Things went surprisingly easily after Adam’s first trip to the Barns. Ronan didn’t push him on why he turned down invitations to go back, Gansey planned group outings, Ethan began feeling comfortable enough to reach out to any of this newly knitted group of friends, and Adam was feeling… content.
Maybe a bit more than content.
Three weeks after Niall had come back to The Barns, he’d left again, and two days after that, Ronan invited Adam and Ethan back over. No one brought it up, no one even hinted that Adam was being weird or stupid. He met Ronan’s brothers, helped Matthew with homework, discussed the World History teacher with Declan, accepted fresh and warm food from Aurora.
Most times when he went to The Barns Gansey came as well - though never Noah for some reason. They mucked around in the empty fields, diverted a small stream by shifting rocks by hand, met every single one of the cows, played tennis, and then soccer.
Ethan was almost always in someone’s arms while they were at The Barns. Aurora would carry him around the house, or out into the garden while she weeded. She’d sit in the sun with him and unique little wooden toys to play with him. Matthew would lie for hours on end - both of them on their stomachs - just babbling at each other. Declan even took him sometimes - propping Ethan up on his knee while he studied. Otherwise, he was in Adam’s arms, or Ronan’s, or Gansey’s - meeting the cows, dipping his bare toes in the sun warm stream, sitting in long grass and pulling daisy heads off their stalks - as joyful each time he held one out in triumph as he had been the first time he’d done it.
It was just.
It was more than content.
Sure, there were still some… spots of The Barns that seemed to fill Adam with a cool dread, but they weren’t everywhere, and the more time he spent there, the easier it as for him to know how to avoid them. He could easily curve his walking path on his way up to the house, remembered that he didn’t even like to stand near the dining chair at the head of the table, would never linger outside the closed door that apparently lead to Niall’s office.
Sure, life at the trailer wasn’t great. Robert wasn’t a fan of Adam’s new friends, wasn’t a fan of Ethan’s new carrier, wasn’t a fan of Adam in general. Adam, thoughtlessly, stupidly, had mentioned to his mother that Aurora had made giant peanut butter biscuits, and apparently Alice had taken that as an insult to her own cooking and baking skills and have declared that if Adam wasn’t grateful for what he got than he would get nothing. So. Not great , but not as bad as it could be, either. The bruises he earned from Robert were easily hideable enough, the limp he gained after Robert had shoved him down and Adam had used both of his hands to hold tightly to Ethan rather than catch himself was passed off as commentary on how heavy his book bag was.
School was still hard, work was still hard, being Adam Parrish was still hard , but the thing was? The thing was that he felt - possibly for the first time in his life - that he was doing more than surviving. He wasn’t just struggling to keep his head afloat. He was on a life raft, he had enough nourishment to get out eventually without worrying that he’d drown before hand.
Which was probably why the world decided that things needed to be tossed upside down again.
That wasn’t really fair. It definitely effected Adam and Ethan, but it wasn’t their tragedy.
Gansey called the trailer at just before eight. Gansey didn’t call the trailer. Adam had told him that his parents preferred he leave the line open, and Gansey had accepted that. So. Gansey had called the trailer - a phone number Adam had only given him for emergencies.
“Boy,” Alice barked, holding the phone away from her face with an expression of disgust - like she found the voice on the other end of the call despicable. “You have a phone call.”
Adam had only gotten in about five minutes prior. He’d had an early shift, and upon arriving home the only thing he’d really gotten around to doing was stripping out of his work clothes, redressing, and picking Ethan up.
He took the phone from Alice.
“Make it quick,” she snapped at him, frowned at Ethan who was curled in sleepily against Adam’s neck. “And you don’t need to carry him around all the time. How’s he s’posed to learn to walk if you do it all for him?”
“Adam?” Gansey breathed over the phone. Adam hummed in response. He wanted to ask what was wrong, to let the fear he was feeling curl out of his mouth, but Alice was still standing close by, and he didn’t want to let anything slip. “Oh, Adam,” Gansey said, his voice staticky in a way that had nothing to do with the quality of the call. “I just got off the phone with Declan. Ronan - Ronan -”
Something had happened to Ronan? Adam hadn’t let himself consider what sort of emergency Gansey might be calling about. Had his fingers crossed that it was a Glendower mystery emergency, or a homework emergency, or that Noah had fallen off his skateboard and needed someone to reset his nose, emergency. Not that he wanted Noah to be hurt of course, he didn’t want any of his friends to be hurt, it was just that -
There was something about Ronan that - that - that made Adam very keenly aware of his own emotions. Ronan didn’t do things by halves. He was loud, and boisterous, and clever, and caring, and if he was hurt? He was going to be hurt . Sure, he had skinned knees all the time, gravel burns on his palms, grazed knuckles from going at a punching bag too hard, but - they always felt like nothing more than adornments, and -
He was spiraling. Gansey’s voice pulled him back out of his head.
“Ronan’s father was murdered,” Gansey whispered. “Ronan found the body.”
For one horrible, disgusting moment, Adam felt relieved.
“Oh,” he breathed.
Gansey exhaled in a gust of shudders, and Adam reminded himself sternly that he had to act like a real, normal human, with real, normal human emotions.
“God,” Adam added. “I - what can I do? Are you going there, now?”
“I am,” Gansey confirmed. “Declan asked me too - Ronan is - he’s not - I’m sure you can imagine that he’s not doing okay. And - Aurora - she’s - Declan is handling the police, and his family, and he needs help.”
“I’ll come,” Adam said, before he could think about all the reasons he shouldn’t. “I - if you could pick me up on your way? I don’t - I know I’m not as close to them as you are, but if you think it’ll help, I’ll come.”
“I’ll pick you up,” Gansey confirmed, cleared his throat. “I can be at the entrance to the park in ten minutes?”
Ten minutes was pushing it for getting properly prepared for the day, but Adam was willing to rush. “Yeah,” he said. “Okay. I’ll see you soon, man.”
He hung up, then looked up to find his mother already staring at him.
“My friend’s father just died,” he said, voice feeling weirdly raw in his throat. “I - I’m going to go help out.”
She just raised her eyebrows, then turned around to go back to whatever drink she was making herself.
It was a mission getting Ethan out of his bedclothes and into his day clothes and a new nappy, and his bag packed, but he somehow succeeded.
Gansey and the Pig arrived mere seconds after Adam and Ethan did, and Adam strapped Ethan into his seat quickly, without a word, before climbing into the passenger seat next to Gansey.
“Can I borrow your phone?” Adam asked, the moment he’d clicked his seat belt in. “I have to call Dana, and school, and work to let them know I won’t be coming in.”
“Yeah, yeah, sure,” Gansey said, nodding and reaching into his pocket to retrieve his phone even as he began steering the car back around. “Here you go.”
Gansey nearly always wore - what Adam privately like to think of as his rich boy uniform - brightly coloured and expensive looking polos, pressed shorts, boat shoes. Today though, it was obvious Gansey hadn’t given a single thought to his appearance, and honestly, Adam thought he looked better for it. A rumpled looking hoodie - dark blue, with a large pocket in the front where he had had his phone - sweat pants, sneakers, bright blue socks with turtle print, glasses.
“I’ll be quick,” Adam promised.
He called Dana first, explained the situation very briefly. Then school, he told them that he was sick. Then for work he said he had a family emergency. He knew that Boyd would take that to mean that Ethan was sick, and wouldn’t push.
He didn’t hand the phone back to Gansey, just put it into the bottle holder in between the two of them.
“Do you know what happened?”
Gansey’s eyes flicked to him, and then to Ethan in the rearview mirror.
“I’m not sure anyone knows what happened,” he said quietly. “Just that - it was brutal, Adam. He was - “ He dropped his voice even lower, though they both knew that Ethan wasn’t about to understand their conversation - he was too busy playing with the crackly butterfly toy in his seat. “ He was beaten to death. With a tire iron. He - uh - right on the driveway, near the front door. So Ronan -”
Jesus . Adam could picture it almost too easily. Ronan stepping out of his home into his usually idyllic front garden. Maybe he’d seen Niall’s BMW, was going down to see if Niall was home? Had he come straight from bed? Had he gotten up and dressed for school yet? Had he gotten blood all over his clothing?
“Declan said that the police have already removed the body,” Gansey said, glancing Adam’s way again, his face pinched. “Took all the photos they needed and everything. So. You don’t need to worry about Ethan seeing a dead body.”
Adam wondered if Gansey was worried about seeing a dead body. If Gansey knew that Adam didn’t think that seeing a dead body - even a brutally murdered one - would even affect him unless he knew and liked the person. He just felt… numb. Which was stupid, because this wasn’t happening to him, it was happening to Ronan.
He felt guilty. Which was also stupid.
“Declan, um,” Gansey said, cleared his throat. Adam glanced at him this time, blinked a little in surprise when he saw the tears sliding down Gansey’s cheeks. “He said that after he was interviewed by the police, Ronan, he locked himself in the bathroom. Hasn’t come out yet.”
“‘Cos he’s trying to wash off the blood,” Adam mumbled, closed his eyes. “He probably doesn’t think it’s coming off.”
Gansey made a small, soft noise.
They drove in silence the rest of the way.
Only once they were at The Barns didn’t Adam worry that maybe he shouldn’t have brought Ethan with him. This was a family in fresh, raw grief. He wasn’t even sure he could do anything to help here, let alone how useful he was going to be if he was just looking after Ethan the whole time.
There wasn’t really any going back now, though. He couldn’t ask Gansey to turn back around and drive him home.
They parked further away than they usually did, keeping a large margin of space between them and Niall’s BMW, and as they walked up the gravel path of the drive, they could see that the crime scene hadn’t been fully cleaned up yet. It was cordoned off, but the dark blood pooled in the gravel was all too easy to see. He could hear Gansey swallow audibly beside him, and tightened his hold on Ethan before reaching out to brush his hand against Gansey’s elbow in a small attempt at comfort.
Declan met them at the front door, face pale and drawn, but otherwise remarkably steady looking. “Thank God you’re here,” he said, stepping backwards to let the three of them into the house. “I didn’t have Parrish’s number, I’m glad you brought him.”
That was a bit of a surprise.
“Of course,” Gansey said. He stepped forwards then, wrapped Declan up in a tight hug that seemed to surprise him a lot, going by the way Adam could see his eyes widen, his hands jerking a moment before hugging Gansey back just briefly.
There had been no other cars in the drive. Just The Lynch’s vehicles and The Pig. Where were Declan’s friends? Aurora’s friends? Matthew’s friends? Their church friends?
Declan led them to the kitchen, which wasn’t a surprise. Aurora seemed to always be in the kitchen when Adam looked for her - baking, or making drinks, prepping dinner, trimming flower stalks, always busy, humming or singing away.
She wasn’t busy, or humming today. She was sitting in one of the wooden dining chairs. In the chair pulled flush up next to her was Matthew, his arms around her, his head buried in her hair. She was rubbing his back, rocking them both slowly side to side, her eyes glazed, cheeks glinting with tears.
“Wa,” Ethan declared, before either Gansey or Adam could come to a conclusion about the appropriate greeting here. “Wa-wa.”
Aurora’s head lifted off of Matthew’s in an instant, her head swiveling to look at the four of them in the kitchen doorway.
“Oh,” she said, “oh my darlings,” the relief was palpable in her voice. “It’s so - so good to see you.”
She held one arm out towards them, the other still carefully wrapped around Matthew, and Gansey stepped forwards first to hug her gently.
Once Gansey had stepped back again, moved around the chairs so that he could reach Matthew, Adam stepped in as well, heart in his mouth. Aurora had hugged him plenty of times now, but this was obviously very different. He didn’t know how to be comforting.
She hugged him tightly, then pressed a kiss to Ethan’s cheek.
“You’re such a clever boy,” she said to him. “You’re so good at talking, aren’t you, my love? My Ronan couldn’t pronounce his R’s properly until he was six, either.”
Adam hadn’t realised - hadn’t even thought - but he could see the breakdown of the baby linguistics easily enough now. Aurora. Ro-ra. Ra-ra. Wa-wa.
Ethan pressed his fingers against Aurora’s cheek, and she smiled at him.
“Do you mind if I hold him?” She asked Adam, as if Adam had ever minded after the first time. “I - it’s hard to be so down while holding him.”
“Of course,” Adam murmured, adjusting so he could move Ethan easily from his hip to Aurora’s arms. “Course. If you - if I can do anythin’ , just - just let me know.”
“Could you go check on Ronan?” Aurora asked.
Adam had been expecting that Gansey would do that, whether asked to or not. He and Ronan had been friends first, had more of a connection. Aurora knew Gansey better than she knew Adam, and Gansey knew the house better than Adam did.
Gansey was the one holding Matthew in his arms now, though Matthew was still caught against Aurora’s side. Glancing around the kitchen he saw that Declan was putting on the kettle, and when he caught his eye, Declan nodded at him, so Adam left.
He wasn’t sure which bathroom Ronan was going to be in, or even if he was still in a bathroom. There was the toilet downstairs, but that just had the toilet and sink in. Then there was the bath room downstairs as well. Another bathroom upstairs, and he was pretty sure there was an ensuite in Aurora and Niall’s room. Aurora’s room. He thought that Ronan would most likely be upstairs.
He checked both the downstairs bathrooms first, even popped his head into the laundry room just in case, and then made his way upstairs.
He could hear water running by the time he made it to the landing, and simply followed the sound. He paused outside the door for a moment, listening to the steady rush of water that only barely fell short of covering up the gasping sobs. He knocked gently.
“No,” Ronan bit out, quiet, his voice almost washed away.
“Ronan,” Adam said, closed his eyes. He wasn’t built for - for comforting. For helping people. He’d known - his whole life - that he was selfish, too stubbornly independent to be anything other than self-centered. But. He had to try, didn’t he? If he put enough effort into it, then maybe he could produce a passable imitation of empathy? His heart fucking hurt. “I - I know everything is awful, and - and unbelievable. I’m not - I’m not here to drag you downstairs - just - I just want to sit with you.”
Cool. A+ Adam Parrish. Wow. I just want to sit with you.
There was silence on the other side of the door, sudden sharp silence, and it took Adam a moment to realise it was because the water had stopped. Then the door clicked. It didn’t open though, and Adam hesitated - his hand on the knob.
“Can I come in?” He asked, careful.
“Yes,” Ronan said, though it hardly sounded like Ronan, not really. Too hollow.
The bathroom floor was wet, water still dripping gently off of the vanity. Ronan - in a long sleeved pajama shirt. The sleeves were soaked up past the elbow, and Ronan was shivering hard enough that the water sliding down his sleeves over his hands was flicking off the ends of his fingers rather than just dropping down.
“I got it all over my hands,” Ronan said, the words sounding like they had somehow both slipped out, and been forced out. “I just - I - it’s under my nails .”
“Okay,” Adam said, because this was something he could do. He was great at cleaning.
He stepped towards Ronan, slow, careful steps, and then opened the vanity cupboard. He knew there was a nail brush in there because he’d given Ethan a bath up here the week before after a particularly muddy field day, and this was also where they kept the rubber ducks.
Nail brush in hand, he held his other hand out to Ronan - standing still aside from the shivering. After a moment, Ronan put his hand in Adam’s.
Adam turned the sink back on, though nowhere near as forceful as it must have been before, turning the taps so the water would come out warm. He rubbed the bristles of the brush against the block of honey and raspberry soap, and then brough Ronan’s hand back under the water.
He worked carefully, because Ronan’s hands already looked scrubbed raw, and he didn’t want to make them start bleeding - because how would Ronan react to that while he was trying to rid himself of the blood?
He finished the first hand, working his way methodically over each nail, and then holding Ronan’s hand up so he could for himself that the nail bed was clean - blood free, and then took Ronan’s other hand and did the same thing.
Once he was finished, he put the nailbrush back in the vanity, dried Ronan’s hands carefully on the fluffy hand towel, and then grabbed the chafing balm he’d seen while replacing the nailbrush. Ronan stayed silent while Adam rubbed the balm into his hands, working into his knuckles, around the quick of his nails. Didn’t speak until after Adam had finished, put the balm away, and wiped his own hands dry.
“I don’t know what to do.”
Adam nodded, because, well, neither did he. “You don’t have to do anything, right now,” he said, testing each word out carefully in his head before speaking it aloud. “Gansey and I are here to help out. You just - do whatever you need.”
Ronan looked to be mulling this over. His eyes were bloodshot, red rimmed, swollen, still brimming with tears that trickled down his cheeks every few moments.
“Is Ethan here?”
“Yeah,” Adam said, reached to grab a face cloth. He turned the tap back on and wet the cloth with warm water. “He’s downstairs with your ma. He said he name.”
Something that looked like a distant cousin to a smile passed over Ronan’s face.
“Do you want me to wash your face?” Adam asked, “Or would you prefer to do it?”
He tried to present this as a thing that was happening, giving Ronan two choices rather than letting him just say no, because Adam knew from long experience that the freshly cried feeling becomes utterly uncomfortable after the first minute or so.
“You,” Ronan mumbled.
So. He wiped Ronan’s face carefully, pressing the warm damp fabric first gently against Ronan’s eyelids, his under eyes, trying to help soothe the skin there. When he was finished, and Ronan looked a little less like his face would crack off under the amount of salt content in his tears, he left the cloth on the vanity, and reached down to take Ronan’s hand in his.
He was trying to follow any instincts he might have, here, offering support the same way he gave it to Ethan - through touch, through doing things for him. Ronan didn’t pull his hand away, so Adam supposed it probably was a bad move.
“Let’s go downstairs,” Adam suggested, voice low. Me and Gans’ll make some food. You don’t have to eat it, but you can if you want to.”
Ronan just nodded.
Downstairs, Adam dug out some soup to heat on the stove, and Gansey disappeared into the lounge with Declan to help him with speaking to lawyers, and Ronan, Matthew, and Aurora all sat together along one side of the table, their attentions on Ethan sitting happily in Aurora’s lap.
Everyone ate a little of the soup, some bread. They drank the hot chocolate Gansey made for them. Ronan curled himself up small and painful in Gansey’s arms, Adam helped Matthew hold Ethan when Aurora stood to pull Declan into a long embrace.
It was an odd way to spend a day, and Adam felt awkward almost constantly. Out of place, disruptive, like he was getting in the way. Except he couldn’t leave without taking Gansey away, without taking Ethan away, and he couldn’t leave without spending the rest of his day worrying about Ronan, and he couldn’t leave because Aurora asked him to stay.
Of course, the problem was, was that he couldn’t just stay either. He had to get back to the trailer in time for his curfer else he’d be in a ridiculous amount of trouble, and he had another early shift tomorrow morning, and he couldn’t afford to miss out on another paycheck, another day of school.
Gansey said he would drive Adam home, than drive back to the Barns. Not ideal, but doable. It meant he had to say goodbye to everyone, though.
Matthew was the easiest, because all that required was a hug, a promise to come back when he could. Then Declan, another hug, another promise to come help out when needed. He’d even given Declan the number for the trailer.
Ronan was harder, partially because he was all crumpled in against himself where he sat in the corner of the couch, partly because Adam was entirely loathe to leave him.
“Give Ethan another kiss from me when he wakes up,” Ronan mumbled when Adam gave him as much of a hug as possible while one of the hug participants was curled up in a ball. “Please.”
“Okay,” Adam said. Fought against the instinct he always followed through with on Ethan to press a reassuring kiss to Ronan’s cheek, or temple, or forehead, or hair. “I-we’ll be back soon, okay? Y’just need to ask and we’ll come back.”
Ronan didn’t reply.
Aurora had been the one holding the sleeping Ethan, and when Adam took his tiny asleep brother back from her, gave her a hug with his free arm, she spoke into his ear.
“You can already feel what’s going to happen, can’t you?” She whispered, and when he pulled back slightly, puzzled, she simply smiled sadly at him. “I’ll be a cold spot in the house soon, as well,” she said.