know how I could. But now I couldn't imagine life without him. Dramatic, huh? But it's the truth." He gave a small, humorless chuckle, peeking up at her through long blonde eyelashes.

"That's Troy for you," she murmured sadly, her smile wry. "But even I can tell you two were made for each other." She took a deep breath. "You have a serious chance to make it work out between you two, and I couldn't mess that up. I mean… it could be serious. Long term. So… I'm going to break up with him."

He looked up in shock. "But Gabriella—"

She shook her head. "No, Ryan. He doesn't love me. It wouldn't work out, and I've known it for a few weeks now... I just didn't knew why. Do me a favor, though. Make sure you'll be there to catch him when he falls, okay?" With that, she turned on her heel and walked out before he could protest, asking Troy to take a walk with her as she passed him standing nervously in the hallway.

They needed to talk.

-Ryan-

It was nearly an hour later when Ryan found Troy standing in the doorway to the rehearsal room where Ryan had been waiting in case his friend came back. His expression was unreadable, but his eyes were shocked, and confused.

"Gabriella broke up with me," he said softly. "Said she had to go her own way, that she wasn't happy here." Ryan didn't know what expression to wear. "You knew, didn't you?"

Mutely, Ryan nodded. It took several attempts to get his mouth to work, but eventually, he managed. "Just after we showed her the song. I'm sorry, Troy."

Troy nodded, his gaze on the rug covering the wood floor. Ryan didn't think he'd noticed, but Troy's hands were shaky, too. "God, I knew I would screw things up."

Ryan looked up from the music he was trying to hide his guilt in, horrified. He couldn't let Troy take the blame on himself when it was Ryan's fault. The thought hit him cold. It was his fault that Troy was upset, all because he couldn't control his own feelings. Still, he had to fight the guilt, because Troy needed him. At least, that was how Ryan saw it.

So he stood and crossed the room, wrapping his thin, slightly muscled arms around his friend. Troy was taller than Ryan by half a foot, but he locked his arms around the basketball player's neck and forced him to accept the embrace. After a moment, Troy's board-like body relaxed and he crushed Ryan to him, his whole body trembling as he failed at holding back tears.

They stood there for several minutes, the only sound in the room Troy's sniffles.

"Duckie, is something wrong with Troy?"

Unfortunately for Ryan, at the sound of Mrs. Evan's voice, Troy let him go, but Ryan had to give it to him—he didn't jump back like he was a shamed; he simply let go without stepping away, leaving a hand on Ryan's shoulder.

"Not wrong, necessarily, Mrs. Evans. Just a shock. My girlfriend broke up with me, and Ryan was comforting me before I drove home." Troy gave him a tired, grateful smile, but all Ryan could think about was getting him to stay.

"Well, it's really very late…" the older blonde mused thoughtfully.

Ryan could have hugged her if that wouldn't have been incredibly embarrassing in the current situation.

"She's right, Troy. It's late. You should stay here," Ryan suggested, just a tad too overexcited. He knew he sounded far too eager, but he would have been even if it hadn't been Troy. Growing up the way he and Sharpay had, he'd never had a friend stay the night—he'd always had very few friends anyway—but the fact that his first sleepover might be Troy made the situation even better.

Troy looked up in surprise, his eyebrows raised.

"Me? Stay here?" Troy sounded disbelieving, and the embarrassement would have made Ryan drop it, but he also heard relief underneath Troy's initial surprise, and it urged him to continue.

"Yeah. I mean, you are a friend, and you could stay in a rental room." But that wasn't good enough, and even though it was selfish, he had to give Troy the option Ryan prefered. "Or you could stay in my room. I mean, I only have one bed, but it's huge, and Sharpay doesn't just barge into my room anymore. She hasn't since she found out I was gay, lest she walk in on something she really wouldn't want to see her brother doing. So you don't have to worry about her, either!"

Ryan's eyes widened as he realized what he had just admitted to, but Troy's expression didn't change. Wasn't he shocked? As Ryan thought on that, he began to lose hope. There was no way Troy would stay with him now.

"Sure, sounds cool. Thanks for offering; I honestly don't know if I'd be able to make it home without getting myself into an accident."

Ryan's head snapped up and he met Troy's sheepish grin with a shocked expression.

"Sure?" he repeated, his mouth opening and closing in confusion.

"Sure. Yes. Okay," Troy chuckled. "Why do you sound so surprised?" With a knowing smile, Mrs. Evans left, but neither Ryan nor Troy noticed.

"I just…" Ryan was dumbstruck. "You're willing to share a room with a gay boy?"

Troy's laugher just got louder. "I've been spending plenty hours alone with a gay boy, so what's so different about this?"

"We'd be sharing a bed—you knew I was gay?" Ryan asked, putting his hands on his hips, his voice going from shocked to indignant. Troy took one look at him and cracked up.

"Well, Ry, take a look at yourself. How could I not figure it out, especially after spending so much time with you?" he chuckled. "I mean, it was a weird concept at first, but it's you. It's hard to be weird around you, and it's not like I'm a homophobe or anything, so it's fine."

Ryan was dumbfounded again. "… okay?"

Troy smiled, but Ryan could see how tired he was. "So… why don't we go to bed? We've practiced enough for the day and I have to admit… I'm beat." Ryan grinned, his stupor broken, and grabbed Troy's hand to take him there without thinking about it. Had he realized he'd done it, he also would have realized that Troy hadn't pulled away.

-Troy-

When Troy woke, he was pleasantly warm, a comfortable weight covering the left side of his body. Warm, and familiar. Then, the events of the day before hit him and without express permission from his brain, his arms tightened around the blonde. Ryan mumbled something under his breath, running one hot palm over Troy's chest, grazing over a nipple. His other hand was laying next to his shoulder and it was cold, which explained why Ryan's left had migrated under Troy's shirt. He didn't want to analyze why the feeling of that hand against him sent shivers down his spine.

Troy hadn't felt so rested in a long time, nor had anyone else felt so right in his arms. He sighed with vague contentment as Ryan shifted on top of him, curling up slightly and burying his nose into the crook of Troy's neck, his breath hot.

Troy traced the taut muscles of the leg thrown over his lower stomach lightly, wondering when he'd gotten so wrapped up in his blonde friend—both literally and figuratively. Well, he tried to wonder, but in reality, his thoughts were stuck on how long and slender Ryan's dancer's legs were. Troy's other hand was running up and down the male twin's spine gently, fondly memorizing every curve under soft skin. Unlike with Gabriella, he knew he didn't have to treat Ryan gently, but he couldn't help but want to. Ryan was his precious friend, his block from the outside world, the only thing standing between him and the bad things that threatened to haunt him. He couldn't even feel the devestation he'd been sure he would when the shock from the breakup wore off.

He wasn't sure why it was such a shock, though. He'd known Gabriella was unhappy, and he knew that they really didn't click anymore; it was just that-

Then, interrupting his deep thought, his stomach growled. He looked over at the clock and made a face. 12:04.

"Ryan," he murmured, shaking his shoulder gently. "Ryan, wake up. We need lunch and I'm late for work." Ryan whimpered in weak protest, his limbs tightening around the basketball player and Troy couldn't help but chuckle under his breath.

Hn. Cute.

"Troy," he acknowledged groggily, rubbing sleep from his eyes. They opened slowly, two perfect orbs of blue much lighter than Troy's, and looked up at him.

"Good morning, Ry," he greeted the half-awake performer, amused. He speculated that he should feel awkward, waking up in such an intimate position with his friend, but he didn't. He actually felt rather comfortable there.

"Good morning." Then, to Troy's utter astonishment (and dare he admit it, pleasure), Ryan leaned up and kissed him lightly on the corner of the mouth before he got up and made his way to the closet in his pajamas. It wasn't until he returned with a folded outfit, complete with fedora, that Ryan seemed to wake up enough to realize what he'd done. His eyes widened as they locked on Troy's slightly awed expression, then his cheeks turned a fetching shade of pink and he squeaked, "Sorry, Troy! I didn't mean… to kiss you…"

Troy laughed, sitting up and running a hand through his hair. "It's okay, Ry. It's you. Just seems normal, I guess." With that, he stood and walked over, laying a soft kiss on the hollow of the blonde's dimple, his lips barely touching the corner of Ryan's. "See? No big deal."

But Troy had felt the electric shock that had hit him when he touched Ryan's skin, and he knew Ryan had, too. The blonde was looking up at him wordlessly and before Troy realized what he was doing, he had leaned down, his hands finding the blonde's shoulders, and laid his lips utop Ryan's.

He did notice that Ryan wasn't pulling away, however—and with every slight movement of his lips he was falling deeper and deeper into a hole he'd never even dreamed he'd dig himself.

So you're crushing on Ryan now? He wasn't sure he knew the answer to his own question, but Ryan was there in his arms, so perfectly compliant and heartbreakingly beautiful, and he wasn't going to pass up the opportunity. He didn't want to deepen it more than was appropriate—not while he was still figuring things out—but god, he didn't want to let go of Ryan. When their lips parted, he didn't move away.

"What was that for?" the blonde asked breathlessly when Troy released his mouth.

"Not sure. But it was… great, really." Troy looked sheepish again, and embarrassed. Ryan looked so cute, his cheeks pink, his lips slowly turning the color of cherries. "Not a rebound thing," he added quickly when the thought occured to him. "Just... I wanted to." Ryan nodded slowly, running his tongue over his upper lip with an almost glazed expression. Troy watched as the clothes in his arms fluttered to the ground.

"Will you do it again?" he asked softly, his voice barely above a whisper. Troy didn't have time to think about it before his body was in motion, meeting Ryan's lips halfway. He heard a strangled "oh..." before Ryan's hands were in his hair, their bodies pressed flush together, the heat building until Troy broke away to preserve his self-control, his breath heavy.

"Really good," Ryan agreed his own breath coming out in little pants. "Oh, god, Troy, I-" But he didn't finish and instead just buried his face in Troy's shoulder, trembling.

Troy shared the sentiment. His limbs were twitching and his arms, wrapped around Ryan, flexed, squeezing the theater king in his embrace. He couldn't ever remember having feelings for a man like he did now, yet all of a sudden, Ryan was his closest companion, so precious to him. He was a little surprised he hadn't realized what his developing feelings were before now, but there really wasn't any point in whining about it now, not when he had the gorgeous blonde right here in his arms.

"Sorry for jumping you like that," he whispered but Ryan just shook his head.

"Don't apologize. I've been hoping you'd do that for ages." Troy raised an eyebrow and pulled back to give Ryan a smirk, who turned as red as a cherry and buried his face in his hands. "Let's pretend I didn't say that."

"Nope," Troy laughed. "I'm going to remember it forever. The day Ryan Evans admitted he has a crush on me." He chose not to say anything about his own fondness of the blonde.

"I never said anything about a crush," Ryan argued, but his cheeks were flushed in pleasure, not embarrassment, and Troy just smiled again and kissed Ryan softly.

"It's okay," he said gently. "I think I have a crush on you, too." Ryan just looked up at him in wonder and he rolled his eyes. "C'mon, Ry, speak. I know you're capeable of it." Ryan rolled his own eyes and gave Troy another kiss, obviously enjoying being able to do so.

"So…" Ryan said, coughing nervously. "Are we seriously considering a relationship here, or a fling?"

"Troy Bolton does not do flings," the basketball player said with a roll of the eyes. "I'm obviously considering a relationship. Not right away, but…" He bit his lip. "I know that Gabi and I just broke up, but I think I've been feeling a lot more for you than frienship, for a while now. I don't want to jump into anything, but I'd appreciate it if you kept your options closed to just me for a little while. Don't want to worry about any cute pool boys stealing you away while I'm figuring myself out."

Ryan laughed, his body relaxing in Troy's arms. "I can work that," he whispered, but they both knew that waiting really wouldn't be so hard. He had a feeling they would probably act like they were together anyway. Troy smiled at the thought, threw caution to the wind, and kissed him again.

-Sharpay-

She couldn't remember the last time Ryan had surprised her, but she was certainly surprised now. She stood outside Ryan's room, a hand on the knob, the other covering her gaping mouth.

She's known that Ryan had a crush on Troy - how could she not? Ryan was so sweetly obvious even he was trying to hide it. Sharpay wasn't totally sure whether he was hiding it for Gabriella's sake or her own, but she decided it didn't really matter. His feelings were obviously more serious than hers and she could have anyone she wanted, so why did she really need Troy? She didn't.

She wasn't going to pretend she didn't feel a little bitter. She'd been trying to get close to Troy for ages, and Ryan hadn't liked him as more than a potential friend for all that time. Still, he'd had the opportunity to learn more about him, to get close to him, and she couldn't blame him for falling in love. She just couldn't understand why Troy had let Ryan in and not her. Despite being straight, Ryan had obviously wormed his way into Troy's head and Troy wasn't resisting at all. It was almost odd, but... she couldn't get in between them. It was something she didn't think she'd ever understand, so she wasn't going to bother trying.

"Sharpay, what's wrong?"

She jumped back from the door to face Gabriella, who was watching her with a sad sort of smile. Her curls were limp and she looked exhausted, like she'd been up all night.

Dark brown eyes flickered toward the door with Ryan's name on it in gold letters. "Oh," she said softly. "Troy and Ryan. I assume that Troy spent the night here."

"Apparently," Sharpay answered quietly. "They're quite friendly."

"Don't," Gabriella whispered and for the first time, Sharpay could see just how upset the girl was. "Don't try to break them up, Sharpay. I know we're not exactly friends, but Ryan is your brother, and -"

"Don't, Gabriella," Sharpay snorted, stepping from the door, towards the seventeen year old. She held a manicured hand in the genius's direction when she opened her mouth, then walked past her, gesturing for her to follow. When they were a suitable distance down the hall, she faced Gabriella with a flat expression.

"I know that I'm not the best person in the world," she began in an icy tone. "But I would never do anything to hurt Ryan on purpose. Yes, I'm a diva, and he suffers for it sometimes." She paused, then sent a glance toward Ryan's door down the hall. "I would never take something like this away from him." With a sigh, she leaned against the wall rubbing her face with her hands. She suddenly felt so tired. "You don't know a single thing about what's going on with Ryan and neither of us are keen to talk about it. Troy knows because a certain birdie with a big mouth told him, but when it came up between Ryan and I, he assured me that Troy is sworn to secrecy, if not knighthood."

"Is there something wrong?" Gabriella asked, biting her lip in worry. Sharpay rolled her chocolate-colored eyes. Where had Gabriella been when Ryan showed up with bruises and cuts and limps? Where had any of them been? The only reason she wasn't holding it against Troy was because she knew he felt guilty enough about it. Kelsi had told her about how angry Troy was at himself for not caring enough and she wasn't going to add onto that when Troy was there for her brother now.

"Nothing we need your help with," she replied smartly. "We have it under control." She desperately hoped that was true. The attacks were so few and far between anymore and she was highly doubtful that Troy would leave Ryan unattended in a place where he could be hurt, so she let herself hope, the feeling so rare that she was almost unfamiliar with it. She could tell the basketball star cared about Ryan and despite herself, she was relieved that he had someone else to look out for him that could actually do something about it. She'd physically tried to stop a fight once and only once and it had ended in them both suffering some rather severe injuries (she avoided West High after that; their basketball team had no honor - to hit a woman!). Ryan had made her swear not to interfere again, but it didn't mean she still couldn't attempt to help at all.

"Shar?"

She would never admit it later, but she jumped and went bright red - almost as red as Ryan, who had stepped from his room, his hand in Troy's.

"Hey, Ryan!" she chirped, laughing nervously. "So, I've got to go, but I will see you at dinner - and Troy, I expect to see you at dinner, too," she added firmly. "I think we need to talk." Ryan winced and Troy sighed, rolling his eyes lightly.

"Of course, Sharpay," he agreed, visibly squeezing Ryan's hand. "I'm going to go pray that Fulton doesn't fire me, but... I'll see you later?"

"Dinner," Ryan said with a nod, eyeing Troy's lips so obviously that Sharpay rolled hers more dramatically than Troy had his.

"Okay, look, everyone here knows there's something going on between you two and while I'm not going to ask exactly what until dinner, if Gabriella's okay with it I'd like to ask you to just kiss goodbye and stop looking like a couple puppies in love." She finished her spiel with a loud huff and looked over at Gabriella, who sighed playfully and nodded, though Sharpay could see quite clearly that she was still a little hurt over the whole situation.

With a blush, Ryan ducked his head, but Troy just smiled fondly and leaned down, nudging the blonde's head up with a couple fingers and kissed him softly. "Dinner," he assured Ryan, who nodded and leaned forward to kiss him again, brief and sweet, before letting Troy pull away.

"I'm going to lunch," Ryan muttered in embarrassment as he passed Sharpay, who just nodded with a calculating expression.

"They're really close."

"No duh, Sherlock," Sharpay snorted, shaking her head. "C'mon. This is way too much drama at once and I need a facial."

"You, in the middle of too much drama? Preposterous!" Neither commented on the fact that Sharpay had offered to hang out, only accepted it.

"Shut up!"

Gabriella laughed and Sharpay merely smiled, leading the way.

"Look, I know it's a bit weird," Sharpay said loudly. "But, we have two days until the show, and everything must be perfect!" She glared her classmates down, who were all blinking at her like she was insane.

"Ryan and Troy?" Martha asked, taking in a sharp breath and looking utterly dumbfounded. "But-"

"He may not be gay," Gabriella interjected before she could finish, her voice soft, her eyes honest. "But he is with Ryan - or should be, anyway. That's why we need your help." Sharpay had a hand on her shoulder, vaguely reassuring. She knew it was tough for the girl, giving up Troy and backing him up, but they didn't really click together anymore. Everyone knew it, and even though it hurt, they all knew that Gabriella was better off finding someone else. There was no real passion, no depth in her relationship with Troy, and she deserved that.

"What makes you think we're going to stand by Troy when he didn't stand by us?" Chad challenged, but Gabriella just smiled at him, all-knowing.

"Because you've already forgiven him for that," Sharpay snorted before Gabi could reply. "We all know that. You two are brothers, and you love each other. It's vaguely disgusting, but I guess we can all deal with a bit of bromance every now and again."

Kelsi, officially back on schedule (though Ryan and Troy were still practicing together without her for obvious reasons), giggled before shushing due to a sharp glare from Sharpay. "Troy's the reason we're here," she offered instead, shrugging. "And who here really cares if he's with a guy? Everyone knows that Ryan's really a good guy." She glared at Chad, who after the baseball game had become rather good friends with the blonde. "And after all he's been through, he deserves some happiness." She ignored the looks of confusion on several of the Wildcat's faces.

"Exactly," Gabriella agreed. "And if I'm not angry with Troy for liking him, why should you be? It just wasn't working between us - too middle school sweet and not quite serious enough, you know? It's not like that with Ryan, though." Sharpay nodded, her expression unreadable. "I think they could really be happy together. So why shouldn't we help them out?"

"What do they need help with?" Chad said with a roll of the eyes, dropping the hostile cover. "I mean, seriously, they're making goo-goo eyes at each other all the time and I don't think Ryan could stand any closer to Troy when they're together if he tried. What could they possibly need us for?"

"They're still on the fence about it," Sharpay answered, nodding toward Gabriella. "The whole rebound thing and all that, Troy wanting to be sure of his feelings... whatever. It's a load of crap. We all know Troy's head over heels... but Ryan is just as hesitant. He's scared it's not going to work out, that they're not going to be supported. He's afraid to come out officially, even if we all know he's gay anyways."

"Um, I didn't," Jason pointed out, but even Gabriella gave him a look. "Okay, so maybe I'm not the brightest tool in the shed-"

"I'm going to stop you right there before you make an even bigger idiot of yourself," Chad chuckled, punching him lightly on the shoulder. "All right, Sharpay. I'm in." His lips were quirked in a smile and Sharpay grinned in satisfaction.

The rest slowly agreed as well, nodding and waiting for Sharpay to explain. "Okay, so here's what I have in mind..."

-Ryan-

"Once in a lifetime means there's no second chance..."

"Sharpay, I don't think this is a good idea," Ryan said desperately as Sharpay pushed him through the group of Wildcats hiding him and his fancy get up - dress shoes, pressed slacks, scarf, hat and all. He heard the music in the background, knowing exactly what it was and wondering how in hell Sharpay had gotten her theiving little hands on it because last time he'd checked, it had been locked away in his songbook, never to be released. It was one of many songs he'd written about him and Troy and the fact that the brunette basketball player was singing it now gave him chills despite his irritation with his sister.

"Troy just learned a whole song for you," she argued in his ear, pushing him toward the front row of kids as Troy neared the end of his part. "He just doesn't know why quite yet, but he will. So just go!"

"So I believe that you and me should grab it while we can..." His grip on the microphone Sharpay had handed him was tight and sweaty. His heart was beating a mile a minute as Troy finished the line, listening to the music anxiously for his part. His steps were shaky as he broke the line of teenagers, raising the microphone to his mouth. He swallowed nervously, worrying though he knew the lyrics by heart. He'd slaved over them and hearing them sung, by Troy no less, made them even more real.

"Make it last forever... and never give it back," he sang softly, walking slowly toward the stage and his stunned potential boyfriend.

Troy's lower lip quivered and he sang again, the hand holding the microphone trembling ever so slightly, like Ryan's. "It's our turn and I'm loving where we're at."

"Because this moment's really all we have," they sang together and Ryan reached the stage, Troy's hand out to help him up. "Everyday," Troy crooned, pulling him close and Ryan relaxed, his face warming. "Of our lives..."

"Want to find you there, want to hold on tight!" he sang back, smiling blindingly at Troy, whose eyes were so open, so warm, that he felt the need to kiss him right there.

So he did.

There were cheers from the crowd, everyone there pre-approved on his mother's non-homophobic guest list. Behind them, the Wildcats joined the stage, picking up the slack that their kiss had dropped. He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to give Sharpay a hug, who sang the chorus with a huge smile, laughing when he let go. She gave Troy a hug, too, squeezing his shoulder and threading her arm through his. Ryan wasn't threatened - he knew what she was doing. She was making friends, showing her allegiance, and he couldn't think of a thing that he could have wanted more.

As he stood there, singing with his friends, Troy calmly reached out and took his hand. He went still for half a second before smiling, squeezing Troy's hand.

"Everyday," he whispered before saying "screw it", handing his mic to Sharpay, and kissing Troy again, hard. He was swept off his feet, spun in the air, and laughed, safe and happy in Troy's arms.