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Better This Way

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Ronan wants to run his fingers over every inch of it, inside and out, feel the slick gloss of the paint, trace over the dials on the dashboard, reach down into the gaps beside the seats. He presses his face into the worn upholstery, breathing in the smell of sun-warmed vinyl. It’s a peculiarly Gansey smell, comfortable and ageless.

Whole worlds, Kavinsky had said, and he’s right: this is Ronan’s world, with its long summers and lost kings and sprawling across Gansey on the couch while Gansey painstakingly replicates his home in cereal boxes and glue. Ronan doesn’t need cereal boxes – his Camaro is perfect in every detail, right down to the scuff marks above the glove compartment where Ronan puts his feet for the simple pleasure of hearing Gansey’s disapproving sigh.

The clunk of the latch as the door opens is pitch-perfect, and Ronan marvels at this small miracle for a long second before he reacts, tipping his head up to meet Kavinsky’s eyes. What he sees there isn’t the wild carelessness that usually passes for happiness with Kavinsky, but Ronan has no name for what takes its place.

“What’d I tell you, man,” says Kavinsky. He reaches down to give Ronan’s shoulder a congratulatory shake. “You just gotta know what you want.” His grin is so bright that Ronan wants to shade his face against it – or maybe that’s his hangover and the sunlight lancing through the Pig’s windscreen. “Perfect forgery.”

It’s not a forgery, Ronan thinks; it’s a gift, the wrecked Camaro in a flawless new body. He wonders if Cabeswater would have more gifts for him, if he knew what to ask for.

Kavinsky is still grinning, his lips soft in his angular face. His eyes are all pupil, wide and depthless. The ugly white sunglasses are perched slightly askew on top of his head, pushing his spiked hair into a crest. Ronan has never seen him so still; for a moment he seems a totally different creature to the restless, shifting Kavinsky that Ronan is familiar with.

Then his hands are gripping Ronan’s shoulders, hauling him to his feet, so that their faces are barely a handspan apart.

Got to know what you want, Ronan thinks again, dizzily. Kavinsky’s lips are obscenely close to his own. A question hangs in the air between the two of them; Ronan isn’t sure who’s asking. He doesn’t know when he started thinking about the way that full lower lip would sink under his teeth, but it’s become familiar background noise in his mind. It would be easy, Ronan realises, to lean across the space.

Kavinsky raises his eyebrows, eyes widening under heavy lids, and Ronan knows he sees it too. His hungry mouth curves into an asymmetric smile.

“Like what you see, Lynch?”

Do something, Ronan tells himself, but he’s not sure whether he means to pull Kavinsky closer or push him away. The lingering fog of last night’s countless beers and Kavinsky’s dream pills means that by the time he’s moved, Kavinsky has already closed the handful of inches between them.

At first, all Ronan feels is the warmth of Kavinsky’s breath on his skin. For a surreal half-second he thinks of his father teaching him to fight; Niall would be ashamed of his slow reflexes. Then Kavinsky’s familiar arrogance resurfaces and he digs his fingers into Ronan’s shoulders as though he has always known they would end up here, bringing their mouths together with enough force that Ronan has to consciously swallow a whimper.

It’s playing with fire, Ronan knows, but one of the immutable facts about being Ronan Lynch is that sometimes you want to get burned, so he shoves down the part of his mind that speaks in Gansey’s voice, curls his fingers around Kavinsky’s hip and pulls him in fiercely, pressing their bodies together. Kavinsky’s bare chest feels feverish against Ronan’s skin, and he gives a startled huff of breath that tastes faintly of beer. It’s gratifying, Ronan thinks, still stinging a little from the fact that Kavinsky has known what he is for months and said nothing. There’s a tiny victory in being able to surprise him.

Pressing his advantage, Ronan drags his teeth across Kavinsky’s lip. It feels exactly as Ronan imagined - soft and full, somehow decadent – but the sound Kavinsky makes is something he’s never dreamed of, startled but not at all displeased. Kavinsky’s nails cut sharp lines into Ronan’s skin, and Ronan’s fingers are hard on Kavinsky’s hip in answer. He wants Kavinsky to wake up tomorrow with bruises shaped like Ronan’s fingertips.

This isn’t kissing, Ronan reasons. Kissing isn’t meant to be violent. He’s fairly sure you’re not meant to taste blood, or wonder whether the scrape of fingernails down your back is supposed to feel this good, or ask yourself what the fuck you think you’re doing. He twists his fingers into Kavinsky’s hair - he’ll think about that later - and leans down to meet Kavinsky’s vulgar lips again.

Kavinsky growls, biting Ronan’s lip, and Ronan shoves him hard in the chest, pushing him away from the recreated Camaro with some faint thought about Gansey and respect and the sanctity of the impeccable paint job. It’s only a few steps back before they’re up against the hood of one of the hundreds of Mitsubishis that litter the field. This one has a BMW badge where the Mitsubishi emblem should go. Ronan grins.

Kavinsky grunts as his thighs collide with the bumper, and one of his hands slides up to grab Ronan by the nape of his neck, dragging him down. They fall together in a tangle of limbs and grasping hands that lands with Ronan on his back against the cold metal, Kavinsky leaning over him. He holds himself above Ronan for a moment, arms braced against the hood, before leaning down. There is something very real about the weight of Kavinsky against him, about the pressure of Kavinsky’s knee between Ronan’s thighs, forcing them apart. An involuntary sound escapes him, somewhere between a gasp and a groan.

He pushes his hips into the pressure, dragging his nails across Kavinsky’s back. Kavinsky’s lips are pink and puffy when he draws away, his eyes dark. He grins, slow and lascivious. Something turns over in the pit of Ronan’s stomach. It’s the same tense anticipation he felt watching the arc of the Molotov cocktail as it left Gansey’s hand. A strange, long moment passes, in slow motion or maybe double-time. Ronan is hyper-aware of a hundred tiny details: the sun glittering off the dewy grass, the BMW badge on the hood of the car against his back, cool air on his skin and Kavinsky’s hand hot at the back of his neck. If Ronan has wanted things in the past as much as he wants right now, they’re lost in the back of his mind.

Kavinsky doesn’t fumble with the button of Ronan’s jeans; he flips it undone and pulls the zipper down with the ruthless efficiency of a firing squad. His eyes are still on Ronan’s, challenging.

Ronan says nothing.

The corners of Kavinsky’s mouth lift. Smirking, he shoves his hand under the elastic band of Ronan’s boxers and wraps his fingers around Ronan’s cock.

Ronan’s brain briefly short-circuits.

Kavinsky’s hand is calloused, rough against Ronan's hyper-sensitive skin. It’s exhilarating, the feeling of his last fragments of self-control dissolving, like skidding around a rain-slicked corner in a car that’s barely clinging to the road. He’s only aware of the noises he’s making in the back of his throat as they reach his ears. Kavinsky’s teeth are very white. Ronan has never met anyone before with a smile sharper than his own.

“Dick not giving you any at home, princess?”

Ronan grits his teeth, not bothering with an answer. Kavinsky’s hand is rough, his movements brusque, but that’s exactly what Ronan wants – someone to treat him like he’s unbreakable, or better, like they don’t care if he breaks. His lips are swollen; they throb in time with his heartbeat. Kavinsky’s breath is warm on his tongue, and Ronan can feel scratches down his back like lines of fire. He doesn’t realise he’s reaching for Kavinsky’s hair until his fingers are wound into it, gripping fiercely.

He feels for the zipper on Kavinsky’s jeans - not half so precise as Kavinsky had been, but Ronan thinks that’s only fair. He’s got a few more distractions to contend with (Kavinsky’s hand, down his pants).

Kavinsky wears his jeans low enough that Ronan barely has to tug them down once they’re undone; they fall under their own weight, revealing sharp hipbones and thin, pale thighs. Experimentally, he drags his nails down Kavinsky’s leg, and he’s rewarded with a hiss through gritted teeth. Kavinsky’s erection pushes against the fabric of his briefs, and he breaks rhythm for a moment, fingers digging into the nape of Ronan’s neck.

Ronan’s lips curl.

He scrapes his nails over Kavinsky’s thigh again, harder this time, cupping his free hand around the bulge in Kavinsky’s pants. “Fuck,” says Kavinsky, low and hoarse. He sounds almost angry.

“That’s the idea,” Ronan can’t help answering, and he slides his fingers under the elastic of Kavinsky’s pants.

It turns out that this is an art with a bit of skill to it. It’s hard to think about anything that isn’t the roughness of Kavinsky’s fingers, or the softness of his lips. Bodies don’t fit together the way Ronan would like them to: his wrist is bent awkwardly and all their limbs seem to be inconveniently placed; Kavinsky is all hard edges and sharp angles.

Still, there’s a kind of rhythm to it, skin on bare skin, bodies pressed together, and hands fumbling in the space between them. In the back of Ronan’s mind, warning lights glow, and Ronan stares at Kavinsky’s face with its shadows and hollows and black, empty eyes, thinks of it until he can see it behind his eyelids when he lets his own eyes fall closed. Kavinsky bites at Ronan’s lips, and then down the line of his jaw and the soft skin of his neck.

A moment later, Kavinsky pulls back. Ronan is sure he hears him say fuck, Lynch, under his breath, and then something which might be Bulgarian; it sounds like Kavinsky’s party playlists.

Ronan doesn’t last much longer than that.

It’s not as though he’s completely inexperienced. He masturbates, but there’s a vast difference between coming messily over your own hand, biting your lip to keep quiet because you know Gansey’s pretending to sleep in the next room, and this. There’s something else in knowing that when he comes, it’s because of Kavinsky’s calloused fingers on his skin. This is a terrible idea, Ronan thinks, briefly – but it’s one of those back-of-your-mind thoughts, abstract and far off, because then he’s there, wherever there is. He gasps, shaking, his nails digging into Kavinsky’s scalp, and the sound of his own voice comes to his ears as though someone else is speaking, a tumble of bitten-off curses and half-finished thoughts nothing like the usual precision he swears with. It ought to be terrible, but it makes sense - in a way Gansey couldn’t - Gansey shouldn’t - understand.

And then his mind is silent, half empty. A few seconds might pass, or several minutes.

He notes distantly that he’s made a mess of Kavinsky’s probably-expensive jeans. The cold metal of the car’s front bumper is pressing into his thighs, and Kavinsky’s hand is hot on the back of his neck. Ronan is vaguely aware that he’s trembling, leaning into Kavinsky.

“Seriously?” he hears Kavinsky say, distant and unimpressed.

Ronan opens his eyes.

“Dick let you get away with that?”

Ronan isn’t entirely sure what’s he’s getting away with until Kavinsky adds “It’s not fucking polite to leave a guy hanging.”

He realises that his hands have fallen limp to his sides; Kavinsky’s awful sunglasses are hanging from his fingers, somehow. He reaches up to Kavinsky again, without any clear intention beyond knowing that he doesn’t want this to end here. The sunglasses fall to the grass and lie there, expressionless.

Kavinsky grabs him by the shoulders before he has a chance to move far, hands warm and heavy, and Ronan hasn’t the presence of mind to do anything but let himself be guided downwards. As he slides off the hood of the car; he hears Kavinsky say something, but he doesn’t manage to parse it. Moisture seeps through his jeans from the dewy grass, and it’s only then he realises that he’s kneeling. Kavinsky is tracing a careful thumb along the side of Ronan’s throat. There’s an impossible stillness between them again, an intangible potential. That touch is the only thing tethering Ronan to the ground; everything around him feels insubstantial, dreamlike.

It stopped being important a while back whether or not this was real, as long as it was happening.

The path Kavinsky is following up Ronan’s neck and along the line of his jaw finishes at Ronan’s mouth. He brushes his thumb over the lower lip, still barely touching. Ronan shivers; it’s tender from Kavinsky’s teeth.

“Open up, Lynch.” Kavinsky’s voice is oddly gentle. He pushes his thumb between Ronan’s lips, and they part without his mind’s permission. Kavinsky’s skin tastes of salt and gasoline, and his thumb slips between Ronan’s teeth like he’s claiming his territory.

Above his head, Ronan hears Kavinsky’s sharp exhale - almost a laugh.

Somehow, it’s only when Kavinsky has his hand on his own cock, guiding it into to Ronan’s mouth, that Ronan realises exactly what he’s doing. Fuck, he thinks, an expression more of surprise than anything else, and he opens wider to take Kavinsky in.

Ronan is aware - blowjobs are a fairly common topic of conversation in the locker rooms at Aglionby - that there is meant to be some kind of technique to this too, but that is more than Ronan can find space in his mind to think about. He just lets Kavinsky push into his mouth as far as he can take it.

“Think I like you better with your mouth full, Lynch.”

Kavinsky thrusts his hips forward, hand on the back of Ronan’s head holding him firm. There’s a rhythm to this, too - slide and suck and breathe when he can, though Ronan feels like he forgot how some hours ago. It’s like music: every beat drives Ronan’s thoughts further from his mind, and the spaces are filled by Kavinsky’s fingers tight on his neck, Kavinsky’s breathing loud in his ears, the taste of Kavinsky on his tongue, musky and unfamiliar. Ronan’s whole world has narrowed to this. There’s no time except now, no place except here.

Ronan likes himself better this way too.

Kavinsky swears viciously above Ronan’s head; Ronan doesn’t recognise the words, but he knows them by tone, and anyway, Kavinsky’s fingers digging into the place where his neck meets his shoulder tell him everything he might’ve missed.

Ronan makes a sound in answer, half-choked in the back of his throat, as Kavinsky’s nails bite into his skin. He feels like a dam breaking, or a bubble being burst, like some part of him has been unknowingly waiting for this, and when Kavinsky does it again, nails sharp and unforgiving, Ronan finds himself hoping he’ll have crescent moon marks in his skin afterwards, evidence that this was real.

Then Kavinsky’s hands are on the back of Ronan’s neck, forcing him in close. Ronan grips tighter. He doesn’t know whether he’s holding Kavinsky in place or himself, but his fingers dig into the soft flesh of Kavinsky’s thighs. Above him, Kavinsky mutters something like, “Fucking hell, Lynch,” then on a long uneven breath he comes, hot and bitter in Ronan’s throat.

Ronan has the absurd thought as he swallows that he’s surprised it doesn’t taste of gasoline, and then he thinks of nothing at all. His mind is television static, and not even Gansey can find his way through the noise.

Ronan doesn’t know how much time passes while he kneels there. He remembers how to breathe, slowly. Somewhere in the world, Kavinsky is buttoning his jeans. Somewhere, the air is warm and the grass is drying and an orange Camaro gleams in the sun. Ronan has been cut loose.

“Up you get, princess.”

Kavinsky’s hands under his arms haul Ronan to his feet - or at least, he tries. Ronan’s legs don’t seem inclined to hold him, and his breath still comes in unsteady gasps. He’s shaking, he realises, sprawling back on the hood of the car as Kavinsky lets him go.

“All right, Lynch.” Kavinsky rubs a hand over the bristles of Ronan’s hair. It feels affectionate, almost. Ronan can’t be bothered figuring out whether he’s been asked a question or given a compliment, so he says nothing at all.

“Didn’t pick you getting off on that,” Kavinsky adds, languid and conversational. “Is that what Dick keeps you around for?”

“Fuck off, mobster trash,” says Ronan. It’s not an insightful comeback, but it’ll do.

Kavinsky stretches out on the hood beside him, hooking one leg around Ronan’s and throwing a faintly possessive arm over him. His eyes are still wide, cheeks flushed. Ronan can hear a heartbeat over the endless silence in his head; he’s not sure which one of them it belongs to, but he listens to it gradually slow. He feels warm and limp, weeks or months worth of tension bled out of him.

It’s the sun that spurs Ronan to movement eventually, filtering through his daze as though through leaves. His shoulders are going to be sunburnt when he gets home.

Home.

He thinks all at once of Gansey, on his way back in a disappointing car, Adam in tow; of the Camaro, at the same time wrapped around a pole in the Henrietta suburbs and parked somewhere off to his left, unmarked; and Monmouth Manufacturing, waiting empty for its master.

“Shit.”

Kavinsky stirs at the sound of Ronan’s voice. His eyelids don’t open, but Ronan sees a flicker of movement underneath. He has one hand draped over Ronan’s hip, and he squeezes it, surprisingly gently.

Too exhausted to put effort into it, probably; Ronan is not without empathy. Still, the message is clear: Don’t go.

“I have to—”

Ronan doesn’t bother finishing the sentence. He doesn’t want to move any more than Kavinsky does, but Gansey, who’s been relegated to a safe corner of Ronan’s mind since Kavinsky shot the night horror, has resurfaced.

The hood of the Mitsubishi is hot now under his bare arms as he pushes himself up to sitting. The white paint is lit to blinding in the sun.

“Run home to your master,” Kavinsky says, completely devoid of expression. “Bet he doesn’t give it to you as good as this.”

Ronan’s not sure whether what transpired this morning qualifies as good or not, so he says nothing, just checks that Kavinsky’s got at least one eye open before he flips him the finger.

The Camaro is still there, just like he dreamed it, orange paint gleaming and impeccable. Ronan climbs in, smelling the warmth of the vinyl, feeling the steering wheel steady under his hands.

He rolls down the window. Kavinsky watches him through half-closed eyelids as the engine turns over, then growls to life. Ronan feels his whole body go lax, the last string cut. As he rolls it over the still-damp grass, weaving between misshapen Mitsubishis, he hears Kavinsky call out, sleep-addled and amiable.

“Hey, Lynch?”

“What?”

“See you on the streets.”