Ryan's pretty sure the audience reaction was positive. He vaguely recalls a standing ovation at the end of the performance, along with brief flashes of Sharpay grinning widely as Zeke threw her some roses (acacias are better), but mostly… mostly he remembers Troy. He's ashamed to say he barely even glanced at his parents, but whenever he was onstage his eyes were drawn to Troy's like a magnet. Troy was loving it, sending him all these subtle nods and winks that would have put him off if they didn't charge him with enough adrenaline to make up for any missteps with a boundlessly energetic delivery.

Yes, the whole night is little more than a blur to Ryan, with the exception of several frames of memory that spool over and over in his mind – curtain call, his final bow, and Troy getting up from his seat to whistle through his fingers.


Somehow it's escaped Ryan's notice, but apparently the cast party is going to be held at the Evans' house. Again. When he squawks his protestations to Sharpay, she says mildly, "It's always at our house, Ryan. Our house is the biggest," and sashays off to find Zeke, leaving Ryan standing behind her hopelessly, mouth opening and closing like a fish.

"Theater kid," comes a voice from behind him, and as Ryan turns, he gets more than a vague sense of déjà vu. "You were awesome."

"Thanks," he replies shyly, allowing Troy to envelop him in another hug, albeit a much more impersonal one (there are other people around, after all).

"You never told me you could dance like that!" the basketballer exclaims, stepping back. "Teaching me must have seemed, like, freaking remedial for you."

"It's okay." Ryan smiles. "It was fun."

Troy grins back at him. "So, listen, I heard there was a cast party tonight. Are you going, or?"

"I guess, given that it's at my house," Ryan replies grumpily, but with Troy in front of him, he knows he can't keep the smile off his face for long.


"Of course."

Troy sighs. "I suppose you can't really get out of this one."

"Ugh," Ryan responds, a grudging, wordless affirmative. He's in it for the performing, not the socialization component that comes afterwards. Only one thing can make this better. "Did you, uh… want to join me?"

Troy raises his eyebrows. "Isn't it like, a special actors-only thing? I heard Sharpay making a big deal about that earlier."

"Actors and techies," Ryan corrects, managing to look away from Troy for just long enough to notice that Sharpay has come backstage again, "and yeah, it's supposed to be, but like you said, no-one's going to say no to Troy Bolton. Watch. Hey, Shar!"

Sharpay looks up. "Ryan, unless you've reconsidered your refusal to pass out the hors d'oeuvres, I don't have time right now."

"Troy wants to come to our cast party."

Her mouth drops open. "He… why?" She casts a suspicious glance at the boy in question, and the expression on her face clearly indicates that she thinks this is some sort of trick.

Ryan opens his mouth to respond but Troy interrupts with a pointed, "Hey, I'm right here," before continuing, "I don't know, it sounds like fun. I know you don't normally allow non-theater types, but I don't want Zeke to have to represent all by himself. He's going, right?"

Sharpay beams. "Of course. Um, yeah, you're welcome to come." With that, she whips out her pink cell phone and walks off, calling "I'll let everyone know!" over her shoulder.

Troy turns back to Ryan and dusts off his shoulders. "Sometimes, I love being me."


Ryan doesn't think there have ever been so many people in his house at one time. Once word had spread that Troy Bolton was going to be at the cast party, the guest list seemingly tripled in a ridiculously short amount of time. Sharpay's trying to keep it to actors, techies, and their very best friends/significant others, but the trouble is that somehow everyone suddenly seems to have connections to the show, which Ryan highly doubts can be true. There are kids here who won't even look at him in the hallways.

"Don't these people have lives?" he mutters to Sharpay. "Like, do they sit and wait for someone to call and tell them which party Troy's at so they can crash it?"

Sharpay frowns at him and picks up a mini quiche from the plate of hors d'oeuvres he's somehow been coerced into holding, despite repeated refusals. "No, they just… he's TroyBolton. It's exciting."

"He's just a guy," Ryan exclaims, exasperated. This is not strictly true – at least not from where he's standing – but the mindless hero worship that goes on at East High really does get on his nerves. If people liked Troy for being Troy it'd be different, but it seems like most of them have no more than a superficial relationship with him and only really pay attention because he's the captain of the basketball team - and, you know, hot.

"Who's just a guy?" comes Troy's voice as he strolls out of the kitchen.

"You have got to stop doing that," Ryan mutters. "And you, actually."

"Oh, am I?" Troy inquires airily. "Sharpay, what flavors are these quiches?"

"Bacon and leek, quiche Lorraine, and crabmeat and parmesan," she replies, pointing to each type in turn. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to check on the preparations for the chocolate fountain." Ryan rolls his eyes but Troy executes a small bow as she leaves, then picks up one of each kind of quiche.

"Thank you, sir," he tells Ryan with a mocking grin, scarfing them down like he hasn't eaten in weeks even though Ryan definitely saw him devour, like, six finger sandwiches from the platter on the dining room table. "Really though, in a mansion like this, shouldn't you be ordering servants to do this stuff for you?"

Ryan tuts. "I forgot you'd never been inside my house before. Look, my parents… have money, okay? And they kind of flaunt it. I'm not really like that, I just like to dress well, that's all. Kids can be really different from their parents sometimes."

"Yeah," Troy concedes, and the animation seems suddenly to have leached out of his expression. "Yeah, I know what you mean."

"Hey." Ryan had forgotten about the tension between Troy and Coach Bolton, and now he wants to kick himself. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be…"

"Not your fault, theater kid," Troy says ruefully, plastering the smile back on his face – although now it doesn't look so easy.

Ryan smiles uncertainly back but doesn't say anything, and they both just sort of stand side-by-side for a while, scanning the room and nodding to people they know. (Troy nods a lot more than Ryan.)

"You know," Troy says finally, "I showed up because I thought I'd be able to…" he lowers his voice, "spend some time with you, but people are freaking everywhere."

"That's generally what happens at parties," Ryan responds, amused, and Troy gives him a Look. "Okay, I guess we could sneak up to my room for a little while, but not too long, alright? Sharpay will notice."

"Yeah, we can't leave the mini quiches unattended," Troy retorts sarcastically. "Listen… you go up first, okay?"

"Okay." Ryan gets it, he does, but it still sucks to know that he has to be kept a secret. He nods in the direction of the staircase. "Second to the right," he directs, and Troy tilts his head.

"Like Neverland?"

It takes a second for Ryan to get it, but when he does, he chuckles a little. "No, like my room."

Troy looks glad to have made him laugh. "I'll come up in five."


The basketballer whistles under his breath as he opens the door to Ryan's room a short while later. "Dude, my entire house could fit in here."

Ryan shoots him a half-smile and eases into a sitting position on his bed, dangling his legs over the edge. He wishes he wasn't this awkward.

"Okay, theater kid, what's wrong?"

…Or this transparent.

"Nothing. I'm fine, just." He fiddles with his hair, touches the place on the side of his forehead where he thought he felt a zit developing earlier, winces. "I don't understand what you see in me, Troy. You have all these girls coming after you who are so much better, and you'd be able to walk down the hallways at school holding hands, and tell your friends about being together, and –"

"Stop it," Troy says, walking over to the bed. He kneels down in front of Ryan and kisses him firmly. "Just stop. I don't care about any of that. I don't mind having to keep this quiet."

Ryan looks unconvinced. "But –"

"I see things in you that I haven't found in anyone else, okay?" Troy interrupts. "The way you dance, and the expression you get on your face when you're reading, and the fact that you laugh at all of my dumb jokes even though we both know they're not funny." Ryan can't help but smile. "God," Troy continues, more to himself than to Ryan. "I'm, like." He presses his lips to the corner of Ryan's mouth and murmurs, "I'm turning into a girl," against the other boy's skin.

"You're not," Ryan says and lifts his hand to tug gently on this chunk of hair that always hangs down over Troy's forehead. "But you do need a haircut."

Troy snorts and lays his head in the other boy's lap, cheek brushing Ryan's thigh. It feels intimate but not threatening. Ryan threads his fingers through the other boy's hair and for a while, the two of them are just quiet together.


They end up spending most of the night in Ryan's room, just talking and hanging out. Sharpay doesn't seem to have missed them. It's been kind of… tense the past few days, what with the final rehearsal and the performance and everything, so it's nice for them both to have some downtime. Ryan marvels at how different Troy is when they're alone – it was like he was under a microscope downstairs, to the point where it's kind of weird to see him so relaxed now.

They've been watching something mindless on TV, stretched out on Ryan's bed on their stomachs, when Troy suddenly says, "Hey, you put the acacias in water."

Ryan glances over at his desk. "Of course. As soon as I got home. I really like them."

"Yeah, they look nice."

"That's not why I like them," Ryan says, and Troy catches his eye and grins.

"Did you get a chance to look up what they mean yet?"

"I…" Ryan eyes Troy suspiciously. "How did you know I was going to do that?"

"Had a feeling."

"Hm. Well, no, actually. It's been kind of hectic today, you know? I basically got home, ran up here to change and the next thing I knew, Sharpay was yelling at me to come hold mini quiches," he says with a shrug.

Troy laughs. "Do you want to know?"

"Of course!"

"Okay, so there are two meanings. The first is platonic love," (Ryan's face falls) "and the second is, uh. Well, the site said 'concealed love.' Like, secret, you know?"

"So?" Ryan has butterflies in his stomach and he has no idea how he became one of those people who get all hung up on what someone else thinks of them, but to be honest, he's there. "Which one did you mean?"

"The second?"

"Are you asking me or telling me?"

"I'm telling you, I was just… I don't know, I was wondering if that was cool."

"It is secret, isn't it? Like… didn't we just talk about that?"

Troy swallows, and his expression becomes very serious. "Not that part, the other part. Not that I – you know, yet, but, you're important to me. I want you to know that."

The butterflies morph into eagles as Ryan figures out what the other boy is talking about. "I don't know," he says slowly. "I mean, it's too soon to say, um… that at the moment, but I think... I think it could happen, maybe, in the future. Like, if we stuck with it. If you, you know. Wanted to."

Troy grins. "You know I do, Ryan. I get that we kind of talked about it last night but then we…"

"Got distracted?"

"You could say that." Troy laughs a bit self-consciously. "Hey, do you… do you seriously, like, still think you're not, uh." He shoots the other boy a significant look. "Powder blue?"

Ryan would have laughed at the reference, but the implication behind the question bothers him. "What did I tell you about how much I hate labels?"

"No, I know, and I'm not trying to label you, Ryan, honest, I just. I don't know, I – I suppose what I'm getting at is… why are you doing this? Like. Like, you asked me what I see in you, but what do you see in me?"

It's weird to see Troy being anything less than completely confident. Kind of disconcerting, actually. Ryan doesn't quite know what to do with it. "I like you," he says, and shrugs. He knows Troy's looking for more than that but can't quite seem to articulate what he wants to say.

"I like you too. A lot. Look, it's been a long time since I felt this way about anyone, and that… that didn't end so well, and I know it's lame to keep something like this secret, which was kind of what – what ended it for me last time, and it really, really sucked, Ryan, okay, so I just."

Ryan sighs, then grabs the remote control and turns off the TV. This is probably not the kind of conversation to be having while "Most Daring" or "Most Shocking" (he can't tell the difference) is blaring in the background. He thinks back to when truTV was still courtTV and there was actual, you know, true crime and not all that beach patrol bullshit. He considers mentioning this but senses it'd be inappropriate. "What happened?"

Troy closes his eyes for a second, like he's psyching himself up or something. It's obviously hard for him to talk about, although he really looks like he wants to. "I was, uh, a sophomore. There was this kid on the team – a senior. He was the captain at the time, dating one of the popular girls, whatever whatever, and… one day after practice, we were like, the only two people left in the locker room, right? So, we were talking, and. He kissed me."

"Wow." Ryan raises his eyebrows.

"Yeah. I don't know, at first I thought it was a one-off but then it happened again, and again after that. For a while... well, it was weird. He'd ignore me in the hallways and barely talk to me during practice, but afterwards he'd hang around until everyone else had changed and left, and then we'd make out against the lockers."

"Wait, but he wouldn't acknowledge you anywhere else?" Ryan shakes his head. "That's shitty."

"Yeah. Yeah, it was. And, like. I don't know, I knew it wasn't how things should be but I didn't want to stand up to him because he was older and I really looked up to him as our team captain or whatever, so I just kind of let him... do what he wanted. Anyway, a couple of days before graduation, I asked him if he wanted to stay in touch, 'cause by then I really liked him, you know? And he said sorry, he had a girlfriend and he wasn't a fag."

Ryan is completely confused. "…But he kissed you first."

"I know. He liked me too – I mean, really liked me. I could just tell. But I guess he wasn't willing to admit it." Troy sighs. "Chad's older brother is friends with him. He says he's still with the same girl. They went to the same college and everything. They're getting married next year."

"That sucks," Ryan says because he doesn't know how else to respond. He feels really bad that that happened. Like, he didn't even know Troy back then, but he kind of wishes he did just so all this between them would have happened earlier and he could've saved Troy all that heartache. "I… I won't do that to you, okay? I promise."

"I never thought you would," Troy says seriously. "I know you're not an asshole, just. It's kind of a big thing to deal with if you haven't figured out who you are yet, you know? I didn't want to get really into this only to have you freak out and back away, although it's. It's sort of too late."

Ryan frowns. "I'm not backing away."

"No, I mean... I'm already really into it."

Ryan's a little in love with how vulnerable Troy looks right now. He never would've imagined that the cocky jock who teased him for not catching a basketball that time in the parking lot would ever have ended up in his room, on his bed, making this confession. Ryan hugs him then because he truly can't resist, and it's kind of awkward because he's twisted uncomfortably on his stomach and Troy's sort of balanced on his side, but neither of them really minds all that much.

"It's okay. I'm. I'm kind of really into it too," Ryan says honestly, head resting against Troy's shoulder. "I just… I know what I'm attracted to, I'm – I'm sure about that, but I feel like after I accept it I have to do all this other stuff like come out to my family and my friends or whatever, and I sort of can't face that so I'm like, putting it off."

"It's none of their business," Troy says firmly, pulling away to look Ryan in the eye. "You don't have to talk to them about it if you don't want to."

"But then it's like I'm living a lie."

"It's better than lying to yourself," Troy counters, and Ryan considers this for a moment. He's never really thought about it that way before.

"I guess. I guess, yeah. No, that makes sense."

"The way I see it… the people I keep in touch with after high school, they're my true friends, you know? I'll find a way to tell them, and most likely, they'll be cool with it, because they're cool people. That's what I like to think, anyway. Besides, I wouldn't expect the person I was with to have to deal with all the fallout from being in a… in this kind of relationship in high school, especially with someone like me. It's not fair."

"I'm really sorry," Ryan says. Somehow he feels responsible for this – like it's his fault for being a guy, or something – and Troy shakes his head.

"Don't be. I just want to enjoy being with you without people watching our every move and making a big deal about it because of who I am." He rolls his eyes. "It's dumb. It's really fucking dumb, and I mean, I love it most of the time because hi, popularity, but with a situation like this it can be really inconvenient."

Ryan shyly reaches out to touch the other boy's hand reassuringly. "It's cool, Troy. I just hated feeling like you were ashamed of me."

Troy smiles slightly and shakes his head. "Believe me, theater kid, I'm not ashamed."

There's a brief, awkward pause and then Ryan leans in towards Troy and closes his eyes, because it really feels like the right thing to do. Troy kisses him tenderly, rests a hand on his hip and squeezes lightly.

"So… you really want to be with me? For real, you want to do this whole, like. Me and you thing?"

"We've kind of been an 'us' for a while, when you think about it," Ryan muses, figuring things out as he speaks. "I don't come to all your games because I'm some kind of sports fanatic, you know?"

"Yeah, and I didn't show up to your play 'cause I was interested in, uh… who wrote it, again?"

"You're hopeless," Ryan tells him, shaking his head, and Troy delivers one of his adorably crooked smiles.

"But I'm yours, theater kid."

"Yeah," Ryan replies, tapping Troy's nose just because he thinks it's cute when the other boy scrunches it. "Yeah, same here."


There's a level of security that comes with this new step – a degree of, dare Ryan even think it, commitment, and some of the pressure lifts off his shoulders. Their kisses aren't as rushed, as tense or as rough, and Ryan feels like he's getting the chance to be with Troy in a way he never has before.

It's Monday again, and he has Troy up against the wall behind the science labs, kissing and nipping at his neck, collarbone and earlobes, when he discovers a small freckle just behind the base of Troy's ear. He feels like he's found treasure in a secret place no-one else knows about, and kisses it hard before Troy touches his chin and twines their tongues together. It's sloppy but careful, slow but passionate. Troy's hand is resting on Ryan's waist and Ryan never wants him to let go, but it occurs to him that he should really check the time because they don't want to be late for homeroom. After mild resistance, Troy lets him, and they're shocked to realize that they've not only missed homeroom but also five minutes of first period. Troy starts laughing as he re-buttons the top of his shirt, and it's such a wonderful sound to Ryan. As they're ascending the old staircase, he smiles just because, and they hold hands right up until they know they're about to be seen.