Ronan hung back after the church service was over.
He told Declan and Matthew he had ‘plans’ - no further elaboration given. Declan gave him a skeptical look - he obviously thought that Ronan was just trying to get out of having breakfast with them, which he sort of was - but after a couple of questions that were met with laconic answers, his brothers gave up and drove away.
As he waited for everyone to clear out of St. Agnes, Ronan shuffled around outside the building, rolling up his sleeves and fiddling with his leather bands and occasionally giving a forced smile to a familiar face. When it seemed as though everyone had left - and when Mrs. Miller, who had cornered him in the car park, had stopped going on about her daughter’s new bakery - Ronan made his way round back to the small office, where he sat down with the small church lady who worked there. For almost forty minutes they discussed the ways someone who wasn't part of the church would be able to rent the apartments above St. Agnes. She scribbled down numbers on a piece of paper, and Ronan pocketed it carefully, not wanting to lose it.
Adam was on the floor besides Gansey’s model of Henrietta doing Latin revision when Ronan walked into Monmouth. He didn’t look up; simply grunted in greeting. The argument they’d had a few days ago had been fizzling out very gradually - each of them was unwilling to let go of it completely, but there was no longer any heat in their curt interactions. Ronan suspected that they were just carrying it on to irritate the other. By this point they had let go enough to keep it from interfering with their daily routine, and Ronan knew it wouldn’t be long before the disgruntlement disappeared all together. At least, until their next fight.
Ronan watched him for a minute, the way his dusty hair fell onto his forehead as he read over his notes, his thin wrists and those large-knuckled hands Ronan had memorised the shape of resting on his knees. Then Ronan steeled himself. He walked over and threw a key onto Adam’s notebook.
Adam picked it up and turned it over. “What’s this?” he asked.
“A key,” Ronan said.
“I can see that. What is it for?”
“Your new apartment.”
Adam stared at him.
“I know you don’t like living here,” Ronan said.
Adam was now holding the key like it was poisonous. “So you rented me an apartment?”
Ronan had expected the reaction - alarmed eyes, voice full of disbelief and growing fury. Ronan kept his voice calm when he answered.
“No. I asked for a key so that you could go look at it after your shift and see if you want it. Here’s the rent amount.” Ronan threw the slip of paper with the numbers on it at him.
Adam was completely dumbfounded now. He stared at the piece of paper, opened his mouth and then closed it again. He looked up at Ronan, and there was a hint of suspicion there, but it quickly disappeared when Ronan said, “Just trying to get you the fuck out of here, man.”
“Thanks,” Adam said sarcastically, but Ronan knew he meant it because Adam turned away and his ears were pink. “Where is this place?”
“It’s above my church. You know St. Agnes?”
Adam flipped the key over in his hands. He seemed mesmerised by it. He fingered the grooves lightly.
“If you want a ride,” Ronan said. “Let me know.”
“That would be nice.”
“Fine. I’ll see you after your shift.”
Ronan’s heart was still thudding giddily when he got back to his room. He wondered how Matthew could possibly think Adam was making him calm. Adam didn’t make him calm. Adam made him anxious and excited and angry and breathless. Adam made fireworks shoot through his skin. Adam made him feel the way he felt when he was driving too fast, drinking too much, pushing himself to the edge.
The thing that made him calm was the Barns.
He fell asleep thinking about the Barns, so he dreamt about them too. He dreamt he was walking through them, making his way through the fields with white and brown cows surrounding him. He could smell the cloying scent of daisies and apples, could see the fireflies in the still evening sky. Beneath his favourite apple tree, he found a small deer. She looked newly born, her coat soft and wet. He picked her up. She was fair, with fur the same dusty brown as Adam’s hair, and large black eyes that gazed intensely at Ronan. He walked around, her warm body pressed into his chest, trying to find her family. He found nothing.
A thump woke him, and he found that he could not move. His arms and legs were frozen, paralysed, stiff. Ronan’s breathing quickened, and he tried to crane his neck, to see what had happened, but eventually gave up and waited for the paralysis to fade. When he finally could move he first realised that Adam’s shift had ended a half-hour ago. Then he realised that at the foot of his bed, sat a small baby doe.
* * *
Ronan had expected Adam to be upset with him, but when he arrived at St. Agnes an hour after he’d promised he’d be at Boyd’s, Adam was standing outside the church looking flushed. He slipped into the passenger seat.
“I did it,” he told Ronan, breathlessly. “I got the apartment.”
The words made Ronan's heart hurt, but he grinned and said, “Knew you’d like it.”
“Now that I don’t have to give my dad part of my salary, I can afford it too.”
“Yeah,” Ronan said. “Yeah, I figured.”
Adam smiled at him, his blue eyes alight with happiness. It was such a rare look for Adam, it made Ronan a little light-headed.
“Thanks,” Adam said.
His heart no longer hurt.
“Yeah,” Ronan said. “Um, so…”
Adam caught the look in his eye. He watched him curiously for a second, then turned and glanced at the back seat. His eyebrows shot up.
“What is… is that a deer?”
“Yeah,” Ronan said. “I found it.”
Adam’s expression was dubious when he looked at him. “You found a baby deer?”
Adam frowned, but turned back to face the animal. He watched her for a moment, that meticulous expression on his face.
“It’s beautiful,” he said, softly.
Adam snorted, facing forward and sliding properly into the seat. “What are you going to do with her then?”
“I’m taking her to the Barns.”
Adam gave him a cautious look. “Your childhood home?”
“Yeah,” Ronan gripped the steering wheel hard. “I’m not allowed back there. Part of my dad’s will.” He exhaled. “But I’m going anyway.”
“I’ll drop you at Monmouth on the way…”
“I could come?” Adam interrupted. “If you want company, I mean…” he scratched the back of his ear, which was growing red. “If you want.”
Ronan swallowed. “Sure. Yeah. That’s… that’s cool.”
Ronan started the car, and Adam started talking. He talked about the apartment; about doing it up, about how close it was to all three of his jobs. He talked about school, and Whelk, and Milo. He talked about the book they were reading for English and what he thought about it, and how much he liked the writing style.
Adam was tired, so his Henrietta accent leaked out. Ronan leaned into the sound of the words, into the feeling of Adam talking to him, telling him about his day, telling him his thoughts and feelings. He wondered how the same accent that sounded so ugly on Mason’s tongue, sounded so beautiful coming from Adam’s lips.
It was almost too soon when he pulled up into the Barns, but then Ronan’s heart started hammering for a different reason.
The first thing that hit him was the smell. Even in the car, it reached him. A smell so natural - all earth and animal - and yet so familiar, so welcoming. Ronan hesitated, hand hovering over the car door handle. What if he walked in and it looked different? What if everything had wilted and died? But Adam was already walking out, so Ronan braced himself and followed him. Adam waited as Ronan scooped up the doe from the backseat, and then the two walked past thick trunked apple trees and broken wooden fences to where Ronan’s house loomed, wide and cheerful.
As their shoes crunched on the gravel on the way to the front door, Ronan started feeling uneasy. Something felt off.
“It’s really quiet,” Adam said.
And then it hit him. The animals. There were no animals.
“They’re asleep,” Ronan said.
Adam nodded like he understood, but he didn’t. Because the animals, like his mother, had stopped moving since his father had died. He’d forgotten about them; he’d been too focused on his mother being dormant, on being banished from his home, that his mind had no space for the animals. But now that he was here, now that he thought about it, the pieces clicked together.
At that moment, Ronan understood something about himself that he hadn’t understood before.
Did Declan know? Did Declan know that his mother was a dream?
“Ronan,” Adam whispered, shaking him out of his reverie. He clung to the sound of his voice; deep, lilting, familiar. It grounded him and kept the world from tilting; it kept him from slipping off.
Adam had stopped in front of the house and was watching Ronan, waiting for him to open the front door. Ronan’s breath lodged in his throat.
“I can’t,” he choked out.
Adam’s eyes grew wide.
“I can’t,” Ronan repeated. “My mom… I can’t.”
“Ok,” Adam said. “Ok, sure.”
Adam didn’t understand what was going on. He couldn’t have. But he crossed his arms and nodded at the deer instead.
“Let’s find somewhere to put her then?”
Ronan nodded weakly. He followed Adam as he walked away from his house and across the fields. Adam stopped in front of one of the barn-houses.
“Here?” Adam asked. It was colder up here, away from the Henrietta heat. Adam was shivering.
Ronan shook his head. Tool-shed.
Adam continued moving, his sneakers getting wet in the damp grass, and his hands pressed beneath his armpits. He stopped in front of another barn-house and jerked his head towards it. Ronan nodded. They pushed the door open and stopped in their tracks, assaulted by the smell of wet fur and cow dung. Even in the dim light of the stars, they could see that the barn was full of cows. Sleeping cows.
Adam ran his eyes over them, then turned to Ronan.
“Will she be alright here?”
Ronan shrugged. “There’s enough food and water. She should be fine.”
Gently, Adam took the doe from Ronan’s arms, his skin cold against Ronan’s, and put her on the ground. She watched them for a minute with her big round eyes. Then, on unsteady legs, she walked to the back of the barn. She padded around for a bit, testing the ground, and upon finding a good spot, curled up beside a cow and fell asleep.
Ronan didn’t want to let her go. He wanted to keep her close, to protect her, but he knew he couldn’t bring her back to Monmouth. She wasn’t Chainsaw. She’d never be happy in an apartment. Adam and Ronan stood side-by-side, arms pressed together, watching the animals sleep.
This, Ronan thought, this makes me quiet.
“Are you going to give her a name?” Adam asked.
“Already did,” Ronan said. “Jackhammer.”
Adam began laughing, and the sound of it rang through the darkness of the night, clear and heart-stopping.
* * *
Hanging out with Ronan in his childhood home in the peak of the night on a Sunday before he had an eight am shift the next morning was not something Adam had ever envisioned himself doing. Yet, here they were. The two of them, sitting pressed together on the grass under the stars. Adam could feel the warmth from Ronan’s skin on his own. The night was thick and chilly, and he was glad for the heat of Ronan’s arms against his side.
They should go home. He knew this. But he didn’t want to leave. They sat there in silence, Adam with his knees pulled to his chest, and Ronan on his back, propped up on his elbows. Their eyes hovered on the barn where Jackhammer was still soundly sleeping. Adam threw a quick glance at Ronan, appreciating the plain white t-shirt he was wearing. He'd never seen Ronan in white before. Hell, he didn't think he'd seen Ronan in anything but black and leather. Not that he didn't like the black and leather, but the white t-shirt was a startling change. Adam liked how it seemed to soften his edges.
The air was buzzing with something electric. This night felt like a night for revelations, for realisations, for new things.
“What happened to your mom?” Adam asked, emboldened by the darkness, by the dense quality of the night.
Ronan glanced at him and then away. He stared at the sky for a long moment before he said, “She’s sick.”
“When my dad died, she stopped talking.”
Adam frowned. “What do you mean?”
Ronan dropped his eyes. “She… fell asleep.”
“She’s in a coma?”
“No. She fell asleep. Because she wasn’t actually a real person to begin with.”
Adam felt distinctly uncomfortable with this topic of conversation. It was like he was missing something big. The words made it sound like Ronan was using metaphors - like he'd had an absent mother, even before her sickness took hold. But Adam had never got the impression that Ronan's mother was anything but perfect. Ronan meant something else by the words, Adam was sure of it. He remembered - suddenly, randomly - the conversation he’d had with Noah, when he’d told him he was a ghost.
Adam didn’t know how to deal with things he couldn’t understand, but he knew it was too late to back out now.
“What do you mean?” he asked, finally.
“I mean,” Ronan said flatly, “that my dad dreamt her.”
Was he joking? Adam watched Ronan, eyes travelling up the sharp lines of his face to snag on his eyes. There was no amusement there. Only rawness. The discomfort in Adam’s gut grew thicker.
“I don’t understand,” Adam said.
“You’d know if you saw her,” Ronan said, dully. “The only person who comes here is a nurse. She’s got mom all plugged up into IV drips and shit, but if you saw her, you’d know. She’s asleep.”
Adam swallowed. “The animals?”
Ronan nodded. He waved a finger in the air. “All this is made up of dreams. I didn’t know it before, but I get it now.”
“Ronan… what are you talking about?”
“How do you think I found Jackhammer?” he asked. “You think I could just find a baby deer? What… on the street? I pulled her out of my dreams. Chainsaw too.”
“What are you…?”
“And that time Gansey thought I tried to kill myself?” Adam’s gut twisted. Ronan’s voice was devoid of emotion now, devoid of his usual swearing. “I was attacked in my dream. I didn’t cut myself. My night horrors did. They attacked me.”
“Ronan,” Adam said, his voice shaking. He wasn’t sure what was happening. He’d never heard Ronan talk like this. Even when he was talking about Mason and how much he’d hurt him, it wasn’t like this. There was so much pain in his voice, so much intensity in his eyes, that Adam could feel it pressing against his throat. “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
“I can pull things out of my dreams,” he said. “Just like dad.”
“Things. Things from my dreams. I can take them out if I ask for them. If I want them badly enough.”
Adam was openly staring at him now, horror curling up in his gut. He didn’t want to believe him. How did that make any sense? How could Ronan possibly pull things out of his own head? It seemed almost delusional. Like a game, some sort of make-believe. Like Gansey believing that Glendower would wake up and grant him a wish.
Except he’d started to believe Gansey’s theories, and he’d started to believe that Noah was a ghost, and he’d started to think maybe Blue’s curse was real, and now, looking into Ronan’s eyes, he couldn’t help but believe Ronan too.
He’d seen that deer, he’d played with Chainsaw. He should have realised they weren’t just normal creatures. He should have known that Ronan wasn’t just a normal boy.
“That bee that Mason stole from me?” Ronan continued. “It was a dream object that my dad made. You’d know it if you saw it. That isn’t engineering. That’s magic.”
Adam had seen it. He’d held it in his hand and he’d blown on it, and he’d watched it fly around the room - bathing it in a dull greenish gray light - and he studied it and studied it, and he hadn’t been able to figure out how it worked.
And now he knew.
“But… your mom…,” Adam said. “She’s a person.”
Ronan stared down at the grass. “It’s possible.”
Adam felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. “Have you…?”
Ronan looked up at him, eyes haunted, and Adam suddenly remembered what Mason had said about Matthew. About his odd birth.
His eyes widened. “Matthew?”
“Don’t tell him.”
Adam shook his head slowly. His mind was spinning.
“Does Gansey know?” Adam asked.
Ronan shook his head. “Only Noah. Well, and you.”
“He told me his secret, so I told him mine.”
Adam’s throat felt dry. His heart was pounding in his chest. He watched Ronan and wondered how he had ever possibly thought he knew who he was.
Ronan was waiting for him to respond, but Adam was at a loss for words.
“Sorry, I just…” His gaze hovered over Ronan, catching on his impossibly light eyes. “I’m just surprised. I… I didn’t think you were that good at keeping secrets.”
Ronan was uncomfortable before, but at these words he visibly tensed. “What?” he asked. “Why?”
“I don’t know, I just… I mean… you always seemed like a shit secret keeper.” Adam laughed weakly to try and ease the apprehension that had sprung up in the air, but it seemed to have no impact whatsoever on Ronan.
“Why the hell would you think that?” he asked, his voice was razor-edged now.
“Oh, come on. I know Gansey is totally oblivious, but I figured it out.”
He wondered why Ronan looked so frightened.
“You know,” Adam continued. “About the racing.”
“Racing?” Ronan asked, blankly. His eyes were still manic.
“Yeah, with Kavinsky. You asked me to keep it a secret, remember? You would sneak off at nights and then come back all drunk…? I mean, it was hardly a secret to begin with. Everyone in Henrietta knows you and Kavinsky drag-race. You’d do it right by my house. Old house, I mean.”
“Right,” Ronan said. “Right. That secret.”
They fell into a suffocating silence. The tension in the air was palpable now. Adam wanted to say something, ask about a thousand questions - mostly variations of what the hell just happened? - but he couldn’t grasp the words. He searched Ronan's eyes, trying to find an answer.
And then it began to rain.
The two of them sat there for a moment, frozen in surprise, letting the heavy drops drench them. And then they got up and started running. They ran across the fields, shoes splashing in the grass and droplets soaking their skin, laughing at the absurdity of their moment ruined by nature.
The stopped under a tree by Ronan’s car. He knew Ronan wouldn’t want to get his car seats wet, so they just stood there, still gasping with laughter. Raindrops managed to find their way through the leaves, but the two of them were much drier than they had been out in the field. Adam’s t-shirt was soaked all the way through. He pulled at it, unsticking it from his torso and then looked up to see Ronan watching him, his eyes trained on him in a way that made his neck heat up.
Adam became painfully aware of how close they were standing. He could see the raindrops on Ronan’s eyelashes - he had really nice eyelashes - and there were drops rolling down his neck, pooling in the hollow by his collarbone. His t-shirt was translucent now, sticking to the lines of his body, showing off all the muscles and ridges Adam had seen just a few days ago. His hands twitched, resisting the urge to move closer, to know what those ridges felt like under his fingertips.
“You look like a wet dog,” Ronan said.
Adam made an appalled noise, and shoved the wet hair off his forehead. Ronan laughed, eyes alight. He was looking at him in a way he hadn’t looked at him before. Almost… hungrily.
“You smell like a wet dog,” Adam countered.
“Good one, Parrish,” Ronan teased.
“Shut the fuck up.”
He flicked water at Ronan. Ronan swore and then flicked some water back. They were still laughing. He shoved Ronan’s shoulder with his hand, and Ronan shoved him gently back.
Adam couldn’t really help himself. There was something about rain, about the way it could completely engulf him, completely untether him, that made him want to give up control. He moved closer, letting his fingers lightly touch the wet fabric on Ronan’s chest.
He could hear Ronan’s breath hitch.
“But I guess that’s better than smelling like a gas station,” Adam murmured, even though he couldn’t remember what they had been talking about, even though he knew that moment had ended and a new one had begun.
Ronan huffed out a laugh, but it was weak. His eyes were trailing down Adam’s face, snagging on his lips and then moving on to his neck.
Slowly, Adam let his fingers slip down to his torso. His ears burned as his fingers found the ridges on his stomach. Ronan’s t-shirt was soft and wet under his fingertips, but beneath that, he could feel the hard muscle. Adam traced the ridges, moving in time with Ronan’s ragged breaths, his eyes following the steady motion of his hand. His skin tingled, then seared. Something formed in his gut, something hot and thick and almost a little bit painful. When he glanced up, he saw that Ronan’s eyes were on his lips again.
Adam didn’t let himself enjoy the sensation for too long. It was too intense, too addictive. He panicked and pulled at Ronan’s t-shirt instead, unsticking it from his body.
Adam dropped his hand. His arm was covered in goosebumps. Ronan swallowed, hard. He looked away.
The moment - charged with something indefinable and inexplicable - abruptly ended.
“Why is your car not getting wet more important than me not getting sick?” Adam joked, trying to quell the odd hammering of his heart. His skin was still ablaze.
Ronan rubbed the back of his neck. It took him a moment to respond. “Because my car is more important to me.”
He was just teasing, but Adam felt a sharp stab of shame in his chest. What was he doing? Had he been… flirting? With a guy who had a girlfriend? With Ronan? Had he forgotten who he was talking to? The rainwater had clearly frozen his brain cells. He probably did look like a wet dog, standing there in his soggy clothes.
The rain was slowing down now, the droplets getting smaller and lighter. Ronan walked over to his car and started rummaging around in the trunk. Adam fiddled with the hem of his t-shirt. He could still feel Ronan on his fingertips. A towel was thrown at him. It smelled like fresh laundry. He used it to dry his hair, and then his arms. He spread it on the passenger side seat and sat down. He didn’t look at Ronan when he slipped into the driver seat.
He was growing more and more aware with each passing second of how foolish he’d been. What the hell had he been thinking asking Ronan if he could come up to the Barns with him? And what the hell had he been thinking before… touching him? God. Clearly Ronan’s body was… distracting. But hell, he’d just discovered how truly incredible Ronan was, how he was practically some sort of demigod, and wet dog Adam had fooled himself into believing they were on the same level, that Ronan was someone he could flirt with. Fucking idiot. What was he playing at? Had he hoped Ronan would be ok with it? That he would… what? Flirt back? Let Adam continue touching him? Or had Adam hoped for some sort of reassurance? Maybe he'd thought that by flirting with Ronan he was testing the waters, seeing if Ronan was ok with him… being the way that he was. Liking boys and liking girls. Shit. What had Adam hoped to achieve? He’d probably just freaked Ronan out.
They drove to Monmouth in silence, and by the time Adam got into bed, it was almost time to wake up for work.
He didn’t see Ronan at all the next day. It felt like a day wasted.