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Time Was Like Never

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Ronan has a snake that wraps about his neck and winds through his collarbone sidewinder style. It's the kind of thing that holds you and anchors you where you want to be but let's you breathe when you can—unlike an anaconda.

It doesn't slow you down like a viper either. It's perfect.


Tell us what you see, Legolas. Noah whispers. Every breath he draws through his mouth is too loud.

That's not how it works. Blue mutters. She's face down on the bed, barely breathing, shallow inhales pushing the grooves of her spine into Adams side with each pull of air. Adam digs his elbow into Ronan in an attempt to lever his kidneys away from Blue and ends up kicking Gansey in the process.

Ronan is lying somewhere in the middle of the pile. For once, he feels okay in his skin. He could settle down here and he wouldn't even have to break a sweat. He wouldn't even have to hold his body down like he has to some times, on harder days, when every breath is a drawn out struggle.

Look, sometimes you're so alive it gets around to bringing you down.

Orla would know. Blue continues. She sounds dreamy.

Ronan can feel Noah breathing at his left, can feel Adam and Blue weighing him down like half-wet cement in his lungs, and Gansey pressed all along his side, not a spoon but a fork.

Can anyone ever know anything at all?

"Slow down, Descartes. We don't have room for that kind of funny business in this bed."

1. When's the best time to settle?
a. when you love somebody slow and true
b. when you stop feeling quite so Blue
c. when you want to hold hands all the time
d. when the spectre of your father no longer holds your eye

His father's got rough hands even though he works a desk job.

His father has swollen knuckles. He's got a middle finger that doesn't curl right because there's no nerve there. The nerve that used to be there telling the finger to bend is gone now.

His father is left-handed, so it's alright.

His father is teaching him how to box in Spanish. Round vowels, quick beats, the kind of sound you don't hear around here.

Curl your hand like this, his father says. Watch their knees, their feet. And if you are wrong, if you are distracted. Here his father's tone changes and he begins to speak to Ronan in Cantonese. The language colors the words with distance. The space between each breath is the span of the Americas, the Pacific Ocean, a world and a half and two generations. Ronan is breathless from sparring and breathless just thinking about the distance all the way from there to here.

If you are distracted, and you fall, then you must pull yourself back up. That's the way you win.

This isn't something he hears around here. Focus, focus and watch me. Practice here, his father says and points to himself.

His mom speaks to him in Shanghainese in the morning and then switches to the Spanish in the afternoon so that she can have afternoon tea with Abuela.

Latin comes easy to Ronan. Like, was it supposed to be hard?

A. In the Year 4000 I Will See You UnderWater. Will You Tell Me Your Name?

"Let's get matching tattoos," Ronan says.

Gansey nods absently. The expensive wood varnish over the mature red mahogany is hidden mostly by paper. Gansey has always been a scholar.

"Coach gonna let you do that?" Ronan asks. He's picking at his hands. His hands are really dry, hangnails on almost every finger, and the skin over his knuckles are a little cracked, a little bleeding, but he's satisfied. He almost got the drop on Declan in the ring earlier today.

Gansey rolls his eyes and then squints down at the map in front of him. He's clutching a pencil in one hand, a compass in the other. "What Coach doesn't know won't hurt him."

"You think he won't notice?"

"He's too busy trying to avoid looking me in the eye and wondering why a black kid is doing crew. He won't notice."

"You think he thinks you don't know he thinks you don't know how to swim?"

It's just the right shade of wrong to get Gansey to look away from his charts. His eyes are scrunched up in a smile that practically lights him up. "You damnright better believe he don't know I know," Gansey says in that Southern drawl of his. It's a drawl that screams old money and Virginian estates with wrap around porches and huge windows the size of dinner tables. It's at delightful odds with the awkward boy that Ronan has come to love.

"Two birds, one stone," Ronan says, trusting that Gansey will know what he means.

Gansey shakes his keys. The sound is windchimes in the open air. "I'll be driving, of course."

α. ωmega lωve

To no one's surprise, a wad of hundreds gets them into the parlor and into the chair relatively quickly without a single glance at their ID's.

Ronan gets to watch and he marvels a little, at the way that Gansey strains against the needle but continues breathing steadily. He had flinched when the needle started up right over his spine, but he hadn't make a sound.

"Scale of one to ten?" Ronan asks.

"Doensn't hurt more than  coin sized calluses peeling from my palms," Gansey says. The tattoo artist snorts.

"Palm to palm is palmers kiss. Yeah?"

Ronan reaches out and slips his hand into Gansey's.

Gansey's hands were folded under his chin as the tattoo artist worked, but now he's got one hand with his cheek resting on it and another arm extended, Ronan's hands cradling his, lacing their fingers together just to see how they fit.

Gansey squeezes Ronan's hand tightly.

Gansey gets a snake biting its own tail. The ouroboros curls up at the center of his back, right between his shoulder blades.


"This is nice," Ronan whispers. The handheld mirror in his hand has gilded edges. Gansey's bathroom is ridiculously large and they stand in front of the floor length mirror, bright lights shining on them. There are snakes on their skin. Skin they can't shed.

Ronan looks into the mirror and his reflection looks back with a satisfied smirk on its face. Ronan has never felt this kind of contentment before. The pain from earlier grounds him, and the tenderness he feels around his throat every time he breathes, every time he swallows is like a reminder that he's painfully alive. Gansey meets his eye in the mirror and his smile threatens to sweep Ronan off his feet, but Ronan remains standing. He's seen this coming. What he has here could make anyone want to settle down in their own skin.


At midnight, he builds a house. Three stories.

On the main floor, four huge French doors lead to the grounds outside. A veritable ton of windows line every corridor to let in all the good light.

The roof is a slate gray color, shingles overlapping hypnotically like fish scales. There's a single window looking out from the center of the top floor, an eye, a lookout post from which he can cast his gaze out into the night on those days when he can't get to sleep no matter how hard he tries.