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Dreams Be Damned

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DREAMS BE DAMNED 

 

Ronan awoke clutching the neck of the bottle.

He was paralysed, like he always was when he brought things back from his dreams; stuck to his bed, his limbs refusing to listen to the instructions from his brain. So instead he tried to remember what he’d been dreaming of.

Nothing. There was nothing. He struggled to hold on to the fringes of his dream, to drag it back into his memory, but luck was not on his side. It escaped him, disappearing like smoke between his fingers. 

He was left with a blank mind, confusion and a thick glass bottle. 

What the fuck was it? It was shaped like one of those potion bottles witches used in children’s movies, but the glass was so clear, it looked almost invisible. Inside, a thick, iridescent liquid sloshed around, like one of those rainbow-streaked white shells he sometimes saw on the beach. A thick stopper had been shoved into the narrow neck.

Ronan regained his movement and pushed himself up on the bed. He spent another minute inspecting the object, then, with a good amount of grunting, he pulled out the stopper and was hit flat in the face by the smell of gasoline. 

Ronan jerked away from the bottle, almost spilling the liquid on his blankets.

He didn’t know why his subconscious had given him perfume or shampoo or whatever the fuck it was meant to be, that smelled of gasoline. He couldn’t fathom why he’d woken up holding it, why in the depths of his subconscious he’d wanted it so badly he’d brought it back into reality with him. 

He took another sniff. He liked the smell of gasoline, truth be told, and there was something else - a smell that was peculiar and enticing - that made it seem dangerously addicting. He couldn’t pick up on what that smell was, but it definitely was not from a parking garage. 

It was maddening. He didn’t know why it was making his gut clench. 

Ronan corked it again.

Whatever this liquid was, it was unsettling. Ronan normally understood what it was that he’d dreamt up. Even if the object in his dreams was incomprehensible, he understood. Somewhere in the midst of the dream the knowledge was delivered to him, and he woke up knowing exactly what he’d brought back.

But this time…

Ronan tipped the bottle to the side, watching the liquid slop from one end to the other.

It didn’t smell like something he should drink. Even though he could not remember his dream, something inside of him revolted against the idea of putting the bottle to his lips. And he didn’t want to put it on his skin either. It seemed to exist solely to be enjoyed as a scent; something he could keep on his bedside and smell on a day when things seemed dreary. A sort of pick-me-up.

Or perhaps it was some sort of potion. Something that would help him bring out something from within himself.

Well, it didn’t matter. He was late for English, which was one of the only classes he actually cared about attending. He could deal with it later. 

He checked his phone - an alien move on his part - to see if there were any updates on Matthew, then he took the bottle and shoved it into a backpack that contained nothing but a single pencil stub and a scrap of paper on which was written: You have to come, Ronan. A reply, in Ronan’s scratchy handwriting said: I’d rather eat your shitty boat shoes. 

He didn’t usually take his backpack to school. Truth be told, even finding a pen in his pocket was an accomplishment for Ronan. But it was exciting to think of driving to Cabeswater straight after school, of yanking off his tie and throwing it into the backseat as music thumped over the speakers of his charcoal-grey BMW.

He hadn’t given it a second thought - how strange it would look, him, showing up to class with a backpack - but as soon as he dumped it onto his desk in the English classroom, Adam’s eyebrows shot up. 

Adam was wearing his sweater, and his nose and cheeks were still tinted with red from the cold winds outside. Ronan always knew it was the start of November when Adam came into class wearing his purple Aglionby sweater over his white shirt, the collar neatly folded over the neckline.

The raven logo on his right breast was coming undone, and Ronan focused on the unravelling thread by the raven’s beak instead of the heat that was spreading through him, making his heart slam against his ribs at twice its normal speed. 

“You look particularly studious today,” Adam said, his voice twanging with his faint, subdued Henrietta accent.  

Adam was teasing, which made Ronan feel even more flustered than he normally would have been. He dropped down into his seat, shoving the backpack under his desk. “Guess being surrounded by nerds all the time will do that to a guy.”

Adam rolled his eyes. 

From where he sat, he could see the dry skin on Adam’s palms, the faded brown birthmark on the curve of his neck, the light breath of freckles across his nose.

Ronan hadn’t worn his sweater. Proximity to Adam Parrish made him run warm enough.

“Where’s Gansey?” Adam asked. “He wasn’t in History this morning.”

“He took the day off to set up for that shitty carnival thing,” Ronan said. His gaze was focused just off to the right of Adam’s hands. He didn’t want to meet his eyes. He wasn't sure he could.  

“I forgot about that,” Adam muttered. “Are you going?”

“Yeah, cause I want to spend my Friday night listening to children hyped up on sugar screaming and puking.”

Adam snorted, and Ronan felt a little light-headed. The slow, fizzy beer buzz brought on by the sound of Adam’s quiet laughter.

“Blue and Gansey will be pissed if we don’t go,” Adam said.

Ronan grunted. Accidentally, he kicked the bag under his chair. It clanked. 

A look of surprise came over Adam’s face. “What’s that?” he asked. 

“Nothing.” 

Adam ducked his head under the desk to look. Ronan kicked the bag so hard it went skidding backwards, past his chair and out on to the floor. They turned around in unison, watching as the bag smashed to a halt against the desk behind Ronan’s. 

The desk belonging to one Joseph Kavinsky.

Ronan swore loudly. 

Kavinsky picked up the backpack with all the relish of a tiger about to devour a deer. 

“What’s this?” he asked, delighted. Even in his school uniform, he looked like a piece of shit. His shoes were caked with mud, and he wore a backwards neon-green cap with a giant logo that told everyone in class just how expensive it was. He was chewing something that Ronan wasn’t completely sure was gum. 

“A park bench. What the fuck do you think?” Ronan affected a bored voice, hoping K wouldn’t catch on to how much he didn’t want him to open the bag. 

Kavinsky acted like he hadn’t heard him. He unzipped the bag, slowly, like he was performing an autopsy. 

“Fucking hell!” Ronan growled. He leapt up from his seat and stormed over, but the bottle was already in Kavinsky’s hands. 

Kavinsky turned it around in his palms, his eyes glinting - suddenly, wickedly. An arsonist holding a match. “Well, well. What do we have here?”

Ronan grabbed for it, but K swivelled around, holding it out of reach. “You bringing booze to school now, Lynch?” 

K was a dreamer, just like Ronan was. He knew there was no way the thing in his hand was booze.

Ronan gritted his teeth. 

K grinned, a slow, sleazy grin, as nefarious as a threat. Ronan grabbed Kavinsky by the collar, yanking him around so they were face-to-face. The smile did not leave K’s face. If anything, it grew more delighted. There was nothing quite so pleasing to him as getting a rise out of Ronan.

He licked his lips. “As kinky as this is, Lynch, I don’t think this is the time to get frisky.”

People were looking now, turning around in their chairs to watch the commotion unfolding. 

“Lynch!” Adam hissed. 

Ronan turned to him, his hands still fisted in Kavinsky’s shirt. Adam threw a wary glance at Kavinsky, but K did not react. He seemed to have taken an oath to pretend Adam didn’t exist. Perhaps it was because he knew nothing would infuriate Adam more than being treated like he wasn’t worth someone’s time and attention.

Adam turned back to Ronan and gave him a pointed look, and Ronan understood. He’d spent enough time looking at Adam Parrish’s face to know exactly what each twitch and glance meant. 

Stop it, Ronan. Adam was saying. Stop trying to get caught.

Classic. Reckless Ronan drawing attention to a dream object in the middle of class. 

Wouldn’t Declan be proud.

What would we do without you, Adam? Gansey had asked once, fondly, shaking Adam by the shoulder. Adam had smiled thinly then, tiredness apparent in his expression, like the weight of saving the rest of them from their own recklessness was too much for him to bear. 

Ronan let go of Kavinsky’s shirt. K straightened up, smoothening his collar with his free hand. Then, with a look that was so infuriating Ronan had to hold back the urge to leap across the desk and deck him, Kavinsky popped open the bottle and sniffed it. 

His eyebrows rose. Adam frowned.

“What?” Ronan asked.  

Around them, everyone else had returned to their conversations, having lost interest when it was clear there wasn’t going to be a fight. Where the fuck was the teacher? Hadn’t class started like… ten fucking minutes ago? Ronan balled his hands into fists and then opened them up again. His palms were sweaty.

“What is this?” Kavinsky asked. “Essence of Shithead Lynch?” 

Ronan clenched his jaw. “So I smell like a fucking gas station?” 

“A gas station? Fuck man. For a dog, your sense of smell is pretty shit. This smells like your weak-ass deodorant.” 

Ronan grabbed the bottle back from Kavinsky, and the liquid inside sloshed, like turbulent waters. He held it up to his nose. No… it was definitely petrol. Petrol and that… something else. Was it the Barns? No… it didn’t smell like hot porches or farm animals or hay or fresh air. It smelled like a garage, like sweat, like… 

Something. 

“You’re crazy, man,” Ronan said. 

Kavinsky was leaning against the wall beside him. He was taking up both chairs now, his own and the empty one beside him. He lifted his head - a lazy, obnoxious movement - and pointed with his chin towards Adam. “Ask Trailer Trash.” 

Ronan didn’t even need to look at Adam to know he’d gone stiff. He could feel the fury and hatred radiating off him in waves. 

Ronan turned to Adam. 

Adam’s lips were pressed tightly together, his normally tired eyes blazing. When Ronan saw Adam like this, it was hard to reconcile the Adam before him with the boy who sometimes looked so fragile, Ronan worried he would fall apart if he so much as touched him.

“I don’t think you two should be parading that around,” Adam said, and his voice cracked from the cold restraint tying up his words.  

Kavinsky grinned, all teeth. “Shit man, lighten up. If your panties get any tighter your balls are gonna fall off.” 

The statement was stupid, nonsensical, and blatantly Kavinsky, but it had its desired effect. K could see it. His smile grew wider, a teenage Cheshire cat with an evil agenda. Adam’s ears were getting redder with every word Kavinsky sent in his direction. 

Adam stood - slowly, deliberately. He took the bottle from Ronan’s hands, his long boyish fingers wrapping around the neck with a finality that made Ronan let go. He watched Adam bring it up to his nose and sniff. 

Adam swallowed, then sniffed again. Ronan saw hesitation and confusion flick through his eyes. 

“Well?” Kavinsky demanded. 

“He’s right,” Adam said, softly. 

“What?” Ronan asked, at the same time as Kavinsky said, “Speak up, dickwad.” 

Adam turned his fiery gaze on Kavinsky. When he spoke, his words slipped out from between gritted teeth. “I said, you were right. It smells like Ronan’s deodorant.” 

This was… not what Ronan had expected. Not at all. He looked from Adam to Kavinsky, and back to Adam. 

Kavinsky might have been fucking with him, but there is no way Adam would team up with someone like K to pull some shit on Ronan. 

But why was Ronan the only one who couldn’t smell what they did?

Kavinsky already looked bored with this conversation. A bottle of Ronan’s deodorant was not exciting or salacious or titillating. But Adam… Adam was staring at the bottle, frowning in that solemn, studious way of his. His bottom lip was between his teeth, and his ears were still red. Ronan had to tear his eyes away from the wrinkle between his fair brows. 

“Let’s sit,” Ronan muttered. “I can hear Milo coming.” 

Adam reached for the stopper, still on Kavinsky’s desk, but Kavinsky flicked it before he could reach it. It fell to the ground and rolled away, across the floor with an audible, resonant clinking.

Adam watched it silently for a moment. Then, he glanced up.

Ronan’s heart hiccuped in his chest.

People thought Adam Parrish was the one holding Ronan and Gansey back from their own recklessness, but what people didn’t know was that sometimes Adam was the most reckless one of all. 

Before Ronan realised he was doing, before he could react, before he could stop him, Adam had marched over - just those two small steps to K’s desk - and looking Kavinsky right in the eyes, poured half the bottle into his lap. 

Kavinsky jumped up with a cry. A large wet stain covered his crotch-area, making it look very much like he’d wet himself. 

The entire class exploded into laughter. 

It echoed around them, bouncing off the walls and vibrating through the ground beneath their feet. 

Ronan turned to Adam, and Adam looked back at Ronan, and in the middle of the roaring classroom, they both knew. 

Adam had fucked up. 

*  *  * 

Whatever the liquid was, it didn’t hurt Kavinsky, nor did it smell of alcohol to Milo who had the unfortunate task of sniffing K. Which was why, when they were sent to Headmaster Child’s office, Adam and Ronan got away with claiming that it was water. 

Still, Child did not approve of them disrupting class time, even though the teacher of said class had himself wandered in fifteen minutes late with what looked like a raging hangover. Child told them to go home - they were dismissed for the rest of the day. This was a punishment, apparently, for disrupting class. 

If Ronan had known Child’s punishments involved not being in school, he would have disrupted class a lot more often. 

The downside was two fold; one, they had detention after school for the entirety of the coming week, and two, Adam had turned from that cold, ferocious creature with sparks on his heels into a self-loathing bundle of nerves.

“I can’t believe I did that,” Adam muttered. He was leaning back against the soft leather seats of Ronan’s BMW, staring up at the roof of the car. “God, I’m such an idiot.” 

Ronan was driving them to St. Agnes, where Adam lived. It always felt intimate, sitting next to Adam in the BMW, feeling the heat from his skin and being close enough to see the freckles on his nose, his light eyelashes, the veins on the back of his hand. 

Adam was wringing his hands in his lap, his fingers twisting clumsily together.

Ronan forced himself to pay attention to the road, even though he could drive to Adam’s home in his sleep. 

“He deserved it,” Ronan said.

“It’s going to be on my record now.” 

“No it’s not, Parrish. What the fuck would they say? Adam Parrish poured water on a douchebag? No one fucking cares.” 

“It’s not water though, is it?” Adam asked, glancing at Ronan from the corner of his eye. 

Ronan swallowed, but kept his eyes fixed on the road. His neck was getting itchy. 

“Where are we going?” Adam asked, suddenly. 

“I’ll drop you off at home.” 

“And then?” 

“And then, what?” 

“You’re going to do something with that bottle, aren’t you?” 

Sometimes it seemed like Adam didn’t know him at all, and other times, it felt like Adam could see right through him, like he had peeled back his skin and was watching his heart pump blood and his muscles contract. Like he was watching every breath pass through his lungs with that sharp, gut-wrenching, deliberate way of his.

Sometimes it seemed like he knew all of Ronan’s secrets, and other times it felt like he didn’t know the most obvious thing of all.

Ronan’s hand tightened on the stick shift.

“What are you going to do with it?” Adam asked. “And don’t say you’re going to throw it away. I know you never throw them away.”

Adam was right. Sure, there were times when Ronan had to get rid of his dreams out of necessity. Generally, it was because Ronan had dreamed up some sort of devilish creature that had crept out of his nightmares, or a corpse of himself. In which case Ronan killed and buried it, or burned it. But it was different when it was a trinket - a strange object, a peculiar household device. These were special, these were his creations.

There were many reasons why he never got rid of those. Even if they seemed useless they had sentimental value, or perhaps they were results of a failed experiment that he wanted to study in order to understand why it didn’t work. But mostly he never threw unusable crap away because he had no idea how to throw them away without arousing suspicion. As much as he wanted to ignore Declan and his nagging, he couldn’t help but have that voice in his head worrying that he was going to be found out, was going to be dragged away to some fucking research facility or killed or some shit. 

These dreams he hid over in Cabeswater so that he could find them again if he needed them. It was his special hiding place, that magical forest of his.

“I’m gonna dump it in Cabeswater," he said. 

Adam was still watching him. He had a peculiar way of listening to people, like he was parsing each word they were saying, turning it over in his mind to see if there was some hidden meaning. His head was cocked awkwardly to the side as he strained his good ear to hear Ronan over the roar of the engine.

“What does it do?” Adam asked. 

Ronan said nothing. 

“What does it do, Ronan?” 

Ronan didn’t know why he answered. Perhaps it was the way Adam said his name - all soft r’s and long vowels - or perhaps it was just that tone of his voice - so determined, so Adam - but Ronan found himself coming apart. 

“I don’t know,” he said. 

“Bullshit,” Adam said. “You always know.” 

“Yeah well, this time I don’t, alright?” Ronan snapped. 

Adam was unruffled by the outburst. Instead he leaned over and touched the bottle that was stuffed in between their seats. “So you’re just going to leave it in Cabeswater? Without even trying to figure out what it does?” 

“What’s it to you, Parrish?” 

Adam scoffed and fell back against his seat again. “You’d think Gansey’s curiosity would have rubbed off on you by now.” 

This irritated Ronan. He felt his anger unfurling inside him, a rousing dragon. “Fuck does that mean?” he growled. 

Adam shrugged. “I can’t imagine having the abilities you do and being so nonchalant about them.” 

“All I hear is a lot of pretentious shit. I guess Gansey is rubbing off on one of us,” Ronan shot back. 

Adam rolled his eyes. It was a familiar sight to Ronan - seeing Adam annoyed with him - but still, something heavy lodged in his chest. 

They were silent for a while, only the sound of the wind through the crack in the windows and the grumble of the engine between them. Ronan’s thoughts were roaring. He hated how easily Adam could make him feel raw. From the very first moment he’d met him, Adam had managed to burrow under Ronan’s skin like a parasite. Till this day, he hadn’t left. A part of Ronan suspected he never would.

“What would you do?” Ronan muttered. 

Adam fiddled with the hem of his sweater. “I don’t know.” He paused for a moment, biting his lower lip, an action which caused a shiver to run down Ronan’s spine. It was distracting enough that Adam’s next words barely registered. “Have you shown it to Declan?” 

Ronan almost choked on his own tongue. “What the fuck, Parrish?”

“What?” Adam asked. “You said he’s been taking care of your dad’s dream objects, right? Maybe he’ll know what it is.” 

“Oh, like fucking Declan is going to tell me anything.” 

Adam shrugged. “I think it’s worth a shot.” 

“He’s gonna flip when he hears I got dismissed for the day,” Ronan said. 

“Then don’t tell him.” 

“I’m not a liar.” 

Adam gave him a narrow-eyed look, cocking his head to the side, as if to say yeah, right. But then his shoulders slumped down. Defeat. “He won’t think that if I come with you.” 

Now it was Ronan’s turn to give Adam a suspicious look. “You want to come with me?” 

Adam gave a shrug, but it looked a little embarrassed. “I’m curious now.” 

Ronan’s fingers grew stiff on the steering wheel. His gut was burning now. That thing in his chest - the heavy, uncomfortable thing - was growing larger. It’s not what you think, he reminded himself. It’s not that.

But whatever Adam's intentions, one thing was certain. He was willingly spending his day off to Ronan. Ronan twisted the steering wheel and the car swerved around sharply on the road. Adam had to hold on to the dashboard to keep from falling into him. 

Truth be told, there was not much Ronan wouldn’t do if Adam Parrish asked. 

*  *  *

Declan was surprised to see them, which Ronan had expected. He never stopped by his brother’s place unless they were going to church, or he had plans with Matthew, or unless Declan had called and threatened and forced him to come for dinner. 

“What are you two doing here?” he asked, glancing between the them. 

Ronan pushed past Declan without answering. Adam followed. 

Declan waited for a moment longer in the doorway, then shook his head and shut the door behind him. 

Ronan had flopped down onto a fat armchair, his legs splayed impudently. “Hi Declan, nice to see you too,” he said, facetiously. 

Adam stood off to the side, not apologetic, but not getting comfortable either. 

Declan sighed the sigh of the long-suffering sibling. “Why aren’t you at school?” 

“Why aren’t you at work?” Ronan countered. 

“You know I’ve been working remotely because Matthew is sick,” Declan said. He seemed to be perpetually fatigued. Or maybe it was only when he was dealing with Ronan.

Declan settled down onto the sofa, one leg crossed over the other. He turned to Adam. “Parrish. Sit.” 

Adam peeled off his backpack and set it by the foot of a chair before settling down in it. He looked completely out of place in Declan’s sleek, too-clean, too-perfect apartment. Adam Parrish was scabs and scars and freckles and determination, and Ronan ached with affection at the fact that he could never see Adam fitting into this fake, plastic world of Declan’s. 

“Our teachers had a conference so they let us off early,” Adam said. 

It was chilling how easily lying came to him. Ronan glanced at Adam, but Adam’s face was expressionless. 

Declan shifted in his seat. He knew Adam was a straight-A student who loathed to miss school. Various expressions flicked across his face, but finally they settled into a neutral mask. 

“So you decided to pay me a visit?” Declan asked, eyes darting to Ronan, and then back at Adam. 

Ronan rolled back his shoulders. “Pastor George says suffering is good for the soul. So we decided if we didn’t have to suffer through school, we should at least suffer through your company.” 

Declan sent him a scathing look, and Ronan had to hold back a smirk.

Adam, diplomatic as always, cut to the chase. He nodded at Ronan’s backpack. “Ronan has a dream object he doesn’t understand.” 

Declan’s lips tightened. He hated that Ronan had told Gansey, Adam, Noah and Blue about his dreaming, but it was too late for him to do anything about it now. “Let me see,” he said. 

Ronan picked up the backpack and tossed it at him. Declan caught it with very little fumbling, and opened it. He still wore his tight-lipped expression, like he was a disapproving mother. Ronan had to swallow down the urge to call him by a nickname he used to call him very often in their childhood - Dicklan. 

Declan pulled out the bottle with a frown. “What is it? Something to drink?” 

“Smell it,” Ronan said. 

Declan uncorked the bottle and sniffed it. He paused for a moment, then sniffed again, and again. “It smells… nice.” 

“What does it smell like?” Ronan asked. 

“Turpentine.” 

Ronan and Adam shared a glance.

“Turpentine?” Ronan asked. “Are you sure it’s not gasoline?” 

Declan shook his head. “It’s definitely turpentine.” 

Adam and Ronan shared another uneasy look. 

“What?” Declan asked. He shifted in his seat, clearly agitated at being left out of the conversation that was silently happening between the two of them. 

“Call Matthew,” Adam suggested. 

Matthew had been down with a fever for a few days. Declan had called the day before to tell Ronan that the fever was gone, but that Matthew still had a cold and was feeling weak, and therefore would not be attending school. 

Declan crossed his arms. “Why? What’s so special about this?” 

Before either of them could respond however, Matthew came bounding into the room, as though just the mention of his name had summoned him. 

“Ronan! Adam!” he said, beaming. His hair was limp, and his nose was red and peeling. He looked tired and slow, not like his usual perky, energetic self, but his wide grin still made Ronan’s spirits rise. 

“Hey fucker,” Ronan said, grabbing Matthew into a side-hug. 

“Hi Matthew,” Adam said. 

“How come you guys are here?” 

“They came to see you,” Declan said. 

Matthew turned back to them, looking pleased, his large eyes lighting up. “Really?” 

“How’re you feeling?” Ronan asked. 

Matthew nodded. “Better.” 

It had been a relief to hear the fever had gone. Given the circumstances of Matthew’s… birth, Declan had not called a doctor when Matthew had fallen ill. He’d said he would nurse Matthew back to health himself, but the very real possibility of Matthew getting worse had kept Ronan up for the past few nights. 

It was, coincidentally, why he’d been too fatigued to remember his dream. The night before had been the first night in a long while he’d been able to sleep properly. 

“Matthew,” Ronan said. He jerked his chin in the direction of the bottle in Declan’s hand. “Take a sniff of that… might help you feel better.” 

Matthew looked curiously at the bottle. He took it from Declan in his bear-like, clumsy hands as Declan watched with his eagle-eyed stare. Matthew smelled it. 

“It doesn’t smell like anything,” he said. 

Ronan turned sharply to Adam. Adam wore a wide-eyed expression of shock.

Declan sighed. “He has a cold, of course he can’t smell anything.” 

“I could smell the gross soup you made this morning,” Matthew said, turning to Declan. “This just doesn’t smell like anything.” 

Declan made a galled sound at the insult to his cooking, but before he could say anything, Adam cleared his throat.

“Try again, Matthew. Maybe your cold is making it harder for you to smell it.”

Matthew obliged. He’d always been strangely fond of Adam, despite the fact that the two rarely spent time together. “Nope,” he said. “Nothing at all.”

Ronan could see that Adam was trying to mask his bewildered expression. It was the exact same thing Ronan was trying to do. Ronan took the bottle from Matthew’s hands and corked it. 

“What is it?” Matthew asked. 

“Just something Ronan bought,” Declan said. “Some sort of smelling salts. Which clearly do not work.” 

Matthew shrugged, unperturbed. “It’s ok. I’m feeling better today anyway.” 

Adam was staring at the bottle in Ronan’s hands, his fingers interlaced, his brow furrowed in that utterly unfair expression of studious concentration. Ronan had to resist the urge to chew on the leather bands on his wrist. 

“Ronan,” Matthew said. “Are you going to the carnival tonight?”

Ronan grimaced. “Fuck no.”

“Ronan,” Declan said, shooting him a warning glance, but Matthew was used to Ronan swearing and seemed unfazed.

“Declan’s not letting me go,” Matthew said, pouting.

“You’re still weak, Matthew,” Declan said. “If you’re too tired to go to school, then how exactly will you be fine enough to go on rides?”

“I might be better by then!” Matthew protested.

“We’ll see,” Declan said, in a manner which clearly meant that the carnival was off the table.

Matthew turned back to Ronan and Adam. “Martin’s mom has a ring toss stall, and Martin said one of the prizes is this thing called a Splat Pig, right? It’s this like… pig, made of like… wiggly stuff. Like… it looks like Jell-O. And you throw it against a wall and it just becomes this big splat, and then it goes back to the shape of a pig! How cool is that?” 

Matthew’s whole face was shining with excitement, and Ronan couldn’t bring himself to admit it was the potentially the stupidest thing he’d ever heard of.

“Ronan can win it for you,” Declan said.

Ronan turned to Declan, disbelief clear on his face. “The fuck?”

“Isn’t Gansey’s mother organising it?” Declan asked.

“Yeah, so?”

“Shouldn’t you go to support your friend?” 

Matthew turned to Ronan. He was already looking so much more like his old self, the essence of happiness itself. “Will you, Ronan?” he begged. “Please, please, please?”

Ronan felt his defences wearing thin. No matter how much he tried, the wall he’d built of aversion and self-loathing and sharp angles was no match for Matthew’s warmth. He felt it crumbling with every word out of his little brother’s mouth.

“Fine,” Ronan grumbled.

From the corner of his eye, he could see Adam smirk.

“Matthew,” Declan said. “Ronan and Adam have to go back to school. Lunch break is almost over. Say bye and get back to bed.” 

Matthew obeyed without a fuss - he was the good kid of the family, the ball of joy that never seemed to dim or fade. He gave Ronan another hug, then went up to Adam, who - taken aback - gave Matthew an awkward, half-hug. 

Matthew bounded back to his room, and Ronan watched him leave. The sunlight seemed to seep out of the room, leaving them all just a little bit colder.

“Why are you so curious about this?” Declan asked. “What is it?” 

“We don’t know,” Ronan said, irritably. “We came to you for help, remember?” 

“It smells different to everyone,” Adam explained. “Except…” he hesitated, then swallowed. “Kavinsky and I… both smelled the same thing.” 

Declan’s eyebrows rose. “Joseph Kavinsky?” 

Ronan had to bite down a sarcastic retort. How many other fucking Kavinsky’s did Declan know? 

Adam nodded. Declan frowned. He scratched his neck. “Have you tried drinking it?” 

“I don’t… think it’s for drinking,” Ronan explained. “I don’t know how I know, but… I just do.” 

Declan scratched his chin, thinking. Then he shook his head. “I have no idea. Dad never dreamed up anything like it.” 

Ronan grunted in annoyance. 

And yet, he could sense that perhaps Declan knew more than he was letting on. He kept throwing glances at the bottle, conflicted glances, like something about it had unsettled yet enticed him. 

Or perhaps Ronan was just projecting. 

*  *  *

“So,” Adam said, as he climbed into the passenger side of Ronan’s car. “The carnival?”

He was grinning, and Ronan could feel the back of his neck growing hot. “Fuck off, Parrish.”

Adam laughed and the heat from Ronan’s neck dripped all the way down his spine.

He didn’t want Adam to see how flustered he was, so he stabbed on the radio and let some loud EDM take up the place where a conversation would normally be. Adam threw his own backpack to the backseat, and then reached down to where Ronan’s backpack was and pulled out the bottle. He turned it around in his hands, squinting at the cupful of liquid still inside.

Ronan could see his lips move, but the words were stolen by the thumping bass. He turned the volume down.

“What?” Ronan asked.

“I’m going to taste it,” Adam said.

“Don’t be stupid, Parrish. What if it’s some sort of poison?” 

“Nothing happened to Kavinsky.” 

“That we saw. Maybe the effects come later. Dream logic is different from real-world logic.” 

Adam chewed on his lip. “So what? We have to keep observing Kavinsky to see what the effects of it are?” 

Ronan shrugged. “I guess. Where’s the fucking carnival again?”

Adam said nothing. He was looking at the bottle strangely, wearing almost the exact same expression Declan had worn when he confessed what he’d smelled.

Something had been tugging at Ronan’s gut after smelling the bottle, and a part of him, a small astute part of his mind, seemed to understand what the bottle signified. And yet every time he got close to catching it, it fluttered just out of his grasp, like a butterfly. 

Ronan never did like catching butterflies. Matthew used to, when they were kids. He used to catch them and put them in mason jars and line them all up on a shelf in the study. Ronan watched them sometimes, their beautiful, vibrant wings fluttering against their glass cages, and each and every time without fail, he felt his chest ache at the sight. Sometimes he felt like he was those butterflies, though every time the thought crossed his mind, he immediately chastised himself for being so stupid and sappy.

“Lynch.” Adam's voice broke his reverie. 

Ronan turned to Adam. Adam had his hands clasped in his lap, the bottle between his legs. He was looking down at his fingers, and Ronan had to keep from staring. 

He loved Adam’s hands. He loved his boyish knuckles, the small scratches, the prominent veins. 

No. He couldn’t think of this. This wasn’t the time or the place to think of this.

"What?" Ronan asked, a bit louder than he had intended. 

Adam bit his lip. “Do you… think it means something that Kavinsky and I both smelled the same thing?” 

Ronan returned his gaze to the windshield. “Like what?” 

“Like… maybe this bottle reveals which people are like you.” 

Ronan let out a laugh like air escaping from a tire. Adam glanced up, sharply. 

“Hell Parrish, you’re nothing like that piece of shit.” 

“Maybe I am! Maybe that’s what this…,” he held up the bottle, “is supposed to tell you. Maybe… at the core… Kavinsky and I are the same.” 

“Alright, what of it?” 

“So…,” Adam tapered off. He scratched his head furiously with his free hand. “Is that what I’m going to be someday? A guy like Kavinsky? Cruel?” 

Adam looked unhinged. His hair, otherwise so neat, was tousled, and his eyes were wild and manic. Looking at him, like that, Ronan felt like he could barely breathe from the sheer weight of all the gnawing desperation in his chest. 

Ronan took a deep breath. “If that is what it does - and I’m not saying that’s what it is - then it should make you happy, man. Like… you had the potential to become a Kavinsky and… you didn’t.” 

“But maybe I will.” 

“You won’t.” 

“How do you know?” Adam asked. The look in his eyes was ferocious, that classic iron-willed Adam Parrish look. 

Ronan knew that Adam felt like he was unworthy of love. He knew that Adam thought no one knew him, that no one could care for him, that no one could love him when even his own parents wanted nothing to do with him. And yet here was Ronan, wanting him so badly that every cell in his body ached for him.

“I know,” Ronan said, softly. “Cause as much as you think no one knows you, I do.” 

Adam fell silent. Ronan did not dare glance at him. His hands tightened on the steering wheel and he said a silent prayer in his mind, a monotonous chant that he hoped would calm the thundering of his pulse.

The pulled into the parking lot beside the grounds where the carnival had been set up. Ronan turned off the car. Neither of them moved.

The sound of happy, screaming fair music leaked into the car. Ronan braced himself for loud shrieking kids with sugar-covered hands, and sweaty adults, and music that made him happy that he didn’t have hair, cause if he did, he’d be tearing it out.

Ronan’s phone buzzed and Adam reached for it.

“Gansey says that Nino’s has a booth. Blue is working in it,” Adam said. 

“Ok,” Ronan said.

The got out of the car and into the line to collect the tickets Gansey had kept aside for them. Adam was now carrying both, the backpack with the bottle and Ronan’s cellphone, which he’d tucked into the pocket of his Aglionby issued trousers. Ronan fidgeted with the leather bands on his wrist.

The phone in Adam’s pocket buzzed. Adam pulled it out, and Ronan watched as his expression stilled.

“Is it Matthew?” Ronan asked, mechanically.

Adam shook his head. He wore a slight grimace. “It’s Kavinsky.” 

“The fuck?” Ronan leaned over Adam's shoulder, so close he could almost smell the rough scent of his soap.

“He said that dropping that…. thing on him, has made him irresistible.” 

“He’s lying,” Ronan said. 

“Probably,” Adam agreed, but he was frowning again. “He says people have been… in his words… drooling over him all day. I wonder what he means by that.” 

Ronan shrugged. “Everyone smells something different, but they all smell shit they like, right? Maybe that’s just what it is. The smell of things you like. That’s probably why people think he smells good today. First time he doesn't smell like alcohol and douchebag perfume." 

Adam shook his head, slightly. “Then why did Matthew smell nothing? He likes everything.”

He was right. Why was it that Matthew smelled nothing at all?

Adam wrinkled his nose, suddenly. “Maybe it’s a love potion. What else would make people think Kavinsky is attractive?” 

Ronan let out a bark of a laugh, and Adam smiled, a small, tentative smile. It was enough to make Ronan’s stomach flutter.

Could it be? A love potion? 

If it was, Ronan was destroying it. He was going to break it against a rock and let the liquid seep into the earth. A potion that abolished someone else’s autonomy felt like the worst kind of lie, and Ronan hated lies. 

Not to mention, the only person he wanted to fall in love with him, valued his own autonomy above everything else. 

They collected their tickets, and a man pointed them over to the entrance. Adam looked at Ronan, and Ronan looked at Adam, and they braced themselves. Then, they went in.

The fair was already packed. Thick crowds of people wearing bright coloured t-shirts, and sneakers that were already caked in mud, walked around, laughing and talking at the tops of their voices. The carnival was outdoors, and the Virginia air was chilly, but the heat of the hundreds of bodies made it seem almost warm outside.

Adam hugged his arms around himself.

Ronan shouldered his way through a gaggle of girls who were taking selfies by a large neon sign. Adam was struggling behind, too polite to shove. Ronan saw him wince as loud music from two huge nearby speakers blared in his one good ear.

Without thinking, Ronan grabbed hold of his arm, and pulled him through the crowd.

It was only when he spotted the Nino’s stall, nestled between a Waffles stall and a Bert’s Ice Cream stall, that he realised he still had his fingers wrapped around the arm of Adam’s soft Aglionby sweater.

He dropped his hand like he’d been scalded. 

Blue spotted them and began to wave, distracted from the long line of people in front of her who were waiting for pizza. Ronan saw her say something to Heather, the girl she worked with, and then she exited the booth and made her way over to them, still wearing her weird apron with the flowers sewn onto it. Ronan wiped his sweaty palms against his jeans.

“Hey guys!” she said, grinning.

Adam smiled. “Hey, Blue.” 

“What’s up, Maggot?” Ronan asked. 

He wondered, inexplicably, if Adam still had feelings for Blue. Ronan wasn’t the type to bring up things like relationships or feelings, and Adam wasn’t the type to talk about himself without being prodded. So, instead, they didn’t talk about it at all.

“You guys came!” Blue was saying. “Gansey was sure you wouldn’t.”

“I came to support you two,” Adam said. “And Ronan came because Matthew begged him to." 

Blue laughed. “You really are a big softie under all those angry biker boy clothes, aren’t you Lynch?”

Ronan bared his teeth at her, but she only grinned wider.

“Looks like you guys are doing good business,” Adam said. “That’s a long line.”

“I can sneak something out the back for the two of you,” Blue said. “Want anything?”

“Um. A coke?” Adam asked. Ronan saw Adam touch his pocket - a light touch, a reminder of how much money he’d still have left even after he bought himself a soda. 

“I’ll have a pizza,” Ronan said. “A large.” 

“A large?” Blue asked, skeptically. “You’re gonna finish a large all by yourself?” 

“You doubting me, Sargent?” 

Blue rolled her eyes. “Whatever. It’s your money.” 

He wasn’t going to be able to finish a large by himself. Of course he couldn’t. But Adam wouldn’t share it with him unless he thought half the pizza was going to go to waste. 

Blue turned to leave, but Adam called her back. 

“Could you…,” he hesitated a moment, then unzipped the backpack. Almost religiously, Adam held out the bottle to her. “Could you take a sniff of this?” 

Blue wrinkled her nose. “What? Why?” 

“Just do it.” 

“No!” 

“Come on, Blue! It’s an experiment.” 

Blue glanced between them, a threatening look in her eyes, as if to say this better not be a prank. She took the opened bottle from Adam’s hands. 

“It smells…,” she took a moment, considering it. “It smells like fresh mint leaves.” 

Adam’s eyebrows rose. Blue held the bottle out to him. 

“What is this?” she asked. “Gansey’s toothpaste?” 

“Why do you say that?” Adam asked. 

“This is exactly what he smells like.” 

Adam turned to Ronan, his eyes widening, but Ronan wasn’t sure he understood what Adam was trying to say. Blue’s confidence seemed to be seeping out of her. She looked flustered. “What?” she demanded. “He does! Cause he’s chewing mint all day, right?” 

“I can’t smell that,” Adam said, quietly.  

“What do you smell then?” Blue challenged. 

Adam said nothing. Ronan remembered, suddenly, shockingly, what Adam had said it smelled like to him, that morning in English class. 

Ronan’s deodorant. 

“Strawberries,” Adam said. 

Ronan shot him a look. Adam was ignoring him now, his gaze tilted pointedly away from him. 

“Strawberries?” Blue asked, disbelieving. “It’s mint!” She turned to Ronan, as if asking him to back her up. “What do you smell?” 

“Vodka Coke,” Ronan said. 

Adam turned sharply towards him. Ronan met his gaze. There was a challenge in it, an invitation. 

Your move. 

Annoyance laced Blue’s expression. “I don’t know if this is a prank or what, but it’s stupid.” 

Shaking her head, she handed the bottle to Ronan and swept away. Adam was still looking at him.

“That’s not what you smelled,” he said, accusingly. 

“That wasn’t what you smelled either,” Ronan shot back.

Adam crossed his arms. “I didn’t… want Blue to think…” he faltered. 

To think what? 

Adam shook his head. “Forget it. It’s nothing.” 

Ronan wished Adam would look at him, but he was looking away, at the giant ferris wheel on the edge of the fairground.

The air around them seemed to change, seemed to grow heavier, like a rain cloud was forming, like a thunderstorm was coming and the air was crackling with electricity and there was nothing Ronan could do to stop it. 

Goosebumps broke out on Ronan’s arms. 

Adam had figured it out. 

Whatever the bottle did, whatever the smells meant, Adam had figured it out, and he was embarrassed about it. 

He was embarrassed that he smelled Ronan’s deodorant. 

Oh god. 

And then, Ronan realised it too. 

Gansey had never told him so, but Ronan knew - he knew - that Gansey had feelings for Blue. And Blue… she had smelled Gansey. The bottle had told Blue Gansey’s secret. What Blue was smelling, was the scent of the person who loved her. 

And that meant that Adam… 

Adam knew. 

Adam knew what Ronan felt. What Ronan was feeling, right now.

Adam knew everything. 

Ronan felt his chest burn - it was a tight, hot, horrible feeling. It was choking him, cutting off his air supply. 

“I’ll be back,” he muttered. 

Adam turned to him, surprised. “What? Where are you going?” 

Ronan was already walking away. He couldn’t look at Adam, couldn’t bear to see what was likely a look of intense discomfort on his face. “I need to make a phone call.” 

“A phone call?” Adam asked, bewildered. “Ronan I have your ph-”

But Ronan had already walked away from Adam, from the stall, from the weight of the revelation that sat between them. It was overwhelming him, crushing him. He had to leave. He had to think.

The crowd was thick and stifling. It did nothing to alleviate the panic that had its hand around his throat. Ronan pushed his way through clumps of people.

Why hadn’t he just thrown away that stupid fucking bottle?

He tried to settle his breathing. Maybe… maybe Adam wouldn’t be disgusted. Maybe he’d just be pitiful. Would that be better? To have Adam’s pity? To have Adam tell him, awkwardly, uncomfortably that no, sorry… I’m still not over Blue… it’s not you! It’s me… 

Fuck. Fuck. 

Ronan dragged a hand down his face. He had to go back and face Adam sometime, but the idea of having that conversation, of having Adam act… differently towards him… it was enough for Ronan to consider just getting in his car and driving away. Maybe even out of Henrietta. To the Barns? He could go to the Barns. He was still not allowed to go back, but perhaps he could sneak in. Who was going to stop him? 

He glanced down at the bottle, realising that he was still holding it. What should he do with it? 

A hand clapped down on his shoulder and Ronan jerked around, ready to punch whoever it was that had grabbed him. But it was only Gansey, wearing a light blue button down and tortoiseshell glasses.

“You came!” Gansey said, sounding more surprised than excited. “Where are you going? Where’s Adam?” he spotted the bottle, clasped tightly in Ronan’s fist. “What’s that?” 

Ronan looked down at it, like he’d never seen it before. “Nothing.” 

“Did you dream it?” Gansey reached for it and Ronan relinquished it to him. Gansey held the bottle to the side and watched as the liquid sloshed from one end to the other. “Pretty,” he said. 

Ronan shrugged. “I’m gonna destroy it.” 

“Why?” 

“It’s fucked up man. It fucks with your head.” 

“Why?” 

Ronan bit the straps on his wrist. “Smell it.” 

Gansey did. His nose crinkled like that of a rabbit. “It’s… it’s nice.” 

“Yeah,” Ronan said. “Real nice.” He rubbed his face. “Listen man, I’m heading out. Adam’s at the Nino’s stall with Blue.”

“What? But?” Gansey looked confused, but Ronan was in no mood to face what he’d left behind. Not yet. “You’re leaving?”

Yes, Ronan wanted to say. Yes I’m fucking leaving. But he didn’t want to argue with Gansey. He didn’t want to explain to him where he was going and why he was going.

“I’m just going to take a piss man, chill out.”

Gansey’s shoulders relaxed. “Oh. Ok. I’ll see you at the Nino’s stall then.”

Ronan gave him a sarcastic salute. Gansey held out the bottle for him to take back, but Ronan was already walking away from Gansey. He needed to put as much distance as possible from that stupid fucking bottle and everything it represented.

*  *  *

When Ronan returned to the parking lot, Kavinsky was there, smoking a cigarette and sitting on the hood of Ronan’s car. Three empty bottles of beer lay by his boots. 

“Lynch!” Kavinsky said, raising a bottle in the air. “Nice of you to join me, man.” 

“Well fuck, I didn’t expect Mr. Irresistible to be here alone,” Ronan said. 

K gave a shrug and a smile that made Ronan’s skin crawl. “People came up to me all day, sniffing me like a pack of fucking dogs man. Kept saying I smelled like the best thing on earth." He shrugged. "Didn’t mean they wanted to fuck me. Not that I wanted to fuck any of those weasels either.” 

Kavinsky kicked a cooler that lay beside him. Ronan picked up a bottle of beer and twisted the cap off. 

He took a long sip. The beer was bitter and cold against his tongue, and the glass of the bottle clanked against his teeth. 

Kavinsky watched him, his eyes lingering on the dip of Ronan’s throat. “So what is it for? The potion shit? You wanted someone to fuck you so badly you had to dream something up?”

“I don’t know what it does,” Ronan said. 

“Sure you don’t.” 

“I don’t.” 

Kavinsky slid off the car. He stalked closer to Ronan, moving like a panther closing in on its prey. Ronan remained standing where he was.

“Is it a coincidence that I smelled you in it?” Kavinsky asked. He was close now, so close that Ronan could smell the sourness of the alcohol on his breath. 

Ronan turned away, disgusted, but his heart was hammering. 

He’d forgotten about Kavinsky. K had smelled him. What the fuck was that all about? Sure, the relationship between him and Kavinsky was… complicated. But it was nothing like what he felt for Adam. It was nowhere close. 

Then Kavinsky’s hands were on his jaw, jerking his head towards him. “You know,” he said, fingers digging into Ronan’s skin. “I’d fuck you if you asked.” 

Ronan shoved him. Hard. Kavinsky stumbled backwards, tripping on a loose rock. His beer splashed out of the bottle, wetting the soles of his boots. But K remained loose, unaffected. 

“What?” he asked, splaying his arms. “Still running from it?” 

“You’d fuck me if I asked?” Ronan asked, disbelieving. “What the hell?” 

“Oh come on,” Kavinsky said, baring his teeth in what was supposed to be a smile. “You know that’s what it means, don’t you? I smelled you, and you smelled gasoline. You have another racing buddy I don’t fucking know about? You want me, Lynch! Even your dreams fucking know it!” 

Ronan was backing away now, not wanting Kavinsky to touch him again, that rough, uncomfortable touch that made his stomach clench, and not in a pleasant way it did when Adam smiled at him.

His thoughts spun in a dizzying, nauseating spiral. Was he wrong about what the smell meant? Was it really Kavinsky he smelled? Had K really smelled him? It was true that they raced all the time, that when they were finished they were full of adrenaline, and covered in sweat, and smelling of gasoline… 

No. 

No, he couldn't accept it. He wouldn’t. 

Ronan stopped in his tracks, and Kavinsky stopped too. They were only a breath apart. The night air was cool on Ronan’s forearms where he’d rolled his sleeves up, and in the distance, he heard the sound of a raven cawing. 

He had to go back. Gansey was waiting for him. Blue was waiting for him.

Adam… Adam was waiting for him.  

But this couldn’t wait. 

Ronan snarled. “Fuck my dreams. I don’t fucking care what I smelled. I don’t want you.” 

Kavinsky’s face hardened for a moment, and then his expression dipped back into easiness. “Yes, you do.” 

“No,” Ronan said. There was no shake in his voice, no hesitation, no space for misinterpretation. Whatever Ronan’s subconscious may or may not have been telling him, he didn’t care. His dreams be damned - Ronan knew what he wanted, and it was time he stopped running away from it. 

“It was never going to be you and me,” Ronan said. “And it never will.”

*  *  *

Adam and Gansey were nowhere to be seen when when Ronan returned to the Nino’s stall.

Blue was back to work, handing out slices of pizza on greasy paper plates. She looked surprised when she saw Ronan.

“I thought you left,” she said. “I gave your pizza to Gansey.”

“Where did he and Parrish go?”

“I think they went to play some of the games.” 

Ronan nodded, biting at the bands on his wrist. He wondered what Adam was thinking, what he had thought the smell from the bottle meant. 

“I’m gonna go find them,” Ronan said.

“Cool. I’ll catch up with you guys later,” she said, wiping her hands on her apron and reaching for a pizza box.

Ronan melted back into the sweaty crowd.

The carnival was divided roughly into three sections - one for food and drinks, one for games and one for rides. Ronan headed in the direction of the games stalls.

It was almost twenty minutes later when he spotted Adam in front of the shooting range. He stood with his hands in his pockets, watching as Gansey aimed a rifle at the target on the wall in front of him. The pizza was nowhere to be seen. Ronan wondered if Adam had eaten any of it.

He took a deep breath and steeled himself. His stomach was fizzing like soda. 

He reached them just as Gansey fired. He gun cracked and Adam winced. Gansey had missed the target.

The man running the booth gave a shrug. “Better luck next time.”

Gansey pouted, a disappointed look on his face, but it quickly vanished when he spotted Ronan.

“There you are!" he said. "You were gone so long, I thought you’d left.”

Adam wasn’t looking at him. He was looking at the wall of prizes, though Ronan could tell he was listening. 

“You kidding, man? I love being around puke covered brats and smelly sweaty adults.”

Gansey rolled his eyes. He held out the rifle. “Do you want to try?”

Ronan took it as Gansey handed some money over to the man running the stall. Ronan took aim and fired. It hit a target. Several bells began to clang, noisily.

“Good job,” the man said. He handed Ronan a large, stuffed Panda. “Here’s your prize.”

Gansey shoved his glasses up his nose. “I’ve tried four different times to hit the target and I didn’t win once. You try it and you win immediately.”

Ronan shrugged. “You want this bear, man? You can have it.”

“That’s not the point,” Gansey huffed. “I want to win it myself.”

“Blue might like it,” Adam suggested. “You could give it to her.”

Gansey seemed ready to argue, but Ronan wasn’t in the mood to hear another lecture about how it was the act of winning and not simply the prize, that mattered. He shoved the bear into Gansey’s hands.

Gansey held on to it for a moment, startled. “You sure you wouldn’t like to keep it, Ronan?”

“The fuck am I gonna do with a teddy bear? Give it to the maggot.”

Gansey smiled. “I think she will like it.” He pushed up his glasses with his shoulder and then glanced awkwardly down at his watch. “Her shift will be over soon. I’ll go give this to her.”

And then it was just the two of them. Alone, at last. Adam fidgeted in place. 

“Did you eat?” Ronan asked. He didn’t dare to look at Adam. 

“Yeah.” 

Ronan scratched the back of his wrist. How could he bring up what had happened before? How could he explain why he’d left? 

Adam pulled the backpack off his shoulders. “Here,” he said. “Your phone and the bottle are in there. Matthew’s pig too.”

Ronan blinked. “You got Matthew’s pig?”

“He really wanted it. And I thought you’d gone home.”

“You had my phone," Ronan pointed out. "And my pizza.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time you up and left without saying anything,” Adam muttered. “I swear sometimes I cannot figure you out.” 

Ronan took the backpack from Adam, but kept it clutched in his hands. “Fuck’s that supposed to mean?”

“Why did you lie before?” Adam asked. “About what that… liquid smelled like?” 

“Why did you?” Ronan shot back. “You lied first.”

Adam rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah well I’m the liar, aren’t I? You’re the one who always tells the truth.”

“I wasn’t lying,” Ronan muttered. “I was being a snarky dickhead. That’s what I do.”

Adam said nothing. Even though they were surrounded on all sides by people, it felt eerily like they were alone. No one was paying them the least bit of attention. Hundreds of people pulsed about them and yet, he and Adam were in their own little cocoon. It felt… almost uncomfortably intimate.

Ronan exhaled through his nose, like a smoker.

“You know…,” Adam began. Then he hesitated. “Actually… forget it.” 

“What?” 

“It’s nothing.” 

“What is it, Parrish?” 

Adam rubbed his arms. “Look, it’s freezing. I don’t really want to talk about it here.”

“Fine,” Ronan said. “Let’s go.”

“Where?” Adam asked, but Ronan didn’t answer.

He marched across the fairground. Adam followed obediently, though he wore a bewildered expression all the way till the ticket booth for the ferris wheel. Then he frowned.

This is your solution to me feeling cold?” Adam asked.

“It has closed pods. It’ll be like you’re indoors.”

Adam wrung his hands together, eyeing the ferris wheel. “I don’t know. What if it’s not safe?”

“A fucking six year old just got on, Parrish.”

“Six year olds have no fear,” Adam said, but a corner of his mouth quirked upwards.

Ronan remembered briefly how terrified Adam had been when they had flown in Helen Gansey’s helicopter.

Ronan gave an exaggerated, impatient sigh. “Should I buy the tickets or not?”

Adam gave the ferris wheel another wary glance, then nodded. “Ok.”

“Ok?”

“Yes.”

Ronan bought the tickets. Adam tugged on the hem of his sweater until a free pod stopped and a family of three got out.

The pod was quite large. Ronan stepped in first and sat down on one of the benches. Adam got inside after him, his breath shallow in his chest. Ronan had expected him to sit on the bench across from him, but Adam sat down next to Ronan, close enough that their shoulders pressed together. Ronan blinked. He expected the man running the ferris wheel to say something about weight distribution or some other nonsense, but he said nothing.

The man shut the door.

Adam rubbed his arms. The car started with a jolt and Adam tensed.

“So?” Ronan asked.

“So?”

“Warm enough for you?”

Adam nodded, glancing uneasily out of the window by his side. “What if it stops? And we can’t get down?”

“A fucking firefighter will come and save you.” Ronan nudged Adam with his shoulder. “Chill out, Parrish.” A thought occurred to him, suddenly. “You’ve never been on a ferris wheel?”

Adam turned to him, blinking. “I’ve never been to a fair. Mom and dad never took me.”

Ronan felt his stomach roil at the thought of Adam’s parents. They belonged in the pits of fucking hell.

Adam dropped his hand to his lap. “It’s not as bad as I thought.”

“The fair?”

Adam snorted. “No, the fair is fun. I mean this…” he gestured at the pod. “I was worried they would stuff us in here with a bunch of other people and that it would be tipping from side to side the whole time.”

“Some ferris wheels do,” Ronan said. "Generally the open ones." 

They were silent for a moment as the car climbed higher and higher, reaching for the stars.

“Why did you lie?” Ronan asked, quietly.

Adam kept his eyes fixed out of the window. “Why does it matter?” 

“Because it does.” Ronan flexed his fingers. “You… smelled me.” 

Adam rubbed his knuckles with his thumb. “Don’t act like it’s new information.” 

Ronan stared at him. Hot confusion licked at his insides. He had expected Adam to say it - to confess that he’d figured out that Ronan liked him. Had Adam known all along? Had he known from the start?

“What is?” he managed. 

Adam’s voice had grown agitated. “Don’t make me say it, Ronan.” 

“Say what?” Ronan demanded. 

Adam turned and their eyes met. Ronan’s stomach flipped. A small knob of something warm settled in his chest and began to grow hotter and hotter.

Adam dropped his gaze. “Blue smelled Gansey,” he said. “Because she likes him.” 

“No,” Ronan said. “Blue smelled Gansey because he likes her.

Adam shook his head. “Blue likes Gansey. She’s told me.”

Ronan blinked. Once, twice.

Adam rubbed the back of his neck. He still wasn’t looking at Ronan. “Kavinsky smelled you because he likes you.”

“No he doesn’t,” Ronan said, mechanically, but even as he said it, he knew it was true. K acted like it was just physical attraction, like it was just about wanting to fuck Ronan, but Ronan had felt lately that K wanted something more from him. There was something odd about the way he looked at him, about the way he spoke to him.

“Come on, Ronan,” Adam grumbled. “He hates me because I’m close to you.”

Ronan opened his mouth to ask what that had to do with them, why they were talking about fucking Kavinsky anyway, when it hit him.

Ronan’s world tilted sharply to the side. He held on to the side of the pod, trying to regain his balance. His heart was thrumming, his head was buzzing. He felt drunk, even though that one beer he had with Kavinsky had not had the least bit of effect. His breaths were coming out audibly now.

“You…,” Ronan swallowed. “You smelled me.” 

Adam rubbed the back of his hand, and said nothing.

“How…” It was hard forming words. His tongue felt twice its normal size. “How long?” 

Adam blinked. “I… thought you knew. I thought you… figured it out. I thought that’s why you left.”

“No I…. I didn’t… I thought it was…” Ronan gripped the bands on his wrist. “How long, Adam?”

Adam ran his hand through his hair again. He seemed to be growing more agitated with every word out of his mouth. “I don’t know, Ronan! A few months.” 

“A few months?” Ronan demanded. “When were you going to tell me?” 

“When were you going to tell me?” Adam demanded. 

They both fell silent, staring at each other. Ronan’s jaw grew slack. 

“You knew?” he asked, his voice barely a whisper in the pod.

Adam bit his bottom lip. “I… suspected.” 

“What the fuck, Parrish?”

Adam’s ears were red now. “I wasn’t sure, you know. What you felt. And I wasn't sure what I felt either. It didn’t just… happen all at once. It was slow. I didn’t even realise it at first.” 

Ronan’s heart was going to break his ribs, he was sure of it. He wanted to say something, but he felt like if he did, his voice would crack. 

A few months. 

Adam had liked him back for a few months. 

“Then the bottle… And when Blue said that’s what she smelled… that’s when I realised it. For sure. Until then… I don’t know. After Blue… and… we’re friends… I just…” Adam rubbed his ear. “I needed that push, I guess.” 

“Adam,” Ronan said, and it was like a plea. 

The smell of gasoline wasn’t Kavinsky at all. It was Adam. Adam who worked hours in a garage, who loved cars, who always had grease behind his ear. It had always been Adam. What he smelled was old wood, like Adam’s apartment. Sandalwood, like Adam’s soap. Oil, like Adam’s rusty old bike. 

Adam wasn’t looking at him anymore. His eyes were focused on the rubber mat on the floor of the pod.

“I guess you smelled the Camaro,” Adam said. 

He was joking. Ronan knew he was joking, and yet he had no words to reply with. They escaped him, like the smoke from a blaze, disappearing into the still air of the pod

Ronan put a hand on Adam’s cheek. Adam turned towards him, and Ronan pulled him close.

He kissed him. 

And there it was, the scent of Adam, the scent from the bottle enveloping him as they kissed. Adam’s warm skin beneath his fingertips. Adam’s stubble, rough against his cheek. Their hands twisted in each other’s school uniforms. Adam’s light touch on Ronan’s neck, and his burning lips between his own. Ronan shivered.

Stopping was agony. 

Adam swallowed as they pulled away from each other. He looked dishevelled. They were still only a hair’s breadth apart. Ronan could hear his own breath rattling in his chest. Adam reached out and touched the back of Ronan’s hand, and the feeling of those rough, hardworking fingers sent Ronan’s heart into another dizzy spiral.

“I’m sorry it took so long,” Adam said. His voice was hoarse, his Henrietta accent prominent and unmistakable. 

Ronan wasn’t sure what he meant by that. Took so long to figure out his feelings? Took so long to tell him? Took so long to kiss him? Or maybe all three?

Ronan took his hand. “We got here in the end, didn’t we?”

“No thanks to you,” Adam said, a corner of his lips quirking. "If it was up to you, you'd never have said anything." 

Ronan felt himself flushing. “I didn’t know you felt… like that. About me,” he said, gruffly. "Maybe if I had..." 

Adam nodded at the backpack. “Then what was that for? I figured you were trying to figure out how I felt." 

“Maybe it was to help Gansey and Blue get their shit together,” Ronan said, haughtily. “Not everything is about you, Parrish.”

Adam laughed soundlessly, and Ronan felt it vibrate through him. Adam rested his forehead on Ronan’s shoulder. “Fuck,” he said.

Ronan agreed.

They separated when the ferris wheel stopped at the ground once again, and Ronan felt cold, like a blanket had been ripped off him, suddenly, brutally.

The man opened the door and they emerged back into the ever thickening crowd. 

“I guess… we should head back,” Adam said, though Ronan could hear a slight reluctance in his voice.

“I fucking guess,” Ronan said.

They walked back shoulder to shoulder, fingers bumping into each other’s every so often. Ronan’s breathing was refusing to settle. 

They found Gansey and Blue by a juice stand. Noah had joined them as well. He was holding the giant panda, his smudgy face lit up with a smile. Blue waved them over.

“Where were you guys?” Blue asked, handing Adam a plastic cup of orange juice. “We were looking everywhere for you.” 

“Ferris Wheel,” Adam said, while Ronan pulled at his leather bands, and said nothing. 

Noah giggled and Ronan shot him a death glare. Noah pretended to zip up his lips. 

Blue nodded. “We were just talking about your dream thing.” 

“What?” Ronan asked. Everything prior to the last ten minutes seemed like a blur. He still felt heady from the kisses.

“You know,” Blue said. “Your bottle thing. Have you figured out what it is?" 

"Bear-ly," Noah said in a growl, making the panda talk.

Ronan smacked him on the upside of his head. Adam pressed his fingers to his lips, suppressing his laughter. Blue rolled her eyes. 

“It's super weird though," Blue continued. "I was just telling Gansey how I smelled him,” Blue said. “Or at least, I smelled mint… which he smells like all the time. And… get this…” she looked between the two of them, making sure they were listening. “He said he smelled blueberry yoghurt.” 

Noah hid his face behind the bear. Adam choked on his juice. Ronan turned to him, and he could see that Adam was holding back a wicked grin, his eyes shining with barely suppressed glee. 

“How strange is that?” Gansey asked. 

Adam and Ronan’s eyes met, and Ronan’s face split into a smirk.

“Pretty fucking weird,” Ronan agreed.