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how it is when something difficult loves you

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Forks, Washington is on a leyline, but it has never risen into the top ten on Gansey's list of possibilities. There are aberrations, but none that can't be explained by more ordinary factors. He decides to visit not because he expects anything to come of it, but because he's almost entirely sure nothing will. After fleeing England to nurse what's left of his dignity, he isn't opposed to taking a break, if one shrouded in the garb of responsibility. 

He registers himself at the local high school while he waits to hear back from the UW Seattle professors he's emailed about hastily-constructed independent studies. He buys a well-rated car with four wheel drive, and then a second one he spots on the side of the road and falls in love with. The latter is the one he drives on his first day of school, even though it doesn't always run and sounds like a beast unleashed from the depths of hell whenever he takes it over forty. "Image is important" isn't exactly the message Gansey wants to have taken away from his life thus far, but it's undeniably true. 

Almost every student Gansey talks to tells him about the Lynch brothers in great, often conflicting detail, which just increases his confidence in his choice of Forks as an unofficial vacation spot. If there were mystical goings-on, surely even his dullest peers would have something more interesting to discuss than who's notorious for dumping girls via text (Declan), who apparently thinks he's too good to date (Ronan), and who never seems to notice he's been asked out but is still a total sweetheart (Matthew). Then Gansey actually sees them as he's getting in the lunch line, and it becomes painfully obvious that Forks isn't going to be the haven of relaxation he thought it would be. There is something very, very strange going on, and if the trio of deathly pale, improbably beautiful boys lurking around the outskirts of his public school experience aren't the cause, they are assuredly aware of what is.  

They are unambiguously the three most attractive students in the school—sharp cheekbones and piercing eyes of a color Gansey can't quite name—but with the exception of the cherubic youngest, they seem to be completely isolated. Matthew flits from table to table smiling and talking and not seeming to notice how people are struck dumb by his presence, while his two brothers sit on opposite ends of the room and don't look at him or each other. 

Ronan Lynch looks like he's going to murder someone, or like he already has. Despite the miserable weather, he's outfitted in a black tank top and a leather jacket that was clearly designed to favor form over function. He must know he's being watched, because he turns his head, slowly, and makes eye contact. Gansey doesn't look away as a matter of principle, and also because he can't, trapped by Ronan's eyes on him. 

Even once the cafeteria is full, entire groups of students choose to squish in on overcrowded benches rather than sit with either of the colder Lynch brothers. Gansey tightens his grip on his tray and slides in across from Ronan who, despite his stony visage, has one of the most expressive faces Gansey has ever seen. He cycles through shock, irritation, and apprehension before finally settling on an anger that feels studied. "No one sits at my table," he says in a voice that would be unpleasant if it weren't so melodic. 

"I gathered. But as you can see—" Gansey gestures to the room behind him, noting as he does that they're being watched by almost every other student in the room, including Declan but not Matthew, who seems to be doing impressions. Gansey has never been one to be cowed by scrutiny, but he allows himself a moment to regroup. "As you can see, every other seat is taken, and you and your brother are occupying a table each." He holds out his hand to shake. "Anyway, I'm new here, so I thought I'd introduce myself." Ronan stares at the hand between them as if Gansey has offered him freshly-squashed roadkill. "My name is Gansey. And you are?" 

"Completely sure someone has already told you my name and life story." Ronan rolls his eyes. There's something unnaturally smooth about the way his face passes through the motion, like an impeccably choreographed ballet or the gears of a ten-thousand-dollar watch. Gansey swallows three times before he feels confident in his ability to speak calmly and evenly. He doesn't get the chance, though, because Ronan cocks his head as if he's heard something he didn't expect and doesn't particularly like, and then his lips part, only for a split second. It's nothing, but from what Gansey has seen of him, he does everything with disconcerting intentionality. For reasons he can't explain, Gansey turns quickly, as if to catch someone in the act. Declan is looking out a nearby window as if he was born and will die doing so, but Matthew is now watching them apprehensively, a level of focus that seems out of character. Then Matthew smiles at him, and for an entire thirty seconds, Gansey forgets to feel the excited apprehension of having walked into something he doesn't understand. It's a lapse long enough for Declan and Matthew to approach and sit down on either side of Ronan. They all look like they could just as easily be on display in a funeral home as sitting in a crowded lunchroom, but Declan seems to be actively wishing for the former. Every part of Ronan that isn't covered in leather has tensed. Matthew is humming a song Gansey half-recognizes from a peanut butter commercial gone viral. 

"Declan Lynch. Nice to meet you." Declan's hand is ice cold against Gansey's, and he mentally crosses a few possibilities off of his list, and bumps "vampire" up two. Ronan stares at the point of contact like he might light their joined hands on fire. It isn't definitely impossible, so Gansey lets go quickly. Matthew waves at him. "Ronan," Declan says, still making unflinching eye contact with Gansey. "We need to talk." Gansey feels sure he's supposed to be intimidated, though he can't say why. Declan ought to be the less frightening brother considering that he's wearing a cable-knit sweater in eggshell. 

"I'm eating," Ronan says, and takes huge bite of the apple on his tray to prove a point. It is, Gansey notes, the only thing he's touched. "And I'm talking to my new friend—" He pauses theatrically. "Glen." 

The feeling of being forgotten, even inauthentically, is unfamiliar for Gansey. He finds that he's almost charmed by it. "Gansey. But we were in the middle of a conversation. Of course, the more the merrier." Ronan snorts. 

Matthew waves again from across the table, and Gansey realizes he never waved back. He does so, and Matthew beams and says, "Don't you think it can wait, Declan? This is nice. And you guys do need more friends." Ronan and Declan groan in near-perfect unison, but Matthew is undeterred. "Really. And Glen seems nice." He seems so pleased with them and himself and the world at large that Gansey decides to continue being unbothered by the misnaming.  

Declan spends the rest of the period interrogating Gansey about his family, and history, and motives for moving to Forks. Ronan focuses all of his attention on tearing his bread roll into ever smaller pieces and looking deeply and personally wronged. 

 

 

Between trying to explain his unorthodox transcript to the administration and brushing off classmates amazed by the fact that he emerged from lunch with the Lynches fully intact, Gansey is fairly drained by the time he finally leaves the school. He isn't in the mood for the Pig to refuse to start, especially because it's begun to rain, which shouldn't be a surprise since the weather in Forks is always, at the least, rain-adjacent. He listens to the Pig make an ominous groaning noise for several minutes before giving up on it and resting his head against the steering wheel. 

Someone knocks on the window, a little rougher than is strictly necessary. Gansey looks up to see Ronan Lynch peering in at him, apparently unbothered by the water dripping down the smooth, unearthly planes of his face. He looks as angry as he did at lunch. Gansey has been wanting to investigate the hypothesis that Ronan often forgets to pretend to breathe, but between the rain and the still-rolled-up window, he can't make out the pertinent details. He cracks the window very slightly, and Ronan leans in. "Nice car," he says, one eyebrow raised. 

"It's a work in progress," Gansey says defensively. "As are we all." 

Ronan laughs. Gansey can't think of a reason for him to find this so unspeakably hilarious except his being an ageless being stuck in time. "Look, do you want a ride or not?" 

Gansey's hands tighten on the steering wheel. "I didn't realize a ride was being offered. That's very kind of you. But I can't leave my car." 

"There's one tow truck in this whole town, but if you want to wait hours for it to show up, go for it." Ronan sighs like he already regrets the entirety of this interaction. "Or you could get in my functional, made-in-the-last-decade car, and we'll handle yours later." The we obviously doesn't include Gansey, but he doesn't think any of the Lynch brothers seem particularly likely to dabble in car transport in any way but the most conventional one. 

"Why would you help me? Four hours ago, you were upset that I sat at your lunch table." 

"Declan thinks he's the boss of me just because he's—" Ronan pauses, and then intones with an air of mystery, "older." 

Gansey sighs. He turns the key in the ignition one last time and then lets himself out. The rain is even worse than it was when he first ran from the school to his parking spot. He's soaked through in seconds, but Ronan makes his unhurried, unspeaking way across the parking lot. When he doesn't respond to questions about his academics or his childhood, Gansey considers coming right out and asking if he's human, but decides to maintain the element of surprise a bit longer, and also to keep from alienating the person offering him a ride home. Ronan doesn't unlock the passenger-side door until Gansey has tugged ineffectually at the handle a few times. Once they're both inside, Ronan turns on music that sounds like some kind of deadly industrial accident and cranks it up so loud that Gansey pledges to do an at-home ear exam once he finally makes his escape. 

Ronan barely stops the car at the end of the driveway, and is gone by the time Gansey makes it to his front door. When he looks out his window the next morning, the Pig is parked exactly where it should be. He sleeps lightly, and rarely, so it seems suspicious that he didn't hear a tow truck pull up. His list of curiosities grows slightly longer. When he tries his key in the ignition on a whim, the car roars to life sounding as functional as it ever has, and he laughs delightedly. Ronan Lynch, in addition to being one of six possible mythological creatures, is something of a miracle worker.