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support groups and paw printed cups

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“North, it's not- I don't need- There's no need for me to go to a support group.”

“No need for a support group my ass, Connor. We're already in front of the door, you may as well come in and say hi.”

The two of them were standing in the corridor, or, well. North was standing. Connor paced back and forth, arms crossed on top of his chest. He was pressing down onto it as if trying to flatten it even more than it already was.

“But-”

“No butts. You let me drag you out here, I'm not letting you quit now. You'll thank me later, buddy boy.”

At the moment, Connor was regretting everything. His own birth and every single decision he made in life - especially the ones that led to befriending North. Back when they were wee little chidren and North would tug on Connor's pigtails to annoy him.

North was also the one who cut those pigtails for him.

Okay, perhaps Connor didn't regret meeting them /that much/.

“Connor, hey.”

As he looked up at them, he could see their expression softening just a tad, something North didn't show often. They raised their eyebrows and waited to get his attention before continuing, “If you don't like it, you don't have to go ever again. And I'll buy you a bucket of ice cream and go with you to pet the dogs at the shelter or something. Okay? But just give it a try, maybe it won't be as bad as you think.”

Connor stared at them for a moment before letting out a soft sigh and nodding. He knew they were right (they were often right), but that didn't exactly lessen his fears.

“Come on, now,” and with a last push on his shoulder, they were walking through the door.

There were several things that caught Connor's attention – colorful flags, charts and resources hanging on the walls. A coffee machine in the corner, surrounded by mugs and cups, some labelled with names or pronouns. There were already a few people around, but it wasn't crowded. North assured him it wouldn't be - Connor wouldn't have agreed to go otherwise, that much was for sure. Most of the people seemed to be their age or younger – in their thirties or twenties.

Connor hovered behind North as they said hi to everyone. North knew everyone in the group, they had been attending the meetings for a few years now. It was truly a miracle that they hadn't yet brought Connor with them. He vaguely recognized some of the faces, from the pictures North had shown him. He could see their eyes drifting towards him curiously. No one made any move to approach him, giving him space and time to get accustomed to the situation. Well, it was that or maybe they just didn't want him around.

Connor tried to focus on the more positive option.

After a moment of silently trailing behind North, he stepped away from them to take another look around. North had busied themselves with talking to the others, waving their arms and grinning. They appeared quite laid back, but Connor easily noticed how they kept glancing over at him, checking up on him. He certainly appreciated it.

With not much to do, he decided to approach the coffee machine. Connor wasn't much of a coffee kind of guy, but he needed something to do with his hands. A way to fit in with the people around him. He could gulp his way through a cup of coffee if it meant he'd feel more comfortable. It didn't take him long to figure the machine out, but he quickly ended up with another dilemma. He eyed the mugs standing nearby, having no idea which one to take. There were several that didn't have any names on them, but who was he to say that those didn't belong to someone, too.

As he attempted to make a decision, the seconds dragged on.

He knew the longer he was standing there, the more he was risking drawing attention to himself. His eyes scanned over the mugs one more time and he finally picked one of them up. It was white and had pink and blue cartoony dog paws printed all over it. It was a nice mug, Connor quickly concluded. There was no name on it, so he could only hope it truly didn't belong to anyone. He poured coffee into it and then gently cradled it in his hands, glancing down at the dark liquid.

Breathe, Connor, he furrowed his brows and let out a long exhale, these people are just like you. They're not going to kick you out of here or ridicule you. This isn't high school. Or college. You're an adult now and this is fine. You're fine.

As if on cue, while Connor was attempting to find the most calming train of thought, a deep laughter startled him. The sound came from somewhere right behind him. The liquid in the cup wavered and Connor could feel hot droplets on his fingers.

“I see you're trying to steal my mug,” the words were laced with amusement. As Connor looked up, he found himself standing face to face with an older, bearded man. His eyebrows were raised and corners of his lips tugged up in a small smile. Long, silver hair framed his face on both of sides. He seemed tired, in a way. Connor was sure that if it wasn't for the smile on his face and the twinkle in his eyes, he'd be afraid of him.

“Oh- uh-” like a fish fresh out of water, Connor opened and closed his mouth several times, at a loss for words. What was he supposed to say? I'm sorry, I'm not trying to steal anything, I'm just desperately trying to fit in and I didn't realize-

Before any of those words had a chance to leave his mouth, the man clasped his shoulder and shook his head.

“Don't worry about it, kid, I'm just kidding. You're new here, yeah? I've never seen you around.”

Connor knew he was staring. Still dumbfounded, his gaze trailed between the man's eyes, over his nose, down his beard and then to where his hand was holding onto his shoulder. The man quickly caught on that Connor wasn't really listening.

“Hey, you okay? Did I break you?”

He waved his free hand in front of Connor's face and that finally brought him back to reality. He blinked violently and took a step back, effectively pulling his shoulder out of the man's grip.

“Yes. I mean- no. I mean, I'm okay,” a dam broke and the words came pouring out of Connor's mouth.

He shook his head to try and ground himself before continuing, “I- didn't mean to take your cup.”

Hank dropped his hand to his side and grinned, showing off a gap between his two front teeth. “Told you, don't worry about it, it's not a big deal. Besides, it's a pretty cool cup, can't blame you for borrowing it,” he shrugged casually. There was a small pause before he offered his hand to Connor, “I'm Hank- he/him,” it was obvious he wasn't used to introducing himself in that way.

“My name is Connor,” he took his hand carefully, “And- also he/him.”

Hank squeezed his hand (he had a very strong grip, Connor noticed) and then let go of it.

“So, you /are/ new here.”

“Well- yes,” now that the introduction was over, Connor allowed his hand to drift back to the cup. His eyes locked on the liquid once again. “North brought me here. I don't usually... attend these kind of things,” he admitted.

“Well, you're not alone. I'm not much for-” Hank waved his hand to gesture around the room, “-this. And I don't really need it all that much anymore, but... well, it's better than sitting alone at home all the time.”

It was at that moment that Connor chanced a quick glance up at Hank, just in time to see the sad, far away look in his eyes. There was something there, something behind that smile and laughter. A sort of pain, close to the surface, but still hidden underneath confidence and an easy chuckle.

Connor knew that look all too well.

“Besides, it's worth it to see how some people brighten up when I'm around. Not that I'm very likeable, but- I'm kinda like an artifact around here. Folks your age don't usually get to meet older trans guys.”

“So you /are/ trans,” still with his eyes up on Hank's face, Connor tilted his head.

“Sure am. How would you tell?”

“Uh-” Connor raised the cup slightly and shrugged, “The cup gave it away, I didn't think the colors were a coincidence. Otherwise, I would've never been able to tell.”

“Yeah, well. It's been a long time. Once you stab yourself with a needle enough times, it's kinda hard to tell.”

“You look great.”

At that, Hank laughed loudly, patting Connor's shoulder. Connor gave him a rather confused look, unable to find anything funny in his statement.

“Way to flatter an old man, son.”

“I'm not- I mean it.”

Hank's laughter slowly died off. He didn't say anything, only looked over Connor's face slowly, measuring just how honest he was. A beat of silence passed and then he nodded, giving Connor a warmer smile.

“Thanks, Connor. You're not so bad yourself.”

Connor didn't consider himself someone who blushed much. He could be an anxious wreck at times, sure – but he was pale and his skin rarely changed its color, no matter if it was because of the sun or embarassment. Yet as he heard Hank's compliment, he was left dumbfounded (not for the first time that day). His cheeks and tips of his ears burned. He wanted to say something, even a simple thank you, but then Hank was walking past him, squeezing his shoulder and speaking once more, “You can keep the cup,” and then he was gone, in the other part of the room, while Connor stood there, processing the whole situation.

The ghost of Hank's hand lingered on his shoulder, his voice rang in his ears and Connor was content to cling onto these sensations.

That was, until another voice came barging in.

“I think Hank likes you- and you like him just as much, Con.”

Yes, he was definitely going to kill North.

But first, he was going to get Hank's number from them.