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How In My Silence I Adored You

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Isak can’t even imagine having to sit here by himself. If his friends hadn’t miraculously showed for this stupid kosegruppa thing, he would have felt like a giant loser and would likely have ended up giving Sana major shit for putting him through this. All these theatre nerds... but Jonas had strolled in, and Mahdi and Magnus had been a minute behind him, and Isak’s Friday night had become something closer to normal.

Jonas is swearing up and down about the incredible FIFA score he’d made after school that day - when no one else was around, of course, not a single soul who could verify it, so they’re laughing and giving him a proper drag, just like any other time. Vilde’s eyes are shooting daggers at them because people are still coming into the meeting and they're being kind of loud. Even so, there’s a new voice that manages to cut through Magnus’ protests and Mahdi’s cackling, a voice that only Isak notices.

And the funny thing is, he doesn’t really know why, because he hadn’t heard him speak the other day in the cafeteria. Something in Isak’s brain can make the connection, though, and suddenly there’s the same handsome guy, same - wow, seriously tall - guy who’d caught Isak’s eye for a fraction of a second and made him feel like everything inside of him had taken flight.

He steals another few seconds’ look, dropping out of the conversation with his friends and trying to figure out what the guy is saying to Vilde, Eva, and Sana. It takes a moment before Isak realizes Vilde is preening at him, and he swallows hard. Then Isak’s eyes lock with his again, but this time there’s no delicious swooping sensation, just a hot stab of something close to fear. He jerks his eyes away, back to Jonas, and immediately plasters on a smile as if he’d been listening all along. But he’s keenly aware of how close the guy gets to him as he walks past, ascends the step behind Isak, and sits just to his left. Isak can’t make himself look - won’t allow himself - but he knows exactly where the guy is. Exactly how close.

He’s so acutely conscious of it, his stomach knotted so tightly, that he doesn’t even flinch when Emma stops in front of him. It’s not until Mahdi nudges him - at the same moment she gives Isak an almost strident “Hey!” - that he looks up, and his struggle to smile rivals her awkward attempt at flirting with him. Isak just can’t take it, not with his friends staring at him and that gorgeous guy right there behind him and all the pressure.

When she leaves, Magnus furiously whispers that he’s disappointed, man, disappointed as fuck, and Mahdi asks what the fuck that was, and Jonas just shakes his head, and Isak’s head is this close to exploding. Coming to this thing was a colossal mistake.

A few minutes later, Eva closes the doors and joins Sana and Vilde at the front of the group, and everyone gradually quiets down.

Isak starts to breathe easier when Vilde begins talking, because finally there seems to be someone else in the room who’s as wound up as he is. He actually smiles a little at the way her words are coming out sort of fluttery. He’s never been quite sure how he feels about Vilde - she’s annoying as hell, all pastels and perfection and those big doe eyes, but when he notices Eva is looking at her with a kind of tenderness he never once saw her give Jonas when they were dating, something clicks. Maybe that’s why she’s nervous.

He’s only half-listening to what she’s saying, but the words ‘love exercise’ do get through and he rolls his eyes. Luckily, his friends are there to help him through this touchy-feely nonsense. All four of them exchange looks that are part amusement, part exasperation, and Isak hears Mahdi mumble something like “I don’t know if this is worth a thousand kroner.”

“If everyone could come down here to the floor and stand in a circle, please,” Vilde instructs. The shuffling of feet and little bursts of nervous giggling from the group are loud in Isak’s ears, but not as loud as the sound of the handsome guy’s sleeve swiping against Isak’s own as he passes.

He sticks close to his boys, knowing that only familiarity will get him through this, but then of course Eva has to ruin everything by chiming in, “Everyone please try to stand next to people who aren’t already your friends. We’re trying to get to know each other here, you know.”

It’s then that Isak has a revelation - what if, what if he ends up next to that guy? Obviously it would be an incredible stroke of luck, because he’s sure at least half the girls in here want to stand next to him, with that blond pillar of hair and those sparkling blue eyes. Still, though... there are at least 20 people here, and the laws of probability could be kind sometimes...

This blissful line of thinking is cut short when Emma leans into his left shoulder with a laugh. “Fancy meeting you here,” she says in a playfully deep voice, and it’s all Isak can do to muster a chuckle for her. Of course this would be his fate, of course it would. He can’t walk away, so he just forces a smile and clears his throat, hands sliding into his pockets as he looks around - and then he sees who’s on his other side.

His throat goes completely dry, and then drier still when the guy - the guy - gives him a smile and a little nod. Isak can barely summon the strength to return either of them but he manages, oblivious to Emma bouncing on her toes beside him.

He makes himself focus on Vilde. “We’re going to do a chain of compliments!” She giggles and brings both of her hands together, appearing much less nervous now. “We’ll go around the circle and you’ll turn to the person on your left and give them a little compliment, just whatever comes to mind. Oh, and introduce yourselves, too. And if you want to, you can shake hands, or hug, or whatever. Just feel the love!”

Isak’s eyes meet Jonas’, directly across the circle from him. This sounds... well, sort of horrifying. Who's on his left? Emma. And Jonas is tilting his head toward her while giving Isak a gleeful little grin. Yep, horrifying. Having to turn on that suave motherfucker persona he’s created while around his friends is hard enough, but doing it in front of all these people plus that guy? Isak honestly wants to fake a stomach cramp or something to get out of doing this.

Until, of course, he realizes that he’s on that guy’s left.

Immediately, his palms begin to sweat, and pretty soon every inch of his body feels like it’s itching. That dude is going to have to look at him and give him a compliment, and Isak is going to just have to stand there and take it and smile. What on earth would he even say? What the hell is this stupid game anyway? He narrows his eyes at Vilde, ridiculous Vilde, because judging by her enthusiasm she came up with it, and all of his current misery can be blamed on her.

He doesn’t even hear the first few people speaking because he’s trying so hard to just breathe like a normal human being. It’s not until the girl on the guy’s other side starts to speak that Isak makes himself concentrate, because if he’s understanding this correctly, he’s going to learn the guy’s name in a second here.

“Hi! I’m Lea.” She giggles, and then throws her arms around the guy’s neck in a hug. A sick dart of jealousy rushes through Isak and he has to drop his eyes, because the floor is much nicer to look at than that.

The guy laughs in surprise and hugs her back, and then says, “Hi Lea, I’m Even.”

Even.

“Hi, Even! Um, I like... I really like your hugs, wow.”

Isak looks up again so he can get a glimpse of this girl’s face, and he’s pretty sure she was with Emma earlier, which doesn’t surprise him at all. He’s mentally plotting ways to publicly embarrass her when all of a sudden Even turns toward him, towering tall and beaming at him like the fucking sun or something, and he’s reaching for Isak’s hand and oh fuck they’re all sweaty oh God please don’t shake m--

“My name’s Even,” he says, and his voice is so deep and throaty and their hands are still touching and shit, Isak has to remember his own name right now?

“Uh, Isak. I’m Isak.”

Even repeats his name softly to himself, as if to lock it into place, and then his smile seems to grow even brighter as he says, “Isak, I like your style. Your clothes,” he adds, sweeping his hand up and down Isak’s body. “Yeah.”

There might be a few soft laughs in the background, but Isak barely registers them, because okay, what? His clothes? Before he can stop himself, he takes a quick glance down to confirm that he is indeed wearing nothing at all special, but he gives Even a brief smile of thanks anyway, because he’s not a complete asshole.

And he’s going to have to sort that out later, because fuck, he’s completely forgotten that he now has to turn to Emma and say something nice to her, and could this evening possibly get any more awkward?

It feels ridiculous introducing yourself to a person who’s already had their tongue down your throat, but here they are.

“Hi,” he says to her, forcing a smile while also forcing his hand to stay at his side, because nope, not going there. No way is she touching it, not after Even just shook it, because Isak is, apparently, still a 12-year-old. “My name’s Isak.”

And she is just gazing at him, biting her lip and practically fluttering her goddamn eyelashes, and she replies, “I’m Emma, it’s great to meet you,” in this fake-innocent little voice and this nightmare needs to be over now.

Oh, right. Something nice.

He wills himself not to look at Jonas or Magnus or Mahdi, and blurts out the first thing that pops into his head: “Emma, I really like your hair.” He definitely hears some chuckles around the circle this time, but he just gives her another tight smile that hopefully can be read as somewhat genuine, and it appears he’s succeeded because she still looks happy when she turns toward the person on her other side, and Isak can finally fucking relax.

It takes another ten minutes for the circle to make its way back to the starting point with Vilde. Isak seemed to have missed the point in the rules when she’d said they’d be going back around in the opposite direction, now paying compliments to the person on your right.

It’s official then - Vilde is actually trying to murder him.

The one bright spot here is that he has a little while to figure out what the hell he’s going to say to Even. The challenge, of course, is coming up with anything that won’t cause him to die of shame.

And once again, he’s forgotten all about Emma, and when he realizes she’s facing him with that same painfully earnest expression, he thankfully only has to endure a second or two of panic at what might come tumbling out of her mouth.

“Hi, Isak,” she says - it seems he’s tuned out that this is what they’re doing around the circle this time: saying the name of the person back to them to prove they’ve remembered it, he guesses. “I like... your eyes.” She’d been on the verge of saying something else, Isak thinks, because she blushes and looks down, and he mumbles a word of thanks because again, not a total dick.

If Even hadn’t been waiting on his other side, Isak would probably have been able to pull off taking her hands and giving them an encouraging little squeeze, and then she’d peek up at him all wide-eyed and hopeful, and instead of laughter around the circle he’d hear a few low wolf whistles, and yeah, maybe he’d actually be okay with making out with her again after the meeting, and what the hell, if she wanted to drop to her knees again, he wouldn’t stop her this time. Sure. No problem.

But Even is there. And because of that, somewhere inside of him - though not quite as deep as Isak would have guessed before tonight - he knows that nothing is ever going to be the same for him again.

He turns toward Even, so fucking nervous that he’s hardly able to believe he’s pulling off a smile right now, and makes himself look directly into his eyes. “Hi, Even,” he says, his knees actually going weak at the taste of the name on his tongue. “I like--” Your eyes. Your lips. Your hair. Your smile. Your jawline. Your laugh. Your hands. Your body. “--that you’re so tall.”

What. The fuck.

And yeah, that little laugh Even lets out is probably due to receiving a completely dumbass compliment in front of 20 strangers instead of anything resembling appreciation, but at least he gives Isak a real smile. It’s the lifeline that Isak clings to so he doesn’t have to leave this room, this city, this entire planet, to save his body from literally burning into ash with embarrassment.

He doesn’t hear what Even says to Lea, or what Lea says to Eva, or anything else at all until the room is suddenly ringing with applause. It’s over. He’s made it through.

Except he hasn't.

“That was great, thanks everyone!” Eva says, smiling around at them all. “How about another game?” Her smile widens at the approving hums and nods from the group, and she steps forward into the circle. “Okay, let’s all take a seat. Yeah, just right where you’re standing.”

Isak’s heart is still pounding so it’s a bit of a relief to sit, regardless of whatever Eva’s going to make them do now. When he dimly registers that this means he’ll get to stay near Even for a while longer, he feels a little better, although it doesn’t slow his heart rate.

“This is a little something that Sana and I came up with,” Eva says, smiling at Sana as she moves toward the center of the circle with her. “We’ll all close our eyes, and Sana will touch a couple of people on the shoulder, and they’ll open their eyes and stand up. They’ll walk around the outside of the circle and give people little taps on their shoulder - tap once if it’s someone who makes you smile, and twice if it’s someone you want to get to know better. You don’t have to tap everyone when it’s your turn, but the purpose of the game is that at some point, everyone will be appreciated in some way.”

Okay, this he can handle. Most of the group seems to agree, because he’s seeing little nods and smiles everywhere.

“Actually,” Vilde says suddenly, “I just thought of a third option, if that’s okay?”

Eva looks surprised, but nods and waves a hand at her to continue.

Isak can tell at once that Vilde’s nerves are back, and he momentarily forgets about his own inner turmoil, watching her closely. “What about...” she says, voice shaking just enough for Isak to notice it, but he’s not sure if anyone else can. “Tap the person three times if you have a crush on them.”

The reaction around the room is as to be expected - bursts of excited giggles from most of the girls, while many of the guys let out low exclamations and reach across their neighbors to fist bump their friends. Isak, however, remains focused on Vilde, who is anxiously tucking her hair behind her ears while staring at Eva. In spite of the swirl of confused thoughts in his head, Isak has to smile. He’s fairly sure he knows what’s happening here, and he’s quite surprised to feel a little sympathy pang in his heart for Vilde.

“Yeah...” Eva is now saying slowly, nodding while glancing between Vilde and Sana. “Yeah, I like that.” She’s smiling again, and gives Vilde a quick thumbs-up. “Did everyone hear that? Three taps if you’ve got a little crush.” She steals another look at Vilde that Isak is pretty sure no one notices but him and Sana, and Sana’s reaction is decidedly different from his own.

“Okay, that’s fine, whatever,” she says loudly, the very picture of no nonsense, and everyone shuts up at once. “Just no peeking, you got it?” And yeah, they definitely get it.

It still takes them all a moment or two to fully settle down. Isak closes his eyes as instructed, stretching his legs out in front of him and leaning back on his hands. This game is much more personal, but also much more private, and he can get behind that aspect for sure. No peeking from him.

For several minutes, the only sounds are soft footsteps circling the group and Sana occasionally murmuring to people as she tags them in. Two members of the group suck in sharp breaths at various points, and it’s clear from the nervous laughter that follows each that they’ve just received three taps. Good for them, Isak thinks, only a little bitterly. He himself is tapped once by two people, and twice by a third person, so he’s feeling sort of good about himself, even though he’s positive one of those taps was from Jonas - because he knows Jonas’ touch by heart, no matter how brief it might be.

He’s feeling much calmer now and has only vaguely started to think about who he’ll be tapping during his turn when he hears Sana very close on his left, and then the sound of Emma getting to her feet. His anxiety rushes back in all at once, because what the hell is this girl going to do?

It takes a few seconds for him to realize that he’s actually holding his breath, but when he feels three light taps on his shoulder and catches the scent of Emma’s perfume, there’s no accompanying emotion at all. Not dread, not annoyance, not even confusion, just... numbness. So he just sighs, very quietly and only when he’s sure Emma is far enough away that she won’t hear it. And when she sits back down beside him, Isak half-expects her hand to “accidentally” brush his arm or something, and silently thanks whoever is watching over him that it doesn’t happen.

He also silently thanks Sana when she touches his shoulder and whispers “your turn” in his ear a few seconds after Emma has sat down. He blinks slowly, needing to focus after nearly 15 minutes with his eyes shut, then stands carefully. The other person Sana’s chosen is a girl he doesn’t recognize on the other side of the circle; they smile briefly at each other before beginning to walk around the perimeter.

One tap each for Eva, Jonas, Magnus. Easy. He’s almost passed Vilde, but stops and reaches back to lightly tap her on the top of the head, and he has to smile when he hears her let out a quiet giggle. He doesn’t really know what possessed him to go for her head - or indeed, for her at all. The mind does like to play its little tricks, he supposes.

Mahdi gets two taps, which is again easy. Isak glances back at him after he’s moved on a little, and seeing the pleased smile on Mahdi’s face makes him even more sure that he’s chosen correctly.

While he knows Sana isn't participating, he can't resist scooting over to her and giving her two quick taps as well, accompanied by his best, sweetest, “please give me my damn weed when this bullshit is over, mmkay?” smile. His efforts are rewarded with nothing but an icy stare.

And it serves him right, really, because he’d only done it to stave off the inevitable. He's finished the circle and is on his way back to his seat, left with the decision of what to do about the people sitting on either side of him.

Emma... no, he's just not going to do anything. Part of him knows how heartless that is, especially after what she’d (almost certainly) done for him a few minutes ago, but he just wants it to be done. He could drag it out and lie and lead her on, but honestly that shit is exhausting, and crueler in the long run anyway. Better to just nip it in the bud now and save them both.

There's no way he's avoiding Even, though. His heart is absolutely racing, his palms are practically dripping sweat again, but he's going to touch that boy come hell or high fucking water.

Isak would like to tell himself that he's just the bravest Gryffindor of them all, drop three taps to Even’s shoulder like he does this kind of thing every single day, what of it, and then settle back down on the floor beside him with a knowing sigh, one that will somehow make it irrefutable to Even that he’d just been the one to touch him. And then they’d live happily ever after.

But he's not brave. He's not charming or smooth, either. He's frankly pretty terrified, like, all the time, of his own thoughts most of all, and this moment right now? Is about the realest, most raw he's ever felt.

So he does the best he can, the very best - not just one tap on Even’s shoulder, but two, very quick, barely grazing him but definitely there. And then he actually does let out some small sound as he sits back down beside Even, hoping Even will make the connection.

Closing his eyes again brings such immense relief that he almost lets his body go completely flat on the floor. He's done it. He's made it through.

He receives another single tap and another double from unknown people before Sana finally chooses Even to stand - Isak’s been waiting, certain they must be getting down to the very last of the group now and almost afraid Even’s already had his turn but Isak somehow missed it. His heart begins to race again and he wills his lungs to function normally, already bracing himself for disappointment.

When his shoulder is tapped, just once, it startles him so badly that he jumps, probably visibly. But the person then lays their hand flat on his shoulder, soothing and... wait, familiar. Then their fingers contract in a reassuring squeeze before sliding away. Eva. It’s Eva. Isak knows her touch by heart, too, and probably would have recognized it at once if he weren't so fucking on edge.

He’s hardly had a chance to recover from the shock when it happens - three distinct taps from a strong yet gentle finger. Isak actually forgets to breathe. Sana’s only been having two people get up at once, right? If Eva was first, and Even is definitely standing too, then that means--

And the question is answered for him by the sound of Even sitting back down beside him, barely three seconds later, and is further stamped into certainty by the soft sigh Even lets out, nearly identical to what Isak had done when he’d resumed his seat.

He can’t think. Can’t process this. There must be a mistake. Even must have misunderstood the rules of the game, or there’s a third mystery person who got up with Even and Eva - there’s got to be some explanation. There’s just no way, none at all.

If any more rounds of taps take place, Isak isn’t aware of them. The Swedish Army could literally invade the school right now and he wouldn’t know it.

Finally, it’s Sana’s voice that brings him back to earth. She’s thanking everyone for participating in the game, and Isak slowly blinks a few times. Now Eva is echoing Sana, then Vilde is getting to her feet and thanking the group not just for participating, but for coming to the meeting and making it a success. She’s speaking a mile a minute again and her eyes keep darting to Eva, and Isak wonders vaguely how many taps were exchanged between the two of them.

Then the meeting is over, and he’s got to pull himself together since Jonas has already stood up and is heading toward him. He allows himself the very briefest of glances sideways at Even, but he appears engaged in conversation with Lea. Jealousy pierces him again, and he’s more grateful for Jonas extending a hand at that very second to help him up than he could ever really tell him. Isak grasps it firmly and is already back to his old self by the time he stands up, patting Jonas on the back in thanks, telling him he’ll be back in a minute, and walking straight toward Sana.

He has to do this right away. He has to move, turn his back on Even and put him out of his mind for just one minute, because if he doesn’t force his brain to think about something else, something simple and straightforward like finishing this business with Sana, then he’ll go crazy. At the very least, he’ll stand there with his friends and stare so hard at Even that one of them will notice and then he’ll have to make something up. No, fuck that.

“Mission accomplished,” he says to Sana - luckily he’s reached her at a break in her conversation with Chris and Kasper. She crosses her arms and looks him up and down, and Isak just stares right back. There’s a smile twitching at the corners of her mouth, though.

“Yes, I guess you did come through,” she replies at last, and motions for him to come with her. Isak gives Chris and Kasper quick smiles before following Sana to her bag, which she crouches beside and unzips. They’re several feet from anyone else but Isak still shields her from view out of habit, then remembers that there aren’t any adults here so it doesn’t matter who sees. “As promised,” she says with a smirk, standing up straight again and holding out the bag of weed.

He plucks it from her fingers. “Thanks. Do I need to weigh it to make sure you only took ten percent?” He holds it up as if to inspect it, and out of the corner of his eye he sees that Even is watching him. Isak’s stomach flips over as their eyes lock, and he hastily slides the bag into his jacket pocket, tearing his eyes away to focus on Sana again. “Seriously, thanks.”

“No problem. I’m really glad you guys came. It was... it was fun, wasn’t it?” She sounds a bit surprised herself, and Isak wonders how hard Vilde had to talk her into doing this thing.

“It was, actually,” he agrees, and he’s not lying. “Did anyone besides me give you taps?”

“As a matter of fact, yes.”

Something occurs to him then, and he glances at Even again before he can stop himself. “I just realized - you got to see how many taps people got, and by who.” He swallows, on the verge of asking... but then he reels himself back in and adds simply, “And who’s crushing on who.”

Sana purses her lips and tilts her head slightly. “I sure did.”

Right away it’s crystal clear that any more information will have to be dragged out of her and Isak just doesn’t have the energy right now. He rolls his eyes and glares at her, but he still holds his fist out for her to bump before walking back to his friends.

“Okay, here’s your shit, Mahdi,” he says, interrupting whatever the three of them are talking about by tossing the weed to Mahdi, who exclaims happily. “Don’t say I never did anything for you,” Isak adds.

“Never, bro.” Mahdi hands the bag to Jonas and gives Isak a quick hug, and before he’s fully let go he adds in a lower voice, “You got two taps from me, just so you know.” He claps the back of Isak’s shoulder, and Isak can’t help grinning at him.

“Don’t spread this around, but you got two from me, too.”

Mahdi hugs him again, for a little longer this time. Behind him, Isak can see Jonas and Magnus examining the weed and he knows they’re trying to calculate how much is left. “Are we doing this?” Mahdi asks, reaching for the bag again and looking around at the rest of them.

Isak opens his mouth to immediately say yes, but catches sight of Emma standing a bit behind Magnus, watching him apprehensively. Fuck.

Jonas has clearly noticed her too, because he nudges Isak’s arm and says quietly, “Somebody needs to speak to you, I think.”

When Mahdi’s and Magnus’ heads swivel in Emma’s direction as well, Isak groans inwardly. He’d been hoping to just not have to deal with her at all, but now that they’ve made it so damn obvious...

“Hey, how many times did she tap your shoulder?” Magnus whispers - stage whispers, actually; Isak has to wince at how much his voice carries.

“Three,” he replies, too exhausted at this point to bother lying. But he wants to kick himself as soon as the word has left his mouth, because all three of their jaws drop, and both of his arms get punched by Mahdi and Magnus.

“Why are you standing here talking to us?” Mahdi hisses, and Magnus is nodding emphatically, and Jonas is just staring at Isak as if he’s an idiot. “Get over there and hit that!”

Stomach churning, Isak gives them the best fake laugh he can at the moment, nodding while gritting his teeth. “You’re right, you’re right,” he says, cutting through Magnus’ continued frantic encouragement (so fucking loud, Jesus). “Tell you what, I’ll catch up to you guys,” he says, glancing at Emma again. “I’ll just be a minute.”

“I sure hope it takes you longer than a minute, dude,” Magnus snorts. For once, Isak can’t come up with a retort - he’s too busy trying to pull together something to say to her.

He low-fives each of the boys and starts to walk toward her, figuring he’ll just wing it because he has no clue what to say. He just hopes she doesn’t start screeching or something.

But he’s only taken a couple of steps when Even suddenly appears at his side, stopping Isak in his tracks. “Hi,” Even says, as if it’s the simplest thing in the world to just walk up and speak to a guy you’re crushing on (did those three taps seriously happen, though? or did Isak hallucinate the whole thing?).

Isak’s mouth is instantly a desert again, his lips slightly parted in shock as he stares up at him. God. “Hey,” he manages to croak out. While he's grateful as shit that Even has delayed his speaking to Emma, at the same time he’s utterly terrified of what Even might say.

Even looks over at Emma, then back to Isak, raising his eyebrows in question. “Am I interrupting, or...?”

If he weren’t such a blur of conflicting emotions, Isak would have burst out laughing. “No, I--” He sighs, then gives Emma the most apologetic look he can manage right now, shrugging his shoulders and tilting his head toward Even, hoping she’ll get it. I need to talk to him first, sorry. When she narrows her eyes at him and just shakes her head before flouncing off, he really does feel sort of lousy, but then he looks up at Even again and everything instantly becomes brighter.

“Hey,” he says again with a quick smile, then drops his eyes to the floor as he takes a small step back, hands sliding into his pockets so he can make sure they don’t betray him. He can’t not look at Even for more than a few seconds, though, no matter how uncertain he feels.

Even opens his mouth, then closes it again and chuckles to himself, shaking his head. “This is going to sound kind of presumptuous, sorry, but...” He pauses there, and Isak’s brain goes haywire with possible endings to that sentence. “Okay, I saw you and Sana over there, with the pot? And I was wondering if you were going to do something with it tonight, because...” He slips his fingertips into the breast pocket of his denim jacket and produces an impressively fat blunt. “...I could make a contribution.”

Okay, no way could Isak have expected that. It’s as if Even has pressed some magical button inside him that instantly releases the tension, expels nearly all of his fear, and actually allows him to smile. “Ah, it’s not really mine,” he says. “Sana was-- it’s a long story but she was sort of holding it for me, and she blackmailed me into coming here tonight with my friends so I could get it back.” Even’s eyebrows shoot up in amusement, and seeing it pulls another smile from Isak, this one even easier. “And then I had to give it back to Mahdi, because it’s his.”

“Blackmail?” Even repeats, grinning. “I’d kind of like to hear this long story.” He’s now rolling the joint between the tips of his fingers and Isak’s eyes are irresistibly drawn to it. But as soon as he’s obviously focused there, Even stops rolling it, holds it still, and starts tapping his ring finger lightly against it. Once, twice, three times. And stops.

Three times. Just as he’d tapped Isak's shoulder. It's a deliberate mirror, a wordless confirmation - Isak is sure of it.

He’s hardly able to breathe for a few seconds, but he does somehow possess the clarity to look back up at Even’s face. And Even’s eyes are steady, fucking twinkling at him, inviting and playful and blue as the clearest summer sky. He’s smiling too, no longer quite a grin but still dazzling, everything about him just radiating warmth, and God, it’s been so long since Isak felt warm, since he felt much of anything other than chilly self-loathing. He wants to feel the sun on his face again, and unless he’s mistaken, Even is offering him the chance.

“Do you have anywhere to be right now?”

Isak shakes his head slowly. Mahdi, Magnus, Jonas - who are they?

“Well, then. Come outside.”