Ronan and Gansey are not as subtle as they think they are.
Adam has cursed himself with two very handsome, very oblivious friends. In one week of meeting Gansey and Ronan, he knew they were together; in two weeks, he realized that they didn’t want anyone to know. They’ve probably gotten lucky, and it’s doubtful that anyone else has scrutinized them so intently, but it’s made more of a problem for Adam who can’t not know and can’t not think about it.
He has been witness to four months of shallow touches, cut-off whispers, significant glances, thinly veiled excuses to be alone. He doesn’t need to ask anything about their relationship because it’s all there right on the skin, blatant as a tattoo, and no wonder they’re trying to hide it.
What Adam knows is that Ronan’s temper and Ronan’s pain and Ronan’s everything gets tamped down under Gansey’s firm hand. He only gets to see snatches of it, when Ronan’s agitated, when Gansey clasps him on the shoulder, when they both treat the contact like an electric spark, as raw as if they’re naked in their bedroom. Adam knows Gansey handles Ronan, something that is sure to be both a thankless and a very full-time task.
He wants to join so badly it’s chewing a hole through him.
There is nothing Gansey has that Adam does not desire, and this is no exception; all those brief and hooded looks he catches the two of them sharing trip up his heartbeat, and the idea of watching Gansey bring Ronan to kneel makes his mouth go dry. Some nights, long nights, he’s not able to stop himself from imagining his own hands on Ronan, palms smoothing over the coarse stubble on his skull, Ronan’s expression as he submits, Gansey beside him, finally getting everything he wants in the form of both his friends at once.
Adam is much more subtle than either of his friends. Even if they were capable of looking away from each other, they wouldn’t notice him watching, and if they noticed him watching, they wouldn’t see the tension and desire strung through his shoulders. He’s not quite ashamed of himself, but he’s certainly not proud. Ideally he could just blame Gansey for ogling him too openly the first time he was oil-slicked and bent over an engine. Now he can’t stop thinking of all these possibilities.
Mostly he can handle himself. It’s not like he’s so overcome with lust he struggles to sit next to them. Someone with his ambitions can’t afford not to focus in class, and no configuration of Gansey and Ronan can distract him. The exception is study hall, which the three of them have together, and which Gansey has fully claimed for the hunt for Glendower. The question of belief aside, Adam wishes Gansey wouldn’t pretend like the entire process is exciting. Their latest clue is a significantly-named pond.
“So we’ll go back to Monmouth this afternoon and look through the area’s history. I checked out everything that seemed like it might be relevant, but we’ll need to go to the library another day to read the microfiche,” Gansey says, tediously bright with pond-related possibilities, clearly extending an invitation to Adam. Adam doesn’t have work, so it’s a toss-up between going home to nap or tagging along on the Glendower quest. Gansey’s magnetism usually wins him over. Even when he leans forward and adds significantly, “I’m thinking about buying a microfilm reader.”
“What’s wrong with the ones in the library?” Adam asks.
Gansey makes an eh sound, which summarizes no faults of the publicly available machines but suggests that he simply consumes enough microfiche that getting his own reader makes sense.
Adam is spared from having to respond by the buzz of Ronan’s phone on the table, and the corresponding flinch of Ronan’s shoulders. It’s a near imperceptible movement, but Adam doesn’t miss it, and knows that Ronan’s pointed stare out the window is not as careless or relaxed as he wants it to be.
Since it’s clearly not Gansey throwing words into the black hole of Ronan’s inbox, it’s got to be either Kavinsky or Declan, both of whom Ronan is currently fighting – actively fighting, instead of passively fighting, though the difference is sometimes hard to discern. The phone continues to buzz with each new scrap of vitriol it delivers, and after about ten Adam concludes it’s too petty to be Declan.
Not surprising. There’s a gravel rash up both Ronan’s forearms and a bruise on the side of his jaw that seems unresolved. The BMW hadn’t been in the parking lot when Adam had gotten to school, but Gansey has already told him that it’s sporting a large and ominous dent. Insomnia, coping strategies, public catastrophes, Adam indulges himself eyeing up the damage on Ronan’s skin, and wonders what he would do if it was on him to keep Lynch in line.
Beside Adam, Gansey pauses, conversation faltering as he notices anger settling over Ronan, steady as the tide. If Ronan didn’t go home last night, then Gansey hasn’t had a chance to get his hands on him yet, and Adam watches worry and frustration coalesce over Gansey’s features. There is still school to be endured before he can solve this problem, and very little he can publicly do in the meantime.
Adam is just close enough to tell when Gansey puts a hand on Ronan’s leg under the table. Ronan goes very still. Adam goes very still. Gansey says something half-hearted and meaningless about his pond, and then tips his head back down to his book, though his eyes do not move across the page. Ronan eventually moves, to drop his phone into his bag without glancing at it, but the tension in him hasn’t dissipated, only changed shape.
They’re going to go back to Monmouth and fuck their problems out. Adam knows this as he looks between them, each of them staunchly gazing in opposite directions, tragically obvious.
They’ve hit that tipping point, enough stress shared between them that Gansey is going to have to sort Ronan out before Ronan finds his own ill-advised outlet. Adam has watched this same thing play out, over and over, in the few months he’s known them. Tomorrow Gansey will come to school, loose-limbed and pleased with himself, and Ronan’s settings will have slid back to ‘good-humoured sarcasm’ from ‘intentional cruelty’.
Except. Adam has already agreed to go back to Monmouth with them.
He is fiercely, morbidly curious about whether or not Gansey’s going to be rude enough to uninvite him. Probably the correct thing to do would be to let them go alone, bow out with some excuse and let them go at each other, but he has been caught between so many hungry glances that the ache in him is almost unbearable. He wants to see them, touch them, help Gansey break Ronan down into small and sweating pieces, see the lust in Gansey’s eyes take him over, hear everything they have to say to each other when they can leave their public-facing bravado behind.
Adam has made his decision before he’s even really finished processing it, the sheer want in his chest too undeniable. Gansey can deny him, but Adam won’t excuse himself.
Gansey doesn’t even remember he had made plans with Adam until the end of the day, when Adam meets him beside the Pig. A second after he realises, guilt spills over him. “Adam,” he says, never quite as good at his public face when he’s only among friends. “That’s right, you’re…”
“I’m coming back with you,” Adam says coolly, meeting Gansey’s gaze.
There is a very leaden pause. Adam does not miss the first undeniable flicker of interest on Gansey’s face, one of those much-savoured hints Adam occasionally snatches, that there are things Gansey aches for just as much as Adam. Ronan arrives while Gansey is still formulating his response, and even through whatever mood he’s in, he seems to note the heavy air.
“You – want to come back to Monmouth with us?” Gansey asks. Adam does not think he is imagining that his voice is a little lower. “Are you – do you – the research isn’t urgent.”
“I know what you’re going to do,” Adam says. He keeps his voice low and steady, aware that anyone else could walk past, aware that he’s taking a gamble by saying this now. He doesn’t look away from Gansey for even a second, and even as his heart hammers in his chest, he says, “You’re going to take him apart. I’d like to watch. I’d like to help.”
Silence, broken only by a mob of other students streaming past. The metal of the Pig is too hot to lean against, so the three of them are just standing beside it, and Adam is sure the others feel as exposed as he does. His mouth is dry, but he waits.
Gansey looks at Ronan. Ronan has been vibrating all day, picking at his scabs, pushing at his bruises, and if there was ever a time when he would give into such an impulsive offer, this would be it. He looks at Adam, challenge in the lift of his jaw, in his eyes, and says just as steadily, “Well if Parrish wants to come, I think he ought to come. Weren’t you just talking about inviting him, Gansey?”
Gansey flushes. The heat in Adam’s stomach turns over. Gansey says “yes,” and “well,” and “maybe let’s take this someplace else.”
The ride in the Pig is quiet, not tense, but anticipatory. It feels like Gansey is waiting for Adam to change his mind. Ronan is a simmering mix of electric and needy that makes Adam think he might put his fist through the window if the drive takes too long. They both keep looking at him, and he thinks they are finally, finally seeing everything he has been hiding under his skin. It’s the same way he’s been looking at them. He shifts in his seat, fingers curling, and keeps his eyes fixed on the window.
Adam has been to Monmouth dozens of times, but stepping into it feels different. Less like stepping into a friend’s house, more like stepping into their bedroom. Of course Gansey’s bed, right in the middle of the room, covers rumpled, has always been obscene; now he eyes it, the clothes on the floor, the cagey way Gansey and Ronan arrange themselves behind him, and he has to will his circulation to keep working.
“So you found out about – us,” Gansey says.
Ronan says, “Told you.”
“It wasn’t hard to see,” Adam tells them. “I think I was the only one looking, but I couldn’t have missed it. So I want – I want to see what you do to Ronan, how you handle him, whatever it is that makes the two of you react so much when you touch.”
Gansey is still looking self-conscious, but Ronan doesn’t appear to care. Maybe it’s because he trusts Adam. Maybe it’s because somewhere out there is Kavinsky and Declan and a home he can’t go back to and he doesn’t care if Adam’s watching so long as Gansey’s still giving him what he needs to face any of that.
They start easy. Gansey turns away from Adam, just a little, and starts to smooth his hands over Ronan’s shoulders. Adam’s feeling worked up enough from being present that even the smallest things seem erotic, the faintest rasp of the touch, the way Ronan is leaning into it, the air that Gansey is just beginning to take on, a sense of command very different to the kind Adam has seen him flex.
Adam creeps closer. Every now and then Ronan glances at him, eyes still burning a challenge, but Adam deflects it coolly, not at all goaded. The space between Gansey and Ronan is closing, so that Gansey can kiss the bruises on Ronan’s jaw, so that Gansey can whisper something into Ronan’s ear, too soft for Adam to hear, but enough to make Ronan shiver. Adam can see the sensation run right through Ronan’s shoulders, and unconsciously he reaches out to trace a finger over a taut line muscle. There is a pause, a beat, microscopic, and then they’re shifting, opening space for him to join them.
Watching was the wrong idea. He realises this as soon as he’s close enough to touch, and he can sense the change in Ronan and Gansey, relaxing as he stops observing, starts helping. He feels the curve of Ronan’s spine while Gansey cups Ronan’s face, pushes his thumbs into the knot at the base of Ronan’s neck, feels as much as hears Ronan exhale. It’s closer than Adam ever really expected to get, as close as he wanted to be when he imagined this alone, and he indulges himself in this intimacy.
They work together to get Ronan’s uniform off, only shedding their own blazers, and when Gansey finally gets Ronan’s undershirt over his head, Adam finds himself confronted with the tattoo he has only dreamed of touching. He trails his fingers over the hooks and whorls and dark loops, dipping low on Ronan’s back, feeling Ronan stiffen in response and mutter something into Gansey’s collarbone. But they’re nothing but encouraging; Adam kisses the crow in the crook of Ronan’s shoulder, tastes Ronan’s skin and sweat, feels a little lightheaded to actually be getting something he wants. Gansey catches his eye, and they share a look that is a look, and if Adam feels like he might be burning, at least he knows they’ve both got it worse.
“Gansey,” Ronan says, though he tips his head back until he can see Adam too. There’s something in his eyes, or maybe the corner of his mouth, something that says he is on the verge of shaking apart, is always right on the edge of that, and needs something to help him hold together.
Gansey cups the back of his neck, and Adam can see the way Gansey’s fingers dig in, until Gansey is saying, raspy and eager, “Come on, Adam, let’s look after him,” as though this is how it always plays out.
God, Adam hopes this will be how it always plays out.
They get him to the bed between them, Adam’s hand flat on Ronan’s lower back, pulse somewhere below his stomach, and he knew this bed was as obscene as he always imagined. Ronan kneels under Gansey’s guiding hand, which knots Adam’s insides exactly the way he expected it to. Gansey sits facing Ronan, Adam behind, but that’s fine, because Adam gets that stretch of back, that tattoo, and he’s still new enough to this that he thinks the full force of Ronan’s need might scald. He wonders how Gansey taught himself to handle this. He wonders how Gansey learned a lot of this, that firm, gentle tone, telling Ronan with immutable will to get his knees further apart.
And Ronan obeys, the way he always obeys Gansey, except this time Adam can see the flush from his ears to the back of his neck, deep red and telling. “Now,” Gansey is saying, so kind, so absolutely in control, “You’re ready for us? You want Adam to touch you?”
Ronan hisses, “Yes,” and Gansey smiles at Adam, with trust and adoration and all that alluring control. It is a ‘go ahead’ kind of smile. Adam is not sure he’s ever been this hard in his life.
He cups Ronan’s ass and even though he knew Ronan was like this, it is still a little bit surreal to be the one making it happen. He can’t see quite what Gansey is doing, but he can hear something slick and then Ronan moans, hips pitching forwards like they’re dragged.
It’s instinct. It’s a fantasy Adam has had too many times. But he holds Ronan’s hip, hard, guides him back to where he wants him to be. Adam presses his chest to Ronan’s back, teases a finger across the edge of Ronan’s hole, and whispers right into his ear, “Stay here.”
Ronan makes a choked noise that sounds a lot like ‘yes’. Gansey mutters, “I told you he’d be good at it.”
A bottle of lube is pressed into Adam’s hand, and he wonders what it says about him, that they know he already knows what he wants to do. No matter. He tips it out over his fingers, lets a little more dribble down the crack of Ronan’s ass, and it’s just cold enough to make Ronan whimper. Adam does not think anything will make him feel as powerful as making Ronan Lynch whimper.
He presses a fingertip into Ronan, careful, because he’s tried on himself but this is a different angle, albeit a much easier one. He feels Ronan clench around him, another hiss, only this one dissolves directly into a moan. With his mouth still by Ronan’s ear, Adam can see Gansey, using one hand to press Ronan back into Adam’s chest, the other wrapped around Ronan’s length, rubbing him from root to crown.
With nowhere to move to, Ronan drops his head onto Gansey’s shoulder, hiding his face, though the tremors of his shoulders still give him away. There is a savagery to the arc of his body, caged between the two of them, and Adam kisses the back of his neck once again, pushes in deeper, is pressed so close against him that he can feel every last hitch of Ronan’s breath. One-handed, Adam figures out his belt, and starting to stroke himself is an intense relief.
They find a rhythm like it’s the most natural thing, like Adam has always been bulwark while Gansey kisses and promises and steadily, steadily sears Ronan clean. Adam hadn’t quite understood before, how this could be healing, but he gets it now when Ronan tips his head back up, three of Adam’s fingers in his ass, and Gansey gazes at the revelation on his face. Ronan stretches out a hand and Gansey takes it, presses reassuringly against Ronan’s palm that he’s okay, he’s okay, they’ve got him. They already know everything he can’t articulate, and they can take care of it.
Adam feels when Ronan starts to reach the edge, pushing himself back against Adam’s hand so that he can stroke deeper, lips mouthing Gansey’s name like he’s fighting the urge to beg. Despite Adam kissing his shoulder encouragingly, Ronan’s legs seem to have locked, like he’s resisting the inevitable, and all Adam’s touches just make him groan.
Gansey shoots Adam a calm little smile, though his own breathing is finally starting to get choppy. “He has to wait for permission.”
Adam curls his fingers up inside Ronan in response, his hand tighter on himself, tasting the sweat dripping down Ronan’s back. How did he and Gansey discover this? How did it take him so long to join them? He can’t imagine how any of this fits into Ronan’s religion. With as little contrition as everything else Ronan does, probably. His confessionals must take days.
It’s not long before Adam feels Ronan’s thighs tremble, all the heat and anger in him ready to be released. His voice is half a sob by the time he finds the breath to ask, “Can I?”
Gansey’s hand is curled around the back of Ronan’s neck, so assuring, so, so fond. He says, “Adam?”
If Ronan wants someone to direct him, there is no one more direct than Adam. Adam wraps an arm around Ronan’s waist, stroking as deep inside Ronan as he can reach, tells him with an absolute thrill, “You can come.”
Gansey is the one who groans at the sound of that; Ronan comes silently, eyes closed, all sound locked behind his teeth, face contorted with a prayer he doesn't want to share. A moment later and Gansey follows him, with a moan wrapped around a long exhalation, the sound of a very deep need being sated.
Adam feels Ronan shudder all around his fingers, a wet dream come to life, and comes over Ronan's back, a little dazed by his own daring. His breath is a fluttering, incandescent thing, billowing over Ronan’s sweat-slicked skin.
For a moment, all the pressure of the world melts away; for a moment it is just the three of them, heat and breath and bodies entwined, hands on each other, no need to pretend they're anything but this. It's a wave of pleasure and peace connection and it shakes through Adam like nothing he could ever get on his own. They pull apart, but not far, and Adam can’t imagine his heart will ever stop pounding the way it is now.
Eventually, Ronan stretches out on the bed, come streaked and indecent, and Adam tries to burn the sight into his brain. Gansey drags his thumb over his lips, cheeks red, very deliberately unashamed. Disastrously attractive, the both of them. Adam is going to think about this every night for the rest of his life.
“Gansey,” Ronan says when he can speak again, and he says it like it's the only name that should ever leave his lips. A moment later and he corrects, says, “Adam,” with equal reverence and an extra drop of wry awareness.
“Ronan,” Adam says, like it’s the usual thing, to have sex with both your best friends. There’s no particular etiquette for this. “Gansey.”
“Right,” Gansey says, like he'd like to assert control of the situation again. “Right. Right. What was our original agenda?”
“Research,” Adam supplies, reluctantly helpful.
“No goddamn way are we doing that now,” Ronan says. “Beer. Pizza.”
Adam murmurs, “That does sound more appealing.” He feels about as tired as Ronan looks. Gansey’s bed is starting to seem like it’s in a very smart, convenient position. He flops back down at Ronan’s side, and listens to Gansey dial for delivery, and feels the afterglow radiate up through his bones.
Adam can't say he's not in with them now.