Ronan never thought the universe would allow him to have good things.
As a child, he was quiet and shy. Which usually translated to being overlooked when it came to birthday invitations and sleepovers. As a young teenager, he had taken to acting out, which only meant that everyone in school had grown fearful of his unpredictable temper, which lead to more isolation.
Throughout all this, he still went to mass every week with his mother, father and brothers. Whenever the priest would go quiet, he would concentrate very hard and pray. He would pray for an easier life, for a best friend, for someone to look at him and not look away quickly after, as if afraid of him. He would visualize all of this, would feel like he could almost pluck it out of his mind’s eye and bring it to existence just by praying hard enough.
The first time he hangs out with Gansey, he thinks it’s a fluke. Gansey’s a new kid and soon he’ll hear that Ronan’s a freak, will hear about his temper and tomorrow he’ll pass by Ronan with a wan smile, and then start pretending he doesn’t exist.
Instead, Gansey comes back the next day, and the day after that. When Ronan asks on the exhale of a cigarette he had stolen from their math teacher, “Why’d you keep coming back? Haven’t you heard? Apparently, I’m the school psycho.” He passes the cigarette over to Gansey and hopes that Gansey can’t see how badly his hands are shaking, cant hear his pulse thundering in his body in anticipation.
“Yeah?” Gansey says, inhaling and making a face, “I’ll take psycho over milk-toast any day.” He winks, and it might have been suave and cool, if Gansey wasn’t also wincing at the same time, holding back a cough on the exhale.
Ronan snatches the cigarette back and he feels lighter, his heart thundering for an entirely different reason, “If you can’t handle the cigarette, then give it here, you asshole. You’re wasting nicotine is what you’re doing.”
Ronan gets a month of believing in good things. A month of going to mass, and thanking god, sending out prayer after prayer after prayer full of gratitude and hope.
Then, he wakes up on a spring day, goes outside and finds his father; recognizable not by his battered face, but by his hands, his watch, his clothes.
He stops going to church immediately.
After his father’s death, Ronan becomes known as Henrietta’s own psycho resident.
Where previously, he would act out by stealing a cigarette here and there, and having a smart mouth in class, he was now going to class drunk, if he even made it at all. He was street racing, throwing up in parking lots and passing out in random places.
He always woke up in Gansey’s place in Monmouth.
“Fuck,” He’d mutter, his stomach growling in warning of what was to come, “What the fuck happened last night?”
Gansey would look up from whatever book he was reading, give him a withering look and mutter, “You were street racing.”
“Did I win?” He’d smirk, his stomach rolling through some nausea.
“You almost died.”
“That would’ve been quite the event, can you imagine—” he’d start throwing up before the sentence was even finished.
Gansey would rush over, rub his back and mutter things like, “Fuck you Ronan. Fuck you for doing this to yourself.”
Ronan had stopped going home.
Whenever he would venture home, his mother would be crying, hunched over with Declan or Matthew patting her back. If it was a Matthew day, Ronan would receive a disappointed sort of look; the corners of Matthew’s lips turned down in an attempt to keep him from speaking. Matthew was only 14, and he had looked exhausted, his eyes red-rimmed and smudged with a dark blue that only came from multiple nights of no sleep. Ronan had seen that same look reflected on his own face. If it was a Declan night, Ronan knew to expect a loud, angry, violent Declan, full of threats and promises of failure. That’s what he liked to call Ronan, a failure. Ronan would walk away scathed but not seriously injured. He would find another drinking hole and drink himself half to death again.
It was only when Declan threatened to cut off his inheritance that Ronan decided he had had enough of being threatened by his father’s money when the man himself was cold, six feet under, and would never come back to Ronan, that he decided to move out.
The decision to live with Gansey is not a difficult one.
His friendship with Gansey becomes sacred. Ronan looks at his life and realizes that it’s empty, that he officially has no one left but Gansey.
The thing is, Gansey has become Ronan’s rock. By default, this means he has seen Ronan through everything. By further default, this means that within the last year, Ronan has scarcely seen Gansey laugh.
So, when he enters his first chemistry class of the new school year, he falters, almost stumbles backwards at the look on Gansey's face. He's smiling – no, he's laughing, so full bodied, closed fist slamming on the marble tabletop, and suddenly Ronan remembers. Gansey is a boy full of light and joy, the wrinkle of worry on his forehead wasn't always there. The permanent downturn of his lips wasn't actually permanent. It only appeared when Ronan did.
Right now, Gansey was sitting with two boys; Noah Czerny, whose family was friends with the Lynches, who spent the entire time at Ronan’s dad’s funeral staring at Ronan with a frown, as if waiting for Ronan to break down. The other boy was new; Ronan had never seen him before. He had a mess of dirty blonde hair, and his uniform looked too small in some places, and too big in others.
Ronan doesn’t bother them, he doesn't make a single sound as he moves quietly to the back of the class.
When the teacher walks in, one of the boys, the one with the dirty blonde hair, and the raggedy stitched up Aglionby vest pats Gansey on the shoulder and moves his things off of Gansey’s desk. The other boy settles in on the chair besides Gansey, takes out his books and straightens up.
Ronan’s eyes track the boy with the dirty blonde hair. He watches as he attempts to sit with someone but is snubbed, an already sitting boy quickly puts his books on the stool next to him. The blonde boy’s face changes, only for a second shifting from hurt to embarrassment and then back to normal. He walks slowly past other students, looking to their faces anxiously until he gets to Ronan, who chooses not to look at him at all. The boy slowly places his books on the marble tabletop.
“Adam Parrish,” the boy says once he’s settled.
Ronan looks at him fully then. Sees the tattered edges of his sleeves, the mismatched buttons of his school uniform, his torn unkempt nails, and up, up, up, to his face. Even his face seems to be smudged with freckles, but his jaw is square and strong, his eyes clear and blue. This somehow makes Ronan’s resentment grow.
“Didn’t ask,” Ronan says.
He looks away just as the boy deflates, his whole body curving inwards.
Ronan’s still bitter come lunchtime, but he doesn’t say anything to Gansey, who sits next to him and talks about how glad he is that Ronan’s putting in the effort to show up to classes on time and sober up this semester.
Ronan’s mood sours further when he looks up to find Parrish walking towards them, lunch tray in hand.
"Ugh," he mutters lowly, “Who invited trailer trash?"
Gansey steps on his toes under the table and firmly whispers, "Be nice." Out loud he says, "Adam, get over here, man. How's your first day at Aglionby going?”
Adam looks at Ronan apprehensively and smiles weakly at Gansey, “This is the nicest school I’ve ever been to,” he looks around like he can't believe he's made it to the hell hole that is Aglionby Academy, “But I don’t think anyone here really likes me..." he finishes weakly.
Ronan scoffs loudly and Gansey elbows him hard, “Sorry about him," Gansey says with a smile, “This is Ronan, by the way,”
“We’ve met,” Adam mutters at his food.
“Grossman’s fucking gone and made us lab partners,” Ronan says, rolling his eyes upwards as if making sure god knows how unfair this is.
Gansey just shakes his head at Ronan’s dramatics before his eyes land on Czerny and suddenly he's invited to their table as well.
Ronan has always known that he was selfish, even when it came to relationships, and especially when it came to Gansey.
But he decides that to be selfish, he needs to share. He’d rather share than not have Gansey at all.
This is what he tells himself every time Noah and Parrish join them for lunch, every time they decide to come home with them to Monmouth and every hour Ronan spends alone because Gansey wanted to go out with them instead of stay at Monmouth with Ronan.
It becomes normal to hang out as a group, but Ronan still avoids Noah and Parrish as much as possible. However, this becomes more and more difficult as the weeks go by. For starters, Parrish is his assigned lab partner for the rest of the year. And for some reason unfathomable to Ronan, Parrish actually cares about his grades. This means that by the end of the first month of the semester, Parrish suggests that they meet up after school to work on their lab report.
“Why?” Ronan asks, "that shit isn't due for another month.”
“It’s due in two and a half weeks actually,” Parrish says as he follows him out of the classroom. His steps are quick and heavy as he chases an elusive Ronan, "Also, we don't all have all the time in the world to waste like you, Lynch."
And it's the way he says Lynch, almost spitting it out with the same disdain Declan uses when he says failure that makes Ronan stop dead in his tracks. He turns around quickly, “Alright then, meet me at the parking lot after school." He says then turns around quickly, cigarette already making an appearance as he pushes his way out of the sliding doors and into the green field behind the school.
At 2:45PM sharp, Ronan finds Parrish outside in the parking lot, just like he'd asked.
“Where’s your ride?” Ronan asks, looking around.
“I walked," Parrish says.
“All the way from the trailer park? No shit. What happened to your car?” He asks as he unlocks his car.
“I never had a car,” Parrish says through clenched teeth, “When, in the whole month that we've known each other, have you seen me drive a car?”
Ronan turns on the car and thinks about it for a minute while Parrish buckles up, “You know what, Parrish, you're right, I just never cared enough to notice," he turns towards him, and grins fully in the way that Gansey specifically hates. It's all teeth with no warmth in the eyes, no real mirth, only mocking.
Parrish looks back fuming, and whispers something along the lines of “Rich, pompous asshole."
This only makes Ronan grin harder the rest of the way back.
They continue in this manner for a couple of weeks.
Parrish rides home with Ronan three times a week. Sometimes Ronan will be amiable and they'll get a good portion of their report done. Other times, Ronan will be in a mood and he'll laze around and watch Parrish work while he bitches at Ronan for not putting in any effort on their – and he'll remind Ronan constantly – group work. On those days, Ronan will lie down on the couch, while Parrish sits on the floor in front of him, his papers, textbooks and folders spread out on the coffee table and Ronan will stare at the back of Parrish's neck. He'll count the freckles and stare at the curve of his neck and wonder what it is he’s feeling when he stares at that smooth expanse of skin, what it means when his mind wanders enough for his own skin to feel heated – he’ll try to analyze why those small, private pieces of Parrish are so interesting to him.
Perhaps it is because of his obsession with Adam’s neck that this happens:
He’s late coming into the cafeteria, the boys are loud and the place stinks of oil and deep fried foods. He spots Gansey first, and then realizes that he's hunched over the lunch table in front of him, his head bowed close to Parrish's head, and they’re deep in a hushed conversation. Something flares up in Ronan and he can't tell what is causing this feeling; it could be the pinched, pissed off look that Gansey is sporting, it could be the completely unguarded way Adam is looking at Gansey – and for a moment, Ronan wonders why he's never been on the receiving end of that type of look from him, why Adam guards himself so much around Ronan.
He doesn't get to analyze that thought as he approaches them. He's standing behind Adam when he realizes the purpling bruise that looks like its spreading from Adam’s shoulder blade and bleeding into the back of his neck. He hooks a finger on the collar of Adam's shirt and pulls it down to reveal the impressive size of the bruise.
“The fuck is this?” He asks, just as Adam jumps up from his seat.
“Nothing,” Adam says as he stands up. He quickly pulls his collar forwards, and buttons it to the top while he storms out of the room.
“What the fuck." Ronan whispers as he looks at Gansey.
Gansey rubs at his frowning mouth, "Just leave it, Ronan.” He mutters.
Ronan drops into the newly vacated seat and the unpleasant feeling in his stomach grows. For one, he doesn't like how cold his body felt at seeing a bruise that size on Adam – and when did that happen? But now maybe he understands better why Adam guards himself around Ronan and his big mouth, and his intrusive nature.
The next day is the final day before the report is due and Ronan keeps clenching and unclenching his hands on the steering wheel, his eyes shifting from the road, to Adam, and back to the road again.
“If you have something to say, just spit it out already. Waiting you out is exhausting…” Adam says, though he’s staring out the window as he does.
Ronan stares at the road and swallows, and god. God. Why is this so painfully difficult? “Who hurt you?” He asks softly.
Adam snorts, “I tell you and what do you do?”
Ronan stares at his own knuckles, bruised pink and his skin broken on his right hand, “Hurt them back – that’s something I could be good for…”
Adam’s body fully turns towards Ronan, but he looks like he’s humoring him, “And why would you do that?”
“We’re—” He clears his throat, “We’re friends, that’s what we do, right?” His eyes shift back towards Adam, who has a confused look about him.
“Well, this is news to me, I did not know we were friends, I always thought we were more like acquaintances, lab partners, friends of friends – at most – but friends ?”
For a second, the word failure flashes in Ronan’s mind but when he looks at Adam, he sees that the other boy is grinning, his cheek softly dimpling as he stares at the road ahead.
“What do I have to do, Parrish? Draw up a contract? Buy you a friendship bracelet?” He asks, and there’s that lightness again. A feeling Ronan had gotten exactly once before, years ago, while sharing a cigarette with Gansey.