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like thunder under earth

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Brazenhead Books was not exactly the kind of place you noticed until it was midnight and pouring rain and you realized you had nowhere to go except this tiny, badly-labeled bookstore. This was not imagery or flowery figurative language—this was a fact, because it was one Ronan Lynch was discovering just now.

As a rule, he didn’t really like bookstores. When he absolutely had to go to one, he made a point of spending as little time possible inside it. The forced quiet; the clerks who always bugged you about whether you “needed help finding something” and who always seemed smug, like they knew what book you were looking for and it wasn’t up to par; the ridiculously elaborate displays featuring the latest mindless teen fantasy series; it all made Ronan want to deface something. He’d rather experience literature alone, in his room, where no one could shush him.

So he bought used books off Amazon when absolutely necessary, and he bullied Gansey into picking up his textbooks for him, and he avoided bookstores, and book people, and bookstores full of book people. All that earnest literary discussion made Ronan break out in hives.

Except now it was 12:46 in the morning, and there was rain hammering down onto the sidewalk, and Ronan was caught in it, and he was wearing a tank top, because it had been a balmy New York summer night two minutes ago, goddammit. His yellowing copy of A Separate Peace was slowly getting soaked, and he had no idea how far he’d wandered from the apartment he shared with Gansey. “Motherfucker,” Ronan muttered, just to let off some tension, and felt marginally better, though still slightly cold.

He looked around. T-Mobile, Asian market, Haagen Dazs, copy shop—all dark and shuttered. No one was on the sidewalks; no cars passed by except a distant ambulance wailing a few blocks away. The streetlamps shone yellow on gleaming black pavement, and thunder rumbled in the distance. Then he noticed it; a lone window shining with soft warm light, right above the copy shop. A tiny dark set of stairs ascended to the right, and a small laminated index card was taped next to it, a square of white flapping in the windy darkness. Out of curiosity, Ronan stepped forward to read it.

BRAZENHEAD BOOKS, it said in crooked, cramped handwriting. 10AM—2AM. WATCH YOUR STEP.

Ronan’s first reaction was disbelief, as in: who the fuck opens their bookstore until two in the morning? But he wasn’t one to look a cow in the mouth, or whatever the saying was. You wanted shelter from the rain, you got fucking shelter from the rain, he told himself. Go up the stairs.

He paused, thought briefly about the possibility of an axe-wielding maniac bibliophile, waiting to lure gullible book-lovers up to his lair, promised himself to go out fighting, and went up the stairs.

The stairs were alarmingly squeaky, and so narrow Ronan’s shoulders brushed both walls as he walked up. There was a lightbulb shining above, but it was so dim he couldn’t see the floor. He didn’t dare touch the railing.

The light was a little stronger up on the landing, which was about the size of a small postcard. The door was unmarked except for a replica of the index card, taped right at eye level but with the sinister addition of COME ON IN (no exclamation point), and it too made a sort of squawking sound when he opened it, because of course it did. Ronan was completely ready to run, adrenaline rushing through his veins, sweet and familiar…

It was just a bookshop.

It was literally just a bookshop.

Okay, it wasn’t like any bookshop Ronan had ever seen, but definitely not the dark bat-infested cave he’d been expecting. It was suffused with dim but warm yellow light and had once been an apartment, but now the narrow hall leading from the door was lined with bookshelves full to bursting. Stacks of books sat on the floor, like someone had taken them out to look at and then forgotten about them, and as Ronan continued on, being careful so as to not step on any books—a legitimate concern here—all he saw were more books, and more books. None of the shelves were labeled, nothing saying FICTION or SELF-HELP, and indeed none of them seemed to be organized at all; Ronan noticed three entire shelves of Wharton right next to a heavy, dusty pile of textbooks labeled Harvard School of Divinity.

The hall opened up into what had once presumably been the living room, which—surprise—was also lined with books. Several shelves had been placed in the center as well, forming aisles to each side, but the path forward was clear, revealing a long, heavy desk, piled high with stacks upon stacks of books. The center space was cleared for a green glass reading lamp, spreading a golden pool of light over a cash register that had probably been used last in the thirties. A college-age guy perched on a stool behind it, hunched over a massive textbook. He didn’t look up or make any indication he’d noticed Ronan at all.

Well, okay. That was completely fine, actually. Ronan ventured to the nearest bookshelf and lost himself in a first edition of Through the Looking Glass, illustrated and everything, although there was a chunk of pages in the middle that were completely missing, probably the reason why it hadn’t been sold already.

The rooms that branched off the main one, former bedrooms, were small and cramped and showed a bit more effort on the organization front, operative words being a bit. A wall that seemed to be full of travel guides was labeled AFRICAN LIT, but it was a start. The disorganization made the hunt even more fun, though; Ronan found himself searching through books he never even would have seen before. He found a stack of books and settled down on a narrow window seat to read, listening to the rain pound away at his back. He went into that strange space in his head that was reserved for reading in quiet places, a timeless place where he lived in the book for a while. He had no idea how long it was before he was pulled away by a voice.

“It’s two o’clock.” It was the cashier, who seemed like the only worker here; he was about Ronan’s age, tall and thin and pale, like a ghost hovering in the darkened doorway. “We’re closing now.”

“Okay,” Ronan said. His voice creaked from lack of use; time had gone faster than he’d thought. “I’m getting these.”

“Okay,” the guy said, and disappeared again. Once Ronan had caught up to him at the front desk, he rang up the small pile Ronan had collected—that is to say, he squinted at the books’ titles and then punched randomly at the register until it made a sort of muffled ding sound and allowed itself to be wrestled open.

“Ten dollars,” the guy said. He must have registered Ronan’s surprise, because he added, “We have a sale.”

“On what?”

He glanced up at Ronan through long, dust-colored eyelashes as he laboriously dug out change for a twenty. “Everything?” He offered the dollar bills and a receipt that was half-illegible; the only parts that could be read were BRAZENHEAD BOOKS and TEN (10) DOLLARS. “Thanks,” he said, and handed the books over in an unmarked brown paper bag. Ronan sent him a final glance—he had freckles, and they were strangely disjointed from his face in the dim lighting—and left, clutching his bag. His mind was quieter than it had been in years. When he got home, he collapsed onto his bed and didn’t wake until morning.

“Hey,” Gansey said when Ronan appeared the next morning, looking up from a pile of papers and books spread out on the counter. The sun was rising, and it gave the whole room (the kitchen-living-dining-room that also served as Gansey’s office) a watery pink glow. Ronan grunted in response. “I heard you come in last night,” Gansey continued, undeterred, as was the Gansey way.

Another grunt as Ronan found half a bottle of Sprite in the fridge and began to drink it, this time somewhat defensive, as if to say, so what?

“Did you get caught in the rain? There was a pretty big storm.”

Noncommittal grunt. Ronan did not like talk about the weather at all, nor did he have time for it.

“It was really sudden, I had to run to close all the windows before the rain got in.”

Ronan didn’t even bother gracing this boring piece of information with a grunt. He finished his soda, threw the bottle into the sink, and withdrew to the couch to read the commentary on Russian society disguised as a novel in verse that he’d found last night.

Gansey had moved to New York to study with Professor Roger Malory, a renowned historian who kept pigeons as pets and constantly complained about wanting to move back to England, though it never seemed like he was ever going to do so. Ronan had followed, mostly to escape Declan but partly—though he’d never tell anyone—to stay with Gansey.

To get people off his back about “doing nothing all day” (his mom) and “not having any hobbies” (Gansey) and “being lazy and useless” (Declan), he’d applied to a college in the city, not really expecting to get in; he’d put the least amount of effort possible into his application essays, and his high school transcript was pretty dismal. Unfortunately, none of that had warned the school off him, and they’d gladly accepted him into their English and Literature program.

Which meant Ronan went to class three times a week and sat in the back and rolled his eyes at people’s stupid opinions, and the only part of college life he actually enjoyed was the reading he was assigned, which he did with diligence. Milton, Shakespeare, Woolf and Eliot and Faulkner; Ronan read them all, and actually enjoyed them, to his surprise. Once he stopped paying attention to his professors’ lectures on archetype and the duty of the critic, he started liking books.

(He also rather enjoyed the looks on people’s faces when they took in the leather jacket and the tattoo creeping out of his shirt and the heavy stomp-y boots and then they looked at the glossy De Beauvoir in his hand. Needless to say, he did not fit in with the rest of the English majors.)

So Gansey did his Welsh king research, and Ronan threw himself into Victorian novels and short story collections, and sometimes they did these things in the middle of the night when insomnia kept them up, but all in all they did fine.

The thing was, though, that New York was not like the movies. Maybe it was because neither of them was into coffee, or maybe it was because neither of them really had any friends in the city except each other, but there were no funky indie coffee shops or manic pixie dream girls who drove Volkswagens and showed you the best views and the coolest record shops. (Not that Ronan had much of an interest in coffee, or records, or Volkswagens, or manic pixie dream girls.) It was just like living anywhere else, except maybe louder and more crowded and smellier.

Also, the BMW had not come with them, and Ronan was still not allowed to drive the Pig. And the traffic in the city was horrendous on a good day. So there wasn’t even racing.

Brazenhead had not even been on Ronan’s radar before, but now he found it hard to forget it. Its atmosphere—the dim lighting, the towering stacks, like a castle in a princess tale—Babel and Rapunzel all at once—it was a secret Ronan kept in his head so he could turn it over when he had a moment to himself. He hadn’t even told Gansey, although he knew he would at some point. It was exactly the kind of thing Gansey loved, the kind of thing that Ronan would have called nerdy once upon a time.

So he sat in the back of Nineteenth Century Literature, headed by Professor Milo of the droning lectures and unironic love for fedoras, turning over the torn-up Bukowski he’d found in Brazenhead’s section marked RELIGIOUS STUDIES and thinking about going back.

It had been a week. Tonight, he decided. He’d go alone.

Ronan left at midnight. Gansey was sprawled on the floor with a very old tome that seemed to be the records of a cattle farm from the 1400s and called, “Pick up some more soda?” as Ronan left, which he had no intention of doing.

Brazenhead was still there. It hadn’t been a momentary flight of fancy. He creaked precariously up the steps and entered, and it was like he had never left, like it was last Tuesday again. The same boy was at the desk, although today he was wearing an oversized green sweater that drooped sadly on his narrow frame and gaped around his bony wrists. He was reading the same enormous textbook, propped up so Ronan could just make out the title: United States v. Nixon, A Case Study. It looked amazingly boring.

Ronan stepped on a particularly creaky floorboard, and the guy looked up. He didn’t seem to recognize Ronan and went back to his book; Ronan was not disappointed at all.

He spent an incomprehensible amount of time in another one of the back bedrooms; this one held a surprisingly large amount of textbooks, with students’ names scribbled out on the spines, along with a lot of poetry.

“We’re closing,” called the Nixon guy. Ronan bought some Neruda, a book about comparative mythology, and two paperback thrillers.

“Fourteen dollars and nine cents,” Nixon said. Ronan handed him a twenty and watched him perform the miracle of the Register that Did Not Work.

“By the way, the Grisham has an unreliable narrator and the Koontz is completely inaccurate from a legal standpoint,” Nixon remarked as he handed Ronan his receipt and his paper bag. Ronan checked for a nametag somewhere on Nixon’s alarmingly large sweater, so that maybe he could stop calling him “Nixon,” but no luck.

Ronan went home and read his thrillers. The Grisham narrator turned out to be schizophrenic the entire time and Dean Koontz had clearly never even seen Legally Blonde.

The next morning, Ronan woke up in a strangely good mood. He went out to the kitchen, intent on finding some leftover pad thai for breakfast, and instead found Gansey, red-eyed and sleep-deprived and holding a Brazenhead receipt.

“What is this?” he asked when he saw Ronan. “Also, how many days can someone go without sleep before their internal organs start failing? Is it a week? I think I read that somewhere but I can’t remember where.”

“You need to go the fuck to sleep,” Ronan suggested, removing the cup of Earl Grey from Gansey’s hand and then crumpling up the two empty cans of Red Bull that sat on the counter. “Stop reading about cows. Sleep.”

“But this book is so fascinating, it reveals so much about the early barter system of the—”

“Gansey. I don’t give a shit. Go to sleep.”

“I can’t,” Gansey said despairingly, brandishing the Brazenhead receipt like a hero might brandish a sword as he lay dying on the battlefield, valiantly holding his own until the end.

Ronan considered his options. One was enduring Gansey’s near-constant whining and rants about history that no one cared about. The other was finding a way to make him sleep. Ronan did not like either of these options. “What time is it.”

“Um, I.” Gansey fumbled for his glasses so he could peer near-sightedly at the nearest clock. “Nine.”

“Put on pants, old man,” Ronan told him, and went for the pad thai.

“Eat,” Ronan said, shoving a wax paper bag at Gansey. It contained a greasy breakfast sandwich from the Asian market, which was rather questionable, but it smelled good anyhow, and Gansey fell on it like a dying man. Ronan sat across from him at the tables on the sidewalk and watched him eat and glowered at tourists hopefully scanning for open tables.

“Now what?” Gansey asked, once he’d finished. He already looked more refreshed; Ronan was ready to bet that he’d been living on Pop Tarts and mint leaves for the last week.

“Now,” Ronan said, thoughtfully. It was still nine forty. “Now we visit this copy shop.”

It was just a copy shop. Gansey looked at some weird expensive cardstock in primary colors, because there was nothing else to look at. Ronan looked at the clock.

“Now what?” Gansey asked, once he’d stopped considering buying some fancy type of printer ink. They didn’t even own a printer.

“Now, we go upstairs,” Ronan said.

It was ten.

“Ronan?”

“They’re steps, Gansey. Walk up them. It’s not hard.”

Gansey peered up the darkened stairway pensively. “Yes, but where—”

“Just walk, holy fuck,” Ronan said, losing patience and knocking Gansey, still nervously hovering, aside to climb the steps himself. Gansey, after a moment of hesitation, followed.

“My God,” Gansey said when he stepped inside, and fished his glasses out of his chest pocket so he could take a closer look at the shelves. “This is…”

“Mmhmm,” Ronan said. He felt proud, weirdly enough, like it was his accomplishment and he was showing it off.

“This text is hundreds of years old,” Gansey marveled, inspecting the cover of an old yellowing book. “Only a thousand copies were ever printed, and all of them were supposedly destroyed in the fire of—”

Ronan sighed and went to look for the hardcover copy of Sherlock Holmes he’d seen last time. Matthew loved that shit. It’d be a good birthday present.

The magic of Brazenhead was a little diminished in the washed-out white morning light pouring in from the windows; it was almost a different place. Like coming home after a long time away and suddenly questioning little details you’d always taken for granted—was the paint always this certain tint? Mom, did you get a new table?—but of course it had always been that way and you had just forgotten, or maybe the light hitting it a certain way changed it completely. It wasn’t bad, just different, and Ronan wasn’t great with change.

There was a stranger at the counter. Of course it wouldn’t be Nixon—he worked the late shift, he had a life, this was to be expected—but Ronan couldn’t help but be a little disappointed. The new guy was playing a game on his phone—faint chimes rang out too loud in the quiet—and he looked up when he heard Ronan approaching, sending him a bright grin.

“Hi!” he said. “Welcome to Brazenhead! Can I help you find anything?”

“No,” Ronan said shortly, annoyed, and made for the stacks. He didn’t like this other guy. He was too peppy. It was a bookstore, not goddamned Disneyland. Also, he couldn’t find the Sherlock Holmes. He fumed silently in the recesses of the store until Gansey came to find him an hour later, lugging a massive stack of old boring history books, and refused to stand by the desk while Gansey paid, instead waiting at the bottom of the steps on the sidewalk.

“Hey, ready?” Gansey asked, joining him and looking considerably more energetic. His arms were laden with brown paper bags, and he looked like most college boys would look if they had maybe gotten a new Xbox. Ronan turned and started walking in the direction of home without saying anything. “What’s wrong?” Gansey asked, frowning and falling into step. “That place was amazing.”

Before he could continue, someone called, “Ganseyboy!” They both turned. “Hey, hey!” a guy shouted, jogging up to them and clapping Gansey on the back.

He had very tall hair and large rhinestoned sunglasses and he was wearing a bright yellow t-shirt that proclaimed SAVE THE BEES!—accompanied by a very bad cartoon drawing of a rather deformed bee and, smaller, SAUVER LES ABEILLES! SALVAR A LAS ABEJAS! 꿀벌을 구하십시오!

“Henry!” Gansey exclaimed, returning the back-clap enthusiastically.

“How are you, my man?” Henry asked. “Haven’t seen you around campus.”

“Well, you know, I’ve been busy with school,” Gansey said diplomatically, though Ronan, as his roommate, could attest that Gansey spent a lot of time watching Game of Thrones in his underwear.

“We miss you at meetings,” Henry said. “I finally got my roommates to come to one, and I think they really enjoyed it!”

“That’s great, Henry,” Gansey said. “Oh, this is Ronan Lynch. He’s my roommate.”

“Dude, that’s so cool,” Henry said, shaking Ronan’s hand seemingly without being intimidated by the unimpressed look Ronan was giving him. “You should come to a meeting with Gansey sometime, we’d love to have you. It’s, uh, a club—“ He gestured to his neon t-shirt. “We’ve gotten a lot done recently, I’m super excited about it!”

This seemed like a natural juncture in the conversation for Ronan to say something, so he stayed silent. Henry was undaunted.

“Anyway, I have to run—I’m meeting my roommate for lunch, he’s a genius, hopefully I can pick his brain about ways to get media attention for the club. Catch you later, Ganseyboy, Ronan?” He darted away without waiting for a response.

“I think his shirt gave me afterimage,” Ronan said.

“Henry’s great,” Gansey said. “I’m really impressed by all that he does to help the environment. He cares so much, you know?” Pause. “I mean, the shirt is a little much.”

When they got back to the apartment, Gansey dove right into his new books, leaving Ronan to ignore his phone until the buzzing got too annoying. Declan had texted him a million times about not forgetting Matthew’s birthday next week, and the little typing bubble was cycling cheerfully underneath them, signaling more incoming.

DO NOT ANSWER

Ronan, I wanted to remind you about Matthew and I
driving up to the city next Tuesday for Matthew’s birthday.

We will meet at the Waldorf Astoria at 12:30 for lunch. I would
like it if you weren’t late as I have reservations. After lunch we
can explore the city but I have to drive back before six. Matthew
can stay with you if he wants or head back with me.

You can ignore me all you want but you had better be there or
Matthew will be disappointed.

Stop being such a child.

Missed call from DO NOT ANSWER, 11:28am.

Missed call from DO NOT ANSWER, 11:30am.

Ronan Lynch. Answer your fucking phone.

Ronan turned the phone off completely and threw it into the back of his closet.

Then he got up and retrieved it again, turning it on and setting it on his nightstand just in case Matthew called. He could put Declan on Do Not Disturb; Gansey had taught him how to do that last week.

The Conan Doyle at Brazenhead had been practically new, and leatherbound. He had to find it, and the sooner the better. He decided to go later, after he finished his reading for school, some boring theory stuff about New Criticism, and set to work feeling much better. He had a plan. This was good.

matthew

we’re meetng 4 my bday nxt week right???!!

Duh

AAHHH YAY [party emoji] [party emoji]

Whatever nerd

:D

Are you staying with me or going back to dc

can i stay?? i want 2 hang out in ur nyc bachelor pad!!!!!

Yes

YESSSS

also can u text dec back hes bothering me abt it

No

ok thats fine i’ll do it!!!

im so excittedddd aaaa

Ronan left the house when he couldn’t stand reading about literary analysis any longer.

“Where are you going?” Gansey asked, looking up from the couch where he was rewatching Queer Eye and eating this gross mug cake he’d learned how to make in the microwave from Pinterest.

“None of your business, Dick,” Ronan said. He could sense Gansey’s delicate cringe from here. “What did you do with my keys?”

He rummaged loudly and violently through a kitchen drawer. Gansey was a fucking pack rat; there were a million year-old takeout receipts in here, as well as an alarming number of broken pencils and some torn pieces of the Camaro’s leather seats, which were slowly shredding, no matter how much Gansey tried to save them. No keys. Gansey needed to stop losing his and taking Ronan’s.

“They’re hanging on the hook. I keep telling you to put them there, that’s what I bought the hook for. Are you going to get groceries? Can you bring back milk? You keep drinking it all.”

Suddenly, Ronan was filled with irritation. Apart from classes, Gansey hadn’t left the house of his own volition in weeks, probably. “Do your own shopping,” he said, and slammed the door on his way out. Then he remembered and slammed his way back in. “By the way, Matthew is staying here next week,” he called, and slammed the door again on Gansey’s response. He wished he could squeal angrily out of the parking lot. Storming angrily to the train station was not nearly as satisfying.

Fuck. He really missed his car.

Nixon was back at the front desk; he’d moved on to a book titled Tort Law and Alternatives. He didn’t acknowledge Ronan’s presence. Something restless in Ronan settled a little.

The Holmes was absolutely nowhere to be found. It wasn’t in the section in the back room marked ROMANCE where Ronan had originally seen it, and he spent two hours searching for it before he felt like he might have to punch a bookshelf if he had to look any longer, and the books were innocent. They didn’t deserve it. If only he had someone with him, maybe that annoying guy who had been at the front desk earlier, if only Ronan could find him and punch him right in his stupid peppy grinning mouth…

Actually.

Now that he’d thought of the front desk, wasn’t that Nixon’s job? Couldn’t he, realistically, have some knowledge of the ridiculous way this store was organized? Ronan didn’t really like asking people for help, particularly people who worked in the service industry, but he actually could not look for this fucking book for another second. Also, Nixon had proved himself as an acceptable salesperson by mostly leaving Ronan alone.

“Hello,” Ronan said, doing his level best to be polite. He hadn’t done that in a while, so it was like exercising a stiff muscle; weird, uncanny, a little painful. This sucked.

Nixon looked up. At this angle, the reading lamp cast a yellow-gold glow over the planes of his face. Ronan could see the shadows his long dusty eyelashes made against his cheeks.

“I’m looking for a book,” Ronan said.

“What book?” Nixon asked. He blinked. Those eyelashes really were kind of unnatural.

“Sherlock Holmes.”

Nixon frowned a little, thoughtfully. “Um, I think I saw a copy of that in the back,” he said, and put his book aside to get up and come around the desk. He led Ronan to one of the smaller bedrooms, full of cramped aisles of books that looked like they might fall on your head at any moment. “Maybe somewhere around here,” Nixon said, gesturing at a wall marked FEMINIST, and both boys knelt to the task of carefully going through each book.

This was harder than you might think, because stacks of books masked others, and nothing was arranged properly at all. More than once, one of them made a sound of triumph, thinking they’d found it, when it was actually a different book or, in one case, a biography of General Lafayette within a book jacket marked The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

“What the fuck,” Ronan said when this happened, glaring down at the portrait of the general on the first page. “What is wrong with this store.”

Nixon squinted at the book. “Oh, that happens a lot,” he said. “I don’t know if they come here like that or if someone takes joy in switching book covers, but that’s happened before.” He didn’t sound particularly fazed or even surprised. They set to the task again, until maybe a half an hour later, when Nixon sat on his heels to pop his back.

“I don’t think we have it,” he said regretfully. “Maybe it got sold. Anyway, if you want I can order it?”

“How long will that take?” Ronan asked, distracted by an Austen novel with a very nice cover design he’d never seen before.

“Couple of days, maybe. Not long.” He had a faint accent that Ronan hadn’t really noticed before that made his vowels very long. It was nice. Soothing. Maybe Southern.

“Fine, do that,” Ronan agreed. He had a week before Matthew’s birthday. “Should I come back in, or…”

“Here,” Nixon said, leading him back to the front. “Write your number here—” He pushed a yellow legal pad towards Ronan that he had apparently been using to take notes, as the last line read Hadley v. Baxendale: split contract/tort dmg by fsb at time of contract in a cramped scrawl. Ronan wrote down his phone number, actually glad that Gansey had made him memorize it or else he wouldn’t have known it, next to his name. “And I can call you when it comes in, or I guess text.”

“Text,” Ronan said. “I don’t answer my phone.”

“Okay,” Nixon said. There was a long, awkward pause.

“Ronan,” Ronan offered, holding out his hand and immediately regretting it.

“Adam,” Nixon said, shaking it. He had a good strong grip and calloused hands, like he did manual labor. “I’ll text you.”

“Right,” Ronan said, and left before he could say something dumb like You have nice hands.

That night, he lay awake, not an uncommon occurrence except for the why of it.

Adam. Not Nixon. Adam.

Chapter Text

It only took Adam two days to text Ronan about the book, but it took all of Ronan’s self-control to not go back before then.

He knew Gansey had been to Brazenhead a couple times without him—Gansey left his receipts lying all over the kitchen, it was ridiculous—which was good, because that was considerably more time Gansey was spending out of the house around people other than Ronan and Professor Malory. But Ronan couldn’t think about anything but going back and surrounding himself with that unique musty book-smell and the stacks of books that felt ancient, like a myth or a fairytale.

Okay, Ronan prided himself on his honesty. He also wanted to see Adam.

He didn’t know why. They’d had three conversations, and they had all been perfunctory, a normal exchange between vendor and customer. There was nothing to suggest they might have a “connection,” as Ronan supposed they were called. Objectively, yes, Adam was attractive, but no more so than other boys Ronan had distantly admired in passing on the street. It wasn’t like Ronan even daydreamed about kissing him or anything. He just wanted to be allowed to sit and watch the sharp line of Adam’s jaw and the furrow of his fair eyebrows. That was all.

He distracted himself with homework—Milo had finally moved on to assigning actual books, and they were reading Tess of the d’Urbervilles, which was some heavy shit, though Ronan refused to complete the “comprehension and discussion questions” that were also assigned—and Gansey patrol, which wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary if it weren’t for his weird behavior.

The first instance where Ronan witnessed stranger-than-usual behavior from his (admittedly generally strange) roommate was the day after Ronan had given Adam his number. That morning, Ronan ventured into the kitchen to find some of the donuts he knew were on top of the fridge. Gansey barely noticed him passing, too caught up in talking on the phone; Ronan figured it was his mom and ignored it until he heard a giggle. Gansey giggled.

“Thanks, Jane.” Ronan, in the process of reaching for the bakery box, froze; his eyebrows shot up. “I will. I’m sure it’s amazing.” He seemed like he’d been about to say something more, but Ronan accidentally made too much noise throwing away the empty donut box, and Gansey’s mouth snapped shut. “Listen, I have to go, I’ll see you later,” he said hastily, hanging up and then returning to his laptop like he’d been studying all along.

What the fuck, Ronan thought, but he didn’t ask. He wouldn’t have really noticed nor cared if the next event had not followed so quickly.

That afternoon, Ronan heard the jingle of Gansey’s keys, which always meant he was going out. “Where are you going,” he asked, except he didn’t like making questions sound like questions. It betrayed his usual careless, insouciant attitude.

“I, uh,” Gansey said, startling and dropping his keys. “Um, to meet Malory.”

“It’s Sunday,” Ronan pointed out. Gansey and Malory never met on Sundays because Malory had some kind of standing brunch date with the board of the Met or something pretentious like that, and things like this were the reason Ronan sort of regretted agreeing to live with Gansey, because why the motherfuck did he know that.

“We’re, uh, I mean I’m just dropping something off at his office,” Gansey said, retrieving his keys and fumbling with the lock as he left. Ronan knew this was a lie, but he didn’t get it. Why would Gansey lie to Ronan about going to see Malory? Ronan didn’t give a crap about what Gansey did with his time.

Then he remembered—the Jane call! This had to be something about his new girlfriend or whatever. Weird. Ronan made a note to not ask Gansey about it later, because he didn’t care, and also because he liked avoiding romantic feelings, particularly Gansey’s, and also because he didn’t care.

With that mystery out of the way, Ronan had nothing really to distract him from watching his phone impatiently. On Monday, the text finally came.

...

Unknown Number

Hi Ronan, sorry for the late text. The Sherlock Holmes
copy came in today. I’m on shift if you want to pick it up.

Ok thanks

When Ronan left the house, Gansey was not on the couch or at the counter or watching TV or at any of his other countless spots to say, “Going out?” It was strange. Strange, but nice.

Once Gansey finally decided to tell Ronan about this Jane person, Ronan would have to send her a thank-you card or something. Like, “congrats on getting the most ridiculous, incompetent boyfriend in the world, and thanks for taking him off my hands.”

Ronan stopped on his way to pick up dinner for himself, and Shake Shack was fucking insane, because it always was, no matter the time of day, so it was almost eight when he finally got there. Adam was sitting on his stool as always, frowning down at the book on tort law and chewing on the straw of a half-empty iced coffee. Life was so unfair.

Adam was so absorbed, in fact, that he didn’t notice Ronan until he was right in front of him.

“Oh, Ronan,” Adam said, surprised. “Hi, sorry.” The use of his name combined with a shy little half-smile, dimple and everything, made Ronan’s heart jump, a little bit painfully. “Um, I have—” He withdrew a brown paper package from a drawer of the desk and pushed it across to Ronan. It said RONAN LYNCH in neat green Sharpie letters. “If you wanna look at it now, just to make sure that it’s the one you wanted?”

Ronan obeyed, opening the package but careful not to tear the paper, which had clearly been wrapped and taped with care. The book within was even more beautiful than the one Ronan had seen previously. It was bound in dark leather, and the title was done in gold. There was even a little heather-brown ribbon attached, to be used as a bookmark.

“It’s good,” Ronan said awkwardly, and then, in an attempt to sound more enthusiastic, “I mean, it’s perfect. He’ll like it.”

Adam’s face was cast in shadow as he fussed with the register. “Gift?” he said, voice sounding a little different than before.

“Yeah, for my brother,” Ronan said, and as he said it he wondered why he was doing this. He hated making small talk with pretty much everyone. “Birthday.”

“Nice,” Adam said politely, but he didn’t sound weird anymore, like maybe he’d gotten something out of his throat. “That’s fifteen seventy five.”

Ronan paid and accepted the package, carefully smoothing down the wrapping again. “Uh, thanks,” he said stiltedly. Sometimes Declan asked Ronan if it would kill him to be polite once in a while, and it turned out that the answer to that was yes, Jesus Christ.

“Yeah, see you later,” Adam said. As Ronan walked away, he snuck a darting glance back, just to look; Adam, laser-focused on his book, sharp clear features glowing in the dark.

The next day was Tuesday, and it was Matthew’s birthday. Ronan got up earlier than usual to shoo Gansey off the couch.

“Matthew’s sleeping here tonight,” Ronan reminded him as he grumbled and gathered up all his books and papers. Then Ronan painstakingly made up the couch with blankets and pillows before putting the Sherlock Holmes book in an old gift bag Gansey had once given him cologne in and getting dressed in less-ripped jeans and sneakers instead of boots. He wasn’t going to wear a suit or anything, but it was the fucking Waldorf, and it was Matthew’s birthday, so whatever.

When the cab dropped him off, it was 12:32, so Declan couldn’t get on his back about being late. The Bull and Bear was annoyingly fancy. Ronan had been there once before, for dinner with the Ganseys. That had been back when he’d drank, and the only way he’d gotten through it was their margaritas, which were surprisingly heavy on the tequila. Ronan and Helen had each put away probably four, because apparently it was inappropriate to just drink straight alcohol at a fancy dinner party with a Congresswoman. But now he didn’t even have the prospect of alcohol to get him through this meal with Declan.

“Ronan!” Matthew called when he noticed him coming in. They performed their secret handshake while Declan told the hostess, “Reservation for Lynch,” and Ronan pulled Matthew into his side to mess with his hair, which was blonder than ever from the summer sun.

“Ronan,” Declan said, far more grave and nodding politely. Ronan nodded back. He’d rather not openly antagonize his brother today, no matter what kind of passive aggressive shit they both pulled over text.

As they sat down and looked through the menus, Matthew told Ronan excitedly about everything they’d seen on the drive up, including an interesting squirrel and people in Mickey Mouse suits accosting tourists in Times Square (“New York is so cool, I can’t believe you live here!”) and updated him on college life in long rambling anecdotes (“...so after she was done we went to this party that Jace’s frat was throwing—oh, wait, no, I think that was later?”) that never seemed to have points and that Ronan would have despised if they were coming from anyone other than his younger brother.

“So what’s up with you, pal?” Matthew asked once they were seated and menus had been distributed.

“Class sucks, Gansey’s being weird,” Ronan told him succinctly, figuring that that statement basically summed up his life at the moment. “He has a girlfriend he thinks I don’t know about, it’s gross.”

“Ooh, drama,” Matthew sang. “Maybe while I’m here we can be detectives and find out who she is.”

“Anyway,” Declan cut in, looking pained—he could stand Gansey a little more than he could stand Ronan, but discussing his love life was a little over the top. “I thought we’d talk about what we’re going to do after lunch.”

After a discussion involving Declan and Matthew and minimal participation from Ronan, they settled on exploring Fifth Avenue and Central Park, then walking up to campus so Ronan could show them around, a decision that Ronan had not been consulted on.

The server appeared at Declan’s shoulder. “Hi, can I take your order?” she asked politely. She was younger than most of the other waiters and definitely the smallest, and she had weird, hard-to-describe spiky hair that Declan side-eyed and Matthew looked fascinated by.

“Mac and cheese,” Matthew said promptly. He was twenty, and it shouldn’t have been cute, but it was. Declan’s right eye twitched.

“We have lobster mac and cheese,” the server said. Ronan rolled his eyes—fucking fancy restaurants—and it may have been his imagination, but he thought she sent him a look that said, I know, right?

“Okay,” Matthew agreed readily. “I’ll take it. Thank you.”

Declan ordered some kind of salad, because his girlfriend had convinced him to go vegan. Ronan said, “I could really go for a burger.”

“House burger with truffle fries?” The words truffle fries looked like they were physically painful to get out. Ronan knew the feeling.

“That,” he agreed. “And a Bloody Mary.”

“Ronan,” Declan said, and sent him a look that said something pointed about being sober.

“Fine,” Ronan allowed. “A virgin Bloody Mary.”

“Virgin Mary, coming up,” said the server, collecting their menus and disappearing among the sea of boring, normal waiters. The block heels of her regulation black boots had been bedazzled with green rhinestones that flashed gaudily against the restaurant’s plush crimson carpet. Ronan sort of liked her. She’d probably introduced herself at some point, but he couldn’t remember.

“I like her,” Matthew said mildly into his lemonade. Declan's mouth tightened, and he changed the subject to Ashley’s new venture into roasting her own coffee beans.

After presents (Sherlock Holmes from Ronan, a new watch from Declan), an extremely lackluster tour of Fifth Avenue, a boring hour of watching people play frisbee in Central Park, and a passive-aggressively quiet walk around a couple college buildings, Declan hugged Matthew, nodded sharply at Ronan, and drove away.

Ronan led them home by way of train, which Matthew was inordinately fascinated by—he peered at a homeless man in the corner of their car, without judgement but more than was strictly necessary, and kept trying to get off at random stops—and picked up some food at the corner deli near the apartment, because it had been about three hours since lunch and he was unconvinced by Matthew's protestations that he wasn't hungry.

Gansey still wasn't home, which was strange, but Ronan wasn't going to complain. Matthew devoured some cold pasta and expressed shock that they did not own a gaming console. Instead, they watched Brooklyn Nine Nine, which Ronan wasn't a fan of but was willing to concede had its moments.

“‘M gonna go to bed,” Matthew said after half a season, which Ronan knew actually meant “get into bed and use the Internet for three hours,” but hey. Ronan wasn’t their mom.

“Hey, hold on a moment.” In the fridge, he shoved aside a largely untouched container of spinach he’d used to hide a small pink bakery box. “Happy birthday, kid.” Matthew’s expression when he opened the box, which held a single decadent cupcake made up of chocolate in about five different forms, almost made Ronan laugh. He looked like Christmas and about five years’ worth of birthdays all in one. It was definitely worth the trip to the Upper East Side.

“You want some?” Matthew asked, already halfway through the cupcake, chocolate smeared on one cheek.

“Nah, bud. I’m going to bed. If you need anything, don’t wake me up.” He messed up Matthew’s hair and Matthew affectionately patted at his hand in response, clumsy because he was too focused on devouring the cupcake. God, this kid.

Ronan threw himself into his unmade bed. It’d been a long day; they’d walked a lot. Surely he’d find a way to sleep.

He did not find a way to sleep.

...

He rolled over. His phone told him it was past two in the morning and blinded him in the process. Past his closed door, he could hear Matthew snoring faintly and Gansey trying to enter in the dark without waking anyone up.

Ronan closed his eyes again. The dark felt miles wide, even though light came into his room from Gansey’s door under his own door and from his window, yellow streetlights shining through the slats between the blinds.

He wondered, briefly, what Adam was doing. Did he walk home when his shift was over? Was that safe? Adam was fairly tall, from what Ronan had seen, but not built like a boxer like Ronan and his brothers; he was skinny, probably, under all those sweaters. Ronan wondered if it was weird to give strangers bottles of pepper spray. Or boxing lessons. Once he’d been accosted by a homeless woman in Bed Stuy, and he’d had to strong-arm her into letting him go. Everyone should be prepared.

He imagined Adam crossing a dimly-lit rain-slick street to the train station, head down, massive textbook tucked under one arm.

If the BMW hadn’t been sitting in a shed at the Barns, Ronan would have gone for a drive. As it was, all he could do was lay there and try to picture the shoes Adam wore and the exact timbre of his voice and that little tuft of brown hair that always stood up above his right ear, like a cow had licked it.

...

The next morning, Matthew woke up at eleven and insisted on going out for a walk.

“I’m thinking about grad school,” he explained through a mouthful of eggs at some cafe he’d found on Yelp. “I still have a few years to think about it, but my professor said something to me about business school, and…” Here he trailed off into a long, disorganized discussion about business school, choosing majors, and off-campus housing, which Ronan punctuated with “uh huh”s and “yeah”s. The entire thing basically boiled down to the point that Matthew was interested in Columbia and NYU as potential grad schools, and he wanted to visit their campuses.

Ronan was not an academic by any stretch, even though he went to school with many of them—or many people who thought they were academics, anyway. He was uninterested in the world of old white men doing TED Talks on their research on the roles of the endangered African penguin in mainland colonies, at any rate. For example, Gansey’s thesis in undergrad had been on how Welsh belief systems had evolved over the years and taken on aspects of the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches, ending with an analysis of modern secularity in Wales. Ugh. It made Ronan shudder just thinking about it.

But there was very little Ronan was not willing to endure on Matthew’s behalf, and Matthew was showing an active interest in higher education, which Ronan knew he’d been slacking on for a while—as in, Matthew had genuinely considered applying to community college before Declan’s inborn sense of rich-person pride had stepped in.

So Ronan put on his stompiest boots and prepared himself to endure floods of tourists and pretentious college students alike without complaint. He didn’t even once mention how he thought going into business was like selling your soul to Satan in the form of Jeff Bezos in the form of Declan Lynch (who was technically in public service, but they were pretty much the same, you know, ethically).

Touring Columbia was far more boring than Ronan had expected, though; their two-man tour, led by Matthew and his cell phone, mainly consisted of standing around the massive, mostly-empty campus, and listening to Siri tell them all about Alexander Hamilton and royal charters as busloads of Asian sightseers and hassled-looking summer school students streamed around them. There were only so many historic fountains and libraries one could endure in a morning.

“Okay,” Ronan interjected when Matthew, mumbling to himself, tapped on the fourth website about the history of a science building. “Lunch.”

“Right,” Matthew said dazedly. Ronan had known it would work; Matthew was a food person, not in the sense that he had a well-developed palette or a worldly appetite but in the sense that he loved food indiscriminately. He had never seen the kid refuse food.

They were still fairly close to the apartment, so Ronan led his brother to a deli he knew nearby that made a mean meatball hero—it wasn’t historic or particularly original, but it was fairly good at pretending to be an authentic Arthur Avenue deli, and Ronan wasn’t about to go all the way to the Bronx for a fucking sandwich, thanks very much. Matthew inhaled his own sub, half of Ronan’s, and two comically small bags of chips before he managed to speak again.

“So I thought we could go back to the campus before we take the subway to Greenwich Village,” Matthew began, frowning down at his phone. The furrow between his fair eyebrows wasn’t a familiar sight to Ronan; it felt a little bit wrong, like coming back to a familiar place where a single thing was missing. “I just got the MTA app and—”

And they were off again. Ronan sighed, crumpled up Matthew’s trash, and followed.

True to his word, Matthew singlehandedly wrangled them both down to Greenwich Village. It took twice as long as it should have, and it ended with a several-mile long walk because Matthew made them get off at the wrong stop and then lost his MetroCard, but they got in a good tour of the NYU campus before Declan finished some meeting he’d had at the district attorney’s office (or the mayor’s office or the embassy or something gross and job-related like that) and came to pick him up.

“Call me later,” Declan told Ronan as Matthew put his things in the trunk and then spent roughly three minutes trying to close it properly without slamming it too hard. Declan meant he wanted to lecture Ronan on his life choices, so Ronan ignored him; it was easy because he was sort of shouting over the passenger seat and through the window, and it was loud. Rush hour was approaching, and they were still in the Village, a place Ronan tried very much to avoid. (There were tourists. And the kinds of New Yorkers who went to jazz clubs. He wasn’t a fan.)

Ronan headed home by way of train, and though it was much faster than it had been with Matthew leading, the trip was still long. Night was falling by the time he climbed the stairs from the foul-smelling tunnel to the slightly less foul-smelling street. Summer in the city was generally smelly. The humidity trapped all the existing overwhelmingly human smells and all but forced them up your nose.

It was quiet. Ronan’s mind was so loud.

He’d looked away and his little brother had become a real person. That was the thing, right? Families always said they saw you as a real person, but they didn’t, really. You were always what you were in relation to them, like Matthew had always been Ronan’s brother, his pal, his best friend, until you went off and had the audacity to grow into a different person, and then they didn’t know what to do with you anymore.

It felt kind of like being in traffic. Like when the lane next to you started moving first and you watched a semi slowly pulling ahead through the passenger windows and you knew, objectively, that you were standing still, because your foot was still on the brake, but it still felt like you were moving in relation to them, and it was kind of cool and you let yourself feel like you were moving until you remembered that you weren’t at all and you wouldn’t be for a long time.

Watching Matthew grow up felt like that.

“Hey,” Gansey said when Ronan came in and kicked off his boots. He was home, a phenomenon that wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary a week ago. “There’s pizza in the fridge.”

For once, Ronan didn’t bother grunting or sighing or showing his disapproval through any of the several wordless sounds that made up half his vocabulary. He wrestled the pizza box out of the fridge, and even though the remaining slices were all avocado, he ate them.

Gansey, who was glowering at his blue computer screen in the living room as the shadows grew longer through the windows behind him, transferred his expression of deep concentration when Ronan was done eating. His glasses, Ronan noticed, were balanced on his nose and holding on for dear life; he looked scholarly and warm and like Ronan’s best friend, the one he’d followed to New York.

“You all right?”

“Hmn,” Ronan said, and went to bed.

Of course he couldn’t goddamned sleep.

He rolled over.

Just close your eyes, his mother’s voice told him in his head. The Virginia crickets were going mad. You’ll get sleepy. Lay still.

He closed his eyes and lay still.

...

The time blinked midnight when Ronan gave up and got up. He took his keys and a half-empty can of iced tea from the fridge and let his feet take him to Brazenhead.

Adam was wearing a brown sweater tonight; he was in the process of marking up a book about civil procedure with a pencil. He didn’t say anything when Ronan came in, as usual, but he gave him a tiny smile and ignored the contraband drink.

Ronan went to the back left bedroom. Inhaling the smells of paper and ink, he felt his heart rate begin to steady itself; it slowed enough for Ronan to get through most of Absalom, Absalom! before there was a soft knock.

It was Adam, tapping on the doorframe. Ronan snuck a glance at his shoes. Sneakers, dirty white, with too-long laces and rubber peeling off the sides.

“It’s two,” Adam said. “You gonna get that?”

Ronan belatedly looked down at the book in his hand and suddenly had a vision of his wallet, sitting on his nightstand, next to his dead phone and a small heap of pennies that had probably come with the nightstand because he had certainly never touched them.

“No,” he said after a long pause. “I forgot my wallet.”

“Oh,” Adam said. “I mean, you can come back for it.”

“I could, but I think this black hole of a store might swallow it first,” Ronan said before he could think about it, like his mouth had taken so many cues from his asshole brain that it had adopted a rude personality of its own.

“Black holes are known to open up in the Self-Help section,” Adam agreed mildly. He wasn’t smiling, but the barest hint of a dimple had appeared in one cheek. “Did one swallow your wallet?”

“I forgot it,” Ronan repeated. “Also, who read Faulkner and decided it was something that could help someone improve their life?” He nodded at the section sign.

“What, you don’t relate to the themes of cultural zeitgeist in the American South?” More dimple, accompanied by a scuff of one dirty sneaker toe at the splintery wood floor. Ronan allowed himself to let out a huff of amusement, though he refused to smile. “Maybe someone thought reading about the fiery end of a Civil War-era dynasty would inspire people to remember their important personal belongings when they go places.”

“Asshole.” Ronan’s smile broke out then, and it took him a good five seconds to get it under control again. He shook his head. “Zeitgeist. Whatever, David Foster Wallace.”

Adam shrugged with one shoulder, rolling it back into the shadow of the doorframe like a reflex. “I had to write a ten page paper on Faulkner’s themes in high school. I mean, it was the worst paper I’ve ever written, but I still remember it.”

“Literary criticism,” Ronan said, scornfully.

He’d slept through all four years of high school English; that was before he’d discovered he actually liked books, and that he was almost willing to sit through idiots like Milo three times a week in order to be able to read them and understand them.

(Almost. Ronan skipped class a lot.)

“I thought you study English,” Adam replied, questioning and with even more of a lilt. At Ronan’s raised eyebrow, he added, “Nobody reads Bukowski for fun except English majors. Also, the whole spending copious amounts of time at a bookstore thing kind of gave you away.”

“Studying English doesn’t mean I like analyzing a book until I hate it,” Ronan retorted instead of trying to dispute the Bukowski thing, because Adam was right about that.

“What do you like, then?”

His eyes were very light and clear. Faulkner would probably compare them to new-fallen snow on the peaks of a high mountain; Bukowski would say something about a freshwater creek pouring through the woods. Either way, they were like the wilderness tamed into something mundane, like beauty frozen into a frame—just strange enough to be beautiful.

“Words,” Ronan said finally. “Stories. I don’t know.” He liked the way losing himself felt like coming home, but he wasn’t about to tell anyone that.

Adam seemed to be considering.

“Will I see you again soon?” he asked eventually. He didn’t phrase it in any particular way, not even expectantly. “Because I think an English major should be able to use his words better than that, and I’m going to be waiting on a better explanation.”

“Asshole,” Ronan said again.

He got a real smile for that one.

When he got home, he slept; when he woke, he couldn’t remember his dreams, but he thought maybe they’d been nice.

Chapter Text

The next few weeks were a blur.

The trees in Central Park began to change color, and school began to pick up; Milo’s exams got more frequent and a little harder, though Ronan wouldn’t admit it.

However, his disdain for the busy work his teachers assigned (lots of “reading journals,” lots of “comprehension questions”) left him with a lot of time on his hands—a lot of time to spend at Brazenhead.

After the disastrous day visit to the bookstore with Gansey, when the peppy cashier playing games on his phone had dared to ask Ronan if he needed help finding anything, Ronan stuck to nighttime visits, and if this happened to coincide with Adam’s shifts, well, so be it.

They fell into a routine. Of course, the routine entailed minor interaction, or at least interaction as an afterthought; this was part of the charm of their acquaintanceship (friendship?). Their routine was this:

Ronan would come in late, though usually before midnight, and find Adam behind the front desk, reading some awful, dry textbook—sometimes writing in the margins (always with pencil), sometimes with coffee, always buried in an oversized old-man sweater—frowning with concentration, practically glowing in the golden light of the reading lamp in the dimness. Sometimes Adam glanced up; this depended on his level of focus, but when he did he always gave Ronan a tiny barely-there smile. Ronan would disappear into a back room and find something to absorb himself in for a few hours. If he found something particularly good, he’d get it, but more often he didn’t buy anything. Instead (and this was his favorite part) he’d lean against the desk and bother Adam for a little before he left.

“What’s this, then,” Ronan said one night, flicking at the textbook Adam had tonight. The white space around the text had been filled with his cramped, slanting scrawl in light pencil; Ronan could barely read any of it.

“This is for my seminar on religious minorities in the Supreme Court,” Adam began. “I have to prepare a petition for certiorari—” Ronan dropped his head on the desk and pretended to snore loudly, and Adam threw an eraser at him. “Jackass.”

“Nerd.” Ronan threw it back. “Can’t believe I have to deal with you people here too.”

“You people?” Adam caught the eraser and rubbed something out carefully in the textbook.

“You know. Ivy Leaguers.” He waved an invisible pennant. “Go Lions and all that.”

Adam kept erasing, but his eyes came up so he could look at Ronan through his lashes. “Who’s the other Columbia student? So we can vie for the position.”

“Roommate. He studies something weird and historical. You want to vie for the position of my favorite Columbia student?”

“You don’t know what he studies?” Adam completely ignored Ronan’s question, or maybe he just didn’t hear it.

“I told you, something weird and historical.” Absently, Ronan blew at some of the eraser dust that now spread over the desk. “All I know is he stays up late reading old records about, like, cattle and shit, and primary sources give him boners.”

Adam’s nose wrinkled delicately. “Lovely.”

“Yeah, well, you’re not the one who has to live with him.” Ronan peered at the scribbling in the margins again. “So tell me about this certiorari crap.”

He flashed him a surprised look. “You remembered the name.”

“Latin, baby. Certiorari, from certiorare, first conjugation, to inform or apprise.”

“Really.” Adam raised an eyebrow.

“Stop giving me that look,” Ronan grumbled. “Just tell me about this—this thing.”

Adam promptly went into a long spiel about how his seminar was critiquing briefs in opposition and internal Supreme Court documents, and it was as boring as Ronan had suspected—all technical terms and current events and legal precedents and shit—but he distracted himself watching Adam’s hands fly through the air and his eyes brighten.

“You gonna be a Supreme Justice or whatever?” Ronan asked when it seemed like it was winding down. He couldn’t picture Adam in one of those robes, peering down snootily at a snooty court full of snooty lawyers.

“I don't know.”

“Yes you do.” Ronan flicked a piece of eraser dust directly at Adam’s face, but he missed, and it landed on the shoulder of his sweater. (It was finally cold enough to warrant long sleeves, which Adam seemed to take as a sign to start doubling the sweaters up.)

Adam hunched his shoulders as if withdrawing into himself, but after a moment he straightened, and his chin came up again. Ronan was glad; cowering didn’t suit somebody like him, somebody undomesticated and not tethered by human concerns. “I want to do something good, something that makes people’s lives better. That’s all I know.” He sent Ronan a wary look, like he expected him to push, so Ronan backed down.

“I should have known you were one of those do-gooder types,” he said instead, and made Adam huff with dry amusement with dumb jokes about being the next Gandhi until it got late and he went home.

That night, Ronan lay awake as usual, but he felt bathed in warmth and quiet, and instead of drowning his thoughts in pumping electronica he took his headphones out and stared up at the dark ceiling and existed. It felt a little like people said that New Age-y mindfulness shit felt like, the kind of thing that Ashley got Declan into, except less pretentious and show-offy. It was nice.

Of course, it meant that he ended up falling asleep around six in the morning and jerking awake three hours later.

Ronan was late for class, and it was actually a class he had been planning to attend. He was late for—he sighed—fucking Milo.

The apartment was quiet when he stumbled out of it and to the train station, wearing an old Aglionby tennis sweatshirt that he usually avoided like the plague and suffering through a stale bagel. Morning commuters in business casual eyed his five-o’clock shadow suspiciously; Ronan stared back, dead-eyed. (He found people found it more disconcerting than outright hostility; once, a middle-aged man had even moved seats upon being on its receiving end.)

“—Spenser’s language is deliberately archaic,” Milo was saying when Ronan came in. Milo’s fedora was gray plaid, and Ronan wondered briefly if he thought it was cool and also if he thought anyone was actually listening.

When Ronan slid into the nearest empty seat, the kid next to him actually snored gently. Honestly, a college professor should know better than to expect anything from a ten am literature course.

They were reading The Faerie Queene, which was too preachy for Ronan’s tastes, but the syllabus promised Shakespeare soon—the tragedies, not the fairy stuff—so Ronan crossed his arms and endured it. He was sort of getting into the lecture (once you learned to ignore Milo’s affected drone, it was fine) when the same kid snored again, slightly louder this time, and, as if he’d woken himself, startled awake.

“Whuh?” he asked, gazing around blearily, clearly disoriented. Ronan ignored him. “What’s going on?” he mumbled, eyes landing on Ronan, who continued to ignore him.

A girl in the row behind them made an angry shushing sound.

Milo continued to pontificate about virtue.

The kid rubbed at his eyes. He looked a little like Matthew—well, no. He looked nothing like Matthew; faded while Matthew was vibrant, fair while Matthew was golden. But he reminded Ronan of Matthew, Matthew when he’d sleep in on Saturdays and trail downstairs at noon, half-asleep still and searching for breakfast mostly by smell.

“The Faerie Queene,” Ronan said.

“Hmm?”

“We’re going over The Faerie Queene,” Ronan repeated. “Milo’s been talking about holiness for twenty minutes.”

“Oh,” the kid said, and then, “Holiness?” He squinted down at the top of Milo’s hat, bobbing as he gestured at the comatose front row.

“Why’d you come if you’re only going to sleep?”

Most people would be a little taken aback by this, and the more sensitive ones would be offended, perhaps, but the kid just shrugged. “Sometimes they take attendance,” he said, tipping his head back to sleep against the desk behind him.

Ronan watched him for a moment—it didn’t look very comfortable—but he seemed to be fine with it, so Ronan, too, shrugged and went back to the lecture.

Milo had just now started in on friendship. His PowerPoint insisted on capitalizing the word, like so: Friendship. It was ridiculous.

...

DO NOT ANSWER

Missed call from DO NOT ANSWER, 10:49am.

Missed call from DO NOT ANSWER, 12:28pm.

Seriously?

Ronan.

Ronan had meant to finish The Faerie Queene when he got home, but he ended up curled on his bed, reading a Helen Oyeyemi short story collection for the millionth time instead. Her writing always made him feel surreal, like he was possibly living in a fairy tale; when he got up to get some water, it was getting dark out, and he was a little dizzy.

Gansey was sitting at the kitchen table, eating pasta and frowning at his laptop. Ronan didn’t have to look to know he was trawling through academic journals; that was all he seemed to do, these days. “Hey,” Gansey said when he saw Ronan.

Ronan didn’t respond, but when he’d gotten his glass of water he perched on the other end of the table, as much of an olive branch as he’d ever offered.

“Have you been sleeping?” Gansey asked, setting his computer aside. He looked young again, not like the old man Ronan always mocked him for being.

Ronan shrugged. Gansey knew this meant no, and he raised both eyebrows delicately. Ronan knew this meant you look like shit, and he ignored it.

“Let’s get gelato,” he said suddenly. Gansey didn’t need to be told twice; he stood up.

They got gelato.

“I can drive,” Ronan said, letting the screen on the front door of their apartment building shut on Gansey.

“Right,” Gansey agreed, striding to the driver door of the Pig, which sat patiently at the curb. His father had expressed worry about such a car sitting out on the street—well, Gansey the second expressed worry about such a car, period, but that was irrelevant—and his son had reassured him that they were in Morningside Heights. If the Camaro wasn’t safe, then nothing was, and the Camaro was definitely safe.

Ronan slid into the passenger side without complaint, though the growl of the Pig coming to life made him ache with sudden acute jealousy. It was that time in the city when everything was quiet—not quite the quiet of night, but the quiet of family dinner and dining hall banter and lone smokers hovering outside of bars before ducking inside to join their friends in the light. Ronan liked looking at the yellow windows of apartments up above shuttered shops and cafes. Sometimes he caught a glimpse of a shadow moving near the windows, or even a flash of a laughing face.

Suddenly, Gansey turned down the awful electronica and said, “By the way, I never thanked you for taking me to that bookshop the other day.”

Ronan considered grunting in response, but instead he cast a glance over the gear shift and said, “Yeah?”

“It was…” Gansey flexed his hands on the steering wheel and kept his eyes straight ahead. He thought for a moment; Ronan felt a sudden rush of affection for him and his way of pausing until his words came out the way he wanted them to. “I felt this thing that I didn’t know I could feel,” he said finally. “Like the feeling was always for somebody else until I walked in, and then…”

Ronan watched the prickle of a bare tree reaching up into the street-lit night sky. He thought about the warmth of the green glass lamp that Adam read by. He knew what Gansey meant; it was a feeling that was precarious, because it felt like it could be taken away. It was being known.

“Me too,” he said after an indeterminable period of time.

Gansey sighed and shifted in his seat. “Listen, I’m sorry I haven’t been fully present.” He was too well-bred to show much raw emotion, but Ronan detected some guilt. “This piece on feudalism is—”

“Kicking your ass?” Ronan supplied.

“Exactly,” Gansey agreed, with a small humorless huff. “No matter what I do, I just can’t get it right.”

“You’ve been reading cattle records.” His tone pointed out that he considered this a new low for Gansey, or possibly the historical field in general.

“I know, but Malory has so many sources concerning the Middle Ages, and I can tell he’s more interested in the—” Gansey slowed to allow a cab to cut in front of him and screech into the right lane. “Well, at any rate, the problem is that I’ve been writing the same two pages for a week.”

“Fuck him.”

“Ronan.”

“I don't mean literally.”

Ronan.

“What?” Ronan scowled. “If you don't want to write about the Middle Ages, then don't fuckin’ write about the Middle Ages.”

“It’s not that simple,” Gansey said, but he wouldn’t look at Ronan.

“It’s exactly that simple. I mean, come on, man. Someday soon Malory’ll croak, and then who will dictate your every move?” Anticipating Gansey’s next protest, he added, “I’ve met the guy. Somebody breathes on him wrong and boom.” He mimed a body falling with one hand. “He’s dead.”

Gansey’s mouth thinned. “What about you, then?” he said. “Are you going to keep taking freshman literature classes for the rest of your life, or—”

“Hey, no, we were talking about you,” Ronan interjected, but, disconcertingly, it felt like the conversation had rapidly and irreversibly gone in the direction of his life.

“Your mother’s worried about you,” Gansey said unflinchingly, because he was a soulless bastard. “And I know for a fact that you’re ignoring Declan again, because he emailed me about it three times. Also, he invited me to a French wine bar to try some thousand-dollar wine Ashley likes from Germany, which seems illogical.”

“Literally what else is new,” Ronan said, which applied to all three parts of Gansey’s statement.

“I thought you always tell the truth.”

“I do. Changing the subject isn’t lying. Avoiding people isn’t lying.”

“So you admit you’re avoiding your family.” Gansey’s face had brightened, like a lawyer in court who’d just gotten the answer he wanted.

“Of course I’m avoiding my goddamned family, have you met them?”

“I don't avoid my family. And you’ve met them.”

“Yeah, well. We can’t all be you, Gans.” And that was the end of that conversation, because they’d arrived and between the ordering and the sitting down and the mocking of Gansey’s pistachio gelato there was not much room for discussion.

dick

Text Declan back please.

in class

No, you’re not.

You’re in your room.

You went to the bathroom ten minutes ago and
tripped on your way out

Ronan?

Later that week, Ronan arrived at Brazenhead and found a stool on the opposite side of the desk from Adam, where Ronan usually hovered, of whose origins Adam promptly denied any knowledge.

“Off the merchandise, Lynch,” Adam said, shooing Ronan off a new stack of Shirley Jackson short stories someone had evidently brought in. He was actually doing work today, instead of studying—he’d finished the certiorari assignment—and was in the process of pencilling prices on the inside covers of the new books. He called it the latest stage in his “ongoing effort to stop this shop from being the place where books come to die.”

“How come you get to know my last name and I don't get to know yours,” Ronan said, obliging and shifting his elbows to a clear patch of desk.

“The world is an unfair place.” As Adam flipped through the book, a few loose pages fluttered out, and a tiny furrow made its way in between his eyebrows as he marked that down inside the cover and tucked them carefully back in.

“Nope,” Ronan said, refusing to accept his evasion and pointing at him with his pencil; Adam snatched it back. “What is it? Something awful, right.”

“In law, that’s what we call a leading question,” Adam began.

“None of that,” Ronan cut in. “I know what that is. That’s filibustering. Gansey’s sister told me all about that last Thanksgiving.” (Well, technically Helen had told the entire table this in a roundabout effort to passive-aggressively call Gansey out.)

Adam rolled his eyes. “It’s Parrish. Give the pencil back, you menace.”

“Huh.” Ronan allowed the pencil to be plucked from his hand again. “Adam Parrish. That’s a nice Southern name, right?”

“I take it back. You’re not a menace, you’re a busybody.”

“Parrish.”

“Yes, I’m from the South,” accompanied by an impressive sigh. “Eastern Virginia, if you must know. Anything else? My lineage? Driver’s license number? Social Security?”

“Eastern Virginia?” Ronan echoed.

Adam made a hmming sound without looking up, like he knew he couldn’t stop Ronan from continuing. “What.”

I’m from Virginia.”

“Bullshit.”

“Western Virginia. Singer’s Falls. Too bougie for you?”

“Fuck you,” Adam replied without missing a beat. “Singer’s Falls—that’s in the Shenandoah, right?”

“Way west. Basically West Virginia.”

“And you grew up there?” He really had to stop doing that thing where he looked up at Ronan through his dust-colored eyelashes.

“My family has a farm there.”

“You grew up on a farm.”

“What, don't I look like a good farmin’ church-goin’ Southern boy?” Ronan grinned, razor-sharp in the yellow lamplight. Adam gave him that look that meant Whatever, asshole. It was dark and withering and Ronan loved it.

“So why’d a good farmin’ church-goin’ Southern boy decide to study literature in the city?” Adam’s accent, which he’d only given hints of before, slid out to lengthen all his vowels.

“That’s a story for the second date, sweetheart.” He earned another eye-roll and a swat to the shoulder from a copy of The Lottery for that one.

They passed a few minutes in silence; Adam continued pricing books and setting them aside to be shelved, and Ronan first busied himself straightening the finished pile. When that was done, Ronan moved on to fussing with the other piles of books that dominated the long heavy desk.

Redemption in Indigo,” Ronan murmured to himself, picking up a book at the top of a nearby stack and frowning at the cover. It was a slim volume. He’d never heard of it or of the author.

Adam’s head came up. “Don't,” he said immediately, reaching for it.

“What?” Ronan let him take it and watched him tuck it carefully into a drawer.

“It’s, uh, being saved. I’m holding it for someone until they come back.”

Adam was the type to measure his words, and he’d never seen him speak so quickly or so emphatically. Maybe Ronan’s face showed his surprise, because then Adam looked up again.

“You come here because it’s a sanctuary, right?” The honey-drip quality of Adam’s voice had returned. “So, you’re not the only one.”

The air had suddenly gone still, like what he’d said was very bad or very good or maybe neither, maybe just very important. Adam reached for the Jackson book he was in the middle of marking; the glassy, scratched face of his beat-up watch flashed in the low light.

“So what I got from that is that you’re seeing other girls,” Ronan said, if only to break the stillness. The very corner of Adam’s mouth pretended it wasn’t curling up just a little bit. It interrupted the tension before it could settle in, anyway, and they returned to their peace.

“Who runs this place, anyway?” Ronan asked, spinning himself slowly on his stool. “Like, who thought an endless, demonic pit of books was a good business model?”

“He’s… eccentric,” Adam huffed, amused. “He has a background in medieval poetry and he’s always mysteriously ‘out of town.’ My roommate thinks he belongs to the mafia.”

“Huh. Why does that not surprise me. This place is so fuckin’ weird.”

One of Adam’s eyebrows went up, deeply sarcastic, as he straightened the stack of priced books. “And yet here you are.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Ronan suggested, tipping the pile over so the books spilled onto the floor.

Adam made him pick them up.

The night went on.

On the train on his way to Milo’s class that week, Ronan kept dozing off and waking himself up again with dreams about cricket song, so when he finally stumbled into the lecture hall and threw himself into the nearest seat, he was not only late but pissed off. To make matters worse, there was no Shakespeare.

“You good?” It was a hazy mumble. It was, of course, the sleeping kid from last time.

Ronan grunted—people tended to take that as whatever answer they wanted to hear—and ignored him.

“You don't look so good.” The kid had a smudge on one hollow cheekbone, like charcoal, or maybe it was just a weird shadow. Maybe he just had awful facial hair in one region of his cheek. Who was Ronan to say. “Like, kind of pale? And—”

“Stop talking to me,” Ronan recommended. A guy in the next row turned around to glare at them pointedly. Ronan glared back.

“You look,” the kid said, decidedly, “like you need sleep.”

“That’s not gonna happen.”

“Or a smoke?”

“I don't want lung cancer, thanks.”

“I didn’t mean cigarettes.”

Ronan tucked his chin into his jacket and muttered, mostly to himself and not kindly, “The doctor is in, folks.” It was the kind of joke he imagined Adam would snort-laugh at and kick him in the shins for.

The kid grinned and shrugged, magnanimously; again Ronan thought of Matthew. “Smoking always knocks me right out, but you do you, man.”

“Right,” Ronan said, and they ignored each other again.

Two hours later, cramming his unopened book into his bag, the kid said, “You ever wanna take me up on that offer, you know where to find me.” He slouched out of the hall before Ronan could come up with something discouraging to say in response. His untied Converse had ollie holes in them, Ronan noticed, and his bag was patterned with interlocking Gs.

Also, he smelled weird.

(Ronan mentally revised: he smelled like pot.)

These facts told him everything he needed to know about this guy. Ronan was not interested.

He walked home instead of taking the train, because thinking about the canned air down in those tunnels made him almost physically ill. Jamming his hands in his pockets, he scuffed his feet through the thin layer of yellow and orange leaves that had strewn themselves across the sidewalk. It smelled damp, which Ronan found was a singularly revolting smell when combined with the cigarette smoke and the scent of very strong coffee that pervaded the air.

In his back pocket, his dying phone buzzed. He ignored it, buried his hands deeper in his pockets, and shuffled on.

mom

Missed call from mom, 1:13pm.

Missed call from mom, 1:18pm.

It was fall when an important vessel in Niall Lynch’s head burst, spilling blood over and around his brain cells. Ronan’s memory of finding his father draped across the gravel of the Barns’ driveway was inextricably interwoven into the gold of the hickory trees that lined the street—the ones that Matthew climbed in summer and Aurora decorated with string lights in winter—and the russet of the oak tree whose roots had wedged themselves among the flagstones that led to the front door. It was such a strong sense memory that Ronan sometimes awoke tasting warm spiced milk that made him feel sick to his stomach, like when he drank too much coffee on an empty stomach or his anger flooded in accompanied by a heady rush of adrenaline and his hands wouldn’t stop shaking.

“Sometimes staying in one place for too long isn’t healthy,” Aurora had told Ronan the night before he’d left for New York, stroking his hair in the dim stove light. “Sometimes home takes you backwards when you need to go forwards.”

Ronan had stayed silent; he wasn’t willing to pick a fight with his mother on his last night in Virginia, but at the same time he knew she was wrong. New York wasn’t going forward and it sure as hell wasn’t his future.

Singer’s Falls was where he belonged. The Barns was where he belonged. He knew it fully and completely, in his heart of hearts; he knew it just like he knew that he’d return one day.

Chapter Text

“No,” Ronan said immediately.

“Yes.”

“No,” he repeated.

“Look, man, just—” The kid—well, Noah—offered Ronan a cigarette and then put it in his own mouth when he was ignored.

“This is what you think of when you think fun place to take friends?” Ronan asked instead. They were in a skatepark—yes, Ronan had been subjected to a skatepark. It was the middle of the day, which was apparently not the ideal time for skateboarders (or maybe they were just called skaters?) because it was virtually empty; that is, except for Ronan and this idiot kid from his Lit class.

Right. They were ditching.

Here is how that happened:

Ronan arrived at class late, again, only to find Milo cheerfully setting off on the three hundredth slide of his PowerPoint on The Faerie Queene. Apparently he’d had so much to say on the fucking virtues that he’d extended the unit, which was a level of bullshit that Ronan was not prepared to deal with so early in the morning.

Then he made his first mistake: he let himself hope that maybe Milo would get to Shakespeare later in class and sat down. His second mistake (mistake 1B?) had been to sit in the same seat he had the last time, next to the sleeping stoner kid—except the kid was not asleep and he didn’t smell too strongly of weed today, so.

“What’s he talking about,” the kid mumbled a few minutes into the lecture.

“Courtesy,” Ronan said, too busy wondering whether he was serious—it said “COURTESY” on the slide in twenty-point font—to be brusque.

“Huh.” The kid squinted, which evidently did not help.

“I feel like a sandwich,” he said thirty minutes in. Ronan ignored this. “We should get out of here,” he added.

“No.”

“We’ll, like, get sandwiches.”

“Stop talking.”

“Dude.” And here was mistake number three: Ronan turned to look at the kid, who was blinking right back at him, innocent as a baby deer, just a regular Bambi. “You really want to stay here and listen for an hour and a half more about chastity?”

Ronan turned to look at the PowerPoint, which was indeed expanding on the virtue of chastity. He thought about how badly he wanted a sandwich.

“Go,” he said, getting up and grabbing his notebook, unopened. When the kid didn’t move, he repeated, “Get up, get up,” and the kid slid into movement. Together, they shuffled past people’s legs to the end of the row.

“I’m Noah,” the kid said, and Ronan said, “Walk, holy shit,” because the noise had drawn Milo’s attention and he looked like he was thinking about saying something to them, and then they were out of the goddamned auditorium and allowing the weak sunlight to warm their bodies because it was fall in the city, and Ronan was remembering why he’d always felt that the concept of inside had really set the human race back as a whole about a hundred years.

So now they were in a skatepark.

“Here,” Noah said, handing his cigarette to Ronan (although Ronan did not wish to be handed a cigarette). He unhooked a skateboard from his bag and let both bag and board fall to the cement.

“I’m not going to sit here and watch you fucking skateboard,” Ronan told him.

“Okay,” Noah said obligingly, hopping on and rolling down a slope with a sound that was like a million nails on a million chalkboards.

We’re in the cultural and financial center of the United States and I’m standing in a skatepark watching a stranger skateboard, Ronan allowed himself a moment to think before tossing the cigarette off to the side and sitting down.

“So what’s your name?” Noah shout-asked as he rode up a ramp and then tumbled right back down again.

“Ronan. Lynch.”

“Noah Czerny. Like a chair and then a knee?” Ronan didn’t respond; completely unbothered, Noah continued, “Look, man, sorry for, like, offering you weed or whatever last week. I just figured that you looked like you could use it. No offense.” He performed a kickflip and tripped.

Over the course of the next half hour, Ronan learned that Noah was an unpaid intern at some tiny art gallery in Tribeca. He didn’t mention it, but he was definitely a trust fund kid; it was not only the designer bag and the customized skateboard but the phrase “unpaid intern” that clued Ronan in. He was an enthusiastic if untalented skater and gave Ronan a rundown of all the skatepark’s features, even though Ronan never asked.

Also, he was not a great person to walk with, because he enjoyed skating very slowly along ahead of you, which Ronan learned as they made their way to a sandwich place that made “bombastic boba. Am I using that word right? I don't think I’m using that word right.”

“I’m going home,” Ronan said after he finished and watched Noah slowly chew each tapioca ball in his mango drink.

“Okay,” Noah agreed mildly.

When Ronan got home, he found Gansey on the living room floor, scowling at his laptop. “Where were you?”

“Class, skatepark, sandwiches,” Ronan summarized succinctly before shutting himself in his room to reread Sons and Lovers.

adam

Hey by the way my “boring” article is getting
published in the law review so

congrats on your nerd accomplishment

nerd

Yeah well I’m glad I didn’t listen to this English
major I know who gave me a bunch of dumb edits

who is he

sounds like a loser

Declan wouldn’t stop calling.

Also, Ronan could hear Gansey on the phone. He was laughing, which meant it was probably Jane and not family.

adam

what are you doing

Studying

Library

Why

you’re hungry probably

i’ll bring you some old stale donuts

i think gansey uses them as paperweights

...Okay I guess

Law library 2nd floor

Ronan was already halfway there when his phone buzzed. He checked, if only to make sure it wasn’t Declan. It wasn’t.

adam

Wait you were joking right?

About the donuts

You can’t bring food here

Ronan

“Hi,” Ronan said, slinging himself into a chair across from Adam. It was strange seeing him here; although the heavy wood desks and book-crammed shelves were not far off from Brazenhead’s atmosphere, it was very clearly daytime, a stark contrast to when Ronan usually saw Adam—that is, at one in the morning. Adam was wearing a blue collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up; Ronan could see his wrists, spattered with freckles and downed with faint fair hairs.

“Hi,” Adam said. “I didn’t think you’d actually come. Where are the donuts?”

“Gansey ate them. All those farming records make him hungry.” Adam rolled his eyes.

“Did you bring something to do? I’m not going to be very interesting. I’m literally just taking notes on this reading for Comparative Gov—”

“I don't care, just don't make me listen to you talk about the goddamned law,” Ronan interrupted, a little too loud. He liked earning Adam’s eyerolls. Someone at a nearby table glared, and Ronan glared back.

“Jesus Christ. Okay. Erase all these flashcards.” Adam shoved a pile in Ronan’s direction.

“Erase?” He accepted the pencil that was handed to him, looked at the eraser end, and then looked at the writing that had already been penciled onto the index cards.

“I want to reuse them, but they have stuff on them already.” He went back to his reading, frowning and scribbling things on neon pink Post-Its, until he seemed to notice Ronan’s gaze still on him. “What? Erase, go on.”

“You’re not the boss of me,” Ronan mumbled, but he erased.

An indeterminate period of time went by. Ronan briefly considered listening to music, but he’d forgotten his headphones, and anyway the long stretching silence was calming. Adam, true to his word, remained focused. Ronan recognized the single-mindedness with which he read his textbooks at Brazenhead’s front desk and went through donations and inventoried damaged books; his solemn, concentrated face had just been transplanted from the familiarity of the bookshop to this strange library.

He finally looked up when Ronan’s phone told him it had been two hours. The flashcards, now blank, had been arranged into several different piles, organized by Ronan’s whims; all the eraser dust had been swept into a little hill. Adam stretched his legs straight out, shut his textbook, and said, “I want coffee.”

When Adam stood and gathered his things, he was a little unsteady on his legs, like a newborn foal. Ronan watched with amusement as he searched for his pencil and found it in Ronan’s hand before putting on a fleece jacket, somewhat nicer than the thrift-store sweater beneath it and substantially nicer than the awful sneakers on his feet. Ronan was pleased to find that, when standing, he was taller than Adam.

“It’s night already,” Adam said when they emerged from the library, blinking up at the darkening sky. It was chilly and smelled fresh, like rain and damp leaves, even though it hadn’t rained. Soon, the ABC7 weatherman had said that morning; Gansey always put on the TV because he liked background noise when he worked.

“It’s dinnertime,” Ronan corrected.

“Some paperweight donuts sound good right about now.” He slid a look at Ronan out of the corner of his eye. Ronan hopped down the steps three at a time, and then turned to face Adam, still walking.

“You’re not going to drink coffee at seven pm.”

“Who says I’m not?”

Ronan leveled a look at him that said, Bullshit. He relented. “I’m not nineteen anymore. Maybe not.”

“Right, because you’re so old.” Ronan rolled his eyes. “You’re all of, what, twenty-five? A real elder.”

“Shut up,” Adam said. They’d reached the end of the green, where the campus met the sidewalk. Ronan prepared himself to say goodbye—something nonchalant, noncommittal—but Adam stopped.

“There’s a good Indian place that way,” he said. “Coming?”

“Only if you promise not to ask for a senior discount.”

When it started raining, they were nearly there. It began with a trickle and segued into a full-bodied stream that not only poured over you but splattered you with runoff from drain pipes and deli awnings. “Shit,” Adam laugh-gasped, simultaneously trying to shield his book bag and yank the collar of his jacket over his head. Ronan took the bag so he could do the latter more efficiently, and then they ran, sending up sprays of water when they slogged through puddles.

They were out of breath, and they dripped all over the Indian place’s floor and earned irritated looks from the staff, and when Ronan showered that night it took ten minutes of standing under the hot water before he could feel himself thawing out. He couldn’t bring himself to be angry about it. Not even a little irritated.

...

Ronan was so exhausted from being cold that he collapsed and didn’t get up until ten the next morning; granted, half of that time was spent throwing his Milo-mandated copy of The Faerie Queene at his wall repeatedly until Gansey told him to stop, but still, it was the most rest he’d gotten in about four years, and when he wandered out of his room he felt that he had been infused with a little bit of the law library’s peace.

Except there was a Lynch standing in the kitchen, and it was a Lynch who wore Italian leather dress shoes and ate the seeds when he ate apples. He was doing all of these things now, in fact. Ronan’s anger was immediate and palpable and took him back to high school.

“What the fuck is this,” he said, purposefully not letting it be a question. Gansey, who had been standing in the doorway evidently making small talk, made a gesture that smacked of peacemaking. Ronan didn’t let him start. “Did I invite you here? Did I invite you to wear your shoes in my fucking house? Right, yes, just walk on in and eat my food, feel free to—”

“Ronan, please,” Declan sighed. “Can we just—”

“No, we can’t just. Get the fuck out.”

“Don't speak to me like that.”

“Get the fuck out,” Ronan repeated, suppressing the urge to sweep the nearest object—a fruit bowl—to the floor.

Declan set his half-eaten apple delicately on the counter.

Gansey melted into the living room.

“What’s the problem now?” Declan asked, for all the world like he was the one being troubled. “Can’t I visit my brother?”

“I know you already think the White House belongs to you, so I hate to tell you about this thing called private property—”

He rolled his eyes. “I was in town for work, if you must know, and I thought I’d stop by, since God knows you won’t answer your phone for anyone.”

“Just move in,” Ronan suggested, “and that way you can monitor my eating habits and watch me when I pee. Or, better yet, install some cameras, so that way you won’t have to be so inconvenienced—”

“You don't know what you’re talking about.”

“Like hell I don't. For once in your life can’t you at least try to leave well enough alone?”

“All I have done is try,” Declan hissed, stepping into his brother’s space. “I try and try. I picked Mom off the floor when—”

“Don't you dare bring that up—”

“—when Dad died, okay? He’s fucking dead, Ronan. Is he the one that got Matthew into UVA? Is he the—”

“Matthew didn’t even want to go to UVA, you inflated piece of—”

“—can you let me finish my goddamned sentence? You can’t even pick up the phone after everything I’ve done to put this family back together!”

“Put this family back together?” Ronan echoed derisively. “Some family. Well fucking done, Declan, is that what you want to hear? Congratulations on a drugged-out mother and a budding career in kissing ass?”

“You forgot the brother who thinks taking literature classes for eighteen-year-olds is a life,” Declan snarled. “What are you going to do, huh, Ronan? You’re just going to throw away your entire life to take classes you aren’t even going to try in? You think I don't know you never do your fucking homework? You’re twenty-five and you pay people to make you write papers you don't even write. Where the fuck is that going to take you?”

Ronan felt himself flush with heat all over. He was frozen in place, helpless as Declan continued, “So now I’m the bad guy, because I have the nerve to tell you what no one else will. I just got a promotion, Mom started a garden club, Matthew’s thinking about grad school, and what about you?”

Ronan found his voice again; he realized that his hands were shaking minutely. “Get out.”

“Soon you’ll be thirty and you’ll have no education and—what, one friend? A degree in English? Get real, Ronan. You have nothing and soon you’ll have no one.”

Ronan opened his mouth, but Declan beat him to it.

“So don't fucking attack me just because you can’t handle your own excuse for a life. I’ll show myself out,” he snapped, snatching up his apple and striding out. The front door slammed behind him.

adam

I can never go back to that Indian place are you happy

Seriously they hate me now

I’m afraid they’ll spit in my food

Chase me away with pitchforks

Their samosas are so good too

Look I’m not blaming you but I think it was mainly
the whole boots-on-the-table thing

You’re probably in class sorry

Gansey knocked on Ronan’s door at some point; when he got no response, he opened the door a crack.

“Ronan?” he asked, sotto voce, like he was trying not to spook a horse or wake a baby.

“What,” Ronan said flatly, leaving his headphones in.

“Do you need anything?”

“No.”

Gansey hesitated one moment more. “Okay,” he said, and disappeared again.

It was winter when Declan realized there was something wrong with their mother.

Aurora, ever the perfect, golden mother of all-American family sitcoms—Aurora who never raised her voice and always smelled like cinnamon toast and baked homemade bread for her sons’ school lunches—forgot food, forgot to get out of bed, probably would have forgotten to take the kids to school if Declan didn’t have his own car by then. Matthew had been too young and self-absorbed to notice anything past his own nose, but Ronan remembers peering into his parents’ room and watching Declan shake their silent mother’s shoulder.

The adults called it many things with scary names, but only when Matthew wasn’t within earshot; it was to be expected, it was not preventable, it was treatable with certain medications, it wouldn’t change anything, it would change everything.

After that, they’d stayed in school housing. Ronan lay in the bottom bunk in a narrow dorm room and listened to Matthew cry in his sleep. There was no more cinnamon-toast smell or homemade bread. Once a week, Declan drove them to see their mother, but Ronan stopped going along after they discovered the drugs confused Aurora to the point where the feeling of Matthew’s chubby cheek pressing to her room-temperature one made her skittish.

Ronan still remembers the ensuing fight very clearly: shouting in the parking lot, Ronan demanding why did you put her in a hospice, she isn’t going to die, she’s fine, Matthew in the car with his eyes shut, Declan’s bloody nose that matched the bruises purpling on Ronan’s face.

After that, the two older Lynch brothers only spoke during Sunday mass.

The next few weeks got progressively colder; Gansey broke out his pea coats, while Ronan opted for fleece, because he wasn’t a fan of the old-man Malory look, a comment Gansey did not appreciate. Thanksgiving approached. No one discussed it, but it was implied that Ronan would join the Ganseys after spending a few days with Matthew, as he had for the past few years, and that Declan would be with his girlfriend’s family, not that Ronan cared.

There was no more skipping class with Noah, because Ronan had stopped going to Milo’s class altogether. He was still going to his 19th Century Lit class, but that one was, too, in question. Sons and Lovers, unfinished, still sat on his nightstand.

...

DO NOT ANSWER

I visited you to tell you Ashley and I are getting married.

I wanted to break the news to you in person, since you
never answer your phone, but clearly you had other
ideas.

The engagement party is in March and the
wedding is going to be in June. You’re still invited,
if you want to come.

It was the week before Thanksgiving, and it was raining again.

The wind blew, the kind of wind that ignored your layers upon layers of wool and fleece and sought out every exposed bit of skin; the ABC7 weatherman began to hint at snow. Ronan found himself looking at the weather app on his phone often, staring at the forecast for Singer’s Falls and imagining the Barns covered in snow with no one there to see it.

He stuck his freezing feet under the covers and was considering picking up Sons and Lovers again—it just looked so sad, sitting there—when his phone, in his hand, buzzed like an angry bee.

adam

I’m looking at a Bukowski poetry collection right now

It looks disappointed because no one will read it.

I don't think it’s ever been opened by a normal
human being in its entire life

Ronan sighed and looked out his window; rain was throwing itself against the glass with aggression. There was no one outside, because it was awful outside, and you could say what you like about New Yorkers—and Ronan often did—but they were generally pretty sensible, and they had nothing to prove to anyone.

Ronan was not a New Yorker.

He sighed again, took another look at Sons and Lovers, and got up to find his boots. The practical ones, not the stomp-people-on-the-train ones.

“You’re going out?” Gansey looked up from the episode of It’s Always Sunny he was rewatching; there was a mint leaf in great danger of falling out of his mouth. “It’s pouring out there.”

Ronan responded by very pointedly putting on a raincoat and raising an eyebrow in Gansey’s direction as he zipped it all the way to the top.

“But—you—” Gansey glanced out at the treetops, nearly horizontal under the onslaught of rain and wind, and then back at Ronan, who was wearing two sweaters under the raincoat. “Take an umbrella at least,” he said.

“Right, and become Mary Poppins,” Ronan replied putting on a scarf, already halfway out the door. “No thanks.”

Gansey’s mouth opened again, like he was going to ask a question—probably something like “Where are you going, it’s 11pm and storming out and you have no friends except me”—but Ronan shut the door behind him before he could start.

He took the stairs at a jog and slammed the door to the street open, but it promptly tried to shut on him, and wow, it really was storming, Jesus Christ. If he’d had hair, it would have been drenched and flattened against his skull at this point, and he was still on his own front stoop. Why was this a good idea? he wondered, seriously considering going back, and then he thought about returning inside and withstanding Gansey’s patiently worried expressions and reading in his room all night and, even though it made his eyes sting, went into the wind head-on.

The walk to Brazenhead was only about a fifteen minute one—Ronan knew it well—but now it took longer, or maybe it just felt longer. Either way, when he arrived, his jeans were soaking, there was rainwater in his socks, and he was cold to his bones. He clattered into the shop and stood just inside the door, unwilling to drip all over the rug or any books; there was a long moment before Adam looked up from his book.

“Holy shit,” Adam said, eyes wide as he took in Ronan’s little personal puddle and stood. “Jesus. Uh, come here.” He led Ronan to a door tucked in between bookshelves that opened into a black-and-white metro-tiled bathroom roughly the size of a handkerchief and gestured towards the closed toilet lid. “What were you thinking?” He was actually laughing a little; not in a rude way, but he was clearly amused.

“Um, you texted me,” Ronan said dumbly, sitting and accepting the hand towels that Adam produced from under the sink.

“I just wanted you to text me back, not walk through a hurricane. Here, take that off, I’ll put it over the radiator.” He took Ronan’s jacket, boots, and socks and disappeared into the next room, leaving him sitting there, barefoot in jeans and a sweater. Adam’s voice carried into the bathroom as he said, “Couldn’t you have taken a cab?”

Honestly, it hadn’t occurred to Ronan. “I like walking.”

Adam’s head popped back into the bathroom for a brief moment to look at Ronan. He was good at doing it very solemnly, but when you looked more closely a world of judgment was in there. “Okay,” he said slowly. “Well, it’s a good thing you have no hair.”

“Fuck off,” Ronan responded, as was expected of him, and followed Adam into the main room again, flicking off the light as he went and leaning in the archway. “Do you take a cab? When you come here.”

“I live five minutes away. Like, literally down the block.”

“Non-responsive,” Ronan pointed out; Adam looked almost offended at his legalese being used against him. What. Ronan listened sometimes.

“The taxi medallion system is corrupt. Also, expensive.”

Did you walk here?”

“Well, yes.” When he caught Ronan’s judgmental look, he rolled his eyes. “It was barely raining. I don't have a MetroCard. I live five minutes away.”

“I have a MetroCard.”

“Cool,” as dry as the fucking Sahara, an implicit question: why are you telling me this. Ronan waited. The other shoe dropped; enlightenment and affront bloomed on Adam’s face. “Wait, no, you’re not giving me your MetroCard.”

“It’s raining.”

“If I really needed a MetroCard, I would buy a MetroCard,” Adam huffed, sorting the heaps of books on the desk into tidier piles, organized methodically in a way that only made sense to him. “Don't offer people stuff like that. It’s weird.”

“Technically, I didn’t say anything.”

“If I didn’t think the books deserved better, I would throw one at you right now.”

“Hm, okay,” Ronan said, crossing the room to what he now referred to in his head as his stool. He had relaxed more now that he understood Adam was not going to interrogate him about his radio silence or about why he’d slogged through a storm in order to hang out with some guy he barely knew (who hadn’t even invited him to hang out in the first place).

For a while, Adam organized, and Ronan “helped” by seeing how many eyerolls he could get from him and by moving his neatened piles of books around until Adam finally gave up and sat down and asked Ronan about his classes.

He was in the middle of a long and involved story that involved Noah, Shakespeare, and Milo’s hats when the door squawked open.

Ronan’s first thought was, That can’t be right. He’d never seen anyone else in the shop literally… ever, now that he thought about it; evidently one in the morning was not a popular time to buy books. He twisted on his stool so he could see the entryway.

“Hey,” Adam said softly—not like Gansey’s don't-wake-the-baby voice but the way Declan used to talk Ronan down from nightmares when they were little, very gentle and very familiar.

The stranger emerged from the shadow just below a lamp; she was a young girl, Ronan realized, that intermediate age between ten and fifteen that sort of blurred together.

She had a head full of wiry dark curls and she was wearing ratty jeans and a hoodie that was completely soaking wet and she regarded Ronan with suspicion, even as Adam herded her into the bathroom.

“—so you shouldn’t have come,” Ronan heard him saying. “It’s pouring out, you can catch cold—” Then indecipherable murmurs.

The odd pair emerged a moment later—Adam, tall and fair, briskly and efficiently shaking out the girl’s sweatshirt and placing it onto the radiator beside Ronan’s wet things, and the girl, small and dark, sidling towards the desk and still looking at Ronan warily, practically drowning in Adam’s green plaid sweater.

“Hi,” Ronan suggested.

The girl came closer, like a wild animal skirting the edges of civilization. She walked with a limp, just a little dragging hitch in her step, Ronan noticed. He decided she was probably on the younger side. Eleven? Twelve?

“Who are you,” she said.

“Ronan.”

Adam was still fussing over the clothing that lay draped on the radiator. Ronan took the hint; he was meant to do this himself, or maybe the girl was meant to do this herself.

“Okay,” she said.

She went behind the desk, collected a book that lay within, and disappeared into the next room. Ronan watched her go.

Only then did Adam return.

“That’s Opal,” he said, looking dryly amused in that manner that meant it was probably at Ronan's expense.

“Um, why—” Ronan paused to think. “Why is she allowed to wander around in the rain at one in the morning?”

Adam frowned down at the books he was sorting. “I don't actually know. She lives somewhere nearby, and I get the feeling that it’s not exactly a great place, but.” He shrugged like Ronan knew what he meant. Ronan did not. “But it’s not really my place. I mean, I know she isn’t hurt, and she comes and hangs out with me sometimes.”

He shuffled the books. Ronan got the feeling he was dissatisfied with his own response. “I don't know.”

“So we were at the skatepark, right?” Ronan said after a moment. The heaviness on Adam’s face lifted slightly.

“Yeah, okay, continue.”

When Ronan left, it was late, and he hadn’t heard Opal leave, but his story had been very absorbing, as had the rousing literature debate that had come next, so maybe she’d slipped past his notice. Somehow he doubted it.

Chapter Text

Ronan’s paper from weeks ago on The Faerie Queene was returned to him on Monday at the beginning of class by a gum-smacking TA; in the corner, beneath the C plus, a red pen scrawl read, See me after class.

“Someone’s in trouble,” Noah grinned as he slid into his seat and leaned over Ronan’s shoulder to peer at his paper. He made a whip-cracking sound with his mouth—maybe to signify the sound of a ruler coming down? Ronan rolled his eyes at him; Noah kept grinning.

“Where’s your paper,” Ronan said. Around them, other students were comparing grades and congratulating or consoling. It was all very sincere.

“Oh, I didn’t do that one,” he replied cheerfully. “Wake me up when class is over?”

“No.” Entirely unbothered, Noah settled forward to rest his head on his arms, eyes shut.

Milo’s intro to their Shakespeare unit was verbose and extremely earnest and a complete bore. Shocker. Ronan slid his phone from his pocket.

adam

hey

Oh hi nice to know you still own a phone

i text u

My senior thesis will determine the ratio of Adam
texts to Ronan texts and then will juxtaposition the
respective volumes and contents of said texts

In order to analyze the effort each participant puts
into this friendship

shut the fuck up ur a law major

I will switch majors solely for this

im never texting u again

And be deprived of my sparkling personality?

sparkling? is that what they call it now

Hilarious, you should do stand-up

Hey I have to go, my roommates are demanding
“family brunch.”

“Adam it’s a tradition” This has literally never
happened before

good luck w that

“Mr. Lynch!” Milo said at the end of class, once most of the students had flooded out of the lecture hall. Noah was within that crowd; at the end of class, he’d said, “Good luck, I hope you live” and hopped onto his skateboard for about two seconds before Milo noticed and made him walk it. Ronan watched the loud, boisterous mass of students disperse into the gray November morning longingly as he followed Milo dutifully to his office.

“So,” Milo began, straightening the papers on his desk, which were already very neat. The office was small and gray and had far less books than one might expect from an English professor; Ronan sat gingerly on the edge of the black plastic chair across from the desk, ready to take flight at any moment. He wanted to be anywhere but there so badly his throat began to hurt.

Milo sat and folded his hands, like he’d learned how to be a teacher from Albus fucking Dumbledore. “Ronan. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised with your paper on Elizabethan chivalry in The Faerie Queene. At the beginning of the term, your writing was…” He tilted his head in thought. He was still wearing his fedora. “Lackluster,” he finished. Ronan wanted to tell him to just call it a semester, like literally everyone else, you pretentious ass.

Honestly, the paper had only turned out marginally good because Adam had been editing his roommate’s term paper the night before the essay on The Faerie Queene was due, and he’d asked if Ronan ever did homework, dryly, like he already knew the answer; of course, as a result, Ronan had to write something, in order to prove him wrong. After a while Adam had sighed and set aside his roommate’s paper and said, “I can’t read any more about forestry or I’ll go insane. Let’s have a look.” And then he’d gone through the essay  and mocked Ronan’s constant misuse of “whom,” the correct usage of which Ronan would now never forget.

Obviously, Ronan was not going to tell Milo this, of all people. God . Instead, he grunted in what was hopefully an agreeable manner.

“I like to check in with all my students, you know. Make sure they’re on the right track.” Milo shuffled his papers again. “Since you’re showing such marked improvement—” he said this word with two syllables, like MAR-ked —”I thought this was a good time to ask you about your direction.”

“My direction,” Ronan repeated, surprised into speaking.

“Where do you see yourself in ten years? As a teacher? A researcher? I’d love some insight into what you’re interested in pursuing with an English degree.”

If Milo were Declan, Ronan would have already suggested that he fuck off; if it were Gansey, he would roll his eyes and deflect; if it were Adam, Ronan would make a dumb joke about being a farmer. This was Milo. Ronan had not prepared.

“I don't know,” he said finally.

Milo looked mildly surprised. “Well, what made you decide to study language? You must have a very strong connection with literature. Becoming an English major is no light decision, as I’m sure you know well enough, Ronan.”

The truth was that English was the only subject Ronan could stand. “I like reading,” he responded lamely.

Milo’s surprise had descended into a gentle disappointment. “Do you have any ideas of careers you might want to pursue? Perhaps something in communications? Or even a writer?”

Ronan had no answer for him. Milo let him go five minutes later; he instructed him to think about it, but Ronan could tell Milo didn’t have much hope about it. Honestly, he didn’t really blame him.

“Are you going out of town for Thanksgiving?” Adam asked. “Back to Virginia?”

“I respect myself too much to subject myself to airplanes,” Ronan said primly from his position at the top of a ladder. Adam was shelving tonight; Ronan had been directed to take down the misleading signs indicating the section’s genre, and it wasn’t like he had anything better to do, really. “Gansey’s dragging me to D.C. with him.”

“Are you gonna see your brother?”

“I was supposed to, but I don't know if it’s going to—” Ronan paused halfway through peeling off the ROMANCE sign. “Wait, how did you know about my brother?”

“Uh, you mentioned him.” Adam’s hair obscured his face as he turned to unpack more books. “When you ordered that book? For his birthday?”

“When I ordered that book. For his—oh.” Ronan snapped his fingers when he remembered the events leading up to their first real conversation. He’d forgotten, not because it wasn’t important but because it felt like decades ago; it was like trying to remember the first time he’d spoken to Gansey. Impossible. He was surprised Adam had remembered. “Anyway, he’s busy with school shit. So.”

Matthew had emailed Ronan about it, a sure sign that he was serious; it had been a long, rambling message about some kind of thesis project, his advisor, and grad school applications. Just reading it had stressed Ronan out. He’d let the kid off easy, naturally. The dude had enough to worry about, what with school and his bustling social life and his dysfunctional family—no one had expressly told him about Ronan and Declan’s fight, but he was intuitive, and he’d lived with them for long enough to know.

“So I’m gonna hang out with some old money Republicans and tell them about anarchy and stuff,” Ronan finished, balling up the ROMANCE and BILDUNGSROMAN signs into a wad and throwing it in Adam’s direction. (This wasn’t really an exaggeration; he enjoyed inserting Björk references into dinner table conversation at inopportune moments. Sometimes Helen noticed, but usually no one did.) “You?”

“No, I’m staying in the city. Maybe have dinner with some friends or something.”

“Better than listening to Gansey’s family argue very politely while eating some kind of salmon dish.” Ronan had been present for several Gansey Thanksgivings at this point, and no matter how well the meal seemed to go, it almost always devolved into passive aggressivity and social politics layered beneath exceptionally good manners. It came of being in the presence of a politician, especially one that belonged to such a filthy rich family—and Ronan himself came from a filthy rich family, so he was allowed to criticize. All around, it was just not a great experience.

“Doesn’t sound so bad,” Adam said, and then, when Ronan gave him a doubting look, he added under his breath, “You should see my parents on Thanksgiving.”

Usually Ronan was not one to ignore such a comment, especially when it came from Adam, but the way he’d said it—softly, bitterly, shoulders turning away from Ronan like a very slow flinch—heralded danger. Maybe it was cowardly, but Ronan shrugged and changed the subject.

They were thirty minutes into a long discussion on who knew more about Roman philosophy that Ronan was absolutely winning, boxes of books left stacked on the floor, half the genre signs crumpled around Ronan’s feet, when the door wailed open.

It was Opal, of course. Evidently she and Ronan were the only ones who had any interest in visiting a bookstore past nine pm. She came in silently, as before, sidling behind the desk and removing a book from the drawer; her eyes flickered over Ronan, not curiously or meanly, as if he were perhaps a new piece of decor.

“Why are you here?” Opal said, when it seemed that she was about to walk away. Ronan got the feeling that she’d disappear as soon as she left his sight, like a ghost or a nymph or a fairy.

To count Adam’s freckles. To watch the shadows his colorless eyelashes cast over his cheek. “Couldn’t sleep.”

Opal frowns thoughtfully—her eyebrows were dark checkmarks that rose above her wary eyes—and then, as Ronan had expected, she left, though not before allowing Adam to trail his fingers gently and fondly across the top of her head. The irregular shuffles of her footsteps betrayed the hitch in her gait as she disappeared into another room.

Ronan turned back towards the desk and caught Adam’s expression as he watched her leave. It, like his light touch to her hair, was endlessly gentle; it was, Ronan realized, his own face as he watched Matthew, or the way Gansey watched Ronan sometimes when he thought he wasn’t looking, brotherly and soft. It made Ronan want to cry a little bit.

They left the next afternoon.

The drive to D.C. was no longer than four hours, but it felt longer. Ronan nodded off against the passenger side window several times, jerking awake every time to Gansey humming along to the radio, some oldies station that got progressively more static-filled until the music fuzzed away into white noise.

They stopped halfway in Philly, where Gansey cost them a good half hour questing for the best cheesesteak. Ronan would never admit it, but it was goddamn worth it.

“Delicious!” Gansey said heartily when the waitress asked how the food was. “Might I ask—” he added, and then commenced a train of extremely polite requests. Could she tell him how to work the jukebox, and would she mind bringing him a banana milkshake, and he was sorry to be such a bother but could he trouble her to bring a straw, and then he needed a few extra napkins because the dispenser was empty, did she mind at all? The waitstaff was very accommodating, even charmed. The waitress, whose nametag was labeled ANNIE, left them about a million mints with the receipt after Gansey tipped her far more than was usual or necessary. Ronan was not impressed.

“Why are you stalling,” he said once they had returned to the Pig, Gansey having drunk an entire milkshake he did not seem to particularly want.

“Pardon?” Gansey asked over the roar of the engine grumbling to life, head trained around to peer at the interstate so he could nose into the gap between a semi and a station wagon that did not want him there.

“That whole thing at the restaurant,” Ronan clarified. He considered imitating Gansey’s old-money accent rolling over the consonants as he asked the waitress about any tourist attractions nearby, as if they were going to sightsee , and decided that would perhaps be cruel. “I would say that you wanted to get into Annie the waitress’ pants, but…” He trailed off. Even if he hadn’t known about Jane, that kind of thing was not Gansey’s style.

“Don't be crass,” Gansey said. “I was simply curious—I had never been to that diner before, and Annie seemed very knowledgeable about Philadelphia.”

“You drank an entire milkshake.”

“You know, I can’t say I’m a fan of this style of discourse in which you state facts very judgmentally.”

Ronan eyed him. They both knew that anything other than that kind of thing was not Ronan’s style. “I don't want to guess. Don't make me.”

“There’s nothing to guess, Ronan.”

“Helen forgot your dad’s birthday. No, wait, you forgot your dad’s birthday.”

“Ronan. Please.”

“You realized your mom’s politics are self-serving and—”

“All right, no. I draw the line. There will be no political talk. Not now, not at Thanksgiving, not ever.”

“Thanksgiving is a bullshit holiday anyway,” Ronan muttered, slouching low in his seat and pushing the seatbelt away from his neck so that it didn’t strangle him. “Like, yay, genocide.”

“Take a nap,” Gansey suggested. He had found a jazz station to replace the oldies one, and it was playing some clever experimental big band song to which Gansey was nodding rhythmically along.

Gansey pulled into his family’s circular driveway as it was just growing dark and cut off the engine, but he didn’t get out. The windows were all lit up yellow; Ronan couldn’t help but wonder why, as only three Ganseys were at home at the time. (The grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles were reserved for Christmas, apparently.) The fountain could be heard burbling gently. Ronan was already deeply uncomfortable.

“Ronan,” Gansey began, flexing his hands where they still sat at ten and two on the Pig’s wheel. He paused and frowned, staring straight ahead. “I’m afraid I haven’t been entirely straight with you.” Ronan ignored the entirely too easy joke that could be made—he believed that was what Adam would call “low-hanging fruit” with some derision—and waited.

“I’ve been seeing someone,” Gansey blurted. “Not for long—we met back when I was doing research on the general public’s attitude towards quote-unquote magic, you know. Her family runs a psychic practice in the East Village. She and I have been seeing each other for a few months now, and I didn’t mean to keep it a secret but I wasn’t particularly sure what it meant or where it was going until—well, until now.” He let out a breath and smiled a little. “But she’s so important to me and you’re my best friend and I wanted you to know.”

Gansey, I know, Ronan almost said, but instead he said, “Oh,” and then, “Cool.”

“You’re—are you mad?”

“No.” He threw in an eye-roll for good measure, so Gansey was aware of what he thought of this question. Gansey let out a huff of a laugh, mostly breath.

“All right,” he said. “Okay, good.”

“Please don't hug me,” Ronan said; his satisfaction at making Gansey laugh again faded quickly as the two unpacked their things from the trunk.

Gansey led the way to the front door, and as he greeted his parents in the golden light that flooded out onto the steps from the foyer, Ronan stood back and thought, There it is.

There’s the beginning of him leaving me.

Once all perfunctory niceties had been performed—a strong handshake for Gansey the second, the same for the senator, and a nod at Helen—Ronan trailed Gansey up to one of the many guest bedrooms, dropping his duffel on the floor and himself on the bed.

All the lights were on. It always smelled a little dusty in here, like it hadn’t been used for years; not in a creepy way, just in an empty way. The only decoration was a watercolor that only vaguely resembled an ocean scene, but probably on purpose. Other than that, the walls were an inoffensive cream that matched the sheets and pillows. It was like a hotel room. A nice one, but still.

He shifted. His phone was digging into his back; he fished it out.

adam

working?

Not yet

I’m at your favorite place right now actually

let me guess… those creepy tunnels under the
university that used to be an insane asylum

Close but no

Better smelling than that

a dark alleyway?

oh, i got it

jail

Wow you suck at this

West Place on Amsterdam

thanks a lot man now i’m hungry

can you mail me some sweet and sour pork

I’ll fedex it to you

Priority mail

wait no i want egg foo young

Blue is ordering that right now

Except vegetarian

wow way to ruin the entire fucking dish

what is a blue

Roommate

oh

anyway i want you to know that you are a jerk and i hate you

Calm down I’ll buy you some egg foo young when
you’re back in the city

you are no longer a jerk

Oh good

Hey I gotta go, I’ve never been that asshole who texts
at the table and I don't plan to start now

good otherwise i’d have to hate u

again

We don't want that

nope

The next day was Thanksgiving, which meant Ronan had to endure an unoriginal yet harmless “what are we thankful for” discussion during breakfast; evidently they’d all learned their lesson from last year, because no one asked Ronan to pitch in. However, Helen was angry with Gansey for some reason, so she spend the meal sending pointed looks towards him over Ronan’s eggs.

“Oh, I forgot to tell the caterer about the green beans!” Senator Gansey exclaimed suddenly as breakfast wound down. Gansey, probably motivated by Helen’s increasingly hostile glares, said quickly, “Oh, Ronan and I will brave the Thanksgiving rush, won’t we?” and sent Ronan a pointed look of his own. When his father tried to tell him to leave it to the caterer, he said firmly, “No, no, we’ll just run to the store and pick up some green beans. We’d be glad to” until the other Ganseys had to let him, lest their protests be too rude to be withstood in polite company.

“What’s with Helen?” Ronan asked once they were safely in the car and Gansey was backing down the very long driveway.

“She thinks I’m hiding something,” Gansey sighed. “Of course, I am, but not the kind of thing she’s thinking about.”

“The kind of thing she’s thinking about.”

“Oh, I don't know, something scandalous. Something that might hurt my mother in the midterms next year, I suppose.”

Of course. Ronan might have known.

“Are you gonna tell them about her?” he asked. “The girlfriend.”

“I don't know,” Gansey said, and he looked just as lost as when he usually spoke about his family, but Ronan didn’t miss how the term “the girlfriend” lifted his spirits for a quick second.

Hours later, Gansey’s green beans—organic, non-GMO, tossed in vinegar and garlic—sat on the table. The caterer had carved the turkey. Grace had been said, though a far more lackluster grace than Ronan was accustomed to. Gansey the second had given a toast; Ronan had awkwardly refused wine.

And they were arguing. Of course.

“Mother, of course I understand what you’re going through with this campaign,” Gansey was saying, while his sister was saying, louder, “And what I don't understand is why you couldn’t just call and tell us, for Christ’s sake.” Gansey the second wanted to know what exactly the girlfriend’s family did—had Dick said psychic? Surely not, surely he’d heard wrong—Helen, stop shouting, listen for a moment, did he say psychic?

Ronan was completely tuning the senator out, because all she was saying was slippery politician-y bullshit. Or maybe it was just mom bullshit—Ronan thought he remembered his own mother pulling this kind of thing, the kind of purposely mild “I’m not taking sides” thing that always came out when Ronan and Declan wanted to watch different cartoons, or when Declan was angry with Matthew for tattling on him.

Ronan didn’t really understand why they were arguing over an election that was next year. But then again, he wasn’t what one would call civically engaged, and he definitely was not a Gansey.

Helen set her wineglass down so that she could gesture more widely and with more feeling. Ronan ate his green beans and wondered what Adam was doing.

He’d said he might get dinner with some friends. Ronan imagined him in some shitty student apartment in Morningside Heights that was full of mismatched candles, Michael Bublé playing in the background as grad students huddled over an oven and argued over how to properly roast a turkey. Or maybe Adam was sitting on his couch right now, takeout from West Place spread over a coffee table, inexpertly wielding chopsticks as he pointed out the continuity issues in some awful action movie to his roommates.

(That wasn’t accurate; Ronan revised his thoughts. Adam was not the type to be mediocre at anything. He was probably a chopstick ninja.)

Either way, infinitely preferable to witnessing the annual Gansey family fight, Ronan thought. Since they still hadn’t let up, he figured he could finish the potatoes au gratin. He didn’t think Gansey the second could eat while he spoke through his teeth like that, and it was unlikely he’d stop any time soon.

adam

Bad as you thought?

nope worse

I was going to regale you with horror stories about
my roommate’s choice in Thanksgiving movies but
that’s a moot point now

thanksgiving movies?

He made us watch all the Hallmark Christmas movies
they have on Netflix

I sat through the entirety of A Christmas Prince

A WHOLE HOUR AND A HALF, RONAN

wow you know what, u win

Thank you for recognizing my pain

Why aren’t you asleep

why arent you

Working tonight

at the shop?

No, I work at a garage and I’m getting overtime tonight so

garage?

We fix cars

A car is a road vehicle, typically with four wheels, powered by
an internal combustion engine that can transport a few people

They travel on roads

A road is a

ok i get it asshole

Go to sleep jerkoff

i do what i want dickwad

Good night

i told you im not gonna

Shut up and go to bed jesus christ

The next day they left twenty-four hours earlier than planned.

“You’ll hit traffic,” Senator Gansey said disapprovingly; she stood in the foyer, impeccably dressed, like a statue in color. Ronan still was not a fan, but he could see what her constituents saw in her; he could see why she had a reputation in Congress as a holy terror. She was not a woman he would want to oppose.

“At least take the Suburban,” Gansey’s father said.

“He doesn’t want the Suburban, he wants his old traffic cone,” Helen said to her father, casting a look at her mother that showed very clearly how she felt about old, bright orange things. Ronan supposed that was what passed as an apology between the Gansey siblings.

“I’ll call you,” Gansey promised his mother, but the devoted-son effect was slightly diminished by the fact that he was looking at his phone as he said it, frowning.

“What is this?” he asked once they’d gotten into the car, trying to hand Ronan his phone. Ronan was not having it, so Gansey relegated it to the cupholder and shifted into reverse, pulling out of the driveway. “Declan just sent me an electronic invitation to his engagement party.”

Fuck. Ronan should have known that this was coming. He said nothing.

“Did you know they were engaged?”

Ronan could feel Gansey’s gaze on him—it was the gaze he’d noticed on Adam, but more concerned and a little more wary. “Yes.”

“Right,” Gansey said. “Are you going to go?”

“Haven’t decided.”

A long silence. “Okay.” Ronan wished he’d put on the radio again, but it remained quiet. “Because we have to RSVP.”

“I’ll let you know, Gansey. Jesus Christ.”

“Okay, okay.”

“You’re leaving?” Gansey asked, watching Ronan sling his duffel bag into his room and gather his keys from Gansey’s goddamned key hook. They’d returned from D.C. roughly ten minutes ago.

Gansey looked a little hurt and a lot concerned, all because Ronan’s brother whom he hated (and who hated him) was engaged, God.

“I’ll be back,” Ronan said patiently, pulling on his denim jacket and stepping into boots. It was chilly out, and you couldn’t really tell because it was already dark but it looked like rain. “I’ll get ice cream on my way back.”

“And we can watch that Ken Burns documentary I wanted to watch on Netflix,” Gansey suggested; his look of excitement was unchanged by Ronan’s reluctantly fond “In your dreams, nerd.”

“Where are you going?” Gansey called, but Ronan was already far enough out the door that he could pretend he hadn’t heard. He only felt a little bad about it.

The sound of soft murmuring greeted Ronan when he came in the door, which had never happened before. It was warm inside—he hadn’t even known that the thermostat worked, but it was welcome on the heels of the freezing wind that blew outside.

When he rounded the corner, he found Opal halfway up the ladder that had taken up residence near a bookshelf that brushed the ceiling. She seemed to be in the process of rearranging some books, but at the moment she was looking down at Adam, who was holding onto the ladder’s beams and watching her carefully. Opal saw Ronan first.

“Adam,” she said quietly, eyes flickering over to the doorway; Adam’s head turned.

“Hey,” he said, smiling but not letting go of the ladder; for stability, Ronan realized, though he had been on that ladder himself only a few days earlier and it was fairly solid. “You’re back already.”

In response, Ronan held up the plastic bag he was carrying. Adam blinked down at it for a second—too long, evidently, because Opal was clambering down already and approaching Ronan.

“Smells like Chinese,” she said. Ronan offered it to her wordlessly; she glanced quickly back at Adam and then took it. “West Place,” she announced after only a moment.

Adam unfroze and let out a tiny laugh, mostly breath and dimples. “Egg foo young or sweet and sour?”

“Both.” Ronan chanced a step forward. Opal had already fled to the desk to unpack the Styrofoam containers. Ronan was glad he’d ordered extra; he’d been planning to make Adam take the leftovers home, but feeding a scrawny twelve-year-old was a plus. “Enjoying Black Friday?”

“I’m being thankful I don't work at Macy’s,” Adam replied with a little crinkle of his nose. “How was D.C.?”

“As bougie and annoying as you’d expect.”

“Bougie and annoying? Sounds like someone I know.”

“Shut the fuck up, you don't get any pork,” Ronan said, earning an eye-roll-laugh combo.

“Don't swear,” Adam said. “Let’s go get some before Opal eats it all.” They joined the kid at the desk and spent a hectic five minutes figuring out who got what first and what utensils each person was qualified to use and where they’d sit and how Adam would keep Ronan and Opal from getting noodles all over the books, but somewhere in there Adam took the time to look at Ronan in the eye and say, “I owe you some Chinese food.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” Ronan said.

He was right. Adam was great with chopsticks.

Chapter Text

As someone who had lived in the United States for twenty-five years, Ronan probably should have begun to expect the immediate 180-degree pivot towards Christmas that came the day after Thanksgiving, but he was caught off guard by it, like always.

Religion had always been a deeply personal thing to the Lynches. Ronan and his brothers had been meticulously dressed in stiff collars every Sunday and stuffed into the backseat of the BMW unceremoniously to sit still in pews and chant “And with your spirit” when the situation called for it, but Niall had taught his sons to keep their faith close to the vest. They learned to be quietly proud of their religion; it was what Ronan would now refer to as something akin to Catholics of discretion. So the commercialized extravagance was unfamiliar to Ronan: to walk past a department store and see a nativity scene displayed in the window, to hear cornerside choirs of children in earmuffs singing about the birth of Christ.

Christmas was the dusting of snow over the Barns; it was the smell of spiced cider and Matthew’s laughter as he put his cold hands on the necks of passing family members and Ronan’s father standing over the fire, making sure it didn’t go out. The Santa hats and incessant Salvation Army bells and constant Michael Bublé songs (seriously, so much Michael Bublé) were not Christmas.

“Also, it’s literally the first week of December,” Adam pointed out when Ronan mentioned Christmas. He was up on the ladder again, alphabetizing; it had been a cloudy day and it was a starless night. The heat was on. Ronan lay on the rug and was flipping through an Annie Leibovitz biography that he’d just found.

“I’m just saying, a couple twinkly lights are pretty lame, Parrish.”

Adam snorted. “You really think we have the budget to buy Christmas decorations? There’s barely enough to pay heating. I know because Mr. Gray can’t afford a good accountant and I always end up going through the books.”

“Still don't understand how this place makes money.”

“Me neither, let me know when you figure it out.” A book slipped from his hand and hit the floor near Ronan’s foot in a soft rustle of pages.

“Trying to kill me? Don't get down from there, you’ll drop the ladder on me.”

“Ever the gentleman,” Adam replied, though he stopped moving down the ladder and went back to alphabetizing. His words were more clipped than usual, and his shoulders were tense. Ronan thought about the rudest way to ask what was wrong.

“So what’s got your panties in a twist.”

“Does everything out of your mouth have to be crude?”

“Yes, Mom. Answer the question.” Ronan reached the end of the Leibovitz book and picked up the fallen paperback—Gilead by Marilynne Robinson—and considered it and waited.

“I just—” Adam sighed and sank into something of a seated position against a rung of the ladder. “I have a final I have to study for in a week, plus I haven’t revised this paper that’s due on Tuesday—there are no citations and I still need to send it to my advisor and—”

“Whoa. Slow down.” Ronan rolled onto his back to look at Adam upside down. “Why the hell are you still on that ladder?” He watched him climb down and sink onto the floor next to Ronan among the piles of books. Adam’s organization efforts, while a considerable improvement from a month ago, still had not touched most of the main room nor any of the smaller ones branching out.

Adam scrubbed at his eye with the back of his hand and sighed again, gaze fastened on some insignificant point across the room. “I have to work on my essay,” he said quietly. He made no move to get up.

Then don't, Ronan almost said, but he knew it would not be received well. Adam was a good student in the vein of the Ganseys of the world, and he’d mentioned the impending end of law school to Ronan often enough. There was the bar exam, and then the locating of a job in the drying-up labor market in one of the most competitive places in the United States: the kind of shit that bored Ronan to death but that Adam cared about deeply and intrinsically.

“So work,” he said. Adam shut his eyes; Ronan kept his open and did not blink. The outlines of Adam’s features were unfocused in this light, soft around the edges, strange in such a sharp face.

“Okay,” Adam said, running his tongue along his chapped lower lip. He sat for a moment longer and then opened his eyes and hauled himself up.

Ronan remained on his back and read Gilead for a while, listening to the sounds of Adam murmuring to his shitty laptop at the desk and the old heating system roaring (Adam was right; it always sounded like it was straining itself). A motorcycle revved in the distance; a siren wailed; Adam tapped; the door creaked. Ronan lifted his head.

“Why are you on the floor?” Opal asked. She was wearing a puffer jacket tonight, which Ronan was glad for—it was freezing, and in those old hoodies, he always felt like Opal would come in one day as a child-sized popsicle. He wasn’t sure where she’d gotten the jacket, but who really cared, honestly.

“Why not,” Ronan replied. Not his best rejoinder, but Opal shrugged and sat down on the rug a good three feet away from him, criss-cross applesauce. She had been more verbal with him since a couple weeks ago, after the Chinese takeout and after they’d laughed together at Adam for dropping orange chicken on his sweater.

“What’s with him?” She flicked her gaze to Adam, who had only made a halting sound of greeting upon her arrival.

“He’s writing a paper.”

Opal made a face like ugh, law, or maybe just ugh, school. Ronan made a face back like ugh, I know, mixed with what a nerd.

“I can see you,” Adam said. The tapping of his keyboard did not pause.

Ronan rolled his eyes very pointedly in Opal’s direction, who folded her mouth into a line, presumably so as not to laugh.

“Don't you have homework to do? Either of you? Both of you?” This time, Opal’s eyes rolled, and Ronan snorted.

“There are no decorations,” Opal remarked after the three had fallen into silence. She didn’t sound disappointed or pleased or anything, really. She was just making an observation.

Ronan said, by way of explanation, “This store makes no money.”

“Huh.” She frowned around at the room around her. “I like tinsel.”

Ronan suggested, “A blow-up Santa Claus.” This got Adam’s attention; he shot Ronan a Look over the top of his computer that said something pointed about encouraging people but also about tacky decorations, and Ronan muffled a laugh.

“Frosty the snowman but he sings Christmas songs,” Opal continued.

“Why stop there? A whole reindeer chorus.”

“What are those—those little elf things, the—”

“An Elf on the Shelf!”

Adam sighed loudly, but his shoulders were less tense, and his frown lines were less prominent, which Ronan took as a win (and encouragement to keep listing the most awful holiday decorations he, Opal, and Google could come up with).

“Hey.”

Ronan kept frowning at his laptop. No matter what he did, Gansey would keep talking.

“I’m going out. Do you want me to bring back food or something?”

“Where are you going?”

“Oh, Henry and I are going to try this really sustainable Ethiopian place on Amsterdam. He has excellent taste, did I tell you about the—” The event in question was Henry’s brief venture into imitating Madonna’s vegan plant-based diet. Ronan had heard the story, and he did not wish to do so again.

“I’ll order pizza,” he interrupted.

“You could come,” Gansey offered. “His roommate will be there—I’d love for you to meet her—” His voice sounded very odd suddenly, but Ronan was too busy thinking about how Nino’s delivered now, and how he’d originally said the pizza thing to interrupt Gansey but now he really did want deep-dish. Besides, Gansey wouldn’t be around to request avocado.

So he never really got to hear whom, exactly, he could meet at this really sustainable Ethiopian place on Amsterdam. Whoever it was, Gansey got weird talking about her—kind of doting, like when he was on the phone with Jane—and Ronan could do without that.

Ronan wasn’t planning to do anything after class, especially not to hang out with Noah, but Gansey was out with Jane or Henry or Henry’s roommate whom Ronan could have met at the really sustainable Ethiopian place on Amsterdam and whom Gansey got moony about. And Adam was in class, so he wasn’t answering texts. And Ronan was hungry.

“Gyros?” Noah suggested, and Ronan shrugged, which meant they ended up perched at a narrow green Formica counter, speaking over the Christmas music to which one of the cooks was singing along.

“So what’d Milo want to see you about?” Noah asked.

“Some shit about my direction in life, I don't know.”

“Aw, I feel that, man. I get that every time I go home.” He pointed his shawarma at Ronan; it dripped tahini sauce menacingly. Ronan moved his plate opposite Noah’s direction. “So what’s your deal?”

Ronan finished chewing, because he wasn’t a barbarian, and said, “What?”

“What’s your deal, you know. Like, my best friend went psycho on me when I was in high school, so now I’m a twenty-six-year-old unpaid intern at an art gallery taking literature classes.”

His words were so incongruous with their surroundings—a woman arguing with the cashier about whether or not their gyros were halal, a lanky teenager wiping tables, Michael fucking Bublé on the radio—that Ronan didn’t register them immediately. He set his fork down. “What?”

“Uh, yeah, he, like, tried to kill me.” Noah shrugged and took another bite. “With my own skateboard.” When Ronan remained silent, he shrugged again. “Look, it’s not a big deal. I probably wouldn’t be anywhere too different even if that hadn’t happened. It’s just not me. Like, sir, here’s the monthly budget report!” His voice went serious and deep before waning into a laugh. “No way, man.”

He seemed like he meant it. Ronan wasn’t sure how to proceed, so he said, “My dad died.” It wasn’t the whole story.

Noah didn’t say aw man or sorry or any of the usual things, just nodded, except he nodded like a Golden Retriever, several times and in a quite unruly fashion. “It’s not like I’m proud of it,” he said after a pause, pouring the rest of the tahini sauce over his food. “My parents are super disappointed in me, especially about the smoking and stuff. I mean, my little sister works at Goldman Sachs. My other sister is in med school.”

“Why did he do it?” Ronan asked, even though he hadn’t meant to.

“Whelk? I dunno. He’d just lost his family and all his money. We were young.” Noah picked at a stray onion. “That’s what my therapist says, anyway. Also that it had nothing to do with me.” He frowned down at his plate. “I was more back then, though. Like, I had this great car, and I would always do crazy stuff. Drove my mom insane.”

He looked very young, Ronan thought. Like his friend had hit him with that skateboard years ago and now he was just stuck, in stasis, in the bardo, as Milo would say. Like that car Ronan pictured himself as, at a standstill while the surrounding highway crept along without him.

“Anyway,” Noah said, finishing his food, “screw Milo. Let’s skate.”

“I’m not fucking skating,” Ronan reminded him, even as they threw away their trash and departed in the direction of that goddamned skatepark.

adam

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BjYJdDODLA

Two possibilities: you’re rickrolling me or that’s a link to
some godawful Christmas decor

Either way I’m not clicking that

ur wrong

Uh huh too bad I’ll never find out

you grinch

I knew it!!! Something Christmassy and terrible

open the link

No

Will I see you tonight

So that I can tell you in detail about how much I don't
trust you

fucker

yes

...

Ronan came into the shop far later than usual, because Gansey had successfully waylaid him by distracting him with a Stonehenge documentary that was actually pretty interesting, and found Opal at the door, wrapping herself into about five layers and preparing to go home (or wherever it was she went when she wasn’t at the store).

“That’s a lot of scarf,” Ronan remarked.

You’re a lot of scarf.”

“Brat.”

“Bully.”

Ronan rolled his eyes theatrically and was about to pass into the shop when he remembered. “Hey kid, what are you doing on Friday?”

Opal squinted up at him suspiciously as she stuffed her hair into a hat. “Is this a kidnapping situation? Are you going to offer me candy next?”

Ronan sighed heavily, leaned over, and whispered something in her ear.

“Done,” Opal said immediately. “Here, six pm. Don't be late.” She zipped up her puffer jacket and disappeared down the stairs before he could call her bossy.

Adam looked up when he heard Ronan’s footfall. He was wearing that enormous green sweater he had worn the second time Ronan had come to Brazenhead, and the laptop was nowhere in sight. “Hi,” he said, with a little dimple. “I was beginning to think you lived here. Opal asked if you were removed from the premises via exorcism.”

“She did not.”

“I mean, not like that. It was more descriptive and involved a long explanation of the circles of hell.”

Ronan removed his scarf but left his coat on. “Are you closing soon?”

“Uh, yeah.” Adam checked his watch. “Ten minutes.”

“How was your paper?”

“The—oh. Yeah, it was okay, I think.”

“He thinks,” Ronan said, addressing a fictional third person in the room, “like he’s not a robot specifically designed and released into this world to write essays.”

“Fuck off,” Adam suggested. “I’m good at presentations too.”

“Of course you are.” Ronan didn’t have to call him a nerd. He knew. “You eaten?”

“Lynch, it’s almost two in the morning.”

“What, is food time-specific now?”

“I mean, yeah, actually. There’s this thing called a meal—”

“Christ, shut up, I didn’t think that one through.” This earned a laugh, a real one, Adam’s eyes clear and reflecting the yellow lamplight.

“It’s five to, I’m going to start locking up. Sit here and think your next joke through.” Ronan flipped him off as he stood, eyes still laughing though his mouth had returned to normal.

Adam was back almost before Ronan could put his scarf back on, keys in hand, pulling on a coat and a long striped scarf. He led them out of the store and flicked the lights off.

“Are you really hungry?” Adam asked over his shoulder as they headed down the narrow stairwell.

“Nah, I ate. Are you hungry?” Through silent agreement, they’d begun to wander down the street towards the train station.

Adam thought. “No,” he said suddenly, smiling, “I have a better idea.”

“It’s fucking freezing,” Ronan grumbled, shoving his hands deeper into his pockets. “This idea had better be good.” Adam had refused to tell him where they were going, despite much needling on Ronan’s part, so now Ronan was trailing him off the train like a baby duckling or perhaps a puppy, putting on his best scowl.

“Calm down, country boy, we’re almost there.”

“You’re literally from Virginia. You know it snows there.”

“Yeah, but I’m not the one wearing a leather jacket over a t-shirt in New York in December.”

“I’m wearing a scarf,” Ronan said, but other than that he couldn’t really argue the point, because it was true. He kept up as Adam jogged up the subway stairs, and they emerged onto 34th Street together, relatively quiet because it was two thirty in the morning. A thin trickle of taxis sped by, but it was nowhere near the usual flood of traffic.

“Hudson Park,” Ronan guessed.

“Wrong way,” Adam said; he didn’t roll his eyes, but it was heavily implied in his tone. The exasperation warmed Ronan to his bones.

The tense lines of his shoulders had relaxed more, maybe because his paper had been turned in. Ronan was glad. Adam was best like this: loose, exasperated, his hair sticking up on the side and his smile upturned towards the cold starless sky, knocking his shoulder into Ronan’s clumsily.

“Here, c’mere,” Adam said suddenly, swinging to a stop in front of a chain-link gate, looped together and locked firmly.

“It’s locked.”

“It’s two am,” he said, like duh.

“Well?” Ronan said expectantly. He laced his fingers together so his palms formed a foothold and planted his feet firmly in the sticky sidewalk, like he was about to box. “Go on.”

“Okay,” Adam huffed, eyes flickering to Ronan’s makeshift step and then up to the top of the gate, which he gripped before using Ronan’s hands to launch himself up and over. He landed on the other side with the clash of the gate and a laugh, mostly breath. “You need a leg up, or—”

“I wasn’t a hooligan in high school for nothing, Parrish,” Ronan said, smiling thinly before vaulting himself up and swinging one leg and then the other over the top. He hit the ground and shock ran up the soles of his feet to his knees, but he stayed steady; a thrill ran up his spine, a rush that couldn’t be completely attributed to the cold.

“Impressive,” Adam drawled. “C’mon.”

Ronan wanted to ask, but he kept quiet, instead following Adam up a gently sloping ramp. As they rose farther above the buildings and trees, the wind grew clearer and more biting. He huddled further into his jacket and then caught a glimpse of city lights, cold and silent.

Holy fuck, he almost said.

A narrow, curving subway track unfolded itself, lit periodically by dim lights and bursting with greenery: bushes and grasses and even some flowers, modernity overrun with wilderness. But above that, the city rolled out like a feast before him, the dark outlines of skyscrapers silhouetted against the darker sky, bright windows only tiny pinpricks of light in the distance.

Distantly, Ronan felt Adam’s eyes on him, watching his reaction.

Virginia was the most four-seasons you could get: blazingly orange in autumn, sugar-dusted and hung with icicles in winter, pale in spring, green in summer. Virginia seasons were rolling hills and dappled sunlight and massive trees and tall grass, silent untouched fields of snow and piles of fallen leaves you could slosh through.

New York City was the most citified you could get. It was what you pictured when somebody said “big city:” the towering flat-sided buildings, the constant roar of people and cars, the sickly trees and eternal concrete surfaces. New York seasons were weak in spring, smelly in summer, brisk in autumn, and only white in winter until the plows came through.

But now, eyes fixed on the constant and unwavering city glow, underlined by a burst of uncultivated growth, Ronan felt a surge of powerful feeling which he could only express as Maybe the city isn’t as bad as I thought it was.

“So?” Adam asked, gaze solid on Ronan’s.

“So, it’s okay.”

Adam huffed a laugh and kicked Ronan in the shin. “It’s usually overrun by tourists during the day, but it’s nice at night.”

“Well, yeah, can you imagine some nice two-point-five picket-fence family from Indiana climbing that gate?”

Ronan watched him cross to the railing and drop his head over, looking down at the yellow-lined street below. It was quieter up here. They could still hear traffic rushing and the occasional edge of a car engine—those sounds were pretty inescapable in the city, no matter how late it was—but the height distanced them from everyone else, like a thin wall.

“How was your final?” Ronan asked after a moment.

“It’s not until Friday,” Adam said, still facing the street below them. Ronan joined him and tucked his elbows against the railing, looking out over the city still. Their breaths came in white puffs. “What about you? Finals?”

“I don't believe in school.” I don't go to school like you go to school, Ronan meant.

“Right, I forgot.” He lifted his head, but his eyes were closed. Focusing. “Sometimes I think law school was a mistake.” A beat. “I’ve never told anyone that before.

“Why?”

“It’s—well, for one, it’s taken over my life.”

Ronan considered. “That’s an invalid point, because you like school. Next reason.”

Adam opened one eye and regarded Ronan with it. “I could have been a doctor.”

“You’d have an awful bedside manner.”

“Look who’s talking.” He knocked Ronan’s shoulder with his own again, but gently. He was warm.

“I’m not the one considering a career change before he’s even begun his career.”

Adam sighed and dropped his forehead against the top of the railing for a second before lifting it again. “I’m not considering a career change.”

“Considering a quarter-life crisis, then.”

“I’m not,” Adam repeated.  “Jesus. I’m graduating in six months.”

“What are you gonna do?”

“Clerk. I have to apply for some stuff, but hopefully I’ll end up in the city. Finding an apartment somewhere else would be a pain in the ass.” The corner of Adam’s mouth thought about turning up. “Also, I kinda like it here.”

“Sap.”

“I know.” He shrugged. “After that, I don't know. District attorney’s office? Sell my soul to corporate?”

“You know everyone hates lawyers, right?”

“I know this may come as a surprise, but I’m not in it to be liked.”

“Then what? Money?” As he said it, Ronan snorted. Adam was not the type do something for money—except he wasn’t necessarily the type to do something solely for love, either. If anybody could strike the money-love balance, it would be Adam Parrish.

“I—God, okay. I actually like law. It’s—” His brow furrowed; Ronan thought of Gansey, flexing his hands on the steering wheel, picking the exact words he wanted to use. “It’s powerful, and it’s precise, and it’s important, and it makes change.”

“You like paperwork too?”

“No one likes paperwork, asshole. I like legal writing, though. It’s about finding the most economical way to say what you mean.” His gaze flickered to Ronan. “Speaking of which, you have that essay on why you chose to study English ready for me yet?”

“Shut up,” Ronan told him mildly. “If you love law, why are you thinking about being a doctor?”

“Is it crazy that I’ve been a student for so long that I don't know how to be anything else?”

Ronan thought about it; about Gansey and Matthew and Declan, who, like Adam, picked one thing and did it every day; about his father, who had been a piece of shit but a passionate piece of shit; about Noah, going on coffee runs and not even getting paid for it; about himself, slogging his way to classes he hated every day. “No,” he said after a while.

“I don't wanna talk about it anymore,” Adam said, huffing out a humorless laugh, “or else I’m going to get an ulcer. Tell me something about you. Talk to me about what’s going in Ronan’s world.”

Because it seemed to be a night for truth and Adam did not want to keep discussing his future, Ronan said, “My brother’s getting married.”

“Your brother’s getting—” Adam frowned. “Isn’t he still in school?”

“School? What, no. My older brother. The shitty one.”

“Oh. Two brothers. Okay. Why is he shitty?”

Ronan thought for a moment about the best way to encapsulate Declan’s shittiness. “Well, he’s a politician.” Worked for a politician. Same thing.

Adam winced. “Good reason. Are you going to go to the wedding?”

“I don't know yet.”

“That’s okay.”

“I know it’s okay.”

“Why don't you know yet?”

“Because he’s shitty.”

“I see.” Adam propped his chin on his fist and slanted a look up at Ronan. “You could go just to ruin the wedding cake and maybe shock everyone via improper dress.”

Via. God. “What kind of improper dress do you have in mind?”

“I know you want me to say something dirty and/or illegal, but really I was just thinking something that really clashes with the color scheme.”

Ronan took a breath to really appreciate the sound of Adam Parrish saying “and/or” out loud before he replied in a bad imitation of Declan’s voice, “We said eggshell, not cream!”

Adam snorted. “No, let me guess. It’s more your style to burn the venue down.”

Once upon a time, Ronan would have said yes. “No,” he said instead. “That used to be me.”

“And age mellowed you?”

“Trust me, Parrish, I needed mellowing.” He let out another breath and watched it curl, pale, into the still air.

Adam folded one arm over the railing and rested his head on it, sideways so he could look at Ronan. “Why?”

“Let’s just say you wouldn’t have liked me in high school.” No one really had, except Matthew and Gansey.

“Who’s to say I like you now?” Adam said, smiling. Ronan shoved at his shoulder gently. “Anyway, why wouldn’t I have liked you? Which is probably true, because I didn’t much like anyone in high school.”

“I was an asshole.”

“You still are an asshole. Next reason.”

“I used to, uh,” Ronan shut his eyes, “run around and drag race and like, blow stuff up and shit.”

“Drag race,” Adam repeated, amused. “Of course. You probably drove a tricked-out Mustang with a spoiler that was supposed to be proportional to the size of your dick.”

“Fuck you, I have some class. I drove my dad’s BMW,” Ronan said. “Aren’t you a mechanic?”

“Boyd’s Garage on Amsterdam, yeah. I won’t work on your bougie BMW, if that’s why you’re asking.”

“First of all, you would be so lucky.”

“Uh huh. The tricked-out Mustang would have been a better choice. BMWs are the automotive equivalent of, like, I don't know, the most awful new-money billionaire you can think of.”

“It’s okay, we can’t all have good taste.”

“So why haven’t I seen this legendary BMW?”

“It’s at home. In Virginia.” It sat in the garage for ten months out of the year. Literally everyone in Ronan’s life had expressed concern about him bringing the BMW to the city when he and Gansey had moved, and so he’d left it there and had dreams about it sitting unused and alone for the next month. “Where did you say you were from again?”

“Eastern Virginia.” Adam did not say this the same way in which Ronan said “Singer’s Falls;” he said it quickly and got it over with.

“Eastern Virginia’s a big place, Parrish.”

“I’m from Henrietta.”

“Never heard of it,” Ronan said. “And Gansey dragged me around most of Virginia in high school hunting down historical shit.”

Adam shrugged with one shoulder. “It’s not really a place.”

“Oh,” Ronan said, backing off. He let his shoulder settle against Adam’s.

“No, I,” Adam began, rubbing at one eye with the back of his wrist. “Um, I don't have any good memories of Henrietta. My parents and I never had a good relationship, and I moved out before senior year. I was working fifty hours a week and giving everything I made to my parents, and.” Ronan felt him press back against where their upper arms aligned. “And my dad hit me. So. One day I just… left.” He tapped his ear, the left one. “That’s why I can’t hear on this side.”

Ronan pictured Adam—beautiful independent scathingly sarcastic Adam, Adam who belonged in legends and epics and mythology, the kind of boy who could tell the earth to be square and it would probably obey—cowering in fear. It was incongruous, it was awful, it was inconceivable. Then he pictured Adam, painfully human, warm and tired and gently touching Opal’s hair, shoulders tense, gaze flighty. Adam, who had to consciously stop himself from retreating into himself; Adam, who always put Ronan to his right.

“You didn’t have to tell me,” Ronan said.

“Obviously,” Adam said, before his tone softened. “I wanted to.”

“Okay.” Wind hissed through the grasses and set the treetops to rustling, but the skyline remained still and quiet as ever. “Is that why you spent Thanksgiving in the city?”

“Yeah, I always spend holidays with Blue and her family in the East Village. I haven’t been back to Henrietta since I graduated high school.” He shrugged. “I don't really have any desire to. Like I said. It’s not really a place.”

“And you like it here.”

“And,” Adam said, sighing like he was saying God help me, “I like it here.” Their shoulders were still wedged together. “It’s loud, and it smells bad, and it’s unnecessarily expensive, and there are too many people, but I like it here.”

Ronan laughed, less mirth than breath. “Watch out, you already sound like a New Yorker.”

“What about you? Are you going home for the holidays?”

“Yeah.” It had not been discussed, but Ronan always went home for the holidays. “Yeah, I am.”

“With the shitty brother and the younger brother.”

“And my mom.”

“And your mom,” Adam repeated thoughtfully. “Hey, remind me to send you the list I have of Opal gift ideas. I’ve been building it over the course of a year based entirely on things she mentions in passing.”

“Remember to send me the Opal gift list.”

“You’re not supposed to remind me now, God.” Adam extracted his phone from his pocket anyway, squinting at the sudden brightness. “It’s almost four already.”

Ronan let out a breath solely to watch it drift away and imagined trying to sleep right now. It didn’t seem too far off. “You wanna walk back?”

“You gonna walk me home, Lynch?”

“I don't know, is it on my way?”

“Wow, chivalry really is dead.”

“My apologies, good sir. I didn’t know you wanted a fucking Lancelot du Lac. Watch me help you up the fence now, you ingrate.”

That Friday, Adam approached the shop five minutes before his shift to find Ronan and Opal, attempting to loaf casually on the sidewalk outside.

“What are you doing here?” he asked them suspiciously, squinting.

“We just got here,” Opal said innocently. The effect was ruined by her irregular blinks, which made it look like she had something in her eye. “We decided to wait for you.”

“Lynch?” Adam asked, swiveling his skeptical gaze to Ronan, who had far more experience with a good poker face.

“Just go upstairs, Parrish, really,” he said.

“I swear to God, if someone in a—a clown costume jumps out at me,” Adam began, though he started up the stairs, the other two following behind.

“That’s seriously what you think of first? Me hiring a clown to jump out at you?”

“You’re being very suspicious, I think that’s a valid assumption to—” He stopped short when he opened the shop door and froze in the doorway; Opal did a little jump of excitement.

The bookstore had been transformed with an hour and half, a lot of convincing of Todd, the guy who worked the shift before Adam’s, and about a million twinkly lights. A tree glowed in the corner; lights were draped over available surface, and Opal had found some way to hang ornaments from the ceiling and the light fixtures so that they sparkled. Ronan had piled little bits of fake snow in the corners. There was music playing softly, and yes, it was Michael Bublé.

“Did you—” Adam began, then changed his mind about it. Todd slid past on his way out; Adam paid no mind. He reached up to touch an ornament shaped like a book. “Jesus Christ,” he said, and then Opal threw her arms around his waist in a surprisingly open demonstration of affection and he hoisted her up a little and rested his chin in her curls, still looking around at the shop’s complete transformation.

I can’t believe you, he mouthed at Ronan over Opal’s head. His eyes reflected the million fairy lights that surrounded them. Ronan shrugged back; he almost dragged his gaze from Adam’s, but he held it and was rewarded a moment later. Thank you, Adam mouthed.

When Opal scooted back again, Adam reached for one of the shelves.

“It’s an Elf on the Shelf,” Opal supplied helpfully.

Chapter Text

It refused to snow.

The sky remained stubbornly overcast, and the wind had no problem freezing everything and everyone in its path, but there was no snow. Ronan arranged plane tickets to the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport for Christmas Eve through Matthew, which was extremely inefficient, as Matthew had to run all final decisions by Declan, whom Ronan was still not speaking to. He honestly wouldn’t even bother if it wasn’t for Matthew and their mother and the Barns, all of which Ronan missed with such a passion it physically hurt sometimes.

In between classes and work and Gansey time, Ronan sometimes did readings for school or got fast food with Noah. Often, he dragged Adam out to lunch at tiny delis or the questionably greasy Asian market next door to the bookshop or West Place, where Ronan used a plastic fork to eat sweet and sour pork, resolutely ignored Adam’s chopstick-ninja mockery, and listened to him rant about school.

Adam was stressed—well, he was always stressed, but he had been extra stressed recently because of impending finals. Also, because his teachers were assholes who liked to cram in everything they could before winter break.

“You forgot to send me the Opal gift list,” Ronan pointed out during one of these meals, ducking under Adam’s arm to steal some lo mein off his plate.

“The—oh, shit,” Adam said, retrieving his phone and tapping at it. When Ronan tried to go in for some more noodles, he waved him off without looking up. “Eat your own food, Lynch.” Ronan was scheming about ways to sneak food onto Adam’s plate when Adam’s phone lit up in his hand and buzzed insistently.

“Hello,” he said, frowning pointedly at Ronan when Ronan’s hand drew too near to Adam’s plate. “No, I’m at lunch. West Place. We already had this conversation, I’m not going to—Blue, you don't—fine—I said fine— yes, I’ll do it. Okay. Bye. Don't forget to call Persephone.” He set the phone down, looking faintly disgruntled. “Blue is making me ask you to her family’s New Year’s party.”

“Don't sound too excited about it.”

“No, I just—” Adam rolled his eyes. “You know that’s not what I meant. You probably don't want to come. There will be a lot of margaritas and bad music and people you don't know. I barely want to go.”

“These are the psychics?”

“Yeah. See? Definitely not your scene.”

“I’m going to fucking come.”

“You don't have to.”

Adam.”

“Okay, okay, I get it. You’re coming.” Adam dragged a hand through his hair; the tuft that always stood up on the left side of his head, undeterred, did not flatten. “I sent you the Opal gift list.”

“Okay.” Ronan threw aside his fork. “What are you getting me?”

“Friendship? Companionship? Good company?”

Ronan went momentarily off-balance at “friendship” but recovered quickly enough to say, “At least get a gift receipt.”

“A gift receipt on my friendship?” Adam said, laughing. “Why are you giving me your pineapples? I don't want your pineapples.” He waved off the offending fruits that Ronan was trying to slide onto his plate.

“Shit, man, that was my gift to you,” Ronan said smugly, and then he didn't think about it again until that night, lying in bed and staring at the ceiling and wondering, Should I get Adam something for Christmas?

At midnight (accompanied by the soft regular clack of Gansey’s keyboard and the rumble of engines in the street below), Ronan concluded that they didn't know each other well enough and it would be weird. Adam was already touchy about accepting things. The last thing Ronan wanted to do was offend him.

At two in the morning (the sounds of Gansey humming an old Frank Sinatra song as he got ready for bed, the low pulse of electronica when Ronan put his headphones in), Ronan decided that they knew each other plenty well—hell, he’d told Adam some stuff he hadn’t even told Gansey—and Christmas gifts were normal things to be exchanged between friends. Adam wouldn't be offended. And he needed a new scarf; Opal had accidentally torn his, and Adam refused to get another one—he didn’t think it was necessary, or whatever.

At two thirty, Ronan began to have doubts again. “Fuck it,” he said to himself, very quietly because Gansey’s light had finally gone off, and then he got up and finished the Tempest reading that was due in two weeks.

Matthew picked him up in the BMW.

“You fucking didn’t,” Ronan said when it nosed up to the curb, gleaming and perfect. Matthew, smiling and practically emanating delight, exited, tossed him the keys, and smiled even more when Ronan pulled him into an affectionately rough headlock. “You don't even like driving.” You could have sent Declan, he meant.

“So?” Matthew asked, shrugging and slinging himself into the passenger seat while Ronan wrestled his suitcase into the trunk. “You do.” You know I wouldn’t do that, he meant.

The feeling of turning the key and the BMW humming to life beneath him—she never roared unless Ronan wanted her to—was so familiar but so alien after so long that his throat ached and he kept his eyes firmly to the front, even when Matthew put on some kind of awful rap music that Ronan usually wouldn’t tolerate in his car.

Because of Gansey’s firm Ronan-cannot-drive-the-Pig rule, he hadn’t driven since July, the last time he’d been in Virginia. He took the curves fast and zipped between lanes; Matthew grabbed the overhead handle and laughed.

The thing about the Barns was that they never changed. When Niall had been alive, there had been cows and goats and trimmed lawns and apple trees picked over so Aurora could make pie, but after his death and the subsequent Lynch diaspora, the animals disappeared and the grasses grew until they towered over Ronan’s head and the trees burst with fruit, fruit that not only weighed down the branches but blanketed the ground beneath. Ronan liked the Barns best like this, wild and quiet, especially during winter. There was no snow here either, but it was overcast and chilly, and as the BMW rounded the final sloping bend, the mist sat low on the roofs of the empty barns.

“Gonna rain,” Matthew said absently. His music had stopped.

“Right,” Ronan said. He turned into the driveway more slowly than usual, with minimal flying gravel, and shut the engine off. Declan’s Volvo was nowhere in sight, probably shut away in the garage, but an unfamiliar blue car was tucked away by the plum tree.

“Gwen,” Matthew explained when Ronan looked, adding, “Day nurse.”

“Right,” Ronan repeated.

They went inside.

It smelled the same, of course. Ronan had never been sure what made it smell like that, like fresh bread and honey and cedar; magic, probably. Either way all his childhood memories were steeped in this smell. (All the good ones. The bad ones were steeped in hospital disinfectant and, later, the old carpet-book scent of Aglionby Academy, the faint scent that still managed to infiltrate the student dorms where Ronan once lived.)

“Mama!” Matthew called gaily, tossing his house keys into a dish and his shoes beneath a table. He sniffed curiously at a pot on the stove and quickly replaced its lid, wrinkling his nose.

“She’s asleep.” It was Declan, in the living room, reading the New Yorker.

“Why’s it so cold in here?” Matthew asked no one in particular. It was; Ronan could feel the chill of the wood floor through his socks. It was early afternoon, which usually didn’t call for lights on indoors, but today that meant that a cool gray light pervaded the house and made it seem emptier than usual—well, emptier than it was.

Ronan took his things upstairs, and as he did, he did not acknowledge Declan’s presence, a non-action that was quite readily reciprocated.

Aurora woke that evening and came into the living room, tired but golden, the day nurse at her back.

“Ronan,” she sighed; when he hugged her, she felt like nothing, like a little puff of air. “How long have you been here?”

“Not long,” Ronan said, uncomfortable.

“Where’s your brother?”

“His room,” Matthew supplied. “Working, I think.”

“Oh. Well, shall we eat?”

“It’s eight pm,” the day nurse said. Matthew had called her Gwen; she was tall and had enormous hair, which would have been comical next to Aurora’s pale gentleness under any other circumstances. She did not introduce herself to Ronan, and Ronan did not introduce himself to her.

“Oh,” Aurora said again, and then she sat down carefully in the nearest chair. “Where’s your father, then?”

“He’s gone out,” Gwen said, very gently for a woman who took up so much metaphorical space in the room. “He’ll be back soon, all right?” Matthew melted into the kitchen. Ronan’s heart broke.

Midnight mass had always been beautiful to Ronan.

Even back when he’d been in high school and struggling with the idea of God—even now, when he was no longer sure where he stood on religion—he’d loved the ritual, the reverence, the still beauty that mass was late at night.

St. Agnes did not usually have an organist, but there was always one for midnight mass, a local who peered at her sheet music nearsightedly. Ronan loved the organ’s clarity and the congregation’s voices, individually subpar but collectively beautiful, and the perfectly synchronized rustle of the pews as their inhabitants stood and sat and knelt and stood again. Ronan did not sing, nor did Declan, but he loved the way Matthew did, cheerfully and unselfconsciously. He loved the musty church smell and the hush that settled over the pews when the priest spoke and even the tasteless melt of the Communion wafer over his tongue.

“May the Lord be with you,” the priest said, and Ronan chorused, “And with your spirit,” and as he shook Matthew’s hand, and then Declan’s, and then three or four other nearby strangers’, he hoped fervently that they would truly bring peace as the clock went midnight.

...

Christmas morning dawned cold and foggy. Ronan suggested to Matthew that they walk out to the barns that morning, but they turned back twenty minutes in because it was too misty, and neither of them had thought to bring gloves or hats.

When they returned, they found Aurora in the breakfast nook surrounded by blankets, looking on while Declan made coffee. Gwen was off for the holiday.

“We have no food,” Declan said.

“Gwen left some stuff in the fridge?” Matthew suggested, hanging up his coat and breathing on his fingers. It was more of a question.

“We ate that last night.”

“I’ll go to the store,” Ronan said.

Declan cast him a suspicious look, like he was wary of Ronan being helpful, but mainly he'd offered to get out of that cold gray house for a little bit. The lights inside did nothing to combat the gloom that had followed the brothers inside.

“I’ll come,” Matthew said, and put his coat back on before Ronan could protest.

adam

Opal liked her book

I mean she said to tell you that she would have preferred
a puppy

But she definitely liked the book

are u with her now

Yeah she came to Blue’s

Ronan, sitting in the BMW and warming it up, thought absently that they should probably figure out what was going on with Opal’s family situation, but then Matthew came bounding out of the house, and they left.

“Mac and cheese,” Matthew suggested, putting four boxes into the shopping cart Ronan had only gotten because an old lady had offered him hers and he wasn’t sure how to say no. “I feel kind of bad,” Matthew added under his breath, leaning towards Ronan.

“Not so many mac and cheeses. Feel bad about what.” Ronan returned two of the boxes to the shelf.

“About, like, shopping here. Because it’s Christmas. And they have to work.”

“Maybe they have to work,” Ronan said. “Or maybe they want to work.” He thought back to an argument he’d overheard Adam having with one of his roommates on the phone (either Blue or the Other One; Ronan wasn’t sure), wherein the roommate wanted him to not take an extra shift on New Year’s Eve. (Adam hadn’t ended up taking the shift. Ronan had had a small hand in that.)

“Yeah, but still.” Matthew tried to sneak two bags of trail mix into the cart; Ronan intercepted one. “I feel bad.”

Is that what you feel bad about? Ronan nearly asked, but they were in an Aldi on Christmas Day; it was not, as Gansey would have said, the time or place.

(Gansey was in D.C., schmoozing senators and lawyers and doctors at his mother’s annual Christmas function. Ronan caught himself thinking longingly of the Ganseys’ caterer’s hors d'oeuvres and stopped; he’d die before envying Gansey his parents’ events.)

In the end they amassed a good stock of food that even Ronan—nay, even Matthew—could make: frozen pizzas and sandwich fixings and Matthew’s boxed mac and cheese. They were in the process of loading the car with the grocery bags when Matthew said, “Ronan?”

“Hmm,” Ronan replied, shutting the trunk.

“Do you think,” Matthew began, and then he put his seatbelt on and shook his head. “No, never mind.”

As Ronan pulled out of the parking lot, he stopped thinking about himself for a moment and thought about his brother, his kind sunshiny little brother who loved everyone and wanted them to get along, stuck for the holidays in an old house full of siblings who weren’t speaking to one another and a mother who forgot things and memories and fog. “What is it?”

“Do you think it would be different,” Matthew said slowly, “if Dad were alive?”

The idea curled icily around Ronan’s chest. The words he (and Declan and Matthew and Aurora, if she’d been well, perhaps) had been thinking, spoken aloud, fell heavy in the cold gray morning. Ronan fiddled with the BMW’s heater.

He imagined, again, the silhouette of his father standing against the enormous mouth of the fireplace, keeping watch with a poker and an extra log. The string lights Aurora used to put up along the long driveway to the Barns, like guiding stars. The bread-and-honey-and-cedar smell of home, mingled with baking smells and warm yellow light and Matthew laughing and Declan helping their mother with dishes. But Ronan imagined them older—the Declan of now, whose suits fit better, and the Matthew of now, whose curls were cropped short and who was a foot taller. The Ronan of now. He copy-pasted their images onto old memories and found them wanting.

“I don't think so,” he said aloud without meaning to.

“You don't?” Hesitant. Wanting something—stability, maybe, or comfort.

“We’re here now,” Ronan said. “Dad wouldn’t fix anything.”

“Right, obviously.” He tucked his head against the seat and looked out the window. “You’re right.”

Ronan cursed at himself silently. “No, I mean—Dad’s presence isn’t like, a, a—those things that fix everything?”

“Cure-all?”

“No—well, I guess, but not—”

“Panacea?”

“Panacea, yeah.” He kept his eyes fixed on the curve of the road ahead, completely empty. The wind was whipping up; maybe it’d blow the fog layer off. It really was absurdly hazy. “Dad wasn’t perfect.”

“I know.” Matthew’s voice sounded small.

“I thought he was, for a while, but he…” He wasn’t around, Ronan wanted to say, but that was too harsh, at least for Matthew; it was the kind of barb he’d usually save for Declan, carefully understated just enough to be ironic. He was absent. He didn’t know how to be a husband. He didn’t know how to be a father. “He doesn’t define us. He wasn’t what made us a family,” he finished.

“You’re still fighting with Declan.” That one threw Ronan for a loop.

“He—”

“You’re always fighting.”

Ronan let out a breath. “Okay. I’ll try.” He didn’t say what he would try to do, but it was more ground than he’d usually give on this issue, and he trusted his brother to recognize that.

“Okay,” Matthew said.

Reaching for Matthew’s shoulder and holding onto it, Ronan said, “Hey, kid, let’s have a good Christmas, yeah?”

“Yeah,” his brother agreed, lifting his head and, finally, smiling again. Ronan let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding.

...

Christmas for the Lynches had never really been about presents, but they exchanged them anyway. Ronan got several pairs of socks and a copy of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion that he didn’t want much, but whatever. They ate a strange amalgam of boxed and frozen food. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful; Ronan made sure his mother’s plate was full and Matthew’s face stayed smiling in the light of the candles he’d lit in an effort to warm up the place.

The oddest part of the night, however, was not the food.

“Here.” Declan’s voice sounded very suddenly as Ronan stood in the kitchen, loading the dishwasher. Declan slid a pile of dirty dishes onto the counter and began to put away the leftover food. Ronan could hear Matthew telling their mother some kind of long, involved story in the living room.

“I told the planner you’re coming to the engagement party,” Declan said haltingly in the middle of the almost-comfortable silence they’d built between them.

Ronan nearly snarled, but then he remembered his conversation with Matthew. “Okay,” he said instead.

“It’s in D.C. on the 21st. I need to know if you’re bringing anyone.”

“Okay,” Ronan repeated, and then his brain replayed the second sentence. “I am.”

“You are?” I am? Ronan wondered.

“Uh huh.”

“Not Gansey though, right? Because I already invited him.”

“Not Gansey.”

“All right,” Declan said slowly. “I guess I’ll send you the details later.”

“Right.”

And then Declan left.

Neither mentioned their argument; neither mentioned Declan’s meddling, or Ronan’s social life, or school in any capacity, or their mother.

It was not a truce; it probably couldn’t even be classified as a real conversation. It certainly was not a resolution to anything. But it wasn’t nothing.

adam

i think i just rsvped u to my brother’s
engagement party

Ronan’s phone buzzed in his hand almost immediately after he hit send, and he was so startled by it that he hit the green button.

“Excuse me, what?” Adam’s voice was a little warm and a lot exasperated, but he didn’t sound angry, which was good.

“What?” Ronan parroted. They didn’t speak on the phone. This was not normal. Ronan was allowed to be thrown off.

“‘I think I just RSVPed you to my brother’s engagement party.’ You meant to send that to me, right? Not to your roommate. Or your cousin. Or your hairdresser.”

“Hairdresser,” Ronan repeated, disbelievingly, and then, “Yes, I meant to send that to you.”

“Okay, just checking. Are you drunk, perhaps?”

“I don't drink. Are you drunk?”

“I’ve had one, two… three drinks? No, two beers and half a margarita. Two and a half. Three if you want to round up.”

“Okay,” Ronan said, hopelessly amused. “So you’ll come, right?”

“Ronan,” Adam said, in what he probably thought was a very serious tone, “I am not a party person.”

Ronan nearly laughed. “You think I’m a party person?”

“Yeah, but it’s your brother’s party.”

“I’m coming to your roommate’s New Year’s party, aren’t I?”

“You are,” Adam agreed. “Nice riposte.”

“I can’t believe you use such big words when you’re drunk.”

“I’m not drunk! I’ve had two and a half drinks.”

“Uh huh. So you’re coming to the party.”

“No.”

“Parrish.”

“Don't do that, I’ll feel bad.”

“Adam Parrish, feeling bad?”

“Shut up, I have emotions.” A shuffling sound; Ronan wasn’t sure where he was, but he imagined him at home, on the couch maybe. “Okay, fine, I’ll come.” Ronan let himself smile. “Don't be too smug about it or I’ll change my mind.”

“Right, sure you will.”

“I don't know how you’re going to survive New Year’s with Blue’s family without alcohol, though.”

“That bad?”

“No, not bad, just… boozy. They take holidays as excuses to get drunk before noon. It’s fun, just—”

“Just not for sober people,” Ronan finished. “If I hate it I’ll leave.”

“What, no,” Adam began to protest, then conceded, “Okay, fair.” He made an absent-minded humming sound that Ronan wasn’t sure he meant to vocalize. “I used to not drink. I didn’t drink for years, actually.”

Ronan meant to ask why, but instead he said, “What changed?”

“Oh, I don't know.” Adam sighed gently. “I got older. I got a therapist. Not that not drinking is bad or anything,” he added quickly. “I just… it was something different for me. More about deep-seated issues than about the alcohol itself.”

“I don't drink because I used to be an alcoholic,” Ronan said, expecting himself to regret it immediately. He mentally poked at himself. He felt okay about it.

“Oh,” Adam said; his breath was staticky in Ronan’s ear. “Well, that’s a good reason.”

“Uh huh,” Ronan agreed. Just like that, it wasn’t a big deal. “Am I supposed to bring anything on New Year’s?”

“Probably not. I’m just going to bring some wine, or something. They’ll have a lot of food, don't worry about it. How was your Christmas?”

“Well, there was boxed mac and cheese, which is always good.”

“I know that was sarcastic, but as someone who just ate about two plates of Blue’s aunt’s tuna dish… thing to be polite, box mac and cheese sounds really good.”

“I’ll make you some sometime.”

“Thanks. Means a lot.” The tail end of his sentence was cut off by an audible yawn. “Are you going to bed soon?”

Ronan checked the time: almost twelve. He could maybe get to sleep; he hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before, on account of midnight mass and everything. “Yeah, probably. Go to bed, lightweight.”

“First of all, fuck off. Second of all—” Adam cut himself off with another yawn. “Second of all, ‘yeah probably’ is not a convincing answer.”

“Wow, okay, Mom. I promise I’ll go to bed soon.”

“Okay. Don't think it escapes me that you hang around the shop at all hours of the night. Sleep is important.”

“It is.”

“Mmkay good night,” Adam said; maybe the warmth in his voice could be attributed to the alcohol. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” Ronan said. “Good night.”

Ronan spent the next six days at home: reading to his mother, reading for school, driving around Singer’s Falls aimlessly, talking to Adam on the phone, tiptoeing around Declan. The Declan issue in particular had become a non-starter; there was no open hostility, only one-word conversations when especially needed or when Matthew was in the room. They left on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve.

“We can stay, Mom,” Matthew said very earnestly as they stood on the porch. The Volvo, packed, sat in the driveway. The plan was for Declan to drop Ronan off at the airport. “I can call my friend and tell him I can’t come to his—”

“Oh, no, honey, that’s okay,” Aurora assured him. “I’m inviting my garden club over for drinks and appetizers. And Declan has his work function, right?”

“It’s optional,” Declan said, looking very uncomfortable at being put on the spot.

“And Ronan’s going to a party,” Aurora finished. Ronan really wished she hadn’t.

“You are?” Matthew asked. His entire face lit up. “Where? With who?”

“Don't sound so surprised, punk,” Ronan suggested, shooing his brother towards Declan’s car.

“Be safe, okay?” Aurora said when it was Ronan’s turn, cupping his face gently. “And give your mother a call sometimes.”

“Okay,” Ronan said, tucking his face into her hair. She smelled like she always had—like the Barns, like home. “Love you.”

She stood on the porch as the Volvo pulled out of the driveway; Ronan, in the backseat (farthest from Declan), twisted around to watch her disappear. His mother, the BMW, the Barns, and then Singer’s Falls got smaller and smaller.

dick

Please tell me you’re not spending New Year’s at home
watching Property Brothers.

u should know that i’ve moved on to love it or list it

First of all, not funny

Secondly, please don't delete the episodes of Love It
or List It that are recorded.

I haven’t seen them yet

stop hiding in the bathroom and go talk to ur parents’ friends

Are you home yet?

on the train. i’m not going to delete the episodes

Okay, okay! Happy new year

it’s eight pm

Still!! Happy new year!!

...

The mysterious Blue’s family had a psychic practice in the East Village. Ronan took the subway there after dropping his things off and changing into a marginally nicer shirt. The neighborhood where the psychics lived (slash worked?) was the kind of place that was usually lit up like crazy with neon signs at night, too-bright windows and lanterns advertising sushi restaurants, all-night cafes, and movie theaters that hadn’t been renovated since the eighties. One sign proclaimed “We Grind Our Own Meat!” which was, well, firstly, pretty suggestive, but also just unappealing.

But tonight, maybe by nature of the holiday or maybe because it was too cold for most pedestrians, it was less neon-lit than usual. Some alleyways were lit by strings of fairy lights, but Ronan liked the secondary light of the windows best, warm yellow squares that were proof of the people that lived behind them, the kinds of people who gathered around their televisions with funny hats and noisemakers with the heat on. He thought that looking up at the windows of these pretend people was better when you were going somewhere else warm and full of people you loved—that in-between stage when you were full of goodwill, and imagining the happiness of others was not a bitter or twisted thing but a good one.

Ronan was maybe not there yet. But—like when he told Matthew that he’d try, like when he’d nodded at Declan instead of snarling, like when he’d hugged his mother and she felt like a will-o’-the-wisp in his arms but she still smelled like home—it wasn’t nothing, and for now that was enough.

The psychic practice was called Fox Way. The sign out front pointed customers downwards, into one of those narrow steep little staircases all over the city that Ronan had always found creepy, but Adam had instructed Ronan to go to the door above, which he did, pressing the little button covered in electrical tape and listening to a resounding buzz drone through the hall inside.

The door was flung open almost immediately. Ronan squinted in the sudden light and found a very small person standing there. He was able to take in a few outstanding details—the golf-ball sized sequins attached to her dress, spikes of dark hair, a highlighter yellow drink in her hand—before she cried, “HELLO!”

“Uh, hi,” Ronan began as she took his arm and pulled him into a narrow entryway. As with the small person, he saw the house in snapshots: grandmotherly knickknacks beside bits of modern art, some smoldering sage sitting in a dish, dance music on the radio, half-full wine glasses on every surface, rugs layered on top of one another, tinsel and lights hanging from walls and furniture, and, Jesus Christ, so many women.

None of them were paying attention to him; everyone was talking and laughing and yelling and drinking except for the small person, who still held his arm. “I’m Blue,” she was in the process of explaining when Adam emerged from the female bustle.

“Hey, you made it!” he said loudly over the noise. He was wearing a green button-down that made his eyes look electric blue and a pair of reindeer antlers, he had a mimosa in hand, and he was beaming.

“Hey, Parrish,” Ronan managed.

“Oh, this is my roommate Blue,” Adam remembered—he was definitely a little drunk. It made him loose-limbed and cheery. “Blue, this is Ronan.”

“Hi!” Blue called loudly. “What’s your name?”

“Ronan!” Adam half-shouted back. Ronan was inspecting the spikes of Blue’s hair, which looked curiously familiar, so he was in perfect position to see the full-body jerk that accompanied this revelation.

“Did you say Ronan?” she yelled.

“Yes?” Adam said, frowning.

“I have to make a phone call real quick!” She slid past Ronan and disappeared into another room; judging by the way Adam was watching her, eyebrow cocked, this was not usual Blue behavior.

“Right,” Adam said slowly. “Do you want something to drink? There’s, uh, soda, orange juice—I think someone brought some LaCroix if you’re into that?” As he spoke he led Ronan towards the kitchen with a gentle touch at his elbow. It was quite clear what he thought of LaCroix.

“I happen to like LaCroix,” Ronan said, mock offended, which backfired when Adam handed him a can, which meant he now had to drink it. It was awful; Adam's smirk as he watched Ronan made it clear that he knew it.

Their standoff was interrupted when a woman came into the kitchen, trailed by a cloud of fair hair, and said, softly, “Adam, I need scissors.”

“Oh, here,” Adam said, rummaging through a drawer and coming up with a pair. “Do you need help with any—”

“Snake,” the woman said thoughtfully, meeting Ronan's gaze head-on. She had very pale eyes; Ronan was so unnerved that he said nothing. “Thank you,” she added, taking the scissors from Adam.

“This is Ronan. Ronan, this is Persephone.”

“Pleasure,” Persephone said, melting out of the kitchen again. Adam did not seem at all put off, which meant that this was normal behavior. Ronan didn’t want to know, really.

Over the course of the next few hours, Adam introduced Ronan to many a woman, so many the names and faces blurred together. Jimi was very interested in his bone structure for reasons somehow connected to anthropology; Orla was very interested in his bone structure for other, less academic reasons. Calla was sharp-edged and did not seem impressed by Ronan at all. Maura was Blue’s mother, and when introduced she looked at him closely.

“Hm,” she said. “Adam, this is the bookshop one Blue told me about?”

“What? Yeah,” Adam said absently—he was in the process of helping a herd of small children obtain crackers from the snack table. It was unclear whose children they were or why they were so engaged in the process of selecting snack foods, but Adam was taking the mission very seriously.

“Hmmm,” Maura said, longer, still inspecting Ronan until she seemed satisfied. “Have Adam get you a drink,” she said firmly.

“He has a drink,” Adam said, returning to the conversation and referring to the LaCroix can still in Ronan’s hand.

Maura looked vaguely disappointed. “Have Adam get you another drink,” she said, casting a disparaging look at the soda.

“Two minutes until midnight,” Blue said, appearing at her mother’s elbow. “Why are you—why is Ronan drinking that? Where did you even get that crap?”

“Have some yogurt instead,” Adam suggested, and Blue scowled darkly at him and said, “You can laugh, but guess which one of us has better stomach bacteria?”

“It’s starting!” someone cried, audible even over the talking and music. Orla popped up near Ronan’s shoulder (she was almost as tall as him).

No, Orla,” Adam and Blue said at the same time. Orla, unbothered, shrugged and disappeared.

“FOUR!” a chorus of female voices swelled to cry. Blue bounced away to who-knew-where; Maura had withdrawn from the conversation ages ago. Adam turned towards Ronan with a warm smile.

“THREE!”

“I’m really glad you came,” Adam said. Even if Ronan hadn't been right in front of him—even if all he had had was Adam’s voice in his ear—he still would have been able to hear his smile.

“TWO!”

“I’m glad I came too,” Ronan confessed. Strangers were shouting around him, but he kept himself oriented towards Adam, like a compass needle to the true north of his smile.

“ONE!”

Adam lifted his mimosa glass with a crooked grin. “Toast? To a good year.”

“HAPPY NEW YEAR!” The room exploded around them. Ronan tapped the LaCroix can against Adam’s mimosa. “Happy new year.”

They lost each other in the ensuing chaos. Ronan found himself in the kitchen after a few minutes of worming through the crowd with confetti on his shirt and someone else’s drink on his shoe.

Like magic, Adam appeared, apparently having wedged himself to safety as well; there was glitter on his face and red lipstick on his cheek, and his antlers were askew.

“Who knew so many people could fit in one house,” Ronan mumbled, dusting the confetti off. Adam snorted.

“This isn’t even, like, extremely out of the ordinary. Are you headed out soon?”

“Yeah, probably.” Ronan suddenly felt the fatigue of the last week catch up to him—the constant tension at the Barns, the two plane trips, the constant noise and almost overbearing warmth in Fox Way and the being surrounded by strangers thing. “I’m gonna go home. You?”

“Me too,” Adam said. “Blue’s staying here tonight, but I have a study group thing tomorrow, so.”

“On New Year’s Day?” Ronan asked, shaking his head, but he was completely unsurprised.

“Let me just say bye to everyone, okay?”

“Okay. Here, wait.” Adam turned back at that, and Ronan reached up and scrubbed at the lipstick mark on his cheek with one thumb. He showed Adam his red finger. “Lipstick.”

“Oh. Orla,” Adam explained, smiling. He kept Ronan’s gaze for a second. “Thanks.”

Ronan trailed out, tucking his scarf around his neck more tightly and nodding at Blue when she waved at him. He watched Adam accept forehead kisses and hugs and gentle ribbing from the women of Fox Way, accompanied by a lot of eye rolling and hair ruffling, until he escaped—sans antlers—and joined Ronan at the door. This was probably the most he’d ever seen Adam smile at one time.

“Ready?”

“Ready.”

They lived close to each other, Ronan knew, though he wasn’t sure where exactly Adam (and Blue and the Other Roommate) lived. So they took the same way home. The subway was more crowded than usual at that time of night, people going home from parties and clubs; a young woman was singing “Auld Lang Syne” over an accordion on the platform when they got off, and Adam stopped and dropped some cash in her jar.

“Not too much?” Adam asked as they emerged onto the street, the wind ruffling his hair boyishly. “Fox Way, I mean.”

“It was a lot,” Ronan admitted. “Not too much, though.”

“Okay, good.” He exhaled. “You’ve pretty much met my family, now.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.

“Blue was weird about me, though.”

“Yeah, I don't know what that was about, but she definitely likes you. You’d know if she didn’t.”

“Okay, good.”

“Good?” Adam eyed Ronan out of the corner of his eye, mischievous. “What’s this? Where’s the famously gruff Ronan Lynch?”

Asshole,” Ronan said.

They walked in companionable silence after that, shoulder to shoulder to let passersby hurry past on their way home, until Adam stopped in front of a brownstone halfway to Ronan and Gansey’s place. “This is me,” he said with a shrug. There was still silver glitter on his cheeks, and his hair was all messed up.

It was a new year.

Ronan leaned in and kissed him.

It was so much easier than he expected. The movies always made it out to be some big tense moment, but it was second nature to put a hand at Adam’s back and gather him close. It wasn’t the swell of an orchestra; it was the gentle familiarity of a childhood song or a church hymn. It was a tune you had always known in the back of your mind.

Adam curled closer almost immediately, holding onto Ronan’s scarf. His nose was cold against Ronan’s, and his lips were a little dry, and he smelled like mimosas.

“Happy new year,” Adam said quietly, one hand still tangled in Ronan’s scarf, eyes bright.

“Happy new year,” Ronan echoed, unable to resist kissing him again.

“I’ll call you,” Adam said, extricating himself and then sneaking another kiss. “Okay.” He loped up the steps, turned to send another tiny smile at Ronan, and then pushed the door open and disappeared into the building.

Ronan walked home warm and tasting orange juice. His phone rang before he’d even got into bed, and this time, he smiled and picked it up.

Chapter Text

Ronan missed the train, and then he got lost on the walk there, so he was over half an hour late. If he was the kind of guy who cared about impressions (or if he were Gansey), he’d be sweating right now.

“Hi, how many?” the hostess asked, smiling; Ronan stalled, poised in the doorway and scanning the brunch place. It was crowded, full of young twenty-somethings basking in the weak sunlight. It was below 30 out, but it was clear, which—to the hipsters of New York City—was apparently brunch weather?

The hostess was still smiling expectantly; Ronan caught a glimpse of gently waving fringe and headed that way.

“Ronan!” Blue said, quite cheerfully for eleven am. The dress layered over her turtleneck was elaborately fringed; his instincts had been correct.

“Hey,” Adam said, looking up with a smile for the hostess, who had trailed Ronan over with an extra menu, and a much warmer smile for Ronan himself, who slid into the booth beside Adam. “Did you find the place okay?”

“Obviously not, he’s late,” Blue pointed out, sipping pointedly from her mason jar of iced coffee.

Adam rolled his eyes at her and drifted his fingers across Ronan’s two inches of exposed wrist in greeting before knocking their shoes gently together. “We had to wait for a table for fifteen minutes anyway, so we haven’t ordered yet.”

“Yeah, because Teal Yoga Pants and her new friend stole the good booth,” huffed Blue.

“I thought we were gonna call the friend Frosted Tips.”

Blue peered across at what was evidently the good booth. “I think that was supposed to be ombre.”

“I don't know what ombre is, but to me it looks like frosted tips.”

“Well, whatever it is, it looks terrible. Although, on the bright side, Teal Yoga Pants finally got new Birkenstocks. The old ones were disgusting.” She looked at Ronan and added, “We come here a lot.”

“Clearly,” Ronan said, dry.

“Stop looking at the pancakes section,” Adam directed. “Their pancakes are awful. And fifteen dollars.”

Blue reached over the table and flipped Ronan’s menu’s pages for him, away from the hated pancake section. “You are allowed to order things from this page on,” she told him through her straw.

In the end, after extensive debate that seemed to be a requisite of Saturday brunch, they decided on three orders of waffles; when Ronan tried to pick his own food, he was shouted down. After the waiter departed with their order, Blue swirled her coffee with her straw and said, “So, Ronan, what’s your life like?”

“Blue stop being weird,” Adam said immediately and instinctively, not even looking up from his phone, where he was answering an email from his advisor.

“What am I allowed to ask about?” Blue asked, combative.

The unimpressed response was “Be a functioning human being. Use your imagination.”

This was how they were drawn into a pretty in-depth conversation about the Barns, because Blue was apparently very interested in farming. She studied something like ecology or forestry and interrogated Ronan about minimizing soil erosion, which he was unable to talk to her about.

“He’s an English major, Blue,” Adam intervened during one such barrage of questions, which was interspersed with grunts and shrugs from Ronan.

“English major?” Blue repeated.

“They study, like, metaphors,” Adam replied, nimbly evading Ronan’s jab to the ribs.

“Fuck off,” Ronan suggested, and threatened to put salt in Adam’s coffee until he apologized.

“Okay, okay. English is the most useful major ever and I quail before your intellectual prowess—” He let out an involuntary laugh when Ronan succeeded in elbowing him in the side, fairly hard.

“Oh my God, you’re eight years old, get a room,” Blue said, but she was smiling.

The waffles were good. Ronan had to admit this; he was grudging about it, but he could not avoid the fact, especially when Adam and Blue were so smug about it, like they had personally made them from scratch.

“Oh, right, I meant to tell you I’m working at the shop tonight,” Adam informed Ronan, taking some of the raspberries off Blue’s plate. “Are you coming by?”

“I dunno yet, Gansey wanted to hang out,” Ronan said. “Some documentary he wanted to see.”

“Gansey?” Blue asked, rather suddenly.

“Roommate,” Ronan said, then, to Adam, “I’ll text you.”

“Mmkay, sounds good. Hey, don't—”

“You literally just took some of my raspberries—” Blue retorted, and they grumbled and kicked at each other under the table until the check came and they pounced on it for careful division, division that involved Blue whipping out her phone’s calculator app.

“I have work,” Blue said when she and Ronan emerged onto the sidewalk into the cold clear late morning, huddling into their coats and scarves; Adam was in the restroom. “The lunch crowd at the Waldorf, aka: snooty alcoholics richer than sin.” She took on what was evidently supposed to be a rich person voice, though it was just nasal and British: “Do you mean to tell me you haven’t got the 1972 Zinfandel?”

Ronan mulled over that statement and then over how he’d thought she looked familiar, and while he did this he looked at the sidewalk, towards Blue’s boots—boots bedazzled with green rhinestones. “You work at the Waldorf,” he repeated.

“Uh huh.”

“You—I went a couple months ago for my brother’s birthday. You served us. You have the,” Ronan gestured vaguely at her feet, “the boots.”

“The boots.”

“With the sparkles.”

“Huh,” Blue said. “You recognized my boots?”

“They’re sparkly,” Ronan repeated. “It’s not a big deal.”

“Hm,” Blue said, thoughtfully. “And then you end up dating my best friend.”

“Coincidence,” Ronan suggested, not contesting the word “dating.”

“Right.”

Neither sounded like they believed it.

Blue squinted up at Ronan for a few seconds longer than was normal—well, long enough that Ronan noticed, and he was no Emily Post. She looked like she was about to say something further, eyebrows furrowing into dark inquisitive little squiggles, but before she could, Adam emerged from the restroom, pulling his coat collar up around his neck, and the three of them started back down the street.

Adam and Ronan split with Blue at the train station. “I’m only going to class,” Adam pointed out.

“Shut up, I’m walking you,” Ronan said, which was the end of that.

It was a nice day to walk, anyway. The wind was biting and swept at any bare skin, pinking Adam’s nose and the tops of his ears, and as they walked they talked: about school, about Teal Yoga Pants and how she always took the good booth, and Henry, the third roommate, who usually came to brunch but had had some sort of emergency that probably involved hair products or bees or both, a statement that Adam could not even begin to explain; about Matthew, who kept Ronan updated on his life via texts that consisted of cryptic emojis, and Adam’s clerkship, and Gansey’s recent interest in Wales, which Ronan had been exposed to through the flood of Wales-related media that had entered their home.

They had not discussed “what they were.” Ronan didn’t think it was necessary. Their dynamic had not changed all that much—certainly not at all if you were a mildly interested bystander. The rhythm of their conversations remained the same. Ronan still lay on the carpet and read at the bookshop when Adam was on shift; they still mocked each other over cheap Chinese takeout and saved odd books to give to Opal and sat at the same desk, studying and reading in silence.

The difference was difficult to qualify, much less quantify. Ronan let himself look at Adam longer. Adam began to greet Ronan with gentle, casual touches. Ronan walked Adam places, sometimes. Adam crooked his little finger into Ronan’s when they sat side-by-side, sometimes. Ronan kissed Adam’s wrists and palms and fingertips, often.

They still parted at the end of the night, even if the end of the night was at dawn, even if it was technically the early morning. Neither was the type to invite themselves into others’ spaces. And Ronan had not been sleeping. So they got very good at goodbye kisses.

For example: now, as they approached the glass box that was Columbia Law. The sun had strengthened, but it was still freezing, and the few students around them were hurrying between buildings, faces hidden in scarves.

Adam reached for Ronan and pulled the sides of his beanie down to cover his ears more firmly. “Text me?”

“Uh huh,” Ronan said, sneaking a kiss onto Adam’s cold cheek. “Go learn shit.”

Notifications

MAIL: Evite (12m ago)

You’re invited to Ashley and Declan’s… (View | Clear)

Gansey was eating a prepackaged Caesar salad and reading the newspaper on the couch when Ronan came in.

“Hey,” he said, tone suggesting this was a lead-in.

“Hi.” Ronan tossed his keys into the little dish by the door that Gansey loved so much and threw himself into an armchair. “What are you doing.”

“Crossword.” Gansey frowned down at the paper. “Five down, Victorian author of the poem ‘The Lark Ascending,’ eight letters, third letter R?”

“George Meredith,” Ronan said.

“Rooming with an English major has its benefits after all,” Gansey said, penciling the name in very carefully. (Once Gansey had requested a pencil for crossword purposes; Ronan had offered a pen instead and was entirely unprepared for the look of shock that greeted him.)

After all?” Ronan said.

“You routinely throw books at walls when you don't agree with your teachers’ reading lists.”

“It’s not my fault all my assigned reading is by old European men who hate everything.”

“You throw books. At walls. At night.”

“I could be a worse roommate,” Ronan suggested.

“Oh, God. I take it back. Book throwing is fine by me.”

Ronan was in the middle of thinking through various schemes which would annoy Gansey more—his favorite so far involved obtaining a carrion bird or perhaps a raven and housing it in his room—when he was interrupted. “So, how’s your, ah.” Gansey cleared his throat. “How’s it… going?”

This phrase was so incongruous emerging from Gansey’s old-money accent that Ronan almost laughed. “What?”

“I mean, I’m checking in. How are… things.”

“‘Things’ are fine,” Ronan said, mockingly. “Are you coming to my parent teacher conference too, Dad?”

“All right, all right, just trying to see what’s happening in your life,” Gansey said, setting down his pencil deliberately. “I feel like I rarely see you.”

“We live together,” Ronan pointed out. “We had pizza together yesterday.”

“That’s not the same,” Gansey objected.

Ronan threw up his hands and stood. “I don't know what you want from me, man.” He went to the kitchen and retrieved an apple.

“I just want to talk to you,” Gansey said, voice raised so it could carry into the next room; Ronan thought, irrationally, of Gansey silhouetted in the light of his parents’ house, walking away.

“So talk.” He shut the refrigerator, hard, and retreated to his room. Gansey made no protest.

Brazenhead was extra magic in the cold; Ronan knew it was dumb, but when it was freezing out, it made stepping inside all the more pleasant, and on winter nights like these, the shop was always warm and dim, full of paper smells and glue smells and old wood smells. The heating made beleaguered sounds, because it was ancient, and the floors creaked all over. Ronan loved it passionately and awfully.

“Hi,” Adam said, smiling; Ronan hated the note of surprise in his tone. “I didn’t think you were coming. I’m just about to lock up.”

Ronan waited by the shop front door for Adam to get his coat and shut off all the lights. “I’ll walk you home,” he said—instead of Sorry for not texting, instead of I don't know why I’m feeling this way, instead of What do I do, what do I do.

Adam paused with the key still in the door, pale eyes fixing on Ronan’s. “Okay,” he said; whatever he saw, it gentled his tone. Ronan hated that too.

They walked in silence, hands in pockets. Adam had told Ronan ages ago that he lived close to the store, and it had not been an exaggeration; the walk was barely five minutes.

As always, they stopped on the sidewalk in front of Adam’s building. His shift had ended early tonight; the night was fairly young, and the windows were all ablaze. Their yellow light lit up Adam’s face more than the streetlights above. Ronan’s throat felt too dry, like if he spoke it would come out as a croak.

Adam said, “Would you like to come in?”

Ronan nodded, wordlessly. They went in.

Adam lived on the second floor. The steps up were narrow and groaned more than creaked; when he opened the door, it was dark.

“I think Blue’s at work,” Adam said into the stillness, switching on lights and discarding outerwear as he moved through the flat. “I don't want to know what Henry’s doing. Crime, probably.”

The apartment was much smaller than Gansey and Ronan’s place and much more full. It, like Fox Way, contained contradictions, a messy constellation of lives lived: mismatched furniture, scarves and socks flung into corners and forgotten, sticky-bottomed coffee cups, surfaces covered in textbooks and notes and Chinese takeout receipts and Post-It notes: Henry, take out the trash! Note to self—BUY TOILET PAPER ON WAY HOME. Rainbow alphabet magnets on the fridge, arranged into important phone numbers and reminders and rude words; a considerable pile of mail on the counter that Adam was rifling through.

Ronan found himself picking up an essay that had been left on the kitchen table, atop a stack of ecology textbooks. It was a legal argument, typed out, about some part of the Constitution Ronan had never heard of; Adam’s cramped handwriting filled the margins in red pen, suggesting word omissions and debating the merits of using “sic” and often suggesting that the writer invest in a dictionary set.

“Do you want something to drink?” Adam was saying as he went through his mail absently. “Water, or tea, or—”

“I’m okay,” Ronan said. He realized he hadn’t removed his coat and scarf and did so, draping them carefully over the back of a kitchen chair (even though it seemed the house’s inhabitants did not take the same pains with their living space).

He looked at the fridge again. A moot court schedule. Henry: don't forget Fox Way barbeque on the 3rd (Adam is not invited). The lo mein is my lunch; do not take.

He needed to sit down.

“Everything okay?” Adam asked when he came in and found Ronan on the couch, surrounded by proof of a family, of a home not born into but built, of the daily choice to stay and to love.

Ronan looked at him. “Come here?”

He did, immediately and without question, nudging his way into the space right next to Ronan, cold hands and cold nose and cold feet he tucked under Ronan’s leg. The light from the kitchen came in distorted buttery rectangles on the floor, and car headlights occasionally flashed in through the windows, but other than that it was mostly quiet and mostly dark.

“Tell me about home?” Ronan asked, softly. He didn’t mean Adam’s parents or Henrietta, Virginia.

Adam understood. He wedged his feet farther underneath Ronan’s thigh and said, in a murmur, “I moved to the city when I was twenty-two.”

Adam told Ronan about a tiny shitty apartment that had awful heating and no AC. He told him about the Craigslist roommate he’d had to live with, and the long cold train rides home from class, back when he’d known literally no one in the state of New York. He talked about waiting tables at a divey pizza place on Broadway called Nino’s, where he met Blue (five foot nothing, spitting in the iced tea when customers tried to hit on her), and about hating the city, and about considering installing additional locks on his bedroom door to keep his roommate out.

He told him about his Lawyering for Change elective in freshman year, and about meeting Henry there—”his hair was a foot tall and on the second day he called a guest speaker a cop”—and about months of Henry setting up camp at Nino’s, convincing management to play Madonna on the speakers and tipping Blue 100% for refilling his iced tea, and about weeks of apartment hunting until they could find a place where rent was realistic enough for Adam and Blue.

Then there was the actual moving in, which involved Orla spraying sparkling wine over everyone “like we were a boat that had just been christened,” and for months afterwards Jimi sent them pictures of every mattress and chair she saw abandoned on the street, asking if they were interested. Nino’s went out of business—”I don't know, some kind of sanitation issue”—and Maura’s boyfriend offered Adam a job at his bookshop. Persephone sent them pies; Blue tried to grow things on their fire escape and nearly got them evicted; the neighbors complained about Henry’s late-night one-man dance parties; the train ride home was still cold, but Adam wasn’t alone anymore.

Ronan listened and ached.

He had often found himself wanting to go home—sometimes a heart-stopping need, sometimes just a thought: I want to go home. It had happened at the Barns, and at the apartment in Morningside Heights, and in class, and at Brazenhead, and on the train, and in the middle of crowded crosswalks.

He wanted to go home. He didn’t know where home was.

Adam spoke of the future, too; he talked about Blue, who wanted to go somewhere without buildings and traffic and light pollution, anywhere as long as it was alive; about Henry, who did not have to work but was insistent upon doing so; about himself, about staying in the city and working for good and being the kind of person he admired now.

Ronan almost said something about how this was all temporary for him—about how New York was a three-year fever dream, a fuzzy blip in his real life, about how he’d been born at the Barns and he thought he’d probably die there.

Instead, he put his face into Adam’s dusty hair and said, “Thank you.”

Adam kissed him then, soft, not trying to start anything, fingers smoothing at the skin at Ronan’s temples. It was hardly comfortable; his cold feet were still tucked under Ronan’s leg, and he had bony elbows, but his mouth was soft and his touch gentle.

“Are you staying?” Adam asked.

Ronan was.

They slept.

When he woke up, it was still night.

Well, it was dark out; artificial light snuck in through the blinds, and a motorcycle revved in the distance, but that meant nothing in New York City. It could be nine pm or five am.

Ronan rolled over and realized that he’d woken up because Adam was gone. The other side of the bed was still warm—Ronan settled himself into the indent in the pillow where Adam’s head had been—but he was very much not there.

They’d fallen asleep fully clothed at some ungodly time of the night; Ronan remembered, through the fog of exhaustion and uncertainty and terror that he’d ruin this somehow, kissing Adam’s fingertips good night. He’d been on the edge of sleep when he’d felt Adam tuck himself closer, knees between knees and a sharp chin tucked against Ronan’s collarbone, and then after that he had dreamed of infinite sun.

Down the hall, a sink ran, and a second later, Adam’s bedroom door croaked open, with effort. Everything in this apartment was old and wooden, so everything was loud and required effort.

“Hey,” Adam said, voice morning-rough. He sat and ran a hand up the back of Ronan’s shaved head, against the grain; Ronan had found that he liked this, the prickle of what little hair he had. “Did I wake you?”

“Yeah, you and your Godzilla steps, Parrish,” Ronan said, shoving at Adam with his knees until he complied and lay down again on his side, facing Ronan. “What time is it, anyway?”

“It’s, like—” Adam began, going to turn over, but Ronan interrupted him.

“Never mind, never mind, stop moving.”

“Okay, well. It’s early o’clock.” Adam huffed a laugh, though he stopped trying to move. He spoke slower in the morning; each vowel came out longer, until they slid into one another in what was practically a drawl. “Do you have class today?”

“It’s Friday, Parrish,” Ronan said.

“I’m gonna take that as a no?”

“Of course it’s a no. I only go to class on alternate Tuesdays. Do you?”

“Yeah, but not until the afternoon, and then I have to work.” He reached up and traced a line down Ronan’s nose, from the bridge to the tip, thoughtfully. “Do you wanna talk about what that was last night?”

Ronan shut his eyes, and then he opened them, because it felt like a cop-out to try to escape Adam’s gaze, clear and patient. “Not really,” he confessed. The ache for home ebbed and flowed. Now, in the late night-early morning, lying in bed beside Adam Parrish, the tide was out. “Rain check?” he suggested.

“Rain check,” Adam agreed. He opened his mouth, but just then there was a ferocious buzzing sound; they both jumped.

“Shit,” Ronan said, and patted himself down until he discovered the source: his phone, shoved deep into his pocket and then forgotten about. He opened it.

“Jesus,” Adam said, peering over his shoulder.

Five missed calls. Three voicemails. Twenty-two angry texts.

“Gansey,” Ronan said, and then, “Shit.”

Adam said, mildly, “I’m guessing you forgot to tell him you were sleeping over.”

Ronan—well, Ronan was kind of irrationally irritated at Gansey right now, but he put himself in his roommate’s place for a second. Gansey, whom he’d known since high school, who had been there for Niall’s death and Aurora’s illness and almost every single fight with Declan; Gansey who had picked Ronan up off the floor more than once, literally, and who had, once, memorably, stuck his finger down Ronan’s throat over a toilet bowl.

“I have to make a phone call,” Ronan said, tumbling out of bed.

“All right,” Adam said agreeably, not much fussed.

Ronan went out on the fire escape to bargain, apologize, and divert, at once attempting to assuage Gansey’s (quite valid) fears and pretend that he, in fact, was not sleeping over with his boyfriend, about whom Gansey did not know. This was fairly difficult, since Ronan had no close friends in the city other than Gansey and therefore nowhere else to sleep; it was a good ten minutes before Ronan ended the call, roommate appeased.

When he returned, he found Adam and Blue in the kitchen and the smell of coffee in the air. They were talking softly, in the manner of people who were used to one another in the early morning. The oven light explained that it was six am.

“The man, the myth, the legend,” Blue said. “Don't worry, I have better vaguely insulting things to call you, I just need some more coffee first.”

“Shut up, you’re five feet tall,” Ronan replied, stealing Adam’s coffee mug from out of his hand.

“The coffee pot is right there,” Adam said, stealing it back. “I put a mug out for you, Jesus Christ.”

“Henry just texted,” Blue said, looking up from her phone. “He said, quote, I am just fine except cannot move left arm. Also I think I am still drunk. Love you xoxo green heart emoji blue heart emoji pink bow heart emoji, end quote.”

Adam rolled his eyes, fondly. “I have a three hour window of time between class and work tonight that could be occupied by getting your mom to make us food. Are we thinking that Henry will be mobile and sober by then?”

“No, we are not,” Blue said. “Count him out. He always eats all the pie.” She put her mug in the sink. “Seminar time!”

“Have fun looking at dirt, weirdo,” Ronan said.

“Have fun looking at your own face, weirdo,” Blue said.

“I’m going to make more coffee,” Adam said.

“So I think you should tell me what this whole engagement party thing entails.” Adam bit into a piece of burnt toast, evidently finding no problems with it. “I’ve never been to one before.”

“There’ll be, I don't know, engagement party stuff,” Ronan said, neglecting to mention that he’d never been to an engagement party either. “Like, centerpieces, and champagne, and… marriage things.”

“Not helpful,” Adam informed him. They were on the couch, because the kitchen table was currently being used as a communal desk slash bookshelf. Blue had just left.

“I just need you to wear a jacket and look pretty.”

“So I’m the arm candy. That’s what you’re saying.”

“Yep, pretty much.” Ronan finished his coffee and grimaced. “This is very strong coffee.” Gansey’s weak-ass pour-over had nothing on this.

“Three grad students live here. That’s how it goes.” Adam finished his toast. “So, let’s get this straight: you’re not taking me to this party for my conversational skills.”

Ronan pictured a Declan-Adam conversation and shuddered; he pictured an Ashley-Adam conversation and had to stop because it was terrifying. Too much efficiency and indifference in one place. That interaction had to be prevented at all costs. “Nope. I don't plan on speaking to anyone at that party and neither should you.”

Adam thought about this and shrugged. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Yeah, okay, Lynch.” He made a face. “I don't anticipate your brother’s crowd to be the kind of people I’d want to talk to anyway.”

“Amazing. I can’t believe I found the only person in New York City less social than me.”

“Oh, no, I didn’t say I was less social than you. There are hermits more social than you.”

“It’s okay, Parrish. You’re an ice queen,” Ronan said, but then Adam began trying to shove him off the couch and he was too focused on not falling to finish his thought.

Later they got paninis, because apparently Adam was very into things involving bread, and then they got back into bed, because it was cold—it was supposed to snow later—and early and inside it was warm. Adam lent Ronan a sweatshirt (crimson, Harvard logo; “what, you showing off or something?”) and fell asleep on Ronan’s shoulder halfway through an old episode of Saturday Night Live. He looked so peaceful that Ronan didn’t even have the heart to mock him for it when he woke up again.

Ronan had slept the previous night through, which he knew meant barely any sleep tonight, tossing and turning and having too-lifelike dreams that only made him more exhausted when he woke. There was absolutely no chance he’d be able to sleep now, even with Adam all rumpled and warm beside him, even surrounded by the smell of his laundry soap. Instead, he nudged at Adam gently so that they were both lying down properly.

There would be time later to go back to the apartment; there would be time to face Gansey, and to open that engagement party invitation, and to text Matthew back, and to do his homework. There would be time to nap on the floor at Brazenhead and time to take Adam to neon-lit diners in the middle of the night and time to walk him home in the snow, standing close to him on an empty subway platform.

Now, Ronan tucked his chin into Adam’s hair and shut his eyes, listening to the apartment creak around him, in the quiet solitary way old buildings always did in the wind.

There would be time.

Chapter Text

Ronan had not thought this through. He did not often think things through, but this time the problem was especially grave, and he had no way out. His back was against a wall, so to speak. Between a rock and a hard place.

“Are you talking to yourself?” Gansey asked on his way past Ronan to look for his good cufflinks.

“Why the hell would I talk to myself,” Ronan said.

“I talk to myself sometimes.”

“Well, maybe you need to stop gauging other people’s behavior with your own.”

Gansey leaned past his doorframe to peer down the hall at Ronan. “Are you sure you still want to go?”

Ronan threw up his hands. “If I didn’t want to go, I wouldn’t be going!”

“Hmm,” Gansey said, and went back to searching.

They were supposed to leave for D.C. in an hour. They were also supposed to drive Adam. Gansey knew about only one of these obligations, and it was not the one concerning Ronan’s boyfriend—Ronan’s secret boyfriend, whom Ronan had failed to mention to his best friend for… well. Months.

“You are definitely talking to yourself,” Gansey said decisively.

“You’re going senile, old man,” Ronan said.

Noah, an impartial party, upon being told about the situation yesterday at lunch, had asked, quite reasonably, “Well, why haven’t you told Gansey?”

Ronan had no good answer to that. Well, he did: he was afraid that Adam was a dream, he was afraid that the past months had been a dream, he was afraid that what they had would disappear, a column of salt in the daylight; he was afraid that, somehow, telling people about Adam would make it hurt more when they inevitably separated—when Adam got sick of him, when Ronan left the city. He was afraid of telling Gansey things, because he never did.

adam

What do i pack to hang out with rich ppl

jacket

guillotine

Wow I was going to make that joke first

Blue is asking if I want to borrow her switchblade.
For stabbing politicians

It’s pink

She said to tell you

Wait never mind it was a Marx quote

just pack jesus christ

Ok ok fuck off

...

When Ronan put his phone away, he found Gansey watching him.

“What,” he said.

“Nothing,” Gansey said, and went away to debate the merits of his lobster-shaped tie clip.

Gansey had hardly pulled out onto the street when Ronan said, “Wait, wait.”

“Did you forget something?” Gansey asked, pausing at a stop sign. “Because I asked you before we left—”

No,” Ronan said. “Just—” He genuinely considered just pointing Gansey towards Adam’s place for a moment, sans explanation, but he could hear his mother saying, “Ronan, don't be rude.”

“Okay.” He turned to face Gansey over the gear shift. “We need to pick someone up, and I need you to not talk to me about it.”

Gansey blinked, keeping his eyes on the road. “Pardon?”

Ronan sighed heavily. “His name is Adam.”

The change was immediate and alarming; Gansey literally pulled over to the side of the road and turned towards Ronan, eyes wide. “Did you say—?”

“I don't want to talk about it,” Ronan said. “Drive.”

“Is this your mysterious plus one? Declan told me you were going to bring someone.”

“Yes. Let’s go.”

“Are you—is he your boyfriend? Why haven’t you told me?”

“Let’s go, Gansey.”

“You can’t just—” Gansey began, nevertheless getting back on the road.

“I don't want to hear it.”

“So I’m just your chauffeur. Is what you are saying.”

“Look, someone could have let me bring the BMW—”

“—I don't let you do anything, your mother and I agreed that it would be best—and in any case, I am protesting merely your lack of communication with me, your best friend, not the fact that I drive you around—”

“—would you like me to get out of this car and walk to Washington fucking D.C.? Because I absolutely fucking will, Gansey, I swear to—”

This argument, whose contents are not particularly interesting and so are irrelevant to this narrative, continued in between Ronan directing Gansey towards Adam’s place. It was still in full swing when Gansey pulled up to the building as directed.

“I will be back,” Ronan said as he got out and shut the door, hard, cutting Gansey off mid-sentence.

Blue opened the door when Ronan knocked, dressed for work with a pint of Greek yogurt in her hand. “Oh,” she said. “It’s you.”

Oh,” Ronan mimicked, and stole the yogurt as he passed her.

“Hey, jackass, that’s mine!”

“Hey,” Adam said when Ronan came into the kitchen. “I thought I heard Blue yelling.” His hair was damp, and he was wearing a Columbia sweatshirt, too big, over his button-down. He was in process of filling a to-go coffee mug.

“Gansey’s waiting downstairs,” Ronan said. “I will buy you coffee.”

“I like my coffee,” Adam said.

Ronan tried some of Blue’s yogurt. It was disgusting; he put it down. “Okay,” he said. “You have your coffee. You have your guillotine. Let’s go.”

“Okay, okay, Jesus. Bye, Blue!” Adam called, slinging his bag over his shoulder. Blue swept in and stood on her toes to smooth Adam’s hair and then ruffle it again, affectionately.

“Ew, your hair is wet.”

“That’s what happens when you wash it.”

“Burn down the White House for me, okay? Make sure this one’s inside.” Blue scowled at Ronan and took up her yogurt possessively.

“Why are you so weird today,” Adam said as Ronan ushered him down the stairs, making the wood creak worryingly.

“I’m not weird. I’m never weird.”

“You are definitely weird,” Adam said, voice warmer than a Virginia summer, coming close to ask for a kiss, which Ronan gave him—a quick one, before he nudged him on.

When they came out onto the street Ronan realized that Gansey, being Gansey, had left his seat and was leaning against the Camaro, deceptively casual.

Ronan looked at the two through a stranger’s eyes for a moment—Gansey and his chartreuse polo and his violently orange car, tan American youth; Adam, freckled all over now that it was getting sunny, his hair drying in boyish licks, looking between the two expectantly.

“Hello!” Gansey said when he caught sight of Adam, too loud. “You must be—”

“Adam,” Adam said.

“Gansey.” There was a moment where they might have shaken hands. Ronan tried to take the backpack; Adam began, “No, I got it,” but Ronan got a hold of it and took it to the trunk.

“This is a great car.”

“Isn’t it?” Gansey brightened. “I call her the Pig. Sometimes she likes to abandon me on lonely highways, but on the whole she is a miracle.”

“Seventies?” Adam suggested, inspecting the rims. “How’s the fuel economy on this thing?”

“‘73, actually. It’s more fuel efficient than one might think; I have a wonderful mechanic down in—”

“Okay, all right, can we get this show on the road?” Ronan interrupted. “No one cares about your car’s specs, Gansey.” They did, but as Adam brushed past Ronan on his way to the backseat, he whispered, “See? Weird, ” with a smile, like he understood.

Ronan was uncommunicative in the car, but evidently he was getting too predictable, because neither Adam nor Gansey seemed at all fazed. Instead, they had a very civilized conversation about the weather, classes, what each planned to do after graduation, Gansey’s mechanic, D.C., Declan, where the best Chinese food could be found within a five mile radius, a history professor at Columbia they’d both had, and so on.

It was all very polite and it gave Ronan a headache. He’d worn in certain paths in his interactions with the two, well-trodden routes: insults, jokes, eye rolls with Gansey; mild teasing and sarcasm and touch with Adam. This interaction was more densely wooded, a road less traveled; he’d forgotten these strange paths, meant only for strangers.

Declan called when they were half an hour out to ask if they would stop at his place first. “To remind me to behave, probably,” Ronan said, bitterly; Gansey said nothing, disapprovingly.

The apartment was what one would expect: gray, angular, full of geometric throw pillows and muted colors that had apparently been carefully selected by an interior decorator. (Ronan had been there twice before; the last time, he’d broken two plates from Declan’s JCPenney Home Collection, one by accident and one on purpose.)

“Where’s your fiance,” Ronan said tonelessly, stepping past his brother into the white and slate entryway.

“Take off your shoes. Ashley’s with her parents. Gansey,” Declan said, shaking Gansey’s hand. “Thanks for coming.”

“Wouldn’t miss it, D. Congratulations.”

“And—” Declan began.

“Adam Parrish. Nice to meet you.” Another handshake, firm in the ways men often shake, in order to establish dominance or some pissing contest shit, as Blue would say.

“Pleasure. I wish I could say I’ve heard a lot, but…”

Ronan, inspecting the minimalist abstract art on the wall, selected so as to be inoffensive to as many people possible, said, “It’s too early to be passive aggressive.”

“Congressman Hoskings’ estate is gorgeous,” Gansey cut in quickly. “You and Ashley must be thrilled.”

“Pete was so generous,” Declan said. “He actually approached me about hosting. Oh, can I get you boys anything to drink?” and they trailed into the kitchen, talking about square footage and rose gardens.

And, okay, Ronan despised agreeing with Gansey whenever he was being all schmoozy golden-boy son-of-a-Congresswoman, and he hated agreeing with Declan at all, but the estate really was beautiful.

When they arrived, the sun was setting over Congressman somebody-or-another’s mansion, casting the white turreted house a watery pink. Inside, everything was lit up, crystal chandeliers and antique lamps and gilded mirrors reflecting all the light back on itself, sunspots hiding in dark musty corners in the manner of very old houses. The clink of glasses and high heels and the murmur of well-bred laughter started up in the brightest parts of the house; Ronan hovered near the edge of the crowd, in the shadow of a enormous Rossetti reproduction, waiting for Adam to return with drinks.

“I don't like champagne very much,” Adam said, appearing at Ronan’s side with a flute in each hand, one ginger ale and one champagne, “but it’s the only alcohol here. Cheers.”

Ronan took a sip. “Nope,” he said, swapping Adam the glass.

“Yeah, that was definitely too gingery to be champagne,” Adam said, sipping from the proper glass with a wince. (He was something new, not only in this room but in this suit, tie-less, shirt unbuttoned twice at the top, eyes almost aglow in the contrast—shadow, light.) “It’s carbon neutral, apparently.”

Ronan snorted, delicately. “The Ganseys would eat my brother alive.”

Adam reached out and straightened Ronan’s collar. “Speaking of which, did Gansey have something to do with this outfit?”

“Hey. I can dress up.”

“You sure can,” Adam agreed, eyes flicking across Ronan’s suit.

“Shut up,” Ronan said, because he didn’t have a response.

Then Gansey swept into their little corner, saying, “Adam, Ashley is dying to meet you—Ronan, I hope that’s apple juice—well, I was just making sure, one never knows—there is no need to get snippy, and anyhow there are people here who would like to see an appearance from the brother of the groom—is Matthew coming?” and Adam was dragged off to meet people; Ronan’s ginger ale disappeared, but he still felt warmed, like the aftertaste of alcohol, like he’d caught a buzz from Adam’s breath.

The night was long. There were brief speeches, and hors d’oeuvres, and so many people Ronan didn’t know: men in perfectly knotted red ties and women in silks, children darting around people legs and voices raised, people who wouldn’t sound out of place on CSPAN, as if Declan had moved to this city and immediately found himself a home and an enormous family to go with it.

Gansey was in the thick of it, the mask of Richard Campbell Gansey the Third firmly in place, often with Adam near him. This kind of crowd ate that shit up—the persona of the brilliant, upright young men in clean-lined suits—but even while Adam and his straight teeth dazzled the D.C. jet set, Ronan saw the boy he knew in the way he moved through the room alone, quiet and efficient in ways the party was not.

Ronan circled the perimeter and slipped out after dusk, when a layer of the crowd had peeled off and only the core remained, though the champagne was still flowing. The moment he pushed through the doors, a wave of fragrant spring air hit him in full force.

Declan had not been lying about the garden. Rose bushes piling on top of one another, red and white and yellow and pink and fuchsia blooms, so full their petals carpeted the ground; jasmine sprawled everywhere, tiny white star-shaped flowers, everything lit solely by the light pouring from the windows and doors of the house, people sounds muffled at this distance. Ronan breathed in deeply, his lungs filling like water after a drought.

“Hey.” A soft voice and long accent; Adam, sitting on the smooth rim of a fountain, jacket off.

Ronan sat beside him. “Parrish.”

“Lynch.”

“Taking a break from hosting duties?”

Adam rolled his eyes. “Gansey and your brother are bent on electing me as President, evidently.”

“You should’ve expected this.” Ronan imitated Gansey’s old-money Virginia accent: “‘Richard Gansey the Third, old sport, and here’s my friend Adam Parrish—my classmate, you know, up at Columbia University, go on, shake his hand.’”

“That was awful,” Adam said through a laugh. “Like JFK had a love child with Jay Gatsby.”

“I know, the accent got too Boston. Did you meet Ashley?”

“Yup.” Ronan waited. Adam was considering; more was forthcoming. “She seemed… smart.”

“Really?” Ronan wrinkled his nose. His brother’s girlfriend had always seemed vapid to him.

“Yeah, actually, really well-spoken if you ignore the Valley Girl act, and she had some pretty interesting opinions on corporate involvement in—”

“Okay, okay, none of that, I don't care, get to the point.”

“There is no point. I’m just saying that I thought she was smart.”

Adam always had a point. “You always have a point.”

“No I don't.”

“Yes you do.”

“No—” Adam began, then rethought it. “Okay, I was just thinking that maybe you underestimate your brother.”

“My—is this about Declan? Oh, God, don't tell me you like him.”

“No, not really.” He wrinkled his nose. “He doesn't answer questions directly.”

“Politician.”

“Politician,” Adam acknowledged. “Just watch Ashley and maybe—well, no. I was going to say get her to sign a prenup, but I’d actually really like to see her take all of Declan’s money.”

“I’d pay to see that.”

“I know.” He knocked his shoulder against Ronan’s. “What’ve you been doing? Lurking all night?”

“No. Yes.” Ronan finished his ginger ale. “I hate this city.”

“You said you hated New York last week.”

“What, I’m only allowed to hate one city at a time?”

“Yeah. You’ve exceeded your quota.”

Adam had unbuttoned his sleeves to roll them up his freckled forearms; he got warm when he drank, Ronan remembered. The breeze lifted the lick of dark hair that stood up above his right ear, despite the fact that he’d stuck his head under the faucet in Declan’s bathroom earlier to smooth it down, shaking water all over Ronan like a dog. He reached for that bit of hair and tugged at it, lightly.

“What,” Adam said.

“Your hair is sticking up,” Ronan said, ruffling it and making it worse. “Here, let me fix it.”

“Okay, okay, jackass.” He swatted Ronan’s hand away and yawned, widely. “God. I’m too old to stay out so late.”

“Again with the old man shit. Aren’t you supposed to be in your twenties? You know, your prime?”

“I need my eight hours,” Adam said, head dropping forward so that his forehead rested on Ronan’s shoulder. “At least. Now I have to catch up on all the sleep I lost in high school.”

“You work the night shift at the shop,” Ronan pointed out, smoothing out the back of Adam’s crisp white shirt.

“I know. Which is why I have to sleep when I can.” He yawned again.

“Stop fucking yawning,” Ronan said, but it was too late; he was yawning, too.

“I made you yawn.” Adam sounded disproportionately pleased by this. “You know that means we have a connection, right? It’s science.”

“Are you drunk?”

“I had two glasses of champagne. And some of those little shrimp things, I don't know. The food here sucks. I’m just tired.” Adam lifted his head again; he looked drowsy, leaning back on his palms among the flowers. “Have you talked to Matthew recently?”

“Yeah. He had testing this week, or he would’ve come. I think Gansey told him about you already.”

“Why, did he say anything to you?”

“Yeah, he texted. He said he’s really mad he missed meeting you.”

“What about your mom?” He had hardly spoken to Adam about his mom, but he’d somehow divined that Ronan had a complicated relationship with her.

Ronan shrugged. “She doesn't leave the Barns much, and she never travels. I don't know. We mostly talk when I’m home.”

“I see.”

Ronan nudged Adam’s shoe with his. “Which means that you gotta come visit the Barns and meet her.”

“Yeah?” Adam’s smile was a slow, private thing for Ronan alone; he loved it more than he could say. “I’m a hit with moms.”

“I don't know, Parrish. My mom is pretty hard to impress.” This was a lie. Aurora was going to fall in love with Adam immediately.

“I told you, I’m a mom expert. Women over the age of thirty-five adore me. It’s the blue eyes.”

have blue eyes,” Ronan said, “yet women of all ages distrust me.”

“Yeah, somehow I don't think that’s the eyes.” Adam reached for Ronan and ran a hand over his buzzed hair; his touch trailed down to trace over Ronan’s tattoo, over his shirt and jacket. Ronan leaned into his hand.

Just then, Ronan’s phone, in his pocket, buzzed. “Probably Gansey.”

“We should go,” Adam said, reluctantly.

He was right, and Ronan said, “Probably,” but they stayed outside for a few minutes longer, breathing in the cool air.

...

Ronan tried to sneak off to the Pig without saying goodbye as the party wound down, but he spent five minutes sitting alone in the dark car before he huffed, “Fuck it,” and got back out again.

“I told Gansey you guys could stay over,” Declan said stiffly when he noticed Ronan hovering near the bushes, just outside the rectangle of light made by the open front door. “It’s late. I have a guest room and a pullout couch.”

“No thanks,” Ronan said. Adam stood in the entrance, jacket slung over one arm; he was talking animatedly to Ashley.

Declan shrugged. “That’s what Gansey said. Guess I’m not the one making the drive.”

A long, uncomfortable silence. Ronan kicked a pebble into the well-trimmed greenery. Ashley’s laugh rose into the air.

“Is he your boyfriend?” Declan asked, cutting his gaze towards Adam.

Ronan shrugged and kicked another pebble. “Yeah. I guess,” he said after a moment.

“He’s nice.” Declan put his hands into his pockets, took them out again. “Smart. I wouldn’t want to go against him in court.”

“Don't fuck up and you won’t.”

“That’s what he told me,” Declan snorted, “though not in so many words.”

Ashley and Adam shared a handshake; their conversation seemed to be over. Both brothers took this as a sign that theirs could be too.

“Congrats, I guess,” Ronan said.

“Thanks,” Declan said, then, just as Ronan was turning to walk away, he added, “And I’m glad you brought Adam.”

“Me too,” Ronan said, and then he walked back to the car to wait for Adam and Gansey to finish shaking everybody’s hands and distributing congratulations and business cards (or whatever social people did) so that they could go home.

...

Declan had been right; it was almost midnight, and the three boys were quiet in the car. “Home James,” Gansey said softly once they were rushing down the expanse of the highway, an old-man-ism Ronan usually mocked except when Gansey said this his shoulders settled, like a physical reaction to the idea of going home.

That was the last thing Ronan remembered before he was drifting off to sleep, his head against the window, a shallow dreamless sleep he woke from an indeterminate amount of time later to the sounds of soft voices, the gentle murmur of people trying not to wake someone up.

“Shakespeare wrote about him,” Adam was saying, low. When Ronan looked at him, he was reflected in the window for a brief moment in the yellow light before they passed the streetlamp and everything was dark again. “‘In strange concealments, valiant as a lion.’”

“‘And as wondrous affable and as bountiful / as mines of India,’” Gansey finished. “Exactly. I didn’t know you liked Shakespeare.”

“I had to take an entire course on Shakespeare in undergrad. I hated it,” Adam said. “But I remember liking his historical stuff.”

“I’ve always loved Shakespeare’s portrayal of Glendower, the wild man ‘calling spirits from the vasty deep.’”

“I remember him reminding me of—not William of Orange, but the other one. The one who was assassinated leading the Dutch against Spain.”

“William, Prince of Orange.”

“Yes! William the Silent. He was more of a politician than Glyndwr, but his death—”

“So tragic. ‘Mon Dieu, ayez pitié de mon âme; mon Dieu, ayez pitié de ce pauvre peuple.’”

“‘My God, have pity on my soul; my God, have pity on these poor people.’”

Adam’s silhouette, dark shadows outlined against darker night. Their voices, still soft, still trying not to wake Ronan up; the near-empty late-night stretch of highway before them, monotonous yet somehow full of possibility; the irregular neon flash of the median strip in the Pig’s headlights.

He blinked awake. The dashboard said it was three. They were on Adam’s street.

“Here’s okay,” Adam was saying; when he opened his door, cold rushed in. Gansey got out too; Ronan watched, dimly, as they shared a companionable fist bump before Gansey returned.

“You’re awake,” Gansey said. “I wasn’t sure if you wanted me to drop you here with Adam, but we didn’t want to wake you up.”

Ronan hadn’t planned on staying with Adam, but he was so exhausted and it was so cold. “Gonna stay over,” he said.

“Okay. Good night.” Gansey reached over and scuffed the back of Ronan’s head, gently; Ronan swatted him away.

“Weirdo,” he said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Adam was waiting for him by the door, keys out, looking half asleep himself. Ronan remembered him saying that he needed a full night’s sleep and felt ridiculously, unaccountably guilty. Adam’s an adult, he reminded himself. He can take care of himself.

They creaked up the stairs, dangerously loud in the quiet building, and made their way through the living room in the dark, bumping into furniture and muffling laughter, exhausted and still a little cold. The city had warmed up, but the nights were still chilly, and Blue liked to keep the windows open as long as it wasn’t snowing, a habit that meant Adam slept under two duvets and a quilt (Persephone-made, apparently).

Adam sighed when he tumbled into bed. “Your clothes,” Ronan pointed out, but Adam made a dismissive sound and burrowed deeper into the covers.

“Tomorrow,” he said.

“Tomorrow,” Ronan agreed, crawling in beside him and closing his eyes in the warmth.

“Hey,” Adam whispered after a while.

“What.”

Adam’s eyes opened a little. “You have nothing to lose but your chains,” he said, and laughed when Ronan shoved him, silently, mostly air.

“Shut up and go to sleep,” Ronan recommended.

They slept.