AN: I just wanted to stay thanks so much for sticking with me and reading and reviewing. It's been quite a ride!

Steve would never be able to understand why Connor forgave his parents. Granted it hadn't been an easy decision for him to make but nonetheless Steve had been shocked at how easily Connor had managed to return to the house that had rejected him.

After several inconclusive visits from social services, Mr and Mrs McKinley had become lax if not indifferent to their son. Connor didn't mind. With less than a year until he set off on his mission he had no desire to rekindle any sense of what he once had with his parents.

Steve was a different matter. He'd stopped walking Connor home, stopped waiting for him outside english, stopped sitting with him at lunch. Steve barely ate anyway now.

He was more than just angry and jealous at Kevin taking Connor away from him. He was disgusted with himself for letting him go. In Steve's mind, there was nothing that Connor could tell him that would explain what happened. It was all buried deep in excuses and time by this point.

It was natural for Connor to gravitate towards Kevin as a result of this rejection. But all Steve saw was Connor vanishing further and further away.

Steve didn't see any point in not being amiable to Kevin. Soon he'd be rid of both of them and he'd be able to carry on with his life. He dreaded to think what that meant.

The school year dragged slower than ever and Steve found himself blindly passing through his daily routines and numbly carrying out tasks.

Steve had no plans for his life. He wasn't creative like Connor and he wasn't smart like Kevin, he wasn't athletic or attractive or talented at really anything. In fifth grade he'd seen Connor McKinley as annoying and not worth his time. Now he was stuck in a paradox of both wanting Connor and pushing him away.

By himself Steve Blade was no one and all alone Connor McKinley was lost. They both desperately needed each other but neither of them was able to see it.

Steve still kept Connor's drawings and pictures stuffed away in the draw by his bed. He tried to look at them a few times but found himself crying.

Soon, without warning, their final year came to an end, the summer came and went, and Connor was due to leave on his mission in a week.

It took a lot of courage for Steve to speak to Connor again. He'd spent the whole summer at the missionary training centre but he was back for the last few days gathering his things and saying his goodbyes.

Steve knew what the commitment of a mission meant and he also knew that within a few days Connor might be lost forever and he was determined to do something about it.

The last time he'd rung the McKinley household's doorbell had been a year ago. It had been to tell Mrs McKinley to tell her son that a boy named Rowan had written to him. He told her to say that he was fine and was now living with a foster family in Idaho. He said he was happy. Since then Steve hadn't had a reason to go back.

As the last peal of the bell finished echoing round the house, Steve was tempted to run but his feet remained firmly rooted in the doormat. He looked at the now peeling sticker above the doorbell that read 'Jesus loves you'. Over the years he had watched its progress from shine to dilapidation.

When the door opened Steve couldn't tell if he wanted to slam it first or if Connor would get there before him. The moment was tense. They stared at each other in a mix of disbelief and longing. It was Connor who spoke first.

"We should talk"

"It's a bit late for that"

Connor shuffled his feet on the carpet avoiding Steve's gaze.

"We could try"

"Yeah we could"

Connor joined Steve on the step and shut the door behind him. Such closeness a few years ago would have warranted touch. Now it just felt awkward and detached.

Connor sat down on the step and Steve silently joined him. There was something missing already and they both knew it was something they'd once had and lost.

"I'm leaving in a few days"

"I know"

"I'll be gone a long time"

"I'll miss you"

"Will you?"

Steve then realised how ridiculous the statement had been. They hadn't spoken in a very long time. In any case Steve already missed Connor, the sentiment was already present.

"Where are you going?"

"Uganda"

So Connor would be miles and miles away. So far that there wasn't even the vaguest hope that they could meet even by chance.

"It's an underfilled mission, there's space for more missionaries to come"

"I've told you already, I'm not converting" Steve's almost joke made Connor smile just a little.

"I've been made district leader"

"Is that good?"

"Well I was surprised. I'm not really leader material"

"Yes you are"

"I've never led or guided anyone anywhere in my life"

"That's a lie" Steve looked up at Connor their eyes meeting in a familiar but dusty glance, "And you know it"

"I have to uh pack and stuff" Connor said awkwardly beginning to stand. He knew what Steve meant and he didn't agree. He was firm in the belief that it was the other way round. And in a way perhaps they were both right.

Steve didn't say anything to stop Connor going back inside. He waited on the steps for a while before deciding to head home. If he'd known it was the last time he'd see Connor for two years he might have found something else to say. Maybe.

On the eve of Connor's departure Steve found himself sitting on the end of his bed with a well handled piece of paper in his hands. The seven year old painting could have been in better condition but Steve was as proud of it as he was on the day Connor had given it to him.

The blue of the sea was fading, the sky dull. The outline of the desert island was wearing away and the two swimming figures unrecognisable as Connor and Steve anymore. But he knew and that was enough. He held it close to him as he thought back on his patchy school life. He tried to imagine what his life might have been like without Connor and he found it impossible. It would be too empty, almost like he'd never existed.

His thoughts of how one of the happiest and turbulent times of his life had come to an end he fell into sleep. These thoughts dissipated as he slipped deeper and deeper in dreams and he found himself drifting into a realm he did not belong in...

He saw through the haze Connor walking towards him. Despite the torturous heat he folded Connor into him and held him tight. A red glow lit up their faces and Steve was beginning to sweat uncomfortably but he was determined to stay as close as possible forever.

"I was hoping to never see you here" Connor said eventually.

"Where are we?"

"I come here every night"

"Oh. It's not as bad as I thought it would be"

"It's usually worse, but usually you're not here"

"Why am I here?"

"I don't think you really are. I don't think I'm really here either. At least not in your dream anyway"

"I don't understand"

"I think you expect me to be here so you're dreaming about being here too"

"I guess that makes sense"

"There's something you need to say and it's too late to tell the real me so this will have to do"

Connor was still in the crook of Steve's shoulder and he hadn't seen his face yet. There was so much Steve needed to say to Connor. So much he hadn't said and so much he'd said wrong. And now Connor was going off on his mission and he'd missed his chance and whatever he told this Connor wasn't real. He could say what he needed to say but what would it really mean?

Still Steve realised the importance of saying some certain words that he should have said a long time ago. So for whatever it was worth Steve drew back from Connor so he could look him in the eye. Clinging on tightly never wishing to let go his voice was clear.

"Connor, I love you"

And never had Steve spoken a truer word in his life.