Gansey sits at his desk, paging through his old journal again. By now, he’s committed it to memory; he always had, really, but sometimes he had to go double check things. Now, he remembers thinking of things, discovering things, writing them down, and reading them over all at once, like they all happened in the same moment. He rubs his thumb over an old ink smudge. This page isn’t very interesting anymore. He wrote it before he knew exactly where the Virginia ley line ran, and all the information is incorrect and out of date, mere speculations before they’d picked up on the trail of real magic. The next one is a large family tree spanning both sides of the fold, and the one after that is a list of equipment he needed to buy, a list of things that he’d found in the year that he’d written it, a grocery list, a homework schedule. All the pages are like that, packed full of information and mundane little flashes into the mundane little parts of his life. Gansey marvels sometimes at exactly how much time he’d spent looking for Glendower. After the last half a year, it already seems insurmountable.
His earbuds drone on, playing something cheerful that Henry had given him on a flash drive. He’d warned Gansey that they were going to listen to a lot of music on the trip and that he’d better get used to it. Blue had allowed them to install a better stereo system in the new Pig than the old mark had had, and she had also allowed them to buy an auxiliary cable, but it had been under the condition that the stereo also had a CD player and she could bring an old folder of CDs. Both she and Henry had grinned at Gansey, and Gansey had felt mildly uneasy about that, so he’s taken to listening to the music that they like to ready himself for six months of hearing it every day.
He doesn’t hear footsteps until knuckles rap on the desk a couple inches away from him. He starts a little and looks up to see Ronan, standing above him with a worn but pleasant look about him. He’s holding a small leather case in one hand and a set of keys in the other, though he tucks the keys into the pocket of his jeans when Gansey looks up.
Gansey pulls one earbud out. “Sorry, I didn’t hear you come in.”
“You’re not gonna hear much of anything anymore if you keep blasting Cheng’s k-rock shit.”
“You destroyed your eardrums for years, I think I can handle a few months,” Gansey says. He reaches for his phone and pauses the music, then pulls the other earbud out and pushes them away. “What’s up?”
Ronan fidgets a little. “You’re leaving tomorrow.”
Gansey nods. “Bright and early.”
“South Carolina, probably.”
“God, why,” Ronan says, not really expecting an answer.
“Blue’s got some family,” Gansey tells him anyway.
“It sure is some family.”
Gansey reaches out and swats at him. Ronan evades him easily, leaning to the side. Gansey doesn’t try very hard.
“Where after that?”
“Likely Florida. It’ll be a bit less humid than in summer.”
Ronan nods, encouraging him to go on.
“Then probably along the southern border of the United States. I think we’ll stop in Louisiana, Henry wants to see New Orleans, and then we’ll do some hiking in Texas and some day trips to Mexico–”
“When are you coming back through Virginia?” Ronan asks. He shifts a little bit, almost uncomfortably, like he hadn’t meant to ask.
“What, like through Henrietta?” Gansey asks.
Ronan shrugs one shoulder, which means yes .
“I don’t know, maybe a few months?” Gansey suggests. “Why?”
Ronan reaches up to rub the back of his head. His fingers tangle through the hair at the back of his skull. In the last few months, he’s been letting it grow out some, cutting off bits when they get in the way of things or feel odd but mostly letting his scalp do as it wishes. Now, he tugs a little at the hair at the nape of his neck and holds out the little leather case to Gansey.
Gansey takes it and turns it over in his hands, then unzips it. He pulls the top up to reveal a rather sleek, silver set of clippers and a series of attachments ranging from barely there to an inch. Gansey peeks in a little farther and is surprised to see a cord attached to the clippers. “Not dream clippers?”
“Nah, they’re from Sears or some shit,” Ronan says. He taps two fingers lightly on the desk. “Found ‘em in a cupboard in the bathroom.”
“Is this your parting gift to us?” Gansey asks. “I bet I can convince Blue to shave her hair, but Henry will probably want to keep his.”
Ronan snorts. “I’d pay to see Sargent with a bald head.”
“Buzzed head,” Gansey corrects.
Ronan rolls his eyes, then taps some more. “Was wondering if you’d do mine,” he says eventually.
“I thought you were letting it grow out.”
Ronan slides his fingers through his hair again self-consciously, then shrugs again. “You’ll be gone for three months. Wanted you to do it one more time before you left.”
Gansey’s eyes get a little softer as he looks at the clippers. They’re not Ronan’s old ones - those are probably still here somewhere, more than likely broken or Chainsaw-fodder. These ones are nicer; they probably lived at the Barns until recently. Niall’s hair was long when he died, so these probably belong to Declan. Even after all these months, Gansey marvels at the fact that Ronan is using them instead of smashing them.
“Gansey?” Ronan says quietly. Gansey looks up at him. Ronan’s eyes are soft, which is new but not new enough that it’s unexpected. He’s given up a few of his harder edges around the four of them, even though he still cuts at the rest of the world. He looks uncertain, which makes Gansey’s heart ache a little and makes a small part of him want to put off leaving for a little while.
“Yes, of course,” Gansey says. He closes his journal without marking the page and zips the clippers case back up, then rises from his desk. Ronan seems to relax a little as he turns and heads to the bathroom, and when Gansey gets there behind him, Ronan is stripping off his shirt. He tosses it onto the ground and flips the toilet lid closed, then sits down on it. Gansey opens the clippers case again and pulls the clippers out, plugging them into the bare outlet in the wall. He turns them on to test them and sees Ronan’s shoulders relax incrementally out of the corner of his eye.
“How short?” Gansey asks.
“Yeah. Maybe one shorter if we do it and it’s all fucked up.”
Gansey nods and finds Ronan’s usual quarter inch guard and slots it into place, then closes the case up again and goes to stand in front of Ronan. He looks down at Ronan and Ronan looks up at him and they hold each other’s gazy for a long, protracted moment before Ronan bows his head. Gansey places his hand on the back of Ronan’s scalp, where Ronan had before, and toys with the little long ends and marvels quietly at how surprisingly soft it is now. He runs a curious hand through Ronan’s hair, which make Ronan’s eyes slip shut, and then he switches clippers on and gets to work.
It’s amazingly easy to slip back into old muscle memory. Gansey hasn’t shaved Ronan’s hair for the last three months but he had for the two years before that. He already knows all the curves and dips of Ronan’s skull and glides over them easily. He rests one hand in Ronan’s hair, stroking away excess ends, tilting his head from one side to the other. Ronan’s eyes stay closed and he moves easily where Gansey tells him to go, like he’d only been waiting for the direction.
Gansey moves the clippers back and forth, over and over, cutting away all the extra hair and revealing an old picture of Ronan underneath. He wonders if this is some sort of panic reaction, that Ronan is reverting instead of continuing to heal, but Ronan had come to Gansey with gentle eyes and an easy request, with no anger and safe expectations. That’s much more than Gnsey could have said for the Ronan of a year ago, who shaved his head to cut all of his weaknesses off.
Every now and then, he brushes his fingers along Ronan’s shoulder or his chest, freeing bits of hair that catch in his collarbones. Before, there would have been tiny bits that clung to everything and stuck around for days, but now there are actual strands. They’re short strands, but they fall together and they’ll be easy to clean up.
Gansey runs over all of Ronan’s head, and then he does it again to clean it up. Ronan’s eyes stay closed the whole time and his body stays pliant and loose, letting Gansey move him back and forth. He tenses a little when Gansey shuts the clippers off, but then Gansey has a bit of toilet paper in his hand and is brushing away all the extra bits that cling to his shoulders. He lets Gansey wipe his shoulders and chest down and doesn’t complain when Gansey gets a towel wet to get the extra clingy bits. He only opens his eyes at the sound of the zipper, when Gansey is putting them away, and even then he stays sitting down, watching Gansey move around Monmouth’s tiny bathroom.
“How does it look?” Ronn asks. His voice is soft too. Gansey can’t remember if it sounded like that when he came in.
“It looks like you used to,” Gansey says. It’s not quite true, but Ronan knows the parts that aren’t. “How does it feel?”
“Feels like it used to,” Ronan says, and that’s not quite true either and they both know it. Ronan absently runs a hand over his hair, grazing his nails over his scalp. Then Gansey reaches over as well and runs a hand over Ronan’s head, from his hairline to the back of his neck. His palm rests at the base of Ronan’s skull for a moment, his thumb brushing along the sharp line where hair stops and bare skin begins. Ronan shivers a little but presses back into Gansey’s hand, just enough to let Gansey know that he’s done it.
“It looks good,” Gansey says.
“It won’t when you all come back for Christmas,” Ronan says. “It’ll be ratty as fuck by then.”
“Then I’ll shave it then too,” Gansey says.
Ronan looks up at him and nods. “Yeah,” he says simply, and Gansey doesn’t know if he can’t say more or just doesn’t want to.
Gansey toes at the hair littering the floor. “Are you gonna sweep this up?” he asks Ronan.
“Nah,” Ronan says. “Floor’s old, it’ll melt right in.”
“I sincerely doubt that.”
“I guess you’ll find out when you get back.” Ronan stands up and shakes off his shirt, then slips it back on. Gansey picks up the case and holds it out, but Ronan shakes his head and pushes it back toward Gansey’s chest. “Keep it.”
“Yeah. Shave Sargent’s head. Go wild,” Ronan says. “And then bring it back.”
He looks at Gansey in a way that isn’t pleading or wanting but still hopeful. With his hair gone, Ronan looks like he might be angry, if his hands remembered how to form fists around Gansey. Ronan isn’t soft, but his edges are sanded down a little when and where the need to be, and Gansey lets himself reach up to touch Ronan’s hair again, scratching lightly at his scalp. Ronan closes his eyes for a second, and then opens them again, and he turns his head a little to press his cheek against Gansey’s hand as Gansey pulls back to hold onto the case.
Gansey doesn’t know what to say, but Ronan is good at breaking moments. “I better get pictures when Sargent is bald.”
“Buzzed,” Gansey corrects again, and he can’t help but mirror Ronan’s smile. Ronan pushes past him through the door and Gansey follows to see him dropping down into the desk chair. Gansey rolls his eyes and goes over to his luggage to tuck the clippers into one suitcase, and then sits down on top of his own desk. He kicks lightly at Ronan’s knee and Ronan bumps him back.
They’re quiet for a little while, and then Ronan says, “Where are you going after Mexico?”
Gansey smiles a little as he thinks of it. “More Texas, probably, and then Arizona. We have to see the Grand Canyon while we’re in the area, obviously.”
“Obviously,” Ronan echoes drily.
Gansey grins a little and keeps going, listing all the places he can remember and all the things they want to see. Ronan leans back in the desk chair, one leg crossed haphazardly over the other, and listens. Sometimes he strokes his hair or makes a snarky comment, but he listens, and when Gansey runs out of landmarks, he just says, “And then back home, right?”
Gansey looks Ronan up and down, taking in all the ways he belongs to Henrietta, the way Singers Falls envelops him and still allows him to be free, they way he’s turned into a magnet that brings all four of them back over and over. And he nods. “Yeah. And then back home.”