This is my first long Spring Awakening fic, so I hope I got the characters down okay. Thanks to everyone who reads this!

Growing up is hell. At least, it is most of the time, Ernst decides. It's horrible, and hard, and awkward, and frustrating. There is never one single moment that he can relax. There's always some problem, some new worry, some feeling of impedning doom, some change.

And, God, he hates the changes that have been happening lately. He just can't understand them or even beginning to cope with them. Worse, there's no sign that any of the others are going through this. Yet another gap between them and him.

Ernst has always been different, always just a little apart. It's not like he's an outcast. He has friends, just no one really close.

The town is small, and almost all of the boys run together in one pack. Ernst had always been included; his less-than-stellar marks at school don't change that, or his tendancy to hang back and watch things happen. Moritz Stiefel does both also, and he was best friends with Melchior Gabor. Moritz was currently the only one in their year to be doing worse than Ernst, although Ernst wasn't sure whether to be happy about this or to feel bad for Moritz. At least Moritz had Melchior to help him though.

Melchior is the undisputed leader of their little band. It's not just because he gets the best marks either—everyone just follows Melchior naturally. It's this attitude about him that makes all of the boys stand back and listen. As if he wasn't perfect enough, he also had an air of rebellion that made them respect him too. Ernst wished he had a little of that, but mostly he's too busy clinging to what small grasp he has on his life to give a thought to taking a stand on anything. If Melchior is using the changes of growing up to fuel his rebellion, Ernst is just plunging through it all and hoping to survive when he hits the bottom. Sometimes just looking at Melchior is enough to make him depressed.

He sighs and wearily turns another page of his algebra book. Right now a group of them are sitting in a small meadow doing their homework. Melchior suggested it so that they could all get through it faster, a sort of pooling of resources. So far though, it's turned out to be Melchior painstakingly walking Moritz through everything. Hanschen, as usual, is sitting just to one side, competently doing his own work and not really talking to anyone. He was like that- he would join them for things, and when he participated he was just as daring as Melchior, but a lot of the time he kept to himself. Georg and Otto weren't even pretending to work. They were laying back in the warm grass and talking about girls. Which left Ernst to struggle through things on his own, trying to surreptitiously listen to Melchior because he was too shy to ask if he could join them. It doesn't help that he keeps getting distracted by Otto and Georg—he keeps losing the thread of what Melchior's saying.

This is stupid; he knows Melchior would help him too, if he would just ask. But he can't. His eyes dart over to Otto and Georg, and then over to Hanschen, who hasn't moved in ten minutes. He doesn't want them to think he's stupid. Not that they change their opinions on Moritz because he needs help, because Mortiz has always been nervous and two steps behind for as long as anyone can remember. It's not that he's stupid, it's just that he always seems so distracted, unable to concentrate. But because he does it in an interesting way, everyone makes allowances for Moritz, because he's Moritz. It's just like that. And it's not like that for Ernst. He feels out of the loop and awkward enough without admitting that he just can't understand this damnable algebra on his own. He sighs violently and turns back a page to reread it yet again.

"Would you like me to help you?"

Ernst jumps at the second of Hanschen's voice coming from just over his left shoulder. Swiveling his head around he sees that Hanschen has somehow approached him unnoticed and is leaning over Ernst's shoulder, peering at his scribbled work. Ernst's brain can't seem to make the jump from algebra to Hanschen fast enough, so he's left to stammer, "Uhh, what?" Immediately he can feel himself flush with embarrassment. Why can't he ever say anything intelligent?

"Would you like me to help you?" Hanschen repeats calmly, every word slow and deliberate as usual. It's always impossible for Ernst to read any emotion in his voice. "I believe I can explain it better than the book."

Ernst can't really think of anything to say, he's so startled by having Hanschen offer to help him . Not that Hanschen had ever done anything against him, no. It's just that everything he does is so confident and self-contained that Ernst can't imagine why Hanschen would want to bother with him, the nervous, unprepared one.

Hanschen takes his silence for agreement though, because suddenly he's scooting up next to Ernst. This is the closest he's ever been to Hanschen that he can remember, and even though they're both sitting it feels like Hanschen is looming over him. And then his mind leaps to the next quandary; Hanschen's knee has fallen against his. Should he move, or not? Hanschen was the one to put his knee there, supposedly he would move it if he wanted. But what if he expected Ernst to move? What if Ernst wanted to move his knee anyway and he thought Ernst didn't want to be near him? And it's times like this that Ernst hates himself most, because he just doesn't know what to do and…

And it's only after Hanschen stares at him for at least fifteen seconds and says "Well?" with a bored voice that he snaps out of his thoughts and into the present.

"U-um, y-yes, thank you," he manages to say. "I'm having problems with the third step…" He points blindly to a problem in the book. Actually he wasn't all too sure with his grasp on the first two steps, but he couldn't admit to that.

Hanschen nods, takes Ernst's notebook and pencil, and begins to explain. Surprisingly, he is a good teacher, and Ernst does grasp more of the complicated math—when he can focus one it. Hanschen still hasn't moved his knee, and Ernst can feel their skin sticking together, feels waves of heat that are somehow not confined to his knee but are instead spreading up his spine and over his ribs. He shifts—though not enough to move his knee—and he sees Hanschen give him a sidelong glance and break off his explanation.

Ernst can feel himself flush just a little and curses his body, curses his stupid, unable-to-focus brain, curses his life. "So then, you…um, divide?" he hazard blindly, praying that Hanschen couldn't somehow see into Ernst's skull and know how he was being affected by Hanschen's proximity. With those piercing dark eyes it seemed like he could.

"Have you not been paying attention at all, Ernst?" Hanschen says. Ernst can't tell if he's scolding or merely asking a question. Either way, Ernst blushes more. It's a horrible, girly reaction, but he can't help it, even as he feels mortified.

"Sorry," he mumbles, staring at the book rather than look at Hanschen. Except then he's looking at Hanschen's hands, and what is wrong with him? Is there ever toing to be one moment of his life that he doesn't feel stupid? He takes a deep breath and fumbles for an excuse, something to hide that he's been thinking about Hanschen and not about math.

"Never mind," Hanschen says. He reaches over and takes the notebook from Ernst. "I'll do the last problem. It'll be faster—everyone has already left."

Startled, Ernst looks up to find that yes, everyone else had departed, leaving him alone with Hanschen. Who apparently thinks he's too stupid to do his own homework. "But—" he starts to protest.

But Hanschen pays no attention, furiously scribbling numbers down. "Don't worry," he says, glancing up. "He never calls on you anyway, because you're so still you never attract his attention."

Ernst doesn't mention how he sits so still because he doesn't want to be called on. He'd be sure to embarrass himself. Or he'd do something else embarrassing, like finding himself staring at someone. And after this, Ernst is pretty sure it'd be Hanschen he'd be staring at.

Hanschen makes a final calculation and nods in satisfaction. "Here you go," he says, handing the notebook back to Ernst, who takes it while trying not to stare now.

"Thanks," he mumbles towards Hanschen's ankles.

There's shuffling as Hanschen stands up, and then Ernst is blinking in surprise at an out held hand. "I must be getting back," Hanschen says as Ernst warily grasps it. He's pulled easily to his feet, and never in his life has Ernst hated his ungainly elbows and knees quite as much as he does now. Hanschen continues, "But I can help you with the rest tomorrow if you'd like."

It takes a real effort not to let his mouth fall open. It's one thing for Hanschen to help him today—it's the kind of thing he could do on a whim or because he was bored. But this is different. He's suspicious, because Hanschen's not letting go of his hand, and is looking at him with a faint trace of a superior smile, and Ernst finds himself saying yes, thank you before he knows it.

"I'll see you tomorrow then," Hanschen says, heading in the direction of his house, leaving Ernst to call a stammered farewell after him.

Then he swallows and wonders just what he's gotten himself into.