A/N: Hello, DEH fandom! Long time lurker, first time poster. I'm sorry it's this.
Warning in advance for big suicide themes. Title comes from Cupid by Jack Stauber, and the art used for the cover is by cryptidw00rm on Tumblr!
Enjoy! Comments are appreciated!
It wasn't like nobody knew of Zoe's suffering — her brother's was just more noticeable.
Despite being the talent of the two, the model student with an A-B honor roll, the one with charisma and beauty, Zoe still lived in Connor's shadow — just not in the way one would expect. He was the problem child, the one who started fights when he wasn't glowering in the corner of class, just out of earshot of the school shooter jokes lobbed his way. Everyone knew about what a freak Connor Murphy was, about how he once threw a printer at a teacher, about how he bit another kid's arm until he bled in middle school, about how he was a ticking time bomb waiting to go off, to the point where it bled into her own life.
She was the sister of the local freakshow, and everyone knew that about her more than they did her jazz band accomplishments, or her grades, or hell, any of her other qualities. She was a prop in their fucked up narrative about Connor at best, if not another pretty girl to be weird about, lucky enough to hear people's whispers of whatever rumor of the week about her family was floating around. I heard Connor Murphy beats his sister, heard he put one of her boyfriends in the hospital, heard he uses her as an ashtray.
Chewing her lip, Zoe slammed her locker closed, pushing in her earbuds to drown out the imaginary whispers with the first song she could find on Spotify. Connor treated her like shit, and it wasn't like it was a secret — anyone could guess by looking at him that his antics didn't stop at school — but hearing it watered down like that made her blood boil. It was all exaggerated, sure, but what happened in her room when Connor was breaking down and barely lucid, when she became one of Pavlov's dogs freezing at the sound of her doorknob turning, wasn't something to be reduced to a scandalous sentence whispered her way — whether it was the truth or not.
It wasn't their life to pry into, and yet they did anyway, just itching for a tragedy to eat popcorn to. She couldn't be too angry, as it wasn't like any of them knew what this did to her, but that made it no less frustrating. Her life wasn't a play, and she wasn't their set piece, she was so much more than that. But denying it would only add fuel to the fire, so she only kept her head low, counting the tiles on the hallway floor as students began to file out for class.
She was resilient, of course. Bubbly and confident, the good child next to Connor's bad, and it wasn't a facade or farce, but there were times she felt just as damaged and lost as him — except she didn't have the mental illness, the reputation of a depressed and angry freak, to fall back on. It was selfish of her, she knew, but people paid far more mind to Connor's issues than hers, even throughout the rumors of injury and violence and even more unspeakable acts. He was broken, a roaring hurricane that destroyed everything around it, bloody fists and public breakdowns that would end up all over his classmates' Instagrams, but Zoe was merely chipped next to him. Something broken could be pieced back together, and that was all their parents thought about, but the dent in something chipped would remain hollow forever.
...God, she was feeling crappy today, huh? She wasn't sure where it came from, and that worried her. It was a sign that that crappiness was starting to become the norm, starting to overshadow the good parts of her life, as she became just how everyone at school saw her: a sad little damsel to prop next to Connor and marvel at the difference.
She couldn't let that happen, but even when she pushed her brother out of her mind to make music or draw or read those cheesy romance novels she liked so much, she felt the unspoken "if only Connor was like that" hang overhead. She was Dad's favorite, and Dad loved to show her off as an example to his unfavorite. "Why can't you be more like Zoe?" He'd always ask him, and Zoe wanted to scream, "like what?! Do you only love me because I'm not a trainwreck like him?!"
The mess it was, though, Zoe loved her family, and that was what kept her from screaming like she wanted. Her parents worked themselves down to the bone to keep Connor from flipping his lid, and who was she to make it harder for them? She wasn't broken like her brother — sucking up her whining while the real problems in the house were dealt with wasn't the end of the world.
"Hey, Zoe, what the fuck is this?"
Connor's voice was hard, with a humorless laugh to it, that sarcastic chuckle that was his passive-aggressive way of saying he was at his limit. Zoe learned to hide at the sound of that laugh, but she felt that there wasn't any good hiding could do for her as she pulled out an earbud to glance up from her bed.
She hadn't even heard him come in, otherwise he'd be shoved out, but there her brother was, bent over her laptop she definitely hadn't given him permission to use with an insulted look on his face. If her heart wasn't pounding out of her chest, she would've laughed at how stereotypical of a big-brother thing it was.
But she couldn't let that fear show — that only made him freak out more. Let whatever insults he'd lob at her roll off until he'd tired himself out. Turning her phone off for a moment, with that practiced steady and mildly-annoyed tone of hers she used with Connor more than his name, she replied, "what the fuck is what?"
His dark eyes flickered from the computer screen — too far away to catch anything in the reflection — to her, and he grabbed her laptop in his bony hands, making her think for a second he'd chuck it at her head as he showed the screen to her. A Notepad document, and one she recognized even halfway across the room. "This!"
Zoe's blood ran cold, her level-headed shield cracking in an instant as she yanked her remaining earbud out to stumble to her feet and run towards her desk. "None of your business!"
"Uh, yeah, it is! A goddamn suicide note?"
"It's none of your business!" Zoe repeated, voice higher and more strained, sounding to herself like a petulant child. One hand was reaching out to grab the computer from her brother's grasp, but stilled in its tracks as she realized how easy it'd be for him to break it. "Why were you going through my stuff anyway?"
"What the fuck is wrong with you?!" He snapped, ignoring her demands and silencing her instantly. Connor was unpredictable, yet of all things, she didn't expect his reaction to her deepest feelings would be this. "You think this shit's just some kinda fashion trend? You wanna kill yourself so someone'll listen to your shitty music, is that it?"
"Connor—" she began, but her tongue felt dumb in her mouth. That note, she barely even remembered writing it, but it was from one of her worst days. Feelings she'd long since discarded with better coping mechanisms were rushing back in an instant. Nobody was supposed to find that — part of her always hoped someone would, so they'd finally understand, but never like this, and certainly not Connor.
"You wanna be one of those girls that cuts herself for attention, huh? Saw me doing it and thought it was cute or funny or something?" Her brother sneered, and as he slammed the laptop back onto the desk, Zoe could catch a glimpse beneath his sleeve of one of those scabbed pink scars. Even then, he didn't let up. "You think I'm like this for fun? I hate myself, Zoe, I wanna do that—" He pointed hard towards the document onscreen. "—every day. But I don't. Because I'm not a selfish piece of shit parading it around for attention."
Zoe expected him to run out, slamming the door behind him with enough force to rattle the walls, but he only stood there, glaring into her. Waiting for an answer. His words pierced her, hard, but only in that silence did they sink in.
Her fists clenched, and the resulting yell made even Connor flinch. "I'M the selfish one?!" She snapped, the years of repressed anger for her brother's actions pouring out in an instant. "You read me wanting to kill myself and think I'm trying to steal it from you? Newsflash, asshole, you're not the only one that gets to have feelings around here!"
Connor stepped back from the desk, rolling his eyes and shifting his weight in an infuriating display of how little he cared. "What, can't stand only being the second prettiest girl in school?"
"I can't stand being treated like my only worth as a person is being better than you!" Her voice cracked, and she could feel the hot tears starting to press against her eyes.
"Oh, you can't imagine how hard it is for poor Zoe to deal with her brother's mental problems!" Connor clasped his hands, voice dripping with sarcasm, before his expression dropped into that hard, shadowy glare she knew too well. "Get a grip. It's not like my anxiety tells me every day that I'm already a piece of shit to my family. I don't need you telling me that, too."
The words came out of Zoe's mouth before she could stop them. "Because you are!" Connor froze, but the floodgates had already opened, Zoe's voice broken with sobs as she screamed in his face — for once feeling like the one in control, but there was no pride in it. "I feel like this because of you! Because you terrify me and all anyone ever talks about is the shit you do to me and I just want out! I want out but I never said anything because I knew you'd be like this about it!"
Her throat ached with the force of her yelling, and immediately, she felt drained. Connor was barely visible through her tears, but she could just make out him beginning to say something, before stopping to turn on his heel and slam the door behind him. Zoe crumpled to the floor, landing on her knees as she cried into her hands, heaving and shaking.
What had she done? Oh, God, what had she done? Countless thoughts were swirling through her head, all negative, but that question was all that came to the surface. She should've stayed quiet. Should've stuck it out, like her Dad always said. Kept being Connor's lightning rod so he didn't hurt himself or anybody else. That was what she was supposed to do, as the Good Murphy, the Favorite, but she just fucked it up.
But even more selfishly, she looked at the note and considered it again. The Notepad document that barely filled half her computer screen she wrote impulsively one night, with no real intention to follow up on, was beginning to ring true again, and that was a worse sign than the tears.
I have so much I should be happy for but I'm not. I just can't enjoy it.
She just wanted someone to listen, to consider her side of it all, to comfort her and give her the directions to a better life she so desperately needed. And when someone finally did, she wasn't met with that comfort or care, but anger. Accusations. Being shut down in an instant. Her one ray of hope had vanished, and though Mom always told her there was a light at the end of the tunnel, she was tired of waiting for the darkness to pass.
I can't live like this.
Someone had to see it eventually, as much as Zoe didn't want to upset her family. She couldn't just vanish out of thin air, with every memory of her existence erased, she had to push through the suffering she knew she'd cause. Only then could she be painless.
She didn't think that she was relieving a burden on the Murphy family. Far from it. They'd be fucked up and miserable but for once in her life for once she had to put her own needs first. That was what she believed she was doing as she took her final breath. Letting herself finally be happy and free, away from the noise and chaos and calamity of her life and family.
She was on her way to a better life, and the name of Zoe Murphy would vanish forever to become another statistic, another grave, and nobody could spread rumors or make her miserable when she was nothing but another name in a cemetery. Nothing was more painful than dying, but even as her body demanded to know what in God's name she thought she was doing, her soul was at peace.
But that wasn't what Connor saw when he pushed into the bathroom to find his bloodied, dead sister. There was no peace in her pained expression, no poetry in the fresh and still weeping open wounds, no freedom in the bathwater murky with bodily fluids. Only a miserable corpse he broke and bawled at the sight of, screaming for his parents to get her out, call the police, an ambulance, anything.
He was kept home the rest of the week, at his parents' demands, which was likely even worse for him. He saw Zoe's body every time he closed his eyes, her jeans soiled with blood and foul bathwater as she was pulled out, and the argument over that goddamn Notepad document replayed even more. It didn't take a detective to connect those dots. All the things he said to her... he felt like he'd be sick just thinking about them, knowing that he'd cut away her last thread of hope.
But for Zoe's sake, he had to get better, make it so that he'd never make anyone as miserable as he made her. Maybe he would never be the kind of brother she'd be proud of, but he was certain she'd kick his ass in heaven if he didn't take her death as some kind of wake-up call.
His parents had shoved him in therapy — grief counseling, specifically — but he saw a proud shine in their eyes he hadn't seen since before they lost Zoe when he said he wanted to get more help. He was learning empathy and anger management, slowly but surely, and as he began to take care of himself, solve problems without screaming or punching, he started to be happy with himself — something he never thought he'd feel in his life. It wouldn't bring her back, nothing would, but it was the least he could do — looking at himself, accepting the blame, and striving to do better.
Zoe died because she thought he couldn't, thought living with Connor wasn't living at all, and nothing hurt more. He couldn't blame her, though — he wouldn't have faith in his past self, either. Hell, he wouldn't have faith in her, either. They were just two dumbass unwell kids who couldn't communicate with each other, and it cost Zoe her life. He hated that was what it took for him to change, but knew that if things continued the way they were, one of them would've been hurt.
Was it wrong to be thankful that at least it wasn't him?