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Like the Old Days

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Friday night saw Adam Parrish awake (as usual) and tired (as usual). He was sat at his desk, furiously typing away on his laptop as he tried to finish his final paper that was due that night. Around the room, perched on the beds, was the rest of Adam’s Crying Club. They were all talking, but keeping it quiet so he wouldn’t be distracted.

Adam was on his fourth cup of coffee. It had been a bad idea to drink so much because he likely wouldn’t sleep tonight, but it had been what he needed to get through his sociology paper. After what felt like an eternity of work (but was really no more than three hours) Adam pressed the submit button and shut his laptop down, turning around in his desk chair to face his friends.

“Finally,” said Gillian with a dramatic sigh. “We were starting to think you’d never finish that paper.”

“Game of Repo?” Fletcher suggested. Everyone made noises of assent and Benjy produced a pack of cards from his pocket, starting to deal them.

The five of them moved so that they were sat on the floor – there wasn’t much room in the small dormitory but it was easier to stay there than move into the shared common room down the hall. Adam stretched as he moved down to the floor, satisfied by the popping of his joints which had seized slightly after he’d been sat down for so long.

“Does anyone have any plans for the weekend?” Eliot asked while Benjy dealt the cards. “I saw an advertisement for an amateur theatre company putting on a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a modern-day setting. It looked rather interesting, perhaps we could go?”

“Oh,” said Fletcher wistfully. “I do love Shakespeare. I’d be glad to go.”

Gillian and Benjy agreed too, and Eliot turned to Adam. “Adam?” they said, smiling brightly. “It wouldn’t be a Crying Club outing without you.”

Just as Adam started to say he’d love to join them, his phone started buzzing in his back pocket. Ordinarily, he might have ignored it, a bad habit he’d picked up from Ronan, but when he saw who was calling he couldn’t decline it.

“One moment,” he said to his friends, stepping over them and the cards to get to the hallway.

“Try to hurry,” Fletcher called after him, “it’ll get boring if we have to wait for you to come back to take your turn!”

Gently shutting the door behind him, Adam answered the call and pressed the phone to his good ear. He was glad he was the only one in the hallway – a phone call like this wasn’t likely to be good news.

“Hello?” he said.

“Adam,” came Declan Lynch’s relieved voice. “Hello. How are you?”

“I’m alright, thank you. Did you need something? Is Ronan okay?”

In the ever so slight hesitation between Adam’s question and Declan’s response, Adam heard Declan’s worry and uncertainty. The single beat of silence spoke volumes more than Declan’s words could have.

“He’s been a bit off lately,” Declan said matter-of-factly. After seeing Declan so often during the summer, Adam knew most of Declan’s mannerisms and speech patterns and what they meant. This – Declan sounding business-like and to-the-point – showed Declan was saying something difficult but was trying to pretend it was easy. “He’s not getting out of bed until late, I’ve noticed he’s been slacking on work around the Barns. Little things, I know, but it’s not like him. I’ve tried lots of different things, but I think he’s missing you and Gansey and Blue, so there isn’t much I can do to help. I know it’s short notice but–”

“I’ll come down,” Adam interrupted, nodding even though Declan couldn’t see. “If I leave now I can be at the Barns by–” He checked his watch; it was half past one in the morning and he didn’t remember it getting so late. “–about half past nine if I don’t stop at all.”

“Are you sure?” Declan asked, but he sounded relieved. He knew Adam wouldn’t have said no.

Already turning the door handle to go back into the dorm, Adam said, “Yes. I’ll see you tomorrow,” and he hung up.

“Everything alright?” Gillian asked as Adam started rooting through his closet for the jacket she’d thrifted him months ago. “Who was on the phone?”

“Ronan’s brother,” Adam said, pulling the jacket on. “Sorry, I won’t be able to come to the Shakespeare performance. I have to go back to the Barns for the weekend.”

The others nodded in understanding. Adam hadn’t told them much about his and Ronan’s relationship, just ambiguous parts of it: how they’d met, when they’d got together. He’d left out most of the stranger details, like how their first kiss had been at a going-away party for Ronan’s younger brother because dream dealers were coming to Henrietta for an auction in which a demon was being sold and Matthew Lynch was a dream creature and therefore not safe around a large group of people who would happily sell and buy him. Oh, and he hadn’t mentioned that Ronan could take things from his dreams and bring them into reality.

The group had, however, surmised that Ronan had bad days sometimes. How they had come to that conclusion, Adam was sure he’d never know – he was careful when he spoke about Declan and Matthew, and he never mentioned Niall and Aurora Lynch. Perhaps it was something about Ronan’s demeanour the first time he’d visited Harvard and met them; maybe they thought standoffish meant damaged.

Whatever their thoughts about Ronan, each member of the Crying Club bid farewell to Adam as he left the dorm and then Thayer, going to the student car park and hopping on his motorbike. It was the one Ronan had dreamed for him and it fit perfectly underneath him, just like how he and Ronan fit perfectly with one another.

Pressing the singular button the motorcycle had, Adam started it up and pulled onto the road, heading back to Singer’s Falls.

*

It was a journey he would gladly make a thousand times if it meant seeing Ronan, but it didn’t mean the ride from Harvard to Henrietta was easy. Eight hours astride a motorcycle did nothing good for Adam’s aching muscles and by the time he arrived at the Barns he was exhausted, the coffee he’d been sipping in the dorm completely gone from his system.

But seeing the Barns woke him up instantly.

He parked the motorbike, put the kickstand down, and swung himself from the bike, noting that Declan’s Volvo was parked nearby. He walked up to the front door of the Barns, relishing the familiar feeling of soft wind stroking his face and the Virginia sun beating down on him despite how late in the year it was.

Adam had a key to the Barns, but found the door unlocked when he arrived which meant Declan was already inside. He toed off his shoes and looked around – even moments after arriving he was already being bombarded by memories of a joyful summer spent here with Ronan and a dull ache in his chest that was the longing for it all to come back.

He tiptoed up the stairs and treaded the familiar path to Ronan’s room. Declan was stood outside Ronan’s closed bedroom door, looking thoroughly drained. He raised a hand in a half-hearted, silent greeting when Adam approached and then knocked on the door again.

“Ronan,” Declan called to the door. “You need to get up. It’s almost ten o’clock and your animals should have been fed hours ago.”

Adam and Declan waited for a response, but none came. Declan shrugged helplessly and stepped back to allow Adam to try.

Adam didn’t knock or call to Ronan softly through the door. He simply pushed it open and breezed into the room, shutting it loudly behind him. Ronan was in his bed, wrapped in a mountain of blankets, his head buried in the pillows, back to the door.

“Fuck off,” Ronan shouted, but it was muffled by his duvet.

Adam knew the profanity was intended for Declan – after all, Ronan didn’t actually know Adam was here – so he just stepped around Ronan’s bed and pulled the curtains wide open.

“You need some natural light in here, Lynch,” he said, “no wonder you’re so pale.”

Ronan’s head whipped up, eyes widening disbelievingly. He looked Adam up and down, his gaze slowed by sleep, and slowly an incredulous smile started to spread across his face.

“Parrish,” he said, voice rough. “The fuck are you doing here?”

Adam gestured to the window, through which mid-morning sun was streaming, illuminating Ronan’s dark bedroom like the light of God. “Making sure you get some vitamin D.”

Ronan was up and out of his bed in an instant, throwing his arms around Adam’s waist and burying his face in his neck. Adam clung to him, looped his arms tightly around his neck, held him like he never wanted to let him go. Because he didn’t – he didn’t want to let Ronan go ever.

“Declan called you, didn’t he,” Ronan said to Adam’s neck. Adam just nodded. After a moment Ronan pressed a feather-light kiss to Adam’s temple. “Tamquam.”

“Alter idem.”

Eventually, they disentangled themselves from each other. Adam kept his hands rested on Ronan’s chest, trying to savour every moment they had together, trying to commit the feeling of Ronan’s hands on his hips to memory.

“So,” he said, “care to tell me why I come home to find you wallowing in self-pity in a mound of blankets and pillows?”

Ronan groaned and knocked his head against Adam’s shoulder. “Fuck you,” he grumbled. “I feel like shit.”

Gently, Adam stroked his finger across the short hair at Ronan’s neck and the back of his head. “Why?”

“It’s all… different,” he mumbled. “You know?”

He probably should have pressed harder, should have made Ronan talk his problems out and use his words. But he didn’t. He just held him tighter.

“Yeah,” Adam said quietly. “I know.”

*

After Ronan had got dressed, the two of them headed outside. Adam helped Ronan tend to his plants and animals. (“I love having a goth farmer boyfriend,” he had joked, and Ronan had retaliated by wiping a line of mud across his face.) It reminded Adam once again of every day he’d spent at the Barns in that summer after Aglionby, before he’d headed off to Harvard. For once, the two of them could be normal boyfriends, hanging out together, making each other laugh and stealing kisses – forget sentient forests and dead Welsh kings and pulling things from dreams.

They wound up at Lindenmere. Adam had been there before a few times, but each time he revisited the forest there was something different or new. It was no Cabeswater, but Lindenmere was undeniably magical.

This time around was no different. Ronan took him by the hand and led him through the trees in comfortable silence. Adam was always struck by how beautiful Lindenmere was and how that beauty changed with every visit: towering trees that swayed in an eerie dance of tangled leaves and branches; the way the light that filtered through the foliage glowed an unearthly violet instead of a sunlight yellow; the chirping of insects, squawking of birds, crackle of leaves underfoot, the shuffling noise of a creature scurrying through the undergrowth.

“I’m pretty fucking proud of this, Parrish,” Ronan said eventually, picking up his pace. Adam presumed they were nearing the new addition that Ronan wanted to show him. “You’d better be impressed.”

They emerged from the forest and came to an almost sheer drop, a cliff face that must have been fifty metres high. When Adam saw the sight below, his grip on Ronan’s hand tightened subconsciously and he let out the smallest, “Oh.”

Below the cliff was a field. It spanned as far as the eyes could see in every direction, except behind them where the forest lay. In contrast to the purple light amongst the trees, over the field was cast a blindingly white light like the sun at the height of summer, but the temperature was perfect, not unbearably hot like Adam would have expected. But the real beauty of the field came from its flowers.

They were impossible. Even from so far away, Adam was sure that not a single one of the thousands of flowers in the field could really exist. Some were as tall as Virginia mountains, some were colours Adam hadn’t realised existed, some grew with their roots sticking up in the air and their petals buried in the ground, some shifted and warped their shapes, some spoke Latin like the trees (with Ronan’s terrible grammar), some looked so other-worldly that Adam had to physically look away.

All of them had come from Ronan Lynch’s head. Every marvellous, gorgeous, impossible thing in Lindenmere had been born from the imagination and the subconscious of the man beside him. Adam was overcome with a heavy sensation in the pit of his stomach – he loved Ronan Lynch and was loved in return and what had he ever done to deserve this?

Suddenly Ronan seemed much more beautiful than the garden below them.

“Well?” Ronan grunted. Adam realised he hadn’t said anything yet. Ronan was still waiting for his response.

He shrugged. “It’s pretty cool, I guess. If you’re into flowers.”

Ronan grinned, that breath-taking smile that Adam loved, the one that promised passion and excitement and danger and love. Ronan gently nudged Adam’s shoulder. “You asshole.”

“It’s incredible,” Adam said earnestly. Ronan flushed, squeezed Adam’s hand. “You’re incredible.”

“Don’t get all sappy on me, Parrish,” Ronan said. The blush on his cheeks and the badly supressed smile gave away his true feelings, though. Adam knew he loved it.

A while later, after they’d finished admiring the scenery and each other, Adam was struck with the desire to go somewhere. Anywhere – it didn’t matter as long as Ronan was with him.

“Drive me somewhere,” he said as they left Lindenmere. “Like the old days. We’ll just get in the BMW and drive.”

Ronan looked him in the eyes and lifted Adam’s hand to his lips, pressing a gentle kiss there that made Adam’s heart stutter. Without a word, they both climbed into the BMW, Ronan in the driver’s seat, Adam riding shotgun, and just like they had when they were still hunting a dead Welsh king, they sped away down the Henrietta streets, far over the speed limit, EDM blaring through the speakers.

Adam had missed this.

*

That night saw the two of them sprawled on a sofa in the living room of the Barns. There was a movie playing, but Adam had forgotten what it was and what had happened. He was thinking – thinking about Ronan, about Harvard, about their friends, about dreams, about Glendower, about Cabeswater, about everything he was lucky to have and everything that made his life magical. Everything that made him the Magician rather than just Adam Parrish.

Ronan had his arms around him protectively, though there wasn’t anything he’d need protecting from. Adam was practically lying on top of him, his head rested gently on his chest, listening to his dreamer’s heartbeat.

He shifted his head slightly to look up at Ronan’s face. He was all angles and sharp edges, cold blue eyes and a stonily set jaw. Adam ached for him, loved him with every fibre of his being. Out of everything that made Adam Parrish’s life magical, Ronan was his favourite.

He reached a hand out and lightly brushed his thumb against Ronan’s cheek. Ronan turned to look at him, an eyebrow raised.

“Something you want, Parrish?” he asked, trying for confident, but the almost imperceptible waver in his voice gave him away.

Adam smiled. “Yes. You.”

He tilted his face up to catch Ronan’s lips in a sweet kiss, but before they could touch, the moment was ruined by Ronan’s ringtone – the Murder Squash Song, blasting at full volume. Ronan swore loudly, dug his phone from his pocket and made to chuck it across the room, but Adam snatched it from his hand, seeing it was Gansey requesting to video chat.

“Oh, come on,” Ronan growled, annoyed. “Don’t answer. It’s an instant mood killer.”

Adam just smiled. “I’ve not spoken to them in a few days, it’ll be nice to catch up.”

“But–”

But I’ll kiss you afterwards.”

He pressed the little green phone symbol and the video chat opened. There was a tiny picture of a smiling Adam and a scowling Ronan in the corner, but most of the screen was totally black.

“Hello!” came the chipper voice of Richard Gansey III. “Oh, Adam! I didn’t know you’d be here. I suppose you’re the only reason the call was answered.”

“Richardman, your thumb is covering the camera,” said the voice of Henry Cheng. “Unless you want them to be completely underwhelmed by the sight of Paris from above because they can’t actually see it, I suggest you move it.”

“Oh,” Gansey said, “yes, of course.”

He fumbled for a moment, then there was a momentary flash of his hair and a bright blue sky, then the video went black again, displaying the message ‘VIDEO HAS BEEN PAUSED’.

“Can you see now?” Gansey asked.

“No,” Adam told him, “you’ve turned your camera off.”

“Oh. How did I do that?”

Then came the impatient voice of Blue Sargent, completing the trio. “Oh, just give me the phone, I’ll do it.”

A moment later, Blue’s face took up the screen. She was smiling brightly, her tufty hair pinned back by colourful clips. Henry’s head was resting on her shoulder and Gansey was stood behind them, a pair of binoculars hanging around his neck. The three of them were travelling across the world together for their gap year and at present it appeared they were atop the Eiffel Tower.

“Hi, Adam!” Blue said, waving. “How come you’re not at Harvard?”

“Ronan was missing me too much,” Adam said, to which Ronan just gave him an unimpressed look.

“Hi, Ronan,” Blue said. “I miss you.”

“Maggot,” was Ronan’s only response, but he said it fondly. Blue blew him a kiss.

“How’s Paris?” Adam asked.

Henry replied dismissively, “Once you’ve seen the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Notre-Dame, you’ve seen it all.”

“Blue!” called Gansey from behind. “Show them the view!”

Blue flipped the camera and showed them the scenery. The city of Paris spanned out beneath them, far below. It was beautiful, like a painting but completed by movement and sound. He turned to Ronan and said, “We should go there one day.”

Ronan said nothing, just kissed the top of Adam’s head.

“Anyway,” said Blue, “we can’t chat for long. We just wanted to show you that. Adam, how long are you staying at the Barns? We might be able to call you both again, but for longer.”

Adam felt himself deflate a bit. He and Ronan hadn’t talked about him leaving. They both knew it would have to happen, but it wasn’t something they liked to dwell on. At Blue’s question, he felt Ronan’s arms tighten around him even more.

“Tomorrow afternoon,” he told them. “I have to get back before class on Monday.”

“Alright,” Blue said. “Hopefully we can all talk before then. We should go – despite what Henry thinks, we have much more to see. Speak to you soon!”

“Goodbye,” called Gansey, waving enthusiastically.

“Use protection,” Henry supplied, flashing a grin. At that, Ronan ended the call without saying goodbye. Adam couldn’t help but laugh.

Ronan was pouting. “I hate Cheng.”

“No you don’t,” Adam said. “You used to, but you don’t anymore.”

Ronan just rolled his eyes. “Whatever. Can you just fucking kiss me now?”

Adam did.

*

The next morning, Adam woke up to an empty bed. Had it been any other day of the week, he would have been worried, but it was Sunday, so he knew where Ronan would be. He looked at the clock and saw that it was only half past seven – Ronan shouldn’t have left the Barns just yet.

Adam hauled himself from the bed and pulled on a shirt and sweatpants before heading slowly downstairs to the kitchen. Sure enough, Ronan was at the counter glaring at the coffee maker as if that would make it produce coffee any faster. He was dressed to the nines in his church suit, and when he saw Adam he straightened his jacket; Adam thought he might not have even been aware he’d done it.

“Good morning,” said Adam sleepily, coming up beside him and wrapping his arms loosely around his waist. He breathed in the scent of Ronan’s cologne, burying his face in his neck. He could have fallen asleep again like that.

Ronan ran the tips of his fingers through his hair. “Good morning. Coffee?”

“Yes please.”

They were quiet for a moment as Ronan poured the coffee (which wasn’t easy as Adam clung to him like a needy koala) and handed him a mug. Adam let go and they both sat down at the kitchen table, feet tangled together.

Just as they sat down, Adam heard the front door to the house swing open and then loud, hurried footsteps running towards them. Just like every Sunday. He was glad to see this routine hadn’t changed.

Matthew Lynch charged into the kitchen, full of energy as usual. He was smiling broadly, his golden curls tousled, boyish face alight with permanent happiness.

“You know that snail I found the other day?” Matthew said in lieu of ‘hello’. “The one I decided to keep? Declan stood on it and killed it. But it’s alright, because I found a ladybird this morning and Declan felt so bad he said I could keep that. It’ll probably escape, but I’m sure I can find another pet. Oh! Adam! Hello!”

“Hi, Matthew,” Adam said. “It’s nice to see you.”

“It’s nice to see you too. Did Ronan tell you about my snail?”

“No, he didn’t.”

“Ronan, tell Adam about my snail!”

Ronan stood up and put his empty coffee cup in the dishwasher as Declan joined them in the kitchen, immediately grabbing a mug from the cupboard and pouring himself some coffee – he looked exhausted, but Adam supposed Matthew’s high energy was hard to keep up with a lot of the time.

Ronan said, “He found a snail. That’s the story.”

“It was a really cool snail,” Matthew insisted, but then his face twisted into confusion. “Adam, what happened to your neck? It’s all bruised. Did you hit it on something?”

Declan choked on his coffee. Ronan swore under his breath. Adam felt himself blushing, but he couldn’t help but smile at their reactions.

Matthew looked between the three of them, and then began to realise. “Oh. Oh. Right. I get it.”

Then Matthew began to laugh. Declan was soon to follow suit, his chuckles far more subdued than the younger brother’s. Ronan looked at them, his expression mightily unimpressed.

“Go on,” he growled, “make your fucking jokes.”

Matthew grinned and said, “Hey, Ronan, are you an evil sorcerer who raises the dead? Because you’re a neck-romancer.” As Matthew always did when he told a joke, he looked at Ronan to make sure he laughed so he knew it had been funny. “Get it? Neck-romancer – necromancer?”

“Very funny,” Ronan deadpanned. He turned to Declan disinterestedly. “And you? You got something to say?”

Declan swallowed his laughter and just said, “No, don’t worry. I won’t make fun of you. I don’t want to bruise your ego.”

Ronan smiled tightly and said, “Well, fuck you both,” but Adam couldn’t help but laugh. He wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed (in fact, he quite liked being marked by Ronan like this), and it was hilarious to watch Ronan’s face flush.

“Come on,” Ronan said, many, many hickey jokes later. “At church you can apologise to God for all the lewd comments you’ve just made.”

“I think there’s some sins you ought to be apologising for,” Matthew said, wiggling his eyebrows, barely containing his laughter.

Ronan said nothing, just left the kitchen, holding up his middle finger to all three of them. Adam heard the front door open and then slam. He bid goodbye to Declan and Matthew (the latter of whom was still laughing) and headed upstairs to get dressed.

While Ronan was at church, Adam busied himself by tidying up a little bit, reading through some notes for class, taking a walk through the expansive fields around the Barns, looking at a few new dream things Ronan had recently produced, anything he could think of.

While he was taking his little walk, a little girl came bounding up to him ecstatically. Well, half little girl, half deer. Opal threw her arms around Adam’s legs, nearly knocking him off balance in what he assumed was some rough approximation of a hug. He ruffled her hair as she clung to him – he’d missed her a lot.

“Kerah didn’t tell me you were coming,” Opal said with a pout. The both of them sat down in the long grass of the field, opposite each other.

Ronan didn’t know I was coming,” Adam said, gently reminding her that she was supposed to say Ronan, not Kerah.

“Kerah didn’t tell me you arrived,” she said, crossing her arms grumpily.

“I’m sorry,” Adam said. “I should have come to say hello. It isn’t Ronan’s fault.”

“What happened to your neck?” Opal asked, easily distracted and seemingly unbothered by the fact that Adam hadn’t said hello now.

Adam touched a hand to the bruise on his neck, trying not to panic. How was he supposed to explain that to Opal? She was only a little girl (sort of), it wasn’t as if he could tell her what had actually happened.

“Um… When I was going up the stairs last night I tripped on one and hit my neck on the banister.”

Opal just nodded wisely as if the excuse made perfect sense, as if she’d done the same thing countless times before.

*

The only thing Adam didn’t like about visiting the Barns was that he always had to leave. He liked Harvard, yes, and he wanted to see his friends again, but the pain of leaving Ronan every time was almost unbearable.

They stood together outside the Barns, having already passed through Ronan’s ingenious (if very scary) security system. Adam was stood by his motorcycle and Ronan was in front of him. For a moment they just looked at each other, studied one another in the fading afternoon light. Adam pretended he couldn’t see the disappointment on Ronan’s face.

Eventually, Ronan stepped forward and gently wrapped his arms around Adam’s waist. Adam pulled him impossibly closer, wanting to imprint the feeling of Ronan’s body against his into his very skin so that he could never forget it.

“Tamquam,” he whispered.

“Alter idem,” Ronan returned.

They kissed once, short but sweet and full of love. Without looking back – because looking back would make it so much harder – Adam got on the motorbike and sped away.

*

When Adam arrived back at Thayer late that night, he found the Crying Club assembled in the common room, crowded around a chessboard. Fletcher was playing black, Gillian playing white. Benjy appeared to be refereeing (however much one could do that for a game of chess) and Eliot appeared to have been keeping score of all their games for a while, a notebook open beside them filled with their untidy scrawl.

Eliot looked to Adam as he sat down. “Look who’s back,” they said excitedly.

Adam other friends all turned to him and quickly greeted him.

“How’s Ronan?” Benjy asked.

Gillian laughed. “He’s doing well, by the looks of things.” She nodded to Adam’s neck.

Fletcher snorted as he took Gillian’s knight. “You two had a lot of fun then?”

“Emphasis on the ‘a lot’,” Eliot laughed.

Adam grinned, rubbing the bruise sheepishly. A giddy feeling bubbled up inside him at his friends’ teasing. Maybe he didn’t have Ronan with him right now, and Ronan didn’t have him, but the memory of him, the marks he’d left? Well, they wouldn’t be going away any time soon.