"Would you be interested in taking on a familiar?"
Adam knew this question was nowhere near as simple as Gansey was hoping to make it sound. Although he and Gansey had bonded over researching magic, he knew Gansey wouldn’t show up on his doorstep late at night with such a proposition if it weren’t serious. More to the point, the High Council didn’t sentence a magician to become a familiar lightly. The magician in question would have had to commit a serious misuse of magic, and then there would have to be a magician willing to take responsibility for the familiar for the duration of the familiar’s service for the Council to consider such a sentencing.
Adam kept his face as neutral as he could make it, waiting for more information.
Gansey rubbed a thumb over his bottom lip. "You remember I've spoken to you about my friend Ronan?”
Yes, Adam did remember the stories he’d heard about Ronan Lynch, and he thought that this was starting to make slightly more sense.
Gansey winced, very faintly, at whatever this must have inspired on Adam’s face, but he continued, “Unfortunately he's run into some trouble. I'm hopeful that I can have his sentence lessened into service as a familiar. Obviously that would go a lot smoother if I were able to recommend a magician who was already prepared to accept his service. I wouldn't ask if I didn't think this would be good for the both of you, and of course, I'll assist you both in any way that I can. You don't have to answer right away."
“Why wouldn’t Ronan become your familiar?” Adam asked, because it seemed the first reasonable question to raise.
Gansey’s wince at that was not faint in the least. “I’m considering that as an option, if I find no better alternatives, but I - I don’t think that would be very good for either him or me, ultimately. Ronan can be...challenging...you have some idea of that already. He’s not going to be overly thrilled to be in this position, I wouldn’t want you to go into this without the understanding that you are going to face opposition on Ronan’s part. But I think Ronan would find it even more difficult if I were the one who was going to be in charge of his familiar service. He already resents times that I’ve had to try to regulate some of his poor behavior, and I can only imagine that would grow worse if he were my familiar. And frankly I’m afraid I wouldn’t have much success trying to keep him in check if I were in that position. I think you would fare better, you’re pragmatic and you’re firm where you need to be, and I think you could sincerely be a good influence on him. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe things would work out well for you both.”
Well, Gansey’s reasons for being hesitant to take Ronan on himself did seem to check out. Adam frowned pensively. His first instinct upon being presented with such a proposition was that this seemed like far more trouble than it was worth. He would have probably said as much, too, if it weren’t for the conversation he’d had with Persephone less than three days ago.
He’d been frustrated by his progress with his magic lately; most days he had a good handle on his magic, but there were still those times when his magic hardly seemed to want to respond to him, and then there were times when his magic seemed to want to flow out of him like it had a mind of its own, barely under his control. He thought he’d be beyond this by now. When he’d asked Persephone for her advice on what he could do to improve things, she’d suggested in her mild far-off sort of way that magic was mysterious and deeply personal and if he wanted to gain a deeper understanding of it, then the best first step for him would probably be to get out of his own head, to make connections outside of himself that could give him more perspective.
And in a roundabout, broad stoke sort of way of looking at it, isn’t that what bonding with a familiar could do for him? Adam would have to connect with someone else and he’d be expanding his own magical abilities in the process. One of the main advantages that having a familiar provided a magician was that the familiar bond amplified the magician’s magic, and let the magician access avenues of magic that wouldn’t be possible for the magician alone. Having a familiar opened doors.
Of course there was part of Adam that was certain there had to be less complicated ways to go about achieving his objective, but there was an oddly forceful part of himself that felt like this was an opportunity he wouldn’t get again, that he shouldn’t just let it pass him by.
So, honestly unsure of where his better judgment stood on the matter but committed to his decision to go with his instincts nonetheless, Adam told Gansey, “I’m interested.”
Adam would have liked to have had time to meet with Ronan in person before officially agreeing to things, but Ronan was being detained by the High Council. As it turned out, Ronan was facing punishment for transforming a young girl partially into a goat.
Ronan’s brother, Declan Lynch, had made a statement before the Council explaining that Ronan had found the child, whose name was Opal, in the woods and she had been hexed to be unable to speak, but to only make animal noises. Allegedly, Ronan had come up with the unconventional idea that if he turned her into an animal, and therefore she was able to communicate properly for the form that she had, that would circumvent the hex, and then when he returned her to human form, she would be able to communicate properly as a human once more. It would seem that it worked, because when the Council questioned Opal she could in fact speak, though she was so distressed by the ordeal that she refused to say much.
According to Declan, she had been so agitated when Ronan was restoring her into human form that Ronan had stopped midway to try to calm her and to try to discover how she’d become hexed in the first place, but the only thing she would say was that she wanted Ronan to stop making her any more human. This much was at least corroborated by the Council, because Opal hadn’t been willing to say much to any of the Council Members, despite all nine of each Councilman’s best efforts, except to ask to leave, and then when the Council had completed the task of fully returning her to human form, she insisted most fiercely that she wanted her hooves back.
Although Adam supposed that this story did explain Ronan’s motive for using magic to transform Opal, the Council still wouldn’t look upon it kindly. Such improper transformations, that were done without going through the proper procedures and acquiring proper consent, were one of the main abuses of magic that the High Council was in place to prevent. Using unwarranted magic to so significantly alter another person was one of the things the Council was the most stringent about prohibiting, along with using magic in ways that risked offending the gods, using magic to take life, using magic to steal magic away from another person, or using magic to create new life which veered too much into the domain of the gods. Ronan may have thought he had his reasons, but the circumstances didn’t justify the kind of magic that he did, certainly not in the eyes of the Council. And besides, Adam couldn’t be alone in finding the story suspect. From the uncomfortable way that Gansey had spoken when he’d explained it to Adam - and, also, from the fact that the whole scenario was so bizarre - it was easy to tell that there was more going on than Gansey was willing to say. Adam supposed he would just have to learn what he could as he went.
When Adam had gone to Fox Way to tell them about his intentions to take on a familiar, Blue and Calla both clearly thought he was out of his mind. Then, after only a day had passed, he’d had an uneasy meeting with Declan Lynch. Declan clearly didn’t think that taking on Ronan was an advisable decision, at least, not for Adam. Declan took no pains to hide the fact that he didn’t believe Adam was up for the task. To the point that he asked for Adam’s word that if Adam was determined to go through with this, that Adam would go to either Gansey or Declan himself when Adam became too fed up to deal with Ronan any longer, as opposed to going directly to the Council. Adam could be contrary by nature, though, and the fact that others were doubting him ended up making him want to dig his heels in.
Besides, Persephone had seemed to support the decision. Or at least, she’d been very serene in telling the other women of Fox Way that she didn’t see why things shouldn't work out. She approved enough to agree to talk to Gansey and the Council about the details of Ronan serving as a familiar. That was enough for Adam.
And so, three days after Gansey had originally proposed the idea to Adam, Adam found himself standing before the High Council.
“Do you, Adam Parrish, agree to take responsibility for Ronan Lynch while he serves under you as your familiar?” High Councilman Harris asked.
He was here, wasn’t he? Adam was careful not to let such thoughts show on his face, and not to stare at Ronan Lynch. “Yes.”
“Do you, Ronan Lynch, agree of your own free will to serve as a familiar for Adam Parrish?” High Councilman Harris asked.
Ronan’s mouth was twisted into an angry sort of snarl, but he looked at Gansey, who was watching him with palpable concern, and said in a low flat voice, “Yes.”
“The bonding ritual will take place tomorrow morning and will be presided over by Persephone Poldma. The ritual will transform you into an animal form and your magic will be unresponsive to you while you are in this form. Mister Parrish, as the magician who is responsible for assuming mastery over your new form, may allow you to assume human form, and supervise you in some small use of your own magic at his discretion. Your service as a familiar will last for one year and after that time your case will be reviewed before the Council. Your behavior during that time will be taken in to consideration when the Council determines what further action ought to be taken. If the Council believes there’s still more progress to be made your service as a familiar will be extended. You will achieve the shortest duration of service for yourself by making yourself accommodating to Mister Parrish. By agreeing to this bonding ritual, you agree to accept Mister Parrish’s guidance and authority. If you prove unwilling to work with Mister Parrish over the course of this next year, your service as a familiar will be ended and the Council will move to consider magic dampening rituals. Do you understand the terms as they’ve been laid out before you?”
“And you are of sound mind to agree to these terms, you’re not being coerced to accept these terms against your will, you’re content with the terms as they stand?”
Ronan conveyed an incredible amount of viciousness through his silence.
High Councilman Harris was unmoved. He said blandly, “For the record, Mister Lynch.”
Ronan’s voice was slightly less flat, tinged with an acid edge of irony. “Yes.”
“You should be content, you have very good friends who worked very hard to arrange this for you,” High Councilman Pinter intoned crossly. “It’d be a poor way for you to repay them for you to decide you can’t be bothered to put an effort in. If you don’t try to improve during the time you’ve been granted, then the Council will not continue to grant you opportunities to earn your rights to practice magic back. So I recommend trying.”
Gansey’s hand actually moved a little bit, to reach out to Ronan, even though he was stood too far back from Ronan to be able to touch him. Ronan seemed to notice the gesture too, though, because he gritted his teeth and didn’t lash back at Pinter, even though every furious line of his body spoke to how badly he wanted to, even though it was only too easy to read the thousand and one curses and insults simmering behind his eyes.
High Councilman Harris continued steadfastly, “Assistant Councilor Ramirez will go over the relevant information with you before tomorrow’s bonding ritual. The Council will reconvene in a year’s time to review Mister Lynch’s case, barring any misconduct. Best of luck, gentlemen.”
Adam chose to interpret those last words of dismissal as a banal pleasantry, as opposed to something he would dearly need.
And so the next night morning found Adam walking through the woods of Cabeswater’s forest alongside Persephone, on their way to perform the ritual that would make Ronan his familiar. “Persephone?” he asked slowly, “...do you think I should do this?”
Persephone was the only person Adam could imagine being able to ask this question, especially now, literally moments before the bonding ritual was meant to take place. Because he trusted Persephone’s judgment, and because she wouldn’t remotely care that this was hardly the ideal time to express second doubts.
She regarded Adam mildly. “I think that you and I have very different ways of problem solving, Adam, but if you want to do this, I think you should trust your instincts. Is this what you want?”
Adam wished she wouldn’t ask him that. He didn’t have a satisfactory answer. What he didn’t want was he didn’t want to feel like he wasn’t capable of mastering his magic, he didn’t want to keep questioning if he was worthy of being a magician, and he didn’t want to continue doing nothing about it. Taking action almost always sounded better to him than remaining static, even if he knew that the action he was about to take was fraught with complications. And it would be magnanimous to classify Ronan Lynch as merely complicated. Still. He hadn’t forgotten the part of him that had seen an opportunity here and he didn’t think last minute nerves were really a good reason to throw that away. So, he supposed, “Yes.”
Persephone gave him a small, serene sort of smile and gently slid her arm through his, leading him onwards through the forest to the old stone circle that channeled a particularly strong area of magical energy.
Ronan Lynch was already at the agreed upon spot, alongside Gansey and Assistant Councilor Ramirez, who was supervising. Ronan was scowling off towards the tops of the trees where the sun was rising, painting the sky a pale reddish-orange. There was part of Adam that felt like there should be more of a sense of grandeur and pageantry to prelude a ritual that would have such a significant impact on his and Ronan’s lives, but then, Persephone was overseeing things, and that wasn’t the least bit her style.
Adam breathed in, and around him the trees rustled with a soft breeze that carried the scent of the grass after a rainstorm. He took comfort in it.
“If you’re both ready,” Persephone began, with a small gesture of her hand inviting them forward.
Adam and Ronan knelt within the circle of stones.
“Join hands,” Persephone told them softly.
Adam looked at Ronan.
Ronan looked at Adam.
And didn’t this bode well for the union they were both there to undertake, Adam thought to himself sardonically, but he made an effort not to let his thoughts show on his face. Having worked alongside Persephone long enough to have some idea of how she intended the ritual to go, Adam let out a breath and crossed his hands at the wrists before extending his hands out faintly toward Ronan.
Ronan’s face was a clouded mask of what Adam could only assume was resentment, but silently he mirrored Adam and took Adam’s right hand with his own right hand and Adam’s left hand with his own left hand.
Neither of them were thrilled to be here, but neither of them had walked away while they’d had the chance, and now, as Persephone carefully knotted red ribbon around their joined hands, it seemed like that chance had officially and resoundingly passed them by. Adam, feeling a little off-balance faced directly with the literal binding they’d both agreed to, had the inane thought that at least Ronan’s hands were warm because his hands always ran cool.
Persephone chanted quiet spell words in her far-off voice, and then she reached into her pocket and pulled out a vial of the potion Adam had brewed last night at sundown. She pulled out the stopper and held it up to Ronan’s mouth, since Ronan’s hands were still laced with Adam’s. Ronan’s eyes said he would like nothing more than to spit the potion back out in her face, but he swallowed it down with only a sour grimace. His hands twitched restlessly in Adam’s own.
“Focus on your awareness of Ronan’s magic, Adam. He’s going to be changing, use your magic to help steady his,” Persephone said, her voice still quiet but more pressing than it usually was.
The air around Ronan seemed to glow, energy crackling all around him like a condensed lightning storm, too sharp and bright and wrong for Adam to look directly at. He shut his eyes and focused on reaching out to Ronan with his magic. Ronan’s hands slipped from his, and Adam gripped at the part of the ribbon he could feel going slack to help ground himself. He thought of how Cabeswater’s forest had reassured him, and the wind picked up, cool and electric and tempering.
Only when the wind settled down did Adam open his eyes again.
In front of him, where Ronan had just been kneeling moments ago, attached to Adam by the red ribbon tied just above its talons, was an ink black raven.
It took Adam no time at all to regret his decision.
When Ronan left Adam little choice but to make Ronan assume animal form, Adam was certain it ended up being more of a punishment for him than it was for Ronan.
Ravens were massive birds.
Adam never had cause to think about how large ravens were in any kind of meaningful way before this, but goddamn, in raven form Ronan’s wingspan had to be something like four feet.
And ravens were loud.
It was awful when Ronan screamed in raven form, so shrill Adam honest-to-god wondered if it might damage the hearing in his one hearing ear. And something about the sound was so demanding, it grated on Adam like nothing else. When Ronan got unbearably high-pitched and repetitive with his raven’s screams, Adam had little choice but to spell away Ronan’s voice, and that just left them both feeling resentful. It took several rounds of this, with Adam finding less and less patience within himself to wait before resorting to magically silencing Ronan, before Ronan seemed to decide it would be more effective to use this particular tactic more sparingly. Ravens had the ability to imitate human speech, and so theoretically there was no reason Ronan wouldn’t still be able to speak in raven form, but he didn’t. He’d rather imitate the sounds of car engines or flushing toilets, because of course he would.
Ronan didn’t have to be in raven form to be a nuisance, but god, it made things all too easy for him. Adam lived in the small cabin the women of Fox Way had used when they went to go tend to Cabeswater’s forest before Adam took over those responsibilities, too small for more than just him, and Ronan lived with his two brothers, on a fancy piece of property that wasn’t the fancy piece of property he’d grown up on, because of complicated family affairs that really wasn’t Adam’s business, so when they’d both agreed to the bonding ritual, Gansey had offered a solution. He let them both stay in the enormous workshop he’d renovated that had apparently once belonged to the seer of Monmouth. Wasn’t that so very Gansey, to have a place on hand that was once home to a man renowned not only as a diviner but also an inventor, for Adam and Ronan to just move in to. Adam didn’t like it. It never felt like his space, and none of his possessions that he’d brought with him were safe, not from Ronan in his raven form determined to be the absolute biggest pest that he could be.
He used his sharp talons and powerful beak to destroy Adam’s pens and books, to dent the shit out of Adam’s tea kettle and shatter Adam’s mugs and send tins careening off shelves to unleash a torrent of loose tea everywhere. The things Ronan couldn’t break, he tended to hide in high places. Adam had exerted a lot of effort to magically protect his tarot cards as soon as Persephone had given them to him, which paid off when Ronan got to them. Ronan hadn’t been able to tear or otherwise damage the cards, but he had hidden the cards in 78 separate places. All of this Adam tried to bear with as little outward reaction as possible - he wouldn’t give Ronan the satisfaction.
After ceaseless nights of finding ink stains all over his sheets when he went to go to bed and waking up in the morning to find shattered remains of ceramic shards all over the floor, Adam finally gave up on the idea of trying not to react when Ronan went for the herb garden that Adam had started in the overgrown yard out back.
You couldn’t protect living things the same way you could protect objects, or it’d interfere with them growing. Adam hoped Ronan would overlook his herbs, but it was too much to hope for. Ronan had been horrible earlier in the day and had been in raven form for long enough to have tantrumed himself out, or so Adam had thought, so he’d closed himself in his room to get some research done. Then he’d gone outside to tend his herbs, only to find a mess of upturned dirt and thin shreds of green everywhere and scattered pieces of broken pots.
He stalked back inside and grabbed Ronan up, too irate to really think about what he was doing, clamping his arms over Ronan’s wings to keep them down. Ronan snapped his beak threateningly close to Adam’s fingers, but Adam knew from some somewhat reckless prior experience that as destructive as Ronan could be, as menacing as he could seem, he wouldn’t actually use his claws or beak to hurt Adam.
Adam carried a thrashing Ronan outside to the herb garden and let go of Ronan, barely waiting until Ronan had flapped to the ground to turn him human.
Adam pointed a finger in Ronan’s newly human face and grated out, “Clean it up!”
Ronan only looked at Adam’s finger with arched eyebrows.
“Clean it up, or I’m turning you into a bird again, and if I have to turn you into a bird again, you’re going in a goddamn birdcage.”
Ronan’s eyebrows only went higher.
Adam snapped his fingers, and twigs lying in the grass by their feet flew together and fused into a birdcage large enough to hold a raven before hardening into iron. “Clean it up, now, or you’re going in.”
Ronan looked from the cage to Adam’s face, and he must have felt the flare of Adam’s magic as Adam got ready to transform him, because he let out something like a sardonically amused sort of scoff and said, “All right, Parrish, shit, if it means that much to you I’ll fucking clean it up, damn.”
Adam glared at him. “And clean it up right, I’m going to get new seeds to replant tomorrow.”
Ronan gave Adam an impossibly exaggerated roll of his eyes, but wonder of wonders, he did a decent job of clearing up the mess.
Adam wondered, afterwards, if he’d let himself take things a little too far. It wasn’t that Ronan didn’t deserve it, it was that Adam didn’t think it was a good idea to let his temper loose. It felt like too slippery a slope.
Even more surprising than Ronan cleaning up the mess was that the next morning when Adam went outside, he found fresh herbs in the garden that Ronan must have planted sometime during the night in secret.
The two of them reached the start of an unspoken sort of impasse, after that.
Checking in with Persephone was a mandatory part of their arrangement, and Adam supposed Ronan might feel marginally better about that if Adam asked Persephone to come to them at Monmouth rather than dragging Ronan to Fox Way, but Adam wanted to see the women of Fox Way and it wasn’t as if Ronan’s behavior would be anything other than abominable either way.
Of course Ronan made Adam regret exposing the women of Fox Way to him, because Ronan Lynch wasn’t fit for any sort of company, but that wasn’t enough to overrule Adam’s own stubbornness or genuine desire to return to the place where he first studied magic, to the people who had provided him with a place to go when it’d been time to leave home.
Fox Way was a sort of school for magic, but it was far too unconventional for a label like a school to feel fitting. The women of Fox Way were extraordinarily in tune with magic, and they didn’t get nearly the recognition they deserved. Even the High Council had occasion to confer with the women of Fox Way from time to time, because they were very skilled at what they did, but the women of Fox Way weren’t viewed the same way as other powerful magicians or Council hopefuls were by the larger magical community, because they brazenly defied the status quo that the High Council represented.
The women of Fox Way didn’t care for the sort of politics that went into maintaining good relationships with families that boasted powerful magical bloodlines. Magic did tend to be carried down through generations within magical families, but there were also people who were born with magical abilities despite no one in their families having the least bit of magic. The women of Fox Way only cared about who a person was, what abilities they had and what they chose to do with that, not about who a person happened to be born to. They had earned themselves no small amount of enmity for being disinclined to work with magicians from the most prevalent families, and for taking in nobodies like Adam Parrish instead. Adam was forever grateful to them for that.
The women of Fox Way shaped Adam into who he was. They taught Adam to connect to his magic, they taught him about the gods, they taught him what a home could look like when the people in it actually cared about one another. They’d changed him in ways they hadn’t even meant to. Sometimes, in ways they couldn’t have foreseen and maybe wouldn’t have chosen. Persephone was Adam’s main instructor, and she taught Adam how the gods tended to keep to themselves in the other realm where immortals and ancient spirits existed. Some gods were interested in mortal affairs, on occasion, but though immortal beings could appear in the mortal realm however and whenever and wherever they wished, they couldn’t linger in the mortal realm for too long without the mortal realm weakening their essences. In order to allow the gods to more comfortably show themselves in the mortal realm, mortals possessing magical talents tended to temples for the gods, which strengthened and sustained the gods while they were away from their own realm. The women of Fox Way were the most closely connected to a nature god that was most commonly referred to as The Voice of the Trees.
Adam and the women of Fox Way were connected closely enough to the god not to fear calling it by its name: Cabeswater. Cabeswater’s source of strength in the mortal realm wasn’t a traditional temple, but a forest. The women of Fox Way had cared for Cabeswater’s forest, clearing streams and wayward stones and overgrown plants as necessary, for years. When Adam had first begun training under Persephone, young and itching to do whatever he could to build and reinforce his own magic, Persephone had maybe known that Adam needed a connection with something bigger than himself, and had entrusted Adam with the majority of tending to Cabswater’s forest. Feeling desperately deficient in his own magical abilities, especially in the earliest phases of his training when he’d first found himself entirely surrounded with people who lived and breathed magic without a second thought, he’d done something rash.
Going off some reading he had done, but largely off of instinct, Adam had performed a ritual at the heart of Cabeswater’s forest to connect him to Cabeswater itself. It left him exhausted enough that he barely remembered the first few days that had come after, but it had worked. The women of Fox Way had been, to put it mildly, more than a little concerned. They cared for Cabeswater and respected the power Cabeswater held, but they were uneasy about becoming too close to Cabeswater, for Cabeswater was not mortal and could not truly understand mortal limitations. Persephone had accepted with her usual far-off serenity that Adam had done what he felt was necessary, and worked with him to help him understand what this new connection meant for him, and the other women followed suit.
Technically, being so new to magic and so reckless with it, Adam’s actions ought to have been brought before the Council. Experimental magic involving the gods was, after all, one of most magicians' main concerns, and the Council was in place to protect magicians from what could go wrong if that sort of magic was allowed to go unchecked. But the women of Fox Way believed the Council to be harsh and closed-minded, fearing what they saw as threats to the kinds of magic they wanted to preserve, unwilling to embrace new possibilities that exploring new magic could bring. For this and other reasons, Adam knew that the women of Fox Way cheerily opposed what the High Council stood for. Even so, Adam learned that this opposition extended farther than he could have previously imagined one of the first times he brought Ronan for a visit.
Calla and Ronan immediately butted heads, because Ronan was incredibly rude and Calla excelled at biting back, and in very short order Adam had turned Ronan into raven form and sent him outside.
“How are things going, Adam?” Maura asked in a drolly sympathetic sort of tone, while Persephone mixed a drink for Calla with a mellow sort of smile that seemed to indicate that she for one thought everything was going swimmingly thus far.
Adam sighed as he looked out of the window toward where Ronan had flown off. At least Ronan was too opposed to the general atmosphere of Fox Way to want to hang around to pester them as a raven. “You saw what he’s like. That sort of asshole behavior is par for the course for him.”
“Just leave him in bird form to rot,” Calla scoffed in contempt.
“That wouldn’t get either of them anywhere,” Persephone said in her small voice, not admonishing, but like she was presenting a valid if admittedly inconvenient point.
“I think he’s got charm, for what he is,” Orla offered, arching an eyebrow with a grin that was right on the borderline of a jeer. “Things could be good, I think he just needs a firm hand, you know?”
Blue spared Adam from having to formulate a response to this by pulling a truly judgmental face and hauling Adam outside onto the back porch, where they sipped iced tea and watched Ronan in raven form circle a small blonde girl who gleefully chased him and continually attempted to dive for him with all the fervor of a lion cub learning to pounce.
The sight was somewhat absurd and a little endearing at the same time. “Has she been here before?” Adam asked.
Blue’s eyebrows raised meaningfully. “That’s Opal. You know. The girl Ronan got into trouble for transforming in the first place. The girl the Council had to magic her entire lower half from goat to human. The girl Gansey asked us to look after until things blew over. The girl who, according to what my mom told the Councilman who stopped by asking questions, is one of Sheryl’s daughters. You remember Sheryl? She spends most of her time traveling to different cave systems spelunking and connecting to the old gods or whatever, but she comes around here a couple times a year. Hard person for the Council to try to get a hold of for further questioning.”
Adam frowned wryly at the information. Opal, the girl Ronan allegedly found in the woods and used serious magic on, who Adam had never seen before, happened to be the child of a woman who frequented Fox Way? Seemed like an awfully big coincidence. “Is Opal Sheryl’s daughter?”
Blue’s mouth curved, just as wry. “I guess what matters right now is, is there anyone around to say she isn’t?”
Adam returned Blue’s wry look. Gansey had convinced Adam to take Ronan on as a familiar, had he also convinced the women of Fox Way to lie to the Council on Ronan’s behalf? Possible - probable, even. Gansey was often in contact with the women of Fox Way, that was how Adam had met Gansey to start with. Gansey believed in exploring all backgrounds of magic, he couldn’t help being intrigued by Fox Way, he had an almost philosophical interest in what went on here. And there was a lot Gansey would be willing to do for his friends; but what did Gansey feel the need to help Ronan cover up? What did Gansey know about Opal that he had to recruit the women of Fox Way into trying to hide? Adam didn’t know what the real story here was, but he thought it was time to do a little digging.
When Adam attempted to find casual ways to try to ask Ronan more about Opal, it didn’t go well.
So Adam kept an ear out. When he heard gossip in town that the other two Lynch brothers had gone traveling, it didn’t take much effort at all to find out what people were saying. Apparently Declan Lynch had volunteered before the Council for he and Matthew to go and attempt to locate Opal’s mother, so that the Council could get in touch with her and see the case resolved. When Adam tried to casually ask Ronan about what he’d heard, that went worse.
Ronan demanded to see Gansey, so Adam had Gansey come over and stayed out in the herb garden to let the two of them talk. Ronan only seemed more agitated after Gansey left.
That night, Adam woke to discover the ward on Ronan’s door had been disabled and no one was inside. He could sense it was Ronan’s own magic that had undone the magic of the ward; Ronan had left.
Had Ronan gone to see Gansey again? Adam couldn’t imagine that Gansey wouldn’t get into contact with him if Ronan had shown up on Gansey’s door. Wherever Ronan was, Adam should have turned Ronan in. Taking off in the middle of the night beyond Adam’s supervision qualified as the sort of misconduct that would put an end to Ronan’s familiar service. Really, Adam should have welcomed the justification to be rid of Ronan. Logically he should have. But he was invested now. And he was loath to give it all up with nothing to show for it, reluctant to let Declan Lynch and everyone else who’d already made their assumptions about how poorly things had been bound to go be right in the end. He wasn’t altogether sure why some illogical part of him was so committed to seeing this through, why despite himself he thought this was all worthwhile, why he wouldn’t just cut his losses. But that illogical part of him seemed to be a stronger part of him than he knew, because the tracking spell that led him to Ronan was as effortless as letting a steady current pull you down a river.
His magic brought him to a temple for the Lady of the Dayspring, where Ronan was, inexplicably, knelt before the statue of the goddess with his head bowed.
Adam surveyed the temple quickly for signs of damage but spotted none, and when he looked back to Ronan, who looked awfully unlike himself in a pose of supplication, Adam found himself feeling oddly guilty for that initial reaction.
He spoke quietly into the darkness, “I didn’t know you’d want to pray at a temple.” He would never have guessed that out of all the temples Ronan could have gone to, Ronan would ever choose a temple for the Lady of the Dayspring, a multifaceted goddess associated with a variety of things, from the dawn to the spring to new beginnings to creativity and magic in general. But that didn’t seem very tactful for Adam to say aloud.
Ronan’s head jerked up and his whole body tensed. “The fuck are you doing here?” he growled, but his voice was less cutting and more haggard than his usual show of aggression.
Really, that was Adam’s line, but he only said, “It’s not too late for me to leave and ask Gansey to come get you instead, if that’s what you want,” with less of his own brand of shrewd aggression than usual.
“You didn’t send Gansey after me to start with,” Ronan said, looking at Adam. “Or one of the Council. Why?”
Adam frowned a little. It was a fair question, but he didn’t feel particularly keen on answering it. “I wanted to know where you went and why before I did anything else. Did you leave because you weren’t intending to come back?”
“I was gonna come back,” Ronan muttered, looking away toward the carving of the sun on the temple’s ceiling. “I just needed… - can we just forget it? Let’s head back.”
“Ronan, we're going to have to talk about this.” But the look in Ronan’s eyes told Adam that he didn’t have the energy for this right now, so Adam let out a quiet breath and nodded in the direction they’d come from. “At some point. Are you ready to go?”
Ronan surprised him further by lighting one of the prayer candles and closing his eyes for a long silent moment. Then he led the way out into the night.
Ronan hated that there was a little part of himself that still couldn’t help hoping something might happen after he’d prayed. Some sort of sign. Anything.
It was a dumbass move to go to the temple last night, Ronan should’ve realized that before he’d gone ahead and done it. He didn’t know why he thought he’d get away with it; he guessed he’d figured Adam didn’t really care where he was or what he was doing so long as he wasn’t causing direct problems for Adam. Dumbass fucking move.
He just hadn’t been thinking, not past the thought of what might happen to him and his brothers and Opal if rumors were spreading about them this thick and fast. The witches at Fox Way being involved with Opal was bad enough; Ronan didn’t like lying and the lies Declan and Gansey had cobbled together weren’t even good ones. They didn’t stop people on the street from having suspicions, from asking questions, from wanting to know more about what happened. And when Gansey had come over, he’d only had worse news to deliver, the Lynch family was all anyone was talking about in the kinds of circles that the Gansey family kept up with.
If anyone started looking into things too far if they asked too many questions if they found out about Opal if they’d paid too much attention to Matthew -
Ronan hadn’t wanted to think about it, not last night, and not this morning. He hadn’t wanted to answer the questions Adam was bound to have when Adam decided to bring it up again. So he’d smashed a fancy hand mirror Adam used for certain rituals right against Adam’s bedroom door. At the noise, Adam had come out and looked at him, not even angry - or pretending like he wasn’t angry, the way he usually did - but quietly jaded, like he’d resigned himself to going back to business as usual, and had turned Ronan into raven form.
The best thing about being a raven, even better than how detached he felt from the snarl of his human thoughts, was being able to fly. God, Ronan loved flying.
He wasn’t sure how long he’d been out flying for when he sensed protective wards being triggered, that meant someone was close by who didn’t have express permission to be there. As a familiar, Ronan was supposed to help with that sort of thing. It grated on him, to do anything that approached the realm of dutiful, but the quiet but intent flare of magic Adam sent to him quickly after the wards went off told Ronan that this wasn’t the time to be contrary for the sake of it.
He flew to Adam, and there standing across from Adam was Piper Greenmantle.
Before Ronan had the time to fully process this, he was distracted by the feel of Adam’s magic coursing through him, letting him become human again. He transformed in the space between Adam and Piper Greenmantle, and with all the contemptuous disgust that Piper Greenmantle deserved, he demanded, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing here?”
“Word that you cut and run appear to be exaggerated,” Piper quipped mulishly.
The idea that Piper Greenmantle had intel on where he’d been sent something sickly and cold through him, but not as cold as the subtle edge to the polite tone that Adam affected as he said, “If word was passed along that Ronan went to a temple, it should have included the fact that I was at the temple with him. Did you come all this way just because of that?”
“I came to talk to you, ideally alone,” Piper answered with a smile a politician would be envious of.
“If you’re here due to allegations that Ronan is a flight risk, it’d be contradictory for you to ask him to leave now,” Adam said, tone mild enough to still count as civil, even while suggesting perfectly clearly that he’d appreciate no more of his time being wasted.
Piper’s smile twisted at the edges but she didn’t let Adam’s tone slow her down. She flipped her blond hair over her shoulder and said to Adam in an ostentatious sort of pseudo-undertone, “Listen, let’s be honest, you couldn’t have had a lot of time to think this whole familiar thing through, right? Considering how fast you went ahead with the bonding ritual? And Ronan, well. He’s a lot. Can you look me in the eye and tell me you haven’t been having any second thoughts?”
Adam didn’t say anything. Ronan tried not to let anything show on his face.
Piper kept going. “I don’t think it’s too big of an assumption for me to make to say that your experience so far has to have been rough, no? And wouldn’t it be a relief not to have to deal with it any more? To walk away and free yourself up to move on to better things? I think we can work something out.”
“Meaning?” Adam intoned, with only the faintest arch of an eyebrow.
“Meaning I could arrange for Ronan’s familiar service to be transferred to me, and you wouldn’t have to worry about a thing.” Piper’s words were seeped with easy camaraderie but her gaze grew more querulous the longer she went on failing to garner a reaction from Adam.
“With all due respect,” Adam said, with only a thin veneer of respect, “Why are you so sure I don’t want Ronan as my familiar when you want him as yours?”
Piper’s lip curled. “I have the magical background and resources to handle Ronan properly; it’ll be a very different experience with me. I can use those assets to make sure you and I both get what we want out of this, Adam. Surely you know my husband and I have sway with the Council, and he and I have made all sorts of new and exciting advancements in magic. I’ll be able to get the fullest advantage out of having a familiar with the expertise I already have, and I can teach you whatever you’re looking to learn and introduce you to whoever you’d like to meet to advance your own magic.”
Adam, quiet but unwavering, said, “The Council appointed me to oversee Ronan’s service as a familiar, and that’s what I intend to do.”
Piper regarded Adam with slow vexation that was only tempered by a certain degree of incomprehension. Finally she said, “Fine. If that’s really how you want to be about it. I’ll be keeping an eye out. In case you change your mind.”
She swept away, clearly unsatisfied and clearly unused to being denied what she wanted.
Once she was out of sight and out of earshot, Adam reset the wards that he always maintained and went on to set some higher-level wards that took more energy, to be sure that she was truly gone and that she wouldn’t be able to perform any magic in the vicinity of Monmouth for the next few hours at least. Then he said, “I think it’s time to stop breaking mirrors and actually talk.”
Ronan knew Adam had a point. But still, he wasn’t quite prepared to give in. “How about a deal? I’ll talk if we do it at the Barns.”
The understanding visible on Adam’s face told Ronan that Gansey must have explained the basics about the Lynch family property to Adam. Good; Ronan didn’t feel like explaining.
Adam looked at him, and he looked back. He honestly didn’t know if Adam would go for it, but he’d get something out of it either way.
Adam said, “I’ll think about it.”
Adam hadn’t been sure what to think when Piper Greenmantle showed up on their door, and he wasn’t any more sure what to think when Opal showed up shortly after. Ronan didn’t seem much better off.
“What the hell are you doing here, you little punk?” Ronan demanded.
“I sensed the new wards,” Opal said, looking around with quick fleeting glances of her dark eyes. “I wanted to know why they were set. If there’s someone bad you want to keep away, I can help.”
“If bad people come I handle it, that’s not your job. You’ve gotta stay at Fox Way, what the hell do you think you’re playing at, kid?”
“I was tired of the witches,” Opal told him lowly, voice small but eyes defiant. “I hate these feet, they’re no good for anything.”
“Tough,” Ronan snapped back. “You promised Declan you’d stay put and make sure you didn’t draw any attention to yourself, remember? You trying to disappoint him?”
Opal’s brow furrowed in a way that said the blow had landed and it’d landed low, but she twisted her mouth a little and said simply, “Declan isn’t here.”
Ronan tossed his hands up. “You’ve got no fucking object permanence. He’s gonna find out, and then he’s gonna be real unhappy with you. You know why you need to keep your head down, Opal.”
“I’m just here with you, that’s not making trouble,” Opal insisted, her frown slipping closer to a pout.
“We’ve been over this, it’s too risky for you to be seen away from Fox Way, especially for you to sneak off on your own to see me, if the Council found out-”
“I can hide from the Council if they come here.” Opal was still all petulance.
“Anyone who sees you can report you, Opal-” Ronan made a frustrated noise and Adam didn’t miss the way Ronan’s gaze cut over to him.
Opal didn’t either. She looked between Ronan and Adam morosely. “The two of you are bonded. I’ll never be able to see you without him there too. What’s the point of me hiding away when it’s only a matter of time before he finds out other secrets of yours while you’re together?”
Ronan cut her off with a sharp warning look, and Opal must have been able to sense that it was unwise to push any further, because she clutched at Ronan’s wrist and entreated, “Don’t send me away yet, let me stay with you at least a little while.”
Ronan let out a harsh sigh from between his teeth, and Adam could tell that for all Ronan’s bluster it was hard for him to say no to her.
“Opal, while you’re here, would you mind doing me a favor?” Adam asked. “Would you rinse the blackberries in the bowl on the table? Then they’ll be ready to eat.”
Opal gave him a dubious sort of blink, but then she turned and went to find the berries before they had the chance to change their minds and tell her to go all together.
Ronan looked after her with his mouth set in a thin line of aggravation, but Adam could see the concern in his eyes regardless.
“Is she related to any of the women of Fox Way?” Adam asked him. It was past time for beating around the bush.
“No.” Ronan didn't seem to want to answer, but he seemed to know that this wasn’t giving Adam any new or unexpected information.
“Is she related to you?”
Ronan looked over at Adam with a face gone more expressionless than Adam had ever seen it. “Not the way you’re thinking.”
“What does that mean?”
“She’s not a Lynch. Not - She...she’s connected to me, to my magic.” Each word was spoken grudgingly, and when Adam remained silent, waiting for more, Ronan muttered in a low growl, “They’re not only my secrets I’m keeping.”
Adam sensed he wouldn’t be getting much more of an answer than that tonight by the terse set of Ronan’s shoulders. He frowned to himself, and eventually asked, “You care about her?”
Ronan gave a resentful sort of roll of his eyes at the question, but he nodded his head faintly.
“If she wants to be here,” Adam told him slowly, looking in the direction of the sound of splashing water, “I won’t say anything.”
“I’ve been thinking,” Adam said, after they’d made a late-lunch-early-dinner and walked Opal safely and securely back to Fox Way. “About your deal. I have a qualification for agreeing. If you work with me on my terms on testing the kind of magic that we can do since we’ve been bonded, then we’ll go to the Barns.”
Ronan gave him a long look from the corner of his eye. “If you’re expecting me to cooperate with your magic nerd shit, as in ongoing, then I don’t want to go to the Barns just once to talk, I want to get to go back, as in ongoing.”
Adam should have figured. He resisted the urge to sigh. “We can’t just go all the time, we can’t get caught. But if you really cooperate, we can plan to go to the Barns when we can be reasonably sure it won’t raise suspicion. It may not be as often as you’d hope for, but it won’t just be the once. Deal?”
Adam held out his hand to shake; Ronan just stared at it. “Sounds like I could get screwed over pretty easy if you just don’t think it’s worth the risk. How do I know you’re serious about this?”
Adam arched an eyebrow wryly. “I guess we’ll just both have to take it on good faith, Lynch. Yes or no?”
Ronan stared for a few beats longer, but slowly, he reached out and shook Adam’s hand.
So the next morning, Adam took Ronan back to Cabeswater’s forest.
Adam loved Cabeswater’s forest.
He hadn’t expected anything like that, when he first began studying magic. He wanted to learn, he wanted to better himself, he wanted to use the skills he had to make someone of himself. He hadn’t spared any thought to if his magic could make him happy, until it had.
When Adam had first connected himself to Cabeswater, it had stemmed from his desire to further his magic regardless of the potential cost. He hadn’t been able to imagine the scope of the potential gain. For the women of Fox Way, magic came as instinctively as breathing, but Adam had never been like that. The only way he’d known was to work at his magic and that had only gotten him so far. It hadn’t mattered that they had warned Adam of how strong the energy of the forest was, of how unpredictable it could be, of how easy it would be for anyone with a connection to magic to lose themself in the strange and compelling magic Cabeswater provided. At the time, when he’d gone into the forest alone late one night to perform a ritual he’d only had the faintest grasp on and had mostly improvised out of sheer desperation, he had ruminated to himself that the worst case scenario of losing himself to an unfathomable forest was worth the risk. It was worth an awful lot, if that was what it took to be able to sustain himself as a magician and keep himself outside of his parents’ control. He hadn’t comprehended really what he’d done, not then, hadn’t been able to predict how much Cabeswater and this place could come to mean to him, but he was impossibly thankful for it now.
There was part of him that was reluctant to share this place with Ronan, he wasn't sure he wanted Ronan’s brand of difficult mixing with this place, but this was where he was strongest in his magic and if he really wanted to harness their full combined potential then this was where he needed to be. A small ill-advised part of himself was too stubborn to let Ronan prevent him from being able to go to Cabeswater’s forest when this was one of his favorite places to be, anyway.
Just being here, being able to reach out and brush his fingers along the leaves and feeling his breath start to fall into time with the swaying branches, filled him with a quiet sort of serenity he hadn’t known was possible before he started with Persephone. He wouldn’t give it up.
Ronan was very tense where he trailed behind Adam. “Why are we back here?”
“To work on our magic, like we agreed,” Adam replied simply, assessing the way Ronan’s shoulders were drawn in tightly and the sharp-edged wariness clearly visible in his eyes.
“Why here?” Ronan grated in a voice that was a little unlike himself. “What is this place to you?”
“It’s where I feel most connected to my magic,” Adam said, unwilling to tell Ronan too much, at least not yet. “I tend to the forest and in return…Persephone says that Cabeswater favors me.” This didn’t ease anything in Ronan, if anything it made the very air around Ronan feel even more charged and strained. “Is there a problem?”
Ronan let out a scoff, derisive and entirely unforthcoming. Rather than answer, he aimed a kick at a puddle of water that had pooled in between the raised gnarled roots of a nearby tree. He looked down at the splatter like it failed to meet his standards for disruption. “Let’s just get this over with. What do you expect me to do?”
“To start with I just want to get a better feel for your magic. I’ll leave it up to you to do whatever comes naturally for now.” Adam didn’t want Ronan to half-ass it, though, so he raised an eyebrow a little and added, “Impress me.”
With barely so much as a blink, Ronan held out both his arms wide, and all at once dozens and dozens of birds came soaring out of the trees. As they circled overhead, calling to one another in harmonious snatches of birdsong, their dark feathers all turned golden yellow, bright as sun rays. As they flew back among the trees, their feathers faded to a dusky orange and then back to black.
Suitably impressed, but endeavoring not to be too obvious about letting it show, Adam observed, “That didn’t seem particularly difficult for you.”
Ronan let out a scoff. “What, you want more advanced level stuff?” He seemed to deliberate for a moment. “Fine; you’re not gonna freak on me, will you?”
Adam raised both his eyebrows now, a silent try me.
Ronan traced a circle in front of a large dogwood tree with the toe of his boot. “I didn’t - I’m just using my magic to give him strength and form, that’s all.”
Adam blinked, and before he could ask what that was supposed to mean, Ronan knelt and pressed his hands to the edges of the circle, and in the circle, a human form slowly began to slide into focus.
It was a boy, with pale hair and smudgy cheeks.
“Hello,” the boy said softly.
“This is Noah,” Ronan said like that explained things. “Noah, Adam.”
“How…?” Adam began, but he wasn’t sure what to ask.
“When I was little, Cabeswater blessed me.” Noah’s eyes were dark and curiously out of focus. “I was really young, and I had healing magic, and one of the first things I ever did with it was heal a baby raven I found in the woods by my house. I didn’t really know what I was doing, it had a broken wing, and I just wanted it to be able to fly. Ravens are Cabeswater’s sacred animals, so...it was meant to be a reward, I guess, but I… as I got older and my magic got more powerful it was too much, I…” Noah shrugged. “Gifts from gods can be a lot, and things went wrong.”
“Wrong?” Adam echoed. He didn’t know what happened to leave Noah like this, so insubstantial, a shade of a boy, but there had to be far more to the story than that one word could begin to encompass.
Noah just shrugged again. “I’m glad we got to meet, the forest is very attached to you,” Noah said in a slightly brighter voice. “If you two come back after dark with some mimosa flowers I might have a better shot at staying longer, but for now…”
Between the next few breaths, Noah faded out of sight.
Adam stared at the place where he had been.
“That’s Noah for you,” Ronan muttered, scuffing at the circle with an unnecessary amount of kicking at the ground.
“How do you know him?” Adam asked, still a little taken aback.
“Sounds like a question for the Barns,” Ronan said, defiance making him hard to read. “So what’s next, magician?”
Ronan had certainly given Adam a lot to consider already.
Dealing with Ronan during the day had been going better now that they were working together in Cabeswater’s forest, but things had been getting worse at night.
After a few nights had passed, Adam was sure that this was true, that Ronan acted out more at night and that Adam wasn’t just judging things harshly because he was tired or out of patience.
After forming his hypothesis and observing for three nights to see how his hypothesis held up, Adam felt he could objectively say there was a definite pattern. It wasn’t just that Ronan made an enormous pain out of himself, with increasing intensity, the later it got. What Adam found most noteworthy was the fact that once Adam transformed Ronan, rather than using his raven form to make his resentment known to his utmost ability, as Ronan showed himself so very adept at from his very first days as a familiar, Ronan flew away somewhere high off and settled down. Rather than rebelling against the outrage of Adam making Ronan assume raven form, the way Ronan did during the day, at night Ronan would tuck his head down into his feathers and sleep.
The realization that Ronan was being so difficult because he wanted to be in raven form inspired no small amount of irritation in Adam, not least of which because Ronan could have simply asked and spared them both a lot of headache.
The last thing Adam needed was to establish a precedent of letting Ronan think that this sort of behavior was going to get him what he wanted.
“If you want me to transform you before you sleep, you’re going to have to talk to me,” Adam told Ronan, keeping his tone steady and resolute.
“Get fucked, Parrish,” Ronan replied almost conversationally.
Adam resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “I’m not asking for you to tell me everything, our deal is still in place. But regardless of our deal, there are some things you’ll still need to tell me at least a little bit about if they’re actively relevant. Is there a reason you prefer sleeping in raven form?”
“It’s super comfy, I think everyone should try it.”
Adam ignored the sarcasm all but dripping from Ronan’s mockingly bared teeth and folded his arms across his chest to stop himself from tossing up his hands. “So if I told you I weren’t going to turn you into a raven at night anymore, that wouldn’t be an issue for you at all?”
Ronan looked him over darkly before curling his lips into a contemptuous sort of sneer. “I don’t know why you’d decide you have some sort of opposition to sticking me in raven form now, you do it often enough.”
This was a low blow, and Ronan knew it. He knew Adam didn’t like to change Ronan into animal form. Knew that Adam had been doing it less frequently the less Ronan acted out during the day. Knew that even when he willfully acted awful in transparent attempts to provoke Adam, Adam still didn’t like to transform Ronan because there was always part of Adam that wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea of going so far as to take away someone else’s own form. Had probably figured out that Adam couldn’t help having his aversions to using magic to strip away a person’s control over themselves, and more than that, that Adam didn’t really entirely trust himself to be in a position to exert that kind of power over somebody else.
Adam turned to walk away. “Have it your way then, Lynch. Sleep in a bed like a normal person tonight.”
Ronan’s voice was much more sober than Adam would’ve expected when he said, “Trust me, you don’t want that.”
Adam turned back around. He waited.
Ronan glared back at him, and Adam had the sneaking suspicion that this was a bad idea, a cornering-a-wild-animal kind of bad idea, but he thought that letting this hesitation show would only make things worse, so he held his ground. Finally, Ronan growled, “You know my magic can be risky. Sometimes when I use my magic it isn’t always good news. Isn’t that the whole point behind being put into a form where you can’t use your magic as a punishment in the first place?”
Adam didn’t feel very well equipped for it, but when he spoke he worked to convey consideration and not impatience. “I’m gonna need some specifics, Lynch.”
“Sometimes I have nightmares, and sometimes I end up bringing them to life.” Ronan’s tone was almost casual, a sort of defiance, but far more telling than the words he was saying was the way he rubbed at the scars on his wrist. “I make the nightmares in the real world with my magic. It’s … Think claws, ripping and shredding, losing eyes, think being preyed on and coming face to face with how piss-poor your odds of defending yourself are. Specific enough for you?”
Adam frowned, trying to focus on the practical. “What if I scry into your dreams and do what I can to stabilize them so they aren’t nightmares, do what I can to stabilize your magic so it won’t react to what you’re dreaming about outside of your control?”
“You think you could?” Ronan didn’t sound as scornful of the idea as Adam would’ve thought. It was possible he was even somewhat impressed with the prospect. “Even if you could make it into my dreams, my nightmares have gotten too bad when I’m human for you to stop them. I keep - ...I have bad dreams about something happening to Matthew, and - you won’t be able to change that, and if I end up creating something with my magic anyway when you’re scrying then you won’t be in your body when whatever nightmare I make starts to attack, you’d be totally helpless.”
“All right,” Adam said slowly, “If we can’t count on being able to change your dream or being able to stop your magic from reacting, then I guess we have to think about the best way to deal with whatever creation you may make.”
“I don’t think you really grasp what you’re getting yourself into, Parrish,” Ronan warned, but not with nearly as much vitriol as he would have felt the need to put on before.
It felt, oddly, like progress. “Well you sleeping as a bird trying to avoid it can’t last forever, so looks like I’m gonna find out. So tell me what I need to know.”
That was how Adam and Ronan ended up working together to set wards around Ronan’s bed, and Adam found himself sitting in a chair by the door armed with a sword that Ronan told him would blaze with flames when pulled from its sheath.
“I don’t know how I’m supposed to fucking fall asleep like this,” Ronan muttered in the darkness.
“Tell me about your brothers,” Adam suggested, casual. When he was met with stony silence, he continued, “You worry about them, maybe talking about it will help get some of it out of your head.”
Ronan made a snide dismissive sound between his teeth. “You’re one to talk. You tell me about why you signed up for this shit in the first place. Why'd you agree to having a familiar?”
Adam sighed. He didn’t think someone like Ronan Lynch, with the family he came from, could ever really get where Adam was coming from. Or maybe it wasn’t that Ronan couldn’t ever understand, maybe it was that Adam didn’t want to go through the appalling process of explaining it all in words. He began, haltingly, “I'm interested in expanding my magic. I don’t come from a magical family. Neither of my parents liked the idea of magic. They didn’t know much about it and they didn’t trust it. I didn’t know what I was doing when I first realized I had magic, and I didn’t get any official training in magic until I was eleven. Compared to people who grew up immersed in magic their whole lives …” Adam stopped, shook his head. “You know, the magical community is pretty small, compared to the rest of the world. Most people don’t have any connection to magic, don’t see the gods as having any real impact on their lives. And I’ve studied a lot of cases where children from non-magic families who haven’t had any training end up performing subconscious magic that they didn’t know they could do ... and the Council gets called in because the magic the kids are doing is outside of the kids’ control, and they don’t have anyone around them to help them with their magic and there aren’t enough magicians who wanna teach them. So the Council moves to perform magic dampening rituals.”
“The Council is fucked up for all sorts of reasons,” Ronan said, voice less harsh than Adam would have expected from him. “But you don’t have to go around proving anything, familiar or not, list of achievements or not, you’re a magician. You’ve got magic and I don’t care what rituals anyone tries, that’s part of you. You’re part of magic, and you’re good at using it too, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a magical lineage, you couldn’t have the connection you have with Cabeswater if you didn’t have an instinct for magic. You know the Council isn’t actually going to look at you and think you aren’t enough of a magician to belong. They’d have to be out of their minds. Every last one of the fucking witches would damn well tell them so, too.”
Adam felt oddly warmed by the vehemence Ronan spoke with, and even by the graceless way Ronan was trying to get his point across. It felt too big for him to really manage to respond to, so he said, with a wry grin tugging at his lips despite himself, “I appreciate your take on things, Lynch.”
“It’s the fucking truth,” Ronan said, but the wide yawn that immediately followed rather undercut the sort of righteous indignation he’d put in to the words.
You’re tired, Adam resisted the impulse to say, because he knew that it would be the opposite of helpful. He didn’t say anything, and the fact that Ronan didn’t either seemed like a promising sign that Ronan would succumb to sleep sometime soon.
It took an excruciatingly long time, sitting in the dark with his grip tight on the sword in his hands, just listening for changes in Ronan’s breathing.
It went from long stretched out moments that were lost to nebulous silence and blinking heavy eyes, to a sudden flurry of adrenaline and motion. Ronan’s magic didn’t feel like what Adam knew of magic, it felt like a break in reality, an abject dismissal of how the world ought to work. Adam didn’t know how to process the horror in front of him, to reconcile going from quiet stillness to staring down the menacing predatory form of some unfathomable combination of man and raptor-like beast. What mattered was that it had deadly talons and a deadlier beak, and worse, in less time than it took Adam’s wildly hammering heart to beat, the thing was joined by two more of its own kind.
“Ronan!” Adam shouted, in case Ronan hadn’t woken yet, though he didn’t think Ronan was still asleep. Ronan had said he was sometimes unable to move directly after using a significant amount of magic.
Ronan couldn’t defend himself, so Adam had to guard them both. Adam drew his sword back and charged.
Even with all the adrenaline washing out everything but the faculties he needed to fight, Adam had a hard time keeping track of what was happening. Strikes from slashing talons and beaks came relentlessly, never-ending, from more than one side, inexorable. Adam beat back anything he sensed getting too near to him or the bed with rapid swipes of his flaming sword, leaving heat and the afterimage of flames lingering in the air all around him.
He was managing to keep the night horrors at bay, mostly, barely. Some strikes made it through, but Adam hardly felt the sting of them, didn’t have the leftover capacity to register them. They didn’t matter, they didn’t represent even the barest fraction of the damage the night horrors could do if they made it past Adam’s defenses. What mattered was that Adam couldn’t keep this up, couldn’t keep being so lucky and couldn’t keep going forever. He wasn’t winning, wasn’t making progress, he was just holding off the inevitable, and it was taking everything he had to do it. What felt like eons later, the night horror’s attacks slowed noticeably, and Adam realized Ronan was up and fighting alongside him.
This was more of a relief than Adam could express, not only because it made their odds in the current fight far more viable, but because the fear of what the night horrors could have done to Ronan while Ronan was entirely unable to protect himself had weighed on Adam like a stone.
Now Adam was able to focus on the night horror before him, rather than worrying about defending all sides, and slowly but surely he managed to maneuver the night horror into the corner with his sword. At last, with unsteady arms that were bleeding from the nasty grazes the night horrors had gotten in, Adam drove his flaming sword into the night horror’s chest. He put all of his strength into sinking the sword in through muscle and bone, ignoring the horrifying sort of rasping noise the night horror made and the god-awful smell of singed flesh, until the thing stopped moving.
When Adam was sure it was dead, he looked around for Ronan, who was standing over the crumpled form of another night horror, wiping at the blood that trickled down from a cut that had only narrowly avoided his eye. They both took a moment to breathe and look one another over to see that they were mostly all right, but it was a short moment.
Adam had taken one down. Ronan had taken one down. There were no other threats in the room. “Where’s the third one?” Adam muttered warily.
They both looked out of the doorway.
“You said they focus on you, why would it leave?” Adam asked, still frowning at the doorway although it provided no information.
Ronan shrugged darkly. “I dunno where it would go to; the only pattern those things ever follow is wanting to destroy me. It’s personal with them, they don’t want just anyone.”
A cold and sickly thought spread dread through the core of Adam. “Opal.”
For the barest part of a second, there was nothing but the horror of the thought. Then as one, they rushed out of the door into the night.
“Opal!” Ronan shouted, and Adam grabbed Ronan's wrist and tried to focus. His magic responded so effortlessly with Ronan’s help, it took only the merest intention for his locating spell to take on a life of its own. The wind picked up, and the purposeful way the branches of the trees swayed seemed to be showing them the way they needed to go.
Urged on by the low howl of the wind that seemed to tell them to hurry, they sprinted through the trees, and when they heard the shrieks of the night horror in the distance, they ran faster.
They saw the angry thrashing of the night horror’s wings first, and then as they got closer they spotted Opal’s tiny form huddled high high up on a tree branch.
The night horror was looming a scant meter or two from her, but it was struggling to reach her through the tree’s thick branches. It lashed out with its sharp claws, and when the razor-like tips raked close enough, Opal was forced to leap away, onto another branch. She was uncannily nimble, but even so, she could only go on like that for so long before something went wrong. When she saw Ronan, she cried out his name and in her distraction, she was too slow to avoid the night horror’s next blow. Its claws slashed across her arm and the force of it knocked her from her branch.
She was falling, and Adam’s fingers were digging into the dirt by his feet, his body moving before the rest of him had time to think. All at once vines were growing from the tree’s branches, winding around Opal’s small form and enveloping her in sturdy green tendrils before she could hit the ground.
“I’ll make sure she’s safe, you put a stop to that thing,” Adam shouted to Ronan.
Concentrating carefully, Adam guided the vines so they lowered Opal down slowly and steadily until she was on solid ground. When he let the vines release her, he was taken aback when she threw herself bodily into his arms. Taken aback, but even as he was surprised, he was pleased. He wrapped one arm around her, keeping her close to his side, and held his other hand out, wanting to do what he could to help Ronan with the night horror.
“Go for the wings first, it’ll distract them the most, they hate feeling like they can’t move,” Opal advised in a hushed voice, half-peeking from where she pressed her face into Adam’s arm.
Adam sent vines growing and twisting around the night horror’s wings, pinning them to the night horror’s sides, and while the night horror struggled in a fit of rage to free itself, Ronan used its preoccupation to slash his sword across its throat. It took more than one strike to the thing’s neck to bring it down, but Ronan was determined and ferocious. Finally the night horror fell and as soon as it did, Ronan was rushing over to Opal.
“If you ever even think about sneaking out in the middle of the night again-” Ronan’s voice was tight, but he pulled Opal into a hug and Adam didn’t miss the way that Opal melted into it.
It was an oddly heartwarming moment, in the midst of everything that had happened tonight.
It was a little surreal: now that they were all out of immediate danger he and Ronan fell almost naturally into bickering about what they should do about Opal and what to do with the bodies of the night horrors. Ronan wanted to leave it all for tomorrow, but despite his griping he knew that Adam had a point that it was too much of a risk to leave the obviously unnatural forms of the night horrors lying around to be spotted. Opal vehemently refused to wait inside while they buried the evidence, and even though Adam and Ronan didn’t really think she should be there for it, neither of them had the heart to send her away. Then when they’d finished the unpleasant business and they’d all gotten back inside, Opal insisted she was hungry, although she didn’t want any of the food Ronan tried to give her. Adam finally convinced her to eat a small bowl of cottage cheese by mixing pine nuts in. It was so late it was bordering on early by the time they got Opal settled down on the couch.
They shared a look between them as Opal burrowed into her blankets and her breathing evened out, and Adam thought sardonically that if all else failed, fighting nightmare creatures and tending to wayward children was an effective way to make the two of them connect with one another.
He thought Ronan might say something, but Ronan only ended up shaking his head and muttering, “If we wanna get some actual sleep tonight, you should probably just make me a bird.”
Adam didn’t argue.
When Blue showed up in the morning to get Opal, Ronan was honestly kinda pissed that Adam put him in human form for it. Adam could make chit-chat with the witches if he wanted, but Ronan didn’t want any part of it. Sometimes being a raven had its perks.
But then Blue, after confirming Opal was outside playing in the woods nearby, said, “There’s something I have to tell you. There’s a man we’ve noticed hanging around Fox Way, we’re pretty sure he’s after information about Opal. He was more obvious last night than he has been before, and we’re pretty sure it’s because Opal managed to sneak here without him noticing either, and he was trying to get eyes back on her.”
And Ronan didn’t have the capacity for petty pissiness anymore.
Adam was the one who got the information, asked the relevant questions. Ronan clenched his fists and used up all his willpower not giving in to the urge to smash every object in the vicinity. He wouldn’t let anyone touch Opal.
Adam was quiet for several long moments after Blue had finished summing up what the witches knew about the man they called the gray man. When Adam looked over at him, Ronan got the feeling he wouldn’t like what Adam was thinking.
“If Maura, Persephone, and Calla have reason to believe that this gray man’s intention is only to gather intel for now, that he doesn’t hold any desire to hurt Opal for his own sake, and he isn’t going to make any moves yet, then I think,” Adam broke off and dropped Ronan’s gaze, but after a moment of thought he sighed quietly and looked back up, and persisted. “You’re not gonna like this, but I think the best thing to do is have you take Opal somewhere she’ll be safe and keep an eye on her, and I set something up at Fox Way to talk to this guy.”
“Talk to him?” A small part of Ronan thought that Adam was clever enough not to bother suggesting a plan that didn’t have a good shot of working, but most of him was too angry at the idea of everything that could go wrong to care. “What the hell do you think you’re going to talk to him about, Parrish?”
“Talking to him could mean the difference between us finding a way to get the upper hand here, or him heading back to whoever sent him in the first place with whatever information he’s been able to find out and coming back again on the offensive.” Adam let out another breath. “Just...give me a chance.”
Ronan couldn’t quite bring himself to agree out loud, but he didn’t argue. Adam seemed to understand this, because he turned to Blue and asked, “Do you think your mom would be okay with setting something up to talk to this guy?”
Blue let out a huff of air with enough feeling that it moved her bangs. “...I mean, why not?”
When a meeting was officially set up with the gray man at Fox Way, Ronan and Adam took Opal to Cabeswater’s forest beforehand.
Opal was easy enough to keep entertained in a forest where it only took a thought for Ronan to make flowers that bloomed open with musical sounds like soft reed pipes for her to invent her own songs with, or to make thousands of fireflies for her to chase. It was too easy, it left too much of his attention undiverted to worry about the threat the gray man presented.
Ronan didn’t loosen his jaw or shoulders until Adam returned to the forest. As soon as he saw Adam coming he made a small fawn that he could distract Opal with. He told her to take the fawn and gather acorns to feed it, and once she was thoroughly engrossed with this, he pulled Adam to the side.
“I think things could turn out all right,” Adam said quietly. “When I got there he was sitting at the kitchen table drinking tea looking perfectly content and civil. He told us to call him Mr. Gray. He works for the Greenmantles, which isn’t exactly unexpected, but I think he’s genuinely considering changing allegiances. Maura really seems to have worked on him.”
Ronan’s eyebrows went up.
“She had to talk to him before she let him in her home. I think...I think they’re taken with each other.”
Ronan’s eyebrows went up considerably farther.
Adam shrugged. “It’s a good thing for us, he was willing to go along with her and hear me out. He doesn’t want to hurt Opal, Ronan. She’s young, he doesn’t feel right about targeting a little girl. He… he told me that he wishes Greenmantle would give up his obsession with your family, he thinks it’s gone too far. He said that he regrets what you and your brothers have been through.”
Ronan felt anger flare inside of him like a burn wound, almost too hot and raw to fully feel the damage, getting worse instead of better.
Adam reached out and put a hand on Ronan’s arm, and Ronan felt a hint of Adam’s magic wash softly over him, it made him think of the feeling Ronan would use to summon water here in the forest or in his dreams.
“We have to focus on what we can do for Opal and your brothers, their safety is what we have to prioritize, isn’t it?” Adam said quietly, cool fingers still lingering on Ronan’s skin. “Mr. Gray agreeing to help us instead of Greenmantle puts us in the best position to be able to keep them safe, and we’re most of the way there. He’s already said that he’s too opposed to the idea of passing on information that would put Opal in harm’s way to give Greenmantle any intel on her. He and I talked about how reckless Greenmantle is about getting what he wants, and how that’s only going to get worse the longer Mr. Gray works for him without getting him results...Mr. Gray is serious enough about not wanting to put Opal in danger that he’s willing to deal with the consequences. If I keep working on Mr. Gray and give him plausible ways for us to move against Greenmantle, to take Greenmantle down for good, I think Mr. Gray will help us. He could make a useful ally...”
“I’m never gonna like this,” Ronan muttered. “But you’re a lot smarter than I am, Parrish. If you say this is what we should do...this is what we do.”
Adam’s hand gripped his arm just a little tighter, and Ronan let the feeling of Adam’s magic flow through him, calming, like cool water over scorched earth.
If their experience thus far had taught Adam anything, it was that the best way that he and Ronan had of managing to find common ground was through having a common enemy.
This proved especially true when, thanks to the assiduous interference of Piper Greenmantle, High Councilman Pinter came to call.
It was fairly early in the morning, and Adam was quietly glad that Ronan had slept in human form without incident, and so Pinter’s first impression wasn’t that Ronan had to be put into animal form all the time. It wouldn’t have been entirely off the mark, which was why Adam was glad.
Ronan came to stand by his side, the way he’d done when Piper Greenmantle had made her appearance, and though his glare was unfriendly enough to peel paint, he didn’t say anything, which was markedly good behavior for him. He didn’t even make a sarcastic comment when Adam went through the motions of trying to seem accommodating by offering Pinter tea.
Pinter wasn’t interested in trivialities. “I’m here to look into claims that Mister Lynch isn’t satisfactorily keeping with the terms of his agreed upon service.”
“That’s interesting,” Adam said, keeping his tone slow and even. “The terms of his service are with me, and I haven’t made any such claims.”
Pinter surveyed him cooly. “Would you be willing to make such a claim, if it became necessary?”
Adam didn’t appreciate being so directly confronted with the fact that his experience with Ronan so far had provided the answer to this question, and it wasn’t the answer he knew it ought to be. He pushed that thought aside and said cooly back, “I don’t know why you think I wouldn’t. Piper Greenmantle, on the other hand, stated unequivocally that she wanted to take over the terms of Ronan’s service and was clearly displeased when I said that I intended to see the terms of Ronan’s service through. Which would give her solid motivation for making fallacious claims to give the Council the impression that Ronan shouldn’t remain in my service.”
“I’m not at liberty to discuss who made the claims, Mister Parrish,” Pinter said, but his tone and expression made it obvious enough that Adam had hit the mark. “Are you telling me Mister Lynch hasn’t made attempts to leave your supervision? That he hasn’t been defiant and hasn’t deliberately disobeyed your instructions?”
“Ronan and I have been together since we were bonded. I wouldn’t say that he’s been fully compliant at all times, but if that were the sort of temperament he had then I doubt he would’ve ended up as a familiar in the first place. Ronan and I have been making real progress, I’ve never felt that Ronan was so far out of check that the best course of action would be to sever our bond,” Adam bluffed with the ease of much practice with that sort of thing.
Pinter looked slowly between them. “What sort of progress has Mister Lynch made?”
“Ronan and I have been training to develop our magical abilities together, it’s been very constructive.” A bit of an overstatement, but not technically untrue.
Pinter considered. “But after the misuse of magic that led to the need for punitive action in the first place, you haven’t been giving him too free a reign on his magic, have you?”
“I’ve been supervising his uses of his magic and restraining his use of magic when necessary,” Adam said, allowing a small portion of how little he appreciated Pinter’s implications to the contrary to be heard in his tone.
His tone didn’t seem to affect Pinter whatsoever. “And how have you kept Mister Lynch occupied when he isn’t using magic?”
“We’ve been studying Latin.” This was blatantly untrue, inspired by the fact that sometimes, when Ronan was in one of his better moods but was still looking to get a rise out of Adam, Ronan liked to go through every untoward Latin word and phrase he knew.
“Latin?” Pinter echoed flatly.
“Ronan has a knack for it,” Adam said, because he wasn’t going to undermine himself by backing down now. He was just grateful that, aside from faintly arching an eyebrow, Ronan had not visibly reacted to any of the conversation at all. “You’re here to follow up on personally biased claims that Ronan isn’t keeping to the terms of his service, but as you can see, Ronan’s right here and he isn’t doing anything wrong. Is there anything else we can do for you?”
Pinter looked between them again even more slowly, and eventually asked, “You’re happy with how things are going with Mister Lynch, Mister Parrish?”
“And Mister Lynch, you’re happy with how things are going with Mister Parrish?”
“Thrilled,” Ronan said, tone dripping with sarcasm but eyes daring Pinter to contest the point.
“Then, if you’re both sure, I suppose that I can go,” Pinter said wryly. “But just to make sure everything continues to go smoothly, myself or one of my fellow Council members will be checking in periodically.”
“That’s fair,” Adam replied diplomatically. “I hope the Council will also take the time to follow up on the likelihood that these false allegations weren’t made in good faith.”
Pinter gave that a dry sort of nod, and left.
After they’d given it a few moments to be sure that he was gone, Adam broke the silence by asking, “What’s Piper Greenmantle really after, Lynch?”
Ronan’s eyes were still on edge, but he said only, “That sounds like a conversation for the Barns.”
Adam wanted to curse, but he didn’t want to give Ronan the satisfaction. “This isn’t something we should be screwing around with, Lynch, Piper Greenmantle is trouble.”
But he knew Ronan would remain stubborn just from the look on Ronan’s face, even before Ronan spoke. “Yeah, so we should get to the Barns.”
And they were already in hot water with the Council, Piper had seen to that. What was a little more trouble? So Adam said, “Fine.”
“Really?” Ronan asked, staring at Adam.
“What, you want me to change my mind?” Adam returned, knowing even as he said it that this was entirely against his better judgement. “Let’s work out the best way to get to the Barns.”
They spent the next few days working out the details.
When Adam had first begun to brainstorm possibilities with Ronan, Ronan casually informed him that he could make portals to transport him between one place and another when he channeled his magic through Cabeswater’s forest, but he couldn’t sustain them over long enough distances to get to the Barns. This seemed promising, so their first step was to go to Cabeswater’s forest and practice portal work.
When they visited Cabeswater’s forest, Adam had gotten in the habit of making mimosa flowers grow after his encounter with Noah, though nothing had come of it, not until he and Ronan had been practicing working together to expand the distance of their portals with frustratingly little to show for it. The portals that they worked together to make allowed them to travel further than the portals that Ronan made on his own, but not far enough to get them where they wanted to go.
Adam didn’t understand it. Ronan had more magic in him than any one person should have. Most magicians didn’t have anywhere near the power it took to create three separate nightmare creatures from nothing, not without intensive rituals to amplify their abilities, or blessings from the gods. And Ronan hadn’t even been trying to make the night horrors. It wasn’t that Ronan didn’t possess the power to make a stable enough portal to reach the Barns, it was that he had trouble maintaining the focus that it took, of keeping his magical energy and spatial perception unwavering enough to bridge the distance. Adam was good at those sorts of mental operations though, so together, this shouldn’t have been an unfeasible task for them.
Adam was thinking this for what had to be the tenth time in as many minutes, when Noah’s voice said from behind them, “You’ve gotta do it together.”
When Adam and Ronan both spun around to look at him, Noah only tipped his head a little at them and said vaguely, “I mean I know you’ve been trying to work together, but it’s gotta be together together.” When Adam and Ronan only stared at him in uncomprehending silence, Noah shrugged expansively and went on, “Like, yeah, you’re both trying to make the portal, but you’ve gotta - like - if two people are cutting the cake at their wedding, it’s not like they just happen to be cutting cake together, they’re doing it together. Kinda like that.”
“Noah,” Ronan said slowly. “What the actual fuck?”
“I said kinda. The point is, right now your magic is still just both of your magic, and it’s not gonna work until you use magic, together.” Noah shrugged again, even more expansively. Adam and Ronan looked at one another to see if this sounded any less outrageous to the other as it sounded to them, and when they looked back at Noah, he’d faded from sight.
“You’ve gotta be shitting me, Noah,” Ronan growled. “You’ve barely shown your face in weeks and now you do just to come out with that and then you leave-” Ronan shook his head and let out an aggravated breath between his teeth.
Adam sighed. “We don’t have any better theories to work off of at the moment. How do you think we can perform magic more together?”
Ronan eyed him with a dark inscrutable sort of look, and when Adam only waited for an answer, he let out a thin disbelieving scoff. “You really wanna try?”
“You wanna find a way to get to the Barns or not?”
They looked at each other for a long moment, and then, inconceivably, Ronan held out his hand to Adam.
Adam blinked down at it, and there were a lot of things he considered saying. Most of them were varying iterations of you can’t be serious, which Adam discarded, because he knew Ronan Lynch wouldn’t be standing there offering out his hand if he weren’t. That didn’t make it any less absurd, the idea that Ronan Lynch of all people would ever come up with hand holding as a solution, and then think that the concept was worthwhile enough to actually go through with it. Too absurd for Adam to find the words to say anything about it. And he had asked for ideas out of a lack of any better ideas of his own, after all, so he supposed it would be incongruous to shoot the idea down without testing it. Really, though, that wasn’t why Adam was going along with this. Really, he’d looked at Ronan offering him his hand and for whatever reason Adam hadn’t wanted to refuse him.
Adam took Ronan’s hand, feeling warm fingers slide against his the same way they had when they’d first been bonded in this forest, and something clicked.
It shouldn’t have. Logically, holding hands shouldn’t have changed anything. If anything it was a psychological crutch; if they were capable of merging their magic they should be capable of it regardless of any physical action, whether they were holding hands or not shouldn’t have been relevant. But none of Adam’s conjecture meant anything because the fact remained, holding hands worked.
Their magic fell into sync in a way that Adam wasn’t quite sure how to describe but he could feel. When they concentrated on creating a portal, the light that grew from the center of the tree that they focused their energy on was thrumming with far more potential than any of the portals they’d attempted before. When they peered into it, Adam recognized the shrine he saw on the other side as the one Persephone had taken him to visit early in his training with her, a shrine dedicated to Cabeswater, built long before Cabeswater had the forest as a source of energy in the mortal world. It had been the farthest Adam had ever traveled from where he was born, visiting that shrine, much further away than the Barns was.
Ronan seemed to recognize it too, because there was real excitement lighting his eyes. “So we’ll need to hone it a bit, but…”
Adam nodded. This’ll work. We’re gonna get there.
Together they practiced making portals to places that were roughly the same distance away as the Barns, only that had the benefit of being places that Ronan wasn’t expressly prohibited from going to, until it came naturally enough to them that they felt ready to make a portal to the Barns.
After that it was just a matter of arranging things with Gansey and Blue to provide a cover for them if anyone happened to come around Monmouth with questions while they were gone. Then they went to Cabeswater’s forest just after sunset, so they could make their portal and travel to the Barns under the cover of darkness.
Making the portal itself didn’t even feel like a challenge now. It was magic Adam knew he could do, like making plants grow or influencing the weather. As the light spread at the center of the tree trunk, Adam felt Ronan’s grip on his hand tighten, and Adam gripped back as they took the first steps forward into the light. It was a little like being in the midst of a dream, not sure how you got to where you were. They stepped, and the green hills of the Barns were unfurling around them.
The Barns suited Ronan. That was obvious from the first seconds they stepped on the property, from the way Ronan’s shoulders relaxed, from how even the way he walked seemed looser.
Ronan wanted to take it in, explore, show Adam around. Adam couldn’t fault him that. There was so much to see, wondrous and whimsical and unexpected. But there was a reason they were here, and Adam had to bring them around to it.
When Ronan went quiet in front of a portrait of his family that hung in the loft of one of the smaller outbuildings that seemed to hold all sorts of fanciful sentimental keepsakes, Adam figured they couldn’t put it off any longer.
He came to stand beside Ronan and studied the painting that Ronan stared at with something heavy weighing on his shoulders.
Adam looked first at the young Ronan in the painting, all wild curls and boisterous grin that made Adam think of how much trouble Ronan must have been a child. The image was undeniably endearing. Then Adam’s gaze was drawn to the woman standing behind Ronan who must be Ronan’s mother. She had golden hair and warm eyes and a warm smile. She looked remarkably like the Lady of the Dayspring. Though at the same time, the woman in the painting was depicted nothing like any rendering of any god or goddess Adam had ever seen. The statue of the Lady of the Dayspring he’d found Ronan kneeling before had been imposing and otherworldly, carved to convey the idea that this was a being possessing more power than mortal mind was meant to comprehend. The woman in the painting had one arm gently curled around Ronan and her other hand was holding Matthew’s, and there was laughter crinkling her eyes. She looked perfectly at home in the field of green grass and soft white dandelions that she stood in with her family in the painting. Adam couldn’t imagine this woman looking at home in a stone temple dedicated to her.
And yet, Adam looked between the image of Ronan and his mother, and his thoughts ran waywardly from the memory of Ronan before the Lady of the Dayspring’s statue to all of the times he’d mused about how strong Ronan’s magic was, how even for magicians the things he’d seen Ronan do went beyond what ought to be possible. But no. Surely the line of thinking he was on the verge of heading down was absurd. It had to be.
“Who painted this?” Adam couldn’t help asking.
“My dad made it,” Ronan answered, still distracted by the image before him.
Then maybe Ronan’s father had been flattering his wife by painting her look like one of the goddesses? Maybe the Lady of the Dayspring had blessed Ronan’s mother or one of his mother’s ancestors and they’d taken on traits of the goddess in the process? Adam wasn’t sure what he believed; but he wasn’t here to waste time on wild theories. He shook his head and pushed the thoughts away.
Ronan looked away from the portrait with an uneven sort of breath, and distracted himself by looking at the mirror that hung beside the painting, dried fuchsias arranged along the tarnished frame.
Adam said quietly, “Tell me about your family. Tell me what the Greenmantles want with you all.”
It took a few seconds, but grudgingly, Ronan began, “We’re not the same as other magicians. We’re powerful. You know what my magic is like. ...I can do things most magicians can’t, sometimes it’s like it’s too much for my body to be able to contain it. I get that from my mom and dad. What it comes down to is the Greenmantles are power hungry fucks who are obsessed with trying to control any kind of magic they can get their hands on. They wanted to know how my parents were able to do the things they did, and when they couldn’t get answers out of them, they had my dad killed. They don’t give up though, they’ve always kept an eye on me and my brothers. They’re just looking for a way to get information out of us, a way that they can get away with when the Council keeps an eye on us too. I’m positive the Greenmantles are the ones responsible for Opal getting reported, I bet they were thinking I’d get worse than being sentenced to be a familiar. And then they would’ve thrown their weight around and talked the Council into letting them have the chance to interrogate me. They must have been pissed as fuck that Gansey pulled strings before they could and by the time they knew about my sentencing I was already with you.”
When Ronan spoke of his own magic it matched what Adam had been thinking about Ronan’s magic uncannily well. Ronan wasn’t telling him everything, though. Adam didn’t want to have to speculate, he wanted Ronan to give him a clearer picture of what was really going on. “What exactly are the Greenmantles so interested in? What are they looking to learn?”
“I told you, I can do things other magicians can’t, things the Council doesn’t want magicians doing either way. I-” Ronan broke off, reluctant to say what it was that he was close to revealing.
Adam waited quietly.
“I made Opal.”
“I created her with my magic. She isn’t a human child I transfigured to have the legs of a goat. I dreamed of her, in my dreams she was always a faun. Then I woke up one morning and I’d made her real.” Ronan spoke defiantly now that he was decided upon revealing the truth. “She’s mine.”
It shouldn’t have been a possibility. Not really. It wasn’t common for magicians to create beings with magic, but when they did, those creations were animals, not people. And magicians who made cats or hounds or birds to help them with magical tasks or for companions were carefully regulated by the Council, because it was all too easy for something to go wrong. Even when everything went flawlessly, animals created by magic never quite acted exactly the same as natural born animals. The monsters Ronan created from his nightmares were more elaborate than most magically made animals, but still, the night horrors couldn’t speak or comprehend more than a predator’s instincts. To make a person, who could think and feel for themselves, who had their own complex personality...it defied belief. And yet, didn’t it explain so much about Opal?
While Adam was processing this, Ronan continued on, “Coming up with a cover story for Opal being human was Declan and Gansey’s idea. They’re the ones who pulled the witches into it, not that the witches needed much convincing. Gansey and Declan were trying to keep me out of worse trouble with the Council, and they were trying to keep from attracting too much of the Greenmantles’ attention. The Greenmatles know something’s up with Opal, they’re just not sure what. Not knowing drives them fucking nuts, it’s one of the reasons they won’t back off even if they’re risking trouble with the Council themselves. If the Greenmantles could figure out how to do the sort of things I can do - they’re fucking sick, who knows what they’d do, I’m not letting it happen.”
“How is it that your family has such uncommon gifts for doing the kinds of magic that shouldn’t be possible?” Even as he asked the question, Adam was looking at the image of Ronan’s mother. Part of him still couldn’t quite believe that the theory formulating in the back of his mind could truly have merit, but the more he learned of Ronan, of the things Ronan could do, didn’t it seem fitting? But then there had to be other explanations, more plausible explanations. Adam was letting his own wonder at Ronan’s magic run away with him.
Ronan looked back at him for several long breaths before he said, “You can’t expect me to tell you all my secrets in one night.” Before Adam could say anything in response, Ronan turned from him and jumped down from the loft. “Come on, there’s a family of deer that used to be pretty much domesticated, I wanna see if they’re still around.”
Adam followed him, what choice did he have. They did find the deer, and Adam was surprised by how charmed he was by them. He was more surprised by Ronan, by how gentle Ronan was as he fed them and let them nuzzle into his palm.
There was a lot to learn about Ronan, more he was discovering every day. He supposed they’d just have to continue on a day at a time.
Things felt a little closer to all right, now that Ronan had gotten to return home to the Barns, and knew he could go back again.
But even when things seemed to be going well, Ronan knew better than to let it lull him into any sense of security. He’d woken from too many hundreds of nightmares of varying degrees of horror, only to be faced with the reality of the nightmarish creations he’d manifested, to allow himself any sort of complacency.
It felt distinctly unfair, though, to wake in the night to a living nightmare that he knew for sure he had nothing to do with.
The thing was alien-looking, a little like an enormous wasp crossed with a scorpion, the worst of both. It was the instincts of a predator made into a tangible form with too many pincers and deadly stingers, and it was coming right for Ronan, too fast, far too fast for Ronan to be able to do anything about.
Before his adrenaline-flooded mind could fully comprehend things, the sharp point of something came bursting out of the creature’s neck.
The thing sticking out of the creature’s neck - the area that Ronan assumed sort of approximated a neck? - was a sharpened stick, and it had been wielded by Opal.
She screamed his name from where she stood behind the creature, still holding the stick with both hands. The creature made an awful gurgling sound, wounded but not dead, not stopped for long. Ronan snatched for the knife he kept under his mattress, charging the creature before it had time to turn around.
Ronan had some practice fighting all kinds of monstrosities, but this thing was stronger and harder to hurt than anything he’d been up against before. The creature took multiple grazes from the knife but it barely slowed the thing down. Ronan only narrowly avoided the sharp tip of a stinger and some other part of the godforsaken thing sliced into his arm while he was preoccupied.
“What the hell is it?” Adam’s voice came from somewhere behind Ronan. He’d been alerted by the commotion and now stood with a protective arm out in front Opal, which she clung to.
“Demon,” Opal answered in a low voice, almost a whisper.
“Fuck,” Ronan hissed, slashing with the knife to block a jab from the creature and resorting to kicking at the next. Stories of demons were a big part of what inspired the nightmares that resulted in his night horrors. Demon was the term used to describe a manifestation of the darkest elements of magic. Summoning them was strictly prohibited by the Council. The vast majority of magicians would never risk it anyway, because demons were unpredictable, dangerous, and fairly close to indestructible. They were magical energy in the form of whatever creature the summoner’s magic led them to take, and they were animated by the summoner’s desire to harm another person. According to the stories, demons couldn’t be extinguished until they’d destroyed the target they were created to attack. If they were unable to harm their targets, however, demons were unstable enough that they were known to turn on their creators, and then they would be extinguished when the magic that had summoned them ceased to exist. None of this knowledge was helpful in the moment though, facing down a demon that couldn’t be stopped with mere weapons. “What do we do?”
Adam didn’t answer, but slowly, steadily, small star-shaped brown seedlings began growing along the demon’s skin, and Ronan could sense Adam’s magic at work. This, finally, seemed to get the demon to pause. The seeds burst and dripped with a viscous yellow-ish sort of oil that hardened and darkened as it spread, and as more oil covered the demon, the demon seemed less and less able to move, letting out a high pitched unearthly sort of screeching sound.
“It’s working!” Ronan exclaimed, daring to take his eyes off the demon long enough to glance at Adam, whose face was pale and tight with exertion.
“I can’t keep it up.”
Ronan grabbed hold of Adam’s wrist, and he tried to clear his head of everything that wasn’t the connection he could sense to Adam’s magic. He pictured the oil growing even darker, even more solid, surrounding the demon and closing in on the demon, tighter and tighter, smaller and smaller. He closed his eyes and focused all his willpower on the thought, on the feel of Adam’s pulse under his fingers.
He opened his eyes again when he felt Adam gently pull his wrist away.
Adam took careful steps forward, to the space where the demon had been just moments before, and knelt down to pick something up. Between his thumb and forefinger, Adam held what looked like a murky black gemstone, small enough to set in a ring. A trap for a demon.
“How is this possible?” Adam asked, holding the stone up a little higher to examine it wonderingly.
“Worry about that later, brainiac. Right now we should be worried about who the fuck summoned a demon on us.”
“I think we have a pretty good lead suspect,” Adam said warily.
Yeah, Ronan fucking thought so too. No matter how much you may hate a person, you had to be unhinged to decide to deal with it by setting a demon on them, because of the risk that the demon could end up being to you too. Unhinged was exactly Piper Greenmantle’s style. After Adam shot her down and prevented her from being able to make Ronan her familiar, and then got the Council looking into her, this was exactly the sort of shit a psycho like her would respond with.
“Before the demon came here, I sensed…” Opal looked between Ronan and Adam with dark harrowed eyes. “I sensed the demons being summoned. It wasn’t one demon created alone. There are more.”
Ronan would have liked to say he was more surprised, as he sat across from Adam and the bowl that Adam scried into, trying to see what they could learn. The news wasn't good, but it would have been more surprising if it were. Some fucking stupid part of Ronan was trying not to think about how he appreciated being able to look at Adam Parrish like this without repercussions. Adam looked elegant and otherworldly like this, and it was hard to look away from the strange graceful lines and shadows playing over his face when Adam was so obviously in his element.
Ronan kept careful count of the time passing by as he looked at Adam, and he was almost about to have to pull Adam back from whereever the fuck he was when Adam’s eye focused on him all at once.
“Piper summoned three demons,” Adam said, his voice hoarse with the effort of speaking so soon after he’d been scrying. His eyes on Ronan were more concerned than Ronan or Adam would usually be comfortable showing one another. “Ronan, she sent the other two after your brothers.”
With just those words, Ronan remembered each and every nightmare he’d ever had of trying to hold Matthew together while a hole opened up where Matthew’s heart should be. Of Declan looking at him with filmy gray eyes and asking through colorless lifeless lips why Ronan hadn’t listened to him, why Ronan hadn’t done more to help him. Of finding both of his brothers lying dead and bloody on the ground like his father.
“Declan’s trying to keep Matthew out of the way, off the grid, he isn’t prepared for this,” Ronan said, already thinking no please don’t let me find their bodies.
“We’ll help him. We’ll go to Cabeswater’s forest and we’ll use it to get us to your brothers. We’ve come a long way with our portals,” Adam said, quiet and steady.
“I’d have to know where they are to get to them, I don’t even know where they are-”
“I’ll handle that, let’s get moving,” Adam said, just as steadily, and Ronan doubted if Adam was as utterly certain as he made himself sound, but something about Adam’s tone still worked to help Ronan feel a little less like he was about to fly apart.
In Cabeswater’s forest, Adam asked Roan to make him a light source to scry into, and Ronan created a small orb that glowed like a miniature star. It was bright, but it wasn’t anything very inventive. Ronan didn’t have the thought to spare for that sort of thing. The light served its purpose: Adam stared into it to pass on a quick message to the witches, who could see what Mr. Gray may be able to find out about Piper Greenmantle’s plans.
When Adam looked up from the light, he took hold of Ronan’s hand with the hand that wasn’t holding the orb and said, “Start creating the portal, I’ll scry to find your brothers and give us direction.”
Ronan let out a breath and pressed the hand that wasn’t holding Adam’s to the trunk of a sturdy looking tree. He centered all his willpower on being able to travel wherever he wanted with a thought. This was a trick they’d pulled off before, yes, but not under these circumstances, he didn’t know exactly how far their portals could range and still let them travel safely. They’d just have to chance it. Sometimes magic worked best when you didn’t question it too much.
Slowly, under his fingertips, light grew from the tree and spread, and Ronan held on to an image of him and Adam somewhere impossibly high up, able to step over oceans and mountains and canyons in a single bound. Adam squeezed his hand faintly, to say that he was ready, and together they stepped into the light.
It took Ronan a moment to recognize where they were, when they emerged on the other side. But after a second he realized he knew exactly where he was, they were only meters away from a remote hunting cabin of his father’s. Of course this is where Declan would take Matthew. Then Ronan’s heart seized painfully in his chest as he took in the jagged sight of the shattered front window and he rushed forward, bursting through the door.
Hovering ominously in the air by the ladder to the cabin’s loft were the noxious forms of two demons, but past them, in the loft itself, were Matthew and Declan, huddled together, looking fearful but uninjured. Ronan could sense that Declan had warded the loft with intense spellwork to keep back dark magic, but the two demons were oozing some sort of foul black substance that weakened the wards fast.
“Ronan!” Matthew cried out.
“The wards aren’t going to hold,” Declan said tightly.
Ronan grasped for Adam’s hand, who’d come quickly to his side, and looked back to the portal that still glowed from the tree trunk just outside the cabin’s front door. C’mon, work, please. Ronan wasn’t sure if he was too far from Cabeswater’s forest, he didn’t know if the portal was enough of a connection for him to be able to successfully create what he was imagining, but he put everything he had into trying. From the portal emerged three hulking forms that resembled hounds, if hounds were made up of nearly blinding blazing red light, with teeth that curled like edges of flames.
The hounds charged the demons, unable to destroy the demons but more than able to withstand the demons’ attacks and keep the demons occupied. With the hounds serving as an excellent source of distraction, Ronan and Adam were clear to use their magic to start covering the demons’ skin in the same seeds Adam used before, and as the sap closed over the wasp-like forms, they transmuted the two demons the same way they had the first one. After a few tiring moments, they had another two small dark stones, all that remained of the demons. After a few tense heartbeats went by while they all processed that the demons were no longer a threat, Matthew was the first to launch into action, racing down the ladder of the loft and throwing himself into Ronan’s arms.
Ronan hugged Matthew’s head of blond curls to him tightly. “You all right, kid?”
Matthew nodded against Ronan’s chest. “We’re okay now.”
Declan had descended from the loft more slowly, but when he was close enough, Matthew pulled him in, and Ronan threw an arm around him too.
After a moment, when they were ready to pull back, Declan glanced at Adam and back to Ronan. “How did you two do that?”
“We’ve been working on all sorts of tricks,” Ronan said, grinning at Adam.
Adam smiled back, ever so slightly, but he looked self-conscious at having the brothers’ attention drawn to him. “I can take the stones and go see what Mr. Gray has managed to find out,” he offered, clearly unwilling to intrude on the brothers' time together.
“Fuck that,” Ronan scoffed. “Gray’s turned over a new leaf, he wants to prove he’s on our side by helping us with Piper Greemantle? Then I say we pass the stones off to him and let him work out what to do, how to keep Piper from pulling some shit like this again. He can give us a damage report later.” Ronan wanted Adam here, wanted Adam to be a part of this, too. The bacon and eggs and sausage Ronan hassled Declan into making because he was fucking starving. The exuberant stories Matthew told about how this cabin reminded him of wild camping trips the Lynch family had taken in the past. He wanted Adam to want to be here. The way Adam grinned at him over Matthew’s shoulder when Matthew insisted they all had to come back sometime with supplies for s’mores, Ronan thought he could take that as proof that Adam did.
Later, Mr. Gray reported to Ronan and Adam that there were no stones remaining and the demons had been extinguished and Piper Greenmantle had perished in mysterious circumstances. Adam had asked for more details, which Mr. Gray was disinclined to share, but Mr. Gray did say that he was professionally confident that the details of Piper’s demise couldn’t be traced back to them, and that was enough for Ronan.
Ronan already knew there would be a fallout, after what happened with Piper Greenmantle. There would have to be, he’d lived through too many fallouts to expect otherwise. But Ronan didn’t care, because both of his brothers were unharmed, and that was worth whatever toll that may come after. And Ronan stood by that, no matter what, but that didn’t mean the particular form the fallout took didn’t feel like a kick in the teeth.
It started with fucking Pinter showing back up.
He had questions about what Ronan and Adam had been up to in the days before the demon attack, which pissed Ronan off because what kind of fucking priorities. But Adam stuck to the Latin bullshit he’d come up with the last time Pinter showed up. And when Pinter had condescendingly asked to hear some Latin then, Ronan had recited some Sulpicia. Pinter had been left speechless, and though Adam did a good job of concealing his surprise, Ronan could tell from the way Adam looked at him that Adam was impressed. So, that part hadn’t been all bad.
But Pinter kept asking questions. Questions that were more like accusations. Questions about what Ronan had been doing, what his brothers had been doing, about their calamitous relationship with the Greenmantles.
“I don’t know where the fuck you think you get off,” Ronan snarled, “Trying to grill me about the exact circumstances of how I got to my brothers so quick and what magic I did to make sure we all survived, but how about you try focusing on the fact that the Greenmantles have had it out for my family my whole life, and the Council fucking knows it, but you’ve never done a damn thing about it.”
“Obviously I or any other member of the Council would never condone Piper Greenmantle’s actions. But before recent events where Ms. Greenmantle went to such extremes, there was no conclusive evidence to prove beyond doubt that either of the Greenmantles were guilty of misconduct.” Pinter kept his tone within the bounds of serviceably professional, but his gaze was withering and unappreciative. Without giving Ronan time to respond, Pinter continued, “As it stands, Piper Greenmantle is dead, so the most useful thing to focus on in order to ensure everyone’s safety is to make sure that we understand precisely what occurred and how those events unfolded.”
“Bullshit,” Ronan spat, acid burning through his veins. “Colin Greenmantle isn’t dead yet, and instead of doing anything about him, you’re fucking wasting everybody’s time asking me assinine questions because you fuckers are threatened by the concept of my family.”
“We have questioned Colin Greenmantle, and we have evidence to support his statement that he didn’t collude with his wife in the summoning. She acted alone,” Pinter argued impatiently.
“So he lets other people do the dirty work. Just because that piece of shit is too much of a spineless coward to actually do anything himself-”
Pinter spoke over him. “Instead of throwing around allegations you don’t have the evidence to verify, why don’t you consider your own state of affairs. Your past misuse of magic means you’re only allowed to use magic on a probationary basis, and you’re lucky to have that much. If you aren’t able or willing to restrain your use of magic, that can have dangerous consequences for those around you, and it can make precarious situations you may find yourself in even more unsafe. If you don’t-”
“I can’t stand listening to you talk, you fucking sons of bitches don’t know shit, you’re just scared of what you think my family and I could do, so you’ll take any chance you get to work against us and you don’t care what anybody else tries. You fuckers are even worse than Greenmantle, because you have all the power you need to stop him, you could have stopped him a long time ago, but you won’t.”
“If you don’t watch what you say and learn to show some respect-”
“Eat fucking shit, dirtbag.”
“You don’t think you’ve gotten yourself in enough trouble?” Pinter hissed, voice rising and face coloring. “Your mother doesn’t mean that you’re excluded from the laws that govern the rest of us, godspawn.”
At that word, Pinter closed his mouth abruptly, too late.
Adam looked at Ronan, eyes going wide before he worked to regulate his expression, his thoughts still whirling all at once behind them.
Ronan wanted to be a raven. He wanted to claw Pinter’s mouth to shreds. He wanted to take off flying and never have to stop.
The word echoed in Adam’s mind like wind howling off canyon walls. Pinter had gone, having little left to say after the slip that he hadn’t meant to let out. Adam and Ronan stood in silence.
Of course the Council was apprehensive of the Lynch family. No one was sure what children who were part mortal and part god would be able to do. And the Council would never want anyone to know about this. That something like this could happen. For a mortal not just to summon a god for aid, but to be able to keep a god in the mortal realm for so long, to have children, multiple children, and to raise those children. The type of magic that required, the gall. The other gods must have been so displeased...
Part of Adam wasn’t sure why he felt so staggeringly surprised. Part of him didn’t feel like he was surprised enough. He’d suspected. Wasn’t this where all the evidence had been pointing him: the impossible feats of magic, the comments, the temple, the painting? He’d suspected, but he hadn’t really wanted to let himself touch the thought, hadn’t wanted to look at it straight on, had found it too outlandish to accept as truth.
“Surprised?” Ronan asked, the one word quick and sharp and venomous.
“It’s hard to believe,” Adam said quietly. Even to his own ear his voice sounded awfully far away.
“You’re not dumb, Parrish. And you’re not unobservant. You can’t tell me you had no idea. You didn’t not know. You just didn’t want to accept it.” Ronan’s mouth was twisted, defiant and derisive, but his eyes were the eyes of a man who’d taken a hit from a knife and the harshness of his words was the pressure on the wound.
“I needed a little time to adjust, Ronan, I think that’s understandable,” Adam said, unable to keep the edge from his tone even as he strove for patience. “There are reasons why your family kept it secret, you can’t put that all on me. And even if I wasn’t ready to take the signs that I saw as fact yet, it doesn’t mean that the signs I saw ever made me wanna change my mind about you. I wouldn’t do anything different. You’re still my familiar. I still want to help you and your brothers, I still want to stop Colin Greenmantle. It doesn’t change the things I’ve learned about you already, it just gives me an explanation for them.”
Ronan looked so unsure now, part of Adam wanted to offer Ronan his hand, the way he’d gotten used to when they did magic together. He was a little surprised by the impulse, when magic had nothing to do with it. He wasn’t quite prepared to bring himself to go through with it, though; things felt too precarious for that. Instead he said, “Let’s go to Cabeswater’s forest.”
Ronan looked at him, eyes guarded, and Adam thought he had some idea of what Ronan was thinking. Ronan didn’t want things to change, didn’t want to be seen differently, and this wasn’t a time for working in the forest to see what new headway they could make with their magic, not when all Ronan would see was Adam wanting to assess what more Ronan could do now that he knew that Ronan was half-god. So he said, “We’ve had a lot to deal with, with Pinter being an asshole and you and me taking down three demons together. The forest is a good place to let off some steam; we’ve earned it.”
Slowly, the wariness lessened in Ronan’s eyes and the set of his shoulders grew a little looser. His gaze turned considering. Then he surprised Adam by saying, “Before that, I think we should go to the Barns.”
It was Ronan’s idea to talk, because he knew they had to, but he couldn’t help wanting to stall, and the Barns made it all too easy. He brought Adam to a small field teeming with impossible flowers that he hadn’t had time to show Adam the last times they were here. He took Adam up to the treehouse he and his brothers used to play in, an extravagant sprawling construction massive enough to contain slides and rope bridges and turrets. Finally, when he and Adam were walking along a winding brook that was strewn with pebbles that shone with vibrant colors that changed depending on the light, Adam asked softly, “Why are we here, Ronan?”
“I know you have questions,” Ronan muttered. He didn’t fault Adam that, but he still didn’t really want to answer. Not even the Lynches had the answers to all the things Adam probably wanted to know, and more than that, he couldn’t stand the idea of the answers changing things between them.
Adam watched the water ripple over the small stones in its path contemplatively. When he looked up at Ronan, he said, “I think I’d rather you tell me what you think I ought to know.”
So Ronan told Adam some of what he could bring himself to share. His father, a talented and incomparably enterprising magician, had been interested in his youth in contacting the gods. Summoning rituals to request the presence of gods were known, but they were rarely performed and thought of as...ill-advised. They were only requests, as the gods had found ways to bind their essences to their own realm so they didn’t have to appear in the mortal realm no matter what rituals a magician performed. Of course, most magicians thought of the idea of a god actually appearing in a summoning ritual as a far worse turn of events than the idea of a god failing to appear in a summoning ritual. Not Niall Lynch. He persisted until a god finally appeared before him: the goddess known as the Lady of the Dayspring was the only one willing to answer his summons.
She answered every summons he made of her, because she was charmed by the tricks he performed for her and the stories he told her. She allowed him to call her Aurora. She looked forward to spending time with him, to seeing the mortal world through the splendor with which Niall Lynch and his magic could present it.
The other gods didn’t like it. Few gods thought it was worth their while to involve themselves in the affairs of mortals, and moreover, they were angry at the idea of a precedent being established where mortals might come to expect to be able to call down a god time and time again to do their bidding.
When Aurora told Niall that she feared that some of the other gods might take steps to prevent her from ever being able to venture to the mortal realm again, Niall came up with a way to bind her to him so she could stay with him. The ritual was woven into the marriage vows they both agreed to, till death do us part.
The magic only held so long as Niall Lynch was alive. When Ronan’s father was murdered, his mother was taken away from the mortal realm by the other gods.
The means that the other gods had to prevent themselves from being summoned could be used against Aurora, so that Aurora was unable to enter the mortal realm. Ronan had no way of knowing if the prayers he sent her were even able to reach her.
The death of his father was the kind of wound that razed everything, that reshaped himself and the world he moved through. It didn't get better, maybe just a little duller.
But his mom was out there somewhere. His family home was right here. If he had his mom and his home back, it wouldn’t fix everything, he knew, but god, things would be so much better than they were.
Ronan resented, every day, that Declan didn’t think it was worth doing more to try to get their mom and their home back. But even so, Ronan couldn’t deny that Declan had his reasons for being cautious.
Declan had moved them all away from the Barns immediately after they lost their parents, without ever even trying to fight for it, because Declan believed that attempting to be as unobtrusive and unassuming as possible was the best shot they had of staying out of trouble with the Council. Of preventing the truth of their parents from becoming public knowledge in the wake of the attention that their loss triggered. Most important, of keeping one of their most closely guarded secrets from ever being known, even by the Council.
Some part of Ronan recoiled at the idea of revealing that secret now. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Adam: Adam had kept Ronan’s confidence already, had gone against the Council for Ronan, had helped save Opal and his brother’s lives without hesitation. It was that this secret carried so much weight, the consequences of it getting out were so awful to think of, that the words were hard to say.
But Adam needed to know. So Ronan swallowed and said, like a piece of himself was being torn out with the words, “Matthew’s one of mine too. I made him.”
Adam felt the way he had when Ronan revealed most of his secrets: not quite sure why he was so utterly surprised, and sure he was nowhere near surprised enough, both at once. Ronan created Matthew?
“When?” Adam asked, because this was the first logical point he could begin to attempt to make sense of.
“I was just a little kid, I dreamt Matthew because I wanted a baby brother, I didn’t know what I was doing, I wasn’t trying to make him. The Council knows about my mom, obviously, but they don’t know about Matthew, no one does. My parents just raised him as their son. If anyone found out…” Ronan’s voice trailed off, but Adam didn’t need him to continue.
Of course Ronan wouldn’t want to say it, wouldn’t even want to think about it. A magician creating unsanctioned life was considered one of the most serious misuses of magic, after harming someone with magic. And this was no mere animal, or even a faun. There was no precedent for how the Council would respond if it became known that Ronan created not only a faun by magic, but also a human being that went so many years without anyone knowing his true origins? The Council would not be forgiving to Ronan. And worse, how would they respond to Matthew? They would perceive him as less than human.
Ronan shook his head. “The Council finding out would be bad enough, but Colin Greenmantle’s always wanted dirt on my family, and with what happened to his wife, he’s only gonna be more bloodthirsty about things. If he finds out-”
“I know,” Adam said quietly, because his conversations with Mr. Gray had given him an idea of how Colin Greenmantle operated, and he didn’t want Ronan imagining it any more than he could help, didn’t want Ronan to have to put words to it. From the intel Mr. Gray had provided, it was all too easy for Adam to envision Colin Greenmantle doing everything he could to use all his influence to get the Council to declare Matthew Lynch non-human. And under the thin pretense of attempting to understand better how a demigod’s magic worked, Colin Greemantle would probably request to vivisect Matthew. Colin Greenmantle would most likely want to do worse than that, and though he would find the Council’s assent preferable, he wouldn’t find it necessary.
“I know,” Adam said again, because he wanted to do something to help put an end to the haunted look in Ronan’s eyes, “But we’re not going to let it come to that. We can find a way to deal with whatever Colin Greenmantle tries to throw at us. We stopped Piper, and we both know she’s cleverer than him. She was the brains, all Colin Greenmantle knows how to do is throw money at things and get other people to do things for him. We already proved we’re smarter and better magicians than the bigger threat, you and me will take care of Colin.”
Ronan looked at Adam, a thin smirk slowly curving the corner of his mouth. It felt a little like a victory. Even more so when Ronan said, “You make a good point, Parrish. Let’s go to the forest.”
Normally Adam couldn’t help feeling like he was wasting time if he wasn’t working on ways to improve his magic. But it was different when he was with Ronan, because Ronan was important, in ways he wasn’t all that prepared to look at too closely, and because it could never feel like a waste, seeing how Ronan truly enjoyed magic.
It was always so effortless for Ronan. He stood in Cabeswater's forest and held his arms out wide, and with no more exertion than that, the immense rock they were standing before split down the center. Water rushed up from the deep fissure like it’d tapped into some underground well, the transfiguration before them sudden as a storm and with the sound effects to match. The water that flowed relentlessly from the stone swept uphill, carving a path around the large willow tree toward the top of the hill and cascading back again down into the ever-widening pool that used to be nothing but rock.
They watched the racing current circle around and around, following Ronan’s will in staggering defiance of all natural laws.
“What now?” Adam managed to ask eventually without sounding too overtly impressed.
Ronan let his teeth show in a fierce grin. “We dive in.”
“You’re kidding,” Adam said flatly, but he knew even as he said it that it was so much wasted breath, because of course Ronan meant it.
Ronan shrugged a shoulder defiantly and then pulled off his shirt, tossing it at Adam’s face. “Be boring if that’s how you wanna live your life, Parrish,” he taunted, and he kicked off his boots, jumping into the quick-flowing water with a wild shout.
Adam tossed Ronan’s shirt to the side, not wanting to hold it and not wanting to entertain the concept of it, and he sighed to himself in exasperation as he watched Ronan let the current take him. Ronan let out a whoop as he hurtled downwards and when he bottomed out in the wider pool there was a sharp but genuine smile curving his lips. He threw his arms up on shore to keep the current from pulling him off again and arranged his grin into more of a smirk as he looked at Adam. “What’s the matter, Parrish, don’t like getting wet?” As he spoke, he drew one arm back and stuck at the water with a swiping sort of motion that sent a rather astounding amount of water splattering over Adam.
Adam wasn’t thinking about what his face must have looked like, just that he was wet and Ronan was a shit, but it made Ronan throw his head back and laugh. Before he had time to reconsider it, before Ronan had time to do much more than arch his eyebrows, Adam pulled off his shirt and shoes and leapt for Ronan.
They tousled underwater, a disarray of jostling arms and kicking legs all tangled together. When they broke the surface, Ronan sputtered, “you are such a little bitch,” in an exultant sort of way. Adam pushed him back under.
Eventually, when they’d thoroughly exhausted themselves dunking each other and chasing each other in circles and creating small fish to swim with, they climbed out of the water and laid in the grass.
There was a warm breeze, and as they watched the sun began to set around them, streaking the sky with glowing oranges and reds.
“Fortuitous,” Adam commented wryly, and then wondered if he’d overstepped when he saw the way Ronan’s jaw and shoulders tensed faintly.
“Pretty boring, honestly,” Ronan scoffed, scowling into the distance. “Sunsets happen literally every day, and this is a magic fucking forest. You’d think it could be a little more impressive.”
In deliberate defiance of Ronan’s words, the light of the sky around them seemed to shift. Along the horizon, where the last rays of the sun still flared, the sky took on an even more vibrant rosy sort of shade of orange, brilliant and fiery. But higher in the sky, the sky grew darker, turning a deep vivid indigo lit with silvery wisps of clouds and scattered stars. Venus was particularly bright.
“That wasn’t a challenge,” Ronan called out in a general upwards direction, the words so genuine in their scathing incredulousness that Adam had to laugh.
“No? This one single time, you didn’t mean to escalate things?” Adam asked, but he was still laughing a little as he said it, and the glare Ronan turned on him held no real bite.
“Shut up, I need to concentrate, I’m gonna move the stars so they spell out go fuck yourself,” Ronan growled, turning his glare up toward the sky again.
“You need to concentrate for that? Don’t tell me you’re losing your edge, Lynch.” It felt a little risky, carrying on like this, but something about being here under this sky with the gentle rustling of the trees and the water still caught in Ronan’s eyelashes from their swim made it hard to stop. Adam looked up at the stars and arranged them to form the words of one of his favorite quotes from Propertius.
“Nerd,” Ronan pronounced, but his mouth quirked into a slow faint smile even as he spoke.
It felt a little like when Adam summoned lightning for the first time, tapping into forces bigger than he could comprehend. Under a sky like this, he couldn’t help thinking a lightning storm would be fitting, bright and alive and charged enough to match what he was feeling. He let himself smile back.
It seemed like now that Ronan had trusted Adam with one of his most important secrets, he’d decided to treat revealing other secrets almost as a source of entertainment for himself. Adam wasn’t sure how one person could hold any more surprises.
They went to Cabeswater’s forest even more often now, and Ronan seemed to feel free to be more of himself. On one visit he made a massive oak tree entirely out of glimmering emerald-colored flame, and when Adam made the ashes that sparked from the tree turn into acorns before they touched the ground, Ronan laughed wildly like he found Adam’s reasonable sense of caution hilarious. At the sound of Ronan’s laughter, the oak tree crystallized as if it were truly hewn from emerald. As the breeze blew through the branches, filling the air with lilting crystalline sounds like wind chimes, Ronan launched easily into storytelling.
He told Adam of how years ago when Noah had been stronger, the two of them would mock sword fight with the most sword-like fallen branches they could find in Cabeswater’s forest. For the winner, Ronan would create golden laurels. On one occasion, Ronan had gone somewhat overboard with wanting the laurels to be more golden than the sun, and the golden light the laurels shone with had burst into actual flame when Noah had gone to place it on Ronan’s head, and Noah had to dropkick the laurels away from them.
Adam could imagine it only too clearly, and when he was done laughing, he felt like he finally had an opening to ask some of the questions he’d had about Noah since first meeting him, and Ronan didn’t seem to mind telling Adam what he could.
Ronan had met Noah shortly after his father had died and his mother had been taken away, because he’d heard a rumor that there was a boy who’d been blessed by a god and whose body was barely able to withstand the strain of the influence of the god’s magic. Rumor had it that the boy’s physical form drifted between the mortal realm and the realm of the gods. Of course Ronan had been interested. The rumors hadn’t been accurate; the unforeseen consequences of Cabeswater’s gift had meant that Noah had been able to travel to the realm of the gods, but Noah’s form was so fragile that he worried traveling between realms would drain him entirely. He couldn’t go back and forth from the mortal realm to the realm of the gods without it taking a serious toll on him, so he couldn’t get in contact with Aurora for Ronan, but the time Noah had spent in the realm of the gods before he saw what a detrimental effect the travel had on him meant that Noah did know some things. That was how Ronan had learned that Aurora was unharmed in the realm of the gods, but constrained from being able to leave by the power of the other gods. Noah hadn’t been exactly what Ronan had hoped when Ronan had first heard of him, but that hadn’t mattered, because both boys had found a friend when they’d both sorely needed one.
Ronan surprised Adam by confiding in Adam a little of how the ramifications of what had happened to Noah worried him. One of the main reasons the High Council opposed the concept of magicians creating life with magic, or the concept of mortals and gods having children, was that a concentration of too much magic tended to affect mortal life in strange and unpredictable ways. The apparent effect of Cabeswater’s magic on Noah served as a sort of worst-case-scenario example of this. Although the Lynch brothers had gone all the years of their lives with no such ill effects of the strong ties to magic that they bore, the Council was still mistrustful of the possibility. They still felt the need to regulate the Lynches, and if they knew Matthew was entirely a being of magic, things would only get worse. The Council would view Matthew as little better than a potentially hazardous experiment that never should have been. It didn’t matter that Matthew himself was so much like any other human any differences were negligible, the Council would always be wary that beings possessing too much magic in themselves might end up in similar straits as Noah, and therefore couldn’t be allowed for the good of magicians overall.
Then without even the most meager of attempts to segue between one and the other, Ronan went from discussing his concerns for his brother to talking about the time he and Noah had been playing hide-and-seek in Cabeswater’s forest. To scare Noah, Ronan had created a ring while he was hiding that would give the wearer the appearance of a hydra. When Noah had found what very much appeared to be a hydra lurking in the mouth of a dark cave, he apparently hadn’t been frightened at all, because according to him, he had no reason to think it was an unfriendly hydra. When Ronan revealed himself, Noah expressed mild disappointment that Ronan had merely created an illusion, instead of actually transforming himself. Noah could be surprising that way. Ronan, the mass of contradictions that he was, had no qualms about continuing to switch between revealing truths and whimsical ventures in magic as causal as you please.
On Adam and Ronan’s next visit to Cabeswater’s forest, Ronan made two colossal ivory white pegasi for them to ride, with iridescent wings that gleamed with every hue of color as their feathers shifted. When Adam was uncompromising about keeping his feet firmly on solid ground, Ronan rolled his eyes and told Adam that nothing in the forest would harm him. When Adam asked skeptically how Ronan could be so sure, Ronan told Adam that he’d created Cabeswater’s forest.
He revealed it like he could make it matter less if he said as little about it as possible. A handful of nonchalant-sounding words, then back to the winged horses. His eyes were painfully guarded though.
“If I agree to ride your flying murder horse,” Adam found himself saying, because bizarrely enough, that was a way to find their way back to a sense of normalcy, when it came to them. “Will you expand upon that?”
That earned the slow hint of a grin from Ronan.
It wasn’t much of a fair deal, but then that hadn’t been the point to start with. Ronan had been young when he dreamed the forest into being, like when he’d created Matthew. He told Adam what he remembered of Cabeswater visiting Ronan in his dreams. Cabeswater was a very old entity, even by the standards of the other gods, and hadn’t concerned itself with apprehensions about the complications of a goddess living in the mortal realm and bearing a mortal’s children. Such things were fleeting, to a being like Cabeswater. Cabeswater had simply wanted to know what Ronan could do. Ronan had created a forest because thoughts of ancient green trees were the kind of thoughts Cabeswater had inspired in him, Ronan hadn’t known enough to attempt to make an energy source to help maintain Cabeswater’s presence in the mortal realm purposefully. When Ronan told his parents of the forest he’d made, Aurora had gently advised Ronan against spending time in Cabeswater’s forest. Cabeswater may be above such things, but she'd worried that the other gods might view a young half-god involving himself in godly affairs as asking for trouble. That was how the women of Fox Way had come to care for the forest.
There wasn’t much that either Ronan or Adam wanted to put into words about the larger implications, that Ronan was responsible for making the place that had come to mean so much to Adam. That this forest served as such a crucial connection between them long before they’d come to know one another. Persephone’s voice in Adam’s head reminded him there were no coincidences. But really, it felt precarious enough to think on it for too long, what was there to say?
Easier just to ride a flying murder horse. It wasn’t so bad, once you were soaring. Their whoops and shouts could probably be heard for miles.
Ronan didn’t only share secrets with Adam. He shared his dreams sometimes, too. With Cabeswater’s forest around them to help keep Adam grounded so he wouldn’t stray too far, Ronan slept and Adam scried into his dreams. Sometimes in those dreams they were halfway along an unfinished bridge, trying to find enough meteorite to build the bridge all the way up to the stars. Sometimes they walked along the ocean shore, soft sand and rippling waves at their feet.
Adam never had dreams like that, himself. Ronan’s dreams weren’t all like that, Adam knew firsthand how terrifying so many of Ronan’s dreams could be, but Ronan always had the capacity for dreams that were wondrous and enchanting, and Adam was glad for every one of them that he got to be a part of. It felt like the more he knew of Ronan, the more he wanted to know.
Ronan had peaceful dreams more often since Adam had started scrying into his dreams. Of course, peaceful was a relative sort of value. The thing about Ronan’s dreams, whether Adam was with him in his dreams or not, was that even the ones that didn’t go bad didn’t tend to stay peaceful. Not for too long.
Ronan was dreaming that he was creating a temple, and he’d just finished building the steps. For the inside of the temple, he didn’t want a statue, he wanted trees. Adam hadn’t scried his way into this particular dream, but Ronan found himself thinking that he wished Adam were there; Adam would be helpful with this sort of thing. Once Ronan thought it, though, he took it back, because he didn’t want his dream to present him with a false Adam. Dealing with the real Adam in the waking world was complicated enough without blurring the lines in his dreams.
He was concentrating so thoroughly on not summoning a dream-Adam that he missed the moment Noah appeared, whirling around only when Noah said softly, “You two have gotten close, haven’t you?”
“What the hell, Noah?” Ronan hissed. “Is it really you? I haven’t really seen you in forever, what’s going on with you?”
“I’m less than I was before. I think...I’m getting less all the time.” Noah’s voice was faded, and so were the lines of his face. “Did I ever tell you…when Cabeswater’s blessing really started taking hold and my powers were getting to be too much for me, a friend said he could help me. He did a ritual, he said it would get my magic back to the way it was before, I didn’t want more power, that sort of thing never mattered to me. That ritual...that’s what really messed me up, not just being blessed by a god. For a long time...for a long time, I wanted to believe the ritual just went wrong somehow. That happens. But I don’t think … I don’t think I could’ve ended up this bad by accident.”
“This guy doesn’t sound like a friend, Noah,” Ronan said, hackles rising at the way Noah’s tone still sounded uncertain, apologetic. “What exactly did he do to you?”
But Noah only shook his head a little, lips twisted ruefully. “It’s already done. I’m more worried what he’ll do to people he doesn’t know, to try to get ahead, if this is what he did to someone he used to be close to.” Noah looked downcast at his own curiously hazy hands which he held palm-up before himself.
The sky around them darkened, and Ronan opened his mouth, to demand more of an explanation, to ask for a name and details and what they could do to try to make things right, but Noah put a cool hand on Ronan’s arm and said, “Be careful, Ronan.”
Ronan woke up.
Ronan was sure - as sure as he could be - that it was the real Noah who’d managed to visit Ronan in his dreams, but he wasn’t sure what to make of it.
He’d assumed, if there was a threat to watch out for, that it would be directed toward him or his brothers. He was always thinking about that, on some level, and so he wasn’t sure what more he could do on that front. He’d assumed wrongly.
He was playing a mix of tag and hide-and-seek in the woods with Opal in his raven form when she went suddenly still.
“I think something bad is happening,” she said, her dark eyes far-off and hollow-looking with the agitation that’d come over her.
Ronan landed by her feet and pecked at her lightly, shorthand for specifics, kid.
“Adam,” Opal said in a tiny, urgent voice. “Something dark is distorting Adam’s magic.”
Ronan was flying as soon as she said Adam’s name, covering ground as fast as his wings could move him.
Adam had been tending his herbs, and Ronan found him kneeling in the dirt, hands half-clenched in the soil. There was a far-off look to his eyes too, and seeing it sent dread spreading through Ronan like a drop of blood trickling through a bucket of water, seeping heavily downwards and slowly staining everything red.
Adam willed him to be human as soon as Ronan landed beside him, and before Ronan had full function of his human voice, Adam said, “Something’s wrong.”
Adam’s voice was curiously detached. He tried to stand now that Ronan was fully human beside him, but he staggered dangerously on his feet. Ronan reached out on instinct and took Adam by the shoulders to steady him. If Ronan had the time to think about it, he wouldn’t have figured that Adam would be very accepting of his help; Adam had too much pride to be all right with seeming less than wholly capable. Which was why it was that much more alarming when Adam swayed into him like Ronan was the only thing keeping him up.
“Adam? What’s wrong?”
“My magic, it’s…” Adam’s fingers clenched where he gripped Ronan’s arms, and Ronan’s awareness of Adam’s magic was picking up on something off, like a scratch that’d gotten infected, leaving the skin around it feeling tight and stinging and too warm. “Something’s not right, something’s…”
“What do we do?”
Adam didn’t answer, just clenched his eyes shut, and Ronan felt something in him lurch a little at the tension lining Adam’s face. He was about to shout for Opal, to tell her to get someone from Fox Way, when he felt a peculiar sort of burning sensation go through him, and a then a sharp stabbing sort of spark, almost like a nasty surge of static electricity set off in the part of him that could sense Adam’s magic.
Adam, skin pale and eyes dull, pulled back from Ronan all at once. He stumbled back a few steps and sunk down limply to his knees, not looking up when Ronan moved forward. Ronan knelt in front of Adam, trying to get a look at Adam’s face, but Adam’s face was turned down.
Adam very carefully placed his palms flat on the soil in front of him. Ronan waited, but Adam didn’t say or do anything else for a long moment. Then he looked up at Ronan. “I was trying to make lavender grow. You try it.”
There was something flat and quietly empty about Adam’s voice that made Ronan uneasy. He didn’t know why Adam would struggle with growing lavender when Ronan had seen him perform far greater feats with his magic, and he didn’t know why Adam would want Ronan to try growing lavender when Adam knew his magic tended to be too unruly to cooperate with such specific tasks outside of his dreams or Cabeswater’s forest anyway. He thought the best way to figure out what was going on in Adam’s head was just to do as Adam said, though, so he put his palms down in a mirror image of Adam and concentrated. Sprigs of lavender obediently sprung up from the soil. Ronan looked at Adam, unsure of what this meant.
“My magic’s gone,” Adam said, words vacant, carrying no emotion. “It went to you.”
Pain had a way of making you want to do anything to avoid it. But still, pain couldn’t actually make you change who you were. You were still you, no matter how bad the person hurting you wished different.
Adam knew he had magic. Had known since he was young. Nothing his parents said had ever made him doubt that. What Adam doubted was that it mattered, that it was enough, that it could change anything. That he’d ever amount to anything.
When he was nine and he first tried to tell his parents how he’d somehow enchanted the water at the bottom of the bucket outside to help heal the bruising under his eye, his father had raged and called him a liar and worse. His mother said that children who made up stories deserved what they got. Adam had been so young then, and despite the fact that his father clapped the back of his skull forcefully enough to leave his head pounding, and despite the fact that he’d been sent to his room with no dinner, he’d still had a heedless stubborn streak in him that believed that since he knew that he was right, since he knew he hadn’t been dishonest, his parents would have to see the truth eventually.
He’d learned. It didn’t take him long to understand that he should never mention magic in front of his parents. He knew better than to do magic in front of his parents, but sometimes he couldn’t control it.
He was ten when his mother found a book of magic in his room that he’d bought second-hand with money he’d earned himself, mostly by doing yard work. His father had stood on the front steps waiting until Adam had gotten home to tear the book up in front of Adam, shouting how no son of his was going to try to learn about magic under his roof, and to further emphasize the point he shoved Adam down the steps. Adam hit the side of his head so hard he lost the hearing in his ear. When his father had kept coming for Adam where Adam laid on the ground at the bottom of the steps, lightning had cracked across an otherwise calm cloudless sky. Adam hadn’t meant to do it, wouldn’t have thought that summoning lightning was something he could do, hadn’t been able to think at all through the pounding of his head and the high unrelenting ringing in his ear. His father had yelled an awful lot, words Adam hadn’t been able to process, but no matter how loud his father got, it couldn’t overshadow the way fear had flashed so clearly across his father’s face in the wake of the lightning, if only briefly. His father slammed the front door on Adam, and Adam understood that he wasn’t welcome inside, but he had no idea what to do about it. Had absolutely no capacity to formulate a next step. Couldn’t even pick himself up. Some indeterminable amount of time later, his mother had opened the door and hissed at him to get inside before someone saw him.
The next few days had passed in a tense uncertain lull where Adam kept himself in his room. His hearing still hadn’t returned to his left ear and part of Adam had known that it never would, but he’d spent a lot of time snapping his fingers in front of his left ear anyway. Then, his father had come home after work one night and announced that he didn’t care at all for the wild ideas Adam had gotten in his head about being able to do magic, so he’d found a ritual that could identify whether or not a person possessed magical abilities.
Adam hadn’t been sure what exactly his father was thinking. He supposed his father had convinced himself the lightning had been a coincidence and wanted to make Adam out to be a liar. It was possible the ritual was a hoax and nothing would happen, to prove his father’s own ends. Adam didn’t want to be part of the ritual; he didn’t need it to know he had magic, and it could only give his father grounds for anger, whether the ritual worked and proved to his father officially that he had magic, or whether the ritual didn’t work and served as proof for his father that Adam was dishonest. Adam didn’t want to be part of the ritual, but his father wouldn’t have listened to him if he tried to say no and it only would have served to make his father even angrier about things.
The ritual involved a white candle and two bowls, one empty and one filled with some sort of murky brown liquid, all arranged around a sigil drawn on a piece of paper which Adam had no idea where his father had gotten. His father had made Adam read aloud words from another piece of paper that Adam also had no idea where his father had gotten, but he knew better than to ask. Adam recited the words and then he and his father sat, waiting. Nothing happened. Nothing happened, but his father didn’t take the opportunity to lay into Adam for having no magic after all. His father stared at him for several long moments, and then kicked at the bowls and candle with enough force that the candle went out before it hit the ground and rolled away. His father had stormed out of the room before the candle came to stop.
A few days after the ritual, Adam was tucked into the corner of the library studying magic when Persephone found him and offered to take him in as her apprentice. A few days after that, he turned eleven. He’d officially moved into Fox Way and his whole life had changed.
Things had become so much better than Adam could have imagined. Not everything could be put behind him, though. He thought about that ritual every so often, despite himself. Intellectually he knew that it didn’t really make a difference, but there was some foolhardy part of him that still couldn’t help wondering. If the ritual had truly worked as his father had claimed it would, if it had been able to prove to his parents that he had magic, would that have changed anything? If they’d had impartial confirmation that Adam wasn’t lying or just seeking attention, that magic was a part of Adam, would they have been any more accepting? No; Adam knew the answer was no. Most of him knew that. And yet, the fact that Adam didn’t have the evidence to back it up made him doubt. Ate away at him in low moments and left some tiny but persistent part of him thinking that maybe the ritual didn’t work because of him, maybe if his magic were stronger then just maybe the ritual would have worked, maybe things would have been different.
He shouldn’t have thought that way and he shouldn’t have cared, but thinking that he shouldn’t didn’t mean that he didn’t, and knowing that his thoughts were unfair to himself wasn’t the same as feeling the truth of it.
Adam would have liked to be done with his parents all together, but it wasn’t that simple. When Adam had successfully finished his apprenticeship with Persephone, when he’d become a full fledged magician in his own right and moved into a place he could call his own, when he started making a name for himself with the herbs and remedies he could make, his father had found him. His father had gone on about how unfair it was that Adam wasn’t there to provide for his parents now, after how hard his parents had had to work to provide for Adam for all of his childhood. Some part of Adam, a part that felt very very far away, had been disgusted that his father was after the money that Adam earned by doing the very magic that his father had never been willing to believe he could do, but most of him just wanted his father gone. Adam had agreed to pass on money to his parents. When faced with his father on his doorstep, it was worth a small portion of money every month to keep his parents away from him.
He sent the money and mostly he tried not to think about it. It was only recently, when he’d been researching ways to stabilize and strengthen his magic, that Adam had come across something that had changed things. He’d found a record of the ritual that his father had used, undeniably the exact same ritual, Adam hadn’t forgotten a single detail of the sigil or the wording.
The ritual had been documented and noted for being involved in a case of unsanctioned experimental magic which the High Council had investigated only months after Adam had become apprenticed to Persephone. According to the information Adam could find, a magician used magic to make a rival magician blind and mute. During the trial before the Council, the magician claimed that the rival magician had threatened to use a ritual which the rival magician had devised himself, by reversing and adapting magic strengthening rituals, which would permanently strip the magician of all his powers. Therefore the magician had acted to defend himself and prevent the rival from being able to perform the ritual as threatened. The rival magician, who’d had his ability to see and speak restored by the Council, had been experimenting with devising ways to remove the other magician’s magic, but upon investigation, the Council found that the ritual that the magician had attempted to devise and threatened to use had never actually worked. The Council also found, upon further investigation, that while the magician had been experimenting, he had threatened several other rival magicians with the same ineffective ritual before the case was brought before the Council. Both magicians involved in the initial case were subjected to magic dampening rituals by the Council, and further inquiries ensued. The documentation of the sham ritual ended with a statement that the ritual had gained some notoriety, having been spread around in unsavory circles beyond the extent of what the magician who had created the ritual had even been aware of, but that magicians could be assured that the ritual had been officially discredited by the Council and had no effect.
His father had gone looking for a way to take away Adam’s magic and had gotten bad information.
His parents had never truly not believed him when he said he had magic.
They had just never wanted him to be magic.
Part of him had known that already, but that hadn’t made such clear confirmation of it easier to bear. Adam sent a short note to his parents telling them not to expect any more money. If they’d had their way Adam would have no magic. Even knowing it would bring his father back to his door, that hadn’t mattered, he couldn’t stomach the idea of letting them profit off of him and his magic any longer, knowing what he knew.
He’d thought his father would respond with fists, Adam was a magician, he had ways to defend himself. He hadn’t imagined that his father, who despised magicians, would be able to find a ritual that worked, would have found someone knowledgeable and brazen enough to go through with aiding and abetting him. His father couldn’t have done it alone. Adam was abnormally incurious about the exact details of how his father had done what he’d done. Not now, with this barren yawning lifeless feeling hollowing out all of the places he should have been able to sense his connection to his own magic.
Adam relayed some of the relevant information about his father to Ronan, the parts of the story he’d been able to bear putting into words, as he and Ronan tried to grasp the extent of what had just happened.
“He finally found a way to set a ritual on me that worked,” Adam said, his voice curiously vacant even to his own ear. “It felt like I was being attacked from the inside.”
Ronan’s face was etched with anger at all Adam had told him, but his eyes were grim and almost forlorn-looking. He said, “It’s your magic, it can’t just be taken from you, not for good. I’m not trying to keep it,” and he held out his hands for Adam to take. “Try again.”
Adam had already tried to summon his magic back once he’d tested his theory by having Ronan create the lavender. It hadn’t worked. He tried again now, taking hold of Ronan’s hands and making himself focus. Nothing happened. He shook his head. No use.
“I don’t think you’re trying to keep my magic,” Adam said, pulling back and rubbing a hand down his face. Of everything that happened, that wasn’t a thought that preoccupied him, he didn’t believe Ronan was a threat he had to worry about. “My magic was being threatened and I was just trying to find some way to do something about it. Our familiar bond is probably part of the reason it was able to transfer to you. I’m not entirely sure, I wasn’t consciously trying to transfer my magic somewhere else.” Then he said, slowly, deliberately, because there wasn’t any point hiding from it, “I don’t know how to get it back.”
“If you can give it to me you can get it back,” Ronan said, fierce, no room for argument. “We’ll work it out.”
Adam didn’t respond.
“We’ll work it out, Adam, we’ll find a way,” Ronan insisted.
Adam swallowed tightly, and nodded. There had to be a way.
There had to be.
They went to Fox Way, and Maura, Persephone, and Calla took Adam into the reading room to see what they could learn.
When Mr. Gray appeared, Ronan wanted very badly to channel some of his frustration into punching him in the face.
But then Mr. Gray said, “I have information pertaining to Adam,” and Ronan knew he would have to hear him out, even as Mr. Gray said, “It’s not going to be pleasant to hear.”
Ronan didn’t bother trying to conceal how he was thinking that there was nothing he’d find pleasant to hear when it was spoken by the Gray Man, but he didn’t go so far as to say it aloud, which was as close to diplomacy as he was willing to get in present company. “Just fucking tell me.”
“The man who performed the ritual that’s affected Adam’s magic is Barrington Whelk. He has ties to Greenmantle. I looked into it and evidence suggests that Greenmantle’s been gathering information on Adam. One of Greenmantle’s guys went to a bar that Robert Parrish frequents and got wind that Robert Parrish was looking for ways to strip a magician of their abilities. It’s not difficult to imagine that Robert Parrish wasn’t particularly subtle in his inquiries. Once this information was brought back to Greenmantle, he reached out to Barrington Whelk. Whelk’s father was involved in a large scandal involving experimenting with unlawful rituals to siphon magic from one magician to another. It’s apparent that Whelk has knowledge of his father’s work, which is likely the reason Greenmantle has Whelk in his employ, and why he would choose to use Whelk as a means to target Adam.”
“Fuck,” Ronan let out, rage burning through him like a flash fire.
Mr. Gray didn’t so much as blink.
What Mr. Gray’s cool detached words boiled down to was that this was because of Ronan. Colin Greenmantle was fucking up Adam’s life just because Adam had the misfortune of becoming associated with Ronan. Mr. Gray was surveying him, calm and even as empty slate. Unpleasant, he’d called it, but someone like Mr. Gray couldn’t really understand, to Gray the intel that he’d provided was nothing more than confirmation of what was only to be expected.
Ronan cursed again, and then again, louder. “Can’t you do something? Do some damage to Greenmantle or Whelk or even the piece of shit who passed Greenmantle information so they can’t just keep doing whatever shit they fucking want?”
“It would be reckless, to move against Greenmantle or Whelk without a plan in place. We can’t afford to make mistakes or leave ourselves open to retaliation. I could probably strike back against the man who tailed Robert Parrish with negligible consequence, but I don’t believe there’s any actual benefit in doing that. I could ask Adam if he’d appreciate the gesture, but I doubt that Adam would view it as worthwhile. He has more pressing concerns occupying him in his current situation.”
The placid, point blank way that Mr. Gray spoke made Ronan want to put his gray face through a windowpane. He already knew his frustration had a habit of expressing itself in not entirely reasonable or rational ways, he didn’t need Mr. Gray’s fucking attitude rubbing his nose in it. He rolled his eyes and turned away, gnawing at the leather bands on his wrist. “Yeah, you've said what you had to say here, you’re probably better off getting back to Maura, talk to the witches and see if they have any new bright ideas about what to do for Adam.”
Of course, Mr. Gray didn’t react in the slightest to the vitriol in Ronan’s tone. He only said, “From what I understand from Maura, Persephone, and Calla, a person’s magic is acutely personal to themself. The magicians here at Fox Way all care deeply for Adam, of course, but it seems that this is largely out of their hands. It’s Adam’s magic, and he’s the only one with the power to fix it. If you want to help Adam rectify things, you’re probably better off talking more with Adam.” Then he cut his gaze and gave a very slight rueful sort of dip of his head, as if to say that that was hardly his business, and quietly took his leave.
Ronan slammed the door after him. “Fuck.”
Persephone had assured Adam that it was possible for him to get his magic back, he just had to look inside himself to do it. It was his magic, and he was the only one who could call it back to himself.
But himself was the problem, wasn’t it? After all, he couldn’t imagine Ronan would ever be so thoroughly abandoned by the magic that was so much a part of him, if things had somehow been reversed. Ronan’s magic would want to go back to him. Adam’s own magic probably found Ronan more worthy. But it did no good thinking that way.
Persephone had advised him to focus on the things his magic was still useful for. Adam, for all he appreciated Persephone, didn’t find this particularly helpful, because this was a practically nonexistent list.
Mostly Adam had found, after carrying out some thoroughly discouraging trials, that magic he had already performed was still in effect even though his magic was gone. This made sense because his magic hadn’t ceased to exist altogether, it was just beyond Adam’s power. Since Adam had already performed the bonding ritual, he could still turn Ronan from human to raven and back again, although his sense of the transformation wasn’t the same. He suspected that since he and Ronan were bound, Adam was tapping into the magic of his that Ronan held, rather than performing the magic under his own power. Because Ronan was willing to work with him, Adam could do small bits of magic only by drawing on the magic he could sense in Ronan, and even then the effort of it tended to leave Adam with a migraine. It wasn’t viable, and either way Adam hated doing it. Having his magic taken from him was bad enough; leaning so heavily on someone else for the smallest of results was just a mockery. He saved it for being able to shift Ronan between forms, so that if anyone from the Council stopped by they wouldn’t have to know something was wrong. Not right away, at least. One of the only bits of magic that Adam had performed before his magic was taken away which Adam still paid any mind to was the protective wards around Monmouth.
They were still funcional, which was a thin and impractical sort of comfort, because wards wouldn’t stop the intruder Adam needed to keep away.
Protective wards weren’t impossible for a person to penetrate. They were designed to alert the caster if someone crossed the boundaries they’d established, to drain a trespasser's energy if they broke the wards without permission, to help mitigate the effects of dark magic used within the wards, and to establish evidence of wrongdoing if an intruder was brought before the High Council.
Adam knew that wards couldn’t physically keep his father away, and some part of him knew that if his father had gone so far as to find a way to try to take Adam’s magic, his father would never be content to sit back and let things play out. His father would have to see for himself, take the opportunity to rub Adam’s nose in it. Adam had been waiting, really, in the days since his magic was attacked. Still, Adam wasn’t prepared for the dread that chilled the inside of him, relentless and raw like brine carving away at stone, when he felt the wards break and he knew exactly who it was who’d broken them.
With a sort of numbness that took him so far away from himself that it was almost like sleep walking, Adam went to the door and stepped through it, closing it solidly behind himself. He didn’t want to let his father in.
Then Robert Parrish was approaching, he was there, coming for Adam, and he was speaking, not yelling, not yet, but his voice was laced with the kind of contempt that meant yelling was near at hand. Adam had a difficult time processing the words. Something about what do you think you’re gonna do now and ain’t nothing and tried to raise you right.
Adam would have liked to believe that he was past this sort of fear that turned his thoughts useless as splintered shards of ice and made his heart pound too loud to allow for processing anything else. But Robert Parrish was coming closer, and Adam knew what the clench of those fists meant, and his magic was gone. Gone. Gone. And he was powerless.
But before Robert Parrish finished taking his next step, the air between the two of them seemed to erupt with force. Without warning the air was suddenly alive with thunderous black wings and the sharp piercing shriek of a raven, a warcry, shouted again and again and again.
Ronan was attacking with every edge his raven form gave to him, a blur of ruthless talons and beak, and Robert Parrish was screaming, screaming, barely managing to hold Ronan back and put words together enough to howl, “Call it off!”
“Ronan,” Adam said, voice curiously detached.
He hadn’t been consciously thinking about trying to transform Ronan - his brain seemed acutely unable to process any thoughts at all - but suddenly there stood Ronan in his human form, all furious eyes and bared teeth, fist colliding with the side of Robert Parrish’s face.
Robert Parrish crumpled to the ground by Ronan’s feet, hands over his face in a pathetic attempt to guard himself, but between his father’s bloodstained fingers Adam could still see glimpses of the damage Ronan had left, long gouges down a face welling with red.
Ronan spat in the grass near where Robert Parrish had his knees drawn up toward his chest and spoke with seething promise. “You cause problems for Adam again, I’ll take your fucking eyes out. Now get up and clear the fuck off.”
No one who heard the words could doubt that he meant them. Robert Parrish didn’t doubt them. He clambered to his feet, and with a wary look over his shoulder to check that Ronan wasn’t following, Robert Parrish left.
“Are you okay?” Ronan asked, something graceless but genuine about how he asked the question.
“I’m fine,” Adam said reflexively.
“Uh-huh,” Ronan muttered, but he didn’t sound derisive, he sounded tired. “I’ll reset the wards. You mind reheating the leftover soup for us? I’m starving.”
Adam could hear that Ronan was offering him the opportunity to take a minute to himself to think, and Adam felt oddly known. He wasn’t quite sure how to show how he appreciated the offer, aside from not wasting it.
Knowing that he hadn’t been handling things well in the days since his magic was attacked hadn’t actually helped Adam handle things any better.
It wasn’t Ronan’s fault. Adam knew that, of course, but still it had been hard not to feel resentful. Ronan was so obviously, effortlessly, intrinsically magic, and then there was Adam, who’d had his meager claim to magic stripped away from him. He’d already told himself looking at things that way wasn’t helpful or altogether fair, and objectively Adam could remind himself that feeling spiteful wasn’t about to get him anywhere, but objective truth held little sway in the face of what Adam had lost.
It was his own problem, that to Adam, Ronan’s efforts to help in the wake of Adam losing his claim to his own magic felt a little like having to watch another child buying pocketfuls of candy when he had no lunch. Ronan had genuinely tried to make things easier on Adam. Ronan had quietly done small things: keeping an eye on the wards, moving a few stones in Cabeswater’s forest that were blocking the flow of energy, spurring the more temperamental of Adam’s plants to grow. Things that just a few days ago Adam would have taken care of with magic as naturally and effortlessly as making himself a cup of tea in the morning, things Adam couldn’t stand thinking he may not be able to do for himself again. He’d snapped at Ronan just the night before, because he hadn’t asked for Ronan to do those things for him. Ronan had snapped back, see if I bother helping you with anything else, Parrish, before stalking off to his room for the night.
But despite his words, Ronan had been there when Adam had needed him. Ronan hadn’t hesitated to act. And when Adam went inside to heat the soup, the orchid by the doorway that notoriously dropped buds was flourishing, and Adam knew that it was Ronan’s handiwork no matter what Ronan had to say about it.
But then Ronan hadn’t technically said that he wouldn’t help. That was how Ronan operated. He didn’t like talking about things, he had a deep-seated aversion to the exposure of having to put things into words, and he also knew enough of Adam to know how to sidestep Adam’s own thickheadedness. Ronan’s actions were what counted, and those were clear. It’d just taken until now, in the wake of Ronan being so quick to take on his father, so reflexively sure that Robert Parrish was at fault and that Adam was worth defending, for Adam to really look at Ronan’s actions and see them for what they were.
Ronan was doing what he could to be there for Adam, had been trying not to draw attention to it, trying to get away with it, but he couldn’t find it in him not to act. Even when Adam didn’t make it easy on him, Ronan wouldn’t let Adam hurt when he could help it. Ronan Lynch, as exasperating and exhausting as he could be when he wanted to, was caring for Adam.
Something about the thought was almost too much to consider, a little like trying to look directly into the sun. But as Adam examined the idea, carefully, from side-angles and through different lenses, he began to recognize the truth of it, it began to feel solid enough to outweigh doubts of vanity or wishful thinking.
He hadn’t expected this, but he realized that it wasn’t an altogether new revelation. Somewhere along the way he’d come to trust that as impossible as Ronan was, the connection that they shared through the bond had grown into more than that, and he knew that Ronan would unwaveringly give Adam his support.
Once Adam had taken the time to think through the implications, he had to decide what to do about it.
So he asked Ronan to go to Cabeswater’s forest.
“I’ve been thinking,” Adam told Ronan, as they drifted to a stop in a sunny patch between spring green trees. He had an idea, but he didn’t want to explain it aloud in case it didn’t work. So he said, “I want to try something,” and he held out his hands.
Ronan took his hands without asking any questions, and though Adam closed his eyes to concentrate, he could still feel Ronan’s eyes on him as surely as he felt Ronan’s warm fingers intertwined with his.
He used that feeling, that surety that as difficult and impossible as his and Ronan’s connection was, it’d grown into something real and steadfast, something he could rely on. He let himself breathe in and out, and then he thought of one of the first times he’d ever used his magic with intention. When he wasn’t just experimenting, hoping and poking and seeing what might happen. When he’d looked up at the sky and had seen misty gray rolling clouds off in the distance, and it wasn’t raining yet, but Adam had thought that it so obviously should be that he’d closed his eyes and willed the rain to fall. It had. It had poured, and Adam had stood with his face upturned and let the rain soak him.
Adam focused on the memory, and he held Ronan’s hands a little tighter, and rain began to fall. Adam felt the raindrops on his cheeks and on his shoulders and then everywhere, and it felt right, this was his magic responding to him at last, and he opened his eyes to see Ronan grinning at him ferociously.
“You fucking did it, magician,” Ronan told him, raindrops caught in his lashes and his eyes so alive.
“I fucking did it,” Adam grinned back at him, so senselessly happy his chest didn’t feel large enough to contain it, he didn’t know what to do with himself.
Then Ronan kissed him.
Ronan had wanted to kiss Adam so many times, had kissed dream versions of Adams far too many times for him to count, but he’d never been able to imagine a reality where Adam reacted anything like this.
Even in the best case scenarios he ran through his head, those only really went as far as Adam not pushing him away. They all involved Adam wanting time to think about things. And that was fine, that was how Adam Parrish operated, and besides, it wasn’t like Ronan didn’t know that him being who he was came along with a whole clusterfuck of difficulties that Adam deserved to take time to consider. Ronan got that, but when he was factoring that in, he’d never really thought that Adam might kiss him back in a way that could make him believe that once Adam thought it over, Adam just might decide he really did want to go through with this.
Ronan hadn’t wanted to let himself hope, but Adam hadn’t pulled away or gone tense when Ronan kissed him, and when Ronan drew back a little to try to gauge the look on Adam’s face, Adam looked more untroubled than he had in a long while, after everything that had happened, he didn’t look at all unsure. And then Adam pulled him back in.
Adam cupped a hand to the back of Ronan’s neck, and Ronan held on to Adam’s hips, and the kiss went from beyond the press of lips to the heated side of tongues and hitching breaths and angling closer, closer.
When eventually they broke apart, Adam had a small but warm and loose smile curving his lips, and Ronan was so senselessly happy that he knew Adam must be able to read it on his face.
And that was kind of a good feeling, but definitely mortifying, so Ronan made an effort to get a hold of himself. Only, when he attempted to get an idea of what was going on in Adam’s head, the most he could manage was, “What -” before stopping, because he didn’t know how to ask any of the things that he really wanted to ask. He ended up going with, “What do you think made you get your magic back?”
Adam looked up toward the sky and held a palm out to catch a few raindrops that were still falling, more softly now. At some point while Ronan had been paying attention to other things, the entire sky had grown lighter with a hazy summery sort of glow. His mom would have called the rain sun showers.
“Persephone’s always telling me magic works on instinct,” Adam began slowly, still watching the rain fall. “I didn’t intend to transfer my magic to you, not consciously. My magic did what it had to do to try to remove itself from the threat I sensed. But then when I didn’t have my magic, I was scared that I had no way to defend myself. I wasn’t able to undo what I did, because I didn’t believe that I was in a secure enough position for my magic to accept that the threat had passed. But then when you were there to stop my father, it made me realize that ...that I could trust someone else to be there, that if something happened, I know you’d do something about it. And once I really believed that, I thought there was a good chance that my magic wouldn’t need to protect itself the way that it was, and it’d find its way back. It worked.”
“I knew you’d work it out,” Ronan said, because it was true. Adam was magic, there was no stopping him, not for long. “You’re never defenseless, Adam.”
Adam looked like he was considering saying a lot of things, but didn’t know where to start. He swallowed, and Ronan sensed that Adam was trying to find a way to say thank you. It wasn’t the sort of thing he wanted to be thanked for, and he reached out and brushed the back of his knuckles against Adam’s to try to tell him that.
Adam gave him another small smile at the contact, this one softer than the one before. Then he shook his head a little, and said, “Good thing too, because my father didn’t manage this on his own, and we’re gonna have to be ready for whatever Greenmantle tries next.”
Adam was right. They’d have time to work things out between them later, first they had to focus on the threat they still faced.
But just for now, they stood together and let the rain fall.
Because it was just the way Ronan’s life worked, Gansey showed up not two full days later with bad news.
“Colin Greenmantle is trying to push the Council to allow him to experiment with a ritual that he wants to develop that would enable him to trace a person’s magic. He theorizes that a person’s magical energy is individual enough to isolate with some avant-garde spellwork, and then he wants to apply that to the principles behind locating rituals and summoning rituals. Essentially, he’s talking about creating a way to identify how a person’s using their magic, the things they’ve altered with their magic and the places where their magic is active.” Gansey was using his Gansey voice, calm and informative, but behind his glasses his eyes were anxious. “He’s trying to get the Council to agree that you need more intensive monitoring. The Council is opposed to what he’s proposing because they’re concerned about the threat it represents to the privacy of all magicians. I don’t see that changing, but what I’m worried about is that for someone like Greenmantle, going before the Council is just a technicality. I think we have to assume that he’s already put a significant amount of thought and planning into how such a ritual would work, and most likely he’s already at the phase where he’s ready to test his ideas in practice, whether he gains the Council’s approval or not.”
If Greenmantle could make a ritual like that work, Matthew would be exposed. If Greenmantle had proof Matthew was created by Ronan’s magic, Matthew would be dragged before the Council, it'd be the end of everyone else even seeing him as a human being -
Ronan couldn’t stand it, had to move, had to put some distance between himself and the walls closing in on him, got outside without even really processing the actions that took him there.
Ronan wasn’t looking for anyone to come after him, he knew what he could be like when he hadn’t gotten a handle on himself yet, he wasn’t trying to subject anyone but himself to that. But if anyone were to come after him, he would’ve expected Gansey. He was surprised when Adam came out to quietly stand by his side.
“He’ll never leave my family alone,” Ronan muttered eventually, fingers of one hand clenching at the leather bands on his other wrist.
Adam said, low but decisive, “We’re not going to let him get away with it.”
“So what do we do?” Adam was so, so smart. If anyone could figure this out, it was him. Ronan tried not to be too obvious about the way he was watching Adam as Adam thought.
“I think there’s only one thing that could really make Greenmantle rethink his plans, and that’s the idea of what would happen to him if your mother was able to return to the mortal realm,” Adam spoke each word very carefully, a cautious but practical consideration of the facts. “I have an idea for that.”
The thought of it, of his mom coming back, Ronan couldn’t let himself think it, couldn’t let himself hope-
Adam wouldn’t have brought it up, though, if he didn’t think it were plausible. Ronan could see Adam’s mind working behind clever eyes, problem solving, as Adam continued, “Cabeswater’s forest is a source of energy that helps a god stay present here in the mortal realm. What if we can create a source of energy so that we can go to their realm?”
Ronan’s face must have shown what he was thinking, because Adam said, “You made the entire forest when you were barely old enough to remember doing it, Ronan, you can do this now. I’ll be there to help you. Don’t you want to try?”
Ronan wasn’t sure he could pull this off, and a brittle part of him didn’t want to touch the possibility and set himself up for failure, but Adam was looking back at him with quiet determination, so Ronan couldn’t say no. He said, “The forest will work as a starting point to help us connect to another realm. But it won’t be able to help us create something tangible over in the other realm, something that would allow us to travel from one to the other. Its energy can’t extend that far. If we try to do this we’ll be relying on just us.”
Even though they weren’t in Cabeswater’s forest, even though they weren’t attempting any magic yet, Adam surprised Ronan by reaching out and taking his hand. “We’ll make it work.”
Working on trying to create their own piece of reality within the realm of the gods was part fanciful thought experiment, part waking dream. They worked on it for nearly six days and nights, Ronan sleeping in Cabeswater and Adam scrying into Ronan’s dreams. Adam did what he could to help sustain Ronan’s magic as Ronan worked, help ground it, help it to grow. Together they poured their magic and their hopes into willing something into existence without knowing if they were successful or not.
When they’d done all they could, they’d woken to find a vast hole in one of the forest’s trees, like one of their portals, only exponentially brighter and thrumming with far more power. The light that streamed from the tree’s trunk didn’t just emit magical energy, it felt boundless, the way the light on the horizon where the land met the sea seemed boundless.
“Hey Parrish,” Ronan asked, faux-casual, “how much do you trust me?”
Adam looked at him. “Less when you ask like that.” He held out his hand to Ronan. “Enough to know that we’re ready to see this through.”
Hand in hand, they walked into the light.
On the other side, they found themselves in a forest both familiar and alien. It was made up of the same sort of stuff as Cabeswater’s forest, but the feeling of the magic woven through here was different. Where the magic in Cabeswater’s forest felt more whimsical and wondrous, the magic here was keener, less forgiving, stranger and more withdrawn. While they’d been creating this place, Ronan had called it Lindenmere’s forest. Lindenmere was one of the lesser known names for a more ancient embodiment of Cabeswater, a more primordial version of the spirit of the natural world that had changed over time like winter shifting to spring. Invoking the earlier, harsher incarnation of Lindenmere suited the forest. There was power here.
“What now?” Adam asked quietly.
“We’re here. I think if we call her,” Ronan’s voice was rough with restrained longing. “If we call her she should be able to answer.
Adam tightened his grip on Ronan’s hand and felt Ronan clasp back. Together they said, “Aurora.”
It was a little like missing the moment the sun came out from behind the clouds and blinking into the sudden light, registering Aurora appearing in front of them. Her hair was golden and her skin almost seemed to glow with a faint golden radiance too. She took in her surroundings with formidable eyes, and set against the backdrop of Lindenmere’s forest, she looked more like the temple carving of herself than like anyone who could have lived among mortals long enough to raise a family. Then her eyes landed on Ronan, and she smiled at him, and that soft smile matched the portrait of Ronan’s mother perfectly.
Part of Adam, inanely, thought that he probably shouldn't be holding Ronan’s hand in front of the Lady of the Dayspring, in front of Ronan’s mother.
But if there was truth to the thin pretense that the contact helped to connect them and their magic, Adam thought that Ronan needed the support now more than ever. There was an un-Ronan like unguardedness to the way that Ronan gripped at Adam’s hand so tightly, to the rawness of his voice when he said, “mom?”
“Ronan,” Aurora said gently, and she held open her arms.
Only then did Ronan slide his hand from Adam’s, to go to her so they could embrace one another.
“I’m so sorry I couldn’t be there for you, love,” Aurora told him, her hands tenderly rising to his cheeks. “My thoughts were always with you.”
Ronan’s throat worked, and he looked away, and Aurora let him have a moment.
She turned to Adam with a warm smile. “Adam, it’s so lovely to be able to meet you.”
Adam wasn’t sure what to do with himself in the face of all of the genuine warmth Aurora conveyed so effortlessly, not when it was all at once directed toward him, and he wasn’t sure what Aurora knew of him that would make her feel so kindly disposed toward him, but thinking of the ramifications of that was more trouble than he could afford to go walking into at the moment. In the end he just said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you too, ma’am.”
Before he could work out more to say, Noah flickered into hazy visibility. His voice sounded thin and lightyears away. “I don’t know what they’re trying to do but it’s not good. If they keep it up…”
Adam and Ronan exchanged looks, and Aurora looked between them. Noah’s warning was so vague it hardly counted as one, but it was enough for Adam and Ronan to know that they couldn’t waste any time. Aurora laid gently protective hands on both of their shoulders. “It’s far past time I returned to the mortal realm.”
“Can you-” Ronan’s voice faltered over the question, unsure if what he and Adam had done was enough, still wary of letting himself hope too much.
Aurora took his hand with a proud smile. “The other gods couldn’t have foreseen anything like you when they bound me here. Your portal will work.” She reached her other hand out to Adam. “All together, I think.”
Adam took Aurora’s hand without allowing himself time to feel overwhelmed by the idea of what he was doing, and all together, they walked forward.
On the other side, Colin Greenmantle and Barrington Whelk stood amid a circle of candles for the ritual they were attempting, and from their clipped back-and-forth discussion it seemed that they were adapting it on the spot. They went quiet when they saw Aurora, deer in headlights, and then they both startled into movement at the same time, Greenmantle hastening a few steps back, trying to keep Whelk between himself and Aurora, and Whelk reaching for something in his bag of supplies. Aurora gently released her grip on Ronan and Adam’s hands and stretched out one hand, and in an instant, with no more exertion than that one simple gesture, Greenmantle and Whelk both ceased all movement and each and every candle flame snuffed itself out.
Aurora took a slow and deliberate step toward Colin Greenmantle, looking into his eyes, which had gone bright, like a prey animal, terror-stricken. He remained locked in place. “Colin Greenmantle, you are responsible for the death of my husband. You’re responsible for separating me from my children, who had to endure years alone and without protection. Now you finally face the consequences of your actions.”
Her words were cool as flint, unyielding and relentless, and as she spoke, Colin Greenmantle’s body didn’t move, but his throat worked in a tense, soundless scream. For a moment, there was an eerie bright light burning from somewhere behind his eyes, and then he crumpled to the ground, lifeless. It took only a handful of seconds.
A few feet beside Colin Greenmantle’s body, Barrington Whelk still stood, unable to move.
Aurora looked to him next, calm and no less resolute. “You, listen to me carefully.” With her eyes still on Whelk, she reached out to take Noah’s shoulder, who’d transitioned from Lindenmere’s forest to Cabeswater’s forest without Adam noticing and looked far too shadowy for anyone to be able to grasp. “You’ve done great damage to this boy. I’m going to make things as right as they can be made, but it won’t be nearly enough. I’m going to take what power I can from you and use it to help revitalize Noah. If you allow your power to leave you willingly, you can go on with the small residual power that will be left to you. If you attempt to fight this, if you cling to your magic while I draw it from you, it will be harmful to you. The more resistance you put up the more destructive the process will be for you. Your body may well not be able to endure it. Bear that in mind.”
She pressed one hand along Barrington Whelk’s forehead and closed her eyes. Before them Noah began to look more solid, more present, more like a boy and less like the shade of one. As Noah seemed to stabilize, Whelk seemed to weaken. Whelk made small furiously resentful sorts of sounds from between his teeth, even as he sagged to his knees and then curled in on himself, his body unable to support him. Even as his breathing seemed to become more labored. The sounds between the short shallow breaths he managed to drag in became more and more ragged, and then stopped altogether as he collapsed forward flat against the ground.
Aurora drew her hand back from Whelk and with an unassuming sweep of her arm, the bodies of Colin Greenmantle and Barrington Whelk ebbed away into so much dirt on the forest floor.
Noah wasn’t looking at Whelk or Greenmantle, he was staring down disbelievingly at his own hands, pale and present and more real-looking than Adam had ever seen him.
Ronan pulled Noah into a rough hug, mussing his hair. “How do you feel?”
“Strange,” Noah mused in a wondrous sort of voice. “I think I’m thirsty. And tired. I wanna see my mom, and my dad and my sisters.”
“You can do whatever you want now, you don’t have to stay here,” Ronan told him, a shaky but genuine smile making its way to his eyes.
Aurora smiled too, reaching out to slip an arm through Ronan’s arm. “Where’s my Matthew? And Declan?”
Now that his mom was back there was no one who’d be willing to risk giving them shit about going to the Barns, so that’s where they all met up, and Ronan felt such fierce elation at being home with his family that part of him wanted to throw his head back and yell to the sky. His good mood couldn’t even be dampened by the fact that the very first thing Declan did after he and Matthew hugged their mom, one more exuberant than the other, was to distract Matthew into going back outside. Declan asked Matthew to go see how many baby mice there were in all the different barns, so that the rest of them could talk about how best to protect Matthew if any investigating into current events brought Matthew’s origins to light.
It was Adam who had the idea. Adam wasn’t just clever enough to think up possibilities, he knew how to present his case so that even Declan had to listen. Adam brought up how there was precedent for some gods to favor mortals that they’d chosen to bestow gifts upon, mortals who’d made a particular impression in tending to their temples or the like, by holding ceremonies to make the mortals honorary gods. The ceremonies were almost entirely for show, as the mortals were made gods in name only; it altered nothing about them. Often honorary gods had some small godly attributes, but that was a result of the god who’d wanted to make the mortal into an honorary god influencing the mortal beyond the ceremony, not a result of the ceremony itself. If Aurora made Matthew an honorary god, Matthew would still be the same as he always was, but he’d be essentially guaranteed immunity from the High Council, for fear of incurring divine retribution. It was such a simple yet clever plan that even Delcan had to admit he was impressed.
When Matthew returned, he was so thrilled by the idea he practically generated his own light; he could put any puppy to shame. “A ceremony? For me? Can we have s’mores? You’re gonna be there too, right, Adam?”
Adam’s gaze flickered from Matthew to Ronan, uncertainty thinly veiled by an air of well-mannered restraint. “Am I invited?”
Matthew bobbed his head as he turned the full force of his enormous sunny earnest smile on Adam. “Yeah! That was me, inviting you, just now!”
“You’re not gonna tell the kid no, are you, Parrish?” Ronan asked, with just enough challenge in it to bait Adam.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Adam replied, with a faintly arched eyebrow for Ronan and a small, warm smile for Matthew.
Matthew was a fucking amazing kid, talking Adam into agreeing so easily.
Part of Ronan still didn’t believe that he could get to be this happy, here with his family, but as Matthew eagerly asked if becoming an honorary god meant he would get his own temple and Adam tried to hide his burst of laughter behind an elegant wrist, Ronan started to believe that he might just get to keep this.
He still didn’t know how so many things had gone right, but he didn’t want to question it. He wanted to let his mom hug him, he wanted to hold Matthew’s head of blond curls to his chest, he wanted to take Adam’s hand and remake the entire world in light.
The ceremony for Matthew was simple and charming.
It was held at sunset at the Barns around a crackling bonfire. Gansey was there, and Opal was there with her hooves restored because Ronan was enjoying feeling insubordinate, and Blue was there, and a few other women of Fox Way for witnesses. Aurora anointed Matthew’s forehead with oil from plants grown from the Barns that had originally come from the realm of the gods, and spoke a few words of magic. Then she cut a lock of her hair and a lock of Matthew’s, and threw them into the flames with a prayer to the oldest gods. Then she placed a flower crown of daffodils she’d woven together upon his head and kissed his forehead where she’d blessed him, and pronounced him a god. Matthew declared that as a god he decreed this day would now and forevermore be a national holiday celebrated with feasting, and they laughed and clapped.
Adam was a little surprised by how touched he was to be there, to be a part of it. To get to see how much lighter Ronan was in the wake of it all, laughing and tousling with his brothers. To know that he was someone Ronan thought was worth seeking out, even with his brothers and mother and with Gansey there.
“This is already going to his head,” Ronan grinned as he came over to Adam, the firelight making his eye bright and the shadow of his eyelashes even longer. “He wants to declare the hounds I made his sacred animal.”
Adam grinned back, making himself look away, watching Opal gnaw the stem off a wild flower she’d picked before offering the petals to Matthew with great solemnity. Matthew accepted the petals from her with equal solemnity. “I think he’s entitled, it’s not every day a person becomes a god.”
Ronan rolled his eyes good naturedly.
“You and Declan don’t have any plans to follow suit?” Adam couldn't help asking.
Ronan made a dismissive sound between his teeth. “No. Declan thinks it’ll be better for Matthew if everyone knows he’s the last one they should touch. Let them try to take their shot with one of us instead. Besides, could you imagine what kind of god I’d make.”
Adam let out a laugh. “I’ve been trying very very hard not to.”
“Fuck you,” Ronan said easily, the edge of his mouth curving up just enough for Adam to see. “Hey, you should help me set up the fireworks. Unless you wanna be responsible for leaving me unsupervised with explosives."
“Don’t try to pull that with me,” Adam shot back, cocking his eyebrows. “You have free reign over this place now, no one’s going to be able to stop you from messing with explosives all day and night on your own turf, those are your own choices, I bear no culpability for that.”
Ronan just looked back at him, artfully unimpressed. “You kinda do, I’m still fulfilling the terms of my service to you.” This made Adam pause, but Ronan continued, “You wanna blow shit up or not?”
So Adam helped him set off the fireworks. They were incredible fireworks too, impossible colorful displays in the images of dragons, and wheels of whirling star shapes, and shimmering rushes of silvery sparks like waterfalls. Adam let himself enjoy it, the brilliant light and the scent in the air and the oohs and ahhs of Matthew.
He’d have some serious thinking he’d have to do, but for now, he took in the true unguarded smile on Ronan’s face, carefully enough to be sure he’d be able to remember it clearly later.
The next morning, while he let Ronan and his brothers have time with their mother, just the Lynch family, Adam went before the Council.
In retrospect, he should have talked to Ronan about it before he did, but it was hard to find the words, and besides he hadn’t expected the Council to get in touch with Ronan so soon.
When Ronan came back he was wearing his anger like a bristling second skin. “You weren’t gonna say anything? I had to hear it from the Council that you’re done here?”
“Ronan,” Adam snapped, unable to leash down his own indignation at Ronan’s reaction. Granted, it wasn’t like Ronan hadn’t deserved some warning about why he’d gone before the Council, but he didn’t know how after everything Ronan could really believe that Adam wanting Ronan to be released from his familiar service meant that Adam wanted to wash his hands of Ronan, when Adam needed them to be equals. “Don’t be obtuse. You really think I would have gone through with half the shit we did just to decide I’m done? Of course I’m not, but I can’t keep you bound to me. Whatever we - whatever happens now, we’re both free to choose for ourselves.”
Adam broke off then, unsure that he’d really been able to explain himself, but something in what he said or the way that he said it must have gotten through to Ronan, because Ronan was looking at him now. The weight of his gaze was such a physical thing that Adam felt like his skin was coming alive under it, pinpricks trailing after the sweep of Ronan’s eyes as they swept over Adam’s face and lingered on Adam’s mouth.
He wants to kiss me again, Adam thought to himself as the warm rush of that pins-and-needles feeling spread all the way through him. There had been too much going on for them to have had the chance to address things after their first kiss, not in any real way. Ronan had given Adam space to think about things, because he knew Adam, but then once Adam had decided that he could trust himself to go ahead with this, Greenmantle had started shitstirring before he could find a satisfactory way to tell Ronan that he’d liked the kissing and wanted to do more of it. Now, with Ronan’s eyes on him, Adam was coming to the realization that words weren’t always necessarily the most effective form of communication, and he shouldn’t wait for Ronan to be the one to kiss him again. He reached out and slid one hand along the back of Ronan’s neck, one hand along the sharp curve of Ronan’s jaw, and drew Ronan into a kiss.
Ronan was frozen for a heartbeat, but then all at once he was kissing Adam back with all the recklessness of a man leaping off a cliff, his grip just a little too tight on Adam’s waist like he could force belief into reality with just his hands. His lips were hot and just a little urgent against Adam’s, like now that he had this he couldn’t risk letting it go. Adam wasn’t going anywhere, god, he couldn’t for the life of him understand why they’d wasted so much time not doing this. Adam held on to the nape of Ronan’s neck and slipped a tongue along Ronan’s parted lips, chasing more more more.
They traded kisses until they had to part to get their breaths back, and Adam realized he'd started to rock unthinkingly against Ronan’s thigh, pressed between his own as they’d both striven to get closer. He made himself stop, a little abashed at how he’d let his own need run away with him, but Ronan only said, “Do you wanna slow it down?”
Part of Adam wanted to scream with how long it’d taken them just to get this far, but with effort he reached for a more reasonable part of himself and asked, “Do you?”
Ronan looked at him long enough to let their breaths steady and to let them both consider the question. He brought Adam’s hand to his mouth and ran kiss-bruised lips along Adam’s knuckles. “Not if you don’t.”
And if those were Ronan’s parameters then they were never going to stop. So before they could waver any longer, Adam slipped a hand under Ronan’s shirt, low on his stomach, and Adam let his fingers sweep lower, and the way it made Ronan shiver and go hot-eyed made Adam feel both powerful and, even despite everything, undeniably relieved.
It didn’t feel quite real, that someone like Ronan would let someone like Adam ruck his shirt up and off, let Adam drag his hands along Ronan’s sides on the way back down. But Ronan didn’t just let him, Ronan shuddered into Adam’s hands and said, “Adam,” voice low and hoarse in a way that had a curious effect on Adam’s wildly beating heart.
Ronan tugged off Adam’s shirt and pulled him back in, palms hot on the small of Adam’s back, sliding forward to trace over Adam’s ribs, mouth hot on Adam’s throat, bites and breaths and licks that trailed over Adam’s collarbone and up his neck along his jawline. His lips grazed a sensitive spot behind Adam’s ear and when Adam tipped his head, a silent do that again, he let the edge of his teeth scrape over the spot in a way that made Adam’s breath hitch. When Adam tilted his head so that his mouth would be closer to Ronan’s, Ronan kissed him, hungry and deep and heated and slow. This was so much better without their shirts, skin on skin, and it could be even better.
When Adam reached with deliberate hands for Ronan’s belt, Ronan nodded at him, eyes gone dark, gleaming beneath low lashes. Sliding Ronan’s belt through its loops, feeling recklessly bold, Adam licked his lips and said, “My room’s closer.”
With the same deliberation Adam had moved with, Ronan swept his fingers down Adam’s bare arm and took Adam’s hand, nodding him on.
They were of the same mind in this. They both wanted this. This was something they could have.
Later, after they fell asleep, Adam found himself in Ronan’s dreams.
They were sitting by the bank of a steadily flowing river, sunlight glinting off gentle ripples along the water in both directions as far as the eye could see. It looked inviting.
“We’re not in Cabeswater’s forest, you don’t have anything stopping you from wandering too far,” Ronan warned, and despite the harsh edge he put onto the words, Adam knew that this was how Ronan dealt with it when he was worried. That this was a sign of Ronan’s care.
Still, Adam had to resist the urge to roll his eyes. “This isn’t too far. This isn’t remotely close to too far. Scrying into your dreams is easy, I don’t even have to try at it anymore, it’s not even really like leaving my body, we’re too connected for me to drift very far.”
Ronan didn’t feel any need to hold back from rolling his eyes, but something about his expression looked pleased, too, the way Ronan always looked when Adam talked like that, confident of his own abilities. “What exactly did you tell the Council anyway, big shot?”
Adam cocked an eyebrow. “I told them that in light of the harrowing experiences that have unfolded recently, I thought it was only fair that your sentencing was reconsidered. I may have also implied that the Lady of the Dayspring was awfully displeased by the Council’s judgment since she’s been away, and that she would expect to see reforms, but I was willing to try to mitigate some of the retribution she sought, and I thought that you being freed of your service would be helpful for negotiations.”
Ronan laughed, his eyes wickedly bright, and Adam couldn’t help laughing too.
Then Ronan said, “You know you don’t have to imply shit, right? You can say whatever you want to the Council, my mom will back you. You’re a million times cleverer than those dipshits on the Council. You’re a better magician than all of them put together. I’m sure you’ve got ideas about what you would do if you were on the Council. You can make those ideas happen, you’ve got a goddess on your side who can make all those High Councilmembers piss themselves if they try and tell you no.”
Adam said, quietly, almost secretively, as if speaking the words aloud might make the delicate future that he could see beginning to shape itself shatter apart before it’d had the chance to fully form, but still needing to speak before the chance was lost, “I do have ideas. About finding children who come from families without magic, making sure they have the chance to learn. About making sure magicians know what to do with the magic they have, instead of trying to ban magic that doesn’t fall into the kind of magic the old families find acceptable. About making sure we understand magic, that we know everything we can know about it. That we make the most of it.”
“There’s nothing you can’t do, Adam,” Ronan said, simple, like truth. He took Adam’s hand.
At the touch, they both woke up.
“You meant it,” Adam said, quietly. He didn’t phrase it as a question, because it wasn’t one. He knew Ronan did, he just needed a moment to process everything that meant.
“Yeah I did,” Ronan told him, defiant and self-assured. “Even if my mom has to take care of other things some of the time and can't always be there, the Council isn’t going to want to mess with us. We’ll make them look like fucking imbeciles if they try to lay down the law on us and we disappear between our forests. They’re not going to risk following us, they’ll be too scared of what could happen to them on the other side. They’re going to have to listen to us, and you’re one of the only magicians out there who actually deserves the chance to tell them what to do. You’re gonna get to put all the master plans you think up just trying to get to sleep at night into motion, and I hope it pisses the Council the fuck off.”
Ronan was grinning, wild and sharp and so very Ronan, and Adam couldn’t help grinning back. “I like the sound of that.”
“Yeah, you damn well should, Parrish.” The razor-edge of Ronan’s grin curved even sharper, but there was something warm in his eyes that was new. Then he said, “I wanna go to the forests, there’s something I wanna try.”
In Cabeswater’s forest, Ronan instructed Adam to cup his hands over Ronan’s cupped hands, and Adam lent as much energy as he could offer to whatever it was he could sense Ronan trying to make.
When Ronan opened his cupped palms, there was egg resting in the gentle grip of his hands, a dusty blue color with dark specks.
“A raven’s egg,” Ronan said, looking down at it with an unexpectedly careful sort of look on his face.
He looked at Adam. “My father bound my mother to himself, when he was looking for a way to make sure that my mom could live here without having to go back to the other realm. I don’t want to do that to her. I don’t want her to always have to be bound to me or Declan or Matthew. I wanted to make something that had enough magical energy that it could stabilize my mom so she’ll never have to go back to the other realm if she doesn’t want to, something that can go with her wherever she’d want to go, something that’s strong enough that it can protect itself. I was thinking if we created the egg here and we bring it to Lindenmere’s forest to hatch, the raven will have a little bit of both places in it, and it can be everything my mom needs.” Gently, Ronan passed the egg into Adam’s hands so Adam could consider it. “You think it’ll work?”
Adam supposed Ronan was asking Adam because Adam was good at looking at a situation from all sides and determining the most likely outcome. That was usually the way Adam worked. But not right now. Right now, Adam didn’t need to. He knew this would work. It suited Ronan exactly. Aurora’s companion would be a raven, just like Ronan's animal form, created with all the beauty and wonder of Cabeswater’s forest and made real in Lindenmere’s forest where it would gain its claws and beak. The part of Adam that Persephone helped nurture didn’t hold any doubt that this was exactly what they should make happen and that their magic would see it done. “What can’t we do, Lynch?”
When Ronan smiled at him, still sharp but still with that warmth that maybe wasn’t so new after all, Adam pulled him into a kiss.
It was different from their previous kisses, because something about the easy way they fit together carried the feeling that this could be something they did all the time, like reaching for one another’s hand.
Carefully Adam handed the egg back to Ronan, and Ronan reached for Adam’s hand with the hand that wasn’t cradling the egg, and they walked through Cabeswater’s forest until they came to one of the oldest trees in the forests, one of the best for making a portal through.
They had work to do. There was more to do to help Aurora, if they wanted to make sure she’d never have to be reliant on returning to the realm of the gods. There were reforms to propose before the High Council, because that wasn’t an opportunity Adam was going to let pass him by. There was all of Lindenmere’s forest, new and unprecedented and extraordinary, to explore.
There was the warmth of Ronan’s hand in his, and potential so vast it felt limitless.
In Lindenmere’s forest, the sun was rising, clear crimson red tinged with brighter streaks of glowing orange. Adam made it start to rain, softly, because he could. Ronan’s fingers squeezed his a little tighter where they were linked together. They walked onwards.