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Walking ironies

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The first time Evan saw him after The Incident, Connor Murphy was lying unashamedly to the instructor and their whole senior class, claiming that his abilities hadn’t manifested yet.

Whispers, like bees in a hive, raised immediately, angry and annoyed at the denial of the show they had been expecting. There had been rumors since Evan could remember about what Connor Murphy’s abilities would be, about how they would match the outbursts that had gained him his reputation, the destruction that always swayed at his side finally becoming chaos. It had always been spoken with an edge to it, as if the entire school was dreading to be the focus of the rage but they all hoped to be spectators when it happened.

Now, they shouted at the boy at front of the gym, goading him into some reaction that would give them the result they wanted, not just the clenched jaw and the pointed glare. The instructor moved, placing herself in front of Connor, head bent while checking boxes in the registration form, asking question after question. From the corner of his eye, Evan could see the replicates placating the people that had stood up from their seats and seemed to want to make their way to the front, to cause a scene and trigger a skill that they refused to believe didn’t exist.

Evan knew it wouldn’t take long for the teacher that had accompanied them to get fed up with the situation and start taking students back to their classrooms, a stern lecture about behavior waiting in each one. Some had already been ushered by other teachers for comments thrown here and there, prompting them to get registered without having to wait for the alphabetical call but also depriving them of seeing how their peers tried to demonstrate skills that they couldn’t control yet.

Alana Beck had to be removed from the gym after she suddenly appeared in the middle of the room while Bree Howards was showing the instructor how far she could throw the metal desk that had been placed for the try outs, missing Alana for a few meters and causing a massive silence to fall through the gym.

Jared, on the other hand, had been asked to leave after he made a joke about his temporary invisibility that had gained him a few scattered laughs, a bigger amount of eye rolls and the exit of the premises.

And Evan, Evan had been advised to step away from anything that seemed flammable, leading to his cross legged position on the floor, tiny flames matching his heartbeat as he watched Connor Murphy move around the different stages, failing at every single test, including the one he was supposed to pass.

After signing his name at the bottom of the registration papers, Connor looked up, locking eyes with Evan.

The fire sprinklers went off and he saw more than heard Connor snorting, the sound muffled by the sudden screams of surprise of everyone in the gym.

Everyone.                                         

Cos Evan was on fire, drenched to the bone, but on fire. Erratic flames that did not burn him but blackened the cement were he had been sitting. He could sworn he heard the faint cackle that Jared called laughter, which made no sense since he wasn’t even in the gym. Where Evan was. And where every single student was starting at him. Which was frankly not helping at all with the whole control the fire thing that he was trying to achieve.

The replicates of the instructor moved as one, just as his mom’s did when she concentrated. He could hear his own breathing, forced and fast. They shouldn’t come close. He would hurt them if they did. The flames were annoying to his skin but they still burned everyone else. He couldn’t let that happen. He couldn’t hurt people again. He needed to leave.

A step back and then another, his shoes squeaking on the wet floor. He couldn´t breathe.

“Mister Hansen.” Three voices at once, a bad tuned radio.

The flames lashed out. Yelps as students moved out of the way, staring back at him with wide eyes. He needed to leave. Now.

Evan turned around and ran, embers following behind as he sprinted, hoping the door would not catch on fire when he pushed it open without stopping but assuring himself that it was better to burn wood than skin.

He maneuvered his way through deserted hallways, activating the sprinkles as he passed.

Evan knew he needed to calm down. To breath. To get a hold of himself. To stop. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t because the whole school had realized how dangerous he was, and they were gonna report this back to his mom, and that’s the last thing his mom needs, which is not surprising at all because when hasn’t he been a source for trouble for her, that worked a lot more than she needed for him and who he paid by being this fucked up, by making her believe it was her fault somehow, cos he just knew that she thought that, that it was her to blame instead of his stupid brain, that she had messed up somehow cos other kids weren’t like this. And now this. Fire. Like his dad. Just what she needed. Another reminder of what Evan could destroy so easily. He was never going to be able to control his ability, he was probably going to incinerate his house when having a nightmare or something. The school was going to kick him out and Jared would stop hanging out with him at all because why would he want to even be associated with the arsonist waiting to happen.

He feels his body overbalancing when someone yanks around his wrist, his sneakers slipping on the floor and finding no purchase to keep him upright. Whoever grabbed him, moves backwards without letting go of his wrist, to avoid Evan crashing into them. He opens his eyes –when did he close them? - when a hiss of pain and a muttered curse reach his ear. He tries to free his arm when he looks over at the contact point, scorched skin that makes him gag.

“Hansen, you need to calm the fuck down.”

Connor is drenched, his hair plastered to his face and around his neck, with the sleeves of the faded brown jacket rolled up precariously, as if he had done them without paying too much attention. He is scowling at Evan. Or most probably because he is in pain, since Evan is burning his arm, the fire almost reaching the fabric of the jacket, turning the pale skin an angry red.

Evan tries to tug his arm away again. Connor holds tighter, squeezing his wrist.

“For fuck’s sake, breathe.”

Oxygen feeds fire. He shouldn’t breathe, that seems more logical. Not that anything is logical around him, because his abilities doesn’t fit with him in the slightest, and they are supposed to. He has never met an adult tha-

Pressure in his wrist and his sight is hazy, the heat distorting the image.

“That’s hyperventilating, which is breathing but. Come on, slower.” His voice is pained but he is breathing slowly, as if Evan needs an example in how to breathe like a normal person.

He probably does.

He tries, willing the flames to dim, to focus in his surrounding again instead of the turmoil that is still fighting inside of his head. He closes his eyes and focus on the feel of the hand around his wrist, on the sound of some drops falling into the ground, on Connor’s breathing.

Once he can feel the itch under his skin, Evan opens his eyes and the fire is gone. Connor has his eyes screw shut, his other hand over his mouth to avoid making any noise and Evan knows exactly what he is doing. He can feel the finger around his wrist loosen up and he watches marred skin shrinks, leaving red in its wake before turning pink, until it fades back to white.

Evan is not sure if the water dripping from Connor’s face is water from the sprinklers or sweat at the effort it took to heal himself. The Incident flashes across his memory and he is quick enough this time to reach for Connor before he crumbles to the ground.

The extra weight forces Evan to lower himself to the floor and he is doing the breathing exercises he remembers from therapy cos he simply can’t have a repetition of that episode with an unconscious Connor in his arms.

He can’t stay here either.

He looks up and freezes.

Jared is staring back at the two of them and Evan is incapable of knowing for how long he has been there. He is tired and his brain is going to freak out once it catches up with the situation, but right now his head is full smoke and he still has an unconscious classmate who helped him, again, relaying on him.

“Can you give me a hand?”

Chapter Text

Evan is barely listening to what Jared is saying, his chattering more an afterthought in the background to him that the beacon of attention Jared clearly want it to be, if the amount of names he is dropping is anything to go by.

To be fair, Evan did ask him why no one else had come looking for either of them, fully expecting a jab or a mock comment, not the extremely detailed and obviously embellished version of the pandemonium that had broken loose in the gym after Evan made his hasty retreat.

To be fairer, Evan was still reeling from the extreme reaction of his ability and trying to maneuver a passed out person that was way too tall for either of them to try and pick up.

So now here he is, half dragging Connor Murphy around the hallways of his school, with Jared taking less weight on his shoulders with each action his hands recreate, grimacing at the fact that Connor might be pissed off at the fact that his jeans are most likely ruined by the water on the floor that he is sweeping.

He can’t go there.                   

He can’t start imagining worst case scenarios when the smoke has not even cleared from the corners of his mind, when the itch is increasing under his skin and each exhale is filled with ash. Maybe that’s why breathing is so hard for him. He is inside the burning building all the time. He is the burning building, the walls crumbling and the foundation giving in. He is the fire, unstoppable and a chaos born from a tiny spark. He is the people inside, suffocating and reaching for windows only to be burn with the hot glass.

The sudden weight makes him clutch at the arm around his shoulders and his other hand holds tighter where it rested around Connor’s waist, to prevent him slipping from his grip and falling to the floor. He feels himself get unbalanced, his right foot leaving the ground, finding it again on instinct in front of his left one and this one moving out of the way reaching for the balance that is missing.

It doesn’t reach it. Evan’s left shoulder slams against the lockers.

“Jared, what the-” And Jared is not there.

“So apparently I’m not just invisible.” The air says to him in Jared’s voice.

He is not proud of the seconds it takes him to understand the situation. To realize Jared did vanish but didn’t leave, and the empty space is not empty at all.

“It went right through me.” He can imagine Jared shivering by the tone of his voice. He is not sure what to do with that bit of information now that he has it. “Worst sensation ever. Never again. Can’t help you anymore, which saddens me to no end.” Evan is trying so hard not to roll his eyes. He truly is. “Tell your mom I helped you, by the way, my parents will be thrilled to hear about that.”

“Jared, come on.” He is fidgeting with Connor’s jacket, the damp fabric rumpling under the pressure. “I-You know how-” Blinking hard is not making Jared figure appear. Evan tries again either way. “He is going to wake up and he is going to be mad because why wouldn’t he, right? So he is going to scream at me and you know that’s not a good thing to do around me, like, at all, which would just make the fire start up and then he is going to be even madder, think I’m provoking him or something, which again, no good.” He should probably breathe between sentences. He doesn’t. “Or, or maybe I’m too tired and the flames will stay down but he will scream to me either way because I dragged him around the school, and ruined his jeans, and then he will realized I had to carry him and he will get disgusted because you know, me which will lead to-”

Evan is not sure if it counts as laughing at one’s face if you can’t see the person doing the laughter, but it feels equally awful.

“Okay, so, I’m totally not staying to share the potential attempt murder you are going to go through.” Evan can make out Jared now, his body a fading thing but visible. A translucent silhouette that shrugs as it turns, walking backwards. “I still want to hear about it, though. If he doesn’t kill you, obviously.” A second and he is solid again, the hunch in his shoulders easy to see. “You should probably film it. You know, for evidence. And don’t think I’m not gonna ask you why Connor Murphy dashed out of the room to go after you.” He can see the spark in Jared’s eyes even as he moves away, the telltale sign of an awful joke. “Is he an old flame you forgot to mention?”

The eyebrow wiggle and the cackle are as predictable as the sound the door makes after Jared leaves.

Evan lets his head bang against the lockers behind him, adjusting his grip so that more weight is resting on his side instead of on his shoulder. He wants to scream more than he wants to fold into himself but he is scared of what that would do, so he pushes away from the cold metal and starts walking, albeit slower, instead.

He doesn’t remember how long it took for Connor to wake up last time but there is no doubt in his head that when Connor stirs, is way too early for him to have recovered.

Evan stops anyway, his hold loosening but not letting go, just in case this is nothing more than a fake alarm. A branch creaking but not breaking.

Connor’s eyes find his when he looks up, slightly hasty.

Evan should know by now that branches always break when it comes to him.

The arm around his shoulder tightens as Connor regains his footing, unbending himself, before moving his arm away at the same time Evan’s left arm drops from his waist.

“So, um, are you okay? I mean, you passed out last time too but you took longer to wake up. Not that I’m not glad that you are awake now. I am. But shouldn’t you rest more or something? I me-”        

“Hansen, shut up.”

He does.

Of course he managed to mess this up. He predicted it, either way. He just didn’t expect Connor to get fed up this quickly, but he assumes that is probably the fact that Evan was talking and that he realized that Evan was the one that carried him through the school and isn’t there something more shameful than that? And with Connor’s reputation? It was normal to want him to shut up, who wouldn’t? Is not like the question wasn’t obvious. Who asks someone who passed out if they are okay? They obviously aren’t. If they were, they wouldn’t pass out.

“Whatever you are thinking, stop it.” Evan looks up and Connor is already scowling at him. “You are going to catch fire again and I don’t feel like doing this all over again. Is a headache, Hansen, noises make them worse.”

“Oh.” Eloquently put, indeed. “I, um, that’s it, if you want to, I have pills? For the headache, I mean. They are in my bag? I can go get them if you want.” A shift from side to side and his body is already turning. “I will look for them. Stay. I will be right back.”

“I am not a dog.” Connor mutters, but sits on the floor as he says so.

The laughter that escapes him is more a nervous chuckle than anything else but he can see the small lift on Connor’s lips before he heads to where his locker is.

When he looks over his shoulder before opening the wooden doors, Connor’s knees are folded, his arms on them, working as a pillow for his head. He looks small, droplets of water dripping from his hair and Evan decides he can walk faster than what he is doing.

The hallways are empty as he walks pass them. He knew it was going to be almost like a ghost town today, with only seniors allowed to the school for the try outs. To avoid accidents and for better control on highly volatile individuals, or so they had been telling them. But this, this is no ghost town, this is an evacuated zone before a disaster.

He is a few steps away from his locker when he remembers that Jared told him they had been dismissed for the day due to complications. A massive text had been sent via Alana’s phone to inform the student body of the early dismissal. He assumed some would have linger but, okay, first day of class, even he could see the appeal on leaving right away.

It was unnerving that the only sound was that of his locker opening, of the pills jumping inside the bottle, of his shoes against the linoleum, of his breathing echoing in halls that were never this silent.

Is even worse, though, when he is nearing the place where he left Connor in and he can hear shouted words, impossible to understand from the distance but enough to make him run the small distance separating them.

Evan wasn’t sure what he had been expecting, but is not Zoe Murphy’s gloved hand yanking at Connor’s arm while both of them are screaming at each other. The voices now too loud for him to try to make sense of.

The bottle clatters to the floor and the Murphy siblings move in synch, following the noise with a whip of their head.

“I told you I was waiting for someone.”

 

Chapter Text

Being stuck in a car with people who had been screaming at each other a few minutes ago and were now both pretending to not recall doing so while simultaneously ignoring each other, was a really specific situation that Evan thought he had overcome when his father had left. And yet, here he was, clutching his bag and feeling the zipper leaving a mark but refusing to let his arms do anything that was not controlled. So, clutching the bag it was.

Connor’s messenger bag is accompanying him in the backseat after being thrown haphazardly by its owner the moment he got in the car. Say owner is riding shotgun, sitting in a way that makes it obvious that he prefers the feeling of the seatbelt cutting against his neck that to face his sister, making it impossible for Evan to catch his attention. Which he needs to do, because he has no idea where they are taking him since they didn’t even ask for his address. Connor’s eyes don’t appear to be tracking anything even when facing the window nor is he using the time to rest like Evan thinks he should.

On the other hand, talking to Zoe would be crazy enough in any other situation, but in this one, it could count as a death wish. She is staring at the road with a concentration that rivals jazz performances and Evan is not sure if that’s how Zoe generally drives or if she is slamming the brakes especially hard for today’s audience. By the amount of glares Connor sends her way at every stops, Evan supposes he should feel special.

He does not. He feels very threaten and would like to get out of the car, thank you very much.

Evan is not going to break the tension in the air to ask or say anything, though. He thinks he would prefer to open the door in the next red light and bolt than try to make conversation right now. Even so, the silence is suffocating him, the same way air does to a fire and he is scared, that just as well as that, too much of it would make the flames go up instead of down, and with the state of his body, Evan doesn’t think he would be able to reign them in unless he collapsed. He hopes the flames will stop if he fainted, but he can’t be sure. The grass had been burned that day, after all.

The slam of the door makes him jump in his seat and tighten the hold on his bag, head snapping in the direction of the sound. Zoe is already walking towards a door, ponytail swinging and hands in fist at her sides. She isn’t carry anything else and Evan has the sudden realization that she hadn’t had school today, no matter if her abilities had already manifested.

His attention is snatched back to the car with the sound of a seatbelt opening and Connor’s arm reaching for the strap of his bag. His arm looks unharmed and even when Evan already knew, is still baffling. It makes it harder to believe that something did actually happen. That Connor literally put his hands on the fire for him, to calm him down. He didn’t need to do that. He could have gone away. They aren’t even friends and he was there first, a mirror image of The Incident, when Jared and his mom hadn’t come to find him.

“Are you going to stay inside the car for forever or?” Connor is twisted on his seat, eyebrow raised. “Because Zoe is not going to unlock it if it locks itself before we get down and I’m not up for spending a whole evening stuck here.”

“No, right, sorry, zoned out, you know how it is.” Second eyebrow raised in his direction and Evan doesn’t want narrow eyes to follow so he scrambles out of the car in a haste.

The Murphy’s household (Because Evan doesn’t think Zoe Murphy will just enter a house without a second thought unless it was hers.) is bigger and at the same time exactly how Evan expected it to be. Is missing the picket fence but that’s probably the only thing that doesn’t match the magazines that are always spread in Dr. Sherman’s office. It feels out of place to be here, to be standing and looking at something that is a valley away from his normal view.

It’s another building in his life that he could crumble to the ground if he were to lose control. If he were to be inside of it for too long. If he were to exist so close too so much wood.

He follows Connor either way, with the sound in the far part of his mind that resembles a lighter that is empty but that someone is trying to light anyway.

With the handle of his bag in one hand, Evan can see the marks in his skin, vines creeping on his forearms, searching for a sun that he can’t locate but that must be there somewhere. Is slight pink and some red patches, and Evan’s head replays the seconds in which Connor’s skin had been burned, the ugly sight that he had created by overreacting over a look. He had done that. He had harmed someone, the same person that had run and help him. He had hurt Connor, because he can remember now, he can see it as plain as all of his flaws. The grimace while healing himself and the hand raised to quiet the sound. And Evan feels sick to his stomach because that’s all that he is going to be good for. He is going to be good at being bad, at being a hazard, at being another version of unstable.

“I need to go home.” He is talking to the floor but the footsteps stop so he can assume Connor heard him. “I, thank you, but I need to go. I am sorry. I am so sorry.” He is walking backwards, thankful for the lack of stairs. He hold the handle tighter, until it borders on painful and looks up.

Connor is looking at him like he can’t decipher whenever to reach and stop him or to go inside and slam the door while on it. He sighs. He has been doing that a lot today.

“Dude, Zoe already told my mom that I brought someone and she is not going to let it go.” His knuckles are white on the strap of his bag. “Look, consider it payback for helping you out if you want, but I am too tired to deal with my family right now so…”

He never gave Connor the pill. He had been ushered by the pair and never made it to give it to him. Is not the priority, the priority is answering but all his brain is stuck is in the fact that he was supposed to give him the painkiller and he never did. He is putting his backpack on the floor and kneeling to look for it in autopilot, aware of Connor hovering with the door open a few feet away. He finds the bottle under a notebook, uncaps it, takes two and stands up.

“Here” Connor blinks at him. “You had a headache and I told you I was going to look for the something to make it better and I did find it but never give it to you and after so much screaming, I can just imagine how much worse it must have gotten.” Maybe he talks the way he does because fire burns just as fast. “So, here, it might help. It helps me, anyway. You should take two, tho. Mom says is better since one is more for, like, small children.”

“What the fuck?”

Evan moves the hand with the pills. Connor looks at it and then at Evan, sighs – maybe he thinks is like blowing candles and the air might put out the flames that are always under Evan’s skin- and takes the pills.

“I am going to look for water.” He says it over his shoulder, leaving the door open in clear invitation.

Evan is alone and not running for the first time in this whole day. He closes his bag and shoulders it. It hits him like a ton of bricks in that mere moments when he is passing and closing the door, that he is exhausted, both mentally and physically. He had run and he had carried someone around school today. He had a near mental breakdown in what was like half an hour ago. He had to perform in front of the senior class. He dealt with Jared and he hadn’t even been done with that if Jared curiosity was to be believed.

The point was, without having something to do, the fact that he had overused his ability and then proceed to do the opposite of resting, was taking its toll. Evan didn’t trust his own filter when he was tired, since it seemed to disappear when it happened. He assumed that was what feeling drunk was like, the haziness and complete lack of self-preservation, with just a dash of blunt honesty. Which meant that Evan needed to be far away from Connor Murphy before he blurted something he didn’t think through.

Counterargument, his house is far from here and he doesn’t want to move.

“Why are you standing in front of the door?”

“You didn’t tell me where to go.”

Connor shrugs at that, a glass in hand, as if he can’t quite find the fault in the statement.

“Fair enough.” He offers the glass of water and Evan takes it because he really doesn’t know what else to do. He is not thirsty. He takes a sip. “Come on.”

Evan can see Connor left his bag and jacket in the sofa as he follows him upstairs, his own bag making the small trek to Connor’s room ten times worse. He didn’t even bring a lot of stuff.

“Your room doesn’t have a door.”

See? That’s the kind of statement he normally wouldn’t do. The glare he receives makes it clear that he shouldn’t, and even in the blur that is his head, he can tell that looking at his shoes and not at Connor is the best decision he can make. Anxiety does stop him from saying dumb stuff, who would have a thought? It also make him say a lot of stupid stuff so he decides that anxiety sucks.

“Yeah, they also took my car, in case you were wondering why the fuck I wasn’t driving this time around.” The mattress bounces with Connor’s weight when he sits down.

“I, um.” He lets his bag fall to the floor and looks around, retaining nothing before he locks eyes with Connor for who knows how many times today. “Thank you, for that day, by the way. And sorry for it too, you know. And for today. Today was a mess. Not that most day aren’t, but you know.” He yawns.

“Oh, shit.” Evan jumps because when had Connor moved? “You were on fire. Shit. Right. You must be tired. You didn’t pass out.” Ha, Connor rambles too. “You didn’t pass out, right?”

He shakes his head to say no, but another yawn makes the motion not as effective as he had hoped. He believes Connor understands, thought.

“You can take the bed.” Evan takes a sip of water. Connor’s eyes widen and he breaths slowly, the same Evan remembers him doing when he had been trying to calm him down. He copies the movement out of inertia. “I meant, you can take the bed if you want. To sleep. I know how tiring using your abilities can be. If they are anything like mine, you must be exhausted.”

“I don´t know if” The sound of his voice is distorted by a yawn and he is starting to believe the itch inside his body is just trying to rekindle with more oxygen. “Is the same, but yeah, kinda tired.”

“I will take this to the kitchen.” No more glasses of water for Evan, apparently. “You can get comfortable or whatever.”

“Thank you.” He says to Connor’s back.

It wouldn’t be polite to not accept the offer, plus, maybe Connor doesn’t want his company. He did say it was because his mother was going to nag him if he didn’t bring someone, and well, Evan was someone even when he would claim to be nobody most of the time. So they could probably skip all the awkward talk if Evan just fell asleep.

So he does. He feels his body small jump when he falls face first into the bed. He might hug the pillow. He might not have. Everything is fuzzy and Connor is talking to someone downstairs.

That’s a first, Evan following through without a double checking of scenarios of how everything could be wrong.

Maybe that’s why everything does end up going wrong.

Chapter Text

The remnants of a dream are tugging in his head, the narrative fuzzy and the characters too familiar in their unfamiliarity, as Evan blinks himself awake. He is trying to recall it, to not let himself forget it, because the sensation of knowing you had a dream but not knowing anything about it is not a pleasant one, so he is clinging to the haziness and moving his head to the side, a practiced attempt at hiding from the sunlight.

In that moment Evan realizes that he is not in his room, with a start big enough to make him sit down in the bed –The bed, because is not his bed, just a bed.- and his fists are too slack to hold the covers as they spill around him. The dream is nothing more than background noise fading to black in his head now, as his eyes travel from shadow to shadow. The blinds are shut but even so, Evan isn’t sure if there would be any light if they were open. He doesn’t have blinds in his room, he has curtains, blue ones that his mom loves to leave open because she says Evan could benefit from it and Evan doesn’t hate them, nor the feel of the sun in his skin most of the time. But he doesn’t have blinds, and this is not his room, and he is alone in a stranger’s room with the sound of his shaky breathing not echoing, which makes him notice the door, the lack of door and reality crashes into itself, pushing Evan to get up, feet tangling in too dark covers to be his.

Evan’s hands shoot up to stop the fall but this is not his room and his desk is not where it should be, right hand barely grazing something instead of slamming against the wood like he had expected. His left arm prevents his head from banging against the floor, but his jaw connects with his forearm as his body goes crashing down, forcing it shut and making the scream come out as muttered curses instead. His eyes water but he can see his other arm laying in front of him, his palm stinging as he moves his fingers. He kicks at the covers as they tangle even more, huffing before using his elbows to raise up enough to sit down in the carpeted floor, using one of his hands to move the thing away.

Evan blinks as he stares at his socked feet. He had shoes on when he fell asleep, he is sure of it, but they are not there anymore, the white of the socks getting lost in the dark.

“Are you okay? I heard a crash.” Evan jumps and twist his body to follow the voice. Zoe is bathed on the hallway light, which Evan is seventy five percent sure wasn't on when he woke up. “Why are you sitting on the floor?” Her eyebrows furrow.

Evan opens his mouth and tastes blood, not sure what he is about to answer. The sound of quick steps make Zoe turn around, letting more of the white light spill into the room, making him flinch.

“I told you not to come into my room.” For a second, he thinks Connor is speaking to him, but his silhouette is facing his sister, both taunt. His voice has no business being a whisper, the sound too harsh for it to be called that.

“I heard a bang. I was checking on him.” Zoe hisses back, pointing to the inside of the room. Evan notices how she is using gloves even now, inside her own house.

Connor's eyes widen when he sees Evan on the floor, turning back to Zoe to say something Evan can't catch, too self-conscious now about being on the floor, careful in the way he rises to his feet. His forearm hurts and he makes himself examine it, eyes straining to catch anything.

He hears a click and is pure instinct that leads him to look up, blinding himself in the process when the light floods the room. Evan moves backwards, stepping into the covers around him with the heel of his foot, shielding his eyes from the sudden brightness.

He blinks away the black dots dancing in his vision, seeing the shadowed figures around the room become tangible when illuminated.

“Did you fall off the bed?” The tone is too disbelieving, as if the scene wasn’t painting enough of a picture.

“Technically, I didn’t. I mean, I did, but more of a fall when trying to get out of the bed instead of, you know, rolling out of it or something.” He looks back at the bed and his eyes settle on the blinds instead, open as they are.

He is dead. He is so dead.

“That’s not less pathetic, you do realize that, right?” Connor must be close to him, but his voice feels far away, quieting down by everything else going wrong in Evan’s life by every second he stays here.

He had an appointment today. How did he forget he had that? He had an alert on his phone. He had reassured his mom that he wouldn’t forget a billion times before heading out. They probably call her at this point, to inform her of the fact that Evan had failed at the thing he wasn’t supposed to fail. She was going to worry. Jared wouldn’t cover for him, car insurance or not. He might even told her that Evan had declined a ride and that he didn’t know where Evan was.

“Hansen?”

Or maybe the school had call her as soon as the other students had gone home, to let her know that she owed the school a ridiculous amount of money because her son had blackened the gym’s floor and wasted who knows how much water. Plus, the sad but truthful report that would let her know that Evan was the first kid whose abilities were too chaotic for his personality, that they didn’t fit him as they should have, that he was a new level of hopeless case and that she should be so much better without the extra weight.

“Evan.” 

He needs to leave. He needed to leave 5 minutes ago. Half an hour ago. He needed to have walked home. Why couldn’t he do anything right?

“I need to go.” He is not sure if Connor had been talking to him. If he just interrupted him with the tremble of his voice.

He doesn’t care.

Connor is standing a few steps away, looking angry or frustrated or something, with the covers –Dark blue, not black as he had thought- in his arms. He is not impeding his retreat. He is not in front of the frame and Evan is so glad right now that he doesn’t have to fight Connor Murphy after declaring he is ditching him.

He can feel the kindling. Is not in his stomach or his gut, like he heard it when he was little. No, even that is wrong with him. He feels it in his chest, expanding and contracting, never at the same pace as his heart at this stage. It’s making itself known, marking its way in Evan. He feels like wood half of the time since his abilities manifested, a Pinocchio with matches for fingers, self-destruction a snap away.

He snatches his bag from where he left it, not bothering with shouldering, letting it dangle in his grip.  He will check his phone when he is out of range from the Murphy’s household, when he can panic without drawing any looks of annoyance or disgust. He doesn’t bother to look up at Connor. He knows burned bridges even before they catch fire.

He is climbing down the stairs when Connor appears at his side, dragging him by the wrist to the end of the steps and into the living room. Evan would like to say he doesn’t let out a squeak when practically thrown at the sofa, but things are never the way Evan wants them to be. Connor’s bag is digging into his side and the brown jacket has half fallen into his head.

“What the fuck?!” Evan looks up and Connor is pacing in front of him, not looking back. Evan’s shoes dangling from the hand no currently messing with his hair.

Evan wonders if he could be able to take the shoes and bolt. He rearranges himself on the sofa, his bag thudding against the floor when he decides that the best way to keep control over the situation is to look at the way his hand play with a loose string in his shirt. He probably made it himself when he got himself in a situation like this one.  Jared would pay to watch how Connor is going to shred him, that’s for sure.

Evan is never certain, these days, if is anxiety or sparks forming. According to previous evidence, it’s both. He breathes slowly, just in case.

“Are you crazy? Is that it, Hansen? What was your plan, exactly, here? To leave without your shoes, without checking if you were able to walk without collapsing?” Connor’s voice raise higher with each question, making Evan shrinks in tandem. “Fucking hell. I can’t believe you. I don’t understand you. You refused to leave me alone when it was the other way around. You fucking chased me and got into my car.” The sound of the shoes hitting the floor make Evan’s head shoot up. Connor’s eyes are ablaze, breathing air into the uneasy feeling weighting down his chest. He can’t look away. “So what was so fucking important that you ran away, ah? What is it? Are you scared of your school’s freak, is that it?”

Did he miss a part of the conversation? It feels like it, since he can’t quite puzzle how Connor got himself into that line of thought. He frowns.

Wrong action, somehow, because now Connor is less than a breath away, leaning towards him.

“News flash, the tittle is now yours, look at a fucking mirror.” Connor’s finger jabs at his chest, venom dripping from his voice.

And then he is leaving, the sound of his footsteps heavy. Evan is aware that he doesn’t hear a door slam only because there is no door to slam in the first place. Loud music starts playing a few seconds later.

It’s a dismissal, clear as the day should be, and Evan is so tempted to take it, to shoulder his bag, put on his shoes and leave, prepared to avoid Connor for the rest of the school year. It doesn’t feel right to do so, something nagging in the back of his head, something not adding up, something he is not seeing.

He puts on his shoes. He checks his phone and realizes is not past 8. He has 3 texts from his mom, though. He shut his eyes, counts and decides nothing is going to actually help until he opens them. Tries to convince himself that is good sign that there are no missed calls.

Dr. Sherman’s office called to say you didn’t go to your appointment. I know the first day is stressful, Evan, but you can’t just skip sessions. I set one for tomorrow, don’t forget it this time, okay?

Jared said he took you home. Call me when you wake up. Forgot you had the test today. Sure you did wonderful, but you can tell me all about it tonight, since im leaving early!!!!!!! Tacos for all!!!!!!!!

His breath hitches. Jared covered for him or did he do it to cover himself? The latter seems more plausible but Evan is not capable of working logically when he realizes that the texts means his mom made it home before him. That her next text is going to be her demanding to know where he is. It hadn’t been sent that far away from now and Evan asks himself if maybe the text arrived when he was already awake.

Dread swims in his stomach.

Something came up. Gonna be out later than expected. There are leftovers in the fridge. Im so sorry. Not gonna happen again. I love you, don’t wait up

It’s not relief, but disappointment that dims the dread. He should have known his mom would be too busy to care about him. Okay, that isn’t fair, she cares. She just had more important stuff to do that to check on Evan, who by this time should be able to take care of himself. He was going to college in a year, why should she care about him missing one appointment? He is supposed to be getting all independent.

The flames are licking his fingers, a slow dance that is so opposite to chaos than Evan doesn’t jump when he notice them, simply staring at the way they move, curling themselves around him, warming the cold he is so used to feeling after too many nights spent by himself with a promise broken at his side.

He is fixated on the waves of heat around the fire when he notices. The only noise is the mingling of music coming from upstairs. No one had come to look at Evan for the five minutes or more he had been sitting in the couch, no one had come to scold Connor when he was screaming or ran to see what happened when Zoe appeared on Connor’s room. Not one single adult.

Dude, Zoe already told my mom that I brought someone and she is not going to let it go.

He could have missed them when he fell asleep or something. Maybe Connor’s mom had entered the room to see Evan asleep and pestered Connor anyway. Why hadn’t he been waken up? Why hadn’t he been asked to leave as soon as his mom had gone away?

To leave without your shoes, without checking if you were able to walk without collapsing?

Evan walks towards the door, searching for any sign that Ms. Murphy is somehow in the house. Ignoring the situation completely, but in the house.

Connor’s boots and Zoe’s converse are there. Nothing more.

You refused to leave me alone when it was the other way around.

He doesn’t even know how he makes it upstairs so quickly. The fire in his hands has settle to nothing more that burst of flames in coordination with his heartbeat, rapid and short.

Connor is on the bed, the covers thrown in the floor and the music pulsing from the laptop at his side. His eyes are closed but he is scowling, his knees drawn close to his chest and this feels so much like intruding. A close up of Connor Murphy when he is deaf and blind to others. When there is no door or wall between what he feels and what he is expressing.

It feels too much like intruding, which is why Evan clears his throat loudly enough to be known to be fake but enough to be heard over the music.

Connor opens his eyes and fixes him with a glare.

“Weren’t you in a hurry to leave?” His voice is low, but Evan is focusing too much on him to miss it.

The singer finds the chorus faster than Evan does his words. Connor looks down at the computer like it personally offended him, tapping at the spacebar with enough force to make the laptop wobble in response. Zoe’s music drift into the room, clutching at corner but not being able to take over the space.

“I, um,” Evan changes the weight from his right leg to his left. “I am sorry.”

Connor huffs, turning in the bed to not face him.

“If that’s all you wanted to say, you know where the door is.”

Evan flinches, a step back of pure instinct. He steps forwards with intend, glancing at the fire when he moves.

“No, I mean,” Connor twist a bit, a mirror image of the car situation. “I am sorry for running away. I wasn’t running away, I just, was running to something, like, opposed to away from something.” Can someone teach him how to speak like a normal person? He seems to have forgotten. “I thought my mom had gotten home before I did it and I had an appointment today that I missed and I needed to be home. I should have explain instead of what I did, I know that, but” Connor is not looking at him, his eyes following the dancing lights around Evan, unaware of the matching rhythm in his chest. “I’m not scared of you.”

Connor looks at him and raises an eyebrow, daring him to take it back.

“I’m not scared of you.” He repeats himself, taking hold of the desk chair and sitting down, the bubbling sensation that everything is about to go up in flames – Figuratively, for once- eating at him. “I have no reasons to be.”

“That hasn’t stop anyone at our school.” Connor shifts, facing him a bit more directly. “Or outside of it, for that matter.”

“You helped me, twice. I don’t care much about what anyone says.” Ha, Evan can lie, who would have thought? “In any case, you are the one that should be scared of me if we go by reasons here.” He isn’t calm, the fire moving around him proves it, but Connor doesn’t know that. So Evan shrugs, like the movement is not foreign to him.

Connor snorts.

“Yeah, right.”

Evan wants to ask so many things. Firmly, the one thing that made him retrace his steps and run through the ashes of a bridge.

Why are you worried about me?

He doesn’t.

 

Chapter Text

The blue curtains are swaying with the breeze, the lights are off and Evan Hansen has been trying to fall asleep for what appears to be more than an hour now. He had arrived from the Murphy’s to an empty house, the silence only being interrupted by the sound of his keys and of his shoes against the floor. He had changed clothes and called his mom, not faking the tiredness and drowsiness in his voice, promising to eat the leftovers before heading back to bed.

What was another lie, after all? It was what his mother wanted to hear and it would save them both a conversation than would lead to absolutely nothing. Plus, by this point in his life, Evan was capable of knowing when he was talking to a replicate instead of his mom, and if she didn’t have the time to pay attention to him even when she was the one that asked him to call her, well, neither should she have the right to be mad at him for not eating a cold dinner.

The guilt had come minutes after ending the call, simmering under the rage and frustration, drowned by the sight of vacant chairs and soundless steps. It stabbed him in the way to his room, in the imagination of his mother’s defeated face when opening the fridge’s door, and it twisted painfully when his first thought was a deadpanned: Good.  But he was used to that too. To feeling disgusted about himself for thinking that way. For hating the unfilled space. For being another burden to an already crumbling human. It was like the knife was blunt, like the rocks on a shore after waves kept crashing, like a boy reaching, running, to become a man, to be useful, ending up being numb instead.

Evan had slammed the door in honor to the unheard noise on Connor’s room and he had thrown himself into the bed with the abandonment that crept into the walls of his house. He was tired beyond belief, the ache on his body dull but consistent, the thoughts in his head drifting and ever changing, and yet, his eyes didn’t drop and relief didn’t come by sinking into the mattress. He had moved into different positions, closing his eyes and willing sleep to take him, before grunting and opening his bedroom’s window, starlight twinkling in a Morse code he couldn’t understand.

So much had happened in one day that Evan couldn’t process and no matter how exhausted he got by the minute, how much he moved around the room before laying down in his bed again, how aware of his loneliness he got with each passing second, his head wouldn’t let him drift away until it could puzzle out each event, every interaction and non said thing, every single error he made, every look and every aversion of eyes. He would dissect the less than 24 hours with a microscope, threading situations until they were connected, until they spelt what he needed them to, what he repeated himself he didn’t want but that he kept piling to reach it.

See you tomorrow, Hansen.

And now, here he is, staring at the ceiling and making himself sick with a worry that tempered the anger but that left the same foul taste in his mouth, searching for trap doors and double way mirrors.

The front door opened with a squeak and a layered curse, several footsteps that moved in synch echoing back to him before turning into a pair, making their way around the house with the ease that only his mother had.

It wouldn’t take long for her to check the fridge.

It wouldn’t take long for the optimistic rant that tried to be a reprimand and a pep talk at the same time.

When the door to his room was pushed slightly open, Evan Hansen pretended to be asleep.

-----------------------------------------------------

Evan didn’t notice at first, entertained at he was with checking that the alarms in his phone were at top volume and that the actual phone wasn’t. His mom had woke him up earlier than usual, to explain to him why he needed to eat no matter how tired he was and that he had an appointment today due to missing the last one, sparkled with small talk that Heidi was too over the place to actually commit to. That part, the part where his mom’s replicates did something and in a blink of an eye, his mom was dressed in scrubs instead of pajamas when she hadn’t move from Evan’s room still freaked him out. It made sense, though, that it was her mom that had that ability, that she could be everywhere at one, even when Evan considered being nowhere at all. It fitted her like a glove, in the same way nothing would ever fit him.

No.

Fuck, he needed to stop thinking like that. Dr. Sherman said it wasn’t healthy. That he needed to stop the thoughts somehow, that he needed to redirect them, to light them in another angle, to cast the shadow in the left instead of the right.

It’s in the middle of this, of him moving to lean against the lockers to close his eyes and breathe, with his hands over his stomach to check that he is doing it right, that he notices. People are whispering, hushed voices that don’t quite lower enough for him not to catch his name thrown around sentences, of giggles and hisses in his direction.

He opens his eyes and students have stop around him, circling him, eyes weighting him down. Evan looks down at his hands, the frantic feeling that fire is catching in the back of his head but its not. He is not burning but people are still looking at him like he is holding a match.

The click of a lighter makes him spin but he can’t find the source. There are too many people around him, too many eyes that are inspecting him and finding him lacking, too many comments and voices and is amplifying with each second that he remains there, scared of pushing his way through the crowd, scared of them because he knows too well what he is capable of.

He forgot how to breathe. Why does he keep forgetting how to do that? In and out, right? Slower? Faster? At all?

Alana Beck is in front of him. She is talking but Evan can’t hear a word. His eyes focus on the way her hands move, on the way the students are moving along when she turns to say something to them, in the way she disappears, the way she frowns when he sees her a few feet away, huffing her way back to continue a conversation that Evan keeps nodding to.

Her touch on his shoulder barely brings him back, the weight too light, a feather grazing instead of solid.

“-so you can come over after school. I know how annoying people can be after the try outs. My mom told me that before it was so much worse, but I still want to make it easier, you know, as the chosen elected president and all of that.” She is smiling, but is a bit too wide, a practiced thing.

“Today?” Evan has no idea what he agreed on. He also knows that whatever it was, he would have say yes anyway. Saying no has never been easy for him.

“No, as I told you, Wednesdays and Fridays.” Alana is already turning away, looking over her shoulder. “Thank you so much, Evan, I knew I could count on you.”

Evan watches her leave, the sound of another lighter making him look around, but students keep walking, whispering lingering here and there, but not stopping.

“You have no idea what you signed in for, do you?” Jared’s voice makes him jump. He is visible, but the spark in his eyes tells Evan that he wasn’t minutes ago.

“I, no, I am not sure.” Evan turns around to face him, but Jared moves, walking towards their lockers.

Jared laughs. “Yeah, I could tell. Evan Hansen joining a club that requires him to talk in front of people didn’t seem like your normal move.”

“I, what?” Evan is not sure what his face is doing, but Jared laughs harder, leaning into the locker as soon as they reach them.

“Oh man, I am so going to those meetings.” He cleans nonexistent tears from the corner of his eyes and put on his combination, Evan following along. “So, Evan.” His name should never been pronounced like that. That tone means trouble. “Care to enlighten me?”

“About?” No word had been spoken with more caution than that one whenever Jared was near him.

“Connor Murphy. Your knight in shining armor.” A beat. “Or your damsel in distress.”

“I, what, no.” Evan occupies himself with looking inside his locker, even when the book he needs is already in his bag. “You were there, I was, just, you know, helping him. I couldn’t leave him there in the floor, that wouldn’t make sense. Is not like there is anything to talk about. You were there, remember?”

Jared hums. “Not for all of it. Not the beginning and certainly not the end.” Jared closes his locker’s door and leans against it, one foot propped in the locker under his. “You know, there are videos of your dashing escape floating around.”

Evan closes the door to his locker with more force than necessary, feeling the tingle in his fingertips. “What?!”

“Yep.” Jared’s smile is less malicious, his eyes shifting from student to student. “You can see Connor Murphy’s too. Chasing after you. Never had seen him run, not even in gym.” He looks back at Evan and the mocking tip to his lips is back. “People are already talking. You know what they say, Evan, there is no smoke without fire.”

Evan is not sure if Jared actually knows how to use his abilities, but he is gone in a blink of an eye, books and all.

He needs to find Connor.

Connor is the one who finds him, in a way. It’s after the first bell rings and Evan has already walked through most of the school, the clicking of lighters following him and making him flinch every so often.  

“Hansen.” He turns around so fast that for a second, the world blurs and he can’t find the person who called his name.

Connor’s arms are crossed and the scowl in his face is making people circle around him while throwing dirty glances as they move along. He has one of his earphones on, the other dangling and swaying, like he had just taken it off. He looks like bow before a shot and Evan feels too much like a sitting duck.

He jogs his way over to him, avoiding collision with the other students in their way to class.

“Hi.” Evan waves. He has no idea why he thought he would do that or why it would be a good idea, but he does.

Connor looks confused, before he removes the other earphone, soft music reaching them both. “Hey.”

“You called me?” Evan rocks back and forth, the thought that he might misheard making him nervous.

“I, no, I didn’t.” He looks like he wants to laugh, so Evan can imagine how red he must be. “Why?”

“I heard, or thought I heard, I swear.” Evan looks around. He was sure he heard someone calling his name. “You are the only one who calls me Hansen. I thought it was you. It sounded like you.”

“I am pretty sure it wasn’t me.”

“Sorry, I, sorry for bothering you.” Evan is already walking backwards, shame creeping into his movement.

“Not a bother, Hansen.” Connor reaches out before he can move out of his range, hand squeezing his wrist and letting go after gaining his attention again. “You are sure it sounded like me?”

Evan nods.

“Well, that’s fucking weird.”

Evan nods.

The sound of the second bell makes Evan wave again – why? - and he dashes towards his class.

He hears a click before sitting down. The last one for the rest of the day.

Chapter Text

His first class of the day consists in Evan losing the small amount of faith he had in the public education system, mostly out of spite when his teacher takes a look at him, at the chart and then assigns him a new seat next to the fire extinguisher. Someone sings Let It Go when Alex Newman’s name gets called. Pikachu is Lizzie Pulido new nickname. And that was only roll call.

The actual lesson starts after their teacher has droned about their bad behavior in the assembly yesterday and how they were the direct cause of their school losing founding for this kind of activity, which Evan is pretty sure is not how that works, but he isn’t going to raise his hand and tell him that. He doesn’t mention Evan’s escape apart from reminding them what to do if their abilities trigger by themselves, looking straight at him, which, fair, but it’s not like he wasn’t aware than his performance was not top notch and that he would do his best to avoid it without the unnecessary eye contact that let him nodding along. After that, Evan actually spends most of the time reading the instructions on how to use the fire extinguisher, if he is being honest.

The only thing in his notebook once the bell rings and people stampede their way out –Except for Alana, who is walking towards the teacher’s desk. - is a doddle of a really shitty campfire and the word WARNING scribbled over and over. He also now knows what to do in case he needs to use the fire extinguisher, but Evan had already memorized that months ago when his abilities manifested, along with ways to treat burns and, embarrassingly enough for him, how to cover up the stink of smoke.

The rest of his classes until lunch are more of the same, all the teachers choosing to move him close to either the door or a fire extinguisher, which gains him snickers and name calling that he tries his best to tune out. The tugging at his chest is barely there, which makes him worry, which should increase the tugging.

It doesn’t.

Evan is on his way to a full out breakdown as he is walking towards the cafeteria, ready to be distracted by Jared talking or prodding or joking or just something. Anything.

He is not glad for his new distraction when he enters the cafeteria, barely registering it as a distraction because Connor Murphy is getting shoved, the fall hard enough to make a few head turns and, what the fuck is happening?

He is running towards the circle that has formed in the minutes it took him to unfreeze, blocking the view, but he can hear someone laughing and curses being thrown as if they could actually hurt.

“Come on, Murphy! Show us what you got!” Evan stumble his way into the inner circle, drawing attention back to him. “Oh, is your boyfriend going to defend you?”

Laughs spread like wildfire but Evan is not paying attention to them, his eyes zeroing in Connor, who is still on the floor, jaw clenched so hard that Evan can tell Connor is about to take the offer and bodily fight someone who is clearly hoping for that. Which would lead to Connor getting into a fight, Connor getting hurt, Connor healing himself without realizing and revealing whatever he is trying so hard to keep a secret.

It hits Evan that that’s the point: Triggering Connor Murphy’s ability. Piss him off enough for him to do something reckless, because isn’t that what they are all expecting? Something explosive, something flashy, something that screams with Connor’s reputation as much as the combat boots and the long hair. Of course they wouldn’t let it go. They had tried when there was an instructor in front of them, they had taunted back then as well. Of course they would try again with an audience. Amplify the variables. Make the situation worse.

They need to get out of here.               

He needs to get Connor out of here.

“Evan!” That’s Jared’s voice, an urgent sound that gets mingled with the shouted “Hey, freak, I am talking to you!” behind him.

Evan is halfway through turning when the heat reaches him, arms half raised in an attempt to protect himself, an instinct born of too many gym classes shared with Jared. He yelps out of surprise, tripping with Connor’s legs and barely managing to stand upright.

He blinks, letting both of his arm fall to his sides and stares at the stretched arm a few steps away from him.

Evan is sure it doesn’t take more than a few seconds, that it should feel fast as the rate his heart is going, because someone actively tried to burn him, to hurt him for standing between them and their entertainment. They were going to burn Connor just for the sake of getting a fucking reaction. That was what fire was for this asshole who never even glanced at Evan, who never bothered and that didn’t know, couldn’t have expected than the blurry kid with a stutter could have the same ability as him, could stand to be burn without getting marks when he couldn’t even stand without trembling.

Evan tugs at the weight in his chest, searching for the kindling, for the flames. How dare he? He wants to laugh, a little maniacal feeling settling in his bones, because he has been bottling this up, keeping it as steady as he can, a fireplace instead of a conflagration that has been wearing him down, not keeping him warm.

Mark Wallace is standing there, hands aflame and a stunned expression in his face, processing the fact that Evan is not shirking in pain, but that he is standing with a hazed expression that can’t quite focus in anything but the distorted image the heat creates.

And suddenly, Mark Wallace is on the floor, Connor Murphy on top of him, fist already raised to take on the first blow. The sound is dry, bone connecting with something, head crashing into the linoleum of the cafeteria, provoking a general hiss from the audience on the sidelines. 

The second one is not better, nausea creeping on Evan’s stomach by the mere sound of it, worsening when he catches sight of Connor’s bloody knuckles, fist raised for the third, his other hand pinning Mark by the his shirt. Mark, whose hands are starting to catch fire again.

Evan needs to start thinking before doing things, especially when panic is his motivator.

He yanks Connor’s hood with enough force to make Connor lose his grip on Mark’s shirt, sending both Connor and himself crashing into the opposite direction, away from the fire.

“What the fuck, Hansen?” Evan shakes his head, hand tightening on the fabric while scrambling to stand up.

Mark is getting to his feet and Evan knows the glint in his eye, the familiar anger that bubbles up before lashing out and right now, they are the ones in front of the firing squad. The thing is, the second he looks up, Connor’s eyes are a mirror image of Mark’s. Connor yanks, Evan holds tighter, eyes jumping from face to face in the crowd, looking for a way out.

There are cellphones and whispers but no breach. Mark’s face is bleeding. Connor is looking at Evan like he is considering pushing him to release himself from his grip.

“You think I can’t take a hit?” A smirk on a bloody face and Connor tenses, knuckles trembling. Contained anger hanging from a thread. “Like a bitch on a leash, aren’t you, Murphy?”

Snap.

Connor pushes him hard enough to make his hold on the hood weaken, enough for him to slip away.

“Fuck.” Evan hastens to follow, but Mark is quicker, fire being throw like they are not in the middle of a crowd.

The chanting of “Fight! Fight!” is overthrown by the screams, people moving out of the way and running into each other, avoiding the fire and hiding behind tables, persistent in not leaving the cafeteria.

Connor ducks out of the way. Evan almost crashes into a table to take cover behind it. Mark taunts but Evan can’t hear him because Connor is running once again, like an idiot. Evan can’t protect him if he can’t catch him and honestly, Evan is trying his best.

“Wallace, dude, you got shitty aim!” Jared’s laughter is close but Evan can’t see him, neither can Mark, distracted, if the way he is looking around is anything to go by. “Murphy is not even trying.”

Evan sees Jared at the same moment Mark sees him, if the change in position and narrowed eyes, paired with Jared deer-caught-in-the-headlights look is to be trusted.

Evan is screaming Jared’s name without even noticing, arm raised as if to stop it.

Too many things happen at the same time. Connor tackles Mark on the side, sending the hurled fire slightly to the right. Alana Beck appears next to Jared, clasp his hand and both are gone as the wall behind the spot blackness. Evan screams when they appeared next to him, the sound drowned by another scream, his eyes drawn back to the sound. Mark is clutching onto Connor’s arm, burning his way into the hoodie and finding skin, pinning him to the ground.

Evan is half aware of the Alana’s gasp and Jared’s attempt at saying his name, but most of his concentration is in tugging, his sight blurry as he moves. He doesn’t know what its thwarting his skills, pushing them down when he is pushing up, making him sick as he tries, forces his body to cooperate, just this once.

He is not sure if there is fire along with him when he reaches Mark, but his head is a loop of Connor crying out, of Jared’s eyes and a blackened wall, of Alana labored breathing, of the students on the sidelines enjoying the show with the kind of morbid pleasure he hates, of Mark’s smile widening. Evan knows flames wouldn’t hurt Wallace. Evan knows he can’t actually hurt him either.

There is so much smoke inside his head.

He yanks Mark by the collar of his shirt, making him let go of Connor and face him. He can hear Jared and Alana moving behind him, knees hitting the floor and barely there questions. Evan’s dad never taught him how to throw a punch. How to kick fast and move away. How to defend himself. He punches Mark Wallace straight in the face anyway.

Pain shoots through Evan’s hand immediately and the sound of a crack has him swaying in his feet, unsure whenever he broke Wallace’s nose or his own fingers. He tries to check the damage but he is crying and his hands are trembling and he feels like he is going to throw up.

Why did he think that was a good idea?                                                                

His hand brushes his side in the way down, making him whimper. It feels like falling of a tree all over again, the few first minutes where he laid there and there was no one, apart from pain and numbness that somehow managed to be there at the same time, seeing the sky through the branches and hoping he had climb higher. And then-

Connor.

He has his hand over the burnt area of his hoodie, eyes glassy, Alana crouched by his side trying to pry his fingers away. Evan shallows and swipes his eyes with the sleeve of his left arm, biting his lip hard enough to distract himself from the throbbing in his right hand.

“Leave me alone!” The tone is harsh but the edge is way too weak, breaking in the middle as Connor stands up, hand still locked on his arm.

“We need to get you to the nurse’s office, Connor.” Alana is pleading, following suit as Connor moves towards the door, people moving out of the way in synch.

A tap on his left shoulder. Jared’s eyebrows are furrowed, his lips twisted downwards.

“Come on, you need to see the nurse as well.” He tries for nonchalant, hands in his pockets, but he is eyeing Evan’s hand. “Your mom would kill me if she knew I let you walk around like that.” Jared adds, an afterthought that falls flat by the way he seems to be ready should Evan faint or even stumble.

Alana is at the door first, opening it before glancing backwards. Her eyes widen and the hair in the nape of Evan’s neck stand up, making him turn quickly, the dizziness catching him at the same time Jared does, careful in not jolting Evan’s hand.

They forgot about Mark Wallace. How did they forget about him?

The fire is already in its way to them and Evan is not fast enough, can’t be, to protect them all. He doesn’t know if he screams or if anyone else does, but his heart seems to want to jump and save itself. He wants to run, he wants to turn around and tackle all of them to the ground, and he wants to be able to stretch himself in front of them to take the blow instead.

He doesn’t.

He can’t.

The cold breaks through and he stumble, Jared moving backwards as well. There is a wall of ice in front of them, and Evan’s head turn around, checking to see if everyone else is alright. Connor is staring at the wall, eyes flickering towards the two of them and then to the back. Evan follows his gaze, moving away from Jared now that he is more stable. Jared’s hand hover but he turns as well. Both of them feel the small shards of ice dislodging when the fire hits it, but they are too focus on the door to worry about it.

Alana’s hand is on the handle, and in the path she created by opening the door is Zoe Murphy, glove between her teeth, bared hand stretched towards them.

“MOVE!” Evan is not sure if it’s Alana or Zoe who screams it, but he tries to obey, the world coming in and out of focus.

He is vaguely aware of his surroundings and of the words exchanged as he passes through the door, but nothing is sticking. He can feel the tears streaming down his face, the small hiccups on his body as he moves through the hallways, sobs threating to spill. Jared stays behind with Alana, some kind of discussion that he tries to grasp but that he can’t manage.  Zoe is there, flickering glances and attempts at questioning that die before she seems to settle on one. She is checking on Connor often, hands hovering like Jared’s did. She also looks at Evan, but is more fleeting, concerned but puzzled. Her gloves are back on when she pushes the door open.

The nurse opens and ushers them inside, talking to Zoe instead, leading Connor and Evan towards the beds in the back part, but the door to the bathroom is cracked open and all the nausea makes a reappearance, worsening when in his haste, he jolts his hand against the toilet.

There is a sting in his stomach as he throw up, the acid taste of bile going up as he recalls that he never lunched. It constricts his chest and his hands are trembling as he tries to hold on, tears and snot making it even harder to breathe. The cold is seeping through his pants and he is shivering.

A hand settles on his back, soothing motions that make him retch, coughing and sobbing after it. He dries heave a few times before letting himself sit on the floor, knees hurting from the effort. He feels disgusting and drained, every bone in his body weighting him down. The door opens and the nurse reenters, giving Connor a plastic cup that he passes to Evan. He says something Evan can’t quite catch, but Connor nods in response, causing the nurse to leave the room.

He takes a gulp of water, holds it in his mouth and spit it on the toilet, flushing it down after it. Connor is sitting on the floor next to him, his hand on Evan’s back.

“I’m sorry.” His throat feels scratchy and he tries again. Again. Again.

Againagainagainagain

Connor’s voice is shaky and Evan can make out what he is saying, stuck as he is in apologizing, his breathing hitching when Connor moves, slow in motion, asking with his eyes what Evan assumes he had been asking with his voice before he noticed that Evan wasn’t catching anything. There are tears marks on Connor’s cheeks and his eyes are bloodshot, arm barely raised, hovering, while the other one is limp at his side.

They hug each other like they are under a tree’s shadow all over again, terrified and grateful, a bit confused and bewildered at the fact that they are not alone.

Chapter Text

Connor Murphy is sleeping in the bed next to his, back curved and knees bend, hugging a pillow and using the scorched hoodie as a replacement. Evan can see the back of the bandage peeking out of the sleeve in Connor’s gray shirt, an unnecessary thing that is only there to avoid prying eyes and questions best left unanswered.

Evan’s hand is freezing, the cold pad pressed for a few minutes already, slowly melting and numbing his fingers in the process. It should be water at this point, but Evan is trying to reign the panic in his head at the fact that is not. That the simmering feeling is nowhere in sight and that he somehow managed to misplace or completely evaporate his ability.

He can hear the nurse conversing with people, door opening and closing every so often, with no students coming to the back, which Evan is grateful for. He can’t hold a conversation right now, not that he ever can, but swallowing hurts as if his throat is flayed and saliva is salt, or lemon, or anything sour and prickly, shards of glass cutting their way through.

Time moves slowly, a crawl that halts instead of speeding, with only himself as company. He doesn’t have his phone with him to count the minutes that have passed since they moved from the cold tiles to the stiff beds, since the nurse came back and applied something foul smelling to Connor’s wound before bandaging it, since Evan was given another plastic cup of water and asked to wait for the cold pad, since Connor had healed himself with no one else around but Evan, evidence hidden and an unsaid vow of secrecy, since Connor had fallen asleep for once instead of straight up fainting, voice slurred while trying to explain how his ability worked.

For what Evan was able to gather before the speech turned to gibberish, Connor’s healing didn’t work like Evan’s fire, which should have been obvious, when he thought hard enough about it. And he had, after The Incident, but he had worked on the same basis: Abilities where able to drain anyone after prolonged use, fainting occurring when body limits where exceeded. So he had assumed that Connor wasn’t used to use his ability as often, less in other people, and that he simply was, thought he would never say it aloud, weak physically in comparison to his peers. Turns out he wasn’t completely wrong, but he wasn’t right either. Connor Murphy didn’t faint because of the draining sensation, which only made him drowsy, as Evan had been in his house the day before. No, Connor Murphy dropped due to the pain. Small waves, usually, a summary of the stings and hurts wouldn’t cause him to do more than swaying, but condensed agony, shocks that shouldn’t be taken in one but in small spread portions, coming together in a recovery stacked far too quickly, would cause his body to shut down to avoid the breaking of his systems when the normal bar had been cheated by regeneration. Connor had tried to illustrate this point with the burnt part of his hoodie, losing track in the middle of it to talk about not letting anyone throw it away and securing it under his head, falling asleep in seconds.

There were smudges of blood on Connor’s hoodie when he had shown it as an example and Evan had been reminded of the busted knuckles, of the two strikes and the sound of bone connecting. He hadn’t notice when but Connor had mended his own hand at some point, which might had been bruised instead of broken like his. It had to be done before the nurse had examined them, maybe in the hallway or in the bathroom. Evan can’t make himself recall if he saw Connor flinch, images too out of focus for him to try and make sense of them.

Condensation drips between his fingers.

Mark hasn’t appear in the infirmary and Evan isn’t sure that it count as a comforting thought, working more as a pulled cord, ideas and scenarios cascading from his head into his lungs, blocking the way.

Connor shifts in his sleep, curling further into the pillow.

His breathing has no echo but it bounces inside his body, growing in volume as it constricts his other organs, filling with nothing and erasing the space for air. It catches on the tail of the missing classes, it rips its way into disappointed eyes that keep changing and twins around the consequences of a fight. He sinks into himself, mistaking the bottom for the surface, closing all exists.

Swooshing fabric under clashing metal.

The cold pad is slipping and Evan’s hand is throbbing, fingers curled on a fist on his knee. The other hand is grasping at his hair, anything to pull, to anchor. He can’t define any of the thoughts, can’t hold them long enough before they shift, can’t reason with an ever changing thing. Eyes screw shut, black turning to color. Fire moving towards him. His mom at the end of the bed, head bowed down. Whispers and empty lighters. Sunlight through branches. Burnt skin. No air. Too much air. Not enough.

Silence. A hand in his temple and concerned eyes, humming taking hold of his mind.

The nurse is kneeling in front of him, cold pad in his other hand, voice faint in comparison to Evan’s ragged breathing. It’s easier to settle with the music drowning everything out. Easier to breath. To count and hold and let go of his hair, to straighten up and uncurl his fingers, limp on his knee now.

“Feeling better, Evan?” His voice is merely a whisper and Evan can’t use his own, nodding instead.

He jumps at the cold when the pad is put against his skin again, a wave of warm spreading right away from his head to the tip of his fingers. The nurse – he should ask his name, probably should know it by now, but he won’t. - smiles slightly, standing up and moving his hand from Evan’s temple, the effect lingering.

“The swelling is going down and you didn’t actually fracture any fingers, even if it probably feels like you did.” His laughter is soft, feather like. “Especially if you don’t let your hand rest.” A tap to the pad and Evan averts his eyes. “Hey, I am not blaming you, okay? You panicked, I should have checked a few minutes ago but got caught up with paperwork. It’s way too quiet here not to feel caged.” A knock on the door and a step back. “Give me a second and I will be right back so we can wrap that up, okay?”

The nurse smiles at Evan’s nod, nodding back and pulling the curtains back to their initial state, protecting Evan from being seen by whoever is at the door.

“Sorry I didn’t do anything about your hand.” Evan startles at Connor’s voice, looking around immediately.

There are creases on Connor’s cheeks, reddish roots not quite touching his eye but reaching, as if it was the sun.  He is supporting his weight on the elbow of his uninjured arm, the other raised to rub at his eyes, blinking rapidly afterwards. There are strands of hair falling in front of his face, swaying at the smallest of movement, the rest of his hair looking a lot like a dandelion, a puffy mess that sticks up, apparently with no clear direction. His shirt is rumpled and his jeans look like they should, slept on. He is wearing his boots and even like this, they don’t clash with the white sheets, making a contrast worth looking at. Connor Murphy looks soft, edges blurred and colors dimmed, a negative image of the ever present subject, or maybe, the real one behind all the paint.

“Hansen.” Evan shakes his head. Connor sounds amused.

“Ah, yeah, don’t worry about it.” He looks down at his battered shoes. “I mean, you explained that it drained you and is not like it wouldn’t be suspicious since I came here because of my hand, so to suddenly be like: Hey! No, my hand is fine! Would be like, contra productive, right?”

“Right.” Boots thudding to the floor, appearing in his field of vision. “Can’t believe you punched Mark Wallace in the face. Didn’t know you had it in you.”

A nervous chuckle. “Yeah, me neither.”

A beat. Two. Hushed voices from the front of the infirmary.

“Thank you.” Two voices stumbling, laughter following, both actions unexpected to the other part.

Evan looks up and Connor is shaking his head, the remains of the sound stretching his lips into a barely there smile before a sigh, expression sobering.

“I didn’t do anything apart from getting more people involved in the shit show that is my life.” Connor’s eyes are down casted, frown already in place. “Nothing to be grateful for.”

Evan bites the inside of his cheeks, preventing words that he has not thought of from tumbling down.

“I mean, Mark did push to the ground.” Connor doesn’t seem to like the reminder. Evan’s speech gets faster. “What I’m trying to say it’s that you didn’t start it, you know? Like, yeah, could have been handled better but it’s not like you get to think too much in those situations, right? I mean, I hit the guy in the face. I don’t know how to throw a punch. Why did I thou-”

“I can teach you.” A murmur.

“What?”

“I can teach you how to throw a punch.” Silence. “I, forget it, it was a dumb idea.” The crack of fingers and Evan wonders if that’s the equivalent of playing with the edge of a shirt for Connor. “Why would you want to? Like, that’s something yo-”

“Sure.”

“What?”

“I mean, yeah, sure, if you are actually offering. My mom says everything you learn is useful so.” Connor is looking at him wide eyed, and Evan backtracks, fear gripping his gut. “You were joking, of course you were joking, why would you want to teach me how to punch? I mean, when would I use that, right?” A forced laugh that dies down as if dragging.

“I wasn’t joking.” A clear statement, no room for doubt. “You have my number, right? It’s still the same.”

The number that is logged in Evan’s phone that he never actually texted, called or did anything more that save.  He nods.

“Great. I don’t have yours so you can just text me or something so we can, like, set times or, fuck, I don’t know, I didn’t actually think you would say yes.” Evan opens his mouth, but Connor continues. “No, I don’t mean that like, hoping you wouldn’t say yes, I-”

The curtains opens and Connor stops talking, both of them following the noise.

“Oh, Connor, you are awake. How is your arm feeling?” The nurse has something in his hands, moving towards Evan but looking over his shoulder at Connor to speak to him.

“Fine.”

“I’m glad. Had quite a nap, didn’t you?” A non-committal sound from Connor is answer enough for him to center his attention back on Evan. “I think your hand is numb enough.”

Evan doesn’t know what that means but the throbbing is dim so he doesn’t flinch when the cold pad is taken away, replaced with the nurse’s hand, moving Evan’s fingers slowly, the middle and ring looking swollen compared to the others.

“This might hurt, but it would be band aid style, easy and quick.” Evan suppresses a laugh at Connor rolling his eyes behind the nurse’s back.

Popsicle sticks. A pair of Popsicle sticks, cotton and medical tape was what was in the nurse hands, spread at the side of Evan’s bed seconds later, with the nurse next to them. Evan flinches at the pressure but the whole procedure seems too silly for him to do more than that. It looks ridiculous, but it works to immobilize so Evan can’t complain.

There is frantic knocking at the door and the nurse excuses himself, letting Connor and Evan looking at each other puzzled. Words are exchanged rapidly by the door and suddenly, Evan notices that the curtain was never closed and he is able to watch a woman making her way towards them, the nurse behind her with an expression that screams: I didn’t say you could come this way, but who cares what I say?

There is a sharp intake of breath next to him and Connor looks pale, eyes settle on the woman that is staring back at him.

“Connor! Sweetheart, are you alright?!” Her eyes catch on the bandage and she is in front of Connor in seconds.

The woman is wearing sport gear, clashing with the pristine and white of the room but her face is concerned and hurt, all at once, that Evan is able to deduce who she is before Connor voices it.

“Mom.”

Chapter Text

Mrs. Murphy movements are erratic, hands hovering since Connor flinched when she grazed his bandaged arm, as he had been in pain instead of faking his way through the hissed sounds and the frown. Evan doesn't know what to do with that, with the fact that apparently Connor's family doesn't know about his abilities, that he got some kind of privilege born out of Connor's pity and wonders if Connor regrets it, if he goes over that day and wishes he could rewind and ignore Evan all together, to be a missed call that he never got the chance to hear, like his mom had been.

“Mom, stop it! I am fine, okay? I am fine.” Connor doesn't shout, more like he is trying to explain a fact, over and over again, just to have his mother take it as an opinion.

“There is a hole in your clothes, Connor!” She looks exhausted and Evan doubts it has anything to do with her attire, ponytail high and swinging with every sharp movement she makes, hoodie clutched in one hand as proof.

Evan feels like he shouldn't be listening to this, part of a private conversation with the misfortune of a public setting, but he has been trying to find a way out that would leave him unscathed, without having to excuse or make small talk with Mrs. Murphy, without having to make eye contact with Connor, without voicing to the nurse that no one is coming for him. He wishes he could be Jared or Alana, to be able to sneak out of the spotlight without getting shined on.

He tries his best to zone out the short answers and the urgent questions coming from the other side of the room, eyeing his hand and it's makeshift support, wondering if that's what Connor's abilities are at the end of the day and in the most simple way, crutches and stitches and bands aids. There is a pressure on his left ankle caused by the weight of his right thigh over it, the swing of his leg adding to it. The room smells like his mom does when she hasn't changed her scrubs. He is missing a class where he doesn't know anyone, or he does, but he can't ask them, they won't even noticed he wasn't there. Or they will, since the rumour must be spread already, everyone trying their best to remember how he looked like, how he sounded like, with twists and secrets and drama that only exists by playing with the edges of a truth that they don't know. He wonders how much of the stuff he knows is fact instead of fiction. How many whispers has he believed in? He knows, as ashamed as it gets him now, that he believed almost everything that he had heard about Connor and that he, as the others, had expected thunders or ever evolving chaos to be anchored to the shadow he saw in the hallways, that he never texted the number he was given out of fear. It was safer to not to do anything. It was always safer to stay put. It was always safer and he was always stuck, like right now.

There is clink and Evan startles, cringing when the movement caused his fingers to attempt to curl, useless trying to hold on the sheets under them. The nurse is standing tall, hand next to the metal bars than hold the curtains, silver ring resting against it, and Evan realizes than the other side of the room had quiet down too.

He doesn't move to look at them.

“Mrs. Murphy, I can assure you that Connor is going to be fine.” The nurse says, continuing fast enough that Evan is sure he did it to avoid Mrs. Murphy's response to the credibility of the comment. “As it is, I must inform you that the principal is waiting for you.”

Shit

Mrs. Murphy is saying something back, Evan is sure, because the nurse is nodding and answering something. Nothing of that matters, tho. The only thing that does is the fact that he is an idiot for thinking that this would be over without having to talk to the principal or who knows how many other people about what had happened. They would never believe him. Them.

Connor is looking at him when he finally turns, white bandage on display and tense shoulder, a forced kind of relaxation that Evan tends to see in Jared, never noticed it in Connor before. He is hunched, but even so, he is taller than his mother. He mouths something but Evan can't read what he says, jumping when a hand touches his shoulder and blushing when he hears Connor's snorting.

The nurse is looking at him apologetically and Evan does his best to focus his attention on him and not in the hushed noise of Mrs. Murphy asking Connor about him.

“Evan, I wasn't able to contact your mom,” Oh, thank God. “so I need you to check that the information we have is correct before you go to the office.” Fuck.

The lower part of his left leg feels the same way white noise looks like when he scrambles after the nurse, begging that the information it's right and that his mother's phone died or that she can't hear the sound because she is too busy. He tries to ignore the part of his brain that suggest parallels and patrons and the slight sting of being forgotten or unimportant.

The number is right.

He babbles excuses to the concern tone the nurses use before reassuring Evan that he is going to keep trying and that he would sent her straight to the office to him as soon as she picks up.

His hand aches when it tries to curl on the edges of his shirt as he moves to the door, pushing it open with his shoulder. He blinks the frustration away and stumble when the door behind him is opened, Connor's eyes wide and hand reaching for his forearm to stabilize him, a parody off past selves in the same hallways.

“We should talk about what we are going to say.” The door closes when Connor moves, hand back to the pocket of his jeans when he realizes Evan is not falling.

“The truth?”

“Yeah, because the will believe anything I say.” Connor's free hand forms a fist and Evan can hear the bouncing echo of linoleum. “They are going to imply I was high,” Longer strides, sharper turns. “or even better, anger issues that need to be addressed, because any time I'm in a fight, I will have always started it, not fucking questions asked. I'm fucking insane, haven't you heard, Hansen? They would believe anything as long as they can blame it on me.”

“That's, um.” He doesn't think Connor would appreciate anything that he has to say. He isn't even looking at Evan, just frowning at the space in front of him.

Connor doesn't say anything afterwards, whatever plan he might have thought never making it out. Evan is not sure how, but Connor's eyes look angry and defeated at the same time.

They reach the door a few minutes later and Connor knocks. Evan's palms are sweaty. A voice calls for them to step inside.

Mrs. Murphy is inside with a man next to her that Evan assumes is Connor's dad, both standing behind one of the two chairs set in front of the principal's desk, who invite them to sit down.

Panic is crawling, settling on his shoulder blades and making his voice crack as he recounts what happened, unable to process what they ask, what they say, answering more due to inertia than to anything else. It clouds his eyes and stills the tapping of his foot when someone in the room comments about it. He can't recall who. He can't follow the thread of the conversation even when he interrupts to clear the things Connor is saying and that it's making the adults shake their heads before he even finish speaking. His mom appears close to the middle and the principal briefs her about the events, making the story sound different but Evan can't talk, because now they are talking about the dangers he caused on the first day and the nullification of his abilities for the day after according to the school's rule book and how his mother was informed of this, and why didn't he know that? And Mark is at the hospital with a broken nose that everyone tries to blame on Connor, even though Evan can hear the crack under his knuckles, voice thin as the tries to be heard just to get shut down, over and over and over.

The chairs scrape when they stand up, flanked by their parents as they move through the hallways and people are whispering, eyes moving from one face to the other. Evan knows Jared will want to know what they said, every single detail, but Evan is going to have to explain that he can't, because his mind is blank since the moment Connor knocked on the door and until they left the office, unable to bring back more than the nervous tapping and the nausea and the crack of a nose breaking and the sound of wet wood trying to start.

Connor is walking with his head casted down, ahead of them all as his parents talk about themselves in hushed tones a bit too sharp, a bit too cutting. Evan can't be sure if Connor doesn't see or doesn't care about Zoe in the sidelines, satchel that doesn't belong to her bouncing against her leg, her own bag thrown over her shoulder, joining them but falling behind to talk to her parents.

The knot in his chest loosens as he walks out and he barely catches his breath before he is stumbling backwards, crashing into his mom and making the Murphys stop in their tracks. His vision is hazy as he stands up, and he wants to cry out of relief when he sees the tiny flames moving around him.

There are fast goodbyes and a car ride filled with both praise and reproach, barely hidden curiosity peeking out from time to time. He tries to keep up and answer, but he is mostly distracted by the warmth that he didn't realize he held dear, with the prickling sensation on his fingertips and the wide spreading of a kindling always a second too late to match his heartbeat.

His mom attempts a few times to start a conversation at dinner, but Evan is jittery, all over the place and not there at all, that she kisses him goodnight and let him go to his room, making him promise that they will talk about this more.

He has detention added to his schedule and another appointment moved, also a new pair of popsicles sticks, cotton and medical tape after his mom frowned over the nurse's job. His brain going a mile per second with the memory of agreeing to something he shouldn't have and his hand is throbbing with a punch he doesn't regret.

He has fire under his skin again.

He texts Connor before falling asleep.

Chapter Text

There is no one downstairs when Evan walks into the kitchen,just a plate of lightly burned toast and eggs with a note next to them, the handwriting as familiar as the words scribbled on it. He crumbles the paper after reading it, throwing it in the trash before finding a glass and filling it with water. His right hand aches but doing stuff one handed had proved difficult already, the sound of the razor clanking against the sink still ringing in his ears from where he had tried to shave with his left hand before giving up when the grip on the handle was too awkward, sure he would cut himself by accident.

He unlocks his phone to check the time while he is eating, ignoring the discomfort as best as he can. Jared had texted, an avalanche of messages that Evan knew were the results of Jared trying to annoy him until he answered, apparently giving up around midnight last night. The number is intimidating and it's too early to deal with questions, so he makes sure he swipes the notification without accidentally opening the chat, knowing that a Jared that was left on read was as gut clenching as having to answer would be.

There is the normal text from Alana announcing activities on the group chat she created at the beginning of the year, where all of the senior class had been added. Not many people talk on it and Evan is mostly sure there is another chat that he is not in where they do. He chokes on a piece of toast when he realizes that Alana has apparently also sent him a private message, wincing when he thuds his chest with his injured hand out of habit. He reads what's seeable before deciding to open the text, hoping that it would lead to Alana not appearing in front of him as soon as he reached school to discuss about it.

Good morning, Evan! I hope that you are doing well after all the events at the cafeteria, though I could see how you might not be, but if you do feel bad, do not doubt to contact me. I have a lot of sites and people who can help you if you need it. I met them after my grandmother's passing, as I told you Monday morning, and they were great help. I was writing to you ( and I hope you didn't mind I took your number from the group chat), because I think that it might have slip your mind that today we have the reunion I told you about, but that I completely understand if you are not available to present and that I would gladly take over, as to not delay the possible attendance due to circumstances. Don't worry about my other activities getting in the way, I'm sure I will be able to handle it.

He finishes eating while thinking about what to text back, how to phrase it in a way that works and don’t leave him feeling like an idiot. The past two days and the lifetime before that have been enough to settle that reputation, he could at least appear functional on text, the letters he haven't been writing since the start of senior year the practice to make perfect, right? He can totally pull off the act if he thinks about it enough, or maybe it would be better if he didn’t think at all, more natural that way. But that would probably lead to not actually answering what Alana expected from the text in the first place, and then she would text back, asking for clarification, which is a no. Planning the whole thing, on the other hand, would take so long that Alana would text again to inquire about being left on read for so long, or worse, she wouldn’t text back but would corner him about both the reunion and the text, which would lead to  having to explain face to face in a crowded hallway what’s up with his lack of social skills to Alana Beck of all people. He can see himself blurting about therapy and then everyone would know, and Alana would frown and do that thing where her voice gets all Eager and Helpful while parroting about the knowledge she acquired on mental illness in some sabbatical or something, with some acquaintance that can totally help Evan out with his problems. Then something will catch fire, just because that’s Evan’s life now: Something bad is happening, better make it a thousand times worse by lighting something up, anything, everything, just for the hell of it.

Taking a breath, Evan puts the plate and the glass on the sink, opening the tap afterwards. He splashes his face with water, trying to somehow stop the heating rising, to make his body cool down by force. The heel of his hands make him see stars behind closed eyelids before wiping the droplets of water from his jaw with them, the tingle of pain and cold forcing him out of his own head. He turns the water off, dry his hands with a dish towel and marches towards the kitchen table, reaching for his phone.

Good morning

Yeah, right.

If you really don't mind taking over today, that would be great. I won't be able to assist due to to fact that I have been assigned detention for the a whole week.

God, he sounds like he is talking to a teacher. Do people even text the word due? Well, if anyone would, it would be Alana.

I am really sorry.

No grammatical errors. No typos. No time to spend agonizing over it because Alana might be able to see he is typing and if it takes too long, she is bound to think he is writing a lot more than he is. He hits send and exits the chat, panic flaring.  He stops short of closing the app when he notices that Connor's name is in there.

Connor name shouldn't be there because he doesn't text Connor and Connor doesn't have his phone number, Evan is sure. He remembers the stress after The Incident of feeling like he should text him to say thank you versus how annoying that would be, cursing himself at the fact that he hadn't given Connor his number so he would be the first to make contact if he wanted to.

He groans as he walks into the living room, dreading the conversation he now recalls he started. He had followed Jared's advice from years ago, which is something that he had vowed to himself he would never do again, but as he had no other idea how to text to someone he was kinda friends with and asking his mom would have been beyond pathetic, he had made the choice. He dreads it, psyching himself up and sitting down on the sofa before checking.

“Oh my God.” He puts the phone on the sofa slowly, springing to his feet and pacing around the room to calm himself down, little flames appearing and disappearing around him. “I shouldn't be allowed to have a phone. Or to talk, or text, or exist close to anyone ever.” A look at the what would you think qualifies as a good punch? across the screen making him cringe. “Sure, Jared, don't start with hello, because then you are stuck in small talk and you don't want that, you want to actually talk to this person. I am gonna kill you, Kleinman, that's the worst advice ever! I needed small talk! I sound like a weird as fuck.” He stops moving. The fire dances around him. “And now I'm talking to myself!”

He picks up the phone, doesn't read Connor's answers and opens Jared's chat, typing I BLAME YOU FOR THIS!!!!! , inhaling and holding for a second as he goes back to Connor's chat, shadows playing on the screen that go away when exhales.

?????

Hansen, what

idk,the ones that dont break your hand in the process??

He laughs, somehow relieved even when Connor sounds totally confused, because at least he answered back instead of ghosting him or asking him to leave him alone. His hands are shaking as he replies, glad that the time span on the responses were from last night and the danger of an instant reply is low.

Fair enoguh. sorry abotu that, i was falling asleep while typing.

He turns his phone on silent, slips it in his pocket and then remembers he never checked the time. He curses when he does, hastily taking his bag and running out of the front door.

The only reason Evan doesn't shriek when Jared grabs him by the arm the second he enters the school, it's because there is not enough air in his lugs to do so.

“So what is my fault and why did you assume you could ignore me?”Jared hasn't let go, simply pulling Evan along as they move through the crowd, barely looking over his shoulder as he talks. “I also need to know the details about yesterday. I am still missing the ones from monday, and they all concern the one Murphy I thought you didn't have a crush on, so, talk.”

“For the last time, Jared, I don't have a crush on Zoe.”

“Yeah, you have one on the other one, keep up with the program, Evan.”

“I don't have one on Connor either!” Jared raises one of his eyebrows. “I don't!”

“Whatever lets you sleep at night,man, but come on, tell me what's my fault now?” Evan stop in his track,making Jared halt as well, body turning to look back at him squarely. The confusion at the interruption banishes and his lips widen in a smile. “Oh, it has to do with him, doesn't it?”

That text was his worst idea, after taking Jared's advice. Everything regarding Jared should be taken with caution and most importantly, never brought up to the man himself.

“Come on, dude.” Jared retraces his steps, bumps his shoulder and lowers his voice. “You know it's worse if you let my imagination run.” Silence. “Oh, did he get jealous because I sent you a bunch of messages? Even better, did I interrupt-”

“Your advice sucks.” A murmur.

“What?”

“I said that your advice sucks.” He can feel himself blushing, shame creeping in.

Jared frowns and his entire body blinks, the pressure on his arm momentarily gone. “What advice?”

“Remember when you came from camp like three years ago?” A nod. “And you were going all gurú on me talking about socials skills and how you were going to give me tips and all that?” An eager nod. A lower tone. “You spent like an hour or more boasting about how you had to avoid small talk at all cost or something along those lines, that was like, your principal point: Do not fall into small talk. Small talk is the worst and it would lead you into nothing and it would make it more obvious that you don't know a thing about anything.”

“That was for texting, Evan.” Jared interrupts, confusion melting into delight. “Did you ask Connor Murphy's for his phone number?”

“No.” He looks at the floor, concentrates in walking and avoiding crashing into other people, pulling Jared along.

“Did Connor Murphy give you his phone number?” A nod. “Oh my God, dude totally wants to get in your pants.”

“Jared!”

“No, but hear me out, like, he gives you his number after you break another's dude nose for his honor or whatever. Probably got all hot and bothered - that was good joke, don't roll your eyes, Evan.- and was like, I must have him.” He sounds giddy, Jared should never sound giddy. Evan tries to pry his arm away. “Wait, but what does my texting advice had to with this?” Wide-eyed, Jared looks back at him, mock shock dripping out of his voice as he whispers. “Did you try to get in his pants with my texting advice?”

Jared cackles follows him as he jerks his arm out of his friend's grasp, marching towards his locker.

“I am joking, come on.” Nothing. “Evan, come on, I swear I am going to stop, I was just messing around.” Evan concentrates in shoving his books into his bag, pulling a face when one of them hit his fingers on the way down.“I'm sorry, okay? How's your hand?”

Clearest change of topic ever, but he will take it, waiting for Jared to gather his stuff. “Could be better.”

“Heidi didn't freak out when she saw it?” Jared is flickering, making that books he has in his hands keep falling. Evan crouches next to him, opening Jared's bag and picking books as he talks.

“Mostly said that the nurse's job was a bit sloppy, but she agreed that nothing was broken so.” Jared hums, waiting. Evan sighs. “He told me he would teach me how to punch, I texted him asking what qualifies as a good punch because I am an idiot whose ability and lack of sleep were making drowsy.”

Evan follows Jared as he stands up, ignoring the laugh that Jared is obviously trying to contain, small giggles making it out for a few steps.

“Did he not answer back?” They enter the classroom together, Jared hovering in his seat.

“He replied, but he just seemed really confused, you know. Which makes sense, because that was a weird text, but at the same time, I don't know, I think I don't like texting in general. I don't know if he was laughing because of the text, or if he was regretting ever giving me his number or something.”

The bell rings and Jared makes a face.

“He would have ignored you if that was the case.” He leans in close. “He totally wants to get in your pants.”

“Jared!” Evan tries to swat him in the arm, but he is gone, running out of the door while laughing.

He let his head thud against the desk, not completely regretting telling Jared but also knowing that he is going to have to hide in the library or in some corner because there is no way he won't get teased at lunch, not when Jared had hours to make up new material.

The chattering around the room dies downs when Mr. Adler walks in, manila folder under his arm. Syllabus are passed and folded into notebooks without a second glance at them all around him, Evan taking his and skimming over it before doing the same. The class itself it's not too bad, but Evan can feel eyes on him and he hunches over his desk, wincing and giving up on taking notes when the pain in his hand flares up after a few attempts. He knows most of the other students, in glances and too many years stuck together in differents room, and it's weird that them all have volatile abilities, that kids he has seen since ages ago are a time-bomb waiting to happen, wild heartbeats thrumming to a rhythm they can't follow.

He wonders, as he picks up his things when Mr. Adler says they are free to go, if he wasn't thinking inside a mirror chamber, if they don't look at him and frown, puzzled over him, over the last few days, counting the seconds until they are the ones in the crossfire, asking themselves if they will be consumed by it. He wades through the crowd as he always has, turning music on as he goes, but they are whispering, looking over at him, and he can't make himself small enough to make them stop. Are they talking about how dangerous he was? Are they gossiping about the fire, about the “rebellious streak” it has caused in him? Is he being played as the victim, the victimizer, both or neither?

He turns the volume up and moves faster.

Alana is in the classroom when he enters, talking to someone Evan can't remember the name of. Jared is in the middle of what looks like an argument or a debate, but he is laughing his ass off, the ones around him looking madder by the minute. The song changes to something soft and he looks down to skip it while he sits down. He frowns at the next choice in the shuffle and sighs before searching for something a bit faster, with less instrumentals in the way.

Evan startles when he looks up, catching a student looking at him before quickly looking the other way. He shifts in his seat, right hand gingerly on top of the desk while his left one moves through the playlist slowly, pretending that he is reading something on his phone.

A hand moves in front of his eyes and he blinks, leaning away from his phone. Alana is smiling apologetically at him, so he pauses the music before taking off his earphones. He is halfway through the action when Alana starts talking, words fast.

“Hey Evan. Sorry about that, I just wanted to say that I'm glad that you are willing to let me continue the meeting today even if you can't be there, also wanted to say that we will discuss the cafeteria situation in it.” He opens his mouth to protests, but Alana barrels on. “This is the treatment I told you we were going to talk about in the reunions, the lack of action the administration has when this kind of issues appear, the response we didn't get from the staff and the complete lack of empathy between the students. So don't you worry about anything, I will take care of everything, so none of this business gets swept under the rug, okay?”

She is at her desk in the blink of an eye after that, looking at him and smiling as if she pleased with herself. Evan wonders if she is happy at the fact that she said everything she wanted to say or at the fact that she could say it before her ability made an appearance. He doesn't want to be the subject of conversation between the students, but having to suggest or even having to endure another bit of social interaction right now that could easily fall into a discussion sounds draining,so he supposes that at least this way he won't have to listen to what people think of him.

He spends most of the class arguing with himself about whenever he should call that silver lining or not, but practically runs out of the door the second is over to avoid Jared's pointed look. His phone is buzzing in his pocket as he goes, but he ignores it, knowing that the amount of unread messages from Jared are climbing, glad that his next few classes are not shared with him.

Lunch ends up being a bag of chips he brought from home because he is staying clear of the cafeteria for as long as he can get away with it. Heidi calls midway through it and the conversation is stilled between the two of them, with Evan insinuating that they should talk tonight and his mother trying to both reassure him that they will while talking to a coworker about shifts. Jared's count is now over fifty and the last message appears to be the skull emoji over and over.  Connor hasn't answer back.

The rest of his classes are a both everlasting and way too fast, projects and activities set in place by teachers for students that are getting more and more restless as the day goes by, bursting into groans and anger when Mr. Pulido refuses to let them go until he finishes his spiel, no matter that the bell says.

He doesn't know if he can get detention for arriving late to detention, but he runs, apologies flying when he stumbles into students that are going in the opposite direction, not willing to find out. Evan slows down when he can see the classroom, breathing through his mouth to will it into it's normal pace, straightening his shirt as he walks the last few steps, to not seem like a maniac or get more detention if the teacher realizes he had been running in the halls.

“Hansen.” Evan looks up from his shirt, catching Connor's eyes as he opens the door. “Welcome to detention, I guess.” He doesn't smile, but there is a hint in his voice that sounds more exasperated than annoyed.

Maybe detention won't be that bad.

Chapter Text

Halfway through detention, Evan comes to the conclusion that Alana Beck would loath this. Evan is bored out of his mind but Alana would be going mad if she was forced to do nothing for an hour, wasting time she could be using in anything else. Evan, on the other hand, it's used to stare at the ceiling as the night becomes day, even if it's without the company. That's the main thing that bothers him, the fact that there are more people in the room and that the teacher looks up from his work from time to time to check on them as if it could somehow escape him that no one has moved.

Connor is sitting next to him, head resting in his crossed arms at the top of the desk while he stares at the wall behind Mr. Sears, his satchel left forgotten in the back row of the classroom since Evan explained that he had to take a seat close to the door due to “Fire Hazard”. He seems to be lost in thought, not moving apart from cracking his neck and shifting in his chair for a few seconds. It's a complete opposite to how Evan behaves, never quite comfortable while sitting for long period of times, crossing and uncrossing his ankles, slouching in his chair, hands in his neck, his hair, his shoulders, back straight, hunched shoulders, a never ending succession of movements that make him cringe every time the chair squeaks in protest.

He look back at Connor, still as a statue and with eyes that don't quite focus, and knows that he doesn't understand him in the slightest. Connor hadn't answer his text but he had obviously meant to sit at the back of the classroom, if the double takes some of the students that entered the room did when they found him at the front were any sign, choosing to lean towards Evan instead while he explained what detention was and how it worked with a myriad of teachers, giving guidelines to what each of them would allow them to do for the hour. He had halted when Mr. Sears had walked through the door, eyes rolling before assuming the position he has been keeping ever since, leaving Evan blinking for a few seconds before Mr. Sears had cleared his throat and drone about the rules he had already gotten thanks to Connor.

He feels shame creeping in when it clicks, when he takes in the boots and the long hair and the painted nails, when the faraway look in Connor's eyes brings back a flashback of a face in a crowded hallway, of Jared whispering in his ear while pointing, to the snips of stories he had been hearing since middle school when doing projects with people he didn't know.

Connor Murphy doesn't fit the idea behind it all, because that's not the things Evan remembers when he is actually talking to him. Connor standing still and with his jaw set evokes memories that are not his, but hearsay between students that he has known his whole life. They clash, the images in his head, the ones that tell him that Connor must be trying to befriend him out of covering his secret, out of pity, out of some long timed joked that it's gonna blow out once Evan is sure it won't. It leaves a bad taste in his mouth, the fact that he thinks like that, like he is doing a disservice to Connor by the mere thought of it. The evidence that glares at him, that becomes neon with each passing second, turning to lead in his stomach when he is confronted by hands around his wrist, to a concerned look under the shadow of a too tall tree, to shoes colliding to the floor, to pain that has been taken away over and over, to arms around his body and shoulders wet with tears. The Connor Murphy he knows, the one that lies to a whole school but ruins his cover with a quasi stranger in the middle of nowhere because he wanted to help, that's the one that keeps trying to settle in his head, the one he told that he wasn't scared of and the one he knows he isn't.

Connor Murphy is the troublemaker, the hunched figure at the back row, the intimidating kid that wears too much black and that everyone is waiting for him to finally lose it to be able to say: I told you so. Connor, without the last name and reputation, is the one Evan finds he wants to be friends with, more tangible that the shadow he assumed he knew.

The sound of chairs scraping against the floor bring him back, jolting in his seat when his eyes focus back to the reality around him, to Connor looking over at him and startling slightly when he finds himself already being watched. He feels heat rising and coloring his cheeks, knowing for sure that he is red and the thumping of his heart so loud that it covers the desynchronized noise that is always next to it, sighing gratefully when he looks down at his hands and finds them shaking but otherwise normal. Evan wants the earth to shallow him. He can't believe he got caught staring. He can't believe he stared for so long in the first place. Oh God, how long had he done that? How long had Connor been feeling someone's eyes over him, just to turn around and find out it was Evan all along? This was his luck, goddammit, finally he wants to actively try to reciprocate Connor's attempts at friendship and fate has it that now Connor most likely think he is weird creep or something. He doesn't want to look up.

He looks up.

Connor's head is bowed and Evan can't see his expression, cover as it is by his hair. A beat passes by and Connor looks up, moving the hair out his face with one hand, the other in a fist over his knee. Evan open his mouth to say something, anything, to apologize or to explain, he isn't sure.

“Mr. Murphy,” Mr. Sears says, making them both jump at the interruption of a conversation that hadn't even started. “Here is your phone, make sure you don't use it during school hours next time, am I clear?”

Evan distracts himself with grabbing is bag, trying his best to ignore what is happening next to him. He stands up and he catches Connor's eyes as does so, guessing that the small turn in his lips means he is displeased. Evan breathes and looks at the door before deciding that if he can stand in the middle of a fight, he might as well be able to interact with Connor in non emergency situations. He marches in the opposite direction, avoiding the students that are making their way out until he reaches Connor's bag, taking the strap with his good hand and hefting it over his shoulder. The satchel is longer that he expected, bumping against his thigh as he makes his way to the front.

Mr. Sears is no longer speaking to Connor, but standing next to the open door, waiting for them so he can lock the door. Connor is looking at him and when they are close enough, opens his mouth to say something, probably to demand an explanation to what gave Evan the right to believe he could simply take stuff that wasn't his without asking permission first.

Evan panics. No matter how long he spent convincing himself that Connor didn't hold ill faith towards him, he panics. Jared likes him and he mocks him, and he really can't afford Connor to do so now. He is not proud of himself for it, but when he stops and the satchel hits the side of thigh because of it, his brain to mouth filter vanishes.

“You are really tall.” Evan blurts out, voice high pitched and eyes tightly shut.

He open one of his eyes when he hears a snort, but Connor is simply looking wide eyed at him, probably processing what just happened. It takes a second for mortification to sink in because that means that the person who kinda laughed at his poor social skills was Mr. Sears. Evan refuses to look at him and confirm his theory.

“Gentlemen, you can speak outside if you like, but I need to close,” There is definitely a hint of amusement in that tone. Evan turns around and heads to the door, silently cursing. “Mr. Murphy, that means you too.”

Evan doesn't want to wait for Connor, but he doesn't think he has an option as he has his bag hanging from his shoulder still. It weight next to nothing and it's full of pins Evan had never been close enough to read before. Reading the pins, though, gives him an excuse not to look up as he hears someone approaching.

“Can I have my bag now?” Connor doesn't sound angry, so Evan risk a glance in his direction. He has his hand out, waiting and raising an eyebrow when he notices Evan looking.

Evan hands over the bag, seeing how it sits comfortably at Connor's hip. He might not have wanted to blurt it out, but he hadn't been lying. It was only the kind of statement that didn't need to be said.

“If you wanted to talk, you didn't need to kidnap my stuff, you know?” Evan is about to apologize when he realizes that Connor is teasing him, the corner of his mouth forming the beginning of a smile.

“I needed leverage.” Connor laughs and Evan relaxes a bit.

“Did you, now?”

Evan nods and start walking, ignoring the throbbing of his hand when it goes to mess with the hem of his shirt. He can do this.

“Yes, I needed all the inside information,” There are not a lot people in the hallways but he tries his best so his voice doesn't carry. “A week of detention unprepared seem like a recipe for disaster when it comes to me.”

“Why not ask Kleinman? I am sure he has been in detention at some point in his life.”

“Yeah, he has, but he would also hold it over my head for forever.”

Connor bumps with his shoulder and his smile turns sharp. “What makes you think I won't?”

“Oh,” He opens the door and steps outside, looking over the parking lot instead of at Connor. “I didn't think this through, did I?”

Whatever Connor was planning to say gets cut by Alana calling out Connor's name, with Jared and Zoe at her heels.

“Hey, guys,” Her smile is wide and she seems out of breath when she reaches them. “How was detention?”

Connor's “Same as usual” gets tangled with Evan's “You would hate it” and they both turn to the other, seemingly trying to pick what the other said.

“I am sure I would.” Alana assures Evan, before turning to the side to include Zoe and Jared into the conversation. “I wanted to say that the reunion was a success, even when the attendance was smaller than what I expected, but Zoe told me that was usual in clubs that were beginning to be formed so I am taking her word for it.” Zoe shifts as she is addressed and Evan can see that Connor is trying to catch her eye. “I also wanted to thank you, Evan, sending Jared in your place helped a lot, especially since students seemed to be expecting the two of you.”

He hadn't tell Jared to cover for him. He doesn't want to think what Alana means with the fact that students had been waiting for him. For the both of them. Did that mean that Connor had also been dragged into the whole reunion thing?

“Well, I don't want to keep you all now, I know you must be tired and I sure am busy so I hope to see you tomorrow!” A turn in her heels and she is gone, skipping back into the school, letting them deal with the tension forming.

Jared is the first to speak, urging Evan to say goodbye if he wants a ride, because he wants to  be able to get to his own house before 4pm. Evan ignores the jab in the ribs he gets from Jared when Connor says that he will text him, as well as the sparks jumping from his skin as he nods.  It takes a few minutes for them to settle and Jared threatens to leave Evan stranded at school if he even thinks of getting on the car when there is the chance of something catching fire and make it explode. They talk over the top of the car as they wait, with Jared avoiding to question him about Connor as he seems to want to because he knows that Evan would retaliate by asking about Alana's reunion. It's an art they have crafted over their years of friendship, this dance around topics they are not allowed to inquire about until discussion is brought up by the party that had halted the conversation in the first place.

The ride home is not silent, but it's a faded thing of an exchange, words flowing for the sake of talking, minds busy elsewhere. There is a text from Connor on his phone that he doesn't open until he is waving at Jared as he drives away, keys completely missing the lock as he reads.

no problem, no one should be held accountable for what they say when they are sleep deprived

He knew the text had been weird. He sighs and concentrates in opening the door, jumping when he is halfway through closing it when his phone buzzes in his hand.

could have been worse, tbh

Evan is sure it could have been. He could have texted Connor he was tall, after all. He groans and secures the keys in his bag before wandering into the living room, letting himself fall into the sofa before typing a reply, reminding himself that he had decided to give this a go.

true

it was still kinda embarrassing,tho

He doesn't have to wait long for a reply, chuckling and shaking his head as he reads.

Hansen, you have seen me fainting in pure victorian style

we are past that

That's how his mom finds him hours later, not longer sitting in the sofa but lying on it, texting back and forth without a minimal clue of what he is doing but refusing to be the one who stops the messages first.

“That won't help with making your hand get better sooner, you know?” The tone is chiding but she is smiling, patting his ankle as she moves towards the kitchen. “I am making pasta, say bye to Jared and come help me out.”

It hits him there, the fact that his mom is early today, that they are supposed to talk about everything that went down the day before and on Monday, the fact that she believes he is texting Jared as if that was a thing they did. He dreads the conversation that is about to come but he knows he needs to talk to her, to get answers and the small flicker of anger is there, at the fact that he had been kept in the dark about something because she had forgotten to mention it to him, even when it affected him directly.

“Evan!”

ttyl, mom is here, gonna help with dinner

“Coming!” He leaves the phone on the coffee table, taking a deep breath and calming himself before going to the fridge to look for what his mom always ask. “I, I wasn't like, talking to Jared,” Heidi looks over her shoulder, silently asking for clarification. “You know we don't text much,” There is the milk. “I was talking to Connor.” He rummages for the pasta, not looking at his mom.

“Connor Murphy?” She is resting against the counter, Evan can see her over the rim of fridge door when he nods before ducking behind again. “I'm glad you are making new friends, sweetheart.” He can hear the smile in her voice and lets himself relax as he comes out of hiding, bringing the ingredients with him. “I told you senior year would be your year, didn't I?”

“Yeah.”

“A mother knows this kind of thing, Evan. I am so proud of you.” Evan looks up and can see her eyes are glassy. It stings, even through the compliment, because she seems so relief with the fact that he has a friend now. The bar was so low and even then it took him years to reach it. He focuses on taking bowls from the cupboards and filling them with their ingredients as she clears her throat. He smiles at her and hopes its not strained.

He knows they won't start talking until they are sitting at the table, after they have already eaten because that's the way it has always been. Evan decides he can't stand the silence and when his mom asks him to look for her purse while she chops vegetables so she can wrap his fingers again, he turns on the radio in a music station, relief washing over him as the noise engulf them.

The pasta tastes delicious compared to his usual dinners, warm instead of reheated. He might love the nights where his mom brings take out but everything is pale when he can eat his mom's cooking. It's bittersweet in a way, as he cleaning the sauce on his plate with the last piece of bread he has, that he knows it won't be a habit and that tomorrow's dinner is going to be disappointing no matter what.

“So,” He takes a sip of his drink before continuing. “Why didn't you tell me?”

“I didn't intend to not do so, Evan. It slipped my mind.” She moves the plate away, leaning on her elbows. “I am really sorry about that, honey, but you know how busy the hospital gets and how early I need to leave to make it on time.”

Evan bites his lip, trying not to read the lack of care on his mother's words, convincing himself that she is actually sorry. She surely seems to.

“And why didn't you tell me about the incident at school, Evan?” He flinches, eyes lowering. “I know it was your first day and I can understand that you forgot about your appointment, but I really think you shouldn't have skipped it, especially if you had that outburst on Monday.” Her voice is soft but he can feel the edge to it. “Even more so after yesterday.”

Yesterday bring backs memories of reaching and failing, of empty lighters being clicked and forced to start but not doing so, of the missed calls of a nurse and the pity thrown his way for half a meeting.

“It slipped my mind,” He knows is the wrong thing to say, to bring his mom's words and throw them back at her. He doesn't stop, doesn't know if he can. “Happens to the best of us, doesn't it, mom?”

Her jaw is set for a few seconds, like she is waiting for him to apologize. “I can understand that you panicked on Monday, Evan, and I know I should have told you what to expect yesterday, but that doesn't mean you can speak to me like that”

“Like what, mom? Like how you are speaking to me?”

“I was not the one that got into a fight yesterday.” The tone is firm, a fact that he cannot deny. “How many times had we discussed that violence is not the way to go?” She raises a hand, halting Evan before he can argue. “I understand that you were worried for your friend but you should have looked for a teacher, even more so if you didn't know what that kid was capable of. Not to run head first into trouble.”

“I wouldn't have been so edge if you had talk to me, you know? I am never reckless, you know this, I am like, the opposite of harsh decisions, but my mind was panicking because I couldn't feel the fire under my skin, like it had somehow disappeared, I felt dizzy and confused and like I was one second away from a panic attack when I walked into the cafeteria.” His vision swims.

“You should have called me if you were feeling bad, Evan, we have talked about this, I am a phone call away from helping.” She sounds concern, but Evan's head is screaming.

“A phone call away?!” He hates that his voice breaks, tries to clear his throat but the words sound rusty as he talks. “Mom, you never pick up the phone! You are always too busy, you are too busy to even notice that you had forgotten to tell me that I would be stuck without my ability. Why didn't you call me when you noticed?” She flinches and Evan knows. “You didn't notice. You completely forgot until the nurse called. He thought he had the wrong number, you know? Connor's mom was there within the hour of the fight and you arrived half an hour into a meeting!”

He wants to leave but he is rooted to the floor, tears making his mom blurry. There is fire around him and for once, he wants it to stay, to keep her away because knowing hurts just as much as suspecting did.

“Evan, sweetheart, calm down.” There is more than one of her and it's overwhelming. He takes a step back and all of them stop, a sicking deja vú. “I am sorry. I am trying as best as I can, I am constantly worried about you, and even when I am proud of you for stepping in, Evan, I truly am, you need to understand that things can escalate quickly and that sometimes it's better to step back and look for someone who can handle it better, okay?”

He doesn't want to explain to her what it felt like, to shake her until she understands that he has been the kid on the floor before and that most of his school doesn't care about it. She wouldn't understand that he couldn't leave Connor and look for help because it would imply that: leaving. It would mean time lost, time that Connor would feel utterly alone and betrayed by each of the faces around him, to know there would be no one willing to do what he had done for Evan. It's something that would make her worried and that would make her sad, walking on eggshells around him if he tried to voice it. She would never get what it felt to be utterly useless, to feel like his own body was giving up on him when he wasn't able to bring out fire to do what it's doing now, creating a breach. She had taken away an opportunity to reassure himself that his ability was not only meant to burn, but to keep others safe.

“Can I go to my room?” He forces the flames down, dimmed as they are willing to go, his voice meek.

“I,” A sigh. “Yes, you can go to your room.”

He picks his phone in the way up, but turn it off before plugging it to the charger, praying for an early night.

Chapter Text

“Change.”

“What? No. Why?” Evan looks down at himself, frowning. The striped green polo doesn't clash with the khahis and there are no holes, no stains, that would warrant a change of clothes. He doesn't think is the shoes because Jared knows that it's either this pair or the formal ones Heidi bought him for Bar Mitzvahs and weddings.

Jared sighs from the other side of the screen, making him look up. The glasses are pushed up as he pinches the bridge of his nose, falling back into place as he says, “Evan, you are one dog away from being that dude from Blue's clues.”

“I, what?, no.” Evan can see it now, even if the stripes in his shirt are thin instead of wide. He hates Jared. “I hate you. I can't unsee it now! I use this at school!”

“Yeah and it makes my day everytime. I have been humming the mail's song when you use it and you never realized. It's hilarious.” Jared ignores the indignant noise that comes out of Evan, resting his chin over his open palm, smirking. “But I can't, in my good conscience, let you go to your date with Murphy dressed like that.”

“It's not a date.” Evan stands up, knowing a losing battle when he sees one.

He is going to burn that shirt.

“Sure. Whatever lets you sleep at night.” Jared's voice is louder, trying to make himself heard over the sound of drawers being opened. “But Murphy is totally hitting on you.”

“He is not. I have gone to your house before and we are not dating.”

“But I have never invited you over because I want to teach you something.”

“You have taught me stuff.” Evan wants to throw his pillow to his laptop when he looks over his shoulder, shirt in hand, to see Jared wiggling his eyebrows. “Shut up!”

There is a cackle that Evan does his best to ignore, lifting the gray shirt so he can examine it. It's not black or white but it would make do. There is no way Jared would make him feel insecure about a plain gray shirt. It's not even a polo so he won't repeat the incident with the red one. He should have known that Jared insisting they go to Target that day after school would be a trap.

He is taken away from the embarrassing memory by a grunt, Jared's head hidden by his palms. He curses when he realizes he has been crumbling the shirt in his hands.

“Evan, no. It's the khakis, the khakis are the problem.” At the confused stare that that earns him, Jared mutters something under his breath before continuing, enunciating his words slowly, as if he is not sure how Evan could have gotten lost in that sentence but making sure it won't happen again. “You told me Murphy told you he was going to teach you how to throw a punch, right?” A nod. “You are going to sweat a lot, more than you usually do and you are like, perpetually damp, dude.” Evan can feel his hands starting to sweat and makes a fist out of them, cursing Jared's words. “It's easier to see sweat patches if you are wearing khakis and as funny as you walking around Murphy's house looking like you peed yourself would be, it would completely blow any chances of you coming back.”

Evan throws the shirt on the bed, walking towards the dresser again, looking for any pair of clean jeans that he has.

“Why are you helping me with this?” He doesn't look back, moving clothes around and stretching to find the ones that have been pushed to the far back of the drawer. If he is doing this to avoid looking at the pity in Jared's eyes, no one needs to be aware of that.

There is the sound of Jared's desk chair squeaking and Evan doesn't need to turn around to know that Jared has reclined on it. “Blackmail material.”

“Hm.”

“It's a long goal thing.”

Evan fishes a pair of jeans that he doesn't remember buying but that seems to be comfortable enough that he won't end up more worried about them than at the fact that his hands are sweaty.

He picks up the shirt from the bed as he says, “Be right back”, before going to the bathroom.

It doesn't take more than 5 minutes for him to change, the discarded clothes in a lump over the sink. He arranges the collar of the shirt and stretches, making sure the shirt won't ride up when he does so. He moves his legs and even if the fabric feels strange at times, it doesn't feel like he is wearing cardboard so he counts it as a win. He debates on wetting his hands so he can make his hair look a tad more presentable but decides against it.

He comes out of the bathroom and walks towards the bed, sitting on it and angling the laptop so he can see Jared better.

“I feel weird.” Evan confesses.

“You always feel weird, Evan.” Jared counters. ”Stand up in the bed.”

“What?”

“I can't say if you are outfit ready to knock Murphy out if I can't see the whole thing.”

“It's not a date, I don't need to knock him out.”

“Did I say anything about a date?” There is a smile at the edge of Jared's mouth and Evan regrets ever telling him about this. “You are going to throw punches, I am expecting you to knock him out, Wallace style.”

“I didn't knock him out.”

“No, you didn't, but you gave him a crooked nose and he is built like a wall so you can one hundred percent knock Murphy out. Dude is built like a twig.”

Evan shakes his head, “He tackled Mark to the floor.”

“And look at you swooning because he did so.” Evan touches the lid of laptop, threatening to cut the conversation. Jared laughs. “I'm kidding, I'm kidding.” It takes a second, once the laughter has settle, for him to go on, “You have to admit is very movie-like, tho, the whole inviting you over to teach you how to fight. Add a soundtrack and it would be a sequence in a cheap movie, with him getting frustrated with the way you are moving and like, positioning behind you to shadow you, correcting you by putting his hand over yours and all that shit.”

“Are you sure you are not the one with a thing for Connor? You are weirdly invested.” Jared splutters for a second, narrowing his eyes. Evan laughs, moving the screen and kneeling in the bed before trying to keep his equilibrium when he stands up, wobbling as he extends his arms. “Happy?”

“Euphoric.” Jared deadpans. The laptop shifts dangerously when Evan lets himself fall, bouncing slightly. “I approve.”

“Yes, your approval, the thing I have always wanted.”

“You did change so, don't play hard to get now, Evan.” Jared smiles, without a trace of mockery, and Evan is strangely pleased. “You walking over or is your mom taking you?”

Evan is not sure what face he makes but Jared answers before he can do it himself, “Walking then.”

“It's not that far away, either way.” He starts looking for his phone and keys, debating whenever or not he should take the charger.

“I would offer to take you but I don't really want to.” Evan rolls his eyes, knowing Jared can't see him. “Gotta go, keep me posted, I want all the details.” When he turns around, the call has already been disconnected.

The silence after it is not uncomfortable, but it feels pressing, urging him to go. He knows he can't possibly be late because Connor never gave him a definite hour to arrive, extending the invitation in the general direction of After Lunch. He turns off the laptop, checking his reflection for the last time and drying his palms on his jeans, sighing in relief when there is no mark there to scream that he was nervous about this. He makes sure to lock his window before leaving the room, keys and phone already in his pockets.

There is no mom to say goodbye to, the tension that has been building after their fight riding high when there are little moments to actually have a conversation about it. There is guilt and anger fighting in his head, sparks flying from his fingers that he does his best rein in, recollecting all he has been learning in class, even if he doesn't actually believes it's going to work. There is a note magnetized to the fridge but Evan doesn't bother reading it, presumming is about an emergency or a class Heidi had to take today due to all the other ones she has missed because of work. It makes the guilt flare up, that neon piece of paper with words he is too far away to read. He had made sure to tell her he was going to Connor's but he feels tempted to take one of the post-it notes and write her something in case she comes over first, his own olive branch.

On the other hand, it's the weekend and he ate something he made himself because Heidi was gone after cereal and milk for breakfast when he had been showering, probably to avoid having to say goodbye to him and admitting she was leaving, again.

Maybe being a coward is a family thing.

There are not many people outside but he puts on his earphones, no music playing as he walks. He checks his phone and seconds guesses every turn he takes towards Connor's house, sure he is going to make the wrong turn and end up in the opposite side of where he is supposed to go. It's one of those fears that Dr. Sherman tells him are irrational, because this is one of those things that Evan can begrudgingly agree he is good at. It was a skill mostly born out of him being terrified of having to ask for directions, but it's a skill he has honed over the years either way. He triple checks the names of the streets and the numbers, but he is feeling a bit better when he can recognize the neighborhood he is in.

All of the houses look the same but he recalls Zoe's car and he can see it parked in one of the driveways, pointing him in the right direction. The small trek towards the door is short but it feels longer than the whole walk did, his heart lodging in his throat, beating faster and faster with each step.

He rings the bell, making sure it's enough to be hear but not over the top to make the residents hate him. He rights his shirt and dries his hands. He shouldn't have come over, no matter that Connor would have been mad at him if he had bailed. If he lied and gave some excuse, if he said his mom needed him to help around the house or something, he could be in his house now instead of making a fool of himself right now.

Then again, Dr. Sherman said he needed to start saying yes to this type of thing, especially if the What If was going to torment his later if he bailed. He can be panicking but he is also here, and that seems like progress, slow and the least of it, but progress nevertheless. Double progress if he counts the fact that he totally managed to curve a bad train of thought.

Look at him, being a proper human being for once.

The door opens and Zoe is standing there, purple glove in the doorknob and Evan is no longer a proper human being and this is an awful idea. She looks startled and Evan is trying to recall if maybe he read wrong and he wasn't supposed to come over today.

“Evan, hi.” Zoe recovers first, opening the door wider.

“Hello.” He should leave.

Zoe looks over her shoulder and shouts, “Connor! Evan is here!”

She smiles at him, polite. Evan rocks on his heels. A second and she gestures inside, silently telling him to come in. He nods and enters the room, stopping when he notices Zoe's pointed look towards the other four pairs of shoes sitting close to the door. He kneels down, feeling the color raising in his face, and undoes his shoelaces, careful not to fall on his ass by mere loss of balance.

He uses the wall to steady himself as he stands up, startling when he catches sight of Connor instead of Zoe standing in front of him. He didn't even hear her leave.

“Hey.” Connor moves backwards as he says, prompting Evan to follow.

“Hi, sorry, forgot you told me to text before knocking.”

“Yeah, it doesn't matter, I didn't have my phone with me either way.”

Evan has his foot on the first step of the staircase when a voice he recognizes as Mrs. Murphy calls, “Connor, sweetheart, do you or your friend want anything?”

Connor turns around and whispers, “I will come down and bring it upstairs if you want anything, but please don't say yes to her now. She won't let you escape.” He raises his voice to add, “Thanks,mom, we are okay!”

“Are you sure, honey? I really don't mind.”

“Sure!” He rolls his eyes before continuing up the stairs, Evan following behind.

Evan can practically see his past self running down this same flight of stairs less than a week ago, sure that he had destroy any chance of becoming friends with Connor, scared out of his mind that he had missed an appointment and that his mother would be disappointed in him. He turns left and can see the covers he had tangled himself in when Connor had let him crash for who knows how long, can hear the sound of voices from what he assumes is Zoe's closed door and his heart is going a mile a minute because Mrs. Murphy called him Connor's friend a few minutes ago.

He touches the frame of a doorless room and can feel the edge of a smile creeping on when Connor, perched on the bed, says, “Ready to learn, Hansen?”

Chapter Text

Evan had never realized the importance of doors until his fist was inches away from Mrs. Murphy's face, her wide eyes barely seeable over his knuckles. He takes a step backwards by reflex, his arm lowering as he does so, but his gaze is fixated on Connor's mother, in the slow blink and the ajar mouth, the ponytail slowing to a rest as the two of them stand there, trying to process what happened.

There are apologies and curses on the tip of his tongue, his brain doing its best to untangle them and not say something he will regret, but he is startled by Connor's laughter behind him. He looks over his shoulder and there is that bit of energy that makes him want to laugh simply because Connor is doing so, doubled over and hugging his mid waist, sounding like he can barely breathe through it. Evan can feel the color rising on his cheeks, so he looks back at Mrs. Murphy, shame not quite managing to get a hold of him but reaching either way.

“Oh,” It's both a word and an exhalation, softly spoken and most likely without consciousness being part of it. Mrs. Murphy's eyes are shiny and she looks like the air has been punched out of her, but there is a smile that trembles as she continues, “I was gonna ask if you guys needed anything, but you seem to be alright.” She hesitates, a hand on the frame. “I'll be in the kitchen.”

Evan nods, a worthless acknowledgement because Mrs. Murphy has already turned around. She smiles at him when she looks back at the top of the stairs and he returns it by awkwardly lifting his hand to wave as she goes.

He turns around and Connor's laughter is dying down, his body slowly uncurling as he looks up at Evan. His shoulders are shaking and he is smiling wide, tear-eyed as he moves his hair away from his face. It takes a second, with Connor trying to bring air back into his lungs and bits of laughter escaping him even when he is frowning at the fact, before Evan breaks down laughing too, not sure if it nervousness or the ridiculousness of the situation catching up with him.

Evan's hands shoot up to cover his mouth, trying to stop himself, but the sounds spills through his fingers, not quite matching Connor's renew laughter, falling out of synch. It's loud, even when he is trying to muffle it, because he has never liked to make more noise that he has too, never has liked the sound of it, too high pitched and with a tendency to make him choke on it. He can't breathe and he doesn't care, because this doesn't make sense, because he is ashamed to the boot but he is also aware of how dumb it would be to be mortified about this, because Connor is laughing and he doesn't remember ever hearing the sound of it before, because he has a friend and this is what friendship is.

“You could have told me that she was coming.” He tries to be indignant, but he doesn't think he pulls it off as he walks to sit next to Connor.

“I didn't see her.” Connor admits.

Evan is not sure he believes him as he can see the whole hallway from where he is sitting. “Sure.”

Connor follows his gaze and sighs, “She can be really fast if she wants to.”

Evan looks at him, cringing at his own veiled accusation. “Sorry.”

“Don't worry,” Connor looks at him from the corner of his eyes, tilting his head to stare at the ceiling. “She wasn't using it, she could have avoided it completely if she was.”

Evan is confused. “Then why didn't you let me know?” He doesn't want to believe Connor would let him embarrass himself for a laugh, but-

“I wasn't looking at the hallway.” The bed dips for a second and spring back into place as Connor stands up. “It was a good punch.”

“I didn't hit her.” Evan points out, to which Connor responds by looking at him over his shoulder, eyebrow raised. It takes a second, but Evan realizes what he has said, “Oh shit, no, I mean, I didn't want to hit her, you know? Like, why would I hit your mom? She seems lovely, I am sure.” He can't stop, wringing his hands around the fabric of his shirt. He had to mess it up, didn't he? “I just meant that to be a good punch, you said, it had to make contact and like, it didn't, which I am totally glad it didn't because, again, I don't want to hit your mom. Or any mom! Moms are cool. Well, some aren't but that doesnt mean I am gonna hit them, I don't go around hi-”

“Hansen, it was a fucking compliment.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“Thank you.”

“Whatever.”

A beat. Two. Silence stretches and Evan is wrong footed all over again. He lets go of his shirt, smoothes it over. Connor walks over, sitting next to him, bumping his shoulder like he is growing accustomed to since that's what he does when they are walking to detention together.

“Sorry.” Evan shakes his head and the apology away, but Connor is not paying attention to him as he talks. “I am kinda bad at this whole thing.” He is chipping away at his nail polish and Evan catches sight of the bandage in his arm, half hidden under the short sleeved shirt. “Never had to teach someone to do anything, not even Zoe,” Connor laughs, small and self deprecating, nothing compared to the loud and almost joyful sound from before, “so I was trying to do that thing, you know, like, positive reinforcement or whatever.”

Evan bumps his shoulder back, making Connor look up. “I am kinda bad at taking compliments.” Connor huffs. “So your family still doesn't know?”

Connor frowns and Evan points at the bandage, where the burn is no longer there.

“Ah,” Connor lets himself fall backwards, bouncing slightly on the bed. “No, they think I am being an asshole with trying to clean it and take care of it by myself.” He ponders for a second and Evan uses his hand to support himself as he turns, still sitting, to be able to look at him when he continues. “I am being an asshole.”

There is no response to that that Evan can say without feeling like he might mess up, especially when all his brain is supplying is the look from before, the one that Mrs. Murphy had that reminds him of his own mother, so he settles for making a questioning noise.

“Me not telling them about the whole fucking healer thing classifies as being an asshole, so, yeah.” Connor sits up, avoiding crashing into Evan in the last second. “Shit, sorry,”  He stands up, “didn't want to follow that train of thought so, come on, stand up.”

It's bewildering in every sense. Things and conversations happening way too fast for him to follow, so he stands up, unsure until Connor holds up both of his hands, palms facing Evan.

He sighs. “Again?”

Connor nods, moving his right foot backwards and leaving his left one at the front. He is wearing socks instead of boots. Evan mimics the position, making sure that his own hands aren't in front of his face, but a bit lowered, nails digging into his skin as he prepares to punch. His thumbs are on the outside, which he already knew due to common sense, but mostly because he spent a stupid amount of time researching how to make a fist in the correct manner before today to avoid looking like an idiot in front of Connor.

“Go.”

His left hand, the one that was at the front, hits first. Pain shoots through, but he ignores it, trying to remember how to rotate his torso with the right punch. Air lodges into his throat. He can feel the weight falling onto his left foot, while the other arcs to carry the motion, toes being the only contact to the floor. It smacks the side of Connor's hand, not quite square center, and it's awkward, his body overbalancing.

He catches himself and straightens up, seeing Connor opening and closing his hand, before he realizes he is being watched.

“Try to put your feet a little bit more spaced, maybe it will help.”

“Maybe?” Evan follows suit, waiting for Connor to posisionate himself. “That's not reassuring.”

“Never said I was trying to be.” Connor frowns, moving towards his personal space and nugging Evan's foot until he moves it backward. “Better.”

“Maybe.”

Connor rolls his eyes. “I am better at kicking than at punching, sue me.”

“Why?” He dries his hands on his jeans, puts them back up.

“Taekwondo is more about kicking.” There is a hint of amusement as he continues, “One time, in a tournament, Zoe won the match by punching her opponent repeatedly on the stomach,” He stops when he sees Evan's wide eyes, “it was a protected area, she was not, like, killing the other kid. She was nearly in tears mid match because she was scared and she wanted to quit, but my dad saw that the other girl was saying the same to her coach so he told her to hang on for a few seconds and it worked. She won.”

Evan laughs, “So I should be asking Zoe to teach me this, is what you are saying.”

“Probably.” Connor puts his hands up, “But you are stuck with me, she is practicing something.”

“My luck.” Connor narrow his eyes, but even Evan can tell the action is done in mockery. “Did that have belts?” A nod, “What belt are you?” Evan hits again, slower.

“Blue.” He says, shaking his hands and before putting his right foot at the front, trading spots with the left one.

Evan copies it, making sure to align his hands to the new position.“It's that high or like, primary colors based?”

“Not the highest but enough for like, three years of it.” He frowns, “Breathe before hitting, not in the middle of it.”

Evan nods, does as he is told. Hits again.

“Better?” Connor asks, a smile at the edge of his lips.

“Better.”

 

Chapter Text

The soundtrack is muffled but swelling as the water moves around, patches of fluorescent light catching skin, faded in the way it tries to cling to a person that does not stand still. There are stray bubbles and narrowed eyes, with shadowed hair floating behind as a trail, as a guide, as the remnants of a shooting star. It's eerie and solemn, a private revelation being broadcasted, being contrasted by the floor tiles and steel steps of a swimming pool that looks haunted when the sky is dark instead of vibrant blue. 

The water ripples and a sharp intake of breath is heard, echoed by the walls and the open space. The music is faint even when is clearer, and there are droplets of water in tangled hair, chest raising with the laborious task of bringing air into choking lungs. Laughter comes from the right and the camera pans to a reaching hand before it's clasped. A whispered “Don't you dare.” A pull and strangled scream-

Evan startles as his phone starts buzzing in his pocket, which in turns disrupts the precarious perch the laptop had on his knee, making it wiggle in place before it starts tipping backwards. Connor is quick to reach for it and stop it, pausing the film mid splash while Evan stands up, cursing at how difficult it is to actually get the phone out when he is wearing jeans that fit like they are spray painted on his legs instead of his usual pair of khakis. 

It's not the first time that this particular thought has come to him, and Evan is pretty sure it won't be the last, but even so, he is blaming all of this on Jared's advice to change clothes. He should stop listening to Jared at some point in his life. He knows he won't, but he should. 

When Evan is finally able to take the phone out, the call has already gone to voicemail and there is a simple text informing him that he wasn't fast enough to answer it. It also says that the caller was his mom, but he had guessed that much. No one else calls him, after all. 

There is a low grumble to his right and he catches sight of Connor as he stretches, long limbs becoming impossibly longer for split second before they relax, as puppet cut from a string. His voice is hoarse when he asks, “Who was it?” 

Evan clears his throat before answering, “My mom.”

“Are you going to call her back?” A nod. “Right. I'm starving so I'm going to look for something to eat. Want anything?” 

“Whatever you are having is fine.” Evan tries to smile but he is glad that the room is dark, because he is not sure he made it convincing enough. “Where is the bathroom?”

Connor tilts his head slightly and starts walking, the unspoken “Follow me” clear enough. There is no much light in the hallway but it's brighter than Connor's room was, making black spots dance in his vision until he blinks them away. There is a white door to their left that they pass without comment before they stop at the top of the staircase, where Connor points to the wooden door behind Evan, as he starts making his way down. 

Evan's phone is buzzing in his hand again as he opens the door, but he waits until he is inside to answer, flickering on the lights with his free hand. The walls are white and everything looks polished, even the shelves full of products that Evan can't discern very well from where he is standing. 

“Hi, mom.” He says, trying to raise his voice high enough to be heard over the cacophony on the other side of the line. 

“Hey, kiddo,” There is a click and the noise dies down a bit, his mom's voice clearer, “Having fun?”

“Yeah,” There is an expectant silence and Evan elaborates, “We were watching a movie. Connor went to look for snacks right now.” He starts pacing the room, eyes wandering. “But yeah, it has been fun. Connor's house is huge.” There is a small yellow towel, motionless as it hangs. “I think I might need to eat dinner here, Connor's mom has been asking me my opinion on food whenever she goes to check on us and I don't think she is doing that out of plain curiosity.” 

Heidi laughs softly and the shower mat is a fuzzy green. “That's nice, honey. I'm glad you are having fun.” There is the click again and the noise comes back, forcing him to put a hand over his ear to be able to hear. “I was actually calling you because I thought I might be able to leave early today.” The scrap of a chair and he feels caged. “I thought that maybe I could pick you up, if you want, so you don't have to walk if it's late.”

“Oh,” It's a far more difficult peace offering to ignore and there are no answers written on the pale red tiles. “That sounds great, actually. You can text me when you are on your way or something.” He hopes and prays that she doesn't forget. “Thanks, mom.”

“Of course.” Someone calls her name and by the way her voice sounds, Evan assumes that she has put her hand over the speaker. He spends the minutes that it takes her to come back to the call washing his hands and reading the small print on one of the bottles. He takes the motionless towel and finds that is extremely soft as he dries his hands. There is the end of a goodbye on the line and Evan hangs the towel, watching as it swings gently. “Remember to say thank you to the Murphy's for the food.”

“Yes, mom.”

“And to Connor for inviting you.”

“Mhm.”

“Say hi to them from me, will you?”

“Will do.”

She sighs, “I love you, honey.”

Evan looks at the sink, breathes. “Love you too.”

Minutes go by before he starts making his way back towards Connor's room, where the blue hue of the screen is the only source of light and where Connor, who is nothing more than a silhouette against it, is hunched over it. There is an open bag of chips on Connor's lap that Evan only notices when he sits down next to him, mainly because Connor gives it to him without taking his eyes off the computer, the contents already half eaten. 

“Everything cool?” Connor asks, glancing at him from the corner of his eye as he rearranges the laptop.

Evan takes the glass of coke that is on the floor to his left and makes sure that he won't spill any of it on the bed sheets or himself. “Yeah, she was just checking on me, you know?” The position he is in is not comfortable. He tries for another. “She is going to pick me up when she is out of class.”

“Oh,” Connor moves closer to take a handful of chips and then scooches backwards towards the wall, moving pillows out of the way with his free hand. “Around what time?”

“Seven-ish, usually.” He leans back as well. “We have time to finish the movie.” Evan reassures him before taking a sip.

Connor hums and hits play, food being passed around as the voices and the soundtracks engulf them once more. 

Hours must go by, Evan is sure, even if he doesn't notice how. After all, time entangles itself in the way Connor rambles about parallels and narrative devices, getting hooked on the small lift of his lip when he answers the questions Evan asks unprompted, making it impossible for either of them to know who started what particular topic. It stretches infinitely with a pair of shared earphones and whispered comments, little tidbits of personal information exchanged with each recommendation given. It halts and speeds up. It sinks and it raises. And then, at end of it all, it passes. 

Which is all to say that, when Zoe appears to tell them that dinner is ready, both of them are surprise to find themselves hungry again. Hungry and far closer to each other, the polite distance that was kept consciously disintegrating somewhere between complaints about earphones that kept falling off and fights over whose turn was it to choose what to see next, gravitating into personal space without noticing. The laptop is closer to them too, which might explain why Evan's crossed legged position found that it would be far more comfortable if his knee was over Connor's, but it doesn't spell out why his own shoulder is asleep and why he hadn't said anything about Connor resting his entire weight on it. There are cracks and pops as they disentangle, taking off the earphones as they do so.  

Evan leans down to take his empty glass and stands up, turning around to see Connor sprawled on the bed, making no indication of wanting to move. He swats his arm and Connor groans, reluctantly sitting up and rubbing the spot where Evan hit him, which makes Evan roll his eyes, because, really?

Connor must catch him doing so, because he whispers, “Don't do that.” Which Evan would ignored if it wasn't followed by, “Remember my family doesn't know that this is fake,” Connor shows him the bandage, as if Evan would ever forget Mark's hand over it, burning fabric away, scarring skin as soon as he reached it. “And I am not that good of an actor.” As he could ever forget the scream that followed.

“Got it.” He is not going to panic. He is not. He can lie to the Murphys if it comes to it.  He is not going to mess this up.

There is a hand on his shoulder and Connor nods when their eyes meet, squeezing before letting go.

Evan follows him.

A part of the tension that is wringing in his stomach loosens up when they pass the dining room, with the long table and the heavy looking chairs, and walk into the relatively big kitchen instead. The plates are already set and Mrs. Murphy is the only one that is not sitting on her chair yet, busy with something in the counter that Evan can't see from where he is standing. Connor snatches the glass he forgot he had been holding and points towards the table, where Evan exchanges small pleasantries as he waits for Connor to sit down. 

The table is clearly meant for only four people, but Evan is glad that he keeps bumping elbows with Connor every now and then, especially when is not an accident but a clear sign that one of them wants whatever topic of conversation that is being discussed to be derailed. Which is not very often, if Evan is being honest. Which he is not, because Mr. Murphy does ask about the fight at one point and Evan does his best to look concerned when apologizing and asking Connor about his arm. That earns him a subtle jab and void threat of moving his chair away from him, which then prompts the questions about their new found friendship, and Evan is suddenly remembering the way grass felt under his back and the sound of air rushing so fast around him that he thought he could actually see it. He is pulled back from it when Connor starts talking next to him, annoyance dripping from every word as he makes a story that never happened, which Evan is not sure was a necessity when they could have used the fight or the first day of school as an excuse. 

He understands why when Zoe asks something and the impossibility of Connor's sister believing that her brother would invite someone to his house that he had randomly befriend that same day, hits. It must seem strange from their perspective if there is not some kind of precedent, a missing leverage that would classify this as logical instead of an aimless act of kindness that doesn't seem particularly credible when it comes to Connor. 

Funnily enough, it was exactly a completely out of character generosity what brought them together the first time. And the second time. Evan is starting to believe is not an uncommon thing. 

He adds comments and quips to the story as Connor tells it, tries his best to not contradict anything that has been said. It's an easy task, Evan finds, when he can feel the tip of Connor's foot pushing lightly into the side of his own shoe whenever he seems to be straying the conversation to more dangerous places to lie in. It's hidden and confusing and so absolutely their prefered method of dealing with things, that even when the memories are conjured and the little details invented, the back and forth, the settled dynamic is as real as the pressure he can feel on his foot and as familiar as the warmth in his chest.

The questions and comments start to shift away from them after a while, when the food is still hot but the ice in his glass is already melting. He busies himself with eating, enjoying the taste of a homemade meal, and only talking when talked to, trying to keep his answers short and polite. 

It's draining. Not the act of model guest, he has done that before without breaking a sweat, and it tends to become automatic after a while. But the talking in general and the amount of time spent somewhere that is not his house, that is not his room, that is not him alone, is taking its toll. There are no bruises on his knuckles, but he keeps opening and closing his hands when he remembers the sting of hitting and hitting and hitting. He can feel his shoulders tensing and the stupid itch to crack his neck to get rid of it. He is starting to lose the conversation threads as they move, and bites into one of the melting ice cubes to make the freezing sensation bring him back. 

His phone buzzes in his pocket and he closes his eyes in relief, excusing himself to check  it, and admitting that he has eaten all he could. 

His mom is on his way.

Connor follows him after he has said his thanks and has complimented the food, telling his parents that he is going to wait outside until Evan's mom shows up. Evan says is not necessary and as expected, Connor ignores it.

The silence that settle between them is not suffocating, and Evan is grateful for the lack of words, for the absolute bliss of being full and content and relaxed. He is half expecting to fall asleep as he stands.

“I had fun.” Evan offers, sincere.

“Me too.” Connor is not looking at him, but at the street. Evan follows his gaze. “I forgot to say,” There are no cars. “If you get in a fight, the first thing to do is run, if you can.”

He can feel Connor's eyes on him. “You didn't run.” There are a couple of houses with lights on, shadows moving in them.

“Yeah, but I am an idiot so.” 

“Yeah, that was a stupid move. As was punching someone in the face when I didn't know how to.” He looks back at Connor and lets himself smile. “Guess we are both idiots.”

Connor looks away. “Guess so.” Evan doesn't. “Do as I say, Hansen, no as I do.”

“That is awful advice, Murphy.” The light is low but Evan can see him frowning. Headlights come to view and he knows his mom's car from far away. “I will run if you do.” He settles for.

“Fine.” It doesn't sound like it's fine, but it's settled either way. “See you at school, Hansen.” 

“See you.”

Connor is still standing at the door when Evan gets in the car, raising his hand in an awkward goodbye when Heidi waves at him. He is gone by the time they reach the corner, which is about the time that Evan notices that there is no music playing, and that his mom hasn't enthusiastically asked for details about how his day went. She is staring at the road and seems to be thinking about something and Evan doesn't like it. He does not like change. He does not like the idea that something might had happened and that his mom has to think before he tells him. Those are always the worst.

“We need to talk.” He takes it back, those are the worst. 

He stifles a yawn that he is not longer feeling. “About?”

“School. You.” She glances at him for a second and her voice drops. “All of it, Evan.”

He is tired. He is so tired. “Do we have to do this today? I'm-”

“No better day than today.” Who knew her motivational poster could sound depressing? “I don't like us fighting, honey.”

And he doesn't like being cornered. “I don't like it either, but I am tired.” They don't discuss in the car. That was a mom and dad thing. That is not something he wants. This is not something they do.

“I am tired too.” It's a quiet confession and it pulls the right guilt over his head. “We barely see each other at the house, and I know is not your fault since I'm the one that is always out doing something, but you have to understand I do it because I want was best for you.”

“I know.”

“And I want to spend time with you and see what you are up to and how you have been feeling.” The seatbelt is going to cut his throat. There is nowhere to go and her voice is getting watery. “I know I am not the best mom and that I forget things, important things for you and for me, but, sweetheart, I do pay attention.” There is no music. “I got you a refill on my way over. You should tell me when they run out.” There is a red light and she turns to look at him. A hand grazing his forearm. “Are they working?” Quiet, so quiet.

He doesn't think he can talk. He nods and she looks concerned. He nods again. The light changes. 

“Okay, that's good.” Nothing about this is good. “I will try harder, okay? To be there.”

“You don't need to do that, I know you are busy and I know how important work is an-”

“Work is not more important than you, Evan.”

“I know.” He lies. “I am sorry about not telling you stuff too.” Anything to finish this. To end this. This is all his fault.

“It's okay.” She clears her throat. “How long has it been since you ran out?”

Evan considers it. Tries to remember. “A week or two?” He guesses.

“Maybe that caused the outburst that first day.” It's a hopeful tone. An explanation. “Your ability has never acted like that before, exploding out of nowhere, right?”

There were singed edges on the branch. “Right.” It's not the pills, it's him. 

“Well, then, you can tell Dr. Sherman about it and maybe you need to change the dose or something. It would also explain why you haven't been eating at night.”

Fuck, he thought she hadn't noticed. “I eat with Jared sometimes.” He lies and lies and lies. “I didn't want to tell you because, you know, you get all… mushy about it.” She relaxes, so it must be the right move.

“You should have told me!” She is smiling. There is a pit in his stomach. “That's great, Evan!”

“See? Mushy.”

Heidi laughs and the quiver in her voice is gone. “Okay, okay, I am sorry.” She is not. He is. “That must be it, then. It makes sense, right?”

Wrong. “Yeah.” He forces a yawn and shakes his head.

“You seem tired.” She turn on the radio, the volume low but there. “But I am glad we talked about it. Communication is important.”

He is burned out. “Yeah.” 

It takes him hours to fall asleep.

Chapter Text

Evan should have run. 

Now, he walks, seeing and counting each step he takes. The need of bolting becoming stronger when the grip in his neck gets tighter, when Mark moves closer, as if he were meaning to whisper something in Evan's ear, just so his arm applies more pressure than the one needed for whatever fake friendship gesture he is trying to sell to Mr. Adler.

There is a part of Evan that is screaming, that is forcing the warmth into flames and grabbing, tearing, burning until he is freed. There is a part of him that is brave and stops in his tracks, that makes sure his stand is wide enough and elbows Mark's stomach, punching his face for good measure. There is a part of him that locks eyes with Mr. Adler to hold him accountable for his choices, that doesn't let him walk away after assigning this wicked version of a get along shirt. There is a part of him that wishes and yearns and accomplishes. 

But parts are nothing of value when the whole is as pathetic as he is. When his body is shaking and sweating and unbalanced, when the image of triumph gets trampled easily by the reality of walking with his head down, scared of what looking up might bring. 

And it's not like Evan doesn't understand the logic behind Mr. Adler choice. It makes sense. Put the two students who have the same ability in a group to avoid people getting hit in the crossfire if they decide to start another fight. Their passive will protect them if they get too involved when practicing. Keep an eye on them simultaneously. Make the one who got the other suspended his impromptu tutor for the classes he missed due to the suspension so both of them are aware of how uncomfortable it will be to have this situation again. If one of them gets hurts, it's clear that the other would be the prime suspect. Evan is good in the technical and Mark has more control in the practical.

It's a pay one and take thousands of benefits. It's match made in heaven for Mr. Adler, even if is going to feel like fucking hell for Evan. So he gets it, he just doesn't like it. Never will. And he is going to resent Mr. Adler for the rest of his very short life.

“You sweat like a pig.” Close. Way to close. There are people in the hallways and there are whispers tickling his ears as he goes. “Matches your face.”

Heidi always told him that ignoring people who said mean things was a good solution. Walking away and not responding. But he is stuck with an arm over his shoulder and he is afraid that not saying anything will provoke Mark to push him against the lockers to make him talk.

“Hm.” He has to do more than that. He can't think of anything. He is not witty. He is not smart. Shit. “Shut up.” Showing irritation will make it worse in the short term, but it will help with not getting shoved anywhere. Prove that is getting to you. Make Mark believe he is winning. 

“What did you say to me, Hansen?”

“My name is Evan.” Fuck, no, meeker. 

“Is it?” Mark stops in his tracks and his arm leaves Evan's shoulder. “I don't care,” A hand over his head and it pushes down, “And you don't tell me what to do or what to say, okay?” 

He can't nod. “Yes.” 

“Good.” The hand is gone and Evan can raise his head. He doesn't. “Don't you ever forget it.” 

It's not until Evan gets shoulder checked by some random student that he moves away from the center of the hallway. There is no trace of Mark apart from the few glances he gets as he goes to his locker, hands shaking. 

Yesterday was the last day of detention and today is the first meeting day and Evan wishes it was the other way around. He doesn't have the energy to talk to a bunch of students and to be able to handle Alana in her presidential role. He doesn't want to go through the stupid introduction period for an already formed thing. He doesn't want anything to do with this. He wants to go home. He wants to not exist. He wants to stop wanting things that are not going to happen because he doesn't skip school, that are not going to happen because Evan is the one thinking them. Jared would have skipped. Connor is not even at school today as far as Evan knows. And he doesn't know because they had a routine with detention that can't exist anymore and he is not sure if he is supposed to search for Connor or how is the protocol of regular friendsh- 

Connor is waiting at his locker. 

Connor is nodding at him and frowning when Evan gets closer. 

“You look like shit.”

“Great.” He doesn't mean to sound sarcastic. “It matches too.” 

“What?” 

“Nothing.” 

They don't do tense silence. It usually awkward at most. Not this. Huh, Mark did get to him.

Connor hunches a bit but Evan can see the way his hands are forming fists at his sides. “What the fuck put you in such a bad mood? You sound like me.” 

“You don't have a monopoly on being angry, Connor.” 

“No, but I make it look better.”

“Fuck, dude, I get it, I look like shit, you mentioned it like 5 seconds ago.” 

“Jesus Christ, I am fucking worried, you look like-”

Evan turns to face Connor instead of the locker. “Again?”

“It's how I talk, okay? You look great. Whatever. What the fuck happened?” 

“Nothing happened.”

“You were fine this morning.”

“I didn't see you this morning.”

“I saw you but you were with Jared so, I didn't-”

“You have talked with Jared before.”

“Doesn't mean I enjoy it.” Connor huffs. “That's not the point!”

“There was a point apart from telling me I look like shit?” Evan is not angry at him. Why is he doing this? “Because you made that one clear enough.”

“Shut up! Let me talk!”

“So you can-” Connor's hand covers Evan's mouth before he can finish the sentence.

Evan glares at him.

“Shhh.” Evan tries to take the hand away and only ends up with Connor's other hand around his wrist, prying it away. “Listen to me for a fucking second, is not going to kill you.” Evan breathes noisily. “Something happened. What was it?”

Evan shifts the weight from one leg to the other. He wants to leave. He doesn't want to talk to Connor about Mark because the last thing he needs is someone telling him that he should have decked the other guy or talk to the teacher or anything but what he did.  

“Come on, Hansen, talk to-” Connor's eyes widen and the pressure around Evan's mouth gets firmer, which was the opposite of what Evan had wanted when he licked Connor's palm. “Fucking gross, dude.” Connor narrows his eyes before sighing. “Fine! Ask me if I give a shit, then. Be an asshole.” 

He is expecting Connor to stomp away, like he did back in his house, but he simply removes his hand and goes to clean it against Evan's shirt. Evan's free hand stops it.

“It's your spit.” Evan tries to back away but both of them are holding the other. Evan can't let go. He doesn't want to be used as a tissue today of all days.

“It's your hand.” 

“What?” Connor tries again. Evan takes another step back. “I am not dirtying my clothes because you were acting like a fucking kid!”

“You shushed me like I was five!” Evan starts trying to move Connor's hand in the opposite direction. “If you know I am mad, leave me alone!”

“Oh, sure, because you always do so when I ask you to!” Connor's fingers are grazing Evan's shirt. “I know a thing or two about being angry and being an ass-”

“Hadn't notice.”

“It doesn't suit you.” Connor's voice drops. “And you are handling it very poorly, which is no good since you can and will burn this entire fucking building down if you keep bottling things up.”

It's distraction enough, the thought that maybe his abilities have started to act up behind him or something, for Connor to grasp his shirt. His face is closer than it was before and there is something in his eyes that Evan can't identify, doesn't care to when he feels like headbutting him to get him to back off.

“Evan,” He listens. “Talk to me, please.”

He is not angry at Connor. Why does he keep lashing out? He is not the kind to do so. He has never done so with Jared. He doesn't remember Jared being near him when he has been upset, tho. Maybe there is a reason for it.  

He lets go of Connor's wrist. “Okay,” Connor moves away and Evan wishes he hadn't let go. “I am sorry.”

“Mhm.”

He breathes. “Mark got back to school today.” Connor lets his head bang against the lockers and Evan can see that his eyes are shut. 

“Should have remembered that.”

“I didn't,” Evan laughs but he knows is not funny. “Mr. Adler did, thought, because he had already told him that we were together for the rest of year.”

“What?”

“Yep,” He is still laughing, can't stop. “Isn't it hilarious? Mark Wallace is my new partner for the rest of the year in my Enhancing class. I am also his tutor!”

“Shit.”

“Mr. Adler thinks is great and I wanted to talk to him after class to be like, hey, so, don't you think you should have thought this better? I can learn by myself! But didn't get the chance to. To be honest, I would have chicken out either way.” Evan closes his locker and puts his back against it, “In case you are wondering why I didn't, apart from the obvious glaring reason of me, it was because Mark decided I needed to remember that he is big and scary and that breaking his nose was a shot in the dark.”

Connor looks at him and Evan can tell he is scanning for signs of injury. “It was all mental damage, don't worry.”

“Your neck is red.”

Evan's hand goes to cover it. “That's the anxiety. I get red when nervous or mad or any strong emotion. May have to do with the fire thing.” 

“Sure.” Evan prays that he lets it go. “Now say what you feel.”

“You sound like my therapist.”

“Great,I was imitating mine,” He starts walking and Evan is reminded that they are in the hallway, wasting away the time he should be using to lunch. He isn't hungry. “You do this thing where you talk like you are expecting whoever you are bad mouthing to appear behind you so you never bad mouth them.”

“You shouldn't talk behind people's back.”

“And you shouldn't bottle up anger. Stop trying to sound logical. Stop trying to put yourself in Adler's shoes.”

“It's not nice.”

“You were an ass to me a few minutes ago. You licked my hand.” Evan is going to regret that for the rest of his life. “It's okay to not be nice all the time. Just, say what you are thinking.”

“I shouldn't have licked you hand.”

Connor facepalms as he walks. “Not about that! About the Adler situation.”

“I don't think is fair to call it the Adler situation, Mr. Adler was doing his job.” If looks could kill, Connor would have been digging Evan's grave at this point. 

“Hansen.”

“Why don't you call me Evan?” 

“What?” Connor's gaze turns from murder to confusion. “I have called you Evan.”

“Yeah, but not regularly.” Evan hadn't been aware that he had noticed this, but now that he did, it was slightly annoying. “I am your friend, why do you use my last name?”

“I didn't know it bothered you.”

“I hadn't notice it either.” Evan says sincerely. “Mark called me Hansen today, and it was weird. I mean, it was weird that it felt weird. But he doesn't know me, so it makes sense that he calls me that. But you call me Hansen, so there is like, no name hiercharchy. I call you Connor.” It sounds accusing. Evan might be accusing him, tho. 

Connor laughs and mutters something to himself before looking at him, “I can call you Evan, Evan,” What a stupid way to prove a point and yet Evan finds himself smiling, “But that wasn't what we were supposed to be talking about.”

“I don't want to talk about Mark.” He whines.

“Ugh,” Connor looks frustrated and Evan doesn't feel guilty at all. “You are worse than me!”

Evan can feel the anger underneath, but he can't stop laughing. “Are you insulting me or yourself?”

“I am doing both, is called multitasking.” 

“Okay, okay,” Evan sighs, “I will talk about my feelings, mom.”

Connor stops walking. “I am so close to shaking you.”

“Why?”

“I don't know, but is more tempting by the second.” He resumes walking. “I am not good at this. Having friends suck.”

“You are doing great,” Evan reassures him, because Connor is starting to look distressed. “I don't know how to word anger.”

“Shouting usually helps.”

“I am not screaming.”

“Clearly,” Connor bumps his shoulder. “But think about it as if you were able to. What would you scream into the void right now if there were no consequences to be had? Close your eyes if you want, I can make sure you don't run into a wall or something.” 

Evan takes the suggestion and he can feel Connor's hand around his arm, guiding him through the hallway. He tries to organize the thoughts running through his head. Tries to make them make sense. Stops doing that. 

“It's not fair, you know?” Connor makes a sound to indicate he is listening. “It's my first free day and it's ruined already. Mr. Adler should have known better. I was a good student in his biology class, but he knows I don't do people very well. Even less so if it's Mark Wallace, the dude I punched in the face and that surely hates me, not so much for the breaking nose thing but because it was me doing the breaking. And now I have to deal with him and with my fire on top of that, which, by the way, Mr. Adler was kind enough to remind the both of us that Mark was better at it. Which I know, since, you know, I saw him throwing fire and containing it to only his hands. And doesn't that sucks too? How in the world does someone like him have a better control in his emotions that I do? I am less emotionally healthy that the dude that went to a fight with a flamethrower. Who does that? I tell you who: Crazy people. I am less stable than him! How?! And now I will have to learn with him and be with him and ugh. I can't stand him. And we have practical training on friday. He is either going to shame me, humiliate me or straight up murder me when Mr. Adler is not looking. Also, Mr. Adler lessons? Useless. What the fuck I am supposed to do when he is like: Concentrate your emotions? What does that mean? Which emotion? Am I supposed to have just one? Because news flash, I have anxiety! I don't have one emotion! There a bunch and they all suck.”

Evan opens his eyes. His throat is dry and the small bits of anger feel both more present and less weightening. 

“Feeling better?” Connor asks as he removes his hand.

“Kinda,” He looks up at Connor. “Stop looking smug about it.” 

Connor doesn't stop looking smug but Evan is willing to forgive him. Just this once. 

“Glad it helped. I take back what I said. I am a great friend.”

Evan bumps his shoulder and rolls his eyes. “A great friend that is to blame for both my hunger and my thirst right now.” Connor's cheeks are red and Evan realizes what he says. “That's not what I meant! We are skipping lunch! And I talked a lot!”

“I know.” Connor can say whatever but Evan can see that he feels ashamed from where he is standing. “Let's grab something to eat before Jared comes looking for you. Also, I have been walking without paying attention so we are like, very far away from your locker.”

Evan laughs because is funny. 

Chapter Text

They are all leaving the meeting when it happens. 

Jared is walking backwards as he talks, a ringmaster directing attention in the middle of the hallway with an impressive audience of four. No one interrupts him, because they have tried and it doesn't work and he keeps threatening them with passing through them if they don't stay quiet so everyone opted to leave it alone.

Well, almost everyone.

“Murphy, stop glaring at me or I swear-”

Connor groans, “If you say the word through one more time, I will kick your fucking ass.”

“You can't fight me if you can't see me,” Jared says as he melts into the air, his voice not less present because of it. “But I can talk even if you don't know where I am, and you can't leave because there a chance I would be in the way and we all know that the only person you want to be insi-”

“Jared!” Zoe shrieks, ice flecks raining around her and showering her hair, “No, ew, shut up!” She is taunt but not leaving the crescent moon they have created, the possibility of accidentally making Jared's threat true too strong for any of them to not be cautious. “You are going to have to pay for my therapy after that.”

Jared laughs and Evan finds him, even if he can't see him, by the proximity of the sound. He moves a bit closer to Alana, angling himself away from his friend.

It's only because of this, Evan would realize later on, that he is able to see someone rushing and turning towards them, directly where Evan knows Jared is currently standing, bickering with the Murphys. He reaches for Jared, instinct taking over, hoping to avoid the unpleasant experience that is about to happen, but his hand goes through, even if it halts whatever Jared was saying. It also causes everyone to see the student but Evan is too late to voice a warning that would be useless anyway.

They crash.

Jared stumbles backwards, body visible again and Evan's hand hastes in finding perch, circling Jared's wrist, hoping to keep him upright. It works for less than a second, the weight of Jared's knees abruptly buckling under him forcing Evan to follow, kneeling next to his friend, brain trying to figure out what happen while his eyes search for any hint or clue.

The other student, a freshman or a sophomore, vaguely familiar in a way that make Evan think that if he concentrated for a second, he might be able to place him, is recovering from his own fall. Alone. No one from Evan's side of the hallway has moved to help him. 

The boy's eyes are wide and not quite focused on Jared, jumping from one person to the next. His hands are shaking as he moves to sit down and Evan hesitates, the familiarity of the scene pushing him out of stillness, dragging him into the here and the now for long enough to see it.

The boy flickers and Jared screams.

Pieces fall in their right places and Evan is quick to move Jared backwards and away, noticing Connor on Jared's other side, Zoe standing behind him, hands gripping her brother's shirt while Alana is saying something that Evan doesn't care to listen to because Jared is whimpering, curling into himself.

“I am so sorry, I didn't mean to.” The air talks back at them and it's not Jared's voice but a stranger's. It's frail and crearly panicked, annoyingly high pitched. Stupidly repetitive in the apologies. 

Connor's name is on the tip of Evan's tongue, because he can help with this, he can ease Jared's pain and take it away and make him stop gripping Evan's hand like a lifeline. But Evan can't do it, can't spit the words out and deal with the consequences later, can't do nothing more than try to search for someone's eyes for a solution.

Alana is not an option, with the way her hands are in front of her and seems to be coaxing the air into existence, phrases lost in the prattle of a disembodied voice. Connor's black shirt has white in it, a chaotic mismatch of frost and fabric that reaches towards his chest from Zoe's gloved hands at his sides, but his eyes are focused on Jared, a grimace and hands that hover but do not assist, instead covering his sister's own before taking a step back.

Evan forces the anger down. Tries his best to take the bite out off his voice as he says, “Do something!” Connor looks back, alarmed, “Look for the nurse!” Evan clarifies, offering a justified excuse for the both of them. Evan can't stand to look at him right now. 

“No!” The voice is closer to him and Evan vaguely register Alana gasping, “I will get in trouble, please, don't call anyone, I can try to-” Hands appear and reach towards Jared.

Evan sees red.

He pushes the boy off, hearing the ever familiar sound of linoleum hitting back.

“Stay the fuck away,” Evan's voice is trembling, barely contained. There is a hand on Evan's shoulder that he shakes off, turns slightly to look at Alana, “If you want to help the actual injured person here, teleport him to the nurse.” 

Alana flinches, eyebrows furrowed before her hands settle on Jared's shoulder and her eyes close, trying to do as she was told.

Her voice is cold as she says, “You should let go of him, is harder with more people.”

Jared's eyes are a bit more lucid now, more gasps and less screams, his body still curled but the tension that seemed to have locked his muscles before has eased up a bit. His grip is no longer vice-like so is easier to let his finger slip away from it, even it pains him to do so.

He looks small like this and it unsettles Evan. It brings back too many memories of nightmares and shared midnights when they were younger and closer to each other. It's Jared being eight and sick but with a house as empty as Evan's tended to be, begging him to visit him and not covering the hurt when he actually got there. It's Jared crying in his room after his parents fought and screaming at Evan to leave him alone, voice grand and frightening but body barely holding on. 

“Fucking hell, Evan,” Jared mutters and Evan focus shifts back to him, to now. “I hate Snatchers.”

Evan laughs and pretends not to hear how unhinged it sounds, ignores the way Connor frowns and Zoe grimances because of it. They should have gone when he told them to. Alana should be better at controlling her powers, with all the boasting and bragging she did hours before about her good grades in those classes. 

There is movement to his right and Evan's eyes narrow, feels the heat rising and engulfing him, taking hold and molding him. It circles in his forearms and settles there before jumping off, circling the fleeting figure, making the boy curse, his voice watery and pathetic.

“What the fuck, man?” It's like a fork against one of his mom's favorite plates and the fire shows Evan's discontent by brightening, “You told me to stay away!”

“Didn't say you could leave.” Evan stands up and stalks forward, the part of him that is frightened drowning over the anger ringing in his ears. “You are coming with us and explaining what you did.”

“I didn't mean to!” He cries and the fire hisses, making him shield his eyes from it. “It happens sometimes. I tried to give it back and you didn't let me!” He flickers and there is a disgruntled sound behind Evan. “I can help!”

“You are not even registered,” Evan reminds him. “Snatchers have to register no matter the year.”

A step back from the boy and the fire roars, sprinklers activating because of it.

“They will kick me out,” His voice is barely heard over the forming steam, “They will say something else but they will kick me out.”

His form disappears and no noise is heard behind Evan. Alana is gone with Jared, then. 

“Evan,” Connor's voice is stern and Evan laughs because, what right does he has to say anything? He could have helped. “You need to let the fire go.”

Evan glances back and Zoe is not longer there. That might explain why no one had tried to counter him. 

“It was an accident.” It's meek and the boy is back, breathing harsh. “I didn't mean to. I didn't ask for it. I didn't mean to. I swear.”

Connor is next to him and then he is not, walking towards the ring of fire as if he can't see it. 

“Stay away!” Evan screams but the only person to flinch is the one he doesn't care about.

“Put it down, Evan.” Connor threatens, not stopping. 

Evan can't breathe. “So you would walk into a fire for this kid you don't even know, but you couldn't…” He doesn't owe him the right of secrecy. Not when Connor saw Jared wringing with pain and stood there, priorities clearly exposed. “Jared is my friend even he is not yours.” 

“Put. It. Down.” He is going to walk into it. Evan is going to burn him alive.

He tries. He swears he tries. “Connor!” It makes Connor falters. “I can't, I can't put it down.” 

There is pure rage in Connor's eyes when he turns, the fire behind him suiting him so well than for a second Evan forgets it's actually his own.

“You are going to suffocate him!” Evan is going to throw up. “Put it down!”

There are footfalls running in their direction. Evan tugs and drags and moves his hands, but there is no anger and there is no control left. Connor eyes the fire and Evan sees the boy, collapsed and surrounded and he knows this scene. He remembers the heat. He moves forwards, not seeing and yanking Connor's arm when it latches on his own. The fire licks his body and it doesn't burn him as he reaches the center. 

It dims, when he is standing there, but is not gone. He hauls the boy to carry him out. He doesn't even know his name. 

He has to fix this. 

Mr. Adler's voice and his shitty lessons do nothing for him but waste time. He can't focus on an emotion that is no longer there. Or it is, only directed at himself instead. Evan has never been good with anger. 

Shouting usually helps.

It burns his throat to do so but he does it anyway. Sees the embers dancing and slowing. Tries again and again and again and again. He rushes out when they are gone. 

Connor reaches for the boy, careful in not touching skin. 

Evan lets himself fall against the lockers. Welcomes the darkness when it cling to him, hoping that all of this was nothing more than a very bad dream.