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I Don’t Wanna Know About Your New Man

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“Two cokes without ice, and one hamburger deluxe.”

The girl put the food down before Adam, and he glanced up at her, opening his mouth to inform her that the burger was Mason’s and not his, but the words as usual got stuck in his throat.

The girl raised an eyebrow at him, crossing her arms in front of her chest. Her spiky hair was done up with colourful barrettes and her apron had a little flower sewn to the corner. Adam found it all unbearably charming. He didn’t know how she managed it, but each time he saw her she seemed to be cuter than the last.

“You need something else?” Blue asked.

Just your phone number, Adam thought, but he was sure if he said it aloud, he’d receive a sound slap from her. Hadn’t she, just a few months ago, publicly yelled at Richard Campbell Gansey III for something he’d said? If she could talk to a boy like that with no reservations, nothing would stop her from kicking Adam out of Nino’s and banning him for life. No, clearly the best way to get her to go out with him was to start with something simple. Complimenting her, maybe. Telling her he liked her eyes. Telling her he thought she was breathlessly pretty.

Which, of course, would only work if he talked to her at all.

“No,” Adam said. He could feel the tips of his ears getting hot. Idiot, he chastised himself. Say something else.

Mason, as usual, didn’t bother helping him out. He simply grabbed the burger from in front of Adam. Adam watched it wistfully as it slid across the table into his friend’s hands. The waitress was still observing them. Adam turned back to her.

“No, thank you,” Adam said. “This is perfect.”

He wasn’t sure why he felt so speechless around her. He wasn’t usually bad at flirting, but he found her intimidating. Which was funny really, given how tiny she was.

Adam had actually been saving up money to buy Blue flowers. He’d been saving up for a couple of weeks, but he’d needed to dig into the fund to buy razors and a stronger soap, and so the amount he’d saved remained inadequate. Which was fine, since he had yet to have a proper conversation with her. It shouldn’t have been this hard, but he wasn’t used to asking out girls he didn’t know. Both his previous girlfriends had been friends of his before he’d asked them out. He wasn’t sure what the protocol was when it came to asking out waitstaff at a restaurant.

He gave her a wobbly smile and Blue smirked at them before disappearing through the kitchen doors. Adam pressed his palms into his eyes and let out a guttural sound.

“My guy,” Mason said, already tearing into his burger, ketchup dripping down his hand. Adam looked at the food longingly, until Mason licked the ketchup off his palm and Adam lost his appetite. “You’re more whipped than cream at an ice cream parlour. Just ask her out, won’t you?”

“I don’t know how to,” Adam muttered.

He stirred his coke with his straw, thinking of the money he was wasting on this soda. He should have just ordered water like he usually did, but he didn’t want Blue to think he was too cheap to order something; that he was the kind of person who would sit in a restaurant and not eat anything, taking up a place that could have been taken up by someone like Richard Gansey III, who would have left her a nice big tip. Adam scratched the back of his ear in frustration.

This was why Adam hated Nino’s. Well, this and the fact that it was frequented by his classmates from Aglionby - all the rich, snobby boys who glanced at him disdainfully as they stirred their sweet teas and ordered more pizza than they could possibly eat. But Mason liked coming here, and Adam couldn’t deny him the occasional trip.

“What’s there to know?” Mason said, between bites. There was a smudge of mustard on his nose, but Adam didn’t bother to point it out. “Just be like… Hi, I like you. Go out with me?”

“That’s not going to work,” Adam said. “Why would she go out with me? She doesn’t even know my name.”

“Ok, say… Hi, my name is Adam Parrish. I like you. Go out with me?”

Adam rolled his eyes, but couldn’t help but laugh. Mason was the only other scholarship student in the whole school, which is how he and Adam had found each other. Adam didn’t feel they had much in common; Mason’s favourite topics included country music, different ways to cook an egg, and books about electricity. Adam’s favourite topics included anything but country music, different ways to cook an egg, and books about electricity. They had no classes together, and on top of it all, while they both had partial scholarships, Mason’s was being paid by his somewhat wealthy uncle who lived in DC, so even their daily struggle of not being as rich as the others was dissimilar. Adam suspected the rich uncle was why Mason had joined Aglionby in the first place. He was probably being forced into it, because he seemed completely unexcited by the work, completely unmotivated to keep his grades up. Where Adam was struggling every day to save up enough money to save for college, pay for school and keep his parents happy, Mason was complaining about the schoolwork, about their classmates, about the lack of girls. But Adam figured his company was far preferable to that of the rich snobs he did have classes with.

Adam had once had the opportunity to become friends with Dick Gansey III. He’d seen his car - a beautiful orange Camaro - broken down on the side of the road. Gansey had been beside it, calling a tow truck. Adam had known how to fix it. He worked as a mechanic at Boyd’s, and he’d been fixing cars since he was old enough to work. He’d even stopped his bicycle by the road for a minute, wondering if he should offer to help, but he decided against it and rode away. He didn’t need a friend like that; a friend whose mere presence would remind him every day that he was born trailer trash in a world that took every opportunity to try and squash him.

Not to mention, he didn’t care for the company Gansey kept.

Mason was slurping his drink now, making loud noises as he guzzled it. “I doubt she’s going to turn you down. She’s a six at best, and she’s a waitress. I don’t think she has many options.”

Adam rubbed his temple. “You really are a prick sometimes, you know that?”

“How am I bein' a prick? I don’t know why yo- …motherfucker.

Adam stared at Mason in surprise. Mason didn’t usually swear. Adam didn’t either - not out loud anyway - though Mason’s company did sometimes almost bring it out in him.

“What is it?” Adam asked. He made to turn around, but Mason grabbed his wrist, fingers digging into his skin. The forcefulness of the grab caused Adam to wince backwards. He let out a sharp gasp. Alarmed by his reaction, Mason let go. The chair Adam was sitting on toppled, and he went crashing to the ground.

Adam’s shoulder surged with pain, but it was nothing compared to the shame that consumed him. His humiliation was so acute, it seemed to puncture his lungs. The throbbing in his shoulder was just white noise as he staggered to his feet, his entire face burning. He turned to see how many people had witnessed his faux pas, but instead he found himself facing the cause of Mason’s swearing. Adam’s stomach shrivelled up on itself.

Ronan Lynch stood at the front of the restaurant, arms crossed, wearing a smirk as sharp as his cheekbones. Beside him, staring at Adam with a hand on her hip, was Blue the waitress.

The first thing Adam felt was anger. Ronan Lynch usually inspired that in him.

The second thing Adam felt was surprise. Because it became apparent at that moment that Ronan and Blue had been talking to each other. The two of them were standing close, Ronan a head taller than her, a familiarity obvious between them.

Ronan Lynch was Aglionby’s resident asshole, a boy made up of loathing and sharp angles. While Adam moved around school carefully, trying to avoid trouble, Ronan moved around like he knew if he ran into trouble, it would gracefully step out of his way. He was in Adam’s English, Latin and Technology classes. He didn’t show up for any of them when he could help it. Adam knew him as Gansey’s best friend, Kavinsky’s racing buddy, one-third of the infamous Lynch brothers, and that guy who occasionally gave him shit for no reason at all. Ronan insulted anyone he wanted to, kept his uniform and books in shambles, and didn’t give a damn about anyone or anything. His uniform, as if illustrating this point, looked exactly as it had in school this morning - his shirt untucked and his sleeves rolled up, his tie loose, his top two buttons undone. There were rips and claw marks on his shoulder that were clearly inflicted by that ridiculous pet raven of his. 

Adam ran his hand through his hair. He was sure his entire face was bright pink. The fall had caused his tie to go askew, and he quickly straightened it and shoved it back inside his raven-breasted sweater.

“Sorry,” he said. He flinched as his Henrietta accent came out, clear and unmistakeable in the quiet room. No one reacted. Lynch turned away from him - clearly very few things could hold his attention for a long time - and started talking to Blue again. Adam picked up his chair, sat back down and glanced up at Mason, who had his hand pressed against his lips, badly suppressing laughter. Adam ignored him, straining his good ear to hear their conversation.

“I’m working right now, Ronan,” Blue was saying. She was sweeping the front of the restaurant where a small child had spilled french fries. “We can talk about this later.”

“Declan is coming tomorrow.”

“What is fuckin' Lynch do…” Mason began, but Adam held up a hand, effectively silencing him.

Blue sighed, and Adam could practically see her putting her hand on her hip and giving Ronan that ‘don’t push me’ look. Since when were Blue and Ronan Lynch friends? Adam knew Ronan frequented Nino’s with Gansey and some other boys from their school, but he had no idea he was friendly with Blue. Friendly enough for him to stop by and visit her at work, at that. It filled him with an awful kind of jealousy. 

“Fine,” she said, her voice full of resignation. “We can tell him we’re dating.”

Adam experienced the very particular sensation of all his internal organs being turned to mush. He had to have misheard them. There was no way he heard her correctly.

“What the fuck?” Mason asked, his mouth hanging open to reveal half-chewed burger meat. “Did Blue just say she was datin' Lynch?”

“You’re the best, maggot,” Lynch said.

Adam didn’t see what happened next, but he heard Blue shriek. “Ronan, my boss.”

Ronan laughed, a sharp hiss of a laugh. “I’ll see you later then. You coming by Monmouth?”

“Sure,” she said. “See you later.”

Wasn’t it enough for Ronan to be rich, savagely handsome, top of their Latin class, and best friends with charming, powerful Dick Gansey? He had to go and date the girl of Adam’s dreams as well? Adam took a sip of his coke. The cloying sweetness of the drink and the injustice of it all made his stomach curdle.

“Real smooth stuff there, Parrish.”

Adam glanced at Lynch from the corner of his eye. Ronan rubbed his cheek that was sporting a day’s worth of stubble, looking completely at ease. What a fucking asshole. “I knew you were intimidated by me, but I didn’t know it was that bad.”

“Fuck off, Lynch,” Adam muttered. Ronan’s mere presence fatigued him. The boy encapsulated everything he hated about Aglionby.

Ronan gave him a shark-grin and then grabbed a few french-fries off Mason’s plate. Mason let out a muffled noise of protest.

“See you losers later,” Lynch said.

Adam really hoped not. He watched as Ronan walked out of the restaurant, slamming the door loudly behind him.

The truth of the matter was that Adam Parrish didn’t have much at all. And potentially, this was because Ronan Lynch had taken absolutely everything.

*    *    *

When Adam got out of Boyd’s that night, his feet felt like they were made of lead. He hopped on his bicycle and made his way slowly down the winding streets towards his home. There was a stifling quality to the darkness; the kind that enveloped him and made it hard to breathe even when he was outside in the fresh air. Adam turned on the flashlight he’d taped to the handlebars and kept to the side of the street.

He was almost home when he heard the roar of an engine. He made it off the road just in time to see a white Mitsubishi swerve past him at break neck speed. The road was narrow, and the car grazed his bike as it sped past. Adam was thrown back. Gasping, he got to his feet and inspected his cycle. No damage. He glared after the offending car. Hardly a minute later, a black BMW screeched past, sending Adam back into the brush.

He was brimming with fury now, all the exhaustion from the day transforming into pure white anger. He hopped on his bike and pedalled furiously towards his house.

On the field with the two ruts that led to Adam’s double-wide, the two cars had stopped. Leaning against the hood of one of them, a cigarette between his fingers, was Joseph Kavinsky, Aglionby’s other asshole extraordinaire. Ronan Lynch was against the other one, drinking beer from a green bottle. They were both in jeans and tank tops - Lynch in black, Kavinsky in white.

“Parrish!” Kavinsky called out when he spotted him. “Thought we had run you over.”

“You almost did,” Adam bit out. “If you’re going to drive like a maniac, at least make sure there aren’t people in your way.”

Kavinsky shrugged lazily. Adam could feel Ronan watching him. He turned and gave him a venomous look. Ronan bared his teeth at him.

“We’ll try our best to watch out for you next time, princess,” Kavinsky said. “But can’t say it would be much of a loss if we did run you over.”

The words were words Adam had said to himself over and over again. When he was lying in bed, when he was looking at himself in the mirror. You don’t matter, Adam. But hearing them voiced by someone who wasn’t his father was too much. Shame and fury took ahold of him, making him shake.

Kavinsky took a long drag and grinned at Adam as the smoke came shooting from his nostrils. Adam glared at him, before turning to Ronan. Lynch was looking down at the ground. He didn’t look at Adam and he didn’t say anything. Not that Adam expected him to. If Kavinsky hadn’t said it, Lynch probably would have.

Adam blinked back the hot tears. He wanted to say something in response. Anything. Something sharp that would tear their flesh and make them bleed. But he was worried his voice would crack, which would be even more humiliating. They needed to think he didn’t care about them; that he didn’t care what they thought of him. So without a word, he pushed his bike past the cars, not making eye contact with either of them, and trudged up to his home.

The one small mercy at the end of the day was seeing his father passed out on the couch. His mother had left a plate of cornbread and mashed potatoes on the kitchen table, and Adam ate it hungrily even though it was cold and barely enough to silence his hunger pangs. He’d been feeling terrible all day, and this final run-in with Kavinsky and Lynch when he was too bone-tired to even think up a scathing response, hadn’t helped.

He thought again about Blue. He wondered if things would have been different if he’d just had the courage to ask her out first. He had no idea how long Blue and Ronan had been going out for. It must have been a while if they were telling Ronan’s older brother about it, right? He finished eating and made his way over to his bed, his entire body aching.

“Adam,” his mother called from the living room. She had the same passivity that she always had in her voice when she talked to him.

“Yes?” Adam called back.

“Phone call.”

Adam’s heart clamped up. He’d told Mason not to call here. He wasn’t sure whether Mason knew about his home life or not, but Adam wished he would just listen to him. Adam didn’t want to imagine what would have happened if his father was the one who answered the phone.

He took the phone from his mother and waited till she returned to the kitchen before speaking.

“What?” he hissed.

“I was bored,” Mason said.

“I told you not to call on my home phone.”

“You don’t have a cell-phone. Where else am I s’posed to call you?”

Adam rubbed his eyes, too bone-tired to argue.

“How you doin’?” Mason asked.

“I’m fine.”

“Come on man. It’s me. I know you feel like shit because of the whole Blue thing.”

“If you know that, then why are you asking me, Mason?” Adam asked. He couldn’t stop the frustration from leaking into his voice.

“Chill out,” Mason said. He yawned into the phone.

“Chill out?” Adam asked, disbelievingly. “I’ve liked this girl for months, and now I find out she’s dating Ronan bloody Lynch? He’s an absolute piece of shit. He’s no good for her.”

“I know that,” he said. “You know I know that.”

“If she likes guys like Lynch she probably wouldn’t have dated me anyway.”

“Adam Parrish,” he said. “You are the most stubborn dude I know. You goin' to take this lyin’ down?”

“How else am I supposed to take it?” Adam asked. “She’s made her decision.”

“She didn’t know you were an option.”

Adam bit his lip. This was true. But he wasn’t about to make it known he was an option now. Not when it would just cause more tension between him and Lynch.

“Well, I lost my chance,” Adam sighed.

“Not necessarily. All we have to do is come up with a plan.”

“Is that right?” Adam rolled his eyes, even though Mason could not see him. “What sort of plan?” He was humouring him now. Why did he always humour Mason?

Oh right, because he had no other friends.

“Plan A,” Mason said. “You go over there, and you ask her out.”

“Excuse me? That’s a terrible plan.”

“Why?”

“What do you mean why? Lynch already hates me.” 

“Lynch hates everyone.”

“Yeah, but he’s always been extra rude to me,” Adam muttered. “Besides, I don’t really want to get a beating from him and his pal Kavinsky, thanks.”

At these words, Adam glanced over at the couch. His father let out a snore. Adam felt relief splatter him like rain.

“Look,” Adam said. “Lynch is an asshole. I doubt it would take very long for them to break up. And when they do, then I’ll take my chance and ask her out, ok?”

“Dude,” Mason said. “You’re a genius.”

“What?”

“Ok, hear me out. How many girlfriends has Lynch had?”

Adam stared dumbfounded at the empty cork board above the phone. Apart from the things Mason had told him, he couldn’t remember hearing any rumours about Ronan Lynch at all, let alone ones about his dating life. “I don’t know? He’s a very private person.”

“His brother Declan is a total playboy, but Ronan is a total recluse. Hasn’t dated anyone.”

Adam frowned into the phone. If that were true then it was probably by choice. Whatever said and done, Ronan Lynch was painfully good-looking.

“And how many friends does Ronan have?” Mason continued. “I think two at most. Because he’s an asshole. People don’t become friends with him. And girls might like bad boys, but they don’t like guys like Lynch.”

“I don’t understand where you’re going with this, Mason.”

“You should become friends with Lynch.”

Adam let out a sardonic laugh, and then stifled it. “Wait… are you serious?”

“No, listen to me. You become friends with Lynch. You get him to trust you. Then you start givin’ him bad information, right? You’ve dated enough to know what girls like. Just, tell him the opposite. Tell him to do the crap that girls hate. Like, that he should be brutally honest with her. That he shouldn’t text her good mornin’ and that he should say that she looks fat in her dress, or whatever. That sorta thing. And you know a lot about Blue. You know what kinds of things she doesn’t like…”

Adam had neither the time nor the energy to point out everything that was wrong with what Mason was saying. “Lynch is a lot of things, but he’s not stupid. He would be able to tell if someone is trying to sabotage him.”

“Look, all I’m sayin’ is, it’s easier to take advantage of him when you’re on the inside. You know? And you won’t be doin' anythin' wrong, you’d just be… speedin' up the process. You said yourself they’ll probably break up anyway. This is just our way of gettin’ in his head a bit.  Exposing him as an asshole to her. To everyone. You remember what he did to me, right?”

“Yeah, I remember.”

“The guy is a total dick. Aren’t you even a little bit tempted by the idea of fuckin’ with him?”

“This is a stupid idea, Mason,” Adam said. “I’m hanging up now.”

“You’re no fun,” Mason said.

It really was a dumb idea. The absolute dumbest. Adam hated Ronan, but he was not the type to become friends with someone just to fuck with them and steal their girlfriend. It was a terrible plan. Completely awful. But as Adam lay in bed that night, it was all he could think about.

Chapter Text

Ronan was not comfortable with words. He couldn’t just say what he wanted to say. He couldn’t simply explain what he meant. That was something Blue had realised soon after she’d become friends with the Monmouth group. Sometimes it was because he didn’t have the right phrasing to say what he meant, but sometimes it was because what he wanted to say was stuffed so deep down inside him, even he didn’t know what it was.

She’d hated them initially. Gansey and Ronan, that is. She’d even shouted at Gansey in Nino’s one day when he’d said something about her uniform that sounded an awful lot like he was being condescending. However, he’d caught her after work that day and apologised, and the two had become friends very quickly.

Ronan had been a work in progress. He hadn’t particularly liked her at first, but he wasn’t as hostile towards her as she knew he was capable of being. So she’d put up with him. She pushed back. She showed him she was just as impossible as he was. Ronan was a creature calmed by familiarity, and after a few weeks of her friendship with Gansey and Noah, he’d warmed up to her.

But she was still surprised when he showed up at her house, empty handed and alone. She let him in, and he spent a considerable amount of time in silence, wandering around her room, picking up objects and dropping them back into boxes with a disgusted expression on his face.

“They’re just headbands, Ronan,” she said, after once such incident.

“They smell weird.”

She let her legs dangle from the bed, watching him. She could sense there was something important he wanted to get out. He didn’t generally pace unless something was nagging at him, and if they were with the others, she would have watched it nag at him till he exploded and it all came rushing out. She thought about what Gansey had told her about Ronan being like a scared animal. You needed to let him come to you, otherwise he’d close up and you’d get nothing.

Blue was no Gansey. She wasn’t nearly as patient, but she also wasn’t nearly as willing to take Ronan’s shit.

“What do you want, Ronan?” she asked, impatiently.

Ronan dropped a stick of mascara back into her makeup bag.

“My brother is driving down from DC to stay here for a few weeks,” he said. He tugged at the bands on his wrist with his other hand. “A month and a half, actually.”

“Yeah, Gansey was saying.” She wasn’t sure what this had to do with her, but Ronan’s odd behaviour was certainly piquing her interest. “You don’t really get along with him, do you?”

Ronan shrugged. He poked at a ball of cloth on Blue’s desk.

“Why is he coming down?” Blue pressed.

“Who the fuck knows,” Ronan said, but he looked distinctly uncomfortable when he said this.

Blue leaned back on her elbows, swinging her legs. “I thought you didn’t lie.”

“He said he’s coming to be with Matthew,” Ronan said, affecting disinterest. “But he knows I’m not doing well in school. I know he’s really coming to fucking babysit me.” He rubbed his cheeks. “You know we’re really religious, right?” Ronan said, abruptly. “My family.”

Blue nodded. She knew the Lynch brothers went to church together every week. Declan actually drove down from DC every Sunday to attend church with Ronan and Matthew.

“Declan…” His voice was razor-edged. He exhaled. “He knows I’ve never been in a relationship.”

This was not the direction Blue was expecting the conversation to go in. She tried to school her expression; to keep the surprise from showing on her face. They’d never once talked about Ronan’s dating life, and she wasn’t sure how to respond. She decided to play it cool, unaffected.

She shrugged. “I haven’t either.”

Ronan gave her a sharp look. Then he looked down at his shoes, his trademark scowl back in place.

“I want him to stop asking me questions about why I’m single. So I’m going to tell him you’re my girlfriend.”

“What?” Blue yelped, sitting up straight. Ronan’s face was still set in its grumpy mask. “Excuse me?” she spluttered. “Don’t I get a say in this? I mean… this is a ridiculous idea, Ronan. Lots of people don’t date…”

This was crazy. Completely insane. Since when did Ronan care what people thought of him anyway?

You know we’re really religious, right? Blue suddenly understood the implication of the words with a weight that almost crushed her. Oh.

The pieces were slowly clicking together. Ronan’s disinterest in Orla. His disinterest in talking about girls. The way he never looked at her breasts. The way he sometimes looked at Gansey. The way he sometimes behaved around Kavinsky.

Was Ronan… coming out to her?

“I just…” Ronan was fidgeting with the bands on his wrist again. He was looking away, not catching her eye. “I want him to leave me the fuck alone, right? He’s been nagging me about school, getting more friends, being in a relationship. All that shit. Like normally, I wouldn’t care? But I can’t fucking deal with it for six weeks straight. We don’t actually have to fucking do anything, obviously. I’ll just tell him you’re my girlfriend and then he’ll shut up, and that’s the end of it.”

She chewed on her bottom lip, watching Ronan. It was really hard to tell what he was thinking. Did he realise he had just confessed something to her? Or did he himself not understand why he needed his brother to think he had a girlfriend?

“But we have to pretend to date?” she asked.

“We don’t have to fucking make out. All we’d have to do is maybe hold fucking hands once in a while if he’s around. The most he’s going to do is ask you to have dinner with us or some shit.”

“But what about when he goes back? He still comes here for church every week.”

“He’s not going to fucking expect you to come to church. Look, when he goes back to DC, I’ll wait a couple of weeks and then tell him we broke up.”

“And that’s it?”

“That’s it.”

She bit her lip. “I don’t know about this, Ronan.”

She didn’t like lying, but she knew Ronan didn’t either. She didn’t quite understand what was driving Ronan to do something like this, to lie to his brother, but she trusted him enough to know he wouldn’t go to such lengths unless something was lighting fire to his heels. She knew he and Declan didn’t get along, and she didn’t think she wanted to know what would happen if religious Declan discovered his younger brother was gay.

But six weeks of pretending to date Ronan? She didn’t think he was the boy from her prophecy - she wasn’t worried about that, especially if he was gay - but what if people found out they were pretending? Wouldn’t that cast doubt upon Ronan? Wouldn’t people think there was something wrong with her, that she had a fake boyfriend? What if people she was actually interested in thought she was interested in Ronan?

She pushed those thoughts away. She’d already decided she was never going to get involved with a boy, and the only boys who would know about her and Ronan would be probably be Aglionby boys. And it didn’t matter what they thought, because she would never date an Aglionby boy. In fact, pretending to date Ronan would actually be beneficial to her. The girlfriend of Ronan Lynch? Even when they eventually ‘broke up,’ every single Aglionby boy would know to stay the hell away from her.

But she couldn’t help but feel like things were going to get terribly complicated.

“I don’t know, Ronan,” she said, rubbing the back of her arm. “It’s just that…”

“I’ll buy you those stupid boots you wanted.”

Now this was interesting. She got to be a good friend and get boots out of it? The idea was certainly tempting.

“I’ll think about it,” she said.

Ronan nodded and punched her arm. “Thanks, maggot,” he said.

She scowled at him. She really hated that nickname.

*    *    * 

Ronan sat in his car for ten minutes before he decided to get out and just do it. It was a dick move, cornering Sargent at her work place, but the truth was, Ronan was desperate.

Declan had started to… catch on to things. He attributed it, like Kavinsky did, to Ronan’s friendship with Gansey. Declan had obviously seen how close the two were, and whenever they had breakfast together after church, he’d ask probing questions about their relationship. It hadn’t bothered Ronan before - either the questions, or Declan’s obvious disapproval that laced them. He knew what Gansey was to him. Gansey was his brother. He didn’t quite know what he was, but that hadn’t mattered.

But then Ronan had started having dreams. And though he tried not to think about it, it was there, lingering in the back of his mind. A… confusion, of sorts.

The truth was, Ronan had figured out a few years ago that he wasn’t interested in girls. He just didn’t want to think about what that meant. What the alternative was, as it were. Thinking about stuff like that was confusing. The problem was that he’d been thinking about it a lot lately. Partly because of Declan’s questions. Partly because of a very particular Aglionby student. He knew that if the maggot played along with him and got Declan off his back, he could continue not having to think about what it all meant, and he could go back to just trying not to think about him.

Ronan walked into Nino’s and located Sargent immediately. She was carrying a broom that was comically bigger than herself and walking towards the first table by the door, where a family was departing, leaving behind a war-zone of spilled food. The father stepped on some of the fallen french fries as they exited the restaurant. Blue glared at his back, and Ronan had to laugh.

She was muttering under her breath when he walked up to her. She clutched the broom tightly.

“What are you doing here?” she demanded, glaring at the floor.

“Came to see you, maggot,” he said, cheerfully. She batted him out of the way, and started sweeping up the french fries. “Did you have a chance to think about what I said the other day?”

Blue sighed. The small part of Ronan that felt usually felt sympathy and told him things about himself that he preferred to ignore - small enough, that he could sometimes block it out completely - felt bad about what he was asking Blue to do. But he wasn’t friends with any other girls, and he wasn’t asking for much. And he was offering her compensation. Not to mention, he was desperate. Every day the dreams were getting more vivid, the thoughts were getting harder to ignore, and the confusion was getting worse. He just… he needed time. Time away from Declan and his questions.

Before Blue could say anything in response, there was a loud crash from the back of the restaurant. Ronan looked up, and his breath caught in his throat.

Struggling to his feet in the middle of the restaurant, his face bright pink, his collar dipping to reveal his very prominent collarbone, was Adam Parrish.

Ronan’s smirk slipped off his face. Was this a dream? It felt like a dream. The situation seemed too outlandish to be real. Here Ronan was asking a girl to pretend to date him because he was confused, while the very cause of his confusion was standing right there, watching them both with wide, dizzying eyes.

It was very likely a dream. Parrish was a frequent visitor in Ronan’s dreams.

“Sorry,” Parrish said.

The accent that laced his words was as thick as honey. Ronan’s stomach twisted. Adam’s eyes darted from Blue to Ronan, and Ronan turned away, not wanting to look at Parrish anymore, not wanting anyone to see that his hands were sweating. He balled them into fists and then opened them again.

Act fucking normal. It’s only goddamn Parrish.

“Come on, Sargent. You said you’d make a decision.”

“I’m working right now, Ronan,” Blue said. She started sweeping again. She wasn’t making eye contact, and Ronan wondered if she’d noticed the way he’d reacted to Parrish. Probably not. If Sargent knew about Parrish she’d have been outwardly smirking right about now. “We can talk about this later.”

“Declan is coming in two days,” Ronan said.

He glanced at Parrish’s table, but Adam was sitting down again, his back to them. Across from him sat Mason Hunter. He was a slimeball if Ronan had ever met one. Ronan clenched his jaw.

Blue sighed.

“Fine,” she said. Ronan turned back to her, surprise curling in his gut, replacing the heat from a moment ago. “We can tell him we’re dating.”

He felt a few wisps of relief, but there was still that underlying feeling of dissatisfaction. Of wrongness. Here was Ronan, asking one of his closest friends to blatantly lie to a member of his family. He tried to push the thought away and grinned, affecting nonchalance.

“You’re the best, maggot.”

He reached out and ruffled her hair.

Blue shrieked, and swiped at his hand. “Ronan, my boss.”

She tapped her hair, making sure it was still in place. Ronan couldn’t help but laugh.

“I’ll see you later then. You coming by Monmouth?”

“Sure,” she said. “See you later.”

Ronan made for the door, but then turned to look at Parrish again. Ronan had seen Parrish in Nino’s maybe a handful of times, but he couldn’t ever remember seeing him eat. Across from him, Hunter was stuffing his pie-hole, no care in the world. Before that small part of his brain could stop him, Ronan turned on his heel and walked over to their table.

“Real smooth stuff there, Parrish,” he said. “I knew you were intimidated by me, but I didn’t know it was that bad.”

He immediately regretted his decision when Adam turned to look at him, cool blue eyes drenching him with a look of aversion. There was a twinge in his heart that Ronan refused to acknowledge.

“Fuck off, Lynch,” Adam muttered. His natural accent had morphed into the one he used to suck up to teachers at school. Ronan felt a bolt of fury run through him.

Ronan forced out a grin, the one he reserved for Kavinsky, and grabbed some fries off Hunter’s plate. The guy deserved it. He was an asshole.

Parrish was watching Ronan, guarded look in his eyes, saying nothing. That small part of Ronan’s brain was screaming at him now, telling him to leave before he said something else he’d regret.

Parrish hadn’t straightened his collar. Ronan spotted the sharp line of his collarbone again. Another bolt of anger made him clench his teeth.

“See you losers later,” he said.

Ah Fuck.

 

Chapter Text

Adam was still thinking about Mason’s ‘plan’ when he got ready for school the next day. It was ridiculous, he knew. Pretend to be friends with Ronan Lynch to sabotage his relationship with Blue and/or mess with him? He couldn’t do that.

But Lynch was an asshole. Ever since Adam had started at Aglionby, Ronan had been torturing him - mimicking his accent, calling him ‘pathetic’ and ‘loser,’ insulting him whenever he put his hand up in class. And then there was Kavinsky, who had always said things that managed to cut right through Adam’s protective shell to puncture him where it hurt the most. How many times had Ronan Lynch witnessed Adam’s humiliation and simply laughed or done nothing in response? Maybe Lynch was the kind to keep out of other people’s businesses, but he always seemed to have things to say until Kavinsky was calling Adam a ‘mongrel’ or ‘trailer trash,’ and then he was rendered mute. Lynch deserved to have someone show him what it was like to be humiliated for a change. He deserved to know what it was like to hurt and be able to do nothing about it.

God, what was he thinking? Adam berated himself. He was being stupid. And mean. This whole thing was so incredibly stupid and mean.

He hopped on his bicycle and started pedalling, wishing he had enough money for breakfast or coffee. Or even a granola bar. Maybe he could get a small one? His mind ran through the numbers again, trying to see what he’d have to give up to eat breakfast this morning. The hunger he felt was all-consuming. He couldn’t bear the thought of going to school all day having eaten nothing.

He was daydreaming about eggs and bacon when he took a turn on the road towards school and screeched to a halt.

There, just a few steps ahead of him, was the smoking engine of a car. Not just any car, but Richard Campbell Gansey III’s brilliant orange Camaro. Deja vu hit him flat in the face.

A vision amidst the smoke, Dick Gansey was staring blankly into the open engine. And in the back, lounging against the seats with his shoes on the headrest in front of him and his arms crossed behind his head, was Ronan Lynch.

Adam stared at them. Something slick and wicked was curling in his gut, setting fire to his blood. Here Adam was, trying to put Mason’s absurd idea out of his head, and he was presented with an opportunity to make it happen. The coincidence was disconcerting. 

If Adam believed in fate he would have seen this as a sign from the universe. But Adam didn’t believe in fate. He did, however, believe in taking control of his own life. Why shouldn’t he do this? He struggled and went against the grain in every other way. Why should this be any different?

Plus, there was no crime in befriending Ronan Lynch. That’s all Adam was doing anyway. Trying to befriend him. Testing the waters, as it were.

He walked his bicycle to the car.

“Is everything alright?” he asked.

“Oh yeah,” Ronan drawled from the backseat. “Everything is just peachy fucking fantastic.”

Adam glared at him before catching himself. He was here to befriend Ronan, not antagonise him. He was going to be civil with Ronan, and nice to Gansey. Gansey was his foot-in-the-door to getting on Ronan's good side.

Adam cleared his throat, turning to Gansey. However, the second he met Gansey’s bright hazel eyes, Adam tensed up. What was he doing? Here was the most luminescent boy in school. A boy who so obviously came from a monied upbringing that he couldn’t outrun it, just as Adam, in his horribly unfitting school uniform, with his stupid bike and stupider accent couldn’t outrun his poor one.

“Adam Parrish, right?” Gansey asked.

His voice was like music. Adam felt shame and embarrassment wrap around his throat, choking him.

“Yeah,” Adam said. He tugged at his sleeves. “Richard Gansey, right?”

“Just Gansey.”

“Cool.” He swallowed hard, then pointed at the car. “Do you need help? I know a bit about cars.”

Ronan snorted from the backseat. Adam threw him a cold look.

“I’m sorry,” Adam said. “Did you have something to say to me?”

For a second, Ronan looked alarmed. Then his expression fell into a scowl Adam had seen dozens of times. Adam berated himself for his reflexive reaction to Ronan being an asshole, but when he turned back to Gansey, the other boy looked a little impressed. Adam felt a thrill of excitement run down his spine.

“Yes,” Gansey said. “Would you be able to tell us what the problem is here?”

Adam walked over to the front of the car and peered into the engine. He identified the problem almost instantly. He reached for his backpack and then realised he had no gloves or tools with him.

He glanced quickly at Gansey before turning back to the engine. “I know what the problem is, I just…”

“You need tools?” Gansey guessed. “They’re in the trunk.” He turned to Ronan. “Ronan?”

There was no response. Adam looked over the hood. Ronan was pretending to be asleep in the backseat, one arm slung over his eyes, his legs splayed, one leg sticking out of the side. Adam rolled his eyes.

“I’ll get them,” he said, trying not to clench his teeth.

He made sure he jerked Ronan’s foot as he walked towards the trunk. Ronan shot him a scalding look.

Adam retrieved the tools and returned to where Gansey stood, looking expectant. Adam opened the tool box, realising with a sinking stomach that there were no gloves. His hands and - very possibly, his uniform as well - were about to be covered in grease. He took a deep breath, and braced himself.

Narrating his actions in a slow and simplified manner to an awed Gansey, Adam worked on the engine.

It took hardly a few minutes to finish up, but his hands were black when he stepped back. He asked Gansey to start the car. The Camaro let out a low, purring growl, and Gansey’s face split into a smile.

“That was amazing,” he gushed, and Adam felt like he could melt in the glow of Gansey’s praise. “Thank you! Could we give you a ride to school?”

Ronan grunted from the backseat. Someone clearly wasn’t pretending to be asleep anymore. He sat up, and Adam thought he saw a quick flash of horror in his eyes.

“Parrish can’t just leave his shitty bike,” Ronan said.

Adam felt a surge of hatred for his bike which quickly dissipated when Gansey said, “We could tie it to the back?”

Ronan’s scowl deepened. He remained seated in the car as Gansey and Adam heaved the bike into the trunk and then tied it down. Adam gave Lynch a dirty look as he slid into the backseat beside him. Ronan took one look at his grease covered hands, and climbed over into the passenger side seat. Gansey let out an disapproving noise, but said nothing. Adam felt another bout of hatred and fury towards Ronan. Why did he always have to make him feel like some sort of untouchable? Anger gurgled about in his gut, but it disappeared just as soon as Gansey started the car.

Just like that, Adam Parrish was driven into Aglionby like a chauffeured prince, sitting at the back of Richard Campbell Gansey the Third’s beautiful orange Camaro.

*    *    *

That day Adam sat next to Gansey in Latin. Even though he had a grease stained school shirt, and had to suffer through Ronan’s incessant swearing, fake yawns, and blatant disrespect towards Whelk, Adam couldn’t remember ever having been happier. Even in his wildest dreams he hadn’t imagined that a boy like Gansey would give him a ride, sit next to him in class, compliment his Latin skills and then make plans to hang out with him later. It was incredibly hard to fathom why Gansey would want to spend more time with someone like him, but Adam was over the moon.

Even being forced to spend time with Ronan didn’t detract from it. After all, it was the motivation to get closer to Ronan that had encouraged him to approach Gansey in the first place. Plus, Lynch was annoyingly good at Latin. He might have had no respect for the teacher, or his books, or the school system in general, but he spoke the dead language in a way that made Adam’s heart ache with longing.

Gansey gave him a ride back at the end of the day, and Adam carefully ignored Lynch’s glaring in the rearview mirror as they rode. It was only when they got closer to his home, when Adam remembered what had happened in the field by his house the day before with Kavinsky. Then everything came rushing back to him - where he lived, who his parents were, how different his life really was from Gansey’s. In the lovely haze of the day he’d forgotten that they were worlds apart. He didn’t want Gansey to see where he lived and remember that fact for himself.

They turned into the field which still held Ronan and Kavinsky’s tire tracks, and Adam asked him to stop.

“I can walk from here,” Adam said.

“Are you sure?” Gansey asked. “We don’t mind dropping you home.”

Adam had a feeling Ronan did, in fact, mind. But the other boy said nothing.

“I’m not going home, actually,” Adam said. “I have to go to work.”

“You have a job?” Gansey asked.

He sounded fascinated by everything Adam had to say. It made Adam equal parts embarrassed and ecstatic.

“I work three jobs, actually,” Adam said, quietly.

He didn’t look at Ronan. He didn’t want to see the contempt on his face.

“Three jobs?” Gansey asked, astounded.

Adam nodded. “I’ll catch you later, then?”

He reached out for a fist bump. Gansey stared at it, curiously.

“You have to make a fist and uh… bump it,” Adam said.

Gansey copied the motion and then grinned at Adam. Adam laughed.

He went to retrieve his bike, noting that - once again - Ronan didn’t bother to help. Being nice to Lynch was going to be so much harder than he thought.

He waved goodbye at Gansey, and then biked down to his double-wide. He was so giddy with the events of the day, he was driving a little faster than usual, and didn’t realise until he was skidding down the road to his house that someone was walking up it. He squeezed the brakes, and the impact tossed the bike off the main path.

Blue stopped in her tracks, looking alarmed. When Adam got to his feet panting, realisation dawned in her eyes.

“You’re the boy from Nino’s,” she said, smiling pleasantly. “The one who fell off his chair yesterday. Am I getting an encore?”

Adam felt another wave of heat sear across his face, but he chuckled, relieved at not having hit her.

“Is that my reputation now?” he asked. “The clumsy boy?” 

She laughed. It reminded him of wind-chimes.

“Well, I don’t really know much else about you,” she said, cocking her head to the side. “I know I’ve seen you around…”

“Adam.” He extended his hand, and she clasped it. Her hands were small, warm. 

“Blue,” she said.

“I know…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “From your name-tag, I mean. I remember.”

Blue crinkled her nose. “Yeah, it is one of those names that’s hard to forget.”

“You’re lucky. Having a common name is awful. My first grade class there were three other Adam’s. The teacher used to get us confused all the time.”

“Is that right?” she asked. She gave him a half-smile that had a hint of mischief in it.

Adam felt so happy he could burst. Today, he’d befriended Gansey, and now he was talking to Blue the waitress without making a complete fool of himself. He didn’t know how or why his luck had shifted, but he was grateful for every damn second of today. Especially given how mind-numbingly awful the day before had been. 

It was then that Blue seemed to notice his uniform. “You’re a raven boy,” she said, with surprise.

“A what?”

“A raven… uh…” she furrowed her brow. “An Aglionby student.”

“Oh. Yeah.”

“Huh. I know some boys who go there. Do you… um… do you know Gansey?”

“Everyone knows Gansey.”

She grinned. “I should have guessed. I also… uh. Do you know Ronan Lynch?”

Adam blinked slowly, his heart sinking.

“Oh…yes.” And then that serpent that lived in Adam’s chest reared its ugly head. “That’s the weird guy who carries a raven around, isn’t it?”

Blue made a face, and Adam felt a thrill of triumph run through him.

“I keep telling him birds like that carry disease,” she said. “But he gets really offended if you say anything about Chainsaw.”

“Chainsaw?” Adam asked, disbelievingly. “The bird’s name is Chainsaw?”

“Yes,” Blue said, pressing a hand to her lips. “And he hates it when you call her ‘the bird’.”

“Oh, it’s a she?”

“Don’t ask me how he knows,” Blue said, shaking her head. “I have no idea.”

Her tone was affectionate, but strained. Were they having relationship troubles? God, Adam hoped so.

He laughed. “So, you and Ronan are close then?”

She made a noncommittal gesture, a strange expression passing over her face. “Yes, we’re… we’re dating.”

“Oh. Sorry,” Adam scratched the back of his ear. “I didn’t mean to call him weird.”

Blue shrugged, but she was smiling. “He is weird.” Her smile drooped. “Um, speaking of... I have to go meet him.”

“Oh, right. Of course. I’m keeping you.” He held her gaze for a moment, then gave her a small smile. “It was lovely meeting you, Blue. I hope we run into each other again soon.”

Blue ducked her head, but Adam thought he saw her blushing.

Chapter Text

When Blue arrived at Monmouth, Ronan was pacing, looking furiously inside rooms and under tables. A cacophony of stomping and door slamming followed him as he moved through the house.

“What’s up with him?” she asked, sitting down on the sofa beside Gansey.

“He’s looking for Noah,” Gansey said. “But really he’s angry because we made a new friend today, and he doesn’t approve.”

Gansey pushed his glasses up his nose, and smiled a soft smile at her. Blue didn’t like it when he wore his glasses. He looked more human, more flawed. Less like the perfect shiny mannequin he sometimes resembled. It made her upset, though she couldn’t place why.

“Shocking,” Blue said, throwing her legs onto the coffee table.

Gansey shook his head. “It’s genuinely a miracle that he warmed up to you. You should have seen him when I tried to become friends with a boy from our Gym class last year. Ronan scared him so badly, he doesn’t even make eye contact with me anymore.” Gansey made a face that looked almost like a pout.

“I don’t scare that easy,” Blue said, glancing at Ronan. “What’s wrong with making new friends?” she called out to him.

“I don’t need any new friends,” he muttered. “Especially not Parrish.”

“What’s wrong with him?” Gansey demanded.

“He’s irritating,” Ronan said. His voice muffled as he walked into his own room and then emerged again. “Where is that fucking idiot?”

“What’s going on with Noah?” Blue asked.

“How is he irritating?” Gansey asked, clearly oblivious to everything else happening around him. He seemed genuinely offended on this Parrish’s behalf. “Just because he doesn’t let you bully him.”

“Ooh, someone who doesn’t let Ronan bully him?” Blue asked, delighted. “He sounds fantastic.”

“He is,” Gansey said, smiling widely. “He’s such an incredible boy. He’s in our grade and he works three jobs. And he’s better at Latin than Ronan is.”

Ronan snarled at Gansey. “No he’s not.”

“He’s almost as good,” Gansey said, waving an arm in the air to dismiss his words. “He’s such a charming boy. He saw that my car was broken down this morning, and he stopped and fixed it.”

“Well, it is polite to help elderly people,” Blue said, at the same time as Noah chimed in, “Did he seriously say charming boy?”

“Where the fuck were you?” Ronan demanded.

Blue was as surprised as he was. Had Noah been on that armchair the entire time? He was quiet and sometimes it was easy to miss him, but Blue was positive he hadn’t been in the room when she walked in.

“You’re so bad at hide-and-seek, Ronan,” Noah said.

“I told you I didn’t fucking want to play,” Ronan grumbled.

“That’s because you’re terrible at it.”

“Because you fucking cheat.”

“How do you cheat at hide-and-seek?” Noah pulled his knees up to his chest and beamed at all of them. “What are we talking about?”

“We’re not,” Ronan said. “Sargent. My room. Now.”

Gansey raised his eyebrows at her, and Blue could feel her cheeks growing hot.

“He wants me to help him pick out an outfit,” she whispered to Gansey, as Ronan continued glaring at her from his doorway.

Gansey looked alarmed at this piece of information, and possibly a little offended that his opinion wasn’t being asked. Blue was pleased with herself, especially picturing the look on Ronan’s face when Gansey brought this up with him later.

As soon as she entered, Ronan slammed the door shut.

“Declan is coming tomorrow,” he said.

“Yes, I’m aware.”

“You don’t have to be there, but I’m going to tell him we’re dating. At dinner. And knowing him he might just show up at Nino’s and start asking you questions. So, I thought we’d better get some of our facts straight.”

“Romantic,” Blue said, only half-paying attention.

She had never been inside Ronan’s room before. It was a strange mix of familiar and incredible. There were the things she’d come to expect - a floor covered with black clothes, a rack full of CDs, a perch for chainsaw. But the room was also filled with odd objects that glowed and pulsated. On his table sat a vase full of what looked like flowers made of coloured smoke. In the corner lay something that looked like an old set of bagpipes. None of it quite made sense. It seemed out of sync with the boy standing in front of her. 

“Sargent, pay attention,” Ronan snapped.

Blue turned towards him, obediently. “I don’t have to tell him anything,” she said. “If he asks me questions, I can just say we don’t talk because we’re too busy making out.”

“That’ll probably gross him out,” Ronan said. He rubbed his stubbled chin. “Sounds perfect.”

“And if he keeps pestering I’ll just get more explicit.”

“For fuck’s sake, Sargent. Keep it in your pants.”

Blue laughed. “Relax, Ronan. We’ve been friends for months. I’m sure I can pretend I know you for a few minutes.”

Ronan didn’t look satisfied. She wondered why he seemed so on-edge. Maybe this Declan really was as bad as he made him sound.

She looked down at the clothes on the floor, noticing Ronan’s Aglionby sweater stuffed underneath his closet. It made her think of that boy.

“I met a boy from your school today,” she said. “We talked about you, and I…” She bit her lip, guilt settling in her gut. She’d definitely been flirting with him. It was why the information came spilling out of her; her own brand of special repellent against the disarmingly charming Aglionby boy. “I told him we were dating.”

“You what?” Ronan asked.

She couldn’t tell how he felt. He sounded angry, but he always sounded angry.

“It just slipped out! I didn’t know if we were telling other people or not.”

“We’re obviously fucking not. I don’t want this to become a whole thing. What if he fucking tells all the other guys in school?”

“But think of it this way. If he tells people, and Declan asks around, people will say they know you and I are dating.”

She was grasping at straws here. She knew that. 

“Not if it was someone like fucking Kavinsky you told. All he’ll do is mess things up.”

“It wasn’t Kavinsky,” she said, rolling her eyes. “It was this really sweet boy. He was really…um…” she blushed.

Ronan curled his lip, disdainfully. “Oh. He was cute, was he?”

“He was alright,” Blue said, annoyed with Ronan’s mocking tone. She fidgeted with the hem of her dress. Then she remembered. “Oh! He was the one at Nino’s the other day. The one who fell down?”

She didn’t have to look at Ronan to know he’d stilled.

“Parrish?” There was clear incredulity in his voice.

“No, not that guy you hate. His name was Adam.”

“Yeah, Adam fucking Parrish. I know who he is.”

Adam was Gansey’s new friend? The one who didn’t let Ronan bully him? That sounded odd. The boy she’d seen looked fragile, delicate. Not like someone who fixed cars and worked three jobs and didn’t take Ronan’s shit. She looked up at Ronan. He was gnawing on the leather bands on his wrist.

“Is that a problem?” she asked.

“No,” he said, the words too hasty. “No… no problem.”

“Do you think he’ll tell other people?” she asked.

“Parrish doesn’t have any friends,” Ronan muttered. “Who’s he going to tell?”

“Right.”

“But even if he does tell, what difference does it make, right?”

“Right,” Blue said again, even though it felt more like Ronan was talking to himself.

“Parrish thinks we’re dating,” he continued. “That’s fine. That’s… cool.”

Blue watched him for a minute, then swallowed. “We should probably tell Gansey what’s going on, right? So he doesn’t hear it from Adam?”

Ronan whipped around so fast, she reeled backwards.

“Fuck no.” Ronan said. “That’s not happening.”

“Why not?”

“Gansey is not going to play along with a lie. Just…” he exhaled sharply. “I’ll handle Parrish. Just leave it up to me, alright? And don’t fucking tell anyone else.”

Blue pretended to zip her lips shut, and then made a cross over her heart.  

*    *    *

Ronan didn’t want to tell Gansey. If Gansey knew that Ronan had asked Blue to pretend to date him, then Gansey would get concerned. And if Gansey got concerned, Ronan would get a hundred million questions about it, and then he’d have to admit, out loud, that he was confused.

The reason he’d asked the maggot to help him was because he knew that she wouldn’t ask too many questions. Plus, she was the only girl he knew and he didn’t really have much choice in that regard.

Which meant that the only option he had if he didn’t want Gansey to go all Gansey on him - and if he didn’t want the rest of Aglionby to think the maggot was his girlfriend - was to approach Parrish and ask him to keep it a secret. But talking to Parrish was an idea so daunting, Ronan almost considered dropping the entire charade all together and letting Declan give him shit for the next three weeks.

But then he remembered that question Matthew had asked at dinner, about him and Kavinsky, and the way Declan had looked at him, with all that judgement and aversion in his eyes, and Ronan’s gut twisted. He couldn’t live through that again. He couldn’t stand Declan, but the idea of seeing that disgusted expression on his face made him feel ill. He wanted this to be as uncomplicated as possible, and it was already getting too complicated as it was. Time to tie up the loose ends so nothing got worse. If Sargent and Parrish kept their damn mouths shut, then he and the maggot could pretend to date, Declan would stop being suspicious, and everything could go back to the way it once was.

But that would only happen if Parrish kept his mouth shut. Which meant that someone would have to politely ask him to keep his mouth shut.

Blue fed Ronan the lines, and he memorised them as begrudgingly as he did everything else that was not drinking or racing.

He walked into second period barely a minute before the bell rang, and stalked over to where Parrish sat.

Adam looked up at him, confused. Ronan planted himself heavily in the seat beside him.

“I can’t stand Carruthers,” Ronan said, not looking at Adam.

Adam glanced over at where Ronan usually sat, next to chatterbox Tad Carruthers. Ronan didn’t have to explain. Most people couldn’t stand Tad. Resignation washed over Adam and he slumped down, resting his cheek on his palm. 

If it was unbearable being around Parrish in general, it was about a hundred times worse sitting close enough to be able to see the delicate spray of freckles across his nose, the way his dark eyelashes brushed his cheek as he glanced down at his textbook and then up again, revealing those heavy blue eyes. The smell of grease that wafted off his person made Ronan light-headed. Ronan leaned back in his chair, trying to get away from the scent.

“You have a pen?” Ronan asked.

“Why do you need a pen?” Adam asked. His eyes were still glued to the board, his hand mechanically noting down Milo’s words. “You never take notes.”

“I want to throw it at that dick-head, Kavinsky,” Ronan said.

He flipped the bird at Kavinsky, who responded with a crude gesture involving two fingers and his tongue. Adam caught it, and made a disgusted face at Kavinsky before returning his eyes to the board.

“Pens cost money,” he said.

“So do shoes, but you still wasted your money on these ugly things.” Ronan nudged Adam’s shoes under the desk, and though Adam’s ears turned red, his expression remained steady.

“They’re not the only ugly things here,” Adam mumbled. 

The snarky comment was so unexpected, Ronan forgot to be angry. “What was that?”

“I said shut up,” Adam said, a bit louder. “I’m trying to study.”

Ronan decided not to push his luck. He kept quiet for the rest of the lesson, miming things at Kavinsky whenever they looked at each other but he said nothing more to Parrish. Every once in a while Parrish’s comment poked at the back of his mind, tried to infiltrate his thoughts, but he shoved it aside and tried to bury it. Who the fuck cared what Parrish thought about him anyway?

After what felt like an eternity, the bell finally rang. Ronan threw his shoes up on the desk and watched as Adam carefully packed his books and pens away in an old but well-kept backpack.

“Parrish,” he said. “I need to talk to you.”

Adam’s serious expression laced with suspicion.

“It’s about Blue,” Ronan clarified.

Adam dropped his gaze. “Oh,” he said. “What about her?”

“She told me you guys met yesterday.”

Parrish rubbed the back of his neck. “She recognised me from Nino’s.”

“She told you about us?”

“She said you two were going out.”

“Did you tell anyone?”

Adam frowned. He side-eyed Ronan. “No.”

“People don’t know,” Ronan said. “About us. Me and her. I’m a private person. I want to keep it that way.”

Adam pressed his lips together. Ronan tried to read the look on his face, but failed.

“That means Gansey too,” he said. “He gets… you know. Well, he has a tendency to get over invested. I don’t want him to know about it until we’re sure about our relationship.”

The words sounded completely untrue and rehearsed to his ears, the phrasing and delivery not true to Ronan’s way of speaking, but Parrish perked up.

“You haven’t been dating for long then?” he asked. 

Ronan faltered. “No.”

There was something cautious about the way they were both talking now. Ronan frowned. Adam’s reaction to this piece of information was… unexpected. Ronan hadn’t anticipated anything but nonchalance, so Adam’s interest in the matter was confusing. Maybe he was one of those people who enjoyed gossip.

A moment passed in silence, and then Adam nodded. Once, and then again.

“Ok,” he said. “Sure. I won’t tell anyone.”

He hadn’t expected it to be this easy.

“Thanks,” Ronan said. 

“But you have to stop bothering me.”

There it was. Ronan clenched his jaw. “Excuse me?”

Parrish had his chin set. His eyes held that tenacious look that Ronan knew was his natural setting.

“Gansey,” Adam said.

“What the fuck about him?”

“Stop trying to chase me away from him. He and I are going to be friends, and you’d better accept that.”

Ronan stared at him. “Are you blackmailing me, Parrish?”

“No,” Adam said. “It’s not a condition. I’ll keep my mouth shut about you and Blue. I’ve given you my word.” He slung his backpack over a shoulder. “I’m just informing you. I’m going to be hanging around from now on.”

The smell of grease was still overpowering, and Ronan could still see the freckles on Parrish’s nose. Everything he was saying was making him angry, and the fact that his accent was slipping out with every word was making him even angrier.

Fuck you, Parrish, Ronan thought. You don’t fucking tell me what to do.

Out loud he said, “Is that right?”

“You’d better get used to it.Adam said, giving him a cool look. “Because you’re stuck with me.”

Chapter Text

Declan was already at the restaurant when Ronan arrived. Which, frankly, wasn’t surprising given than Ronan was an hour late. The restaurant was a fancy piece of shit full of lace and stuffy waiters, and Ronan gave the chandelier a disgusted look as he trudged his way to the table.

He’d hoped his late appearance would cause them to lose their reservation, but Declan was sitting at a table by a window in the back, his expression tired as usual. Bribes had probably been involved. Matthew sat across from him, and he waved excitedly at Ronan as he walked over. The youngest Lynch’s presence, as usual, was like a salve. The rage that was constantly burning within Ronan lessened.

“Hey, shit-head,” Ronan said. He ruffled Matthew’s curls as he passed him.

Declan smiled at him. Ronan grunted in response. He sat down as defiantly as he could. Declan’s smile faltered and then disappeared.

“You’re late,” he said.

“I came,” Ronan said.

Declan rubbed his eyes, but pushed the menu towards Ronan without saying a word. Matthew was already halfway through his spaghetti bolognese, but there was nothing in front of Declan save for a ginger ale. Ronan ordered, and Declan did too.

They ate in silence as Matthew chatted happily about school, his friends, and Declan’s rented apartment and his new room in it. Ronan thought of the Barns again. Being around his brothers always made the memories of his childhood home return with a vengeance. He missed it so much, it was sometimes physically painful.

“Ronan,” Declan said, breaking him out of this thoughts. “How’s school going?”

“It’s fine.”

Declan gave him a skeptical look. He’d seen Ronan’s last report card. Ronan gave him a bored look in return.

“And Gansey?” Declan asked.

Ronan could hear the insinuation in his words. He shifted in his seat, balling his free hand into a fist.

“He’s the same,” Ronan said. He stabbed a piece of chicken with his fork.

Declan hummed and took a sip of his drink. Ronan glared at him.

“Anything else new?”

“No,” Ronan said.

“New friends?”

Ronan thought of Parrish, and what he’d said about Ronan being stuck with him. “No.”

“Dating?”

He was so predictable. 

Ronan gave him a sharp look. “It’s not really any of your business.”

Declan’s eyebrows shot up. Matthew’s eyes widened.

“Are you dating someone, Ronan?” Matthew asked, excitedly.

Ronan chewed on his chicken mechanically. He wasn’t sure how to play this. He mulled it about in his head for a minute, then turned to Matthew. “Don’t make it a thing.”

“No way!” Matthew said. “That’s awesome!”

Declan wiped his mouth with his napkin, slowly. He kept his eyes trained on his plate. Ronan knew what he was doing - he was letting Matthew do all the talking. He knew Ronan well enough to know that Matthew was the only one who could get him to spill.

“Who is it?” Matthew asked. “Someone from school?”

Ronan felt that self-consciousness again. The same feeling he’d gotten when Matthew had, innocently as always, asked Ronan if he and Kavinsky were an item. He glanced at Declan. To his credit, this time his older brother’s expression was neutral, no judgement or disgust obvious from his gaze. But Ronan knew how Declan thought. He’d heard him talk to women in their church about people they deemed sinners.

“No,” Ronan said. “She’s a waitress at Nino’s.”

Declan choked on his drink. “Sorry… she’s a waitress?”

Ronan gave him a cool look. “Problem?”

“No,” Declan said, hastily. “Who is she?”

Ronan stuffed another piece of chicken in his mouth and chewed it agonisingly slowly. This was, after all, just a game between them.

“Her name is Blue,” he said, finally. 

Declan’s lips twitched. “Blue?”

“That’s such a cool name!” Matthew said.

He could see the disbelief on Declan’s face. He thought Ronan was making her up. He would probably go to Nino’s every day of the week in search of this ‘Blue’. Why did Blue have to have such a fucking absurd name? 

“Ask her to come to church with us,” Matthew suggested.

“She’s not religious,” Ronan said.

He realised, suddenly, that he and Blue hadn’t discussed what she’d say about her family if Declan asked. Declan would probably have a heart attack if he discovered she lived in a house full of women psychics who did tarot readings and owned crystal balls.

Actually, that would ideal. Ronan hoped the topic would come up.

“I want to meet her,” Matthew said.

“Maybe,” Ronan said.

“How did you meet?” Declan asked.

Ronan shrugged, lazily. “I’m in Nino’s a lot.”

“And you asked her out?” Declan asked, skeptically.

Ronan clenched his jaw. “Yes.”

You approached her and asked her out?”

“What the fuck are you implying?” Ronan demanded.

Matthew twisted his napkin in his hands, eye flicking between them. “Guys,” he begged. “Please don’t fight.”

“Nothing,” Declan said, his voice cool. “I just wasn’t aware you did things other than fight with me and race that banshee Kavinsky.”

Ronan slammed the table, clenching his fists. Matthew let out a small wail.

“Why are you here, Declan?” Ronan snarled. “I mean, really. Why are you really here?”

“I have some work to take care of,” Declan said, sniffing.

He was getting defensive now. That was always Declan’s go-to response. When things got hard he retreated into himself. Ronan, on the other hand, always had his feelings so close to the surface that anything could send them rushing over.

“Work?” Ronan spat. “What kind of work?”

He could feel the anger now. Familiar and bubbling just below his skin. People were looking at their table now - giving them furtive glances and whispering amongst each other. Declan looked embarrassed. Ronan didn’t care.

Declan’s voice was clipped when he responded, “At the Barns.”

Ronan's heart stopped in his chest. 

“What?” he asked. His voice sounded strangled.

“I got permission to go there,” Declan said, calm as always. “To tie things up.”

“I want to go as well.”

“Ronan, you know you can’t.”

“Fuck you,” he said, venom seeping into his voice.

“I’m trying to work it out so that you two can visit. But as of right now…”

“I want to see mom.”

Declan took in a sharp, long-suffering breath.

“I’m sorry,” he said, simply. 

It was too much.

Ronan wiped his mouth with a napkin, got up, turned on his heel and stormed away. Away from Matthew’s worried expression, and Declan’s unchanging one. He stormed out onto the street, got into his car and just drove.

Kavinsky had once said that Ronan drove like the world was ending. That wasn’t true. If the world was ending, Ronan wouldn’t be driving like this - with the wind on his face, and the growl of the engine surrounding him. He’d be driving slowly, relishing the world for one last time. No, Ronan drove like he wanted the world to end. Like he knew that the worst that could happen was that he would crash, which didn’t actually sound like the worst thing that could happen.

He didn’t have a place in mind, he just drove. He let the universe take the wheel, let it guide him through the narrow lanes and wide streets that he knew so well. He let the town pass him by, not thinking, not realising where he was going till he stopped with a screech outside Kavinsky’s place.

As usual, there was a party raging in the apartment, the music loud. Ronan spotted Kavinsky and his two cronies smoking in the balcony, their chins tipped to the sky, the smoke shooting out from their lips.

“Lynch!” Kavinsky called down, raising a bottle of vodka in Ronan’s direction. “Didn’t think you were going to make it.”

“Neither did I,” Ronan said. He shucked off his leather jacket. Kavinsky let out a wolf-whistle.

“Gansey let you off your leash?” he asked.

The insult bounced off Ronan and rolled away, leaving him unharmed. He needed to get drunk, and he was willing to withstand Kavinsky’s harassment all night if it meant he didn’t have to think anymore.

“Yes, K,” Ronan said, his shark-smile in place. “Yes he did.”

*    *    *

Mason caught Adam as he was unchaining his bike outside school.

“You were hangin’ out with Lynch and Dick Gansey yesterday,” he said. Adam couldn’t tell if his tone held accusation or excitement. Maybe it was both.

Adam wiped the sweat off his forehead. He had work in half an hour, and the idea of being in the garage for four hours made him heavy with exhaustion. All he could think about was sleep, his hunger pangs and that odd conversation he’d had with Ronan Lynch that morning about keeping his relationship with Blue a secret.

“Yep,” he said.

“So you’re goin’ to do Plan B, then?”

“I don’t know,” he said. He and Mason walked side-by-side, Adam wheeling his bike slowly. “I don’t think it’s possible to get to the level with Lynch where he’ll ever trust me.”

“You’re not givin' yourself enough credit,” Mason said. “It took you one mornin’ to become a part of Dick Gansey’s personal crew. Imagine what you could do in a week.”

Adam considered this, flipped the thought over in his head. He still felt squeamish about the whole thing. What if Blue were to find out he manipulated her relationship with Ronan and broke them up? Was that really a good foundation for a new relationship?

But he couldn’t stop thinking about his run-in with Blue the day before. There was a spark between them, he could feel it. And Ronan himself had admitted they hadn’t been going out for long.

Adam wasn’t a person who did things halfway. If he was going to be friends with Gansey, then he was going to be friends with Ronan too, as hard as it may be to stand him. And maybe if, along the way, Ronan were to realise that he wasn’t the right person for Blue, or Blue were to figure out that Ronan was a complete asshole, then that would just be a bonus.

Maybe he could pull it off.

“Ronan Lynch is a dick,” Mason said. “He needs people to knock him down a peg or two. Don’t let guys like him underestimate you, Parrish.”

Adam nodded, feeling another wave of exhaustion wash over him. “You’re probably right,” he told Mason.

Mason grabbed his shoulder and shook him.

They walked together for a little bit longer, and then separated as Adam headed over to Boyd’s.

He opened up for the evening shift, changed into his coveralls and got to work on a Mercedes. It was painful, really, having to work on a car that was more expensive than possibly everything he owned put together. Adam liked to run his hands over the sleek finish, admire the handiwork that went into the engine and the interiors.

One day, Adam told himself. One day, I’ll be able to own things like this.

He liked to fantasise about the future as he worked. His mind could wander for hours about the things that he would own, about the way people would perceive him once he managed to leave Henrietta behind. Adam let his dreams float, ignoring the string that tethered him down to reality.

He was awoken from his reverie by a high pitched squawk. He lifted his head and then ducked as a raven came swooping through the air, only to land on one of the beams at the back of the shop. Adam clutched his chest, his heart racing.

He bent over, holding his knees, and then straightened up again to find Ronan Lynch at the doorway of the garage, surveying the room, a beer bottle in his hand.

Fucking brilliant. Just what he needed.

“I saw your shitty bike outside,” Ronan slurred. “Should have figured you worked as a mechanic.”

“Is that your bird?” Adam demanded. “It almost gave me a heart attack.”

“That’s Chainsaw,” Ronan said, gesturing with his bottle. “And she’s a she, not an it.”

Adam stared blankly at him. He’d really thought Blue had been joking about Ronan’s adamance to use the bird’s correct pronouns. He shook his head and then returned to the engine of the car he was working on. He heard the sound of Ronan’s heavy boots across the floor, but didn’t look up as he came closer. He tried to focus on the engine, ignoring the smell of beer that Ronan brought with him. It smelled familiar. Too familiar. Adam’s stomach roiled. 

“What the fuck are you wearing?”

“Coveralls,” Adam said, tightly. “They keep my clothes from getting grease on them.”

“You still smell like grease all the time anyway,” Ronan said.

Adam felt a stab of shame, of self-pity. It was something he’d always been sensitive about. He'd even saved up money to buy nice soap, but no matter how hard he scrubbed, he still felt like he smelled vaguely of petrol and oil.

“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” Adam asked, venomously. “Like your girlfriend’s house, or literally anywhere else?”

Ronan snorted. Adam looked up at him, curiously. Ronan turned away and took a gulp of the beer.

“My girlfriend,” he muttered, bitterly. He took another gulp of the beer and hiccuped. “Blue is busy.”

“I’m sure you have other things to do,” Adam said, his voice tight.

Ronan grinned, showing off his teeth. “I am doing something. My brother is in town.” He lifted up his bottle and drawled. “I’m celebrating.”

“Clearly,” Adam said, matching his sarcastic tone. “Looks like a load of fun.”

“Not something you have much of, is it?” Ronan asked, gesturing at the garage. “There’s more to life than fucking school and all this shit, you know.”

Adam ignored him. He didn’t want to talk to Ronan. He didn’t want to listen to any of this. He plucked a wrench from his tool-belt and ducked back under the hood.

Ronan leaned over him. “What are you doing?”

“Why do you care?”

“That’s harsh, Parrish,” Ronan said, but he wandered away, looking at the grease-covered rags and car parts. “I thought you worked in the factory next to Alessandro’s.”

“That’s my other job.”

“Right. You have three,” Ronan snorted. “Where’s the third one then?”

Adam was tired of the back and forth. Tired of Ronan’s derisive tone, of his intrusion into the one space Adam generally got some peace and refuge from snobby Aglionby boys. 

“Why the hell are you here?” Adam snapped.

“You know what really pisses me off about you, Parrish?”

Adam took a staggered breath. He was shaking now, rage and fatigue running through him.

“What is it, Lynch?” he asked, his voice low and dangerous. “What do you hate most about me?”

“I didn’t say hate… I said…” Ronan seemed to have lost track of his thoughts. He stood for a moment, squinting at Adam and then gestured at him with his bottle. “What pisses me off is that you’re fucking everywhere. Just every fucking where I turn, there you are. I can’t escape you.”

“Funny,” Adam spat. “I could say the same about you.”

“It’s not the same,” Ronan said. “You don’t mean it the same way.”

Adam felt another bout of fury - pure and white. Every day, Adam struggled. From his waking moment, he tried not to think about how hungry he was, how tired he was. How he didn’t have enough money and how he didn’t have enough time and how he didn’t have enough love. And then Ronan Lynch came traipsing in, asking him inane questions, asking him why he never had fun. Adam didn’t have any fun because he didn’t have the time or the energy or the company for fun. Nothing in Adam’s life had ever worked out in his favour, but one day it was going to. One day Adam was going to have a job, and a life, and a fancy car. And he wasn’t going to let his classmates and their low opinions of him stand in his way.

“No,” Adam spat, “it’s not the same. Because the reason you can’t stand me is because I’m not like you. You hate me because I study and work all the time, but guess what Lynch? I wasn’t raised with money like you. I have to work my goddamn fingers to the bone because I don’t have parents with money. I don’t have people who can send me to college and away from this goddamn town and people like you. If I want any of those things, I have to work for them myself. Do you understand?” Adam slammed the hood of the car shut. “Just get the fuck out of here.”

Ronan was staring at him, looking a lot more sober now. He swallowed, and then shrugged. Adam expected him to say something along the lines of you’re a fucking psycho, man or you PMSing, Parrish? but Ronan just turned and walked away.

A moment later, Chainsaw flew out after him, leaving Adam all alone. He let out the shaky breath he was holding.

Chapter Text

Ronan woke up the next morning with a pounding headache. He sat up in bed and held his head in his hands, waiting for the wave of nausea that hit him to pass. Then he rolled out of bed and put his uniform on.

Gansey looked alarmed when Ronan walked out of his room with a pen shoved in his pocket and his purple sweater clasped in his hand.

“You’re coming to school today?” Gansey asked, eyes raking over Ronan’s messily tied tie. “But we don’t have Latin first period.”

“I have Technology,” Ronan said.

Ronan didn’t elucidate, but Gansey was so thrilled that Ronan was getting up for the first class of the day, that he didn’t question it. He drove them to school, chattering happily all the way about Glendower and Blue and his sister. Ronan kept his eyes fixed out of the window.

Parrish was already in class when Ronan walked in. He didn’t look up from his perusal of his notes, but Ronan saw that he tensed when Ronan sat down behind him.

“Parrish,” he said.

Adam didn’t respond. Ronan took his pen out of his pocket and poked him in the back of the neck with it. Adam swatted it away.

“Parrish,” he said, again.

“What?” Adam demanded.

“Can I see your notes?”

“No.”

“Don’t be a fucking dick, Parrish.”

“Can’t you go annoy someone else?”

“There’s no one else here, Poorboy.” Adam turned to glare at him. Which is when Ronan saw the bruise on his cheek. His blood spiked. “What’s wrong with your face?”

Adam quickly turned back to his work, ducking his head. “None of your business.”

The motion was shameful, too hasty. Had he gotten into a fist-fight after Ronan left the garage? What was his deal?

“For fuck’s sake, Parrish. I’m just asking to see your notes so I know what’s happening in class.”

Adam kept his head lowered, but he passed his book to Ronan. Even completely furious, Adam couldn’t deny Ronan the opportunity to get his grades up. What a loser. Ronan took the notebook and glanced down at the neat handwriting before him. He let his eyes skim over the letters, but nothing registered.

He prodded Adam again.

“Parrish,” he said.

“What?” Adam asked, dully.

“Look, I fucking…” He bit into the leather bands on his wrist, trying to calm his pulse. “I shouldn’t have said all that shit yesterday.”

Adam turned slightly, glancing at him from the corner of his eye. His expression remained infuriatingly unreadable. Ronan noted again that he was turning toward him in an awkward way, looking over his right shoulder instead of his left. He’d been behaving oddly for months - overall seeming like he was just a little off balance - ever since that time he’d been sick for a few days and missed school. Ronan wished he could ask what that had been about.

“I don’t fucking hate you because you’re not like me. I mean…” Ronan exhaled. “I don’t fucking hate you. I don’t know why you think all that shit.”

“You’re an asshole to me,” Adam said.

“I’m an asshole to everyone. You’re not special.”

Adam scowled. The part of Ronan’s brain that he hated and wished he could burn, pointed out that he looked fucking adorable when he was angry. Ronan internally growled at that part of his brain and shut the voice down.

“I wasn’t trying to pick a fight. I was just… Fuck. Look. You were willing to help me out the other day, with keeping the thing with Blue quiet, and I… appreciate it. I didn’t mean to be a dick to you. I was drunk yesterday, right? So, I wasn’t saying shit properly. But I shouldn’t have said that thing about you not having fun. It was too much. Even for me.”

Adam was looking over his shoulder now, watching him with a steady expression on his face. The silence that followed Ronan’s words seemed to stretch on forever.

“Fine,” Adam said. He nodded at his book. “Can I get that back?”

Ronan tossed him his book. Adam buried his head back in it. Ronan observed the way his dusty hair curled up at the back of his neck. Not adorable, he told himself.

“Gansey invited me back to your place today,” Adam said, still not looking at Ronan. “Something about some Welsh King.”

“Fantastic,” Ronan said. “You really are part of the club now.”

Even though his words were dripping with sarcasm, Ronan felt giddy. He had no idea why.  

*    *    *

When Gansey saw Adam’s face, he was positively stricken.

“Adam!” he said, his hand flying to his mouth. “What happened?”

“Nothing,” Adam said, quickly. “I walked into a door.”

He thought he could feel Ronan’s eyes on him, but when he turned, Ronan was looking at his nails.

Adam had gone insane with happiness when Gansey had called the night before and asked if he would like to come to searching for some lost Welsh king with them. Adam didn’t know what it meant, and he’d never heard about this Glendower before, but the point was that Gansey, the most incredible boy in school, was asking if he wanted to come along with him on a non-school related activity. As far as Adam was concerned, they could have been going to feed pigeons on the street for all he cared.

The only thing that had lessened said excitement was his father’s reaction to Adam getting personal calls on the house phone late at night. He had to remember to tell Gansey that his phone was broken and that he shouldn’t call him.

He touched the bruise on his cheek. It really looked dreadful. He’d gotten choked up that morning, looking at himself in the mirror, knowing he had a day full of kids staring at him ahead of him.

At least he’d expected the staring. And the sniggers. He hadn’t expected Ronan to come to class and apologise to him. And he certainly hadn’t expected him to glare daggers at anyone who was whispering about Adam’s face. By lunchtime, no one was even making eye-contact with him. It became like any other day.

Adam was still spinning from the unexpectedness of it all, until he walked into Monmouth Manufacturing, and was then spinning from the incredibleness of where Gansey lived.

The place was massive. It had multiple floors, each one cluttered with so many things, Adam wasn’t sure where to look. Books and clothes and food littered every open surface. The ceilings were high, and the windows were wide. Everything smelled of mint. Gansey led them to the living room, where a comfortable sofa set surrounded a table that was covered in maps and bits of paper. Ronan threw himself down on the biggest couch, tossing his shoes over the armrest and slinging an arm across his eyes.

“Wake me up when it’s time to eat,” he said.

Gansey rolled his eyes, but crossed over to an armchair and planted himself down in it.

“I’ll catch you up on what we’ve been doing,” Gansey told Adam.

Adam settled into the other couch, feeling oddly at home, and listened as Gansey began telling him about the history of Glendower. Adam was a skeptic, not someone who believed things easily, but he listened with all the fascination of a small child listening to a fairy tale. Gansey’s excitement was infectious. When he was done talking, Adam felt ready to charge outside and start looking for clues along the ley-line.

“I’m thinking,” Gansey said, spreading a map across the table, on top of some open books. “That we should start…”

“I’m hungry,” a voice said.

Adam started, looking up into the face of a smudgy boy. Ronan peered out from under his arm.

“Shut up, Noah,” Ronan said.

“Adam,” Gansey said. “This is our roommate, Noah. He goes to our school as well.”

Adam shook his hand. It was like ice to the touch. He tried to remember this boy from school, but he couldn’t seem to place him. Maybe he was a grade younger than them.

“You have really nice hands,” Noah said.

Adam stared down at his hands, confused. There was nothing special about his hands. In fact he found them awkward looking; dry with big knuckles and prominent veins. They were all rough and calloused from work. Noah, however, looked pleased with himself. He glanced at Ronan who, as usual, was scowling.

“Do want to go to Nino’s?” Noah asked Adam.

Adam remembered with a flip of his stomach that Blue would be there, working her evening shift. He tried not to sound too eager when he shrugged and said, “I don’t mind.”

And if he went there with Ronan, maybe there was a chance she’d be able to see the very stark difference between them and reevaluate certain things in her life.

Gansey agreed and the four of them made their way over to Nino’s. Gansey and Ronan ordered a pizza each, but Adam was relieved to see that, like him, Noah wasn’t ordering anything. Ronan watched him suspiciously, but said nothing. Adam tried to look past their waitress to find Blue, but he couldn’t see her anywhere.

“Where’s Blue?” Gansey asked. “Isn’t she working today?”

Ronan shrugged. Adam was impressed by his acting. No wonder Gansey hadn’t caught on to the fact that he and Blue were dating. Ronan really looked like he didn’t care. He was looking out of the window, pointedly not at Adam. Gansey started telling Adam a story about a failed attempt at finding a Glendower clue when Ronan abruptly sat up straight.

“Fuck,” he said.

Adam followed his gaze. Ronan was staring at a car in the parking lot. It was a Volvo that looked almost brand new. In it sat a boy with golden hair, who was playing some sort of Nintendo game. Adam squinted. The boy looked oddly familiar.

Ronan turned to Noah.

“Move,” he said.

Noah slid out of the booth without protesting, and Adam watched interestedly as Ronan stormed towards the front doors of the restaurant.

“What’s happening?” Adam asked.

“That’s his younger brother Matthew in the Volvo,” Gansey said, already slipping out of the booth after Ronan. “That means his older brother Declan is here.”

Gansey hopped out of the booth. Ronan stopped in his tracks and turned around.

“Wait here,” he said, his voice steely.

“Ronan…”

“Gansey,” he said. “Please.”

 Gansey pressed his thumb to his bottom lip.

“Be civil,” he said, finally.

Ronan grunted. Adam watched as he pushed open the doors and marched across the parking lot to the Volvo where his brother sat. The golden-haired boy peered out of the window and waved joyfully at him. Adam’s heart caught in his chest. Even Ronan Lynch who hated everything and everyone, had people in his life who looked at him like he was pure sunlight. Adam wondered how his life would have been different if he had brothers. Ronan nodded at Matthew, but kept walking. Gansey slid back down into the seat, looking worried.

“What’s going on?” Adam asked.

“Declan and Ronan do not get along,” Gansey said, with a sigh. “Ever since their father was murdered two years ago, Ronan has been… well, he’s been a little… let’s just say, he’s been different. There’s been a lot of tension between him and Declan. He resents the way Declan’s been behaving.”

“What’s Declan supposed to do?” Noah asked. “Their mom isn’t exactly all there anymore, you know?”

Gansey stiffened. “Still. Declan could have handled it better.” 

Adam was only half-listening. His heart had stilled in his chest. “Ronan’s father was murdered?” he asked, disbelievingly.

This did not match up to the story Mason had told him about Ronan’s childhood. 

Gansey nodded. “He’s still pretty sensitive about it. It’s why he acts out, you know? Drives too fast, drinks too much. Everything Declan says grates against him. I can’t tell you how many fights of theirs I’ve had to break up.” He sighed miserably.

Adam looked out the window again, at the blonde boy who was back to his game, golden curls falling into his eyes.

Something twisted in his gut. Yesterday, he was sure he knew exactly who Ronan was. Today… well, today, he wasn’t. 

*    *    *

Ronan rounded the corner to find Declan and Blue standing by a large blue pick-up truck at the back of Nino’s. Blue had her hands on her hips, and Declan looked annoyed.

A good sign.

Ronan stopped before them.

“What’s happening?” he asked. Venom seeped into his voice as it always did when he was talking to Declan. 

Blue turned to him, letting out a sharp puff of air. “Your brother,” she said, “is harassing me.”

“Didn’t I tell you he was an asshole?” Ronan asked her.

Declan rolled his eyes. “I’m not harassing her.” His voice was clipped. “I was just passing by and I thought I’d stop by Nino’s. I should be able to stop wherever I want to, right?”

“He pulled me out of work!” Blue said. She turned to Declan. “I get paid for this, you know.”

“And I said I’d compensate…”

“Oh, you think you can just buy my time?” Blue demanded. “Am I a prostitute? Is that what all girls are to you?”

If Declan’s presence wasn’t such a complete damper, Ronan would have laughed out loud. He felt relieved that the one girl he happened to be friends with was Blue Sargent. The girl almost as impossible as he was. Declan was already looking slightly ill.

Blue turned to Ronan. “Do you know what he asked me? He asked me what my intentions were for you.”

Ronan felt a flare of fury in his gut. “What the fuck?”

“That’s what I said,” Blue said. She straightened her apron. “I told him my intentions were none of his business.”

Declan rubbed his face. “I just wanted to meet her,” he said.

“If you wanted to meet me, you could have invited me for dinner,” Blue said. “Like a normal person.”

“That’s precisely what I was going to do,” Declan said, spreading his arms. “I just didn’t trust Ronan to pass along that type of invitation.”

“No what you wanted to do was make sure I was a good fit for him before you invited me to have dinner with you, isn’t that right?” Blue said. “I bet you wouldn’t have done that if I was a Victoria’s Secret model, or some rich prep-school girl.”

Declan definitely looked ill.

Ronan scowled at him. “Just fuck out of my business, Declan.”

“I have introduced you to every single girlfriend of mine,” Declan reminded him. “It’s not fair…”

“What’s not fair is that I had to suffer through meeting every single girlfriend of yours.”

It truly was a distinct form of torture. Declan’s girlfriends changed so frequently, Ronan would probably get whip-lash if he tried to keep up.

Declan sighed, a long-suffering sigh trademark of the oldest Lynch brother. “We’re family, Ronan. Whether you like it or not. If you don’t tell me things, how I am supposed to know what’s going on with you?”

Family would have let me see mom,” Ronan snarled. “Now leave Blue alone.”

Declan looked from Blue to Ronan, then back to Blue again. “Fine,” he said, curtly. “I will send the dinner invitation through Ronan.”

“And if I decide to take it,” Blue said, sweetly. “I’ll let Ronan know.”

Declan gave her a tired look.

“Fine,” he said.

Declan nodded at them both, muttered his goodbyes and then walked slowly back to his Volvo. Ronan and Blue trailed behind him, heading towards Nino’s. As soon as they reached the restaurant, and Declan disappeared from view, Blue turned to Ronan, smirking.

“Blue Sargent,” Ronan said, grinning at her. “You really are one annoying fucker, you know that?”

“You love it,” Blue said, grinning back at him.

Ronan punched her in the shoulder.

“Yeah, I fucking do,” he said, pushing open the door. “You’re fucking amazing. I could kiss you right now.”

He looked up to see Adam watching them, his eyes wide. Ronan’s words caught in his throat.

Blue just laughed and slapped him on the arm. “I’ve got to go back to work,” she said. “I’ll make sure to annoy your brother some more if I see him again.”

“You’d better,” Ronan said, but his eyes were fixed on Adam.

He wondered if Adam had heard him tell Blue she was fucking amazing. If he’d heard him say he wanted to kiss Blue. He didn’t care if Gansey or Noah heard - they wouldn’t think twice about it; Gansey, because he was completely oblivious, and Noah because he knew everything anyway. But Adam… Adam was different. Ronan didn’t know why the thought of Adam having heard made him uncomfortable, but it did.

When Ronan slid back into the booth, Parrish caught his eye again. For a second, Ronan felt disoriented, but then remembered with a jolt that Parrish too thought he and Blue were a couple. That’s why he was looking at him like that. He was asking him how things had gone. Ronan looked away.

“Are you alright?” Gansey asked. His mouth was pressed into a thin line.

“I just had a run-in with Declan,” Ronan muttered. “How do you think I am?”

“At least it didn’t end with fists this time,” Gansey said, glancing at his knuckles.

Ronan shrugged, and refrained from saying anything more.

Chapter Text

Gansey had offered to drive Adam home.

They had gone back to Monmouth after Ronan and Declan’s run-in at Nino’s, and were waiting for Blue to join them post her shift, when Adam noticed the time.

It was late. He didn’t want to make his father angry, not again. So he told the others he was going to be heading home. Gansey had offered to drive him, so they both started heading towards the door, but just as Gansey was grabbing his car-keys, his phone rang. It was someone named Malory. Gansey turned to Adam with a look so full of guilt, Adam had to laugh.

“It’s alright, Gansey,” Adam said. “I have my bike.”

“Rubbish,” Gansey said. “Ronan will drop you. Won’t you, Ronan?”

Ronan looked disgruntled, but he was nothing if not obedient to Gansey. The two of them made their way to Ronan’s charcoal-gray BMW.

Adam settled into the passenger side seat, amazed at how soft the leather was. The car smelled of moss and mist and Ronan’s cologne. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant. Ronan stabbed on the radio, and loud electronic music blared from the speakers. Adam cringed as his hearing ear was assaulted with the clanging music, but he said nothing as they pulled out of the Monmouth parking lot.

He started longingly at Monmouth as it disappeared from view. He wished he didn’t have to leave so early. Though he had to admit, he wasn’t looking forward to spending an entire evening watching Blue and Ronan give each other secret touches and share hidden glances. Adam was still reeling from seeing them giggling and hearing Ronan call her amazing and saying he wanted to kiss her just a few hours ago.

It was one thing to know they were dating. It was another thing to have to see it.

“Was your brother talking to Blue?” Adam asked. “Is that why he was at Nino’s?”

He wasn’t sure why he was breaking the silence between them. It wasn’t uncomfortable to be sitting in the loud music, not talking, but Adam had felt the overwhelming need to shatter the silence anyway. He couldn’t stop thinking about what Gansey had said about Ronan’s father. Was it true? Here he was thinking Ronan had never experienced pain, when he’d actually experienced a great amount of it.

Ronan gave an affirmative grunt.

“So he knows?” Adam asked. “About the two of you?”

“I told him yesterday. At dinner.”

Adam was straining to hear above the music. Ronan must have noticed, because he reached over and reduced the volume.

“I’m guessing it didn’t go so well?” Adam asked. “Since you spent the rest of the night completely drunk?”

“Nothing with him ever goes well,” Ronan said.

Every word out of his lips was filled with poison. Adam realised with a start that he’d never heard Ronan speak like this. He’d thought Ronan hated him, but the anger that wafted off him now made Adam suddenly doubt it. 

“What did he say?” Adam asked. He was surprised at how soft his voice sounded.

Ronan hesitated, his fingers tightening on the wheel.

“He was asking her questions,” he said, his voice just above a quiet rumble. “About what she wanted. From the relationship. Like I can’t make my own choices. Like his own fucking girlfriends aren’t all gold diggers.”

“He thought Blue was a gold digger?” Adam asked, surprised.

“I don’t know what he thought. But why else would he want to talk to her about her intentions with me?”

“Her intentions?” Adam laughed. “He’s a suspicious one, isn’t he?”

“He likes making my life a living hell,” Ronan grumbled. “He always sticks his nose in my fucking business.”

Adam rested his head back against the seat. He liked the way the car moved so smoothly along the road, liked the feel of the soft leather behind his head. Maybe he’d buy a car like this when he got rich.

“Declan wants us to have dinner with him,” Ronan said, and his voice was so low, Adam had to struggle to make out the words. “Blue and I. Do you think we should go?” 

Adam blinked. He felt Ronan’s eyes on him, but when he turned Ronan was staring at the road, his brow furrowed deeply in thought.

Was Ronan Lynch… confiding in him?

Adam’s heart stuttered and then began to race. He’d just told Mason a day before that he didn’t believe Ronan would ever trust him, and here was Ronan asking him advice about Blue.

This was Adam’s chance.

He thought about it. Wondered what to say. He knew Declan brought out this horrible side of Ronan. This horrible, hateful side that Ronan himself was ashamed of. Around Declan, Ronan was the version of himself who used his fists and got appallingly drunk. If Blue were to have dinner with him, she would see that side, and then maybe she’d realise that Ronan wasn’t everything she thought he was. He could already sense some tension between them. From the way Blue had made a face when talking about Chainsaw. The way Ronan had said the word girlfriend the other day in the garage. And then there was that odd fact that they hadn’t told anyone else about their relationship. They were walking on broken glass, and Adam was going to take advantage of it.

“I mean…” Ronan cleared his throat.

“Yes,” Adam said. “You should.”

A wave of guilt hit him, but he swallowed it. This was best for Ronan too, wasn’t it? After all, didn’t Ronan want someone who could handle him at his worst? And what if Blue wasn’t that person? Didn’t Ronan deserve to find it out sooner rather than later? Adam wasn’t doing a terrible thing.

In the semi-darkness, Ronan’s face was obscured by shadows. He looked almost vulnerable. Adam turned away from him, and looked down at his shoes. The ones Ronan had called ugly. He stiffened his jaw.

“How long do you usually wait before having a girl meet your family?” Adam asked.

He watched as Ronan’s knuckles went white on the wheel. So Mason was right. Ronan had never done this before.

“Declan isn’t exactly the most pleasant company,” Ronan said, attempting to mask his evasiveness with scorn. “He’ll probably spend the whole evening asking her intrusive questions.”

“I think it’s better to pull off the band-aid as soon as possible,” Adam said. “I never introduced my last girlfriend to my parents and it’s one of the reasons we broke up. She thought I was ashamed of her.”

This was actually true. Ava had nagged Adam for months to introduce her to his family, to let her come over to his home. Their relationship had fallen apart in a matter of weeks when she’d accused him of never opening up to her, of never sharing the parts of his life he was ashamed about. He’d let it fall apart, because he hadn’t understood that. Why did she need to know those things? She wasn’t his therapist, she was his escape. He couldn’t bring himself to show her that side of him, and she couldn’t handle that.

Ronan glanced at him, and then looked out at the road again. He clenched his jaw. Adam had upset him, somehow. He cycled back through the last thing he’d said, trying to figure out what could have possibly been a cause of anger for Ronan. He came up empty.

Unless… had he realised Adam was fucking with him? Adam’s gut tightened.

“Why do I need to?” Ronan asked. “Because he’s my family?”

Adam let out the breath he’d been holding. Fuck. He really had no clue what was going on in Lynch’s head.

“No,” Adam said. “Sometimes, family means nothing. They shouldn’t be an obligation. You need to do this for yourself. You should take her to dinner to show Declan that you’re not ashamed. You’re not ashamed of her, and you’re not ashamed of the choices you’ve made. Show him that you can and will make your own choices, and that his opinion doesn’t matter.”

Adam stopped speaking, realising with surprise that he believed himself. Ronan looked at him, his expression unreadable. Adam looked away, out at the street, and pretended like he couldn’t feel the weight of Ronan’s gaze on his shoulders.

*    *    *

“How’s the plan goin’?” Mason asked him.

They were in the locker room, changing after their Phys Ed extracurricular. Adam looked around quickly, embarrassed. The other boys would tease him mercilessly if they heard him discussing secret plans with Mason.

“It’s fine,” Adam said.

He pulled on his shirt, and then sat down on a bench to put his shoes on. He and Mason were always the last ones to leave. Part of the reason being that Adam felt conscious about the bruises all over his body. Mason, for what it was worth, never really commented on them - Adam sometimes almost wished he would, and then berated himself for being needy - but Adam wasn’t sure the others boys would afford him the same respect. Not after he’d heard their reactions to the bruise on his face. He was still battling self-consciousness about that.

“Does Lynch trust you yet?”

Mason was watching him carefully. Even though they had no classes together, Adam had a feeling Mason had found out that Ronan had taken to sitting beside Adam in all the classes they had together.

“I don’t know,” Adam said. “He did ask me for advice a few days ago, though.”

“Yeah?” Mason looked excited. “No way! What did he ask?”

“Just… something about Blue and his brother.”

Adam was starting to feel a little awkward about Mason’s interest in Ronan Lynch. Mason and Ronan had apparently known each other as children, but they’d fallen out over the years and Mason was still resentful of the things Ronan had put him through. Adam had heard Mason’s stories, and until now they had always made perfect sense. They were black and white. Mason the hero, Ronan the villain. But now shades of gray were starting to emerge, and it was all making Adam distinctly uncomfortable. The world was easier to swallow when it was black and white.

“And you gave him bad advice?” Mason asked. Adam shrugged and Mason thumped him on the back. Adam winced. He considered asking Mason not to do that, but he knew if he did, he’d have to confess the reason his back was aching. And he was too stubborn and proud to bring up the topic himself.

“I knew if anyone could do it, it would be you,” Mason said, grinning. “Keep it goin’ man. Let’s really get him by the balls, eh?”

Adam gave another shrug. Mason hoisted his backpack and saluted him. He was going hunting with some of his cousins after school. He’d invited Adam, but Adam had never fancied murdering animals for sport and declined the invitation. You’re no fun, Mason had said, but he didn’t push the matter.

Adam felt a vague sense of relief to be left alone. He sat for a moment, enveloped in the scent of the boys locker room - the humid smell of dirty laundry and axe deodorant - and tried to ignore the way every muscle in his body was aching. He had two hours until he had to go to the factory for his shift, and he found he had nothing to do.

Mason and Ronan’s words from the past week, about him not being fun, rang in his mind. You don’t know how to have fun, do you Adam? he asked himself. He finally had a few hours of free time, and he had no clue what to do with them. He ran a hand through his still-damp hair.

Finally, Adam grabbed his bag and made his way out of the school. He was spurred on by something he couldn’t name, by nothing more than a wish and a desire to prove the two boys wrong. He jumped on his bike and cycled furiously towards the first place he could think of.

Nino’s.

Adam liked the feel of the wind in his hair, of it cooling his skin. He liked knowing he had a few hours to do what he wanted, meet who he wanted. This is what he wanted from his life. Freedom. Time. It was another reason he was jealous of Ronan. The boy seemed to have all the time in the world.

Adam hopped off his bike just outside the restaurant, and then hesitated. Was this weird? It was, wasn’t it? Maybe it was creepy. God, he was being one of those creepy guys who showed up uninvited outside a girl’s workplace, wasn’t he? He couldn’t do this. He turned to pick up his bike, when Blue emerged from the restaurant, folding up her apron.

“Adam!” she said, spotting him. She smiled, that bright illuminating smile of hers. Adam ran his hand through his hair again.

“Hi,” he said, abashed. Each time he saw her he was hit by how incredibly pretty she was. “You just got off work, didn’t you?”

She nodded, kicking a rock. It rolled towards Adam and bumped into his shoe. “Where are you off to?” she asked. “Didn’t see you inside.”

“I came to eat, but turns out I forgot my wallet,” he said.

It came out so fast that it was obvious it was a lie. She gave him a small, hesitant smile that meant she knew why he was really there.

“Sorry,” he said. He was probably visibly flustered by now. “I shouldn’t have come. I don’t want to make Ronan angry.”

Blue’s expression changed sharply. “Ronan doesn’t own me,” she snapped. “And I can have male friends. I’ll have you know I have plenty of male friends who come visit me at work.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Adam said, quickly. “Sorry. I’m…” he shook his head. “I’m not good with words.”

She smiled then, and he felt relief wash over him. “Well, if you’re free,” she said. “You could walk me home?”

He stuttered a little, and then nodded, his neck feeling warm. She grinned. He grabbed his bike and they walked slowly down the road together. They started talking, and it was light and cheerful. Adam said nothing about himself, nothing about his home life. She asked where he lived and he gave her a vague answer, not wanting her to know. If she could sense his resistance she made no indication. It was easy to get her talking. She told him about her home life; how she lived with her mother, her aunts, cousins, and her mother’s best friends. She told him how they were psychics, and how Blue didn’t have the powers, but that she could amplify their powers. Adam was quietly amazed by it all. More than the things that sounded fantastical, he was amazed by their family, by how these disparate people built a home and a family with each other. The idea sounded more appealing than he wanted to admit.

When they got to Blue’s home at 300 Fox Way, Blue and Adam sat outside on a bench, and Adam let Blue continue talking. She told him about her dreams of travelling, and he told her about his dreams of college.

And then the conversation expectedly turned to Ronan.

“I don’t think he likes me,” Adam said. “He’s always been a bit of a pain in my side.”

Blue laughed. “He’s an acquired taste, for sure. I didn’t like him when I first met him. Couldn’t stand him, really. But he grew on me.”

Adam had nothing to say to that. He scraped the ground with his shoe. He didn’t know what to make of Ronan, but the affection in Blue’s voice when she talked about him was making his stomach knot up. He felt the need to tell Blue all the things Ronan had done to him; how he mimicked his accent and made fun of his hair. How he called him a ‘loser’ and ‘poorboy.’ But when he opened his mouth to say them, the words died on his lips. How lame did all of it sound when Adam thought about it? Ronan calling him ‘loser’ was hardly the worst thing he’d been through.

“He’s kind of a bully,” Adam said.

He knew as he said it that it was an exaggeration; Ronan wasn’t so much a bully as he was kind of irritating. But ‘kind of irritating’ was hardly something that would earn Adam sympathy. And that’s what he needed. That’s what Mason was expecting him to do. It wasn’t enough to charm Blue. He had to bad-mouth Ronan.

Blue’s eyebrows shot up at that. “Bully?” she asked. “I mean, I know he comes across as a bit of an asshole…”

Adam snorted. “A bit?”

“A lot,” Blue said, grinning. “But he’s a good guy. Really, he is.”

The knot in Adam’s stomach grew tighter.

“I don’t know Blue,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. “He’s said some really mean things to me over the years. He makes fun of the fact that I’m poor, mocks my accent, shoves me around a lot.”

More exaggeration. He realised as the words were coming out that he was describing Kavinsky, not Ronan. The truth was, while Ronan did the same things as Kavinsky did, Ronan’s mocking lacked heat, his nicknames were almost affectionate compared to the things Kavinsky had called him, and his shoving was more like gentle nudging meant to be irritating and nothing more. Adam’s stomach began swirling with guilt. He cursed Ronan and his damn heartfelt apology. Cursed the way he hadn’t bugged Adam about the bruise on his cheek, the way he had glared at whoever laughed at him. Why did he have to go and show Adam his vulnerable side by asking for advice? This would have been a lot easier if Ronan had been exactly the asshole Adam had thought he was when he began this whole thing.

Blue’s eyes were wide. “He doesn’t do any of that with me,” she said, surprised.

“It’s different for you,” Adam said. “You’re his girlfriend.”

Blue swallowed, “I guess.”

She reached out and touched Adam’s hand, her fingers resting on his knuckles. Her hands were soft, and her touch made warmth wash through him. Adam bit his lip.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “He doesn’t mean it that way. He’s not… good with these things. Showing affection. Making friends.”

Making friends? Is that what Ronan was doing? Adam almost scoffed out loud.

“Why doesn’t he tell people about you two?” Adam asked, knowing it was the wrong thing to say when Blue stiffened. The implication in his words was clear. He’s ashamed of you. I wouldn’t be. Never.

“It’s complicated,” Blue said.

She removed her hands from his. Adam’s pulse began panicking in his wrist.

“He doesn’t like me,” Adam said. “I know he doesn’t.”

He hoped changing the topic back to himself would cut through the tension that had suddenly sprung up in the air, and it did. Blue visibly relaxed.

“If that were true, he’d have chased you away by now.”

Adam watched her from the corner of his eye. He longed to push her hair behind her ears, to run his thumb over her cheek. Instead, he gave her a small smile. “I don’t get chased away that easy.”

“Is that right?” she asked. Her voice was a little shy now.

Adam gave her a lopsided smile. “Yes. Yes, it is.”

*    *    *

It hadn’t taken very long for Adam to fall in love with Monmouth. He’d been to Gansey’s house maybe a handful of times, but he’d grown devastatingly attached to it. He was incredibly and utterly in love with it’s oddness, it’s messiness. It was charming but still boyish, and every nook and cranny screamed Gansey.

Except, very possibly, Ronan’s room. But Adam wasn’t allowed in there.

He also wasn’t a fan of the bathroom, but that’s because it was a complete death trap.

Adam’s spot had become the armchair across from Gansey’s. Every visit, he settled into it with the familiarity of a boy returning to his mother’s arms. Today was no different. Adam settled into his chair, and Gansey pulled open his journal and began pasting newspaper clippings in it. His conversation with Malory over a week ago had led him to new discoveries that Adam had been lucky enough to hear about. Gansey’s plan now was to go to a small grove outside of Henrietta, where he believed the ley-line was particularly powerful, and look for clues.

“Fuck that,” Ronan said. He was lying on the sofa as usual, his heavy boots dangling off the side.

“And what would you like to do, Ronan?” Gansey asked.

“Literally anything but that.”

Gansey frowned at him. He was wearing his glasses today, and was in a polo shirt and khaki shorts. Even dressed in casual clothes, it was obvious that he was in a class completely detached from Adam. Adam knew he could never even hope to achieve that level of casual confidence that Gansey displayed.

“Homework, then?” Gansey asked.

Ronan growled.

“What about you, Adam?” Noah asked. Adam hadn’t seen him come in. “What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know,” Adam said. “Something fun.”

He turned to look at Gansey but saw that Ronan was watching him. He felt self-conscious under Ronan’s gaze, like Ronan was looking at him more closely than most people did. He knew Ronan was thinking about that conversation they’d had, when he’d accused Adam of never having any fun. Adam turned away.

Gansey won out in the end. He always did. He argued that searching for Glendower was fun, and Adam wasn’t about to oppose anything Gansey said. It wasn’t hard to get Noah excited about something, and Ronan grumbled but he eventually conceded.

The four boys scrambled into Ronan’s BMW, while Gansey called Blue and informed her where they were going.

“Does she usually come along?” Adam asked.

“Sometimes,” Gansey said, shrugging. “I’ve been trying to get her to come over while you’re here, but she’s been busy lately with some project of her mother’s.”

Gansey looked at Ronan, but Ronan’s attention was pointedly not on their conversation. Gansey dropped it.

Ronan drove up to the grove faster than he should have. It was hot and humid, and Ronan complained about the bugs and the heat, and Noah ran around and pointed out things, and Adam loved every second of it. Even though he was always exhausted and hardly had any free time, he was glad to have an excuse to spend his free time with other people. People who were not Mason, and didn’t say uncomfortable things about women and gay people that Adam had to pretend he didn’t hear so it wouldn’t become a thing.

And there was truly something magical about Gansey. The way he held himself, how his eyes would light up when he saw something that interested him. Adam could have never imagined this was what Gansey was like, so full of life that he was bursting at the seams.

On their drive back to Monmouth, Ronan pulled up at a gas station. Gansey went into the convenience store as Ronan filled petrol into the car. Adam sat in the backseat, watching the sunset spill brilliant pink light across the sky.

“Did you have fun?” Ronan asked, sardonically.

He had pulled over to the side, having finished filling gas, and was now fiddling with the radio controls.

Noah was gone again, and Adam noticed it, but couldn’t remember when he had left or why.

“I had a good time,” Adam said.

“Yeah, but did you have fun.

His tone made Adam felt a pinprick of anger. He tried to suppress it. “Yes.”

Ronan let out a laugh like air escaping from a tire. “Man, Parrish. You wouldn’t know what real fun was if it belched in your face.”

Adam glared at him from the back seat. God, what a neanderthal. He could feel the fury building up in him again. How had he ever believed he could be friends with Ronan? Before Adam could spit out a response, however, Ronan was hopping out of the car.

“Come on,” he said.

Adam stared at him. “What?”

He watched in open-mouthed horror as Ronan skirted around the station, heading to the back of the convenience store.

Despite his better instincts, Adam got out of the car and followed him. If there was one thing he’d learned about Ronan since spending more time with him - both in and outside of school - it was that Ronan was unpredictable. As much as Adam’s calculating mind attempted to figure him out, sometimes all it got were equations, and problems that didn’t add up.

Ronan was standing beside a rack of dollies, the kinds used to carry boxes of supplies from the trucks to the store. Ronan was holding one, testing the wheels on the ground. Adam stood a little away, watching him. Ronan discarded that one, and tried another, and then a third one. He seemed happy with the fourth, testing the wheels against the asphalt. Then he looked up, and pointed at the ground to where a coil of rope lay.

“Make yourself useful,” he said.

Adam had clearly lost his mind. He paused, giving Ronan a strange look, and then grabbed the rope and followed Ronan out to the car.

“Go make sure Gansey isn’t done. Tell him we need toothpaste. That’ll keep him occupied.”

“What’s happening?” Adam asked, as Ronan took the rope from him. 

Ronan gave him a contemptuous look and Adam rolled his eyes, but obeyed, his curiosity getting the better of him. Gansey, who didn’t seem close to done, looked aghast at this new piece of information. Apparently buying toothpaste was a daunting task, given all the dozens of options available. Adam didn’t quite understand. He always just went for the cheapest brand himself, but maybe it was different when you could afford anything in the store.

He went back outside to find Ronan tying the dolly to the back of his BMW.

“Lynch, seriously. What’s going on?”

“Did you tell Gansey?”

Adam nodded. Ronan finished tying the knot and stepped back to admire his handiwork. “Good,” he said. “He goes into dad-mode when I do stuff like this.”

“What’s this?” Adam asked.

“Get on.”

Adam turned to him, eyes wide. “Excuse me?”

“You said you wanted to have fun.”

“Hold on,” Adam spluttered. “You’re going to drive around with me hanging off the back of the car on that thing?” He’d known Ronan was a little unpredictable, but this was crazy. “What’s fun about dying?”

Ronan’s smile could have cut glass. “Don’t be a loser, Parrish.”

He’d known that would rile him up.

Pressing his lips together, Adam marched onto the dolly. He held the bar tightly, his expression fixed in it’s stubborn mask. Ronan let out a whoop and then made his way to the front of the car. He really thought Adam was a loser, didn’t he? Fucking Lynch.

As soon as Ronan began driving, however, Adam realised how stupid he’d been. The dolly was rickety and Ronan was a reckless driver. The car picked up speed on the road, and the wind assaulted Adam, blew into his face, threatening to tip him over. The dolly jerked him over the road until it gave up and turned over. Adam toppled onto the asphalt and rolled down the road, his arms and back surging with pain.

The car stopped. Ronan hurried around the side to find Adam lying on his back, his palms covered in road-burn. Ronan ran a hand over his buzzed hair. There was something like worry in his eyes.

The euphoria that was filling Adam was immense. The road was warm, and his arms ached, and he could still feel the wind against his cheek, and the cold metal under his hands. Adam grinned up at Ronan, and then started laughing. There was so much giddiness in him that he couldn’t stop. The laughter bubbled up out of him, and Ronan grinned and shook his head and sat down beside him, and they both sat there like idiots, laughing in the middle of the goddamn road.

Breathless, Adam pushed himself up and inspected the road-burn on the heel of his palm. It wasn’t terrible.

“That was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done,” he said. He looked up at Ronan and grinned. “Your turn?”

Chapter Text

The first time Adam hung out with the boys and Blue together was the first day of summer break.

It was one of those days where the possibility of adventure was more satisfying that the actual act of going out and having adventures. They all went for lunch to a sandwich shop, and then made their way to a dusty field a little away from Monmouth, where they spread out on the grass. The air smelled of sun-warmed mud, and Adam felt a strange sort of contentment within him.

It had been awkward to see Blue in this context. Adam had walked Blue to her home more than a few times, and each time it had been more than lovely, more than comfortable. But he didn’t know how to behave with her around other people, around her boyfriend. All through lunch they’d made casual enough conversation, but it was all small-talk, as though they were strangers. 

Now, Blue was sitting under a tree, eyes closed and head tilted back. She looked a little bit like Ronan sometimes did when he dozed off in class. Gansey was next to her, reading from his journal. Something about their proximity gave Adam pause, but he shook it off. He was clearly just being paranoid. 

Ronan, never still unless he was sleeping, was walking around, idly tossing a rock in the air and catching it. He seemed to be searching for something. His skin was starting to get burned in the afternoon sun. Noah trailed behind him, chattering excitedly about something or the other.

Adam liked sitting in the sun. He tended to tan instead of burn - a fact Mason had expressed a great amount of jealousy about - and he intended to take full advantage of that. He sat crossed legged on the grass, eyes flicking between Blue and Gansey, and Ronan and Noah.

Ronan and Blue had sat next to each other at lunch, and Adam noticed how comfortable they seemed. Even though Ronan claimed they hadn’t been dating for long, there was a sense of companionship and comfort between them that most couples only got after years of dating. Ronan, usually quiet and stiff around Adam, was at total ease with her. He teased her, leaned over her to get condiments, pulled at her hair. For a second, they almost reminded Adam of a pair of siblings.

He jerked as something cold touched his arm. Noah had seated himself on the grass beside him, and was watching Ronan, still on his search for whatever it was.

“What is he doing?” Adam asked.

“He found an upturned nest,” Noah said. Adam must have looked blank because Noah immediately elaborated. “Cardinal nest. He’s looking for the eggs.”

“He’s looking for the eggs?” Adam repeated. “Why?”

“He wants to put them back in the nest,” Noah said, simply. “Why else?”

“Ronan is getting burned in the sun so that he can return some eggs to their nest?” Adam scoffed. “That doesn’t really sound like him.”

Noah cocked his head, looking at Adam as though he could see right through him. “You don’t know him very well,” he said.

Adam felt uncomfortable by this piece of information. He straightened his legs and pulled his knees up to his chest.

“Does anyone?” he asked, picking at the grass by his shoes. “He barely talks.”

“I know him the best,” Noah said, proudly.

“How’s that?”

Noah squinted at Adam, as if trying to gauge his trustworthiness. Then, he reached out and touched Adam, fingers wrapping around his arm. Adam winced, jerking out of Noah’s grip. Noah left his fingers outstretched.

“Holy shit, Noah,” Adam said, touching the spot where Noah’s fingers had just been. “Your hands are freezing.”

“That’s because I’m dead,” Noah said.

Adam rolled his eyes, trying not to let out a groan.

“No really,” Noah said. “I’m a ghost. I’ve been dead for years.”

Adam was sure his disbelief was obvious from his expression, even though he was trying desperately to hide it. Noah was weird, he knew this. But this was a bit too weird even for him.

“You know Barrington Whelk?” Noah asked, vaguely.

Adam was completely lost now. “He’s my Latin teacher.”

“He was my best friend,” Noah said. “He killed me. With my own skateboard.”

Adam rubbed his arm, feeling uncomfortable under Noah’s intense stare.

His voice was weak when he finally spoke. “This is a weird joke, Noah.” 

Even as he said it, Adam had a feeling it wasn’t a joke. Maybe he had been spending too much time around Gansey, but he was starting to believe there was more to the world than he knew and understood.

“Ronan knows too,” Noah said. “That’s why he’s so rude to Whelk.”

“Noah…”

“It’s not a joke. I really am dead.” He held his chin in his hand and gazed at Adam. “I know why you don’t like it when people grab you like that,” he said, his voice low.

Adam felt all the blood in his veins turn to ice. 

“I won’t tell anyone,” Noah promised. “I know a lot, but I never tell anyone these things.”

He raked his eyes over Adam, and the discomfort in Adam’s gut grew. He wanted nothing more than to walk away at that moment. To take comfort in Gansey’s predictable Glendower spiels, or Ronan’s unpredictable pursuits. But he found he was glued in place, watching Noah with bated breath.

“I know what you’re up to,” Noah said, sadly. “He’s going to be crushed when he finds out.”

“Who?” Adam asked. “What are you talking about?”

But Noah had gotten to his feet. He dusted the grass off his clothes.

“Noah…” Adam began, but his attention was stolen when Ronan stormed past the two of them, outwardly simmering. 

“Did you find the eggs?” Noah asked.

“Yes,” Ronan said. “They were broken.”

He sounded genuinely upset by this. Adam watched as he made his way over to Blue and Gansey, before turning back to talk to Noah. But the smudgy boy had disappeared.

*    *    *

Ronan dreamt about Parrish again.

They were in Ronan’s bedroom. Parrish was on the floor, ringed by a pile of white sunglasses like the ones Kavinsky usually wore. There were hundreds of them. Thousands. They surrounded Adam, closing into him.

Adam was studying, a look of intent concentration on his face as he scribbled down notes in that neat handwriting of his. He was not in his impeccable uniform as usual. Instead his shirt was untucked, his tie was missing, and his top buttons were open. His sleeves were pushed up to reveal forearms that were covered in grease stains that shimmered into images Ronan couldn’t discern. Tucked behind his ear was a sprig of mint.

Ronan was on the bed. He was pretending to study, a pen clicking methodically against the blank pages of his notebook, but really he was watching Adam. He could watch Adam for hours, but at some point during the dream he realised that Adam was smirking.

He knew. He knew Ronan was watching him.

Flustered, Ronan stumbled off the bed, onto the carpet that smelled of grass and farm animals, and made to leave. Adam jumped up and followed him. Ronan reached for the door knob, but Adam leaned over him and shut the door, one palm on the door as the other grabbed Ronan’s waist and turned him around. Adam pushed him into the wood, trapping Ronan between his body and the sturdiness of the door.

“What are you doing?” Ronan asked, in Latin. His voice was trembling.

“Something I’ve wanted to do for a while,” Dream-Adam whispered, also in Latin.

His voice was hoarse. His eyes, blue as the day-sky outside, flicked down to Ronan’s lips.

And then he was kissing him. First on the lips, soft and deep, and then along his jaw, feather-light kisses that made Ronan’s breath hitch. Ronan tilted his head back, and Adam continued leaving burning kisses down his neck. Ronan wrapped his fingers in his hair, his breathing quickening.

“I like your tattoo,” Adam said. “Multum. A lot. He plucked at Ronan’s shirt. “Can I see it?”

Ronan shivered as Adam’s fingers slipped under the hem. Ronan could feel the warmth of his hands on his skin. He could feel the callouses on Adam’s fingertips as he traced the lines on his torso.

“Adam,” Ronan gasped.

And then he woke up, drenched in sweat, his heart shuddering in his chest. He lay there for a moment, letting the euphoria seep out of him till nothing was left but the shame of it all.

He glanced out of the window, relieved to remember it was summer break. He didn’t have to go to school. He didn’t have to see Adam.

He probably couldn’t even if he wanted to. Adam worked double the amount of shifts during the summer. He was probably already in Boyd’s, working up a sweat. Adam claimed he wasn’t one to take risks, but he really seemed intent on working himself to death.

Not that it mattered anyway. Ronan had plans with Matthew. Plans he wasn’t intending to break.

He grabbed a slice of toast, then drove down to Declan’s apartment. He parked his car outside and waited. He figured he could text Matthew and let him know he was downstairs, but decided eventually that it was too much effort. Instead he honked loudly. Immediately, Matthew’s face appeared in the window. He spotted Ronan and then made a complicated hand gesture that Ronan guessed meant, I’m coming down. Ronan nodded. The happiness that pulsed through him whenever he saw Matthew was constant and expected.

As was the appearance of Declan in the window.

Ronan leaned back, a picture of impudence. He could see Declan scowl.

Declan had called him a few days ago to ask if he and Blue wanted to have dinner with him that weekend. Ronan had said he’d think about it. He had actually already planned on taking Adam’s advice and going for the dinner. It just made sense. He could ask Blue to act fucking civil for a night so Declan could decide she was suited for Ronan, and hopefully that would be that and he’d leave them the fuck alone.

But not this weekend. He wanted to let Declan stew a little. 

The truth was, as much as Ronan felt this was all getting too complicated, it was proving to be a very efficient form of distraction. His dreams were turning against him. He dreamed of the Barns every night he wasn’t dreaming of Adam Parrish’s hands on his chest and lips on his neck. And when he wasn’t dreaming of either of those things, then it was nothing but darkness. Darkness and monsters that were still there when he opened his eyes in the morning.

It helped to have this thing with Blue to occupy his thoughts. The Barns were off limits. The dreaming was off-limits. Adam Parrish with his obviously female ‘ex-girlfriend who he never took to meet his parents’ was off-limits.

Matthew bounded down the driveway. He got into the car, then leaned over to give Ronan a hug that knocked the breath from his lungs. Ronan sat there and let his brother hug him. He hadn’t realised how starved he was for a hug like this. When they pulled apart, something in Ronan stilled.

“What are we doing today?” Matthew asked, tugging his seatbelt on.

“Whatever you want,” Ronan said.

“Ice cream,” Matthew said.

Ronan began the car.

“I had a weird dream last night,” Matthew said, as they pulled out of the lot. “I was camping with my friends from school, and we were attacked by a bear. Everyone was scared but I wasn’t. I stood up and I started singing and the bear looked scared and it ran away.”

Ronan hummed, only half paying attention.

“Weird, right?” Matthew asked. “I didn’t think my singing was that bad. What did you dream about?”

“Uh," Ronan said. “The same thing.”

“Really?” Matthew asked, looking amazed. “That is so cool.”

The Ice Place, Matthew’s favourite ice cream parlour, was completely packed when they arrived. Matthew chattered on about bears and camping while they picked their ice cream flavours, and then about school as they hovered about until a couple got up, leaving their empty cups and dirty spoons on the table. Matthew raced to grab the empty seat. Even as they sat down, Matthew continued chattering - this time about some science project - but as soon as he was three bites in, he quieted down.

“Ronan,” he said, his brow furrowing slightly. “Do you remember Mason Hunter?”

Ronan pressed his lips together.

“Yeah,” he said. “Of course I remember him. He goes to our school.”

“Oh, right. I never see him.”

“He’s in my grade, that’s why.” Ronan said. “Why are you asking about him?”

“Hmm? Oh, because he’s coming in here.”

Ronan swore under his breath as the door swung open and a familiar accented voice floated into the room.

“I don’t know, Mason,” said the voice, resignation clear in it. “I don’t really listen to any country artists.”

Ronan ducked low, a hand covering his face, his heart hammering in his chest. Matthew watched him curiously.

“Are you still upset with him?” he asked.

“No. Fuck. I don’t care about fucking Mason,” Ronan hissed.

“Then why are you hiding?” Matthew asked.

Ronan didn’t have a chance to respond.

“Lynch! Lynches!” Mason laughed that aggravatingly high-pitched laugh of his.

Ronan swore again, louder this time, and sat up straight. Mason had stopped right before their table, and was now grinning at Matthew.

“Hey kid,” he said. “You’re all grown up.”

Matthew beamed, and Ronan made a face at him. Did he really have to be such a goddamn delight around everyone?

“You know Adam Parrish?” Mason asked Matthew. 

Matthew and Ronan turned in unison to look at Adam. Ronan instantly regretted it. He’d never seen Adam in his regular clothes before, but there he was in a dark short-sleeved t-shirt with some band logo on it and worn jeans. His hair was wind tousled, and his trademark dark circles looked worse than usual. He looked messy. Ronan’s stomach clenched as he remembered his dream.

“Hi,” Adam said to Matthew. “You must be Ronan’s younger brother.”

“Matthew.” Matthew said, cheerily. “It’s lovely to meet you.”

“Likewise.” Adam glanced at Ronan. “Hey.”

Ronan grunted in response.

“Nice to see you too, Lynch.” He nodded at Matthew’s cup of mint chocolate chip, smiling. “That’s my favourite flavour.”

“Mine too!” Matthew said, looking as though he’d just won an all expenses paid trip to Paris. Ronan rolled his eyes.

Mason and Parrish moved to the front of the store to get their ice cream. Ronan watched their backs, feeling that now familiar feeling of irritation at seeing them together.

“Who’s the other guy?” Matthew asked.

“Parrish,” Ronan mumbled. “Gansey’s new friend.”

“He seems cool,” Matthew said.

“He’s a loser.”

“That’s mean.”

“Shut up, shit-head. Eat your ice cream.”

Matthew obediently got to work with his plastic spoon. Ronan prodded at his cookie dough ice-cream. He seemed to have lost his appetite.

A few minutes later, Mason and Adam passed them, Adam’s hands empty.

“See you boys,” Mason said.

“Where are you off to?” Matthew asked.

“Goin’ fishin’ with some of my cousins,” Mason said. “Gotta rush back. There’s no place to sit anyway.”

“You’re not eating anything,” Matthew noted, staring down into Adam’s empty hands. Parrish stuffed his hands into his pockets.

“No,” he said. “I was just here to keep Mason company.”

“You goin’ fishin’ too, Parrish?” Ronan asked, mimicking Mason’s accent. He leaned back, insolence well-rehearsed. Mason frowned.

“No.”

“Oh,” Matthew said. “Then why don’t you stay? You can sit here with us.”

Ronan’s heart stalled in his chest. Whoever taught this damn kid manners did too good of a job. Though, admittedly Ronan was quite amused by the growing look of panic on Adam’s face. 

“I forgot my wallet,” Adam said, hastily.

“Ronan will buy you some ice cream. Won’t you Ronan?”

Adam looked mortified at the suggestion. “He really doesn’t have to. I don’t…”

“Sit down, Parrish.” Ronan said, affecting boredom. “I’ll get you some damn ice cream.”

“I don’t want your hand-outs, Ronan,” Adam said, stiffly.

“It’s not a fucking hand-out.”

“It’s a present,” Matthew said, smiling widely. “For the pleasure of your company.”

Matthew’s very presence had the capability of melting anyone, and Adam Parrish was no exception. He started to splutter, but he must have understood the genuine nature of Matthew’s invitation, because he deflated and eventually gave in. He mumbled his goodbyes to Mason - who sent Ronan a strange look - before sitting down in the chair besides Matthew. Ronan went up to the counter and bought Adam a mint chocolate chip cup. He pushed it across the table and Adam took it, not meeting his eye.

“Thanks,” Adam muttered. 

“Adam,” Matthew said, grabbing his hands. The gesture surprised Adam, who flinched a little before settling into it. “Can I ask you something?”

Adam sent Ronan a quick, confused look before returning his attention to Matthew. “Sure,” he said.

“What’s your favourite kind of reptile?”

Adam let out a small gasp of a laugh that made Ronan’s stomach do that fucking fluttering thing that he hated.

“Oh. Um. I think a snake?” 

“A snake?” Matthew said, eyes wide. “Can you guess what mine is?”

“Um. A crocodile?”

“No. A chameleon. They can change colours, you know.”

“I do know. They’re very cool.”

“They’re so cool. Ronan’s is a dinosaur. He’s so basic.”

Adam laughed at this, and Ronan could feel his cheeks starting to heat up. He couldn’t deny Matthew very much, but he was starting to wonder if asking Adam to join them had been a good idea. He hadn’t expected Adam to be so charming, discussing things with Matthew. He hadn't expected him to be so gentle with Matthew, hadn't expected to see him laughing. Ronan had yet to get the sound of Adam’s laughter from the other day out of his head. If he’d known dragging him behind the BMW on a dolly would have made him smile like that, would have made Ronan feel like that, he never would have done it.

Still, seeing Adam’s face as he ate, seeing the hungry look in his eyes disappear and that look of contentment take over… it made something warm grow in Ronan. He watched the way Adam looked at Matthew, so attentively, so studiously. Adam licked a dab of ice cream off his top lip. Ronan dropped his gaze.

“But I don’t think his favourite really are dinosaurs,” Matthew said, in a conspiratorial whisper.

“Is that right?” Adam asked. “What’s his favourite then?”

“He doesn’t like reptiles. He likes furry things. We used to play with mice when we were younger. He liked those a lot.”

Adam looked up, an amused look on his face. “Mice?” he asked Ronan.

“Baby mice,” Matthew said.

“Baby mice?” Adam asked, his eyebrows shooting up.

Ronan noticed Adam’s lips twitching in a clear attempt to suppress his laughter. Ronan’s neck grew hot.

“We don’t have to talk about this,” Ronan complained.

“He taught me how to check their heartbeats. You have to hold them up to your cheek,” Matthew held an imaginary mouse up to his cheekbone, “and you can feel it there.”

Ronan taught you how to check the heartbeats of baby mice?” Adam’s tone was incredulous. He turned towards Ronan, and there was something wicked in his eyes that made Ronan’s throat go dry. He was really revelling in this fucking moment, wasn’t he? What an asshole. “Sounds like a good brother.”

“He’s such a good brother,” Matthew said, smiling at Ronan. “He always played with me. And he used to tell me stories. And sing to me.”

“Did he?” Adam asked, an impish half-smile on his face. “What did he sing?”

“For fuck’s sake, Matthew…” Ronan began.

“Irish jigs, mostly,” Matthew said, ignoring him completely. “Ronan’s really good. He used to enter competitions.”

Adam looked absolutely delighted by this piece of information. Ronan’s face burned.

“You entered singing competitions?” Adam asked.

“Irish music competitions,” Ronan muttered. “I didn’t fucking sing.”

Adam leaned forward, far enough that Ronan could smell his deodorant, his chin resting against his hand. He grinned at Ronan, and his eyes glittered.

“Tell me more, Matthew,” he said, his eyes never leaving Ronan’s face.

Ronan’s stomach flipped over. He was definitely regretting this.

 

Chapter Text

Adam had been hearing about Joseph Kavinsky for years before he’d joined Aglionby. Henrietta was rife with rumours about him - about his troubled home life, about his parents’ perversions and habits, stories that involved drugs and sex and scandal. Adam’s father used to talk about them at dinner sometimes; used to scoff with disdain at the things he’d heard about the Kavinskys. 

The truth was, as distasteful as Kavinsky came across in these stories, Adam couldn’t help but feel bad for him. He felt a sort of kinship towards him, in a sense. Like Adam, Kavinsky couldn’t help who his parents were and what they did. If he acted out, it was a direct result of his terrible upbringing. Adam understood how hard it was not to become the monster your family was trying to turn you into.

Then Adam joined Aglionby, and on his very first day he ran into Joseph Kavinsky.

Literally.

Adam was hurrying out of class at the end of the day. He needed to get back home before it got dark, at his father’s behest. He was running and then he was falling, his books toppling to the ground into the dust, and he looked up to see Kavinsky smirking at him, his foot stuck out and poised in Adam’s way. Beside Kavinsky, was Ronan. Dangerous and sharp, his light blue eyes pierced Adam’s heart, filling him with shame. Kavinsky looked down at him, and with mirth in his voice, asked him ‘how trailer trash’s first day was going.’ Then he laughed, and he and Ronan walked off without even a glance back. Adam got dust on his trousers, and his father had beat him when he got home, and it was enough to make him never feel sorry for Joseph Kavinsky ever again.

Kavinsky had been harassing him ever since. Whether it was in class, making crude gestures at him, or out in the hallways and the lunch lines, calling him rude names and making threatening comments. Unlike Ronan’s taunts of ‘loser’ and ‘runt,’ which served merely to irritate Adam, Kavinsky’s insults managed to dig deep, right into the core of Adam’s chest. Adam was adept at pretending like things didn’t affect him, but even he had a hard time willing back the tears when Kavinsky reminded him that he was utterly worthless.

Adam had come to realise that his hatred for Kavinsky had bled into his feelings about Ronan - it was easy to assume that because Ronan was Kavinsky’s friend, that he was as bad as him. But Ronan was also friends with Gansey, Noah and Blue, and Adam was slowly starting to see why they were all drawn to him.

Ronan was… surprising. Adam was frankly a little taken-aback by the layers in him that were starting to emerge - his softness towards his brother, his eclectic childhood hobbies, his tenderness towards birds and animals. And then there was that day Ronan had let him drive his car, and they’d dragged each other around on the dolly behind the BMW. Adam couldn’t remember ever having been so thoughtlessly happy. It was only until Gansey returned and started fluttering about the road burns on their elbows, the scratches on their faces, that Adam had realised how reckless they had been. How could he have been such an idiot? The wind in his hair and the sun on the back of his neck had gotten him into some sort of drunk haze. He’d even started to… well, he’d almost started feeling warmly towards Ronan.

Maybe they were becoming friends, in this weird, confused way. Maybe Adam had misjudged him. Clearly Blue and Gansey saw something in Ronan that Adam had initially missed, but now that he and Ronan had started spending time together, Adam was starting to see hints of it. Shadows of someone thoughtful and electric hidden between those sharp angles.

Kavinsky, however, seemed to have no hidden depths. Even though school was out for the summer, Kavinsky was still hovering around Henrietta, threatening to burst from the shadows at any moment and dig his fangs into Adam.

Kavinsky and Ronan hung out regularly. Ronan had blown the rest of them off on several occasions to disappear for hours on end, returning - according to Gansey - in the early hours of the morning, drunk and fuelled with adrenaline. It had been a complete mystery where he went and what he did, until the day Ronan had shown up at Boyd’s at three in the morning with a battered fender, and Adam had discovered that his late-night escapades involved racing Kavinsky around the streets of Henrietta. It was another thing that Ronan had sworn him to secrecy. Apparently Gansey and Blue weren’t fans of Ronan trying to murder himself.    

Adam failed to understand what drew Ronan to Kavinsky. He was glad Gansey seemed to share his concerns.

 

Adam was spending the evening at Monmouth. They’d decided to take a night-off from Glendower hunting and just hang out together. Noah had selected a movie - some ridiculous horror thing about aliens - and Gansey had ordered four pizzas that were scattered across the room. Gansey was eating a meat lovers pizza as he worked on his model of Henrietta, applying paint carefully to the miniature mock-up of their school. Adam divided his attention between Noah’s movie, watching Gansey work, and occasionally, trying to get glimpses into Ronan’s room. He had yet to see what it looked like - Ronan was intensely adamant about keeping the door tightly shut. But today the door was ajar, and Adam could see flashes of Ronan moving about inside.

“What is he doing?” Adam asked, chewing on a cheese pizza.

The only reason he was eating it was because Gansey hadn’t taken money from anyone. Granted, Adam had started paying more attention to Noah since his revelation, and had noticed he didn’t really eat anything, but Ronan definitely did, and he’d already swiped three slices from the first box they’d opened.

“Who?” Gansey asked, his brow set in an intense look of concentration. “Ronan?”

“Hmm.”

Gansey’s expression shifted. “He’s going to Kavinsky’s party.”

Adam had heard of Kavinsky’s parties. Nothing good ever happened there. He glanced again at Ronan and then hurriedly looked away when he caught a flash of skin.

“Dick,” Ronan called. “Have you seen that sock Chainsaw loves?”

“Yes, I put it in the laundry.”

Ronan emerged from his room, still not wearing a shirt. Adam stared pointedly at the floor before him. How far down his back did Ronan’s tattoo even go? And why was he thinking about Ronan’s tattoo anyway?

Ronan made a face at Gansey. “Why the fuck did you do that?”

“Because it’s my sock, Ronan. And I don’t like the bird chewing on it.”

“Don’t call her 'the bird.’”

Gansey looked heavenward. Adam risked a glance at Ronan as he walked back into his room. All the way down his back. Adam bit the inside of his cheek.

“Why are you going to Kavinsky’s party?” Adam asked.

“Because his parties are fucking fun.”

“They’re dangerous, Ronan,” Gansey said.

“Thanks dad,” Ronan replied, mockingly. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

He pulled a tank top on, the dark lines of his tattoo disappearing under the soft fabric.

“Stay here,” Adam heard him telling Chainsaw. “Don’t be a prick.”

Adam had to stifle his laughter as Ronan returned outside. He gave them a parting grunt, and then disappeared out the door. Adam watched him go. Then he returned his attention to the movie.

 

The alien disaster film had two follow-up movies, and Noah made them watch both. Halfway through the sequel, Gansey brought out an arm-load of snacks from one of the kitchen cabinets - popcorn and spicy chips, nacho cheese and MnMs. Adam tried to refrain from helping himself, but the spirit of the evening got to him, and he let himself forget his pride and his deep-seated issues with hand-outs for the night, delving into the chips and the nacho cheese. He couldn’t remember ever having been this content, this at peace, while doing absolutely nothing productive.

At some point during the evening Chainsaw flew out of Ronan’s room, disobeying Ronan’s words - clearly the rebellious thing took after her ‘father’ - and settled on the back of the sofa. She bothered Gansey for a bit, nipping at his ear and his hair, and then - getting bored by his lack of reaction - walked over to Adam.

Adam side-eyed her warily. He wasn’t afraid of birds, but he wasn’t used to being so close to a raven, and there was something disconcerting about having her watch him with her beady eyes. He was considering shooing her back to Ronan’s room when she hopped onto his shoulder and sat there, digging her claws into his skin, eyes trained on the the movie. Her closeness made him feel vaguely uncomfortable, and her claws hurt, but he understood the action for what it was; Chainsaw, a seemingly suspicious creature at heart, was trusting him. So even though his shoulder smarted, he remained still and didn’t shoo her away. Noah gave him jealous looks for the rest of the evening, complaining about how Chainsaw never came to him even when he begged.

Despite his better instincts, Adam couldn’t help but be a little flattered.

The third movie was reaching its climax, and it was getting dangerously late. Adam had told his father he was out with Mason. It was naturally a complete lie, but he knew it was the only way his father would let him stay out late. Robert Parrish had a peculiar fondness for Mason. But even using Mason’s name wouldn’t get him out of trouble if he got home past two in the morning on a night he wasn’t working in the garage. He got to his feet, dusting pizza crumbs off his jeans.

“I should go,” he told them.

Gansey offered to drop him.

They drove slowly down the winding roads with soft jazz playing on the radio. It was starkly different from when Ronan had dropped him home, driving too fast and playing music so loud it ached.

“Adam,” Gansey said, his voice soft. “Could I ask you a personal question?”

Adam’s heart hiccuped and froze. “Sure,” he said.

“Do you… have trouble hearing from your left ear?”

Adam’s heart rate returned, but it was slow, thrumming. “I can’t hear out of it at all, actually.” He hoped his voice sounded steady.

Gansey nodded, slowly. “I noticed from the way you turn to listen to me when we’re in the Pig.”

He didn’t ask how it happened. Instead he changed the topic. Relief washed over Adam. He may not have been friends with Gansey for terribly long, but the affection he felt for him was intense. Even though they fought on occasion - Gansey was obscenely unaware of his own privilege at times - Adam couldn’t imagine how he could have believed their friendship was something he could have survived without. They talked about school and student government as they continued driving. 

Gansey was in the middle of explaining why their political science classmate Henry Cheng was not - as Adam believed - ‘painfully irritating,’ when his phone rang.

“Could you see who it is?” Gansey asked, eyes fixed firmly on the road.

Adam checked. The number wasn’t saved, so he picked it up.

“Hello?” There was crackle on the line so he spoke again. “Who is this?”

“Dick?” Came a voice that was infuriatingly familiar. “You getting a cold? You’re sounding a lot like trailer trash.”

“What do you want, Kavinsky?” Adam spat.

Kavinsky laughed, a sound that made Adam wince. “Tell Gansey his dog needs to be put on a leash.”

“He doesn’t have a dog,” Adam said, coldly.

“He doesn’t?” Kavinsky asked, affecting mock-surprise. “Strange. Cause he’s here, barking and drooling all over me. But he’s getting out of control. If he doesn’t behave himself, he might have to be put down.”

Gansey had pulled the car over, and now he grabbed the phone out of Adam’s hands. “What’s going on, Kavinsky?” he said, his voice chilly.

Adam observed Gansey’s expression, calm but furious, and marvelled once again at Gansey’s quiet power. He wondered what was going on. How did Kavinsky have Gansey’s dog? He saw the nervousness in Gansey’s eyes, and had to sympathise. He wouldn’t want his own mutt anywhere near a psycho like Kavinsky.

Gansey’s face was gray now, his lips pressed tightly together. When he hung up, he looked  ill.

“We have to go over there,” he said.

“Sorry?” Adam asked. His eyes, through force of habit and sheer terror alone, dipped to his watch. His gut tightened.

“Ronan’s in trouble.” Gansey shook his head, incensed. “Kavinsky calls him my dog,” he explained. He let out a grunt of frustration, his hands tightening on the wheel. “God, Ronan. I don’t why he lets Kavinsky into his head, but he does.” Adam opened his mouth to protest, but Gansey spoke before he could say anything. “Last year, Ronan tried to kill himself.”

Adam’s words caught in his throat. He stared at Gansey, his thoughts attempting to reach a conclusion but short-circuiting before they got there.

“What?” he managed.

“He got drunk, and he went missing. I looked all over for him, and then…” Gansey shook his head. “Noah found him. He was covered in blood. His wrists…”

Adam didn’t think he could bear to hear the rest of that story. “What’s Kavinsky doing to him?”

“I don’t know. He’s always so…” Gansey let out a sharp sigh. “He has his phone, and he was saying that Ronan was losing control. He always… he always drinks too much with Kavinsky. Races too fast, I just… I want to make sure…”

“Let’s go,” Adam said.

“But don’t you need to…”

Adam shook his head. Gansey started the engine and swerved the car around. Together, they raced through the darkness.

 

The smell of beer hit them flat in the face when they walked into Kavinsky’s apartment. The  apartment was large, but it was dark, the music deafening. Adam kept close to Gansey as they pushed their way through sweaty couples dancing to the music. Everywhere he looked, Adam saw people drinking, people pressed to doors and walls, hands all over each others’ bodies.

Adam vaguely recognised a few people as he passed them. In one of the rooms, Tad Carruthers was playing beer pong. He gave him a lecherous smile that Adam pretended he didn’t see. At the bottom of the stairs, that exhausting Brian Stevens who kept trying to get him to sign petitions about environmentally friendly cutlery was talking to a group of bored looking girls. He waved out to Adam, but it didn’t register until Adam was halfway up the first flight. Everything was a blur. His mind was spinning, and it kept returning to the same place, the same singular thought.

The air was humid, the smell of alcohol so thick Adam felt the need to gag. He walked in a daze behind Gansey. They were almost up to the second floor landing when someone whistled.

“Well look who it is,” Kavinsky said. He stood on the landing, decked out as usual in a tank-top and sunglasses. He wore a backwards baseball cap. His voice was heavy. Adam could instantly tell he was high. “Dick Gansey and his little mongrel.”

The word mongrel was one of Kavinsky’s favourites. No matter how many times he used it, it still stung.

“Where’s Ronan?” Gansey asked, curtly.

Kavinsky grinned at him, and spread his arms wide. “He’s hiding.”

Gansey and Adam pushed past Kavinsky and his cronies, and walked into the second floor. Here, the flat was filled with smoke. They could hear loud music coming from the back, but they couldn’t see anyone. Adam felt suffocated.

“Lynch!” Gansey called into the haze. “Ronan Niall Lynch, you answer me.” He turned to Adam, his eyes terrified. “Oh god, Adam,” he whispered. 

“There’s a third floor too,” Adam noticed.

“What if it’s too late?” Gansey asked. “What if…”

“Let’s split up,” Adam said, firmly. “I’ll take the third floor, you walk around this one.”

Gansey nodded, hesitantly. They separated. Adam walked up the stairs, each one squeaking under his weight. He was aware of every ticking second. Fucking Ronan, he thought. He wished he was angry, but all he felt were the cold fingers of fear clutching at his throat.

The third floor was deserted. A dark hallway stretched out before him. Three doors, all closed. There was nothing, not even an empty solo cup on the floor. Adam took a step, and the wood creaked beneath his feet.

Adam tried the first bedroom. It was filled with coats and smelled like weed.

Ronan was in the second bedroom.

He was sitting on the floor, his tank top torn, a bottle empty beside his boots. He rolled his head to look at Adam as he walked in.

“Adam,” he slurred. 

Adam walked up to him, cautiously. It didn’t occur to him that Ronan had called him by his first name till he was crouching beside him.

“Show me your wrists,” he instructed.

Ronan scrunched up his nose, but flipped his arms over. Nothing but the leather bands he always wore and the scabs from their day on the dolly. Adam let out a staggered breath.

“For fucks sake, Ronan,” he spat.

He sank to the ground, tugging at his hair.

“I told Gansey,” Ronan said. “I told him it wasn’t… what he thought it was.”

Adam wasn’t in the headspace to figure out what Ronan meant. He was furious now; furious that Ronan was so irresponsible, that he made Gansey worry. Adam looked at the watch on his wrist and his stomach clenched. Oh god.

“Get up,” Adam instructed.

Ronan stared at him for a minute, then got unsteadily to his feet. Adam couldn’t move. He was still shaking with repressed anger, repressed fear that was now rising to the surface.

He pressed his palms to his eyes. “For god’s sake, Ronan.”

“You found him.” Kavinsky’s voice floated in from the doorway. “Fifty points to white trash here.”

Adam stood up and grabbed Ronan’s arm. Ronan started, staring down at where Adam’s fingers wrapped around his elbow.

“Get out of my way, Kavinsky,” Adam said, his voice tight.

He tugged at Ronan’s arm. Ronan followed obediently. He must have been drunker than usual. Or maybe he’d taken something stronger. Kavinsky moved into the doorway, blocking their path.

“I don’t think so, man.” Kavinsky said. “I’m not done with all of you yet.”

“I think you are done.”

Kavinsky gave him a bored look, then turned his attention to Ronan.

“What’s the deal with this one, Lynch?” he asked, gesturing in Adam’s direction. “When did you two become friends?”

Ronan gave a half-hearted shrug. Adam stiffened. He let go of Ronan’s arm. It flopped to his side.

“Gansey,” Ronan slurred.

“You do everything that Dick tells you to do?” Kavinsky asked. “What if he told you to jump off the balcony right now? Would you do it?” He flashed Ronan a grin. “I’d like to see you do it.” 

“Shut up,” Adam said.

His voice was like a whip. Kavinsky turned to him, eyebrows up.

“Do you mind?” he said. “The important people are talking.”

Adam tensed. Kavinsky smiled, slow and lazy. He turned back to Ronan.

“He’s not worth your time, Lynch. Look at him. He doesn’t deserve to lick my goddamn shoes, man.”

Adam’s eyes burned. His hands balled into fists. He hoped Gansey would find them. He knew Kavinsky wouldn’t dare speak this way to Gansey, and that even if he did, Gansey would tear him apart.

Adam turned to Ronan. Ronan was looking at the ground, his cheekbones sharp in the semi-darkness.

“He’s not my friend,” Ronan said.

A tightness grew in Adam’s throat. Ronan’s words fanned the flame in his gut, turned it into pure white rage.

“Didn’t think so,” Kavinsky said. He turned to Adam, surveying him coolly. “Then what the fuck is the mongrel doing here?” 

The thing was that ultimately, Adam didn’t need other people to have his back. His had his own damn back.

“I’ve had it with you, Kavinsky,” Adam said. His voice could have made icicles form. “Just shove off." 

“Or what?” Kavinsky asked, his eyes dangerous.

A hundred insults ran through his mind. A hundred reasons, a hundred arguments.

Do you know why I take your abuse? Why I keep my mouth shut around you when you insult me and make me feel like garbage? It’s because I feel bad for you. It’s because I understand that you go around calling people dogs and mongrels, and making people feel like shit about themselves because you wake up every single morning feeling like a piece of shit yourself.

But when Adam opened his mouth to speak, all he said was, “You mess with me again, Kavinsky, and I will spend the rest of my life trying to make yours a living hell, I promise you.”

Maybe in the moment it sounded like an empty promise, but Adam believed it with every fibre of his being. He was nothing if not determined.

He didn’t look at Ronan as he pushed his way past a surprised Kavinsky, out into the hallway. Gansey caught him on the stairs.

“Adam?” he asked, surprised.

“Ronan’s fine,” Adam said.

He shoved past Gansey and continued down the stairs, his eyes still burning. Each tick of his watch - or was it the thump of his heart? - resounded loudly in his ear.

He was outside the house, walking across the street when he heard Ronan.

“Parrish. Fuck, Parrish. Stop.”

Adam whipped around, making Ronan freeze. He still seemed unsteady. How he’d managed to make it down the steps so fast and without being stopped by Gansey, Adam had no idea.

“Don’t fucking talk to me, Ronan,” he bit out. “I’m so tired of you and all your bullshit. You are such a selfish asshole. You don’t take a second to think about how your actions have consequences on other people.”

“I didn’t ask you to come here, Adam,” Ronan said, angry again.

He was always angry. He didn’t know what it was like to feel so tired and afraid that you could feel it in your bones.

“No you didn’t,” Adam shot back. “Gansey did. Because you go and do stupid things while he’s stuck worrying about you.”

“Gansey is a big boy,” Ronan said, snarling.

“So are you. So how about you learn to clean up your own shit.”

“I don’t need a babysitter, Parrish. And Gansey can handle himself.”

“You didn’t see him today,” Adam said. “He was a fucking mess.”

“It won’t do him any permanent damage, I promise.”

Ronan’s sarcasm was the last straw. Adam saw red.

“Go fuck yourself, Lynch,” he said. “Here I was like an idiot, thinking you weren’t as bad  as I thought you were, thinking we were becoming… friends.” Adam shook his head. “I should have known. Mason told me all about how you fucked him over. How he was your maid’s son and you made his life miserable. How your family promised to pay for his schooling, and then went back on that promise. How friendships mean nothing to you. I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt, but I see I was wrong. Maybe you don’t have to live with the consequences of going out and putting yourself in fucking danger, but I’m going to have to deal with the consequences of giving a shit about you.”

Ronan’s mouth was slack now, his eyes wide.

“Adam,” he croaked, but Adam was already walking away, past the Pig, down the road towards his double-wide.

Chapter Text

Adam didn’t go to work the next morning.

To his credit, he tried. He very deliberately got out of bed and made it all the way over to his closet, but every bone in his body ached, and his muscles protested, and he just barely made it back to his pillows before his legs gave out. So he said he was sick, and his father was just hungover enough not to make a fuss. Adam spent the entire morning laying in bed staring at the ceiling, his ribs throbbing, his body and mind both dull with pain.

He was relieved he’d told Gansey and Ronan that his home phone was broken. He didn’t want to have to talk to either of them. He wanted to wallow, to be alone. He didn’t want to think about the night before; about Kavinsky’s cruel words telling him he didn’t matter. About Ronan’s revelation that they weren’t really friends.

And he definitely didn’t want to think about what happened when he got home. When he closed his eyes he could still see coloured lights flashing behind the blackness of his eyelids. He wasn’t a child anymore, but sometimes he still felt like if he closed his eyes hard enough, the pain would stop.

Adam just wanted to be by himself. Which, of course, meant that he wasn’t going to get the chance. After his miserable lunch, Mason came by to visit. Adam had told his mother he didn’t want to see anyone, but she let Mason into Adam’s room anyway.

If Adam didn’t know the universe hated him before, he sure knew it now.

“Hey buddy,” Mason said.

Adam was sitting up in bed reading a novel, a half-eaten sandwich on the table beside him. He put down his book as Mason sat down on the edge of his bed.

“You good?”

The question was absurd. If Adam was ‘good’ would he really still be in his pajamas at 2pm on a weekday? Sometimes it was like Mason didn’t know him at all.

“Not really,” Adam intoned.

“What’s been happenin’?”

Mason was inspecting his nails. He didn’t look concerned. In fact, he seemed utterly disinterested. Adam wondered again if he really wanted to know what was happening, or whether he was just asking out of convention.

“A lot.” Adam slowly ran a hand through his hair trying to calm his breathing, but then he gave up and tugged at it in frustration. “I wish I’d never let you talk me into trying to be friends with Lynch.”

“He’s a pain in the ass, huh?” Mason laughed.

“He’s fucking unbelievable.”

“Man,” Mason said, pulling his legs up onto Adam’s bed. “The point of this wasn’t for you to fuckin’ cosy up to Lynch. It was to mess with him. It was to steal his girl. Or have you forgotten?”

Adam had, in fact, forgotten. He turned away, embarrassed. He’d been so caught up in his fascination with Gansey, how endeared he was by Noah, how in love he was with Monmouth, that he’d forgotten he had ulterior motives for being there. He’d started to find Ronan fascinating, started to think he was funny, interesting. He’d almost even started to think he was… sweet. 

God, he was an idiot.

Mason’s mouth popped open. “Parrish. Man. Don’t tell me you didn’t follow through with the plan!”

“I was working on it,” Adam said, hastily. He frowned down at his quilt. “He started asking me for advice, remember? And I told him things I knew would cause a rift between him and Blue.”

“What kind of advice?”

“Just…” Adam ran his hand through his hair again. If he were to explain his reasoning to Mason, it would sound pretty stupid. Telling Ronan to take Blue to dinner with his brother was hardly terrible advice.

Adam swallowed. “I’ve been going to see Blue,” he said. “Behind Ronan’s back.”

Mason’s eyes lit up. “Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!”

“We made fun of Ronan once. A few times, actually. One time I told her about how much of an asshole he was to me in school. I told her that he’s kind of a bully. I told her some real stuff, but I also made up a lot. I think…” Adam blew out a breath. “I think I’ve been poisoning her mind against him.”

Bit of an exaggeration, but Mason looked pleased so Adam didn’t care.

“I think she’s charmed by me,” Adam admitted.

He hadn’t missed the way she sometimes ducked her head when he complimented her, the way she sometimes tucked her hair behind her ears, tentatively, and just a little flirtatiously. 

“You dog.” Mason grinned. “You can’t give up now, man.”

“I’m done with him.”

“Dude! You’ve almost got her. See, if Lynch catches you cosyin’ up to his girl now, he’ll kill you before she has a chance to get more interested in you. If you keep bein’ his friend, he’ll trust you and he won’t suspect anythin’ until… bam! It’s too late.”

Adam chewed on his bottom lip. He suddenly felt fatigued again. He wanted Mason to leave. He wanted to go back to sleep.

“Think about it,” Mason pressed. “Think about gettin’ revenge on Ronan Lynch.”

Adam didn’t want revenge. He just wanted to forget about Gansey and Glendower, about Noah’s charming weirdness, about everything that had transpired between him and Ronan.

He wanted sleep. He rubbed his face. Mason didn’t leave, and he didn’t ask him about the bruises on his arms. Adam wasn’t sure what to say even if he did.

*    *    *

Adam couldn’t afford to miss both his shifts. Not that his father would let him, regardless. Adam could be bleeding out on the floor, crying with pain, but as long as he could move, his father would probably just hand him his coveralls and expect him to be on his way.   

As the sun went down, Adam took three painkillers and made his way over to Boyd’s. He was in too much pain to cycle, so he walked, every bone in his body singing painfully with each step. But he made his way to the garage, and dutifully got to work, opening up for the night-shift. He ripped open his backpack and stripped down to his boxers. Then he slipped into his coveralls.

He was unlocking the front door when he spotted a familiar charcoal-gray BMW pulling up outside. His heart started hammering at twice its normal speed.

Ronan got out of the car with all the nonchalance of a man who knew his entire life was sorted out. Adam clenched his jaw. He watched Ronan make his way to the front door. He took a deep breath, braced himself, then flipped over the ‘open’ sign.

“Parrish,” Ronan said, spotting him. His eyes travelled down to Adam’s ribs. Hastily, Adam zipped up his coveralls.

“What do you want?”

“What happened?” Ronan asked. “Those bruises…”

“Does your car need repairing?” Adam asked, cutting him off. “If not, kindly fuck off.”

He knew he should turn around and go inside, ignore Ronan and the reason he was here, but Adam found himself rooted to the spot. His legs were betraying him today. Instead, he crossed his arms in a show of irritation.

Ronan ducked his head, scraping his boots on the welcome mat. “You weren’t at your job this morning.”

Adam frowned. “You went to the factory?”

“I need to talk to you.”

“I don’t have time to talk.”

Adam stomped back inside. Ronan followed him. Adam tried to ignore the odd, nervous pangs in his chest.

“For fuck’s sake, Parrish,” Ronan said. “You can’t be that angry with me.”

Ronan was here to apologise. Adam could see it from his posture, from the tense energy that was in the air. It was a strange and unfamiliar energy for Ronan, who was usually so brash and sure of himself.

You don’t have to lose them, a small part of Adam’s brain reminded him. They can still be your friends.

Adam shut the voice down. He didn’t need them as friends. He didn’t want them as friends

“I’m not angry,” Adam said, picking up his tool belt. “I’m busy.”

“Too busy to talk to your fucking friend for five seconds?”

Adam gave him a cool look, snapping on the belt. “We’re not friends.”

Ronan let out a frustrated exhale. “I just said that to Kavinsky. I didn’t mean it. Who fucking cares what he thinks anyway?”

I do. You’re embarrassed to be friends with me. I don’t need that shit in my life.

Adam sat down on the ground and tried not to flinch as he carefully scooted himself under the Mini Cooper he was working on. Ronan’s boots appeared next to his legs.

“Parrish.”

“I’m working.”

“Oh fucking hell, Parrish. Kavinsky is an asshole. If he knew we were friends he’d be worse to you than he already is.”

Adam almost banged his head against the underside of the car. Did he have grease in his good ear, or had he just inhaled too much petrol? Had Ronan just admitted to trying to protect him?

“What?” he asked, blankly.

“He’s fucking crazy, man.”

“Yeah, funny enough, I gathered that.”

“Dude’s obsessed with me. Like… fuck. I know he’s a piece of shit to you. I just didn’t want to make it worse.”

Adam felt betrayed by the relief that was filling him now. Who cared that Lynch wasn’t embarrassed? Who cared that, in his own stupid way, he was trying to help him? Adam didn’t need his help. He tried to recover the burn of rage he’d been feeling just moments before.

“I can take care of myself,” Adam said, coldly.

“I know you can. Fuck. Just…” There was a thud as Ronan leaned against the car. Adam could picture him running a hand over his buzzed hair, a nervous tic of Ronan’s that he’d noticed. “Gansey wants you to come with us to DC.”

The words were unexpected. Adam felt a sudden thrill of excitement, but he pushed it down, swallowed it. 

“I don’t have money.”

“Gansey has a helicopter.”

Of course he did. Adam rolled his eyes and bit his lip, trying to focus on the car.

“We’re going in two days.”

“Ok.”

“So you’ll come?”

Adam said nothing. He frowned into the underside of the car, but nothing seemed to be making sense anymore.

“Parrish?”

“I’ll see.”

“Fucking hell, man. You can’t be that pissed at me. I was drunk.”

“That’s just your excuse for everything, isn’t it?”

Ronan paused. “There were also these fucked up pills…”

God, Ronan. Seriously. I don’t care what you took.”

Adam watched Ronan’s boots shift. He thought he was going to leave, but Ronan just shuffled in place and then resumed his leaning.

“You encourage him, you know,” Adam said, quietly. “Kavinsky.”

“How the fuck? I don’t do shit.”

“Yeah, but you stand around while he does shit. You’re his… back-up. Like Prokopenko. You don’t tell him what he’s doing is wrong so he keeps doing it. It almost makes you as bad as him.”

There was silence. Adam swallowed. He reached for a screwdriver from his belt, and then realised it was all the way across the garage. He let out a muffled groan.

“What?” Ronan asked.

“The screwdriver.”

Adam slid out from under the car then cringed.

“What’s wrong with you?” Ronan’s eyes travelled down to his chest again. Adam touched his ribs to make sure they were covered. “Did you get into a fucking fight, or some shit?”

“Yeah,” Adam said.

He rested his head against the car, shutting his eyes. How was he going to survive the rest of the evening when he could barely move without hurting?

He opened his eyes to find Ronan squinting at him. “You got into a fight,” he said, slowly. “What… after the party?”

“Yeah.”

Adam was slowly starting to develop the ability to understand Ronan. He was starting to figure out his quirks, what was unsaid but implied purely through his actions. Right now, he could read the look in his eyes by the divot in his brow as clearly as if he’d said the words - you’re lying.

“Did you get mugged?” Ronan asked.

“Fuck, Lynch. It’s nothing. Just drop it.”

He tried to get to his feet, but Ronan held out a hand, stopping him. “Jesus Christ, it’s like watching a foal learn to walk. I’ll get it. Just… tell me which one.”

“Red handle.”

Ronan stalked over to the back and grabbed it from the work table. He tossed it to him. Adam caught it, and then slid back down under the car. The fell back into silence as he resumed his work. He could hear Ronan fidgeting with something on the other side of the garage.

After a long while, Ronan came back over to the car. He leaned back against it and said, “Gansey will be really pissed at me if you don’t come to DC.” 

“That’s not my problem.”

“I thought you said I was stuck with you.” Ronan nudged one of Adam’s legs with the tip of his shoe. “Don’t tell me I successfully managed to chase away Adam ‘Stubborn Asshole’ Parrish.”

Adam let out an annoyed grunt. Ronan really knew how to get under his skin. As soon as he made it a competition, Adam felt the need to prove him wrong.

“I said, I’ll see,” Adam snapped. He picked up a wrench irritably, clanking it against the ground.

“I’ll come to pick you up.”

Immediately, Adam said, “Don’t.”

The only thing his father would hate more than Adam going to DC for a few days, was a BMW coming to take Adam to a helicopter that would take him to DC for a few days.

“Shit, Parrish, it’s not… a big deal. It’s no trouble.”

“Just don’t, Ronan.”

There was a pause. Ronan took a deep breath.

“Friday. At 10,” he said.

“Fine.”

Ronan hovered around for a minute, then pushed off from the car. Adam waited, watching till his boots disappeared from view before he scooted himself out from under the Mini Cooper. Ronan turned back. They stared at each other for a moment, Adam’s heart still palpitating from the surprising nature of the invitation.

“Does Gansey really want me to come?” he asked, quietly.

“Yes.” There was a beat. “Blue too.” There was another beat, and Ronan looked at his shoes. “I wouldn’t… completely hate it either.”

Something fizzled up in Adam, in his blood, but he ignored it, swatted it away.

“Chainsaw too,” Ronan added, quickly. “Fucking traitor bird has a crush on you.”

Adam had to resist the urge to smirk. “She has good taste.”

“It’s some stupid fancy thing with politicians and shit,” Ronan said. “Bring like, a suit or whatever.”

Despite himself, Adam scoffed. “A fancy thing with politicians? Doesn’t really sound like your scene.”

“It’s not.” Ronan bit on the leather bands on his wrist. Another nervous tic of his that Adam had noticed. “But someone needs to start shit. Gotta live up to my reputation.”

Adam couldn’t help it. “And what reputation is that? Your reputation as a bunny hugger?”

“Oh for fuck’s sake, Parrish.” Ronan sounded annoyed but he looked embarrassed. “There were no bunnies. Christ.”

Adam almost laughed, but caught himself just in time. They weren’t doing this. Ribbing each other. Teasing. Not while Adam was still angry at him.

“So, Blue’s coming?” Adam asked, trying to school his tone into an unaffected monotone.

“Yeah.”

“Ok,” Adam said.

He scooted back down under the car.

“See you Friday then,” Ronan said.

Adam said nothing. He waited for the rasp of Ronan’s boots against the floor to fade, but they didn’t. Instead Ronan walked over and sat down beside his legs, his back against the car.

“What are you doing?” Adam demanded. “I thought you were leaving.”

“You can barely move.”

“So?”

“So you’re too fucking proud to ask for help.”

Adam glared at his back. “And how is you sitting here making shitty comments meant to help me?”

“Who said I’m here to help? I’m here to laugh as you attempt to carry heavy shit.”

Adam rolled his eyes and stared up into the bowels of the car, trying to get back that anger he felt that morning. But it was all gone. In its place, all that was left was the relief that had settled in his gut and pleasant drumming of his heart.

*    *    *

When Adam approached his father to ask if he could go to DC, he came prepared with a list  - three notebook pages, front and back - of all the things he was willing to do in exchange for a weekend off.

Robert Parrish was sitting on the sofa in the living room, and he gave Adam a bored look when he came up to him, paper crushed in his hands. Adam’s stomach had been a complete ruin. He’d stuttered and re-started at least three times just explaining his first offer - that he would work four extras shifts the week he got back, if his father allowed him to go.

His father had taken a long time before responding. He surveyed Adam coldly with deep blue eyes that matched his own, before giving him one curt nod.

“Fine,” he said.

Adam’s heart stilled in his chest. “What?” he asked.

“Are you deaf?”

Halfway there, because of you. “No,” Adam stuttered.

“How many days are you going?”

“Two.”

Robert sniffed. “Alright then.”

Adam was rendered paralysed with shock.

He’d done it. His father had given him his permission. He’d said yes.

Four extra shifts would take time away from searching for Glendower and would cut into the time he’d set aside to get through his summer reading list, but Adam could not have been happier. He was getting to go on a trip. A trip. Two days away from the stifling town of Henrietta. On to the exciting streets of DC.

Adam’s mutt followed him around the morning he was to leave, watching with large brown eyes as he packed his meagre possessions into a beaten down suitcase. She wagged her tail happily each time Adam paused his work to lean over and scratch her behind the ears.

The thought that Adam would soon be out of his house, out of Henrietta, seemed too good to be true. He was going to DC to live in a house where he could slam doors and walk with his shoes on and make noise and not worry about someone getting angry to the point of aggression. He could spend the night with his friends without worrying about the time and getting home too late. He held the thoughts close to his heart, and they warmed each inch of his skin. 

He was bringing his bag to the porch when he heard the honk from Ronan’s BMW.

And just like that, everything stopped.

Adam dropped his bag and scrambled to the door, but he’d barely reached the porch steps when his father’s voice snagged him.

“Is that the Lynch boy?”

Adam turned around, blood draining from his face. He hadn’t realised his father knew who the Lynches were, but he recognised that tone of voice. They were definitely not a family his father approved of.

His father’s lip curled with scorn.

“Who does he think he is, driving up here in his fancy fuck car?” He spat on the ground. “Does he think he’s better than us?”

“He’s just here to pick me up,” Adam said. “He’s not…”

“You hanging out with the Lynch boys?”

“No,” Adam said, before he could stop himself. “No, he’s just friends with one of the boys…”

Robert grabbed him by the collar, his fingernails scratching Adam’s neck.

“Don’t lie to me, boy,” he snarled, his breath hot and sour on Adam’s cheek. “Elijah said he saw him hanging around the factory a few days ago, waiting for you. You think you can just lie to my face and get away with it, huh?”

“No,” Adam choked out. He was painfully aware of Ronan’s car in the driveway. Painfully aware that Ronan would be watching this whole scene. “No, dad. I’m sorry. I just meant…”

“You’re not going,” Robert said.

No.

“Dad…”

“I said, you’re not going. That’s final.”

He let go of Adam roughly. Adam lurched before regaining balance.

“But, you said…”

And then Robert Parrish’s fist collided with Adam’s jaw. Adam dropped to the ground, hands covering his face.

“Get up,” Robert growled. He kicked Adam in the ribs, and Adam winced. Compared to what Adam was used to, it wasn’t a very hard kick, but the bruises on his chest were still raw from his last beating. “I said get up. Unless you want to lose your hearing in the other ear as well.”

Adam’s heart was rattling around in his chest. He made to stand up, but the fear choked him. The father kicked him in the stomach. The pain was so intense, it was blinding.

His father lifted his foot again.

No. Please.

He put his foot back on the ground. "What do you want?” he shouted.

I want you to stop, Adam thought. Hot tears were filling in his eyes. But when he looked up, he realised his father wasn’t talking to him.

“To do this,” Ronan snarled, and then he punched Robert Parrish.

*    *    *

Adam had been on a helicopter once before with a third cousin of his, and he’d hated every minute of it. He’d spent the entire journey imagining the copter crashing and him hurtling to his death.

When he got on the helicopter with Ronan, Gansey and Blue, he was so numb even the thought of crashing to his death didn’t frighten him. The other three watched him with concern, and Adam couldn’t even summon enough energy to feel conscious about it.

In the back of the helicopter, Adam had a small suitcase. In it, were all his things. That is, everything he owned that he could fit in a suitcase. Everything else of his - his mother, his dog - remained in the double-wide.

Well, except for his father. He was sitting in the police station. 

Ronan’s knuckles were bloody, and he was staring out the window, his mouth pressed thin. Adam couldn’t believe that Ronan had punched his father. Adam couldn’t believe that he had told the cops his father was beating him to save Ronan from going to jail. Ronan turned towards him, and Adam turned away, his throat raw.

What was he going to do now? Gansey had said he could live in Monmouth with them for as long as he needed, but the idea didn’t appeal to Adam at all. As much as he loved Monmouth, it didn’t feel like it was his. All the rooms were occupied, so Adam would be sleeping on the couch. It would feel like he was an intruder.

But at least he had somewhere to go. A few months ago he couldn’t leave even if he wanted to. Maybe one day he’d come to think of this as the best thing that could have happened to him, but right now he was tired and scared and intensely embarrassed by the fact that Blue was sitting there, watching him curiously.

Adam pretended like he was fascinated by the scenery. Truth was, he barely saw anything.

When they landed, Gansey pulled him aside.

“Are you alright?” he asked. Adam looked at him and Gansey sighed. “It’s a stupid question, I’m sorry. I know you may not be up for this weekend…”

“This weekend is exactly what I need right now,” Adam said. His voice was rough, like sandpaper. “I need to be away from there.”

Gansey nodded. He grabbed Adam’s shoulder and shook him gently. “I’m here if you need anything, alright? Absolutely anything.”

A few months ago, this might have made Adam snap. All his years of suffering abuse, all his years of saving money, dime by dime, penny by penny, and at the end of the day he’d still been ‘saved’ by two rich Aglionby boys. A few months ago he would have felt shame at Gansey’s words. Rage, even. Pure, unadulterated frustration at not having been able to get out of there himself.

But that was a few months ago. Before the beatings had gotten more frequent. Before he'd lost his hearing in one of his ears. Before he'd started to give up hope that he'd even be alive by the time graduation came about.

A few months ago, Adam might have snapped. But right now, all he felt was tired.

He gave Gansey a watery smile. “Thanks.”

The others had filtered into a large SUV that was waiting for them. Adam realised their helicopter driver, a tall girl with brown hair tied in a messy bun, was driving the car as well. He hadn’t been paying attention when Gansey had made introductions, but he realised now that she must have been Gansey’s sister. She smiled at him when they made eye-contact in the rear-view mirror, and Adam looked away, flushing slightly. Gansey must have told her why Adam was so out of it.

Was this going to be a weekend filled with people feeling pity for him? Adam’s stomach turned. Maybe this weekend wouldn’t be quite the welcome change he’d imagined.

 

The Gansey home took Adam’s breath away. It was so large, that each of them got their own rooms. Adam was assigned one on the third floor that overlooked the swimming pool. A maid showed him to the room, and Adam threw his bag to the side and stared at the queen bed. The bed was his. The entire room with an attached bathroom and giant bed was his. He dropped down onto the bed, and stared up at this ceiling. Had circumstances been different, Adam would have been deliriously happy. Instead all he felt was hollow.

The party was going to start in the evening, and Gansey had set aside the next day to take them around DC. Ronan seemed utterly uninterested by the idea of sightseeing, but Adam couldn’t wait to see the White House, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial. He wasn’t, however, looking forward to tonight. He wasn't exactly in the mood to mingle with rich, cultured people when he felt like utter garbage.

To make matters worse, Adam didn’t own any suits. A fact he only realised when Gansey came in to announce that the first guest had arrived.

“Gansey,” he said, quickly. “I don’t own a suit.”

“Oh,” Gansey blinked. He looked Adam up and down, biting his lip. “I have a few spares, but I doubt they will fit you. You’re much taller than I am.”

“I’ll just stay in my room,” Adam suggested.

“Don’t be ridiculous. Let me ask Ronan.”

Gansey disappeared, and a few minutes later there was a knock on the door. Adam opened it to reveal Ronan, who threw a hanger in his direction. Adam caught it, staring down at the expensive blue suit in his hands.

“You had an extra suit?” Adam asked, disbelievingly.

Ronan was already in his suit. Black and fitted. The buttons were open, his shirt was rebelliously untucked, there was no tie, and Adam could see his tattoo rearing its head from his collar, but Ronan still managed to look like he belonged in it. Adam felt a surge of jealousy.

“Hurry up,” Ronan said.

“You can go ahead,” Adam said. “I’ll just change and…”

“Nice try, Parrish. I’m not suffering through conversations with old stuffy people about school alone. You’re going to be doing all the talking.”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s for the best. I know these people. They like little brown-nosers like you.”

Adam huffed, but started taking his t-shirt off. What difference did it make if Ronan saw his bruises now? Half of them were from work, and the other ones… well, Ronan had seen the worst of his father’s wrath anyway. The bruise on Adam’s jaw was already starting to go blue.

He shucked his t-shirt onto his bed. Immediately, Ronan looked away.

Adam pulled on the white shirt, relishing the soft feel against his skin. He’d never worn clothes this expensive before. The shirt was loose, especially around the shoulders, and it was a bit long on the arms, but Adam preferred it being loose to it being too-tight and short. He was half-way through buttoning it up when Ronan spoke.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

Adam turned around, surprised. “What?” he asked.

Ronan still wasn’t looking at him.

“About your dad,” he said. “About… you know…” he rubbed his chin, now clean-shaven, which was unusual for Ronan. “I don’t think sometimes. Like you said. About…” he exhaled. “Consequences. When I saw him beating you I was just… I was so angry. I didn’t think about how you would have to make that choice. You know. Lie to the cops about your dad, or… be kicked out of the house. I didn’t think. I just… I wanted it to stop, and I didn’t know what else to do.”

Adam’s throat felt painfully dry.

“I’m sorry,” Ronan repeated.

They stayed that way in silence for a minute. Ronan looked everywhere but at Adam, while Adam stood awkwardly with his shirt unbuttoned, staring down at the soft carpet beneath his feet.

“I thought that’s what I wanted,” Adam admitted. “You know. To… get myself out of there myself. No help from others. I mean… that is what I wanted. It is what I want. But…” He glanced at Ronan. “It’s ok. What you did, I mean. I’m not…” he took in a shaky breath. “It’s fine.”

They looked at each other for a moment. Adam swallowed. “I can’t hear out of my left ear, you know? Because of him. He… did that to me.”

He wasn’t sure why he was saying all this; why he was trusting Ronan with this secret he’d never told anyone before. But it felt good to get it off his chest, to have someone else know how much Adam had been through, how much he’d survived. Ronan’s expression didn’t change. There was no sign of pity in his eyes, no concerned press of his lips. The relief that hit Adam was so intense, he felt faint.

“I’m glad you did,” Adam continued, and he was shocked to find that he meant it. “You’re right, I mean… I don’t know what would have been the best thing for you to do, in that moment. But I’m glad you didn’t just stand there and do nothing.”

Ronan rubbed the back of his neck. “Thanks,” he said. “For not letting them take me to jail.”

“You’ll get there yourself one day, I’m sure.”

“Asshole,” Ronan said, but he grinned, a smile so small and so hesitant, if Adam hadn't been the one witnessing it, he wouldn't have believed Ronan was capable of it. 

Adam grinned back.

Chapter Text

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. 

"Hilarious." 

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.”

Adam snorted.

“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.”

“Oh please.”

“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.

“Who?”

“Adam.”

“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?”

“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.

“To you?”

“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…”

Ronan hesitated.

“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.”

 

Chapter Text

By midnight on their first day in DC, Ronan caved and agreed to accompany the others on their - as Gansey put it - ‘sightseeing adventures’ around the city.

Gansey calling them ‘sightseeing adventures’ should have tipped Ronan off on what to expect, but he hadn’t been thinking properly. It was probably coming clean to Adam about the Mason Hunter debacle that did it. He was experiencing too many fucking emotions. His defences were down. In his weakened state, he became stupid, and he agreed to go along.

He regretted this decision at exactly seven sharp the next morning, which was when Gansey came charging into his room and yanked open the curtains, letting in bright sunlight that Ronan could have sworn was attempting to murder him.

“We’ve got a long day ahead of us,” Gansey practically sang as Ronan groaned and threw a pillow at his head.

Gansey was not wrong. The day ended up being obscenely long. It could have been because Ronan couldn’t remember the last time he’d woken up at seven fucking am, even on a school day, and it seemed like a month was over before lunch time even rolled around. But it also could have been because of Adam and Blue’s reluctance to stop doing things. The two of them were completely blown away by the sheer scale of the buildings and monuments, and excitedly forced Ronan and Gansey to enter every godforsaken museum and art gallery that they passed. Gansey had memorised a bunch of boring-as-shit historical facts that he insisted on forcing them to listen to, and what made things even worse was that Adam and Blue seemed to be enjoying them, so Ronan’s exaggerated groans fell on deaf ears.

In order to counter this, Ronan gave them his own brand of sarcastic commentary - And here you see a large fucking statue of Abraham Lincoln. Notice his stupid fucking beard which was all the shit in whenever-the-fuck he was president. Blue had made her distaste for Ronan’s part of the tour very evident. But while Adam had also pretended to be annoyed by Ronan’s nonsense, he hadn’t been able to stifle his laughter very effectively. Which is, of course, why Ronan kept doing it.

He did stop by the end of the evening, because by then he was sure Blue was ready to tear him limb from limb.

They had Indian food for lunch, then dinner at a diner that served greasy hamburgers and had unlimited coke re-fills. Even though Ronan had spent the entire day being a pain, he’d eventually admitted on their drive back that it had been fun.

And he wasn’t lying. He didn’t lie. He couldn’t really, when they all looked so blissfully happy.

The truth was, Ronan was a sap and he loved spending time with his friends, however odd and aggressive and ridiculous they may be. He missed Noah - who’d disappeared shortly before they left and still hadn’t reappeared - and he didn’t get the appeal of standing around staring at something that looked like a large white piece of chalk stuck in the ground, but he liked seeing Gansey in his element, liked the way Blue’s eyes lit up in amazement, loved the little crease between Adam’s brow as he listened to Gansey’s facts or studied an artefact at a museum. Most of all, Ronan loved that it was just them, hanging out. No Kavinsky crashing the party to make shitty comments. None of Blue’s annoying co-workers interrupting their conversation to ask Blue where the salt was kept. No Mason fucking Hunter.

It was almost eleven at night when they got back to the Gansey home, by which time Ronan was all set to head to bed. He normally wouldn't even imagine sleeping so early, but Gansey’s wake-up-call and his perkiness throughout the day, had whacked Ronan out. Though all the damn walking in the museums hadn’t helped either.

Chainsaw was pissed at him for not taking her along and was being fussy. It took him a solid half-hour to convince her to eat, after which he had a quick shower. He was slipping under the covers when there was a knock on his door.

Ronan had to hold back a groan. The blankets were soft and comfortable, and the thought of leaving them seemed like agony. He waited till there was another knock on the door before he begrudgingly got out of bed. He pulled on a t-shirt just in case it was Helen coming to check that they were all alright. He didn't know anything about Helen - except that the two of them had a unfortunately similar taste in dusty-haired boys - but he didn’t particularly want to find out whether or not her reaction to seeing him without a shirt was anything like the one Blue's cousin Orla had had. It had been months since that time they’d gone to the lake in search of Glendower clues together, but he was still receiving flirty text messages from her.

When he pulled open the door, however, it was Adam standing in the doorway. He gave Ronan a crooked smile and pushed his way into the room. His hair was damp, and he was in a pair of worn pajama pants, wearing a t-shirt with holes in it. He was holding a pillow.

"I'm sleeping here tonight," he said.

Ronan stared at him. The meaning of the words took an embarrassingly long moment to register because Ronan was sure it was some kind of absurd joke. But possibly it could have also had something to do with the fact that Ronan was not used to seeing Adam in his pajamas. 

“Huh?” he managed.

"My AC is broken," Adam explained. "I told Gansey it wasn't a big deal, but he wasn’t exactly having it."

Adam threw his pillow onto the bed.

"So you're sleeping here?" Ronan asked.

He tried to school his voice into nonchalance, but it came out sounding offended. Adam quirked an eyebrow.

"What?" he asked. "Never had to share a bed before? Not even with your brothers?”

Ronan wasn't sure how to explain to Adam that he was most unquestionably not one of Ronan's brothers, and that Ronan was exceedingly aware of said fact. Especially after the Adam-taking-off-his-clothes incident from the day before.

Adam climbed onto the bed, settling down under the covers.

"Why didn't Gansey offer his own bed?" Ronan asked, trying to mask the waver of his voice with derision. He wasn’t sure it was working.

He was aware of how much he was staring. He told himself to look away, but the signals were clearly not reaching his brain.

"Actually," Adam said, tips of his ears flushing slightly. "He did. I told him I'd stay with you."

Ronan could have sworn the world shook just a little.

“Sorry,” Adam said, looking at him from under his eyelashes. “I didn’t think you’d mind.”

“No… I don’t…”

Something wasn’t adding up. Adam had told Gansey he’d share a bed with Ronan instead of him? Yes, Ronan was in the guest room which had a king-sized bed, a bed which was much too large for one person. But it still didn’t make sense. Nothing made sense. Why was he here? Why had he told Gansey he’d stay with Ronan?

He remembered his own words from the day before - I don’t know when we’ll be alone again. It was an absurd thing to remember in the moment.

Ronan was clearly spiralling. The panic must have shown on his face because Adam cleared his throat.

“I… um. I kind of figured you’d be staying with Blue.”

"The fuck would…"

Oh.

Shit.

Everything clicked into place. Ronan’s heart sank like a stone.

"No," Ronan said. "No, we don't... it's not..."

He swallowed hard. Adam’s eyebrows rose to his hairline.

“Oh.” He suddenly sounded embarrassed. “Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t know why I assumed you’d be sleeping with her.”

The words sleeping with her had an instant reaction on Ronan. It didn’t help that Adam’s Henrietta accent had leaked out, stealing the ‘g’ off the end of ‘sleeping’. Ronan’s face flooded with warmth.

“I don’t really think the Ganseys would like that,” he choked out.

Adam quirked at eyebrow at him. Ronan sat stiffly on the edge of the bed.

Jesus, the whole bed was going to smell like Adam now. 

He turned back to find Adam smirking at him. He felt a surge of irritation. He didn’t know why Adam was watching him like that, but he really had no right to be looking like that - hair tousled, shirt just loose enough to reveal part of his shoulder, the dip of his collarbone - while lying in Ronan’s bed.

Jesus Christ, Adam was in his bed.

“What?” Ronan demanded.

“You,” Adam said.

He still looked annoyingly amused. Ronan clenched his jaw. He tried to will the warmth away from his face.

“What about me?”

“You’re telling me,” he said, his voice a slow drawl now, “that you and Blue are living together, in this house, where you have your own rooms, and her million family members aren’t around… and you’re sleeping apart?”

Ronan ran a hand over his head. “Shit, Parrish. What’s it to you?”

Adam threw up his arms in a motion of casual nonchalance, sliding lower into the bed. “I’m just saying. If it were me…”

Oh fucking brilliant. As if having Adam in his bed, talking in his Henrietta accent wasn’t bad enough, now he was insistent on talking about sex. The back of Ronan’s neck was burning. He was positive his whole face was the red of the duvet. 

“It’s complicated,” Ronan muttered.

“Waiting for marriage?” Adam asked, blinking innocently.

“No. Fuck…”

“It would make sense,” Adam said, cocking his head slightly. “I know a lot of church-going people who don’t…”

“It’s not me,” Ronan said, quickly. “It’s Blue.”

Adam raised his eyebrows. “She’s waiting till marriage?”

“She has this fucked up thing. A curse or some shit.” His words were chasing each other, rushing to get out.

Adam’s eyebrows knotted together. His amused expression disappeared, the studious one that Ronan had seen a hundred times before slotted neatly into place. “What?”

“Yeah, it’s weird as fuck. Her voodoo aunts basically told her when she was born that she’d kill her true love if she kissed him.”

“So you haven’t…” Adam paused. “You think you’re her true love?”

“I…” Ronan swallowed.

There was something odd in Adam’s voice now, something almost… anxious.  It’s not what you think, Ronan reminded himself.

“I don’t know,” he said. 

“Oh.” Adam was now staring at the wall behind Ronan, his expression was strange, far away.

“I just… don’t want to take a chance.”

“Right,” Adam said. “That… makes sense.”

There was an odd tension in the air. Ronan could sense it, wanted nothing more than to break it.

“Weird, right?” he asked, lamely.

“Weird,” Adam agreed.

Neither of them were looking at each other. Finally, Adam caught his eye, his expression sheepish. “You know I was just playing with you, right? Before… I mean.” 

He must have seen the blank expression on Ronan’s face because he cleared his throat.

“About… sleeping in Blue’s bed. It’s not like I’ve ever really…either…” Adam shook his head, and Ronan wondered if there was a chance the ground would open up and swallow him whole. “When I said you would be sleeping with her, I just meant I thought you’d be sleeping in her room. But then you misunderstood, and you got all…,” Adam gestured at his own face, “flustered.”

Motherfuck. Ronan should have known Adam was just a little shit who was only talking about sex because he was amused by how ruffled Ronan was getting by the conversation.

Evidently Adam hadn’t realised that Ronan wasn’t just getting ruffled by what they were talking about, but who he was talking about it with.

“I did not,” Ronan growled, knowing full well his face was completely red.

“It’s alright that you haven’t had much experience before,” Adam said, staring intensely at the floor. “It’s not a big deal. It’s actually… kind of cute.”

“Oh fuck you, Parrish.”

Ronan got up from the bed, a hand rubbing circles into the back of his neck.

“No, I just mean…” Adam’s ears were pink now, and he was watching Ronan, holding him in place with his eyes. “That’s not how I meant it. It’s just nice that you didn’t force yourself, you know? You obviously wanted to wait to find someone you really liked, and you did wait. To date, I mean! I just mean dating… I don’t know what you and Blue…. I mean, you obviously like her enough to…” Adam bit his bottom lip.

Ronan had to admit, watching Adam get flustered was kind of delightful. If he wasn’t still so flushed himself, there was a chance he’d be doing the exact same thing to Adam that he’d done to him just moments before.

“It’s just…,” Adam said. “It’s nice. That you have someone.”

Adam was watching him now, soft blue eyes travelling over the planes of Ronan’s face. In that moment, with Adam looking at him so gently, with his accent all warm and thick, still hanging in the air, Ronan almost came clean. Almost told him everything. About Blue. About himself. About everything he’d been feeling for so long but never had the guts to share with anyone.

For the first time in Ronan’s life, he allowed himself to think the words without cursing himself out for them, without hating himself for wanting it.

God, Adam, he thought to himself. I wish I had you.

Adam gestured at the other side of the bed.

“You can sit on the bed, you know.”

There was no way he was getting back in that bed.

Not now. Not after openly accepting the fact that he wanted the boy before him so badly he couldn’t think straight. He wanted to lay in bed with him, wanted to feel his body warm and solid beside him. He wanted to talk to him in the comforting darkness of the room, wanted to hear that soft gasping laugh of his. He wanted to kiss him.

Oh Christ he wanted to kiss him.

“You’re probably right,” Ronan said, turning away. “It’s our last night. I should… I’m gonna go sleep with Blue.”

Adam blinked up at him, confusion dissolving the small smile on his face. “Oh,” he said. “But I thought…”

“The curse is dumb anyway. Doesn’t stop us from talking. Who the fuck said anything about me not having dated before?”

Adam looked nervous. “Oh, well. Um. Mason said some stuff…”

Mason. Fucking piece of shit. Talking about him to Adam the day before had been like rubbing at a sore spot. It had been healing, but now it was hurting all over again. He didn’t really care that Adam knew about his non-existent dating life, but it bothered him that Mason had brought up that fact to Adam. They had no reason to discuss that. Maybe, like everything else he’d told Adam, Mason was bringing it up because he thought it would make Adam think less of Ronan. Even if Adam hadn’t cared, it still made Ronan uncomfortable that they had talked about it at all. He wondered if Mason had made up any lies about that too.

“And there are other things too, you know…” Ronan was saying, the words slipping heedlessly off his tongue, “that won’t affect the curse. Things that are… not kissing…”

Jesus fuck.

Adam’s eyes widened. Before Ronan could say anything else that he’d regret, he grabbed his pillow and made his way down the stairs to Blue’s room.

Sargent was asleep when he crawled in beside her. He tried to be careful as he slipped under the covers, but he accidentally jerked her back with his knee as he settled down - she had the smallest bed out of all four of them - and he felt her stir. He stilled, hoping she’d ignore it and go back to sleep. When she didn’t move, he laid down on his back and closed his eyes. He was trying to turn his brain off, trying to tune out everything that had just happened with Adam, trying to stop thinking about the cornflower blue of his eyes, when he felt her sit up. She let out a yelp.

“Shh,” Ronan hissed at her, his eyes snapping open. 

“Ronan!” She looked frazzled. She closed her eyes, breathing deeply. He must have really freaked her out. “What the hell?”

“I have a situation,” he said. “Parrish asked me why we don’t sleep in the same bed and I panicked.”

“Tell him that it’s none of his business and go sleep in your own damn bed.” She shoved him, and he pushed her back.

“Just… let me have this one. Please.

“I’m too sleepy to argue,” Blue said, her jaw clenched. “But you are so going to pay for this in the morning.”

She slid back down under the covers, curling away from him.

“Your feet are fucking cold,” he muttered.

“I hate you,” she replied.

*    *    *

They were all back in Henrietta before Adam knew it. He didn’t really know whether he was happy about that or not. It had been an odd trip. Adam had expected the party and the sightseeing. He thought maybe he’d get some contacts, maybe he’d see some schools. He’d hoped to do some research, some preparation for his future, but he’d let himself get distracted by the city, by its wide roads and towering buildings. By his friends, and spending time with them. 

And then there was everything with Ronan. He’d hardly thought having two conversations with Ronan - one about Mason, and one about him and Blue - would change anything, but for some reason he was having a hard time looking him in the eyes, because every time he did, something inexplicable and strange grew his in gut, and spread all the way to his finger tips, to the tips of his ears. 

The truth was, Adam was still a little embarrassed about the night he’d spent in Ronan’s room, about the way Ronan had upped and disappeared all of a sudden. Had Adam made him uncomfortable, teasing him like that? He’d thought about it, mulled it over again and again in his mind. Logically speaking, it was possible Ronan just hadn’t considered the possibility that he could spend the night with Blue in the Ganseys’ house. The Lynch brothers went to church every weekend together, and there was a high chance their home wasn’t one where fraternising with the opposite sex was allowed.

This did, however, seem unlikely given Declan’s reputation with women, and Adam couldn’t help but persistently wonder if Ronan maybe… just maybe, had figured out that Adam was also attracted to boys. It wasn’t really something Adam talked about - much less acted upon - but the thing unfortunately was that Ronan was by no means an unattractive person, and Adam had, admittedly, found himself admiring his arms when he folded them behind his head in that casual way he sometimes did in the Pig, or thinking about that day in Monmouth when Ronan had been walking around with no shirt on. It wasn’t completely out of the realm of possibility that Ronan could have noticed Adam’s occasional glances, and maybe he’d felt uncomfortable about sleeping so close to him, about Adam calling it cute that he hadn’t had much experience before. Ronan couldn’t have known the attraction was… of course, purely aesthetic. That Adam expressing that he found him endearing was meant to be a form of comfort. Maybe leaving the room was Ronan’s polite way of avoiding a situation he might find awkward. He did come from a very religious family, after all. Maybe he had a problem with it.

Adam pushed the thought from his mind. It didn’t really matter. Things had been fine with Ronan since. Most likely, Ronan hadn’t noticed anything, and Adam was just overthinking it.

He’d been overthinking a lot of things lately. Coming back to Henrietta was hard, but the hardest part was arriving at Monmouth and realising he had nowhere to go from there. No home. No family or happy dog to greet him. His gut felt heavy.

He’d lugged his suitcase to the living room and was sitting on the couch staring at it, wondering whether to open it or not. With all its charm and beauty and familiarity, Monmouth didn’t feel like home.

Somewhere, a phone started ringing. Before Adam could locate the source, it was being thrown into his lap. Adam stared at it.

“See who it is,” Ronan said.

Adam stared at him, blankly.

Ronan slung himself on the arm of the couch. “I hate answering my phone.”

Adam made a face at him, but answered it anyway. “Hello?”

“Adam?” asked the voice.

“Mason?”

Adam saw Ronan’s expression sour. Ronan turned away, and Adam thought he heard him mutter, “So he does know my number.”

“Dude, bloody hell,” Mason said. “I wasn’t sure how else to reach you. What happened to you? I heard your parents kicked you out.”

Adam’s voice was thick when he finally answered. “I’ve moved out.”

“Sick of bein’ beaten by your dad, huh?”

Adam stiffened. He hadn’t realised that Mason had known. He’d never mentioned it. Never expressed sympathy or comfort or anger.

“You stayin’ with Dick now?” Mason asked.

“For the time being.”

Ronan jumped off the couch and walked to the attached kitchen, all restless energy.

“Damn. You know I’d offer my place, but dad won’t really allow it.”

It occurred to Adam at this moment that he’d never actually asked Mason about his family situation. Over the course of their friendship, a part of Adam had waited, expecting Mason to ask about his home-life. He was too proud and stubborn to bring up the topic himself, but he had longed just to have a conversation about it, for Mason to offer advice or any sort of comfort. Mason had never reached out, but the truth was, Adam had never reached out either. It was very likely that Mason was in an equally shitty situation living alone with his ‘whack job’ dad. Maybe this whole time, he was waiting for Adam to offer comfort in the same way Adam had been expecting it.

It was this revelation that softened Adam’s voice when he replied. “It’s fine, Mason. Really.”

“Well, do you want to come over? I’m takin’ my SATs soon, remember? You could help me study.”

Adam watched Ronan out of the corner of his eye. He was shuffling about in the kitchen, pretending like he wasn’t eavesdropping. Adam knew he was. All their food was in the fridge in their bathroom, and they had nothing in their kitchen cupboards except marshmallows and ramen.

“Sure,” Adam said. He ran his hands through his hair. “When?”

“How ‘bout 6?"

“Ok.”

Adam had barely turned off the phone before it rang again. He picked it up without Ronan having to say anything.

“Ronan?”

The voice was snappy, obnoxious. Adam instantly hated the guy on the other end.

“No,” Adam said, cooly. “Can I help you?”

“I need to speak to my brother.”

Ah. Declan Lynch.

“He’s occupied right now,” Adam said, curtly. “Can I take a message?”

Ronan gave him a questioning glance, so Adam mouthed ‘Declan.’ Ronan smirked.

“Who is this?” Declan asked, irritation clear in his voice.

“Adam.”

“Parrish?” Came the confused reply.

Adam blinked. He and Declan had gone to the same school for a bit, but he hadn’t  realised the older boy knew who he was.

“Oh. Um. Yes.”

“Matthew mentioned you,” Declan drawled. “I didn’t realise you and my brother were so close.”

“What should I tell him?” Adam asked, impatiently. 

“Tell him I’m waiting to hear about whether he and his girlfriend are having dinner with me on Thursday.”

Something spiked in Adam’s blood. Something strange and thick and painful.

“Oh. Ok. I’ll tell him.”

“Thanks.” Declan hung up. Adam stared at the phone for a moment and then offered it to Ronan. He shook his head.

“What did he want?” he asked.

“To know if you and Blue were having dinner with him on Thursday.”

Ronan kicked a ball that was lying on the floor, and Adam watched as it rolled across the carpet. “I meant Mason.”

“Oh.” Adam bit his lip. “Nothing.”

Ronan watched him for a minute, eyes hot on Adam’s skin. Then he shrugged and sauntered off to his room. The door slammed loudly behind him. Adam felt his absence like a change of temperature. He shivered.

He wasn’t sure why he was skirting around the truth with Ronan. He didn’t want Ronan to know he was going over to Mason’s, even if Adam had ulterior motives for doing so. Maybe it was because things had been feeling… odd, with Ronan lately. Adam thought it was because of Ronan’s confession about Mason, but he’d started to wonder if it had started before that. He wondered if it was guilt. It might have been. As much as he tried to deny it, he liked Ronan, and it was kind of shitty that he had feelings for his girlfriend. Even if he’d had those feelings before he and Ronan had become friends.

Maybe he should tell Ronan about going to Mason’s house. Why keep more secrets from him? Not that Ronan would care anyway.

The thing was, Adam had an analytical mind. He saw the world as a scientist did, and right now he had a hypothesis. A theory. A fact that he had two prove. And step two, was to gather evidence.

He didn’t want Ronan to know he was gathering evidence.

Ronan’s phone buzzed, and Adam glanced down reflexively. It was a message from someone named ‘Maggot’s Crazy Cousin’ that read Hey sexy, want to go to a club tonight? and Adam almost dropped the phone in alarm. His gut twisted, a little uncomfortably. He wondered if he should inform Ronan about it until a quick scan of the message thread showed that Ronan had been ignoring her messages for months.

Then Adam decided he was being creepy, even if Ronan had given him his un-password protected phone of his own volition and refused to take it back, and turned it off.

Ronan emerged from his room a minute later, a heavy bag hung over his shoulder.

“Where are you off to?” Adam asked.

“Tennis,” Ronan said, shortly.

“Um. What?” Adam asked, but Ronan was gone already.

*    *    *

Mason threw open the door gleefully.

“There you are!” he said. “Come on.”

He led Adam through his empty kitchen, back to his room.

Mason’s room, as usual, was a complete mess. Adam picked his way through it, gingerly. He didn’t mind messes, usually. It was when the messes involved half eaten food and spilled liquids when they made him uncomfortable.

Mason’s books were spread out on his desk, all ready for Adam to look at. Adam sighed deeply and sat down. Mason didn’t ask any questions. He didn’t ask how Adam was feeling or what happened with his dad or what he was going to do now. He didn’t even offer him food or water. He just sat on the chair next to Adam and gestured to his books.

It didn’t feel like how it felt when Ronan didn’t ask him about his life. It felt like the opposite. Ronan didn’t ask because he knew Adam didn’t want to talk about it. Mason didn’t ask because he didn’t care.

Adam swallowed thickly. “How are things going with you?”

Mason shrugged. “Same old. You?”

Adam paused. “Not great.”

It cost him something to say that. Cost him something to admit weakness. But he wanted to give Mason the benefit of the doubt. Adam couldn’t expect other people to make as much of an effort with him as Gansey and the others did, while he gave nothing in return. Maybe if he tried a little harder with Mason, they could change things. Build a new relationship out of the ashes of the old one.

“Man,” Mason said. “Your dad will get over it. He’ll take you back.”

Adam’s nails dug into the palm of his hand. He turned to him, eyes flashing. “I don’t want him to take me back. I meant what I said. I’ve left. For good.”

Mason shook his head, and Adam felt his skin burn. “Dude. This is just the way it is. You think my dad is all peaches and fuckin’ cream? Nah. But he’s givin’ me a house to stay in, you know? He puts food on the table, clothes on my damn back. So I gotta deal with his shit.”

“Does he hit you?”

“Nah. He gets too pissed after drinkin’ for that. But he’s not really here, either. It’s why I spend so much time with my cousins. At least they’re there, you know? Dad doesn’t care about all that shit - family dinners, Christmas, bondin’ with his only son. Means fuck all to him. All he wants to do is get drunk and sleep.”

Adam’s eyes were burning.

A part of him felt bad for Mason, not only for having a negligent father and an absent mother, but for being such a product of Henrietta that he truly believed he and Adam should be happy that they were being fed and clothed, instead of realising that their parents had a responsibility to care for them past the very basic act of keeping them alive.

A bigger part of him was choking with anger, because he knew Mason could never understand what it was to be Adam Parrish. What it felt like to be truly alone, truly without love. What it was to feel so much pain he couldn’t even cry, to be so tired that he didn’t even feel awake when his eyes were open. Maybe no one could understand that. But Mason couldn’t even understand why Adam had to get away from the person who caused all of that in him. Adam couldn’t accept that.

He took a deep breath and turned back to Mason’s books.

They studied for a while. Adam checked Mason’s answers and explained what he did wrong. Mason listened in the beginning, but Adam could see his attention waning as the hour trudged on.

“How’s the plan goin’?” Mason asked at one point, fiddling with a pencil.

“It’s fine,” Adam said, stiffly.

He glanced at his watch and then back at Mason’s work. He felt frustrated, stifled. He wanted to go back to Monmouth, wanted to do his own work, wanted to be anywhere but in Mason’s presence.

“You still charmin’ the pants off Ms. Blue?”

Adam made a noncommittal humming noise.

“I think it’s time you took the plunge, you know?” Mason said, licking his lips. “Go for it already.”

“I don’t think it’s the time,” Adam said mechanically, still cross-referencing Mason’s answers with the answer sheet.

“'Course it’s the time,” Mason said. “Blue likes you, and you’re like… best friends with Lynch now. You steal his girl, it’s gonna really fuck with his head.”

Guilt hit Adam straight in the lungs. He felt like he could no longer breathe. Would it really hurt Ronan that much if he were to find out? Would it really fuck with his head?

“Why is it you want to mess with him so badly?” Adam asked, keeping his voice cool.

Mason raised his eyebrows. “You kiddin’ me, Parrish? You know why. He made my childhood a livin’ hell, man.”

“Right,” Adam said. “Right. Because he bullied you.”

“Damn straight. You've seen what an asshole he is in school. He was just like that before.”

“Before his dad was murdered, you mean?”

Mason narrowed his eyes. “He wasn’t murdered,” he said, but he sounded unsure.

Adam tightened his grip on the pencil he was holding. “That’s what he said.”

“He’s a fuckin’ liar, is what he is. His family is freaky, man.” Mason waved his pencil in the air in front of Adam’s face as he spoke. “You know his brother Matthew? Somethin’ is seriously wrong with that kid. He showed up out of fuckin’ nowhere, man. Their mom wasn’t even pregnant or anythin’, but that kid just showed up one day. It was just like, boom! Blonde fuckin’ baby.”

“Maybe he’s adopted,” Adam said, even though he knew that wasn’t true. Matthew had the exact same eyes as Ronan.

“Nah,” Mason said. “There’s some sketchy shit goin’ on. Plus, you've met the kid, right? There's like, somethin' seriously messed up 'bout him. In his head, I mean. He's like fifteen, and he acts like a baby.”

“Matthew’s a really sweet kid,” Adam said, and his voice must have betrayed his irritation with the topic because Mason fell silent.

Adam tried to quell the rage in his heart, but it barely dulled as they got back to work.

It wasn’t until Mason went to the bathroom when Adam got up and started lurking around the room. He opened drawers and cupboards, looked in the bookshelves. He knew he was crossing a line, that he was violating Mason’s privacy a little. He tried not to dig too deep, but there was a darkness in Adam, and it came out sometimes in short, overpowering bursts. Maybe it was a darkness brought about by a sense of injustice, but it was a darkness nonetheless. He needed to know if what Ronan had told him was the truth. 

And then, at the back of Mason’s cupboard, he found it. A little glass bee. Adam turned it over in his hand, his breath catching in his throat. Ronan hadn’t lied. Here was the proof, solid and cold in the palm of his hand. A little glass bee with delicate glass wings, not a chip on it. In Mason’s cupboard, thrown into a pile of smelling clothes.

Had he really stolen this from Ronan?

Adam thought of the way Mason was always asking him to do things for him, the way Mason was always convincing him to do things he’d rather not do. He realised that Mason never realised he was hungry, never so much as offered him a ride to school or a hand with his homework.

Why would Mason lie about Ronan? Possibly because he was jealous. Ronan Lynch was one of the most well-known boys in school. He had money, good-looks, a burning amount of talent that he never took advantage of. He had a family that loved him, that he loved. It must have grated on Mason the way it had grated on Adam. Except that Mason’s jealousy had made him tell Adam lies. Lies about Ronan that had coloured Adam’s opinions, and poisoned his thoughts.

Finding this bee wasn’t proof that Mason had manipulated Ronan, but Adam knew it was the truth. Because Ronan Lynch didn’t lie, and Mason Hunter didn’t give a damn about anyone but himself.

He’d gotten to know Ronan now, and he’d realised he’d gotten Ronan completely wrong. Ronan always asked him how he was feeling. He apologised for his mistakes. He was honest with him. He tried to cheer him up, and kept him company when he was low. He helped him when he saw Adam was in pain. Ronan Lynch was a shard of glass, but held in the sun he shone a hundred different colours.

Adam observed the bee, the way the glass body caught the light, and knew Ronan would never treat anything this beautiful, this fragile, so carelessly.

It didn’t take him very long to make up his mind. Adam Parrish was officially done with Plan B.

Chapter Text

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.

“Hello?”

“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.”

“Fuck.”

“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.

“I know.”

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.

Ronan snorted.

“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.”

“But?”

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.

“Yeah.”

“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.”

 

Chapter Text

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.”

“Great.”

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?”

“Yeah.”

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.

“She.”

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.”

“Oh.”

“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.”

“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.”

“Oh?”

“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.”

“What things?”

“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.

Magic.

“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.”

“Noah?”

“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.

Chapter Text

Adam watched Blue through the kitchen doors. She finished scribbling something on a notepad, then put it aside and hung up her apron. He downed the last of his coke.

He had gotten off work twenty minutes earlier, and had offered to wait for her shift at Nino’s to end so they could walk to Monmouth for the movie night together. It was the first time they were doing this without Adam feeling guilty, without him feeling like he was being sly or sneaky, because it was the first time the others knew Adam and Blue were doing something together, just the two of them.

She walked up to his table and grinned at him, and he gave her a half-smile in return. He pulled out a crumpled dollar bill and a few coins from his pocket and put them on top of the check. Parting with them didn’t cause him as much of a pang as it used to. It felt nice to be able to buy a coke without beating himself up for it.

They headed outside, and Blue waited as Adam unchained his bike. Then, as if in a rhythm, they turned and began walking towards Monmouth.

“How are you?” she asked. “I haven’t seen you since DC.”

“Things have been busy,” he admitted. “I moved into a new apartment.”

Two days after Adam had seen the apartment and signed the paper work, he, Gansey and Ronan had moved all of his meagre possessions into the small room. Last night was the first night he’d spent there - squashed into the tiny bed, covered by a thin prickly sheet, a small plastic fan blowing into his face, making his hair tickle his forehead.

It had been perfect.

“Did you?” Her eyebrows reached her hairline. “Really?”

Adam nodded. He felt a flicker of surprise that Ronan hadn’t told her about this. How often did they talk to each other?

He kicked a stone and watched it roll down the street. “I just wanted my own space.”

Blue nodded, but her expression betrayed her true feelings. She thought he was foolish for wasting his money on an apartment, when he could have continued living with Ronan and Gansey. A part of him thought he was foolish too. But he didn’t regret it, not for one second.

Adam still didn’t know why Ronan had done it. Why he’d gone through so much trouble to find Adam a place to stay. How had he even realised that Adam was uncomfortable in Monmouth? That Adam’s pride, and his desire for independence, and his need for his own space, would have never let him be happy there? Gansey had been completely oblivious to the fact, and was very hurt when Adam had told him he’d be moving out. But Ronan understood. Adam had always thought he was unknowable, but Ronan seemed to get him anyway.

Ronan was really fucking confusing.

As if she could sense what Adam was thinking about, Blue suddenly said, “Ronan and I met his brother the other day.”

The awful sting of jealousy filled Adam. He hadn’t realised that Ronan and Blue had had their dinner with Declan. He wondered why Ronan hadn’t mentioned it, why he hadn’t felt like he could talk to Adam about it.

Not that Adam wanted to talk about Ronan and Blue’s relationship, but the sentiment remained.

He wondered why the thought of them together still bothered him. Their relationship had been the cause of everything good that had happened to him recently. It had been what had brought Gansey, Ronan and Noah into his life. He should have been happy these two had found each other and that he’d accidentally gotten temporarily mixed up in this secret love triangle that only he knew he was a part of.

Instead, the thought of them dating still made him uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. In fact, lately he’d been thinking a lot about Blue’s curse, about the fact that she and Ronan hadn’t kissed. Occasionally, in bed, he wondered what they had done that night in DC when Ronan had gone to sleep in her room. He drowned himself in those thoughts, wallowed in the awfulness of them.

“How did it go?” Adam asked, affecting nonchalance.

He remembered what he’d told Ronan once, early on in their friendship. He’d advised him to take Blue to dinner with his family. Show Declan that you’re not ashamed, he’d said. You’re not ashamed of her, and you’re not ashamed of the choices you’ve made.

Ronan had officially introduced Blue to his family. The next natural step would be for them to tell Gansey, and then their relationship would be out in the open. No more secret glances and hidden touches. Everything would be on display for Adam to see.

Ronan had said he wasn’t going to tell Gansey about their relationship until they were sure they were serious. The thought made Adam’s throat close up.

Ronan was serious about her. He was serious about Blue.

“It went fine,” Blue said. “I don’t think Declan likes me, but Matthew was a real sweetheart.”

The jealousy within him thickened. Matthew liked her. It didn’t take a genius to realise that Matthew’s opinion was worth a whole lot to Ronan.

Adam almost stopped in his tracks when he realised what he’d just thought. Was he… jealous that Matthew liked Blue? Why? Because that meant that Ronan had picked someone to date that his family approved of? Ronan was his friend. Shouldn’t Adam be happy that he’d found someone, even if it was someone that Adam himself had fancied in the past?

Did Adam even mind that Blue wasn’t interested in him anymore? He hadn’t been thinking much about her, truth be told. Hadn’t day dreamed about her in a while. And yes, sight seeing in DC had been lovely, and the meals they’d had together had been lovely, and she was still wonderful to talk to, but his memories with her weren’t something he’d been re-living over again and again in his thoughts. It wasn’t like it had been when he used to see her at Nino’s with Mason. He’d stopped thinking about her eyes and her smile and that little flower sewn into her apron. He’d even used up all her flower money on rent.

Then why was he still so goddamn jealous?

There was something wrong with him. He’d known that for years. His father had broken the part of him that loved properly. Adam Parrish was just a selfish dick who wanted others to be as miserable as he was. Two of his friends were very much in love, and Adam couldn’t even find it in himself to be happy for them. What a dog in the manger he was; he didn’t want them to be together, even though he didn’t want to be with either of them.

Well, he didn’t want to be with Blue.

Oh.

Oh.

“Adam?”

Adam turned towards Blue, and she must have seen the distraught look on his face, because her expression morphed into one of concern.

“What’s wrong?” she asked. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah,” Adam said, and it was so blatantly a lie that Blue frowned.

“Is this about your dad?” she asked. She smoothed out some wrinkles on her dress. “I wish you had told me about that.”

“I didn’t tell anyone about that,” Adam said.

His thoughts were still roaring, loud and complicated and completely unrelated to everything Blue was talking about.

Had he… fallen for Ronan Lynch?

As in, the same Ronan Lynch who he’d only befriended in order to make his life a living hell? Had anyone, anywhere ever failed so spectacularly at anything?

“I’m just concerned about you, Adam,” she said. “You never really open up about stuff.”

That wasn’t true. Adam had started to open up. To Ronan.

Fuck.

Here Adam was hanging out alone with a girl he thought he really liked, and he was realising that he’d fallen head over heels for her boyfriend instead.

That was why he was still so damn jealous when he thought about Blue and Ronan. That’s why he’d been tossing and turning at nights thinking about that comment Ronan had made about them doing ‘things that were not kissing.’ He hadn’t been thinking so much about Blue, because he was too busy thinking about Ronan and his affection for furry mice and the intensity of his love for his gentle golden-haired brother. Adam's thoughts had replayed the careful way Ronan held that baby deer in his arms a hundred times. He wasn’t thinking about Blue because he was thinking of Ronan’s laugh, and the way he tried to make Adam laugh, and his thoughtfulness and his loyalty and his terrible sense of humour, and how despite all the shit he’d been through, he was still so good. He’d been thinking of how Ronan tried to come across as someone who looked for danger, but who surrounded himself with people like Gansey and Noah, dreamt to life boys like Matthew. Adam hadn’t been thinking about Blue, because he’d been too busy thinking of that night in the Barns, of Ronan’s body under his fingers, hot and solid and capable of short circuiting all the thoughts in Adam’s brain. He’d been thinking obsessively of Ronan’s eyes, of his arms, of that fucking tattoo.

He hadn’t been thinking of Blue because he was too busy thinking of the boy who’d made him believe in magic.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

“I’m not really that kind of person,” Adam said.

“I know you and I aren’t very close, but I’m here if you need to talk about anything.” She was watching him now, her eyes large. “Is anything bothering you?”

Oh, it’s nothing. I’m just freaking out because I finally realised I have a big stupid crush on your boyfriend.

“No,” Adam said.

Blue furrowed her brow. “Well, if you want to talk…”

“Thanks,” he said, too quickly. “But I’m alright. So… tell me more about this dinner?”

Masochist.

She shrugged. “It was fine. Declan cooked, asked a bunch of intrusive questions. Matthew talked a lot. It was pretty normal, actually.”

“Great,” he said, even though he felt anything but. “I reckon things are going fine between the two of you, then?”

“Things are the same,” she said.

Adam forced a smile on his face. “I’m really happy for you,” he said.

He wished it was the truth. He wished he didn’t have the desire to break them up now, more than ever. But he was done trying to sabotage people’s lives.

Adam Parrish was going to be happy for them, even if he had to force it out of himself.

*    *    *

When Adam and Blue arrived at Monmouth that evening for the movie night, something felt off. Ronan could feel it in the air.

He watched Adam but Adam seemed to be avoiding making eye-contact with him.

It had been a little bit like this even when they were moving Adam’s things into his apartment, with Adam very deliberately turning away every time Ronan lifted something heavy or wiped the sweat from his brow with the hem of his shirt. But this felt different. This felt… stranger.

He felt like he’d said too much that day at the Barns. Done too much. Of course Adam was overwhelmed. Ronan had basically confessed to him that he was a complete freak. Adam barely liked him to begin with, but Ronan had gone and told him his deepest darkest secret.

He was scaring him away. Fuck, he knew this day would come.

The weird thing though, was that Ronan had almost thought they were… flirting, the other day. Which was crazy. Because why would Adam Parrish ever flirt with him?

Adam sat down on the couch beside him when they started the movie, but he took special care not to touch Ronan, which Ronan also noticed. Normally if their hands were close enough, Ronan would move his so their fingers were just slightly brushing each other. But Adam didn’t put his hands anywhere near Ronan’s today. In fact he kept them clasped in his lap.

It was driving Ronan insane. He hadn’t thought Adam would be this freaked out by his confession. He didn’t think Adam thought of him as a best friend, but he at least thought Adam would understand. He’d been so understanding about everything else.

Ronan considered going to Kavinsky’s house - K wasn’t having a party, but there were still dreamer tricks he’d promised to teach him, and he always had plenty of booze lying around. But Ronan had fought with him the other day. Kavinsky had wanted to break into and trash Adam’s apartment, and Ronan had - albeit in a far more complex manner - told him to go fuck himself. The two had parted on very cold, bitter terms that involved complex swears and several rude gestures. Ronan didn’t feel like he’d be welcome at Kavinsky’s house tonight. Maybe next week, when K was coked up enough to forget his ‘indiscretion’.

He’d thought he was done with Kavinsky, with those parties, but sitting beside Adam and not knowing how he felt was driving him crazy.

Then a thought hit Ronan, cold and clammy. Was Adam being weird because he knew Ronan had been flirting with him?

Oh fuck.

But Adam was the one who had touched him. Ronan had reminded himself of this every minute since it had happened. It seemed like a dream, but Ronan knew it was real because he knew when he was awake, and he’d been wide awake at that moment. More awake than he’d ever been before, probably. And the plain, hard fact was that Adam had let his fingers linger on Ronan’s chest. He’d dragged his fingers down Ronan’s stomach, leaving a trail of burning skin in his wake.

Ronan had re-played that scene in his mind over and over and over again. Mostly at nights. Mostly when he was alone in his room.

One of these nights, Ronan had catalogued all the reasons Adam could have possibly had for pulling away, and realised with a startling chill that it might have been due to the Blue thing. Adam still thought Ronan was dating Blue, and Adam wasn’t the type to cheat or encourage cheating. Which meant that maybe they really were flirting, and that maybe if Adam knew the truth he would have continued touching him, his hand moving lower down his stomach…

In this fantasy, Ronan was the one who closed the gap between their lips.

If only he’d had the nerve. When he closed his eyes he could picture it; he could feel Adam’s kisses in the rain, his lips wet and warm.     

Ronan was spiralling again. He really needed to get out of there.

He felt Adam’s eyes on him, but when he looked up, Adam was watching the movie. His hands twitched in his lap.

“Parrish,” Ronan whispered.

“Hmm?”

“You’ve got some shit on your face.”

“Fuck off, Lynch,” Adam said, rubbing the scruff on his cheeks.

Ronan didn’t know why he’d been growing out his facial hair, but it was doing things to Ronan that he didn’t want to acknowledge. He imagined what it would feel like to run his hands over it.

Adam turned to Ronan, deep blue eyes making Ronan’s skin burn. “Do you think it looks bad?”

“It makes you look like a loser.”

Adam rolled his eyes. “I always look like a loser, according to you.”

Ronan couldn’t help the words that spilled out of his mouth next. “It’s not a bad thing.”

Blue, who was on Ronan’s other side, shushed them. Adam turned back to the TV, but the tips of his ears were bright pink. His hand fell out of his lap. Ronan let his hand lightly brush against Adam’s fingers. Electricity tingled up his arm.

He no longer needed to leave.  

*    *    * 

Ronan’s conversation with Matthew after their family dinner with Blue had clearly affected him, because Matthew had been calling Ronan insistently since, asking if he, Ronan and Blue could have a day out together. While Matthew’s calls were the only ones Ronan answered without hesitation, he had to eventually admit to himself that having his little brother call every day was getting to be a bit much.

So he agreed. Only to shut Matthew up.

Blue was not amused when he told her.

“You told me it would just be a dinner,” she complained. “Now I have to hang out with your other brother?”

“He’s getting suspicious,” Ronan said. “He basically said the other day that you and I didn’t seem like a couple.”

He didn’t know why he was keeping this charade up. He had long since given up on denying his feelings for Adam, in denying who he was and what he liked. The whole farce had become just about Declan, about hiding it from him, about - in a sense - pleasing him. Ronan hated it.

He just had to remind himself that Declan would soon be back in DC, and this would all be over.

“How do you seem like a couple?”

“Fuck knows, Sargent. I’m as bad at this as you are.”

This shut Blue up. Ronan could practically hear her scowling over the phone.

“I do like Matthew,” she admitted, finally. “But this is taking my time away from other things, Ronan.”

“Think of the boots,” Ronan said, drily.

Blue let out an irritated exhale. “Fine,” she conceded.

“This is the last one,” Ronan promised. “Declan is going back to DC very soon.”

“Not soon enough,” Blue muttered. “So where are we going?”

Ronan didn’t know any good date places. He knew he couldn’t ask Gansey - lest Gansey get all excited about Ronan going on a date - and he sure as fuck wasn’t about to ask Adam for dating advice - lest he hear more ‘my ex-girlfriend who did blah and blah’ stories. So he turned to Noah.

Noah, of course, was more than happy to oblige.

“The circus!” Noah said. “People love the circus.”

“There is no fucking circus here,” Ronan snapped.

“Oh. Oh. Take her to one of those places where they like, lock you in a room and you have to solve puzzles to escape.”

“Noah, what the actual fuck.”

Noah made a face. “What?” he asked. “Not good enough for your fake date?”

“I wish you disappeared more often,” Ronan grumbled.

Noah crossed his legs and held his chin in his hand, brow furrowed in concentration. Then, he brightened up.

“Oh!” he said. “How about bowling?”

That was not a terrible idea.

“There’s this great place called The Fishbowl,” Noah said. “It’s like, ten minutes from your church.”

“I think I’ve heard of it.”

“This is going be so fun!” Noah said. “I can’t wait.”

“You are aware that you aren’t coming, right?”

Noah clearly wasn’t aware, because he was grumpy for the rest of the day.

After getting pizza with Matthew, Ronan drove them to Blue’s house. He honked, and Blue came rushing outside in a ripped skirt and tank top.

“Aren’t you going to open the door for her?” Matthew asked.

“She’s a feminist,” Ronan said, being facetious.

Matthew looked confused, but went back to smiling broadly as soon as Blue slid into the backseat. Matthew chattered for the rest of the drive about his friends from school and some lady that was tutoring him in math. Blue listened carefully, smiling and commenting at all the right times. Ronan watched Matthew, but the kid was always so cheerful, it was hard to tell if he was truly enjoying the conversation or not.

They changed into bowling shoes, and Ronan bought them cokes and french fries. Matthew continued chatting happily with Blue as Ronan tested the weights of different bowling balls.

“You guys don’t do a lot of coupley stuff,” Matthew noted.

Ronan was about to say that they just weren’t that kind of couple, but Blue beat him to it. 

“People don’t know about us yet,” she said.

“There aren’t many people here, you know,” Matthew pointed out.

Blue gave Ronan a quizzical look. Ronan was about to pick a random stranger and say he knew him, before Blue slipped her hand into his.

“It’s nice to be able to do this in public,” she told him, her voice dripping with fake sweetness.

“It really is, sugar dumpling.”

Blue glared at him and tightened the grip on his hand until Ronan let out a hiss of pain. He stuck a finger in her ear which made her yelp and duck away from him. Matthew smiled at the two of them.

“This is nice,” he said.

“Yeah,” Ronan said, sarcastically. “Best day of my life.”

“Don’t mind Ronan,” Blue said, sticking her ungodly sharp elbow into his waist. “He’s just shy on dates.”

“I’m not fucking shy.”

Their hands were still clasped together. Ronan’s hand felt hot, sweaty. He didn’t understand why people did this. Nothing about holding hands seemed remotely enjoyable. 

“You know him, Matthew,” Blue continued. “He’s like a coconut. Hard and spiky on the outside, soft and sweet on the inside. He even has the haircut to match.”

“I swear to god, Sargent…”

“And his swearing,” Blue shook her head. “Charmed me from the moment we met. I love me a man with a potty mouth.”

“And I love a girl whose clothes look like they were chewed up by raccoons.”

Matthew looked between them, his expression a little perplexed, but he must have assumed this riffing was normal because his face slid into an easy smile again.

“You guys are funny,” he said. “I’m having a lot of fun.”

“Yeah,” Blue agreed. “It’s a nice place.”

Matthew nodded enthusiastically. “It’s cool to see where Adam works, too.”

“What?” Ronan and Blue asked, in unison.

Matthew’s mouth twisted. His eyes flicked between them.

“I thought that’s why you picked this place?” he asked.

“Adam works here?” Ronan asked. His throat had gone dry.

“He’s working right now.”

Matthew pointed. Ronan followed the motion, his heart suddenly palpitating at twice its normal speed. Two lanes over, Adam was sweeping up spilled popcorn with a broom. He was in a ridiculous red collared shirt and black slacks.

Ronan felt like all the blood had drained from his face. He was going to fucking murder Noah. Too bad the dick was already dead.

“This is his third job?” Blue asked. “I didn’t know that.”

“I did think it was weird that you didn’t say hi to him,” Matthew said.

He started waving in Adam’s direction. Ronan tried to stop him, but it was too late. Adam spotted them.

Ronan’s reflexes were not good today.

Adam left his broom and came over to them, eyes wide.

“Hey,” he said, and he sounded disoriented. “What are you guys doing here?”

“Bowling,” Ronan said, stupidly.

Adam’s eyes travelled down to where Ronan and Blue’s hands were joined. Ronan made to let go, but Blue held on. Adam’s gaze hovered there for a moment, snagged on their interlocked fingers. Then he looked back up at them. He looked distinctly more uncomfortable than he had five seconds before.

“Why didn’t you tell us you worked here?” Blue asked.

“Because it’s embarrassing,” Adam said. He gestured down at his uniform. “I mean look at this stupid thing. And usually I have to wear a cap as well. It’s humiliating.”

Blue giggled.

“It’s pretty humiliating to be seen with you right now,” Ronan remarked.

Adam made a face at him. 

“Why aren’t you wearing your cap?” Matthew asked.

“It, uh… ‘accidentally’ fell down the toilet.” Adam said, that mischievous half-grin on his face.

Ronan wondered for the nth time if he’d pulled Adam from his dreams. How the fuck did he manage to be so god fucking damn perfect all the time?

Adam caught Ronan’s gaze and held it for a moment. Ronan’s stomach flipped over. Adam turned away and rubbed the back of his neck.

“I’ll let you guys continue…” He gestured towards their linked hands. Ronan’s hand was itching now. He hoped Blue would let go, wanted it more than anything else at that moment. “I should get back to work.”

Ronan wished he had something to say, but he didn’t. He watched Adam leave in silence.

They got back to their game then. Ronan was the best by far. Matthew alternated between splits and gutter balls, and Blue wasn’t too bad either, considering it was her first time playing. Once, Ronan stood behind her and taught her how to throw the ball. They were close, their bodies pressed together awkwardly, her head against Ronan’s chest, as Ronan held her arm and showed her how to roll it in a straight line. He wondered if they looked as uncomfortable as he felt.

Throughout the evening he thought he felt Adam’s gaze on him, hot and heavy on his back, but he didn’t think he could bear to turn around and see that he was mistaken.

*    *    *

Adam’s new plan - a.k.a the one where he was going to get over Ronan with a minimum amount of trouble - was not going too well. Specifically because Gansey, who despite knowing fuck all about Adam’s plan, was clearly trying to sabotage him.

Because there was no other way Adam could reason Gansey deciding to pick up Ronan from tennis. See, Ronan had a car. A nice car that he drove around himself. Gansey didn’t need to go pick Ronan up in his car, and he certainly didn’t need to take Adam along. Except they were on their way to a cave on the ley line, and Gansey wanted Ronan to come with them, so Adam was dragged into the country club and had to sit there for fifteen agonising minutes watching a sweaty Ronan run around in shorts.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Ronan had this habit of lifting the hem of his shirt to wipe his face, so Adam was treated to several flashes of that tattoo of his that ran all the way down his back, into the waistband of his shorts.

By the time Ronan had showered and settled down into the car besides Adam, smelling of soap and deodorant, Adam was sure the universe was just playing a cruel joke on him. He tried to distract himself by watching the passing trees.

The past week had been an absolute nightmare. Adam was very much trying to distance himself from Ronan; trying not to be around him too much, trying not to touch him or hear his jokes or look into his eyes, but it was incredibly hard. Especially because Adam was used to chasing things he wanted with a fiery determination. But he couldn’t chase Ronan. Not when he was in love with Blue.

Adam wasn’t sure how he hadn’t realised his feelings for Ronan sooner. Adam’s free time was rare and precious, but he’d been spending all of it either with Ronan or thinking about him. Which was not a good thing for Adam’s new plan.

The new plan involved keeping away from Ronan until he was over him. But it was really, really hard. Particularly because Ronan was everywhere. Adam could at least brace himself whenever he went over to Monmouth, but he didn’t know what to do when Ronan showed up at Boyd’s, or at his apartment, or at The Fishbowl with Blue, the two of them holding hands and being all cute, Ronan teaching Blue how to bowl all pressed up against her while Adam stood around like an idiot in a bright red polo shirt. Adam had spent that entire night battling the green-eyed monster that resided in his soul.

Blue had him first, he’d been reminding himself. And even if he was single, he wouldn’t want to be with you anyway.

He told himself that they were happy. That by coming in their way, he’d just be ruining their happiness. They both deserved to be happy. He didn’t. So he was going to step back. It was a simple choice to make. He was going to stay away and get over Ronan, just like he had with Blue.

Beside him in the Camaro, Ronan’s hand brushed against his. Adam’s heart fluttered.

He had a bad feeling that getting over Ronan Lynch wouldn’t be quite as easy as that.

“Cheng is having a party tonight,” Gansey was saying to Noah, who was in the passenger seat, and then to Adam and Ronan in the rearview. “You guys want to go?”

“Henry Cheng?” Adam asked disbelievingly, at the same time as Ronan said, “Fuck no.”

“I know you don’t like him,” Gansey said to Ronan with a sigh. “But he’s a really fascinating, intelligent person. I know if you only gave him a chance…”

“He’s like the human version of a fly,” Ronan said. “Irritating. Irrelevant. Idiotic.”

“You didn’t want to be friends with Adam either,” Gansey reminded him. “And now look at all of us.”

Adam felt a twinge in his heart, and had to remind himself that he wasn’t a fan of Ronan when they first became friends either. Ronan glanced at him, and then away.

“And Blue as well,” Noah piped up.

Ronan hadn’t liked Blue when he first met her? Adam frowned. That was curious. He hoped more would be said on the subject, but no one elaborated.

“I’m not going to Cheng’s fucking party,” Ronan said. “Three minutes in his house and I’m going to need intensive therapy.”

“You need intensive therapy anyway,” Noah said. Ronan flipped him off.

Gansey ignored this exchange.

“Adam?” Gansey asked, pleadingly. “Blue is busy tonight. Don’t make us go alone.”

“Why are you assuming I’m coming?” Noah demanded.

“Aren’t you?” Gansey asked.

“Of course,” Noah said. “It’s a party.”

Ronan rolled his eyes. Three sets of eyes turned expectantly towards Adam.

Adam shrugged. “For probably the first time in history, Lynch is right. Cheng is a pain in the ass.”

Ronan flashed him an approving grin.

“Fucking exactly,” Ronan said. “You guys go. Parrish and I could just hang out and watch a movie or something.”

Adam felt a burst of excitement and then horror at the thought of spending an entire evening watching a movie in close proximity to Ronan. Only Ronan. The two of them together on a couch in a dark room with none of their friends around to interrupt. Adam imagined Ronan beside him, a bowl of popcorn in his lap, eyes moving away from the movie and landing on Adam. He pictured Ronan looking at him the way he had at the Barns - greedy, ravenous. He imagined Ronan's eyes trailing again to his lips. He swallowed. 

In the rear-view mirror, Noah blinked very deliberately at him. Adam gave him a confused look in return. He wondered again if Noah could tell what he was thinking. Oh dear god, was he… winking at him? Adam felt his face going warm.

“Actually,” Adam said, quickly. “Maybe we should go.”

Gansey gave him a brilliant smile. Ronan scowled. 

“You’re the one who said I never do anything fun,” Adam said to him.

“This isn’t fucking fun,” Ronan said. “This is torture.”

“Ronan has skewed ideas of what ‘fun’ entails,” Gansey said, breezily. “So that’s settled then. Adam, we’ll pick you up from your apartment at 8.”

Adam was regretting this decision already.

 

Chapter Text

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?”

“Dreaming.”

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.”

“I know.”

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?”

“Yeah.”

“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.

“Oh yeah?”

“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.

Oh. God.

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.”

“Realised what?”

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.

Chapter Text

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.

Idiot.

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!”

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.”

“Why?”

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.”

“Little bit.”

She smiled, but it was strained.

“For how long?”

Ronan exhaled. “Since the beginning. I don’t know.”

“Oh.”

There was something odd in that oh that made Ronan uncomfortable. “What?” he asked.

“Nothing,” she said.

“Tell me.”

“It’s nothing.”

“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.

“What?”

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.

“Hello?”

“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!”

Plan?

“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.

No.

“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.

“You’re…”

“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.

Chapter Text

The day after Ronan Lynch kissed him was the longest day of Adam Parrish’s life.

They were still on summer break, and Adam was working three different shifts at three different jobs, which meant that he couldn’t see Ronan. He didn’t have a phone either, which meant that he couldn’t speak to Ronan.

He hoped that Ronan would show up after his shift at the factory - he showed up at Boyd’s occasionally, Adam wouldn’t put it past him - but his shift ended and there was no sign of him.

He knew what Ronan was doing. He was giving him space, giving him time to figure out what he wanted.

The thing is that Adam knew what he wanted.

He’d realised as they walked home from Cheng’s party that the reason he’d gotten so angry that Ronan had lied to him was not just that Ronan had lied for so long, or that Adam had to mentally reconstruct the entire relationship he believed existed between Ronan and Blue, or even that it kept him from realising his feelings for Ronan sooner, but that had he known Blue and Ronan’s relationship was all a farce, he might not have befriended Ronan in the first place. Which meant that he’d still be where he was - living at home, pining after Blue, best friends with Mason Hunter.

He knew that if he’d known the truth, even if it was after he became friends with Gansey, he might not have fallen for Ronan the way he did. The realisation made him feel incredibly guilty. Not to mention the fact that Ronan had apparently liked Adam for months. Ronan had liked him back when Adam was a jealous viper filled with spite and hatred for Ronan. It made his gut twist into knots. How had Adam let Mason talk him into such a thing? It seemed like that Adam had been worlds apart from the person Adam was now. But if he hadn’t been talked into it then, he wouldn’t be as stupidly happy as he was now.

And that’s what he was. Stupidly happy. And the cause of this stupid happiness was giving Adam space, wondering if he wanted anything more out of their relationship.

The answer was a total, resounding yes. He hoped Ronan wasn’t drunk, because he really wanted to fucking kiss him.

Except that he didn’t see Ronan the entire day. He thought about walking over to Monmouth at 2am when his night shift at the Fishbowl had ended, but he couldn’t keep his eyes open, and he had a suspicion that Ronan might be waiting for him at his apartment.

But Ronan wasn’t at St. Agnes either. The disappointment almost stifled Adam.

The day after the longest day of Adam’s life was another busy day that threatened to be pretty painfully long as well. Except that Adam had taken shifts in the afternoon, evening and night, which meant that he had the morning free to go over to Monmouth and see Ronan.

He wolfed down his breakfast - being able to keep all the money he earned meant that he had a little extra cash for orange juice, granola bars and yoghurt - and then started cycling towards Monmouth. He didn’t know what he was going to say, what he was going to do, but he felt like he was going to burst from the sheer happiness he was feeling.

Ronan liked him back. Ronan had liked him since the beginning.

He still had a hard time wrapping his head around the fact that Ronan’s relationship with Blue had all been a charade, but the more he thought about it, the more sense it made. He’d seen how they behaved with each other - he had tried to make sense of their sibling-like relationship by associating it with the behaviour of couples who’d been together for a long time. He’d seen how they only acted like a couple when one of Ronan’s brothers were around. And he’d definitely seen the way Ronan looked at him, but he’d assumed he was imagining it. It was what he wanted to see. It couldn’t have been real.

Granted, he and Ronan needed to talk things over eventually - maybe at some point Adam would even tell him about the plan - but that was a problem for future Adam. All present Adam wanted to do was to get over to Monmouth and kiss him. Properly, this time.

The first thing he noticed as he reached Monmouth was that Ronan’s car wasn’t outside. The spot beside Gansey’s Camaro was empty, save for angry tire tracks on the concrete.

He might have been helping his brothers move, Adam reasoned, or at Nino’s. Adam could use Gansey’s phone to call him. He didn’t think Ronan would answer his phone, especially if it was Gansey calling, but it was worth a shot.

When Gansey opened the door, however, Adam's heart stalled. He could see distress clearly etched onto Gansey's face.

“Adam,” he said. “Ronan’s missing again.”

Adam’s blood spiked. Missing? But he’d promised he wouldn’t disappear again. Not after last time. Not after the incident at Kavinsky’s party.

Adam tried to ignore the hammering in his heart. Ronan had told him the truth - he hadn’t tried to kill himself. It had just been the dreams. That’s all.

The thought wasn’t comforting. Ronan could still have been injured by his nightmares. Is that why he hadn’t come to see him the night before? Adam couldn’t stop imagining Ronan lying on a church pew somewhere, bleeding to death. Alone.

“How long?” Adam asked. His mouth was dry. 

“He left yesterday morning to go see Declan, and I haven’t seen him since.”

Gansey had his glasses on, and his hair was a dishevelled mess. Adam walked into Monmouth and turned to face him.

“Where all have you looked?”

“Everywhere. Nino’s, the church. Even Aglionby. Declan is moving out right now, but he says neither he nor Matthew have seen Ronan. He says they said their goodbyes yesterday.” Gansey rubbed his face. “He hasn’t been answering his phone.”

“Did you check Kavinsky’s?” Adam asked, quietly.

“I was just heading over there,” Gansey said. “I was wondering if you would stay here? Just in case he comes back?”

Adam nodded. Gansey pressed his thumb to his lips.

“Thank you, Adam,” he said. “You’re a good friend.”

Adam felt a thick wave of guilt overcome him. He repressed it. He wondered if he’d ever have the guts to tell any of them the truth of what a bad friend he really was.

He stood by the window and watched Gansey drive away. He was full of restless energy. How could he just sit and wait while Ronan was missing, possibly harmed somewhere? What if it was already too late? A wave of emotions choked him. Why hadn’t Gansey come to him earlier? Why hadn’t he checked Kavinsky’s place first? Where the hell was Ronan, and why had he disappeared now?

He was pacing around the apartment, his thoughts an agitated tangle, when he heard a noise from the kitchen. 

His heart jumped. Noah.

He almost tripped over his feet as he made his way towards the origin of the sound. Noah was sitting on the island counter. He was flickering today, barely there.

“Noah,” Adam said.

Noah turned to look at him. He offered him a melancholic smile. Adam tensed.

“Ronan’s missing,” Adam said. “Do you know where he…”

“He knows,” Noah said, sadly.

“Knows what?” 

“About you,” Noah said.

He seemed to be floating an inch off the counter. Adam felt a shiver run through him. He wondered how he’d ever doubted Noah was a ghost.

“What about me?” Adam asked. He shook his head, running his fingers through his hair. “Noah, listen, if you know where he is…”

Noah sighed, clearly frustrated and upset with Adam’s confusion.

“Noah, please just…”

“He knows about that plan you made with Mason.”

The whole world seemed to stop. 

“No,” he said. His voice was a whisper.

“Mason told him,” Noah said. He looked depressed. He pressed a hand to his own cheek. “He doesn’t handle these things well, Adam.”

Adam’s heart started up again, pumping at twice it’s normal pace. Everything seemed too chaotic, every thought was too much

“Where is he?” Adam asked. There was a frantic edge to his voice. “I need to… talk to him. I need to explain.”

Noah sighed.

“Noah, it’s different now. You know it’s different now.”

“It’s been different for a while now,” Noah said. “Doesn’t make it better. You should have been the one to tell him.”

He doesn’t handle these things well, Adam.

Adam had to find him. He had to find him before he did something stupid. He had to explain.

Where the fuck could he have been hiding?

Which is when it hit him. It was so obvious.

The Barns.

Adam was on his bike in minutes, racing down the unfamiliar roads, trying to remember how he and Ronan had driven up the other day. His mind was in overdrive, and Adam tried to shove away the guilt, the thoughts that screamed at him - You did it, asshole. You crushed him.

Wasn’t this what he’d wanted when he came up with the plan with Mason? To hurt Ronan? To cause him pain? Well, he’d done it. Vile Adam Parrish had spread his poison to the last person he knew who deserved it. The only upside was that he’d ended up causing himself pain as well.

He couldn’t have predicted this. Couldn’t have known that Ronan would not only have feelings for him, but that his feelings had been there long before Adam had ever been worthy of them. Not that he was worthy of them now. The thought made Adam feel so shitty he couldn’t breathe. How could he have hurt Ronan this way?

He had to make things right. He couldn’t bear the thought of bringing Ronan more pain. Just two days ago he’d been upset that Ronan had lied to him, had kept him in the dark about his sexuality, had hidden his feelings for him. He’d been upset that Ronan had let him pine and yearn and wallow imagining that Ronan would never like him back. But as soon as Adam had discovered the truth, he’d just thought of himself. He’d truly believed he could keep his initial reason for befriending Ronan a secret forever. But now it was out in the open, and he’d hurt him worse than if he’d just told him the truth himself. He’d hurt Ronan, and the pain Adam felt at this knowledge was worse than all the supposed unrequited longing he’d felt before. How could he possibly fix something like this?

It took twice as long to get to the Barns on a bike, and Adam was unsure of the path, so it was well past lunch when he reached Ronan’s home, sweating and out of breath.

He’d missed his first shift of the day.

Adam dropped his bike outside without bothering to lock it up, and ran across the fields towards the barn-houses. He didn’t know where Ronan would be, but he had a feeling he was here. As odd as it was, he could sense his magic in the air.

Ronan wasn’t in the fields. Adam opened each shed and looked inside, calling Ronan’s name. In one of them, he found Jackhammer. She blinked up at him with her large doe eyes. She looked upset. Or maybe that was just Adam projecting.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered to her. She turned away.

Adam’s gut lurched. If Ronan wasn’t here, then he was in the house. He  walked towards it, his pace slowing down as he reached the porch. He jiggled the handle. The door swung open.

There was no sound, no movement. Adam had thought Ronan’s mother would be here, but he didn’t pass anyone in the living room or the kitchen. He walked up the stairs and down a hallway. He tried each door, looked into each cupboard, until he found a room with Ronan’s name on the door. He scrabbled at the handle. The room was locked.

“Ronan?” he called.

He banged on the door and then pressed his good ear against it.

There was silence. His chest squeezed tight.

“Ronan?” he called again. His breath was coming out in ragged puffs.

He was about to pull away, when he suddenly heard dull thumps against the floor. He pressed closer to the door, listening to the sound.

Feet against wood. 

“Fuck off.”

Ronan’s voice, muffled through the door. Adam let out a strangled noise and sagged against the wall, relief making him lightheaded.

“Ronan,” he gasped. “Fuck, Ronan. You promised you wouldn’t do that again. Fuck.

There was silence.

“I guess we’re all liars here,” Ronan said. 

The words scalded him. Adam flinched.

“Just let me explain,” he said. 

“Explain what?” Ronan asked.

His voice was flat, devoid of any inflection. It was worse than hearing him swear, worse than hearing him bubbling with fury.

Adam swallowed. “Noah told me,” he said. “That Mason told you. That… you know.”

“Know what?” Ronan asked. His voice was still coming out in a monotone.

“Please,” Adam begged. “Just… come out. Let me talk to you.”

“I broke up with Blue,” Ronan said. “She’s all yours.”

Another strike of the whip. Adam ran a hand down his arm as though Ronan had physically hurt him.

“I’m not leaving till you let me explain,” Adam said with a force he didn’t feel.

There was silence on the other end. Then, loud EDM began blasting from the room. Adam slumped down onto the floor, his backpack at his feet. He thumped on the door again, but the sound vanished into the thundering music.

“I’m not leaving here until you talk to me, Ronan,” he said, even though he knew Ronan probably couldn’t hear him.

He had to come out of there sometime. Adam pressed his palms to his eyes. He’d sweated all the way through his shirt. He was sure he looked - and smelled - atrocious, but he didn’t want to move. He wasn’t going to move. 

Time seemed to have slowed down. Adam checked his watch every five minutes. He was aware of how much money he was losing by not showing up to work. His bosses at the factory might give him a free pass because he was a good worker, but Boyd would be furious about him skipping with no prior warning. The Fishbowl would probably threaten to sack him for not giving notice. Maybe they would sack him. But he had no phone, no way of contacting them.

It didn’t change anything. He wasn’t moving from this spot by the door. He wasn’t about to let Ronan do anything stupid. Not because of him.

He would tell his bosses he was sick or had a family emergency or something when he showed up tomorrow. Today, he was going to sit here. For as long as it took.

He closed his eyes, and as he used to do when he was still living with his parents, he let himself wallow in his pain. He knew what he had to do. He’d been thinking about it as he was walking around the Barns, guilt chewing him up from inside out. He thought back on what he’d done, and knew there was only one solution that made sense, only one way to make things right, even if it was the very last thing in the world he wanted to do.

The simple fact of the matter was that Adam was a stain. He was a contaminant, someone that spread negativity wherever he went. He’d crushed Ronan. Ronan. The boy who had been hurt time and time again, and still had so much love and tenderness to give. Ronan who cared so intensely for his friends, who took such care of the ones he loved. The same Ronan who, while Adam had been trying to infect him with hatefulness, had nothing but adoration for him.

While Adam had been trying to cause him pain, Ronan had wanted to kiss him. Since fucking forever.

The thought tore through Adam’s heart. He couldn’t deal with it. Couldn’t bear the thought of continuing to bring Ronan pain, of extending the same pain to Blue and Gansey and Noah.

There was only one way out.

Adam was going to apologise, and then he was going to walk out of their lives. For good.

Chapter Text

Ronan’s heart had been broken several times before - when Mason betrayed him, when his father died, when he found out he couldn’t return to the Barns. His heart had broken when he believed his mother had given up on life, and then when he and Declan had stopped being friends.

Now his heart was breaking again.

It was so stupid. So fucking stupid. He hadn’t even believed till recently that Adam could ever have feelings for him, but here he was mourning the fact that he’d lied to him. He should have known Adam was lying to him. What would a guy like Adam see in him anyway? Even if it was just friendship between them, he should have known it was a farce.

But it wasn’t just friendship, was it? Adam had kissed him back. He’d tried to kiss him again. Adam had realised he had feelings for him and he’d taken advantage of them. He’d taken advantage of him. To get to Blue.

Ronan lay on his bed, letting the jarring music fill his ears and overwhelm his senses.

He couldn’t hear Adam outside anymore. Maybe he’d left. He had work today anyway. He must have gone for his shift at the factory. Ronan fidgeted, and then resisted the urge to go and check. It was just another excuse for heartbreak, and he was tired of hurting.

After Mason’s call he’d driven aimlessly for a while, until the desire to go to Kavinsky’s had become almost overwhelming. Then he’d turned around and driven to the Barns. He’d spent the entire night and day here, at the Barns, and it had helped a little. The familiar smell of the air, the fireflies, the odd dream gadgets that sat on every surface - it was home. It was what he’d been missing for so long.

His mother was currently sitting in a nursing home in DC, a fact Ronan had been pissed about until Declan had assured him it was only temporary - only until they got the Barns up and running smoothly again. It worked out for him at the moment, in a sense. It would be hard being around his mother, needing her comfort and instead getting an emotionless shell of a woman who could offer him nothing. He’d rather be alone.

Ronan hadn’t slept all night. He’d sat with Jackhammer for a while, watching as she ran around the fields, but his mind kept drifting to the night he’d spent with her and Adam, how he and Adam had gotten caught in the rain, the way Adam had laughed and looked at him and run his hands down his chest. God he felt like a complete idiot. He’d actually almost convinced himself that Adam felt the same way about him. That he’d wanted him.

Was Adam still outside? Why was he outside? What was there to explain? Maybe Mason was lying to Ronan. The more he thought about what Mason had said, the more he wondered if he’d called him up and revealed all that shit on purpose.

But if he had been outright lying, would Parrish really have made the journey all the way out here to explain? Would he have banged on the door with all that panic in his voice, begged Ronan to listen to him? Noah told me that Mason told you. That's what he'd said. So a t least part of what Mason had said had been the truth, and Ronan didn’t know which he’d rather believe - that Adam wanted to be with Blue, or that Adam had been trying to fuck with him. The thought of both being true made him sick to his stomach. 

Maybe Adam was here because he felt guilty. Maybe he felt guilty because he and Ronan had become friends, and things that changed between them. He did care about Ronan a little, right? He wouldn't have acted the way he had at Kavinsky's party - or in DC, or at the Barns - if he didn't care at all. He couldn't have been that good of an actor. Maybe he was going to say, I’m sorry for taking this so far, I hope we can stay friends? Maybe he wanted to ask Ronan permission to pursue Blue. Then Ronan could watch the dreadful Gansey-Blue-Adam love triangle play out while he nursed his broken heart and drank himself into a stupor.

Possibly not his best plan, but it wasn’t his worst one either.

Though Ronan was frankly quite proud of himself for not giving into the urge to go to Kavinsky’s. Things there weren’t exactly kosher; Kavinsky was always trying to push hard drugs onto him, and get him to do things that Ronan regretted the next morning. The truth was, at one point, Ronan had needed Kavinsky. Kavinsky was a dreamer just like Ronan, and he’d refused to teach Ronan tricks unless Ronan drank with him, unless he raced with him, unless he had his back, and took the pills Kavinsky offered him. Somewhere along the way, however, their relationship had changed. Ronan realised he didn’t need Kavinsky to dream, and yet, he was addicted to his parties, addicted to the adrenaline fuelled nights of racing. Their relationship was messy, tangled. Kavinsky had a sick fascination with him that sometimes tipped into the not-exactly-platonic, and maybe a part of Ronan had been flattered by it. Maybe that’s why he kept going back. The booze and the drugs and the attention - it had been an easy way to forget everything.

It was self-destructive, he knew, to constantly run to Kavinsky whenever he was down. He’d realised that, and lately he’d been taking a healthier approach. To everything. He stopped the drugs, he started calling Kavinsky out on his shit, he told him to stop saying things to him that made him feel exposed in the worst way possible. Hell, the last time he'd gotten drunk he’d actually been cheerful. He’d actually been drinking to have fun, not to be drunk or to have an excuse to be stupid. He’d actually talked to Cheng Two without it ending in anger and fists and Ronan feeling like shit.

He’d thought he was healing. But this whole thing with Adam was threatening to send him off the edge again.

He needed a drink.

He got up from the bed. It had been hours since Adam had banged on his door. He must have gone by now. He had work anyway.

Ronan stabbed off the music and then yanked open the door, jerking backwards when Adam toppled over onto the floor. Adam blinked up at him blearily, blue eyes muddled. His hair was a mess and his clothes were horribly wrinkled. He sat up, rubbed his eyes and yawned.

“Shit,” he said. “What time is it?” 

Ronan stiffened, but the shock he felt was obvious when he spoke. “The fuck are you still doing here?”

“I was waiting to talk to you.” Adam staggered to his feet.

“You’ve been here all day,” Ronan said. “You haven’t eaten anything.”

Adam shrugged. “Neither have you.”

Ronan shoved past him, fuming. Adam trailed after him.

“Can we talk?”

“You have work.”

“Fuck it.”

Surprise made Ronan stop in his tracks for a second. He glanced at Adam, and then continued walking.

“Fuck have you done with Parrish?”

“Ha ha,” Adam said, sarcastically.

Ronan reached the kitchen. He grabbed a box of mac and cheese from one of the cupboards and tore it open.

“Seriously Parrish,” he said. “You have work.”

“I missed my first two shifts already,” Adam said. “Might as well miss the last one.”

“You have to pay your fucking rent.”

“I’ll be fine if I skip a few meals in the next week,” he said. He rubbed his eyes again. “I don’t know… maybe soap and razors too. I don’t need to shave though. We’re on summer break.”

“You look like a creepy asshole with a beard. And you smell fucking terrible already.”

Ronan grabbed a pot, poured water in it and slammed it onto the stove. Adam watched him. Ronan didn’t want to look at him. He didn’t want to see the guilty expression on his face. 

“Please let me explain,” Adam said, his voice low.

Ronan turned to face him, trying to harden his expression. It was a mistake. Seeing Adam as a distraught mess just made him feel worse. He dropped his gaze. “You think I give a fuck that you tried to break me and Sargent up, Parrish?”

“Yes,” Adam said, stiffening his jaw. “I think you do give a fuck.”

Ronan clanged the lid on top of the pot.

“Well I don’t. I don’t give a shit about what you do or don’t do.”

“Then why do you care if I go to work?” Adam asked, quietly. “Why are you making macaroni?”

“I don’t. And this isn’t for you.”

“You do care,” Adam said, and his voice was forceful, even as it shook. “Because you’re a good person.”

Ronan turned away but Adam moved around to his other side, so that Ronan had to look at him. He couldn’t stand how messy he looked. He couldn’t stand how soft his gaze was. He couldn't stand the way he had his brow set in that look of furrowed concentration that had enchanted Ronan the first time he’d seen him.

“The problem is,” Adam said, “that I’m not. I’m not a good person, Ronan. I’m broken. I’m… damaged. I grew up in a house where love was some sort of fairy tale idea, not a real thing. If I’d been a stronger person, a nicer person, then maybe I wouldn’t have let Mason convince me to fuck with you, to break you two up. I could give you a hundred reasons why I decided to do it, but they would all be excuses, and I don’t want to give you excuses. You deserve better.”

“I don’t want to hear this,” Ronan snapped, but his voice wobbled. 

“Please,” Adam begged. “Just let me say this.”

He knew he would do anything Adam asked. It was totally and completely unfair.

Adam hung his head and then took a deep breath. “I did plan to break you and Blue up. I wasn’t sure how to do it - and I clearly did a horrible job - but the plan was to become your friend so I could… mess with you. So I could get some sort of revenge for... I don't even know what. But the thing is, I didn’t know who you were. I wasn’t angry at you. I was jealous of you, and angry at my father, and angry at Kavinsky, and angry at Mason for not giving a shit about me, and angry at Blue for not even giving me a second look.” He bit his lip. “And I was tired, and I was hungry, and I was so frustrated that my life wasn’t working out the way I wanted it to. So I decided to take it out on you. Because I thought it would help.”

Ronan’s heart was stuttering now. Spelling out something in morse code. That small part of his brain that had loved Adam from the moment he’d heard him say something snarky in that southern drawl of his was begging him to walk away before he got hurt anymore, before he fell in love all over again.

“I met Blue a few times,” Adam continued, “and I… I flirted with her. I said some mean things about you. I gave you advice that I told myself was bad, but it was really just advice. I mean…” he swallowed. “I didn’t actually do all the stuff that Mason told me to, but the fact that I was planning to is bad enough. The fact that I told Mason how I was fucking with you, the fact that I made up stuff, just to… I don’t know… please him? I don’t know why I did it. But then I started…” he let out a sharp breath. “Things changed. I saw how kind you were. To Matthew. How honest you were with Gansey. How you’re always looking out for your friends even though you pretend you’re an asshole.”

He wiped the corner of his eye with the side of his hand.

“You changed everything, Ronan. I mean, you, Gansey, Noah, Blue. You made me a different person… a better person. And I don’t deserve any of it. Not your love, not your time or your affection. I don’t deserve to have you all care about me when my intentions were so fucking cruel. My dad created a monster. I’ve known it my whole life, but this just proves it. I don’t belong with all of you.”

He took a staggered breath. Another tear was rolling down his cheek now, but his jaw was set, like he’d come to some sort of conclusion.

“You’ve been through so much shit, Ronan. And I’m sorry I brought more of it into your life. I didn’t mean to. And I’m not going to anymore.” His voice shook. “I think it’s better if I stay out of your lives. I don’t want to cause you any more pain. But thank you for everything, really.”

He gave Ronan a small smile. Ronan had to fight back the burning in his throat, the sting in his eyes. He felt like he should say something, but there were no words. Adam turned away and started walking towards the door. Ronan watched him, unable to move, unable to breathe. The water began to boil. Ronan turned off the stove.

When he turned around, Adam was gone.

Ronan slumped down onto the floor. The lump in his throat had grown so big, he could barely breathe. He tried to be angry, tried to will the tears not to fall, but they did anyway. He wanted to be pissed off, wanted to be broken hearted, but all he felt was the injustice of it all.

Because as upset as Ronan was with what Adam had done, how Adam had lied, he was even more upset that Adam thought he was a bad person.

This was the same Adam Parrish who’d rescued him from Kavinsky’s party even though he knew it was late and his father was going to beat him up. The same Adam Parrish that was thrown out of his house for preventing Ronan from going to jail. The same Adam Parrish that listened to him, that understood him, that kept him company when he needed it the most.

This was the same Adam Parrish who was risking getting fired from his jobs that he needed so desperately just so he could check up on Ronan, just so he could make sure he was alright and explain himself to him. God what a fucking idiot.

He couldn’t have been faking all of that. He may have been trying to hurt Ronan, but he’d just made him happier. Without realising it, Adam had given him a reason to tell his brothers the truth about himself. Without realising it, Adam had helped Ronan understand that he didn’t need destructive hobbies to feel excitement in life. He’d shown Ronan why he was wrong for being friends with Kavinsky, had given him the courage to be a more honest version of himself. He’d made Ronan want more, had made him care more.

Adam was not a bad person, and Ronan knew this because Mason had done the exact same thing to Ronan all those years ago. He’d taken advantage of a broken person in a bad situation. He’d taken advantage of Adam’s vulnerability, his lack of friends, his fractured life. And just as Ronan had then, here was Adam thinking he was a horrible person for having been manipulated.

Whatever said and done, at the end of the day, Ronan knew Adam Parrish. And only an idiot would ever let him go.

Ronan glanced up. Adam was standing in the doorway.

“I forgot,” he said.

Ronan didn’t know what he forgot, but he staggered to his feet anyway. Adam rifled through his backpack. Ronan stood stock still in place as Adam came over to him, keeping a safe distance, as though Ronan was a dangerous animal.

“I’ve been meaning to give you this for a while,” he said. 

He pushed something into Ronan’s hand. It was cold to the touch. Ronan glanced down, and his breath lodged in his throat.

His bee.

It was exactly how he remembered it. Delicate but strong, with wings the colour of opal. Its body transparent and shining in the light. He blew lightly on it, and watched as it took off in the air, flapping furiously, emitting a dull maroon light.

“How did you…?” Ronan started.

“I stole it,” Adam said. There was a hint of humour in his voice, but it was strained. “But good luck proving it was me.”

As Adam stood there, his cheeks smudged with dirt where he’d wiped his tears, his hair in a dishevelled mess, admitting he recovered something Ronan had been missing for years, Ronan felt like he was falling. His feelings came rushing over, crashing down on him like a wave. He was spluttering, trying to stay afloat, but it was no use.

Ronan had fallen too deep into love to ever be able to get back up.

Adam made to leave again, but this time Ronan grabbed onto his sleeve.

“Do you want to be with Blue?” he asked. His voice was rough, sandpaper against stone.

“No,” Adam said. “Not anymore.”

“Why?” Ronan asked.

Adam shifted in his place. “I think I’m falling for you,” he said, and his voice was barely above a whisper. He swallowed, and then amended. “I don’t think, I know.”

“And your plan was to take your shitty bike and ride out of my life?” 

“I don’t want to hurt you any more,” Adam said, pathetically. “I really don’t deserve you.”

“You’re a fucking idiot, Adam.”

Ronan grabbed the front of his shirt and dragged him close.

Adam smelled like grease and oranges and sweat. Ronan found it a little hard to think, to breathe, with him so close. He could hear Adam’s breath hitch as he touched his cheek, ran a thumb across his cheekbone.

“I’m sorry,” Adam whispered.

“Asshole,” Ronan breathed.

Adam swallowed. His eyes flicked down to Ronan’s lips.

Ronan leaned in closer breathing in his scent, and then, before he could lose his nerve, he pressed their lips together.

From the moment their lips touched, Ronan was gone. The way Adam kissed him undid him, made him unravel, made him melt. He gave into the sensation, let Adam take the lead as they kissed again and again. Adam began softly and tentatively, careful and teasing, but then he grew more forceful, more deliberate. He pressed up against him, hands digging into skin, coaxing moans from the back of Ronan’s throat.

Ronan’s skin was on fire, his whole body electrified. He forgot where they were, who he was. There was nothing but this one moment, Adam’s lips against his, his hand on his hip, desperately wanting him back.

It was too soon when they pulled apart, gasping against each other’s lips. Adam shifted so his breath was warming Ronan’s neck, and he held onto him, as though scared that Ronan would disappear if he let go.

Fuck,” he said.

Ronan couldn’t even form words.

They stayed that way for a moment, bodies pressed together, chests heaving. Adam gently ran his thumb over the nape of his neck. Ronan shivered.

“So, I’m forgiven then?” Adam asked, his voice husky.

“No,” Ronan said. He was still a little breathless, and Adam’s voice like that was certainly not doing him any favours. “But we’re getting there.”

Adam pulled back a little and grinned at him, eyes alighting in that way that made Ronan’s blood thrum.

“That’s fair,” he said, his nose brushing against Ronan’s. “I’ll be happy to pay the price.”

It was all Ronan could do not to make a strangled noise. “Don’t be a pervert, Parrish.”

Adam smirked. He let his a finger run down Ronan’s neck, over the hooks and claws of his tattoo. He was about so say something else, when his eyes suddenly widened.

“Shit,” Adam said. “Gansey.”

Gansey? What the fuck was he going on about? Of all the mood-killing topics, this might have been number one. 

Which is when it hit him.

Shit.

Gansey had called him sixteen times that morning, but Ronan had been in too much of a state to answer him. Adam pulled away as Ronan fished around in his pocket and yanked out his phone. He flinched. Sixteen more missed calls.

“He’s going to kill me,” he said accusingly to Adam as he starting dialling Gansey’s number. “This is all your fault.”

“I’ll gladly make up for that too,” Adam said, but he was beaming stupidly, his eyes filled with that same brilliant light that was filling Ronan.

Ronan didn’t know he had the power to make people feel that way. He turned around so Adam couldn’t see how flushed his cheeks were, how blissfully and idiotically happy he was.

Above, the light the bee was emitting was a brilliant yellow. 

He really was done for.

Chapter Text

Adam straightened the collar of the light blue shirt he was wearing and looked at himself in the mirror. The shirt fit well and his khaki slacks, while not new, were at least clean. He looked alright. More well-fed than he had a few months ago, that’s for sure.

He turned to face Gansey, who was sitting on the bed, typing on his phone.

“Ok,” he said. “How do I look?”

Gansey glanced at him, pushing his glasses up on his nose.

“Adam Parrish,” he said, approvingly. “You are glorious.”

Adam gave him a small smile. He tugged at the sleeves. He was wearing Gansey’s shirt for the evening. Well, his shirt now. It was a shirt that Gansey had bought that was ‘accidentally’ a size too big for him, so he’d suggested Adam just take it. Adam figured that wasn’t quite the whole story, but for once he didn’t want to argue about it. He’d battled an internal war, but accepted the gift graciously.

It helped knowing that he actually could afford the shirt if he really wanted to splurge. For the first time in what felt like years, Adam actually had spending money. Instead of being berated or fired from any of his jobs for skipping work to find Ronan like he’d thought, Adam had actually been promoted in two of them. His absence helped the factory realise how important Adam was to them, and they’d ended up giving him a raise. Boyd, instead of being mad like Adam had expected, had been incredibly concerned, and had interrogated Adam as soon as he walked in the next day, asking him questions about his life and whether anything was wrong. Apparently Adam skipping work meant that something only short of the apocalypse was happening. Boyd too had promoted him, saying it was overdue, once he’d heard that Adam was paying rent himself.

The Fishbowl had given him an earful, but he hated that job anyway, so he turned his deaf ear towards the whole affair.

Gansey turned back to his phone and let out a helpless laugh.

“Blue?” Adam guessed.

Gansey looked a little sheepish. Blue and Gansey hadn’t quite admitted their feelings to each other yet, but it was only a matter of time. It was painfully obvious to the rest of them what was going on. Noah had even taken to winking at Blue every time Gansey said anything that could remotely seem like flirting - even adding in a sly smile if it was something cringe-worthy like ‘Those coveralls look very fetching on you, Blue’ or ‘Your camo shorts are delightful.’ It shouldn’t have been funny except that Noah couldn’t exactly wink, and Adam and Ronan were both smug assholes with a bad sense of humour that took pride in the fact that they could see this relationship from a mile away, while Gansey and Blue had been completely taken by surprise when they announced theirs. 

“Are you nervous?” Gansey asked.

“A little,” Adam admitted.

“I would say it’s going to be alright, but I can’t ever tell with Declan,” Gansey sighed.

Adam shrugged. He definitely had it easier than Blue had it a few months ago when she and Ronan were pretending to date. At least Ronan and Declan were on better terms now.

“If Ronan thinks it’s a good idea, then I’m sure it is,” Adam said, but he wasn’t sure he believed himself.

At least Matthew was going to be there. The youngest Lynch had made his affection for Adam very clear.

Gansey gave him a reassuring shoulder squeeze as Adam left his room and went over to Ronan’s. He knocked on the door and walked in without waiting for a response.

Ronan’s room was as messy as always. The floor was littered with clothes - mostly Ronan’s, but there were a few t-shirts of Adam’s that Ronan had filched - and a variety of miscellaneous dream objects. His desk was cluttered with papers covered in Adam’s handwriting, outlining the design for a forest on the ley line. An experiment. Something to help Ronan’s mother recover. Ronan’s bee sat on his bedside, next to his car keys. 

Ronan was pulling on a shirt when Adam walked in. Adam leaned in the doorway, smiling lazily at him.

“Here for the show, Parrish?” he asked.

“I was, but clearly I missed all the good parts,” Adam replied.

Ronan smirked at him. Adam’s fondness for his tattoo was common knowledge to him now.

“How do I look?” Adam asked, as Ronan buttoned down his own shirt. “Appropriate enough for dinner with the Lynch brothers?”

“It’s only Declan you need to worry about,” he said. “I don’t think Matthew cares how you dress.”

“I’ve had plenty of dinners with him anyway.”

“Except we’re not going to McDonald’s this time, Parrish. This is a disgustingly fancy place.”

“Which is why I’m asking.” Adam gestured down to his outfit. “How do I look?”

Ronan walked closer, close enough that Adam had to tip his head a bit to maintain eye-contact.

“Like a loser,” Ronan said, and kissed him.

Adam wasn’t sure he’d ever get used to the way Ronan’s kisses made him feel. He grinned against his lips.

“Culus.Asshole.

“Definitely better than that sexy bowling attendant outfit of yours,” Ronan teased.

Adam shoved him. “You talk a lot for someone who has yet to beat me in a single game of bowling.”

“No one likes a show-off, Parrish.”

They kissed again, and then some more. Adam got a little distracted by the way Ronan pushed him against the door-frame as they kissed, eager and breathless. He ran a thumb over Ronan’s cheek, relishing the smoothness of his skin, all freshly shaved and smelling of mossy after-shave. It was only when Ronan started leaving burning kisses along his jaw and curling his fingers through Adam’s hair, when Adam remembered what they were meant to be doing.

“Don’t mess it up,” Adam complained, breaking apart and swiping at his hair.

Ronan laughed, but pulled back.

“It’ll be fine, Parrish,” he said, turning to his mirror and straightening his shirt. “Seriously. You can’t do worse than Blue did.”

Adam laughed. He walked over and planted himself down on the bed as Ronan started putting on his shoes. It seemed ridiculous now that he’d ever thought Ronan was in love with Blue.

“About that,” he said. “What are we going to say when Declan asks how this happened? I mean, I don’t think ‘I was trying win Blue over and accidentally fell really hard for her asshole fake boyfriend’ would fly.”

Ronan snorted. “He knows I came out because of you,” he mumbled. “I don’t think he’ll ask.”

Adam watched him, a small smile on his face.

Actually Declan’s initial reaction to Ronan’s confession that he and Adam were dating had apparently been consternation for Gansey and concern about how he was going to manage their living situation. Adam had heard only a fragment of the phone conversation that involved Ronan yelling the words “I was never fucking dating Gansey!” before he decided he wanted to stay the hell out of it.

Considering Adam had been answering Ronan’s phone for months, he couldn’t imagine that Declan - who was a lot sharper than Ronan gave him credit for - hadn’t caught on to the fact that there was something between them. Still, he hadn’t met Declan in person since Declan had graduated Aglionby, and they hadn’t spoken on the phone since Ronan had told him they were dating, and Adam couldn’t help but be nervous about the whole evening.

Ronan must have noticed Adam's expression because he let out a grunt.

“Stop worrying, Parrish,” he said. “You fucking enjoy studying and Kavinsky is scared of you. Declan is going to love you.”

Adam laughed again, falling back on the bed. “Kavinsky is not scared of me. I told you, that thing with the thorn was a freak coincidence.”

Ronan hummed, not believing it. It was true that some inexplicable things had been happening around Adam lately - one of which was an incident where Kavinsky’s palm had been struck by a thorn that appeared out of nowhere, when he tried to piss Adam off in English class - but Adam figured it was because he’d surrounded himself with magic. Something had to rub off on him sometime.

Adam rolled his head to watch Ronan. He liked the way his cheekbones looked in the warm light of his room, the way the lack of stubble made his eyes look softer. 

“Come on, runt,” Ronan said, finishing with his shoes. “Let’s go.”

Ronan offered him his hand, and Adam took it. Ronan pulled him up and kissed his knuckles. Adam grinned. Ronan’s fondness for his hands was common knowledge to him now.

Ronan grabbed his keys and they headed out to the BMW. Adam hopped into the passenger side seat. The car felt comfortable, familiar, almost like it was Adam’s own.

They drove and Ronan didn’t cross the speed limit, even though it was obvious he was itching to. They parked outside the restaurant, and Ronan fidgeted with his cuffs while Adam tried calling Declan.

They were almost fifteen minutes early, which Ronan said would probably make Declan faint with shock when he found out. The weather was nice and cool, and the sidewalk was empty, so they decided to wait outside for the other two Lynch brothers to get there. They leaned against the car while Adam talked about the book they were reading for English Lit. He was in the middle of explaining why Waiting for Godot was a important play, even if it was painfully boring, when they were interrupted.

“Adam?”

The two of them turned in unison. Mason Hunter stood a little away from them in a woollen sweater, holding a plastic bag full of groceries.

While Mason still went to Aglionby, Adam and Ronan never saw him. He had no classes with either of them, and had stopped going for the after-school Phys. Ed extracurricular with Adam. Blue said she saw him at Nino’s sometimes, but he was never there when any of the rest of them visited.

“Mason,” Adam said. His voice was chillier than the air.

Ronan said nothing, but Adam could feel him tense beside him. Adam was glad there was a car between them and Mason. Both of them were equally capable of doing something stupid in anger. 

“Haven’t seen you two in a while,” Mason said, quietly.

His eyes were darting between them. He must have heard the two had remained friends, even after all he’d done to try and tear them apart, but he still looked somewhat surprised.

Adam and Ronan exchanged a look.

“Yeah,” Adam said. “Long while.”

After he’d found the bee in Mason’s closet, Adam had confronted him. The two had fought, Mason calling him names that still stung when he remembered them. He’d asked Mason why he’d never bothered to help him even though he knew he was in a bad place - at home, in school, in his head. He asked Mason why he’d tried to manipulate him, why he’d tried to take advantage. Mason had shrugged and said it wasn’t any of his business what happened in Adam’s life, so Adam had responded that Mason’s life wasn’t any of his business either. He’d stormed out and had iced him out completely after that. They hadn’t spoken since, which was an especially hard feat once Adam had found out what he’d said to Ronan on the phone. He hadn't got back in touch, but there were plenty of scathing words Adam had mentally curated for when he ran into Mason again.

“I’m shocked you two are still buds,” Mason said, emphasising the last word sarcastically. “But I s’ppose assholes have a way of findin’ each other.”

“Weird that you still have no friends, then,” Ronan said, coolly.

Mason gave him a dirty look. “You’re a real bastard, Ronan Lynch.”

Adam was already tired of this back and forth. He was tired of Mason letting his jealousy poison others. Adam wondered if he would have let his jealousy do the same, if he was in Mason’s place right now. It seemed very likely. If he hadn’t met Gansey and Ronan, if he hadn’t befriended Noah and Blue and pulled himself from the darkness that threatened to take over, Adam could have been Mason Hunter 2.0.

“His family has never been anything but kind to you,” Adam said, slowly. “Neither of us has ever done anything bad to you. I’d suggest re-directing your hate to the actual source of what’s making you unhappy.”

“I’d suggest you go fuck yourself,” Ronan added.

“Either works,” Adam conceded.

“I should’ve known you’d go over to his side,” Mason said, derisively. “So desperate for friends, you were willin’ to take any piece of shit’s offer of friendship.” 

“That’s why you and I were friends,” Adam agreed. He tried not to smirk as he added. “And don’t talk about my boyfriend like that.”

Mason’s eyes widened. His jaw slackened, and he glanced furiously between the two of them, waiting for an explanation. None came.

“See you later, prick,” Ronan said.

He waved until Mason glared at him and stalked away. Then Ronan turned back to Adam, a corner of his lip twitching.

“I love it when you defend my honour, Parrish,” he said, his voice teasing.

Adam rolled his eyes as Ronan moved closer to him, pressing their shoulders together. Neither of them were fans of overtly public displays of affection, but Adam enjoyed their new-found closeness; the casual touches, the soft smiles and wicked glances they shared. He particularly enjoyed it when Ronan took advantage of moments like these - when they were outside and alone - to press close to him, to entwine their fingers and whisper things to him, his breath warm on his cheek. There was something electrifying about it, especially since it had taken Ronan weeks to understand that he was allowed to do it.

“You are aware everyone in school is going to know about us now, right?” Ronan asked.

Adam shrugged. “They were going to find out eventually.” He tilted his head, looking at Ronan from the corner of his eye. “You don’t mind, do you?”

“Fuck no,” Ronan said. He wrapped his arms around Adam’s waist and pressed his cold nose into his cheek. “Sooner those assholes know you’re taken, the better.”

“Your face is freezing,” Adam complained, playfully shoving Ronan’s face away. He laughed at Ronan’s grumpy expression. “You really don’t mind?”

“It's really embarrassing to be seen with you, but I’ll live.”

“Asshole.”

Ronan grinned at him with that look in his eyes that made Adam’s heart dance.

“You know,” Adam said, feeling his ears heat up. “We’ve got to give it to Mason. He really brings us together.”

Ronan snorted, pulling slightly away and letting his eyes travel slowly down Adam’s face.

“Don’t give that dick credit,” Ronan said, his voice soft. “This would have happened anyway.”

“Oh yeah?” Adam asked, grinning.

Ronan looked a little flustered, but his tone was obnoxious as always when he replied. “Hell yeah. You and Gansey would have become friends eventually, because he’s fucking obsessed with you, and you think he’s the shit. And then I would have pretended to hate you until I realised I was basically crazy about you, and then when I couldn’t pretend anymore, I would have stared intensely at you until you realised you wanted me back.”

Adam laughed. “Brilliant plan.”

“You’re the man with the plans,” Ronan said.

Adam made a face at him, but he turned so they were facing each other, faces close together. Ronan’s hands were still on his waist. Adam rested his arms on his shoulders, hands at the base of Ronan’s neck.

“Listen,” Ronan murmured, leaning in so their lips were dangerously close. Fucking tease. “After dinner, I have a surprise for you.”

“Oh yeah?”

“It’s at the Barns.”

“Oh?”

“It’s a new power tool,” Ronan said. “Well, technically it’s an old one. Let’s just say, your dad is not going to be happy.”

Adam blinked at him, until it hit him. His hand flew to his mouth. “You got my dog?” he breathed. 

Ronan grinned at him in that way that set Adam’s blood on fire. “Her name is Arsenic.”

“Horrible.”

“Knew you’d love it.”

“Also not a power tool.”

Ronan shrugged as best as he could with Adam’s arms around his neck. “I’m changing it up.”

Adam looked at Ronan, gaze hovering over those impossibly light eyes of his. He ran a thumb over one of his sharp cheekbones. “How?”

He wasn’t sure if he was asking Ronan how he did it, or if he was asking the universe how he got so freaking lucky.

“Well, I stole her,” Ronan said, smirking even as his voice came out a little flustered. “But good luck proving it was me.”

Adam felt like his heart was going to burst. He couldn’t help the next words from spilling out. “I fucking love you.”

Ronan’s mouth quirked, but his gaze softened. “I fucking love you too.”

Adam grabbed him into a hug, arms thrown around his neck, pulling him in.

“Declan had better approve of this,” he whispered in his ear. “Because you’re stuck with me.”

THE END