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Ronan Lynch was a fucking idiot.

Ronan Lynch almost had everything he had ever wanted without even realizing it, and then he fucked it all up.

Ronan Lynch could have been Adam Parrish’s boyfriend, and all he had to do was keep his fucking mouth shut.

But that’s not where their story starts.

***

Ronan Lynch remembered the first time he had seen Adam Parrish with perfect clarity. At the time, Ronan hadn’t realized that the beautiful, dusty boy rolling his eyes at Tad Carruthers was Adam Parrish; but he remembered his movements all the same.

Tad, the poor, oblivious fucker, was talking animatedly to the sandy-haired boy, who, very obviously to everyone else in the room, did not care about a single word leaving Tad’s mouth. The guy languidly sipped at his drink, nodding along, dead-eyed, to whatever it was that Tad was saying.

Ronan had narrowly avoided this fate with an aggressive fuck off, Carruthers as Tad cheerily greeted Ronan when he walked into the party twenty minutes ago. With a flash of fear in his eyes, Tad had turned on one heel, and scurried away, leaving Ronan find alcohol and/or Gansey in peace.

So, while he did feel bad that this kid was stuck listening to Tad Carruthers wax poetic about the great state of New Jersey (Tad’s words, not Ronan’s), Ronan took advantage of the opportunity to stare openly at the man that, in less than six minutes, he would learn to be Adam Parrish, Gansey’s midget of a girlfriend’s best friend.

Ronan, despite going to Parsons, was a regular at these upper-crust Columbia parties because he was friends with Richard Campbell Gansey III. Gansey was a legend (as much as you could be a legend when you were a walking stereotype of straight/white/upper-class/able-bodied privilege) amongst these parts. He was always being asked his opinion of some current event or another, or being approached by wannabe career politicians to inquire after his connections.

(Adam, a few months later, and a little bit tipsy, had whispered, it’s like he’s the romantic interest in a Jane Austen novel in Ronan’s ear. Ronan couldn’t get the image out of his head.)

Because Gansey was a legend, his recalcitrant (Nice five-dollar word, Lynch. Fuck off, Parrish. I went to prep-school), and often straight up aggressive, best friend and roommate was mythic. It seemed like getting into an Ivy wasn’t enough for Columbia’s class of 2019, holding a conversation with Ronan Lynch was the object of all their ambition. Everyone wanted to be Gansey’s friend, and they wanted to know how Ronan pulled it off.

(Later, after Ronan and Adam had become friends, Adam Parrish became just as storied; everyone had wanted to know how he had wormed his way into Gansey’s and Ronan’s inner circles)

But Ronan and Adam had not become friends right away when Gansey had introduced them; five minutes after Adam had stalked away from Tad while the latter was in the middle of a sentence.

(Ronan had watched Tad stare after Adam longingly, not able to drum up the confidence to follow him. For once, Ronan felt a shred of empathy for Tad Carruthers.)

Gansey was holding court in the kitchen, where Ronan had found him regaling a crowd of future oil lobbyists with the story about how he was legally pronounced dead for four and a half minutes when he was nine years old after stepping on a wasp nest. Ronan, being both intimately familiar with, and fundamentally horrified by, this story, tuned out Gansey’s words as he poured himself a rum and Coke without the Coke.

“Lynch!” Gansey cheered, finally getting his attention. “I want you to meet Adam Parrish,” Gansey had extended a hand towards Ronan’s left where the dusty boy that had given Tad the cold shoulder was pouring himself a screwdriver. “Jane’s best friend,” Gansey clarified, like Ronan hadn’t heard Gansey go on and on about Adam Parrish since the first time they had met a few weeks ago.

Ronan appraised the boy up close for just a moment. He noticed the way Adam’s eyelashes fanned over his cheeks, like dark smudges of soot around his deep blue eyes. From here, he could see the smattering of freckles across his face and down his neck, disappearing into the collar of his shirt.

“Ronan Lynch,” he said, holding out a hand to shake. This was the way all the Columbia boys greeted each other.

Adam looked at Ronan’s hand, taking it reluctantly. “Adam Parrish.”

Adam’s hands were rough with callouses, his grip firm. Ronan thought about what it would feel like to have those hands touch him other, less PG, places.

Fuck.

From that moment on, Ronan Lynch had absolutely no fucking chill when it came to Adam Parrish.

The most embarrassing aspect of his appreciation (he refused to call it a crush) of Adam, was that people noticed the ways in which Ronan had no chill. Gansey, Henry, and Noah, who had all known Ronan much better than he liked to admit, recognized that the verbal barbs he threw at Adam Parrish were thinly (very thinly) veiled attempts at flirting. Thankfully, Adam and Blue had taken Ronan at face value, thinking that his jibes were nothing more than they seemed.

When he and Adam were alone, which wasn’t very often because group dynamics made it impossible to do anything on their own without inciting a riot, he tried to dull the edge of his comments. It was hard to let go of his sarcastic nature (it was a habit, after all), but when he wasn’t trying to keep up appearances in front of the others, Ronan Lynch was almost nice. He let Adam borrow one of his AirPods to listen to music on the train, and in return, Ronan got to press up his thigh against Adam’s while no one was around to tease him for it.

So tonight, after Adam and Ronan had ditched yet another boring Columbia party in Manhattan, they sat next to each other on the A line, listening to music and sitting as close together as possible. Ronan had decided to play The Front Bottoms for Adam tonight, and based on the tapping of his long fingers on his knee, and the hint of a smile on his lips, Adam liked them.

Ronan watched Adam listen, his eyes slipping closed for a few moments. He knew that Adam did that to better hear the lyrics, his brain trying to block out any extraneous stimuli as he processed the words. He took this time to look his fill, trying to commit the constellations of freckles across Adam’s nose to memory.

Adam opened his eyes, turning to Ronan to already find Ronan looking back. As much as he tried, Ronan was not good about being covert with his glances. At this point, he had been caught so many times, that he didn’t even really try to hide it anymore. Adam said something, his lips looking like they had formed Ronan’s name.

(Ronan had dreamed of Adam saying his name so often that he was sure he could read that one word from Adam’s lips)

Adam continued to speak, but the combination of the music and the ambient noise of the subway, Ronan couldn’t hear him. Perfectly happy to watch Adam’s lips move, despite not knowing what he was saying, Ronan bobbed his head along to the music, smiling at an unexpected blush spreading across Adam’s cheeks. If whatever he had been saying was important, Adam could pull out the ear bud from Ronan’s ear and repeat himself.

Suddenly Adam was pulling the AirPod from his own ear, and Ronan glanced up to see they were at High Street station; Adam’s stop. Adam said something else, eyebrows raising in anticipation for Ronan’s answer.

Ronan removed his own ear bud asking, “what was that?” as the train started to slow.

“I’ll see you tomorrow?” Adam asked, bafflingly nervous. Ronan didn’t know why Adam had anxiety rolling off him in waves, it was a pretty normal question. He didn’t remember the group making plans for tomorrow, but he wasn’t going to turn down an opportunity to hang out with Adam. Maybe they would get to be alone again.

That thought was enough to make Ronan’s heartrate pick up. He had to play it cool. “Right.” Nice going, Lynch, Ronan congratulated himself.

“I’ll text you the details,” Adam said, standing. The doors slid open, and passengers started to pour out.

“I look forward to it, Parrish.”

Ronan took the train for three more stops, getting off at Utica Avenue. He walked the nine blocks to his apartment through the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant. New York was just starting to cool off, the humidity a little less oppressive at this point in the year.

The Monmouth House, lovingly nicknamed Monmouth by its current residents, was a historic brownstone Bed-Stuy proper that once belonged to some banker or politician, Charles Monmouth, in the early twentieth century. Gansey, ever the history nerd and over-achiever, when tasked with finding a three-bedroom apartment for him, Ronan, and Noah to rent, had decided to buy a historic landmark for the three of them to live in.

As much as Ronan hated the commute into Manhattan, he loved Monmouth and Bed-Stuy and Brooklyn as a whole. Something about this place was the closest he could get to the peace he felt at home. At the Barns.

(Ronan had promised his mother that he would complete at least four years of school before moving back into the Barns. Ronan thought that he could live in Monmouth for twice that without getting too homesick)

Monmouth was quiet, Ronan noticed, while locking the door behind him. He had ditched Gansey at Henry’s apartment when he and Adam had decided they would rather eat dollar hot dogs on the curb outside than spend another second listening to Tad and the other Columbia Shitheads for another second. Noah was another question, but he figured that there was some art school party going on tonight. Ronan hated those parties, less hard liquor and loud music and more recreational drugs and Tibetan Monk Chants.

No, really. Ronan had reluctantly gone to one of the Parsons parties sophomore year, and by the time they had arrived, everyone was tripping on shrooms and listening to Buddhist prayers. Ronan had turned around and left the apartment immediately. Noah stayed.

Just a few years ago, and empty house like this would have sparked something dark and destructive in Ronan. Now, Ronan didn’t even think to be bothered by his solitude, grabbing a beer from the fridge and settling on the couch to watch the food network until he fell asleep.

***

Adam wanted Ronan to meet him in Tribeca at a tiny music club that, after a cursory google search, seemed to specialize in up and coming indie and rock bands. Ronan wasn’t quite sure why Adam wanted to go to this club, but Ronan was admittedly excited for the night.

Waiting outside the club, Ronan hadn’t noticed that Adam had arrived until the latter was crossing the street to meet him. Adam, as usual, looked fucking edible. He was wearing dark jeans, high top sneakers, and a shirt that was just a little too tight across his chest. Ronan wanted to die.

Rather than let himself melt into a puddle in the middle of a Manhattan sidewalk, Ronan decided to meet Adam in the line forming outside the door.

“Parrish,” he said, not sure he could manage an entire sentence.

“Lynch,” Adam responded. His lips twitched like he was trying to hide a smile.

Ronan couldn’t stop looking over to Adam as they waited in line. It seemed like Adam couldn’t help looking over at Ronan either. That thought made Ronan internally preen. He felt warm and full of light.

Adam insisted on paying Ronan’s cover, Ronan desperately tried not to read into this as they entered the club. It was loud and crowded inside; it was everything Ronan thought that Adam tried to avoid. Being half-deaf, places like this were always a little too overwhelming for him. Not that Adam ever admitted that he found clubs and parties and crowded rooms overwhelming; but Ronan had spent most of the last year watching Adam Parrish, so he had started to recognize the signs.

“Parrish, you sure this is your kind of place?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Just, uh, stay on my good side?”

Ronan’s heart clenched. He wasn’t sure who had hurt Adam (that wasn’t true, but Ronan had never had the misfortune of meeting Robert Parrish), but just the thought that Adam thought that Ronan wouldn’t be practically glued to Adam in a place like this made Ronan want to destroy cities.

“Of course,” Ronan replied, trying to purge the anger from his voice. He flashed Adam a smile, shuffling a little closer. “Wanna grab a drink?”

“Yeah,” Adam returned Ronan’s smile. Ronan followed him to the bar, cash already in hand. They both order vodka sodas, and Ronan paid for them before Adam could try. The little look of surprise Adam gave Ronan made the purchase totally worth it.

(Not that Ronan had trouble justifying spending twenty dollars on Adam Parrish. He would hand over half his trust fund if he thought Adam would take it)

“Hey,” Adam said as the bartender took the cash.

“You can buy the next round.” Ronan took their drinks, handing one to Adam. “C’mon, Parrish.”

They made their way towards the stage, Ronan glued to Adam’s side. After the first band’s set, a tipsy looking couple tried to push past them. Ronan, committed to keeping his promise, slipped a hand around Adam’s bicep and shot the scruffy looking guy an intimidating look. The guy tugged his girlfriend away from Ronan and Adam, but Ronan didn’t release Adam’s arm.

This was, admittedly, a very selfish action on Ronan’s part, but he wasn’t holding Adam against his will. If it really bothered him, Adam could always move away, and Ronan would let him.

(Ronan would let Adam do anything, really)

After the second band’s set (it wasn’t great), Ronan started to intermittently check in on Adam. It wasn’t until the third band took the stage, that Ronan started to notice the signs of overwhelm in Adam. They were subtle little movements and tics, like the twitch of his nose in response to a particularly loud cymbal clash, or the sudden intake of breath when someone behind them cheered a little too loud.

These responses were quite normal, but when Adam started to angle his good ear away from the stage, subconsciously trying to get away from the noise, Ronan knew it was time to go. Ronan leaned down to speak in Adam’s ear. “Are you hungry?”

Adam nodded, and Ronan couldn’t help but notice the way he relaxed into Ronan’s space. Ronan led them out of the club, hand still wrapped around Adam’s arm. When they exited the club, Ronan watched Adam gulp in a breath and close his eyes.

When he opened them again, Ronan let go of Adam’s arm and put a tiny bit of space between them. “Bravo’s?” he asked.

Adam looked like he was coming back to himself. “Yeah,” he nodded, a soft smile at the corner of his mouth. Ronan let Adam lead the way to the nearest stop on the A line, descending down into the station.

The train came a few minutes later, and Ronan and Adam were able to nab two seats next to each other. Adam was humming quietly at his side, the sound bringing an unbidden smile to Ronan’s face.

“Do you remember that party at Tad’s apartment last year?” Adam asked.

Ronan rolled his eyes. “Do you mean Tad’s downtown loft?”

Adam barked out a laugh and knocked his knee against Ronan’s. There were two layers of denim between them, but Ronan couldn’t help but feel his skin burn where Adam had touched him.

“Sorry. Do you remember that party at Tad’s loft last year?”

Ronan let out a breath of a laugh. “Yeah. Why?”

Adam picked at a loose thread in the sleeve of his jacket. “That’s the night we became friends. At least, that’s when I started thinking of you as my friend.”

He said it so fondly, but Ronan felt himself tense up at the words. Had Ronan been reading the signs all wrong? Adam never said anything he didn’t mean; and Ronan could only assume what this meant. This was a brush-off. A reminder that Adam thought of Ronan as just a friend.

Ronan blew out a breath. “Well shit, Parrish. I thought we were friends from the moment you called me a ‘poverty tourist.’”

Adam’s laugh couldn’t help but cut through him. “I didn’t call you a poverty tourist, I just agreed when Blue called you a poverty tourist. I said that you were a fake starving artist.”

“How could I forget?”

“You really thought we were friends from the beginning?” Adam asked. He sounded genuinely curious.

Ronan knew that he didn’t come across as a warm and friendly, but had Adam really thought that Ronan didn’t like him?

(Maybe that was for the best. If Adam couldn’t tell the difference between Ronan insulting and Ronan flirting, Ronan didn’t have to feel quite so embarrassed by his obvious, and unrequited, feelings)

“I guess we had an acquaintanceship of convince.” Ronan joked. “I was just glad that you didn’t live in Manhattan.”

Adam smiled. “Yeah, I only like hanging out with you because it means that I don’t have to cross the East River.”

“Fuck the East River.” There were a few cheers of agreement from the other passengers on board. “Plus, you’re on my train line.”

Adam rolled his eyes. Ronan knew that Adam was the only person in New York who didn’t give a shit about the politics of train lines.

The two got off at High Street, the walk to Bravo’s only taking a few minutes from the station. Bravo’s Pizza may have been in Brooklyn Heights, but it was a favorite of the residents of Monmouth. Not many New Yorkers would take a subway for pizza, but Gansey, Ronan, and Noah weren’t like most New Yorkers.

When they arrived at the restaurant, Ronan and Adam fell into a familiar routine. Ronan went to secure a booth and Adam went up to the counter to order. At this time on a Saturday night, Bravo’s was pretty busy. But there was a small booth at the back of the restaurant open, so Ronan snagged it before someone else could get any ideas.

Adam came back a few minutes later, drinks and table number in tow. He smiled as he sat, eyeing the pile of shredded napkins in front of Ronan.

Ronan spied the receipt in Adam’s hand. “What do I owe you?” he asked, reaching for the slip of paper.

Adam waved him off and shoved the receipt in his pocket. “Nothing, it’s my treat.”

“Parrish.”

“You paid for my drink.”

“One drink. I paid for one drink.”

“Too bad,” Adam shrugged, the smirk playing at his lips made Ronan’s heart skip a beat. “That club was pretty cool, right?”

Ronan could feel himself smile. “It was great. How did you hear about that place?”

“One of those bands you showed me played there a few years ago,” Adam shrugged. “But you enjoyed it?”

“Yeah, Parrish. I had a great time.” Ronan didn’t try to hide his sincerity; sometimes his sarcasm was a little exhausting. The bright smile Adam gave him, made the small gesture totally worth it.

The waiter arrived with their food then, a tray piled high with carbs. Ronan slid the cheese and supreme slices towards himself as they were set down on the table. The waiter put down a basket of garlic knots before stepping away.

“You didn’t say that you ordered garlic knots, Parrish.” Ronan reached into his pocket for his wallet, pulling out a few dollars and trying, in vain, to make Adam take it.

“Shut up, Ronan, and eat your damn food.”

Ronan sighed, but took a garlic knot, dipping it in marinara sauce, nonetheless.

This wasn’t the first time Adam and Ronan had eaten at Bravo’s alone, but Ronan tried not to read into the strange energy coming off of Adam. This isn’t a date, he told himself, watching Adam animatedly tell a story about one of his professors. This isn’t a date, he thought again when Adam had laughed so hard at something Ronan said that he started to cough.

This isn’t a date, he said to himself as he walked Adam home.

“What are you doing tomorrow?” Ronan asked as they stood outside Adam’s building.

Ronan could hear Adam playing with his keys in the pocket of his jacket. “I work again, then I’ll probably camp out at the library. I have a lab report due Wednesday that I’m behind on.”

“I still don’t get why you live in Brooklyn when you go to school and work on the Upper West Side.” Ronan knew exactly why Adam had moved to Brooklyn despite the commute, but he didn’t want to leave just yet.

“You commute to Greenwich Village four times a week, you’re in no position to judge.”

“Yeah, but that’s because I stupidly let Gansey decide where we would live.”

Adam smiled then bit his lip. The sight was quite distracting; Ronan hoped that Adam couldn’t tell that he was staring at his lips. “Sometimes I sleep on Henry’s couch if I’m too tired to come back to Brooklyn. Though, the last three times I did that, he was in the middle of a hook-up, so I’m usually better off going all the way home.”

“Gross,” Ronan wrinkled his nose.

Adam paused, and Ronan could feel his eyes searching Ronan’s face. His heavy gaze was too intense, and Ronan had to turn his head away. “I had fun tonight,” he said at last.

“Me too. Thanks, Parrish.” Ronan couldn’t help but smile.

Without warning, Adam Parrish took two steps to close the distance between them, and kissed Ronan on the cheek. “Night, Ronan.” Adam slipped away before Ronan could find the ability to speak, cheeks burning.

“This isn’t a date,” he whispered to himself.

(But, god, he wished it was).

***

Adam Parrish kept kissing Ronan, and Ronan couldn’t find it in himself to stop it.

They were just little, platonic cheek kisses. But they were kisses, nonetheless. Ronan couldn’t stop thinking about kissing Adam, and it was really fucking distracting. He didn’t have time to be constantly fantasizing about Adam’s lips, not when he had to complete half of his Senior Studio exhibit before the end of the semester.

If Ronan was being honest with himself (and Ronan Lynch never lied), he was definitely complicit in the touching, encouraging even. Ronan was so sure that this was the closest he would get to his most shameful thoughts. If he had to encourage the touching in order to keep Adam from being scared off, then so be it; Ronan could hug Adam and kiss him on the cheek. It was fine.

It also didn’t help that Adam Parrish, subject of all of Ronan’s daydreams (and most of Ronan’s regular dreams), kept showing up when Ronan was trying to work on his Senior Studio project. Even if he did bring Ronan coffee.

(Okay, so maybe Ronan appreciated getting to see Adam’s stupid beautiful face just as much as the coffee, but it was still really fucking distracting).

If Ronan could admit that he was complicit in the casual touching, then he could admit that he was complicit in the coffee as well. Two weeks ago, Ronan had found himself in the Upper West Side with a few hours to kill. Knowing that Adam wasn’t in class, Ronan texted him to see if he was free somewhere on campus. Adam had been in the undergraduate library working on a calculus problem set after his shift that morning, and had invited Ronan to join him to kill time. Ronan accepted his offer, picking up coffee before making his way to West 114th Street.

Ronan had planned on texting Adam when he had arrived, not having access to the building, but a dark-skinned girl with a valid Columbia ID was walking in front of him, holding the door open for Ronan to follow her in.

Finding Adam was easy, he was a creature of habit, liking to camp out along the south facing windows on the second floor. Ronan came up behind Adam, recognizing his mop of dusty brown hair from a few yards away.

“Hey, Parrish,” he said just loud enough to catch his attention, but not loud enough to warrant the glares from an intense looking boy at the next table.

Adam turned and smiled brightly at Ronan, looking a little surprised. “Hey.”

Ronan came around the table, sliding over one of the cups of coffee as he sat. “Large americano with an extra shot.”

Adam’s smile was even brighter as he took the coffee, lifting it to his lips and taking a greedy sip. The look of joy was instantly replaced with revulsion. “What the hell is that?” he sputtered.

The boy at the next table shushed Adam, who, in turn, gave him a glare that could freeze hell. Ronan heard the boy make a noise that could only be described as a squeak.

“Shit,” Ronan took back the coffee, checking the order written on the side. “Sorry, that was mine.” He switched the cups, Adam taking his hesitantly.

“Was that a pumpkin spice latte?” he asked, a little bit of a laugh hidden in his voice.

Ronan felt himself blush, one wrist going up to his mouth to chew on the bracelets there. “Shut up.”

“Oh my god, it totally is.”

Ronan took a sip of his coffee, enjoying the festive flavor, cheeks still burning. “You can’t tell anyone. I have a reputation to maintain, Parrish.”

Adam’s face twisted up, obviously trying not to smile. Ronan watched, entranced, as Adam tapped out an uneven rhythm on the lid of his cup. “I can keep your secrets,” he said at last.

And if that wasn’t enough to make Ronan’s blush burn up to the tips of his ears, then he didn’t know what could.

Ever since, Ronan and Adam had been bringing each other coffee back and forth. Adam seemed to have a sixth sense (Humans have more than six senses, Ronan. You’re a fucking nerd, Parrish) for knowing when Ronan needed coffee most.

That didn’t keep the situation, along with all of the platonic kissing and hugging, from being really, really fucking distracting.

It was fine, really. Ronan could handle it.

(Ronan could not fucking handle it)

***

After a long day at the studio, Ronan came back to Monmouth, hands dark with graphite, to find Adam Parrish stretched out on the floor of the living room wearing Ronan’s favorite hoodie.

Ronan, a little lost for words, and a little light headed, almost turned on one heel to walk back out the front door and re-enter the brownstone because he was sure that he was in an alternate dimension. However, his best friend called out for him before he could try.

Well, if Adam Parrish wore Ronan’s clothes in this dimension, that was the parallel universe Ronan wanted to live in any way.

“Ronan!” Gansey smiled a little blearily behind his glasses. He was on the couch, the Maggot’s feet in his lap, and a heavily-annotated book in one hand. “You’re back!”

“Yeah,” Ronan said slowly. Adam was furiously writing in his calculus workbook, attention glued to his assignment.

“Did you make any progress on your piece?” he asked.

Ronan flipped off Gansey, the gesture serving two purposes: One, to non-verbally tell Gansey to fuck off. Two, to show his best friend the graphite stains around his fingers.

Gansey didn’t seem bothered by his gesture, and Ronan retreated to the kitchen to grab himself something to drink. When he returned, Adam had flipped over, leaning back on his hands, legs crossed at the angle. He was laughing at something Blue was saying, his eyes swinging up to Ronan as he entered the room. Adam’s smile softened around the edges as he glanced up at Ronan.

“Parrish,” he said after Blue was done. “That’s my jacket.”

Adam, in his defense, looked down at his chest, seeming to have forgotten what he was wearing. It was very obviously Ronan’s hoodie, not only was it a size too big on Adam (Ronan tired not to think about the way that the hood might fall in Adam’s eyes, his hair peeking out of the edges), but it also had Go Fuck Yourself written across the front in a bold font.

“Oh, sorry. I got cold and it was on the couch.” Adam did look a little embarrassed, cheeks twinging pink.

“It’s fine. It, uh, looks good on you,” Ronan mumbled against the bracelets at his wrist, chewing on one unconsciously.

Adam went a little redder, Gansey chuckled fondly, and Blue gagged facetiously.

Whatever, it was fine.

“I’m gonna go shower.” Ronan said, stepping away from the couch, and heading for the stairs.

“Wait,” Adam said from the floor. Ronan stopped at the bottom of the stairs, not quite meeting Adam’s heavy gaze. “I have to head out,” he said, once they were toe to toe. “But I wanted to know if you want to come with me to a student art show tomorrow night.”

“Uh,” Ronan really tried to play it cool, his exhaustion making hard to keep his very un-chill, as Henry would call it, thoughts from slipping out. “Yeah. I’d like that.”

Adam lit up. “Great. I’ll text you.” He leaned over and kissed Ronan on the cheek, Adam’s lips getting a little close to his own, Adam's fingers twisting in the front of Ronan's shirt. “See you tomorrow.” Ronan stood, a little dumb, at the bottom of the stairs. Adam laughed, “go on, shower. And try to get some rest.” He pushed at Ronan's chest gently.

Ronan seemed to break out of his trance. “I make no promises, Adam.”

Hearing Ronan call him by his first name made Adam preen a little brighter; Ronan would give anything to see him smile like that gain.

Well, shit.

(Adam stole his fucking hoodie. Ronan could only find it in himself to be slightly annoyed)

***

Ronan wasn’t one of those people who had a Thing about their birthday. Yeah, he was glad he had made it to another year (there was a time when Ronan had thought he would never make it to eighteen), but he didn’t need the production of a birthday party.

However, Ronan’s best friend, Richard Campbell Gansey III, definitely had a Thing about birthdays. Or, at the very least, a Thing about Ronan’s birthday. After being friends for almost six years, Gansey usually kept the birthday festivities contained, but something about Ronan turning 22 was significant to Gansey.

(Okay, so Ronan knew why it was significant to Gansey. Five years was a long time. It was something to celebrate)

So Gansey threw him an I’m So Glad You Are Alive party disguised as a 22nd birthday party.

Ronan had humored Gansey in the planning process, inviting all the people from Parsons he could stand (there were more than he realized), and allowed Gansey to invite the least unbearable of his Columbia friends (You are not allowed to invite Carruthers, Dick. Don’t worry, Ronan, I won't even let him through the door if he shows up).

The party was in full swing when Adam, dressed in light wash jeans and a threadbare white three-quarter length shirt, caught his eye. Even from across the room, Ronan was enchanted by Adam’s forearms, thick with muscle and peppered with freckles.

(Ronan may have been well on his way to tipsy, and ready and willing to wax poetic about any part of Adam Parrish’s body).

Adam sidled up to Ronan, arm going around his middle. He tilted his head up to kiss Ronan on the cheek, lingering there for a moment longer than necessary. Ronan, a little toasty and a lot unwilling to let Adam leave his side, threw an arm around Adam’s shoulder. He leaned a little closer to Adam’s good ear, “Parrish, do you know Callie and Jenna?”

Adam looked over at the girls in question. “Hi, I’m Adam.”

Callie waggled her blonde eyebrows at Ronan before launching back into her story about a customer who tried to return a used pair of underwear a few weeks ago. Ronan could feel, more than hear, when Adam laughed; tugging him just a little closer.

Ronan left Adam with Noah, Callie, and Jenna for a few minutes while he went to the kitchen to get drinks for them (What about me, Ronan? Fuck off, Czerny, you’ve got legs). When he returned to the living room, drinks in hand, Callie was organizing a game of Never Have I Ever. Ronan settled next to Adam on the couch, handing over Adam’s screwdriver.

“Alright, birthday boy, you go first,” Callie said, sitting down in front of Jenna, leaning back against her legs.

“Uh,” Ronan searched for something to say, “okay. Never have I ever walked away from Tad Carruthers while he was in the middle of a sentence.”

Blue drank, unsurprisingly, as well as a few people from the Columbia crowd. Adam, however, did not take a sip. “Parrish, you need to drink.”

“What? I’ve never done that.” He glanced over at Ronan, eye brows knitting together.

Ronan choked out a laugh. “Yes you have. I’ve seen you.”

“When?”

“The night we met,” Callie and Jenna made sickening little kissing noises, but Ronan ignored them. “He was talking to you, and you up and walked away while he was in the middle of a sentence.”

Adam looked to Ronan, eyes squinted. He was obviously trying to remember that night. “Was he talking to me? I usually put Tad on my left side.”

Ronan and Blue both snorted out a laugh. “Oh my god, Adam,” she said. “You’re joking.”

“No, really.” Adam said, laughing. “It’s easier to just keep him on my bad side so I don’t have to hear all the stupid shit that comes out of his mouth.”

Oddly enough, this comment made Ronan really want to kiss Adam Parrish.

He just scoffed and rolled his eyes instead. “You still have to drink.”

“Fine, Lynch,” he said with no heat. “If that’s how you want to play this game.” Adam held Ronan’s gaze as he took a long sip of his drink.

This action made Ronan want to do lots of other things to Adam Parrish.

“Never have I ever puked in someone’s closet,” Adam said after he had swallowed.

A few people drank. “Fuck off, Parrish. Carruthers deserved it.” The group laughed, and then it was Callie’s turn.

Their game was not only an attempt to embarrass each other by revealing other people’s secrets, but also a way to insult Tad Carruthers.

(This was the best birthday Ronan’s ever had)

So the game went on like that, Ronan’s friends airing each other’s dirty laundry.

Blue: Never have I ever cried while watching The Notebook.

(Gansey, Henry, and Noah drank)

Henry: Never have I ever gotten so high that I thought that my fridge was the portal to an alternate dimension.

(Noah drank, and then he took another sip because apparently it happened twice)

Noah: Never have I ever had sex on Adam and Blue’s couch.

(Blue and Gansey, the former rolling her eyes and the latter blushing, both drank. Adam gasped and said something about respecting shared spaces)

Gansey: Never have I ever tried to keep a wild raven in my Aglionby dorm room.

(Ronan drank, and everyone demanded the story)

Ronan: Never have I ever been caught masturbating in my Aglionby dorm room by my roommate.

(Gansey, the target of this particular comment blushed ever darker and took a sip. After a moment he took two more. Trying to be inconspicuous, Noah also drank)

“Czerny, you freak.” Ronan laughed. “Which roommate?”

“The better question is which roommate didn’t catch me.”

Ronan paused. “Wait, you lived with Declan sophomore year.”

“Uh,” Noah had the decency to look embarrassed. “Yeah.”

Ronan was at a loss for words, so Adam took his turn. “Never have I ever gotten so drunk that I cried about how handsome Gansey was.”

Blue scoffed, glancing at Adam with a look of utter betrayal. “You are such a dick, Ad—Noah, why are you drinking?”

Everyone turned to him, cup raised to his lips. The previous flush hadn’t left Noah’s cheeks as he blushed darker. “What?” he put his mostly empty cup down. “It’s true.”

“Can confirm,” Henry piped up. “It was the same night he thought that my fridge was the portal to an alternate dimension.”

Gansey preened with all the praise, Blue kissing him on the cheek before saying, “never have I ever made out with Tad Carruthers.”

Adam, who just a second before had been smiling broadly, froze, all expression leaving his face. The group watched him suck in a deep breath and then raise the cup to his lips. Ronan could barely hear the whoops of laughter over the rushing in his ears.

“Oh, shut up,” he said to Henry and Noah, the two laughing hysterically. “It was freshman year, and the second he tried to stick his tongue in my mouth I walked away.” Adam shuddered, just remembering the kiss.

Adam’s obvious revulsion with Tad’s tongue made Ronan feel a little better. “Well that explains why he’s so obsessed with you,” Ronan said at last.

“You think that Tad likes me?” Adam sounded so sincere, like the thought that Tad Carruthers, or anyone with eyes, wouldn’t have a Thing for Adam Parrish.

The surrounding group laughed, and Adam looked around in disbelief. “Wait, Adam, do you really not know when someone’s flirting with you?” Blue asked gleefully.

Adam glanced sideways at Ronan. “Of course I know when someone’s flirting with me, Tad’s never flirted with me.”

Noah snorted and rolled his eyes, “just because he doesn’t tease you, doesn’t mean he’s not fl—”

“Shut the fuck up, Czerny,” Ronan growled, cutting Noah off. The blonde didn’t seem bothered at all. Ronan decided to redirect the conversation. “Never have I ever tried to learn how to skateboard to impress a boy I thought was cute.”

(God, Ronan, that was one time, Noah whined, downing the rest of his drink)

The game devolved from there, the stories getting crazier and crazier. At some point, Adam dragged Ronan by the arm and up the stairs to Ronan’s room. There was a wolf whistle from somewhere amongst the crowd, but Ronan couldn’t place who it was.

Once they were alone, Adam, who was leaning back against the closed door, said, “I have a gift for you.”

Ronan walked backwards to his bed, falling on it when the back of his knees hit the mattress. He had noticed the gift bag Adam had toted around all night, and while Ronan wasn’t a straight-A student, he did conclude that the gift was for him.

“Oh, a gift? For me? You shouldn’t have.” Ronan patted the space next to him on the bed, and Adam rolled his eyes as he walked forward to join him.

“Happy birthday,” he said, handing the bag over.

“Thanks, Parrish.”

Once the gift was out of the bag, sans tissue paper, Ronan could barely contain himself. It was a framed photo of him and Adam, a photo that Ronan was very familiar with. When Henry had first shown him this shot, Ronan had inconspicuously saved it to his phone. And on nights when Ronan was more feeling and less self-control, he would look at the photo and think about what could be. Holding the photo in his hands was almost too much.

It was an objectively nice picture (Ronan thought that anything including Adam was objectively nice), the two of them framed properly, the light catching across their faces. Ronan was saying, or maybe snarking, something into Adam’s good ear, and the other was laughing in turn.

It was probably pretty easy to discern Ronan’s feeling for Adam in this photo, but he couldn’t, either due to a begrudging sense of self-acceptance or the many ounces of alcohol he had consumed that evening, find it in himself to be embarrassed.

Instead, Ronan was overcome with feelings of love and adoration of Adam Parrish; he felt like everything was about to flow over.

“Wow. Adam…” Ronan looked up at Adam; Adam was already looking back. The naked expression Adam gave him was too much. Ronan felt too much.

Ronan leaned in.

Adam glanced down at Ronan’s lips.

The door slammed open, and Ronan jumped away. Henry Cheng was standing in the threshold of the door, bottle of Tito’s in hand. “Birthday boy, it’s time for cake, not canoodling.”

All the air rushed out of the room.

Ronan, taking care to put the photo somewhere safe before standing up, pushed past Henry violently. “Fuck off, Cheng,” he growled as Henry stumbled back.

Ronan followed the sounds congregating in the kitchen. Blue had been in charge of picking out the cake, it was a multi-layered chocolate monstrosity that, no matter how good it looked, had nothing on the lure of Adam Parrish’s lips.

Gansey started to light a, frankly, unsafe number of candles atop the cake. “Is this necessary?” he asked, eyebrow raised.

Blue scoffed. “Lynch, you look like the walking stereotype of a serial arsonist.”

“That may be true, Maggot, but I’m not actually an arsonist.”

She shrugged, Gansey lighting the last candle, “could’ve fooled me.”

Ronan’s retort was lost in his throat as Adam, looking calm, cool, and collected, came up on his left. Adam smiled up at Ronan as he, and everyone present, started to sing, and Ronan couldn’t help but watch Adam the entire time. Adam burned just as bright as the fire hazard of a cake.

When it was time to make a wish, there was really only one thing that Ronan Lynch wanted. Before he blew out the candles, Ronan chanced one last look at Adam.

Please, please, love me back.

*** 

Ronan Lynch was a masochist.

That was really the only explanation for it. If Ronan Lynch wasn’t a masochist, he wouldn’t have invited Adam Parrish to spend the holidays with him in his childhood home.

As it were, Ronan Lynch was a masochist and Adam Parrish was sitting next to him as he sped through the Virginian countryside.

The only thing, in the entire world, that could distract Ronan from Adam’s face was the feeling of being behind the wheel of a car. It had been a long time since he felt the growl of an engine inside his bones, the climbing speedometer was one of the few things that made Ronan feel quiet.

The other thing was sitting in the passenger seat next to him.

Ronan felt his heartrate pick up as they came up to the turn for the long, winding drive up to the Barns. As soon as the house was in sight, Ronan slowed the BMW to a stop. It had been almost six months since he’d seen the Barns, and covered in a light dusting of snow, the image of his childhood home in front of him was enough to settle the last bit of disquiet living under his skin.

“C’mon, Ro, take us home.”

Adam spoke so quietly that Ronan was sure that he had just imagined it. Ronan looked over at him, Adam looking so fucking at ease. Because Ronan was a masochist, he replayed what Adam said over and over in his brain. Noting the roundness of the vowels, the honey-sweet slide of the consonants, the fucking nickname, the fact that he thought of the Barns as home.

Ronan tucked these thoughts behind a locked door, right foot nudging up against the accelerator; doing as Adam asked, taking them home.

Pulling up to the house, Aurora was waiting on the porch, a fond smile on her face. Ronan was the first out of the car, going into his mother’s arms. There were few people in this world that Ronan felt like he could sand away his edges for. At the moment, most of them were gathered on this porch.

Aurora greeted Adam with a hug as well after he and Matthew had carried the luggage up to the porch. Watching Adam and his mother was too much, Ronan felt raw. Ronan ducked inside, Aurora saying that dinner was almost ready.

“This way, Parrish,” Ronan said, leading Adam to the guest room. Renovating the guest room had been Aurora’s passion project over the last year, and when Ronan asked if Adam could spend Christmas at the Barns, Aurora had been ecstatic that someone would get to enjoy the fruits of her labor. And Aurora hadn’t exaggerated her talents, the room felt like the product of all the love woven into the very fabric of the Barns. It was warm and clean and safe. Looking over at Adam, Ronan knew that he felt the same.

Adam unpacked, carrying his toiletries to the en suite bathroom. “What was this room like before?”

“It was my dad’s office,” Ronan said quietly, perched on the edge of the bed. Adam came out of the bathroom, expression earnest and soft. “It had a pull-out couch in it for a while. But last year, Mom decided it was time to make it a real guest room.” Ronan jerked his head towards the painting hanging up at the foot of the bed. “That’s been hanging in his office for as long as I can remember. Mom didn’t even take it off the wall.”

Adam joined him on the bed, studying the painting. “Who is it by?”

“Mom,” Ronan could feel himself smiling fondly. “He saw it at a gallery show and asked to meet the artist. He bought it because he thought that then she’d agree to go out with him.”

“And?” Adam nudged Ronan’s foot with his own.

Ronan laughed. “She refused. For months.” Adam chuckled softly.

“Dinner!” Aurora called from the kitchen, and Ronan lead the way to the dining room where Declan was setting the table. As kids, this had been a joint chore. Declan was in charge of the plates and the napkins, Ronan the silverware.

Declan had the silverware in hand when Ronan sidled up to him, taking the cutlery from his brother’s grip. “Declan,” he said, lips turning up in a smirk.

“Ronan,” Declan returned Ronan’s sharp smile.

“This is Adam Parrish,” Ronan pointed at Adam with his handful of butter knives. He started to set the table as Declan introduced himself.

“Declan Lynch,” Declan extended his hand to shake.

“Nice to meet you,” Adam responded.

“Pleasure’s all mine,” Declan said in his politician voice. Ronan rolled his eyes.

Later, after lasagna and garlic bread and wine, the Lynches and Adam retired to the living room. Aurora, having more than enough time on her hands, had decorated before her sons had arrived. It made the living room unbearably cozy, Ronan sinking in to his spot on the couch. Adam settled next to him, and Ronan was so, so at peace.

*** 

Ronan tried to commit the image of Adam at the Barns to memory. Tried ingrain the sound of Adam’s bare feet padding across the hardwood, or the press of Adam’s shoulder to his as they walked out to the barns to feed the animals into the deepest recesses of his long-term memory. He didn’t want to forget this.

Adam belonged here, at least, Ronan thought that Adam belonged in the Barns. Aurora enjoyed spoiling someone as polite and appreciative as Adam. Matthew liked having someone around that he could actually beat in MarioKart. Declan enjoyed having another ‘intellectual’ (Fuck you, Declan) in the house.

(Ronan liked everything about Adam Parrish)

Ronan wanted to keep Adam here, in this perfect bubble, forever. But he knew that he couldn’t, and not just because it was technically kidnapping, but because Ronan knew exactly what Adam had done to get out of Henrietta. Ronan would never ask Adam to give all that up.

So Ronan settled for pretending that he could have this for real. He was used to fantasies when it came to Adam Parrish any way.

*** 

Adam Parrish was kissing Ronan Lynch.

It was a peck that lasted less than a second, but Ronan wanted to live in that second. He wanted to wrap himself up in the pressure of Adam’s lips on rainy days. He wanted to tie himself down to earth with the press of Adam’s fingertips to his cheek.

“Happy New Year, Ro,” Adam whispered in the space between them.

Ronan was speechless, his mind empty. Blissfully and magnificently empty.

That was until Aurora caught Ronan’s eye from behind Adam. With a flash of a smile to Adam, Ronan moved to hug Matthew and to kiss his mother’s cheek.

“Happy New Year, Mom.”

“Happy New Year, Ronan.” Aurora took Ronan’s face in her hands, kissing his forehead. Ronan’s eyes flicked over to where Adam and Matthew were leaning against the porch railing. “Go on,” Aurora laughed.

Ronan stepped away and sidled up to Adam’s good side. All Ronan did was nudge Adam’s elbow with his and smiled. Adam glanced down at where his arms were crossed on the railing, a soft smile on his face. Ronan wanted to kiss that smile from his lips.

He leaned towards Adam, angling his head down towards his. “Adam, dear,” Aurora said. Adam turned towards her voice. “Will you help me in the kitchen.”

“Yeah,” he said, stepping away from Ronan’s side. Ronan watched him go, spinning around at Matthew’s snicker.

“What?” he asked.

“You two are so cute.”

“Whatever, Matty.” Ronan rolled his eyes and took Adam’s place at the railing. “He’s my friend.”

“Sure, Jan.”

Matthew did a pretty good Marcia Brady impression, but Ronan was still confused by this response. “What?”

“You don’t have to lie about dating Adam. We like him.”

“What?” Ronan said again, at a loss for words.

“What?” now it was Matthew’s turn to be confused.

“Adam and I aren’t dating.”

“Oh. Huh.”

Ronan scoffed. “You thought we were dating?”

“I mean, yeah. But if you’re not together, then I believe you.”

“It’s not a matter of believing me, Matty. It’s an objective fact.”

Matthew laughed. “Nothing about dating is objective anymore. There are no rules, no clear-cut boundaries.”

“And how do you know all of this?” Ronan asked.

Rather than answer, Matthew flushed and tried to change the subject. He was successful by the time the back door opened, and Adam said, “Ronan?”

There was a tension to Adam’s voice, the sound eliciting Ronan’s flight or fight response. Ronan turned, and Adam looked like a scared animal, eyes flashing with something unreadable. “I need to talk to you.” Without another word, Adam turned away and walked back into the house.

Ronan was hot on Adam’s heels, following him to the guest room. Adam closed the door behind Ronan, his hands shaking. What the fuck, Ronan thought. He tried to figure out what his mother could say to elicit this reaction in Adam—

“Why didn’t you tell your mom?”

Ronan felt his eyebrows draw together. “Why didn’t I tell my mom what?”

Adam ran a hand through his dusty hair, mussing it up in the back. Ronan wanted to reach out and smooth it down. “That we were dating?”

Ronan sucked in a breath instinctively. “We’re dating?”

Adam’s expression, a mix of anger and confusion and hurt, was instantly replaced with one of crushing clarity.

Ronan had always loved to watch Adam think, to see the crinkle at the corner of his eyes that meant he was working through a problem, taking all the pieces of it apart before putting them back together again. The way Adam looked when he had solved a problem was what Ronan loved the most, the pride plainly written across his freckled face.

This was nothing like that. Adam looked as if he had solved one of life’s greatest mysteries, but he hadn’t liked the answer. Like he was afraid of possessing that kind of knowledge.

“Oh my god, the fucking AirPods” Adam breathed out.

Ronan was even more confused. “What?”

“Get out. Please. I need to not see you right now.”

Ronan couldn’t keep the shock from his voice. “Parrish. What’s going on? Did you really think we were dating?”

“What? Is that so impossible to you?” He sounded pissed.

“Uh, yeah.”

Adam’s voice was clipped, all emotion and softness gone. “Get out.”

“Parri—” he started. Stopping as he watched Adam pick his suitcase up off the floor and open it up on the bed. He quickly started to throw clothes in it haphazardly “What are you doing?”

“If you’re not going to get out, then I’m going to leave.” Adam didn’t look up at Ronan when he spoke, focusing mainly on trying to get everything he brought with him to fit in his suitcase without folding it. He struggled with the zipper.

“C’mon, Parrish.” He tried. Ronan stepped forward with a sigh, pushing the suitcase away from Adam. “Stop. Look, I’ll go. Just—will you please stay?” Ronan could hear the begging in his voice, but he couldn’t find it in himself to be ashamed. He was willing to do anything to keep Adam here.

“No. I can't be here anymore.”

That comment stung, but Ronan pushed past the pain, walls coming up to defend himself. “Where are you going to go?”

“I’m calling Fox Way, they’ll come and get me.”

“Parrish—”

“Please, Lynch. Just leave me alone.”

And that broke Ronan, the not just the return of Lynch, but the way he said his name. Like it was a curse. Like it was nothing. Ronan backed out of the room, being careful not to slam the door.

Ronan wanted to break something, to tear something apart.

Instead, Ronan paced in the living room, running his hand over his scalp, the bristle of the hair grounding him. If he could maintain this little bit of control, he might be able to convince Adam to stay.

Ronan heard the front door open, and he raced towards the sound. Adam was standing in the open doorway, closing it after a moment.

“Adam?”

Adam didn’t turn around, speaking to the white door. “Persephone’s almost here.” He was quiet, reserved. Like he was trying not to cry.

Ronan’s heart cracked.

There was a flash of headlights coming up the drive. Adam fidgeted with the strap of his backpack and the handle of his suitcase. “Thank your mom for me.”

Ronan’s heart broke.

“Please, Adam. Stay. We can tal—”

“Bye, Lynch.”

The door opened, and Adam carried his things out. Persephone made a U-Turn and popped open the trunk. After Adam’s things were loaded in the car, Ronan watched Adam turn around and studied the façade of the house. Like he was trying to commit it to memory.

Ronan’s heart fucking shattered.

Adam got into the car and drove away.

Ronan watched the car take off down the drive, taillights disappearing into the distance. Once Ronan was sure that they were gone, he grabbed his keys and stormed out of the house. He was in his car, the ignition turned over, inside a minute. He was on the road, heading in the opposite direction of Henrietta, inside of five.

Ronan didn’t want to think, so he drove instead. Drove until he could breathe again. Drove until the pinch of exhaustion at his eyes was too much to bear.

When Ronan got back to the Barns, he didn’t sleep.

He called Gansey from his dark room, not caring that it was almost four in the morning. He was having a crisis.

“Ronan?” Gansey said when he picked up, sounding panicked.

“Did you know we were dating?” He asked in lieu of a greeting.

Gansey ignored Ronan’s question. “Ronan, are you okay?”

He sighed. “Yeah, I’m fine, Dick. Did you know?’

“Did I know what?”

Ronan reminded himself that it was an ungodly hour of the morning, and Gansey had, unsurprisingly, been confused that Ronan was willingly using his cell phone. He couldn’t be mad that Gansey was a little slow on the uptake.

“That Adam and I were dating?” Ronan’s voice felt small in his throat. He hoped that he was loud enough that he wouldn’t have to repeat himself.

“Huh?” Ronan let out a violent, shuddering breath. “Yeah. I mean, I know you guys weren’t official. But, yeah. I knew you were dating.”

“What the fuck?”

Ronan heard Gansey sit up in bed, he could picture it. His DC bedroom was decked out in the spoils of old money and financial conservatism. It was nothing like his room at Monmouth, devoid of everything that made Gansey, Gansey.

“Did you not want us to know?” he asked, sounding so fucking earnest. Was Ronan high? Did he actually take shrooms that art school party two years ago, and this was all just some bad trip? “Jane let it slip that Adam had asked you out, and there didn’t seem to be any fallout from your date. We all just assumed that it was a thing after that. We know that you guys are private people, and we wanted to respect your collective privacy.”

Suddenly, it was all very clear to Ronan the signs he had missed. Ignoring the kissing and all the not-platonic platonic touches, the last few weeks had been marked by an increase in occasions where Ronan and Adam had hung out one-on-one. A few months ago, this would have incited a riot among the group, but there was nothing in the last few weeks. It explained all the conspiratorial looks, and the inconspicuous we’ll give you guys some privacy’s he had received from his friends.

It was like Ronan had been staring at a painting for weeks, trying to make heads or tails of it, not realizing that it had been hanging upside down the whole time.

(If he had thought that going on dates Adam Parrish would have gotten his friends to stop poking at his personal life, he would have asked him out at that party a year and a half ago)

All of you?”

“Uh, you’ll have to be specific by what you mean by ‘all.’”

“You, Blue, Henry, and Noah?”

“Yes.”

“Who else?”

Gansey sighed. “Oh, I don’t know, Ronan. I think I told the bakery where we got your birthday cake that Blue and ‘the birthday boy’s boyfriend’ would be picking it up. Fuck, why does it matter?”

“I didn’t know.”

“Huh?”

Ronan cleared his throat and spoke a little louder. “I didn’t know we were dating.”

The line was silent. It was so silent that Ronan checked to make sure their call was still connected. “You didn’t know that you were dating Adam Parrish?”

“No.”

“Jesus, fuck, Ronan.”

“I know.”

He could hear Gansey pinching the bridge of his nose. “Adam Parrish, guy of your dreams, object of all your affections,” Ronan made a noise of protest that was promptly ignored, “and you couldn’t tell that you were dating?”

“No. I didn’t think it was possible.”

“Oh, that’s rubbish Ronan.” Ronan wanted to tell Gansey to stop talking like an old British man, but he kept on going. “You can't possibly have that little self-worth.”

“It’s not that,” Ronan sighed. “It’s just that I resigned myself to the fact that we were friends, not realizing that Adam thought we were more.” Gansey didn’t say anything. “How long?”

Gansey thankfully didn’t need clarification for this question. “Three months, maybe?”

Fuck.”

“Yeah, fuck.”

Ronan listened to the static through the phone. “What should I do, Gansey?”

Gansey sighed. “You should give him some time. You know how he gets.” Ronan nodded, even though Gansey couldn’t see him. “What do you want, Ronan?”

Ronan scoffed. “What do you think I want Gansey? You said it yourself, ‘guy of my dreams.’”

“Ronan, you were dating for two months and didn’t realize it. Maybe you’re just an idiot; or maybe you had to convince yourself that you two weren’t dating. Maybe your brain was trying to protect itself from—”

“That’s stupid.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. Just think about it, Ronan.”

Ronan sighed. “I’m sorry for waking you up, thanks for answering my call.”

“I’ll always answer if it’s you.”

“Or the Maggot,” Gansey made a noise of assent. “Wait, I didn’t wake her up right?”

Gansey laughed humorlessly. “You think that my parents would let us sleep in the same bed? She’s in one of the guest rooms.”

“Poor girl,” Ronan said.

“She’s fine, at least I don’t keep her wake from my insomniac antics.”

There was silence on the line again. “Happy New Year, Gansey.”

“Happy New Year, Ronan.”

***

In the morning, Matthew woke him up, panicked. “Ronan, wake up.” Ronan groaned and turned over. His head was pounding from exhaustion. “Ronan. Adam’s gone.”

Ronan knew that Adam was gone, but it was harder to hear it coming from Matthew’s lips; to hear it in the light of day. Now it was real.

“Yeah,” he rasped. “He left last night.”

“What? Why?”

Ronan threw a hand over his eyes. “We had a fight.”

Matthew laughed, “oh, you and your boyfriend got into an argument?” Matthew wasn’t skilled in perception, but this was just pitiful.

“Fuck off, Matthew,” Ronan growled.

Matthew looked genuinely hurt by Ronan’s tone. He didn’t say anything else, standing, and walking out of Ronan’s room. He left the door open, the little shit.

After a few minutes, Ronan stood up and closed the door. His room was dark and cool, and all Ronan wanted to do was sleep.

Aurora Lynch, however, would not let Ronan sleep, coming up the stairs twenty minutes later and opening Ronan’s door without knocking. She perched at the edge of Ronan’s bed. “Matthew told me that Adam left.”

“Yeah,” Ronan mumbled into his pillow.

“Why did he leave?”

“We had a fight.”

Aurora sighed. She placed one hand on Ronan’s back, rubbing soothing circles over his shirt. “About?”

Ronan didn’t want to answer, too embarrassed. “Uh, our relationship status.”

Aurora’s hand stopped suddenly, her voice sounding strange when she spoke. Cautious. “Was it because of something I said?”

Ronan turned over to face his mom. “What? No.” He paused. “Wait, what did you say?”

Aurora blushed. “Just that I thought you two would be good together. You know, romantically.”

Ronan pulled a pillow over his face and swore viciously into it. After dropping it to the side he said, “I guess your comment incited an argument, but I’m the reason he was mad.”

Aurora sighed, laying down and settling herself at her middle son’s side. “What happened?”

“We were dating.”

“Oh, Ronan, I didn’t know—”

“Neither did I.”

Aurora paused. “What?”

Ronan let out a huge breath. “I didn’t know that we were dating.”

“How did you not know?”

This was a question that Ronan asked himself hundreds of times in the last eight hours. Based on both the events of the past few months and the phrase oh my god the fucking AirPods, Ronan had an idea about how he may have missed Adam asking him out.

(The fact that he had missed out on one of his dreams come to life was a crushing realization that Ronan tried, in vain, not to think about)

“I was wearing headphones and I couldn’t hear him.”

Aurora, bless her, tried not to laugh, but she let out an undignified snort, nonetheless. “Oh, Ronan.”

“I know, Mom. I’m an idiot.”

Aurora moved to rub her hand over Ronan’s scalp. When he was younger and had hair, she would run her fingers through it, mussing up the already unruly curls. Ronan liked that his lack of hair didn’t mean the end of her touches. “What are you going to do?”

Ronan sighed. “Give him some space for a few days. There’s no use fighting with an angry Adam Parrish, he won't be able to see reason.”

“And then?”

“No idea.”

Ronan felt, rather than saw, Aurora nod. She continued her strokes for a few more minutes, Ronan’s heavy eyes slipping closed. When Ronan had settled, almost all the way asleep, Aurora leaned down, kissed Ronan’s forehead, stood, and left the room, the door closing soundlessly behind her.

*** 

Ronan Lynch was a fucking idiot.

Ronan Lynch almost had everything he had ever wanted without even realizing it, and then he fucked it all up.

Ronan Lynch could have been Adam Parrish’s boyfriend, and all he had to do was keep his fucking mouth shut.

The next few days passed in a blur, his memories washed out and unfocused. He tried to enjoy the time with Matthew and his mom, but there was only so much he could do when he was constantly thinking about Adam Parrish.

His judgement was so obviously impaired by this situation that he decided to fly back to New York, rather than take the train. Choosing to fly wasn’t the mistake, per se, but choosing to fly into fucking LaGuardia was.

This was how dedicated he was to Adam Parrish, submitting himself to emotional and psychological torture via the LaGuardia airport.

As Ronan exited LaGuardia, only slightly drained, he made his way to the cab line. LaGuardia may have been closer to his apartment, but Ronan had always preferred to fly into JFK. Nonetheless, Ronan waited 30 minutes for a cab, and made it home 15 minutes after that.

Monmouth was empty when he arrived. Blue and Gansey had taken the Amtrak that morning, and Noah would be in California for a few more days. Ronan left his suitcase in his room and took a quick shower, trying to get the lingering film of LaGuardia off his skin.

Within half an hour, Ronan was on the A Line to Brooklyn Heights. He got off at High Street. He walked the five blocks to Adam’s apartment. He walked up to the fourth floor. He knocked on the door.

Adam opened the door, standing there in Ronan’s Go Fuck Yourself hoodie and a pair of black boxer briefs. Ronan tried not to take the jacket too seriously, focusing on the fact that Adam was wearing his fucking hoodie. The moment Adam realized that it was Ronan standing there, he immediately slammed the door closed. From behind the door, Ronan could hear some sort of clatter.

Apparently, Ronan had not given Adam enough time.

Ronan, afraid that Adam was doing something he would later regret, called through the door, “Parrish! Please, I want to talk.”

After a few moments of silence from the other side of the door, Adam opened it just enough to stick his head out. Despite looking like he hadn’t slept in three days, his dusty hair sticking up all over his head, dark purple circles under his exhausted blue eyes, Ronan couldn’t help but be reminded of Adam’s inherent beauty.

“Fine, let me put on some pants.” Adam closed the door again and Ronan blew out a breath as soon as he was alone again. He tried to keep his heart rate even as he waited.

About a minute later, the door opened again. Adam didn’t say anything, leading Ronan inside and to the faded blue couch. He was not only now wearing a pair of dark gray sweat pants, but Adam had taken of Ronan’s hoodie as well, exchanging it for a threadbare Coca-Cola t-shirt. Adam reached for the remote, shutting the TV off, leaving him and Ronan in a tense silence.

Ronan decided to break the tension. “I called Gansey, after you left. It seems that I was the only one who hadn’t realized we were dating.”

Adam shivered, still not looking at Ronan he said, “I get that you didn’t hear me the first time I asked you out, but it’s been three months, Lynch.”

“I know. I just, I don’t know. I thought it was just what friends do.”

“I kissed you!” Adam turned to Ronan, his expression disbelieving.

“On the cheek!” Ronan shot back, suddenly defensive despite the fact that Ronan knew full well that he was the moron in the room.

“And?”

“You,” Ronan glanced up at the ceiling thinking back on the last two months, all the kissing and touching and spending time alone together. “You kiss Blue on the cheek. I just thought…”

Adam huffed out a quiet, incredulous laugh. “You thought that by hanging out alone with you and kissing you I was, what? Putting you in the friend zone?”

“I,” hearing it out loud drew out an unbidden laugh from Ronan as well. “On the train, after we went to the club, you said something about us being friends. I thought it was because I was getting a little too touchy, or whatever, and you were trying to… put me in my place.”

Adam, no longer amused by the situation, dropped his head in his hands. “You’re an idiot.”

“I know, I know. But I wanted it too much.”

“What?” Adam’s voice muffled.

Ronan sucked in a breath, trying to figure out the best way to explain it. “I wanted it to be real so much that I think I convinced myself that it wasn’t.”

Finally, Adam looked up, blue eyes glassy. “I don’t get what you’re saying.”

Closed his eyes and did his smoker’s breath. He didn’t open them until he was sure what he was going to say. “I think that the reason I didn’t realize we were dating was because I wanted us to be dating. I thought my feelings for you were unrequited, and I had to keep myself from reading into every little thing.”

“Ronan,” Adam sighed. “I wasn’t subtle.”

“I know that now,” Ronan took another deep, cleansing breath. “I thought that maybe you had gotten to a point with me that you were comfortable with all those causal, platonic touches. And I liked that, I liked that we could be close like that even if it wasn’t what I wanted.”

“And what do you want?” Adam’s voice broke a little at the end, but Ronan didn’t want to draw attention to it.

Ronan was tired and resigned. “Isn’t that obvious?”

Adam rolled his eyes, “I thought that it was obvious that you were my boyfriend. Forgive me if I think we need to clari—”

Just hearing the word boyfriend passing Adam’s lips was enough to suck all the oxygen from the room. Without thinking, Ronan surged forward, bringing his mouth to Adam’s.

Adam was still for a fraction of a second before kissing Ronan back, making a little noise of pleasure at the back of his throat. Opening his mouth up to Adam, Ronan deepened the kiss, tangling his hands in those beautiful dusty strands.

Ronan had to pull away to breathe, chest heaving as he leaned his forehead against Adam’s. “Does that, uh, clarify things?”

Adam nodded, eyes glued to Ronan’s lips, and tugged Ronan back to him by his neck. Ronan’s laugh was muffled by Adam’s lips, letting the momentum of Adam’s movement pull them all the way down, sprawling out on the couch. Ronan moved to trail kisses across Adam’s cheek and down his neck, pulling perfect little noises from the back of Adam’s throat. “Why didn’t you kiss me before?” he said, lips kissing at Adam’s pulse point.

Adam didn’t respond for a moment, nails scratching at the back of Ronan’s neck, like he was trying to form a response. “I was, oh,” Ronan must have bit a particularly sensitive spot under his jaw, his lips twisting into a smirk at the sound. “Trying to respect your boundaries.”

Ronan laughed, disgustingly fond. “And I was trying to respect yours.”

“Hey, c’mere.” Adam’s hands, his beautiful, calloused hands, tugged at Ronan’s jaw. Ronan moved back up to Adam’s face, moving the majority of his weight to his arms caging in Adam’s head. “Ronan Lynch, I like you a lot.” Adam smiled, small but real. His accent was all honey sweet, and Ronan wanted to die

Ronan could feel himself blush. “Thanks, Parrish.” Ronan ducked his head, wanting to go back to worshiping the tanned skin of Adam’s neck. But Adam wouldn’t let him move, keeping his hold on Ronan’s jaw.

Ronan,” he whined (the sound stirring something deep in Ronan’s chest). “Say it back.”

Ronan could feel the blush moving down his neck and up towards his ears. He pretended to be put out by the request anyways. “Adam Parrish, I like you a lot.”

“Thank you,” Adam loosened his hold, and Ronan returned his lips and tongue to Adam’s neck.

“I like when you call me that,” Ronan whispered against a particularly beautiful collection of freckles at the base of Adam’s throat. Adam breathed out a sigh, hand stroking Ronan’s cropped hair.

“What?” Adam asked, sounded like he was more puddle than person.

“‘Ronan,’” Ronan blushed. “I like it when you call me ‘Ronan.’”

Ronan held his breath waiting for Adam’s response. “Oh, okay. Yeah.”

“Yeah?” Ronan glanced up see Adam’s blissed out face, eye’s hooded and lips swollen

“Yeah.” Adam blinked languidly down at Ronan.

Ronan, overwhelmed with the need to kiss Adam Parrish, crawled back up Adam’s body and did so. He couldn’t believe that now, anytime he wanted to kiss Adam Parrish, he could.

Adam’s clever hands had moved from Ronan’s scalp, to under his t-shirt in a matter of seconds. Ronan could only picture the patterns Adam was tracing along his tattoo. Shivering and coming undone above him, Ronan panted against Adam’s lips as the other man dragged Ronan’s shirt up and over his head, dropping it on the floor next to them.

Hovering over him, Adam flushed and responsive, Ronan couldn’t form a single coherent thought. This however meant that when the front door opened, neither Adam nor Ronan noticed before Blue Sargent was calling out, “Adam?” from the doorway.

Both of them shot up to a seated position, Ronan straddling Adam’s lap. They turned to face the door, watching Blue’s face go from concerned, to confused, to downright giddy before saying, “oh, so sorry to interrupt.” Blue turned away and moved to leave.

Ronan turned back to Adam; eyes’ glued to his kiss-swollen lips. He leaned in to kiss him again, stopping when Adam said, “wait! Where are you going?”

Blue spoke again, but Ronan’s eyes never left Adam’s face. “I’ll stay at Monmouth tonight. Give you guys some, ah, privacy.” Ronan could feel himself smiling.

“Oh,” was all Adam said, blinking at Blue’s retreating figure.

Ronan smirked at Adam’s candid expression. “Thanks, Maggot. Now get out of here.” Ronan pushed Adam back down into a vertical position, muffling Adam’s response with his lips.

Blue laughed and called, “please don’t have sex on our couch, but if you do, please use protection” very loudly over her shoulder. Ronan flipped Blue off over the back of the couch, mouth never leaving Adam’s.

Adam had huffed out a little irritated breath as the door closed and locked behind Blue. Ronan moved to kiss at Adam’s good ear. “It would serve her right,” he said.

“Huh?” Ronan was entranced by Adam shivering deliciously.

“To have sex on the couch.” Adam, realizing what he was saying, blanched, twisting away from where Ronan’s insistent lips were placing open-mouthed kisses at the space right behind Adam’s right ear. “Uh, I mean—”

“Whatever you wanna do, Parrish,” Ronan followed Adam’s movements, pressing his lips back to Adam’s warm skin. “I’ve got all day.”

Adam relaxed, nails lightly scratching at Ronan’s bare shoulder. “Is that a promise?”

Ronan moved back to Adam’s face, taking in his serene, if not a little flushed, face. “I’ll do you one better. You’ve got me as long as you want me, Adam.”

Adam preened, pulling Ronan by the neck for a quick, chaste kiss. “Sounds perfect.”

***

Later, when they were sated, breathing returning back to normal, Ronan had his head resting on Adam’s bare chest. He liked to hear the ways his heartrate picked up as Ronan ghosted his fingers over Adam’s ribs, or the sharp angles of his hipbones.

“Ro?” Adam whispered; voice raspy. Ronan tried not to blush too deeply at the nickname, picking up his head when he had gotten the flush under control. “What do I say when someone asks how long we’ve been dating?”

Ronan couldn’t stop the flush now, ducking his face back down into Adam’s chest. “Uh, either three hours or three months?”

Adam laughed fondly. “God, you’re such an idiot.”

Ronan looked up again, succumbing to fondness at Adam’s expression. “Yeah, but now I’m your idiot.”

Adam rolled his eyes, but Ronan kept smiling. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”