a/n: au from almost to the ending of the second movie.

"I couldn't do it," she breathes, so quietly that for a second he thinks she's only sighing.

He wants to say something, but what he should is beyond him. He isn't sorry, not really. Of course he wants her to be happy, but maybe this isn't what she needs at all, anyway. Or so he hopes.

She seems to take his silence as a go-ahead. "I've been thinking, maybe, he isn't what I want."

The air is thick. He desperately wants to ask, then what is, and is there any way that I could possibly become that?

"Do you think he understood?"

Her eyes are soft, warm, brown. Her gaze almost makes him blush.

"Yeah, I think he did," he says, choking a little.


She misses the hand-holding, the quiet smiles, the bright eyes and laughter and adoring comments from their friends. She misses being part of a couple, misses belonging. But she doesn't really miss him. Doesn't really miss the blue-eyed dream, Troy Bolton.

She tells this to Taylor, who with all her straight-As and honor rolls doesn't get it.

She tells this to Kelsi, who changes the subject.

She thinks about telling Ryan, but then she realizes that he already knows, doesn't he?

She's sure that he does.

They've become close now, he thinks. Somehow their names have become halfway linked, and they're rarely seen without each other. But whatever it is that they have is too fragile to talk about, so he doesn't bring it up. Neither does he bring up Troy, or theatre (as much as he can), until two weeks before the fall performance.

"You have to come back," he says suddenly when he does. He spent the afternoon in rehearsal, dancing with somebody that he had desperately wished was Gabriella, and the feelings pounded too hard on his heart to be contained any longer.

She knows what he's talking about. "Ryan, I can't. Besides, it's two weeks until the performance, right?"

"You remembered." He savours that.

"It's on my calendar."

He wants to ask if it's just because of him, but he's afraid of the answer. "Anyway, I don't mean now. In the spring. The last musical." Feeling brave, he adds, "For me?"

She purses her perfect lips. "Mm...I'll think about it. For you."

His smile is probably a little too lovestruck.

She wonders when they went from Ryan and Gabriella to Ryan-and-Gabriella.

It's winter now. Ever since she and Troy broke up, Sharpay has been considerably nicer to her, so his twin apparently hadn't minded Ryan inviting Gabriella on their traditional ski trip. They are standing outside in the beautiful snow when she notices that they're holding hands. They've taken to doing that lately, for the sake of convenience, if nothing else. Pulling each other along, keeping track of each other. This, in itself, isn't that unusual.

What's unusual is how both of her hands are clasping his now. The sight nearly takes her breath, and she's not sure why until she looks up into his eyes and understands. Innately, he seems to grasp her realization. Somehow his arm becomes draped over her shoulder, and she snuggles her head next to his own.

She could have guessed that this moment would change things.

He is deliriously, devastatingly, deliciously happy. Their fingers intertwine as they walk down the hallway and he can't hide his delight. Some stare; some smile. But for once, the audience doesn't matter. It's all about her.

She seems nervous today, and it surprises him to realize that he's the reason.

They pass Troy. For a second, his insecurities overwhelm him, until she merely smiles and waves with her free hand. Her free hand, because the other one is still holding his.

For the first time, Ryan Evans is completely in love with his life.

It's a week and a half into the spring musical. Ryan's persuasion had worn her down; she agreed to return to the theatre, although only for a bit part. She knows he's thrilled over it; it's evident in every move he makes.

Right now they're rehearsing a number that she isn't in, so she sits cross-legged in the wings, watching silently. His happiness isn't only because of her presence, she knows that. He loves it up there, and he loves choreography and dancing. His enthusiasm is so cute, as he cajoles a pair of awkward sophomores into a more comfortable groove, she has to smother a giggle.

"All right, take five, everybody," he says, and makes a beeline for her. She stands, stretching slightly as she does so.

"How was it? I think they're loosening up a bit. Do you think that the second half is too robotic? I might need to work on that, I don't know." His feet still moved, almost imperceptibly. Obviously, the music was still playing in his mind.

"It was perfect," she replies, with absolute honesty. Then she does something that she hasn't had the courage to do before. She steps up on her tiptoes (although he's not much taller than her) and presses her lips against his.

His arms close around her. She sways, almost losing her balance, but recovering admirably. For a moment, they are rooted there.

Darbus clears her throat, they break apart, and it's back to the chaos of drama. Yet she sees all day a certain shine in his eyes that wasn't there before.

"I got in," she says suddenly.

He looks up from his current task: making notes in his libretto. "You got in?" he repeats.


Something blossoms inside his chest. Pain, but also joy. She did it. He'd always known how brilliant she was; now the world would know, too. "That's amazing. That's...that's fantastic!"

She's biting her lip. He takes her hand, somehow knowing that this is right. "Gabriella. I'm so proud of you."

And neither one minds the other crying.