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Devils on my Doorstep

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In my defence, all my intentions were good

And Heaven holds a place somewhere for the misunderstood

You know I’d give you blood if it’d be enough

“Where is he?” Declan demanded when Gansey opened the door to Monmouth Manufacturing. Gansey just blinked slowly, seemingly surprised and sleepy.

“Who?” he asked, rubbing a tired hand across his eyes.

“Who do you think?” Declan snarled, pushing his way into the main room. He had never really liked Monmouth Manufacturing – its constant disarray and lack of proper furniture placement put him on edge – and he had only grudgingly let Ronan move in there, a decision he was fiercely regretting more and more these days. “Ronan.”

If Ronan lived on campus at Aglionby, everything would be so much easier. Not just for Declan; for Ronan, for Matthew. Hell, even for Gansey and the rest of their friends! If Ronan lived at Aglionby, things like this wouldn’t happen because Declan would be there. He could take care of him the way a big brother should, he could make sure he attended class, he could find a safe place for him to get some goddamned sleep once in a while.

But Ronan didn’t live at Aglionby, and even if he did he probably wouldn’t listen to Declan any more than he did now, and he’d probably still manage to find a way to sneak off campus and do things like this.

Gansey shut the door, starting to wake up properly as Declan threw open the door to Ronan’s room. There was a plethora of things in Ronan’s room (a bird cage, an overflowing bookshelf, half-missing pairs of shoes, objects that were so indescribable that they could only be from Ronan’s dreams) but none of these things were Ronan himself.

“What happened?” Gansey asked behind Declan. He peered past Declan into Ronan’s room, face paling when he saw that Ronan was decidedly not there. “Where is he?”

“How should I know?” Declan growled, slamming Ronan’s door so hard that several of the photocopied speeding tickets fell off and floated down to the ground. “Probably wrapped around a lamppost somewhere.”

“That’s not fair on him,” Gansey said firmly.

“Really? Then explain to me why I’m the one waking up at two o’clock in the morning to Headmaster Child and two police officers knocking at my dormitory door asking to have a word with me because Ronan got drunk, drove somebody else’s car on the wrong side of the road, and then ditched it in the middle of the forest.”

Gansey look both relieved (because that at least meant Ronan was probably alive, or alive enough to ditch a car in the middle of nowhere) and something else. Exasperated? Angry? Unsurprised? Declan was too furious to care. He pulled out his phone for what had to have been the thousandth time that night, and dialled Ronan’s number. As expected, it went to voicemail.

He turned back to Gansey. “The police said they didn’t know where he was. You call me when he gets back here. Understand?”

Gansey nodded. “Sure.”

“You need to keep a tighter rein on him, Gansey,” Declan scolded, because he felt the need to scold someone, and Ronan wasn’t there.

Gansey looked supremely unimpressed. “He’s not my responsibility.” If Declan had been paying closer attention, he would have heard the lie in Gansey’s voice and called him out on it. He was good at spotting lies; he told them so often that it was second nature to recognise them.

But Declan had not been paying close attention, so instead he shouted, “But he is mine! He’s my little brother and he’s my responsibility, damnit, and I can’t be there every minute of every day to stop him getting himself into trouble like this! Don’t you get it? I’m supposed to keep him safe – it’s not my fault he won’t let me. But he’ll let you. So keep an eye on him Gansey, for the love of God! For me. For him. Jesus.”

Without another word, Declan stalked from Monmouth Manufacturing, clambered back into his Volvo, and called Ronan’s phone one final time.

It went to voicemail.

Devils on my doorstep since the day I was born

It’s hard to find a sunset in the eye of a storm

But I’m a dreamer by design and I know in time we’ll put this behind

If Declan was not happy, Ronan could only be described as enraged. A dimly lit carpark behind a charity shop in the dead of night was not the first place Ronan would have expected to run into his older brother, and yet here they were, Declan breathing hard and fast and shallow, Ronan cracking his knuckles and preparing for a fight. Ronan wasn’t sure what had brought him here, let alone Declan.

Declan had started it. Not this, here, in the car park, but their entire brotherly feud. Ronan would take that sentiment to the grave. Declan had started it the moment he decided Ronan wasn’t quite good enough for him. Or maybe Declan had started it the moment he decided he hated Niall Lynch, and so hated Ronan by association. Or maybe Declan had started it by generally being a terrible brother from the moment Ronan was born.

No matter what, Declan had started it.

Ronan was absolutely certain that he had not started it himself for many reasons, one being that he was a cool badass, and Declan was Declan. But the chief of these reasons was one that Ronan could only admit to himself when in one of two situations: either mind-bogglingly drunk, or like this, face-to-face with Declan and preparing for a fight.

The reason was this: Ronan had just wanted a brother who loved him.

Ronan had been different ever since he was born. Even if he hadn’t known it then, he certainly knew it now, and Declan was one of the reasons he knew it so completely. When he was young, Ronan hadn’t understood that not everyone woke up with their dreams clutched to their chests, and he certainly hadn’t understood why it made Declan so angry. Declan had watched and brooded and fought, and Ronan had done the same in return, but he didn’t understand why until he figured out that he was different, that Declan didn’t wake up with his dreams.

When he was young, Ronan hadn’t known that brothers were supposed to love each other – he had thought that they were supposed to hate and fight and use words that made their parents send them to their rooms. He had thought all brothers were like him and Declan. But at some point, it was impossible to tell when, he had discovered that wasn’t the case, and he just wanted Declan to love him.

But Declan did not, so Ronan made Matthew.

For years after that, things had been fine. Bearable. Alright. Matthew was lovable to the point of death and in his own way he had acted like a lifeboat, keeping the older brothers’ relationship from sinking beneath the water which churned with hatred and turmoil and inexplicable grief. Still, Matthew’s powers only went so far, and after Niall Lynch had died, Ronan didn’t think anything could save him and Declan.

So, it was Declan’s fault for not loving him like a real brother.

Everyone knew that Ronan’s life had spiralled in a decidedly negative way. Ronan knew, Declan knew, Gansey knew, Adam knew, Noah knew, even Blue knew and she’d only known Ronan a few weeks. In his own quiet way, Matthew knew. Nothing about Ronan’s life was easy or straightforward. And if Ronan spent his time looking for good in street races and random fights, who was going to tell him it was wrong when it was easy to look around at Ronan’s life and see that there wasn’t anything right?

Ronan figured, as long as he was still looking for the good amongst all the bad, things were looking up. After all, he did have a brother who loved him, it just wasn’t the one raising his fist to strike him right this moment. After all, he had another family: another two brothers back at Monmouth, a sister at 300 Fox Way, a… well, an Adam Parrish, who was something entirely different from a brother, something Ronan would figure out at a later date. After all, he had his dream things and it was easy to take solace in the knowledge that Declan had none.

Generally, Ronan didn’t think he’d ever be happy, but what was the feeling those things gave him if not joy?

Things could look up. Things could change. As Declan’s fist collided with his face, Ronan had another thought which he could only have had when inebriated or fighting with his brother.

Maybe one day Declan really would love him, and he would love Declan in return.

Behind the lens is a poison picture you paint

And let’s not pretend you were ever searching for saints

‘Cause I’ve been crucified for just being alive

Declan was pacing. Ronan thought it was a very Declan-like thing to do. Back and forth, back and forth, continuously walking but never actually going anywhere. It was the physical manifestation of a Declanism if ever Ronan saw one.

Another physical Declanism was the action of Declan passing a hand over his eyes as if embarrassed or tired. This action, as usual, was because of and aimed at Ronan.

“I can’t believe this,” Declan said exhaustedly, repeating himself for what was perhaps the hundredth time in the space of five minutes. “You… You really… This time, Ronan… I can’t believe this.”

Ronan frowned. “Would you like me to dream you a thesaurus?”

“What?”

“You seem to be running low on words. Just trying to help.” He was not trying to help, he was trying to deliberately push Declan’s buttons even further, and he was rather pleased to see that it worked.

“You’re always ‘just trying to help’,” Declan seethed, leering down at Ronan, probably trying to be intimidating but too tired to pull it off. “For once in your life, Ronan, could you just ask me before you do something?”

“If I’d asked you would have said no.”

“That’s exactly the point!”

Ronan shrugged, which seemed to irritate Declan further.

“Look, Ronan. You have to understand that this was stupid. This puts me in a very difficult position.”

Ah hah! Another Declanism, a verbal one this time.

“I have to make the decision now as to whether or not you still get your share of the money our father left us,” Declan said. He sat down beside Ronan. The bed (Ronan’s bed in his room at Monmouth) sank slightly under the added weight. Declan brandished the will in Ronan’s face. “You went to the Barns. You broke the terms and conditions.”

Declan had stopped being angry about this hours ago. At first, the both of them had been yelling too loud to hear one another, both trying to get their separate, incoherent points across, but eventually Declan had stopped being furious and had started being conflicted. When he’d stopped being conflicted, he’d turned into the state he was in now: tired.

Ronan was not angry either – he was quietly simmering, letting his anger evaporate into something closer to disinterest. He knew the outcome; Declan would make a few threats, maybe shout at Ronan some more if Ronan was unlucky, and then he’d agree to let Ronan have his share of the money.

“I just… What were you thinking, Ronan?”

Ronan frowned. “I was thinking that I wanted to go back home, so I went back home.”

Declan groaned, a decidedly un-Declan-like thing to do. Well, sometimes he groaned in exasperation, but this was something Ronan rarely heard from his brother – pure, unmasked pain. It wasn’t something Ronan had come to associate with Declan over the years, not like this at least. He’d always sort of assumed that Declan didn’t have any emotions. But this was too emotional to suggest anything else.

“I know, Ronan,” Declan said quietly. “I really do. You don’t think I want to go back too?”

“No,” Ronan said honestly because Ronan never lied. “You don’t. You hated it there like you hated dad. Like you hate me.” He said it with a nonchalant shrug, but Declan looked surprised.

“It was still home. Ronan, I’ll let you have your share if you promise me you will never go back there.”

Ronan was sick of making promises. He was tired of keeping secrets. He was fed up with letting pieces of paper dictate his every move. He was angry – when was he ever not? As it had so many times before, the anger unleashed itself on Declan.

“What’s the point?” Ronan said. He didn’t shout because Ronan Lynch was more dangerous when he was quiet. “The Barns, everything inside, mom, our childhood, it’s all there. Dad is there, literal parts of him. That’s the closest we’re ever going to get to him again. I have to go back. Fuck the money.”

“Why do you even want to be close to him again?” Declan countered, eyes flashing furiously. “He was a terrible father and a worse person. What did he ever do that was good, huh?”

“Don’t talk about him like that!”

“Don’t talk about him like he was some kind of king!”

“He was like me! You are aware there are people in Henrietta who want to kidnap me, right? I think I vaguely remember having that conversation. It was the one that started with, ‘Hey, Declan, there are people in Henrietta who want to kidnap me.’ They want me because I’m like he was. You wouldn’t understand.”

Declan looked quietly angry, the same way Ronan felt. “You’re right. I wouldn’t understand.”

Declan stood then. Ronan watched him gather the separate pages of the will, most of which were strewn about his bed, and he shoved them into his briefcase, because of course Declan had a briefcase. Declan went to the door, rested his hand on the doorknob before turning back to Ronan.

“Just… please don’t go back to the Barns, Ronan.”

He left, and took with him any energy Ronan had left. He flopped back on his bed, pulled his headphones on and blasted his music at full volume. When Gansey opened the door to check on him, Ronan just flipped him off, and he left soundlessly.

When Ronan dreamed, he didn’t bring anything back.

Somewhere in the crossfire of this whispering war

Seems like I forgot just what I was fighting for

But underneath my skin there’s a fire within, still burning

A lot of people tended to forget that the Lynch brothers were men of God. Declan and Ronan Lynch in particular. It was easy to remember that Matthew Lynch was religious when he looked like an angel, but Ronan was too gruff and grim, and Declan was too much of a businessman.

Businessmen, generally speaking, were not good people. They told white lies and made shady deals and would allow ‘mistakes and misunderstandings’ to put them ahead while others were left behind. Declan was no different; he wasn’t a real businessman yet, but he would be some day. He had practise with the lies, his childhood could be described as ‘shady’ and nothing else, and he had no trouble with letting the misfortune of others act as an advantage for him.

The difference between Declan and a businessman was that Declan knew it was wrong.

Every Sunday, the Lynch brothers would go to church. Declan and Ronan would stick it out for the sake of their younger brother and their God, and for the rest of the week they were allowed to despise each other. For that short time, saying prayers and singing hymns, Declan allowed himself to be Declan Lynch, Christian and brother, rather than Declan Lynch, liar and nothing else.

Declan went to confession. He would confess to lying, tell God of his sins and ask for forgiveness. When he prayed, he would tell God about his brothers. He would ask God for peace, for miracles, for a normal life. He would ask God to better his relationship with Ronan.

It was during confession and his prayers that Declan thought about what had led him there. It was an interesting thought that every decision he’d ever made brought him here every Sunday. Every lie he’d told, every Ashley he’d ever dated, every fight with Ronan, every second spent hating his father, and he still wound up here every time, asking for forgiveness for the same things.

And he would ask himself why. Why the lies? Why the dull suits? Why the identical girls? Why did he make any of his decisions? And the answer was glaringly obvious.

For his brothers. To keep them safe. Because he cared, fiercely and perhaps a little too much. Because it stung every time Ronan went missing, every time he brought back a nightmare, every time he nervously chewed at the bands on his wrist. Because it killed him every time Matthew sang out of tune, or understood a joke ten minutes after it had been told, or played that dreadful organ, not knowing he wasn’t real.

Because Declan loved his brothers and if he lost them he would lose a part of himself.

And Declan knew that sometimes he forgot that. Sometimes, when he and Ronan fought, the next few choices Declan made would be for himself. Sometimes, when Matthew was getting on his last nerve, the next few choices Declan made would be destructive. He knew that he didn’t always remember what he was trying to do – keep them together. He knew he sometimes tended to push them all further apart.

He apologised for this too. He promised to do better. He promised that one day the Lynch brothers would be happy and there would be no room for hatred, and he knew that this was not a lie.

He knew it wasn’t a lie because he would make all of his decisions based on that goal, because deep down he knew Ronan would want it too, and because Matthew – sweet Matthew – had been trying to get there all along.

The war was far from over, but Declan Lynch, Christian and brother still had a lot of fight left in him.

The first bird to fly gets all the arrows

Let’s leave the past behind with all our sorrows

I’ll build a bridge between us and I’ll swallow my pride

“Yeah?”

“Oh. You picked up.”

Ronan held the phone slightly away from his ear distastefully. “You sound surprised,” he told Declan.

“Well… yeah. You never answer your phone. Matthew, get down from there!”

This last part wasn’t directed at Ronan. He had to stifle a snicker, wondering what Matthew had found to use as a climbing frame now. The youngest brother kept sending Ronan pictures of his and Declan’s stacks of boxes in their new place in D.C. with captions like ‘how far up this do you think I can climb before falling off?’ Declan was, understandably, exhausted by it.

“What do you want?” Ronan asked.

There was silence for a moment on the other end of the phone, and Ronan wondered if Declan had lost interest and hung up, or if he was trying to get Matthew down from a light fixture, or if perhaps he didn’t know how conversations worked and wasn’t going to give an answer.

“Shitbag?” Ronan prompted.

“Don’t call me that,” Declan scolded. “I was… just checking up. Seeing how you were.” He cleared his throat awkwardly. “How are things at the Barns… at home? How’s Adam?”

Ronan didn’t know if he was surprised or not. It wasn’t unlike Declan to check up on him, but it was unlike Declan to do it so… gently. To ask after him instead of ordering him about. To act as if he cared.

“You don’t have to,” Ronan said quietly.

“I want to,” Declan said immediately, and then there was a little silence again. “Let me? I want to try.”

Ronan knew what he meant. “Okay,” he said.

Because the truth was, Ronan wanted to try as well. Since his conversation with Declan at the Barns (when he’d given him the ORBMASTER, which he liked to imagine took pride of place in Declan and Matthew’s new apartment), since all the crazy events that had happened in the following days, since nearly being unmade, Ronan had wanted to try. He had understood that he and Declan had lived different lives, and he knew that Declan understood that too.

And if Declan was willing to try and put their differences aside and start over, Ronan wasn’t opposed to it.

“So,” Declan said, suddenly a little more business-like. Ronan knew that persona was easier for him, but it was still irritating. “Barns? Adam? Your… Orphan child?”

Ronan looked around. He was lying in the grass of one of the fields surrounding the Barns. The sun was beating down on his face, a gentle breeze was teasing the short hairs on his head, and the steady hum of insects around him was as calming as it was unsettling. He had meant to get on with some work back at the house, but then Adam had started making lemonade and insisted Ronan go outside, saying, “I’ll be right out when I’m done, I’ll bring you a glass,” and who was Ronan to refuse?

“Home is good,” was what he said, sitting up. “I’m going to start planting stuff over the weekend.”

“Sounds good,” Declan said.

Ronan watched the back door of the house open and Adam Parrish stepped out, holding a tray carrying two cups and a large jug, filled with his homemade lemonade. Ronan couldn’t help but smile.

“And Adam’s good too. He spends almost all his time here, when he isn’t working or at school. We’re…” It felt weird to say this to Declan of all people, but Ronan was trying. “We’re doing really well.”

Ronan thought he could hear Declan’s smile. “I’m glad to hear it.”

Ronan looked to the trees that circled the Barns. Somewhere in there, Opal, his psychopomp, was clip-clopping through the undergrowth, probably eating tree bark or stalking Ronan’s deer. He felt a rush of affection and overwhelming thankfulness that she had made it out of this mess alive.

“And I’ve named her now,” he said to Declan. “Orphan Girl. I call her Opal. She needed a real name.”

He imagined Declan nodding. “It’s nice.”

Adam reached Ronan’s side and set the tray down in the grass. He said, “Who is it?” and Ronan waved a hand which meant hang on a moment, but Declan spoke up again.

“Was that Adam?”

“Yeah,” Ronan said.

“Alright. I won’t keep you, then. Give him my best.”

“Yeah,” Ronan repeated.

Declan snorted. “Dream yourself up a thesaurus. You seem to be running low on words.”

“Fuck you,” Ronan said, but there was no heat behind it. “Bye, then. Say hi to Matthew from me.”

“I will. See you soon.”

Declan hung up. Ronan knew it wouldn’t be easy. None of this would be easy. When a relationship was as broken and fragmented as his and Declan’s, when it had so many layers and emotions that couldn’t be named, stitching it back together wouldn’t be a quick fix. It would take time and effort.

Maybe before he wouldn’t have bothered. But now he was willing to try. And maybe – just maybe – he could admit that some of it may have been his fault.

For what it’s worth, I’m sorry for the hurt

I’ll be the first to say, “I made my own mistakes”

For what it’s worth, I know it’s just a word and words betray

But sometimes we lose our way

For what it’s worth