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The Stray

Chapter Text

Feral cats are domestic cats that were born in or have reverted to a wild state. They are unfamiliar with and wary of humans and roam freely in urban and rural areas.

 

            Beginning of senior year held far more surprises than anyone would think. After another failed attempt to off himself, a note found in his pocket, and a friendship based on the fact that someone else was just as broken as him. Connor remembered when he first woke up to find his parents, his sister, and his “best and dearest friend” Evan Hansen. When given an opportunity, what he thought in the computer lab was only confirmed: Evan, like him, was an outcast with a lot of issues. Still, he remained wary of the anxious boy for a few weeks out of habit. Then came the day that Evan finally stood up for Connor one dinner and his father finally agreed to allow him to go to therapy long enough to actually help unlike before.

 

            However, therapy doesn’t solve everything. Sure, it did provide answers and helped him get medication to get him a bit more stable, but years of pent-up rage doesn’t just disappear. Which leads Connor to his current situation, with his back pressed against a cold brick wall and looking around the corner with a mask completely concealing his face and his hood up. The grip on his baseball bat tightened as he listened in.

            “Look kid, just give us your cash and we’ll leave you alone-”

            “I-I don’t have any money!” The voice, as broken as it was, sounded a bit too familiar. “Please, leave…leave me alone!”

            “’Fraid we can’t do that till we check all your pockets,” There was the sound of a slam, and that was Connor’s cue to turn the corner.

            “Hey assholes!” He snarled out. “How about you leave the poor guy alone and rob someone who actually seems like they’ve got money?”

            Two of the three pricks turned to look at Connor, with the third pinning their poor victim to the wall. He couldn’t quite see him completely, but it didn’t matter; this kid needed help right now.

            “Well, well, well,” The scrawniest of the three- he kind of looked like a sewer rat in the dim light- began walking towards Connor. “If it isn’t the newest vigilante, the Stray. Y’know, with how much you keep lingering in allies from everyone’s stories, you might as well be called the Alleycat. Or the Pussy-cat, ‘cause you ain’t gonna do shit.”

            “That’s not the first time I’ve heard that one,” Connor snorted before hurrying forward and swinging the bat right into the rat-man’s ribs. The man fell to the ground, holding his side and moaning in pain. Both his buddies left their victim alone, rushing to attack the guy who probably broke their friend’s ribs. Connor dodged the most muscular one’s attempt to punch, choosing to aim the next swing for the guy’s knees. It seemed to have the effect of a love tap, because the guy was still standing.

            There was the sound of a switchblade and a babble of a warning from the victim. Connor turned just in time to have his sleeve cut along the back of his forearm. It was only a flesh wound, barely stung (probably because of the adrenaline rush, or the fact he was used to wounds on his arms), but it was still pretty rude to pull a fucking knife. Connor lifted one of his long legs and kicked the guy right in the stomach, knocking the air out of him as he fell against the wall. The teenager turned his attention back to the muscles of the group, and decided to say ‘screw it’ in his head and kick the guy in the groin. He fell instantly near his rat-looking companion.

            Connor turned his attention to the victim of the three men. Connor felt his heart almost stop as he recognized the kid, even in the darkness. It was Evan, and right now, Evan was going into a panic attack, curled into himself against the wall.

            “Hey, kid,” Connor couldn’t blow his cover. “Kid, I need you to get up and breathe- can you do that?” When Evan didn’t respond, Connor let out a soft sigh and grabbed the boy’s hands to pull him to his feet. “Breathe in for twelve, hold for seven, and breathe out for ten.” He ordered. Evan nodded shakily, working to breathe. Connor suddenly heard sirens in the distance and muttered a string of curses, forgetting that there would be someone who’d call for the police when there was loud commotion going on late at night. “I’ve got to go; tell the police the Stray was here again.”

            “Wha…Wait!” Evan called out, but Connor had to hurry, get back home to patch up his arm, and try to get some sleep while he could.

 

            Connor stepped into his room through his window. He pulled down his hood and reached to unlatch the mask, carefully taking it off and putting it into the same bag was his baseball bat. He put the bag into his closet, reaching for a small first aid kit he also kept stashed in there. He was careful to take off his jacket, taking a look at the wound on his forearm. Now that the initial rush was gone, the wound actually hurt quite a bit.

            He grabbed the first aid kit and headed to the bathroom. Turning on the sink, he began to rinse the wound and clean it. He turned the faucet back off, reaching for a ragged, but clean, towel to dry his arm. He opened the kit, grabbing the antibiotic spray and spraying it onto the wound. He tensed a bit at the stinging feeling, biting down on his own lip- not enough to draw blood, but still, painful as all hell. Connor placed the spray back into the kit before reaching for some bandages to hastily wrap them around his forearm.

            He closed the first aid kit, turning the bathroom light off and getting back to his bedroom. Connor hid the kit in his closet once more, and took off his jeans and shirt to switch into some old pajama pants before flopping onto bed. He glanced at the clock, finding it to already be one in the morning, and cuddled into the pillows to try and get sleep while he could.

Chapter Text

 

Feral cats often live in colonies, groups of feral cats that live together in one territory, often near food sources and shelter.

 

            Connor, for the most part, had a strangely good day. Firstly, he woke up not feeling completely like walking garbage. Next, it was a nice late autumn day with the perfect amount of clouds to somewhat cover the sky yet still remain fairly bright. Two of his classes had substitutes, so he didn’t really have to do much work by the time lunch came around and actually felt somewhat sociable. He made his way to the table he’d grown to share with Evan and found Evan talking animatedly with Jared.

            “-No, no, no- Jared you’re not listening!” Evan slammed his hands down on the table. “The Stray saved me last night, not just beating up those guys, but he knew what to do about my panic attack!”

            “Did he suck your dick while he was at it?” Jared asked, taking a sip from his carton of milk. The anxious blonde’s face turned red as a rose.

            “Jared!”

            “Hey guys,” Connor finally spoke up. Both the boys turned to look at him. “What…what’s up?”

            “Acorn here got saved by the town’s local Batman, the Stray cat or whatever, last night, and now I’m pretty sure he’s gay for the vigilante furry,” Jared whined as Evan punched his shoulder. “What the hell was that for, Ev?”

            “I’m not gay for the…the Stray, Jared,” Evan seemed reluctant to state this, shaking his head of whatever thoughts were going through his head before turning his attention to Connor. “I, uh, I almost got robbed last night and that hero everyone’s been talking about saved me.”

            “Holy shit, Evan, are you alright?” Connor only had to half-fake concern, as he did have some genuine worry for his friend still even though he was the one to save him.

            “Yeah! I mean,” Evan rubbed the forearm where his cast used to reside, having been removed two or so weeks prior. “Yeah, I’m fine. I went into a panic attack, but the Stray knew how to handle them apparently.” He scratched the back of his neck.

            Connor felt a bit of pride in the admiration in Evan’s voice. “So you’re sure you’re fine?”

            Evan nodded again. “Mom almost had a heart attack though,” His face fell. “She- The police took me home and told her about how I was almost robbed so…” He awkwardly shrugged, seemingly unable to know how to put to words how to end the story. But, knowing Heidi, Connor could suspect how she reacted.

            “What happened to your arm?” Jared pointed at the exposed bandages peeking out from under the sleeve of Connor’s back up hoodie. The long-haired boy looked alarmed before pulling the sleeve back over his arm.

            “It’s none of your business.” He mumbled. Evan looked almost pained, getting up from his seat beside Jared and walking to sit next to Connor.

            “Connor, have you been…y’know…” Evan subtly scratched his wrist.

            “No, of course not!” Connor waved his hands. “Ev, I promised you that I wouldn’t do that, and I’ve been making good on that promise. I just got a bad scratch along my arm yesterday.”

            “Okay, good,” Evan looked pleased with the answer. “You, uh…want my sandwich?” He reached to grab the brown bag his lunch normally came in and took out a sandwich, offering it to Connor.

            “Oh hell yeah; I’m starving,” The brunet took the sandwich with a hungry grin. He took it out of the plastic bag it came in, licking his lips before taking a bite. He was halfway through the small meal when two people came up to the table.

            “Mind if we sit here?” Zoe asked, Alana Beck next to her. “Our usual seats got overtaken by some assholes.”

            Since he’d been getting help (and working as the Stray), Connor had also been rebuilding a relationship with his younger sister. A while back, they could hardly stand to be near each other, their conversations all being arguments and the exchange of bitter ‘fuck you’ to each other every morning. Now Zoe could at least be somewhere near Connor without any major heckling coming from either Murphy.

            “Sure thing, Little Murphy,” Jared was the one to speak, shifting on his side of the table to let the two girls sit down.

            “Evan, I heard about that mugging on the news, are you okay?” Alana asked as soon as she sat down. Her words sounded quite genuine, but she didn’t let Evan answer before she asked another question. “What was it like to be saved by the Stray? What does he actually look like?”

            “Well, um,” Evan cleared his throat. “He, uh…he wears a mask over his face- it kind of looks like a cat? And he had a baseball bat- but he was, uh…he was also really good at fighting with his legs.”

            “I’m willing to bet that’s not the only thing he’s good at doing with his legs!” Jared let out a cackle of laughter before Zoe smacked the back of his head. “What the fuck, Murphy?”

            Connor began to tune out the rest of the conversation as he continued to chew the sandwich. It was, admittedly, a bit odd to be listening to people talking about him unknowingly, but he supposed heroes in his old comic books got used to it after a while. Except, unlike most of those heroes, he wasn’t in skin-tight spandex and fighting supervillains with superintelligence or superpowers of any sort. Great, now he was thinking about how he’d look in spandex. He’d probably look like Jack Skellington. He gulped down the rest of his sandwich.

            “-the Stray is?” He finally tuned back into reality, and snapped his attention to Alana.

            “What?”

            “I said, who do you think the Stray is?” The dark-skinned girl asked. “I mean he’s clearly got to be a local, so maybe it’s someone we know.”

            “I doubt it,” Connor shrugged.

            “Whoever it might be, I’m glad he’s doing something about crime,” Zoe said as she ate her lunch. “I’m surprise you aren’t suddenly worshipping the guy for saving Evan, Connor.”

            Connor snorted, brushing off the comment. “I’m glad Ev’s safe and that the Stray was in the right place at the right time, but I’m not going to bow down to him or something. I mean, he might actually be a huge dick under the mask.”

            “What, like you?” Jared chortled.

            Zoe, Connor, Alana, and Jared continued to debate about the Stray until lunch ended and everyone headed off to their final classes of the day. Connor felt a twinge of worry and self-doubt from the conversation, but shook it off in favor of leaving school today on a decent note.

Chapter Text

Rescuers tend to be more willing than veterinarians to attempt to tame adult feral cats.

 

             “So,” Connor and Evan were walking through the student parking lot. “Is Kleinman joining for movie night on Friday?”

            “Oh, uh,” Evan scratched his hand. “Jared says he’s gonna pass- said he…uh…he didn’t want to third-wheel us? I-I don’t know what he’s talking about though…we- we aren’t dating. I think he’s just… still scared of you, I guess?”

            “Can’t blame him,” Connor shrugged, taking his keys out as they reached his car.

            “I keep telling him you aren’t bad,” Evan kicked a pebble away as Connor unlocked the doors. Evan opened the passenger side as he continued grumbling. “You’re a nice guy when you want to be.”

            “Aw, thanks for that, Ev. Even though it’s a complete lie.” Evan pouted at Connor, making the taller boy hold up his hands in surrender. “Right, right, no self-deprecating jokes.” Connor put his keys into the ignition and his old, beat-up car came to life. “Want to stop by anywhere before we head back to your place?”

            Evan shook his head. “No, um, thanks for offering.” Connor could see in the corner of his eye that Evan was fidgeting with the hem of his shirt.

            “Evan, what’s up? You’re fucking up your shirt again.”

            “Well…I’ve been kind of worried about your arm since lunch.” The anxious blonde admitted nervously. “I-I know you said it was just a bad scratch-” Connor could hear his friend’s breathing pick up.

            “Ev,” Connor looked over at his friend as they stopped at a red light. “I swear it’s nothing bad. If you want, you can help me change the bandages and double check that I took care of it properly. I handled it really late last night, so I might not have done that great.”

            Evan looked at Connor with his hazel- almost green- eyes. Then he nodded quickly. “Yeah, I’d- I’d like that very much.” The words jumbled together. Connor tried not to snicker as the light turned green and continued driving to Evan’s home.

 

            Connor had come to consider Evan’s place a bit of a second home. Heidi, whenever she was there, welcomed him with open arms. Plus, it was smaller and just felt more domestic than the Murphy House, which was usually rather big and cold. The boys headed to Evan’s room to drop their bags down before both heading to the bathroom. Evan got the first aid kit (which was well-stocked unlike Connor’s shitty little one, probably because Heidi and Evan didn’t need to use it nearly every night) while Connor unwrapped his arm. Throwing the old, somewhat bloodied bandages in the garbage, Connor showed the forearm wound to his friend.

            “God, Connor…” Evan’s brow furrowed as he looked at the wound. “What did you even do to get this kind of wound?”

            Oh nothing really, Ev. I was just saving you from getting mugged by some assholes, and one of them pulled a knife. It’s fine! A-Okay! “I fell and caught my arm along some branch or something. I was taking one of those nature walks or whatever the fuck you keep telling me about since I couldn’t sleep last night.” That was all a lie, and admittedly made him feel terrible for telling lies to Evan. But he couldn’t worry Evan any more than he already does- any more stress on the poor kid, and he might just have a heart attack.

            Evan looked a bit reluctant at the story, but remained quiet. He grabbed out some cotton balls and rubbing alcohol, careful as he poured the liquid onto the cotton and even more careful to apply the alcohol to Connor’s arm. Connor sharply inhaled, but otherwise said nothing, watching his blonde friend gently clean the wound better than Connor did. Evan threw away the cotton ball and grabbed the bandages out, wrapping them around Connor’s thin forearm.

            “There,” Evan had that adorably gentle smile of his spread back across his freckled face. He closed the first aid kit, putting it back in place. “Now don’t take anymore late night nature walks because that scratch looked…real bad.”

            “Alright,” Connor smiled back. “Now, should we get to work studying or not?”

            “Right!” Evan hurried back to his room. Connor followed suit, a bit more calmly than Evan, and entered to see the boy already digging around in his own bag.

 

            They only got a few hours of studying in before Connor’s phone went off at six. “Shit, Ev. I’ve got to go, I’ve got…” Connor paused as he looked at the message, warning of armed men spotted heading to a nearby bank. “I’ve got work. See you tomorrow.” Connor quickly gather his things as Evan mumbled a rather sad goodbye. He tried not to let it get to him, rushing to his car and quickly getting home to get his stuff.

Chapter Text

In a free-roaming environment, feral cats avoid humans. They do not allow themselves to be handled or touched by humans, and back away or run when they are able to do so. If trapped, they may hiss, growl, bare their teeth, or strike out.

 

            Connor felt the chilling wall of the bank as he backed away. Two men down, three to go. He felt blood running down his leg, a bullet having grazed his thigh. The three men had him cornered.

“Here kitty, kitty, kitty.” One of the men jokingly cooed, taking another step forward. Connor saw an opportunity as the man slithered closer, and gripped his bat tighter before swinging right for the masked man’s face. “What the fuck?” The man coughed out, falling to the floor and holding his jaw. Connor used the man’s down state to jump from off his back like a spring and landing as gracefully as he could with a leg wound.

The last two began screaming bloody murder, chasing after Connor as he ran through the bank. Luckily, everyone who’d been there took the chance to run away while Connor had the last three distracted.

“Help!”

All it except one person, it seems. Connor stopped to see who cried out, and saw one of the gunman he thought he’d taken care of holding a gun to Alana Beck’s head. The gunman pressed the gun closer to Alana’s temple, holding her by the neck with his other arm.

“One more move and she dies,” The gunman spat.

Connor stood in place as the other two gunman caught up, grabbing his arms and making him drop his bat.

“Now that we’ve got you, let’s see who this pussycat really is.” One of the ones holding him chuckled. Connor felt his heart begin to race as the gunman reached to take off his mask. The guy holding Alana suddenly groaned as the dark-skinned woman thrust her elbow right into his damaged ribs. He stumbled backwards.

“You little bitch!” The man snarled, holding his side.

The other men, distracted now, didn’t notice until it was too late as Connor lifted a leg and kicked backwards at the guy holding his left arm. The man fell instantly, and Connor used the startled state of the man to his right to punch the guy square in the jaw. He ran to help Alana, picking his bat up along the way, and Alana was doing her best to dodge her enemy’s shaky punches. Connor caught the man’s fist, and shoved him down.

“Stay down,” Connor calmly said as he heard the sound of sirens once more. He grabbed Alana’s hand, and hurried out an emergency side door into an alley. He was barely able to hear Alana over the blood rushing to his head. He stopped at the end of the alley, releasing Alana who just stood there as Connor got himself together. Once he did, he looked at Alana, who had wide eyes.

“What?” Connor raised an eyebrow under the mask.

“Oh, nothing, you…your leg’s bleeding,” She pointing at the wound on his thigh, which Connor had completely forgotten about.

“Shit!” Connor spat. “Dammit, I’d just gotten one wound taken care of.” He turned his attention back to Alana. “Are you okay?”

“Yep,” Alana nodded. She flexed her bicep. “I took a few self-defense classes back in middle school. I wasn’t in too much danger- the cry for help was a distraction.”

Damn, no wonder Zoe sticks around this girl. “Still, no major injuries?”

“I might have a few bruises, but I’ll be fine,” She smiled a bit. “Can I get a picture, though? I’m not going to post it anywhere, I swear.”

Connor bit the inside of his cheek. On one hand, Alana usually made good on her promises, on the other, she didn’t say she wouldn’t show it to anybody. He took a short breath before speaking. “You can’t show it to anyone. Promise me that,”

“Of course!” Alana began digging into a pocket for her phone. She finally got it out, walking to Connor’s side as she opened up the camera feature and flipped to the front camera. There was a quick shutter noise from the phone as it took the picture. “Thanks for the rescue- now I’ve got to go!” She sped-walked out of the alley before Connor could get another word in.

Connor let out a snort, and began to head off, limping a bit due to his injury. He still managed to avoid the police and medics, the darkness of the sudden night giving him a bit of cover as he made his way home.

 

He entered his window with an injury for the second night in a row. Connor nearly falls as his leg fails him for a moment, flaring with pain. He quickly pulls down his hood and takes off his mask, shoving it into his bag and throwing it into his closet just as his door opens. The lanky boy fell right onto his bed, face-first. Connor turned his head to look at whoever had entered his room.

Zoe raised an eyebrow as the two siblings made eye contact. “You do realize there’s a front door you could’ve easily entered?” She said matter-of-factly.

“I…wanted to…try parkour?” Connor dumbly replied.

“Whatever, dumbass. Mom wanted me to come up to tell you to get leftovers whenever,” Her nose suddenly scrunched up. “And take a shower- you smell like the back alley of a bad restaurant.”

“Will do,” Connor gave his little sister a thumbs up, to which she turned and closed his door. Connor sat up to take a look at the grazed leg, the blood mostly dried by now. He went to get his first aid kit once more, along with grabbing a towel, before heading to the bathroom. He took a look at himself in the mirror, and almost didn’t completely recognize the person staring back.

His eyes, blue with the little bit of brown in his left, were still shadowed by dark circles from a lack of sleep, but seemed a bit brighter than they once did. His hair, long brunet curls, was at least a bit healthier looking, as Connor would attempt to shower every few days. Finally his skin, still pale as the moon, didn’t seem as corpse-like, aside from the bit of blood. Wait, right, that’s why he was in the bathroom. He turned away to turn on the shower and began to strip off his clothes to clean himself.

Chapter Text

Research

 

1: careful or diligent search

2: studious inquiry or examination; especially: investigation or experimentation aimed at the discovery and interpretation of facts, revision of accepted theories or laws in the light of new facts, or practical application of such new or revised theories or laws

3: the collecting of information about a particular subject

 

            Alana sat at her desk, eyes glaring at her computer screen from behind her glasses. She took off her glasses as her printer came to life, printing out a picture. She got up, snatching the photo and grabbing a thumbtack before sticking the picture up along with many others like it.

            She grabbed a sticky note, and began to write, speaking the words out loud as she wrote:

            “November eighth, Felicity Credit Bank.”

            She slapped the yellow note down on the most recent photo she had of the Stray, stepping back to admire the wall of research she had constructed. She was extremely proud of the new picture, as it was the clearest image of the Stray she had. In most of the others, the vigilante looked like a blurry cryptid.

            Now she had a better image of them and could make a few better theories on whom they might be. She looked at the pictures of the possible suspects, reaching to take down the ones she now knew for sure weren’t the Stray, and leaving roughly ten people left. She took another look at the new picture.

            Firstly, she couldn’t see the Stray’s hair in any photo, as they always had their hood up. Speaking of that hoodie, the dark jacket was a bit loose on their body so Alana didn’t have a clear body type of the hero either, aside from long legs that were exceedingly good at kicking ass.

            The baseball bat they used wasn’t too useful at finding an identity either, as it was a generic brand of bat: inexpensive, sturdy, good for just about anything along with baseball games. In fact, one of her dads had one as a safety precaution- they didn’t really trust guns in their home.

            That mask, though, was her worst enemy. It covered the Stray’s entire face and resembled that of a brown tabby Maine Coon cat, from the looks of it. It also muffled their voice slightly, but not enough to make them hard to hear. The odds just kept stacking against her attempts of figuring out who this person was.

            “Who are you?” She asked softly to no one, glaring at one of the first pictures she’d gotten, just as the Stray was making a name for themselves. Written on a yellow post-it note was September twenty-fifth, CVS near the Wal-Mart and the McDonalds.

            It was a really bad quality photo of the Stray, dashing away as they left the scene of another mugging they had stopped. It was surrounded by news articles she’d cut out of the newspaper and printed from online, different accounts of people who had been saved by the Stray. She took off her glasses, pinching the bridge of her nose and shaking her head to clear her thoughts for a moment. There was a knock on the door, and it creaked open.

            “Alana, sweetie, it’s a school night. You should get some sleep.” A dark-skinned man with a graying beard told her, readjusting his own glasses.

            “Oh, right. Let me just finish off a few more notes and I’ll head straight to bed, Dad,” Alana replied with a strained smile, putting her glasses back on.

            “Alright, dear. Don’t stay up too late,” Her dad closed the door, and she listened to his steps going down the hall. Alana turned her attention back to her research. She looked through the suspects, two of them being close acquaintances- Connor and Zoe. It must have been a blunder on Alana’s part. There was no way Zoe- lovely, beautiful, wonderful Zoe- could’ve been the Stray, or her brother, but she just couldn’t leave out possibilities. Then there were also the Harris boys, Hunter and Noah. She chewed on her lip as she took down Hunter’s picture- he was way too much of a jerk. Now there was nine.

            “Who are you?” She repeated in a harsh tone, as if talking to the pictures would somehow make the Stray hear her. Alas, the mysterious hero obviously couldn’t, so Alana turned away to ready herself for bed.

Chapter Text

Feral cats primarily subsist on food scavenged from garbage when it is available to them. Feral cats living in managed colonies are fed cat food by their caretakers.

           

            “Connor, at least eat something that isn’t….just eat something besides junk food.”

            “Fuck you,” The scrawny teen replied, shoving another handful of M&M’s in his mouth.

            “Connor, please,” Evan sighed, opening the door of the microwave before it went off. He took out the reheated leftovers of some dinner that Heidi managed to make a few nights ago, steam floating off of it. He took a seat at the small dining table.

            “But junk food tastes so good!” Connor pouted. “Especially compared to the shit my mom keeps making- it’s a vegan dish, or it’s gluten-free, or it’s fucking air.” He let out a noise of disgust and annoyance.

            “Connor, your mom has never fed you air,” Evan deadpanned as he took a bit of his small meal.

            “You know what I mean,” Connor balled up the packaging for the M&M’s and threw them into the garbage can, doing a little fist pump when it successfully landed in. “Besides, I’m not even sure if I want to eat anything now.”

            Evan stayed quiet, looking down at his food, then glancing up at Connor. He mumbled something.

            “Ev, you know I can’t hear you when you’re muttering,” Connor pulled at the cartilage of his ear for emphasis. “Speak up.”

            “I said…maybe you can have some of my food when I’m done…” Evan’s words turned back into mumbling towards the end of the sentence. His slightly tanned, freckled face seemed to go a little red, or maybe that was just Connor’s imagination because Connor felt his own face heat up slightly. “N…Never mind! It’s stupid!” Evan added loudly and suddenly.

            “Wait, Ev, no,” The Murphy boy waved his hands and placed one on Evan’s shoulder as a comforting gesture. “That’s….actually a smart idea. You eat however much you want, I finish it off, and hopefully we don’t throw away any of Heidi’s perfectly good food.”

            Evan looked at Connor with such bright eyes, like the fact that Connor even suggested that Evan’s idea was good was the meaning of life and now he could die peacefully. Connor let out a soft chuckle. “You’d better eat your share if you want me to eat while it’s still lukewarm.”

            “Shit, sorry!” Evan turned his attention back to the small meal, beginning to eat. Connor watched for a moment before taking out his phone to futz with. It was maybe a good fifteen minutes later when Connor’s attention snapped back up because Evan was pushing the rest of the food over to him with a shy smile. Connor gave his friend a more subtle smile before sitting up and absentmindedly using the fork that was already there. Evan let out a noise of surprise, to which Connor glanced up with a raised eyebrow.

            “I…I should’ve gotten you a new fork, sorry, I forgot-”

            Connor felt his face grow warm once more. “No, it’s…fine, I don’t care,” He cared a lot. “Already using it, so it’s fine.” It wasn’t fine. “Friends use each other’s forks and stuff all the time.” No they don’t; stop lying, Murphy.

            “Yeah I guess,” Evan’s voice cracked halfway through the sentence and he looked away. Connor looked back at his food, continuing to eat with Evan’s fork. His mind began wander again as he chewed. Was this an indirect kiss? No, of course not. Wait, maybe it was. It wasn’t gay though. Okay, again, maybe it was. Connor was gay, he’d known that for years by now, and Evan was…

            Evan was one of his best and only friends who he shouldn’t think about in that way. Plus, Connor shouldn’t get attached in that kind of way because then it would break Evan’s heart even more if Connor got killed or hurt really badly and put on life support as the Stray. Oh right, another reason not to get together with Evan- he had no clue that Connor was the Stray, and if he knew then every night he’d worry about Connor, which would make him lose sleep, which wouldn’t help him at all in school, which would send Evan into another depressive spiral-

            “Connor?”

            “What?” Connor didn’t mean to yell, but he’d gotten startled. Evan blinked in confusion, as he was usually the one getting too deep into his head and being frightened back into reality.

            “Uh, you were…um…you looked like you were getting caught up in your thoughts,” Evan said, scratching his hand nervously. “Just…thought I’d snap you out of it like you do for me.”

            “Oh,” Connor stared at Evan with wide eyes. “Well, thanks then.” He looked down at the food, only to find it all gone. He supposed he went on autopilot and finished it off. He picked up the plastic container the leftovers originally were in, heading to the sink to wash it out. Once he finished, he turned back to Evan. “So…movie time?” He smiled with Evan returning the gesture with his own timid grin.

            “Sure thing.”

 

            There was a brief knock at the door as Connor and Evan sat on opposite ends the couch watching Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Before Evan could get up to answer it, the door burst open, revealing Jared fucking Kleinman.

            “Wassup, motherfuckers!” He threw a duffle bag into the room and went to flop on the couch, right in the middle.

            “I thought you weren’t coming,” Evan mumbled irritably.

            “Well, my originally plans tonight were cancelled last minute, so I decided ‘hey, why not visit my favorite homos this evening and bring along- drumroll please-” Jared kneeled next to his duffle bag and unzipped it. He held up a wide variety of candies. “-Some sugary bullshit!”

            “Kleinman, I will say this only once, but I fucking love you.” Connor said as dryly as possible.

            “Awww, thanks, shitty Murphy.”

            “Nevermind, I loathe you again.”

            “Oh c’mon!” Jared grimaced before cracking a smile again and throwing some sour straws at Connor. He threw a bag of butterscotch candies at Evan, who was staring with wide green eyes. “Something wrong, Acorn?”

            “Jared how the hell did you afford all this I mean I would understand maybe a few little dollar store things but this is a duffle bag-worth of candies that’s a lot of money why are you wasting it like this-” Jared smacked a hand over Evan’s mouth.

            “Slow down, motor mouth!” He carefully removed his hand. “I used a shit ton of left over Bar Mitzvah money that I had tucked away from my parents, and in case you say something about me wasting said money, allow me to remind you that I bought a pair of Heelys with some of it and proceeded to ram my head into the floor the day after.”

            Evan blinked slowly just before Connor burst out laughing.

            “You were that dumbass back in middle school?!” He managed say between giggles.

            “Shut up, Murphy!”

Chapter Text

Domestic cats use many vocalizations for communication, including purring, trilling, hissing, growling/snarling, grunting, and several different forms of meowing. By contrast, feral cats are generally silent.

 

            “Okay but why the hell doesn’t Harry ever use, like, muggle technology? He could blow all these wizards minds! Open their minds to new shit!”

            “Plot convenience.” Evan answered simply Jared’s question as he braided Connor’s hair. He was still sitting on the couch, with Connor in front of him on the floor as he messed with the long brown curls of hair. Connor felt extremely calm as he listened to the other two boys’ conversation, with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire playing in the background. He closed his eyes, the noise turning into hums in his head as he leaned back, right into Evan’s lap. He barely noticed that the other two when completely silent. The pleasantness dissipated when Jared let out a loud, obnoxious laugh.

            “What?” Connor snapped as turned his attention to the shortest of the teens. Jared instantly shut his mouth, still snorting a bit.

            “Are you two sure you aren’t dating?” He asked after calming down a bit more. Connor’s face turned a bit red. He turned around slightly to see Evan had put his face into his hands.

            “Look, Kleinman,” Connor finally growled out the words when he found them. “Ev and I are just friends, so cut the dating bullshit unless it actually happens.”

            “Unless?” Evan and Jared repeated.

            “Look, I’m saying it’s not out of the realm of possibilities or anything, that’s all,” Connor pulled up the hood of his hoodie and pulled the strings. “Now shut up!” He hissed.

            The room was filled with a tense silence aside from the background noise of a Harry Potter film. Connor felt his heart racing inside his chest, almost as much as it does during fights, but this time there was no pleasant adrenaline rush, there was just panic nestling within him. He felt someone lean against his side and rub his back gently. The panic was still there, but it started to subside after many minutes of just keeping his attention on the sensations around him: The feel of the carpet under his hands, the hand rested on his back and its owner leaned on him, the sound of the film, the smell of his hoodie…the feeling deeper in his chest when he thought about what it would be like to be with Evan. An impossible, fleeting feeling, really.

            The hand against his back left suddenly, along with the person beside him. Connor slowly reached and pulled down his hood, looking around. The TV had gotten turned off, both Evan and Jared absent from the room. He blinked, hearing faint shouting just outside on the porch.

            “-Why can’t you just not be an asshole when I finally have someone who wants to hangout?” That was Evan’s voice- it was so full of anger, it sounded so alien for it to be little anxious Evan’s.

            “Maybe I’m an asshole because you keep blowing me off for that emo prick!” Jared’s voice snapped back.

            “Blowing you off?” Evan sounded bewildered before the rage came back. “You keep blowing me off!” There was the sound of a clank- possibly someone thrown against a railing.

            “Fuck you, Evan!” The footsteps were retreating. “Asshole!” Jared sounded on the brink of tears. Another tense silence thick as fog came over the house before Evan reentered. Evan used the heel of his palm to rub his tears, leaning on the door.

            Connor got to his feet, walking over to comfort his friend. Evan flinched away from Connor’s hand reaching for his shoulder. “Connor, just go,” Evan’s voice sounded so tired. Almost like Heidi’s- so strained, and overworked. “I…I just need…” The shorter boy took a shaky breath. “I need some time to be alone. I…I’m…I’m sorry I ruined tonight.”

            “Ev-”

            “Go.”

            Connor didn’t push it further. He turned away to gather his things, passing by Jared’s duffle bag. He stayed quiet and threw his messenger bag over his shoulder, heading out the door with a whisper of ‘Goodbye’ as he passed Evan. He headed to his car, tossing his messenger bag into the passenger seat. Connor glanced at the front door one more time before he drove out.

Chapter Text

Most feral cats have small home ranges, although some are more transient and travel long distances.

 

            Connor didn’t feel like going back home quite yet. So, what better to do than to get stoned while waiting for trouble to arrive? His long legs were hanging off the roof of the small building he’d managed his way on top of as he took a long drag of a blunt he’d been hiding in his car. It’d been a while since he last smoked anything- another part of his ‘healing process’- but honestly, he felt the need for something to relax him since the night seemed to be bare of crime.

            Suddenly, Connor heard cries and the begging for mercy just as he finished off the weed. He groaned. Should he be fighting stoned? Probably not. But all his proper judgement was blocked by sour emotions from the events earlier; he still felt the need to hit something. He pulled his trademark mask over his face, grabbed his baseball bat, and made his way off the roof and to the screams.

            His somewhat nulled senses barely registered what this next mugging or whatever was about- money or something for some dude named Mr. H? Who cared really- all he understood was a guy was in trouble for money reasons and now his debt was being collected by a group of angry, burly men. All of this right in a dimmed restaurant that Connor only recognized as he and his family had gone there a few times to keep up their ‘happy family’ illusion for the public.

            Squinting, he could somewhat recognize the owner of the place sitting in the chair that the bigger men surrounded. Connor walked through the door, as it was unlocked for whatever reason. “Gentleman!” He said aloud, grabbing everyone’s attention. “I’m not completely sure what this man did to look so beat up, but I think he gets the point now. Mind leaving him alone instead of being complete fucking asswipes?”

            Another bad idea for tonight: drawing attention to himself when all these guys were much bigger than his lanky self. Irritating them? Probably also a horrible idea.

            “Well now,” A ginger man with a full beard was first to speak, and his face had a grin that rivaled the Cheshire Cat. “If it isn’t the Stray. Lovely to finally see you in person, kid. But run along now, lil’ kitty, this is business.”

            “Your business is pretty fucked up then,” Connor quipped. The grin of the ginger man faltered a bit. Connor snorted. “What? Ya don’t like the truth?”

            The smile disappeared completely from the man’s face. He snapped his fingers, his three companions looking at him before he pointed to Connor. Without a word, the other three rushed Connor all at the same time. Connor managed to dodge the attempted sweep of his legs, but in exchange took a punch right to the gut. He coughed and swung his bat at one of the men. The man he was aiming for caught the bat, and ripped it right out of Connor’s grip. The baseball bat was tossed to the side.

            Connor felt one of the men wrap burly arms around his torso, restraining his arms. He used his legs to shove away one of the other attacks, only to get another fist right to his ribs. He let out a wheezing cough. That’s gonna hurt for fucking weeks. Another strike to his side, and another right to his knees, and one more to his legs for good luck. The ginger man snapped his fingers, and the two men who were pummeling the teenager moved away. He walked up to Connor, getting nose-to-mask with him.

            “The only reason why I won’t be finishing you off right now, you pathetic excuse for a crime-fighter, is because Mister H. would rather kill you himself if you continue this charade,” The man restraining Connor released him. Connor’s legs gave up on holding him up, the boy falling and clutching his ribs. “Consider this your first and only warning.” The ginger man spat. He turned back to their original victim. “And you, sir, are excused for now. Be lucky that this feral garbage,” He kicked Connor’s back, making him fall to the cold floor of the restaurant. “Took the rest of the beatings for you for now. You’ve got three more days.”

            The restaurant owner audibly gulped. “Ye…Yes sir! Thank you!” Connor could hear the debt-collectors leave, but still didn’t get up. The ungodly pain throughout his body- it felt like a train crashed right into him. He heard the owner come closer, possibly to help, but raised a hand as to tell him to stop in place. He hobbled up onto his legs. Without speaking, he left on shaking legs. He could faintly overhear the owner say another thank you, but mostly heard his heart pounding within his chest. He wished that his house wasn’t so fucking far, but maybe all the walking back to his car would allow him to think about what the fuck those guys were talking about.

            A warning? From Mister H? Who the fuck was that? Plus, why’d he have such a vendetta against Connor? Was it because he was the Stray? Maybe he should stop thinking for a bit- the thumping in his skull was worse than any hangover.

Chapter Text

Without human assistance, feral kittens are expected to have a high death rate, with approximately 50% dying within the first year. Of cats who survive kittenhood, the average life span of a feral cat without human care is less than two years.

 

 

            Connor pulled into the driveway of the Murphy house, and noticed his parents’ car was absent. He nearly threw himself out of his own car, the bag on his shoulder. He threw himself out his own car due to the immense exhaustion. With Bag thrown over his shoulder and his legs trembling like a newborn fawn, he made his way to the front door. He unlocked the door, slamming it shut and heading up the stairs. A door opened, and his sister came out in her pajamas with an annoyed scowl.

 

            “Who the fuck…” The words died on her lips as she and Connor stared at each other. Connor suddenly remembered his mask still covered his face. He quickly pulled down his hood and practically ripped off his mask. “Holy shit.” Zoe whispered.

 

            “Zoe,” Connor cringed internally at how his voice sounded. “Don’t…” He coughed. “Don’t freak out.”

 

            “Connor, what the fuck?!” His younger sibling screeched.

 

            “I just said don’t freak out! My head feels like a fucking rock concert,” He hissed as his sides flared in pain again. “And my sides and legs feel like I got fucking run over.”

 

            Zoe seemed to contemplate how to move forward about this situation. She took a deep breath and narrowed her eyes at Connor.

 

            “Come on, jackass.”

 

            She walked forward and threw one of Connor’s arms over her shoulder before guiding him down the hall to his own room. She opened the door, helping her big brother to his bed. “I’m going to grab my phone and some other stuff. Get changed.” She didn’t even let Connor reply before she left the room again.

 

            Connor got up, using his drawer to stabilize his walking before he dug around for some pajamas. He found an old long sleeve shirt and even older dark blue sweatpants. He took off his jeans first, taking a look at the already-dark forms of bruises on his legs. He pulled on the sweatpants carefully, trying not to press into the painful blemishes. He took off his hoodie, tossing it to his hamper before carefully stripping off his dark shirt.

 

            Just as he removed the shirt, Zoe walked back in with a few icepacks and her phone stacked on top of some towels and a blanket. She winced when she looked at her lanky brother. “Jesus Christ,” She breathed. “Are your ribs broken or something?”

 

            “I fucking hope not,” Connor looked at his sides. The bruises looked even worse than on his legs. “Holy hell, those fuckers did a number on me.”

 

            Zoe nodded in agreement as she placed down the pile of stuff onto her brother’s bed. She grabbed one of the ice packs, wrapped it in a towel, and placed it on his left ribs. He tensed, a grimace gracing his pale face. The air in the room was neither aggressive nor welcoming, as the two siblings were still distant to each other without others to act as a buffer. It takes far more than three months to change years of…rivalry wasn’t the right word- that would imply that everything that Connor did was equal to the biting words from Zoe. No, the word to describe what Connor did was fucking abuse.

 

            He reached to rub his eyes as he remembered, vaguely, a night where he, in a fit of rage, attempted to break down his little sister’s door, threatening to kill her. He actually felt the tears begin when more vile memories came back- more shouting, more fighting that led to their mother, or a teacher, or whatever poor fucker was nearby to separate them before Connor actually tried to kill her.

 

            “Connor?”

 

            Her voice, gentle as a breeze, brought him back to reality. He felt his face was now wet with tears.

 

            “I’m so fucking sorry.”

 

            Zoe blinked in surprise at the sudden apology. She opened her mouth to speak, but no words came. So, Connor continued.

 

            “Zo, I’m sorry about…about everything. The words, the…the beating, that fucking night where I tried to break into your room,” He inhaled as his body was shaking like a leaf. “I…you deserve a brother that isn’t so fucked up.

 

            “Connor,”

 

            Connor looked at her to see that tears were beginning to roll down.

 

            “It’s…” She sighed. “It’s not just your fault.” She wiped away some of her own tears with the heel of her free hand. “I did nothing but antagonize you. I just kept poking the bear- or cat in this case- I should’ve expected it to bite back.”

 

            The two siblings just stared at each other, crying silently before laughing. “We’re such assholes,” Connor finally said, rubbing his eyes.

 

            “Yeah,” Zoe sniffled. “We really are. I’m pretty sure we get it from Dad.”

 

            Connor let out another snicker. “God, I think most of this family’s problems can be linked back to him.” He hissed as Zoe removed the ice pack. “Fuck; don’t you have some kind of painkillers I could down so this shit doesn’t hurt more?”

 

            “I looked some stuff up that said you shouldn’t take painkillers for forty-eight hours. Something about it slowing down the healing process?”

 

            “Ugh, who cares? I’m getting my ass kicked daily anyway, just let me have the luxury of not feeling shit physically.” He suddenly bit the inside his cheek once he realized the worrying things he said.

 

            “So you really are the Stray?” Zoe asked, voice wavering again. Connor half-hid his face away from Zoe, and nodded once. She didn’t say anything else, not even a snarky comment, and just left to get the painkillers.

Chapter Text

Kinship

 

 

1: the state or fact of being of kin; family relationship.

2: relationship by nature, qualities, etc.; affinity.

 

 

            November 17th- One week since Zoe found out her brother was the Stray. Surprisingly, that wasn’t the factor that seemed to shift the two siblings from distant but at least not fighting to actually interacting outside of hanging out with their other friends.

 

            “You ready to chill out for three days until the Witch gets here?” Connor asked as they walked out to his car. The Witch had become a…less than endearing term for their ‘lovely’ grandmother on their father’s side of the family. It fit her perfectly, as she was a wicked and bitter woman who was incredibly petty.

 

            “Ugh, I was hoping to somehow find a way to avoid another dinner with her. But ‘Lana said she’s gonna be busy,” Zoe ran a hand through her hair. “Anyway, you and Evan aren’t going to hang out today? Don’t you two usually have, like, movie nights or whatever on Fridays?”

 

            Connor frowned. “Ev’s been…Let’s just say our film night last week got cut short because of Kleinman’s assholery.”

 

            “Is that why Jared and Evan have been ignoring each other during lunch?”

 

            “Yeah.”

 

            “And why Evan’s been looking a bit worse for the wear?”

 

            “Yep.”

 

            “…Want to have a girls’ night to chillax then?”

 

            “Fuck yeah.”

 

 

            “Alright, so fuck, kill, and marry: Spiderman, Deadpool, and Ironman,”

 

            “That’s obvious,” Connor capped the nail polish, letting Zoe shake her hands to dry her newly purple-and-dark blue nails, which kind of looked like galaxies. “I’d fuck Deadpool, marry Spiderman, and then kill Ironman, who probably left everything to Spidey in his will. You already know I’ve wanted to marry Peter Parker since I was, like, nine.”

 

            “True,” Zoe nodded. Her phone buzzed, and she turned it on to find a text from Alana. A grin immediately spread upon her face. She unlocked her phone to take a look at the text.

 

Lonnie

Hey Zoe! I think I may have left an important flash drive with you yesterday, and I really need it. Would you mind bringing it by as soon as possible?

 

Zoe

sure thing. i’ll be there in about an hour

 

Lonnie

Thank you! You’re a life-saver!

 

            “What does Alana want?” Connor piped up as Zoe got to her feet. Zoe blinked.

 

            “How’d you know that was Alana?”

 

            “Because you did that lovesick fool grin that you only do around or about Alana,” Connor deadpanned. Was Zoe really that obvious?

 

            “Well, at least it’s not the gaze you give Evan when he’s not looking,” Connor’s face turned a bit pink. “Yeah, I’ve seen it. You look at him like he hung the fucking moon.”

 

            “What did Alana want?” Connor repeated, brushing off Zoe’s comment.

 

            “She left something here yesterday and needs me to bring it by,” She blew on her nails. “But first, my nails need to dry some more.” She looked at her brother as he looked at his own black nails, which were now sharpened to claw-like points. “Might as well keep up with the cat motif and have an extra form of protection!” Zoe had said before she filed his nails, which managed to grow longer from the lack of irritated nail-biting. She smiled a bit- he was actually recovering.

 

            There was another small buzz, but this time from Connor’s phone, which was on a charger. “Grab that for me, will you?” He requested. Zoe walked over and unplugged the phone, careful not to mess up her nails, and tossed to over to Connor. He turned on the half-cracked thing and immediately let out a dejected sigh. “Seems I’ve got to run too. Work’s calling.”

 

            “Are you sure you should be fighting again?” Zoe asked. “Aren’t your ribs and legs still fucked up?”

 

            “Don’t worry,” Connor snorted. “It’s just a little robbery at some convenience store, not a goddamn mob collecting money.”

 

            Zoe bit her lip, but didn’t push it. She walked out of the room to head to her own and find the flash drive.

 

 

            Zoe tapped a knuckle against the door of the Beck residence. It opened within ten seconds, revealing one of Alana’s dads- Adrian Beck. His tan face held a friendly smile under a silvered mustache. “Zoe! Lovely to see you,” He greeted.

 

            “Hey, Mr. Beck,” Zoe scratched the back of her neck. “Uh, is Alana home?”

 

            “Hm? No, she just had to run out,” Adrian looked a bit confused. “What is it you need, dear?”

 

            “Alana wanted me to drop off something,” Zoe dug into her pocket, taking out a flash drive.

 

            “Oh! Then you can take it to her room. You should remember where it is- down the hall, door with the little science stickers.” Adrian stepped out of the way to let Zoe into the house.

 

            Zoe said her thanks and headed to the room she hadn’t gone into in a while. Alana usually wanted to hang out at the Murphy house for whatever reason. She opened the door, and felt her heart drop at what she saw.

 

            One of the walls of the room was covered by pictures and articles all about the Stray, with only five pictures of possible people left. Connor’s picture was there, right with her own picture.

Chapter Text

They remain fairly hidden from humans and will not approach, although some feral cats gradually become more comfortable around humans who feed them regularly.

 

 

            Connor rubbed his sore shoulder as he stood outside Evan’s house at nearly three in the morning on a Saturday. He’d gotten a text right after fighting some thugs robbing some convenience store when he and Zoe’s ‘girl’s night’ had been cut short. He tapped a knuckle on the door, which swung open almost instantly. Connor grunted in surprise as Evan quickly and tightly hugged him. Connor tried not to wince as Evan was pressing on the half-healed bruises.

 

            “Ev?” Connor was careful not to speak too loud. “Dude, what’s wrong?”

 

            Evan mumbled into Connor’s jacket.

 

            “What?”

 

            Evan removed his face from Connor’s chest and looked at the taller boy with weary, reddened eyes. There were tear stains on his face. “Mom and I…had a fight.” The way he spoke was heartbreaking, like a little kid admitting to stealing.

 

            “What?” Connor repeated with a surprised edge to his voice. “You and Heidi never fight.”

 

            “Yeah, well we did,” Evan’s words were sharp and defensive. Connor tensed up again. Evan turned back to the door. “Sorry.” He mumbled tiredly. “I just…I can’t be alone right now. I already spent half the night crying.” He rubbed his eyes, walked into the house, and Connor followed.

 

            “Ev, go sit down. I’ll make you some of that weird tea you like, and we can talk, or not talk, or whatever you want to do.” Connor gave Evan a soft smile, but the blonde boy just continued to stand with an indescribable look that managed to be a mix of anger, depression, and fatigue. After a few seconds, Evan finally made his way to the couch and practically threw himself into it.

 

            Connor made his way to the little kitchen of the house, looking around for the little teapot they had. He found it, and began the process of making tea for his sullen friend. His phone vibrated in his jacket pocket, and he took it out to find a text from Zoe, snickering slightly at her contact name.

 

Zoolander

where the fuck are you?? don’t tell me you’re dying in an alley somewhere

 

Connor

At ev’s place. He’s in bad shape rn. Probably going to stay over.

 

Zoolander

alright well when you come home we’ve got something to talk about.

 

            Connor scrunched his nose, raising an eyebrow before the tea kettle started whistling. He pocketed his phone and grabbed a coffee cup with a bunch of kittens printed on it, placed the tea bag and a little bit of sugar before pouring the hot water in. He poured himself a cup as well, even though tea has never really been his favorite drink, and walked back into the living room. Evan was still awake on the couch, arms folded in front of his chest with his face smooshed against the arm of the couch.

 

            Connor whistled, making Evan turn his head a bit. The taller of the two offered the shorter the kitten-print mug, which the anxious blonde gladly accepted. Connor took a seat as Evan sipped the tea, face now blank of most emotion. It was kind of scary, because Connor had never witnessed Evan this…null. It was like looking into a fucked up mirror of who Connor was just a few short months ago.

 

            “Evan?” Connor finally spoke up after they spent five long minutes of silence, the only real noise being Evan’s drinking. “Can you tell me what happened?” Evan looked down at the empty cup in his shaking hands, the shame visibly blossoming in his expression. Evan suddenly dropped the mug like it was on fire, making the ceramic object clank on the wood floor before Evan covered his face and choked out another sob.

 

            Now, if Evan were any other person, Connor probably would have awkwardly walked out of the house by now and went as far away as possible because, to be completely honest, how the fuck does he help someone else’s emotions when he needs meds just to keep his mood in check? But for Evan, he’d try his best. He scooted over to closer to the blonde and gently placed a hand on his back before rubbing it in small circles. He felt Evan tense up for a second, then began to relax. At least physically relax, because he was still crying.

 

            They sat there, Connor still gently drawing circles on Evan’s back while he sobbed, until Evan finally finished. “Jared’s mom called mine,” He said, voice hoarse. “Noticed that Jared refused to even talk about me when she’d ask. Mom wanted to check with me on why and…and I began just….just listing reasons why Jared’s such a shitty friend.” Evan sniffled, trying to take in a shivering breath. He let the breath back out before continuing. “She began asking all these questions of why I kept everything quiet then I…I….”

 

            “You don’t have to tell me,” Connor kept the volume of his voice low.

 

            “No,” Evan breathed in again, and released the breath again. “Connor, I snapped at my mom for being gone so much,” He admitted. “And…I told her how…” Evan suddenly gripped the arm were his cast once resided, the only evidence of it being there now was a surgical scar. “I told her how I actually broke my arm.”

 

            “Evan, what are you talking about?” Connor’s face scrunched in confusion. “You told me you fell, then you had to walk to the ER on your own.”

 

            “That’s only half-true,” Evan’s voice was so eerily steady when he spoke. “I…I did have to get to the ER on my own, but I didn’t fall.”

 

            “Wait…” Connor began connecting the dots in his head. “Wait, wait, wait…”

 

            “Connor-”

 

            “No, no, no,” Connor shook his head in clear denial. “Ev, there’s no way you…how could you possibly…no, no…”

 

            “Connor, I let go.”

 

            That confirmed it.

 

            During the summer, Evan tried to off himself.

 

            During the fall, Connor did the same.

 

            There was a reason that Evan’s letter, after fully reading it, hit way too close to home.

 

 

            And that reason horrified Connor.

Chapter Text

Among domestic cats, males are more likely to fight than females, with most fights won by the heavier male. A common reason for fighting in domestic cats is the difficulty of establishing territories within a small home.

 

 

            Connor doesn’t remember when they fell asleep. The sun might’ve just been rising by the time they felt calm enough to actually try to sleep, and they didn’t even head to bed. Connor woke first, seeing Evan half-curled up on the other side of the couch. Still groggy, the brunet got to his feet and grabbed his phone off the coffee table. He checked it as he headed to the kitchen. It was already two in the afternoon, and he had three missed calls- two from his father and one from his sister. There were nearly twenty-six texts, all from his family. Connor sighed, pocketing his phone before searching the cabinets for some food.

 

            “There’s poptarts by the toaster,” Evan’s scratchy voice came from the doorway leading to the living room. Connor turned his head, seeing the shorter boy leaning slightly on the doorframe while rubbing his eyes. He pushed away from the doorframe, walking to the kitchen sink and turning it on to splash water on his face as Connor retrieved the poptarts. He ripped open the packet.

 

            “Do you want yours toasted, Ev?” Connor asked, ignoring the somewhat heavy air that still lingered from the night before. Evan let out a soft noise of affirmation. Connor placed the two breakfast pastries into the toaster. He leaned a bit on the counter, and looked at Evan. Green eyes stared back. “So,” Connor ran some fingers through the hair hanging in front of his face before pushing it back behind his ear. “Uh…”

 

            “…Can you drive me to Jared’s place?” Evan’s voice was still rather weak. Connor blinked in surprise before scrunching his face in a bit of anger, but Evan continued to speak. “I need to talk to him. He might be a dick, but I…We…Everyone was freaking out that night.” Connor couldn’t help but nod in agreement. “Just,” Evan took a breath, held it, and released. “Just drop me off and you can go home. If…if anything goes wrong, I swear I’ll call or text or notify you.”

 

            The poptarts popped out of the toaster. Connor didn’t turn to grab them, so Evan walked closer to grab his own toaster pastry. The taller boy grabbed Evan’s shoulder, making the shorter look over at him.

 

            “Can I hug you?” Connor felt his face heat up a bit when he let the words leave his mouth. Evan was suddenly smiling, big and wide for the first time in nearly a week. Evan threw himself into Connor’s chest, and for once, Connor didn’t care about the bruising he hid from his friend. He held Evan close, the tension finally disappearing from the room. They stayed like that for nearly a minute, only releasing each other to finally eat their late breakfast.

 

 

            Evan and Connor stared at the Kleinmans’ place. Evan scratched at his hand nervously. Connor reached over his car’s center console, gently grabbing Evan’s hands.

 

            “You don’t have to do this,” Connor reminded gently. “You can just do it some other time.”

 

            “No, it’s….it’s alright,” Evan audibly gulped, gripping Connor’s thin hands tightly. Connor squeezed back, in an attempt to be reassuring. It seemed to work, as the worry on Evan’s face disappeared for a second. He took away his hands and reached to open the door. “Wish me luck.” He said before getting out of the car. He waved goodbye from outside the car windows, to which Connor waved back before backing out of the driveway.

 

            Connor drove back home, keeping the car windows open to take in the autumnal environment. The air was crisp and cold, with a vast majority of the leaves on the trees dead. He let out a soft chuckle as he remembered Evan talking in length about why trees shed their leaves every fall, with it being part of one of their first conversations as actual friends. It felt so long ago now, at the end of August or near early September.

 

            He pulled into his own home’s driveway. Connor exited his car, slamming his door. He walked up to the front door, which opened just as he reached for the doorknob. His father stood there with a slight scowl.

 

            “Where were you?”

 

            Connor bit his lip. Fuck, he did not want to deal with his father right now. “I was at Evan’s.”

 

            “And you didn’t tell anyone this?”

 

            “I told Zoe.”

 

            “When?”

 

            “…At three in the morning.”

 

            His father’s scowl deepened.

 

            “Where are mom and Zoe?” He cautiously asked.

 

            “Both of them went out for some mother-daughter bonding- shopping or something. That’s not the point though.” His father’s tone had a clear edge, like sharpened claws. “Something is off about you.”

 

            “Something’s always been off about me, Larry,” Connor snorted, matching his tone to his father’s as he pushed past him to enter the house. Connor felt a hand grab his shoulder, and he shrugged it off as he turned around, glaring into eyes that mirrored his own in color and emotion.

 

            “You know what I mean, Connor.”

 

            “Actually,” Connor raised an eyebrow in a slight confused annoyance. “I don’t think I do. Please, enlighten me on what I’ve fucked up this time in ‘basic human-ing 101’.”

 

            His father let out a sigh, clearly trying to calm himself before continuing. “Connor, you’ve been out late at night again, and missing dinners, and you’ve just…You seem like you’re going back to your old ways.”

 

            “You think I’m relapsing.” Connor looked at the ground as his hands balled into fists. The sharpened points were digging into his palms.

 

            “I never said-”

 

            “You implied it. Maybe you’re relapsing because you’re implying that I’m starting to go crazy again!”

 

            “No-”

 

            “No, no, no, you keep quiet, I’m talking,” Connor snarled, glaring into his father’s eyes again. “Sound familiar? Because I don’t want to hear anything from you right now, just like you never wanted to hear anything from me for years!”

 

            “Connor Lawrence Murphy!” His father snapped back. “Listen to me, for once in your life! I’m worried about you going off and doing things- drugs, crime, whatever it is. I’m trying to be a good father.”

 

            They both stood there, eyes narrowed, faces slightly red in anger and chests heaving. Connor was first to back down, turning away to head to the stairs. “I’m going to my room. Don’t follow me.”

 

            “Connor-” He heard a footstep come closer.

 

            “Don’t. Follow.”

Chapter Text

The term "cat nap" for a short rest refers to the cat's tendency to fall asleep (lightly) for a brief period. While asleep, cats experience short periods of rapid eye movement sleep often accompanied by muscle twitches, which suggests they are dreaming.

 

 

            Connor slammed his door behind him and leaned back on it as he tried to calm himself.  He ran his hands through his hair. He winced when he felt pain on his palms, bringing his hands down. When he had dug his nails into his palms, they made small, almost pin-prick-like wounds. Connor balled up his hands into fists again, about to slam a fist into the wall. He stopped himself. Don’t prove him right- calm down Murphy. You’re getting help now, you shouldn’t be pulling this shit anymore. You’ve got work as the Stray and meds-

 

            Connor’s eyes widened in a realization. He ran over to his mess of a desk- covered in sketchpads, books, and a bunch of other random shit- and looked for his medicine. He found one of the orange pill bottles- his mood stabilizers. Admittedly, he probably should have brought them along to Evan’s to take them at the daily time he’d set for himself, but he didn’t think too far ahead last night. He grabbed the nearby water bottle, opening the pill bottle and downing some of his meds with a drink of water. He began small breathing exercises as he collapsed onto his bed. He half-curled into himself, closing his eyes and focusing on the air going into his lungs and out of them.

 

 

            Connor opened his eyes slowly as he felt something prodding his face. He blinked open his eyes, looking around to find himself in a familiar feeling place; The Orchard. It looked exactly how he wanted it to remain in his most pleasant memories, unlike the abandoned mess it actually was nowadays. A deep rumble of a meow came from one of the trees. Connor looked up, and saw a large Maine Coon cat sitting upon one of the branches. It was a dark brown tabby, its long, thick-furred tail hanging off the branch. The cat seemed far too familiar. It began climbing higher up the tree.

 

            “Wait!” Connor called, running to begin his own ascent up the tree. The cat was moving incredibly fast, and was the tree always this tall? Connor continued to follow the Maine Coon before it suddenly stopped. Connor felt his heart racing- the tree absolutely was not this tall before. It didn’t seem to be an apple tree anymore either. He looked to the cat, which had its gaze upon something farther down. Connor followed its line of sight, and felt the racing of his heart come to a halt.

 

            Evan was falling.

 

            He couldn’t let it happen.

 

            But fate seemed to have a different plan as the branch Connor held snapped, and he, too, was falling in a forest.

 

            Then the scene faded into black. Connor opened his eyes again, finding himself in a less joyful and familiar place; The Hospital. The cat was once again there, sitting at the end of the bed. It hopped off, and began to run off again.

 

            “Wait up!” Connor repeated, managing to get out of the bed because there was nothing hooked up to him. He followed the cat out the room, rushing down the empty halls. It entered a waiting room, where Connor could recognize his family with their backs turned. Their voices were muffled as they spoke to a fourth person- Evan, once again. A cast, with Connor’s name in bold letters, was still decorating his arm. Connor reached out to his friend, but everything around him turned into darkness again. This time, the darkness was more like the night.

 

            That fucking cat was still there. It sat on a windowsill, moonlight outlining it. It sat there, and looked at Connor with eyes like his own, blue with the speck of brown. Voices- criminals, victims, even his own- they filled his ears as shadows danced around him.

 

            “Shut up, shut up, shut UP!”

 

 

            He woke up, breathing heavy. Connor looked around. Something vibrated in his pocket, and he took out his phone to see Evan was calling him. He pressed ‘answer call’ and brushed back some of his hair as he held his phone to his ear. “Hey Ev,” He tried to sound a bit more cheerful.

 

            “Hey Connor! Everything went surprisingly well at Jared’s.” God, Evan’s voice could singlehandedly make anything better.

 

            “That’s great to hear!”

 

            “Yeah! But, uh, Jared also wants to apologize to you? Wait that sounded like a question- Jared definitely wants to say sorry to you.

 

            “Really?” Connor couldn’t help but disbelieve.

 

            “Yeah, he wants to meet up at A La Mode tomorrow, if that’s alright?

 

            “That sounds fine,”

 

            “Great, see you then, Connie!” The phone call ended. Connor let out a squeal, face going red. Jesus fucking Christ this boy’s got my heart captive. The brief euphoria disappeared as suddenly as it came. But I don’t deserve him- not like that.

Chapter Text

Feral cats tend to be lighter as they have more limited access to food than house cats. In the Boston area, the average feral adult male will weigh 4 kg (9 lb) and average feral female 3 kg (7 lb).

 

 

            Connor looked through his bag before throwing it over his shoulder. There was a small knock at his door.

 

            “Connor? We need to talk,” Zoe’s voice mumbled behind the door. Connor looked at his phone; he had a half-hour before he had to go to the meet-up.

 

            “Come in, Zo. I got time to kill.” The door creaked open, revealing Zoe still in her pajamas, her honey-brunette hair braided on her shoulder. Her eyes held distress, though. “What’s up, shrimp?”

 

            “Connor, Alana’s been doing research-”

 

            “Yeah, and birds fuckin’ fly-”

 

            “She’s been trying to find out who the Stray is!” Zoe quietly hissed. Connor shut his mouth and stared at his sister. “Connor, she’s really close to knowing it’s you. I might’ve bought you some time, but Alana’s really smart.”

 

            “Bought me some time? Zoe, what did you do?!”

 

            “Look, I just took some things that most obviously pointed to you,” Zoe looked incredibly remorseful. “And that’s the only time I’ll ever do something to hurt Alana. She ended up calling me in the middle of the night, I-I couldn’t stand hearing her so pained. She’s clearly been working so hard.”

 

            “So have I,” Connor growled under his breath. He looked at his sister’s teary eyes and calmed himself. “Thanks, Zo. I’m sorry you have to be caught in the middle about this.” He held out his arms. “Want a hug?” He awkwardly asked. Zoe sniffled and smiled before hugging her older brother. They stood there for a near minute before separating. “Thanks again, shrimp.”

 

            “Yeah,” Zoe gently punched Connor’s arm. “Now enjoy your meet-up with your boyfriend~”

 

            Connor’s face heated up. “Evan’s not my boyfriend!”

 

            Zoe snickered as she turned away. “Whatever you say, big brother.”

 

 

            Connor pulled up to A La Mode, taking a deep breath. He saw Jared and Evan standing outside the little ice cream shop in their late fall clothes, Evan currently hiding his face in a rather adorable blue scarf as Jared was cackling loudly. Better go save Ev. Connor thought with an amused snort as he left his car. “Hey guys.” Evan instantly lifted his face from his scarf, and it held an excited grin.

 

            “Hey Connor!” He greeted cheerfully. “We should head inside.”

 

            Connor nodded in agreement, walking to the glass door to push it open for the other two boys. The little bell above the door rang.

 

            “Welcome to A La Mode!” The little dark-haired woman behind the counter chirped as Connor walked up, standing next to Evan. “Oh hello Connor, hello Evan! Long time no see. No one ever seems to like ice cream during cold weather, huh?”

 

            “Guess not, Vivian.” Connor shrugged.

 

            “What’ll you all be having, then?”

 

            “I’ll be getting the moose tracks with some hot fudge on top,” Jared spoke first.

 

            “I’ll have my usual,” Connor said next. “And Ev will have-”

 

            “I’ll have strawberry sorbet!” Evan quickly squawked out. Everyone looked at him in surprise. “I mean,” The blonde boy audibly gulped. “I will be having the, um…the strawberry sorbet.” He spun around on his heel and went to go sit down.

 

            Connor let out a small chuckle as he reached for his wallet, but Jared held up a hand. “I got this, Murphy. I’m supposed to be apologizing, remember?” Connor raised an eyebrow. “Trust me.”

 

            Connor put his hands up surrender. “Alright, dude. I’ll go handle Evan.” He walked over to the window table that Evan had sat down at, the anxious teen having his face down on the table. “Yo, Ev, buddy.” Connor placed a hand on Evan’s shoulder. “You cool?”

 

            “Connor, why am I bad at being a person?”

 

            “Evan, I am the worst person to ask about that.” Connor tried to joke. Evan turned his head to look at Connor, clearly unamused. “Anyway,” The tall brunet cleared his throat. “You’re not bad at being a person, dude. You’re better than me, anyway.”

 

            “Oh hurray, I’m just above the bare minimum,” Evan huffed. He suddenly stiffened. “Oh my god why did I say that to one of my best friends it’s alright if you leave now I’m a bad friend-”

 

            “What’s he on about now?” Jared asked, walking over while carrying three bowls. He set each of the cold treats down before taking a seat of his own. Evan quickly put a spoonful of sorbet in his mouth to shut up.

 

            “I was trying to reassure Ev here, and he gave me some sass,” Connor said with a proud grin.

 

            “I’m sorr-”

 

            “Don’t you dare apologize, Ev. I’m real proud of you,” Connor interrupted. Evan visibly blushed before continuing to eat his sorbet. “Besides, you’re not the one who’s apologizing today.” Connor directed his attention to Jared as the short boy was in the middle of eating his ice cream. Jared almost choked. He coughed and hit his chest a few time before folding his hands in an attempt to look formal.

 

            “Right, right.” Jared let out one last cough. “Uh…hm…” He let out a frustrated huff. “Dammit, how the hell do I do this without sounding like a dick who’s trying to blame you for being easy to pick on?”

 

            “Maybe start with actually saying the word ‘sorry’?” Evan mumbled.

 

            “Alright, um…Look, Murphy, I’m sorry,” Jared glanced to Evan for reassurance. He gave a nod and a brief thumbs up, ushering Jared to continue. “I’ve been an unfair asshole to you since day one.”

 

            “True, but,” Connor took a bite of his own ice cream. “I will admit that it’s only fair for you to target me.” Everyone targets me- even when I’m the Stray, it seems. “I mean, I’m one of the few fuckers on the lowest rung of the social ladder. Everything about me is known by that shithole of a school.” Except for the fact I’m the goddamn city hero. “Either way, Kleinman, apology accepted. This doesn’t mean we’re buddy-buddy now, though.”

 

            “That’s reasonable,” Jared nonchalantly shrugged. “But we can both be friends with Evan here, right?”

 

            “Right.”

Chapter Text

Peril

 

1: exposure to injury, loss, or destruction; grave risk; jeopardy; danger:

2: something that causes or may cause injury, loss, or destruction.

3: to expose to danger; imperil; risk.

 

 

            “This meal has been wonderful boys-” Jared started to get up as the three finished their sweet treats.

 

            “…Ice cream isn’t a meal.” Evan mumbled.

 

            “-But I need to get going. Mom told me to grab some extra stuff for dinner on Thursday before she comes home tonight,” Jared clapped his hands together. “And I’m sure you idiots got your own thing to do. Probably together.”

 

            Jared let out a snort of laughter when both Connor and Evan looked a little flustered. These idiots just need to admit they love each other already. He thought as Evan scrambled to put his scarf back on.

 

            “Later, lads,” Jared gave them a salute before turning his heel to head out. He dug around briefly in his black bubble coat, getting the keys to his car. He pressed the unlock button, the car chirping as the front doors unlocked. He hopped in, and began driving to the store.

 

 

            The entire trip was rather uneventful; he got everything he needed, and it was just becoming sunset. He drove home, surprised to see his father’s car wasn’t in the driveway like usual. He parked his own vehicle in its usual place, and grabbed the groceries sitting in the passenger’s seat before walking to the front door. He dug out his keys again, but raised an eyebrow when he found that the door was already unlocked.

 

            Curious and cautious, Jared walked carefully to the kitchen. He flicked on the lights, and his breathing hitched as he saw a familiar boy sitting at the table, drinking a cup of water as if he lived in the house. The boy made eye contact with Jared, and a grin spread on his face, like he was the cat who ate the canary.

 

            “Hunter.” Jared said, tone terse.

 

            “Jared Kleinman,” Hunter purred out the name. “No better greeting for an old friend?”

 

            “Ex-boyfriend,” Jared corrected bitterly.

 

            “Now, now, we can be civil, can’t we?”

 

            “Hell no.”

 

            Hunter pouted. “That’s too bad.” He took another sip of water. “I was hoping we’d be able to make up-”

 

            “Make up? For what you did? Ha! That’s a fucking laugh.”

 

            Hunter’s eyes began to glare. “Shut the hell up and stop interrupting me!” He snapped. “I had an entire speech planned for this, but if you’re gonna be like this.” Hunter reached into his jacket. He placed something shiny onto the table. Jared’s eyes widened to the size of dinner plates.

 

            “Is that-?”

 

            “A beauty, ain’t she? Dad got her as a gift for my eighteenth birthday.”

 

            Hunter looked at the gun he placed down with a smile like a lover would give another.

 

            “Why did you bring it?”

 

            “Because, Jared-dear,” He picked the pistol back up as he got to his feet. “It’s my negotiation tactic.”

 

            “Negotiation tactic?” Jared parroted, voice raising in pitch.

 

            “Yep,” Hunter’s face held the grin of a ravenous wolf. “Now, gopher boy. Cooperate, and you’ll live! Be an asshole, like usual, and I’ll blow out your fucking brains.”

 

            “I….Alright.” Jared made his way to a seat.

 

            “Bap-bap-bap! No sitting down. I like watching your knees grow weak.”

 

            Jared didn’t reply to his ex’s playful cooing. He began fiddling with his clothes like Evan would when he got nervous.

 

            “Now, first question,” Hunter took a look at the magazine of the gun before looking back to Jared. “Why the hell are you hanging out with Murphy?”

 

            Jared bit back the sarcastic response, brushing it off with a cough. “He’s Evan’s friend. We’re, like, his only two friends.”

 

            “Hm. Surprising that Murphy hasn’t killed you; you can hardly resist calling him a psycho every time you see him.”

 

            “Yeah, well, he’s not threatening me with a gun right now, so who’s the real psycho?” Jared smirked for a moment before having the air knocked out of him, an arm to his throat and a gun to his abdomen.

 

            “Don’t you dare compare me to that Murphy freak!” Hunter snarled, pressing his forearm harder on Jared’s neck, making him wheeze. “Piece of shit is a fuckin’ pussy compared to me. Probably ain’t even won a fight with that scrawny body.”

 

            “At least he’s more loyal than you’ll ever be,” Jared managed to breathe out, feeling the gun pressed deeper into his stomach.

 

            “You got a serious death wish, Kleinman,” The teen lowly growled. “But I can’t kill ya.” The short of the two’s breathing hitched as Hunter got close to his ear. “But I will do my job to hurt ya for good.”

 

            Before he could ask what he meant, he could hear the trigger being pulled.

 

            His abdomen burned in pain as he was dropped to the ground.

 

            His ears rung and his vision was darkening.

 

            The last thing he saw was Hunter running away.

 

 

            The last thing he felt was the numbness of his legs.

Chapter Text

Cats rely strongly on body language to communicate. A cat may rub against an object, lick a person, and purr. Much of a cat's body language is through its tail, ears, head position, and back posture.

 

 

            After the meeting with Jared, Evan had said he wanted to drop by the orchard. It honestly had been a while since they visited, since Connor was always so busy. Plus, it was getting colder, but Connor enjoyed the cold. They pulled up to the old place, the worn out wooden sign saying Autumn Smiles Orchard. Both of them exited the car, turning and smiling at each other. Connor headed to the fence first, scampering up with a practiced ease. Evan was next, although he was admittedly a little less graceful. Connor caught his friend as he tossed himself over the top of the fence.

 

            Again, they smiled at one another as they headed deeper into the orchard. It was a bit later into the fall, with the ground was covered by brown and golden leaves and bare branches reaching into the sky. Connor closed his eyes, taking a deep breath of the chilling air. It felt incredible, especially with his ribs still being a bit bruised up. With everything else going on in his life, he’s completely forgotten to step back to take a break from the chaos.

 

            He felt a hand tug on his sleeve, and he opened his eyes. Evan tilted his head, blinking those pretty green eyes. They seemed even brighter in this weather, this orchard, with Connor. Connor smirked before dashing ahead, right to the field. He heard Evan running after him, laughter light. Connor stopped, spinning on a heel and collapsing backwards into the grass. Evan flopped down beside him, laughing a bit louder. Connor began cracking up as well, feeling so…so light.

 

            When he would fight as the Stray, Connor always felt heavy, like the weight of his duties grounded him. It was nice, to have some control, some choice. Out here, in the orchard, the place where he and his family were happy, the place where he and Evan were happy, he always felt like air. Being with Evan, even only as friends, was a special kind of high, so Connor wondered about the kind of high it’d be to be with Evan.

 

            In any of his daydreams, he and Evan wouldn’t be too different from how they already are- they’d still be there for each other, no matter what, but there’d be more unapologetic touching, close cuddling to comfort one another, and kissing. Good god, if he had the chance, Connor would kiss every single freckle on Evan Hansen’s body. He chuckled a little at the thought, face going a little warmer in the cold weather as he stared upwards.

 

            He has no idea how long they stayed there, lying in the grass and looking to the sky. The sun was turning the sky a beautiful orange glow. Connor sat up, stretching his arms as the day sky turned to the early autumn night. He turned his head, admiring Evan as the smaller boy laid, face the calmest Connor had seen in days. His blonde friend opened his eyes, with there being a buzz of his phone. Evan reached into his thick coat’s pocket, taking out his phone. He stilled with a sharp intake of breath. Taking a glance at the screen, he saw Heidi was calling.

 

            “Doesn’t she have work right now?” Connor asked. Evan nodded once, hitting answer and holding the phone to his ear.

 

            “Mom? Why are you…calling…?” Evan’s voice got quieter and trailed off. Connor felt the air around them go from pleasant to almost like a horror film, cold and terrifying as Evan dropped his phone, choking on air like it was water.

 

            “Evan?!” Connor felt panic seize his body. “Evan, what’s wrong?”

 

            “Con…Connor take me to the hospital,” Evan managed to say. “Jared’s…Jared got shot!”

 

            Connor’s emotions abandoned him.

Chapter Text

A wide range of health problems may affect cats, including infectious diseases, parasites, injuries, and chronic disease.

 

 

            Last time Connor had been in a hospital, it was because he was the one in one of those rooms, stomach pumped of the drugs he wolfed down in the attempt to off himself. Being on the other side of things was…odd, to say the least, as he was sitting in the waiting room with Evan, who was once again tired from crying. The room was chilling, with time seemingly not existing. How long had it been since they arrived, Connor having driven like a madman while Evan tried to keep himself calm? His phone said it’d only been about an hour, but it felt like days.

 

            Evan was shaking, tear tracks on his face. His green gaze was distant, like an old soldier’s, unsteady and still panicked, but clearly exhausted. Connor bit his lip, unsure what to do.

 

            “Ev?”

 

            The boy in question turned his head slowly, blinking curiously at Connor, almost like he’d forgotten about his companion completely in his panic. He didn’t say anything as he leaned on Connor’s shoulder, a bit awkwardly due to the arms of the chairs between them. Connor’s breathing hitched before he decided to just lean his head on Evan’s.

 

            He didn’t realize that they fell asleep until the nurse walked in, calling for family of Jared Kleinman. Connor groggily separated from Evan as two adults- Jared’s parents, probably- went to follow the nurse. Evan hurried to catch up, only to look back at Connor who just stood there stiffly, unsure whether or not to follow. The blonde gave a reassuring smile, holding out a hand which Connor took, and held tightly all the way to Jared’s room.

 

 

            Jared looked…pathetic. That was the only way to describe it. When they’d seen him earlier, he was at least decently put together for a teenage boy with the fashion sense of a nerd from a bad 80s movie. Now, he just reminded Connor of each time he’d been here. The heart monitor was beeping steadily, with Jared’s mother- a very tall brunette Jewish woman; Evan mentioned her name was Mariam- she was busying herself with a few calls, most of them cancelling meetings. Tom, a short, darker haired man and Jared’s father, was brushing the hair away from his son’s forehead, face forlorn. Everyone turned their attention as the door opened and closed, Heidi standing with a clipboard.

 

            “Heidi! Oh thank goodness,” Mariam looked a bit calmer. “Is…is he going to be alright?” She was clearly trying not to look at her unconscious son.

 

            “He’ll live, Mary,” Heidi reassured. “But...”

 

            “But?”

 

            “He’ll be paralyzed from the waist down.”

 

            Everyone went still, staring at Heidi in disbelief.

 

            “Wh…what?”

 

            “He’ll need a wheelchair. Doctor Taylor says the damage to his lower lumbar might be permanent.”

 

            Tom, from his chair beside the bed, let out a choked noise, while all the color had drained from his wife’s face. Evan did an impression of a koala, tightly hugging Connor, who was trying his best to provide a silent comfort, gently petting Evan’s hair, like his own mother used to do when he was younger. Everyone’s attention was drawn to Jared as he let out a groan, blinking awake and looking around.

 

            “What’s goin’ on?” He grumbled, voice clearly sore. Jared let out a yelp as both his parents threw themselves to hug him. “Ow, ow, ow! Careful!”

 

             “Sorry, dear, we thought we lost you,” Mariam held her son’s face in her hands. “What happened?”

 

            Jared went pale again. The heart monitor still attached to him began to beep faster. Both Evan and Connor knew what was happening, and looked at each other before rushing forward.

 

            “Jared, control your breathing,” Evan spoke first in a hushed tone.

 

            Connor continued to help. “C’mon dude, count with us. One, two, three, four.”

 

            The nurses came into the room, stopping as they watched the three boys. Connor looked at all the adults as Evan was still calming Jared. “All of you, get out. We need to talk to Jared alone.” He tried not to snarl at the adults. Heidi clearly understood what was going on and began directing everyone out the door.

 

            It took maybe five minutes for the shortest of the boys to regulate his breathing. Heidi returned briefly, only bringing a bottle of water before leaving. Evan opened the bottle, helping his oldest friend take a drink.

 

            “It was Hunter.”

 

            Connor blinked in confusion. “Which Hunter? There’s nearly twenty in our school.”

 

            “Hunter Harris,” Evan was the one to respond. “I should’ve know he would try some shit…”

 

            “Harris did this? He…” Connor did the math in his head, and it was starting to make sense. “Fuck, dude.”

 

            “Yeah, who knew my piece of shit Ex-boyfriend would try some shit like this?” Jared laughed weakly. He leaned by on his pillow. “Kinda wish he didn’t do it after a good day.”

 

            “Yeah, that…really fucking sucks,” Connor bit the inside of his cheek before glancing to Evan, who was a bit too quiet for comfort.

 

            “Alright, boys,” Heidi reentered the room. “Jared need to be left to rest more.”

 

            “Alright. Uh, Ev, you need a ride home?” Connor asked aloud. The blonde boy looked to the brunet, then shook his head.

 

            “No, I’ll be fine,” He said. His voice practically sunk into Connor’s bones, feeling like some kind of calm before a storm. Connor gulped, but didn’t push.

 

            “Okay, uh…Bye, everyone,” He turned to leave.

Chapter Text

While it might seem unlikely, owls can go after cats. Your average outdoor cat is not very likely to get airlifted by an owl, but if you're the type to be prepared for every type of injury or incident, be on the lookout for ambitious birds of prey.

 

 

            The next night, Connor was on the hunt.

 

            He settled himself on a darker part of his own house’s roof, staring at the Harris’s house through the eyes of his mask. He saw Hunter exiting the house, heading to his way-to-nice-for-his-asshole-self car. He quickly hopped down from the roof with a practiced ease while the car backed out of the driveway, and practically raced off.

 

            He managed to keep track of Hunter while he drove through town, taking way too many turns. They both finally arrived at…a warehouse. Of course it was a fucking warehouse. Before Connor’s thoughts could linger, Hunter was coming out of his car, the vehicle chirping as he locked it and walked into the warehouse. Connor grinned when he saw a stack of crates, crawling up on top of the building. He stared down the skylights, spotting Hunter once more and…Mister Harris, standing with two familiar looking grunts.

 

            “The only reason why I won’t be finishing you off right now, you pathetic excuse for a crime-fighter, is because Mister H.” Connor’s head echoed with the memory, making his ribs sting a little as he remembered fighting the ginger man standing to Mr. Harris’s left. So he’s Mister H…Should’ve known- guy’s always been a complete dick on those ski trips.

 

            Connor tried to listen in on the conversation the father and son were having, but only caught a few words until he heard other footsteps on the roof. He looked up from the skylight he was peering into to see someone at the adjacent one, staring back at him. The newcomer was wearing a brown coat with a white scarf that covered their nose and mouth, and their eyes were covered by big, dark goggles. All in all, this new person reminded Connor of one of a barn owl. The person seemed alarmed, turning away quickly.

 

            “Hey, wait-” Connor whispered, getting up to try and reach out. They already begun to make their way down the roof at an incredible speed. Connor looked at the skylight, then to the new owl-fellow. His impulses told him to follow the person, and follow he did.

 

            The shorter person was surprisingly quick, and, even more surprisingly, silent. Their footsteps were kept light as they rushed around the next corner, Connor being the one to try and keep up despite his long legs. Once Connor turned the corner, he noticed a tall fence standing between him and the owl, and scampered up the fence.

 

            “Dude, wait-” Connor tried to say before they hurried off again. Connor crossed the top of the fence, but they had already gone down the alley and out into town. He growled lowly to himself. “Fuck!” He shouted, slamming a foot into a metal garbage can, denting it. He didn’t even notice the person now standing at the end of the alleyway until there was a flash of light. He turned his head, seeing some teenager standing with their camera. His breath hitched and he was quick to hurry back the way he came while people were shouting behind him ‘It’s the Stray!’ ‘I knew he was real!’ ‘What’s he doin’ in some alley?’ ‘Did anyone see that guy who ran out of this alley?’

 

            I wish I hadn’t seen that guy, Connor’s mind snarled. He distracted me from Harris! Dammit! Once he suspected he was in the clear, he took off his mask and stuffed it into his jacket, seeing as he didn’t have his bag. He was lucky the damn thing was baggy enough to not leave an outline and out him. Unlike that fucking photo that motherfucker took.

 

 

            Connor woke up the next morning with Zoe banging on his door.

 

            “Calm your tits, I’m grabbing a shirt!” He picked up a dirty shirt from the floor, throwing it on as he walked to the door and opened it. His little sister shoved her phone right in his face. “Gah- what the hell, Zo…” His eyes finally adjusted, and he saw himself- as the Stray- on Zoe’s Instagram feed, standing like a deer in the headlights in that damn alley.

 

            “I should be asking you that, Connor. What the fuck? How could you be so fucking reckless?!”

 

            Connor looked out into the hallway, then pulled his sister into the room and closed the door. “Zoe, it’s not completely my fault-”

 

            “Oh this’ll be great. Whose fault is it, then?” The sarcasm dripped off her voice like a burning candle’s wax.

 

            “I was spying on Hunter Harris-”

 

            “What the fuck?” Zoe said, softly but with feeling.

 

            “-There was this warehouse, and I was peering through the skylight until this other guy was also on the roof- he was dressed like some kinda owl or some shit- and I had to go after him. I don’t know why, but my instincts just kept screaming at me to follow that owl.”

 

            “What the fuck?” Zoe repeated, running her hands through her own hair. “Wait- Owl?” She looked at her phone again, scrolling through incredibly quickly. She stopped on a post with-

 

            “That’s the motherfucker right there!” Connor snarled. The picture was of the guy walking out of the alleyway, although it was a bit blurry. He looked at the poster’s comment.

 

            Saw this owl looking dude coming out of an alleyway. The Stray’s got a rival? #idonttrustlikethat #dudelookslikeabarnowllmao

 

            Connor looked at the comments following.

 

            The Stray was found in that alley! Maybe they are rivals???

            omg he does look like a barn owl.

            Let’s call him Tyto.

            lmao why Tyto @gal_paledictorian

             It’s the scientific name for barn owls as a whole! @bigbucksnoah

            dude that’s awesome #StrayVTyto

 

            After that, the comments dissolved into different theories and various people choosing which side they were on. It was like looking at a comment feed for one of those Super-hero-rivaling movies. Except this wasn’t a movie, it was real fucking life.

 

            Connor’s real life had completely turned into a big name superhero movie.

 

            Before he could dwell on those thoughts, he heard his mom shout up the stairs, “Kids, get dressed! Your grandmother is here!”

 

            The two teens looked at each other.

 

 

            “Fuck.”

Chapter Text

Where social groups of cats do exist, they appear only to work well when the members of the group are familiar and when there is no competition over food or other resources. Cats can form strong social relationships with familiar individuals, and particularly between kittens in the same litter and between kittens and their mother.

 

 

            “So, you’re still going through that gay phase.”

 

            Connor tapped his fingernails on the table as he listened to his grandmother spout her usual bullshit. He bounced his leg irritably, feeling the rest of his family staring at him and probably expecting him to snap.

 

            “I guess I am,” Connor sarcastically agreed. “I guess you’re still going through your homophobic bitch phase?”

 

            “Connor!” Larry hissed through his teeth. Connor looked at his father.

 

            “What? I thought we were supposed to be catching up with our dear grandmother here,” He said innocently, folding his hands and batting his eyes. “Besides, she should be pleased that I’m not as likely to get anyone pregnant since I’m the one being fu-”

 

            “Okay! Lunch is ready!” Cynthia was quick to intervene, making her voice heard by everyone in the dining room. She walked in with a large plate of assorted healthy snacks with sandwiches lined up in the center. They all began silently eating until dear old gramma decided to start complaining.

 

            “What kind of bread is this, Cynthia? It’s awful!”

 

            Connor looked to his mother, seeing the clear strain on her face to try and not bicker with her mother-in-law.

 

            “It’s the bread you recommended to us last time, Carolina.”

 

            “Well you managed to ruin it! I swear, how did Lawrence marry you when you can’t do anything right? You might just be the reason your son here isn’t right in the head.”

 

            Connor was ready to hop to his own- and his mother’s- defense, but his mom just cleared her throat. Cynthia clenched her jaw as she put on a fake smile. “Would you excuse me? Connor, might you come help me with the dishes?”

 

            He blinked, looking at his mom, seeing just from her expression what she was trying to say. “Uh…yeah, sure.” He got to his feet, taking his and Zoe’s plates up. He sped-walked to the kitchen, his mother following shortly after with three other plates and almost aggressively putting them into the sink.

 

            “Connor, I want you to go upstairs, get a few days of clothes, and go to the Hansens,” Cynthia gripped the edge of the sink, gaze down.

 

            “What?”

 

            “You don’t need your grandmother trying to force you into a relapse,” She said, looking at Connor with teary eyes. “And I need to do something right by you.”

 

            “Mom…”

 

            Connor couldn’t find good words to say, so instead, for the first time in what seemed like forever, he gave his mother a hug. She returned the gesture, holding her son closer than she’d been able to in years. They backed away from each other.

 

            “Go,” She told him.

 

            Connor nodded and turned away, looking back once at his mother before continuing quietly to his room.

 

 

            Connor tapped a knuckle the front door, with it opening to reveal a ruffle-haired and tired Evan Hansen.

 

            “Oh, hey Conn-”

 

            “Can I stay the night?”

 

            Evan blinked, sleepy green eyes growing wide. “Uh, yeah I guess- uh…why? If you don’t mind me asking?”

 

            Connor entered the house. “Mom told me to get out of the house before that bitch of grandmother sent me into an episode or something.”

 

            Evan closed the door. “Cynthia told you to come?”

 

            “Trust me, I’m surprised too.”

 

            “Uh, well, it’s only about two in the afternoon, so we can uh…” Evan gestured towards the living room. “Hang out? Mom’s still at work- she promised to keep an eye on Jared.”

 

            “Yeah…Yeah that’d be…awesome.”

 

            Within a few minutes, Connor and Evan were on the couch, watching The Office with Evan curled up and leaning on the arm of the couch while Connor trying to get comfy while also keeping his distance.

 

            “Connor?”

 

            Connor looked over, ceasing his fidgeting.

 

            “You can, uh…” Evan put his legs down and patted his lap.

 

            Connor blinked slowly before scooting over to Evan, flopping and laying his head down on the other boy’s lap while trying to keep his face from burning. He kept his attention on the TV, and it was fine for the first half of the episode. As it continued on, though, Connor suddenly felt a hand gently playing with his hair. Turning his head, he saw Evan was still watching the show, but he could see the faintest red tinge to his tan, freckled face.

 

            “Ev?” Connor whispered. Evan’s attention snapped down to him, and the hand in his hair was retracted. Connor almost whined at the loss.

 

            “I’m sorry I had to do something with my hands and your head was in my lap and you have all that hair and it is just so soft-“

 

            “Ev- Evan! It’s fine! You’re fine, dude.” Connor reassured. “I…actually kind of liked it.” His face flushed at the admission, and he turned his face away again. “Uh…could you…?”

 

            Evan didn’t say anything, but Connor felt his hand again. He relaxed into the touch, watching the TV again. He was beginning to fall asleep, hearing the faintest mumbling from Evan’s voice as he adjusted himself in the boy’s lap, eyes fluttering shut.

Chapter Text

Backbone

 

 

1: the spinal column; spine.

2: strength of character; resolution.

3: something resembling a backbone in appearance, position, or function.

 

 

            Cynthia Murphy has always considered herself a well put-together woman. She got the fairytale ending she was raised to believe in: She had a good husband, healthy children, and their family was decently rich. What she didn’t find out until later, however, is that real life is not a fairytale. It doesn’t end when you get the happy ending. It gets messy, and it gets tough. Children don’t stay healthy forever and marriages have rocky patches.

 

            She always suspected that Connor was…different, for lack of a better term. When she’d gotten the call from the school about Connor throwing things at a teacher, she wasn’t angry- she was actually curious. According to Connor, the teacher, Mrs. Garrison, seemed to hate him for no reason, sending him to the back of the line constantly. When it came time for Connor to be line leader, she had told him to once more, go to the back of the line. Connor had grabbed one of the thick books out of impulse, throwing it at the second-grade teacher.

 

            But that was the only real incident until middle school, where Cynthia got called in almost weekly because “Connor got into a fight” or “Connor was disrespecting a teacher”. When he’d gotten suspended for a really bad fight, he and Larry ended up bickering the whole car ride home…and when they got home…and the morning after…

 

            She should’ve known, she repeated to herself when she saw Connor laying in that hospital bed. She nearly lost her son and yet she still couldn’t get the guts to tell Larry to try therapy again. But Evan did. Evan Hansen managed to convince her hard-headed husband to have Connor try therapy again. All because he had the guts to.

 

            Cynthia’s attention returned to the present. She tried not to glare at Carolina as she continued complaining about something else about the modern world. She looked down at her food- some godawful recipe she found online, trying to stay ‘hip’ with the other rich mothers of the neighborhood. When was the last time they had something that didn’t taste like lifeless cardboard? It had to be sometime before the Buddhism phase…Was it before last Christmas?

 

            “Cynthia!”

 

            Carolina’s scathing snarl took Cynthia right out of her thinking.

 

            “Sorry, were you trying to talk to me?”

 

            “I’ve been trying to talk to you for five minutes,” She hissed. “You’re somehow worse than that boy of yours- spacing out for no reason.”

 

            Cynthia slammed a hand down on the table, startling everyone. “That’s it, Carolina,” Cynthia stood up. “I’m tired of you coming into my house, insulting my son, insulting me, and thinking you can get away with it. Never once in the twenty years Larry and I have been married, you’ve never said one kind word. I’m tired of it!”

 

            Carolina scowled harder, if that was possible, before turning toward Larry. “You’re just gonna let her speak to me like that?”

 

            “I-”

 

            “Larry,” Cynthia could tell how begging her voice was, just like in that hospital waiting room. “She might be your mother, but I’m the woman you married. She’s toxic,” She finally understood the word as she used it to describe the vile woman. “She’s done nothing good for our family since we’ve been married.”

 

            “Uh-”

 

            “I have to agree with mom,” Zoe piped up. “Every year, me ‘n Con always dread her visits.”

 

            Con? She hasn’t called him that in years… Cynthia shook her head a little. “Larry, I never thought I’d have to say this, but…it’s either us,” She gestured to herself and Zoe. “Or her.”

 

            Larry blinked in surprise, staring at Cynthia like she was insane. He looked to his mother.

 

            “Lawrence, I’ve raised you since birth. All this woman has done is make you miserable by providing you with a broken son and a bad home.”

 

            Larry pursed his lips, standing up. Carolina grinned for a moment before she noticed Larry walking to Zoe and Cynthia, putting a hand on to their shoulders.

 

            “I’m sorry, Mother, but Cynthia has provided me with far more happiness than you ever did.” Cynthia noticed the grip on her shoulder tighten for a moment, as if Larry were trying to ground himself. “And Connor is not broken. He…he’s a kid who, I will admit, I’ve failed to raise well because I decided it was best to take a note from your book. Tough love has never been something Connor needed.”

 

            Carolina looked horrified at her son’s ‘betrayal’. She shakily got to her feet, throwing down the napkin she kept on her lap. “Fine,” She said with a bitter calmness. “If that’s how you feel, Lawrence, then I’ll just leave and never talk to your family again.”

 

            “Please do. You’ve done nothing good for us anyway,” Zoe snorted.

 

            Carolina weakly glared before hobbling away to gather her things. Cynthia turned her attention to Larry. She threw herself into her husband’s arms, embracing him tightly. She nearly giggled like a schoolgirl when she felt the gesture returned, not just by Larry, but by Zoe as well. Small tears of joy began running down her face at the sudden closeness of her family in that moment- it was only missing one person.

 

 

            But she’d have to wait another day for that. Small victories.

Chapter Text

The tail and ears are particularly important social signal mechanisms in cats; for example, a raised tail acts as a friendly greeting, and flattened ears indicates hostility. Nose-to-nose touching is also a common greeting and may be followed by social grooming, which is solicited by one of the cats raising and tilting its head.

           

 

            “You should’ve seen her, Con! Mom was- it was like she was a whole different and stronger person,”

 

            “It sounds awesome, Zo,” Connor fell backwards onto Evan’s bed, already in his pajamas while he waited for his friend. “I guess I’ll finally be coming home tomorrow, then.”

 

            “Actually, Mom wants to spend some time with Lar…Dad, this Thanksgiving.” Zoe went quiet for a moment, the only sound from her end of the call being shuffling. “So I’m gonna be hanging out with Alana. Mister and Doctor Beck they’ll have plenty to feed one more mouth.”

 

            “Will you being staying overnight?”

 

            “If…If Alana will let me. She’s still been sensitive about letting people in her room since…you know.”

 

            The two of them fell silent, a slight guilt clawing Connor’s chest. He heard the shower stop. “Uh, anyway, goodnight Zoe.”

 

            “…Goodnight, Connor.”

 

            She hung up just as Evan entered the dimly lit room. He was ruffling his hair dry with a towel and he wasn’t wearing a shirt holy shit-

 

            Connor’s jaw hung open while he stared at Evan’s torso. His shoulders were, of course, speckled with freckles, along with his sides, but his belly was left oddly bare of them. He was a bit pudgy, but Connor knew the reality of Evan’s strength as he glanced at his friend’s arms. He then looked to the boy’s face. Both of them blinked at each other, Connor looking away with a blush on his face as he coughed.

 

            “Shit, shit, shit,” He heard Evan mumbling before digging around for clothes. “Sorry, Connor- I didn’t, I forgot to grab a shirt before going to-”

 

            “Yeah, uh-huh,” Connor’s face still felt way too hot as he stared out the window like something really interesting was outside.

 

            “I’m, uh, decent now.”

 

            Connor turned to look at the blonde, who was looking at the floor with an equally flustered face. He was fidgeting with his shirt- some old camp shirt that still fit him. His hair was still fluffy, sticking out in all directions, and good god he is absolutely adorable.

 

            “Goddammit,” Connor couldn’t help but mumble. Evan blinked at him in confusion.

 

            “E-excuse me?”

 

            “You,” Connor looked him up and down again before directing his gaze to the floor. “You’re cute.”

 

            Evan sputtered, already replying with a squeaky ‘No I’m not oh my god-‘. Connor looked at Evan through his hair, seeing the boy hiding his red face in his hands. Connor gulped. Fuck, Murphy, you must’ve fucked up-

 

            “I-I mean, I’m not as cute as you can be.”

 

            Connor shook his head and blinked. “What?”

 

            “You- you, uh…you kind of remind me of a cat?” Evan was nervously smiling, the blush reaching his ears. “I-it’s really cute.”

 

            The taller teen stood still, jaw nearly hitting the floor again. He had to physically close his mouth before trying to speak again. “I, uh…Buh…”

 

            “I think we should head to bed!” Evan practically yelled before Connor could find the words. The brunet nodded mindlessly. “You, you can sleep on my bed- I’ll just take the couch since I made you uncomfo-”

 

            “No!” Connor shouted. “I mean, uh, no, you don’t have to- I mean I said that shit first, if anything I made you uncomfortable-”

 

            “No, no, no, you didn’t, I swear-”

 

            “I mean it just slipped out-”

 

            “I’m fine with you but you shouldn’t be good with me and-”

 

            “I’m sorry,” Both boys said at the same time.

 

            The room went still and quiet, too quiet, too little noise. It felt like Connor was choking from the lack of words. He walked to the bedroom door to leave Evan alone before a hand grabbed his arm desperately.

 

            “I…don’t leave me…” Connor turned around to face Evan, who was on the edge of crying from the looks of his shiny eyes, lit slightly by the lowlight. “I…I don’t want to lose- to lose you from my stupid mistake…”

 

            “Hey, no, Ev- fuck, it’s my fault, I…” Connor took the hand Evan had on his arm, holding it like it was the most delicate thing in the world- which it obviously wasn’t, he could feel the calluses. “Look, Ev, I…I…”

 

            “You…?” Evan looked at him with those teary green eyes, face so sullen but with an underlying…hope? Was that the feeling he was seeing? Wait, when did Evan get so close?

 

            “I…” Connor subconsciously leaned forward a bit, almost nose-to-nose. “I can’t say it…” He almost moved back, but a hand kept his face in place and lips were on his own in a heartbeat. He returned the kiss instantly, feeling like all his dreams were coming true.

 

            Evan was directing them to the bed, but didn’t break the kiss just yet. If anything, he deepened it with the slight tilt of his head. Connor broke off the kiss after a few moments, though, needing air in his lungs. He pressed his forehead to Evan’s, the shorter boy kind of on top of him at the moment and caging his head between his arms.

 

            “I-is that what you wanted to say?” Evan asked, the dim light hitting his face just right.

 

            “For a while, yeah,” Connor answered, lifting a hand to rub a thumb on Evan’s damp cheek. “I’m glad you managed to make a move, though.” He let out a soft chuckle.

 

            “I-it was a sudden instinct,” Evan buried his face into Connor’s neck to muffle his words.

 

            “What, uh…What does this make us, then?” Connor questioned.

 

            Evan stayed silent, then shifted to look Connor in the eyes again. “Let’s talk in the morning.” He sniffled. “Then…if this isn’t just some…I don’t know…we can...we can be together I guess.”

 

            “That sounds fine by me,” The taller agreed. “But can we cuddle?”

 

            Evan let out a soft laugh. “Yeah, yeah we can.”

 

            With quick adjustments, Connor was soon cuddling into Evan’s warm chest, feeling the happiest he had in years.

 

            He could barely hear Evan’s quiet voice because of how quick sleep overtook him.

Chapter Text

Cats that are more familiar with one another groom each other more often, spend more time in proximity to one another, and display less frequent aggressive behaviors toward one another.

 

 

            Connor awoke with a start, and a cold feeling. He blindly reached out to feel that he was alone on the bed. A chilling disappointment went down his spine. He looked over to the alarm clock, seeing the glowing green 9:45 AM. He let out a breath. Evan must’ve just woke up earlier than him- got up and decided to let Connor get his rest. Connor began to stretch a bit before getting off the comfortable- but very tiny- bed. He grabbed his phone and put it into his pajama pocket.

 

            He made his way to the kitchen, hearing running water and the faint sounds of dishes clanking together. He entered to see Heidi standing by the sink, doing the dishes that had been sitting since yesterday.

 

            “Hey, Heidi,” Connor greeted softly. The woman seemed to snap out of a trance and look at Connor. She blinked a few times before shutting off the water, wiping her hands, and smiling.

 

            “Hello, Connor! I didn’t know you were here- It’s been a rough couple of days, huh?”

 

            “Tell me about it,” Connor muttered.

 

            “You want something for breakfast?”

 

            “No, I’m, uh, I’m fine, Heidi. Do you know where Evan is?”

 

            Confusion flash across the blonde woman’s face. “He’s not upstairs?”

 

            “No?”

 

            Confusion was replaced with slight alarm before a door opened and closed. They both looked to the doorway as Evan walked in, taking off his scarf and taking off his jacket. Connor dashed to him and hugged him, making the shorter boy squeak.

 

            “Hey Con- Uh, you okay?” Evan’s words were a bit nervous, but Connor just wrote it off as his anxiety.

 

            “Where were you?” Heidi inquired before Connor could.

 

            “I was out running an errand,” Evan’s tone was short. He seemed to freeze a bit before relaxing, softly adding “I forgot to leave a note, sorry.”

 

            The slight tension in the room made Connor’s hair stand on end. Heidi inhaled through her nose, and exhaled through her mouth.

 

            “It’s fine, Evan. Just…remember next time,” Heidi walked out of the room.

 

            Connor waited to stop hearing her retreating steps before looking at Evan. “Are you guys still at odds?”

 

            “Yeah, we haven’t really be able to…” Evan waved his hand between him and Connor, trying to find his words.

 

            “Talk?”

 

            “Yeah, talk,” He echoed, hand falling to his side.

 

            “We need to talk, too,” Connor added.

 

            “Right…”

 

            Before continuing, Connor’s phone buzzed in his pocket. He took it out, surprised to see Zoe calling. He glanced at Evan, who also seemed confused by the call. He answered.

 

            “Connor, turn on a TV and go to the news- I don’t have time to explain,”

 

            “Wow, okay, not even a hello, this must be world fuckin’ destruction.” Connor replied dryly before walking to the living room, grabbing the remote and switching the TV on. He flicked it a few times before it landed on the news.

 

            “-Local teenager Hunter L. Harris has been arrested after admitting to shooting a fellow student on a recording left on police Chief Cobbs’ doorstep early this morning by an anonymous person. He is currently in custody after being arrested in his home, and questioned for possible involvement in a local crime organization.”

 

            The phone slipped out of Connor’s hand, landing on the carpeted floor. “Holy shit.”

 

            “…Didn’t expect them to work that fast…” Evan seemed to mutter behind him.

 

            “Didn’t expect who to what now?” Connor looked back at the other boy.

 

            “Huh? Oh, uh, nothing. It’s nothing,” Evan assured. “So, uh, Hunter’s in jail.”

 

            “Good. Asshole deserves it.”

 

            “Agreed. Jared might be kind of shitty sometimes, but Hunter was really out of line to shoot him.”

 

            Connor snorted.

 

            “What?”

 

            “Nothing, just…Out of line?”

 

            Evan puffed up his cheeks adorably. “Fine, he’s a complete and utter asshole for shooting my childhood friend.”

 

            “There we go.”

 

            Connor kneeled to pick his phone back up, seeing Zoe hung up. He pressed his lips into a line, putting it back into his pocket. Evan shuffled a bit before walking to Connor, and hugging him. If Connor actually were a cat- or a Studio Ghibli character- his hair would be fluffed up in surprise.

 

            “What…uhhh….Whacha doin’, Ev?” He asked. He felt him shrug against him.

 

            “Wanted ‘nother hug from m’…” His voice was completely muffled by Connor’s chest.

 

            “Dude, what?”

 

            Evan tilted his head up to look at Connor.

 

            “I dunno what to call you now.”

 

            “Yeah, uh…Well, we kissed.”

 

            “Uh-huh.”

 

            “And we said we’d talk more today.”

 

            “Yes, we did.”

 

            “And, uh…I really, really like you.”

 

            “Go on, Carly Rae Jepsen.”

 

            “Shuddup, you sass monster,” Connor poked Evan’s nose. “I want to date you.”

 

            “Okay.”

 

            “Yeah?”

 

            “I wanna date you, ‘n kiss you, ‘n hold your hand, ‘n all that cutesy couples stuff,” Evan pressed his face to Connor’s chest again. Connor quietly prayed he couldn’t hear his heartbeat racing.

 

            “So, uh, boyfriends?”

 

            “Boyfriends.”

 

            “Only bad news is that our anniversary will be on Thanksgiving.”

 

            “…Better to celebrate.” Evan yawned back.

 

            Connor snorted. “You want to go back to sleep?”

 

            “I’d love to.”

Chapter Text

Life in proximity to humans and other domestic animals has led to a symbiotic social adaptation in cats, and cats may express great affection toward humans or other animals.

 

 

            It was the Monday they had to return to school. Connor had gone home right after Thanksgiving Day, and the weekend passed by with almost no incidents. His texting with Evan became stupidly lovey-dovey but it felt so nice. His heart felt like a little candle flame in his chest. His face went a little red as he thought about it again, giddily pressing his head to the wheel of his car. There was a small tap on the passenger door, making him snap up and see Evan, smiling and waving. Connor unlocked the door.

 

            “Hey Ev,” Connor greeted.

 

            “Hey Connie,” Evan replied, taking the passenger seat before leaning across the dashboard to give him a peck on the cheek. Connor grinned.

 

            “Ready to go back to Hell?”

 

            “Ugh, what do you think?” Evan shivered like he tasted something bad. “Let’s just get it over with.”

 

            “Right,” The taller agreed, starting up the car.

 

 

            “Hey, if it ain’t my favorite gays!”

 

            “Damn, you’re already out of the hospital?” Connor turned around to see Jared rolling up in a wheelchair with a grin and his bag in his lap.

 

            “Yeah- they said they needed me to start my practice on wheeling around- I’ve mostly got the hang of it, but slopes are gonna be the death of me. It’s like math all over again.” Jared sustained a look of disgust. Evan and Connor glanced at each other.

 

            “…Was that a fucking joke?” Connor deadpanned.

 

            “Wow, great job recognizing a joke, Murphy.”

 

            “I see one every time I come to school, and he’s right here in front of me,” Connor gestured to Jared himself. Evan noticeably went still, a bit afraid the two were gonna start bickering until they started laughing.

 

            “That was actually great, Murphy,” Jared said between snorts and cackles. He stopped suddenly. “Wait…” He looked around. “Something’s different- the dynamic’s shifted.”

 

            “What the hell are you talking about?”

 

            Jared looked at Evan, then at Connor, then at Evan again.

 

            “Holy shit…” He muttered. “Holy shit!”

 

            “What?!” Evan squawked.

 

            “You two finally did it, didn’t you?!”

 

            “Do what, Kleinman? What the fuck’s going on?” Connor questioned in a mild panic.

 

            “The weird romantic tension between you two- it’s gone! Y’all are dating aren’t you?”

 

            “How the fuck…?”

 

            Jared pushed his glasses up with his middle finger as if he were in an anime. “I’ve spent so much time tolerating your weird rom-dram-com tension, I can notice it’s gone.”

 

            “That’s fucking weird.”

 

            Connor almost jolted when he felt something touch his hand, and glanced down to see Evan’s hand grabbing his. He gripped the tough, tanned hand tightly. Connor looked at Jared again.

 

            “But you’re right. Me ‘n Ev finally are, uh…boyfriends.” He muttered the last part.

 

            “What was that?” Jared pushed.

 

            “We’re boyfriends.” Connor repeated a little louder.

 

            “Didn’t quite catch that~”

 

            “I’m super gay for Evan Hansen!” Connor shouted in the middle of the hall. The students passing through paused and stared at Connor. Evan’s hold on Connor’s hand turned to a vice grip.

 

            “Damn, Murphy.” Jared broke the silence. “That’s one way of informing the public.”

 

            “Connor.” Evan’s voice was low. “Connor can we please get to class? Please, let’s just go.”

 

            “Shit,” Connor mumbled. “Yeah, Ev, C’mon, let’s go.” He began looked around, seeing all the people looking at them. The tall teen was tense. “What the fuck do you think you’re looking at? Go back to whatever the hell you do!”

 

            That made everyone look away real quick. Connor gripped the strap of his messenger bag with his free hand, and pulled Evan along, the blonde’s frantic and brisk pace being able to keep up with Connor’s long-legged stride.

 

            Instead of going to class, however, Connor led them out of the school, through the back doors with the broken cameras. He release Evan’s hand and took a look at his boyfriend, who was a bit shaken up. Evan slowly, yet still very suddenly, hugged Connor, who subconsciously guided a hand to Evan’s short blonde hair to pet it. The first bell already rang.

 

            “Fuck, we’re late,” Connor’s word held no actual worry or care.

 

            “Don’t care...we’re seniors,” Evan mumbled into Connor’s chest.

 

            Connor didn’t say anything else, continuing to run a hand through short locks.

 

 

            “I’ll text you later, alright?”

 

            “…”

 

            “Ev, c’mon…Say something.”

 

            Evan looked at Connor. It was after school, Connor had driven him home, but they were both still sitting in the car.

 

            “Okay,” Evan’s voice was hoarse from disuse through the day. Connor nodded.

 

            “Go get some rest, babe. You deserve it.”

 

            “Okay,” Evan echoed, leaving the car.

 

            Connor watched him as he walked to the front door, opening it robotically and entering his home. A cold feeling settled into his chest, ice replacing the fire.

Chapter Text

Unlike dogs, cats rarely choose appeasement. Prolonged anxiety reactions are commonly provoked by a threatening situation which cannot be dealt with by flight, fight, freeze, or appeasement.

 

 

            Connor rolled his shoulders and opened his window carefully.

 

            “You gonna go out?”

 

            Connor turned his head to see Zoe standing at his doorway.

 

            “Well, I feel absolutely fine, and shit’s apparently gotten worse since Hunter got arrested.” Connor dryly replied. “The people need me back.”

 

            “The police have it handled, Connor-”

 

            “Not everything.”

 

            Zoe shut her mouth, clearly knowing her brother was right. She audibly swallowed down her fears. “Then…stay safe, Con.”

 

            “Yep.” Was the only way Connor could respond before going out the window.

 

 

            Connor gripped the cold metal of the ladder as a harsh wind blew by. Even with the hood and his mask on, the chill still struck his bones, seemingly making the chill in his chest harder, heavier even.

 

            He got to the top of the building, looking down. It was high enough to see a wide area while still being able to hear what was going on below, making it a perfect observation point. There wasn’t much traffic in this area, so when there was the metallic drop of a garbage can, Connor heard it clear as day.

 

            He turned his attention to one of the alleyways, his dark-adjusted eyes spotting shapes, some large and one struggling. He began making his way down quickly, and stood at the end of the alley in silence to hear the assailants.

 

            “He should be here any moment.”

 

            Who…? Connor felt something cold press to the back of his head.

 

            “One move, kitten, and your head turns to mush.”

 

            The other two in the alley finally turned around, one of them holding Tyto with an arm to their neck, pressing into the white scarf that glowed in the limited lights from the streets. They continued to weakly claw at the man’s arm, but didn’t speak. Connor could hear their fast paced breathing, though.

 

            “Who knew we’d catch both these pests? Mr. H will be so pleased with us that he’ll have to give us a pay raise,” The asshole that held a gun behind Connor sounded way too happy for someone threatening another person’s life. “Now, kitty cat, let’s get moving. Don’t wanna keep the boss man a-waitin’.”

 

            “No.”

 

            “No?” The gun was suddenly pressed harder to the back of Connor’s head. “Do you not realize I got a gun to your head?!”

 

            “No, I do. I just don’t give a crap.” Connor retorted before making a quick move of spinning on a heel to kick the guy in the ribs. The gun was dropped and shot off, making Connor jump a bit, along with the other goons. Still, the one holding Tyto kept his grip tight. They began making a dash to get away. “Fuck.” Connor said quietly, because despite Tyto fucking up his mission with Hunter, they were clearly on his side. The chase began.

 

            Connor followed the shouts and messy footsteps escaping him, and ended up where a limo was awaiting the thugs. Connor stopped in his tracks when the windows rolled down, and the gunfire aimed towards him began. He turned to run or at least get to some cover, and hissed when he felt a bullet strike his right shoulder before he could duck behind a small wall. He pressed his hand to the wound on his back, breath hitching at the pressure. He felt his heart pulsing as he waited for the bullets to stop and the limo to finally leave.

 

            He got to his feet, head spinning from how quickly he did so, and the limo had indeed left. He gulped as he remembered the fact that Harris’s crew got Tyto, but a sharp pain reminded him that he had a current situation that needed dealing with now.

 

 

            Connor found his bag and texted Zoe to meet him in front of their house. His little sister was standing in their front yard in her pink-and-purple pajama pants and blue tank top, and made her way quickly to his car when he still hadn’t managed to get out, the adrenaline worn off and the pain searing his entire shoulder.

 

            “Con- holy fucking shit, your shoulder!” Zoe slapped a hand to her own mouth. “Connor we gotta get you to a hospital-”

 

            “No fucking hospitals,” Connor snapped. “I’m not gonna go to another one of those shitholes.”

 

            “Your shoulder is bleeding! The back of your seat is starting to look like a murder scene!”

 

            “If you aren’t going to help me, Zoe, then you can go and fuck off!” Connor snarled, making his sister jump. Everything suddenly drained from Connor as he shoved himself out of the car. “No…no hospitals…” His voice was so weak and low. “Can’t do it…”

 

            “…Then we’re gonna have to go to the alternative.” She declared before opening the back door, pulling and then shoving Connor to the back seats.

 

            “Alternative?” He wondered aloud, unsure if he was asking Zoe what it was or asking if there was one.

 

            “We gotta go to Ms. Hansen.”