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They've been doing this almost every day for a week now. Ronan comes up to Monmouth from his dorm, bursts in like he belongs, Gansey helps him study, and then they go out for juice or a burger or ice cream. That night, Ronan keeps them studying for as long as possible. Gansey keeps talking about everything he's seen and everything there might still be to find, these days. Every time he does, something dark and sharp twists in Ronan's stomach. The thought of Gansey leaving Henrietta is harrowing. A Gansey-shaped hole would be like a black hole, sucking out all light of a place that isn’t where Ronan wants to be. Aglionby before Gansey had been a jail barring him from the Barns. Before Gansey, he’d made it through the weeks by looking forward to the next time he would be going home with a yearning so powerful it was near hunger. Since Gansey, days go by so fast he finds himself startled by the arrival of the end of the week. Since Gansey, he finds himself wishing he could take Gansey back to the Barns with him. Not even to prove that they’re worthy of the kind of love Ronan holds for them – with anyone else this would be a competition, a see, this is the best place in the world, a means of bragging, but with Gansey there’s no need to feel this way. When he’d brought up home, Gansey had listened and seemed to classify the information as important, had smiled and told him it sounded like a wonderful place. He hasn’t asked Gansey to come with him yet, but he wants to. He could have asked him to come tomorrow, but Gansey is needed back in DC to be displayed as an example of the perfect All American Son.

It’s past midnight when Gansey yawns so wide that Ronan feels a surge of panic. He needs something, quick, before Gansey decides the night is over. It distantly occurs to him that Gansey has not once commented on Ronan's presence in Monmouth every night this week, and has never once seemed to push him out of the door. The gnawing in his stomach is not appeased by that, though, and he pushes his homework aside.

“Let’s get some juice.”

Gansey looks doubtful for half a second, scratching his head, and then shuts his book closed.

“Alright. Yours or mine?”

Ronan smirks a bit. They alter which car they take on their drives, but he’s in a Pig kind of mood. He needs the loudness to cover the thoughts in his head, needs to feel the rumble to distract him from the heat under his skin.

“Yours. And I drive.” He says it knowing fully that Gansey will only respond in indignant outrage. He says it because Gansey will respond in indignant outrage.

“Absolutely not!” Gansey scoffs, standing from his spot on the floor and fishing his keys from his pocket. He throws them as he walks to the door, catching them in his cupped hand. Ronan stands hurriedly to follow, grabbing his backpack and shoving his book in there as he does.

“I’ll drive it one day,” Ronan insists. Just as Gansey reaches the doorway, Ronan dives and tries to shove in first, to block Gansey's way. They end up pressed together, Gansey’s shoulder stuck against the door jamb, Ronan’s bag caught behind it. Ronan shoves.

“Over my dead body.” Gansey grins at him, shoving back, and then they’re squeezing out of the door frame, Gansey’s laughter bouncing off the walls of the staircase.

The juice is the best juice. It’s the same they get every time, but once Ronan bought a box to drink by himself and found it lacking. It requires the rest of the night to work its magic: Gansey next to him, neck craned to look at the stars above them, the warmth of the car beneath. While Gansey watches the stars, Ronan watches him. For as long as he can tolerate, before a burning, boiling sort of anger erupts in his stomach. Sometimes he feels taunted and tested by these things. By Gansey's physical proximity and his distance, always out of reach for belonging to a world Ronan does not feel a part of. Sometimes he's on the verge of something so huge he can't tell if it would be so good it would be perfect, or so awful it would be worse than death.

“Henrietta is a magical place, isn’t it?” Gansey says softly, head still upturned and chewing on the straw of his juice box at the corner of his mouth. Ronan watches this and burns. When he shirks his presidential persona, Gansey can be incredibly cute. It makes Ronan want to bite his fist, or scream, or slash someone’s tires, or do something crazy like kiss him, or throw his juice box.

He does the latter. The thing’s nearly empty, anyway, and he aims for the trash container to make it look like he’s throwing it out. He swings his arm so hard it aches, but the satisfying pop of the box as it blows against the wall before falling into the trash is worth it.

“Yeah, it is,” he answers, hoping Gansey can’t hear his thoughts in his voice. It’s magic but you’ll leave anyway. It’s magic like I might be but it won’t be enough. He jumps off the car, shoving his hands in his pockets, staring at his feet. The toe of his shoe kicks at a pebble. Ronan hears Gansey get off the car, but stays where he is. That little pebble is going to fucking get it. He kicks it again. It’s better than thinking about Gansey telling him he found a new lead, taking him away, far away, oceans and oceans away; offering platitudes about how he’ll send him emails and pictures and post cards. Offering him lies and an intangible friendship, bringing this thing they have to a ghost of what it was. It’s not the same if Gansey isn’t here. It’s not the same if Ronan doesn’t smell the mint on his breath, the shampoo in his hair. It’s not the same if Ronan has nowhere to go when he can’t sleep and tosses and turns in his dorm room. It’s not the same to go through his day without Gansey laughing at something he said, sparking a flare in his chest, catching fire in his veins.

Aglionby and Henrietta wouldn’t be the same to Ronan without Gansey. He would want to leave. He would not want to be anywhere but at the Barns.

“Lynch,” Gansey says. And, maybe sensing the shift in the atmosphere, “Ronan. Are you coming?”

Ronan slams himself in the car without looking at Gansey. There’s a pause before the car is started, in which Ronan expects Gansey to ask him what’s wrong. He doesn't. The car starts, loud and as hungry as Ronan feels, and they drive away, leaving behind only dual tire tracks in the dust and the splatter of orange juice on a brick wall.

Sometimes they talk, about everything and nothing, but it’s oddly quiet tonight. Gansey might have as much on his mind as Ronan does, what with Glendower and Aglionby’s workload getting in the way. Out of the corner of his eyes, he can see Gansey’s hand reach for the gear shift, his fingers curling around it so perfectly it makes something squeeze tight in his chest. He tugs at one of his leather bracelets, sharp and needy, like it might ground him. He exhales. They’re nearly at the end of their usual route.

Ronan can’t look at him. He doesn’t want to knowing he soon won’t be able to. When all he wants to do when his eyes meet Gansey’s is to kiss him. There’s no one like Gansey on this Earth, Ronan thinks. He’s one of a kind, and so far it felt like he was all his, just for him, his own little Barns to love as much as life itself, a home to make away from home.

But it’s not true. It’s an illusion. It’s a lie.

“Turn left here,” Ronan says without looking away from the window. Gansey does without question. Doing his best not to think about how seamlessly Gansey does as Ronan tells him, trusting him, Ronan keeps his gaze outside. He watches the small local businesses fly by, the old fair field, watches Henrietta and wishes he could dream it something fantastic to make Gansey stay. They drive another few blocks, and then Ronan indicates he should turn right. He rests his head against the window, feeling the vibrations of the car all the way into his teeth. He loves it. It’s like the buzzing in his head.

“Where are you taking me?”

“Nowhere,” he says. It sounds like he’s teasing, but it’s the truth. Nowhere. Keeping you to myself a little longer. Without looking at Gansey, Ronan has no idea if he’s angry or curious or confused, so when the car slows, he readies himself for anything. It’s dark out, but the Pig’s headlights form an arc wide enough that he can see a field. He thinks of home. He thinks of telling Gansey where to drive until they’re at the Barns, and then Gansey is part of it for good, for real, and loves the place so much he never wants to leave.

He thinks of telling him about his dreams.

“Ronan.”

Ronan says nothing. Gansey’s sigh is audible even over the rumble of the car. It’s not exasperated, it’s concerned. Which is worse. The keys knock against the car when Gansey turns them, and the Pig goes quiet, the window going still. The vibrations in Ronan’s head do not.

“What’s wrong?” The concern in Gansey's voice is so genuine, just the right kind not to seem pitiful, and Ronan swallows back his anger. It's not Gansey he's angry at. At least, he doesn't want to be angry at Gansey. Before the possibility of Gansey leaving had made itself so concrete in Ronan's head, he'd not given much thought to what he felt for his friend. Those flares and glimpses of something more at the time were things he could figure out as they came. It had seemed like he had all the time in the world. Now, he feels robbed. Of time, of Gansey.

“Can we just keep driving a little longer?”

The car stays disappointingly still. Ronan feels sick with anger at the thought of being driven back to his dorm and crawling into bed with this emptiness in his chest. Sleep is a strange thing for him, and he's tired of dreaming of Gansey when the real one is here. Ronan can see him turn towards him in his seat, his face a blur of colors. He senses the shift in Gansey's shoulders and know he's about to speak again.

“Look at me.” The please is unspoken but loud all the same. Does Gansey feel it too? Turning his head to look right at Gansey now feels important, heavy, like Ronan is caving in and admitting some deep secret, like Gansey will look in his face and see everything laid bare. Ronan’s magic, his anger, how he feels about Gansey, the shame he feels with how much he wants to feel Gansey against him, lips on lips. His fingers curl into fists against his thighs.

He turns his head, and Gansey stares right at him, and Ronan doesn’t know if he can see everything in his eyes but he breathes a word, he breathes out okay, both an agreement to keep driving and an awed wow, okay, this is bigger than i thought, and Ronan hopes it’s the latter. Ronan hopes and hopes and hopes, only for the duration of a beat which stretches for him like the span of hours, and then he doesn’t have to hope because they meet halfway in the clumsiest kiss known to man.

It’s Ronan’s first kiss. It’s the best kiss of his life. Gansey’s mouth isn’t in the right place and Ronan huffs a breath of laughter, part amused at the mess of their lips right now and part elated by the contact in the first place, by Gansey wanting this like he does, elated that someone like Gansey might want someone like him. Taking Gansey’s face in his hands, he keeps him still to kiss him again, properly this time. His heart is beating so fast and loud and proud he imagines every beat leaving a crack on his skin that will culminate into his undoing. Gansey’s breath hitches between two presses of their lips, and Ronan's lips part, a little afraid of asking for too much but still wanting and wanting. Gansey's hand curls loosely into Ronan's shirt, and they kiss and kiss again, a delicious sort of furrow in Gansey's brow and the taste of him on Ronan's lips all so overwhelming he feels like he will actually need to stop so he doesn't combust.

“Ronan,” Gansey breathes between kisses, not an attempt to stop him or get his attention but simply saying his name in awe and wonder, like he’s something valuable, and Ronan feels it all the way down to his toes. Richard Campbell Gansey III has everything, has been to half of the world, but he says Ronan's name like that. Ronan's lips find Gansey's pulse point, and again he feels a surge of fear that he's going to take something for granted and Gansey will pull back. When his hand reaches for Gansey's waist, it's careful and gentle and he can't stop his fingers from pushing up his shirt, fingers curling at the skin beneath. Gansey says his name again, quiet and light, and Ronan keeps his face pressed into his neck as arms wind around him. They're both uncomfortable, middles twisted to lean into each other like this, but Ronan refuses to move.

It feels like a dream, but better, because Gansey is real, a thing of his own, an undream in the imperfect ways he's perfect. Even Ronan couldn't have dreamt someone so intricate.

Back at the abandoned parking lot of Monmouth, both of them mill around their cars, stalling the moment they say goodnight. Ronan will be back in class by Monday morning, and Gansey will return from DC on Sunday, but they're both charged with their exchanged kisses.

Gansey's hand keeps rubbing at his neck, his thumb pressing at the small bruise Ronan left there. Ronan smirks to himself.

"Do you think you're subtle?" He asks, unable to help himself. Gansey actually flushes at being caught, and Ronan again hopes and hopes and hopes that this is a real thing. That it lasts through the late night and early morning and finds them still when they next see each other on Monday. Weekends seem so short when he's home, but this one feels like it might be too long.

"I didn't ask you to do that." Gansey's hand drops from his neck, and Ronan leans back against the Camaro, his feet set far enough ahead of him that only his back makes contact with the car. His head falls back, and he looks at Gansey through the blur his eyelashes.

"Hm, you kinda did. Turned your head so I could keep going and everything," he says, and then, before Gansey can get too embarrassed: "C'mere."

That's all it takes for Gansey to seem to regain some composure, and he raises an eyebrow as he steps closer.

"More." Ronan reaches for his hand, gesturing with it impatiently, and Gansey takes it and lets Ronan pull him between his legs. They settle together, Gansey's hands on Ronan's shoulders, Ronan's hands linked together loosely at the small of Gansey's back. Gansey blinks, Ronan kisses him lightly, and then utters a satisfied, "There."

"Maybe I should mark your neck, too," Gansey says. It's a light enough joke, but Ronan feels his stomach clench, that burning want rising up again. "Retribution," Gansey adds with a small grin like Ronan has rarely seen.

“Wish you could come home with me." Ronan's voice is small, but not unsure. Gansey's hand moves to his neck, his thumb running over the sharp line of his jaw, and Ronan's hope keeps growing and filling up the holes of self-doubt he'd so carefully dug.

“Next weekend? I could come up with you.”

It sounds like a plan. Some kind of future. Something Ronan can hold onto, at least until they see each other again; a reminder that this isn't the end of what they have, but only a shift into something bigger, maybe, something better, in a way.

And he likes the glint of excitement in Gansey's eyes when he talks about the Barns.

“Okay.”

They kiss again, a few more kisses and three or four of them final goodnight ones that didn't end up so final after all.

Ronan leaves for the Barns the next day with a wild grin on his face, and he pushes his car even faster than usual down the black strips of road leading home. Where he belongs, where everything makes sense in how little sense it makes. Just like this thing with Gansey that he's not yet found an explanation for but wants more than he's wanted anything. He's going home, he knows the shape of his best friend's lips under his, and when he has to drive back to Aglionby it's not to trudging through homework that he'll be returning: it'll be to another kind of home, it'll be to Gansey, and it'll be to ask him out, officially.

Ronan blasts his music as loud as his car can go, not knowing that in a few hours his life will change irreparably, that in a few hours he will have everything taken from him and that the fullness in his chest will empty itself out and never feel right again. But right now, driving along the familiar road, Ronan Lynch is happy.

Right now, Ronan Lynch feels unbreakable.