Rating: T, for language
Disclaimer: I don't own them and don't make any money off them, but I'd be psyched if I did.
Summary: Pre-BDS. Murphy won't tell Connor what's wrong.
A/N: Edited, sort of. Noticed a lot of missing words and a couple misspellings. Sorry about that. If you notice anymore, let me know so I can fix it.
They rode the bus every morning because their new school was too far away to walk to. It'd have been better if some of their friends were going, too, but they weren't. The closest secondary school didn't have a good enough language program for their Ma, so sent enrolled them in one that did.
So they rode the bus every morning, and every morning Connor watched Murphy shrink; watched his wiseass, opinionated brother pull in on himself until he was silent as Connor's shadow.
Connor'd barely noticed the first day. He'd been quieter, too, a little lost, a little out of his depth, and Murphy had always taken his cue from him when they did something new, so it was to be expected.
The second day, he wondered what was up. The lads had finished checking them out and had made overtures of friendship, and Connor had responded. They met in the courtyard before class and talked, goofed off – all except Murphy, who stood a little apart and very still.
Connor nudged him on the way to their first class. "What's wrong?"
Murphy shrugged, shook his head. I don't know what you're talking about. Nothing's wrong. Blue eyes met his. The face was tense, the lips tight, but his brother's eyes were clear.
He let it go.
But the third day, Murphy was still quiet, and the fifth day brought no change. When three weeks had passed, Murphy withdrawing every last one of them into some strange shell while on the bus to school and not reemerging until they got home, so Ma couldn't see anything was wrong, Connor knew he had to do something.
Murphy kept his head down in class. He braced his elbows on his knees and leaned over the desk and never took notes. The teacher didn't like it, but he'd known the answers when the teacher picked on him for the first two weeks, so Mr. O'Riley left him alone.
Watching him from a single desk and a mile away, Connor thought that might be the problem. Everybody fucking left Murphy alone.
He raised his hand.
"Yes, Connor?" Mr. O'Riley pushed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose as if to see him better.
"Murph and I need to use the restroom, please."
There were giggles, titters, whispers, and Connor was aware, from the corner of his eye, of Murphy looking at him. Mr. O'Riley frowned. "Both of you?"
The man glanced at Murphy, then waved his hand. "Hurry back."
Connor collected Murphy with a glance, relieved his brother wasn't going to fight him on this. Relieved Mr. O'Riley hadn't insisted one of them wait until the other came back. He didn't stop walking until they were safely inside the restroom, then he simply faced his brother.
Murphy frowned at him, then jammed his hands in his pockets. "Wha'cha doin', then?"
"I wanna know what your problem is."
"Don't play dumb. You know what you're fuckin' doing."
Murphy's brow furrowed. He shook his head.
"What's this, then?" Connor flung his arms in exasperation. "We go to school and suddenly you can't talk?"
Murphy's lips tightened. "Fuck you. I talk."
"No, fuck you!" He shoved him, aggravated when Murphy's hands stayed in his pockets. "I'm getting fuckin' tired of talking for both of us."
"Didn't seem to have a problem with it just a minute ago."
"Piss off!" This time, Murphy hit the door with a thump, and the noise was satisfying. "Why the fuck don't you talk anymore?"
Murphy almost removed his hands from his pockets, face twisted and ready to fight, then his face smoothed and he jammed them back in, slouching against the door – like he was comfortable, like he was where he wanted to be, backed against the bathroom wall while his brother yelled at him. And that was weird.
Weird as fuckin' hell.
"What the fuck have you done with me brother?"
Murphy's shoulders crowded his ears. "The fuck you talkin' about, Conn?" His gaze shifted toward the sink.
"You don't talk to anyone. You don't do anything. Then we go home and suddenly you're Murph again." What the hell is that about?
Murphy stared at him through his lashes, then dropped his head, bit his lip. When the silence stretched, Murphy's left hand crept from his pocket to his mouth.
Connor spread his hands. "Talk to me, Murph."
His brother shrugged. "What's there to say?"
"Just tell me what's bothering you." It bothered Connor that Murphy wouldn't look at him. They'd always talked as much with their eyes as with their words. He thought, maybe, he could figure out what Murphy wasn't tell him if he'd just look at him – really look at him.
Murphy shuffled his feet. "It's stupid."
"So?" When Murphy didn't move to speak, he flung his arms again. "Jesus, Murph. Don't keep me in suspense! If you can't tell your own brother, who the fuck can you tell?"
Murphy shrugged and shook his head, still studiously avoiding looking at him. But when he pushed off the walls, heading for the sink, Connor forced down the impulse to shove him back and let him go.
"Do you remember when we set those frogs loose in Mrs. Callaghan's classroom?" Murphy asked suddenly.
"Aye." Connor tucked his fingers into his jeans.
"And you remember when we put that lizard down Gracie Connolly's shirt?"
"And you remember how they couldn't figure out which one of us put the fish in the drinkin' water, so they punished both o' us?"
"Aye." Connor didn't think he could forget that if he wanted to. "Where are you going with this, Murph?"
His brother swallowed, licked his lips. "You remember how they thought we might be spending too much time together?"
The words dropped ice into his gut, never mind nothing had come of it. Whatever their behavior problems, their grades had never suffered for it. "That was a long time ago."
"Not that long."
"Has someone said something to ya?" He couldn't think of any other reason for Murphy to be going on about this, but his brother shook his head.
"I've just been thinkin'."
"Thinkin'?" He'd never known Murphy to be introspective. There was nothing wrong with his brother's brain, but Murphy never had been one to turn a problem over in his head, looking for a right solution. He usually just went with the one that felt right, consequences be damned.
"Aye." Murphy swiped his fingers through a puddle of water. "It's just. Before, they figured it was more important for us to have a support system. So when we fucked up and got caught, that always weighed in, you know? But we're older now. We're supposed to be learnin' to be grown up and shit. Independent. What if they think we're better off bein' separated?"
Connor blinked. "What's that gotta do with you being fuckin' mute?"
"Connor!" Murphy whirled, clenched fists coming up, and Connor quickly held out his hands to stop the tide of anger. Now he'd finally figured out what was up, he didn't want to fight about it.
"Simmer down. They won't, all right."
"What if they do?"
His gut answered the fear in Murphy's eyes. He shrugged. "Then we explain it to them. Or tell Ma." Ma had always told them nothing was more important than family. If they told her they didn't want to be separated, she wasn't going to let them be separated. Period.
Murphy nodded slowly, but his eyes were distant. His thumb worked its way between his teeth.
Now that Connor knew what his brother was thinking, though, he could see Murphy wondering if that would be enough, could trace the possibilities in his head. He sighed, shuffling closer. When Murphy glanced at him, he said, "We don't have to do it, ya know."
Murphy blinked. "Do what?"
"Pull pranks. Make mischief. Whatever. We don't have to."
Murphy's lips twisted. He read But you like that shit, Connor in his brother's eyes.
He shrugged. "We don't, though. If it really bothers you that much, we can not."
Murphy didn't say anything, didn't move, and Connor felt the wall that had been building between them crumble under the steady regard of his brother's blue eyes. Then a smile quirked the corner of Murphy's lips and he slugged Connor on the arm.
"Fucker." Murphy shoved his hands in his pockets.
When they settled back in their seats, Murphy braced his head in his hands and studied the teacher.
The next day, Murphy was quiet on the ride to school, and he haunted the fringe when they met up with the lads in the courtyard.
But when Billy said it'd been too quiet, and Sean said they should do something to shake things up, it was Murphy who suggested what they should do. Grinning, Connor told them how they would do it.