Declan Lynch first became aware of Adam Parrish through the normal channels.
An overheard complaint in the cafeteria:
“God, what is up with that Parrish kid? He’s the least fun person I think I’ve ever met.”
A headmaster’s greeting in the halls:
“Good morning, Mr. Parrish. Nice to see you settling in so well.”
A voice crowing to a friend across the courtyard:
“Hey, check it out! 87 on that English quiz. It’s no Adam Parrish, but it’s way better than the D I was expecting.”
A whispered conversation through the cracked door of the teacher’s lounge:
“You’ve got Adam Parrish in your 3rd period? Man, I love that kid. If all of our students were that polite and hard-working, can you imagine how much less this job would suck?”
Each piece of information was collected and filed into a mental folder: Adam Parrish, new junior. Not well known enough to be well-liked or disliked by peers. Smart enough and hard working enough and quiet enough to be well-liked by authority figures. Useful connection? Not enough data to determine.
Declan soon received the memo that Gansey had adopted Adam Parrish. Not content with rehoming and rehabilitating Ronan, he apparently needed a new project, and so another stray suddenly found himself under the protection of the Richard C. Gansey the Third Animal Rescue Home. Or maybe he thought Ronan needed to work on his socialization skills—this was, after all, a necessary part of training difficult pets. So he’d heard.
At this point, he started collecting a regular stream of information, during those calls with Gansey where he attempted to wring semi-regular updates about his brother’s well-being. If he wasn’t wholly content to leave Ronan’s fate in Gansey’s hands, he was at least pretty confident that it was the best of nothing but bad options.
“No, Ronan isn’t here now. But he’s fine, don’t worry, he promised he’d meet me and Adam—you know Adam Parrish? He’s new—at Nino’s later. Fair warning, he’s still pissed about that thing from last time, so you probably want to avoid him for a few days.”
Gansey began to unintentionally sprinkle in Adam Parrish updates with the Ronan ones. Adam had miraculously brought Gansey’s car back from the brink of death. Adam had beaten Ronan on a Latin quiz, and they were now neck-in-neck for the top spot in the class. Adam and Ronan were fighting—again—because Ronan said something unforgivably rude, and Adam had taken offense.
With each new datapoint, Declan updated his mental Parrish file: practical as well as cerebral skills. Not content to sit back and take Ronan’s shit. Most intriguing was the clear indication that this was a person Gansey actually admired. Gansey got along with everybody, but that was not at all the same thing as being impressed by everybody. In fact, it was often the opposite. But this Parrish kid was apparently—impressive.
Declan wasn’t sure what to make of that.
The first time Declan saw Adam Parrish, it was in the empty, weedy parking lot in front of Monmouth. The kid was sporting a dirty, faded white t-shirt and a bruise on his cheek. Declan wondered whether he and Ronan had gotten into a fight. It looked uncomfortably familiar—he had certainly worn enough of Ronan’s handiwork on his own face. He probably shouldn’t judge Parrish too much for that, considering Ronan was a colossal asshole. At the same time, that was for Declan to determine, with his words or his fists, not some messy nobody from the sticks.
He’d have to watch this one. Ronan would never ask for it, and certainly wouldn’t thank him for it, but it was his responsibility to make sure there wasn’t a real problem. But quietly—carefully. He wasn’t about to do something juvenile like start a fight in a parking lot. The fleeting idea was moot anyways. Parrish was on his way out, climbing on to a rusty and rickety old bike, and giving his shiny Volvo a cursory, polite wave as they passed each other.
His own meticulous observations of Adam Parrish began, as they all do, by necessity. He was an outsider, and therefore dangerous. He was quiet, and therefore dangerous. He was close, uncomfortably close, and therefore dangerous. He carried the marks of a well-worn burden of secrets on his shoulders, and Declan had a lifetime’s worth of secrets to keep already.
Declan recognized that brand of hunger, that wanting, the tell-tale sign of a smooth façade, flimsy as papier-mâché, hastily slapped over jagged, yawning, howling desperation. But with all that, the kid was doing pretty well for himself. So he clearly knew how to survive—another mark that made him dangerous. No one that concerned with their own survival was trustworthy.
He knew Parrish must be smart, since he was obviously not rich. The second-hand information from the halls of Aglionby confirmed both of those facts.
But there was a gulf of distance between smart and clever. Gansey, for example, was plenty smart, but he was far too earnest to be clever. He and Ronan were a well-matched pair in this, two dreamers completely uninterested in the constraints of the world around them. Gansey, at least, could blend when he felt like putting in the effort, but he had no real understanding of the danger of sticking out.
And Ronan was about the furthest thing from clever that you could get. Well actually, no, that wasn’t quite true. Matthew probably took the cake in that one. Declan had worked tirelessly to ensure that both of his younger brothers were insulated from the necessity of cleverness. He hadn’t done a great job of insulating them from pain. But he could still protect them from the burden of the life their parents—their father—had left them.
And so, it was up to Declan to be the clever one. Clever, and observant, and clever enough to be unobserved.
The first time Declan Lynch met Adam Parrish, it was entirely unremarkable. He remembered it well for that reason.
“This is Declan, Ronan’s older brother,” Gansey had said in his Gansiest tone.
No visible reaction on either opposing face.
“Nice to meet you.”
Paired with a handshake, not soft or firm, not brief or long, the greeting had been boring, polite, and utterly forgettable.
But then, bright blue eyes fixed appraisingly upon icy ones. The change in expression was barely detectable, but Declan—being Declan—detected it, and the ordinary words were tinged with an unasked question: Are you as much of an asshole as your brother?
He gave as little as he got.
“Likewise. Nice to see Gansey has at least one well-mannered acquaintance.”
The silent retort: Of course not. We’re all civilized men here. Ronan is an anomaly. He doesn’t know how to play the game.
Blue eyes narrowed. A slight smile—not of acquiescence, but of acknowledgment.
Declan was beginning to suspect that Adam Parrish knew how to play the game.
He soon realized that Adam Parrish was observant, too.
Declan was well-practiced in the art of noticing without noticing. Parrish was less so. Probably unimportant now, since no one else at Aglionby seemed to see, or else to care. They were too self-absorbed, too busy shining brightly to take note of the shadows in the corner. And it was gauche to address the servants directly, after all.
Probably Declan should let Parrish know that he knew. That he watched Parrish watch him as he conversed breezily with Gansey. Shrewd eyes narrowed as he flirted with Ashley, leaning in close to whisper in her ear, relishing her shiver of anticipation.
Five dollars for the show, kid. Leave the money on the nightstand.
After that, he couldn’t stop noticing those blue eyes trained on him. In the halls at school, in parking lots—Nino’s, Aglionby’s, Monmouth, wherever—at job fairs, college fairs, resume-building extracurriculars, he felt that prickling on the back of his neck. Caught eyes sliding away from his when he turned around.
But he was still learning. Maybe he’d get better at the skill with practice. He’d need to, if he wanted to get ahead.
Declan wondered if that was all he wanted.
Time went on, and Declan watched Adam Parrish, and watched Adam Parrish watch him.
He began to notice other things—things that were different about him. Different from anyone else at school. Things that were dangerous not to Declan, not to the Lynches, but to the kid himself. Kinks that he’d need to iron out if he didn’t want to run into trouble.
Most notably, he wasn’t as quiet as his first impression suggested. The longer Declan looked, the more he saw the thorns beneath his skin. Sure, he still charmed the teachers with his dutiful and meticulous work. Was still polite, and bland, and competent. But Declan began to pick up pieces in the halls that suggested another side to Parrish.
“Did you hear Parrish eviscerate Burke in Calc today? He almost cried, it was so funny.”
“Yo, watch out, Parrish isn’t someone you want to fuck with. If I were you, I’d just do your part of the group project.”
“Gansey is pissing me off so goddamn much.”
“Yeah, well don’t say anything bad about the Golden Boy too loud.”
One day, Declan saw Adam Parrish display the thorns first-hand.
He was standing, as usual, with Ronan and Gansey, and some sophomore with a fancy name made a completely unoriginal puerile joke about their closeness as he passed.
Before anyone could blink, Parrish had retorted in a quiet, withering tone that caused the kid to stumble, backing away, eyes bugging out. He quickly rushed off, and Declan's brother’s smile was sharper than he’d ever seen it before.
Declan felt a fierce stab of longing, quickly followed by anger. Why the fuck would he choose to draw attention to himself like that? Just to tear some privileged douchebag a new asshole? It wouldn’t make any material difference. In fact, it would probably make his life harder. How had he not learned yet? Everyone had shit inside them that they wanted to shout out loud, but not everyone could just say it. It was impetuous. It was unnecessary. It was so—Ronan.
From across the hall, his gaze roved over tanned, sepia toned skin and he caught a flash of copper lights in Parrish's hair. As he watched, the copper color seemed to spread until it patterned his skin in chevrons. He blinked, and the hallucination was gone.
The warning from his subconscious was clear, though: Don’t touch that one; he’s venomous.
There was one moment. One above all, that no one else noticed. Not Gansey, not Ronan, not the teachers.
Only Declan, with his observant eyes, and his mental catalogue.
Francis Preston Blair Lee VI was overheard laughing with a group of cronies about some juvenile prank he’d pulled on Parrish. Spilling ink on his sweater. Like a six year old schoolgirl in the 1940s. Pathetic, honestly.
Even though it was pretty clear to anyone with eyes that he didn’t have a second sweater, Parrish was as calm, cool, and collected about the setback as he was about anything else. Withering remarks aside, Declan had only ever seen him lose his cool around Ronan, actually.
He could relate.
But the Blair thing had rattled both Gansey and his brother. They were both stalking around the school in holy righteous indignation. Not Parrish, though. He had removed the sweater, even though the autumn wind was brisk, and then had seemed to forget about the incident altogether.
Three weeks later, Blair’s Mustang was on fire.
Well, not exactly. It didn’t explode, or anything. It just—died, in a furious shower of sparks and smoke, in the Aglionby parking lot as he tried to leave for the day. No one was seriously hurt, although Blair himself emerged from the crumpled, hissing metal with a distinct smell of charred wool and singed hair.
It was an incredible spectacle. It drew the eyes and the exclamations of the entire school. Everyone was gaping slack-jawed at the smoking ruin, and Declan was looking at Adam Parrish. They locked eyes briefly.
Declan gave the tiniest tilt to his head to ask, your handiwork?
Parrish gave the tiniest purse to his lips, an obvious reply, don’t expect me to say a word, and turned away.
God, he was good.
Much later, Declan became aware that Parrish was dating his little brother. He would have preferred that he didn’t. For several reasons, none of which had anything to do with Ronan’s sexuality. But he had long ago learned that he couldn’t tell Ronan what to do.
And so, he kept watch.