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and all the preachers whistle nervous, stare down devils in the back of churches

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“Hello, hello, Parrish.” They were in the bathroom. Henry was smoking weed, as one did in school bathrooms when one was trying to live out their dreams of living in a mediocre 80s teen movie, and Adam was washing his hands, as one did after getting fluorescent green goop on them. What a charmed life Adam Parrish did lead.

“Hey,” Adam said. Parrish had always seemed out of place at Aglionby, more than even he was. Not just for the whole Poor thing, though that was something painfully prevalent for all of Adam’s attempts to hide it, from the threadbare clothing to the paint-chipped bike he rode everywhere, to the fact that Adam seemed to be everywhere, picking up as many jobs as humanly possible. But- it wasn’t just his being poor. It was the starved look he seemed to give Richard Gansey, the one you could only see if you looked to the side a little bit and saw the dormant wolf in his gaunt face. What a rare look that was- hunger, among all the fat cats. He hid it well. Henry only saw it because- well.

“Got a green thumb, have you?” Henry took a quick hit from the blunt laying limp in between his fingers, lazily waving at Adam’s still green-tinted hands. “Now how did that happen?”

Parrish turned off the faucet, slowly wiping off his hands with a paper towel. “A friend’s science experiment,” He explained. He grimaced, but- Henry didn’t know how to explain it. It felt like an image transferred onto another. There was some sort of dissonance in the performed, playful frown he had seen on carbon copies of the same polished boys over and over, and Adam Parrish- tanned and gangly and sharp, always so serious, so somber.

He offered the joint. “Would you like to smoke some of the devil’s lettuce,” and added a charming smile. “To ease your tortured soul?” Henry didn’t think that was all he was offering, for all that he and Parrish had barely ever spoken to each other.

Aglionby Academy was, if nothing else, the epitome of Henry’s idealized, All-American-Repressed-White-Prince private school fantasy, which had manifested itself with A Separate Peace and never quite left him despite all his years at boarding school. The boys who pushed each other out of trees and spent nights together on beaches fit right in line with the-- everything about the school. A small New England town would have probably been most pleasing, but the next best thing was probably a sleepy Virginia town. The being under the thumb of his mother part was not so pleasing, but-- well. It is what it is.

This was all ignoring the part where he was Asian, Canadian, and very much unconsciously Queer, with a capital Q. It’s not as if he could ever deny it, even if he wanted to, what with the fruitful modeling career and care taken with regards to his hair, and other, less important things, like personal hygiene, which seemed to be thrown out of the window once there was no longer a Caring Suburban Housewife to be hounded by.

“I don’t smoke,” Adam replied, shifting his weight and then stiffening abruptly. Henry waggled the joint enticingly, anyway. If Adam was still here, glaring and silent as he seemed to naturally be, there must have been some reason to stay.

The boys at boarding school, Henry had realized, could be neatly shoved into two camps: there was the first camp, the boys comfortable enough with their sexualities to wear salmon and still have the word ‘fag’ roll off their tongues naturally. Then there was the second, the ones who wore basketball shorts on the off days and tossed around slurs both uncomfortably and viciously. Both were pitifully repressed. Adam Parrish probably should’ve been in the second class, what with the culture of the charming Henrietta locals, but there was something about that look in his eyes. There was the look of a drowning man, the same that Henry had while looking at Gansey’s shirt ride up until Cheng 2 elbowed him.

Adam turned to leave.

“Tell me, Parrish,” he blurted out, needy and bored and starved of pretty boys that wouldn’t beat him up for looking, “And be brutally honest here: how much of a chance do you think I have of starting a student government at this glorious establishment?”

“Not a chance,” he said, neutrally. Not kindly in the Gansey way of beating around the bush, or cruelly, like how Lynch would cut straight to what hurt. A vast amount of adverbs were being used to describe three people.

“If I started a petition, I’m sure I’d get the votes. Don’t you agree?” Adam quirked a single eyebrow. “Would you sign my petition, then, Parrish?”

“You still want brutal honesty, Cheng?” At his slow, not-at-all eager nod, Adam replied. “Probably not.” Henry sighed, mournful and low.

“Have you no appreciation for the value of the vote?” He shook his head no. Henry glared. “That was a rhetorical question, you know.” He took another hit, almost missing the slight upturn of Adam’s lips. What a sight that was, a not-quite-smile that implied- what? Humor? Amusement? An interest in the marijuana-addled mind of the one and only Henry Cheng? He would take it.

It’d probably only been five minutes at most, three of which covered the long pauses that seemed to come before and after each line spoken. Adam had not yet left and was looking out the window; Henry took the opportunity to drag his eyes across Parrish’s frame. He wasn’t really his type, but there were blue eyes and freckles and lips bitten to hell, ones that Henry wanted to smooth over his tongue.

But, all good or at least peaceful things must come to an end. “Cheng, what’s the reason you’ve got me here?” Adam leaned against a sink, remorseless about the rude interruption to his daydreaming.

“I did not know that I was holding you hostage,” Henry said, setting the joint down. “What a surprise.” Parrish gazed at him, unimpressed. Count on Adam Parrish himself to be observant.

“I’ve been waiting for you to spit it out. Isn’t hard to see that you want something.” Adam looked back at him, expectant and challenging and still his eyes were dull, intrigued but on the verge of exasperation.

Henry was high, and he was desperate, sort of, and there was nothing for him to lose. Not like there was for Adam. He hopped off of the ledge he sat on, elegant for all that he was still growing into his height, and sauntered up to him.

He put a hand on his shoulder, a slow, gentle touch. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t kill me,” He said, and kissed him. For all that Parrish seemed expectant, he stiffened up immediately. Henry kept pressing for a few seconds, then pulled back before he could be punched out. Adam seemed to be holding it together impressively, for all that he’d turned into a marble statue. Henry wasn’t sure where to go from here, wondering what to do as he stared at Adam’s wide eyes.

And then, he was surprised in turn, as Adam fisted two hands into the material of his shirt and kissed him back. It was a rare and blessed day when Henry had to tilt his head up to kiss someone. It was chaste, closed-mouth, without even a whisper of tongue, for all that Adam seemed to be gripping his shirt for dear life even as he pulled away. Henry had his hands on Adam’s chest, though he didn’t remember putting them there. Maybe they were both painfully touch-starved.

Adam pulled them into a stall, some faux-privacy that was much appreciated. He raised his eyebrow, though not in the disdainful way he had just experienced mere moments ago. A question, Henry assumed. He nodded. Yes, yes to anything, really, so long as he was kissed.

“Okay,” Adam said. Henry assumed this was for his own benefit, and not his. He rolled his eyes and grabbed his chin, planting a kiss on him. He wanted to ease Adam into it, but he was gripping his shirt in such a sweet, desperate way, and he was pushing back just as hard as Henry was, and he just couldn’t help himself. Pretty boys tended to do that to him. Henry pawed at Adam’s collar, slipping a hand onto his bare shoulder, right in the crook of his neck, and opened his mouth. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t had his fair share of kisses, but Adam looked woefully starved- inasmuch as that might’ve had to do with the actual starvation- and he didn’t want to spook him. He was just as eager, though, almost as if he had been waiting for permission to shove his tongue in his mouth. As Adam tangled a hand into his hair, Henry dug his nails into Adam’s shoulder and dragged his bottom lip between his teeth, eliciting a hiss. There was a sharp tug at Henry’s hair as he banged his head back against the stall door.

They pulled away from each other eventually, once Henry had started to roll his hips up against the solid warmth of Adam, and his pants had begun to get sort of uncomfortably tight. He was shameless, and Adam appeared to have hidden depths, but they both had dignity- neither of them were so low as to rut against each other in a school bathroom.

Henry took a long look at Adam. Bruised pink lips and spit-slick mouth and rumpled shirt. He assumed he looked worse, what with the constant hair-pulling. But-- he was satisfied. And by the looks of it, so was Adam.

Peering at Henry from under his lashes, rumpled and still comfortable, he could almost see the hearthrob that Adam could’ve been. Even though he wasn’t really, Henry wanted to tell Adam that he was sweet. It was just-- he could see the potential. There was so much potential in him to be something more.

Not like Henry, bogged down by questions of mothers and legacies and doing the bidding of She-Who-Left-Him-In-A-Hole. Nothing at all like Henry.

They were startled out of their reverie, not talking or doing anything, just looking, when the bell rang. Henry’s eyes widened at the flood of footsteps and jeering outside while Adam rushed to fix his clothing.

Henry took out a comb, watching out of the corner of his eye as Adam adjusted his shirt and fixed his collar. His hands were still faintly green. “I sincerely hope I didn’t distract you from anything important,” he said, brushing his hair.

“You didn’t,” Adam said, brisk. There was that blast of cold air that Henry had so often seen. Charming.

“That was…” He trailed off.

Henry interrupted, smiling, “fun.”

Adam walked out of the bathroom. A cloud bursting open for one fragile moment and leaving him drenched. What an odd thing.