Trigger Warning: Self hate and suicidal ideation

These Broken Parts - Chapter 16

The weird thing was, Connor had kind of forgotten about going to school until his Mom reminded him to pack his bag on Sunday evening. Apparently she'd already e-mailed every one of his teachers, and arranged for them to send him the slideshows and worksheets he'd missed out on over the past few weeks. She reckoned with some hard work it shouldn't take him too long to catch up. He didn't know how to tell her he'd barely been scraping by even when he'd been going to lessons.

But he had to go back, and it wasn't up for debate, that much had been clear from Larry pushing an extra slice of toast towards him over the breakfast table, to, "Keep your energy up for today, you know?"

The one negotiable factor had been how he got there: he was still forbidden to so much as think of driving anything with wheels on it, but that didn't mean he wanted his Mom to drop him right at the gate and walk him to class like he was the pre-schooler she still saw him as. So he was allowed to walk, on the condition that Zoe walked with him to make sure he didn't bunk off or throw himself into the road on the way, and although she didn't protest, she also didn't hide the way her gaze drifted longingly towards the moped parked in the driveway as they left the house. (It had been a 16th birthday present, although she didn't often ride to school except for when she was entirely out of patience with her brother. She'd been riding it a little more frequently since Connor's incident.)

I'm the biggest damn inconvenience. He almost wanted to say so aloud when he noticed her wandering glance, hopeful that perhaps she might take it as being halfway to an apology for burdening her, but he didn't dare - that was the sort of thing she would definitely report back to their parents. The kind of thing that would make Cynthia insist it was no trouble at all to drive him herself. So the siblings walked in silence for most of the way, only disturbed by the sounds of dragging boots scuffing on the ground and breathing made heavy from lugging a guitar over one shoulder. They reached the gate and Connor visibly tensed:

The last time I was here I was ready to die. There was no escaping that. Everything within him was trying to run in the opposite direction, pleading for him to leave and never come back to the arena of scorn and judgment again. The last time I ran away from here I tried to top myself. His sharp shoulders curled even further in, and his loping gait paused.

"You okay?" Zoe leaned forwards, to look at his blank, narrowed eyes even though they remained firmly fixed on the area beyond the school gate. "It'll be fine, you just need to do it."

Gee, thanks, he thought wryly, but bit his tongue. He wasn't really in the mood for sarcasm. Instead, he mumbled, "'Kay," and pulled at the strap of his satchel, adjusting it, before resuming his purposeful strides. Zoe had to double her pace to keep up with his long legs, but she didn't dare part from him until she could be sure he'd made it into the building. At least then she could defend that she'd done her job in delivering him safely, no matter what came to follow. She accompanied him all the way to the door of his homeroom, making sure to avoid straying too close to group of gossiping kids on the way, before she checked, "I'm gonna go now. Is that okay?"

"Sure." He nodded, passive, and his averted eyes hid the anxiety glittering within them. "Have fun."

"You too." She grimaced, sucking air through her teeth in uncomfortable anticipation of the chaos he might encounter on his first day back; she'd barely been able to manage the questions and the stares herself. Even she had snapped at her interrogators, and Zoe was always the better of them at brushing things off. Guessing how her volatile brother would respond to something wasn't ever a safe bet, but from her own experiences it wasn't unreasonable to expect things wouldn't go particularly well.

They were agreed on that much.

Regardless of his low expectations, he hadn't imagined it would go downhill quite as quickly as it did. The moment he walked in, he identified his usual desk by the cluster of cards and yet another foil balloon floating above it. Why do people keep giving me balloons? Seriously, do I look like someone who likes balloons? One hand reached instinctively to adjust the strap of his satchel, the other pushed his hair back, and he walked to his desk at the back of the room, cringing to grab the balloon and remove it before the ominous floating made him feel too claustrophobic. For all his hatred of them, he couldn't stand to hear them pop, so he snapped the string tying it to his chair and forced the balloon through the window, releasing it into the wild. He took a seat, turned the get well soon cards face down, and pulled his headphones out of his bag. He would block out the emptiness of the classroom, and then he would block out the noise when it filled up. He checked the time just as he plugged the wire into his phone, 8:14, which gave him 16 minutes until homeroom started, 31 minutes until his first lesson, and 406 minutes until he could leave.

He pressed play, closed his eyes.

Opened them again immediately because he couldn't stand not being able to see when he was at school - you can never really tell who's around, who you can trust not to stick out their foot or knock into your shoulder or whisper about you as you pass.

Or who would walk in and plant themselves right next to him with a bright grin and a breezy, deliberately loud sigh.

He winced when Alana sat down beside him, wildly uncomfortable before she even said a word. She was in his homeroom group, but generally she didn't exist in close enough proximity for him to have noticed her there much, even on those few days he did show up for morning registration. She'd given him a Christmas card last year, he thought, and she'd let him use her chemistry revision flashcards in the summer, when he was doing his last-minute cramming before their test. Oh right, we were lab partners last year. He'd known he was keeping her grades down with his half-assed practicals. She never called him out on it, though, and sometimes she laughed when he let sarcastic comments slip out under his breath, which was kinda cool. He hadn't much known what to make of her then. He definitely didn't right now.

He turned to look pointedly out of the window, willing her to disappear, hoping his music would drown out the drumming of her fingers on the desk. It didn't. It also didn't seem to discourage her from trying to make chitchat.

"Hey Connor, good morning."

No such luck. "Hi."

"It's getting cold, isn't it? I know it's only September but I swear I'm going to have to start wearing a winter coat in, like, a week." She coughed, unsure of herself, but refused to let it show on her face, even if he still had his back to her, determined not to see her. "Still, I think you've got the right idea, with all those layers. I always manage to misjudge it at this time of year, I'll leave the house in a shirt and a sweater and by break time I'm boiling, you know?" She laughed, leaning towards him. He cringed, but could no longer afford to ignore her - she was too close for him to feel safe. "But at least the sun is -"

"I don't really care about the weather," Connor said, his words dragging on the ground in much the same way his feet had been on the way in. He had to watch his behaviour, since he knew everyone else would be; he couldn't afford to blow up, to lay into some girl who decided to sit next to him, or she'd probably demand he was expelled permanently. At the very least he could be sure his parents would hear about it - not that he didn't expect they'd requested updates on whatever he was doing anyway. The thought of that made his heart thump a little harder.

Alana at least had the decency to look subdued by his comment. She nodded. "Yes... I know. I just thought you wouldn't want to talk about what happened just yet."

What Happened. So everyone knows all about What Happened. Of fucking course they do, they had a whole assembly about it, didn't they, I forgot. His throat was tightening, his brain raced. And they've all been talking about What Happened, spreading shit about things they don't understand, and writing me stupid cards, and bugging the hell out of Zoe, all because they were so fucking desperate to get in on What Happened. He felt a stinging behind his eyes, and choked out, "What do you want?"

"To give you this." She had a backpack on her lap, he noticed, and she reached into it, pulling out a brand-new binder, purple with white polka dots and a yellow cartoon bumblebee in the corner. He liked purple. A paranoid part of him hoped wildly that her colour choice was only a coincidence. She pushed it towards him and flipped open the cover, hurriedly explaining, "I thought it might help you to have copies of all my notes so far, with you having missed so much. Or I mean, not so much, it's not like you won't catch up or anything, I only thought this might make it easier. And I know we have some different teachers and I don't know what subjects you do, but hopefully you'll be able to use most of this? If - only if - you want to?"

He narrowed his eyes and finally allowed them to flit over her, searching for a sign that she was mocking him. Wide-eyed, hopeful sincerity smiled tentatively back at him. He flicked through the pages, noting that they had been photocopied in colour to allow him to make full use of the coded highlighting and underlining she'd used throughout. And it was a nice thing. His lab partner who's chemistry grade had been pulled down from an A+ to just an A because of his ineptitude had done a genuinely nice, helpful thing for him. He swallowed, caught short by her stubbornly buoyant warmth trying to penetrate his carefully crafted exterior. Alana was smiling at him, why won't she stop smiling, and he couldn't let himself meet her gaze as he mumbled, "Thanks."

Apparently that was the only encouragement she needed to lean even closer and slip a pamphlet towards him. "I also thought you might like this."

And... That's my face. It was an old picture, maybe taken two years ago, when his hair was just about short enough that old ladies didn't tut at him when they were queuing behind him at the store, and it took up half of the front page. The rest was filled with text, The Connor Project. And he'd heard that name, he'd seen it written on the balloons at the hospital, his parents had mentioned it when they told him about the assembly that had kept them occupied when he first woke up, but he hadn't thought to ask what it actually was, hadn't ever considered it would be a thing when he went back to school. He turned to Alana, less reserved this time, shoulders drawing closer to his neck as he asked, "What's this?"

"It's... The Connor Project?" She blinked, confused. "I thought you'd already heard. It's a group, a support group we set up to honour you, we had our launch just over a week ago and there's been a lot of interest. We've had people come along to talk, you know, about you?"

"About me?" Well that's something straight out of a dystopian novel. And why does this type of bullshit feel so familiar? His eyes went wide, incredulous, then narrowed. His mouth twisted into a thin line of discomfort, paranoia whispered in his mind, talking about you, lying about you, laughing about you, would you believe it our local psycho tried to top himself, it's about time he tried to do the right thing, bet his family wish they hadn't found him, better luck next time.

Even blind optimism couldn't shield the girl from how bad of a reaction was brewing. "Y-yeah, but all positive things, mostly people talking about how they want you to get better, and how they never knew you were struggling like that but now they do they want to help support you. And each other. It's been a really difficult time for everyone -"

"Everyone didn't go through what I went through," Connor countered, his voice becoming higher and thinner, throat slowly constricted by the lump pressing prominently backwards, "They don't know, and you don't know, and none of you have any fucking business in trying to guess." His voice cracked. He shifted his jaw, trying to pretend it hadn't.

"But we didn't..." She shrank within herself, but stoically tried to defend, "It wasn't like that, honestly. You've really brought the school together, and now we're trying to make something good -"

"Wow. You know, that's actually unbelievable."

Those words, hollow and thin, made her nervous; they were as expressionless as his face, and she struggled to identify emotions at the best of times, so it put her distinctly on edge. She hesitated, and it was Connor who went on to fill the silence:

"I don't think I've ever met someone with such a big ego problem - you're something else. Round of applause for you, honestly."

She jolted into action, reaching for his arm before pulling her hand away again and leaving it hovering back and forth between them in the air like a wasp that can't quite find the window it flew in through, her tongue tripping over itself a mile a minute, "No, oh my god please don't say that." She was just as anxious as he was, only with her the emotions overflowed, violently threatening to submerge the both of them in guilt and fear, "Oh gosh, you're upset, but Connor listen, I was honestly only trying to help your -"

" - Could you really not use your big head to think for just one second about how I would feel about it? You're using my name, for fuck's sake, do you really think I want that? How the hell am I meant to live a normal life if the first thing people think about when they see me is your fucking suicide gossip club?" He laughed dangerously, his eyes stinging but blazing even so, throwing his head back and allowing the vicious grin to remain firmly on his lips as he barked, "Fuck that. Fuck you."

Alana's mouth had dropped open helplessly, but she found herself unable to reach for anything more to say before he scraped his chair backwards with a harsh whine and stood, hunched forward as he stormed out of his homeroom, leaving his ex-lab partner, and her carefully compiled peace offering, gaping after him. The leaflet he kept hold of; he had more than a few questions about it, and an idea of just who he needed to ask.

So homeroom was a write-off, but also probably the least important feature of the American Education System. For the most part, he did pretty well over the rest of the day, all things considered. The encounter with Alana had been a cruel awakening to just how invested the people he despised had become in his life, and although it would definitely be an overstatement to say things improved from there on out, it wouldn't be entirely accurate to say things got worse. At least he was prepared, now, for the nature of people's requests. He did a decent job at ignoring most, replying with sarcasm to some, and scaring away other unspoken questions with glares.

It was five minutes to the end of the lunch period, and the bell had just rang to say so, when he was presented with the opportunity to ask some questions of his own.

Evan was walking along the corridor in the opposite direction, and it was clear he clocked Connor the second he turned the corner, from the way he instantly dropped his gaze and changed his course, breaking off into another hallway. So now you decide it's convenient to actually do what you promised you would do and stay away from me. I guess it's neither of our lucky days. Connor took the same turning to follow him, into the quieter corridor - most people were still in the canteen. This was a roundabout way to walk, and the sole reason Evan had taken it was his determination to avoid Connor. Even so, he halted when Connor called out to him, "Hey Evan Hansen! Wait up!"

He didn't try to run away or hide, merely turned, entire body betraying his anxiety, to face the other boy. "Hi. What do you need?"

He owes me so much, the least he can give is an explanation. Connor reached into his pocket and produced the offending pamphlet he'd saved, and held it at arm's length just before Evan's eyes. "You, to tell me what this is."

Evan peeked over the pamphlet, and immediately decided it was better to pretend to study the page than to spend more than half a second looking at those blank eyes."The Connor Project? Didn't I... It's, it's this thing, like a charity, o-or well a group, really, me and Alana and Jared, we set it up, because we saw, a-after people started to open up more when they found out what happened to you, that maybe a lot of people needed, uh, something, a place to talk? Like, a-about their feelings, and, and to learn about mental health problems." He was speaking too quickly, the words blurring into each other, incapable of remaining calm when a boy with potent rage gradually leaking out of him was stood just inches away.

Connor shook his head, pulse pounding in his veins. His jaw tensed, sharp and angular and a little off-centre, quietly accusatory as he said, "Alana told me people were using it to talk about me."

"Yes!" Seeing a crease mar Connor's strained brow, he quickly amended, "No. Sorry, uh, yes, but not in a bad way, though, just a-as a starting point, to talk about how they feel? It's, if you came along you'd see, it's a good thing, we're helping - it's going to help - a whole load of, of..." the words dried up like fallen leaves and crumbled into dust as Connor's arm dropped to his side, the leaflet wrinkling with the pressure of his sharp white fingers tightening on it.

A nail picked at the fold along the middle, slowly ripping the panels apart.

"Y-your parents, they liked it. They think it's a great idea."

"Oh! Well in that case I guess it's all-fucking-right to use me to push your agenda - to get people to talk like they have any idea what it's like to be just... just this!" A tearing sound, and one panel fell to the ground. He didn't even know for sure what this really was. For a moment - mouth shifting between a scowl and a grimace, eyes glistening and wild - he looked like he might cry. And then he flipped inside out, the loathing and pain he was feeling turning in on himself, and he grinned. It was kind of funny, when he thought of it, the way his mind's automatic reflex to feeling that kind of anger was to twist it around and direct it inwards.

Evan's feet shuffled backwards, not so much that it made any difference other than to make it abundantly clear how uncomfortable he felt. "There was... I-I'm sorry. I didn't mean. Okay. I just, it's not like, I mean it's just... People were already talking about you. The Con - The Project - it's our way to try and make something good out of all the bad. I'm sorry, and, and you should be mad because we made the focus of it a bit too much about you, but it won't be, if that's - obviously you don't like it - it's definitely, uh, changing to be more about education. I'll make sure, and Alana, she's great at directing the meetings, so..." He took a breath. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you before."

Connor backed away, slowly. The resentment flickered out so easily, and as soon as he had something of an answer he sensed his mind glazing over in much the same way his eyes already had, utterly disengaged. What does it matter - what does any of it matter? It makes no difference, everyone already knows I'm screwed up in the brain. His voice wasn't softer, merely devoid of that hot hate when he asked, "What else did you leave out? Or is that it?"

It reminded Evan of a heartbroken little kid. His gut knotted uneasily. "What do you... I already told you most of everything..."

"No, I don't think you did," he persisted, increasingly forceful, his head extending confrontationally closer, "Because you forgot all about your club, and I still don't really get why people believed in all of your bullshit, and I need to know if that's everything."

Evan's mouth twitched, trembled, contorted; then it released everything in a gaggle of breathy whispers. "I think I didn't tell you about the e-mails? Yeah, I said we wrote e-mails and then I made a ton of fake ones to prove it. I, uh, they were mostly just stupid friendly things, they weren't really important. And then Zoe, it didn't seem fair on you for her to be so nasty when you were maybe dying, so I told her you loved her but you just didn't know how to show it - there was a line, I don't know if you remember, in the letter that kinda said... Anyway. I've mostly just been repeating the same things? It's... it's not as bad as you think." Connor's expression didn't shift at all. "Okay it's , I know it's definitely a lot but it's good, n-nice things, I didn't say anything bad. You came across really great."

"Right." Because me just being, say, me, obviously isn't good enough. Of course it's not good enough, that's not a shocker, but for a creep who's stalked my sister and made up a whole other life for attention to decide that I'm the one who's too messed up to be acceptable? Ouch. The only movement Connor was aware of was the trembling emanating from his chest. "So that's why they're being nice to me. Because you told them I was a good person."

"What?" Connor's quiet rage took a full second to hit Evan, when he tried to argue, "No, no, they care about you, they're being nice because they want you to -"

"You don't know them! You don't know them, you have no clue what they're like!" Mania was beginning to make his words leap and shake. "You think you get it after spending a couple weeks with them on their best behaviour, but you don't know! You don't get what it's like to live in a house with people who can only -" he stopped himself suddenly, flailing arms freezing along with his torrent of words. His mouth snapped shut, and he straightened, stiff again. His voice was equally controlled as he said slowly, "I'm not gonna tell you more about it. You don't get to know about all the crap they like to pull. But you also don't get to act like you have a clue, alright? You don't know shit."

He shouldered his way past Evan, deliberately catching him with a bony elbow despite the empty hall. He didn't even sound fazed when Evan heard him say, "And what the hell do you want?"

"To give you this, again, and to ask what you're playing at." Zoe's affronted reply commanded Evan to whip around to see that she was just a little way behind him. Connor noticed the prying eyes at the edge of his peripheral vision, but he was preoccupied with taking the folder his sister shoved forcefully into his arms before he could compel Evan to leave. Her irritation didn't relent as she demanded, "What the actual hell, Connor? Alana just told me what you said to her, and I think she was barely managing to keep it together. You really upset her. She was doing a nice thing - actually she's done a lot of nice things for you - and even then you just can't help yourself, can you? You have to go and shit all over anyone who tries to be nice - Alana Beck, Connor, I don't think she's ever said a single bad thing to anyone!"

Zoe's opinion on Alana's interest in her family had been drastically revised since the day the other girl first approached her with her blog, and not just because she'd become open to the prospect of supporting her brother: she recognized what Alana had done, for someone who she had no apparent reason to pour her time and energy into, from organising a flower drive for the family to the fundraising efforts she'd made to support troubled young people, to running the Connor Project meetings. And now she'd taken it upon herself to singlehandedly try to get Connor up to speed on all he'd missed, proving her efforts weren't just a performative way to capitalize on a tragedy; her respect for her was at an all-time high. Any thoughts she had on her brother were steadily stretching to reach a new low.

"Yeah well, she shouldn't have bothered. I didn't ask for any of these nice things," his gaze fell on Evan, still watching from beyond Zoe's shoulder, and his nose wrinkled in a sneer. "It's all bullshit. I don't want anything to do with it. None of it's real."

Zoe stepped back, visibly bracing herself before she exploded. "That folder filled with notes seems pretty real! The Connor Project meeting that was so full they had to bring in extra chairs seems pretty real! The thousands of dollars Mom and Dad paid to make sure you had the best possible care seems pretty real, so do Mom and Dad, a-and Evan, and me! I don't, I don't understand you! Are you trying to mess everything up again?"

"Sorry to disappoint, but I already am mess-"

"No, can you cut the melodramatic crap for one minute?" She couldn't stop now she'd started, even though she hated arguing in school, she hated causing a scene, "You can't just say things like that, that's not a good fucking argument. You could be better. I know it because I saw it when I bought you a sandwich last week. I know we weren't there for you before, we're all sorry for that, but we're putting in the effort. At least you could try and do the same."

You don't know how hard I'm trying. There was a fire in his throat, and the smoke was stinging his eyes. With absolute conviction, every word was emphasized as he said "Screw you, Zoe." Strangely enough, his confrontational attitude had been blown away like mist in daylight. What remained was a cold, damp, all-encompassing feeling of defeat. He stared straight past her and walked away, the folder still in his hands.

Wordlessly, Zoe turned around to face Evan, helplessness written there plainly now the target for her anger was gone. She had no words left in her, but her eyes were perfectly vocal, Now do you see what he's like? What are we meant to do?

"H-He," the habit of defending him activated automatically, "it's been a really tough day for him. He didn't, he doesn't mean that. He'll, it will be better, if you can just... I don't know." He tried for a moment to think, but could only continue with pitiful honesty, "I don't know what he needs. I-I have no idea. But I think he's really hurting, a-and..." What would you do if you felt like you think Connor feels? The answer struck him like a hard slap, ferocious and brutal, and he knew, "I don't think he should be on his own."

"He was yelling at you, too, wasn't he, before I came?" There was a deep sadness in Zoe's eyes.

That's what the total absence of hope looks like, he realized. "He just, he needs someone right now," Evan repeated, his certainty growing. It wasn't his job any more, it had never really been his place anyway, but just like that he knew Connor was in need and he was the person in the best position to provide. I owe him, I have to, "I have to go." His feet were carrying him swiftly past Zoe in spite of her half-hearted protests and the hand reaching for his, tracing the route Connor had taken barely a minute before. Along the corridor, around the corner, and out through the fire exit, breaking into the outside air in pursuit of a boy determined to be alone.

Evan caught up with Connor before he got too far away, still walking down the long road the school stood on. He broke into a light jog the minute he was out of sight of the school grounds, his trainers smacking noisily on the tarmac as he hurried to match Connor's purposeful strides. The sound gave the taller boy plenty of warning before Evan appeared at his side.

Deliberately dismissive, he tried to ignore the new presence and increase his pace, hoping he'd soon give up. But four streets later, with his breath coming heavier than he'd like and Evan still determinedly struggling to keep up, his patience was wearing thin. And since his companion was showing he couldn't take a hint, he was left with no alternative but to ask, "What do you want, Evan Hansen?"

The boy tripped, maybe surprised he was actually being addressed, and swiftly tried to save it, straightening up and replying, "You seemed upset. I didn't think you should... be alone?"

Even Connor's laugh held biting sarcasm. Evan was vaguely reminded of Zoe's dry, frustrated tone as the boy mocked, "Wow, you are so right. And you're exactly the person I wanted to see! That's two out of two for you, and that's really a score you can brag about." He pulled his jacket tighter around him, determined to shut out the cold. To shut out everything. His face was set hard, already frozen in the September chill. Evan flinched away like Connor's sharp, jutting edges could cut him.

He wasn't totally naive, despite the mistakes he kept making which suggested otherwise: he knew Connor wouldn't stop trying to drive him away permanently, but that didn't mean Evan had to keep making him believe he was a threat. "Y-you don't have to, to do that, okay? The whole... I'm not here to judge, or whatever, so you don't..." need to keep pushing me away? Acting like I'm your enemy? But you have every right to feel like that because I am an idiot. He settled for the truth, for once. "I just thought you could use the company."

"Gee, thanks." The tense joviality fell out of his words as Connor reiterated, "I don't want you here. What more can you possibly want from me?"

"N-nothing. I just need to be sure you're alright and not running off to do something stupid." Wow, way to condescend.

"And who the hell are you?" Connor's snarling laughter tore like claws through Evan's attempt to connect. He pushed a tangled clump of hair back behind his ear to make sure the other boy couldn't miss his glare as he warned, "You know, stalkers don't generally get to use emotional dependency as an excuse for being creeps."

"N-no, no. I'm not a stalker, I'm, I-I'm worried. About you. I know it must be hard -"

"I thought we'd already clarified that you don't know anything about anything." The hair dropped back into place, and Connor's hand fell back down to his side. His footsteps quickened again, just slightly.
Evan considered letting him go, his own feet stalling as the thought crossed his mind.

Connor was two feet away but already he looked so distant he could have been a stranger. Keep going. "I know you'd be making a mistake if you just turned your back on the progress you've made - you've all made." His unwilling companion was unrelenting in his desire to escape, and Evan had to jog once again to catch up, hastily adding, "Obviously you're not all better yet. I mean I don't know if that's what you think I'm thinking, but I'm not, a-and I don't want you to think I think everything's all okay, I never said that. But like, you're c-clean, right? And I know y-your parents are still talking to you, and oh, Zoe, Zoe must care or she, she wouldn't waste her time going to yell at you."

"Ah yes: the pinnacle of sibling affection." He grimaced, drily sceptical. "Zoe only cares because I'm an embarrassment to her. Everyone can see it." He pressed his lips together, shooting a displeased glance to Evan. "Everyone, except you. I'll chalk that up to your general inability to communicate with real people."

That's... He doesn't mean - no, he definitely does. That's a fair comment, it's okay Evan, it's okay. He swallowed, steadying himself. He remained valiantly calm as he insisted, "They're all trying to find a way to reach you." And if you could just stop being so edgy for one minute you might actually notice. Evan's damp palms curled into tight little fists, his fingernails pressing bluntly into flesh.

"They're doing a piss-poor job at it." Dismissive, as ever. And ignorant of Evan sucking in air and squaring his shoulders.

"Yeah well, at least they're trying."

"Easy for you to say," Connor shook his head, despising Evan more with every step.

"Easy for you to ignore, right?" Evan countered. A burst of jealousy spurred him on, and he became unusually harsh as he criticized, "I get that it's not your fault you can't help but shut them out, but it wouldn't kill you to try and recognize how lucky you are to have a family to reject. Your sister found you; your parents camped out for weeks in a hospital. Maybe - okay, yeah - it shouldn't have taken you nearly dying for them to show how much you matter, but it's just like that sometimes. You can't always see what's in front of you but that doesn't mean they don't care. They're ready to front up to your drug problem and whatever else is going wrong in your mind - I know that's true - and you're not even, y-you don't get to pretend you're totally deprived of that. You're lucky, you've been so lucky, Connor. I know they're far from perfect, but they're there and they're trying, and that's a hell of a lot more than other people get!"

A crack and a thump and his arm was folded underneath him, burning on the outside and cold within like a badly cooked microwave meal. There were blades of grass poking his nose, but he didn't dare to move away because he'd read his mom's healthcare book when he was little and at just that moment he remembered you weren't meant to move around after a trauma. And he thought he probably wasn't dead because if he was dead he wouldn't remember reading one of his mom's healthcare books when he was little, but he wasn't completely certain he was alive either, because the ground had punched the breath right out of him and he wasn't convinced it was coming back. The sun glinted mischievously through the dappled leaves, taunting, mocking, so high, so high, but not high enough.

High enough that it had been a long fall. He'd been able to count his heartbeats, except he lost his place when he hit the ground. But he was sure it was a long fall. Someone would have seen. Someone would have heard, if he'd made a sound, he'd probably screamed, most people would have screamed, but then most people would have been afraid of dying, did I make a sound? The crack had reverberated right through him, but he didn't know if it had gone any further. Someone had to come, because he needed a living person to tell him he wasn't quite dead, and all he had was the sun laughing at him. But there was nothing, no sound, nobody coming, so maybe he wasn't alive after all.
So high, so high, but not high enough.

Connor had stopped walking about halfway through Evan's rant, to watch him, unwavering, telling him bluntly of the privilege he'd been served with his second chance. For the briefest of moments, he thought he saw a shadow fall across the other boy's features, genuine, absolute desperation and loneliness and envy, but in a heartbeat it had vanished, leaving him in doubt.

After a long moment: "I didn't think you had it in you, Evan Hansen."

Evan's glazed eyes flickered, then instantly dropped. "S-sor..." at a withering glance he corrected, "Wait, no. I mean yes, I am, you know. But I guess you're impressed and I'm ruining it trying to apologise. Right? O-or I mean not impressed but -"

"Pretty much." Connor continued walking, slower this time. He was amused in spite of himself at the smaller boy's tirade, even if it was unmistakably not one of those laughing with you situations, but one of the laughing at you ones. "How'd you guess?"

"Uh, luck, mostly?" He tried, only to realize that technically that counted as a lie. "And, and because your sister said the same thing, and you look just like her when she did."

Just when he was beginning to hope Connor might be thawing around the sharpest points, he fell quiet. Which Evan was used to in a way, but at least when Connor had been comatose, he hadn't been using the silence to think up judgemental things about Evan. His acquaintance prepared himself as Connor slowly said, "It sounds like the two of you really bonded - but I noticed you left that part out."

"I-I didn't think that mattered." His hands were reaching for the hem of his jacket, twisting in and grinding the coarse fabric into his soft fingers. He was in a closet in the dark, a cabinet pressing into his back and salt dripping into his mouth as his nose collided with Zoe's, and somewhere, Connor was waking up. Please don't ask me to tell you.

"It doesn't." Connor considered it, frowning. "I'm just saying you suck at telling the whole truth. Kinda weird, 'cuz you also suck at lying. But I guess it makes sense how you and Zoe get along so well: Both of you are full of shit, you deserve each other." It didn't seem spiteful. More flatly indifferent, and it was strange to Evan how quickly his anger could flicker out and then reignite just as swiftly. But Connor was calm when he looked towards his companion and firmly added, "Although that's not an invitation. Don't think I forgot about what you wrote about her. That note was messed up."

Evan cringed. "That's true, but please remember I never meant for you to find it."

Connor stopped, turning around to face the smaller boy. He definitely didn't seem angry any more so much as truly curious. Despair, he thought he'd glimpsed it. Maybe he'd caught sight of the same kind of vast chasm as existed within his own mind when peering into Evan's. Maybe. "Let's try something. It's an exercise I think will be helpful for you, right, I'm going to ask you a question and you can give me a full answer, the whole truth this time: Why did you write something like that, Evan Hansen?"

With eyes upon him, he couldn't turn to face Connor. With his head bowed and feet dragging, the mumbled words dropped out messily as he tried to answer. "The letter? It wasn't... I have to. I was told to, like a month ago it's... a thing, a, an assignment? For my appointments with a-a therapist. I've been, uh, meeting with her for a few months. and she said, she thought that trying, you know, to write something positive, like sort of a pep talk, for myself every day, t-that would help a bit. Make me more confident - I'm not most of the time. I have, uh, problems. In some situations. Uh, like, with people? Talking to them, or like also being around people and not talking to them, and retreating as a-a defence mechanism, and, and the feeling that it's all wrong. And I was trying," He swallowed, You don't know how hard I was trying, "to do it properly, stay positive, but it was a bad day and a shitty letter."

"Which is why it read like a suicide note." Connor finished the thought Evan didn't even allow himself to think.

"I guess so? I know it's weird." He tried a smile, but settled for a pitiful shrug. "I hope it's gonna help me. I mean, I don't really know yet, I don't feel much different, but I know the drugs mostly seem to do their job, and I think with time, maybe therapy will be useful too, you know? You... I don't know, maybe when you get the chance, y-you should try it?" It might help. Although maybe up shouldn't say it. I definitely shouldn't say it, that wasn't my place, I crossed the line, shit, don't, don't get mad. Please.

The anger had already been almost entirely drained, and any left would have been watery and thin. Not for wasting on stupid suggestions. He was somewhat blank replying, "I don't believe in it. Not for me, anyway."

"You never gave it a real chance.", he had to protest before his sanity return to swiftly sew his lips together. His wispy courage disintegrated at once as he lowered his gaze to his trainers and hoped maybe his reply hadn't been noticed. But then Connor's laceless boots slipped away from his vision, and when he turned, the boy was staring once more, in utter disbelief:

"And we're back on this crap. You don't know what I've been going through, alright? Just when I thought..." His mystified voice hardened. "You're a fucking tool." He took a step backwards, cautious, like he was waiting to observe and check if maybe this time, when he walked away he wouldn't be followed. Evan made no move, and he took another step away.

"A-and you're selfish." Shit.

"What?" Connor stopped his retreat, jutting forwards confrontationally instead. He didn't look dissimilar to when he'd shoved Evan in the hall, but this time, Evan had actually done something that warranted Connor's irritation, so he was ready to defend himself, albeit with a tremble to his words.

"Y-yeah, you're selfish, it's, it's like you're too determined to stay this mysterious loner to even try something new that might actually help you. You can't just stay like this forever, okay, or it will, it will kill you." Too strong, too dramatic and harsh, shit, shit -

"Let's hope." Connor half-smiled at the thought, unoffended by the lack of tact.

It made Evan regret every single criticism, and his stomach clenched with guilt. Genuinely hurt, he implored, "Don't say that."

"Don't say that! I already told you how much I hate you lying." His voice was rising again, and Evan was at a loss.

"I'm not -"

"Pretending to care is a fucking lie." There was a darkness haunting Connor's sharp features, telling tales of an entire life spent around people who pretended to care: his Mom and the stupid fads she got into only because her friends were into it, his dad's inability to leave his work at the office however much he promised to change, Zoe fixating on her solos for jazz band when he knew she didn't even really like jazz music. Lies, every last one, maybe not the kind that would ever be plainly stated, but still the kind of lies that were not true, self-deceptions if not lies to others. And now Evan.

Pacing forward to close the gap between them, forcefully he said, "I need you to stop. Screw that, I need you to leave me alone."

"I can't." That does sound like something a stalker would say. No, okay, "I-I will, but, but not until I'm sure -"

"What the hell do I have to do? Ignore you, hit you, shove you into the fucking traffic?" His face hovered inches above Evan's, angry and resentful, with only that great cavernous despair in his eyes. He meant it.

But Evan welcomed that. He gave him a long, calmly defiant look, Go on then, I dare you. "If you want." The challenge was a rarity, that was obvious even to a boy who'd had barely a handful of previous interactions with the teenager. Connor's tensed shoulders loosened and sank, diminished in his own resentment. He was backing down. Took a couple of steps back, closing in on himself once more. Evan hoped he didn't notice as the slightest stiffness eased out of him, replaced with relief. "Go home, Connor."

The boy hesitated, then sped away without a backwards glance.

Not for the first time since returning home, Connor was laid on his bed, hand pressed against his weed box, mumbling, trance-like, as he visualized the contents of it, willing it to miraculously refill. But of course, that, along with everything else that had ever taken the sharpness out of life, had been thrown away, the box left behind as a tortuous reminder of what he couldn't have.

It wasn't like people said it was, that his brain seemed to be calling out for the familiar fumes to fog it up and slow it's whirring, more that he hated how noisy his thoughts were, and he was desperate for something to muffle them for a while. His money box was empty, the contents put in his savings account to hide it away from him. He'd forgotten his password years ago, and online banking had never worked properly on his phone, even if his dealer would have accepted that as payment. He didn't even know how he'd get out if he had money anyway, but maybe he could have convinced him to do a delivery - he'd climbed up to the flat roof a couple of times before and delivered through the window, when Connor had been grounded. The more he thought of it, the more convinced he became that it would actually work.

The nonchalant way he strolled down to the kitchen was good enough even to fool himself that he wasn't doing anything wrong. That guise of innocence fell away the moment he saw what he told himself he wasn't looking for, however, and he didn't hesitate to snatch his Mom's bag from where it dangled over the back of her chair. It might not even be the right one, she would alternate between at least three at any one time, but even if her purse wasn't in this one she'd surely keep a few notes in one of the pockets. His hungry fingers dug into the bag, scraping the lining and finding no purse. Unrelenting, he delved into the pockets, refusing to be repulsed by the future destiny of the sanitary towels as he rifled through them for any stray twenties she'd kept aside. He felt wrinkled paper, and tugged it out, only to recognize exactly what it was:

Dear Evan Hansen,
Turns out this wasn't an amazing day after all.

He released the bag, allowing it to swing back down, and unfolded the letter completely. It had been a while since he'd seen it, he'd mostly forgotten what it contained, other than it mentioned his sister and that had made him mad.

He'd read it all the way through before. Not in the computer lab, later that evening, when he was back home, one hand absently rummaging around the weed box and deliberating whether that was the night to use something stronger to try and numb the pain indefinitely. And he'd known, at the time, and he'd pressed out the creases from where he'd scrunched it up earlier with his blunt nails and folded it back up neatly into a little rectangle, and slotted it into his shirt pocket, because he felt what the letter said. He wouldn't have bothered with a note of his own, but when someone else had already written everything he could have said, it seemed pointless to waste it.

He hadn't remembered how it made him feel until he read it that second time: understood, finally. Only, for Evan to actually be able to write that, surely he'd have to know what it was like to be staring at the world around you and seeing nothing, wishing the great emptiness would suck you in and take you away.

He remembered the hard insistence in the frightened boy's eyes as he dared him to push him into the road, and suddenly it wasn't so difficult to imagine Evan might know a little of what he was feeling.

He shoved that idea away as soon as he realized it, fervently determined to maintain his pitiless loathing of the boy. Of course he doesn't get it, not really. Melodramatic little shit probably just guessed lucky with this letter. Listened to some classic emo music and figured he understood.

The paper felt heavy in his hands, weighed down with multitudes of connotations. Mom will want this back, or it wouldn't still be in her bag. Carefully, he replaced it where he'd found it, re-zipped the pocket, and retreated, his craving forgotten. There was something else gnawing persistently at his brain now, a two-tiered thought:

One, his Mom still clearly treasured his so-called suicide note.

Two, Evan Hansen had somehow captured perfectly all of the loneliness and absolute despair he was feeling.

A/N: Hey kids, guess who's not dead! It's me and it's this story! I know it has been forever since I updated, but however long it takes for me to soldier through this, I really don't want to give up on it. I can't make any promises on when I'm next going to update because I'm about to head off to uni and I don't see myself getting less busy any time soon, but this story matters to me and if you've made it this far I hope you'll wait for me and stick it out to the bitter end. Thanks so much for reading, love to all of you x