The day Ronan punched Adam’s father was one of the longest days of his entire life. And it still wasn’t close to over.
Adam was taking off his jeans now, fingers fumbling with the button and then the zipper. Ronan tried not to look, but his eyes kept slipping to Adam, to the flash of underwear visible as Adam tugged his jeans down, and then Ronan turned away because he saw more than just the waistband of boxer briefs and he was scared his entire face would turn red.
He had been worried all day that his decision on how to deal with Adam’s father had been the wrong one. But what was he supposed to do? Sit there and watch Adam’s father beat him? Every second of that scene had been absolute torture, and the rage Ronan had felt in that moment had blinded him so greatly that his thoughts had exploded into white noise. In moments like that he didn’t think, he just did.
He was relieved that Adam wasn’t angry. Seeing Adam angry the other day, seeing that fury in his eyes - fury that was directed at Ronan - was unbearable. He didn’t know how he’d ever thought Adam looked adorable when he was angry. What he’d seen before in class wasn’t anger. That was annoyance. What he’d seen at Kavinsky’s party… now that was anger. That was undiluted hatred. If Ronan lived the rest of his life never again being on the receiving end of Adam Parrish’s pure hot rage, Ronan would die a happy man.
Ronan hadn’t been able to sleep that entire night, even though his brain was fuzzy with K’s pills, his eyelids heavy because of the beer. He couldn’t stop hearing Adam’s words in his head. Even though he’d tried to tell himself he didn’t care what Adam thought of him, he had to conclude in the morning, when he was watching the sunrise, that a part of him - that same small part of him that he despised - did care. And that part of him wanted Adam Parrish to like him so much it ached.
It was the reason why he’d gone over to apologise. Ronan wasn’t a person who apologised, usually. Maybe in another universe where it wasn't a possibility that Adam could just up and cut him out of his life, he wouldn't have. Or maybe he did it because he knew Adam was right. He shouldn’t have worried Gansey. He shouldn’t have been drinking himself to near death. He shouldn’t have fought with the friends who came all the way to Kavinsky’s house in the middle of the night to make sure he was still alive.
Either way, he didn’t want to leave things like that between him and Adam. Not for a second longer than he had to.
He’d known Adam would been working the next day, and he’d known he couldn’t turn him away from a public place. At least not until Ronan had the time to say what he needed to say. Which was that he was an idiot who drank too much and went about things wrong.
And things had been ok then. Ronan had spent the whole evening at Boyd’s with Adam, and when his shift ended and they parted ways, Ronan had felt a disappointment so acute it alarmed even him. But he’d slept that night, knowing they were alright.
And then the thing with Adam’s dad happened.
Ronan was feeling guilty too, now that he knew everything. His stomach was stewing with the thought that he had been the cause of Adam getting beaten up. He’d assumed Adam was overreacting, that day at Kavinsky’s party. He couldn’t understand why telling Kavinsky that he and Adam weren’t friends had caused such an intense reaction from Adam. His thoughts had spiralled, even down to a place that gave him a sick sort of hope. But now he knew. Adam was angry and upset and terrified because he’d known that when he went home his father’s fists would be waiting for him. The thought made Ronan sick to his stomach.
Adam’s pants were all the way off now. Ronan’s throat was dry, his heart hammering in his chest, the back of his neck burning. As if it weren’t enough to see the smooth planes of his chest, the muscles of his stomach where the faint shape of a V was starting to emerge, now he was being treated to sight of Adam without pants as he bent over to grab the tie that had fallen on the floor.
This entire situation was insane. Here was Adam. Straight Adam, who thought Ronan was dating Blue, who was downstairs waiting for him. Ronan should have been playing his role, pretending to be with Blue, pushing away Adam who was standing there with rumpled hair, looking like something he’d pulled out of a dream. God, this was not how this was supposed to go. Ronan had orchestrated this whole plan so he wouldn’t have to think about these things, but it was incredibly hard not to think about them when Adam was standing there in nothing but a white shirt, boxer briefs and socks.
Adam spent an agonising minute folding his jeans into a neat rectangle, and then another agonising minute tying his tie, and then then he finally, finally pulled on his slacks. Ronan turned to face him properly, but found it didn’t make much of a difference. Adam Parrish in a suit was almost as bad as Adam Parrish wearing only half his clothes. Adam put on the suit jacket, and ran his hand through his hair trying to make it look neater. It didn’t look any neater. All it did was make Ronan’s throat go drier. Why had he thought waiting here for Parrish to change was a good idea?
"I don't suppose you have a comb?" Adam asked.
Adam's lips quirked. He turned to the mirror beside Ronan, straightening his tie, then glanced at him. “How do I look?”
Fuck. The clothes were big for him, but he still looked incredibly fucking handsome. The fact that the sleeves were a little long and the pants were a little loose just made him look more fucking cute than usual.
“Like a loser,” Ronan managed.
Adam rolled his eyes.
They walked downstairs together. Ronan noticed that Adam’s hands were sweating. He’d been noticing Adam’s hands a lot, ever since Noah had pointed them out. They were nice hands. Maybe a little too nice. Adam noticed him looking at them and stuffed them in his pockets.
“I’m not used to parties like this,” he muttered.
“Neither am I,” Ronan said.
They walked into the living room, and Ronan felt the immediate need to run away. The room was filled with swarms of women in fancy dresses, men in suits. There was the tinkle of champagne glasses, and the air was thick with perfume and prim laughter. Ronan wanted to gag. A waiter offered them some funky looking food and Parrish politely took it, biting into it. Ronan snorted when Adam’s nose scrunched up.
“Oh my god,” he mumbled. “What is this?”
“Probably better if you never find out,” Ronan said.
Adam made another face, and Ronan turned away, smirking. A waiter with a tray full of champagne glasses walked by and Ronan snatched two chutes from it. He offered one to Adam, who shook his head.
“I don’t drink.”
“What the fuck? Why?” As soon as the question left his mouth, he knew the answer. He averted his gaze. “Right then,” he said, quickly. “More for me.”
He downed the first glass, but hung on to the second, not wanting to get drunk too fast.
They walked around a little, and Ronan noticed the way Adam was fidgeting, the way his fingers seemed to be gravitating towards the bruise growing on his jaw. Ronan knocked his shoulder into Adam’s.
“That lady by that ugly-ass statue there… what’s her deal?”
Adam blinked, following Ronan’s gaze. “What do you mean?”
“She looks shady as fuck.”
“She does,” Ronan insisted. “Why is she standing alone? And why is her bag so big?”
“Maybe she’s waiting for her friend to come out of the bathroom. And I don’t know… maybe she’s carrying a lot of stuff.”
“Fuck, man. I’m telling you. You turn your back, she’s gonna steal your pearls.”
“I’ll make sure to keep them clutched tightly then,” Adam said sarcastically, but he was smiling. “And that statue probably costs more than my house.”
Adam’s expression stilled suddenly, and Ronan realised with a sinking feeling that Adam no longer had a house.
“Whatever man,” he said, affecting insouciance. “It’s still ugly as fuck. If she steals that, the Ganseys would be indebted to her.”
Adam hid his smile in his sleeve. “Asshole. Leave her alone.”
“She’s a bit old for you, Parrish.”
“I mean, hey… if that's what you're into, that's on you. I don’t judge.”
Adam rolled his eyes. “I don’t know,” he said, wryly. “Wouldn’t want to make Chainsaw jealous.”
Ronan huffed out a surprised laugh, which earned him a wide-eyed but pleased look from Adam.
They walked around a bit more, and Ronan took a few more cracks at the woman before Adam’s smile started really reaching his eyes. Then Gansey beckoned Adam over, so Ronan walked around by himself, avoiding any potential conversation.
The Lynch family was almost as rich as the Gansey family, but they had never been this kind of family. The one that held fancy parties with a live string quartet and waiters dressed like miserable penguins. Ronan had actually been extremely uncomfortable the first time he came to one of Gansey’s events; all these people who spoke with accents that sounded almost British even though they weren’t, with dreams of working in the White House. Ronan hated every minute of it. He’d been ready to reject this invitation until Gansey had mentioned that he wanted Adam to come, and then Ronan had faltered. Because the truth was, Adam Parrish’s intellect, his mischievousness, his sense of humour, his snark and stubbornness… fuck, it was addicting. However much his better instincts warned him against it, Ronan didn’t feel like he could deny himself two whole days of being with Adam.
“There you are, lover.” Blue appeared from what seemed like nowhere, and linked their arms.
“The fuck you doing, Sargent?” he asked, but he didn’t make any motion to disentangle their arms.
“You didn’t tell me Adam was going to be coming along,” she hissed.
“Why was I supposed to tell you that?”
“He thinks we’re dating?”
“He thinks we’re hiding it from Gansey,” he reminded her.
Blue let out an aggressive exhale.
“Fine,” she muttered. “If I’d known, I would have maybe brought some prettier clothes. Maybe some of the sundresses I made, or something.”
Ronan stared at her, his stomach tightening. He wanted to ask her why she would do such a thing for Adam Parrish, but he didn’t actually want to hear the answer.
Unluckily for him, his expression must have given him away, because Blue did a double-take and frowned at him.
“What?” she demanded. “You obviously haven’t noticed, but he’s really cute.”
And luckily for him, Blue was a clueless fuck. He’d assumed she would have figured it out by now, given that she clearly knew the reason he’d asked her to pretend to date him. However, she’d since proven that she was just as oblivious as Gansey was. Though in her case he suspected she was preoccupied by her own internal struggles. Blue had been a little spaced out lately. He just hoped it had nothing whatsoever to do with Adam.
“Obviously,” Ronan muttered. He felt anger welling up in him again, and he pushed it down. “I don’t really think he’s in the mood for flirting right now anyway.”
Blue screwed up her nose at his disdainful tone. Ronan jerked her a little with his hip, hoping to distract her before she decided to go on some sort of tirade.
“You didn’t bring pretty clothes to a fancy Gansey party, maggot?”
“Don’t call me maggot,” she snapped. “What if Adam hears?”
“Adam isn’t here. Which clearly means you’re making excuses to hold my hand.” Blue made an offended noise and broke their link. “And you don’t think ‘maggot’ is romantic enough?”
Blue glared at him.
He smirked. “How about baby blue?” She grimaced. “Honey cakes?”
“Jesus, Ronan,” she said, whacking him. “Stop it. You’re awful at this.”
He gave her a sharp grin in return. Blue was wearing a dress for the party, but it was formal looking and tight. She looked incredibly uncomfortable in it. She tugged at the hem.
“Is he ok?” she asked.
“I don’t think so.”
Blue sent Adam a pitying look across the room. Ronan followed her gaze. Adam was talking to Helen, Gansey’s sister. She was laughing, touching Adam on the arm as he spoke. Ronan felt his blood heat up.
“Did you know his father was beating him?”
“No.” Ronan tried to tear his eyes away from the two, but failed. “I think I suspected.”
“Yeah. He never talked about his family, but once he came to school with a bruise on his face and told everyone he walked into a door.”
Blue flinched. “That is so awful.”
“Yeah. Don’t say anything to him though. He doesn’t like talking about this shit.”
Blue looked like she wanted to argue, but she nodded.
“It’s not my place to say anything anyway,” she agreed.
They both watched Adam for a moment. Watched the way Helen giggled and made some comment which caused Adam to look mock-offended. She laughed, said something else and then leaned in towards Adam. Ronan’s heart rate climbed as he watched her slowly brush some of Adam’s dusty hair off his forehead.
“He seems to be in the mood for flirting,” Blue mumbled, irritably.
Ronan needed to get the fuck out of there, or he was going to punch a hole through the nearest wall. He finished off the champagne he was still holding. It didn’t make him feel any less like shit.
“Want to go to the kitchen and find some real food?” he asked.
“Please,” Blue replied.
* * *
Adam wasn’t sure whether he would have enjoyed the Ganseys’ party under different circumstances, but he wasn’t enjoying it given everything that had happened that day. He was too overwhelmed to think straight. He should have been networking, thinking of his future, but all he wanted to do was hide. He felt wrong in Ronan’s suit, wrong in this party where no one knew what it was like to be hungry. He was bored stiff by the conversation; the same questions thrown at him again and again by different people who all looked and sounded the same. He was also keenly aware that Gansey’s sister was looking at him like he was a particularly pitiful piece of meat, and he wasn’t sure he liked it.
Plus, it really didn’t help that his face was covered in bruises. No one commented on them, but Adam felt their eyes on him, and the shame of it filled him anyway.
Gansey was brilliant. If Adam hadn’t known how charismatic he was before, he certainly knew it now. He was incredible. Dazzling. Adam was a dull glow in comparison.
He walked around the party idly, smiling and nodding at people. Someone would stop him, and he’d chatter politely with them for a bit, and then he was walking again. He was aimless. Clueless.
He stopped by the kitchen to get a glass of water when he spotted Blue and Ronan inside. They were alone by the pantry, since the cooks and waiters were occupying the back end of the kitchen where the fridge and stoves were. Adam stopped by the door, peeking in. They were laughing, but he couldn’t hear what they were saying. Ronan gave Blue a shove, and she playfully hit him back. He tugged at a strand of her hair.
Adam stiffened. They looked so blissfully happy, so unaware of the world happening around them. His gut lurched. What was he doing? What kind of horrible person was he to break these two people up? Even if Ronan was a dick at times, he had his own problems; his father’s death, his turbulent relationship with his brother. And then there was the suicide attempt…
Adam swallowed. He was making excuses. Truth was, he’d come to care for Ronan. Maybe just a little bit, but he did care. And he cared about Blue. He should be trying to be happy for this couple that had formed so unexpectedly, found so much happiness with one another, but jealousy still settled in his gut.
He was suffocating. He was surrounded by money that wasn’t his, people that would never accept him, a Gansey that seemed almost plastic and a couple that he wished was apart but who deserved to be together. Adam needed to breathe. He left the kitchen and slipped outside, into the large garden.
Adam had always felt at home surrounded by trees and greenery. When he was young, sometimes he’d go and sit in the park near his double-wide. Most of the time he’d sit under a tree and read, but sometimes he’d close his eyes and imagine he was somewhere else - he was another boy, living another life. In those moments, he wasn’t Adam Parrish. And god, he was happy in those moments.
He wasn’t happy now, but the greenery did alleviate some of his anxieties. He walked around and breathed in the fresh air, trying to clear his mind of the incident with his father, of the sight of Blue and Ronan, of the awkward interactions he’d just had.
He wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but soon people started trickling out of the house into waiting cars. Adam, not wanting to talk to any of these people, slipped deeper into the garden, till he found a stone bench that was partially obscured by a tree. He sat there, his exhaustion washing over him till he felt like he might actually cry.
This was where Ronan found him. He appeared from the shadows a moment later, his suit looking like it had come back from fighting a war, his sleeves rolled up and his hands in his pockets.
“You alright?” he asked.
Adam shook his head. Ronan sat down beside him. He said nothing, and Adam was glad for it.
They watched the people walking past, all of them looking as fresh as when they arrived. Adam wondered what that felt like.
“You need to talk?” Ronan asked.
“Don’t be a dick, Parrish.”
Adam heaved out a laugh, but it was forced. “Honestly? All I want right now is to talk about anything but myself.”
Ronan gave him a mildly curious look.
“I’ve been doing that all night,” Adam said, staring down at his hands. “I just… don’t want to be me for a while.”
Ronan was watching him now, eyes tracing the lines of his face. It made Adam feel oddly exposed. It wasn’t… entirely unpleasant.
“I get that,” Ronan said. He shifted in his place. “Look, I… um. I actually wanted to tell you something. I know this isn’t the right time, but you fucking said you wanted a distraction, so… yeah.” He was fidgeting with the bands on his wrist. It was clear whatever he wanted to say had been nagging at him for a while. “Also I don’t know when we’ll be alone again.”
Adam’s heart’s reaction to these words was, frankly, surprising. It seemed to hiccup, to take a deep breath in some sort of anticipation. Adam waited for Ronan to speak, adrenaline coursing through him.
Ronan remained quiet for a while, and Adam didn’t push. Then he spoke, his voice rough and low. “I don’t know why Mason told you all that bullshit, about me. I guess I get why he wouldn’t want to tell you the truth. I still don’t know why he felt like he had to fucking lie, but whatever.”
Adam blinked. The peculiar exhilaration that had unexpectedly filled him dissipated into the warm night air. Mason? That’s what Ronan wanted to talk about?
“I’m not good at fucking talking, but… I thought you should know my side. Not that you care, I just… I don’t know…”
“I’d like to hear your side,” Adam said. He kept his voice firm, but he was still confused, and a little disappointed, though he didn’t understand why.
Ronan looked at him, then nodded once.
“Right. Uh. So growing up, we lived outside of Henrietta. My childhood home. The Barns. Our farm was there. Is there. Anyway, his mother was a maid in our house, right? She was kind of our nanny. And I loved the woman. Honestly. To absolute bits. She was strong and really fucking smart. Her husband though, he was… kind of a whack job. Whatever. Anyway, I didn’t really… have many friends growing up. It was mostly just me and my brothers, you know? And Mason… he was the only kid my age around, so we became friends. He was my… uh. He was my best friend, I guess.”
This was a new piece of information. Mason had said he and Ronan had known each other since childhood, but never that the two were that friendly. The way Mason described it, he was just the servant’s son that the rich Lynch boys ignored for the most part. He’d said he and Ronan were barely friends, that Ronan spent most of his time being rude to him, bullying him, and rubbing his lack of money in his face.
Thinking back on this now, Adam couldn’t picture Ronan or Matthew ever behaving that way with someone.
Ronan was watching him, and Adam nodded slightly, allowing him to continue.
“So, uh… My parents loved him, right? Not because they knew him very well, but because we all loved his mom. And he was my friend. Dad knew they weren’t well off, so he promised them he’d pay Mason’s way through school. You heard that bit, I guess. That part’s true. I mean not the…. I’ll get back to that.” Ronan yanked on his collar. He was getting angry now, the fury starting to simmer. “The thing is, Mason knew he was my only friend. He used to take advantage of me. He would use me to get things he wanted. He would say shit like ‘If you really are my friend, then you’d steal money from your dad and buy me that jacket I want.’”
Adam’s breath caught in his throat. His heart was shuddering in his chest. This was nothing like the story Mason had told him about Ronan forcing him to do chores, about the Lynch family being cruel, about Niall Lynch promising him things and not following through. But Adam couldn’t deny that Ronan’s words felt truer. Especially knowing Ronan, and knowing Mason. After all, just a few weeks ago Mason had been Adam’s only friend, and he’d gotten Adam to mess with Ronan.
“I was stupid,” Ronan said. “I mean, I was a kid. I didn’t know better. So I did it, right? And I knew Mason didn’t have as much as we did, so I’d never ask him for anything in return. He’d convince me to do awful shit - steal booze, vandalise the shop down the street - and then I’d get in trouble with my dad. My dad… he told me once that he couldn’t believe he’d raised a liar.” Ronan’s voice cracked, and Adam’s heart ached. “I thought I was the worst person ever. But I didn’t want to lose Mason, you know? I didn’t have any other fucking friends. I did everything he asked. Once, he asked me to give him this…”
“What was it?” Adam nudged.
“This little… bee. It was this glass thing. Really delicate and shit, right? But when you held it in your hand and blew on it, it would fly, and this light inside of it would glow different colours. Depending on the mood of the room, or something. My dad dre… uh, made it. It was my favourite thing, and Mason… that… fucker. He asked me for it, and when I said no he told me we wouldn’t be friends if I didn’t hand it over. So I…” Ronan blew out sharply. “I gave it to him. I gave him everything.” His voice was flat when he continued. “And then he stopped being my friend anyway. When my dad died I was in the worst possible place in my life, but Mason wasn’t there. Not for a second. I didn’t get so much as a damn text message from him saying he was sorry.”
This was too much for Adam. Too much about Ronan that he hadn’t known. Too much of Mason that seemed to make sense and didn’t at the same time. Ronan’s words, now emotionless and devoid of his usual amount of swearing, made Adam’s hair stand on end. His mind was doing a complicated little dance.
“We still paid for his schooling though,” Ronan said, through gritted teeth. “Declan insisted. He sends the money from DC.”
Adam’s heart stilled. Was Declan Lynch Mason’s ‘uncle’ from DC who paid for his schooling? Could that be possible?
“I think he’s pissed though, cause… you know. We could only pay for part of the amount. That’s why he’s on the partial scholarship, with you. Dad’s will is complicated. A large part of the money that was set aside for Mason’s schooling ended up paying for his mom’s surgery… and then she left his dad… like, it was hard on him, I’m sure. We tried to pay for the full thing, but the lawyers and shit, you know? I don’t really know the details… Declan handles that stuff. Anyway, when we couldn’t pay the whole thing, Declan talked to Child and got him the scholarship.”
Ronan ducked his head.
“Look, I’m not saying we were totally innocent, right? I mean… maybe he felt ignored? We were a really close family. Maybe… he felt excluded at times. Like, I can see that, yeah? And he had that whole shit with his parents divorce. So… I try not to hold it against him. But you know. The bloody bastard didn’t give a rat’s ass about my dad. About any of us.” Ronan leaned back against the bench. “I’m over it now, though. Because if it wasn’t for him, I never would have met Gansey. Dick was there when my dad died, and he’s been there ever since. And he doesn’t ask me for shit. So… I don’t give a fuck about Mason Hunter anymore. But I wanted you to know. I don’t know what he said to you exactly, but from the shit you told me? He’s lying.”
Adam felt like he was coming undone, unravelling slowly but steadily. Here was Ronan, his voice full of emotion, laying his heart bare in front of him, and Adam didn’t know what to make of it.
“You don’t have to believe me,” Ronan said. “But I don’t lie. Not anymore.”
He stood up. Adam stared up at him, trying to find words. His thoughts ebbed and swirled, but he couldn’t string a sentence together.
“Just watch out for him,” Ronan muttered. “Because if you let him, he’ll hurt you the way he hurt me.”