The screen remained black. No sequence of button pressing or muttered insults or bottled frustration could change the fact. The cellphone was well and surely dead.
Another might have given it up for a lost cause long ago, thrown it to the crows—but not Adam Parrish. Adam was the proud owner of a laptop that wheezed whenever he opened more than one program. Adam kept a sewing needle and thread around out of habit. Adam did not give up on anything, or anyone, easily, especially when all hope was gone.
Still, even he could admit that the days spent coaxing the phone towards resurrection had been a waste of time.
In late summer, over the course of weeks, Adam had labored over college preparations, double checking every list, slowly packing away essentials, repacking essentials Opal had nicked and hidden for him to find, and poring over sites for part-time work. Ronan had merely rolled his eyes at Adam’s scurrying, but left him to his devices, aware that Adam would ask for help if needed. The older part—the part of Adam that still flinched at wayward hand motions—appreciated the silence, but the new only smiled wryly. This is the bed you made, it said. Still, it was the latter that accepted the car keys Ronan tossed his way. Both Adam and Ronan had let out a quiet sigh of relief at that particular victory.
So, it was perhaps unsurprising that Adam had neglected to upgrade his phone, amongst the chaos.
Adam quietly forced air between his teeth, kicking at the autumn leaves crunching beneath his shoes. Hopeful, he gave the phone one more shake, but he pocketed it when it didn’t release so much as a whimper. He would have to wait until the weekend to get it looked at, and even then buying a new one might have been cheaper. Adam curled his lip. You can take the boy out of the village…
The moment it began throwing a tantrum, Adam had emailed Gansey to let him know, figuring he’d pass on the message. Adam had considered borrowing a phone and calling Ronan directly—his number memorized by heart—but refrained, in the end. The chance of calling and being ignored...didn’t sit well with him. It was a level of rejection Adam couldn’t face head-on.
And sending texts to Ronan was like yelling into the wind—you were never sure if the recipient heard you.
Adam stumbled, caught himself in mid-flight, and continued without a hitch, too tired to acknowledge his near face-plant. College was just as energy depleting as he’d been warned, but at least it left a taste of pride on his tongue—in between the sleep and lectures and studying, that is.
He pulled himself onto the stoop of his dorm, holding out his ID and waiting for the welcoming beep. Adam quirked a smile at the shiny scanner attached to the old-world building. The combination made him think of Ronan, somehow. Shaking his head, Adam opened the door and hurried inside. He only had so much time before his next class, but there was enough to grab his books and boil some fresh tea for his thermos.
The dorm’s silence broke as Adam headed up, stairs creaking underneath his feet. Each time, the sound, the familiar tread against the wood, reminded him of his climb up to his old room above Ronan’s church. His little garret away from the world. It might have been just that, if not for the unfamiliar smells. Adam never thought he’d miss the musty air of St. Agnes—and perhaps he didn’t. Just. Acknowledged the change. Shelved it for later.
Books and tea. Class. Quick nap. Study.
A sudden screech and thump jolted Adam out of his thoughts. The scream had come from his room—he quickened his pace, eyes narrowed at the thick line of light between door and doorframe. A moment later, the door tore fully open, and a harried young man scrambled out and slammed it closed behind him. Adam relaxed slightly. Just one of his housemates. Scott or Steve—he could never remember which. Even so, Adam’s room was Adam’s room, not ScottorSteve’s.
Wordlessly, Adam finished the walk up to the landing, waiting until ScottorSteve noticed. Feeling charitable, he scuffed his foot against the carpet and inwardly laughed when the young man jumped.
“Parrish!” ScottorSteve exclaimed as he turned to face him. “There’s a demon in your room!”
Slowly, Adam blinked. He went through his recent memories, looking for a moment of accidental summoning. Perhaps while sleeping? No, he’d barely slept the night before, let alone had time to dream. And that was Ronan’s purview, not his. Could you even summon a demon using tarot?
“What were you doing in my room?” Adam asked, mind wandering.
ScottorSteve raised his head, taken aback. “I—what? No, I just wanted to see if you were in. I heard that demon bird messing in your room and thought it was you.”
“Bird?” Adam raised an eyebrow, looking past ScottorSteve’s shoulder. Is it...? “Just the bird? No one else?” he demanded curtly.
The young man put his hands up in surrender, eyes widening. “Yeah, man. Just the bird. I’m just— Just gonna—” And ScottorSteve shot past him, racing down the stairs and out the door.
So much for reputation, said a small, young-sounding voice.
I don’t care, thought Adam.
Rubbing at his eyes, he took a deep breath and held out his hand, just in case. He could feel the leaves brushing up against the underside of his skin. Adam opened the door.
“Chainsaw,” he said matter-of-factly.
Helpless against the grin growing on his face, Adam raised his arm, nudging the door closed behind him with a foot. Not skipping a beat, Chainsaw flew straight at Adam and ignored his arm, landing on his shoulder instead. He laughed as she leaned her head against his cheek while emitting a low clicking sound, and he raised his other hand to stroke her beard feathers.
“It’s good to see you, too,” Adam muttered between chuckles. “Where’s Ronan?” he added while giving his room a cursory look. Ronan was not the type to hide, so if Adam could not see him in the open, then he wasn’t around. Not that there were any hiding spots that could easily fit his frame.
“Kerah,” she croaked, adjusting her stance and looking at Adam, cocking her head.
“Yes, Ronan. Did he leave you here? Was…” Adam trailed off, noticing that he had forgotten to close his window before leaving. That explained how she had gotten in, at least—though not necessarily how she knew where to find him. Carefully making his way to the bed, he looked askance at the odd tarot card and piles of books and a hoodie that was undoubtedly not originally his. Maybe not so surprising that she knew this was his room after all.
“I need to get to class,” Adam muttered, holding out his arm towards the bed. Talons lightly grazing Adam’s skin, Chainsaw carefully scooted down and jumped the last foot to the blanket, wings fluttering.
“Let me check with—” Adam reached for his pocket automatically. He remembered the moment his fingers slipped across the phone’s screen. “Damn.” Floundering, he checked his watch before cursing again. Tea would have to wait for another time.
Chainsaw watched patiently as Adam stuffed his bag full of books, edging around the black hoodie he’d left on the bed that afternoon. Casting a glance at the setting sun, Adam picked up the hoodie and tugged it on. He’d only just pulled the strap of his bag across his shoulders when Chainsaw flew back to him and settled near his head once more.
“Nope. You’re staying here. Wait for Ronan—or go look for him. Window’s open.”
With much resistance from the corvid, Adam finally managed to pry her off and placed her on the desk. Ignoring her angry croaking, he ran out the door, clicking it closed just before he heard Chainsaw scrabbling at the wood. Letting out a gust of breath, Adam jogged down the creaky stairs and out the front door. If he picked up his pace, he would have enough time to grab a tea from one of the outside vendors—fortunately, the cheapest item on the menu.
One such vendor appeared after he turned a corner, and Adam, distracted by the smells of coffee and pastries, had a quiet heart attack when something plopped onto his shoulder and screamed, “KRAAAR!” into his right ear. The students at the drinks stand turned to look at the pair in horror—and then amazement. Gritting his teeth, Adam decided to forgo the tea entirely and headed towards his class.
“Okay,” he sighed. “You win. But you’ll have to behave.”
Chainsaw gave a happy croak, nearly braining Adam with a wing.
“Silly bird,” Adam muttered affectionately. He slowed his walking, keeping a hand out so she wouldn’t fall. A gust of wind blew past, causing Adam to shiver. He instinctively curled in, and his jacket’s hood crowded his neck. “Oh.”
Adam came to a full stop, ignoring the stares of the few students cognizant enough to notice the unusual sight. Reaching back with his left, Adam pulled the hood open and swiveled his head to look straight into Chainsaw’s eye. Her expression gave no doubt as to who was her creator.
Rolling his eyes, Adam tugged on the hood pointedly. “I know it’s dumb, but if you want to go to class with me, you have to be discreet.” He doubted the raven understood the meaning of the word, but she did carefully make her way down, landing gently in the impromptu hammock.
“Krrr!” she tittered, seemingly comfortable. She probably was. Adam was. If he concentrated, the hoodie still smelled like Ronan.
“Excelsior,” Adam remarked wryly and continued on his way, picking up the pace.
Adam reached the lecture hall with a couple of minutes to spare, sighing in relief. Uncharacteristically, he headed to the back, choosing a seat off to the side. Not the best vantage point, but at least fewer students would notice the bird peeking out of his clothes.
He busied himself with setting up, pulling out his notebook just as the professor strode in and began calling everyone to order. After that, it was simply a matter of sinking into the projected words and the sounds of typing and the fitful scratching of pens. Adam’s own pen never lost momentum, tapping gently when there was a pause in conversation.
Now and again, he remembered the weight at his back. Chainsaw appeared happy to doze in the warmth of the hood, keeping still against Adam despite the plethora of things and people to explore. At one such moment, Adam surfaced to find her gently tugging at his hair, trying to comb through the strands.
“Those are too short to preen,” he admonished quietly, patting her away from his neck. Adam still had scratches on the crown of his head from when she had set her sights on the longer hair up top. Frustrated, Chainsaw rubbed the edges of her beak against his shoulder in quick succession, but she calmed when Adam absentmindedly brought the hand back for her to nip at.
As Adam’s eyelids began to droop, the minutes began to waver, moving swiftly in one moment and then lumbering like molasses in the next. His pen kept a steady rhythm, the only correct indicator of time, but even the letters it produced began to crowd each other. He barely registered Chainsaw clacking her clever beak at an errant hand—the student yelped and dropped back into his seat.
Towards the end, Adam felt dazed and hoped his notes had retained some level of coherency. His palms itched, a spring breeze tickling the blood under his skin, calling his name. Adam shook his head. He needed rest.
When the professor began to wrap up, he gathered his things and secured Chainsaw. His body ached for a stretch, and no doubt her wings did too. The sun had already set, so no one would likely gawk at the pair.
Adam hung back before walking down, reluctant to show off the bird, especially now that she had begun to toddle in the hood, attempting to stand without teetering. Scurrying past the front desk, Adam was fairly certain the professor gave him an odd look, but he was already out the door before she could question him. He caught the tail end of a resigned sigh before the door slid shut.
Hidden by the evening gloom, Adam pushed up his hood from the bottom, helping the raven stroll to his shoulder and then to his extended arm. He walked slowly, bobbing his limb in small jerks to give her a flying head start. Despite the offered help, Chainsaw remained on her perch, watching the campus with a superior glint in her eye.
“Jesus,” Adam muttered, exhausted. Even holding up his arm was taking its toll. “Come on. Go find Ronan. Where’d you leave him?”
Chainsaw pointedly sauntered back up and croaked, “KE-RAAAH!”
“Fuck. Can’t you do that in the other ear, for once?” Adam demanded quietly, wincing. “Fine, just. Hold on.”
Opal has better manners than this, Adam thought nonsensically. Then again, at least Chainsaw was smart enough not to eat twigs—both dream creatures had their quirks. Still...twigs. If she was part deer, to Opal, leaves might have been the equivalent of roadkill to Chainsaw. Chuckling, Adam reached for his phone to text Ronan, but he sighed before even checking his pocket.
Fuck, he was tired.
Half-awake, Adam trudged back to his dorm, Chainsaw cawing whenever an obstacle blocked his path. The first time she'd warned him, he hadn’t paid her attention and stumbled across a paper coffee cup. She’d nipped him for good measure, too. At his door, she surprised him by grabbing his ID out of his hand and holding it to the scanner.
Smart bird, he thought—or said. It could have been either.
Adam ignored the sounds of conversation in the common kitchen area and carefully jogged up the stairs. He had been mistaken. They did not resemble the ones at St. Agnes, but brought to mind the stairs at the Barns—no longer dusty from disuse but creaking nonetheless. He might as well have been going up to Ronan’s room. Their room. His room. Ronan’s. Whichever.
Yawning, Adam latched the door behind him and then brought Chainsaw to the window, leaving her by the sill. He took a moment to breathe, checking the chaos of his thoughts. The walls had begun to sprout roots.
Well, then. Ronan could wait a few minutes—just until Adam wasn’t dead on his feet.
Adam dropped his bag, dropped his useless phone onto the side table, and dropped himself into bed. The roots began to curl towards him.
He drifted, neither here nor there. Wind snuck in through the window in gentle gusts, playing with his hair and rustling the emerging foliage. Talons clacked quietly against the sill in time with avian pacing.
Adam didn’t know how much time had passed when he abruptly heard Chainsaw’s joyous “Kerah!”
The room, tinged with the glow of streetlamps, held a dark, dream-like quality, nearly pulling him back to slumber. Shaking it off, Adam rolled out of bed and stumbled to the window where Chainsaw was merrily hopping in place. He had to carefully shoo her away before he could lean his head out into the chilled air.
Ronan stood on the pathway below, hands pocketed and eyes locked on the window, body still. The moment Adam appeared, a sharp grin found its way to his face, and he brought up a hand in acknowledgment.
“Hello, Parrish,” said Ronan.
Behind Adam, the buds gave way to flowers, blooming to the symphony of his rapidly beating heart.
“Very Shakespearean of you,” he called down, voice deceptively casual.
Ronan’s grin only widened, as though responding to the sound of Adam’s voice. “Nah,” he answered. “Fairy tales. Rapunzel, maybe.”
Planting an elbow on the frame, Adam leaned his face into his palm, fingers twitching with need. “What, should I let down some roots? Branches?”
Ronan shrugged and gave the building’s brick wall a speculative glance. “Whatever can support me.” He paused and looked back up at Adam, deadpan. “Just make sure it’s long. Hard.”
Sputtering, Adam dropped his head in his hands, shaking his head and trying to stave away the laughter. “Fuck off, asshole.”
“I can tell you’re laughing,” Adam heard below. “Can’t hide it.”
“Fuck off,” Adam repeated, grinning despite himself. “Wait there,” he added before retreating and grabbing his ID. Ignoring Chainsaw’s questioning caw, Adam bounded out the door and down the stairs, hands clawing the air.
Nearly slamming the front door open, he made his way around the building, jogging lightly, and paused when Ronan no longer inhabited Romeo’s stage marker. Or Prince Charming’s, if they were to follow the comparison. Already suspecting the truth, Adam warily looked up.
“For fuck’s sake.”
It was true to the narrative, at least. Ronan certainly didn’t do things by halves—and it wasn’t a bad view, Adam admitted. He sighed and ran back into the dorm and up the stairs, huffing in protest. He made it back just as Ronan was struggling to fit past the narrow frame, glaring at Chainsaw as she fluttered excitedly.
“I could have warned you,” Adam admonished, walking closer, and held out a hand.
“Shut up,” Ronan bit back, but he grabbed Adam’s hand like a drowning man.
With Adam pulling and Ronan pushing, Ronan finally slid into the room with nary a stumble. Adam would have once hated him for the effortless grace. Now, between the hand nearly crushing his and the eyes tracking every minutia of change on Adam’s face, Adam felt like he couldn’t muster up enough energy to hate anything—save for anyone who got between this and him.
“Hey,” Adam said quietly, almost afraid of breaking the moment.
Ronan’s blank expression lifted for a second as his face twitched into a smile. “Hey.” Oddly cautious, Ronan slowly raised his free hand and encircled Adam’s jaw, thumb brushing against his cheekbone. “Missed you,” he whispered.
Spell broken, Adam shivered and pressed forward. Ronan exhaled when they paused, foreheads touching, before angling his head and pulling Adam in. Closing his eyes, Adam gave in to the sensation of the kiss and clutched at Ronan’s back, mentally tracing the tattoo. At Ronan’s quiet whimper, Adam delved in more deeply.
Even lost in bliss, his persistent, gray thoughts soon took rein of his emotions. Had it really been so long since he’d left the Barns? Since they’d kissed goodbye? Ronan had not been able to travel with him, and so Adam had settled into college life by himself. It must have been nearly a month, by his calculations—days running by quickly, but nights punctuated by loneliness.
Not unknown, but alone.
With only a phone—now broken—to keep him company all this time.
Adam’s eyes began to burn at the realization. Embarrassed, he blinked away the hurt and pulled back, only to sneak his face into Ronan’s neck, breathing deeply. Undeterred, Ronan freed his hand from their grasp and trailed it up Adam’s back until both cradled his head. He pressed his mouth to Adam’s hair.
“Sorry it took so long,” he murmured. “No one wanted to tell me where you lived. The bird wins this round.”
“She saw the tarot through the window,” Adam murmured back, growing settled. “And they probably thought you were trying to exhort money. Or something.” Adam’s earlier fatigue crept back into his voice.
“Or something,” Ronan agreed easily.
“Fine—she’s with the witches. I had to bribe her to stay back, but she stuffed a bunch of drawings in my bag for you. Your Hondayota sucks, by the way.”
“Psychics,” Adam corrected half-heartedly, starting to drift. “Is everything okay? Why the visit?”
Ronan shrugged a shoulder, keeping the one under Adam still. “Yeah. Just wanted to. Wanted to see your dumb face.”
Adam smiled into Ronan’s skin, not bothering to respond. He could no doubt feel the movement of his mouth.
As they stood there together in the near-dark, the pain finally receded, and Adam felt like he could breathe again. The world—and his thoughts—grew quiet. Chainsaw’s shadow fluttered past them as she flew outside, silent as death.
It took him a few moments to notice that Ronan had begun to slowly rock them from side to side, and it took a few more to discern Ronan’s humming, the dark melody vibrating against his cheek. Curious, Adam listened carefully.
Huffing, Adam smacked a hand against Ronan’s shoulder—appropriately horrified by his lovely rendition of the murder squash song—but Ronan caught the hand, pressing the fingers to his mouth for a heart-wrenching moment. Ronan laughed lowly, humming a little louder before stopping altogether.
“Have you been decorating?” he asked, looking pointedly at the plants adorning the walls.
Adam had a look around himself. Smiling wryly, he answered with a nod. “They’ll go away once I’m not as tired.”
“Tired,” Ronan repeated, cocking his head. Without further ado, he leaned down and brought Adam up into his arms—one supporting his shoulders while the other held his legs. Adam only managed to keep silent by biting down on his indignant squawk.
“If you’re tired, then sleep.” With a shit-eating grin, Ronan practically tossed Adam onto the bed.
“Asshole.” Adam rubbed at his head, scowling. He readied a slew of curses but paused when Ronan chucked off his boots and slithered onto the blankets beside him. With a grunt, he plopped down onto his back and gave Adam a look.
Adam stared back. Stared for what felt like far too long.
Shaking off his night-addled thoughts, Adam sighed and crawled closer until he could bury his face in Ronan’s chest. Fingers found their way into his hair.
“We’re wasting time,” Adam complained, words slurring.
“We have all the time in the world. Sleep.”
Adam sighed. This was so much better than lying by himself, wearing a hoodie that only smelt of Ronan because he willed it to. “Think Chainsaw loves this hoodie,” he muttered, lifting a hand. “Wouldn’t leave me.”
“‘Course she didn’t. I told her not to,” Adam heard through the fog.
Adam might have made a noise—he couldn’t be certain—and then dropped his hand back down, surprised when it landed in Ronan’s.
Ronan’s breathing, their heartbeats, and the quiet pulse of darkness harmonized.
Adam was skirting the edge of a dream when he felt the air move above him, Ronan shifting on the bed. A tap and scrape came from the side table, and the air moved once more. Curious, he opened his eyes a sliver.
Ronan held a cellphone, glaring at its dark screen. As Adam watched, he let out an exhale and rubbed a hand across his eyes. Ronan gripped Adam more tightly.
Adam blinked. Oh. Oh, fuck.
“Gansey didn’t tell you.” It wasn’t a question.
Above him, Ronan froze. After a pause, he hissed out, “Dick.”
It was either a curse or Gansey’s name. Fortunately, Adam knew him well enough to understand that it was both. Instead, Adam, affecting a light tone, asked, “Is that an offer?”
Ronan’s bark of laughter rattled them both, but at least it had cured his paralysis.
“Sorry,” Adam tried weakly, motioning to the phone. Ronan just shook his head. “Is that why you came by? To check on me?” Adam could not help the trickle of uneasiness lingering on his tongue.
Face silhouetted in orange light, Ronan side-eyed him, head lowered. “It’s not that I'm keeping tabs on you. I was just worried.” He made a face. “Opal wouldn’t stop bleating.”
“Shit. I didn’t even think…”
Ronan frowned. Gently, he pulled him in. Adam’s world was only darkness and Ronan.
“Don’t. It’s fine. We’re fine.”
I’m an asshole, Adam thought. Still, he winced, unable to keep from wondering. Quietly, almost hoping he wouldn’t be heard, he said, “I wasn’t sure if you saw my texts.”
“I always read them,” Ronan answered before Adam even finished. He paused and then wrapped both arms all the way across Adam’s shoulders, as though daring him to leave. “I just don’t always know how to answer,” he added, voice soft.
Despite the turmoil, despite the strain in Ronan’s tone, Adam had to bite down on a smile. Sighing happily, he kissed the side of Ronan’s neck, trying to soothe. Steadily, the tension in Ronan’s arms eased, but they remained where they were, keeping the young men close together.
Of course. The Greywaren wasn’t a creature of words. He was a creature of dreams and sensations—tactile and wild. His clever hands, his body, told the world everything he needed. What use had he for words?
Adam realized that he didn’t need to hear them, didn’t need to read them. He could feel his love in the way Ronan held him, by how he mouthed at his skin.
He felt so known that the world could have been ending and he would have remained here, in the shadows.
Adam fell asleep smiling.
Adam awoke suddenly—body filling with adrenaline at the realization of lost study time—before he relaxed back against Ronan’s side. His books could wait a little while longer.
Morning sunlight began to creep through glass windows, warming the space chilled by the open window. Chainsaw sat perched on his desk chair’s back, sleeping. Adam rotated carefully, aiming for a better vantage point. He soon lost time, staring at Ronan’s face and the eyes traveling back and forth below their lids.
The world shifted.
Startled, Adam glanced down at Ronan’s open palm. When his brain caught up with him, Adam realized that it wasn’t his old, busted phone he saw. Curious, he pried it out of Ronan’s grip and began playing with the buttons.
To anyone unfamiliar with dream technology, it looked like a regular mobile—and actually resembled his quite closely. But there were places where the edges began to blur if he stared too closely, for too long. The main screen didn’t even show a signal. Adam understood this to mean it didn’t require one.
Caught in wonder, Adam brought up the message menu and chose Gansey’s name on autopilot.
Allowing his first impulse free rein, he typed, I can’t believe you didn’t tell Ronan. You are a terrible friend. See if we invite you to the wedding.
He should have been more surprised when Gansey answered almost immediately, a winky face his only reply.
Dying had certainly made Gansey more meddlesome. It was hard to complain about someone who could lord that over you. Adam shook his head, laughing quietly.
Adam glanced up when he felt eyes on him, locking gazes with Ronan. Though Ronan must have just woken, he held no sign of sleepiness. If anything, he looked wary, ready to bolt. Adam almost asked, but the weight of the phone reminded him. Memories arose unbidden: a jar of lotion, a mixtape, the BMW...
I know you, and you know me.
So as not to spook him, Adam scooted closer, pressing his cheek to Ronan’s. Their skin warmed at the touch.
“Thank you,” Adam murmured before he slanted his head, eyes questioning.
Ronan didn’t need much more encouragement. He dived.
By the window, Chainsaw chortled and raised a wing, embarrassed.
No matter how long, a visit was nothing compared to always having Ronan around. Adam knew it wasn’t fair, but he wanted. He wanted so much sometimes that he was afraid to say so, lest everything he did have was ripped away.
Still, there was Opal to think about—Ronan and he had tacked up her drawings above his desk—and the animals at the Barns needed tending. Of course Ronan couldn’t stay.
Adam jerked out of his reverie, hands covered in ink. His pocket stopped vibrating after two short bursts—a text, then. Probably from Gansey, or maybe Blue.
Pushing his notes aside, Adam reached for the dream object and swiped at its screen.
Adam bit his lip in surprise. The text was from Ronan.
It simply said, Adam.
He paused. Breathed. Thought about it. Thought about all the I love you’s or I love you too’s or I know’s he could say.
Decision made, Adam smiled and opened the keyboard.
Ronan, he replied.