An hour and a half into Henry Cheng’s party, all of Adam’s friends were drunk.
The four of them had pressed themselves into a corner by the drinks table as the room grew more and more crowded. Noah was styling Gansey’s hair into spikes as a very unsteady Gansey asked Adam his opinions on love and relationships. Ronan was quiet and brooding as usual, a beer bottle pressed to his lips, watching Adam as he stuttered and stammered out vague answers.
“Love is confusing,” Gansey proclaimed finally. “It is an enigma. The only true form of love that I have witnessed is familial.”
He slung an arm around Ronan who grunted and shoved him off, albeit gently. He was the only one, save Adam of course, who was behaving normally. Probably because his alcohol tolerance was more than all of theirs put together.
“Your brother Declan,” Gansey continued, turning to Ronan now, “is an asshole. But it’s nice that he calls me up to check on you. It’s very sweet. That’s love you know?” He faltered, then frowned, staring off into the distance. “He asked about Blue the other day too. That was weird.”
Adam flicked his eyes to Ronan, but Ronan didn’t say anything. His expression didn’t betray any emotion. Adam almost felt relieved. He told himself to stop rejoicing in the fact that Gansey still didn’t know about them.
“It’s sweet that you talk to your brother about Blue, Ronan,” Gansey said. He reached for Ronan and ended up patting his head.
"You're so fucking wasted, man," Ronan said, taking another swig of his beer.
Gansey grinned at him, a smile more loose and unguarded than any Adam had ever seen on him. Ronan rolled his eyes, tousling Gansey's hair affectionately. Noah made a noise of protest as his handiwork was ruined.
"So Adam," Gansey said, turning back to him, "what do you look for in a woman?"
That was about when Ronan muttered that he needed something stronger and left. Gansey didn’t wait for Adam's answer. Instead, he started to talk about Blue again, so Adam left too.
Two more hours into the party, and all his friends were completely hammered.
Noah was sitting on the kitchen counter, laughing uproariously at everything Henry Cheng was saying, even if it wasn’t remotely funny. Gansey was on the phone with Blue, asking her to come over to the party in slurred words that still managed to be bigger than any of the words Adam used in his daily vocabulary. Cheng Two and Ronan were arguing, getting more and more heated with every passing second, though Adam failed to understand what it was they were arguing about. Everything was loud and overwhelming, not an ideal situation for someone who could only hear out of one ear.
Adam sat on a sofa, nursing a plain coke that had gone flat and watery. The air smelled of beer and rum and the floors were sticky with spilled drinks, but there was an air of cheerfulness that had been missing from Kavinsky’s party. On the couch across from him, a couple was making out with such intensity that Adam was almost worried they were going to fall off it.
Adam thought of his bed, and wished he was in it.
It was getting to be that point in the night when he felt that pin-prick of depression; when all those thoughts that he’d been repressing during the day came rushing back to him. He felt crushed by the injustice of it all. He was at a party with his friends. He shouldn’t be feeling so awkward, so detached.
It had been fine in the beginning; he’d filled up on appetisers as Gansey and Ronan had done shots, then - when he’d wandered away from his friends - he’d bumped into a bunch of girls from his old school who were playing Kings. He’d showed them the only magic trick he knew how to do with cards, which had earned him impressed gasps and coos. He made some small talk with a couple of boys from the Aglionby Rowing Team, and he even found his first girlfriend Anne in the kitchen, and they’d caught up, sharing brief stories of what their lives had become ever since their break-up. That had been pleasant but awkward, until he was interrupted by Ronan who - for some absurd reason - needed Adam to translate a sentence in Latin for him. When Adam was done, he’d turned back around to find Anne gone. Ronan had shrugged and walked away to get another drink.
The night had dragged on then, and as everyone got progressively drunker, Adam got progressively ready to go home.
He didn’t want to ruin the cheerful attitude in the room, so he went to explore the rest of the house. It was gigantic - expected, given that it housed four Aglionby students - and Adam felt a surge of longing as he peered into the bedrooms and the large baths. In one of the bedrooms, a couple were kissing on the bed, both of them in a state of undress. Adam quickly darted into the next room. It might have been Henry’s bedroom, but Adam wasn’t sure. He sat down on the bed and looked at the Madonna posters on the wall.
He wasn’t sure how long he’d been in there when the door opened to reveal Ronan, looking even drunker with a flushed face and a slightly unsteady walk. He smiled a lazy smile when he spotted Adam, and Adam’s heart jumped, before starting to hurt again.
Truth be told, a part of the reason he wasn’t feeling the party was also because the Ronan thing was getting to him. Knowing that Ronan was getting serious about Blue, that Matthew liked her, that Declan had had dinner with her… it was eating away at him. Adam hadn’t really thought too much about relationships in terms of his overall plan. Relationships happened on the side. The main focus had always been college. His dream had always been to leave Henrietta.
Having friends, real friends, had changed things. He still wanted to leave, but the desperation - the emergency - had lessened. College had stopped being the most important thing in his life. He felt he could slow down, enjoy the ride and the last year he had in school with these incredible, odd people who he was getting to know. Who he’d fallen in love with.
But then he’d stumbled into feelings for Ronan. Feelings he didn’t think would ever be reciprocated, given that Ronan was so crazy about Blue. Adam didn’t know whether Ronan liked boys, but even if he did, why would he want to be with boring unremarkable Adam anyway?
It had set the fire back on his heels. Adam felt the need to throw himself into his work again, to focus all his time and energy and thoughts on college and plans for the distant future instead of dwelling on the longing and heartbreak of the present.
Ronan sat down next to Adam.
“Why are you hiding out in here?” he asked.
Adam shrugged. It was hard being the only sober person at parties like this. It was different when he was with people he was comfortable with; when it was just the boys and Blue. He didn’t need to drink to have fun with them. But when the party was filled with people he barely knew dancing and being loud and talking about people and things Adam couldn’t relate to, he felt disconnected from it all.
“Just, wanted a moment of peace, I guess,” he said. He fidgeted with the cuff of his sleeve. “It’s kind of… uh… loud out there.”
“Yeah, shit. I probably wasn’t helping.” Ronan hiccuped, and then pressed the back of his hand to his mouth. “But Cheng Two man. The guy is a fucking idiot.”
“It wasn’t you, it was just…” Adam gestured around the room, as if to indicate the entire party. “What were you guys arguing about anyway?”
Adam quirked an eyebrow at him.
“Not mine,” Ronan said, quickly. “Dude was saying he doesn’t dream. I was trying to tell him that…” He stopped, squinted, hiccuped again and then continued. “That we all dream. Every night. We just… don’t always remember it.”
Adam stared at him.
“It’s fucking science, man,” Ronan said. “That shit has proof, but he wasn't listening to me. Pisses me off when people say they don’t dream. They mean to say they don’t remember their dreams.”
When Adam had first seen evidence of how intelligent Ronan actually was, of how he knew things so much beyond what they were learning in the classroom, he’d been angry. He still remembered the incident - they were in English, and Ronan had made some sort of insouciant comment about how there was no word for the colour blue in ancient Greek. Adam had been so pissed, he’d almost broken his pencil.
Part of it was jealousy, because if Adam had had parents like Ronan’s, an upbringing like Ronan’s, a previous education like Ronan’s, then potentially he could have also been the boy so nonchalantly spouting facts about dead languages and animal biology. And part of it had been just pure frustration - if Ronan actually put an ounce of effort into school, he could have been giving the rest of the student body a run for their money instead of flunking almost all his classes.
Now, however, hearing Ronan say something that hinted at the depth of his knowledge and intelligence in that casual, unpretentious way of his, made Adam’s gut twist with a sharp desire.
Adam had always known he was attracted to intelligence - his bisexual ‘awakening’ as it were, had been brought on by a young, incredibly passionate psychology teacher from his old school - but Ronan was already attractive in so many other ways, it was frankly completely unfair that he had ‘burning intellect’ in his arsenal as well. Adam imagined grabbing the front of his shirt, yanking him close and kissing him full on the mouth.
“You don’t mind that I drink, right?” Ronan asked, suddenly.
The question was unexpected. It broke Adam out of his daydream, which had been growing increasingly inappropriate. He looked up at Ronan with surprise.
“What?” he asked.
“I mean like… does it bother you?”
“Why should it?”
“I mean, cause of your dad…”
Adam laughed, but there was no mirth in it. “I’m not worried about you hurting me,” he said.
Ronan looked down at the solo cup in his hands. “I wouldn’t.”
Ronan’s expression was complicated when he glanced up at Adam. Adam realised with a start that Ronan had been afraid of the answer. Afraid, it seemed, that Adam thought he could hurt him. Surprised, Adam met his gaze. Neither of them were very good with words, so he hoped the message would come through from his look - I was wrong about you, Ronan.
Ronan’s gaze was both soft and heavy. Adam felt heat rush over his skin.
“Do you miss home?” Ronan asked. “Anything about it?”
Adam thought about it. He missed his mother sometimes. Just her presence. Even though it was neither warm nor comforting, it was there. Proof that Adam had a mother. That he had someone to suffer through life with, suffer through his father with. She was someone who could corroborate his memories, even if she didn’t take his side. He sometimes missed his bed, even though the mattress was hard, the pillows lumpy and the sheets threadbare. But they weren’t what he missed the most.
“I miss my dog,” he said.
Ronan raised his eyebrows. “You have a dog?”
“You never mentioned it.”
“Her,” Adam said, and smirked at Ronan. Ronan grinned back.
“What’s her name then?”
“She doesn’t have one. Dad just always called her the Mutt, so that stuck.”
“That’s harsh, Parrish.”
“Well, if I ever get her back maybe I’ll give her a name. Any power tools left?”
Ronan laughed and fell back on the bed, still holding up his cup. “Sure. Tons. Drill. Nail gun. Impact Wrench.”
Adam laughed too. He was already feeling better. The uneasiness from before was slowly disappearing as Ronan laughed and continued listing power tools.
Adam couldn’t help but stare at him. His face was flushed and his eyes were bright. In the semi-darkness, his cheekbones stood out prominently.
Adam wished he could kiss him. He let himself want it for a moment, then swallowed it down.
Ronan finished off his drink and tossed the cup to a side. A suffocating silence enveloped them.
“I wish I could get you your dog back,” Ronan said, his voice low.
He really wasn’t making this easy. Adam turned away, feeling his ears heat up. Ronan sat up, tugging at his shirt.
“I don’t see how you could?” Adam said, trying to make his tone light. “Unless you broke into my house. But I don’t think it would go down well if you hit my dad again.”
“But think about how nice it would be if he was walking around with that fucking bruise on his face.” There was a beat before Ronan said. “Yours has almost faded.”
Adam turned back around, starting as he realised how close Ronan was.
“Yeah,” he said, his voice softer. “Do you think it made me look tougher?”
Ronan reached up, his hand hovering over Adam’s cheek. Adam suddenly had the distinct feeling that Ronan was going to touch him. He pictured Ronan lightly running his thumb over the spot where his bruise had been, his thumb warm on Adam’s skin. Adam wondered when breathing had become so difficult.
Ronan’s fingers twitched. He dropped his hand. Adam’s heart dropped with it.
“It makes you look like a loser.”
“You really think I’m ugly don’t you?” Adam asked.
He meant it partly as a joke and partly just as something to say that didn’t reveal the acute disappointment that was piercing him, but Ronan’s small smirk dropped off his face.
“Ugly?” he asked, disbelievingly. “The fuck? You’re the one who thinks I’m ugly.”
“What?” Adam asked. He couldn’t recall ever having thought Ronan was ugly.
“Remember that time…” Ronan hiccuped. “I made a joke about your shitty shoes, and you said ‘they aren’t the only ugly things here.’”
Adam racked his brain, but he could only conjure up a vague memory. “Not really? How do you even remember that?”
“I remember a lot of the shit you’ve said.”
Ronan’s breath smelled like rum. It was warm and sweet on his lips. Adam’s eyes flitted to them.
“Mm,” he said, a slight slur in his voice. “I can’t… seem to forget.”
Adam felt goosebumps break out on his skin.
“What do you mean?” he asked, and he hoped Ronan was drunk enough not to hear the hope that laced his voice.
“I mean…” Ronan breathed.
He never finished his thought. His eyes were searching Adam’s face, as though he couldn’t believe Adam was really there in front of him.
There was that buzz in the air again, that same crackle that had hung between them that day in the Barns. Adam wished again that Ronan had touched him.
“I don’t, by the way,” Adam said, biting his lip.
“You don’t what?”
“Think you’re ugly. Not… even a little.”
Ronan’s expression seemed to flicker.
“Adam,” he said, and he said it like a sigh. Adam wanted to hear him say it again and again.
“What were you going to say earlier?” Adam pushed.
He knew Ronan said things when he was drunk that he’d never say when he was sober. Maybe it was wrong for Adam to try to get them out of him, but he wanted to know, needed to know whether Ronan felt the same spark in the air between them. He wanted to know whether it also charged him, whether it also covered him in goosebumps.
“You were going to tell me something before,” Adam said. “About… you. Why can’t you forget the things I’ve said?”
“I was going to tell you that…,” Ronan swallowed. “I can’t… forget, because I... shit.”
He stopped again. Adam was about to push more, but his words were stolen when Ronan reached out and brushed the hair from Adam’s forehead. It was a clumsy movement, Ronan’s fingers inexpertly pushing the hair back, but Adam’s breath caught in his throat.
“Adam,” he said again - softly, reverently. “I’m always thinking about you.”
Adam sucked in a breath. He suddenly remembered the words Ronan had said to him that day. In Boyd’s. When Ronan was drunk and Adam was angry. What pisses me off is that you’re fucking everywhere. Just every fucking where I turn, there you are. I can’t escape you.
It was like a bucket of cold water had been thrown on him, drenching him down to his bones. Adam felt more awake than he had in years.
The words were exactly what Adam had been thinking of Ronan. Everywhere. That’s where Ronan was - everywhere and in everything. Had Adam misunderstood the words? All those long weeks ago, had Ronan been admitting he felt something for Adam? Had Adam let his vision of Ronan as an asshole colour his interpretation of what the words had meant?
Or was he doing that now? Was he letting his feelings cloud his judgement?
But how else was he supposed to take I’m always thinking about you?
Adam’s mind was in overdrive, reconstructing everything Ronan had ever said to him, trying to find some sort of subtext, some sort of clue.
Then Ronan kissed him, and all his thoughts ground to a halt.
It was barely a kiss, really. Just a light brush of lips, soft and tantalising, but the effect on Adam was electric. Blood thrummed through him. Every nerve ending on his body came alive.
When Ronan pulled back, Adam chased his lips, knowing nothing else but that he wanted to kiss them some more, that he wasn’t ready for that warm feeling to end.
“Adam,” Ronan whispered, a hand on his chest. “I don’t want it like this.”
For a second, Adam was too light-headed to understand the meaning of the words. He was too lost in the moment; in the memory of Ronan’s lips, in the feel of his breath on his cheek, in the sweet smell of rum in the air and the sound of his name on Ronan’s tongue.
And then he understood.
He lurched backwards, practically slipping off the bedcovers. All of his thoughts, all his insecurities, came rushing back in one fell swoop. Had Ronan initiated the kiss, or had it been him? He couldn’t remember. He hadn’t had a drop to drink, but he suddenly felt like he was drunk. His thoughts were flustered, trudging, full of gaps.
“You’re dating Blue,” Adam said, his voice strangled. How had he forgotten? How had he let himself forget? “Oh, fuck. Ronan. I’m so… I’m sorry…”
“I’m not,” Ronan said, quickly.
Adam stared at him. “What?”
Ronan must have been drunker than he thought. Adam could feel his whole face going red with embarrassment.
“I’m not dating Blue.” Ronan’s words were tripping over themselves in his haste to get them out. “She’s just… fuck. She’s just…” he ran a hand over his head. “I asked her to pretend to date me so my brother wouldn’t find out.”
“Find out what?” Adam asked, blankly.
There was a beat. “That I’m gay.”
Adam could hear the weight of the words on his tongue. He wondered if it was the first time Ronan had said them aloud.
“I don’t…,” Adam croaked, because he didn’t. He didn’t know what was happening, what he was feeling.
“I didn’t want my brother to know. So I asked Blue to pretend to date me. Fuck, I know it’s stupid, but I just… I didn’t want to deal with it. That’s why Gansey doesn’t know about us.”
“You said Gansey didn’t know about the dreaming either,” Adam said, accusingly. “I thought it was the same thing. You told me but not him.”
“It’s not,” Ronan said. “It’s not the same thing. That was… look, I don’t know what that was. But I’m not. I’m not with Blue.”
“You said you don’t lie.”
Every word out of his mouth was like the snap of a whip. Ronan flinched.
At some point during this argument Adam had stood up and backed into the wall. He stood there now, the wall cool against his back, feeling anger and confusion pulse through him. He didn’t know why he was getting upset. He shouldn’t be getting so upset.
“Blue told you we were dating, I didn’t.” Ronan’s voice had that familiar edge that sounded like anger, but was a whole range of emotions packed into one.
“Oh don’t Ronan,” Adam spat. “You asked me to keep it a secret. You’re the one who’s been carrying this on for weeks.”
Ronan faltered. For a minute they just stared at each other, completely lost.
“What fucking difference does it make to you anyway?” Ronan demanded.
“If I’d known I might have realised sooner.”
They were both shouting, but there was an underlying tension in the words, a nervousness that Adam could feel under his skin, pricking at his heart. His pulse was hammering so fast in his wrist he was scared his voice would shake.
“It doesn’t matter,” Adam said, running a hand agitatedly through his hair.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Parrish.”
“It doesn’t matter because you don’t want to kiss me,” Adam bit out.
“Because I’m drunk.”
The air seemed to whoosh out of the room. Everything stilled, quieted.
“Because you’re drunk?” Adam repeated, stupidly.
“Fuck I’ve been wanting to…” Ronan began, then stopped. He tugged at the leather bands on his wrist. “Fuck Adam. I mean… you hated me.”
Adam didn’t know what to say. He opened and closed his mouth like a fish out of water.
“I didn’t want it to be like this. Kissing you. I wanted…” Ronan exhaled though his nostrils, like a smoker. “I want to remember it. Properly. I didn’t want it to be… like this. Dulled by… the drinks. Hazy. I didn’t… but I… you were just… you were so… I couldn’t help myself, ok? But that’s why I pulled away. That’s why I stopped you. But I don’t…” he let out a frustrated noise.
Adam’s breath lodged in his throat. The hair on the back of his neck was standing up.
“I want to kiss you,” Ronan said. “I’ve wanted to kiss you since fucking forever.”
Adam’s heart was thundering now. He didn’t know what to say. Ronan looked at him, expectantly, hopefully. But Adam just felt like he was drowning.