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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. 

Chapter Text

None of the Lynch brothers are in school the next Monday, which leaves Gansey with the itchy faux-pas feeling of a favor gone unacknowledged. He gave Ronan a fifty for gas, but he hadn't realized the Pig was going to come back to him towed and repaired in the dead of night. The home number listed in the directory rings for a minute and a half before disconnecting, and no one seems to know where the brothers have been living except for the vague "outside of town." Devin and Matthew reappear on Wednesday, but Ronan remains missing. From what Gansey can gather, this is typical: the brothers go on lengthy camping trips at least once a month, and Ronan in particular seems to interpret school as a suggestion more than a requirement.  

Declan is occupying the same table he'd chosen the last time Gansey saw him. Ronan's remains conspicuously empty, like the other students are afraid he'll make an abrupt return and tear someone's head off for daring to eat sitting down. 

Gansey sits without waiting to be invited or even acknowledged, and asks, sparing no time for niceties, "Where's Ronan?"  

"He's sick," Declan says. It's a lie, but a convincing one. If he hadn't had to shush Matthew to tell it, Gansey might consider being taken in. As it is, Matthew nods too enthusiastically and repeats, "Yeah, sick," like they're all in on the same joke. The bruise-like bags under Declan's eyes seem to get deeper by the second. 

Gansey decides to let this play out. "Well, I'd be happy to bring him his homework." He tries to remember what sick people are always being plied with in movies. "Or some tea, or soup." Matthew bursts out laughing at this, as if the thought of Ronan eating is too hilarious to bear. Gansey looks at the identically neglected trays across from him. His list of possibilities gets shorter by the day. The only stumbling block now is deciding on the best way to present the data. That, and Ronan's refusal to attend classes. 

"That won't be necessary," Declan says. "He'll be back in school on Monday." 

"You're sure?" 

Declan doesn't sigh or pinch the bridge of his nose or massage his temples, but something about the set of his broad shoulders makes it clear that he wants very badly to do one or all of these things. Gansey has an inkling that antagonizing a presumed supernatural being might be unwise, but he abandons the idea quickly, deciding he's in much too deep to turn back now. "Ronan will be here." Gansey wonders if he ought to push his luck and see what Matthew will say if he asks what Ronan has. Something of this thought process must show on his face because Declan grabs Matthew by the elbow and drags him to his feet. "We need to go." Matthew frowns but acquiesces. 

 

 

When Gansey enters the lunchroom on Monday, all three brothers are seated at Ronan's table, but only one of them looks happy about it. Matthew waves him over so buoyantly that he doesn't even hesitate at skipping the lunch line. If the pattern holds, there will be three plates to choose from, anyway. 

He says as he sits down, "I hope you're feeling better," and Ronan makes a face. He's thinking, probably, that Declan should have come up with a cooler lie, like a cross-country motorcycle trip or recuperation after a bank heist. Gansey tries again. "I just wanted to say thank you for having the Pig towed and repaired." Declan's marble face moves so smoothly that Gansey can't be totally sure it's done anything at all, except that he only felt a base level of judged five seconds prior, and now feels tremendously so. 

"Ronan," Declan says long-sufferingly. Ronan mocks him in a nasal voice. "We talked about this" 

"You talked about this," Ronan snaps. Then he turns to Gansey and smiles. It's a shark-like smile, one that shows all his teeth. Gansey is struck by a mix of apprehension and attraction so powerful that he misses what Ronan says next. It must be, "Do you want to go off campus for lunch?" because when he's next fully in control of his faculties, he's being pelted with rain and Ronan is steering him toward his BMW, which is angled across six parking spots. Gansey, who finagled a pass to the teachers' lot due to a dearth of space, says, "That's a very inconsiderate way to park, you know." 

"Yeah, well," Ronan says, and then nothing. He turns up his music much too loud and pulls out of the lot doing seventy. Gansey elects not to say anything, as he assumes Ronan has made it the last several decades without killing anyone. It's a bit exhilarating, anyway, watching the trees whip by. Ronan rolls the windows all the way down, including the ones in the back, even though every puddle he drives through splashes up to soak Gansey's arm. Gansey watches his chest; he definitely isn't breathing. 

They go to the food court at the mall, and Ronan spends a long time deciding between sushi and pizza, probably out of a desire to be difficult rather than any attempt to blend. He lands on the most expensive sushi platter on the menu, swiping his card with a vindictive glee that makes Gansey suspect that Declan handles their finances.  

They pick a table at the very back, one meant for families, and Ronan leans against the window and kicks one foot up on the chair next to him. Then he closes his eyes and completely stops moving. Gansey feels the reverence he has never quite been able to summon for great works of art. He gives himself fifteen seconds and then clears his throat. "Why did you ask me to lunch if you weren't planning to speak to me?" Ronan opens his eyes and closes them again, which feels somehow like a dismissal. "Well. We're here, so I'll tell you a bit about myself, shall I?" He spares a moment for a confirmation he doesn't get, and then launches into it. "When I was a child," he says, "I died." Ordinarily, Gansey leaves this part out, framing his search as intellectual curiosity. He has the feeling, though, that Ronan has an appreciation for drama and a good deal less for Welsh history. Ronan's eyes open wide and stay that way. He doesn't quite sit upright—Gansey is beginning to suspect that slouchiness is one of his primary personality traits—but he does angle his body toward Gansey's. 

"You did?" he asks, not with the skepticism Gansey is used to, but like he finds this to be eminently plausible. 

"Yes." Gansey swallows hard, one hand tensed against the faux-wood table. He hasn't met anyone willing to listen to this story in a long time, and he's surprised to find himself a bit uncomfortable. "I'm allergic to wasps, and I was stung. My throat closed, and I knew I didn't have a chance, but then I heard this voice. It said that I would live because someone else was dying on the ley line, that it was because of Glendower." Ronan doesn't ask to have either term defined, just stares at him inscrutably. Gansey explains both as briefly as he can, which is still a lecture that eats up the next fifteen minutes.  

Ronan nods once he finishes, the regal, slightly cold nod of a king handing down a decree. He doesn't seem hugely interested, but the fact that he didn't get up and leave is an encouraging sign. "And that's why you're here?" 

"There's a minor ley line a few miles south of town. I don't anticipate anything much coming of it, but it's important to explore all possibilities." 

"Right." Ronan tilts his head thoughtfully. Just as Gansey is about to suggest they head back to school, he says, "I'm pretty familiar with the forests around Forks. If you wanted—a guide, or something." 

"That would be excellent," Gansey says, so thrilled by the prospect of Ronan's companionship that he feels compelled to add, in a stab at dignity, "I'm sure your abilities will be particularly helpful." 

Ronan arches one eyebrow, but the rest of his face remains impassive. "My abilities?" 

Gansey nods. He'd been planning to flowchart all possible reveals and all possible reactions, but this seems as good as any. "Of course I don't know the extent of them as there's no academic consensus, so perhaps I'm being presumptuous. But vampirism must confer some benefits. Enhanced speed, surely, if not metamorphosis and flight." 

Raw panic flits across Ronan's face, which Gansey feels badly—if not wholly unsatisfied—about. Then he smirks and leans back, once again the very picture of elegant indifference. "That's ridiculous." Gansey nods at this, unwilling to argue the point, although it strikes him as rather sad to hear Ronan describe his reality that way. "Anyway, no one would believe you." 

"Be that as it may. I am, if not wholly correct, at least on the right track. And as I don't plan on telling anyone, whether I would be believed if I did so is irrelevant." Ronan seems to have reverted to the rather infantile strategy of pretending not to hear him, so Gansey decides to run through his evidence. "Perhaps it's because I know for a fact that there are phenomena in the world beyond the understanding of the average person. But it was immediately obvious to me that you and your brothers weren't human. You're too beautiful." 

Ronan forgets to affect mundanity for a moment, sitting up so quickly that Gansey can't track the movement. "So because you're doubting your sexuality, I'm not human? That's new." 

Gansey feels his cheeks turn red and envies Ronan his bloodless body. "That isn't what I'm saying and you know it. It isn't even a compliment; it's a statement of fact. Add to that the pale skin, the disinterest in food, and the fact that you definitely haven't taken a breath in the last half hour." Ronan's chest starts to rise and fall, the rhythm a bit too fast to be believable. "Besides, when Declan shook my hand, it felt like thumb-wrestling a rock." Ronan lets out a sharp Ha! but before Gansey can continue, Ronan's phone makes the trapped, desperate buzz of a device left on a hard surface. Ronan pulls it from the front pocket of his jeans. Gansey resists the urge to take out a notebook and mark this down with a big of a flourish. Gloating is so unappealing. 

Ronan barely looks at his phone before tossing it onto the table between them. A crack spiderwebs across the screen. "Declan wants to know if I'm planning on attending any classes at all this quarter." 

Gansey checks his watch and is shocked to see how late it's gotten. Between the time Ronan spent dithering over food he was going to leave wholly untouched, the Glendower explanation, and Ronan's numerous lapses into stony silence, there's no chance they'll make it back to school in time for the bell. It isn't the first time Gansey has missed class: the search takes precedence, after all. This is, though, the first time he has missed it entirely by accident. He takes a breath and makes himself focus on what's important, but when he opens his mouth, Ronan interrupts. "Look, we're not talking about this here." 

"Then where are we talking about it?" Gansey asks, emboldened by the memory of Ronan's wide eyes when he said the word beautiful

Ronan looks at the ceiling. He looks at the table. He looks at the dirt speckling the floor around a potted plant. "I know a place," he says finally, theatrics exhausted. 

It doesn't properly sink in until they're already past the town limits that this might be a truly terrible idea, worse even than everything else he's done since meeting Ronan. He considers texting his whereabouts one of the students determined to befriend him, but doesn’t. "Are you going to kill me?" he asks, voice as calm as he can make it when he has to yell over music that sounds like a space shuttle falling back to earth. 

Ronan says, "Don't be stupid," and then brakes so abruptly that Gansey's chest makes bruising contact with the seatbelt. Ronan, of course, is unaffected by the law of inertia. They pull into the parking lot of a state park, and Gansey allows himself to be led not to any of the hiking trails, but into the thick of the woods themselves. Ronan starts out at a quick but decidedly human pace, and when Gansey matches it, he speeds up, leaving at least a foot between them at all times. Ronan splashes through several streams and changes direction so many times that Gansey struggles to mentally apply their path to the gridded map he studies every night. Finally, Ronan pushes one last branch aside and leads Gansey into a meadow. 

"Is this where you are when you aren't in school?" Gansey sits down on a rock in the middle of the clearing and watches Ronan pace circles around him. 

"Sometimes." Ronan shrugs. "Sometimes we're hunting." 

Gansey's heart speeds up. "Hunting what?" 

"Bears. Mountain lions." Ronan waves a hand dismissively. "Declan likes us to focus on what's in season when possible." Gansey thinks that's a very responsible approach to what must be a very atypical type of hunting, but he smiles when Ronan rolls his eyes. It's a charmingly young gesture. 

Gansey considers his ever-growing list of questions. When did you become a vampire? How did you become a vampire? How many vampires are there, roughly, and what's the demographic breakdown? What comes out of his mouth, though, is, "So why doesn't Declan want us to be friends? If you don't feed on humans?" 

"Because he's a controlling asshole." Ronan stops moving, and even this looks unnatural. A bird lands on his shoulders and begins to peck at his hair as if it's thinking about building a nest and taking up residence. Ronan becomes, if possible, even more still, and when he next speaks, he does so softly. "He thinks it's dangerous." 

"For me?" Gansey feels that he has spent enough time painfully aware of his own mortality, both in his life overall and in the last few days, and he makes up his mind to move past the low-lying fear. 

Ronan scoffs. "For us. If I fed on you, suspicion would fall on us, and we would have to move earlier than we'd planned." He picks the bird off of his shoulder and holds it in the palm of his hand. It lets out a few token protests and then settles in, looking as peaceful as it did before. Ronan doesn't smile down at it, but he does stop frowning. He adds as an afterthought, "I'm not going to kill you, obviously." 

"I didn't think you were." 

Ronan startles so badly that the bird takes flight. "Well, that's fucking stupid." He doesn't need to breathe, but he sounds choked anyway. "How are you even alive? You can't just go around trusting everyone." 

"I don't just trust everyone," Gansey says, though he knows he can be a bit naïve. "Why would you get my car fixed if you were planning on—on exsanguinating me?" 

"Get on your good side? Lure you in? God, have you ever heard of a trap?" 

"Why would you need to lure me in? You have, at minimum, super speed and invulnerable skin. I'm guessing that you don't turn into a bat." Gansey raises an inquisitive eyebrow, and Ronan shakes his head. "Right, of course. So I can't see what would be added to your hunting routine by a few friendly favors." 

Ronan lets out a sigh that no person who requires oxygen could achieve. "Well, I wouldn't have to plan to do it to do it, would I? Accidents happen." 

"I figured that you've been living this way for..." Gansey refers back to the weekend spent picking through historical property records and newspaper archives from overcast towns. "At least four decades now. You must be good at it. Why should I be any different?" Ronan doesn't look at him, which isn't really so notable except that his shoulders hunch in on themselves as well. Gansey flinches. "Am I different? Why am I different?" 

"It's not a big deal." Ronan digs the toe of his boot into the dirt and continues until most of his foot has disappeared. "Should we head back to the car?" 

"If there's something about me that makes me particularly susceptible to vampire attacks, I think I have the right to know."  

"It's not all vampires," Ronan says, chewing on the cuff of his leather jacket without seeming to notice that he's doing it. Gansey squints at his canines and notes that they aren't particularly sharp. "It's me. You smell especially good to me. It's a thing that happens sometimes. It doesn't mean anything." 

Left to his own devices, Gansey wouldn't have ascribed any significance to the apparently varying appeal of his blood, but he's now entirely certain that it does, in fact, mean something. He decides not to focus on this, which is daunting, or the fact that Ronan isn't totally sold on not eating him, which is more so. "What do I smell like?" 

Ronan lowers his hand from his face. "Is that really what you want to know?" Gansey nods, and before he can blink, Ronan is sitting next to him, the cold of his skin radiating through his sodden jeans. The rain has slowed to a drizzle that's more off than on, but the damage is done. Ronan breathes in while Gansey tries to stay still. "It's not a human food smell. It's weirdly flowery, I guess. A burnt-out match. Icy Hot." 

Gansey wrinkles his nose. "And that's...a good smell?" 

Ronan sighs. Up close, his eyes are a particularly inviting amber. "Well, it doesn't exactly translate. Look, if I promise not to kill you, can we stop talking about this?" 

"Sure. I have plenty of other questions. Clearly you can walk around in the daylight without burning up, but I've found that when these sorts of details are consistent in mythology spanning centuries and cultures, they come from somewhere. What does happen when the sun hits you?" 

Ronan tips his head back and groans dramatically. "We're going back to school. Words I never thought I'd say." He tugs Gansey to his feet and starts back toward the road with him in tow. "And don't tell Declan I told you, or I'll retract my promise." 

"Well, technically," Gansey says as they crash through the underbrush, and then has to stop speaking to catch his breath. Ronan seems to have lost track of the differences between their physiologies, or else forgotten to care. He doesn't feel fully capable of speech until they've made it back to the car and he's able to sink into the leather seat. "Technically, I deduced it. All you did was confirm an obvious truth." It's hard to tell when, exactly, Ronan is ignoring him because Ronan seems to believe a ten minute conversation should rightly contain at least five minutes of wordless staring, but Gansey is reasonably certain Ronan is ignoring him now. "And he's probably going to figure out that I know when I ask Matthew to let me set him up under a sunlamp." 

Ronan's hand tenses against the steering wheel so tightly that it warps under his fingers. He says through gritted teeth, "We sparkle," turns the radio up so that Gansey has no chance of making himself heard, and tears out of the lot at a speed Gansey hadn't known cars were capable of reaching.