Ronan hadn’t quite anticipated how difficult living with Adam Parrish would be.
Granted, it would have been hard even before DC, but it truly was a particular kind of hell now, considering he’d given up denying the intensity of his feelings for him.
If Ronan thought Adam was everywhere before, he really was everywhere now. And they were still on summer break, so Ronan couldn’t even avoid him by not going to school. He would find Adam sleeping on the sofas at night, curled up, his expression so serene, Ronan had to practically tear his eyes away from him. He saw him in the early light of the morning in his pajamas, hair sticking up in all directions, sleepy eyes and a sleepy smile to greet him on his way to the bathroom. And then he was in the kitchen making toast, his coveralls tied to his waist, a tight grease-stained tank showing off his arms and the concavity of his stomach.
And what was worse was that Adam was talking to him. Joking with him. Telling him stories where his hot melted caramel accent slipped out and made breathing just a little bit harder.
Ronan could no longer pretend his attraction to Adam was just physical - it never had been just that, but it was sometimes easier to pretend it was. Adam was undeniably attractive, and when Ronan pretended the tightness in his gut stemmed from the tautness of Adam’s arms, the slender curve of his neck, the muscles in his back, it was easier to deny the truth.
The truth being that Ronan was well and truly fucked.
But he had to admit it to himself now. The reason Adam, of all people, had been making him confused, was because Ronan was drawn to who Adam was as a person. He had been from practically the very first time he saw Adam’s brow furrowed in concentration when he was in class. As time wore on, he’d been drawn to his intelligence, his tenacity, his snark. He’d seen people try to push him down and he’d seen Adam refuse to budge.
Their friendship had allowed Ronan to see more. He got to see the Adam who would risk getting beaten up by his father, who would risk having to deal with a boy he loathed, to make sure Ronan was ok. The Adam who had little to no self esteem, but worked himself to near-death to make sure he got what he wanted out of life, even though people his like father tried to stand in his way. He’d gotten to know the Adam who talked gently to Matthew without being condescending, who wasn’t afraid to stand up to Kavinsky, who listened to Ronan’s side of the story even though he didn’t have to.
God, Ronan was so fucked.
The sun was setting, and Ronan was eating coco pops in the kitchen, his eyes trained on the door. He knew he was being pathetic, waiting eagerly for Adam to come home like some sort of drooling lap-dog, but he missed him. He'd been plagued with a whole series of dreams starring Adam the night before, and he hadn’t seen him all day given Adam’s double morning shift at Boyd’s and then double post-lunch shift at the factory. If he remembered correctly, Adam had a few hours before his double-shift at his third job, which meant he’d be home to have an early dinner or a nap any time soon. Considering Ronan had already gotten used to Adam’s presence around Monmouth, there was currently little else occupying his mind.
His phone rang, and he glanced down at it, expecting it to be Kavinsky, or Mason for Adam, or - god forbid - Orla with another nightclub invitation. But it was Blue. Frowning, Ronan picked it up.
“Ronan?” She sounded surprised.
“You called my phone,” Ronan said, pointedly.
“Sorry,” she said. “I’m just so used to Adam answering it now.”
Ronan’s cheeks got hot, and he was glad Blue couldn’t see him.
“What is it, Sargent?”
“Your brother came by work again today,” she said. “He wants us to have dinner with him tonight.”
Ronan sighed, already irritated by the mention of his brother’s name.
“I tried skeeving him out by saying we just wanted a night in to do stuff but I don’t think he bought it.”
“He’s not going to give up,” Blue said, resignation clear in her voice. “Let’s just get it over with.”
“Fine,” Ronan grumbled. He’d known this day was coming eventually. “I’ll pick you up in an hour.”
He sent Declan a brief text informing him they would be attending the dinner, and then went into his room to get ready. He was looking for a shirt that wouldn’t give Declan an aneurysm when there was a knock at the door.
“Come in,” he called.
For some idiotic reason he assumed it was Gansey or Noah back from the movie they’d gone to see with Henry Cheng, but when he turned around Adam was standing in the doorway, looking a little disoriented. His eyes travelled down Ronan’s naked torso. Goosebumps broke out on Ronan’s arms.
“What?” Ronan asked.
Adam blinked, and then shook his head. He slipped a hand in his pocket. “I… um. I wanted to tell you… I went to Mason’s house the other day.”
Ronan turned away, stiffening his jaw. He’d been wondering when this topic would come up. It had been four days since Parrish had made plans with Hunter using Ronan’s phone, and he still hadn’t told Ronan what they’d gotten up to. Not that it was any of Ronan’s business what Adam did with Mason Hunter. But had his confession to him made any sort of difference?
“For fuck’s sake, Parrish. Just because I told you all that shit doesn’t mean you have to tell me about every single second you spend with Hunter. I don’t give a fuck if you guys are friends.”
“I just wanted to say,” Adam said, firmly, “that you’re right about him.”
“I know I’m right about him.”
“No, I mean… I believe you.”
“Thanks,” Ronan said, sarcastically.
Adam frowned. His hand tightened in his pocket, as if becoming a fist. “You don’t have to be an asshole about it, I’m just saying…”
“I’m not being an asshole. I just can’t believe it took you this fucking long to believe me.”
He didn’t know why he said it. The truth was, he hadn’t expected Adam to believe him instantly. He’d come to understand how Adam worked - how he needed time to process, to analyse and understand, to come to a conclusion. But the familiar, hot anger was burning within Ronan now. It might have been because he felt so exposed, standing there, torso bare while Adam’s eyes took him in. Or maybe it was because Adam had lied when Ronan had asked what he and Mason had talked about on the phone. Or possibly it was because Adam was leaning against the exact doorframe he’d been standing against in Ronan’s dream from the night before. The memory of that dream seared his memory, made his skin burn.
“Well, he’s been my friend for longer than you have. So sorry for giving him the benefit of the doubt,” Adam bit out.
“He’s been my friend for even longer, so if I tell you he’s a total shit-head, I know what I’m talking about.”
Adam took his hand out of his pocket, and stuck it in his hair instead, tugging at it.
“How about you take a look at Kavinsky and the other dickheads you’re friends with, before you give me crap about who I spend time with?”
“I said I don’t care who you’re friends with,” Ronan snarled.
They were fighting again. Just like before. Just like it had always been. Typical Ronan, Gansey would say. Classic.
“You obviously do,” Adam said, teeth gritted. “Otherwise you wouldn’t be giving me shit about going to Mason’s.”
“I’m not giving you shit.”
“Forget it, Ronan.”
Adam stormed out, and Ronan glared at his back, anger writhing inside him. Then he walked over and slammed the door shut. He waited a moment, opened it, and slammed it shut again. Then he did it a third time, just for good measure.
* * *
Blue was waiting outside when Ronan drove up to her house. She was sitting on a bench, wearing a blue dress that looked like a lampshade. Ronan had the feeling he should get out of the car and open the door for her or something, but that fight with Parrish had soured his mood. So instead he honked loudly. She glared at him as she slid into the passenger seat.
“You look nice, maggot,” he said.
She beamed then, and all was forgotten.
They drove in relative silence, only broken by the sound of Blue chewing gum. Ronan caught her wringing her hands several times during the drive.
“It’ll be fine,” he said.
The walk up to Declan’s apartment seemed to take an eternity. Matthew flung open the door as soon as Ronan rang the bell, and grinned widely at both of them, his smile slipping into confused awe when he took in Blue’s dress. Blue tugged at a sleeve.
Ronan introduced them, and while Blue was polite, she seemed a little taken-aback by Matthew’s exuberant energy. Clearly she’d been expecting someone a little more like Ronan or Declan.
Declan had made dinner himself. It was only pasta and a salad, but even Ronan couldn’t bring himself to make a derisive comment about it. They sat down after a brief introduction and started eating.
“Gansey doesn’t know about you two,” Declan said, without any preamble. His tone was as collected as always, but Ronan could hear smugness straining against his words.
Ronan tried to keep from wincing. “How the fuck do you know that?”
“I called him up the other day,” Declan said, chewing slowly on a piece of lettuce. “Just to… catch up. When I asked how things were going with you and Blue he sounded confused.”
Ronan gritted his teeth. “You told him?”
Declan gave a lazy shrug. “He didn’t seem to understand what I meant by that, so I didn’t push the matter. Thought it should be you who tells him.”
Ronan’s neck tensed.
“We’re waiting for the right time,” Blue said.
One corner of Declan’s lips quirked. Ronan balled his hands into fists.
“That guy… Parrish,” Declan continued. “He knows.”
Ronan swallowed thickly. He remembered now; Declan calling his phone, talking to Adam, asking him when Ronan and Blue would be over for dinner.
“I told him by accident,” Blue said, quickly. “Stupid mistake.”
“Sure,” Declan said, and he looked pleased with himself, which made that white hot anger build up in Ronan. “Is there is a reason you’re not telling Gansey in particular, then?”
Blue must have heard the insinuation in his tone because she gave Ronan a confused look. Ronan clenched his jaw.
“I can tell whoever the fuck I want to,” Ronan said.
He gave Declan a challenging glare. Declan must have sensed the rising tension because he shifted in his seat, and then turned to Blue.
“So Blue,” he said. Ronan gave him a cold look, which he ignored. “Where do you study?”
Blue looked a little jarred by the abrupt change in conversation. “Mountain View.”
To his credit, Declan didn’t show any disdain at this piece of information. He nodded and chewed his salad slowly.
“Do you like it?” he asked.
“No,” she said.
“I like school,” Matthew said. “We learned about the American Revolution the other day. It was so freaking cool!”
“I can’t wait till I’m out of school,” Blue admitted.
“What are your plans for after?” Declan asked. “College?”
“No, I think I’d like to travel around. See the world.”
Declan gave Ronan a cursory look. Of course Ronan would be dating someone who had no interest in going to college. If only he knew, Ronan mused. But thoughts of Adam turned into more frustration, and Ronan could feel the fumes from their fight return to choke him.
“Let’s stop with the damn interrogation, ok?” Ronan snarled.
“I’m just trying to get to know Blue,” Declan said. “Where do you live?” he asked, turning back to her.
“Blue,” Matthew said abruptly, possibly sensing the tension in the air, or possibly just bored with the banal conversation. “What’s your favourite reptile?”
“I don’t have one,” Blue said.
“You don’t like animals?”
“I like animals, I just find reptiles creepy. They’re not… like, warm or comforting.”
Matthew sent Ronan a curious look. Ronan gave him an empty shrug.
“You know,” Matthew said. “Ronan and I used to play with field mice at the Barns.”
“The Barns?” she asked.
Now Declan and Matthew both gave Ronan curious looks. Had he never talked to Blue about the Barns? It should not have been surprising - he didn’t talk a lot. But even Adam knew about his childhood home, and they hadn’t been friends for as long as he and Sargent had.
Ronan dabbed at his mouth with a napkin.
“You know,” he said, casually. “That place I’m not allowed back to.”
“Ronan. Please. Let’s not do this here.” Declan’s voice had that exhausted tinge it always had when he spoke to Ronan.
“Do what?” Ronan asked. “Tell Blue the truth?”
Declan looked like he wanted to challenge these words, but when he spoke all he said was, “I don’t want to fight with you today.”
“You said I could go back.”
“I said I was working on it.”
“Work harder,” Ronan growled.
“Guys,” Matthew begged. “Please don’t fight.”
“Is this what church every Sunday is like?” Blue asked, sardonically.
Declan exhaled through his nostrils. “I’ll bring dessert,” he said. He stood up, hands clenched, and disappeared into the kitchen.
Matthew’s eyes flicked between Blue and Ronan, but he said nothing.
* * *
The rest of the evening passed with casual enough conversation. Declan told Blue about his job, and then Matthew rattled on about Alexander Hamilton and George Washington for half an hour. Ronan allowed the conversation to happen around him, but he didn’t participate. His thoughts were back at the Barns; the smell of the trees and the mud, the way it looked when it rained. He thought of his mother, sitting serenely in the living room, her golden curls falling past her waist. He thought of her smile, the way she used to grab him, pull him onto her lap, and kiss the back of his neck while he squirmed, eager to get back to playing with his brothers. His eyes prickled.
It was only when Blue admitted she should be getting back home when he snapped out of it.
“Thanks for coming,” Declan told her. “I’m very sorry I had to ruin your… plans.”
Blue coughed awkwardly. Ronan wasn’t sure what couples usually did when their older brothers talked about their sex lives, so he slung an arm around Blue, hoping to come off as nonchalant. She seemed even more embarrassed by this.
Blue excused herself to use the bathroom, and Declan gathered the plates and headed to the kitchen. Matthew sat on the floor beside Ronan as he tugged on his boots.
“She’s nice,” Matthew said.
“No she’s not,” Ronan said. “She’s an asshole.”
“That’s why you like her?” Matthew asked.
Matthew’s normal setting was ebullient, which is why it was easy to sense something off in his tone. Ronan looked up.
“Do you not like her?” he asked. He couldn’t help but feel a little hurt.
“No, I do! I totally do.”
Matthew chewed on his bottom lip.
“Spit it out,” he said, an edge in his voice.
“It’s just…” Matthew sent a quick look at the bathroom door. “She’s a lot like you.”
“And that’s a bad thing?”
Matthew shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s not good.”
“What the hell do you mean?”
“You know how Gansey is really different from you?” he asked, picking at his thumbnail with a finger.
“That’s why you guys are best friends.”
“Blue and I are good friends too,” Ronan pointed out.
He wasn’t sure why this conversation was angering him. He should be playing it cool and aloof. If he was confident enough about his relationship with Blue, then maybe Matthew would let it go.
“Yeah, but Ronan, a good friend is different from a girlfriend.”
“And what the hell would you know about all that?”
Matthew blinked up at him. “I wouldn’t,” he agreed. “But I know you.”
“I can’t believe you of all fucking people are saying this.”
“Don’t be upset,” Matthew begged, his expression tearing slightly. “I’m just trying to tell you how I feel.”
“So you think I should break up with her because she’s too much like me?”
“It just… it doesn’t make sense,” Matthew said, quietly. “You and her. I don’t know why. Declan feels it too, though.”
“Tell Declan to stop discussing my fucking love life with you,” Ronan spat. He got to his feet.
“I’m sorry,” Matthew said, his eyes round with regret as he looked up at Ronan. “I am. I’m really sorry. Maybe if I spent more time with the two of you, I’d see it.”
“You don’t have to see it. You just have to deal with it.”
“I want you to be happy, Ronan,” he said, and his voice was small. “Like you were that day. When we got ice cream.”
Ronan’s stomach bottomed out. He stared at Matthew.
“What day?” he asked, mechanically, even though he knew exactly what day his brother was referring to.
“With Adam? When we had ice cream together?”
“So I should date Adam, is that it?” Ronan’s voice was like venom, and Matthew recoiled. He wasn’t usually on the receiving end of Ronan’s wrath.
“I’m not saying that, I’m just saying…” Matthew fidgeted in place. “That day, you looked like you used to look. You know? Before dad.” Matthew swallowed. “I really like Blue. Honest. I just…” he shook his head, curls flying. “She doesn’t make you calm.”
Ronan watched his little brother. The way he spoke, his eyes turned to the floor, his hands in his lap. Sweet little Matthew. He lived in a world where everything was so simple; Ronan’s sexuality didn’t matter, and Adam liked him back, and other people could make him feel calm. But the truth was that the church and his brother and society would never approve of Ronan’s sexuality, and Adam would never want to be with him, and nothing had yet quelled that war raging in his heart.
But it did mean something to know that his little brother would never look at him differently, even if he knew the truth. Warmth grew in Ronan’s soul. He reached out and rumpled Matthew’s curls.
“Don’t change, Matthew.”
Matthew looked up and smiled, eyes full of their old shine. “You’re not mad at me, then?”
“Never,” he promised. “I really love you, stupid.”
“I love you too.”