It was twenty-seven minutes to midnight and Ronan wasn’t drunk enough.
If it worked in a dream, it worked in real life, but this alcohol was a poor copy of the stuff he’d been trying to make. It was alcohol-shaped, alcohol-flavored, but it was doing a horrible job of intoxicating him.
Dreaming wasn’t the same anymore. He couldn’t make anything good these days—he had to be too careful.
If Gansey would leave, he could try again, dream up something more effective. Or, even better, if Gansey would leave, he could too. Maybe he’d drive all night. Maybe he’d finally, finally, finally go home. Or maybe he’d go to Kavinsky’s New Year’s party. He’d been invited—he’d been promised substances and explosions.
For a moment, he missed the nowhere place—the rickety barn, the fireflies, the loneliness and the loveliness of it. And then he made himself stop missing it, because it was just one more piece of the past he wasn’t allowed to touch.
But an itch remained, the need to do something tonight. Declan had taken Matthew on a trip, hoping to distract them both from the grief of starting the new year as homeless orphans. Ronan had been left to suffer—punishment, probably, for punching Declan in the face at least four times over the last six months.
It didn’t seem fair. Declan had started it. But nothing was fair, so Ronan was left behind.
On the television, some pop artists lip-synched while Times Square went wild, and some plastic people bubbled about what they looked forward to in the next year.
Ronan punched the mute button and slid the remote across the floor.
Maybe he’d dream Gansey a fucking couch. The armchair was piled with Glendower shit that needed to be sorted through, which left not a single surface for sitting aside from Gansey’s bed.
So Ronan sat on the floor, already feeling the ache in his tailbone. He peeled at the nonsense label on the ineffective booze and took another long sip.
It tasted right, looked right. It would have to do. He could pretend.
Gansey shoved the front open and then shoved it closed again. He was damp and shivering—a light sweater did little when the wearer was caught in a late December drizzle. He’d been pacing the parking lot and talking on the phone for upwards of an hour. Probably talking to Caitlin. Possibly breaking up with her.
Whatever. He took another sip. He didn’t want to know.
“I think it’s raining,” Ronan said lazily, not looking up from the bottle he had clasped in his hands.
Gansey’s mood was already low—abandoning his girlfriend on New Year’s Eve had been more disagreeable than he’d expected—and seeing Ronan drinking brought it down to bedrock. “Astute.”
As much as he wanted to be rid of his wet clothes, Ronan was parked in the middle of his room for the all-important task of ignoring the TV. There’d been a time where they could change in each other’s presence without a thought, but that time was past, so he settled for scrubbing the moisture from his hair and rubbing the blood back into his fingers.
“Where did you even get that?” he asked as Ronan took a swig, doing his best—failing—to sound only distantly interested instead of concerned.
“Stole it,” Ronan said. Pause, sip. Gansey considered the truth of it for a moment longer than he liked, but then Ronan gave a humorless smile and said, “Doesn’t matter. Don’t worry about it.”
Gansey was definitely going to worry about it, especially after that non-answer, but he wasn’t stupid enough to push it. Instead, he dropped to the floor next to him, looking at the television and then over at Ronan. “Are you watching this?” he asked.
“Yes,” Ronan said, not looking up from the butchered sticker on the bottle. Gansey didn’t know enough about booze to identify it without the help of the label, but it was amber and potent—he could smell it.
“Didn’t take you to be the type who cared about watching the ball drop,” he said, anticipating the moment that Ronan snatched the joke and ran with it.
Instead, Ronan said, “Guess there are a lot of things you don’t know about me.”
The words were serrated, a knife carelessly dropped, but Ronan didn’t flinch, like he didn’t even notice. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe Gansey was the only one who played that night over and over in his mind, scarring every line of it into his memory.
When Gansey had decided to skip Caitlin’s party, he’d hoped that there was at least some chance of having a good night with Ronan. He wouldn’t change his decision—he would’ve been miserable with Caitlin, anyway, and Ronan was far more important—but he realized now that expecting anything other than unpleasantness was a miscalculation.
It was going to be a long night.
His nose was still numb from cold. He nodded towards the bottle. “Are you going to share?”
Ronan looked at him for the first time since he’d come in, eyebrows slanted to ask ‘Are you serious?’
Gansey rearranged his face into his best impersonation of a ‘Yes.’
Ronan passed him the bottle. Gansey took a tentative sip. The taste in no way clarified what kind of liquor it was, but it burned going down, which was all Ronan usually cared about.
“Why are you here?” Ronan asked. Gansey heard, ‘When will you leave so I can leave too?’
This—sitting here, drinking themselves into the new year side-by-side—was a bad idea. But letting Ronan leave was a much worse one.
“It’s my house,” Gansey said.
Ronan was unfazed. “Where’s Caitlin?” As usual, he said ‘Caitlin’ like ‘Caitlin,’ sneered like he had been unexpectedly fed black licorice.
“Having a party,” he said. “I told her I wasn’t feeling well.”
That was a lie. He told her that a friend needed his company tonight, which was completely true, and she’d been very understanding. She was always very understanding, more so than he deserved. It was a shame that he was going to have to break up with her.
Possibly, he should’ve broken up with her before New Year’s. Definitely, he should’ve. He shot a glance at his phone, wondering if he could do it right now. There were still ten minutes to midnight.
He took another sip.
No, that’d be horrible of him. He didn’t want to hurt her—she was a perfectly nice girl, beautiful and smart and pleasant company. It wasn’t even that he didn’t like her; he liked her, just not as much as she liked him. She was okay to talk to, and nice enough to spend time with. She made him laugh, taught him things he didn’t know. Sometimes, to tease him, she called him ‘Dick,’ and he almost didn’t mind. And she found his interest in Welsh history “idiosyncratic,” which, although not exactly the response he’d been hoping for, was accurate.
But she also said she’d like to ring in the New Year the right way, that they’d have plenty of privacy in her family’s guest house. And Gansey couldn’t make himself want that.
A glance at Ronan. Nearly jealous, he thought that Ronan would be the kind of person to break up with a girlfriend over text.
That is, if Ronan had a girlfriend. But he didn’t. He never did.
That fact made him unfairly angry. At least Gansey was trying to pretend nothing had happened. But Ronan couldn’t give him that same luxury.
The silence hung for a long moment, and when Ronan spoke again, he sounded more upset than Gansey expected. “So, you lied.”
There were only two reasons that Ronan could think of that Gansey would be spending tonight here instead of with his girlfriend, and only one reason he could fathom.
Ronan was angry most of the time, especially at night, especially tonight, especially when he was drinking or pretending to. But all at once, he was furious.
Ronan said nothing, but something was different. Something about the tip of his chin, the angle of his fingers around the neck of the bottle; something in the way Ronan looked at him, with a gaze sharper than he would’ve thought possible for someone who had had polished off a third of the bottle on his own.
What gave Ronan the right to be upset that he had lied to his girlfriend? It wasn’t like Ronan liked her at all; it wasn’t like Ronan never lied. Gansey didn’t have to explain himself.
And yet, he found himself saying, “I don’t feel good about it.”
Ronan drank more and still said nothing. Gansey knew enough about Ronan to know that this particular nothing was both angry and disapproving.
Gansey’s stomach was rotting for reasons unrelated to the alcohol.
Ronan had no right to be upset.
“Where’s Noah?” Gansey asked. An attempt at diplomacy.
“How should I know?”
“Because you’re his friend?”
Ronan’s response came quick and barbed with accusation. “I don’t make it my business to know where my friends are at all times.”
Gansey felt his patience bleeding out of him. “What about Matthew? What’s he doing tonight?” he asked.
“Declan took him to the Bahamas.”
“Why aren’t you with them?”
Ronan almost smiled, just a little, and then smothered it in alcohol. “Why would I be?”
He could stop there, because he knew the answer, because he knew Ronan and Declan couldn’t stand the sight of each other. Instead, he opened his mouth and said, “Because you should be spending tonight with the family you have left.”
“Fuck you,” Ronan said.
The silence was volcanic. He could feel it in his veins.
Ronan took another long sip, and then Gansey took the bottle from him, doing the same.
“I thought you didn’t like it,” Ronan said, voice hard.
“I don’t,” Gansey said, and then drank again.
This was a bad idea, all of this, but Gansey was tired of being the one to divert disasters. If Ronan didn’t want to do this, then, for once, he could be the one to pull the wheel.
And with each moment closer to midnight, he felt surer and surer that he was about to make it again.
Back then, he hadn’t even known what he’d been so worried about. He just felt sure that one day he’d return to Monmouth and Ronan would be gone.
Sometimes, Gansey thought that’d be better for him—that Ronan should just leave and find someplace new. It had worked for Gansey, sort of. But he knew there was nowhere Ronan would be happy except for home, and until then, Monmouth would have to do.
The Pig shuddered to a stop in the parking lot, exhausted from its trip to and from DC. Gansey was exhausted for the same reason, but more than that, he was relieved to find Ronan hadn’t disappeared into the ether, nor was he out racing or drinking like he usually was at midnight. He was just sitting in the front seat of the BMW, staring through the windshield, music pumping so loud that Gansey could feel it in his chest even through the coughing of the Camaro.
As much as Gansey wanted this day to be over, he knew there’d be no sleep until sunrise. Spending so many hours with his family had worn him thin, and anxiety festered in the dark.
He cut the engine, loosened his tie, climbed out of the car. It had rained while he was gone, and the air was heavy with the smell of soggy earth and humidity, interrupted only by the bite of exhaust.
His mouth still tasted sweet-stale from champagne drank hours ago, and his contacts were growing sticky, but he didn’t bother going inside before sliding into Ronan’s passenger seat.
The music rattled his bones. It was remarkable that Ronan had any hearing left. “Do you ever sleep?” Gansey shouted.
“Not if I can help it,” Ronan replied, voice lost in the hideous bassline, intelligible only because Gansey was reading his lips. His head was freshly shaven but his face was not, and the bags under his eyes were severe.
“What are you doing out here?”
Ronan almost smiled, but there was something ghostly about it in the light of the dashboard. “Waiting for you.”
Ronan went out to drive more nights than not, and to be invited along was a relief and a privilege. Especially because the alternative was sitting awake alone, anxious about everything, worrying if tonight would be the night that Ronan got himself arrested or worse.
“Well, I’m here.”
Ronan’s smile twitched a little bigger as he stared through the windshield, but there was still something off about it. “Guess you are.” Without another word, he threw the gearshift and flattened the gas pedal, and they were off.
Like usual, they peeled out of the parking lot—Ronan crushing the speed limit under his foot and easily taming the slick road under his tires. Like usual, they stopped at the gas station—deserted at this hour, flickering fluorescents and eerie emptiness. Like usual, Ronan topped off the tank and Gansey got them refreshments—chocolate for himself, sour candy for Ronan, orange juice to share.
But tonight was not usual.
“My mom is going to run for Congress,” Gansey said, as best as he could over the blaring of music.
Ronan either didn’t hear him or didn’t care, because he didn’t acknowledge it. A stone sunk in Gansey’s stomach. Ronan was never especially talkative, but he normally let Gansey talk if he wanted to—about his day, about Glendower, about any topic as long as it wasn’t Ronan’s wellbeing. Tonight, though, Ronan didn’t turn down the music, didn’t give Gansey the chance.
“I have to go back next weekend for the official announcement. This was the unofficial announcement.” He waited for a comment about politics being horseshit, or a quip about Gansey being a prop, or a nod of acknowledgement, or anything.
Gansey gave up, worry and confusion chipping at him, electronic drums and Ronan’s deliberate stoicism swarming his thoughts.
He was queueing up a list of every reason Ronan could be angry with him—surely there were plenty of things, if he really thought about it—when Ronan turned onto the highway southbound instead of northbound.
Oh. They were doing this.
It’d been about a month since the last time Gansey had to stop Ronan from going to the Barns, and he had hoped that would be the last time. But there was nothing else south of Henrietta worth seeing, nothing else that would have Ronan like this.
Gansey had fifteen minutes to think of something to say to get him to turn the car around—ten, maybe, since he was driving like he didn’t care if he lived or died.
But Gansey didn’t have any words that Ronan hadn’t heard a hundred times before.
As they neared the exit, he tried, “Ronan,” testing, tired, so sick of being the one between Ronan and the things he wanted, the things he deserved. But surely Ronan wouldn’t have brought him if he was sincerely intent on going home. He had to have known that Gansey wouldn’t let him.
Ronan’s fist tightened around the wheel.
“Ronan,” Gansey said again, louder. Still nothing. “Ronan. Pull over.”
The engine picked up, defiant.
He still didn’t look away from the road.
Gansey pulled the aux cord, and silence jarred the car, true silence, roaring in their ears.
Finally, Ronan yanked the wheel and slammed the brake, sending them onto the shoulder and snapping Gansey against his seatbelt.
The car settled, but Ronan grew more agitated. “Declan won’t know. It won’t matter.”
He was right that Declan wouldn’t know, but he was wrong that it wouldn’t matter. If Ronan stepped foot on the property, Gansey knew he’d grow into the ground, rooted to the core of the earth. There’d be no extracting him again without destroying what was left. “I’m not letting you go back there.”
Silence was par for the course with Ronan, but this silence was different. This silence itself was a confession. And then: “There are things you don’t know about me.”
It was ominous and unnerving, and Gansey knew it was all too true—some days, he felt he barely knew Ronan at all. For the moment, though, he told himself that it was an excuse. “Well, then, tell me. Because I’m not letting you go back there.”
Each word was frustrated and barely strung together. “There are things you need to see. At the Barns. To understand.”
“I’ve been to the Barns before,” Gansey said, like there was any way Ronan had forgotten, like they didn’t have hundreds of memories between them of time spent there—afternoons helping Aurora with farm work, homemade dinners with the entire Lynch family, movies in the living room, nights in Ronan’s room, staring at the ceiling and talking in ways they couldn’t during the day, speaking freely in terms of dreams and fears and magic.
That was a different Ronan, a Ronan with hair and bare shoulders and a smile like there was something to smile about, a Ronan who had died along with his father. But when he looked over at Ronan now, rendered harsh and handsome in the glow of the dashboard, he knew he remembered, too.
Gansey sounded so sincere that it made Ronan sick. Not this, he wanted to say. This claim needed proof, and proof was at the Barns, especially since he couldn’t dream lately, not enough to make something to show Gansey, not with the fucking nightmares.
“Let me show you,” he said, sounding pathetic, hating himself for it.
He glanced at Gansey, only a glance because any more than that was unbearable, and he could see how much Gansey wanted to know. But still, he said, “You can’t go back there. You know that. So just tell me.”
All the magic is real, everything you’re searching for.
I can make things from my dreams.
My father could, too, and he was killed for it.
I don’t know what I am.
None of it would come out of his mouth. His father had told him to never tell.
Gansey put his hand on the door, fingers braced against the handle, a threat. “Then I can’t go to the Barns.”
“Fuck you,” Ronan said, angry as ever but too tired to sound it. He threw the car into gear and shot them back onto the road, giving the exit sign one last look before it disappeared into the rearview.
He waited a minute before speaking again, to be sure he knew what was going to come out of his mouth. “Where are we going?”
Ronan sounded like skinned knees and bruised knuckles. “Not home.”
Not the Barns, not Monmouth. For now, that was all Gansey could ask.
This time, they drove in silence.
But there was a place where he could pretend, almost.
Without a word, Ronan got out, and Gansey did, too. For a moment, Ronan looked at him, and then he grabbed him by the wrist and led him into the darkness.
His pulse beat light under Ronan’s fingers as they walked out toward nowhere. Once they left the highway behind, it was impossibly dark—no stars in the sky, no moon, nothing left in the world except them.
And then, fireflies. Hundreds of them, sparking up from the ground like embers.
Slowly, a building took shape. At first, Gansey thought it was a church, but as they got closer, he could make it out—an odd, skinny barn, lopsided and rotting. Anything that distinguished it as owned property was completely worn away, leaving nothing but this decaying monument in the middle of a vacant field.
The scene was the moment between waking and sleeping—too real to be a dream, too strange to be real. It was beautiful.
Ronan dropped his wrist and went straight for the barn, shoving the door open with a horrible creak, and crows or ravens frantically fled their place in the rafters to find stiller pastures. The structure was skeletal, emptied out, barely different on the inside than the outside.
“It’s going to collapse on us,” Gansey said, but he didn’t really believe it. The world was too still tonight for that kind of calamity.
Ronan didn’t acknowledge him. He just stood there, shoulders back, eyes shut, breathing. The aging wood, the slow wind, the dirt, the dampness, the growth of the grass and the decomposition of everything else. It smelled like the Barns, like Ronan used to smell after spending all day outside. Warmth and memories.
And then Ronan was back in motion, making himself at home—kicking off his shoes, pitching to the ground with a thud, brushing his fingers over the grainy dirt. “You gonna bitch about trespassing?” he asked.
“No,” Gansey said, “I think there’s nobody in the world who cares about this place.”
“I think there’s nobody in the world at all,” Ronan mumbled, so quietly Gansey barely caught it.
On all those nights when Gansey woke up to an empty apartment, was Ronan here? Was this building, barely standing, where he went when he needed to be home?
It had to be. Gansey watched as he laid down in the patchy grass like he’d done it a thousand times, stretching his arms above his head, letting out a sigh.
This was a place where Ronan felt safe, and the honor of being trusted with it nearly knocked the wind out of him.
There were so many things he didn’t know about Ronan Lynch.
That was the beginning of everything, really. He still remembered the way Gansey had tried so hard to sound sure, like he wasn’t terrified that Ronan would laugh in his face and call him crazy. He still remembered the relief and the joy on Gansey’s face when Ronan had believed him.
He still remembered the way they had laid down in the hay, itchy through their clothes but naked from Gansey’s vulnerability. He still remembered the way Gansey had looked at him, all trust; the way his heart had rocketed when Gansey had reached toward him; the way his heart had fallen when Gansey’s only intention had been to pluck some hay from his hair.
Everything in him ached.
He wanted so badly to go home. He wanted so badly to see his mom. He wanted so badly to tell Gansey every truth he had.
He looked over at Gansey as he laid down next to him, the almost-silhouette of him in the dark; the nearly imperceptible splash of his eyelashes against his cheeks, the rise and fall of his chest, the angle of his bicep behind his head, the grass stain by his hip on his nice white shirt.
He was only a foot away. In the dark, it felt closer.
He wanted so many things he shouldn’t want.
What was Ronan going to show him? What couldn’t Ronan tell him? Here, as close as they could get to the past, anything felt possible. Gansey knew in the deepest parts of himself that there was no secret he wouldn’t bear for Ronan, with Ronan—no truth that would change what they had.
Still, what he wouldn’t give to know. What he wouldn’t give to understand.
“Ronan,” Gansey said, barely having to use his voice. When he opened his eyes, he half expected to see the Ronan from before.
It wasn’t that Ronan—it would never be that Ronan—but it wasn’t the Ronan from an hour ago, either. Maybe it was just dark, but there was something in-between about the way Ronan looked at him. Something he only ever saw in flickers and glances and memories—something defenseless.
Whatever it was, Gansey felt it too, warm in his chest. “Ronan,” he said again.
“Gansey,” Ronan said back, and it was in his voice too. Exposed, wanting.
His heart was beating and something was turning over and over inside of him, the stutter of an engine, the slip of fingers down a cliff. “What don’t I know about you?”
And that was it—that was all it took. Gansey watched as Ronan let go, as wanting won.
They met in the middle. It was soft, at first, a barely-there tremble of lips pressed together. But Gansey felt it like the ringing in his ears after an explosion, like the rock of his body after a slam on the brakes; mind-numbing shock; heart-pounding relief; sudden and still and safe.
It was right.
That night, Gansey dreamt of Ronan.
He could never tell.
“It’s Ronan,” Noah said, barely comprehensible through his hysteria. “They got him.”
“Who?” Gansey asked. But dawn was breaking and Noah’s hands were red in the sunrise, and in the moment it took for Gansey to realize that this red was blood and this blood was Ronan’s, all questions were forgotten.
Ronan looked like shit. Worse than Gansey had ever seen him, twitchy but stiff but absent, half-dead like he hadn’t slept in days or years. He stared straight through the windshield and into the hospital parking lot, hardly even blinking, his posture coiled like a spring.
Gansey had had four days to think of something, but here he was, blank. No words could be adequate. So they sat in silence for one moment and then another, until Ronan said, voice raw and strange, “Can you drive already? I’m fucking starving.”
Something painful boiled inside Gansey—something angry despite himself. That was it? That was all he had to say?
“Ronan,” Gansey tried, voice leashed tight, “I know things have been bad since—“
“Fucking please,” Ronan said, squeezing his eyes shut. Gansey realized what was wrong with his voice—he’d been crying. “Don’t.”
“Don’t?” Gansey asked, leash slipping. “I’m allowed to talk to you about this—“
One day, lost. Three days of having his brain picked by vultures, a blur of bodily discomfort and medicinal haze; seventy-two hours of guilt and shame and lying through his teeth, saying whatever he needed to say to get out of there.
Somehow, this moment was worse.
But there would always be blood for this secret. First his father’s, and now his, for daring to try to tell it. Not Gansey’s, too. Not Gansey.
He couldn’t tell the truth, but he had no lies left. Where did that leave him?
Nowhere, Ronan thought. There’s nowhere for something like me.
He cleared his throat, tried again, packing as much certainty into his voice as he could. “There’s nothing to say.”
There was so much to say—so much that Gansey couldn’t bear it. He had questions and apologies and things he wanted to try to put words to even though it could never be enough; things that Ronan very nearly died never having heard.
He looked at the bandaging on Ronan’s wrists, the knot of his jaw, the way he stared straight ahead.
There was a time where Gansey could’ve said those things, a Ronan he could’ve said those things to. Maybe the Ronan from before Niall. Maybe even the Ronan from the barn in the middle of nowhere, four nights or a lifetime ago.
But this Ronan, scabbed over, didn’t want his words. This Ronan, all scar tissue, wouldn’t take them. Not now, not tomorrow.
But maybe someday. If Ronan had a someday.
The silence ate at him, scraped into to his bones. If he wasn’t allowed to say anything, he didn’t know what to do.
What he wanted, really, was to cry. To scream. To grab Ronan by the neck and kiss him breathless.
He wanted so many things he couldn’t have.
So he sat there with his hands on the wheel, looking blankly into the parking lot because apparently that was how they had conversations now, and he swallowed down ten thousand things that Ronan wouldn’t hear.
He had to have a someday. They had to have a someday.
“Promise me,” Gansey said. “Promise me it’ll never happen again, and then there’s nothing to say.”
But he opened his mouth and said, “I promise,” and he knew he’d have to find a way to make that the truth.
Gansey cleared his throat. He asked the windshield, “Nino’s?”
In his periphery, Ronan nodded. Gansey shifted gears. There was nothing to say.
This silence reminded Gansey of that silence. Aching with the implication, words just out of reach.
Ronan held his hand out for the bottle, and Gansey pretended not to see, until Ronan just snatched it out of his hands. Under the leather bracelets, he saw a flash of silver scar. It was healing well, unlike its owner.
Ronan saw him see and brought the bottle to his lips. Head tipped back, Gansey watched his throat bob as he swallowed one, two, three, four times.
He held his hand out to take it back, but Ronan set it roughly to the other side of himself, out of Gansey’s reach unless he was willing to lean over his lap. He wasn’t.
Five minutes to midnight. Four. Three. They watched the muted television and listened to the rain break against the windows.
Gansey waited. There was either a foot or a mile between them, but he could feel the tightness in Ronan’s muscles, the anger holding him together. Although stubborn and skilled at silence, Ronan was not patient, especially not when he was so upset.
Two minutes to midnight, and Ronan gave in. “You should be with your girlfriend,” he said, and he was pissed.
Gansey was ready. “Why? You want me to leave so you can go drive yourself into a ditch?”
“I can’t stand you babysitting me,” Ronan spat, “like I’m a child. Like I’ll stick a fork in an electrical outlet if you turn your back for two seconds.”
This was a bad idea. Gansey knew they were reeling toward a point where he could no longer stop it. He didn’t want to stop it. “Won’t you?”
“No,” Ronan snapped. “I promised.”
“And I’m supposed to buy that?” Last time, Gansey hadn’t seen it coming—how could he expect to this time? How could he go on acting like everything was fine now that he knew Ronan could slip away at any minute, now that he knew that Ronan wanted to? “It’s just words, Ronan.”
“Just words?” He looked over for half a second, and his eyes were far clearer than they should’ve been. “What more do you want from me?”
Gansey wanted so much. He wanted to know why. He wanted Ronan to stop pretending like it had never happened, like they had never happened, even if for just one night, even if just for one minute. He wanted to know what it would take to make Ronan want to live, if not that, if not them. “I don’t know what you want from me, Ronan!”
One minute to midnight. Less. Ronan was bending, stretching toward his anger, grasping for the will to lie, and each second was harder. “I don’t want anything from you,” he said.
“That’s bullshit,” Gansey said, and his voice cracked. Horrible. “That night. It was a last-ditch effort to find something that made your life worth living, and it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough.”
Midnight was moments away. “It wasn’t like that.”
“Like what! It wasn’t a mystery, Ronan! It was a suicide attempt!”
Wasn’t planned. Wasn’t intentional. “It wasn’t about you.”
“You’re a liar,” Gansey said.
And Ronan felt himself snap.
Good, Gansey wanted to say. Me too.
But he couldn’t get the words out, because Ronan was kissing him, hard. Teeth and tongue and alcohol, igniting against the pain and burning in between them. Fingers curled into Gansey’s collar, Gansey’s hair. Heart hammering in every inch of him.
“You’re enough,” Ronan swore, voice low and furious and broken against Gansey’s lips.
Gansey couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe, didn’t want to. He could only kiss Ronan back, frantic and angry; frantic for every time he’d dreamt about this, angry so that it could be nothing else.
But with Gansey’s clumsy tongue in his mouth, the anger was losing fast.
Outside, fireworks crackled through the rain. Inside, his dream booze seeped into the back of his shirt. At some point, they’d knocked over the bottle and it was spilling out all over the floor.
Do you believe me now, Ronan wanted to say but couldn’t, couldn’t because his mouth was occupied, couldn’t because his anger was slipping away into something else, couldn’t because he wasn’t sure what words would really come out.
But the crash didn’t come—no destruction, no violence. There was only this, only them.
He was trying so hard to be angry, but anger was big and there was no room for it in between them.
Had anything been different that night—had Noah not found him, had the ambulance made a wrong turn, had the doctors not done their job—Ronan would be dead. Time hadn’t lessened the grief, not at all. He felt it now just like he felt it then, sickening, suffocating.
He couldn’t get Ronan close enough to him.
“You can’t leave me,” he said, before he could think not to say it.
They laid there like that for a moment, just breathing, just being. And then Gansey said, “I’m sorry.”
Ronan said, “So am I.” Gansey felt the vibration of the words in his throat, felt them settle into his chest. Then, “I can’t tell you the truth.”
“I don’t care.”
Ronan hesitated for half a second—the space between a lie and the truth. “I’m scared.”
“So am I.”
“I can’t let you get hurt.”
“So don’t hurt me.”
He couldn’t, yet. There were still nights when it was all he could do to protect himself. And he’d promised Gansey that, first and foremost.
He couldn’t tell this truth. Not now, not tomorrow.
But maybe someday. And maybe some other truths, for now.
“I’m not gonna die,” Ronan said.
“But do you want to?”
Sometimes, when he was being honest, the answer was yes. There were a hundred unforgivable things about him, a hundred things he couldn’t bear about himself.
But if he died tomorrow, it would be hurting Gansey that truly damned him. For some reason, Gansey had decided he was worth something, and Ronan didn’t have to agree to understand that if he let the night horrors win, Gansey would never forgive him.
Some days, living was unthinkable. But Gansey not forgiving him was worse than anything.
Ronan couldn’t say Yes. But he couldn’t say No, either. So he said again, “You’re enough.”
“Do you promise?” Gansey asked.
“I promise,” Ronan said.
This time, Gansey believed him.
Gansey dreamt of Ronan.
Maybe, he wanted the same.
But tonight, and tomorrow, and from now on, he had a promise to keep and heart not to break and a someday to see.
He couldn’t make the night horrors stop—he couldn’t make them leave him alone. They would want him for as long as he was a sinner, and that wasn’t something he could change.
But for now, at the least, he could run.
For half a second, it was disorienting, because dreams had spilled into waking hours, and had last night really happened? Yes, it had, and Gansey took a deep breath, let out a deep sigh. For once, he felt sure. For once, he felt rested. More miracles. He was swimming in hope.
A heartbeat away, Ronan was sleeping the same way he did most things: fitfully—eyes rolling wildly behind his eyelids, veins standing out against his knuckles. Whatever he was dreaming of, he was working hard.
But that wasn’t all. Gansey squinted, fumbled for his glasses, squinted some more.
Between Ronan’s fingers was a flower petal—slim, pale, crumpled, but unmistakable. Carefully, Gansey slid it from his grasp, held it up to the sunlight. It was real and strange and beautiful. Where Ronan could’ve gotten it, he didn’t know.
There were so many things he didn’t know about Ronan. But until Ronan could tell him, he was okay with that. After last night, he knew the most important thing, and Ronan knew it, too.
Neither of them could say it. Not now, not tomorrow.
But, someday. And for now, someday was more than enough.