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Potentially Wonderful

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Chapter 1

It all started when Evan was seated behind Connor Murphy in science class on the first day of school. Earlier that day, Jared had been an idiot and tried to pick on Connor Murphy, of all people. Connor had, of course, retaliated, causing Jared to yell at him, calling him a freak, and Evan had stayed behind after Jared left, which was a mistake. Connor had thought Evan was laughing at him and so he yelled at him, called him the "fucking freak" (Connor's words), and before Evan knew it, he had been shoved to the ground, and ow, that hurt his already broken arm. But Evan hadn't been able to look away from Connor Murphy because something about him was nagging at Evan's mind. No, it wasn't a crush, or a "Wow, he's just as beautiful as his sister."

No, Evan didn't realize what was bothering him until after lunch, when the first thing that popped into his head when he was seated behind Connor Murphy in science class was, "His hair has more potential than I do." Immediately after, he remembered he Needs To Block Out The Negative Thoughts, Evan, and tried thinking, "I have just as much potential as Connor Murphy's hair, and that's something to be proud of." He's not really convinced, but he's trying, and maybe that can be considered good.

He can't really concentrate on class because he's staring at the knots in Connor Murphy's hair and thinking about the different shades of brown that would show more if he washed it so that the grease and dandruff wouldn't distract from how wavy and full it is. He thinks that his mom's shampoo and conditioner would work well, because no matter how tired his mother was, her hair always looked shiny, so that's one thing he hadn't ruined for her, yet.

He was so lost in his head about the Potential Of Connor Murphy's Hair, that he almost didn't realize when the bell rang and he was suddenly staring at blue eyes instead of brown hair and oh nononono the blue eyes belonged to the same person who he was just caught staring at and they were starting to look upset instead of surprised and oh this is very much Not Good and the mouth that's on the face of the blue eyes is opening and holy crud he's going to say something this is the end of Evan Hansen-

"SORRY!" he blurted out before Connor could say anything. This surprised both of them because Evan didn't think his mouth was working and Connor wasn't expecting the sudden shout.

"What?" The blue eyes were very confused and Evan rushed to explain.

"I'm really sorry I didn't mean to be creepy, I just was really lost in thought so I didn't notice where I was looking and I didn't mean to stare at you really creepily and I didn't mean to be rude and I'm really sorry, please don't be mad I don't- I'm sorry, I'll just leave now." Evan grabbed his things and bolted out of the science lab as fast as his lungs and legs would allow him. His anxiety actually enabled him to run faster for once, which was really not fair. He raced to his next class which, thankfully did not have Connor Murphy in it, or Connor Murphy's Potentially Amazing Hair, leaving a confused and slightly miffed Connor alone in the science lab.

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Evan tried to concentrate in his next two classes, he really did, but thoughts of Connor Murphy And How Great His Hair Could Be plagued his thoughts. He kept thinking about all the styles and things he could do with it, like something similar to That One Time Zoe Murphy Had A French Braid Pulling Half Of Her Hair Into It's Half Up Half Down Style, and wow he needed to come up with a shorter name for that memory. Maybe Connor Murphy's Hair could be parted more to the side in a way that would really emphasize it's fullness and the little bit of the sun bleached hairs in the front. Or Connor Murphy's Hair could be pulled back with those hair clips he saw at the mall the first time Evan And Jared Bonded Over Being Fashion Critics. (Evan had mentioned that he hated how the ripped jeans look had gotten out of hand by accident and Jared said something about arm bands all the way up your forearm and they had started sharing opinions and wow, that had been Actually Fun.) Or maybe Connor Murphy's Hair would look nice in a mid-height ponytail and yes, that would be great to cover up when he hasn't washed his hair in a while, which brought Evan's thoughts back to what hair products would work best.

Before he knew it, Evan realized school was already over and he needed to get to the computer lab so he could finish his therapy letter and he had just spent the last three hours thinking up possibilities for Connor Murphy's Hair and that's Not Normal. Evan shook his head and made his way to the computer lab, keeping thoughts of The Potential Of Connor Murphy's Hair at bay.

Once there, Evan sat in front of the computer and tried really hard to think of what he should be writing. He had "Dear Evan Hansen," written down but couldn't get past that. He tried to concentrate on people who he admired, like his mom for putting up with him, Zoe for really just existing, Alana Beck, who does so much and helps people, or even Jared, who, although he was being bribed into hanging out with him, still helped whenever he had a panic attack. But for the life of him, he couldn't write it down before his thoughts drifted back to Connor Murphy's Potentially Beautiful Hair. So, he wound up erasing the intro and writing down a list of hair products and accessories he'd seen people wearing. He wrote about Zoe's hair clips, Zoe's headbands, Zoe's little decorative combs, really any hairstyle that he had ever seen Zoe wear, really, because as much as it was odd to admit it, almost every hairstyle Zoe had ever worn would probably look at least three times better on her brother, which was just. A weird thing to think. He didn't dwell on that for too long, though. He continued to type away about his mother's shampoo, Alana's beaded hair ties, that scrunchy Jared wore That One Time Jared Lost A Bet With A Musical Theater Student, etc., etc.

Once he was satisfied with his list, he printed it out, and went back to trying to write his letter, because he didn't think that his therapist would accept a list of hair related items as progress. He was so focused on trying to think of positive things, that he almost jumped out of his skin when he heard a sharp "Hey," from behind him. He started choking on his own spit when he realized it was Connor Murphy And His Hair That Could Be Amazing himself. "Oh, shit-uh," Connor started patting him hard on the back, causing his broken arm to hit the desk, and holy crud, that hurt.

"P-please stop," he choked out and Connor retracted his hand like he thought he broke him.

"Shit," he said again. "Sorry, I-uh. I didn't mean to hurt you."

"No- no I'm okay. You just surprised me."

"Oh." Connor went quiet, and Evan looked away before he could get distracted by The Hair. "It's Evan, right?" He continued at Evan's affirmative nod. "I just- I found this on the printer, and figured it must be yours, since you're the only other one who's in here," Connor spoke again.

"I am?" Evan asked, and he looked around and realized, yes, he was the only other person in the room.

"Yeah. So, umm," Connor trailed off and Evan turned to look at him. "I'm sorry for pushing you earlier, I just- I got angry. And, also, sorry for freaking you out in science class."

"Oh, no! That-" Evan flushed with embarrassment. "I'm really sorry. That was my fault. I shouldn't have been staring at you like a creep."

"Oh." And they both went quiet again. Evan stared at Connor and noticed that even though he was holding himself in a relaxed position, there was something forced about it. 'He's just as uncomfortable as I am,' he realized. Strange as it was, it made him feel a bit more comfortable. "Umm, nobody's signed your cast," Connor said suddenly, surprising Evan.

"Oh, no. I don't really have... friends." And it was true. The closest thing he had to a friend was Jared, who's being bribed into hanging out with him.

"Well, I'll sign it," Connor offered confidently, and as he stood a bit taller, his hair fell over one shoulder. Evan was so captivated by Connor Murphy's Could Be Beautiful Hair, that he just stared at him. Connor shrunk back in on himself. "I mean- if you want, that is."

"Oh! Yes, you can! Wait, I- I have a sharpie..." Evan trailed off, looking for the sharpie his mom had given him that morning when she suggested he ask kids at school to sign his cast. He offered it to Connor, who took it and grabbed his arm and started writing his name in big letters, taking up the whole cast. As he wrote, he had his head bowed and his hair spilled forward over his shoulders, and Evan started thinking about shampoo again as he stared at Connor's unkempt and greasy hair. He really could use some de-tangler to get the matted hair smooth again. Evan once again got lost in thought about The Potential Of Connor Murphy's Hair and then suddenly he was staring into blue eyes again, except this time they were a lot closer and staring back, and neither of them were moving and wow, this could be so awkward, but Evan could not stop thinking about the hair that was framing Connor Murphy's face long enough to realize that. Connor suddenly looked away, and Evan freaked out again.

"Sorry! Again! I'm really sorry, that was so my fault-"

"Dude," Connor interrupted. "Stop apologizing."

"Sorry," he said again, out of reflex, and Connor barked out a laugh that startled them both, because well. Evan hadn't ever heard Connor genuinely laugh, before. At least, not that he could remember.

"Well, now we can both pretend that we have friends," Connor said, gesturing toward his signature on Evan's cast. Evan nodded.

"Yeah," he agreed, smiling in a way he hoped wasn't too awkward, because, really. Evan was always at least a bit awkward. "That sounds like a plan." Connor's expression changed, and he looked away, Could Be Wonderful Hair covering his face.

"So, how'd you break your arm anyways?" He asked, changing the subject.

"Oh, I- I fell out of a tree," Evan said, suddenly uncomfortable, because that's not the whole story at all, but there's no way he could tell anyone that he fell out the tree because he thought the end result would be way more than a broken arm.

"You fell out of a tree?" And he laughed again, but not in a mean way, just highly amused, and Evan was suddenly captivated by the way Connor's Potentially Wonderful Hair bounced as he chuckled. "Well that is just the saddest fucking thing I've ever heard."

"Yeah," Evan chuckled a bit, too, and it was mostly forced, but some part of him laughed simply because Connor Murphy's laugh was infectious. "It is a bit sad, isn't it?" And Connor Murphy was smiling, and Evan was smiling, too, and they were both a bit unnatural from the lack of use of those muscles, and both were a bit sad, but both were also genuine.

"Oh, I forgot," Connor held out the paper again. "This is yours, right?"

"Yeah, it's a-" but then Connor was reading the list and oh nonono that's not something he wanted Connor Murphy to see and Connor's smile slipped and Connor was looking at him funny and blue eyes were a mixture of confusion and anger and something like dry bemusement-

"...Zoe Murphy's hair clips?" Evan really did not like that tone. "Why were you writing about my sister's hair?" He sounded confused and a bit angry, and for the life of him Evan couldn't think of why except for maybe the fact that that's his sister and this kid, who was most certainly not one of her friends, was writing about her because, yeah, that is a bit creepy and he was still staring at blue eyes and this was bad, they were smiling a while ago, why did he have to write anything about Zoe at all, this is so bad-

"It- it's for a project," he managed. Connor stared at him, still confused. "I- I'm supposed to write about things that capture my attention, so I decided to write about hair accessories because they seemed interesting, and your sister has really nice hair accessories and they were one of the things I remembered, so I wrote them down and that's why-" he took a deep breath. "That's why I wrote about your sister's hair. Sorry," he added out of reflex. By the time he had finished talking, Connor still looked confused, but instead of angry, he seemed genuinely amused.

"What kind of project is this for?"

"I- um- it's supposed to be therapeutic, or something," he mumbled, because really, what else could he say? 'Oh, no. I just made that up so you wouldn't think I'm a creep?'

"Huh," Connor looked like he was mulling that over in his head. He turned to the side, and Evan could picture what Connor would look like with Zoe's hair clips pulling That Hair With So Much Potential out of his face. It went really quiet and they both kind of just stood there, with nothing else to say.

Suddenly, Evan remembered that Jared was supposed to drive him home, and started scrambling for his things. He noticed Connor staring at him, "Oh, I- I have to go. I'm being picked up."

"Oh, it's cool. Me too, Zoe'll get pissed if I'm late." Evan grabbed his stuff and started for the door, when Connor let out a shout. "Wait! Uhh, you- you forgot your list."

"Oh, thanks," Evan took it with his good arm and headed for the door. "I- I'll see you tomorrow?" He said it, but it came out a question. Connor went quiet for a moment, simply looked at him and tilted his head full of Hair With So Much Potential.

"Yeah." He said after a long, considering pause. "Yeah, I'll see you tomorrow." And Evan headed out the door, thinking about Connor and all the possibilities for his hair, leaving Connor Murphy alone in a room again, this time with Connor having a different plan for the rest of the day, along with one for tomorrow. "Tomorrow," he muttered to himself. "Huh."

 

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Chapter Text

Chapter 2

Jared Kleinman knew three things for certain. Number one, his parents were excellent at bribing people. Number two, bath-bombs were delicious, every one who judged him for that could piss off. Number three, Evan Hansen was never relaxed and had no chill, whatsoever. So, when he saw Evan walking towards his car, he was already expecting the usual interaction, which was an awkward, "Hello," from Evan, and then some back and forth with Jared dominating the conversation as Evan twitched in his seat.

So when Evan got into the car with a distracted, "Hey," and then proceeded to be absolutely quiet, sitting in his seat calmly and obviously thinking about something, but not freaking out over it, Jared was convinced that either Evan was high, he was dreaming, or that this was not Evan and some supernatural being had replaced him. After five minutes of silent driving, Jared exploded.

"Okay, what the hell, dude? You're acting really freaky." he shouted suddenly. Evan just about jumped out of his seat, and immediately started twitching and okay, this was definitely the Real Evan Hansen.

"Wha-? What are you talking about? I'm acting normal." He looked genuinely confused, but Jared was far from convinced.

"No, that's the problem. You're acting normal, not Evan normal. Evan normal is jittery and anxious. You were acting completely relaxed. What the hell happened to you?"

"N-nothing happened. Everything's the same." Evan rubbed his arm nervously. And that's when Jared noticed his cast. The car screeched to a halt, and Evan shouted as he nearly flew forward and would have hit his head, had it not been for his seatbelt. "Why did you stop in the middle of the road!?" Evan screeched, looking at him like he'd gone crazy.

"Shut up," Jared said, staring at Evan's cast. "What the hell is that?" He demanded.

"What is what?"

"Don't play dumb with me. That. On your cast." Evan's eyes widened and flicked down as he realized what was happening.

"Umm..." Evan didn't answer. Jared suddenly grabbed his arm and pulled it toward him, which caused the other to yelp in pain.

"What. The. Hell." Jared read the name on the cast, then read it again just to be sure. He stared at Evan incredulously. "What the hell, man!?" Evan flinched at his loud tone. "Since when are you besties with the school druggie?"

"I- we're not 'besties'," Evan defended weakly.

"Well, you're definitely something. You do not have the courage to ask someone to sign your cast, and there is no way he volunteered at random." Jared continued examining the large signature. "It's almost like he didn't want anyone else signing it." Jared was struck by a sudden thought. He looked over at Evan, who, despite still being twitchy, was obviously distracted by something. Face flushed more than normal? Check. Averting eyes at all costs? Check. Distracted enough to look slightly comfortable? Check. Left with absolutely no doubt, Jared shared his accusation. "Oh. My. Gosh. You're dating the school druggie!"

"W-WHAT!?" Evan did not look prepared for the turn this had taken, and his face flushed until it was practically glowing. "No! Nononononono," Evan rushed to explain. "I- he just found me in the computer lab and saw it was blank and so he asked and I said it was fine and then he grabbed my cast and signed it and- yeah. Besides, you know I like Zoe."

This was true. Evan wasn't exactly the best at hiding his feelings for that girl, and whenever Jared had teased him about it, he just clammed up and denied any perverse thoughts that Jared accused him of. One time, Jared had seen them talking about a group project, and Evan had looked like he was about to pass out. Jared had made fun of him relentlessly after that for a week.

Jared was about to respond when a car honked at them from behind and he remembered they were sitting in the middle of the road. He turned in his seat to flip the car off as he took off again. He glanced at Evan before speaking. "Okay, fine. I give," he said. He managed to stay quiet for about four seconds. "Are you sure it's not a gay thing?"

"No! It's-" Evan's face flushed again. "It's not a gay thing. I just told you."

"Fine, fine, whatever you say man," Jared surrendered. Evan went back to rubbing his arm. "So, what is bothering you?"

"Huh?"

"You're obviously thinking about something. And until you're over it, you're not going to be you, and I can't handle that kind of responsibility." Evan hesitated before answering.

"Can we stop to pick something up?"

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"Dude, what the hell," Jared lamented as Evan lead him to the Hair Care section of the Walmart they had stopped at. "You've been freaking out over hair products?" Evan flushed and turned defensive.

"I- I wanted to get my mom something," he stammered out. "A gift for, you know. All she's been doing for me."

"Whatever, man," Jared said and turned away to let Evan do his thing. Once Evan had what he needed, Jared absentmindedly handled the interaction with the store clerk without bothering to check what he was paying for with Evan's money, besides vaguely recognizing the bottle he was holding as shampoo. He may tease Evan relentlessly about how he can't handle social interactions, but he'd seen the guy almost pass out trying to pay for his own food once, and he did not need that right now.

Once they left the store, Jared passed the bagged items to Evan who took them gratefully. "Thanks for helping me," Evan said, with so much sincerity that Jared almost flinched.

"Tch, whatever. At least you're acting like yourself, now." Evan smiled slightly, like he knew something Jared didn't, which ticked him off. "What the hell are you smiling about?"

"Nothing." Evan turned away, not smiling anymore, but looking oddly satisfied about something as he got back into the passenger's seat.

"Whatever." Jared got into the car and took off towards Evan's house. On the way there, Evan kept sorting the bags and double checking them, which struck Jared as weird, even for Evan. Once they arrived at his house, Evan's face paled at the sight of his mom's car. They were at least forty-five minutes late, and she would, undoubtedly, be worried. "Don't freak, you were getting her a gift, and you were with me. You'll be fine." Evan nodded, looking the tiniest bit reassured. He grabbed his things, plus the two bags and Jared watched as he nervously made his way inside, just to make sure he was safe. It was only once he was back on the road that he realized how weird it was to get enough hair supplies to fill two bags for one person. But, hey. It was Evan Hansen. He wasn't exactly brushed up on social skills.

'...'

Except for earlier today, apparently, when he got Connor Murphy, the school's resident freak and druggie to sign his cast. There was definitely something fishy going on there, no matter what Evan said. Even though Jared couldn't care less, of course he couldn't, he was going to keep an eye on those two.

He arrived at his house and finished his routine for the day. He worked through his algebra diligently, and almost fell asleep trying to do the reading assignment. (Seriously, who assigns reading homework on the first day of school?) Just as he was getting ready for sleep, (it is important to have non-puffy eyes, so yes he's using cucumbers, leave me alone dad) he received a text from Evan.

To Jared,
My mom wanted to thank you for going through all that trouble just so I could get her a gift. And for making sure I was okay. Thank you. Again. Okay. Goodnight.
~Evan

That weirdo. He even texted awkwardly. He texted him "goodnight" back, along with a "it was no problem" as reassurance. He didn't know exactly what was going on with him, but he was going to make sure to keep an eye on him the next few days. Along with that new "buddy buddy" relationship he had going on with the school druggie.

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Mrs. Hansen might not have had the best connection with her son, or really understand everything he was going through. But she was still his mom. So as someone who had scheduled for their son to go to therapy at five today, she was worried when he still wasn't home forty-five minutes (and counting) after he should have been. So she was especially relieved when he nervously walked through the front door.

"Evan! Honey, where have you been?" She rushed over to him to give him a hug, when she noticed the two bags already occupying his arm space. "What are those?" Evan winced and set his stuff down with one of the bags.

"I- I got you a gift," he stammered out, weakly offering the other bag to her.

"What?" She definitely wasn't expecting that. He handed her the bag and they both walked over to the couch and sat down, both hesitating a bit. She noticed Evan looking at her expectantly and opened the bag to find bottles of her favorite brand of shampoo and conditioner. A closer look alerted her to some hair ties and a hair clip with a beautiful butterfly on it. She looked back up at Evan, still confused. Touched, but confused.

"I wanted to get you a gift," Evan explained. "For all you've been doing for me. I know it's a lot of work, especially with the night classes you've been taking lately and you're always checking on me, making sure I have my medications, and so I wanted to let you know that I was grateful and I knew that that was your favorite brand and you complained about losing hair ties lately, so I asked Jared to stop by Walmart so we could get some stuff, and I saw the clip and I know you like butterflies and so I thought it would be a good present, do you like it? You're crying. Why are you crying, is not what you wanted or-"

"Evan," she cut him off and he clammed up. "I'm not upset, honey. These are happy tears, see? Smiling." And she was happy. Really happy, and touched that he had been so thoughtful. "The gift is perfect. I love it." She smiled at him, widely, through her tears.

"Really?" He asked, and the surprise was evident in his voice.

"Yes, really," she laughed. He looked really pleased that she liked it. "Come here," she embraced him, and his arms tentatively wrapped around her. She really did love him so much. Him wanting to show the he appreciated her meant more to her than any words could say. So she squeezed him tightly before she pulled away, still smiling through her tears. Evan smiled back, a bit unsure. "Thank you so much honey."

"It- it was nothing. Jared helped."

"But it was your idea, and that's what makes me so happy," and his smile turned a bit less unsure. "Now," she said, sniffling through tears, "go get ready to leave. We have to be at the therapist early today, remember?"

"Oh, right."

"Did you finish your letter?"

"Most of it. I'll finish it quickly, though."

"Okay. Why don't you thank Jared for helping when we're done?"

"Okay," he turned to get his things by the front door. As he headed up the stairs, she called out again.

"Evan?" He turned to look at her, and she smiled. "Thank you. Really, it means a lot to me." He smiled shakily at her.

"You're welcome, mom," he hesitated. "I love you." He headed up to his room.

"I love you too," she replied, smiling widely. She really was happy and pleased that he had thought of her. Maybe, she dared to hope, this was a step in the right direction towards him.

Had she not been so distracted, she would have thought to ask what was in the other bag her son had brought home. And had she been even less distracted, she would have noticed that there was something written on her sons cast. But those were both things for later, weren't they?

 

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Chapter Text

Chapter 3

Zoe Murphy was more confused than a bee with dyslexia. The day had started out normal. Connor had caused problems, Dad had left for work, and Mom had let them walk all over her. English, P. E., and Jazz Band passed without incident. On the way to history, she had been talking with Alana, who had spent the summer doing volunteer work. Alana had been in the middle of telling her about how she managed to help convince one seven year old that, no, he did not owe his life to the entirety of the Soviet Union, when she saw her brother push a kid with a broken arm to the ground. 'Once again,' she thought to herself, 'I have to clean up his messes.' So, she shouldered her backpack and made her way over to the guy, who was still sitting on the ground, staring after her brother with an odd look on his face.

"Hey," she greeted, seeming to startle him. "It's Evan, right? Evan Hansen?" Alana had mentioned him a few times when talking about people who she wanted to befriend.

"Zoe," he said, surprised. Huh, she didn't know he knew her name. "I mean-" he cut himself off. "Yes, my name is Evan, not Zoe. Sorry. I'm sorry, that was so weird."

"It's okay," she said, somewhat amused. This kid had a lot of nerve issues. She offered a hand up, and he took it gratefully. "Sorry about my brother."

"Oh no, it- it's okay. I'm fine, really. He- he's just-"

"A psycho?" Evan flushed and Zoe immediately felt bad for putting words in his mouth.

"Um, no, Jared had called him a freak and he thought that I was laughing at him so he pushed me and he was just angry it's really not his fault-"

"Stop making excuses for him," she cut him off impatiently. Everyone was always making excuses for Connor, it seemed. "No matter how angry he was, he shouldn't have shoved you." Evan looked surprised, but not completely convinced. 'Jeez,' she thought. 'This kid really has some self-esteem issues.'

"Y-yeah. Sure." He gave her a watery smile. "Thanks, Zoe."

"No problem. I'm just glad you're okay. Bye." And that was the end of that interaction. Another one of her brothers messes cleaned. The rest of the school day passed as normal. Alana asked all the questions she normally did on the first day of school. ("But, WHY is it such a big deal someone can see our shoulders?") At lunch, she could have sworn she saw Jared Kleinman trying to eat a bath-bomb, but decided she really didn't want to know. Math and Science were completely boring, same as every year. All in all, it was a normal first day of school.

Until, that is, she suddenly found herself waiting in the car for her brother, who never wanted to stay at school a minute longer than he had to. She sat there, in the car, wondering if he was getting high. She wouldn't doubt it, and she growled at the thought of having to drag a high Connor home. Just as she was resigning herself to the fact that she had to get up to look for him, she saw him heading towards the parking lot. 'Finally,' she thought to herself.

He got into the car (not smelling like weed, she noticed) acting calmer and happier than Not Under The Influence Connor. He started the engine and they pulled out of the school parking lot in silence. Something was off, but she couldn't tell what.

"So." She was startled out of her pondering by the sound of her brother's voice. "How was your day?" She stared at him. Was he serious? Surprise turned to anger.

"What?"

"How was your day?" And okay. No. No way. No way did he get to act like he was a normal older brother asking a normal question out of nowhere. No wat in hell.

"Since when do you care?" she responded icily. Connor's demeanor immediately turned defensive.

"Never mind, then," he responded, just as coldly. Zoe turned away, trying to ignore the hurt in her stomach. Who was he to suddenly act like he cared about her? He'd never tried before, and he sure as heck didn't get to start now. Especially out of the blue, like this. He did not get to try anything without a huge apology first.

She missed him, though. The old him. The nicer Connor who would laugh with her and hold her while she cried because, 'Dad's yelling at Mom, again.' The Connor before he started getting angry and hurtful. Before he was diagnosed with depression. Before she had started siding with Dad over him. Before she would push him away. Okay, so both of them were to blame for how unhealthy their relationship became.

She looked at him out of the corner of her eye. He was angry now, but he wasn't yelling, or even grumbling under his breath. He just stared at the road ahead. This was definitely not normal. Maybe... no. She wouldn't let herself do any wishful thinking. This calmer Connor was probably only a temporary thing. A fluke. He'd be back to the same old horrible brother she was used to in a few days, at most.

'Still,' she thought after they had pulled up to the house, and Connor was suddenly leaving the front door open for her. 'I'll keep an eye on him the next couple days. Just in case.'

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Larry Murphy liked to think he had a good idea of how his family worked. His wife was usually on his side about rules, but was too soft on Connor, in his opinion. There was his daughter, Zoe. Zoe sided with him in most fights, didn't cause problems, and generally got good grades. She was dependable and hard working. And then there was his son. Connor. He didn't quite know where he went wrong with him. Connor would smoke weed and get angry and yell and question authority. Connor would disobey him and Cynthia at every turn. Connor would get into fights with his sister constantly. Connor would run away for a bit, and be back the next morning. Connor would talk about being depressed and yell about offing himself. From Larry's perspective, Connor was a problem, and one he didn't know how to fix.

So, given this point of view on his family, one could only imagine his surprise when he got home from his job at five, only to find his children sitting in the living room, together, calmly. There was no tense silence, no dirty glances, and no faces behind each other's backs. The two were on the couch, doing homework. Zoe looked cautious, but unhurt and mostly relaxed. His gaze turned to Connor, suspicion already clouding his judgment. He looked calm and relaxed. The room smelled clean, so he couldn't have been high. He had his earphones in as he worked quietly, so he didn't look up when Larry walked in. Zoe caught his eye and waved before turning back to her work. He stared at them, dumbfounded, then promptly walked to his office and decided that if they were still like... that at dinner, he'd say something then. Yes, that would work best. Besides, by then, things would probably be back to normal and he wouldn't have to do anything.

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Things were most definitely not back to normal by dinner. No, if anything, they were even stranger. Cynthia had made lasagna with a side of cucumber slices as a vegetable. Everyone had been shocked when Connor had uttered a small "thanks," after being served.

Dinner was eaten the way it was by routine. Larry, Cynthia, and Zoe all shared their stories for the day, as per usual. Zoe, Larry noticed, never once mentioned anything about Connor, not even a snide comment. Connor just say through it all, looking spaced out, like his mind wasn't even registering anything. But he wasn't high.

Larry stared at Connor cautiously, debating whether or not to ask him anything. Cynthia used to try to get him to tell them about his day, but eventually, even she gave up. Before he could decide, the decision was taken out of his hands.

"So, Connor, how was your day?" Cynthia asked with forced cheeriness and a caution filled tone. The table went quiet, as it seemed everyone held their breath.

"My day was good," he answered, distracted, as he took another bite of his cucumber slices. The table was struck dumb, until Cynthia seemed to find her voice.

"W-well, that's great!" she smiled uncertainty. "Anything happen in particular?" Connor suddenly looked like he wished he hadn't answered at all. He didn't look up from his meal when he eventually answered.

"I-" he hesitated, "... signed my friend's cast." This statement was followed by jaws dropping simultaneously, for the table was, once again, dumbstruck. Connor looked around at his family's faces, seemingly waiting for their response. When he got none, he silently turned back to his food.

"Your... what?" Cynthia asked, and although Larry could tell that she was mostly disbelieving, he could see the small spark of hope in her eyes.

"My friend," he repeated, this time voice laced with ice. "What? You think I'm lying?" He looked at them challengingly.

"What's their name?" Larry asked, more a demand than question. Connor met his gaze levelly, eyes shining with something odd.

"Evan," he replied coldly, and leaned back, seeming satisfied with his provided answer. Larry didn't recognize the name, but judging by his daughters following reaction, she certainly did.

"Evan? Evan Hansen?" She appeared incredulous. "The kid with the broken arm? That Evan's your friend?" As she spoke, she rose from her chair. She had fired the questions at her brother as if she were an interrogator and Connor was a suspect. Connor's gaze switched to her.

"Yes." Zoe stared at him and Connor stared back. "Why? You have something to say about it?" His words seemed challenging, daring her to say something. She seemed to almost rise to the challenge, before her eyes lost the fire and she sat back down.

"Well, I'm glad you signed his cast, Connor. That was very kind," Cynthia said kindly, with an undertone that left no room for an interrogation from anyone. Connor suddenly went back to sitting calmly, spaced out, and dinner was eaten in tense silence.

Connor wouldn't look at any of them, and Zoe poked at her food. Once her meal was finished, Cynthia took to the kitchen and started washing dishes. Zoe took her dishes in once finished, and headed up to her room. Larry and Connor were suddenly the only two at the table. Larry observed Connor as he ate. Slight tension and anger aside, he seemed calm.

Larry didn't know what to think. His kids were behaving oddly, Connor especially. Suspicious, he opened his mouth to ask him something, anything. Before he could, Connor suddenly got up, put his dish in the sink, and walked up the stairs to his room. Larry watched him leave, seeing Cynthia do the same. They heard the door close (close, not slam, he noted) and turned to look at each other.

"What do you think?" He asked his wife. He didn't need to specify what, they both knew what question was plaguing them both. Cynthia sighed.

"I'm happy that he seems happier today."

"You think it's a fluke?"

"I don't know," she answered. "You saw the way Zoe reacted to the name though, right? It's definitely a real person."

"Yes, but her reaction also makes it seem like it's highly unlikely that the two are friends," he pointed out.

"Maybe she's just more surprised than we are because she knows him?" Cynthia asked.

"Oh, come on, Cynthia. Do you really believe he actually made friends with someone? A kid who we've never heard of before, no less? In less than a day?" He stared at his wife, incredulous that she would actually believe their son on this matter.

"Zoe's heard of him," she defended, weakly.

"Zoe's best friend is Alana, and that girl knows practically everyone at that school. Of course she's heard of him." He sighed at the look on her face. "Cynthia, I know you believe he can be fixed, but he's not going to change in one day," he tried to reason.

"Maybe not, but you're not giving him a chance to try!" She cried.

"Cynthia, he's never tried before, why should I believe that he wants to start now?"

Cynthia took a breath. "Why don't you just ask Zoe to keep an eye out for them at school then, if you're so skeptical? Okay? If I let you do that, will you let him try to get better? Without pushing him or belittling him?" Larry stared at his wife.

"You want me to ask Zoe to spy on her brother and his supposed "friend", and give us reports?" He asked.

"If it will get you to give him a chance, then, yes Larry. He needs this. Deal?" Larry hesitated. The last time they had asked Zoe to keep an eye on her brother... Well it certainly hadn't ended pleasantly. He searched her face for signs of doubt.

"Deal."

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Zoe was in her room, thinking about Connor. She didn't quite understand why she hadn't called Connor out on shoving the very same kid he had just claimed was his friend. Maybe it was because he seemed... different. I'm a good way. And she didn't want to be the cause of that stopping. Maybe it was the look in his eye as he challenged her that, on some level, caused her to believe him. Maybe it was because she wanted to have a reason as to why he was suddenly acting different. Whatever reason she came up with, at the core, it was because she wanted it to be true.

Evan seemed like a nice kid, and he had sort of stuck up for her brother earlier. The problem was that he seemed incredibly vulnerable, and her brother had a way of tearing things apart, even involuntarily. It was only natural that she feared the safety of the awkward boy. She'd keep an eye out for him tomorrow, to see if her brother really had signed the boy he'd pushed's cast.

She had just finalized her plan for tomorrow, and was about to start getting ready for bed, when a knock sounded at her door.

"Zoe, it's me," her father's voice called. "I need to talk to you."

"About what?" She asked as she let him in. He shut the door behind him. He looked even more serious than usual, catching her attention. "Dad?"

"I need your help." Zoe did a double take.

"My help? With what?" She stared at him. Her father seemed to be a bit reluctant to say what it was, but he squared his shoulders. She had a feeling she knew what he was about to ask her.

"It's about Connor."

 

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Chapter Text

Chapter 4

Evan woke up on Tuesday morning with a long-thought out plan in his head. There was no way he could take the entire bag of hair supplies without A) his mom noticing, B) Jared noticing, or, worse, C) someone noticing when he tried to drop it off at Connor Murphy's locker. So, he had realized that he would have to drop them off individually, one at a time. It was a good thing that Evan knew exactly where Connor's locker was. He had originally memorized it's location back in sophomore year in order to be able to avoid him, if need be. The information was still useful, just for a completely different reason.

Now, why couldn't he just give the hair supplies to Connor to his face? Simple. Because no. Just, no way. He was barely able carry a conversation with him. No way could he just, out of the blue, go, "Hey, I noticed that your hair could be really amazing if you just started washing it so I bought you a bunch of hair products and accessories." No way. He'd die of an anxiety attack before he even got the first word out.

That brought him to another question. Why give him the hair supplies at all? He didn't know. He had been acting on a random impulse yesterday when he had asked Jared to stop by the Walmart. His excuse of buying the gift for his mother wasn't completely untrue, it just wasn't his first plan, so he had ended up buying more than he expected.

His mom's reaction to his gift hadn't been what he was expecting, but then again, he hadn't known what to expect. It certainly wasn't tears. He had been happy that she liked the gift, though.

He had gone to therapy after finishing his letter. He really didn't remember what they had talked about. He had spent the whole hour and a half with his therapist focusing on not mentioning Connor Murphy, or Connor Murphy's Potentially Wonderful Hair. (That had been particularly difficult when his therapist had asked about his the name on his cast.)

After his session, his mom and him had had dinner and talked about small things before she left for her night class. Well, his mom talked, he just listened and reacted in a way he hoped was appropriate. She had finally noticed the name on his cast. "I'm just so proud of you for making an effort to make friends, honey," she had said, smiling, and Evan had had to turn away. All in all, though, he had had a better time with her than he hoped for.

That feeling dropped as soon as he had lain down in his bed. He started panicking because, 'Holy crud, I just spent $30 on Connor Murphy, and I barely even know him! And without him even knowing!' From there he had proceeded to freak out and spent half the night constructing a solid plan for the next day.

So, here he was, trying to fit a bottle of vanilla scented de-tangler in his backpack with ten minutes to spare if he wanted to make it to the school early.

"Haa!" he proclaimed with finality as he zipped his backpack closed. He winced at the shot of pain up his broken arm as he pulled the backpack over his shoulders. He made his way down the stairs to find his mom eating breakfast.

"Evan, you're ready to go already?" she inquired. He nodded and went to grab a protein bar and a bottle of water for school.

"I wanted to get there early to talk to Jared before class," he said, almost wincing at how easily the lie came. She smiled at him.

"You two are getting along well?" She phrased it so that it came out a question and he looked back at her.

"I- I think so. I'm not sure," he looked down. That wasn't a lie. They had gotten along better than usual yesterday. He just wasn't sure if it would stay that way. He grabbed his medicine from the counter, and took them one at a time with a gulp of water.

"Well, since you want to get there early, let's go," his mom said encouragingly, once he was finished, rising from her seat. Evan gave her a small, half-smile.

"Thanks mom."

"It's no problem, honey."

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After giving his mom a quick, "Goodbye," he got out of the car and hurried inside the school. There were a few early birds, but they didn't seem to pay him much attention as he walked inside the building.

As he walked down the hallway, his footsteps echoed, ringing in his ears, making the situation all the more real to him. 'This is stupid. It's just hair. It's just his wonderful, potential filled, could be so beautiful, hair.' He really had a problem. Before he knew it, he was standing in front of Connor Murphy's locker, vanilla scented de-tangler in hand, with a note that read;

'Dear Connor Murphy,

I just thought that you might appreciate some de-tangler for your hair. So, yeah. Here you go.

~Sincerely,
Me'

He had spent about two hours writing that note. He had typed, erased, and rewritten it almost fifteen times until, finally, it got the point across, didn't seem rude, wasn't... too stalker-ish, wasn't too long, and didn't get into the Potential of Connor Murphy's Hair. He didn't want him to know it was from him. He wouldn't be able to look at him in the eye, much less talk to him. So, 'Sincerely, Me' it was.

Evan was eternally grateful that Connor apparently didn't feel the need for a lock on his locker. 'But really, though,' he thought, 'who would have the guts to go open Connor Murphy's locker without explicit permission?' Evan assessed his current situation. 'An idiot with a death wish,' he decided.

'This is fine,' he thought as he reached for the locker handle. He froze. 'Come on, Evan,' he thought furiously. 'You've come this far, just put the gift in the locker.' He opened the locker, shoved the note and vanilla scented de-tangler inside, and slammed it shut so quickly his brain could barely keep up with his actions. Then, he was walking towards his own locker. 'It's just one anonymous gift,' he thought as he hurried away from Connor Murphy's locker. 'It's not going to turn into a big deal.'

'...'

'Except for maybe that I still have more hair supplies at home that I somehow have to get to him,' he thought, and he had to fight the urge to bang his head against his locker.

As he was fumbling with his lock combination, he heard footsteps coming down the hall. He turned, and, just his luck, there was Connor Murphy himself, walking down the hall, Zoe Murphy with him. Connor spotted him, said something to Zoe, and he watched her watch as Connor started in his direction.

Evan panicked. He couldn't move. Connor Murphy's Hair was in its typical flyaway style, and Evan could see the knots in it. 'He really does need that de-tangler,' he thought, trying not to stare. 'Zoe's wearing her headband. Headband. Did I get Connor a headband? Yeah, I did, it had- focus, Evan,' he cut off his train of thought. He was so focused on trying to focus, that he almost jumped when Connor spoke.

"Hey," he said, and he had that look of forced relaxation from yesterday, but it seemed to be heightened under his sister's gaze.

"Hi," he replied, not really prepared for a conversation with anyone, let alone Connor.

"I need to talk to you about something," Connor said, still forcing a relaxed position. Evan froze again. 'No way. He couldn't possibly...'

"About-" he cleared his throat. "About what?" He tried to appear as nonchalant as possible. (He failed. Epically.)

"You remember yesterday?" Did he ever. He couldn't respond with that, though, so he just nodded. "Remember..." he hesitated and looked away. "Remember when I said, 'we can both pretend to have friends' and you said, 'sounds like a plan'?" He looked back at Evan hesitantly, who was about to pass out from nerves. The most he could do was give a small nod. "Well, I might have... told my family that we're friends."

'Thank whatever fortune is kind enough to give me a break, he doesn't know!' Then his brain finally processed his words. 'Wait, what?'

"You... what?" Connor looked away, cringing, and his hair fell in front of his face again. He looked at him again, through the curtain of tangled waves, and wooaah, brown hair right next to blue eyes was a color scheme his poor brain was not ready to handle.

"Yeah, and there's more." More!? What else could there be!? "I think Zoe's going to be watching me, well us. She thinks something's up." Oh, that's what. "So," Connor took a deep breath and stood up tall. As he did, his hair caught the light, and Evan had to fight not to stare. "I was wondering if I could hang out. With you." Evan froze. Again.

'Hang out'? HANG OUT!? Not good, not good, he wouldn't be able to handle talking to him without slipping up and talking about his hair! Dead giveaway! And what would Jared think? He would react even worse than yesterday!

Connor saw his expression and shrunk back down. "You don't have to say yes. I dragged you into this mess. I shouldn't have- I'll just go." He shifted his weight to leave, and Evan's body spurred into action.

"No!" Evan cried and lunged forward to grab his arm before he could walk away. They both froze this time and stared at Evan's hand on Connor's arm, Connor's signature on Evan's cast made completely obvious in the bright hall-lights.

'Why did I do that? Why did I do that? Why did I do that?' The only explanation he could come up with was that the look of hurt on Connor Murphy's face tugged at Evan's heartstrings so suddenly, that a side of him that didn't fear talking and physical contact took over his body for about three solid seconds.

"Sorry!" Evan said, but he couldn't seem to make his hand let go of Connor's arm. He looked up and Connor was looking down at him, Potentially Beautiful Hair falling around his face, which was frozen in shock. "I'm sorry, of course we can hang out, I won't mind, I'm the one who technically agreed to the friend plan, you just followed through with it, and sorry, I didn't mean to make you think that I didn't want to hang out, it's just that-"

"Dude," Connor said, and a small, amused smile graced his face, and Evan was once again distracted. "Stop apologizing."

"Sorry," Evan chuckled awkwardly. Connor laughed for the second time in less than twenty-four hours. Evan joined in. Evan was still holding his arm to keep himself upright, and Connor had to grab Evan's shoulder for support as the two doubled over from laughter. After a long while they calmed down and looked at each other without speaking.

"Anyways, I've got to go. I have a meeting with my counselor about a stupid schedule mix-up," Connor eventually said, reluctantly. The two slowly retracted their hands.

"That's cool," he said, not having an excuse to go as well.

"Well," Connor rubbed the back of his head. "I'll see you at lunch?" He asked, with small, unsure smile, seeming to seek assurance.

"Yeah, I'll see you at lunch," he responded with a smile that was just as unsure, but he hoped his tone confirmed it. Connor gave a half-wave as he walked away. Evan stared after him, noticing how his hair flew behind him a bit as he went. It wasn't until after Connor Murphy and his Hair With So Much Potential had turned the corner, did the gravity of what he had just agreed to weighed on him suddenly.

'What did I just do!?' He thought furiously. 'No, more importantly, what am I going to do now?!' This time he didn't even try to stop himself as he banged his head on his locker door.

With a deep sigh, he finally opened his locker, and put the books he wouldn't need until later inside. As he pulled away, he felt eyes on his back, and only then did he remember that Zoe Murphy had been watching that entire incident. He slowly turned around to find her staring at him, a blank, confused expression on her face. He gave her a small wave, to which she responded with continuing to stare. Evan squirmed under her gaze. Was he supposed to say something? What would he even say? 'Hey, your brother's got some really nice hair, huh?' No, that was stupid. Anxiety started to flood through his veins and his thoughts began to get away from him. 'Is she going to say something? What do I do? Did she hear us? Is she angry? Why would she be angry? Why is she staring so intensely? What is happening?'

Suddenly, the sound of multiple footsteps and voices chatting flooded the hallway and Evan turned to leave. He did not want to be around so many people right now. Besides, he really did need to warn Jared about Connor. 'Oh jeez. That conversation isn't going to go well.'

As he fled the hall, he could still feel Zoe's piercing gaze on his back.

______________________________

Confusion. Beyond dyslexic bee confusion. There was no comparison to portray the amount of confusion that was being experienced.

Zoe stared after Evan as her brain tried to process what just happened. 'Connor. Contact. Good temper. No yelling. Happy. Friend. Connor. Smiling. Connor. Laughing.' Zoe shook her head as the hallway suddenly came alive with students. The sudden noise brought her thoughts back together, and she finally was able to process the events that had just taken place before her very eyes.

She and her brother had gotten to school that morning, and were walking down the hall in a somewhat awkward silence when he had spotted Evan fumbling with his lock. Evan had spotted them, too, and just stood there as they walked toward him. Zoe was planning on going with Connor to talk to Evan, but before she could Connor had turned to her.

"I'll see you later," he said nonchalantly, and something about his tone made her stay back by her locker. She had watched as he walked towards the anxious boy, who was staring at her brother with a mix of awe and slight panic as he stood there, frozen.

The two had started talking, but Zoe couldn't hear what they were saying. At some point, Evan's nervous expression started to look borderline terror, and Connor had started to turn away, when the smaller boy had sprung forward suddenly.

"No!" She had heard him shout, and his hand was on her brother's arm, and as they froze, so did she. 'Danger! Danger!' her brain screamed at her. Connor hated physical contact of any kind. He was going to hurt him, he was going to hurt him, she had to do something-

But then she had stopped. Evan was spewing out some kind of apology before her brother interrupted him, and Evan apologized again with a small smile, and then Connor was laughing. She had done a double take as Evan joined in. That was when she noticed the smaller boy's cast. Her brother's large signature was glaringly obvious, and took up almost the entire thing.

She stared as the two laughed, the noise ringing loud and clear in her ears. They were hanging on each other for support and Zoe could no longer think, so she had just watched. Eventually they had calmed down and were just staring at each other. At some point, the two had pulled apart and gave each other awkward goodbyes.

She had stared as Evan watched her brother go. As Connor turned the corner, the boy's demeanor changed. He banged his head against his locker before opening it. Once he had finished whatever he had been doing, he froze. Slowly, Evan had turned to face her. He gave a small wave. She couldn't move. They had stayed that way, staring at each other, until footsteps could be heard, and the anxious boy had turned to leave.

Now, her brain was finally working again and she promptly began to freak out internally. 'What the heck was that!?' Connor hated physical contact! Then this anxious, fragile, weak looking boy comes along and grabs his arm like it's nothing, and instead of Connor just shoving him aside, suddenly he's laughing and smiling and grabs his shoulder in return as if it was no big deal?! She had prepared herself mentally for Connor to be behaving differently, but this was beyond anything Zoe could have thought would happen.

"What the heck!?" She hissed to herself as she opened her locker door. "What on earth could he have done to change Connor so quickly?" She asked herself as she got her things.

"Who are you talking about?" There was a voice behind her, and she jumped about a foot in the air. Alana took a step back. "Hey, are you alright? You're acting... different." Alana seemed concerned.

"I'm fine," she said and started to walk away. Alana was less than convinced, and followed diligently.

"Really?"

"No, not really," she sighed. Alana's expression urged her to continue. "My brother's been acting really different ever since yesterday. Then he claimed to have 'made a new friend' and my dad asked me to keep an eye on him, and just now I've just witnessed Connor laugh and smile while talking to his supposed 'new friend' and he lets him make physical contact with him without responding violently!" Her voice was took on a hysterical edge. Alana intervened.

"Woah, calm down," she said soothingly. "Deep breath." Zoe took a second to collect herself. "Now, first things first. Who's this person that your brother met?" Alana asked, still talking in a calming manner as they made their way to the end of the hall.

"Evan Hansen," Zoe replied absently.

"Oh, okay- wait, whAT?!" Alana nearly shrieked and stopped in her tracks. Zoe jumped to cover her mouth.

"Don't shout," she hissed at her. Alana impatiently moved her hand.

"Evan Hansen?" She whispered, incredulous. "Anxious? Quiet? Meek looking? That Evan Hansen?"

"Do you know another Evan Hansen?"

"Well, no, but are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure," she said, growing impatient. "I just told you."

"Okay," Alana took a deep breath. "Okay, that isn't so strange. They're both outcasts, it's very probable that they could connect over that fact- wait, you said that Connor let Evan make physical contact?"

"Yes."

"Tell me everything."

So Zoe launched into her entire experience since helping Evan in the hallway yesterday, to five minutes ago, when she had been freaking out at her locker.

"Wow," Alana looked surprised, which was an understatement, but there was no other word for the look on her face. "I never thought that Evan would ever even talk to Connor. It's just not something you would even prepare as a scenario in your head. I wonder-" she continued mumbling, and Zoe let her. She had found out a long time ago that Alana could reach the best possible solution if given time to think for a minute. After a while Alana spoke clearly. "This could be a good thing."

"What?" Zoe stared at her.

"No, hear me out," she said. "Just let them hang out. Don't try to intervene. Only report to your parents that they're getting along from what you can tell. Evan seems like a good influence on your brother, so far. They could end up better as a result from this." Zoe stared at her for a long time. Alana did not look away.

"Okay," she replied eventually. "I hope you're right." Alana smiled.

"Let's get to class."

As they walked, Zoe's thoughts drifted back to the look on her brother's face as he had laughed. 'I really hope she's right.' If this ended badly, she didn't want to know how it would affect everything.

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Jared woke up and started his daily routine. He ate the cucumbers on his face, got dressed, put on his glasses, and went to the kitchen to get breakfast. After eating, he got his stuff together, bid his parents goodbye, and got in his car to drive himself to school.

He did all of this in his normal sleepy haze, going by routine. It was only when he was finished carefully pulling into his school parking spot, did yesterday's events come crashing down on him and he nearly broke his key trying to turn the engine off. He sat back in his seat and ran a hand through his hair.

"Okay, Jared," he said to himself. "Game plan. You find Evan, stick close to him, and keep an eye on him and the school druggie." Plan set, he grabbed his backpack and climbed out of the car and started toward the school.

The trip inside was normal. A couple of kids were hanging on the benches, a few messing around on the walls, and a couple or two could be seen making out in secluded corners.

He made his way to the lockers. He wasn't really paying attention to his surroundings, so when he rounded the corner, he nearly fell over after colliding with a speeding blue blur.

"Jared!" 'Oh, it's an Evan blur,' he thought as he gathered his bearings. Evan was looking at him with a worried look on his face.

"Watch where you're going, you idiot," he said, exasperated. Evan's face became about ten times more apologetic.

"Sorry! I was just looking for you," he said, panicked.

"Yeah, well- wait you were looking for me? What for?" Evan's face, if possible, got even more frantic.

"Um, I, well, you see. I just thought you should know that I- I might have," he took a deep breath, then spoke all at once. "I might have told Connor Murphy that I'd hang out with him, well, that he could hang out with me, but anyways, the point is that he's going to be sitting with us at lunch and I just wanted to warn you so that you aren't too surprised when he comes over, and I'm really sorry that I didn't ask you if it was okay, but he just looked so hurt and lonely, and I know how that feels, so I told him he could hang out with us at lunch, wait I already said that part... Jared?" His voice became concerned. "Jared are you okay?"

Jared ex. has stopped working. Suddenly, his thoughts caught up with everything he had just said.

"You did what now!?" Evan flinched at his loud tone. "Evan, what the heck? First, you somehow get him to sign your cast, and now you've gotten the school druggie to sit with you at lunch? Are you trying to pull something here?"

"What? No, I just think..." he trailed off. Jared stared at him expectantly.

"You just think what?" He prompted impatiently.

"I don't know!" Evan lamented. "I'm not sure what I think, I just know that I said I'd see him at lunch. Are you going to be there, or not?" Jared stared at the anxious boy before him, who was using what little backbone he had to stand his ground. 'Okay, man. Game plan, remember? This is a good opportunity to keep an eye on those two.' Jared heaved a sigh as he realized what answer he was going to give.

"Alright, man. Whatever," he pinched his nose just under his glasses. Evan's face morphed into relief, and his posture relaxed. "Just... be careful," he mumbled.

"What?"

"Never mind," Jared said quickly, and made towards his locker. Evan gave him a confused look, but followed nonetheless. "But if he tells you he has candy in his car, run. There's no candy."

"Jared!"

"What?"

"He's not-" he cut himself off, and looked away as Jared put in his locker combination. "He's not that bad." Jared paused as he was getting his books. He stared at Evan, disbelief coursing through him. Evan caught his gaze. "What?"

"He's not that bad," he mocked. "Jeez, Evan, are you sure this isn't a gay thing?" He shut his door and leaned against it in a way he hoped looked accusing. He wasn't sure if it worked, but Evan's face flushed.

"No, it's not a gay thing," he hissed, embarrassed. "I already told you yesterday. Just," he sighed. "Just, please. Don't try to provoke him, and we might get out of this alive," he begged as they made their way to first period.

"It's good to know how confident you are in your decisions," Jared said sarcastically. Evan glared at him with little fire. "Fine, I'll try. But I make no promises." Evan sighed, seemingly accepting that that was the best he'd get.

Although he was being sarcastic, Jared really did hope they would make it out of lunch undamaged. 'Well,' he thought as his gaze landed on Connor's name on Evan's cast. 'At least not anymore damaged than we already are.'

 

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Chapter Text

Chapter 5

Alana Beck usually had her life somewhat under control. She could plan her day and her solutions based on the previous days events and how they would most likely effect people. This was not a solid system, and she knew it. But it helped her to keep her head when things that were surprising to other people happened. This was why psychology and history were her favorite subjects. She got to study how certain things affected events in the long run, and how and why people reacted the way they did. Life, to her, was kind of her own private study of her favorite thing; humans. That's why she made a point of at least knowing a bit about every person she came across.

Given all of this, it had, naturally, come as a surprise when Zoe, her favorite human, told her about Evan Hansen and Connor Murphy's sudden friendship. After hearing everything Zoe knew, an idea had blossomed in her brain, taking root immediately. She had told Zoe to let them continue on this new path, without her father's interference, for a good reason.

Well, two good reasons. One being that she really did think that those two could benefit each other in a way anybody else just wouldn't be able to, the other being that she was anxious to see how it happened. She wanted to see how their two very similar, yet very different, minds affected one another.

After having calmed Zoe down, she made her way with her to their first period class, hoping for interesting results from this new development.

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Evan made it through his first three classes of the day with nervous anticipation coursing through his veins as lunch drew nearer. Convincing Jared to have Connor sit with them had been easier than he had expected. In his head he had been preparing for the worst, and had really only gotten the minimum of a Typical Jared Reaction. If he was honest, he was worried about him. Jared had been acting more... caring? Were they becoming friends? Real Friends? He shook his head. He had no idea.

Before he knew it, the lunch bell was ringing, and his anxiety suddenly hit him full force. What if Connor and Jared didn't get along? Well, they definitely wouldn't 'get along,' but what if Jared said something to make him angry? What if Jared just being there upset him? What if Evan got caught in the crossfire? What if he messed up? What if Connor mentioned finding de-tangler in his locker? That question sent another wave of panic throughout his body. What would Connor say? Would Connor say anything? How would he respond if Connor mentioned it? This was bad, this was bad, this was really, really bad-

"Yo, Evan," Jared's voice rang out. "Hurry up, we gotta meet your boyfriend, remember?" Evan's thoughts immediately came to a halt as his face flushed red.

"He's not- he's not my boyfriend, Jared," he protested weakly. Jared smirked at him.

"Yeah, sure, Mr. He's Not That Bad," he taunted. Evan's face flushed even more.

"I told you, it's- it's not like that," he mumbled. Jared just laughed.

On the way to the cafeteria, Jared complained about how he always got stuck seated behind kids with no taste in clothing whatsoever. ("I mean, really? Plaid with polkadots? Are they blind?") Evan chimed in with the occasional agreement here and there.

Eventually they reached the food court. Evan went to sit in their usual spot as Jared got in line to get his food. Evan had tried buying food from the cafeteria before, and quickly realized that it was not an experience he would be able to go through again. So, he just brought his protein bar and a fruit for lunch each day. It was a somewhat reliable system and besides, he was never really that hungry.

As he sat down, he looked out over the cafeteria. He liked sitting in the corner because it was the only spot where people couldn't sneak up on him. He looked around, but didn't see Connor Murphy anywhere. He took a deep breath and tried to calm his nerves. 'Breathe Evan. Worst case scenario is we all end up dead. So, anything less than that is a win, right?' He was not convinced.

Of course, because the universe loved timing, right then the door swung open, and Connor Murphy walked in. All thought completely abandoned him as the daylight from outside lit him up from behind, haloing his hair. Evan could only stare as Connor looked around the room. Eventually, Connor caught his gaze and started in his direction.

"Hey," he said, once he got there, standing next to the table awkwardly, like he didn't quite know what he was supposed to do.

"Hi," Evan said. He was trying really, really hard not to stare, but it was difficult when he was looking up at a Connor Murphy who was backlit like a Holy Deity of Potential Filled Hair. Connor shifted from foot to foot uneasily, like he was waiting for something. 'Focus, Evan, you're making him uncomfortable.' The thought struck him suddenly and startled him into speaking. "Oh, umm, do you- do you want to sit down?" Connor seemed to relax a little, as if he had needed the reassurance that he was still welcome.

"Yeah, sure," he responded, and slid onto the bench across the table from Evan. His Potentiality Wonderful Hair flounced with the movement and Evan wondered if he had found the de-tangler yet. That set his thoughts back to worrying if Connor was going to mention anything and all the ways this could go horribly wrong.

Connor, who was apparently oblivious to Evan's inner turmoil, tapped his fingers on the table and glanced around. "So," he said uncertainty. "What do people who are friends normally talk about?"

"Huh?" He asked, caught off guard. Connor looked away.

"I know my family," he said, in a slightly dark tone. "Eventually they're going to start grilling me for information about you." He grimaced.

"Well, umm..." Evan thought about the people he'd seen that had seemed to be good friends. "I think they talk about themselves? What they like, what they don't like. Oh, and Jared usually tells stories about his worst and best experiences. So, we could try starting there?" He was not sure if that was how it worked, but Connor nodded as if it made sense.

"Okay, so, what are your interests?" He asked. Evan flushed. "What? Is it something private, like, se-"

"No!" Evan interrupted, flushing darker. "It's just, people usually make fun of me when I talk about what I like," he mumbled. Connor looked at him dubiously.

"It can't be that bad," he said, and Evan shook his head. "Look, I promise I won't tease," he said encouragingly. Evan looked at him hesitantly. "I swear," and his tone was filled with honesty.

"I love trees," he admitted after a long pause, and waited for the laughter he was so used to hearing when he told people that. Instead, Connor leaned forward.

"Tell me about them."

______________________________

Jared finally paid for his food and stepped out of the line. 'These lunch lines take forever,' he thought. 'I was in there for ten minutes.' He grabbed a spoon for his yogurt as he stepped into the food court, looked towards the corner where he and Evan normally sat, and froze.

Evan was talking enthusiastically about something and making wild gestures with his hands as he described whatever it was. A closer look and he saw who he was talking to. Connor Murphy was leaning forward and watching Evan with rapt attention as he spoke. Every once in a while Evan would pause while Connor would make a comment and then he would start talking again.

'What the actual heck is happening?' Jared thought. Someone bumped into him, and he suddenly remembered how to move again. He made his way through the cafeteria until he was standing next to their table. As he neared the two, he could hear what Evan was saying.

"... and Bonsai Trees are these little tiny trees that you can keep in a small planter and carry around. They're said to be good luck. I have one in my room, but if you've ever seen pictures of them in their natural habitat they're a thousand times more amazing. They kind of look like little fairy houses-" Connor cut him off as he chuckled a bit.

"Could you imagine just, minding your own business in your house, then out of nowhere this bumbling giant just uproots your home and carries you around?" he commented. "That would be so traumatizing." Evan laughed slightly, and Jared chose that moment to speak up.

"I hate to interrupt this little love fest you two have going on here," he said. Evan jumped, and Connor looked up, annoyed. "But can I please sit down?"

"Jared! Yeah, sure," Evan said. Connor looked at him darkly as he slid into his spot beside Evan. "Oh, Connor, this is Jared." Jared had to hide a gulp because the look on Connor's face told him that he remembered exactly who Jared was, and what he had said to him.

"Hey," he offered, and thanked the Lord of Vocals that his voice was level. Connor didn't respond. He let out a slightly weak, "How's life?" Connor scoffed slightly.

"Just fine. For a freak, anyways," he said, and Jared flinched slightly. The emphasis on 'freak' was not missed. Evan shifted in his seat, obviously not missing the tension.

The three of them sat in incredibly awkward silence, and as much as Jared wanted to apologize, his mouth wouldn't form the words. It was as if his subconscious was making him pay for his words. So, instead, he asked Evan about the math assignment. He barely got a mumbled answer, and the table descended into silence yet again.

"So, Connor," Evan said quietly, and the boy lifted his head to look at him. "What- what do you like to do? For fun?" Jared fought an instinct to say that it was probably smoking pot. His plan was to keep an eye on their interactions, not to keep them from interacting at all.

"I like to draw," Connor said, tone short, but not closing off the conversation. Jared fought really hard not to say anything.

"Really?" Evan seemed interested. "What do you like to draw?" Connor shrugged.

"Whatever comes to mind. Sometimes I draw people, sometimes scenery. I drew a forest once," he said and Evan's face lit up. "Lots of trees," he added pointedly and Evan leaned forward, obviously interested, but a bit hesitant.

"Do you," he hesitated. "Do you think I could see them sometime?" Jared was slightly startled by his forwardness. Who knew all you had to do to get him to talk was to mention trees? Connor gave a small nod.

"Sure," he said, and Evan looked really pleased. "So, do you know what did we did in first period today?"

"Um..." Evan suddenly looked slightly more uncomfortable. "No, I- I couldn't really concentrate." Connor shrugged and Evan was staring at him, and Connor stared back, and Jared felt like he wasn't even there. Then, suddenly, Connor looked at him.

"What about you?"

"What?" he replied intelligently. Connor rolled his eyes.

"Do you know what we did in first period?" Jared suddenly understood that he was being offered the only olive branch he was going to get, and grabbed it.

"We really only did this stupid 'Get To Know The Class,' activity," he said, and Connor nodded. "Wait, why weren't you there?" He hadn't seen him that morning.

"Meeting with my counselor about a stupid schedule mix-up," he replied shortly.

"Oh," Evan said. "You mentioned that earlier. What was wrong with it?"

"They got my classes wrong, and sent me to choir instead of art. I don't do public singing," he added, and it sounded forceful, as if telling them questioning that statement wasn't an option.

"So, what's your schedule now?" Jared asked. Connor looked at him carefully before he answered.

"I'm not sure. They said they'd call me in tomorrow to fix it," he said, and nobody quiet new how to carry the conversation after that.

Connor rested his head on his arms and closed his eyes. Jared wondered why this cold, anti-social guy chose to start hanging out with Evan, of all people. Evan was quiet and fragile and Connor had a reputation of drug use and fistfights. That didn't seem like a good setup for a healthy friendship.

He turned to ask Evan... well, he didn't know what he was going to ask, because Evan's expression shut him up immediately. Evan was resting his face on one arm distractedly, and he was staring at Connor with a look of fascination on his face that was so wondrous, Jared had to look over at Connor to make sure they were looking at the same thing. Matted, clumpy hair, tattered black jacket, and pale skin. There was nothing that really caused fascination. Jared looked back at Evan, who looked like there wasn't a more awe inspiring sight than the cold boy across from him.

He didn't get it. So, he just ate his lunch and observed the two suspiciously. Eventually, the bell rang and he watched as Connor got up and Evan got up to go with him. Evan caught Jared's gaze.

"We have science together," he said as if that explained everything, which, he guessed, it kind of did. Jared watched the two leave. He still didn't get it. They seemed to be awkward at first glance, but something about the picture of the two of them together just seemed... right.

He thought back to how happy Evan had seemed whenever he had spoken with Connor. 'No matter what he says,' he thought. 'That boy has something going on with him.' He watched as Connor said something that made Evan chuckle. 'And I'm going to have to make sure he's okay until I find out what.'

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Zoe sat with Alana at lunch. Alana had apparently made it her mission to keep her distracted from all of the responsibility that had been shoved on her all at once. They talked about projects that Alana was working on after school, made references to shows they binge watched together, joked about how ridiculous the idea of "popular kids" was. They basically talked about anything other than Zoe's family.

Zoe had to admit, Alana was, if nothing else, great at keeping people distracted. The two hung out on a bench in a hallway that never seemed to be used. They had been eating lunch together there as long as they had been going to this school together. It was kind of their spot.

After a while, the bell rang, and the two started packing up to get to class. Suddenly Zoe froze, and motioned for Alana to stop talking.

"What's wrong?" Alana asked, concerned.

"Do you hear that?" They stayed quiet, and they could just make out voices coming from the hall that passed theirs.

"...I am sorry about Jared. He's really not such a bad guy, he's just..." the voice trailed off.

"Is that Evan?" Alana whispered. Zoe nodded.

"Sounds like him," she whispered back. The two went silent as another voice responded.

"He's a jerk," it said.

"Connor?" Zoe whispered. Alana looked at her funny.

"Shouldn't you know better than I would?" Zoe waved at her impatiently.

"Yeah," Evan said, resigned. "He is. But he can be nice. He helps whenever I have an asthma attack."

"Yeah, well, you should really keep better company," Connor said, and Zoe had to fight a scoff. 'Who was he to talk?' Evan speaking interrupted her thoughts.

"Well... I- I have you to hang out with now, right?" He seemed unsure. Connor was quiet for a bit, and Zoe wished she could see their faces.

"You really need better company," he said, with an emphasis on really. Evan's reply was a bit indignant.

"I guess I'll just have to be the judge of that," he said and their voices faded as they turned the corner, and Zoe really, really wished she could see how her brother reacted to that. She turned to Alana, who looked really pleased.

"What was that?" Zoe asked.

"That, Zoe," Alana said in a tone that was all too smug, smiling like a lunatic, "was two people positively influencing each other."

Zoe couldn't disagree.

______________________________

When school ended, Zoe headed for her brother's car. She opened the door to find him already in the driver's seat, waiting for her.

"Hey," she said as she slid into the passenger's seat.

"Hey," he responded. He slipped the key in the ignition and started the car. They were both quiet as he backed out of his spot and pulled out of the parking lot. Zoe tried to come up with a way to bring up Evan without making him angry or suspicious. She couldn't think of one. She decided to just go for it.

"So, how was your day?" She felt him look over at her out of the corner of his eye.

"Since when do you care?" An overwhelming feeling of déjà-vu took over as her mind flicked to yesterday. Only this time, the roles were reversed. And this time, Zoe wasn't going to let it go. She had to tread carefully.

"Since my brother has been acting different lately," she said, trying for nonchalance. Connor scoffed.

"Drop the pretense, Zoe," he said. "We both know you want to talk about Evan." Zoe almost flinched at how easily the name rolled off of his tongue. "Are you going to try to blackmail me with shoving him? Warn me not to hurt him? Try and-"

"Connor," she interrupted. He stopped and continued driving in silence. She sighed. "Yes, okay? I'm worried about your being... friends with him. But I'm not going to try and sabotage... whatever you're trying to do," she added. "Just, watch out for Dad. He's already suspicious of you." Connor side-eyed her.

"Why are you telling me this?" He was suspicious, and she didn't blame him.

"I don't know," she said honestly. He looked back at the road not saying anything for the rest of the ride home and Zoe didn't try to start a conversation again.

They pulled into the driveway without a word to each other. Like yesterday, Connor opened the front door for her after unlocking it. Before she went inside, he spoke up.

"Zoe," he said, and she turned to him. He didn't look at her. "Thank you." And just like that, he had disappeared into the house.

Zoe knew on some level then, that he wouldn't be joining them for dinner that night, but it was fine. They all needed time to adjust to the sudden changes.

She stepped inside the house. She said hello to her mom, before going upstairs to do homework. She stared down the hall at her brother's door before stepping through her own.

Once alone in her room, she allowed herself to doubt her decision. 'I just hope I've made the right choice.'

 

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Chapter Text

Chapter 6

Connor flopped down on his bed and ran a hand through his hair with a sigh. Since yesterday his life had gotten more complicated and confusing than anything he could have come up with. He hadn't even planned to be at school today. He had looked at his med bottle last night in his room. He was holding it, lying down on his bed, looking up at it. His hand was on the cap. Then green eyes and a nervous voice saying, "I'll see you tomorrow?" flashed through his mind. His hand dropped the bottle on the nightstand.

Then, today, Evan had actually agreed to let him hang around to avoid suspicion. Connor looked at his arm. He hadn't experienced non violent contact since... he couldn't remember when. The laughter was a new feeling, too. He had laughed more in the past twenty-four hours than he had in the past three years.

He sighed again. He looked over at his backpack. Another wave of confusion washed over him.

And on top of all this, someone left de-tangler??? In his locker????? What?????????

He had gone to get his stuff from his locker that morning, only to find a bottle of de-tangler sitting inside. There was a piece of paper laying next to it. Nimble fingers had picked it up and saw it was a note. Confused, he read what it said.

'Dear Connor Murphy,

I just thought that you might appreciate some de-tangler for your hair. So, yeah. Here you go.

~Sincerely,
Me'

Well, that had not cleared anything up, but he was going to be late, so he had shoved the note and bottle inside his bag and resolved to figure it out later.

Now, as he was staring at his backpack, he unzipped the front pocket and pulled out the note. Who buys de-tangler for someone just because they think they'd appreciate it? More specifically, who would actually care about him enough to buy hair products? Was it supposed to be a bad joke? Was he being made fun of? It wouldn't be the first time, but people were usually more direct. Was- was somebody trying to hit on him? In a really strange way? Not likely.

He sighed. Everything was changing too fast and all at once. He looked over at the medicine bottle. It was still there. His window wasn't locked. He could just leave. He could...

'Do you think I could see them sometime?'

No. No he couldn't. He let out a frustrated groan. 'What is happening to me?' he thought, confused, running a hand through his hair. His hand caught in one of the tangles.

"Heh," he chuckled out loud. "Maybe I should use that," he sighed, referring to the bottle in his backpack. It was mainly a joke, but... He looked over at it. Well, it was a gift. It wasn't his fault that some idiot spent money on him. The least he could do was use it, so it wasn't a waste, right?

_____________________________

Ten minutes later, he was in front of his mirror, nose filled with the scent of vanilla as he struggled to get a brush through his hair for the first time in weeks. He grunted as he finally worked through one of the worse clumps. The smell of vanilla grew stronger as he sprayed the de-tangler on another bad knot.

'Hair is an awful lot of trouble for something that dies as soon as it leaves the scalp,' he thought, annoyed, as he struggled to get the brush to move.

After a long twenty minutes more, he set the brush down, arms sore from working so hard. He looked in the mirror, and did a double take. His hair smoothly fell a bit past his shoulders. He picked up a lock of it, and the scent of vanilla followed. He stared for a moment, then abruptly turned from the mirror and angrily flopped down on his bed.

It was just smooth hair. It didn't change him. Not even if it made him look like the guy in the old picture his mother kept in the living room. He was still this confused and problematic shell of something that was being blown this way and that like one of those floppy armed air tubes you see at car sales. Except he didn't have a smile painted on all the time. Which was good, because that smile had always freaked him out.

A watery smile and his own stark signature on a cast floated through his head. This was too much to handle all at once. He grabbed his medicine bottle, but only poured out the necessary amount his prescription called for. He got a swig of water from his sink and downed the pills. He sighed and laid down on his bed, mattress like a little welcoming hug that told him to sleep. His sleep deprived brain couldn't deal with any of this right now, might as well give it some rest.

The last coherent thought that floated through his mind before drifting into unconsciousness was that of a hopeful face and a voice rattling off facts about trees.

_____________________________

Tick'. Tick'. Tick'

Connor woke from a dreamless sleep at three in the morning. He stared at the ceiling above him, not getting up.

Tick'. Tick'. Tick'

His stomach growled. He growled back. His stomach shut up. This was one of the many fun things about Connor Murphy. Sleep did not come easy. And when he couldn't sleep, he drew.

Connor rolled out of his bed and walked over to the computer desk in the corner. He turned on the soft lamp light, so he could see. He liked to draw because it made him feel normal. It also ticked off his dad, so that was a bonus.

Moments like these, though, were his favorite time to draw. In the middle of the night when the world was finally quiet and calm, he could accurately express his thoughts and feelings through images. He never had to think when he drew like this. His subconscious took over his hand and he worked in a daze. He watched as his pencil pressed to the paper and drew lines in bold and light strokes, creating a scene from nothing. His thoughts drifted and he was taken away to his own private little world, right here at his desk, with nothing but the sound of the brush of a pencil on paper and the dim glow of his lamp. It was just him, alone with his thoughts in a way that didn't feel horrible.

After what felt like an eternity, but was only forty-five minutes, his stomach growled again, and this time, he couldn't ignore it. Guess that was the price of not eating dinner. Or at all. All day.

He sighed and set his pencil down and stood up. He opened his bedroom door, and cringed at the squeaky noise it made. His parents refused to oil the hinges because they didn't want him sneaking out. It didn't matter. They were heavy sleepers, and their room was on the first floor, so they never heard when he opened or shut it anyways. He traveled down the stairs, feet barely making a sound. He padded lightly to the kitchen and grabbed an apple and one of those weird protein things his mom loved. 'Cliff Bars' she called them. He bit into the apple and glanced around.

He didn't like eating in the kitchen. It was too clean and too orderly. It was too cold and too big. The hardwood floor froze his feet through his socks, and the bright lights hurt his eyes. He hated it. He much preferred his own small room with its carpeted floor and warm lights. So, he finished his small snack quickly, and rushed back upstairs to his own little world at his desk.

Upon entrance to his room, he sighed, the feeling of a space that was his, without anyone to bother him making him feel more secure immediately. He walked over to his desk in the corner and sat down to continue drawing. As he looked down at his paper, though, his brain finally registered what he had been drawing, and his entire being froze.

Eyes dancing with happiness stared up at him. A watery smile shone over freckled cheeks. Hair was puffed up delicately, drawn to look light and fluffy. Hands were nervously twisting at each other. But the telltale sign was his own signature, stark against a white cast. Connor dropped his pencil and backed away, breathing heavily. He ran a hand through his hair, panic and confusion colliding in his head.

"What is happening to me?" Connor despaired, clutching his head. He looked over at his desk again, and sure enough, Evan Hansen's smiling face stared back at him from the paper sitting there. This was... he didn't know what this was. It definitely wasn't normal. He didn't know what to do.

He shook his head. He turned the light off, and Evan's face disappeared into the dark. Connor could breath again, but it was ragged. He curled up on his bed, screwing his eyes shut, trying to block out the raging emotions flooding through him. Sleep. He needed sleep.

He knew that sleep wouldn't come easy, though. Even before he could lay down on his bed, he could feel his mind pounding with thoughts and questions. But Connor was stubborn. He screwed his eyes shut and focused on not thinking. It was a strange thing to do, but hey. He wouldn't know if it worked until he tried, right?

He stayed on his bed, eyes screwed tight, until he fell into a restless sleep.

_____________________________

Wednesday was torture. Because of his schedule change, he had to be introduced to four new classes, the only two classes staying the same being science and one free period. The only sort of plus side to his new schedule was that he now shared two more classes with Evan. He sat next to him in both English and History.

He had been a bit skittish around the green eyed boy ever since he'd met up with him that morning after the drawing incident, trying not to think about how the picture that lay abandoned on his desk matched the sight in front of him almost to a tee. But he couldn't bear to actually leave him alone. Not when Evan looked so happy to have someone to talk to.

The next week passed in much the same manner. He would drag himself out of bed to go to school. He'd work with Evan on projects. He would sit with Evan and 'ugh' Jared at lunch. Most of the time, he wouldn't talk, but when he did, he tried not to yell. He continued to be suspicious of his family, but tried to ignore it.

Another thing that continued was the hair supplies that showed up in his locker. On Wednesday it was shampoo. Then conditioner. Then it was "hair moisturizer"??? He hadn't known there was a hair moisturizer that wasn't water. Then the weekend came, and he was sure that the gifts, along with the notes, were probably done. He had checked, and the amount of money that this person had to have spent was already about $12.

Then Monday came and there was yet another gift. This time it was a slew of multi-colored, decorative hair-ties. That days note said;

"Dear Connor Murphy,

You have a nice face. These can help people see it.

Sincerely,
Me"

He had fought down a furious blush when he had read the note in front of his locker. 'A nice face?' What on earth was that supposed to mean? Tuesday's gift had been a fine-toothed comb. Then it was burettes. Then it was a dark red schruncy. He never brought up the gifts with Evan. It was kind of embarrassing, and he admitted it, personal. But he did keep them. He didn't quite know why, but on some surface level, it meant something to him that there was someone who cared about him enough to spend roughly $16 and counting on him.

Then, Thursday night, it happened. For reasons unknown, he had chosen to eat with his family that night. That was his first mistake. The second was being somewhat responsive to his mother's questions. Then he happened to look up at his parents, who seemed to be hesitant to ask something.

"What is it?" Connor asked. Third mistake. His mom spoke first.

"Well, Connor," she said, and she had that tone. The one where an adult is about to ask you to do something they know you won't like. "We've been thinking that you could... well, that it might be nice if you could invite your friend over for dinner tomorrow." Connor froze. Out of the corner of his eye, Zoe did too. If he could...

"Why?" He asked, immediately suspicious. She hesitated and Larry spoke up.

"We just thought it would be a good idea to get to know the kind of person our son surrounds himself with," Larry said, and Connor's nose was filled with the scent of utter bull crap.

"Yeah, right," he responded, tone dripping with sarcasm. "More like you want to pick him apart for information about me."

"Connor, that's not what we-" Larry cut his mom off.

"No, Cynthia. If he wants us to be the bad guys, that's fine. But he's going to invite his friend over for dinner tomorrow. That's the end of it." Connor looked at him, disbelief coloring his features.

"And, what, may I ask," he said in a monotone. "Makes you think that I want him anywhere near you?" It was aimed directly at Larry. His mom and Zoe were watching the two as if it were a tennis match where the loser exploded. Larry refused to budge.

"You will have him over, Connor. End. Of. Discussion."

"And what are you going to do if he decides he doesn't want to, Larry?" His tone was mocking, and Larry looked like he was on the verge of one of his outbursts, but Connor wasn't going to budge. He didn't want Evan to ever get within a hundred foot radius of this house. He wouldn't do that to him.

"Connor, please," his mother begged. "Just one dinner. We only want to know him, please." Connor looked at her, then back at Larry.

"If it gets you to stop bothering me about it from here on out, then fine. But," he added. "On two conditions." Larry nodded at him to continue. "One: no interrogating him. If he gives a vague answer, that's his choice." Both of his parents nodded. "And two, I get to leave the house. Anytime I want, no questions asked."

"Done," his mom spoke up.

"Cynthia!"

"He's almost eighteen, Larry. We should- he should get used to having some freedom anyways."

"Dad," Zoe interrupted. "It's the best your going to get. You know it's either this, or nothing," she reasoned.

"How would we even know where he is?" Larry argued. Connor interrupted.

"I'll take a picture and send it to Zoe. She can show it to you guys." Larry glared at him, and Connor glared right back. He knew Larry, and a chance to dig into his son's personal life was something he looked for at every possible moment. No way would he pass this up.

"Fine, he comes over for dinner tomorrow, and you get to leave whenever you want. As long as you show that you're safe."

"Fine," Connor said, and stood from the table to leave. He took his plate to the kitchen. "Thanks for dinner, mom," he said and fled up the stairs to his room.

Once he got there, a tidal wave of guilt crashed over the defensive barrier he had put up downstairs. He had just used Evan as a means to his own. As far as he was aware, that's not how friends act.

'Selfish, horrible, no good, you don't deserve to have him as a friend.'

He should have never told his family about Evan. Then he wouldn't have had the chance to do something like this.

After a good fifteen minutes of wallowing in self loathing, a knock came from his door.

"Connor?" Zoe's voice rang out from the other side.

"What do you want?" He called out from where he had his head buried in his pillow. He heard the door squeak open, and looked up to see her chewing her bottom lip nervously.

"I- uh, well I wanted to say I'm sorry that Dad and Mom are making you do this," she said, and stepped inside. He motioned for her to sit down on the bed, and she did so hurriedly.

"Why should you care?" He asked. "It's not the first time they've done something like this, and you certainly didn't care then." She winced. "What is it."

"Well, it might have been... kind of all my idea," she rushed out and flinched back.

"..."

"..."

"... I'm going to give you one minute before you're dead," he warned in a scarily controlled voice. Zoe rushed to explain.

"They've just been pestering me so much for anything I might know about you two, so I told them, 'Why don't you just invite him over sometime and see for yourself?,' and I guess they took me seriously. I'm really sorry," she let out in all one breath. She looked up at him. "Connor?"

"Zoe, what the fuck?!" He yelled and she jumped back, frightened. Connor took a deep breath and let it out in a controlled manner. "I don't want Evan within a mile of this house, let alone sitting at our table eating dinner! I don't know what they'll do to him!" Zoe stared at him incredulously. "What?"

"It's just," she shook her head. "You're getting awfully... protective of him." Connor flushed and he couldn't control the way his eyes flicked to his desk in the corner, where the drawing lay innocently. Zoe looked at him closely.

"What?"

"Nothing," she said, looking away. "Anyways, what are you going to do?"

"Die in a hole. " Zoe gave him a look, and he sighed. "I'm going to hold up my part of the deal and make sure that they don't give him any crap tomorrow. If he even wants to come over. I'll probably warn him not to, though." Honestly, he couldn't find a better alternative other than begging Evan not to say "okay."

Zoe didn't respond, just looked at him with an unfamiliar expression on her face. They sat there in uncomfortable silence, so much to say that went unsaid between them. Eventually Zoe got up. "Well, I guess I should go finish my homework," she said awkwardly. She looked back at him when she reached the doorway. "Goodnight, Connor."

"'Night, Zoe," he said, and she was gone, door shut behind her.

 

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Chapter Text

Chapter 7

Jared walked the hall on Friday afternoon in a good mood. Nothing in particular had happened. He was just having a good day. He had gotten an A on his first Science test of the year. The cafeteria had served the good pizza today. Most importantly, nothing dramatic had happened.

He was on his way to where Evan had been waiting for him to walk to his car for the past week, ready to enjoy their usual interaction on the drive to his house. He'd probably tease Evan some about how Zoe had smiled at him that morning, nearly causing Evan to trip over his own feet. He was about to turn the corner when he heard Evan talking to someone.

"So, what- what was it that you wanted to talk about?" he heard, and froze, interested. He was surprised, but not really, when it was Connor's voice that replied. The two had been getting closer over the course of these past weeks. He was, however struck stock still at what Connor's reply was.

"Do you want to come over to my place tonight?" he said, and Jared almost choked on his own spit. He- what!? His good mood dissipated as something he couldn't identify bloomed in his stomach. 'Come over to my place?!' He knew there was something off about all... this! The signing of the cast, the talking with him, all of the things that had suddenly gotten Connor a permanent spot at their table. He wanted to get in Evan's-! He wanted to-! Perverse things!!!! To Evan!!!!! No way. Not happening. Jared might have joked about it, but no way was he going to let Evan get hurt, especially not like this.

Before he could turn the corner to come to the anxious boy's rescue, Evan was responding.

"Umm- what- what for?" 'No, Evan, you stupid, innocent acorn! Don't give him a chance!'

"My parents have been interrogating my sister for information about you, so she told them that if they were so curious, they should invite you over. They took her advice, and told me to ask you over for dinner tonight. They want to "get to know the kind of person their son 'surrounds' himself with." I don't want you going, though," he said. Jared had to fight a scoff. He didn't buy that tale for one second.

"But if- then, why are you asking me?"

"Because Larry wouldn't let me say no." Jared barely hid a scoff. "The best I could do was get them to agree not to interrogate you. I don't want you anywhere near that house, but if you want to come over, though I highly suggest you don't, it's your decision," he said. Jared was about ten million miles from convinced. He sounded way too "caring" and it seemed like he was trying to do some sort of stupid reverse psychology on him. No way would Evan accept that invitation. He might be able to talk with Connor for some strange reason, but he still couldn't handle social interaction, and "a family dinner " would be way too stressful for him. He was about to decline as politely as possible any second now-

"O-okay. I'll go," Evan responded, and Jared almost face-palmed. 'Seriously!? He actually bought all that?! Of course he did,' he thought, groaning quietly. Evan handled saying no to people about ten times worse than he handled talking with them in the first place. He wouldn't be able to decline unless he already had plans. 'Why don't I ever invite him to do stuff? Then he wouldn't have the time to get... influenced by guys who had "bad boy" reputations!'

"Really? You want to go? Are you sure?" Connor sounded like he genuinely cared about Evan being comfortable. Jared had to hand it to him, he sure did have the caring act down. "You don't have to. He can't do anything about it if you don't want to go."

"You said he agreed to be somewhat nice, right? If it will get him to leave you alone from now on, then I'll go," he said, voice shaking, but tone firm with confidence. 'You poor, naive acorn,' Jared thought. 'You're an idiot.'

Connor was quiet for a long moment. "What is it?" Evan asked.

"You really do deserve better company," Connor said, and Jared almost gagged at the amount of... he didn't know the name of the emotion that was in that statement, but it was overwhelming. He could hear Evan's blush from here.

"W- well, umm, I -I should probably get my- go home so I can tell my mop- I mean- mom- about dine- dinner. W- what clock do I- What time should I be there?" He was a stuttering mess. Jared hadn't heard him have that much trouble speaking since sixth grade, when he and Zoe had been partnered up for an English assignment. Connor, chuckled lightly, and Jared could feel Evan's blush radiating from around the corner. The thing that had bloomed in his stomach earlier churned. He shoved it down in favor of listening to their conversation.

"How about around seven-thirty?"

"My mom has to go- to be at her clam- classes tonight by then," Evan said. 'Oh, NOW he's suddenly capable of not agreeing immediately?!'

"No big deal, I could come pick you up?" Connor offered. 'Yeah, you're going to try and "pick him up" alright.' "Does seven work?"

"Y-yeah. I can- I'll let my mom know. Wait, you'll need an address. I have a pen here, somewhere..." Evan trailed off and rustling could be heard as he was probably looking for it. 'Evan, you dolt! Don't give him your address! Never give the smooth guy who's inviting you to his house after knowing you two weeks your address! That's when he kills you! Or beds you, depending on what genre you're in!' Jared could hear the sound of pen on paper. "Here, just ring the doorbell when you get there. Is- should I- is it like, a formal thing where I need to make a good impression? Like, "make sure to comb my hair" level?" Evan asked nervously.

"Um, not really, no," Connor answered. "What you have on now looks g- is fine," he cut himself off. Evan didn't seem to catch his slip-up as the conversation continued, but Jared did. 'That guy isn't as smooth as he thinks he is,' he thought. 'He might fool Evan, but he can't fool me.'

Jared was brought back to the moment when the two were suddenly bidding their goodbyes.

"See you later," Evan said.

"I'll see you at seven," Connor responded, and his footsteps echoed down the hall as he left. Jared heard Evan let out a small sigh, and that sickening feeling in his gut writhed at the sound. Then Evan's footsteps started approaching. He rounded the corner to find Jared standing there with his arms crossed and eyebrow raised.

"Jared!" He squeaked. "Sorry I'm late, I-"

"You, Evan," Jared cut him off. "Are an idiotic, naive, little acorn."

"What?" Jared grabbed his good arm impatiently and started down the hallway. Evan yelped as he was dragged along.

"Do you really think I'm going to let you go to his house so he can do lord knows what to you?" Jared said as they turned the corner to the doors of the school that opened to the parking lot.

"What? Jared- ow- what are you talking about?" Evan cried. Jared scoffed.

"Don't you 'what' me," he said. "I heard that whole little thing that just went down. The school druggie just invited you to his house for "a family dinner" and your stupidly innocent acorn brain accepted!" He yelled the last part over his shoulder accusingly. Evan's face twisted in confusion.

"Okay, so?" Jared scoffed.

"So, don't you get it?" Evan shook his head. "Evan, he's planning on bedding you!"

"WHAT?!" Evan changed to red faster than a traffic light. "Jared, what on Earth-"

"You heard the way he was all, smooth, and caring, and doing that wired psychological crap to get you to say yes. 'What you have on looks "fine"'," he mocked, reaching where his car was parked, and he unlocked the car door. He turned to Evan. Evan didn't move. "What?" Evan didn't look at him when he responded.

"Why are you so convinced he's a bad person, Jared?" he asked, rubbing his arm. Jared sputtered.

"How are you not? He doesn't exactly have the best reputation, Evan!"

"Yeah, but have- have you actually seen him do any of that lately?"

"No, but Evan-" he paused as he realized what Evan was doing. He was looking at Connor's name on his cast and running his fingers over it. Evan suddenly met his gaze and Jared saw a kind of determination there. "Oh my god," Jared whispered, and the ugly feeling in his gut rumbled.

"What?"

"Nothing," he said, and the sickening thing in his stomach begged to differ. "You actually believe he's a good person?"

"Yes, Jared. I do. If you gave him a chance, you'd see it too," Evan said, and Jared shook his head as he looked away.

"Great," he chuckled. "Just great."

"Jared?"

"Get in the car, Evan."

"Jared-"

"Get in the car. We wouldn't want your mom worrying," he said as he got into the driver's seat. Evan eventually climbed into the passenger's seat and buckled up. Jared started the car and backed out of his space. They left the parking lot in a strained silence.

"Jared, please," Evan tried after a long time. "I know you're- I know it doesn't seem like it, but I think I can trust him."

"Why, Evan? What about him makes you think you can trust him? What has he done to earn any trust?"

"He hasn't done anything to not earn it," he said. "He hasn't been mean- or rude to either of us since the second day. He even apologized. He's been - he's been nice to both of us, and he doesn't need to be." Jared side-eyed him. Evan was looking at him earnestly. "I'm going to dinner tonight. It's only one meal. I think I can trust him, Jared," he added again. "Give him a chance." Jared was silent for a long time before he let out a long suffering sigh.

"Fine. Go to his house tonight, or whatever. Don't come crying to me if he tries to... un-purify you, or something," he said. Evan sputtered.

"'Un-purify?!'" He shouted, startled. "Jared?! What the heck?!" They were pulling up to Evan's driveway, and Jared flushed, embarrassed, but he stood his ground.

"You heard me. Now get out so you can tell your mom about the 'big night' tonight," he said mockingly. Evan flushed, and grabbed his things. Just as he was about to leave, Jared spoke up again. "Evan?" The anxious boy looked back at him. "Seriously though, if he tries anything funny, you call me." Evan gave him a watery smile.

"Thank you, Jared," he said and left to go to his front door. Jared watched until he was inside. He sighed and pulled out of the driveway. That boy- that boy was going to be the death of him. One of these days, he was going to seriously hurt himself, and he'd have to be the one to help. 'Unless, of course, he already has Connor Murphy there,' he thought darkly, and the thing in his gut twisted.

He didn't look forward to when Connor would let Evan down, and he'd be left to pick up the pieces. Connor was gaining a stronger and stronger hold over the boy's decisions, and Jared knew that Evan would be devastated when he was left behind. Jared couldn't let that happen.

But what Jared didn't realize as his determination set, was that as Connor's hold over Evan grew, Evan's own grip over the boy became stronger as well. What he didn't realize, as he headed home, was that the two boys were becoming codependent, and what he had to watch out for wasn't Connor dropping Evan at all. It was Evan dropping him. If he didn't let Evan grow, if he got in the way of this new development, he'd end up getting crushed, and left behind.

____________________________

Heidi was not one to get surprises often. Well, not in a good way. But her son was filled with them lately. When he came home and started rambling about dinner and cars and "should I dress nice," the unfamiliar feeling washed over her, yet again and she moved to slow him down so she could understand him.

"Evan, honey, calm down," she said and he froze. "Now tell me, what is all this about?" He took a deep breath.

"The Murphy's invited me over for dinner tonight," he said, and Heidi froze. Evan had been acting a bit different lately, but this? She broke out into a huge smile.

"Oh, honey, that's wonderful!" She said. "What time should you be there? Should you bring something? Oh, we could bake cookies!" She exclaimed happily. "I have time, and we could have them fresh for when I drop you off." Evan smiled weakly, but he flinched. "Honey, what is it?"

"They- um. They invited me over for dinner at seven-thirty," he said, and her smile dropped.

"Evan, I have to be at class by seven. How are you supposed to get there?" He took another breath and let the second surprise bomb drop.

"Connor's going to pick me up at seven and give me a ride," he said, and Heidi froze.

"You- you're letting him drive you there?" She asked. It was a little known fact (and by little, literally only her and Evan knew) that Evan had problems when it came to moving vehicles. He had a hard time trusting other people with getting him places, always worried about whether or not he would make it out of the car alive. That's one of the reasons why he couldn't ride the bus. The only two people he ever let drive him were Jared and herself. So for him to let someone he'd known for about two weeks to drive him...

"How will you get back?" She asked. Evan breathed again.

"He'll drive me," he said confidently. She was taken aback.

"You must trust him a lot," she said delicately. Something in his expression shifted, and an emotion she didn't recognize flicked across his face.

Evan nodded, and looked away. "I trust him," he agreed. Heidi let the moment stay for a second before breaking it.

"Well, all the more reason to bake cookies," she said. "You want to help?" Evan's face brightened a little.

"Sure."

_____________________________

Three hours later, they were both covered in flour and finally pulling the tray from the oven. (The first attempt at a batch had gone horribly when Heidi had, well, done something rather creative with the flour. She decided she should probably leave that part to Evan.) The cookies were slightly burnt, but they were done.

"There!" Heidi exclaimed. "Now we just need to put them all on one plate. Evan, could you get it, please?"

"Oh, sure," he said and started rummaging through the cabinet. "The one that's Only For Guests, or the Family Plate?" He asked. Heidi thought for a moment.

"Family Plate," she decided.

"Really?"

"Yep." They spent the next five minutes peeling the cookies off the tray and placing them carefully on the plate. "Okay, I need to go clean up. Why don't you go ahead and get ready for your dinner?" Evan nodded, and she left the kitchen to go to her room.

She gathered her outfit for class that night and headed into the bathroom to take a shower. A good fifteen minutes later she stepped out, feeling refreshed after working all day.

She pulled her towel off her head and spent a few minutes drying her hair. She tugged her outfit on before applying some light makeup. She brushed her hair back into a somewhat presentable state. After a good half-hour Heidi was ready to leave for her class. She rushed downstairs and grabbed her purse.

"Evan?" she called out. His head poked out from the living room. "I have to go, honey. Do you have everything you need for tonight? Your inhaler?"

"Yeah," he said, and stepped out. Heidi smiled. He had traded the green polo shirt that had gotten flour on it for his favorite blue one. He wore dark blue pants that looked nice with his normal footwear. His hair was in its usual, naturally puffy state. He looked nice.

She wanted to tell him he looked handsome, how could her little boy not? But she knew he'd react poorly to the well meaning comment. She had learned a long time ago that he never believed her compliments. So, she settled for giving him a smile, and he returned it with a small one of his own.

"Did you take your medicine?"

"Yes."

"Okay, and you're sure you have everything you need?"

"Yes."

"Alright. Okay. Have fun at your friends house tonight, sweetie," she gave him a hug. "Stay as long as you want, as long as you're home safe in the morning."

"Okay, mom," he said, but his voice lacked confidence. "Love you."

"I love you, too, Evan," she replied, and then she was out the door.

____________________________

Evan was not functioning well. The second his mom had left the house ten minutes ago, he had started freaking out over whether or not he was dressed okay. He hadn't been sure of his outfit when he was putting it on, but now that he was completely alone in the house, with nothing to do but wait, he couldn't help but start freaking out. Connor had said he looked fine earlier, but then he had gotten flour all over himself and had to change.

With fifteen minutes to spare, he rushed over to the mirror in the living room. He stared at his reflection. Was he dressed too nicely? Too casually? What if he looked too sloppy and Connor's parents decided he couldn't hang out with their son anymore? He knew jeans weren't the right decision. Oh, this was so bad. Or what if he was dressed to nicely and they thought he was trying too hard? What if he was trying too hard?

He was despairing over what to do, when he heard the doorbell ring and nearly tripped over his own feet trying to rush to open it. His hand fumbled with the lock, and he struggled to pull on the handle correctly. Finally, the door swung open, and he froze at the sight of Connor Murphy standing in his doorway.

He had been able to tell that Connor had, at the very least, been using the de-tangler he had given him these past weeks. When he had seen him on Wednesday morning he had been struck dumb at the sight of his Hair With So Much Potential cascading over his shoulders in smooth waves. You would think that seeing Connor Murphy nearly every day afterwards would help him build an immunity to his reaction to his hair. It did not. If anything, it had only gotten worse.

But now, as he stared up at Connor, he was frozen with awe. His Amazing Hair was parted to the side, and spilling forward over his shoulders, catching the light of the setting sun. It was a breathtaking sight.

Connor shifted from foot to foot, seeming slightly uncomfortable just standing there.

"Hey," he said, and Evan was brought back to Earth.

"HI! Um, do- do you want to come in? I just have to grab something," he managed. Connor nodded and stepped over the threshold. It was strange, seeing him in his living room. His presence seemed entirely new as he waited near the door. Evan stood there for a second before walking into the kitchen quickly to grab the plate of cookies. He showed them to Connor at the boy's questioning gaze.

"Me and my mom made cookies," he explained. He shrunk down a little. "Is- is that too weird?"

"Nah," Connor said and chuckled a bit. "They look great."

"Oh, wait!" Evan set the cookies down. He gestured to his outfit. "Is- is this okay?"

"What?"

"Clothes- my clothes? Are they okay?" Connor looked him up and down before reaching over and picking a piece of lint off his shoulder. Evan let out a small squeak and hoped desperately that Connor hadn't heard it.

"There, perfect," he said and turned away. Evan flushed and picked up the cookie tray to follow him.

Connor walked down the driveway towards a car Evan hadn't seen before. It wasn't anything special, but it was still nice. 'It must be his,' he thought as the headlights flashed when Connor unlocked it to slide behind the steering wheel. Evan took a deep breath as he neared the passenger door. 'Calm down, Evan. It's just a car ride. As long as you wear a seatbelt, you'll be okay.' He glanced at Connor as he eventually climbed in, making sure that the cookies were secure in his lap. 'Besides, you can trust him.'

"Ready?" Connor asked as he started the car.

"Mmhm," Evan mumbled in affirmation. Connor pulled out, onto the street and started driving. Evan's breathing quickened at every sharp turn and bump in the road. After three minutes of driving in silence, Evan having a white knuckled grip on the cookie plate, they hit a pothole in the road. The car rocked and Evan let out a loud yelp. He closed his eyes and clenched the cookie tray tighter as Connor started at the sound.

"Evan?" Connor asked. Evan's breathing was becoming more erratic and shallow. "Evan, are you okay?"

"Y- yeah. I'm fine," he lied through his teeth. He pulled his inhaler out of his pocket and started breathing through it. Connor watched him out of the corner of his eye, before pulling over into the side of the street.

"Bull," he said once Evan had calmed down. "You screamed louder than my sister did when she found a cockroach in the backyard." Evan clutched the cookie tray as Connor glanced at him. "What's wrong?"

"It's-" he was going to say 'nothing,' but he thought back to earlier, when he had confidently told Jared, and just a few minutes ago when he'd told his mom, that he trusted Connor. So, if he could trust him with driving, he could trust him with this.

"I don't like cars. They're too big and too loud. They're death traps. That's why I don't really like driving," he said.

"Okay," Connor was listening. He didn't make fun of him, so Evan continued.

"The- the point is, I have a hard time trusting other people to get me places as well. I never know what they're planning to do, or what they can see, or if we'll crash. It's a mix of fearing two things combined. So to have other people drive me..." he trailed off.

Connor nodded like he understood. "It's like you're a backseat driver, except it's more like Russian roulette."

"What?"

"Never mind. Point is, it's a giant trust exercise for you," he clarified.

"Yeah," he admitted. "Pretty dumb, right?" It was a rhetorical question. Whenever he had tried to explain to people before, they either thought he was exaggerating, or they were offended, taking it to mean he didn't trust them,

"No, it's not," he said. "It's your life." And Evan almost let out a dry sob in relief that he understood. "So, what about Jared?"

"Huh?"

"You get a ride home from him every day, you've got to trust him a lot, right?" Connor explained.

"Yeah, I guess," he said. He did trust Jared, he had to.

"Thank you for trusting me," Connor said.

"It's- I- There was no reason not to," he stammered. Connor gave him a small smile as he started the car back up again. After a bit, they reached another turn in the road. "How- how far away are we?" Connor thought for a moment.

"Only three minutes more," he said.

"Oh."

"Tell me about trees," he said. Evan turned to him.

"What?"

"You relax when you talk about them," he said, as if that was all that needed to be explained. Evan sat back in his seat.

"Okay. Well, did- did you know that trees are a growth form?" He asked. "They're not part of one- they not all the same species. It makes sense if you- if you think about it," he said, gaining confidence. "They might have trunks and branches, but comparing a birch to a weeping willow is like if someone compared a school chair to a throne. In fact, willows..."

They continued along, Evan rattling off fact after fact about trees, relaxing as he spoke. Connor gave his input here and there until they pulled up to a house and parked. Evan stopped talking when he saw the house. It was huge. Really nice looking, too.

"Connor?" He turned as the boy got out of the drivers seat and walked to his side of the car. Evan opened his door and climbed out, suddenly very grateful he had brought cookies to please the being that deemed people worthy of entering this home. He stared in awe.

"Yeah. Welcome to the Murphy residence," he said sarcastically.

"It's... nice," he said, and Connor laughed as he unlocked the door.

"Well, come on. Let's introduce you to my parents."

"Great," he said, not intending for the sarcasm to spill out, but it did. Connor snorted. He gave him a weak smile.

"You don't have to go inside," Connor said. "I can take you back if you've changed your mind."

"N- no, I said I'd do it, so I will," Evan replied. "I- I'm just worried about leaving a bad impression, I guess," he explained. Connor put a hand on his shoulder.

"Hey, you'll be fine. I won't let them bother you." Evan nodded and gave him another shaky smile."Ready?" He took a deep breath.

"Ready," he said. The door swung open and they stepped inside.

 

_____________________________

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

"Mom! I'm back! Evan's here!" Connor called out. Evan was staring at the walls around him. Everything was so... nice. He was glad to have put some effort into his appearance, but he still felt inadequate compared to this beautiful house.

Footsteps could suddenly be heard approaching, and Evan had a mini freak out. He had never been good at talking to adults. People in general freaked him out, really. But hey. That's probably the anxiety. Well, he thought it was the anxiety. That was one of the effects of his anxiety type, right? Something about the different outcomes of meeting new people and how his brain was programmed to overanalyze everything.

A woman came into view, and Evan's brain of thought was derailed as he was struck by how much Connor looked like her. Granted, her hair was red with grey streaks running through it and it fell flatter against her head, but. They had the same face. Her jaw was more refined, and her face was slightly rounder in shape, but their eyes were completely different. Hers were a more almond in shape and a dark hazel color, whereas Connor's were rounder and a light blue. Connor was easily a foot taller than her, as the top of her head only came up to Evan's eyes. Okay, so it wasn't physical appearance, more like the way she carried herself. She radiated the same genuine well-meaning aura. When she saw them, she broke into a smile so wide that it looked painful.

"Hello," she said to him, and her tone was the same as his mom's whenever she greeted Jared. Happy i n a sort of relieved way. "You must be Evan. Well, come in, we've got dinner almost ready," she said.

"I- I brought cookies," he said, and held them up, nervously. Connor snorted behind him, but covered it up with a cough. Mrs. Murphy's smile grew.

"Thank you. Connor, why don't you show Evan the kitchen so he can set them down, and you two can wait in the dining room for dinner?"

Connor shrugged and turned to Evan.

"Kitchen's this way," he said, and Evan trailed after him, taking in the hardwood floors and sloping ceilings. There were little knickknacks in certain places that gave off the impression of a homey place, but closer inspection showed that they were really expensive.

Connor showed him the kitchen, and Evan stared. It was bigger than his own room. There were marbled counters with a detailed backsplash. The sink was clean, and that oven looked thoroughly modern. All of the cabinets were a warm brown, likely made from walnut trees. There was food on the stove and some already prepared on plates. It was beautiful, but...

"You can go ahead and set those cookies right here, Evan," Mrs. Murphy said, walking into the kitchen, disrupting his train of thought.

"Oh, okay." He set the plate delicately on the marble countertop. "Is- is there any way I can help? With dinner?"

"Oh, no!" She exclaimed vehemently, causing Evan to flinch back and almost run into Connor. "We invited you here. You're the guest. Have Connor show you to the dining room and have a seat, okay?" She was looking at him too earnestly, and Evan was too nervous to say no.

He let out a weak, "Sure," and she seemed satisfied. She turned back to her cooking as Connor led him out of the kitchen. They turned one corner, and Evan was greeted with the sight of the mahogany table that was set with ceramic plates. Connor pulled out the chair at the end and flopped down casually. He motioned for him to take the seat next to him, and Evan sat down uncomfortably.

"You're mom seemed... nice," he tried, and Connor let out a derisive snort.

"If by nice, you mean intense, then yeah. She's nice," he said. "She's just excited. I haven't had anyone over since the seventh grade. I bet she's happy enough that you came over that she'll try to hug you later." Evan paled.

"Um- no- no thank you?" Connor's expression turned teasing.

"Why not Evan? Don't want a hug from the nice lady you made cookies for? I bet she'd even buy you a tree if you asked nicely enough." Evan laughed.

"Connor, no," he said, trying to stay calm.

"Aw, come on," he prodded, and Evan could tell that he was holding in laughter of his own. "I bet you'd love your own tree. Would you prefer birch or oak?" Connor asked in a mock business tone. In a departure from what was normal for him, Evan decided to roll with it.

"I- I don't know," he said, pretending to think hard about it. "Do you have evergreen?" Connor raised an eyebrow.

"You have fine taste, sir. Would you like that in our Christmas style?"

"I'm Jewish," Evan deadpanned. He and Connor held mock serious eye contact, before Connor broke character and threw his head back to laugh, sharp and clear. Evan was mesmerized by the way his Hair was tossed back and moved as he shook with amusement. It bounced and caught the light beautifully, waves emphasized by the lack of matted-ness. Evan couldn't hold in his laughter though, and joined in.

"Oh, that was beautiful," Connor wheezed. Evan calmed down.

"It's funny because- because it's true," he said. Connor stopped.

"Whoa, wait, really?" Evan nodded, biting the inside of his lip.

"Well, culturally. I- I don't really know- I'm not sure what I believe in," he stammered, and waited anxiously. People sometimes reacted poorly to that particular bit of information. But Connor only broke into laughter again.

"That," he wheezed. "Was the best way to tell anyone about your religion. Ever," he said between deep inhales. "Do it. Exactly like that. Every time. I beg you." Evan smiled a bit.

"I don't know," he said teasingly, slipping back into character. "Do I still get a tree?" Connor looked him dead in the eye and cocked his head, pretending to consider. His Hair fell over one eye a bit, and Evan stared.

"You get ten," he said eventually. They shook hands, and descended back into laughter. Evan was happy then, if only for a moment. He was doing okay. If he could do this, maybe he'd make it through dinner.

Out of nowhere, a cough sounded in the entryway and both boys froze. Their heads shot up, and Evan stared at the people in the doorway. One of them was Mrs. Murphy, who had her hands over her mouth, and looked like she was about to cry. The other was Zoe, who looked extremely uncomfortable, but also highly amused, holding a plate of food. Evan felt grateful once more that he put effort into his outfit when he saw her. Then, his gaze landed on the third figure, and the feeling's intensity doubled, but this time it had panic added to it.

The man was tall. Very tall. And business-like. His jaw was prominent, and his eyes. His eyes were the same shape as Connor's, except they were a dark brown. The man, who Evan belatedly realized was Connor's dad, stared at him and Connor, shock written all over his features.

Evan realized that he and Connor were still holding each other's hands in a mock business shake. Connor seemed to realize this, too. Neither of them moved to let go.

Nobody moved. The silence was starting to kill him, and his palm felt sweaty in Connor's grasp. He cleared his throat and waved in a painfully awkward way with his other hand.

"Um... Hello?" He tried. None of the Murphys moved. He put his hand back down.

And thus, Evan made his first impression on the collective of the Murphy family. 'Great,' he thought.

_____________________________

Larry Murphy came home on Friday afternoon after a long day's work, not knowing what to expect when he walked through the door. He walked the hall to the kitchen to find his wife in there, taking the food off of the stove.

"Oh, hello," she said and leaned up to kiss him on the cheek. "Welcome home. Dinner's almost ready. Could you just pass me some forks?"

He complied. He was about to ask where Connor was, when he heard footsteps thump in their direction. Zoe walked into the kitchen.

"Hey, Dad," she greeted and moved to grab one of the plates Cynthia had prepared.

"Hello, Zoe," he nodded at her. "Where's Connor?" His daughter shrugged and suddenly looked passed him.

"Mom, you made cookies? I thought we were having ice cream." Larry turned, and sure enough, there was a plate filled with chocolate chip cookies. Cynthia looked up from dishing out the food to spot what her daughter was talking about.

"Oh," she exclaimed. "We are. Connor's friend brought them over," she explained and Larry froze along with Zoe.

"Evan's already here?" Zoe asked. "Where?"

"With Connor," Cynthia said, still serving the food.

"What's He like?" Larry demanded the information rather than requesting it, but Cynthia replied anyways.

"He seems nice," she said. "Go easy on him though, Larry. He seemed to be a bit nervous."

Larry was about to respond, when the sound of laughter rang out from the direction of the dining room. He froze, as did his wife and daughter. The three of them started towards the noise. He was leading the way, all of them practically running to the dining room.

Larry froze in the entryway at the sight of his son doubled over with laughter. Connor was grasping a slightly smaller boy's hand, and the two of them were shaking with the force of their amusement. He heard his wife gasp behind him when she turned the corner.

Connor threw his head back, laughter sharp and clear. Larry's heart broke a little. He hadn't heard that sound in years. In that moment, his son almost looked like the boy he used to know. But then Connor looked back at the boy next to him, and he looked like someone entirely different. It surprised him so much, he let out a small cough.

The two boys froze, heads shooting up and freezing. Connor's eyes hardened when he saw Larry. Larry saw the smaller boy, who must be Evan Hansen, he realized, take him in. He had intense green eyes that shone with panic.

Nobody moved for a long time. Eventually Evan raised the hand that wasn't in Connor's grasp to wave.

"Um... Hello?" He phrased it like he wasn't quite sure it was the right thing to say. Nobody responded, and the boy put his hand down on the table. Larry's gaze was immediately drawn to the bright white cast covering his forearm, and his son's name in big letters, taking up the whole thing.

Zoe suddenly spoke up from behind him. "Hey, Evan," she said, and the boy's gaze turned to her.

"H- hi, Zoe," he responded. The room descended back into awkward silence.

"Right!" Cynthia exclaimed suddenly, startling all of them. Larry turned to see her wipe at her eyes and fix a huge smile in place. "Larry, Zoe, take your seats. I'll have your guys' dinner out in a second," she said, addressing her husband and the two boys at the table. Larry saw her hesitate, staring at Connor like she wanted to savor the laugh lines that were long gone from his expression, before she turned back to go to the kitchen.

Zoe went ahead and sat across from Evan, on the other side of her brother. Larry finally moved to his seat at the head of the table, seating himself down cautiously.

They sat in strained silence. By the time Cynthia came back with their food, Connor and Evan still hadn't moved from their positions. Larry watched as they slowly let go of each other's hands to turn and sit forward in their chairs.

Nobody moved to touch their food. Cynthia came back with her own plate and took her seat next to Larry.

"Well, dig in," she said with forced enthusiasm, not quite managing to keep herself from staring at Connor for a moment.

They ate silently. Larry kept himself from wincing at the taste of the pork. He loved his wife, he really did. But she could not cook, even though all she did was follow the recipe exactly. It was almost a talent.

"This is really good, Mrs. Murphy," Evan said, eating his food slowly. Larry felt some respect for the kid as his wife smiled gratefully. He was polite.

"Thank you, Evan," she said kindly. Larry noted the strained expression on Connor's face. The feel of the table was incredibly uncomfortable. Larry decided to cut to the chase.

"So, Evan," he said, and the small boy looked up at him. "Tell us about yourself. How did you meet Connor?" Evan glanced at Connor before answering.

"W-well, I guess, I've known him since about second- no first grade. We never really talked much until- until recently though," he said nervously.

"When did you two start hanging out?" Larry inquired further.

"The- the first day back."

"Really?" Larry asked. "Only that long?" He saw Connor tense as Evan didn't seem to know how to answer.

"How did you two start talking?" Cynthia interjected, and Larry sat back in his chair.

"He found me at- in the computer lab after school," Evan said.

"You nearly had a heart attack," Connor chuckled slightly. Evan looked at him, almost betrayed.

"You- you're the one who snuck up on me," he flushed, indignant. Connor grinned as he responded. Larry stared as the two bickered. He saw Cynthia gazing at the two of them as if she was trying to permanently burn the look on her son's face into her memory. Passed her, he saw Zoe staring at her brother like she couldn't quite believe what was before her very eyes.

Eventually, the two stopped their small argument, and Larry looked on as Cynthia continued asking simple questions. Zoe joined in on the conversation at one point.

They finished dinner, and Cynthia brought in the ice-cream and cookies. They all were eating their deserts and chatting lightly. Things were running okay, until Larry asked a question.

"So, Evan. What are your parents like?" He asked. He didn't mean anything by it, and certainly wasn't a bad question, but Larry saw Connor tense. Evan looked at him.

"She's- my mom is- she works very hard. She takes night classes and takes on day shifts as- as an intern at the hospital," he said and grabbed a cookie from the tray nervously. Larry nodded.

"And your dad?" Evan didn't respond, and the table went quiet. "Evan?"

Evan had his head bowed, and he had put the cookie back. He didn't respond for a long time. "He- um. I don't- I guess I don't know," he said eventually. Connor put a hand on his shoulder, and Evan bowed his head further. Larry didn't know what to do.

"What happened?" He asked, and Connor's head shot up to glare at him.

"Leave it," he said harshly. Larry felt anger rise in his chest.

"You mind your tone, young man-"

"Larry," Cynthia interrupted. "I think that's enough questions for tonight," she said. "Evan? What time do you have to be back?"

"Mom - she said I'm- I can stay as long as I want, as long as I get home safely," he said, not looking at anyone.

"Okay, then. Connor, why don't you show Evan around the house? You two can leave whenever you want. Thank you for coming to dinner tonight, Evan. You're welcome any time," she said.

"Thank you, Mrs. Murphy," he responded quietly. "Thank you for having me." Connor stood from the table and took his and Evan's dishes to the kitchen. He came back and put a hand on Evan's shoulder again. Evan looked up at him and got up to follow him down the hallway towards the stairs.

Larry watched the two leave. "What just happened?" He asked. Zoe looked up from her food.

"Great job, Dad. You met him. You saw how they acted together. You got what you wanted," she said. "I'm going to bed," she said, and took her plate to the kitchen before stalking up the stairs to her room.

Larry was left alone at the table. He let out a loud sigh. He looked up at the ceiling. 'That went well,' he thought bitterly. 'Just perfect.'

_____________________________

Evan followed Connor up the stairs, not really knowing where they were going, and not really caring. Connor opened a door and flipped a switch, and Evan was suddenly entering a small room. Connor motioned for him to sit on the bed. They sat down without saying anything.

Evan was grateful that Connor didn't push for an explanation. He waited patiently for Evan to decide whether or not he wanted to talk. Evan took a deep breath.

"It's not a fun story," he said, and Connor chuckled.

"They hardly ever are," he responded. Evan looked up at him.

"When I was about six years old, my parents found out that I have a case of moderate to severe anxiety," he divulged, and Connor looked surprised. "All of a sudden I needed a- an inhaler, medications, a therapist. It was a lot. My parents had already been growing apart." He broke off and looked away, trying to hide the hurt. Connor put a hand on his shoulder again, and Evan slumped.

"My dad- he couldn't deal with it," he continued, staring at his hands. "Five months later, there- there was a moving truck in the driveway. I was so excited," he chuckled sadly. "Mom had told me to stay inside, but I- I snuck out anyways. They let me sit in the driver's seat." He smiled at the bittersweet memory, briefly. "Then, suddenly, my dad was telling me that- that he loved me and- he set me down next to my mom." He remembered, vividly, his dad's strong embrace before he had pulled away, and tears welled in his eyes. "Then the truck was gone. And so was he." Evan choked on a small sob.

Connor scooted closer and wrapped his arm around Evan's shoulders uncertainty. Evan slumped tiredly into Connor's side, tears streaming down his face.

"Mom always told me it wasn't my fault he left," he said. "I know that. I do. But, sometimes," he took a shuddering breath. "Sometimes I just- I know that it was because of me, and my anxiety that he left so quickly," he heaved a sob. Connor shifted and twisted Evan's shoulders so that he was facing him directly.

"Do not ever blame yourself for that," he said. "You didn't choose to have anxiety, Evan. You didn't make him leave. Your dad was too cowardly to stay past the first bump in the road. It was not your fault that he got cold feet. If he was ready to raise a kid, then he should have been ready to accept anything."

While Connor was speaking, Evan started choking up again. He had heard similar words before. From his mom, though, it was like she felt obligated to tell him. From his therapist, he couldn't shake the feeling that they were only telling him what the job description required. But from someone who had no prior information on the topic, to hear the words so sincerely filled him with a sense of relief. It was like a tiny weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

Evan let himself be comforted when Connor wrapped him in his arms. It was nice, feeling like he was being shielded from the world in his arms. He let the sobs flow quietly as Connor patted his back soothingly. He took a deep breath, and he could smell the vanilla from the de-tangler in Connor's Hair. But right now, it didn't take over his thoughts. There was something more important taking place.

He paused when he heard Connor singing softly. "I- I thought you said you didn't like to sing," he mumbled from where he had his head buried in his shoulder. Connor paused.

"In public. I don't like to sing in public," he said awkwardly. "It's not good."

"It's nice," Evan said. Connor chuckled softly.

"I have anger issues," he said out of nowhere after a few minutes. Evan looked up at him questioningly. Connor didn't look at him. "And mild depression. Clinically. They've prescribed medicine for it and everything. It gets bad," he admitted. "Really bad. That's why I smoke weed sometimes. But I've been trying to quit. It only makes the anger worse. I- I've treated my family badly when under the influence. Zoe got the worst of it." Connor was pointedly looking anywhere but at him. "I- I've said some pretty terrible things to her. She hates me. She deserves to. I- I'm trying to fix things right now. I'm just worried that I won't ever be able to. Or that I'll make things worse."

Evan figured he probably should have felt scared. Jared had been right about Connor's reputation. But he didn't. He only felt his chest squeeze at the expression on the boy's face. He understood why he was telling him this. So he just put his hand on Connor's arm and gave him a watery smile.

"W-well, then. I guess we're mental illness buddies," he tried for a joke. Connor snorted.

"Mental illness buddies," he agreed, and raised his fist. Evan awkwardly bumped it with his own, and they laughed softly.

Eventually Connor looked around his room.

"So, what do you want to do?" he asked.

"Huh?"

"It's only 9:43," Connor replied. "We could, like, watch a movie, or something. We could go for a drive somewhere if you wanted."

Evan thought about it for a moment. "Where- where would we go?" Connor suddenly smiled and stood up. "Connor?"

The tall boy grabbed a jacket from his closet and tossed it in his direction. Evan fumbled for the material and looked at him, confused.

"You want to see something neat?"

"What?" Connor smirked.

"It's a surprise. You're going to love it," he assured him. He extended a hand to help Evan up. Evan looked at him cautiously. "I promise," Connor said.

Evan took his hand.

"Let's go."

 

_____________________________

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

The car ride wasn't Very Bad. It was quiet, but in a sort of Good way. Evan still flinched at the sharp turns and bumps in the road, but he tried to ignore the instinctual fear because he had already cried and felt terrible tonight, and for once he was going to try and let someone help him make that stop.

He couldn't see very well in the dark, beyond the headlights. He didn't really know where they were supposed to be going, either, and that made it easier? Kind of? It left him without the worrying that they were going the wrong way, but a small voice in his head kept whispering that he didn't know that he was safe, and this could be, in fact, Very Bad.

He had already done two Big Trust Exercises today, though. He had let Connor drive him, and he had told him about his anxiety. He had been pretty sure his anxiety was an obvious thing, but when he had told Connor, the boy treated it like he wouldn't have known. And then, Connor had also shared something Deeply Personal, and Evan knew it was meant as a way of reassuring him that he was not alone.

So, he figured he could Most Definitely Probably trust Connor with this surprise he had in mind, despite the voice in his head whispering negative things to him.

Suddenly, Connor was pulling off of the road and onto a flattened dirt path. Evan started paying attention to his surroundings, and recognized that they were pulling into a sort of makeshift parking lot in front of an overgrown looking forest. It looked not dissimilar to the forest Evan had worked at this summer, except it was darker, unkempt. More real. It almost scared him

"Connor?" Evan asked as the boy turned the engine off and got out of the car. He opened his own door, and climbed out to follow Connor down a trail through the trees. He clutched at the jacket that Connor had tossed at him earlier, not quite sure why he was still holding it.

"Connor?" He asked again, his nerves slipping into his voice. Connor looked at him over his shoulder. "Where- what are- where are we going?"

The boy smirked. "You'll see," he said cryptically. "You're gonna love it." So, Evan followed him down the trail, and when Connor stepped off the path, through thicker trees, where the moonlight didn't offer much to see, he still followed.

He could barely see the outline of Connor's back as they navigated their way through the trees. He almost tripped over roots several times, and had to walk quickly to keep up with Connor's long strides.

Eventually, the trees cleared up, and Evan gasped. Connor had led him an open field swathed in moonlight. The trees were bathed in a pale blue light, such that even the shadows glowed. The grass was high enough that it reached the middle of his thigh, and when Connor walked through it, little fireflies flew up and around the field in a wave. It was beautiful.

"Where- Connor what- what is this place?" He asked, hesitant to walk through the grass. Connor looked back at him.

"The Autumn Smile Orchard," he said. Evan stared at him blankly. Connor paused, as if hesitant to say something. "I like the fireflies."

Evan could tell that that was Most Definitely Not what Connor was going to say, but the tightness of his posture and his own fear of intruding made him decide against pushing it. Connor looked at him expectantly, like he was waiting for something.

Evan only stared back. He dully registered the fact that he should probably say something. His therapist had told him that not responding to people Isn't Going to Help, Evan, because people didn't like silence. Evan privately thought that not liking silence was both the stupidest and the most reasonable thing he had ever heard.

He was, apparently, silent for too long though, because Connor said, "It's at its best in the early morning." He looked around. "But I like the fireflies," he said again. "I figured you would like it here because of all the trees." He stopped. "Do you like it?"

Evan looked at him. His Hair With So Much Potential looked different in the moonlight, with the soft glow of the fireflies' light bouncing off of it. His Hair was swept around the frame of his face by the breeze, as he stood there, uncertain and a barely masked expression of nervousness. Evan looked around at the clearing.

It was cold. There wasn't much there. The trees were so overgrown that they looked almost frightening. The grass looked itchy. The whole place had the abandoned feel to it. It was amazing. It had potential. Evan smiled hesitantly.

"It's wonderful," he said almost breathlessly. He felt better as some of the anxiousness in Connor's thin frame eased away.

"Told you you'd love it" he said smugly. "Now, come on. I'll show you around." Evan smiled and walked into the grass to his side.

________________________________

As they walked through the tall grass, Connor managed to get Evan talking about all of the trees. He watched with satisfaction as Evan's energy slowly relaxed as he got more comfortable.

That had been his main thought process as he brought Evan here. To get him to relax. It was his fault that Evan had even had to go through dinner with his family, the least he could do was show him something he would actually enjoy, and he knew when he saw the look on his face that this had been the right idea.

"... I actually hated Boy Scouts," Evan said, because at some point, trees had turned to leaves, leaves to ladybugs, ladybugs to ladybug catching, and ladybug catching to a traumatic experience he had had at the age of nine involving earning a badge and accidentally finding ladybugs crawling all over a dead cat.

"I was always forced into group projects where I would eventually end up alone anyways," he chuckled. "You know, it's funny. One kid's excuse not to work with me was because he was allergic to stuttering." Connor squawked indignantly.

"That- you have a very different meaning of funny," he said. "That like, made me want to cry." Evan looked at him with an unsure expression on his face that bothered Connor. But then he looked away just as quickly and shrugged.

"That wasn't so bad. One time, in sixth grade, Jared punched an eighth grade girl because she made fun of me during one of my panic attacks," he said, voice small. Connor let out an even louder, even more indignant squawk.

"That BITCH!" He shouted so loudly, Evan started. Connor started seeing red. That- that was so- who the heck- what was with some people?! The fact that someone would see someone like that and just- He was going to hit something. "I'm gonna kill her!" He proclaimed. "Who does that!?"

"Connor, it was the sixth grade," Evan said, trying to calm him down. "I'm over it," he tried for a reassuring smile. Connor was far from convinced.

"That- I don't believe you," he said, and Evan looked up at him. "That must have been terrifying, and some stuck up eight grade brat made you feel even worse. You didn't deserve any of that." Evan gave him a thankful smile.

"It- it wasn't your fault, Connor. You don't have to kill her." After a moment, Evan's smile turned slightly dark. "Besides, I think Jared already killed her pride with how she spoke with a lisp for about a month." Connor snorted.

"I think Kleinman just earned fifteen marks on my respect chart," he said decisively. "Maybe only ten. I'm not sure I forgive him for not letting me hit her."

Evan laughed like it had been startled out of him. "Connor, you weren't even there," he managed. Connor held his head up.

"All Kleinman's fault," he replied stubbornly.

"That-" Evan tried, looking absolutely bewildered. "That doesn't even make sen-"

"Shhh," Connor interrupted. "All Kleinman's fault." Evan doubled over as he laughed again and Connor let himself smile.

He had been content when he had gotten Evan to relax. To make him smile so that it reached his eyes was his second goal. He had felt like he needed to, after seeing the boy with tears streaming down his face. He had been really hard on himself, telling himself over and over again that Evan wouldn't be crying if he had just made absolutely sure that Larry never got within a hundred feet from him. 'Selfish. Stupid. No good. You made him cry.'

Connor wasn't very good with crying people. It always seemed like it was supposed to be a private event. But Evan had let him do his cruddy attempt at comforting him, so he felt he had owed him something, even after telling him his own experiences with mental illness.

He plunked down in the grass next to a tree suddenly, and had to suppress a snicker at Evan's alarmed expression when he straightened and no longer saw him. He poked his leg and Evan shrieked as he looked down to see Connor's face looking at him from between the blades of grass. A sharp spurt of laughter escaped him so suddenly it hurt his lungs.

"Don't do that!" Evan cried and Connor could only snort in response.

"Come on, sit," he said, and Evan hesitantly sat down to join him at the base of the tree.

They sat there and talked about almost pointless stuff for hours. After only knowing each other for about two weeks, they still had a lot to talk about. He had decided at some point that pretending to be friends was not lasting, as he felt a growing fondness of the boy. It was nice, to know that he had somewhere to sit, even if he was feeling crummy and even if he had to endure Kleinman's stupid jokes.

At some point he told Evan that he had a thing for those little colored cake cookies.

"You- you mean macaroons?" Evan had clarified.

"Yeah. I always called them macaronis when I was little. It drove my mom crazy."

He found out that Evan actually liked to bake whenever he felt he could.

"We could totally have a bake sale," he said, jokingly. "Profit off of those cookies."

Evan nodded sagely. "With- with macaronis," he agreed. Connor snorted.

"There'll be a sign. 'Evan's Cookies and Macaronis.' And then, when someone wants macaroni, all they get is a yellow macaroon. And we watch their disappointed faces at the lack of cheese."

"Or, we could, like, put cheese in the yellow macaroons," Evan suggested alternatively. Connor made a face.

"Ew. I changed my mind. You are not allowed to make the macaroons." Evan snorted.

"We'll have to- to change the sign then. 'Evan and Connor's Cookies and Macaronis,'" he said decisively. "You could even draw a- a logo or something." Connor chuckled.

"Well, at this point it sounds like we have a million dollar business running. It would have to be a pretty great logo." Evan nodded, trying to maintain his composure.

"We'd need, like, a slogan, too," he agreed, stifling a laugh. "Something like, 'Mac and No Cheese, we promise, please buy the cookies,'" he sing-songed horribly off key, causing Connor to lose his cool and break into laughter.

"That-" he cackled, and Evan laughed along with him. "That was- wow."

"Yeah, that- that really sucked," Evan agreed. Connor waved a hand at him.

"No. Brilliant. That was amazing," Connor assured him. "I- I am writing that down. Permanently." Evan laughed.

They continued talking about their slowly growing baking business until the topic spread to other things. Connor learned that they both enjoyed listening to musicals. According to Evan, basic modern music sounded like "a competition to see who can be the most mainstream," which caused Connor to angrily rant about wanting to "shove Justin Bieber back in his cage in Canada." Evan actually really liked to read, and he and Connor started debating the necessity of Sirius Black's death. The topic switched again, this time to movies.

"I've never actually seen one," Evan said, and Connor nearly choked.

"Excuse me, WHAT?!" Evan flinched. "How!?"

"Well," Evan twisted his hands in the hem of his shirt. "I could never sit still long enough to watch them as a kid. And then when I was, um, after dad left, mom couldn't buy them or have time to watch them because she had to work so much and I never wanted to watch one by myself, because the prospect seemed very lonely and sad and I would always get lost sometime in the first ten minutes because I was always worrying about how horribly the plot could go and I could never go to a movie theatre because of the people and Jared made fun of me for not watching them much so I just told him I didn't like them so he never tried to get me to watch them and-" he continued rambling and twisting his hands in the jacket Connor had loaned him that had found its way onto Evan's frame, and Connor soon realized he wasn't going to stop.

"Evan," he cut him off, and Evan's face immediately turned apologetic.

"Sorry, that was a lot. I really over- overshared there, I didn't want- I didn't mean- sorry, I'm sorry, I'm still so bad at this-"

"Evan," cut him off again, impatience seeping into his tone. They both flinched as the boy's mouth shut as he looked down, obviously embarrassed. "It's fine," he explained. "I was just surprised."

"Oh," he said, and silence descended over the two. Connor felt the heaviness of it as it dragged on. Feeling like he had to say something when he didn't have anything to say irritated him.

He reached out to fiddle with a blade of grass. His loose jacket sleeve fell back as he did, and he heard a choked noise from the boy next to him and looked back to see Evan staring at his hand.

"What?" Connor looked down at his arm. There were no weird marks. No way in hell did he have scars on his wrists. Wrists and forearms had always been a no. The only thing on his arm was-

"What is that?" Evan said, obviously trying for a relaxed tone, and failing miserably.

Connor looked at the scrunchie on his wrist, and tried not to flush at the memory of opening his locker that morning and finding the thing with a note laying next to it like always. Despite himself, Connor had fallen in love with it immediately after noticing the decorative music note on the otherwise dark material. The memory of the note didn't help him fight down the rising flush on his cheeks.

'Dear Connor Murphy,

I hope that you're liking these gifts. I mean, I noticed you've been at least using the de-tangler, so you at least like that. That was creepy wasn't it? I'm stopping now.

Sincerely,
Me'

Whoever was leaving him these gifts was really observant to be able to tell he was using the de-tangler. Well, they kind of had to be. They had apparently noticed him, and wanted to buy things for him. They were at $26 dollars now, at least. It still confused him to no end. Why would anyone do that?

Despite his confusion, he had started looking forward to the gifts in his locker every morning. They made him- nope. Not doing that. He didn't even know who was leaving them. This could still be a stupid prank to make the school freak look like a fool. He wasn't a fool. But he wore the scrunchie anyways.

Evan was still staring at his wrist, probably expecting an answer.

"It's a scrunchie," Connor said, trying not to put anything in his tone. Evan looked at him with that weird look on his face that he got sometimes.

"It- its cool," he said. "Do... do you ever wear it?" He asked.

"Um, I haven't yet, but..." He looked at Evan, who was still looking at him like he was waiting for something. He acted on an impulse as he pulled his hair back and put the scrunchie in it. He let his hands fall away, and it was weird, not feeling his hair against his face and neck. He looked over at the boy next to him.

Evan's eyes had widened, and the strange look on his face had gotten more intense and his mouth had dropped a little.

"What? Is it okay?" Connor asked, and he cringed at the stupidity of the question. Evan was still looking at him. This was stupid. He hadn't had to put his hair up, and he hadn't been thinking and this was such a stupid idea. Why- he felt stupid. "Never mind. That was so stupid-" He reached back up to take it out.

"No!" Evan shouted.

"What?" Evan flushed and started waving his hands around.

"I mean- you don't have to- it's not- you can- it- it's not stupid. It looks good," he stammered out, flushing a bright red. Connor felt his earlier flush rise back up in surprise.

"Oh," he said awkwardly. Evan looked away and Connor did too.

Out of nowhere, a loud ringing disrupted the silence. He watched as Evan fumbled for his phone.

"It's Jared," he said. He looked at Connor, appearing slightly panicked. "What do I do?"

"I don't know? Answer it?" Evan nodded and pressed the button.

"H-hello?"

Jared's voice came from the little speaker. Connor couldn't quite make out what Kleinman was saying, but he snorted at the look of almost sheer disbelief on Evan's face.

"Jared- what- its-" Evan checked the time, and his eyes bugged out. "It's, like, 3:00 in the morning, what on Earth are you doing that requires math?"

Connor's eyebrows shot up at the time. He hadn't meant to stay out this long. He waved to get Evan's attention as Jared launched into some explanation.

'What?' Evan mouthed.

'Speaker,' Connor mouthed back, gesturing for Evan to press the button. Evan gave him a dubious look before complying, and Jared's voice was suddenly loud enough to hear clearly.

"...so, yeah," he was saying. "Evan?"

"Fuck off, Kleinman," Connor stated loudly. Evan's head shot up to give him an incredulous look. They heard Jared sputter over the phone.

"Evan?!" He screeched. Evan flinched.

"Yes?"

"Was that Connor?" He shouted.

"Umm, yes." Evan phrased the response like it was a question.

"What the heck are you doing with Connor Murphy at 3:00 in the morning?!" Jared yelled louder. "Why is he with you? What are you two doing?!"

"Fuck off, Kleinman!" Connor said again. This did not make him go away as he had hoped. Evan cut in.

"We were talking," he said, and Jared snorted.

"Yeah, right. Why the heck would you be 'talking' with him, in person, at 3:00 am?"

"Because that's what friends do, dipstick," Connor said before Evan could respond. "Bye now," he stated and hung up the phone for Evan. "Jerk," he said. Evan didn't answer, only looking at him. "What?"

"You just called us friends," he said. Connor shifted.

"Umm, yeah? I mean- we are. Aren't we?" Crud. He had started this whole thing with telling Evan that they were faking it. Of course he didn't think they were really friends. He had never even told Evan that he had started to consider him a real friend. He was about to apologize when Evan spoke up.

"Yes!" He said, face lighting up. "I- I mean, if you really want us to be. But, for real this time?" His face was so full of hope that Connor's heart broke a little.

"Of course I want to be your friend. For real," he clarified. "You're pretty cool, Hansen." Evan made a face.

"Okay, that was a lie." Connor looked at him indignantly.

"No it wasn't."

"I- I am most certainly not cool, Connor."

"Yes, you are."

"I- I wear khakis!"

"So what?!"

"That is not 'cool'!"

Connor scoffed and picked up a leaf from the ground. "What kind of leaf is this?" He asked.

"Birch, but what does that have to do with anything?" Connor picked up another leaf.

"This one?"

"Oak, but-"

Connor smirked and cut him off with, "See? Cool. You know a lot of cool stuff. You are cool. Now shut up and accept it." Evan gave him an almost exasperated sigh as he watched Connor get up. "Come on. We should probably get going." He offered Evan a hand up.

Evan took it and got up. Connor lead the boy back through the clearing and the forest, to the car. It was only when he got into the driver's seat that how long they had stayed at the orchard really caught up with him. He started the car and found his way back to the main road.

"We- we've got to stop by your house," Evan said. "I- I left the cookie plate." Connor gave him a nod.

"If you don't want to go back inside, it's fine," he assured him. "I'll get it." The smaller boy gave him a grateful nod and leaned back in his seat.

The time must have affected Evan too, because the car was filled with a sleepy silence as they made the drive back to the Murphy's house.

Connor got out of the car once he pulled into the driveway. He muttered a quiet, "I'll be right back," to the sleepy boy, who gave him an absent minded nod, before going to the front door and stepping inside.

He quickly made his way to the kitchen to get the plate. Just as he was about to turn and go back out the front door, he heard a cough from behind him.

"Connor?"

Crud. Zoe.

"Yes?"

"What the- where are you going?" She asked, running at her eyes. "It's almost 3:30."

"I'm taking Evan home," he explained, trying to get passed her. Her eyebrows raised in obvious surprise.

"He's still here?"

"He's in the car. Can I go now?" Zoe gave him a look that he didn't have the patience to discern as she moved out of the way.

"Fine. But we're talking about this when you get back," she called out as he left. He shut the door and got back to the car.

Evan had fallen asleep in the passenger's seat. Connor started the car as quietly as he could and made the drive back to Evan's house.

When they got there, there was still no other car on the driveway. 'His mom must still be at her job' he thought. Evan had told him how his mother took night classes and worked at the hospital, so she was busy a lot. The thought that Evan probably spent most of his time at home alone was one that made his guts twist with a feeling of sympathy.

He stopped the car and got out. Evan was still dead asleep in his seat. He opened the door, cookie plate in one hand.

"Evan," he whispered. "Evan, we're at your house. Come on, get up." The boy shifted.

"No," he mumbled. Connor sighed and reached over to unbuckle the boy from his seat. He pulled him from the car and tried to get him to stand. He nearly had a heart attack when the boy slumped onto him completely, almost knocking the two of them over.

"Evan, jeez, I at least need your keys," he said, adjusting himself so that the normally anxious boy was leaning against him safely. Evan grumbled as he slapped the key into Connor's palm, before pressing against him with more weight.

"Can't walk," he mumbled. Connor sighed, trying not to get irritated.

"Alright," he said, and positioned himself do that his back was facing Evan. "Up," he instructed, and Evan obviously used the last of his physical strength to climb onto his back. Connor hoisted him up and started towards the house.

He managed to get the door open and walked inside. He set the plate carefully on their counter. He glanced over his shoulder at the almost asleep boy on his back.

"Where's your room?" He asked. Evan only grumbled. "Evan?"

"First door at the top of the stairs," he mumbled sleepily, and Connor groaned internally at the prospect of carrying him up.

After an almost torturous climb, Connor's legs were yelling at him when he finally opened Evan's door. He almost melted in relief when he saw the bed.

"Evan," he whispered. "Hey, we're here." Evan murmured something he couldn't understand and only clung to him tighter. "Evan, come on." He faced away from the bed so that Evan would be able to flop back onto the bed.

Instead, Evan continued clinging to him and shifted so that his face was buried in Connor's uncovered neck, sighing deeply. Connor was so startled by the action that he leaned back, and Evan fell, pulling Connor down with him. "Ack-" he choked as Evan's bear hug strangled him. "Evan," he grumbled as he untangled himself from the sleeping boy's death grip. He sighed when he realized Evan still had a firm hand on his jacket.

After a good five minutes, he finally managed to get the boy to release his hold. Evan grumbled and turned onto his side, curling up.

Connor knew that sleeping with shoes on was a definite no, so he pulled them off of Evan's feet and tossed them next to the bed. He refused to do anything else, even as he sighed, realizing that Evan was still wrapped up in his jacket. He'd get it back.

He heaved Evan's limp form so that his head was on the pillow, and finally managed to get him tucked in. He let out a sigh. That was a lot of work. He looked at Evan for a moment, noticing the peaceful look on his face.

"''Night, Evan," he said quietly.

"'Night, Connor," the sleeping boy murmured. Connor turned to leave, feeling that the job was done. "You're amazing." He froze. He whipped his head around to the now absolutely dead asleep boy.

He felt something like happiness and disbelief well in his chest at the comment. There was no way Evan was thinking clearly, but he allowed a small, unsure smile to grace his face as he made to leave.

"Thank you," he said before he was out the door, down the stairs, locking the door, in his car, and driving home. He deftly reached to the back of he head to touch the scrunchie still holding his hair back as he drove. 'That was...' He didn't have a word. No, that was a lie. He had enjoyed tonight. It had been... 'That was... fun,' he admitted to himself, and let his small smile grow.

 

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Chapter Text

Chapter 10

On Monday morning, Jared walked into school very much not happy. He hadn't been able to get in touch with Evan again for the rest of the weekend.

And he had tried.

More than he would like to admit.

The thing was, Evan never ignored him. Every time he texted Evan, he would respond within the first fifteen minutes. Most of the time, it was Evan that texted him.

But Evan hadn't answered any of his calls since Saturday morning. When he was still with Connor Murphy. At 3:00 am.

So, when he saw Connor Murphy approaching his locker, he was really in the mood to insult the taller boy. It was irrational, he knew. But he needed to make someone else feel as pissed off as he was.

Something stopped him, though. Connor's face was almost eager as he opened the locker and reached inside. Jared watched from the end of the hall as Connor pulled out a folded up piece of paper and began to read.

Jared could only stare as Connor's face turned red slowly, and 'Holy CRUD I'm witnessing the school freak receive some sort of love letter, aren't I?'

Then Connor was shoving the note deep into his pocket. He grabbed something from his locker again. Jared looked closely and saw that it was a headband. Connor shoved it in his backpack and looked up to see him standing there.

"The hell are you staring at, Kleinman?" He said. Jared decided he didn't care enough to not pick on him. He needed to get this out.

He felt a grin stretch across his face. It felt hollow. He walked forward, trying to look like he wasn't pissed.

"Oh, nothing, just someone who should back the fuck off," he said, and, wow. That carried way too much emotion and that was not what he had wanted to say at all, but Connor was already bristling, and okay, this is how this is going to go. He was going to die, but at this point he couldn't care less.

"What?"

"Why were you with Evan at 3:00 am?" Jared demanded. Connor gripped his bag strap tighter, starting to look really annoyed.

"Why were you asking Evan about math at 3:00 am?" He countered, and Jared should have realized that two would play this game.

"I asked first, Murphy. What were you two doing?" Connor scoffed.

"Are you going to leave me alone if I don't bother answering?" The look Jared gave must have been enough of an answer. "If you must know, we were hanging out."

Jared wasn't stupid. Sure, he made stupid decisions, but at least he knew they were stupid.

"You know, he wouldn't answer me all weekend. That never happens. If you did something-"

"I said it then, I'll say it now. Fuck off, Kleinman," Connor cut him off.

No. He would not. He was after answers, and he was going to get them.

"Why should I?"

"Look, I told you, we were just hanging out. I don't know what you want, so until your going to be clear, I suggest you move out of the way." He became sharper. "Now."

Jared felt his defiance rear it's head as he became firmly planted to where he stood.

"What were you doing with Evan?" He asked again. Connor's expression became more and more pissed off every second, but his mouth stayed shut.

Then Connor's face changed expression's as something cleared in his gaze. He smirked at Jared and deftly walked passed him.

"Hey, I'm talking to you, asshole," Jared snapped as he turned to see where Connor was headed.

Evan was standing at the end of the hall, fumbling with his lock. Jared watched him break into an only slightly nervous smile when Connor greeted him. The two started talking as Evan grabbed his books from his locker.

Then Connor was casually slinging an arm over Evan's shoulders, saying something that caused the shorter boy to laugh, only slightly flushed. Connor smirked and retracted his arm as they made their way down the hall.

Jared was gobsmacked. Evan had just- Evan had let Connor- This was too weird. He could only stare as they walked right by him.

But as the two walked away, Connor looked at him over his shoulder, and not so subtly flipped him off. And Jared was pissed once more.

Talking to Evan was going to be something, to say the least.

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Alana rounded the corner of the hall where she usually waited for first period to start along with Zoe. They were chatting amiably, when they heard a loud curse and a locker thudding like it had been struck. The two girls froze as they watched Jared Kleinman hit Connor's locker again, with a look of utter contempt on his face.

"Hey! Jared, what are you doing?" Alana shouted, upset. He looked up, annoyed, but then his gaze flicked to Zoe, and he strode towards them with a purpose.

"What happened at dinner on Friday?" He asked Zoe abruptly. She stared at him.

"I'm sorry, what?"

"Evan was with you guys at dinner on Friday," he said as if it explained everything. Alana remembered Zoe complaining about that. She also remembered the frantic call she had gotten at 8:00 on Saturday night that had sounded really freaked out. Jared was still staring at Zoe, seeming very impatient.

Zoe said, "umm... and?"

"And, he was still there at 3:00 in the morning. Do you know why?" Alana watched Zoe's face become befuddled. This was very interesting.

Zoe had called her on Saturday because when she had gone downstairs that morning, Connor was just taking Evan home. Zoe had told her that when he got back a bit before 4:00 am, he had been smiling, simply telling her that the two of them must have lost track of time while talking. But how did Jared know that they were up so late? And why hadn't he just asked Evan?

Before she could, Zoe voiced this question for her. "Why don't you just ask Evan? He was there, you know." Jared's face went back to pissed off.

"After I called him the first time, when he was still at your house, by the way, he stopped answering my calls. And I already tried asking your brother. He won't give me an answer, besides 'hanging out,'" Jared sighed, clearly frustrated. "So, if you know anything, that would be great."

Alana observed as Zoe gave him a brief rundown of dinner, without getting too into the details like she had with Alana. This was all very interesting. Evan and Connor seemed to be great influences on each other, just like she had predicted. But somehow, they kept managing to surprise her. It was exciting.

She watched Jared get more and more pissed off, concern also mixing into his expression. He adjusted his glasses in a way that conveyed a deep dislike of the situation, and Alana vowed to figure out how to do that as well.

"...so, he told me they must have just lost track of time, and went back upstairs," Zoe finished.

"That's it?" Jared pressed. Zoe gave a slight shrug.

"That's it," she confirmed. "Sorry," she apologized at the disappointed look on his face. "Seriously though. I'm sure if you ask Evan, he'll tell you."

"Maybe," Jared conceded. "Thanks Zoe," he said and abruptly turned to leave. They watched him go.

Zoe turned to Alana. "Any idea what that was about?" Alana shrugged.

"My guess is that he's upset." Zoe snorted like Alana had just said something funny. She did that sometimes. Alana had asked her why, once, and Zoe had just said that it was because she thought she was great. This did not explain Alana's question, but it had made her happy nonetheless.

"You're right. He seemed a bit worried, though, too. Don't you think?" Alana shrugged in response.

"I'm good at predicting what people will do, Zoe. I'm not the best at understanding what they are doing," she said, feeling a little frustrated at the fact.

Zoe sighed. "Nobody really is," she agreed. "Maybe I should ask my brother what he thinks Jared is upset about?"

Alana gave her an incredulous look, as if to ask, 'Do you really think that will help?' Zoe looked away.

"Maybe not. Come on," she said, gripping her backpack straps tighter. "Lets get to class."

Alana followed her down the hall. Maybe she should talk to Jared more. Get his view on Connor and Evan's progress. It certainly couldn't hurt. Right?

________________________________

He was there. At the back of the classroom. Alone.

He made a sad picture, looking like he was singled out amongst his classmates. He was taking notes in his notebook while the teacher spoke. There was something off about how his form hunched, even though it was the same way he had been sitting for years. It looked like there was something missing.

Or someone.

The thought made the thing in Jared's stomach churn uncomfortably.

He had walked into the classroom right as the bell rang, so he had to wait until the period was over to talk to him.

The bell rang again. Jared stayed behind and packed up while the wave of students headed for the door. He waited by the door frame. Evan hated crowds. Sure enough, he saw him pick up his backpack and make for the door. Jared joined him on his trek to their next class.

He had planned how he was going to start this conversation. He had a teasing but angry remark all prepared. But all he wanted now was to ask him why he had been ignoring him.

They walked in strained silence while he struggled to make his mouth say the words he wanted.

He never did. They arrived at their next class. Second period passed in much the same manner as first. As did third. And fourth. Then it was lunch.

With Connor.

Jared saw Evan's entire form light up when they spotted the slumped figure at the table in the corner. He never lit up like that before. Not even when he got to talk about Zoe. He was always dim. It was kind of sad.

He almost stopped him from heading over to the table, but he didn't. Instead he made his way through the lunch line. He absentmindedly paid for his food and walked to where the other two were sitting in companionable silence.

He sat down. He ate. At some point he made a couple of stupid remarks, and Evan might have chuckled once. Connor definitely glared at him twice. It wasn't comfortable, but it wasn't awful.

Then the bell rang once more, and the two were off to class, leaving Jared behind.

As soon as the two were out of sight, Jared swore under his breath.

He still hadn't gotten to talk to him. And trying to do so with Connor nearby, especially after this morning, would not yield positive results. What to do? What to- oh. Duh.

Jared almost smacked his forehead with the orange juice box he had finished. How could he forget? How the heck did he forget that he had the perfect opportunity to talk to Evan later? He had been in a state of- worry, he admitted to himself.

He had been worried about Evan Hansen all weekend. Even before that unhelpful phone call. His worry was the reason he even called in the first place.

Hearing Evan's wiped out voice and Connor's right after had- Well, let's just say, "What was he supposed to think?" But Evan seemed normal. As normal as Evan could get, at least. That didn't nessecarily calm his nerves.

But now he had a surefire way of getting the answers he wanted. He was Evan's ride home, after all.

________________________________

"See you tomorrow?" The words always came out a question, no matter how many time he said them. This friendship, an actual, for real life, not family friendship, friendship felt too good to be true.

He always felt like Connor might slip away at any moment, like he would realize what a complete and total failure of a person Evan Hansen Really Was, or like he would wake up one day and find out Connor was just a figment of his imagination. That their friendship was just a sad invention.

"I'll see you tomorrow," Connor confirmed, and Evan was temporarily brought out of the feeling. He waved goodbye awkwardly, and made for the parking lot.

He knew something was off the moment he saw Jared's expression through the window. He cautiously slipped into the passenger's seat. Jared gave him an unnerving smile that he wearily returned. Jared pulled out of his spot and they turned out of the lot. He didn't say anything for a minute. Evan knew that it was best to wait for Jared to say whatever he was going to say. That didn't make it easy.

"So," Jared said loudly, big smile still stretched over his face. "Did the two of you get below the belt?"

"What?"

"I never pegged you for the type to go at it all night, Evan," Jared said, slightly teasing, but complete seriousness backing his tone. Evan was beyond confused.

"What the- what on Earth are you talking about?" Jared's unsettling smile turned into an unsettling grimace.

"I thought I told you to call me if he tried anything funny," he said, voice holding some unidentifiable emotion in it. Evan hated conversations like this. He could never understand what exactly the point being made was.

"You did. He didn't try anything," he said honestly. Jared gave a slightly disbelieving scoff.

"Then why were you still with him at 3:00 am in the morning?" Jared exploded slightly. Evan flinched. "And don't tell me that you "lost track time while talking,"" he snapped. "Because I'm not buying that for a second."

Evan floundered for a response. Eventually he choked out an indignant, "But that- that's what happened!" Jared's expression was that of complete disbelief. "Jared, I swear, we only talked. As soon as we realized what time it was, he took me home."

"Yeah, sure he did. And I bet he also fixed you a nice snack and tucked you into bed to make sure you're safe," he said sarcastically. "I'm not an idiot, Evan."

Evan flushed slightly, and mumbled something unintelligible. Jared froze. "What was that?" He asked, a bit of frost seeping into his tone.

"I said he really only did half of that," Evan mumbled again, louder this time, refusing to look in Jared's direction. At Jared's cold, yet expectant, silence, he explained further. "I fell asleep. So, he- he tucked me in," he managed to stammer out.

Jared was quiet. Too quiet. Way too quiet for a normal person, let alone for Jared. Evan was getting worried. He chanced a glance in his direction.

The boy was staring blankly at the road ahead. He had a white knuckled grip on the steering wheel. Thankfully, the car was on the empty street that would eventually lead to Evan's house, because it's speed was gradually increasing.

Finally, Jared spoke in an oddly strained voice. "I don't believe you."

"What?"

"I don't really think that I believe you, Evan," he said again, a bit of sarcastic hysteria in his tone. "I think that you're messing with me. I think that you just want to make me feel like a jerk compared to your new friend. Because, of course, he talks to you, and invites you over just to hang out. And of course he tucks you in to make sure you're alright, and he's 'not so bad', and you trust him oh, so completely."

Evan was starting to feel more worried than usual as Jared continued. As the speed of Jared's words increased, so did the car, and so did Evan's heart rate. Jared's words continued.

"Jared-" he tried to cut in.

"I mean, how long do you really think this will keep up, Evan? Do you think that you're suddenly a freakin miracle worker now that you've gotten the school freak on your side?"

"J- Jared-" Evan tried again, nerves seeping into his tone. The car was starting to swerve a little.

"Do you think you're special now that you've got this new 'best friend'?"

"Jared!" He said once more, louder, panic fully blooming in his chest when the speed started to feel really unnatural.

"Do you think-"

"JARED!" Evan lunged for the steering wheel as the car headed horrifically towards the fence by the road. He yanked it in the opposite direction as Jared suddenly slammed on the breaks. The only thought in his head was, 'Don't crash, don't crash, don'tcrashdon'tcrashdon'tcrash-!'

The car skidded to a halt by the side of the road. Neither boy moved, the reality of what had just happened taking a moment to register. Of course, once it did, Evan stopped being able to breath.

Tears that had collected in his eyes started to spill over as they clogged his throat. The seatbelt was pulled too tightly. The seat was too warm, his clothes were too itchy, and the colors of everything around him were too bright. Even the sound of his own breathing, or lack thereof, was too much. The car was restricting, and terrifying, and he had almost- It was too much, all too much, too much, he couldn't breathe-

He fumbled with his buckle and pushed the car door open. He let his body spill over the grass and everything was still too much, but he could breathe. He inhaled deep gulps of air like a dying man as the world around him continued on too brightly, and too noisily, and too much. He allowed himself to sob freely, feeling so out of place in this bright picture that felt like it had been painted in neons, where he was the only beige spot. It was suffocating, and all he could do was try to breathe. Breathe, because if he didn't breathe he would die, and it felt like he had only just stopped that from happening, and oh, how that statement made him wish he meant the almost car crash that had just taken place.

It took a good ten minuets for him to realize that someone was trying to speak to him.

"- Evan! Shit, man, talk to me. What do you need? Where's your inhaler?" Jared's panicked voice came from somewhere up above. "What should I do? What-"

"Jared," Evan croaked out. Jared shut up. "Just sit. I- need a minute." Jared sat down obediently, wringing his hands, and adjusting his glasses, which kept fogging up.

"What do I-?"

"Just talk."

"Talk?"

"It- it helps."

So Jared began to talk. They sat there, on the side of the road while Evan let his mind turn down the vibrancy level of the world. After fifteen minutes, his vision returned to normal, and he could only faintly hear the blood pumping in his ears. He looked over at Jared, whose voice had quickly become background noise, and focused back in.

"... so then- hey," he stopped when he saw Evan staring. "Are you okay now?" Evan nodded shakily. "What was that?"

"Sensory overload," Evan mumbled. They sat quietly until Evan suddenly leveled Jared with a blank stare. "We could have gotten hurt," he said.

Jared shifted. "Yeah."

"You almost crashed the car."

The wince was almost audible. "Yeah."

"What were you thinking?!" Jared flinched once more as he looked away. "You could have landed us in the hospital! Jared, what-?" He cut himself off.

"I'm sorry," Jared breathed, barely above a whisper. "I'm sorry." Evan did nothing but look at him. He forgave Jared a lot. But this... "I just," Jared spoke up again. "I don't understand what's going on with you, and I'm worried because you're my-" he stopped. Evan could hear the unspoken word in the air. But if he was going to have this conversation, he needed Jared to be honest.

"What, Jared?" He pressed. "What am I? Because last I checked, family friends don't even bother to sign your cast. If I'm a family friend, why should you worry?" He wasn't being sarcastic. There was nothing reprimanding about his tone. He was simply searching for answers, and he knew he deserved them.

But Jared didn't answer. He only looked away with a mumbled, "Whatever." Evan felt something like righteous anger wash over him.

He could have just gotten landed in the hospital. Again. And the best Jared would do to explain why he would have been in their in the first place was "Whatever"!?

He got up and grabbed his backpack from the open car. Jared looked at him inquisitorially as he shouldered it with some difficulty. He barely spared him a glance as he started walking away.

"Where are you going?" Jared called after him. "Evan?"

"Home," he responded stiffly.

"That's where I'm taking you," Jared protested.

Evan finally looked back at him. A tremor of slight terror washed over him when he looked at the car, but it was diminished by his anger. After all that, he still- Jared wouldn't-

"I- I can't- I will not get back in that thing," he declared. The unspoken 'with you' was left in the air.

"How will you make it back?" Jared pushed. Evan met his gaze levelly, feeling his chest squeeze tightly.

"I can walk."

"By yourself?"

"I'll be fine," he said coldly, even as tears welled slightly in his eyes. Jared's expression was slightly hurt. He turned and walked away.

"Evan!" Jared called after him.

He didn't look back. Not even as he felt pain in his chest. He couldn't be near that car right now. He definitely couldn't be near Jared. Not if he wasn't going to be honest with him for once.

"I'll be fine," he repeated.

Jared made no more movements to stop him.

Evan's face remained dry all throughout the trek to his house. He expected tears. He was absentmindedly grateful that his mom wasn't home. But even as he waited to feel regret, to feel the crushing reality that he had just left his oldest companion behind, to feel the need to apologize, he knew it wouldn't come. He knew he was in the right for once. He opened his front door with the key they kept under the pot.

It was a surprisingly intoxicating feeling, he thought as he shut the door behind him. Being on the side that felt right, all sides of his brain agreeing. It was a feeling he would like to get used to.

He walked up the stairs. Maybe he should talk to Connor about it.

 

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Chapter Text

Chapter 11

Heidi knew something was off when she walked into her home early. There was a different energy to the house. Call it maternal instinct, but she felt that the change had something to do with Evan.

"Evan? Honey? I'm home early! They don't need me at the hospital tonight, and classes were cancelled!" She heard his bedroom door open and watched him as he walked down the stairs. He looked happy. Well, more content, than happy. But there was something off.

On Saturday morning, when she had come home, they'd had a small discussion about how dinner went. He had mumbled a small, "Pretty good," and told her that he and Connor had spent most of the time talking. He had looked content then, too.

But now, it seemed there was something different.

He did a slight double take when he saw her. "Y-you're wearing the bitter- I mean- the clip," he said, something pleased and confused about his tone.

Heidi smiled. She really did like the clip, and even though it was bit nice to wear to work, she had decided there was no time like the present.

"Uh huh," she agreed brightly. "So, I was thinking we could have Taco Tuesday a day early, since I'm free," she said, setting her purse down. When she looked at her son, it looked like he was trying not to appear too hopeful and it hurt her a bit. But she knew it was justified. She didn't get to spend time with him often.

"Are you sure? I mean- you won't get called in?" Heidi shook her head.

"Do you have homework?"

"I'm almost done," he said eagerly.

"Great! You finish while I start making dinner."

Evan nodded and turned to go back up the stairs. Even though Heidi was pleased to see him, she still couldn't shake the feeling that something was off. Like there was this shift that she couldn't place.

As she pulled out the shells from the pantry to make dinner, she decided she would try to get Evan to tell her what had happened.

A good forty-five minuets later, they had finished getting dinner ready.

"So how was your day?" Heidi asked brightly, as she sat down.

She tried not to grimace at the black tint in some places on the lettuce. She had almost burned it because Evan had appeared in the kitchen suddenly, startling her, and she had dropped it on the stovetop. Needless to say, as soon as she had safely gotten it off the stove, Evan was apologizing profusely. He had just needed to take his nighttime medication, and hadn't meant to be so quiet.

After that, she had finished making dinner while Evan continued his string of apologies and set the table.

At her question, Evan startled. He had been in the middle of his first bite, so he almost choked trying to respond. He managed to swallow his food with a grimace as some of the taco meat fell on his plate.

"It was okay," he said after some difficulty.

"What happened?" She gazed at him worriedly when he got a strange look on his face. "Honey?"

"I- I got into a fight with Jared," he admitted. At her horrified look, he rushed to continue. "N- nothing physical!" He waved his hands wildly. "It- I just didn't like how he was treating me?" He looked away. "So I called him out on it, but he wouldn't give me a reason, or a proper explanation, so I- I decided to leave. He tried to stop me, but he still wouldn't give me an explanation. I got angry, and I left."

Heidi felt tears well in her eyes. She looked at her boy, who looked like he was waiting for reprimand, and felt a surge of pride. He didn't look like he regretted leaving. That meant more to her than anything.

He saw her tears and his expression immediately went into panic mode. "Mom?" He asked, worried. "Mom, I'm sorry. But I just couldn't anymore, and I know you wanted me and Jared to be friends, but I just couldn't stay, and I know it means that I'll probably have to walk home, which will make you worry more, but-"

"Evan," she cut him off. "I'm not mad, honey. I'm proud of you. You stuck up for yourself. Against a friend. Sometimes that is the hardest thing in the world to do. I'm so proud of you," she repeated, firmly. It took her years to figure out when it was best to just leave. She was happy she had managed to do something right to teach Evan that.

"Really? I thought you- you're not upset? You always seemed so happy whenever I hung out with Jared, and I know you wanted-"

"Do you regret it?" She cut him off.

"Wh- huh?"

"Do you regret leaving?"

Evan paused, as if taking a moment to really consider it.

"No. I- it felt right," he admitted. "It still does." Heidi smiled brightly.

"Good!" She exclaimed. "As long as you're sure, I support you. We'll work out that other stuff later," she promised. "For now, lets just eat tacos."

The small smile she got in response made her proud of herself. They bit into their tacos at the same time.

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'What am I?'

The question ricocheted around in his head. Jared tried to ignore it as he drove in the direction of his home. Piercing green eyes flashed through his mind. He growled to himself.

What in the world did he just do?

One second he was angry, sickening thing in his gut roaring, the next, Evan was lying on the ground, having a panic attack. Or a sensory overload. Jared had seen Evan go through both before. He hadn't known what to. So he just did what Evan told him, and talked.

Once, when they were fourteen, Evan had broken down during one of their not really a sleepover sleepovers. He had received a text from his dad that had freaked him out so badly that he had thrown his phone across the room. Evan had curled into a ball and started hyperventilating as he sobbed.

Jared hadn't known what to do then, either. He hadn't even known what a panic attack was. So he did the only thing he knew how to do; he let Evan lean against him and just held him until he fell asleep, exhausted.

They had stopped having sleepovers soon after that,

Jared made a turn onto the main road and tried to continue going over what had just happened.

After calming down, Evan had gotten angry. Really angry. Jared still winced at the amount of shame he felt at almost causing that crash. He had apologized, tried to explain what happened. But pride had overtaken him before he could finish. He hadn't been able to give his complete apology.

And then Evan had pushed. He deserved answers, Jared knew. But he couldn't give him any. Not honest ones.

Evan had walked away. He had full on walked away. And Jared still couldn't give him an answer, even as the thing in his gut clenched tightly.

Pride was a bitch.

As Jared made a turn, the question pounded incessantly, demanding recognition.

'What am I?'

Jared couldn't even answer when he was by himself. He didn't know how he would have answered if he had managed to wrestle his pride out of the way. He knew it wouldn't have been in a way Evan was expecting. But then again, what did he know about Evan these days?

'What will he do?' He wondered to himself. 'How will he make it?'

'I'll be fine.'

Jared wished that he believed the words weren't true. But they were. Evan would be fine without him. But would he be fine without Evan?

"What is he to me?" He asked himself. The answer wouldn't come. He was kind of grateful for that.

________________________________

The next day, at lunch, Connor arrived to a table without Jared there.

"Hey," he greeted.

"Hi," Evan responded. This was their customary introduction now. Connor admitted he kind of enjoyed it. They talked for a few minutes. Still no Kleinman. Well, he wasn't complaining.

Evan seemed to be waiting to say something, if him practically bouncing in his seat was anything to go by.

"Alright, I'll bite," he said. "What is it that you're obviously waiting to say?" Evan flushed.

"Am- am I really that obvious?" Connor raised an eyebrow. "Oh."

"So?" Connor prompted. "What is it?" Evan's lip did that twitchy thing it did whenever he was trying to contain his excitement over something.

"Okay, so what happened was- Well, after school- When Jared was driving me home-" he could seem to get it out right. He took a deep breath, and it all came out at once.

"Yesterday, Jared got upset. Because of- we'll not because of, more about you," he said, and Connor almost did a double take. Alrighty then. That was something. "He started accusing me of abusing your hanging around so much. He was starting to swerve a lot. We almost crashed into the fence. We would have crashed into the fence," he corrected himself. "I- I think I stopped us. I had a- um. I got sensory overload afterwards, which caused a mild panic attack, so I don't really remember how we stopped."

Connor was frozen in his seat. 'What,' he thought to himself. Evan was still going. "Anyways-"

"Wait," he cut him off. "You almost crashed?" Evan nodded. "Because of Kleinman?" Evan nodded again. And just like that, Jared lost any points he ever had on Connor's respect chart. "Are you okay?" Evan nodded. "Good. Because I'm going to kill him," he growled.

How dare he. How. Dare. He. How dare he almost hurt Evan? How dare he almost put Evan in a car crash?

Connor had been in a car crash once. It hadn't been anything extremely serious, and he hadn't gotten hurt more than a scrape on his knee, but he was eleven, and it was not an experience he wished upon anyone.

All Connor could see was red. Kleinman wasn't even going to know what hit him. Maybe a car. Before he could get up to go murder the jerk, Evan interrupted.

"Wait," he said. "That's not what I wanted to tell you."

"There's something more important than you almost getting in a car crash?" Evan nodded. Connor stayed reluctantly. Killing Kleinman would have to wait.

"After I calmed down from my- after I calmed down, he apologized. He told me he was just worried about me." Connor snorted derisively. "That was weak." Evan nodded. "I asked him why." At that, Connor's interest was piqued.

"What did he say?"

"That's the thing. He wouldn't give me an answer. I asked him why he was so worried if I was just- just a family friend." Evan said the words with an obvious distaste. "He still wouldn't answer. So I left." Connor's head shot up.

"You left?" Evan nodded, looking a bit proud. "Did he try to stop you?"

"A bit. It didn't seem like he actually believed I would leave. He kept asking me what I thought I was doing. I told him I couldn't- that I wouldn't go near his car again. He asked if I was really planning on walking home by myself. I told him I'd be fine. And I left."

Connor stared at him for a moment. "I don't think I've ever been more proud to call you my friend," he said with as much sincerity as he could muster. Evan looked momentarily confused.

"What? Why?" Connor shot him an incredulous look.

"You didn't excuse Kleinman's crap. You stood up for yourself!"

He watched Evan's chest well with pride.

"I did. I really did," he said. "You know, I expected to feel bad? But, I didn't. I don't. I- I know I'm right." He smiled at Connor, the same smile that was drawn on the paper that lay on Connor's desk. "I have you to thank for that," he said.

"Me?" That was unexpected. Why would he feel grateful towards him? He hadn't done anything. He hadn't even been there. "Why?"

"I don't think I would have had the courage to leave if I hadn't known you would agree with me," he said, and wow, did that do something to Connor's head.

People were always treating Connor like he was something to be feared. His fath- Larry ignored him when he could. His mom treated him like broken glass. Zoe hadn't been so bad lately, but she still thought he would mess everything up. Even M had left, and ignored him. The one therapist Larry had allowed him to go to at age twelve thought he was beyond repair. The whole school thought he was some sort of monster. And he couldn't blame them. Somewhere along the lines, he had started believing them. That he would only hurt anything he touched.

But here was Evan Hansen, telling him he had helped him. Helped him without even being there, because the thought that he would agree with him gave him the courage to do what he had felt was right.

And Connor was suddenly so, eternally grateful that he had managed to get Evan as a friend. But he still had to correct Evan on the fact that he wouldn't have been able to do it without Connor,

"You still did it on your own. You sticking up for yourself was all you. You did that." And apparently it was the right thing to say. Because Evan full on beamed at him.

Connor thought that maybe, just maybe, he wasn't so bad. If he could inspire Evan to do something productive, then maybe he wasn't a monster. When Evan talked to him like this, he certainly didn't feel like one.

________________________________

The rest of the day passed as normal. On their way to one of their classes, Connor had spotted Jared, and quickly hurried Evan in the opposite direction.

Now, they were walking to the place where they usually parted ways, when Evan came to a sudden realization.

"I never asked Mom how I'd be getting home," he told Connor. He chuckled slightly, but it was mostly sad. "I'm going to have to walk."

And apparently, he had just said something really stupid, because Connor's head whipped around, Beautifully Not Tangled Hair flying like he was in some sort of L'Oréal hair commercial, and looked at him like he was an idiot.

"Okay, first off, fuck that," he stated. "I'll drive you," he said mater of factly. Evan flushed.

"O- oh, no, you don't have to!" He sputtered. "It's not- it's not that far, I can walk! Besides, I wouldn't want to inconvenience you, really it's no big deal-"

"Evan," Connor cut him off, a bit of annoyance in his tone. Evan looked up at him. "I've driven to your house before. It's not that bad a trip by car, but it would be way too long if a walk. Let me give you a ride." Evan looked away, mumbling to himself.

Connor seemed to get more annoyed as he stood there. He let out an exasperated sigh and ran a hand through his hair, pulling it back, and Evan was momentarily distracted. "Jeez, look." He turned so that he was facing the smaller boy head on. "You're not "inconveniencing" me, or whatever. I wouldn't have offered if I didn't want to."

It was all Evan could do to give a shaky nod. "Oh. O-okay then," he agreed, and Connor gave that half-smirk thing he did when he was pleased with himself.

They walked to the parking lot where Connor's car sat. Evan tried not to wince when he looked at it. It might have been Jared's car that had almost crashed, but his fear of letting someone else drive him certainly hadn't been helped by the incident.

Connor cast a slightly worried look over his shoulder at Evan, and something seemed to dawn on his face.

"Shit, I wasn't thinking. You were just almost in a- fuck. You gonna be alright?" Evan gave him a small nod. He could do this. He could still get in a car. Just not Jared's.

"I- it's alright, I'll be alright." Connor gave him a reproachful look, but didn't press further. Evan hesitated. "Um, which- where should I sit?"

"Just take the passenger's seat," he said. "Zoe won't mind." Oh. Zoe. He hadn't given her much thought since Friday night. That was new. He didn't let himself dwell on that thought for long.

He shakily opened his door after Connor had slid behind the wheel. He sat hesitantly. Connor started the engine, and Evan was thankful for the cool air.

"Okay, I gotta warn you, my sister might give you a bit of a hard time, and I well, you know. Get angry easily. So, yeah," Connor said after a minuet of waiting for Zoe. "She might also be very surprised."

Evan tried for a reassuring smile. "It's fine," he said. "I won't be upset if the two of you aren't perfect."

"You really deserve better company," Connor said, and Evan flushed. "You're like a saint or something." Evan did not agree with this statement.

He wasn't a saint. Saints didn't cause their mothers problems. Saints didn't have voices telling them everything that could possibly go wrong. Saints didn't lie compulsively. Saints didn't climb trees with no safe plan to get down.

Before he could do something stupid, like say what he was thinking, he spotted Zoe walking towards them. He let out a little noise that sounded nothing like, "Your sister's here," and flapped his arm weirdly, but Connor seemed to get the message. He turned to look in her direction as she spotted them.

"Are you sure you'll be alright?" Connor checked once more.

"Y-yeah," he mumbled as confirmation. And then Zoe was there, standing at Connor's window, and, just in case, he prepared himself for the worst.

________________________________

Zoe didn't know quite what to think when she saw Evan sitting in her brother's car. She stopped as Connor rolled the window down.

"Get in loser, we're taking Evan home," he said, and Zoe snorted.

"Yes Regina George," she responded mockingly, as she slid into the back seat. "Is he forcing you to come with us?" She asked Evan once she was buckled, and the boy startled, as if he wasn't expecting the sudden attention.

"What? Umm, n-no?" He said, seeming surprised that she had even suggested it. "I- I- my mom can't pick me up, so- so Connor offered."

"Right," she said, giving her brother a glance. He caught her eye on the review mirror. He looked away and pulled out of the parking lot. "Is this going to be an everyday thing?"

"Um, I- I don't- what- C-Connor?" The anxious boy turned to her brother, who just looked ahead.

"If you want, we'll take you home from now on, Evan. I'm sure Zoe won't mind if you need us to. Right, Zoe?" He asked pointedly, and Zoe growled internally. That jerk had unnecessarily trapped her in a corner. It wasn't like she would have said no in the first place.

"'Course not," she said. The car descended into silence. "Does mom know we're not going straight home?"

"Zoe, nothing we do is ever straight," he said carelessly, and Evan nearly choked on air.

Zoe gave him a reproachful look as he calmed down. "Do you have a problem with that?" She asked, bristling. He didn't seem the type to have a problem with stuff like that, but one never knows for sure. Evan started waving his arms around apologetically.

"N-no! I- I just wasn't expecting it! We- the topic never came up. I- I don't have a problem," he managed, and Zoe sat back in her seat. "B- besides, I'm bi," he admitted. Huh. Well, she couldn't say she was surprised. She tried not to assume.

"Pan," she stated, referring to herself. Evan gave her a watery smile, and she returned it with a grin.

"Wh- what about you, Connor?" Evan asked.

"Gay, all the way," he admitted. "I found out when I watched my first Spider-Man movie."

"I remember that," Zoe said. "Dad got upset when you told him after the movie that you didn't want to go on a date with a girl as long as guys like Peter Parker existed." Evan gave a small chuckle. Connor gave her a mock upset expression in the mirror.

"Way to divulge my coming out story, Zo," he said without any real bite. "If I remember correctly, when he asked, 'If you take Spider-Man, who'll do the kiss with Gwen?' you confidently volunteered."

"Hey! I wanted to say it!"

"You told him mine, it's only fair."

"Umm-" Evan interrupted. "If- uh- if it helps, I found out I was bi when I was watching Jared play video games."

Connor made a shocked noise. "You had a thing for Kleinman?!"

"What? No, no, no. He was playing Legend of Zelda, and he asked me if I was into Link or Zelda and, now that I think about it, I don't think he really expected an answer," he mumbled to himself. "A- anyways. I-I said, "Both," without even thinking. He was startled so much, he lost the game."

Zoe snorted loudly at the same time Connor let out a sharp bark of laughter. "Wow, Evan. Smooth." Evan flushed and twisted his hands in his shirt.

The rest of the trip to Evan's house passed in comfortable silence. Zoe couldn't help but notice that whenever they hit a bump in the road, or took a turn that was a little too sharp, or stopped abruptly, Connor would slow down a bit and cast a glance towards Evan, as if checking to see if he was okay. Evan would give him a small nod every time, clutching at his cast with white knuckles.

They finally turned onto a small, empty street with a forest park on one side and a lone house at the corner of the other. Connor pulled up to the driveway and parked with relative ease. Evan unbuckled himself with slightly shaking hands.

"T-thank you for giving me a ride," he said before he got out of the car. "See you tomorrow?"

"See you tomorrow," Connor confirmed. They stayed until Evan was at the door. He turned and gave an awkward little wave before going inside.

Then they were back to their place.

"He's... nice," Zoe said eventually. Connor snorted.

"Way to go, captain obvious," he said sarcastically. "Larry been grilling you about him lately?" Zoe shook her head.

"Nothing. He hasn't really said anything since dinner on Friday."

"Huh."

Silence.

"I'm glad you're friends, or whatever, with him," Zoe said after five minutes. "You seem good with him."

Those might not have been big words to most, but both siblings knew how much of a statement that was for them. Connor didn't respond for a long time.

"Thanks, Zo," he whispered, not looking away from the road.

Zoe smiled tentatively. That was the second time he'd thanked her. She stared at the back of her brother's head, and for the first time in a long time, she dared to hope that they could fix this relationship of theirs. Who knows? It might not be as broken as she thought.

Wouldn't that be something?

 

________________________________

Chapter Text

Chapter 12

Two months passed. Halloween came and went. They were nearing the middle of November.

They had fallen into a routine of sorts. Connor was strangely lighter during lunchtime, which, of course, had nothing to do with the fact that Jared hadn't tried to sit at their table since The Incident. Zoe and Alana joined them every once in a while. Those lunches were tense, but Alana had obliviously lightened the mood every time.

Connor continued giving Evan rides home. As time passed, Evan got better at talking around Zoe, learning that she didn't really like Jazz Band, but it was the only class that taught guitar. She seemed to understand that some topics were best left alone, and Connor could tell he was grateful for it. She and Connor fought sometimes, but it was never as bad as Connor had warned him of.

Cynthia had told Connor to let Evan know that he was welcome at any time. So, Evan had started coming over after school on Thursdays.

Early on, Connor had had a day when he woke up and knew he absolutely would not be able to stand going to school. If he went, he would have blown up at the tiniest thing, and that meant potentially hurting Zoe and Evan, which was the last thing he wanted.

Evan had arrived at their table and had nearly broken down when Connor never showed up because, 'I knew it I knew it I knew it was too good to be true he's gone he left he finally decided I wasn't worth it Jared was right how long did I think this would last-'

But then Zoe had turned up and explained that Connor was feeling sick, and Evan realized with shocking guilt that they still hadn't exchanged phone numbers.

Later that afternoon, Connor had gotten a phone call that sounded close to tears, and they talked for hours into the night.

Connor hadn't ditched since then.

They also made it a routine for them to visit the orchard every Saturday. Evan loved the apple trees, and Connor loved getting away from his house as often as he could. It was nice.

The gifts in Connor's locker had slowed down to one a week, but the notes never let up. Sometimes they were a simple, 'Have a great day!' The ones with gifts were full paragraphs explaining the reason for that day's gift. The most recent one went:

'Dear Connor Murphy,

I don't really know why I haven't stopped leaving you these. I just hope they give you something to look forward to every day. Anyways, here's another bottle of de-tangler. You know, in case you run out.

Sincerely,
Me'

Connor was, in fact, nowhere near halfway through the first bottle, but he grudgingly appreciated the gift all the same. He had quite the collection growing. He wondered if he would ever get to meet his mysterious gift giver.

Anyways, two months had passed. And at lunch, Evan had been fidgeting nervously in his seat, and his lip was doing the twitchy thing again.

"Mymomwantstoinviteyouoverfordinnertonightbutifyoudon'twanttogothat'stotallyfineitisreallyshortnoticebutifyouwanttocomeoverthatwouldbegreat," he had said, all in one breath. Connor had accepted the invite, of course.

So now, he sat at the Hansen's table, while Ms. Hansen- Heidi, she had said to call her- politely asked him non-probing questions.

"So, how exactly did you meet Evan?" She asked halfway through the meal. Evan froze slightly, obviously waiting to hear what he was going to say, because shoving a person's son was not an incident one shared with a person lightly.

"I ran into him in the computer lab," he said. "We started talking, and..." he trailed off. "Yeah." There. Not a total lie. It was how he actually got introduced to him. Just minus a few details.

"Well, I'm glad you two are friends," she said, smiling at him. "It's been a long time since Evan's had anyone over." She seemed oblivious to how uncomfortable Evan looked at that statement.

Connor, however, did notice, and tried to subtly change the topic. "I'm glad to be his friend. I don't think I've ever known more about trees in my life," he said, and couldn't help but notice Evan smile gratefully.

He had, in fact, learned quite a few things about trees from Evan's ramblings, and had begrudgingly admitted to also having developed a fascination with them. He liked examining the different leaves. They were especially interesting to draw, what with all of the different facets.

Speaking of which, he still hadn't shown Evan any of his drawings.

Heidi smiled at him, and he saw that her eyes looked suspiciously shiny. He pretended not to notice. He turned back to Evan and continued talking.

Eventually, Heidi got up to get desserts for everyone. Evan and Connor had offered to help, but she had insisted that the two of them stayed seated.

"Oh, Evan, I forgot," he said suddenly. "I wanted to tell you something. This morning, I heard a noise that sounded like a dump truck, so I turned around, because it's Friday, and Friday's not trash day, right?" Evan nodded, distractedly, appearing startled at the sudden topic change. "So I turned to look out the window, because, 'The heck, it's not trash day,'and it was a school bus," Evan was silent, obviously waiting for what was so important about this. "And I was like, 'Oh. School bus. With students. Sounded like a dump truck. With trash.' But, then I thought, 'Eh, students, trash, practically the same thing.'" Evan snorted.

"Connor-" he started. Then he laughed. He started shaking with little spurts of laughter. Connor joined in. "You- are- terrible," he got out between small hiccups of air, smiling widely.

Connor looked at him, grinning like an idiot. "And yet, you still keep me around." Evan rolled his eyes.

"Shut up."

"Sassy, Hansen." This statement caused the two of them another bout of laughter.

"Connor, I'm sorry, I forgot to ask what kind of ice cream you- oh!" Heidi appeared in the doorway that went straight from the kitchen to the dining room. She stopped at their laughter.

Connor calmed down enough to say, "Whatever you have is fine." Heidi nodded absently, staring at Evan, who was still giggling somewhat uncontrollably, a little misty eyed.

They ate dessert. Connor thanked Heidi for the meal. She told him he was welcome anytime. Evan walked him to his car.

"You're mom is nice," he told him. Evan gave a small smile.

"I know," he said, and there was something in his tone that made Connor want to ask something, but he didn't know what he would ask, so he stayed quiet.

"I'll be here tomorrow to pick you up," he said instead, and Evan nodded brightly.

"Can - could you bring your drawings this time?" Evan asked eagerly. Connor chuckled.

"Sure," he said, and Evan's face lit up. "See you, Ev." The nickname rolled off of his tongue. The first time he'd called him that, he hadn't known what to expect. It was something he hadn't really thought about. The name had come out naturally, and though Evan had flushed and barely stuttered his next couple of sentences out, he hadn't complained. So Connor kept calling him by it, and that was that.

He knew the nickname made Evan happy, anyways. "Jared never gave me any nicknames. Besides calling me an acorn once," he had explained, to which Connor had responded with, "Yeah, well. You have a real friend now, Ev."

He swore that Evan's answering smile had made him temporarily blind.

He got into his car and gave Evan one last wave before making his way home. He was in a pretty good mood. Things were good. 'It won't last,' the voice in his head said. 'It didn't last with Miguel.'

"Evan's not like M," he told the empty car. Miguel hadn't texted him since Connor had reached out to him on the first day. "Evan's... Evan."

'And Miguel was Miguel,' the voice responded.

"Shut up," he told the voice. He parked in his driveway and headed for the front door, and froze.

He could hear yelling from inside the house. He carefully opened the front door and made a break for the stairs. They were yelling in the family room. 'How ironic,' Connor thought to himself disdainfully. He was halfway up the stairs, when he heard what Larry was saying.

"...I don't care, Cynthia! The point is is that you're treating him to delicately! We're not sending him to therapy!" Oh. It was this fight again. Connor had carefully asked his mother that morning if he could start seeing a therapist. The past months might have been going well, but facts were that his mind was still ill, and the medication he had been using couldn't cure everything. She had agreed to talk to his father about it. It seemed that that wasn't going down very well.

"Larry, he's been getting better! He hasn't been smoking, or ditching school, and he has a friend! He wants to stay getting better, and I did some reading, and besides medication, a therapist seems like the best idea! Why don't you want to help him?!" Wow. It seemed like Mom finally got it after all these years. His heart went out to her a bit.

"For exactly the reason you said! He's been getting along fine! He doesn't need to see some stupid shrink!"

"Jesus Christ, Larry have you ever heard of relapses?! He doesn't want things to go back to how they were before! A therapist can help with that!"

"Cynthia-" Connor didn't stick around to hear the rest of the fight. He couldn't bare to listen to another word out of Larry's mouth.

He was always like this. Before, Connor would yell that his father just didn't want to acknowledge that his kid wasn't the perfect son he had wanted. He would scream about wanting therapy and how "God knows this family can afford it!" But right now Connor just wanted the yelling to go away.

He flopped onto his bed, kicking off his shoes and pulling his jacket around himself tightly. He tried to block out the noise from downstairs. He refused to feel bad about it. He was trying to get better. His mom saw it, but Larry couldn't. That was why they were fighting.

It still felt like it was his fault, though.

He let it a long suffering sigh. He debated calling Evan. They had started turning to each other to dump their shitloads of struggles with mental illnesses, and they had quickly discovered that the sooner they just said what was bothering them, the better they felt instead of letting it stew and bubble to the surface unexpectedly.

Actually dealing with their problems was a whole other process that was incredibly slow going at the moment. But, hey. Years of unhealthy coping mechanisms weren't going to change in the blink of an eye. But they could start.

He was about to pull out his phone, when a knock sounded at his bedroom door.

"Connor?" Zoe's voice was filtered by the heavy wooden door. He grumbled.

"Yes?"

"Can I come in?"

"..."

"Please?"

"Yeah," he said, back facing the door, jacket still curled around his frame like a defense mechanism. He heard the creak of his door hinges as she walked in quietly. The voices became clearer with the door no longer blocking them out.

"Cynthia, you can't just let him do whatever he wants! How do you know that he's getting better?! He's hardly even here anymore, always spending time with that boy!" He spat the last word as if Evan were a filthy criminal. "I wouldn't be surprised if he's-" The door swung shut behind Zoe, and Connor was grateful for it.

"It's really bad down there, isn't it?" She asked quietly. Connor scoffed.

"It's always bad," he responded. It was true. Shouting matches in the Murphy household were held at least three times a week. "Come sit." Zoe sat next to her brother.

The two of them had been getting along better lately. A little push in the right direction was all they needed to try and reconnect again. Many late night discussions and nail paintings had been done. They bickered constantly, but they hadn't had an argument that ended in shouting and doors slamming for over a month. An impressive accomplishment for the two siblings.

Two months ago, in this situation they would either be having an argument of their own, or Zoe would be shut in her room blasting music while Connor would either bang on her door and tell her to shut up, or he would sneak out and get high.

Now they sought comfort in each other, and the weed sat untouched in the back of Connor's closet.

"It could be worse," Connor sighed, sitting up. Zoe shook her head.

"You didn't hear them before," she said. "It is worse." There was a pause. Connor suddenly had to ask.

"How long have they been at it?" He meant to ask, but it came out more like a statement of something to which he already knew the answer.

"They were already well into it when I got home," she said, and Connor made a noise that was open to be interpreted as general displeasure with the situation. "I'm sorry, Connor."

"What?" What did she have to be sorry for? "What did you do?"

"No, that's not-" She let out a frustrated sigh. "I'm sorry that Dad's being like this."

"He's always like this," Connor said darkly. Zoe shook her head again.

"He normally doesn't say things like that. Not even about people who aren't family," she said, and Connor's head whipped around to face her, confused.

"What are you talking about?They're arguing about sending me to therapy. What does that have to do with other people?" Zoe suddenly looked panicked and very pained.

"You didn't hear the whole argument, did you?" Connor stared at her, a horrible feeling washing over him. "Connor, they only started talking about therapy five minutes ago. They've been arguing about Evan." Connor's gut clenched. He turned to face her completely and attempted to keep his voice under control.

"Zoe, what did Dad say about Evan?"

________________________________

Zoe watched her brother carefully. His reaction terrified her.

Or rather, his total lack of reaction terrified her. While she had been talking, his face had gone blank. Completely blank. She had expected an all out anger, and yelling, and righteous fury towards their father.

Heck, she was furious. She had come to consider Evan a friend somewhat. He was a good person, and definitely didn't deserve the commentary her dad had so blatantly shared. But she didn't want to be a part of that conversation, and had shut herself up in her room.

When she had decided to check up on Connor, she had expected him to take his anger out on her. Instead, he had invited her in. It was a far cry from how they used to interact.

But now he had bowed his head so that his hair was covering his face, shielding his expression.

"... and that's when they started talking about therapy," she concluded. He turned away from her as she finished telling him the finer details of their parents' argument.

They sat in silence until Zoe started feeling even more uncomfortable. Suddenly, Connor stood up and headed for the door.

"Connor?"

He turned to look at her, and the look in his eyes terrified her more than the emotionless face he wore. It was a fury that she recognized. It wasn't for himself, he was angry on someone else's behalf. Namely; Evan.

"I'll be right back, Zo." His voice was devoid of emotion other than a slight tremble of anger. She worried that someone was about to get hurt. "Stay here."

"I'm coming with you," she insisted. He looked at her for a long moment before turning away.

"Fine. Just stay behind me, alright?" Her heart swelled at the implied message of, 'I don't want to hurt you.' She got up as he opened the door.

The voices flooded back in.

"-I don't care about your stupid pride, Larry! I won't let your fragile masculinity hurt my son!"

They walked down the stairs.

"My masculinity has nothing to do with this! He's just trying to get attention, and I won't tolerate his methods of trying to get it!"

They made their way down the hall.

"He just wants "attention"!? Of course he wants attention! He wants you to pay attention to the fact that he needs help!"

Connor stopped in the entryway. Zoe stood a few steps behind him.

"He doesn't need help! He-" Their dad stopped short at the sight of the two of them standing there. Mom turned to look at them, and Zoe could see the tears tracks on her angry red cheeks.

The house went silent for the first time in hours. Connor was staring at their Dad with a blank, scrutinizing look on his face. Finally, he spoke up.

"Why?" He asked simply. Dad looked at him, uncomprehending.

"What?"

"Why would you say something like that?" Their parents stood, frozen.

"Connor?" Mom spoke up, concern making her voice wobble. "What are you talking about?"

He didn't look at her. "Why would you say something like that about Evan, Larry?" He still spoke in that calm, carefully controlled, tone.

Dad bristled, obviously thinking that the two of them must have heard the entire argument, which wasn't true. Only Zoe had heard. But she hadn't held back any details when relaying the events to her brother.

"Connor-"

"What could he have possibly done to masked you say something like that? He's the last person who deserves that." Their father stood up taller.

"I'm not having this conversation with you right now, Connor," he said dismissively. No, defensively. He was putting up a wall.

Connor tore right through it. "No, you are," he pushed. "You can't just ignore everything! First, you won't admit that I need help, then you insult my friend and act like you haven't done anything?! Evan does not deserve to be called something like that!"

"He's right, Larry," Zoe spoke up, startling herself with the unfamiliar form of address. But she couldn't afford to accept the familial bond she had with the man in their living room at the moment. "Evan is the nicest person I've ever met, and I don't think you have any right to say something like that."

"Zoe-"

"Why would you call Evan a retarded mocky?!" Connor exploded, and their mother paled.

"Mocky." A derogatory term for those of Jewish descent. It's believed to derive from the Yiddish word "makeh," meaning "plague". It wasn't something you wanted to hear from your parent's mouth when describing your friend. Especially not when combined with the word "retarded".

"How dare you? How dare you?! Zoe told me exactly what you said."

"Connor-"

"You called him a "retarded mocky"!" He cried. "You said that you should have expected that I would eventually turn to making friends with a retarded mocky in order to get attention !" Connor had tears gathering in his eyes. "How fucking dare you?!"

Zoe watched them fight. Her brother was advancing towards their father as he shouted. The two of them got sharper, taller, more intimidating. But Connor had righteousness on his side, and their father seemed to know it.

"Connor, please," Mom begged. "Please calm down, he didn't mean it!" Connor rounded on her, and his expression softened, just a little.

"No, Mom. Thank you for trying to talk to him, but it's obvious that he doesn't care," he said, voice barely under a shout. Larry bristled.

"Now you listen here, young man. You don't get to-"

"You have no right to tell me to do anything, Larry!" Connor yelled. "You have called me horrible things ever since you realized I wasn't the perfect son you wanted! You accuse me of being high when I do something you don't like! You assume that I'm just acting out when I'm obviously not okay! But do not. Do. Not-" he repeated, "talk about Evan that way!"

Larry was silent. Zoe saw her brother's chest heave up and down with short, tempered breaths.

"Go to your room Connor," Larry said, tiredly. "I will not put up with you anymore."

As Zoe felt her chest well with fury, Connor appeared to inflate with it. Then, the fight seemed to drain out of him. He looked at Larry with an unidentifiable sadness, before turning away.

And Zoe saw red. She turned to her father angrily. "What the fuck!?"

"Zoe, please-"

"No!" She shouted. "Connor's right! You had no right to call Evan any of those things! You have no right to ignore the fact that your son is hurting! That both of us are hurting! You have no right to deny him the help he needs!"

"Zo, stop," Connor said, sounding tired. "It no use. Goodnight, Mom," he said as he walked away. Zoe watched him go back down the hall.

"Connor!" Larry shouted.

He didn't turn back. Zoe turned to her mother.

"I'm going to bed, Mom. I love you," she said, before heading for the stairs.

"Zoe!"

"Enough, Larry," Mom said, sounding exhausted. "That's enough."

Zoe reached the top of the stairs to find Connor waiting for her by her door. She approached him carefully.

"Are you okay?" He shook his head.

"No."

Zoe huffed. "Evan didn't deserve that. You didn't deserve that."

Connor gave a slight sigh. "Thanks, Zoe."

"You're welcome, Connor," she said, and she knew he knew what she meant. They really were a far cry from how they used to be.

"It's still early. Wanna paint my nails?" He asked.

"Only if you do my hair," she bargained. He gave her a small smile.

A far cry indeed.

________________________________

Chapter Text

Chapter 13

Evan was worried. Connor had been acting strange ever since he'd picked him up that morning to go to the orchard. Not in any particular way, but. Something was off, and he couldn't tell what. Everything he did seemed normal, well, normal for them, but there was this nagging feeling in the back of his head that Connor wasn't telling him something.

It was making him really anxious, and he almost laughed because, "When is Evan Hansen not anxious?"

But he was worried about Connor, so he didn't laugh, and he just sat in the passenger's seat, and tried to figure out what could have happened to make Connor look so sad whenever they made eye contact.

But then he remembered that he and Connor were trying really hard to be open with each other and Connor would want him to say what he was feeling before it ate away at him so badly that he caused himself another panic attack.

"Is something wrong?" He asked before he could talk himself down from the question, and Connor started at the sudden question.

"What?" Evan fumbled with the hem of his shirt and barreled on before he could chicken out.

"It's just-" He struggled to form his words for a second. "I just- It feels like you're not telling me something, and I know that it's probably nothing, but if I don't ask it's just going to bother me all day and I don't want to not really have fun today because of something as stupid as my paranoia-"

"Ev," Connor interrupted. He sighed. "You're not being paranoid."

"Then, what is it?"

"It's... it's Larry." 'Oh no,' Evan thought. 'He's using his "my dad was being an asshole" tone.' This couldn't be good.

"What happened?" Connor sighed again as he made a turn onto the dirt road that led to the orchard. His Potential Filled Hair caught the light as the sun filtered through the window. It was pulled back in a ponytail, which had become his standard style for Orchard Days.

Two months of being greeted by Connor Murphy and his Potentially Amazing Hair had done nothing to sensitize Evan's reaction to it. He stared as Connor appeared to be gearing up to say something.

'Focus, Evan,' he thought. 'This is important.'

"It's- he called you something. Something bad," Connor said, voice shaking and knuckles white on the steering wheel. "It- it was- Evan, it was awful." Evan felt dread and sympathy rise in his chest as he saw the look on the taller boy's face.

"Connor, hey," he said softly. "What did he say?" Connor stopped the car by the trees and looked at him, a pained look on his face.

"I don't want you to know," he said finally. Evan's surprise hadn't even registered before he continued. "I never want you to think that those words describe you, Ev. It was awful, really awful, and you didn't do anything to deserve it, and it might not be completely fair, but I'll be damned if you ever have to hear those words aimed at you."

His eyes had a protective sheen to them that Evan had never seen before. It made the little brown spot In his left eye stand out and wow, how had he never noticed that before? For a moment it was all Evan could do to breathe.

"Okay," he managed. "Yeah, that's- that's-" Was he crying? Probably. And he probably looked really stupid. He wiped at his eyes, turning away.

"Evan? Evan, hey. What's wrong?" Connor's tone was worried. "If it bothers you that much, I-"

"No, no," Evan cut him off. "Sorry," he sniffed. "I'm sorry, I don't know why I'm crying. Just-" He turned to look at the boy beside him, trying to tell him everything he could without saying it. "Thank you, Connor."

"Huh? For what?"

"I don't know," he said simply. Connor cast him a slightly befuddled look before turning the car off.

"Okay, then," he said and looked Evan in the eye. "Come on, Ev. Let's go look at some trees."

________________________________

They sat in the tall grass, having stopped talking about an hour ago. Evan had finally gotten to look at the drawings on Connor's notebook. They were insanely amazing and in depth. His favorite was of a close up of a leaf with a firefly on it, but the detailed forest was a close second. He had no qualms telling Connor exactly how amazing his drawings were, and the other boy had flushed and mumbled a quiet, "Thanks."

Now, as they lay in the cool afternoon air of fall approaching winter, Evan was pretty sure that Connor was taking a nap. He wouldn't interrupt. Besides, he was pretty sure that Connor almost never slept, if the dark circles under his eyes were anything to go by.

In a strange way, Evan felt honored that Connor felt comfortable enough to rest around him. Even when Connor was laughing, there was a sort of tired anger about him, and Evan liked seeing his friend content.

Of course, being left alone to his thoughts was probably not a good thing. The past half hour was filled with a torrent of questions.

'Why doesn't he want me to know what happened? Was it really that bad? It must have been. What could his dad have said to make him so angry? Why does he look so sad?' These questions and similar ones plagued his thoughts in the silence.

'Why does he care so much? Is it even caring? Does he just pity me like everyone else?' Evan shook his head.

"No," he whispered at himself. "Stop being stupid." Connor cared. He knew Connor well enough by now to know that he wouldn't bother hanging out with him if he didn't care. But...

He looked over at the sleeping boy next to him, whose lanky form was press out in the grass taking up so much room. He was always there, taking up space. Evan wondered if he knew how big a hole he'd leave in the world if he disappeared. 'It would certainly be a bigger one than I would leave,' he thought, taking note of his own curled up form.

There was always the doubt. It never left. Connor very well could just feel obligated to check up on the anxious boy. Evan felt his thought start spiraling. At any moment Connor could up and leave and decide he wasn't worth it. The very thought caused tears to well in his eyes as he stared at the sleeping boy. At some point, Connor would leave. Just like his dad.

"No," he repeated to himself, desperately trying to shake himself out of his spiral. He wiped at his eyes furiously. But the thoughts kept flowing. 'He's going to leave. You know he will. It's only ever Mom who's stays, and you hardly even see her anyways. You shouldn't have grown attached. He has power over you now. If he leaves now he can hurt you more, hurt you just like Dad.' "No!" He clutched at his ears, trying desperately to avoid the ever present self destructive thoughts, "Connor's not like dad. Connor's not-" he stopped talking when he noticed that Connor was staring back at him.

It was silent. Connor got up slowly, placing a hand on the shaking boy's arm.

"I'm not what, Ev?" His voice was soft.

"Connor?" His voice trembled. He was barely holding it together.

"Yeah?"

"Do you really care? About me?" He was not expecting the sudden snort, and almost cringed.

"You're joking right?" Evan almost sobbed. "And here I was thinking you were pretty smart." And Evan almost looked away because, 'What is he talking about?'

But then Connor was smiling softly and reaching to wack at his arm lightly. "Of course I care about you, idiot. I- you're my friend. I thought this had been established a long time ago."

And Evan did sob. He sobbed because, 'Of course he cares, he wouldn't be here if he didn't, God, I'm an idiot.' He threw himself at Connor, who let out a small, "oof" at the sudden weight.

"I'm sorry!" He bawled.

"What?" Connor exclaimed, confused. "Why the hell are you sorry? You have nothing to be sorry for." Evan just continued babbling over him.

"I'm sorry this keeps happening, I thought it might be getting better, and I'm sorry you have to put up with me, but I'm really glad you do because I don't know where I'd be right now if I didn't have you as a friend, and I'm sorry that I can be so dependent, but thank you so much for staying and caring and sticking up for me..." he rambled on, shaking against Connor, who let him go on and on about everything until it was practically nonsense.

Eventually, Evan ran out of breath and words. Connor pulled back a little to look him in the eye.

"Hey," he said cautiously. "You good?" Evan nodded mutely. "Okay. Mind telling me where that came from?" Evan looked at him, dry hiccuping.

"No- yeah- I'm- I'm just glad to be your friend," he choked out. Connor's eyes widened, the speck of brown looking like a tiny island in a brilliant blue sky. A strand of air fell out of its messy ponytail, and for the first time, Evan wished it wasn't there, as it fell into his eyes.

Connor let out a tiny chuckle. "No, I think I'm the one that's should be glad. I don't deserve a friend like you. And you certainly don't deserve to be saddled with me. You deserve much better company." Evan shook his head furiously as he gripped the taller boy's arms tightly, almost shaking him.

"You are better company! Did- did you not hear a word I just said?"

"You can still do better."

"Yeah,- well- well, then. Maybe I don't want better," Evan exclaimed. If possible, Connor's eyes got wider. "Maybe I just want what I've got."

There, that got through to him. Connor stared at Evan for a moment, before pulling him into a hug. Evan returned it, wholeheartedly.

"God, what did I do to deserve you as a friend?"

They held each other tighter.

"You decided I was worth deserving."

Neither one knew for certain who asked the question. Neither knew who answered. The words rang with truth, and that was all that mattered.

And if both of them cried until it was time to leave? Well, nobody else had to know, did they?

When Evan eventually pulled away, he came to a sudden realization. There was a reason he kept leaving Connor the hair products, and it wasn't the fact his hair held so much potential. Evan had looked at him that first encounter and seen how great he was without realizing it until now.

It wasn't Connor Murphy's Potentially Wonderful Hair that Evan had really been so drawn in by. It was Connor Murphy himself.

________________________________

'Maybe I don't want better.'

Connor stared at the ceiling above him. It was night. He had gone straight to his room after coming back from dropping off an exhausted Evan. Now, he lay on his back, replaying the day's events over, and over until one phrase stood out.

'Maybe I just want what I've got.'

What on Earth had he done to keep Evan around? Why did the universe suddenly decide that Connor Murphy could have such a wonderful friend? Why now?

It wasn't that he didn't appreciate it, far from it. But why did the universe only decide to not make his life a living hell after he had become suicidal? There was the big question. On the day all of this new stuff had started, he really had been planning on ending it. Forever. Then Evan came along with his stutter and jumbled words, and asking him every single time if he would see him again. And Connor couldn't leave the poor guy to himself. Not when he saw that he was hurting.

But Connor wasn't going to lie to himself and say he didn't still think about it. It wasn't going to just go away now that he had a friend, a sort of sister, and hair care products every week. But then something would happen, and 'No, I can't, not when there's still that to do.'

It was confusing.

And he thought about it more than was probably considered healthy. What was it about Evan Hansen that had made him choose to not do it that first day. Was it really the simple fact that he had asked if he would see him the next day?

No. It was the fact that he had looked into those hopeful eyes and saw something like himself in there. And those hopeful eyes had belonged to Evan Hansen, who, at the time, he had believed to be something pure and undamaged. He couldn't leave without knowing exactly why the boy's spirit was as broken as his own, without finding out what it was that made them similar.

So he had seen him the next day. And the next. And little by little, he had come to see the boy as he was. He had gotten close enough to see the enigma that was Evan Hansen. And Evan had seen him, too. He had seen how bad he could get, and chose to stay.

The sound of pencil against paper brought him out of his reverie.

He had started drawing again. Evan. He had gotten used to it by now. He would start thinking about why exactly he was still here, and Evan would show up on the paper. Those papers sat in his desk drawer, because as much as they confused him, he couldn't make himself throw them out.

He sighed and set down his supplies. Evan had drawn him out of his nap earlier, and having a bit of a breakdown (Okay, he had sobbed his eyes out. But in a good way!) had drained a lot out of him. It was all confusing. But sleep helped.

He closed his eyes and drifted off.

________________________________

A loud ringing sound jolted Evan from his rest. One second he was in a dream where he just sat and stared out at a beautiful forest, the next he had rolled over too quickly in surprise and promptly fell off the bed.

"Wah!"

Thump.

He rubbed his eyes. "What the?" What was that? He listened closer. Oh. Duh. Phone.

A panic gripped his heart. The digital clock in his room said it was 2:36 am. Who would call him this late? What if it was his mom? Or Connor? Or Zoe? What if it was an emergency? He scrambled to reach his phone, not even bothering to check the caller ID in his panic.

"Hello?" He asked, a tremor in his tone. The voice that responded shocked him.

"Hiiiiii, Evan," came the drunk sounding reply. Evan balked. He checked the contact. Yup.

"Jared!?"

"Yeeaaah." A giggle. Evan started. Jared was definitely drunk. "I don't know where I am."

Well, fuck.

Chapter Text

Chapter 14

Jared stood on the curb next to the flashy house. The loud music from inside hurt his head, and he just wanted to go home. Okay. Home. He could do that.

He hiccuped as he started walking along the sidewalk, almost tripping over his shoelace a couple of times.

"Stupid... freaking... whoever hosted this party," he mumbled to himself as he stumbled his way to the crosswalk. The punch was spiked. And Jared loved punch. Especially the Kool-Aid kind. The deep "Oh, yeah!" left his throat unexpectedly, causing him to laugh.

What was he thinking about?

Eh, couldn't have been important. He just kept walking in the direction of his house. Well, he thought it was the direction of his house. Seemed familiar enough.

But soon, everything was blurry, and swimmy and very much Not Familiar At All, and Jared almost sat on the sidewalk to start crying because he really just wanted his blanket.

But even through his drunken stupor, he knew that sitting on the sidewalk of a town you didn't know while drunk is very much Not A Good Idea, Jared.

Much like how almost getting your only friend into a car crash because you were being a jealous little shit, and then not apologizing for being an asshole because it involves Revealing Emotions and coming out to yourself and you're too much of a prideful jerk, and then proceeding to avoid only friend and going to parties where you make really stupid decisions for two months, and then deciding to leave one of these said parties while drunk because, "What are you doing with your life?" and getting lost are all Very Not Good Ideas, Jared, Are You Really That Stupid?

He sniffed and stumbled again, wrapping his- was it even his?- jacket around himself tighter. Why did he even leave the stupid party? Oh yeah, the bright flashy thing hurt his brain. Welp.

"What the hell'm I gonna do?" He asked the void overhead. Some of the little twinkly lights flickered, but other than that, the void did not answer.

"Who." Oh! A night bird thingy. He turned to the noise.

"What'm I s'posed to do?" Jared asked the yellow eyes.

"Who," the eyes responded, stepping out to reveal it's body of floof.

"What?"

"Who."

"What!?"

"Who!"

"WHAT!?"

"WHO!"

"WHO?"

"Who," the eyes responded wisely, flapping it's wings as if saying he was starting to get it.

"Who?" Jared asked. Oh. "Evan?"

"Who." He was getting close.

"Call Evan?"

"Who," the eyes affirmed.

"Okay," he said, unsure. "Stay?" The night floof fluttered it's wings and flew over to him as he pulled out his phone. The bright light hurt his eyes. He went to his contacts and, after hesitating, he clicked on Evan's number.

It rang.

And rang again.

"Maybe he's sleeping?" Jared asked the floof. It just fluffed at him.

On the fifth ring, the tone sounded, and Evan's worried tone filtered through the speaker.

"Hello?"

"Hiiiiii Evan," he answered, hoping he didn't sound drunk.

"Jared?!" Evan's shout startled both Jared and his new floof friend.

"Yeeeaaaaah." He giggled. He hadn't heard Evan for a long time. It was nice. Floof nudged his elbow, and he remembered why he had called. "I don't know where I am," he informed the boy on the other side of the technological connection device. "Floof told me to call you."

"Floof?" Evan sounded so confused. It made Jared laugh.

"Floof. They told me to call you. Right, Floof?" Floof hooted in response.

"Was that an owl!?" Evan cried. Jared scoffed.

"No, that was Floof," he answers matter-of-factly. Floof hooted. "Floof says hi."

"Crap. Okay- shit," Evan said as shuffling sounded over on his side of the connection. "Alright, I'm putting you on hold. Stay there. Don't hang up," the other boy instructed.

"Okie-dokie!" Jared answered.

"Okie-? Okay, just- give me a minute." The line went quiet. Jared looked over at Floof.

"Who," Floof said. Jared nodded absently.

"Yeah, he's nice," he told them. "I'm not nice." Floof looked at him questioningly. He sighed. "Come here." He motioned for Floof to sit on his arm. The night bird thing flew over and landed on his elbow. Jared held them up to eye-level, as if to give them a very important speech. "I like Evan," he told Floof. "But I wasn nice to him, 'cause... huh," he said. "I dunno why I wasn nice, but-" he hiccuped "-I said some bad stuff, and almost hurt him." Floof looked at him like this was very startling news. "And I never 'pologized good. He left. And I let him." He hiccuped sadly. Evan had only ever been accepting of him, and this was how he treated him. He felt sad. "So, yeah," he finished telling the owl. "'M not nice."

Floof scooted up his arm and tapped his shoulder with his head. Jared chuckled and hiccuped again. "Thanks, Floof," he said. It was quiet for a minute. Jared toed the crack in the pavement with his shoe.

"Jared?" Evan's voice sounded over the phone again a few minutes later, startling the bespectacled boy.

"WAH! Hi Evan!" He shouted, causing Floof to flinch. "Whatcha doin'?"

"Jared, describe where you are, please," Evan said, obviously trying to control his tone. Jared shrugged and looked around.

"On a sidewalk. I got Floof with me. There's a sign, a tree-"

"A sign?" Evan interrupted. "A street sign?"

"Uhhh, yeah," Jared confirmed. "Two of 'em."

"Can you read them?"

"Yes."

"What do they say?" Jared looked at the signs closely.

"Jazz- wait no." He squinted. "James St. and... Nat- Nat- Nath- ane- ial? Nathaniel Drive," he read.

"James St. and Nathaniel Drive?" Evan clarified. Jared nodded. Then he remembered Evan couldn't see him.

"Oh! Uh huh," he said, giggling. He could have sworn he heard Evan sigh. "Why'd ya want me ta read the signs?"

"We're coming to get you," Evan responded, before, apparently, telling someone over on his side of the phone, "No, Nathaniel Drive. Not- not Grove, Drive."

"Got it," came the reply. Jared frowned. That voice sounded familiar. But he couldn't place it through his muddled thoughts. Eh. Probably not important.

"Jared?"

"Here," he said brightly.

"Okay. Okay. Alright," Evan sounded very panicked. Guilt squeezed Jared's heart. He was always causing Evan problems. "We're about three minutes from where you are. Don't move, and do not hang up," Evan instructed.

"Gotcha," he said. Floof nudged his shoulder again. The night bird, owl, Evan had called them, hooted. "Floof wants to know who "we" is."

"Floof wants... Jared, why do you have an owl?"

"'Cause they like me. Who is "we", Evan?"

"We is me, dipstick," the voice spoke up again, louder this time. Jared squinted.

"Murphy?"

"No, it Evan's mom."

"You sound different," Jared responded conversationally. The sound of a dull smack sounded on Evan's side of the phone.

"Connor, stop messing with him. He's drunk." Evan admonished. There was a snort.

"Obviously," the voice, Connor, growled. "And he's lucky he is. Or there would be no way I'm doing this for him." Evan made a small 'hmph' sound to show that he didn't have a response for that.

"Evan?" Jared asked.

"Yeah?"

"How far away are you?"

"Only two minutes now," he said before letting out a small "eep" of surprise. "Connor, s-slow down a bit, please," he begged.

"Sorry, Ev," Jared heard the boy say, and his eyebrows felt like they were flying off of his forehead. Maybe they were. Wouldn't that be cool?

"Hey, Evan. Wouldn' it be cool if eye- eyebrows could like, fly?" He asked. Evan should know. Evan was smart. One of the things Jared liked about him. Very smart. Even though he was very stupid.

"If eyebrows could... never mind, Connor, floor it," Evan barked, sounding very worried. Jared felt guilt wash over himself again. He had now managed to make Evan panicked twice- three times. He felt a wave of exhaustion hit him like- like a wave. Oh, that's why they called it that. Floof hooted next to him.

"You're right, Floof," he mumbled. "Evan?"

"What?"

"'M sleepy," he said, feeling very much More Dizzy And Not In A Good Way.

"Jared? Jared, hang on, we're almost there." Evan sounded so worried, it made Jared almost glad. Evan still cared about him. "Okay, Jared, we're turning on to the street. Can you see us?"

Jared could see them. The bright headlights hurt his brain even more. He almost stumbled back as the car pulled to a stop in front of him. Scratch that, he did stumble backwards.

The passenger's door flew open to reveal Evan in all of his Anxious Acorn Glory. Jared almost cried at the sight of the freckled boy.

"Hi, Evan," he said numbly, feeling faint. Evan rushed towards him.

"Jared! Oh my gosh, you actually have an owl. You look awful. How did you manage to get an owl? What happened?" Evan fussed over him, and Jared chuckled. The boy was too good for his own... good.

"Spike got punched," he explained.

"Who?"

"Punch. Punch was spiked," Jared amended. "Lights hurt my brain, then I found Floof. 'M really sleepy, Evan," he whined. "Wanna sleep." He slumped forward.

"Jared!" Evan rushed forward to catch him as he fell. Jared could have laughed. Evan was strong. "Dang it, Jared. Connor, come help me get him in the back seat."

Connor appeared at his side, taking some of his weight off of Evan. Jared didn't even complain as he was heaved into the back seat. He couldn't do more than stumble forward in his Very Dizzy In A Very Not Good Way state.

"Can Floof come with us?" Jared asked as the owl went ahead and flew into the back seat.

"What the-? Connor?"

"As long as he just gets in the car, let him keep the owl for now," Connor grumbled, shoving Jared into the back seat.

"Please, Evan?" Jared begged. "Floof's a good owl. Can he stay? Please" Evan sighed, buckling him in securely.

"Yes, Jared. Floof can stay," he said, and Jared smiled sluggishly.

"Yaaaay. Thanks Evan," Jared mumbled. The last thing his drunken, hazy, brain registered was Evan saying something to Connor before his world went dark and he passed out.

_________________________________

Jared woke up to the sound of birds chirping outside his window. Normally, this would have been a pleasant experience, but when one had a hangover with a dull headache, it's the equivalent of being woken up by gardeners using heavy machinerey. He groaned, rolling over on his side, shoving his face into a warm, fluffy pillow, desperately wanting to go back to sleep. He snuggled deeper into the warm, citrusy smelling blankets with a sigh, and- wait.

He didn't own any citrus scented blankets. He cracked open his eyes, hissing at the bright early morning light, that worsened his rapidly growing headache, and sat up. He was greeted with the sight of a room that most certainly wasn't his, and promptly began freaking out.

He was in someone else's home.

He was in someone else's bed.

What happened last night?

He couldn't remember. For all he knew, the most logical conclusion was that he had had a one night stand with someone at their place while drunk, and, now, couldn't remember his first time.

Crap.

The sound of the bedroom door opening caused his head to whip in that direction so fast, he almost got whiplash. The person walking in was the last person he would have expected to see.

"Oh, you're up," Connor said in a bored tone, and Jared felt his brain short-circuit.

No. No way. No way had he actually-

"You passed out last night. How drunk were you?" Connor asked, and Jared could only let out a strangled noise of confusion. Connor smirked. "You must have been really out of it," he said, and Jared felt like he was on the verge of a heart attack. The tall boy was walking around the room, gathering clothes in his arms as if he owned the place, and, Jared realized with a sickening twist of his gut, he probably did.

Connor continued around the room as if the situation was completely normal. It made Jared sick. All he could think was a repeating mantra of, 'What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuckity fucking fuck.' What had he done?

"You probably have a hangover, right?" Connor asked, and Jared could only nod, dully. "There's water down in the kitchen. Ev's already made breakfast." Jared almost choked.

"Who?" He asked, voice borderline hysterical. There were two?

"Evan," Connor explained. Jared swore he could feel his soul leave his body.

"Evan's here?" He asked, headache getting worse.

"Yep," Connor said, popping the 'p'. "He wouldn't leave after last night," he continued, and Jared was dead. No other way to explain it. He was dead, this was the afterlife, and he was in hell for being a horrible person to the only one who'd ever tolerated him.

Connor went on, oblivious to the internal screaming in Jared's head that was only making the headache worse. "I think he wants to talk to you. So you should hurry up," he announced before promptly leaving the room, leaving Jared with more questions than he had gotten answers.

Evan was here? Where was here? Well, it was most probably the Murphy household, but why was he in Connor's bed? Why was Evan downstairs in Connor's house waiting for him? What happened?

These thoughts did nothing to help with the pounding headache that was getting worse by the minute.

"What the fuck happened? What the fuck did I do?!" He stared at the door that Connor had just left through. "Who the fuck did I do?" Jared asked himself.

Okay. 'Okay. Let's go through what we know, Jared.' He got drunk last night, and now he was in Connor Murphy's bed, while Evan and Connor were both downstairs. Most likely scenario, he had had a one night stand with them while drunk out of his head. Or would it be called a two night stand? No, one night, two people, one night stand. The thought made his stomach churn and his head to scream at him.

He was screwed. And most probably had been screwed. He just wanted to lie down and go back to sleep and get rid of this stupid headache. But one look at the bed, Connor Murphy's bed, was enough to get him heading for the door in a panicked rush of revulsion.

As he made his way down the hall, he couldn't help but be impressed by the quality of the Murphy house, even through his panic and headache. When he rounded the corner, he nearly tripped down the hardwood staircase because, 'Who the hell puts stairs so close to the wall that you can't see them?'

He cautiously made his way down the stairs, cringing on almost every step, cold hardwood on his feet not helping his headache that felt like it was throbbing with the effort of every step.

When he, finally, made it to the bottom of the stairs, he found himself in the middle of a two-way hall with no idea where the kitchen was. He made a wild guess, choosing to go right, because right is always right, right?

Wrong. He was now in what must be the Murphy living room, which didn't even look like it got lived in. It was too clean and showcase-y. He was about to just nope the heck out of there because, 'I need water before I explode, thanks.' But then his eye was caught by a photo wall.

There were only three pictures. One of who must be Mr. and Mrs. Murphy, one of Zoe, and a family photo. The family one was the only sign that there was an older Murphy sibling. Connor looked to be about ten years old, already looking too jaded for any kid that age. The family was smiling and sitting together, but it barely looked real.

Jared quickly tore his eyes away from the wall and made a beeline in the direction from where he came. He had a feeling he'd just seen something he would have been much better off not knowing about. As he made his way down the other side of the hall, he caught the smell of waffles, and followed the smell to a very nice looking kitchen with very bright lights that caused the pounding in his head to worsen.

Connor was standing there, looking up when Jared stopped short in the entryway.

"Oh, look, it's Sleeping Beauty," he said in a dry tone, and Jared sputtered indignantly at the nickname. Connor rolled his eyes, handing him a cup of water. "Here. You look like your about to puke." He felt like it, too. "Evan's in the dining room, waffles are on the table, he wants to talk to you. I imagine he's got a lot to say, considering what you pulled last night." Connor gave him a look he couldn't decipher, and he felt dread settle in the pit of his stomach.

"What- what I pulled last night?" Jared choked out, voice rising in pitch with each word. Connor rolled his eyes again.

"I mean, I get that you were drunk, but seriously? He's a bit shaken up about it," the tall boy said, motioning for him to follow. Jared took a sip of his water in an effort to ground himself.

Evan wanted to talk to him. He could only imagine what about. What exactly had he done? He hated not remembering last night. He made a silent vow to never drink alcohol again. The results were not worth it.

Connor led him to a room with a long, expensive looking, table. And there sat Evan. Jared felt his chest squeeze unpleasantly at the sight of the freckles boy. He hadn't talked to him for months, and this was how they met again. Jared really hated his life sometimes.

"Jared!" Evan cried upon seeing the bespectacled boy. Jared gave a numb wave. "You're awake!" Jared gave an awkward chuckle.

"Hey, Evan," he said, voice strained. Evan was looking at him funny. 'God, I wish I remembered what the hell happened last night,' he thought hopelessly. "So, um..." he coughed. "You- you wanted to talk?"

Evan opened his mouth, but before he had said anything, something came flying in Jared's direction, causing him to let out a surprised squawk.

"What the hell?!" He shouted as the thing landed on the table in front of him.

"Who!" The owl hooted at him. Jared stared at it for a second, before turning back to look at Evan and Connor, the latter of wishing had taken a seat at the table.

"Why is there an owl?!" He cried. Connor and Evan shared a look.

"Well, its yours. At least, you named it," Evan attempted to explain.

"I, what?" What the absolute fuck was going on?

"Meet 'Floof', Kleinman," Connor said. Jared sputtered.

"Floof?" The owl hooted, and Connor shrugged.

"Hey, you named them, not me," he said, turning to take a bite of his waffle. Jared needed to sit. What had happened last night that involved an owl? An owl?!

He faintly plopped into one of the expensive looking chairs, clutching at his head, brain feeling like it was being repeatedly whacked with hammered from all sides. He looked at Evan and Connor with pleading eyes.

"What the hell happened last night?"

 

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Chapter Text

Chapter 15

When Evan finally finished going through a play-by-play of Jared calling him last night, him and Connor picking him up, Jared passing out, Evan and Connor deciding to take him to the Murphy house to rest, Evan calling his mom and Mrs. Kleinman so they wouldn't worry, and the whole 'Floof' thing (Connor had had way too much fun with that one), he sat back in his chair.

"...So, yeah," he said, flapping his hand in a small wave. "That's it." He had Very Pointedly Not Mentioned the fact that he had had a panic attack after the whole ordeal. He didn't want to know how that would go down.

Jared was staring at him with a strange look on his face that was a cross between immensely relieved, confused, and something he couldn't identify. The kitchen was quiet.

Jared spoke up finally. "That's it?" He asked, looking between the both of them as if searching for any signs of deception. Evan glanced at Connor.

"Umm...Yes?" What was he expecting?

"So... nothing... rated X happened last night?" Jared pressed. Evan was bewildered. 'What?'

"No?" Jared stood up.

"If you'll excuse me for a minute," he said, and turned on his heel, exiting the room.

It was quiet for a second. Then-

"THANK THE LORD!" Came Jared's yell from the hall. Evan jumped. Connor looked mildly alarmed. The owl hooted like it was worried. "I NEVER DOUBTED YOU!"

Connor looked at Evan, confusion radiating off of him. His Getting Even More Captivating With Every Passing Day Hair was hanging just above his shoulders, obviously messy from waking up, but it didn't look like it had a single knot in it. Which was just... Not Fair to Evan's brain.

"Do you know...?" Connor trailed off. Evan just shook his head, shrugging, trying to break himself out of his thoughts. Jared walked back into the dining room, taking his seat, looking like the world had been lifted from his shoulders.

"Alright. Please continue," he said, fixing his glasses. Evan and Connor stared at him for a moment.

"What the hell was that about, Kleinman?" Connor asked.

"I'm just glad that I didn't make any huge mistakes last night," he answered vaguely. Floof hooted and nudge his hand. Connor looked at him like he was trying to make sense of a milk advertisement with a lobster as the mascot.

"What did you think... you know what," he cut himself off, looking away. "I don't want to know."

"You do not," Jared agreed, nodding solemnly, hesitantly petting the owl. The table went quiet. The three sat there, not looking at each other, tension getting heavier with every passing second.

"Thank you," Jared said, finally. Evan looked up to see him pointedly looking anywhere but him as he stroked the owl's feathers. "For coming to get me last night," he explained. "I could have gotten in some real trouble, and you probably saved my butt."

"And?" Connor prompted. Jared shot him a look.

"And what?"

"And! What else?"

"What?" Jared looked slightly frightened as Connor stood up.

"Where's the apology?" He asked. "Do you know how worried Evan was last night? He called me last night, sounding like he was about to be sick, saying you had call him, drunk and lost! We don't see you for over a month, and you called at 2 something in the morning, drunk off your rocker!" Connor seemed to get sharper and meaner with every exclamation, while Jared looked like he wanted his chair to swallow him hole.

"Not to mention-" Connor gave a sarcastic laugh, "-Not to mention the fact that you nearly got Evan into a car crash! And you didn't even explain to him why he would have been going to the hospital! Are you really just going to sit there and-"

"Connor," Evan cut him off quietly, placing a hand on his forearm. "Please," he said.

"Evan, he almost hurt you! I won't-"

"I know." Evan turned his gaze to Jared, who was watching the exchange with wide eyes. "Just- I want to be the one to talk to him," he said, trying to control the waver in his voice.

Connor hesitated for a moment before saying, "Are you sure?" Evan nodded. "Do you want me to stay? Or..." Evan shook his head.

"I need to talk to him," he tried explaining. Connor seemed to get it, heading for the hallway.

"I'll be listening," he admitted loudly as he left, causing Evan to suppress a snort because, 'Of course he will be.'

He felt Jared's gaze like a weight on his skull as he turned to face him.

Evan got a good look at him for the first time since he'd picked him up from the curb last night. He looked kind of... Awful, if Evan was being honest. His skin was a bit paler and his eyes were bloodshot with purple rings under them. His hair was unkempt, but that might have just been from the whole ordeal last night.

"So," Jared said, clearing his throat, still scratching the owl's head. "It's been a while." Evan stared at him blankly. Jared coughed awkwardly. "You- um- you look like you're doing well."

"Thanks?" Evan said, confused. "Jared, I-" he took a breath. "I need you to tell me the truth, here. I- I won't-"

"I know, Evan," Jared let out a sigh. "I really am sorry. I just-" He ran a hand through his hair. "Everything was changing so fast. You were changing. And it made me worry about you. So-"

"Why?" Evan interrupted, surprising himself. Two months ago, he would only have been able to dream of interrupting anyone, let alone Jared. Funny what even a small bit of courage can do.

But he didn't have time to focus on his small personal growth right now.

"What?" Jared asked.

"Why were you worried? You- you never even acted like you cared before. I broke my arm, and all you did was make a joke about it. You- you didn't even offer to sign my cast," he said, a bit of sadness weighing down his tone. A strange look flashed across Jared's face, but he continued on, anyways. "Because 'family friends' don't do that," he spat, almost flinching at his own tone.

He had been worried sick all night. Jared truly didn't seem like he was doing well. And as much as Evan was angry with him, he had known him for years, and he knew that behind all the pretenses, Jared was probably just as lonely as he was. So, yeah.

He took a deep breath. He needed the truth before even considering giving Jared another chance.

'Hypocrite,' a voice in his head whispered. 'Demanding the truth when all you do is lie. You're a liar. You've lied to everyone. You're even lying to yourself right now. Telling yourself you deserve the truth when you hardly ever use it.' Evan had to fight the urge to shrink in on himself. He couldn't afford to listen to his head right now. He just wanted an honest answer from Jared, for once.

And if that made him a Huge Fucking Hypocrite, then so be it. He looked Jared in the eyes as best he could, and spoke once more.

"So I'm going to ask you again, and please. Just tell me the truth. What am I to you?"

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Connor stood just around the corner of the entryway. As soon as the words had left Evan's mouth, a deafening silence had settled. Connor could only imagine how badly Evan wanted an answer, if last night's panic attack was anything to go by.

As soon as the two of them had gotten Jared safely in bed, and that weird owl had perched itself on a high shelf in the dining room (Connor did not know why the heck an owl had decided to just follow Jared around, and he decided he didn't want to), Evan had lost whatever was keeping him together, and broken down.

"I- I- I just don't- I don't know, Connor," he had sobbed. "He's just- he looks so awful! And- is- is it my fault? Did I do that to him?"

Connor had wrapped him in his arms, quickly assuring him that, "No, Ev. It is not your fault. He did that to himself. You did what was best for you. You didn't cause that, Ev." He kept murmuring comforting words, trying to ignore the rush of anger towards Jared for calling Evan out of nowhere, causing him to worry himself into a panic attack. He took deep breaths. He couldn't lose his cool while trying to calm Evan down.

That would be bad.

He talked about pointless things for longer than he remembered talking in a long time. He didn't know exactly what he was saying, but it seemed to be helping Evan calm down, so he just kept up his quiet rambling.

Eventually, Evan had stopped shaking, but still had silent tears running down his face. "Better?" Connor had asked him. Evan shook his head, no. "You want me to keep talking?" He knew that talking helped sometimes.

"C- Could you sing to me instead?" Connor was surprised for a moment.

"Ev-"

"It- it helped last time," he explained. Connor remembered when Evan had broken down after that disastrous dinner conversation. He didn't know why he had decided it would be a good idea to sing, but it had helped Evan to calm down. It couldn't hurt to try again.

"Alright."

He had cleared his throat and started singing the first calming tune that had popped into his head. As he sang, he had felt Evan begin to relax, breaths becoming slower, silent sobs retreating. With each note, Evan leaned against him more, until Connor had to adjust their positions on the couch so that Evan was leaning against his side, and he had both arms encircling the smaller boy, doing his best to make him feel safe. He had kept this up until Evan had fallen asleep.

He had been horribly angry with Jared for causing this. But Evan had yaken priority, so he had set his anger aside in favor of helping the freckled boy.

Now, he felt the same rush of anger towards Jared he had last night and just now, in the dining room. But he also felt a rush of worry for Evan, whose voice had wavered on the last word.

He would kill Jared if he hurt Evan now. The silence was filled with a heavy tension as he waited for Jared's answer.

________________________________

Meanwhile, Jared was having an internal freak out.

'What am I to you?'

It was that question that he had been avoiding for months. He had lost sleep trying to figure out what the answer was while trying to avoid figuring out the answer at the same time. He was terrified of what it might be.

He couldn't tell him.

"I don't know, Evan," he said, looking down at the owl. Floof, Connor had called them. "I was a dick to you. I know that. I wasn't fair to you, distancing you and calling you just a family friend when you were the only person who tolerated me. And I'm really sorry for that." He looked back at Evan who looked like he was trying not to show that he had no clue where he was going with this. In all honesty, Jared didn't know where he was going with it, either.

"But I want to try to make it up to you," he said. "I can't promise I'm just going to stop being a dick. It's become a kind of second nature. But I want to be your friend. So... yeah."

Evan made an Evan noise that probably translated to something like, "I don't know how to handle this situation because I never thought it was a possible scenario, somebody help me." He had a very pained look on his face. Like the one he got whenever Ms. Hansen would ask what he wanted to do. He was twisting at his arm, and Jared realized with a start that his cast was gone. It was weird seeing him without Connor's name in big bold letters on his arm, walking around, showing it off (okay, not showing it off, but he wasn't exactly hiding it), tracing the name with a fond look that made the thing in Jared's stomach churn, and-

Okay, he was definitely glad Evan had gotten the cast off.

Evan still had that look on his face. Jared was about to say something, but Evan turned to the entryway and yelled, "Connor, what do you think?"

'Seriously?' Could Jared not catch a break?

"Seriously?" Connor asked, poking his head around the corner, echoing Jared's thoughts. "You're asking me?" Evan was practically on the verge of popping his arm off with how much he was twisting at it.

"I need a second opinion!" Evan exclaimed, flushing.

"I am the least qualified person to do this," Connor protested, and Jared agreed silently.

"Well, it- its my problem, so I'm qualifying you for it," Evan defended. Connor shook his head exasperatedly at the boy's logic. If Jared didn't know better, he could have sworn that the most terrifying person he had ever met was smiling fondly at the anxious boy.

He had seen Connor smile at Evan before, of course. But this one was different for some reason that made his gut squeeze unpleasantly.

He didn't have much time to process this, though, because then Connor was giving him a scrutinizing glare. Jared had to fight down a small squeak of terror. Being on the receiving end of Connor Murphy's intense glare was not an experience one wanted to go through. Jared felt sweat bead on his neck as he tried not to shrink in on himself. Floof hooted.

As terrified as he was at the moment, the hilarity of the situation was not lost on Jared. Two months ago, he would never have believed- No. He would have laughed if someone had told him that he would be sitting in the Murphy's dining room, petting an owl, waiting for the approval from the most terrifying person in school in order to try to be friends with Evan Hansen, after having gotten blackout drunk the night before, all whilst eating a waffle.

He was seized by the sudden urge to laugh, but fought it down, because he'd rather not die, thank you very much. So instead he settled for petting Floof's feathers more aggressively.

"Do you really regret it?" Connor asked abruptly.

"What?" Jared said, caught off fairs.

"I said, do you really fucking regret it?" Connor prodded. Jared floundered for a second, and Connor continued. "Do you regret every horrible thing you've said and done to him?"

"Yes," he said. He turned to look at Evan. "I do, Evan. I shouldn't have been such a dick to you. You didn't deserve that. Any of it. Especially the whole car incident. And everything leading up to it." Evan stared at him like he couldn't quite believe what he was saying, before turning to Connor, who was still staring down Jared, with a look on his face that could clearly be read as, "How did you get him to do that?" Jared felt guilt wash over him again. Had he really never apologized for any of that before?

Connor glared at him for a few seconds more. Then he turned to Evan, who was still staring at him like he had just hung the moon and stars. Jared hated seeing that look on Evan's face. Especially when he could vividly remember when it used to be aimed at him.

"W- Well, what do you think?" Evan asked Connor anxiously.

"If you want to give him another chance, I won't stop you," Connor shrugged. "But if he pulls something like he did again, I will hurt him," he promised. Evan laughed, and Jared felt horrible.

"Thank you," Evan said to Connor, smiling gratefully. Then he turned back to Jared. "I can't- I still don't forgive you," he said, and Jared felt something clench his lungs. He supposed he definitely hadn't earned forgiveness, yet, but it still hurt.

"But," Evan continued. "I do want to try being friends with you again," he said. "But you have to actually try to be nice. Please," he added.

Jared felt his face light up as he nodded. He wanted this second chance so badly. He just couldn't believe he was getting it. Evan was too forgiving. Although, he did have to admit that Murphy had definitely played a part in that.

"Thank you," he said. "I- I want to try. And," he sighed, turning to Connor reluctantly. "I suppose I want to kind of make it up to you, too," he told the taller boy, who looked startled at being addressed.

"What? Me?" He asked.

"I know that I wasn't exactly fair to you," he said, voice getting more strained with every word. "I was a dick to you. And," he heaved a sigh. "It was uncalled for. So, sorry. For that."

Connor stared at him, still not looking like he understood exactly what was being said to him. Evan was beaming, and that alone made Jared think, "Worth it," because he hadn't made Evan smile like that in ages.

Finally, Connor sighed. "Whatever, Kleinman," he said, shaking his head. "Just don't fuck this up."

"I'll do my best," he said, somewhat jokingly, but mostly serious. He would not mess up this second chance. Floof hooted, probably annoyed that Jared had stopped petting them. He went back to scratching the owl's feathers.

"So..." he said eventually, long after the silence had gotten awkward. "I should probably go," he said. Evan and Connor looked at him. "I still have to figure out what I'm going to do with this owl."

"Well, it- it seems to like you," Evan said.

"Yeah. Can you adopt an owl?" Jared asked. "Is that even legal?"

"Why don't we go find out?" Connor asked.

"Wait, right now?" Evan asked as Connor started gathering the dishes from the table. Connor shrugged.

"Why not? That owl is pretty badass. I kind of want to know if they'll let him keep it."

Jared looked down at Floof, who hooted, and rubbed his head against his hand. He looked up at Connor.

"I call shotgun," he announced. Connor snorted.

"As if," he retorted. "Evan gets shotgun." Evan flushed.

"I- I don't mind taking the back seat, really," he tried.

"Nope. Too late," Connor said, heading for the entryway. "Seating chart made. Kleinman has to take the backseat with Floof. I don't make the rules."

"But- But you just did!" Evan protested. Connor just gave him a shrug, smirking as he rounded the corner. Evan sighed, shaking his head with a small smile on his lips. Jared felt his gut squeeze again.

"He's nice," he said sarcastically, petting Floof's head.

"Yeah. He is," Evan responded absently, staring at the entryway Connor had left through. Jared tried to ignore how his stomach twisted unpleasantly.

He really hated the look on Evan's face.

 

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Chapter Text

Chapter 16

Alana took off her glasses, wiped them clean with the little folded up cloth she kept in her pocket, and put them back on again.

Nope. Still seeing the same thing. She turned to Zoe, who was staring blankly at Evan and Connor's usual table.

"Zoe?"

"Hmm?"

"Please tell me you also see the owl Jared's petting?"

"Uh huh," she nodded absently. "I see it. I'm going to wake up, now," she said. Alana whacked her arm lightly.

"You're not dreaming," she admonished. Zoe looked at her with a blank stare.

"So Jared really is sitting with them again?" Alana nodded. "And he's really petting an owl?" Alana nodded again. "And Evan really has Connor's name tattooed on his arm where his cast used to be?"

"WHAT?!" Alana screeched. The kids at the table next to them gave her a few weird looks. She smiled apologetically, before whipping her head in Evan's direction, looking at his left arm.

It was blank.

"He doesn't have a tattoo!" She hissed at Zoe, who was suppressing a laugh.

"I know," she giggled. "I was messing with you." Alana huffed.

"You scared me," she complained. "The thought of Evan with a tattoo is just..." She was railroaded by a startlingly vivid image of Evan Hansen covered in tattoos, dressed like he was a biker. For some strange reason, her mind even supplied the image of a lip piercing. She shuddered.

"He wouldn't look half bad," Zoe stated. "Though the idea is about as likely as Connor dying his hair cotton candy colors," she said, still giggling, and Alana was yet again railroaded by a second vivid image, this time of Zoe's brother wearing bright pastels, with the ends of his hair died pastel pink. She shuddered again.

There was something extremely unnatural about how vividly those images had popped into her head. She wondered for a moment if that meant anything. In that moment she also decided that those images were a problem for an Alana in a different universe. She couldn't deal with that much added responsibility.

Yes, Alana was a firm believer in the multi-verse theory. No, she did not want to be in a different universe. She liked the one she was in, thank you very much. 'Besides,' she thought as she looked at Zoe, who had long since given up on trying not to laugh. 'Why would I want to be anywhere else?'

"Anyways," she said after Zoe calmed down. "What happened? They've been avoiding Jared for weeks, and now he's sitting with them as if nothing happened? With an owl?" Zoe shrugged.

"Heck if I know," she said. "I haven't been home since Saturday night, remember?"

Alana did remember. She remembered Zoe calling her Saturday, asking if they could hang out at Alana's place. Alana had agreed to, of course, because what was she going to do? Tell her she didn't want to? That would be lying.

So, Zoe had come over to her house. Alana was not good at reading social cues, but even she could tell that something was bothering Zoe.

"Are you... alright?" She had asked carefully. Zoe had given her a slightly forced smile.

"Yeah. Why wouldn't I be?"

"Zoe..." Alana had said, unamused. So Zoe caved and told her everything about the fight the night before. She seemed to get riled up just talking about it.

"I think I get it now," she had said. "I was just so angry. Everything was tinted red. I couldn't control my own mouth. If he feels it worse than that all the time..." She trailed off. Alana hadn't needed to ask who she was talking about. "It certainly doesn't excuse his actions, but I just- I think I understand how difficult that must be for Connor a bit better, now."

Alana hadn't known what to say to that, so she just let Zoe continue on with the story.

Alana had to admit, she was shocked that Mr. Murphy had said something so horrible about Evan. She was never that fond of him, but she'd never thought he would say something so callous.

"And I just don't understand why he said that!" Zoe had said again for the fifth time, an hour after she had finished filling Alana in on the details. "How could he look at Evan and think, 'Ah, yes. This nervous child, who has been nothing but polite to me, deserves my hatred!'" Alana had to agree.

How could someone hate Evan? Sure, he wasn't the easiest person to talk to, and he came off as a little weird, but hate able? Never. The guy was too kind to everyone to be able to hate him.

Alana suspected this might be the reason Connor had started hanging out with Evan in the first place. The guy was just too sweet to be rude to the older Murphy sibling.

But anyways, Zoe had wound up spending the night Saturday and Sunday, having called her mom to let her know she would be getting a ride to school from Alana. So there was probably no way she could know what the whole Jared Kleinman and His Owl thing was about.

"True," Alana said, breaking a piece of her bread off and taking a bite. She swallowed before saying, "I wonder what happened, though. They never said why he wasn't hanging out with them anymore, and whenever I tried to talk to Jared he would get really quiet and find a way to leave."

Zoe nodded her head to show that she was listening. She tilted her head thoughtfully before grabbing her milk carton and chugging it. Alana startled at the sudden action. Zoe wiped her mouth before grabbing her tray and standing up.

"What do you say we go over there and find out?" She asked and started walking towards the boy's table.

Alana watched her go, shaking her head slightly, a bit baffled by her friend's brashness. She got up to follow Zoe to where her brother was sitting.

The owl seemed to spot them, hooting quietly as the two girls sat down.

"Hi, Evan. Connor," Alana greeted with a small wave. Evan seemed startled by the sudden arrival, but he waved back anyways.

"Hi, Alana. Zoe," he responded with a small smile. Connor just nodded in acknowledgment.

"How are you?" Zoe asked. "I'm sure Connor told you about Friday." Evan squirmed and Connor tensed.

"He told me about your dad, yeah. I don't want to know what he said though." Zoe nodded like she understood.

It was at this moment Jared decided to speak up. "Wait, what happened Friday?" Zoe disregarded his question, instead asking her own.

"First things first. What are you doing here, and why do you have an owl?" Jared bristled.

"I don't have an owl," he said, emphasizing the 'don't.' "Floof here just decided to start following me around," he said, petting the tiny owl on the head fondly. "We tried to see if I could adopt them yesterday, but apparently, it's illegal to adopt a native owl. So we tried to let them go, right?" Alana nodded. "And they just flew right back. So now Floof can come and go as they please."

Alana leaned forward, enraptured by the tiny owl's huge eyes that sparkled with intelligence. She reached out hesitantly to see if the owl would let her touch them. Floof nudged their head into her palm, and she had to fight a small coo at the gesture.

"What kind of owl are they?" She asked, gently stroking the soft sleek feathers.

"A northern saw-whet owl," Jared responded as Floof hooted. Alana's eyes sparkled.

"I've read about them before," she said excitedly. "I did a whole presentation about them in third grade."

"Really? Maybe you could help me out with them? I want to be able to take care of them whenever they visit."

"I'd love to!"

"As cool as that is, it still doesn't explain why you're sitting here again," Zoe spoke up. Jared shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He opened his mouth to say something, but no words came out.

"Kleinman's on a trial run right now," Connor said. Zoe stared at him, expression clearly saying she had no idea what that meant. Connor rolled his eyes. "He apologized. Ev's giving him a second chance. If he blows it, I hurt him," he elaborated. Jared shot him a look that he returned with a glare of his own. Alana watched the exchange with calculating eyes.

"Well," she said eventually. "I guess we'll be seeing you around more, Jared." Jared stared at her.

"What?"

"We sit here every once in a while," she explained. Zoe snorted.

"Alana, we sit here practically every other day."

"Exactly. Every once in a while."

"We're practically regulars."

"Practically," Alana stressed. "We don't sit here every day. A while is a day or two. Every once in a while."

Zoe seemed to be keying up for a response, but Evan cut in quietly.

"Um. If you don't mind me asking, why do you guys sit with us so much?" He seemed genuinely confused. Alana smiled at him.

"I consider you two close acquaintances-"

"Friends," Zoe cut her off. "We're your friends." Alana flushed at the same time Evan did.

"Friends?" They both asked at the same time. Zoe nodded.

"Oh. Cool," Evan muttered, obviously embarrassed. Alana smiled brightly at the group.

"Yeah. Cool," she said. "I hope we can be friends, too, Jared," she told him earnestly. The bespectacled boy pushed his glasses up.

"Yeah. Okay," he muttered. Floof hooted as if to let them all know that they were still there. Seriously, though. How could anyone forget that there was an owl?

She stroked the feathers gently, feeling how the soft and slightly poky ones gave way to the ones with a more sleek texture. She looked into the big eyes that weren't quite brown, more of a dusky gold. Alana loved owls. They just held an air of mystery and fierceness about them that she admired.

"They like you," Jared told her as the owl hooted.

"I really would love to help you take care of them," she said earnestly.

"Thanks."

The conversation around the table switched from topic to topic for a while. Alana looked around at the group. 'Who knew Evan and Connor becoming friends would lead to this?' She thought to herself. She was glad it had though. She had aquain- friends. She had friends. Granted, she'd had Zoe already, but still.

Zoe had been with her since her sophomore year. She probably knew her better than anyone Alana had ever met. Alana was grateful for her. If they hadn't met, Alana might've stressed herself out with extracurricular activities and homework a long time ago. Zoe wasn't just her only friend, she was her best friend. Because as far as Alana was concerned, she was the best.

'Although,' she thought as she watched Zoe laugh at something Evan had said. 'I wouldn't mind if she were more.'

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A week after The Great Floof had joined them (Connor really loved that too much), the eldest Murphy sibling was sitting on his bed. All week he, Evan, Alana and, by extension, Zoe had been helping Jared take care of the relatively small owl, and he had hardly had time to focus on much else. But now, as he stared at the organized mess before him, he found himself thinking about his mysterious gift bringer. Today's note read:

'Dear Connor Murphy,

As you can probably see, I got you a hair clip. I hope it makes your Monday better.

Sincerely,
Me'

He had all of the notes and hair supplies spread out on his bed around him. After 54 notes and 18 gifts, counting the headband on his head, he was sure he could start figuring out who his mysterious gift give could be.

Emphasis on the was.

But now, as he stared at the notes strewn across his bed, he started doubting his sleuthing abilities. Whoever was giving these things to him had not left a single bit of information about themselves in any of the words other than the fact that they were watching him, and were sometimes painfully awkward in their writing.

Seriously, in one note, they had written that Connor had 'very brown hair' when trying to explain that they weren't doing this to be a creep. To be honest, Connor would laugh at how weird the situation was if he were not too busy trying to figure out what he was going to do about it.

He could always try to confront the person. Leave a note for the note leaver. Or he could try to show up to school early to catch them in the act. That would work. But then he would have to get up early to go to school, and that would raise suspicion with his parents, and he really didn't want them to know about it.

Well, he didn't really care about Larry, but he'd rather just completely ignore that particular can of worms.

So getting up early was out of the question. He could still try leaving a note for the note leaver. But what would he say? "Who are you? Why do you do this? Why do you care about my hair's wellbeing so much?"

'...'

Actually, that could work.

Connor swung his long legs off the bed, trying to avoid crushing any of the papers, one foot landing on the floor first, causing him to do an awkward hop towards his desk before his other foot hit the ground and he plopped into his chair with a small 'oof!'

He grabbed a piece of paper and began writing.

'Dear Note Leaver,

I have a couple of questions. I actually have a ton of them, but they boil down to these.

Who are you? Why do you do this? Why do you care about my hair's wellbeing so much?'

He paused, then decided to add;

'Will I ever get to meet you?'

He decided to go with the format his mysterious gift giver used, and signed it with;

'Sincerely,
Me'

There. Nice and simple. He wouldn't be able to actually get it to his gift giver until they picked it up the day after tomorrow because, as previously mentioned, he couldn't get to school early enough to beat them to his locker. So, he'd probably have to wait until Thursday, maybe Wednesday if he was lucky, which he doubted, to see if they would respond.

No worries. He could wait. It would eat him alive on the inside until then, but he could wait. Or...

Instead of letting it turn him into a grumpy mess for the next couple of days, he could always talk to Evan. Evan would probably help him out.

But then he'd have to tell Evan about the notes and the gifts, and Evan would ask why he hadn't told him about it before in that slightly hurt tone he got when he was trying to cover up the fact that he was hurt, and Connor would feel like a dick, and then he'd probably snap at Evan and say something he didn't mean, and Evan would hate him, and- wow. Calm down, Connor. Think this through.

Evan would not get upset if Connor just told him the truth. Connor knew this because Evan, being Evan, had told Connor that as long as he was honest with him about something and that he really didn't want to hurt him, Evan would be okay. Connor had, of course, had promised to return the favor.

Connor marveled at how much easier communication could make things sometimes.

He folded the note in half carefully, and stood up to go and place it in the front pocket of his backpack. He grabbed his phone to call Evan, and froze when he saw a text from a number he didn't recognize.

He tapped on it hesitantly. The text opened up, and Connor began to read.

'Hey, Con. I'm so sorry it's been so long. My phone broke at work, and I had to get a new one, but all my contacts had been deleted. I finally found a copy of your number that I had written down, though, so yay!'

What the hell? Who hadn't he talked to that had his number? He froze. 'Wait.' He paused, dread and anticipation flooding through him. 'Could it be...?'

His phone lit up with another text.

'This is Miguel, by the way.'

________________________________

Evan was sitting on his couch, starting his English paper. He had already written Connor's note for tomorrow, and now was working on the assignment that they had just been assigned today and wasn't due for a week, because what if he forgot about it until the last minute and he had to pull an all nighter to get it done and even then it would probably suck and he'd fail the assignment, so he needed to have time to revise it so that he wouldn't fail his class and have to re-take his senior year because then his mom would have to support him for another year and he'd just be burdening her.

So, yeah, he was starting his English paper when he heard a knock at the door. His brow scrunched in confusion. His mom was at her class, and she had a key anyways. Oh no, what if it was a robber? Wait, robbers don't knock. What if it was a polite robber? Wait, if the robber was polite, they wouldn't be a robber. What if-

"Ev?" A shaking voice called out.

"CONNOR?!" Evan yelled back, surprised. He rushed to the front door to look through the peephole, and sure enough, it was Connor. He opened the door quickly, and was met with the shaking form of his best friend. "What happened? Are you alright?"

Connor shook his head. He was clutching at his backpack straps tightly, knuckles white. "Can I come in?"

"Of course!" He lead the taller boy to the couch, closing the door behind him. Connor dropped his backpack on the floor and sat down, still shaking. "Connor?"

The boy lifted his head, and Evan was shocked to see tears streaming down his face, which was red. There were some caught in his eyelashes, making them darker. His eyes were shining with tears that had yet to fall, gaze piercing into Evan. He had to fight a gasp as he hurriedly sat next to him.

"Connor? What happened?"

Connor shook his head. "I-" he choked. "I can't-" His body was wracked with a sob. Evan tentatively reached out to put an arm around his shoulder, and Connor melted into the touch, and slumped against Evan, who wrapped his arms around him tightly.

He reached up to stroke his hair as soothingly as he could, trying not to focus on how freaking soft it was, holy shit, while simultaneously trying not to freak out at the situation. It was obvious that Connor was hurting, and Evan could wait for an explanation.

Evan could feel Connor's heart pounding through his chest as the taller boy clung to him. He didn't know exactly what he was doing, but Connor had held him when crying so many times, and there was no way on Earth, or anywhere else for that matter, that he wouldn't do his best to return the favor.

"Ev?" Connor's normally firm voice was shaking.

"Yeah?"

"Sing to me?" Evan felt something pull on his heartstrings violently at the tearful request, and clung Connor to his chest tighter.

"Sure," he choked out. "Okay."

He sung that tune Connor had when he was calming him down, and he could feel the boy melt into him as he continued stroking his hair and holding him tightly.

He didn't know how long they were there. Connor eventually fell asleep, using Evan as a pillow as he clung to him. Evan had arranged their positions so that he was leaning back on the couch and Connor was slumped against him in what Evan hoped was a comfortable position. He yawned, having long since decided that his English paper could wait.

Connor took priority. Connor would always take priority.

'...'

'Wait, what?' He thought. Since when did Connor always take priority?

Connor shivered next to him, and Evan decided that figuring out what exactly that thought meant would have to be postponed, as he pulled a blanket off of the back of the couch behind him in order to cover them both.

'Huh,' he thought as he was falling asleep. 'Connor even takes priority over figuring out why Connor takes priority.'

 

________________________________

Chapter Text

Chapter 17

Connor woke up warmer than he had been in a long time. He snuggled in deeper into the warmth. The warmth shifted, and Connor dimly registered the fact that warmth shouldn't move. He opened his eyes blearily, yawning. He was greeted with the sight of what he vaguely recognized as Evan's living room. The room was lit only by the lamp on the coffee table. 'Must be the middle of the night,' he thought. He looked down to see his body covered with a blanket. He looked to his left slightly to see Evan. 'Ah,' he thought. 'We are hugging.'

The realization didn't freak him out, or anything. He and Evan had hugged before. But this time was a bit different. Most likely from the fact that Evan, who must be the source of the warmth, was the one holding him instead of the other way around.

Connor couldn't remember the last time he'd been held. It had most likely been by his mother. It felt nice. He wondered vaguely if he should try and pull away. But he didn't really feel like it, and besides. He was emotionally exhausted after last night, and Evan made him feel better.

He shivered at the memory of receiving That Text. It wasn't that he hated Miguel, not at all. And it wasn't that he couldn't see that Miguel hadn't been ignoring him, but the text had come out of nowhere, and stirred up repressed emotions. It hadn't been a pleasant experience, and he had felt himself begin spiraling.

'You were wrong. You were wrong. He didn't do anything. He didn't want to leave you. And you thought all of those awful things about him, too. You wanted to hate him. He didn't deserve that.'

"No, stop. Stop it," he had told the voice in his head. "Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop!" But the voice didn't let up.

'You didn't even stop to consider that it might not be his fault. So quick to make assumptions. It's no wonder you thought he wanted to leave you. You want to leave you.'

"Stop," he had gasped.

'So fucking pathetic. You were wrong. You were wrong all along and you can't even be happy about it. You're a horrible person. But that isn't anything new, is it?'

"Stop. Please!" Connor had felt tears begin to prick at his eyes.

'Are you crying? Seriously? You don't deserve to feel upset about this. Nobody hurt you. You're freaking out over a good thing. But it makes sense though, right? You always were a freak.'

He had grabbed his bag and fled the room, stuffing his phone deep within the front pocket, trying to get the image of that name out of his mind. He barely remembered telling his mom that he was going to Evan's house, as he had run to his car. He hadn't really been able to process his surroundings because his main focus had been trying to ignore the voice in his head. All he knew was that he had to get out, get out, get out, because everything was collapsing around him and he couldn't breathe.

Then a desperate idea had popped into his head. 'Yeah, Evan,' he thought. 'Evan. That's it. Get to Evan. Evan will make it stop. Get to Evan." He clung to that and drove to Evan's house because, 'Evan will help. Evan will make it better.'

And he had been right. He had arrived at his friend's house unannounced, and Evan had let him in. Comforted him. Even sang to him. Helped him. All without demanding an explanation.

Nobody did that for Connor.

Not once.

Even Miguel hadn't done that. Yes, he had helped him. Yes, he had comforted him when he needed it, and even when he didn't. Yes, he had sung to him. Yes, he was amazing, and kind, and caring, and funny, and so, so loving.

But even he would demand explanations first. He would make Connor talk about what happened. He would hold back his comfort, hold back what Connor needed, until Connor had gone over everything, often times making him more upset in the process. Only then would he help him.

Connor hadn't known how much he despised that until Evan didn't do it. He hadn't realized that immediate comfort was something he craved until he was given it.

He looked back at the sleeping boy next to him, feeling a rush of affection and gratitude. But he could thank him later.

He snuggled deeper into the warm embrace, and curled into Evan's side. Right now, he was content to let Evan continue holding him. He closed his eyes once again, letting the sound of Evan's soft breathing lull him back to sleep.

________________________________

Evan woke to the sound of a shrill shriek. He made to jump up because 'LOUD EQUALS SOMETHING IS WRONG. DEFENSE MODE ACTIVATED,' but only ended up getting even more tangled in both the blanket and Connor's long limbs, jerking painfully, causing the taller boy to startle awake with a shout.

"Evan, what the hell?!" The sound of his mother's voice startled him so badly that he made to jump up again, bumping his head against Connor's in a painful collision, causing the taller boy to fall off of the couch in a way that probably looked very comical to an outsider, pulling Evan down with him so that they were both lying on the floor in a heap of blanket and limbs.

"Huh?" He said dazedly. His vision came into focus, and he registered that fact that he and Connor had successfully managed to tangle themselves into a mangled human burrito. He twisted his head at an odd angle to look at his mom, who was standing in the frame of the front door, frozen in what looked like a mixture of shock, slight anger, and confusion. "Um... Hi, Mom."

"Honey, what is Connor doing here?" She asked, voice obviously being carefully kept calm. Evan floundered for a response. Luckily, Connor spoke up for him.

"Sorry, Ms. Hansen," he mumbled. "I showed up without asking, and he let me stay. I fell asleep, and he probably didn't want to wake me up. He didn't do anything wrong." Evan's mom stared at them for a moment before sighing exasperatedly.

"Connor, I told you to call me Heidi." Connor flushed. "And second, you are welcome any time. But could you both warn me in the future? You know, just to avoid any heart attacks?" Both boys flushed and nodded in agreement.

"Yes, Mom."

"Yes Ms. Ha- Heidi." She chuckled.

"Connor, your family knows you're here, right?" She checked. Connor nodded.

"I told my mom."

"Good." She smiled at them both. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I just got back from a six hour night shift at the hospital, and I need sleep. Goodnight boys. Love you, Evan."

"Love you, too, Mom. Goodnight."

"Goodnight, Ms. Hansen."

"It's Heidi, Connor."

"Goodnight, Heidi."

The two boys watched her leave from their spot in the floor. Once she was out of sight, they turned to look at each other. It was quiet for a moment before a snort escaped Connor's lips. Soon, he was giggling like a madman, and Evan was joining in.

"Your mom is awesome," Connor said. Evan giggled.

"I know."

Eventually their giggles rescinded into silence. They lay there, content to just be in each other's presence.

Evan couldn't feel his arm, and he wasn't quite sure exactly whose foot was sticking out of their blanket, human fusion burrito, but he didn't mind. Connor was smiling again and that was all that really mattered. After seeing his friend break down like that, it was a relief to see him happy.

Evan really liked Connor's smile.

Connor had dimples. His right eye crinkled a bit more than the other. All of his teeth showed, but not in a creepy way. If Evan looked closely, he could see two light freckles on the left side of his nose. His face was flushed from laughing, and that Potentially Amazing Hair was a wild mess of curls. Evan was close enough to smell the vanilla from the de-tangler.

Evan was entranced.

"You're staring," Connor said. Evan flushed.

"Wha- I- wha- uhhh- what?" He sputtered out. Connor snorted.

"Do I have something on my face or something?" Connor attempted to rub his face against his shoulder. This only resulted in his face being a lot closer to Evan's. He looked at Evan. "Did I get it?"

"Umm- Yeah! Totally! Yep," Evan stammered out, heart pounding. "It's gone."

'Why do I feel like my face is on fire?' He thought to himself.

"You okay?" Connor asked, sounding concerned, leaning in even closer, and Evan felt like he was about to pass out.

"I'm fine," he wheezed. He was hyper aware of every detail on Connor's face, from the tiny imperfections in his eyebrows, to that brown spot in his right eye that was dark in comparison to the shiny blue that surrounded it.

'Holy Mother of Earth, he's too beautiful.'

"You sure? You look really uncomfortable," Connor noted worriedly. Evan felt like he was that brown spot, once again drowning in the overwhelming amount of color around him. "Evan?"

"Yeah! No, yeah, umm-"

'What do I do, what do I do, what do I do, what do I do, what dO I DO, WHAT DO I-?!'

"Ican'tfeelmyarm," he wheezed out.

"Oh!" Connor looked surprised. "Sorry." He looked like was trying to move, and Evan felt something that he was pretty sure was an elbow move between his upper arm and his side. The taller boy spent a few more agonizing seconds wriggling, before apparently giving up. Connor looked over at him.

"I'm stuck," he said.

"I know."

"What do we do?"

"I don't know."

Connor pursed his lips, appearing to think hard, and it was all Evan could do not to stare. 'Pretty.'

"Alright," he said, apparentlyhaving come up with an idea. "On the count of three, I want us both to use all the upper body strength we have to sit up. Got it?"

"What upper body strength?" Connor shot him a look.

"I carried you up those stairs, by myself, and you carried Jared almost all by yourself, don't 'what upper body strength,' me." Evan flushed.

"Okay, you have a point."

"I know I do. Now, on the count of three."

"After three or right on three?" Evan asked.

"After. Ready?" Evan nodded. "One. Two. Three!"

Evan heaved himself up and Connor did the same, the two boys successfully arranging themselves into a sitting position, and Evan could feel the blood start rushing through his arm again.

"Alright," Connor said. "Get your arms free." This proved to be a much more tedious task. Evan's right arm was tangled in the blanket so that it was pinned to Connor's back, and his left was being held at an extremely awkward angle, trapped somewhere around his leg. After much twisting and muttered "ow"'s, both boys had managed to free their arms from the confines of the mangled blanket burrito.

Their legs were quite another story.

"Is that your leg or mine?"

"I have absolutely no clue."

"Is this blanket, or leg, I can't tell."

"How is my leg on the other side of both of yours? How did that even happen?"

"Ack! Connor, that's my knee!"

"Well, you have my ankle! It's a fair trade!"

"How on Earth does that make sense?"

"None of this makes sense, Ev."

Seven minutes after much more commentary like this, including the discovery of a birth mark, the boy's were finally free from the human burrito blanket deathtrap.

"Alright, we did it!" Connor exclaimed happily. "High five," Connor said, holding his hand up, and Evan simply stared. 'It should not be possible for a high five offer to be so cute,' he thought, and immediately blushed because, 'Since when is Connor Murphy cute?'

'Since he offers you a high five, obviously,' the voice in his head said.

'Stop that,' Evan thought back at it.

"Ev?" Connor looked worried, hand still in the air.

"Oh!" 'Snap out of it, Evan,' he thought at himself furiously. "Right. High five." He brought his hand up to meet Connor's with forced enthusiasm. Connor scrunched up his nose, leaning towards him, and Evan had to physically fight the squeak that wanted to force its way out of him.

"Are you sure you're okay?" Connor placed a hand on his forehead, and Evan lost the fight to keep in that squeak. "You're turning red."

"Oh, um- yeah I- I- I got kind of stuffy in that blanket, you know?" 'Please buy the lie, please buy the lie.'

Connor nodded like he understood.

"Makes sense." He got up off the floor and moved to the couch, Evan standing up as well. Connor sat down, and Evan watched as he pulled the blanket off the floor. Connor looked up at him to see him staring and patted the spot next to him in a "what are you waiting for" kind of way. Evan sat next to him, trying to ignore the way his heart pounded as Connor threw the blanket over their laps.

"So," he said reluctantly, and Evan waited anxiously for him to speak. "Do you want me to talk about it?"

"Huh?" 'What?' "Talk about what?" Connor gave him an unimpressed look.

"Do you want me to tell you why I showed up on your doorstep at nine-something at night acting like even more of a mess than usual?" 'Oh. That,' Evan thought. "Or can nothing phase you because of The Kleinman Calling At 2AM, Drunk As Fuck Incident?" Connor added, startling a quick snort from Evan.

"Um- well-" In all honesty, he really did want to know what had made his friend so upset, but Connor's expression was that of one who looked like they were dreading the answer being yes, like That One Time Alana Beck Asked The Teacher If Those Cat Hearts They Were Going To be Dissecting Were From Actual Cats.

"Do- do you want to tell me?" He asked instead. Connor gazed at him for a moment, before sighing.

"I don't know," he huffed. "I feel like I should. You know, the whole being each other's shit givers and everything, but I just..." He ran a hand though his Wonderfully Messy Hair. "Can I please tell you later? When I'm feeling more... under control?" His Hair was falling around his face in tangled curls, distress evident in his earnest expression, and Evan's heart panged with empathy. He understood the need to wait. The need to ignore what happened for a while. And besides, in what universe would Evan have even considered telling him no?

He nodded, and Connor sighed in relief.

"So- um..." Evan said after he felt the silence was becoming too much for him. "We have school in, umm-" He checked the analog clock that hung near the door. He had made sure from an early age that he knew how to read one in case there was a situation in which it was the only type of clock around and he need to be able to know the time. "About four hours? Give or take?" Connor grumbled.

"Can we just... not?" He asked. "I feel like shit, I can't go back to sleep, and I don't think I'll survive if I try to go to school. Let's take a break."

"Connor. I have to turn in this paper," he said, gesturing to the essay that lay innocently on the table underneath the lamp. "And what if they give us a new assignment today? What if we miss something important? What if-"

Connor cut him off. "First, I know for a fact that that paper isn't due for a while, considering it was assigned yesterday." Evan flushed. "And second, you could use the break, too. It's been crazy, and you look worn out."

'I look worn out?' Evan thought. 'You look like you're about to drop dead.' Instead, he said, "But- But what if-"

"No. We're taking a break. Here." He leaned across Evan, causing the smaller boy to squeak, again, and grabbed his bag, pulling his phone out of the pocket. He grabbed Evan's shoulders and snapped a quick photo of the two of them.

"What are you doing?" Evan asked as he began furiously typing away.

Connor hushed him and typed something into his phone. "There," he announced with a final press of his finger. Evan noted the chipped nail polish. It was covering worn cuticles. It still looked good, though. Dark green. "I texted Zoe. I told her we wouldn't be at school today, and that we aren't doing anything stupid, so she doesn't have to worry."

"Well, what are we going to do?" Evan asked. Connor smiled that small smile he made whenever he had a good idea.

"Where's your remote?"

"Coffee table, in the drawer. Why?" Connor tossed the blanket off his lap and got up to look for it.

"Do you guys have Netflix?"

"Yes. Connor, what are-?" Connor turned around triumphantly, remote in hand. He smiled, heading back to dig on the couch with Evan.

"I think it's about time you watch your first movie, don't you think?" He asked, and Evan felt his heart kind of go "ka-thunk" in his chest because, "Connor remembered that." Connor remembered that stupid little bit of information about him, and wanted to show him his first ever full movie, and something about that made him beam, because- because- Because, wow.

"Yeah," he responded almost breathlessly. "Yeah, I think so, too."

The answering smile he got was beautiful.

________________________________

Jared had a problem. Three guesses as to what it was.

Evan wasn't here today. And as he went to sit at what had become "The Every Other Day Group Table," he found out that Connor wasn't there, either. So one could only imagine the conclusion he jumped to.

"Who?" Floof seemed to ask him.

"Yeah," he answered. "Seems that way, doesn't it?"

"Hey, Jared!" Alana greeted him with a sunny, perfectly practiced smile as she and Zoe sat down across the table from him. "Hello, Floof," she added, and the owl seemed to perk up at her greeting. She reached out to stroke their feathers, and they bumped their head into her palm invitingly.

"Hey, Alana," he responded. "You happen to know where Murphy and Evan are?"

"I'm right here, Jared," Zoe said, and Jared rolled his eyes at her.

"No, duh. I meant Tall, Dark, and Depressing Murphy. Not you." Zoe rolled her eyes right back at him.

"They're both taking a mental health day," she explained anyways. "Connor texted me this morning, telling me that he needed to make sure Evan didn't make himself sick with schoolwork. They're fine."

"They're taking the day off together?" That thing in Jared's stomach rolled when Zoe nodded.

'Of course,' he thought.

He knew he had a long way to go before he was anywhere near as trusted as he used to be by Evan, but even when they had been on much better terms, Evan had never given in to the idea of skipping school. It made him too jittery.

Jared should have known it would be different with Connor.

He tried not to make a face as Alana and Zoe began talking with each other, and just kind of sulked at his orange juice. 'Everything's just different with Connor, isn't it?' He thought to himself.

Connor seemed to be Evan's game changer. He was the exception to every rule Jared had ever placed to himself when it came to Evan. Hell, if Connor wanted to, Jared was 99% sure he could get Evan to speak in front of an audience.

An d a live audience, at that.

Floof hooted from where Alana was sitting and did a flappy hop toward him.

"Who?" The small owl asked. Alana looked up.

"Are you alright, Jared?" She asked, concerned.

"Yeah. I'm fine," he told her, adjusting his glasses. "Just tired."

'Just tired of feeling like my guts are doing ugly acrobatics whenever I think about Evan.' But he didn't say that.

"Oh, I'm sorry," Alana said sympathetically, taking a sip of her milk. "By the way, I forgot to mention, I was doing some more research on northern saw-whet owls last night and-"

Jared spent the rest of lunch listening to Alana rattle off fact after fact, while Zoe absentmindedly kept passing food to her, making sure she actually ate instead of talking the whole time, the taller girl chiming in from time to time.

He couldn't believe they were so invested in helping him with taking care of Floof. It made him almost smile, pitching in with his own facts when Zoe made Alana stop to eat.It definitely helped to distract him.

At least, until lunch was over. But then he was by himself once more, making his trek to his next class, left with his unsettled gut and racing mind.

"Jesus Christ, Jared," he muttered to himself. "You're your own person. You don't have to focus on Evan all the time."

But years' worth of trying to take care of Evan had made focusing on him a priority. And he didn't know how to stop.

Worse yet, he didn't know if he wanted to.

 

________________________________

Chapter Text

Chapter 18

"What the fuck?"

"Evan, its-"

"No, Connor. You don't understand. What the fuck?"

It was noon, and the two boys were still sitting on the couch. Connor had had Evan watch five Disney movies, and he was pretty sure Evan had become a huge fan, if his current ramblings were anything to go by.

Connor had put on Tangled for the first one, and he had had a great time watching Evan watch the story unfold before his very eyes.

"You could totally be Rapunzel," he had commented. "What with the freckles, green eyes, blonde hair and all that." He explained, to which Evan had flushed a bright red, face indignant.

"Your hair would make for a much better Rapunzel," he had mumbled so lowly, Connor wasn't sure he had heard correctly. He blinked.

"What?"

"Huh?" Evan had responded, startled.

"Nothing," Connor had dismissed, writing it off as bad hearing.

After that they had watched Mulan, Hercules, Princess and the Frog, and were currently starting Beauty and the Beast.

To say that Evan had taken an immediate hatred of Gaston would be an understatement.

"Connor, that is harassment," he cried, pointing at the TV where Gaston was currently throwing Belle's book into the mud. "It's wrong!"

"Yeah, Evan. He's the bad guy. We're not supposed to like him."

"He has a hole in his sock," Evan muttered a few minutes later, when Gaston kicked his shoes off onscreen. "He has a HOLE in his SOCK, and he thinks he can win her over by placing his foot, which has a HOLE in its sock and wiggling it at her?! What the shit?!"

"Evan, he's supposed to be a narcissistic, superficial asshole. Of course he thinks he can win her over."

"This is bullshit, Connor," Evan declared.

Connor snorted and elbowed him lightly. "Who knew the way to get you to curse was to show you Disney movies?" Evan huffed, flushing.

"Well, it's not my fault that all these villains are shit people," he defended. This only caused Connor to laugh harder. "They are!"

"Oh, I cannot wait to show you Frozen!" He cackled. "I want to know exactly what kind of curses you know." Evan stuck his tongue out at him childishly, to which Connor responded with another light nudge to his side before leaning into him again, pulling the blanket around his shoulders. Evan turned back to the movie, relaxing into his side as well.

The two boys had been sitting on the couch all morning. Heidi had found them when they were in the middle of Hercules, smiling sadly at their decision to take a mental health day, serving them both corn flakes with a statement of, "Just try not to make this a habit." To which they responded with an in sync promise not to do so. Heidi had kissed Evan on the forehead goodbye, and hugged them both, which Connor had not been prepared for. Connor really thought Evan's mom deserved a medal or something. He could definitely tell where Evan got his kindness from.

'You don't deserve his kindness,' the voice in his head hissed at him.

"Shut the fuck up," he said loudly. Luckily, Gaston had just said something about Maurice being mentally insane, so Evan didn't question his sudden outburst.

"I know, right?!" He agreed instead. Connor silently thanked whatever being was in charge of perfect timing for that. He settled back, content to continue watching Evan freak out at the screen for the rest of the movie.

"Take that you fucking misogynistic, narcissistic, bigoted, over muscular, piece of absolute crap!" Evan shouted when Gaston fell from the roof. He paused the movie, pointing at his face accusingly, looking at Connor with an intense spark in his eyes. "You know what that's called?!" He turned back to the screen before Connor could answer. "That's called instant karma, you bitching toe rag!" He shouted, leaning forward. "Instant! Karma!"

"Ev, we still have to finish the movie," Connor said, pulling Evan back with a hand on his shoulder, carefully taking the remote from him.

"Instant karma," Evan whispered under his breath as Connor pressed play.

"Just watch the movie," he responded, rolling his eyes. Evan huffed, but complied, watching with wide eyes when the beast turned back into a human.

Finally, the credits rolled, and Evan was smiling like an idiot at the screen.

"You're really loving these movies, aren't you?" Connor asked, smiling softly at him. Evan flushed.

"Well, I- I've never watched a movie before today. I never thought I would," he explained, looking away. "It never seemed like I was- like it was worth the trouble. Nobody could be bothered to get me to watch one, so I didn't." Connor tapped his shoulder lightly.

"Hey." Evan looked back at him. "I'm glad I was the one to show you your first movie," he said. Then he smirked. "Especially because this is the most I've heard you curse, ever." Evan smiled playfully.

"You are never going to let this go, are you?"

"Never."

"You're awful," he said, shoving him lightly.

"Oh, am I?" Connor replied.

"Yes," Evan replied, sticking his tongue out. Connor smirked.He dove for Evan's sides, tickling him. Evan shrieked.

"Am I awful, Ev?"

"Connor-!" Evan gasped out, trying to jerk away from the tickling fingers. He let out a sharp laugh. "Stop- stop that! You're horrible!"

"Aww, am I?" Connor asked with mock sympathy as he kept Evan trapped next to him, tickling all over his torso. "Am I horrible?" Evan continued shrieking with laughter, tears pricking at the corner of his eyes. "Am I the worst?"

"Y- yes! You're terrible!" Connor began tickling him harder underneath his rib cage, to which he jerked violently.

"Wrong answer!" Connor shouted. Evan shrieked again, laughing out small commands to stop.

"Fine! Fine- I take it back!"

"What? I can't hear you!"

"You- you're the best!" Evan wheezed. "You're the best, Connor!" Connor finally stopped tickling him, pulling away, smiling proudly. Evan smiled at him, whacking him lightly on the arm. "You are the best."

Connor's smile turned a bit sad. "Even though I showed up at your house without an explanation late at night?" Evan's smile slipped into a look of concern.

"H-hey. I already told you. I'm not upset with you for that."

"You should be," Connor said. There was a pause. For a moment, Connor regretted bringing about the change in mood. He was about to say something- anything- to diffuse the tension, when Evan spoke up

"Well, I'm not." He looked at him earnestly. "If it were me, you wouldn't be upset with me, so- so it's only fair for me to do the same." Connor stared at him for a moment. He would never understand exactly what brought this boy into his life, but he decided he would forever be grateful for it.

"Ev?"

"Yeah?"

"I think I'm ready to tell you what happened last night." Evan looked at him, concern shining in his eyes.

"Are you sure?" Connor stared at the boy in front of him, feeling an overwhelming amount of fondness for him.

"Yeah. I'm sure."

Evan shifted on the couch so that he was facing Connor. Connor took a deep breath, clutching at his wrist.

"So. Okay. So, last night, I got a text from Miguel." He was met with a blank stare. 'Oh, right. He doesn't know who that is. Shit,' he thought, twisting his skin.

"Um..." Evan said. "Who?" Connor moved his hand from his wrist to run through his hair.

"Okay, so this requires a bit of backstory, I'm realizing. I might talk at you for a bit, okay?" Evan nodded encouragingly. "Right. So, Miguel is my ex."

Of all reactions, Evan violently choking on air was not what Connor expected to follow that sentence.

"Ev!?" He shouted, alarmed. Evan held up one finger to show he was alright. Connor placed a hand on his shoulder while Evan took deep breaths. His face was red and tears were poking at his eyes as he hacked out a painful sounding cough.

"I'm-" Evan took a deep lungful of air. "Sorry. I just-" He cleared his throat, and Connor rubbed his shoulder in what he hoped was a soothing manner. "I just wasn't expecting that. At all," he explained. Connor felt something prick at the back of his mind and pulled his hand away a bit

"What? Is it that shocking?" He winced at the amount of hostility in his tone. He hated how defensive he got, but he couldn't control it sometimes, which made him hate it more, because he knew he was capable of controlling it, but wasn't able to at certain times, which made him feel weak, which only made him more defensive.

"No!" Evan shouted quickly, coughing again. "I just- I didn't know you had dated anyone. You never brought it up." Connor winced.

"Yeah. I-" He took a breath. "I didn't want to think about it. About him. At all, really." Evan gazed at him quizzically. "I felt- Okay." He sighed. "You know how I have mild clinical depression, right?" Evan nodded. "Well, it's not as mild as I said it was. Right now, I'm doing a lot better than I was at the beginning of the year. That's why I want to see a therapist, like you do." He added. "I think it will help me stay getting better. But at the beginning of the year..." He trailed off, then took another breath. This was so hard to do. But Evan deserved an explanation. "At the beginning of the year-" he tried again, only for the words to abandon him. He hated when his mind wouldn't let him say what he wanted. He reached up to pull at his hair, hoping the pain would ground him.

He felt a hand on his arm. Evan was gazing at him earnestly.

"You don't have to tell me," he said softly, and Connor felt something akin to a mix of guilt and gratefulness and selfishness, except they were combined into one by an atom blender, and he could no longer tell where one emotion began and another ended because every physical and mental reaction he had to these emotions separately all hit him at the exact same time. He pulled at his hair harder, pain shooting through his scalp. 'He's too forgiving,' he thought. He felt tears start to form in the corners of his eyes.

"Thank you," he said, because it was the only way to voice the emotion he was feeling. "But I want to tell you," he said frustratedly. "I do," he insisted at Evan's expression.

"Okay," Evan said uncertainly. "Then... I'm here to listen."

Connor took a deep breath. "I should start a bit back." Evan nodded. "Okay, so, I met Miguel when I was sent to a private school. He was funny and he distracted me from my problems. So when he came up to me one day, telling me the school found weed in his locker and they were going to expel him, I didn't think. I didn't want the only really good thing that had happened to me to be taken away, so I went to the head of the school, and told them the weed was mine. I got expelled, my parents got mad, and I got sent to rehab."

Connor pulled on his hair a bit harder at the painful memory of his parent's expressions that day. His mother had looked disappointed, but it hurt worse to see that his father wasn't as surprised as a parent should have been. He pushed that down and continued.

"In rehab, people attacked me. I was too goody goody to actually have done a big thing wrong, and the other kids knew it." Memories of fist fights and deep cuts that he never told anyone the origin of and jeering flooded into his head, and he felt the tears well higher. "So I learned that the way to survive was to act tougher and meaner and worse than I actually was. And it worked. Too well." Evan gave him a confused look. Connor attempted to explain.

"When I got back, I was treated like I had actually done what I had confessed to. My family didn't trust me. Everywhere I went, people had heard some rumor or another, and soon, I was The Freak. The druggie. The fucking-" His hands gripped is hair tighter. "The fucking future school shooter." He heard Evan gasp next to him.

"Connor..." Connor scoffed, but it was weak.

"Don't act like you didn't hear anyone call me that. Fucking Kleinman used to call me that all the time, before the shooting in Florida, at least." That was the only reason Jared had had a few respect points already before Connor found out he punched a kid for teasing Evan. When forced to realize it, he would back off subjects that weren't funny. Other kids at school didn't.

"I'm so sorry," he heard Evan whisper.

"Don't be. You never called me that." He could tell that Evan was about to try and continue, so he started talking again. "Anyways, Miguel was the only one besides me who knew the truth. He was the only person who treated me like I was human instead of a monster. And, well... He was nice, and cute, and one thing led to another, and we started dating." Connor smiled sadly at the good memories, letting nostalgia take hold for a moment before coming back to reality. He felt Evan squeeze his shoulder comfortingly.

"For a while, things were okay. But he wanted to meet my family and- I didn't want them to ruin the one good thing I had going for me. I wanted to keep him separate. So I started hiding things from him about myself. About how bad things got in my head. He wanted me to talk about everything, even when all I wanted to do was ignore it for a while."

Breathe.

"And then, one night, I couldn't- I couldn't-"

Ignore the pain.

"I just couldn't! I was so done with everything that day, and he pushed! He pushed when I told him to stop! I told him that I just couldn't that night, but he didn't want me to be closed off. He told me he was tired of me keeping him at arms length, and he pushed, and-" Connor hadn't realized that the tears had started spilling down his cheeks until he could taste the salt in his mouth. Evan was sitting right next to him, arms wrapped around him comfortingly once more.

"And I snapped. I don't remember what I said, but I snapped and the next thing I knew we were both saying this we could never take back, and then I was storming out of his house with nowhere to go and no one to turn to. So I turned to what everyone expected me to be. The school stoner."

A deep breath.

"I started smoking weed. It didn't really help, as you know, but I was determined to Placebo Effect my way through it. But I failed. I just got worse."

Another one.

"And then, the night before school started up again, I was out of it. I couldn't focus on anything and my family could tell that I was ignoring them. Larry said something. I don't even remember what it was anymore, but my mom didn't even try to stand up for me, and Zoe made a comment, so I screamed at them. And Zoe called me a-"

Deep breaths, Connor.

"A monster. Right in my face."

Just breathe.

"And that night, I was sitting there, in my room, and, not for the first time, I thought-"

Control yourself.

"I thought, 'What if I could make it all go away?'" He felt Evan tense next to him, but the smaller boy didn't say anything, which was good because if Connor stopped now, he wouldn't be able to continue, and he needed to get this off his chest.

"So I decided my first day of school should be my last day on Earth. I thought it would add a bit of humor to the situation. In a morbid way. I thought no one would really care if I disappeared that night. I made plans. I had a full bottle of my mom's Xanax in my backpack. I got high so that I could pretend I was functioning. I had a spot already in mind. I even planned to make it through the day somewhat alright. But then the whole Kleinman thing happened, and I pushed you, and I thought, 'Well, that just solidifies it. The world would be much better without me.' And I was ready to leave, and do it right then. And then-"

Come on. Breathe.

"Then I thought, 'What about Miguel?'" A sob wracked his body. He looked up at Evan, whose gaze was a whirlwind of emotions.

"Evan. I felt so fucking guilty. I was just going to leave without having explained anything to him. So I decided to reach out to him. He responded. We made small talk over text for a whole class period. I started to feel better. Then, I thought, 'Fuck it. Just be honest.' So I told him I missed him. Laid my heart right out on the line. No room for misinterpretation. And then, no response. It was as if he had just decided I wasn't worth the effort, and it only set the plan more firmly in my head." Connor stopped talking. That was Miguel.

"So," Evan cleared his throat, obviously troubled. Connor didn't blame him. It was a lot. "What- umm- What made you not do it?" He asked, looking like he was desperate for an answer. Connor didn't have to continue. But he wanted to explain to Evan why he hadn't followed through with his plan. He felt like he owed him that, even though he knew he didn't.

"Well," he sighed. "I was ready to just leave and get it done with. I waited till the bell rang, and I was going to leave. But then-" He chuckled, and Evan looked surprised. "Then I turned around and you were staring at me." Evan's eyes widened, as if realizing he had been right behind Connor when this had happened. "It was a bit creepy," he admitted and Evan flushed.

"And then you were talking a million miles a minute, rattling off some kind of apology, but all I could recognize was the fact that you had a cast on your arm, and my only thought was, 'I pushed a kid with a broken arm.' Then you left. And I was so confused for some reason. I wanted to shrug it off, but I couldn't. Then I found you in the computer lab. And I decided, 'You know what? Last day. Might as well try to do something nice for one person before I'm gone.'" He chuckled sadly at Evan's shocked face.

"But then you were nice to me, and I could tell that you weren't an asshole, even though you hung around with Kleinman. And you let me sign your cast, and say we could pretend to be friends, and you just decided that you were okay with that, which threw me for a loop. And fuck, you just seemed like a nice person. Even though you did write about my sister's hair clips. Although..." He paused. "Your explanation for that was very entertaining. And then something I said made you smile, and I felt like my goal for my last day had been accomplished. You had to leave, and I had managed not to fuck up an interaction, and I thought, 'At least one person in this hellhole will have a good memory of me.' But then you looked back, asking if you would see me the next day. You looked so fucking hopeful. Like you actually wanted to see me again. And I thought, 'Fuck. I can't just be nice to someone and commit suicide right after. It'll make them feel responsible, or some shit' I could only imagine how traumatic that would be, so I agreed." Evan was staring at him. He looked away.

"So I decided to give it one more day. If there was someone that nice to me after I had basically been a huge jerk to them, then I had moral obligation to make sure they were alright. And that night, I went home, told my family we were friends, and didn't kill myself."

Evan had tears steaming down his face as well, now. Connor felt bad for keeping this from him for so long. But he had wanted Evan to think he was better than he was. Even a little bit. And then Evan had revealed to him that he had anxiety, and Connor had felt like he just couldn't burden him with the fact that the stoner with anger issues and depression was also suicidal. He thought it would just make him feel worse, so he held it back.

"So, yeah. My first day had gone not as I had planned at all. But I've been getting better since then. But receiving that text last night did something to me. It brought all the feelings of my time after we had broken up right to the surface. So I came to you for comfort because you've stayed, even when seeing me when I get bad. That's why I showed up on your doorstep at nine something at night without an explanation or warning."

Evan was staring at him. Connor waited nervously for a reaction. It was a lot to dump on a person in one go, but Connor hadn't wanted to stop. Evan was a good listener, and he had deserved the truth. That didn't mean Connor didn't fear his response though.

But then Connor was being pulled into another hug. Evan squeezed him tightly, and Connor understood the message. Evan pulled back.

"I understand how you- how you felt," he said softly, and Connor froze.

"What?"

"What- What you said about wondering if anyone would care if you disappeared? I know," Evan squeezed his arms. "I know exactly how that feels" Connor stared.

"What do you mean?" He asked, something like dread prickling at him. Evan hesitated. "Ev? What happened?"

"I fell out of a tree," he said. Connor didn't understand. "I fell out of a tree and broke my arm." Evan took a deep breath, closing his eyes for a second longer than a blink. "That wasn't the plan."

'... Oh,' Connor thought dully. Then he got it. 'Oh!'

"Oh, Ev..." he trailed off softly. Evan looked at him, tears spilling down his cheeks.

"I- I-"

"Don't- You don't have to tell me right now," Connor whispered. "I just dumped all of that on you. I don't want you to feel obligated to tell me."

"No- that's not it." Evan shook his head quickly. "I trust you with this, Connor." His voice shook on the last word, and Connor felt protectiveness wash over him.

"Okay. So. What happened?"

"I- My summer job was working as a park ranger for Ellison State Park. It was the best job I could have tried for, but I just felt empty about it. One day, I was doing my afternoon rounds, checking to make sure everything was good, and the next thing I knew,I was climbing. Higher and higher. Right up the tallest tree in the whole park. And I could see everything, Connor." He wiped at his eyes furiously. "And it just made me feel more insignificant. Like no one would really notice I was gone, except my mom. And if I disappeared, she would have been able to support herself and do the things she wanted. So-" He hiccuped. "So, I figured- I figured there was nothing keeping me from making everybody else's lives better right then, except- except the fact that I was scared." Connor watched Evan sag into him, arms tightening around the smaller boy instinctively.

He hadn't known. How could he not have known? It was obvious. All the signs had been there, he had just ignored them. He wanted to believe Evan was better than he was. And in many ways, Connor still believed it. But now there was no way of ignoring the fact that Evan had the same pains as him. Evan was just as broken.

And he had ignored it. Done what he hated other people for doing. He felt awful.

Evan took a rattling breath, and continued.

"I was scared of it, Connor. I'm always too scared to follow anything all the way through." Connor could feel Evan start trembling from how hard he was clenching his jaw. But then I got angry at myself because, I should be able to do this one thing for the benefit of everyone else. So I- I- I let go. I just let go, Connor." He started shaking, and Connor felt hot tears streaming down his face. "But- but I couldn't even fall right.," he said, self-deprecation tuning his tone to one one contempt.I hit the ground, and my arm was the only thing that was numb, and I wasn't dead, and- and I couldn't tell anyone. I just couldn't."

Connor didn't have a response. He didn't have anything better than a cheap sorry, and he wouldn't do that to Evan. It would be too hypocritical of him. So he just held him tighter.

It was quiet for a moment, the two boys sitting, lost in their own heads.

"If you were in that tree right now," he heard Evan say. "Would you let go?" Evan asked, looking up at him.

"Would you?" Connor countered.

Evan looked away. It was quiet for a moment before the smaller boy looked back at him, that strange look in his eyes.

"No," he answered. "I don't think I would." The look on Evan's face was more open than Connor had ever seen. It scared him, if he was being honest. "What about you?" Evan asked.

Connor thought about it. He thought about his family. His sister. Things were getting better with her. He wanted them to keep getting better.

He thought about school. His art teacher had pulled him aside a week or two ago, talking about how he could get a scholarship if he pulled together a portfolio in time. The idea didn't sound bad. He actually had just finished a couple of pieces for it the day before, and had already planned the next three projects. He thought he could do it.

He thought about the boy next to him and let a small smile grace his lips. Evan was the best friend he could have ever asked for. He owed him so much that he could never voice. He would never leave Evan.

He had a future. For the first time in a long time, he actually believed he could have a future

"No. I wouldn't," he said, the amount of truth in the words surprising him.

"Mental Illness Buddies?" Evan asked weakly, holding his hand up for a fist bump. A strangled laugh forced its way out of Connor's throat, sounding thin and tired, but genuine all the same.

"Mental Illness Buddies," Connor answered, meeting Evan's fist with his own, small smile growing.

Evan gave him a watery smile in return, tears still streaming down his face. Connor pulled him closer, and Evan returned the gesture, both boys losing whatever composure they had had, just sobbing on each other's shoulders.

They sat there for a long time. Eventually, they put on another Disney movie. Connor chose a quieter one this time. Cinderella seemed like a good choice for a calming distraction.

"Hey Connor?" Evan spoke up quietly sometime in the middle of the movie.

"Yeah?"

"I'm glad you didn't go through with your plan," he said softly, voice raw with emotion.

"I'm glad yours failed," he responded just as sincerely.

"You'll tell me if you're ever feeling like you'd let go, right?" Evan asked, voice breaking. Connor's breath caught, and he was only able to give an affirmative nod. "And you'll let me try and help?"

"Only if you promise to do the same," he countered. If Evan wanted Connor to lean on him, he wanted Evan to be able lean on him in return.

"I promise."

"Promise."

By the time the movie had ended, Evan was asleep and Connor was barely on the edge of consciousness. 'Dealing with emotions is exhausting. I'm getting more sleep in one day than I've gotten for a week,' he thought before the comforting darkness started taking hold. He pulled Evan closer. 'Can't say I'm complaining, though,' was his last coherent thought before he slipped into a dreamless sleep.

 

________________________________

Chapter Text

Chapter 19

A couple of weeks passed.

Zoe got into a fight with Connor. It wasn't a major one, but she had said something when not realizing he meant it when he told her to shut up, and they had screamed for a bit before they both stormed to their own rooms with shouts of, "FUCK YOU," to each other. But the next day, Connor knocked on her door and offered to paint her nails, saying that, "They look like you started chopping wood before the paint even dried, what the shit, let me fix them." Neither of them really apologized, but they both understood what their actions meant.

Zoe didn't know what had happened when Connor and Evan had taken that mental health day together, but they had both become noticeably closer to each other. Small touches to the shoulder. Evan sitting close to Connor, and even closer on Connor's bad days.

Some days Evan would get quiet. He would barely speak, only offering monosyllabic answers to questions. On those days it wasn't uncommon to see Connor lead him to their next class with a light hand on his back when lunch was over, eyes filled with an emotion Zoe could barely translate to worry. She hoped it was a good thing, but. She didn't know.

She didn't know a lot of things right now, to be perfectly honest.

She didn't know what was going on with her father, who had been acting distant ever since The Incident, as she had dubbed it. She didn't know if their family was ever going to address that fight again. She didn't know if she wanted to tell Evan what had happened. She didn't know if Connor would ever tell him on his own. She didn't know if her mother was doing as well as she said she was. She didn't know why Connor was the way he was, she didn't know why her family was the way it was, and she sure as heck didn't know if she wanted to know how she, herself, was the way she was.

So, it would make perfect sense that Zoe didn't know what she was doing right at this very moment.

At all.

But she had seen Alana playing with Jared's owl and just kind of blanked out. She vaguely recognized the fact that she had dragged Alana away from the lunch table group, and now they were sitting in their spot in their abandoned hallway that the school seemed to have forgotten it had.

"Zoe?" Alana asked, confusion and concern coloring her tone.

"Do you want to skip the rest of the day with me?" The words tumbled from her mouth, surprising herself. She hadn't known that that was what she wanted to do, but now that the words were out, they sounded incredibly appealing. Just some time with Alana, who always managed to distract her from her problems, who helped her work through them. "I don't think I can stand another class. I wanna go somewhere." Alana gave her a disapproving look.

"Zoe-" she started. Zoe cut her off.

"I know you don't like the idea, but I can tell that you've been working yourself harder than usual, and you told me to tell you when you do that. So, please?" Alana didn't look convinced. "Pretty please?" Alana's frown deepened. "Pretty please with kiwi on top?" Alana frowned.

"Okay, that's not fair. You know I love kiwi," she stated, folding her arms. Zoe grinned hopefully.

"Is that a yes?" She wheedled. Alana was quiet for a long moment, adjusting her glasses in a way that reminded Zoe strongly of how Jared did so when he didn't care for something.

"Where would we even go, Zoe?" She looked at her imploringly, arms uncrossing so her hands rested on her hips.

"Away from here," she responded. Alana gave her an unimpressed look. "Fine. I was thinking the Barnes & Nobel book store? The one with the coffee shop in it?" She knew Alana loved that place. Eventually, Alana sighed.

"If we get caught, I will not hesitate to throw you under the bus," she said, turning her nose into the air. Zoe smiled widely.

"Yes," she whisper yelled, pumping the air with her fist. "You won't regret it," she promised. Alana just huffed.

"But you are paying for anything that we buy," Alana stressed.

"Done," Zoe said. She just so happened to have her own money set aside for splurge days, so there was no way for her parents to see a charge on a credit card bill. Time with Alana seemed like the perfect situation to use it for, and she did not have any reservations on spending a lot of it on the shorter girl. "Come on, we can leave before the lunch bell rings."

Alana started walking next to her, a sort of nervous energy radiating from her. Zoe looked around the corner before quietly padding her way for the hall. Alana squeaked and grabbed at her arm.

"What are you doing?" She whisper hissed. "The teachers' lounge is that way!"

"Relax," she said. "Connor taught me how to do this. And he hasn't been caught since the first semester of his freshman year." She motioned for Alana to follow her and lead her down the hall until they reached a door that looked like a janitor's closet. Zoe reached for the handle and pushed, revealing an exit right out of the school.

"Tada!" Zoe exclaimed. Alana stared out the door that opened up to what looked like a winter wonderland. They had finally gotten their first snow of the year the night before, which was pretty late for it being mid-December and all. It had been freezing for the past two weeks, without a sign of snow, and she had heard Connor grumble "Fuck you, climate change, I want my snow," on more than one occasion. She had almost laughed at the delighted squawk she had heard from his room that morning, before there had been banging on her door, accompanied by a loud, "ZO! ZO, IT SNOWED! IT FINALLY SNOWED! ZO! WAKE UP!" That had earned a groan and she had hastily gotten ready so that he would shut up.

Alana stared for a few more seconds, and Zoe felt herself grow impatient. "Well? Come on," she said, pulling the shorter girl out the door with her. She shut it behind them and started leading Alana towards the parking lot. The fresh snow crunched underneath their feet, and Zoe relished in the feeling of the biting cold on her nose. She did love the cold. Maybe not as much as her brother did, but the Murphy siblings were built for the winter, which baffled their parents to no end. Alana looked around nervously.

"How did I not know about that door?" She whisper hissed.

"Connor never told me how he found it," Zoe said. "But I made him take me with him when I caught him sneaking out last year. You can't tell anyone else about the exit, though," she said. "I'm technically breaking our Sibling's Secret by showing you that."

"Sibling's secret?" Alana asked as the two neared Connor's car. Zoe shrugged.

"It's a thing."

"Umm, Zoe?" Alana asked when they reached the car. "Do you even have keys to this?"

"Don't worry," Zoe said, tossing her hair over her shoulder with a smile. "Mom and my dad gave me a spare set. Just in case things with Connor got bad."

"That's... a bit sad, actually," Alana said as Zoe opened the door for her. Zoe frowned, heading over to the driver's side. She didn't have a response for that.

She slid into the driver's seat. Taking out the key from her backpack pocket, she started the engine. Before she could get her foot on the pedal, though, she felt her phone vibrate. She took it out, wincing at the sight of her brother's name on the screen. She held up a finger at Alana's questioning gaze, and pressed answer.

"Hey," she greeted.

"Where are you?" Connor's voice cut through the speaker. "You just up and left with Alana."

"Umm..." Shoot. She should probably have prepared herself to talk to him about this. She was technically taking his car without permission. "Totally not taking your car so we can ditch the rest of the day?"

'Smooth,' Alana mouthed at her. Zoe made a face at her.

"What the shit, Zo?" Connor asked. "You're ditching? You?"

"Hey, you're not the only one who can be a rebel child," she shot back.

"And stealing my car to do it?" He continued on as if she hadn't spoken. "How am I supposed to get home?" Double shoot. She hadn't thought that through either.

"I don't know," she said, trying to cover her embarrassment with annoyance. "Figure it out. Me and Alana are leaving."

"You got Alana to ditch with you?" His tone was decidedly less annoyed, more impressed. "Alana Beck? Our Alana? Class president, doesn't miss a single school event, most likely to always show up? You got her to ditch school?"

"Umm.... yes?" Connor's sharp bark of laughter startled her.

"Wow. Alright. Continue then. I'll cover for you." Zoe blinked.

"Wait, what, really?" He was going to cover for her?

"Yeah. I'm not about to stop you from wooing her. You go do your thing," he said casually, and Zoe flushed.

"Connor-"

"Zo, don't even try to tell me you don't want this to be a date," Connor cut her off. "You two have been dancing around each other's feelings for over a year."

"Connor-" Zoe tried again, only to be cut off again.

"Shut up, Kleinman!"

"What?" Zoe said, startled.

"Not you," Connor said, addressing her. "Cause I'm talking to my sister, that's why. Now shut up," he said again.

"Connor, can I go now?" Zoe asked into the phone. "I promised Alana we'd go to Barnes & Noble."

"Wow, you are not pulling any punches," Connor said, tone back to impressed. "Look, I'll leave it alone for now, but seriously? Go get her. I'm rooting for you two." Zoe looked over at Alana, who was fiddling with a lock of hair distractedly, and smiled a bit before speaking back into the phone.

"Thanks, Connor," she said warmly.

"You're welcome," he said. "Just make sure you don't do anything Evan wouldn't do."

"Would Evan even skip school?" Zoe asked.

"Probably not once he was already there," Connor admitted. "But you got the Alana Beck to skip, so who knows? Now go have fun without dying."

"No promises," she responded. "Bye Con- Con." She knew he hated that nickname.

"Later Bo- Zo," he retaliated before his side of the line went dead. Zoe winced. She had hoped he'd forgotten about that one.

"So..." Alana piped up. "Are we clear to go?"

"Yep. Connor's covering for us." Zoe started carefully pulling out of the parking space and navigated her way out of the lot.

"That's nice of him," Alana commented.

"Yeah," Zoe said. When Conor had fist started acting a bit nicer to her, she had been convinced it wouldn't last long. But he had been making good progress for a whole three and a half months. To be honest, Zoe was proud of him. But her problem was that she just didn't know for absolute certain if she could let herself feel comfortable enough with the change to enjoy it. She hated knowing that she wasn't going to be able to completely drop her guard for a long time.

"Are you alright?" Alana asked suddenly. Zoe started.

"Huh?"

"I mean-" Alana hesitated, like she was searching her vocabulary to find the right words. "I know I'm not the best at reading people in the moment, but I have known you for three years, and you seem really troubled," she said, voice lacking it's usual certainty. Zoe smiled gratefully. Alana had gotten a lot better at communicating her emotions since Zoe had first met her. She was far from "normal" in that area, but that was one of the things Zoe liked about her so much.

"Yeah," Zoe admitted. "I haven't really been relaxed lately. Especially with the whole deal with Larry and- he- I just don't know. I just- I don't want to focus on it right now." She chanced a glance at Alana when they stopped at a red light. Alana offered her a small smile.

"Okay," Alana said. "Then let's focus on the fact that we're skipping school. Are you sure we won't get caught? What if they teach a new topic today?"

"Alana, you do so much schoolwork and after schoolwork that I think you've already completed the lesson plan all the way up to halfway through next semester," Zoe said as they turned the corner. "You'll be fine."

"What about you, though?" Alana countered.

"'Lanaaaaaa," Zoe groaned playfully, reaching over to smack the shorter girl's arm, fabric of her coat sleeve scratching her skin. "I'm doing this to get us away from all the stress. I'll be fine. You'll be fine. We," she emphasized the 'we' as they made another turn, "-will be fine. Okay?"

Alana smacked her shoulder lightly in return.

"Okay."

________________________________

"So... that's one order of a caramel frappé, and one order of hot chocolate?" The cashier asked.

Zoe and Alana had just finished purchasing their books. Zoe had three new sci-fi novels, and Alana had up and gone for the entire Heroes of Olympus series, saying that she already had the Percy Jackson and the Olympians ones, and she had been meaning to continue for a while now. Zoe could tell that she was especially cheery because of the fact that it was Zoe's money she was spending.

"That's correct," Alana said brightly. The cashier just nodded.

"We'll have someone bring you your order when it's ready."

"Thank you," She chirped in response. Zoe lead the both of them to a little booth by the opening in the wall that gave them a view of the bookstore.

Alana sat down, giving Zoe a wide smile. "I love this place," she told her like it might surprise her; excited. Zoe chuckled.

"I can tell," she responded. "Now, do I have great ideas, or do I have great ideas?"

"You have amazing ideas," Alana said with exasperated fondness.

"I' try," Zoe shrugged. They continued their discussion about which book series they'd rather live in. Eventually their drinks arrived. Zoe sipped her hot chocolate happily. They watched new customers come in and sit down at the tables around them. There was a family with a surprisingly quiet baby sitting in the corner. There was a group of college students sitting a couple of tables away, laughing and crowding around one girl's phone. A person with huge bags under their eyes was seated at the table next to them, with an expensive camera and folders spread out around them.

"Okay, moment of truth," Zoe said after about fifteen minutes. "If a fictional character walked through that door right now and invited you to go to their world with them, would you leave?" Alana hmmed thoughtfully and took a long sip of her frappé.

"Depends. Would I be able to come back?"

"No."

"Would I be able to bring people with me?"

"No. Just yourself."

"Than no," Alana said decisively. "I like it here." She added that last part looking directly at Zoe. Zoe didn't know how to react to that so she just smiled. Alana blushed lightly. "Well, what about you?"

"I don't know what I'd do, honestly," Zoe admitted, looking down at her hot chocolate. "It really depends on how attached I am to the story the character came from. And my life at the moment. And my mood."

"I can see you leaving in a split second decision, depending on your mood," Alana said.

"Wooow, 'Lana," Zoe said with a dramatic tilt of her head. "Nice to know you think I'd just up and leave you without an explanation."

"I'm just saying that you make bold choices very quickly," Alana said placatingly. "But if it helps, I do think you'd miss us a lot." And Alana flashed her that smile again and Zoe had a very brief moment where her eyes zeroed in on the hand on the table and her brother telling her to go for it flashed through her mind. She had just enough time to think, 'Bold choices very quickly, huh?' before her own hand was moving to cover Alana's.

"There are some I think I'd miss more than others," she said, looking into Alana's surprised eyes. Surprise melted into confusion.

"You're holding my hand."

"Yes, I am."

"Why?"

"Because I think we don't hold hands enough."

"We never hold hands."

Zoe laced their fingers together.

"We could start?" Uncertainty turned the statement into a request. She gave Alana's hand a squeeze and the confusion cleared to understanding in the eyes that were hidden behind mysteriously foggy glasses all of a sudden. Alana adjusted her glasses.

"I think that would be another amazing idea of yours." Zoe felt happiness bloom in her chest. They sat there, drinks going ignored, staring at each other with wide smiles. The sound of a camera going off surprised both of them.

"What the-?"

"I am so sorry!" The two girls looked over at the table next to them, where the harried looking student was holding her camera, which was connected to her computer. "It's just- I've been stressing out because I have this really important photography assignment due this Friday before we leave for winter break, and I still hadn't found the right subject, and I came here to get a coffee and focus, and I happened to overhear your guys' conversation, and I looked up and you two were just so perfectly framed by the opening in the wall, and the lighting from the bookstore was just beautiful-" The girl paused to take a deep breath before continuing. "-And your hands were in perfect view, and your faces were just so real, and all I could think was that we don't get enough good representation of what it really looks like to care for another girl, and you two are really actually really beautiful and it was such a beautiful moment that before I knew what I was doing I was taking a picture and I know I should have asked for your guys' consent, I am so sorry." The girl's ramblings reminded Zoe strongly of Evan, but less anxious, more excited. She stopped so suddenly that it took Zoe a moment to realize she was done.

"It's... alright," she said, trying for calm, but it came out more bewildered than anything. She looked over at Alana, who nodded, before saying, "We were just very surprised. Please just... ask next time, though?"

"Oh, I know, I really don't know what came over me. I can get rid of the picture if you're not okay with it." The girl moved to fiddle with the computer.

"Umm, actually," Alana interjected. "May we look at it?"

"Oh, of course," the student said, turning the computer towards them. "Not to pat myself on the back, but it really is a beautiful picture."

Zoe agreed. She would be the first to admit that she Lee next to nothing about photography, but the quality was excellent, and the girl was right about the perfect way the opening in the wall framed them.

"Well," Alana said, adjusting her glasses. "It's okay with me if you keep the picture. Zoe?" Zoe shrugged.

"It's okay with me," she said. "As long as I get a copy of it, though."

"Yeah, sure. It will take me a while to develop them, but I can get it to you."

"You said this was for a project?" Alana brought up. The girl nodded vigorously.

"Yeah. I take photography as a college course, and I still haven't found a subject for the project due this Friday." Zoe gave Alana a look, to which Alana nodded.

"Well," Zoe started. "How many pictures do you need exactly?"

"Ten to fifteen," the girl sighed, eye bags seeming to deepen with the words. "Because my overachieving ass decided I could totally put everything together in time."

"We wouldn't mind being your photo subjects if you want to take more pictures," Alana told the girl. "If you want, that is."

"Really?" The girl's eyes lit up. "You would do that? I don even k now your names."

"Oh! Well, my name is Alana and this is my friend Zoe."

"'Friend'?" The girl asked.

"Yeah, 'friend'?" Zoe asked. She thought she had made it clear that what had just happened was a non-platonic thing.

"I'm sorry, a lot is happening right now, and we haven't gotten the chance to talk about it yet," Alana exclaimed.

"Well, anyways. My name is Mei," he girl, now known as Mei, said. "Are you two really okay with being my muses floor a while?"

"I don't see why not," Alana said. "I've always liked Greek mythology."

"What?" Mei asked.

"Never mind," Zoe interjected when Alana opened her mouth, likely about to start a tangent about the Muses in Greek mythology. "We're not in a hurry to be anywhere. We've got time." The smile she got in return nearly blinded her. She did not know teeth could be so white. "But uh- First. Could we have a moment to talk?" She asked, motioning between her and Alana.

"Oh, of course!" Mei said. "It'll take me a second to get my stuff together anyways. I have to get an idea going about the setting and the story I want to tell and the mood I want to set, and a bunch of other things." She turned to her computer and Zoe took Alana's hand (she could do that now) and lead her to a quiet corner of the shop where they could talk with a bit of privacy.

"So," she started, after a moment of silence, holding their hands up to look at. "Are we... a thing now?"

"Well I really don't see why we shouldn't be," Alana told her seriously. "I like you, Zoe. A lot." Zoe felt her cheeks heat up. "But are there any major changes that you want to make besides hand holding?" Alana inquired, and Zoe smiled. It was good to know Alana wouldn't change.

"Well, I don't see why we should change much about the way we act around each other," Zoe said thoughtfully. "Maybe just some more hugs? And more time together? And a date every once in a while? And I get to tell people that I have an amazing girlfriend? And-"

"Basically all the things that are done in your typical romantic relationship?" Alana interjected.

"Yeah," Zoe admitted. "But more our style. And at a pace and with regulations that suit us."

"How mature," Alana said. "I'm impressed."

"I am the one that is taking classes with you, even though I'm a year younger."

"Only in our extracurricular class," Alana said.

"The point still stands," Zoe said stubbornly.

"Fine. But can we still be- you know, us?" Alana asked. Zoe squeezed her hand.

"Our thing will still be ours. It'll be us," Zoe said reassuringly. "Only us, no matter what other people say about it." Alana smiled brightly.

"We can try that," she said, and the two were just the slightest bit more comfortable when they walked back over to where Mei was bouncing excitedly by the exit.

She still didn't know a lot. She didn't know if this was the right move, but Alana's unwavering smile helped soothe her nerves. She didn't know how things would work out. But she did know that right now she was happy. And Alana wanted to be happy with her.

Yeah. They would try that.

 

________________________________

Chapter Text

Chapter 20

Larry Murphy didn't know his kids. Not anymore. He hadn't known Connor for a while, but not knowing Zoe was new. It hurt. It hurt a lot.

He had seen both his children grow closer as a unit. On some level, he was happy that they had finally started growing closer to each other again. On the other, it pained him to watch them grow away from him

He knew it was his own fault that Zoe began pulling away, and that Connor had just started ignoring him all together. He hadn't meant the words, the insults, about Evan. They had flown from his mouth in a rage of other words, and he hadn't been focusing on them at the time. He knew that didn't matter. He had said them. The damage was done.

Both of his kids now looked at him with disappointment. And he didn't know what to do. He didn't even know how to take one step forward.

His wife's advice? Apologize to Evan.

"You hurt them by insulting Evan. Nothing is going to get better unless you make it up to him first," she had told him, and for once he was going to take her advice. He had done something he needed to make up for, and this was a step in that direction.

He really loved Cynthia. He had asked if she wished to come with him, but she insisted this be something he do on his own.

So this was how he found himself knocking on the door of the Hansen household on a Saturday afternoon. The house was a bit run down looking, the only house on a street that faced a fence with a park on the other side.

The door opened to reveal a tired looking woman. She blinked in surprise upon seeing him.

"May I help you?" Her tone was open, yet obviously guarded. She must be Evan's mother. He cleared his throat.

"I'm here to see Evan Hansen," he informed the woman in a default polite business tone. She blinked in surprise once more, expression even more guarded than before.

"And who are you?" Guarded tone as well.

"I'm Laurence Murphy," he introduced himself, extending his hand out. Something shifted in her face that Larry couldn't identify.

"Heidi Hansen," she introduced herself. "And you must be Connor's father," she said, accepting the handshake, and Larry would be lying if he said that he wasn't surprised at how professional the exchange was. So she was sharp as well.

"That's right," he confirmed.

"A pleasure to meet you," she said. "I must say, though," she continued. "I don't know what you want with my son."

"There are some things I need to tell him."

"Would you like me to deliver a message?"

"I need to tell him in person." Her eyebrows raised.

"Alright then. But he's not here right now." Larry blinked. "He should be back soon, though. Would you like to wait for him inside?"

"Thank you," he said, accepting the offer as she turned to let him in. He looked around inside. It was less run down on the inside, but it definitely screamed just barely living in middle class.

"I know you said that you needed to tell Evan in person, but what is it you need to tell him?" Ms. Hansen spoke up, crossing over to the couch.

Larry knew the way she sat. It was the same way he did when talking to whoever his client may be. Make your voice and posture open and trustworthy, make your words just sharp enough to be offsetting. You want their trust, but you are not their friend. He knew this setting.

"I realized I may have said some things that were highly inaccurate while in a state of emotional distress. I am here to apologize for anything that might have offended him." Don't tell them everything you hav, but don't be closed off. Ms. Hansen's eyebrow quirked, and he knew she could tell as well.

"Lawyer," was all she said. He nodded.

"I'm surprised I haven't seen you in the business," he responded.

"I'm taking classes still. I get my first assignment in February. Then they'll decide if I get to move on to the higher levels."

"I'm sure you will," he said easily. She had the skill. He could tell. "You're sharper than some professionals I've gone up against." Her face remained neutral at the praise, but he could detect a hint of pride.

"Are you sure you should be boosting my confidence? I might just end up working a case against you."

He knew what she was doing now. There was an unwritten rule that all in the business knew. The side the lawyer is on never defines the lawyer's beliefs. The arguments presented are never personal, or insulting to the other. Those who disregard this rule are very common, but they are looked down upon. If she was asking him this, then he had no doubt that she understood this already.

"Just the fact that you asked me that proves my statement."

That was a definite gleam of pride in her eyes.

There was a sound of the front door opening, and voices were heard.

"I take it back. You are the absolute worst," Larry heard his son saying.

"Connor, it was just a pun-" Their talking was cut short as the two boys spotted them in the living room. When his eyes met his son's, Connor's expression immediately turned hostile. Evan's became uncomfortable.

Heidi got up from the couch and hugged her son. "Welcome home, Evan." She gave Connor a hug as well, and Larry's heart tugged. He could not remember the last time he had held his own son.

"Hi Mom," Evan mumbled.

"Hello Ms. Han- Heidi," Connor greeted, eyes not tearing away from Larry. Larry cleared his throat.

"Ms. Hansen. May I please speak to your son in private?" He asked, and Evan's expression became surprised and confused. Connor answered before she could.

"No," he growled. Ms. Hansen put a hand on his shoulder.

"I was just heading up to my room anyways," she said. She fixed Larry with a look. "I expect the issue will be resolved by the time I get back." Larry gave her a thankful nod.

"As one lawyer to another, Ms. Hansen, you'll be one of the better known sharks in no time at all," he told her before she turned to the stairs. She didn't smile, but the look of pride came back.

"I look forward to it," she said and made her way up the stairs. Once her door closed, Connor whirled to glare at Larry.

"What the fuck are you doing here?" He asked, stepping forward.

"I came to see Evan," he responded as cooly as he could. "In private." Connor's stance became even more protective. He didn't say anything, simply glaring at his father, fury evident in his eyes.

"It- It's alright, Connor," Evan spoke up. His eyes met Larry's. "If you want to say something to me, you can say it. But Connor gets to stay if he wants to." His face, though apprehensive, left no room for negotiation. Larry could definitely see the resemblance between him and his mother. He nodded. Connor's posture relaxed a little, but he still stood next to the smaller boy.

Larry began. "I'm sure Connor must have told you what happened," he said. To his surprise Evan interjected.

"He- he only told me that you said- that what was said was insulting. He never specified what- exactly what happened." Larry's eyebrows rose in surprise. He would have thought Connor would have had no qualms telling the boy what Larry had said about him.

Connor explained without being asked. "He didn't deserve to have the words said about him in the first place. He should never have to think they could be associated with him." Larry blinked. He knew those words. For a moment, Larry could clearly see Cynthia in Connor's expression.

Connor was always one to be brutally honest. But maybe that was only the Connor he had known. He couldn't say he knew the person in front of him anymore. But that was why he was here. To take a step towards knowing him again.

"Regardless of whether or not you know what was said," he spoke, addressing Evan. "I wasn't thinking when I said those words. I was angry, but I had no right to take it out on you, especially because you weren't even there. I did not mean what I said. I know this doesn't excuse my actions in any way. I crossed a line. I'm not saying you have to forgive me. But I do hope that you will allow me to try and make up for it. I'm sorry."

He waited for the verdict. Connor was staring at him, face flickering through so many emotions that it almost seemed blank. Evan looked taken aback, like he didn't know how to respond. Finally, Evan turned to Connor.

"Connor?" He asked. Connor tore his gaze from Larry's to meet Evan's. "What do you think?"

"I don't know, Evan," he said, shaking his head. "I think this is one you should decide on your own." The two stared at each other a few moments more, before Evan nodded.

"I don't know what was said," he began. "So I think that makes the situation a bit different. I don't forgive you, because I don't have the full situation. But I do accept your apology. I think- I think it would be best if we left it at that for now?" Larry nodded.

"Thank you, Evan," he said. His gaze turned to Connor. "Are you staying here?" Connor looked at him for a long moment.

"I'm spending the night actually," he said finally. "Mom said it was cool. I won't be back at the house until late tomorrow." Larry noted the lack of the word home.

"Alright," was all he said. "Be safe. Goodnight." He took his cue to leave. The door shut behind him and he let out a sigh.

All in all, it could have gone so much worse. At least it was a step in the right direction.

________________________________

Cynthia was there to greet him when he got home.

"How'd it go?" She asked after giving him a quick kiss. He sighed. She winced. "That bad?"

"Where's Zoe?" He asked instead of answering. Cynthia gave him a look.

"She's staying at Alana's tonight," she explained. "Now answer the question. How did it go?"

"It actually went better than I expected. I think it was a step forward." She gave him a puzzled look.

"Then why the face?"

"Connor was there. He said he had told you he'd be spending the night." She nodded, understanding dawning in her gaze.

"What happened?"

"Well, when I got there, he wasn't back yet. I talked to his mother, which was about as awkward as one could imagine. How do you tell someone that you showed up at their house to apologize to their son for making a racist comment?" He asked, dark humor coloring the last statement. Cynthia made a sympathetic face, leading him to the living room.

"Anyways, he got back a bit later, and Connor was with him." He smiled sadly. "Cynthia, Connor never told Evan what I said."

His wife's reaction was to be expected.

"What? Why?"

"He said, and I quote, 'He didn't deserve to have the words said about him in the first place. He should never have to think they could be associated with him.'" Cynthia blinked.

"He- Connor..." she trailed off.

"I know," Larry said. "You told me the same thing."

When Larry and Cynthia had first met, Larry had been dating Cynthia's cousin, Derik. They had first met when Derik had invited Larry to his family Christmas dinner, and the two of them had immediately become great friends.

A few months later, Derik's parents were yelling at him, calling him things were insults to his relationship. Derik had ended up breaking up with him, choosing his family over Larry. Larry had been heartbroken. He had loved Derik. He had thought he had a future with him.

One day, Cynthia had barged into his apartment with snacks and movie rentals, telling him that she had given her aunt and uncle a verbal smack down, saying, "You didn't deserve to have the words said about you in the first place.you should never have to think they could be associated with you." And Larry had cried on her shoulder, and Cynthia had comforted him.

They had started dating a few months later, gotten engaged after five years, married after one more. Then, two years later, Connor was born. A year after that, Zoe.

Through all that time, Cynthia's words stuck with him. He was filled with love and affection for her every time they entered his brain. He loved her, and how accepting she was of him.

To hear Connor say the same thing for Evan had filled him with even more guilt and regret for his actions.

"I knew Connor cared about him," Cynthia said, bringing Larry back to the present. Tears were falling down her face. "But that..."

"It was like looking at you," Larry admitted. "But with better hair," he joked. Cynthia had always complained about their son having better hair than anyone else in their family, and 'I just don't know who he got it from, Larry, it's not fair.'

"Speaking of which," Cynthia said. "He's been taking better care of it recently, have you noticed?" Larry had.

"He had been taking better care of himself since the beginning of the year," Larry noted. "Ever since he first told us about Evan."

To be honest, the whole argument had started because Larry had actually been jealous of Evan. He had been trying to reach out to Connor for years, and then this kid shows up out of nowhere and suddenly, Connor was acting healthier again. Hell, within the first week, Connor was laughing.

But he knew Evan didn't deserve his hatred. He had really been angry at himself, and took it out on the small boy.

"And," Cynthia continued. "I know you don't like the idea, especially because if your parents, but I really do think that Connor would benefit from seeing a therapist." Her eyes were bright with hope. "He asked me again today, and I think it would be a great way to begin making it up to him. It would make him feel heard. He's been trying so hard. It's only fair that we meet him halfway."

Larry didn't have to pause. Seeing Connor today had given him a glimpse of who his son really was. He wanted him to stick around long enough to get to know him. And if that meant therapy, so be it.

"I'll start looking online for one," he said, and he swore his heart melted at the happiness that lit up his wife's face.

He kissed her, feeling like he was finally taking a step in the right direction. It would all be worth it to get his family back.

And as they went to bed that night, Cynthia brought something else up.

"Honey?"

"Yes?"

"About how Connor and Evan," she said quietly. "Do you think Connor...?"

His mind flashed to Connor's tone, his stance, his words, his eyes. "Yes," he answered.

"Do you think he knows?"

"Cynthia, he didn't know that Zoe liked Alana Beck until a year ago, and he was with us when they were singing that song together. Do you really think he understands his own feelings?" He asked his wife incredulously. He might not know his son, but he did know he was the most oblivious person he had ever met.

"No," his wife admitted. A yawn. "Should we tell him?"

"I think we should wait a bit on that, to be honest," he said, stifling a yawn of his own.

"You're right," Cynthia said sleepily. "Goodnight, honey. I love you."

"I love you, too," he replied. Goodnight."

'And it really has been,' he thought as he fell asleep. It certainly had been far from bad.

It had been a step forward.

Chapter Text

Chapter 21

Evan Hansen was Not Doing Okay. 'Why?' You may ask? No special reason.

Except for maybe the fact that he was at the store with hair products in his hand and Jared Kleinman was staring at him like he was a stranger.

Last night, Connor had been a mess after Mr. Murphy had left. After much reassurance that, no, Connor was not upset with him for accepting Mr. Murphy's apology, Connor had finally told him that he just wasn't sure how to deal with 'fucking Larry.' Both of them had been rattled by the man's appearance and sudden apology.

They had talked it out, though. Connor wasn't sure what Mr. Murphy was trying to do, and Evan certainly didn't know either. In the end, Connor had decided that he would just be cautious at home and see what happened. Evan had supported his decision.

They had finally watched Frozen, and Evan had never wanted to throttle someone before. He was pretty sure some... creative, for lack of a better word, curses had flown from his lips when he found out Hans's plan. How the fuck could someone be so heartless? Connor had fallen off the couch, paralyzed with laughter as Evan had shouted profanities at the screen.

When Connor had fallen asleep, Evan had noticed that he had more dandruff in his hair than usual. He had not been staring at him while he was asleep, and definitely had not been mesmerized by how ethereal he looked when all his features were relaxed, no way. He had simply been captivated by Connor Murphy's Beautifully Thick Hair.

'...'

Dear lord, he had issues.

Anyways, one way or another, he had been staring, not like a creep, and had realized with a start that Connor had not washed his hair for a while now. He knew this because Connor washed his hair every three days, he could tell because it always looked more on the curly side instead of the wavy side after drying, and his hair had definitely been more on the wavy side for about a week now.

'...'

Maybe he should talk to his therapist about this hyper fixation.

Anyways, Connor's hair had dandruff again. 'Is this how long it normally takes Mom to run out of shampoo and conditioner,?' he had thought. He wasn't sure, but Connor's hair was thicker than his mother's, so he might run out quicker.

So as soon as Connor had left today, Evan had taken the twenty dollar bill that his mom had left to pay for takeout, and started walking to the store.

He did not feel guilt at the fact that he was using money for food on hair products because takeout was expensive and Evan could by four Lean Cuisines for ten bucks, which was less than what he would have left over from buying shampoo and conditioner, so it was fine.

He was just choosing between the different conditioners (the one he had first bought for Connor, and one that Evan thought might be even better, but wasn't sure), when he had heard a startled, "Evan?!"

Evan froze. He turned, and there was Jared. Evan waved weakly. He cleared his throat.

"Hey Jared."

"What are you doing?" Evan winced. He did not have an explanation ready.

"I'm buying conditioner for my mom?" He tried. Wait no, that was what he had said last time.

"Again?" Jared asked, walking closer.

"Yeah," Evan said, turning back to the two different brands. He could do this. He could just pretend that his mom sent him out for groceries. Yes. That would work.

"Umm... Evan?"

"Hmm?" Jared took the conditioner he was examining and held it up with his eyebrows raised.

"Heidi doesn't have," he paused to squint at the lettering. "'Naturally wavy dark brown hair.' What the shit?"

Evan went into panic mode. "Oh- um- yeah- Yeah, I know," he mumbled, immediately cursing his lack of preparation for this kind of encounter. "I- I mean, is that what that says? Cause, I could have swam- sworn that it was the one for- for straight hair?? Cause- cause my mop- mom has blob-blonde, straight hair. So- so that would be- that would obviously be the kind of conditioner I would be here for."

Jared was staring at him. So Evan did what Evan does when Evan feels like he's 'trapped in the corner, trapped, trapped, trapped way up high, no way out, no way down, find a way out, get out, get down, get down, falling, falling, I can never just get out-!' He kept talking. And the words spilled from his mouth with absolutely no brain to mouth filter whatsoever.

"Because I- I- I should have grabbed the one for straight hair, because why would I buy conditioner for someone with The Most Beautiful Wavy Hair I've ever seen in my life, there's no one that I know with hair that isn't blonde or straight, because that would mean that I would be buying hair conditioner for someone other than my mom, and that would be ridiculous, can you imagine being so fixated on someone's hair that you would anonymously give them hair products for over three months, I mean that would be ridiculous, no matter how freaking wonderful and nice and caring and understanding and cute and protective and beautiful he is, that would just be weird, it doesn't matter that Connor Murphy's Hair is the most Wonderful Thing That My Eyes Have Ever Been Blessed With The Sight Of, I mean, holy shit Jared, have you even seen him, how was I supposed to not develop an unhealthy obsession with his hair that lead me to this moment where I just tried to avoid telling you all of that and my mouth is still moving and I didn't mean to tell you any of that and you're staring at me and making me feel really uncomfortable, so if I could just have that back, I need to leave now." He grabbed the bottle from Jared and bolted, leaving him standing with his mouth hanging open.

He made a beeline for the front of the store. A repeating mantra of, 'Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shIT SHIT SHIT WHAT HAVE I DONE,' played in his head as he power walked his way through the aisles. It was only when the cashier asked him, "Sir, I need you to let me scan your items," that he remembered he still had to engage in human interaction right now, and his brain went, 'Nope, nopity, nope, nope,' and shut down.

"Um- um- um-" was all he said for a solid fifteen seconds before a voice behind him spoke up.

"Evan, hand me your wallet." Evan did so robotically, and it was only when he realized that Jared was quietly shepherding him out the automatic doors and whispering, "It's alright. Deep breaths," did he realize that he was having a panic attack.

Jared lead him through the parking lot, opening the door of his car. Evan froze for a moment. Jared's car was still a bit of a trigger for him, the feeling of 'We're going to crash, crash, crash, crash and die, I don't want to to die, I don't want to die, I want to live, I want to live, I actually want to live,' washing through him as the first wave of tears hit him. He crouched down.

"Shit," Jared cursed. "The car. Shit." Evan was vaguely aware of a careful hand being placed on his back. "Evan. Shit. Where's your inhaler? Get your inhaler." Evan did as he was instructed and fumbled to pull the device from his pocket. He dropped it, and his breathing became even more sporadic. "Shit. Evan, hey it's gonna be alright. It's okay." Jared handed him his inhaler, and Evan hurriedly started breathing through it. "Just breathe. Breathe, alright?" Evan tried to concentrate on the sound of his voice. It was difficult because Jared knew, he had told him, he hadn't meant to tell him, nobody was supposed to know, why on Earth had he told him?

But he managed to focus on Jared's voice and eventually his breathing evened out. He stopped shaking and looked up at Jared.

"You better?" Evan just nodded mutely, putting his inhaler back in his pocket. Jared carefully helped him to his feet and gently guided him into the passenger's seat, closing the door for him. Evan fumbled for his seatbelt and immediately felt a little calmer when he heard the little click. Jared entered the driver's side and inserted the key in the ignition. He paused to take what Evan realized was the bag holding the two bottles of conditioner and one of shampoo and handed it to him. Evan took it without looking up, hugging it close to his chest.

Jared started driving silently. Evan was grateful for the lack of conversation. He wasn't sure what to say. He had just ranted to Jared about how beautiful Connor Murphy and His Hair were. That was not a normal thing one did. Evan knew the silence wouldn't last long.

Jared lasted about two minutes without talking.

"So. That was... wow." Evan flinched and chuckled humorlessly.

"Yeah. Sorry."

"Shit man, I just can't believe that you have a crush on Scary Murphy instead of Sweet Murphy now." Evan flushed.

"Wh- what?! I- I-" His brain halted.

A crush on Connor? No way. No way. Connor was Evan's friend. F-R-I-E-N-D. His friend who was kind, and funny, and wickedly smart, and accepting, and was the most beautiful and wonderful person he had ever met and when he smiled Evan could swear his heart melted in his chest and-

Oh.

Oh, no.

"I have a crush on Connor Murphy," he whispered.

Shit.

________________________________

Jared was not having a good day.

He was currently sitting with Evan in his bedroom, which normally would have put him in a good mood from hanging out. But instead, Evan was sitting on his bed in a state of shock, staring at the opposing wall blankly.

"I have a crush on Connor Murphy," he whispered again. He had been saying that for the past fifteen minutes, all the way to his house, each time saying it with the infliction on a different word.

Jared wished he would stop saying it. He already knew, so why did he have to hear it get confirmed over and over again?

"I have a crush on Connor Murphy," Evan whispered once more, really emphasizing Connor's full name. This time, he broke the pattern, and clutched at his head. "What the hell am I going to do?!"

"Wha-"

"I'm going to ruin everything!" Evan cut Jared off, launching to his feet. "I don't want to like him! I want things to stay the way they are! But, nooooooo!" Jared watched him, starting to seriously wonder if he was losing it. "He just had to be so great, that I went and got feelings for him! If he finds out, he's gonna hate me! What do I do, what do I do, what do I-"

"Evan!" Jared cut him off, blocking his path, and grabbing his shoulders. "Pull yourself together!"

Evan stared at him. Jared took a deep breath, trying to fight down the horrible feeling in his stomach. He couldn't be selfish right now.

"Murphy will never hate you. I have seen the way you two interact. That guy couldn't hate you if he tried." Evan gave him a funny look.

"What do you mean?"

Jared opened his mouth, but the words wouldn't come.

At this point, Jared would have invited any outsiders to put themselves in his shoes. Imagine that you know that the person you have liked for years likes another person. They have recently discovered this for themself, and are asking you what they should do. The thing is, you know that the person they like likes them back, and you know it would crush you if they got together. Would you tell them that the person they like likes them as well?

A better man then Jared would have. But in that moment, Jared felt his mouth open, and the wrong explanation came out.

"Has anything he has ever done to you given you the impression that he would be capable of hating you?" After a long moment, Evan shook his head no. "That's what I thought. You will be fine."

"But- but what if he finds out? Things will change, and- and- and-"

Jared realized he would have to take a different approach. "Listen, you've liked him for a while now, but just didn't realize it, right?" Evan nodded. "So just be yourself around him, and he won't think anything of it."

There. Solid advice. Evan's confidence and self respect didn't take any hits, but Jared wouldn't have to go through any more heartbreak than he already did.

"But-" Evan had a worried look on his face as he spoke quietly. 'What now?' Jared despaired internally. "What if myself decides it wants to like, do something really stupid, like, kiss him or something?" He mumbled.

Jared would not lie, he felt like he was going to be physically sick as a vivid image floated through his mind. He could practically feel his heart rip at the idea.

"Yeah, um-" Jared choked. "Maybe- maybe don't do that."

"But what do I do instead? He'll ask me what I'm thinking about, and I'll panic!"

"Then don't panic!"

"I always panic, Jared!" Evan shouted, grabbing Jared's shoulders in return and shaking him. "That! Is! How! My! Anxiety! Works! I'm panicking right now!"

"You're panicking about the idea of panicking?"

"Yes!" Evan was hyperventilating. Jared didn't know what to do. He gripped Evan's shoulders tighter, shaking him.

"Stop shaking me!" Evan yelled.

"You stop shaking me!" Jared yelled back. "You know what?! Better yet, lets just stop shaking each other!"

"That sounds good!" Evan shouted, and they let go of each other at the same time, stumbling back a bit.

Jared watched Evan sit down on his bed again. Evan buried his face in his hands.

"I just- I'm scared, Jared. I- I've never felt this way about anything before. I don't know what to do." Evan curled his knees into himself, and Jared felt his heartstrings tug in both sympathy for Evan's situation, and jealousy that Evan was in this situation because he liked Connor Murphy. He made his way over to the bed and sat next to Evan.

"What about Zoe? You liked her for a long time," Jared asked. He saw the top of Evan's head shake from side to side.

"I think- I liked the idea of her." His voice came out muffled from his curled form. "She just seemed so untouchable. Self-assured. I put her on a pedestal. She's still great, but she just seems more real, now. She's someone that's a great friend, but I think the idolization had a lot to do with how I felt." Jared nodded even though Evan couldn't see him.

He understood idolization. They look like stars to your eyes, but up close they're different. It's the same person, but now you're close enough to really see them.

"Plus," Evan continued. "She and Alana are dating, now. Even if I did still have feelings for her, I would never put her in that position." Jared did a double take.

"Wait, what?! They're dating?!" Evan poked his head out from his protective armor of limbs and gave him a look.

"Yeah? They've been together since Monday. You didn't know?"

"They literally have not changed at all since Monday, what are you talking about?"

"Jared," Evan was giving him a really concerned look. "They literally skipped school to go on a date. You were there when Connor called Zoe. They literally have been holding hands every time we've had lunch together."

Jared simply blinked. He had not noticed. "I guess they already acted so couple-y that I didn't realize." Evan did a weird thing with his shoulders that conveyed the message, 'Understandable.'

"So, what's so different about Connor?" Jared asked, genuinely curious. "I mean, you just told me that you started hanging out with him because you have a weird fixation on his hair. That's a bit like the thing you had for Zoe, isn't it?" What made Connor so special?

"It's just- different!" Evan exclaimed, putting his head back between his knees. "It's like, the closer I get, the more amazing he is!"

"What do you mean?" 'Wow, Jared,' he thought at himself. 'Can we please stop causing ourself more pain?' But the role of being the supportive friend was too strong. He really could not stick to a part, could he?

Evan answered as if he couldn't hear the fight Jared was having in his head. Which... Would actually cause a whole other problem. "I mean- He just understands, you know? I can be myself around him, like you said. I don't feel bad when I'm with him." It was almost physically painful for Jared to listen to this.

"Do you feel bad when you're with us?" Jared did not mean for that much hurt to color his tone.

"No- that's not- that isn't what I meant," Evan rushed to explain. "You and Alana and Zoe are awesome and I feel accepted with you guys, but-" He looked away. "It's just- I don't know. Everything about him just- He makes me feel like- like- I don't know," he despaired. "It's just different. I- When I'm upset, I can literally just sit next to him and feel better. He's just wonderful. I don't know how else to explain it."

Evan's tone had a sort of finality to it, and Jared was grateful because he did not know if he could have lasted another second of listening to Evan sing Connor's praises without throwing up or crying. He knew what Evan meant. Even just sitting here next to him was making him happier than normal. The two sat there in silence for a while. Jared sighed.

"Look, man," he said, running a hand through his hair. "I'm going to be honest; I have no clue what to tell you right now. But I do know that you desperately need a distraction. So," he said, standing up to walk over to Evan's shelf, which had some old video games on it from when Jared had thought he could try to get Evan interested in them. He picked a case up at random. "Wanna play?"

 

So, the two spent the next few hours playing game after game, shouting stupid stuff at each other, and both failing spectacularly whenever they tried to do something that involved instructions more complicated than pressing the A button.

A smile had worked it's way onto Evan's face, and Jared wished it could always be like this. Just the two of them. Two friends who had stuck with each other since the first grade, when lines were in alphabetical order, and you were toast if you didn't get along with the person next to you. He was happy.

But it hurt knowing that Evan wanted that with someone else. It hurt knowing that Jared wasn't it for him. It hurt seeing him smile, and feeling like he was a million worlds apart from the boy he was seated just a foot away from. And it hurt that Jared still wanted to be selfish and keep him here.

But it hurt worse knowing that, when the time came, he could never really keep Evan from what would make him as happy as Jared felt right now. It hurt that, in the end, Evan would find Connor felt the same.

So, Jared would enjoy the time he had. The little things. The moments he did get.

And if he went home that night and cried in the bathtub eating bath bombs, then that was none of his dad's business.

 

________________________________

Chapter Text

Chapter 22

Connor flopped back on his bed after a long day at school. Mondays were the worst. He was tired from trying not to think about anything.

He had had dinner with his family last night, pointedly ignoring the odd look his mom was giving him, and the careful glances Larry was shooting him. He didn't want to know what they were thinking, and was content to pretend to be paying attention to Zoe talking about this project she and Alana were working on. Something to do with a show they watched.

He had wanted to fall asleep when he went to bed last night. He had. But then he started debating, again, whether or not he should respond to That Text.

He wasn't ignoring him. He wasn't. He just didn't want to talk to him because he knew he would get angry for no reason. And he was trying to not do that.

Evan would say he should at least tell Miguel why he wasn't responding. Evan would probably be right. He would probably listen to Evan, because Evan would give him that look that made him want to try harder than he already was.

And after much debate in his head, he had typed out a message.

'I don't think I can talk to you for a while. I thought you had been ignoring me for a long time, so I kind of blocked out everything to do with you. I know now that you didn't ignore me on purpose, but I'm not ready to try and patch things up with you. We broke up. I know I'm the one who reached out to you, but I don't think I was right to. What we had became unhealthy, and I won't put myself or you in a position where we could hurt each other. If I'm ever going to try to be your friend again, I need to be in a healthier place.'

He had hit send, immediately putting his phone on 'Do Not Disturb.' He had lain on his bed, much like he was doing now, trying to ignore all of the thoughts in his head.

But right now, his thoughts were on a different topic all together.

He did it. He had finally put the note he had made for his gift giver in his locker today.

You would have thought he would have done it sooner, but with everything else that had happened, he had gotten insanely side tracked. And he might have been a bit nervous about the whole thing. But when he got to school that day, he had found a new shampoo bottle and a note waiting for him.

He had tried to fight butterflies erupting in his stomach. So the gift giver had noticed that he had run out. He had almost bought some more for himself, but he had been a bit curious as to exactly how closely the person was paying attention to him.

Apparently, closer than anticipated. He really shouldn't have been surprised. They had noticed him using the detangler. But that had been a bit more obvious.

He had taken the note and bottle, and after a split second, made the decision to leave the note he had written all those weeks ago.

Now he just had to wait.

________________________________

'Waiting sucks,' Connor thought a day later. He had opened his locker only to find one of the normal notes. He had known that his mysterious note leaver would not find the note until this morning, but that hadn't kept his hopes from getting up.

At least he knew they had gotten it, whoever they were. But it felt like the note version of being left on read. Actually, it kind of was the note version of being left on read.

Connor shook his head and tried to focus on the painting he was working on. His mom had found out about him applying for a scholarship, and had bought him some supplies. He let the new brush dip into the white paint and started speckling the dark brown feathers. He was using a picture of Floof as a reference for the owl against a brilliant sky. He was actually kind of proud of how the picture was turning out.

A knock sounded at the door, and he froze. Zoe's knock was quicker than that. Mom's knock was softer.

"Connor?" Larry's voice filtered through the door. Connor didn't answer. "I just thought you should know..."

Connor didn't like this.

"I did some looking around online, and I think you'd like one of the therapists I found."

Connor felt his body get up from his desk in a disbelieving haze. His hand turned the doorknob and he looked into Larry's eyes blankly.

"What?" He heard himself say. Larry was standing in a way the could only be described as awkwardly business-like.

"You've been doing a lot better lately. You're actually making an effort, so me and your mother figured it would be a good idea to get you some professional help."

"No," Connor said. "I meant what changed your mind? I've put effort into trying to get better before, and you didn't try then. What changed your mind?" He could hear how dead his voice sounded. Larry looked slightly taken aback.

They stared at each other for a long moment. Larry then hung his head.

"When I saw how you were with Evan. I saw this spark in you that I haven't seen since you were eight. Ten years since I've gotten to see that spark. I don't want to have to wait ten more to see that again." Connor felt something lodge in his throat.

"That was three months ago," he choked out, bitterness coloring his tone. "Why now?" To his surprise, Larry chuckled.

"Do you remember my mother and father? That one time they visited for Christmas?" Connor nodded. He hadn't liked them very much, and eleven year old him could tell the feeling was mutual.

Larry continued. "They sent me to therapist after therapist to try to fix me when I came out to them as pansexual. I hated it. It made me feel like they just didn't want to try and understand me. I didn't want you to feel that way. It took me a while to realize that your situation was completely different from mine. So if a therapist is what you want to continue getting better, I don't want to be the reason my son can't get better." Conor balked.

"Wait, you're pan?" He asked incredulously. Larry nodded. Well. You learn something new every day. "So... you're not insanely homophobic?"

"No? Why'd you think that?"

"Well with some of the other things you've said, it was kind of hard not to." Connor hesitated. "I thought- So, you don't have a problem with me liking guys?" Larry shook his head.

"Nope. Guys are pretty hard not to like. Though none of them quite compare to your mother."

"Okay, ew." Larry cracked a smile at Connor's disgust, and Connor felt his lips twitch up in response. "So... you're going to let me go to therapy?"

"If you really think you'll benefit from it."

Connor hated the way his vision was blurring. In a split second decision, he threw his arms around his father. Larry was only an inch taller than him, at six foot two, but he was more broad shouldered. He felt his arms hesitantly come up to wrap around him.

Connor couldn't remember the last time a family member had hugged him, but he quite clearly remembered the last time he had hugged Larry. He had been fourteen, and Larry had bought him tickets to a Broadway production of Newsies. That had been the last time Larry had really tried to take an interest in his interests. He wouldn't deny that this meant even more.

He squeezed Larry tight, then just as quickly pulled away. He turned his gaze and wiped furiously at his eyes.

"Thank you."

"Do you want to go through the list right now?" Larry asked. Connor shook his head.

"I need to get this painting finished. After dinner?" He asked, trying to keep the hope from his voice. Larry nodded, and Connor turned and closed the door. He sat down at his desk numbly, staring at the swirling colors that made up the owl's gold eyes.

His father cared. Or at least was acting like it. First the apology at Evan's, and now therapy? And not only was the whole deal with Larry going on, but Miguel happened. And his mysterious gift bringer. He didn't know how to feel.

The only thing that was keeping him from kind of going insane was staring at the feathers on the owl on the canvas. Little feathers that looked otherworldly in the way he had done the sunset and moonrise effect.

But he wanted to vent to someone. So he grabbed his phone and clicked on Evan's contact name. 'Evangreen.'

"Because of your eyes," Connor had told him when he had put it in. "And the whole tree thing." Evan had gotten that look on his face and just made him promise not to call him that out loud. (Connor had forgotten once, while they were at the food court with Alana, and Evan had nearly died an early death from choking on a calzone.)

Evan picked up after the second tone.

"Hey Connor!" He sounded flustered and a little breathless.

"Hey," he answered. "Were you busy?"

"Nope! Not doing anything! You know me! Never busy!" Connor pulled his phone away from his ear a bit. If that didn't just scream suspicion, he didn't know what did.

"Ev?"

"Hmm?"

"Are you alright? You sound funny."

"Oh, no, I'm fine. I just was-" There was a sound of clattering and things falling. "Crap! Oh- No-! Dang it! Could you- Could you- Sorry- One second Connor." Connor sat in silence as the sound of things clicking and thudding sounded over the phone.

Connor started at the sudden noise of a loud clank and a slam. "Ev?" He called out. "You alright over there?"

"Yep!" Evan's voice sounded a lot closer to the phone now.

"What are you doing?"

"I- I was baking," Evan sighed. "To sort of- celebrate? I guess? You know. Three weeks, no school, and all that?" Connor felt the corners of his mouth twitch.

"Why didn't you just tell me that's what you were doing when you answered?"

"It- it was supposed to be a surprise," Evan mumbled. Connor let a smile break out. "Anyways," Evan spoke up. "What did you call for?" Connor sobered up, remembering that he had had a reason to call.

"Yeah, so," he started. "I just wanted to let you know. Larry just told me that I'm going to get therapy." Evan gasped loudly.

"Connor! That's great! I'm so happy for you!" Connor snorted at Evan's excited tone.

"Yeah. It hasn't really sunk in yet, but we're supposed to start looking through therapists after dinner." He let out a stunned laugh. "Ev. I'm going to get help. He's finally listening to me." He felt his vision get blurry.

"I- I- I don't know what to say, Connor," Evan said. "I just- I really want to hug you right now." Connor laughed.

"Yeah. Same." It went silent on the other side of the phone as well.

There was another knock on his door.

"Connor?" Zoe's voice sounded. "Dinner's ready!"

"Be there in five!" He yelled back. "Sorry, Ev. I have to go. See you at school tomorrow?"

"Yeah. See you at school."

________________________________

Connor didn't think he had ever had this much random stuff happening to him at once.

And he never thought he'd be discussing it with Jared Kleinman, of all people.

He had, overeagerly, opened his locker this morning, nimble fingers enclosing around the small piece of paper excitedly.

'Dear Connor Murphy,' the note read.

'Gosh, I don't know what to say. I guess I do this because I saw that your hair could be really beautiful. It seemed wrong, I guess? To not do anything about it? And it really is kind of amazing. So I guess the reason I keep doing this is because I've seen you get happier since I have, and I kind of like helping with that.

About who I am, though? I don't think you would really like it if you found out. It would change everything.

I guess it's up to you, though. I am doing this for you. But if you really want to find out, could you at least wait until sometime after winter break?

Sincerely,
Me'

Connor had not squealed. Not at all.

Of course he wanted to know who was doing this. And after that explanation, he was even more curious. Yeah, sure, he was nervous about it, too. He would give the note leaver the time requested. Maybe a week after they got back from break, probably sooner.

Anyways, he had been smiling until he had turned around to come face to face with Jared, Floof sitting on his shoulder. His smile slipped in an instant.

"Whatcha squealing about, Murphy?" Jared asked. Connor had scoffed, brushing past him.

"Wouldn't you like to know?" He asked. He felt his face twitch in irritation when he heard Jared following him.

"Yes, that's why I asked," he responded. "C'mon. What's got you blushing? I want to personally thank whoever provided me with this sight." Did he ever shut up?

"Do you ever shut up?" He asked aloud.

"Nope!" Jared replied cheerfully. Floof hooted as if to say, "He really doesn't," and Connor felt a sudden sympathy for the little owl. Connor sped up his pace. Jared followed, voice grating on his nerves. "C'mon Murphy," he wheedled. "If you don't tell me, I'll just get Evan to ask you." Connor whirled angrily.

"Could you just leave me the fuck alone?" He asked, and to his horror, the note flew from his hand and into the air. Jared's hand shot out and snatched it before he could.

"Oh ho ho," he chuckled. "Whatcha got here?" Connor lunged forward, making a wild grab for the paper, but Jared backed away quickly, Floof barely clinging to his shoulder at the jerky movements, eyes glued to the paper.

"Give it back, Klienm-"

"Shh," Jared hushed him suddenly, throwing a finger in his face. Connor blinked and swatted it away, only to see Jared's faces as gone from asshole-ish to bewildered, to understanding, to shock. "That little..." he whispered. "Who knew-"

"What?" Connor asked.

"Nothing!" Jared exclaimed, false cockiness back. "Point is: You've got a secret admirer." Connor felt himself blush. He had never let himself refer to his note leaver as such for the exact reason that he would have to acknowledge the fact that his heartbeat quickened at the thought of receiving each one.

"Yeah," he said anyways. "So what?"

"So," Jared said as if it were obvious. "What are you going to do? What are you gonna say to them?" Connor shrugged.

"I don't know."

"You don't know?" Jared replied, incredulous. "You're going to meet your secret admirer in about three weeks, and you don't know what you're going to do?"

Connor shrugged again, a little self-conscious. "I kind of just figured I'd say whatever comes to mind. It's not like I can plan my reaction when I don't even know them."

"... Okay, valid," Jared conceded. "But dude, come on! I mean you have to have some idea of who you at least want it to be."

For reasons unknown to Connor, his mind helpfully supplied the image of multiple drawings of green eyes and freckles at this suggestion. So he just shrugged. Jared looked like he was about to say something, but whatever it was was interrupted by a cheerful voice.

"Oh! There you guys are." Connor turned to see Alana's chipper mood aimed directly at both him, Floof, and Jared, his little sister holding her hand, and Evan trailing behind them. Connor snatched the note from Jared and shoved it in his pocket.

"There I am," Connor agreed. "And the little gremlin with the almighty wizard is right there," he said, nodding at Jared.

"Hey! Don't talk about Floof like that. Especially not after they let you take a picture for your painting," Jared snapped.

"I think you're the gremlin in this situation, Jared," Zoe spoke up. Jared sputtered.Alana ignored him and adjusted her glasses excitedly.

"So," she started, and Connor was somewhat surprised to see that she was bouncing a little instead of her usual professional stance. "I was talking to Zoe this morning, and Evan was there, and he agreed, that the five of us should have our own little party this Friday."

"Evan agreed to a party?" Jared sounded impressed. Evan gave him a look. Jared raised his hands, penitent.

Alana continued, unbothered. "We agreed to host the party at my house. We'd have pizza, watch movies, and Evan even said he'd have macaroons baked." Connor turned a raised eyebrow on Evan.

"Is that what you were baking yesterday?" He asked. Evan nodded a bit sheepishly.

"It was supposed to be a surprise," he mumbled. Alana looked horrified.

"You didn't say it was supposed to be a surprise, Evan!" She exclaimed, obviously distraught. Evan flushed.

"I- I said don't tell," he mumbled even quieter. Alana looked like she really wanted to pout.

"I'm so sorry," she exclaimed. "I was so wrapped up in the plan that I-"

"It- It's alright," Evan cut her off hurriedly, to which Connor had a moment of pride. Evan from three months ago would have never done that. Evan went on. "You didn't know. There will still be macaroons, it just won't surprise anyone. I'm not upset."

"Really, Alana, it's okay," Zoe spoke up, squeezing her hand. Alana let out a breath and nodded.

Connor watched the exchange happily. Those two were really cute together. It didn't matter that Zoe was his sister, a cute couple was a cute couple, and he was allowed to dawn over them internally, even if he had pulled Alana to the side and made her promise not to propose to Zoe until after Zoe had graduated.

Connor kind of stopped paying attention at that point, but he knew that at some point it was rather reluctantly established that Floof could not attend the party, as Alana's parents were not okay with having a owl in the house. Which was, "Totally hypocritical, since Papa has a parrot, but I think that he's just worried Beaky will get territorial."

As they split off from the group, Connor playfully nudged Evan's shoulder while Jared was busily trying to get Floof to take off. (Owl's weren't allowed in the classrooms.)

"So, you baked macaronis?" He asked, smiling when Evan gave a confident grin back.

"Uh-huh," he said. "All except the yellow ones." Connor laughed, clapping him on the shoulder.

"A bold decision. I'm not sure how that will affect your business endeavors, but we'll see how it goes," he joked. He was vaguely aware of Jared staring at them, but didn't think about it when Evan put a hand to his chin in mock deep thought.

"W-well, if I play my cards right, I think I can still afford that evergreen we discussed," he said seriously, and Connor was all too happy to slip back into the role of salesperson.

"Excellent. You will get the remaining nine free of charge of course," he announced. Then, conspiratorially, "And if you happen to have a couple of yellow macaronis at hand during the exchange, I might be able to get you an extra bonsai tree." Evan actually laughed at that, before they came to where they had to split ways to go to first period.

"Great. I'll see you at lunch to discuss further business plans?" He asked. Connor nodded.

"Till then," he called over his shoulder, pointedly ignoring the look Jared was giving him.

He had to fight a lagh when Evan replied to Jared's hiss of, "What the hell was that?" with, "A business talk. Jeez, Jared I thought you were a professional."

Yeah, things were overwhelming. Connor was dealing with extreme shit left and right and up and down and forward and backward, but. He had people who cared about him at least. He had things to care about. Now he just had to do his best to remember that when he was having his bad days.

'It won't last,' the voice in his head hissed. 'It never lasts. You always mess it up.'

'Shut the actual fuck up,' he thought back. 'I won't mess this up. I won't let myself mess this up.'

'It's cute that you think that,' the voice in his head whisper laughed before going silent.

Connor was decidedly on edge for the rest of the day. Evan could obviously tell he had a lot on his mind when he saw him at lunch. But Evan just put a hand on his shoulder.

And when Connor dropped him off at his house after school, Zoe was going somewhere with Alana, Evan did something that surprised him. He threw his arms around him in a hug.

"You're great, okay?" Evan said at Connor's confused look, before going inside.

'I will not let myself mess this up,' Connor repeated to himself throughout the rest of the afternoon, skipping dinner to bury his face in his pillow. 'I will not.'

 

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Chapter Text

Chapter 23

Alana was prepared.

She had Netflix, Amazon, some DVDs and, just in case, some old VHS tapes ready in case they wanted to watch a movie. But no horror films. Jared had a strange adversity to them.

She had board and card games stocked in the cabinet. (She really hoped Jared didn't spot the Cards Against Humanity box that she had shoved all the way into the back.)

She had Pizza Hut and Dominos on speed dial. As an after thought she had asked her Dad if he would be alright with them going to get Taco Bell at some point if the pizza places seemed unappetizing. What could she say? Zoe loved a good taco.

She had made sure they had chips in the cupboard, and ice cream in the freezer. But not strawberry ice cream because Evan was allergic to strawberries.

She had made sure that she had both regular Coca-Cola, and the diet version. Connor preferred the diet kind. Zoe said that only having Diet Coke was the one thing their mother had enforced when they were children that had stuck with Connor.

So, yes. Alana was prepared. Now she just had to wait until her guests- her friends, she reminded herself. And her girlfriend. Now she just had to wait until her girlfriend and her friends arrived at seven.

'...'

"Alana, sweetheart," her dad popped his head into the living room where Alana was sitting primly. "It's only 5:30. Are you just going to sit there until they get here?"

Alana hesitated. "I already started my homework for break, and everything's already set up, so. I don't know what else to do," she admitted. Her dad shook his head fondly.

"Take a nap," he suggested. "Me and Papa will be leaving soon. So make sure you say goodbye to the both of us first, though."

"Okay, Dad," Alana said. "You two be safe, alright?" Her parents were very eccentric people, and she knew that 'celebrating the day they met,' was code for them both going to a hotel to do their annual Truth or Dare But With Absurd Amounts of Sugar for hours upon hours. Her dad rolled his eyes, smile breaking out.

"Sure thing, Little Warden," he chuckled. "Go hug Papa, and take a nap. You need it." Alana didn't argue. She knew he was probably right. She had been doing quite a lot lately, what with her after school clubs, volunteering at the library when she could, school work and making time to hang out with Zoe. Zoe would probably also tell her to take a nap.

She got up, brushed of any imaginary dust that might have settled, and went to go hug her dad around his middle, squeezing lightly.

"I love you Dad," she said as she pulled away. "Have fun tonight."

"Love you too, Little Warden," he said. "And I will. Now go say bye to Papa, while I tell Beaky good-bye."

Alana smiled at him before she ventured down the hall to her papa's office. She always had preferred her papa's office to her dad's because it was a bit more organized. She knocked on the door.

"Come on in, 'Lana," her papa called out. She opened the door.

"How do you always know it's me?" Her papa gave a huff of laughter at the question, turning in his chair to smile fondly at her.

"'Lana, between you and your dad, you are the only one who ever knocks on my door before entering," he said. Alana nodded in understanding.

"Dad is a bit brazen with his entrances, isn't he?" She agreed.

"You know you two aren't exactly quiet!" Came her dad's shout from the living room.

"Yes we are, you just have an insane listening ability!" her papa yelled back.

"All the better to hear your sweet voice when you get home, love!"

"Oh, go put the snacks in the car you overgrown gremlin!"

"As you wish, sire!"

Alana sighed at her father's' banter. They really were incorrigible.

"Papa, I'm here to tell you goodbye, stay safe, and that I'm going to take a nap until my friends get here," she interjected. He looked back over at her, surprised, a small smile lighting up his features.

"Alright then, honey," he said softly. "Come here." He got up and wrapped her in a tight hug. He pulled back a bit to kiss her forehead. Her papa was at least six inches taller than her dad, so he had to lean down to do so.

"Be safe," Alana told him. "And I expect pictures when you two come back tomorrow night."

"Alright," her papa chuckled, letting her go. "You be safe as well, okay? I love you."

"Love you too, Papa." Alana smiled before turning to leave.

When she entered her bedroom, she set her alarm for 6:45 pm, so that she would have some time to get herself together before her friends got here. She took off her glasses and set them on the little shelf next to her bed that has a little succulent on it. She changed into a T-shirt and got under her carefully made covers.

She fell asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.

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The sound of an alarm clock ringing was something Alana was used to. She always did her absolute best to wake up on time so that she was never late. It irritates her when others would set a time to be someplace and then show up an hour later with no good reason for doing so.

She got up out of bed with a kind of anticipation flooding through her. She hadn't had friends over to her house before. Sure, she tutored the odd student here and there, but it was never to have fun or relax.

She really hoped she had everything. She double checked the list she had made. Everything was accounted for.

She triple checked anyways.

The door bell rang and she hurried toward it. She shivered slightly when the cold hit her, but smiled at the sight of Zoe standing on her front porch, bundled in a cozy jacket and arms laden with bags filled to the brim.

"Hey babe," Zoe said casually, making a finger gun with her free hand. Alana flushed and giggled.

"Zoe, what even-"

"What? Is babe not an okay thing to call you?" Zoe's grin was teasing, but even Alana could tell that she was a bit nervous about it.

"Maybe not 'babe,'" Alana admitted. "But we can talk about pet names later. What's in the bags?"

"That's a surprise," Zoe said. Alana was struck by a sudden thought.

"Where's Connor?" She asked, looking past Zoe.

"I'm right here." Zoe stepped to the side so that Alana could see Connor spread out on the lawn, looking like he had found his home.

"What the- Get up! You'll catch a cold!"

Zoe rolled her eyes. "Connor loves the snow. He's been doing that since as long as I can remember. It used to drive our parents crazy when he'd be too impatient to even throw on a jacket before going outside."

"Yeah, but I haven't gotten sick from it once," Connor called out from where he was currently making a snow angel, not making a move to get up. "And don't act all high and mighty, Zo. It was your idea to sneak out at night to build a snowman."

"Zoe, it's dangerous to go out at night in the winter." Alana said, tone filled with reprimand, but she couldn't hide her amusement at the thought of Zoe as a little kid, playing with a young Connor out in the snow. Zoe flushed and rolled her eyes.

"I was six! I- You know what? Let's just get inside. My arms are tired."

Alana moved so that Zoe could get by, trying to hide a grin. Connor made no move to get up.

"Are you coming in, Connor?" Alana called to the boy as he somehow sprawled out in the snow even more than he already was. "I have Diet Coke."

"Thanks, but I'm fine just being out here for a while. I'll be in in a few minutes."

"If you're sure," she sighed. She really didn't like the idea of leaving him out there all alone, but she wasn't going to push it.

When she walked into the living room, she smiled at the sight of Zoe spread out across the couch in much the same way Connor was sprawled out in the snow: happy and content. Zoe lifted her head to look at her from her spot on the couch as Alana sat down.

"Does Connor do that often?" Alana asked, leaning into the taller girl's side. Zoe hummed, a question. "You know, just lie down randomly in the snow?"

"Yeah. I can't remember a time when he didn't. Actually," Zoe said, adjusting so the she could look Alana in the eyes while she cuddled with her. "It's kind of funny. No matter how bad things get, Connor always gets excited at the sight of snow. I think winter became our family's favorite season because he's calmer when the snow falls."

"And the whole you dragging him out of the house in the middle of the night to build a snowman?" Alana inquired. "What were you two, Elsa and Anna?" This startled a laugh out of Zoe.

"That's a pretty accurate statement, really," Zoe said, tilting her head on top of Alana's.

Alana was momentarily distracted by how natural it felt. She had always felt comfortable with Zoe, but she hadn't expected the transition from friends to girlfriends to be so easy. Not that she was complaining. She was just pleasantly surprised at how easily their hands fit together sometimes.

After a minute, Zoe spoke up again. "Some nights, I would bug him to come outside with me at night so we could stargaze in the snow. Other nights, he would come and get me so we could try and count the snowflakes. But at some point in fifth grade, this girl I was friends with told me it was weird to be so obsessed with the cold. She picked on me for it. So, the next time Connor came to get me to go and play in the snow at night, I told him no. We got into this big argument over it."

Alana made a noise of sadness. "What happened?" She asked, placing a hand on Zoe's knee.

"Well, we ignored each other for a few days. I felt really bad about it. Eventually, I caved in and went to knock on his door to apologize. But he didn't answer. He never answered again after that. I found out after a while that he was just going out without me."

"I- I don't have a response for this situation," Alana said after a few moments. Zoe barked out a laugh.

"It's okay," she said fondly. "He- He actually knocked on my door last night. I almost didn't believe it when he asked me if I was going to help him eat a huge bag of marshmallows and a box of Cheez-Its or not. I sort of just stood there in shock before he started slowly backing away. I followed him down the stairs and we snuck out to eat Cheez-Its and marshmallows in the backyard. It was nice."

Alana pulled away from Zoe's side to look her in the eyes. Zoe looked back at her with some sort of satisfied wistfulness.

"I'm glad you two are getting along, Zoe," she said, squeezing her hand tightly. "I like seeing you happy."

Zoe let out a sort of choked sound before hugging her. "I am so lucky to be with you," she whispered fiercely.

"I know," Alana replied loftily, to which Zoe laughed before pulling away. "But seriously," she continued. "I feel the same about you."

They just sat there for a few minutes, relaxing on the couch. The whole thing had a very domestic feel to it, and Alana was content to close her eyes and lean on Zoe as the taller girl laced their fingers together.

It was very peaceful.

Until it wasn't.

"HOLY SHIT EVAN THERE'S A DEAD PERSON ON THE LAWN!"

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Jared was prepared to deal with a lot tonight. He was prepared to deal with watching Evan pining over Connor while the other did the same, but less obviously. He was prepared to deal with Alana and Zoe behave like a married couple. He was prepared to act like everything was okay and to try and actually enjoy hanging out with his friends. And he was pretty sure everything would turn out to be more fun than he expected.

He was not prepared to come across a body on his way to the front door of Alana's home.

Evan had gotten out of the passenger's side of Jared's car, holding the cheap Tupperware filled with macaroons carefully, when Jared heard him whisper, "Holy Mother of Earth, what is that?"

Jared had raced to his side of the car, pulling his jacket around himself tight. Evan was pointing at a dark shape that was spread eagle in the snow on the Becks' front lawn. Jared took a step closer and realized what it was.

"HOLY SHIT EVAN THERE'S A DEAD PERSON ON THE LAWN!" He yelled, petrified. "WHAT THE HELL?!" Jared started running towards the dark shape, Evan hot on his heels. As they neared the figure, the details came into focus, and he felt is stomach plunge. He knew that hoodie...

When Jared reached the unmoving form of Connor Murphy, he was already resigning himself to having to deal with the aftershocks and trauma of seeing one of his friend's dead body. Alana and Zoe came rushing out of the house.

"What on earth are you talking about?" Alana said, face a mixture of exasperated and stern. Jared gesticulated wildly at Connor's body, and Zoe face-palmed.

"Um-Jared?" Evan spoke up from where he had kneeled down at Connor's side at some point. "He's not dead. He's just sleeping."

"Why the hell is he sleeping outside in the snow?" Jared asked incredulously.

"Connor loves the cold," Zoe explained. "It doesn't bother him that much. Although, I don't know how he's still sleeping after how loud you just were."

"I'm not asleep," Connor spoke, startling all four of them so badly they jumped. Evan fell back on his butt with a small, 'oof.' "I just didn't feel like moving." He looked up at them from his place in the snow.

"Well, get up, then," Alana instructed matter-of-factly. "You two may be immune to wintery death-" she gestured between Connor and Zoe, "-but the rest of us are cold."

Connor let out a long suffering, "Fine," and Evan helped him to his feet. Jared moved to follow them inside. "I had you pretty worried there, huh Kleinman?" Connor asked over his shoulder.

"I thought you were dead," Jared deadpanned. "And sorry, but I don't have a suit nice enough for a funeral."

"But what about the one you're grandma got you last year?" Evan spoke up, and if Jared didn't know exactly what he was referring to, he would have thought that Evan looked perfectly innocent.

"That is not fit for a funeral, and you know it, Evan," Jared said as the three of them followed Alana and Zoe through the threshold, Jared closing the door behind him.

"What are you guys talking about?" Alana piped up curiously.

"Nothing," Jared said, but Evan was moving the macaroons to one arm and digging in his pocket with another.

"I have a picture here on my phone somewhere," Evan said, and Jared panicked.

"Evan, don't you dare-" he was cut off by a hand on his face. "Mmmph!"

"Shut up Kleinman I wanna see this," Connor instructed. Jared watched helplessly as Zoe, Alana and Connor all gathered around Evan as he opened up his pictures and started scrolling.

"Here!" Evan exclaimed, and Zoe slapped a hand over her mouth as she burst into giggles.

"My eyes!" Connor yelled, covering his face. "My poor, unsuspecting eyes!"

"Jared, what the fuck?!" Zoe exclaimed, hanging off of Alana, who looked like she was also desperately trying to hold in her laughter.

The picture, Jared knew, was of fifteen year old him in a bright neon, plaid, three piece suit, back when his glasses' frames had been a ugly shade of red. It was, by far, the most miserable he had ever been in a photo. The things he would do for his grandma.

"Can we stop making me the object of ridicule?" Jared begged.

"Aww, but it's so much fun," Zoe said teasingly, poking his cheek. "Besides, you look so tiny. It's cute."

"What?!"

"Zoe's right," Alana agreed. "I mean, look at you." She took the phone out of Evan's hands. "Once you get past the blinding ugliness of the suit, you look like a sad puppy."

"Yeah," Connor agreed, moving his hands away from his face. "You're even pouting." Evan nodded.

Jared's face felt like it was on fire. "Okay, I get it!" He exclaimed. "Can we please be done with this now?"

"Fine, fine," Alana said, giving Evan his phone back. Jared let out a sigh of relief. "What do you guys want to do?"

"I- I'd like to set these macaroons down, please," Evan said.

"I know where the kitchen is, Evan," Zoe told him. "I'll show you." Evan followed her gratefully.

"Come on you two," Alana said. "I'll show you the living room." She led the way to a cozy looking room with a brown fabric couch and a flatscreen TV.

Jared made a beeline for the couch. He sat down and was immediately taken hostage by the seat cushions. "Holy crap, what is this couch made of?"

"...I don't know," Alana admitted, looking confused. "Couch materials?"

"This is the comfiest damn couch I've ever sat on," Jared continued, unbothered. He leaned back and immediately started sinking into the pillows. Holy crap. "I am never moving from this spot again," he proclaimed.

"Too bad, Jared," Zoe said, entering the room, Evan not far behind her. She violently shoved him out of his perch on the couch. "This. Is. My spot." She plopped down stubbornly.

"Hey!" Jared cried out. "Why do you have to have the one spot of couch I was sitting on?"

"Cause it's my spot, that's why."

"It is her spot, Jared," Alana agreed, sitting next to Zoe on the couch. "Sorry."

"Fiiine," Jared said, situating himself on the opposite side of the couch. "Whatever."

There was suddenly an awkward silence cast over the five of them, almost as if they had been grasping at straws for conversation topics, and now had finally run out of things to say.

Jared watched as Evan shifted back and forth from foot to foot, obviously uncomfortable in the deafening silence. Neither he, nor Connor had made a move to sit down.

The silence dragged on.

And on.

And on.

"Okay, this is just sad, guys," Jared spoke up finally. "We have been preparing for this all week. Alana!" He yelled, causing the girl to startle. "What do you have planned? Hit me with it."

"What makes you think I have a plan?" Alana asked, receiving raised eyebrows from all around. Jared had never seen Evan look so unimpressed before. "Okay, fine. I've got two restaurants on speed-dial, ice cream in the fridge, board games, and movies all prepared. Sue me."

"Which restaurants?" Connor asked. "I'll order something for us."

"Dominos and Pizza Hut. Plus, I asked my dad if we could go to get Taco Bell if we weren't in the mood for pizza."

"I'm in the mood for pizza," Jared announced in the same way one would if they had been unprompted. "That cool with everybody?" There was a chorus of agreements.

"Could we get Dominos? I like their crust better," Evan pitched in quietly. "Please."

"Dominos it is then," Connor said decisively.

"The phone's in the kitchen," Alana told him. "Out address is written on the pad of paper hanging next to it. You can't miss it." Connor nodded at her before turning to go back down the hall.

"You said you have movies to choose from already, Alana?" Zoe asked from where she had her arm wrapped around the shorter girl fondly.

"Evan doesn't like movies," Jared informed them.

"Oh. A board game, then?" Alana asked Evan politely.

"I like movies just fine, actually," Evan responded. Jared looked at him incredulously.

"Since when?" Evan turned pink and looked down.

"For a while, now."

Another awkward silence.

"So what movies?" Zoe inquired rather loudly. She, Alana and Evan started sorting through a pile of DVD cases that Alana had been keeping in a cabinet underneath a coffee table next to the side of the couch. They ended up choosing to watch the Lorax, Zoe claiming that Evan would love it, refusing to describe it to Evan when he asked why. Jared watched Evan for a few moments, before standing up, missing the comfortableness of the couch almost immediately.

All eyes turned to him. "Alana, do you have popcorn?"

"Yes. It's in the pantry, in the kitchen, fourth shelf up."

"Thanks," he said, before leaving. Since when did Evan like movies?

'You know since when,' a voice in his head told him. Oh yeah. Probably another thing having to do with Connor.

Jared had been on the receiving end of three rants about how "mind numbingly beautiful" Connor and his "just really breathtaking hair" are, from Evan, since he had caught him at the store on Sunday.

Jared was really getting tired of feeling his insides twist whenever he saw those two together.

He entered the kitchen, making eye contact with Connor, who was on the phone, and gave him a nod of acknowledgement. 'Popcorn,' he mouthed, and Connor nodded back at him.

Jared found the popcorn in the pantry, right where Alana said it would be.

"No, no. I said cheese sticks, not cheese dip-" Connor said to the person on the other line, and Jared turned to see him run a hand through his hair frustratedly.

Jared couldn't see the appeal to it. His hair was most certainly nice, but there was nothing captivating about it. It was just hair. Now, freckles on the other hand. Jared really liked freckles. And he really liked Evan's freckles. Jared just really liked Evan.

"Yes. Thank you." Connor let out an irritated grunt as he slammed the phone back into the receiver. He paused. "You're staring at me," he said. "What is it?"

"I really did think you were dead," Jared said out of nowhere, surprising both of them.

"Yeah, well," Connor shrugged. "I'm not."

"Good," Jared said finally. "I'd hate to miss finding out who your secret admirer is." Connor rolled his eyes.

"Why are you so obsessed with that?" He asked. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say it was you."

"In your dreams, Murphy. You may be tall, dark, and mysterious, but that's not my type. Sorry."

"As if I'd want to be your type, gremlin," Connor deadpanned.

Jared opened his mouth to respond but was cut off by a loud, "WHERE THE FRICK FRACKING HELL ARE ALL THE FUCKING TREES?!"

"What the hell was that?" He asked, turning towards the noise. Connor had paled. "It sounded like Evan, but-"

"WHY HAVE THESE PEOPLE NEVER SEEN REAL TREES? WHAT THE ABSOLUTE HECKING HELL?!"

"What movie did you guys put on?" Connor rasped, looking torn between laughter and terror.

"The Lorax. Why?"

"Oh, dear lord help us all."

 

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