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i can't (stop you putting roots in my dreamland)

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She won't look at him.

He has been back for a while. He's glad he's back, too. His trip wasn't bad; although the feeling that he was forgetting something never left him, like he was unknowingly making some huge mistake, he had fun. Still, he's glad he's back. He's glad he gets to talk to Bess looking into her eyes instead of through a cellphone, he's glad George gets to yell at him as much as she wants, he's glad he is home.

He misses Amanda. He didn't think their breakup was a mistake, but he still couldn't help but feel sad that it happened. It's a distant sadness, though. A feeling that comes and goes and doesn't really affect too much of his days. It's nothing compared to the dull ache that throbs in his chest whenever Nancy goes out of her away to avoid spending time with him.

She won't look at him.

She talks when spoken to, but her answers are straightforward and short. If she has to talk to him, she looks at his collarbone, his shirt or his forehead; never his eyes. He's painfully aware of the distance between them, in every possible meaning of the word. If they're in the same room, she's never by his side, always keeping him at an arm's length. It hurts him. Ace doesn't know why, but it hurts him more and more everyday.

He has never dreaded going to work this much.

"Honey? Are you leaving?" his mother's voice reached him as soon as his hand reached the door knob. He's surprised she's home, but doesn't have time to address it; his mom keeps talking, handing him a bag. "Can you give these to Nancy, please? And tell her to call me."

Ace blinks.

"Nancy?" he repeats, the name leaving his mouth like a foreign word.

"Yes," his mother raises her eyebrows. "Nancy? Your friend, Nancy?"

"I know who Nancy is," he almost scoffs, looking down at the bag his mom gave him, peaking inside.

"I would hope so," she smiled, mildly amused.

"Cookies?" Ace asks, frowning the slightest bit at the little container filled with various different cookies. "Why are you giving- Why do you want her to call you?" he suddenly realizes, raising his eyes to meet his mom's.

"I need to give her some pointers on the last recipe I gave her," his mom says, nonchalant. Ace blinks, again. "And ask why she hasn't been over. I'm assuming she's busy, but I'd like to make sure she's okay."

"What do you mean?" that makes her look confused, tilting her head to the side and furrowing her eyebrows.

"While you were away, Nancy came over a lot," she tells him, watching his reaction with careful eyes. "We're baking buddies."

"That's not-" Ace stops himself, trying to get his brain to catch up with his mouth. The thought of Nancy in his kitchen, with his mother, baking of all things, had never crossed his mind before. "That's not a thing."

"Of course it's a thing," his mom rolls his eyes. "She's not very skilled, but we're working on it. I thought you knew," observes, something on her tone telling Ace she's overanalyzing the newfound information.

"I didn't," he cleans his throat, trying to not look as dazed as he feels. "I'll tell her. See you tonight," mumbles, kissing her cheek before leaving the house.

As confusing as the idea of his mother and Nancy being friends is to him, Ace can't help but feel happy he has a good excuse to talk to her. He will give her the cookies, tell her to call his mom and ask why she didn't tell him they were closer, now. Hopefully, she'll actually talk to him. If he's lucky, he'll find out why she's been avoiding him.

He's not sure if he did something wrong, if he hurt her in anyway. She should know he'd never do anything of the nature on purpose. Ace wants Nancy to know that he missed her, the few weeks he spent without seeing her, and that he misses her even more now, when they're finally together again. He needs her to know he never wants to lose her; that he can't. Ace's not sure Nancy knows how much her friendship means to him.

Ace frowns, his mind repeating the word louder back at him. Again, and again, and again.

Friendship.

It feels odd.

They are friends. She's arguably his best friend. Not quite a plantanchor, but the titles are close enough together that he knows he can count on Nancy and Bess for everything, that they can rely on him as much as they need. But he can't get himself to say he feels the same way about both of them. Something sets them apart, and he's not sure what it is.

It's on the tip of his tongue, itching his throat, utterly irritating. It feels like he's on the edge of something; a game-changer, a monumental discovery, an answer. He doesn't know which questions to make, where to look or what he's looking for, but somehow, he feels like he's close to solving a mystery, all by himself. He's close to figuring out why everything-Nancy is so beautifully overwhelming and entirely too special. Ace wants to understand. He needs to.

Ace spends the rest of the day trying to get a moment alone with her, but it's a busy day and as much as he could say he missed George yelling at him, a couples times a day were more than enough. Luckily, both him and Nancy were supposed to close off that day.

He works as fast as he can, worried she'll do the same just to run off as soon as possible. He finds her on one of the booths, silently looking at nothing in particular, instead. She's thinking hard about something. She doesn't get up when he sits down in front of her.

"My mom sent you these," he says, sliding the small container towards her. Nancy looks at it, almost smiles. "She demands a phone call. Something about a recipe."

"I called her during my fifteen," she tells him, cleaning her throat. "Thanks, though," says, reaching for the cookies.

He can tell she's about to leave, so he forces himself to speak.

"I didn't know you two were close," he makes it sound like a question, and Nancy's still looking at the container; she nods, opening it. He waits. Ace wants her to talk to him, but he knows she'll only do it if she wants to.

"We're baking buddies," she finally tells him, easing his heart a tiny bit. There's amusement in the way the words leave her mouth, an almost exasperated fondness in the way she eyes the many different kind of cookies. He opens his lips, but Nancy interrupts him. "It's a thing."

Ace nods solemnly, fighting a smile. The strawberry blonde slides the container to the very middle of the table, grabbing a cookie for herself and silently inviting him to do the same.

"I didn't know you baked," he manages, and Nancy shrugs.

"I didn't," she eyes the cookie in her hands.

"You do now," Ace observes. "With my mom."

"Sorry if it's weird," Nancy breathes, breaking her cookie in half, watching the melting chocolate chips like she wants to take notes.

"It's not," he assures her, eyes searching every single one of her features. He can look at her hair, the bridge of her nose, her eyebrows, her jaw, her lips, as much as he wants; she still won't look at him. "How did that happen, anyway?"

"I went to your house to talk to you but you were gone," Nancy says. "Your mom invited me inside and she asked if I wanted to help her bake something and well, it was nice," shrugs.

"You wanted to talk to me?" he asks, heart sinking. She needed him, and he wasn't there. "About what?"

"Irrelevant," she immediately says. "It's being taken care of."

"Is that why you've been acting like I don't exist?" his words aren't bitter or accusatory. It's a question, genuine and curious. Anxious. Nancy grimaces, mumbling something under her breath. "Are you mad at me?"

"No," she sighs, placing the uneaten cookie on the open container, closing it and pulling it closer to her.

"Well, what is it, then?" he's frowning, hurt and confused. "Ever since I came back, it's been..." he licks his lips, searches her face. "Weird. I thought I did something."

"I'm sorry. I needed time to figure something out for myself. You didn't- you didn't do anything wrong."

Ace nods, mulling her words in his brain. "I needed time to figure something out for myself." He wants to let it go, ask if they're okay now, tell her he wants them to be okay. He can't, though, because he is the only one being treated differently. She'd been the same with everyone else, talking and smiling and laughing. Whatever had been in her mind had to have something to do with him. And something inside of him is screaming for him to ask what it was.

She looks up, though, and when her eyes meet his for the first time in weeks, Ace forgets how to speak.

"I'm sorry," she repeats. Her eyes are bright and she's biting the inside of her cheek. "I'm really- I'm glad you're back, Ace. I missed you," she says, and if Ace couldn't speak before, now he nearly forgets how to breathe. "This place is not the same without you."

"I missed you, too," his words are a little breathless, and he knows he wouldn't be able to look away if he wanted to. "I miss you."

"I'm here, though," says, amused. The corners of her lips are curved up and there's a flutter in his chest because she's smiling at him. It's a real smile, one he hasn't seen in ages, and it's for him.

"You know what I mean," he mumbles, and she bites her lower lip.

"I know," nods, her expression a little somber. "Do you want to..." she begins, laughing when Ace immediately nods. Her laugh cuts through his chest and Ace feels as if his heart could stop beating at any second. "Grab food? And we can talk."

"Yes," he says, even though he hadn't stopped nodding. Nancy smiles and nods, too.

"Let me just go change," tells him.

When she walks past him, she brushes a hand on his shoulder. It's a feather-light touch, lasting barely a second, but he knows this is her way of making sure he knows that things are okay now. That she's ready to go back to normal - whatever their normal is.

The spot she touched is on fire, his heart is racing and his eyes are wide open. The pain in his chest he'd been feeling ever since he came back is slowly being replaced by something different; it's still a kind of ache, but it's almost warm, constricting his insides, squeezing his heart. His lips are slightly apart and his thoughts are an overwhelming mess because,

Oh.

He's in love with her.