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Finders, Keepers (or this is why I have crust issues)

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Nights at Monmouth were always crisper and more active than the days. In the day, sunlight would filter in through the large windows, bathing the cardboard model of Henrietta in soft light while illuminating the lazy dust motes that floated above it. It gave the whole scene a dreamlike quality that even Ronan couldn’t contest. Days -- and mornings in particular -- were made for slower, sluggish movements. Rainy days, like the ones that came frequently in the spring and summer were even more so as both Monmouth and its inhabitants were awash in greys.

Nights were full of bright lights and sharp angles. The miniature Henrietta was still aglow, but the harsh yellows from Gansey’s desk lamp generated stark shadows beside brilliant highlights. There was chatter and laughter and the piercing caws of a certain pet raven. Everything and everyone seemed to move at a faster tempo and the pace of conversation was quicker, snappier, wittier. The entire structure seemed exponentially more alive, despite (and often because of) the presence of one dweller who was decidedly not alive at all.

This particular night was no exception as the full complement of the ragtag bunch of ancient Welsh king hunters were present.

Adam was trying to quietly study in a corner while quietly checking the time on his watch with obsessive frequency. That was because he was also quietly fussing over when would be the best time to head back to his apartment and avoid any interaction with local police. Someone was kind enough to pull alongside him on his way to Monmouth that evening to warn him that the bulb in his left taillight had burned out. The last thing he needed was a citation that he couldn’t afford to pay off.

The first thing he needed was a new bulb.

Thus, he explained his situation and consulted with Ronan in the most diplomatic way possible so as to not imply that he only asked because of the boy’s reputation for delinquency. Ronan just gave him a strange look before providing him with an oddly specific one hour window of time during which he could safely make the drive home.

By that token, Ronan was doing everything except studying. Because, of course, the quick sideways glances he directed at Adam were definitely not studying. At all. In between those glances, he was content to antagonize Noah, antagonize Blue, and attempt to teach Chainsaw how to fetch small items from across the room. That last one was only going well in the respect that the bird would actually locate and pick up whatever object he intended before promptly dropping it on the floor and returning to sit on his shoulder with a screech.

Blue -- who begrudgingly sat on the sofa she hated -- was studying Gansey who, in turn, was studying his notebook, as per the usual. A wrinkled napkin with the discarded crusts from two slices of pizza rested on the cushion between them as if it were the last line of defense preventing them from getting any closer to each other. She occasionally poked at the crusts with a single finger, rearranging them into different orientations on the napkin. Mostly, this was done out of boredom, but also because she noticed that Gansey’s eyes would flick over to meet hers whenever she did.

Having no other motive than the pursuit of his own entertainment, Noah flitted from one activity to the next. He spent a considerable amount of time rearranging the clips in Blue’s hair until he was satisfied that the ones he liked best had the most prominent positioning on her head. Next, he gave Adam updates on the time every five minutes while also reading over his shoulder and politely pointing out passages he should focus on. A semi-serious debate over the thematic elements and literary interpretation of the Murder Squash song with Ronan kept him occupied for a bit until he disappeared to the kitchen/laundry/bathroom and proceeded to make an inexplicable ruckus. When asked about what he was doing to cause said ruckus, his only answer was “cooking.”

And yet, he emerged from the room with nothing but an empty pizza box from earlier. No one even bothered to question it.

An unsettling quiet eventually swept through the room that no one seemed to notice save for Ronan. So, he accepted that it was his sworn duty to do something about it and got up from where he sat with as much clamor as possible.

“I’m running to Auto Boys while it’s still open for a new steering wheel cover. Chainsaw tore up my other one,” he broadcast to the room, his voice reaching every corner of the second floor and most of the first. “I’d ask if anyone wants anything, but you’re all self-sufficient, you can just tag along and get it your damn self.”

“Why don’t you just dream up a new one?” Adam looked up from his textbook to ask.

“Fucking hell, Parrish. Do you think I’m just a walking, talking 3D printer?”

“Maybe.”

Adam ducked his head, but didn’t really try to hide the teasing grin on his face. The whoosh of air that escaped Ronan’s lips was at once irritated and amused.

“You coming or what?”

“Whatever,” Adam closed his book and got up to follow Ronan.

When the door closed behind the two of them, Noah’s head peeked out from the doorway of his room and he let out a dry cackle.

“I’m pretty sure Ronan doesn’t have a steering wheel cover.”

“And I’m pretty sure Adam knows that,” Blue called over her shoulder.

Noah just cackled again and went back into his room.

Giving up on her artistic pursuits with the forsaken pizza crusts, Blue pulled the napkin onto her lap and stuffed the end of one of them into her mouth, chewing idly while leaning closer to Gansey to see which page of his journal he was staring at so intensely.

“I was going to eat those,” his voice was soft and not once did he take his eyes off the book in front of him.

“Finders, keepers,” she protested. “Besides, they’ve been sitting here for the better part of an hour.”

“Well, I prefer to enjoy them when they’re cold and a bit on the stale side.”

Blue’s nose wrinkled. “That is a strangely particular preference.”

“Stranger than leaving the fruit at the bottom of your yogurt cups?”

Gansey had moved closer to her without her noticing until the side of his hip was pressed firmly against hers and she only just managed to suppress a squeak of surprise. He was now concentrating on the scrap of crust that hung from her lips with the same intensity as he looked at his journal mere moments before. Her first instinct was to pull back, which worked in her favor as he chose that exact moment to swoop down and try to grab the crust from her mouth with his own.

Two more failed attempts were made before their eyes widened in unison at the realization of the dangerous game they were both playing with his mouth chasing after hers.

However, instead of ending the contest there, Gansey tried again. This time he moved much slower, giving Blue plenty of time to either evade him or call an end to the whole thing. Never one to back down, she matched his pace and pressed forward to meet him before smoothly turning her head just before his lips passed the point of no return, leaving his nose to trace a tingling path along her cheek and her hair to brush burning streaks along his chin and neck.

The electric hum of the refrigerator and the sporadic creaks and pops of the steel roofing went completely silent. Every background noise in and around Monmouth was drowned out by the sound of their quickened breathing. The scents of must and leather and unwashed laundry were overpowered by the smell of mint and yeast that suffocated the air around them. Again and again they pushed the boundaries of their trust as they teased and each other with the promise of contact that they so desperately craved but refused to indulge.

They only stopped when they noticed they had an audience. Noah could move anywhere in complete silence should he desire to. He had, apparently, used this ability to now stand in front of them, his face twisted into an over exaggerated grimace of distaste.

“Ew,” was all he said before he vanished from sight entirely.

Gansey’s forehead gently rested against Blue’s and he swept the tip of his nose along the bridge of hers.

“I do not think this is a game that either of us will win.”

It came out as an almost-whisper and she could feel each word caress her cheek as they were spoken. She pushed the remainder of the stale, baked dough into her mouth and chewed it several times before swallowing, but didn’t move any closer or farther away.

“Then, maybe we should stop playing.”

He brought a hand up to tuck an imaginary stray bit of hair behind her ear, pausing to let his hand linger at the nape of her neck.

“Losers, weepers, Jane.”

Her nod was shaky at best.

“Yea.”

Because she knew that, when the time eventually came that they both lost, she absolutely would be.

END