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Green-Eyed Monster

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The morning had been one of those gray, wet ones. Rain pounded and clattered on the steel roof of Monmouth Manufacturing and the wind rattled the windows and whistled through the cracks in the front door. 

They were watching a movie, all of them content to stay inside, except for Ronan, who liked to go head-to-head with anything he found resistant. Even if it was the forces of nature. 

Adam was in that pleasant space between wakefulness and dreaming. Gansey sat beside him, the light from the TV reflecting blue onto his glasses and into his brown hair. Noah was on the armchair, flickering. On. Off. On. Off. 

Blue had cancelled last minute, saying that she was grounded for getting in trouble at school. 

Everything had been comfortable. Familiar. Adam found himself wondering again what it would have been like if he lived in Monmouth. He imagined waking up in the morning, the cold concrete beneath his feet, the air smelling of mint and coffee. He imagined Gansey in the kitchen eating cereal, his hair tousled. And Ronan… 

Adam’s eyes darted again to the empty space on the sofa. Despite the pleasantness of the evening, the lack of Ronan’s presence was palpable. He seemed to bring a certain energy everywhere he went. The room felt far too silent without him, despite the blare of machine guns from the television. 

For some reason, Noah always seemed to pick movies with a lot of murder in them. Adam wondered what that meant about Noah, and whether he ought to be worried.  

The door opened with a sucking noise, and the sound of rain filled his good ear, deafening everything else. Adam shifted in his seat, turning towards the door. Ronan slammed the door shut and then leaned against it, pulling his soggy boots off. Of course, it was too much to expect Ronan Lynch to use an umbrella. He was utterly drenched - his tank top sticking to the lines of his body, raindrops darkening his jeans. Adam had to drag his gaze away from the stomach ridges visible through Ronan’s shirt. 

“Hey,” Ronan said. 

Gansey, uncharacteristically, just grunted. His eyes were still fixed on the movie. Despite the rampant violence, it was essentially a historical drama, which had commanded Gansey’s rapt attention. Adam remembered the way his eyes had been trained on the screen, the little furrow in his brow. 

He’d always like that version of Gansey - studious, enchanted, amazed. 

Ronan cleared his throat, stepping in front of the TV like the asshole that he was. 

“I need to tell you guys something,” he said, his voice a low grumble in the room.  

Everything Ronan said sounded like a grumble. If he hadn’t been standing right in front of the television, blocking their view, Adam might not have realised something was amiss. He stirred in his seat, running his hands through his hair. His heartbeat quickened. He wasn’t sure how he knew there was big news - whether it was the tone of Ronan’s voice, or the too-nonchalant way he was standing - but he’d known. His breath stuck in his throat. 

Ronan’s eyes darted to him and then returned to Gansey. Adam thought he saw a flicker of apprehension in his eyes, but it was far too dark to tell. 

“Is something wrong, Ronan?” Gansey asked, reaching for the remote. The light from the TV made Ronan look as though he was glowing. An ethereal being, too alien for this earth.

“I have to tell you something,” he muttered. He wasn’t looking at any of them. His gaze was fixed on something in the distance. “I just told Declan so…” He cleared his throat. “I just want to get it over with, alright?” 

The TV flicked off and the room descended into darkness. Adam could hear Ronan’s breath, ragged in the silence. 

“I’m… gay, or whatever.” 

Then, even the breathing disappeared. 

Despite the fact that Adam had known - of course he’d known - he felt a strange rush at the words. They brushed over his skin, bringing up goosebumps. He shivered. 

Ronan was looking at him, so Adam turned toward Gansey. 

Gansey looked surprised, his eyebrows high up on his forehead, his mouth in the shape of a small ‘o’. Had he really not known? He’d been friends with Ronan for a lot longer than Adam had. Had he never guessed? Never even suspected?

God, maybe he really was as oblivious as Blue said he was. 

Adam turned back to Ronan and jolted when he realised Ronan’s eyes were still fixed on him. Adam swallowed. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t read Ronan’s expression. Not in the darkness. 

Ronan turned away. “Also,” he continued. “Chainsaw took a shit on the Camaro.” 

The statement was so ridiculously Ronan that Adam almost laughed out loud.

“Ronan!” Gansey said, affronted. “How many times have I told you-” 

Noah flicked a switch and light flooded into the room, momentarily blinding them. Ronan winced, but remained in front of the TV.

Gansey shook his head, pulling off his glasses and cleaning them on the hem of his shirt. “Ronan, we can talk about Chainsaw later. But first… uh… regarding the prior… uh… revelation…” 

Ronan looked bored as ever, but they all knew him well enough to know that the reason he was chewing on his bands was because the apprehension was eating him alive. 

“Fine,” Ronan said. “I will take one question from each of you about the gay thing. Then we’re done talking about it.” 

He gestured at Noah. “Shoot.” 

Noah considered the question for a moment, then nodded gravely. “Who do you think is hotter? Harry Styles or Zayn Malik?” 

“I have no fucking clue who those people are.” 

Noah gaped, almost comically. “Slanderous!” 

“Ok, Noah lost his chance,” Ronan said, rolling his eyes. He snapped his fingers at Gansey. “Go.” 

“Oh… um…” Gansey’s brow furrowed and he bit his lip. “Uh… how long have you known? No… no! Actually, no… that’s not my question. Why… uh…  no… wait. Ah yes. Why did you decide to tell us… and Declan, of course… today, of all days?” 

Ronan rubbed his stubbled chin. He took a moment to consider the question, before shrugging. He looked as obnoxious as ever. Adam almost rolled his eyes. 

“Declan was trying to act like he knows me and shit, so I told him I was gay. Should have seen his face. Hilarious.” 

“Trust you to come out only to spite your brother,” Adam said. For some reason his Henrietta accent came out when he spoke, and he winced, involuntarily. 

“You don’t look surprised, Parrish.” Ronan’s voice was eerily light. 

Adam shrugged, heat creeping up the back of his neck. “I’m not.” 

“I already knew also, for the record,” Noah piped in. 

“Hold on!” Gansey interrupted. He sounded utterly wounded. “Everyone knew but me?” 

“If Gansey gets two questions then I get two questions too!” Noah said, pouting. 

“I didn’t tell them!” Ronan said, looking at Gansey. “Noah creepily knows everything because he’s freaky like that, and Parrish…” Ronan’s eyes darted to him, then away. “I don’t know how Parrish knows.” 

Adam knew because the weight of Ronan’s eyes on him had become a very familiar feeling, but he didn’t say it out loud. Instead he made a noncommittal gesture. “I don’t know. Just had a feeling, I guess.” 

“I think it’s all the leather,” Noah said, thoughtfully. 

Ronan rolled his eyes and grunted. “Ok, that’s fucking enough. Make space.” He forced himself onto the sofa between Gansey and Adam. 

“Thanks for telling us, Ronan,” Gansey said, patting Ronan’s thigh. 

“Keep your old lady panties on,” Ronan muttered. “What are we watching?” 

“Death Squad 2: Revenge of the Death Squad,” Noah said, cheerfully. 

He flicked the TV back on and the sound of machine guns filled the room again. And just like that, everything went back to normal. 

*  *  * 

It wasn’t supposed to change anything. Ronan’s revelation. And for a while, it didn’t. As soon as Blue had been filled in, things went back to the way they had always been. 

Aglionby in the morning. Nino’s in the evening. 

At night, Adam went to his apartment above St. Agnes, and Blue went back to 300 Fox Way, and Ronan and Gansey and Noah went back to Monmouth. 

Normal. Ordinary. Familiar. 

Adam was too exhausted from his three jobs to think about what Ronan’s revelation meant. He was too full of thoughts of school work to wonder why Ronan really had come out when he did. He was too preoccupied with college applications to realise that he never saw Ronan looking at other guys. 

Things were just as they had always been. 

Then everything changed. 

The envelope had been white. Adam saw the University logo on the front. The paper had been thick and creamy. Expensive, clearly. But the envelope wasn’t blue. It hadn’t come with any frills. Just a normal white envelope with the university’s logo on it. 

A rejection. 

Adam’s heart had been so tight in his chest, it felt like it was going to pop like an overfilled balloon. 

They said they couldn’t accommodate him. Not if he needed a full scholarship. They could not accommodate everyone, and they deeply regretted not being able to give him what he wanted. 

They hadn’t know that Adam had been working towards getting into their school from the moment he could think for himself. 

Adam thought of all the other students, the ones who did get the blue envelopes, the ones who opened their letters to see the words ‘accepted’ and ‘congratulations’ and he was filled with a jealousy so powerful that it ripped right through him. 

Adam crumpled the paper, and then he’d crumpled himself. He squeezed down into a corner of his small, cramped flat and sat there.

He just sat. 

It was the only time that year he’d skipped work. He remained there. Motionless. The pain was blinding and white. The sounds were too loud around him. He wanted to claw at his eyes. He wanted to cut himself open and pull out his lungs so everything would stop. Especially that pain in his chest. 

Then, the numbness came. He detached from himself. There were two of him - the Adam that felt pain, and the removed Adam, the one who felt nothing at all. 

That was how Ronan found him.

Adam had only heard his voice at first. He couldn’t tell what he was saying, but he knew it was Ronan’s voice. He’d know that voice anywhere. 

Ronan came rushing up, panic-stricken, and fell to his knees beside him. He shouted at Adam, cutting through the haze, bringing Adam back into himself.

Adam still couldn’t make out the words. He tried to stand up, which was when he realised he was wrapped in thick green vines. They curled around his legs, his waist.

“What happened?” Ronan asked. He tugged at the vines and pushed his sleeves back and inspected his forearms. “Was he here? Did he come?” 

Adam shook his head. Ronan’s thumbs rubbed circles into his wrist. 

“Parrish,” he said, his voice guarded. “Noah told me about Blue… I’m…” 

“It’s not that,” Adam said, swiping at his eyes. They were wet, but he couldn’t remember crying. 

He picked up the crumpled ball. Roughly, he put it into Ronan’s hands. Ronan smoothened the letter against the wooden floors and read it with his lips pressed tight, eyes moving smoothly across the page.

“They suck,” he said. It was such a ridiculously childish statement that Adam snorted, despite himself. 

Truth be told, he’d expected Ronan to say something along the lines of That’s it? That’s why you’re pissing yourself? Ronan had always prescribed to the ‘Aglionby is a waste of time’ school of thought. Adam hadn’t let himself think that way - was determined not to - but what difference had it made? It had all come down to this. 

It had all come down to nothing. Ronan had been right all along. 

Ronan crushed the paper and tossed it into the nearby trashcan. “It’s their loss.” 

“I knew I wasn’t good enough,” Adam muttered. “I knew it. I’m an idiot for even trying to get into a school like that.” 

“Don’t give me that shit.” 

“I didn’t work hard enough.” 

Ronan let out a scoff. “You fucking kidding me, Parrish? You worked three jobs and still managed to get the highest grade in all of your classes.” 

“Not in Latin.” 

“Fuck Latin. No one speaks fucking Latin.” Ronan’s gaze was burning into his, light eyes filled with fire, with ice. “What about the other colleges you applied to?” 

“They don’t matter.” 

“Like hell.” 

“This is the one I really wanted!” Adam said. He was trying to scream but his voice was coming out thin and reedy. “This is the one I’d been dreaming about, the one I’d been working towards… the one I… imagined myself being in and they don’t want me. 

Ronan watched him for a moment, lips pressed tightly together. He was no longer touching Adam, and for some reason, Adam missed his thumbs on his skin, rubbing circles into his wrist.

Finally, Ronan spoke, his voice low and rough. “Remember I punched your dad in the face?”

“Bit hard to forget,” Adam muttered. 

“What did you do then?” 

Adam turned away, not wanting to look at him anymore. Ronan’s fingers pulled at his wrist.

“I got kicked out,” Adam said, miserably.

“I was stupid, I didn’t think, and I got you kicked out of your home. You hadn’t planned that, did you? You were going to stay with that fucker till you graduated, weren’t you?” 

Adam nodded, blearily. 

“You lost your home, but you found another one. You miss the trailer?” 

Adam didn’t even need to think about it. He shook his head. 

The sun was pouring on Ronan’s face, bringing out his cheekbones, his bright eyes, his serious expression. “Man makes plans,” Ronan said. “And God laughs.” 

“He’s definitely laughing now,” Adam said. 

“You can’t plan out your life, Parrish. Shit happens.” When Adam didn’t respond, Ronan groaned. “Fucking hell man. You’re the most stubborn person I’ve ever met. You just gonna roll over and let the universe get away with dealing you a shit hand?” 

Ronan was right. He wasn’t. Nothing ever went right in Adam Parrish’s life, but he kept fighting anyway. He would go head to head with God himself to get what he wanted. 

Ronan stood and held out his hand. Adam grabbed it. Electric shocks passed through Adam’s fingertips and up his arm, leaving a streak of heat in their wake. Ronan hauled him to his feet, and Adam’s skin burned. For a moment, they stayed like that, looking at each other. The heat was racing up his neck now, settling in his gut. 

Ronan dropped his hand, and turned away. Adam turned away too, wondering what the hell had just happened. 

Then, he washed his face and wiped his nose and decided on a new dream. 

*  *  *

It was two and a half months till graduation when the invitations came. 

Helen Gansey, it seemed, had fallen in love with a man her family did not approve of. His name was Joshua Frederick Tiller, which was perhaps just a little better than Richard Campbell Gansey the Third. Joshua, Gansey said, was a liberal guy who came from new money and lived in New York City, all of which were things their parents disapproved of. However, the Ganseys valued reputation above all else and so their displeasure would never be publicly spoken aloud. At least, that’s what Ronan indicated in a far less tactful manner. If Adam remembered correctly, the phrase ‘up their asses’ had been used. 

When Adam got the invitation, he’d first thought it was another college acceptance. The two other colleges he’d applied to had both accepted him. He hadn’t remembered applying to a fourth, but what else could explain the thick, dark purple envelope with his name written across in glossy gold lettering? Perhaps due to his exhaustion in the days leading up to the application deadlines, he’d been in some sort fugue state and had applied to another college without realising it. 

He carefully opened the envelope with shaking fingers, and then let out a surprised laugh when he read the invite. 

He’d never even heard of this Joshua Tiller. As much as he liked Helen, he wasn’t going to waste his time on her wedding. Not when he had exams and college prep to do. Not when he’d have to miss school and waste money on flying to New York City. 

Gansey, however, wasn’t having it. He told Adam that Joshua had already paid for the flights and hotels. This irked Adam even more. Rich people were under the impression they could buy whatever they wanted. It wouldn’t have been a gift to Adam, it would have been an obligation. A debt. Joshua Tiller, whoever he was, would always have that over Adam. 

He didn’t voice this aloud, but Gansey knew him well enough. He told Adam that no one was paying. Not Blue, not Noah and not Ronan. 

Desperate, Adam pointed out that he didn’t even know what Joshua Tiller looked like. This, however, had only prompted Gansey to pull up several photos of the man on his phone: Helen and Joshua, posed in front of the Empire State Building. Helen and Joshua outside of Macy’s. Helen and Joshua kissing with the Statue of Liberty in the background. 

Ronan had made retching noises when he’d seen that last one. 

Adam inspected the pictures, carefully observing their expressions, their body language. He liked to study photos of obscenely rich people, to see what set them so apart from himself. They stood differently, he’d noticed, and their smiles seemed more plastic. 

Joshua was no different - he was strapping and tall and good-looking in a way that was so conventional, it was almost boring. 

It was, actually, quite boring. Adam wouldn’t have given him a second glance had he seen him on the street. He seemed like a run-of-the-mill rich person, the type Adam wouldn’t have expected Helen, who could fly helicopters and swore like a sailor, to fall for. Yet, she was marrying him.

It was her life. Her choices. It hardly concerned Adam. 

But why, then, was he invited? Just the thought of flying out to New York to spend three days amidst not one, but two atrociously rich families, gave Adam heart palpitations. He was sure Ronan would be even less excited to attend the wedding than he was. 

Unfortunately, neither of them were very good at saying no to Gansey. 

*  *  *

“Have they been together long?” Adam asked Gansey, as they pulled their suitcases down the polished marble floors of the airport. “You didn’t really mention him at all before we got the invites.” 

“Maybe six months or so? I only met him once, but I didn’t mention him because I didn’t know it was serious at the time.” Gansey looked deeply troubled, as though disappointed with himself for not realising the serious nature of his sister’s relationship sooner. 

“What was he like?” Adam asked. 

“He’s… interesting,” Gansey responded. “I’m happy that Helen’s happy,”

“That,” Ronan said, “means he’s a dickhead.” 

“Well at least you’ll have some company,” Blue said, at the same time as Adam sarcastically said, “Nice Ronan.” 

Ronan flashed them a smile, more teeth than humour, and pushed his driver’s license across the check-in counter to the TSA agent. The man inspected it for a long moment, then nodded. 

It was Adam’s first time in an airport, and so far, he was overwhelmed. Less in a this is terribly exciting way and more in a this is crowded and claustrophobic and a little bit horrible way. The place was loud and busy. Adam kept close to Ronan as they made their way through various lines and counters, through security checks and x-ray machines. It was such a long, tedious process, Adam almost forgot how nervous he was for the flight. 

A fact he only remembered once they were sitting in their seats in the large metal tube that was going to take them hurtling through the sky. 

“This is so cool,” Blue said, pulling out a magazine from the pocket in front of her. She was across the aisle from Adam, besides Gansey. It was her first time flying in an airplane too, but she didn’t seem as… paralysed by fear. In fact, she seemed almost giddy from excitement. She flapped her legs that hung over the seat, not quite reaching the ground. 

Adam made a noncommittal humming sound in response and pulled at the collar of his t-shirt. It felt too tight. God, the plane was hot. What if it got too hot? They couldn’t open the windows. Was the plane air conditioned? 

He was jealous, almost blindly so, of how at-ease Ronan looked. He was in the seat by the window, leaning back, head tipped upwards, looking like he’d done this a hundred times. 

“How long is the flight?” Adam asked him.  

“An hour and a half,” Ronan said. “It’s nothing. As soon as they’re done with their bullshit announcements, it’ll be time to land. Excuse me, this is Captain Dumbass speaking. Please wear your seatbelts and try not to die.” 

The word ‘die’ crawled its way into Adam like a flesh-eating parasite. He was going to be sick. He tightened the seatbelt around his waist till it was cutting into his skin. 

Ronan looked over at him. “We’re not going to die, Parrish.” 

“You don’t know that. Don’t you remember that airplane that just disappeared? Just up and vanished without a trace?” 

Ronan rolled his eyes. He slumped lower in his chair. “You can hold my hand if you’re scared.” 

“Is your hand going to protect me from dying in a fiery crash?” 

Ronan turned to him. Adam expected a grin, a smirk, but Ronan did nothing. He just looked at Adam, and Adam felt a rush of that thing wash over his skin, hot and prickly. He turned abruptly towards Blue and Gansey, across the aisle. 

He was about to call out to them, to say anything that would keep him from being overly conscious of the heat of Ronan’s eyes on him, when the intercom crackled and the pilot announced take-off. Adam’s stomach lurched. 

His hand curled around the armrest till his knuckles went white. 

Ronan glanced over at his hands as the plane started speeding down the runway.  Then, Adam’s heart stopped. The plane tilted upwards and rushed towards the clouds. 

A shock of warmth brought Adam back to his surroundings. Ronan had pressed the side of his own arm into Adam’s. Adam stared at it for a moment, but didn’t move away. It was… grounding, in a way. Something solid. Something familiar, when everything else seemed to be crowding in on him. It wasn’t natural to be in a giant metal tube that shot people up into unbreathable air. It just wasn’t. 

His ears were starting to hurt. 

“If you think this is scary,” Ronan said, his breath hot on his ear, “wait till they bring out the snacks. You wouldn’t think they’d be able to make pretzels repulsive, and yet…” 

Adam fought  the urge to roll his eyes, even as he had to swallow down his laugh. Somewhere in the back of the plane, a baby began to cry. 

Adam could relate. 

Ronan poked Adam in his side. “Damn Parrish, it’s your friend.” 

“Shut up, Lynch.” 

“He’s crying almost as much as you are.” 

Adam turned to glare at him. Ronan flashed him a smile, all teeth, like that of a shark. 

Which was when Adam realised that the seatbelt signs had been switched off. Everything was steady once more. He took a shaky breath. 

Ronan was still holding his gaze, and that heat, the one spreading on his skin and pooling in his gut was back. His skin felt uncomfortable, like it was too tight on his bones.  Ronan’s arm was still pressed against his own, the hair on his forearms light and ticklish. 

Adam swallowed thickly and pulled his hand away, into his lap. 

*  *  *

The hotel Helen had put them up in was a five star hotel in Soho and was perhaps the lushest thing Adam had ever seen. From the moment he walked into the lobby, his jaw hung slack. A giant golden chandelier hung over marble floors with thick carpets of dark blue and gold. Dark velvet curtains hung from every floor-to-ceiling window, and the air smelled like perfume. Adam sunk into a fat and unbelievably soft armchair as a man dressed like a butler handed him a bright purple drink and a warm towel. Adam sipped at the drink cautiously. It was some sort of juice, a mix of a berry and a flower Adam had never heard of. 

It was disgusting, but that was besides the point. 

The elevators were shiny and spotless, and Adam spent a moment studying them - the soundless way they travelled, the reader that you had to tap your room card against, the way it read the card and took you only to the specific floor you needed to be on. The engineering was wonderful. The hallway smelled like stale smoke and perfume, and Adam was so happy he was a bit dizzy. 

He hadn’t realised just how desperate he was to get out of Henrietta. 

Since Gansey and Blue had recently become an item, they opted to share a room. Noah, much to his chagrin, didn’t get a room because - as Ronan put it - the dead don’t sleep, they just annoy the shit out of people. 

This left Adam and Ronan to share the remaining hotel room. 

Adam stood in the doorway, gaping at the size of the room, as Ronan walked past him. He dumped his bag on the ground and immediately fell backwards onto one of the twin beds. Adam pushed his backpack neatly into the cupboard by the door, took off his shoes and then padded in after him. The room was much larger than Adam had expected. There was a flat screen TV across from the beds, a bar, two armchairs and a coffee table. The bathroom was even more impressive. There was an honest to God bathtub in there, with shampoo and bubblebath and lotion that smelled of sun-warmed flowers. Ronan watched as Adam opened every drawer, flipped every switch and read every pamphlet. Adam imagined what it was to be one of those people who got to stay in hotels like this every time they travelled. He then imagined what it would be like to travel often. To be comfortable on planes, to see the world without anxiety and terror, without worrying about money. 

God, what he would give to be a person like that. Adam fingered the soft curtains by the window and felt the familiar thick jealousy rise up in his chest. 

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” Ronan said, waving a piece of paper in the air. He was still lying on his back, heavy boots dangling off the edge of the bed. “She made a fucking schedule for us.” 

Adam snatched the paper from him and read it. Helen had printed a schedule on a thick creamy paper with gold lettering that included dates and times for each of the events. 

“High fucking tea at the Ritz Carlton?” Ronan said, sounding appalled. “I’d rather poke my eyes out with a dessert fork.” 

It did sound quite horrible, especially if Helen’s friends were anything like that of her very conservative parents. That said, the image of Ronan having tea and scones with Gansey’s grandmother as she berated him for having too many rips in his jeans made Adam snort. 

Ronan was still lying down on the bed, his gaze fixed at the ceiling. 

Adam had shared a room with Ronan before. Dozens of times. Ronan sometimes dreamed of bees and hornets, so he would show up unannounced in the middle of the night and fall asleep on the floor of Adam’s apartment. But this somehow felt… different. Adam couldn’t quite put his finger on it. The room had twin beds, they would be far apart, and yet… they would be close together, sleeping at the same height, the same level. For some reason, this thought made Adam’s cheeks get hot. 

“You and Gansey’s grandma would probably get along,” Adam said, turning away from him. “I’m sure she’d love to hear all about the giant raven you carry around with you.” 

“Chainsaw is a fucking delight,” Ronan said, waving a hand dismissively. 

“High tea isn’t till tomorrow. It’s just a party tonight,” Adam pointed out, but Ronan clearly wasn’t listening. 

“Jesus fuck. What do I even talk to those old fucks about? Oh… Great Uncle Gansey… tell me… how many times do you have to pee in a night?” 

“You are such an asshole,” Adam said, but laughter bubbled up out of him anyway.

Ronan shrugged. He was trying to keep his sullen expression in place, but he was clearly pleased with himself. Adam walked over to his suitcase and opened it. 

“You aren’t going to wear jeans to the thing tonight, are you?” Adam threw a glance at Ronan’s knees, visible through the giant holes in his jeans. 

Ronan rolled his eyes, but he sat up. “Come on, runt. Let’s play hookey. We could take a cab… or the subway, or whatever. Just go… somewhere. To Central fucking Park or something.” 

Adam scoffed. He pulled out a neatly pressed white shirt from the very top of his suitcase. 

“I’m serious,” Ronan said. “I don’t want to go for this.” 

“I thought you liked parties.” 

“Not these kind of parties.” 

Adam considered it. He was certainly tempted. He’d never been to New York before. He was dying to see the Museum of Natural History and the Brooklyn Bridge. He wanted to walk along the Hudson River, wanted to visit the towering libraries and the sprawling parks. New York’s roads were in a grid-system that fascinated Adam, and he’d long wondered about the layout of the subway system. 

And… well, there was something in Ronan’s expression when he’d asked. Something raw and… hopeful. Like he was holding his breath. Adam felt goosebumps on the back of his neck.

Adam didn’t like to hope. Not about this. Every time he hoped, he remembered that he was leaving for college in a few months. Every time he hoped, he remembered that he needed to work hard to deserve that college in the first place. And every time he hoped, he remembered that Ronan was complicated and confusing and gave him mixed signals, and that Adam probably didn’t deserve him anyway. 

“She called us here for her wedding,” Adam reminded him, pulling out a blazer from the depths of his luggage. “She’s paying for us to be here.” 

Ronan’s lip curled. “She’s not paying, Mr. Moneybags is. And I heard he shits gold so…” 

Adam let out a small laugh at that. “You don’t even know him.” 

“I’ll bet you fifty dollars he’s a pretentious dick with a stick up his ass.” 

Adam glanced at him from the corner of his eye and then shook his head. “We’re going, Lynch.” 

Ronan let out an exaggerated groan and put a pillow on his face. 

“I hate you,” he said, his voice muffled. 

“I thought you didn’t lie,” Adam replied. 

*  *  *

Adam had only one suit - the one he used for funerals. He had three white shirts that he wore to school and one nice pair of trousers that he’d found at Goodwill. Gansey had several extra ties and blazers, however, which he’d let Adam borrow. 

It was a lot, and still not enough. Adam glanced down at the ratty tennis shoes he was wearing. He’d scrubbed them, made sure they were pristine and spotless. He wasn’t sure what he was trying to do to them, really. Probably scrub them till they went from tennis shoes to designer dress shoes. 

They were white tennis shoes too, which just made things worse. White tennis shoes that did not, at all, match his white shirt, or his red tie, or his black trousers. Adam was horribly, intensely conscious of them as they walked into the ballroom of the hotel. 

Their hotel was situated on the New York High Line, an elevated park with a train track running through it. The windows boasted an utterly gorgeous view of the New York skyline. Adam lingered by them, until Ronan told him to hurry the fuck up so they could get the evening over with. 

The ballroom was already packed. A crowd of people in opulent clothes with too much jewellery and very tiny purses stood around holding champagne glasses and laughing too loudly. The air was thick with the heady smell of flowers. 

No one turned to look as Ronan and Adam walked in, but Adam caught a few strange looks as they made their way to Helen. He wondered if it was his outfit, or his shoes or just his face, which was tanned and freckled from working in the sun. 

Helen was dressed in a floor-length gown of a glittery dark blue. On her arms she wore long, tasseled gloves. As they got closer, Ronan leaned over to whisper that she looked like a melting candle, which made Adam choke on his own spit and start coughing, which only attracted more attention.

She did look beautiful though - sleek and elegant and powerful, like a marble sculpture in a museum. 

“Adam! Ronan!” Helen gushed, turning to the two of them. “My my… don’t you two clean up well?” 

The comment made Adam wince, even though he knew she was just being nice. Adam didn’t ‘clean up well.’ He was trailer trash in a suit. He bit his lip and hoped she wouldn’t notice his shoes. 

Helen’s eyes drifted over to Ronan. Adam couldn’t blame her. Ronan looked the very opposite of Adam. His suit was tight-fitting and dark blue, highlighting his dark eyelashes and his light blue eyes. In the elevator, Adam had even caught himself admiring the way the jacket hugged Ronan’s shoulders, just below where the curving head of his tattoo crept up the nape of his neck.

“This…” Helen said, pointing at the man beside her, “is Joshua.” 

The man flashed them a grin with his large, white teeth. He wore a white suit with silver accents. Adam idly wondered who had picked his outfit. He wouldn’t claim to know anything about fashion, but the outfit made him look ridiculous. Especially standing next to Helen. Blue would probably have called the look ‘Glam-cowboy.’ 

“Pleasure!” Joshua said. Adam thought he picked up on the faint strains of a British accent. “And you two are…?” 

“Richard’s best friends,” Helen said. “This is Ronan, Declan’s brother.” 

Ronan’s jaw went taut. He gave Joshua something akin to a sneer. Nothing was worse for Ronan than being Declan’s brother. 

Joshua nodded. “Ah!… And Declan is…?” 

“I’d introduced you to him before, remember? I’d met him while visiting Dick in Henrietta? He’d sold me that-”

“Oh yes! The resemblance is remarkable. Though of course, Declan has a bit more hair.” He laughed, a loud, awkward laugh. 

Ronan clenched his teeth harder. 

Helen smiled at Adam, and grabbed his shoulder. Adam had to keep from flinching. Force of habit. “And this, is Adam.” 

Simple Adam. No worthwhile family. No personal accomplishments. Nothing. 

Joshua’s eyes flicked down to Adam’s tennis shoes. They lingered there for a moment, and then met Adam’s gaze. He smiled again, bright and fake. Adam wondered if his embarrassment could burn him into ashes. 

God, what he would give to have shoes like everyone else. 

Joshua stuck out his hand. “Absolute pleasure.” 

His grip was so hard that Adam almost gasped with pain. He was grateful when Joshua let go. “Congratulations,” Adam said, and winced when his Henrietta accent slipped out, thick and unmistakable. 

“She’s a beauty, isn’t she?” Joshua said, smiling at Helen. He sounded like he was talking about a car, or a racehorse. Helen slapped him on his arm. He reached out and tucked a strand of her hair behind her ears. “Am I not the luckiest man in the world?” 

Adam gave a polite smile, but Ronan looked like he was trying hard not to make a face. 

“Gansey is with his… ah… girlfriend…” Helen said. She paused a moment, to gauge their reactions. Apparently, she thought at least one of them was harbouring desperate, wistful feelings for her younger brother. 

Joshua nodded to the back of the room. “There’s an open bar. We have the most expensive champagne from Italy.”

“If it’s from Italy, then it’s Prosecco,” Ronan said, bored. 

Joshua’s smile twitched, but his face remained in its amicable mask. Adam, however, turned to Ronan with a shocked expression, one which Ronan chose to ignore. 

“Well, of course… I knew that. I just didn’t know whether you knew, of course. Most people don’t know the difference. In fact, my father used to own a vineyard in France where they made champagne, you know. Best champagne in France. Absolutely exquisite. The locals used to come swarming at our door, begging us for a taste.” Joshua shook his head, as though remembering fond memories. 

Adam and Ronan shared a look, and then Adam turned away before he started to cough again. 

“We should find Gansey,” Adam said. He tried to keep his voice as low and polite as possible. “Thank you so much for inviting us, Helen. It’s very exciting to be here.” 

“Of course, Adam,” she said, sending him a wink. Despite himself, Adam felt warmth rush up his neck. 

Ronan turned abruptly on his heel. “I need a drink.”  

Adam followed him. He ordered a Coke and then waited as Ronan squinted at the line of coloured bottles behind the bar. 

“Man, you are such a suck up,” he said. He made his voice into a high-pitched mockery of Adam’s, complete with a Henrietta accent. “It’s so terribly exciting to be here Helen, thank you so gosh-darned much.” 

“Well, one of us had to be polite.” 

“I’ll have a Vodka-soda,” Ronan said to the bartender. 

“I thought you preferred beer.” Adam cocked his head to the side as he watched guests milling about the room. Across the room, a girl caught Adam’s eye and sent him a small smile. Adam lowered his gaze, but he couldn’t prevent the heat from reaching his cheeks. Ronan glanced at him from the corner of his eye and then back at the bartender. 

“Yeah well I’m going to need something strong if I’m going to put up with these fuckers all night.” He tugged at his tie. “Pity were aren’t being served the best champagne in the world.” 

“You’re the one who had to go and say it was Prosecco. How the fuck do you know that shit anyway?” 

Ronan spoke again in a high-pitched mocking voice, this time a British one. “I owned the best vineyard in Italy. All the ladies used to come banging at my door, like ‘Oui oui monsieur, petite fromage, s'il vous plaît.’” 

“Don’t be an idiot,” Adam said, but he pressed hands to his lips to keep from bursting into laughter. “And that’s French. 

“Yeah well I don’t know any Italian.” He pulled at the bands on his wrist. “I guess it’s his prerogative to be a giant prick, it is his own wedding.” 

“He does seem a bit pompous.” 

“A bit? You’d think he fucking pisses the champagne, the way he talks.” Ronan bit on the nail of his thumb. Then he gestured at the ballroom, the guests. “You like all this gaudy shit? This could have been yours.” 

“What do you mean?”

“When Helen came to Henrietta during Christmas she was practically drooling all over you. It was like watching a dog being fed.” 

“She was not flirting with me.” 

“You kidding?”

Adam shrugged, but he felt warmth grow within him. “It’s not my fault she finds me attractive.” 

“Well she’s the only one. Guess you missed your shot.” 

Adam made a face. As Ronan loosened his tie some more, he seemed to be trying to conjure up words, trying to phrase something in his mind. “Hey. Did yo-”

“Ronan fucking Lynch.” 

Ronan and Adam turned in unison towards the voice. It was a boy, taller than Adam, with unruly black hair and a languorous way about him. He was in a tight gray suit, which he wore disreputably, and had a smile like a chainsaw. His hands were covered in tattoos. 

“Shit,” Ronan said, eyes growing wide. “Kavinsky?” 

“Long time, huh Fuckweasel?” 

“Really long. Almost didn’t recognise you with the get up.” 

“Yeah, I know. I look like a fucking dildo. But dad’s threatening to cut me off so…” Adam wasn’t sure if he was imagining it, but he sensed something cold and ruthless in his eyes, in his voice. Or maybe he just couldn’t stand boys who only behaved when their daddies threatened to stop giving them money.  

Adam’s eyes flicked between the two boys, waiting for an introduction, but they didn’t seem to see him.

“You look good though,” Kavinsky said. “You got fucking ripped since I last saw you. Did your balls finally drop?” 

“You spend a lot of time thinking about my balls?” Ronan asked. 

Adam wondered, for a second, if he was hallucinating. Perhaps the overwhelming scent of perfume in the room had gone to his head. 

“I remember the last time I saw you,” Kavinsky said, and smirked. “Last day of school? We stole that goat from that fucking farmer and let it loose in the classroom. Mrs. Hannigan almost had a fucking fit.” 

“Mrs. Fucking Hannigan. I forgot about that old shit,” Ronan said, and he was grinning - actually grinning - the kind of grin that Adam always had to earn with whispered snarky comments and digs about Gansey’s clothes. 

Something in Adam’s stomach twisted. 

“When she ran out of the classroom, I’m pretty sure her wig fell off.” Kavinsky was still talking, still laughing, and now Ronan was joining him.

Ronan was laughing. He didn’t laugh around most people - he reserved that for Matthew, or occasionally Noah and Gansey and Adam and Blue. But not anyone else. Never anyone else. Adam sucked his bottom lip into his mouth and bit down hard. 

It was only then that Kavinsky seemed to notice him. He jerked his head in Adam’s direction. “Who’s this?” 

Adam spoke through clenched teeth. “This is Adam.” 

There was a thud as the bartender put their glasses down on the counter. Adam swiped up his Coke, glad for something to do instead of standing awkwardly as Kavinsky and Ronan reminisced about their hilarious goat adventures from the good old days. 

“He goes to Aglionby now,” Ronan said.

Adam noticed that Ronan hadn’t called him his friend. He knew it must have been a simple mistake, a casual slip-up, but it made something flare up in his chest anyway. He took a long sip of the cold Coke and it fizzled through him. 

He felt sick. 

“Parrish…,” Ronan continued, “Kavinsky used to be in Aglionby, till he… transferred.”

“Wasn’t a transfer,” Kavinsky said. “I went to rehab.” He spread his hands wide. “Meth is a hard habit to kick.” 

“You back, then?” Ronan asked. 

“For now,” Kavinsky grinned, showing off a set of crooked teeth. He pulled a small ziplock from his pocket and waved it. Inside it, coloured tablets jostled against each other. “You down?” 

“Didn’t you just come from rehab?” Adam asked. 

Kavinsky turned to Adam with a sharp look in his eyes. It was the look of a sadist, of a man who took a sharp pleasure in humiliation. “Don’t remember asking you.” 

Kavinsky gave him an unimpressed once over. Adam felt his hackles rising.

“Nice shoes,” Kavinsky said. “Got them from the trash outside?” 

There was a new burning sensation in Adam’s gut now, replacing the older, more familiar one. The heat raced through his veins, made his jaw ache from the effort of clenching his teeth. 

“Or,” Kavinsky continued, eyes lighting up. “Are you from the trash outside?” 

He could tell. They could always tell. Just like Adam could tell from the way that rich people stood and walked, everyone here could tell he was trash. 

“Piss off, Kavinsky,” Ronan said, and his voice was so cold, that Adam turned to him in surprise. 

Kavinsky only grinned. He slapped Adam on the back. Adam winced. “I was just kidding, man. Don’t get your panties in a twist.” He turned back to Ronan. “Where’s Dick? You still sucking him off?” 

Ronan rolled his eyes. “He’s around.” 

“I thought he’d have fucked you dry by this point.” 

It occurred to Adam, at that very moment, that he didn’t hate anyone the way he hated Kavinsky. 

“Come on, Lynch. Let’s blow this party,” Kavinsky said. He was watching Ronan like a ravenous vulture, eager to tear into him. “We’ll buy some beers.” Kavinsky hooked his fingers through one of the belt loops in Ronan’s trousers, and Adam’s nails bit into the skin of his palm. 

What was Adam doing? He was supposed to be networking, meeting impressive people with impressive jobs, not sitting here, watching Ronan and his… old friend… flirting or whatever the hell it was they were doing. But the more Adam tried to will himself to move, the more he found himself cemented in place. It was like watching a particularly gory scene in a TV show. It made his stomach roil, and yet he couldn’t look away. He was fixated on Kavinsky’s long fingers, entangling themselves in Ronan’s trouser loops. 

“Come on, man,” Kavinsky said. “You know you want to bail as much as I do.” 

There it was. The moment of truth. Ronan threw Adam a quick, guilty look. Adam’s stomach sank. 

“It’s fine. I’m going to the bathroom,” Adam muttered, pushing off the bar. He didn’t wait for a response. 

Ronan’s eyes followed him as he made his way across the room. Adam didn’t look, but he felt his gaze on the back of his neck, burning into his skin. 

*  *  *

Ever since Ronan had come out to them, Adam had looked for any signs of changed behaviour. 

Ronan knew they didn’t care who he loved. They all knew it changed nothing. Yet, Adam was surprised to find that there was no change in Ronan. None at all. He ignored Gansey’s musings about attractive men in movies. He ignored Blue’s persistent entreatments to tell them who he had a crush on. He ignored Noah’s games of fuck, marry, kill.

It was hard to change behaviour overnight, of course, and Adam knew what it was to trap something inside for so long that when the time came, it was hard to let it go free. 

But Ronan never even looked at guys. His gaze never lingered on the biceps and bare necks of strangers, the way Adam’s gaze sometimes did. He didn’t seem to appreciate the physicality of their new Language Arts teacher - his lanky, arrogant form - or the ruffled curls of the new waiter at Nino’s. There were only two times Adam ever saw Ronan staring at men, and it turned out that both times Ronan was only admiring their tattoos. 

Adam sometimes wondered what would happen if one of the tattooed men came up to Ronan and handed him a napkin with a phone number scribbled on it. 

Adam tried not to think about it. He was going to college soon. And in order to keep up in college, he was going to have to ace his classes. And in order to do that, he needed to study and not think about Ronan, and his breathy laugh, and the way he looked at Matthew with so much love in his eyes, and that loose smile he sometimes wore when he looked at Adam. 

Still, it was hard. Especially since Kavinsky wasn’t the first person to express interest in Ronan. 

Adam had been heading to his after-school Phys Ed class when a guy had stopped him in the hallway. Adam had been surprised, especially since he couldn’t place the boy. Truth be told, didn’t bother with most of the Aglionby crowd. They looked down on him, so he looked down on them. It was a good arrangement. It had worked out so far. 

“Parrish,” the boy said, easily. He was tall, with straw-coloured hair. He had green eyes and when he smiled, he revealed deep dimples on both cheeks. “Where are you off to?” 

Adam was instantly wary. Was this an attempt at bullying? Because he did not have time for it. 

“Phys Ed,” Adam said, tersely. “I’m going to be late.” 

“I’ll walk with you,” the boy offered, and before Adam could protest, started down the hall. Annoyed, Adam followed, quickening his pace so he was walking besides the boy. 

“You’re friends with Ronan Lynch, right?” the boy asked, glancing at Adam from the corner of his eye. 

Adam frowned. Of all the things he expected the boy to talk about, Ronan wasn’t one of them. 

He remembered the boy’s name, suddenly. Liam Anderson. He was in the grade below them. He’d won a silver medal for the school’s track team. He’d also performed with his band at the end-of-the-year carnival. He’d played electric guitar and had a deep baritone singing voice.  

“Is he seeing anyone?” Liam asked. 

Adam stopped in his tracks, blinking. “What?” he asked, stupidly.

“It’s just… a little birdy told me that he played for our team.” Liam was watching him now, his face impassive. 

“Oh,” Adam said. He wasn’t sure what to say. How did Liam know about him? And who had told him about Ronan? Did Ronan want the boys at Aglionby to know about him? It wasn’t Adam’s place to tell them, even if Ronan didn’t care. He tried to think of a way to tell Liam that Ronan's sexuality didn’t concern him, but the words you’re not really Ronan’s type were threatening to come out of his lips instead. So he said nothing. 

“It’s not just a physical thing, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Liam said. A smirk played on his lips. “Unless that’s what he wants.” 

That was the opposite of what Adam was worried about. He felt the words crawling up his throat - Dismissals. Arguments. Idiotic reasons for why Liam and Ronan would never work out. 

But none of them were real excuses. The rational part of Adam’s brain knew it. Knew why the first response to Liam’s query was the green-eyed monster in Adam’s chest ripping his way out of skin and bone. He looked at the devilish smirk on Liam's lips and tried to picture Ronan kissing them. The thought tore through him, painful, like he had picked off an old scab to create a brand new wound that was bleeding all over the floor. 

In Adam’s hand, his textbook stared back at him. Exams, it reminded him. He thought against of the letter, of the words ‘regrettably’ and ‘unfortunately,’ of the college logo on the upper corner of the envelope.  

“He’s not seeing anyone,” Adam said, even though the words were trying to cling to his tongue. 

Liam grinned, his dimples prominent against his tanned cheeks. “Excellent." 

The words made Adam sick to his stomach. 

*  *  *

Adam was coming out of the bathroom when he was tackled by a mass of golden curls. 

“Adam!” Matthew said, joyfully. He was shorter than Adam, but built like a bear, and he knocked the breath right out of him. 

“Hey Matthew,” he said, wheezing. He patted the tops of his curls. Matthew leaned back to grin at Adam, his light blue eyes shining with their customary joy. 

Declan stood beside Matthew, as sharp as ever, but he wasn’t looking at Adam. Instead, his eyes were fixed on Ronan, who was still at the bar. 

“Is that Joseph Kavinsky?” Declan asked, disbelief lacing his voice. 

“You know him?” Adam asked. 

“Know him? When he went off to juvie or rehab or wherever the hell they took him, I threw a goddamn party.” 

“No you didn’t,” Matthew said. “You said, good riddance and then you and Ronan got into a fight.” 

Adam found that he still couldn’t breathe, even though Matthew had let go of him. 

“It’s just a figure of speech,” Declan said, scowling at Matthew. Matthew shrugged. 

They looked so much like Ronan, the two other Lynch brothers. They had the same eyes, the same lips, the same crooked smile. He wondered what it would have been like to have his own brothers, to have someone who looked like him and looked out for him. To have someone who knew him and loved him. 

“Were Ronan and him… close, back then?” Adam asked. 

Declan must have heard the insinuation in his voice, because he turned to Adam, startled. There was a moment of horrified doubt on his face, but it disappeared quickly. Declan’s mask slotted neatly back into place. 

“I don’t think it was like that,” Declan said. “At least… I hope not. He’s an asshole but he deserves better than a shithead like Kavinsky.” 

“But they were friends?” Adam pressed. 

“Not like you guys are,” Matthew said, looking innocently at Adam. 

Adam wondered what he meant by that and felt his ears growing hot. 

“Matthew,” Declan said, shoving him, “go get me some of that chicken stuff.” 

Matthew skipped off, and for a moment, Declan just watched as his little brother  weaved his way through the crowds towards the waiter carrying a tray of spiced chicken appetisers. 

Adam could practically see Declan flipping thoughts over in his mind, chewing on his words. When he spoke, his voice was deeper than usual. “Ronan isn’t… bad. Like… he’s not a bad kid.” 

Adam had to stifle the laughter that came from Declan referring to Ronan as a kid when he was only a year older than them. Declan noticed, but he misunderstood Adam’s mirth. 

“It’s true, he’s not. But with Kavinsky…” Declan ran his hand through his dark curls and sighed. “Ronan thinks he’s a punk. He managed to get himself into all kinds of trouble with that freak. Got arrested a few times, racing Kavinsky down the streets of Henrietta with no headlights on. Used to get drunk and high and not come home all night. Once we…” Declan seemed to choke on his words. 

Now, it was Adam’s turn to be startled. He’d never seen Declan lose composure before. 

“He what?” 

Declan shook his head, bringing his champagne to his lips. 

“Is this about the…,” Adam swallowed. “Is this about the night in the church?” 

Declan glanced at him warily, then shook his head. “You’re a creepily clever little fuck, Parrish. You know that?” 

Adam wasn’t sure if that was meant to be a compliment or not.

Declan sighed again. “I know he thinks I don’t care about him. I know you don’t think I do either. I’m sure he tells you a lot of shit about me. I’ve seen the cold look Gansey gives me when I go to Monmouth. But I… I worry about him. Constantly. My family already feels like it’s been cut in half. If I lose him too… then what are we? We’re just fragments.” 

He fingered the long stem of the glass. Adam watched as Declan’s gaze moved to Matthew, who was talking happily to an elderly woman with a cane. 

“There are a lot of things to be afraid of when you’re in my line of work. But that night… that night was the most afraid I’d ever been in my life. I was driving to the Barns when I got the call. When I heard about his wrists… how he’d cut them… I…” Declan’s voice cracked. He gripped the glass so tightly, Adam worried it was going to break. “He was out with Kavinsky that night. When I got to the hospital he was passed out. The doctors told me he was high. Completely out of his fucking mind. There were so many fucking drugs in his system, he couldn’t defend himself against-” Declan inhaled sharply. He didn’t have to complete his sentence. Adam knew what he was referring to.

The night horrors. 

“Fuck it,” Declan said, and downed his glass of champagne. 

“What happened after that?” Adam asked. 

“After that,” Declan said, wiping his mouth with his sleeve, “I got Kavinsky sent far, far away from Ronan.”  

Adam turned to look for Ronan again, but he was gone. 

*  *  *

The night wore on, and the smell of alcohol in the room got thicker. By midnight, Gansey, Noah and Blue were completely drunk. Gansey was getting emotional - he had already hugged Adam three times, and told Blue he loved her at least seven times. Blue was a sleepy drunk, half asleep on one of the tables. Noah, for his part, seemed to find everything amusing. Adam wasn’t actually sure whether he actually could get drunk or whether he was acting, but by that point he didn’t care to find out. 

Ronan and Kavinsky still weren’t back.

Adam needed some air. 

He walked out of the ballroom and then walked all the way down to the lobby. He only hesitated for a moment before marching straight out of the front door. 

He’d networked a little at the party. There were mostly people who worked in politics or people with eccentric jobs, like fashion and art. But he hadn’t sold himself, hadn’t pushed. Why hadn’t he tried harder? Why had he been instead so consumed by what Ronan was up to with Kavinsky? 

No, that was a dumb question. He knew why he’d been consumed. He just hadn’t realised it had gotten that bad. 

The night air was cool on his face. He wandered down the pavements, tripping on uneven stones because he was too busy looking up at the skyscrapers. The city was full of lights. Large billboards towered over him, giant, beautiful faces smiling down. Neon lights flashed at him from the tops of shops and bars. 

What were Ronan and Kavinsky even doing? Surely they couldn’t have been stealing goats again. 

On one street corner, a guy was throwing up into a trashcan. On another, a couple was making out on a bench outside a McDonalds. Adam kept walking. 

He walked past buildings under construction and past smelly subway stations. He walked past streets thick with the smell of weed and the sound of girls screaming with drunken joy.  

Why hadn’t Ronan mentioned this Kavinsky before anyway? If they were so close? Was it possible that Declan sending Kavinsky away was what caused the rift between the brothers? 

Adam was so tired. 

In the distance, he could see the Empire State Building, lit up with red and blue and white. Adam stood there for a moment, watching it. Everything was enormous around him. 

He felt so small. So… inconsequential. The weight of all his problems felt so heavy on his shoulders, and yet what was he? Just one of a billion human beings. Nothing in the vastness of the universe. He closed his eyes and felt the wind whip at him. 

What the hell was he waiting for? He spent so much time thinking of the future, that he realised he never got to stay in the present. He never got to have moments like this, just standing on the street, the wind in his hair and the city alive around him. 

Ronan was right. He spent so much time thinking of the future, when it could all change in a moment. A heartbeat. 

He heard his own heart beat in his ears, thudding rhythmically against his ribs. 

Thud. Thud. Thud. 

Unexpectedly, absurdly, a memory came to him. 

Tck-tck-tck. 

Adam had woken up, disoriented and confused, covered in a dewy sweat. Besides him, his watch ticked soundly. He remembered bits of his dreams. In it, a woman was walking towards him in high heels, her shoes making a clacking sound against the floorboards of his room. 

But he was awake and the clicking sound remained. 

He’d thought it had been from his watch at first. He’d stuffed it under his pillow but the ticking sound was still there. He sat up in bed, looking around the room. 

“Ronan?” he called out. There was no answer. 

Slowly, Adam had gotten off the bed and padded over to the mattress on the floor where Ronan had fallen asleep the night before. The blanket had been tossed aside. The bed was cold. And the pillow case… 

Adam inhaled sharply through his nose. The pillowcase had been ripped apart. Not rips like the ones Chainsaw made when she perched on something or even fiddled with it. No, this was definitely not her handiwork. White feathers had been strewn across the floor. Adam ran his fingers over the torn, ragged cloth. 

Then he heard it again. 

Tck-tck-tck.

It was coming from the bathroom. Adam padded over, cautiously. Grabbing the crowbar he’d shoved under his dresser, he walked closer and put his fingertips on the door. Then, he reached for the handle. 

“Adam!” 

He turned on his heel as the front door banged open and Ronan appeared. “The fuck are you doing!? Get back from there!” 

“What’s in there?” Adam demanded. He was more alarmed than scared, at that moment, despite the scratches on Ronan’s arms, the tennis racket in his hand. 

“Stay back,” Ronan said, and there was something desperate in his voice, something pleading. He’d come up behind Adam, so close Adam could feel his breath on his neck. 

Ronan didn’t plead. Something was really, really wrong. 

“What’s in there?” Adam asked again. “Tell me!” 

“I don’t know what it is,” Ronan said, and his voice was raw and raspy. Blood trickled steadily down one of his arms. “But it’s dangerous.” 

Adam shook his head, alarmed. “And you thought a tennis racket was an effective weapon?” 

“I didn’t exactly have anything else! This was in my car, so I… why the fuck do you just have a crowbar lying around?!” 

“Sometimes I see dead people and sometimes my dad who talks with his fists likes to drop by. What do you want me to tell you?” Adam shot back. 

Adam caught himself, alarmed. He never spoke about his abuse, not out loud. Not like this. It was something to be kept locked inside him, so deep no one could touch it. Ronan looked equally shocked, his mouth hanging open very slightly. 

“What’s in there?” Adam agitatedly, not wanting to think about what he’d just said. 

Ronan took a ragged breath. “The… thing. The thing… from the church.” 

The hair on Adam’s arms stood on end. “The thing that tried to kill you!? What… I mean… where did it come from?” 

Ronan looked away, and then back at Adam. He tapped his temples. “Here.” 

Adam’s tongue felt dry, like paper. 

Until then, he’d always been jealous of Ronan’s abilities. Until that moment, with the two of them standing outside his bathroom door, he hadn’t considered how frightening the power was, how hideous it must have been for Ronan to bring his nightmares out into the real world, only to have them try to drag him into another world all together. 

It hadn’t been the time to talk about it then. He’d swallowed and held his crowbar tight in his hands. “Well you’re not going to be able to do jack shit with just a tennis racket.” 

Ronan’s face didn’t change, but Adam could see the emotions swirling in his face- fear, relief, anger, determination. There was something else too. Something Adam couldn’t place, or perhaps hadn’t wanted to. 

Ronan had given him one sharp nod. 

“Ready?” he’d asked, a hand on the door. 

“Ready,” Adam had said. 

Adam opened his eyes, and looked again at the Empire State Building. In a sense, he thought, turning back towards the hotel, it really had always been him and Ronan against the world. 

*  *  *

When Ronan found him, Adam was sitting on the stairs leading up to the front entrance of the hotel. 

“Why are the fuck are you out here?” Ronan asked, surprised. He dropped two large plastic bags by Adam’s feet. One of them clinked. If Adam had to guess, he’d say it was filled with bottles of booze. 

“You have the room key,” Adam reminded him. He was shivering now. It had been hot all morning but for some reason the wind had picked up around sunset. He was sure it had something to do with the way the buildings were arranged in New York. The grid system, perhaps, or the height of the buildings. The wind seemed to be tunnelling through the streets, right at him. 

Ronan shrugged off his jacket and threw it at him. “You could have gone to the lobby and asked for another one, genius. You aren’t even wearing a damn coat.” 

Adam pulled on the jacket. It was warm and smelled like… well, it smelled like Ronan. “What were you and Kavsinky doing?” 

Ronan made a noncommittal gesture. “Just hanging out.” 

Adam’s eyebrows rose. “What does that mean?”  

“Fuck man. You sound like Declan.” 

It was a taunt meant to shut him up, but Adam was never one to back down from a challenge. “Declan had some stories about Kavinsky.” 

Ronan groaned, but sat down on the steps beside Adam. “Declan is a fucking liar. We just went out drinking and then Kavinsky wanted to do a few laps around the city.” 

“Were the few laps before or after the drinking?” 

Ronan said nothing, which was saying enough. 

“What the hell, Ronan?” Adam asked. He was more disbelieving than angry. How could Ronan consistently be so reckless? “Are you trying to get yourself killed?” 

“I couldn’t spend a second longer with those pricks at the party, alright? And I didn’t want to deal with Declan.” 

“Why? Cause he worries about you?” 

“What? Are you on his side now?” 

“I’m not on anyone’s side. I just don’t think drinking and driving is the best way to rebel against your brother. Especially with a guy like Kavinsky.”  

Ronan stood up. His jaw was tight. He began pacing the steps in front of Adam. “You don’t even fucking know him, Parrish.” 

“No. I don’t.” 

“What’s your damn problem anyway?” 

“What’s yours? Why are you acting like an idiot?” Adam demanded. “Was he an ex-boyfriend, or something?” 

“What?” Ronan turned to him. “Why the fuck-?” 

“Then why is it that you only do dangerous shit when you’re with him?” 

“I don’t only do dangerous shit when I’m with him.” 

“Well you definitely don’t do it with me.” 

“Because I don’t want to put you in danger!”

The words hung in the air, clear and unmistakable. Adam’s next words dropped from his lips and he stared dumbly at Ronan, unable to remember for the life of him what he was going to say. In his chest, his heart picked up speed. 

Ronan shook his head quickly. He pulled out the room key from his pocket, threw it at Adam and then snatched up his bags and began walking up the stairs. Adam almost tripped on his own feet in his haste to follow him.

Ronan took large strides across the lobby, not looking back. It was only when he reached the elevator when Adam caught up with him. 

The elevator ride up to their floor was thick and silent. Once inside their room, Ronan began pulling off his boots and flinging them across the floor. Their thumps against the plush carpet put a crack in the silence, and Adam was glad for it. 

“I don’t need your protection,” Adam said, softly. 

“I’m not fucking protecting you.” 

“Well then how about you try protecting yourself for a change?”  

“Just fuck out of my business, Parrish. You wanted to stay at that party, licking the boots of all those rich fucks.” 

The anger hit him instantly, white and intense. Adam ground his teeth. “Go to hell.” 

He shouldered past Ronan and walked over to his suitcase. Just when he thought he was getting somewhere with Ronan, when he was getting close to finally understanding what went on in that unfathomable brain of his, Ronan had to go be a giant dick. As usual. Adam squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block out everything, including his own thoughts. 

He heard Ronan pad across the room. 

“Parrish.” 

Adam said nothing. 

“Parrish.” He said again. Adam felt something sharp poke into his back. He swatted it away. 

“Fuck off,” he said, slapping in the general direction of Ronan. 

“I know Kavinsky was a dick to you today.” 

“Yeah well he wasn’t the only one.”

“Shit man, I didn’t mean it. You’re not a bootlicker.” 

Adam said nothing. He yanked out his ratty pajama shirt from the recesses of his bag and then began unbuttoning the shirt he was wearing. 

“Parrish.” 

“What?” 

“Look… Kavinsky… he’s a dreamer too, alright? And he knows how to control it. That’s why I hang out with him. I know he’s a piece of shit, but he said he would teach me what he knows. And learning from him comes with a price, right?” When Adam didn’t respond, Ronan took a shaky breath and continued. “When he got sent away… I didn’t have anyone else who got it. Who… understood what it was like, to have this… thing about you that you couldn’t control. No one really understood. Not until… well, not until you, really.” 

Adam hands froze on the buttons of his shirt, but he didn’t turn around, didn’t look at Ronan. 

“What are you saying?” 

“Me and him… when we were friends… I was an idiot. Gansey warned me about him, and Declan warned me about him… and I didn’t listen. Cause I was stupid. But… I get it now, alright?” He exhaled sharply. “He wanted to race. I was drunk, so I said no. He got pissed and stormed off, so I wandered around alone, ok? That’s the truth.” 

Adam turning around so fast, he sent Ronan reeling backwards. “Then why the fuck did you lie?” 

“I didn’t lie! I just didn’t say anything. Why did you assume I did something stupid?!” 

“Cause you’re always doing something stupid.” 

Ronan was watching him, eyes fixed on him in that disconcerting way. Surprisingly, it was Ronan who eventually broke eye contact, looking away, flustered. When he spoke again, his voice sounded different. “Whatever man. You’re just jealous that I was free while you were stuck in a room with a bunch of dickheads.” 

Of course Adam was jealous. He was jealous of everything. He was jealous of how comfortable Ronan was in airplanes. He was jealous of Monmouth and how at home Gansey looked there. He was jealous that Ronan had brothers who loved him, that Gansey had a sister who cared enough to pay for all his friends to come to her wedding, that Noah had a mother who wept for him, that Blue had a whole group of women who wanted her. He was jealous of people with nice shoes and people with family names and people who got accepted to the colleges they wanted to get into. 

Ronan was looking at him cautiously now, like he was standing near a bull about to charge.

“What… you weren’t actually jealous, were you?” 

“No,” Adam said, quickly. 

“Now who’s lying?” 

Adam let out an annoyed exhale. “I thought you guys were… I don’t know.” He rubbed the back of his neck, suddenly embarrassed.  

For a moment, Ronan stared blankly back at him. It seemed like hours had passed when his eyes rounded into an expression of pure horror. “Oh fuck no. Me and Kavinsky?” 

“He was hitting on you,” Adam pointed out. 

“Yeah but…” Ronan’s eyes were wild. “There’s nothing. Really. Never. I’d never even thought about it.” 

Adam snorted at this. “Right.” 

“It’s true.” 

“Right.” 

“I’m serious.” 

Adam watched him. His expression looked so raw, so earnest, that Adam had to choke out his next words. “Gansey then?” 

“Don’t be stupid.” 

Adam chewed on his bottom lip. What was stupid was the way they were dancing around each other. The way they kept taking two steps back every time they took one step forward. 

“Why did you tell us you were gay, Ronan?” 

“The fuck do you mean?” 

“Why not… before? I mean… you’ve probably known for ages, right?” 

Ronan wasn’t looking at him. They were standing close enough for Adam to hear his breath rattling around in his chest. “I didn’t really know before.”

“Before what?”  

Ronan swallowed thickly. “It’s only ever been you.” 

It was not what Adam was expecting to hear. For a moment, there was nothing but the sound of his heartbeat roaring in his ears. “That’s not possible.” 

“Well it fucking is.” 

“I can’t have been the only one. I mean… what about Liam!?” He sounded manic even to himself. 

Liam?” Ronan scoffed. “Don’t be fucking gross.” 

“He’s not gross.”

“If you like him so much, then why don’t you date him?” Ronan grumbled. He sounded petulant, like a child.

There was silence again. Brain-numbing, breath-halting silence. Adam bit his lip. “I don’t get it.”

“I know it doesn’t make sense,” Ronan said. “But it’s true.” 

Adam took a step closer. “Explain it to me then.” 

“I…,” Ronan inhaled sharply, then let his breath out through his teeth, like a smoker. “You know how Declan cheats, and I hate it? It’s not that… I’m morally against it. Like… cause of the church, or whatever. It’s… because I never understood how Declan could cheat. Like, it doesn’t make sense to me. Why would you want to be with someone you don’t know? How could you be with someone you don’t know?” 

“Well… It’s sort of… biological, isn’t it?” Adam asked. “The attraction.” 

Ronan was looking at his feet, bare on the marble floor. “Yeah… I never got that. That… attraction thing. It just seemed like… if you love someone, you’d only want them. That’s it.” He tugged at the bands on his wrist. “I’ve never looked at a stranger and… wanted them.” 

“So… you have to know them?” Adam asked. He took another step towards Ronan, but Ronan was still looking away from him. 

“Yeah… but like… Gansey was always like a brother to me, right? So… the thought of dating him was just… weird. And apart from him… it was like… I wasn’t that close to anyone else. I didn’t really know them. I never… felt that… connection with anyone. So I didn’t…. get it. What drove people to… kiss other people. To kiss strangers. To want to touch someone, even.” 

He turned away from Adam, bringing his bands to his lips. 

“It wasn’t like I saw you and it was… fucking… love at first sight, or some cheesy shit like that, right? It happened… at some point. Slowly. It just sort of crept up on me. I didn’t even realise it at first. We were friends, right? We were close. I didn’t… think it was anything until you started showing up in my dreams.” 

“You dream about me?” Adam asked, stupidly. 

Ronan looked embarrassed, and Adam felt a giddy thrill rush through him. Pure unadulterated happiness. 

“Then?” Adam asked. They were so close now, that Adam could see Ronan’s dark eyelashes brushing against his cheekbones. 

“Then what?” Ronan grumbled. 

Adam grinned at him, and Ronan’s neck got red. He looked away. 

“So I guess other people do find me attractive,” Adam said. 

“Fuck off, Parrish.” 

“Have you been… what’s that thing you said?… drooling over me like a dog being fed?” 

Ronan was visibly flustered now, and Adam was thriving in it. “Gross,” Ronan muttered. He ducked his head and turned on his heel to walk away, but Adam grabbed him, his fingers curling around his wrist. Ronan turned back to look at him. 

Adam had always thought he was unknowable, but Ronan knew him anyway. He knew all the rotten parts of Adam - his jealousy, his obsession with the future, his stubbornness - and he still wanted him. 

But what did Adam want? 

Adam wanted a hundred different things. But what he wanted right now… what he had wanted for months… was Ronan. 

Adam tugged at his wrist, pulling him closer, until his breath was ghosting Ronan’s cheek. 

Ronan was the one who eventually closed the gap between their lips. 

*  *  *

Adam woke up the next morning to something heavy being thrown on him. He jerked awake, and then fell back, groaning when he saw a plastic bag lying beside him on the bed. 

“You asshole,” he grumbled at Ronan, throwing a throw pillow in his direction. Ronan dodged the flying pillow easily. He wore the shit eating grin of someone who’d spent half the night breathless with exhilaration.  

Adam propped himself up on his elbows. The ghost of Ronan’s kisses from the night before still wound their way around his neck and left a burning trail down his chest. He could taste him on his lips, feel his rough fingers on his ribs. 

Adam reached over and looked inside the plastic bag, then he looked up at Ronan. “What the hell, Lynch?” 

“I bought those yesterday. When I was wandering around. Oh, don’t give me that look. I bought them for myself! They don’t fit.” 

Adam pulled the box from the bag and opened it to find a pair of dark black dress shoes, in his exact size. “You didn’t try them on at the store?” Adam asked, sardonically. “Just decided to buy these shoes in my exact size?” 

Ronan shrugged, the shrug of a tried-and-true asshole. “Nah. I was drunk. I was just spending money. And I don’t know what the fuck your size is. I’m not a fucking stalker.” 

Adam rolled his eyes. Ronan hopped onto the bed beside him. There was suddenly some sort of apprehension in his eyes. The shit eating grin had vanished, and something more tentative, more cautious had taken its place. 

“Well?” Ronan asked. 

Adam wasn’t sure whether he was asking about the shoes, or about them. For someone who knew Adam so well, he could be really clueless. 

“I hate you,” Adam said, because he knew that Ronan had noticed his discomfort with his shoes, because he knew that Ronan cared about how he felt, because he knew Ronan knew how to convince him to keep the shoes.  

Because he knew that he didn’t really hate him at all. 

Ronan was a man of action, not of words. It would take something more to convince him that Adam wasn’t playing with his feelings. Slowly, gently, Adam leaned forward and kissed him. A shiver ran through him, all the way to the tips of his toes. His stomach flipped over as Ronan kissed him back, his lips warm and gentle.

“Let’s play hookey,” Adam said, his breath on Ronan’s skin. “You’re the only ‘rich dickhead’ I want to be with today.” 

“You’re already halfway to becoming one yourself,” Ronan said. 

Adam hit him with another pillow, but he was laughing, bright and uncontrolled. He couldn't remember anymore why he'd ever been jealous of anyone else. 

THE END