When Ronan woke up, his nerves felt fried. His skin was tingling. He felt like he’d been electrocuted the night before. He wasn’t sure how he’d ever fallen asleep to begin with. The events of last night played through his mind in slow, thick flashes. He wasn’t sure how much had really happened, how much he’d made up.
Had he really kissed Adam? Had he really told Adam he wanted to be with him? Had Adam wanted to kiss him back?
He could remember the brief feeling of Adam’s lips. It was too real to have been a dream, to have been something he made up in his drunk haze. He knew what was real. That was real. He’d kissed Adam and Adam had tried to kiss him back, but he’d stopped him.
He didn’t know where Adam stood in terms of what they were. Ronan should have asked, but he was terrible at words. Better with actions. If he’d even known that Adam could have reciprocated his feelings, he would have asked the question slowly, over time. He would have told him he cared for him with a series of dream-up gifts and heart-felt gestures. But until the incident at the Barns he hadn’t even fathomed that Adam could have felt the same way about him.
Maybe he didn’t. He didn’t say he liked Ronan that way, just that he wanted to kiss him. Some people could do that. Kiss people they didn’t like that way. Not Ronan, but some people.
God, he was an idiot. Of all the ways to have had his first kiss, he’d had it in Henry Cheng’s house, drunk out of his mind.
But it was with Adam. And he hadn’t pushed him away. He’d wanted it.
But did he want more?
When Ronan had confessed his feelings the night before, Adam had said nothing. There was no going forward from that point because Ronan was still drunk, and Adam was too stunned to say or do anything. They’d remained mute until Henry had walked in, and then they'd walked out. They hadn’t talked when they got downstairs, and they hadn’t talked on the drive back to Monmouth because Gansey was there and Noah was there, and Adam was driving, and it just wasn’t the time or the place.
Adam had to care for him. Adam wouldn’t treat him the way he did if he didn’t care for him, at least a little. But did he want Ronan or had he just wanted someone to kiss? Someone to touch? Did Adam see him the same way Orla did? Just someone with a nice body who he could fool around with? He’d said he found Ronan attractive; some people kissed other people just because they found them attractive and it was something to do. Ronan had absolutely no problem letting Adam kiss him, and - god - letting Adam touch him, but he didn’t do casual relationships. He couldn’t understand them, wouldn’t let himself get involved in one. He needed to know how Adam felt.
But right now it didn’t matter, because Adam was still reeling from the lie Ronan had told, and Ronan needed to give him his space to figure things out. Ronan couldn’t tell whether Adam was more upset that Ronan had lied for so long, or whether he didn’t believe Ronan when he told him he and Blue weren’t really together.
Adam had to believe him. Ronan needed him to believe him. He was going to ask Blue to come clean, to tell Adam the truth. But first, Ronan needed to sort some things out for himself.
He needed to speak to Declan.
He could still feel the weight of the words on his lips - I’m gay. It had been easier than he thought it would be, confessing them. But that’s because he’d confessed the words to Adam, and he’d confessed a lot to Adam.
Telling Declan would be harder. Much harder.
But he had to do it. This one lie had made his life far more complicated than it already was and he was ready to be done with it.
As soon as his head stopped throbbing, Ronan whistled for Chainsaw, got into his car and started driving.
Declan opened the door, and Ronan felt his throat go dry. Declan said nothing, but his raised eyebrows gave away his surprise. He let Ronan in.
The apartment was filled with boxes and half-filled suitcases. It seemed like Declan was moving after years of living there, not just six weeks. Ronan walked around a suitcase filled with suits and stopped by the dining table that was piled high with magazines. Seeing the house like that seemed to cement the fact that Declan was really leaving. A feeling that was uncomfortable and a little unpleasant crawled up Ronan's arms.
Chainsaw swooped around the room and then perched on Ronan’s shoulder. Declan gave her a disdainful look.
“I have to tell you something,” Ronan said.
“I figured,” Declan said. “You haven’t exactly been a frequent visitor here.”
Ronan chewed on his leather bands, looking at everything but his brother.
He opened his mouth to speak.
“Kerah,” said Chainsaw.
“What?” Ronan demanded.
She scratched at Ronan’s tank, all jittery. He reached out for her, and she shuddered under his touch. He smoothened her feathers.
“What is it doing?” Declan asked, side-eyeing Chainsaw.
“Nothing,” Ronan said. “She’s just scared of your ugly face.”
Declan curled his lip. “What’s a kerah?”
“That’s just her name for me.”
“Your crow…,” Declan said, slowly, “has a name for you.”
“She's not a crow. Fuck. Stop it. You know I hate it when you do that.”
Declan gave him a smirk, and the irritation that filled Ronan felt familiar, and yet strange. It wasn’t the usual brand of loathing he felt for Declan. It was more like the annoyance he used to feel when they were kids; when they used to wrestle in the grass and when Declan would hide his toys. Irritation swept up in brotherly affection.
He hadn’t felt that in a long time.
He seemed to realise suddenly, that Declan was the same boy who had once climbed into bed beside him when he’d had a nightmare. It had come out of his dreams, that nightmare. A creature with fangs that spit poison, and Declan had run in just in time to see Ronan throw it out the window where it fell into a ditch and died. Ronan had been shaking, covered in sweat and crying, and instead of his mother or his father coming to his aid, it had been Declan who had climbed into bed and wrapped his arms around his shoulders and talked to him through the night in a voice that was still high-pitched. He’d told him a story about a dragon and a knight who’d become friends. It was a stupid story that Declan had made up on the spot, but in the years that followed, Ronan had returned to that story again and again. Sometimes he thought about it even at this age, when was alone in bed after a particularly bad run-in with his night horrors. The story still soothed him, still calmed him, just like it had all those years ago.
On his shoulder, Chainsaw settled down. Ronan took a deep breath.
“I’m not dating Blue,” he said.
Declan remained emotionless. “Who broke up with who?”
“No. It’s not like that. I… wasn’t dating her to begin with.”
Declan’s voice dropped, got colder. Ronan had to resist the urge to ball his hands into fists.
“So you were fucking with me?” he asked. “You’re telling me that whole thing was just a charade to pull my leg? I swear to god Ronan…”
Ronan gritted his teeth. “You know what? Fuck you. I don’t need to explain myself to you.”
“Why does every discussion have to be a fight with you?” Declan demanded.
“You’re the one assuming…”
Ronan and Declan both froze as Matthew came bounding into the room, golden curls falling messily across his forehead.
“My music was loud,” he said. “I didn’t hear you come in.” He looked from Declan to Ronan, and then back to Declan. “Did you tell him the good news?”
“Good news?” Ronan asked.
With his lips pressed tightly together, Declan reached over to a briefcase that was on a chair and pulled out a folder. He handed it to Ronan. Frowning, Ronan practically ripped it open.
His heart stopped. In his hand, was a notice. A legal notice that allowed Ronan and Matthew to return to the Barns. Full legal permission to see their mother as much as they wanted to.
Ronan looked up at his brother. There was a lump in his throat that he couldn’t swallow.
“That’s why I was back here,” Declan said, quietly. “I know you think I was here to babysit you, but…”
“Why did you do this?” Ronan asked.
Declan looked down at his hands. “It’s your home too.”
Ronan’s throat tightened. He didn’t want to cry in front of Declan, but his eyes were prickling, threatening him. His emotions warred - anger and resentment at being kept in the dark, frustration at himself for not having believed Declan when he’d said he was working on letting them go back, but mostly a surge of affection for his older brother, who was neither their father’s favourite nor their mother’s, who was neither a dream nor a dreamer, and who still tried so hard to keep their family together.
Chainsaw flew off Ronan’s shoulder and settled on Declan’s. He jerked, nervously glancing at her before turning back to Ronan.
“I didn’t tell you the full story because I didn’t know whether it was possible,” Declan said. “I didn’t want to get your hopes up.”
Ronan knew what he had to say. He needed to thank Declan - for trying so hard to keep the family together, for trying so hard to give Ronan what he wanted the most, and succeeding at it. Ronan needed to look his brother in his eyes, and admit that despite everything that had gone down between them, Declan was still one of the people Ronan loved most in the world.
Instead, Ronan said, “I’m gay.”
Matthew lit up. Declan’s mouth fell open.
“I knew it,” he said, stabbing a finger in the air.
“No you fucking didn’t,” Ronan snapped.
“Of course I fucking did. Why do you think I didn’t approve of Blue?”
“You were shocked that I was dating a waitress.”
“I was shocked that you were dating a girl.”
Ronan scowled at him, even though he knew it was probably true. He’d caught on to Declan’s unsubtle insinuations that he was aware of Ronan’s sexuality. Still, Ronan couldn’t have known Declan would react like this. Declan had always seemed to be strictly disapproving of people like that. People like him. Ronan clenched his jaw and turned away.
“You made a face when Matthew asked if I was dating Kavinsky.”
“Because it’s Joseph Kavinsky, Ronan. The guy is a repugnant shit-head. Sorry for thinking you can do better.”
Declan was watching him now, eyes trained on his every movement. Declan was normally incredibly composed, so it was easy to notice that he was coming just a little bit unhinged.
“I know you’ve heard me say some things in the past,” Declan said, his voice softer now. “To women in the church. To my friends. I’ll admit…” his voice cracked, and he cleared his throat. “I’ll admit I wasn’t always ok with it. The gay thing.” His voice quieted again. “But things have changed. I’ve changed. It’s not… I mean. Look. It’s not a bad thing, ok? I’m sorry if I ever made it sound like it was. I’m sorry if you ever felt like you couldn’t be yourself around me.”
Ronan stared down at the floor, not wanting to look at his older brother.
“I’m happy you told me, Ronan,” Declan said. “Really. Thank you.”
Ronan could feel the hot tears in his eyes. He blinked them back. Chainsaw nipped gently at Declan’s ear.
“Whatever,” Ronan said.
They stood in silence for a minute, a solemn agreement that they were no longer at war. For the first time in a long time, Ronan felt quiet.
“Do you have a boyfriend, then?” Declan asked, returning to his obnoxious ways. “Please tell me it’s not Kavinsky.”
“For fuck’s sake.”
“Thank god. There’s no way in hell I was going to have a sit down dinner with that douchebag.”
Ronan snorted, imagining Kavinsky and Declan in suits, sitting across the table from each other, talking about how good the salad was.
“Glad to know the sit down dinner tradition has a loop-hole,” Ronan muttered.
Declan gave him a wry smile.
“It’s Gansey, isn’t it?” he said, haughtily. “I knew you had a thing for him. The two of you are glaringly obvious.”
Matthew caught Ronan’s eye and gave him a knowing smile. Ronan rolled his eyes.
“What can I fucking say, Declan?” he said. “Nothing gets past you.”
* * *
Finally it felt like things were falling into place for Ronan. It felt freeing to come out to his brother, to stop lying about who he was and what he felt. Now all he had to do was officially ‘break it off’ with Sargent, and then he could figure out what to do about Adam. He stopped off at Monmouth to drop off Chainsaw and to see Gansey. If both his brothers knew about him, then it was only fair his third brother should know too. But Gansey wasn’t at home, and Ronan figured he must have been out with his rowing buddies. He wasn’t desperate enough to call - he’d see him at night. He headed back to his car.
Blue was sitting under a tree reading a book when Ronan pulled up outside of 300 Fox Way. She no longer looked surprised to see him at her house. She smiled as he sat down beside her.
“What’s up, lover?” she asked.
“About that,” Ronan said. “I think we should break up.”
Blue let out an exaggerated gasp, clutching at her chest. “My heart! How could you wound me so?”
Ronan rolled his eyes, and threw a handful of grass at her. Blue protested as she wiped the grass off her dress, but she was grinning. “Why are we breaking up?”
“I told my brother.”
Blue’s mouth fell into an ‘o’ shape.
“I know,” Ronan said. He fidgeted with the loose strands of grass.
“How did it go?” she asked.
“It was fine. He said he knew.”
“And he was… ok with it?”
Ronan made a humming noise.
She watched him for a moment, then cocked her head to the side. “This might be a weird question, but why tell him just as he’s about to leave?”
Ronan glanced at her from the corner of his eye, trying to gauge her mood. Blue herself had shown interest in Parrish in the past. He wasn’t sure how this would sit with her.
“I don’t lie,” he said.
“You did,” she reminded him.
“And it was time to stop.”
He huffed, running a hand over his head. “There’s a guy, alright?”
Blue gasped exaggeratedly and fluttered her hands. “Oh my god. Who?”
“Fuck off, maggot. I’m not telling you if you’re going to act like an idiot about it.”
He shoved her head gently to the side. She kicked his knee with her shoe.
“Ronan, I was your pretend girlfriend for six weeks. You owe me this.”
“I don’t owe you shit. Except boots.”
“Please tell me.”
Ronan made a face at her.
“If you tell me…” Blue blushed, her voice getting shy even as she deliberately avoided his gaze. “I’ll tell you who I have a crush on.”
Ronan’s stomach twisted. “You go first.”
She let out an offended noise. “I asked first.”
Ronan scratched the back of his ear.
“What if it’s the same person?” he asked. He tried to keep his voice insouciant, but the apprehension in it was obvious.
Blue watched him carefully, eyes wide.
“You don’t like Gansey, do you?” she asked finally, her voice small.
Ronan was so surprised at the guess that he snorted, all his apprehension disappearing into the still summer air.
“Fucking hell, maggot. That’s gross. You’re as bad as my brother.” It was then that he realised why she’d asked. Ronan’s jaw went slack. “Wait… what the fuck, Sargent?”
She shrugged, but didn’t look at him. Ronan let out a sharp laugh.
“You and Dick?”
“He doesn’t know,” she said, frowning. “Don’t say anything.”
“Scout’s honour,” he said, facetiously, but she knew he meant it.
It was odd to think of Blue and Gansey together, as a couple. He hadn’t even considered it, but now that Ronan mulled it over in his mind, it should have been obvious considering the way Blue behaved around him, how nervous and excited Gansey got in her presence. He was sure Gansey reciprocated her feelings, given how much he rambled on about her. They'd probably figure it out and start dating very soon - provided, of course, that Gansey was ready to date anyone other than Glendower.
“So who’s yours?” she asked.
Now that he knew she no longer had feelings for Adam, Ronan figured it would be easier to admit the truth, but it wasn’t. He fiddled with his bands until Blue started to get impatient.
“Ronan, just tell me.”
“Fine. Fuck. It’s… It’s Parrish.”
Blue’s eyebrows shot up to her forehead. “Adam?”
“Yes, fucking Adam.”
She bit her lip, her brow furrowing. “So you had noticed he was cute.”
She smiled, but it was strained.
“For how long?”
Ronan exhaled. “Since the beginning. I don’t know.”
There was something odd in that oh that made Ronan uncomfortable. “What?” he asked.
“Nothing,” she said.
“Fucking hell, Sargent.”
“It’s nothing,” she insisted, but she must have seen the look in his eye, because she twisted the hem of her dress and continued. “It’s just… over the past six weeks, while you and I were ‘dating’… we met up a few times? Me and Adam, I mean. He’d pick me up from work and walk me home. And we’d talk. That’s all. But I could have sworn he was flirting with me. I mean, I was flirting back… a little?” She bit her lip. “Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I just assumed he was flirting with me because he was being nice, or because I wanted him to. I did like him for a bit. I mean, I was kind of… confused for a while. Not knowing whether I liked Adam or Gansey. Because they were both so… confusing. And Adam was just so sweet and charming and… I just… I felt like there was something between us. I don’t know. Maybe I’m overthinking it.”
Ronan didn’t say anything.
“Ronan?” she asked.
So what if Adam had picked her up from work and walked her home several times? So what if he had flirted a little? Maybe Blue was right and she was just overthinking it, and Adam was just trying to be friends with her.
But then why hadn’t he mentioned it to Ronan?
Maybe he had liked her. God, maybe he was flirting with her. But he wouldn’t have made a move on her while he still thought she and Ronan were dating, would he?
No, he wouldn’t.
What if it had been more than harmless flirting though? What if he had a crush on Blue? What if he still did?
It didn’t matter if he did, because Blue wouldn’t date him. Because she had a thing for Gansey.
The thought didn’t make Ronan feel any better.
Why hadn’t Adam told him he’d been meeting her?
Blue was searching his face, waiting for a reaction, so he grunted and crossed his arms behind his head.
“It’s fine,” he said.
“I just don’t want you to get hurt,” she said, softly.
“He’s not going to hurt me,” Ronan said.
He thought he believed it, but worry gnawed at his heart anyway.
* * *
After leaving Blue’s, Ronan went on a drive. He drove around Henrietta first, and then he picked up speed and drove around the outskirts, going faster and faster until it got so dark he needed headlights. Then he turned the car around, and headed towards St. Agnes.
He’d finally worked out what he was going to say to Adam. The questions he was going to ask. They were going to be straight-forward, point-blank questions - Do you have feelings for Blue? Why did you kiss me back?
His stomach was turning over at the thought of asking them - Ronan wasn’t someone who usually said what he was thinking - but he’d decided he was done with hedging, with his assumptions. He was going to be honest with Adam; it was the only way to make up for the lies he’d told, the only way to ensure Adam would be honest right back.
He was still ten minutes from the church when his phone started to ring. He was too preoccupied with his thoughts to question it, to be insolent about it. Without looking at the ID, Ronan answered the phone, pressing the speakerphone button.
“Adam! Buddy! Did you hear?”
Mason. Fuck that guy. Clearly he hadn’t understood that Adam no longer wanted to be friends with him. Ronan grunted into the receiver.
“Adam?” There was a crackle on the other end. “I can’t hear you, man.” Ronan wondered which choice swear word he was going to offer, before Mason spoke again. “Listen, I just wanted to tell you that I was in Nino’s with my cousins right now, and I talked to Blue the waitress. She said she and Lynch broke up. Our plan worked!”
“Fascinating, Mason. Tell me more,” Ronan drawled into the phone.
The line went silent. “Ronan?” he asked.
“The one and only,” Ronan spat. He thought about pointing out that Mason had called his phone, but even he knew that when his phone did get answered, it was usually Adam answering it. So instead, Ronan blurted the next thing that came to mind. “What’s this about a plan?”
“It’s what you deserve, Lynch,” Mason said. His voice instantly took on a tone of revulsion. “You and your fuckin’ weird family, flauntin’ your wealth all over the place but too cheap to help others out. You should have realised someone was goin' to fuck you over at some point.”
“What the fuck are you going on about?” Ronan asked. He was straining to make out the words over the crackle of the speaker.
“Did you really think Adam was your friend?” Mason asked, mockingly. “He was usin’ you, Lynch. To fuck with you and steal your girlfriend.”
The blood in Ronan’s veins turned to ice. He thought again of what Blue had said about Adam visiting her, about Adam being charming, about Adam flirting.
“He used to give you all this crap advice about datin’ ‘cause we both know you’d never been with anyone before. He used to hang out with your girl and flirt with her and shit all over you, and then he used to call me up and tell me what he’d said, and we’d laugh our asses off about it.”
Each word out of Mason’s mouth was like a bullet. And each one hit him right in the heart.
He didn’t want to believe it. Mason was a liar. Ronan knew he was a liar. He’d probably called Ronan up on purpose to say all this shit to him. But Ronan’s mind was racing now, trying to remember the advice Adam had given him. Ronan couldn’t know whether it was good or bad. He didn’t know jackshit about dating. But he knew that Adam was aware he was inexperienced. Ronan remembered the conversation they’d had in DC, Adam wrapped up in the blankets of his bed, telling him he thought it was ‘cute’ he hadn’t dated much.
Ronan thought about how much Adam used to hate him, and how he’d suddenly become his friend after he and Blue started ‘dating’. He thought of what Blue had said about Adam flirting with her.
He thought about that time she’d scolded him for ‘bullying Adam in school’. He’d dismissed her as being dramatic then. He’d thought she’d come to that assumption because she’d heard him call Adam a loser on occasion. But now he was reevaluating things - had Adam told her he was a bully? Had Adam really said awful things about him behind his back?
“Parrish is a total sucker too. I told him all this garbage about you and he just ate it all up,” Mason sneered. “See what happens when you behave like an asshole, Lynch? People want to believe you’re a piece of shit.”
Ronan squeezed the steering wheel till his knuckles went white.
He wanted to curse Mason out, but the words that came out of his mouth instead were, “He was trying to steal Blue?”
His voice was hoarse. He hated how pathetic he sounded.
“She fell for it too. He told me. My boy knows how to lay it on real thick and she just ate it up. Guess she was sick of datin’ you, huh Lynch? Not surprisin’, I s’pose. Who’d want you?”
“Well, jokes on you, Hunter,” Ronan replied, keeping his voice steady. “Blue and I were never dating in the first place.”
“Don’t be pathetic, Lynch.”
“I’m fucking gay.”
The line got silent again. Ronan hated that Mason now knew about him before Gansey did, but he was relishing the embarrassment he could practically feel wafting off Mason from the other end of the call.
“I’m going to hang up now. Call me again, and I will personally make sure you get kicked out of Aglionby. Don’t forget that Declan is paying your fucking school fees.”
“You’re all talk. You won’t do shit. You Lynches are too honourable. You would never go back on your dad’s promise to me.”
“Oh, we’ll still pay for your schooling. It’ll just be a school in butt-fuck Minnesota where it’s freezing in spring, and you won’t be able see your precious cousins.”
Mason’s voice had soured when he responded. “I fuckin’ hate you, Lynch.”
“Yeah, I hate you back. Fuck off.”
He hung up, but his gut was curdling, his heart aching. All his memories with Adam seemed to have been flipped upside down.
He thought of how much Adam talked to Mason, how he’d gone over to Mason’s house even after Ronan had told him the truth about what Mason had done. How he’d offered Ronan no explanation of why he’d gone over there.
He thought of how his friendship with Adam had begun; how Adam had been in Nino’s the day Blue had said she’d ‘date’ him. How Adam and Blue had ‘accidentally’ run into each other the day Ronan and Gansey had befriended Adam. He remembered how Adam had brightened when he learned that he and Blue hadn’t been dating for long, that Gansey didn’t know about them. Ronan recalled the way Adam used to perk up whenever one of them suggested they go to Nino’s, how he hadn’t agreed to come to DC until he heard she would be there.
Ronan remembered how jealous Adam had looked when he saw him and Blue holding hands.
Adam hadn’t kissed him back because he wanted to. Of course he didn’t want to kiss him. Why the fuck would Adam Parrish want to kiss him of all people? He’d kissed him because Adam was perceptive and could see that Ronan was weak and besotted. He must have known that by kissing him, he would get what he wanted. He must have known that by kissing Ronan he would break Blue and Ronan up for good.
For the second time that day, Ronan had to hold back tears. Except these ones actually ended up leaking out.